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Quiet Times In God’s Presence

Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and will bring you back from captivity.

God clearly calls us to His presence and assures us that if we seek Him wholeheartedly we will find Him.  In His presence, we find security, our needs met, our future assured, and we are freed to hope.  In His presence bonds are broken and we are brought back from captivity.  In His presence we, with tired spirits and burdened souls, come home.

Like the hymn says,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”*

What prevents you from purposefully spending time in the Lord’s presence?**  Busyness?  Debt?  Conflict?  Not enough hours in the day?  Something else?

Excuses.

What keeps us from coming into God’s presence is not a lack of time – we all have the same 24 hours in each day.  It is not long working hours, crying children, or a myriad of errands to be run.  No, the problem is not external circumstances.  The problem is even greater than our mixed up priorities.  We have met the enemy and he is us.***  The problems lies within the coldness of our hearts toward God.  It is not the habit of the sin nature to seek God.  It turns away from God, supposing it has better things to do.  But God says,

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:16-18).

In other words, we who are in Christ are no longer held captive by our old selves, but are free to obey the Spirit of God who indwells us. The Holy Spirit transforms us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.  We respond in faith, lifting the pitcher of cool, clear water to our parched lips and opening our throats to receive its pouring.  God says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

God calls us, draws us, and enables us in Christ to find Him.  Living in His presence, habitually spending time with our heavenly Father, is less a choice than a matter of faith and obedience.  And God says we will find Him, we will enter His presence, and we will find rest for our souls when we seek Him with ALL of our heart.


* Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922: Public Domain

**The Practice Of The Presence Of God, Brother Lawrence, 17th C.

***By Pogo, a comic character created by Walt Kelly, 1970.

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Has Your Life Turned Out As You Expected?

How many of you can say your life has turned out exactly as you thought it would?  From an early age, we form a picture in our mind’s eye of what life will be like.  What we imagine often evolves from vague dreams stemming from a natural desire to feel significant and valuable. Maybe you mostly dreamt of being a hero, like a fireman who pulls frightened families from burning buildings, a nurse who expertly and compassionately cares for the sick and injured, a missionary who brings the good news of Jesus Christ in foreign fields, or a photojournalist capturing truth for the world to see during times of violence and mass confusion.

What shall you be when you grow up?

Whatever you dreamt, it probably centered around a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning.  When I was 13, I wanted to be a model because I believed no one could call me ugly if I had the world’s stamp of approval.  Later I wanted to be involved in the most important thing on earth.  At the time, I thought it meant finding a cure for cancer.  As a baby Christian, I wanted to evangelize everybody because things eternal always beat things temporal.  And now as a maturing Christian, I want to worship God by doing His will in Christ.

Of what kind of life did you dream?  I doubt your plans had much to do with wiling away the hours in a bland cubicle, crossing T’s and dotting I’s on paperwork that never ends. Your dreams probably weren’t all about working in retail, laying carpet, waiting at tables, collecting cash at a tollbooth, bagging groceries, or working for someone else’s dream. And I highly doubt you ever aspired to a future of  homelessness, prostitution, or poverty.

So what did you dream?  What did you want to be when you grew up?  Has your life turned out as you hoped it would?  Is this a measure of success or failure in life?  Why or why not?

What do you think the following words of wisdom mean?

Proverbs 16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This is not a treatise on the world’s view of success.  I don’t believe we can be anything we want through willpower alone.  Not everyone is capable of being a brain surgeon.  And because of your own or someone else’s sin, life can land you in places you never thought you’d find yourself.  It doesn’t stop there, however, because God can bring good out of the most horrific circumstances.  The key is Christ who died on the cross in order to bring us into a right relationship with God.  God has a plan for each of us that includes both success and failure as He molds and shapes us into a vessel for noble purpose.  True success is the natural outflow of our relationship to God in Christ because it is nothing less than living life His way, on His terms.  He is, after all, God.  In other words, by following after the Lord in faith and obedience, you may live a far different life from what you once imagined, but you’ll never live more perfectly.

