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Monday, November 10, 2014

It's that time again...Stewardship Sunday!

Why do we need to give?  Should we give?  How much should we give? There are so many organizations out there that do wonderful things...why give to the church?  Why even go to a church...Why not just worship in your house?  

So many questions...all of which I've heard.  Some of which are legitimate questions that deserve real answers.  I heard a sermon once at my home church in greensboro that really stuck with me.  I'm not sure why it did...but at the time it obviously meant a lot.  Many sermons have touched me through the years, but my memory isn't great and unless I write it down, I usually don't remember them.  But this one I do.  I think it helps explain why we should give and pledge on Stewardship Sunday.

I think it goes without saying that churches can not function without donations.  The building, staff, grounds, programs, classes and activities can't happen without donations.  For most churches that is the main, if not only, source of income.  Some churches are lucky and host many weddings or other such events and some money can come from this.  
This answers the question of - why do we need to give?  What about - should we give and how much should we give?  I asked one of my pastors once, "Why should I pray?  Why should anyone pray?"  His answer surprised me...mainly because I was expecting something pastoral, theological and deep.  He thought for a second and simply said, "Cause the Bible tells us too."  The conversation did end up going deeper, but it remains a simple answer.  The Bible tells us very plainly that we should give.  The Old Testament says to give 10%.  The New Testament, which is where we take most of our "laws"...from Jesus' teachings, does not give a certain amount.  I found this on the christianbiblereference web site...

"However, Jesus made it clear that we are obligated to be generous to those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (NIV, Matthew 5:42)
Giving is to be done cheerfully, rather than as an obligation (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and not for the purpose of public recognition (Matthew 6:1-4). The amount to give is not necessarily ten percent (Matthew 19:21Luke 18:2221:1-4Hebrews 13:161 John 3:17). Generous giving is an acknowledgment that everything we have is a gift from God, and is to be used in His service (Luke 12:33Acts 20:351 Timothy 6:17-19James 1:171:271 Peter 4:10).
Rather than give a certain amount as an obligation, Christians are urged to share generously of whatever talents, abilities and wealth God has entrusted to them."

But the church uses the 10% from the OT as a guide to help us know how much we should give.  So this helps us understand that yes, we are to give and it gives us an idea as to how much.  On a personal note, I never used to give 10%...there was always an excuse.  After I got married though and lived in Peru a few years, my faith and outlook changed.  I realized that there will never be a time that is right.  Just do it :)  We never thought we'd have enough but somehow we always do.  God is good :)

So that leaves us with the question - "there are so many organizations...why give to the church?  we can just worship in our homes...why put money into the church?"
This is where that sermon I heard comes into play.  When we go to church we worship.  We sing.  We pray.  We fellowship with others.  When we go to church we participate in programs and activities.  We laugh.  We meet new people.  We dine together.  It's a community of faith.  The NT talks repeatedly about needing a community of faith.  Why?  Because at some point in your life, there will be a moment or a day or a week that is painful.  You may be sick, you may have suffered a loss of someone close to you, you may be lonely, exhausted, stressed out, burnt out, sad, doubting, in a financial crisis or depressed.  It will happen.  And when it does, you will need your community of faith.  That's why God created churches and fellowship - to help us through those times of need.  It can provide shelter for the needy, love for the brokenhearted, friendship for the lonely, food for the hungry, laughing for the sad and support for the weak.  
It's hard to imagine this when we are in a good position in life. Most of us want to be strong and take care of ourselves.  We don't want to admit weakness or a need for others. That's why many people rebuke God - you say, I don't need Him.  But the next time you are in church and all is good in your world, take a look around you.  Look at those in front of you, on your left, on your right and sitting behind you.  I promise you that at least one of them is hurting, or sad, or lonely...
perhaps anxiously awaiting the results of a test, perhaps waiting for a looming lay off at work, maybe going through a divorce or family problems.  Whatever the problem is, someone around you needs this time of worship and fellowship.  I had a professor once that lost her adult child.  The other professors got together to show their support for her and her family.  She told them, "I can't even pray right now...I can't even believe".  Sometimes it gets that bad - you don't have the words to pray or the frame of mind to even try. You don't know how to help yourself to start getting through whatever it is that you are experiencing.  So what did her colleagues tell her?  "That's why we are here.  We will pray for you so you don't have to.  We will believe for you."  And isn't that what we are truly here for?
So the next time you are worshiping in church - sing louder, pray harder, listen more intently and pay attention to those around you...Because someone around you needs to hear you sing and needs to hear you pray, because they can't.  They are suffering, hurting and need to hear you sing praise to God and hear your words of affirmation.  They need to see you believe because they can't.  And they need your attention because they are seeking their community of faith.  
This is why we give...and not just our money - but our time and talents.  We give because we need each other and the church.  We give because we need a place to go that offers safety, love and support that no other place offers quite like the church...We give because others can't...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Having Patience with God

