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What Do You Do?

Today, 6/1/16, is one year since I started my current full time job.  Happy work anniversary to me, said no one, and I really don’t care.  Some might call me frustrated, some might say I lack faith, and others might think I have mental problems.  All might be correct.  Regardless of the reason for my thoughts and attitudes this one year milestone in my current full time employment has brought to mind the fact that probably my least favorite question in the history of questions is, “What do you do?”  Why is that so annoying you ask?  Well – that’s what I want to explain.

When I hear the question, “What do you do?”, I want to know why they are asking, because the why determines the what I want to share.  I do lots of things.  Are they talking about fun stuff or work stuff?  I can do lots of different fun things as well as lots of different work things, and sometimes they’re both, but if we’re all honest fun and work are usually totally separate things.  I’ll talk about either one, but wouldn’t anyone rather talk about the fun stuff than the work stuff if given the choice?  The sad thing, in my opinion, is that no one ever asks, “What do you do?”, to hear about the fun stuff.  They want to know the work stuff.

So my mind skips past fun and on to work, but I’m still not sure why they’re asking.  Are they someone who values or respects people with certain ‘status’, jobs, positions, or titles in a way that shows preferential treatment?  I do not want to play any form of that game.  Are they genuinely interested in learning more about me and the type of work I do?  That seems ok, but it’s so surface level.

In the spirit of being cordial I almost always get past all my inhibitions and simply play along.  “I’m in sales”, I say, followed by, “in the visual communications industry.  Basically I help retail companies and brands with their point of purchase signage, displays, and merchandising solutions.”  It’s what I’ve done for the past 12 years, full time at least.  If the person asking seems genuinely interested I might add that I’ve been involved in a lot of business and ministry endeavors over the years ‘on the side’ or ‘as a volunteer’.  There might be some mention of my passion for helping people with financial management.  I might even explain my belief in the multi-vocational approach to life.

How deep that conversation goes depends on how much I believe the person really wants to know, understand, maybe even accept about me.  Becuase I don’t want people to identify me as ‘what I do’ as much as I want them to know who I really am.  I hope to reflect the God that gives me purpose, the principles that guide my values, and the passions that drive my focus.

We can talk about one year at the current employer or 11 years at the previous or the three year employer before that doing something completely different, or the two or four or five years here and there doing one side thing or another.  But who I am and who I’m becoming is far more interesting than what I’m doing at any moment or in any season of life.  The same is true for you.  So I hope you have opportunities to get real with people in your life and share the ‘who you are’ and ‘who you’re becoming’, because life is too short to only have ‘what do you do’ relationships.

So on this day that marks a milestone it’s not that I just don’t care about what I’m doing.  I just care more about becoming who God wants me to be so that no matter what I do I serve Him better every day.

Do We Truly Care About Sharing God’s Love?

fake-genuineServing people is hard work. It can be exhausting mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Current culture teaches us that unless we somehow protect ourselves from the taxing effects of serving people then we might burn out. The unfortunate result of that mentality is many people are “serving” without really caring.

Let me explain what I mean. You love Jesus, love His church, love your particular church family (community of people you gather with at a place of worship). You love all that so much you undoubtedly feel the burden, the calling, to serve in ministry.

Whether it be as a volunteer or a career you set out to fulfill the call on your life to serve God by serving others. You’re all excited to see people’s lives changed. You quickly get involved in whatever area of ministry it may be – greeting people as they arrive at church, ushering people to a seat, praying with people, watching and teaching their children – whatever your area of gifting has you doing. You’re loving it – being there caring for people through their good bad and ugly is all worth it to see the work of God first hand and be a part of it.

Pretty soon you and those you serve with realize the demand is greater than the supply. It becomes apparent that as you serve and care for people it is impossible to be as involved in each persons’ journey as you started out being in the beginning. It requires so much time, emotional and even physical energy. So programs and processes are developed in hopes that more people will be served with added efficiency.

