Tag Archives: God

Practicing Simplicity

Standard

 

In my book Girls with Gusto, I explore the eight major steps of the spiritual journey as seen through Proverbs 31. In Step Five, we come to the following verse:

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:19-20 NAS).

I’ve always thought this step was about becoming a generous person, and that by extending our hands to others we experience anew the trust and faith we have in God. While I still believe that to be true, I’ve come to realize that generosity is the by-product of this step, not the primary goal or lesson.

 

The More of Less

Like the rest of America, I have a lot of stuff: nostalgic mementos, old paperwork, clothes I’ll never wear again, pots I’ve never cooked in, materials for projects long-forgotten, and books that never held my attention. You know, stuff.

Thankfully, the Lord led me to a book called The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. This little gem has challenged me to put my stuff into perspective. It added the term “minimalism” to my vocabulary, and it gave me the freedom to dig myself out from all the junk.

But what really struck me was the author’s perspective. As a Christian, Becker’s focus isn’t on minimalism for its own sake but for what it can give him and his family—and a big part of that is being able to “meet the needs of others.” He states, “When we spend too much money on ourselves, we miss the opportunity to find greater joy by being generous to others.”

So, living simply can lead to more generosity.

 

The Generous Life

The Lord then led to me another gem, Secrets of the Generous Life by Gordon MacDonald. This devotion-style book gives practical tips on how to live a generous life, stating that giving generously is a “kind of divine work”:

“The generous life is not about doling out extra amounts of money. It is about reorienting the human heart in the direction of Christ so that we become transmitters of the same affection and care that Christ modeled in his time.”

Generosity, then, comes from focusing on God and heeding His call—which may involve the sacrifice of our money, time, or other resources for the betterment of others.

 

[Click to Tweet: Generosity comes from focusing on God and heeding His call. #generouslife #bigsisterknows]

 

The Discipline of Simplicity

God still wasn’t done schooling me on this topic. He led me to one more book, a modern-day classic: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. In this book, Foster highlights the thirteen major spiritual disciplines as recorded in the Bible and understood by the leading church fathers since the first century church. Imagine my surprise when I learned that simplicity—not generosity—is one of those disciplines!

As Foster explains, “the central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of His kingdom first—and then everything necessary will come in to its proper order.”

To experience this “inward reality liberates us outwardly….Our goods become available to others.” In other words, when we put God first in our lives, we find ourselves capable, willing, and even delighted to be generous to others.

However, if we focus on being generous, on getting rid of the stuff, on living simply, then we will miss the point. For to focus on anything but God is to make it an idol.

 

The Practice of Simplicity

I now realize the true value of Proverbs 31:19-20: the woman is generous to those around her because she’s learned to live simply, her eyes focused on God. If we follow her example, we’ll begin to live generous lives, too.

In future posts, I’ll dig more into this concept of the simple (and generous) life and how minimalism can be a useful strategy. But for now, remember that whatever it is you’re seeking in life—whether it’s to be more generous, to understand God’s will, or to have God’s favor—that focusing on God and His Kingdom is always the answer. Only then can everything else fall into its rightful place.

 

What about you? Are you seeking to live a generous life? What techniques do you find helpful?

 

 

A Model of Unity

Standard
TCCTC-3

That’s me, second from the right, in front of the new campus for TCCTC. (Credit: SociallyLoved)

The following article was first posted on OneChristianVoice and their subsidiary, TallyChristianVoice. Check out their site for more inspiring stories as well as news that impacts Christians around the world.


UNITY 

Imagine, if you can, a place where Christians of all colors and creeds gather together. Every believer is welcome, regardless of his or her denomination, background, education level, or socio-economic status. Together, they spend hours poring over the Bible in various translations and ancient languages. They focus on God and the Scriptures. They pray together, learn from one another, and encourage one another in their walk with the Lord.

You may think this kind of unity only existed in the first century church. (See Acts 2.) At least, that’s what I thought…until I saw it first hand at the Tallahassee Christian College and Training Center (TCCTC).

