Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Training

Ten Ways to Became Debt-Free

Financial debt can feel so impossible, so overwhelming at times. Over 80% of Americans are in debt and the personal average debt figure (excluding mortgages) is $38,000.00. Experian’s 2019 figure for Americans’ debt with mortgages is over $90K. When our income is not much more than our outgoing, it becomes even more challenging. Below is what we did to arrive at a debt-free position.

 

  1. My wife and I prayed together about becoming debt-free and had the same conviction. So, being in agreement and prayer together has always been step one.
  2. It is essential to give. We have desired to give beyond a 10% tithe because we wanted to do more than expected. I know it sounds counterproductive, but I can guarantee you that in giving (“Give and it shall be given unto you…”) God always honored His word and gave us a return, “…pressed down, shaken together and running over.” Practically, we sow into missionaries around the world, local ministries we appreciate and tip generously at restaurants. We believe in a spirit of generosity in all things.
  3. Build up a healthy savings account so that you can borrow from yourself and not your credit card when facing an emergency.
  4. Speaking of credit cards: we never carry a balance. You will not become debt-free paying 21% or greater interest on a credit card balance.
  5. Start by paying off your smallest debt. Once you accomplish this and feel the freedom, place that amount on your next debt and snowball your effectiveness of paying down your existing debt.
  6. Make a commitment to not borrow. Have the conviction of scripture which tells us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Note: we recognize many of us borrow for our home, which is perceived as good debt, but this too can be paid down early by paying extra on the principle.)
  7. Run your present car until the wheels fall off. Cars today can reach 150,000 plus miles. Maintaining a used car is most times cheaper than a new car payment. Meanwhile, save for your next used car purchase.
  8. Maintain and keep a close eye on that budget. Watch areas like entertainment, eating out, purchasing unnecessary items. Wait 30 days for a large purchases and if you still need it in 30 days, it may actually be a need versus a want. Have a plan and agree together on your spending.
  9. Recognize it takes sacrifice and discipline, but the goal is worth it. Yes, we do without some items like that newer computer or larger smart TV, but believe me, the sacrifice does not compare to the freedom found in becoming debt-free.
  10. Be accountable. Be accountable to one another in all of your saving and spending, even weekly. Remind yourselves that it is those small, miscellaneous expenditures that can really add up. Agree to weekly or monthly spending amounts for groceries, clothes, gifts, entertainment, sundry items like coffee and snacks. Give grace, but be accountable. It will pay off.

 

Truthfully, we can be in financial bondage with a lot of money or very little money, but when we agree together to our process of becoming debt-free, we will also find wonderful side effects. Those side effects can include: less arguments about money, less pressure when paying the bills, joy in agreement toward a certain goal and the growth of tenacity, discipline and patience in our lives, even if becoming debt-free takes ten or twenty years.

 

Romans 13:8: Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.

 

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day, Parents

The Passing of My Father

My father has been in assisted living for seven years. For almost six of those years he was very unhappy to be there and voiced his complaints vehemently to me during almost every visit. More recently we were unable to see him from March to August due to COVID restrictions. We called, but it’s not the same and a 97-year-old blind man whose day-to-day life does not change struggles to have conversation on the phone. But finally, in August we were able to have an outdoor, “socially distanced” visit with him.

 

Not understanding COVID and not understanding the distance, he kept reaching his arms out for our usual hugs. We explained the situation only to have him do the same five minutes later. The nurse explained, but once again he wanted a hug, any kind of touch from us when the visit was over. It was heartwrenching and way too sad for my dad, knowing he wasn’t comprehending a world pandemic.

 

Several weeks later we were told by hospice staff for no known reason that he was going downhill very quickly. We went to see him. This time they allowed us in his room with masks. We touched him, talked to him, prayed with him and kissed him. He never awoke or responded. The next day we were back. We held his hand and stroked his arm, we read scripture and prayed and there was no response. My children called their grandpa and voiced their tear-filled goodbyes; then my mother and finally my sister also spoke to him. I placed the phone by his ear hoping that he could hear them.

 

Because he was a professional accordion player since he was a teenager, we found accordion music on my phone — polkas, his favorite. For his last hour of breath, he heard something familiar and something he loved, an accordion. In three brief hours he passed, forever gone from our lives on this earth. Under my breath I said, “See you later, Dad; it’s not goodbye.”

 

There is no perfect family and certainly no perfect father. I was not a perfect father and I do not have a perfect family. We hold our parents up to perfection, but at the same time give ourselves a free pass from maintaining any form of perfection ourselves. There is no perfect son or daughter.