This life satisfies our hungry hearts like nothing else because we were designed to find true satisfaction only in God.   Our greatest longing, whether we recognize it or not, is for God Himself.  It is His will to give us the desire of our hearts – Himself.  Sin has spiritually separated us from God, but the good news is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the debt of our sins and we have only to avail ourselves of His free forgiveness in Christ.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

It is our choice to receive Him or not.  In the end, we get what we have sought after in life – eternal fellowship with God or separation from Him forever.

Romans 10:9-10 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Do you agree with God that you, like everyone, are a sinner in need of forgiveness?  Pray something like this:

“God, I know that I am a sinner.  I want to be reconciled to you.  I believe that Jesus’s death on the cross fully paid for my sins and that you raised him from the dead.  I want to live for you.  Put your desire into my heart.  Be my Savior and Lord.  Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer, please tell a Christian you trust or get in touch with me (see contact page).  It is important to grow in your faith alongside other Christians, learning to trust God for true success and satisfaction in your life and beyond.  Welcome to the family of God.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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The Sure Thing

Ever wonder why our daily lives seem so, well, daily?  Same stuff, different day.  Same old tired argument, same old bickering, same old knee-jerk reaction.  You look ahead to the years before you and wonder if things will ever change, if you’ll ever change.  And a change of heart comes so ssssssssssssslowly.

Steady as she goes ...

Sometimes I feel trapped by circumstances.  I think I know where I want to go, but it’s taking forever to get there.

I have this great vision of how my life should be.  I should be an in-demand Christian women’s speaker and teacher, traveling to and fro, bringing the light of the Word to a motivated and hungry world.  Wherever I go, ministry happens.  Women are comforted, encouraged, and grow strong in the Lord. People everywhere turn to Christ.   I should have a book or two tucked under my belt and a lively, well-trodden blog through which I interact with scads of other Jesus freaks and true seekers.  I should have my perfect, pretty little house to come home to and wonderful clothes to wear on my slim, trim, healthy, & strong body.  I’d be properly plugged into my local church serving alongside women who love Christ and one of them would be my best friend.    I’d have plenty of time and energy for hiking and reading and just messing around.  All my bills would be paid on time and in-full, especially my credit card.  There would always be more than enough money to go around and I could give furiously and extravagantly.   My family and friends and, well, just everyone, would love me.  My whole being would honor and glorify God all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

My real life is nothing like that.  My real life is so daily: making uncomplicated meals for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, helping her dress appropriately at least a few times a day, and generally keeping her entertained so she doesn’t start in with “Where’s the baby?”, “I have to go to work,”or her latest, “It’s time to go home” scenario.  And all the while trying to time everything so she’ll go to bed without a fight that evening.  Arguing with my mom is fruitless.  I’m getting better and better at taming my tongue, but there’s still a lot of habit to break in that domain.  Taking care of my mom is mentally exhausting.  Sometimes I want to tune her out.  I spend a lot of time confessing, but only some of the time actually repenting.  Most of the time, I just want to sit in my recliner all day lazily sipping coffee, reading, writing, and playing on the computer.  There doesn’t seem to be much energy leftover for exercise, get-togethers, and the like.  Of course, this is actually the easy part of caring for my mom.  Things will only get worse as time goes by.  She’ll progressively require greater physical care as more and more of her brain’s ability is usurped by Alzheimer’s.  

That’s when I wonder if this is what my life is all about.  Am I going to spend these years caring for Ma and then just collapse and die afterward never having done the things I want to do?  Is this all the daily bread there is for me?

I cannot know the future, but this I know.  God has called me to this season for purposes of His own.  I have a pretty good idea that these years are essential to the work He is completing in me.  It’s my job to take my eyes off the circumstance and stop asking, “What’s in it for me?”

And that, my friends, is what this season is all about.  It’s an opportunity to obey His call to live for the sake of another.  It’s about humility, considering my mom better than myself.  Not for a crown or reward, but for love of Christ.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”      -Philippians 2:3-8

These are not wasted days.  This is prime time.  My dream is a nice one, albeit a bit magnified.  But given the choice – and we are, my friends, we are – I choose God’s plan, His dream for me.  What about you?  God’s plan is always so much bigger and better than our limited imagination.  And better yet, it’s a sure thing.

