Dirty Green Paper

Money is powerful stuff! It might not seem like a topic that should come up in church, but money matters to us so it matters to God. Our country has a problem when it comes to money. We do not know how to deal with it. We are part of a VERY small percentage of the richest people on earth, and maybe even in history, yet we forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have. Sometimes money works like this: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.

For these reasons and more, your relationship with money is closely linked to your relationship with God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money and how we relate to it, and he taught there is a line of connection from our wallet to our heart. The truth is this: we have problems with money that have spiritual roots. We will never truly find financial peace if we ignore the inner condition of our hearts that make us susceptible to money pitfalls like greed and debt. God talks about money all over the Bible, and if you were to follow his instructions, you would have more money, give more money, and make your money work harder for you. Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. Money can be something powerfully evil, but it can also be something powerfully good! I think at a very basic level, our relationship with money should look like what God told Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God wants to bless us, and it is our job to channel that blessing to others! With this in mind, Echo is having a conversation over the next several weeks about how to relate to money righteously.

After we get some of it, we can basically do 4 things with it:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.

This Sunday, we talked about spending.

First, Good spending starts with settling the “ownership” issue. Jesus explained this once using a coin in Matthew 22:15-22. The way Jesus phrases his question would have reminded his audience of Genesis 1-2, where human beings are created in the image of God. In whose image was the coin created? Caesar’s. In whose image were we created? God’s! When Jesus says “give to God what is God’s,” he is not saying God is not concerned with money. Jesus is implying that God is asking for all of us. The message of the Kingdom of God is one of total surrender. Why should we be concerned about our cash? Because our feelings toward it and how we use it are a huge part of who we are. Remember, there is a line of connection from our heart to our wallet. The starting point to righteous attitude toward money is settling the ownership issue: everything belongs to God, so I have to use whatever He entrusts me with responsibly.

Second – Spending easily becomes out of control, and our culture has even invented ways of spending more money than you have. You combat this with a budget, which is a spending plan. A budget is a tool to help us plan and to help us make our money work toward our goals. It helps us do something we all have a hard time with: telling ourselves “no.” A budget means you have a plan, you have counted the cost, and you are working toward a goal. Budgets can be complicated or simple as long as they balance income and expenses. The simplest lesson anyone ever taught me about money: every time you get 10 dollars, give one of them to God’s work, put one of them in savings, and spend 8 of them wisely.

Third – Your spending habits reflect your values.
If you spent $50 a month on Mountain Dew, we could confidently say you really like Mountain Dew. The problem with that comes in when you consider “opportunity cost.” It means that if you use your $50 to buy the Mountain Dew, you won’t have that $50 to buy your friend’s x-box game when he sells it. We might have all the money we need, but we can’t have everything we want. What a budget does is help us make choices about how to spend money in advance, so our choices will better reflect our values instead of just buying things on impulse. Marketing is so effective, people often buy things unplanned in the moment and regret it later. Living on a budget, no matter how much money you make, will protect you against this. Another thing to consider is what you actually spend money on. This is about recognizing that you vote with your wallet. When you choose to guy a product from an organization or person that you don’t agree with, you are actually supporting them and their issue. You can do this the other way too: actively support products and companies you think are doing something right. This is just another way money is powerful.

Questions for discussion with your teen:

*Talk about the family’s budgeting process. If you can, invite your teen to join you paying the bills or planning the budget for the month. If you don’t have a budget, why not?
*Do you think you are more of a spender or a saver? What do you think about your spending habits?
*What does it mean to “vote with your wallet?” Is there anything we support as a family with our money that doesn’t reflect our values?

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Surviving Middle School

I love watching the “survival” themed shows that are always invading the Airways. Man vs. Wild, I Shouldn’t be Alive, and Survivor are probably the most popular, but my favorite is Survivorman. The Canadian Les Stroud amazes me on every episode. Not only can he survive in the most hostile environments imaginable, but he does so while filming everything himself. No camera crew to give assistance (like Bear Grylls recieves), no tricks (like Bear Grylls employs), and no “dramatization” or theatrics (did I mention Bear Grylls real name is Edward?).

Some people would classify Middle School as a survival scenario. Students leave the predictable environment of elementary schools to roam the labyrinth of middle school hallways and deal with the dangers within. They are faced with social pressure and social changes as cliques are formed and friend groups are tested and established. They are slammed with physical changes as puberty complicates the scene with unwelcome hormones. As a youth pastor, the range of exposure in middle school is hard to navigate: some girls are tucking their stuffed animal collection in at night while other girls are dealing with sexual attention from their boyfriends. This month, Echo has been talking about strategies for survival in middle school. Our goal is that all of our students do more than survive these turbulent years and they actually thrive: growing in wisdom, maturity, and influence.

