Good Does Not Mean Easy

The last two or three weeks of my life have been surreal. My mood has been really good. I feel optimistic and I am motivated. I’ve gotten to go to an amazing conference. I’ve been working at my part time job. Though things are still really rough for me right now, I actually feel good.

During this time, I feel like I am having greater insight about life in general and about my life in particular. I know what God wants me to do. I have chosen to engage God and follow his plan. As I walk out that plan, I see just how hard this path is. Because it is so hard, several times I’ve wondered if this was God’s plan at all.

I was recently thinking about my desire to pursue God’s will and the state of my life. I believe that God wants me to be more involved in my church and to make some changes in my life personally. I was praying, asking God to bless me in this endeavor. I remember saying something like: “I believe that this is your will, but if it is your will, I’d expect you to make it easier.” That’s when it hit me: I expect God’s will to be easy. More specifically, I was under the impression that the easiest path was surely the one that indicated God’s will.

But this is not biblical. Paul did not have it easy. He was beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked three times before he was killed. Jesus did not have it easy. He suffered and died. Mary did not have it easy. She found herself pregnant before her marriage, and no doubt her reputation suffered. Joseph certainly didn’t have it easy (either one!). One found himself with a pregnant fiancee, and the other did time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. But they all accomplished God’s will for their lives. I think most would agree that God orchestrated the events of their lives. Yet, they walked very difficult paths; paths that included public humiliation, imprisonment, and even death.

So I am now dealing with the fact that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean that it’s not God’s will. Sometimes God’s will is hard. I’d even suggest that most of the time, God’s will is difficult. This doesn’t bring me much comfort. It has redefined the way I think of God’s will.

However, it causes me to evaluate my options differently too. I see now that the easiest choices may not be be God’s will, and that choices cannot be ruled out simply because they are difficult.

While God’s will may not always be easy, I believe that it is always best. God brought Paul, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and countless other through. He helped them. My prayer is that God will help us to pursue his will for us, even when it’s hard.

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The Minimalist Lean

Many leaders are managers — they manage the world around them instead of changing or influencing it.

Jay Pathak

Last week I had the pleasure of going to a leadership conference with my church. It was simply amazing. I learned so many things that will help me as I walk the plan that God has for me. One of the most meaningful, however, is that leaders live life with a lean.

Jay Pathak taught us that true leaders are different from everyone else. The only people that change the world are those that appear to be insane. They are tilted. They lean. They look crazy. A true leader has to be tilted.

Are you leaning?

In a culture that is addicted to More, to choose less is to lean. It’s a lean into simplicity.  People are cramming their homes full of more crap and cramming their schedules full of more commitments. If you simplify, you will stand out.

To be a minimalist is to be a trailblazer. In a  culture that is consumed with accumulating, voluntarily choosing to have only the necessities is never going to be a popular choice. You’re going to get lots of strange looks for choosing to have less when everyone else is doing everything possible to have more.

The pressure to conform can be intense. We are consistently bombarded with messages tell us that what we have isn’t good enough. The commercials tell us that we simply cannot live without that new facial cream. Your family member asks “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” And then there’s the One Day Sale at Macy’s.

But to be a leader is to live with a lean. You look crazy when you choose less. You stand out, and that’s a good thing. Because when you lean, sometimes others lean with you. Others may choose to cut some things out. They follow your lean. Leaders actually create a new normal by leaning. What do you do then? You lean some more.

Lean into simplicity. Lean into having only what you need. Lean into clearing clutter.To be a minimalist is to live with a lean.

Lean. Then lean some more. You will look weird. It might even look like you’re insane. But if you want to change the world, you’ve got to lean.

Enticed By More

Recently, my commitment to minimalism was tested. Big time. How? It was Lancome gift time, and I am a huge fan of their Genefique anti-aging serum. If I just purchased one vial of Genefique, I would get eight items for free!

Perhaps I should back up a little. I am recovering from a severe beauty product addiction. At one time I had enough beauty products to keep me and my family looking and smelling good for the next year (at least). I had no less than 30 tubes of lipstick. It was that serious.

As I browsed the cosmetics offers (why was I looking at them, anyway?) It took everything I had to navigate away from the page that was enticing me to buy. For some time I rationalized the potential purchase by saying that I was getting more for my money. What is the enticement of more?

  • More entices us by making us feel that we do not have enough. I do not have a vial of Genefique, this is true. But I have an array of skin care products that will last for months. So why would I need more?  I don’t. Not having enough is not the issue. The issue is that the ads and vendors entice us, making us feel that we do not have enough.
  • More makes empty promises. Part of the allure of more is that it promises to make us/our collections complete. I think that if I just have this one product, then I’ll have everything I need — until the next product or free gift comes along. More promises to add to our lives, to complete us. This is a promise that can never be filled with things. Things cannot make us complete. If anything, having more stuff robs us of precious time, space, and peace of mind.
  • More clouds our judgement. When staring at an 8-piece gift with purchase, I am not thinking about the fact that I have bills to pay. I am not thinking about the unused beauty products sitting under my bed. I am not thinking about the fact that I have no place to store these items. More blinds us to practical things. More fills our eyes with lust and sound judgement falls by the wayside.

