Your Best Payday of the Year

This is a post about saving money.  More accurately it is a post about more efficiently managing the money that you have.  Those few people who really get a thrill out of monitoring their bank statements might not get a lot out of this, but hopefully everyone else will find a bit of useful info and some inspiration…

My financial laziness cost me how much???

Juggling all the tasks of life can be a lot like a performer spinning plates.  Keeping everything moving and balanced is a real challenge.  Don't let your finances be the plate that comes crashing to the ground.

Juggling all the tasks of life can be a lot like a performer spinning plates. Keeping everything moving and balanced is a real challenge. Don’t let your finances be the plate that comes crashing to the ground.

For many years I had the tradition of taking a day off each year just to give our finances a full checkup and overhaul.  I made, or more accurately saved, more money in that day than I would if I had been in the office.  In 2013 I got lazy (or allowed myself to become over scheduled) and never made financial checkup day happen.  About a month ago I got a wake up call that made me realize it was time to dig back in and check all the bills and accounts.

My financial wake up call came in the form of a check that cleared for only 10% of its value due to an error at the bank.  The accountant of the organization that cut the check caught the error and gave me a call.  That mistake would have cost my family several hundred dollars and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get after our finances.

Care to guess how much my financial laziness was costing our family?  In my one day of researching and calling I found about $3,000 worth of sloppiness.  It has taken several weeks to get everything squared away and some items are still being resolved, but the key is getting the ball rolling.  Here is a bit about the financial issues I found…

Utilities Were Our Biggest Area of Waste

I am using the term “utilities” very loosely because it was our cable and wireless bills that were killing us.  Our wireless package was WAY out of date.  Our new package includes more data per line, unlimited minutes and messaging.  Total annual savings for wireless will be ~$720.  Our cable company had also changed up our bundle.  (I’ll be writing more about the changes we have made to our cable, internet, home phone bundle next Monday.)  Total annual savings for the cable bill will be around $1,800 annually.  (Yeah you read that right…that’s why it is getting a whole post next Monday.)

Part of my financial checkup day is calling all of our utility providers to make sure we are getting the best deal we can possibly get.  Most providers know that the marketplace is competitive and that it is cheaper to keep an existing customer as opposed to adding a new one.  Being polite and direct is my best advice.  When I finally get an actual person on the phone I tell them what I am working on so we can cut right to the matter at hand.  I was also able to save a bit of money on our electric rate.

Wading Through Medical Bills

Many who are regular readers know that my wife broke her leg this summer.  That led to a variety of new and different medical bills.  We have excellent medical insurance through my wife’s employer but I sometimes find unnecessary charges or procedures that have the wrong code attached to them.  In total I found about $500 worth of errors in the medical bills.

My best advice on medical bills is to start with the procedures that the insurance company did not pay for.  I called the medical provider to ask why those charges might have been declined by the insurance company.  In many instances a billing error was discovered.  When resubmitted with the proper code the procedure was accepted by our insurance provider.

Dealing with medical bills, insurance companies, billing companies, and medical providers is a GIANT pain and can be quite confusing.  Take notes about the various people you speak with including name, employee ID (if possible), date, time, and subject matter of the conversation.  Also, set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar to follow up on matters.  We recently discovered a medical billing issue from a year ago that we forgot to followup on.  A medical provider had a refund check for over $400 in our name sitting in a folder in their office.  The check had been there for almost 10 months!

Get Your Budget In Order

I use Mint for our budget.  I have been using Mint since before they were purchased by Intuit.  The free online service continues to improve.  Securely associating your bank account, credit cards, mortgage, and other financial accounts helps Mint automate the process of developing a budget.

When you first setup Mint it will load and analyze three months of your financial data.  Some of the items will automatically be assigned to the appropriate category, but your data will require significant ‘massaging’ when you first get going.  Mint helps to develop an accurate picture of the money that is coming in and the where it all goes.  I also like having the ability to input cash transactions that can get lost along the way.

Replace Bad Habits With Good Ones

When changing any behavior, you need to make sure that a positive alternative is available to replace the negative one.  Our savings have been redirected into automatically deducted savings.  Contributions to retirement and college funds have been increased.  If you don’t do something proactive with your anticipated savings they will simply disappear into another financial failure.

Suggestions For Your Finance Day

Here are a few areas to consider looking on your financial day off….what other suggestions would you have?