 

I am thankful for the father God gave me, for it was He who saw fit to give me birth into this family and not another. And at his moment of death, I was also thankful for so many other things. Things like: he prayed with my wife to receive Christ ten years earlier; we were in good relationship; I walked in forgiveness; I told him I loved him; I was not angry at him for anything and I trust I will see him again because Someone else forgave him.

 

Enjoy a video of my father still playing his accordion in his mid 90’s. I remember him commenting about his mistakes and how embarassed he was by his “old age,” not so nimble fingers.  

 

It was Jesus who said we were to forgive as we have been forgiven. Those words are straight from His prescription pad. When taken seriously, they have medicinal purposes. It is medicine, not for the one who you feel needs forgiven, but rather for you. Forgiveness always brings personal freedom and can mend relationships.

 

Over many years of life I have come to believe that one of the greatest indicators of personal and emotional health is if you have dealt with your father wounds – for some, mother wounds. Regardless of history, he is still your father and the love of Jesus demands that you love him and serve him in any way you can. When we take that fifth commandment of the Old Testament (repeated once agan in the New Testament) seriously, we are given a promise: if you honor your father and mother, God will honor you with long life.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Obedience in All Things

On occasion, when speaking or training and then having the opportunity to sell or give away some of the books that I have authored, I am requested to sign the book for the purchaser. I have always found that request to be a bit unnerving.

 

There is this sense of unworthiness, Why would anyone desire my signature? I get it, as I have asked a few authors to sign a book I purchased, but I tell myself it’s different. I think they are famous or well known or just simply amazing in their message. I want to be honest in the estimation of myself as the scripture reminds us to do, but at the same time, I do not desire any sense of false humility in my life. False humility is a nice way of saying I am dealing with pride.

We are reminded in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” I am imperfect for sure, but there is a good work that is happening in my life. There is an “attitude of our minds” which is relevant to who we are or how we see ourselves. If that attitude reflects worthlessness or inadequacy, then we are actually downplaying what our heavenly Father is building within us.

 

I am not complete, but I am also not totally incomplete. I am not a world famous, number one best-selling author, but God has given me things to write about and I must faithfully obey His voice. And I suppose that is the ultimate goal—obedience.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Lack of Protection and Security in Your Home

During my grade school years, we had the occasional, but normal fire drills and we also participated in bomb drill exercises. We were instructed by our teacher to place our heads and upper torso under our desks, just in case the day would come that there would be a real bomb. Those were some pretty powerful desks! Our school even had its own bomb shelter located in the basement of the building. It seems the thought was during the cold war, at any given time, we could be bombed. Pretty scary stuff for a grade schooler.

 

If you or I grow up in an unsafe environment, an environment of insecurity, abuse, neglect or simply without parental protection we too can deal with similar emotions of fear. We all need a safe environment and we all need protection. We need the protection of laws to maintain society. We need the protection of natural parents and spiritual parents.  We need the protection of our spouse. Each of us require multiple areas of needed protection.

 

However, occasionally that protection is missing, neglected or lacking in existence. Sometimes a husband is standing idly by and not protecting his wife and family. Sometimes a wife has her priorities elsewhere. When we as a spouse fail to follow God’s word, responding in a godly manner with righteous, loving, protective authority, our spouse and our children will not know security. Long term insecurity can lead to anxiety, a loss of identity and fear. And when fear is present, love is absent.

 

A spirit of fear is not from God. The Father’s heart is to love and protect you and it is His desire to use husbands and fathers, wives and mothers in that protection as well. In what ways are you providing loving protection to your spouse and children today, which in turn brings security, safety and the lack of fear?

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day

“I Have Pieces of Paper, But No Money”

My daughter was getting married and we were deep in conversation with the owner of the wedding venue. She was Latin. She came to North America when she was in her twenties, having to leave her home country because she was “reading and suspected of teaching subversive anti-government material.”

 

She came to America with a few personal belongings and virtually no English-speaking capabilities. She was living with her sister and brother-in-law and her first job was washing dishes in a restaurant even though she was a trained and educated school teacher in her country of origin. She was doing her best to grasp the English language while also attending night school classes. She struggled to pass the tests in this language that was so new and so difficult. She tenaciously took those same classes over and over until she passed.

