OUR JOURNEY TO FINANCIAL FREEDOM

A debt-free adult is either really well-off in life or just really educated in the area of financial management. But most, if not all, have some kind of financial obligation to an institution or an individual. Debts, per se, are not a sin, but the Bible did say enough to emphasize the disadvantage of being in debt. The latter part of Proverbs 22:7 states, “…and the borrower is slave to the lender.” That clearly means losing financial freedom.

STARTING LINE

As I write this post, we are currently undergoing strict debt management. My wife and I longed for financial freedom in the middle of 2019. We prayed for God’s favor in our plans to curtail our spending and set up a livable debt management routine and pay off all our outstanding debts in 5 years’ time. But then, we found out that my wife is pregnant. You gotta love God’s sense of humor. This did not stop us to push through with our initial plans. This actually motivated us to stick with the plan because we have another responsibility to feed and clothe. Then, the global pandemic transpired. Talk about challenges. Still, God never failed to amaze us in the perfect timing of His provisions. A lot of things happened during the pandemic and we acquired more debt than what we planned to settle. The journey was hard and oftentimes disheartening, but we routinely kept tithing, paying, and praying that what God left for us will be enough until the next payday. Amazingly, God blessed our efforts and we are now over 50% of our projected goal.

PARADIGM SHIFT

To be honest, our initial reason for obtaining financial freedom is materialistic in nature. We wanted to invest and create wealth. After a while, we realized that wealth will be the obvious effect of being financially free. Creating wealth is really understanding the source of wealth – GOD! Now, we are aiming at the opportunity of being a conduit of God’s blessing to other people. It’s hard having that burden to help financially but can’t do anything about it. Financial prosperity is equally proportioned to our spiritual progress. 3 John 1:2 says, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” Matthew 6:33 also emphasized, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.”

TRUE PROSPERITY

We are not yet financially free. We are still struggling and we understand the sacrifice needed to attain our goals. We also know that the journey we are going through is a way for us to solely depend on God and acknowledge His ultimate sovereignty. True prosperity is not just about creating wealth, but more about developing accountability and Biblical stewardship. It’s unlikely that our names will be published along with the billionaires of this world, but we do know that our names are written in the book of life, and whatever we gain in this world will pale in comparison to the glory of Christ that awaits us in heaven.

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Roman 13:8

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

WE CREATE TO SERVE

My creative intentions are for the purpose of serving others. It may seem superficial, but that is the truth. My actions may not look like it, but that is the reality. The moment an artist starts the creative process, we subconsciously look at the end in mind and ask ourselves “who will benefit from this?” This is a million-dollar question for artists like me because once we fail to fulfill this, then technically we have failed our project. Either we don’t finish or it gets rejected at first glance.

Serving may not come naturally to most people, but I think artists innately have a small percentage of this desire whenever we create. The moment we realize and use it to leverage our skills and abilities, we open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Success becomes one of the options.

SERVANT’S HEART

We have to understand the power of serving and having a heart that is willing to serve. As a Christian, I usually hear the phrase SERVANT’S HEART. It gets thrown around in Christian circles so much that we start getting immuned and start to disregard the weight of the concept behind the phrase. Internalizing the heart of a servant or a slave is what we need to do. Most of the scriptures were written during a period when slaves are in existence. Slaves are not free and they work because their lives depend on it. So, most of the time, when we see the English word “servant” in the Bible, it is pertaining to a SLAVE! With that in mind, having a SERVANT’S HEART is really having a SLAVE’S INTENTION. Take note…we are not promoting the SLAVE’S MENTALITY, but their INTENTION!

SLAVE MENTALITY

The mentality of the slave is confined to the limited freedom they are provided. They have limits and boundaries that they dare not cross. The intention of the slave, on the other hand, is to stay alive and get the approval of their master. They work for the master. As a Christian creative, I work for my heavenly Master. I now hone my whole being to my sole purpose in life – Love God, love others, and make multiplying disciples! So, am I a slave? Yes…I am should be willing to enslave myself to Christ. Because in Him, there is freedom. I know that sounds contradicting, but it’s really not. Let me illustrate it for you.

Imagine committing a heinous crime and you are bound to live your whole life in prison. You have been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and you yourself know that it is true. Then, someone, you don’t know volunteered to live out the punishment for you. I know that our justice system does not work that way, but what if the judge says OK and swaps you out. Then, after a while, you found out that the person who volunteered is the judge’s son. What would you feel? Aside from feeling confused, wouldn’t you feel indebted? Somehow, your body would want to do something to repay their kindness. Let’s add to the plot. Since people know that you are guilty and despise you for being free, you have a hard time living your life outside. Life becomes hard and unbearable. But then, you are invited to live in a big house, free of rent, and your basic needs are provided. You are also given the opportunity to start a career and succeed. What would you do? How would you feel if your opportunities in life also came from the judge – the father of the volunteer?

PURPOSE

Basically, that’s how I view my life here on earth. The moment I responded to the grace of God in Christ, I realized the privilege and opportunities that are laid out for me. I am free because of Christ, so now I dedicate my life to Him…even to the extent of enslavement. Galatians 2:20 says –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. My life is now lived for Christ. So, therefore, my ability to create is a form of service, first to God, then to people around me.

As a Christian Creative, I do what I do for Christ. With every blog I post, every artwork I conceptualize, and even every conversation I have, I need to fulfill my ultimate mission in life – Love God, love others, and make multiplying disciples. I create to serve…until people recognize my Master.

So now, ask yourself. – “Why do I create?”

EVALUATING YOUR CREATIVE SELF

It takes a lot of effort to sustain creativity. As a person who started in the design industry almost 20 years, I could attest to the fact that motivating myself to create quality output is always a challenge. I tried a lot of ways to keep the creativity flowing and maneuver it to the place I need it to flourish. While all of that is happening, I also consider deadlines, client preferences, maintaining branding, and other projects I am working on. Not to mention my ministry in the church and my responsibility as a husband and dad. So, before I start burning out, I need to do some self-evaluation. Assessments and evaluations are crucial to any kind of growth. That is why I would like to go through my personal evaluation question on my creative self.

WHAT IS MY ULTIMATE PURPOSE?

Creative people are subconsciously trained to strive to visualize the end in mind. Every project has an ultimate purpose. Every design has a definitive objective. In every project I involve myself with, I always remind myself of my ultimate purpose. I’m not talking about the purpose of what I am currently working on, but my own ultimate purpose in doing this project. Why am I even doing what I’m doing right now? Why do we create content? Why do we pursue these things? It might be a cliché, but having a definite purpose in life will create certain standards in our life processes. Objectives and goals are easier to conclude when you are guided by your purpose in life.

If you haven’t thought about your ultimate purpose then maybe you have to go back to your core beliefs. What do you believe in? In my case, as a professing Christian, I hold on to the standards set forth by the Holy Bible. My purpose is then founded on my spiritual walk. Don’t get me wrong, this post is not designed to push my belief system on you. But it is not an impossibility for you to also acquire what I have. Whatever you decide on, one thing is clear – WE NEED AN ULTIMATE PURPOSE IN LIFE!

Now, what you are about to read next might confuse you, so take your time and re-read if needed. YOUR ULTIMATE PURPOSE IS BOUND TO CHANGE OVER TIME. Huh!? Yes, and I can attest to that. When I was young, my ultimate purpose was to survive. Get through everything as quickly as possible, by any means, to get to the next thing. Then when I started to work, I looked for stability. My goal was quantitative. I wanted to reach a certain salary grade and a certain amount in my bank account. Then, I got married and started a family, and I think I found my ultimate purpose with much finality. It’s letting God lead me to a life where I can point people to my core beliefs. Every project, write-up, event, family gathering, business tie-ups, and future endeavors are pursued with that in mind. As I type away, I think about what people will receive once they finish reading this (I hope you do finish reading this).

Once you refocus your mindset on your ultimate purpose, then it’s time to move on to the next question.

HOW AM I CONTRIBUTING TO MY ULTIMATE PURPOSE?

As we define our ultimate purpose, it’s now time to assess if our decisions in life are contributing to it. The artistic mind might seem to be very complicated, but it processes data and information just like any other person. In my opinion, we are just wired uniquely because of our heightened imagination and the ability to look at a situation from different perspectives. That is why this question should technically be easy to answer. SHOULD. But nothing in life is a walk in a park.

Countless decisions are made every single day and considering all of them is daunting for a creative like me. So focus on major decisions that are game changers – pursuing a new client, changing the artistic direction of a project, investing in a new partner, etc. Look into them with our special artistic viewpoint and evaluate if they would contribute to your ultimate purpose.