 
 

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God Is Good, Part 2

Continuing on from God Is Good, Part 1: During my second year of seminary, I drove every Sunday afternoon from my home near Seattle to the seminary in Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family.   And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ home.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was free; it was perfect.  God is good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

And then it happened.

I’d been sleeping in the closet four nights a week for several weeks.  One Sunday I arrived, books and clothes in hand, to find the closet filled, floor to ceiling, with empty cardboard boxes.  Why on earth would they would fill the closet – my closet, as I thought of it – with boxes, leaving no room for me? Why would they do such a thing?  The house was huge – they could have stacked their boxes just about anywhere.  Why fill up the closet when they all knew I slept and studied there?  I felt pretty unwelcome.  I don’t think there could have been a more succinct way to communicate rejection.  All that week my mind simmered with embarrassment, pain, and anxiety.

First there were excuses like, “We have no place else to store our boxes” or “We don’t want to leave them out – it doesn’t look nice.”  I soon discovered, however, that at the heart of this hurtful behavior was sheer resentment on their part that I had been given free accommodation in the same house for which they had each paid a pretty penny.

“Yeah, but I’m sleeping on the floor of a closet” was apparently no excuse.  It was still free housing for me versus expensive housing for them.  At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their feelings.  All I could think of was my own feelings.  Their actions hurt me deeply and I responded as I always do when hurt.  I got angry.  Really angry.  Burning, churning, spitting mad.

Itt was Thursday and I was driving home.

Late fall in the Northwest means dark skies and rain, lots of rain.  I drove out of Portland into sheets of rain pouring down on my car the long journey home.  I could barely see the cars in front of me.  Semi’s drove past, soaking my windshield over and over, further reducing visibility.  Already tense with anger and anxiety, I started shouting at the truck drivers.  Before I knew it, I was shouting at God.

“What am I supposed to do now, God?  Where can I stay?  They don’t want me and I don’t want them!  You can’t possibly ask me to go back there!  They treated me badly!  I only had the floor of a closet!  It’s not like I had a whole room to myself.   What do you want me to do?  Do you want me to stay in a motel?  How will I pay for that?  What am I supposed to do, God?  What am I supposed to do?

I screamed and yelled and cried all through that long, long drive in the pouring rain. Poor visibility pushed anxiety to the limit.  There I was, crying and shouting out to God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?  WHERE SHOULD I GO?  WHAT SHOULD I DO?”

Suddenly a car pulled in front of me.   My eyes went straight to the only part of it I could see – its back bumper and license plate.  I was screaming and shouting, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?” when I read the car’s license plate:

FORGIVE it said.

I fell silent.  God had clearly spoken.  I’d like to say I fell prostrate with grief over my bitter anger (well, maybe not prostrate since I was driving).  I’d like to say that, but in fact, after only a few seconds, I opened my mouth again.

“Forgive them!  Why should I have to be the one to forgive?”

I spent the last hour of the trip home arguing that I didn’t want to forgive and they didn’t deserve it.  I complained about it most of that weekend, yet all the time I knew that God had spoken and there was no getting around it.  Forgiveness was the only recourse.

I thought a lot about what it means to forgive.  It means letting the other person(s) off the hook.  No strings attached.  It means no longer using the incident as a weapon against them.  It means I could not stay angry, fight or ignore them.  I must not gossip, especially in the ignoble guise of a pretend prayer request.  Forgiveness means choosing to actively do good to that person, no holds barred.  This is not mere neutrality, but positively seeking to bless and pray for those involved.  It means confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith.  More important, it is doing so without any guarantee, expectation, or demand that others do likewise.  It is admitting and accepting the consequences of my part in the conflict.  Most of all, it means obedience to God.

I chose to obey God.

When I returned to seminary the following Sunday afternoon, the first person I saw was a girl from the house.  She saw me and flinched.  Before she could turn tail and run, I walked up, hugged her, and asked for forgiveness, explaining my change of heart.  She met me halfway, apologizing for their harsh maneuver.  By the end of that day, we – all of us – had worked through confession and repentance, and came out of the conflict through forgiveness and faith.  We could appreciate the other’s perspective.  Lastly, we came to a mutual agreement on the matter of the boxes.  The haze of selfishness disappeared and we saw God clearly in our midst.

