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The Orchard

orchard1Gentry was relieved to see the narrow path below him.  The gentle slope of the hill gave Gentry time to consider his journey so far.  He was angry with himself for not following the scrolls and falling into Religiosity’s trap.  The journey has only just begun and he felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  Gentry wondered if he would have the strength to continue if the rest of the journey was like the beginning.  He was determined, though, to get to his destination.

 

Before Gentry realized what happened, he found himself at the entrance to the orchard.  He has already learned to be vigilant even when things seem at peace.  But as Gentry entered the orchard, there were no dragons in sight.  He walked for a short distance and then decided to sit under a nearby tree.  Gentry ate until he was filled and sat back and fell asleep.  After what seemed like an eternity, Gentry awoke.  The sky was getting dark and Gentry convinced himself that this was a good place to make camp and that he would get an early start tomorrow.

 

When the next morning came, the birds were singing and the sun was shining.  It has been a long time since Gentry felt this much at peace.  After a leisurely breakfast of local fruit, Gentry was going to begin his journey again.  As he stood to gather his belongings, Gentry looked down the narrow path which seemed so long and rough.  Gentry told himself that he needed some more recuperation time.  After all, he deserved it and there were no dragons around, so it was safe.  So instead of heading out on the journey, Gentry sheltermade camp again.  This time gathering supplies, just in case he decided to stay for a while.

 

Gentry filled his time with gathering food and constructing a larger shelter.  He gathered vegetation for comfortable bedding and even made a chair from some of the local timber.  Gentry was making the orchard home, after all, with the journey so far, Gentry deserved a comfortable place to relax. 

 

Often times, this happens to us.  We get into a place of rest and confuse it for our final destination.  God provides time for rest on the journey; however, it is never intended to be the final goal.  People often get a “good job” thinking that they have arrived.  Their pay is more than they ever had in the past and they are comfortable perhaps for the first time in their lives.

 

When people settle on their way with their financial journey, they typically begin to accumulate things and the debt that comes with it.  They feel that they have sufficient income to support the things they want and that they deserve.  They become focused on the here and now and not on the final destination of financial peace and security.  We start to rely on our jobs, thinking that we will be there forever.  Market conditions, layoffs and mergers are for other people.  We want to know how to live now.  Sure we talk about moving forward, but we never seem to get started.

 

In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Prov 21:20

 

  We settle for being comfortable and for the here and now.  Our goal of financial freedom often turns into a wish as life consumes us.  Energy that could be used to take us down the path to our destination is being spent on leisure.

 

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”  Prov 6: 10-11

 

No matter what the leisure activity is, there is always more to obtain.  For instance, we work hard to have a television.  Once we own a television, we look around and find that there is a newer model that is larger.  So we work for that.  Then we decide that we need a second television.  So we purchase one.  By this time, our original television is a few years old and we decide to replace it with a newer model. Now there is nothing wrong with owning a television or any leisure activity.  However, the harder you work for comfort and relaxation, the more it demands from you.

 

Gentry spent more and more time improving his shelter and gathering supplies.  He used his sword to chop some of the higher branches of the orchard while utilizing his shield as a platter to carry things back to camp.  Soon both his sword and shield were in disrepair.  Gentry did not seem to mind though, after all, he did not see any dragons. 

 

The seasons changed and soon the orchard, which seemed to have everything that Gentry needed, was drying up.  Gentry safruit-2w the change, but did not want to admit the reality that was happening.  After all, the orchard had taken care of him so far, why should he think that anything would change now?  Then it happened, the orchard had no more fruit to give.  Gentry searched everywhere for the food and comfort which came so easily in the beginning.  But there was none. 

 

As Gentry was searching his shelter, which was now a cabin, for food he found the scrolls that he had long forgotten about.  Carefully he opened them.  He read about dragons and fighting, but most important, he read about the journey.  As he read about the orchard, there was a warning.  The orchard was to be used as a short time of rest, but its primary purpose was to provide supplies for the long and difficult part of the journey to come.   Gentry’s heart sank.  What had he done?

 

As Gentry sat discouraged, a mist formed a familiar shape in front of his cabin.  As it took shape, Gentry saw a sly smile form.  He knew that this must be a dragon, so he instinctively grabbed his sword and shield.  The blade on his sword was dull and the straps that held his shield close to his body were in disrepair.  Gentry looked pitiful as he spoke to the mist and demanded to know the dragon’s name.

