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Personal Finance | Financial planning suggests good stewardship, not mammon worship

Issue: "The plots thicken," Jan. 12, 2008

Familiar teachings from chapter 16 of Luke's gospel: "No man can serve two masters" and "You cannot serve God and mammon." Hanging on these two phrases, and likely with the best of intentions, many believers have asked whether financial planning is mammon worship. My sense is that the opposite is true: When we faithfully and responsibly exercise good stewardship, we avoid the danger of our money controlling us.

Our financial resources, like everything else, are a gift from the Lord. We are to be grateful for His provision, continually recognizing that He is the source of our prosperity. We should not ignore the teaching that wealth and abundance are often rewards for hard work. (Proverbs 10:4-5: "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.")

And yet, the biblical exhortation is thorough: Those who put their trust in riches fail to honor God. (Psalm 62:10b: "If riches increase, set not your heart on them.") Those who rely on wealth rather than on God set themselves up for extreme disappointment.

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We need balance. Sadly, many disregard forceful biblical teachings about discipline, planning, responsibility, and inheritance. We can attain a biblical balance by recognizing that God is our provider and diligence in planning for financial contingencies shows respect for God's gifts. A biblically balanced view understands the message of the Rich Young Ruler yet also digests the message in the parable of the talents (Mark 10:17-30, Matthew 25:14-30). Impressive investment returns can and should be obtained without being idolized.

Christians ought not to struggle with issues of "to plan or not to plan." Instead, we need to wrestle with how to plan, and what particulars go into planning. This column will look at a truly God-honoring view of "retirement" planning, of tax-efficient investing, of equity investing, of insurance planning, of how to transfer assets at death, etc. My assumption is that you'll answer yes to the question, Should I plan at all?

So let's begin: What are the components needed in a properly balanced financial plan? It's important to cover three categories: (1) Accumulation (earning, saving, growing), (2) Preservation (protecting, tax and inflation planning), and (3) Transfer (charitable inclinations, estate planning, insurance, etc.). These three categories apply not only to the rich but to those of modest means.

Upcoming columns will cover those three areas. Then we'll move on to other issues of personal finance. Our purpose is always to worship God and not mammon. To that end we plan, earn, protect, and give wisely.

-David L. Bahnsen, CFP®, is a senior vice president at a leading Wall Street firm

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