Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: September 2015

Seven Questions if you’re stressed out because of finances

images1) Do you give the first 10% to the Lord?

While I used to think “tithing” was either (a) a law given by Moses; (b) only for Christians to worry about, I now think differently: giving the first fruits to the Lord starts explicitly in the 2nd generation of humanity (Abel & Cain), and tithing is explicit with Abraham. WAY before Moses ever gave a law. It seems that God’s place in our stuff is a guidelines for all humanity at all times, and the more we live into his framework of “10% for him, 90% for us”, the more we will live under his blessing of our lives.

If you have stress in your finances, examine first this: are you trying to live on 100% of your income without God’s pleasure, or 90% of your income with his delight in you? Of course it’s counter-intuitive… that’s why it’s faith! Hint: give thanks to God for the opportunity while you are writing the check; overtime this one simple act will grow your gratitude for God’s provision.

2) Do you have a spending plan?

Do you have a sheet of paper that you can refer to each month to say how much you expect (realistically) to come in, and how much (realistically) is going out for various line items. The Spending Plan is the recipe for you to make your cake. It’s not the cake, but you never remember the amount of flour, sugar, or eggs without it. By the way, the old school word for spending plan is “budget”… but that sounds like a straight jacket, when in reality, a realistic spending plan brings freedom; you know where things are supposed to go, line-item by line-item!

3) Does your spending plan reflect reality?

Put the big things in first: mortgage/rent, utilities, medical insurance, savings, car loan. After that decide the level of internet or cable, the amount on clothes or entertainment or eating out.

One way to figure out what and where you are spending is to take 2 months and record on a sheet of paper every single cent that leaves your possession (by credit card, cash, check, or automatic withdrawal). Jot down: date, amount, what’s it for. At the end of two months, you’ll know how much you spend on eating out, entertainment, utilities, etc.

Of course, the spending plan has to reflect reality… so do your spending habits: If you are stressed because you can’t make your mortgage, don’t go through the drive thru. If you are 2 months behind on the car loan, it’s not the time for an overnight getaway (no matter how stressed you feel).

4) Do you spend a few minutes diligently each payday getting things in order?

The spending plan is not going to work itself; it’s just the recipe. You have to make some bank transfers, pay some bills, write the tithe check, etc. Set an appointment in your calendar each payday to take the 4-5 steps you need to take. Stress might come simply because you are not confident that things are in their right places.

5) Do you set aside a little bit each month for an emergency fund?

Some stress comes because when things go wrong (nail in the tire, stove dies, toilet leaks), we don’t have any margin without resorting to credit cards. Start to put $25 or $50/m into an envelope for emergencies, and you’ll be surprised how quickly that builds up. ALSO: “emergencies” don’t include great sales on clothes at Target!

6) Do you spend without thinking about it?

Impulse spending is a marketer’s dream: they get us wanting something, and buying it before we’ve really thought it all through. It’s our appetites triumphing over wisdom. The candy bar at the checkout, the “clearance rack” (and the sale ends tomorrow!), the sport package on your new car (sure it adds $2000, but over five years, you won’t even notice that). If you find money flying out of your hand, resolve not to buy anything without thinking about it for 24 hours. Never be pressured into a purchase. Never permit yourself to purchase without agreement from your spouse (if married), or just thinking it

7) If married, are you and your spouse together in this?

Have you both agreed to the spending plan that reflects your income? Have you designated who’s “keeping the books”? If you are in a situation of stress, are you sharing the burden of this equally, or is one of you oblivious (likely, not the one reading this blog!) Jesus says, “when two of you agree on anything they ask it will be done for you” (Mt 18:19). My friend notes, “it’s amazing how many things are solved by dinner when my wife and I pray about them in the morning.” Pray together about your finances, and watch as God shapes things (your circumstances, your hearts, your contentment, your discipline).


THESE SEVEN QUESTIONS will help lower your stress level tremendously. If you have stress but answered “NO” to even one of the questions, start there!

It’s true that some of us have some real crises: medical bills, etc. But, the large portion of us are living stress that is of our own making. Notice none of them have to do with earning more money. Because the earning side is not the problem for the vast majority of us; it’s the spending side that kills us!

Seven questions that could relieve you of your financial stress. What do you think? What other questions could help folks? Leave a comment and start a conversation.


