Building and Leaving a Legacy

Like many of you, I’m “indebted” to Dave Ramsey for his financial advice delivered through numerous books and his radio show. I still listen in whenever I’m driving in the early evening and usually pick up further nuggets of helpful counsel, as well as motivation to keep on track. For the first time in my life, I’m actually saving a little money, not so much by earning more, but by managing it better.

What’s Next?
But what then? Up until now, Dave Ramsey has largely been known as the debt-guy and the budget-guy. He gets you out of debt and on to a monthly budget. But what happens next?

That’s where Dave Ramsey’s new book, The Legacy Journey comes in. It’s focused on helping those who are now out of debt and on a budget begin to think about building and managing wealth.

“Building and managing wealth?” you say. “That doesn’t sound very Christian to me. Aren’t we meant to live as poor as possible and give the rest away?”

The War On Success
Ramsey tackles this common idea throughout the book, especially in the chapter, The War on Success. While also warning about the many dangers of wealth, Ramsey says his primary purpose is “to biblically give you not only permission to build wealth for kingdom purposes, but to challenge you to consider that it could be your responsibility as a believer to manage and grow wealth” (p. 56).

Pretty revolutionary, especially in a day when many seem to think that the worst sin is to be in “the 1%.”

Although many of the stories in the book are about the super-rich, which feels like a different world to me, Ramsey argues that as the biblical principles of managing wealth and giving generously are the same, we just need to scale the figures down to our level. 

What’s clear throughout the book is the responsibility to manage our money with a view to blessing others, both the present generation and even generations yet unborn. We might think that just because we don’t have ten talents, there’s no point in doing anything. However, this book gave me a renewed sense of responsibility and even excitement, about managing whatever resources God has given me for the good of this and future generations.

We won’t be called to account for the millions that some have been entrusted with. But we will have to account for whatever monthly surplus, God has given us, whether it be in the tens, the hundreds, or the thousands. This book will help us to give that account with a clearer conscience.

8 Activities For Senior Years

Yesterday, from Psalm 92, we saw how God compared His seniors to fruitful date-palms and strong Lebanese cedars.

  • They grow
  • They are fruitful
  • They are fresh
  • They are fruitful

But that doesn’t absolve seniors of responsibility. They can’t just sit back and say, “Oh I like that description.” No, the description challenges and stirs seniors to live up to how they are described. That means:

In his superb little book, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging, J I Packer warned, “Aging is not for wimps.” It’s going to be hard, tough, trying, and demanding. Therefore we need to steward our resources  - our mental, financial, physical, and spiritual resources.

  • Mentally, we need to continue to challenge our minds and keep them lively.
  • Financially, we need to make adequate pension provision and also plan our estate so that the Lord’s cause benefits from at least some of it.
  • Physically, we need to take care of our bodies, eat as healthily as we can, and continue to exercise.
  • Spiritually, we need to be gathering verses, doctrines, and grace that will carry us through the senior years.

It’s no coincidence that the Psalm where God speaks to favorably and beautifully about the aged, starts with four verses of praise and thanksgiving to God for His goodness. If we reach senior years, that’s great reason to praise God for His sparing and sustaining mercies.

Freed from the stress and time-demands of paid work, seniors have time to read all these books they wanted to read but never had time to. This must include learning more about the Bible and especially about how to pray. Seniors should also fight stubbornness and pride, and remain teachable and open to correction and instruction.

Senior years are wise years. Given all the accumulated wisdom and experience of many years, this is not a time to be retreating from church leadership but offering it. And even informally, there are many opportunities for seniors to influence and mentor younger people and families.

The world’s wisdom is to slow down, enjoy oneself, spend days and months on the golf course. That’s a sure fire way to guarantee a sense of worthlessness, insignificance, and even an early death. While there must be time to relax, being freed from paid work frees us to do more church and family work. “Where can I serve?” should be the most dominant question and will produce the most satisfaction too.

