Strangers in a Strange Land

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We went to my sister’s house a few weekends ago for my nephew’s birthday party. First of all, I love my nephew dearly – he is very sweet, and shares the same sense of humor as so many in our family. He reminds me so much of my sister as a kid growing up, and of my dad – the eternal prankster.

Anyway, my sister lives in a big city in southeast Texas – on the coast. Our family lives about 20 miles out of our small town. Let me add a little more detail – just to be sure this post makes sense!

The town I live in…to be more exact, live outside of, has only one Super WalMart. We have one Bealls, a Brookshire Brothers grocery store, a feed store, Tractor Supply, Lowes, and two vets. There are of course several smaller businesses there as well, but we are still a relatively small town of about 8247 people. This is also in deep east Texas, where the people are hard-workers (for the most part), laid back, and lead simple, quiet lives.

The town my sister lives in has, on one corner, a WalMart, Walgreens, Target, Home Depot, nail salons, etc. And that’s just the ones I can remember. My town has no mall….to get to one we have to drive 1 ½ hours south or 1 hour north. For my sister to get to a mall, she has to drive about 15 minutes, and that’s due to traffic.

So, here’s where the meat of this post comes in:

I needed some jeans while I was there (and got to buy TWO sizes smaller than the last pair I bought!!!), and wanted something other than WalMart jeans this time, so she and I went to the mall. (OK, to be honest, we went to the mall to pick up my favorite brother-in-law’s cookie cake because it was his birthday, too.) Anyway, we were starving so we grabbed a bite to eat in the food court before we made our rounds. As I looked around, I actually told my sister, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

Now, I grew up in the city (albeit not one as big as where she lives), and have lived in or very near large cities most of my life. But for the past 2 ½ years, we have lived here in the country. And, I must admit, I was not prepared for how much it has changed me.

The mall itself seemed like something out of Star Trek. Even the malls we do have nearby are no comparison. After people-watching during our Arby’s meal, we made our way to the store I would buy my new (smaller!) jeans in. I picked ‘em out, tried ‘em on, and went to pay…the cashier took my payment, and this is the part that I had to laugh at: she wrapped my blue jeans in tissue paper and put them in a brown shopping bag and tied it with a bow! My sister jokingly said, “You don’t get service like that at home, do you?!” Nope. We get WalMart bags!

I did a little more shopping, and we headed back to the house. I really was amazed at how much different the city seemed to me now that I had lived in the country for a while. I was, in fact, uncomfortable there. I felt terribly out of place – like people could look at me and tell that I didn’t belong.

But you know what? I didn’t mind a bit. Because that’s what Christians do, anyway. We experience that out-of-place feeling daily in our lives, regardless of where we are. We can be at the convenience store around the corner or the post office.

Wherever we are, we are out of place. We are strangers in a strange land, because our home is not here. Our home is in Heaven and the moment we feel too comfortable here, we have lost the focus on what is important. Sin abounds in this earthly residence, but in Heaven our citizenship is secure and wonderful.

Jesus promised us that this world would hate us, because it hated Him. But we are not to fear – for HE HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD!

So, today I want to remind you that if you feel completely out of place in the world, don’t fear. Rejoice! This is NOT your place! You are designed for far greater things than this old world! God made you to enjoy the Heavenly home He created just for you!

 

Sorry I’m late! VERY late!

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Ok – here’s the week….I hope you kept reading even though I hadn’t posted anything!!!!

Mon   Exo 28-30     Matt 22:1-22

Tues   Exo 31-33     Matt 22:23-46

Wed   Exo 34-35     Matt 23

Thurs   Exo 36-37     Matt 24:1-28

Fri   Exo 38-39     Matt 24:29-51

Sat   Exo 40    Matt 25

Sun  Leviticus 1-2    Matt 26:1-29

I will do my very best not to be late again!

*~*~Toni~*~*

Tithes….what do you think?

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Recently, I have posted a few topics pertaining to blessings, gifts, and church finances.  This has brought up a discussion I figured we could all discuss – TITHES.

What do you think about tithing?  Please don’t give us specifics, as that is between you and the Lord, but just give us an idea of where you stand on the issue…

Is it necessary?

If so, is there an amount or percentage?

What scriptures are you using to make your decision?

Do all of your tithes, or offerings, go to your local church, or do you divide them between church and charities?

Do you consider giving of your time & other resources an offering as well, or do you feel that the term only refers to monetary gifts?

I know where we stand on the issue, but would prefer to get others’ input before I throw mine out.  I will say that my ideals have been recently challenged, and have changed. 

Please comment and let us know what you think – and remember, since this is a Christian issue, be sure to back up your thoughts with scripture references so the rest of us can check it out!

Looking forward to the discussion!

Toni

Written in Anger…

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I just finished listening to Adventures in Odyssey with my two girls. We listen every night, and it is a time that our whole family looks forward to. We watch the clock, and just before 6:30pm every weeknight, we turn on the radio (if it happens to be off!) and tune in to the show.

Odyssey is a radio program geared to kids, yet has lessons for all ages. Tonight’s episode was no different.

It was about a little girl and her family struggling to make friends, find jobs, and discover happiness in the Christmas season. The little girl’s father was in prison, and her mother was barely, if that, able to make ends meet. Connie, Whit, and Tom Riley pitched in using the Angel Tree and presented the family with gifts for each, plus something special from their father. Their father had been studying in Tom’s Bible Study group at the prison, and had become a believer. He wrote a stirring, heart-wrenching letter to his wife and children asking their forgiveness, and I must admit, I was in tears at the end of this “kids’ show.”

