Money Talk

I’ve heard that my generation doesn’t want to address the topic of money. If I’m being honest, a year ago, the thought of managing money as an adult seemed so daunting that I, as well, wanted to let it be. But money “runs the world” as they say and it can not be ignored. I started reading a book about money, took an Economics class, and did a lot of writing in my “money book.” It is still complex to me, but it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.

My first introduction to money management came through Sunday School when I was about 7 years old. I don’t recall what the lesson was about, but afterward, we decorated paper wallets that had three envelopes stapled on. There was a saving envelope, a spending envelope, and an envelope for tithe. That Sunday School teacher will probably never know how much that one craft shaped my viewpoint on money. It was used for years and I still use a different form of that envelope system.

Growing up makes the saving and spending envelopes become more compartmentalized, though. There are regular payments and bigger items to save for. It also seems like wish lists grow, as well. I don’t believe it is possible to keep all of this straight without writing out a budget. (Even then it can be hard to keep all the numbers straight!)

Financial advisors are always suggesting that people save a good chunk of their money. I have rarely had a problem putting this advice into action. In fact, I have taken it too far at times. Taking an Economics class redefined the way I view money though: it is meant to be spent. I learned that if you put money into a savings account, you lose money long term. That blew my mind. I’m not arguing against saving here, though. It is wise to have some money put away in case of an emergency or ready to use if an incredible dead comes up. I am saying that there should be a balance between saving and spending.(Also, investing savings might be a better place for your money than the bank.) A good way to look at savings is as putting away money to spend in the future on something bigger\ better\ needed. At the same time, we should not place our security in having money in the bank. God provides for us as we walk the road He is leading us down.

Spending money can leave our wallets so quickly. In the American culture, it seems like everywhere we turn someone is trying to get us to buy something. Magazines, websites, and even social media show off enviable items to us. They show us the life we want. No wonder so many people are in debt! If we bought everything that caught our eye, we would spend far more money than we possess. I have a running wish list, but I have been trying to not focus on what I don’t own as much. Elisabeth Elliot offered wise words when she said, “By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” I try to spend money on experiences versus things (specially specialty drinks that are gone in an hour!). An experience will enrich me. So for me, buying a piano or a camera is okay, because they will be used to create experiences and grow my hobbies. Travelling or seeing a play are also experiences worth spending money on. Clothes on the other hand do not usually hold as much importance to me because I already have enough of them.

The tithe category can also be called giving. The New Testament actually replaces the Old Testament %10 with what we feel lead to give. (Which often would end up being more than %10– probably why so many people stick with the number in black and white.) This category actually effects all the other categories. It opens our hands so we hold our money more freely; makes us more willing to give to others. It also gives money meaning. We see that we can make a difference in someone else’s life and give to organizations that will share the love of God.

I hope my generation will invest time into thinking through how they will spend their money. It is just another area that we have been given to steward. Creating a budget is a lot of work, but money will enslave us if we don’t make conscious, sometimes hard, decisions about how we will spend it.

 

63. Love and Power

There are times when we see and feel God’s love clearly. Then those times come when we don’t feel or see anything. I’m beginning to see that this is not always the simple equation:

sin in your life = feeling far from God.

Sometimes God just seems further away, and while it may be disappointing, it’s not fateful. You can spend time in prayer and reading the Bible and not feel like you met with God, but you still spent time with Him. It only seems like we haven’t. And it’s only for a limited time; we will feel the intimacy once more.

Lately this pattern has been on a shorter, day to day basis for me. It’s been a practice in remembering the sweet things He has promised to fulfill in me. Even more specifically, I’m learning to step out into that promise. So often I don’t feel like living the life I’ve been called to. Yet, the Spirit will make it possible to do so if I’m willing.

“I am at work in you, giving you the desire and the power to fulfill My good purpose for you.” Philippians 2:13

I’ve met some amazing people who don’t follow Jesus, but in my experience, without His strength, I’m not going to make any truly lasting growth.

In my life right now, that verse looks like: saying hi to people I don’t know at school, being intentionally caring toward friends, focusing more on God than anxiety, practicing the presence of God…

But it’s also realizing that all this comes from God, who made the first step toward us. It means living in and from the unconditional love that Jesus extended. “My love for you is not based on your love for me.” 1 John 4:10

Once again, I find the Gospel at the center: that good, good story is a recurring theme. I hope I never escape it, either.