It works for a while until efficiency reaches a tipping point where processes begin trumping the actual caring for people. Processes work great for dealing with products or objects as the subject of the process, but it’s much more tricky when the subjects are people. You see people are not as easily controlled or manipulated as products are. People have a choice of what they are subject to. When they are subject to an environment that isn’t providing the love and care they need then they leave to find it elsewhere.

That is the problem I’m describing when I reference “serving” without really caring. Any of us who have served more than a minute in ministry have experienced a moment where it felt more like going through the motions than loving devotion. So how do we overcome the dilemma of serving more people without losing the genuine care?

Well there seems to be a lot of emphasis lately on doing things as part of our serving and our process that can make people “feel” cared for. I understand the intent and admit what I’m about to say might seem picky. But what if instead of thinking about how to make people “feel” cared for we stopped and took the time to understand what it would take for us to get back to actually caring?

What if we challenged more people to step up and care? What if instead of focusing so much on how we can care for more people we focused on how we care more for the people we can? What if instead of only celebrating how many people we churn through our processes we also celebrate the people who become developed and equipped to begin sharing the burden of truly caring for others outside of the processes?

I hope and pray we all can see the eternal implications of how we share Gods love. Feelings are fleeting, but truly experiencing God’s love is eternal. If we’re to be vessels God uses to show His love to others we have to stop acting like we care to make people feel like we do. We have to take action because we care and the truth of God’s love in us will show through. Go read 1 John 3:16-18 and be encouraged to do something heartfelt today. Don’t do it because someone told you to or asked you to or notices what you do. Do it because you simply and truly do care.

Money Management Marathon – Part 3 – Embrace the Present

A first time marathon runner’s account of his experience details how he had to keep his focus on one step at a time to finish the race:

“On the way up this long hill between miles 20-22, I began to see fellow racers struggling. Some of them began to stumble and fall back while others had to drop out completely…”

The runner also stated that he knew there would be another difficult hill between miles 23-25, and he began worrying about whether or not he would be able to make it. As soon as the runner started worrying about what was down the road he started losing focus on taking the steps right in front of him. He recalls zoning out for a period of time:

“I have no idea how I lost the memory of miles 22-24… I finally knew I was going to finish. Until that point, I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not. But, at that moment, I knew, and I was filled with a calm and a joy that only those that have been there can possibly understand. I was going to finish a marathon, and there was absolutely nothing that could stand in my way.”

How was he able to zone out for 2 miles of the race? His training kicked in and he was on autopilot. His discipline was paying off. He also mentioned people who passed him, but all he could do is shrug it off and keep moving forward. He didn’t lose his mind and start trying to keep up with them. He was content to finish the race at his own pace. All he had to do in that moment was take one step at a time – embrace the present.

Managing money almost always feels like a marathon, and the reality of life is the money marathon never really ends until we die. The challenge we all face in finishing well financially is being prepared for the future without worrying in the present. Preparing involves awareness, discipline and contentment. Worrying involves fear.

Matthew 6:25-27 reminds us that we shouldn’t worry about what we have or don’t have now or in the future because it has no bearing on whether or not God will provide what we need to fulfill his purpose for us. All we can control is our discipline, our contentment, and our belief that God will give us at least what we need in the future; that shouldn’t be so hard to believe since we already have what He’s given us to take one step at a time in the present.

What are your worries and fears about the future of your finances?  How do you overcome those worries and fears to continue taking one step at a time?

Money Management Marathon – Part 2 – Embrace Contentment

Every distance runner knows that maintaining pace is critical. Good distance runners know when they should hold their pace steady and when they should push it faster. Based on their countless hours of training they know what their rhythm of energy is and how they perform in varying conditions.

It does no good to push the pace to the first place position only to pass out short of the finish line. Marathon runners know that no matter who is doing better than them or how bad they want to win, finishing the race is more important than how well they place. One of the things I admire about the running community, in general, is the attitude of finishing over winning. If you win, great. If you finish, you’re part of a community that is content with finishing and supportive of one another.

