Dave Ramsey's "The Legacy Journey"

t me tell you: It’s not easy being filthy rich. You would know, wouldn’t you? Most of us feel like we live in poverty, but that’s only because we restrict our comparisons to the people closest to us. When we elevate our gaze a little, we see that most of us qualify as being among the richest people in the world. Compared to the mass of humanity, we have fantastic wealth. 

For many years Dave Ramsey has taught people how to manage their money well, and countless thousands of people can testify to his impact on their lives. While much of his effort has gone into helping people climb out of debt and live financially sustainable lives, he is now turning his attention to the matter of leaving a legacy. 

In his new book The Legacy Journey he deals head-on with first-world wealth and a host of related issues. He builds this legacy journey around a 4-part framework: Now, Then, Us, Them. In the Now stage he wants you to focus on the most immediate issues like getting out of debt, living on a budget, and preparing for emergencies. The Then stage begins to look down the road a little, preparing for retirement, saving for college funds, and setting a future vision. When it comes to Us, it is time to begin to accumulate a generational legacy which will build wealth to leave to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And then, with those other pieces in place, comes Them, where you can look around the world and use your wealth to make a major impact on other people’s lives and well-being.

There is much in this book that is good and helpful. On the positive side, Ramsey pushes hard against simplistic financial thinking that owes more to latent socialism than to the Bible. He deals very well with the spiritual side of money, showing how money can be the best of servants or the worst of masters. He teaches that all money is God’s money and that we are to think of ourselves as stewards rather than owners of our wealth. He shows how building wealth and building a legacy of wealth is, and is meant to be, hard work, and proves the importance of properly training our children to understand money. And he provides sound counsel on thinking about the future and planning for it while avoiding the most common pitfalls. These are all the things he is known for and the things he does so well—they represent genuine strengths. But there are some weaknesses as well.

My most significant concern is Ramsey’s sloppy use of the Bible. Much of what he teaches is wise, but then he makes the unfortunate choice to back it with out-of-context Scripture. Here is an example: “Your goals must be in writing. Habakkuk 2:2 says, ‘Write the vision and make it plain.’ There is spiritual power in writing down your goals.” If there is, we certainly don’t learn that in Habakkuk 2:2! His misuse of Scripture weakens rather than strengthens his book.

In a similar vein, this entire book, and even the idea of the legacy journey, is premised on Proverbs 13:22 which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Ramsey takes this Proverb literally and universally and makes it God’s instruction to each of us, saying that as Christians we are to accumulate enough wealth that we can leave a substantial inheritance to our children and their children. But I am not convinced. Proverbs was written in a specific culture where land and inheritance had a very different meaning than they do today. While it may be good and generous to leave wealth to our children, I am not convinced it is a biblical mandate. This is especially the case today when lifespans are increasing and we now inherit our parent’s money in our 60s or 70s, typically long after we really need it. And even then, what is the purpose of stockpiling millions so I can leave it to my kids and they can leave it to their kids who can leave it to their kids? Why not put that money to work right here and right now? Ramsey counters this by looking at people like Bill Gates who mean to give away their fortunes: “On the surface, that may sound like a good or generous thing—and it is. The problem is, though, one of the biggest personal fortunes in the history of the world will totally vanish within one generation. Even though the money will be spent in wonderful ways, it will still be gone forever.” But that money is not gone—it has been converted to good purposes. If anything it has been elevated, not lost!

Ramsey also comes across as a little defensive about wealth. Much of the book deals with accumulating wealth and rewarding hard work with a comfortable lifestyle. That is a tension we all feel, I think, but I’m not sure that he does much to resolve it. His counsel generally leads away from generosity and toward comfort—perhaps not the Bible’s consistent emphasis. I understand the tension and understand his emphasis, but it may be too simplistic to say, “Our ability to build wealth, use wealth for the kingdom, and enjoy the wealth God gives us all boils down to whether or not we can keep that wealth in perspective. And that’s a matter of contentment.” Yes and no. But at some point we need to feel and deal with that difficult relationship between our comfort and the poverty of so many others.

And then there is my concern that this legacy journey essentially calls on people to spend almost all of their lives giving ten percent of their income to the Lord’s work, and to only really crank up the generosity in that fourth and final stage. Yes, we need to learn to live free from debt and prioritize caring for our families, but with the Bible’s constant calls for sacrifice and generosity, it seems odd that lavish generosity would be left to the end. Planning to be generous and accumulating wealth in order to be generous is not the same thing as actually being generous.

All-in-all, The Legacy Journey is a helpful book with many strengths, but it still left me unsatisfied. As an overall strategy for faithfully stewarding God’s money, I am just not convinced. I think there must be stronger, more biblical, and more satisfying answers.

George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, You, and Me

George Clooney loses sleep over bad reviews of his movies.

