Just Like Everybody Else

Certainly by now everyone has heard the story of Irving, TX freshman Ahmed Mohamed and his homemade clock. Since I don’t know all the facts or any of the people involved, because I was not at the school or in the classroom or the school’s office or in the police station, I am not going to attempt to take a side or give some socio-political opinion on the event itself. But, I do think there is something we can all agree on: The cause of the confusion in this case is that the clock he made doesn’t look like a clock “should” look.

Ahmed Mohamed's homemade clock

Ahmed Mohamed’s homemade clock

If I asked 100 people to describe to me what a clock looks like, I am assuming I would get the same 3 or 4 descriptions from everyone, but I’d bet NOBODY would describe what Ahmed Mohamed created. It wasn’t like every other clock! You can do this with most any thing, hence the reason Family Feud only has 5 or 6 answers on the board even though they “asked 100 people”. I find it interesting that the number of responses can be generally decreased to only two if the question is about a socio-political issue or when emotions get involved. Then the board only has 2 answers on it and both are worth right around 50 points. This is a phenomenon that has interested me over the last few years. Here are just a few things that I have learned from social issues like gay marriage, police-involved shootings, immigration, and the always divisive timepiece:

PEOPLE ARE WIRED TO BE A CERTAIN WAY

Most of us have been exposed to some type of personality assessment at some point or another like StrengthsFinder 2.0, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or The Disc test. Most recently, I took the Culture Index assessment and was amazed at just how accurate these tests can be.  FB EcardResearch suggests that by the time you enter your teens, your personality is fairly determined and can be described by using the Big Five personality domains of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. All this to say that you probably would’ve had similar reactions to today’s landmark social events had they happened when you were 15. It also means that no matter what you post to social media, how passionately you share your opinion, or how great a salesman you are, you ARE NOT going to change the minds of those that respond differently to social or political happenings. Try this experiment when the next social story goes viral: before you read anything they post, go down the list of your Facebook friends and see if you know how they are going to respond before they actually do. My latest data (which means I just made the #’s up) shows that I can predict with 95% accuracy which side of a topic each of my Facebook “friends” will fall on or that they won’t publicly respond to it at all. It’s just the way they are. They are wired that way. I was as certain that my left leaning friends would be upset at the treatment that Ahmed Mohamed received as I was that my conservative friends would say the school did its job the way they should have. That leads me to my next observation…

EVERY ISSUE IS DIVISIVE IN OUR CURRENT CULTURE

Let’s face it, no matter what happens, the vast majority of people are going to line up on the left side or the right side. And every issue, in our minds,  clearly illustrates who has common sense and who are just completely blind idiots. Political seesaw Not only do we hop on our predictable side of every issue, but we do it faster now than ever before. Technology and the advent of social media don’t simply allow us to get news immediately after it happens, we are now in a time where we get wind of things while they are still happening. With less time to gather facts, process information, sort through emotions and discuss with other people, we are even more likely to let our natural personality type take over. We end up thinking just like everybody else does… I mean just like everybody else who is just like us. You know, the people with all the common sense, not the blind idiots. I hate that every major issue our nation faces divides into separate sides of the ring. It really has become a nasty disease in our culture that seems to keep spreading and spreading. Are you fighting out of the red corner or the blue corner? Are you a bleeding-heart liberal or a staunch conservative? Surely there is a better way.

WHICH SIDE WOULD JESUS BE ON?

(Please read on even if you don’t believe in Jesus, God, the Bible or anything religious.)

In my estimation, He would have been on both sides…and neither side. You see, the Bible tells us that Jesus was somehow able to display both 100% grace as well as 100% truth when socio-political issues would arise. Take for example the way he handled Himself (John 8) when the Pharisees wanted to stone a know adulteress. (It’s a story worth reading even if you don’t believe the Bible is true.) The law did say that she should be stoned to death for adultery, but Jesus took a radically different approach. He first extended full grace to her and stood up for her to the Pharisees, suggesting that the one without sin should be the first to throw a stone. Once all of the unforgiving Pharisees had left (in my mind they all walked away with their heads down mumbling under their breath, much like my kids do after being admonished), Jesus comforted the woman and told her she would not be condemned. How very liberal of Jesus! In the next breath, Jesus reminded her that she did bring this upon herself when he told her to “go…and leave (her) life of sin”. Such a conservative that Jesus!

