Michael Joseph Cave (Dec 18, 1995–Nov 19, 2010)

pic-of-Stephen-and-Michael-283x300I just read a tutorial for bloggers suggesting reader-centered-what’s-in -it-for-me writing. Usually that’s what I do, but not today. Instead this will be a window into the state of the heart of the Cave family. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

This last year has been the most emotionally challenging of our lives. A year ago this time everything was pretty normal, with two girls off at college, Annie gearing up for her senior (high school) basketball season, Michael finishing his first year of JV/Varsity football, and all the busyness of a big family at a fun stage of life.

You never know what a day may bring forth. Last November 14th, 2010 our family went to church, drove to Columbia, S.C. to have a picnic lunch with my wife’s cousins, career missionaries, before they returned to Kenya and Ethiopia. The second cousins enjoyed playing football after lunch, the picture of health and happiness. The next day Michael, just shy of age 15, was ill with what appeared to be a virus; the next day was in the local ER, and then in Children’s Hospital; by Friday night he had died from hemolytic anemia.

Neither Beth nor I worried about his destiny, for he looked to Jesus in faith from a young age. Had such not been the case, he had as much opportunity for last minute preparation as for fastening his seat belt after impact. He was in an induced coma the last two days. We were not prepared for Michael’s death but he was. In a journal entry in middle school he wrote that if he could meet and talk to anyone, past or present, he’d like to meet Jesus!

I love that boy whom Beth described as one who had all my strengths without my weaknesses. Part of that is due to rose colored glasses through which we view those who have passed; part of it is parental pride; part is that image-bearers of God reflect the Creator. When we hosted dinner guests and the meal was over, he always stayed for the adult conversation. His pallbearers were two men with whom we hunt, his football coach, his youth leaders, and a mechanic with whom he had done “car care Saturdays” for single moms since a boy.

He was very mechanical, a great wing shot and gifted soccer player, had outstanding reading comprehension, and could speak well. He related well to everyone and routinely took initiative. He loved his mother. He left a big hole in our family…a big, big hole.

A midwife friend, who delivered most of our children, pinpointed the grief: “Our children are our dreams and aspirations”. Children are, “the message we send to a generation we will never see”, the means by which we touch the future. But which future? Before, the “future” was limited to the future of this current earth and generations that will occupy it. But now I see a horizon beyond the horizon. (Motivated by wanting to know more about where this precious boy is, I’ve studied Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.) It has raised my vistas from the temporal to the eternal in a way that could have never happened otherwise.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. II Cor. 4:16-18

We’ve got a consolation that’s a dream come true. Unless Easter and all the Church stands for is the greatest hoax ever foisted on humankind, we’ve only got a hiatus. Because we have a Savior, “I haven’t lost him (I know where he is) rather I’ve lost contact with him” (Alcorn)…and even that, but for a season. There’s going to be a very noisy day in our future when the “cells dissolution will be reversed, the molecules be reknit, and the amino acids be rekindled” (John Updike). Michael’s spirit will reoccupy his resurrected body and we will have our first reunion in the sky. I Thes. 4

Before Michael’s death, I anticipated an annual camping/hunting trip which always had to end. Now I’m anticipating exploring a new heaven and new earth, similar to but far superior to this sin-scarred earth, Eden-like without sin’s taint. The best is not behind us; it is yet to come.

So we still cry, but we grieve with hope, not despair. My tears are pretty brief these days before hope’s infusion pushes them away. I’m now one year closer to hugging that precious son again. This earthly life will never be the same for me. Before, most of my treasure was here. Now I’ve got more treasure in heaven, and a big part of my heart has followed.



The Paradox of Insurance

We buy insurance to help our families. Can this effort hurt them? Most people pay more into insurance than they receive out of it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could trust our instincts to do the right thing? Frequently, however, our natural inclinations lead us astray. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Pr. 28:26

We see it personally: greed leads to want. “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.” Pr. 11:24.

We see it in government: raising tax rates decreases tax revenue; sponsoring welfare kills personal initiative and fosters generational poverty; lowering lending standards to encourage home ownership creates a housing crisis.

The same is true in insurance. Recently a wife called about buying a $1 million, 20 year level premium term life policy costing $5000/year on her 57 year old husband. It will probably make her a poorer widow. The actuarial tables say the chance (after screening with an exam and blood work and for driving and smoking habits) he will die within 20 years is highly unlikely. After all how many $1,000,000 claims can they pay collecting $100,000 (20yrs x $5k)? After 20 years, the premiums explode as he approaches normal life expectancy, forcing most policyholders to discontinue.

However she just had a close family member die accidently. With this fresh in her mind, her most easily recallable fear lured her to a plan unlikely to deliver. Yes, statistically she is likely to be a widow, but her husband’s life expectancy is closer to age 82, comfortably beyond reach of the 20 years. Dollar cost averaging those premiums at 7% would accumulate to over $200,000. So there’s over a 90% probability this policy will “cost” her this much for the widowhood most wives face.

Might a $500K 10 or 15 year term policy meet the need for much less cost?

Proverbs 19:2 says, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (impulsively responding to fear). What kind of knowledge should one have when buying life insurance?

  • Know what normal life expectancy is, in light of your health, etc.
  • Know what future premiums are after the level period.
  • Know the opportunity cost. Figure what premiums would accrue to if invested for the same duration. Consider a Roth IRA using Sector Fund Rotation strategy.

Fear is an enslaving human emotion that not only undermines sound investing, but it also causes Americans to waste billions of dollars each year in unnecessary insurance premiums. This is a paradox: the insurance that claims to save us costs us in the end.

Is Insurance Biblical?

The mathematical chassis upon which insurance is built is commended by Scripture: utilizing numeric strength to meet the needs of some through the strength of others and thus level out some bumps along life’s path.

  • Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. …. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Eccl 4:9ff
  • For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality- at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; II Cor. 8:13ff
  • And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. … And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:44ff

The goal is to meet needs through sharing, but it’s on a volunteer basis motivated by trust, obedience, and generosity, rather on a contractual basis motivated by fear and greed. It’s sort of like the difference in a wedding covenant “for better or worse” versus a prenuptial contract.

However the motivation by which insurance is frequently promoted (encouraging worry and worse-case-scenario thinking) and bought (fear and forgetting God) is not Biblical. What pleases God and testifies to the world is when this is done on a voluntary basis in faith.

Let me add an important word here about our emotions, for although fear can lead us astray, God created emotions and realizes that we are emotional creatures (“but dust” Ps. 103:14). He gives babies mothers to hold them close, he wept with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus despite knowing He was about raise him to life. He also gives us some very practical advice that will make us feel secure and it is primarily about debt: have none, have some reserves. Also, tithe and test Me in the process. Learn how I will meet your needs.

This is a very important distinction. The subprime mortgage crisis was not caused by too little insurance but by too much debt. Too little insurance will not be the downfall of America (in fact shrinking it would help); debt is much more likely to be our downfall. A debt-free person is stronger than a well-insured one.

God doesn’t just throw us out unclothed into a harsh emotional winter and say, buck up. He gives us very practical priorities which will strengthen us for real life contingencies that insurance never will: bringing your wife home to care for kids, losing a job, underemployment, a decline in real estate values, emergency outlays, helping a friend; as well as an “early” death, disability, or casualty loss (commonly insured events).

My beef with insurance is that it’s often a distraction from what strengthens us most, when on average it shrinks every dollar. God wants us to be secure, not merely feel secure and insurance is often more illusory than real.

One purpose of IIA is to help you avoid some of the unbiblical ways it’s promoted and bought which lead to excess. It’s easier for us to do this since we are not compensated based on how much you buy.

The High Cost of Idolatry

Can Insurance become a form of Idolatry? Please bear with me here, if you think I’m nuts, for the point of this question is not merely esoteric. It affects your pocketbook.

Where do you look for security? Would it be more threatening to not pay your tithe or not pay your premium?

You’ve probably heard the humorous story of the man who falls off the cliff. He grabs a root near the top and as he holds on for dear life yells, “Help! Can anyone help me?” The response comes, “I am God and I’ll catch you. Let go.” After a brief pause, he replies, “Is there anyone else up there that can help me?” We smile because we relate; faith is unnatural. Man has always been reluctant to trust God. Even in the Garden, Adam got suspicious. So we make our provisions.

In I Samuel 8, Israel was led by Samuel, God’s priest. However they wanted to be like the other nations and have a king to “go out before us and fight our battles”. They wanted something more concrete and visible; they wanted something that would make them feel safe; they wanted to do it the way those who did not know God did it; they wanted to walk by sight rather than faith. God didn’t like that, but He allowed it. Then He explained a very important consequence.

This king will “take your sons and make them serve, He will take your daughters … He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves … He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage … Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take … and you yourselves will become his slaves.” You can have him, but the cost is high. One day you will regret it.

A major part of smart insurance buying is choosing an amount. While folks will agonize over getting the best rate, they often overbuy in amount. (Straining at gnats and swallowing a camel.) This is exacerbated in the typical sales context where there is no incentive to carefully bring out how one is insured already. If you forget God, insurance can become an idol, and you will tend to overuse it. Larry Burkett asked, “If you die, does God die with you?”

Most insurers are inefficient financial intermediaries. They have a very high cost of acquiring business, state premium taxes, and then like any corporation have overhead, profit to stockholder, etc. Most people pay more in than they get out.

We often compartmentalize our finances when choosing an amount of insurance, but it’s usually smart to carefully consider other resources that might help us. Would my wife work, might she downsize the house, is there a future inheritance, Social Security? Then use insurance sparingly rather than liberally.

Fear or Faith – What’s Motivating You?

When we have a problem, awareness is the first step to cure. Consumers have a problem. As much as some may point the finger at insurance sales practices, the fact is insurance consumers are ripe for manipulation without a sales agent.

Fear is rooted in the core of every human heart and it’s the invisible foundation upon which is built all those insurance company buildings that punctuate most large city’s skylines. Sure there are unpredictable events that occur on earth (that’s part of the problem too), but those are events over which we have little influence. It is our emotional response to those possibilities that make us buy poorly.

Ever since that one act of original sin, that reluctance to trust and rest in God alone, man has been fearful. (Genesis 3:10) It was a result of the curse. Our fearful nature makes us very vulnerable to mistakes. Here are a couple of examples.

Our fears tempt us to focus on worse case scenarios, “What if?” and we list out all the potential problems. But if Jesus emphasizes, “I will never leave you or forsake you”, or “don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will care for itself”, then worse- case-scenario thinking must not be of Him.

Fear can be good if it leads you in the best direction, but insurable fears are often distractions from the tried and proven path to financial freedom.

Good fears:

Fear God and honor Him with the tithe. He is your provider and protector.

Fear debt and recognize it as enslavement. Get free.

Fear the fact that you don’t know what tomorrow holds. Have an emergency fund.

Misleading fears:

So we buy a life policy, but mom gets pregnant and needs to come home from work (it helps little); we buy a disability policy, but get laid off; we buy dental insurance, but the transmission goes out. Due to the narrow nature of insurance it often doesn’t help out, whereas God’s priorities are broader and would have helped out with all three.

We are born with embers of fear smoldering within us. Commissions tempt agents to fan those embers. This negative synergy wastes a lot of dollars.