Living for Jesus

When you can’t catch a break

[Egypt] shall be the lowliest of kingdoms; it shall never again exalt itself above the nations, for I will diminish them so that they will not rule over the nations anymore. No longer shall it be the confidence of the house of Israel, but will remind them of their iniquity when they turned to follow them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord God.

Ezekiel 29:15-16

There are seasons we go through in life where God ensures that we do not learn to rely on others, or even his own blessing and provision, as a crutch or a place of help.  He wants our trust in him.

This is especially concerning when the thing we trust in is our job, our skills, and ability in ourselves to provide an income and provide for our families.  When God began judging Israel, he also began to strike down places Israel had relied on and depended in.

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve been following God for years. A faithful tither. Faithful to help, teach, and volunteer in your church.  You pray and study the Bible daily.  In return, you have personally seen the hand of God blessing you. At work, you do your best to live as a witness of Jesus. You work hard, and try to show Jesus in how you work.  The attitude of bosses and supervisors toward you clearly testify that God has placed His favor on you.  You receive raises, and regularly are recognized as a primary contributor to success.

And then something changes.  Like Elijah with the ravens, your brook has dried up.  What was a blessing and a help, has now turned on you.  The places you looked to…the way you have served God…the blessings that have always been there…absent.  If you’re like me in this situation, you just try harder.  You pray more, give more, do more.  You try to squeeze more out of the places that have always been there.  The harder you press on, the more around you turns to dust. You may even see your employers finances turn bad. No raises – maybe even a layoff! Your spiritual mentors may even be incapable of guiding you in the right way.

Israel was in the same boat – the prophets they had trusted in told them to stay and fight.  They had always been able to rely on Egypt as an ally and partner in business and battle.  But in the scripture above, God actually began prophesying destruction on Egypt.

Can you imagine?  Where could they turn? The prophets were no help. Allies were dropping like flies.  They were helpless. Alone.  But God had clearly given them instructions.  They just were unwilling to follow them, because all that God had provided felt so much more stable.

And there was their sin… God will destroy even the work of his own hands if we rely on that instead of Him.  From my own experience, I encourage you – trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit. Don’t trust in all the things God has blessed you with.  He will judge it.  And He will win.  Make the jump to run after God.

How do you know?  If you’re trusting in the things, it’ll be extremely hard and scary.  Go for it.  Don’t take all of Egypt down with you, just because they had the misfortune of being the place you relied on.  

Uncategorized

Book Review: “Green” by Ted Dekker

Green is the final book in a multi-colored series by Ted Dekker that I’ve been wanting to read for some time now.  According to the publisher, “This is Book Zero, the Circle Reborn, both the beginning and the end. The preferred starting point for new readers . . . and the perfect climax for the countless fans who’ve experienced Black, Red, and White.”  They’re marketing this as a good starting point for new readers, and on that count, I can say without doubt, that it failed miserably.  I have not read the previous books in the series, and it was only about the last 100 pages that I really had some meaningful grasp of what in the world was going on.  The basics you’re given, but there was so little explained, and what was explained was done in a way that really interrupted the story line.  It sounds like a great idea – creating a circular series . . . but it seemed like it was pieced together as such as an afterthought.  And the absolutely horrible ending only reinforces that notion.

On a positive note, Ted Dekker can certainly write a page turner.  If I just shut my brain off to all of the glaring plot holes and ridiculously flawed logic, it was fun.  And despite the fact that I was almost certainly offended by the possibly heretical ideas that fueled the story-line, it kept me involved in the story, and actually illustrated some real spiritual truths in a way that I found very surprising.  This is a baby and bath-water scenario, and I think that overall it’s worth a read.  And while it may not be totally necessary to read, The Circle Trilogy, Black, Red, and White in advance, I heartily recommend it.

Uncategorized

Barna: Jesus’ Health Care Plan Would Include Everyone

One of my biggest pet peeves is people bringing in the religious trump card: “Jesus supports my politics!” into a political debate.  Look at what George Barna has to say:

Popular Christian pollster George Barna weighed in on the health care debate this week, asserting that Jesus would support universal coverage.

