Friday, February 26, 2010

Review - Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness" is a very serious book written in a very casual tone for those who want to take charge of their finances. It's a great resource for anyone in debt, even serious debt, who needs motivation and information on how to get out of a hole. It's also a good resource for those who have so far avoided debt but want to understand the benefit and relative priorities of emergency funds, retirement planning, college saving, debt-reduction, and investing. This new edition is able to comment on the 2008-2010 recession, as well as provide hope.

In Dave's own words, "personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge." Because of this, Dave presents many stories, a ton of motivation, and some recommendations that while non-optimal from a mathematical perspective, work extremely well in practice. (For example, with multiple credit card balances, do you pay down the smallest one first or the one with the highest rate?) In this case, the results do speak for themselves. Also, Dave shares his story about becoming a millionaire and losing it all, so his perspective is from experience.

If you want more in-depth material or investment theory, you should also check out other books including Ramsey's "The Financial Peace Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring Your Family's Financial Health". The strong focus here is on a simple-to-follow but tough-to-do process of 7 basic steps : start a $1000 emergency fund, payoff debt using the Debt Snowball, get 3-6 months of expenses in savings, invest 15% of household income in retirement plans, college funding for children, payoff your mortgage early, and build wealth and give. If you've listened to Dave Ramsey's show these may not be new, but this book puts it all together very nicely in one place. If you haven't taken many of these steps to financial fitness, definitely checkout Total Money Makeover, available at Amazon or other booksellers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Praise God - Rescued from a Ditch!

I'm very excited and thankful to be home typing this... I had to be rescued from a ditch in the big snowstorm this evening. This is in the category of "could have been much worse!" I was in the middle of nowhere, heading towards a friend's house, in the freezing cold. Someone was racing up behind me and I knew I would need to slow down and start looking for the house number before long. I pulled over to let this guy pass, to the shoulder of the road. Um, there was no shoulder. It was a ditch, a large ditch, filled with 4-5 feet of snow. The minivan ended up at about a 40 degree angle, and there was no getting out. My first thought, to be honest, was "Oh crap!! This is not good!"  The driver who passed just kept on going.

My second thought surprised me. The first is was my natural reaction. The second was not. It was "This is not a random accident, so Lord, what are you looking to teach me here?" (Again, this is not the normal response for me!)  I look up, and it turns out I'm directly across the street from my friends house. Immediately, a pick-up truck pulls up, a guy makes a cell phone call, then hops out and puts on a yellow vest. He introduced himself as Taylor, and emergency responder and volunteer firefighter. He took a good luck at the situation and says "You're never going to get that out by pushing, would you like me to call a wrecker for you?"  Um... yeah! He does that, lets them know where I'm at and says he'll call it in to the sheriff/police as well - told me to put on the hazards and go ahead inside to my friend's house, as it will be an hour before they get there.

I go inside, shaken but glad to be warm, and am greeted by friends, hot pizza, and warm brownies. We had our meeting, which went about two hours. A police car came by and sat there quite a while with lights on to make sure nothing hit the van; he was quite friendly. A random person driving by, who didn't know me or the homeowners, came up to the door and asked if we needed any help (!). The tow truck came, and they worked on it. The first tow truck wasn't able to get it out, they called in a second, and worked on it for over and hour and a half. The very minute we finished and got up from the table, there was a knock on the door. The van was safely extracted and my friend's wife got it turned around in the driveway and handed me the keys with a smile. The charge for this was far less than I expected. (When's the last time you felt like you underpaid for car troubles??)

So I'm very thankful to have gotten off so easy! Slightly different timing or location, or turning about five more degrees, and that could have been a horrible nightmare. What makes me even more thankful? The tie-in to my 'second' response (Lord, what are you trying to teach me here?) Why was I at his house, and what were we doing? Talking/dreaming about a building project despite one of the worst recessions in our lifetime, praying about what God wanted to do in our city to share His love with people who don't yet know Him, and had some concerns about if we had the resources for it. Driving home I had an answer to my question that was crystal clear: "Hard times and tough circumstances don't surprise me. I can and do use rough times to bring about good. You do exactly what you did tonight - trust in me, go about doing the things I want you to do and focus on the things I want you to focus on, count the cost, but I will handle all the rest. I have resources beyond your imagination or your need, and I arrange circumstances in ways far beyond your comprehension. I've shown you in a very small way tonight that you can trust Me even when things don't look good. Trust Me in bigger things, as long as you're looking to do them for My glory and to serve those I love - and I will be with you always!"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review - Lasting Impressions

"Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging" by Mark Waltz is an excellent and very challenging book about the process of helping people connect and belong. Mark is the Pastor of Connections at Granger Community Church, and earlier wrote a book called "First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences In Your Church."

First Impressions looks at making a positive impression for guests and repeat visitors and considers the role of greeters, ushers, welcome desk, etc. I wasn't sure what to expect from "Lasting Impressions", but it turned out to be a whole lot more than a simple follow-up. What I did find was a book that looked at those who did come back and asked the question "Now what?!" It's really about creating a culture of belonging, talking about the need for organic relationships, a good understanding of what you can (and can't) do to help people grow. As a bonus, the book has review questions and exercises to discuss and apply what you learn with your team. Chapters  include: People Still Matter; Assimilation: Watch your Language; You Can't Create People; Starbucks, Stories and Space; Be an Environmental Architect; How Full is Your Menu?; What do We Expect?; Develop Relational Road Maps; Construct Volunteer Venues; On-Ramps, Exit Ramps and Mile Markers.

What really impressed me about the book was that it turned upside my thinking on a number of interrelated issues - small groups, how to recruit volunteers, how to encourage membership - and described just how much their thinking has changed in the past decade as the times change. Some takeaway points - meet people where they are at; avoid pushing an agenda or assimilation into a checklist of programs; get over being responsible for people, and be responsible to them; growth is a transformation process that takes time and caring relationships; be an environmental architect who considers purpose, use and people; simplify and reduce what you offer; encourage next steps that are highly relational; ministry is just as much about relationship as it is about task. Some examples of how they've applied this at Granger: they eliminated affinity ministries (relying on self-selecting groups and centrally coordinated events); they're a church with small groups, not of groups (as many people simply can't/won't join one); they have very few things they ask people to do rather than expect heavy activity attendance. With respect to engaging volunteers to advance the Kingdom via ministry, they assume there are people out there longing to make a difference in their lives, who want to volunteer, but are not clear on how or where. They talk about the vision and need frequently, "chunk" tasks into smaller tasks, create "First Serve" opportunities (no strings attached come-and-serve-once) and "Second Saturday" (a few hours once a month to serve the community), provide a variety of schedules, celebrate success with stories and video, encourage experimentation, and constantly are on the look out for new people with leadership potential. Personal invitations to serve alongside are still the most effective recruiting tool, but they do not neglect having a limited number of clear on-ramps, such as a Volunteer Expo, an all-skate serve event, hosting a volunteer on-ramp online, and a 'Backstage Pass' tour of all that's going on. It's a firehose of great ideas, meant to spark thought in your own context rather than provide a model to copy.

I could go on, but really, just go ahead and read the book! "Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging" (Group Publishing, 2008) is available at Amazon and other retailers.