Monthly Archives: May 2015

For the Third Time in Forever

No, I’m not posting about Frozen, and yes, you’re welcome. 😉 However, I thought the title fitting. For the third year in a row, I’m heading down to my favorite four-week camp; only this year, things are a little different. This year God has blessed me tremendously more than I hoped, and I get to go down as part of the leadership team. In spite of my stingy expectations, He opened the way for me to go as a team leader for STEP Advanced. (About which I am both super excited and super nervous. It’s that comfort zone thing again.) What will this mean? It means that I’m leaving exactly a week from today, and will not be back until July 2. In the meanwhile, this coming week is looking to be ridiculously busy, so I decided to sign off early in order to better focus on other things.

As always, you’re absolutely more than welcome to contact me for any reason whatsoever, even just to let me know something new that happened. Any and all letters are amazing, so don’t feel shy. 😉 I will do my best to answer letters in whatever spare time I have. (Which probably won’t be much, but I’ll sure try.) If you want to drop me a line, you can send letters to:

IAA attn: STEP Calista Holmes
One Academy Blvd
Big Sandy, TX 75755

Or you can send an e-mail to step@alertacademy.com with ‘Calista Holmes’ in the subject box, and they will print it off.

Have an utterly smashing June, and if you think of us, please pray for us. We would love prayers for wisdom and energy and all that. Thank you much! 🙂

~Calista

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To Give or Not to Give

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Not that receiving is bad in any way, but giving at God’s prompting far surpasses it. Some months ago, He prompted me to give some of my time and go to the hospital to visit an older lady that I barely knew. I felt so awkward asking where her room was, and even more so peeking into it and greeting her. Yet it turned out that talking with her and seeing her positive attitude encouraged me more than anything else would have at that point.

Throughout the Bible God weaves a command to give. Take Deuteronomy 16:17 for example:

“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.”

What has God blessed you with? What talents has He entrusted to you? What material blessings? What wisdom and insights? What unique experiences? When it comes to giving, we normally think of money. Certainly, that’s one way to give, but there is so much more to giving than just cash! Over the past couple years or so, God has been laying on my heart that every gift He gives me is not just a gift – it is a responsibility to use it to give to others. Proverbs 3:27 says,

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

If He has given me a love for drawing and painting, then I have a responsibility to find a way to use it in a way that will honor Him and bless other people. If He has given me the ability to write stories, then I have no excuse for letting it sit by the wayside unused, or worse yet, used to glorify something other than God. If He blesses me with more income than I know what to do with (and I have minimal expenses in my current situation) then I have a responsibility to likewise bless others with it. I discovered an entry in my journal from mid-February that said this:

“God provides, and He does so exceedingly above all we ask for. The reason for this is because He doesn’t *just* want to provide for us. He wants us to turn around and pass it on to others.”

Isn’t that how the church impacts others for the kingdom? It’s taking our blessings, no matter how small, and turning them into someone else’s blessings.

With that in mind, let’s look at a couple passages.

Philippians 4:16-19 – “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 – “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”

For a bit of background, Philippi was located in Macedonia, so when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was very likely writing about the Philippians, amongst others. So what do we see from the Philippians’ manner of giving? They gave

  1. Regularly.
  2. Generously, even beyond their means.
  3. First to God, and then according to His will, to the service of the saints.

I’m fascinated by the fact that the Philippians were probably extremely poor, yet, like the widow and her two mites, they joyfully gave everything they possibly could because God called them to.

A man named Scott attended a Bill Bright conference once, during which Bill challenged the people there to give one million dollars for the Great Commission. Scott couldn’t take it seriously because his business made less than $50,000 a year. When Bill asked Scott how much money he’d given away in a year, Scott answered, “We gave $17,000, about 35 percent of our income.” Bill immediately challenged him to give away $50,000 in the next year. When Scott and his wife decided to trust God and go for it, they were amazed to watch Him provide. By the year’s end, they were able to give away the $50,000. So the next year they set their goal at $100,000, and again, God provided. Years later, they were giving away more than a million dollars a year, and they weren’t stopping.

What an amazing story! Scott and his wife did exactly what the ancient Philippians did. They gave year after year to God, beyond their means. Philippians 4:19 says,

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

When we commit to give and serve however God asks us to, He doesn’t leave us to scrape by and barely survive. He provides what we need and more, so that we are able to give exceedingly abundantly more than we ever imagined we could.

Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

And as my group leader from STEP Advanced reminded us last year, “You can’t outgive God.” Let’s look at another passage.

