Monday, November 25, 2013

Futuristic Finances

I'm usually one that preaches about giving and not worrying about money; so this is a little bit of a different kind of subject.  It may seem strange for me to suddenly be emphasizing saving and budgeting, but I think this ties right along in with the giving and relying on God theme. 

At no time should our budgeting or saving make us stingy or greedy.  Jesus talks numerous times about giving- Acts 20:35 "I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." 

Sometimes I think the best way to view money in the proper perspective is to remember that it technically isn't ours.  Our money, possessions, time, etc... comes from God and God only.  Yes, we want to work hard so we can pay our bills and support our families; but never should we start to think that God is not ultimately responsible for what we receive.  "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." 

However, He does want us to be wise stewards with our finances.  There are countless programs and ministries today focused on helping Christians budget and handle their income wisely.  I'm not going to give a three-step program or a wise lecture; I'm just going to share what I have been learning and encountering.  I write this especially for singles, since that is the stage of life I currently am in. 

I become increasingly concerned as I see young guys and girls who are taking no heed of their future.  The current generation of young people are simply living by the moment.  All that is great since we are to rely on God's leading and not "write our plans in stone", but what happens when life suddenly hits us and we suddenly are clueless on how to live?

As a single women, it may be hard for us to grasp.  Most are still thinking that they will never be reduced to a life of singlehood- imagine that a guy wouldn't ask us! But I have no guarantee from a young man that he will marry me by the time of my twenty-fifth birthday, and no angel appeared and foretold me that marriage is in my future.  If you look at the ratio of single men compared to single women, it will quickly confirm the fact that we may be called to live solo.  As of right now, I plan that I will be single the rest of my life and so prepare that way.  If God would have matrimony in mind for me, I will still be glad for the preparations I have taken; and my saving will not have been in vain. 

Basically what I am saying is that since I have no man to support me and I don't want to rely upon my parents for the rest of my life, it is time I start supporting myself and my future.  Maybe that means starting to set aside a certain amount each month to save for an apartment, or maybe that means trying to figure out what God wants me to pursue as a job, ministry, or life goal instead of sitting back and waiting for a guy to come knocking at my door. 

Just think with me for a little bit---
To set up one's own home these are some things that most would purchase
washing machine
plates, cups, bowls, storage containers, serving dishes, etc...
coffee maker
pots, pans, kettles
dining room set
living room set
bedroom set
towels, washcloths, cleaning supplies, washing supplies, rugs, decorations, sheets, comforters,
hoes, rakes, shovels

Bills that would come due....
taxes- local, state, property, school, income
water and sewer

Now granted, each place would be different and some people might not need a dyer or mower; but there are things that I have not even listed.  Starts to get a little overwhelming!

If you get married, people will give gifts to help you start off your new life with less expense; but if you are a single male or female, most of this stuff will need to come out of your own pocket. 

What if we save and prepare and then get married or go on the mission field?  Well, I'm sure your wife or husband will appreciate your monetary gift you bring to a marriage because the expenses don't go away.  Once you start to build a family, each child will approximately cost $241,080 (give or take)!!!  If you go on the mission field for a year or five years, there is time that you may come back and need a place to live.  Most people will have moved on by then, and you will be thrown into the craziness of life with little help. 

Am I saying that we should adopt a "survival of the fittest" attitude?  Definitely not!  We still need to rely on our Heavenly Father, because He cares and provides for us. 

Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

But it concerns me when I see young men spending all their money on expensive hunting trips, snowmobiles, vehicles, and whatever else it is that guys tend to enjoy.  Girls dish out money for name-brand clothes, eye-catching phones, trips, and designer purses.  I speak to myself just as much, because I have a weakness for spending money easily on things I like.  Once again, there is nothing wrong with having a hobby like hunting or traveling; but it does start to get scary when we have spent all of our income on that stuff and never gave to the Lord or set aside for the future. 

