Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanks and Giving

by Sylvia Gaston

Most Americans’ favorite holiday is Christmas. A 2015 Harris poll revealed the top favorite holidays as:

1.    Christmas (46%)
2.    Thanksgiving (19%)
3.    Halloween (9%)
4.    Fourth of July (5%)
5.    Easter (3%)
6.    New Year’s (2%)
7.    Memorial Day (1%)
8.    Birthdays (1%)
9.    Labor Day (1%)
10. Valentine’s Day (1%)

However, my favorite holiday is THANKSGIVING. In fact, I often verbalize my disappointment over the fact that in retail and outdoor home d├ęcor, Halloween is followed immediately by Christmas – even the very next day! What about Thanksgiving, people?!?

It is my absolute favorite holiday of the year. Mostly because it is about 2 things I LOVE – family and food!

My husband and I have a friendly turkey cooking competition each year. His is on the grill and mine is brined and roasted. He claims to win every year but it’s usually a tie – both are delicious. And since I love to cook, it’s fun for me to find awesome new ways to use up all of those leftovers!

But the very best part of Thanksgiving is that this particular holiday is about hanging out with family and basking in thankfulness.

There seems to be a visible shift in people’s demeanor, kindness and appreciation during this season. These are the days when we look at our, often taken-for-granted, blessings. We take stock of the loved ones in our life and the relative comfort we enjoy.

Thanksgiving is also the season where we begin to share a portion of our overflow with those who need it. Whether inviting others to share in our turkey meal or donating groceries so families can prepare their own, we begin giving because we are thankful.

My co-worker, Justine, recently wrote a Sunday school lesson entitled “Thanks and Giving”. This phrase has really stuck with me. I can’t get it out of my head.

It seems to me that when we are TRULY thankful for all that God has blessed us with, there should be a response of giving. Not only to share what we have but also as an act of gratitude for what we have been given.

In the Bible, we read about Paul, a man who has a supernatural encounter with Jesus and goes on to build and encourage the young churches for the remainder of his life. In a letter to the people of the church in Corinth, he encourages their generosity in this way:

“I have been bragging about you to the people in Macedonia…And your desire to give has made most of the people here ready to give also…Remember this: The one who plants few seeds will have a small harvest. But the one who plants a lot will have a big harvest. Each one of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You should not give if it makes you unhappy or if you feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give. And God can give you more blessings than you need, and you will always have plenty of everything…The service you are offering helps God’s people with their needs, but that is not all it does. It is also bringing more and more thanks to God.” (from 1 Corinthians 9)

Read those last 2 sentences again. When we give, we are saying, “Thanks, God, for all You are doing for me. I’m so thankful, that I’m going to give.”

What are you thankful for? We should be asking and answering this question each day because out of our overflow of thanks, we begin to give. And with our giving, not only are we showing our appreciation, it can become the pebble in the water that ripples out in larger and larger rings of thanks and giving from others.

I hope this phrase gets stuck in your head and heart just as it has in mine – thanks and giving.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

It’s Not The End Of The World

by Candace Cortez

Is it just me, or does it feel like the series of devastating events have hit an all-time rapid succession point? I feel like every 8 days or so, I hear about something else that has happened in our world that is heartbreaking. Hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean left thousands in devastation, not to mention the lives lost. The mass shooting in Las Vegas left me stunned. Looking at the division in our world because of politics and the desire for power leaves me feeling a tad small, wondering if there is anything I can do, and fearful that the ones making decisions have atomic power at their disposal. After this past weekend, I began to wonder if church shootings will become the new trend in mass shootings. I have watched this brewing stew of racism in our nation and I often feel stuck, not knowing what to say to produce love and what moments allow hate by silence.  And that’s the macro stuff. On a more micro level, depression, suicide, bullying, poverty, divorce, illiteracy, and addictions are all still a thing in the lives of people within my reach.

If we ever sit back and see our world for what it is, it can be overwhelming. I’ve heard it said more often in the past few months than ever before, that the end of the world is near.

