Too complex to succeed

A new article reiterates what I’ve seen for awhile: Many Americans aren’t making enough money to make ends meet, much less save for retirement.

 

“Our research has shown that 78 percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck,” financial expert Chris Hogan said on Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “That means if one check doesn’t show up, they don’t have enough to really make basic needs met month in and month out. So we need a wake-up call all the way around, and people need to engage in this and get more serious.”

Hogan added that he doesn’t think “people understand that it’s really important for us to make sure that we’re putting money away and saving because if we don’t save some money, we won’t have any to spend later.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/personal-finance-us-debt-wakeup-call-180504062.html

Survival mode

While that second paragraph is true, I’m not sure Hogan understands how deep this crisis really is. I’ve worked two jobs in the past 10 years where I’ve earned between $9 and $10 an hour. The first job was in a call center, with mostly college-age kids earning spending money. The second was at a company serving adults with developmental disabilities. Many of the people I worked with there had second jobs or took overtime whenever they could because they had a family to provide for.

No one can live on $10 an hour, which is above Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.55 an hour (but not by much). Saving money for a rainy day isn’t an option. It’s already raining.

The unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, the lowest rate in five decades. Yet hourly income rose only 3.2 percent over the last year, less than earlier projections.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/03/upshot/unemployment-inflation-changing-economic-fundamentals.html

Debt inevitable?

The Yahoo article further states that according to a recent survey conducted by Freedom Debt Relief, 41 percent of Americans have not set aside any money at all for retirement. The main reason indicated was due to the cost of everyday expenses.

Debt was another impediment to saving adequately. About 79 percent of those surveyed said they have debt: Credit card debt accounted for 46 percent, mortgage debt 41 percent, and auto loan debt 28 percent.

“Having fallen into that trap myself and taken a few years to get out of it, I really want to encourage college students to avoid this trap,” Hogan said. “Credit card debt is something that once they get their hooks into you, this can take you 12 to 15 years if you’re not aware of it to attack it and get it out of your life. So, I want people to understand credit.”

 

Hogan works for daveramsey.com, which abhors debt of any kind – including mortgage and credit card debt.

Hogan and Ramsey have a point, but I won’t go that far. I will say this: Don’t spend more than you can pay off every month. We have a major credit card; debt is not an issue for us, because we write a check for the balance before each month’s due date. We have a mortgage, but again we make the monthly payments on time.

We can afford the payments. That kind of debt is acceptable, in my opinion.

When I worked for the call center, we dipped into our savings to pay the bills. When I had the second $10 an hour job, my wife also was (and still is) working, so between us we covered our expenses.

While unemployment is low and the economy appears to be booming, wages have not kept up. If you work in the tech industry or in a few other sectors, you’re making good money. But many folks aren’t sharing in the wealth. If the best you can do is $10 an hour – or if that’s all the company or industry is willing to pay – then you will struggle to make ends meet.

A complex economy

But the economy is not that simple. According to inequality.org:

 

The higher the U.S. income group, the larger the share of that income is derived from investment profits. By contrast, Americans who are not among the ultra-rich get the vast majority of their income from wages and salaries. This disparity has contributed significantly to increasing inequality because of the preferential tax treatment of long-term capital gains. Currently, the top marginal tax rate for the richest Americans is 37 percent, while the top rate for long-term capital gains is just 20 percent.

 

I had one job for 24 years that offered a generous 401(k) plan. I don’t consider myself “ultra-rich,” but that investment plan will soon pay dividends as I near the time when I can begin withdrawing from it. The money I put into the 401(k) during my working years was pre-tax money that we never saw. We learned to live without it.

Oh, for simpler times when we could spend less than we brought home, and when we could afford to invest part of our paychecks into a retirement fund.

This is why we need education beyond high school, whether college or a trade school, to learn skills so that we can make a living wage.

Simplicity outdated?

In the June/July 2019 issue of AARP The Magazine which came in the mail this week, Jeff Daniels describes his role as Atticus Finch in the Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird. AARP compares Daniels’ version with the 1962 movie, which has never been remade, in which Gregory Peck portrayed Atticus.

AARP compares the two men’s versions of Atticus with these words:

 

While Peck’s Atticus represents virtues that are timeless, he is perhaps too simplistic to be a modern figure, just as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is too simple to be a modern love song. His Atticus is modest, fierce, brilliant, austere and self-contained. Though people need him, he doesn’t need other people. Daniels’ version has a broader range of feeling and a decided warmth …

Peck’s portrayal is, in addition, from the era when American movie heroes … met danger courageously and hoped to persuade by their example … Daniels’ Atticus, by contrast, seems to be shadowed by the awareness that doing all he can might not be enough. Along with the rest of us, he seems to share the modern awareness that life is possibly too complex, and too many interests are at stake, for a single moral stance to answer all situations. (emphasis mine)

 

Is our modern life so complex that we can’t determine what financial and social values would benefit society as a whole? Do we not even care about that anymore?

