New Life

By: Ellen Perkey

When we moved into our new home a few years ago we took a couple house plants including a kalanchoe that I’ve had since before our children were born. This little kalanchoe plant became a parable for me.  It was neglected for over a year (literally) after we moved to our new house.  We did a major remodel and some of our things stayed in an untouched room in the house, including this plant.  It sat in an upstairs window and I didn’t water it for at least 9 months.  When we finally moved into our house completely after the remodel I found it behind all the things we had stored.  It appeared dead, but I watered it and put it in my kitchen anyway. A few days later I looked at it I was amazed to see it was growing new leaves! 


“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone, a new life has begun!”


2 Corinthians 5:17


The renewal and re-creation that continuously happens in nature reflects the truth of God.  No matter how dead we are spiritually, no matter how hopeless and violent the world seems it’s possible to come back to life.  The love of God overcomes, and there’s no sin or sorrow that can be healed.  Anyone can become a new person.


The Real Parable of the Talents

By: Allen Gunter, The Budget Guy


I’m sure you’re familiar with the Parable of the Talents. You know, the one where the master entrusts three of his servants with some talents and then leaves town for a while. But did you know that in the ancient texts there is a fourth servant?  


Well, it seems the fourth servant was most anxious to honor his master and do something good with the talents he had been given. But while he was thinking about what to do, he began noticing that some of the other servants had things that he didn’t…nicer cloaks, larger rooms, better food. He couldn’t understand why they had these things and he didn’t, and it made him feel a little inadequate and a little jealous. After all, didn’t he work just as hard…perhaps even harder…than they did? Didn’t his family deserve to have good things, too?  


Then one day the servant saw a beautiful cloak in a merchant’s shop. 


“If I had such a cloak, the other servants would respect me more and I would be much happier.”



Unfortunately, the servant did not have enough talents to buy the cloak.   But the merchant knew the servant’s master to be very wealthy, and he saw this as an opportunity to gain favor with the master. So he offered to let the servant have the cloak in return for just a few talents and the promise to pay the rest later.   The servant’s heart quickened.   


“This will only take a small part of what my master entrusted to me. I can still do something good for him with the rest and I’ll surely be able to replace the talents I’ve just used by the time my master returns.”  


So off the servant went in his fine new cloak. He hadn’t gone far when he met a man selling beautiful Persian rugs.   


“Such a rug would be much more comfortable to sleep on than the straw mats my family has now. Besides, if I were well rested, I’m sure I could do so much more to please my master.”


But again the servant did not have the needed talents. Thinking the servant to be a man of means because of the fine cloak he was wearing, the merchant offered to sell the rug to him for a small payment, with the rest to be paid later.  


This delighted the servant, who soon found that he could acquire most anything he desired this way. And so he did until he had many fine things for himself and his family.   


But as he acquired more, the servant realized that his heart had become burdened with all of the things he had bought. For now the servant worried about how to protect all of his fine new possessions from thieves and moths and rust. He resented the time he had to spend taking care of them, finding places to keep them.   


The servant began to realize that the happiness and contentment he had when he bought something new was temporary and unfulfilling. He seldom thought about his master anymore. He knew that one day his master would return and he would have to give an accounting, but that time seemed too distant. Besides, he had to deal with the accountings the merchants presented to him.  


And that had become the servant’s greatest burden. The merchants, of course, wanted to continue to be paid for what they had sold the servant. The servant truly wanted to pay them, but the small amounts the merchants kept asking for added up to large amounts that the servant found difficult to pay. He worried about how he would pay them, and it caused great strife and tension in his household.  


Okay, Budget Guy, stop right there. This isn’t from any “ancient text”…you’re making this all up! This is just your feeble attempt at being cute!  


Feeble, perhaps, but not intended to be cute! You see, I believe Jesus’ parables are all incomplete. He laid the groundwork for us in each one and then left the final “chapter” for us to write based on how we apply that parable to our own lives.  


Isn’t the Parable of the Talents really a lesson for us in how God wants us to manage all that He has entrusted to us? I believe God means for us to find joy in life, and a certain amount of joy can be found in material things. However, it’s not okay when the “wanting” and the “having” become the standard by which we measure ourselves and our happiness.  


