Pulled From the Money Pit

For anyone who knows me, my debt story is old news. In fact, I originally started confessionsofamaterialgirl.com as a means of documenting what God was teaching me through the use and misuse of money. However, my actual story of debt never appeared on the blog. The reason for posting it now is to give a little background as I move into the new year and begin an experiment on this blog.

I may be out of debt (except my mortgage), but like most people my habit of saving could use some tweaking. Stay tuned for a blog coming up that will introduce a fairly new (to me) hack we can all use to beef up our savings. In the meantime, enjoy the reminder of what God rescued me from. You can also enjoy this same story on in the Samaritan Ministries Newsletter and blog here.

 

Money is a strange thing. It worries us, motivates us, and dictates how we spend our time.

But because many of us don’t know how to handle it wisely, it often leads to debt, a condition as common as the common cold.

According to a 2017 study by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co,1,

  • About half of Americans with debt have balances of at least $25,000 (excluding mortgages), averaging roughly $37,000.
  • More than four in 10 Americans with debt (45 percent) spend up to half of their monthly income on debt repayment.
  • More than one-third of adults with debt (36 percent) anticipate that they will be in debt for six to 20 years, and 14 percent expect to be in debt for the rest of their lives!
  • About four in 10 American adults say debt has a “substantial” or “moderate” impact on their financial security. The same number say debt is a “high” or “moderate” source of anxiety.
  • Despite their debt, after basic necessities, Americans, on average, spend about 40 percent of their monthly income on discretionary expenses such as leisure travel and hobbies.

My husband, Bruce, and I were in this pit of debt. After reaching a point where our debt was almost equal to our salary, we had finally had enough. Distracted by the chokehold it had on us, we weren’t serving God and living the life He had for us.

With the help of a couple from our church, who are master money managers, we set out on a path of debt-free living. It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever dealt with, but now, with the exception of our mortgage, we are totally debt free.

Here is what we did:

  1. We got help.

This doesn’t mean begging family and friends for money. That will merely put a Band-Aid on the wound rather than heal it.

Our mentors helped us set up a budget, held us accountable, and provided a shoulder to cry on when I’d just missed the greatest sale of the century and had to let all of those beautiful clothing possibilities go home with someone else. It was not easy. We had to do things like get on the phone and talk to creditors and arrange payment plans, ask for late fees to be waived, close credit card accounts, budget, say no to dinners out with friends. We wrote down every expense imaginable. If I purchased a 25-cent gumball out of a machine somewhere, I wrote it down.

But the hardest part of all was admitting our situation to people who thought we had it all together. It was a blow to our pride, but we got over it. There’s something about admitting to one another our sin and need for help that allows God the freedom to work in ways that make lasting change. It forces us to deal with the deeper issue that no one sees.

God designed us for community. We are not meant to do life alone. We had to be willing to swallow our pride and ask for help.

  1. We faced our reality.

Burying our heads in the sand, hoping it would go away, seemed like the least painful move, but not only would it not pay the bills, it would have only prolonged our agony. For us, this meant taking the pile of bills out from the bottom of the drawer, laying them out, and really looking at what we were dealing with.

Imagine an emergency room doctor with a patient who was in a terrible accident and whose wounds are so grotesque, the doctor couldn’t bear to look at them. So he ignores the patient, hoping that somehow the wounds will heal on their own. Meanwhile, the longer he waits, the worse the patient gets. Infection  sets in, internal organs begin to shut down, and every minute without treatment pushes the patient closer to death. How ludicrous. In the same way, our debt wasn’t going anywhere on its own, and the sooner we faced it, the more quickly we could stop the madness and reverse the effects.

  1. We tithed.

One of the first things we were told to do was tithe in the sense of giving back from our income. We started following the principle found in Malachi 3:10, that says,

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

This is an absolute necessity, not because God needs our money. He doesn’t. He has plenty.
“For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26, NASB). Rather, tithing forces us to exercise the often-atrophied spiritual muscles of faith, surrender, and obedience.

Faith says we trust God with our finances even though one more dollar to Him is one less going toward debt or food or whatever. Surrender means we’re handing over the control of our finances to Someone much more trustworthy than us. Obedience is our response to a command in Scripture surrounding basic money management.