Are we so caught up in our own individual pursuits that we have lost the big picture of life?

I’ve met many wonderful people making less than a living wage. Many hop from job to job, trying to get ahead. We too often are leaving these folks behind, in the pursuit of our own goals.

Can we work together to improve all of our lives? Is that even possible today?

I wonder.

God’s affection at Christmas shows up in July

Hollywood would recast the Christmas story … A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in a feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.

“Because of Bethlehem Love is Born, Hope is Here” by Max Lucado, page 131

 

This describes my workplace. Perfectly.

I work with developmentally disabled adults. Some of them are not sanitary, and make it difficult for the rest of us to be sanitary. I won’t get too specific, except this one example: I drive some of these individuals in a wheelchair-accessible van. One individual I drive wets himself, through his clothes and adult Depends, and the bench seat where he sits. He does this a couple of times a week, at least.

It smells in there. I’m constantly cleaning it and spraying Lysol.

I can’t keep a full roll of paper towels in the van; he takes it apart and puts his hands all over it.

Jesus was born in a place like that.

Messy. Unsanitary. Possibly even unsafe.

At the day program where I work, washing my hands is not a simple chore.

This is real life. Some of these folks don’t know any better.

And I stay.

God came to me – and you – in a place just like this. He didn’t arrive in a climate-controlled hospital room like our three sons did, surrounded by nurses and doctors who made sure each was healthy before they sent him home.

Thank God for hospitals.

But Jesus never saw one, and I don’t work in one either.

 

lucado

You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of a slamming door. So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity, it seems.

Page 133

 

I’ve been fired twice, relocated once (I quit first, though), and downsized once, all in the past 10 years. I’m hardly unique. Nobody works in the same job for an entire career anymore: My two oldest sons also have seen their jobs phased out – and neither is 30 years old yet.

Both have landed on their feet. One has landed his dream job; the other has a decent position, but still isn’t where he wants to be.

Both make more than they spend.

Because my wife has a good job, we do too. I provided for our family of five as our sons grew up, but those days are long gone.

I knocked on the innkeeper’s door, but I don’t have the passion, drive and self-promotion to thrive in today’s job market. Nor am I willing to relocate again. AARP asks me all the time about age-related job discrimination. Maybe that plays into it, or maybe it’s just me.

Old, dull, damaged, peculiar … especially peculiar. I don’t have the “presence” that employers are looking for. I don’t come across as enthusiastic with all these great ideas on how to improve your company.

I was a copy editor, for heaven’s sake. Behind the scenes. Making you look good. It’s never been about me.

Even newspaper executives don’t get that anymore, if they ever did.

So, my newspaper career is done.

And I’m in a smelly, unsanitary day program for developmentally disabled adults.

I’m glad I’m there.

Because, hopefully, I can make a difference.

 

You do your best to make the best of it, but try as you might, the roof still leaks, and the winter wind still sneaks through the holes you just can’t seem to fix. You’ve shivered through your share of cold nights.

And you wonder if God has a place for a person like you.

Find your answer in the Bethlehem stable.

Page 133

 

I was looking for something to read the other day and found this Max Lucado book on the shelf. We received it as a gift for a monetary donation we made, obviously around the holidays, to a radio station we listen to.

I’m reading a Christmas book when it’s literally 90 degrees outside.

The timing is perfect.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t dream about being where I am now. I had a great job in a wonderful town with great friends and plenty of community involvement.

Life happens, as we all know. Society has changed a lot in the past 15 years.

For all of us.

And not always for the better. Right?

Depends how you look at it.

I’ve met many wonderful people in the past decade or so since my life got bumpy. I’ve joined Facebook and LinkedIn, meeting new people and reconnecting with long-ago friends. I’m in a job that tests my patience sometimes, but that’s how I learn patience.

 

It really comes down to that: God loves us. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s relentless love for us.

Let him love you. If God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you are off the table. You might question his actions, decisions, or declarations. But you can never, ever question his zany, stunning, unquenchable affection.

Pages 134-5

 

This thought is timeless, for all people, for all seasons.

It’s why I get up a few minutes early every morning and spend a little time with God, just me and Him, before the day begins. Get right with God before punching in at work, before reading all your Facebook emotions, before doing yardwork or exercise or whatever else I’ll do today.

Start the day right, and the rest of the day has a better chance of turning out well.

Whatever that means. When something goes awry, there’s a lesson to be learned, a trial to endure or patience to reveal. God’s affection never wavers.

That’s the point of Christmas. And we don’t have to wait until December to experience it.

Prepare before the battle comes

O Lord, there is no difference for you between helping the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you.

