Financial Peace

мека мебел

Financial peace? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Well, if you are like many Americans, myself included, it may seem like it. My wife and I have been on a journey to get out of debt for years now, but we just could never make enough progress. Not only that, but in the midst of it all there has been no “financial peace” to speak of. I am the money manager in the house and after pay day I would get what I called the “after bills blues”. I felt like the guy in the picture above.

Help!

Something had to give; and it has. My wife and I have recently joined a class being offered at our church on finances. It is the Financial Peace University class by Dave Ramsey. We are about five classes in and it has been really good. A lot of the principals were not new concepts to us, but we were just not making good progress. I think this class has served not only to educate us more, but to focus our energies into a unified effort to accomplish a goal. The first of those goals? GET OUT OF DEBT! FOR GOOD!

The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is slave to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7 (NIV)

That’s right! The borrower (that’s me) is slave to the lender. A lot of times it feels like it too, when the creditors are calling you and harassing you because you owe them money. Many times I’ve wanted to get angry at these people for always wanting their precious payments, but I can’t. I borrowed money from them and as a person of integrity it is on me to repay that debt in as timely a manner as possible. Sigh. I am flat out tired of being a slave to anyone other than my heavenly Father, my Savior, my Creator.

Changes

Well, something must change, right? Right!

We have established a budget and are sticking to it as best we can. We have employed the “envelope system” for our budget categories that make sense. Dave Ramsey says that, “if you don’t plan where every dollar goes you’ll wonder were it all went.” I’ve proven that plenty of times so we’re going the other way now.

Time to downsize! We’re also downsizing our living expenses. We don’t own our home; we’re renters. So we have notified our landlord that we are not renewing our lease at the end of next month. We are currently in search of cheaper/smaller housing. Cheaper because we need to save money and smaller because the utilities on our current house are killing us.

Sell Stuff! Dave Ramsey says, “sell so much stuff that the kids think they’re next.” This is also a good preparation for the move. We’re having a huge garage sale and will be getting rid of a bunch of “stuff” that we really don’t need. Hopefully we’ll make enough money to help defray the costs of the move so that we’re not too set back in our budgeting.

Prayer

Of course the best action we can take is to pray; connect with the One True God … the guy that owns it all! So do I think I can just pray to God and He’ll take care of all of my debt and give me a huge house and a lot of stuff to fill it? Heck no! He will, however, change me in a way that aligns me more to His will, to His character and gives me wisdom to make better choices.

So, if you are also the praying type, please pray for us as we make some radical changes for the better.

One more Dave Ramsey quote, “live like no one else now so that later, you can live like no one else.”

Can There Be Inappropriate Scripture?

So we were in the van driving to church this week and the older two kids, one eleven year old girl and one eight year old boy, were reading off a bunch of scriptures. There did not seem to be any pattern, reason or rhyme to what they were reading and it soon became apparent that they were simply picking verses at random. My wife informed me that they were looking for a verse to memorize for Sunday school. They had not been previously assigned one so they simply needed to pick one for themselves. Naturally they were searching for very short verses that they could memorize quickly. All well and good, right?

That’s about the time I hear my son recite this verse:

No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.
Deuteronomy 23:17

My wife and I looked at each other for a silent moment. Hmm.

“Hey, son. Why don’t you pick another verse”, said I.

“Why Daddy?”

“Well, that verse will most likely bring up some questions in Sunday school that your teacher may not want to address on Sunday morning.”

I then returned to driving with a smile on my face trying not to dissolve into laughter. Oh boy. So instead, Aubrey and I picked this verse for them to memorize which has turned out to be a good family verse.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29

2011 New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! It is once again that time; time to make resolutions, promises and goals that we’ll never keep. I’m sure all of the health clubs out there love January because of the most likely number one resolution made: lose weight. I considered skipping this year, but I’ve been doing this for several years now and have actually made good progress towards goals that I wanted to keep. So here I am once again, making my list. Without further ado.

1. Die

Yes, you read it right. My number one resolution this year is die, but not in the natural, mortality sense. I hope to work this year on dying to my self (not myself but my “self”).

