Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moving On

We knew it was coming, we just didn't know when.

The time has come.

We are moving!

During the next two months we are going to be remodeling our house in Mishawaka and vacating our house in Syracuse. There's about an hour's drive between the two locations, but a world of difference.

Katie and I started our marriage living in a city. It was a small city (Niles) but a city nonetheless. Then we moved to the country. We live on a 6.5-acre piece of property with 300 feet of frontage on Dewart Lake and the nearest neighbor is at least 100 yards away. We've been there for the past four and a half years (incredibly formative years for our kids who are now 5 and 7). Now we are moving back to the city.

While we will greatly miss the beauty, peace and privacy of our current location, we are incredibly excited about our new location too. It will mean a lot less driving and more choices of grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment, etc. We are going to be much, much closer to our extended families and no farther away from Nappanee Missionary Church, where I work and our family worships.

We are incredibly thankful for the past four and a half years at the Bethel College Retreat Center. Bethel was very, very good to us and the current state of things absolutely demanded that they cut costs and, unfortunately, our position was one of the casualties. I don't want anybody to think Bethel left us high and dry because they were generous to us, even in the decision to cut much of our compensation. So, this decision was ours and ours alone. Bethel did not fire us or even ask us to leave. We decided to move on.

Our time at the Retreat Center was amazing. We met so many people who we hope will be lifelong friends. We experienced things that never could have happened if we had stayed in Niles. Our kids developed a love of the outdoors and a respect and awe of God's creation. When we moved to the lake, neither of our kids would go outside without shoes on. Now, in the summer, we can't keep clothes on them. Both would rather wear a bathing suit and nothing else. They love to play in the dirt, dig for worms, pick flowers, explore their surroundings, go fishing, swim in the lake, go for walks, watch birds, climb trees, sit by campfires, play until dark, eat at picnic tables, play in sprinklers, ride bikes and roll in the grass. I'll always be grateful for our time at the lake, especially because of the way it changed our kids.

Now, as much as I enjoyed being at the lake, I am just as excited to move to Mishawaka. We are going to remodel much of the home we're moving into, which was built by my wife's great-grandfather in the early 1900s. It's always been in her family and we are honored to be the next ones to keep it there.

We will have more living space than we've ever had and we hope it can be a blessing to many people. We want to be generous with what God has blessed us with. We want our kids to want friends to come over to our house. We want our friends to want to spend time at our house. We want it to be so much more than a house. We want it to be a home - and not just to us. We want everyone who steps inside to feel at home. Most of all, we want our Heavenly Father to be clearly evident in our home. We want to serve Him and honor Him with our new home.

So, over the next couple months we may not be able to spend a lot of time on things other than remodeling and moving, but we'd love for you to stop by our new home. Give us a call!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Thoughts on Money: You Can't Buy Happiness

It's an old expression, but I can attest to its truth.

You really can't buy happiness.

I've tried. It didn't work.

When we ended up with two incomes and no mortgage payment we decided to have a little fun. Only instead of having just a little fun we ended up going crazy. We went out to eat a lot. We bought new furniture. We bought a big HD TV. We bought a car. We bought exercise equipment (because we were going out to eat too much). We went on vacations. We bought a boat (that we never even used).

Now, I'm not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, I highly recommend saving up enough cash to take your family on a vacation every now and then. We've been blessed to be able to spend time away from home each of the last four years. Thankfully, we didn't take on any debt to do so.

We had been pinching every penny for the first five years of our marriage and once we got some financial margin in our lives, we lost perspective. You see, for a long time money was not an issue for us. I don't mean that the way most people mean it. Money was not an issue for us because we didn't have much and couldn't spend much. But once we had more, it became an issue. We had all these grand ideas of becoming completely debt free, socking away an emergency fund and then becoming incredibly generous givers.

