Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Story- Stewardship vs the Tithe

I know, I know- stewardship & tithing: 2 very unpopular topics. But I wanted to share my story and what I've recently become passionate about.

I don't remember much formal teaching from my parents regarding tithing (which is surprising given that my dad has been the church treasurer for as long as I can remember). I know it was a concept that was highly modeled for me, though. Whenever I started tithing, I remember that it honestly was with the motive that if I did so, God would bless me (or at least, if I didn't He might withhold his blessing). Then it changed to something I merely did because I "should", and I enjoyed the tax incentive at the end of the year. But still in my thinking, all our finances were still just 10% God's, 90% ours to do with as we pleased.

In the past few years, however, my husband and I worked so hard to set aside some money. We watched our savings account slowly grow and I became so proud of us- proud of what we had earned, what we had saved, the amount we had amassed solely on our own. Then came illness, a hospital stay, medical procedures and a mailbox flooded with medical bills. And I watched that amount that I was so proud of - the tangible pinacle of self-reliance and ownership quickly deplete.

And I realized at that moment why stewardship is the model God created. We aren't ever owners of our money. And there is no such thing as self-reliance. Instead, we're stewards, entrusted with the money by God to be used in ways that glorify him. It's not that 10% is God's, it's all God's.

And suddenly, seeing that money go towards medical bills wasn't as painful because I realized that it was never mine to dictate anyways. God had provided it and He would be faithful to provide for our needs again. And I try to remember that I don't need to worry about it, nor do I need to feel prideful. It's just the completely freeing trust of being the middle-man- the steward of God's resources to His Kingdom.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A New Start

I've been playing around for a while with the idea of blogging again about some ideas that I've been very passionate about lately - namely: stewardship & simplicity - I think in an effort to try to sort it all out myself.

I've been deeply convicted recently about the idea that we are not owners (despite all that our materialistic, ad-saturated culture tells us), but are merely stewards; middle-men. All our money, time, possessions are gifts from God and are never really ours to control. When I die, my house, my car, my furniture- all of it will still be here even though I'm gone. It's not really mine, I'm stewarding it for the time being.

So, the big questions forming in my mind these days (& warning: you won't find the answers here- I'm still searching for them myself) are: What does it mean to be a steward of my money, my house, my time, my talents? How can I best use all that I've been given to serve God's kingdom? And more importantly, how do I know the best way to serve God's kingdom?

One of the reasons I fell in love with the idea of simplicity and minimalism a few years ago, is because of its connection to the well-known quote, "Live simply, so that others may simply live." I'm so convicted by the fact that there are starving people all over the world today while I'm eating way more food than I'll ever need and stockpiling more possessions than I need. Are my superfluous purchases more important than a life?! Never. But how do I reconcile that with the culture we live in? And where do I draw the line?

Like I said, I don't pretend to have all the answers (maybe not even any of them). But I'm hoping to pop into this space with thoughts, quotes, or inspiration in these areas of simplicity & stewardship. Maybe you can help me find some answers... Maybe we can embark on this journey together...

Monday, January 24, 2011


All throughout my day today, my mood has been lifted, my spirit brightened every single time I walk past these 2 vases of flowers in our house today. Isn't that amazing that something as simple as flowers draws my attention every time I enter the room?! I honestly can't get enough of them!

Suddenly, I'm craving spring & summer days when flowers can be picked for free from our yard and brought inside to enjoy. I've actually decided in my recent de-cluttering spree to rid myself of many of the table-top decorations I previously used (that often need to be dusted & stored when not in use), because beautiful flowers (found for free in nature) are so much more exquisite than any decoration that could be created.

