Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Are You Prepared For Your Own Financial Shutdown

Everyone is talking about the government shutdown.  This is the longest shutdown in history.  I've lost count.  This is day 25, or is it 26?  The main reason I'm unsure is because I don't work for the federal government.  But for many who do, the story is one of panic.  The government shutdown has exposed a bigger problem in America -- financial foolishness.  The reason many government employees are in a state of panic about the government shutdown is because they are not handling their finances wisely.  They have no margin.  They are living paycheck to paycheck.  They are not financially prepared for contingencies and emergencies.  And of all people, you'd think that government employees would be prepared, because there seems to be a shutdown every year. 

But you should be prepared too.  Even if you don't work for the federal government, your own financial shutdown is coming.  They always do.  You might get laid off.  Your income might drop drastically for some reason.  Your car might break down.  Your air conditioner may finally kick the bucket.  Your roof might finally give up the ghost.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your financial winter is coming.  Are you ready?

Proverbs 22:3 "A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished."

Financial experts advise that if you want to "take cover" and be prepared for those inevitable, yet unpredictable financial shutdowns in life, then you need to have an emergency savings account at your disposal.  This emergency account is not for Christmas shopping or vacations.  It is not to be used to upgrade to the latest smartphone.  It is for emergencies.

How much money should you have saved up in your emergency fund?  Three to six months of living expenses.  Notice the term "living expenses."  That will probably be less than your monthly income, unless you spend every single dollar that you bring in.  Figure out how much it takes for your family to live in a month.  Just include the bare essentials.  If you had to, you could get rid of the kids' smartphones, cable TV, the gym membership, you could stop going to Starbucks every morning before work, and you could stop eating out several times a week.  Once you figure out what it would take to live in a month, then you need to save up three months of living expenses if you are a two-income family, and six months if you are a single-income family (like mine).

If you don't have your own emergency savings fund in place, then it needs to be your financial priority.  I can't tell you how much weight it will take off your back to know that you are prepared for something to go wrong.  With an emergency savings account in place, financial emergencies are no longer emergencies, they are just setbacks.

The past few weeks were a little crazy for us.  First the dishwasher broke.  And then the fridge broke.  And then the dryer broke.  And then the car broke.  It wasn't fun dishing out all that cash in such a short amount of time, but because we had an emergency savings fund, we were fine.  It wasn't an emergency, it was just an annoyance.

I want you to be prepared for your next financial shutdown.  So put all your other financial goals on hold, and get crazy-serious about building up your emergency savings fund.

By the way, I have a friend who works for the federal government, and he is loving the shutdown.  Why?  It's extra time off, and he has plenty of money saved up for emergencies.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why I am Against Diversity

I am a bi-vocational pastor, which means being a pastor is not my only job.  I also work part-time for a large, Fortune 500 corporation.  And in corporate America we hear a lot about the importance of diversity.  Once I had to sit through a 4-hour HR training course on the reasons that it made sense for my company to give hiring preferences to blacks and women.  The prevailing wisdom is that a diverse church/company/organization is better off.  I don't buy it.  Here are four quick reasons why Christians should not buy into the goal of diversity as a moral good.

First, the goal of diversity is racist/sexist.  In the name of diversity, organizations specifically hire people because of the color of their skin or because of their sex.  We're told that it is not racist, because the end goal is not an all-white or an all-black company, but a diverse company.  In other words, we're told that the end goal is not racist, and therefore the means is not racist.  But the end does not justify the means in this case, because the means is the textbook definition of racism.  Hiring people b/c of their race is racism, regardless of the ultimate goal.

Second, the goal of diversity decreases quality.  Diversity does not accomplish what it promises, and proponents of diversity know it.  The idea that diversity makes us stronger is only a lie used to convince people that it is okay to give special advantages to one race over another.  It is a lie that enables people to be racist.  Think about it.  Are we really supposed to believe that an organization will be better off simply because it is racially or sexually diverse?  Let's take an obvious example -- professional sports.  Do you think an NBA basketball team will better off if it decides to add an equal number of women as men, and an equal number of whites as blacks?  That example is silly only because it is makes my point so obvious.  Or take the Navy Seals.  Do you honestly want the Seals to focus on racial and gender diversity, or on selecting the most qualified warriors they can find?  The best workforce is created not through the arbitrary goal of diversity, but by ignoring race and sex and hiring people based on their character, intellect, skills, and abilities.