Those plans never got carried out because we thought the dinners out, the furniture, the TV, the vacations, the boat, the car and all the other stuff was going to somehow make us more happy. But the opposite happened.

When money was tight, we were incredibly happy and satisfied. We had everything we needed and trusted God to provide. But when the extra money came in, we forgot how faithful God is and started trusting in our incomes.

That's the dangerous thing about margin. It's an incredible blessing but it can also be a curse. In the series, How to Be Rich, one of the main points is that being RICH is good news and bad news. It's good because God has blessed us and we can do some incredible things with those blessings. It's bad because, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25) and because to whom much is given, much is expected.

It didn't take long for us to experience money owning us rather than us owning the money.

So, we still have all the things we bought (except the vacations and the dinners out). But we also have a rather unhealthy struggle when it comes to priorities. We think we need certain things that we don't really need. We think they'll make us happy but they won't. We think if we had more money in the bank we'd feel more secure but we wouldn't.

The truth is, we felt happier, more secure and more content when we had very little money to spend. We trusted God more. We were more thankful for what we had. We found true joy in our relationships rather than a false sense of joy through things.

Money can't buy happiness. It's true.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Thoughts On Money: Margin

What is margin?

As I type this post I'm listening to the third part of a series called Margin. Here's how they define margin:

The amount available beyond what is necessary.

So, margin is created by having more than you need. I know a lot of people who have much more than they need, but I also know plenty of people who believe they don't have more than they need. In fact, they would say they don't have enough.

If you read the previous post in this series, you can probably guess that I believe I have more than I need. But I didn't always feel that way.

Early in my marriage (which will be 10 years old in May) my wife and I decided to have kids. Well, God decided we needed kids. Either way, our daughter was born and we suddenly had a third mouth to feed. But, you know food wasn't the only expense that came along with our precious daughter.

At the time, we were living on less than $30,000 a year with two car payments and a mortgage. Needless to say, things were pretty tight. I don't think at that time we believed we had more than we needed. We probably would have said we didn't have enough.

The truth is we had everything we needed - food, clothing, shelter and transportation. We also had lots of other things on top of those basic necessities.

So, what changed? When did we start believing we had enough?

Well, it took a pretty humbling experience for us to understand the difference between what we thought we needed and what we really needed. Shortly after my daughter was born, we found ourselves racking up more and more credit card debt. The minimum payment was becoming overwhelming. So, we ran out of options and asked my parents to help us out.

My parents were very generous to pay off our debt, but were also very wise to require us to pay it back to them.

Since that time, we've never used or even had a credit card. My wife, Katie, and I had to admit to ourselves and to my parents that we were not responsible enough to have that much spending power at our disposal. It was a tough change of mindset, at first, but not having that "safety net" made us more responsible in the long run.

I put "safety net" in quotation marks because that's how we used to view our credit cards. It turns out, though, that the net was really a web that entangled us and threatened to devour us.

So, with no credit card to fall back on when emergencies came up, we had to categorize things into necessities and frivolities. We got good at saying, "No" to things we didn't need and couldn't afford.

Then something happened that changed everything again. We accepted a job that brought in a second income and relieved us of our mortgage. Pretty sweet deal, right? That's what we thought too. Suddenly, we had lots of margin.

The only problem was that we didn't view it as margin. We viewed it as extra. We made some good decisions - like paying off cars and my parents - but we also made some very poor decisions. We got very greedy and started buying all the things we thought we needed to be happy. Fortunately, we did it all debt-free, but it was still a bad idea.

Last year when the economy crashed and people started losing their jobs, we got hit too. We didn't lose our job, but we did lose most of our second income. We were back down to what amounted to one income and had to remember what was necessary and what wasn't.

We are still struggling to figure it out. We don't have any margin right now. We have lots of things, but we still have debt and very little financial freedom.

If we had viewed that extra income as margin instead of extra, we could have been debt free and we could have given a lot of money to the things that are important to us. We could have blessed the many ministries we love and pray for. We could have helped friends and family that went through some very tough times.

