Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What Are Your Qualifications?

"God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called."

I heard those words in a speech one year at a fundraising dinner for the school where my husband was teaching. I'm sure they weren't new words to most of the people in the room, but they were to me. I've rolled them over and over in my mind since hearing them and clung to them like a bulwark in a storm. In difficult circumstances, when the calling of God on my life seemed daunting, I would recite them as if in doing so, I would somehow release a mysterious power to aid me in my time of need.

Over the years as they proved to be less helpful in practice and more lofty in theory, I wondered where I was missing the boat. The idea that God would qualify me to handle the difficult tasks He'd called me to frustrated me as I didn't see the truth of the statement playing out in my life. Did I have an incorrect view of "qualify"?

One particular situation was the one I found myself in this past summer. Several things changed at once: my husband resigned from a 14-year teaching career to do something completely different, my oldest was getting ready to go off to college, we were homeschooling our youngest for the last two years of his high school career, and I was going back to work full-time after a 23-year break from the 40-hour work week grind. It was a lot, and I felt overwhelmed; overwhelmed by the change in our family structure, overwhelmed that my sweet daughter wouldn't be asking me to go shopping or sitting on my bed late at night to discuss the latest happenings in her teenage life; overwhelmed by the fear that my son would graduate stupid because of my poor teaching; overwhelmed that my house would be dirtier than normal and I'd be too tired to clean it; overwhelmed by what I had to learn at my new job.

Don't misunderstand, the changes were good, but they were still changes. For years, my husband had summers off, and we could enjoy much-needed time together for a few blissful weeks; for years it had always been the four of us, and even if we were all in different rooms of the house, it had always been the four of us; for years I'd depended on the school for my kids' educational upbringing, and now I was doing the unthinkable and taking it on myself. To top it all off, after cleaning houses for 20+ years, I knew more about dismantling and reassembling a vacuum than I did about running multiple computer programs while answering phones and making split-second decisions. In my mind, I was grossly unqualified for the task at hand, and the reminder that God would qualify me for said task brought me little comfort. What? Was He magically going to arm me with multi-tasking prowess and computer literacy overnight to do what in my mind was the impossible?

Back to my question: did I not understand the concept of qualify?

Qualify: to be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition (according to Bing)

There are a couple of things to unpack in this definition. First, to be qualified is to be entitled; entitled to whatever it is that encompasses the situation you're in. In my situation, I was entitled to all of the negative feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and questioning that I had entertained if I wanted to take that path. I was also entitled to the hope that God, in his infinite riches would provide me with exactly what I needed to do exactly what He had called me to do.

But there's a catch: according to the definition, entitlement to the benefits and privileges associated with any situation apply only by fulfilling a necessary condition. Now we're getting somewhere. So what was I not doing? I'd already followed the path He was laying out for me. I'd obeyed. What more could there possibly be for me to do? I simply had nothing left to apply to my circumstances. And then the words of Paul came to mind, and it all became crystal clear.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor 12:9-11

The thorn in Paul's side was put there as a reminder of his insufficiency apart from Christ, and upon recognizing this, the power of Christ was his for the taking. This attitude of being poor in spirit, the recognition of who we are before Christ-weak, empty, lacking everything good- and who He is, opens wide the gate to the immeasurable riches at the fingertips of God for our use and benefit. God doesn't call the know-it-alls. He calls the weak and qualifies them by showing them their weakness.

It's a little difficult to teach a four-year old to tie their shoes if they don't know that they don't know how to do it, and even if they are aware of their lack of skill, until they stop trying and admit their need for help, it's pointless. They'll keep stringing those laces together in all manner of concoctions only to wind up at the same place: a knotty mess.

The simple truth is in the irony: the only qualification you need to fulfill the plans of God for your life is in admitting that you are grossly unqualified for the task. Do this, and you open wide heaven's coffers bursting with resources infinitum.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Do you ever wonder how salvation makes a difference in our lives here on earth? I will never forget sitting in a class in college and being given the assignment to write out my testimony. The professor, having assigned this particular task for several years, was familiar with the rebuttals from students like me. “I don’t have a testimony. I was saved at a young age. I haven’t done anything majorly wrong yet! I have nothing to write about.” I think this is particularly common for those of us who were saved at a young age, grew up in church, in a Christian family, with Christian friends, etc. etc.

