Just a Little Bit More

Piggy BankLet’s do some financial planning together. Some might object: “I don’t have any finances left to plan!” It is certainly a challenging time. We live in a material world, and all of us could use a little more material to work with. Oftentimes, we seem to have more month than money. Paychecks have been stretched to the breaking point, and something has got to give.

So let’s play Make Believe for a moment. How much MORE money do you need? I’m not talking about winning the MegaMillions’ jackpot. Just how much MORE money would you need to feel secure, content, and happy?

When asked this question, millionaire John D. Rockefeller’s famous reply was: “Just a little bit more!”

Isn’t that the truth? Regardless of our income, we could always use more money. Our wants and needs tend to expand to meet and exceed our income. According to bankrate.com, about 40% of all U. S. families spend MORE than their annual income each year.

Americans have underwritten lifestyle choices with easy credit and delayed payments, spending more than we make. We’ve danced, and now the fiddler wants to be paid. We are facing some of the cold, hard facts about cold, hard cash.

The saddest part is that our pursuit of happiness through materialism does not work. A number of studies have proven that there is no relationship between money and happiness. One economist who has done extensive research on the subject summarized the longitudinal studies by saying: “If you follow a single person over time as they move from lower income to higher income, you will find no increase in their happiness.” (Richard Easterlin, University of Southern California)

The old saying is true: Money can’t buy happiness. If we expect more money to make us feel happy, joyful, content, fulfilled, or valuable, then we will be sadly disappointed. It was never designed by God to do any of these things.

Money is a gift given to us by God to care for ourselves and others. It is a means to an end, a tool to accomplish a job. A carpenter doesn’t get misty-eyed over his hammer. An accountant isn’t overly attached to her calculator. An IT professional doesn’t kiss his computer good night. An insurance agent doesn’t dream of a new actuarial table that will finally make her life complete. A teacher doesn’t expect a new curriculum to make his career worthwhile. Why would we expect money to fill us with purpose and meaning?

Our material resources are good gifts given to us by a loving Creator. However, it is our human sinful nature to constantly get the created confused with the Creator. Time and again we find ourselves worshipping the made rather than the Maker. It is not a question of whether we have a little money but whether a little money has us.

Money makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master!

There are moments when we all fall into the trap of making a living rather than making a life. However, God calls us to a lifestyle of faithful stewardship. Stewards care for someone else’s property like it was their own. Christians realize that all of life—including our financial resources—is a gift from God. We are called to use these gifts for the kingdom of God’s sake but never to grow overly attached to what was not ours to begin with. Someday we will be called to return with interest what we have received.

So store up your treasure in heaven—otherwise, you are buying stock in a world that is going bankrupt.

Road Rage

We moved to Gwinnett County in June 2013. I’ve been driving in the metro area since earning my Learner’s License in the mid-1970s. I thought I knew all about Atlanta traffic; however, Gwinnett County occupies a hellish place of its own.

We quickly learned to gauge time rather than distance for commutes. In previous places, a 10 mile trip translated into 10-15 minutes’ drive-time. The distance-time law does not apply in this alternate universe. If the ten mile trip involves Highway 316 or 78 during rush hour, then pack emergency supplies. Don’t even get me started on Buford Highway or Sugarloaf Parkway.

Gwinnett County ranks as the Godzilla of traffic monsters in Georgia. Various factors contribute to the congestion. Quantity produces its own bad quality. Too many people living in too small an area trying to travel the same roads at the same time provides a recipe for disaster.

Our county also serves as a melting pot for many different cultures and nationalities. The rules of the road vary greatly in different parts of the world. For some, traffic lights and stop signs apparently serve more as a suggestion than a rule.

Human sinfulness plays its part. Egotistical people naturally assume their own self-importance. In a hurry, they tailgate, swerve, switch lanes, blow horns, gesture, and cut in line.

Road RageIn the pulpit, I have confessed to the congregation that Gwinnett County traffic tests my Christian faith. I would like to say the ordeal has tempered my faith to produce patience and kindness . . . yes, that is what I would LIKE to say! Even when I successfully resist Road Rage, however, Street Stress still takes its toll.

So I’ve devised a few strategies to survive Gwinnett traffic. I hope you find them helpful.

Breathe. Breathe in and breathe out. Feel the breath in your stomach, solar plexus, lungs, throat, and nose. In Hebrew (ruah) and Greek (pneuma), the words for “breath” also mean “wind” and “spirit.” Think about the dual meanings of the word “inspiration.” Focusing on breathing calms the body and soul.

Traffic lights abound on our highways and byways. During rush hour, commuters often get to see the same light change multiple times. When you stop, stop to pray. Use the red light as a reminder to say a quick prayer. Or recite a memorized verse of Scripture.

Use imaginative thinking and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the person who stops and starts and stops again just moved to town and doesn’t know his way. The older woman driving 35 in the 55 mph zone could be your grandmother. The person tailgating your bumper might have a sick child in the backseat. The moron who just cut you off attends your church!

My last resort technique sounds a bit bizarre but it works for me. When I get into the car, I visualize three “Idiot Cards” sitting on my dashboard. During the commute, I amuse myself by awarding the cards to deserving drivers! For some reason, this helps keep me calm.

Gwinnett Country continues to grow, and the traffic will only get worse. When circumstances remain the same, it’s the person who needs to change. Don’t let driving drive you crazy—let my tips help!