I'm feeling the need to be honest and real today.  I've heard the word patience - and have used it - what seems like a thousand times in the last week.  "In God's Time", "God's plan", "just be patient"...all so true, but when you are the one waiting, wondering and hoping for something, God's time is not always a comfort...especially if you have a personality that likes to have things planned :) So, it got me thinking about my life, especially after I graduated college and how God has always come through...and many times at the last minute :)

I'm not sure why God likes to put us through that...the waiting, the wondering, not knowing what's going to happen in the next month. One of my theories is that God likes to make sure that you are relying on Him and not the world, and that perhaps, you need a little lesson in patience :)  Personally, I think I've had enough tests and I wish He'd stop already :)  But again, as I look back at my life I see a series of challenges and tests that I or my family has been through and I'm reassured.  I'm reassured that God loves me, that God is taking care of me, that God has a plan for me and that it WILL happen in His time...just be patient.  It will work out.  It always has and always will.  You may not see it in your lifetime, but that's where faith comes in.  Let me give you some examples...

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

It's hard living month to month - many people here and around the world have to deal with that reality.  If you've never gotten to one week before the end of the month and had $0 in your account, then you can't possibly understand what it's like.  It's a stress you don't want to deal with and sometimes can be downright frightening.  It comes with a feeling of helplessness that is overwhelming.  But I thank God, that in our 11 years of marriage, we have had to, on occasion, deal with this problem.  Why be thankful? Because the majority of people deal with it daily and now I can relate.  And because I have gotten to see God pull us out of it time and time again.  We have seen people come out of nowhere to help.

Through getting married and moving to the US, through struggling to find a job when we first got here, through going to seminary for three years and Noe going longer, through having two children, through multiple surgeries, through different jobs, through moving and through unexpected issues, we have never felt anything other than God's peace in our lives.  Sure, there were times of trouble, but even though we struggled financially, we never felt like we were doing something other than what God had planned for us.  In other words, the challenge of Noe working full time in the public schools but not even getting paid a teacher's salary, while I worked part time, while we had our first child, while I had an unplanned surgery, all while paying for seminary...we never made it to the end of the month.  Ever.  So why didn't I quit and get a full time job? Why didn't Noe look for a different job...why didn't we do something about it, why, why, why?  Simple. It was where God wanted us at the time.  I knew that I was working in a ministry where God called did Noe.  We both knew we were supposed to be in seminary.  We knew it was time to have a child. We would not risk what God was calling us to do for all the money in the world - because we knew that we could not be truly happy if we are not doing what God called us to do.  It was hard at times, especially once we had a child and realized that we wouldn't be able to afford what other parents could for their children.  But God saw us through and still is.  How?  Check this out...

Habakkuk 2:3

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;

    it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
    it will surely come, it will not delay.
We had no where to live when we got married and moved to the US because someone was renting my townhouse.  But my sister had to move to Colorado and needed someone in her house to help with rent while they decided on their next move of whether to sell or not.  Problem solved.

I was having trouble finding a job when we came back to the US and then a spot became available in the program where I used to work before I went to Peru.  Problem solved.

When Noe finally got his license and working permit, he needed to be able to get around and we couldn't afford another car.  Our townhouse then became available which was right by the bus stop. When the bus was no longer enough to help get him to where he needed to be, someone at the church donated a car and they gave it to Noe.  Problem solved...twice.

Despite not knowing much English, Noe was blessed with a job at a church starting an Hispanic Ministry.

When the above car stopped working and we needed a new one because we were going to have a baby, Noe decided to take it to the junkyard to try and get a couple hundred dollars for it.  On the way to the junkyard a car side swiped Noe totaling our car.  We got almost $5000 from the insurance company.  Not a coincidence.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

11 He has made everything suitable for its time;

Once I had Paul, I knew that God was calling me to do something else.  I was no longer happy or at peace with where I was working. So I resigned and gave 3 months notice with no prospects.  Stupid or brave?  Faith.  And peace. Two weeks before the end of my job I had an interview with what ended up as my first call at a church in Reidsville.  God loves to wait until the last minute :)

One December, after we had Ella, and Noe was still in seminary, we got a call from the pastor of our home church.  He said that someone had brought in a trash bag full of Christmas presents for our kids.  Amazing.

We couldn't afford for Noe not to work while he searched for his first call after seminary and his job at the school system was no longer secure.  Right when we were starting to get worried and wonder what we would do, Noe was accepted into the chaplaincy program at Duke which gave us a full year to look for a call. Awesome.

