Tag Archives: Jesus

Practicing Simplicity

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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

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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).

 

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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).

Encouragement for the Exercise of Faith

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If you ever peruse social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, you’ll see a lot of posts about exercise. A lot.

Some are simple words of encouragement:

 

The latest trend, though, is sweaty selfies with tag lines like “I did it!” or “Almost ready for that 5k!”

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Credit: 1OpinionatedWoman

These folks are shamelessly sharing their hot-mess photos with us because they know that we’ll understand their struggles, and we’ll respect their efforts.

 

The Christian Struggle

As Christians, we have our own struggles to contend with. Physical exercise might be hard, but disciplining our minds and hearts to seek and follow the Lord can be so much harder…and yet infinitely more rewarding. That’s why the writer of Hebrews said that we should “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b NAS).

If this daily spiritual exercise is so important, why don’t we see related posts on social media?

Imagine what would happen if friends posted memes like these:

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Would you encourage these folks (“Thanks for sharing. We’ll be praying for you!”) or would you un-friend them?

Would you allow their stories to strengthen your own faith, or would you succumb to pride, judgment, and gossip?

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” (Matthew 7:1 NAS).

 

Let us Rejoice

We applaud anyone who performs physical exercise—regardless of how out of shape they are—because we know they can improve over time. It’s the effort that counts.

However, in our own Church family, we tend to criticize other believers who share their success stories. (“Why does she tell everyone she has a ministry degree? It sounds prideful to me!”) For those who have the audacity to admit they struggle with sin, we repay their honesty with judgment. (“I can’t believe he did that! He shouldn’t be a leader at church.”)

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the world, in its sinfulness, can celebrate the smallest improvement, then the Church, consisting of Christ-followers, can rejoice in the confessions and commitments of others to seek the Lord! In fact, since we are all members of the same body of Christ, it is our duty to uphold one another.

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27 NAS).

 

Encourage One Another

I challenge you to be transparent—if not with the whole world, then at least with your loved ones. Let them know your triumphs, as well as the areas you are struggling in, and give them the opportunity to encourage you and strengthen you in prayer and support.

Likewise, if you see others sharing their hearts, take a moment to applaud their efforts. Appreciate the courage it took for them to admit they’re not perfect. Lift them up in prayer, asking for the Lord’s guidance and protection as they continue to seek after God’s perfect righteousness.

Remember, we are all part of one body. Let us be sure to encourage one another as we learn to exercise our spiritual muscles.

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 NAS).