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Entries in God (37)

Wednesday
Mar202013

moneyfication

Tonight I start a 9-week course called Financial Peace University. It's a program developed by Dave Ramsey, and it teaches you how to reshape your financial life. Not exactly a topic that has been in my bailiwick over the past four decades, but one I desperately need as part of my education.

So why now?

The more I study and learn about God's will for my life, the more I start to realize I have fallen short in few areas. My health, though not "bad," could be much improved if I'd lose the 70 or so extra pounds I've packed on. My marriage could be more peaceful and joyful if I spent more time focusing on the needs of my wife than focusing on what I want out of our every conversation or situation. My spiritual life could be improved if I'd focus more on studying and continually dwelling in God's Word, rather than giving my mind over to TV and books and films that do little or nothing to glorify God. And my financial life could be vastly improved if I had even a modicum of education in that direction.

It's not an easy thing for me. Money is one of those things that tenses me up every time the subject is broached. Whenever I think about sitting down with Kara to figure out a budget or discuss our finances, I feel sick inside. When I think about doing our taxes I want someone to hog tie me and beat me with a bar of soap in a sock. Money ... I haven't had a very good attitude toward money for most of my life.

And yet, I have always tried very hard to figure out ways to get more money. I need money, you see. We all do. There's some weird sort of notion being taught in schools and in churches and in homes, that money is somehow evil, and that those who have it or want it are just greedy and evil. But the truth is, even if we disdain the green stuff, it's a vital and necessary part of our lives. We need it (or what it stands for ... the value it represents) in order to achieve the things God wants for us in life. Prosperity is part of the promise of God.

But it's not like it's just going to fall out of the sky.

I mean, it might. "Manna from heaven," that's a thing. But look at what had to happen before manna fell to the Earth every morning, to sustain those wandering in the desert. First of all, they were in a DESERT. For FORTY YEARS. They were on the run from a very angry king. They were stranded, far from home, in a land that was harsh and difficult. They roamed, homeless, for forty years, because of disobedience. God sent manna to sustain them because He knew that eventually they'd come around. It was part of his promise to them. (Read Numbers and Exodus in the Old Testament of the Bible to see this whole story play out)

The point is, manna didn't fall from heaven just because the whole lot of them wanted a bite to eat. They probably would have preferred a nice roasted fish, maybe a bit of tartar sauce. Steak would be good. But instead, God sent them what they needed, when they needed it, nothing more. The rest was up to them. Their choice about obedience is what defined their journey. 

So back to the financial education bit. 

If you're going to live a life of prosperity, however you may define it, having a financial education is essential. Required, really. If you're plan is to free yourself from 9-to-5, to improve your lifestyle and achieve the freedom you need in order to accomplish your goals and your dreams, you have to know how money really works. You have to know how to make money work for you, instead of you working for money. 

Wealth ... that's a loaded term. It has all sorts of connotations, good and bad. For me, true wealth is the ability to choose how, when, and where I do the work God has ignited in me. Wealth means I have the means to glorify God with what I do, and to increase the reach of what I produce. It means I'm free to experience the world the way God intended.

Hard times? They'll still come. Stress and worry will always be a part of the equation. Wealth isn't a force field—it doesn't block difficulty from getting in. What it does is give us a tool we can use. And as with all tools—from screwdrivers to laptops to diesel-powered tractors—knowing the right way to use them makes all the difference in their effectiveness.

So I'm on a journey to learn more, and grow, and improve, and build wealth. I want to understand money, and I want to apply what I know about innovation and strategy and marketing and life, and use money as a tool to glorify God and accomplish my dreams and goals. And I want to drag you along with me. 'Cuz I loves ya. So I'll let you know what I learn over the next nine weeks, and how you can apply it to YOUR journey, too.

 

Tuesday
Mar192013

communityness

I'm easy.

Down boy, I mean I'm easy to rile up or stress out or otherwise get button-pushy with. My close friends used to have a little gag they'd drag out whenever they wanted to get me going on something. They'd make some ridiculous statement, then I'd rush in all angry and annoyed and righteously indignant and go on a rant for several minutes. To REALLY get under my skin they'd pretend to tap some unseen buttons in the air before them and make beeping and whistling noises. Pushing my buttons.

It always worked. I'm easy, like I said. I have a hair trigger, especially when it comes to things that I think I'm an expert on. Really it comes down to a profound arrogance on my part. I think I'm better and smarter, and anything that counters my POV is wrong, wrong, WRONG!

It's one of my more disgusting personality traits, and one that has held me back for decades. And it's the one that I'm attacked on constantly. When sin starts trickling out of me, its source is usually my arrogance and narcissism. 