I’m not a great distance runner. My idea of running a race is sprinting 50-100 yards. In school, I played sports that involved sprinting more than pacing. So I’m still trying to get better at distance running.

When I’m on a run or in a distance event with friends I tend to try and compensate for my lack of training by making up time on the downhill sections of a run. They always warn me, “You might think that is a good idea but you’ll realize how much energy you’re spending when you get to the next uphill.” They’re right every single time. I have yet to figure out how to control my pace and build up my endurance to a sustainable level that helps me win, but I’ve learned to be content with finishing.

The way we manage money should be a lot like the way marathon runners manage their pace. We might not have everything we want or do better than anyone else, but we all should be content. There will without a doubt be good times and bad in our finances, and how much it affects us depends greatly on the state of contentment in our mind.

Philippians 4:12-13 teaches us to be content whether we have plenty or not, and that the way we have that contentment is to trust God the provider. The problem is we get ourselves so worked up with wanting more and more for pleasure, comfort, or comparison. We allow the marketing of our consumer driven culture to control our level of peace and contentment with the constant reminders of what we don’t have. This is a struggle for us all W.ether we’re savers or spenders, we never seem to be content with what we have whether it’s savings or stuff.

It’s time to make peace with our own pace and be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5). The best way to increase our contentment here on earth is to increase our belief in and desire for treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

Money Management Marathon – Part 1 – Embrace Discipline

If you’ve ever known someone who has finished a marathon you might have an idea of what extreme discipline looks like. Marathon runners consistently train with high levels of intentional planning and diligence. They begin a training regimen months ahead of a race or event, and they have to stick to the plan to finish the race well.

A few years ago my wife and I ran a half marathon. When we signed up for the event we had a plan to train very consistently and diligently, but along the way my wife got sick. While she wasn’t feeling well we fell off the training regimen and never fully got back on it. Needless to say, race day was painful. We did manage to finish, but not nearly as well as we might have had we persevered through the training. It wasn’t that we finished slow. It was we finished extremely sore.

There are many areas of life that we have to develop discipline for in order to finish well as God calls us to. Hebrews 12:1-11 teaches us to overcome everything that hinders us and to run with perseverance the race set out before us. One of the many challenges of life we have to learn to persevere is managing finances.

Overcoming challenges in our finances is much easier when we train with discipline to manage money according to God’s instructions. Our future performance in the race of life depends on how disciplined we are today. Here are a couple of things we can all do to be more disciplined in how we manage money:

Have a budget, and stick to it. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” This is a simple instruction to have a plan (aka budget). Simply spend less than you make and include giving and saving in the plan. The trick to budgeting is not the math. It’s the discipline.

Give, save, and spend wisely. We all know we’re called to be generous and I believe most of us truly have the desire to be, but so often we fall short in saving and spending wisely and create a cycle of scarcity that hinders our generosity. We can never stress enough the importance of saving and spending wisely. Keep this verse in mind as you practice the daily discipline of saving and spending wisely. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but falls gulp theirs down.” We can’t continue to consume everything we have and not save for whatever God’s future plans for us may hold.

Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” When it comes to finances that righteousness and peace comes in the form of generosity and contentment that are developed over time as we are daily disciplined in our management of money.

How are you doing staying disciplined and sticking to a monthly plan for your finances?

All Inclusive Budget Tool

Today I’m excited to share a new tool with anyone who it might help with the task of managing finances.

Proverbs 21:5 simply states “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” That very clear verse is one of many instructions in the bible that is a basis for our belief that we should have a plan for our finances. It is the basis for budgeting.

I believe one very important detail that is missing from many peoples’ plan is the diligence of tracking the performance of the plan – or the execution. It’s important to know exactly how our plans are working so we know whether or not the plan needs to be tweaked or our behavior needs to be modified. Telling every dollar where to go on paper is only as effective to our financial progress as our actual telling every dollar where to go in reality, and the only way to know if we’re doing a good job is to diligently track that reality. Nothing is more frustrating about financial planning than having a plan and wondering why it isn’t working.  Unless there is a measurement of execution we can’t identify problems with the plan.