Like Luke 16:11 ,“If, therefore, you have not been faithful in the use of worldly wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” , the Parable of the Talents reminds us that we are merely stewards of what we have. How we handle that stewardship is a measure of our faith.


The Compass

By: Ellen Perkey

Leon preached about following the Spirit this Sunday in church and it reminded me of the mental image of how I perceive the Holy Spirit personally. I’ve always felt the Spirit as a compass, something that I can access when I’m quiet and listening, a pulling feeling towards or away from something. Rarely I will get a flash of clarity from the Holy Spirit about something in my life, like the time I was walking in a rainy gray pasture to check on a pregnant horse and realized there was nothing in the world I’d rather be doing than that.  

A compass guides us when we use it, and it reliably points in the same direction every time. What a compass won’t do is give us turn by turn directions as a GPS does. It takes skill and practice to find your way with a compass, it is something you have to keep checking in with to successfully use it. But a compass will remain the same, day or night, clear weather or rough weather, disregarding all circumstance. Even when you’re not looking at a compass it will continue to point in the same direction.  

The unfailing love of God is always there to guide us. When things are unclear we need to pray for guidance and also check in with the internal compass God has given us access too. So many times I pray “God, I don’t know how I can do this,” and the answer is always that I don’t have to do it alone. I pray so often “God, show me where you want me to be,” and sometimes I can see a glimpse of the good things God is guiding me towards even when where I’m at seems so dark.  

Make the choice to check in with your compass this week. Listen to the little disquiet inside you that asks you to look for something more. Listen to the calm center of your heart that says you’re exactly where you need to be right now. Listen to the reassurance inside that tells you this stage of your life won’t last forever. Remember that unlike a compass the guide of the Holy Spirit comes with the assurance that whatever the path is you’re not walking it alone. 


Are You Smarter Than a Moth?


The next time you wander into your kitchen, take a look at your refrigerator. Stop and think about all of the really…er…cool things it does for you. Open it up. Take a moment to look inside, maybe grab a snack. 


What would you say if I told you that your refrigerator is the perfect cage for a moth? 


So says Emmanuel Derman, a pioneer in quantitative finance and author of the book “My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance.” It seems that Mr. Derman went to his refrigerator to get some lunch one day and found a moth inside: 


“The moth was attracted to the refrigerator light. Every time I opened the door, the refrigerator light came on, and the moth loved it and hovered about.  Every time I closed the door, it got dark and cold inside and, of course, unattractive to the moth, but since the door was closed it couldn’t get out.”


To get it out, Mr. Derman simply disabled the light and held the door open while the moth flew out. (However, he doesn’t reveal what he did then about getting the moth out of his house…) He concluded from all this that the refrigerator is “a fiendish cage designed just for moths, who were free to leave whenever the door opened, but couldn’t because of their character/constitution.”


“Cute story,” I hear you thinking, “but what does it have to do with the price of Starbucks© in Austin?” Well, it seems to me that this is the perfect parable for the materialistic trap we keep falling into.


Maybe it’s an ad (I can’t afford not to buy at that price!), or the new Whatchamajigger 1000 your neighbor just bought (if they can afford that on what they must make, I can, too!), or perhaps just something that catches your eye in a store (I’ve been working really hard and deserve that!). Whatever it is, the light comes on and you’re sucked into it, just like a moth. You buy it, even though you don’t really have the cash right now to pay for it. But hey, that’s what credit cards, payday loans, home equity loans, 0% interest offers are for, right?


And for a while it’s fun to dance around the light, enjoying what you’ve just bought. Slowly, though, so slowly that you don’t really notice it, the satisfaction fades, the light dims. That empty spot that you thought you’d filled creeps back. You’re tired of juggling the bills, trying to stretch the paychecks. The light is out, it’s cold and dark, and the door looks like it’s closed tight.


But you have an advantage over that moth. A BIG advantage. You can turn away from the light and toward the door. You can reach out and open it! 


I know, now you’re thinking, “Yeah, sure. Nice ‘rah-rah’ talk, Budget Guy, but it ain’t that easy.”  


