Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Relax in a place...(Part 2)

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Relax In A Place... Let's Review

In my last post, Relax in a place...(Part 1), we looked at this phrase used by Dave Ramsey on his radio show and Financial Peace University. When you have your "financial stuff together," there is definitely a sense of relaxed peace that descends into your life!

In my first post, I wrote on three immediate areas of being able to relax in your finances, areas such as making purchases and paying bills, giving back to God, and planning for emergencies and future purchases. In this post, we will look at the five step process that we need to go through in order to get us closer to be able to relax in our financial life.

The Process of Relaxation

In order to get to the place where you can chill about money, you need to go through a process. First, you need to assess where you're currently at, financially. How much money do you have in the bank? How much debt do you have? Are you behind on any of your bills? Before you can move on to the next steps, you need to have an accurate picture of where you're at exactly with your money.

Second, you need to establish a regular, monthly budget. I know the term "budget" scares a lot of people, but all it is, is a spending plan for your money for the time period of one month. Through a detailed spending plan, you're going to make your money work harder and last longer by assigning a name to every dollar - names like "giving," "savings," "groceries," and "cable." When you actually sit down and go through this process, then you are able to discover areas in which you can scale back or eliminate completely. For some of these categories, I would seriously consider going to the cash envelope system, especially in the areas where you may have a tendency to overspend, like groceries, eating out, entertainment, and clothing.

Third, once you have established your monthly spending plan, then you need to squeeze every available extra dollar out of that budget, and set it aside for a baby emergency fund. Ideally, your beginning emergency fund needs to be $1,000. This is a good starter fund to help cover financial emergencies such as car breakdowns or other unexpected household repairs.

Fourth, once you have $1,000 in the bank for emergencies, then you need to work your debt snowball. The debt snowball is simply listing all your debts smallest to largest. Then, using your monthly cash flow plan, you squeeze every available dollar into your debt snowball and start paying off all your debt as quickly as possible. Obviously, this is a longer-term, multiple-month plan that you will have to consider as you work on your cash flow plan each month.

Fifth, once you pay off all your debts, then you want to consider saving for a more substantial emergency fund. Dave Ramsey recommends 3-6 months worth of family expenses in cash savings. So, for example, if it takes your household around $3,000/month in expenses to survive, then you should put away between $9,000-$18,000 in a good money market account.

What A Great Place To Be!

If you can follow these steps, I guarantee that you will be able to relax in a place financially that you have never known before. You can focus on more important matters such as your family, your church, your calling, and your ministry when you're not worried about how to pay the bills each month. In my book, that's a great place to be.

Also, check out these related posts:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Relax In A Place...(Part 1)

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Financial Peace Allows Relaxation

If you're a Dave Ramsey fan, then you are probably familiar with the Dave's phrase "relax in a place..." He uses this phrase to describe the feelings that people experience when they begin to get control of their finances. I've heard him say this phrase before on the radio as well as in Financial Peace University.

I know from firsthand experience the peaceful, contented, relaxed feeling that flows out of a place inside your spirit (sorry, that sounded a bit Oprah-ish) when you finally get your money stuff together. Instead of worrying about your finances, you genuinely feel a sense of control, and I'm not talking about being a psycho, control-freak here, either. It's just a lot easier to live out life on a day-to-day basis when you're not worried if you're going to run out of money before you run out of month.

Areas of Relaxation

When you finally start getting a handle on your financial situation, there are a number of areas in which you begin to relax. The first area I think of is making purchases and paying bills. I'm sure you've experienced times like I did in the past when I wondered if I had enough money in my checking account when I was in line at the grocery store paying for groceries with my debit card. Or, if I had enough money left in the account when I was writing checks to pay the utility bills. And, now with massive increases in fuel prices over the last few years, I'm sure a lot of people are standing at the pump, stressing out, wondering if they even have enough money in their accounts to cover the cost of gas for their cars!

A second area for financial relaxation is giving, and as a believer in Christ, this really this should be the first area, shouldn't it? Once you have a grasp on your income and outgo and you have a working budget in place, it's a lot easier to tithe consistently and intentionally. Once I had a written out cash flow plan, I could clearly see that if I would simply plan my giving back to God at the very top of my budget spreadsheet, then I could figure out a way to make the rest of my budget work on the remaining money leftover. Instead of giving God my leftovers, I was giving Him the firstfruits, the very best of the money He had allowed me the privelege to manage for Him in the first place!

