Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Fri, 24 Jan 2020 13:05:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 Profitable Ideas: The Science Behind Saving, You Might Be Destroying Your Home, and More Fri, 24 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

The science behind why saving for retirement is hard (Fast Company). Understanding how your brain sometimes leads you astray may help you save more.

Just in time (Humble Dollar). Take the financial well-being quiz linked to in this article.

College degrees used to make families wealthier. That’s no longer true (Worth). The income premium still exists, but the wealth premium has declined sharply due to student loans.

Advertising makes us unhappy (Harvard Business Review). The headline’s conclusion may be intuitive, but in a day and age when marketing messages are embedded into the fabric of daily life, it’s worth taking the time to consider their influence.

You don’t need more things in your life. You need different things. (Becoming Minimalist). The importance of consciously deciding what to add and what to subtract from our lives.

How to make plans to provide care for your pet if you can’t (Forbes). What will happen to Rover if something happens to you?

What are Americans doing to destroy their homes? (The Simple Dollar). If you don’t keep up with these maintenance items you could be setting yourself up for some big repair bills down the road.

Setting your kids up for financial independence (Kiplinger). How to help your kids launch well.

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The Priorities That Lead to Financial Success and Satisfaction Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

I’m fascinated with the process of life change. So many of us would like to make some changes — in our health, our relationships, our finances. And yet change seems hard. We might make progress for a while, but then we slip back into old familiar patterns. What does it take to make changes that last?

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the importance of identity. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, puts it, “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”

As Christ-followers, we know who God made us to be. Financially speaking, we’re stewards or managers of God’s resources. We’re called to be wise builders, building our financial lives on the solid rock of God’s Word.

When faced with a decision, Clear suggests asking ourselves, “What would a person with the identity we aspire to do?” 

Because the Bible affirms planning (Proverbs 21:5), one thing a wise builder would do to manage money well is use a plan — a budget, or as I prefer, a cash flow plan. (See Building the Best Possible Financial Life — The Right Tool for the Job.)

How do you put such a plan together?

Putting first things first

There are five things you can do with money. You can: 

  • Spend it
  • Use it for debt payments
  • Save it
  • Invest it
  • Give it away

And that’s the order our consumer culture teaches us to follow. It says, “Great, you’re making $75,000 per year? That means you can drive this type of car, wear that brand of clothes, vacation over there…” 

Spending comes first, and when spending comes first, debt always comes along for the ride. If anything is left over after all that spending and after making all those debt payments, some might be saved, invested, and given away, but there isn’t usually much, if anything, left over.

The Bible suggests a very different order: 

That’s a really simple framework, and yet it’s profound. Deciding to arrange our finances this way is the first step in putting a cash flow plan together. It’s a huge strategic decision that orients our finances toward success and satisfaction. 

A little context

Are you giving generously and saving or investing adequately? More specifically, are you giving at least 10% of your income? And are you saving or investing at least 10%? Does that seem like a stretch?

Think of it this way. If you work a 40-hour week, giving 10% means the money you earn on Monday morning is going to the Lord’s work. Saving or investing 10% means the money you earn on Monday afternoon is going toward building a peace-providing reserve now and providing for your family’s later life needs. That leaves all the money you earn on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for spending. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it?

And here’s an important point to know about life change. Just as identity shapes our behavior, our behavior shapes our identity. Doing the things you know a manager of God’s resources — a wise builder — would do, further molds that identity.

So, that’s the big picture. From a really practical perspective, a wise builder prioritizes money this way: Give, save, invest, avoid the bondage of debt, and then spend. 

Take it to heart: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” – Luke 16:10—12

Take action: Write down your monthly gross income on a piece of paper. How much is 10% of that? If you gave away that much each month and saved or invested that much, would you be able to live on the remaining 80%? If it doesn’t seem like it, don’t be discouraged (or upset with me for suggesting those amounts!). If you’re far from being able to do that, just starting to take some steps in that direction will be a win. We’ll take a closer look at why those are even good objectives, and how to pursue them, next week. 

Read more:  The Heart of a Giver and Saving Money is All About the Why

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Profitable Ideas: Ethical Shopping, Keeper Cars, and More Fri, 17 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

How to shop ethically without breaking your budget (The Simple Dollar). Shop your values cost-effectively.

How many towels do you need? (Becoming Minimalist). A small step toward a big life change.

Research shows investing decisions made based on order options are listed (Pensions & Investments). Have you chosen your investments for irrational reasons?

