Monday, June 25, 2012

Materialism and the Race

Dear Friends,

One step in breaking the chains of busyness may lie in coming to a clearer understanding of what we are busy doing. One thing which is so easy to do, amid the incessant inflow of advertisements, unrealistic images of "important" individuals, and wealthy caricatures of the American family, is to chase stuff.

Let's ask ourselves seriously if our stuff is a hindrance to our godliness. 

I was reading Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper (which I have finished, and have begun rereading in parts). The story of Esther Ahn Kim contained a few principals concerning the way she faced persecution and temptation. Along with prayer, worship, generosity "with good things, not just leftovers", memorizing scripture, and "listening to people's stories about trouble and God", Mrs. Piper also listed "practicing living simply." I'm reminded of how Esther Ahn Kim prepared herself for persecution by eating rotten apples.

And at one point in her lengthy stay in prison (that is, "several years of cold, illness, and starvation"), as so many fellow saints died of this starvation, she began craving those rotten apples she had grown to endure years earlier. She craved and prayed. And so she was saved when God orchestrated the delivery of rotten apples to her cell. What would have happened, I wonder, if she had only awaited her imprisonment with creme brulee and ristretto-shot, light foam lattes, that were not quite up to standard? What if she had spent her days reading fashion blogs, obsessing over Kate Middleton, and complaining about her manicurist's inability to get her nails just right?

I'm also reminded of War and Peace, when dear Pierre Bezhukhov (the quirky, yet ever- theologically-seeking hero) considers how a man is just as discontent with a crumpled petal in his bed of roses as he is when living as a P.O.W. without shoes in the dead of winter, and trying to sleep on the cold ground.

 "He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together; that the person in a bed of roses with one crumpled petal suffered as keenly as he now, sleeping on the bare damp earth with one side growing chilled while the other was warming; and that when he had put on tight dancing shoes he had suffered just as he did now when he walked with bare feet that were covered with sores- his footgear having long since fallen to pieces."

Once again: "... and be content with what you have," echoes from Hebrews 13:5.  There is a lofty command.

Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide, writes,

"A certain level of material comfort is necessary... The trouble is, most of us don't know when to stop."

She continues on a well-articulated and much needed rant on our obsession with silly stuff,

"Pasta machines. Absolutely. In this day and age, everyone has time to make homemade pasta.Who are we kidding? I don't care how great the stuff tastes. When was the last time you used yours? Electric can openers. In my humble opinion, these have always been the paragon of a life gone junk bad.  This is one item I never could understand. Hold all phones everywhere- we can't open cans with a hand crank? We can't?"

Plato once said, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life." Simplify. Lower your need for comfort. Challenge yourself with less.

Chuck the clutter. And while we're at it, let's stop watching the commercials, listening to the ads, gazing at the billboards. Stop watching the wine sparkle in the glass if you're trying to drink less wine. Let's refrain from window-shopping. While I love Pinterest for its abundance of inspiration, craft how-to's, and collection of artwork and cleverness, I am getting more than a little tired of all the "stuff" that is pinned as, "must-haves." Really?

Do we really have the time to hunt down ideas of things to want and need and covet? Do we need help coveting? Do we need a cyberspace to collect all the things we covet, and to spend time organizing and renaming our groups of wanted stuff?

Continuing on the line of materialism, Randy Alcorn writes in "Money, Possessions, and Eternity" (a favorite book that Shyla so graciously lent to me about a year ago, and which still remains hostage in my home),

"Seeking fulfillment in money, land, houses, cars, clothes, boats, campers, hot tubs, world travel, and cruises has left us bound and gagged by materialism- and like drug addicts, we pathetically think that our only hope lies in getting more of the same. Meanwhile, the voice of God- unheard amid the clamor of our possessions- is telling us that even if materialism did bring happiness in this life, which it clearly does not, it would leave us woefully unprepared for the next life."

And back to Luhrs,

"When you are in a store and get the urge to buy some gadget or other, ask yourself what it really will mean over the long haul. You will need to do something with this item. You will need to put it somewhere, you will need to clean it, repair it, and so on. "

She goes on to break down how an expensive item requires an extensive amount of time at work (possibly a job we don't love or feel called to be in) to purchase, to pay for the repairs, the cleaners, the accessories, etc. Stuff is not only acquired by the price listed on the sticker.

Luhrs also points out, "I've never heard anyone say they just love to do errands. Never. Yet a big reason for errands is our stuff- in the buying, maintaining, repairing, or storing." We will invest energy in thinking about it, worrying about it if there is a storm or a fire or a new housemaid, etc. We will be tempted to consider how this item will look to our friends, how important they will consider us when they see us using it, etc.