  • Necessary utilities like water, gas, and electric.  Are there lower rates available?  Are there places to conserve?  Any spikes in the water bill that might indicate a water leak in a toilet or sprinkler system?
  • Optional utilities like cable, internet, phone, wireless, etc.  Is the service necessary and useful?  Can a cheaper price be found from the current provider or another provider?
  • Mortgage payment.  Is the interest rate on your loan still competitive?  Would it be worth looking into refinancing with the low interest rates available now?
  • Subscriptions. It is easy to let little subscriptions ($5 to $25 a month) pile up.  If a service is not being used, cut it off.
  • Insurance.  Get a quote from another insurance provider.  Make sure to have your policy on hand so you can get an accurate rate comparison.  If the quote is lower, consider sharing it with your current provider to see if they will match it.  Is your current insurance sufficient?
  • Medical bills.  I have already mentioned that this category is no fun at all but there can be a lot of cash being wasted on these bills.
  • Eating out expense.  It is also worth looking at the monthly expenditure on eating out.  I know in times past this number has been shocking for our family.
  • Investments.  Are there better options available for your savings?  Can you increase your contributions with some of the money you have saved?

Finally, treat yourself well on financial checkup day.  Perhaps you want to save all this money while wearing your PJs….great!  Maybe stuffing your face with some unhealthy food will make the day better…go for it!  Have a bit of fun with a day filled with the unpleasant tasks that so many of us push aside.

I would love to hear some of your tips regarding this subject in the comments section below.

Feeling Tired?

Feeling tired, discouraged, bogged down?  I know I sure feel that way at times.  Lift up your head and look around you for some positive, encouraging examples…

I snuck a photo of our 90+ year old neighbor out mowing her lawn.  She defies age.

I snuck a photo of our 90+ year old neighbor out mowing her lawn. She defies age.

I know I have written about our 90+ year old neighbor before, but she continues to impress!  Earlier this week I was walking over to pick up our daughter from school and I saw our neighbor out on her John Deere mower, chopping up her leaves.  It was a cool, but pleasant afternoon and she was out tidying up her lawn.  How many 90+ year olds do you know who still mow their own lawns?

She doesn’t have to mow her own lawn.  Two of her children live in adjacent homes and are more than willing to come over and pitch in when help is needed.  Her grandchildren and great grandchildren also come over to help with chores.  My neighbor knows that the secret to ‘staying young’ is to keep moving!

Let me remind you that this is the same 90+ year old neighbor who broke her hip while bowling last year.  One of her first questions to her doctor after surgery was, “When will I be able to bowl again?”  Within months she was back at the bowling alley with her league.  She is a very special lady.

There are lots of special folks around us all.  It seems we know many who are struggling with cancer and other serious illnesses, or are facing other struggles in life.  Our older daughter recently sent out some cards that she drew to some of these folks.  Her cards contained a simple message of encouragement that only a small child could write.  What was interesting to me was the response of those she sent cards to.

When I receive a card I read it and appreciate the sentiment.  The people that our daughter wrote to are in a different place in life.  The card really meant a lot and was a great source of encouragement.  Every one of the recipients of one of her cards either responded with a card of their own that they sent to our daughter, or responded with a letter.  One gentleman even said her card is a prized possession.  When was the last time you have been moved by such a simple gesture?

When I feel tired or overwhelmed, I think of others and the challenges they are facing in life.  I want to say THANK YOU to so many in my life who live out a positive example even in the face of struggles, challenges, and trials.  We have many in our life who are fighting brave, inspiring battles against serious illness and they are a source of inspiration and optimism.  We know others who are givers, constantly thinking of others and their well being and they are a source of perspective and focus.  When we take the focus off our own problems and share in the joys and sorrows of our community, we live a life that is overflowing with blessings.

Don’t forget our Dinnertime Devotionals series.  Devo 42 is hot off the digital presses and is ready for download by clicking the link – Dinnertime Devotionals 42


Lessons From A Door

I am a big believer in life-long learning and the concept that there are observational lessons to be gained all around us.  With that in mind, a few observations from some changes that took place at my office yesterday….

We have some super talented folks in our church.  Yesterday two of our members continued their project of putting vision panels (little windows) in the office doors of staff who elected to have them.  Within an hour they had my door off of the hinges, a hole cut, vision panel built and installed, and the door hung back on the hinges.  They know what they are doing!