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Luke 9:23 – 25

That was Jesus speaking… you know God incarnate, the creator of the universe and everything in it. What does that mean, “take up their cross daily”? The cross was the means of carrying out Jesus’ death sentence. So we must kill ourselves every day? In Romans it says:

…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:11

So what does it mean to “count yourselves dead to sin”? I’m positive that I don’t have the complete picture. I do know that I love God and want to be in His perfect will, so I will be striving to live this out in my life. How? By attempting to put myself aside. By considering others higher than myself. By serving the needs of my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my church. We humans are extremely self-serving creatures. God knows that this is destructive in our lives and He asks us to lay it aside so that He can give us life more abundantly.

2. Practice My Talents

…more specifically, the piano. God has given us all talents and we should be striving for excellence in those talents, whether that means serving people, encouraging people, administering, cleaning or playing the piano. I have realized that I play the piano every Sunday (almost) and have gotten somewhat lax (ok, completely lax) in my practice. I don’t take regular time to fine tune the talent that I use to praise and worship my God and King. I am resolving to fix that this year and make it a regular habit of practicing my instrument.

3. Marathon #2!

Yes, I completed my very first marathon this past year (November 14, 2010). That is the health/fitness goal that I am most proud of. This year I would like to repeat the feat. However, my new goal for this year will be to complete the marathon and NOT collapse at the end resulting in an E.R. visit. Of course that means I need to get back on my feet and start training again, but I’ve had some physical setbacks via my right foot being injured.

4. Get Rid of the Gut

I seriously thought last year that training for and completing a marathon (26.2 miles) would result in this stupid gut or spare tire disappearing from my midsection. Seriously! I was woefully mistaken, however, and the gut remains. So while last year I quietly included this into the “running a marathon” goal, it gets its very own resolution this year. This also means that I will need to specifically target my midsection with exercise that is not just running. Look out six pack abs, here I come!

5. Pay Off Debt

This will continue to be a resolution until it is all gone. I absolutely hate being in debt to other people and count myself as a slave to creditors, without financial freedom, until such time as I pay that last bill and shed the shackles of debt. We have done well this past year, but I plan on attacking debt with a vengeance this year. It needs to get gone!

So there you have it, my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions. Do you have any resolutions this year?

2010 Resolutions : Looking Back


It is New Year’s Eve 2010 as I am writing this. I figured I’d take just a moment to look back on the resolutions I made for this year to see how I did.

1. Work on my relationship with God

Check! Though I can’t really take credit. I was discussing this with my wife last night and was having some difficulty as to whether or not I should even have included this item. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “… being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

So yes I have grown closer to God, but I don’t think I really had a choice. The scripture makes it clear (at least to me) that He who began the work in me, that is God who called me to be His child (Ephesians 2:8-10), will complete it. I don’t have a choice in the matter. He will complete it. I think it’s just up to me whether it gets completed the easy way or the hard way; I can participate and willingly follow God or I can rebel and choose my own path so that God disciplines me.

2. Work on my relationship with my wife

I believe I did alright on this front. Though I can always stand to do better. I’d like to say that I loved my wife as Christ loves the church, but that is an impossible task for a broken sinner like me. However, I do love my wife, even more now than I ever have in history.

3. Be consistent with my children’s music training

Fail! The intent of this resolution was that I personally be more consistent in teaching my children piano. However, halfway through the year we got the children involved in home school band and they have really done well there. So it’s not a total loss. They are learning music and having fun, which is the important thing.

4. Run a marathon

Check! Yes, I did! I am actually quite proud of this one. You can read more about it in this article.

5. Pay off debts

Check! We actually paid off two of our outstanding debts this year and have continued to try to stay afloat.

So that’s it. So long and farewell, 2010. We are looking forward to a great coming year in 2011.

Hard Times – How Is This Good For Me?


