Category Archives: Debt Reduction Course

Why You Must Create a Budget

Gary North

Jesus’ Parable of the Talents(Matthew 25:14-30)

Matthew 25 is the New Testament’s main chapter on the final judgment. In this context, Jesus offered the parable of the talents. A talent was a weight of silver or gold.

Jesus often used what I call pocketbook parables. People understand money. They are interested in money.

The parable of the talents teaches about personal responsibility and final judgment. It uses money to explain this. This parable reveals how God expects us to use our money. We are to expand it — meaning our influence — rather than waste it. This is a lengthy parable.

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There are five principles governing this passage:

1. God is the owner.
2. He delegates administration to representatives.
3. Each representative adopts a plan of action.
4. The owner requires a final accounting.
5. There is a system of inheritance and disinheritance.

This structure reflects the five points of the biblical covenant model. (On this model, read Rev. Ray Sutton’s book, That You May Prosper [1987]. Download it for free here.)

1. The sovereignty of God
2. The delegated authority of man
3. The law of God
4. The judgment of God
5. The kingdom of God

Put more commonly:

1. Who’s in charge here?
2. To whom do I report?
3. What are the rules?
4. What do I get if I obey or disobey?
5. Does this outfit have a future?

God is the Owner

God has servants (verse 14). All people are His servants. God also possesses assets (v. 14). In this case, talents (money). He allocates these talents in terms of the servants’ abilities. This means that He understands their abilities. He allocates the money unequally. The good performers receive more.

He then departs, putting His servants in charge. There is no escape from this responsibility. In the parable, He does not tell the servants what to do with this money. He leaves this up to them. They are responsible.

Each of them has a plan. Two enter into trade. The other one buries his talent.

The Owner Requires an Accounting

Two of the men double their money. The one who had more to begin with receives greater praise. He had greater responsibility. The owner praises both of them. He then rewards them according to their productivity. What is their reward? Greater responsibility.

The message is clear: We are to be net producers, not consumers, of wealth. We are to leave more behind than we inherited on our arrival.

One man returns the buried coin. He says he was governed by fear. He accuses the owner of being a hard man. He accuses him of benefiting where he had not worked. This is erroneous. He ignores the risk associated with allocation.

The owner curses him. He gives the spare talent to the most productive man. Conclusion: The rich get richer. The rich therefore get more responsibility

In Luke’s version of the parable, this is clear.

And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. (Luke 19:13-19)


1. There is no escape from responsibility.
2. There is no escape from stewardship.
3. There will be a final day of reckoning.
4. You are commanded to multiply your gifts.

If you are in debt for consumer goods, you are not multiplying. If you are deep in consumer debt, you are falling behind. You are in rebellion.

Making Your Budget

The three servants were required to present an accounting of their use of the assets entrusted to them. Each of them had a plan.

Having a successful plan requires budgeting. A budget lets us put numbers to our plans. These numbers serve as success or failure indicators. If we find that we are going deeper into debt, the numbers are failure indicators.

The parable is clear. We are to multiply our assets, in the broadest sense of the word: our talents. If you find that you are consuming your talents, you are in worse economic shape than the servant who buried his talent.

You need to monitor your success in handling money. A budget lets you do this. You need a plan. You need a budget.

Homework Assignment

Last week, I asked you to assemble receipts of your spending. This week, you must make a budget. I have provided free tools to help you do this.

If you don’t like using digital tools, then do it on a sheet of paper.


Free Download: That You May Prosper

Ray Sutton

To download this book as originally published (second edition, 1992), you must first download the free DjVu reader. It’s like the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Go here:

Once it is on your computer, you can read the book (unless you use FireFox). Download it here:

Lesson #1: Introduction

Gary North

Benefits and Costs

A good salesman presents the benefits of whatever he is selling. I want to list some of the benefits that you will receive if you adopt the spending program that I present in this course.

You will have greater confidence in yourself.You will have greater confidence in the word of God.

You will receive the foundations of a lifelong success program.

You will find that you have increased income every month after expenses.

You will be able to leave an inheritance for your children. I don’t mean simply an economic inheritance; I mean an inheritance relating to their lifestyle.

An honest salesman also discusses costs. With respect to the material you will be receiving in this course, these costs are actually benefits, but a person who has found himself in deep debt does not initially perceive that these costs are benefits.