Angelina Jolie is a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”

Tom Hanks checks into hotels as Johnny Madrid.

You know by now, I’m sure, that a group calling themselves Guardians of Peace hacked Sony’s computers, obtained a massive amount of private and internal data, and released it to the public. The media has had a field day sorting through it, digging up the dirt, and sending it out to an eager public.

The majority of this information is mundane, of course. But then there are the few pieces that are downright incendiary. I guess it is somehow entertaining to read about the foibles of the big stars and satisfying to see a massive corporation take a hit. But this hack should cause us all to pause and consider.

Sony’s nightmare proves one thing beyond any doubt: There is an imbalance between our ability to create digital information and our ability to protect it. We create digital data all day and every day. Every email, every Facebook update, every Tweet, every photo, every Google doc—it’s all out there, and it all remains out there. But there’s far more than that. Every Google search, every phone call, every Facebook profile search, every place you take your mobile phone, every purchase you make, every scan of your loyalty card—every bit of it is collected and stored somewhere. We trust that it is all stored safely. But what happens when it’s not?

When I think about all of this information from Sony, it is not the megastar temper tantrums that stand out, and it is not the details of new movies. What intimidates me most is the very ordinary people whose lives have suddenly been exposed. An article at Gizmodo (language warning) says it well: 

The most painful stuff in the Sony cache is a doctor shopping for Ritalin. It’s an email about trying to get pregnant...and people’s credit card log-ins. It’s literally thousands of Social Security numbers laid bare. It’s even the harmless, mundane, trivial stuff that makes up any day’s email load that suddenly feels ugly and raw out in the open, a digital Babadook brought to life by a scorched earth cyberattack.

And that’s just it. The biggest victims here are the ordinary, low-level employees who represent the collateral damage—people who were doing normal things in the normal way, but who suddenly had it all laid bare. People who are just like you and me. Their shame has become our entertainment.

This digital world brings us some amazing new capabilities, but every big technological shift also brings us serious risks and vulnerabilities. You can see those vulnerabilities all over the headlines today. We need to decide whether information that has been made public should really be considered public. We need to decide what it means to think and behave as Christians in this area. Is it okay to declare open season on public information?

I have no skeletons in my closet. I have no deep and dark secrets that would ruin me if they leaked out. But still, the thought of my emails being made public, and the thought of you combing through them looking for dirt (because you sure wouldn’t go combing through them looking for grace, would you?) is terrifying. Too-quick comments, private jokes, thoughtless replies, unformed thoughts, out-of-context humor, romantic sweet nothings, bad days and ugly words—they would all be there, I’m sure. It is all there in the mundane day-to-day emails that receive little more than a moment’s thought and are immediately erased from my memory. I can barely imagine the sense of dread and the vulnerability that would come, knowing that people were clicking through one after the other after the other. I don’t need to have deep and dark secrets—buried in these tens of thousands of mundane messages would be more than enough to expose things I don’t even know about myself, and things you have no right to know about me.

It is only a matter of time before something like this happens to someone you know. At some point you may well be faced with the opportunity to go rooting through another person’s emails after they have been hacked and made public. So let me ask: Will you read those emails? Will you read your pastor’s emails if they are suddenly available to the public? Will you read your favorite celebrity preacher’s emails if they are just a click or two away? Will you read your least-favorite Christian celebrity’s emails if they are there for the taking? Will they read your emails?

The time to decide is right now, not in that moment. At that moment it may already be too late.

When God Doesn't Zap Away Our Sin

God promises grace to battle sin and to overcome sin. We believe that God gives that kind of grace to his people. This is not something we deserve; it is not something he owes us, but he gives it anyway. It is undeserved, the overflow of his love for us.

And we long for that grace—the grace to put sin to death, the grace to bring righteousness to life, the grace to be who and what God calls us to be.

God gives that grace, but for some reason—his good reasons—it rarely comes in the form we would prefer. God gives it not in the form we want but in the form we need. We want God to zap away our sin, to instantly and permanently remove it. Those desires, those addictions, those idolatries—we want them to be lifted and to be gone that very moment. 

God could do this. He has the strength and the power. And occasionally he does do this, he removes the sin and the temptation to sin in an instant, and it never comes back with the same strength and the same force.

But more commonly God’s grace is not manifested in the instant obliteration of a sin. Instead, his grace is manifested in a newfound desire to destroy that sin. God does not zap away our sin, but gives us a new hatred for it and a new desire to do the hard work of battling it. He does not sovereignly remove it in a moment, but extends grace so we can battle it for a lifetime. He extends grace so we can see continuous, incremental success, knowing our weakness and crying out for his strength. He gives what we need, even if it isn’t quite what we want.