Image courtesy of pepo on stock.xchng

I’ve been sitting in a study on the book of James for a while now at my church. The beginning of James talks about the followers of Christ going through trials and temptations. James begins:

“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. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:2-5

“Consider it pure joy…”? What? How can I find joy in facing trials? Well, the answer to that lies in the fact that God is sovereign and that He allows us to go through hard times and trials in order to perfect our faith. Of course I’m no theologian so take that with a grain of salt; it’s just my understanding at this point in time. Anyway, whenever we are going through hard times it is often extremely difficult to see any benefit, to see how this could possibly work out for our good (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28). I was recently pondering this and  came up with a real life parallel that helps me to gain a little perspective on the topic.

My oldest daughter had to have oral surgery at the beginning of this year. She had some issues with her permanent teeth not coming in that could not be resolved any other way according to multiple dental professionals. My daughter, understandably, was terrified of having to go through this. She would have be “put under” for the procedure and have strange doctors and nurses operating on her without me or my wife present. From her perspective I can see that this was just too much to have to handle. There should have been another way to fix her teeth. We could have waited a little longer, we could have seen more dentists, anything but this. Isn’t that how we respond to trials in our life? Doesn’t it often feel like too much to handle?

From my perspective, this was a necessary surgery for my daughter. There were no other alternatives that would be effective. We had done the research and talked to all the right people. This had to be done. Not only that but we could see the benefit of doing so. Even if my daughter had to go through a traumatic experience and some pain, it was only temporary and would produce a lot of good in her life. Now if we can see like that for our children, how much more so can God see what we are going through and the benefit that it will produce in our life?

Finally, one more perspective that dawned on me is that of my own broken heart. It hurt me to see the fear in my daughter’s eyes as they gave her the gas and shots to make her go to sleep. It hurt me even more to have to leave after she was sleeping and know that the doctor was about to cut on my baby girl. It hurt me when I drove home and my wife held our daughter in her arms in the backseat of the van as she cried softly the whole way home. I absolutely hated to see my little girl have to go through that. Do you think God may feel that way about us? How much more does He love us than we love our children? I believe in some ways God may allow Himself to also hurt for us whenever we must walk through tough times.

Have you had to watch your child(ren) go through hard times? Are you yourself going through a hard time? Talk to God the Father and let Him know how much you are hurting. He loves you more than anyone ever could and He does care about the fact that you do not like the current circumstance. He has also promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.

Jonathan’s Birthday List

My birthday is fast approaching (Feb 4) and I’ve already been questioned about what I want for my birthday. My reply was the same as it is for most things birthday or Christmas related, “I don’t want anything.” For the most part I get what I want, if I can afford it and it is a priority to me. So there isn’t much that I really need in the way of “stuff”. I had this idea last year, but I wasn’t quick enough to respond. So this year I would like to supply a list of alternate birthday gifts that anyone can get for me in lieu of “stuff”.

The Gift of Charity

Instead of giving me things that I don’t need or may not like or may like but could really do without, I would like to request that anyone wanting to buy me something for my birthday donate to a charitable cause. Here is a list of charities (mostly Christian based) that allow you to give the gift of donations.

The Voice of the Martyrs – this organization (persecution.com)  does not necessarily have any “gift of donation” or “gift card” options, but it is a very noteworthy cause. They are an inter-denominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide. Did you know that it is illegal to possess a Bible in many countries? Did you know many Christians worldwide must worship God, pray and read the Bible in secrecy? Did you know that Christians are killed for their faith today!? Consider giving to this cause to be the “hands and feet” of Christ and assist these brothers and sisters around the globe.

MustHaveGifts.org is a Christian organization in the UK that provides charity gifts by supplying real world needs to people in need all over the world. Some examples are Mosquito Nets to prevent Malaria, Scholarships to help educate children in Cambodia or vaccinations for people in Somalia. Don’t you think that these people could use your dollars instead of me?

Present Aid (presentaid.org) is another organization like MustHaveGifts that provides real world needs. Some examples of gifts they provide are a goat for a family, help pay a community doctor’s salary or meals for malnourished children.

TisBest Philanthropy is another provider of “gift cards” for charity. They are not specifically Christian but have “faith based” charities that you can donate to.

Send A Cow is a Christian charity that helps families and communities in Africa by providing education in farming and livestock care and providing essentials for growing crops and even livestock.

