A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth


Showing posts with label Feel-Good Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feel-Good Stories. Show all posts

November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Week: The Giving Kitchen

   
     For some, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about the food.  For others it is all about family; reminiscing about old memories and creating new ones.  But it is also about inspiration and gratitude. But if you watched CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, you saw a story that combines the best of all these aspects.
     Chef Ryan Hidinger was well known in Atlanta, having worked at some of the premier restaurants in the area. In addition, he and his wife, Jen, had gained quite a reputation for their unique supper club, called Staplehouse.  They ran it for several years, in anticipation of opening their own restaurant with the same name.
     Then out of left field, Ryan received a devastating Gallbladder Cancer diagnosis.  Doctors told him it was stage-four and he was given six months to live.  Needless to say, their dream of opening a restaurant suddenly seemed out of reach.  But friends, those within the Atlanta area, and the restaurant industry came together and held a charity gala that raised $275,000.  That money not only paid the Hidinger's medical bills, but became the seed money for The Giving Kitchen.  
     The Giving Kitchen was formed as a 501(c)(3) to fill the need for a crisis grant program in the restaurant community — as a way to do for others what the community came together to do for Ryan and Jen.  The organization provides emergency assistance grants to cover basic living expenses, care-related travel expenses, and funeral expenses for those who meet defined criteria; to families of chefs, restaurant owners, servers and restaurant staff. The Hidinger's research showed that there are over 200,000 restaurant workers in the City of Atlanta. At any given time, 1-2% are facing unanticipated crisis. The Giving Kitchen is committed to trying to meet as many of those needs as they can. 
     The idea for the Giving Kitchen originated with the compassion shown the Hidinger's during Ryan's illness.  In the business world, it models a unique hybrid structure as a nonprofit with a for-profit subsidiary. The for-profit subsidiary is Ryan and Jen's original dream, Staplehouse — the casual fine- dining restaurant they opened in a turn-of-the century brick building in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. After all the bills are paid, the staff is paid, taxes are paid, etc., 100% of Staplehouse’s net profits are channeled back into its nonprofit parent, The Giving Kitchen, as an ongoing stream of support.
     The testimonials on the website are proof that The Giving Kitchen is meeting the needs of those in the restaurant industry.  Bartenders, servers, and families of restaurant workers who are enduring the anxiety of unexpected medical crises and bills become recipients of Funds set up in their names, and supported by restaurant patrons, other restaurant employees, and profits from Staplehouse -- all donated in the spirit of assisting others who need a helping hand. 
     This is a unique story and so appropriate for this Thanksgiving season.  The CBS presentation didn't reveal whether Faith played any part in the Hidinger's decision to start The Giving Kitchen.  But their motivations are certainly pleasing to God.  For He tells us to share generously with those in need, and to help those in trouble.  He tells us our giving should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others, and that is evident in Ryan and Jen's story.  Ryan died from Gallbladder Cancer in January of 2014.  Since that time, Jen, along with Ryan's sister, Kara, and her husband, Ryan Smith (who now serves as Staplehouse chef), have labored with love to keep Ryan Hidinger's memory and dream alive.
     While Staplehouse has been a project of passion since the beginning, it has become a lasting testament to Ryan and Jen's desire to not only give back to the community who helped them, but to pay it forward.  As the website bon appĂ©tit proclaimed, "Staplehouse is about love, and it is about family. It is inspiring, and it is humbling. Staplehouse is an example of what good a community can do. This is why [we named] Staplehouse as the Best New Restaurant in America".  And from the reviews I've read, they did not receive the award out of sympathy -- the service is outstanding, there is a palpable spirit of joy and love, and the restaurant's food is leading the pack towards the next step in modern Southern cooking. 
     But it is the quote from Ryan Hidinger, himself; written on an exposed wooden beam, that sums up the intrinsic nature of this story ... “Anything long-lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.” That speaks to my experience as a human being and as a Christian.  I think we can say that The Giving Kitchen exemplifies the spirit of Thanksgiving with its story of love and family and giving to others.  And perhaps, most of all, it shows us how to live out Jesus's command to love our neighbor as ourselves. May it continue to prosper and be blessed.

Luke 6:38   "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
     
     

November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving Week: Stories of Prayer, Immigration, and Assimilation

     I'd like to spend this week in a true spirit of giving thanks.  We've just finished a hotly contested and divisive election season; the war in Iraq has been revitalized; world powers are readjusting and realigning, and it's too easy to get caught up in our anxieties and fears about the future.  But this week, let's concentrate on the stories that bring us together; our common humanity and the lessons we can learn from Biblical history.
     This first story comes to us from Erbil, Iraq. Last Friday, November 18th, more than 20,000 persecuted Christians gathered to pray for Iraq and victory against ISIS. The six-hour prayer event marked the end of 50 days of fasting, and for many Christians, hopefully the start of a new life without ISIS. Think about that! In this country that has been torn apart by war for more than thirteen years, this is a remarkable show of faith in the wake of some of the most horrific and wicked persecution the world has ever seen.
     Those that gathered were specific in what they wanted to accomplish.  They prayed for the presence of God’s Spirit to envelop the meeting and that every person would clearly hear what God wanted to say to them.  They prayed that leaders of the event would preach, worship and pray under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  They prayed that those who were Unbelievers would be touched by the Holy Spirit during this time, and come to know His Truth, as Son of God and Lord of all. They prayed that this gathering would be a time of encouragement to those who were struggling to stay steadfast in their faith because of the persecution they had suffered; and a time of breakthrough for those struggling to know Jesus for the first time.  Finally, they prayed that God would indeed hear from Heaven, answer the cries of His people, and bring healing, renewed hope for the future and peace to the people of this region. It is an ancient prayer that people of the Bible have prayed since Genesis.
    While Iraqis are hopeful that the defeat of Isis and the liberation of their towns will continue, they still face violence by local militias, regional conflicts between key players like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the distrust between the different religious and ethnic groups of the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, and Arabs.  It is the same old world story, but at the heart of it is the continued power of prayer and the hope of God's promises.  I am thankful for this current reminder that God is still sought after as the ultimate answer to the world's chaos.
     This second story has an ancient Biblical connection.  Remember the story in Acts, Chapter 8, when Philip, the Evangelist, encounters the Ethiopian eunuch on his way back from Jerusalem?  Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading the Book of Isaiah; specifically, Chapter 53 [which identifies our Lord as the Suffering Servant], and offers to help the traveling eunuch understand what he is reading. First, we need to understand that it is nearly 1600 miles from modern Ethiopia to Jerusalem!!! This man traveled a long way to gain knowledge, and how did he come to be seeking wisdom about the coming Messiah?
     Well, scholars speculate that Ethiopia was the land where the Queen of Sheba had come from, who saw the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and professed faith in the God of Israel (1 Kings 10:13). It’s possible that pieces of the Jewish faith were passed on through the centuries to men like this servant of the current Queen. And after Philip's instruction, and his confession of faith and baptism, this Ethiopian eunuch most likely returned to his homeland and helped launch the Christian faith in that ancient land. Here's an additional interesting note: The Coptic Christians – greatly persecuted today in Egypt – trace their spiritual heritage back to this Ethiopian official.  So, what does all this history have to do with giving thanks this week?
     Daniel Sahalo is some of the fruit that was borne from that divine appointment between Philip and the Ethiopian. He was born in the farming village of Gaina, Ethiopia. In 1984, when Daniel was 4 years old, his family decided to immigrate to Israel, along with a group of other Jews seeking to flee the famine and political unrest in Ethiopia. For eight weeks, Sahalo and the rest of his group traveled barefoot at night under the eclipse of darkness. They contended with many threats, including robbers, hunger, wild animals, and the bitter cold of the desert nights. Sadly, more than 4,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community died on the way to Israel, including Sahalo's 23-year-old sister and 2-year-old niece.
     After waiting nine months at a Red Cross refugee camp near the Sudanese and Egyptian border, the announcement finally came that the group would be flown to Israel. Sahalo would go on to finish high school, enlist in the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) prestigious Paratroopers 101 battalion, and become the only member of his family to earn an academic degree [in International Relations and Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem].
     But perhaps his most important accomplishment has become his involvement with the Megemeria Jewelry Collection, as their Sales and Marketing Manager.  You see, the experience of Ethiopian Jews in their new homeland of Israel has o theften been a difficult one.  Most Ethiopian Jews were farmers in their native country and now have trouble finding work and integrating into Israeli society. That's where Yvel comes in; they are a company in Israel that makes and sells fine jewelry.  Founded by Argentinian immigrants to Israel, they started a social business enterprise, called the Megemeria School of Jewelry and the Arts. "Megemeria" means Genesis in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia.
     The school teaches Ethiopian immigrants to Israel the art and science of jewelry design and manufacturing, along with many other skills, such as math and the Hebrew language. Students study for free, receive a monthly stipend to help with living expenses, and upon graduation from the school, many are hired to work at the Megemeria social business. All jewelry is designed and manufactured entirely by the school's students and graduates, with all sales revenue reinvested in the project. What a beautiful Biblical picture of how God instructed the Israelites to love the "sojourners" and "aliens" in their land, remembering that they were once sojourners themselves.  It also shows the respect of the new citizens of Israel by learning the native language and becoming productive citizens.  This story of Aliya (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel) turned from one of struggle to one of thanksgiving.
     In these two stories, we see the history of humanity.  They encompass the stories of refugees, asylum-seekers, the internally displaced, and those moving to other countries as immigrants. They cover the reality of being human as well as being a Christian or a Jew. They remind us that we are all made in the image of God.  We are all representatives of God on earth, and we all have worth in His eyes; each of us was made by God and Christ died for us.
     In this age of war, global politics, and Elitist domination, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God cares about each individual.  But from the beginning of the human race, nothing has changed. Just as God "saw" Abram in Mesopotamia; Ruth in the land of Moab; Daniel in Babylon; and each of the Disciples in their lonely journeys to Asia Minor, India, North Africa, Persia, and beyond, He "sees" each of us. He hears each prayer, as in Erbil, Iraq; and like the Ethiopian Jews, He desires that each person seeking a better life in a strange land would be welcomed, and charity and compassion be dispensed.  The stories presented here mirror these Biblical principles, and are the perfect way to begin our Thanksgiving week.