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 – “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

You know how there are laws of nature like gravity? There are also spiritual laws, one of which says that giving is like farming – the more you plant, the more you harvest. If you plant a stingy garden, you’ll be buying vegetables from other people before you hit December. Yet when we commit to give beyond our means, God increases our means so that we are fully able. And if giving is like planting, God is the supplier of the seeds and the increaser of the harvest.

About the same time as God started prodding me about visiting that lady in the hospital, He also started to prod me about the nursing home. (Can I add that I don’t really like hospitals *or* nursing homes?) I came back at him with an excuse that reminded me of Moses – “But God, I don’t know what I would do or say once I got there!” I kind of mentally crossed my arms and told Him that if He wanted me to do something like that, He would have to give me something specific to do. Not about to be put off, He returned almost instantly with a new thought – play piano there. (Just a word of advice – don’t ask God for something you don’t actually want Him to give you.) I was terrified when I showed up at the nursing home with my music book in tow. I fudged and fumbled my way through a list of songs that ended up being too short to fill an hour and so I had to repeat some of them. Quite honestly, I didn’t have much to give that day. But, God is the supplier of the seeds, and He is the increaser of the harvest. Even though I couldn’t see past my fumbles, He used it to bless people, and to bless me, not only by knowing that I had blessed the residents, but also by increasing my confidence. Since then I’ve played approximately every other week, and it’s always so sweet to see the residents’ appreciation.

Moving on…Let’s look briefly at Matthew 6:19-21.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Remember how in Philippians 4 Paul mentioned he sought “the fruit that increases to your credit”? The footnote in my Bible calls it “the profit that accrues to your account”. In other words, giving produces treasures in heaven for us. The earthly reward pales in comparison with the coming heavenly reward awaiting us when we reach the other side.

Talking about giving is one thing, but practically speaking, how can we apply it? What does it look like to give like the Philippian church did? What does it look like to give regularly, according to your means and even beyond, to God and through Him to other people?

1. Give yourself to God first. “…and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5) God can’t use you fully until you give yourself fully to Him, including talents, physical resources, etc. Like the old hymn says,

”All to Jesus I surrender;
all to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
in His presence daily live.”

When you surrender everything to God, you must then seek His will about how you use it. This includes how you spend and give what He has given you, whether it is time or money or brainpower or emotions. Therefore giving everything to God also requires seeking His presence diligently and listening for His direction. The Lord says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) He honors a heart that desires to honor Him with everything, and if you seek Him to learn how to use the gifts He has entrusted to you, He will follow through.

2. Give according to your means (or beyond). “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord…” (2 Corinthians 8:3)

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us:

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

You have a choice how much you are willing to give. When you start by giving everything to God and seeking how He wants you to use it, you will begin to decide to give how much He wants you to give. Set goals according to what you hear from Him and commit them to Him, asking Him to provide the means to meet the goals. Remember Psalm 37:5,

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.”

Giving beyond your means sounds foolish according to our human understanding, and it is nerve-wracking to think about jumping into. Setting smaller goals and working up to bigger ones like Scott did makes the leap less intimidating. The point is to honor God, and if you commit your way to Him He will honor every baby step you take in that direction.

3. Give regularly. A habit of giving reminds us that our money is really God’s, and prevents us from idolizing it. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says:

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.”

Rich is a comparative term. You may think you are poor, but someone else will view you as richer than they are. As a result, basically everyone is rich compared to someone else, and I think that these verses can apply to us all. We all have something to give, even if it is not money. Some people are rich in abilities rather than money. They can use those talents as a way to give richly even if they don’t have much money to give. Some people have a huge heart for hurting people. They can give richly by extending love generously, whether or not they have money to give. Peter and John had no money to offer the beggar outside the temple, but they gave him what they did have – the gift of healing by the name of Jesus. A monetary gift would have helped the beggar for a short while, but healing ultimately blessed him far more. (See Acts 3.)

So give regularly, whether you choose to give out of your income or your time, out of material blessings or talents. God originally instituted the regular tithe to remind the Israelites that everything they had came from Him, and the same is true for us. A habit of giving produces a life of thanksgiving to God.

Before we wrap up, let’s look at a couple warnings about giving.

1. Your heart must be in it. 2 Corinthians 9:7 instructs that,

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Richard Braunstein said, “It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.” And we can see that in action in Acts 5:1-10, in which Ananias and his wife Sapphira gave money with the intent to look good, rather than out of a sincere heart, and as a result God punished them to make them an example for the church. Giving anything in order to look good or because someone else weaseled you into doing it is not honoring to God because it didn’t come from a heart wholly surrendered to Him.