 

She said to me, “I sat in those classes in total fear of failing and I worked my heart out to wash dishes to the best of my ability.” She wanted to pay her sister rent but told her sister the job of washing dishes, “Does not pay.” Her brother-in-law asked her why they are not paying her. She didn’t know the answer but told him they hand her an envelope every two weeks with paper in it. Wisely, he asked to see those pieces of paper.

 

They were paychecks. She had valuable pieces of paper, but no money. This precious woman went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree and at the time of our conversation was working on her Master’s degree. She and her husband purchased the wedding venue so she could have a business that she loved.

 

I was so impressed with this precious lady and her story that my daughter had to keep reminding me why we were there. I just couldn’t hear enough. It was a success story of perseverence. She told me no one helped her financially and at one point was working two jobs while attending college fulltime and paying for her own small apartment.

 

Can you imagine sitting in a classroom unable to understand the language of your lecturer and then trying to pass the tests? No one convinced this courageous lady it could not be done. What are you up against today? Is there a struggle in your life that seems insurmountable? You can do it; God is on your side and nothing is impossible with Him. (See Luke 1:37.)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Prayer

For the Love of Rocks

I accomplished all of my own landscaping, by trial and error, but it is something I enjoy. While landscaping, I used rocks–lots of rocks. I outlined specific landscaped areas, made steps, created a retaining wall, built a sidewalk and even a bench seat all out of local, beautiful and from small to large rocks.

 

Finding all of those rocks was no easy task. They came from barn foundations and walls. Most of them were hand hewn and some had holes drilled right through them for one purpose or another. I would often pause and think about how many hands touched this certain rock, what quarry it originated from and was its natural beauty noticed for a century or more before I obtained it?

 

Recently in accomplishing yet another landcaping project at my home, I was once again in need of a few rocks. This time I had no idea how to find the particular color I needed. I voiced a request on social media and had an immediate response. I was told about a young stone mason who collected rocks, tons and tons of rocks.

 

I called him and we arranged a time to meet. This young man loved rocks more than me. He had dump truck loads spread over acres of ground. He had gray, brown, red, tan, black and even white rocks. I never saw so many rocks in one location. And when he heard of my love for these precious stones he couldn’t stop talking about them and then showing me his many, many accumulations. He knew the origination of each pile of rocks collected and he was excited about sharing a rock commonality. He even wanted to give me the few rocks I needed.

 

How is it that God cared enough to show me the way to some rock piles? Or did He so care about this young man that I was destined to meet, build a repore with him in order to share about faith? Not sure.

 

Matthew 6 tells us to not worry about food or clothes (or in this case, rocks). He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field. He tells us to seek Him first because He knows where all the rock piles are located.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Leadership

A Message I Shared from 2011

Recently I received a random phone call from a friend. He was driving to North Carolina at the time while his wife slept comfortably beside him in the passenger seat. He found himself feeling somewhat drowsy and remembered that he had thrown a box of “old” CD’s in the truck with him. He decided to reach behind his driver’s seat and arbitrarily choose one. After blindly selecting, he noticed it was a teaching from 2011 when I spoke at his local church.

 

He then said this to me, “Steve, you just can’t imagine how relevant your message was to both of us at this specific time. We so enjoyed it. To think that I just randomly pulled it from a box of old CD’s and there we were listening to a message you spoke in 2011.” I thanked him for the encouragement that call was to me.

 

It caused me to think about the fact that a nine-year-old message could be a blessing to someone today. We tend to forget those messages and often wonder if anyone was listening, received anything and whether or not they actually made some sort of application to their personal life. Be encouraged if you are a trainer, a teacher, a pastor or a blog writer. You never know if the message you share today may end up being a direct blessing and encouragement a year from today, a decade from today or beyond.

 

I am simply intrigued how God does these kinds of things. Please be assured that your heavenly Father does not miss a thing in your life or those lives you are responsible for. Be encouraged to know you are affecting others just as they are affecting your life. Perhaps you need to call or write to someone as my friend did and encourage them for their faithful acts of service that have personally blessed you. Go ahead, bless someone with affirmation today.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

My Encounter with a Chain Saw

I have been using chain saws since 1978. I am familiar with them and how dangerous they are. I have never had an accident with one until recently.

 

I did not become careless or reckless, but it still occurred. For some unknown reason, the brake failed to work once the gas was let off and the moving chain just happened to find my leg. Fortunately, I am married to a nurse who has all kinds of medical supplies to put one back together again.

 

Accidents are just that—accidents. It was not tried or malicious. There was no one to get angry with and no one to yell at for the accident; it just happened. But this accident needed immediate medical attention.