In his book, J I Packer wrote about the tremendous opportunities of the senior years due to much increased longevity and quality of life:

Maintaining zeal Godward as our bodies wear out is the special discipline to which we aging Christians are called. Realism requires us to remember that memory, particularly short-term memory, will weaken; logical tightness of speech will loosen; powers of concentration will diminish; physical exhaustion will overtake us sooner or later, and energy levels will keep going lower. Zeal, however, should be unflagging every day, all day, and all the way. But if this is to happen, zeal must be fed by hope. 

Instead of getting up each day and wondering what, if anything, we should do, J I Packer, urged daily planning and goal-setting:

Whatever long-term plans we may have, we need to get into the habit of planning each day’s business in advance, either first thing each morning or (better, I think) the day before.

Packer urges seniors to keep race imagery in the forefront of their minds:

Put positively, the apostle’s race image clearly combines these four notions: first, clearheaded goal orientation (you run to win); second, purposeful planning (you think out how you should run the race, pacing yourself and preparing for the final burst); third, resolute concentration (you put everything second to training for and then running and hopefully winning the race); and fourth, supreme effort (you run flat out, putting everything you have got into what you are doing). Thus Paul conceives the faithful Christian life; the believer runs, as did he.

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Senior years mean last years, dying years. We must use our senior years to prepare for that. We prepare with faith in Christ, remembering that even if we have not believed and it’s now near the end, the thief on the cross was saved with only minutes to spare. We also prepare to die by anticipating heaven. It should be a topic much read about, thought about, and prayed about.

Counsel to non-Seniors
But let me finish with some brief counsel to non-seniors.

Treat seniors as individuals: Although, to young eyes, they may at a quick glance look similar to one another, each has an individual personality with unique gifts and graces. Avoid age-ism as strongly as racism.

Respect seniors opinions: Seek them out for wise and experienced counsel and listen carefully when they speak.

Remember you’ll probably be a senior one day: On average, women are living to age 84 with five of these years being dependent, Men live to eighty with three years of dependency. Get ready for it, by asking seniors for advice and counsel.

You may not ever reach senior age: Don’t count on it but rather prepare to die so that at any age you are ready to go and meet your Maker.

God’s Favorite Garden

A few minutes away from me here in Grand Rapids are the famously beautiful Meijer Gardens, where expert guides can provide so much fascinating information about the latest and newest displays of flowers, shrubs, and trees.

In Psalm 92v12-15, God gives us a guided tour of His beautiful garden, His Church, where He views His people as palm trees and Lebanese cedars (v. 12). His special interest, though, is not so much in the bright new arrivals, but in the older more mature disciples. He says, “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (v. 14).

Seniors are often neglected in today’s youth-centered church, but notice God’s kind and encouraging words for them. 

They Grow (v. 12)
Fatigue, decay, decline, weakness, and pain are the words we usually associate with old age. And they are biblical words (Eccl. 12:1-8). However, here the Lord gives us another perspective. He compares senior Christians to fruitful date-palms and mighty cedars! 

Though growing physically weaker, they also grow spiritually stronger (2 Cor. 4:16). They grow in faith, holiness, wisdom, hope, and love because they are planted in the healthy soil of God’s church (Ps. 92:13).

They Are Fruitful (v. 14)
The psalmist especially refers to the date-palm here, which not only provided fruit for desert nomads but also indicated where water was located as its deep roots sought out underground water.

Although many trees stop fruit-bearing as they get older, God’s seniors don’t. They produce the fruits of the Spirit as signs of health, and for the benefit of others. They’ve been well-pruned and so bear branches heavy with spiritual fruits.

They Are Fresh (v. 14)
“Fresh” here could be translated “sap-full.” There’s an inner sap, an invisible and secret source of moisture and refreshment deep within. Their flourishing without is from a fatness within. They are not living off stale past spiritual experiences but rather are experiencing ongoing renewal by the inner sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Are Flourishing (v. 14)
In contrast to the wicked, whose flourishing is brief (Ps. 92:7-11), the righteous flourish right through their senior years. Of course, this is not saying that Christian seniors don’t age. It’s not talking about the body, or even the mind, but about spiritual abilities and senses:

  • Their eyes no longer see, but faith sees and believes the promises.
  • Their ears no longer hear, but they can still hear the voice of the Savior in His Word.
  • Their voice is getting croaky, but they can still make melody in their heart to the Lord.
  • Their feet are shaky, but they are still walking steadily on the paths of righteousness.
  • Their skin is shriveling and wrinkling, but they are beautiful in the eyes of the Lord.
  • Their appetite is diminishing, but they still hunger and thirst after righteousness.
  • Their taste is disappearing, but they can still taste and see that God is good and feed on the bread of heaven.
  • Their heart is failing, but their spiritual heart is beating regularly and constantly.
  • Interest in the world is diminishing, but interest in the world to come is growing.

