Sunday, March 25, 2018

Grace for the Descpicable

There are many days I look back over my day and think about how little I accomplished. Or at least it feels like very little. Having young children, it's amazing the amount of time it takes to do just the basic daily actions. I got them fed, kept them clean, and guided them through basic daily activities and interactions (lots of "no, no, don't do that!" and "be nice" and "thank you for listening!"). The many little things I never used to have to think about, I now have to constantly be aware of as I'm caring for helpless kiddos.

Basically, it feels like all I accomplished throughout day was just basic functioning. Eating, cleaning, potty training, repeat. It's funny how time consuming it is to just maintain status quo. But you know it's gotta be done, otherwise the little children would wreak havoc!

And then my mind starts to wander toward other children... The ones whose parents that don't seem to care about helping them understand basic functioning. The ones who've been neglected on being taught the absolute basics. Their parents or guardians have failed them. We look at those situations or read those stories and are appalled at the suffering of those children due to an adult's selfishness. To neglect children of these basic needs is despicable.

It can get easy to feel puffed up about our own "goodness" when hearing of such stories. We start to forget about our own sinfulness and get blissfully and self-righteously ignorant of our own short-comings. We forget about the One who makes it possible for us to be good in the first place.

Galatians 6:3-5
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.

Extending Grace

Keeping up with the highly demanding job of raising young children is hard. So very hard. And some parents fail. Some parents have never healed from their own messed up childhood, and I only imagine that they start to feel like they're drowning when they have their own kids requiring so much more of them. They feel like more is required of them than what they have to offer. They can't keep up, feeling crushed under the mental and emotional toll.  I imagine they feel like they amount to nothing, so they think "why bother?"

I'm not saying any of this to make excuses for neglectful parents. And in no way am I saying that people shouldn't be held responsible when children suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to take care of them (check out Matthew 18:6).

But I am saying let us not forget Who gives us every good thing in life. I know the only reason I'm able to be consistently there for my children is because of the One Who is consistently there for me. In and of myself, I'm not any better than other parents. My sinful nature renders me incapable of any holy or righteous act. Any goodness that comes from me is simply an extension of God's work through me. Every diaper change. Every meal prep. Every tedious correction (even the 100th time!). Even every prayer prayed. It's all Him.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

So whenever we are tempted to think of how much better we are than others (be it other parents, peers, siblings, coworkers, family members, friends or acquaintances), let us first remember the depths of our own depravity. Let us not forget the terribly selfish things we ourselves are capable of when left to our devices, apart from the Holy Spirit. When we remember just how dark our own hearts are, it becomes easier to have grace for the despicable.

1 Peter 1:17-23
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 

1 Peter 3:8-9
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Our Tithing Journey

When I Was Younger...

I started working as a lifeguard at the YMCA when I was 16. Unfortunately my bank won't let me do a digital search of my transactions from so long ago, but to the best of my knowledge I did start giving to my church regularly once I started earning money (growing up, I was taught that it's important to tithe). But then I used almost every other dollar earned to buy new clothes and eat out at restaurants with my friends (I thought I was pleasing God by being "generous" by paying for their food too! haha oh my naivety).

...Then I Was Older

When Cameron and I got married, we had similar habits. We were giving to our church, but we didn't manage our money well. We struggled with living paycheck to paycheck for most of our marriage. Thanks to a friend's generosity, we attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University hosted by our church.

In the beginning, as we were learning to manage our money, we made it a point to tithe. But as time went on and we didn't see immediate rewards for it, we started to make excuses. We started giving less and less. Here and there we might have given the full 10%, but for the long-haul we weren't committed.

Making Excuses

"God understands," we told ourselves. "He knows we can't even afford insurance, let alone giving away more money. I think we're being obedient just by giving SOME money every month. Heck, many people don't give anything!" In reality, we weren't being obedient because we didn't trust God with our money.