Looking at the Bible for guidance, Barna wrote that he found stories of a Jesus who healed hundreds of people who were poor and suffering. Whether the people believed in Him or not, Jesus had no condition to healing someone who was sick.

“You can describe Jesus’ health care strategy in four words: whoever, whatever, whenever, wherever,” wrote Barna in an editorial.

Jesus confronted illnesses and problems from paralysis and leprosy to demon possession and death. And he asked his followers to also heal others to put into action their love and compassion for those in need.

“Often, those whom He healed did not thank Him, and He was never paid for his medical care – but He healed them regardless, because it enabled Him to love those who lacked hope,” he said.

Based on the Bible stories, Barna said the health care strategy exemplified by Jesus called for “people to help people.” But if God’s people fail to serve others in need, then he suggested they support the government, which is “acting as a national safety net,” to run programs to help the needy.

But ultimately, it is God’s people, or collectively the Church, who are responsible for caring for the poor and sick, Barna maintained. He applauded Christian efforts to set up medical clinics, pregnancy centers and hospitals in the country.

“Imagine what an impact the Church would have on society if it truly reflected the model Jesus gave us of how to care for one another!”

The Christian pollster said he was prompted to write the editorial because surveys continually show that Americans are struggling to figure out what to think about health care reform. In the editorial, he looked at specific accounts in the New Testament that guides Christians on how to view the poor and deal with people’s medical needs.

On the Web: http://www.barna.org/

Seriously?  Barna should know better.  God is above politics and squabbling.  JESUS wouldn’t be for the health care plan . . . Jesus would just go miraculously heal people.  And unless the Obama Administration has THAT little trick up their sleeve, I don’t believe you can compare the two.  Yes, the Church is called to care for the poor, sick, needy, widows, and etc.  Yes we have failed miserably at that task.  Yes the health care system is in serious need of reform, and people on both sides of the aisle can agree on that.  But claiming Jesus is involved in this political nit-picking, and that he is on Obama’s side?  That’s jumping the shark, Mr. Barna.

Next, I’m imagining Mr. Barna will be encouraging us to worship Obama as the Messiah himself.  After all, Jesus is already supporting, him… maybe he IS Jesus!!!!?!?!?!?!

Posted via web from caseyp’s posterous

Uncategorized

Finishing Up: WordPress MU and Your LAMP Server

Months ago, I chronicled my battle with setting up my own web server, and installing WordPress MU to setup this site. I walked through all the problems and solutions I discovered, and from what I’ve heard back, I at least helped a couple people along the way. A few nagging issues remained, however. WordPress is a pretty straight-forward installation, but WPMU is a rather unwieldy beat, by comparison, especially for someone who was only comfortable editing small details in a file to tweak someone else’s theme.

The community around WPMU is very different than WordPress. I was used to combing through hundreds of themes, and finding the ones I liked. Finding plugins to do literally anything in the world. And with WPMU, it’s difficult to find much for the site as a whole, and compatibility is an issue for typical plugins from regular WordPress. Luckily, I stumbled across WPMUDev.org. They have a compilation of tons of free plugins, but the real magic happens for your site with the Premium account. The collection of WPMU plugins on the free site are nice, and there are several worth having, but they suffer the same fate as many WP plugins in that some are seldom updated, and poorly supported. WPMUDev Premium, however, offers a smaller number of extremely high-quality plugins that can quickly transform your site into the feature-rich offering you want it to be. They have a package of themes for your users, and several themes to choose from when developing the difficult-to-make home page.

And let’s be honest . . . the home page is the part of WPMU that makes people throw up there hands and forget all about their projects.  WPMU Premium plugins make everything from Avatar-enabled site wide feeds, to custom branded admin areas, and everything in between as easy as popping in a plugin and a widget.  Stomaching the $79 monthly fee is something that is difficult to grok the value of immediately, especially if you’re into the open-source WP Plugin world.  But if you’re serious about developing a top-of-the-line site, I don’t see a better or more efficient way to do it that using WPMU.  Plus, they’re professionally supported, and don’t end up not updated for the latest version of WPMU.