Jesus was the man who least lived like everybody else. He was a bleeding-heart liberal, a staunch conservative, and a moderate independent all rolled into one. The way He responded to people and their imperfections teaches us that we don’t have to quickly choose a side and be divisive. We should strive to see both sides and to simultaneously extend grace and teach truth.  Jesus showed us what all of us “should” look like. Romans 12:2 tells us that we should not conform and be just like everybody else, but to seek to be more like Christ. So when the next thing goes viral and people start choosing teams and you think about posting something supporting your side, no matter which side it is, I hope that you and I will be able to see both sides, to reject divisiveness, and refuse to live just like everybody else.

“Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?”

Clocks by Coldplay.

 

Chubby Trainers

If you have seen me recently, you may not believe this, but I spent 4 years working as a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness. I carried multiple certifications, received great continuing education, had access to top-of-the-line equipment and supplements, and worked with some incredibly educated and innovative fitness experts. I trained a great number of people for a countless number of hours, some of whom experienced life-changing results. I loved what I did and was passionate about the health and fitness of myself and others. I was by no means the best personal trainer out there, but I was pretty good at what I did and consider my time there very successful. All of this makes me wonder, what in the world has happened to me?!

fitfreaks

This may or may not be what I looked like in my training days.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED?

With all of my knowledge and experience, how have I gotten to be chubby and out of shape? I have not forgotten everything I learned, the basic physiology of the body has not changed in the last 15 years, and workout programs and gyms are more accessible now than ever (I know this because I just cancelled my membership at 24 Hour Fitness 6 months ago because they weren’t seeing me there enough.) Here is what I have figured out: my level of obedience to the knowledge that I have and the extent to which I take advantage of available options determine my success or failure. I don’t need more knowledge about fitness, I don’t need better gyms, the fad fitness tracker,  or the new miracle supplement. I need to DO the things that I know I should do and NOT DO the things I know I should not do. It really is that simple. If you or I focused on the 3 main truths of fitness and remained steadfast in our obedience to them, we would both be in pretty good shape fairly quickly.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT FITNESS, IT’S ABOUT EVERYTHING

I am pretty confident that this approach works for just about any aspect of life. Focus on the 3-5 basic concepts, be faithfully obedient to them, and you will see healthy progress. Once you have the critical things down pat, move on

The Main Thingto the more complicated things to get even better. Once you perfect the basics, then go after the trade secrets, the gadgets, deeper knowledge of your subject, the good-to-great little details. But always remember that the main things must always be the main things. Without them, the more complicated things become useless. Cars must always have wheels, a powertrain, and a chassis. Every baseball play comes down to some combination of throwing, catching, or hitting. Parenting can be boiled down to nurturing, discipline, loving and teaching.  I would argue that everything is simpler than we make it out to be. Here is a brief look at three areas where I think over-complication leads to neglect out of frustration. Unfortunately, in each of these areas, I have experience in being near both extremes!

FINANCE

Mr. Earl Crawley

Click the picture to read Mr. Crawley’s story.

As a young man with no real guidance in finance, I was extremely overwhelmed. I quickly found myself in the all too typical situation of being in debt with no savings and no real plan to change my status. Over the last 6 years or so, I have learned that being financially sound is pretty simple. (Note: I didn’t say rich, I said financially sound.) Financial success, no matter your income level, pretty much comes down to budgeting, saving, and staying out of debt. You can spend hours, weeks, and even months studying financial theories and strategies, but if you spend more than you make because you don’t budget, don’t take advantage of compound interest by saving, and pay interest on debts,  you will be broke. On the other hand, you can make $20k a year and be well prepared for retirement if you are diligent in your obedience to the simple truths. Need proof, read the story of Mr. Earl Crawley.

FITNESS

ANW femaleNot to discredit trainers, coaches, exercise gurus or dietitians, but there is no great secret to fitness. If you want to maintain or increase muscular strength, you have to do resistance training. To improve cardiac, pulmonary and circulatory performance, you have to challenge yourself with cardiovascular training. And weight loss/gain boils down to how many calories you take in versus how many you put out. Certainly, you need to get more intense and more complicated to become a CrossFit competitor or to win American Ninja Warrior. But the real difference between those guys and me is that they have an insane level of obedience to the 3 main things and I occasionally think about them in passing. That, and they are a little slimmer.