Survival experts will talk about the Rule of Three, which is a way to establish the order of priorities in a survival situation. A person can live for:
three minutes without air,
three hour without shelter,
three days without water,
three weeks without food,
and three months without love.

When it comes to Surviving Middle School, the rule of 3 looks a little different. These are the three areas that every adolescent needs to address if they are going to survive:

1. The Challenge of Identity – Who am I? One of the things students soon discover in Middle School is the amount of labels that are tossed around. People want to categorize other people: are you going to be a jock, a skater, a hip hop boy, emo, preppie, goth, glamor girl, punk, geek, brain, lax bro, or whatever. So much energy in Middle School can be spent trying to maintain your reputation or enforce or define you label. The danger is when students stop being themselves in an attempt to be who others want them to be. Middle schoolers need to be reminded that they are not what the crowd says they are; not unless they choose to become that. No label or reputation really defines one’s identity. Some students will rise above this pressure and refuse to defined by anything but God. These students know that first and foremost they belong to God and what He says is most important.

2. The Challenge of Belonging – Where do I fit? One of the biggest challenges students face in Middle School is LUNCH. The questions that troubles many in the first weeks of school are: where will I sit? Who will you sit with? Do any of my friends have the same lunch that I have? Remember, they are in the uncharted wilderness of the Middle School social system; the last thing they want is to be the person that has to sit alone! The question “Where do I sit?” is really about a deeper question: “Where do I fit?” Never before has who you choose as your friends mattered so much. Here are a couple of survival tips that we offer to new middle schoolers: figure out before hand which of the friends you already know have the same lunch as you, so you know what to expect. We also give our students this challenge: be on the lookout for people who are sitting alone – it is your job as a follower of Christ to not let that happen. Never underestimate how much friends can affect your future.

3. The Challenge of Purpose – Do I matter? Do my choices matter? Every student has to deal with the challenge of establishing autonomy. This is the source of much conflict between parents and teenagers. As they search for independence, they often do so by pushing back against authority figures, especially mom and dad. They start desiring greater levels of freedom without necessarily demonstrating greater levels of responsibility. Here is the good news: everything I have seen and everything I am reading is still confirming that students values and choices are MOST influenced not by media or their peer group, but by their families. As parents, you still are the most important voices in the lives of your students. They will listen to you, and they do listen to you. This can be tough to believe during the times of one-word answers and ipod earplugs, but it is still true. The time you spend with your teenagers and the input you give them will have the greatest affect on their values formation.

One of the mistakes that I see parents make is assuming that the “stiff arm” of their teenage kids actually means they want “space.” They are struggling with the challenge of autonomy, and how they express their independence from you while still feeling that they want to be close to you. Push through the stiff arm and know that you are the most important voice in their world. Your affirmation and guidance will always carry more weight than anyone else’s. We have to learn to hear what they mean past what we think they are saying. It is easy for us to misunderstand the language of adolescence (largely because it is always in the dialect of sarcasm with an accent of attitude), but let me try to translate a few things I am sure teenagers are looking for:
-They long to belong. (They say: “You don’t know me.” We hear: “I don’t matter to them.”)
-They long to be taken seriously. (They say: “You never listen to me.” We hear: “They don’t want to listen to me.”)
-They long to matter. (They say: “I can do it!” We hear: “They don’t need me.”)
-They long for a safe place. (They say: “I’m fine, okay?” We hear: “They want to be left alone.”)
-They long to be uniquely themselves. (They say: “It’s my life – you can’t tell me what to do.” We hear: “They don’t care what I think.”)
-They long to be wanted. (They say: “Nobody cares about me.” We hear: “They don’t care about me.”)

Tips for New College Parents – How to handle your freshmen

Many of our parents are just now discovering a new rhythm of life after sending their kids off to college. This is a very difficult transition for many, especially when so much of life revolved around your kid for 18 years. One of the things we have found to be true of early college students is that they still need the voice of youth ministry – and more importantly they still need the guidance of their parents. Still, the conversation needs to shift as students enters greater dimensions of autonomy. Our youth leaders do their best to keep the conversations about faith going with students, even after they have graduated from our program and head off to college, but the conversation looks different after high school. This is often a hard transition for parents and students alike.

Echo has been following the research of the “Sticky Faith Project” for a few years now, and listening carefully to their recommendations and findings. They have just published a great article on stickyfaith.org about the tough transition for college freshmen and their parents.

Check it out here: http://stickyfaith.org/articles/out-of-the-nest