Sunday, December 12, 2010

O come, all ye faithful, to a debt-free Christmas

’Tis the season for giving and, for some, going further into debt.
With Christmas fast approaching, many Americans will bust out credit cards to buy gifts — and, consequently, many will overspend.

According to the Barna Research Group, 33 percent of U.S.-born Christians say it is impossible for them to get ahead because of the debts they carry.

Debt prevents Christians from fulfilling biblical commands. People of faith are called to support their church, help advance the gospel globally and aid the poor. No matter how well intentioned one may be, debt can hamper these and other personal goals.

The Bible does not call debt a sin but the practice is discouraged. The Apostle Paul says in Romans, “Give to everyone what you owe them … let no debt remain outstanding.” Proverbs says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

Some parachurch financial-counseling ministries argue that all debt is wrong. But not all debt is caused by irresponsibility. Some can be manageable. Most people cannot buy a car, own a home or finish their higher education without borrowing. It also is difficult to rent a car or buy online without plastic.

The real culprit is overspending.

There are times when legitimate living expenses exceed income. The easy remedy: Increase income or decrease expenses.

Other causes of overspending can be psychological and harder to fix. Some people spend too much because it provides emotional fulfillment. Others acquire more or nicer possessions to build their self-worth. Christian financial counselor Dave Ramsey says, “A whole bunch of us got all this stuff we really didn’t want, with money we really didn’t have, to impress people we really didn’t like.”

Americans are most guilty of overspending at Christmastime. We buy gifts for extended family, co-workers, even casual acquaintances. Parents go to great lengths to snag the latest toys, electronics and video games for their children.

There is nothing wrong with people of faith exchanging gifts at Christmas — as long as the real reason for the season does not get lost: the birth of Christ.

When I was a child, Christmas was simple. The gifts usually were practical — clothes, shoes or books. The excitement was more in unwrapping the surprise than the actual present. The greatest gift my parents gave me is teaching me to stay out of debt by being like Paul says, content in every circumstance, whether in poverty or in plenty.