Sharing Christ’s Love Through Christmas Generosity

At this time of year, most people are in a generous mood.  The Christmas spirit inspires us to share with those in need and we are bombarded with opportunities to give.  From the Salvation Army’s red kettles to Toys for Tots drop boxes to food drives, there are ample choices for everyone to give to those needs that are most dear to their hearts.  There are so many worthy charities that it is hard to decide which ones to support.  Each year I struggle to balance the desire to give to every great cause while staying within my budget. So I want to share some steps that have helped me in making these tough decisions.

1) Ask God for wisdom in determining which charities to support each year.  If we all followed God’s guidance with our giving, all the needs would be met.

2) Decide how much money you can afford to give and stick to your budget.  I once read a definition of debt as “misguided charity.”  Being overly generous can lead to financial difficulties just as surely as greed and selfish spending.

3) Support charities whose values line up with your own.  As a Christian, I support charities sponsored by Christian organizations.  While I recognize that the beneficiaries of charitable giving appreciate the assistance regardless of the source, I want to share the message of Christ’s love while blessing others.

The following are some of the charities that I have supported over the years.

1) Angel Tree–This ministry of Prison Fellowship provides gifts to children of prison inmates.  They desire to reconcile prisoners with their families by delivering gifts to the children in the name of the incarcerated parent.

2) Operation Christmas Child–A ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child has delivered nearly 100 million Christmas gifts in shoeboxes to children all over the world.  Each box contains materials that share Christ’s love and plan of salvation with the recipient.

3) Salvation Army–Through their red buckets and their Angel gifts, the Salvation Army blesses needy children and senior citizens.  The Salvation Army’s mission is to reach the lost, the last, and the least with the message of Christ’s love.

4) Toys for Tots–This toy drive is sponsored by the Marine Corps and Marine Corps reserves and provides toys to disadvantaged children.  The mission of Toys for Tots is to provide a message of hope that will assist children in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens. 

5)  Food banks.  I donate to my church’s food ministry and our local food bank.  It’s hard to share Christ’s love with people who are hungry.  When we feed people, they know we care about them and it makes it easier for them to believe that Christ loves them.

That’s my list of favorite charitable organizations. What are some of yours?  What other ways to you share Christ’s love at Christmas?

Christmas celebrates the beginning of Christ’s earthly journey and the hope that He brought to the world.  As we give Christmas gifts to those less fortunate than us, we have an opportunity to share Christ’s love and the infinitely valuable gift He gave us when He left his home in Heaven to live among man and ultimately pay the price for our sins. Please pray and ask God to direct your giving this year.  If we all give as God leads us, many needs will be met and many lives will be changed.  The true message of Christmas is that Christ came to Earth to change lives.

 

“Do You Love Me?”

A few weeks ago Lisa Whelchel announced she was divorcing her husband after more than 23 years of marriage. Yesterday I watched a video of an interview she did with Jeff Probst in which Lisa said that she was never really in love with her husband.  Lisa explained that she thought she was following God’s will for her life by marrying her husband, yet her heart was never committed to the relationship.

As I listened to the interview, I was reminded of  the very touching scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye asks Golde if she loves him.  Golde tries to avoid answering but finally concludes that all they have shared in 25 years of marriage is the definition of love.  The song ends with each professing their love for the other and concludes with “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.”

It’s not my place to judge Lisa or to try to determine what was right for her and her family.  However, my heart breaks at the realization that a Christian couple who have tried to follow God’s will for their lives could live together for more than two decades and raise a family without truly bonding with one another.  Tevye and Golde are right when they conclude that going through the ups and downs of life together really does constitute love.  I’m sorry Lisa was not able to come to the same conclusion.  I wish her all the best as she moves forward in life as a single Christian woman,  and I pray that she will find the lasting love that she seems to have missed in her recently-ended marriage.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fiddler on the Roof, I encourage you to check out the video of “Do You Love Me?”   starring Topol as Tevye and Norma Crane as Golde:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_y9F5St4j0 .  It’s a beautiful song and a touching scene as these two long-married people finally reveal the love that is in their hearts.

Football Passion, “Sports Hate”, and Loving Your Enemy

Just prior to the Houston Texans inaugural season in 2002, Sports Illustration wrote an article that opened with, “When I was born the first thing my mother said to me was ‘You hate the Dallas Cowboys.'”  It was a quote from a fan of the newest NFL team.  His mother had been a fan of the Houston Oilers before they moved to Tennessee and were renamed the Titans.  Despite the team’s move, this fan and his mother continued to hate the Dallas Cowboys. They were delighted that professional football was returning to Houston.

My son read the article and then asked me, “Was that the first thing you told me?  ‘You hate the Dallas Cowboys'”  I responded that it was not the first thing, but it was something that I said to him soon afterward and often.  The Cowboys are division rivals of our beloved Redskins.  Our hatred is not limited to the Dallas Cowboys; we also hate the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants for exactly the same reason.

