Wednesday, January 18, 2017

31 Days: The Joy of Giving

It was the summer of 2014 and our little family had big plans. If you've been reading here for awhile, you might remember our exciting adventure of visiting all the little houses of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was a big undertaking -- planning the route, packing the clothes, deciding all the details, estimating the $$....

Me being me, I was self-conscious of what people would think of our big trip. It was quite obvious we were not wealthy. In fact, there were people who knew some of our financial struggles. What would they think? Wasn't this a bit extravagant? Should we be spending this money?

The day before we left, we received a phone call. I don't remember the exact conversation but the caller wondered of they could drop by with something for our trip. I said sure and that we would be here, etc etc.

Chris wasn't at home, as I recall, so I answered the door and was the one to take the folded up bills from the visitor's hand. Again, I don't remember the exact conversation but something to the effect that they were so happy to see us making memories with our family and that we would never regret it and they just wanted to give us a gift to help out.

I thanked them profusely around the lump in my throat but that was nothing compared to the awe I felt later. Back in the house, I looked at the bills in my hand, and realized our whole trip had very nearly been covered by their kindness.

I could tell you more stories. I could tell you about money showing up in our mailbox at church when we didn't know how we would pay the bills. I could tell you about someone anonymously paying our school tuition during a time we simply could not have paid it ourselves.

There is nothing more blessed than a gift given out of no duty --- unless it is giving one yourself! I could tell you stories about that, too. There is no comparison between the excitement of following the nudge of the Spirit to slip the money to someone who has a need or to anonymously pay a bill, and dutifully putting the obligatory 10 percent in the plate Sunday morning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

31 Days: How Do I Lay Up Treasure In Heaven?

This brings us back to the question I asked before -- what does it mean to lay up treasure in Heaven?

When I went looking for Bible verses on the subject of riches, one day I googled "audio of verses on possessions". (Just a little fyi: I'm not actually some great Bible scholar. I use Google. A lot.) As I listened, one central theme soon began standing out to me --- Give.

Give Generously.
Give Sacrificially.
Give Willingly.
Give Cheerfully.

Give, Give, Give.

Over and over the Bible instructs us to give --

"Sell all that you have and give to the poor..." Lk 18:22-26

"As for the generous and ready to share..." I Tim 6:17-19

"But if anyone has this world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" I John 3:17

"Sell your possessions, and give to the needy..." Lk 12:33-34

If it is true that we should invest in people because they will last into eternity, does it not make sense that giving is one of the biggest ways to lay up treasure in Heaven? Would it also make sense that, if we live our lives with a focus on giving, we would not get tangled up in the temptations and snares of desiring to be rich? Might it also make sense, if our lives became about giving, that we would end up living more simply, do you think?

So, what am I talking about here - tithe?

No. I'm not, actually. When Jesus said, "store up treasure in Heaven," somehow I don't think He was talking about giving the obligatory 10 percent. I'm not even sure He wants my tithe, to be honest. Giving 10 percent of our income may not be wrong but I don't think it's what Jesus was talking about in the New Testament. When He spoke of generous, sacrificial, willing, cheerful giving, I think He was talking about living with our ear pressed to the Spirit and giving as He prompts us to give.

Here's another long quote from the book Falling Free....

"We've tied the Old Testament idea of tithing like a noose around the gospel commandment to give sacrificially. We applaud the widow and her two coins (Mark 12:41-44) with secret relief that we're not her. There's plenty left over after we shave off our Christian surcharge and toss it in the plate. I don't know what made me believe I'm not her. I'm not sure how I convinced myself our situations were so different. She gave all she had. She lived as though it wasn't hers in the first place and forked it over without a blink. Meanwhile, we split hairs over whether our tithe should be off our net or gross income. We haggle with God and walk away believing we've earned our blessing until the next payday.

Honestly, it's alarming.

