Chapter 1 - Where's Your Foundation?

"... like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder's work will be plainly seen ..." 

1 Corinthians 3:10-13

Imagine you are looking at the plans for your dream house. The blueprints have been drawn to your exact specifications, and it's everything your wife has ever wanted in a house. You chose just the right builder for the project, and he is crafting it as if he were building for the President. The best subcontractors in the area are on board. An interior decorator is ready to match colors, fixtures, carpet and trim to your desired effect. The land is in a secluded area that you happened to find by word of mouth, and it was surprisingly affordable. You and your wife have been planning for this for a long time. 

On the third day of construction, the two of you manage to drop by to check things out, and as you pull up, you cannot believe your eyes. They already have the decking in place for the roof! It's certainly beautiful, but your excitement quickly fades when you get closer and discover that your builder has erected the roof first, before digging down and pouring concrete for the foundation. (Clearly, he wasn't the right builder after all.)

As crazy and unlikely as this story might sound, it's an appropriate way to describe how too many people today approach their finances. They're trying to live in a mansion that has no foundation. They don't have important values and principles in place that will guide their decisions and help them teach their children. 

Maybe a better example is the people who build houses on the sides of hills or mountains. The views are beautiful, but the foundations are not secure. Due to mudslides or the gradual pull of gravity, many of these houses eventually start slipping down the mountain. Engineers warn of the inherent danger of building in such risky locations, but people do it anyway. The homeowner is more concerned about the view and they don't understand the vital importance of a firm foundation. 

It's no accident that the financial world speaks of building wealth, building your future and building a business. Buildings require a strong foundation. That's a necessary first step. Anything built without a proper foundation will surely fail. Many people are making financial decisions without having a strong foundation in place. There are many different expressions of the problem, but the core issue is that people are living for and pursuing what they desire today, even if it means piling up huge amounts of debt, with little regard for the future.

There are other people whom we would think of as more responsible with their money. They do plan, save and invest wisely, and are well prepared for future needs that may arise. But if the end goal is simply their own pleasure, or comfort, or a sense that they are "secure," that still isn't a strong, reliable foundation. Though they may have few financial worries right now, their foundation could crumble with a job loss, health problems or a natural disaster. Very quickly, more important things will emerge, such as having a strong marriage, having close connections with their kids, and living in a way that will leave a Godly legacy when they're gone. 

Money may not be the whole picture, but it's a key part of the picture, because so much of our true character and priorities show up in our money management. If we take our financial stewardship seriously and do our best to stay close to God's purposes in that area, those positive values and purposes will influence other key areas of our lives as well. 

Who's Watching You?

How often have you heard parents—whether your parents, other people you know or even yourself—tell a child, "Do what I say, not what I do"? I can understand what those parents are thinking in the moment. They realize that they aren't perfect, and they want something better for their children. They want their children to overcome some of the challenges and shortcomings they see in their own lives. 

But I'm really concerned when I hear that—and you probably share those concerns—because the parent is basically telling his child, "I expect something of you that I don't really take that seriously myself." So, for example, that parent might talk about honesty and integrity, but then will use a radar detector in his car. Or he'll say, "The car doesn't move until your seatbelts are on," but then he doesn't fasten his own until he sees a police officer. 

The truth is, we can talk ‘til we're blue in the face, but the people close to us know what we really stand for, and that's communicated mostly through our actions. They know what kind of ground we've used to build the foundation for our house. It's reflected in the daily decisions we make with our time, energy and money. 

My friends at the National Center for Fathering (fathers.com) tell the story about Bruce, who was treating his three kids and himself to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. From the outside, they couldn't miss the buffet prices painted in huge numbers and bright colors on the window: $4.49 for adults and $2.49 for kids age 4 to 9. 

Since Bruce's oldest child, Parker, had just celebrated his 10th birthday, he noticed the sign and commented on it as they stood in line to pay. He was a little bit proud that he'd be charged the full price for his pizza. Bruce, of course, wasn't so thrilled.  

When they reached the cashier, she didn't ask how old Parker was, and Bruce didn't say anything. She quickly rang up one adult and three children, Bruce paid the money, and they were herded through. 

It was a simple oversight, except that Parker is one of those kids who notices everything. So when they sat down, he pointed it out. "Dad, they didn't charge us enough, did they?" Suddenly it was very clear to Bruce that he should have paid more attention to that transaction—because it's the right thing to do, and because his son was watching to see how he handled it. "You're right, Son," he said, and immediately he went back and paid the difference.

The girl at the register tried to wave him off and say it didn't matter; it was only a few dollars. But to Bruce, it did matter. His integrity was on the line—at least in the eyes of his children. He did the right thing eventually, but he knows he should have done it right the first time. Bruce realizes that those everyday interactions are teaching opportunities, and his children will be powerfully influenced by their memories of him, whether he relaxed his standards and compromised godly values, or he went out of his way to do the right thing.

I am amazed at how perceptive kids are, even at a young age. At our house, we regularly take toys and clothing to the local rescue mission. Every time my wife packs a box to be taken to the mission, she explains to our three young girls what she's doing and why.

I'll never forget May of 2007, when a tornado ripped through the town of Greensburg, right here in Kansas. It registered a F5 on the Fujita scale, meaning the winds were in excess of 200 m.p.h., and cut a path as big as 1½ miles wide for about 20 miles. The tornado reduced to ruins pretty much everything in that path, including the town of Greensburg. We're used to the threat of tornados every spring and summer, but we rarely hear about a tornado of that magnitude.

As we watched the coverage on television with the rest of the nation, we tried to explain to our oldest daughter, Jerica, what had happened and the devastation that had occurred. She promptly asked my wife for a box. "Why do you need a box?" my wife asked. She replied, "We need to give some of our toys and clothes to the kids who lost theirs." At just 5 years old, thanks to my wife's modeling, Jerica understood that people need help and God has equipped us to help. Needless to say, my wife and I were astounded and nearly brought to tears by her actions.

I hope you agree with Bruce and me that it's worth a little money—no, it's worth a lot of money—to demonstrate integrity and be a positive model for our kids. We must remember that they're always watching us, always taking mental notes about decisions we make and how we respond in certain situations. They're depending on us not only to draw boundaries for them about what's right and wrong, but also to reinforce those boundaries with our actions.

Once again, modeling honesty and integrity should apply to all areas of our fathering, but money and possessions are often involved in those opportunities. And we know that the Bible mentions the subject of money more than any other topic—prayer, salvation, worship, anything! So it's clear that God knows the tremendous effect that money has on our lives.

Rock or Sand?

It's interesting that Jesus also talked about building and foundations, and His words apply well to this important first step in thinking about money. The well-known passage from Matthew chapter seven makes it clear that people who hear Jesus' words and put them into practice are like a man who built his house on a rock. People who do not adopt Jesus' principles for life are building on sand. The house on the firm foundation—the rock—withstands storms and high water, but the house built on sand falls with a great crash (vv. 24-27).