Sunday, June 28, 2009

Created to Serve

When I was 16 years old I paid my first bill. As part of the deal, my dad would allow me to have my license and a car (a 1984 Nissan Maxima) if I paid half of my insurance. By that time, I had been cutting grass for some of those in the neighborhood for 4 years and had been learning how to make money.

At age 16, I learned how to budget money. I used a system that my parents had taught me - the envelope system. It’s really a pretty simple plan that I have now been using for almost 17 years. The concept goes like this: you budget your money by placing certain amounts into each envelope. An entertainment envelope. An auto insurance envelope. A home maintenance envelope. And so on. The money that doesn’t go into an envelope to be spent gets stashed away into savings. When it comes time to make a purchase, you don’t spend more than you have in that particular envelope.

The beauty about living on a budget is that it forces you to be disciplined with your money and teaches you to live within your means. The downside to living on a budget is that it sometimes tells you how to live your life....if you let it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a friend who was in need. I really felt like I wanted to give some money to my friend who could certainly use it at the time. The only problem was that the envelope labeled, ‘money to give away’ only had $20 in it. I, however, felt that I wanted to give away closer to $100. Given the ‘rules’ of the envelope system, I was not to give away more than $20. (Please understand that I was not considering giving away money that I did not have. I was not planning on going into debt. The money was there, it was just stashed away in another envelope – a savings envelope – a ‘for the future’ envelope - a DO NOT TOUCH envelope).

I started to wrestle with what to do and spent a little bit of time praying about it. I believe that the budget that we are on is God honoring and I believe that God desires for us to be wise money managers. I also believe that when it comes to spending the money that he has entrusted to us, we should ask him where he would like it spent. As I wrestled for just a few minutes over what to do, it suddenly dawned on me that I was wrestling against myself. I was immediately ushered back to why I got on a budget in the first place. I created a budget over 16 years ago to serve me. At no point in time did I ever set the budget up in order that I might serve it. And the truth has served me well.

As I’ve been thinking about this over the last number of days…I’ve started wondering….what other things in my life have I put in place to serve me, but over time, I have somehow started to serve those things?

It kind of reminds me of how often the Pharisees looked to the law for life and missed the point of relationship with God. At one point, Jesus went so far as to say to those guys, "…You search the scriptures because you think you’ll find life in them when the one they testify of is standing right in front of you and you can't even see it."

I love saving money. I save for my kid’s college fund. I save for retirement. I save for vacation. I save for things that I might not ever need. I save for all kinds of things. People sometimes ask me, “So, do you like to collect anything?” I usually reply, “I collect money.” But being $80 short in one of those envelopes in order to help a friend in need or invest in a friendship that is valuable to me or invest in a mission trip that I hadn’t planned for but feel that God is calling me to (might be more than $80)…...well....I’m okay with that...because my budget has been created to serve me.

In my 17 years of budgeting money, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it is that some things just don’t fit into an envelope.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Brian's World

My wife Kristy and I share the joy and privilege of raising 4 children…all boys.

Micah: age 4

Jonah: age 3

Nate: age 2

Lucas: age 6 months (obviously not in the pic)

Needless to say, with four small boys running around our home, there are many funny words and phrases uttered at any given moment. I love writing down these words and phrases and looking back on them when I need a good laugh. Just for fun, I thought I’d share a few.

“Nate, take the pizza off of your head!” – Brian

“Jonah, we do not put our head in the toilet!” – Brian

“God…food….amen.” – Nate’s prayer at the dinner table

“Jonah, there is no pooing in the tree house!” – Brian

“Daddy, can I go down the slide naked?” – Micah

“Jonah, we don’t climb on the dresser! Micah, we don’t push Jonah off of the dresser once he’s up there!” - Brian

“Daddy, can I pee on the fence?” – Micah

“Jonah, just pee on the fence!” – Kristy

“Mom, is my booty clean?” – Jonah

“Micah, we don’t sit on our brother’s heads!” – Brian

“Jonah, do not pee on your brother!” – Kristy

"Mom, is there poop in here?" - Micah to Kristy when she placed dinner on the table

…and then there’s my favorite…

“Hey Dad! Nate’s got a little weenie. Jonah’s got a little weenie. I got a big weenie!” – Micah

In response to Micah’s comment, I replied, “Micah, we don’t need to talk about each other’s weenies. Let’s talk about something else.” I could see the wheels in Micah’s head spinning and then he looked at me and said, “Let’s talk about snakes!”

