Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Slave Nation

Slavery was outlawed in this country a very long time ago. You all know the story. But a different kind of slavery exists today. A self-imposed slavery that few of us seem willing to free ourselves from.

The Bible speaks a lot about money. Most of it isn't terribly flattering. The one I'm most drawn to is where Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and money." That, and when Paul says, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continue debt to love one another."

There was a time period in my life after a Promise Keepers conference where I vowed to get rid of all my debt. And, after about two-plus years, my wife and I managed to pull it off. At least, to a degree. We had no credit card debt, and only lived (for a while) on what we took in. But we still had car payments and a house payment. I'd convinced myself, however, that those weren't really "debt", since we had, essentially, collateral.

That attitude, however, I now see as flawed. Debt is debt. And debt makes me a slave to money, no matter how much I think it doesn't. The recent recession in this country is proof of this. People are foreclosing on homes left and right, home values have dropped to levels far below what people owe. So much for "secured debt".

And these same people (myself included) are slaves to money as a result. We are forced to live where we live, fearful of losing our jobs and our homes as a result, rather than trusting in the Lord.

At one time, I figured that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, the Lord would protect us from such calamities as foreclosure. But now I realize that if I had the faith of a mustard seed and trusted in God's plan, I wouldn't have had to hope God would keep me from financial ruin. The truth is, I'm living with debt now because of my own faithlessness, my own sinfulness.

God has blessed our family, to be sure. But I can't get past the fact that as I'm struggling to pay off the debt I've managed to rack back up again in the past several years, this money could have been put to much better use. Often, I imagine what my life would be like if I could say, "Hey, family, let's go out to dinner tonight," and be able to pay cash without worrying if I'll have enough at the end of the money without relying on credit cards.

I'm getting there. My wife and I are working towards being "debt-free" once again. In less than a year, we should be there. But then we want to go further. We want to stop being a slave to money. Buy cars with cash, rather than financing them, for example. Or, the ultimate goal, to have a home that belongs to us no matter whether I lose my job or not...a home that is paid off.

I wish I had lived this way from the start, never falling prey to the seduction of having more than I can afford. Consider the typical 30-year mortgage. Even if I never faced losing my job, and was able to keep up on my house payments, in the end, I'll be paying almost two times more for the home than what it cost. Consider it. For a $200,000 home, I could pay an extra $260,000 in interest. That's $260,000 that might go to work building God's kingdom, helping the poor and hungry, of taking better care of my family such as being able to replace those couches we have in our home right now that we can feel the boards through.

My short-term goal is to eliminate all "unsecured" debt within the next 12 months. Beyond that, I'd like to be free of all on-going car payments within two years, and ten years from now, have a home that is completely paid for. Because then, we'll no longer be slaves to money.

Perhaps you'll consider joining my journey.

I'll write more on this subject later...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just wait until...

A few days ago, I was in a conversation with a couple other fellow parents discussing, you guessed it, parenting. I won't go into the gory details, but at one point one of the parents made that so-oft-repeated phrase, "Just wait until..." followed by some child's age that our kids haven't yet reached, and how we should dread this coming time period in raising our children.

Thing is, I'm sick of hearing this. I've been hearing it my whole life. First, it was the, "Just wait until you're in the real world." Then, "Just wait until you have a wife of your own." This, of course, leads to, "Just wait until you have children of your own, until they turn one, until they turn two, until they turn three, until they turn five, seven, ten..."

And yet, each step along this path of "just waiting until", we've not seen it. The problems, the horror, the whatever it is we're supposed to be waiting for.

The thing is, my wife and I firmly believe that children are a blessing from the Lord. A blessing. Not a "kind of" blessing, or a blessing as a newborn, and at eighteen, but not a blessing at all the ages in between. They are blessing every single day. Which means there is a level of responsibility thrown at us, at parents. God has blessed us. In our case, five times so far. And as parents, we have to take that blessing seriously. Our kids will not raise themselves, or naturally become model children. It takes work and effort on our part.