There are many tools in the form of softwares or apps available for budgeting and tracking reality. However, many of the people we coach are not using those tools, and when we were hitting rock bottom with our finances we weren’t either. The most effective method of managing financial details for my family and many others has been to simply use a spreadsheet. The only problem is there aren’t many spreadsheets out there that offer a great way to track actual performance along with the budget. For years myself and many other financial coaches using spreadsheets have not had a great way to also coach people to track transactions without referring them to some other app they’re not likely to use. A couple of years ago I posted a solution to this problem, and now it’s getting upgraded, but it is still as simple as a spreadsheet.  Here it is:

All Inclusive Budget Tool (click to download)

There are instructions (that will probably change along the way) inside the spreadsheet. There are extra sheets for tracking debt snowball progress, another for the impact of interest on debt, and others for non-monthly expense planning, and another for mini-budget (special occasion planning). I’ve been calling this an all-inclusive tool because it truly does give most people a place to manage the most common financial details. My hope and prayer is that it serves you well in planning and diligence.

Expressing Conviction Without Casting Condemnation

1 Peter 3-15

More than a decade ago John Maxwell was already saying, “We live in an age of tolerance, where protecting feelings is more highly valued than proclaiming the truth. People look with suspicion upon anyone who desires to influence others to embrace their beliefs.”  Now that observation is more obvious than ever.

Take a look at the media, particularly social media, and how polarizing coverage of any issue has become.  You can’t say or write anything about your belief in anything without it being interpreted as intolerant of someone – racist, sexist, bigot.  Anything you say might be considered a personal attack intended to hurt someone’s feelings.  There is no consideration of the idea that you’re not trying to force your belief on anyone else.  There is no consideration to the idea that you might be merely stating the obvious about something, because if it isn’t politically correct you should not say it at all.  Asking people to consider your point of view, or belief, is not considered civil anymore. 

Somehow anyone with a convicting belief in anything has become categorized a caster of condemnation that must be silenced.  Sometimes those who ride the fence on every issue are the most damning of everyone – ridiculing anyone who speaks up from either side of a topic.  At least the ones who don’t agree have something to disagree on and aren’t just sticking their spoon in the pot to stir up animosity without cause. 

I recently heard a friend say that it takes a certain level of narcissism to speak up about anything – a level of selfish belief that what you have to say should actually be heard.  I have to agree – we all have a level of narcissism that we should be keenly aware of and careful with.  That friend also said the problem with ego isn’t that we all have one it’s that sometimes we forget we have one and it gets out of control.  For those in the middle to be so vocal is probably more narcissistic than the polar opposites to be so intolerant of each others’ point of view.  

Why do we even have “polar” opposites?  Those who can’t share their beliefs without bullying those who don’t adopt it are basically ruining the image of everyone else who does share their belief.  No one is helping anyone consider changing their point of view when everything one says is with a disgustfully hateful tone and attitude.    When we allow the weakness of a few on either side of a conversation to define our perception of everyone in the conversation a divisiveness develops into rampant rage that eventually destroys us all. 

I choose not to participate in such barbaric behavior. When I express a belief my true intention is to offer the opportunity for others to consider that belief and whether they do or don’t is up to them and I don’t love them any differently either way because I believe as Jesus did in loving all people.  Even as he was crucified he didn’t cast insulting comments.  He didn’t reciprocate condemnation for condemnation even when He was fully capable of dealing ultimate damnation.  Instead He simply prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.  

My prayer is that my Christian brothers and sisters will join me in making every effort to be more like Jesus.  To stop participating in the divisive debating that continually corrodes and ever erodes our very ability to behave civilly – to have conversations that challenge us to think deeper than ourselves and force us to deepen our relationship with Christ to dependence on Him rather than mere belief in Him – to have His goodness and greatness far outshine our self righteousness.  My prayer is that we choose words that communicate our conviction without casting condemnation, and that those who hear us out will be able to tell the difference.  