My door is held together with cardboard.  Cardboard!!!!

My door is held together with cardboard. Cardboard!!!!

I had never looked inside a hollow core door like the one on my office, but I was surprised to find out what was in there.  My door that has always seemed so solid and protective was filled with cardboard!  “Filled” really isn’t an accurate description.  A honeycomb network of cardboard pieces would be more accurate.  The door for my office consists of little more than two 1/8″ skins of wood veneer and cardboard.

The obvious lesson is that things aren’t always as they appear.  My door appears to be pretty tough but a solid kick would easily penetrate through the thin layers of wood and cardboard.  It is a good reminder about where to put our hope and trust.  So many of the things around us may seem very permanent and strong, but they are only temporary in the grand scheme.  The people in our lives can be an amazing strength and support but they too are only temporary.  God is infinite and unfailing in His love and provision for us.

Some might be wondering why we are putting vision panels in the doors of staff who would like them.  The church exists in the real world and we are aware of the need for transparency and accountability.  Our long-time insurance agent had suggested several years ago that vision panels might be one way to provide some of this transparency.  For those who are employed by the church there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in our activities in the building.  Vision panels allow for accountability whether the door is open or closed.

This is the time of the season when we sing songs about old Saint Nick and how he sees you when you’re sleeping, and knows when you’re awake, etc.  Kinda creepy when you think about it.  We also have an “Elf on the Shelf” in our house named Pete who is keeping an eye on the kiddies for Santa and bringing back a report every night.

My job title was changed when they cut a hole in my door :)

My job title was changed when they cut a hole in my door :)

These tales are part of the fun and tradition of the holiday season, but we recognize that in our lives there is One who watches.  It might be easy to think of God sitting back and keeping a grand record of right and wrong in the book of life, but I believe it goes beyond such simplicity.  God’s mercy and love exist on a higher level than I believe we can even reason.  When we strive to live as New Testament Christians we read of forgiveness and mercy.

Many of us want our privacy.  We don’t like the idea of being watched, recorded, or analyzed.  For some the idea of the ‘all seeing eye’ of God is one that causes trepidation.  For others the idea of a God with intimate knowledge, loving care, and gracious provision is a great source of comfort.  With God there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and I am glad He is watching over me.

For those who have been following along with the Dinnertime Devotional series, I apologize for missing the last few weeks.  We continue this week with a challenging series of study from Philippians 2.  I hope that you enjoy Dinnertime Devotionals 41 and have a great rest of the week!

It Is Better To Behave

Yesterday I was reminded of a lesson my parents constantly instilled in me… You never know who’s watching so it is better to behave.  A pair of chance encounters vividly drove this point home.  Story time….

Yesterday I was running a load of boxes from our church building to Mission Printing in Arlington.  I had recently cleaned out my truck and of course had taken my tie down straps out of the truck which left my load of 12 large boxes perilously perched in the truck bed.  Sure enough while driving I was cut off and the entire load shifted as I firmly applied the brakes.  Nothing flew out but I saw lids flying and trouble was close at hand.

Parents struggle to get kids to behave but it is something we will struggle with all of our life.

Parents struggle to get kids to behave but it is something we will struggle with all of our life.

I was pulling up to a stop light so I hopped out of the truck and jumped into the bed to reposition things until I could make it to a place where I could stop to properly fix things.  When I got back in the truck my phone rang and it was a preacher friend from East Texas named JJ.  I answered the phone and JJ said, “Hey Buddy!  Is everything OK with your car?”  A bit confused I looked around until I saw JJ waving at me from the car in front of me.

What are the odds that he would be in town at that very moment at that specific light where I would hop out of my truck.  We chatted for a bit as the stop light changed and then I told him not to judge as I pulled into a liquor store parking lot to reposition my load of gospel tracts :)

I continued down the road with my newly secured load.  Within a mile I spotted a familiar vehicle, it was my neighbor BJ out on a PGR mission in preparation for Veteran’s Day.  What are the odds that on a side of town I don’t venture to often that I would see two people who were also attending to business in that area at that time.

I am sure everyone reading this post has similar stories of running into people while on vacation or a business trip.  It is always interesting to consider the number of relationships we have and what a small world it truly is.  It is always best to behave because you never know who is watching.

