Watch Your Words – 8 Important Questions

Watch Your Words – 8 Important Questions

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

A few months ago a representative from a local organization called me. She was very interested in having me perform for one of their events. She expressed how she was touched by my story in a recent edition of Christian Living Magazine. Our conversation ended with her wishing “Blessings!” upon me. Little did I know what road those good intentions would take me on. Watch your words got real. (more…)

Money & Fear: 5 Steps To Emotional Recovery

Money & Fear: 5 Steps To Emotional Recovery

~Joel’s Blog

Money & Its Emotional Toll

In preparing for a national radio show this summer (7/23/13 program), the host explained what he wanted to cover with me. He was curious how I went from a career in full-time church-based youth ministry to an award-winning career as a field leader in the financial services industry.

Simple. Being in ministry put us in debt.

Don’t get me wrong. Being in ministry was very rewarding…and challenging. In part, because we always made so little.

Between my eight years (full-time) and my wife’s seven years, we were financially stressed. Very stressed.

I knew people in sales, especially in financial sales, like investments and insurance. It was all too clear that they were doing better financially than we were. When I debated whether I could be successful in that industry, I recognized that sales people need “people skills” and the ability to connect with others about matters of the heart. Since that is an essential skill in ministry, I believed that it could be a 2nd career path that I’d find both successful and meaningful. In fact, it ended up feeling as much a ministry as actually working within a church building.

The Trouble With Money

As a leader in a national financial planning firm, I saw a common thread in how people interacted with their money…how they felt about it…how they reacted to it.

“Trouble with money”—whether it’s our attitude about it or our behaviors with it—causes people a lot of stress. A nearly universal experience was that people didn’t feel like they ever had enough money. This wasn’t about greed, but about fear.

When Fear Comes To Town

Kara was 85 years old and widowed for many years. Her lifestyle was very comfortable. She was in extraordinarily good health. She had more than a half-million dollars in liquid assets. And she was very worried about what would happen if her health failed. She didn’t want to be a burden to her two adult kids, even though they were very successful in their own right. But Kara wanted to be sure that even an extreme long-term care event wouldn’t derail anyone in the family, financially. So, I completed a financial plan for her and was able to definitively show her she’d be fine; they’d be fine.

Ron was a depressed 57-year old when I met him. He’d lost over 50% of his retirement assets (401k plan at a major company) during the crash of 2000-2002. Because of the drop in his net worth, Ron concluded he’d need to keep working until he was at least 70. His goal of full-time fishing at age 60 was gone. Why?

He’d come to believe that because his 401(k) had reached $750,000, that he therefore needed $750,000 to retire.

Just because that’s how big the number on his statement got to before falling. When we completed a financial plan, we discovered that—based on his desired lifestyle needs and retirement goals—he only needed that value to be about $350,000, at age 60. He still had three more years to work and save…and his “shrunken” 401(k) was more than that. This news completely changed his outlook and empowered him to move forward with his original goal for retirement.

Before taking any steps, you need to get a clear picture of where your path is going. We need to work at rejecting fear in our lives. In the next blog, we’ll look at practical steps for healthy responses to money.

Engage here. What’s your experience with money? How about those around you? If you haven’t yet, download our free guide, Reclaim Your Purpose.

Outrageous Nonsense: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Outrageous Nonsense: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Moonlight campfireOutrageous. They’ll know we are Christians…by our love?

I grew up singing this song. A lot. So much so, in fact, that it got tiresome to hear. Yet, the song bothered me beyond the mind-numbing repetition. There was something about the song’s lyrics that struck me, even as a kid, as sappy. Naive. Simplistic. And, too often, just plain untrue. Outrageous.

Don’t get me wrong. The song’s origins are, purportedly, from John 13:35. So, obviously, there is a theological foundation for the song, as you can see:

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians
By our love, By our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
By our love

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news
That God is in our land

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

All praise to the Father
From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus His only son
And all praise to the Spirit
Who makes us one [Lyrics from]

James Versus John

Outrageous? My problem with the lyrics comes from James 2:14-17 [from The Message]:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

So, let us ponder together…

  1. If people “know we are Christians by our love” then what message do they get when the behavior isn’t loving?
  2. And what if the very worst behaviors you experience come from some of the same people singing the song with such feeling, such passion?
  3. Does the church spend too much time in John and not enough in James?
  4. Is this outrageous, or to be expected?

