Oct 042010

Picture the scene, if you will…

Our Lord, Jesus, is out among the people with His disciples. He blesses, He comforts, He heals, He forgives sins.

Then someone else approaches and pleads for help.

Jesus looks her over carefully, and finally He responds:

Well, you sure do have a lot of needs.

Listen, I can either forgive your sins, fix your crippled leg, provide for your family since your husband died, or heal your sick daughter.

There are a lot of people who need My assistance, you know, so you can only have so much help.

What’s that?

You can’t imagine our Saviour saying that?


Neither can I.

So – since we are the Body of Christ - why is that the attitude of so many people who are in positions of authority in ministries specifically designed to help others?

Imagine that you are in charge of a direct people-helping ministry. For this example, let’s assume it’s something like a “Family Assistance” program at your church.

The ministry collects donations of money, goods, food, clothing, etc. Plus you receive a budget out of the church collection.

People come to you when they’re in a bind. Sometimes you can offer them food off the shelves, or winter coats, or shoes. Toys for the kids at Christmas. You also get Gift Cards for gasoline and groceries at nearby locations.

You offer counseling on getting the electric bill pushed back, and reducing the phone bill. And, when push comes to shove, you can help by directly paying some utility bills.

Of course you screen the folks that come to you for help. You want to make sure they aren’t just feeloaders, and that they aren’t out buying booze with your grocery cards.

But what is your long-term view?

After a few visits, do you tell someone that you have “helped them enough”?

All too often, it seems that people in this type of role feel the need to “play god” in the lives of the people who come to them for help, and also have a finite view of what they should do before they have “helped enough” and that person should be on their way.

A while back, I posted a great lesson from a travelling revival team on giving, illustrated with a fun story about sharing M&M’s.

His main point – quite obvious in that lesson – was simply that if you had the resources to help a brother or sister, you needed to help them.

Jesus said (in Matthew 26) that we would always have the poor with us, and (in Galatians) that we should bear one another’s burdens (in love, no less). James specifically instructs us to care for orphans and widows, and Deuteronomy even adds “strangers” to the list!

Nowhere in Scripture do any of these commands have exceptions, time limits, or qualifications.

So why are we hoarding our M&M’s?

Aug 042010

Wolf and I have a lot of funny conversations… It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord brought us together, across the country, in the midst of a culture that is so different from us!

It all started when he had worn down the heels on his favorite pair of cowboy boots, and also worn out the sole of his Redwing work boots.

I was shocked how hard it was to find a shoe-repair shop. Wasn’t there always one on every corner, one in every mall?

Wolf and I began to speculate on the decline of shoe repair as a symptom of the rise of consumerism and the disposable mentality. Can’t you just hear it now:

After all, if I’ve worn these flats for, say, a year, and they get to the point of needing new heels… They are hopelessly out of style, and I should just throw them away and buy myself a new pair! I deserve it, right?

We laughed when we asked our Facebook friends where to find a Shoe Repair shop, and someone said almost exactly that!

Needless to say, I did find one, and both pairs of boots were restored to their former glory. Both have years of use left in them, and would only have been replaced with identical (and costly!) new ones…

I got to thinking, later, that there are a lot of things around the house that we use longer than many people might. We don’t throw something away simply because it starts to look worn.

Some things can simply continue to be used until they wear out totally. Other things can be repurposed or converted, and then used until they wear out totally.

Here are a few diapers that we are still using, for instance, as they disintigrate…

Shortly after taking this photo, that top layer fell off entirely. As thin an scraggly as it was, I couldn’t think of a use for it, and it did get thrown out. But the diaper is still in use!

A friend made this diaper for me, and I had no idea it had a red layer underneath…

This diaper was a lovely, soft bamboo velour. Amazingly, once all the “fuzz” wears off it is a thin grid, and you can see the underlayers right through it!

This diaper was actually retired shortly after this photo was taken. After a certain number of layers wear away, and the elastic loses it’s spring, it just doesn’t do its job anymore.

The first step! The end of the elastic wore through the casing, and came loose.

