You Can Get a Grip on Your Money

“Your system is designed perfectly to give you the results you are getting. If you don’t like the results you are getting, you need to change your system.” That statement is a basic teaching when you study Systems Theory. It’s helpful in life where pretty much every place you find yourself you find yourself in a system of some sort: family, work, Boards, neighborhood, etc. And so, if you don’t like what you are seeing you have to change the system.

According to surveys that ask people what their top resolutions for the New Year are, a perennial favorite has something to do with “getting their finances in order.” It’s a good resolution because, according to financial statistics, personal financial “systems” are not giving a good result. Consider these statistics: 76% of people live paycheck to paycheck; 24% of take home pay goes to paying off debt; 64% of Americans can’t cover $1000 for an emergency; the average cost per household per year paying credit card interest is $2630; and 70% of couples do not budget on a consistent basis.

You might have cringed a bit as you listened to these statistics of the average American household because you and I are most likely average Americans. Financial issues are always one of the top two issues in marriages. The other is communication. So when we communicate in a relationship about finances, it’s no wonder 31% of all couple clash over their finances at least once a month.

Anyone need a system reboot? The problem with the resolution to get a grip on your money is that most people do not have a way to view their money. Fortunately, Jesus gave you one. Did you know of the 38 parables he told, 16 have to do with money? He talked about finances more than he talked about heaven and hell: there are 500 passages on prayer and 2000 devoted to money and possessions.

Could it be that Jesus knew one of the greatest struggles we would have would be in our relationship with money and that money could come between us and our relationship with God? I think so. And so Jesus succinctly says: “You cannot serve both God and money.”

The first system reboot when it comes to money is that we need to believe. We need to believe what Jesus says. And what Jesus says is that we have to make a choice that we will serve God and not money. We take care of God’s stuff. It is his. Not ours. That is the definition of stewardship. Stewardship is managing the things of God in the way he would want them managed.

You change your money system by first looking at what you believe about it. Once you and I understand that the money we have is not ours but God’s we will begin to handle it better. We begin to handle money better with a budget. A budget is a plan for your money. You do not have a budget if you merely say you have money in the bank at the end of the month. You do not have a budget if you can pay your bills. Those are good things, but you do not have a budget if you do not plan where your money will be saved, spent, or given before you spend it.

Believe differently about your money. Budget your money. Then “be satisfied” with what you have. The writer of Hebrews gives us this admonition: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.”

According to scripture there is a problem and that problem is the “love of money.” Not that we have money. Not the abundance of money. It’s the “love” of money that is the concern. It’s the one love God wants you to hate. Greed is birthed in the lie that the more we have the more we are worth. But Jesus says our life is much more than our stuff.

Jesus will show you a way to reboot your financial system. Believe differently about money. Budget a plan for your money. And be satisfied with what you have. This year instead of a love of money cultivate a love of God. You’ll be richer than you ever imagined.

Question: What needs to change about your money system: what you believe about money, a budget, or being satisfied with what you have?


The Perfect Parenting Formula to Become a Better Parent

Jelena Fu teaches all ages, but her work with children led her to looking for a formula that might help parents raise better kids. She paid attention to children and their parents. But it was when she asked her own daughter what she and her friends thought they needed most from their parents that she found her formula. She shares it in her TEDx Talk. You’d probably like to know the formula she discovered, wouldn’t you?

You would because it would be nice to have a formula for parenting. When you took that first child home with you he or she did not come with a User’s Manual. So you turned to innumerable books. But you read one set of suggestions that were countered by the next.

You turned to your parents, but then you looked at your spouse or looked in the mirror and thought, “Surely we can do better than that.”

Even psychologists haven’t cracked the code. I was visiting with one years ago looking for some advice. We were friends and in the course of the conversation I asked her about her daughter and found that she was stumped as to what to do with her. I listened, dispensed some advice, and sent her a bill for the hour.

For those who are followers of Jesus you might wish he had something to say about parenting. But he wasn’t a parent. He was never married. And he didn’t, as far as we know, say much of anything about parenting.

Or did he? Consider the scene we find in John 5. Jesus upsets the religious establishment by healing a lame man by the pool. He tells them: “…For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things.” Jesus explains that the reason he did what he did is that it is what the Father would do. He’s talking about the healing. But he also explains every other action we see him doing. See the connection? If Jesus does what the Father would do, then Jesus is doing what a father would do. We need only watch him to learn how to parent well.

When we watch Jesus we learn to parent more effectively. We find that a parent gives their children time. When disciples followed Jesus, he spent time with them. Walking. Sharing meals. Talking. Serving people together. Handling crisis together. It takes quantity time to find quality time.