Thank you to the Christian Broadcasting Network for reporting on these two inspirational stories.

Psalm 103:13   Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence].

November 10, 2015

Ready For Some Good News?

     With the sad state of the world, I know that I'm ready for a feel-good story, and I'm pretty sure you are, too.  It's not an earth-shattering, jump up and down, fist-pump-the-sky kind of story, but one of simple love and charity for our fellow man... the best kind.
    Tanya Prewitt-White, a sports and health psychology professor at Adler University, and her husband, Courtney White, who is the Physical Education department chair at Downer's Grove, were returning from the funeral of Courtney's grandmother.  They were taking the train home from Chicago O'Hare when they spied a homeless man sleeping in a wheelchair.
     “We were getting off at Irving Park, and I had grabbed some money to give him,” Prewitt-White, said.  “My husband had the same idea, so he already had money out to give him. I handed my additional money to my husband, and he just slipped it all into the gentleman’s bag, and we walked off.”
     “We were just trying to pay it forward,” she continued. “My husband and I talk about this all the time — about our own self-righteousness, about how it’s easier to become hardened and not make eye contact, or smile at people who appear homeless, because then you don’t have to look pain and suffering in the face. It’s definitely been a journey for the two of us.”
Courtney White and his wife, Tanya Prewitt-White
     So, although the couple thought they were committing an anonymous act of charity, another passenger was so moved that he snapped a quick photo of them before they exited the train, and posted it on his Facebook page.  Jack Stankovic said, "I posted the picture because, at the time, everyone on the train was heads-down on their phones,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We see so much negativity on a daily basis on social media. If we only took the time to look at our surroundings, we would see the positive things happening around us. We, as a society, talk about change, but rarely do we act on it. The picture symbolizes action.”  The last time I checked, his post had over 91,000 shares.  It seems as if people love to share the good news as much as they flock to the sensationalized.
     And to be honest, I think we're tired of all the explicit, lurid, shocking and scandalous news that pervades our media and social conscience.  I don't know about you but they leave me feeling contaminated, in a way; almost as if I am looking at the world through a dirty and soiled veil.  So, I find that the smiles I receive from strangers, in return to the ones I give, are the highlights of my day. A smile and a hello, while looking someone in the eye, can validate that they were worth your attention; especially since like Jack Stankovic said, we are increasingly becoming zombie-like, detached, and aloof as we stare at our electronic entrapments.
     It doesn't take much to change a person's entire outlook on life.  We all need to feel connected; that we matter, and that we are not alone and won't go unnoticed.  There is nothing that could make a human being feel more lonely or without worth.  And that's why Courtney White and his wife, Tanya, obeyed their spiritual prompting.  That simple act of kindness and charity shines forth as an example for us all.
     Although they did not do it for the attention it has garnered, their fellow passenger Jack Stankovic felt that their act should be honored.  And he recorded the reaction of the homeless man in the wheel chair -- because he woke him up to tell him.  “I didn’t want him to pull his water bottle out and drop [the money],” he said. “I stepped off and stood on the platform and watched through the window. He had this look on his face like, ‘Why?’ Confused why anyone would do that. You can’t put into words the feeling I had that day. It’s like everything was right in the world for a brief moment.”
     You're exactly right, Jack.  Things on earth were perfect for a moment; two people shared their heart and soul with another, and at that exact point of time there was peace and good will between men ... just as our Lord intended.

Thank you to The Blaze for this story, and I hope it blesses you and inspires you today to do your own small gesture of love towards another human being.

Luke 6:38    "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."


   

September 19, 2015

A Saturday Morning Celebration!

This is a small, short story that will most likely be here today and gone tomorrow.  But I thought I would share it with you and shine a light into this dark world.  We have reason to hope!   

