When you hear the word "church" the first thing that comes to mind is most likely a building you visit each week to fellowship with other believers. I have attended church most of my life. I have sat in the pew or the small group and taken in truths from God's Word. However, over the past few years God has shown
me that the church is more than a building. It is a body of believers who live in a way to proclaim the gospel to the lost world.
I think when Jesus instituted the church it's purpose wasn't to be a place to go but a way to live. God called the church to take care of the poor and needy, the widow and the orphan. He called us to go to the lost and share the gospel. He called the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus. But in modern day America we see church as a place to come together for a couple hours a week to fellowship with our Christian friends, sing a few songs of worship, hear a message then be on our way until the next time the doors of the church are opened. I don't think that's what God designed the church to be about. He doesn’t want us to create
Christian country clubs for ourselves. He’s called us to be salt and light to a dying world. How do we fulfill God"s call if we don't take His message outside the walls of the church? The answer is, we don't.
We have to be willing to get out of our comfortable routine and be willing to radically change our definition of church. We have to be prepared to be misunderstood by others and to be accused of taking this "Jesus thing" too far. We have to get alone with God and ask Him to show us the needs around us. We have to be prepared for radical change and no longer being satisfied with mere religion. That may mean that we won't be sitting in our regular pew every Sunday morning or in youth group every Sunday night. Serving others can be messy, exhausting and just hard. We may have to give up some of our own routine to serve others.
At times this presents us with difficult choices for ourselves and our children. For instance, my 17 yr old son loves the Lord and loves Sunday night youth group. He is a football player and the FCA huddle leader at his high school. He has the opportunity twice a month to attend a Sunday night FCA group full of his classmates, many who are unsaved. In order to do this he has to miss his own youth service at our church. We've encouraged him to see the Sunday night FCA group as an opportunity to minister to his classmates. To use the platform that God has given him as a student athlete to make an impact in the lives of his unsaved friends. What greater mission field is there than your own high school full of lost souls? It's easy to be the light in a room full of other lights, but it takes courage and strength from the Lord to be one of a few lights in a very dark room.
There's nothing wrong with being a leader in the the youth group or church but as followers of Christ our purpose is to "go into all the world". And since the church is really a body of believers, we must take the church into the world. We must feed and clothe the poor & needy, care for the orphans and widows. We must be the church every day
I am very proud of my thrift-store finds. Boys need athletic clothes. I head to the thrift stores and come home with several brands and styles of athletic clothes. In the last few trips I've snagged brands like Nike, Reebok, Fila, Champion, Adidas, And1, etc. Madison needs some modest shorts. I head to the thrift stores and come home with her favorite brands that I would never pay full price for. The kids are happy and my budget is not blown and that makes me happy. But just because I pay $2 or $3 for these items doesn't mean that we are immune to having excess.
When I see the overflowing dressers and no where for the mounds of clean laundry to go, I realize we have too much. So what if it's only $2, does my 9 yr old really need a dozen pair of athletic shorts? (Even though he does wear them 90% of the time and he's a stinky boy that requires clean ones before getting in my van) My point is that even though I'm not spending a lot of money on the items, I'm still guilty of having excess....lots and lots of excess!! It's not about the money...it's about the time required to keep up with the excess and the time focused on getting the excess items. The small amounts of money that over time adds up
I was perfectly content with what I considered to be just the basic necessities of life until I visited a third world country. When I saw the children wearing American hand me downs that were too big or too small, stained and ripped my mind started thinking about all of the clothes my kids had in their dressers & closets at home. No there weren't closets full of new clothes but there were closets full of clean clothes that fit my children appropriately. As I thought about how much we had, I began to realize that while we may be poor by American standards we are extremely wealthy by the world's standards.
We have every basic human need met but we are always on the lookout for more. Why? Why are we never satisfied with what we currently own? Why do my children need enough outfits for a month when they only wear 1/2 of them? Why do we need the latest gadgets when the ones we currently own still work fine? Why do we need the bigger house, the new car, and the expensive vacation to bring us happiness? I think we have been fooled into thinking that we're not valuable if we don't have just the right stuff. We place our identity in our position and our possessions instead of in Christ.
I know....I know there's nothing wrong with having money or having things it's what you do with those things that's important. So what exactly are you doing with your money? How much do you spend on fast food? on entertainment? on the excess of life? How much do you spend on feeding the hungry? clothing the poor? ministering to the homeless? taking the gospel to the unreached?
What's wrong with downsizing, living simpler and living with less? What would happen if we lived on 50% of what we made and used the other 50% to "love our neighbor"? What if we took Jesus' command seriously and went without a few extras so someone else could have life saving clean drinking water or food or shelter? After my first visit to Nicaragua in 2011, I began removing the excess, but I just focused on surface stuff and didn't really get serious about why I had so much excess. My second visit in 2012 removed another layer and I got rid of more stuff. I also began to spend less and give more. I've been in this holding pattern for a couple of months, knowing that something needed to change in the way I live every day. I want to make a global impact and not just be a consumer. Enter my friend Laura.
