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)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

If Not Now, When?

Photo by Jon Newman
Procrastination Rules

We live in a really schizophrenic society in regard to wanting certain things in life immediately and then, on the flip side, dragging our feet in other life areas. There's no consistent behavior across the board. On the one hand, we have a culture in which instant oatmeal and microwave popcorn are popular food items because they're super fast and easy. When we need a quick breakfast or late night snack, we don't like to wait. We want our food, NOW! Or, if we're in a hurry to replace our old washer and dryer or a family van that has a few problems with it, then we don't hesitate to run out and do a 90 days same as cash deal for the latest and greatest home appliances or take out a 7-year car loan to replace the old and busted van.

On the other hand, we also have a tendency to drag our feet in other areas of life. Many times, these are important areas that need to be addressed...and we know it. But, we deliberately drag our feet in making an executive decision or taking action. We know we need to get moving on these certain areas, but we fail to pull the trigger and get things going.

I'm Staring At The Man In The Mirror

The biggest life areas of procrastination, in my opinion, are in the arena of personal life change. Each and every one of us has certain issues in our lives that need to be addressed. We can stare at ourselves in the proverbial mirror knowing that we need to change our ways. Maybe we need to shed a bunch of weight because we've just been plain ol' lazy in the areas of diet and exercise. Or, we need to our personal finances in order bcause we've been really sloppy in this this area. Or, we have a bunch of excess stuff in our house that we need to sort through, and then throw away, give away, or sell. Or, we need to be more consistent with doing a monthly budget and working our debt snowball. I'm sure all of us have a mental list of things we need to quit procrastinating about and take action.

Fear is probably our biggest obstacle when it comes to making some major, life changes. We have a fear of how much time and energy it's going to take to get in better physical shape. Or, worse yet, we fear what people will think of us, if and when we fail. We're fearful if we get back into doing the whole budget, debt free, "I love Dave Ramsey" thing, that it's going to cause more money fights and money problems with our spouse. All of these fears are definitely genuine and in the realm of possibility when you take action in order to accomplish some great thing(s) in your life.

Create A Compelling Future

The most effective tool in helping us move past our procrastination and into action would seem to be creating a compelling future. We need to have such an incredible, forward looking vision that this vision pulls us toward it. We take the appropriate actions necessary to create that future because we can't wait to get to that new, exciting time in our lives.

In his book Awaken the Giant Within, author Anthony Robbins gave this example of the power of creating a compelling future:
Venerable funnyman George Burns understands the importance and power of a compelling future. When asked to sum up his philosophy of life, he once replied, "You have to have something to get you out of bed. I can't do anything in bed, anyway. The most important thing is to have a point, a direction you're headed." Now in his nineties, he's still sharpening his wit, still taking on movie and TV projects, and I recently heard that he booked himself at the Lodon Palladium in the year 2000, when he'll be 104 years old - how's that for creating a compelling future?! (p. 321).
So, what's your compelling future? What's your vision of a "better life?" Christian, has God given you a vision and calling that He wants you to get moving on? Allow this vision, this compelling future to pull you forward into taking the actions necessary in order to see that future unfold in your life.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Is Not Just A Warm, Fuzzy Feeling

Photo by Matt Knoth
Nothing More Than Feelings

The word "thanksgiving." What do you think of when you hear that word? Do you think of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings? Do you think of holiday trips to see family and friends? Do you think of professional football on national TV? Both of my brothers love to watch the Detroit Lions play every Turkey Day. It's a tradition.

I bet all of us have warm, fuzzy feelings about thanksgiving. I have always typically traveled to see my family around this particular holiday. Whenever I hear the word "thanksgiving," I think of cold weather, overcast skies, rain/snow mixes, long car rides, seeing most of my extended family, and an awesome meal that bloats my belly!

A Compound Word That Implies Action

If you just stop and think about the word "thanksgiving" though, it is a word made up of two words. It's a compound word made up of the words "thanks" and "giving."

The word "thanks" used as a verb means: to express gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment to: She thanked them for their hospitality.

The word "giving" used as a verb means: to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow: to give a birthday present to someone.

Put these two simple words together and you get a powerful compound word that implies some type of action. The definition according to the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God.

If we're truly thankful, we can't help but act through giving.

Give Thanks Today And Every Day

Hey, warm, fuzzy feelings are great to have on this day of Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the warm fuzzies like anyone else does. But, this day and every day allow your thanksgiving to become an action. Give of yourself in time, attention, and maybe even material gifts to your spouse, children, and other family members. Give a special thanksgiving offering to God through your local church. Help a stranger in need this holiday season. Figure out a way to give of yourself in some unique, tangible way in order to demonstrate a thankful heart.