Full Stop… to move forward

imgres-1We just got back from a fantastic week in Panama with the missionaries and families of South America Mission. SAM has been celebrating 100 years of ministry and God’s faithfulness.  They culminated SAM’s step into their 2nd century by gathering all the fields, all the staff and all sorts of donors, friends and alumni to Panama for a week of rejoicing and rest.

Basically, the mission work of SAM came to a halt for the 1 week that everyone was gathered: there were no new churches being planted, no indigenous people discipled, no SAMAIR planes flying supplies, no outreach meetings taking place.

And yet… And yet… it wasn’t at all a waste of time.

For God was there, teaching SAM about entering his rest. God was there knitting this family together which is usually separated by thousands of miles. God was there reconciling relationships. God was there coalescing 300 leaders around HIS vision for SAM and his anointing of the next steps in that vision. God was there because he inhabits the praises of his people. And, we sure did praise him in the singing and teaching… but also in the beach and hiking. And, by resting.

The ministry came to a full stop. Why? So that it could move forward.

80_745_420_lindblad_panama_canal_crpOne of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World is also in Panama: The Panama Canal, which also just celebrated its centennial. In this, the shipping routes saved between 6-8 weeks and much danger by avoiding Cape Horn at the southern tip of the Americas.  But, in order to move forward faster, these giant ships have to come to a full stop at the Canal. They have to enter a small basin, and be lifted by the water pumped in. Only then–after stopping, waiting, and being lifted up–can they move forward on the next leg of the journey.

It’s the same for SAM. It came to a full stop so God could lift them up to a new level… so that they could move forward into the next century.

When you think of it, it’s the same for you and me. Sometimes we have to come to a full stop in all the frenzied activity of life. Sometimes we have to wait for God to fill the lock-basin with more water and raise us up some. And, then we can move forward. For the ship to arrive at its goal, it needs to stop and be lifted up by an external force. God says we should do this about one in seven days, as a sabbath.  Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary… and I will give you rest… you will find rest for your souls as you do things my way (i.e., “take my yoke upon you”).

Don’t you need a trip through the Panama Canal: a full stop, so that you can move forward in life?

How Jesus thrived in the Spirit

imgres“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by the devil… And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee [to begin his earthly ministry].”

Luke 4:1, 13-14

There are 3 references to the Spirit in Jesus’ daily life here in Luke 4.

First he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” When? When he returned from the Jordan. What happened at the Jordan? 3:21-22 tell us: he was baptized and praying, and the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended on him, and he heard his Father’s voice: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He identified publicly with God, he was talking to God, he heard God’s voice, and the HS came near like never before. Why was he full of the Holy Spirit in 4:1? Because he had been communing with God, and listening to God, and identifying publicly with God earlier that day.

How often do you and I wish for more of the Spirit’s filling? It comes in these simple ways: spend TIME with him praying and listening (to the Promises and Statements in Scripture – speak them aloud as the Words from God; that’s what they are!), and publicly staking your claim that you belong to HIM more than anything else. We need regular, frequent, vibrant time with God… because this is how his Spirit fills us!

And we need it… because look what happens next.

He was led by the Spirit into the place where he was tempted. Very often the Spirit takes us into places that will test our faith, so as to prove our followership. The Spirit never wants us to fail; rather he wants us to grow in clinging to him.

Interestingly during the temptations by the devil, the Spirit’s role disappears. He doesn’t swoop down to save Jesus from that mean old devil. Rather, the role of the Word of God comes to the fore. What will defeat the enemy of your soul? The Word of God flowing through you. Jesus was tested… and approved… because when the Spirit led him into a tough spot, Jesus stood on the Word of God, and the Devil can’t win against God’s Word.

The Spirit “reappears” in v.14 as Jesus begins his public ministry: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit…” Why in the power of the Spirit? Because he was full of the Spirit through time with God, and he was led by the Spirit into the place of testing… and stood on the Word of God. He passed the test, he clinged to the Word, and now the Spirit’s power can flow through him even more. Triumph in the Temptation scene brings the power of the Holy Spirit. Triumph in temptation comes because of relying on the Word of God, no matter where the Spirit leads you. Triumph in the Temptation starts with Time spent with God before temptation ever comes.

Time with God leads to filling with the Spirit.

The Spirit will lead us into difficult places in this life… but to see us approved (which comes the more we cling to God’s Word)

The Power of the Spirit follows triumph in temptation and time with God.

Good enough for Jesus… good enough for us. Which of these three do you need to address right now in your life?