  1. We changed our habits.

For me, this meant staying out of the stores. I didn’t darken the door of a shopping mall for two years. I had to find a new hobby to replace window-shopping, which, let’s face it, rarely stays at just the window.

In my days of overspending, most of the time I wasn’t looking for something specific. I was just in the mall for something to do, and, all of a sudden, I would see things that I didn’t know I needed prior to walking in the store. How could I possibly live without $200 leather pumps? It would be a tragedy not to buy them, especially if I took out a store credit card and could save 30 percent. A no-brainer, right? Right. No brain was used in the making of that decision.

It’s no different than if an alcoholic is trying to become sober. How mindless would it be to hang out with his friends in a bar? I stopped going where temptation lived.

  1. We cut everything from our budget that did not contribute to staying alive.

Basically everything but food, shelter, and clothing were cut from the budget. This is where coming to terms with need vs. want paid huge dividends in stretching our money. For some people, something as simple as downgrading a phone plan, cutting out cable, and not going out to eat is enough to loosen the chokehold. For others, it could mean selling a car or putting college on hold for a time. In our case, we did all the little stuff, but it still wasn’t enough. Our situation was desperate and called for desperate measures.

At the time, we were living in a house we couldn’t afford. We overbought. It was bigger, better, on a quieter street, had more square footage, more bathrooms, a pool, attached two-car garage. The works. Our white-carpeted castle was way out of our league. So we downsized in the middle of the 2008 crash. We didn’t make a dime off of it, but miraculously, by the grace of God, we didn’t lose anything either.

6). We found a way to make extra money.

I know. The thought of adding more work to an already-stretched schedule seems daunting, but it’s just for a short time. Leverage some hidden skill or talent you may have. Are you a math whiz? Great. There are plenty of kids out there who could use your tutoring skills to get them through the necessary evil of geometry. I know because I raised a couple of them!

I took on extra cleaning jobs, my husband started umpiring for Little League on the weekends, and we got very familiar with Craigslist. For some reason our home had become the collection site for unwanted furniture from family members who were either moving or updating their decor. So we sold their stuff along with our unnecessary stuff and put the money toward debt.

All of these steps helped us to realize that debt may be common for the world, but it doesn’t have to be common for the believer. My husband and I learned that we were created for so much more than the useless collection of trinkets.

As believers, we have an awesome opportunity to show the world how to do money differently. In so doing, we can serve them better without the restraints debt places on us.

The simple truth is this:

1). Being content with what you’ve been given is priceless. Looking back, I can see just how true Proverbs 27:20 was about us:

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied” (KJV).

2). When possessions become more important than people, we become slaves to the very things we own.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB).

3). What stuck out to me the most is that God does the heavy lifting. He does the fixing and redeeming. None of us, no matter what we have done, have wandered beyond the reach of  His redemption. Not even my husband and I after accumulating thousands of dollars in debt. Our job is simply to surrender and obey.

Psalm 103:4 says that He “redeems your life from the pit.”

  1. (https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/2017-planning-and-progress-the-debt-dilemma.pdf)

 

What Child is This?

Today’s post is a nod to my pastor, John King, and a sermon he delivered a couple of weeks ago. You can watch it here.

I used to fancy myself as an easy-going, roll-with-the-punches kind of person who loved change and adventure. Truth be told, the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that I am not nearly as flexible and welcoming of change as I would like to think. In fact, my stubbornness regarding the subject is not so unlike that of a pig I once knew.

The fact is, life is changing. Some of it’s good. Some, not so much. Either way, I’m finding it challenging to deal with much of it. But I’m reminded that God is still God. The following four points are those laid out by my pastor along with my own two cents.

1) . Lay claim to the nearness of God. “You will never be where God is not.”

In fact, Psalm 139:7,8 says the same thing:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”

Just because it doesn’t feel like God is there in the middle of our chaos doesn’t mean He isn’t. Emotions are God-given and have their place, but when the rubber meets the road, truth is what we fall back on. And the truth is that God will never leave us or forsake us.