Of course we do know that God is always watching.  If you want to have a fun conversation with a little kid, try talking to them about the omnipotence and omnipresence of God.  It is a concept that I have a tough time grasping as an adult but a young child can bring a fun and interesting perspective to the conversation.  There are some definite benefits to always striving to put your best foot forward:

  • Your act of kindness, patience, or forgiveness could make a lasting impression on someone.  We never know what the people around us are going through and your seemingly innocuous act could make a huge impact on someone else.
  • One harshly spoken word or flagrant action could forever change the way people perceive you, your family, or those claiming to be followers of Christ.
  • I often pray for God to give me an opportunity to reach out to people.  There is no telling the time or place where God will give that opportunity so I need to always be at the ready.

Hebrews 13 is a great passage on this topic.  I am going to close this post with the entire text.  Make sure you don’t miss Dinnertime Devotionals 40 at the very end of this post.  I hope you have a blessed day and are a blessing to everyone you meet.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

God’s word is a great encouragement to us.  I hope you will spend some time with your family talking about God.  The sincerity of parents who walk the walk and talk the talk of their belief in God is constantly seen as the #1 factor in a lifelong faith in children.  It is my hope that Dinnertime Devotionals 40 is a blessing to your family.

Are You Doing A Great Work?

Today’s post would benefit from a bit of context.  I encourage you to read Nehemiah 2:11-20 and Nehemiah 6.  I also encourage you to read this post from Michael Nichols.  I’ll bring that all together in my post…

Read all that material? Great!  Let’s go…

The post that Michael Nichols wrote about getting knocked off course resonated with me.  How many times has our family set our intentions on doing a good thing but wound up distracted?  In all honesty, how many times have I set my personal goals and gotten derailed along the way?  I think this is a situation that we are all familiar with.  His question, “Why did you walk away?”  is a one that most of us have to examine.

navigate the mazeWhen dealing with distraction I often wind up looking at Nehemiah.  The account of events begins in Nehemiah 1:2-4 when Nehemiah asks one of his countrymen about the fate of those who remained in captivity in Jerusalem.  The report of the great city in utter destruction and a people, God’s chosen people, decimated caused Nehemiah to sit down and weep and mourn for many days.  He was positioned in life to make a difference and set his heart on returning to Jerusalem and restoring the city and God’s people, no matter the cost.

In Nehemiah 2:11 we can read about his return to the homeland and the impact a visual inspection of the devastation had on him.  Even though the situation was dire (v17) he inspires those who are around him to join him in rebuilding the city so they are not a reproach to God.

Many of us are motivated by similar realizations when we seek to change things in our life.  We might change our diet because we recognize what it has done to our health and our body.  Of even more importance we might change priorities in our families when we recognize the spiritual wasteland our homes have become.  Perhaps church leaders set out on the challenging task of rebuilding the body when a lack of vision has had its final consequence.  Our good and sincere efforts for improvement are often met with challenges and even attack.

From the very beginning of this effort, Nehemiah had his enemies.  In 2:19 we read that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem “jeered” and “despised” the efforts of Nehemiah and the Jews.  The critics asked, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”  Nehemiah replied, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah 3 details how the people rise up and get to work rebuilding.  It might seem like a lot of pointless detail but this portion of the text allows us to see how far spread the rebuilding effort had become.  The same people detailed in chapter 3 had lived in this destruction for years and had never bothered to improve their situation.

Their progress drew insult and threat from their critics in Nehemiah 4.  Sanballat along with Tobiah issue insult and threat.  They were bullies.  The one thing that enrages a bully is being ignored.  Nehemiah ignored their threats by calling on God to turn their taunts back upon them.  The taunts of their critics drove the Jews to build with even greater fervor.  In v6 we read that the people “had a mind to work.”

Sanballat and Tobiah were enraged when their insults were met with silence and focused progress by the Jews.  The people recognized the threat and instead of stopping they prepared themselves for defense as they worked to complete the wall.  They didn’t bother with hurling insults or threats back and forth, they kept their focus and prepared for any attack that might come.

The people of God stayed busy and completed the wall while their enemies continued to cause trouble from afar.  Four times Sanballat and Geshem sent message to Nehemiah saying, “Come and let us meet together at Kakkephirim in the plain of Ono.”  (To bad they didn’t have Starbuck’s back then.)  These men never had good intentions at heart so Nehemiah clearly knew that they meant to cause him harm and derail the task at hand.  Four times he responded, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.  Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”  I personally believe this is one of the most powerful statements in the Old Testament.

