Just the Appetizer…

business-graphics-1428656-mFriends, bear with me–allow me to share a bit more borrowed wisdom. This piece by Desiring God ministries speaks precisely to some of our current conversation about dealing with unknowns, finances and even idolatry. I would love to hear your thoughts!

“Because of what the Bible warns about wealth, Christians quickly become some of the most vigilant about their incomes, investments, and donations — and that is a good and right trend as a whole.

 

Perhaps a love of money has less to do with its presence or absence, and more to do with its hold in our hearts. Maybe it has less to do with whether we have more or less money, and more to do with whether our thoughts, conversations, and budgets are excessively focused on it.

 

As an illustration, the same warning can be applied to people “stewarding their bodies” by being obsessive about counting calories and running miles. How easy it is to take “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and make the place for worship (your body) the prize of worship (your god). The body becomes god and God is forgotten.”

These are only delicious morsels of the full article my Marshall Segal. Please, go devour the whole thing!

 

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Lord, Make Me Willing to Wonder

If I only wrote of what God is teaching me, how exciting it is, how I am growing, all of His goodness and the excitement of living Real Life in Jesus—the life I shadowed for so many years—you might get the image that all of my lessons come wrapped in exquisite silence. You might picture me sitting on the back porch with my Bible, journal and pen furiously writing down what I hear Father whispering to me through His Word. And all of that would be true.

I am blessed in this season to have unprecedented time to soak up God’s Word. And I’m so grateful for it. I do learn a lot in those quiet hours. But, some of the hardest hitting lessons are just that—hard hitting. They hit my ego, my sanity, my peace of mind, my confidence. Just such a lesson has been pummeling me against the stones of residual unbelief. In the wake of this storm, it feels like my mind has been thrashing with no upward or outward orientation.

Perhaps you can identify: It’s all in the numbers.

No, I haven’t been obsessing over the scale, calories in or calories out as you might suspect of a former anorexic. I haven’t been contemplating hours of exercise or the number of peanuts in a one ounce serving. It’s been another numerical conundrum—the fear of money. (I actually discovered a term for it: peniaphobia. Look it up!)

Here’s how it manifests in me: This week I have bought and returned and bought again an outfit (and almost returned it again). Another item I bought and returned and various others I have fretted over and worried through the halls of my mind like a stone between restless fingers. I have also panicked over credit card fraud, which resulted in closing two accounts and requesting new numbers. (One turned out to be real, the other I was in error.)

I have lost sleep over whether I should or should not buy something for the house. I have been consumed with whether my budget is correct or if I missed recording an expense. I have hounded my husband for not telling me he bought a Kindle book for $1.99.

Maybe you don’t have this problem. However, in the last week I have spoken to two other married women who alluded to wrestling with these unwanted fears too.

So, whether you fret about money or not, let me ask if this resonates with you: I live in a constant state of “what if”, living as if all the “what if’s” could happen and I must take preventative measures.

I’ll share some other specifics with you; try them on for size:
What if the government shuts down again and the military doesn’t get paid?
What if my husband is one of the hundreds forced out of the Army?
What if I need to work and can’t find a job?
What if we lose the renters in our house who are covering the mortgage?

These thoughts were very common when I dealt with anorexia:
What if I get fat?
What if I eat too much today and can’t workout tomorrow?
What if my family gives up on me?
What if there are more calories in that than what I counted?
What if they actually put dressing on my salad?

So, my self-protective, chicken-heart believes that it’s best to live as if these things might happen, live hyper-vigilant. More painfully true—it’s best to live as if God isn’t good just incase He withdraws His blessing that has been so generous to me for more than 34 years.

My eating disorder was one giant, frightened step back from a looming “What if?” It was my shattered response to a terrifying unknown. It manifested in rejecting love—What if they stop loving me? Extreme anxiety in school and other challenges—What if I fail? Fear of enjoying anything—What if I get used to this and it’s not here tomorrow?

