Tuesday, January 31, 2017

31 Days: The End

I've reached the end, friends! As usual, writing a series has been such a good thing for me. On the flip side (also as usual), I am so ready to be done.

Perhaps some of you wonder, "How does she find time to write all of this"?? Part of the answer is that we really do find the time to do the things we love. The other part of the answer is that I've been working on this series off and on for about four months and actually had nearly all of my posts written before January 1. Most days this month I've been able to just pull up the next post and edit it, rather than writing a full post every day. Just a little peek behind the scenes there ☺

This month has been busy in more ways than one. As I wrap up this series, we are also trying to wrap up another project -- The House On The Hill! Plans are to have the essentials moved in and be spending our first night there this coming Saturday night. We'll gradually work on moving the rest in the next weeks. Maybe we'll decide we don't need half of it? ☺

Like always, I have so enjoyed your input throughout the month of January. Sometimes I seriously question why I write. I'm just an ordinary woman, with more than my share of flaws, why do I put myself out there and say all these things? My own husband has been using my writing to remind me when I fail, what if I'm making people think I am someone that I'm not? Then I will get one of your encouraging comments or emails and I will be assured that God can use even a cracked, clay vessel.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me this month. This series has been for me, most of all, but I hope all of us have had our thinking stirred enough to put storing up treasure in Heaven into practice in our daily lives. I'd love to hear something that resonated with you this month, if you care to share!

Monday, January 30, 2017

31 Days: Some Practical Questions

Well, it is January 30 and my month of writing about Treasure in Heaven is pretty much done. I love the way God took my focus off of not storing up treasure on earth, to making sure I am storing up treasure in Heaven. Still, the fact remains that money is a master and sometimes it is just plain hard to know how it should be spent.

We're all going to have different areas of weakness when it comes to money and I suppose that is just normal. Last weekend at the ladies retreat I attended, Dorcas Smucker was talking about Christian women and modesty and I jotted down this quote: "You are beautiful and creative, but you are not your own." I think that applies to the way I spend my money, as well. Buying the pair of shoes I don't need or new bedding for a new house may not be wrong, necessarily. The important thing to remember is, I am not my own and how I spend my money reflects who I belong to.

John Piper shares some very practical advice on questions to consider when deciding what nonessentials/luxuries in my life are sinful. You can read/listen to the full commentary here but I will give you the main idea of his five questions to consider.

#1. Is it good for my soul and/or the souls of people around me? Thinking here of the fact that God created us to see and enjoy beauty. Artwork, flowers, etc are, in a sense, nonessential to life but can be good for our souls.

#2. Is it good for efficiency in life ministry? So, for example, maybe you could do without another vehicle but having one would help you better fulfill the ministry God has called you to.

#3. Is it affordable without saying to the world that you love things and are into the pride of possessions? I think this is a big one. Just because I can afford something doesn't mean it's okay. What will it say to those around me?

#4. Is it affordable without replacing or hindering good deeds? This could be taken to extremes because, obviously, every icecream cone I buy is money that could have gone to orphans. But would it have? Am I listening to the Spirit's prompting to give or am I taking care of me first and there's never any leftover?

#5. Is it an occasional, expensive nonessential that would say an extraordinary 'I love you'? Is it good for making special memories? I think things like our family's trip to visit the Little Houses and our Anniversary Trip last year might fall into the first category. They are not things we expect to do every year but they can be special, meaningful occasions. The second one is more in the category of giving the children each a dollar to spend at the Dollar Store or buying everyone icecream cones. Nonessentials, but they make good memories.

These questions resonated with me as some practical things to think about in regard to day to day decisions about spending money. Maybe they will be helpful to some of you as well.

Friday, January 27, 2017

31 Days: And Love Your Neighbor

And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:27 ESV

I grew up in a community where it was common for people to interact with their neighbors. We attended each other's baby showers and birthday parties and I played with neighborhood children. Looking back, I wonder if some of the camaraderie between us was because, back in the day, we needed each other.

