Serving Without Sacrifice?

So here is what I'm thinking. . . . Many times when opportunities to serve/volunteer are presented I find myself not stepping up to the plate because of very legitimate reasons. I'm a busy person doing a lot of good things with a very finite amount of time, right?!

I’m not at all implying that I (or anyone else) should feel guilty. I don't. I haven't. But today I started thinking about the people who jumped into the ocean in Florida this weekend to save the two little boys caught in a riptide, to their own peril, and the many others who saw what was happening and formed a human chain to get them out. Every one of those people sacrificed what they were doing and quite a few of them risked their own lives in doing so.

I have no problem jumping in to rescue someone. That's pretty much in my DNA. It's how I'm wired. It's why I was a cop. But what about less heroic needs? What about the call for volunteers at church? What about the email that just went out for a meal train? Am I too busy to be bothered? How many others volunteer to serve only when it is convenient for them? And how much better would the world be if we all were willing to put a little more skin in the game?

Do I truly value those things I think I value if I only serve at my convenience? Have I made assumptions that it is easier for the people I see volunteering? I think for some probably yes. For others, I don’t think so.

I just can't help but believe that our world is a little less than it could be if we all actually sacrificed some of the time and money we spend on ourselves, towards our own interests. There are certainly many opportunities to help people that are easy for me. I can shove a few dollars here and there quite easily. I can easily help others out of my overflow. But is that serving? Maybe that’s just generosity. It helps, but does it qualify as serving? 

Much of the time when we give and it looks like sacrifice, there is a pretty good payback involved. Some human behaviorists purport that we only choose to do things that give us a payback of some kind—even if it’s just intrinsic (i.e., we feel better about ourselves or like how we might be perceived by others). Can I sacrifice my time, my attention, and do something just because it needs to be done?

I believe love demands sacrifice. I'm really looking at the level of sacrifice I’m willing to give in every area of my life. Not to the point of self-harm or dereliction of responsibilities or even messed up priorities. Admittedly, there are times in life when the things you are doing need to be the things you are doing—and nothing more. But when I have the ability, am I willing to cut a chunk out of my pre-set plans, my schedule, my life to help meet a legitimate need? Do I have more ability to help than I think I do? Have I really, maybe, just not been willing to sacrifice? Am I willing to sacrifice for something/someone I care about—at a true cost to me? And if what I’m giving today is easy, am I willing to lean into it a little more, sacrifice a little more, to contribute, to make the world a better place?

This is what I’m pondering today.

Leslie

#abetterworldbeginswithme 

 

More than anything I want a pure heart

More than anything I want a pure heart. It is my constant prayer and a compass in my life. I do not want favor, opportunity and prosperity beyond what my heart can hold and stay pure. Yet with a pure heart, I hold my arms wide open for all the abundance God brings, trusting His Holy Spirit to partner with me in keeping my heart pure. I watch Him bring challenges into my life--both crazy good and crazy hard--that test my heart. And sometimes I'm wobbly at first, sometimes wobbly for a while, but then His faithfulness comes to shore me up, and it all becomes good. Above all, I want a pure heart.

My WHY

They say you need a WHY in whatever you are pursuing. Something that will keep you going even when you don’t feel like it. I’ve been searching for my WHY---not all those readily apparent reasons, or the expected ones, but the one that is deeply personal, that burns deep down inside. The big one that is tied to who you are. The one that fuels all the others

My journey to the core of myself

I have fully entered the second half of my life. I will live it with more maturity and wisdom but with less strength and vitality than the first half. Emotionally and spiritually, I am stronger. Physically and mentally, admittedly I am not.

My Why? What originally woke me up to “doing something” was the fact that we were not going to have enough money for retirement. We had put our heads in the sand for a long time, and it was catching up with us.

As double income earners with grown kids, we were out of debt and stable. But we did not have enough set aside for retirement. To make it worse, in an effort to start bettering our financial situation, we took a few courses, got with the “experts” and made what appeared to be some safe investment choices. Now on the other side of a Ponzi Scheme and the economic downturn of 2008, we know that they obviously were not “safe.”