If I were blessed with a new job, would I just sit back and expect the blessings to fall into my lap without me putting in the hard work? Nope.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Psalm 127, and the first verse really struck me. "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders work in vain."

The Lord has laid out a plan for our lives, for how we are to raise our kids, and if our kids are not turning out how we'd like, it might be time to look at ourselves and see what it is we're doing wrong. Parenting is less about the kids, and more about the parents. Our heart, our attitude, our commitment, our willingness to examine ourselves and the sins in our own lives that will ultimately creep into the lives of our children.

I can't help but think that every time a parent says, "Just wait until...", it's that that parent has given in and accepted sinful behavior on the part of their children as unavoidable. I think it can justify the behavior of their own children to warn other parents who aren't in the same "boat" of the storms ahead. That's easier, I suppose, then actually changing yourself as a parent.

My wife and I are constantly having conversations about our children and our parenting. We don't always get it right. Often we completely mess things up. But then we talk about it and vow to fix it. We ask God's forgiveness, and often, ask for the forgiveness of our children.

I have an issue of losing my cool at times. I'll start yelling when I don't need to, when there are better, more effective ways to handle things. It is an ongoing sin in my life that I'm working on. I have to work on it, because otherwise I'm at risk of becoming a "Just wait until" parent myself. After all, as it says in the New Testament, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children."

I fear I'm guilty as charged. But the Bible doesn't just say says it for a reason. It is a call to action on the part of fathers everywhere to step up and do better than they are.

Rather than look at the examples of fellow parents who have children behaving in "Just wait until" ways, I'd rather look at the examples of fellow parents whose children are a blessing from the Lord. Those parents are the ones who put in the hard work and triumphed. And so I strive to be more like them.

On second thought, I suspect that they are striving to be more like Christ. That's why they are succeeding. So, I'll strive for the same. And as I do, I'll always keep in mind that children are a blessing from the Lord. Always.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Party like it's 2003!

Do you remember what life was like before February 2004? That was when we had to actually, you know, be social in order to be part of a social network. Talk to people, invite them over, call them on the phone, or perhaps even use a quaint bit of technology called e-mail.

It's amazing, isn't it, that in just six years, it seems like people can't live without Facebook. Despite all the complaining about their frequent changes to the interface, annoyances at getting too many requests to help build someone else's farm, and concerns over increasingly reduced privacy, if you actually suggest to someone that they could, of course, just walk away from Facebook. They could delete their account (which, as it turns out, isn't as easy as it sounds) and be done with it.

It's about that time you start hearing a list of reasons why Facebook is like manna from heaven, and why they could never get rid of their Facebook account. They need it to keep up with Aunt Sue (because we all know how important it is to know she's having trouble keeping up with her children's school work). Or they need to be able to let all their friends gain easy access to all the photos they've been taking (even though, truth be told, no one really cares even though they're posting their own photos, too).

Thing is, we can live without Facebook. In fact, we did it for a few thousand years. In fact, even without e-mail or cell phones or internet or even land-line phones, people seemed to survive. In fact, people seemed to survive by relying more on one another than we do today. They actually formed social networks (aka, extended family) that would last for generations.

Now, before you think I suggest we go back to those days (and, frankly, it has a certain appeal to it), I'm merely suggesting that we seem to be willing to give up parts of our lives for this thing called Facebook quite willingly, forgetting that we got along just fine without it before. Because, as much as I enjoy reconnecting with old high school friends, or having last-minute updates on what's going on in everyone else's lives, none of that has ultimately improved my life.

So, a few weeks ago, I did something about it. I actually deleted my Facebook account. And you know what? I'm still kicking. Somehow, I'm still living my life, still loving my wife and kids, still going to work, still working in the yard. I'm still going to see family at our annual Memorial Day picnic. In short, I'm still partying like it's 2003.

You can, too.


Not that you have to. I'm just saying.