After Loss: Accepting the gift of life

images-1Two quotes on losing a loved one, and yet, being thankful for them. I unexpectedly lost my second dad this summer. I feel these quotes acutely.

John Claypool wrote a book, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, after he lost his daughter to leukemia. He realized that emotional relief could come only after (in Philip Yancey’s words): “much struggle, when he lets go of all he will miss out on—his daughter’s graduation from college, walking her down the aisle, grandchildren—and comes to accept her life as a gift, one cruelly cut short and yet a gift all the same.”

Yancey quotes Claypool:

“And I am here to testify this is the only way down from the Mountain of Loss. I do not mean to say that such a perspective makes things easy, for it does not. But at least it makes things bearable when I remember that Laura Lue was a gift, pure and simple, something I neither earned nor deserved nor had a right to. And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is taken away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was ever given her in the first place.

“Even though it is very, very hard, I am doing my best ot learn this discipline now. Everywhere I turn I am surrounded by reminders of her—things we did together, things she said, things she loved. And in the presence of the reminders, I have two alternatives: dwelling on the fact that she has been taken away, I can dissolve in remorse that all of this is gone forever; or focusing on the wonder that she was given to us at all, I can learn to be grateful that we shared life, even for an all-too-short ten years.”

(As quoted in Philip Yancey’s book, The Question that Never Goes Away, pp 126-127.)

The second quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds bery hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation. It remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

The empty place in our lives is a gift from God, the pain is the gentle reminder of the love of our lost loved one. And, when we remember his/her life was, in the first place, a gift to us, these two thoughts help us walk into grief, that God might carry us through it.

Bernie at Liberty. Go figure.

imagesBernie Sanders Spoke on Tuesday at Liberty University, a Conservative Christian college in Virginia. Watch it here. I’m really glad he was there: that the university invited him and that he agreed. We do need more face-to-face from Left to Right. Ideologies cannot solve problems, but relationships can.

I love economics and thinking about the ebb-and-flow of things. Listen to what Bernie said: “In the last two years – the top 15 people saw their wealth increase by $170B. That’s more than the [total] wealth of the bottom 130 million people. Millions of families have no savings at all… This is a rigged economy: designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else.” (emphasis added)

I think Bernie is wrong. Perhaps not his facts about the 130 million or the 15 people (I didn’t fact check that). But about his assessment of the motives. The fact that some people increase their wealth does not mean that other people must necessarily be impoverished. The idea that this economy is “designed” to tread the poor down is patently false.

How do I know?

1) There are laws that encourage savings and investing: you get to pay less tax today if you put some money in an IRA or similar tax-shielded investment. And, this works for anyone with money to invest, not just the wealthy.

2) There are millions of immigrants who come to this country impoverished and who—through hard work, delayed gratification, and prudence—begin very quickly to make a better life for themselves (at least financially).

3) There are people like me who live as a one income family, in the middle class, without a trust-fund or anything like that, but who have saved and invested a little bit each year. Our family forgoes many of the things that would be fun to do today – a big fat cable package, annual trips to Disney, eating out all the time. I drive a 9 year old car that’s paid for. I’m not complaining one bit; God has been very gracious to us. Like many people, we take the first 10% and give it away, the next 10% and save it for future needs, and live on the other 80%.

Our family net worth is higher than it was 2 years ago. On a single income in the middle class. I’m not bragging nor am I complaining about the choices we’ve made to forego certain things. After all, we made the choices.

And that’s the whole point: this economy is one that lets each person make the choice about how they’ll spend their money. You can buy, save, borrow, give or gamble.

Moreover, the US economy is the freest in terms of job market and job opportunities. If you don’t like your job, you can set out to find another one. Across 50 states, 6 time zones, half a dozen climates, 100 different industries. All you have to do is keep on trying. If you lived in Romania or Cambodia, you would not have those options. (Ironically, the Labor Union movement tends to limit the free movement of labor for the very ones they are helping: once I’ve got seniority at my factory in the union contract, I’m less likely to look elsewhere for a better job, and thus, I’m more at the mercy of management than I might otherwise be).

In the US, the opportunities are near limitless… for those who want to take them.

Before radically restructuring the economy and inviting the government to rectify every inequity, I would ask Bernie to show me 1000 of the “millions of families” without savings. The people whom this economy is “rigged against.”

