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A ‘weird’ view of money. — November 18, 2012

A ‘weird’ view of money.

Coming out of college in 2000, my wife and I had a student loan and a car payment. Not too bad. Two years later we had built a home that came nicely equipped with a mortgage, bought a bigger car with a bigger payment, had our first child, bought another car with another payment, and still had that pesky student loan.
My youth pastor salary was completely eaten up. We were stressed, frustrated, a little confused and angry. What had we done?

Well, as it turns out we had done what every normal 20 something was doing. We had behaved ourselves into a bad financial spot. We did what was ‘normal’.

But God was gracious to us. About the third year into our marriage we had gotten some timely advice (unsolicited, I might add). But nevertheless, extraordinarily helpful.

We were introduced to a man named Dave Ramsey, who taught some ‘weird’ ideas about money. Jackie and I were slow to follow, but follow we did. We started to incorporate the ‘weird’ ideas (all biblical) and soon we began to see changes. Good changes.

We noticed less stress in our lives when it came to money. We noticed less fighting and arguing about money. We both actually noticed we got excited to talk about the topic. Talk about weird!

What were some of those weird behaviors we learned? Here are five of them:

1. Create a spending plan.

A spending plan is a budget. A budget is simply telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went. If you want to have some financial peace in your life you are going to have to become a planner. Each month, you must sit down and plan how you will spend the cash that will come in. If you are haphazard with your spending, in the long run you will be broke, frustrated, angry and confused. 90% of divorced couples cite money issues as the root cause of the divorce.  I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.”

2. Spend less than you make. Or as Dave Ramsey says, “Act your wage”.

This one principle will change your life because it will create something called margin. Margin is the extra money you will have by spending less that you make. Your margin will allow you to change your financial situation very quickly if you use it properly. All you need is about $200-$300 a month to really make a difference. If you spend everything you make, and then some, you will be in for a lot of trouble.

The quickest way to find margin is through contentment. When you are content with less, you will not spend everything that comes in.

3. Save money.

The only way you can save money is by creating margin. Every month take a little of your margin and save it. Dave Ramsey directs us to save for three things: (1) Emergencies… because they will happen (2) Purchases… because you can get deals (3) The Future… because the government will not be taking care of you in the future. The government overspends $3.89 billion a day. Lets get real.

4. Get out of debt.

When we are in debt we are in bondage. We are not free to bless people, help people or go places… at least not in the way we would like to. Instead, we are strapped. The Bible says that the borrower is the slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). But this is not what you were created for. You were created to be free!

The best tool out there today to help you become debt free is called the Debt Snowball. Look it up! It works.

5. Give like crazy!

When you have no payments you become a blessing machine! This will take some time and we shouldn’t wait to be completely debt free to give, but can you imagine how much you could do for others if you had no mortgage! No payments!

My wife and I have followed these ‘weird’ money behaviors for 8 or 9 years now… not perfectly, but consistently. They work!

My advice on money… be a Weirdo! Because normal isn’t working.

Reflections on Death — November 16, 2012

Reflections on Death

Recently I attended a funeral service for a friend. It was emotional…it is always emotional. There are feelings of sadness and pain. Some in the crowd probably felt cheated, some angry, and some confused. My friend was only 34.

What stuck out to me was something the preacher said. He quoted a verse from Ecclesiastes 7:2 which read,
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.

The pastor pointed out the oddity of this verse by explaining that he has never met a person who, if given a choice of attending a party or a funeral, would choose the funeral.

Why then would God say it is better to attend the funeral than a party?

Let me suggest two reasons:

1. A funeral helps those who are alive to consider the day they will meet God.

Not many of us like to consider the day that we will die. We do not naturally go there mentally. However when we go to a funeral, we are forced to think about our own mortality… the day we will meet God. Such thoughts should lead us to consider if we are actually ready to meet God.

2. A funeral helps us remember that life is short.

The bible repeats this idea several times. It says that life is like a vapor and it is like grass that is here today and gone tomorrow. Life is fragile and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Therefore those who are alive should live each moment to its fullest… enjoying all that God has given us.