Retirement loomed closer and now we had debt. Our bottom line was not as pretty as it had been.

Then I had an encounter with God a couple of years ago in a way I never had before. He told me He was “gifting” me at “creating wealth.” It was a profound, life-changing moment. I knew by the conversation that He meant He was gifting me at helping His people create wealth. This was His heart for them. It was easy for me to see that a world full of wealthy people who had His heart could change the world for good. Money is influence.  Money gets things done. Money brings choices and opportunity.

Money is also scary. Doesn’t money corrupt? Money brings power. Power corrupts. I wasn’t sure I really wanted this job. Actually I didn’t want this job at all. I liked being a pastor. This didn’t seem as noble. Business? Really? But I couldn’t really say no to God, could I? Not after a lifetime of saying “Whatever You want me to do” prayers. And certainly not after such a personal encounter that ended with, “And I want you to partner with Me in this.”

And what is pastoring anyway? I always thought it was loving people really well. That had always been important to me and showed itself in my career pursuits—first as a Marriage & Family Therapist, then as a Police Officer. Now as an Associate Pastor in a church, running a team of volunteer “pastors” whose entire ministry is set up to respond to people in crisis.

Yes, coincidentally, He has spent the last few years totally transforming that ministry. No longer do we bandage up the wounded. Now we’re all about empowering people in crisis to connect with God through thanksgiving, letting Him bandage their wounds directly.

Could it be that pasturing people is really about empowering them to live life to the fullest, no matter where they find themselves? Could it be that instead of a handout, we give them the tools and opportunity to crawl out themselves to gain strength and skills and confidence in the process—creating a personal story of empowerment rather than dependence? Instead of a handout, we open a door (hope) and then equip them to pursue it?

My WHY . . . I could be pursuing what I am because God told me to. Ultimately, yes, my WHY is all about that, but just being obedient to a calling is not what stirs passion in this for me. In fact, it stirred resistance. He told me He was anointing me to do it and then left me there with no road map. He instantly went about working on things in my head and heart! How I felt about money.  How I felt about wealth. Fears I had. Judgments I had. Lies I believed.

But where were the tracks to run on?

Ultimately, He led me to “The WHY that makes me cry” as they say.

In that process of shifting my thinking, He showed me that my life didn’t match who I was. I was unable to live a life that was true to what was in my heart because of limitations of money.

If I could live without money being a factor, I would travel and see friends and family I cannot currently afford to go see. There are limitations of money and accrued vacation time. My parents are getting older (in their 80’s now) and so are my grandchildren—one will graduate and leave home in just a couple of years. Both family members and close friends are having many life experiences that I cannot share because of distance, requiring more of that limited time off and money.

If I had no limitations, would I go to all of the things my heart has longed to go and do? I don’t know, because the limitations made it pointless to think about. There was no choice. Where there was room for choices, they had to be sorted through, and limited only to the most crucial.

I’ve seen money and health limit the choices of others. I’m watching my friends unable to do what they long to do because of money. I’m watching too many friends living compromised lives—barely above broke and unhealthy. Lots have given up. They live resigned. Some have even died—way before they should have.

So my “Why that makes me cry?” I know I need money for retirement, but that doesn’t make me burn with the passion needed to do something differently. That just lands in the “should” drawer that never seems coupled with much motivation.

My WHY

I want to live this second half of my life to the fullest. I want to be healthy—inside and out. I want to be beautiful—inside and out. I want to live a life full of love and creativity. I want to have no limitations.

I want to be able to do everything God puts in my heart to do, without being limited by money or health.

And I want to help others do the same.

That is the short and simple of it.

That is my WHY.

He has shown me it was in there all along. He just had to help me find it.