And this, too, is grace. This, too, is undeserved favor from a loving God. This, somehow, must be far better for us than the alternative. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The Tragic Prevalence of Sexual Assault

Sexual asssault is all over the news today. Headlines in the United States tell of a long list of woman who have accused Bill Cosby of assault, and tell of college campuses where rape is shockingly common. Headlines in Canada tell of reporter Jiam Gomeshi and his ugly history of sexual violence. It is my sincere hope that these stories spark new and better discussions about the prevalence of sexual assault, how we can prevent it, and how we can respond to it.

Though the incidence of sexual assault is high, the rate of conviction is low. The majority of sexual assault goes unreported and the majority of those who commit sexual assault go unpunished. While the law needs to protect those who are unjustly accused, in cases of sexual assault it seems like the process of law can actually re-victimize the victims. And this helps explain why victims can be so hesitant to report the crime, and why accustations can take many years to come to light. The sin is awful and the aftermath can be excruciating.

Pastor Justin Holcomb has given a great deal of attention to this topic over the past few years, and I recently spoke to him about sexual assault in light of today’s headlines.

MeThe law states that a person is considered innocent until he is proven guilty. Yet in many cases it is very difficult to prove sexual assault simply because it is one person’s word against another’s in a context in which there are no witnesses. Is there a solution to this, where we take seriously a person’s charge of sexual assault, yet while still requiring the burden of proof?

HolcombThe burden of proof is to determine if a crime has been committed, but we do not need to same burden of proof to determine if we should serve and care for the person claiming that they have been sexually assault.

With regard to the reporting of sexual assault, there are two major issues to consider—false reporting and under reporting. While under reporting is a major concern, false reporting is not. Actually, false reports are quite rare. The figure often used by sexual violence experts for estimating falsified reports is 2 percent, which is a slightly lower rate than other crimes.

 MeIt is well established that many victims of sexual assault refuse to go to the police because they know that they will face a grueling and humiliating process of questioning to establish whether they truly were victimized. Is there a way we can take charges seriously, yet while protecting the dignity of those who may have been the victims of assault? Why do so many victims of sexual assault choose not to charge their attacker, or perhaps even to tell anyone else about their experience? Is there something we, as Christians and as churches can do to help people speak up?

HolcombAccording to the FBI, sexual assault is “one of the most under-reported crimes due primarily to fear and/or embarrassment on the part of the victim.” 

Given the horrific nature of sexual assault and the shame it brings to victims, it is not shocking that it is one of the most underreported crimes. The fear of intrusive and revictimizing court procedures pre- vents many sexual assault survivors from reporting their assaults. Most sexual assault victims choose not to report their assaults. Factors that keep a victim from reporting the crime include shame and embarrassment, self-blame, fear of media exposure, fear of further injury or retaliation, fear of one’s own family and community response, and fear of a legal system that often puts the victim’s behavior and history on trial.

Research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. So, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims. 

Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There is a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. Research findings suggest blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only wrong but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that the only social reactions related to better adjustment by victims are being believed and being listened to by others.

Christians can listen to them and tell them, “I believe you. I’m sorry that this sin and crime happened to you.” They can also offer to help: “If you want to report this, I’ll go with you so you are not alone.”

MeOne of the tricky issues related to sexual assault is the issue of consent—consent to participate in sexual activity in general or specific sexual activities. Is consent given one time at the outset of sexual activity, or must consent be given on an ongoing basis? How should we think Christianly about consent?

HolcombA key concept in cases of sexual assault is that the victim did not consent to the sexual contact.

Consent is when an individual is freely able to make a choice based upon respect and equal power, and with the understanding that there is the freedom to change her or his mind at any time. To judge whether a sexual act is assault, we ask: (1) Are both people old enough to consent? (2) Do both people have the capacity to consent? (3) Did both agree to the sexual contact? If any of these are answered “no,” it is likely that sexual assault has occurred.

Consent requires communicating “yes” to engaging in a particular act. Consent is not given when one person says “no,” says nothing, is coerced, is physically forced, is mentally or physically helpless, is intoxicated, is under the influence of drugs, or is unconscious. Nor does it occur any time that consent is not explicitly given. Having given consent on a previous occasion does not mean that a person has consented for any future sexual encounter. The law generally assumes that a person does not consent to sexual conduct if he or she is forced, threatened, or is unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, or believes they are undergoing a medical procedure. 

MeWhat should Christians know about those who have experienced sexual assault?

HolcombWhile the prevalence of sexual assault is staggering, the only thing more staggering the acute damage done to the victims. As sobering as the statistics are, they don’t begin to speak to the darkness and grief experienced by victims. Sexual assault causes huge amounts of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain.

Sexual assault causes harmful psychological effects that are more severe than effects of other crimes. During an assault, most victims feel terrified, fearful, helpless, humiliated, and confused. Afterward, any of these feelings can persist and intensify, especially terror and fear.

