It’s a question that can be interpreted in so many ways. In workshops, I ask this very question …. but emphasized in three different ways.
1. What am I doing with all this wealth?
2. What am I doing with all this wealth?
3. What Am I doing with all this wealth?
I would add to this question….assuming you are living in the United States or other 1st world country, why were you born at this time in the history in one of the wealthiest nations in the world? At times, I have felt like I am far from wealthy because I live in a nation of so much abundance, but when I look at a comparison of where I really rank in the global community things are quickly put in perspective. Want to see where you rank? Visit www.globalrichlist.com to see your results. You may be surprised by what you find. I would also ask: Why were you given the talents to achieve some of the financial success you’ve had in your life? Whether it is a successful business, a job at a corporation or just being able to provide for your family? I’ve known some people who have worked very hard every day of their lives – yet don’t have two nickels to rub together.
To answer this question, you need to become clear on six key issues.
1. Who really owns our wealth?
2. How the tax law works
3. On the common misconceptions of wealth
4. On the importance of preparing our heirs for their inheritance
5. On the psychological pyramid of priorities
6. On the importance of discovering our God Given Life Purpose
1. Who owns our wealth?
The answer to this question for followers of Christ lies in the concept of Stewardship. If you have been in a church for any length of time, you may have heard a sermon on stewardship or maybe you have been a part of a Stewardship Campaign (to build a larger building or other large improvement). However, most churches do a disservice to the teaching of this concept making the word about what you can give. Stewardship in the Bible is very clearly about what you KEEP, not what you give away.
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains, the world and all those who dwell in it.” Psalms 24:1
The Bible tells us the God owns everything, including us. In fact, he owns us twice. 1) because he created us, and 2) because he sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. Because we own nothing, we are merely Stewards of everything he has entrusted to us, everything from family to money. We will be accountable one day for the way that we managed everything He entrusted to us. Being a good steward is managing those resources according to his will. The ultimate goal is to hear on judgment day: Well done my good and faithful servant.
2. How the tax law works
Must we pay our taxes? What does the Bible say?
We all remember when Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about the obligation to pay taxes. Jesus knew what they were thinking. They wanted trick Him. If He said they should not pay taxes, they would accuse Him of telling people to break the Roman law. Jesus, in all His wisdom, told them to show Him a denarius. He asked them whose portrait is on the coin, and they said, “Caesar’s.” He replied—as you recall: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
But the story does not end there. Yes, we are to pay the taxes that we owe, but if there is a way to reduce or eliminate those taxes, Jesus would instruct us to be shrewd. Jesus talked about shrewdness on multiple occasions.
“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
— Luke 20: 23-25
“And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly: for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
— Luke 16: 8
Why Leave your future In the hands of Congress?
The government established estate taxes in 1797 with the stamp tax, which was used to raise funds to support wars. Through the years, they have been changed, eliminated and reinstated numerous times.
The one reality of estate taxes is that you never know what the exemption or tax rate is going to be from one year to the next. It is this principle reason to plan as if the tax exemption was less than it currently is. That way, you may be over-planning for today, but you will be prepared for tomorrow.
It is interesting to note that income tax did not start until 1914 with an amendment to the constitution.
There are three different types of taxes on our assets and income: income taxes, capital gains taxes and estate taxes. When we die, our entire estate is taxable above the exemption level for each. The current estate tax exemption is $5.43 million, which may or and may not apply to you. Again be mindful that you consider that Congress can change this at any time.
3. The common misconceptions of wealth
Misconception #1: When it comes to estate taxes, we have a certain amount that we can keep and another percentage that we have to give away. Most people believe that the portion that we are required to give away has to go to the IRS in the form of taxes, but this does not have to be the case. If you have an estate that is taxable, you can choose to give that portion away to Kingdom causes that support your beliefs and are in line with what you feel the Lord has called you to support with his resources.
Misconception #2: Many families assume that when they designate money from their estate to go to ministry, it comes out of the portion that would otherwise go to heirs. But that is not the case either. In fact, many times when a family focuses on charity first, the amount that goes to heirs can be increased if desired.
Misconception #3: Many families believe that they cannot control the portion of their estate that must go to social capital (taxes or charity). This is not the case. There are ways to plan your estate so that you and your family (for generations to come) will have complete control over where those resources go.
4. The importance of preparing our heirs for their inheritance
Parents who have significant wealth are often terrified of ruining their children with a sudden, unearned inheritance. Emotional and relational conflict in a family can add even more fuel to those fears. Every parent wants to see their children thriving and happy. I would add to that list mature in their relationship with the Lord. However, It is less obvious what they can do to prepare their children for their inheritance.
Statistics show that inheritances are depleted at the same rate of lottery winnings – about three years. To prepare children, careful consideration needs to be taken as well as an inventory of their spiritual, emotional, relational and financial maturity markers and a plan to grow them in all of those areas in order to make sure their inheritance is a blessing, and not a curse.
5. The psychological pyramid of priorities
There are a few fundamental questions that have to be answered in order to determine how much we are going to keep, and therefore how much we can give away. Without answering these questions, it is near impossible to get comfortable enough to give anything away, because there is always some measure of fear associated with giving too much away – and not having enough. Once we have the answers to the first two questions, the third question becomes clear.
1. How much is enough for us?
2. How much is enough for our heirs
3. What can we give to others?
These questions cover our most basic human instincts, but do wealthy Christians have a higher calling or a more meaningful set of questions?
I think they do!
In Galatians, it is said that whatever you sow, you will reap. If you sow for your own enjoyment and pleasure and comfort, you will have received your reward on this earth! Wealthy Christians are called to a higher purpose than those that do not have the means. If a wealthy Christian sows to the Spirit, he/she will from the Spirit reap eternal life. The only way to determine what the Lord calls us to give financially and what he has allowed for us to use is to be in regular communication with the Father.
6. The importance of discovering our God-given purpose
Within each of us lives a God-given purpose. It may change or morph from season to season in our lives, but the following elements will always be true.
- God has hard-wired certain passions within us. These are things that excite us, motivate us, bring us enjoyment. What is it that you are naturally drawn to? What do you spend a lot of your free time doing?
- God has given us a unique set of talents. Where are you naturally gifted? What can you do better than most people with less effort? Some people have athletic ability, others are creative, intuitive, or have mechanical insight.
- God has planted a God-given calling. I am not talking about a purpose that applies to all of us – like worshiping Him or living an obedient life. These are important, but he has also created us uniquely with passions, talents, and surrounded us with people in which he wants us to have an eternal impact! When you find something to do with your life that is fueled by your God-given passions, utilizes your God-given talents, and accomplishes a God-given purpose you will be energized and at peace regardless of your circumstances.
So when asked the question… What am I doing with all this wealth…it’s really not so simple to answer, is it?
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