Friday, October 17, 2008

Stupid Tax

I hate it when I have to eat my words. I despise the fact that sometimes I am too proud to hear something I ought to hear because of my prejudices against the source. But sometimes that happens to me. Imagine that.

Years ago I had friends who talked to me about the issue of debt in the church and in the lives of Christians. They were coming at that issue through the perspective of a prominent teacher who traveled around the country teaching people about what the Bible said about a wide variety of subjects. He taught about marriage though he had never been married. He taught about parenting, though he had no children. He taught about being a pastor and leading a church though he had never done neither. He employed a practice of proof-texting that was just awful. And his teachings were legalistic to the core. I once went to listen to him myself and had to leave the room because of the critical attitude that overwhelmed me regarding just about everything he said. He and I could not have been more polar opposites in our thinking about biblical interpretation. I have not changed my opinion about that.

Well, it turns out that this fellow also took a strong stand on living debt free. And rather than think that through and investigate it, I rejected that baby along with its bathwater. I accepted a cultural perspective on debt and credit that saw it as justified, even necessary, in our world, both for churches and individuals. I bought into an open attitude toward debt.

Along the way I encountered other more tolerable voices on the subject that I found I could listen to -- Ron Blue and Larry Burkett, for example. They made sense to me and I even took some of the things they said to heart. I never became radical about it and I never pushed the view on others that debt was wrong. Too much obviously was not wise, but if you were making your payments, then where’s the harm really? We had auto loans, a home mortgage, and paid off our credit card each month.

Over the past six months or so, I have been listening to and reading Dave Ramsey. He just makes too much sense. He is clear, principled, smart, and sound. And he has practiced all he preaches. He speaks honestly and does not mince words. He is mildly to strongly sarcastic at times and he is funny. He seems to prefer the word “stupid” to “sinful” when it comes to poor financial decisions like debt. He offers clear paths to help people out of the credit mess. He is compassionate but straight with people who call in to his show. And his way of handling the Bible makes sense to me.

So this week I have been in Nashville for a conference Ramsey’s group sponsored for church leaders. I walked through his headquarters, met his people, and watched him conduct his radio show for a while through thick glass outside the studio. I listened to those who have worked with him for years talk about his character. Today he came into our conference and spent some time with those of us there to receive training to help our congregations.

That sealed the deal for me. He was transparent and authentic. I have been most impressed with this guy and the organization he has built in such a principled manner. And, I am embarrassed to say, I believe he is just so right. I’m embarrassed that I could not see more light in that twenty-years ago. My pride would not let me. I could have done then what I am working on doing now in my own life and I could have led differently as a pastor. Now I have ground to make up. Dave calls that “stupid tax,” the price of making bad decisions. I have paid mine once more.