Much of this flourishing takes place invisibly in the spiritual realm as they fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. They focus especially on battles with bitterness, loneliness, fear, and anxiety.

They Are Witnessing (v. 15)
Matthew Henry said, “Every aged Christian is a letter of commendation to the immutable fidelity of God.” They do this by their lives and their lips. They declare that the Lord is righteous and the Lord is their rock (v. 15).

Faith not Feeling
Most seniors do not feel as if they are growing, as if they are fruitful, fresh, and flourishing. But God says it’s true, and Christian seniors are called to believe God’s Word more than they believe the image in the mirror or the creaks in their bodies. 

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I Can’t Breathe. But I Must Write.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared about writing a blog post. Last week I allowed my fear to silence me about Ferguson. But here I am, sleepless at 3.30am, deeply troubled about Eric Garner’s homicide and irresistibly burdened to write.

I start with hardly any idea about what to write, but I do know why I ‘m writing. I want to stand with my African American brothers and sisters. More than that, “I’m all in” with them.

And that’s why I’m scared. Because I know that for many people, that automatically puts me “outside.” It puts me on the other side. It makes me suspect. It makes me soft. It makes me left-wing. It makes me anti-police. It makes me pro-thug.

And I could defend myself as Paul did when he said, “I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law, a Pharisee.” Similarly I could say, “I am a conservative of the conservatives, concerning the law, a Fox-Newser.”

But this is not about me. Me must be sacrificed at times. And this is such a time.

Disgusted with Hannity
I think what pushed me over the edge was Sean Hannity. I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to listen to him since the Trayvon Martin case. Some of his bullying interviews with Michael Brown supporters last week were repulsive. But when I turned on the radio yesterday to hear his commentary on Eric Garner’s murder, only to find him aggressively blaming New York’s excessive taxes on cigarettes for Garner’s death, that was it. There wasn’t an ounce of sympathy for Garner or his family. There was only diversion and distraction from the real issue. I was sick to my core.

And remember, I’m coming at this with the strongest possible default in favor of the law, the police, the courts, etc. If Hannity and Fox lose people like me, they’ll lose everything.

But, and I think this is what I really want to say here, I believe good will come out of all this personal pain and national distress.

Previous cases, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, were never strong enough to challenge the majority white community’s worldview. The Brown case actually just confirmed it. But Eric Garner’s case is different, very different, different enough not just to challenge our worldview but change it. As I said last night on Twitter, “I see a cloud about the size of a man’s hand. Aslan is on the move.” God’s wise providence is being worked out here as He sovereignly moves in and through these events.

What possible good could come out of this? I see four goods.

End of Denial
First, white people can no longer deny the problem. We have it in technicolor on Youtube. The Michael Brown case was escalated by Brown. We sat back and said, “Well that’s what you get when you rob a store, threaten a shopkeeper, assault a police officer, try to grab his gun, etc.”

Sure, there were some things that disturbed us even about this case. For example, I was deeply shocked by the callous insensitivity of Officer Darrin Wilson when interviewed on TV last week. He said he had a clean conscience, would change nothing about what he did that day, and would not apologize to the family. Even though he was acting in self-defense, his words and attitude struck me as incredibly revealing and frightening. Change nothing? Wilson did a lot of damage to the police in that interview.

Garner’s homicide is impossible to excuse or explain away. When Hannity’s strongest defense is an attack on New York’s tobacco tax, you know you’ve got a strong and persuasive case. It’s strong enough to bear the weight of worldview challenge and change.

