Monthly Archives: March 2011

How to make room in your budget for charitable donations

How can you make room in your budget – especially in this economy?

Remember that the people we could be helping not only go without luxury, they go without most of what we would consider necessities. We need to reevaluate luxury vs. necessity in our own lives.

Here is something that may help you with the reevalutaion process: Begin by preparing your mind and body. Start right now. Don’t eat dinner today. Don’t wait to plan your fast for a time when it will be convenient; the people in Japan didn’t have advance notice.

Fast occasionally. Spend your extra time doing something to make money to donate. Host an event where you raise money based on how many hours you decide to fast. Decide the amount of hours you are going to fast ahead of time. This will prove less dangerous for you (just in case you get going “on a roll”), and better for your sponsors if they know upfront how much they will be giving (no nasty surprises). Sponsoring a fast is a good option for people whose diets don’t give them the options of fasting themselves.

Give up one luxury a month every month. Donate the resulting extra time and/or money to charity. Here are a few suggestions: don’t eat out for a month. Instead, set aside $10 every time you experience the temptation to eat out. Give up your favorite sugary cereal and eat oatmeal for a month. Put your Netflix account on hold for a month. I’m sure you can think of more, based on your own favorite foods, hobbies and expenses.

Prove God. Pay your tithes. He dares us to prove Him to see if He will be faithful in providing for us. Do you trust Him to keep His Word? Use the blessings that He pours on you to bless others.

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)

If anyone else has any ideas, feel free to comment!

Still waiting on God?

I have heard people say that God spoke to them audibly. I have never known exactly what to think of that, even though I am sure that God is quite capable of doing anything He feels like doing. A few years ago, however, I had an experience that made me wonder.

I was attending chapel at my college. It was probably the first or second time I had ever been to chapel there. Even though the university had a chapel-attendance policy, I was exempt; I was a commuting student and was rarely on campus during chapel sessions. I don’t remember what the message was about that day, but I remember sitting there in my own little world talking to God. I was asking Him what He wanted for my life. Normally, we see or hear words, but this was a completely different experience. While I didn’t hear an audible voice, I felt the very distinct impression of two specific words: Serve Me.

“Impression” is the only word I can think of that even comes close what I felt. Now as to whether these words came straight from heaven, or whether they were just the culmination of everything that I already knew, I have no idea. But as I was thinking about this experience later, more and more I got the impression that I should have already known the answer. It doesn’t really matter whether God spoke directly to me, or whether I just happened to figure it out in that instant. Either way, I’m absolutely sure what God wants me to do with the rest of my life: serve Him.

Serve Him. Am I being too simplistic? I don’t think so. I guess you could just brush it off as a phrase that you have heard one too many times. Maybe it has lost its meaning to you. But if you will take a moment to consider the implications, I think you will see that those two little words offer a life-changing experience. Taken literally, they have the power to change the life of everyone who comes into contact with you. Those words, acted upon, will function as a stone tossed into the middle of a sea of souls. Whether a large stone or a small one is entirely up to you.

How do I serve Him? One obvious way we can serve Him is by serving others. “…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40b.

Why do I think I should have already known the answer?

Because God has already told us to serve. It is not a suggestion, but a standing order. “…but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Galatians 5:13c-14.

Because Jesus is our example. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45.

Christ’s first miracle as a man occurred because there was a need to be met. John 2:1-11.

The question then, is how can we serve? Find a person with a need and fill it. Find an organization that helps people with needs and volunteer. No act of kindness is too small. The more spontaneous, unexpected, and undeserved it is, the greater impact it will have. If you have an abundance of time or money, start by offering these. If you don’t have either, find ways to consume less of what you do have so that you will have some left over to share with others. What do you think is more effective: knocking on doors and inviting complete strangers to church, or serving someone in the community, stranger or not, and following up with a conversation about Christ? They may even ask you why in the world you are offering your time, money, sweat, etc. This will open the door to explain how your actions are nothing compared to the love of God and the free, undeserved gift of salvation.

When can we serve? Start by cutting out as much television as you possibly can. Remember that everything in this world will be burned up, and that we could be taken off this earth at literally any moment. Get up a little earlier or go to bed a little later. Take a week or a month, and inventory how you spend your time. Try not to worry too much about loss of personal time. Time means nothing to those who have an eternity to look forward to. Any time lost to serving others and spreading the gospel will most certainly be redeemed after you are resurrected. You will be laying up treasure in heaven. Of course, you must still make time for your family: they are your responsibility, and serving them is just as important as serving others.