1 Peter 3:15 – “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

New Year 2016

2016

It’s a new year. Actually we’re 14 days into it already. Two weeks out of 52 are complete, and if you’re like me you still feel in some ways like you’re not yet fully recovered from the holidays. Time flies, the great equalizer of all mankind.

Two weeks ago we had all these plans of things we were going to accomplish for the year. Two weeks ago we had all these goals and milestones set, narrowing our objectives down to very specific daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly activities that should get us to where we want to be by the end of the year.

How are we doing? How’s that workout plan going? How’s that budget going? How’s that time management plan going? How are we doing staying on top of all those tasks we set out so vigorously to maintain no matter what this year?

It’s tough! Sometimes it sucks. There are so many distractions and obstacles to overcome in the journey of becoming and accomplishing. Sometimes we have to stop and reevaluate. What is the purpose of this thing I’m doing? Is my plan really reasonable? Is my motive really God centered? Did I even really seek His will about it – what He wants me to become or whether He wants me to accomplish this or that, or by when?

Two weeks in is not too late to take some time to reevaluate, recalibrate, and rejuvenate. What are some things you really need to stop doing, or trying to do? What are some things you really need to start doing, or do them better? What are the things you’re doing to keep your motivation high, your focus narrow, and your actions precise and effective?

We’ve all heard these things before, but somehow we inevitably lose varying portions of the control we set out to have. We have to set time-bound goals, but who are we to put time limits on God’s plans? A great friend of mine once taught me when I was going through a difficult time to turn my frustration in to focus on what God is teaching me and how He is molding me and preparing me for the plans He has for me. That friend taught me to not be discouraged by what has happened in the past or what feels painful in the present, and to embrace the journey of becoming – balancing persistence and patience.

I feel like I’m adopting that mentality a little better all the time, and it certainly makes me see things differently when circumstances aren’t going my way. I believe the future is bright, and regardless of whether or not I perceive otherwise in moments of weakness, I’m counting it all joy knowing that faith produces patience (James 1:2-4).

These are all the things I’m thinking about for myself. It’s time to do a better job strategizing, prioritizing, and initializing. This life is too short not to. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

Merry Christmas 2015!

Just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Asbell Family Christmas 2015

What Stewardship Really Is

It seems to me there’s a misconception about the word stewardship among Christians.  We tend to only think of it as the management of finances according to the Bible.  The truth is finances are really just one area of stewardship.  Money happens to be the area of stewardship that gets the most attention in our culture, and unfortunately we haven’t improved much if any.  Many of us have developed a negative connotation for the word stewardship because we associate it only with giving, or more specifically being asked for something.  But this post isn’t about financial stewardship specifically.  I’ve talked a lot about how financial stewardship is balancing giving, saving, and spending according to God’s word and God’s will for each of us in our relationship with Him.  For this particular post I want to open our minds to the idea that stewardship is about a lot more than just finances – it’s about our total devotion to following Jesus.

First let’s take a look at the definition of the word stewardship.  On dictionary.com the first definition of the word stewardship is:

the position and duties of a steward, a person who acts as the surrogate of another or others, especially by managing property,financial affairs, an estate, etc.”.  

This speaks to why we consider stewardship all about finances or things very directly related to finances.  What I like best about this definition is the clear explanation that a steward is a person “who acts as a surrogate of another or others”.  In other words a steward is a person who manages stuff that belongs to others and does it for others not self.  Nothing in this definition suggests that there is anything in it for the self of the steward.  A steward manages for the benefit of others above self, period.  It’s their duty.