When we believe we're entitled to keep 90 percent of whatever we earn, our capacity to truly care about the kingdom of God and his people -- our neighbors -- is kept at bay. It's stunted. To our own detriment."   ---Shannan Martin

Monday, January 16, 2017

31 Days: A Confession

Here is where this series takes a sharp turn from what I assumed it would that night in August when I heard the whisper while painting. I think I kind of assumed that I would be painting the picture of my life as I explained all about how to live simply.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I really thought I had a lot to teach people about living with less and not needing to have the latest styles and the newest vehicles and the biggest and most lavishly decorated houses. I kinda thought I had the 'not storing treasures on earth' thing down. But the question,  "Does not storing up treasures on earth automatically mean I am storing them up in Heaven?"  brought me up short.

I do believe the Bible is clear that we should not seek to be rich and to have all the possessions that go along with it. Money is a master, that's why Jesus said we can't serve both it and Him. As soon as we have money, something in our human nature makes us want to own the symbols of our prosperity, I saw that in myself clearly with the bulging envelope marked house fund! I think that is why Jesus said it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. That's the way it works; that is what money does.

The interesting thing is this: God doesn't actually mind us being channels of a lot of money. There is no problem with money flowing through our hands. The problem is wanting to be rich; to have it, to own it.

A message I listened to by John Piper brought this idea out so clearly. He told about a magazine ad he saw for La Z Boy. The man in the ad wanted his office to reflect the fact that his business was a success. In other words, the chair you sit in should look like what you make. John Piper says, "No. It should look like Jesus is valuable!"

I believe that with all my heart, and I want to live that way. I believe truly living that way means making it practical in what I wear, what I drive, the house I live in, the way I decorate; every part of my life. But this is where the sharp turn comes in.

When the question, "Does not storing up treasures on earth automatically mean I am storing up treasures in Heaven" came up, I suddenly realized that Jesus isn't calling me to focus on the list of ways I should live simply or have less. He is calling me to store up treasures in Heaven!

It seems almost silly now but I didn't realize at first that the two were different.

Friday, January 13, 2017

31 Days: As Iron Sharpens Iron

Maybe I should just stop with that. "All of you go your way and listen to what the Spirit is saying to you about your money and possessions, and God bless you!"

I can't tell you what, "...sell all that  you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me." (Lk 18:22) means for you. All I can tell you with certainty is that if you want eternal life it needs to mean something to you; it's in there for a reason.

I can't be the Holy Spirit in your ear --I don't even want to be-- but we do learn from each other. Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." And Hebrews 10:24, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works." Just maybe my stumbling thoughts and ideas on this journey can be that for someone, and so I'll keep talking.

What does it mean to store up treasure in Heaven? It can all feel very hypothetical to me -- store up treasure (whatever that means) in Heaven (a place that I can't even see or imagine or even go to, right now)? What does that even look like?

The first glib answer that comes to mind is something I heard long, long ago, I wish I could remember who said it -- There are two things that last forever: People and God's Word; invest in those. That is true, and it gives some direction. But it doesn't really give much practical 'how', and I'm a practical sort of person.

*I'll be back next week with some ideas on the 'how' of storing up treasure in Heaven.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

31 Days: "Come, Follow Me" --Jesus

"When Jesus heard this, he said unto him, One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me." Luke 18:22

I've shared my love for  Shannan's writing with you before and her new book Falling Free has a chapter titled "Have Less" that I wish I could just copy and paste right here. Do me a favor and go buy it, will ya? (I don't earn a dime, just a shameless plug for a good book.)

Here's the thing about this whole wrestling match with money and possessions and how Jesus wants us to manage them: I really can't tell you where your lines are, and you really can't tell me.

One of my favorite quotes from the "Have Less" chapter is this: "Unfortunately ---or fortunately, depending on the day--- there's no magic number or safe zone. What this means is, we're required to keep our ears pressed against the Holy Spirit if we want to walk in his way."

How I love that picture of living with our ears pressed to the Spirit! Maybe instead of asking myself, "How much is too much?" I should be asking, "How much is enough?" and making it a personal question, one that's asked between me and God, regardless of what everyone around me is doing. When we are living with our ears pressed against the Holy Spirit rather than with a list of do's and don'ts in our hand, there is the distinct possibility that what you hear and what I hear will not be the same.