     Texas City, Texas will never be known for its beauty or its cosmopolitan flair.  It is largely an oil refinery town and an important component in our Gulf Coast shipping industry.  Historically, it played a huge part in supplying our nation's war effort in WWII after enemy submarines had almost completely stopped the shipment of petroleum products to friendly countries from the Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia.   And on a trivial, but personal note, Texas City was the place where I first tasted fresh ocean shrimp for the first time; it was such a revelation that shrimp could taste that good, after my Midwestern diet of frozen shrimp from a box.
     But, now I want to celebrate Texas City for a special moment that occurred this last week.  It's a small encounter that I hope will bring a tear to your eye, and hope to your heart.  Sal Chapa is a Texas City police officer.  I'm sure he is like most policemen -- especially those that I know -- he goes to work each day, committed to doing his job the best he can; to protect and serve the public without any expectation of acknowledgment or appreciation.
     Sometimes in the performance of his job, it results in arrests of those who just can't seem to get their life in order, and incarceration becomes the punishment.  Such was the case with Edward "Doc" Amey.  He had been in and out of prison three times, and he had a rap sheet that was several pages long, including six felonies and a number of misdemeanors.  In fact, Mr. Amey had a history with Officer Chapa.  “I arrested him several years ago on a gun charge,” Chapa said. “And due to that, he ended up doing some time.”
     So you can imagine the surprise Officer Chapa experienced when Amey approached him at a local chili cook off.  This Amey was a different man. While serving a five-year sentence on the gun charge, Amey had a conversation with God.  While in prison he said, “God if you are real. turn my life around”.  He was released from prison after serving a year and half, graduated Bible College with perfect attendance, and is now strong in his church.
     “I have not always been a friend to the police,” Amey said.  “I grew up selling drugs. I've been to prison three times ... [and] the last week-and-a-half God has really been giving me the urge to pray for police officers.”  So that's exactly what he did when he spotted Officer Chapa.  He approached him, asked if he could pray for him, and this photo was snapped by a friend of Chapa's.  “I pray that You continue to watch over him,” Amey prayed, hand-in-hand with Chapa. “Continue to guide him and lead him in the way that You may have him go, Lord.”
     Such a simple prayer, but when spoken out loud, it can have such profound ramifications.  After the photo went viral on the Texas City Police Department's Facebook page, Amey had this comment: “They’re used to seeing cops getting killed by young black men, or young black men getting killed by cops.  [People] are not used to seeing an ex-con and a cop praying with each other.”
     The unlikely duo hopes the simple act of praying together will inspire more run-ins with the law like theirs.  “I love you,” Amey said at the end of his prayer.  “I love you, too, brother,” Chapa said. “Thank you very much for praying for us.”
     What a picture of grace, mercy, redemption, and forgiveness!  It is the perfect story to present to you as we approach the Day of Atonement on the 23rd.  And it is further evidence that God is still at work in this world and the devil will not win!

Colossians 1:20-22    "And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him..."

September 1, 2015

These Two Lives Mattered!

     Following on the heels of yesterday's post and the devastating numbers associated with abortion and lives lost, I felt that you would like to revel with me in this amazingly triumphant story.  The website, PopSugar, is where I found this news item.  Now, normally, I would not find myself perusing this online media network of websites oriented toward a female audience which features the best in fashion, beauty, home, fitness, and food -- but the headline caught my eye and I knew I had to share it with you.
     Paul Daugherty is the author of An Uncomplicated Life, a memoir of raising Jillian, his daughter born with Down's Syndrome.  Paul's website has also chronicled the joys and challenges of life with Jillian.  But it was his letter to his daughter on her wedding day that offers us all a glimpse into the grace of God and the courage of two sets of parents who unselfishly chose life for their unborn children.  


Dear Jillian,

It is the afternoon of your wedding. In two hours, you will take the walk of a lifetime, a stroll made more memorable by what you've achieved to get to this day. I don't know what the odds are of a woman born with Down syndrome marrying the love of her life. I only know you've beaten them.

You are upstairs now, making final preparations with your mom and bridesmaids. Your hair is coiled perfectly above your slender neck. Your bejeweled dress — "my bling,'' you called it — attracts every glimmer of late-afternoon sunshine pouring through the window. Your makeup — that red lipstick! — somehow improves upon a beauty that has grown since the day you were born. Your smile is blooming and everlasting.

I am outside, beneath the window, staring up. We live for moments such as these, when hopes and dreams intersect at a sweet spot in time. When everything we've always imagined arrives and assumes a perfect clarity. Bliss is possible. I know this now, standing beneath that window.

I have everything and nothing to tell you. When you were born and for years afterward, I didn't worry for what you'd achieve academically. Your mom and I would make that happen. We'd wield the law like a cudgel if we had to. We could make teachers teach you, and we knew you'd earn the respect of your peers.

What we couldn't do was make other kids like you. Accept you, befriend you, stand with you in the vital social arena. We thought, "What's a kid's life, if it isn't filled with sleepovers and birthday parties and dates to the prom?"

I worried about you then. I cried deep inside on the night when you were 12 and you came downstairs to declare, "I don't have any friends.''

We all wish the same things for our children. Health, happiness, and a keen ability to engage and enjoy the world are not only the province of typical kids. Their pursuit is every child's birthright. I worried about your pursuit, Jillian.

I shouldn't have. You're a natural when it comes to socializing. They called you The Mayor in elementary school, for your ability to engage everyone. You danced on the junior varsity dance team in high school. You spent four years attending college classes and made lifelong impressions on everyone you met.

Do you remember all the stuff they said you'd never do, Jills? You wouldn't ride a two-wheeler or play sports. You wouldn't go to college. You certainly wouldn't get married. Now . . . look at you.

You're the nicest person I know. Someone who is able to live a life of empathy and sympathy, and without agendas or guile, is someone we all want to know. It worked out for you, because of the person you are.

I would tell you to give your fiancé, Ryan, your whole heart, but that would be stating the obvious. I would tell you to be kind to him and gentle with him. But you do that already, with everyone you know. I would wish for you a lifetime of friendship and mutual respect, but you two have been together a decade already, so the respect and friendship already are apparent.

A decade ago, when a young man walked to our door wearing a suit and bearing a corsage made of cymbidium orchids said, "I'm here to take your daughter to the homecoming, sir,'' every fear I ever had about your life being incomplete vanished.

Now, you and Ryan are taking a different walk together. It's a new challenge, but it's no more daunting for you than anyone else. Given who you are, it might be less so. Happiness comes easily to you. As does your ability to make happiness for others.

I see you now. The prep work has been done, the door swings open. My little girl, all in white, crossing the threshold of yet another conquered dream. I stand breathless and transfixed, utterly in the moment. "You look beautiful'' is the best I can do.

Jillian thanks me. "I'll always be your little girl'' is what she says then.

"Yes, you will,'' I manage. Time to go, I say. We have a walk to make.
   