Deuteronomy 15:10 – You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. [Emphasis mine.]

2. Do not ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting. How many times have I done this one! Ignoring the Holy Spirit leads to a chain reaction. Here’s how it works. The Holy Spirit’s job, you could say, is to teach and instruct and guide us.

John 14:26 – “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

However, we have a choice whether we listen or not, as made obvious by this verse:

James 1:22 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

What happens when you hear the Spirit’s prompting and fail to do it?

James 4:17 – “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

And sin, in the long run, makes it more difficult to hear the next time. That is “Quenching the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

Giving is a way to honor God, and it is a joy and a blessing to watch God work through it. I would encourage you all to consider: what things has God given to you that He is asking you to in turn give away?

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In Search of Wisdom

Philippians 1:9-11 – “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

I was puzzled at first by what it means for love to abound with knowledge and discernment, but after comparing a version or two and adding up two and one to make four, I think that it’s like saying, “May your salad abound more and more with cheese and olives.” It’s not that love produces knowledge and discernment, but that it needs them to be complete. (Yes, cheese and olives do complete salads.)

Sometimes loving someone means giving them temporary pain. (Take the proverbs about spanking your children, for example.) You have to have discernment and wisdom to know whether or not the pain will help them in the long run. Love alone without knowledge and discernment – in other words, wisdom – is not love at all. You see, real love is doing what is best for the other person rather than what’s best for yourself. However, without wisdom, you will do what will *feel best* for the other person – which may in time cause great harm rather than good.

You also have to have wisdom to know which people to love and which are not trustworthy. Proverbs 2:11-13 says,

“…discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness…”

There are plenty of people in this world who are simply just not safe to be around, whether they’re just manipulative or legitimately dangerous. Without wisdom you’ll walk right into their clutches thinking that they just need love; and while that may be true, it’s no excuse for foolishly putting yourself into dark or dangerous situations. Sometimes the best way to love them is to steer clear and not be their next victim.

Alright, so Paul emphasized the need for wisdom along with love – what for? “SO THAT you may approve what is excellent…” So that you can recognize those things that are actually good. That particular phrase reminded me of Romans 12:2.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

You could also word it something like this… “Do not be conformed to this world’s standard of wisdom, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, (receiving the wisdom from above), so that by testing you may discern…”

So, what is the “wisdom from above”? Noah Webster described wisdom like this:

“In scripture theology, wisdom is true religion; godliness; piety; the knowledge and fear of God, and sincere and uniform obedience to His commands. This is the wisdom which is from above.”

Proverbs 9:10 says,

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Wisdom starts with knowing who God is, and learning reverence for Him. So the ‘beginning of wisdom’, or the gate to it, if you will, involves studying His word and meditating on it, and spending time at His feet in prayer. Once you start there, the path to wisdom leads past some other concepts, including:

  • Guarding the gates
  • Filtering friends
  • Receiving rebukes

But I’ll go into the specifics a little later.

Paul doesn’t stop with love coupled with wisdom leading to “approving what is excellent”. He follows up with “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. When wisdom leads to discerning what is good and what isn’t, it also leads to turning from the worthless things. Psalm 101:3 says,

“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”

Also Psalm 119:37,

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways.”

A pure and blameless man does not involve himself in anything that would displease his God. I’ve really been convicted about looking at worthless things in the area of media – books, movies, music, etc. Is it really wise to fill my mind with junk if I want to serve my God and no other? I have had to seriously reconsider which types of media I “set before my eyes”. Is it really God-honoring? Is it pure? Seeking wisdom leads to purity and blamelessness as you question the wisdom of the activities you observe and engage in.

From there Paul continues with “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”. So first, what is righteousness? Once again, I looked up Noah Webster’s definition. (Have I mentioned that I absolutely love his 1828 Dictionary of the English Language? It provides some excellent insight into why the Bible translators chose the words they did.)

“Righteousness – conformity of heart and life to the divine law.”

Righteousness is a life changed by God’s word – the slow process of becoming more like Christ, as He conforms your life to His word. James 1:19-21 says,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

By the power of Jesus Christ, the word of God begins to make us righteous as we fill ourselves with it. (I like that word “implanted”. It sounds like grafting it into our very being, which is what memorization of and meditation on God’s word does.) So then, the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus as He works wisdom within us.

Here’s an interesting note on Paul’s choice of words. Fruit is the result of excess living; that is, it is the result of a plant or tree having more than enough of what it needs to survive. All the extra nutrients, water, etc. go into the fruit rather than into trying to stay alive. So, the everyday demonstrations of righteousness are a result of not just surviving in God’s presence, but thriving there. Thus, that person produces not just enough righteousness to survive inwardly, but to flow into their outward actions.