What is it that God is giving you the desire and power to do right now?

62. Focusing in or Out?

Just to be honest, I realized today, Thursday, at about 4:45 that today is the day I post on my blog. Oh yeah, did I mention I had no words typed up yet? Not sure whether I should blame college or myself for this… probably a bit of blame goes to each.

During a series on serving, one of my pastors gave an illustration that has stuck in my mind. He drew a circle and said it represented the sphere of our life- every aspect of it. Then he drew a bigger circle around it, which represented the bigger picture, or more specifically in this case, the Kingdom of God. Then he started drawing arrows, visually representing that you can live inward or outward. We can try to keep that circle that is our life neat, clean, perfect. That has been my point of view for so long, but I never realized it until that day.

It seems normal to want to have control of your life. When I have seemingly had the most “control” though, I was most afraid of losing it all. Funny how that works.

He went on to explain that the circle illustration shows how we can’t build our own kingdom and build God’s Kingdom at the same time. Either we’re focused in or out.  And when we are focused out, building God’s Kingdom, our life will get messy. While I’m sure reality is not this simple and straightforward, there is something here.

As a college student, focusing out is a challenge. Serving, loving friends and family, and telling about Jesus can seem like distractions from “the most important thing” also known as school. But honestly, I’m a Jesus follower first. I get to live with me for the rest of my life, after school is over (and arguably throughout eternity). That’s true for any season. “This too shall pass.” So when it does pass, will you be happy with the way you spent your time and resources?

55. Despite Cares of This World

The past couple of weeks I’ve been living in the land of impossible. Thing after thing that usually cause me great anxiety have come my way, much of it healthcare related. It’s a miracle that I haven’t had a full blown panic attack, but anxiety has been building. At times of small, slowly mounting anxiety, verses such as, “Do not be anxious about anything” don’t often help. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what the heart needs, though. I found Jesus’ words on the end times and this warning:

“But take heed to yourselves, least your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36

In their own way, these verses can cause anxiety. Going back a few lines before these, you find Jesus describing all the things which will transpire leading up to His second coming. It scary stuff! Then He concluded the list with, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because you’re redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

When our focus is on Jesus coming back, it’s easier to not be dragged down by the cares life. Looking back, will the fact that I got stuck with a needle to have blood drawn matter? Will the time I eat dinner matter? I doubt it. Having a consistent conversation going with God helps us to focus on Jesus instead of _______.

53. Dinner Out, Turned Gospel Lesson

We were sitting at the table looking at the bill. “Let’s leave ten dollars as tip,” my brother says. That’s multiple dollars more than 20% goes through my head as I give him a confused/ disapproving look. Wheels spin in my head and more reasons why it wouldn’t be “fair” to give that much. It took a little while for the food to come, our order was mixed up the first time around, the power went out, we even waited a while for the bill. I forced myself to step back. Why is it such a problem? I used to love being generous. So I say, “Okay” and throw down the ten dollar bill. As we paid our waitress directly because of the power outage, it was obvious that she expected a much smaller tip.

In the car, my brother continued to hash out the math to figure out how much each of us would pay and came to the realization that he had messed up the math on the tip. He obviously felt guilty and covered the difference. I felt guilty because wasn’t it careless to “throw out” money like that? I’m sure my parents would not approve. But it turned into a lesson on grace straight from God.

As human beings, we know what we ought to do but we don’t. My conscience lets me know every day just how often I don’t do what I ought. I am, we are, completely undeserving of even existing (or, to keep with the analogy, receiving a 15% tip as a waitress). But Jesus went to great lengths to extend abundant mercy, grace, and life (above and beyond the 20% mark). He didn’t decide to stay in heaven because we didn’t deserve His gift.

Usually when we say, “life is unfair” we are referring to the negative things that happen, but it applies to positive things as well. Especially growing up as a middle class American, I take for granted to many unfair blessings every minute. Among all the commonplace blessings, is the gospel I’ve heard many times over. But do we really understand the gospel if we mix it in with the commonplace? Do I really comprehend the gospel if I think in terms of fair when I sit in a restaurant contemplating tip (and then feel guilty later about leaving a larger than normal tip)?

When we realize what Jesus accomplished for us, the eternal life we’ve been given, it puts a new perspective on everything. It’s not a guilt perspective; there is so much grace when you are resting in Jesus. Rather, it’s going about life compelled to share with others because of what’s been given to us, because of the rest we have found.