2). Rely on the character of God.

In his sermon, Pastor King told the story of JJ Jasper who was given some devastating news that he was going to have to tell his family. Before he did, though, he sat them all down and asked them to start listing off everything they knew that was good and true about God.

This is quite possibly the most valuable exercise we can do for several reasons:

  • It’s an exercise in recalling what God has done for us up to this point. What characteristics of God has He displayed in the past? How has He answered prayer in the past? How have you seen Him work in your life?
  • It’s an exercise in renewing our mind: It replaces the doubts, questions,  and worry we have regarding our situation and replaces it with truth.
  • It’s an exercise in reciting His praises. There is nothing quite like singing the praises of God to drag us out of our pit of self-pity and into the realm of truth.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9, ESV).

3). Pray your pain out.

“When you’re going through tough times, it’s not a time to stop praying. It’s not a time to pray sweet little prayers.”

We have the freedom to tell Him how we feel. He already knows anyway. I have found myself over the years praying something like this: “Lord, I don’t know what to pray anymore. I feel like the magnitude of my situation requires words I don’t have, that the ones I’m using are just not reaching your ears, that possibly my situation is too big for you.”

Ever felt that way? Ever wondered if your situation is the one situation that will trip God up?

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:25-27, ESV).

Tell me one other belief system in the world whose god, in spirit form, intercedes on behalf of his followers when they’re too distraught to know what to say. There are none. Only our God is so intimately involved with the daily goings-on of His people who even when words fail them, he fills in the gaps. Amazing.

4). Don’t isolate yourself.

I will admit that when things get hairy, my initial reaction is to hibernate, to hole up in the deepest corner of my house and sulk. The last thing I want is to be surrounded by other humans with just as many problems as me especially if it’s other people who have contributed to my current state of frustration. Besides the fact that this is a case of me pointing one finger at someone else with three pointing back at me (immaturity at its best), it’s also unbiblical. We are not an island meant to do life alone.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

Adoption into the family of God comes with unparalleled perks. Just as the Holy Spirit speaks for us when we can’t, the family of God is a built-in support system for whatever we’re going through. Don’t run from the one thing that God designed so specifically for the way He made us. We are relational. We need each other.

What Child is this? The simple truth is this:

The Child is everything we need. There is no substitute for Jesus. God’s plan of redemption is complete in this Child.  We don’t need, nor can we, add anything to Him. He’s completely perfect. Completely redemptive. Completely restorative, loving, all-encompassing, not lacking in anything, completely gracious, merciful, and good.

I pray this Christmas will be especially meaningful to you as you remember God’s great Gift of hope to us. Merry Christmas.

 

How An Attempted Ban on Bump Stocks Got Me Thinking About the Miracle of Faith

On the radio the other morning, I listened as the commentator gave a rundown of local news, everything from the impending first frost to legislation over the ban on bump stocks. It was a quote regarding the latter subject that piqued my attention.  In response to passing a ban on bump stocks, Illinois state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer had this to say:

“You’re turning law-abiding citizens into criminals,” he said.

That single sentence played over and over in my head all day. Maybe it’s because we’re studying Romans this year in bible study, and my heart has been reminded of grace and without it I am a simple criminal. Maybe it’s because we’re hours from celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses and the beginning of the Reformation.

Whatever the reason, I was struck by that quote and continue to be so for two reasons. First, despite our law-abiding tendencies, apart from grace we simply remain criminals next to a holy God.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,  that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

As if His dying on the cross to fulfill the Law’s requirements wasn’t enough, that was merely the beginning. It was enough that every slap of the whip and pound of the nail through soft flesh was payment for every evil thought, unkind word, ungodly motivation I have indulged in over my lifetime.

But it doesn’t stop at the cross, and it is this second part that I find stunning. He finishes His work of salvation by not just offering me the gift of going from criminal to forgiven through unmerited grace, but then extending another gift: faith. The faith to not only believe that all of this is true but to accept it as such and believe.

When I was teaching my kids to pick up their toys, I would take their small hands in mine, walk them to the pile of toys and one by one, walk them through the process of picking up each toy. Closing their hands around the toy, I walked them over to the toy box and opened their hands where it would slide down their fingers and into its designated spot.

