The “I love you" moment.
You know the words, and you know the weight they carry. Recently Aileen and I were remembering back to the first time we said those words to one another. Each of us already knew how the other felt, but that did nothing to temper the thrill of actually voicing it and the joy of actually hearing it.
“I love you” marks a milestone in a relationship, and not only a romantic one. Friendships also thrive and deepen with the admission and declaration of love. “I love you” says that this is no mere acquaintance, but a true, deep, and meaningful friendship. I hate that our society threatens the love of friendship by the suspicion of homosexuality, and I want us to push back and to declare that we can love one another in the best and purest way.
But as I considered the importance of the “I love you” I found myself pondering three other words that also cause a relationship to grow and to thrive. A friend recently said something or did something he should not have, and later approached me and so-humbly and so-kindly said, “Please forgive me.” I forgave him, of course. Who am I, a man who has been forgiven so much, that I should withhold forgiveness from anyone else, and especially from someone I love? And I know that in that moment our relationship deepened. It grew in the exchange, in the transaction, of repentance and forgiveness. I felt it, and I knew it.
So I thought about those words and I thought about my friendships. And I believe a relationship grows just as much through “Please forgive me” as through “I love you.” One friend speaking to another and saying, “I love you”—this is where love is declared. But one friend approaching another to express remorse and seek forgiveness—this is where love is displayed and preserved.
The pushback against the radical Christian life is in full swing. It was inevitable, I think, and healthy. Books like Radical and Don’t Waste Your Life were meant to battle Christian complacency, but in some ways they over-corrected, giving less than a holistic and realistic view of the Christian life. And now authors like Michael Wittmer are attempting to recover some balance.
In his new book Becoming Worldly Saints, Wittmer means to answer this question: Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy your life? Is it possible for you to be fully committed to the Lord and still find time to enjoy life’s pleasures? Or, as some seem to feel, do we need to live lives of utter frugality, sending all our money to the mission field? Are we responsible to share the gospel with absolutely every person we encounter? Should we really feel that constant low-grade guilt that accuses us that we are not doing enough for the Lord? In short, how do we resolve the tension between the pleasures of earth and the purpose of heaven?
Wittmer’s answers are as compelling as any I’ve read. His concern is that in all the good things we do for the Lord, we forget the importance of being human and enjoying God’s good creation. “Our lives will shrivel if we allow our passion for redemption to smother the pleasures of creation. Being a Christian must not become an obstacle to being human. But the problem is even worse in reverse: When we eliminate our earthly pleasures, we inevitably limit the reach of our heavenly purpose. If we want to attract people to Jesus, our lives must be attractive.” We, of all people, ought to enjoy this world and display our love of life.
Our temptation is to make a harsh distinction between loving the Lord and loving the world he has made. However, “Our love for Jesus and his world is not a zero sum game. Attention given to creation is not stolen from its Creator. The more we enjoy God’s gifts for their own sake, the more we can appreciate him. And thank him for, and love with him. … Thank God for the privilege of being human and of being here. Then go have some fun.” God and have some fun and trust that God enjoys your fun as much as you do.
Wittmer structures the book around the story of Scripture—the great work God is doing in this world, which proceeds under the familar headings of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. He shows that God created this world so we could enjoy it and that he still expects that we will find enjoyment in it. He corrects those people who live only for tomorrow, as if the pleasures of this world are meaningless. He shows that our responsibility in this world is to love God, serve our neighbor, cultivate the earth, and rest, and that we need to maintain a balance between these. He shows that the tension we feel is an inevitable result of man’s fall into sin, and he attempts to bring peace between the urgency of the gospel and the demands of being human. In every case he succeeds well.
Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy life? “It starts with your call and ends with it too. Do whatever God is calling you to do, no more and no less. Do it with all your might; then go to bed. Your life will count for eternity, and you’ll probably even like it.”
Becoming Worldly Saints was a joy and a relief to read. Grounded firmly in Scripture and in the best of Christian tradition, it offers a powerful and compelling vision of the Christian life that is equally exciting and attainable.