2 Chronicles 14:11

 

This verse caught my attention this morning during my quiet time. Judah’s king, Asa, was facing a major battle with Zerah of Ethiopia, who had an army of 1 million men. Asa’s army was about half that size.

Asa had several options:

  1. He could have relied on his own wit to try to out-maneuver the stronger Ethiopian army.
  2. He could have raised a white flag and quit before he started.
  3. He could have asked God to fight the battle for him.

Asa chose option 3.

It worked. “… the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.” (verse 12)

Asa didn’t ask God to play a genie’s role – come save me from my crisis, then I’ll go on my merry way. I know some people who treat God like that.

I wonder if that offends God.

Instead, Asa rallied Judah to follow God – all the time.

Getting ready

Previous kings had set up worship centers to foreign gods. God’s chosen people had rejected Him and worshiped gods that didn’t exist, or a golden calf or wooden idols that couldn’t do anything.

Asa destroyed all of those.

Then, he built fortified cities that included protective walls around them that enemy armies couldn’t penetrate.

He prepared for battle before the battle came.

When the Ethiopians attacked, Asa was ready. He didn’t know ahead of time that the battle was coming from that particular army, but he knew he would face a battle from somewhere. So, he prepared for it.

He built fortified cities and talked with the true God who actually answers prayers.

If we want to defeat the temptations and sins that threaten to overtake us, we have to prepare ahead of time and be ready for battle, as Asa did. This isn’t an easy lesson to learn.

Missing the message

In 2000, I had a great job, a wife and three growing children, and vibrant church and community involvement. I could not ask for anything better than the life God had given me at that point.

My job as a copy editor at The Saginaw (Mich.) News was wonderful. Great co-workers, great bosses even, a salary that paid for the lifestyle our family of five enjoyed, and a job pledge.

Yes, a job pledge.

The pledge – which the company mailed to us every year in January, in writing – said that as long as The News published seven days a week, we had a job for life. The company retained the right to change our job descriptions, of course, as needs changed, but they promised us jobs until we reached retirement age.

Talk about blessed. I’m sure many of you, even if you have a great job, don’t have a pledge like that.

But in 2000. I received a surprise. God put a bug in my ear.

At the height of our prosperity, He told me that I was trusting that job pledge more than I was trusting Him. I was too comfortable, and my faith wasn’t as passionate as it should have been.

That startled me.

Really, God? You’ve given me so many blessings, so many ways I can serve You … so what’s up with this?

God persisted, so eventually I prayed this prayer:
“Okay God, I give the job pledge to You. I trust you more than I trust the job pledge.”

God knew something I didn’t.

The battle arrives

The newspaper industry, which had thrived for decades, was going to crash in the near future.

God was trying to prepare me for that moment.

When The News cut back to three days a week in 2009, the job pledge went out the window. I got downsized, as did many of my co-workers.

Even though God gave me a heads-up years earlier, I still didn’t handle it well. I sat around home for nearly a year and didn’t do much of anything. My wife didn’t appreciate that. I made no effort to re-train for a different career or to seek any job.

The News offered a nice buyout that continued my salary for a time. I should have taken advantage of that by preparing for my future, but I didn’t.

Unlike Asa, I hadn’t built my defenses up and prepared for battle.

When the battle came, I didn’t know how to handle it.

I didn’t prepare my family, either. I internalize things, which means I don’t talk things out with other people. Including my wife.

Learning the lesson

We attended a marriage retreat a few months ago – in 2018, nine years after the buyout – and talked about some things we should have begun talking about 10 years ago.

We worship a God of second chances, so the Ethiopians in my life don’t have to defeat me, even if I don’t prepare well for them. I’m sure I made it harder on us than it should have been.

Sometimes we bring pain on ourselves. That is not God’s will, nor is it His fault.

Unlike Asa, I tried option 1: to figure out my career plans on my own. That didn’t work out too well.

My newspaper career is done now, for several reasons. We’re here in Elyria, Ohio, doing other things. My wife has a very good job that she enjoys, and I have meaningful work where I can build relationships with people who need that.

My job has its frustrations, but I try not to focus on those (too much). I’m trying to rely on the living God for my job and for our future, like Asa did.

Temptations are much easier to defeat with this mindset, with this way of living.

Thanks, Asa, for reminding me to rely on God.

It makes no difference whether I’m strong or weak. If God fights the battle for me, I’ll win.

Righteousness, a study

Be prepared.

That theme came to me twice in two days this week.

I led a men’s Bible study on the breastplate of righteousness. Why wear a breastplate? Be prepared for enemy attacks.

The next day, I attended a first aid and CPR recertification class. The purpose of first aid? Be prepared for a potential emergency. Our instructor made sure we knew that before starting the class.

To help us prepare for life’s battles, here’s a summary of my notes from the breastplate discussion.