And last, but not least, I must point out that spending money on temporal stuff (as Randy Alcorn eloquently writes about at length in said book, which you must read), takes away from spending money on missions, takes away spending time in serving one another and the Church, takes away from being generous and hospitable, and ultimately from dwelling on the loveliness of Christ and enjoying His presence in peace.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10). Friends, this needs to fit into our daily schedule.

Hebrews 12:1

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." 

Yes and Amen! Let's throw it off and run with abandon!

Cheers and God bless,
Natasha W.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Chains of Busyness

Dear Friends,

*If you don't have time to read this, feel free to stick to the boldface type.*

I am becoming more and more convinced that Satan's most prolifically used weapon in modern American culture is the weapon of busyness.

 I'm trying hard to think of one individual, and even one family that is not currently and often being worn down, exhausted, spent, and thrown off balance (spiritually and/or physically) due to the busy demands of their lifestyle. And friends, I'm not even talking about people who are rolling in the dough. I'm primarily thinking of us blue-collar middle class, or lower middle class folks. Though certainly, it reaches all income levels! As I am currently a married-with-no-kids housewife, I often feel that I am the only person in America who doesn't feel too busy most of the time. 

On that note, I also have to take my financial dilemmas and insecurities to God again and again and again. But it is so worth it!

Let me clarify "too busy". These are just some examples I've seen in my life at different times: 

-Not feeling able to spend 30 minutes to an hour in devotion (prayer, worship, scripture) on a daily basis. (The amount of time you spend may vary- but I do believe it is a problem if you are completely incapable of penciling in an intentional half hour with the Lord.)

-Not feeling capable of beginning and maintaining a commitment to disciple and/or be discipled by meeting with a fellow believer once a week. (This is personal to me. Others may rather struggle to meet in life groups or pursue mentoring opportunities.) I'm reminded of Hebrews 10:25.

-Not feeling free to pursue opportunities that seem to be directly provided by the Lord (i.e. serving with the youth on sunday evenings, volunteering on Saturdays, etc.) *Note that I'm not referring merely to things that are written down in the church bulletin; I'm talking about things you personally feel the Lord impressing on your heart to do. It's personal! And obedience is something we need to take seriously.

-Not being able to think straight enough to pray throughout the day. I'm reminded of Ephesians 6:18 "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

-Not feeling free to talk to people in public as the Holy Spirit prompts you to do. OR, not desiring to be open to the Spirit's leading at all, because you don't have time to talk to anyone! You've got to book it!! Eph 5:1-2; Gal 5:16.

-Not having time to get 8 hours of sleep (parents may be exempt from this- I wouldn't know about that) or eat 3 meals a day. Let's be honest. Even believers can take crankiness to all new levels. Unless seriously fasting, that's no way to live by the Spirit.

-Not believing it is possible to set aside one day a week for a biblical sabbath- day of intentional rest without work or the usual demanding tasks such as cleaning, running errands, etc. This is a concept I'm just now trying to apply.

In other words, you may feel pulled by the Holy Spirit in church to do certain things and apply biblical truths in certain ways during the week-

BUT immediately feel the unavoidable tug in the other direction by the mere fact that, THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE.

Please know that I am not condemning anyone for these feelings. It's hard to figure it all out, and live it out.

My food for thought is this: 

What if the math is just not adding up to what the Spirit seems to be asking of us, simply because our culture has created a mold for a lifestyle that God never intended us to live? What if the reason we can't seem to make enough money AND have enough time to use it for God's Kingdom is because our culture has left us with a blueprint for finances and lifestyle that God does not agree with? What if we ought to come up with ways that are countercultural in order to be good stewards of our time and resources?

What has cut in on you? What is destroying your peace? What is preventing you from being obedient and bearing fruit for the Kingdom? How indispensable are these things, really? Are these chains really unbreakable, or are we just failing to think outside of the wealthy-accomplished-individualized-American box? Is Biblical, Christian community really an unattainable concept? Or if not, then are you achieving it right now? If you are, please tell me how!!

Living countercultural lifestyles. Doing without the things we've been told over and over again are essentials. Sacrificing temporal gain for eternal profit. None of these things are done easily. Chains rarely break painlessly. Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

 Let's ask God for wisdom in living Biblical lives, in throwing off chains that enslave us and keep us from serving one another in love. Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Cheers and God Bless,
Natasha W.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eve and I

This week has been quite interesting. It's been full of ups and downs, and yet... I'm learning constance. (Repeat: Learning! I'm still a student of faithfulness as I write this, and a stubborn student, at that.)