 

Out of the mist a shape emerged.  I am Comfort.  As Gentry raised his sword to do battle, Comfort laughed as he said,  “Boy, the battle is already over and I own you.”  The words struck home with Gentry.  After what seemed like an eternity, Gentry found the courage to say that he was leaving the orchard.  Comfort laughed again.  There are no bars or anything holding you here, but yourself.  You can leave at any time you chose.  However, the journey is rough and you no longer have any supplies.  Why not wait until next season when you have more?

 

Gentry thought about that suggestion long and hard.  He realized though, that the longer he stayed, the more difficult it would be to leave.  He gathered his sword and shield and the few supplies he had left and headed down the path.  Comfort called to him and told him that he would keep his cabin safe for him in case he wanted to return.

 

Gentry stopped long enough to repair his shield and sharpen his sword.  He committed to himself to never take them off and always have them ready for battle.  The path was getting rocky and steep.  The trees were getting sparse.  There was no food and little vegetation.  The scrolls spoke of the barren land that he must cross.  Gentry turned and looked back.  Comfort had been following Gentry.  Gentry had to make a choice.  He could choose to head down the road and possibly starve or he could turn around and stay with Comfort.  With a loud scream, he pushed on down the path.  Not knowing if he just signed his death warrant.

green-knight

The battle with Indecision exhausted Gentry.   He was physically and emotionally drained as the new dragon, Religiosity, approached him.  Gentry’s hand gripped his sword tighter prepared for an attack from Religiosity.   Religiosity stopped outside of Gentry’s striking range, held up his hands and told Gentry that he meant him no harm.  Only when Gentry saw that Religiosity had no visible weapon, did he begin to put down his guard.

Religiosity was a large dragon, strong and viral.  He wore well tailored clothing that only enhanced his strong features.  He carried himself in a regal nature with a certainty about each step.   His voice was deep, calming and confident.  Religiosity was much larger than Gentry and Gentry was relieved when Religiosity said that he only wanted to accompany Gentry on his journey.

After a short time of walking together, Religiosity asked Gentry about his journey.  As Gentry spoke of the Wise One, Religiosity asked if he had a guide to take him through all of the perils that lie ahead.  Gentry reached into his waistcoat pulling out two small scrolls that he was given before he left his village.  The elder of the village told him that everything that he may need would be found in the scrolls.  Religiosity raised his hand and told Gentry to put the scrolls away.  Religiosity stopped and looked directly at Gentry and told him that he knows the scrolls well and that Gentry should keep scrollsthem safe.  Religiosity also offered to be Gentry’s guide helping him to avoid the pitfalls along the way. 

Gentry was nervous about this, but Religiosity was powerful and confident and seemed to know the land.  Gentry gave in and began to follow Religiosity.  On several occasions, as they traveled, the path would fork.  Each time Religiosity would take the well worn, highly traveled path.  This concerned Gentry because he remembered the elder’s counsel about staying on the narrow course.  Each time Gentry would question Religiosity’s choice, all Religiosity would say is that he knows these paths well and assured Gentry that he had his best interest at heart.

Gentry began to think that he made a mistake by following Religiosity.  Gentry thought about turning back when they came upon a small clearing.  Within the clearing was a small town with several buildings and a beautiful town square. Religiosity pointed to a small building near the edge of the town and told Gentry that this was the destination Gentry sought.  Gentry entered the bshackles-2uilding and stood near some pleasant looking people looking out of the buildings windows.  As people would pass by, comments were made by the group.  A merchant passed by with a cart full of wares he intended to sell.  The people chastised him because of what he owned; while another passed by with nothing and the people would exalt them claiming that their faith must be strong.  As Gentry looked closer, he noticed something that he had not noticed before.  Each person within the room was wearing shackles.  No one seemed to notice the shackles they were wearing, as if they have just grown accustomed to wearing them.  Gentry looked down at his wrists and ankles and noticed his own set of shackles emerging.

All too often, we stop reading the scripture and just begin to rely on what others tell us as truth.  Many times, what others tell us is a repetition of what they have heard with little backing within the scriptures.   Just as Gentry was seduced to travel down a well worn path, we tend to follow what others say rather than leaning on what God has instructed in His word.  We become comfortable and not willing to study for ourselves.  When we do read the scriptures, we read it with an idea of how does this fit into my preconceived beliefs and not in a search for truth.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Tim 3:16-17

Some of the more common beliefs that religiousness would place on people are things like, “It is more spiritual to be poor”, “You should not want nice things because you do not want to be materialistic” and “Financial issues are carnal and I would rather focus on spiritual things.”  People use these beliefs to justify their position and situations.  It is easy to get caught up in religiosity confusing it with the relationship we were designed to have with God. 