Be like Derrick Henry and the Titans (Living With Money). To be effective with money, it’s okay to take a boring approach.  

You can have the item now. But can you really afford it? (CNBC). No matter how marketers’ tactics change, smart spending decisions often come down to a timeless question.

Top 15 cars that people keep for 15 years or more (Clark Howard). Our vehicles are 17 and 10 years old, and yes, both brands are on this list. 

The investor’s fallacy (Of Dollars and Data). Does it feel like the market is “due” for a correction?

Help the planet and your pockets! Eco-friendly and creative ways to save money (Sustainable Life Blog). Simple money-saving steps that are also good for the planet.

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Building the Best Possible Financial Life — The Right Tool For The Job Tue, 14 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

In a recent post, The Starting Point for Building Effective Money Management Habits, I talked about the importance of understanding our biblical financial identity. We’re not consumers, as our culture suggests. We were designed to be wise builders who manage money in a way that enables us to build a thriving relationship with God, loving relationships with others, and lives of meaningful contribution. But how?

Creating a blueprint for uncommon financial success

If you were a home builder, you wouldn’t just show up on the job site with a hammer, some wood, and a box of nails, and just start pounding away. You’d have a plan, a blueprint.

In order to build a great financial life, we need a blueprint as well. Yes, I’m talking about a budget. I know that many people can’t stand even the sight of that word. It sounds restrictive, and it seems like it would take a lot of work. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t.

I’ve heard from some high-income people who say they see no need for a budget. They have plenty of margin and are never in danger of overspending. To which I would gently reply: “If a company grows to the point of great success, would it stop keeping its books? Would it stop analyzing income and expenses, setting departmental budgets, and proactively managing to the numbers in its plan?” I doubt it.

Your household is like a small business. It’s owned and funded by God, but you’ve been given the opportunity to run it. Or, to stick with the metaphor from last week’s post, you’re a wise builder who has been given all the materials needed to build an amazing life. While a consumer might wing it, a wise builder surely wouldn’t.

What would a wise builder do?

In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he stresses the importance of identity in shaping our behavior.

Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, ‘No thanks. I’m trying to quit.’ It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs. The second person declines by saying, ‘No thanks. I’m not a smoker.’ It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.

In the same way, I’m encouraging all of us to consciously reject the identity of a consumer and embrace the identity of a wise builder. With all financial decisions, it would be helpful to consider, “What would a wise builder do?”

One thing I know for sure is that a wise builder wouldn’t just spend and hope it’ll all work out. A wise builder would use a plan to build a life of uncommon financial success—a life of proactively using money to build a thriving relationship with God, loving relationships with others, and meaningful contribution. Given the loftiness of those aspirations, a budget may seem like a big comedown. But it isn’t. It’s the most powerful tool you can use to manage your finances accordingly.

Next steps

If you’ve never used a budget, let me encourage you to start now. At my day job with Sound Mind Investing, I wrote a three-part series about getting started with, the budget tool my wife and I use. You’ll find the first article here, which has links to the other two.

If you’re an experienced budget user, right now would be a good time to consider any tweaks you should make going into the new year. In our household, we made two changes. The first one has to do with our clothing budget. When Jude and I were first married, we each had separate budgeted amounts for clothes. When our kids came along, we added a third clothing budget — “kids’ clothes.” But we decided to split that into separate budgets for each of our three kids, so now we have five clothing budgets in total. It should help us spread our former “kids’ clothes” budget more evenly across our three kids.

Next, we added a “pet food & supplies” category for expenses related to our seemingly always hungry guinea pig. We used to put such expenses in our entertainment budget, but honestly, while we like our little rodent, his upkeep can’t compare with a night out at the movies. It seemed like an unfair weight on our entertainment budget to put his expenses there. 

Whether you’re struggling financially or thriving, a budget will help you use money with greater effectiveness, peace of mind, and joy. If you have questions about how to set up or use a budget, please ask. I’d love to help you put this powerful tool to use.

Take it to heart: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

Take action: If you don’t use a budget, read the articles I linked to over at Sound Mind Investing, download Mint to your computer, and get started. It’ll take a little time to get set up, but trust me—it’ll be worth it.

Read more: The 5 Budget Mistakes I See Most Often and How to Fix Them 

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Profitable Ideas: Take a Minimalist Challenge, A Better Kind of Abundance, and More Fri, 10 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

Why you should do a minimalist challenge (The Pioneers). If minimalism sounds appealing but you don’t know where to start, here’s one way to begin.