Maybe, maybe not. But here’s how you can make it happen. 


>   Develop a spending plan so that you know you’re spending your money on the things that are most important to you (including some fun things)

>   Avoid sales except for necessities

>   Avoid ads and stores that sell your weaknesses

>   Beware of “freebie” gimmicks; they’re designed to get you to buy things you don’t need

>   Unless you pay off your balances each month, DON’T use a credit card; use a debit card or better yet, use cash

>   Set an amount you won’t go above without sleeping on it first

>   Don’t use shopping and trips to the mall as entertainment

>   When you do go shopping, make a list and stick to it; ask a friend to go with you to help you stick to your list and spending limits

>   Copy the “urge to splurge” questions in the box and stick them in your wallet – in front of your credit cards


And think about this: The more our lives are taken up with stuff – buying it, working to pay for it, maintaining it, fixing it, storing it, disposing of it – the less room there is for God. Of the 168 hours in a week, how many get taken up dealing with stuff? How many do you give to God? Is the mix about right? Or is it out of whack?  (Don’t forget, God’s giving you all of eternity!)


So unscrew the light bulb, turn around and open the refrigerator door. Wonderful things are waiting for you right outside!



Plugging In

By: Ellen Perkey
When my husband Jason and I started looking for a church home after we were married we settled on SHPC. We loved the family kind of feel that we had when we sat in service and the alive feeling in the sanctuary during worship. We came from very different religious backgrounds; I grew up immersed in the church my whole life, attending not only Sunday service at our Methodist congregation but also Wednesday night meeting and children’s programming. Jason’s family was intermittent in attendance and didn’t participate much outside of Sunday worship. We began our time at SHPC with a long, long time of being visitors (7 years) and minimal involvement in activity outside of attending worship a few times a month.  
Although we both felt early on that Shepherd of the Hills was our church home we didn’t really develop the feeling of a church family until we began to be involved in our small group and other programs. We found a small group of other young adults that was holding a Bible study and we joined in. Being connected to that group of people, all of whom we count as friends still, changed so much for us. Instead of the church feeling like a group worship it became more of a place to serve and to be served. Ever since then our church family has grown wider, from the people who care for our children and love them to those we serve on committees and mission with. Connection in our church gave us a community that we needed.
We didn’t realize at the time when we were just beginning to attend church that we would eventually build a deep connection to so many people in the church. I could list off 10 or 20 people that I could call on in an emergency to help our family or our kids. When we walk into church we spend almost as much time connecting with people as we do worshipping. Fellowship in our church family has become such a powerful, tangible thing for us. Our roots in the church give us stability in our life outside of church that is hard to find in our current disconnected culture.
Find a way to become connected in your church home, join a class or small group, participate in a mission, volunteer for greeting duty or hospitality. What you may find is that you are planting the seed of something that will keep expanding and root you deeply in our community of people. Plugging is about finding that balance in serving and being served that draws us closer to God through our church family. 


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night and the rain beat frantically against my window as if it were trying to escape by squeezing through the glass and into the shelter of my office. It had been a long day and I was drained, like a bank account sucked dry by credit card payments. 
I put my feet up on my desk and my eyelids started to droop. I had almost drifted off when the raucous ring of the phone caused my eyes to jerk open. I fumbled for the phone. The voice that greeted me when I finally found it was frantic … scared…  
You’ve got to help me, Budget Guy! I’m being stalked and I’m scared to death!!  
Stunned, I could only stammer something about calling 9-1-1. After all, I’m not Austin CSI! What could I do?
No, you don’t understand, BG! I’m being stalked by my credit score. I went to buy a car and the best interest rate I could get was 12%! They said my credit score wasn’t high enough for the really good rates. And then the interest rates on my credit cards went up … because of my credit score. Now I hear that credit scores are part of the insurance rates someone gets and my car insurance just went up!  Help me!! What can I do?!  
A long sigh escaped my lips. I’d seen this type of thing before, and it’s never been pretty. I pulled out my calculator, loaded it with fresh batteries and set it on the desk in front of me … just in case. I began to talk about credit scores, keeping my voice calm and soothing.  
First, I explained that credit scores are based on data in your credit reports. And most credit reports have errors in them (79% according to one study), with 1 out of every 4 causing significant damage to the person’s credit score. So the first step is to get your reports and make sure they’re accurate.
Wow – That’s pretty scary! But, hey – I can do that! Get reports, find errors, fix errors … Boom! Done!!