 

We rush in to care for a deep cut like it’s a matter of life and death. We may need a shot, stitches and oral meds to fight possible infection. But how many of us encounter an emotional cut and give it little to no attention? Perhaps there is no gushing blood, but it’s still a wound. It’s a wound that can become infected without proper treatment.

 

An emotional wound can be carried for a lifetime before one realizes it’s there or that it’s undealt with. I liken them to hidden or covered over old wounds. I have heard about wounds that start to heal only to discover there is dirt or infection below the surface. In those cases, a wound must be reopened, cleaned and re-stitched. Not a fun experience.

 

And perhaps that is what’s happening in a nation infected by old wounds. We are reminded of them; they are reopening and there is a need for medicine so there can be permanent healing—that type of healing that is once and for all.

 

May we all be reminded of the One who received wounds because of our transgressions. He took those wounds to the point of becoming unrecognizable as a man for you and for me. And after being wounded, He was nailed on a splinter-filled cross to await death by suffocation.

 

I love the One who offered this selfless act of love for all of mankind and it is He who is the ultimate wound healer. Isaiah the prophet wrote this about Him:

 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5)

 

Give your wounds to the One who was wounded for you. Let Him carry them to the cross so you can walk in freedom.

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Children, Encouragement, In the news, Parents

He Never Stops Searching for the Kidnapped

It’s an older story now and a Lifetime movie. In 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ 10-day-old daughter, Delimar Vera, reportedly died in a Philadelphia, Pa row home fire. The mother searched for her baby in her crib and noticed an open window, but could not find her. The fire personnel told ‘Luz’ the fire was so hot it consumed her little body without a trace, but Luz never believed that story and tried to hire a lawyer. She could not afford those expenses, but never stopped believing that her daughter was alive. And then, one amazing day…

 

Six years later on January 24th, Luz was attending a children’s birthday party and she spotted a little six-year-old girl with a pronounced dimple she recognized immediately. She called the girl to her telling her she had gum in her hair. Having seen crime shows on TV, she was able to secure a few strands of the child’s hair for DNA testing.

 

The DNA test confirmed Luzaida’s suspicion, it was her daughter who was kidnapped by a frequent visitor to her home. The kidnapper set her home a blaze as a distraction. A local state politician helped Luz secure the DNA test and connected her with the police. The kidnapper was arrested and eventually Delimar was returned to her biological mother.

 

Reading this story about the never-ending love of a mother, a mother who did not give up believing her daughter was alive reminds me of something. After six years, that same mother just knew her eyes and her soul were connecting with the daughter she had last seen at the age of ten days. It reminds me of God’s love and God’s heart for me, for you and for all of mankind. I could just sense how our Father searches and waits to restore those who are lost, those who have been kidnapped by the world around them.

 

They are your relatives and your neighbors. Even though we may struggle in our relationships with these persons at times, God does not. He is relentlessly pursuing them with His love, His acceptance, His healing and His salvation.

 

 

“God, give us eyes to see them as You see them, to love them as You love them and to pray for them. Help us to not be angry with them, but rather with their ‘kidnapper.’”

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

The Aversion to Counseling

It was not unusual for me to receive a call from a spouse requesting counseling. Often I asked if their marriage partner will accompany them and just as often I would hear something like this: “Oh, they don’t think they need counseling.” I have news for that spouse and every other person alive. We all need counseling at one time or another throughout our existence on this planet.

 

What is the aversion to counseling? There are numerous I suppose, but number one on my list is pride. We pridefully feel that our spouse needs counsel far more than we do. Or, we simply do not desire to admit that we need a counselor in our life.

 

Another is the avoidance of one-on-one confrontation and the fear of having to face the fact that we might be wrong. Again, a derivative of pride.

 

Perhaps another is being married to someone who is forever, chronically seeking counsel, but then never healing.

 

And still another is that proverbial response of, “What can a counselor tell me that I don’t already know?” Great question for the person who doesn’t even know enough to realize there is safety in a multitude of counselors. (Proverbs 15:22; 24:6)

 

Wise counselors are a gift to human kind from God and to be appreciated. One of the names of God’s Son is Counselor

 

My wife and I have been to a counselor. I once bribed my whole family with pizza if they would first be willing to share with a counselor how their dad could improve upon being a dad. I have sought out counsel in many forms and fashions from experts who had keen insight into areas like finances, home repair projects, business building, child raising and leadership. God has experts in every category of life and I’ll bet you have access to some of those wise counselors.

 

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

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