His answer, to write about a turning point in our lives that brought us closer to God and changed the course of our lives, somewhat allayed my worries that I had nothing to say. I’d had plenty of turning points: dedicating my life at camp, going on a missions trip when I was 17, deciding to go to Bible college rather than the university I’d been accepted to. I’d experienced the power of God many times in my 19 years. I’d experienced His goodness over and over again in the form of answered prayers and mended relationships. But I didn’t have a big story in terms of recovering from drug addiction, experiencing abortion, turning to Him after living a life of complete and utter rebellion against Him. Though thankful that I had not experienced what so many I knew had, my faith felt stale and lacked a serious wow factor. 

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself on my knees thanking Him for what He’s saved me from. I’ve talked about the study of Revelation that I have been in over the last several months. As it comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the holiness of God more than ever before. Though I’ve barely touched the surface of this truth of God, I’ve encountered enough of it in His Word to start to understand my sin in relation to it. 

You know those thoughts that creep into the back of your mind out of nowhere that you would never dream of telling anyone about? You know the temptations you face on your way to work? You know the voices in your head that scream something about you that is contrary to the truth of Scripture? You know the sin tendencies you battle every day as soon as your feet hit the floor? 

That’s what He saved us from! Salvation is not merely fire insurance for the life to come.  He owes us nothing, and that would be enough. But not only did He save us from an eternity of pain, separation from Him, torment, He saved us from an earthly life of it too. God, in His mercy, has saved us from having to follow the rabbit trails of our thoughts. He’s given us a way to refute the lies of Satan that would paralyze our faith, He’s provided an escape from the temptations of sin that we face every day, He’s given us an escape from the sin bent that each one of us is born with. All we have to do is take what He’s offered. When we accept salvation, we are accepting it both for the life to come, and for the life we live now on earth in front of our family and friends and a watching world. We’re saved from a life of living like every other lost soul on this planet. We’ve been saved to new life. 

Sometimes salvation seems far off because heaven seems far off. Though grateful for the eternal life He offers, we forget that salvation starts now. It doesn’t start the moment we step out of this life and into the next. No, the next life is merely the perfection of everything He’s started here. 

This simple truth is this: like marriage is a commitment that starts the moment we say “I do” so salvation is a lifestyle that starts the moment we accept the gift. If that’s not enough of a wow factor, then nothing will be!

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, NKJV).


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

It's Who You Know

What if we started looking at our lives with all of its problems, joys, situations through the lens of what we know, really know, about God? What would change? What would life look like?

This seems like an obvious perspective for a Christian to adopt in daily life, and maybe for some it is. In the past I’ve flirted with this idea but have never really grasped the life-changing power this perspective provides. Let me explain.

Several months ago, I started attending the Revelation study through Bible Study Fellowship. This is the first time in its 50-year history that this study has been offered, and it took the writers three years to put it together. Currently, every week 400,000 women from around the world are studying this book.

My view of Revelation has always been from the perspective of how’s it all going to end and in what order. That first night the teaching leader reminded us that there are many interpretations of this book: literal vs. figurative, pre-tribulation vs. mid-tribulation vs. post-tribulation vs. pre-wrath, etc. She said that this study would not answer those questions for us. Instead she wanted us to concentrate on one thing: “Our hope is not in the details. Our hope is in God.” That was an “aha” moment for me.

Honestly, as a person who pays no attention to detail whatsoever (ask my detail-oriented husband), this really shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the reason in all the years of cleaning houses I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed cobwebs in corners or dust on ceiling fans. It’s a detail. It’s the reason why when I make hamburgers for dinner we rarely have buns to put them on. Details often get lost in my day-to-day existence so why, when faced with frustrating circumstances, I focus on those rather than on what I know, is beyond me.