In the same way, God reaches down, takes the curled fingers of our clenched fists and opens them one by one until they are reaching back to His.

Ephesians 2:8 says it best.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ESV).

The simple truth is this: as humans, we take part in a myriad ofcactivities over the span of our lives; activities that get things done, accomplish goals, and change the world. Let’s marvel at the one thing we will never be credited for doing, having the faith to accept Christ’s gift of salvation. We are simply too broken and rebellious to ever accept the life-saving act of Christ without His intervention. Praise God for the completeness of His work.

Angel Army

I had the opportunity to contribute a blog post for 31 days of Halloween on the blog, mnbernardbooks.wordpress.com. 
Each writer picked a “creature” and wrote about it in any style they wanted. I chose angels and wrote a story loosely based on an experience I had in high school. Enjoy!

https://mnbernardbooks.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/angels/

The door of the yellow Chevette came swinging back toward the passenger in response to the swift kick she’d given it.  Throwing out her acid-washed denim covered leg, she stepped out and thrust her right hip against the door, swiveling to grab her bags.

“You really need to get this door fixed,” she said to the driver.

“I know,” yawned her friend. “My dad said he’d look at it one of these days.”

“Am I the only one who mentions it?”

“You’re the only one who complains about it.”

“Figures. Thanks for the ride.”

“Sure. See you tomorrow. And don’t forget I want to borrow that dress you bought tonight.”

“I suppose it’s the least I can do for free taxi service.” She kicked the door behind her with her left foot and headed for the entrance to her building.

Evening air blew crispy leaves across her path as she made her way to the building entrance. Her tall blonde bangs bent back at the winds’ pressure. The royal blue discs hanging from her earlobes fluttered in the breeze. Standing under the building’s only light, she piled her belongings under her left arm and reached for the door. Cool metal felt good on her hand as she pulled open the door and entered the building heated in a temperature a bit too ambitious for the season.

The stench of stale urine gripped her nostrils. Sighing she wondered when the manager would ever wash away the stream that had dried days ago between the first and second floor landings. She dragged her tired body up the three flights of stairs stopping at the door that would take her to the third floor hallway. Her eyes rested on the walls of the landing, taking a minute to register. Their dull white shone in superficial brightness against the rich red gloss splattered across them.

From the left wall the spray traveled over the hallway door and onto the right wall where it stopped and hung in three strands halfway down before drying midstream.

She slowly let out the breath she’d been holding as she looked from side to side at the scene in front of her. Just mere feet from her stood the door to the small two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mom and younger sister. The problem lay in the fact that it was behind the door she now stood in front of, and not knowing what might be waiting on the other side caused overwhelming anxiety.

She looked behind her at the three flights she’d just climbed. Should she turn around and go back down? And then what? Back outside into the darkness to whomever might be waiting to finish what they started? Unsure of what to do, the seconds crept by. Her pulse quickened, and she could feel a fear rise up that threatened to choke the life right out of her. She felt frozen in a body that couldn’t move while she desperately wanted to move somewhere, anywhere.

Pull yourself together, Casey. She could hear the words in her head, but her lips refused to move. In any other stressful situation, tears poured easily, but this time was different. Her tear ducts refused to release the wet that often ushered in the release of stress.

At that moment, on the other side of the door, the sound of footsteps running down the hall pulled her out of her stupor. With each step toward her, another part of her body began to wake up until she finally had full use of her legs again. Her arms released their contents, and she turned and flew down the stairs, her feet barely touching the orange-carpeted stairs.

She pushed through the door and into the cool night air, stopping in the middle of the quiet parking lot bending over, catching her breath, crying, and wondering how she would ever get back upstairs and into the sanctuary of her apartment. Had she been followed?

Spinning around, she turned to look where she’d come from. But there was no one. The night air was quiet and crisp and breathable. It held a peaceful calm.

I can’t stay out here all night, she thought as she savored the peacefulness. You have to get back upstairs. Suddenly her thoughts went to her mom and sister. Were they safe? Had they been there when whatever had happened, happened? She had to get to them. Her fear threatened to surface again. She felt stuck knowing she couldn’t stay outside, scared to go back in, wanting to get home.