More Black Police Officers
There is no solution to this problem without a massive increase in black police officers. Few white people realize how strongly communal the black community is. There’s a solidarity and a togetherness that more individualist whites cannot fully understand. That’s why it’s so important for far more black police officers to police the black community. The problem is that the police are now viewed so much as the enemy that to join them is considered an act of betrayal among many blacks.

But there are other situations where similar problems have been overcome. In Northern Ireland, the police force was largely Protestant, and therefore hated by the Roman Catholic community.

Part of the political settlement of “the troubles” there was the formation of a new police force with a commitment to much greater Roman Catholic recruitment. It’s nowhere near perfect, but much progress has been made and can surely be a model for re-constituting the make-up of American police forces over the next several decades.

This is also going to take strong and brave leadership from African American leaders to persuade African Americans that these forces have changed and that they should join.

Grand Jury System
It appears that the Grand Jury system is not so grand. America is practically the last country in the world still using this as part of their legal system. While it may have had its good uses, I don’t think many Americans realize just how bad it looks to outside observers.

As has often been said, “It’s not enough that justice is done, it must be seen to be done.” The problem is that secret justice can so easily become injustice, or be perceived as such.

Recent grand juries do not seem to take into sufficient account the “public interest” aspect of justice, with too much focus on technical legal terms like “probable cause” etc. I don’t see how it’s possible for public trust to be rebuilt in the justice system without it becoming a much more public and accountable system.

Christians are stirring
Christians are discussing these things more than at any time in recent history. On the whole, the tone has been civil and constructive. And I hope that continues. Most of us are on a journey here, and we sometimes take wrong turns and say wrong things. But with continued patience and Christian love, we will hopefully all arrive at a better place. 

We’re also listening to voices, Christian voices, outside our own churches and communities. We’re learning about other people’s lives and problems, seeing things from different perspectives, letting go of prejudices and faulty presuppositions. The greatest hope of reducing violence and persuading people to pursue change through peaceful means is to convince them that we are listening…and changing.

We’re praying for police officers as never before. It must be extremely frustrating for the majority of good officers who have devoted their lives to fairness and justice, to be tarnished as racists and have their own lives endangered because of the actions of others. If it was hard to be a police officer before Michael Brown and Eric Garner, then it’s ten times harder now. I can hardly imagine what it must feel like to get up in the morning or go out at night and know that you’re moving into communities that are extremely hostile and dangerous to your life. I know I couldn’t do it (although my son is hoping to) and have the utmost admiration for those who do.

Above all, we’re hoping for Gospel transformation. We’re looking to Christ and the power of the Gospel to break down walls of hostility between black, white, and every color in between. If God can reconcile sinners to Himself, and Jews to Gentiles, then he can reconcile every color of American through the blood-red sufferings of THE barrier-breaker and bridge-builder.

20 Reading Tips

It’s been a while since I added to my “Tips For New Students” series, so here’s one on the vital topic of reading. I’m not going to get into the “Why” of reading. I’m assuming that you’re a student because you want to study.

1. Start: If you want to be a successful student you have to read. If you’ve never been much of a reader, doing just the bare minimum through High School, then you need to learn how to do it. And there’s no other way of learning how to read than by reading. Don’t start with War & Peacestart with something small and simple, maybe under 100 pages on a topic of interest, and slowly work up to larger and more complex books.

2. Schedule: If you want to develop a reading appetite and aptitude, you need to do it regularly, preferably daily. If you schedule it, maybe 15-30 minutes of reading every day, say at 7 am, within a few weeks it will become an automatic and instinctive habit. Then you can either increase the time 5 minutes a week, or you can add another time in the day. Even if you read only 15 minutes a day you will read between 15-20 books a year!

3. Target: Although some of our reading may be just for leisure and pleasure, usually our reading is for a purpose and therefore should be purposeful. One of the best ways I’ve found for doing this is to set a time limit like 30 minutes and set a target of a specific number of pages. I then record each day how many pages I managed to read. I find this helps me to focus and concentrate my mind much better, and keeps me accountable.