Here are some example categories for budgeting...
Tithe (the most important thing in our budget- be creative with how you give your money back to God)
Savings (for those emergency things like garage bills or cancer treatments)
Gifts for family and friends (because budgeting does not make us stingy and cut out the ones we care about)
Medical (dentist, doctor, orthodontist, and all the painful things of life)
Housing (for that cozy little apartment or house)
Food (yum=p  but believe it or not, food can get expensive)
Auto (to keep that hot rod running and on the road)
Insurance (car, property, house...yuck!)
Clothing (so that we aren't reduced to rags)
Spending (the very last category saved for the "fun" things in life=)

Hopefully this does not make you depressed and feel overwhelmed.  It is a gradual thing that will not happen overnight.  I still have a long ways to go, but I am trying harder to be a wise steward with what God gives me.  Sometimes I still splurge, and then I kick myself; but I now have a goal to work towards.  Whether we are single guys or girls, I think looking ahead and planning is a great thing that we can do for ourselves and our future. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Thanksgiving Challenge

It's only a week away, that little holiday which most people have forgotten.  A tiny little something situated between Halloween and Christmas.  I'll give you a hint- it's mostly celebrated with football, turkey, and maniac shopping.  Yup, it's Thanksgiving.  How sad that so few people realize what Thanksgiving really is.  I wonder if the reason that the true heart of Thanksgiving is dying is because we have become so self-centered.  Oh yes, we love to look at all the wonderful things around us and "count our blessings", but is that where it stops?  I wonder if we would start viewing our blessings outside of ourselves if we would gain more fulfillment from the one day that comes around every November? 

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that Thanksgiving usually means "thanks giving", but what if we also made it mean "giving a reason for thanks"?  If you're confused by now, don't worry; I will try to explain.

We always focus on the Pilgrims who celebrated their miraculous harvest in 1621 by "thanks giving" to God, but it started with God who prompted the Indians to "give the reason for thanks".  Because of their crucial help to some lonely, sick, hungry Pilgrims, the Native Americans gave a reason for the Pilgrims to be thankful.  We focus on "thanks giving" to God for all of our blessings, but maybe we should focus more on God who "gave us the reason for thanks", and follow His example.

Sarah Hale worked for thirty-six years to have the country recognize a day to give thanks; finally, Abraham Lincoln in 1863 nationalized Thanksgiving Day as entreating God “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”  Once more, the reason for the season was about more than ourselves, it was about asking God to bless others.

What if we make this Thanksgiving more than just saying a quick thanks to God for our full stomachs and cozy homes?  What if we passed on our blessings so others had reasons to give thanks?  Yes, we should always live in an attitude of gratefulness; but for some people it is hard to focus on the blessings when they have to worry about feeding their children or making the next car payment.  Maybe we can be God's Hands to them, just like the Indians did to our ancient grandparents so many years ago on the first Thanksgiving.

I made a list of things I am grateful for- such as

Then I tried to figure out ways that I can take each of my blessings and make them a way to give others a reason to give thanks. 

Salvation:  Maybe I can share this blessing by telling someone about Jesus.  People will easily snob a person going door to door over the holidays, but a waitress can't pass up the Bible given with a hefty tip.  Sometimes I think this can be our best example.  Servers rely mostly on what you leave as a thank-you for their service.  Sometimes Christians use this as a way to save on their budget, by cheating a worker out of his or her full share.  Take the current recommended tipping average and do more.  That will make someone step back and say, "Wow, there is something different about them!"  When my family traveled a lot on the road hauling sheds, we would eat out a lot.  Mom and Dad would tip heavily and then include a Christian Cd or a Christan book.  We had many waiters and waitresses thank us for that! 

Family:  Find a lonely older person who no longer has family with which to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Adopt them into your heart and home and pass on the special blessing that comes with being part of a family.

Home:  Do you realize how hard it is for single moms to make their house payments, plus support their children and pay all other bills?  Give a little more to the Lord this time out of your paycheck and send it anonymously to a lady you know that is trying her best with the little she has.

Food:  Raising a family is tough in today's economy.  Give a gift card to a family so they can get away and enjoy time together.  Mom will love getting out of the kitchen, and kids can't resist hamburgers and fries.

Music:  I'm thankful for the beauty of music and the privilege of teaching a girls' choir.  One way to pass on this blessing is by getting a group of friends and family together and caroling for the elderly or neighbors.  I guarantee it will put smiles on a lot of people's faces.

Health:  Not everyone has this blessing that I have; so I want to do something for those that don't.  Encouragement baskets are excellent for those that are stuck in hospitals or confined to their house all day long.  Fill a basket with soup, a good movie, Cd's, word game books, cough drops, and lotion.  Your imagination can be limitless when it comes to making up gift baskets!

Freedom:  Who knows how long we will be able to worship God freely in this country, but that is not what matters.  What matters is that we have freedom here at this moment.  Not everyone does.  Christian Aid Ministries has awesome programs to help Christians in persecuted countries.  I included some information about one of their programs that you can donate any amount to..."