In 1967, when my parents moved from Indiana to a little mission church in Arkansas, the house they lived in didn't have a telephone. If they wanted to make a phone call or if someone needed to reach them with a message, it all went through a neighbor's telephone. They didn't have family close by or a large church family to depend on (nor lots of money to take care of all their needs), so they depended on their neighbors for friendship and help.

I have to confess I have not carried that on very well with my own little family.

I admire people who are involved in their communities. I believe investing in people's lives includes all people. It stirs something deep inside me when I hear about families involved in ministry to their neighbors. Families who move, in order to reach out to inter-city families and children, have my highest respect. We have not felt any specific call in this area at this point but it is something I've been bringing before the Lord and want to have an open hand to.

We probably won't all be called to some big, specific ministry to our neighbors but according to Luke 10, we are called to love them. As Mennonites, I think we often leave our neighbors with the impression that we are somehow better than all of them. I certainly do want my neighbors to see that there is something different about my life but I want that difference to be Jesus, not 'I am on a higher level and better than you'. I think sometimes something as simple as borrowing a cup of sugar or needing to use their telephone might do more for our relationships than we realize. A friendly word to the cashier, a smile or encouraging comment to the mother with the crying baby at Aldi, asking the fellow shopper at Walmart where on earth you would find matches, are all simple ways that reach out and show the people around me I am human, just like them.

There are so many more ways to reach out to our neighbors, I'm sure you could teach me! It's something I want to grow in; something I want to pass along to my children.

One last, interesting thought from John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Actions speak louder than words. Perhaps one of the most important things those of us who are Jesus' disciples can do, is to first of all love each other well.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

31 Days: Ears Pressed To The Spirit

Some people seem to come by this giving/investing thing naturally. Serving others is their delight and noticing needs and ways to fill them seems to just happen without even trying. Maybe things are not always as they seem, but I am not one of those people. I am quite content to stay in my little world, in my little house and do my own little thing.

Have you ever noticed how good God is at giving you chances to practice what you're learning? Let me give you an example.

I have many weeks where I spend every day at home. Last week I had one day out of the whole week that I was just at home. First of all, I had invited two ladies over for tea before I knew that the next day there was a book study starting that I wanted to join. I planned to do both of those activities before I knew my husband was taking off work three days to work on the house and that I would be invited to a quilting the same day as the book study. Then, I was invited to go along to visit a friend and her baby who is recovering from surgery - an all day excursion that I have been wanting to do. Long before any of this came up, I had registered to attend an out of state ladies retreat which meant I would be leaving Friday morning and returning late Saturday evening. And, oh yeah, one of the things I had to get done was working on a writing project about investing in the lives of the household of faith.....

Do I sit down and laugh or cry?!

I have been good at living safe. I'll even admit to taking some pride in my ability to say 'no' and not be so busy, like a lot of women. I can easily convince myself that I am doing this for my family and my sanity. Last week I said 'yes' to all but the quilting invitation. Seriously, how could I do otherwise and write with any conviction?

I am reminded of the story of the widow and her two mites (Mark 12:41-44). The rich people who gave large sums were just doing what came easily. There was no sacrifice involved, they gave a large amount and never even missed it; congratulations. That's a little like me staying home and not being busy, it's what comes natural to me; congratulations. It has less to do with listening to the Spirit and a whole lot more to do with me doing what's easiest.

Obviously, none of us can do it all and just because it's hard doesn't mean it's automatically the thing I probably need to do. But there is something revolutionary about living with my ear pressed to the Spirit and beginning to view life through the lens of Treasure in Heaven. For some, that might mean saying no more often. For me, it might mean saying yes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

31 Days: Especially To The Household Of Faith

"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." Galations 6:10 ESV

Several years ago our Sunday school class was working their way through one of the gospels - I'm not even sure which one. The Sunday we were studying the subject of alms stands out in my memory.

I wish I could remember it all better. We had visitors in class that Sunday, missionaries from another country. As we talked about alms, one of the visitors told how a church close to them gives acts of service as alms offerings. For example, someone had given one of their daughters guitar lessons, I think it was, as an alms offering.

