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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.

Finance, Uncategorized

Financial Planning: How to Get Started

I recently promised a series of financial themed posts.  Perhaps I should start with the common-sensical approach of paying off your debt, saving liquid, or ready-cash for emergencies (or opportunities), and a forming realistic budget with money set aside for your investment goals.  But I’m going to assume you’re smart enough to grasp that truth, and move on to HOW to begin laying a good foundation for a Biblical and responsible financial plan.  A GREAT article on how to stop living Paycheck to Paycheck, and start working out the basics of budgeting and planning can be found here.

My worldview on economics is a unique complementary clashing of my previous career as a Financial Advisor, and my experiences of learning to view God as my provision, and not money or a job.  Naturally, I see financial situations as something interesting to figure out, but I also know that many times, there simply is no natural solution, and that God must work things out for us.  And I think you’ll see this reflected in much of what I write as we begin this journey.  And I think that’s a great thing to call it.  I wrote in a previous post about my family’s financial hardships, and we’re just now getting the big pieces back together in our financial plan.  We’re making these financial and investment decisions as I write them . . . so I can’t say for sure what turn these posts will take, but I hope you find them interesting.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who shy away from “investing,” viewing it as a tool of Satan’s influence on the economy, or a testament to man’s prideful ascension to worldly prosperity, at the cost of his soul.  They distrust companies, and assume that either Obama or crooked CEO’s will steal from them whatever they invest.  And while Obama will probably do his best to screw up the economy, I think it’s mostly out his control.  The Bible, itself, tells us that God wishes to us to “lend and not borrow.”  I believe that this is a mandate of God’s view of prosperity – don’t go into debt, invest money in profitable ventures, and give liberally.  Even in the parable of the talents, the master was angry that the wicked servant didn’t at least put the money in the bank to earn interest.  God wants the church today, as he wanted Israel in the Old Testament, to be the center of blessings for the world.

I’m writing this as sort of a beginner’s beginner tutorial.  Basically the same way I’m explaining it to my wife, as we go through the process together.  Whether or not we intend to buy stock, bonds, mutual funds, or some other investment vehicle (more on those in the next post), we need a brokerage account.  This is the “holder” for whatever type of investing you do.  Most types of investments (and all types that we will be considering) can be housed in a typical brokerage account.  There are tons of investment companies out there, and we need to consider a few things to decide which account is right for us.

First of all, there are two options in determining HOW we want to invest.  You can use a Financial Advisor or a trusted Broker, or use a discount service, like ETrade, Scottrade, etc.  There are pros and cons to each, but it boils down to 2 issues:  Are you going to educate yourself on your investments enough, and monitor them closely enough, to go it alone, or do you need a little help?  Since I’ve got a decent amount of investment knowledge, and I want to save on transaction costs on what will initially small investment amounts, we’re using a discount service.  Also of consideration is what type of investing you want to do.  Were we planning on developing a long-term savings, with little trading, we’d probably go Mutual Funds, and probably use a Financial Advisor to find just the right mix of funds for us.  We plan on buying common stocks and being moderately active traders. (Again, in my next post, we’ll be discussing what each type of investment is and which will work for you).  The breakdown follows:

The Financial Advisor

  • Get expert advice on your investments before you put your money into it
  • Benefit of a second pair of eyes watching your investments
  • Professional planning / diversification should help diminish your risks
  • Advice on tax-friendly accounts (IRA’s, Roth’s, etc)
  • Con: Pricey Transaction Fees (up to $35)
  • Con: Unless you have a large amount to invest, some aren’t interested in your business, or won’t give the service you’re paying for
  • Con: Typically push Mutual Funds and managed accounts
  • Con: Guilt (maybe it’s just me . . . but I hate withdrawing money from an account when a Financial Advisor is making his living with it being there)

Financial Advisors can be a mixed bag.  If you get a good one, he or she will make your life and finances much better off.  If you get a bad one, you might as well start a fire and throw your cash in.  Most career advisors are good though, and unless you want to become an expert in market strategy, it wouldn’t hurt to enlist the services of a good one, if you can afford it, or if you have enough money to get their attention.  Avoid insurance products in most cases (insurance and annuities), and be very specific with your advisor about what your goals are.  Also, I strongly recommend asking a LOT of questions.  You’re giving a substantial portion of your net worth to these people, you NEED to know things like:

  • How long have they been in business (steer clear of rookies, who will usually push you towards investments that make them the most money)
  • Do they have a clean U-4 (sort of like a complaint report for financial advisors).  You can see your advisor’s U-4 at the FINRA Broker Check.
  • What types of returns have their clients gotten over the last year
  • What types of clients do they normally service
  • Do they have clients that will give them a recommendation

Using a Financial Advisor can be a great tool in managing your investing.  But just do your homework before you go, and it helps if you check with friends and family and see what their experiences have been.

Going It Alone

Your other option is to basically do your investing on your own, with no insight, other than what you can glean from the news and market publications.  I think it’s a fine idea for 3 people:

  1. Financial Professionals, or people with an advanced understanding of investing principles
  2. People who want a “play” account, with disposable money, that they don’t mind losing.  This would be in addition to a serious “planned” brokerage account
  3. Small-time investors who just want to get started, who may not invest regularly (or invest small amounts very often), and who are concerned with costly transaction fees.

I fall into categories 1 and 3.  And I have the feeling that many of you fall into one of those categories as well.  Investing doesn’t have to be scary.  And you don’t have to pay exorbitant fees to someone because of it.  We’ll be discussing soon how to go about picking your first investment.  But let’s wrap this up with a few choices for opening up your account.

  • Etrade – low cost transactions, $500 minimum account value to open, and a great mobile app with streaming market data make this a very attractive solution.  Also has some professional market tools for reasonable pricing, or available for free to frequent traders.
  • TD Ameritrade – Has great research, and similarly advanced trading tools as Etrade.
  • Scottrade – $7 trades!  Not much else.  Local branches also . . . but why?

Financial Advisors

They come in all shapes and sizes, and some independent ones are better than the big named companies.  Go in with a list of important features for your account.  Want online trading?  Many independents may not provide that.  Also, ask if online trade fees are less than fees if you call and have your broker execute the trade (they should be).

  • Merrill Lynch
  • Ameriprise – very planning focused.  If you need help getting started, I would suggest starting here
  • Morgan Keegan – owned by Regions Bank.  If you’re a Regions’ customer, their bank brokers generally are very good at helping get just the right products for you.  Some interesting online tools are available also.
  • Bank of America – yes, they have investing too.  If you’re a BOA customer, this may be a comfortable place to get started

To finish up, I strongly encourage to not underestimate the importance of WHERE you do your brokerage, despite the fact that you’ll be able to purchase the same things from anywhere.  Do your research to find the right account and service for you.  Meet with a few advisors, to find the one that suits you best, if you choose to use one at all.  And be encouraged that as God blesses you for being a good steward, he will also lead you in making these decisions of what to do with that money.  We prayed together about whether we should invest, and how we should begin doing it.  We went with ETrade because it offers some great tools, decent pricing, and it is a name that we felt most comfortable with.

In closing, I’ll leave you with some places to avoid…despite the fact your high-school drop-out friend might be selling for them:

  • Primerica
  • Woodmen of the World
  • Insurance Agents in general (despite the fact they want you to believe they can do it all . . . just no)
  • World Financial Group and Investment Advisors International

These places typically allow anyone with the money to get licensed to bill themselves as “Financial Advisors” and invest all your money.  Many of them give horrible advice, in order to focus on more costly and illiquid insurance based investments.  World Financial Group is basically an MLM company that sells investments, also.  Chances are, after they’ve taken your money, they’ll also try to convince you to become a “Financial Advisor” as well.  The responsible people working at these companies just distribute canned advice, but some actually believe they’re smarter than career brokers out there, and will sell you all kinds of crap.  Avoid at all costs.

christianity, Uncategorized

A Christian and His Money are Soon . . . ?

I’ve heard it said that Jesus taught more on money than on any other worldly topic.  I haven’t done the research to back up that claim, so I’m not staking my reputation on it, but I do know he has a lot to say about it, so it sounds plausible enough.  Mostly, the New Testament seems to deal with giving, with an implication that God will show his blessings to us if we do that.  Well, “implication” might be too vague of a word . . . “Give and it shall be given unto you, press down, shaken together, and running over shall men give unto your bosom,” is a bit more definite than a mere “implication.”  On the flip-side, we have also find some pretty dire warnings concerning money in the scripture – that the love of it is the root of all evil, and that a fool and his money are soon parted.

