What Can I Give?

Every month, my husband and I give ourselves $40 for what we term “monthly money.” It’s basically an allowance, but since we’re grown ups now, we term it differently.

We save it up if we want to buy bigger purchases, but it often gets spent on coffee and eating a meal out with a friend here and there. Lately, I’ve also spent a bit each month on buying a new t-shirt or shorts. Post-pregnancy, some of this I deemed “absolute necessity” and perhaps you’d agree it was legitimate had you seen how inappropriate my once-long-shirts-turned-short-shirts looked on my new body.

All that aside, I’m back to my pre-pregnancy body weight now and my closet is full as it always has been.

I clothe myself in new apparel every couple months and stock my cupboards full of food every couple weeks. And sometimes I seriously ask myself, what can I give? 

I can attempt to justify that we are poor college students living on a small income of a part-time working mom and a larger-but-still-small income of a student loan accruing interest as I type. It’s true that bills are barely paid sometimes and sometimes we don’t get our monthly money if it’s a particularly tight month (gasp). Life can be rough.

But obviously, we are rich, and obviously, I was being sarcastic. We are rich not just with food and clothes and a beautiful home and well-fed baby, but with the knowledge of Jesus Christ who paid our debts and gave us life and hope and joy.

And today I watched this film which kicked me in the face and snapped me back to reality. People are hungry. People are naked. People are sick. They are treated unjustly and have no hope for another life because they don’t know the Life resurrected and eternally living. I’ve known this, and yet at times, I’ve failed to do anything, which is far worse than having never known at all.

My heart hurt. My stomach ached. I literally felt sick.

Lord, have mercy. Bring Justice. Send help!

Earlier this week, not by coincidence I suspect (God’s funny that way), I read this verse about what happens when Jesus comes in his glory and gathers all people before him and says to those who are found righteous (Matthew 25:35-40):

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Whoa. God’s going to bring this up, you guys!

If we know Him and love Him and follow Him, this should be a natural response to His love and mercy to us. It’s not about the stuff we acquire – we leave that behind! – it’s about what we give and how much we care for and love others – and that isn’t left behind but is revealed at the end of time!

Lord, find me faithful!

An appropriate question is: Who do we give to?* 

1. Other Christians. At the very least, the above verse is talking about other believers (brethren in the last sentence). As a community of Christ-followers, we are family and we give to each other to ensure no one is in need. It is not about me or just my nuclear family. It is about the larger family of Christ and identifying them all as family, perhaps even going to extremes to make sure that none of them are hungry or naked or homeless or in need.

Acts 2:44-45: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 4:34-35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

2. The Poor. And in general, God wants us to help those who are poor, hungry, sick, helpless.

Isaiah 58:6-7, 10: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen…to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?…if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.”

Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

I hope that we take it seriously and pray how we can serve our brothers and sisters in the faith and serve those who are poor and hungry and naked. And then actually do it.

Lord, find us faithful. At the end of time when you return in your glory and judge the nations, may we be identified as those who carried on your work in the earth and loved one another in the faith and gave to those in need. May we be filled with your compassion, speak your truth, and love as you loved us.

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*I am not referring to tithing here, we should all be giving tithes to the local body of believers through the church. You can read a previous post on that here.

So I Press On Toward The Goal

This last week I decided to watch the first episode of Downton Abbey. I wondered what all the hype was about and wanted something to pass the time for the evening. I just wanted to watch the first episode, but of course, one led to two which led to five and then eight…they really know how to hook you, don’t they?!

I am so easily addicted to things like this. And starting from episode 1 of season 1 when there are now 3 seasons out there means I could easily spend a lot of time catching up. I could watch it for hours upon hours! And the temptation is there, no doubt! I found myself meditating on it…thinking about it throughout the day, reflecting on what had happened and contemplating what could happen.

By the end of the week, I felt a little duller toward the things of the Lord. Meditating on scripture? Is that nearly as satisfying? Reading and praying and singing songs to the Lord? It just didn’t seem as attractive or fulfilling to me…but I knew in my heart it is even more so.

Please hear me out that I am NOT saying watching TV or flipping through magazines or scrolling through pinterest and the like are evils in themselves. They can be enjoyable pastimes and can prove beneficial sometimes.

But hear this too: if our faith feels a little dry and our joy is dull, maybe it’s because we aren’t spending time in the Lord’s presence…searching to know Him through His Word and prayer, experiencing the fullness of joy that comes in his presence alone.

Maybe it’s because we feed the lesser desires of satisfying these pastime enjoyments instead of feeding the deeper need of knowing Him.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. -Psalm 16:11

Do we believe that in His presence there really is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore? Have we experienced it?

Nothing else satisfies but everything else promises to.