Let’s look at the second definition on dictionary.com:

the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving”

This definition also speaks to the duty, or responsibility, and then adds the word protection.  So a steward manages what belongs to someone else responsibly and even protects it.  Now notice the next part of the definition that says, “something considered worth caring for and preserving.”  This is the part of both definitions that struck me.  A steward manages things worth caring for and preserving.  What are things “considered worth caring for and preserving?”  This is why I don’t believe Godly stewardship is all about money, because God is so much more and blesses us with so much more than just money that we should steward for Him responsibly and protectively.

Time is one resource God blesses us with.  James 4:14-15 warns us to use our time wisely for God’s will.  We only have so much time in this life.  We should be making the best use of our time every day.

Talent is another resource God blesses us with.  Romans 12:4-8 speaks of the abilities God gifts to us and encourages us to use them for Him.

Relationships are also a blessing from God.  Our stewardship of relationships should begin with the family.  Ephesians 5:22-25 speaks to how married couples should steward their relationship.  Ephesians 6:1-4 speaks to how parents and children should treat their relationship.  Then there’s all other relationships we are to steward – our friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.  James 2:8 love your neighbor as yourself.  John 13:34 love one another just as I (God) have loved you.  1 Peter 3:8 love one another, be compassionate and humble.

Influence is another gift God bestows on us to steward for his glory.  Matthew 5:13-16 says we’re the salt of the earth and light to the world to be used for God’s glory.  That’s influence!  I hope you’re starting to see how our thoughts and attitudes about these different areas of stewardship are meant to be interwoven into how we steward our entire life for Christ.

Money of course is the resource we think of most that we all know is intended to be stewarded for God, but it seems we struggle with it the most.  Matthew 6:21 & 24 teach us where our treasure is our heart will follow and we cannot serve both God and money.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that if we value (with our heart) how we’re stewarding the other areas of our life (the non-financial ones listed above) that our treasure (how we manage money) will demonstrate that?  Does it not stand to reason that if we’re struggling to keep this focus in our heart that we might be serving money rather than God?

Let’s talk a little more about how the different areas of stewardship are interwoven…

Time is money – right?  We have to invest time in doing work in order to earn money.  Any time spent serving (working for free – from the goodness of our heart) is a sacrifice of money that could have been earned with that time.  (However, that time is NOT a substitute for giving money.  Far too many Christians are using their sacrifice of time as an excuse to not be obedient and faithful to God’s call to give.)

Time is also invested in developing talent.  Whether it’s going to school or being coached or practicing or all of the above, developing our talent costs us something – usually both time and money.  That talent is then used in the work we do to earn money (or at least it could be).

To build relationships we have to invest time, talent, and money.  It takes time to serve others, talent to perform that service, and the money it costs to sacrifice the time, develop the talent, and bless others through generosity.  1 Timothy 5:8 and 1 John 3:17 challenge us to take care of not only our own family but for anyone we see in need.  In both passages the challenge is presented in the form of questioning whether or not we’re even believers in Christ unless we steward our resources for others.

All three – time, talent, and money – should also be used for the purpose of being a good influence – key word GOOD.  There are way too many stories of resourcefulness being used for selfish, evil, or otherwise bad influence rather than good.  Despite all that bad, God has provided all of us the resources to overshadow all the darkness in the world by doing truly selfless acts of service and generosity.

As more of us steward our influence for good, we naturally develop more and better relationships with those around us.  As more of our relationships are guided by good influence, we become more united – of like-mindedness that is mentioned in 1 Peter 3:8. As more and more people experience God’s goodness working through us, an exponential multiplication of our collective salt and light floods the darkness of this world until no one can ignore or deny the glory of God.

It all starts with each of us stewarding everything we’ve been blessed with for the purpose of spreading the love of Jesus.  All these different areas of stewardship have to work together to make up how we’re stewarding our life.  They’re like cogs in a wheel, and weakness in any one of them is a compromise to all of them.

My prayer for us all is that we’re seeking God’s prompting in any one or more of these areas to know what we need to be doing to serve Him better.  Stewardship is not a way of money alone.  It’s a way of life – following Jesus.