      The voice was calmer. Good. Maybe I wouldn’t have to resort to my calculator after all. But I knew my caller needed to face up to reality. Getting errors fixed in your credit reports isn’t easy and it takes time. The credit bureaus don’t have any incentive to make sure their data is correct. Your best bet for help? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.    

It has everything you need to get your credit reports cleaned up.  
Okay. So it won’t be as easy as it sounds. What ever is? Is there anything else I can do?  
Time to put my caller to the test. So I asked, “Ever been late on paying any of your credit card bills?   
I’m late every now and then. You know how it is … things come up.   
Do you have high balances on any of your cards?  
Not that it’s any of your business, Budget Guy, but yeah, I’ve got some pretty good balances on some of my cards. So what! Doesn’t everyone?  
Uh-oh. My caller was starting to get testy. I reached for my calculator again as I explained that credit scores are based primarily on your payment history and on the amount you currently owe.
So it’s really pretty simple:  
Hey – BG – I just had a brainstorm! I’ll go get another credit card. That will increase my total credit but it won’t have any balance. So that will take care of that part of my problem. Even better – I’ll find me one of those balance transfer offers and that’ll save me on my interest charges. Gotcha on that one, BG – bet you wish you’d thought of it!   
Slippery character, this one. Trying to avoid dealing with the real issues. Time to lay it on the line.  
“One minor problem, my friend – if you’ve run up the cards you have now, what makes you think you won’t end up running up your new card? Not to mention all of the ‘gotchas’ those balance transfer offers are loaded up with.  
“Look, you’re not the first person that’s tried to game the system. You might make it work for a little while, but then it’ll come back and bite you and you’ll be worse off than you are now. You’re not being haunted by your credit score, you’re being haunted by your own choices! If you’re not ready to own up to that…  
Whoa – okay, okay! You’ve made your point! I wish there was an easier way, but like they say, there’s no free lunch. If I’m honest with myself, I guess I really knew that all along. Thanks for telling it like it is, BG.   
“You’re welcome. Sorry to be so harsh, but there aren’t any shortcuts. Start with getting your credit reports and work it from there. And keep my phone number handy – I can walk with you on this new journey.”  
As I hung up, I put my calculator away and my feet back up on my desk. Sleep came easy.


Cheeseburger Loans

Cheeseburger loans?! Very cute!  Now that you’ve got my attention, tell me what this article is really about so I can decide whether or not I want to read it.
It’s really about cheeseburger loans.
Yeah, right! Look, quit wasting my time. No one gets a loan just to buy a cheeseburger. What would you use for collateral…french fries? 
No collateral required. In fact, millions of Americans take out loans every day for cheeseburgers, milk shakes, tacos, fried chicken…even grilled salmon with teriyaki glaze on a rice pilaf and Crème Brule for desert.
You’re making me hungry! But I still don’t see…
It’s simple, really. If you are carrying a balance on your credit card instead of paying it off in full each month and you charge a meal, you’re borrowing from the credit card company to pay for that meal. Doesn’t matter whether it’s from McDonald’s or the Vince Young Steakhouse. Immediate loan approval, no collateral required, and interest rates up to 30%. What a deal!
So that cheeseburger that I just ordered off the dollar menu could end up costing me two or even three dollars…  And I was so proud of myself for ordering on the cheap!
Well, at least you didn’t make the mistake that most people do. The fast food places have found that the average person orders about 30% more when charging their meal than when using cash.
Why do you suppose we do that? I can’t imagine that we’re actually hungrier when we’re paying with plastic. It gives me a great idea, though. I think I’ll write a new diet book –”The Pay-With-Cash Diet”. No exercising, no pills to take, no special meals to buy. I’ll make a fortune!
And you’d save people a fortune! We use credit cards so much we’ve lost touch with the true value of a dollar. We’re no longer limited to spending only what’s in our own pockets, so we don’t see the money running out. And we don’t stop to think about the true cost of what we are buying…we just keep on writing ourselves those instant loans.
So the next time you reach for your charge card to pay for the $40 Tex-Mex meal your family just ate, ask yourself whether or not it was worth the $60, $80 or maybe $100 or more you’ll actually end up paying by carrying a balance on your credit card rather than keeping it paid off.
Common sense…don’t leave home without it!
If you have money questions or would like some help with your finances, just ask the The Budget Guy (aka Allen Gunter). “If he don’t know, he’ll tell you so!”