When that year was half over and he still didn't have a call, he found the "For such a time as this" program that landed us in Fort Lauderdale.  The process ended and the call was extended less than a month after the end of his chaplaincy.  God is good.

While we were in Fort Lauderdale, Noe's car broke down and it was more expensive to fix it then it was worth.  We decided to not get a new one because we were already tight each month.  We would just ride it out and share one car.  Was it a coincidence that two days later my mother called and said that my grandmother decided she no longer needed a car and, since she had already given one to her other two children, she gave it to my mom...and did I want it?  Of course it was no coincidence.  It was God working things out the last minute :)

After a year of being in Fort Lauderdale, I was still trying to figure out what my calling was.  As a pastor's wife, I have realized that we will always go where Noe is called.  It's the nature of the work. So, once we follow his call, I will have to figure out where God is calling me.  It took a while in Fort Lauderdale, but God came through as He always does.  After getting on my knees and begging God to please show me the way, days later I was called to an interview at another church to start a Mother's Morning Out Program.  I did...but at our church :) We also got a grant so I could get paid to help with the Christian Education at our church.  All in God's time...

And what about those times that friends or family chipped in a few hundred here or there to help us out...and always at the right time? Or those wonderful people who offered us or our kids amazing opportunities that we would not have had otherwise.  God's timing.  

Hebrews 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

So now here we are in Lancaster and I am again looking for my calling. Unlike Fort Lauderdale, I have had a few different possibilities land in my lap.  So all I have to do is wait and pray until God shows me which path to take.  

Life may give you challenges, like not being able to pay a bill at the end of the month; but if you are doing what God wants you to be doing and you are walking down the path He has chosen for you, it will work out.  Just have faith.  It won't always be easy - it can be frustrating, you can call out and feel like God's not listening - but the saying is God's will all work out.   

One day...after we close on our house and after I start working and we are settled in to our new life here in Lancaster, I hope that we can pay it forward and return some of the kindness that we have received.  I was reading the birth story the other day and it had never occurred to me how many angels were in that story...Zechariah's angel, Mary's angel, Joseph's angel, the shepherds' angel(s)...they were all there to make sure everyone knew what was going on and to reassure them that all was good. Then Noe told me of an "angel" that helped his family once in Peru one Christmas Eve (he tells the whole story in the devotional the church will give out for advent :)  There are real live angels all around us.  We have experienced many and I thank God for it.  If we had never been put into the situations we were in, then we would have never known what it felt like to need and then want for something and then be blessed with it. And if we had never known the social difficulties of living in a society that is money-driven we would have never learned how to be sensitive to those that don't have as much.  God has probably used you as an angel for someone else and I'm sure you can think of a time when angels have helped you.  Have faith that whatever trials you are going through will work out - maybe not how you planned or even what you wanted - but just be patient and trust in the Lord.  

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Proverbs 3:5

Going through difficulties and trials will enable you to feel sympathy and to help others who will also go through them...and possibly without the faith that you have. You can be the light for them that brings God's joy and peace to their lives.  Through your trials you can be an angel to someone else :)

God bless.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Little Man...Thank you for being you!!

It's easy as a parent to see yourself in your child - their personality, physical features - eye color, hair; attitude, smarts, etc. This means we tend to jump to conclusions or assume that our child can or can't do things that we can or can't do.  For example, I am musical and my husband is musical so our children should like and play music.  Or into sports, or math or blah blah blah.  Fill in the blanks. Then sometimes our children remind us that they are going to be talented in areas where we have no skills, they understand things at their age that we didn't ten years later, they aren't interested in the things that most interest us (ha!), that our best subject is their worst and that we should always be careful never to underestimate them...because they will constantly surprise and impress us.  

This post is to say Happy Birthday to my now 8 year old son who constantly surprises me and reminds me that I should always expect more from him.  Yes, he was born on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 (that was an adventure) and  I love all these things about him...(his last birthday post), I want to thank him for keeping life interesting :)

Paulito, thank you for... 

- not caring what other people think about you.  I love that you do what you want and don't worry how people see you.  I pray you keep that uniqueness!

- remembering everything I say I'll do and holding me accountable. lol.  I need the help :)

- being sensitive and caring about other people and animals.

- remembering every rule in everything always :)

- not being afraid to try new things.

- your sense of humor and helping me not take things seriously all the time :)

- making me feel loved and needed :)

- taking learning seriously...even though you don't always want to.

- loving your family and making them a priority in your life.  I pray you always do.

- showing me that even though you are introverted you will step out of your comfort zone when you need to.  You help me do the same :)

- having big dreams and trusting that God will help you achieve them.

