Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trash Into [Eternal] Treasure

Please tell me we aren't the only ones with a "junk" room!

You know what I'm talking about. That room that's sort of a catch-all for all the stuff you have that doesn't really have a place but you don't want to get rid of it because you "might use it one day". That room where you throw anything that's just laying around when a last minute guest is coming by and then it ends up staying there permanently. Maybe yours goes by the name of a "storage building" that you pay monthly for. Yeah. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, we had a room like that and it was bad! We just celebrated our three year wedding anniversary and this room had grown exponentially since that time. It started out with just some boxes from when I moved in after we got married. Then it started piling up as we would just put things in there to "go through later". It started out in our office but eventually it moved to our spare bedroom to make room in our office. Then, we had our son so it all moved back to our office to make room for baby.

It was basically a mobile dumpster of stuff that neither of us had any desire to go through.... so we didn't.

While reading "Radical", we were convicted about how much stuff we have. Things we don't need and don't use that just clutter our home. But not only the things in our "junk room", but the surplus of dishes, pots, pans, towels (yes, you can have too many), clothing, shoes, bags, etc. Seriously, once we sat down objectively and evaluated, we were blown away by how much we really had.

It took us taking off our "American eyes" and seeing it from a Biblical perspective. By "American eyes", I mean the way that we look at what we own and somehow justify it because we don't have as much stuff as "that other guy". Sure, compared to a LOT of people in the USA, we don't have a lot. But compared to the majority of the rest of the world, we have enough for several families!

So once again we were faced with a choice: get rid of the excess and use it somehow for good, or keep it and let it take up space in our homes, serving no purpose but to make our lives more stressful. (If you're like me, clutter = stress.)

We chose Plan A and here's what we did:

  1. Cleaned out the cabinets. We had so many dishes, pots, pans, appliances, and utensils that we never used. Who needs 3 skillets, 3 sets of dishes, 4 spatulas, 2 coffee makers, 2 deep friers, 3 crock pots, and cups and glasses out the wazoo?? A hotel maybe? Anyway, we downsized our kitchen big time! We left only enough dishes for us plus two in case we had friends over for dinner and got rid of any duplicate appliances and more than half of our cups and glasses.
  2. Got rid of some towels. When we got married, it seemed everyone thought it important to give us towels. "You can never have too many," we were told. Turns out, that's not true. More than 15 towels for two people (Elliott has his own, too) seems a bit on the excessive side. So we cut those down to less than half. This gave us a wonderful amount of space in our bathroom closet, not to mention cut down the towel load for the washer tremendously! (What can you do with used towels, you ask? There are animal shelters that are constantly asking for towels and bed linens. Or, as in our case, you may have a family member whose son just moved out and took most of theirs! ha!)
  3. Emptied the closets of excess. I think Richard was most happy about this one. We don't have a lot of closet space in our house (read: one closet), so it's hard to organize and maintain organization unless you're on top of it daily. And, well, sometimes organizing apparel isn't No. 1 on my to-do list if you can imagine that. So, prior to even setting foot into the closet, I determined to get rid of any clothing I hadn't worn in the last 6 months (besides winter clothing since I obviously hadn't worn that within that time frame). It was hard, but I stuck to my goal and literally got rid of three full boxes of clothes between me, Richard, and Elliott. I had no idea we had that much clothing and most of it we hadn't worn in well over a year! I also downsized on shoes, purses, and bags. There were plenty in that category that we never used as well.
  4. Got rid of the "we-might-use-this-one-day" stuff. This included, but was not limited to a dart board that we had won at a "Chinese Christmas", keepsake boxes, photo frames, unused wedding albums, jewelry, some furniture, vases, random decorative items, etc.
So by now you're thinking that we are some super pack-rats, right? Well, if you had walked into our house prior to this proverbial detox, you would have thought our house was organized and clean (aside from that one room we never opened). But it's like in our spiritual lives, if you start digging deep, you start finding things that you didn't really notice were there before. Things that need to be cleaned up. And it was amazing how the more we got rid of, the more we wanted to get rid of because it was very liberating! (Cheesy, but true.)

Anyway, after clearing through every room in the house and putting every must-go item into our dining room, we had to decide how to best use this "junk" for good. And what better way to get rid of junk in a productive way than to have a yard sale??

We did just that and decided that no matter how much we made, it would all go straight to some missionary friends of ours who have some upcoming needs. We were so happy when the yard sale was over and we had made a decent amount and could surprise our friends with this love offering.

Now, everybody knows that you don't sell everything at a yard sale (much to your dismay, no doubt). So in our hunt for a good charity to give our leftover items to (besides the catch-all Goodwill), we heard about one nearby that gives free items to families who have lost their homes in natural disasters as a way to help them get back on their feet. We loved that idea so Richard's mom took all of the excess to this organization and they were happy to take it off of our hands (apparently in this economy, people don't give like they used to and a lot of charities are suffering).

So, maybe this isn't really a "radical" change in our lives...more like a "practical" one. But it was good to know that the junk that had been weighing down our home could be used to lay up eternal treasures instead by giving to those in need who are doing the work of the Lord.

And we're still getting rid of things and trying to pay better attention to the needs of those around us. We've found if our hearts are tender and our eyes are open, it's a lot easier to see that we are surrounded by those in need... not of our "stuff" per se, but of the Savior who died for them. And sometimes that Savior's love is expressed by our tangible giving.

Stayed tuned because I get the feeling that soon God's going to call us to do something really radical for Him!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Trying" to give more.....