How to free yourself from your parents’ money habits, and claim financial independence (MarketWatch). More of your money habits can be traced to your parents than you probably realize.

True grit for 2020 (Humble Dollar). Good, practical ideas for doing the right things with money.

How to be successful (Sam Altman). Bite-size bits of wisdom from a young, successful venture capitalist.

Scam alert: Why you should never abbreviate 2020 (Clark Howard). Interesting watch-out that the new year has brought.

News events and your portfolio (Sound Mind Investing). What usually happens to your investments when the world gets especially crazy? 

How to future-proof your career path in 2020 (and beyond) (Fast Company). How to stay relevant, no matter what you do for a living.

A better kind of abundance (EPM). Challenging thoughts from one of my favorite biblical money management teachers.

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The Starting Point for Building Effective Money Management Habits Tue, 07 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

Financially speaking, do you know who you are?

That may seem like a strange question. After all, most people probably haven’t even thought about their financial identity. Even for those who have, what in the world does it have to do with finding some financial breathing room, getting out of debt, or investing more successfully?

In short, it has everything to do with all of that and so much more.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, puts it, “True behavior change is identity change.” And, “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”

Since you’re reading this blog, I assume you are a person of faith. And yet, that’s no guarantee that you understand your biblical financial identity. 

If we don’t understand who we were made to be, or if we haven’t fully embraced it, that leaves us vulnerable to our culture’s point of view. And in countless ways, both subtle and overt, our culture tells us we are “consumers.” 

What’s in a word?

That may sound harmless, but have you ever looked up what it means to be a “consumer”? To consume is to use up, destroy, or spend wastefully.

But it’s worse than that. You see, “consumer” is more than a word; it’s a worldview.

If I’m a consumer, life is all about me—my pleasure, my comfort, my happiness.

If I’m a consumer, happiness is found in money and what it can buy.

And if I’m a consumer, life is a competition to have more.

I’m not saying we overtly, consciously arrange our lives this way, but this is the direction the culture pulls us in, and if we’re not intentional, our lives can start to look a lot like that.

A consumer is the polar opposite of who God made us to be and what he made us to be about.

The Bible doesn’t say life is all about us; it says life is all about God (Matthew 22:36-38).

The Bible doesn’t teach us to love money and things; it teaches us to love people (Matthew 22:39).

And the Bible doesn’t say life is found in competition; it says life is found in contribution (Ephesians 2:10).

Those are the three overarching purposes of our lives: To love God, love people, and make a difference with our lives. That means those are the three overarching purposes of money. Orienting our use of money around those purposes will lead to the most successful, satisfying experience with money.

Remembering who you are

What’s the word for such a person? Typically, we hear the term, “steward.” While that’s accurate, let me ask you: Does it motivate you? Are you excited about being a steward? If so, that’s great. However, it’s been my experience that some people carry that identity as a heavy burden. It’s as if God has said to them, “Here’s some of my stuff. Not don’t lose or break any of it.” 

But that isn’t what he says at all. To the two servants depicted in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) who made something more of what was entrusted to them, God not only said, “Well done.” He also then entrusted them with more. And with all that He entrusts to us, we’re encouraged to build our lives wisely.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27

You were designed to be a wise builder. The “rock” is God’s word. Build your life, financially and otherwise, on a foundation of God’s word and it will stand strong. The “sand” is the shifting fads and philosophies of our consumer culture. Build your life on sand and it will fall.

So, the starting benefit of being a wise builder is that your financial life will be solid. That’s all about peace of mind, and it’s a wonderful place to start. But there’s more that’s available. There’s joy.

Anything less is settling for too little

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The New Living Bible translates this as, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” 

Our role is to take all that has been entrusted to us and build—a thriving relationship with God, loving relationships with others, and lives of meaningful contribution.  

This blog is all about the financial implications of that—exploring what it looks like to manage money with those goals in mind and to experience “life in all its fullness.” 

If that’s what you’re after, I’d like to ask two things of you. First, participate in this blog by leaving comments, sharing your experience, and asking questions. And second, invite others to come along. Tell others about this blog by sending them a link and encouraging them to subscribe.

With God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, far more of us should have a better relationship with money. It’s possible; it’s available. Let’s take the next steps into the new year together, and let’s bring some friends along for the journey. 