FAITH

As a pastor, I hear from people often about “growing in their faith” or “spiritually maturing”.  My concern is that we tend to focus only on wanting more knowledge, a greater depth of understanding and more ways to practice our faith. These things are great, but I believe that spiritual growth comes from increasing you level of obedience. Rather than primarily seeking a greater understanding of the Bible and ensuring we do church the “right way”, I feel like we need to spend more of our time and efforts working on our obedience to the things that we do understand, the things that are made very clear to us, and the most well known Biblical truths. Aramaic BibleRather than debating gay marriage or arguing over what type of music should be played in churches, we should be focused on our commitment to those things that are non-negotiable. When asked, Jesus told us in Matthew 22 that the main things were to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He went on to say that everything else hinged on that. Basically, without these 2 things, anything else is missing the point. Just like increasing physical or financial health, our spiritual well-being is determined by how obedient we are to the main truths that never change.

So, in order to preserve my theory, I will sum all of this up into 3 main things:

1) Always let the main things be the main things. 2) Do the things you should do, and don’t do the things you should not do. 3) Seek to increase you level of obedience, not just your level of knowledge or understanding.

I would love to hear your opinion on WHY we tend to miss the simple things in search of the complexities. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Broke and Stupid

Earlier this week, I was invited to be a host on a weekly podcast that some friends/coworkers of mine produce called Around the WicketIt is basically a bunch of regular guys hanging out and discussing sports, pop-culture, nonsense and pretty much anything else that might draw a laugh.

Throughout the course of that episode, which can be heard here, I learned that I use the words “stupid” and “broke” quite often when describing things that I think should be done differently. In fact, I even asked if I could create my own segment called “That’s Stupid!” While I am within a small group of buddies clowning around, I don’t see that as a problem. But I have noticed a trend in society where, for some reason, we feel as if we need to tell everyone what is stupid and/or what is broken (or broke as I like to say) with what they’re saying or doing.

Basically, anything we don’t agree with is labeled as stupid and anything we think should be done differently is broken. If you would like an example, open your social media page and read the first 2 or 3 posts on your page. You should pretty quickly find something dismissing a political view, a parenting technique, someone’s driving habits, or shaming someone for something they wore to Walmart. Why do we do this? And is there a better way? I think there are a few things that cause us to think people are stupid or that systems are broke.

                                                                 WE UNDERESTIMATE THEIR INTELLIGENCE                                                     (Or overestimate ours)

This is the thing that makes me crazier than the others! Those of us living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area drive through road construction everyday, no matter where you are going to/from. And if you live in my community, Haslet, you have to cross railroad tracks to get pretty much anywhere.

Road ConstructionI can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone question (or questioned myself) why the roads are closed when/where they are, why they are doing railroad track repairs on a specific day, what time of day they work on the roads, etc. Do we really think we know better how to reconfigure a highway intersection better than all of the engineers, planners and executives who work at Kiewit, a company that was founded in 1884? Why do we think we should get to determine when and where BNSF works on their 32,500 miles of tracks? They’ve been around for 160 years and operate 1,400 trains a day across 28 states, yet for some reason I feel like I better know how they should manage their maintenance schedule? My suggestion is this: trust in people who are experienced and educated differently than we are. Let’s try to consider for just a minute that not everyone is stupid and making bad decisions. Consider perhaps that there are circumstances beyond your area of expertise that dictate how/why people do the things that they do. We can’t always be the smartest person in the room.

WE DON’T GIVE PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

I was alone driving down I-35W  many years ago when I was cut off by a car changing lanes in front of me. The driver nearly clipped the front of my truck and I had no warning because she didn’t use her turn signal. Someone in my car reacted with an expletive and I quickly changed lanes, sped up next to the car, now in the right lane, MY LANE, so I could show the driver my displeasure. As I peered laser beams in through the driver side window, I noticed a woman who had a look of sheer terror on her face. Road RageShe meekly waved to me and mouthed, “I’m so sorry” to me and then looked up into her rear-view mirror to check on the small child in the carseat behind her. Here is the deal: she simply did not see me. She wasn’t doing anything wrong and it wasn’t personal, she was just trying to get she and her child somewhere. For some reason, I immediately assumed that she was on the phone, doing make-up or just didn’t care that I was there. Why did I not immediately assume that she was innocent and, being human, prone to mistakes? It wasn’t 10 minutes later, on the same highway, when I was abruptly startled by the sound of a car horn that sounded like it was in my back seat. I quickly looked into my mirror only to realize that I had just nearly ran a car off the road while changing lanes… without using my blinker… by sheer accident. I learned in that moment to give people the benefit of the doubt. We simply cannot live life thinking everyone is out to get us. Is it possible that people are doing the best they can in the moment and have no idea they’re upsetting you?

