Friday, May 20, 2005

Living Debt Free

What do you suppose living debt free really means? Financial gurus like Clark Howard, Ron Blue, Larry Burkett And Dave Ramsey all tell us that the ideal goal in your life should be to pay off all your credit debts and learn to live from your own income, keeping a large portion of your personal wealth as savings instead of paying it out in interest. Dave Ramsey says we should “live today like no one else so later we can live like no one else”. What a novel concept!

But are financial matters all that are important in the game of life? Yes, they are important, but is it really the most important. How do we calculate the debts we have if we aren’t talking strictly about money. There are the “I owe you’s” for kindnesses a friend makes you. There is the gratitude a benefactor may have invested in your learning experience like a schoolteacher, professor or mentor. There is the appropriate debt we all owe our parents for their efforts to raise us “right” and provide for us for the first so many years of our lives. Then there is the level of love and commitment between our spouses - that we volunteer willingly to give during our wedding vows.

The wedding vow is a promissory note of a different kind. But do you approach this commitment any different from any other “debt”? Most don’t! Most - in some way - find a way to carry into their marriages a box full of desires and dreams, only to see those dreams turn into a box full of expectations. The new car, the big house, the wad of cash, 2.5 kids and add to those - the expectations of clean houses, tuned cars, mowed lawns, dinner on time and any number of things you could list if you thought about it.

Is it fair to put that on your spouse? Is it really fair to expect supper? Expect the new Lexus? Expect the big house on a hill? Think now - by expecting those things, all of a sudden you have turned something you both desire into something one expects from the other… and the treadmill begins. 50% + divorce rate and I’ll bet it’s more than just because they’ve passed the 7-year point. When it goes from “honey, here is a gift because I love you” to “I want, I want, I want” coupled with “you promised, you promised, you promised” and before long the pressure to keep up is overwhelming.

The equation is somehow wrong and most people don’t even notice that transition form love and gratitude to expectations and demands. It is more subtle than we might think. Pastor and author John Piper tells of the story of his anniversary when he came home with plans to take his wife to dinner, shower her with flowers and a nice gift. In general, treat her as if she were a queen. He then changes the story to just any day and not an anniversary. He comes home, walks in, gives her a bouquet of flowers, sweeps her into his arms, kisses her, and tells her to plan on dining out. She is surprised and pleased but a bit concerned and asks “why”. Tell me - what do you suppose her reaction would be if he looks sheepishly at her and says, “Because it’s my duty”. She would be floored; her feelings of romance and love would be leveled. The entire episode would leave a raw spot that could not be covered by a “duty”.

In many churches today - it is often abused whenever one tries to quote the scriptures concerning the role of husbands and wives. Women are tired of being subjugated and men are all too often willing to lord over their wives their expectations they then back up with a surface reading of the instructions to be submissive. Both men and women miss the context however when they skip over the opening verse and run right to the ones that apply to the other person. Here it is “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

That little phrase - often divided out of the passage - changes the meaning of what follows and how we interpret it. For the non-Christian - none of this will make much sense as the example Christ made is lost on those who do not see it. But for those who do - or want to - it is a golden principle. Christ out of love for His Father paid the penalty for all human sin and cancelled our moral debt for all time. Once one comes to the knowledge of what great sacrifice and love that was - we can only bring to our salvation the sin we turn over to Him and the gratitude of a gift that is totally undeserved. Something we should desire but not anything we could expect.

In the Christian marriage, our relationship is to be quite similar. Out of reverence for Christ, we are to show our spouse the love and gratitude we want to give to Christ for His work. Our spouse is the living human recipient of our devotion to our Lord. That takes the whole idea of “serving God” out of the nebulous realm of “appeasing whatever is out there” to serving and loving one another in a tangible, visible and personal way. It is how He wants His people to love Him - by loving those around them and showing their personal appreciation for His work through their kindness to each other.

Not only that - but just as the sin debt is cancelled between us and the Father, the whole debt/debtor relationship between husbands and wives is changed to no longer be one of “you owe me” and “you must fulfill my commands…expectations” as some would interpret “submission” - to a relationship that come from a tangible expression of loving gratitude for a kindness that is not deserved. The focus switches and is then centered on Christ.

In light of living with our debts cancelled - we are free to continue to live debt free in our relationships. All those expectations we have kept as leverage are then put back into the box of desires - hoping for the day that one of those desires is fulfilled. Only then is it appreciated to its fullest. No longer thought of as a duty - it is now an act of grace. Undeserved, unmatched and unexpected. That’s how gifts should be - else they are not gifts at all.

Learn to live debt free in your relationships and you will learn to live - and you will truly live free.

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