Such a beautiful reminder that what God gives us, though simple, is often better than all we think we can create, conjur, or come up with ourselves. Isn't that true in so many aspects of life? (The daisies above are left over from a goodbye party for my best friend -a topic I'm trying not to think about. The beautiful red tulips were brought by our neighbors when they came over for dinner this weekend.) And I think my new goal is to consistently have flowers of some sort on our table-I love it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Thorny Soil of my Life

This morning I was reading a very familiar passage the Parable of the Sower and was surprised to note an important detail I hadn't noticed before. This parable tells the story of the seed (The Word of God) falling on the different types of soil (the lives of the hearers). In hearing this story so many times throughout my life, I always thought that the thorny, weedy soil that chokes out the plants was symbolic of the big sins distracting know, those really big ones that I don't feel are a huge temptation to me. I thought I was doing pretty well where this parable was concerned.

However, look at what Jesus says the thorns & weeds symbolize:
"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who
hears the word, but the worries of this life and the
deceitfulness of wealth
choke it, making it unfruitful."

"Worries of life," "deceitfulness of wealth"...hold on a second! Those aren't the "big sins" that are easy for me to avoid. They're 2 of the biggest issues I face in my life on a daily basis!

Worries of this life - I've mentioned here that I have a tendency to be a worrier. I come by it honestly- I always used to tease my mom about how much she worried (oh, how the tables have turned now that I'm an adult & mother). I worry about my daughter, I worry about my parenting, I worry about our finances, I worry about my health...I overanalyze & over-think things... & I worry. Yet, this is one of the 2 things that choke the Word and prevent it from being fruitful! My worrying can prevent my life from being fruitful to God!

Deceitfulness of wealth - I was just thinking about this concept of wealth being deceitful the other day. To be candid for a moment: I finally felt like we were at a financial position where the daunting adoption costs that are looming on the horizon would be manageable. I was starting to feel comfortable & self-reliant... & even rather proud of us. And then suddenly....large, unexpected medical costs and we're suddenly back to square one- worried about how it's all going to be paid for. But isn't that the deceitfulness of wealth? We're deceived into feeling comfortable, thinking we're in control, and that we did it all ourselves. And then pride emerges.

I've been reading lately about the fact that God's goal for our lives isn't for us to be comfortable. In fact, it's when we're uncomfortable that we're able (or forced to) rely on God and not ourselves. We're able to see His provision without being clouded by our own ability. I think comfort is something God asks us to sacrifice to do His work. When we get too comfortable financially, that's the cue that it's time to be more generous, to give more away and rely on God to use us as a steward (a middle man) of His generosity. That's not to say building a retirment fund or being wise is bad. It's just to note that wealth can be deceitful and that comfort, where wealth is concerned, is a slippery slope.

So, 2 things in life I really need to do a better job of keeping in check so that God's purpose for me, His word to my life specifically isn't choked out.

What about you? Does the true meaning of the choking weeds & thorns surprise you or hit close to home for you, too?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

We try to keep Sundays a true Sabbath in our household- not only taking a break from the work & responsibilities of the week, but also making time to refocus my mind from distractions to what tuly matters. I try to spend at least part of my sabbath reading materials that inspire & realign my thinking for the week, participating in activities that get creative juices flowing, and focusing on the aspects of life that are truly important: relationships, family, service, etc...

So, I thought I'd start a weekly Sunday Inspiration post, sharing whatever has inspired me during the week or even what's come out of our church teaching that morning.

This Post on Pastor Richard's blog about his recent trip to Africa has had me thinking all weekend:

"Without any of the things we’ve deemed essential, they manage to smile.
For all their lack of sanitation, and vitamins, and recreational opportunities,
and clean clothes, and benefits packages, and happy hours, and professional
sports, I swear they’re onto something because it seems like they enjoy life
more than most of us, in spite of our multi-levels of security: financial,
medical, physical, emotional."

This raw joy in the midst of true simplicity is such a powerful inspiration - I want that in my life! And this image of true community:

"I’m good at having a thousand acquaintances, much better at that, in fact, than
having real friends. They don’t have the “thousand acquaintance” option on
the table, and so many of them have mastered the art of community and real
friendships. Now that I’m back where “solitude on demand” is available to
me, I’m praying Jesus, that I’ll remained challenged by the countless examples
of interdependency and community that I saw there."