My hunch is that we would find a huge proportion of them with cell phones, car payments, cable, dish or some satellite TV package. They would likely spend a good deal of their discretionary income on regular purchases of alcohol and tobacco, frequent visits to hair and nail salons, fast food as dinner many nights. Are these choices wise when you can’t make ends meet? Even college debt is an increasingly bad choice.

I just had lunch with a young single guy who grew up in Kinston. He’s African American, and has been working at Sanderson Farms. He’s a hard worker. He got in a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago and is still off work. Here’s what he said to me at lunch; it was a throw away comment that I had to ask him to repeat: “I’m just glad I learned how to save, because all these weeks off work, I can still make my car payment.”

This is how things are supposed to work. He has a bank account, he spends less than he earns, he pays his mom for living in her home, he squirrels money away for emergencies, and he also knows how to have fun with his buddies. He drives a forklift at a chicken plant for what must be not much above minimum wage. But he’s getting ahead. It doesn’t seem to me that the economy is rigged against him.

Now, there are many moving parts in an economy. I’m not saying every part of it is good. Healthcare is too expensive. Wall Street is too greedy. The Political Class is too entrenched. Discrimination is real. This is all wrong. But, what is never said in all the Left’s proposals, rants or policies is that in a free country, people are free to make bad choices… and they often do. Not only do we need to say to the rich: “have restraint and sacrifice for the bigger picture!” (aka, pay more taxes), we also need to say to the poor: “have restraint and sacrifice for the bigger picture”. In other words, if you can’t afford cigarettes, stop smoking. If you can’t afford a big car payment, buy an cheaper car. If you can’t afford a big cable package, size it down.

If we need to call the rich to account for their choices and invite them to consider life beyond themselves (and we do), then I think we need to do the same for the poor: hold them accountable for the choices they make and invite them to consider life beyond themselves too. We need to use the same measuring stick on all of us.

I love that Bernie Sanders is speaking at a place like Liberty University. Hopefully it is a case of Liberal and Conservative bridge-building  (I’m an inveterate optimist). But there’s one are I’d like thinkers on the left to address: The role of personal choices in the plight of poverty.

What do you think? Leave a comment and start a discussion.

What trumps: evidence or paradigm?

imgresThis week, researchers in South Africa revealed the discovery of a new trove of 1550 bone fragments belonging to at least 15 individuals (males, females, children and infants), in “what is likely the largest single discovery of early human remains in Africa”.

Click here to read the Wall Street Journal’s article about the find in the Rising Star cave system, 30  miles from Johannesburg. The picture in this blog is of Dr Lee Berger, paleoanthropologist from University of Witwatersrand in Jo-burg who is the lead scientist on the discovery.

According to the article, these are very early remains, but no one can be quite sure of how old. What makes this find interesting is that they were in a cave some 100 yards underground, and accessible only through a 7.5 inch wide passage way with twists and turns.  The bones point to a group of people (or yet a new species, another earlier precursor to homo sapiens) who are much smaller than humans, and thus, according to evolutionary thought, much less evolved/developed than humans. They would have to be more wild, less civilized than later species. They have been called Homo Naledi (Naledi means “star” in Sesotho, a local language).

Here’s the interesting thing: according to the article “nobody knows how these creatures found their way through a lightless maze of narrow fissures into a the cave’s inner sanctum 100 yards underground… There is no sign that they were dragged in by predators, washed in by floods or deposited in some fatal mishap. In fact there is little evidence that any other life form ever reached the chamber. ‘We can exclude the easy explanations,’ said John Hawks [with University of Wisconsin, who works on the project]. ‘What we end up with is that they must have been putting bodies in there.’

“If so [the article continues], it raised the possibility that these creatures exhibited a reverence for their dead by giving remains ritual treatment and burial, which is generally considered  a sign of self-awareness unique to humans and humanity’s closest relatives, the Neanderthals. ‘It is another species—not human—yet it appears to be practicing a behavior that until this moment people thought was not only unique to us but perhaps identified us: the ritualized disposal of our dead,’ Dr. Berger said.”

READERS: Consider what Dr Berger has said: here we’ve found an “earlier species”, precursor to humanity.  But here the best explanation for the placement of the bones in this cave in this way is reverential treatment of the dead… which is a characteristic not anticipated in these “earlier species”. In other words, the evidence is pointing in a direction that might mean we need to adjust our reigning paradigm of Evolutionary timelines and development processes.

The excitement and humility of Drs Berger and Hawks is winsome. Consider another response: Dr Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at GWU is quoted: “I don’t think Sherlock Holmes would conclude this was deliberate burial. If it was, then everything we think we know about the evolution of human cognition is in the toilet.”