JustGive.org – this website has a pretty extensive list of charities that you can donate to. They are not specifically Christian, but they have Christian organizations listed. They provide gift cards and allow you to pick from several designs and either send an E-Card or print a card to send. They also have a Charity Wedding Registry which is a pretty cool idea.

Personal Charities

No, I don’t personally maintain, administer or benefit from the following charities but they are close to my heart.

Aarons Hands – This is actually a very good friend of mine that I’ve known since high school. She had aspirations early on of becoming a doctor, which I’m confident she could have been, but God had something different in store for her. Now she is a part of the Thrive Africa ministry who’s goal is to disciple believers, equip leaders and strengthen the Church in South Africa. She doesn’t have any “gift” type options but I’d be very appreciative of any donations you made to her ministry.

Laura Holmes – This is another dear friend of ours who ministers in Africa, in the country of Lesotho. I don’t have a website for her but you could contact Grace Community Church for instructions on donating to her ministry, which would also be greatly appreciated.

Summary

Well, I guess that’s a good enough birthday list for this year! The point is… give towards a great cause, not just to fatten my pockets or add stuff to my already swelling office. Not only that, but you can take these ideas and extend them to giving for your own family and friends.

NOTE: Some of the above charities are in the UK and the amounts listed on their sites are in GBP (British Pounds), so make sure you do the conversion to know exactly how much you are giving.

2010 New Year’s Resolutions

This year I am posting a much smaller New Year’s Resolution list. Last year proved to be a failure for all of my goals except for one. That’s not to say that having them was worthless; I actually worked on quite a few which helped me make progress last year. However, this year I am narrowing the list down so that I can really focus. So here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2010.

1. Work on my relationship with God

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kindgom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Do I really seek God first in my daily life? I can answer a resounding, “no!” The bible says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” How well do I do this in my life? I don’t think I do it very well at all. So how do I plan on improving this situation?

  1. Ask God’s help. I can really do nothing outside of His will, grace and guidance. So that is the first step.
  2. Reading God’s Word. My wife and some of her friends did a “read the Bible in a year” program last year. I am going to follow along with them this year as a discipline to get myself into God’s Word more every day.
  3. Scripture memorization. This is a rollover from last year. I basically want to finish that resolution and memorize the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John (John 13:31 – John 17:26).
  4. Daily prayer. This should go without saying, but so often there are other things that I fill my life with instead of talking to the creator of the universe.

2. Work on my relationship with my wife

The most important person to me on this entire planet is my wife. She is my mate, my best friend, my comfort… I am entirely in love with her. Yet so often I allow that relationship to become just another “thing” in my life. I’m not entirely sure how I am going to tackle this one so I’ll have to do some prayer, research and brainstorming. The end result is this… I want to love my wife as Christ loves the church. That is how I am commanded to love my wife in the bible (Ephesians 5:25-27).

3. Be consistent with my children’s music training

I have started (many times now) to teach my older two children piano. I really want to get on track with this and invest the time and energy to give my children a solid musical foundation. It has been a large and positive part of my life and I want to give them the best opportunity to make it a part of their lives.

4. Run a marathon

I trained last year and ran my first half-marathon. This is the year of the full marathon! … I hope. I have found an 18 week training program that I think matches with my schedule and style and I really believe that if I work hard I can obtain this goal. Not only has running been a great source of achievement in my life these last few years, but it is also a large source of fitness.

5. Pay off debts

The slog through the mud of debt continues. And while it continues I am in bondage to the creditors and am unable to invest into the kingdom of God as I would really like to. I keep making this resolution every year, but every year I get closer and closer. I’m sure I won’t be entirely debt free at the end of 2010 (unless God performs a miracle), but I would at least like to eliminate everything except for my student loans and one car payment (yeah, we don’t have a mortgage… renters still).

So that’s it for this year. Just five, but I think they are five fairly large goals. I tried to center my resolutions this year (at least the first two) around the priorities that I would like to have in my life. We’ll see how it goes!

Happy Thanksgiving 2009 – 5 Things I’m Thankful For

ThanksgivingPumpkin

Happy Thanksgiving! For today I wanted to just take a second and list out five things that I am extremely thankful for this year.