                                              WE FOCUS MORE ON WHAT WE ARE                                                                            AGAINST RATHER THAN WHAT WE ARE FOR

I have learned a tremendous number of lessons being on staff at our church, Fellowship of the Parks. One of the values we have as a staff is to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. This single statement has had a tremendous impact on my life. As much as I like to joke with my friends about what is stupid and what things are broke, I really don’t want to be known for the things I am against. I want to be know as someone who is uplifting and encouraging, not cynical and pessimistic. I want to bring light into a room, not smother it in darkness. I want to be a life-giving spirit, (1Cor 15:45-49) not the guy that sucks the life out people. I want to empower people, not condemn them. I want people to feel good after spending time with me, not bitter and spiteful.

At times, I feel like we as a society are like a bunch of campaigning politicians. You know, where the goal is not to tell you what is desirable about me as a candidate, but rather to tell you all the reasons why the other guy is a scumbag. As a people, we need to overcome the urge to belittle others to prop ourselves up. We need to be known for what we stand for, not for what we are against. We need to learn to trust in the competency of other people and not assume we always know better. And it wouldn’t hurt to start by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

I will close by saying that I do realize that much of this blog post is pointing out what is broke in us as people and how that is a bit ironic. Call me stupid! 

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Scrubbing Toilets

To close out 2012 and kick off 2013, I spent better part of 6 months in a constant state of emotional torment. In the midst of a very critical decision making process, I felt like a child somehow positioned on both sides of the world’s biggest see-saw. The highs seemed astonishingly high and the lows incredibly low. The relative ease in which I was able to change directions actually turned out to be quiet troublesome to me. Up and down, up and down, up and down with that rhythmic squeaking that almost lulled me to sleep, not wanting to ever make the decision.

seesaw2Part of me wished that my see-saw partner would have been that much bigger kid. You know, the one that had all of the leverage due to his weight? At any moment, he could plunge down and send me soaring into the sky like a bottle rocket, only to jump off just as I reached the highest point, causing me to plummet down at an even more accelerated rate until the ground, my seat, and my tailbone would join forces to bring me to an abrupt stop. Yes, I actually hoped for such a happening.

The showdown taking place in my head was a career choice. I was faced with choosing between a full-time position as a campus pastor with my church, Fellowship of the Parks, or staying at the Dallas Fire Department and preparing to take a promotional exam to hopefully become a Lieutenant. Here is the single question that created the most indecision and was the root of all of my internal struggle: which career would be living within God’s will for me?

I addressed the idea of feeling a “calling” in a previous post Calling All Ninjas, but I was recently reminded of another lesson I learned throughout this process: you can live within God’s will for you no matter your circumstances. My wife Ann was wise enough to point this out to me when she told me, “you don’t have to work for a church to serve the Lord.” She could not have been more right. There were plenty of guys on the job at DFD serving the Lord each and every day, and there are probably equally as many church staff members out there who are not serving Him. The truth is that you get to decide daily how you will use your circumstances and circle of influence to impact other people, whether you’re a fireman, a pastor, or the custodian at a local high school.

CUSTODIAN OR COUNSELOR?

Charles Clark (pictured at right) became the custodian at Trinity High School in Euless, TX a couple of years before I arrived there in October of 1992 in the middle of my sophomore year. Mr. Clark was recently the subject of a short new piece covered by On the Road. (Click the link under the picture to watch the short video.) Mr. Clark is a great example of what I would consider living out God’s will within his given circumstances. He could easily have chosen daily to clean the bathrooms, empty the trash, lock the doors, and quietly slip out for the day. Instead, Mr. Clark has chosen to use his profession, his love for people, and his influence to impact the lives of the people around him. Here are 3 lessons that we can all learn from the janitor at my alma mater.

1. “Once they trust you and they know you love them, you can get them to buy into what you’re selling”

The wisdom in Mr. Clark’s voice was never more apparent than when these words poured from his mouth. More powerful than any persuasive speech or marketing campaign is the power of personal relationships. Christians, please re-read and re-listen to the words of that custodian. They sound much like the words given to us through the Bible. Before you can get someone to listen to what we have to say, they have to know that we love and care about them. We are told to help everyone become believers and to teach them what we have learned (The Great Commission), but we need to be reminded that the best way to do that is to first love them. After all, the effectiveness of anything we do is affected by the way we love people (see Matthew 22:37-40). A person does not value your input until you make them feel loved, respected, and cared for by you. Your circle of influence is directly proportionate to the number of people that feel like you genuinely care about them. I suspect that Charles Clark has a circle of influence that is, at a minimum, the size of the Trinity High School campus.