I think Nehemiah 6:5 is often overlooked.  They sent an open letter (unsealed for all to read) to Nehemiah.  The lies of their message were intended to stir up trouble and division…they were desperate and fishing.  Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah were the ultimate in passive-aggressive communication.  Nehemiah’s response comes from a heart of focus and dedication – “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.”  Nehemiah clearly saw that they were trying to disrupt the great work that was being done by spreading fear and lies.

The account isn’t finished yet.  (Hang in there with me!)  Even some people among his countrymen had been bought out by these critics.  In 6:10-14 we read of those who attempted to derail Nehemiah from within the walls.  Nehemiah’s focus and dedication allowed him to see that this was not a message from God but was simply another scare tactic.

The wall was finished quickly…in 52 days!  One would easily think that the troubles were over for Nehemiah but the end of chapter 6 tells us that his enemies were persistent.  Many of the nobles of Judah were bound to Tobiah by oath and continued to work on Nehemiah.  The final verse of the chapter tells us that Tobiah continued to send letters in an effort to scare and distract him.  Now safely inside the walls of Jerusalem I am sure these letters had little impact.  Perhaps they were piled in a basket in the corner, unopened, to be used for kindling.

The last few weeks I have been focused on purpose and vision because that is where I am at in my professional and personal life.  I am working with the leadership of our congregation to develop a specific goal and vision for the ministry that I am blessed to be a part of.  I am working with my wife to reshape and examine the goals we have for our family.  I am blessed to be a part of several organizations that are also undertaking this important and challenging task.

While all that continues there are still distractions aplenty.  There are lots of good things that cry out for our attention but we must politely decline.  There are those around us who have their focus set in the wrong place and seek to distract us as well.  And there is always the constant temptation to simply lay down and take the easy route through life, letting precious time pass by till it is too late.

My friends, I am busy doing a great work and I encourage to join with me.  I am dedicated to raising children who know and love God and see Him in my words and actions.  I am pledged to my bride to stand by her through this life, encouraging and strengthening her in this walk we take together.  I am in a covenant with God to seek and save the lost and share His hope with a world that needs it.  To those who would try to distract, why should the great work I am involved in stop for you?

I hope today’s post has been encouraging and thought provoking for you.  Too much of our time is wasted on things that don’t matter.  I encourage you to have a spiritual conversation with your family today.  Perhaps you’ll use the Dinnertime Devotionals series or perhaps it will be something more organic.  Either way, I encourage you to give thanks to God, teach your children about Him, and model a Christ-like love for your family.  Check out Dinnertime Devotionals 39.

What He Said

Last Tuesday I wrote a post about the need for clear vision and purpose for individuals, families, and organizations.  (You can read it HERE if you missed it.)  On Sunday our preacher delivered a sermon that walked right down the same path and I wanted to share it with you.

focusIn the message titled “A Life of Conscious Purpose” (click lesson title to listen) our preacher Ed clearly presented the purpose of the church as found in the New Testament.  We both referenced Matthew 28:18-20 in which the New Testament identifies the purpose of the church to be teaching all nations about salvation.  (Quick note: Our preacher is from Scotland and he has a really cool brogue, a lot like Sean Connery.)

It is easy for organizations and individuals to ‘muddy the waters’ with good things that don’t work towards achieving a goal.  For instance, there is no doubt that all the things we are doing as a church are good, but do they work towards accomplishing the goal that has been set for us?  It is important to encourage, equip and strengthen the church but it is also important to set the body into action to do the job it is supposed to do.

Regular readers of my blog know that my wife fractured her tibia earlier this summer.  Even though the bone has mended her leg is still weak from lack of use.  She is on a weekly regiment of strength training prescribed by her physical therapist to get back on track for working 12 hour floor shifts at the hospital.  The goal of the therapy is to set her body back into regular motion.

I appreciate the realistic approach of her employer in recognizing that someone can not immediately bounce back to being on their feet for 12 hours after a leg injury of this type.  Individuals and organizations can’t expect to bounce right back to where they are supposed to be either.  It takes training, vision, and effort to refocus and rededicate energies and priorities.

