Friday, May 20, 2005

Living Debt Free

What do you suppose living debt free really means? Financial gurus like Clark Howard, Ron Blue, Larry Burkett And Dave Ramsey all tell us that the ideal goal in your life should be to pay off all your credit debts and learn to live from your own income, keeping a large portion of your personal wealth as savings instead of paying it out in interest. Dave Ramsey says we should “live today like no one else so later we can live like no one else”. What a novel concept!

But are financial matters all that are important in the game of life? Yes, they are important, but is it really the most important. How do we calculate the debts we have if we aren’t talking strictly about money. There are the “I owe you’s” for kindnesses a friend makes you. There is the gratitude a benefactor may have invested in your learning experience like a schoolteacher, professor or mentor. There is the appropriate debt we all owe our parents for their efforts to raise us “right” and provide for us for the first so many years of our lives. Then there is the level of love and commitment between our spouses - that we volunteer willingly to give during our wedding vows.

The wedding vow is a promissory note of a different kind. But do you approach this commitment any different from any other “debt”? Most don’t! Most - in some way - find a way to carry into their marriages a box full of desires and dreams, only to see those dreams turn into a box full of expectations. The new car, the big house, the wad of cash, 2.5 kids and add to those - the expectations of clean houses, tuned cars, mowed lawns, dinner on time and any number of things you could list if you thought about it.

Is it fair to put that on your spouse? Is it really fair to expect supper? Expect the new Lexus? Expect the big house on a hill? Think now - by expecting those things, all of a sudden you have turned something you both desire into something one expects from the other… and the treadmill begins. 50% + divorce rate and I’ll bet it’s more than just because they’ve passed the 7-year point. When it goes from “honey, here is a gift because I love you” to “I want, I want, I want” coupled with “you promised, you promised, you promised” and before long the pressure to keep up is overwhelming.

The equation is somehow wrong and most people don’t even notice that transition form love and gratitude to expectations and demands. It is more subtle than we might think. Pastor and author John Piper tells of the story of his anniversary when he came home with plans to take his wife to dinner, shower her with flowers and a nice gift. In general, treat her as if she were a queen. He then changes the story to just any day and not an anniversary. He comes home, walks in, gives her a bouquet of flowers, sweeps her into his arms, kisses her, and tells her to plan on dining out. She is surprised and pleased but a bit concerned and asks “why”. Tell me - what do you suppose her reaction would be if he looks sheepishly at her and says, “Because it’s my duty”. She would be floored; her feelings of romance and love would be leveled. The entire episode would leave a raw spot that could not be covered by a “duty”.

In many churches today - it is often abused whenever one tries to quote the scriptures concerning the role of husbands and wives. Women are tired of being subjugated and men are all too often willing to lord over their wives their expectations they then back up with a surface reading of the instructions to be submissive. Both men and women miss the context however when they skip over the opening verse and run right to the ones that apply to the other person. Here it is “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

That little phrase - often divided out of the passage - changes the meaning of what follows and how we interpret it. For the non-Christian - none of this will make much sense as the example Christ made is lost on those who do not see it. But for those who do - or want to - it is a golden principle. Christ out of love for His Father paid the penalty for all human sin and cancelled our moral debt for all time. Once one comes to the knowledge of what great sacrifice and love that was - we can only bring to our salvation the sin we turn over to Him and the gratitude of a gift that is totally undeserved. Something we should desire but not anything we could expect.

In the Christian marriage, our relationship is to be quite similar. Out of reverence for Christ, we are to show our spouse the love and gratitude we want to give to Christ for His work. Our spouse is the living human recipient of our devotion to our Lord. That takes the whole idea of “serving God” out of the nebulous realm of “appeasing whatever is out there” to serving and loving one another in a tangible, visible and personal way. It is how He wants His people to love Him - by loving those around them and showing their personal appreciation for His work through their kindness to each other.

Not only that - but just as the sin debt is cancelled between us and the Father, the whole debt/debtor relationship between husbands and wives is changed to no longer be one of “you owe me” and “you must fulfill my commands…expectations” as some would interpret “submission” - to a relationship that come from a tangible expression of loving gratitude for a kindness that is not deserved. The focus switches and is then centered on Christ.

In light of living with our debts cancelled - we are free to continue to live debt free in our relationships. All those expectations we have kept as leverage are then put back into the box of desires - hoping for the day that one of those desires is fulfilled. Only then is it appreciated to its fullest. No longer thought of as a duty - it is now an act of grace. Undeserved, unmatched and unexpected. That’s how gifts should be - else they are not gifts at all.

