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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).

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.

Ambition Fueled by God

One of my favorite authors of all time, Zig Ziglar, says, “ambition, fueled by compassion, wisdom, and integrity, is a powerful force for good. It will turn the wheels of industry and open the door of opportunity for you and countless thousands of other people. But fueled by greed and the lust for power, ambition is a destructive force that ultimately does irreparable damage to the individual in its grasp and to the people within its reach.”

Why do we want that promotion or raise? Do we want the added authority or income for greedy ambition or is our motivation truly for good ambition?

Where does such compassion, wisdom, and integrity come from? For me it comes from following Jesus.

The bible teaches us that whatever work we set out to do to do it as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). It also teaches us not to be greedy and power hungry (Pilippians 2:3) and that we can’t serve both God and money at the same time (Matthew 6:24).

Any work we do might be because we need money. But it doesn’t have to be fueled by that. If we’re truly doing it as unto the Lord then it can be fueled by compassion, wisdom, and integrity while simultaneously providing income. But if it is fueled by money alone it can lead to greed and power struggle which leads to the destruction mentioned earlier.

So one lesson in this is to remind ourselves to constantly consider – how do we keep the proper perspective in whatever we’re doing to make sure our posture is that we’re doing it as unto the Lord rather than as unto selfish desires?

Sometimes we hate the work we’re doing and this can be a good reminding word of encouragement that we’re not doing it for our happiness. We’re doing it in pursuit of Gods holiness and His purpose for our lives. When we truly do that and believe God to guide our direction we can be used in unexpected ways or even see unexpected opportunities come our way. Open your eyes to see how God uses you right where you’re at. How can you do that well one day at a time, starting today?

A New Ministry Opportunity

If you’ve read much of anything on here before you know by now that I’m very much in to Christian ministry.  I committed my life to Jesus at an early age while growing up as a preachers kid, and I’ve been involved in ministry in various capacities ever since.  Doing ministry is just part of who I am.  I even wrote a little bit about the book “God at Work” that means so much to me because it explained this drive inside me to do work for God in any or many vocations.

Since 2008, I’ve been involved with the financial coaching ministry at my home church, and during that time I had the opportunity to help start a business that teaches biblical personal finance.  I also wrote a little e-book “God Centered Finances” about a balanced perspective on Biblical personal finance.  All of that came about as part of the journey with my (and my wife – we are one) own financial struggle that I’ve learned so much from and love to share with others.  There are other topics and experiences I feel burdened to address for the purpose of ministry too, like marriage and leadership, but the burden to minister about financial stewardship continues to be where I believe God uses me the most.

The newest chapter of the ministry journey is an opportunity to join the Clayton King Ministries (CKM) speaker team.  It is such an honor to have an opportunity to do ministry with this amazing group I’ve grown to know and love.  I certainly do not feel worthy, but I am definitely more than willing.  That is all God needs.  With willingness He can use anything for His divine purpose.

The reason for sharing this update is to ask for your prayers as I seek to serve the Lord well in these next steps of ministry.  God is good, and the best is yet to come.

Rejoicing

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Natural inclinations – weak, short sighted, selfish, human. In moments when situations and circumstances are great we rejoice, and maybe give some credit where it’s due (thanks to God). In seasons of difficulty, when the proverbial poop is hitting the fan, we tend to be angry, confused, and fearful.

Emotion clouds our judgement and leads to thoughts and actions that are far from the rejoicing we’re taught about in 1 Thessalonians. It isn’t unreasonable to believe that the further we are from rejoicing the further we are from God’s will.

As I reflect on the circumstances of the difficult season my family has been through recently I realize the fruit of going against the natural inclination, the fruit of rejoicing instead of worrying, questioning, or being frustrated. We’ve experienced an outpouring of support spiritually, emotionally, physically, and financially. God has worked through everyone around us to prove faithful to His promises to never leave us and never forsake us, to be our source of strength, and to provide our every need. For all those things we are humbly and overwhelmingly grateful.

None of those things are the fruit of rejoicing though. What if we didn’t experience all those wonderful things, or if none of it happened in our expectation of time, or if we didn’t have the wisdom to recognize or acknowledge them when they happened? Would we rejoice anyway? The fruit of rejoicing is not what we’re getting or experiencing when things are good, and it’s not whatever we’re hoping to eventually have or experience when things are bad. The fruit of rejoicing is… Joy. Do you have it?

Life Is Too Short

Life is too short for lots of things, and lately I’m overwhelmed with that reality.  There’s always something worse to imagine going through than what we’re currently experiencing, and those thoughts might help us cope, but when we’re going through anything tough it can be a harsh reminder to do more…living.

March 26th is normally a wonderful day of celebration for my wife’s, Shawna, birthday.  But this March 26th will forever be marked as the date we lost a very close loved one – our brother (in-law), David Butts.  We are crushed with devastation, and our hearts ache deeply for our sister, Lenae, and their three boys, Gauge, Gavin, & Garen.  No matter how hard we try to love on them and no matter how bad we want to ease their pain, there is nothing we can do to bring David back or replace his love and relationship in their lives.

So many thoughts cross our minds as we think back on our time with David.  We should have ____ more.  The list of things to fill that blank with is endless, and the list of people we could try to fill the blank with is endless.  But life is also too short to try filling that blank with too many things, and it is definitely too short for trying to fill that blank with the wrong people.

As I reflected on that life truth in the days following David’s passing, I thought and prayed that I would live life to the fullest, that I would pursue God’s plan for me – for every relationship, moment, decision.  I live with the attitude that there is always room for improvement, for becoming – whatever we’re becoming.  (I even eluded to that in my talk at David’s memorial service because I believe David was living that way too, whether he knew it or not.)

