The Terrible Twenties

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Charles Dickens, the opening line of his classic: Tale of Two Cities)

If I did not know the two cities of which Dickens wrote were London and Paris, and if I did not know he was speaking of that period of time surrounding the French Revolution, I might well have thought he was describing what it is like to be in your 20’s.  He was right in say, “The period was so far like the present period” because since the time when Dickens wrote to the present day, the struggles of life are very much the same. Dickens words describe the era of those who are twenty-something as well as any.

The twenties boil down to the issue of choice.  What you choose in your twenties will be the foundation for the rest of your life. You live with the consequences of those choices. You choose Light or darkness, hope or despair, belief or unbelief.

The choices are clearly defined. Choose wisely.

To the Class of 2016

We often talk of commencement as the ‘start of your real life’.  “Real life” is, in some sense, an illusion. Jesus alone is ‘real life’. This short term experience is a corrupt illusion that we mistakenly call ‘life’. It is not going to last forever and is a temporary situation in which we live in decaying mortal bodies in a corrupt world under the prince of darkness. Hence, this will not be a cake walk and this is not about you. This is about the 3.6 billion people on the planet who have no idea who Jesus is.  Time is precious and ‘your time’ does not belong to you.  Also, ‘life’ is not on your side. You might be young, but that doesn’t make it easy.  Accept that reality and purpose to live for that for which you were created and you actually will find there is joy in the journey and much of it.

Yes, things spiritually are at a low ebb. We need a national revival. Young people please be aware you cannot leave the church because you are the church. You leave it, skip it, distance yourself from it, then you destroy that for which Christ Jesus died. I challenge you to show the meaning of radical discipleship. You pick up your cross.  You show you love Jesus enough to work to humble yourself and work for nothing.  He paid for you. I plead with you to be an example to those who are older and burned out.  Set the example again.

I’ve been at life for nearly six decades now and the biggest mistakes people make in their twenties are these: they either suppress God’s voice to do something they really want to do, or they suffer from ‘choice paralysis’ and wrongly suppose they have to make the perfect one right choice for their entire life in their next step. As the saying goes, “You can’t steer a moored ship”.  In six decades of life I have done most everything I have ever thought the Lord might have me do. I just didn’t do them all at once.  But if you have a half dozen choices before you and all are scriptural, choose one and trust the Lord to check you if it wrong.  The chance of birds flying overhead in a formation that says, “Go to Egypt” are not terribly high, but if you can go to Egypt and the Lord has placed it before you, go ahead.

Yes, there will be tears in the days to come. They will not always be tears of weeping for the lost. There will be tears of frustration, of not understanding what the Father is doing. There will be the tears of farewell and tears of loss.  As Michael Card said in one of his songs, ‘there were tears before there was rain’.  The Lord has given you and open door. Walk through it and know that you will not always keep your eyes above the waves, but when you do not, He will grab hold of you.  Now get moving. Redeem the time, for the days are evil.

Gunfire at Christmas

The call came early on Christmas morning. Gunmen, enraged over a tribal dispute, had gone into a church and shot worshipers on Christmas morning. My husband was the mission director for the province where the incident occurred and our breakfast guest the head of a mission’s aviation service. Within minutes my husband and guest were out the door headed to the airstrip. I began to make phone calls trying to contact police, who in the country where we worked, took holidays off, so I spent a lot of time with ringing phones and no answers.
As missions is a creative profession, a “Plan B” was hastily pulled together. Doctors, ambulances and police all took the day off, so we got in touch with a network of Christian workers in Morobe Province who dropped their plans, gathered vehicles and headed 40 miles out of town to the airfield to which the wounded would be taken. Hours passed between the time flights took off to pick up the wounded and bring them to a hospital and the time those planes landed in Lae. The area hospital was offering no surgery on Christmas, or Boxing Day so the wounded had only the medical assistance missionary workers could render on board small aircraft and a lot of prayer on their behalf. The transport took several hours and it was 10 hours between the time my husband left home and when he returned.

That made for a very different sort of Christmas. It was a sunny day and in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is a summer time holiday. There are not many “special occasions” but we made Christmas a very important holiday in our home. Gifts were under the tree and a well prepared meal on which we’d splurged a small fortune grew tepid on the counter. I was home alone with our son, and about 3 PM after six hours of patiently waiting for something Christmas-like to happen he asked me, “Mom, is today still Christmas?” I thought a moment and replied, “Yes, son. Today is why we need Christmas”.

