Thingamabobs? I Got Twenty… I Want More!

Just like The Little Mermaid, I have a ton of junk. So why is it that I am still browsing Amazon for things to add to my wish list? Why do I go to Barnes and Noble when I have thirty unread books at home? Why do I clean out my closet only to fill it with more v-necks? If you live in America, you probably know what I am talking about. We know we don’t really need new tennis shoes, but wouldn’t those lime green ones look so cute on our feet? We know we already have fifteen coffee mugs, but doesn’t that one with the quirky quote fit perfectly into our palm? We know we just bought a new journal, but isn’t that one totally adorable and completely reflective of our personality?

Although I have everything I could need materially, I still have a consumer mentality. Do you ever find yourself in that same boat… or Target aisle? I know that having belongings does not make me more or less godly, but if God really has complete control of my life then what does He have to say about the way I spend my money? Recently, I have realized that I fill my life with objects more when I am not as in tune with God. When I am not following God’s heart as closely, I have a gaping chasm in my life that I try to fill with brightly colored JUNK. Sure, I could use those tennis shoes to walk to a homeless shelter and share the Gospel or use that coffee cup to share some caffeine with a friend in need of a listening ear, but do I? Nope. I hoard. I save. I keep to myself. Because in my selfish heart, those belongings were never intended to further the Gospel. My selfish heart intended those belongings to fill my empty heart so that I can wander farther away from the God of “people before things.” This is when my consumer mentality becomes dangerous: when I consume to replace God with possessions.

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Even though we pretend that this is a new phenomenon, the conflict of objects before God is nothing new. From Solomon in the Old Testament to the rich young ruler in the New Testament, generations of believers have dealt with the problem of how to handle materialism. Solomon was given divine wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:6-12) by God, but he still struggled with looking for satisfaction in possessions. In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon explains all of the material ways he tried to find satisfaction from wine and gold to houses and concubines. However, he concludes, “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:11) Did you catch that? “NO profit under the sun”! So where is the profit in life? If the profit is not under the sun, then it must be above the sun. God is the only profit. God is the only thing that will satisfy our hearts. We know this. But do we KNOW know it? In the deepest caverns of our soul, do we truly believe that only God can fulfill our life purpose and make our life profitable and worth living? I am honestly not there yet. I am still holding up my, “But it was on sale!” excuses.

So is there any hope for us? Is there hope that we can fix our Disney-amplified need for “gadgets and gizmos aplenty”?

Let’s skip ahead to the New Testament. Our relatable friend, the rich young ruler, had similar issues. He came to Jesus in Matthew 19 with questions about what good things he should do. This guy obviously had his life figured out. He had money and the power to rule even though he was still young. (How did he pull that off?) But he was still dissatisfied and searching! He came asking Jesus for more answers. He had even tried being religiously obedient and following all the rules, but he had to ask, “What am I still lacking?” (Matt. 19:17-20). Y’all this next part gives me chills. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete…'” Here we go! Ready for the answer to being complete? “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 19:21)

Uh-oh.

Is that really the answer, God?! To be complete, we need to have less? To be complete, we must give away our possessions? To be complete, we have to leave our home and follow a homeless Messiah? That is not logical to every cultural compulsion that having more things makes us feel more complete. And while we are on that word “complete” I want to clarify its meaning, especially since many of your Bible translations may say “perfect” instead of “complete” in verse twenty-one. In Greek (I know it’s another language, but this is important!). In Greek, the word for “perfect” or “complete” is teleios which can mean 1. brought to its end; finished 2. wanting nothing necessary to completeness 3. perfect 4. that which is perfect. So to be finished, wanting nothing else to be complete, or to be perfect we must follow Christ’s command to let go of physical possessions in exchange for spiritual treasures in heaven.

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[Side note that someone needs to hear: this word teleios is the same “perfect” that Jesus uses in Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are to be finished as Jesus is. We are to be complete as Jesus is complete. This verse is not a call to perfectionism, but a call to wanting nothing else and being complete in Jesus as we already are!]