A third area for financial relaxation would be advanced planning for emergencies and future purchases. When you have at least a baby emergency fund in the bank as well as a monthly plan in place, it's just a heck of a lot easier to roll with the punches and go with the flow when little unexpected emergencies or financial problems crop up from time to time. You can usually just deal with your problem without too much stress or difficulty and move forward with your life!

To Be Continued...

In my next post, Part 2, I will conclude with the process of relaxation. I will go through five areas in which you will need to work through in order to bring relaxation and financial peace into your life. Stay tuned!

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Your Life Is Sacred

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The Meaning of "Sacred"

What do think of when you hear or read the word "sacred?" Do you have some kind of mystical, special place in mind? Maybe you think of your own church building or perhaps places like the town of Bethlehem, Nazareth, or Jerusalem?

The definition of the word sacred is holy; entitled to reverence; consecrated to God. Any object (such as the Tabernacle, Temple, or altar) or any person (such as a priest, missionary, or pastor) that has been set apart for service to God would be considered sacred.

The Life of a Believer Is Sacred

As a believer in Christ, have you ever considered that your very life is sacred? At the point of your salvation, God called you to be part of His family through the death, burial, and resurrection of His own Son, Jesus Christ. Even if you are just a "lay person" in a church, your life is just as sacred and set apart for ministry as the pastor or other staff members of your church. Your role in the body of Christ just looks different from their role.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10 we read,
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Because God has set us apart as His own special possession, He has called us to holy living. He wants us to live sacred, set-apart lives from that of the world:
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (2 Timothy 1:9)
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
So, How Do We Live Out a Sacred Life?

For the believer, God's Word is the roadmap for us as we strive to live out a sacred, holy life. In order to be more life Jesus, we must immerse ourselves in the Word and prayer on a consistent, daily basis. We know this to be true, but so few believers actually do it!

Some days are going to be better than others as we strive to live a life pleasing to God. On one day, we will be living out a sacred, holy life through the power of the Holy Spirit; and on the next day, we will be struggling with the fleshly nature. Even the great Apostle Paul had the exact same struggles that we have. In Romans 7:18b-25 we read Paul's lament on his struggle with the flesh:
… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
There is no magic wand we can wave, no secret formula we can drink in order to stay living in the Spirit versus living in the flesh. It is a process of daily humbling ourselves and submitting to God's control of our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. And, when we fall down, we immediately have an attitude of repentance, ask the Lord to forgive us, dust ourselves, and get up again, heading in the direction of Jesus.

Also, check out these related posts:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Giving Really Giving?

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The Definition of Giving

I recently ran across a definition of the word "giving" that reads like this: to bestow or input to another person without an equivalent or reward. I've also seen a similar definition that reads very much the same, but at the end says without an expectation for an equivalent or reward.

Giving to another person, an organization, or even back to God requires a total selfless act of the will. Our natural tendency since the fall of man back in the Garden of Eden is to live a selfish, closed-fisted life. When we get a hold of some money, we want to close our fist around it and not let it go - that's our fleshly nature just being selfish.

As we mature in our walk with Christ, though, we should be allowing the Holy Spirit to take control of our money. We should be relaxing our selfish hands and allowing God to use us to be givers and not just receivers and takers.

Does This Definition Really Ring True?

When we give back to others and God, I believe we should have a totally selfless attitude and have no expectation of an equivalent or reward. But, I don't think this definition is correct and here's why: through the act of giving we do experience an equivalent or reward.

I believe that God has created a "universal law" that when we give back to Him and others that He opens up at least the possibility for equivalent rewards. I've seen it time and again in people's lives as well as in my own life that God blesses extravagant giving.

First, God gives us joy in giving. It's a personally gratifying, joyful experience to be able to even have the opportunity to give back. A lot of times, that's an equivalent reward in and of itself!  At the very least, the first, immediate reward for giving can be the self-satisfaction that you have done the right thing in the eyes of God and others. You receive back the gift of joy that you have been able to bless God, your church, or another person as a result of giving.

Second, God takes what we give here on earth and stores up our treasure in Heaven. I would actually count this heavenly treasure as way more than an equivalent reward because we will have the opportunity to enjoy this treasure for all of eternity! Obviously, this is not an immediate, recognizable reward for giving. We must live by faith that we will receive this reward when we enter into His heavenly kingdom when we pass from this life into the next.