Not every disappointing Christmas is marked by gunfire, but it is not uncommon for Christmas to be a hard time of year for many. This is often greater for Christians who feel an added dose of guilt if they are not enjoying every moment of the holiday in the way they feel they should. It’s as if the joy of the day somehow accentuates the sadness they feel inside and they feel sadder for being sad. I had years when I struggled with the same thing but that Christmas marked by gunfire changed my perspective.

If you are feeling sad this Christmas, celebrate the fact that God knows you in your darkness. He came as Light to the World. He cares about the sorrow and willingly is called “The Man of Sorrows”. He sees our sense of hopelessness and declares Himself, “The Hope of Nations”. He feels our loneliness and comes as “Emmanuel” that we remember “God is with Us”.

Joy is not a feeling, it is a perspective. For all who are filled with laughter and happiness and loving all things Christmas, that is a joy that shall not be taken from them. But there will be Christmas days in life when your feelings will not rise to meet your expectations, when sorrow will be palpable and trouble shadow your celebration. Christmas is for you, too. It is your day as well and the perspective you have on the days when life is not so merry reminds you why He came. It’s a worthy way to celebrate and you appreciate the fullness of Christmas for the times that are not so “merry”. Be thankful for these days too. Your perspective is richer for the lean times and more mature for knowing Him in hard times as well. A joyful Christmas to you.

How to Deal with Debt – Part 2

You’ve left college and now are facing a mountain of debt. This can be terrifying now. The good news is, as a Bible College graduate, your debts are less than those of your counterparts. I first started this blog for one Bible College in particular which costs  30% less than the state’s public university. So imagine you had 30% more debt for four years. Your theological education is looking a lot more affordable. Now, with a good attitude, there are many things you can do to help yourself become free of debt more quickly.

First Things First

First and foremost, as I said before, “Tithe. Give to missions. Be responsible”. God rewards faithfulness. My husband and I know this firsthand. For 37 years the Lord has cared for us and He will prove faithful to you too. Start giving. Do it now.

We married the week after graduation. We drew a line around our lifestyle and did not expand it no matter how much we earned. Don’t love the world or the things of it, because the love of the Father isn’t in them. Not only will you find that freeing, but you will get out of debt a lot faster. Frugality is an adventure you can enjoy. Learn to love Freecycle and Savers.

It is unlikely you will get your dream job just out of school and unhealthy if you did. We had our first paid position when we went to the mission field at age 31. While you are working to pay off your debts, whether you are in a paid church position or not you should be serving Jesus faithfully in ministry in a local church.

You might be thinking, “That’s not financial advice”. Yes, it is. It is biblical and sound financial advice. Now the nuts and bolts.

To Parents Who Are Reading This

A number of parents have asked me how they can help their children. If you own a home and your interest rate is lower than the rate of your children’s loans, you can pay off their loans and take a line of credit against your mortgage. Many students have unsubsidized loans at 6.8% and if you have a mortgage at 3.6% you will save your adult child thousands of dollars by helping them this way. This is not code for, “Stick mom and dad with the bill”. If you can do this and your adult offspring is responsible, then by all means do so. How you handle their repayment to you is a family matter but many people simply have their child pay the difference between the original mortgage payment and the increased amount.

For Everyone Else

Most of you will have parents like our son’s. His parents don’t own furniture made in this millennia. This means you must find other ways to pay down your debts. The first thing to know is to never default on your debt. It will ruin your credit for seven years and it is not ethical. As a Christian you have an obligation to repay the money you borrowed.

Pay off your highest bearing interest loans first. If you have any extra money at all, even if it were $5 over and above your regular payment, send it a separate check with a note that says, “This goes against the principal”. If you send in extra money the loan company will apply the extra to your next payment rather than the principle. Your goal is to pay down the principal as quickly as possible. Also be aware that your interest rate is usually discounted if you make automated payments.

Talk to your loan provider over any issue of concern. Your loan provider does not want you to default. They will work with you for income based repayment plans. Earlier this year I worked with a pastor who was paying almost 70% of his income to school loans. He is now paying closer to 20% of his take home and his interest rate has been reduced. Although he had asked for assistance in the past and been declined, he prayed and persisted. The loan company will not call you and say, “Hey, pay less, because we would so love that”. They need to be sure you are not shirking your responsibility. When they are confident of that, they will want to work with you to ensure you are able to make payments. It is in everyone’s interest for you to faithfully pay back all you borrowed.