James 1:2-4   "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

July 31, 2015

What Goes Around Comes Around

     Let me tell you a story about the goodness of men.  In the months between the Kristallnacht Pogrom (The Night of Broken Glass) of November 9-10, 1938, and the start of World War II, nearly 10,000 children were sent, without their parents, out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia to safety in Great Britain. These children were saved by the Kindertransport rescue movement.  The government  of Great Britain eased immigration restrictions to allow Jewish children escaping from the Nazi atrocities to be allowed to enter the country as war refugees.
     According to The Holocaust Encyclopedia, British authorities agreed to allow an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter Great Britain from Germany and German-annexed territories (that is, Austria and the Czech lands). They were spurred by British public opinion and the persistent efforts of refugee aid committees.
     The program, known as Kindertransport, brought its first refugees to Harwich, Great Britain, on December 2, 1938.  The transport brought some 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin which had been destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogrom. Most transports left by train from Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and other major cities in central Europe. Children from smaller towns and villages traveled from their homes to these collection points in order to join the transports.  Priority was given to homeless children, orphans, or those whose parents were already in concentration camps.
     Private citizens or organizations had to guarantee payment for each child's care, education, and eventual emigration from Britain. In return, the British government agreed to allow unaccompanied refugee children to enter the country on temporary travel visas. It was understood at the time that when the “crisis was over,” the children would return to their families.  But most of the children never saw their parents again.  Parents or guardians could not accompany the children. The few infants included in the program were cared for by other children on their transport.
     Children of the Kindertransport were dispersed to many parts of the British area. About half lived with foster families, the others in hostels, group homes, and farms in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those older than fourteen, unless they were fortunate enough to be sponsored by individuals and sent to boarding schools or taken into foster care, were frequently absorbed into the country’s labor force after a few weeks of training, mainly in agriculture or domestic service. Some children older than that were even forced to work in the armies of those countries in the war.
      Children chosen for a Kindertransport convoy traveled by train to ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, from where they sailed to Harwich. At least one of the early transports left from the port of Hamburg in Germany.  Some children from Czechoslovakia were flown by plane directly to Britain. The last transport from Germany left on September 1, 1939, just as World War II began. The last transport from the Netherlands left for Britain on May 14, 1940, the same day that the Dutch army surrendered to German forces.
     It wasn't always a positive experience for the children.  Some were overworked; some abused.  And in 1940, British authorities interned as enemy aliens about 1,000 children from the Kindertransport. They were held in internment camps on the Isle of Man, Canada, and Australia. Despite their classification as enemy aliens, some of the boys from the children's transport program later joined the British army and fought in the war against Germany.
     Many children from the children's transport program became citizens of Great Britain, or emigrated to Israel, the United States, Canada, and Australia. Most of them would never again see their parents, who were murdered during the Holocaust.
     Arthur George Weidenfeld, also known as Baron Weidenfeld, is a British publisher, philanthropist, and newspaper columnist.  He was also one of those children who was part of the Kindertransport.  He escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria through the help of Christians, and now this 95-year-old publishing mogul is returning the favor.   He has set up the Weidenfeld Safe Havens fund to support the rescue of up to 2,000 Christians from regions where ISIS is in control.
     With the funding, Iraqi and Syrian Christians are being flown via private jet to Poland. Once safely in the country, Weidenfeld is funding their new lives for 12 to 18 months.  Weidenfeld told The London Times, “I had a debt to repay. It applies to so many young people who were on the Kindertransports. It was Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England. It was a very high-minded operation, and we Jews should also be thankful, and do something for the endangered Christians.”
     In this time of Christian persecution, when it seems as if the world has turned a blind eye and deaf ear, it is heartwarming to read of this success story... a Jewish child escapes one of the greatest evils this world has ever known, becoming affluent and thriving in a strange, new land.  And because he has the means to rescue others, just as he was rescued, he saves the lives of persecuted Christian children and their families.
     The aim of Satan has not changed.  He is out to destroy the chosen people of God, along with those who have been grafted in as heirs of the Kingdom.  Seventy-five years ago, the Jews were the sole target.  Today, the Enemy has broadened his objective, and seeks to destroy those of us who are destined to share the Good News with the Jews.
     But because the devil cannot quench the Holy Spirit, hearts are being moved and souls will be delivered.  Just a short time ago, Poland was home to six of the worst concentrations camps --- including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka --- and was a country that symbolized death.  Today, it is a place where life is reaffirmed and victims of evil are rescued and delivered.  May the Lord bless and keep you, Mr. Weidenfeld, and the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.  And on behalf of Christians around the world ... Thank you!

Thanks to the Kindertransport Association for their valuable information.

Galatians 6:9    "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

July 11, 2015

Blessings On A New York Subway

This post is exactly what I think this world needs to hear.  It was written by Aryeh Ben David, an Israeli rabbi, who recently visited New York, and encountered a beggar on the subway.  It was published in The Times of Israel, and is just one of those stories that you know God had a hand in writing.  But let the good rabbi tell you himself ....

     I am taking the Broadway #1 train from Penn Station to Van Cortlandt Park in the late afternoon. Van Cortlandt Park is the last stop on the line.  About three stops from the end, everyone in my car exits. I’m left alone.
     The door opens from another car. Enters a 30-something year old guy, big, and obviously drunk. I’m at the other end of the car.  He calls out, “Hey, you got a match?”  I answer, “I don’t smoke.”
     He says, “I guess then you wouldn’t have any matches.” He stumbles over to me. I’m getting a bit nervous. He’s bigger than me, and I’m a worrying kind of guy.
     He leans over close to me, about 5 inches from my ear, and whispers: “Tzedaka. You know what tzedaka is?” Surprised and amused, I answer “yes.”
     He waits. I pause. Then I take a dollar out of my pocket and give it to him.  He begins to stumble away.  I don’t know what happened to me, but I call after him, “Hey. I gave you something. Now you give me something."
     He looks back at me, not understanding. I say it again, “Give me something.”  I call out, “I gave you tzedaka. You give me a blessing.”
     He looks puzzled.  I say, “I have a kid who just had 2 knee operations. Do you have a blessing?”  He stops. Looks straight at me, thinking what to say. “I guess you don’t believe in Jesus, huh?”  I shake my head.  He says, “I bless you that your kid will be healthy.”
     Then he takes a step to walk away and stops. Puts his hand on the subway pole, turns back to me and says, “And I give you a blessing, that whatever happens to your kid, God will give you the strength to handle whatever it is.”
    Wow. I was overcome with emotion.  I had given him a dollar from my pocket.  He gave me a blessing from his heart.
     The train stopped. We said goodbye to each other. “Goodbye friend, thank you.” “Goodbye friend, have a good day.”  At the moment, I didn’t know what propelled me to ask him for a blessing.  Looking back, I understand it like this:
     Asking for something – a cigarette or money – can be a very degrading and humiliating experience.  He had given me the chance to be a giving person – to give to him. Though I hesitated and didn’t give with a full, open heart or smile, after giving something to him – I actually felt good about myself.
     I wanted to offer him, too, the chance to give something and feel good about himself.  In the end, he gave me so much – a moment of netzach, of eternity – a moment that I will never forget.
     Our souls are wired to give. That’s how the Creator created us. Sometimes the kindest act we can do is to receive – to allow someone else to give to us.

     I dare you not to smile at this inspirational story, and I'm betting that you're feeling a soft glow around your heart, as well.  Although the rabbi doesn't believe in Jesus as his Messiah, or Savior, if I could speak to him for just a moment ... I would tell him that perhaps that beggar was an angel sent by Jesus to show him how little it costs to give the gift of love to another human being.  And for us Christians, it is a sweet story that reminds us of all it cost Jesus to show us His love for us.  I can't think of a better way to start our day!

Galatians 3:14   "So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith."


     

June 25, 2015

THIS Shatters The Lies!

     I will maintain that racism is not in our DNA, nor is it the standard by which most people live their lives.  The recent events in Charleston, South Carolina have painted a false picture of who we are as a nation.  And all attempts by those in the media and political office to create a counterfeit narrative cannot erase the good that is in the hearts of most Americans.  Let the following story wash over you, and blot out all the negative impressions.  It is a story of grace, and a story of compassion and humanity.  Revel in it.