Engage here. What’s your story? Is your experience in the church one of congruence or disconnect? Who else do you want in this discussion? For more on living congruently, especially in ministry, check out our book.

photo credit: Steve Wall via photopin cc

Balaam’s Ass: Don’t Sign Me Up (Part 2)

Balaam’s Ass: Don’t Sign Me Up (Part 2)

Donkey 2“Dumb Ass. I’m Talking To You!”

Last time we looked at Balaam, a guy quite full of himself–confident, powerful, internationally famous, a big wheel [see Numbers 22].

In his sphere of influence, Balaam was “The Man.” People didn’t just come to see him from miles around, but from countries around. For his guidance and wisdom, he was a power broker in the realm of kings and rulers.

He was also arrogant, no doubt because he was so highly respected and sought after.

So when God wanted to convey His wish to Balaam, the man couldn’t get the message. Not until God empowered Balaam’s abused donkey to literally speak and confront his master.

There’s a lot we can learn from Balaam. In every sermon, speech or presentation that I’ve heard him invoked, the general gist is: Don’t be like Balaam! OK, fair enough.

Beware The Working End

But what about the ass, the real ass of the story, Balaam’s donkey? Him we don’t hear preached about, as if there are no lessons to be learned from him. Yet, how often do you, O, Youth Minister, feel as if you’re the donkey? Regrettably, I can count way more churches where the “senior” pastor(s) behaved more like Balaam than they’d ever admit. Leaving the more “junior” Youth Minister to fill in the role of Balaam’s ass.

There’s got to be a better way, but it takes humility and openness on the part of the usually older “senior” minister to hear God’s truth. Of course, if you–the junior member of the team–are called on by God to convey a critical (both in sense of timing and tone) message, then it takes courage and purposefulness. Perhaps even some well-placed umbrage, because you are certainly going to get whacked a few times in the process, just as Balaam’s ass was. Even then, there’s no guarantee that God’s message, whatever it be, will be received. But if you don’t blurt out what needs to be said, then you’ll just look for another church to move to. Or abandon ministry altogether. You must step up and into this.

Don’t sign up for it. But be prepared for it when it comes. It will come.

So, when it does…bray. Bray loud. Like an ass.

Engage here. Too strong? Offensive idea? Or something you can relate to? Is there someone in your life whose very faith was shattered by the need to play the donkey?


photo credit: maestropastelero via photopin cc

Balaam’s Ass: Don’t Sign Me Up (Part 1)

Balaam’s Ass: Don’t Sign Me Up (Part 1)

DonkeySmart Ass: Be Careful What You Wish For

It is not uncommon in the community of faith to find those who wish for “signs and wonders,”  by which they may more clearly know the will of God in their lives. Indeed, if you have been a Christian very long, it is very likely you’ve wished–even pleaded–for this. Consider:

  • What career should I pursue, Lord?
  • Are you calling me to ministry?
  • Is this the person you want me to marry?
  • Should we really move all the way across the country for that job?
  • Are we really going to lose the house?
  • Won’t you intervene, God, in this health crisis?
  • Will my child ever turn back to you?
  • Why is this happening to me?

People that are very dear to me strongly believe that God answers them, quite directly, when they inquire of Him in this way. Who am I to say that He does not?

Yet great theologians, like Jonathan Edwards, caution against such thinking:

“And yet some people actually imagine that the revelation in God’s Word is not enough to meet our needs. They think that God from time to time carries on an actual conversation with them, chatting with them, satisfying their doubts, testifying to His love for them, promising them support and blessings. As a result, their emotions soar; they are full of bubbling joy that is mixed with self-confidence and a high opinion of themselves. The foundation for these feelings, however, does not lie within the Bible itself, but instead rests on the sudden creations of their imaginations. These people are clearly deluded. God’s Word is for all of us and each of us; He does not need to give particular messages to particular people.” 
― Jonathan Edwards

Here’s the rub. Can God deliver a custom message to someone? Yep! But if we’re the someone, do we really want to receive it? Maybe not so much. Consider the moronic and very pagan prophet, Balaam, who in Numbers 22 is met 3 times by God trying to tell him something. Balaam can’t figure out it’s the Almighty communicating. We learn that Balaam’s ass is smarter that his owner. The donkey is finally empowered to yell at his abusive boss.

Good thing we’re never as headstrong as Balaam, isn’t it?

Or are we?

Edwards questions those “particular messages” from God that promise support and blessings. But what if the Divine Message is of a less-uplifting kind? What if God is speaking to us in the events of our lives, even the negative ones?

Are we listening?

Engage here. What do you think? Anyone in your life that needs to confront their Balaam?

photo credit: Mário Tomé via photopin cc

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