So counter to what I want to be. So counter to who I really am, deep down. I'm someone who wants to love people, to help them, to protect them, to encourage and inspire them. That's my role in life, I think. I am the man who looks for ways to build people up. If I spend all my time building myself up instead, what good am I? Who am I helping when I'm only helping myself? Who am I encouraging when I am only boosting my own ego? Who am I, if alll I am focused on is what I think I know, and how much I think I'm better than you?

Nothin'. Nobody. Not worth the time of day.

The whole point of life is to live in community with others. We're built for community. We're social animals, dependent on each for strength, support, validation. God built a pretty good machine, when He built each of us. But he built an infinitely pliable and powerful machine in community.

That's why I'm struggling, daily, with bringing myself around to a new way of thinking. I want to change that part of me that thinks "me first" all the time, and start nurturing the part that asks, "How can I help? How can I serve? How can I love?"

People will sometimes take advantage of your good nature, if they know that your goal is to help and to serve. That's OK. It can't last. It seems weird, and somehow contradictory, but in my experience the people who take advantage of you most will often just wander away. They don't trust that what they're getting is the real deal. They start to think that somehow you're pulling one over on them. Nobody is THAT helpful, right? 

The truth is, we see in people what we see in ourselves. We relate to people by looking for those traits we share with them. That's how relationships start. "You like Doctor Who? I like Doctor Who!" And a friendship is born.

So people who cheat or steal from others will most often see everything as an attempt to cheat or steal from them. And if you are offering them a hand, with nothing asked for in exchange, then it's probably because you're running a grift. You can't be trusted. So they cut you off.

Same can be said of the arrogant. My biggest complaint about people? "They're selfish. They only think of themselves. They just want me to pay attention to their every word." And in my most honest moments, I can look at myself and see that I am the person I'm describing. Selfish. Self-centered. Self-motivated. 

Changing that means embracing a couple of tough ideas. We're made for community, but we're also made for service. 

Loving others the way you love yourself—in Romans 13:8-12 the Bible tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law. Basically, if you are concentrating on loving your neighbors, you aren't concentrating stealing what they have, committing adultery, murdering someone, or any of the other laws you could be breaking. Love them like you'd love yourself, and you don't have to worry about "right and wrong/legal and illegal." You're fulfilling the law and the greatest commandment from God.

Cool, huh? 

Loving others like I love myself—that's a lot of lovin', for sure. If I spent my time focusing on encouraging and building up others the way I try to build up my own ego, I'd have more friends, I'd have more opportunities, I'd build a bigger, stronger community that could back me up in my time of need. A community of like minds, always thinking about each other, always sure that others are up to somethin', alright. Up to somethin' good. 

Friday
Mar152013

the DNA of your every day

Choices are the DNA of our every day. 

Every minute represents one. We make them sometimes without thinking, and then we sometimes fall into a routine of just dealing with the results instead of thinking of what the next choice should be. And before you know it, you're standing in a doctor's office with 60 extra pounds of bad choices bulging over the waistline of your jeans. Or you're staring at a bank slip with a negative balance of several years of financial choices. Or you're pulling off your wedding band as you sign the final paperwork on a relationship-ending choice you never thought you'd make.

If we want to shape the direction of our lives, every choice has to be a conscious choice. The trouble is, that's not just hard ... it's impossible. 

We aren't built to make good choices automatically. It's not in us. Instead, we're programmed to make all the wrong choices. We want the cookie we shouldn't eat. We want to watch the movie we shouldn't watch. We want to take the thing that doesn't belong to us, or be with the person we shouldn't be with, or think the thoughts we shouldn't think. 

We're hard wired for making bad choices, and then improvising around the results.

But that doesn't mean we can't change. It just means we need a higher source of power than what we carry with us by default.

My source is God. For some people, that sounds nuts. They'd rather turn to almost anything else. Government, family, community, friends. Or maybe something more destructive, like drugs and booze. Which, on the whole, I think we can agree aren't going to help you make better choices.

The point is, if you're going to make real, positive change in your life, you can't rely on your own batteries. You have your routines and your tricks and your methods, and they've gotten you exactly here. Want real change? Choose better. Turn yourself off and turn on something that can give you the strength you need.

For me, that's God. What is it for you? Whatever it is, make sure you're stepping back every now and then, examining your trajectory and your choices, and determine if your source of power is getting you where you want and need to go. If not, it just means it's time to choose again.

