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Greg Gates on Growing Small Churches

posted Sep 12, 2017, 2:26 PM by Tim Isbell

On a recent Friday morning at a local Denny’s Restaurant in Santa Clara, a dozen pastors listened while Pastor Greg Gates, lead pastor at The Point in San Jose, CA, unpacked his advice on how to help a small church grow. We knew his church grew nicely in recent years, so a month earlier we asked him to give us some thoughts on how this happened.

The first thing Greg pointed out was that he has now served in three of the most unchurched and de-churched demographics in the United States: the Portland-Auburn Maine area, the Albany-Schenectady New York area, and the San Jose California area (the heart of Silicon Valley).

Then he passed out a list of characteristics that would “almost guarantee that a small church would grow to 80% capacity or 100 people (whichever is less) in five years.”

I was intrigued and asked Greg if I could post his list on my site to help other small church pastors. He agreed, so I made a web page for it in the Resources section. But to make it easy for you to use Greg's list in a meeting, here's a direct link to the Google Doc version: Growing Small Churches.



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Snapshot of Joy in Heaven

posted Aug 30, 2017, 8:58 PM by Tim Isbell

I haven't written anything about what life will be like in heaven. I have told a few children that "In heaven, the crayons are always sharp." And I've used a few lines with the same limited theological content with adults.

But my good friend, George Larsen, wrote a blog post last fall describing an aspect of joy in heaven. And it contains a great YouTube video illustration. He wrote it on the one-year anniversary of his wife's passing. That post is worth a wider reading, and I wanted something on this topic on my site, so here it is. Just click on Joy in Heaven.



The case for index funds just got stronger

posted Jun 9, 2017, 9:47 AM by Tim Isbell

Consider four facts:

1. In 2015 only 40% of active managers beat the Russell 1000 (A large-cap U.S. stock index). The number for 2016 was just 20%.

2. Of the active managers who beat the indexes in one year, only about 5% did so for three consecutive years.

3. The entire net gain in the U.S. stock market since 1926 is attributable to the best performing 4% of listed stocks. The other 96% collectively matched the returns of one-month Treasuries.

4. 58% of the CRSP common stocks (US Total Market Index) have lifetime holding period returns less than those of one-month Treasuries.

For more on the implications of these four facts, check out The Case for Index Funds

Credit Card Minimum Payments

posted May 21, 2017, 6:52 PM by Tim Isbell

Assume your credit card balance is $5,000 at an 18% annual rate. Every month the credit card company requires a minimum payment of 4% of the current balance, or $20, whichever is greater. At this rate, how long do you think it takes to erase the debt? 

Click the link to find out, and to access a free calculator that you can use to analyze your own credit card debt.

Tim Isbell

Two new tools for couples

posted Apr 29, 2017, 4:54 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Apr 30, 2017, 2:29 PM ]

Because of recent premarriage counseling projects, I added two new resources to the Advice for Couples toolbox.

The first is "Responding to Conversation Bids." It explains how best to respond when your partner tries to open a conversation with you. Research shows that your response is crucial to the long-term success of the relationship

The second is "The Mathematics of Love." This one offers and explains an equation to help couples understand how conversations spiral into trouble. It suggests, surprisingly, that couples with low "negativity thresholds" are more likely to have lasting relationships than those with higher thresholds.

To access these resources, click on the above link and browse down in the table to locate these two new resources - then click on them. You may also find other useful tools there, too.

Blessings, Tim

My favorite financial podcasts, blogs, and enews

posted Apr 11, 2017, 1:25 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Apr 19, 2017, 11:08 PM ]

I like to listen to podcasts while walking or doing another exercise, and when driving to and from appointments. One category I enjoy is finance and economics. So I decided to post a list of my favorite financial podcasts, and as long was at it I decided to include my favorite financial and economics blogs and e-news sources.

I use BeyondPod to manage my podcasts, and Feedly to manage my blogs. Of course, your current podcast and blog manager will also work just fine. Both BeyondPod and Feedly are available on Google Play. If you are an Apple user, I'm sure you have sources for these, too.

So here's my list:

  • 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy (podcast)
  • Planet Money (podcast)
  • Freakonomics Radio - the Hidden Side of Everything (podcast)
  • Robert Shiller Feeds (occasional blogs)
  • McLean's Weekly Roundup (newsletter)
  • Vanguard Blog (blog)
  • The Kiplinger Letter (newsletter)
For links to and a short description of each of these, just click on my Resources/Links. You'll find this podcasts, blogs, and e-news section near the bottom of the page - or you can jump there quickly by just clicking on this section in the Table of Contents.