2. Do things because they need to be done, whether they are your job or not.

I am in the process of instilling a “code” to live by for me and my sons. One of those codes is that Macheca men will right wrong. I feel like God calls us to stand up for what is right at all times, not just when it is easy or convenient. It is always our responsibility to take part in fixing what is broken, in healing who is hurting, and standing up for those that can’t defend themselves. Mr. Clark sees that high school students living in a broken world, facing the cruel realities of a very unforgiving society are often unable to “defend themselves”. You see, even though it is not your job to help my mom change her flat tire, it is not your job to show compassion for a homeless addict, it is not your job to sit and listen to a hurting neighbor dump their issues on you in the driveway, and it is not your job to invest time in another person’s child, the world sure would be a better place if we all did. I wish I had the ability to see all things through the lens that Charles Clark sees his work. How much greater would your life experience be if everyone looked at you the way that Mr. Clark looked at his students? What if everyone saw you as being worth it? What if everyone valued you and invested in you? What if everyone did these things not only when it was their job, but all of the time because it needed to be done? I doubt any of these things are in the job description of a custodian, but there are stories of Mr. Clark purchasing clothes for students, giving them rides to jobs, even giving them a place to stay when they had nowhere to go.

3. You get out of something what you put into it.

Let’s face it, the job of a school custodian is not highly respected in our society. This is a job that could be seen as ordinary and unremarkable, negligible and unrewarding. But such is not the case at Trinity. Charles Clark sees his role as significant and far-reaching. He pours his heart and soul into the work that he does and the place that he does it. And you can tell by listening to him, that he gets great fulfillment and joy from his work. This is a prime example of reaping what you sow (see Gal 6:8-9). At the end of the interview, Mr. Clark says, “this custodian thing is working out good for me. I got a great life.” What if we all used those words to shape our outlook on our own lives? What if you lived and worked in such a way that allowed you to constantly say these words to yourself, only changing the blanks, “This ___________ thing is working out good for me. I got a great life.”

LUNCH WITH MR. CLARK

Although I never got to sit just outside of the office on that big rock with him and I never got to slowly stroll the halls with him listening to his sage fatherly advice, I have learned a great deal from Charles Clark, Custodian at THS. To be completely honest, I never had the pleasure of meeting him in our 3 years there together; however, he taught me a tremendous amount about life and perspective in just 2 minutes and 42 seconds. If anyone knows how to contact him, let him know I’d like to buy him lunch one day. T’s up Mr. Clark.

T's up

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Black-eyed Peas and Cabbage

A large number of people start off the new year by eating black-eyed peas and cabbage on January 1st. Some of those people do so because superstition tells us it will bring us good luck (black-eyed peas) and financial prosperity (cabbage), while others do it because that’s what their mom always did.

BEPs and Cabbage  Admittedly, I enjoy participating in and hearing the stories behind traditions and superstitions as much as the next guy, especially when food is involved. In fact, this is why I wait for Mondays when I have a red beans and rice craving. (See Monday Beans) After all, why a tradition exists is, in my estimation, just as important as how to follow it. Spending 7 years working in the fire service taught me that “that’s how we’ve always done it” is a much used, but frequently inadequate reason for continuing a practice. If you’d like to read a funny tale of why it is often a bad reason, read this quick story about Zig Ziglar‘s prized ham. Superstitious or not, I think most of us will agree that black-eyed peas and cabbage are about as effective as playing the lottery when it comes to bringing us luck and riches, so I thought I would I share some of things that I have learned about how to achieve financial freedom and how to create your own luck in 2015.

Last week, I got what may be the most feedback I have ever gotten after preaching a New Year’s resolution type message at church. It was a staggering reminder to me how many people out there are struggling financially, and not just those who don’t make enough money. There are plenty of families out there that make over $200k a year who are drowning in debt, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and not preparing for the future. This has been my motivation for this blog post.

