Is God Your First Or Last Thought When It Comes To Money?

Photo by rhoadeecha

Photo by rhoadeecha

Shocked, But Not Really

I was recently teaching a Bible Study class regarding fundamental Christian stewardship principles. In the class was a really sweet, older lady who was telling the class about some mistakes she had made with her finances.

The mistakes she made were pretty serious, but her mistakes didn’t surprise me too much. What I did find surprising, though, was her statement that she had never even considered praying to the Lord about her financial decision-making. This was made even more surprising to me because she said that she had been walking with the Lord for 60 years!

As a stewardship pastor, I took this woman’s comments as a scathing indictment against those of us in leadership within the universal church. We as church leaders have done a very poor job in educating believers on a whole life, Biblical stewardship outlook.

God should be at the center of every part of our lives. He really should be the very FIRST thought in every aspect of our lives, including our personal finances.

So, How Should We Pray About Money?

When we pray about money, should we be selfish and ask for a million dollars in the bank and zero financial worries? No, of course not. These are not the kind of prayers I’m talking about.

I do believe, though, that there are specific ways we can pray about the money and resources He has entrusted us to manage:

  • Pray for wisdom. James 1:5 tells us, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. If you’re struggling in some of your financial decision-making, then God wants you to talk about it with Him. Don’t just rush in and make a hasty decision when it comes to your finances. Press pause, pray, read His Word, and reflect on God’s wisdom when it comes to His money.
  • Pray for His will to be accomplished. James 4:13-15 states, Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” It’s too easy for us to assume things will happen for us tomorrow because we desire them to take place. In these verses, James reminds us that this life holds no guarantees. We should pray an attitude of “ … if it is the Lord’s will, then He will accomplish whatever He desires to do through us.”
  • Pray for provision. Matthew 6:11 says, Give us this day our daily bread. In the Lord’s Prayer (or model prayer), Jesus gives us the example of praying for our daily needs. In order for us to survive as human beings, there are basic needs that we all must have: food, water, clothing, and shelter. A few verses later, in Matthew 6:32-33 we read, For the pagans run after all these things (basic needs), and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. God loves us and cares about our needs. If we will simply place Him and His Kingdom as our number one priority, He will take care of our daily needs.

Questions: So, is God your first or last thought when it comes to money? Are you praying for wisdom and guidance in your financial management? Are you praying for His will to be accomplished in your finances? Are you praying for His provision when you have needs? If not, why not?

When My Heart Is Right, My Money Gets Right

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Do Versus Believe

I think many people believe that if they DO right things with money that their money will be right. If they and their spouse can get on the same page with their money, then they will enjoy peace in this area of money. If they can have a working family budget, then they will gain a sense of control with their money. If they can just get out of debt and stay out of debt, they will enjoy financial freedom. If they can get their retirement fully funded, then they will have financial security in the future.

While all of these concrete actions with money are certainly helpful, what people (especially Christians) BELIEVE about money will impact them in an even greater way, long-term.

Here are three areas where Christians struggle to get their heart right regarding money.

3 Areas Of Financial Belief For The Christian

First Area: Ownership. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

Scripture is crystal clear that God owns everything.

But, Christians struggle with this ownership issue. The world’s money system tells us that we are in charge of our stuff. It’s really easy to forget that God has called us to be managers of what He has given us and not the owners.

When we fully understand that God is the owner of ALL things and we are simply the managers of what He has given us to manage, then we start making different, better decisions with HIS money. We don’t have such a tight-fisted stranglehold on money because we comprehend that it’s not our money to begin with. We can live our lives with open, generous hands when it comes to His money. We start making decisions based on what we believe God wants to do with His money through us as His servants.

Second Area: Contentment. Philippians 4:12-13 says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

The world’s money system tells us that we should be unhappy and dissatisfied with what we currently have. We need to go out and buy us some newer and better stuff. We will be helping the national economy if we go out and spend more. It’s a win-win situation all around.

What is contentment, exactly? Contentment is simply being satisfied in our current state. It doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t have goals or ambitions. But, what it does mean is that we can relax and be satisfied with what God has given to us today in regard to our finances. As a Christian, our ultimate source of satisfaction should be in Christ, not in our stuff.

Third Area: Purpose. Matthew 6:31-33 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The world’s money system tells us that we need to chase after our basic needs with our money before anything else – stuff to eat and stuff to wear.

God flips this philosophy around and tells us that as His children, He will meet our needs in abundance. We don’t need to be concerned with the basic necessities of this life. He will take care of us. God wants our primary concern to be expanding His Kingdom with His financial resources above all else.

Questions: Many people believe that if they DO right things with money that their money will be right. And, while this is certainly helpful, what they BELIEVE about money will impact them in an even greater way. What do you believe about money in these three areas of ownership, contentment, and purpose? Do your actions with money line up with your beliefs?