Third, I believe that many times God does bless us financially for having open hands and living a life of generosity. He is seeking out excellent money managers to handle His wealth. When believers handle His money wisely and generously, His tendency seems to be to give his best money managers even more to manage.

Is Giving Really Giving?

So, the question that begs to be answered here is giving really giving? And the answer is probably "yes and no!" The act of giving should be done with the expectation for nothing in return. But, the reality is that there are immediate as well as long-term equivalent rewards: we receive joy through the act of giving; we lay up treasure in Heaven for all of eternity; and God blesses us with even more to manage wisely and generously! Giving is a win-win all around.

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Praying for the Double Blessing

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Dealing With Loss

Several months ago, I shared My Story (part 1 and part 2) of a messy divorce and life lessons learned as a result of living through a difficult time for almost two years.

I attempted to do the right thing at every twist and turn during that period of time. I prayed multiple times a day for God to bring restoration and healing. I spent time in the Word as well as other Christian books on marriage. I sought counsel from my friends and spiritual leaders. I even went to a professional therapist.

A New Prayer

For whatever reason, God did not answer my prayers the way I thought He would answer them. As the divorce process dragged on, I could see that the inevitable would take place - a divorce I didn't want even though I was assured by family and friends that I had the Biblical grounds to allow it to take place. 

So, about a year ago near the end of my divorce process, I started praying a different prayer. I prayed a prayer for a double blessing. In a sense, I (figuratively) "grabbed hold of the horns on the altar" and began praying for God to give me a blessing on the other side of this whole mess for at least attempting to do the right thing. While I continued to pray for a possible healing and restoration, I also realized that I was locked into an extreme spiritual battle that was out of my control. God was going to use this situation for His purposes and all I needed to do was to worry about being obedient to what He wanted me to do.

The Double Blessing

The Bible has a few stories regarding blessing as a result of adversity. First, I think of Job. Job experienced tremendous loss and heartache. All of his wealth was stripped from him when He lost all of his livestock and servants to raiders and storms. Then, his seven sons and three daughters were tragically killed when their home collapsed by a strong wind. Finally, Job was stripped of his health when Satan inflicted boils all over his body. The Bible states that through all of his trials, Job remained steadfast to God. He retained his personal integrity and would not curse God. As a result of Job passing his trials, God blessed him twice as much in the second half of his life:
After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before…The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years (Job 42:10, 12-17).
Second, I think of the Prayer of Jabez. In 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 we read,
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 
Jabez was birthed in pain and so-named as a result. I mean, how would you like it if your name meant "pain?" You would probably walk around with a sad, defeated attitude on most days; but not Jabez! He prayed for God to bless his life, and God blessed him!

The Obligatory Disclaimer

Over the last several months as I have crossed over to the other side of my journey, I am sensing answers to my prayers for double blessing. There have been financial blessings, and there has been the blessing of a new relationship. Even though I am totally undeserving of His blessing, He in his mercy and grace has chosen to answer those prayers. I look forward to seeing how these blessings will continue to unfold over time. In spite of the challenges and disappointments, God has been good to me and I am forever grateful to Him.

But, I must add that God is God, and He is going to do whatever He wants to do that will best accomplish His Kingdom purposes. This may include a "double blessing" in your life after going through a time of great difficulty, and at other times, it may mean that He has a different definition for "blessing" than you do. At these times, we will need to learn to submit to His will and purpose for our lives.

I don't know what you're going through, today, but don't give up on God and what He is trying to do in and through your life right now. Be obedient and submit to His will. Along your journey, pray for His double blessing on the other side of it all, then wait and see how God answers your prayers.

Also, check out these related posts:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Work the Problem

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Houston, We Have A Problem

Have you ever seen the movie Apollo 13? This is the film based on the ill-fated flight of Apollo 13 that took place in April of 1970. Two days into its flight to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded on the service module, causing astronauts Lovell, Swigert, and Haise to completely miss their opportunity to land on the moon. Their new mission was simply to survive the remainder of the flight and return safely to earth in one piece.

My favorite quote from the movie is when Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris, told the mission control personnel, "Let's work the problem people. Let's not make things worse by guessing." As the ground crew was attempting to assess what the problems were onboard the spacecraft, a lot of conjecture was taking place regarding those problems and possible solutions. Kranz had to remind his people that they needed to work the problem based on the hard facts that they had in front of them, and not to base their solutions on guesswork. The lives of three men were depending on intelligent, fact-based solutions.