Just recently, we moved into a new home and the process my mind had to go through was the most meticulous I ever experienced to date. I had to reconstruct different situations in my mind from the time we make the down payment up to the actual move. It was like Dr. Strange going through every possible scenario to find the crucial one that would fit my ultimate purpose. Don’t get intimated by possible failures, because it hasn’t happened yet! Fear of failure may be a setback for artists like us. Risks are part of life but don’t make it a necessity. Adhere to the natural inclination of our mentality as artists and make that a basis of making calculated risks. Don’t delay your growth just because you see failure ahead. Inevitably, we move forward…just make sure you turn to the direction where your ultimate purpose is served.

AM I GENUINELY HAPPY?

As we create art, either for ourselves or for other people, is there joy? With every brush stroke we place in our painting, every word we add to our story, every element we include in our composition, does our heart jump in natural elation?

All my life I am taught that HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE. We choose to be happy. I always struggled with that saying, because I felt that emotions are somehow uncontrollable. But as I grew older, I accepted the reality that happiness IS a choice! In my experience, it’s not a conscious choice with immediate results. Happiness came from past choices that constructed my current condition. Just like any other emotion, it is built upon the norms and standards that we have. That is why most normal people don’t burst out of anger, because our conscience says otherwise.

If the reason for your self-evaluation is because a current situation is stealing your happiness, then mentally step back from where you are and consciously look into your other affairs and assess if you are still happy doing those things. Sometimes, I also get caught up in the hassle of my current project that I immediately dismiss life as unfulfilling and unfair. But as I refocused on my family and my other personal projects, I instantly realize that life is good. So don’t let a hard situation define your overall happiness. That is why we need to evaluate ourselves from time to time and just be reminded of the important things in our lives.

THAT’S IT!

Only three (3) questions? Yes. These are the only questions I need to realize the general status of my life. If you really think about it and chew on the questions, a lot of other questions will come up. I often do this whenever I was woken up by an upcoming project or a pending problem that I need to address. I alternately reflect on the questions while talking to God in my mind.

I pray that you take the time to slow down and evaluate yourself as you pursue creative excellence in your life and career!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

THE DESIRES OF OUR HEART

Our mind has conditioned the heart to subconsciously long form something through the years. Our preferences and even our convictions in life are built from principles that we have accepted as true and favorable for our well-being. These principles are introduced through teachings, personal influences like family and close friends, and even in certain environments. These desires will either bring us to our ultimate purpose in life or will cause our ultimate downfall.

We are all created differently by God. Yes, I did say “created” and I did say “God” because the foundation of my preferences and convictions come from my background as a Bible-believing Jesus follower. I put a premium on the written Word of God and regard it as truth. Going back to what I was saying, WE ARE ALL CREATED DIFFERENTLY BY GOD with varying degrees of desire in life. Let me expound it for you – let’s say 5 people graduated at the same time and all of them want to be an engineer. You may argue that all of them desire the same course, but when you dig deeper, you find out that one wants to take Civil Engineering, one wants to take Electrical Engineering, then the rest wants to take Industrial Engineering. You might think, that three of them have the same desire, but if you go down to a different level, you’ll find out that the reason would be different to a certain degree. One desires to go abroad, one wants to give their family a better life, and the other was just making their parents happy. Every life on earth is a unique strand that starts and ends in its own unique way.

As we contemplate the purpose of our lives, we don’t realize that the desires of our hearts have already taken shape through things we passively delight in. Some people never realize that their careers have always been a product of things they have been enjoying in life. I know people who finished college in a particular course but ended up in a different career because people will always gravitate towards things they like. But as a Christian, I understood that my purpose is defined by a higher standard. Psalm 37:4 says that the desires of my heart, the design of my whole being, will only be evident if I delight myself in the Lord. If I consume my time and efforts in knowing my Savior, only then will I understand what my heart ultimately wants.

Wait a minute…the verse says God will GIVE US the desires of our heart and not make us realize them! Yup, you’re right…but what I also found out as I was delighting in Him, is that my desires are now closely aligned to His desires. In His omniscience, he already knows what I want and what I need even before the world began. Psalm 90:2 says that from everlasting to everlasting, He is the eternal God. His knowledge of who I am has been complete even before I was born. That is why, delighting in Him is the only way I would be able to know what is in store for me in the coming days, weeks, months, and years!