God is so good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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Two Souls, One Survivor

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

In this passage in the book of Mark, Jesus addresses His words to everybody present, believers and unbelievers alike.  He describes two kinds of people: those who want to live life according to God’s terms and those who want to live life on their own terms.  There is no neutrality; no middle fence.  A person is either with Him or against Him.  Look at the contrast between the two types:  Those who would live on God’s terms must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ.  They will surely lose their lives through this surrender, but by so doing will end up saving it.  They will lose the world, yet their souls will be saved.  True followers are not ashamed of Jesus Christ or His gospel.  Those who acknowledge Christ will be acknowledged by Him upon His return.

The others, those who want to live life on their own terms,  want to preserve it as such. They are unwilling to surrender to God and instead, reject His terms.  This present world and it’s offerings, however temporal, is their desire.  So they gain the world, but in the end, they will lose their soul.  Why?  It boils down to this:  God is God and He will accept no other place in our lives.  Let everyone understand this:  We will all bow before God; either now willingly, or later, on the judgment day, unwillingly.  In the end, God will give us what we want: we will either enjoy eternity with Him or suffer the torment of eternal separation.  The choice is ours.

Jesus asks, “Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” It is a rhetorical question.  The answer is, of course, nothing. Sinful man can never redeem his own soul. God’s requirement for redemption is a perfect sacrifice.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).   Jesus is the only one who lived a perfectly sinless life and as such, became the perfect sacrifice.  He is the only one who could ever save us. We, in turn, can only receive like a child what is given.  It is only by God’s grace, through the faith He gives us, that our lives are redeemed and we become part of God’s family.

Jesus made it clear in these words that the life surrendered to God is not an easy one. Following Jesus means daily self-denial, bearing burdens, and sometimes, great sacrifice.  It is living as God desires, not as we want.  This life is one of bold, courageous love that extends grace and forgiveness without partiality, just as we ourselves received grace from God who loves us all.  Surrendering ourselves to God means exchanging our will for His will.  Instead of the pattern of my life being “all about me,” it becomes all about Him. Sound tough?  Difficult?  Impossible?  You’re right, it is … in our own strength.  We ourselves cannot live holy lives without help.  God sent us a Helper – the Holy Spirit.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Rely on God.

No, it is not easy to follow Christ, and we will stumble many times.  That is where confession, repentance, and faith come in.  It is a daily challenge.  In difficult times, I like to encourage myself to persevere by looking forward to someday hearing these great words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your Master.”  

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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Following Through

The difficulty in deciding to follow Jesus lies not only in that initial leap of faith, but in the long and arduous journey of following through.  Temptations abound to draw us off track, the worst of which is simply habit. Since I cut up that “emergency” credit card, which had assisted so proficiently in landing me thousands of dollars in debt, I have been amazed by how much I relied on it to ease me through my cash-poor life. A mere two days after shredding the card, I found myself in line at the store handing back a hefty portion of groceries because there wasn’t enough money in my wallet.  I’d shopped without considering the cost because I was so accustomed to using my credit card to fill in the financial gap between what I wanted and what I needed.   Thank you, merciful God, that the cashier and two ladies behind me in line were as sweet as pie about it.  It was pretty embarrassing.

The next day, I almost had to get out of the latte drive-through line because I’d forgotten to check for cash in my wallet.  I rarely carry cash because it has been so much more simple to use credit.  That way, it wasn’t necessary to figure out ahead of time whether or not I had enough money with me.  Fortunately (or not), my wallet held a few dollars and I didn’t have to get out of line.  Then this morning, while online, I ordered some small thing and it wasn’t until I began to type my credit card information that I remembered I don’t have one anymore.  Old habits die hard.  In fact, old habits take a long, long time to die.  They die kicking and screaming.  Old habits die making a terrific scene.  It’s been less than a week since I gave up credit and I’m thinking already of giving the old habit an Oscar for Best Drama.