A Little History About Me and Money (Part 2)

PART 2

(written March 2014, edited November 2014)

In early to mid-August, I was feeling the demands of growth in both my home skincare business and my job at the church. I felt I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, but were quite loaded with responsibility and all the options for growing both seemed right at my doorstep. In a moment with the Lord, I asked Him, “What are we doing?” (Meaning: What’s the plan?) He clearly answered me, “You don’t need to know.” With sort of a shrug of the shoulders, I thought, “Okay, I don’t guess I really need to know.” I knew I could easily just continue to live each day as it came, with an ear always cocked toward heaven for direction. I felt peace with His response.

Then on August 21, 2012, I was reading 1 Corinthians 12-14 in my Change Your Life Daily Bible  (NLT 1996 translation). As I read verse 12 of chapter 14, “Since you are so eager to have spiritual gifts, ask God for those that will be of real help to the whole church,” my spirit unexpectedly stepped out in front of me and asked God, "What’s mine.  Before I could blink, He quickly answered, "Creating wealth." I heard the words clearly. Still startled at what had just happened, I just as quickly retorted back, "But I'm a pastor!" (“Is that even a spiritual gift?” I thought.) He immediately responded, "My people need money."  I so knew this was true, I almost chuckled back with a “duh.” In fact, I’m pretty sure He heard that deep down in my spirit. It was funny to me that He would tell me something I was so aware of. As my heart was nodding in agreement, He continued, “And I need ways to channel money to them.” He paused and then He said, "I need you to partner with Me in this."  And with that, I was fully wrecked. I couldn’t ever remember God so directly and tenderly calling me out. Through my tears and brokenness, I agreed. I had no idea where we were headed, but I knew there was no answer but, “Yes, Lord.”

More to come . . .

A Little History About Me and Money (Part 1)

I remember when I was 9 years old, I wanted to donate all of my savings—all $16.00 of it— to a fundraiser for needy children. My parents wouldn’t let me. I know they were just trying to protect me, but I was deeply grieved. I really wanted to give it all. 

From as early as I can remember, I’ve questioned how we spend money. Not so much asking questions, but more the quiet ponderings inside one’s heart—like when you’re not quite sure the thoughts you are thinking are what others would understand or approve of. As best I could tell, it didn’t seem like anyone I knew questioned these things.

I remember our house out in the country was nicer than my friends’, and it always embarrassed me to hear their oohs and ahs when they first came over. Funny what felt extravagant back then seems fairly modest by today’s standards. (Progress they call it.)

I always wondered how we could live like we do in America when children were starving around the world. At least I was told they were starving—in Ethiopia—every time I stubbornly refused to clean my plate. (I never figured out how gagging on a spoonful of mashed potatoes was going to help a child in Africa.)

I wondered why no one else seemed to care about this. I found the topic noticeably lacking in the conversations around me. But I don’t think I ever brought it up either. Maybe we were all silently wondering about the same things? I don’t really think so.

I remember going to a craft show in a woman’s home, probably 25 years ago, and learning that she made the crafts all year long and then sold them to support several children in third world countries. I’ve never forgotten that.

About 10 years ago, Tom and I were invited to attend a local women’s service club meeting to hear Binh Rybacki speak. Binh, who I learned was my same age, came to the United States from Vietnam as a teenager near the end of the war in the 70’s. We were excited and honored to learn we had been seated at her table, and I was delighted to find I had a seat right next to her. We learned that both Binh and her husband worked full-time in Colorado, but their family managed to live on his salary so that her entire salary could be used to rescue children off of the streets of Vietnam. She told me she was harassed every time she went back to Vietnam, and arrested many times—but always released. She invited me to go back with her sometime, assuring me that an American would never be arrested. I was in awe of how she was living her life and yet terrified at the thought of being arrested there. (I’d seen a few horrific POW movies.) We never connected again though I kept a brochure about her ministry on my kitchen bulletin board for many years. She made quite an impact on me. (See http://www.childrenofpeace.org/about.html.)