Everything else promises to: it’s a lie from the father of lies. And so often we buy into it – we spend our time and money and thoughts meditating on that which we are sure will satisfy. It slowly steals our joy, dulls our faith, and we become somewhat complacent with a half-hearted faith…just living day-to-day with no real sense of purpose or joy. Not dead, but not on fire for the Lord in quite the same way.

When I think of the woman I hope to become and what I hope my life will amount to, it’s become so clear to me that spending endless hours passing time was not going to get me there. And yet there are so many temptations to fill time to just pass the time.

I have to ask: What do we hope our life will amount to? And is spending time doing _______ going to get us toward that end-goal? Because if not, maybe it isn’t worth our time. Maybe our time should be more purposeful and valuable in seizing opportunities to know the Lord more and finding out that He really is real and in His presence really is complete fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

It takes discipline. It takes devotion. But let me tell you: it is worth it. When I spend time in the presence of the Lord, learning more about Him and rejoicing in this great God who saved my soul …it is well worth it and I am never left wanting or feeling dull.

So church, press on toward the goal of knowing Him more and making Him known. Resist that which is not beneficial in getting you there. It’s not always a pretty, internal dialogue. Sometimes the temptation is fierce and the flesh seems stronger than the spirit – but stand firm and keep fighting the good fight.

And while there are endless moments to let life pass by, to live for vain pleasures and waste time on unworthy causes, I hope we remain focused, devoted, and disciplined; aflame with a love for the Lord that dims our desire for anything not of Him.

I hope we live a life worthy of the calling which we have received and of the God whom we serve.

Why Won’t My Heart Change?

A couple days ago I confessed my frustration toward a certain someone to a friend.

I’m just so frustrated by her behavior. And I’m trying not to get bitter toward her. So just pray for my heart in it all…I concluded. In essence, I was asking her to pray that my heart would change so that I could be more like Christ. If my heart changed, then I would change.

My heart did need to change, no doubt. But as I prayed later that evening, my patient Savior showed me that regardless of how I feel in a given moment, I am to remain obedient to Him. And in that moment, maybe it wasn’t my heart he was concerned most about…maybe it was my mind. Because it is with my mind I choose to follow him or to not follow him. It is a conscious decision I have to make day-by-day: to deny my pride and anger and desires and submit to Him and His will, which is revealed in the Word of God.

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you… (Matthew 5:44)

I’ve read it so many times. So when I don’t like someone, do I get on my knees and pray for them? And why couldn’t I simply pray for my own heart in this matter? Because humbling myself in prayer for someone else who is an enemy of sorts is exactly what would change my heart.

So, I’ll leave you with this:

Is your heart gripped with anger, bitterness, worry, lust, envy, pride?

Well, maybe the reason our hearts aren’t changing is simply because we aren’t applying our minds to scripture, mentally understanding what he’s asking us to DO and then humbly doing it.

Psalm 40

He’s Watching Me

I walk around my kitchen and feel the pair of eyes staring at me. Every time I glance over my shoulder, there he is: wide-eyed sucking on his little fingers and watching every move I make. I smile at him and he returns the smile with a half-grin covered by wet, pruned fingers. I continue preparing dinner and washing dishes and he seldom takes his eyes off me.

Here’s some photos of the cute little guy:

A lot has changed in the last four and a half months.

I’m a mom now.

And more than ever before, I feel the influence of my life on those around me. I feel it in the two little eyes staring up at me, watching me, observing me. And as he grows, he’s learning what it looks like to live and be and do. When he sits in my lap at the dinner table, he watches my fork move from my plate to my mouth. He’s learning how to eat. When we do something as routine as walking, he’s learning how to one day do likewise.

And while it’s fascinating how much kids take in, isn’t it frightening? Because he is also learning how to respond to a rough day at work, a disagreement with the spouse, hurt feelings from a friend. He’s learning how to talk about others when they aren’t around, what to do with downtime, and what to watch on TV or the internet.

Our homes are the place where our faults and struggles are most exposed.

It’s the place where we are naked.

And perhaps it’s frightening that as they watch us, they learn from us, and one day, they’ll imitate us. It’s frightening unless…unless we are imitating Jesus. In which case, it’s discipleship, and perhaps the sweetest form.

Because it’s in our homes that true discipleship happens best.

In the context of vulnerability and honesty and love and grace, we learn our great need for Jesus and his great power to save us and transform us even in especially in our weakest moments. And our kids get to see this every day…and let’s be honest, several times a day.

This is as raw as it gets, friends. And what an opportunity it is to show that the gospel transforms our entire life and every day and every moment is an opportunity to LOVE JESUS.

