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.

{Proof. Though I'm sure you didn't need it to believe me.}

{Proof. Though I’m sure you didn’t need it to believe me.}

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.

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!

Money, Marriage, & Real Life

I recently sat down with a soon-to-be college graduate who asked me about the greatest financial lesson I’ve learned since I got married and graduated college.

Without pausing, I answered: I learned to tithe.

My sudden response surprised me. I wasn’t trying to be spiritual; God knows it’s been a lesson learned. But it’s a lesson that kept my heart in check and put my treasure in Christ alone.

I went into marriage with a somewhat solid understanding on financial success: live within my income, spend wisely, and save as much as I’m able. Of course, it isn’t always that simple, which I quickly learned as a young, newly-married college student. But I grew up with a dad who was very wise with his money and taught me basic financial principles that I took seriously. So granted, I went into marriage with a solid conviction to live within my means, even if it meant living with less than what all my friends were able to have. Sure, it kept me and my husband humble. We weren’t trying to match what others were able to spend, and we weren’t pretending to. We just wanted to live humbly with what God provided us and be content with His provision.

Of course, I admit that I’m kind of overly frugal. So it wasn’t until Mike and I got married that I slowly learned to give to God, and to give cheerfully. My husband has the gift of giving and a deep conviction to give to God. Me…not so much, not initially. Our conversations early in marriage began like this:

Husband: I prayed about our tithe, how much do you think we should give this month?

Me: Oh dear, he remembered. I hoped he’d forget. We don’t have the money to tithe! Well, what’s the LEAST we can do…hmm…(numbers rolling through my head)…uuggh…I guess whatever 10% is.

Husband: Pray about it. I think we should give more.

Me: !!! MORE?!?!?!

I know…my heart was ugly. So I’d humble myself, pray, and of course, God would give me a number. I’d write it down; Mike wrote his down; pass and exchange paper; and waalaa…they’d often be the same! And if they weren’t, I submitted to his number because let’s face it, his heart was beautiful and my heart…well, not so much.

So now, five years later, God’s changed my heart and taught me more about godly stewardship. I’ve learned to give of our first-fruits, not our leftovers. I’ve learned to give enough that my flesh cringes as I release its grip from my hands (and heart) and drop it in the offering bag. I’ve learned to give enough that I have to trust God. And I’ve learned that God always…always…provides (what we need, not always what we want). Because at the end of the month when I did the budgeting, the numbers didn’t always make sense, they didn’t add up, but somehow we came out even.

Is tithing an end-all to our financial struggles? No. I think godly stewardship is about a whole lot more than tithing, but I think that tithing is at its core. God promises a blessing with it; and He blessed us. Ok, ok…God blessed Mike, but I am his other half. ;) So thank you, Mike, for your faithfulness to God and for teaching me what it looks like to give from your heart. And thank you God – for challenging my heart, for changing my heart, and for giving us abundantly more than we need. Though the world may call us poor, we are rich and overflowing.

What financial lessons have you learned?

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.

I Believe

I believe in a God who restores health and who inflicts pain.

I believe in a God who gives life and allows death.

I believe in a God who promises joy and assures us of sorrow.

I believe in a God who extends mercy and executes judgment.

I believe in a God of grace, and I believe in a God of war.

I believe in a God who hates sin but who loves sinners.

I believe in a God who rejects the unrepentant but forgives those who ask.

I believe in a God who is fearful and yet approachable.

I believe in a God who is sovereign.

I believe in a God who is Love.

I believe in a God whose ways are not my own.

And I believe in a God whose ways are better than my own.

I believe in God the Father; I believe in God the Son;

I believe in God the Holy Spirit; and I believe they are One.

I’ve wrestled with these different and seemingly contradictory attributes of God — uncertain of how I felt about a God who inflicts pain, a God who rejects the unrepentant yet good person, a God who forgives those sins I wouldn’t forgive — but I am certain that HIS sovereignty is good. As we study the Bible, we are faced with the questions: do we believe in this God and will we submit to Him? And after years of seeking Him and knowing Him, I testify that in all these things, He is good, and I say with confidence: I believe. Choosing to believe in Him and submit to Him…it changes everything.