4. Vary: If you want to become a skilful reader, you need to learn how to read different topics, genres, and authors. Sure, you might want to start with Duck Dynasty books, but you will want to move on to more demanding subjects such as history, theology, classical novels, and so on. Although we should remain open to learning in many fields, it’s better to choose five or six subjects to keep abreast in, and maybe one or two to really specialize in. Especially in the area of Christian books, you should vary between reading modern books and the classics that have been around for decades, if not centuries. 

5. Double-up: Research has shown that our understanding and recall starts diminishing after about 30 minutes of reading a book. But science has also shown that if we change to another book after 30 minutes, it seems to refresh and refuel our minds and we return to higher levels of comprehension. The reviving effect is especially noticeable when it involves a change of subject as well. That’s why many experienced readers read two or more books at a time and work through them in parallel. Students often find that they can motivate themselves to read a “required” book by rewarding themselves with a chapters from a book of their own choosing.

6. Retain: There’s an ongoing debate about the value of paper books versus their Kindle versions. There does seem to be increasing evidence that paper books help readers retain more of what they learned. On the other hand, there’s the advantage of the Kindle’s highlighting and note-taking abilities. Most of us will probably end up using both electronic and paper books, depending on differences in cost and purpose. The main thing is to work out a method for retaining what we learn by highlighting, marginal notes, summaries, and personal indexing.

7. Pace: We need to adapt our reading style and speed to the nature of what we are reading. For example, if we are reading a book in a field we already know a lot about, it’s unlikely that we will read every word in it. Rather we will skim over much of it and only slow down to read and note more carefully when we come across new material. When reading the best authors, we will ponder every carefully chosen word. If you’re wanting to speed up your reading for certain books,, you may want to learn some of the common speed-reading techniques.

8. Discuss: One of the best ways of learning is to read in partnership with someone else. You both read the same chapters each week and get together to discuss and share what you’ve learned.

9. Concentrate: It’s amazing how much more reading can be done when there is a disciplined focus and a shutting out of all distractions like phones and computers. You also need to find a quiet spot away from possible interruptions from people. Even if you’re not interrupted, if you think you might be, then you will not read at maximum efficiency.

10. Claim: Many successful readers carry a book with them at all times so that they can read the odd paragraph or page here and there as they wait for appointments or have a coffee. They are always looking for small segments of time to claim and use for personal profit.

11. Discern: You shouldn’t just believe everything you read. That’s true of Christian and non-Christian books. You need to read with discernment to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff. The foundation for discernment is reading the Bible. Regular Bible reading will build a biblical worldview and sharpen your critical faculties. You might also want to read good books reviews by reputable reviewers like Tim Challies or on the TGC Reviews website in order to help you develop discernment.

12. Budget: Set apart a specific amount each month for books. This will stop you from overspending, it will help you narrow down to the best books, and it will also “force” you to buy and read books. If your budget is limited, keep your eyes open for Kindle deals which often offer books at a third of the price.

13. Humility: Some people read to boast about their reading. Don’t be the guy (or gal) who has read everything and who makes everyone else feel so stupid.

14. Stop: Don’t keep reading a book just because you’ve started it. There are too few minutes and too many good books out there to waste your reading time on inferior books.

15. Challenge: Force yourself to read above your comfort level now and again in order to stretch your reading muscles and equip you for more strenuous mental exercises.

16. Share: When you’ve read a book, why not give it away to someone else. Or if you’ve really enjoyed a book, why not give a copy to a friend so they can benefit too. Try to be a contagious reader, one who makes other people read. Some people will value your recommendations and maybe start on a lifetime of reading and learning.

17. Stop: You have to stop reading to start reading. By that I mean you’ve got to cut back reading blogs, Facebook, Social Media if you are going to read books.

18. Specialize: Pick a subject and try to read all you can in that area. Pick an author and try to read all he has written. That might be an old author like John Owen or Jonathan Edwards: it might be a modern author like R C Sproul or John Piper.

19. Read about reading: Lastly, read books about reading. The best I’ve come across are:

Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading by Tony Reinke
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Adler
Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature by Gene Veith
The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies.

20. Read the Bible above all!

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management
New Student Tip #12: Memorizing
New Student Tip #13: Money Management