Count the Cost

This is the 7th in a series I call Financial Freedom. The previous post was entitled Prepare for the Future which can be found here: https://thingsmyparentsnevertaughtme.family.blog/2019/11/26/prepare-for-the-future/

The one thing my wife and I learned to do from our parents was creating a budget. We even took a class at church on how to make a budget together. We had fun with it. However, the first year of marriage was lean. If we had $2 left in a week for the dollar movie theater, it was exciting. This budget thing was extremely useful to know exactly how much we could spend. At the time we were acting according to God’s plan.

Christians are called to budget. Proverbs 21:5 “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” Making a budget and following it were very helpful in keeping us out of debt. Besides a car payment we had no debt. Our credit cards were paid off each month. Jesus talks about counting the cost of a project. Luke 14:28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” To run a country, company or household you must know the cost of things and make a plan. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” Our positive example in stewardship of resources is representative to the world as faith in God.

To make a budget, simply make a list of everything you spend money on … tithe, housing, allowance, car payment, gas, etc. There are many resources that can help you determine where money is spent. Everyone’s list is different. Some will be estimates. It does not need to be perfection. Just a general idea. I like to think of it by month but whatever is easiest for you. Compare to your take home pay. If the numbers don’t add up then make adjustments as necessary. Easy right? Maybe not for some. It may require difficult decisions.

1. If you do not have one already, create a budget making sure that your tithe is top of the list.

2. Prayfully consider where adjustments can be made.

3. Be thankful for the provisions God has provided and doubly so if anything is leftover like $2.

Our parents did well to show us how a budget was made. It kept us out of financial hardship. I prepare a budget every year or when we have some life change. I share the budget with my wife and children. Yes, I think children should be aware and taught financial planning. Making a budget brings me peace of mind. The budget has transformed over the years with a variety of life decisions. At first, it was a way to figure out how to spend every last penny. Now, it is a useful tool in reaching our financial goals and making us more secure. Knowing the cost has allowed us to better serve God in our tithing and giving. How cool it is to obey God and bare fruit.

My prayer for you is that you will become a good steward of your finances and “count the cost” by creating a budget.

Prayer Works

I have many stories about answered prayer but this one sticks with me for obvious reasons:

My son was in high school. He was a good student, a reasonably good soccer player and was generally easy going. I was becoming concerned, though. His salvation was not in hand. It was looking like we were at a cross road. Join the world or live for Christ. I had prayed for years on a daily basis that he would choose God but I knew that I could not press. Like me at his age it would be on his own terms. There was one day that changed my way of praying.

On this day I was hungry, tired and busy when my son made me exceedingly angry. It was over something I had talked to him repeatedly. Not only that but I had a laundry list of ways he had offended me over previous weeks. When I got to him I was seeing red and ready to explode. I knew my state and tried to calm but it was impossible for me at that moment. Something stopped me in my tracks. It was literally the words in my head … “STOP! Walk away.” Stopping in my driveway the words resounded in my head, “Keep walking.” As calm began to seep back into my body the real reason I was upset was being revealed. I was concerned for his salvation. My reaction was … “I can fix this”. God’s reaction was … “No! I got this. You will do nothing but pray and back off.” It was clear to me that my son was in good hands. The way I prayed for my son changed that day as well as the way I viewed him and my roll from then on.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The next day I apologized to my entire family for my poor behavior and was resolved to do things differently. The way I prayed went from pleading for my son’s repentance to thankful for his salvation. Gratitude and tears of joy flowed freely at the knowledge of his soon to be transformation. I knew that my son was quite safe in God’s great and powerful arms. A feeling of peace and joy began to wash over me about him. No longer was I crushed by any minor infraction he made. What I did not know is besides my wife and I there was a group of my son’s friends that were praying for him as well.

I wept the day my son was baptized. Still get tears when I view the picture of him at the beach. Even as I write this, I want to give him a big hug. He is now a youth minister. I am so thankful that God has both my children in hand and they pursue their Daddy in a way that makes their dad proud. They confirm for me that prayer works.

I would love to hear your stories of prayer answered. Please share as it is a powerful testimony to God at work in peoples lives.

Prepare for the Future

This is number 6 in a series I call Financial Freedom. The last post was entitled “You Need a Vacation”.