This idea intrigued me. At that time I was on the food committee at church and felt completely out of my realm with the responsibility. I was doing it grudgingly and very dutifully and sitting there in class, it seemed like the Lord said quietly, "Being on the food committee could be an alms offering...."

I have no idea if that is taking things way out of context or not. We could talk about gifts and how we should exercise those. Maybe since food isn't my gift I should have just declined the job altogether so that someone who is gifted in that area could have the position. That's another conversation entirely.

My point is, giving out of duty - whether it's money or acts of service or time or possessions or whatever - tends to completely miss the spirit of how Jesus taught us to give. Looking at being on the food committee as an 'Alms Offering' or storing up treasure in Heaven, if you will, gave a different slant to the whole thing for me. It helped me to think more about what I was doing for God and others, instead of focusing on me and how much I wasn't cut out for the job.

I'm sure there are more areas of church life and community where I could gain a different perspective by looking at them as opportunities to store up treasure in Heaven, rather than a duty I have to fulfill. Already, it has made me stop and think twice when deciding about accepting a responsibility or agreeing to help with something.

Let me be quick to add, I don't think that means we have to accept every responsibility or request that comes our way. I don't have an easy answer for how you make those decisions. As a mom, there is a delicate balance between giving to my own household and to the 'household of faith'. Maybe the best advice I can give is to live with your ear pressed to the Spirit in this part of your life, as well. Ask God to show you; listen to your husband's advice. My husband often has a better view of the big picture than I do.

If you do decide to accept a responsibility or a request for help in your church, here is my husband's best advice to me: If you're going to say you will do it, do it with a cheerful attitude or than you might as well not do it at all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

31 Days: Especially For My Household

"But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." 
   I Timothy 5:8 ESV

We all know that the people closest to us are often the hardest to love. Maybe they're also the hardest to give to?

Working on this series has begun a journey for me of changing the perspective on my days. I say 'begun' because it's still in the very early stages; often I forget about it altogether. But it has sparked a desire and when I do remember, it brings excitement and new purpose into my everyday life.

What if every time the little boy with the big, brown eyes comes begging for a story, I am given a chance to store up treasure? What if every time I'm busy and my quiet little girl is taking too long to tell me something, I have an opportunity to store up treasure? What if every time there's a squabble that needs to be settled, it is another chance to store up treasure? What if every time I allow little people to help with my work, even though it slows me down, I am storing up treasure?

On a more mundane level, what if cheerfully doing laundry is storing up treasure? Washing dishes? Cleaning bathrooms? Cooking meals? Sweeping floors? What if I looked at all the 101 mundane, daily tasks that need to be done as opportunities to invest in the lives of those closest to me?

I Timothy 5:8 may be talking specifically about providing monetarily for our families but I think we provide for them in so many more ways. If storing up treasure in Heaven is about giving and investing in other people, I think those closest to us may very well be the most important place to start. I can only begin to imagine the difference a change in perspective on my days could make for me ....she said, as her three year old interrupted her for the fifth time in one paragraph......

It is easy to look at all the many needs out there and feel useless. I want to do the big things, help the orphans and the people who have never heard about Jesus! I forget that pouring my life out in cheerful service to those closest to me has farther reaching effects than I can begin to imagine. Because I read those stories and gave those hugs and kisses, five more sets of hands and feet may someday reach more people than I ever could today.

Monday, January 23, 2017

31 Days: The Rich In This Present Age

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be naughty, not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." I Timothy 6:17-19 ESV

I have come to love these verses in I Timothy. I love them because they show that money is not actually the problem, it's the love of it; the wanting to own it, to have it. I love the idea that there is no problem with being channels of lots of money - to God be the glory! I also love them, because if any verses give us a "list" that details storing up treasure, it's these -- Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share.

He's talking to the rich people but I don't think we have to have lots of money in order to give; there are so many ways to invest in other's lives. I don't think we have to have lots of money to be 'rich in this present state'. For years, swallowed up in bills to pay and money owed, it felt like we were always the takers. I think there are seasons where we may need to be ok with that. Sometimes we really aren't in a place financially to give much money away.