     It started with a simple act of kindness.  Charity Stewart Robinson recently attended a rodeo in Gladewater, Texas, with her children — and soon spotted her newly adopted son Lincoln latching onto a “stranger” at the end of their row.  The grateful mother posted a photo Saturday night on her Facebook page, along with this note: 

Dear stranger next to us at the rodeo,

When my son came up to you and grabbed your arm, you didn't know he used to be terrified of people. When he talked to you about the bulls, you didn't know he was diagnosed with a language disorder. When he jumped in your lap and laughed as you tickled him, you didn't know he had a sensory processing disorder. You also didn't know as his mother, I sat in my seat, with tears running down my face, sneaking this photo. When we adopted him a few short months ago, we didn't know how long it would take for him to laugh, play and engage others like this. You didn't know any of this, but you took time to connect with a child who has had to fight to learn to connect. My heart is full. Thank you.

     But that's not the end of the story.  After Charity's Facebook post went viral, she soon learned the identity of the "stranger".  He was Jason Taylor, preacher of Bar None Cowboy Church in between Henderson and Tatum, Texas.  It seems that he was recognized by others who know Jason Taylor's heart.  
     This story was carried by The Blaze website, and among the comments on the article was this testimony about Jason:  Does not surprise me, I know Jason Taylor. Great Pastor, but more than that, he is a Man that God has blessed beyond belief. You see, Jason is a giver, but God keeps out-giving Jason and Jason being a stubborn Texas Cowboy, [he] is constantly thinking of ways to out-give God. This is a Spiritual battle between God and Jason that is an absolute blessing to watch.
     If you live within in a 500 mile radius of Henderson TX and your Barn burns down, don’t be surprised if you see Jason and his Congregation pull up with lumber and manpower to rebuild it. [I've] seen it with my own eyes.
     Jason’s Church was my brother’s favorite Church, I was able to take my brother to Jason's Cowboy Church that he loved so much, just three days before my brother graduated to Heaven.
     They built a Cowboy Church in the middle of nowhere. They were told that this rectangular starter building could expand out both sides as the Church grew. Two sides were not enough for God, as within a few months God forced them to expand all four sides.
     So when I saw the photo, I knew it was not by accident that this little boy went up to Jason.  Thank you Jason for being such a wonderful, humble servant of the Lord. I hope you never learn that you can't out-give God, because it is so much fun to watch.

     
Lincoln and his new siblings
THIS is the America I believe in!  This is who I honestly believe we are! A little boy needed love and a family to overcome the obstacles in his life, and he has received it from Charity and her family. That same little boy approached a stranger and received a warm welcome and acceptance.  As Charity, herself, explained, "The biggest things I take away from all this are: You never know whose life you can touch through a kind word or action. Be the difference you want to see in the world. Let God’s love show through your actions. There is plenty of good still left in the world, you just have to look a little. Oh, and adoption is awesome. Everyone should do it."  
     So, the next time you hear that we must cure the deep-seated racism in America, or that we all only see the color of each other's skin, hearken back to this story of pure love and kindness.  We are not who the devil would tell us we are.  We are a blessed nation, and as another commenter posted on The Blaze, "God’s grace is infinite and all encompassing. God touches our lives everyday. Sometimes we get to know that touch."  Lincoln Robinson felt it in the touch of Jason Taylor, and that's no lie!

Luke 6:38    "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."

June 1, 2015

"And A Child Shall Lead Them..."

    With all the evil and bad news in the world, it is time to share an inspirational story -- it's a short story, but one with deep significance.  And it involves the innocence and purity of heart that belongs to a child.  You may have already heard or read this account, and if so, read it again and start your week by basking in the glow of this child's example.

     Ava Faulk said her son Josiah Duncan, 5, wouldn't stop asking her questions when he spotted a disheveled man holding a bag with his bike outside the Waffle House restaurant in Prattville, Alabama.  When Faulk explained the man was homeless, little Josiah asked "What does that mean?" Faulk told Josiah that it meant he didn't have a home, to which her son responded, "Where is his house? Where is his family? Where does he keep his groceries?"
     But Josiah was most concerned that the stranger didn't have any food, and he begged his mother to buy the man a meal at the restaurant. The mother agreed, but when the man sat down at the restaurant and "nobody really waited on him", Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands.
     He "jumped up" and asked the man if he needed a menu, telling him "you can't order without one", Faulk said. When the man insisted he would be fine with a simple cheeseburger, Faulk made sure he knew he could have anything he wanted.  The mother remembers that, when he asked if he could have bacon, she told him "get as much bacon as you want".
     And before the man could dig in, Josiah said he wanted to "say the blessing with him", singing loud enough for the other 11 customers in the restaurant to hear... "God our Father, God our Father, we thank you, we thank you," he sang. "For our many blessings, for our many blessings, Amen, Amen."
     "The man cried. I cried. Everybody cried," Faulk admitted.  It's a moment the mother said she will never forget.  ""You never know who the angel on Earth is, and when the opportunity comes you should never walk away from it," she said.  "Watching my son touch the 11 people in that Waffle House tonight will be forever one of the greatest accomplishments as a parent I'll ever get to witness."  


     Here we have an image of the Good Samaritan, and the heart of Jesus's message to "love your neighbor as yourself" -- all rolled into the loving gesture of 5-year-old Josiah.  This child saw the need of a stranger and met it; without prejudice or preconceived ideas of the homeless man.  
     While we applaud Josiah's selfless act, let's not forget his mother, Ava.  Children watch and listen to their parents.  She obviously had practiced such caring and giving acts, herself.  Somewhere in his short lifespan, she had shown her child her own heart towards others, and it resulted in Josiah's curiosity about the homeless man.  
     But let's take it one step further ... how many other mother's would have hushed their child's inquisitiveness and walked right by the man?  Would you have invited him in to the restaurant to share your table with you and your young child?  Yes, this young mother deserves as much accolades as her precious son; for, one day in heaven, the Crown of Life will be bestowed on the heads of she and her child.  They have obviously partaken of the "living water" and the "bread of life" that are our Savior, Jesus Christ, and they offered them to a complete stranger.  Whether that homeless man was an angel or not, didn't matter.  They gave out of pure love for their fellow man.  God bless them!

Thank you to WSFA-TV, Montgomery, Alabama for the details on this inspirational story.

Proverbs 1:8-9    "Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.…"

     

May 13, 2015

Now THIS Is Profitable For Teaching!