I very much appreciated this message on Sunday and hope it is as encouraging to you as it was to me.  I also appreciate all those who are setting goals for themselves and their families that lead to the same purpose.  It is for these folks that I continue the Dinnertime Devotionals series with installment 38 from Philippians 3 – Dinnertime Devotionals 38

The Easiest Way To Get Knocked Down

I am only a casual observer of boxing, but it is easy to make some basic observations about the sport.  Some of the greats like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard were quick on their feet and always on their toes.  Often their opponents found themselves knocked back on their heels against the ropes being punished with blow after blow.   When you are knocked back on your heels it is hard to escape an attack and easy to get knocked down.

What happens when we move away from our vision, mission, and goals and become reactionary in everything that we do?  A few examples…

  • An organization with a clear mission leaves the path of accomplishment to chase after the latest accusation, crisis, or controversy.  Leading by crisis is not a sustainable path.  When all energies are poured into responding to the latest controversy, the leadership produces fatigue, factions, and failure within the organization.
  • A family fails to set goals or expectations and finds themselves in a morass of complacency and failure.  Parents aren’t given the option of leading their family, they are given the responsibility to be strong, pro-active leaders.  Even the youngest of families can have goals, standards, and expectations.
  • An individual is paralyzed by fear and motivated only by eminent failure.  With no goals or motivation they surrender to laziness, unmet potential, and quite often will tear others down in an attempt to bring them to their level.

encourageThis all sounds pretty negative, especially coming from a guy who is by nature an optimist and strives to seek out the best in others.  I believe we are seeing in our society the fruits of our hyper-informed culture.  A few illustration that parallel the above points…

  • The church has a clear mission – Matthew 28:19-20 – “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Pretty simple right?  Everything we do is supposed to be focused on reaching out and making disciples.  Does the command of Jesus sound like we are supposed to be on ‘offense’ or ‘defense’?  I don’t know about you, but with Jesus’ assurance that He is with me ALWAYS I am motivated to push past the follies of this world and accomplish the ONE thing He commanded me to do.  A church that is fully accomplishing the goal that Christ set forth most likely won’t have the energy for much of the foolishness we see today.  Being absorbed in a hyper-informed culture distracts the church from the primary mission and leaves us chasing after the latest thing that catches our attention.
  • I’m probably not the only person who observes families when I am out and about.  Last night we took our girls out to dinner to celebrate an accomplishment of our older daughter.  There were two other families within glancing view of our table.  Every time I looked at their table I saw mom on a phone, dad on a phone, and kids on a device.  Before the meal came, during the meal, and as they were leaving, both families were plugged into whatever was on their device instead of each other.  There are times we need to be on a device, but all the time?  As the Dad of young children I recognize it is exhausting work at times but the work of parenting is an essential one.  A question to parents… what information, communication, or game are you looking at on your phone that is more important than your children?  I can’t even predict the problems we are heaping up for our young families when we place a premium on being connected to a device instead of our children.
  • “Failure to launch” is a relatively new phrase that has been coined for young people who just can’t seem to get out on their own and start life on their own.  Have you thought about this transition from their perspective?  We are in a new era of communication and information where young adults are constantly connected to the best of what their peers are up to.  It is easy to look at Instragram, Twitter, or Facebook and see the best of what others have to offer and feel inadequate and incapable.  As the brain of a young adult enters the critical maturation stage, they are surrounded by a cyclone of information that many seem to have trouble piercing through.  High school and college students, as well as young adults, are perhaps the group that is most easily knocked down because it is a challenge to establish a footing in the first place.

Our two-year old falls down and gets up countless times throughout the day.  She can be walking right along and with no trouble in sight…boom…. she is down on the ground.  I can accidentally brush up against her and down she goes.  If your body had doubled in height in the last year you’d probably be a bit wobbly too.  But we are there to pick her up, give her a hug, and help her learn if there is a lesson to be learned. (Such as the danger of dancing on tables that was taught this morning.)  I don’t expect her to have these problems for long because she is learning and adapting.  But new challenges will arise and we will be there to love and help facilitate learning.

As individuals we were created with amazing potential. is all about the idea of life-long learning in every aspect of life.  Learning keeps us moving forward toward the goal we have set.  Families and organizations are also called to keep their focus on the end goal.  We have all seen the result when focus is lost and we chase after things that don’t matter…we get knocked down.  Let us make sure we are focused together on the goals that are set before us.  We should also be encouraged to love on another in the face of the challenging struggles we all face.