Third, diversity as a goal is unbiblical.  Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to aim for a racially diverse church, or for a racially diverse company.  We should not make it our goal to exclude certain races.  That is racism.  That does not glorify God.  Our goal should be to treat men and women, whites and blacks with equal dignity and respect.  But if our church is mostly white or mostly black, that doesn't mean we are racist.  It does not mean that something is wrong with us.  It could have something to do with the community we are in -- if it is mostly white or mostly black.  Or it could have something to do with our culture -- white culture and black culture are significantly different in America.  We dress differently, talk differently, listen to different types of music, eat different foods, etc.  And birds of a feather flock together.  There's nothing wrong with that as long as we love each other and can work together for the Gospel.  The Bible teaches us to judge people according to their character and beliefs, not according to their race or gender. 

In summary, diversity is merely a lie told to deceive people into tolerating racist and sexist behavior.  It is a form of virtue signaling.  It is using people of color for your own vanity -- to make you look like you are not a racist so that you can get a pat on the back from the diversity pushers.  If I have to hire a black man or have a certain number of black people in my church or company to prove to you that I'm not racist, then you have a problem, not me.

Note:  This post was originally published on February 4, 2017.

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Raise Successful Kids

We all want our kids to be successful.  So we push our kids to excel in school, and in sports, and in their walk with God.  But there is one ingredient to success that most parents neglect to emphasize.  And it is powerful.  The Bible promises special blessings for people who honor their parents.  Check it out.
Deuteronomy 5:16 (CEV) “Respect your father and mother, and you will live a long and successful life in the land I am giving you.”  
This passage contains two rewards, and one requirement.  What are the rewards?  First, children will have a long life.  How many people's lives have been cut short because they didn't listen to their parents?  No parents are perfect, but parents are always smarter and wiser than their kids.  Except for extremely rare circumstances, parents want what is best for their kids.  So it is only natural that children will be healthier and live longer if they honor their parents.  But there is also a supernatural element to this reward.  God gives a special blessing of health and longevity to people who honor their parents.  The second reward is that children will be successful.  This too is both natural and supernatural.  Because parents are smarter and wiser, it is a natural consequence that kids who honor their parents will be more successful than kids who don't.  But this is also a supernatural promise of God's special favor for those who honor their parents.

And now to the requirement.  Honor your parents.  Your kids must understand two omissions from this command.  First, that it is unconditional.  This command is not merely for children with godly parents, or nice parents, or permissive parents, or respectable parents, or cool parents.  It applies to children of good and bad parents.  There is an obvious application for parents.  If you want your children to reap the rewards of this verse, then you should make it as easy as possible to honor you.  But that's another lesson for another day.  The second omission in this command is that it has no age limit.  You won't always be a child, but you will always be someone's child.  You will eventually grow up, but you will never outgrow the command to honor your parents.  You will not always have to obey your parents, but you will always have to honor them.  Most people would agree that children are obligated to obey their parents until they move out on their own.  But honoring your parents is something you do for the rest of your life.

If you are serious about your kids being successful, then you need to teach them how to honor their parents.  Here's an easy-to-remember acronym to help you.

  • H -- Help them as they get older.  As your parents get older and can no longer do for themselves, or provide for their own needs, it falls on you to care for them.  Two things to consider:  One, most people don't want to end up in a retirement home.  Two, it is hard to take good care of your elderly parents if you live far away.
  • O -- Obey them right away with a good attitude.  True obedience is both immediate and respectful.
  • N -- Never hold a grudge against them.  Your parents will sin against you; they will disappoint you; they will frustrate you.  But God requires that you forgive them.  
  • O -- Open up your life to them.  Visit and call them often.  Include them in get-togethers, holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations.  Let them visit as often as they wish.  And above all, let them enjoy their grandchildren.  
  • R -- Respect them with your words and actions.  In their presence and in their absence, you must only say and do what is respectful to them.  
In his book on the Ten Commandments, Philip Ryken described how to honor your parents like this.  "To honor one’s parents is to give due weight to their position.  It is to give them the recognition they deserve for their God-given authority.  To honor is to respect, esteem, value, and prize fathers and mothers as gifts from God.”  