Take it to heart: “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” – Matthew 25:19

Take action: One day, the Master really will return. One habit that will help ensure that we will be found faithful is to ask these questions as we consider various financial decisions: What would a manager of God’s resources—a wise builder—do in this situation? And will this choice help me love God, love people, and make a difference with my life, or could it hinder any of that?

Read more: An Identity Theft Like No Other

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Profitable Ideas: How to Negotiate Your Salary, Lessons From Super Savers, and More Fri, 03 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

Actually helpful tips for negotiating salary (Four Pillar Freedom). Being willing to negotiate is the first step (most people aren’t). Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, here are some helpful ideas about how to negotiate. 

Who’s in your headset? (Krueger & Catalano). This one is not specifically about money, but it’s a good read with applications for our finances and more. I’m a big believer in objective, data-based processes, especially with investing. But this article points to our need for the input and accountability of trusted others as well

Avoid the FAFSA tripwire with grandparent-owned 529 plans (Financial Planning). It’s wonderful when grandparents help out with college costs, but it’s important to understand how their help may impact financial aid.

34% of recent retirees wish they’d been better prepared for this (USA Today). Retirement may seem far away, but if you choose to use a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), your future self will thank you.

How to start 2020 on the right financial foot (The Simple Dollar). Good ideas for getting the new year off to a great start. 

Ordinary people who have a financial “super power” (Sound Mind Investing). Some people save a disproportionate amount of their income. Here’s how these super savers do it.

Got a gift card for Christmas? Read this! (Clark Howard). A crazy number of gift cards go unused each year. 

You have 30 days to claim your $125 from Equifax for its big data breach (CBS Money Watch). Actually, you only have 19 days.

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To Go Big, Think Small Tue, 31 Dec 2019 14:30:00 +0000

Goal setting is all the rage this time of year. Unfortunately, so is bashing the practice. Some have become tired of the whole New Year’s resolutions routine. It seems trite to them, unproductive.

It’s cool to be anti-goal. I’m okay with being uncool.

I love the start of a new year. It always feels like a chance to begin again, to wipe the slate clean if things haven’t gone well in the previous year or to build on what has gone well.

But one thing has changed in my approach to goal setting. My goals list has become smaller. A lot smaller.

I saw a headline recently for an article promising “50 Ways to Improve Your Finances.” Just reading the headline made my head hurt. I couldn’t bear to read the article.

I don’t want 50 things to do. I want to focus on a much smaller number of things that’ll make the biggest difference in my life.

Curly’s secret to success

In the movie City Slickers, three urban-dwelling, middle-aged guys going through a mid-life crisis decide to go on a cattle drive. There they meet a tough, grizzled cowboy with the unlikely name of Curly who teaches them how to rope a cow, and in one memorable scene, an important life lesson:

Curly (played by Jack Palance): “Do you know what the secret of life is? This (holding up one finger).”

Mitch (played by Billy Crystal): “Your finger?”

Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean anything.” (okay, he actually used a more colorful word at the end)

Mitch: “But what is the one thing?”

Curly: “That’s what you have to find out.”

Think about your finances. What one thing – what single change – would make the biggest difference in your life in the new year?

It isn’t rocket science

When it comes right down to it, accomplishing a goal, even a big one, isn’t a mysterious process.

A few years back, Seth Godin revised and repackaged Zig Ziglar’s “legendary” goals program, Pick Four.

It consists of four simple spiral bound books in which you write down all the goals you can think of.  Then you whittle the list down to just four, preferably with some balance across various aspects of your life – career, family, etc.

Most of the rest of the books are diary pages where you keep track of what you did each day to pursue your goals.

The idea couldn’t be simpler. Focus on a small number of goals, take meaningful action toward their accomplishment each day, and you stand a very good chance of accomplishing those goals.

You just do the work. Every day.

Taking your financial life from good to great

In his business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins says companies that achieve remarkable success take the same route. They steadily pursue their vision day by day over a long period of time.

He calls it “turning the flywheel.”

When I took on the task of paying off $20,000 of credit card debt, it seemed overwhelming at first. There were many days when I was deeply discouraged. Progress came slowly. I wanted to quit. But I kept going, kept pushing.

Every month I worked as hard as I could to make as much money as I could, and then I sent a big portion of what I earned to my creditors.

It was a heavy flywheel. It took time to build momentum. It took consistency. Hard work every day.  Big checks sent to creditors every month. Then one day – four and a half years after starting – all of the debt was gone. That was an amazing day.