Tax tip for 70-year-olds

posted Apr 5, 2017, 8:37 AM by Tim Isbell

A couple of years ago I posted about Tax-Smart Donations. It included the wisdom of using some or all of your Retired Minimum Distributions (RMD) for charitable contributions. For readers unfamiliar with this part of growing older, in the year Americans reach the age of 70.5 we must begin withdrawing money from Traditional IRAs. The IRS sizes the mandatory withdrawal based on the balance in our account on the previous December 31. Since this money was not taxed when went into the account nor as it grew through the years, every dollar we withdraw in retirement is taxed at the ordinary income rate. 

For those of us seniors who know we're going to give money to charity this year, there is a tax advantage to giving it directly from our RMD because these dollars do not add to our taxable income - and therefore, are not taxed. Because it is not a deduction, but a reduction in income, the benefit applies as much to those filing the short form as those filing the long form! For the details on this, check out Tax Smart Donations. The very last section deals with donating from an RMD.

So, why am I writing about it again? Because the first time I wrote about giving from an RMD, I was too young to make use of it. I'm old enough now to use it - so I am. And I revised the web page to reflect what I learned.



Lord's Prayer Tip

posted Mar 6, 2017, 10:10 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Apr 6, 2017, 9:56 AM ]

I'm continually on the lookout for tips to enrich my prayer life. Here's a personal example of one that I developed over the past few weeks. It comes from the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer, as in Matthew 6.9-10.

Our Father who is in heaven.  Reflect for a moment on the privileged standing God offers through Jesus. Here Jesus tells me that God, the creator, and sustainer of everything, wants me to address him with the familial name that Jesus uses: Father. That's big. I don't know of any other religion that suggests such a thing. Dwelling on this thought speaks deeply to my identity in Christ and within God's family!

May your name be holy.  My kids call me "Dad," which was what I called my father. So, here I'm asking my heavenly Dad to help me show a snippet of his holiness through my everyday life. Further, I'm urging him to show his holiness to all nations and cultures. Letting this soak in impacts how I carry myself through the day.

May your Kingdom come soon.  Here, Jesus shifts the metaphor from family to the family business: building Dad's Kingdom. So I'm asking Dad to plant his values so deeply in my life that I will joyfully follow them as I live temporarily at an address in a kingdom of this world. And I'm asking Dad to continue extending his Kingdom to every corner of the world.

May your will be done on earth.  Such a statement affirms to Dad that I'll willingly accept adversity as part of my spiritual formation process - even though I may not understand it at the time. In the same way, I'm affirming that I will trust him as he extends his will throughout the whole world.

Sometimes I use this as a prelude to a longer prayer; sometimes it's enough by itself.

(Note: this perspective on the Lord's Prayer comes from my understanding and reflection on the first part of chapter 8 in Timothy Keller's Prayer - Experiencing the Awe and Intimacy with God.)

For more tips on prayer, check out Prayer-time Teaching Moments.



Christian Freedom is not an oxymoron

posted Feb 8, 2017, 8:30 PM by Tim Isbell

God invites Christians to live each day in the freedom and reality of sons and daughters of God, spontaneously responding to the challenges and call of God in every unforeseeable, concrete moment. The gospels describe Jesus living this way, unbound by the rules of religious experts. Instead, he acted out of the freedom of a trinitarian love affair with the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit helps mature Christians live and make choices in much the same way - in the context of a personal relationship with Jesus more than just adhering to a set of religious rules. As we live like this, we discover that we are keeping the 
essence of the Law without focusing on it. So why did God give us the Law in the first place? Because the Law is an essential tool that guards us as it leads us deeper into a relationship with Jesus.

For more on this, check out Freedom in Christ.


Advice for Christian dating

posted Dec 27, 2016, 6:33 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Dec 28, 2016, 11:03 AM ]

Sharon Rauenzahn is a good friend of mine over many years. Back in the 1990s, I was her pastor, and she led our youth group. A boy in the group asked her an important question, "What if I like a girl and she's not a Christian?" It's a classic question. Sharon prepared a letter to send to the boy and sent me a draft copy for my feedback. I remember thinking that it was the best response I had ever seen to that question. It still is.

So I got her permission to add it to my Advice for Couples resource. Here's a link to Sharon's Dating Advice letter. And though I retired in 2010, we still see each other every week in church. She's the same gal who writes many of the Advent Readings that I publish on my site.

Here's a link to the entire Advice for Couples set of resources. These resources are among the most visited web pages on my site, so feel free to drop in and give them a look. A few are for the very early dating season, many are for the serious dating season, and many are useful by couples throughout life. These are the same materials I select from when I do pre-marriage counseling.

And the price is right - everything on my site is always free.


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