Have you taught your kids the connection between success and honoring their parents?  And have you taught them how to honor their parents?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

No Righteousness, No Success

True success is not possible without righteousness.  God doesn't smile on sin.  He doesn't reward rebellion.  He doesn't bless the backslider.  I recently saw a meme on Facebook that expressed it well:  "You can't shack up with the devil and expect God to pay the rent."  On the other hand, God promises special favor and blessings to the righteous.

Psalm 5:12 “For you, Lord, bless the righteous one; you surround him with favor like a shield.”  Proverbs 2:7 “He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity.”  Proverbs 10:24 “What the wicked dreads will come to him, but what the righteous desire will be given to them.”  Proverbs 13:19 (NLT)  “It is pleasant to see dreams come true, but fools refuse to turn from evil to attain them.”  Proverbs 14:11 “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.”  Proverbs 21:21 (NIV) "Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.” 

Righteousness means being in a right relationship with God.  There are two kinds of righteousness that you need:  Judicial righteousness, and ethical righteousness.  Judicial righteousness is right standing before God.  Before salvation we are guilty of sin and deserve eternal punishment.  But when you put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, God justifies you, declaring you legally righteous in His sight.  Our standing before God changes from sinners deserving hell to believers deserving heaven.  It is a permanent, irrevocable standing before God.

Ethical righteousness is right acting before God.  It is the fulfillment of God's expectations in your relationship with Him and in your relationships with people.  It is conformity to God's rule and His will.

Righteousness is absolutely essential to be a true success.  So make it your priority.  "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Mt 6:33)."  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Mt 5:6)."

Friday, January 11, 2019

If You Want to be Successful, Start Here

If you want to have your most successful year, the first and most important thing you must do is to pursue wholehearted devotion to God.  2 Chronicles 16:19 “For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.”  God promises special blessings and favor to the wholeheartedly devoted. 

There are four ways to pursue wholehearted devotion to God -- all of them essential. 

First, obey God.  Place yourself completely under the authority of God's word.  Joshua 1:7 “Above all, be strong and very courageous to observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.” 

Pastor Robert Jeffress said, “God uses, favors, and rewards those who obey him. You would not continue to use a painter who did not obey you. An employer favors those employees who are obedient. A parent rewards children who are obedient. Why?  Because we are made in the image of a God who uses, favors, and rewards people who obey him.”

Second, seek God.  Don't just seek His blessing, His favor, or His help.  Seek Him -- an intimate friendship with Him.  Look at what the Bible says about King Uzziah.  2 Chronicles 26:4-5 “He did what was right in the Lord’s sight just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God throughout the lifetime of Zechariah, the teacher of the fear of God. During the time that he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”

Third, fear God.  Psalm 112:1-3 “1 Hallelujah! Happy is the person who fears the Lord, taking great delight in his commands. 2 His descendants will be powerful in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “The fear of God is to have him always in our eye.  He who fears God imagines that whatever he is doing, God looks on, and as a judge, weighs all his actions. To fear God is to have such a holy awe of God upon our hearts that we dare not sin. The fear of God will make you forsake sins which can neither be heard nor seen by men.  The fear of God destroys the fear of man.”

Fourth, delight in God.  To delight in God is another way of saying "to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength."  Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

Do these four things and you will have the best year of your life.  I guarantee it.  You will experience God's favor and blessing like never before.

So what are you waiting for?  Make a commitment.  Go all in with God.  No more compromise.  No more holding back.  Make 2019 the year of wholehearted devotion to God.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Andy Stanley is Wrong! The Ten Commandments Do Still Apply.

Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Georgia, one of the largest churches in America, recently wrote a column for Relevant Magazine arguing that Christians no longer need to follow the Ten Commandments.  I advise you NOT to read it.  It is horrible!  And it is terrible that Relevant Magazine is publishing this column. 

When Stanley says that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to Christians, which ones does he mean?  Do not murder?  Honor your parents?  Do not commit adultery?  Only worship God? 

Stanley says that the only commandment Christians need to obey today is the commandment to love one another.  However Jesus said that the most important commandment was not just to love one another, but to first and foremost love God with all your heart (Mt 22:37-40).  And the Great Commandment -- Love God and love others -- was not first spoken by Jesus.  He was quoting Moses in the Old Testament.  The Great Commandment does not replace the Ten Commandments; it summarizes them.  It expresses the heart of the Ten Commandments; the proper motivation.  But without the Ten Commandments we would not know how to love God or others. 

