Zero based budgeting

money2.jpg Yes, I know that is an odd title. But this hasn’t turned into a business blog, so stay with me here.

Zero Based Budgeting is a financial process where instead of tweaking previous budgets (e.g., here’s a 3% increase for this area, and 5% for that area . . .), you start from scratch and re-justify every expenditure. Everything.

This is a healthy exercise for everyone to do – businesses, government, churches, families and individuals. Otherwise, we end up institutionalizing ineffeciencies and ineffective techniques and we becomes slaves to habits. This isn’t just about money, it is about how we spend our time.

Governments at all levels could perform this exercise to shift resources to where they are most needed. They don’t, of course.

With respect to church, we should periodically examine every element of worship, every committee, every ministry, etc. The main standard is, of course, “Is it Biblical?” Then comes the practical considerations of whether things are productive, cost effective, etc. We will always have limited resources, so we need to be good stewards of what we have been given.

This also works on a personal level. Have you thought about where you spend every dollar and whether it reflects your priorities? Also, think about where you spend your time. If you are a Christian who has difficulty finding time to read the Bible and pray, have you done a review of where you do spend your time? For example, until 10 years ago, I thought I didn’t have time to read the Bible. Then I realized that I had no problem making time for other activities – watching TV, reading magazines, reading the newspaper, etc. – and that with a little change in habits I could find all the time I needed.

Give it a try. Be ruthless.

“Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this guy.”

One of my all-time favorite lines from The Simpsons was when Homer complained about how expensive his Bible was. He goes on to say:

And talk about a preachy book! Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this guy.

See the video here!

I know the writers weren’t trying to make a serious theological statement. It was just a funny line unrelated to the plot. Homer’s character is so dumb that he sometimes makes profound statements without knowing it. Upon further review, it accurately summarizes much of the Gospel message.

As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all sinners in the bad things we do, say and think and in the good things we should do but don’t. Romans 6:23 is the ultimate bad news / good news verse: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Death, in this context, means eternal spiritual death. We are spiritually dead until we accept the free gift God has given us and “confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

When Homer refers to “this guy,” he means Jesus, of course. As Homer notes, Jesus committed no sins. He was God in flesh who lived the perfect life in our place and who took the punishment we deserved to reconcile us to Him.

Many believe that “good people” go to Heaven, but the Bible couldn’t be more clear in disagreeing with that. It only took one sin to get Adam and Eve kicked out of the original paradise on earth. And even if being 51% good would cut it with God, we are kidding ourselves to think we are achieving that mark (I know I’m nowhere close to that). If you think you are a good enough person to get into Heaven on your own, try this link.

OCD: It’s not just a disorder, it’s a lifestyle.

prod_purell_sanitizer_sm.jpgWe started watching Monk (the obsessive-compulsive detective on the USA channel) a couple months ago and have enjoyed catching up on old episodes. I’m not sure why we like it so much. Perhaps because it makes our OCD look less raging. We buy Purell by the half-gallon. Seriously. Hey, my wife teaches 4th grade, an age not known for its proper hygiene.

Click here to see how Monk-like you are. The quiz said I was “a little Monk-ish.” Shocking!

James 2

This reading is James 2.

Greetings! Here are a few thoughts on James 2. Please read along and comment if you like.

The first passage is about not showing favoritism toward the wealthy. I realize that churches are sometimes homogeneous because they simply reflect the economic situation of the surrounding community. But I really appreciate diversity within the church. After all, what we truly have in common is that we are sinners in need of a savior and that we are followers of Christ. The rest of the differences – skin color, age, economic status, clothes, etc. – seem to matter now but won’t in eternity. How can we ensure that we send a truly welcoming message to everyone who walks through our doors – executives, bikers, rich, poor, etc.? I love my church, but I wish we were more diverse.

James says that showing favoritism is a serious sin and reminds us that breaking one of God’s laws is like breaking the whole law. Then he reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment. That is the good news for the day.