 

 

All considered, I do not know if God is calling you to sell your house and live transiently giving away your money to every person who lives beside you in a cardboard box. However, I can say without a doubt that Jesus wants you to find your satisfaction in Him and not in belongings. You must personally seek out God’s will for how He wants you to use your belongings for Him. Just make sure that God and His Kingdom are always the focus of your material world. When we use things for God and not as a god, we will find ourselves finished, complete, and lacking nothing.

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Indiana Jones Moments…

Although the Indiana Jones movies are now relics like the items Indy searched for in caves, there is one scene from the saga that will remain embedded in my memory forever. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there is one gripping moment when Indiana has to take a step of faith. You can all imagine it with me: he is standing on the edge of a gaping chasm; there is no way around it; his father lies slowly dying behind him; he has to get to the other side if he wants to find the Holy Grail and save the world. At this point in the movie, even the audience is uncertain how Indiana will make it across. Indiana looks at the gap in front of him and says, “Impossible.” It seems that Indiana cannot use his trusty whip, and there is no hidden lever to lower a bridge. Simply put, Indiana’s normal strength and wits cannot save him.

This is where I find myself today.

In front of me is the gaping chasm of no job, not knowing what country I will be living in six months from now, and not seeing a clear way out. Additionally, my usual methods of planning my life and maintaining stability for my future are not working. Or rather they are not what God wants me to rely on right now so He has removed them. My normal crutches of being consistently hardworking, keeping a job, and planning ahead have been surrendered to God.

God said, “Lauren, it’s time to get serious.” Then He reminded me of my childhood call to missions. God made me read a book that stripped me of my American ideals of comfort and safety (Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis). God led me to accidentally meet some retired missionaries Bobbye and Jerry who turned out to be Dr. Jerry and Bobbye Rankin of the International Mission Board (he was the president of the IMB for seventeen years). God led me to read another book that reminded me that everyone is called to spread the Gospel (The Challenge to Great Commission Obedience by Jerry Rankin).

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All these steps were God gently guiding me to the edge of the chasm. He pointed ahead toward the other side of overseas missions and nudged me to walk in faith. God says, “Step out where there is no bridge and watch Me build you one.” Maybe you are currently facing your own dark chasm that seems insurmountable. Every believer has different faith challenges because God is stretching every believer’s faith for a different purpose. God may not be calling you to go to another country and do mission work. God may be telling you to go back to college, to talk to your husband about getting pregnant one more time, to let your aging parents move in with you, to send your kids to a different school, to write a book, or to start praying for that crazy dream that is weighing on your heart. I do not know your next step of faith, and frankly you may not either. But you can rest in the peaceful realization that God always knows what is next, and He will take you safely across.

But that’s the next conundrum. Now that we are at the edge of the chasm, how do we get across? At this part in the movie, Indiana begins to recite part of the clue that lead him to this point. “A step of faith” seems to be the key phrase. But wouldn’t a step of faith in this instance lead Indiana to plunge into the darkness of the chasm and die a gruesome death? Wouldn’t it be foolish to trust the clue and walk into emptiness?

These seemingly “foolish” choices are sometimes exactly what God wants us to do. God called me to apply for overseas missions. I did not know that would mean I had to take a step away from job security and not sign a teaching contract for next year. I did not know that would mean waiting for more than a year after starting my application to see what mission job postings the International Mission Board (IMB) has available. I did not know it would mean cleaning out my classroom and saying goodbye to people I hold dear, even though I still do not know if the IMB will send me overseas. I did not know it would mean accepting that I might be 29 or 30 when I return from my overseas posting and that I might be single for the rest of my life. All of these steps of faith are movements that dissolve into utter darkness. I cannot see the ground beneath my foot. It seems like my step of faith has been hovering in the unknown for the past four months. I have still months of the unknown waiting to go and God is saying, “Lean in. Put your full weight on that foot hovering in the air.”