One area of life I’ve struggled with for years is career.  I’ve known for quite some time that something needs to change.  I’ve felt a calling to something more.  I’ve had opportunities to do things that have helped me develop many skills and qualities.  But I’ve failed to make any significant changes in career path – mostly due to fear of financial failure.  Having these thoughts after our devastating loss I became full of determination to make my existing path look brighter or find another path,  I literally put on my to-do list, “plan talking points for (boss name) – something has to change”.

Before I even got a chance to schedule that conversation, and only a week after the devastating phone call about David’s death, I received another devastating phone call.  It was the boss letting me know that his company, that I’ve loyally served for 11 years, is going out of business.  This came as a complete shock to me because as far as I knew everything was going ok – not great but better than average so far this year for me and for the company too, so I thought.  It doesn’t matter though – the company is closing regardless of the reason, and I am left looking for a job.

Timing can seem crazy, but I believe it’s God’s plan.  Losing my job 8 days earlier might have freaked me out, but that perspective is different when receiving the news on the heals of losing a brother.  Don’t get me wrong – it sucks.  It’s like being kicked while you’re down, but I keep it in perspective by reminding myself it is nothing compared to living in a country where real threats exist – like lions or drug lords.

Apparently, God’s plan is not to stay on the path I was on or to try and fix something that was obviously broken – more than I even realized.  The question now is what exactly is the plan.  I’m completely open and willing to do anything.  Of course, there are certain things that might make more sense than other things but since when did everything God plans for us make sense to us?  No – I’m not limiting my options only to what makes sense.

I’m talking to anyone and everyone.  I’m open to anything.  It’s not all about how much money I can make, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of either.  It’s not all about working for the best company, but I don’t want to be with a losing organization either.  When it’s all said and done I want to be somewhere I feel challenged to continue growing personally, somewhere that wants more out of my qualities than the dollars I can produce, somewhere the people are valued, respected, and trusted, somewhere relationships are genuine and professional, and somewhere family and friends relationships are valued and encouraged.

When I say I’m talking to anyone, I do mean anyone.  I could do pretty much anything.  I’ve done corporate, small business, and ministry work.  I’ve worked in manufacturing process and supply chain management.  I’ve done print industry sales and account management.  I’ve taught and done public speaking.  I’ve overseen web projects, social presence, and other marketing.  I’ve done writing projects.  I’ve lead and managed and participated in team building.  I’ve done finances, forecasting, and strategy.  I love learning, and I love to be challenged.

So, I’m not limiting myself to one particular industry or ministry.  I’m looking for professional challenge, personal growth, and great relationships.  If there’s one thing I have learned from my brother David, it is that life is too short for anything less than…living.

Everyone Is a Leader

In basically every corner of culture there’s talk of ‘leadership’ this and ‘leader’ that, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the context, motives, and attitude.  I think I’ve hinted around my thoughts about ‘leadership’ on here before, but in this post I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  EVERYONE is a leader.

We’ve all heard some form of the phrase “the life he/she is leading”.  There you go – we’re all LEADING a life.  In my opinion the greatest authority on the subject of leadership is John C. Maxwell.  He says that the most difficult person to lead is yourself.  That principle makes all of us a leader of at least one – self.

The greatest lesson my parents taught me about leadership is “lead by example”.  They took every opportunity they got to tell me, “remember who you are”, and, “lead by example”.  I always took that from them to mean, “follow God’s word and be who he’s prompting you to be; and follow the example we’ve set for you, and set that example for others no matter what others are doing”.   My parents aren’t perfect, but they’re darn good people.  I feel the same way about my wife’s parents.  Of course we have our differences from our parents, but generally speaking they are some amazing examples to follow.

If you’re a terrible leader of yourself it doesn’t matter what your position is, who you know, who else is following you, what you know, or what you’re doing.  People might be following what you’re doing regardless of whether or not they truly know you, but your leadership is limited to how much people trust that the image you portray is truly the example you live for those who do really know you.  I pray every single day for wisdom and discernment with that trust, and that I steward well any trust others have in me.

Everyone has a self to lead, and how well we lead that self is the greatest indicator of our strength (aka character) as a leader (aka person).  Are you an example worth following?

 

Standing Up to Bullies

It seems bullying is getting a lot of attention these days. We’ve experienced it a little with our kids. The whole idea of bullying wasn’t getting so much attention wayyy back when I was a youngster, but it’s not like bullying is a new thing.

I think the biggest problem is kids aren’t being taught to stand up for what is right. We’re teaching our kids tolerance of everything and then wondering why no one stands up to the bullies of the world. We model for our kids an unwillingness to stand up for ourselves or someone else because of the fear of what our actions might cost us.

The root of this problem, and many other problems in life, is selfishness. The bully is a selfish person, obviously, and I don’t want to get in to all the possible reasons why.  The bottom line is bullies, and lots of other types of narcissist behaviors, all boil down to being selfish.

But isn’t it just as selfish to be aware of bullying and fail to address it? The right thing to do would be to try and stop the bullying. But we’re more concerned about what doing the right thing might cost us than we are about doing the right thing. We’re willing to sacrifice a lifetime of building the character and integrity it takes to do the right thing more than we are willing to sacrifice whatever temporary consequences another person can inflict upon us. This self-preserving mentality is passed on to our kids and they either get bullied or ignore someone else getting bullied, so bullying continues.

There’s a saying, “Nice guys finish last”, and I believe the reason that proves true is because there aren’t enough generally good and nice people willing to stand up for what is right and get back up when a bully knocks them down. What do we have to be afraid of? I’d rather die a torturous death and still have some character and integrity intact than watch bullies beat everyone down my whole life and do nothing about it.

I hope I’m teaching my kids to do what is right no matter the cost.