 

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you maybe able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Ephesians 6:13-14

 

The breastplate worn by Roman soldiers was generally made of iron, though some wealthier soldiers may have worn a bronze breastplate (which is lighter than iron). It consisted of overlapping pieces of metal with connecting front and back sections. There were rounded pieces connecting the shoulders and the breastplate usually rested on the soldier’s hips so the entire weight wasn’t carried on the shoulders. The overlapping pieces allowed for more flexibility of movement.

www.gotquestions.org

 

What’s the purpose of the breastplate?

It protects the soldier in battle. The breastplate covers the heart and other vital organs. The shield wards off enemy blows that we see, but the breastplate provides protection from unexpected directions or overwhelming numbers.

If the soldier gets ambushed from behind or attacked from multiple sources, he has protection.

 

What happens when armor is not worn correctly, or not worn at all?

1 Peter 5:8 – the devil looks for someone to devour.

Hebrews 3:12 – unbelief.

Romans 6:1-2 – we abuse grace by making excuses for sin.

Hebrews 4:5-7 – disobedience, hardening your heart.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 – we do not want Satan to outwit us.

 

Why do we wear God’s armor?

The example of Job. Satan tested him severely, but God gave him parameters. First, don’t touch his body. Then, don’t kill him. Job faced two back-to-back unexpected tragedies, without knowing why or how long they would last.

If Job wasn’t wearing his “armor,” how could he have possibly survived?

Eventually, God restored to him his family and possessions – more than he had to begin with.

 

Satan realizes that if he can get our minds and emotions, that will affect our worship and our obedience to God. That’s why he always works to implant wrong teachings and lies into our minds through books, music, TV and conversation. Our minds affect our walk – how we live. But Satan also wants to get our emotions. Many Christians are emotionally all over the place, and part of that is a result of spiritual warfare. Satan stirs up people to criticize and condemn. He sirs up little romances with the opposite sex to distract us from focusing on God. He works to make believers worry and fret about the future so that they lose their joy. The enemy is cunning and keen. Therefore, we must guard our hearts above all else.

www.bible.org

 

Here’s another Bible verse on the breastplate:

1 Thessalonians 5:8 – put on the breastplate of faith and love.

What’s the connection between faith, love and righteousness?

Abraham provides a great example.

Hebrews 11:8-12 – Abraham’s faith in the impossible – numerous descendants who will live in a promised land. (He and his wife both were too old to have children when God gave him those promises.) Read about the promises in Genesis 15.

Romans 4:18-22 – Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Did Abraham see either of those promises come to pass?

No. Yet he never doubted God’s plan. He didn’t let his mind or emotions sway him from God’s promises. Why should he care what happens after he’s gone from this Earth? But he did care. And he believed God. Which was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Becoming righteous

  1. Isaiah 64:6What is our righteousness like? Our human righteousness is like a filthy rag.
  1. Isaiah 59:15-17Who put on righteousness like a breastplate? Why? God Himself put on righteousness like a breastplate. Israel needed rescuing, as do we.
  1. Matthew 6:33 – we seek God’s righteousness first, and “all these things” will be added to us. What things will be given to us as well? This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read the rest of the sermon for that answer.
  2. Psalm 119:172 – all God’s commands are right (righteousness). Pretty self-explanatory. However, we need to read the entire Bible to understand ALL of God’s commands.
  3. Proverbs 8:20 – we are to walk in righteousness. Righteousness and justice are choices. They don’t just happen. They take effort.
  4. Proverbs 11:4-6 – great rewards for righteousness: delivered from death, keeps our ways straight, saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – Christ became sin to give us His righteousness.
  6. 2 Corinthians 10:35 – taking every thought captive.
  7. Jeremiah 23:5-6who does this passage refer to? (Jesus) The righteous Branch is coming: The Lord is our righteousness.

 

An in-depth study of all the scriptures concerning righteousness (there are 301 in the New King James Version) reveals that servants of God in the Bible who had righteousness all had it because they followed God’s way. Though it may seem a sweeping statement, it is through a continuing and dedicated adherence to both the letter and spirit of God’s law that we can defend ourselves with His righteousness.

www.freebiblestudy.org

 

Ezekiel 33:12-17 – Righteousness is not a one-time event. We must keep wearing it. Our past righteous deeds aren’t good enough, and our past sins do not prevent us from receiving God’s righteousness.

Job was attacked twice. Paul was attacked repeatedly. If they took off their armor even for a moment, they would have been defeated.

Philippians 4:8-9 – whatever is true, whatever is noble … think about such things. This is a good way to put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Isaiah 32:17 – The results of righteousness: peace, quietness and trust forever. Was this true for Job? Abraham?

Job did not get bent out of shape over his circumstances. Peace, quiet and trust were his hallmarks.

Abraham’s faith also gave him a life of peace, quietness and trust.