God says that it is better to attend a funeral than a party, not because He is against parties. In fact, I believe God loves a good party!

He just wants us to be reminded every now and then of what is most important… living our lives in light of His presence and in such a way that we get the most out of every day!

To sum up, I believe a funeral, although very sad, is a catalyst to live the best life you can live, and to live it in such a way that you will not be embarrassed or unprepared to meet God when your time is up.

Answered Prayer — November 14, 2012

Answered Prayer

Answered Prayer

In the Bible we are told to pray. We are told that prayer works. There is example after example of this throughout its pages.

Some pray. Some don’t. Some have tried and have given up. Some keep going even though they have suspicions that it’s not working. Let’s be honest, prayer can be frustrating and confusing.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells us to always pray and never give up. He tells a story about a woman and an unjust judge. Because of the woman’s perseverance, the judge gives her what she wants. The point? Apparently if we pester God enough He will give us what we want.

That makes sense. But then we read that God already knows what we need before we even ask? Well, then why do we need to ask? Why doesn’t He just give it to us? Is He mean? I don’t think so… but it is confusing.

Do you see what I mean?

There are other questions, too, like:

Does prayer actually change things?

Will God do what God wants to do if we don’t pray?

I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers to these questions. What I do know comes from actually praying.

The basics are this: We are told to pray. (I Thess. 5:17) We are told that prayer works (James 5:16). That should be enough for us to go on.

And so it was for my mother and many others who prayed for my Father. My father is a good man and was (still is) a great dad. He is an even better Grandfather. However, he has always been a non-believer, or what some would call an agnostic (one who claims you cannot really know if there is a God).

These days my father is not in good health. He has had several major heart surgeries to fix a faulty value he was born with. His most recent surgery was an emergency surgery to replace the last valve they put in due to a rare infection that had settled on the aorta valve.

Doctors said the odds of him surviving were, at best 50%…one doctor said 30%. Years of prayers have gone up to God for my dad to place his faith in Jesus. Most of them from my mother. All seemingly unanswered.

But this time was different. I am not sure how my mother prayed (I have an idea), but my prayers were more like desperate, angry demands. I felt as if I could not live on with my Father in hell and I told God that much. Repeatedly. I cried. Prayed. I asked. I begged. Others did too.

All I can say is that one night before the surgery my father and I held hands and prayed together for him receive Christ into his life. What I witnessed was a miracle. There is no other way to explain it.

It worked!

Maybe He listened to my mother? Maybe to me? Maybe to all my friends who were praying? Maybe He listened to all us? All I can say is that it worked! And now we will be spending eternity together forever in heaven.

So my advice to you: Pray. He is Listening.

Thank you, God, for opening My fathers heart to understand your glorious gospel!

Faith: How do we increase it? — November 18, 2011

Faith: How do we increase it?

The Bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)  What a powerful statement.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that if we want our lives to bring God pleasure, we must have faith.  That begs the question: How do we increase our faith?

I have often heard people say things like, “I have faith in my brother to accomplish the task”, or, “I have faith in my son to do the right thing”.  We’ve all said or heard similar notions.  What is meant in those statements is: I have confidence that the person is going to do what they say they’re going to do.

From that perspective, faith equals confidence.  In a similar way, Biblical faith is confidence in God.  It is believing that God is going to do what He promises.   A great example of this is Abraham.  In Romans 4:18 it says that Abraham had hope despite the staggering circumstances,  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  God promised Abraham that he would have a son named Isaac…even though his wife was 90 years old.  To Abraham, that was unimaginable!  However, Abraham believed.  Abraham believed despite the odds, despite others’ skepticism, even despite that fact that his own wife laughed at the mere thought!  Abraham was confident.  Not in the probability of the situation, but in the fact that if God had said it would be, it not only could happen but WOULD happen.  And it did!  Abraham is the character from the Bible that is most recognized for his faith in God.

So, how’s your faith?  Do you have confidence in what God has said?

How do you grow your faith?
1. Look around:
See creation for the magnificent wonder that it is.  If God could create the heavens and the earth and all of its beauty…what could be impossible for Him?  In fact the Bible says nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)
2. Study the character of God:
What is He like?  You’ll find that God is all powerful, merciful, and just; the Giver of strength & wisdom.  He always keeps His word and if that is true, we can count on what He has promised.
3.  Study the promises of God:
In order to have confidence in God we have to know what He has said He will do.  One great promise that I often meditate on is found in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Faith is confidence in God.  He will do what He says He will do.  My hope is that these few thoughts will deepen your understanding of faith and cause you to grow in it.

Feeling Far from God? — November 12, 2011

Feeling Far from God?

Have you ever grown closer to a person over time and it had nothing to do with proximity?  For example, a father will say, “Over this past year, I’ve really grown closer to my son”, while being separated by great distance.   Or maybe you’ve heard the opposite, “Over the past year we’ve really grown apart…”, even though spatially they were very near.

Emotional distance, feeling closer or farther from a person emotionally, having nothing to do with where you’re each located geographically, is a very real thing. I’m sure you’ve experienced it on occasion…I know I have.

In the same way we can feel far from people, at times we can also feel far from God.  There could be moments when you feel especially close to God, like you have His ear and He is an active participant in whatever you have going on around you. There are also times when it is possible to feel especially distant from God, where you feel that something has been lost and your relationship with Him doesn’t seem fresh.   I believe there are reasons for feeling that distance from God and that there are ways in which we can start to feel close again.

We need to increase our spiritual awareness of God’s presence. The reality is that God is always near us but we are not always aware of Him.  In Genesis 28 we see Jacob had this same struggle. He falls asleep and starts to dream of a ladder with steps that lead up to heaven. In verse 16 it reads, “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” God was there and present the whole time but Jacob didn’t realize it. His problem was our problem.

As hard as it can be at times, it IS possible for us to live with a consciousness of God’s presence even through the mundane, everyday grind of life. Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” This is a promise from the Old Testament that God gave to Joshua and to Moses.  Jesus also promises it to all of us in Mathew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

How do we become more spiritually aware of God’s presence?  I think the best way is to obey Him and His commands. In John 14:21 Jesus states, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”  Jesus is promising that if we follow His commands, He will make himself known to us. Your spiritual awareness will increase through obedience to Him.

We as believes have a deep desire to feel connected with God and have intimacy with Him.  If you want a closer walk with God, to feel Him and sense Him with you, begin with obedience.

3 FOR 3…It starts with me. — October 26, 2011

3 FOR 3…It starts with me.

In John chapter 10 Jesus said He came to bring abundant life to us.  What He meant was that He wants to give us life the way it’s supposed to be lived.  Life to the limit.  Life filled with peace, joy, satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.  But all too often we, as followers of Jesus, fail to experience the abundant life John 10 speaks of.

I believe the reason that the majority of Christians are not experiencing this life is because we do not fully surrender our lives completely to God. In our current series, White Flag, we are talking about 4 ways we can surrender – 4 areas of our lives we need to let go of in order to experience a deeper walk with God. If every person in Emmanuel attended the next 3 weeks, our entire church could experience a breakthrough in their faith that will overflow into the community!

So we’ve laid out the challenge: 3 for 3.  For the next three weeks, we want to see 3,000 people come to our services—not so we can say we’ve hit an attendance record, but so that the most people possible can surrender control and experience abundant life…life the way it was meant to be lived.  My challenge to you is to be present every Sunday for the next 3 Sundays and to invite your friends and family.

It starts with me.  I will definitely be present for the next 3 Sundays… 🙂 but I’m going to do more than that.  I have noticed as I’ve read through the Bible that any time a person asks God to do something supernatural, he or she usually engages in a fast.  A fast is when a person goes without food for a spiritual purpose. Sometimes it’s a 3-day fast, a 7-day fast, even a 40-day fast.  Moses did it. Esther did it. David did it.  And all experienced supernatural results.  I have decided to fast for 7 days for 2 reasons: 1. To surrender my own life completely to the control of God.  2. For you surrender your entire life to God so that you can experience the abundant life Jesus offers.