But we are very rich people! There are always ways to give. Some of us are rich in a godly heritage, rich in talents, rich in time, rich in wisdom, rich in love. There's no way I can cover all the many ways to give to those around us but maybe I can stir our thinking.

Just as there are many ways to give, there are also so many, many people to give to. Sometimes the needs feel overwhelming. There are people in our churches, people in our communities, people we read about on the other side of the world. Sometimes, if you're like me, it feels like there is not much a busy, stay-at-home mom can do. Maybe I need a shift in my perspective.

Friday, January 20, 2017

31 Days: How Might This Affect My Life?

It's interesting to think how a radical switch to giving, and investing in the lives of those around me and, ultimately, storing up treasure in heaven, might affect my life. There are so many different aspects I think it might touch if I took the challenge seriously. The following list has no particular order but here's some of the areas I thought of:

1. How would this affect the way I view my money? The past couple of months I have tried to listen to the Spirit's prompting and then gave out of my 'house fund' envelope. It's been so much fun to open my hand and allow some of my little horde to flow out and bless others. I still have money to help buy things for the house but I also feel less of an urge to buy extras that we really don't need because I'm enjoying seeing what ideas God will come up with.

2. How would this affect the way I spend my time? My husband observed that giving, rather than stockpiling, might actually result in men spending less time working and having more time for their families. (I mean, who would constantly work fifty and sixty hours a week just so they could give an extra couple hundred dollars away?) It might eliminate the need for mothers to have outside jobs as well, for the same reason.

3. How might this affect my relationship with God? There is nothing that boosts my faith more than seeing God at work. Listening to His nudge when He prompts me to give makes my relationship with Him feel exciting and alive. (And I'd probably also have more time to spend with Him.)

4. How might this affect my view of 'good stewardship'? Most of us want to be sure our money will be used for the right thing if we give it. I worked hard for that money and if I'm going to give it away I want to be certain it's used correctly - that's only good stewardship! I wonder, am I actually concerned about showing love and care to the person I'm giving to or am I actually more concerned about my money? The ragged man standing on the corner is probably going to find a way to get cigarettes somehow, whether he uses my money or not. Is it possible that my kindness might speak Jesus to his heart, even if my money ends up buying cigarettes or liquor?

5. How might this affect the way I raise my family? I think we leave a huge impact on our children when they see us giving and investing in people, rather than things. Our children pick up very quickly on how important our money and possessions are to us. A lot of that attitude comes through in the amount of value they see us placing on people and relationships.

This 'investing in people' attitude branches out into much more than just giving money. I'll talk about some other ways to give next week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

31Days: Getting A Little Radical

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with it's scorching heat and withers the grass; it's flower falls and it's beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits."  James 1:9-11 ESV

If you are a Christian, you know as well as I do that none of us are taking any of our possessions with us when we die. Let me ask an honest question here, why do we act like we will? If our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills and, as His heirs, it all belongs to us someday, why are we trying to have it all while we're still here?

We are to take care of our own, that I know. We're not to go out and recklessly spend our money when, for instance, we know the cupboards are nearly empty or we'll be needing a new vehicle soon. But where did we ever get the idea that it's some kind of a godly attribute to store up a pile for the future? He said, "Take no thought for the morrow." (Matthew 6:25-34). What would happen if we took Him at His word?

What if we lived on the minimum of our salary and gave the rest away? What if we actually took Jesus seriously about giving to the needy? What if we quit worrying so much about what the poor man on the corner will do with our money and gave if the Lord prompted us? What if we helped the struggling family at church without asking to see a copy of their budget? What if we actually lived as if our money wasn't ours, because it belongs to the Lord anyway? I wonder what God could do with Christians who actually took Him at His word?

I'll tell you the truth. Most of our married lives we have taken Him at His word out of necessity. Our money has pretty much been spoken for before it's ever in our hands, so there hasn't really been much chance for us to store up anything. But guess what? He has always provided for us!