It requires a leap of faith.It requires tithing, which means reduced consumption initially.

It requires a systematic program of budgeting.

It requires constant self-assessment through a series of budget reviews.

It requires a savings program.

What should you expect over the next 11 weeks?

First, there will be a weekly homework assignment. This is required to make good use of the following week’s lesson. These steps are cumulative.Second, you will be introduced to a series of tools that you can use to implement the recommended plan.

Third, if you join this site (free), you will be given hundreds of real-world ways that you can cut your spending without sacrificing greatly.

Fourth, if you join this site, you will be able to get advice on the forums.

Fifth, you will be asked to recommend this site to others.

Why should you do all this? Let’s go through the basics.

First you are worrying about money. You find that you have more month than money. If you stick with this course, you will stop worrying about money because you will have more money than month.

Second, you are paying other people for past purchases. When you’re through with this course, you will know how to live comfortably without signing away your future income.

Third, you are burdened by a sense of personal failure. There is a reason for this. You have failed. I am going to show you how to succeed.

Fourth, you lack a lifetime plan of action. I’m going to show you how to construct a new lifetime plan, and then follow through on it.

Fifth, you are consuming your children’s inheritance in the broadest sense of the term. They cannot look to you for guidance in the handling of their personal finances. Even if you know what to do, you’re going to be in the position of generations of parents who tell their children, “Do as I say, and not as I do.” That statement has never convinced very many children.

Where should you be after 11 weeks?

First, you should be rejoicing at your life’s benefits.Second you will be much less of a borrower. You will learn how to become a lender.

Third, you will find that you are expanding your personal influence. This is part of the training of this course.

Fourth, you will find that you are able to fulfill more of your life’s goals. Not only that, you will have new goals that you have not paid any attention to previously.

Fifth, you will find that you are on the road to accumulating wealth. You ought to be there now, but you’re not. This is going to change.

This course is going to show you what you must do. That is not enough. You need greater assistance than this. God is going to deliver you from debt-cursed living, but you can regard me as his nagging messenger. The Bible teaches that the borrower is servant to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). I am going to show you how to cease being a servant to lenders.

A 11-Step Recovery Program

This course is a how-to program. It will show how to get out of debt and stay out of debt for the rest of your life. It will provide the tools needed. The web site’s forums will provide assistance.

Create an email folder for this course. You will use this for filing each of the 12 lessons.

It would not hurt to create a separate folder for Favorites or Bookmarks to file the HTML pages, such as this one.

How-to programs are self-help programs. This is less of a self-help program than a 12-step addiction-deliverance program. If you could do it by yourself, you already would have done it.

The problem that we all face in life is that it is not good enough to know what to do; we then have to do it. Someone may want to lose weight, but he is not going to lose weight if he reads a diet book while munching on chips and bean dip. It may be the best diet book in the world, but unless he changes his eating habits, he is not going to lose any weight. It is exactly the same thing with personal finances.

This is your diet book. You must stay away from the bean dip.

Cure and Prevention

Those of us who are involved in direct-response marketing know that it is always easier to sell a cure than prevention. There is an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The problem is, most people are unwilling to pay for the ounce of prevention, so they wind up paying a pound of cure.

This is probably your situation.

If people were trained by their parents from an early age to budget their money, they would probably not fall into the trap of massive debt when they become adults. There is no guarantee that this would be the case, because the lure of “buy now, pay later” is very great. But, on the whole, people who learn good habits with respect to their spending when they are teenagers are much less likely to fall into bad habits when they are adults.

If you follow the recommendations that you will receive each week for the next 12 weeks, you will gain a new set of habits. These new habits will change your life. But, as with any new habits, it takes time to make them a part of your life. Even more difficult, when they have replaced a long-entrenched series of bad habits, a person finds that it is very difficult to keep from falling back.

One of the reasons why I divided up the course into 12 weekly lessons is because I know that people need time to make the transition from debt-based living to thrift-based living. It is almost impossible in a brief period of time to make all of the changes that you need to make. So, I have put together a course that will take you through the fundamentals in a 12-week period. The course will not simply tell you the fundamentals; it will enable you to adopt these new habits as part of a new way of living.

In the same way that a diet is not supposed to be a temporary change of a person’s eating habits, so is this program not supposed to be a one-time debt-reduction program. A diet may work for the period of time that you are on the diet, but if you go off the diet, it will have done you no good.