The next section is the faith versus works debate, which has generated tons of discussion over the years. At one point in his life, Martin Luther didn’t think the Book of James should even be in the Bible because he thought it said we are saved by works (He later changed his mind). At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, I approach the debate this way: We are saved by grace, through faith, and real faith will produce real works. If we just say we have faith and have no sustained works to back it up, our faith is not real. If I really believe that Jesus is God and I am putting my trust in Him as my savior, then it follows that I would attempt to obey Him. If I am doing good deeds without faith in Jesus, then my motive is probably to make myself look good. Those deeds won’t save anyone; in fact, they expose the sin of pride.

The next reading is James 3.

PG = Pro-God?

pg.jpg

As humor columnist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. The Motion Picture Association of America gave a PG rating to the movie “Facing the Giants” because it mentions Jesus and has other Christian elements. The MPAA was afraid it would offend non-Christians. Eek.Of course, it is easy to get riled up about such a move by the MPAA considering the offensive things they don’t address in their ratings.Yet this could be a blessing in disguise. Instead of protesting, perhaps Christians should thank the MPAA and let them know they will only attend movies that are rated PG for being Pro-God-of-the-Bible (provided that the movies are of high quality . . . just because they have a Christian message doesn’t mean they are good). After all, why support movies that mock God or pretend He doesn’t exist?

More information here.

Christian Radio

radio.jpgChristian radio has been a huge part of my spiritual growth. When a station switched from a Rock format to Christian, I inexplicably started listening. Until then I may have thought about God some on Sunday morning, but not much at all during the week. I don’t remember what I listened to first, but over time I was listening to sermons, family shows like Family Life Today and educational programs like the Bible Answer Man.

A few years later, Kim discovered the local Christian music station, KSBJ. She did so because our girls were getting past the toddler phase and she had to lunge at the preset buttons when a curse word would fly. My stereotype about Contemporary Christian music was, “Boring!” But after listening for a while, I found a lot of artists I really liked. When the family is driving together we listen to KSBJ almost exclusively. The girls enjoy it as well.

My favorite stations (Houston)
Music – KSBJ – 89.3 FM
Talk / sermons / family shows – KKHT – 100.7 FM
Music / sermons / family shows – KAFR – 88.3FM

I’ll delve into the mysteries of this another time, but my observation is that over 80% of radio preachers (at least those on the stations I listen to) have sound, Bible based teachings, while over 80% of TV preachers teach some amount of false doctrines. So when in doubt, try Christian radio instead of TV.

Check out OnePlace.com for a sample of the many ministries you can listen to on local stations, online or via downloads or podcasts. More on that later.

My current favorite shows
Sermons: Walk in the Word and Grace to You have powerful, interesting Bible-based preaching (there are many great shows, but I only spend so much time in the car).

Family shows: Family Life Today and Focus on the Family

Other: Stand to Reason weekly show and daily Podcasts and the Bible Answer Man.

Do you listen to Christian radio? What are your favorite shows?

James 1


The reading for this week is James chapter 1 (Right-click the link and select “Open in New Window” to keep this window open).

Tip: Start by praying that God will reveal Himself through His Word as you read it.

Background: This “James” was not one of the twelve Apostles, he was Jesus’ brother. He did not become a believer until after the resurrection. This relatively short book is chock full of guidance, challenges and promises to believers.

I must admit that when verse 2 says, “”Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” that I am tempted to put the book down and say, “I’m outta here!”
Pure joy? When facing trials? I tend to just think of enduring trials. But I can’t deny that persevering eventually does great things in my life. Nothing happens to us that God doesn’t make happen or let happen, so we can trust that it will be for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

Verse 5 (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) contains a major-league promise. We should all meditate on that verse to remind ourselves that God will give us wisdom during trials. All we have to do is ask. No strings attached. Wisdom is different than intelligence. There are intelligent people who make lots of bad decisions, and less educated people that make mostly wise decisions.

Verses 19-20 have timeless guidance: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Everything works out better when I follow this command.

Verse 26 always convicts me: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Ouch. It is easy to keep a tight rein on my tongue most of the time, but not always.

Please add your thoughts or questions. If you aren’t sure how posting works or aren’t comfortable posting online, just email me a neil@4simpsons.com.

P.S. My good friend Travis memorized all of James! I have about 3 verses down. Only 105 to go!

The reading for next week is James chapter 2-3.

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.