     Every once in awhile there is a bright spot in our culture; a moment that lets us know that God's remnant is still living and active in speaking Him into the world.  And, occasionally, that voice comes from the heart of a generally godless segment of our society -- and it is like rain falling on parched ground.
     Such was the case when Academy-Award winning actor Denzel Washington gave the commencement address to the graduates of Dillard University, a private, historically black liberal arts college in New Orleans.  He promised a short speech, with three very simple recommendations.  His first words of advice were succinct and to the point:  "Number one," he said slowly and resolutely.  "Put. God. First!"  No better counsel was ever given to a college graduate.
     “Put God first in everything you do,” Washington continued to loud cheers. “Everything I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”  Bravo!  That's exactly what this entitlement generation needs to here.  Furthermore, he shared that he got off to a rocky start in his college career, nearly flunking out, until one day a woman in his mother's beauty parlor prophesied that God had a plan for him, and he would one day "travel the world and speak to millions of people."  He went on to state that throughout his long and successful career,  “the most important thing that stayed with me [since that moment] is that I’ve been protected, I’ve been directed, I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble.”
     Hopefully those graduating seniors heard the subtle message ... It's not all about YOU!  If God is at the center of their lives, then they will reap both the challenges and the rewards of a life lived according to His purpose and will.  It won't be easy, but if they heard one thing from the accomplished actor, I hope it was this:  "I didn’t always stick with Him, but He’s always stuck with me.”
     Advice Number Two: Washington encouraged the students to take chances: "fail big and dream big".  He continued:  "Dreams without goals are just dreams, and if one doesn't have goals, then those dreams just ultimately fuel disappointment.  In order to achieve these goals, you must apply discipline and consistency.  Working hard is what successful people do."
     "In this text, tweet, twerk world you've grown up in, remember this ... just because you're doing a lot more (and here he imitated the motions of furious texting), it doesn't mean you're getting a lot more done.  Don't confuse movement with progress."  He cautioned that it is a big world out there; a mean world, and it can be scary.  But they should pursue what they are passionate about.  "Don't be afraid to go outside the box, or think outside the box... and continue to strive for your goals."
     Advice Number Three:  "You'll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.  You can't take it with you... and it's not how much you have.  It's what you do with what you have.  We all have different gifts that we can utilize to achieve success.  But the most selfish thing in this world you can do is help someone else.  Why is that selfish?  Because of the gratification and goodness that comes to you ... there's nothing better than that.  That's where the joy is!  That's where the success is!"  At the end of their lives, it's how they lived that counts, not what things they amassed.
     As he concluded his short speech (only 10 minutes long), he closed with this advice:  “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning you have to get on your knees to reach them ... And while you’re down there, say thank you. Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours.  True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already."  He repeated that last statement to get across his point ... whatever itch or desire they had to do something good was God's proof that He had put it in their heart, and it was their's to claim.  He further admonished them to work hard to get it, and "when you get it, reach back and pull someone else up ... each one, teach one."
     Wow!  This man gets it!  He just combined several Scriptural passages of hope all into one simple address ... and finished it up with the advice to say, "Thank You!"  In his wise words, we hear familiar teachings from the Bible ...  God knows the plans He has for your future, and the hope He wants to give you; if you trust in the Lord with all your heart, He will direct your path; those who love God will find that all things work together for good and God's purpose [which He knows beforehand]; Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
     With a simple testimony of the role God has played in his life, and the admonition to be grateful for the gifts they've received, Denzel Washington managed to give those graduating seniors a recipe for success.  “Don’t just aspire to make a living,” he concluded -- emphasizing each word with emotion -- “aspire to make a difference.”  If they follow that advice, they will be prosperous in the things that matter in this world, while at the same time, storing up great treasures in heaven.  I can't think of any better words of wisdom for this generation.

Deuteronomy 32:2-3     "My message shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the light rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name [and presence] of the Lord. Concede and ascribe greatness to our God."

April 13, 2015

Coffee and Christ

     Thanks to the Christian Broadcasting Network for this upbeat story.  It's a great way to start off the week, and we can all use a little "good news", don't you think?

     

     Two churches nearly 1500 miles apart, have discovered a way to combine Christian Charity and Coffee.  The Woodlands Church, outside Houston, TX, was among many faithful churches who sent relief workers to Haiti after the country was devastated by the 2010 earthquakes.  But instead of concentrating their relief aid to the major cities, they went to work in the mountains of Haiti.
     "We were there and saw that there was coffee actually lying on the ground, coffee beans lying on the ground, just scattered. And we asked, 'Tell us about that? What's going on?,'" Chris Shook, co-pastor and director of missions at Woodlands Church, said. "And they said, 'Well, no one will buy our coffee. We have no one to sell it to.'"
     The remoteness of this particular village made it difficult for them to get their harvest to any kind of market.  The result was villagers who were starving; hadn't enough clothing; and their kids were going uneducated.  It didn't take long for the good Pastor to realize that they could help.
     Coffee is almost an obsession to many Americans.  Pastor Shook arranged for the village's coffee crop to be shipped to Miami, and then trucked to Houston.  Volunteers at the Church roast the coffee beans, package it, and sell it to the congregation, which "drinks it like crazy".  With over 18,000 church members, the built-in market for the Haitian coffee is now helping close to 8,000 Haitian family members.
     The Church pays the Haitian farmers three times more than other coffee dealers were offering them; and after it is sold, the profits are funneled back into medical clinics and feeding and teaching programs.
     Meanwhile, the National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C. has a similar approach to help coffee farmers in Columbia, South America.  Their brand of coffee, called Redeeming Grounds Coffee, is grown in a guerrilla conflict zone notorious for kidnappings, car bombings, and assassinations.
     While on a mission trip to work with Columbian children, Church members met a local pastor who told them about farmers in a mountainous area who, after coming to faith, eradicated their cocaine fields and planted coffee in its place.  When they met the farmers, the coffee fields were ready to harvest, and a partnership was born.
     Church member Santiago Moncada said the coffee is not only sold in D.C., but on Redeeming Grounds Coffee's website.  "The response in the U.S. for this coffee has been great, so things are growing... And with just the few farmers we started with, we have already eradicated over 55 acres of cocaine fields.  That translates to about 1,700 kilos worth of cocaine off of the street, with a street value of over $80 million."  No wonder they call their coffee, "Redeeming Grounds"!
     How the profits from the business are spent, is determined by the coffee farmers, themselves.  But money is not the only benefit from this partnership.  Moncada said, "[People] are always curious to understand why it is that these farmers are planting coffee instead of cocaine, because of the reasonable assumption that cocaine farming is certainly much more lucrative. And that's when we get a chance to share the heart behind it.  We get a chance to share the testimony of these farmers and how coming to faith convicted them to make this change."
     Pastor Shook in Houston sees a similar benefit from his church's affiliation in Haiti.  "People see us coming back as a church, time after time, and doing things, not just to make us feel good, but [doing] things they actually need in their community.  We always say  'Christ plus caffeine really works because we can change the world twice as fast because we drink so much coffee.' "
     No one can deny the addictive capacity of coffee.  Just consider the explosion of major coffee chains, such as Starbucks, as well as the mom 'n pop coffee shop in every little town across the nation.  But when you combine it with the addictive power of the Word, you find it's a dependency you can embrace.
     Congratulations to these two representatives of God's Church for their industriousness and their ingenuity.  May God continue to bless their enterprises!

Psalm 34:8     "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"