Do you ever feel like you can’t do anything else without direction from God? Do you feel you have been waiting for years, and you are just tired of waiting? Sometimes I fear that we Christians use “waiting on God” as an excuse. He has already given us direction for our lives. Why do we think we need to wait for a personal word from God, in addition to what He has given us in His Word? Are we waiting for Him to drop an opportunity into our laps? Are we waiting to be the leader of a ministry? Our own ministry? That’s our first mistake. Ministry is about everyone except us. Sometimes, we don’t recognize God’s will because it doesn’t line up with our own will. He wants us working, not sitting around waiting for Him to knock us over the head with an answer that we approve of. I’m not suggesting that we stop waiting on the Lord. He commands us to do that as well. I’m merely suggesting that we do both – obey His commandments, and wait, expecting Him to lead us to the next step.

Challenge: Still waiting on God? All well and good. But in the meantime, obey the call to service.

Do we truly believe that God is in control?

If you study biology, chemistry, astronomy – well, just pick a science – you will gain an appreciation for God’s ingenuity and power like never before. For instance, the human body is a fearfully wonderful thing. When it’s working properly, every tiny cell is serving a purpose. They all work together to keep us alive. I have begun to mentally apply this awesome microscopic design on a larger scale – to the workings of every living person on earth. Does God have enough power to direct every detail of every person’s life in order to accomplish His will? He does. It seems to me that every person on the earth is like one cell in the body of God’s design. He is winding things up in preparation for The End, and we are all a part of that.

My way of looking at life has changed over the years. I used to believe that God only took a hand in the big events in my life. I used to believe that He just allowed some things to happen on their own – without any consideration from Him. I think I was making excuses for Him in my mind. I didn’t want to believe that people could suffer and die because of a decision on His part (tragic deaths, natural disasters, etc). The events of September 11, 2001 really bothered me. Why would God choose to end all of those lives? At the time – one thing never occurred to me: God loved those people more than I have ever loved anyone. God wanted a relationship with each of them. Do you think He allowed even one to die that, given one more chance, would have accepted Him? I like to think that the entire population of those who died that day were either already saved, or had made up their minds already against God. I know that’s radical, but I believe that God is just that powerful. And if that’s not the way He works, then I trust that His way is even better, and makes even more sense.

I don’t know when it happened or what caused it, but my perspective has changed a lot over the past year or so. I now believe – wholeheartedly – that God is in direct control of every tiny thing. I believe that He is telling the literal truth when He says that, “All things work together for good [my own emphasis].” The question is, do we really believe that He has that much power? Do we believe, for instance, when it rains, that it is exactly what every Christian needs on that day? When we get a new job, or when our dryer stops working, do we believe that He is blessing and/or molding us into something better? I’ve finally stopped worrying about things I can’t control. I figure that if I have sinned (say, for instance, that I’m a lazy employee), then I can take myself out of God’s will for my life. If I lost my job at that point, I would blame myself. However, if something happens, and I know that I haven’t had anything to do with it, I assume that God wanted it to happen. I assume that it’s in my best interest. In other words, my own sin is the only thing that can hinder God’s perfect will in my life. I know that a lot of people won’t agree with me. I just believe that He has enough power over our lives to work every tiny detail according to His will. Now, when something “bad” happens, I think, “What can I learn from this? What is God trying to tell me?”

Challenge: Obey God in every small detail. Trust Him to take care of everything else.

God thought of me

It struck me yesterday – I’m so thankful that God thought of me, and then decided to put me on this earth. It’s strange to think that I was a thought in His mind before I ever came into existence! I don’t know – something about that makes me feel extremely loved!

How do others see you?

When your family, friends, or even a stranger looks at you, what do they see? When you speak, what do they hear? What do we communicate by our actions and attitudes?

What about Christianity in general? Some people have had real experiences with hateful or condescending Christians. When I walk away from an encounter, I want to leave the person thinking, “Oh, so that’s what Christianity is supposed to be like!” I want the world to see that being a Christian is a desirable thing. I want people to realize that my relationship with God is what makes me strive to be happy, productive, and graceful in all situations. Now, it’s easy to be happy when things are going well. However, if you want to leave a lasting impression, try being graceful when things aren’t going your way. Those you are dealing with will be stricken by your reactions, especially if their job has them in a situation where people are upset with them quite often. The next time you get cheated at the store, on a bill, etc, react with grace and compassion for the person who has to “deal” with you. That person’s soul is far more important than any amount of time or money you may have lost.