The most common psychological symptoms associated with sexual assault were anxiety and fear. Because sexual assault is always traumatizing, victims are three times more likely than non-victims to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Various factors are linked to traumatic distress or feelings of disgrace from sexual assault. These include denial, shame, guilt, anger, distorted self-image, and despair. Victims want and need a clear explanation of how the gospel applies to their experience of sexual assault and its effects in their lives. They need the kind of hope and healing that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide.

In our book, Rid of My Disgrace, Lindsey and I wrote exactly what we wanted survivors to hear in the opening paragraph: “What happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve it. You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. Nobody had the right to violate you. You are not responsible for what happened to you. You are not damaged goods. You were supposed to be treated with dignity and respect. You were the victim of assault and it was wrong. You were sinned against. Despite all the pain, healing can happen and there is hope” (page 15).

MeWhile the majority of sexual assault happens outside the context of marriage, sexual assault can also happen within marriage. What constitutes sexual assault within marriage? How should women respond who have been assaulted by their husbands and how should the church help them?

HolcombSexual assault can occur in marriage. As a matter of fact, researchers have estimated that sexual assault occurs in 10–14% of all marriages.

If a woman has been sexually assaulted by her husband, there is likely a pattern of more abuse and constitutes domestic abuse.  Lindsey and I wrote, Is It My Fault? to serve women suffering domestic violence and the ministry leaders, families, and friends that serve them.

Sexual assault in marriage is a sin and a crime and, if the wife files a police report or wants church leaders to respond, the abuser must be confronted concerning his breaking of the marriage covenant. 

If the church gets involved, this is not a case for couples counseling by the pastor. The wife will not be free to be honest since the abusive husband will threaten her with more violence not to tell the truth.

This type of abuse is a form of oppression that twists God’s good intention of marriage. One scholar puts it this way: “Spousal abuse not only violates an individual victim but also ravages the covenant of marriage itself, affecting families, society, and the community charged with sustaining promises of faithful love.” 

Some abusive spouses may use Scripture against their victim by misusing verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:5: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Some wrongly conclude that this verse connotes that the spouse owes her husband by giving her body to him whenever he pleases. But this reading misses that the marriage bed is about giving to one another willingly, rather than through coercion.

MeWhat are some specific ways we can minister to those who have suffered sexual assault? What are things to avoid?

HolcombThankfully, this is a common question, so Lindsey and I made a list. If you are a loved one, friend, or pastor serving a victim of sexual assault, here are some suggestions on how to best care for that person. 

  1. Don’t minimize or deny what happened to the victim. 
  2. Listen. Don’t judge or blame the victim for the assault. Research has proven that victims tend to have an easier adjustment after abuse or an assault when they are believed and listened to by others.
  3. Do not to ask probing questions about the assault. Questions like this can cause revictimization. Follow the victim’s lead and listen.
  4. Let the victim know the assault(s) was not his or her fault. 
  5. Reassure the victim that he or she is cared for and loved.
  6. Let the victim know that he or she does not have to manage this crisis alone.
  7. Be patient. Remember, it takes time to deal with the crime. 
  8. Remember that each sexual assault victim has different needs. What may have been beneficial for one person might not work for another.
  9. Empower the victim. Refrain from telling him or her what should be done and from making decisions on the victim’s behalf. Present the victim with options and help him or her think through them.
  10. Encourage the sexual assault victim to seek medical attention. 
  11. Encourage the victim to talk about the assault(s) with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law enforcement officer, another victim, or a trusted friend.
  12. Fight on behalf of the victim against the lies and challenge the myths and misconceptions about sexual assault.
  13. Take care of yourself. As a support person, you need to be healthy in your caregiving role.
  14. Learn what to say and what not to say.
  15. Avoid placating statements as an attempt to make the victim feel better. 
  16. Take time to notice where the victim is in the healing process and do not rush him or her through it. Help the victim keep moving through it at a pace comfortable to him or her rather than trying to force progression to a different stage immediately.
  17. If you are a husband or a wife who is supporting your spouse through the effects of sexual assault, here are two specific suggestions:
    • Encourage him or her to tell a trusted friend or friends. It is a good idea for the victim to have a broad support base, as it can be exhausting if the supporting spouse is the only one involved. You won’t always be available to talk, and at times it can be easier for a victim to talk to someone of the same sex about certain dimensions of an assault.
    • Don’t ever press or whine for sex or intimacy.
  18. If you are a parent or guardian who is supporting a child through the effects of sexual assault, here are two specific suggestions:
    • Advocate for your child. This means pursuing justice by calling the police and finding a good counselor who knows how to deal with the sexual abuse of children.
    • If the assault occurred because of your negligence, apologize to your child and ask your child to forgive you.

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