We use most of their premium plugins on this site in one manner or another, but the few you simply MUST have for any WPMU site are:

christianity, Finance, Uncategorized

Mixing Faith and Business

Whether you’re attempting to witness to your frustrated waitress or deciding how to run a “Christian Business,” when, where, and how to mix your faith with business affairs is a sticky subject for a lot of people.

no_witnessing_allowedA few years ago, the Lovely Wife and I were unloading some of our kid’s old toys and clothes on eBay.  We had gotten a pretty slick system down, and generally made more at it than we would have at a rummage sale.  We tried a few times to find sources of other cheap stuff to resale on eBay, but we just never got the situation working quite that smoothly.  The Lovely Wife, during this time, had a great idea: including a CD of a message from our church in the shipment for free.  We had tons of CD’s from our church laying around that we had accumulated over the years, so it was sort of like cleaning AND spreading the Gospel!  That’s what I call a Win-Win Scenario.

After we ran out of appropriate CD’s, we told our church what we were doing, and they started giving us free copies of a simple message on how to be saved, and what it means to be a Christian.  These got included in every shipment with a simple note: “Thanks for your business!  Please enjoy this CD as our ‘Thank You’ Gift!”  All in all, over 150 CD’s got sent out, to a generally decent reception.  However, we got a pretty angry email back once, from a “Christian” of all people.  I have long since lost the email, but I’ll reproduce it here as best as I remember:

Dear Seller,

I did receive the CD, but I did not listen to it.  I am a Christian, and I believe that it’s people like you who give us a bad name.  I just wanted to order some clothes, not be preached to.  This is a business transaction, and God has no place in it.

Now, you might think I’m wording it more strongly than it originally was, but as I recall, it was just that terse.  This “Christian” was angry and deeply offended at our attempts to share our faith in what we, at least, believed was a safe and non-confrontational way.  It begs the question “WHEN, if not in the course of normal human interactions, is the appropriate place to share one’s faith?!”  She apparently strongly believed it should be kept in the 4 walls of the church house.

I’m assuming here that the crux of her argument rests on her assertation that God has no place in business.  I think that’s a pretty hard argument to make, Biblically, as we can see that God routinely blessed the business affairs of his servants.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all greatly blessed in their livestock and produce.  I believe we’re called by God to be salt and light to a dark and dead world.  Many times, if not most of the time, the most meaningful of these interactions happen in our normal daily affairs.  I think it’s a testament to our integrity if we “show Christ” by the way we conduct business.

So I’ve made a little list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that you are free to add to:

DO:

  • Be watchful of God-ordained opportunities.  Business is done by people.  And those people may be hurting or just in need of a friend who truly cares.  Sometimes the opportunity is available and appropriate to minister during your business conversation.  It may be as simple as letting them know you care, or it may be an opportunity to share the Gospel with them.
  • Be mindful of the other person’s situation.  A stressed waitress on Saturday night probably cares a good deal more about a nice smile and a generous tip than the tract you leave her.  The Lovely Wife and I have had a hanful of opportunities during slow business days to discuss God with a waiter or waitress, but we were short and courteous, offering to talk more later, and inviting them to church.  We leave much larger tips than normal on these occasions.
  • Ask for a time to talk again.  If the topic of God comes up (and why wouldn’t it, you talk about other things in your life), it’s okay to ask for a time to discuss your beliefs in greater detail.  Something like, “I can’t believe we’ve worked together all this time and I’ve never really shared with you what I believe.  I know you’re busy, can we get together some time and talk?”
  • Run your business in a Christ-centric way.  I’m not saying slap every customer in the face with a Bible.  But allow your convictions and Christian Ethics to be the guiding factor in all business dealings.  Many of the Bible’s teachings have very practical every-day applications, and this is a great place for them.  Be generous, not greedy.  Give freely to your community, because they’re the ones that keep you in business.  Never respond with a harsh word, but in kindness.
  • Share your faith when appropriate, and back it up with the previous “DO.”  We’re the keepers of the most important truth in the universe, and tasked with sharing it with the world.  I typically feel it’s better to err on the side of over-sharing, than under-sharing.  The most important thing is that if you do, you must portray Christ to your customers, vendors, and everyone else in all of your dealings.