Stanley says that the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) is what Christians should focus on rather than the Ten Commandments.  But the Sermon on the Mount did not reduce the commandments, it was an exposition of the Ten Commandments.  Jesus's point was this:  "You Jews have been misinterpreting and misapplying God's law.  Let me show you what it really means." 

There are many laws in the Old Testament that are no longer applicable to Christians, such as the ceremonial laws, and the civil laws that applied to the Jews as a theocratic, autonomous nation.  But God's moral laws in the Old Testament never expired.  They are a reflection of God's unchanging moral nature.  The New Testament makes it very clear which Old Testament laws no longer apply, and which ones still do.  All of the Ten Commandments except for one (the Sabbath) are reiterated and reinforced by the writers of the New Testament. 

To find out whether Andy Stanley is sincere, or if he is just trying to get attention, he needs to specify which of the Ten Commandments can be ignored by Christians today.  It's easy for him to say "all of them," but I doubt he'd be willing to specifically say that Christians no longer need to avoid idolatry, coveting, or lying, for example.  But if it is still wrong for Christians to do those things, then why in the world would a preacher say that the Ten Commandments no longer apply? 

Maybe I'm missing the point, but at best Andy Stanley's message is very confusing and misleading; at worst it is heretical.  As a pastor, I must advise my congregation to steer clear of his content. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Smartphones and Stupid Parents

Everyone is talking about the challenges of kids and smartphones.  Recently Breakpoint's John Stonestreet wrote the following:
We all know the list of risks smartphones bring to our kids: sexual predators, online porn, cyber-bullying – not to mention, as if I need to state the obvious, addiction. Smartphones provide a perpetual distraction, and get in the way of face time – no, not the iPhone app – real face to face time, something every kid needs with their parents. And if most of us parents are honest, we’re just as addicted as our kids.
Stonestreet went on to say that now, even in Christian schools, teenage girls are wishing that boys would ask them to send nude pictures of themselves, because that's how girls today know that boys like them. 

If you want your kids to have a smartphone, that's on you.  There's no Bible verse that says "No smartphones until the age of 18."  But I keep hearing from parents who give their kids smartphones, and then constantly complain about all the problems and challenges that it causes.  I call this "stupid" for two reasons.  First, because parents are giving their kids something that they know is not good for them.  And second, because there's a very simple solution:  Take the phones away.  Don't give your kids a smartphone.

In my family we don't allow our kids to have smartphones.  Our three oldest children are in the ninth, eighth, and seventh grades, so I get it.  My kids want smartphones.  They have asked for smartphones.  They feel very odd because all their friends have smartphones.  Still, the answer is "No."  Do I believe that smartphones are all bad?  No.  But the risks far outweigh the rewards.  The cons far outweigh the pros.  My kids have their entire adult lives to waste on smartphones and social media.  But while they are kids, under my protection, I say no.  It's just not wise.  Smartphones would be counterproductive to our goal of raising our kids to be fully-devoted, lifetime followers of Jesus.

Christian parenting requires wisdom and backbone.  You must have wisdom to be able to discern what is best for your kids.  To discern the difference between a need and a want.  Remember, your kids don't know what is best for them.  That's one of the differences between children and adults.  That's why God has put them under your care.  All they can see is what is fun and popular.  They have a hard time distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad, wise and foolish, healthy and harmful.   

But parents also need backbone.  You need the inner strength to tell your kids "No" when they ask for things that aren't good for them.  You need backbone to be different than other families.  To be the weird parent.  Even when kids can see logically that something is not good for them, they still have a hard time saying "No."  They lack the full-grown willpower that adults are supposed to have.  If you don't set boundaries for your kid and tell them "No", then they will continue to choose what feels good rather than what is good.

This is not a condemnation of parents who allow their kids to have smartphones.  This is an encouragement for parents who have allowed their kids to have a smart phone but regret it.  For parents who are having second thoughts about smartphones.  This is your permission to take it away.  To say "No."  To be different.  This is an encouragement to parents who have thus far resisted the trend of giving smartphones to kids.  I think you're doing what is best.  And this is reassurance to parents that your kids will survive without a smartphone.  Having a smartphone in middle school won't give your child a leg-up on the competition when they grow up.  You won't screw up their lives by depriving them of a smartphone.  In fact, you'll be doing them a favor, and one day, I guarantee it, they will look back and thank you for not being like "all the other parents."