Christian Martyrs Fund

The Christian Martyrs Fund (CMF) sponsors approximately 629 pastors and Christian workers (and/or their families) who were crippled or disabled by their persecution experiences. This program provides funds for recipients to buy food, clothing, and other necessities.
Over the years, pastors and other Christian workers in China, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East have faced tremendous persecution and strain. Some were martyred and others beaten to the point of physical and mental disabilities. Still others suffer poor health from the strain of secret Bible printing and other "underground" work. Today these Christians find it extremely difficult to make a living.
A letter from Grigorij and Sinaida Kostenko, Christian-Martyrs-Fund recipients in the Soviet Union:
Dear Friends,
From our hearts, we greet you in the name of Jesus Christ!
I was pleasantly surprised that you thought of me and this gift of love has been given to me. I am not worthy of such attention, but our communion through the blood of Jesus Christ which is more than physical has made you remember such a brother. Praise God, who has given us such love for each other. How can we repay? The Lord requires of us an honest service and a clean heart. May the Lord bless your efforts and reward you!
In 2001 my wife died. For three years, I lived by myself. Then the Lord gave me a wife, Sinaida Tarasova (now she is Kostenko). She was in prison twice for the sake of Christ, because she worked with printing Christian literature.
Please take from us these words of thanks for your care and attention to our needs. "The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." Numbers 6: 24-26.

~Grigorij and Sinaida Kostenko
Do you want to help encourage needy, disabled Christian workers and their families?

Isn't it wonderful all the ways we can pass on the blessings and show people what Thanksgiving really is?! 
There is an older song called "The Chain of Love" by Clay Walker; go listen to it on YouTube.  It sums up the attitude of giving pretty well.

I challenge you to write your own list and come up with ways to spread the blessings.  The sky is the limit when it comes to creative ways to be God's Hands.  Do this Thanksgiving Challenge, and I'm willing to bet that this holiday will be more special than ever!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Anabaptist? *sputter, sputter

I take a deep breath and begin to write something which I have put off for a very long time- a subject that I dared not approach.  Either it was embarrassment or fear of offending friends I love that kept me so long from touching the keys to write this.  Perhaps I needed time to evaluate what I actually believed and valued.

How many of us that have grown up in Anabaptist Mennonite homes have not been ashamed at some time or another of the way we had to live?  All the disadvantages seem to be highlighted in our minds.  The way our parents kept us from doing the things that everyone else could do, the way our church made us dress differently than our peers, and the way people gawked at the coverings or veilings on our head.  As girls, we just wanted to let the world know how beautiful we could be if we just had the chance to appear like everyone else.  It did not seem quite fair that the guys could pretty well pass through the world unnoticed.  They had girls chasing after them- because an unanabaptist female knows the value of a good ole' boy, but we had guys laughing at our weirdness.  As guys, there was a lot of excitement of which we could have no part.  Maybe some of you will not admit to it, but I will because I had these feelings quite often.  I mean even the name Mennonite is weird! 

It was not until I started to figure out and learn why I lived this way that I started to actually rejoice in my differences.  When we only do what we do because of family or church, we view the Anabaptist faith as bondage; when we do what we do because we believe it, we find the Anabaptist faith liberating.

I write this not to stir debate.  I am not one who enjoys arguing and trying to cram the way I believe down people's throats.  Instead, I want this to be a refreshing blog that inspires instead of angers and encourages each person to find out what they really believe.  I write this after years of my own wrestlings and observing of friends and family's struggles. 

Why are so many people leaving the values they were brought up in?  I think there are quite a few reasons.  Let me know if I miss something.  1.  They have sifted through their beliefs and discarded the ones that seem not to apply to the Christian today.  2.  They are tired of being different and would rather be a Christian without the extra tags.  3.  It is easier to find a girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife outside of the "Mennonite" circle.  4.  They have seen ones who stand by every Anabaptist exterior principle but live the crummiest of lives internally.

To properly understand everything, let's go back in history to a very long time ago.  The things we are talking about are a part of a bigger realm than of what we are aware.  Many people proudly tell you about the veterans in their lineage, ones who fought for the freedom of their country; I proudly tell you about the veterans in our lineage, ones who fought for the freedom of their faith.  We typically think of Mennonites/Anabaptists as dull, conservative, and boring, but I beg to differ.  The men that started us off were cannonballs.  They were determined, brave, bold, daring...they looked death in the face and laughed.  I wish we could have met these people.  We live our life and rarely include our faith; they lived their faith and rarely included life. 