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There is still the fear that in a few months when my full weight comes down I will be in a freefall. There is the human possibility that all of my inability to plan will fall crashing down on me, and I will end up spiritually crushed and lost in darkness. At the other end of this step could be God saying, “I am glad you had faith in Me, but that is not what I want you to do. Now let’s pick up the pieces and keep going.” There is the possibility that I will not be strong enough to get back up at that point. I might do some intense crying sessions and blame God for all the false hope He gave me. But if that happens, I have to believe that is part of God’s sovereign plan. He stretches our faith not just to give us what we think we need, but sometimes to tell us, “No.” That is the terrifying part, right? What if you step out in faith, and God intentionally lets you fall? That seems unloving and maybe not quite “Christian.” However, without the possibility of failure, there is no need for faith. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” These verses always remind me that it is not my job to figure out the future; it is my job to trust the One who has a different, higher plan for the future.

So I cannot leave you with some perfect promise that if you step out in faith God will always make the impossible possible. What I can promise is that God is able to make the impossible possible and that He wants you to take the steps of faith when He leads you to the wide chasm. We see this throughout the Bible. God did not make Abraham’s first son Ishmael the leader of Israel, but God did allow Sarah to have Isaac in her old age. God did not save Israel from being overtaken by the Babylonians and held captive for years, but He did rescue Israel out of slavery to the Egyptians. Even Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, but would not save Himself from a horrific death on the cross.

There are thousands of examples of God being able to heal, rescue, or save and still choosing not do so. But there are just as many examples of God miraculously choosing to heal, rescue, and save a people who were undeserving. So the challenge I leave with you is this: walk to the edge of the chasm of impossible problems, pick up your foot in faith that God can make it possible, and lean forward.

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Without the possibility of failure there is no need for faith.

Warts and All!

by Guest writer: Lauren Stovall

This is not a blog about warts. But it is. So nurses: lean in, and weak-stomached ladies: scroll away.

When I was younger, I had a wart on the heel of my foot. At first, it just blended in with my calluses and swirly footprint. (Who looks at the heel of their foot anyway?) Slowly it grew until it was obvious and even uncomfortable. Eventually it got so bad that I had a limp. I tenderly tried to live my life tip-toeing around the painful pressure in my foot. By the time I realized it was not going away, it was the size of a quarter.

You may not notice the symbolism of all this, or you may be a better person than I am and simply not handle your sin this way. But for all the weak humans here: you may notice that what I have just described is exactly how we deal with sin. We do not even notice that we have sin growing in our life. Temptation gradually spreads in our life until it seems impossible to get rid of it. Satan is a conniving genius. And I do not say that to give him fame, but to give you a flashing warning! As Christians, we often forget that Satan’s mission is to steal everything precious, kill our souls, and destroy every positive part of God’s Kingdom. The joy of this statement is that he can’t! It makes me want to laugh out loud as I sit at Cup’s coffeehouse. Satan so badly wants to tear down our lives, but ultimately he. will. fail. [For more on spiritual warfare, I recommend the book Fervent by Priscilla Shirer.]

As Christians, we often forget that Satan’s mission is to steal everything precious, kill our souls, and destroy every positive part of God’s Kingdom. The joy of this statement is that he can’t!

I mention Satan to remind us that the temptation we face is not going to be obvious at first. Sin creeps into your life slowly, leaving you completely unaware like a slow-growing wart hidden on your heel. For me, it was old British romances. At first, there was no shame in reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen or watching a classic movie like a red-love-heart-oldremake of Jane Eyre. It was subtle. It was sneaky. It was Satan. These innocent actions, though not sin at first, evolved.

As I type, my heart beats faster. Satan whispers, “You don’t need to admit this. You confessed this to God.” How tricky is that beast! Of course I have confessed my sin to God. Of course God has forgiven me! He cannot go against His own nature. God IS forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, redemption. Here it is though. Here is my sickening confession: I loved the romance books and movies so much that they became an addiction. I watched The Office to get to the kissing scene. I read cheesy Christian romance novels to get to the finale where the cowboy roped the girl and they had a dramatic kiss under the moon. It may seem innocent and harmless, but Honey-child, my heart was far away from innocent. Sin had spread so that I was accommodating my sin like limping with a wart on my heel.