Richard's post also reignited the hunger I've always felt for going to Africa. Maybe someday I will...

The second inspiration I want to share today is from our class discussion at church this morning on evangelism (& dovetails nicely with Richard's statement on true community). Our teacher, Rick Reynolds, director of Operation Nightwatch, shared something written by Sam Shoemaker, (member of the Oxford Group that was partly responsible for the start of AA). You really ought to read it. "I Stand at the Door" can be found here .

Again, it makes me question how well I do community in my life- and where that community is found: in the confines of my church & Christian circle? Or within my neighborhood, my community, among the poor and ostracized?

Have a wonderful sabbath, friends! I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

This past weekend we went down to Oregon for my uncle's memorial service. (The trip went much better than I had anticipated- yay for trying not to worry!) My uncle wasn't someone I knew very well, I hadn't seen him in probably close to 5 years. His death was sudden. He was 62 and had cancer. But suddenly one morning he fainted & had internal bleeding. Then by the time they got him to the hospital he went into cardiac arrest and was put on lifesupport. It was extremely sudden.

During his memorial service there was an open-mic sharing time for people to talk about my uncle and share stories. And it struck me that 62 years of life was suddenly condensed down to 30-minutes worth of comments & stories. And it made me ask, "What kind of comments do I want my life summed up in? What kind of legacy do I want my life to leave?"

I was reminded that questions like that can't just be shrugged off as something I'll think about later, because (not to be a downer, but) who knows if there will be a later.

So, the things that seem important: the stresses, worries, and general busyness that I can easily get caught up in - are suddenly exposed for the trivial minutia that they truly are. I'm reminded that I need to slow down, to realign my priorities with what will truly matter in the end. I need to not allow myself to become so distracted by all that the world of busyness, productivity, and self-focus throws at me. And I need to live out my legacy in the daily hours and minutes of this one life I'm given. What a valuable reminder this was!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Less IS More

I mentioned on my other blog here that I totalled up our receipts from Goodwill donations & discovered that we have given away 51 bags/ boxes of stuff this year! 51 Bags! That number continues to shock me because I don't know how we could have accumulated that much stuff that we apparently didn't need! And I can honestly say that I haven't regretted a single donation. I've never found myself wishing I could get back something I gave away. Which just further shows that those 51 bags of stuff were just that: unimportant, excess stuff!

This year, inspired by blogs such as Becoming Minamalist, I've made a continued effort every so often to go through our possessions and get rid of a lot. I hated that so much time was spent storing & re-sorting and organizing things. I hated thinking about the connection between the amount of money an item cost and the corresponding number of hours I had to spend working, away from my family, in order to earn that amount. I hated seeing the clutter and taking the time to dust each frame, candlestick or decoration that covered all of our surfaces. And I hated the thought of my daughter's imagination not being stretched or her attention span diminished or even just the sense of entitlement that having too many toys could foster.

So, I went through closets, shelves, drawers and baskets and only saved what is truly useful or truly beautiful. I went through my clothes & ruthlessly pulled everything that makes me even the slightest bit self-conscious or is at all uncomfortable. I got rid of all the excess entertainingware I had "just in case we happen to throw a Mexican themed party." I got rid of most of my DVD's- because I never end up watching them. I surprised myself by getting rid of boxes of books, having always been the type to save every good book I ever bought. But I asked myself "am I really going to read this again? And if so, isn't it just as easy to borrow it from the library to re-read?" There are still a few bookshelfs worth of books that I kept- but I probably got rid of 10 boxes of books that didn't meet my "to-keep" criteria.

And now, I can't even describe how much I LOVE being in our house! I love the clutter-free walls & surfaces. I love having easy-to-organize closets that are far from full and lots of blank space. I'm still far from the extreme on the minimalism spectrum, but I'm loving this venture so far. There really is freedom to be found in simplicity.

And you? Has the new year brought with it any new purging, organizing, urges to simplify?