My wife and I started late preparing for retirement. When we were young it was not an imperative and we lived paycheck to paycheck. Our parents never really instilled the necessity of getting ready for retirement. They did not really prepare themselves for their eventual loss of income. In fact, JP Morgan calculates that 74% of Americans are not saving properly for the future. As I realized their inevitable position it made me think about our own lack of preparation. 2 Corinthians 12:14 “…Children should not save up for their parents but parents for their children.” I did not want to be a burden on my children and as always God provides ways to do so. Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, o sluggard, observe their ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gather her provision in the harvest.” Was an ant being wiser than me? I was being called by God to make a change.

The best way to do this is invest in a 401K and never touch it. In our first few years of marriage we did have a 401K. It accumulated $1500. We closed it out and took the cash for other things. It seemed like a small amount and we really needed the money. I now think differently. Proverbs 27:23 “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.” We do not have flocks and herds today. We have money. Different times and ways of exchange but the concept holds true. I needed to be aware of what I had and the future. What preparation was I making? Really none! I knew something was wrong until the title of an articles caught my eye …”How to Become a Millionaire”. Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? The article was about something called compound interest. The concept astounded me. Leave it to God to come up with answers to hard questions. Here is how it works.

Let’s say I was 25 when I cashed in that $1500 but this time I decided to leave it in a 401K. If I left it alone and never touched it along with a conservative rate of 8% return then that would grow into over $80000 by the time I was 75. Pretty cool! I did no work and gained $78500. Now let’s say I was really wise, like the ants, and put in an extra $30 a week. Cost of a cup of coffee every day? At the age of 75 that looks like 1.1 million. Wait what!? Yes, that’s right. An investment of almost $80K over 50 years will make you a millionaire in retirement. Not only that but most companies have a matching program and investing more will inflate that number.. Praise God that He has come up with ways to do the thing He calls you to do. BTW … Had I started saving with my first job at the age of 15, over the course of 60 years that is 2.5 million. Can anyone afford not to invest in their future?

1. Prayerfully decide how much you will set aside for your future. Figure out how much you will need to retire. Seek advice from a professional if necessary.

2. Ask God to give you the resources necessary to prepare for the future.

3. Thank God for the abundance He has provided so that you can prepare for tomorrow.

I wish I had started saving at 15. We started saving later in life. The good news is that it is not too late to start. For us we still had some time but needed to be more aggressive than if we had started earlier. We started by contributing the minimum amount matched by our work. We then increased this amount as promotions and raises allowed until we reached our goal. Right now we are on track. We have been fortunate. God has been very good to us. We did have to make some sacrifices at first. Lesser vacations and fewer dinners out. A warning though. Matthew 6:24 “… You cannot serve both God and money.” The goal is not to accumulate wealth. The goal is to make preparations for your elderly years. It’s our responsibility and our calling.

My prayer for you and me is that we trust God’s word, do as He commands, make a plan then faithfully act on our preparations for the future.

Fabricating Fruit

A number of years ago I was going through a rough spell. It was not a good place for me. Sick, tired and miserable. I couldn’t seem to pull myself together. I had noticed Galatians 5:22-23 “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”. It dawned on me that I was not experiencing these things in my life so I attempted to fabricate them. On my own I tried to have joy and peace every day. It was an exercise in futility! I couldn’t seem to understand why. Apostle Paul was thrown into jail, yet he continued to exhibit fruit and I was not experiencing anything close to that type of oppressive environment. How can somebody be a Christian and not be fruitful? For awhile this question perplexed me.

Something clicked during a church service, though. Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” There was something I needed to change to achieve fruit. An underlying sinful nature, some deeply ingrained in my character, were getting in my way. A sacrifice needed to be made to experience the things God promised. Now the wheel was rolling. Sure I was in a place that I did not want to be but there was no reason for my situation to be unfruitful. I began to pray and ask forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” God is abundantly able to use that bad place I was in to use me in ways I could not imagine. Then the flood gates opened. It revealed sinful natures that I would never had realized. There was a trust issue and preconceptions on the way things should look plus the underlying lie that God might have abandoned me. Not only did I identify my own weak nature but an inability to apply truth when I was being lied to constantly. The Holy Spirit started working. God began to use me in situations I would not have thought possible. Yes, I was experiencing fruit again. Thank God!