I like Kranz's quote so much, that I printed off a portion of it, "Work the Problem," and put it up on the wall of my office. It inspires me to handle all the little problems that may come my way at work.

Problems Are Everywhere

Everyday, we all encounter problems. In our lifetime, some of these problems are going to be MAJOR, life-threatening, dangerous ones - problems such as death of a loved one, a serious health concern, a difficult divorce, or the loss of a job. At some point in our lives, all of us will have to walk through some challenging situations in which we will need to focus the majority of our energy just to get through it. Sometimes, we will be successful in navigating through the difficulty, such as the crew of Apollo 13. And at other times, we may fail. When we do fail, we will just need to dust ourselves off, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward in life.

The majority of problems we face, though, are going to be relatively insignificant. All the little problems, though, have a way of distracting us. We get so focused on the little issues and how they are slowing us down. Any forward momentum stops, and we sit and stew on little problems. But, if we would simply just take a little time to focus some of our energy on "working the problem(s)" and moving forward, then we would expend smaller amounts of time, energy, and resources. In the end, we will be more productive.

Don't Freak Out

Our naturally tendency, though, is to FREAK OUT when we encounter even the smallest of problems. While this is certainly understandable at times, we're not solving anything when we have a melt down. There's a saying and a book by the same name, "Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff." Try to relax, assess the problem, and develop solutions to the problem.

What are some of the big and small problems you are encountering right now? Are you objectively working the problem? Are you coming up with possible fact-based solutions to your problems? Have you sought out the counsel of others to help with your situation?

Go out and work your problems, today.

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freedom In Christ, Not Freedom From Giving

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Let Freedom Ring

At a time when we are celebrating our national freedom here in the United States, I am reminded of the freedom that we as believers enjoy in our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the following New Testament passages on Christian freedom.

In 2 Corinthians 3:16-17, the Apostle Paul writes,
But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
In Galatians 2:4-5, we read,
This matter [circumcision] arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Then, Paul states in Galatians 5:1,
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
The freedom that Paul writes about in these various passages is freedom from the rules and regulations of Jewish Law in the Old Testament. At this point in early church history, there was a group of Jewish believers who were teaching that in order to be a believer in Christ that you needed to follow specific requirements in Old Testament Law as well. The early church leaders argued regularly that this was a heretical teaching.

Old Testament Tithe vs New Testament Giving

I have blogged extensively on tithing in the Old Testament and giving in the New Testament in the following posts:
I won't spend a lot of time rehashing old material here, but regardless of which testament you look at, there is a mandate for tithing (and above) for the Jew under Old Testament Law and an appeal for extravagant, generous giving for the Christian in the New Testament. If you truly love God the Father and have been transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ, then the natural result should be an attitude of generosity.

Freedom Means Give More

Some Christians would have us believe that the freedom we have in Christ cancels out our need to give at the tithing level. These believers put the Old Testament requirement for tithing and let's say circumcision at the same level. These two requirements of the Law have been done away along with a host of others.

I would contend that our freedom in Christ actually means we should give more than the tithe, and here's why: Christ stated that He came to fulfill the Old Testament Law. Read Jesus' own words in the Sermon On the Mount in Matthew 5:17,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…”
After the Lord makes this statement, He gives some specific examples from the Law - murder and adultery. Check out these verses:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
In these passages, notice that Christ's stated fulfillment of the Law goes beyond an outward action to an inward heart attitude. What if we were to apply that same logic to the tithe requirement of the Law? I believe that one could make a strong argument that Christian giving goes way beyond the Old Testament tithe.

Also consider what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24,
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Within our freedom through Christ, we have the "right" not to give, but I would argue that not giving is not very beneficial to the Kingdom of God, the local church, or the believer. Through the act of giving, we invest into God's Kingdom here on earth as well as in heaven. We help fund the ministries of the local church that we attend on a regular basis. Finally, as we grow in our generosity, we are shaped into the image of God the Father and His Son who gave everything for us at Calvary.

So, during this time of celebrating our freedom as Americans, also remember the freedom we have in Christ. Don't abuse this freedom in exercising your "rights" not to give back to God, His church, and others. Allow your freedom in Christ to shape your generosity after His example - He gave EVERYTHING for you. Surely, you can give back much more to Him.

Also, check out these related posts: