Saturday, March 1, 2014
One moment that museum housed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shiny sports cars and minutes later many were gone. What was so valuable quickly turned to rubble.
I wonder if we ought to think about life that way a bit more. I wonder if we shouldn't look at many of the things that seem valuable to us and realize that life's sinkholes could take them away too in an instant.
I often talk with people who at one time were making hundreds of thousands of dollars each year but now struggle to find or keep a job. For a while they were living the high life but now it's vanished. Others lost their "Corvettes" to their health, to the economy, to a dishonest coworker or their own foolishness. Whatever the case the wealth and value they once thought they had is no more.
Sometimes life is hard and bad things happen.
So what do we do? Like that museum we can't always avoid the sinkholes. They often just happen. But we can have a different perspective that won't make the loss seem so great. We can value different things so that we put our hope in what truly matters. And that perspective is something we parents must especially teach our kids. We couples must affirm for each other every day.
A few key components of a healthy perspective?
Stuff is only stuff. More of anything material does not make more of us! If we have it, great. If we lose it, it's not the end of the world. Do not let your home, your efforts, your focus revolve around more things. If you're blessed with a lot, give a lot away.
Relationships are where the greatest riches lie. Invest in time with each other, making memories and learning more about each other. Unfortunately, families today have or make little time to just be with each other, talk and grow together. Be different and make time for one another.
Don't become an entitled couple or family. Don't expect that you always have to get the best, the most and what's first. Teach your kids to look out for those who have less, volunteer in places where people have little and be willing to scale back and live on less.
Ask yourself, "What would we do if we lost most everything material that we own?" Of course you would be sad, even devastated, but could you see yourself moving on? Can you picture your family living on less and knowing that you're OK?
The greatest example of someone not needing stuff was Jesus. He even said that he had "nowhere to lay his head." He had no home, few possessions and probably not a lot of clothes. But He was the source of peace and joy and still is.
It seems like if He could do it, we can . . . and must.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
In addition, many young couples today believe that they must immediately have what others have worked hard for over many years - the nice house, two newer cars, club memberships, personal toys, hobbies and the ability to go out whenever they want and not worry about it. But often their income will not support all that so they start accumulating debt - house payment, car payments, credit card balances and loans.
Their excuse is to say to themselves, "But we can afford the payments." And perhaps for a while they can. But eventually the payments won't even pay the interest while they continue to try and live the same way. And if they are living on two incomes the situation just gets worse if one loses their job or has to quit for some reason.
Soon they aren't living the good life anymore. They're drowning in the debt-life and it's not fun. Their relationship suffers, their children endure the extra stresses and they eventually may just give up trying to get out of their mess while bathed in a lot of heartache.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a couple was described who was $50,000 in debt. A financial planner asked them where the boat or pool or RV was that they purchased to incur such a debt. Sadly, they couldn't even remember one thing they bought with that money!
So, let me first talk to those of you who aren't plagued by debt, at least not so far. First, continue to spend only what is concurrent with your income. Remember you don't have to have everything everyone else has. Be thankful for what you have but resist the temptation to get more.
Second, keep saving something every paycheck. Start if you haven't already with an emergency fund. If things are tight then shoot for $1000 first. Increase your fund to at least several months income later. Save for retirement through your company or start a separate fund or two using a financial expert.
Third, as Dave Ramsey suggests, live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later. Develop a thankful heart and spirit in your home. Drive an older car, live in a smaller house now so that you can have more later that you own free and clear. Don't give your kids everything and don't borrow money except for your home.
Fourth, start or continue a budget. You must know where your money is going and start planning ahead so you can enjoy a freedom to spend money and have it work for you.
However, if debt has you in its grip, start changing your financial habits today. Develop an emergency fund first, quit using your credit cards, begin saving something every check, downsize your house and cars and start taking control of your money instead of it controlling you. Find a financial professional to help you discover other important ways to save and to spend more wisely.
Money isn't evil. The Bible says that it's the love of it that's the problem. Debt isn't usually an avalanche that kills you all at once. It's more like a non-stop snowfall that gradually gets you. The good news is that it doesn't have to happen. Get financially healthy this year. And if you're already there, stay that way!
Friday, February 14, 2014
I was standing at Starbuck's recently talking to a man who apparently attends my church now and then (it's a big church). He had introduced himself and we continued to chat as we waited for our espresso drinks.
But soon he said, "I need to gloat a little. Yesterday my son won the regional wrestling tournament and he's only a freshman!" I of course congratulated him and could resonate with the pride he was feeling after a great accomplishment by one of his kids.
I am glad he felt comfortable telling me as I'm sure his dad tank was still overflowing as it should be.
However, I also know that some parents relish moments like that and then crave for more. The success of their kids becomes a drug that they can't shake. Perhaps the child is achieving in ways they never did or they merely have to one-up the neighbors. It doesn't matter the reason. Living through our children is a black hole that has serious consequences for them and us!
Some of those consequences? We inappropriately push our children too hard. Instead of being honest about their abilities or lack of them we demand that they keep going and get to the next level. And we can subsequently send the message that unless you perform you're not good enough for us. And watching the success of the scant few who reached the Olympics this week doesn't likely help.
Second, instead of being normally proud we become narcisstically arrogant. Everything starts to revolve around their succcesses and it's all we talk about. We chart every statistic, keep track of every win or loss and brag on Facebook or at the next meeting with a friend about their performance. To be honest we can become an annoying pain rather than a cherished friend enjoying one's children.
Third, we can lose some of our connection with our child. We don't talk anymore about school unless it involves their skills, we rarely discuss everyday life and just focus on their sport, club, music or whatever. And it's possible that they too feel they can't really get our attention unless they've done something notable.
Finally, we can avoid looking at the void in us we're trying to fill through them. Chances are there is something in us that we're trying to soothe, a pain we're wanting to dull or a goal we still want to reach through their successes. And if we don't figure out what it is and learn to fill that void in healthy, spiritual, godly ways it will never happen. And we'll never be satisfied.
Are you giving to your kids in loving, caring and normal ways? Or are you trying to live through your kids' successes? Enjoy those special accomplishments. Tell them you're proud of them of course. But make sure you love them no matter what. That's the way God treats us and I don't think we'd want it any other way. Your kids don't either.
Friday, February 7, 2014
The movie star receives her latest statue as part of the fifth award show in three months. She spends the next three minutes explaining how hard work, living her dream and believing in herself allowed her to accept this latest accolade.
Preening politicians, arrogant singers and even local well-knowns spend much of their time telling us in so many words how they deserve all the praise, money and attention they get. Their motto seems to be: take notice people, I'm here.
But compare that to the soldier walking off the airplane after 11 months or more in a Mideastern desert serving our country. He or she may have some well-wishers waiting and even get a round of applause from those nearby, but the only accolades important to them at that moment are the hugs and kisses from their spouse and kids. They don't need a trophy, ceremonial music or a medal. There is no prize money or subsequent movie or record deals awaiting them.
They humbly return home simply knowing they did their best serving their country. They are true heroes. They are the ones who can help teach us and our children how to truly be humble, to not require or demand praise and fame and to live for something bigger and more important than themselves.
And every time I see one of those reunions online or television I cry. I'm moved by their sacrifice, by their lack of self-adulation and how they model what is truly important. It's time for our country to start tiring of the endless award shows, cocky athletes and arrogant musicians who think that somehow they represent the values and attitudes of the country. They don't.
It's time for us to quit watching, quit applauding and quit indirectly asking for more of their boasting. Let's stop buying their products, going to some of their movies and voting for them to get another trophy.
And perhaps most important, let's make sure we point each other and our children toward those examples of soldiers, volunteers, missionaries, non-profit leaders and the like who do what they do not because it's about them, but rather about others.
That's humility . . . with a capital H.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Deidre has a shopping spree with mom every fall and spring to make sure she has the latest clothes. And the kids at the Franklin's always get to go to the best camps in the city to improve their athletic abilities. And none of them have ever ridden in a car that is more than two or three years old.
Now of course there is nothing wrong with family traditions, enjoying special opportunities, owning nice things or having a luxurious trip now and then. But many families make the mistake of providing each other and their children with what can easily become expected advantages, not privileges. Rather than learning to look forward to something that isn't the norm, the family can begin to feel entitled to those things and become angry if they don't get them.
What are we teaching our kids in the process? We may even be teaching them that they are entitled to be happy, be comfortable, always be first, have the best and not want for much of anything. And yet the Bible is filled with reminders of how important it is to learn to be content no matter what we have or do not have.
Let me suggest a few things that can keep you and your family from the entitlement trap or quicksand?
First, don't necessarily do too many special things EVERY year. Break things up by going and serving somewhere, even at home, instead. Make some of your trips or luxuries something you do every two or three years. Let special opportunities remain special.
Second, give more away as a family. Give your service as I mentioned or money or other resources. Teach your kids to save some money to help somebody else. Perhaps provide a trip or special gift for a single mom and her kids to enjoy. Teach your kids to give back to God through your church which will be used locally and around the world.
Third, talk about and experience the more important idea of enjoying each other in simpler ways. Spend some time playing games, talking, doing some fun things locally and having people over to your home. Don't allow individual activity and gain substitute for relationship with each other. Again, consider using your home and other resources as a way to care for and enjoy each other and the people around you.
Fourth, pray together about other opportunities to give not get. Spend regular time talking about and telling God thank you for the many ways you are blessed apart from all the perks and special things you get to do.
You see, we need to remember that everything we have is from God anyway. He's just loaned it to us for now. To become entitled simply says to God we think we deserve it. And the problem is that we don't.
Monday, January 27, 2014
And yet I hear some pastors, leaders and everyday people suggesting that their new strategy or idea for living out their Christian faith and love for Christ is the newest, brightest, most spiritual and best way. They say or at least imply in their message, comments or even Facebook post that they've now discovered the real way to love, a way that others have apparently been missing for years, perhaps even centuries.
I often read or hear that if I just gave more sacrificially, served the poor more, sold my home and downsized, gave up social media for a month, fasted, went on a missions trip or did something truly radical that I would genuinely be showing my love for Jesus just like them.
The problem is that none of us who follow Christ have to be like them or like anyone except Jesus. There are myriad ways to live out our faith and God has given us all unique situations, personalities, gifts and opportunities to be Jesus in and to our culture. Add to that people in other cultures to whom our American ideas for spirituality and Christ following would make little sense at all.
Can we learn from the example and urgings of others? Of course and we should. There is a place for pushing one another to new levels of love and obedience. But too often likely well-meaning people want to find the Holy Grail of discipleship or Christ - following when we would be better to just live out our personal commitment with all the passion and fervor we can offer. We don't need to talk about it, pontificate, brag or tell others how they should live for Jesus like we do.
If we have received a new nudge from God to ratchet up our commitment to Christ, like a husband or wife might for their spouse, then we should just DO IT passionately and humbly.
Jesus can handle the challenges people need to hear and will stimulate genuine heart change. We should just love Jesus, model it and keep learning. My hunch is that others will notice anyway.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Thankfully my parents made me stay at it knowing that I had some natural talent and that they had spent a lot of money on lessons that could have been used for other important things, too.
I didn't realize it then, but I certainly do now. Sometimes the best, most important things require boring consistency, doing the same thing over and over because there is a wonderful result ahead. Athletes, artists, mechanics, surgeons and airplane pilots also know this. They do things over and over to both improve and to be able to make important decisions quickly.
The same is true in marriage. Staying true to your spouse, doing the right thing, being loving day after day even when life is hard can be boring. Others may taunt us that a life of running around and doing your own thing is more "fun." The problem is that the results aren't the same. The fun is short-lived, while the fulfillment of a commitment and deepening relationship with our spouse lasts and causes us to find deeper intimacy.
So what are some perhaps boring habits, repetitive actions and attitudes that will help our marriages to be rich and last?
Saying impacting words. We may have tired of saying "I love you," or think our spouse knows that already but keep doing it. Find some new ones to spice it up but don't quit.
Doing little loving actions that your spouse likes. Maybe it's the coffee you make in the morning, the favorite meal you cook or filling the car with gas. Don't stop even though it's boring.
Planning special events together. You may not like everything your spouse enjoys but do some of those things over and over anyway. You can take turns but don't bail on your part.
Going to church and serving others. Your spiritual foundation is what supports everything else. It may not be as exciting or interesting as you'd like it but go get reoriented with God's truth and the encouragement of other believers. You may feel like you've done the same task for years but remember it matters to someone.
What else in your marriage is good but a little boring? Make a new commitment this year to keep doing it. Thank your spouse for keeping his or her commitments too. If there's too much boredom then talk with your spouse about spicing things up as well.
Too many marriages are tanking because people give up and quit. Don't let yours be one of them.