Saturday, May 9, 2009


Rest day today. I'm taking a break. Hope you do, too. I hope to meet you here tomorrow!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Good Choices For Bad Times

I preface today's post by remembering that Sunday is Mother's Day. The good choices I'm about to describe have been significantly influenced by my wife Cathy. As a helpmeet and a mom, she has been the backbone of establishing priorities and discipline into the financial part of our home.

That said, here are four good choices we have made over the years. Establishing and living by these priorities has affected tens of thousands of tiny decisions. In turn, by God's grace, we are where we are.

1. We put God first.

I know that I'm a pastor, but this part of our lives is something we learned from both sets of parents. Remember, my dad was a mechanic and Cathy's dad worked for the Postal Service. We practice giving at least 10% of our income back to God because we are grateful for His provision. I call the tithe check our "Declaration of Dependence."

2. We use credit cards to our advantage.

We failed to completely pay off our cards each month for only one short season and that was early in our marriage. We started using the card to finish an unfinished room in the first house we bought. We sold the house, paid the balance on the card, and agreed that we would not use it again unless we had the money to pay it off. I had started our marriage with a small amount of consumer debt and I remember how much easier it was to spend credit than to spend cash. By God's grace and Cathy's insistence, we got out of that trap.

That said, we use several cards now and we use them often. We earn free flights and free hotel rooms that help us see our kids and grandkids. AND we pay them off in full every month.

3. We limit our spending.

This is where thousands of those tiny decisions come in. For instance, as our kids were growing up, we rarely went out to eat. Cathy used coupons to save money and watched her grocery budget like a hawk. We didn't regularly drop by the local convenience store for sodas and candy -- those were rare treats for when we were traveling. We often buy clothing and some housewares at yard sales. We have never purchased a new car. We set an affordable budget for Christmas and birthdays and live by it.

In addition, we set boundaries for how long we would provide for our kids. We helped them pay for college, making it clear that if they dropped out or if they got married, they were on their own. We gave them each a budget for their weddings. If they spent the budget on the big event, it was gone. If they had money left over, it was theirs to use as they wanted.

When our kids reached the age when they were influenced by their peers and more style-conscious, we had a rule: we bought the article of clothing and they bought the brand. If they wanted jeans, for instance, we found the price of good ones and provided that much money. If the brand they wanted cost an extra $30 a pair, they paid the extra $30.

4. We set long-term goals.

Our initial goal was to be completely debt-free (including our home) by the time I turned 50. We were on the way to reaching the goal when our church relocated and we made a decision to move across town near the new campus (which we have never regretted). We sold the old house and built one in a new sub-division. We limited the size and the amenities to keep the price reasonable, then paid as much down as possible. We took out a 15 year mortgage, with the goal of paying it off in 7 years. We made the final payment about 5 1/2 years after we moved into the new home. For the past several years we have been able to truly "owe no man anything, except to love one another." (Romans 13:8)

Again, I share all this with gratitude to God who richly supplies all our needs and to a wife who has helped us stay the course.

We have approached this difficult economic season with compassion for all those who have been negatively impacted. Our hope and prayer, for you and yours, is that you are able to set and live by some priorities which can help you achieve financial freedom.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Adding One More Block...

...until it all tumbles down.

It's hard -- especially now, in my role as "Sampa" -- for me to pass up blocks without stacking them. Ever since I can remember, I have had this urge to see just how many I can stack up before they come falling down. I grew up with this ornery sister that, I'm sure, took every opportunity to knock them down for me. I don't need her help now -- I live in an earthquake zone!

Anyway, it's easy for me to keep wanting to add just one more block. As an adult, I have found it tempting to keep adding one more toy to my collection. That's why I identified greed as my problem yesterday.

But I wanted to know what you think and I wasn't surprised that a) most people responding were female and b) you almost universally said that fear/worry/insecurity is what you struggle with. What I discovered Monday in our Small Group was that every female present struggles with insecurity and every male present struggles with greed.

I wonder what we should be learning in this season of history. We in the "first world" had been through a time of unprecedented prosperity. We have responded like the man in Jesus' Luke 12 story: "I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones." Or, "I'll build a taller building." Or a more elaborate theme park. Or a nicer house. Or a bigger SUV.

"I'll add one more block to the stack."

However, forces more powerful than our stack have knocked it down. Suddenly, our lust for more has been replaced by fear.

Please avoid diatribes about the government, Wall Street, the automakers, the banks or anyone else you find easy to blame.