5 Great Leadership Lessons from the Movie Star Trek Into Darkness

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Movie Night

Back at the beginning of the summer, I had a rare evening to myself. My wife was out-of-town and my daughters were all having sleepovers at friend’s homes. The latest Star Trek film Into Darkness had just opened in theaters, and I been dying to see it. So, I jumped in the car and ran down to my local theater to grab a late night flick.

I’ve always been a big fan of the entire Star Trek franchise. When I was a kid, I started out watching the original TV series in syndication back in the 1970s. Later, I got hooked on the other various TV series and movies that have spun out from the original.

As a leader, I tend to look through my “leadership lens” at media such as this. The Star Trek franchise always has several great leadership nuggets to gather. Star Trek Into Darkness was no exception, and I walked away with five great leadership lesson takeaways from this awesome movie.

[Spoiler Alert: if you still haven’t had an opportunity to see this movie, I apologize in advance! It just came out on DVD, so get a hold of a copy and watch it!]

5 Great Leadership Lessons From Star Trek

  1. Hand Off The Baton, Well. In just a few short opening scenes, we see a rotation in leadership as a result of some poor choices by Captain Kirk. Admiral Pike is reassigned as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is demoted to Commander of the Enterprise. Spock remains a commander, but is transferred over to another starship. As the movie progresses, the leadership roles are changed up even more. In real life, the leadership baton in many organizations is regularly passed around depending on timing and circumstances. I call this the “leadership dance.” If you’re in an organization where you have a rotation of leadership, then learn to lead well when it’s your opportunity to lead. When it’s your turn to hand off the baton to another leader, then attempt to hand it off with a smooth transition and be a good follower for the next leader.
  2. Act Like A Leader. In the movie, there’s a wonderful scene where Captain Kirk makes Sulu the “Acting Captain.” This was the first time Sulu has sat in the captain’s chair, and it seems to come quite naturally to him. Sulu is able to “pull off” the role because once he has been handed the reigns of leadership, he acts like a captain should act. Being a great leader has to do a lot with acting like a great leader. Sure, great leadership has much to do with knowledge and experience, but when the opportunity comes to lead, though, it’s mostly about leading people with confidence. In the actual leadership moment, are many leaders scared? Sure they are, but great leaders are able to lead and inspire their followers in spite of their fear.
  3. Embrace Humility. When Captain Kirk is demoted near the beginning of the movie, Admiral Pike tells Kirk straight up that one of his biggest problems as a leader is his lack of humility. As the movie progresses, we see Kirk learning his lesson as he humbly apologizes and submits to the great and powerful Kahn (the movie villan). Great leaders understand that humility doesn’t make them weak leaders. The best leaders actually embrace it.
  4. Go With Your Gut. There’s a really interesting scene halfway through the movie when Kirk and Spock are discussing a leadership decision by Captain Kirk that doesn’t seem logical. Kirk turns to Spock and says something like, “Spock, I know this doesn’t seem logical, but my gut is telling me to go this direction.” Leadership is a lot about gut instincts. Sure, we look at all the logical facts that surround the problem. In the end, though, we end up making a decision based on what our gut seems to be telling us to do.
  5. Model Self-Sacrifice. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” This is a recurring theme in Star Trek. Spock has discussed the concept with Kirk on many occasions. Captain Kirk demonstrates this truth through his willingness to sacrifice his life in order to save the Enterprise and its crew. The best leaders are not always out for themselves or their own reputation. They model self-sacrifice to advance the organization. And, the greatest demonstration of great leadership is the willingness to lay down one’s life for his followers.

Questions: Have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness, yet? If so, did you come away with some similar leadership lessons? Do you have additional leadership thoughts to add to my list?

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Using Life Challenges As A Springboard To Lead Super Better Lives

Photo by Sander van der Wel

Photo by Sander van der Wel

Post-Traumatic Events And Eventual Outcomes

I believe most of us are aware of the condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This is the condition that many military men and women come home struggling with after being out on the battlefield. People who suffer from PTSD have gone through such difficult life events that it affects every aspect of their lives going forward. They can no longer function as well as they did before the event.

Did you also know that there is a polar opposite condition called Post-Traumatic Growth or PTG? Individuals who have experienced post-traumatic growth have not only gone through difficult circumstances, but they have seemingly come out on the other side of their trauma in better shape then they were prior to the difficulty in the first place.

People who experience PTG are more than just strong, tough, optimistic, or resilient. Post-traumatic growth goes way beyond an ability to resist and not be damaged by traumatic experiences. This type of growth moves these individuals beyond pre-trauma levels of adaptation.