That’s when I start to become afraid. Not that the world will come to the end as predicted in scripture, I know that’s coming, and I look for Jesus to return every day. I am nervous, that we will throw our hands up in the air because we feel there is not enough time to make real change happen.

When I watch sports, it doesn’t always bother me if my team wins or loses. What bothers me, is when I can tell a team has given up before the last whistle blows. They begin to slow down just before the finish line. Those who are running to win, push harder just before the end of the race. If we really believe what it says in scripture, that we don’t know the day or hour that Jesus is coming back, we must run like it’s tomorrow…or today. The call is to make as many disciples as we can before the end of the time given.

So, when we watch the news or see another scary post on our social media, guard your hearts. Do not be discouraged. Yes, our world is broken and it is proving that daily. Do not let the pressure of everything that is wrong squeeze away your hope. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful! That means there is work to do, and there always will be.

Have hope. God IS with us and believe it or not, right now is not the end of the world. We still have time! This is the hour to push harder toward the goal. If you have been given a vision, and inspiration on how to love people, either in a big or small way, GO FOR IT! Do not wait until tomorrow. Make that call. Write that letter to your politician. Help the one you know is in need. Make the list of things you need to do to obey the call of God on your heart. Do not wait for someone else to make it happen. We are a part of God’s plan to bring hope and life to a broken generation. I am praying for us all today to be a light. Because where there is light, there cannot be darkness.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Guidelines Please

by Andrew Cromwell

I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. After all, I did take literature and philosophy classes in college. In them, I learned pretty much all I had taken for granted about the world was just wrong. All my life I had been told that there was such a thing as good and evil and right and wrong, but my professors told me that these concepts were just social constructs and nothing more than agreed upon norms society had chosen.

I learned there was really no such thing as “right” and “wrong”, only opinions about them. I learned you could pretty much believe whatever you wanted and that was just fine. What mattered was how strongly you felt about these things. Just as long as you didn’t make the mistake of telling someone else what they should think.

And that is why I shouldn’t have been surprised. Because now I see that this way of thinking is trickling down into nearly every area of our lives.

This is the reason parents are no longer giving guidelines to their kids. But let me come back to that in just a moment.

A teacher’s job is to guide and develop students, not just expose them to every thought on the subject. If we wanted only theories, we would buy a book or visit Wikipedia. But we seek teachers because we assume they have learned enough about the subject that they can guide our thoughts. No one is saying they have a corner on the market of truth, but we would hope that they have some experience and understanding that are helpful.

But a frequent strategy of teaching today (at least in college in the “soft sciences”) seems to be to expose the students to all the theories and let them make their own conclusions. This often leaves students confused and frustrated. When they ask “but which one is right?”, professors just shrug their shoulders.

Now, back to parenting. It seems parents have bought into this “neutral” stance when it comes to teaching their kids. The strategy seems to be to allow the kids to experience life and leave it to the child to pick their preferred path (or truth). The most important job in parenting seems to be safety — to keep the kid from injuring themselves on this journey of self-discovery.

Here’s the problem. Kids are dumb. Not in the “intelligence” sense but in the “experience” sense. This is why we put covers on electrical sockets and yell at them to keep them from running into the street. They just don’t know enough to know what is right and what is wrong. And half the time they don’t know if what they are feeling inside is an indication of what they should do next or the result of being tired or eating too much sugar or just being selfish.

And when parents don’t step in and actively teach and guide their kids but simply leave it up to the child, then they have failed. The number one job of a parent is not safety, but to teach and train their child in a way they should go.

Parents, you’re the experts (at least in your kids’ world)! Don’t let someone else be the expert for your child until the time is right for them to be handed off to another. Your children desperately need you to tell them what is right and what is wrong in this world that is confused about seemingly everything. 

Send your kids to bed early. Don’t let them watch, eat, play anything they want. Don’t just be their best friend, be their teacher and their guide. They will thank you for it later on!