Laura began sharing how her and her husband were searching for ways to completely change how they did church and what it looks like to radically serve God. She shared that she had been reading the book "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker and that it was "rocking her world" as she knew it. I decided I needed to read this book.
After the first chapter, I couldn't stop reading. This woman's journey to "less" spoke deeply to my spirit. Her writing is real and personal. She shares how her heart changed through each month of living on less. Right from the beginning she explains the issue with our American desire for more. "Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We’re tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $ 2 a day, and we can’t manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand times that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us." We are being ruined by our excess. We are addicted to the material things of this world. We constantly have to have more and more and more. So how do we break our addiction to stuff? We have to allow " God to change our trajectory". We have to be open to His divine interventions in our lives that change how we do things. "A genuine study of the Word results in believers who feed poor people and open
up their guest rooms; they’re adopting and sharing, mentoring and intervening." When we allow God to lead we'll spend more time meeting the needs of others outside our family and less time building our own kingdom.
That's what I want. I want less of me and more of Him. How can I fill my life and my home to overflowing with excess stuff while there are children sleeping in the streets around the world, teen girls being trafficked, mothers watching their babies die from starvation, fathers unable to feed their families and millions of people who become ill or die because they don't have clean drinking water? I don't need another piece of clothing or gadget to clutter my home, but there are families who need shelter from the harsh elements. My kids don't need a new backpack when last year's is still in great condition but there are kids who need basic school supplies. My kids don't need the latest gaming system when the 3 we have work perfectly but there are kids whose only gift ever is an Operation Child Shoebox. We don't need another jacket or sweatshirt when we all have several from last year that still fit but there are babies in orphanages who need blankets. How can I be a follower of Christ and not follow His command to love my neighbor?
I'm not sure what happens next in my own journey. But like Jen Hatmaker "I’ll continue to reduce and simplify, fight and engage until I know what else to do. What I know now is this: less. I don’t need to have the most, be the best, or reach the top. It is okay to pursue a life marked by obscurity and simplicity. It doesn’t matter what I own or how I’m perceived." What matters to me is following God's call to less of me and more of Him. That may mean that I will embark on my own journey to less. Only God knows what that will look like.
How about you? Are you addicted to excess? Are you ready to be ok with less? I encourage you to read "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" for yourself. Just be ready to have your world rocked!!
Remember that Sunday School song, Jesus Loves the Little Children?
Jesus loves the little children
all the children of the world,
red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
I was reminded of that song last week when I was at Oneida Baptist Institute in KY. This boarding school has students from 24 different countries. I met students from Korea, China, Nigeria, Ethiopia, India & Liberia. They come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and religions. They come to OBI for many different reasons but they all have one thing in common….Jesus loves all of them and wants a personal relationship with each of them.
We first visited the campus of OBI back in July when we went on a family missions trip to serve in the community of Oneida. There were only a few students on campus for summer session. My husband Rich met the president and shared a little bit about FCA. He also had the opportunity to speak to a Muslim
student named Amir from Ethiopia.
Last week, Rich was invited back to OBI to speak in the daily chapel services. It was such a humbling, amazing experience to see God move in the hearts of the student body. On Monday, Rich shared his testimony. For those who have not heard his testimony, it is a powerful story that connects with people
of all ages but especially teenagers. He doesn’t sugar coat the wrong choices he made or the consequences he’s faced. He’s straightforward and uses his life as an example of what can happen when we choose to do things our own way instead of following God’s plan. At the end of chapel on Monday, there were 25 students who made decisions.
On Tuesday, the message focused on why we have doubts and what we need to do to alleviate those doubts. One of the students in that service who’d had lots of doubts and questions was Amir, the Muslim student Rich had spoken with back in July. At the end of chapel on Tuesday, Amir got saved. What an amazing God we serve!! A God who doesn’t need us but allows us to be a part of His beautiful
plan. God gave Rich the opportunity to plant a seed in Amir’s life in July and then opened the door to put Rich back in Amir’s life when he made that ultimate choice. Amir was one of 6 new decisions that were made that day. And God wasn’t done yet. Actually, He was just getting started.
On Wednesday & Thursday, Rich shared with the students the importance of taking our decision to trust Christ and living it out in our daily lives. Wednesday focused on being authentic in our daily choices, whether private or public. Thursday was the final day of chapel for the week and Rich stressed the importance of spiritual training.
During our time at OBI, we had connected with many of the students and they shared their stories with us. They asked us to pray for them and with them. They asked us to pray for their families. So at the end of chapel on Thursday, Rich opened the altar for the students to come share their burdens and prayer needs
with their teachers. These are the adults who love them and pour into their lives daily. People who can help them with their struggles and be there to celebrate their victories.