In the same way that a diet does not do you much good if you see it as a temporary change to achieve a short-term goal, such as going back to your high school reunion in a slimmer condition, so this course will do you no good if you think it is merely a means of getting debt free on a one-time basis.

Your goal should not be to get debt-free on a one-time basis. Your goal should be to stay debt-free for the rest your life. A diet will not keep you slender unless it becomes a new way of eating. The same is true of the information that you will receive in this course.

The Curses of Debt

People who are in debt have very little wiggle room with their budget. They have no room for emergencies. The trouble is, I emergencies always arise. So, people go into greater debt in order to handle the emergencies. This is a downward spiral.

When you are in debt, you have low mobility. You have low mobility geographically, and you have low mobility in your career. You are unable to take advantage of opportunities that spring up, because you are so far in debt that you are unable to rely on personal financial reserves long enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

Another curse of debt-based living is that you make purchases that you later feel guilty about. You are tired of the guilt, but you seem to be unable to break the addiction of making purchases. I’m going to show you how to escape that bondage.

You face higher interest costs than other people, precisely because you have so much debt. You cannot take advantage of low mortgage rates, because lenders are not going to lend you money at the lowest possible rates.

You are paying more for the goods that you buy because you are not paying cash. You do not have cash, so you are not in a position to negotiate lower prices. This is always a disadvantage. Money talks. Cash talks loudest of all.

30 Days to Better Spending Habits

It takes 30 consecutive days to break a bad habit. I discuss this here. But debt addiction involves more than one bad habit. This is why deliverance will take you longer than 30 days. With this 12-week course, it will take you at least 84 days.

It took you longer than 84 days to get into bad habits. Remember this law of human action: Things are easier to get into than out of.

This Week’s Homework Assignment

Here is your first homework assignment. Collect as many receipts as you have for your expenditures over the past three months. I hope you have saved the receipts somewhere. If not, you must develop the habit of saving receipts. This is going to help you determine where your money is going. Right now, you need to know where your money went. I hope you are in a position to make this determination. Go through all of your records to find out where your money went.

If you don’t have physical receipts, you have receipts in your credit card statements. Gather those credit card statements together in one location. I am not asking you to go through them yet. I am asking you merely to assemble them as a first step.

There will be an assignment at the end of every lesson.

Identifying Your #1 Goal in Life

Gary North

If you do not have a compelling lifetime goal, you do not have a compelling reason to get out of debt.

You must perceive your debt-accumulating lifestyle as a threat to your legacy. Your spending habits are your enemy.

If you do not see how your lack of thrift is thwarting your achievement of something really significant, then it will be difficult for you to make the mental changes required to get out of debt and stay out.

If God poured out His blessing on your work, what should that work be?

Your #1 Lifetime Goal

What is your #1 lifetime goal? If you say, “to serve God,” that’s not specific enough.

How do you know if you are getting closer to your goal if your goal is to serve God? What success indicators do you use? What timeline do you use?

If you are not highly specific, you cannot plan effectively. You need medium-term goals as markers. The same is true for short-term goals. You need a series of temporal markers. If you don’t have them, you will not be able to pace yourself rationally.

You must match your dream with your skills. You must also match it with your capital, which above all includes time.

You could drop dead tomorrow. But if you arrange your goals in stand-alone segments, you will leave something behind that is of value, even if you die before your scheduled goal.

What is it that you would like in your obituary? On your headstone? I know what I want on mine: O deadline, where is thy sting?

You will probably not be remembered three generations after you die. Hardly anyone ever is. Even then, only a couple of facts survive in the history books. So, fame is illusive. It is probably worse than money as a mistaken goal. It fuels ambition for self.

In contrast, leaving something behind that survives physically, like a work of art, or institutionally, such as a way to get things done, is legitimate.

If you figure out a way to get a task done, and it gets imitated, you have accomplished something important.

If you put up a blogsite that helps people, and is practical enough to survive for a hundred years, that is important.

How about a video series on YouTube or another video site? The Web will keep your work alive long after you are dead. This has never before been possible for people to plan for.

The technology of leaving behind an enduring legacy is now available to almost anyone who can find this website. Yet most people do not perceive the opportunity.

What is a person’s calling? It is the most important thing he can do in which he would be most difficult to replace. Want more information on this? Click here.