 

MODEL

Over the past 12 years, I’ve been connected with TCCTC as a student, volunteer, board member, and faculty member. With each passing year, I become more amazed that such a spirit of unity exists—and even thrives!—within this small college. In a world full of segregated churches, of discord and confusion, TCCTC stands out as a model of unity.

I sat down recently with Jo Anne Arnett, the president and co-founder of TCCTC, and asked her an important question: How does the college achieve such unity?

Below, I’ve compiled a short list of Jo Anne’s responses, as well as suggestions on how we can apply the model of TCCTC to our own churches, youth groups, small groups, and Bible studies. While I’m sure there are more elements we could include, these few items are sufficient to challenge even the most established group of believers. 

 

1 – Diversify – Seek “unity at every level.”

Since its inception in 1990, TCCTC has embraced all manner of diversification (including age, color, background, and denomination) among the board of directors, faculty, and student body. Each semester, the faculty represent 15-20 denominations, while the total student body has come from over 400 congregations. Jo Anne puts it simply: “Everybody’s welcome.”

Application: Unity does not mean sameness. Encourage diversification in your group, then seek unity. 

 

2 – Focus – “We focus on Jesus and the Scriptures.”

Jo Anne is careful to point out that TCCTC focuses on Jesus and the Scriptures. True Christianity includes the study of both, for we are directed to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 NAS).

Over the years, I’ve heard Jo Anne say, “We major in the majors…but we don’t avoid the minors, either.” In other words, the majority of classes are focused on the major topics, such as the books of the Bible, hermeneutics (how to interpret Scripture), and Church history. There are numerous other classes students can explore for personal growth or continuing education, but they are not the major focus of the college.

Application: Focus on Jesus and the Scriptures. However, don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in details to the point that you miss the overarching message of God’s love and redemption.

 

3 – Concentrate – Unity is “not about watering down” the truth.

Too often, we feel that we have to dilute the Gospel to make it more acceptable for a wider audience. However, TCCTC takes a different approach: they face difficult Scriptures or topics head-on. They trust that God’s Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” and so they search the Scriptures for clarity. (See 2 Timothy 3:16 NAS.)

As for doctrinal conflicts, Jo Anne said there are only a few areas in which real differences of interpretations may appear. For those rare instances, teachers agree up front to give “equal voice and weight” to alternative interpretations. The students can then lean on the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to interpret the meaning of the passage. Even if students disagree on the interpretation, they can be unified in their whole-hearted approach to seeking God and learning more about His Word.

Application: Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and clarity as you dig into the Scriptures. Concentrate on the Word and don’t shy away from difficult subjects. When differences arise within your group, retain unity as you explore other interpretations of the Word.

 

4 – Appreciate – Unity involves “appreciating each other’s different gifts.”

Most of us are familiar with the metaphor of a single Church Body with many members, as seen in 1 Corinthians 12. During our talk, Jo Anne used the same Scripture in reference to the various denominations within the Church—an analogy I had never considered before.

She said that TCCTC appreciates the different roles of each denomination and the value they bring to the Church Body. Instead of trying to break down denominational walls, the college seeks to “train and equip congregations to better fulfill their purpose within the Body.”

Application: Appreciate the various roles of individuals as well as denominations and congregations within the Church. When you do, you’ll begin to build bridges and spread unity within the Body.

 

5 – Serve – “Every follower of Jesus Christ is in full-time ministry.”

According to Jo Anne, the goal of TCCTC is to “train and equip believers to fulfill their various roles as followers of Jesus, and to do so in love with a biblical basis.” They believe every Christian—not just pastors—is in full-time ministry, so those roles could be within the home, church, workplace, or community.

Application: Acknowledge that every believer has an important role within the Church Body. Encourage one another to discover that role and develop it. Don’t go it alone, though. Seek appropriate training and equipping from knowledgeable, mature believers.