Before I share what I think can help you handle your finances the right way, what I believe is the Biblical way, let me give you a disclaimer: most of what I am about to share with you comes from my experiencing many years of financial failure. At 27, I filed bankruptcy with $37,ooo in debt making about $31,000 year. I then proceeded to allow my family to get back into a good amount of credit card debt, acquire 2 car loans, and even buy our first home that we really weren’t ready for.  As if that wasn’t enough, I also stood by and watched as we built up almost $50,000 in student loans. Here are some of the things we did as a family to save ourselves from complete financial destruction.

1. GET EDUCATED AND MOTIVATED

Our financial life took its first step in the right direction the day I picked up The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. What was most eye-opening to me was how simple it could be to handle your finances the way the Bible asks us to.

Total Money Makeover    Note that I did not say easy, I said simple, meaning that even a regular non-finance major like me could easily comprehend the concepts presented. Educating myself financially did not mean learning all the ins and outs of the stock market, how to diversify a portfolio, or what average yield returns on 10 year CDs are. I learned the more about the right and wrong approach and mindset to treating money. Here is what it did for me: it radically changed my perspective on finances. Or, as Ramsey would say, it started a financial paradigm shift for us as a family. Seeing the progress we were making encouraged me to take Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class at our church, Fellowship of the Parks. Nothing is more motivating than progress!

FPU

Please believe me when I tell you that this class completely changed our lives. I estimate that we followed the program at about a 65% commitment level, and we have seen amazing results. In the next 3 years, we eliminated all consumer debt, paid off both of our cars, accumulated emergency savings that could pay 3 months of our bills, fully funded our employer matched retirement accounts, and opened IRAs for each of us. We now owe only on our house and Ann’s student loans. We have had no huge financial windfalls and nobody backed up a dump truck full of money on our lawn. We simply educated ourselves on how to manage our finances. It does hurt a bit to think where we would be right now if we had gone all in and been 100% committed.

2. TAKE A FINANCIAL HEALTH MONTH

About 4 months ago, I started the process of calling just about every company that I send a dollar to to see where I could save money. I called my cell/home phone/internet provider, my satellite service, the electric company, my mortgage holder, and even sat in front of a buddy who is my auto insurance agent and went through my policy line by line. It was very eye-opening to see just how much money I was wasting every month simply because I was too busy (or lazy) to make some phone calls. When it was all said and done, I decreased our monthly bills by almost $400 a month, got a $300 credit on my cell phone bill, got a check from my insurance company, decreased the interest rate on our mortgage by a full 1%, and cancelled my Direct TV NFL Ticket (I still am not ready to talk about that yet.) I don’t care how much money you make, it doesn’t make sense to pay more for something rather than less. And it makes even less sense to pay for something you don’t ever use. (See ya later 24 hour fitness membership!)

This process also included making an honest, accurate budget. It is very eye-opening to create an exact budget that accounts for every dollar you spend. I determined that I eat too much, could save a little more, and that it feels good to plan vacations that you know will be paid for before you leave for them. There is one little caveat that makes any budget more effective: YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW IT! I have a math/numbers brain, creating a budget can actually be fun for me. Sticking to them is a different story! My advice to you is to track your spending, decrease it where possible, create a manageable budget, then stick to it. And in your budget, make room for #3….

3. BE GENEROUS

If you make $25,000 a year or $250,000 a year, make it a priority to be generous with what you have. The single greatest financial decision we ever made as a family was to start tithing 10% of our income. From that day forward, our family’s financial situation has continued to improve.  In my mind, there is NO coincidence here. I fully believe that God will bless a joyful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Currently, the first lines on our budget each month are dedicated to giving money away, before food, before the mortgage, and before clothing. I now have realized that I have been the beneficiary of generosity many more times than I have been the giver. I intend on changing this over time.

Yes, I am a pastor. No, I don’t say this to increase giving at my church. If you are not a Christ follower or for some reason don’t trust ‘the church’ or your church, start by giving away 10% of your income to the person/organization of your choosing. Just give God a chance to bless you through generosity by committing to doing this for 3 months.  I am NOT promising you financial riches or a “return on investment”. I am simply telling you that giving builds a foundation of  generosity, humility, and selflessness. Just realize that no matter how much debt you are in, how tight your budget is, or how much money goes in/out of your bank account each month, cheerful giving will soothe your soul and remind you of just how fortunate you are.

Whether you are making minimum wage or six figures, I hope that 2015 is a year that brings you financial peace. l wish you 365 days full of black-eyed peas and cabbage.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment and let me know what things you have done to improve your financial situation.