Challenge: Look for opportunities to surprise others by your graceful reactions. Maybe your toddler will break a dish today or you will feel cheated by your insurance company. React in a way that portrays Christ.

My Streetlamp

Every light in the house is out.

I walk into a dark room and sit down to relax.

My eyes are naturally drawn to the only spectacle in sight.

I cannot see the source at all, but its brilliance is dispersed in hundreds of tiny droplets of water that cling to my window screen.

Tomorrow I will tell the world of my experience.

Naysayers will laugh and inform me of my mistake.

Streetlamps aren’t real.

But I saw –

The source?

No, the light hits the window above my line of sight.

Proof that streetlamps don’t exist. It follows then, that raindrops must make their own light; it is the only explanation.

For me, it is not enough.

I cannot see the streetlamp, but those raindrops aren’t like the rest – they are extraordinary. The happy, brightened orbs rejoice in the source. I am haunted by their proclamation of the light.

I cannot rationalize away the streetlamp.

For me, it is enough, and I believe.

One day, I trust that I will walk over the hill and behold the streetlamp.

I am persuaded by the light.

Keith Green

“My eyes are dry; my faith is old. My heart is hard; my prayers are cold.

And I know how I ought to be: alive to You, and dead to me.”

This old song by Keith Green has been running through my mind a lot lately. I had been singing it on and off for days (the parts I could remember), and my 6-year-old finally asked if I knew any more of it. So on Friday, I dug out my seemingly ancient Keith Green CDs and began listening again. I love his music: he was, in my estimation, the Christian version of Billy Joel. He was very straightforward – very blatant in his statement of faith. The words that he chose to illustrate the Christian walk are almost stark: listening to his lyrics gives you the impression that you are being faced with the Truth, with no excuses between you and it to soften the blow.

I know that a lot of Christian artists have written tons of music expounding on the deep things of God, but here’s the kicker: as I was listening the other day, I realized that I had been thinking all these years that Keith Green was a new convert when he wrote these songs. I asked myself why I would have been under that impression all this time; some of the lyrics are pretty deep. How could a person just saved have written so many experience-laden songs about the Christian walk? As I began searching my mind for the answer, I suddenly realized the difference between Mr. Green and most Christian celebrities: he was so humble in his walk with the Lord. His music exudes a meek attitude: the fact that he was so undeserving. It feels like he was a new Christian because (in my mind, at least) he had not had time to develop that attitude of self-righteousness that so many “mature” Christians emit. I think that, above all, I love his honesty about his imperfect walk with the Lord, and his willingness to share his shortcomings with the world in an effort to challenge Christians into a genuine relationship with God.

Challenge: Can we live what we believe? But can we do it without an attitude of self-righteousness? Let’s make every moment count for the Kingdom today – but let’s not feel too proud of ourselves. We must remember in the process that our own righteousness is like filthy rags.

Dial a Writing Prompt

I thought I would tell you about a neat little writing prompt generator that I thought of a while back.

Get out a piece of paper or open up your favorite word-processing program. Now, think of ten different protagonists, numbering them 0-9. (Do start with zero; the numbering system is important.) Your protagonist can be as vague or as specific as you like. Some ideas: police officer, librarian, little old lady, friendly monster, toddler, department manager, forgetful neighbor, shy girl in the corner, garbage man, step-mom. Next, again numbering each from 0-9, think of 10 locations, 10 items, and 10 antagonists. Don’t forget to stretch your imagination as far as possible. Your location ideas might be as common as a supermarket or as spectacular as a galaxy far, far away. (My personal favorite location idea is “under the sea.”) Item ideas: pencil, heirloom, coin, donut, notebook, sword, pocketwatch, railroad spike, strand of hair, game token. Once in a while, use something unexpected in the antagonist category, such as blond 10-year-old girl. You could do the same thing in the protagonist category.

Here’s the fun part:

Get out your cell phone or phonebook, and look someone up. The last four digits of their phone number will tell you which protagonist, location, item, and antagonist combination to use. For an added twist, write the story from the point of view of the actual person whose phone number you chose. Have fun!