This isn’t settling for a lesser vision of the Christian life—this is living out what the Bible says.
Becoming Worldly Saints is available at Amazon.
As a dad, I pray for each of my kids just about every day, and I take it as both a joy and responsibility to bring them before the Lord. Praying for the kids is a helpful way of training myself to remember that they are his before they are mine, and that any good they experience will ultimately find its source in God himself. And I believe that prayer works—that God hears a father’s prayers for his children, and that he delights to answer those prayers.
One of my most common prayers for my girls is a prayer for their protection. Here are 5 ways that I pray for God to protect them...
1) From them. I pray that God will protect my girls from themselves. After all, for all the dangers they face in life and all the trials they will face in the days and years ahead, the vast majority of those trials and temptations will arise from within. I ask God to protect them from their own sin and unbelief, from their own hard-heartedness, from their own fleshly desires. I pray that he will save them from themselves and then cause them to grow to be more like Christ.
2) From me. I pray that God will protect my girls from me, from their own father. I fear that my selfishness or my negligence could harm them, or even that my ignorance would expose them to some kind of sin or danger. I feel a great swell of love and affection for both of my girls, but also see so much sin and ugliness within myself, and fear how my sin could harm them. And so I pray that God will protect them from the worst of me and only ever allow me to be their guardian and protector.
3) From others. I pray that God will protect my girls from other outside influences. I pray that they would be good friends, have good friends, and not be unduly influenced by foolish acquaintances. I pray that their teachers would be for them and not against them, and that they would teach them what is right and good. I pray that God will guard them against any of those people who may today or some other day begin to plot evil against them.
4) From Satan. I pray that God will protect my girls from Satan. I know that the devil knows my girls, and that he sees their spiritual progress, and the he loves to do all he can to choke out the gospel before it can really take root and bear fruit. I know that he desires their utter death and destruction. This is his great and wonderful plan for their lives—to bring them to complete ruin, and to do it through endless waves of temptation. So I pray that God will protect them from Satan and from all of his power.
5) From himself. And finally, I pray that God will protect my girls from God. Ultimately, God saves people from himself. R.C. Sproul says it well: “The grand paradox or supreme irony of the Christian faith is that we are saved both by God and from God.” I long for God to protect my girls from his own wrath which he must pour out on those who will not put their faith in Christ. And so the deepest saving my girls need, is to be saved from God. And I pray again and again (and explain to God that I will continue to pray again and again) until he saves my girls by himself, from himself, for himself, and to himself.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
About once a year I go through a phase—a deliberate phase—in which I evaluate our family finances to see where we’re doing well and where we aren’t doing so well. I especially look for places we are spending money we don’t need to spend—bills that are too high, subscriptions we no longer need, and all of those little money-wasters that eventually add up. And over the years, I’ve collected quite a list of ways that we, and perhaps you, waste money. Here are some of them:
THE DAILY LATTE
I read quite a few books on personal finance and there is a trend I have noticed in recent years: Every book now uses Starbucks as the negative example of financial management. The math really is that simple: $5 per day for that latte, multiplied by 365 days in the year, adds up to an extra mortgage payment or two. And if both of you go every day, the damage is doubled. Consider brewing at home, or at least sticking with the brewed instead of specialty coffees.
There is something in all of us that longs to keep up with the neighbors—to have the things they have and to do the things they do. But it’s a fool’s game, of course. Envy and jealousy are never satisfied, and the more you have, the more you’ll need. It is far better to learn contentment and to stop fooling yourself into believing that more stuff will bring more happiness. A quick audit of your finances may show all the different ways you are trying to keep up and get ahead of your neighbors. It’s wasted money.
CLUB PACKS AND JUMBO SIZES
Club packs and jumbo sizes offer great value, but only if you can consume it all before it expires or is otherwise ruined. The stores have a knack for knowing exactly what products you are likely to buy in such quantities that you cannot possibly get through them before they go stale (or melt or wilt or grow mold or…). Buy the toilet paper, but be careful of the crackers, flour, or vegetables.