2 Corintians 9:11 states, You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Through the simple act of generous giving, thanksgiving to God becomes the result. A spirit of thanks and generosity are intertwined. There's no escaping this fact.

And, this active thanks shouldn't be a one day out of the year kind of deal, either. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 we read: pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

In every situation, on every day, we should give thanks to the Lord. This is His will for our lives.

May God bless you and your family on this Thanksgiving Day Holiday.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Do You Really Deserve God's Special Treatment?

I Think I Deserve Special Treatment

As Christians, I think we can fall into a trap of thinking that we deserve the special favor of God Almighty. We've worked hard for the Lord, been faithful in our service to His church, and attempted to do everything He has called us to do. This should all count for something, right? We're tight with God now; we're best buds with the Boss.

Because we're doing everything we're supposed to be doing for the Lord, then I believe we do start getting an attitude of "I deserve, because..." I am deserving of God's special treatment because I'm doing my quiet time each morning, being at church every time the doors are open, and sing in the choir. I'm giving at least 10% of my income back to God. I help provide meals for the homeless. Everything I do is for God's Kingdom and there should be some kind of pay off for all this hard work. Being a servant of God is challenging, don't you know?

Reality Check

I don't think anyone can blame us for falling into the "I deserve" mindset. We all get there from time to time. It gets really bad, though, when we think we're deserving of special treatment of the Lord in a special circumstance - healing from a deadly illness, extra money to get out of debt faster, or a new car to replace your Dave Ramsey beater [insert your item of special "I deserve" treatment here].

"God, I've been good, so give me x, y, and z for my faithful service to You!"

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus addressed this Christian duty/special treatment mentality:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Hmmm, we're just unworthy, lowly servants. We've done our duty. There should be no expectations of special treatment for doing the Lord's work faithfully.

What's Your "But God..."

But God, I deserve [insert special favor from the Lord, here] because I've been your favorite servant lately, right? But God, I put up with a lot of garbage from certain people because I am a faithful servant to Your calling on my, show me the money! But God, I'm tired of serving You right now. I need a little breather, so provide me with rest and relaxation. I need a vacation to Mexico. Yeah, God, that would be the bomb!

I don't know what your "But God..." is. I'm assuming you have one. We all do at some level. We all have something we wish God would give us because we're being good little Christians. As God's servants, though, we don't deserve anything. We have been given a duty to do. We are blessed to even be considered worthy enough of God's calling us to be His servants in the first place. In and of itself, that should be blessing enough.

I also know, though, that God loves us like crazy. We're not only His servants, but we're also His children! He enjoys giving great gifts to His kids (Matthew 7:7-11). I'm sure all of us have experienced some pretty incredible blessings from the Lord. The key here, though, is our attitude. Because we are servants of Almighty God, we do have a Christian duty to perform. We should have no expectations for special treatment for doing our duty.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Just Need A Little Debt To Get Me Through

Larry, I Need Your Advice

As the stewardship pastor at a large church, I often get people that call me, email me, or stop me in the hallway at church in order to solicit my advice. This week was a busy one for me in the advice department. I ended up talking to a business owner on the phone, and I also had some email correspondence with the wife/mom of a family of five. I believe as more people are feeling the pinch of a difficult economy, they are seeking out solid financial advice on how they should handle their specific situations.

In the first advice situation, I had a church member call me a couple of days ago asking for my opinion on using debt to carry his family's struggling business through a difficult time. They have cut their business operating budget down to the bare minimum. Now, this member is having a difficult time deciding on whether or not to go out of business or to get a line of credit in order to keep the business afloat for a period of time. If the business goes under, then he loses his job. Tough call!

In the second situation, a family of five in the church have been faithfully working through the Dave Rasmey FPU Baby Steps. Suddenly on Sunday, they discovered on the drive home from church that they are having transmission problems with their van. Now what do they do? Fix the transmission for $2,000+, or do they take out a small loan for $5,000 to find a reliable used vehicle and then pay off that small loan as quickly as possible? Again, another tough call. We all need reliable, safe transportation to get our families from Point A to Point B, not to mention to work each day.

Total Weirdness

Now, I'm a guy that has drank the debt-free kool-aid. Around 2005, I made that radical paradigm shift that debt was no longer an option for me. When you make this choice to live a debt-free lifestyle, that decision is going to get tested - water heaters go out, the roof needs to be repaired, or cars break down. You end up draining your emergency fund to fix these stupid problems and then have to start all over again. Sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle of jumping back and forth between Baby Steps 1 and 2!