Terror of the unknown cropped up in my marriage and almost short circuited forgiveness. After discovering my husband’s addiction to pornography, even after he addressed it, we worked on our marriage and I had no evidence that it remained, still I held him at arm’s distance, skeptical and suspicious—What if it comes back?

Paralyzing, invasive fear is the side effect of living in a perpetual, hypothetical state of “What if?”.

As I discovered this tendency to live in prevention mode against all possibilities, I realized that I rebel against wonder.

The same thing that I admire in carefree children and happy-go-lucky puppies, I fight against tooth and nail as an adult. I do not want to experience wonder. I do not want to embrace “maybe” or, “what if”, or “perhaps not”.

Then God got really personal. I heard Him whisper, “If you rebel against the unknown, you can never know me.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

To pursue the heart of God is to step willingly into wonder, amazement and, invariably, into the unknown. To trust Him is to acknowledge and embrace what I cannot fully know.

Oh My Father, I want to wonder. I want to know wonder and amazement and awe and true, Biblical fear—fear of you and you alone. Please, gently release these shackles of safety. Teach me to trust you and to walk in wonder. Teach me to ask “what if” with anticipation, joy and peace.

Value Added

I’ve been hearing lately, incessantly actually, on the radio about the Golden Eagle Coin. Doubtless you’ve heard it too.

The ad argues, in an attempt to persuade casual listeners that their life is incomplete without this coin, that gold has intrinsic value. But paper money is valuable only because we arbitrarily assign worth to it.

The green, flimsy sheets in your wallet are nothing in and of themselves. We see proof of this all the time as the stock market fluctuates and the relative worth of American currency to that of other countries, varies constantly.

What if we woke up tomorrow and the powers that be decided that paper money is no longer “in”? What if we simply bypassed the frightening run on the bank, and tomorrow’s sunrise illuminated the collapse of our entire economy?

But I wonder, isn’t gold the same way? Isn’t everything the same way? If it were not for the value that we as individuals or society place on any given thing, what good are they?

Why does sex sell? Because in today’s cultural climate, easy sexual gratification is highly valued. However, only a few decades ago, the same risqué images that ply our greedy minds and draw us to dirty movies, provocative magazines and trashy TV shows would have repulsed the average consumer. While today the clip of a woman gasping in the shower sells a bottle of shampoo, our grandmothers would have boycotted the company. Value assigned.

Why is there a steady climb in the number of eating disorders among most demographics? Why are young children getting plastic surgery? Why do 90% of the headlines on consumer magazines promise to unveil long-held secrets of beauty?

It is because we have arbitrarily assigned a high value to beauty (a subjective term in itself) and specifically to thinness. Take those same messages to a rural African culture and their power is forfeit. It isn’t that Victoria’s Secret is the objective definition of beauty, but for the time, for this culture, she is the image of what we hold in high esteem: The model of feminine beauty.

So my question is this: Is it really fail-safe to invest in gold? Is there assurance of happiness in the pursuit of sexual appeal or a beautiful body?

Resoundingly, No. Value is assumed and people are finicky things.

The only indisputable value, the only unmitigated quantity, the only absolute insurance is Jesus Christ. For He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heb. 13:8

Christmas Colors: Black and Red

One of the most contentious issues around Christmas is money. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about digging themselves out of holiday debt come January. Retailers revel over the black in their checkbooks, while consumers cry over their bleeding bottom line.

For many Christians, the concept of debt is a touchy one. There are the pious few who shun credit cards, and a majority who long for the day when they can pay off all their plastic.

Recently, I heard a financial adviser speak on debt-proofing Christmas. She had tons of wonderful ideas for keeping Christmas traditions while eliminating or minimizing the cost. Wonderful ideas, good ideas, useful ideas.

However, following that interview, I got into a discussion on marital finances with my sisters. That prompted me to re-examine my perspective on money, debt, borrowers and lenders. What exactly does the Bible say?