 


New Semester Fall Ad

(Credit: SociallyLoved)

If you’re in the Tallahassee region, I encourage you to check out TCCTC in person. But, regardless of your location, I challenge you to seek unity in your church, youth group, and Bible study. As Paul said, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NAS).

The Problem with Proverbs 31

Standard

ProblemProv31_BSK_jpg

The following blog was posted this week on Lift Up Your Day and is included in its entirety below. For more encouragement, check out the other posts on LUYD.


 

The Woman

If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’ve probably heard about Proverbs 31. Depending on your Bible translation, you may know this as the chapter describing the “virtuous woman” or the “excellent wife.” (See verse 10.) I used to think of this fictitious person as the Perfect Woman—Mother Theresa, Martha Stewart, and Ivanka Trump rolled into one modern day Super Hero.

Sounds cool, right? Sure, until you read the details.

This woman

  • does good things for her husband every day of her life (with no exception);
  • makes beautiful clothes and linen for her family using exotic raw materials she’s sourced in the marketplace;
  • finds time to make additional items, which she sells through her own clothing line;
  • is also a successful farmer and vine dresser;
  • never sleeps, rests, or is idle (and probably doesn’t blink for that matter);
  • still has the energy to mentor others;
  • is strong, wise, and dignified; and
  • apparently doesn’t have a negative bone in her body. (God bless her heart!)

 

The Frustration

Is it just me, or does this woman give us over-worked, over-stressed, under-paid girls a bad name? Don’t you just hate her? Can we agree to ignore this chapter all together?

Okay, so I was a little mad at the Proverbs 31 woman for a while. I was also frustrated at the preachers and teachers who lifted her up as the standard against which all women are measured. I was doing good to get out of bed on Sunday morning, so this comparison to the Proverbs 31 woman was becoming a stumbling block for me. I began to feel guilt and self-condemnation because I couldn’t measure up. My solution was to ignore that entire chapter as best I could.

 

The Truth

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t let me off that easy. Over a period of years, He kept bringing me back to Proverbs 31. Eventually, I discovered something amazing: this isn’t a to-do list of all the things we have to accomplish daily for God to love us and use us. Instead, this chapter is like a map of our spiritual journey as seen from a 20,000-foot vantage point.

For example, the woman buys a field, plants a garden, sells the produce, and then buys a vineyard with the earnings. Later, she helps the poor and needy. (See Proverbs 31:16-20.) We all recognize that we can’t reap what we don’t sow, and we can’t bless others if we have nothing to give. Even from a spiritual standpoint, we can’t offer the gifts of knowledge and wisdom until we’ve received them ourselves. Proverbs 31 contains many such natural laws, which helps us understand our spiritual journeys and track our progress.

I also realized that Proverbs 31 applies to both men and women. There are numerous Scriptures depicting God as a bridegroom courting His bride, which is the Church. (See Matthew 9:15 and Revelation 21:9-10.) So, when we read figurative Scriptures referring to the marriage relationship, we can usually put ourselves in the wife’s role and Jesus in the husband’s role. Applying this to Proverbs 31 has given me a new outlook on how we, the Church, interact with Jesus.

 

The Encouragement

Over time, I came to see that the problem with Proverbs 31 wasn’t with the Scripture at all—it was with my own misunderstanding of the Word. I encourage you to read this important chapter again with fresh eyes. Notice how the woman grows over time, from faithful servant to wise teacher. Then read the verses again as if the woman is the Church body and the husband is Jesus.

Instead of running from this chapter—like I wanted to—lean into it. Seek God’s guidance and understanding. Let go of the guilt of not being a Super Hero and pursue the greater role of an obedient child of God. May this bless you and encourage you on your journey.

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30 NAS).


The book I’ve been writing, Girls with Gusto, delves into these topics of perfection and Proverbs 31. As I pull these sections together, I’ll share them here with you. Please give me feedback—what you like or don’t like, what you find encouraging, and what’s difficult for you to live out in your daily life. Thank you!