Calling all Ninjas

Have you ever felt like you were just meant to do something? Like you were created perfectly for a certain job or maybe a specific sport? Or have you ever been watching someone do their thing and thought to yourself that they were just “born to do that”? I worked with a few men like this on the Dallas Fire Department who often made me question whether they could ever be happy doing anything else. Guys like HH, Strib, and QB just seem like they were created solely to do that job and to do it very well. Some call it being predestined and others say it is a natural ‘bent’. Christians will often use the term ‘calling’ to describe an overwhelming feeling that you are supposed to be doing something specific, as in “I feel like God is calling me into ministry.” That very topic came up this morning when a co-worker pointed over at her son and explained to me that her 5 year old son has already started experiencing this phenomenon. He dropped a bomb on her when he recently let her know that God is calling him to be a ninja. You heard me… a ninja!

ninja

My advice to the little karate kid is simply this: answer that call from God! Dude, only a select few get to be ninjas and you have to take advantage of an opportunity like that. Chances are that at some point in his young life he will be called to another line of work, but until then I suggest he put all his energy into ninjaing. 

Through personal experience, conversations with many people, and after receiving what I would call wise counsel on the matter, I feel like I have learned a lot over the last couple of years when it comes to this topic. I thought I would share 3 things that I feel we need to consider when we feel called, led, predestined, born for, or bent toward something. So before you run off to start taking ninja classes, consider these things:

1. If you say no to a calling, you will be uncomfortable.

I had a very wise older gentlemen named Jim Newsome tell me that the 2nd most miserable person in the world is the guy that felt called into ministry, but never did answer. He told me this right after I decided to leave my job as a fireman to go into vocational ministry. I appreciate him encouraging me and affirming a decision I made hesitantly. I actually turned the job offer down at one point, but after the initial relief from the stressful decision-making process, I began to feel as if something was constantly tugging at my shirt. It was similar to those times when my youngest son Jackson will pull on my shirt time after time saying, “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad Dad” until I finally give in and answer him. He gives me that look like had I just answered him in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to say my name so many times. A voice in my head kept telling me “you can’t say no” as if my decision was simply unacceptable. I’m not sure I would’ve ever been completely at ease had I not finally given in to that nagging voice. Is there something that keeps tugging on you? What is it that you just keep feeling like you have to do but haven’t acted on?

2. You can’t create your own calling.

Naturally I had to ask Jim to tell me who the most miserable person in the world was. He retorted with “the guy who wasn’t called into ministry but decided to go for it anyway.” After feeling encouraged by the first half of his little quip, I was now wondering if I would end up being that guy! I went from feeling encouraged to terrified in a matter of seconds.

Let’s face it, as cool as we know it would be, we can’t all be ninjas.It can be painfully obvious when we see people who are clearly not working within their strengths or skill set. If you saw the MVP award presentation after the World Series last week, you know what I mean. Watch the video on the left if you haven’t seen it yet. I don’t share this to insult or degrade Rikk, but I think this viral video shows the level of discomfort that can come with working outside your sweet spot. Not everyone is suited to present awards to athletes in front of MILLIONS of TV viewers. In fact, I bet very few people are comfortable doing that. I think Fox and Chevy created their own calling for Mr. Wilde and it caused him tremendous trepidation.  He was set up for failure from the get go and I feel sorry that he was put in that position.

Also under this category, I will include one of my favorite sayings. Don’t do stupid or hateful things in the name of Jesus! I am fairly sure that God will not call you to sell all your possessions and give all of your assets to a televangelist. I am quite certain He is not asking you to protest the funerals of soldiers or to hold up signs that read, “God hates _____!” We should all avoid the temptation to use the ‘God called me’ card to justify our foolish actions.

3. He may call you back later.  

Where you are and what you are doing today may look nothing like it will in the future or like it did in the past. Just because you trust your instincts and follow what you feel you are being led to do, you cannot be assured that you won’t be led down a different path later on in life. We have to be open to change and to opportunities as they arise. I honestly believe that God wants to use each of us to be part of His story, but we have to be willing to be flexible as the plot changes and to be open to playing multiple roles.  I hope you are willing to answer when some unexpected doors open for you. As for me, I am going to enjoy where I am right now and patiently wait for His next call, hopefully it will include a ninja.