Lord. What do I do? she whispered the words. I’m so scared.

Look up.

Jerking her head from side to side, she looked around for the source of the words. But there was nothing. Nothing but the sound of dried leaves scooting across the pavement, the flicker of the building’s one light, the smooth breeze that moved the almost-empty branches back and forth in a rhythmic sway.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. This is crazy, she thought. Your mind is just playing tricks. Get it together. But the thought of moving toward the door caused another surge of panic that threatened to overwhelm her, and she could feel her eyes heating up with the tears that refused to come moments earlier. Determined to get a handle on herself and the situation, she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Then she heard it again.

Look up.

This time, without thinking, she lifted her chin and opened her eyes to an unbelievable scene hovering over her building. An army of white-robed beings cloaked in blinding light stood in a circle each facing outward and holding a flaming sword raised to the sky. Beautiful and unexpectedly calming, it reminded her of a painting she’d expect to see in a museum that leaves the observer transfixed. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.

I will take care of you, the voice whispered. You’re safe.

And then a verse she’d been taught years before in church suddenly came to mind.

For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

She drank in the truth of the words evidenced in front of her like a cool drink for a parched mouth

Thank you, she whispered and moved toward the door.

At the top of the stairs, her stuff lay strewn across the landing where she’d left it. She gathered it up, opened the door, and tried to ignore the evidence of evil on the walls as she entered the third floor hallway making her way the few steps to her apartment.

She turned the key into the lock and pushed open the apartment door. Inside, her sister was laying in front of the television on the living room floor, her mom standing over the stove stirring that night’s dinner.

“Hey honey,” her mom greeted. “How are you?”

“I’m good. Long day.” She dumped her stuff on a kitchen chair and kissed her mom. “How was your day?”

“Uneventful,” her mom said.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Why?”

Casey shrugged.

“It was odd though.” Her mom said. She turned off the stove, reached for three mismatched dinner plates scored at a garage sale, and began serving up dinner. “Earlier today, I was going to run some errands, but I just had the strangest feeling that I shouldn’t go. I don’t know why.”

“I do.” said Casey. “I’ll tell you later.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are Your Qualifications?

“God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

I heard those words in a speech one year at a fundraising dinner for the school where my husband was teaching. I’m sure they weren’t new words to most of the people in the room, but they were to me. I’ve rolled them over and over in my mind since hearing them and clung to them like a bulwark in a storm. In difficult circumstances, when the calling of God on my life seemed daunting, I would recite them as if in doing so, I would somehow release a mysterious power to aid me in my time of need.

Over the years as they proved to be less helpful in practice and more lofty in theory, I wondered where I was missing the boat. The idea that God would qualify me to handle the difficult tasks He’d called me to frustrated me as I didn’t see the truth of the statement playing out in my life. Did I have an incorrect view of “qualify”?

One particular situation was the one I found myself in this past summer. Several things changed at once: my husband resigned from a 14-year teaching career to do something completely different, my oldest was getting ready to go off to college, we were homeschooling our youngest for the last two years of his high school career, and I was going back to work full-time after a 23-year break from the 40-hour work week grind. It was a lot, and I felt overwhelmed; overwhelmed by the change in our family structure, overwhelmed that my sweet daughter wouldn’t be asking me to go shopping or sitting on my bed late at night to discuss the latest happenings in her teenage life; overwhelmed by the fear that my son would graduate stupid because of my poor teaching; overwhelmed that my house would be dirtier than normal and I’d be too tired to clean it; overwhelmed by what I had to learn at my new job.

Don’t misunderstand, the changes were good, but they were still changes. For years, my husband had summers off, and we could enjoy much-needed time together for a few blissful weeks; for years it had always been the four of us, and even if we were all in different rooms of the house, it had always been the four of us; for years I’d depended on the school for my kids’ educational upbringing, and now I was doing the unthinkable and taking it on myself. To top it all off, after cleaning houses for 20+ years, I knew more about dismantling and reassembling a vacuum than I did about running multiple computer programs while answering phones and making split-second decisions. In my mind, I was grossly unqualified for the task at hand, and the reminder that God would qualify me for said task brought me little comfort. What? Was He magically going to arm me with multi-tasking prowess and computer literacy overnight to do what in my mind was the impossible?