Picture this: It's Sunday morning and your church has brought in it's "monthly missionary" and given them 5 minutes to share what God is doing on the field. (Five minutes is generally long enough to introduce themselves, but hey, don't want to "bore" the congregation with missions.) After hearing, and possibly even seeing, the needs, you feel a tug in your heart. You think to yourself, "I really wish we could afford to give to causes like that. We just can't."

The service moves on: you hear the announcements, shake hands with the people around you, listen to the sermon. As the service comes to an end, your stomach is loudly announcing that it's lunch time. So you meet up with "the usual gang" and try to decide where to go eat and life proceeds as usual.

This is the scene across America every Sunday morning. I know it well because I've been a part of it for so long.

Something that the book "Radical" has really brought to our attention is how we are all quick to agree with the fact that something in American culture needs to change, but we are very slow to act on it.

For example, everyone would agree that we need to do more for missions, right? I'd say as long as children around the world are starving we'll be willing to admit that's the case. But how many of us sacrifice--really sacrifice--to give to missions?

That was a reality that hit home for us. As missionaries ourselves it's really easy to get frustrated when we see the lack of giving. We justify it and say, "Well, we give this amount so we're doing our part." But are we?

We hear preachers teach that we are to tithe and then "try" to give above and beyond to missions.

In my short 24 years of life, I've discovered that if we set out to "try" to do something, the likelihood of ever actually doing it is slim to none. We have to decide without question that we will do something. Besides, I'm unable to find anywhere in the Bible where God says that 10% plus "trying" to give above and beyond is what He asks of us. Isn't the question not so much how much of our money are we going to give to God, but rather, how much of God's money are we going to keep for ourselves?

The problem with giving 10% and a "little more" to missions is that we start to think that's ALL we have to do. We convince ourselves that as long as we're doing that, we're good.

Hm. I think God frowns on that.

In light of this, God did some serious convicting in our own hearts. We took a look at our monthly expenses and, while we were giving above the "typical" 10% of income, we were comfortable there. There was no sacrifice. The truth is, we were spending a lot of money on luxury eating out. It's hard to justify saying, "We can't afford to give more to missions." when we spend so much on unnecessary things like that.

So, we had a choice: ignore what God was saying to us or do something about it. And, well, ignoring God is not recommended. My hubby came to me one day and said, "If we can afford to eat out, we must be able to afford to give to missions. Period."

I was on board with that. "You're right," I said. "Good point."

"So, from now on, anytime we eat out, we will match that to missions," he continued.

"Oh. Um. Ok. Yes. That's right. That sounds good," I replied. But in my head I'm thinking, "That's a little "radical" isn't it?"

That's the point!!

So, beginning August 1, we started following through with that commitment. And the results weren't what I anticipated!

Several things have happened:
  1. We've started eating out less. We literally could not afford to match in giving what we had been spending in eating out. It was a big wake up call to us about how much money we "wasted" eating out when we had plenty of food at home (we were just too lazy to cook!)
  2. We've discovered that it's a lot of fun to cook together! Trying new recipes and cooking together is really underrated!
  3. But most of all we've learned that there is extreme joy in giving sacrifically. Each time we have eaten out, we've said, "Ok, who's this gonna go to??" Yeah, we had our budgeted giving. But what a blessing to be able to give "a little something extra" to some missionaries who have some transitions going on in their lives or to a ministry just getting it's feet off the ground!
So, we're only about two weeks into it, but it's been an exciting time already. No doubt it's a challenge because who doesn't like to just sit down at a restaurant after a long day and let someone serve you?! Eating out is definitely part of "our culture". But when a luxury like that prevents us from reaching the lost for Christ, something doesn't add up.

That's where we are. Looking forward to more radical changes in our lives!

What radical thing is God calling YOU to do?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chandler, Platt, and Chan: A Good Dose of the Bible

Have you ever just come to the place where you say, "Ok, God. I hear ya."?

Generally for me it takes a while before I say, "Oh, you're talking to me!" This past March we were at a missions conference in Alabama when we met Tracie and Josh Lansford. They are church planters in Austin, TX and have a strong passion for reaching this city for God. During one of our conversations, they mentioned the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. That wouldn't have really been a big deal except for the fact that was the third time within about a week that someone had suggested to us that we read that book! I told her that and she said, "Well, I think we have a copy in our car. Let me go get it!"

So, with a copy in hand, I had no excuses.

I love to read, but it's easy for me to get started on a book, read about half, and never finish it. (I know, not a good habit.) But this book was different. I couldn't put it down!

After finishing the book (which I highly recommend), I had a new perspective on God. I realized that for too long (ie my whole life!) I had been putting God into this little box, limiting Him with my lack of faith.

And so began a journey for Richard and myself that over the last 4 months has included tears, lots of prayer, several "ah-ha!" moments, and a whooole lot of Bible reading. And it's a journey that continues on... and hopefully one we will never come to the end of while living on this planet!

But in addition to all of these things, it's a journey that we'd like to share. Why? Because it's thanks to people like Francis Chan (author of Crazy Love), Matt Chandler (The Village Church, Dallas, TX) and David Platt (The Church at Brookhills, Birmingham, AL) who were willing to share what God has done in their lives with their congregations and, really with the world via the internet, that has challenged us on levels that we've never been challenged before. And we hope that you will be challenged by how we are challenged!

I think that the title of David Platt's book most accurately defines this journey: Radical.

God has called us to this. Sure, our ultimate goal is to reach the lost on the foreign field. But He has called us to live radical lives, right here, right now.

I hope you'll join us. It's an awesome ride!

(Here are some books we recommend: Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt.... but only read them if you want your life to change :) Oh, and while you're at it, go ahead and "youtube" Matt Chandler. God is using these men in a big way!)
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