How About a Game of Freeze Tag?


By: The Budget Guy, Allen Gunter

Ready to get rid of your credit card debt?  All it takes is a game of Freeze Tag!
Rule #1 – Freeze Your Credit Cards
Literally. Put your cards in a baggie, fill it with water and put the baggie in your freezer. You ain’t never gonna get rid of your credit card debt if you keep using your cards.
So why not just cut them up? Because you may end up with an emergency and you can always thaw those cards out and use one of them. Just make sure it’s a real emergency and you have no other options!
Rule #2 – Freeze Your Monthly Payments
No matter how many credit cards you have, freeze the amount you pay on each at whatever amount you’re paying now. Don’t pay less next month just because the minimum amount has gone down.
Do you know why your minimum goes down each month? Because that keeps you in debt and paying interest longer!  And it makes it easier for you to add to your debt.
Suppose, for example, you have a VisEx card from Friendly Bank, NA:
All you have to pay right now is $90, so that’s what you pay and next month your minimum has gone down to $88. Cool! So you only pay the $88 and the month after that your minimum has gone down again so you only pay it.
Keep doing that and it will take you more than 9 years to pay that card off and you will have paid more than $1,300 in interest! How’s THAT for a waste of money!
And if you didn’t follow Rule #1, things will be even worse!! But what if you continue to pay $90 each and every month instead of being suckered into paying just the minimum? You’ll have that dude paid off in just over 3 years with less than $700 of interest!
Rule #3 – Tag a Card
You can stick with Rules #1 and #2 and they will work fine. But if you have debt on more than one credit card, you can get rid of all of it faster if you tag a card and use the “avalanche” or “snowball” approach:
  1. Add up all of your frozen monthly payments from Rule #2.
  1. Each month, pay only the minimum on every card other than your Tagged Card.


  1. Pay what’s left of your total monthly payment on the Tagged Card.
Here’s how it works. Suppose you have three cards and these are the minimum payments:
  • Card A: $ 100
  • Card B: $ 150
  • Card C: $   90
  • Total:    $ 340
You pay the $340 and here are your new minimums for next month and the payments you would make under Rule #2:
Card Minimum Payment
A $    97 $ 100
B  145 150
C    88   90
Total   $ 340 $ 340


But using Rule #3, you’ve tagged Card C. So in the second month, you’ll pay the minimum on Cards A and B and whatever is left on Card C:
Card Minimum Payment
A $    97 $ 97
B  145 145
C    88   98
Total   $ 340 $ 340


You keep doing that month after month – minimums on Cards A and B, the rest on Card C – and before long…boom!Card C is paid off! But you don’t stop there. You keep on paying $340, but now it’s only split between two cards. Pay the minimum on one and the rest of the $340 on the other. You might decide it’s time to go big or go home. So you tag card B to get rid of your biggest remaining balance:
Card Minimum Payment
A $    97 $ 97
B    145   243
Total   $ 340 $ 340
That dude’s going to go down fast!  And once it does, all of the $340 goes to the last card standing. Before long it’s time to party!  (Just don’t charge that party!) And you’ve even got $340 extra each month you can put to much better use than credit card debt. So how do you decide which card to tag first?
  • If you want to get out of debt the fastest and save the most on your finance charges, tag the card with the highest interest rate.
  • If you want to get at least one balance paid off as soon as possible, tag the card with the smallest balance.
Now go start playing Freeze Tag!
If you have questions or would like some help making this work for you, Just ask the The Budget Guy (aka Allen Gunter).  “If he don’t know, he’ll tell you so!”