Philippians 2 is an amazingly appropriate passage for this post.  It is the subject matter of Dinnertime Devotionals 37.  If you don’t look at the devotionals I encourage you to at least read the passage – Dinnertime Devotionals 37

Family Traditions

This post isn’t about the Hank Williams Jr. honky tonk anthem “Family Traditions” although I will mention it a bit later.  Today’s short post is a reminder to myself about the influence and importance of family…

family shelterLast night a group from our church went to a senior living center to sing some hymns with the residents.  We arrived 10 minutes early and found a good number of folks already waiting in the chapel area where we would be singing.  As we opened the hymnals and began singing, it was obvious that those who had gathered loved to sing.  There were so many good and strong voices, especially among the male bass part.

I was so impressed with the singing that I had to ask the residents where they had learned about singing.  A woman quickly volunteered the answer, “From my family.”  She talked about how her parents, aunts, and uncles all enjoyed singing and how they would sing together at every chance they had.  Several others in the crowd volunteered similar answers so I asked for a show of hands from those who had been influenced in their singing by their family.  Over half of the hands in the group went up.  The influence of family was undeniable in the room last night as some of the best singers were those who had raised their hands.

Many times over my years in ministry I have heard people talk about the hymns their mother, father, grandmothers, etc would sing as they worked around the house.  The gentle influence of a mother singing hymns in the kitchen while doing the important work of the home lives on in the hearts and minds of so many.

I imagine there is no neutral ground in the lessons that we teach our children in the home.  I have yet to speak with an adult who feels that their family was neither of good or bad influence in their life.  Hank Williams Jr. had one of his biggest hits with the song “Family Traditions” that details the list of vices he struggled with, just like his father.  More than likely the song wasn’t fully based in reality but the thought still applies…  When your kids say they’re just carrying on an old family tradition, what will they be doing?

Hopefully one of your family traditions is spending some time every day talking about God and praying together.  The Dinnertime Devotionals series was started to encourage that effort.  Here is Dinnertime Devotionals 36

The Power of Positive Prevails

Over the course of the last week I was reminded of the power of positive influence that I can have.  We all have the choice to either reflect God’s light of love to a dark world or to reflect the qualities of this lost world that we live in.  Let me share my two reminders with you then speak a bit about why I choose the power of positive:

Last week our family had the great opportunity to spend some time together on one of our annual excursions.  Every year we make a pilgrimage to the other side of the metroplex for the State Fair of Texas.  Our daughter’s school had a day off and I took a day off from work to spend some quality time with my young family.  We always have a great time, and thanks to my thrifty wife it doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg.

The photo I posted on Facebook.

The photo I posted on Facebook.

I posted a favorite photo from the day on Facebook to share something fun and positive on that powerful social media platform.  The photo of our family with Big Tex received a normal number of ‘likes’ and comments from friends and relatives who have a special interest in our family  But here is why I bring all this up… the next day a young man left this comment – “There’s a face I have never seen not smiling! Miss ya Jon”  This young man attended another church in the area and we would see each other from time to time at various youth events.  He now lives out of state, is married, and living the adult life.  Have you ever thought about how greeting everyone with a sincere smile can make a lasting impression?  I am thankful to my Dad who taught (and still teaches) me the importance of a solid handshake, sincere smile, and genuine interest in everyone I meet.

The second reminder…  My wife and I were blessed to be able to attend the CALLED conference that was hosted by a local church this past weekend.  It was a time of encouragement and education with some excellent speakers and teachers.  I was sitting in a session when I was asked to share some of the things I have been writing about on this blog and through the Dinnertime Devotionals series.  I appreciated the offer to talk about but was humbled to hear others in the room talk about how they have been using the Dinnertime Devotionals series and some of my posts with their own families and congregations.  How cool is that?!?

I don’t bring up these two examples to ‘puff’ myself up or to brag.  I bring them up because they are just two examples of the power of positive in my life.  It is good to be surrounded by sincere, hard-working, loving folks who have dedicated themselves to reflecting God’s love…no matter what.  Through their words and actions they seek to encourage fellow Christians and others to come along with them as they strive to get to heaven.  I am thankful for all the ‘encouragers’ I have in my life and I am thankful that I can be an encouragement to others.