So now that we’ve gone through all that, let’s go back to the concept of wisdom. How do you become wise? As I was studying and looking up verses on gaining wisdom, I came up with several practical steps toward gaining wisdom.

1. Ask ardently. James 1:5 spells it out pretty clearly,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Asking God for wisdom should be the very first step we take in the search for wisdom. Jesus promises that whoever asks receives, whoever seeks finds, and to whoever knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7) In Matthew 21:22 He adds,

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

So then, ask God for wisdom! He is not stingy about granting it to those who seek Him first. In Luke 18, Jesus told the story about the persistent widow who kept pestering the judge until he gave her the justice she sought as an illustration that we too should be persistent in our prayers. If we truly want the wisdom of God, we need to ask fervently and persistently.

2. Memorize and meditate. If the fear of the Lord is the gateway to wisdom, then the gateway to the fear of the Lord is getting to know Him. In order to get to know Him intimately, you must study God’s word regularly, memorize it, and meditate on it throughout the day, pondering the depths of His character. Psalm 119:97-98 says,

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.”

As you memorize verses, I encourage you not just to memorize the words, but to really think about what they mean. Study them. Why did God move the authors to write those verses? How do they apply to your own life?

3. Pray prolifically. About two years ago God convicted me that, while I was spending a fair amount of time reading His word, I spent almost no time at all in prayer. My mom has often challenged me to balance the time that I spend reading God’s word with the time that I spend talking to God, so I realized that I needed to do something about it. The problem is that I struggle with what I call “prayer ADD”. I find it difficult to concentrate for more than a minute or so, and often I trail off in the middle of a sentence and then five minutes later realize I wasn’t praying at all. What I’ve found to help the most with focusing is to use a prayer journal. (As long as my tendonitis-y wrist doesn’t kill me for it.) I’ve discovered that spending larger amounts of time in prayer inspires a love and reverence for the Lord that you just don’t get otherwise. It is truly awesome, in the real meaning of the word. So spend time in prayer. If you can’t focus, try writing your prayer in a notebook or talking out loud to Him.

4. Filter your friends. Psalm 1:1 says,

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”

And Proverbs 13:20 advises,

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

God knows that friendships have a profound power to change us, either for the better or for the worse. In order to become wise, you have to associate with wise people. If you hang out with people who do dumb things for amusement, chances are you’ll do dumb things too, and that will drag you away from wisdom rather than closer to it.

Now, I understand that you can’t necessarily choose the people who are around you in your day to day life. However, you can choose what people you are close to. Over the years, God has had to rescue me out of several unhealthy friendships. Not that the people themselves were bad, but they did not help me to grow in the direction that I needed to grow, and so I had to let them go. Who are the people you are the closest to, and in what ways have they impacted you? Have they been for good or for not-so-great? Do they encourage you to seek God and learn wisdom, or do they lead you towards a shallower life?

5. Guard your gates. What are your gates? They are primarily your eyes, ears, and mind. This goes back to Psalm 101:3. What are you setting before your eyes? What are you listening to? And with what are you filling your thoughts? If you want to seek wisdom and become pure and blameless you must guard from filling your mind with foolishness instead. Meditate on Psalm 119:9-11:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Guard the gates to your heart as you fill it with things that honor God.

6. Receive rebukes. Here’s another hard one, especially for me. I grew up extremely insecure and sensitive to criticism. Anything that sounded like the other person was remotely displeased with me crushed me and caused me to fear criticism like nothing else. I was so afraid of it that I couldn’t stop and consider whether there was validity in it, and if so, what I needed to do about it. Proverbs 10:17 says,

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.”

In other parts of Proverbs, refusing to listen to correction is equated with folly, which is kind of the opposite of seeking wisdom. Meanwhile in Proverbs 19:20 we find this:

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”

Criticism, while often unpleasant, is a valuable tool for evaluating yourself to see where you have gone wrong and what you need to improve. Like I said, this is an area in which God has had to work on my heart in order to calmly consider people’s rebukes and see what I need to change. A wise person will not just let criticism roll off his back, but will take it to heart and act on it in a positive way.

The concept of listening to rebukes applies not just to humans correcting you, but more importantly, God. Take Proverbs 3:11-12:

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

At the end of the day, wisdom starts and ends with listening to God. He is the source of all wisdom, and the Master Teacher, who is more than willing to give generously without reproach.

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