Rise Up!

Last week the Space Shuttle program came to an end when Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center for the final time. For me it was both a proud moment but also one filled with a bit of sadness and nostalgia. You see, I was part of the Space Shuttle Program. I completed two internships in Houston, Texas working as part of the On-board Shuttle Software team for IBM in 1989-1990. In 1991, after finishing college, I rejoined the team for the first five years of my professional career. As a young software engineer I could not have asked for a more perfect start.

What made that experience so special? First of course it was the mission. The software we developed and maintained controlled all the functions on the Shuttle from launch, ascent, operations in orbit, and landing. It was both life and mission critical. You could not afford to make any major mistakes. Second, the entire team was wholly committed to the mission. We were working on something greater than all of us and it had an impact beyond the walls of our work office. On launch day, all work stopped for a moment while we gathered in conference rooms to watch NASA TV. We wanted to be there for every launch and once we knew the launch was successful we all went back to work.

As I reflected on those days I thought about the subject of motivation. What makes you dream? What makes you give your very best to a cause? It is knowing that you are part of something greater than yourself. That what you do day in and day out matters. As I think about our nation today, we need to learn to dream again and to challenge ourselves to greater heights.

If you have been paying attention over the last couple of weeks, our nation”s leaders, on both sides of the aisle, are deadlocked on what to do about our national debt. It is a sad spectacle of bickering, name calling, and posturing. Hope does not reside in Washington. There is a better way.

I am encouraging you today to join the The Great Recovery. This effort was launched by Dave Ramsey last week. He called on believers to rise up to the challenge to help our nation get back on its feet economically. We can’t wait for DC to get their act together. As Dave said last week: “God is the Author of Hope“. He has the answers. He has explained how to manage your finances. How to get out of debt. How to manage what you have. How to save. How to give. We have to do it one person at a time, one family at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one city at a time, one state at a time. How can you get involved? Here are some easy steps:

  1. Join The Great Recovery. It is simple and it is free. Do it today!
  2. Watch the video of the launch of this effort from  July 21. It is less than one hour long.
  3. If you are a Pastor, Sunday School/Bible Study Teacher, add teaching and preaching on Financial Management. Dave Ramsey has great resources for all ages. Of course there are other resources such as Crown Ministries. There are several biblically-based resources available. Pick one!
  4. If you need help locally (Dallas, Ft. Worth, Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Lewisville, Carrollton, we offer a 4 week seminar on Budgeting, Saving, Paying-off debt, and Giving at no cost as part of our services.
  5. We offer one-on-one financial counseling at reasonable prices with discounts for single moms/widows and military families.

It is time for the church to rise up and help this nation to get back on its feet. If not now, when? If not us, who? We have the ability and the obligation to preach justice and light everywhere. Don’t neglect this opportunity. The time is now!

6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?
7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
Isa 58:6-9

Playing Above the Line: Living Beyond Mediocrity

Earlier this year I subscribed to a daily update from the great leadership teacher, John Maxwell. Each day, John teaches on a particular leadership topic (you can subscribe here and you really should). John usually has lots of great things to say, but this particular point really made me stop and think: “Average won’t cut it“.

That thought took me back a few years to a course on leadership (what else!). This particular course left a profound impact on me. The instructor shared the idea of “playing above the line“. This basically means that you will strive for excellence and take ownership of everything in your life. You won’t settle for just being average and just doing what everyone else does. You will choose to play above the line where everyone else stays. Others would not set the standard for you. If you were late for work or church, you would not blame the traffic like we tend to do. Traffic patterns rarely change, so you know better. You would instead say, “I did not plan adequately and I did not leave the house early enough.”

When you put this in terms of managing your finances, Dave Ramsey would call it being “weird” as opposed to being “normal“. Normal (or average) with finances in the good old USA is living paycheck to paycheck, drowning in credit card debt, carrying student loan debt for 10-15 years, having car payments or worse lease payments for at least 5 years, having no savings for college and no savings for retirement.  The Normal (or average) person looks to Washington to rescue them from their financial mistakes (and we all have made them). Normal says: “it can’t be done”, “there is no way out”.

Normal (average) people watch too much Fox News and CNN and believe the story line of the day that we are mired in the worst economy recession of our lives. If that were true, summer “blockbuster” movies would not be making $100M on opening weekends. Or you would not have a long wait at the restaurant of choice and Starbucks would be out of business (people in a recession don’t need $5 coffee). People would not be spending an average of $50 to $100 per family to attend a baseball game. Apple would not be pushing a new iPad every other month (it seems that way anyway 🙂 ).

So what does it look like when you “play above the line” with your money? How can you be above average in your finances? What does it take to be weird in the land of normal?

Take Ownership

  • Learn to create and live on a monthly spending plan. In other words, prepare a monthly budget every month before the month begins. Spend your money on paper. You tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went (another great thought from Maxwell). And track your spending!
  • Learn to identify wants vs. needs. Focus on the basic necessities of your household first and prioritize those first (food, shelter, clothing, transportation).

Plan for the Future

  • Save for emergencies. At a minimum you need $1,000 in your beginner’s emergency fund. Later, you should build that up to 6 months of expenses.
  • Get out of debt. You won’t be able to make much progress if all your money is going to pay everyone else but you!
  • Start saving for retirement (after you get out of consumer debt). You need to build up to put away 15% of your gross income every year.
  • Start saving for college (after you get out of consumer debt). If you have kids, you can pass on to them the great gift of going through college without student loans. It is possible!!!
  • Pay off the mortgage. You don’t need a mortgage just because you want to keep a tax deduction. You can achieve the same deduction by increasing your charitable giving.

Love your Family Well

  • Take care of your insurance needs: Life, Health, Home/Renters, Auto, Disability, Identity Theft, and Long Term Care (once you reach 60 years old). Transfer that risk to someone else!
  • Get a will. It is simple and inexpensive. Don’t leave your family with the task of figuring out what to do with your stuff once you are gone. In the midst of mourning your passing, they can have the peace that there will be an orderly transition.
  • Teach your kids about money. They need to know how to balance a checkbook. They need to know the value of earning money. They need to learn how to save and how to spend. They also need to learn and experience the joy of giving.

Playing above the line. Being above average or weird. I understand it is not easy. Some days it will be harder than other. You will be tempted to give in. But don’t. What is the option really? What choice do you have? If not you then who? If not now, when?

One of the great “guy movies” of all time is of course Braveheart. Towards the end of the movie, Sir William Wallace is facing execution. Princess Isabelle can’t bear the thought of him dying. In one of the great lines of the movie, he says: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” Sir William Wallace had given his life for a noble and just cause. He gave the example of playing above the line and giving it your all.

So what choice will you make? Will you choose to take ownership of your finances or let everyone else set the standard for you? Will you choose to stay below the line or will you choose to live beyond mediocrity? Average won’t cut it. Normal won’t cut it. This country of ours is still the greatest country in the world. It is still the land of opportunity, the land of the free. But you have to brave. You have to be daring. You have to choose to be above average. Start today!