Have you identified your calling? Will it lead to a legacy that someone younger will be able to imitate? Is your calling tied to your #1 goal in life? Will it be extended after you die?

Your Assignment

What are your talents? Write them down.

How much time do you think you have? Aim at age 70 (Psalm 90:10).

What assets do you own that can help you? This is your capital. Do an inventory.

If you were out of debt, would you be able to pursue this goal more effectively? Be specific.

You need motivation to get out of debt and stay out. If you can identify this motivation now, you will find the task ahead of you easier to attain.

Your Job or Your Calling: Which Comes First in Your Life?

Gary North

Maybe you have read about a minister who was preaching about how he was ready to die when his work was over. Then he fell backward and died.

He had suffered a heart attack. Although there were physicians in the congregation, they couldn’t do anything to help him. He was dead long before the paramedics arrived.

The Associated Press picked up the story. So did Yahoo. CNN reported it. You can still find the story on the Web. Search for “minister,” “Jack Arnold” and “dies.”

Paul Harvey reported that “Pastor Jack Arnold’s last words were, ‘And when I get to heaven,’ . . . and he went!”

A spokesman for the church said it is not uncommon for people to die on the job. Quite true, but usually they don’t die immediately after making comments about being ready to die, unless they are on the local PD’s bomb squad.

His son reported this on his blogsite:

Jack Arnold, 69, was preaching in Orlando, Fla., on his life verse: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He quoted John Wesley and pointed upward: “As long as God has work for me to do, I am immortal, but if my work is done, I’m outa here.”Moments later he spoke his last sentence about heaven, stopped, grabbed the pulpit, swayed briefly and fell backward. Medics say the heart attack killed him immediately.

“He was just all there, and then not there at all, like a hand came through the roof and snatched him out of his body,” said Chris Williams who told me he was sitting in the front row only five feet from where Dad fell. Arnold had not been famous in the way that his seminary classmate Hal Lindsey is famous. Hal Lindsey is a celebrity. Rev. Arnold never was.

He had been one of John Wooden’s players at UCLA. Coach Wooden sent this message to the church:

The circumstances of Jack’s passing was consistent with how he played the game of basketball as a member of the UCLA team. He always gave everything he had right down to the very last second. He was not blessed with as much physical ability as others, but no one worked harder or was more highly respected than Jack.

He was not a starter, and he was there early in Wooden’s UCLA career, before Wooden became legendary as the coach whose teams won ten NCAA championships. But only 172 men played for Wooden, so it was some kind of honor.

Jack Arnold made a difference in my life.

I first met him in 1960. He was instrumental in shaping my own thinking — one of the dozen people who most influenced me most, although I saw him only a few times. He was a youth minister, as I recall. I did not attend his church, but someone I knew at UCLA had told me I should talk with him. That was good advice.

Before I met him, I had never heard the phrase, “Don’t let the good interfere with the best.” This possibility had not occurred to me. But the more I thought about it, the more profound it seemed.

There are many good things that we can do. Each of us possesses many talents. We possess many opportunities to be productive.


As I studied economics, I began to appreciate Adam Smith’s story of the pin-makers. Through specialization and through capital equipment (tools), they are vastly more productive than a specialist in pin production who makes one pin at a time, step by precise step. He cannot compete by price. He loses his job.

We tend to see this as a disaster for the solitary pin-maker. Those other people, with minimal skills, have destroyed his career. Hooray for them, we think. Tough bananas for him.

This is the wrong way to look at the development. Human labor is highly flexible. Unlike machines, we humans can learn lots of ways to be productive. When we are freed up from one task, we can learn a new skill. That’s what it means to get a promotion.

Smith warned that the life of a pin-maker in a factory is boring and even demeaning. Who wants to go through the same repetitive motions all day? Over time, machines replace this kind of labor. That is good news for those freed up to do more creative things.

We all fear losing our jobs. But when we are displaced because a machine or low-skilled person does what we do, but cheaper, we should see this as a liberation. I don’t want to be known as a man who spent his life doing what a machine could do far better. Do you?

The man who lost his career to lower paid pin-makers with machines was liberated. He could devote the remainder of his life to work that offers greater opportunities for displaying his God-given talents and vision. But nobody ever thinks about what happened in 1776 to the newly unemployed pin-maker.