Once when I was young, my dad loaned me money to purchase a bike. The plan was for me to earn my allowance and other funds to slowly pay off my debt. Truthfully, I don’t recall how many nights passed, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake thinking about how sinful, terrible and scary it was to owe someone something. One night, I climbed out bed, ran to my dad and begged him to let me take the money out of my savings account so that I could be free of this terrible debt.

Therein, I think, lies one of the Biblical cautions against debt. It invokes fear. There’s a feeling of inferiority to the person who holds the debt. That emotion, in and of itself is not Biblical. As children of God, we are not beneath or subservient to anyone. Neither should our lifestyle reflect that we are.

The problem with debt is that from either side, it is completely contrary to our personhood in Christ. We are called to be like our Father. Our God is beneath no one, in need of nothing and under no fear or condemnation. Neither are we. To live in a lifestyle of borrowing and owing is not to look like our Father.

In the relationship between a borrower and lender, Proverbs tell us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7) Consider these two roles. Both encourage an attitude that is un-Christ-like. The lien holder has the tendency to feel superior and to lord his influence and power over the borrower. The borrower is beholden, and legally bound to his benefactor.

Throughout the Old Testament, God laid out parameters  for borrowing and lending. If to do either was sinful, God would not have explained how to do so honorably. God tells the Israelites to lend freely but never to be in debt to another nation. I believe God does this for the sake of His own name.

“The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” (Duet. 28:12)

“And I prayed to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin,lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” (Duet 9:26-28)

For the glory of His own name, God protected and provided for His people. He does the same today. Essentially, borrowing displays a lack of trust in God’s faithful provision.

A final criteria for Christians to consider regarding debt, is motive. More often that not, debt is acquired by greed. There is an insatiable longing for something that God has not previously provided, so in self-sufficiency we run to our own means for satisfaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, Paul instructs his listeners to own no man anything but a debt of love. Think of how you feel when you owe someone money. It is usually a pressure, a frustration, a burden. However, when love has been given, to return it ten fold is a joy, a pleasure!

God longs for His people to reflect His nature. God longs for His people to trust his sufficiency. And God longs for His people to experience the joy of effusively giving love.

Can we apply this to our checkbooks?

 

 

Finding Wonder

The wonder of life is tarnished. For most of us, each year it grows a little more dingy, a little lest attractive. Even I have said, “Any day, God. Any day. I certainly won’t complain if you’re ready to call it quits for planet earth.” My heart is in the right place, I think, but the comment certainly expresses a lack of wonder at my current, pleasant surroundings.

The first two tarnished elements of life that Zacharias addresses in his book, Recapture the Wonder, are sexuality and money

The only way to transcend the physical and the sensual while retaining their essential features is to bind them to the sacred. pg. 65

“These days,” sexual encounters are a dime a dozen, or at least that’s what the culture-creators want us to think. Shows like Sex in the City, novels whose only purpose is to portray multiple explicit encounters, each more graphic than the last; the push for free and legal abortions so that no one bears the consequence of illicit sex, the view of sex as mere recreation…we have certainly divorced sex from the spiritual.

Can that explain our boredom with sex? Obviously, the constant trend to make it more and more sensational reveals that what once held wonder in and of itself, is now old news. Is there a limit? When does this chafing for more and dissatisfaction, dissolution with what once was wonderful end?

As for money. We all know, in our heads, that no matter how much we amass it’s never enough – but we certainly don’t live that way. I’m preaching to your’s truly.

The one possessing the wealth must know its real value if the possession is to bring wonder. pg. 70

With that truth in mind, does money really have any value? When I have bought a new pair of shoes, soon they aren’t new anymore. When I drive a new car, soon it loses that smell. When I buy a rich, expensive cup of coffee, soon it’s empty. When I pursue higher education, I discover there is still one more learned and therefore higher paid and then ultimately the wonderfulness promised by dollars is moot all over again. Do you see what I mean?

So what’s the solution? Where is the balance between enjoying temporal things and investing eternally in them? One thing I believe is true: the potential for joy in wonder is greater than ever, for sometimes it takes losing something to realize its true value. Let’s Recapture the Wonder together.