When I was eight years old, I asked for The Martyr's Mirror as a Christmas gift.  You are probably wondering what was wrong with me; don't worry I still haven't figured it out.  I know, most eight-year old girls ask for American Girl dolls, frilly dresses, or ponies, but I asked for a book of stories about tortured people.  I did get the book, and I poured over that big huge book soaking in all the vast horrors that happened to my forefathers and mothers.  What continually astounded me was the level of commitment that these people had.  At eight years old I tried to imagine the pain of tongue screws, tearing racks, ravaging lions, and scorching stakes; at twenty-three years old I still wonder if I could stand strong to Jesus while undergoing such agonizing, blood-curdling nightmares. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, these were real people!  They were dying because they believed in a personal relationship with Jesus, they were being banished from home because of reading the Bible, they were scorned by friends because of living out Biblical principles.  Kind of makes me feel cowardly when I am ashamed to look like a Christian just because I will be different.  "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels."- Luke 9:26

So are these things that Mennonites have done for hundreds of years really necessary?  If you believe in John 3:16 and Genesis 1, why would you discard other portions of the Bible?  Although the Christian life would be a lot easier if we could pick and choose, I never read in the Bible that there was that option.  The Bible is the inspired Word of God, every single word of it.  The most amazing thing about the Bible is that even though it has been around for generation after generation, it still is current for our day.  It still deals with issues of alcohol, adultery, homosexuality.  It still speaks of nonresistance, head-covering, and modesty.  Oops, I think I need to bandage my toes; God has a habit of stepping on them pretty hard sometimes.

So what about all these pathetic Mennonites?  They sit in church Sunday after Sunday as righteous as you please, but are manipulating their customers on Monday, viewing porn on Tuesday, spending money on their beautiful house on Wednesday, gossipping in a devastating way on Thursday, running the cops on Friday, and counting pennies on Saturday.  Yup, if that's the hypocritical way Mennonites live, I don't want to be part of it.  Hold on just a second, I'm a cafe-loving, sold-out-for-Jesus, adopt-the-orphans, radical-type of Christian that hates the deadness within our churches, but those listless people aren't the standard of what Mennonite is.  Don't judge the Anabaptist values on people that are using the Mennonite garb only as a cover for their heinous lifestyles.  Just because you grew up by the Dead Sea, doesn't mean that all water is salty and undrinkable.  Somewhere a river of clear, refreshing waters flows, even if you can not see it.  Perhaps the problem with the Mennonites today is that they too have never met the radical martyrs that fought hard for Jesus.  If there was a way to combine heart, soul, and energy with value and principles, the combination would be more powerful than anyone can imagine.  Perhaps that is why Satan keeps the value and principle churches wrapped up in only exterior godliness, and the heart, soul, and energy churches wrapped up in only interior godliness.  Without exterior there is no ground; without interior there is no seed.  The blossoms that grew from our forefathers' lives took place because they planted the seed within the ground.

Now plays in some of my past observations of ones who have abandoned the principles that make up the Anabaptist faith.  I start to believe more and more that we are protected by our "restricting" lifestyle.  Not protected in the sense that Mennonites will never face accidents, hospitals, illness, rape, or destitution; but protected in the sense of our being kept in the Father's arms.  Maybe I just imagine these things, but why is it that when someone leaves the Anabaptist principles, soon all other Biblical principles start to disappear as well, even though this person still a Christian?  These liberated believers end up having babies before marriage and using addictive substances that slowly destroy their bodies.  The guys marry girls that have no clue how to cook a meal or raise a family.  The girls marry guys that exploit them and are with every other woman in the neighborhood.  No, I'm not saying that being able to run a household makes you a perfect man or woman, but it sures makes things flow a lot more smoothly for you and your children.  And no, I'm not saying that being a Mennonite is the highest and truest form of godliness; but I am saying that being a Mennonite protects you from other vices that will try to pull you away from your goal.  Life is simple- it consists of two things.  Things that draw you closer to God, or things that pull you away.  We are all trudging through this swamp of life.  The biblical principles are our water, flashlights, mosquito netting, and high-water boots.  Yeah, they may look funny and be an extra baggage, but take those away, and you become subject to malaria, quicksand, and dehydration.  Make it through the swamp, and you reach Heaven.  Die in the swamp, and your journey ends.  It's just that simple....

It's all about how you protect yourself in the swamp.                

