Moments, Day 24: I Just Don’t Believe That…

Recently we were talking with a couple who is engaged and wanting some help smoothing out some relationship bumps before tying the knot. They are both Christians and want to start their marriage out with God at the center. They’ve also been living together for quite some time.

So in addition to the normal how-to-have-a-rockin’-marriage advice, we had to address that one teensy little detail about them shacking up. So…we suggested that if there was no way that they could physically live at separate addresses, they should at least transition to two different bedrooms and commit to abstain from all physical intimacy until they were married.

That didn’t go over so well. Even though these folks said they wanted to put God first in their marriage, they went on to tell us that they “just didn’t believe in that” and even though the bible said that they should be waiting on that part of their relationship, they felt that it wasn’t something they could change.

We were confused.

Yes, it’s tough. Especially if you’ve been used to doing something a certain way and then you have to do it a different way, maybe even do something (or do without something) that makes the overall dynamic of your life look and feel very different. But if you want to line up with the abundant life that God has already put in place for you, there are always going to be some things that have to change.

As I thought about this, I came to the conclusion that there’s a whole lot more going on than just a couple of young horny folks who say they can’t control themselves. That’s nothing new in this world. The problem here was that they had tried to justify their actions by re-stating their “belief system” to allow for the provision of whatever they want in that particular arena. It’s the old “I believe in God, but…” argument.

But what’s really going on here is that this young man and woman (and all of us from time to time) have a wrong view of God. Instead of understanding that He is all-knowing, perfectly-loving, and vastly generous, and therefore would only give us those things that are the very best for us, we decide to believe that there’s something really awesome out there that God is just trying to keep us from. He never lets us have any fun, dang it. When it comes right down to it, it’s a trust issue.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

 2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

 4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

 6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it.

Just like our sister Eve, we’ve been tricked into feeling like we can’t trust God for the very best. She and Adam had everything. EVERYTHING. Their life literally was perfection, and they enjoyed the constant intimate connection with God that we all long for today. It was already there for them. God had made everything and had given them everything for their pleasure. There was one thing He asked them to avoid. That’s it. Just one thing. What did the Deceiver focus on? That one thing. He actually twisted God’s words into making it sound like a totally different situation. He made it sound like God was mean, and that He was trying to keep something from us.  God was trying to keep us from something, alright, but it wasn’t something good. It was something destructive. It was the knowledge and experience of sin in our lives.

Now we know a whole lot about that, don’t we? Sin is a regular part of our everyday lives that we have to work against. And we have that distrusting view of God…like He’s some grumpy old grandpa who is irritated at the slightest thought of us having any fun. But when you’ve reached that point of having a right view of God’s incredible love for you, you’ll realize that He really does know the plans He has for you, and that in asking for our obedience,  He is not keeping something good from us, but rather keeping the best of the best for us.

How about you? When was a time in your life that you sacrificed the best in your life for something that you just thought was good? Or did you have the opportunity to put aside something that seemed good at the time in order to wait for God’s very best?

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Hey you, fix YOUR economy

So, did that stimulus check fix all of your financial problems? Really, it didn’t?

How about Cash for Clunkers? That was a good one, right? Your whole world was changed because of that amazing, freeing financial idea wasn’t it? No???

Yeah, I didn’t really think so.

See, the truth is, Uncle Sam is not wearing bright shining armor, and he’s not riding in on a white horse to save you from your financial dilemma. If you can’t already tell that our government is not particularly adept at managing its own finances, let alone sitting down at our kitchen table with us to help out when it’s pay-the-bills night, you haven’t paid much attention to things.

But anyone can change. You can start paying attention. Not so much to CNN and the doom-and- gloom that it broadcasts about how awful things are getting and how the whole government is going to collapse if so-and-so doesn’t get off his pompous [fill-in-name-of-hated-political-party-here] butt and sign the newest quick-fix piece of paper that will allow the truly patriotic [fill-in-name-of-beloved-political-party-here]s to fix all the financial problems of the universe. That’s not what I think you should be paying more attention to.

Instead, I think all of us should turn that pointed finger around and look at ourselves. Look at your own financial sitation. Have you, like the government, overextended yourself? Have you, like the government, given into pressures of every voice under the sun spewing in your ears about what it wants, so you’ve said yes to spending on everything? What are those voices telling you to spend all you make and buy all you want,anyway? Is it your spouse? Your kids? Your workplace party-planning-committee? Is it that little brat who lives inside you and shares your name who is always hollering “but I want it!!!”

But, you say, I’m not really an overspender…I’m just the victim of bad circumstances. I got laid off and I can’t find work. I got hurt and I’m waiting for my disability check. I got tricked into a bad mortgage and I lost my house. I hate my job so I quit because I wanted to be true to myself but now I can’t find another one.