What are you learning from this?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Name Your Poison

On Sunday, I told our church that Jesus talked about two different different money attitudes that can keep us from experiencing God's very best in our lives. Here they are...

" on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." (Luke 12:15 NASB)

And the second one is found just a few verses later...
“...don’t worry about the food you need to live, or about the clothes you need for your body. (Luke 12:22 NCV)

I find it fascinating that Jesus seemed to describe those warring emotions as potential robbers that can take away our joy and our peace.


Worry, or (simply) insecurity.

Would you do me a favor? Which of these do you struggle with the most? And, if you are married, ask your spouse the same question. I asked the question on Monday night in our Small Group and was fascinated by the answers.

By the way, I struggle more with greed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dicker Or Dictate?

I loved the story my aunt told when I was a boy. She had been in Juarez, Mexico and bought a purse. The price started exorbitantly high and kept going down each time she walked away. She finally paid a small fraction of the original price.

A similar incident took place many years ago with a pastor I knew. He had his eye on a particular leather briefcase in a local office supply store. He knew that the owner of the store was Jewish and that the man believed it essential to sell something to his first customer of the week for business to be good during the rest of the week. He waited patiently at the door as the store opened on Monday morning. He said he wanted the briefcase, but it was too expensive for him. The owner kept lowering the price until my friend could buy it.

Both of these people loved to dicker. They enjoyed the game of cat and mouse with sellers.

My dad, on the other hand, didn't want to dicker. Not at all. I'll never forget the last car he purchased for him and mom. It was unusual because dad had spent years in the car business. He knew it well and had a very short string with the typical ploys salesmen make to close a deal.

Dad went to a car dealer in a nearby town and found a car he was interested in. Here is what he told the salesman...

"I spent my life in the car business and I know the book value of this car. I also know that your company has to make some money just to keep the doors open and I have no problem with that. Here is the way I will deal with you. You tell me the best price you can afford to sell this car for. If it's a good price, I will buy it and won't dicker with you. If your price is high, I will turn you down and walk away. If you try to lower the price, I will know you didn't give me your lowest price in the first place. That will mean you weren't honest and I won't do business with you."

They looked at their records and gave dad the price.

He bought the car.

What about you? Do you dicker or dictate?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are You Sam? (Part 2)

Perhaps one of the best ways to determine if I have written clearly is from reader response. If that's the case, I really goofed yesterday.

You see, I misread my old friend Bill when I thought he had showed up to sell me something. And I'm glad that perhaps I can help him find the person he is looking for in his business.


Bill is the exception. C. Beth mentioned that it would be "frustrating" if the "old friend" came along to recruit for the latest network marketing scheme. Well, perhaps I'm a big jaded on this one. Why? I have had more "old friends came along to recruit me or sell me something" experiences than I can remember. Like the old college friend who wanted to take me to coffee -- and recruit me for Amway. Or the couple Cathy and I knew from college that wanted us to sell Amway.


Perhaps this hits me extra hard because I naturally like people. I cherish the friendships from my past. I love to sit down and catch up on old times. So, please, don't call me up and offer me coffee or lunch...just to "use" our friendship to build your business.

I hope what I wrote is as close to a "rant" as I ever have in this blog. But I wanted to make my struggle clear.

Now, what do you think? Am I too calloused on this one? Those who know me, know that I appreciate honest input.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Are You Sam?

I had just finished a breakfast honoring graduates at our church yesterday. Having loaded some things in the car for the ride home, I noticed a minivan pull in to the parking lot. The driver was someone I didn't recognize, which isn't all that unusual. Besides, a team was already on campus for a publicized Blood Drive. I figured the guy had come to donate or to help.

I walked into the office for one more chore before heading home and noticed the man from the minivan walking in -- he probably needed directions to the Blood Drive team.

"Are you Sam?" he asked as he stepped into the office.

I looked at his face and immediately realized it was a guy I had gone to college with a loooooong time ago. I haven't seen him in about 25 years. He has lost much of his hair, but I immediate recognized his eyes and his voice.

Bill and I met 40 years ago this Fall. We weren't ever really that close, but I remember that his parents came to our church when I used to pastor in Phoenix. It was about then when we lost touch.

Bill reached in his wallet to pull out a business card and I had that sinking "uh-oh" feeling. How many times over the years has an old acquaintance walked into my world to re-connect and (they hope) sell me something?

It turns out that Bill is a regional director for a company and wants to hire someone in our area. He knew I was here and looked me up for a recommendation.

Help me out on this one, reader. How do you feel when an acquaintance (or a friend) shows up from the past and you discover that their interest in you is to build their business?