Like accepting the ratty couch because you don't have a choice, maybe not storing up extra when you can't isn't really that difficult. I'll admit that once the money isn't all spoken for, the idea of laying the extra aside becomes tempting. After all, we deserve to have a big house and nicer vehicles and life a little easier after all these years! We deserve to have a fellowship hall in our church and a gymnasium and a larger sanctuary. We deserve a nicer building for our business and a La Z Boy in our office...... Really? Why? Will it make it look to others like Jesus is valuable in our lives?

I think a lot of us Christians are cheating the Lord out of huge opportunities to prove His word reliable because we refuse to give, the way He intended us to and we live with an 'I deserve this' mentality. Like Otto Koning says, "God is not stuck for riches, He's using gold like pavement up there!" I think it would be exciting to get a little radical with our giving and our living, and see what God might do.

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 rich.....be 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?

Monday, January 9, 2017

31 Days: A Struggle All My Own

"No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."   Luke 16:13 ESV

I didn't battle so much with the building design questions. I knew that my husband had a wise head on his shoulders and would make good decisions. I knew that his principles ran deep and that He would be true to what he believed was right. I knew that he had enough construction knowledge to know what made the most sense.

Turns out, I had a struggle all my own.

For several years now, once a week my oldest daughter and I have been cleaning the office/waiting room area at the Tire Shop where my husband works. The money for doing that has been mine to use. My daughter gets a portion of it and I use the rest for "extra" things - gifts, books, piano lessons for a child, fabric, scrapbook supplies, etc. Or sometimes I use it to help out with normal expenses if it's needed.

When we started building a house, I began saving up my cleaning money in an envelope marked "house fund". It was such fun to watch the dollars stack up and to plot what all I could use them for to help out in our building project. I wasn't thinking nails and two by fours, of course. My plan was to be able to buy new living room furniture and other furnishings all on my own.

I was able to buy a number of things with my buldging envelope. Some of them were bigger things that we really needed; some were smaller things that I really wanted. Always, in the back of my mind was this persistent voice saying, "Do we really need it just because it's a good deal? Does it really matter if the colors in the kitchen don't match perfectly? Is it ok to get a new washing machine when my old one still works? How much is too much??"

I think it was on that late night in August, standing on tip toe on a five gallon bucket with paintbrush in hand, when the truth finally hit me. It's a whole lot easier to say you believe in living simply when you have no other choice.

If you don't have money for a new couch, it's rather soothing to say the old, ratty one is ok because you believe in living simply and don't need to have everything perfect. The truth of the matter is, you really didn't have much choice! What's really in the heart comes out when there's an envelope marked 'house fund' and you do have a choice. Quite honestly, I wasn't so sure I was ok with all of the things that were coming out of my heart.

Friday, January 6, 2017

31 Days: A New House

"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness."   I Timothy 6:9-11 ESV

Time passed and we added another son to our number. Some days the "Shack by the Road" that had been so exciting felt like it was closing in on me from every side. I felt like I was constantly re-arranging this to make space for that; organizing another corner to make room for something else. Stuff. Where does it all come from?

We had said from the beginning that this house wasn't permanent. If we could live here four or five years that would give us some time to get back on our feet but eventually we would have to do something different. It's one thing to squeeze four (and then five) little children into 726 square feet but when they start getting as tall as their parents things get tighter in a hurry!

Almost two years after moving into The Shack by the Road, we bought one and a half acres of land with the plan to build a house.

Work on our new project progressed slowly. We planned to do as much of the work as possible ourselves and we were working on a very small budget. That fall we put in the lane, the well, and the septic system.

Then came the beginning of the big questions. What kind of house would we build? We had always looked at the idea that "Well, we're building anyway so we might as well..." was not necessarily a Kingdom of God principle. But now it was us and how did you decide? We were building on a hill, so it only made sense to have a basement, should we go ahead and make a second story too because it wouldn't cost that much more? Did we need a second story? How many bedrooms did we really need? How much more than 726 square feet was actually necessary?

It is easy to justify nearly any decision depending on who you compare with but what was right for us?