Occasionally, I have met people who have lost their careers. I can think of only one who was truly bitter. Over 20 years ago, I was picked up at the airport by a man driving a hotel van. He griped all the way to the hotel about Ronald Reagan. He had been a well-paid worker as a flight controller. When PATCO struck, illegally, against the U.S. government to gain better working conditions, Reagan stood his ground, refused to negotiate, told them to go back to work, and warned them that if they refused, they would be replaced. Most of them refused. Every one of these hold-outs lost his job. They were immediately replaced without incident by people who were happy to work for the original wages. PATCO ceased to exist. So, this new minimum-wage worker, driving that hotel van, got no sympathy from me. He had suffered a self-inflicted wound. He also got no tip from me. The only tip I should have given him was: “Get over it.”

I have suffered such a career loss. It was painful at the time, but it liberated me. I can remember when it happened. I had experienced what the departing University of California Chancellor Clark Kerr had described a few years earlier. “I am leaving this job just as I entered it: fired with enthusiasm.” I was lamenting my plight to a woman who was probably younger then than I am now. She said it had happened to her husband. She offered this advice: “It happens at least once to everyone with any talent. Regard it as a learning experience.” So it was.

Within a few months, I was in Washington as a research assistant to Congressman Ron Paul. Then it happened again: he lost the election a few months later by 168 votes out of 180,000. I was back on the street again. But within weeks, I went to work for Howard Ruff. And all through the period, I had income from my newsletter, REMNANT REVIEW.

That is another lesson. I had a fall-back business. I preferred not to touch that income. I used the money for advertising to build up my paid subscriber base. I kept getting better at this as I taught myself the basics of direct-response advertising.

Note: the best piece of advice I did not take at the time was from advertising genius — I did not perceive this at the time — Dan Rosenthal, who told me in 1973 to read Rosser Reeves’s “Reality in Advertising.” I did . . . 20 years later.

In the month before I lost my government paycheck, I began scheduling full-page magazine ads for a book I had assembled from old copies of REMNANT REVIEW. Within two years, I had sold (as I recall), over 20,000 copies at $10 each ($25 in today’s money). I also convinced 2,000 of these book buyers to subscribe to REMNANT REVIEW for $60 a year. I never looked back. Three years after I lost my government job, I had 22,000 paid subscribers.

My point is simple: adversity is the mother of creativity. When we face brick walls, we find ways under, over, or around them. Or we go into the brick wall business and sell them.

I have known U.S. Marines in my life. None of them ever told me that he would like to go through boot camp again. All of them told me they were glad they did it once.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that he was glad for his years in the prison camps. The experience had stripped him of everything he owned. He learned how to be a man in a society that produced broken men outside the camps. In a way, this was a variation of Kris Kristofferson’s line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Solzhenitsyn became Russia’s most eloquent anti-Communist. He did more to undermine Western intellectuals’ respect for Communism than anyone else prior to the fall of the USSR in 1991.

Of course, he survived the camps. Tens of millions didn’t. But persecution is an old feature of tyrannical governments. There have been many victims of State coercion. The question is: What does the victim do with his opportunity? All of life is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to do better, to serve better, and to make a difference.

What seemed like a bad thing can be a good thing. This raises another question.


This brings me back to Jack Arnold’s observation. How can the good interfere with the best? Answer: By blinding prodding the do-gooder to best-doing.

When we are doing well by doing good we are tempted to rest on our laurels. We continue to do the same old thing. It’s comfortable. We like the comfort of the familiar when the money is rolling in. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Yet things around us are broken. There may be money in fixing them. There may not be. But lots of things are broken. They need fixing.

In 1981, I was talking to a man about the concept of the calling. As I was talking, something became clear to me for the first time. A job is not usually a calling.

The two categories had been confused for centuries. Even Max Weber (“Mawx Vayber”) had gotten them confused in his influential book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Like a flash, it hit me. We put food on the table with our jobs. We gain significance from our callings. I came up with this definition:

Calling. Noun. The most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace.

When a man hits age 45, he begins to think about his calling. If he is successful in his job, he has achieved success. But success loses its allure. It grows familiar. It’s the same old stuff, day after day. It makes the world a little better, day by day, but it adds nothing new. He is mostly in replacement mode. “Now what should I do with my life?”