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1 Sam 16:7

Religiosity is a set of manmade rules, telling people how to live.   The focus of religiousness is looking and acting “righteous” so that we can compare ourselves with others.  Working in the financial arena, religiosity expresses itself more as a justification for people’s current situation.  People often use religious terminology to explain away their struggles.  After all, if you believe that it is more spiritual to be poor, this provides ample reasoning as to why you are in your situation.  It must be because God has placed you there because He wants you to be spiritual.  The lack of finances has become the spiritual barometer.

Let me be very clear on this point.  What you have or do not have has no bearing on your relationship with God.  Possessions, in and among themselves, are not a good measure of anyone’s relationship with God.  Someone who has very little may have a deep and intense friendship with God, but so can someone that is more affluent.  God does not measure by our possessions but by the heart.  How much value you place on the things in your life is a much better measuring stick than what you own.  Often times, it is the people with less that place a higher value on things.     

What does have a direct bearing on your spiritual life is how well you manage what God has given to you, better known as stewardship.  Stewardship is not an external comparison of people and their possessions.  Stewardship is an inward assessment, asking if we are managing everything that God has given to us to His honor and Glory.  Religiosity would have you look at others and compare while stewardship has you look within.

Gentry started to struggle to break free from his bondage.  As the chains started to snap, the others in the room encouraged Gentry to place them back on.  They showed off their chains as if they were trophies to be admired.  Finally, the last chain broke and Gentry found himself in the same courtyard that he entered.  This time, the courtyard was not so pleasant.  The buildings were falling down and decaying.  The clothing that people wore so proud were actually rags.  The streets were full of mud and sewage.  GenCB033024try wondered how he could have been so blinded.  Gentry could hear the roar of Religiosity at the edge of town behind him.  Gentry pulled his sword and turned to fight, but what he found surprised him.  He saw Religiosity for who he was, weak and frail, barely able to hold his sword in the air.

Gentry approached Religiosity thinking that he may still have to fight.  But as he drew closer, Religiosity dropped his sword.  He had no more power.  Gentry just pushed past Religiosity and began to look again for the narrow pathway.  At first Gentry could not understand what made the change.  Why was religiosity and the town so vibrant when he first saw them?  How did they change so quickly?  Gentry realized that it was not Religiosity that had changed, but Gentry himself.  When he decided to follow Religiosity, he empowered him.  By breaking free of the chains, Gentry’s self-imposed blinders were removed, allowing him to see how frail and empty Religiosity really was.

As he was pondering all of this, Gentry found himself at the top of a gentle hill.  His heart sang as he saw the narrow path below him passing through a lush wild orchard full of all kinds of fruits.  Gentry was tired and relieved to have found the path again.  However, Gentry learned that no matter how things seem, be on guard for what may present itself.  Was there a dragon in the orchard?  Gentry did not know.  All he knew was that he had to get back on the  path.

Slaying the Dragons

purple-knightGentry was anxious to get started on his journey.  His armor was polished, his horse was saddled, and his weapons were sharp.   As he began to head out of the gate, he wondered what will happen when he meets a dragon.  He did not ponder that question long.  Not far from the safety of his village, he came upon a lone cave where he heard rumors that a dragon lived.  He stood outside of the cave, his armor shining in the sun, and called for the dragon to come out and do battle.  What emerged shocked him.  The dragon looked exactly like Gentry.  He moved and reacted as if Gentry was looking in a mirror.  He remembered the words of the wise one continually telling him that the largest battles we have, we have with ourselves.

The dragon begins to tell Gentry that he cannot make it and that his crusade is not worth it.  He plays to each of his fears and frustrations while he encourages him to turn around and go back to the life that he has always known.  A life that may not be what he wanted, but at least it is what he knew.  After all, Gentry was young and there will always be time to start in the future.  Why should he start on his crusade now?  The dragon wanted him to return to the comfort of his habits and routine trying to convince him that he needed more training.  Gentry had to make a choice, go back or fight.  The decision was his to make.

The dragon’s name was Indecision.  Indecision handicaps people before they even begin the journey and its primary purpose is to have you return to the place where you feel most comfortable, your rut.  Most people’s lives are very predictable and that predictability gives us comfort.  We have created our habits and those habits have chosen a lifestyle for us.  When we purposely choose to leave that comfort and change our course, the dragon of indecision is alwayspath there to taunt us.  Often times we chose the pain of what we know over the fear of the unknown.  However, if we are to ever move past our situations to that of true financial stewardship, this is the first dragon that needs to be slain.