I’m asking God to bring 3,000 people for the next 3 weeks. It’s going to take His supernatural power to accomplish this task.  Will you take the challenge?  It could finally be the breakthrough you need.
God Bless.  See you Sunday!

What are you worshiping? — October 21, 2011

What are you worshiping?

Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind.
 – Isaiah 41:29

We are all worshipers of idols.  People often think of this to mean stone or marble.  However, an idol can be many things.  In fact, an idol can be almost anything…money, success, a spouse, popularity, material possessions, even ourselves.  We were created to worship God, yet we end up worshiping things of this world.

I have recently been reading a book entitled Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. He describes an idol this way: “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”  He talks about how the human heart is an idol factory. In other words, God created all human beings to worship something.  We all feel that ache for significance; to know our lives matter.  In the pursuit of finding those things we turn almost anything into an idol that will meet those needs for a time and fill us up with momentary contentment.
One will pursue money to satisfy their desire for significance.  Another may pursue power or success to make them feel significant.  But all of these things are temporary.
Jeremiah 2:13 describes idolatry as a broken cistern or hole in the ground: For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Instead of drinking from the fountain of living water – a water that will always fill and never run dry – they instead make their own fountains and have fooled themselves into thinking that their human creation will measure up to God’s everlasting flow of life.
Imagine these two fountains: one continuously flowing, clean and fresh, the other cracked and broken with only a shallow puddle in the bottom.  Which would you choose to drink from?  It seems so silly.  It seems so simple.  Any yet daily we choose the latter, temporary and flawed cisterns that we have deluded ourselves into thinking will quench our eternal thirst.
The truth is that any object that is being worshiped that is not God will eventually leave the worshiper brokenhearted. And just like the flashy car commercials or a ‘get rich quick’ schemes, the dream of class and the hope of wealth end up being nothing more than an empty promise. The idols in our lives don’t deliver. Nothing can fill us up and make us feel whole like a relationship with our Heavenly Father.  We were created to worship Him alone. No other idol will satisfy.

So what are the idols in your life and will you tear them down and turn to the living God…who alone can meet the deepest needs of your soul?  The choice is yours.

Break Our Hearts — September 29, 2011

Break Our Hearts

This City is Yours                by: Elevation Worship

This city, Lord, it is yours

So break our hearts, break our hearts

For the people who are far from you, break our hearts

Teach us to love, the way You loved us

Send us out, send us out

Pour out Your fire, and flow through our lives

Send us out, send us out

Bridge:

The heart in my chest, it is beating so fast

I can hardly contain all the hope in my veins

As I see You alive in this city arise

Like the sun shining bright, we see darkness and night run

This city, Lord, it is Yours

Teach us to love, the way You loved us

Send us out, send us out

Pour out Your fire, and flow through our lives

Send us out, send us out

We’ll take to the streets with fire in our hearts

Send us out, send us out

This song is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  I love it because it’s really a prayer: break our hearts.  The request for the Lord to break our hearts for the lost is an interesting one.  The reason we must ask is because it’s actually a very unnatural thing.  It’s unnatural for us to notice people and really CARE that they are eternal beings, people missing the peace that can only come from the Lord.  It’s unnatural for us to set aside our schedules, our families, our lives and really see people as Christ sees them: valuable souls who are in need of a Savior.

When looking at the scriptures, people who are lost and broken are the very ones you see Jesus hanging out with, visiting, reaching out to, and eating meals with.  The King of kings dines with sinners.  He spends His days on this earth with the sick, tax collectors, and prostitutes.  THEY are the ones who need a Rescuer.  They are the ones He is broken for.

