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God Is Good, Part 1

Diane, tell us a story …

 

Our Front Steps

 

During my seminary days, I was housed in some unusual accommodations.  The first semester I stayed for free with an elderly Christian lady who had a spare room.  It so happened that while I was on the phone with the seminary’s head of housing, this lovely lady called in on another line.  Within minutes, my need and her desire to help became God’s provision.  I was given the incredible blessing of free housing and she, a lonely little old lady, had company and a little extra security.  I spent each day on campus and every evening in her company, talking, praising God, and watching Seinfeld together.  To this day I’m amazed at how perfectly He brought us together.  God is so good.

But that’s not all.

At the close of that semester, during the Christmas break, she became very ill.  Her daughter called to let me know that I would probably need to find other arrangements for the following semester.  About two weeks later, she called again, this time with bittersweet news.  Her mother, my hostess, had died in the hospital.  Now here’s the sweet part: while lying on her deathbed, this incredible woman spared some of her last thoughts for me, a woman she’d known for only a few months.  While she lay dying, she took the time to instruct her daughter to allow me to stay in her home, for free, the following semester.  And her daughter, while wary of a complete stranger living alone in her mother’s house, was faithful to her promise.

What an incredible gift!  The housing itself was a huge blessing, but more than that, I was absolutely stunned that this loving woman had chosen to bless me in obedience to the Lord’s calling on her life, even from her deathbed.  What an example of faith in action!

 

 

Fall Colors

 

Now, fast forward through the spring and summer to fall of my second year in seminary.  New housing had to be found.  This time there was no little old lady with a spare room.  Campus housing was full and I had no money to stay elsewhere.  Driving from Seattle to Portland and back again, six hours round trip, four days a week was out of the question if I wanted time to study.  I considered sleeping in my car as a last resort.

Fortunately, the seminary’s head of housing came through again.  She offered me a place to lay my head each night for, you guessed it, free.  It would not be glamorous or even particularly nice.  But it was free.  I accepted on the spot.  Every Sunday afternoon I drove from Seattle to 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’ dorm.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was perfect.  God is so good.

And then it happened.

Coming Soon:  God Is Good, Part 2

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Posted by on October 8, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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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.



 
2 Comments

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.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on August 17, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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