We also discover a parent provides teaching to their children. Jesus was directly addressed ninety times in the Gospels. Sixty of those times he is called “Teacher.” Parents are the primary teachers for their children. And if we parent as Jesus demonstrates, those of us who are followers of Jesus will be the primary teachers who teach our children primarily the kingdom of God. How to think like Jesus would think. How to act like Jesus would act. How to pray, find solitude, take in the Word of God, etc. as Jesus would.

As we teach our kids we will also correct. Jesus did. He said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.” I’m not suggesting you call your child Satan! You’ll send them into years of therapy if you do. But you will at times have to steer them back to “God’s concerns” when their talk and actions are more aligned with “human concerns.”

But parenting is not all correction. Parents celebrate with their children too. When the disciples came back from a successful outing to the towns and villages, Jesus celebrated their accomplishments with them. So can we. Birthdays and Christmas for sure. But also celebrate when you see God in their lives. Jesus told his disciples that there was even more cause for joy that “their names were written in heaven.”

After consulting with her friends, Jelena Fu’s daughter offered this five-word-parenting-formula: “We want you to listen.” That’s not bad advice. Fathers and mothers, the good ones, listen to their children. Jesus’ father did. Remember that prayer that he modeled for his disciples? It began with “Abba, Father…” the expectation was that this Father is one who wants more than anything to hear the voice of his children.

And so when you, parent, need help in knowing how to be one, remember you have a Father who will listen to you. There is a parenting formula. It’s not five words but five letters: Jesus.

Master Jesus and you will master parenting.

Question: Which area of parenting can you improve on this year? How will you do that?


Discover the Pages of Your Better Life Story

20-year-old Shane Missler recently claimed the $451 million Mega Millions jackpot. He chose to receive his winnings in a one-time, lump-sum payment of $281,874,999. With it he “hopes to do good for humanity.

I hope he does. He has money in abundance. We like things in abundance, don’t we? Can you imagine the lottery officials giving Missler his first million and then asking, “Do you want us to give you the other $280+million?” and him answering, “No. That’s fine. You can keep the rest.”

We like abundance. So does Jesus. He said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” But what Jesus is not talking about the “stuff” of life that we buy and accumulate that can get old and rust and get torn up. The life he is talking about is called zoe in the Greek language. It is a life that has to do with quality. For sure zoe life includes the physical things we need in life (or bios life in the Greek). But that’s not much of a life by itself. People who have an abundance of “things” can still be miserable. Zoe life includes the spiritual things we need for life that makes our lives alive and vital.

The “abundant life” Jesus talks about is the kind of life that makes a great story. Jesus’ life is a great story and we can learn from it how to write a better story for our lives. Donald Miller writes about life stories in his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” (Read the book. It will inspire you to work on your own story.) His premise is that there are certain tools storytellers use to write great stories. We can utilize those tools to write good stories for our lives too. If you believe you can write a better story than the one you are living now, here are the components you need for a great story.

Every story is built around a lead character and other characters. You are the star of your story. That means you have to give it life. Start moving. “Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands…” Jesus knew when it was time to leave the carpentry shop and begin his ministry.

When the time was right he began to write.

He gathered twelve to be with him by praying all night. We live in an isolationist culture where our connection is through texts and tweets. But great stories have other characters in them. You can write a better story this year by developing relationships.

The lead character has to want something. Jesus knew exactly what he wanted. Before his crucifixion he prayed: “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…” Jesus knew his death on the cross would glorify God.

What is it you want in life? And will what you want glorify God? A great story finds its main character wanting something and then pursuing it. When we are not experiencing a better life as Jesus came to give, it is because we have not decided what it is we want. What we want needs to be good—something that will do good for humanity—and it needs to glorify God, not us.

In the pursuit of what we want, every character must go through conflict. Jesus did. Right after his baptism he went to the wilderness and was tempted. Through it his character is strengthened as well as his resolve.

You and I need conflict in our stories to live better stories. Want to lose some weight this year? It won’t come without conflict with some weights or walks or runs at night. Want to grow in your relationships? It won’t come without some hard talks and lengthy listening. Conflict moves our stories along.

And finally, stories must resolve. “[Jesus knew] … that he was going back to God.” Jesus knew where he was going. His beginning, his passion for what he wanted, and the conflict he endured all resolved when he ascended into heaven. He used his authority that was given to him to write a story that had room for you and me.

Our stories will resolve one day too. How do you want your big story to resolve on your last day? Before then and along the way, we have mini-episodes that resolve. You wanted to lose 10 pounds and you set as a goal to run in a 5K by a certain time and you did. Better yet, you wanted to let go of anger so you got some counseling—which surfaced some internal conflict—and you have found yourself more calm.

Want to write a better life story this year? You can learn to tell your story in a way that gets a conversation going. Tell about the main character. Then tell what you want. Share a struggle to get there and end with where you see the story resolving.

That’s it. So start writing. Write one page a day. And don’t stop until the story is over.

Question: What conflict will you engage to make a difference in your story?