This song also reminds us that we are sent.  We have been entrusted to carry on the work of Jesus to reach a dying world. Jesus “came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10)…and He tells his followers: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  That’s why this song has rekindled a passion within my own heart for people who are far from Him.  There are no ordinary people, no ‘face in the crowd’ to Jesus.    Every person is valuable in His eyes and His desire is to be in a relationship with each of us.  May this song impact you the way it has impacted me and cause you to reach out to the people in your life who need Christ.

“So break our hearts for people who are far from You, break our hearts.”

The Bible As Means of Christ-likeness Part 1 — August 4, 2011

The Bible As Means of Christ-likeness Part 1

The goal of our lives is to become like Christ (Galatians 4:19, Romans 8:29) and God has given us the means to achieve that end. Reading, meditation and memorization of scripture is a main way God accomplishes that goal. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”

We change our life by changing the way we think. As Dallas Willard says, “Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change.” Our emotions and actions come from our thoughts. God has made us this way. If we want to become like Christ we must renew our minds with God’s Word.

So how do we interact with God’s Word so that it produces deep changes in our character? The process begins with developing a deep reverence for God’s Word. The psalmist wrote, “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” Psalm 119:161-162.

Have you ever stood in awe of something? Have you ever stood in awe of someone? As a teenager, I remember going to see Michael Jordan play in the Meadowlands against the New Jersey Nets. The seats we had were right behind the Bulls bench! I was so close I could see the sweat beads on Jordan’s head during time outs. I was in the presence of the greatest ever! I was in awe the entire night.

This psalmist is saying this is the feeling we should have when we approach God’s Word! Can you imagine how the Bible would impact our lives if we had this attitude toward it. We would hang on its every word. Value its every thought. Obey its every command. It would influence every aspect of our lives.

Does your heart stand in awe of God’s Word or is reading God’s Word more like flossing your teeth? You know you should do it…but…well, you don’t.

Until His Word becomes extraordinarily important in your life, like stumbling upon great treasure, it will not have the impact it was intended to have (Hebrews 4:12). His Word will not penetrate the deeper parts of your soul and spirit that need transformed…the areas of your heart where motives lie…the areas where sin dwells, where pride, ego, selfish ambition, lust, and materialism live.

If God’s Word is to change us at our core… if we are to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ we must “rejoice at His Word as one who finds great treasure.”

Stand in Awe of His Word and let the transformation begin!

Remember, a small group can support you as you develop the discipline of regularly reading the scriptures. Learn more about small groups at egreenwood.org. Fall Small Group registration begins this Sunday at Emmanuel Church of Greenwood!

Satisfaction in God Alone — July 30, 2011

Satisfaction in God Alone

This morning during my quiet time this verse stuck out to me… “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”
– Psalm 17:15

When I read the Bible in the morning I always ask these two questions,

  • What is God trying to tell me?
  • How is this going to help me become like Christ?

I ask these questions because God is a communicating God. He wants to speak to His children and He wants them to become like His Son (Romans 8:29a).

This morning God spoke to me through Psalm 17:15…and this is what he said (not in an audible voice), “There are many people who will seek satisfaction in this life from the good things I have given them…money, the things money can buy, sex, success, food… but if you want true life, true satisfaction, true joy, than you must look to me. Don’t be fooled. I made your soul to be satisfied with me and not with all of my gifts. My gifts are given to you to draw you to Myself, the Giver of the gifts. You will never be satisfied until you come to me.”

One biblical commentator wrote, “Nothing but God can satisfy the wishes of an immortal spirit. He made it with infinite capacities and desires; and he alone, the infinite Good, can meet and gratify these desire, and fill this all-capacious mind.” – Clarke

We (I) must look to God…to Christ…to the Holy Spirit to fill our desperate hungry souls. We will be offered other alternatives…success, pleasure, lust, power, and money…but none of these things will do. We must turn to Christ for life and satisfaction.

Jesus invites us, “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.’” – John 4:13, 14

There is the invitation. No we must choose. From what fountain will you drink? Where will you look for satisfaction? A relationship? Alcohol? The weekend? Money? Your next purchase?

Only God can satisfy our thirsty souls. No other will do.