June 23, 2014

Reasons To Celebrate

   
     There are days when it is time to stop looking at the increasing deterioration of the world and look for those events that we can celebrate.  I will admit that the headlines seem to extol far more negative news than positive, but let's take a break, shall we?  For one day, let's take our eyes off the warnings of impending doom and bask in the joy of small victories.
     First off, we can take great joy in the fact that Justina Pelletier has been returned to the loving care of her family, after being a ward of the State for the last 16 months.  All the hostility directed by a Massachusetts child protection agency towards her parents seems to have accomplished nothing.  She  is still suffering from her digestion problems, even after 16 months of the psychiatric care the State insisted she needed.  It is hard to know exactly why the judicial system reversed its custody decision regarding Justina and returned her to her parents, but for now, we can celebrate that these medical child abuse charges have been dismissed.  We can also hope that the "Free Justina" campaign will be successful in championing legislation to avoid future cases like this.
      Then, there is the recent Gallup poll, in which nearly half (42%) of Americans say that they believe in Creationism; that God created the human race.  And when you consider that there has been a major push to indoctrinate our schoolchildren in the superiority of the theory of Evolution, then I would say that's cause for celebration.  Mind you, we must not give up the battle.  The numbers that believe there is Evolution guided by God, and those who believe Evolution with no God have been climbing, but God is still the primary factor in the existence of mankind.  And it feels as if Believers have finally developed a spine, and are speaking out to challenge any propaganda that seeks to eliminate God from the discussion.  It's about time!
     In the "Culture" category, I just have to give a standing ovation to Green Beret and Purple Heart recipient Bryan Sikes, who delivered a most appropriate slap-down to spoiled celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow, who compared getting nasty Twitter comments to "fighting in a war".  Here, in part, is Mr. Sikes's fitting response:
     Miss Paltrow,  I'd first like to start out by saying how terrible I feel for you and all your friends that on a daily basis have to endure mean words written by people you don't know ... You said, "Its almost like, how in war, you go through this bloody dehumanizing thing and then something is defined out of it." I could see how you, and others like you in "the biz", could be so insecure and mentally weak that you could pair the difficulty of your life on twitter to my brothers who have had their limbs ripped off and seen their friends shot, blown up, burned and disfigured, or wake up every morning in pain – while just starting the day is a challenge ....
     You know what is really "dehumanizing", Miss Paltrow? The fact that you'd even consider that your life as an "A-list" celebrity reading internet comments could even compare to war and what is endured on the battlefield. You and the other "A-listers" that think like you are laughable. You all have actually convinced yourselves that you in some way face difficulty on a regular basis. Let me be the first to burst your bubble: a long line at Starbucks, your driver being 3 minutes late, a scuff mark on your $1200 shoes and a mean tweet do not constitute difficulty in the eyes of a soldier.
     Understand me when I say this: war does not define me. It is a chapter in my life that helped shape me. Being a husband and father is what defines me. Remember, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never…be close to what war is.  Now, that is worthy of public praise.  Good job, Soldier!  I salute you!
     And lastly, I want to salute Brian Fisher, the founder of Online For Life.  Brian listened to that nagging voice in his heart that urged him to find a technological method to counter abortion.  The Blaze reports his story:  “God just wouldn’t let this idea go of saving children from death in the womb and so in 2009 — honestly, begrudgingly -- I started this nonprofit."
     He realized that there’s 2 million searches on the Internet for abortion terminology -- in the United States alone!   “So that’s where the mission field is, if you will,” he says, and since its inception, the concept behind Online for Life has been simple: The group ensures that Internet searches for abortion include prominent links to pro-life causes instead of only showing women links to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.  The idea is to give these women alternatives, to urge them to visit pro-life clinics, and to bring their children to term, rather than seek abortions. Online for Life tracks the search results and appointments women make to assess how effective the ministry is in its reach.
      Fisher reports that his first victory came in June, 2010, when a baby was saved in Pittsburgh.  The mother contacted a pregnancy center she learned about through the Online For Life website and decided to keep her baby.  Since then the organization has saved 1,976 babies.  While they have a long way to go to offset the more than 1,000,000 aborted babies in the U.S. each year, we can celebrate each and every one of those precious 1,976 lives; and we can pray for further success stories from Online For Life.  The angels in heaven are cheering Brian Fisher on!
     So, while none of these stories captured the coveted spotlight in prominent news cycles, we can savor them for a moment, and take joy from the fact that the little things still matter.  These glimpses of God's Grace, in a world turned upside down, deserve our notice and our gratitude.  When the day seems gloomy, hang on to these moments of light and remember them.  There will be more, I promise.

Psalm 47:1     Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!



May 31, 2014

Moments Of Inspiration

   
     It is often hard to find news that lifts your spirits and gives you a glimpse of hope. But there were a couple of stories and images that did just that this week.  First up, is the photo of pop star Justin Timberlake praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Was it a publicity stunt?  That's a possibility.  But  if it was a promotional stunt, Mr. Timberlake failed to endear himself to those who choose to hate.
     When he posted the photo on his Twitter account, he captioned it:  "The Holy Land… What an experience. I will never forget this day. #Israel."  It should come as no surprise that there were those who didn't approve of his acknowledgment of Israel.  He was chastised for not referring to the land as Palestine.  But for those of us who recognize God's Promised Land and celebrate its re-emergence, the photo of Timberlake at the last remaining wall of the Second Temple was a welcome relief from the usual celebrity photo ops.    
     And perhaps less obvious, but still encouraging, was the story about one of my favorite actors, Denzel Washington.  Speaking to a group of young aspiring actors about their dreams and goals, Washington gave this unprecedented advice:  "“I pray that you all put your shoes way under the bed at night so that you gotta get on your knees in the morning to find them,” he said. “And while you’re down there thank God for grace and mercy and understanding. We all fall short of the glory, we all got plenty.”  During his brief speech, he outlined his recipe for success:  desire, discipline, consistency and remembering to be thankful.  “I’ve been blessed to make hundreds of millions of dollars in my life,” Washington said. “I can’t take it with me and neither can you. So it’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”
     In this generation where Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj promote worship of greed, fame, possessions and selfish desire, the actor's words of wisdom speak volumes of his faith and character.  Let's hope that the young people who surrounded him and witnessed his testimony will take his words to heart.
      Then there was the powerful Memorial Day Facebook post by TV personality Mike Rowe.  Best known for his cancelled show, Dirty Jobs, Mike was caught off guard in the midst of a harried schedule of public appearances.  Reluctantly, he allowed himself to be ushered backstage to meet a fan.  What he found was a hero; retired Staff Sargent Travis Mills, formerly of the 82nd Airborne, US Army, to be exact.
     Here is Rowe's Facebook post, in part:  "Travis is one of only five quadruple amputees to survive that level of injury in the recent wars. He has a motto: Never Give Up - Never Quit. He has a Foundation. He’s featured in a new documentary. He also has a wife and a kid, and a deeply personal commitment to help other wounded Vets cope with their injuries. But when I asked why I hadn’t seen him in any of the typical commercials and PSA’s for wounded veterans, his answer was stunning. He said he didn’t consider himself to be wounded.  “I’m not a victim, Mike. And I refuse to be portrayed that way. Case closed.”
     Rowe continues, "Fact is, Travis is missing more than a few original parts; he’s missing all traces of self-pity. And that presents a challenge for mortals like me. Because it’s a hell of a thing to feel put out because a crowd of fans are making me late for an important meeting, and then listen to a guy with no arms or legs tell me how lucky he is, and how much he appreciates all my hard work.  That’s called a gut-check, and I could use one from time to time. Especially on Memorial Day, when the biggest decisions I face are what to grill and which type of frosty beverage to enjoy. This year, as I resolve these and other important issues, I’ll think of Travis Mills. A guy who went out on a limb for me, in every way possible."
     Thanks, Mike, for expressing the honor and respect that Travis Mills and all who serve us deserve.  And to Staff Sargent Mills, you are an example of courage and dignity, sir.  And you nobly illustrate Denzel Washington's motto … it's not how much you have, it's what you do with what you have.      
     The last image I want to leave you with is one of sheer joy as Justina Pelletier celebrates her 16th birthday with a surprise visit from her friends … friends that she has not seen in over a year.  It is a testament to the need we have for each other; for simple human contact with others who care about us.  
     The Reverend Patrick Mahoney, a spokesman for the family, said, "Remember, it was a very wonderful and moving day, but it was a bittersweet day, full of emotional highs and lows. Then, you could see at the end of the day when Justina had to leave … she was crying. It reinforced the fact of how wonderful it was for Justina to see her friends after 15 months, but then the notion that 15 months of her life has been taken from her.” 
     Her case is far from resolved.  Court dates loom in the future; dates in which the family hopes to receive a reunification plan.  For now, there is solace in the few brief moments of normalcy that this birthday party represented for Justina, and the image of what loving another looks like.
     I admit that I cling to these images of hope and encouragement.  It doesn't matter where they come from … the world of celebrities or the not-so-famous.  There are far too many depictions of darkness and despair in our world, and I am grateful for these few shining moments of God's glory in His human creations.  It reminds me that no matter how dense and overwhelming the darkness becomes, it cannot overcome His Light in the world.