DON’T

  • Be a jerk.  And there are tons of ways that self-righteous people find to be jerks.  Leaving a tract instead of a tip, interrupting the normal flow of business for someone to make sure they know just how badly they need Jesus, etc, etc.  The Golden Rule is a great guideline here.  And if you present yourself as a Christian, you HAVE to show the love of Christ in everything you do, whether that means giving an extra tip, or great service.
  • Use Jesus as a marketing tool.  I think former Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee is a great example of this “DON’T,” with his ad with a giant cross in the background.  Tacky and tasteless.  Businesses advertising themselves as “Christian businesses” just turn my stomach, and are typically far from what you would expect from a Christian business.  They typically charge higher prices, and offer less service, just from what I’ve seen.  Unless it relates to the business itself (i.e. Christian Counselling, Christian Book Store) let your actions speak, not your business cards.
  • Preach.  While there are many appropriate times to share your faith with someone in a business setting.  These are typically conversational, where it’s done with a heart of love and a listening ear.  Under most circumstances, it’s probably best to keep the sermonette on the Blood of Christ for an after-hours conversation.  If you’re the business person, you’re on someone else’s time.  If you’re the customer, the other person is on their boss’s clock.  You have to be respectful of that.

We’re called to show the truth and love of Jesus everywhere we go?  How do you do that in your everyday life?  Feel free to add to my list!

Uncategorized

Getting Started with Financial Planning, Part Deux

Before we move along to picking investments, I wanted to make a brief follow-up to my previous post.  While picking your brokerage company is very important, equally important is understanding the types of accounts that are available to you, from a tax perspective.  What we will be discussing in this series is a traditional brokerage account.  However, there are other tax-deferred and tax-preferred accounts that may be more appropriate for you, or that you may want to use in conjunction with a basic brokerage account.

This is not a comprehensive essay on tax implications and strategies, but is merely a starting point for your consideration in choosing the right account for you.  Of course, you should consult your tax professional before making any drastic changes to your finances.

Traditional Brokerage

  • No tax deduction for investments
  • You pay capital gains tax when you sell your investment (assuming you made money on it)
  • You pay income tax on dividends (annual payments made to stockholders by the company you own)

Tax Defferred

  • These come in several forms:
    • IRA’s – Limited to $3,000 per year investment for most investors
    • 401(k) – only available through your employer
    • College Saving’s Plans – self-explanatory (this may qualify for tax-free dispersal…talk to an advisor about these before you sign up)
    • A hodge-podge of options for Small Businesses, public employees, and Self-Employed people that we won’t discuss here
  • Invested money is tax-deductible (reduces your taxable income)
  • Penalty-Free withdrawals start at age 59 1/2.
  • You may incur penalties with early withdrawal
  • All withdrawals are taxable at your current income tax rate (in the year it’s withdrawn)
  • Basic premise is that you reduce you save on taxes now, and pay income tax on the money as you take it out during retirement, which will theoretically be when you are in a lower tax bracket, thereby saving on your tax burden

Tax Preferred

  • A rather generic term for vehicles like:
    • Roth IRA’s – similar investment limits as IRA’s
    • Roth 401(k) – Pretty rare, although they’re becoming more popular
  • You get no tax deduction for investing, but your income comes out tax-free
  • No tax on growth or dividends
  • Must be 59 1/2 to withdraw penalty-free
  • Premise is that you may make more money later in life, resulting in a higher tax bracket, or taxes may go up (hey, it’s a liberal administration…it’s bound to happen) and that  you’re better off shouldering a tax burden now, while you have plenty of other deductions, like business expense, mortgage interest, college loans, etc, than later in life when you will likely not have those deductions

A truly comprehensive financial plan for life goals and retirement might include money going into each of these.  If you’re just getting started, pick the one you find most accessible, and that meets your goals.  Keep in mind that most 401(k) accounts do not allow you to invest in the market as you choose, but limit you to a selection of funds approved by your company and their brokerage provider.  We’re also not going to touch on employer-directed accounts, like pensions, here . . . since who gets those anymore to begin with?  And they basically don’t matter . . . since if you’re lucky enough to have one, you can’t do much with it anyway.  Stick around for the next post in this series, discussing basic types of investments.