Innocent Little Lies, For a Good Cause

The story you are about to read is true… some details have been changed to confuse the victim.

I’ve learned a lot from my sisters. The Bible says that a brother is born for adversity. We certainly taught each other lessons the hard way. Tears and tantrums, practical jokes and cold shoulders – oh and the silent treatment. Fortunately, as we’ve grown, we still learn from each other, but with less fanfare.

Such was the case a couple weeks ago. Kelsey, my third sister, is highly practical. She manages money with frugality. To be honest, she and I both border on miserly – or are at least incredibly fearful of financial issues. So we tend to be overly cautious and fretful especially in these economic times. Funny too, since both of our husbands are blessedly employed, happy in their jobs with no eminent threats. Ah, but fear is rarely rational.

We are planning an event together. When I was in Texas visiting her recently, we decided to make a trip to the planned location to scope it out. When we arrived, our chintzy instincts went to high gear.  Nickel and dime-ing was an understatement! Even as a resident of D.C., one of the most expensive places to live, I was shocked. Parking was a fee, valets were extra, of course reservations cost, then add on a separate “resort fee” and another per-car charge and by the way – no discounts. Even my military discount was denied, as they insisted that the active duty soldier must be present.

The place itself was spectacular! We must have looked like back-woods hicks, traipsing through with our eyes bugged out and tennis shoes squeaking on the polished floors. We drove away, called and made our reservations (they don’t have a place to make reservations in person). I was dogmatic that this place was so exceptional, we had to have it, but just as dogmatic that I didn’t want to go broke on a one night event. For the rest of the day we schemed up ways to get the military discount we felt we deserved. What innocent (is there such a thing?) little white lie could we tell so that we could sneak in under their up-turned noses?

A few days later, I was home again and planning to call the uppity reservation line again. I had devised a small fib that would hopefully get us around their red tape and rules. Quickly, I called Kelsey and told her my plan.

“Um, I’ve been thinking,” she began. “We’re studying holiness together on Wednesday nights. And I just can’t get beyond the conviction that lying to them to save a few dollars isn’t very holy or Christ-like. I think we should just be completely honest, ask again, and see what they say.”

Nothing like being put in your place by your little sister! It feels good, I promise. I’m so proud of her!

So, I hung up with Kelsey and dialed the huffy operator. Much to my surprise a very friendly Diane answered the phone this time. I carefully, politely explained the situation one more time. I told her why we wanted the reservation and how surprised I was that my military ID was worthless for the appropriate discount. I have never had this problem anywhere before. Diane was as surprised as I was!

“I don’t know why the operator didn’t understand,” Diane apologized. “Of course I’ll take care of that, email you the confirmation of the new discounted rate, and I’ll make sure that Kristen knows the policy.”

I hung up the phone and danced through the kitchen!

“Kelsey! Guess what,” I had to call her back. “The lady I spoke to said that we deserved the discount. She apologized and adjusted the rate!”

What a good God. He truly honors obedience. And as God’s children we have no choice but to be honest and imitate the one who calls Himself, “The Truth.”

March’s Schedule

Welcome to March, well almost. Here, February will slide right into the year’s third month with a poem. We’ll recognize March beginning in its first full week.

Sadly, today I have been inundated with cultural lies that I’d rather not address. The first one slammed me brutal and early from the morning news on the radio. But its aftershock was even worse. I looked up the headline on the internet which led me to a related lie that took my breath away. I wish I felt there was more of a benefit to making you aware of these lies too. Perhaps there is, if only to help you recognize and avoid them; to help you protect your children and fly to the truth that is Jesus Christ. So, I’ll take the first week of March to mention these:

1. An old, pervasive lie that reinvents itself with every generation: young girls convinced that they are ugly and fat. In their minds, this equates to being worthless, rejected, doomed for the rest of their earthly days.

2. Related to the above, Thinspiration. Heard of it? If not, consider yourself lucky. As I share the crux of this lie, I speak from personal experience. I won’t share links. This is the one that sank like a sharp stone in my gut. Oh how it hurts to know and remember.