- not being afraid to share your faith and belief in God

- doing little things to help out - like cleaning without being told, or emptying the dishwasher when I'm not least the things you can reach :)

- holding yourself accountable - I pray you always accept responsibility for the good and bad things that you do.

- being a loving and thoughtful son who brightens my are incredible.  And as I've told you since you were will always be my little boy :) even when you're 30 ;)

God bless you buddy!

With love always,

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

To our School Food Services...

I'm not a squeaky wheel and I really don't even know where to start to be one...but for some things, I will step out of my comfort zone to object to openly.  This is one of them. 

My child has a peanut allergy - we didn't ask for it, we didn't cause it and we don't like it anymore than you.  I won't go into details about how we found out and reacted or how we have dealt with it as she has grown, because I posted a blog a year ago about that very thing when she entered kindergarten.  

This is different.  When she started kindergarten, her school had a peanut free lunch line.  The cafeteria itself was not a peanut free zone, but this worked fine for us.  Why?  Because I knew that no peanuts entered the food area where her food would be prepared.  That meant that not only was every child eating food from the cafeteria peanut free, but she could eat there as well.  The only problem would be the children that happened to bring peanut butter in their lunch boxes.  However, we drilled into her constantly to never share food...and she seems to understand (especially since having her first reaction...which she can't forget).  

However, the school system where my children attend now serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches...everyday.  This is ludicrous to me and here is why - take a look at the most recent statistics on food allergies...

About 6 million children have food allergies - that's roughly 1 in 13 children...or possibly two per class in the US.  This is no longer "uncommon" or "rare"...this is real and at every school and in almost every classroom.  More specifically, the two more common allergies in children are peanuts and milk - peanuts causing the most severe and deadly reactions.

I know there are a lot of different food allergies out there and the schools can't cater to each one - especially if that food is prevalent in the majority of the lunches that are prepared (like gluten).  I'm not asking schools to do something that severe - something that would affect every child in the school.  I'm asking something very simple - consider the majority of severe food allergy sufferers...the ones allergic to peanuts.  It's not hard - peanuts are only served in ONE lunch offered in your cafeterias...and it can be replaced very easily and most of the time unnoticed by children - with school safe soy butter.  So instead of ordering peanut butter this year to make your sandwiches, order soy butter...problem solved.  Why is this not done at every school?!  Why are our childrens' lives being put into danger?  Parent's of children without allergies who may be shrugging their shoulders at this...did you know this? (I didn't) - not only can allergies develop at any time during your life (my sister just developed one at 39 and has to carry an epi-pen) but 25% of children who have a severe allergy have their first reaction while at school.  We need to protect all of our children.

Please don't wait until a child dies before something is done.  Why did Amarria have to die at school in 2012 for a bill to be passed requiring every school to carry epi-pens? (School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act.) Since that was passed at least two lives have been saved when the children ate something at school that triggered a reaction.  Who knows how many more were saved that haven't been reported?Can't we foresee and predict what is going to happen?  It doesn't take a genius...Why do we have to wait for something tragic? Especially when it can be easily avoided?

Cafeterias don't need to be peanut/nut free.  That can't happen and can't be enforced anyway.  But our School systems can stop serving peanut butter and other nuts.  That alone will eliminate most of the peanuts in the cafeteria and my daughter can go back to sitting with her classmates instead of being segregated at a separate table because of a medical condition.  We can't do this to our children.  We can't punish them for something they have no control over.  Do we make the ADD children sit at a separate table?  Do we make deaf or blind children sit at a different table?  Of course not - that's insensitive, heartless and traumatic for the child.  As a friend so eloquently put it with some satirical humor...

   "Our students can either choose to sit at the rattlesnake-free table, or around their friends who may or may not bring a rattlesnake to school.  Honestly, it's up to the children [and parents] whether or not they want to endanger their actual lives or their social lives."

Let's not do this to our children.  Help them all feel included.  And if there's a student in your child's class who has a more obscure allergy - be sensitive to it.  If they could possibly die from eating an apple (I have a friend who could...), then when you send apples with your child at lunch or see apples on the lunch menu - tell your child to not sit near his friend that day...for their safety.  All the children in the class need to understand the severity of a food allergy - because most likely there are 1-2 in their class.

So what can you do?  Find out who the food service people in your school system are and forward this to them.  Let all of the school systems that still serve peanut butter know that there is an easy option out there...and that all parents are in support of it.  The more parents and adults they hear from the more likely they are to change it...because one of the only reasons they haven't yet made this decision is because they don't want to start trouble with parents of students with no allergies.  So let them know it's ok, that your child will settle for a soy butter and jelly sandwich...and even if they can't, you can send one from home - just tell them to not sit next to their buddy that day.

Don't make a mountain out of a molehill...this is a huge problem with a tiny solution - so let's do it!