Now I use the fruits of the spirit as a barometer. If I am not experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, I immediately start asking questions. Why? What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change? Confess. When the Holy Spirit works the sinful nature out of me I no longer need to fabricate fruit. Fruit shows up on it’s own. All Christians can be in this place. It is God’s promise.

God is in Control

For 5 years I worked free contact with elephants. I loved it despite the obvious dangers and hard work. Elephants are extremely intelligent and powerful animals. They are capable of creating bonds with each other and keepers. However, one bad day can be tragic. I was very aware of this possibility every time I worked with them. It was repeated to me often how dangerous the situation was and to always be on my game. For the most part I understood but I had an added benefit that other keepers did not.

A number of people who had been in the business many years warned me of a phenomenon in which elephant keepers are the most vulnerable. It usually happens around the 2 year mark in an elephant keepers career. They become cocky and think they can do things that other more experienced keepers can do. In their own minds they become invulnerable. They believe they can handle any situation that can happen and often forget how dangerous the animals are despite repeated warning. After a number of years in the field a highly experienced individual observed some training I was involved in. He asked me later about this phenomenon and wondered why I never got to this point when every other keeper experienced it on some level. I explained why and it has application to life in general.

Collosians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Before I would step in with the elephants I would pray. Most elephant trainers depend on their training and wits to safely work such large animals. For me I understood that my training was important but me keeping safe was only an illusion. I really had very little control at all. When asking a 10000 pound animal to move over, do they really need to do it if they do not want? Without notice something could go wrong. Ephesian 1:11 “We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” I also understood that God was in control. It wasn’t my training or another keepers training or even the elephants themselves. Nothing could happen to me without God’s approval. I understood a very important detail in this regard as well. Psalm 86:5 “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive and abundant in loving kindness to all who call upon You.” He loves me and all I had to do is call on Him. This gave me consistent confidence as I entered the elephants habitat.

Isn’t this true in life? We go about trying to order things as we see fit. Thinking we can change our environment around us and force people to bend to our will. Then we get frustrated at ourselves, others and God when things don’t go our way. It doesn’t really seem like we are in much control as much as we would like to think otherwise. I think it would be better to believe Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Now I try to live this daily as if I was entering the elephant enclosure when I get out of bed each morning. As I lay in bed trying to wake up, instead of lamenting the day, I sing praises to my creator. I thank Him for the day and Jesus for his sacrifice. I look to Him for wisdom throughout the day and the ability serve and worship Him.

You Need a Vacation

Yellowstone National Park

This is number 5 in a 10 part series I call Financial Freedom. The previous was entitled Give Joyfully.

That’s right! I just told you to take a vacation! How does that play into finances? Let me explain. For many people this is a no brainer. For others like me vacations are stressful. So much goes into a vacation like money, time, preparation, travel while trying to cram as much possible into a very stress filled week. In my brain this adds up to … Don’t do it! I will literally feel guilty through the whole experience. My wife on the other hand must have it. It is an imperative for her. It must be something new and exciting or it literally does not count. We are almost 2 ends of the spectrum.

There was one year we were faced with job loss. We were confident at the inevitability so we made sensible preparations including no vacation that year. This would be a sticking point between us for years. Thank God the layoffs passed us with no incident. This trial did make me better understand the implications of not vacationing and feelings of guilt about it. I had to think about it like this … God even takes vacations. Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” and Jesus took time to rest in Mark 6:31 “And He said to them, Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Jesus commanded the apostles to take a break. There are even statistics to prove the health benefits. A story done by CNN cited that men who did not take vacations were 30% more likely to have a heart attack and women 50%. Plus we perform better at work when allowed time to stop thinking about it. Psalm 128:2 “You shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you.” Taking vacations allows us to set aside and appreciate the benefits of the abundance God has provided. By following God’s command to take time off we are investing in our spiritual, mental and physical future.

Now the catch. You knew there must be one. The Apostle Paul set up churches on his vacations and Jesus had the most important teaching moments during his time with the apostles. Christians are always on mission Psalm 96:3 “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” and 1 Peter 2:12 “Keep your behavior excellent among the gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” We are representatives of Christ wherever we go. Act appropriately! Vacations are not a free pass to forget who you are. People see and know that you are a Christian.