The decision to make a change in the way that we think and live is not a small thing.  When someone makes a real decision it means that they are willing to change their habits and examine their thinking.  A person’s thinking determines their course of action or inaction.  All too often we try to rationalize and keep our old routines, while telling ourselves that we want a different destination.  Your thought process determines your habits.  Your habits determine your destination.  To have a new destination, you must begin changing your thought life and create new habits.

 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Rom 12:1-2

It starts with a renewing of your mind, thinking differently and not being caught up in the pattern that the world has established.  Our attitudes and patterns about money have been developed since the time we were young.  Some people had a great foundation with Biblical teaching and development.  Others have been taught attitudes about money that are not Biblical.  Most, however, developed attitudes that are a mixture of “worldly advice” and “Biblical wisdom”.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Tim 3:16-17

True stewardship meanCheckbooks managing yourself in a way that brings honor and glory to God.  Financial stewardship focuses on managing what God has entrusted to us in a way that brings Him honor and glory.  It is our responsibility, but God has provided specific direction within the scriptures.

It all begins with a choice.  Begin the journey or stay back in the village.  God has given us His word as a guide through the pitfalls and promised to walk with us each step of the way.  He has promised to provide wisdom and comfort and warns us against indecision.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” James 1:5-8

So, like Gentry, the choice is yours to make.  You can decide to move forward and slay the dragon or return to the village of your habits that you have constructed.  I cannot promise you that the journey will be an easy one or that there will not be pitfalls along the way.  I can promise you that you will be stronger because of the journey and the battles that you will face along the way.

Gentry found himself being seduced to turn around and retreat.  Suddenly, from deep within him a power grew that told him he was destined for more.  He knew that if he turned back, it would be harder to begin again.  Even though he did not know what was down the path, he knew he had to start.  Spinning around, he thrust his sword killing the dragon.  As he sat resting, he glanced over to a nearby hilltop.  What he saw surprised him.  Sitting on a rock watching the battle was another dragon.  He congratulated Gentry, telling him that most people don’t make it this far, they turn back.  He then introduced himself as “Religiosity”.

Watch the Markers

milemarker3As a small boy we would often take trips to visit relatives.  Distance was not measured in miles or time but specific markers along the way.  As we would pass a certain restaurant or a specific church, I knew where we were on the journey.  The markers along the way kept me engaged as I focused on going from one to another.  As a small child, the overall trip seemed daunting and was beyond my scope.  But by following a trail of markers, the trip became easier.

 

Often times we try to approach financial issues in a way that stops us before we even begin.  We see such a huge gap between where we are and our desired goals.  Trying to focus on the entire trip handicaps us and limits our forward direction.  We must choose markers along the way of our financial path to plot our course.  Moving from marker to marker keeps us on track.  This keeps us focused on the smaller goals that added together will take us to our destination.  The entire trip is built upon a series of smaller sections.  Each section is independent and designed with one goal in mind, to take us further down the financial road towards our chosen destination.

 

“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15

 

Setting the mile markers for the journey is not a difficult task but there are a few guiding principles that need to be kept.  The first is an issue of honesty.  Being honest with yourself is the key.  When someone begins to rationalize what they are really doing is telling themselves, “rational – lies”.  Only when you are willing to take a sober look at your situation and habits will you be able to put together a game plan to change them.

 

Once you have determined your starting point, the next issue becomes your destination.  Where do you want to go?  You must have a clear destination with measureable goals.  Just saying, “I would like to do better” is not enough because it is too ambiguous.   In order to place the mile markers, you must have a clear starting and ending point.

 

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 

Luke 14:28-30

 

There are a few rules to use when setting the mile markers.  These can be applied to each marker as well as the ultimate goal as a whole. 

 

1.  Is the mile marker measurable and specific?  You must have a specific goal to know when you have arrived.  This can be an amount in savings or a debt that is paid in full.  The marker is up to you but it must be specific and clearly defined.

 

2.  Is the marker within your control?  If obtaining your goal depends on someone or something outside of you, then you have no control.  The only thing that you can control is your actions and attitudes. 

 

3.  Is the marker congruent with your beliefs?  Your goals must match your beliefs or you will sabotage yourself.  For instance, if you believe having savings limits faith in God, then as you develop a saving account, you will find yourself sabotaging your efforts. 

 milemarker13

4.  Is the marker worthwhile?  Every goal takes effort.  To make the changes needed, the change must be more desirable than staying the same.  Staying the same and changing, both take effort.  When a goal is not worthwhile there is no reason to apply effort to it.

 

5.  Is the marker taking you towards your ultimate goal?  Your purpose of setting up mile markers is to help guide you towards your goal.   Those mile markers need to be in line with your goals.  Ask yourself, does this take me closer or further from where I would like to be?