If you must refinance or choose to consolidate, shop around for the best deals. Another useful link with good information can be found here. Be sure to deduct the interest you are paying on your taxes. This will save you money which you can apply against another loan payment.

This link discusses a number of options. One creative option is doing work from home where they company directly pays your loan provider. You can chip away at those loans even when you are looking for work by working online to have them paid directly. If you are not great a budgeting, this might be a wise choice for you.

Lastly, it takes a life of faith to live a life of faith. Every generation has challenges and yours is no exception. A friend of mine says, “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room”. Work. Sacrifice. Go the extra mile. All those Biblical things you have studied. “Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38) There is no greater waste than if you live life worried about your finances, dissatisfied with your blessings and disengaged from serving the cause of Jesus Christ. God made you for better things.

How to Deal with College Debt – Part 1

The best scenario for those facing college debt is to start dealing with it the moment you take your first loan. If you have graduated and are now trying to decide if it is possible to pay off your loans, while continuing to eat and live indoors, do not panic. There is a way forward. But we’ll start with those who still are in school and can make choices to reduce debt load now.

First and foremost: tithe. Give your tithe and offerings. Tithe off your gross, not your net. Yes, that sounds painful and will feel that way when you start but you will be amazed how God is faithful to bless you. One of the ways to tie up this generation is to be sure they are so self-focused on their personal debt they do not give sacrificially. God honors His Word and He actually will do miraculous things to ensure you meet your obligations if you are responsible. Responsibility means tithing, giving to missions, paying your college and even chipping in for gas when you borrow a car or ask for a ride to work.

Next, fill out the FAFSA using your best “guesstimate” from the previous year and do that at the start of January. When you fill out your taxes go back in and use the “Data Retrieval Tool” which is a box you will check that downloads your filed return into FAFSA. It is to your advantage to fill out the FAFSA early. Just be certain you update and finalize it when your taxes are complete.

Do your “loan homework”. There are resources from little known scholarships, to crowd-source donation websites that can help reduce what you borrow. I will not recommend any particular site but you can find them with a search engine. Do some “smart shopping” to avoid high interest rates. When you do take loans, take the least amount you need at the lowest rate possible. Do not borrow extra money for living expenses beyond room and board. “Board” means meals. Though few Bible colleges are known for extraordinary meals, you paid for those meals so better to eat them then go to Chipotle. Never borrow more than you absolutely must. Trust God and get job to pay for extras or go without. It is good practice for life after school.

Remember that 1098 Form Brother Ed sends you every year? Keep it. It is vital to your financial well-being. Use that to be sure you or your parents take the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Unless you are a higher wage earner, that credit, which ends in December 2017, will be the most advantageous tax credit going to cut down on debt and pay your bills. It is possible to receive up to $2500 per year per student. If you or your family have not taken this credit when you were eligible you can get the money back retroactively by filing an amendment.  The credit can only be taken for four years and is worth $1000 even if you have no taxable income. Would four to ten grand make your life easier? If the answer is yes, ask about this credit.

Take some classes online. Your college probably offers online courses, or you may be able to transfer in credits from a community college. These courses are less expensive and decrease your indebtedness.   Look at ways to shave a semester off your time in school. A bit here and there saves the cost of room and board which is a significant expense. If you want to help your school by spending more time there, consider saving the money and donating it to the school instead.  If you are attending Bible college a large portion of your tuition is covered by donations raised by the school president who is constantly traveling about the country and raising funds so you can get an education.  If you are going to remember someone special at Christmas, drop him a  card.  In fact, thank the entire staff. They are earning less than you think so you can prepare for ministry.  In doing so they are helping to pay for your education.

If you are a senior or have graduated, be of good cheer. Having walked through this with other graduates there is indeed hope. I will post on debt reduction strategies for the graduate tomorrow.

Remember this regarding that mountain of debt: faith and faithfulness will ensure it does not stand in your way.

 

The Supernatural for the Skeptic

So you label yourself a skeptic? If you believe in the scriptures, and you want to serve Jesus, then I am skeptical of your skepticism. I will challenge that label right now.