More is not what it seems to be. It is not an indication that we do not have enough. It is not what will make us complete. And most of the time, more is not in your best interest over the long term. More is not better. It’s just more.

The Pride of Possessions

You can read my first article on the Lust of the Eyes here.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”

1 John 2:15-17

It’s unfortunate, but our stuff means a lot to us. We organize it. We clean it. We care for it — sometimes more than we care for people.

Curiously, our stuff means a lot to other people, too. People are very interested in our shoes, our clothes, our gadgets. They use these things to make an assessment of us. It determines how we are perceived. For so many, we are what we accumulate.

Is this why we accumulate? Not necessarily. We accumulate things for several reasons. Some things we accumulate for ourselves, — they satisfy a need in our lives. Some things we acquire simply because we want them. Some things we accumulate for emotional reasons (fear, desire for security) And some things we accumulate for others. We buy the car, the house, the clothes not only for how they make us feel, but also for how they make others feel about us.

Everyone wants to be liked. We all want to be affirmed and admired. This becomes a problem when we use stuff to gain that affirmation.

Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

It’s the pride of possessions described in 1 John 2:15-17. We take pride in what we have. While the lust of the eyes creates a desire within ourselves, the pride of possessions is an attempt to create desire in others. We want others to want what we have.

This stems from insecurity. When someone feels inadequate, they look for things to supply what they feel they are missing.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

I think that Jesus was spot on: one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. We are not defined by our stuff. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our possessions or define anyone else by theirs.

It’s really easy to get caught up in what clothes we wear, what handbags we carry, or what car we drive. It is also easy to define others by these things. We are conditioned to. But in order to simplify our lives, we have to change our thoughts about things.

Things are great when they meet a genuine need. We should definitely use what we have wisely and responsibly.

Things should not be used to achieve status – in our eyes or someone else’s. That is the pride of possessions. It is of the world, not from the Father. And it is all passing away.

The purses that I carry will eventually wear out. My car will eventually have to be replaced (a looooong time from now, I hope!). My makeup will eventually be used up. None of it lasts.

But whoever does the will of God abides forever. That’s a whole different perspective. If I could focus on the things that really last, it would change my life. Let’s face it: Jesus is not going to ask me about which purses I carried. At the end of my life, it will not matter what gadgets I had, what shoes I wore, or what car I drove. All that will matter is whether I did the will of God. That’s the status I want, and it can’t be bought.

The Lust of The Eyes

I just had a conversation with a cupcake.

No, I’m not crazy. Ok, maybe a little, but not a lot. Anyway, I had a conversation with a cupcake. Actually, it didn’t say much. It just listened while I talked.

It started like this: I was looking at a lovely picture of a cupcake on a blog I just discovered. Upon seeing this cupcake, I suddenly wanted a cupcake. Very conscious of my efforts to eat healthy, I quickly moved on to another picture. Once I got past the cupcake image, I was able to talk myself out of cupcake mania.

Once I reminded myself of my health goals, I went back to the cupcake image. I boldly told the insanely beautiful cupcake: “I do not want you. I want to look at you, but I do not want to eat you. You are beautiful, and you may even be delicious, but I do not want you.”

The cupcake didn’t respond (it was probably offended). But the conversation left me feeling empowered.

What is it about seeing something that creates desire within us? I hadn’t been thinking of cupcakes at all, but as soon as I saw one, suddenly the desire was there. Seeing it caused me to crave that cupcake.

Advertisers know very well that seeing something can create desire. This is why they spend millions to place images of their products before you. If you see, you want.

But why is this so? Why do we want something just because we see it? 1 John discusses this very thing.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”

1 John 2:15-17

The lust of the eyes is what caused Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of The Knowledge of  Good and Evil. It’s how David got caught up with Bathsheba. It’s how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. And it’s how advertisers get us to buy their products.

See No Evil

It is imperative that we take measures to guard our eyes. In Psalm 119:37, David asks the Lord to “turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways.”

So how can we avoid visual temptation? We can’t avoid it completely, but there are some measures we can take to minimize it. We can turn off the TV, denying advertisers access to our minds. We can avoid avoid unnecessary shopping and online browsing, where will be bombarded with lovely pictures and attractive displays. And we can avoid ice cream parlors, where the slightest glimpse will trigger an intense need to ingest large quantities will all manner of toppings. Or maybe that’s just me.

Of course, we will, at some point, see something that we want. In this situation, take a step back. Remove yourself from the temptation and stop to think. Think about what’s best for you. Think about your values, and whether having that pair of boots or that hot fudge sundae will be consistent with your values. Think about what you really want. Think clearly, and decide to resist. And then move on. You might need to have a conversation with a cupcake. Or a 3D TV. Or a shiny new lipgloss. But you will emerge victorious.

Watch for my next article: The Pride of Possessions