Back to my question: did I not understand the concept of qualify?

Qualify: to be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition (according to Bing)

There are a couple of things to unpack in this definition. First, to be qualified is to be entitled; entitled to whatever it is that encompasses the situation you’re in. In my situation, I was entitled to all of the negative feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and questioning that I had entertained if I wanted to take that path. I was also entitled to the hope that God, in his infinite riches would provide me with exactly what I needed to do exactly what He had called me to do.

But there’s a catch: according to the definition, entitlement to the benefits and privileges associated with any situation apply only by fulfilling a necessary condition. Now we’re getting somewhere. So what was I not doing? I’d already followed the path He was laying out for me. I’d obeyed. What more could there possibly be for me to do? I simply had nothing left to apply to my circumstances. And then the words of Paul came to mind, and it all became crystal clear.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor 12:9-11

The thorn in Paul’s side was put there as a reminder of his insufficiency apart from Christ, and upon recognizing this, the power of Christ was his for the taking. This attitude of being poor in spirit, the recognition of who we are before Christ-weak, empty, lacking everything good- and who He is, opens wide the gate to the immeasurable riches at the fingertips of God for our use and benefit. God doesn’t call the know-it-alls. He calls the weak and qualifies them by showing them their weakness.

It’s a little difficult to teach a four-year old to tie their shoes if they don’t know that they don’t know how to do it, and even if they are aware of their lack of skill, until they stop trying and admit their need for help, it’s pointless. They’ll keep stringing those laces together in all manner of concoctions only to wind up at the same place: a knotty mess.

The simple truth is in the irony: the only qualification you need to fulfill the plans of God for your life is in admitting that you are grossly unqualified for the task. Do this, and you open wide heaven’s coffers bursting with resources ad infinitum.

What Difference Does It Make?

Do you ever wonder how salvation makes a difference in our lives here on earth? I will never forget sitting in a class in college and being given the assignment to write out my testimony. The professor, having assigned this particular task for several years, was familiar with the rebuttals from students like me. “I don’t have a testimony. I was saved at a young age. I haven’t done anything majorly wrong yet! I have nothing to write about.” I think this is particularly common for those of us who were saved at a young age, grew up in church, in a Christian family, with Christian friends, etc. etc.

His answer, to write about a turning point in our lives that brought us closer to God and changed the course of our lives, somewhat allayed my worries that I had nothing to say. I’d had plenty of turning points: dedicating my life at camp, going on a missions trip when I was 17, deciding to go to Bible college rather than the university I’d been accepted to. I’d experienced the power of God many times in my 19 years. I’d experienced His goodness over and over again in the form of answered prayers and mended relationships. But I didn’t have a big story in terms of recovering from drug addiction, experiencing abortion, turning to Him after living a life of complete and utter rebellion against Him. Though thankful that I had not experienced what so many I knew had, my faith felt stale and lacked a serious wow factor. 

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself on my knees thanking Him for what He’s saved me from. I’ve talked about the study of Revelation that I have been in over the last several months. As it comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the holiness of God more than ever before. Though I’ve barely touched the surface of this truth of God, I’ve encountered enough of it in His Word to start to understand my sin in relation to it. 

You know those thoughts that creep into the back of your mind out of nowhere that you would never dream of telling anyone about? You know the temptations you face on your way to work? You know the voices in your head that scream something about you that is contrary to the truth of Scripture? You know the sin tendencies you battle every day as soon as your feet hit the floor? 

That’s what He saved us from! Salvation is not merely fire insurance for the life to come.  He owes us nothing, and that would be enough. But not only did He save us from an eternity of pain, separation from Him, torment, He saved us from an earthly life of it too. God, in His mercy, has saved us from having to follow the rabbit trails of our thoughts. He’s given us a way to refute the lies of Satan that would paralyze our faith, He’s provided an escape from the temptations of sin that we face every day, He’s given us an escape from the sin bent that each one of us is born with. All we have to do is take what He’s offered. When we accept salvation, we are accepting it both for the life to come, and for the life we live now on earth in front of our family and friends and a watching world. We’re saved from a life of living like every other lost soul on this planet. We’ve been saved to new life. 