For years, I allowed my dreams of love and romance to become an idol. This obsession festered uncontrolled and unconfessed. Every now and then my guilt would overcome me. I would ask God to forgive me, and swear off all romance “for the last time.” However, Satan always lured me back. The root of my wart was still there. I could not get rid of it on my own. I had no accountability and no motivation to air my dirty laundry so that it could be washed clean. I held the secret of my sin inside and let it contaminate my mind with dissatisfaction at the singleness God had given me, jealousy of different couples’ love, and lust for feelings or relationships that were not for me. I hope you are understanding the depth of my problem. I had sin: obsession that turned to idolization and lust.

Back to the wart: my mom, obviously concerned for my health, found out a dermatologist was the person to handle my problem. She scheduled an appointment. With much uneasy anticipation, we went to the doctor. I was fearful of going to someone who would probably hurt me while trying to help. However, I finally realized that I had to rid myself of the problem. So I went to the doctor. I decided that I really wanted to be healed. For good. Forever.

Full disclosure: It’s about to get gross. I was laid on the crinkly-papered doctor table on my stomach with the wart-infected heel sticking up in the air. Mom stood by with a grimace on her face. When you get a wart removed, they spray some cold, numbing chemical on your skin before putting the actual medicine in your foot. Frozen-skin spray on my heel. Then the needle. I hate needles. I only looked at it once, and that was too many times. The doctor began to repeatedly stab the needle into my still quarter-sized wart. The spray does not work. I can tell you, frozen heel or not, I felt those stabs. I did not count how many times the needle went in my heel, but afterward I had at least twenty visible needle-holes.

The process hurt. It was not easy. I did not enjoy the wart extraction, but it was necessary.

medic-hospital-laboratory-medical-40559Our sin must be handled the same. Once God has pointed out where the sin is and that it needs to go, we must submit to His Doctor hands. He is the One who pokes at our flaw and finds how far into our flesh the darkness reaches. He is the One who pries our hands loose from our sin. Because if I am being honest, I still do not WANT to be free from my sin. It is tough to let go of addictions. Their sinuous hold makes us believe that they are a part of us and our life will not be as happy or complete without them.

I could never take a needle and stab my own foot. It goes against human nature to attack part of your flesh. But it goes against spiritual nature to allow sin to coexist with our saved soul. As all Christians know, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 NIV). Although this verse is talking about serving God or money, I believe the same logic applies to all sin. I cannot allow any idol to be in the same heart as God. Mostly due to the fact that God cannot be chill with sin.

One last medical bit: the wart did not magically evaporate that day. The medicine slowly killed the wart over a period of several weeks. Every now and then more of the wart would let go of my heel. I am no theologian, but I do not think God magically whisks away all our sin. We may have to pray for forgiveness and healing multiple times. Do not think for one moment that is because God is not big enough to remove your sin or even that you are too weak to really give up your sin. Instead, see this as a beautiful process. God is drawing you back to Him over and over again. Let Him hold your hand in the pain. Let Him hear your voice continually. Let yourself lean into His warm love. My eyes tear up at the thought.

As a fellow sister in Christ, I challenge you. Yes, you. Dear you, please let go of your sin. Stop trying to heal yourself with wart Band-Aids and self-help books that only patch the problem for an hour or a week. Go sobbing to God. Let Him take out your warty sin. Let Christ bleed all over your mess. Let the Holy Spirit drag your soul to God’s feet.

Praise Him. He IS healing. He WILL forgive you. He IS stronger than your sin. He IS a new life. He IS freedom from your addiction. He IS love.

I know this. I speak from experience. It may hurt. It may take time. You may go back to the Doctor for weeks and months. Oh Child, it is not easy to nod yes to a big needle of truth and separation from sin. But Honey-child: it. is. worth. it.

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” James 1:14-16