So, you may be asking, "Larry, what was your advice in these two situations?" Well, I am so glad you asked me that question! In the first one, the business debt question, I asked the church member if taking on this business line of credit was truly going to solve his business's problems or just delay the inevitable? Could he take a look at the general health of his industry and the economy and then truly say that his business would turn around and that the business would be okay? I told him that the reality is probably that our economic situation was probably going to remain pretty stagnant over the next couple of years, especially during the election cycle of 2012. Going into debt in order to keep his business afloat for a few months was probably not going to be the best choice. I closed out our phone call by encouraging him to check out the Entreleadership book by Dave Ramsey for business advice.

In the second situation, I encouraged this family of five via email to consider a different path than going into additional debt. First, I asked them to pray like crazy for God to provide for their need of a reliable vehicle in order to haul their family around - DEBT FREE! Second, I recommended that they connect with the small groups that they are associated with at church and make these small groups aware of their need. You never know, one of their connections at church may know of an inexpensive vehicle that will fill the need. Third, they need to see how much they can get for their messed up van. Fourth, they need to use their emergency fund to help them in their situation if necessary. That's what it's there for in the first place! Fifth and final piece of advice, if they get to the point where they just can't avoid going into some debt to get a reliable vehicle, then they need to try to get the smallest loan amount possible (such as $1,000-$2,000), combine that with their emergency fund as well as the proceeds from the busted van sale in order to buy their next vehicle. After that, they need to be committed to paying down their small loan as quickly as possible.

No Excuses, Just Results

We can all come up with an excuse to go back into debt or to take on additional debt. We can get weary of working our debt-free plan and throw in the towel when a little life stuff gets in our way. When you're trying to do the right things with your personal finances, it's never going to be easy. It's definitely going to be a lot of hard work.

You have to make a choice. You can no longer make excuses. You have to stick with your plan. Pray really hard as if everything depended on God. Let Him grow your faith during a time of financial diffficulty. But then do the hard work, expend the creative energy to work through your problem. I truly believe that God will honor both your faith and hard work in order to get through your financial challenges. He will provide a means of escape for you.

Don't make up additional excuses. Find better solutions that can lead to amazing results!

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Exercising Your Faith Muscles

Photo by Greatlist
Weight Training

If you have ever done any kind of serious weight training, then you have a basic understanding of how weight/strength training works. On one day, you may work your muscles really hard, break them down, and experience an incredible amount of musicle fatigue. The next day, you would typically rest your muscles and allow some recovery time. Then the following day, you would work your various muscle groups really hard, break them down once again, and experience more muscle fatigue. This hard workout day would, once again, be followed by a day of rest to allow your muscles some time to recover.

This cycle of breaking down the muscle tissue followed by recovery time is what gradually builds up the muscles in weight training. The very act of tearing down the tissue and giving it a little time to repair itself is what makes it grow larger and stronger. If you think about it, this process can be true in other areas of our lives.

Faith Training

Our spiritual lives are no different. In order to grow stronger in our faith in God, we have to exercise our "faith muscles." Many Christians are under an assumption that they need to pray and ask the Lord for more faith, especially during times of great difficulty.

Even the apostles thought this! One day, they walked right up to Jesus and asked Him to give them more faith. In Luke 17:5-6 (MSG), we read:
The apostles came up and said to the Master, "Give us more faith." But the Master said, "You don't need more faith. There is no 'more' or 'less' in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it would do it.
I love Jesus' answer to His apostles. He told them that they already had the exact amount of faith that they needed. At the point of salvation, we were given an appropriate amount of faith. If we're struggling in our faith, then we need to "exercise our faith muscles." The interesting part about this is many times we don't have a lot of say as to what, when, where, how, and why our "faith muscles" get exercised. God allows things to come into our lives to "break down" our faith in order to build it up.

James 1:2-4 (NIV) states:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Life problems are growth opportunities for the believer in Christ. When we face various trials in life, then our faith muscles are exercised and it causes growth and development of our faith. As a result, we mature as Christians. Even though this process can be painfully exhausting, God uses this process to build up our faith in Him.

So, Don't Be Dumb And Ask For More Faith

Okay, I'm half joking here, or am I? If you ask the Lord to increase your faith, then you better be prepared for some extensive faith exercising! As we have seen in the passages above, we were given an appropriate amount of faith at salvation. In order to strengthen this appropriate amount of faith, though, we need to exercise this faith. The Lord allows us to go through times of difficulty in order to break us down in our faith so that we may place even more faith in Him. This process is what creates our faith to grow and causes us to mature in our spiritual walk.

Are you going through a time where you feel as though your faith is being exercised? If so, then rejoice! Embrace the excercise so that you can tear down those "faith muscles" in order to build them back up. You're going to be a stronger, more mature Christian as a result. Get "ripped" for Jesus.

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