I was a police officer for eight years. My last three and a half years in that profession were spent as a School Resource Officer in a high-poverty, high-crime, multi-cultural junior high. During that time, I saw poverty up close, and I lost my fear of it. Looking poverty in the face made me see it as manageable—maybe not desirable, but manageable. I could do that if I had to, I remember thinking.

At this same time, my son lived in a very affluent neighborhood south of town. He was a contractor, building very expensive homes, and his children went to a wealthy neighborhood school. I found myself put off by the lavish lifestyles of their peers and secretly thought my grandkids would benefit from a “real life” education on the “other” side of town. One day the Lord convicted me, letting me know that He needed people taking the kingdom into all realms of society—so there was no room to judge. He opened my eyes to see how my son and his family could touch lives I would never have access to because of my judgmental attitude. That was an eye-opener!

Reading Bill Johnson’s book, When Heaven Invades Earth, prompted my husband and I to quit our jobs, sell almost everything we owned, and move to Redding, California, so that I could attend Bethel’s ministry school in 2007. I cried sorting through all my possessions. I never thought I was materialistic, but everything I owned had memories attached. It was a brutal process, though it felt good when we were done. We committed to living a simpler life (i.e., fewer possessions). That’s been a little bit of a challenge, and I think we’ve accumulated more than we thought we would since then, but we’ve learned we like living with less and are trying to stay intentional about it.

One day, as I sat in that first year of ministry school, I listened to one of our in-house missionaries visiting from Mozambique, Tracy Evans, speak about how we spend our money—and I was on the floor weeping as that little 9-year-old girl’s voice came to life again in my heart. I’d never heard anyone speak the thoughts that had been in my heart—challenging us, charging us, with responsibility for how we spend our money. My heart connected with Tracy’s words that day. I wasn’t sure what would come of it, but I knew something in me that got pushed down long ago had just come back to life. (Check out Tracy’s ministry at http://www.ireachafrica.org.)

More to come . . .

 

LIfe Advice #2

I think the second piece of life advice I would give someone would be to guard your heart—because everything else comes from this one thing. 

Guarding your heart to me means to keep directing your thoughts to places of integrity, of honesty, and purity; living open and transparent. Living transparently doesn’t mean you have inappropriate boundaries. You don’t have to be a tell-all. But as you realize there are places in your heart where you store dark secrets, open those up. You can tell they are there when you stumble across something hidden that brings you shame—that you would never want anyone to know. Find someone safe to share with. If you have no one to trust, then lay it at the feet of Jesus and ask His help in letting go---and go forward.

Guarding your heart means forgiving yourself and letting go of offenses you might have towards others. It also means doing all you can to protect your choices today. When you have a choice between being honest or not, loving or not, loyal or not, faithful or not, integrous or not . . . . make the choice to protect the tenderness of your heart and keep it pliable, open, and flowing with life.

The true condition of the heart slips out in unanticipated moments. Keeping it honorable and pure, will reveal it’s nature, and allow others to trust you. Guard your heart for it speaks loudly.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (Prov 4:23 NLT).

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Prov 4:23  ESV).

“Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all thee things I hate, declares the Lord” (Zech 8:17 ESV).

For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7 NKJ).

 

My Best Life Advice

It has taken me months to start blogging. It is a much more intimidating process than I expected, easy to keep putting off. But I keep hearing, Just start, so I shall. I dedicate this first blog to Abram, who has helped me so much with this website and has been so encouraging to me in all of this. Abram asked me a couple of months ago what one piece of life advice I would give him. I was quick to answer, Always look toward God—no matter what. Over the last two months, I’ve thought back to what I told him often and have not changed my mind about it. It’s the best advice I could give. No matter what happens in your life, no matter how confusing things may seem—even if you are doubting His very existence, always look towards Him for the answers. Challenge Him. Question Him. Just keep your face turned towards Him. It will make all the difference. Look in other places, and you’ll find yourself going on rabbit trails with high price tags. And from my perspective, the outcome difference is huge. It’s the best life advice I could give anyone.