But God, the great Teacher, used a moment last week to show me how this could be applied in everyday life. One of my kids came home with a long list of expenses for different activities they are involved in. I was irritated, of course and directed a wordy diatribe at the Lord. Give me a break. Why do I always feel like I’m constantly putting money in pockets with giant holes? I just can’t seem to hang on to it. This kind of attitude will often put me in a funk that can last for days. But almost instantly I heard the voice of God: Your hope is not in the details of this situation. It’s in Me. What do you know about me? Concentrate on that. Eureka!

So I started recounting all the things I know about God in relation to money. I thought back to all of the times I’ve experienced His provision, what His Word says about Him as Jehovah Jireh, the Provider, what He promises regarding His provision. Miracle of miracles, I instantly calmed down within minutes-pretty good turnaround time for me. Oddly enough I felt relieved. I didn’t have to worry about how everything was going to turn out. It’s really not my problem. I just have to know that it will and hang on to the knowing.

So I ask you, what circumstances in your life have your knickers in a bunch? What do you know about God in relation to your situation? Comb the Scriptures for truth and your brain for experiential proof and cling to what you know.

This is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did when faced with a fiery furnace at their refusal to bow down to the image King Nebuchadnezzar had built. Here’s the conversation:

 “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up’” (Daniel 3:14-18, NKJV).

If anyone had the right to question the details of a situation, it was these guys. But they didn’t. They clung to what they knew: God was able to deliver them right then and there if He so chose. If not, their greater deliverance was waiting. Either way, they had won.

The crazy thing about it is that even the most basic of faith, the newest of Christians can cling to what they know, that is, that Jesus is Who He says He is based on His revelation to that person. If that's all a person has, it's enough to hang on to. Every single one of us claiming to know Jesus as Savior should be hanging our hats on I Timothy 1:12:
 “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (NKJV, italics mine).

Here’s the simple truth: Our hope is not in the details. It’s in God. Rest in the knowing.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Just Give Me Simple

There’s a resurging trend afoot: minimalism, the idea of scaling back your possessions to only those things that are needed and absolutely loved. Varying degrees of this mindset are practiced depending on the individual. Some people use it as a standard by which to start cleaning up the physical clutter in their homes and making life more manageable. Questions like: does this item serve a purpose? Do I love it? Do I need it? Does it bring me joy when I see it, are the “rules” one follows when beginning this journey.  Others have taken the lifestyle to extremes by counting their possessions in hopes of getting them down to what they consider a manageable number. For many that number seems to be 100. Still others have gone even further and reduced their possessions to only what will fit into a backpack (my personal life goal!) for the purpose of traveling the world and living unencumbered by societal rules and norms.

Minimalism isn’t a new concept. Notable history-makers such as Charles Spurgeon, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Ward Beecher and The Dalai Lama lived minimalist lives and encouraged others to do the same. In our cluttered world of cheap trinkets, the concept was somewhat of a lost art until this last year. 2015 was the year of the minimalist, the year that multiple blogs would join cyberspace, podcasts recorded, YouTube channels started and books written all in an effort to spread the message. 2015 was the year of Maria Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a Japanese author now lauded as the new Martha Stewart. Tim Ferriss and his Four-Hour Work Week became an overnight sensation, and the blogs of Leo Babuta  (Zen Habits) and The Minimalists now rule the internet.

From possessions, an aspiring minimalist will often carry the practice to other areas of life like time commitments asking: Am I doing too much? Do I need to fill every moment of my day with activity? What am I missing out on because of potentially unnecessary activity? Joshua Becker, one of the pioneers of the modern version of this movement tells of his journey into minimalism starting in his garage one afternoon. This was not the first time he’d spent hours purging, organizing and cleaning up his stuff. In fact, it was somewhat of a yearly ritual. In the meantime, his young son was outside begging for time with his dad. Frustrated, he launched into a conversation about it with his neighbor who asked one simple question: “Do you really need all of that stuff?”