Sometimes salvation seems far off because heaven seems far off. Though grateful for the eternal life He offers, we forget that salvation starts now. It doesn’t start the moment we step out of this life and into the next. No, the next life is merely the perfection of everything He’s started here. 

This simple truth is this: like marriage is a commitment that starts the moment we say “I do” so salvation is a lifestyle that starts the moment we accept the gift. If that’s not enough of a wow factor, then nothing will be!

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, NKJV).

It’s Who You Know

What if we started looking at our lives with all of its problems, joys, situations through the lens of what we know, really know, about God? What would change? What would life look like?

This seems like an obvious perspective for a Christian to adopt in daily life, and maybe for some it is. In the past I’ve flirted with this idea but have never really grasped the life-changing power this perspective provides. Let me explain.

Several months ago, I started attending the Revelation study through Bible Study Fellowship. This is the first time in its 50-year history that this study has been offered, and it took the writers three years to put it together. Currently, every week 400,000 women from around the world are studying this book.

My view of Revelation has always been from the perspective of how’s it all going to end and in what order. That first night the teaching leader reminded us that there are many interpretations of this book: literal vs. figurative, pre-tribulation vs. mid-tribulation vs. post-tribulation vs. pre-wrath, etc. She said that this study would not answer those questions for us. Instead she wanted us to concentrate on one thing: “Our hope is not in the details. Our hope is in God.” That was an “aha” moment for me.

Honestly, as a person who pays no attention to detail whatsoever (ask my detail-oriented husband), this really shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the reason in all the years of cleaning houses I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed cobwebs in corners or dust on ceiling fans. It’s a detail. It’s the reason why when I make hamburgers for dinner we rarely have buns to put them on. Details often get lost in my day-to-day existence so why, when faced with frustrating circumstances, I focus on those rather than on what I know, is beyond me.

But God, the great Teacher, used a moment last week to show me how this could be applied in everyday life. One of my kids came home with a long list of expenses for different activities they are involved in. I was irritated, of course and directed a wordy diatribe at the Lord. Give me a break. Why do I always feel like I’m constantly putting money in pockets with giant holes? I just can’t seem to hang on to it. This kind of attitude will often put me in a funk that can last for days. But almost instantly I heard the voice of God: Your hope is not in the details of this situation. It’s in Me. What do you know about me? Concentrate on that. Eureka!

So I started recounting all the things I know about God in relation to money. I thought back to all of the times I’ve experienced His provision, what His Word says about Him as Jehovah Jireh, the Provider, what He promises regarding His provision. Miracle of miracles, I instantly calmed down within minutes-pretty good turnaround time for me. Oddly enough I felt relieved. I didn’t have to worry about how everything was going to turn out. It’s really not my problem. I just have to know that it will and hang on to the knowing.

So I ask you, what circumstances in your life have your knickers in a bunch? What do you know about God in relation to your situation? Comb the Scriptures for truth and your brain for experiential proof and cling to what you know.

This is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did when faced with a fiery furnace at their refusal to bow down to the image King Nebuchadnezzar had built. Here’s the conversation:

 “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, ‘Is it true,Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up’” (Daniel 3:14-18, NKJV).

If anyone had the right to question the details of a situation, it was these guys. But they didn’t. They clung to what they knew: God was able to deliver them right then and there if He so chose. If not, their greater deliverance was waiting. Either way, they had won.

The crazy thing about it is that even the most basic of faith, the newest of Christians can cling to what they know, that is, that Jesus is Who He says He is based on His revelation to that person. If that’s all a person has, it’s enough to hang on to. Every single one of us claiming to know Jesus as Savior should be hanging our hats on I Timothy 1:12:

 “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (NKJV, italics mine).

Here’s the simple truth: Our hope is not in the details. It’s in God. Rest in the knowing.