All He asks of me is that I am listening to His voice. If that means putting the cute pair of black flats for $7.99 back on the shelf because I asked "How much is enough?" and God reminded me how many shoes I had sitting at home, then I better do it.

Like so many other areas in the Christian life, the point is not, "How much can I have and still be storing treasure in Heaven?" The point is, "What is God saying to my heart; where are His lines for me?" This approach pretty much eliminates all my comparisons with those around me who have more --or less-- than I do. It takes away the excuses, the justifications, the pretenses, and leaves me standing before the One I am ultimately accountable to.

"It seems impossible that God would prefer that we let go of our excess or descend from the rungs of our handcrafted success. We prefer a message of financial prosperity, imagining a God who might allow us to be the one camel who slips through the eye of the needle. Meanwhile, Jesus warns that wherever our treasure is, that's where our heart is (Matt 6:21). In pursuit of our hearts, he reminds us that his is tethered to relationships, not things." -- Shannan Martin, Falling Free. Emphasis mine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

31 Days: A Startling Question

Out of the many verses in the Bible on the subject of money and riches, Matthew 6:19-21 is, perhaps, one of the first passages that comes to mind. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where theives break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I don't remember exactly when the question came to me but somewhere in the midst of all my thoughts on this subject, it startled me one day. "Does not laying up treasures on earth automatically mean I am storing up treasures in Heaven?"

It slowly began to dawn on me that maybe I was coming at this whole thing from the wrong direction. Just maybe my focus was backward and could it be the whole key was in that little phrase in Matthew 6:21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"?

Maybe you could argue that anyone who is living with less -- i.e. not storing up treasures on earth -- obviously doesn't have his heart in his earthly treasures, therefore is storing up treasures in Heaven. That could be, maybe. I could also argue that there are plenty of poor people who are evil but that's all kind of beside the point. The point that the question drove home to my heart was this -- Store up treasures in Heaven and the rest will follow.

It is so easy to live by the letter of the law rather than by the spirit. I want a list of rules that tell me how much I am allowed to own, how much I am allowed to spend, how much is not storing up on earth, so I can make a tidy checklist and go on my way justified like the Pharisee of old. The fact of the matter is, God doesn't really care how carefully I think I am not storing up treasures here. He doesn't even want my ratty little checklist with all the slots marked off and gold stars on my chart. What He really wants is my heart.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

31 Days: What Are The Rules?

"And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, But the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." Mark 4:18-19 ESV

I'm cringing about now as I write. I'm being awfully vulnerable with you all and it's a little scary. Now you're all going to be checking out my house and saying, "I wonder how she justified that kitchen? She thinks -- you name it -- is living simply? Hmm, I'm surprised she would do that!"

This is touchy business here. We women love beauty and some of us (you) have more of a natural flare for decorating than others. I have heard the line "God loves beauty" many times in relation to these discussions. Also, "Our job as women is to create a beautiful home for our families".

I agree with both of those statements. One look out my window proves the first one and the second one seems to speak the very essence of all the Bible has to say about women. God is the one who created us with the love for beauty; it seems incongruous to suppose that laying up treasures in Heaven equals bare walls and straight back chairs. Then again, it might be just as incongruous to suppose that Pinterest worthy houses and seasonal decor equal treasures in Heaven either.

Jesus gives us verse upon verse on the subject of possessions and money. He instructs us to give to the poor; He reminds us that our lives don't consist in the abundance of our possessions. He explains that we can't serve God and money and that it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He exhorts us to be rich in good works and to be generous and ready to share; He tells us not to store up treasure on earth but to store it up in Heaven.

We really aren't lacking on Bible verses about possessions!

What we are lacking is a list that shows us exactly how much we must give to the poor or precisely which possessions might be considered abundance. There is no set of rules that spells out what kind of food or how much clothing we need to have in order to be content.

So how does this look in shoe leather? And will it look the same for you as it does for me? If you can have a dozen pair of shoes, can I safely assume that I can too? If your house has immaculate taste in decor and accessories, is that what I should measure my house against? We're both Christians, see. Both trying to follow the Lord and hoping to end up in the same place. Can't we follow the same rules?