….and to think…Lucas isn’t even talking yet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Who Put Ice In My Milk?

I like milk. In my opinion, milk is its absolute best when it’s really cold. However, at no time do I think that it is ever appropriate to put ice in milk. My reason: Inevitably, the ice is going to melt and then my milk will be watered down. And I don’t like watered down milk.

I am a Christian. And as of late, I have adhered to a Christianity that is weak and pathetic. I worship a God however, who is anything but weak and pathetic. So, what’s the deal?

Before diagnosing the problem, I think it’s important to express what I believe it means to actually be a Christian.

I believe that Jesus actually died on a cross and literally came back from the dead to redeem me, rescue me and set me in right standing with God the Father, in order that, I could now live a life that is wholly surrendered to him and is at the same time lived to the fullest. I believe that living a Christian life is about seeking God’s will, not my own. I believe that being a Christian means that I get to live a life empowered by Jesus’ very own spirit and bring love and acceptance, hope and light, redemption and do-over’s to a broken and busted up world (people.)

I love that idea. I believe that idea. I just don’t live in the reality of it like I want to.

Why not?

Because there is ice in my milk.  

Somewhere along my journey as a follower of Jesus, the Christianity that I adhere too got ice in it and it's starting to melt.

When I read the New Testament, I read about a Jesus who asked people to abandon everything to follow him. He asked people to put aside their own ideas and dreams, their own agendas and plans and he asked them to pick up his ideas and dreams and agenda and plans.

It seems that lately, I have just been focused on what I think and want and have really been leaving Jesus out of my life equation. How do I want to spend my money? How do I want to use my time? What do I consider appropriate giving to the poor? What do I consider healthy boundaries for my friendships? What do I want? What do I need?

It’s not just me though. It’s as if someone came in and slipped ice in a whole bunch of our glasses.

These days I see Christians spending so much time and energy justifying why one more glass of wine is fine, even though it sends them over the top or debating exactly what constitutes sexually immoral behavior. I hear Christians justifying why it’s okay to gossip about and usurp authority if that authority’s opinion or action is thought- by them- to be wrong. I hear Christians arguing that tithing is Old Testament and that we are no longer bound by the law but should be giving cheerfully out of a grateful heart. The problem is, they barely and rarely give anything away….but at least they’re cheerful.

We do these things because we want to serve God on our terms, not his. So, we take what we like from his teachings and apply those things and the things that are too hard, or too demanding, or too ridiculous…we rationalize and justify them away. It’s really brilliant and I am sad to say that even I have been hooked.

Recently, I worked a few things around in my budget to create a little more cash flow. I quickly found some great ways to use the extra cash. The problem was, I didn’t take the time to ask God about how he would like to use the extra cash.


Because there’s ice in my milk.

A few days ago, I was driving around downtown when I was stopped at a red light where a homeless man was standing with a sign that read ‘Homeless. Please help.’ I had a sense inside of me and I had a $10 bill within my reach. Literally, my hand was only inches from grasping it in my pocket, but instead I decided to ignore the internal movement and I unlocked gazes with the man.


Because there’s ice in my milk.

Recently, I wanted to give a friend a piece of my mind. I wanted to explain why they were wrong and express my opinion in a powerful way. It didn’t even cross my mind to first have the conversation with God and ask him how to handle the situation.


Because there’s ice in my milk.

Lately, I’m pretty tired of it and I don’t want to live a life that is all talk. Don’t get me wrong. I do some walking with my talk. I actually do experience some life that is empowered by God’s spirit. It’s just that I think there’s more and I want in on it. I want to be in that place that truly says with all of my heart that all of my money belongs to God. That all of my time belongs to God. That all of my family belongs to God. That all of my possessions belong to God. I want to live a life that seeks to serve God and his kingdom first before I consider how it will affect or impact me and my comfortable life.

I’m a work in progress. I’m on a journey. And right now, I’m asking Jesus to show me just how much ice has been slipped into my milk.

If you’re reading this and feel like ice got slipped into your milk along the way and you no longer want it there….I welcome the company on the journey.