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Woman's Honour: The Beauty of Modesty

Funny how you can see Christian girls walking the boardwalk with every inch of their body available for eye perusal except for a few places barely covered with a strap of fabric.  Interesting how the pictures we share on our social pages or hang on our walls state our belief that we have the right to showcase ourselves if we wish.  Ironic how our heroes tell us that the body is art and meant to be uncovered- like hello- why would you veil
the bewitching body contour, the ravishing skin shades, the enticing symmetry of movement?
Maybe this is all a trick to satisfy
us with a fading allure so that we completely miss the real essence of beauty.
Oh, the very delicate issue of modesty.  Perhaps we have heard so much about it that we no longer respect it.  Perhaps we have started to base our standards on the ones around us.  Perhaps we do not understand the true beauty of modesty and have agreed that beauty is bareness.
Growing up, I used to become upset at the way my old-fashioned parents made me dress.  It was so hard to be different.  Don't think that a sixteen year-old girl does not see the way that the other girls look at her because she is not dressed like them.  At that time, I could not see that the guardians of my life were trying to teach me principles so that I would be able to know how to keep my heart and body. 
I'm twenty-three now, my wardrobe is pretty much up to me now.  The decisions are mine.  But when I was finally old enough to make my own choices, I could not bring myself to showcase my body for public display.  Do people still look at me strangely?  Oh yes.  Are family and friends sometimes embarrassed to be seen with me?  Definitely.  Am I saving myself for my King and maybe one-day Prince Charming?  Without a doubt. 
I have heard the old argument that modesty should not matter.  It is the man's fault if he thinks inappropriate thoughts.  Well, yes, the man is responsible- according to what I read in the Bible.  Men however have been taught by today's society to lust after women on the premise of what they can gain for themselves.  To find a man who is fighting for the purity of his mind is a rare thing indeed.  I wish there were more men stepping up to the responsibility of being Knights of the Kingdom.  If our men would step up, the women would undoubtedly follow.  But let's face it, if the men are not going to do that; then we as women can show an example of how modesty is breath-taking.  Just because the world has lowered the standard does not mean that we have to accept it!
I have a nineteen year-old brother and an almost fifty
year-old father that both claim that a woman who covers herself holds a charm and mysterious beauty which is more attractive than when a woman shares everything with the world.
But back to blaming the issue of modesty all on men.  Men and women are different.  Men are attracted by sight; women by emotion. 
So if you as a young lady are falling for a man who is bringing you flowers, sending chocolates, walking on a moonlit beach with you, and taking you to the most romantic restaurants, how will you respond if he then says he is not responsible at all for your attraction towards him, it is completely your fault, you should have controlled yourself? Obviously, you would not agree with him.  I mean he was the one sending the flowers and trying to woo your affection.  However, as a young lady, you are doing the same thing when you unveil your modesty. 
Am I going to tell you the exact blueprints of modesty?  No, that's something between you and God.  You know, that is the first place to start.  If your modesty is only dependent on church or family regulations, it will be a drudgery to maintain.  But if your modesty is based on your love for a King Who is wanting the very best for you, your idea of modesty will suddenly become a freedom instead of a cage.  I love Leslie Ludy's guideline for modesty.  Cover the areas of your body that you would not feel comfortable with a man (that is not your husband) touching. 
Modesty is not just about dress though.  I have seen young ladies with wonderful external modesty, but yet they are undressed in spirit and action.  My brother once was in a group of young people when he noticed something strange.  One of the most modestly-clothed girls there was the most immodest.  She was the one that instantly drew all male attention because of her actions and spirit.    
Is the level of modesty dependant on time or location?  Why would it be?  You are still the same person, serving the same King.
I think the biggest thing to grasp is that modesty is a beautiful thing.  The more a valuable coin or gem is handled, the quicker it loses its value.  The more your body and heart is given away whether physically or through display, the quicker you sell away its worth.  Modesty is one of the key ingredients of purity.  When modesty is not a safeguard wall around the castle of purity, the castle is more likely to be chipped away, entered, and defiled.  When the King comes, I want to invite him into a castle that has been guarded, even though it cost me friends and tears and easy love.  How ashamed would I be if all I had to show Him was a crumbly ruin?  Many men may approach the bulwark that I have guarded.  They want to come and go as they please, each time taking a little bit of the castle.  But if I have the wall of modesty, they will be more quickly held back.  Only the Prince that has received the Key to my castle from the King himself and has slain his the dragons in his own life will be allowed to enter the fortress that I have guarded with all of my heart, soul, and mind.   
I embrace the fact that I can make the choice to fight for my body and to guard my purity.  When the battle of peer pressure breaks loose, I wield my sword and firmly protect the most valuable treasure the King ever gave me.  May we as young women never sacrifice our walls and castle to gawking eyes and bandits, plunderers, and swindlers who will leave us with nothing but brokenness and ashes.