Football fans are a passionate bunch who wear their loyalties proudly.  Some paint their faces, while others paint their bodies.  Packers fans wear cheese-shaped hats and refer to themselves as CheeseHeads.  Steelers fans wave Terrible Towels, while Saints fans hold signs reading “Who Dat?”  The Redskins’ best known fans are the Hogettes, a group of men who wear dresses and hog noses to each game.

With such devoted fans, it is to be expected that emotions run high during games.  Sometimes this passion carries into everyday life, and fans start to hate not only their biggest rivals, but also fans of their biggest rivals.  I have a friend Larry who is a passionate Dallas Cowboy fan.  We attend the same church and enjoy ribbing each other.  One week Larry’s daughter overheard her father say that he hated me.   Larry’s daughter is one of the girls I teach at church and one of the lesson  I teach is to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  (Luke 6:27, 28)   Larry’s daughter was horrified that her father could hate her teacher.  Of course, Larry quickly explained the difference between ‘sports hate’ and real hate and that he only hates me when it comes to football.

Occasionally passionate sports fans get confused between ‘sports hate’ and real hate.  When this happens, frustrated fans tend to take out their disappointment on their sports enemies, better known as the other team’s fans.   This type of violence is not limited to football fans.Tragically, this happened last year at Dodger Stadium when a Giants fan was badly beaten on the opening day of the baseball season.    

As a new football season begins, I hope that all football fans will remember to leave the tackles and blows to the players on the football field.  Cheer your favorite team on with gusto and passion, but remember when the game is over, it’s time to treat your enemies with love and respect.  This year let’s modify the words of Christ to say, “Love your football rivals and treat with respect to the fans of the teams who compete against your team, bless those whose teams outscore yours, and pray for those fans who taunt you after a victory.” 

 

Washington Redskins Hogettes

“How Can I Help?”

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us.  Strength is for service, not status.  Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”  Romans 15:1-2 (The Message)

I came across this verse in my devotions yesterday.  In the New King James Version the verse read, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”

Of course, I’ve read this verse many times before as I’ve studied the book of Romans, but yesterday it really grabbed my attention.  I think it was “scruples” that popped out at me.  It seemed an odd word to be in the Bible, and in fact, the King James uses the word “infirmities.”  At any rate, my curiosity was piqued and I pulled out a few other translations to see how they put it.

These verses were a reminder to me that God commands His people to look around them to see how they can help their neighbors.  From the story of the Good Samaritan, I know that my neighbor is any person God puts in my path.  I need to be watchful for others who need a hand and offer mine.  The needs may be spiritual, emotional, physical, or financial.  God doesn’t expect me to solve everyone’s problems, but He does expect me to offer service to those He brings to my attention.

The popular Bible teacher Bruce Wilkinson (author of The Prayer of Jabez and The Dream Giver) personalizes this question to open doors of opportunity to help others without interferring where he is not wanted.  When he feels the Holy Spirit impressing upon him to offer assistance to someone, he approaches them and simply asks “How may I help you?”  It is direct and to the point.  Often the person’s first reaction is to deny needing his help.  When Bruce persists, they open up and share their problems.  Sometimes God directs Bruce to meet the need immediately by giving the person money; other times God direct Bruce to provide godly counsel; and occasionally Bruce simply prays for the person.  Bruce based his approach on the example of Elisha the prophet in the story of the Widow’s Oil (2 Kings 4:1 – 7).

The key to being of service to others is to be open to the nudge of the Holy Spirit that a person in your vicinity is in need and God is going to use you to help in the situation.   I urge you to pray that your heart will be attuned to the nudging of the Holy Spirit to assist someone in need today.  As you look around, ask “How can I help?”

If  God has directed you through the nudging of the Holy Spirit to recognize and assist to a person in need, please consider sharing your story as a means of encouraging others.

Learning to Accept and Embrace Change

Change is something I rarely seek and often resist, but lately God has been working on me to accept and embrace change.  I’m not speaking about change that arises from boredom or the desire to do something different, but meaningful change.  Changes that leads to a better way of doing things or  spiritual or emotional growth is productive and healthy.  But, it so much easier to stick with what we know than it is to change.

Amidst several staffing changes at our church recently, my pastor said to me, “People see change as bad.  Change isn’t good or bad.  It’s just different.” I don’t think he was saying that because he felt I was resisting the changes that had taken place; however, I do believe the Holy Spirit inspired him to make that comment to me at that time.

I know that he’s right and that the changes that took place were God ordained, but I would have preferred that things had stayed the same.  I liked the people who moved on to other callings and I couldn’t envision our church without them.  While I still miss them, I have accepted that God had a plan and His plan is best.  Those who moved on are ministering in congregations that needed them and new leaders are being developed from members of our congregation. Those particular changes have provided new opportunities for growth in leadership for members of our congregation.  The new leaders have stepped up to the challenge and God is blessing their work.

I think some of my resistance to change has its roots in my childhood.  Growing up as the daughter of a Marine, I attended 6 different elementary school in four different states.  Just as we settled into a new home and a new community, Dad would get orders and we’d be off again.  My sisters and I would have to get accustomed to a new school and make new friends.  I was constantly saying good bye to old friends.  Of course, each move allowed us to meet new people and make new friends.  God used these moves to bring people into our lives that lead our family to Him and helped us grow.  He also used those changes to help me quickly become comfortable in new situations and taught me to reach out to those who are new and make them feel welcome.