I deeply regret some of the decisions we made when we had more margin, but the great thing is that we can still have margin.


Anybody can have margin by doing one of two things: Make more money or spend less money.

In the current economy, making more money doesn't seem possible to many people, but almost everyone can cut expenses. I know for sure that my family can cut back and spend less.

If you believe that you are RICH, then you have more than you need and you can use the extra as margin. Don't view it as extra money for you to buy more stuff, but as margin to use however God asks you.

Proverbs 21:20

In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.

I want to be wise. I want to have margin. Do you?

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Thoughts on Money: I AM RICH

Most of you reading this know that I am NOT RICH.

But you're wrong.

I AM RICH. You just didn't know it.

I have so much money that I have two cars - a 2004 Toyota Sienna and a 2002 Chevy Prizm (that burns about 1 quart of oil a month).

I have so much money that I have health and life insurance. That's right, I can afford to pay somebody money for things that haven't even happened yet - and probably never will.

I have so much money that I own a 42-inch Sony Bravia LCD TV ... and an entertainment center to put it on. Oh, and I also have a DVD player.

I have so much money that my wife and I both have cell phones ... with unlimited texting (no data plans) and we have two laptop computers and high-speed internet in our home.

I am SO RICH that I have to decide which pair of shoes I'm going to wear each day.

I have SO MUCH MONEY that my whole family gets to eat three meals every day ... and snacks in between. Sometimes we even go to restaurants where we pay people to cook and serve us meals. In fact, there are days when I have to convince myself that I shouldn't buy a can of pop because it sounds so good but I know it's not healthy for me.

You really want to know how rich I am? I am in the top 2% of wage earners in the world today.


Are you rich?

We just completed a four-part series from called How to Be Rich. It wasn't about how to GET rich, because most everybody in the United States already is incredibly rich compared to the average person in the world. This series was about handling the rich blessings we've been given in a way that honors God.

The first session of the series focused a lot on convincing us that WE ARE RICH.

I know I don't often feel rich. But part of that is because RICH is a moving target. Where I'm at financially, RICH seems pretty far away. But from where most people in the world stand, I'm well beyond what they picture as RICH.

When my family and I went to Mexico, we saw many people who would be classified as very poor in the culture we live in. To them, we were probably very RICH. But you know what? In a lot of ways, I saw them as the ones who were rich. They were so full of love and joy and it made me wonder what I was missing.

So, I am convinced that I AM RICH. Are you convinced that you are RICH? If not, just think about all the luxuries you've enjoyed today that most people in the world will never get to experience. If you drove your car to work this morning, you did something many people will never do. If you chose one pair of pants over another pair, you have more than most people will ever have. YOU ARE RICH!

Now, if I have convinced you that YOU ARE RICH, how does it change your life?

I'll tell you how it's changing mine in the next post.

My Thoughts on Money

This is the start of a multi-part series in which I will share some of the things I've learned and opinions I have about money. It seems like anytime you bring up money it gets people talking and thinking - sometimes even arguing. So, it's obviously a very interesting topic and I have some pretty strong feelings that I'd like to share. I'm not trying to start any arguments or force my opinions on anybody, I just want to share some of the things I've experienced/learned that I consider a great blessing.

First, a few big disclaimers:

1. I am not a financial expert. Nobody is going to confuse me with an expert in any field pertaining to money. I make a lot of stupid decisions with money, but I'm trying to change that. I'm just a normal guy trying to be a good steward of the blessings God has given me.

2. I am still learning. Just because I'm sharing this stuff doesn't mean I think I've learned all there is to learn. In fact, I never want to be in a place where I can't learn new things - even if it challenges things I believe.

3. None of what I'm going to share is original material. I did not make this stuff up or come up with these ideas on my own. I'm just trying to be a messenger of some things I've come across.