On the subject of spiritual disciplines, JD Greear writes, “Even our failures in these areas remind us that God bases His acceptance of us on Christ’s keeping of the law, not on ours. That realization will drive us to stand even more in awe of the grace of God, which will produce even more spiritual fruit.

It is by grace through faith that we are saved, but that amazing salvation compels a response.

The experience at the restaurant made me think. It may not have been the smooth, relaxed dinner I expected, but the glimpse of the gospel was worth far more than a dinner of ease.

52. When You Don’t Want to Let Go and Move On

Today I said goodbye to my little succulent. This story started a few years ago. A friend gave me an orchid for my birthday and it was beautiful for about two weeks. From there it was all downhill. I ended up throwing out a dry stalk over a year later. No more plants were purchased for quite a while (and my friend decided it was best give me gifts I couldn’t kill) so I wore my identity as a plant killer. When I started the rough treatment for Lyme disease, my parents were so kind to give me a celebratory bouquet for every month completed. The flowers brightened my dark perspective on life and brought happiness. More important, they survived very well.

The cut flowers did whither after a few weeks, though. which was fine at first. As the months went by, and I said goodbye to more and more flowers, I desired something more permanent. So the chosen one-more-month-of-treatment-done gift was a real plant with roots. A succulent to be exact. Many other plants have been adopted since that day and I’m glad to say most of them are doing well. All except the succulent.

That little succulent had been fighting a disease since the first week I brought it home. For months I kept caring for it hoping, hoping it would get better. Have you ever wanted something to work out so badly that you just kept pushing even when you knew in your heart it just wasn’t going to be? Some say pushing onward when the going gets tough is a good thing, but I’d say it depends on the context. For example, in looking for a job, giving up is not the best idea. Or in seeking God, if you continue you are promised an answer. On the other hand, there’s my succulent. I wanted him to live so badly. The act of throwing him in the trash was painful;I wanted to wait until there was absolutely no possible chance that it would recover. But it needed to be disposed of for the sake of my other plants (not to mention that at this point it was probably just going to rot on my dresser).

Knowing what to let go of when is hard. Holding onto every little plant (or person, or hobby, or activity, or profession, or dream, etc.) until it has completely died would make for a life full of slow deaths. Be brave enough to let go of what needs to die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it does, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life losses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25

49. A Salt Lamp Analogy

I recently became the owner of a Himalayan salt lamp. They are very popular right now, but that’s not the reason one now sits on my night stand. Many claim there are health benefits from the heated blocks of salt. I don’t know if I believe them, but I’ll take my chances.

The thing I’ve come to like most about the salt lamp is its magical glow. it’s surprisingly soothing.

Copy of IMG_20160417_194942797

My salt lamp!

As I was contemplating the salt lamp and how it’s glow could relate spiritually, a bunch of things popped into my head.

Jesus is the light of the world and he told his followers to let their lights shine before men. But I wouldn’t compare Christians to a light bulb; a salt lamp is more like it. Why? There are multiple characteristics found in my rough-chunck-of-salt lamp that can’t be found in an ordinary, mainstream light bulb.

1. The salt lamp is imperfect. There are different shades of pink and white, lines, and even black spots. (To be quite honest, I thought it was kinda ugly when it first came out of the box.) Christians have flaws and each have unique personalities, struggles, and experiences; they’re compared to cracked jars of clay- and that’s a good thing!

2. The light is subtle. It’s not bright, pure white, and far reaching; rather the light put off is mild, comforting, and close to the source. During a sunny day you barely notice it but at night the light draws your eye. Christians must step into the dark places to let their light really shine. The painful, impossible, heartbreaking places are where the light of Jesus is most noticeable. In those dark places, the light is shown in a comforting way that attracts; not like a blinding headlight.

3. The light is diffused. All around the rock of salt, light goes out. Sure, some places are thicker and darker than others, not allowing as much through, but insy bits of light still can be seen. The hope Jesus gave and the en-dwelling of the Holy Spirit shine through every part of a Christians life. Some parts haven’t either gone through the refining fire, or been yielded yet, so they don’t allow the light through as easily. Even still, there is love and hope trying to come out everywhere.

The Holy Spirit is the light within. Our part is not to be perfect, but only to let Him shine.