It is so automatic a gesture to reach for the credit card that at first I didn’t quite know what to do.  My brain simply froze for a second or two.  Even worse was the sharp prick of fear in my gut, “What if I want and can’t ever have?”  For a moment I saw myself as a teenager, hungering for everything and affording nothing.  I remembered the popular girls at school when I was thirteen, with their noses firmly in the air, saying, “We don’t like you because of your clothes.”  Like a flash of lightning, I suddenly saw what money had come to mean for me – worth, freedom, control, success, self-sufficiency, a kind of “I don’t need you” layer of protection against those who will not like me.

What does money mean to God? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.   You cannot serve both God and money.” Clear as a bell.  Well, amen.  It makes perfect sense, does it not?

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

Hmmm.  I’m sure I want to serve God only, but what if God views food and clothing with so little interest as to warrant shopping at only Wal-Mart for the rest of my life?  Oh, say it isn’t so!   I happen to appreciate well-made, high quality goods.  I mean, Wal-Mart is all right in a pinch for a dish drainer or a trash can, but I prefer to shop for my clothes elsewhere.  Mind you, I’m not talking about dropping $1200 on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s.  I just want to shop J. Jill, Land’s End, LL Bean, and the like.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

Yes, but God, they eat worms.

“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

I’m short and round; obviously worrying hasn’t worked well for me.  In fact, that’s a good way of saying that even though buying clothes increases my endorphins, it’s really only an illusion of control and self-sufficiency.  While I’m busy feeling good about myself and in control of my life, the opposite is really true.  That is why I must trust God to provide. Even so, Lord, I just want to mention that I prefer beautiful things.

“So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Good point.

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Wow.  You really do love me, God!  Silly me, of course you do.  Jesus didn’t die for the birds of the air or the grass of the field.  He died for me, and silly, silly me, He didn’t die merely to clothe me well.  My eyes were on my circumstances, not my Lord.  I’m sorry, God.  Dress me according to your will, not mine.  If creation is any measure of your taste, I’ve nothing to worry about.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

That’s right!  Seek first the kingdom.  Seek God.  Look to the cross for proof of my significance.  Trust and obey.  And God’s provision satisfies.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about it own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:24-34).

Thanks, God, for smoothing out the furrows on my brow.  You know you rock, God.  It won’t be easy, but I’m kind of looking forward to the challenge of following through.  Love you.



 
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Posted by on August 21, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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If Wishes Were Horses, We’d Be Out Of Debt

I wish I’d known from early on how to properly handle money.  I wished I’d know how to develop a budget and to spend and save accordingly.   I wished I’d had, but I hadn’t.

I remember starting off at 17 in my first apartment with a spanking new checkbook and the assumption that the bank couldn’t know about any checks I might write because they would not be present when I wrote them.  I was very silly in those days.  For a brief moment, I fantasized about all the things I could buy without anyone being the wiser.  I was clueless.  I had no idea that all checks make it back to the bank.  Fortunately, I was wise enough to know that if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it.  Somehow the bank knows.

I remember also the mathematical circumstances of my first student loan.  Having followed the directions on the application to determine the amount of interest over the life of the loan, I immediately convinced myself I was mistaken, math not being my strong suit.  The interest amount was so shockingly high I was sure it couldn’t possibly be allowed.  So I went ahead and borrowed … every semester of every year I was in school.

I wish I’d possessed basic knowledge (and maturity) about credit and interest rates and the horrors of debt collection.  Growing up we never had money so I learned nothing about it except its lack.  We mostly lived in hand-me-downs and shopped for school clothes once a year at places like Jamesway and the Big N (on par with K and Wal-mart).  We never ate out.  Our breakfast cereals were primarily Wheaties or Raisin Bran.  Ma figured they’d last longer if we didn’t like them.  True.   Super Sugar Smacks were a step up and we got them some of the time, but cereals like Trix and Booberry were way out of our league.  When money was especially tight, we ate meals of rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon.  We should have been grateful that we always had food on the table (remember those starving people in China?), but hey, we were kids and most kids aren’t grateful.