1) Jesus Christ and Salvation

First and foremost I am thankful that the creator of the universe calls me His son. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So how can you become a child of God as well?  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” All you have to do is believe that and ask and He will call you his son (or daughter) as well. All it takes is a little bit of faith, which Hebrews 11:6 says is this: a) believe that God exists and b) that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

2) My Wife

I am extremely thankful for my wife who is my best friend, my partner, my life mate, my soul mate, my better half… the list could go on. I consider myself the luckiest man on Earth to be married to such an awesome woman. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous and sexy, but she is kind, gentle, helpful and a great mother to my children. She basically runs our household and keeps me organized. I really would be lost without her in so many ways.

3) My Children

I have three totally great children. My oldest daughter is ten followed by a seven year old boy (who is JUST like me) and a little three (and a half) year old girl. I’m probably a little partial to my own children, but I think that they are very well behaved, respectful and loving. I love my kids!

4) My Church

God has placed us into a really great church. It’s not a mega church with a huge budget and high production for worship and all the flashy stuff that some (me) would like. What it does have though is really awesome people who genuinely love each other and truly display the body of Christ to one another, the community and the world. I’ve connected with some good friends there who I trust. The pastor is an excellent teacher of God’s Word and he is very personable. Of course this may all be because Grace Community Church is where God has placed me during this time and there is no better place to be than in the will of God.

5) My Job

I am currently employed at Columbia Southern University, a completely online college, where I am a senior software engineer. The company is owned by a really great Christian family and it shows. They really care about their employees and strive for what is best for the students and the employees. Not only that but the executive staff listens to the judgment of the I.T. staff and genuinely desires to do what is the best for the company. I also work with a really great group of people, some of whom I would call very close friends. In such hard economic times I am really blessed to have such a great job.

What Are You Thankful For?

Can you name a few things that you are thankful for this year? this day? this life?

$Money – Global Perspectives

SadDog

The Pity Party

Every once in a while, and probably more often than I’d like, I go down the road of the pity party. Usually around paycheck time, having given all of my hard earned cash away to pay for rent, utilities and numerous debts which I am ashamed to have. It feels like a mountain of payments that I have to make and I feel like I will never get ahead. Woe is me.

After that comes the grand visions and schemes of getting a second job to pad the income or perhaps building some mega-awesome new website or product that will make me tons of money. After all more money will solve the problem, right? I mean it even says so in the bible! Ecclesiastes 10:19 says, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.” Isn’t that what it says? lol Well, before you make a theology out of that please go read the full text.

AntiqueMap

Global Perspectives

Of course it usually isn’t too far behind that my patient Father in heaven gives me a little nudge. Be thankful! For what? Just look around!

I’m a senior software engineer and in that field I do pretty well monetarily speaking, especially considering the area I live in which has a pretty low cost of living. If you broaden the scope to everyone in this area that bumps me up even higher. I’m sure compared nationally with the entire population I would rank pretty far at the top. That would really drive the point home… I make a lot of money.

After some searching on the internet I found this site called the Global Rich List, that made feel completely awful. It’s a calculator that shows you how you fair on a global scale. Now obviously this is purely an estimation with some assumptions made about yearly salaries, etc, etc. But even so… I put in what I made yearly and the site said that I was in the top 1% of the world. Wow! Was I just complaining? That is really embarrassing when I stack my slight discomforts against the reality of what families all over this world have to make it on every day. People are starving even in my own country. Getting medical help can be problematic in many places. I could on and on, but you see my point. We live in a rich nation and we are spoiled.

Scripture – What Does God Say?

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

How Long Will You Put Up With My Crap?

How long, Oh God, will you put up with my crap?” That is the sentiment I’ve been feeling lately.

Paul in Romans – I don’t do the things I want to do and do the things I don’t want to do.

Collossians – Restrictions have the appearance of wisdom but lack any value in restraining the flesh

Galatians – Walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh

God will continue the good work He began

EDIT: Well, apparently not even sketches are sacred! I guess something in WordPress went ary and published this post before it was ready. As you can see above it was just really a rough draft with some ideas… but hey, now that it’s in the wild I suppose it’ll have to remain.