Wednesday
Mar132013

christian lifestyle design (or "how I spent my 40-year vacation")

I first came across the term "lifestyle design" in The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss. This book changed  my perspective on work and career, especially when it comes to "retirement." It helped me figure out a better way to handle outsourcing and contract work (both as a contractor and as a contractee), and it has served as a catalog of resources that I can draw on when I need it. I've read this book dozens of times now, and I learn something new every time.

(Just a side note: I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version as well as keeping a print and/or ebook version around for reference. Scott Brick does an outstanding job of narrating this book, and I've found that LISTENING to a book like this has more impact than reading it from the page)

The short definition of lifestyle design might look like this: Instead of locking yourself into a "typical" 40+ hour workweek for 40 to 50 years, working toward a cash-strapped "retirement," you should use every resource at your disposal to create a more "unconventional" lifestyle and career, and take lots of "mini retirements" along the way. 

The REALLY short definition might be: Use your brain, be creative and innovative, do what you love, and work becomes a joy instead of something you endure.

I love that whole concept. It's rooted in learning and growing, experimenting and playing by a different set of rules. I've used a lot of the techniques I've learned about marketing and strategy to make my career more unconventional than most. Even now, as I work full time as the Marketing Creative Director for a software company, my career is on a different track than just a few years ago, and it's far from conventional. 

But there's been a slight deviation from the 4-Hour plan. 

I really didn't see my lifestyle change much until I made a couple of key choices. It's hard to say which of these came first, because they're both so intertwined. I know which is the more important of the two, and which is the stronger guiding principle in my life now, but I can't remember exactly when I made the commitment to either. So I'll just list them from least important to most important.

Positive attitude

 How cliché is that? Very. And for 35+ years I felt it was too obvious, too pat, too eye-rollingly bleh to give it any real consideration. I agreed with the idea, and all the adages. "Your attitude determines your altitude," and the like. I agreed 100%. I just wasn't putting it into practice.

Actually, I did TRY to put it into practice. I just wasn't very good at it. And that's because I was missing the point.

Having a positive attitude isn't the full story. The real power behind this little "secret" is all about your choices (this sound famliar?) Being positive in a general, Pollyanna sort of way gets you nowhere. Eventually the smile you have plastered on your face will fade. The internal dialog of "just feel joy!" will peter out. Nothing about this empty, hollow decision to "think positive" has any power at all. 

Real positive attitude comes from making a conscious choice to put the needs of others above your own. It's called "love." And when you exercise it, the thing gets muscles like you wouldn't believe. If you're only focused on yourself, your own needs and goals and desires, you can only stay positive for so long. Eventually greed and selfishness and self-centeredness become the rules of your life. Eventually you get your true, deepest wish, which is to be alone with yourself, with no one bothering you.

Making the effort to put someone else in front of you, to do whatever you can to help someone else achieve what they want or need out of life, puts you in a different head space. It's the most positive head space you'll ever manage to reach. Your heart is in it. Your very soul is in it. 

I love to quote Zig Ziglar on one specific topic, and anyone who knows me will know what's coming next:

"You can get everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

How can you not be positive, when you're thinking like that?

God as the center of your life

This was the biggest change, the most important change of all. And it has made all the difference in my life and my career.

I was always a Christian. I just wasn't very good at it. I spent a large chunk of my life searching for something that would give me inspiration and a sense of purpose, but the only place I was willing to look was inside myself. 

Turns out, that's a pretty limited field to search.

I don't have what it takes to be successful or brilliant or a perfect Christian. Only Christ has that kind of strength. So this whole time, as I've focused on "improving" myself by focusing ON myself, I've really robbed myself of any power to change. 

But recently I made the decision, finally, to turn my life over to Christ. I emptied myself out and chose to study the Word, to engross myself with God, to fill myself ... well, actually, to ask God to fill me ... with the Holy Spirit. I asked Christ to increase my faith. I decided to stop relying on the Power of Kevin and start relying on the true and real Power of God.

Having God as the center of my life, making the choice to glorify Him with EVERYTHING I do, say, think, feel ... that has made all the difference. Three or four years ago ... three or four MONTHS ago ... I might have agreed with this with my mouth, but I didn't agree with my heart or my soul. I believed, if you asked me. I didn't believe, if you studied me. "You'll know them by their fruits." That's the trick. You can't judge a book by it's cover, but you CAN judge it by the impact it's having on the world.

I was an ineffective, loudmouthed, self-centered jerk. I paid lip service to all the good and positive things that I'd always HEARD could make your life (and the world) better, but I wasn't living what I was knowing. God changed that.