The Cruelest Month

January BetaIn his 1922 collection of poems entitled The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot described April as the cruelest month. Maybe things are different in England, but I would match a Georgia January against a British April any time. The New Year’s first month in our native state feels dreadfully dreary and dull.

The post-holiday blues pose part of the problem. Ordinary time seems so ORDINARY compared to the extraordinary events of Christmas and New Year’s. Although we welcome returning to our normal routines, the “same old, same old” appears bland and boring. Our ruts feel like graves with two ends knocked out of them.

In January, all the gifts we gladly charged during December visit us like Ghosts of Christmas Past. The stores that eagerly offered easy credit now expect cold cash. Depression settles like a shroud as many face the prospect of having more month than money.

Then there’s the climate. The unpredictable winter weather is no wonderland in north Georgia. The temperature and humidity yo-yo up and down. One afternoon feels like a short-sleeve spring day. A few days later snow blankets the ground.

The shorter days play their part as well. Actually, the days are not really shorter—they all last 24 hours each! However, the daylight hours are sparse. Scientists have discovered a lack of exposure to sunshine can cause depression. At the very least, one can catch a good case of the winter blahs.

Winter also features the cold and flu season. A public crowd sounds like a tuberculosis ward. Sniffs, sneezes, coughs, and wheezes fill the air. The sick cling to Kleenex and crunch cough drops. A long wait in the doctor’s office becomes a part of our normal routine.

Winter in Georgia is indeed a bleak season. Spirits plunge along with the temperatures. By the middle of the first month, everyone longs for the jonquils and daffodils of spring. January could replace Eliot’s April as the cruelest month.

However, the first month of the calendar might also qualify as the kindest month. The brand New Year offers opportunities for fresh starts and new beginnings. With a little work and determination, New Year’s resolutions can come true. Today can be different from yesterday and tomorrow can be better than today.

The bleak landscape boasts a beauty all its own. The skeletal outline of an oak against the winter sky is breathtaking. The intricate etchings of frost rival the grandest artwork. Seeds nurtured deep in the Mother Earth’s womb prepare for new life in the spring.

Southern comfort can be found beside a warm fireplace with a mug of cocoa. Simmering vegetable soup served with piping hot cornbread nourishes the soul. When snow threatens, everyone knows that lining up at the grocery store for milk and bread can make the season merry and bright.

Winter also serves as a harbinger of spring. The cold, gray nights of winter help us appreciate the warm, blue days of spring. Every season has a beauty of its own that is enhanced in comparison and contrast with the other three seasons. Winter, spring, summer and fall along with every season of life possess both cruelty and kindness. We determine which element we will focus upon. Then our perspective shapes our lives.

January? There’s no finer time to live in Georgia!


Stuff for Our Stuff

January is a somber, penitential season when we repent of December’s excesses. During the holidays, we indulged in too much of too much. We ate too much food, watched too much television, and spent too much money.

The birth of a New Year inspires resolutions of diet, exercise, and thriftiness. Businesses take advantage of the predictable pattern. A plethora of commercials advertise weight-loss plans, exercise equipment, and credit counseling.

boxesBoxes are another popular product during the post-holiday season. Home improvement and business supply stores prominently display storage accessories. Savvy merchants know that consumers need additional storage for their Christmas loot.

The seasonal cycle reminds me of George Carlin’s routine about “stuff.” Don’t worry—I won’t quote the racier parts of the act! The comedian observed: “A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” Life revolves around taking care of our stuff.

Before Christmas, everyone scurried around to buy more stuff. Now we buy boxes to store the old stuff so there is room for the new stuff. Closets, attics, and garages are filled to the overflowing, and many people must also rent off-site storage.

Here’s a thought: if we have to box up stuff to make room for more stuff then MAYBE we have too much stuff. I still have things packed in boxes from when we moved two years ago. If something is not used or unpacked after one year, then the chances are good that it’s not really needed it at all.

Most married couples include one saver and one thrower-awayer. The saver squirrels away possessions in the certain knowledge that they will someday be needed or valuable. The thrower-awayer readily tosses anything and everything into the trash, including family heirlooms and important tax documents. Great entertainment can be enjoyed by watching these two personalities prepare for a family yard sale.

The problem with what we own is that what we own often owns us. Rather than possessing possessions, we discover our possessions possess us. Life becomes an endless rat race to accumulate more stuff and then store the extra stuff away.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who enjoyed a bumper crop year. In fact, the harvest proved too great for his barns. What a wonderful dilemma he faced! So the man decided to build more barns to store the bounty. Then he thought to himself, “I will be able to relax, eat, drink, and be merry!” Yet that very night the man died and his possessions passed on to others. Jesus concluded the story by saying, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Worldly things cannot convey lasting fulfillment, contentment, or meaning. Those who invest their lives in things are buying stock in a bankrupt business. Earthly possessions will never fulfill us any more than drinking salt water can quench our thirst. Stuff cannot fill the aching void within our souls. The real choice is not between stuff and more stuff but between the temporal and eternal, the passing and everlasting.

Here’s a New Year’s suggestion: give some stuff away to others in need. In the process, we can help others while lightening our own load. Generosity begets generosity, and we will learn to hold all of our possessions with a lighter grip.

Loving God by loving others through sharing our possessions is THE stuff of life.