I know that changes that God initiates are for His glory and my growth.  I trust that God loves me more than I love myself. The changes He wants for me will help me to become more Christ-like and to draw closer to God.  I want to not only accept those changes but learn to embrace and celebrate them.  My ultimate desire is to honor God in all that I do each day and I can only do that as I allow Him to change me and my circumstances to conform with His will.  I don’t know what changes God has planned for me in the coming months and years, but I fully trust Him and know that those changes are for my ultimate good.

Girls Ministries Honor Celebration

Last night our church held its annual Girls Ministries Honor Celebration.    The Girls Ministries program includes seven club and ministers to girls from birth through high school graduation.  Our preschool clubs, Sunlight Kids and Rainbows, also includes little boys.  The Honor Celebration marks the end of our “academic” year in Girls Ministries and celebrates the achievements of each girl and boy in the program.

 

Our Rainbow club is made up of 3 and 4 year old boys and girls.

 

From the earliest ages, the children are taught Biblical principles.   They earn badges by completing a unit consisting of 4 or 6 lessons and memorizing a memory verse for that unit. In the younger classes, those who complete the required number of units in their program graduate with “Honor” and are recognized as Honor Rainbows, Honor Daisies, and Honor Prims.  The older classes require additional work, including Bible reading, memorizing the Assemblies of God Statement of Faith, and being tested on all their memory verses to be recognized as Honor Stars, Honor Friends, and Honor Girls Only.

One of the highlights of the program is being crowned an Honor Star.  The Stars class is for girls in third through fifth grade.  To be crowned an Honor Star, a young girl has to read the entire New Testament, complete 27 units and nine Honor requirements.  Honor requirements include memorizing the names of the books of the Old and New Testaments, memorizing the Lord’s prayer, doing a study of the life of Christ, keeping a prayer journal, and memorizing several other scriptures.  It is quite a feat for an 11-year old girl to complete the requirements to be recognized as an Honor Star.

Last night four of our girls were crowned Honor Stars.  They are beautiful young ladies inside and out.  I am very proud of them and all that they have accomplished.

Three of our newly crowned Honor Stars with two of last year’s Honor Stars.

I have been privileged to be a part of Girls Ministries for more than 40 years, first as a girl in the program and since 1979 as a teacher.  The Girls Ministries program, as well as our boys’ program called Royal Rangers, impart truths of God’s Word to children at a very young age and prepare them to be Christian leaders in the families, churches, and communities. 

Recommitting to Living Intentionally

In late February I wrote a blog about choosing “My One Word” for 2012.  I choose the word intentional and declared my intentions of “focusing my time and energy on what is truly important rather than simply responding to situations that present themselves.”  It’s now mid-June and the year will soon be half over.  It’s time to take stock of how I’ve done, and the scorecard is not encouraging, although it is not as dismal as I thought it might be.

I previously declared my goals to be intentional (1) in getting deeper into God’s Word and growing closer to Him, (2) in seeking His will for every aspect of my life, (3) in putting relationships ahead of accomplishing a to-do list, and (4) in taking steps to maintain my health, which will include losing weight and exercising more.  I also declared that I would spend less time mindlessly watching whatever show happens to be on television or surfing the Internet, less time playing Solitaire and Angry Birds, and less time stressing over situations that may or may not occur and that won’t matter to me a week later.  

Of course, as soon as you declare a course of action, it seems as if life conspires to interfere with your plans.  Shortly after writing my Intentional blog, we made an offer on a house, my brother-in-law died Bob unexpectedly, we closed on our house and moved, and we began a major renovation project.  Chaos ensued and I found myself reacting to situations rather than focusing my time and attention in productive ways.  We are now somewhat settled into the new house, we are adjusting to the big hole left in our lives by Bob’s absence, and the master bath renovation is awaiting shower doors to be complete.

It’s time to get my life back to some semblance of normalcy and my focus back on being intentional in my actions.  During this period of great distractions, I was faithful in my daily devotions.  I start each day by spending time reading the Bible and asking God to help me glorify Him in all that I do.  I think it is human nature to seek God’s help and draw closer to Him in troubled times and that was certainly true for me.   That is the positive side of the scorecard.

On the negative side, I’ve fallen back into old habits of playing solitaire and wasting time reading meaningless tripe on the Internet. I justify these time-wasting activities as stress relief; however, I am generally more stressed afterwards because nothing has been crossed off my to-do list.  I have managed to lose 4 pounds–not much for four months of denying myself bread and potatoes, but at least it is a loss and not a gain.  It probably goes without saying that I haven’t been exercising.  And I haven’t been writing.  My third novel which was to be completed by May 1 is no further along than it was in February.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines repent as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.”  That sounds like a good plan for my life.  So, I hereby repent of my lack of living intentionally and declare that I will turn from my sin and rededicate myself to those noble goals which I set earlier this year.  For the remainder of 2012, I will live intentionally and make the most of each day and each opportunity to grow in my relationship with God and those most important in my life and to improve my health.