I had my crisis of faith. A couple of them, actually. It happens. It shouldn't have to, but it does. And now I know, I KNOW, that the way for me to be happy, to have joy, to achieve more in my life ... it's all in who I'm focused on. 

Focus on me = struggling, sinking, drowning

Focus on God = Standing, Walking, Performing Miracles

Christian Lifestyle Design

I've started putting things together, thinking things through, and I'm coming around to a new idea. I think that lifestyle design is a good plan. It's good to want to accomplish things. It's good to want to have a lifestyle that makes you feel fullfilled, that brings you joy. It's good to want wealth, even. Its good to want to do as much as you can.

It's better, so much better, to want all these things to bring glory to God. 

True lifestyle design, effective and empowering, will only come from glorifying God with everything you do. So that's what I'm going to focus on. I'm going to use all of the things I've learned, through all of my years of study into marketing and strategy and innovation, and I'm going to apply all of those to the principles that God has laid out for me in His word. 

And I want you to join me. I want to help you get what you want out of life, what you NEED out of life. That's the mission God has put in front of me, and this blog and my books and all the things I do an create, they're all tools for that mission.

So let's get started.

 

Tuesday
Mar122013

choosification 

It's not always easy to keep your mouth shut. Or to keep yourself in check, say, when you're in heavy traffic or waiting behind "the Coupon Lady" at the grocery store. And when a bunch of that kind of stuff stacks up ... well, it ain't easy bein' easy.

What IS easy is complaining about it, even if you're just complaining to yourself. I do this a lot. I'm behind the only slow driver in three lanes of traffic, with cars zipping by on either side, too fast for me to scootch over and pass. The whole time I'm grumbling, "Great. Perfect. Typical!" And a few more choice, non-family-friendly terms.

I start getting that clenched feeling in my chest, the tightening in my neck and shoulders, the sizzle of my blood pressure going up. That tension only serves to make me more agressive, less reasonable, more of a buttocks chapeau. 

It's easy in those moments to react the wrong way, and it's even easier to look back at it and think, "It wasn't my fault ... Circumstances dictated ... it all just happened so fast ... I didn't have a choice!"

That's what's easy. What's hard is admitting to yourself (admit it!), "I could have handled that better. I made a bad choice." It's all about the choices.

Yesterday I was peeved at traffic, and I was peeved at being tired and hungry, and I was peeved at having to run an errand for my wife when all I wanted was to get home, and I was peeved at having to fight traffic AGAIN, after waiting fifteen minutes for my "fast" food to be made, and I was peeved that I was eating fast food after finally getting myself to hit the trails for some exercise after a long, fat hiatusall so I could get home in time for me to watch a few minutes of TV before I had to turn in for the evening. I managed to keep from taking things out on anyone directly, but the stuff going on in my head? The things I said aloud, in the privacy of my car, where only I ... OK, and God ... could hear me?

Oops. 

Those last two listeners are more important in this scenario than I gave credit at the time. God hears all, sees all, knows all ... he's better than the Great and Powerful OZ when it comes to that. And let's not discount the other listener in the car, who hears and feels and sees all of it too, and makes all the choices based on how he's communicating with himself. He's the one choosing to react to everything the way he does, so the way he chooses to communicate with himself is important. 

I didn't have to react the way I did, because I had a choice. Things happen fast? So does choosing. Actually, choosing happens faster, because you can choose ahead of time. "When I'm in traffic and it's slow and I'm getting angry, I'll take a deep breath, thank God for this quiet time, and chat with Him or listen to music or listen to a book or think about the book I'm writing."

See? I choosed. And I did it faster than I could possibly react to what's happening in front of me at any given moment, because I chose before I even got out of bed that morning. Of course, the thing to keep in mind is that these choices happen EVERY DAY. You have to make the choice, every day, about how you react to the things that you know will trigger you bein' the you that you don't like bein'.

It's all about the choices.

I choose wrong all the time. And that stinks. And then I feel guilty for those choices. I pray for forgiveness, and then I have to choose again. Choose to accept God's grace and forgiveness and grow from the experience, making better choices later, or choose to keep feeling that guilt and shame, so that the only message I ever communicate to myself is, "You aren't good enough. You failed. You always fail." 

It's all about the choices. 

Keeping my mouth shut is a chronic problem, as is keeping my attitude in check. But God honors us when we choose to do just that, despite the temptation to do otherwise. Trusting God, believing and having faith, that's a choice, too. You'll know when you've chosen well, if what you do brings you joy instead of dread, if it glorifies and honors God instead of tearing someone down (including yourself). 

Choose. But choose wisely.*

 

*I totally stole that from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." 

 

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