It’s not as though my mom didn’t try to educate us about the value of a dollar.  For a short time I had a nickel allowance.  Eventually, I graduated to a whole quarter, even fifty cents.  That was an exciting time, because we could still buy penny candy at the gas station.  But then Ma couldn’t afford allowances anymore and so we got nothing.  As far back as I can remember, when we kids asked for something that cost money the answer was almost always “No” because as Ma said, “If I do it for one I’ll have to do it for all six.”  There were six kids in our family.  That’s why we never got Booberry – that little box would not have survived six kids chowing down two or three bowlfuls each.

As a teenager, I never went to the mall.  There was no point in doing so.  I didn’t even know that teens hung out there.   Even as a young adult I didn’t care for the mall.  It was too overwhelming.  Everything I saw I wanted, yet I could afford nothing.  It seemed like everyone in the world was there buying things except me.  Why did they have money and not me?  After college, I had money in my pocket for the first time.  The mall became a fun place.  Shopping made me feel happy and hopeful, like I could become that person I always dreamt of being.  The self-confident, popular people I met all dressed stylishly and went places and did things that cost money.  I wanted to live like them, be like them.  It appeared as though money could and did bring love and good times and I wanted it.  Oh, how I wanted it.  So I spent every available penny I had on buying a little chunk of that heaven.  Even though I paid my bills paid on-time, I saved nothing, but spent it all.  And then I discovered the wonderful world of credit.  The more money I made, the more I spent.  It was never enough.  Eventually it all landed on the card.  And what a ride it was!  Month after month I paid the minimum amount without understanding what that meant.  By the time I learned the truth about credit, the habit was firmly entrenched and my debt was in the thousands.

After getting saved, I began to learn about God’s perspective on money and debt through many avenues such as Bible study, Christian Financial Concepts, and a wide variety of secular money management lessons.  Yet even with education, debt does not disappear magically.  I learned a lot over the years, but practiced little.  Budgeting gave me a great deal of hope until some unanticipated bill messed it up and I had to rob Peter to pay Paul.  Getting back on track was nearly impossible because unexpected bills came in the mail on a fairly regular basis.  If I’d not had credit card debt, I could have paid these bills immediately and without difficulty.  If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

“Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim” (Habbakkuk 2:7).

I’ve struggled with consumer debt most of my life.  Even though I’ve tithed since the beginning, practicing self-control has not come so easily.  Letting go of greed and gluttony is far easier said than done.  Our culture waxes on self-indulgence, indeed our very economy is based on it.  I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it.  I certainly did not want to deny myself.  You know what really stinks about it all?  God enabled me several times in those years to completely pay off my credit cards only to find me a year or two later, to my shame, even more deeply in debt.  Isn’t that pathetic?

A few years ago, I paid off my cards yet again.  Grabbing my scissors, I cut them into pieces, all but one, that ridiculously ill-named “emergency credit card”.   There has never been an emergency for which it was required, but I am, once again, thousands of dollars in debt.  This time, however, I’m certain I’ve learned my lesson.  Actually, I learnt it years ago.  I just didn’t follow its advice.

But I’ve been praying for God’s help.  I have confessed my sin of greed, self-indulgence, and a total lack of discipline and self-control.  I’m repenting.  It has been 2 months since I last pulled that emergency card out of my wallet.  Today, I put it through the shredder.

I want to live free, not only of consumer debt, but of the mold and shape and size the world says I must be in order to be accepted.  My significance is in God.  I am a Christian; the world will never accept me.  Selah.

But God says I am His beloved and He is mine.   He tells me to not worry for He will provide for me (Matthew 6:25-34) .  I have fixed my eyes on Jesus and am running the race in such a way as to get the true prize, a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

What about you?  Where do you go when you are sad, bored, lonely, or hurting?  Do you, like so many of us, spend money to feel better about yourself?  I’ve heard it said that the way we handle money speaks volumes about our spiritual maturity.  Feeling convicted?  Get help.  Go to God in prayer.  Confess and repent.  Determine in your heart to walk that way no longer.  And may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus.   No turning back, no turning back.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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