4. I wish somebody would have shared this stuff with me sooner. I have made many, many mistakes with money ... and still do. The whole point is to learn, change behavior and help each other make the most of what we have.

The first post is coming later today ... stay tuned.

NFL Pick 'Em Playoffs Week 3 Results

With a perfect weekend, Craig Helfrich sealed at least a share of the title. Dan Erickson is one game back and has only one option to be able to move into a tie for first with Craig - he'll have to pick the Saints because Craig is the biggest Colts fan I know. Dan can finish no worse than second, so there's nothing for him to lose if he picks New Orleans.

Tim Emmons has sealed the third-place finish. Rodney Jernas and I are tied for fourth and he's another big Colts fan so I'll have to pick the Saints. Look for the final picks late in the week!

Friday, January 22, 2010

NFL Pick 'Em Playoffs Week 3

It's a clean sweep for the Colts among the contestants. You know what that means?

There's an UPSET coming!

Well, maybe not, but it would serve us all right.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

NFL Pick 'Em: Playoffs Week 2

We've only got seven games left and there's still a race at the top. Craig Helfrich has a one-game lead over Dan Erickson. Beyond that, Tim Emmons has a solid hold on third place and then Rodney Jernas and I are tied for fourth.

Here's my thoughts on this weekend's games:

New Orleans over Arizona: Part of this has to do with my feelings that the Cardinals should not have beaten my Packers last week. More than that, though, I think the Saints are primed for a run in these playoffs. I can see this being a blowout, but even if it's close I think the Saints win.

Indianapolis over Baltimore: This was the hardest game for me to pick this weekend. The reason is because Baltimore is a team that seems like it can beat anybody if they get just a couple bounces to go their way. But, Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning and he's going to do everything in his power to keep the ball away from Baltimore. So, in the end, I think the Colts win a close one.

Minnesota over Dallas: Sidney Rice (not Brett Favre) is too good to lose this one. I really think Rice (interesting last name) has moved into the top 2 or 3 receivers in the NFL and I don't think the Cowboys have anybody to stop him. Add to that the running attack of Adrian Peterson (most powerful, scary runner in the NFL) and all the other weapons (Harvin, Shiancoe, Taylor) that Minnesota has and I think Dallas struggles to keep up.

San Diego over NY Jets: After so many good seasons this might be the year for the Chargers. Philip Rivers could be the second or third best quarterback in the league and he seems to play best in big games. Now, the Jets do have the best cornerback in the league, but he can only cover one guy at a time and the Chargers have a few guys who can catch passes and make big plays.

You Play To Win The Game (INFL Mixtape)

In honor of this weekend's playoff games, here's a great video of some of the most memorable NFL coaches and their postgame press conferences. Fun stuff.

Sorry for a few bad words.

Monday, January 11, 2010

NFL Pick 'Em Playoffs Week 2 Results

Only one contestant correctly picked all four games during the opening weekend of the 2010 NFL Playoffs. Tim Emmons went 4-0, but is still five games behind leader Craig Helfrich. Craig went 1-3 and Dan Erickson went 2-2 to close Craig's lead to one game.

On the other end of the spectrum, Derry Prenkert was the only contestant to go 0-4.

On a personal note, watching the Packers-Cardinals game was excruciating, then thrilling, then agonizing, then exciting ... in the end, though, it was just sad. Oh well. The Packers had a great season (except for that loss to the Buccaneers and getting swept by the Vikings) and there should be nothing but good things on the horizon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

NFL Pick 'Em Playoffs Week 1

Here we go! The NFL Playoffs start tomorrow and we've got a tight race at the top of the leaderboard. Dan Erickson is only two games back heading into this weekend, but both he and Craig Helfrich have been really strong. They picked only one game differently, and it's one that has special significance to me - Packers vs. Cardinals.