Just like jumbo sizes, coupons can offer great value. Who doesn’t want to save a few dollars or even a few cents, just for waving that little piece of paper? But coupons fail you when they are for something you are buying only because it seems like a shame to miss out on such a good deal. If you wouldn’t buy it anyway, your savings come to exactly nothing. If it’s brand name but still more expensive than the generic, the same is true. It’s important to be honest with yourself: Sometimes you just can’t afford to save any more money. And while I’m on the subject of shopping, don’t buy the licensed shampoo or toothbrush or band-aids—you are paying extra for the picture of the princess or superhero.
KINDLE BOOKS YOU WON’T READ
I’m all for buying Kindle books at a discount, and there are plenty of phenomenal deals on phenomenal books. But if you buy those books and then never read them (or never even open them up to refer to them), you are getting precisely nothing for your money. Collect them if you know you’ll read them or are certain you’ll want to use them in the future. Otherwise, take a pass on them. It’s only $1.99 each, but that still adds up to a lot over a year.
Sometimes you can save money by investing a little more up-front. Those dollar store toys may mimic the brand name, but if they cost half as much but break on the way home (which they always did for my kids) you aren’t any further ahead. Electronics, pots and pans, and even contractors—through hard experience we have learned it is better to spend a little more at the beginning to get a lot more in the end. Financial stewardship doesn’t always mean spending less.
We need to be careful with this one, as some people, by wisdom or necessity, force themselves to hold to a cash budget. However, for those people with good habits and financial self-control, credit cards offer points or cash-back—a sweet little bonus for those things you would buy anyway, or those things you can use to treat yourself. Play your cards right, and you may be able to begin saving for that vacation, or enjoy a bit of free cash, just for using your credit cards wisely. I’m bringing my family to the Ligonier conference this year, and I owe it all to points.
It seems appropriate, after pointing out the potential value of credit card points and perks, to speak to another massive money-waster: Credit card interest. Credit card companies are betting that they can get you to over-spend so they can charge you their exorbitant interest rates. Don’t ever carry a balance! Play the game right and you can have all the benefits without any of the drawbacks.
FAILING TO MEAL PLAN
Meal planning is a practical way of stewarding the responsibility of caring for a home and family, but there is financial value to the practice as well: Meal planning allows you to know what you should (and should not buy) and pushes you to ensure that you use every bit of food in the fridge and pantry before it goes bad. We have wasted far too much money by throwing out food that we should have eaten while it was still edible. The better our meal plan, the less we waste.
Eating out is just so easy, and sometimes so pleasurable. But it also tends to cost an awful lot more than eating at home. Not only that, but the nutritional value is usually much lower. Save eating out for the special occasions, and day-to-day, learn to pack a lunch and prepare dinner at home. If you do eat out, eat out wisely. Here’s an example: If we order two medium pizzas and have it delivered, it costs us $24 dollars, but if we walk-in and pick-up, the exact same pizzas cost us $10—a cost-effective, quick and easy dinner on a frantic night.
The guy at Best Buy has to offer you the extended warranty, and will give you a long list of reasons why you are utterly foolish to resist. But don’t fall for it. In almost every case, the extended warranty is a waste of your money, and especially so when you are buying quality products. And remember: That 3-year warranty overlaps with the manufacturer’s warranty, so it is actually only a 2-year warranty.
The freemium model is the new trend in gaming—to charge nothing (or almost nothing) for a game, to allow you to advance to the point where you are committed to it, and then to make the game agonizingly slow or agonizingly difficult unless you spend a bit of money on upgrades. Don’t do it! There are plenty of games out there that will treat you better, and you will almost always regret those charges when you see them on your credit card statement.
It always surprises me what I can get by asking. Cell phone bills, bandwidth overage charges, gym fees—many of these things are negotiable. We even asked our dentist if we could get the up-front cash rate for my daughter’s braces and he gave it to us just for asking, even though we will be paying in installments. Tell your doctor or dentist when you don’t have insurance and see what they’ll do for you. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to look for alternatives—it’s amazing what a customer-retention department will do for you to keep you as their customer.
And that’s our list. Where do you find that you are tempted to waste money?