I get it. There are some crappy situations out there. Some really, really crappy ones. I am not saying that everything will be perfect tomorrow. All I’m saying is: stop expecting someone else to fix things, stop wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness, and start doing something. DO SOMETHING.

Start with these two things: Do what you can. Do better with what you have.

Do what you can. If you got hurt on the job and can’t chuck boxes anymore, I understand. Do what you can. Maybe you can sit and take orders over the phone. Got laid off and have kids to feed? I understand. You might be depressed and have lost all hope because you can’t find a great job as a computer guru right now like the one you had. That is depressing, I understand. But you have kids to feed, so you can chuck boxes in a warehouse instead. Oh, that’s not enough money? Well then maybe you chuck boxes and deliver pizzas too, until things get better. Like to stay home with your kids, but your husband’s business isn’t doing well and things are getting tight? I get it. Do what you can. Get creative…trade childcare with someone a few days a week while you launch an at-home business or you wrangle up carts or stock shelves or whatever for a while. Do what you can to make things better.

Do better with what you have. Maybe you have a good job already and you’re fine and able to pay your bills right now and spend whatever you want. Good for you. I bet that’s what a lot of people thought a few years ago who are now out of a job. Do better with what you have so that if things change in the future (and what’s the likelihood that will happen, right!?) you’ll be better prepared. Make a budget so you have a clue. (Oh, stop whining…it’s a freakin’ budget, not a straight-jacket) Don’t spend every dime you make. Plan for emergencies by putting back money for them because they will happen. If you’re a stay-at-home mom and your husband does all the financial stuff, help ease the stress by becoming a home economist. Figure out ways to make things go further by clipping coupons, bulk shopping with a friend, sharing meal prep with another family, freezing leftovers…whatever. Just do better with what you have.

All of us have to deal with the lovely mess the government is getting us into, and if not, our grandchildren sure will. But we don’t have to add to it. We don’t have to throw up our hands and just say “oh well, the government’s out of control so why bother…I’ll  just do whatever I want too.” 

Do what you can, and do better with what you have right now.

One thing I can do is to help other people get started in doing better with what they have. Years ago I learned the revolutionary ways to get financially fit… wanna hear the secrets?

Well too bad, there aren’t any dang secrets. It’s just common sense stuff. Spend less than you make. Quit borrowing money. Pay back the money you already borrowed. Save some money. Get it? Common sense stuff. And I can teach you the steps to take to put that common sense into action with your finances. No scam, no get rich quick junk, and no I’m not making money at it. Just learning the same way I did, and applying what you learned with diligence will do the job. It works. So if any of you reading this need help getting started, let me know. Really. I will help you. I coach people all the time who need help making a budget or paying off debt or whatever. I can help you too, even if you live somewhere far away. You can read, can’t you? Well then I can recommend what to read to get started and I can coach you from anywhere. Seriously.

That is how this economy will get fixed…that is how we will fight off all the doom and gloom. We’ll do what we can and do better with what we have. We’ll help each other one person at a time. Then that person can help another person. Then they can help one more…are you getting the picture here?

The government isn’t going to save you from your crappy financial situation. YOU are the only one who can change YOUR situation. So…get started already. One little step leads to another…do something today to fix your own economy.  

 

Are You SURE You Want My Advice?

If there’s one piece of scripture I know well, it would be Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:15-17:

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”

My husband always says that I have a sign on my forehead that is invisible to me, but that is apparently a bright neon sign to everyone else, and it says “Free Counselor.” We joke about this because throughout my whole life, even when I was fairly young, people would just for some reason pour out their problems to me. They would tell me things about themselves that were very personal even if I had only known them for a short time. Many times they would ask my advice about a situation which almost always seemed to have something to do with a relationship problem they were having. This still happens on a regular basis today.

Early on in my life, I used to get annoyed by this, thinking why is this person telling me all this stuff? How am I supposed to know what to do? Since I’ve become a follower of Christ, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that this is part of my distinct make-up…I’ve learned that my primary spiritual gift seems to be exhortation, better known as the gift of encouragement. Now this is nothing for me to boast about, and in fact I used to be very uncomfortable with any talk of my spiritual gifts simply because it sounded a little snotty to me… like I’m bragging about something I’ve acquired. But I’m much more comfortable with my own identity in Christ these days, and I’ve come to really believe how God defines us through His apostle Paul:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” -Ephesians 2:10

I believe what God says about who I am. I know that He created me, and He made me to do good works, which He’s already prepared for me to do. It’s like I have my own personal “to-do” list written by the Creator of the universe, and no one else can check those things off except for me. But in order for me to accomplish this, I must live my life in a way that aligns with the things God says about me and the ways He’s shown me to live. Part of that means accepting, embracing and using my spiritual gifts in the way He wants me to. So, I do what I can to learn His ways of how to encourage others, not because it’s fun (although sometimes it can be!) but because this is part of my DNA.