What is it for you? If you could accomplish just one financial goal this year – one goal that would greatly improve your life – what would you choose?

Are you willing to go after it? Are you willing to do the work? Even when it doesn’t feel good? Even when you can’t see any progress? Every single day?

Scripting the critical moves

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch, which is about what it takes to make a lasting change in our lives, they talk about the importance of breaking goals down to smaller goals.

I use that process when I run. If I think about how far I plan to run, it can seem overwhelming and discouraging (and I don’t even run very far!). But if I just focus on sub-goals along the way — the next street light, for example — I find it a lot easier to keep going. Accomplishing each goal feels good and adds to my momentum. As long as I hit each sub-goal, eventually I’ll run the full distance I intended to run.

So, as you think about your most important financial goal for 2017, break it down into more manageable sub-goals. What daily habits will help you get there?

What is it for you? What’s your one thing—your most important financial goal for the new year?

Take it to heart: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

Take action: There’s nothing like the accountability and encouragement of a good friend to keep us on track toward a goal. Tell someone about your most important financial goal for this year and invite them to ask you about your progress from time to time.

Read more: Doing the Work

Who else should read this article? Why not send them a link? And if someone forwarded this post to you, I’d love for you to become part of this community by signing up for a free subscription.

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Profitable Ideas: Developing Better Habits, The Psychology of Being Rich, and More Fri, 27 Dec 2019 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

How to develop better habits in 2020 (Ryan Holiday). How some little changes can lead to big results.

How ‘dark patterns’ influence travel bookings (BBC). Marketing keeps getting more scientific. Knowing a little about how it works can help you make better spending decisions.

Successful v. useful: Lessons on teaching from Jim Collins and Peter Drucker (Dave Stuart, Jr.). There’s a lot here—about the pursuit of success, wise money management, humility, and more.

The surprising psychology behind being rich (BBC). Money can do funny things to us.

Should you sell a car and share one car as a family? (Take Charge of Your Money). An idea very few even consider that can have a big impact on your cash flow.

Seven small things you can do to grow your career (ESI Money). Your career is like a goose that lays golden eggs. Take care of it.

How to freeze your credit (CNBC). In an era when identity theft is very common, putting your credit file on ice is a good idea. Here’s how.

Three theories for why you have no time (The Atlantic). If you often feel like there’s never enough time to do all that you need or want to do, these may be the culprits.

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The Light of the World Tue, 24 Dec 2019 14:30:00 +0000

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. – Luke 2:16-18

A few weeks ago, as I rounded the corner toward our home after a tiring day, I was greeted by a neighbor’s home beautifully lit up with Christmas lights. I can’t tell you how much that ministered to my soul.

I’ve had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Someone important to us was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Several couples we know are either going through divorces or are on the brink of one. And this time of year always reminds me of my parents. My mom died a week and a half before Christmas. The next year, my dad died the day after Thanksgiving.

Those lights lifted my spirits.

They brought me back to the original meaning of Christmas lights: to proclaim—to remember, really—that Jesus is the Light of the world.

As Christmas becomes ever busier, ever more commercial—and as all of that bumps hard against the Constant Negative News about the impeachment, various wars and protests, and who knows what next—it restores my soul to re-read the story of the first Christmas.

I need the reminder that the first celebrants were not in a hurry to get to the mall; they were in a hurry to get to Jesus. And upon seeing Him, their thoughts did not turn toward fretting over what to buy or bake; they turned toward telling others about Him. That’s a timeless prescription for a great Christmas.

While Jesus is the true Light of the world (John 8:12), remarkably, He used the same metaphor to describe us, His followers.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16 

So, this Christmas, remember that you don’t have an obligation to prop up the economy, but you do have an opportunity to spread the word about all that has been told you about this child.

That isn’t about adding one more thing to your to-do list. No one needs that. It’s simply about being who God made you to be.

You never know what people are going through, but it’s a sure bet that many people you encounter every day are going through some kind of difficulty. And whatever it is, this season has a way of magnifying the pain.

So, as you take in the Christmas lights this year, remember what they represent. Jesus. The Light of the world. And remember this: You’re the light of the world, too.

Take it to heart: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

Take action: Who could you share Christ’s love with today? Who needs a word of encouragement? Who would enjoy knowing that you’re thinking of them? A call or a note from you might be one of the greatest Christmas gifts they receive this year.

Read more: Isaiah 9:6

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