I find that I'm still deeply affected by Dr. Beal's quote from the tribulation lecture at OCU a few weeks ago:

"Either Eve didn't know God's Word well enough, or didn't regard it highly enough." You know, I think I've always sort of loathed that woman. I mean, WHY did she have to eat from the apple and bring her husband down with her? Have you ever had an apple? So not worth it. But when you put it into terms as Dr. Beale did, well, that changes things.

Which am I guilty of? Surely the first is the result of the second. If I regarded it highly enough, then I would take the pains (and joy) to learn it well. And this would keep my foot from slipping as I so often do.

I yearn to be a woman of God in the deepest sense that God desires it for me. And this conviction of not regarding God's Word highly enough, in practice as well as theory, weighs heavily still. In my experience, I can spend a few weeks coming up with a list of verses I've memorized until I have a list that takes several minutes to recite in my mind everyday. Once, the list was sixty verses long (which just proves to me that it can be done). But the first few days I lag behind, due to sickness or vacation (as though that's a good excuse), I get overwhelmed and feel that I shall never work my way back to where I was. And certainly never get further! But hey, let's break off that lie of in the name of Jesus. I am perfectly capable of learning His Word in my heart and mind to the extent that He desires it for me.

If anyone has any good tips for guarding against this tendency- to get overwhelmed- please let me know. :) And I confess that the biggest challenge for me is remembering the references for each verse. Someone told me recently that it's okay to just say, "Paul says in Ephesians," etc. So perhaps I'll try that.

Life itself testifies to me that learning scripture is so powerful... so crucial to our constant spiritual warfare. And yes, I believe that spiritual warfare is constant! If not in the sense of angels and demons, then certainly in the sense of killing sin and living by the Spirit moment by moment and praying through everything. This morning, I sat down with my worship music playing and began to journal to my Father (as I'm trying more and more to make a daily routine in spite of varying circumstances). Something felt lacking- was it sin in my life? Was it a spiritual issue I wasn't taking to Him, to my Healer? Was it a lack of faith? I expressed to God my honest and confusing lack of enthusiasm and peace in coming to Him.

I glanced down at my sheet of handwritten verses, and my eyes immediately drew to Psalm 51:10,12.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me."

Thank you, David! And thank you my dear Father, who gave me the very words my heart was searching for. Every phrase of these two verses echoed what I so desperately longed to convey to my Savior. I need God to CREATE in me a pure heart. I need God to RENEW a STEADFAST spirit within me. I need God to RESTORE to me the JOY of his salvation and grant me a WILLING spirit to SUSTAIN me. I seek a pure heart; I seek renewal and steadfastness. I seek restoration and joy in his salvation, and- yes, I seek willingness! I have faith, but, Oh God, help my lack of faith!

I'm not sure exactly how to say this... But there have been times of great revival and passion and intensity in some of the people around me, and I feel that we have dipped into a valley of sorts. And I think my perseverance in my exuberance for God's Kingdom is being tested. Where will I fall? I may traverse through valleys, but my eyes must rest on God's hills, on His glory.

Anyway, when my enthusiasm seemed so weak and lacking, I rallied the help of some heavenly friends. Sometimes, we need to go out looking for inspiration from other Godly women when we can't seem to come up with it ourselves. I picked up "Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God" by Noel Piper. I reread the end of Esther Ahn Kim's story, and began that of Helen Roseveare. It was like one really amazing pep talk!

Friends, we must lift up the anthem. We must start each day with all we've got. It isn't enough to give almost all we have.

I'm reminded that Jesus was never afraid of difficult conversations. He dove straight to the heart of things, whether by way of parable or some other story, or just direct confrontation. We mustn't fear the conversation. But perfect love drives out all fear.

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7

When I read that verse, I think of it in terms of THE Spirit. For I cannot muster up power and love and self-displine on my own. I am only enabled in as much as I go to the Spirit for these things, and in as much as I have grace to live in power, love and self-discipline.

Don't you remember, oh friends, and oh soul of mine?

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

That's what we do with our lives, with our words. In our joy, in our pain, in our waiting and confusion and affliction. We declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. You may not feel much like getting down to business today- getting to the heart of things, working out your salvation, reaching out to someone in love, or giving your all for the Kingdom. But God is just as worthy today, perhaps in the valley, as He ever was on the mountaintop a week ago. Though your arms and soul may be tired, lift up your hands to Yahweh, and ask Him to create in you a pure heart, steadfastness, joy, and willingness to do His will. He loves to give good gifts. But we must learn to ask for them!

Cheers and God Bless,

Natasha W.