So, back to Matthew 18. What does this have to do with any of this encouragement stuff? Well, it’s very simple. Humans are made in and for relationships. When a relationship is broken, whether it’s because of something we have done, something another person has done, or just because of strange circumstances, our heart hurts. Our deepest desire is to have that relationship restored. And there’s great news…God has told us many things in His word on how to make that happen. The passage in Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how to deal with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned. Many times this may be against us directly, other times it may be that we’ve noticed a sin pattern growing in their lives that is going unchecked. Either way, there is a 3-step process involved in confronting them, and no… it doesn’t involve airing their dirty laundry on Facebook. Many times friends or acquaintances will come to me asking advice with this exact kind of situation. Someone has done something to them that is offensive. Someone has lied to them and they’ve found out. Their spouse is doing something inappropriate. My advice to them will always be exactly the same. I wouldn’t be encouraging them properly by doing anything but going back to God’s word.

Look back at the first part of that passage in Matthew 18 with me: “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” Did you see that? Go privately to that person. Is that what we usually do? I don’t know about you, but when someone offends me, the first thing I want to do is call up another person who will sympathize with my sense of injustice and complain about it. For hours. But that is SO WRONG. No one should hear about the problem until you have addressed it with the person committing the offense. No one. Not your mom, your best friend, your sister, even your spouse. Go PRIVATELY to that person and talk to them. Is that so you can berate them about their sin and yell at them for how terrible they’ve been treating them? No. Look at the rest of that first step: “If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” See it? The goal is to win that person back. To restore that relationship back to where it was. Another translation says “…you have your brother back again.” Isn’t that awesome? The goal is to point out the offense so that the person may be reconciled, not only to you, but to God. Because if we recognize our sin and confess it, the bible tells us that “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) That’s great news! So by obeying this first step in the process, we could actually win over our brother or sister, and not only allow our relationship to be restored, but also to clear a pathway for them to confess the sin and be reconciled to God, which is of course the most important thing. If that doesn’t work, and the person refuses to recognize the sin or doesn’t take you seriously, then the next step is to confide in another trusted brother or sister (one or two others–not the entire universe!) and have them go with you to the person again. Perhaps once the offender sees that other people know of the situation and agree that there is a problem, this will help them see the light and lead to reconciliation. If the person still will not listen to reason, then it may be time to “take them before the church.” Now there are different beliefs about this, but I think this would mean talking to a pastor or elder of the church to explain the situation and likely even setting up a meeting between you, the offender, and a church leader to discuss the situation all together. Since my husband is an elder in our church, there have been occasions when I have been involved in these conversations at that level. Yes, they are uncomfortable. Yes, they can get frustrating for all parties involved. But I always go back to the fact that if I believe one part of God’s word, such as what He says about me being His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He’s prepared for me to do, then I have to also believe His word when He tells me how to deal with situations in my life, even if the process is uncomfortable. I can’t just pick and choose the warm-fuzzy-feeling stuff that Jesus tells us and not also accept His more difficult teachings.

So, if you’re one of those folks who can mysteriously see that invisible sign on my forehead that says “Free Counselor,” or you just happen to bring it up in conversation, my response to you will be the same when you ask my advice on how to deal with someone who’s sinned or hurt you. I will go back to what Jesus said to do in Matthew 18. I will tell you to do something that you might feel is uncomfortable. I won’t care if you feel uncomfortable because you have to do the things Jesus tells us to do if you are one of His followers…no ifs, ands, or buts. I will likely tell you to read through that passage several times. I might even suggest you read through it in several translations until you’re sure you have a full understanding of what it means. I will tell you to follow the steps in order. I will tell you if you’ve skipped a step. I will tell you to go back to the beginning if you’ve skipped a step. I’ll ask you not to speak to me (or anyone else) again about it until you’ve at least done step #1. You might take me off your Christmas list because I didn’t give you the answer or easy fix you wanted. And I will not enjoy that because I truly do love presents. But even so, I can’t direct you with poor advice. With non-biblical advice. With advice that will lead you into destroying a relationship rather than restoring it. I will tell you that if you refuse to follow these steps to deal with the situation, you are in yourself committing a sin (refusing to do what God says) and making things worse. But I will also pray for you and for the relationship you’re trying to restore.

If you ever come to me to ask my advice about how to deal with someone who has sinned or hurt you, and I don’t lead you to Matthew 18… you do have my permission to call me out on it. Please. You’re not doing me any favors if you don’t.