There’s nothing earth shattering about the question, but it struck a chord that day. He, like many of us, got tired of spending countless hours puttering around with stuff. Today, not only has he and his family downsized the amount of stuff they have, he has witnessed the fruition of his dream-starting an organization for orphans around the world. Had he not been willing to answer that one question honestly, how many children in the world would have no hope of a family?

I’ve spent the last two years following the minimalism trend and small-house movement with the gusto of someone who’s found Jesus for the first time. I’ve read articles, books, followed bloggers and even surrendered countless hours to YouTube watching minimalism gurus demonstrate the lifestyle. I couldn’t get enough.

I’ve often written about my tendency to throw things out, often the wrong things like uncashed checks, receipts, and other important documents so great was my frenzy at the surrounding clutter. Currently, I am the only one in my house who thinks moving to a space no bigger than 1,000 square feet and downsizing to one car and walking everywhere is a good idea. Frustrated, I stand on my soapbox extolling the benefits of this lifestyle and how much happier we’d all be if we just got rid of stuff. I preach and demonstrate and repeat testimonials of others who have embraced the minimalist lifestyle and have been overcome by the joy and quiet peace it has brought to their lives. But my family isn’t buying what I’m selling. For reasons known only to them they are attached to their stuff.  

Until recently, this has proven to be immensely frustrating for me. How could I be so vastly outnumbered? Why aren’t they cooperating? Don’t they want to be free? What is wrong with these people? What started out as a subject of interest and research for me became an obsession. My obsession with minimalism turned into a crusade to change my family, and it was becoming a real problem. Not One to let this go unchecked, I heard the voice of God in my head (though it’s hard to say how long He was speaking before I quieted down enough to hear Him!): Why don’t you apply the concept of minimalism to your spiritual life? Why don’t you purge your heart and mind of all that keeps you from a meaningful relationship with Me with the same veracity you purge your possessions? Why don’t you work on changing yourself and let me deal with everyone else?

Just like a crowded space, a crowded mind and heart complicate a faith that is so simple it often turns people off. Fear, anxiety, jealousy, judgment, all are part of the piles of junk that clutter our hearts and rob us of the Christian life God has fashioned for us. Justgivemesimple.com is an attempt at debunking the idea that everything in the Christian life is complicated. Just so we’re clear, simple does not equal easy. I dare say, if we’re “doing” it correctly, there will be challenges and hardships. We were promised that.

Though we serve a complicated three-dimensional God that we don’t have the brain capacity to fully understand, He deals with us simply because we are simple. We over complicate Him, His calling on our lives, His requirement of us, His love for us. We complicate our relationships with people, our marriages, our friendships, our jobs, how we spend our money, everything. When Jesus said to take His yoke upon us because His burden is light, those weren’t just empty words. He spoke them for a reason. He knows us.

This is not a blog on minimalism. Heaven knows there are plenty of those out there. It is, however, my thoughts on applying the perspective of minimalism to the Christian life. The life we’ve been called to only becomes complicated when we attempt to change the truth of it for something more palatable. There are few things in this life that are constant, that remain. Chief among them is truth. Truth is simple and unchanging despite your personal preference on a particular subject. You want freedom from a chaotic heart and mind?  You want inner peace when everything around you is falling apart? Truth. Run to it. It will set you free (John 8:32). 

In case you’re wondering:

Why a new blog?
My last blog was based on my experiences with debt and my journey out of it. Though I didn’t stick with that topic exclusively, I felt my own expectations to do so because that was the original intent.

What’s different about this blog from the last one?
Not much other than the subject matter is not restricted to money.

What are the similarities between the two?
Pretty much everything-tone, style, length, Bible thumping (mostly directed at yours truly).

How can I read posts from your previous blog?
Since I no longer own the domain, confessionsofamaterialgirl.com, you can no longer find it under that link. Here’s the new one:  https://confessionsofamaterialgirldotcom.wordpress.com/ Talk about complicated!


I hope you’ll join me. What a great time in history to walk close with the Lord and learn from Him how to navigate the murky waters of our culture, how to stand on truth lovingly and how to be salt, that potent healing agent in a wounded world. That’s our calling. Simple as that.