Ephesians 5:8    "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." 
       

December 7, 2013

Servants All

     Have you ever had one of those unexpected experiences where, after it was over, you just knew that God's hand was all over it?  Well, I can't wait to share mine with you!  Yesterday, Peace-Loving Warrior (PLW) and I had to be in the Big City to take care of a little business.  We knew it would be a mixed blessing -- we were going to meet with a client to deliver a commissioned portrait that my wonderfully talented artist husband had just completed (he hates that I just said that; but I'm allowed to brag every now and then -- it's my blog, right?)
     But we also had to meet with our health insurance broker to try to navigate the decisions we needed to make -- do we stick with our grandfathered plan, whose rates just went up, and are scheduled to go up again in March of 2014?  Or do we take a risk on choosing one of the myriad of plans being offered, and which the Provider can supply no rate guarantee for the next year, because they don't know what is going to shake out in this chaos called the Affordable Care Act?!?  Although I was dreading dealing with this conundrum, we would soon be graced with the afore-mentioned incident that overshadowed any negative effects of something as trivial as the ACA.  Let me tell you our story....
     Because the weather prediction was a little dicey for Texas -- freezing rain and icy roads -- we decided to get an early start for our meeting.  As it turned out, there was just freezing temperatures and a cold, icy wind; but no precipitation.  It being a Friday, most people just took the day off, so the roads were nearly empty and we found ourselves with an hour or more to kill.  So we decided to treat ourselves to a trip down memory lane.
     In Austin, TX there is an iconic little restaurant called Kerbey Lane Cafe.  They are known for their gingerbread pancakes, fantastic omelettes and Bohemian atmosphere.  They have actually managed to maintain a semblance of "old Austin" before it became the Southwest replacement for Silicon Valley and overrun with California transplants.  Although there are now multiple locations of Kerbey Lane Cafes all over town, it has always been staffed by free spirits and nonconformists; the descendants of the Flower Children of the 60's.  If you want to experience the "soul" of Austin, just eat at Kerbey Lane.
     So it was, that we eagerly entered this nostalgic establishment to enjoy a good breakfast and get out of the frigid weather.  As we were led to a back booth, we noticed that the table to our right was filled with four members of the Army, dressed in uniform and enjoying a variety of Kerbey Lane's finest breakfast offerings.  Our boho waiter, replete with his dread-friendly slouch hat and full beard came to take our order.  Now, normally, you would never pair PLW in his tactical ball cap with a free spirit in his slouch hat, but the two would quickly become co-conspirators in a scheme to give back.
     As soon as we had been seated, a thought popped into my head, which I quickly shared with PLW.  So when the waiter appeared, we asked if he was handling the table of military veterans seated to our right.  He said, "yes" and PLW said, "Bring their ticket to me.  We'd like to pay for their breakfast."  Our waiter smiled, took our order and disappeared.
     Shortly afterward, he informed them that their bill had been taken care of, and I heard one of the young women ask, "Do you know who it was?"  Darn, I thought, Please don't tell them who it was... we don't need any recognition.  Too late!  The next minute, all four servicemen and women were standing at our table, shaking our hands and thanking us.
     "You don't owe us any thanks," we said.  "We are thanking you for what you do for us.  Just be careful out there."  They filed out, and we settled in to enjoy our breakfasts, glad to have been able to give back through our small gesture.  The next thing we knew, our bearded waiter came over and presented us with a no-bill receipt, saying, "One good deed deserves another.  Your breakfasts are on us."  We protested, but he just smiled and walked away.  Needless to say, we felt that this kind and compassionate establishment should be recognized and rewarded for their excellent customer service and their caring attitude --- so our tip covered the cost of our meal.
     As we bundled up and slipped out into the inclement weather, I didn't feel the cold or the wind.  I was warmed by the experience that God had allowed us to share with our fellow man that morning.  We were all different ages, had different backgrounds, and more than likely have different philosophies on politics, religion and life.  But each of us took the step to spontaneously serve the other, and that's exactly what our Lord asks us to do.  It was so simple ... and so rewarding; the perfect gesture for this time of year.  I silently expressed my gratitude to God as I a wrote a note to leave with our waiter's tip:  "Thank you for helping us to help others.  God Bless You!"
     None of us know each other's names; nor are we ever likely to cross each others' paths again.  But none of that matters, because for a few short moments, we reached out and served a stranger.  And that is a memory that will last a lifetime!

1 Peter 4:10    "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace..."
   

October 4, 2013

This Is Love!

     You might have seen this story in the last week or so, but I think it bears repeating.  Anytime we witness the unselfish love of one human being for another, I think we should shine a light on it.
     Tobias Bass is not your normal 10-year-old.  He is obviously smart and has set high goals for himself.  He has a shelf full of trophies and ribbons, and is active in football and jiu-jitsu.  His life's ambition is to be a pastor for soldiers, and minister to those dying on the front lines. But right now he is focused on his older brother, Titus.
     Titus, who is 11-years-old, has cerebral palsy.  He can't walk, hear, or eat.  In fact, Tobias said Titus “cries when he sees people outside” because he knows he can’t join them to run and play and enjoy the fresh air.  So being the God-filled young man that he is, Tobias wrote a 3-page letter to his local TV station, asking for their help.
     He was careful to make sure they knew he wasn't asking for money.   After hearing his church pastor say that Christians should be "God's hands and feet", he decided that he would be Tobias's legs.  In his letter, he asked if there was anyone who could "loan" him a jogger push-type stroller so that he could push his brother in a local 5K run.  He explained that he had been training for the event by running 2 miles each day and pushing a baby stroller.  But Titus was too big to fit in the tiny stroller, and his single mother could not afford the jogger they needed.
     So in his letter to Edmond, Oklahoma station KWTV, Tobias asked for help in this manner: “Can you go on the news and not ask Oklahomans to give me anything, but to loan me a jogger pusher so I can push Titus in the 5K?”  He also offered something in exchange.  “If someone can loan me a pusher, I will volunteer myself out to any other parents who want me to run their disabled children in a 5K.  I can be the legs for more than one kid,” he wrote.
     Needless to say, someone stepped up after hearing Tobias's letter, and the brothers received their jogger; one they can keep.  And in case you think this kind of behavior is unusual for Tobias, read what his pastor thinks of him:  “Tobias is one of my favorite kids in the world,” said pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church." (Tobias calls Pastor Groeschel a “mentor” in his letter and it was his biblical mandate that inspired Tobias to write the letter).  “He is already making a big difference in the lives of many people, and I am confident he will continue to do so.”
     Tobias has never run a 5K before, but he remains undaunted.  “I’m just gonna believe in God and just let him take over so I can just try my hardest.”  I have no doubt that God will be there running in step with this young man all the days of his life.  God Bless you, Tobias, for inspiring us all!

If you would like to read Tobias's incredible 3-page handwritten letter, click here.

1 John 4:19-21    "We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."