Not to confuse that with being perfect. Or not sinning ever. But I’ve heard parents say that parenting is sanctifying…amen to that one.

So as those little eyes observe me day in and day out, on days when I am sleep deprived and on days when I feel a little more put together, I hope he observes really imperfect people who really love Jesus and really follow Him in the nitty gritty of everyday life. I hope he learns to love and follow Jesus in his own marriage someday, in his relationships and church family and work, with his money and time. I hope he sees the power of Jesus to save and believes it by faith.

And to that endeavor, I rest on the hope that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2nd Peter 1:3), which means that He is able to transform me more and more into His likeness (for his own glory!) as I submit to Him. Seriously…so thankful for this hope! Because without His help I am helpless and so are my kids!

Who is watching you?

We are all being watched and followed. It may be your own kids, or perhaps other kids who look up to you, or maybe it’s your friends, or your siblings, or your coworkers, classmates, enemies, or cousins. This day in age, maybe it’s your twitter or blog followers. What are they learning from you?

What’s Your Response?

A sower went out to sow his seed. The seed was the Word of God. As the sower spread the seed, people heard the Gospel!

Yet many who heard the good news chose not to ground themselves in it and lived a life outside of His will. The result? Some fell away from temptation. Others were consumed by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life, which overtook them and they yielded no fruit.  

How have you responded? Where are you on this chart?

If you find yourself believing with joy for a while, but falling away in temptation, root yourself in His Word. Commit yourself to being watered and fed daily by His Word, plant yourself in a church and have community with other like-minded believers, and put into practice what you read.

If you find yourself consumed with the cares, riches, and pleasures of life, remove yourself from the sin that so easily entangles (Heb 12:1), deny yourself and follow Him (Mark 8:34). You may be hearing the word, but you are not yielding fruit because you continue on in the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. This world will pass away – live wisely!

Regardless of how we’ve responded in the past, I pray that we will become hearers and doers of His Word, keeping it and bearing much fruit for His glory and kingdom! Because when we all stand before His throne at the end of our lives, faced with the reality of how we lived in response to His Word, I want to be found in His truth, clothed with the righteousness of Jesus, living and remaining in His grace. And you will too.

Keep the faith, brothers and sisters, Jesus is coming soon!

Unearned Kindness

How far will God’s kindness go? His mercy and graciousness toward me is so undeserved, and sometimes I wonder, when will it stop? I can’t do anything to deserve it. And yet sometimes I fear that if I don’t “do better” in my Christian walk, He’ll take it away.

I still have so much to learn of Him, and I recognize that these thoughts only expose how much I don’t know of His grace or of His character.

Because really, does our good works earn us the grace and blessing He pours into our lives?

There is no doubt that God rewards those who seek Him, so I’m not advocating a spiritual laziness because God’s grace will cover our lack of discipline. But in no way does our attempts toward holiness merit His grace or kindness or mercy. Rather His kindness and mercy is meant to lead us toward greater holiness.

I feel increasingly undeserving of His goodness; and I am undeserving. But because of His goodness, I am led continually toward repentance. I hope that as we realize the magnitude of His grace, we do not trample on it in pride or hardness of heart, but we repent, turn to Him, and love Him because He first loved us.

“…Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4

“…[He] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” 2 Timothy 1:9

Thank you, God, that you alone are worthy. And that your kindness to us through Jesus has changed us and given us hope beyond compare. I pray we’d look to you and respond to your kindness and give glory to the work of Jesus who has clothed us with His righteousness. Amen.

Seeking Him in the New Year

It’s a new year. But it’s also just another day, another opportunity to seek the face of God. And I hope – I pray – we do not pass the opportunity that alone has power to transform and to redeem, to give hope and to restore life. May we be filled with a knowledge of Jesus Christ, of His death, resurrection, and return, so that our lives would be wholly consumed by the glory of God.

“Oh Godstrip us of the meager desires that consume us day-to-day and put an ache in our hearts for your will to be done, for your kingdom to come, for your glory to wholly transform us so that we no longer live for ourselves or for this world, but that our life would be found completely in you, Jesus, and in no way apart from you.

I pray your church would be a people redeemed by the blood of Jesus so that His work would not go futile in our lives.

May we not diminish the work and name of Jesus Christ by not allowing it to completely redeem and transform our broken lives, to conquer the sin and death we’ve lived in. But may the work and name of Jesus Christ be magnified in us as we surrender every facet of our lives to Him so that the wholeness of His work and power and life may be embodied in us.”

Be filled with His truth, brothers and sisters, and seek His face today. It is in His Name – the Name above all Names – that we pray, Amen.