I feel pretty good about the Packers' chances this weekend. The Cards are prone to turnovers and the Packers have forced more turnovers than any other team in the NFL this year. The Green Bay offense is clicking pretty well - especially with the added weapon of tight end Jermichael Finley. I like the matchup, the only problem is that so does everybody else. When just about everybody picks a team to pull off an upset, it doesn't usually happen. Oh well, maybe this time will be different! Go Packers!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas in Mexico: Our Hosts

When you're going to another country with your family who has never been outside the United States before, there are lots of things you're unsure of.

Since I've been to other countries before, I kind of knew what to expect, but for my family it was a totally new experience.

I was not sure how my family would handle the possible difficulties we would face in Mexico. I didn't know about the food, the housing or our hosts.

I've worked at Nappanee Missionary Church for three years and so I've heard a lot about our partners in the Juarez, Mexico, area. Francisco and Rosa are pretty much household names for anyone who attends NMC regularly. I knew they were loved by the leadership at NMC but you never truly know somebody until you spend time with them.

When we landed in El Paso, we were greeted by Lucio (third from left), Rosita (second from left) and their baby girl, Ruby (middle). Rosita is Francisco and Rosa's daughter and Lucio is her husband. Lucio speaks very little English but Rosita is fluent in English and Spanish.

It was dark when we got to Texas so there wasn't much to see outside our van, but I listened intently as Rosita and our team leader, Jack Lengacher, caught each other up on things. I didn't realize I was doing it, but I learned a lot about what was going to happen while we were in Mexico simply by listening to that conversation.

When we got to the dorm that night, we were warmly greeted by Francisco (left) and Rosa (right) Ramirez, as well as their son, Ruben (aka Carter) and Othon, a church member. They quickly made us feel comfortable and like we were at home.

As our time in Mexico went on, we were able to spend lots of time with the Ramirez family (including Carter, Rosita, Lucio and Ruby) and got to know them pretty well. Every night after dark we got to play games together and with our hosts. Mexican Uno was the main game, but we also introduced some of our games.

One game that my wife, Katie, and Katie Lengacher introduced was Telephone Charades. It's a lot like regular Charades except that a team of four has to pass on the act to each other until the fourth person finally has to make a guess.

In the picture above, Carter and Francisco are doing their renditions of a rapper. Carter started, and did a great job, then Francisco had to copy Carter's act to Rosa. Something got mixed up in the transition and Rosa thought she was supposed to act like a dishwasher. It was hilarious and they eventually got it right.

While the game was a lot of fun, the best part of it was being able to laugh together and get more comfortable with each other. It created a lot of chemistry within our team, but also with our hosts.

One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was getting to know Carter. He speaks English and Spanish so he helped with a lot of translating. But he was also willing to share his story. On the first day, he took a few minutes to tell me about his life. His story is captivating and encouraging. I am so happy that he is taking steps to strengthen his relationship with Christ.

Also, Carter taught us a lot of phrases in Spanish, including what the Beck song Que Onda Guero? means.

One of the first things I did when I got home was to look up the blog Rosita keeps and find Rosa and Rosita on Facebook.

I don't feel like they are just people I know who happen to live in Mexico. In the words of Katie Lengacher, "I have family in Mexico."

Monday, January 4, 2010

NFL Pick 'Em Week 17 Results

Well, Craig held off Dan for another week and finished the regular season with a two-game lead. Here's the standings at the end of the regular season:

1. Craig Helfrich 178-78
2. Dan Erickson 176-80
3. Tim Emmons 170-86
4. Rodney Jernas 166-90
tie Dan Weiss 166-90
6. Kevin Edwards 160-96
7. Geoff Cocanower 157-99
tie Derry Prenkert 157-99
tie Jeff Simpson 157-99
10. Preson Edwards 152-104
11. Jason Thompson 146-110

There are 11 games left to pick, which means only five people are left with a chance to win. However, it would take a small miracle for anybody but Craig or Dan to actually win the whole thing. Good luck guys!