As the song “Beautiful Exchange” by Hillsong played, the students began to come forward. It began with just a couple and then a few more. Within just a few minutes the altar was overflowing with more than 150 students praying with teachers, praying with each other and sharing the burdens they had been carrying for too long. There were lines of students waiting to pray with a teacher or OBI staff member. A local church pastor was there and he began praying with students. God's Spirit was moving and nothing else mattered. As students would see a friend go to the altar, they would encircle them and begin to pray. It was a beautiful picture of what it means to bear one another's burdens. I'm so humbled that God would choose to be a part of it.
Our journey over the past few years has not been easy. We've been in the wilderness and have had our share of struggles. We've had times of doubting God's purpose and plan for us. However, last week was an oasis in our wilderness journey. God gave us a glimpse of how His plan is always better than our own and how his timing has purpose as well. If Rich had not lost his job last November, we would not have been able to go on the family missions trip to Oneida in July. Rich would not have met the president of OBI nor been able to share parts of his story with Amir. He would not have been asked to come last week to speak in chapel. We would have missed out on the blessings of last week. God could have used anyone to speak into the lives of those students, but I'm so thankful that he chose us.
Is God asking you to tell your story and show others how mighty and powerful He is? Has God led you through a wilderness? If so then tell someone else how big God is in your life. You may be the one voice that God uses to reach that weary soul that is ready to give up. Your story could be the encouragement that someone needs to keep trusting in God's plan. Don't be ashamed of the brokenness of your story. In our brokenness, God's power and glory is revealed. Give God the glory today by sharing your
After the children of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, God provided daily food for them called manna. According the Exodus 16:31, manna was like coriander seeds and tasted like wafers with honey. In Numbers 11:8, it describes it as "cakes baked with oil". In her book One in a Million, Priscila Shirer said "It may have looked somewhat like porridge, but it actually tasted more like Krispy Kreme donuts."
God's purpose for manna wasn't just for physical sustenance. It was to help cleanse the pallet of the children of Israel. While they were slaves in Egypt, they had a variety of meats, spices, vegetables and fruits. Their taste buds had become accustomed to strong flavors and delectable dishes. What God was providing for them seemed dull in comparison. Each day the menu was the same and the routine was the same. Each day they could only gather enough manna for that day. They had to have faith that each day God would provide the manna.
God wanted the children of Israel to not just physically leave Egypt behind, he also wanted them to mentally and emotionally leave behind their desire for any part of their Egyptian lifestyle. He was weaning them off of the tastes they had become familiar with. He knew that to be completely free from the bondage of Egypt, the children of Israel had to change everything about their way of life, including what they ate. I'm sure the manna got boring and they got tired of the lack of flavors, but God was retraining them.
As Christians, in order for us to live the abundant life of freedom from the bondage of sin, we must allow God to wean us off of the worldly things that we have been accustomed to. We have to get to a point when we no longer have a desire to feast on the things of this world. We must realize that the simple manna that God offers us is what truly satisifies our soul.
Like the children of Israel, God has been weaning me off of the things of this world that I thought I needed. Being on unemployment for the past 10 months has been like living on manna. There are times when I desire to go back to more money & more freedom to purchase things. There are days when the simple life of "just the necessities" becomes exhausting or overwhelming. There are days when I think that "Egypt" wasn't really that bad. But that's just a lie that Satan tries to convince me to believe. He doesn't want me to remember the relationship issues caused by extremely long hours or the hostile work enviroment that my husband had to endure each and every day. He plays tricks on my mind and wants me to focus on the "perks"and benefits.
In my moments of weakness, I only have to look at all of the manna that God has provided for my family to see His desire to lead us to the abundant life in Him. He has been doing a great work in my heart and the hearts of my family. He is removing the taste for material things out of our mouths and is filling us with His bread of life. He is moving us well outside of our comfort zones and routines. He is asking us to depend on Him and Him alone for our daily manna. He is calling us to leave the "American Christian Dream" of comfort and complacency and stretch our view of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
The choices we make sometimes make us stand out and look different from others around us...even other Christians. When we choose to radically follow Jesus and leave the comfortable majority behind, our lives will look different. Our choices in friendships will be different. We will walk away from those who are halfhearted in their walk with God. Instead, we will surround ourselves with other Christians who are passionately pursuing God's call on their lives even through the uncertainty. We will walk the narrow unmapped road together into abundant living.
Does you desire for more in this world cause you to overlook the manna that God is providing for your journey? Are you spending your time laying up treasures here in "Egypt" or are you journeying with God into a life of abundant living? You've been given freedom in Christ but you must make the choice to walk in it.
I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, a VBS crafter, a coupon clipper, a thrift store shopper, a football fan, a cook, a student of the Bible and an avid reader.