As Christians, I don’t think there is another way for us to live than for Christ. Philippians 1:21 says that for Paul, life is not just FOR Christ, but IS Christ. He takes it a couple of steps further. The last part of the verse even says that death is not even a loss for a Christian, it’s GAIN! We gain glory after our life here on earth is done…so better live it like Christ! People are watching. Unbelievers are observing. John MacArthur once said, “You are the only Bible some unbelievers will ever read.”

When we decide to delight in Him, we have to be consistent because our lives depend on Him. I love what C.S. Lewis said, “Relying on God has to start all over every day as if nothing has yet been done.” I hope and pray that we do not cease looking unto Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3 A.M. MUSINGS

Yes, I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning and No, this is not an ode to the song by Matchbox 20, though some similarities may be seen except for the part where it says “…I must be lonely.” (just search the lyrics if doesn’t make sense)

A lot of things are keeping me awake these days – health scares, financial worries, pending projects, etc. Out of all those things, nothing is more potent than thinking about your purpose in life. “What should I be doing with my life?” I’m almost at my 40’s and I might still be considered young by most of the people I work with, but then it does not exclude me from wondering if I am doing what I am supposed to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work and most of the people I work with, but then something at the back of my mind is telling me that there is more I can do. This is the main thing that makes me turn on my computer and just start typing away.

IS IT TIME TO FINISH MY STUDIES?

This is always my insecurity. I was privileged to go to college but there came a moment in my life that I had to stop and help out. It was the common route for the struggling Filipino family. The eldest would start working so that the other siblings could continue their studies. I did not hate the idea. I did not despise my parents for it. I even felt that it was the honorable thing to do and I am glad that I submitted to my parents. Somehow, I feel like I am part of my sisters’ success – An Elementary Teacher and a Medical Technologist.

The privilege of restarting my educational journey was always available but often put aside. A lot of things were considered a priority. Then I got married, given two kids, and now a full plate at work. As I look at my life and the niche God had carved out for me, there is this need of upgrading. I am grateful and still at awe that God would use a high school graduate to manage His ministry. There is no doubt that God can use anyone He wants, but then I read somewhere that GOD USES PREPARED PEOPLE. Willingness is not enough to get us there. At some point, we will need to develop and enhance a particular skill set and learn to use new tools of our chosen trade.

SHOULD I GET A NEW JOB OR START A BUSINESS?

Financial security is one of the goal we have as a family. Currently, we are undergoing debt management. A lot of wrong decisions in life have pushed us deep into debt and we are starting the long journey out.

Some of my friends of the same faith have asked me, “Shouldn’t you just build capacity and let God handle your finances?” Technically, that’s what we are starting to do. Exercising my faith in finances does not mean doing nothing and waiting for God to bless me. I believe that building capacity is also being financially literate. Being a good steward means creating good cash flow and knowing when to invest. The underlying purpose in our goal to be financially secured is not just for comfort sake but also to open possibilities of helping out people and ministries. That’s why a second job or my own business seems promising.

There is this fine line between acceptable profits and selfish gains that I don’t want to cross. I don’t want to work my ass off just for the sake of making money. I want to make it clear for myself and my family why we need the extra money. Having a clear objective makes it easier for us to lay out our petition to God. As of today, we have a lot of things lined up and we are earnestly praying for God’s timely provision. Our family has gone through a lot of tight financial situations, and every single time, God has proven himself as the great provider. So now, upon the realization of God’s overflowing provision, the motive behind getting a new job or starting a business shifts from a point of financial gain to an opportunity of influence. This is what contributes to my early morning self-reflection moments.

EXPANDING OUR INFLUENCE

I believe that our purpose will have a lasting impact that would echo even after we are gone. What legacy are we leaving behind? What kind of influence do we have with the next generation? As a father of two kids, I have to take those question seriously. There is only so much I can do with the remaining time I have, so I have to make every day count. I cannot change the world for them, but I can equip them with the right mentality and attitude needed to respond to the changing times. If there is one thing I desire, that’s making sure my babies establish a belief system that can give them hope and confidence in living their lives. As a Christian, I know that Jesus is the foundation of that belief system.

For what shall it profit a man,
if he shall gain the whole world,
but lose his soul
?
Mark 8:36

My self-reflection will always come to this conclusion – Whatever I am doing, it should serve the ultimate purpose of God which is spreading the good news. Whether I would pursue my studies, get a new job, or start my own company, everything should serve the ultimate purpose. So now, the end is in mind, what’s next?