This is a “diaper service quality” prefold. Heavy-duty. The top layer is disintigrating…

…and a close-up…

Yeah, that flat-in-patches fabric is terry cloth – the loops just plain wore off!

And I’ve already mentioned where worn-out socks go in our house!

It just doesn’t make sense to discard and replace things that have plenty of life left in them.

Whether we do it because of laziness, carelessness, pride and vanity, or some other reason… It’s neither “green,” nor good stewardship.

Mar 222010

I was inspired to write today by the edition of Everyday Cheapskate I just received: A Simple Trick to Stop Mindless Spending.

Mary Hunt makes a couple of really great points is this article, which I would like to elaborate on and add to.

Many people don’t realize where the money goes. It’s not just a problem of budgeting, it’s a problem of not thinking about it in the proper perspective.

We’re not even talking about making the tough value judgements yet – we just want to be aware of what things are really costing us.

For instance, Mary shares:

According to Starbucks, the average customer spends $4.05 per visit for coffee and makes 18 visits per month. I’m fairly certain that most of these customers think of that as a series of $4.05 expenditures because it’s less painful than seeing it as an $874 annual expense, spent $4.05 at a time.

Figuring the annual cost of that “trivial” expense is a great way to look at what it’s really costing you.

It’s not hard to figure it out:

  • Take your monthly cost
  • Add a zero to the end (multiply by ten)
  • “Add a little more” (per Mary Hunt), or, for us literal folks, it’s two monthlies more.

Another illustration of this from Mary’s article:

Heather gets her nails done every two weeks at a cost of $20 per visit. That’s about $40 a month. Times 10, that’s $400 plus a little ($85) is $485. Again, let’s check the numbers: $20 x 26 = $520. Not far off, and shocking when Heather has been trivializing this as just a little something she does for herself. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against nail appointments. I just want you and Heather to know the true cost of what you believe to be insignificant expenditures.

Here’s another trick I use a lot to put things in perspective:

How many hours do you (or the wage earner in your home) have to work to pay for that?

Going out to dinner is a great example of putting this one to use.

Taking your family out to dinner at even a moderately priced restaurant is likely to run you close to $50 with tax and tip.

Even if you earn $20/hour, that’s two and a half hours’ gross pay, probably three and half hours of labor to take that home with taxes taken out.

For someone earning $10/hour, that’s probably six hours or more.

You could easily work all day just to pay for dinner!

And Mary’s final tip for today:

Be specific about your income, rather than thinking of it in inflated, general terms.

Take Tom and Susan. They live in the false security of a $50,000 income, as in “We make $50,000 a year so we should be able to buy what we want without feeling guilty.” The truth is Tom makes $48,275 a year, which is close, but not exactly $50,000. Allowing for taxes and other payroll deductions, their net take-home pay is something closer to $35,000. Of that amount, their actual discretionary income (what’s left after allowing for essentials of food, shelter, insurance, transportation, etc.) is more like $5,000 … They have just $450 cash to spend each month. That makes blowing a hundred bucks here or $4.05 there more significant.

This is huge!

Isn’t that just what you always hear people talking about – “Joe makes $40K”?

Even if Joe’s salary is $40K (and it may be $38,500), taxes and other withholdings take out about a third off the top.

And of course before you think about how much you have to spend, you have to subtract out the essentials – which in many cases eat up nearly the whole paycheck these days!

Working on reducing the cost of those essentials is a project for another day… For today, it’s enough to be dealing with them as hard numbers.

So, if we

  • Think concretely about how much our income is, and
  • Analyze the cost of a purchase as an annual expense, and/or
  • Calculate the hours worked to pay for it

…we will have an accurate picture of the true cost of that “trivial” expense, so we can make a wise, informed decision.

(This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Mary Hunt. But if you’d like to get Mary’s tips yourself, sign up for her FREE Everyday Cheapskate emails!)

Jan 212010

We were so blessed this past week by the “Thirst” Revival Summit, presented by a team from Life Action Ministries.

I have a LOT I want to talk about from these meetings, but of course I’m going to be bringing it to you in bite-sized pieces.

Our speaker was Ryan Loveing, and I want to share a neat illustration he gave us.