The other catch. Yes, there are two. Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone …” You do not need to go into debt over a vacation. It does not have to be a trip to an exotic destination. Visit a relative, go camping or a stay at the beach. Everyone loves something different so be imaginative and don’t break the budget. The amount you spend is not as important as the getting away.

1. If vacations are causing you a sinful attitude then pray right now for forgiveness. Ask for God’s help in resolving these issues.

2. Prayerfully consider what type of vacations will allow you to reset your brain then figure out what you can afford while adjusting your vacation plan accordingly.

3. Be thankful for God’s provision in allowing you to follow His command and take a vacation.

Now my family takes guilt free vacations that are always within our means. My wife and I agree to go different places every year. Some more exotic than others but always something new. What I have realized is that vacations not only get me to think differently, it has improved our marriage. We now fondly remember the camping trip we slept in a puddle while it poured outside and everyone was drenched. Knowing that vacations are a requirement allows me to enjoy them with less stress and guilt. There is much less pressure to cram in as much as possible. They are indeed a time of bonding even in those times things did not go as planned. Those turn out to be the best times in many cases. Prayers now kick off every trip. This makes God top of mind at every getaway. So go ahead, you now have permission to blow off some steam and take a vacation.

My prayer for you is that you would be able to reboot and find rest in ways that allow you to bring God with you on vacation.

Names Can Break Bones Too

When I was 9 years old my father left for the first time. His alcohol abuse was ruining our family. It wounded me in a way that would stick for a long time. This isn’t an unusual situation. It happens all the time, right? The problem was what happened next. The next day I wanted to escape. I left for school early and sat at the entrance. A friend walked up and asked what was wrong. I shared. His next comment stuck like glue … “I know someone else this happened to and they are messed up. Statistics show that you will probably turn out just like your father.” In itself that might not change somebodies course in life but it was reinforced. Over the next few years I was bombarded by comments like, “You look like your father.” and “You do that just like your father.” Pair that with daily bullying in school and you add comments like”dumb, fat, stupid, unliked, unathletic, jerk, nerd, gay, homo and small.” Heap on poor treatment from teachers who new my father along with family members and friends who did not portray the best example. Nobody really knew how much I was hurting. It wasn’t really on any individual but the bottom line it caused me to consider myself worthless. How is it that I turned out? I have an answer for this.

Proverbes 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. ” The power of death! Literally, words could do more than break bones, they could kill! I was alive but I was living proof that words could cut deep. However, there is a message of hope too. Life! I needed to be free of those terrible lies which had been repeated to me. It started with a promise. Proverbs 16:7 “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” I just needed to be more like Jesus and not let what other people thought to guide my way of thinking. Psalm 118:8 “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” I was giving those lies too much weight when I should be looking to God’s affirmation. I did realize that I needed to forgive those who wronged me. Mathew 6:14 “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

There was another very important part of my healing process. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that my biological father did not love me enough to give up drinking until I realized that my heavenly Father loved me enough to sacrifice His son. Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Once I began to understand this one thing it opened the doors to the rest. I needed this truth to stand on to make the hurt melt away and free myself from the lies that were ingrained into character. I realized that I also needed forgiveness from God and others I had treated wrongly because of this hurt I carried. The suffering I had endured had carried over into my relationships. Not only that but I started noticing something. Hurt people hurt people. People who treated me poorly were likely hurting themselves. It allowed me a sympathy for them.

1. If you have been hurt by words then pray right now for God to heal those wounds.

2. Pray for help in forgiving those who have wronged you.

3. Pray that God would forgive you for empowering others words over His own.

More than 40 years later I can still sometimes feel that hurt. What I can claim now is victory in Jesus. Matthew 5:11,12 “Blessed are those who people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great…” Today I am more resilient than ever when it comes to name calling. Now I understand better that I am blessed because of people who called me names. I am in fact much more likely to speak positively and want to help those I see hurting. After all isn’t that what Jesus would have done? I can’t help but think what if. What if my very young friend showed mercy and offered encouragement instead of comdemnation. What if a teacher said you can instead of you can’t. What if people just kept quiet instead of using hurtful words? I will choose to rise above what people say and look to my Father for his approval.

My prayer for you is that you will trust in God for your sustenance instead of the words of man.