How I Live My Days

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:19

About a year before I got married, I remember struggling in my faith and living my days for myself instead of for Jesus. I wasn’t in the Word and my prayer life was dull. I had given my life to follow Jesus four years prior to this, but became relaxed in my daily Christian walk.

This passage comes after Jesus’ teaching of Christians being the salt and light of the earth…on us doing the will of God and being Jesus to the world. Our Christianity is not lived out merely in our declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, but in our daily submission and commitment to Him as Lord. The difference may be one who relaxes God’s Words without proper submission to it and one who is a devoted follower.

As I read this passage in the ESV translation, the verb relaxes caused me to ponder it a little more seriously. Other translations say it as whoever breaks, but that word is literally translated as one who loosens or does away with something.

Truth is, we choose to disobey God when we relax the application of His Word in our daily lives, when we become careless toward it, when we loosen its grip on our hearts. The result is the same: we break His commands.

How does this happen? Though many things contribute to it, the underlying cause is this: It happens when we stop seeking Him through His Word and knowing Him through prayer. Satan wants us to relax God’s commands. Even if we’re believers, he’ll distract us so that our days are not lived for Jesus. And then what? Consider this quote…

 “How we live our days is how we live our lives.” -Annie Dillard

Friends, each day matters. Do not relax even the least of His commands. Obey and teach others to obey. This is the purpose of our lives…and it must be lived out as the purpose of our days.

Fear of the Almighty

The Night Fury. That’s what the vikings on the island of Berk call the most powerful, glorious dragon of the land. He is swift and unseen against the night sky. The blue bullet-like fire balls shoot out of his mouth with accuracy and potency. When he comes, he comes with vengeance. Of course, I’m referring to the animated film How to Train your Dragon. Haven’t seen it? You should…it’s a cute movie. But I won’t give it all away; let me just say that every time this dragon comes, the whole village runs because of two reasons: he cannot be destroyed and he has the power to destroy.

I love this because it reminds me of God. Except for the part that seldom do people fear God. We often don’t have an appropriate fear of Him who has power over life and death. We mock Him. We test Him. We accuse Him. We curse Him. And above all, I think we doubt Him. We doubt—or are just ignorant of—His power. God has the power to destroy. Nothing…nothing…is greater than He. It is the ignorant man indeed who would test or mock or accuse or doubt this God. He alone should be feared. Need I say it again? He alone should be feared.

Big Sigh. And I gotta tell ya…the more I realize this, the more I love Him because I realize He has loved me first and has been completely gracious toward me. It is by the mere grace of God that we live. It is because of His grace that He has compassion on us.

Friends, we cannot take what the grace of God has done for us (given us compassion, love,  forgiveness) and then act as though there is no need of His grace. He is a powerful God. At best, His presence would kill us, and at the least, His brilliance would blind us. The Israelites begged Abraham to not let them in the presence of this God. He is full of glory and mighty in power.

Have we forgotten whom we serve? Yes, He is compassionate, kind, and loving. But it is because of His grace. He is a just and righteous God; LORD of lords and KING of kings.

Take a moment to dwell on His power and then rest in the assurance of His grace. I pray this revelation would sink deep into your soul and leave you in a place of reverence, worship, and love for the Almighty God.

To The Mountain Top

Keep running. You’re almost there! I coach myself on as I run uphill. I love running uphill, but it is the hardest part, and consequently, once the ground plateaus, I am also worn out. I slow down a bit to catch my breath and give myself a break. And soon enough, I’ll get to run downhill. I love running downhill too…it is undoubtedly easier to run downhill, though I’ve heard it is actually worse on our knees because of the greater impact on them. But yet that does not negate the fact that it is easier.  

I most often run through the Arboretum near our cottage. This time of year many of the spring-time lush plants seem to die off from the summer heat.  As I ran my usual path this evening, everything seemed dead and still, as though in a drought.

Likewise, in our spiritual journey, it is much easier to run downhill and sometimes we may go through seasons of spiritual drought. Fellow disciples of Jesus: the road we travel is not easy; it is narrow and steep. Undoubtedly, IT IS easier to run downhill, though the consequence is great. So remain in Him. Though we won’t always have mountain-top experiences in our faith, and though we may go through seasons of spiritual drought, we must keep pressing into Him by reading His word and praying continuously. It is easy to get spiritually lazy, and then easier to go downhill. But the only way to the mountain top is to keep running even through the rough terrain; the only way to experience the overflow of His Spirit is to remain faithful in watering your soul even through the drought.

We cannot lose heart. Friends, we cannot lose heart. Fight the good fight. Press on. Finish the race, though it may be uphill. We must continue on the path that is steep and narrow, but in the end, He is our great reward.

“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father…Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” -Matt. 7:14, 21, 24
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” -1st Cor. 9:24