READERS: Consider what Dr. Wood is saying: we can’t accept this new hypothesis that best fits the evidence, because it will upend the reigning paradigm of what we know of how humanity developed thinking/reasoning/self-awareness. The paradigm we support is more important than any new evidence that we discover.

Dr. Wood is saying “all new evidence must fit our story.”

Drs. Berger and Hawks are saying, “wow, some evidence is causing us to rethink things we thought we knew.”

Which one sounds more like science? Which one sounds more like dogma?

To be science, you have to be willing to synthesize new evidence and tweak, change, overhaul the hypotheses or theorems you are working with.

Interestingly, Marvin Olasky of World Magazine published a great article comparing the humility of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, and the “no room for doubts” outlook proffered by the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. It’s worth the read if you have the time (or have kids who are learning science!). Click here.   (As a side note, World Magazine is VERY worth your subscription money: it comes every two weeks, and is a Christian News magazine that offers really well thought out positions on culture and entertainment, Politics and world affairs, and the state of the church. It’s based in Asheville, NC.  In my opinion, every thinking Christian would benefit from reading this. I’ve been a subscriber for years.)

The difference between knowing and believing

images-1In Mark’s gospel, the fourth person who speaks is a demon. Think about that.

Jesus comes to earth, Mark tells the story.  And, 4th character with lines is from the pit of hell.  Interesting.

What’s even more interesting is what that demon says: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24)

The demons know exactly who Jesus is. I’m not sure how, but they KNOW.  Mark reiterates this three more times in the first 5 chapters (1:34, 3:11, 5:7). And, they are not shy about shouting it out.

But they have no interest in following Jesus. The know, but they don’t grow.

I contrast this with the poor woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years (5:24-34). She’s desperate, she’s suffered 12 long years of cramps and pain and embarrassment and being “unclean” in the community. But, when she heard the reports about Jesus, she didn’t know everything about him, but she knew he could help. So she went and found him, even though there was a crowd around him.

A woman with a blood flow is not allowed to be in the middle of a crowd. Imagine never going to the farmer’s market, your child’s Christmas pageant at school, the 4th of July fireworks, anything… all because of something the doctors can’t figure out.

She sneaks up behind Jesus (for obvious reasons), and touches his cloak. Why does she think his cloak would heal her? I think she was afraid to talk to him directly, and perhaps just a quick touch would be enough.

Do you know what that’s called? It’s called faith. KNOWING and acting on that knowing.  Stepping out to seek Jesus’ help, knowing he’s the only one who could.

The demons know, but they don’t follow. The woman knows far fewer facts about Jesus’ identity than the demons; she likely doesn’t know that the’s the Holy One from God. But, what she knows of Jesus she lives into. And that’s called faith. And that’s why the demons are constantly cast out and will ultimately be destroyed, and the woman ends this story being called “daughter” by the King of Kings!

Why does it matter? People all around us know things about Jesus. But, their only hope is to take what things they know and call out to him to save them! Knowing is not enough. Believing is launching your life into Jesus’ lap, and saying, “I need you, please take me!” And, then hearing those words: “Daughter… Son… your faith has saved you.”

What do they believe? 3 Big Worldviews

images“Why would you follow Jesus if God (Allah) has sent a later prophet, Mohammed?” My friend Salaam asked me that 15 years ago.  I was home from seminary for Christmas break, and he worked at the place I had gotten a temp job. He was a practicing Muslim, and he knew (because of seminary) that I was a practicing Christian.

We went into a conference room at work, and for the next 20 minutes vividly discussed questions about our faiths.

I look back hoping that I represented the Lord well.  I also look back wishing I had known better what it is that Muslims believe, so that I could better answer that question.

Fast forward to today: Labor Day weekend 2015.  After spending the summer looking at our Core beliefs as Christ-followers, we spent this past Sunday comparing those beliefs (very quickly) to 3 other worldview: Islam, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and Naturalism (secular humanism, atheism).

Click here for the sheet we made up to help:  World Religions Reference Guide

Click here to watch the sermon video (hit the “archives” tab, and then scroll to about 25 minutes in). My good friend & fellow pastor Randy Outland and I taught this week together. …I had to bring in the big guns! Thanks Randy to co-preaching.

I really hope that these will help you as you seek to connect to the world, so that they can connect to Christ.


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