Debt-Free

Showing the strainThree years ago, having returned home from a four-year tour spent teaching in other towns, I sat down and realized a frustration: I wasn’t any closer to paying off my college debts than when I left.

There were a number of reasons. Teaching doesn’t pay squat, of course (though I wouldn’t want it to become a six-figure profession lest it start attracting gold diggers). But it was also the endless parade of car troubles, time and money spent driving back home to keep in touch with people, and mission trips to attend. It was a situation where I couldn’t spot any flagrantly bad choices with my money (and I’m hard on myself, so if there had been, I’d have acknowledged it). Yet I was no nearer to being debt-free.

It became clear that my debts wouldn’t be recouped unless I chose to make it a top priority. Hard experience had taught that if I put it off to buy an entertainment center or a furniture set or what have you, the next stupid car problem would get me (can you see my paranoia?) and I’d remain in an endless treadmill. Freedom would just never happen.

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Not Excited Enough

catA few years ago, I and my friends DJ and Sarah, married for 2.25 years, took a road trip to Seattle. We were visiting our respective families, and as a bonus, DJ and I were going to catch a Seahawks game (during what turned out to be their Super Bowl season).

As we drove along a remote highway with the sun just dawning behind us, I remembered that I needed to check something on our online tickets. I’ve never bothered keeping up with the Joneses, so I had no smartphone. I asked DJ if I could borrow his, and I went to Google to type in my mailbox’s address. Well, as you know, when you use Google, it brings up the user’s Google “search history”. Here’s how DJ’s search history looked:

“what to eat while pregnant”
“how to exercise while pregnant”
“maternity clothes”

My mouth dropped open. I showed the screen to DJ with raised eyebrows and in his classic aw-shucks form, he grinned, “Oh. Yeah.”

They were gonna have a kid!

I was ecstatic. Two of my favorite people in the world and now there would be more of them??? Hot dog!!!! The world could only be improved by this development.

But the cool part was – I was actually the first person to find out besides DJ and Sarah themselves. Their real purpose for their trip (Seahawks, psh) was actually to announce the coming baby to her family; his family hadn’t heard yet. By accident, I, just a friend, intercepted a giant gobsmack of very privileged information. It was humbling, but also quite sneakily cool. Now, of course, that gobsmack is a delightful little girl of almost three, running around the church sanctuary with hands in the air and jumping up and down on the pews during worship.

And as I sat in church this last weekend behind that very family, hearing about the mystery of the Gospel, a question occurred to me.

Why was I more excited about that news than I ever am about my salvation?

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The Fresh Start No Calendar Can Bring (and Why You Need It)

earthA funny thing, this January 1.

I can’t help but imagine the sun giving us a weird look right now. “Okay, Earth, so now you’re one degree further over and…oh, it’s a celebration for you this time? Umm…ok. Have fun, I guess.”

This is the day that most of humanity seems to connect with a fresh start. We’ve got a new paper book hanging on the wall with a big “2017” scrawled on it, so now we get to dump the last 365 days of failure and launch a new life. Or something.

A fresh start is a nice thought. Whether it’s from failure or from simply not being someone you yourself can like, the concepts of redemption and a clean slate permeate literature, television, and film. “Lost” was a great example (darn that show. YOU NEVER TOLD US WHAT HAPPENED TO WALT!!!! Ahem…). The idea of getting to become a better person calls to all of us. Even in the darker shows (think “House of Cards”, not that I could bear to watch it for long), we root for the antihero to experience that gradual turn towards the light. The theme is prevalent – almost universal.

Perhaps there’s a reason redemption sells.

The truth is, it’s speaking to a primal, unspoken truth running through the fabric of mankind. A fresh start is not a novelty. It’s not a fallback strategy, not a last-ditch measure, not “for those other people”. It is a necessity. For everyone.

Even for you, who think you have lived a good life.

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Tipping and Grace: Do Christians Ever Have the Right to Stiff?

jar2A former pastor once told of an experience as a caterer. He served two groups in the same day that could not have treated him more differently. The first was a gathering of homosexual folks; they were warm, friendly, and left a great tip. The other was impatient, grouchy, fault-finding, and left no tip at all.

The second group was a pastors’ luncheon.

Tipping has become a flashpoint in our social consciousness. I suppose it was inevitable that the smartphone age would allow us to capture and publicize everyone’s tips. (Here’s a montage of tips that would be hilarious if not for their rudeness.) But it’s worth talking about for Christians, because any question of generosity becomes a checkup on how we’re doing as the salt of the earth.

Some Christians respond to this call by leaving tracts for their waiters instead of tips.

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It’s the worst thing ever.

Look, I get the reasoning. Tracts can potentially lead to salvation, and salvation is worth far more than few bucks.

But we Christians aren’t supposed to be operating on our own reasoning. We’re supposed to be operating on God’s. Here’s it is, if you’re interested:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

My friends, waiters and waitresses live off their tips. When I worked as a pizza delivery driver (a nice earner during football season, I would mention to the college folks), my tips usually amounted to two to three times my actual wage. It was still only marginally worth the wear and tear on my car (and my gas tank). Very rarely will eight or nine bucks an hour get anyone through college. So trust me, your waiter isn’t there for the joy of minimum wage.

 

God understands and appreciates the practical plane, and he ties the validity of our works to it with cords of Scripture. Jesus teaches that meeting worldly needs is a terrific opening to the Gospel (and not the other way around). Christians’ failure to meet these needs gives the world an easy opportunity to beat us at our own Christ-commissioned game: generosity.

Never offer a prayer to which you can be the answer.

But there is an even greater matter on my mind today. Suppose your waiter or driver gives you bad service. Drops food, rolls his eyes, or something. It is often our practice in that instance to withhold tips, in the hopes of “encouraging” better service next time.

I just want to ask one thing.

Is that anywhere close to the way Jesus handles us?

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