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Jets Over My House

An annual air show was here at the Fort Worth Alliance Airport this past weekend and the USAF F-16 jets were out practicing all  last week. The Thunderbirds sometimes fly over at what seems like mere feet overhead and produce that unmistakable, thunderous roar. Very few things give you that chilling, bone shaking feeling that teeters back-and-forth on the border of intimidation and empowerment. A neighbor posted on our community Facebook page that she was annoyed that jets were flying over her house while her toddler was trying to nap. Comments and subsequent posts ranged from “I know, it’s so annoying” to sarcasm such as “yeah, they should arrange practice around nap time” or “you knew the airport was here when you moved in.”

 

This exchange got me thinking about some of the ways that we humans respond to each other and had me wondering why. Please read to the end of this post before you get mad at me as I am going to attempt to examine this as 2 completely different issues rather than acting as FBPD and deciding who is right/wrong. Basically, there were 2 different response types to her post: one of fact or truth, and one of grace or compassion. I am going to quickly chime in on each response as these are generally the same responses we have in all interpersonal interactions.

A response of truth

Truth means “hiding nothing” or “unhidden” when translated from Greek. In English, truth means an honest answer or widely accepted fact. In American, we sometimes translate truth as “telling it like it is, no sugar-coating, no beating-around-the-bush, all-up-in-your-face honesty.” Followers of Christ look to the Bible to teach us what truth is and tell us that we are to hold each other accountable for. In the example of the fighter jets, the truth is that no one person is important enough to plan practice around. Another truth is that fighter jets will wake babies up at times and there is just nothing we can do about it. The truth is that mid-morning, which is generally about toddler nap time, is the perfect time for them to practice! The truth is that making that statement, even on Facebook, is not going to change anything.

 A response of grace or compassion

Grace means favor, blessing, or kindness. (Many Christians think of grace as God giving us blessings that we don’t deserve.) Grace encompasses ideas like unearned forgiveness, understanding, and compassion. In the particular case mentioned above, compassion seemed to given most. It was once suggested to me, and I believe, that the two words in the English language that carry the most power are either, “I know” or “me too.” Sometimes hearing that from someone can act as an affirmation, can make us feel normal, or even begin a healing process. There is great power in knowing that we are not the only ones who (fill in the blank). Specifically, I know how frustrating it can be when something out of the ordinary interrupts that precious little time you have when that toddler is supposed to be asleep. It used to infuriate me too! I can feel her pain. Sometimes people say things simply to voice a frustration and to have it validated by someone else. Much of the time, they don’t expect anything to change in response, they just need to vent.  We see this interaction all the time, even in what some people think are unimportant situations (see below).

Frustrated Saints' fans

FAN #00: “The Saints keep giving away games at the last minute. It is driving me crazy!”

FAN WITH SOUL: “I know, right? Me too!”

FAN #00: “Thanks Fan With Soul, I feel validated, understood and important now.”

(NOTE: These are not exact quotes.)

So what wins out then? Grace or truth?

The lifegroups at my church, Fellowship of the Parks, are doing a study entitled Christian (see below). In one of the messages, Andy Stanley addresses this very question.  This has been my motivation in addressing this topic. He points out which of the two, grace or truth, normally wins out. The answer was very profound to me: it depends on who we are talking about! We tend to lean toward speaking truth, saying exactly how it should be, and setting feelings aside when we are talking about other people. However, we would much prefer the approach of grace, forgiveness, and compassion when it comes to our own situation. Funny how that works, isn’t it? I am as guilty of it as anyone, especially when I find my self in moments of frustration and impatience ,like getting 3 kids off to school in time in the morning.  I will often remind my kids about the Biblical truth about being obedient to (Eph 6:1) and respecting our parents. However, I tend to seek grace when I forget that just 3 verses later (Eph 6:4) we are told not to exasperate or anger our children. After all, if they wouldn’t…. nevermind.

http://fellowshipoftheparks.com/

Does there have to be a winner?

Is it possible that we can live in such a way that we are able to speak truth and hold people accountable while still affording expansive amounts of grace? What if we spoke truth equally as much as grace? What if we showed grace each and every time we felt the need to speak the truth? Because neither you nor I are Jesus, chances are we will never be constantly full of both grace AND truth, we will always tend to lean more toward one or the other. My encouragement to you is this: if it isn’t blatantly clear which is most appropriate, perhaps we need to refer to the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be treated. Or it is quite possible that we don’t need to speak at all.

Please feel free to comment on the content above, but I’d appreciate if you don’t weigh in on the Facebook post I used as an example.

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