3. This last one is a world-wide lie. Lost jobs, failed crops. Rising prices, lost homes. Unforeseen bills, surprise broken plumbing, stalled cars and illness. It’s tempting to wallow in hopelessness. It’s tempting to fudge on taxes or look for loopholes in financial obligations. It’s tempting to keep our tithe in bottom drawer.

The second week in March, I am excited to share a dawning truth in my own life. I am in the process of renewing my certification as personal trainer. I let my certification through IFPA lapse nearly 5 years ago. Though I have entertained the idea of doing it again several times, I always shied away, fearful that anorexia and exercise addiction would rear their ugly heads again. I didn’t believe that God could use my weakness in this area, that He could apply His strength in me and glorify Himself as He conquered the sin where I have fallen so many times before. So, as I’m studying, God has been showing me parallels between our physical bodies, training and our spiritual growth and discipline.

During the third week of March, I want to do a character study on Moses. My sisters and I have been studying holiness in a Precept study called, “Living Like You Belong to God.” The study focuses on the unholy behavior of the Israelites as God drew them away from their bondage in Egypt. God drew defining lines around His people. He called them out to be like Himself – set apart and utterly different from the nations around them. The Israelites faltered over and over, despite their very godly leader Moses. God insisted on using Moses, a stuttering, shy man to lead His people. Moses came to be defined as the most humble man that ever lived, a friend of God, and one with whom God spoke face-to-face.

The truth is that God makes us holy. Regardless of where we come from and how long it takes us to get our feet under us as we follow Him – Jesus is the cause, the means and the effect of our holiness.

Finally, week four. I might be saving the best for last. A continual student of Moody Ministries, I will again be reviewing a book that they published, Counterfeit Gospels. That’s pretty obvious, of course we’ll be discussing lies about the gospel that have invaded the pulpit. We will study to be wary, diligent and effective in our own churches.

Join me!

P. S. This picture was too cute NOT to republish! Click on it to visit a beautiful blog.

Getting What You Could Be Giving

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? It’s almost embarrassing that of all the lavish Christmases and birthdays I have enjoyed, I can’t recall many specific gifts. Not that those gifts weren’t wonderful and appreciated at the time, but as they didn’t meet a sincere need I guess they were for the most  part – forgettable.

One special memory envelopes several Christmases. My mother is on an annual crusade to simplify Christmas. Especially when we were young, she tried to shrink the number of extravagant gifts and encourage us to be grateful, gracious and generous. One year, she decided to stuff all the gifts for every person into a few giant, black trash bags. Then, she pulled out the board game, Bible-opoly. She asked random questions from the game cards and the correct answer won the privilege of blindly pulling a gift from one of the bags. Then that person delivered the gift to the proper recipient and everyone watched with respectful attentiveness as the lucky one unwrapped their present.

Her  plan successfully slowed the mad dash to the tree and wild shredding of paper in disregard of gratitude. However, much to my husband’s chagrin when I brought him home for Christmas – the process drug gift-opening on for a ridiculously long time!

Recently, I read of another plan to reverse the focus of gift-giving and receiving. The leadership at Vine Wesleyan Church in NY surprised their parishioners with a backward offering. Instead of passing a red velvet plate, crooning about the rewards of being charitable – the church gave envelopes containing $100 each to it’s members 18 years and older.

“Traditionally we have taken a special offering at Christmas Eve and we have sent it to a Christ-centered ministry,” a note inside the envelope read. “This year the needs are greater than ever in so many places, including for some of us [in] our own families,” Rev. Christopher Baldwin said. (http://www.thechristianpost.com)

The church gave away about $8500. Is this a reflection of the TRUE meaning of Christmas? Did this church just twist the concept of giving, LYING about their motives? Does the gesture reflect God’s gift of Jesus to the world?

TELLING YOURSELF (and us) THE TRUTH… what would you do if $100 appeared on your seat in church this Sunday?