Learn to live debt free in your relationships and you will learn to live - and you will truly live free.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Fishing with your mind

Fishing with your mind

a striped bass breaks the surface
as the sunset fades away
and our journey from the sea of storms
takes us home besides the bay
we go fishing in the ocean
we go traveling back in time
like the song says teach your children
to go fishing with their mind

That is an interesting way of putting it - fishing with their mind. Jimmy Buffett came up with that verse for his song Beach House on the Moon . The song is better listened to - than pondered for the depth of its meanings - but all the same, this gem resides about 3⁄4 of the way through. It is clear he means to teach his son to use his imagination.
The imagination is an amazing toy in the toolbox of life. Without it, you will be bored, dull and uninteresting. With it, you will always be able to find a way to overcome any adversity. Example: At the Masters Golf Tournament, Tiger Woods found himself facing a difficult shot on the 16th hole. The ball was lodged against the cut of the grass making it impossible to get the wedge down on the ball cleanly. Yet somehow, Tiger was able to hit the ball forcefully enough to pop it out of its tough lie, scoot across 1⁄4 of the green before it comes to a screeching halt, only to roll sideways down to the cup, pausing momentarily on the edge - just long enough for his sponsor, Nike, to get a commercial out of the deal - before it topples into the cup with its logo showing. If you are a golfer, you know that was an impossible shot. If you are not a golfer, trust me, it was an impossible shot. However, it couldn’t have even come close to that - without imagination.
Last week an old friend of mine decided it was time to end it all and try to commit suicide. A mother of two with a lot to live for, decided to just give up. She had always been one of those people who are constantly bored and had always tried to fill the emptiness inside with many diversions. Some of them got her into trouble and some that just incrementally damaged her relationships and the quality of her life. She is a sweet person and was always fun to be around. But she never knew how to channel her creativity or encourage her imagination. Another friend of mine back in high school was more successful in his attempt. He died in his car in the garage. Another died of a drug overdose - which is another form of suicide. In their own ways, each of these three are and were captives of minds that had a poorly developed imagination.
When books were the prime entertainment medium you had to use your imagination to visualize the events as they happened. Even as a child when pro baseball was played nightly only on the radio, you had to be able to imagine the plays as they unfolded - as Harry Caray would describe in detail the power of Bob Gibson’s pitch or the 6-4-3 double play as the St. Louis Cardinals marched toward their World Series with the Tigers.
Today, we have all the imagination wrapped up in celluloid boxes to be plugged into your xbox or play station. And your mission is to fix what is left of your imagination on what it would be like to take a head shot or splatter your enemy’s guts all over a wall. Is it any wonder our imaginations are fixated on death? Is it any wonder two teenagers can walk through a school in Colorado and ruthlessly kill kids that they deemed to be “the enemy”?
What happens when the imaginative generation finally passes away and is replaced by following generations of kids, raised on video games and Ritalin, where thinking has been turned over to drugs and computer technology and those smart enough to program them? Where will we as a planet be then?
Without hope? Maybe.
Without trust? Probably
Without Love? Undoubtedly
My cousin’s son was recently grounded from his xBox. It was taking too much of his time. Good kid - just lacked motivation to do anything but sit in front of the TV and play Halo. Now after a couple of months away from the TV, he has discovered baseball and wants to grow up to be a pitcher. He has developed friendships he never thought he had. He has begun learning to communicate with his family. He has even begun reading again. He has a bright future! He’s a smart kid. We can only hope more parents are smart enough to do what his parents did for him. They truly love him.
My friend will probably survive this attempt to kill herself. I certainly hope so. My wife and I have very fond memories of her and would hate to see this wonderful person’s life cut short. Even though we haven’t seen her in many years - our memory and imaginations make it as if she was just here yesterday. Same with John and Eddie. Our lives end far too soon - far too soon. Far too soon to help the death process along.
Encourage those you love. Right now! Don’t wait another moment! Praise them - even when they aren’t expecting it. Support them when they are in need. Never turn your back on them. Try to never let them down. Love them enough to serve them - even when it may cost you more than you expected. Most of all forgive them if they hurt you. Because if you don’t forgive, they will feel guilty and guilt will condemn you both.
Be imaginative. Think of ways you can participate in this most wondrous story we call life.

You don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body. - C.S. Lewis