So, may the grace of Jesus be upon each of us and may his spirit indwell and empower us to move and live according to his ways and his truths. May our hearts be consumed by his love and acceptance and may our lives reflect Jesus and not some man-made, sideways, goofed up Christianity. May we live lives that are wholly surrendered to the ways and words of Jesus; lives that are full of passion, grace, mercy, love, peace, beauty and most of all life. And, finally, may we come to truly understand what we just prayed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Camping 101

Last week, I took my oldest son, Micah, camping. It was our first camping trip together – just the two of us. As our trip was nearing, I was amazed at how excited I was. The nights leading up to our time together, I could not stop telling Kristy how excited I was to take my boy camping and actually spending some quality one-on-one time with him. I enjoyed every single minute of packing our supplies, buying our groceries and buying Micah his first fishing pole. Quite honestly, I think I was more excited than he was.

I took Micah to the same camping grounds that our family went to when I was growing up. I decided not to make reservations, because I was nervous that if I reserved a site that I ended up not liking – I’d be stuck with it. So, I chose to take my chances and arrive early in the day to pick out a site that would be just right. Before we left, I asked Kristy to pray that we get a great site and that we have a great time together.

After a two hour drive, Micah and I arrived. I drove up to the window and said, “We don’t have reservations, but we’d like a camping site.” The sweet little woman at the window said, “Well, we have one site left.”

One site!

There are over 200 sites at this campground and they had just one left?

I said, “We’ll take it!”

As we drove through the park, we wove our way down the winding roads through the rolling hills and finally arrived at our campsite. As soon as I noticed which site was ours, I felt this sinking feeling inside. Our site was wide open! We were practically sharing a site with the people next to us. You could count the number of trees in and around our site – and we were supposed to be in the woods! I tried to put on a happy face for Micah as we began to set up camp. I sent a text to Kristy that said, “BUMMER! Our site SUCKS!”

We had a great time setting up camp, but I couldn’t seem to shake my feelings of being bummed. I just felt like the whole trip was going to be affected by our site being so open. It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t what I expected.

After setting up camp, I gave Micah his fishing pole and I took him fishing for the first time in his life. It was the coolest thing. He caught all kinds of stuff. He hooked a tree. He caught some grass. He even reeled in a pier. And he loved every single minute of it. As we were sitting there casting our lines, Micah looked up at me and said, “Dad, you don’t like our firecamp?” (He called our campsite a firecamp.) I was taken aback. I hadn’t said anything to him about not liking our site. I hadn’t spoken it out loud to anyone (I intentionally texted Kristy so he would not hear me talking to her about it.) I looked at him and said, “No, Micah – I like our firecamp. Why?” To which he replied, “I was just wondering because I really like it.”

At that moment I realized that if it didn’t bother Micah, then there was no reason in the world that it should bother me. From that moment on, I had a change of attitude, a change of mind and a change of heart. And I had the most amazing time with my son.

On our trip, I taught Micah how to pitch a tent, start a fire, cast a line, scramble eggs, tell spooky stories, roast hot dogs on an open flame and find a private place in the woods to pee.

On our trip, Micah taught me not to let my circumstances determine my attitude and experience.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who's Awesome Now?

This evening, I had a speaking engagement at a class that my church is currently offering. As part of the teaching, I chose to use clips from the movie Toy Story to illustrate certain points. Before I went on stage, I was discussing with our production team (and particularly our video tech) about the importance of the timing on the movie clips as well as an additional power point slide that I would be using and reminding him that if the timing was off, it would greatly affect the impact of the clips.

The teaching went great. All of the points were made and lives were impacted. The media side of the teaching went off without a hitch. Our video tech was brilliant as his timing was perfect. Smooth…all the way.

At the end of the evening, a few of us were standing around when someone made the comment to our video tech that he did a good job tonight. He immediately responded by pointing at me and saying “Just doing my part to make him look awesome.”


Just doing his part to make me look awesome?

He didn’t even say ‘thank you.’ He just humbly expressed that he did what he did to make someone else look good.

So, then I got to thinking…who did I make look awesome today? What part did I play in making others look awesome today? I could immediately recall one instance, in particular, where I made someone look stupid today (which I did apologize for)….but awesome?

I wonder just how much more incredible this world would be if more of us spent a little more time ‘just doing our part to make those around us look awesome?’

I wonder just how much more amazing my world would be if I spent a little more time ‘just doing my part to make those around me look awesome?’

In an ‘it’s all about me world’ it sure does seem upside down.

And it sure does seem right.

So, today, what part are we going to play in making those around us look awesome?

What part are you going to play?