I’ve made no secret of the financial hardships that I and my family endured just a few years ago.  I never spoke much of the bad times. . . but they were pretty bad, wreaking havok on our marriage, and bringing us, and me in particular, to our knees (finally.)  And God delivered us in ways that could only be described as miraculous . . . practically giving us a house and property for next to nothing (seriously . . . our house payment is half of what my last car payment was), and bringing us to a place where, although we still have a pretty tight budget, we can pay all of our bills on time.  16 months of unemployment makes you appreciate little things like that.  One question that went through my mind all the time was something along the lines of, “Why are you doing this to me God?!  I pay my tithes, I’ve given . . . I live my life for you, and they’re coming to repo my car tomorrow!”  I got pretty angry.  And attempted, in vain, to try to make something happen for myself . . . improve my life on my own.  God, again, didn’t allow me to do that, and everything I tried came crashing right down around me.  I got pretty bitter . . . and then, with my pride and ego finally broken, I asked a life-changing question:  “God, please show me the sin in my life that is bringing this destruction on me.  Please show me where I’m wrong.”

And I saw the truth:  a fool and his money really are soon parted.  I had the idea in my head that being a “good steward” of the money God gave me meant that I had to pay my tithes . . . give every once in awhile, when I felt like, and . . . well . . . and that’s pretty much it.  Otherwise, I lived my life for 3 things:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Now, saying those words brings to mind all kinds of debauchery that was simply not the case with me.  I spent my money . . . and when I ran out, I just used credit cards.  If I wanted something, I got it.  I withheld myself from nothing.  Expensive clothes, the coolest new gadgets, top of the line computers, the nicest apartments in town.  Those things are fine, I suppose, if God has blessed you with the income to acquire them in a financially and spiritually responsible way.  I just used credit cards.    I made decent money, but not enough.  I occasionally felt guilty . . . or at least stressed . . . to have so much debt.  But when I got it paid down some, I just charged it right back up again, as soon as there was space to buy something I wanted.  God HAD to bring me to a place where I couldn’t depend on my job, credit, or anything else for provision . . . only Him.  And while it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, it was the most profitable.

I’ve said before that I find myself defending a “prosperity gospel” that I don’t totally agree with, in order to the defend a truth that I do believe in: Biblical teachings on prosperity.  I think we’ll find that if we’re handling money in unGodly or irresponsible ways, God can’t bless that.  But while a fool and his money are soon parted, a Christian will find that he and God’s money are quickly drawn together.  I’ve found myself recently pretty disheartened with my job, when promised raises and benefits didn’t materialize.  But when I began to give freely to God, and trust in him for my provision, I can honestly say I’ve been pretty shocked to see money coming in, business projects coming in, and God’s provision working in my life.  I’m not rich, and may never be, but I know, KNOW, now that I never have to worry again about making ends meet.  God provides for those of us who follow him in our money, as well as our lifestyle.

On that note, I’m pretty excited to have a whole string of posts about finances and financial planning coming out soon.  Before my current position, I was a financial advisor for several years, and have real practical knowledge about finance (my degree is in Finance, by the way), as well as many more hard-learned lessons about managing our finances in Godly ways (still learning!).  And who knows…maybe I’ll even make them into their own blog soon.

Church, Living for Jesus, Uncategorized

Where Are All the Kids Going?

I recently read a great article at the Christian Post relating the findings of a survey studying how many young people we’re losing from our churches, and the possible reasons behind it.  I have to say, I agree mostly with what is being said, but I think they only skim across some of the most important issues.  Things that a survey may not be able to find.  As one of the rare 20-somethings in church (although I’m only 20-something for one more year 🙁 ) I think I have a pretty decent understanding of where my generation has fallen away, because I’ve seen my friends among the fallen.