Ryan asked for anyone who had been given M&M’s by Ben (another team member) during the break to stand up. This turned out to be about two dozen folks.

Then he asked for anyone who had been given M&M’s by one of those people to raise their hand. I think there were two.

Half-joking, he pointed out that they had all been very selfish with their treasures. (And, half-joking, asked if they were mad at Ben for setting them up!)

On stage with him, he had the rest of one of the big bulk bags of M&M’s – still a pound or so of them in there. He carried it around with him and shook it in illustration as he talked.

Next he asked who in the audience was crazy about M&M’s. Who would choose them over any other snack or treat, who just craved them, and hadn’t had any in a while…

Of those with their hands raised, he selected a teenage girl and asked he to come up to the front.

Asking her name, he then proceeded to PRAY FOR HER!

Dear Lord, please bless Jasmine. She loves M&M’s so much, I ask you to please bless her with M&M’s. In Your power, Father, as you love and care for your precious daughter, bring her the desire of her heart – M&M’s.

Then he asked her to sit down.

After a moment of confusion, he helped those slow on the uptake. He smiled, raised his eyebrows inquiringly, and shook the bag of M&M’s.

How many people do this every day?

How often to we, the church, just PRAY for someone – when we have the resources to meet their need?

(Hear me, I’m not by any strech – as Ryan wasn’t – belittling prayer. This is about another factor in the equation, though).

“Resources” here is a lot of things…

Money, obviously, and what everyone naturally thinks of.

Not only tithing to the church, but also giving some extra grocery money to that family in need with the husband unemployed, donating a little something extra for Haiti relief, or putting something in the Love Offering for the revival team that was such a blessing.

But there are also the resources of your time and talents.

The church nursery is always shorthanded, and looking for folks to sacrifice one Sunday a month in service. Deacons and others are needed to go visit and pray with the elderly and infirm who can’t get to church services (even bringing them the Lord’s Supper! So beautiful!). I’ve heard of groups getting together and going to clean up the yard of someone who just had surgery, or paint the house of an elderly shut-in. Could you use your specific skills to help someone? Show that new homeschooling mom how to access the local online library resources? Help a neighbor fix the audio driver on their computer? Teach a new mama to sew dresses for her little girl?

It all belongs to God.

My prayer is that He will coninue to remind me to hold it loosely, and be a good steward by allowing it to bless others.

This is similar in theme to one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite groups. Here is Casting Crowns’ If We Are the Body, with a video that a church did as a ministry project.

Sep 022009

I don’t think of myself as a fanatic in the “environmentalist” category.

I absolutely care, don’t get me wrong… But I think people can get a little nutty with that stuff.

Like the impression I got from the woman in front of me in line at the health food store last week: Crepe-y mumu type dress, Birkenstock sandals, re-usable (purchased) shopping bags, buying granola, organic overpriced everything, drives a Smart car – when not riding her bike, vegetarian, doesn’t shave, wirries a lot about Global Warming…

I just don’t see myself in her.

And then I got to thinking about it some more.

Of course we turn off lights when we leave the room, hang laundry to dry, use Tupperware over plastic baggies, and turn off power strip to kill “vampire” draws… But everyone does that stuff, right?

People who are “environmentally conscious” use paper towels that are made from recycled paper, and they make sure to put them in the recycle bin whenever possible.

But we use cloth for everything, and don’t buy paper towels at all. (I do keep one roll in the house for a few exceptions – like bacon).

Sure, I have to wash them, but tossing a few “un-paper towels” in with my regular wash doesn’t seem like it’s an awful lot of “footprint” compared to the manufacture, packaging, shipping and disposal of a roll of paper towels (plus cardboard core, plastc wrap outer, etc.).

Skating on the daring edge of TMI, I’ll just allude to the fact that we also use cloth for personal hygene matters, eliminating the need for disposable feminine products, and greatly reducing our consumption of toilet paper.

Those cloths all go in with the diaper laundry… Oh yeah, cloth diapers…

It is so tied in with my feelings about being a good steward for my family’s resources, that I often don’t think as much about the environmental impact.

Hey, green’s my favorite color. I’m glad our cloth makes us Greener than I thought!