Like everyone, I have my detractors, who are welcome to their opinion.  I have found that most who criticize are simply looking to elicit a reaction.  Over time I have learned that arguing with some of these folks is like arguing with our 2 year-old.  If she has made her mind up that the sky is pink and the clouds are made of cat fur, there is no convincing her otherwise.  It is better to smile and move along.

I have been learning more and more how the power of positive keeps one in control.  When we feel that we must constantly react to the latest controversy, we are drawn away from our game plan.  A reactionary stance keeps you on a weak footing where it is easy to get knocked down.  This is true for individuals and organizations.  We must have a plan, stay focused on it, and keep heading down the path that leads to our goal.

power of positiveAppreciate honest criticism and those who offer it.  Appreciate those who reflect God’s light of love and hope into your life.  Embrace children and their purity, energy, and creativity.  Study, pray, and meditate often so that you can be the light to those you know and to those who you don’t even realize you are reaching.  The power of positive always prevails.

Ever wondered where the power of positive comes from?  It comes from God’s Word.  This life is temporary but leads to a lasting home of peace and joy.  The Dinnertime Devotionals series is my effort to help my family and yours as we strive together to teach our children about God and His overwhelming love.  I hope you use and enjoy Dinnertime Devotionals 35.

The Long Lasting Influence of a Teacher

Last week I came home from the office and was excitedly greeted by our first grader as she popped up on our couch with big eyes.  She immediately prompted me with, “Guess what Daddy?!?”  A bit concerned with this unusual level of enthusiasm I cautiously replied, “What….?”

“I had lunch with your sixth grade teacher today!”

That was pretty exciting and unexpected news.  We run into Mrs. S (my 6th grade teacher) every once in a while since she is a vendor at the antique mall where we are set up.  (In fact, I still see my 1st, 2nd, and 5th grade teachers often.)  Mrs. S volunteers at the school to read with the kids and then joins them for lunch in the cafeteria.  Our daughter was so excited to read with, and eat lunch with Mrs. S since she was one of her Daddy’s teachers.

great teacherMrs. S let our daughter in on the elementary teacher’s secret.  She knew without a doubt that this was our child not because of her last name or because we bump into each other once or twice a year, but because of her eyes.  Elementary teachers who love and engage their students always remember the eyes.  They spend so many hours looking at those eyes, watching them to insure that there is understanding and comprehension.  Years later, many teachers can pick out the eyes of their students when they have become adults.

Lifelong educators have a love for teaching children that never goes away.  I come from a family of teachers (Mom, Dad, Sister, Mother-in-Law) and can see their joy in teaching our children and instilling a love for learning in them.  I have fond memories of teachers throughout my education from elementary all the way through working on my graduate degree.  The educators who stand out in my mind had a unique love for teaching and an intense interest in their students.

Of course all education does not take place at a school.  I am a teacher in the work that I have taken on as a minister.  I remember with great fondness many of the Bible school teachers I had as a child who were all volunteers, many of them professional teachers who also loved reaching children with a message of God’s love.  I appreciate and give thanks for their heart-felt efforts.

Many times the only things we hear about teachers is the occasional news report about a teacher who brought trouble upon themselves.  Or we read posts on Facebook, many of which are inaccurate or false, about the changes taking place in the educational system.  Sure there are problems, but there are a lot of amazing educators who are making a positive lifelong impact on their students.

I truly appreciate the teachers and administrators that work and sacrifice to make a difference.  Little things, like the principal of our daughter’s elementary school remembering her name on the first day of school amid hundreds of young faces.  Big things, like the continued interest and involvement of lifelong educators.  New things, like some of my friends who are helping to usher in new methods of teaching and online educational tools.

In a world where educators are often under appreciated, constrained by bureaucrats who have never taught a class, and consistently under-funded…I would like to say “THANK YOU!”  Thank you for the impact you have made (and continue to make) on my life.  Thank you for your work with my children.  Thank you for keeping the grand tradition of education alive and thriving.

Transitioning to our Dinnertime Devotional series…  Never forget that parents can be the most powerful educators.  Parents teach in the things that they do and don’t do.  A parent is a better ‘youth minister’ than I could ever be to their child and that is why we are working to equip parents with tools to help in the job of teaching and ministering to their family.  Dinnertime Devotionals 34 continues with our family study in the book of Ephesians – Dinnertime Devotionals 34