The fact is, we are bleeding.  Most mainstream denominations have shown a decrease in membership over the last decade, or so.  It’s a problem across evangelical Christianity.  With the exception of Non-Denominational Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, who seem to show slight growth, the body of Christ is growing older and older.  A few problems we can see evident from the survey:

According to ARG’s survey, 95 percent of 20- to 29-year-old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. Only 55 percent went to church during high school. And by college, only 11 percent were still attending church.

We’ll discount the 5% of children not attending church regularly, for now, because we must also assume that their parents don’t attend church regularly, and since 10 year olds can’t drive . . . well, enough said.  Only 55% of teens attend church regularly during high school?  Problem #1 is evident: the parents have failed, and failed miserably, in raising their children to serve God.  In my upbringing, I wasn’t allowed to not attend church.  When I started looking for a part-time job at 16, I wasn’t allowed to get a job that interfered with church.  My parents, following a Biblical principle, trained me to put God and church first, and that God would bless and honor that sacrifice, and when I was older, I did not depart from that.  If the Bible is always true, and we must assume that it is, we have that promise from God.  Simply “giving up” on your kids’ souls and allowing them to stay at home and not attend church as teens (still children) is tantamount to burning the scriptures in front of them.  We reinforce a wordly and sinful mindset: “If salvation was as necessary, God as good, Heaven as sweet, and Hell as real as the Bible says it is, then why would Mom and Dad just let me stay at home?  It must be just some good moral teachings, and not real.”  Who wouldn’t think that if raised up that way?  We make them take baths, brush their teeth, study, get good grades, don’t eat too much junk food, etc etc. . . all great lessons that are necessary for life and health and wellbeing, but we shy away from making them attend church?  We’ve started the problem there.

The article rightly goes into poor teaching in Sunday School, and the concept of teaching Bible “Stories” . . . a term I’ve always had a problem with.  Sunday School is a great place to teach the foundations of faith, apologetics, why we believe what we believe.  But instead it focuses on the seeker sensitive trends of relationships, emotional issues, morality, and “stories from the Bible.”

All of these are great pieces of the puzzle, the the parental lack of concern for their children’s souls is the largest piece, but I think the article misses the largest over-arching problem – our kids have never had an EXPERIENCE with God.  It’s my experiences with God that I turn to when I go through seasons of doubt, trial, and even disbelief.  There are tons of theories questioning everything about the Bible – if I’m going through a bad situation in life, and feel discouraged, there are plenty of people telling me that I can turn from God, because he may not even be there anyway.  But it’s the experiences I had, and many of the most important ones were as a teenager, that keep me in the body of Christ.  I was blessed enough to attend a church that moved its youth group from a fun / game -centered experience to a place for teens to encounter God, and have Him work in their lives.  But the trend is the opposite.  I see youth “ministries” with X-Boxes, Playstations, sports, games, and FUN FUN FUN, but very little Jesus.  They don’t want to “turn kids off,” and want to give them a “positive” place to come and have fun and fellowship.  Fun and fellowship is great, but should be a secondary concern.  Will youth groups shrink if the focus shifts from super fun awesome times to Jesus?  Sure.  But if 50 kids leave, and 1 child comes to Jesus as a result, I think it’s worth it.

I feel that Youth Pastors’ success is judged on the size of their youth groups, many times, instead of things like how many kids get saved, or how many kids are involved in ministry.  That’s such a tragic mistake.  And I’ve met tons of youth pastors who have the spiritual depth and Biblical knowledge of a Lebanese child who has only heard the name of Jesus as a by-word in conversation.  They’re focused on nurting emotions, at best, and on just playing games, and being a kid for the next 10 years, at worst.  They are far from spiritual role models who exude holiness and righteousness as a lifestyle to look up.  Quick question:  Have any of you met a youth pastor (or pastor for that matter) who can come close to being able to say, as Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ?”  Me either.

While the responsibility for raising Godly children rests on parents, ultimately, I believe a major shift can happen to reverse this trend if churches would change their youth ministries to focus on giving teens an experience with God, instead of just a fun time.  Those experiences will guide them back to the faith, if they leave.  God called it the incorruptible seed, which gets planted in them.  The games, rock concert services, and worldly mentalities are just turning kids off to Jesus, if not the youth group.  Jesus said if he is exalted, he will draw all men unto him.

Problem solved.