   *I will be back Monday to continue the series.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

31 Days: A Change In Perspective

"And he said to them, Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." 
Luke 12:15 ESV

It is amazing what perspective will do to a person's ideals. My ideas of 'necessity' took a drastic turn during that year without a house. I noticed every available looking house and shack in my drives around the countryside. Size, appearance and location meant less and less to me as I longed for a place to call home. I caught myself looking around the furnished basements of people we visited and thinking how perfectly content my little family would be to live in the spaces that, to others, were just extra. When we decided to turn Chris' old shop building into living quarters, what would have seemed like an impossibility a year before, now seemed like an exciting opportunity.

We brainstormed ways to make 726 square feet a workable space for our family. No closets? I can work with that. A narrow little kitchen? Not a problem. A tiny little 'drive in and back out' bathroom? Sure thing. 726 square feet had never looked so delightful!

When we moved in and unpacked our very own belongings again, the whole experience felt sacred. Cooking and cleaning and caring for my family in our own little space was a thrill. I hated the feeling I got from people that I was some sort of hero for what I had done.

Was it hard? Yes, I would be the first to say it was! I confess to some very nasty feelings toward any woman I heard complain about their small house or their old house or anything else that had to do with the house they were blessed with. Pictures of people's exquisite remodel jobs on houses that were perfectly nice to start with made me nauseous. Pious comments about the joy of making do with what we have when, to me, the one commenting appeared to have it all made me want to gag.

But I wasn't a hero. We were simply following the Lord and, although I did my share of kicking and screaming, His hand was so evident through that whole moving experience. Through it all He taught me some of the most important lessons I have learned in my life and, honestly, I really don't think I would trade the experience if I could!

Sometimes God needs to turn our world upside down in order to re-arrange our perspective. Even then, we don't get it all perfectly. I think I did learn something that year about how little we need things to make us happy - how rich we are aside from all our stuff. But God is always about teaching us more and He continues to do that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

31 Days: Painting the Foreground

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content."  I Timothy 6:6-8 ESV

Chris and I were married the summer of 2001. I can't tell you what our combined bank accounts amounted to but it wasn't much. We rented an old trailer for our first little place to live. Actually, the trailer belonged to a kind, old couple who let us live there if we paid all the utilities.

We were happy in our little, old trailer. We shivered in the corners in the wintertime and wore extra clothes and put plastic on the windows. We set up our thrifted card table, covered it with a table cloth and enjoyed our meals there. We swept old, brown carpet and put wallpaper on some of the dark, paneled walls. We stored extra canned goods in the half bath that didn't work and put our freezer on a porch outside. When the need arose, we slept on an air mattress and let overnight guests use our bedroom.

Five and a half years and two children later found us owning 15 acres of land. We had bought a double wide that had been used as "cabins" at a resort, moved it on our land, gutted and remodeled it and called it home. We bought a fridge and a stove, a second hand couch and chair, an old table with four leaves that we re-finished and a bookshelf we paid a friend to build. Our "new" house wasn't fancy, with it's unfinished corners here and there, but it was clean and roomy and ours. The outside of the house was another story, with it's old, dilapidated siding and the yard that never became much of a yard but it was a work in progress and we loved living there.

As the years passed, Chris' countertop work dwindled to almost nothing and his business ventures in other directions produced more stress than gain. Times were tough. In 2011, when a job opportunity presented itself in Chris' home state of Ohio, it felt like the door we had been waiting for.

If having less is a key to the kingdom, moving to Ohio took us to the head of the line. For a year we didn't have a house to call our own. Our family of six lived with Chris' parents, storing all our earthly goods in boxes in a musty old storage building and keeping out only the essentials. Our bedroom was our only personal space and two of our children bedded down on the floor there every night.

If ever we had achieved "stranger and pilgrim" status, it had to have been then. We had each other and a shed full of boxes and that was pretty much it. Except it wasn't.

We had family, and a place to live. We had friends and people who cared. We had health and a will to survive. We had a Father who was teaching us lessons in the hard places and who continued to lead us, one door at a time. And we had a shop building that had once belonged to Chris....

Monday, January 2, 2017

31 Days: Painting The Background

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5 ESV

I am not an artist - not one with a brush and paint, that is - but even I know that you start a picture with the background. It would be nearly impossible to paint the rustic barn and silo first, then try to come back and add the beautiful sky and luscious landscape; it just wouldn't make sense. In order for my perspective on money and what God has to say about it to make sense, it feels like I need to first back up and paint some background.