Positive Characteristics Of The Growth Track

Those who have seemingly been able to bypass the psychological disorders that we often associate with trauma and move on to bigger and better things display the following characteristics [source: Wikipedia]:

  • an ability to grieve and accept the trauma
  • an ability to focus attention and resources on the most important matters
  • an ability to disengage from uncontrollable or unsolvable problems
  • a greater appreciation for life
  • a changed sense of priorities
  • warmer, more intimate relationships
  • a greater sense of personal strength
  • a recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life
  • spiritual development

So, How Can You Enter The Growth Track?

Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself: “Larry, how is this even possible? Don’t horrible events leave us scarred for the rest of our lives?”

Yes, you might think this is the case, but it is entirely possible to walk through difficult circumstances and come out better on the other side.

As a Christian, I believe this is entirely possible through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Check out these verses on the subject of growth through difficulties:

  • Romans 5:3-5 ” … we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
  • James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  • Philippians 4:12-13 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

For more information on post-traumatic growth, check out this TED talk given by Jane McGonigal, creator of the Super Better game:

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I can write passionately on this topic because I have personally experienced post-traumatic growth. God has taken me to new heights of growth and opportunity through some dramatic life circumstances.

Interested in learning more about my own experience with PTG? As a result of my life challenges, I stumbled into a 5-Step Action Plan as I worked my way through my brokeness in search of healing. These five steps helped me regain my life perspective. They renewed my faith of what could be possible with God’s help and a lot of hard work.

Over the last several years, I’ve seen many people go through some major life challenges. Some are able to “walk through the fire” and not be consumed. They come out okay, probably even better on the other side.

Others, though, seem to struggle through their difficulties. They can’t get any traction in their lives. They’re treading water and seem hopelessly stuck.

The great news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

So, how can one person emerge victorious from their problems, and another be stuck with little hope of moving forward? I believe my 5-Step Action Plan can give you the tools to move from defeat to victory.

This little e-book addresses the problems and the accompanying solutions. So, do you want to stay stuck where you are right now, or are you ready to move forward?

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Questions: Have you ever experienced post-traumatic growth in your own life? What was your experience like? To what do you attribute your growth?

Drawing A Line And Taking A Stand On Debt

Photo by TangoPango

Photo by TangoPango

The Line Must Be Drawn Here, This Far, No Farther

There is an incredibly, well-acted scene in the movie Star Trek First Contact, when Sloane (Alfre Woodard) is arguing with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) regarding his erratic behavior with the Borg (the feared alien race). She accuses him of acting out of revenge, much like Captain Ahab in the book Moby-Dick. Picard dismisses this revenge concept, explaining to Sloane the history of the Borg and the human race. Humans have had a continual series of retreats with these aliens. They have never really stood up to the Borg advances and taken a stand in battle.

Then, Picard passionately utters one of the best movie captain lines of all times, “The line must be drawn here, this far, no farther.” Picard meant business with the Borg this time around. He was drawing a line and taking a stand. There would be no retreat in this battle. It was “do or die” time in the captain’s mind.

You can check out a short 1:00 version of this scene, here:

Too Many Compromises, Too Many Retreats

Just like the alien Borg in the Star Trek Next Generation series, I believe, in life, we tend to allow people, financial companies, and governments to take over our lives, financially. We have sold our souls to the alien debt monster. We have made way too many compromises and way too many retreats when it comes to being in control of our money.

We have allowed people, circumstances, and credit card companies to sell us on the supposed benefits of using lines of credit to move us faster into the lifestyle we want.

We have allowed politicians and government agencies to convince us that the United States government debt load is not really as bad as it might look. They tell us that it’s all scalable and sustainable. Don’t worry about the numbers. Everything will be okay.

But, what has happened as a result of all these compromises and retreats on debt? American families are carrying an average debt load of over $15,000. This is a modest number, too; it’s probably way more than this when you factor in student loans . The United States government has a national debt load approaching $17 Trillion. There are hushed rumors that America is on the brink of financial collapse. Nothing good has come of debt in our governments, businesses, churches, or homes.

Drawing The Line On Debt

Once an individual, a married couple, a business man, a church leader, or a politician has that “aha moment” regarding the curse of debt, they tend to draw the line on debt.

Proverbs 22:7 tells us, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

With a little planning ahead, I believe most people could avoid the majority of debt problems, especially credit cards, car loans, and student loans. But, everybody gets in a hurry to raise their lifestyle. Gotta have the cool car, best college degree, and fancy house in the best neighborhood. Debt helps you get there faster on the front end, but it has a nasty bite on the back-end.

My advice is to draw a line in the sand on debt as early and as quickly as possible. Get a financial plan together and dig your way out of your debt mess before it’s too late and you’re forced into a bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Questions: Have you ever had that “aha moment” when you finally understood what debt was doing to you and your family? Have you ever drawn the official line on debt and said enough is enough? Are you working your debt snowball? Are you debt free?