Getting Convicted

A job loss and two kids later, we REALLY felt like we had good reason not to tithe. We were often reluctant to give our usual monthly giving. But then our pastor gave a series of messages on money. (He does one every year, so I don't know why we didn't see this coming!) Of course, one Sunday morning was all about tithing. He said something that struck Cameron and me to the core, "It is better to trust God with your 90% than yourself with 100%." Ouch!

Malachi 3:10
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows."

Biblical thinking often feels so backwards. Wordly thinking told us that we needed to cling to every dollar we had if we were going to have any hope of building wealth. But God told us to let go. Hold onto money loosely. Don't put faith in money, but in Him.

We were both deeply convicted that Sunday. It's a pretty cool thing when the Holy Spirit convicts both of us at the same time. This rare occurrence spoke volumes of God's powerful grace working on our hard hearts.

So in June of 2017, we started tithing the full 10%. Boy was that hard. We were doubtful. But we also had a strange, underlying feeling of confidence, knowing that we were completely in God's hands. That also happened to be the first month in a long time that our budget (we unashamedly use reflected positive cash flow. Around this same time, God provided a prosperous blessing to some of our close family members, which relates to our own story just a couple paragraphs down.

Doubt Creeps In

July came and went. And then came August 27th, 2018. We got flooded out by Hurricane Harvey. (I mean fleeing our home on foot, both babies held tighter than ever, trecking through feet of water to get to higher ground). We got over 3 feet of nasty creek and sewage laden water in our home, which then sat in that water for 3 full days before the water started receding. We lost easily 90% of our possessions.

For 8 days we stayed with family as we processed what just happened to us. We faced a whirlwind of emotions. In our best moments, we knew God was taking care of us and using this event for His purpose. In our worst moments, we thought, "Seriously God? We started truly tithing in faith. We thought you were supposed to reward obedience...where are You now?"

The Blessing Comes

But like I said, it was only for 8 days. During that time of processing and barely functioning, God and family were hard at work on our behalf (more details on that in our next post). But because of the financial blessing our family had received just a couple months earlier, they were able to help us quickly secure a new house to rent. A better house. A bigger house. A house closer to family, friends, church, work, and basically everything else in our lives.

All of our furniture, kitchen appliances and other basic home needs were replaced at almost no cost to us thanks to generosity from family and friends, money raised through our GoFundMe page, and a grant from FEMA.

Since we started tithing, God has essentially replaced most of our possessions with newer, updated versions. We have also been able to pay off a large chunk of credit card debt and put some money in savings. Financial goals that once seemed lightyears away are now within reach. God has taught us to be disciplined with our money (though I hate to admit that we still struggle with eating out more than we should) and helped us understand that He is so much more reliable than any earthly wealth. A natural disaster that should have caused us months and even years of devastation turned into an incredible blessing. 

Now it's not like we suddenly become super wealthy since tithing. God didn't make us millionaires driving our dream cars, living life without a care in the world. But He never promised that either. In the Old Testament, the purpose of the tithe was to build up the storehouse for times of famine. So He basically promises us that hard times will still come. But He will see us through.

We still have to make sacrifices (big shoutout to Cameron who sacrifices himself everyday for driving around a small Chevy Cobalt that feels like a go-cart compared to his old truck!). And it's tough not to get materialistic. But through all the craziness of the past 10 months since we've been tithing, we lean on God so confidently now.

Tithing Is Worth It When Given From a Grateful Heart

I'm not writing this post to brag and boast, "Look at me! I'm such a righteous person because I give so much money!" Instead, I hope this can serve as an encouragement to others that obedience is rewarding, especially when it's completely opposite of what you feel like doing. Trust in the Lord with your money by tithing and sticking to a practical budget, and in time you'll see how rewarding it is. It may not happen overnight, but stick with it and you will not regret it!

Proverbs 3:9
Honor the Lord from your wealth,
And from the first of all your produce