Noting that every time the music starts Sister Sally shouts and looks like she’s having an attack of appendicitis, does not make you a skeptic. It means you find distraction, distracting. Another famous Pentecostal, Paul, had no tolerance for people disrupting corporate worship. God is a God of order, not to put a leash on the Spirit but a leash on us so we don’t distract from a spontaneous move of the Spirit.  When the Spirit moves there is reverence, not craziness.

You are not a skeptic if you question whether “Miracle Mike’” is always right when he recounts his daily dealings in the supernatural. Mike’s a great guy with great testimony. He is open to the Lord using him. Good for Mike. Many people miss God working through them because they are totally unavailable to be used at all. But Mike is young in the Lord, and being right some of the time, doesn’t make him right all of the time.  So if your Christian dad is dying of cancer and you can’t reconcile it with Mike’s declaration that anything less than total healing is a sign of apostasy, you are not a skeptic. God is perfect, Mike is not.  People err but the scriptures never set us up for false expectations. The Apostle Paul whose handkerchiefs were used in miracles of healing, (Acts 19:2), was forced to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus. Paul fell ill in Galatia (and planted a church while he was at it), faced hunger, shipwreck, and loss. He even despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8). I trust no one is going to questions his Pentecostal commitment. To be “Pentecostal” is to believe in and use the gifts of the Spirit as they are recorded in scripture: nothing less and nothing more.  We rely on God’s power to work miracles and we rely on God’s power to preserve us in persecution. We know that deliverance takes the form of signs and wonders and we know deliverance is provided when Jesus says,  “my grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Cor. 12:9)

You are not a skeptic to want something real and biblical.  “Real” looks like the scriptures: all of the scriptures, not just the exciting experiences we all want to have. A real experience includes: power and persecution, deliverance and death, triumph and tarrying. It is a balance experienced.

Avoid the Acceptable Error Zone

Unfortunately, the normal response to human error is human error. Frustrated in Pentecostal churches many seek safety by settling in the “evangelically acceptable error zone”.  If you attend a church where the worship music is straight up Hillsong and the preaching is expository, you are safe and can grow in the Lord. Just get comfortable ignoring large portions of scripture that explicitly instruct us regarding the Baptism of the Spirit and the corporate gifts. People can convince themselves this is OK because they’ll tell you, “We’re still open to the gifts”. This is code for, “We’re actually ambivalent toward the gifts but if  a rushing mighty wind sweeps through the building and we burst into glossolalia, we promise to hold a board meeting to consider incorporating gifts into our church culture”. *  Disregarding scripture is wrong no matter what form of error we choose. Chaotic meetings where people draw attention to themselves leaving no room for the Spirit to move are meetings where we’re disregarding scripture.** Ignoring the gifts of the Spirit is also willful disobedience to scripture. Could we consider another alternative, radical though it may be?

A Radical Alternative

“Follow the directions”.

Yeah. You saw it there in black and white. What if we read scripture and follow the directions?

A “real” experience should look like the scriptural model.  A good Pentecostal church is one where the preaching is meaty and the gifts are freely used. Gifts don’t interrupt the service but follow the flow of what the Lord is doing. I know this can happen because the Bible tells us what our gatherings should look like.  I was saved in an environment where the gifts were used properly, people were saved weekly, and the services were beautiful, moving and always in order. (In 8 years of revival, everyone was healed but not a single person was slain in the Spirit).  I was not afraid to bring an unsaved friend to church for fear the service might be crazy.  Anyone who drew attention to themselves was quietly invited to step outside where the deacons gave instruction.  Only once did I bring a friend who refused to return. Her reason: “God was in there and I don’t want God running my life. I want to run it myself”. She could sense God’s powerful presence.

Labeling yourself a critic is destructive to you and the Body of Christ. There is no “opt out” clause from membership in the Body of Christ. The best choice is to choose to become a “full gospel” Christian, where “full gospel” means you commit yourself to actively pursue all God has promised in His Word.  It also means you refuse to ignore any part of  God’s Word just because it stretches your comfort level.  You might not want to “seek the best gifts” but you will because it is a command. (I Cor. 12:31). By choosing to be a “full gospel” Christian, you can bring health to the Body of Christ, and restore joy to your own soul. We can’t afford to ignore anything the Lord said we need.  Lay down that skeptical label, pick up the scriptures and walk the truths of scripture, just as scripture tells us to.