There are exceptions. Someone in medical research who is working to invent a cure for a dreaded disease probably has the sense that he is being paid to exercise his calling. He may achieve significance, or he may not, but significance in this case is a matter of invention, which cannot be programmed. (Well, maybe it can. Thomas Edison’s research organization produced over 1,000 patents. But there has never been another Edison.) He sticks to his knitting. He may not achieve significance by sticking to his knitting, but he surely will not achieve significance if he doesn’t.

For men, significance is rarely salaried. It’s a trade-off: security vs. significance. For those few who rise in the ranks, the trade-off becomes success vs. significance.

Men are employed in jobs that have specific requirements. Others can replace most of them within hours, if necessary. Some man working in a cubicle can be gone the next day: heart attack, firing, or running off with the next door neighbor. The corporation barely burps. “Replaceable him.”

As a father of pre-adult children, the missing man leaves havoc behind. Yet he did not earn a living as a father. He earned a living to support himself as a father.

His job was his occupation. His fatherhood was his calling, at least for a time.

There are lots of men who let the good — job — interfere with the best: fatherhood. This is a widespread lament by many Western men when the kids are gone . . . and maybe their wives, too.


We trade money against time. We can see this in the allocation of scarce resources. There are two ways to do this: by price or by rationing. The two boil down to these rules: “High bid wins” vs. “stand in line.” “Stand in line” is a variation of “first come, first served.” It is the difference between Federal Express and the Post Office.

If you had been flying over East Germany and West Germany in 1988 — and not been shot down — you would have known which country you were flying over by two things: cars on the highway below and the length of lines in front of buildings. West Germany had the cars; East Germany had the lines.

When you are long on time and short of money, you perceive the trade-off differently. Ben Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, made this observation: “A child thinks that 20 pounds and 20 years can never be spent.” An adult knows better.

By age 45, a man looks at his job and thinks, “Been there. Done that.” The marginal value of the next dollar begins to fall in relationship to the marginal value of the next minute. If it doesn’t, he may become the next Warren Buffett. Or maybe the next Bernie Ebbers.

The sand running through the hourglass — an archaic image that Bill Gates creatively adopted for digital delays — reminds us of the trade-off.

At some point, the trade-off usually ceases. The money is rolling in, but at some point won’t be. For most people, their money runs out before the sand does, which is what the debate over Social Security is all about. The occupation dies before the job-holder does.

What was a trade-off at age 20, 45, and 64 ceases upon retirement for most men. Money then runs out alongside of time. They both seem to run out faster and faster. It then becomes difficult to finance your own significance.

The trade-off between security and significance ceases to be a trade-off. Security departs, and significance never arrived.

This is why money, while good, is a threat to the best. When money is on short supply — at the beginning and at the end — it makes heavy demands on us. It becomes a siren song. It threatens to addict us. This is what Jesus meant by “mammon.” It means “more for me in history.” It is a false god. It is also a demanding god.

Significance must be funded — always by time, usually by money, too. Time is money. To spend time on non-profit A, you must forfeit the income that project B might have generated.

There is no escape from this. The sooner a person grasps this fact, the more significance he is likely to have.

Significance must be funded, steadily. Funding — usually by time — must become habitual. This leaves less income for other things.

Men groan about the cost of significance in forfeited money. “I’m just barely making ends meet as it is!” Then they spend three hours a night watching TV. They are trading money for leisure. They are also trading significance for leisure. Money isn’t flowing in, but neither is significance. Time is flowing out.

“Free television.” I would sooner believe “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”


I think of Jack Arnold in the pulpit. What he achieved in death, he never achieved in life, either on the basketball court or in the pulpit. The timing of his parting words, which was not his timing, was flawless.

I also think of the last words of Pete Maravich, surely the most spectacular white ball handler and shooter in basketball history. He was the supreme collegiate ball handler/scorer. He was playing a pickup basketball game at age 40. Radio family counselor James Dobson was on the court, and he heard Maravich’s parting sentence: “I feel great.” One minute later, he was dead. Maravich had already admitted to Dobson that he had spent too much of his life playing basketball. He had been famous. His scoring record in college ball still stands. Yet he knew that he had not allocated his time wisely. What had appeared to be significance had really been a high-paying job. Celebrity status is not significant.

Leave service out of it, and you have misunderstood the basis of any success you have had or will have. Success starts with service. So does significance.

Choose your forms of service well.