My parents were pioneers of sorts, moving hundreds of miles away from friends and family to help with a tiny mission church in the hills of Arkansas. In their teeny, tiny house with no phone and no indoor bathroom and a dirt road running past raising clouds of dust, they certainly didn't have much in the way of earthly riches.

I was born and raised in Arkansas, though by the time I came along the house we lived in was quite a bit bigger, the road was paved and we had a phone and an indoor bathroom. But only one bathroom for a family of eight! That one small fact bears testament to the principles I was raised on.

We never had much money but we had a lot of love and a lot of happy memories.

My husband's parents spent their first years of married life in a trailer, eeking out a living on a school teacher's salary. When Chris was three, his family moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio. The old, drafty farmhouse they called home was certainly nothing fancy. Family stories include ones about sleeping together in the living room on cold, winter nights to try to stay warm and the old, black Mazda they drove in those days, if they could push it fast enough to get it to start!

Over the years the drafty old farmhouse was gradually brought into the 20th century and the black Mazda was retired for a more reliable vehicle. While there was never a lot of extra, there was always enough. What they lacked in possessions was made up for in love and laughter and stability.

These were the principles we were raised on. Whether a vehicle got you from point A to point B was generally of more importance than it's shiny wheels or first rate paint job. The purchase of a living room couch was based more on sturdiness and comfort than whether it matched the rocking chair or the curtains. These values were instrumental in shaping our lives and, quite possibly, part of what attracted us to each other. On this background we began our life together.

31 Days: Introduction

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

It was a late evening in August and I had slipped over to the new house by myself to finish up some painting in our bedroom. Perched on tiptoe on a five gallon bucket, I stretched to brush green paint around the top of the walls. My neck ached and my arm was tired and my brain busily chewed on the now familiar subject on my mind. Was a new bedspread too much? Was a lovely, antique dresser for a steal really a necessary bargain? Was I adopting the attitudes about possessions that I so much abhored in others?

In the stillness of the empty house, as my paintbrush dipped in the green paint and my neck felt like it may have developed a permanent ache, I heard the whisper in my heart loud and clear: "Next 31 Days writing subject?" Actually, it didn't even have a question mark - it was more of a statement. And after awhile you quit arguing with the  whispers and just say, "Ok Lord."

The Bible has quite a lot to say on the subject of riches. According to Google, money is mentioned 140 times in the King James Version. If we include the words gold, silver, wealth, riches, inheritance, debt, poverty and related topics, it turns out the Bible has more to say on the subject of money than it does on prayer, healing, mercy and nearly any other subject in it's pages. Most of it is pretty straight forward, blunt truth.

In spite of that, money is a huge and controversial subject for many Christians. Like so much of Jesus' teaching, money is one of those places where we find our human reasoning to be completely opposite from the truth He teaches.

I thought I knew where I stood on the subject of riches. I thought I stood on sound principles I had adopted long ago. But standing there on a bucket with paintbrush in hand, I found my high held ideas being put to the test. Now I was the one building a new house and how much was too much? Did we really need new appliances? Was it ok to go out and buy all new living room furniture? Where was the line between dreaming of paint colors and beadboard and perfectly matched countertops and floors and the "riches laid up on earth" that Jesus spoke of?

It was one thing to look around at what others were doing and know with clarity where the lines should be drawn. It was quite another story to be the one making the decisions and grappling with the questions. How was this money/possessions stuff all supposed to work out anyway? What did it look like, in real life, to live out the 140 mentions of money in the Bible? Was there a clear 'yes' on one side and a 'no' on the other with a thick black line drawn down the middle? It seemed like that would have made things so much easier but I couldn't quite find a way to make it that simple.


During the month of January I am going to be exploring the subject of possessions and storing up riches in Heaven. I am in the beginning stages of this journey and working on this project has already taken me in directions I wasn't expecting. I have much to learn and I invite your input in my journey!