Are there aspects of God that are hard for you to accept? How have you sought Him and yielded to Him in these questions?

Christians in a Godless World

“God, where are you in the world?” I heard three unrelated people ask this question recently as they each elaborated on different issues.

“Where are you when children are sold into modern-day slavery and prostitution? Where are you in the lives of those who are poor and hurting and sick? Where are you when men, women, and children are fiercely killed in genocides at the hands of evil men around the world? God, where-are-you and why-aren’t-you-doing-anything?”

It’s a valid question. If you’ve ever heard the stories of genocides around the world, of young girls trafficked and forced to have sex with several men every day, of the evil people who are rewarded and the righteous people who are suffering, then you know that it’s a very valid question.

God answered all three individuals with the same response: “Where are you and why aren’t you doing anything?”

We are God’s hands and feet. We are His servants to do His work. And yet we are so wrapped up in our lives, schedules, electronics, and TV shows that we remain egocentric and apathetic Christians. As Christians who carry on the Name of Christ, our lives must leave behind His handprints and footprints in our communities and in our world. We must care because He cared. We must respond because He responded.

Ultimately, Jesus’ love caused Him to offer His life as the sacrifice for our sins. Are we willing to be Christians even when the cost is great? If not, I can’t help but question whether our Christianity is self-based or a true response from a relationship with Jesus. If it is indeed the latter, it will cause us to be others-based as we follow in His footsteps.

As Christ followers, our hearts must break for what breaks His, our feet must walk where His walked, and our hands must get a little—or a lot—dirty. Though I say this statement in a spiritual sense, it is meant quite literally in a physical sense. We must respond.

“‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy…Is that not what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 22:16

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure & faultless is this: to look after orphans & widows in their distress & to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

“If anyone has material possessions & sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions & in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

Steps toward an others-based faith

  1. PRAY for the people on God’s heart: for lost souls (Luke 19:41-44); for the poor and needy (Prov. 31:8-9), for those who are in bondage and oppressed (Luke 4:16-21), for those who are sick and disabled (Matt 11:4-5), for His Church (John 17). This will align your heart with His.
  2. ASK GOD what your part is.
  3. GO in the power of His Spirit and do what He’s commanded you to do.

It Could Be Any Day…

We’ve waited 5 years for the opportunity in this moment. Years of hoping and dreaming for God to open a door to medical school for my husband are now contingent upon the response we’ll hear any day.

The response may fulfill those dreams. Or it may momentarily shatter them. Either way, it will shape the course of our lives and greatly affect our immediate future.

This seems grave, doesn’t it? See, this is how I’m tempted to view the situation. This is also an indicator to how I’ve handled future prospects in the past. In all honesty, I’ve gotten it all wrong. I’ve been hoping in this opportunity — this dream — for my husband. I’ve been hoping in something that is not certain. I’ve been hoping in tomorrow.

The problem with hoping in tomorrow? It may not come. The opportunities may not last. The dreams may not be met. Tomorrow is not promised us. So what do we hope in?

If we hope in the desires, dreams, or expectations of what tomorrow holds, we will ultimately be let down. If we hope in God in HIS love and sovereignty over our lives — we will never be let down because we’d know that we can trust Him with our lives.

While we may hope for tomorrow, our hope is not anchored in tomorrow. Our hope is anchored in God because we can trust Him.

Perhaps you’re waiting for an answer too. Perhaps you’re waiting on a decision that will affect your immediate and extended future. It could be a job. It could be a pregnancy test. It could be a school. It could be a diagnosis. Are you hoping in tomorrow? Or are you hoping in a loving God who holds it all in His hands?

Whatever tomorrow brings, my prayer is that our hope would remain steadfast in our God…anchored in Him, confident in His good purposes, certain of His sovereign love.