 

Be sure to reward yourself as you hit each marker.  The reward should be in line with the goal.  For instance, when you hit a marker of having some savings, do not go out and spend that entire savings to reward yourself and go backward.  However, make sure that you do something to reward yourself for hitting the goal. 

 

By setting up the markers, you are beginning to take charge of your financial future.  God has given you control to manage everything that He has given to you.  We are to manage it to His honor and glory.  When we fail to manage or choose not to take an active role, we do a disservice to God’s plan.  Establish the markers and work towards your goals.

Backpacking

 

It is early morning and you decide to embark on a long hike.  You have the proper clothing and the weather is wonderful.  The only thing left to do is to pack your backpack for the trip.  The biggest challenge that you face is packing the essentials while keeping the weight low.  Weight is the enemy of the journey.  Weight takes more energy and slows you from reaching your goals.

 

backpackLife is a journey in which we choose what we carry.  The essentials are dictated by our responsibilities.  The extras are our choice.  Many people choose to carry extra weight in the form of debt.  Debt adds weight to the journey and places people in bondage.

 

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”  Prov. 22:7

 

Most of the families that I coach understand the need to get out of debt.  However, before we discuss becoming debt free we need to evaluate what placed us in our current position.  The biggest trap for debt is the thinking “it’s only”.  We think, it is only $20 per month or it is only $150 per month.  We tend to approach debt in a segmented fashion, looking at each individual component and not the entire picture.

 

This segmented approach to money hinders us from seeing the true picture of our financial situation.  We tend to separate debt by type.  We rationalize some debt as good and other debt as bad.  For instance, most people see a mortgage as good debt while looking at credit cards as bad debt.  Both, however, are debt that needs to be eliminated and paid.

 

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”  Rom 13:8

 

As you review your financial picture, I would like you to focus on some specific areas and ask yourself some hard questions.  The answers to these questions will help reveal your thoughts and beliefs about debt.

 

1.    Has debt ever hindered your relationship with God?backpacking11

2.    What percentage of my net pay goes to pay debt?

3.    How much interest am I paying each month to the bank?

4.    Do I believe that I am doing OK because I can manage my monthly payments?

5.    If I did not have debt, what would I do with the money?

 

I wish I could give you a magic formula for debt elimination.  There is none.  It took time to get into debt and will take time to get out.  Once someone is focused though, debt freedom is within their grasp and most people are surprised at how quickly they can accomplish it.  However, debt was created by habits and to get and stay debt free means that these habits must change.

The Golden Key

Most families believe there is a secret to obtaining financial soundness. As a financial coach, I hear stories of how people would have the best of intentions, but their situation never seems to change. They resign themselves to a belief that as long as they can pay their bills and have a little left over at the end of the month, they are doing fine. Sure they would like to do better and handle their finances better, but for some reason, they can never really find that golden key to unlock the pathway to financial stewardship. The challenge is not in their financial situation, but their beliefs.

key 3What you believe has a direct impact on your financial life. Your beliefs are determined by your focus and how you see the world around you. Beliefs are not just a mental note of how something is supposed to be, but a deeper value system that we hold. For instance, we all know intellectually, that we are to eat healthy and exercise. Even though most people know what needs done, few do it. I believe the reason is their belief in how they see themselves and their situation.

What you focus on has a tendency to grow. This is true for almost anything in life, but is especially true in finances. We tend to look at the problems that we face and invest a lot of emotional energy towards them. We choose to invest our time and energy in the negative situations instead of the positive goals. You will never achieve financial stewardship and financial soundness by only focusing on the problems. The Bible puts it best when Paul says,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phil 4:8

Your current financial situation was caused by the choices that you made in the past. So in a sense, your current financial situation is a reflection of your past choices. Your choices were determined by what you believe and your beliefs were set by how you see the world around you. This is great news. By changing the focus, you change your future.

Let me give you an example that may help illustrate my point. If debt is an issue for you, get some help putting together a game plan to get out of debt. Follow the game plan, but invest your energy in what you will do when you have all of the money that you were spending on debt. Focus on where you want to go and not where you find yourself currently.

Many people struggle with this because it tends to go against what they believe a Christian should do. There is nothing wrong with having some goals in life as long as it passes the test. Are your goals and ambitions true, noble, right, pure, admirable or praiseworthy? Then focus on them and spend your energy thinking about them. Most people think about their struggles and situations and cannot understand why those situations never change. Throughout these emails, my primary goal is to help families retake charge of their financial lives by becoming the steward that God intended. We will work on clearing the obstacles that stand in your way, while we help adjust some of the common beliefs that deal with money.