We, God’s people, need revival. Let’s commit to live a New Testament life style, corporately and individually.  If we follow Him on good days and on days when we’re perplexed in the depths of our souls, will will see the glory of God.  The best cure for skepticism, is to follow God’s instructions and encourage others to do the same.

  • * AG churches that do not teach on or encourage the use of the gifts are not Pentecostal.
    ** “Pentecostal” churches that ignore Paul’s teaching on proper use of the gifts are also being unscriptural.

Next: Paying off your college debts   www.vanaria.org

I Skinned My Shin On A Honda

I am 100% committed to an intelligent Pentecostal hermeneutic. If you have seen crazy stuff, as I sure have,  I understand if it has caused you to be skeptical.  I’ve been there.  Just be sure that human foolishness does not turn you away from that which is genuinely from God. If we abandon that which the Lord describes in detail in scripture because we have seen good things abused we are just as carnal in our approach as the person who abuses what God gives. In both cases we are elevating human reason and human experience above scripture.  The Word of God instructs us in proper, orderly usage of every thing from tongues in our private prayer life to the many gifts given to His Church. Disorder distracts from His glory. To decide not to pursue that which God has chosen to give us is not intelligence, but arrogance. It is our attempt to make intellectual peace with something that shouldn’t occur in the first place. We are essentially saying, “I’ve seen so much craziness, I am going to ignore the fact God addresses craziness and forbids it. Instead, I’ll neglect all of His gifts with which I feel uncomfortable.”  (“I” being the standard of what is good and what is not, just like the garden).  The idea of using what He has given, as He has instructed us is apparently too simple a choice.

Christians are a supernatural people. We should live like it. God is not unwilling to do what He speaks of in scripture but there is a remarkable dearth of volunteers to simply act on the Word of God.  If we genuinely sought that which God has placed before us, and acted in the orderly manner described in 1 Cor. 12-14 our services would be thrilling.  God never intended the a Pentecostal service be a madhouse that frightened visitors. This is not about us. The saints gather for a dynamic display of God at work and to bring others into a vibrant relationship with the Living God.  We shelve His plans, make our own,, and wonder why we find it hard to show up at our self-powered gatherings.  We know something is missing and ask what it is.  The Bible is rather clear what we’re missing so our choice should be clear.

Dumb Stuff That Turns Us Off

People get turned off to even the prayer language of tongues by “dumb stuff”.  Someone takes people in a room and tells them to repeat nonsense syllables.  People need a genuine experience with God and are understandably perplexed when they are counseled to repeat things that sound like items off the local Chinese restaurant menu. One pastor, expressing his frustration with people being coached that way that way, joked that there are people who would encourage sincere seekers to say, “I skinned my shin on a Honda”really fast believing the tongue twister would  trigger a real experience with God.  This kind of thing sounds crazy, because it is.  It also turns people off from using a gift of grace that is theirs by faith. Nothing makes the devil happier than to see God’s people make peace with living with less than God would give them. The less we have to fight him, the happier he is.

Why This Really, Really Matters

All of this really, really matters. We need all God offers His church not 54.9% of what is in scripture or only that which makes us comfortable. End time predictions do not matter.  It is always the final generation for everyone we meet. Everyone gets just one lifetime to hear.  God has made the same things available to every generation so each generation chooses whether to seek all that God provides or not.  I often feel that we are like people who show up to a five alarm fire equipped with buckets of water and Swiss army knives because “we’ve had some bad experiences with power tools” and then wonder why we are so ineffective at rescuing people from certain death.  Better for everyone is we showed up with the power tools and handled them according to the instructions.

Intellectual Objections

I understand fear of speaking in tongues, because I had a case of it myself. I didn’t want to make it up. I was not wild about having dozens of people cling to me like human fly-paper at an altar call. Yet scripture spends a lot of time talking about these very issues. I had one choice: to seek God and ask if it was true. The scriptures are remarkably convincing, as is God, when given a chance. Every revival in the last two millennia has been marked by a return to the gifts of Spirit.*  Is that because God only gives these gifts during revival or because we get desperate enough for revival that we finally pray for God to do “anything” in us and He simply does what He promised in scriptures?  Why do we choose to live with so much less?

Next: The Supernatural for the Skeptic

*I started to document details and have so many pages of references it does not fit a blog.  I will provide these upon request.