Now, I’m not writing about Adventures in Odyssey to offer a plug for the show (although, if you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out), but rather to use as an introduction to this post. It deals with Christian generosity.

Bear with me for a minute or two, as it will seem as though I am getting off topic – I promise to come full circle.

How much money should a church keep? Enough to create a “cushion” for use in rough times? Or just enough to cover necessary expenses, then trust God to provide when rough times hit? Should there be 20 different funds within the church’s account to use for different things? Or should the money be available to use for those in need without concern over which fund it comes from? (And I’m not suggesting spending frivolously, either.) 

Now, I am ALL for budgets! I think if the companies we are spending billions on were running on a budget like mine (thanks, Lois!), we wouldn’t be spending billions…but that’s another topic. I think that churches should have a budget – something that tells what their monthly and yearly expenses are, and should plan accordingly. But, and here’s where most of your comments will come, I’m sure, I think the money received over and above that should be used to care for the needy in the church and in the community. I think the church’s job is ministry, and that if we sit on hundreds or thousands of dollars in the name of “creating a cushion” that we can’t do that.  I think that when a church is sitting on a “cushion” of thousands of dollars and a single mom calls asking for help with her electric bill, the answer should be a resounding, “YES!”  The answer should NOT be, “Well, I think we only have $50 in that fund.”

Now, what do I mean by caring for the needy? I mean, when there is a widow in need, we provide food, or pay her bills for a month, or help get her to a doctor appointment, buy her medication, help repair her car, help with medical bills, etc. For the children, we provide them with clothes, a Christmas or birthday gift, RELATIONSHIPS, school supplies, needed medical/dental work, etc. We take the man of the house on a job search and help him find and purchase a bicycle or car, if feasible, to get back and forth to that job. We make a monthly habit (or more) of holding a church soup kitchen – providing food, warmth, and a friendly face to the homeless and downtrodden of society.  (Remember, there but for the grace of God, go I.)

Guess what? In every one of these instances, we have the chance to show the love of Christ and present the gospel to them! Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The least of these!!  And instead, we have become the church that turns its nose up when a beggar walks into our pristine chapel.

So, why then is it so hard for some people, who call themselves Christians, to give the money that is in God’s house anyway? Why is it so hard for us to give of our time, our services, ourselves? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we despise ourselves so much that we would ask others to treat us as we do them? And, why on earth, when we behave so badly, do we wonder why so many claim they stay away from church, and many times Christianity completely, because the church is full of hypocrites? Are they really so wrong? All too often the answer is no. They’re entirely too right.

I apologize for sounding so angry….no, actually, I don’t apologize.  I’m not sorry for being angry, and I think its justified in this case. It makes me furious (not to mention shamed and embarrassed) when we preach generosity and love to all, then refuse to back it up with action and actual giving of our time, resources, and ourselves.

I’m going to close this post with this: I am not advocating that churches (or individuals) refuse responsibility for their financial obligations. But churches are not there to make a profit or have the biggest plasma TV money can buy or brand new hymnals because the ones we have are a little old and have yellowing pages. Make improvements where needed, keeping in mind that God has not blessed churches with that money to be able to buy a gold-plated collection plate to collect more money to hoard. And I think that if there is a choice between helping someone in need and buying new pew cushions, the choice should be obvious.

Still seething yet trying to give it up to God,

Toni

Who’s first: God or my job?

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I had a third and final interview today for a part-time position I was trying to get.  I wanted to work on the weekends to help pay off some bills, and get a few other things accomplished.  Having LOTS of retail experience, including management, I didn’t think I would have a problem getting hired.  My only request was that on Sundays, I not be scheduled prior to 1:30pm – I didn’t want to miss church on Sundays.  I knew it was possible, and knew from the sign out front that they needed help.

After speaking with the manager today, and he was very pleasant, I spoke again with the HR manager who said we would start the process…you know the routine:  background check, drug screen, etc.  I asked her, just to double-check, what the manager had said about my scheduling request.  She spoke with him to be sure, and said they would be unable to guarantee those accommodations every week.  So, reluctantly, I turned down the job.  In their defense, they did say they would do their best, but just couldn’t guarantee it.

Some would say I acted irrationally by not taking the offer of employment.  Some would even go so far as to say it is irresponsible.  And, perhaps to some it does appear to be just that.  But, I have a different viewpoint.

Exodus 20:3 – the First of the Ten Commandments says:  Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

You see, to me, accepting that job knowing that there would come a time when I would be either forced to work or face disciplinary action due to my religious (read: Christian) convictions, and that is not something I am willing to do.  I knew that, if ever scheduled to work on Sunday morning, I would not be there.  And, as such, eventually, I would be fired.  Yes, in doing so I would have been standing up for God and showing the world my faith, but haven’t I done just that in not accepting such a position to begin with?

We live in a world that all too often places more value on material possessions than on heavenly things.

Matthew 6:19-21 (Jesus’ words) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do no break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

Jesus knew that and that’s why He warned us about it. 

I didn’t write this post to say, “Hey look at me and look at what I’ve done.”  Instead, I wrote it to show that we ALL have the chance to make a stand for our beliefs and for Christ.  And, what’s even more important, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Lord will provide for those who do. 

Sure, I wish I could have gotten the job today.  But, there was a price tag attached to it that I just wasn’t willing to pay.  I would have been placing my trust and priorities on a job and the financial gain provided by such instead of placing that trust in the Divine Provider.  I asked God to close doors without question if He didn’t want me there, and to open them wide if He did.  Since the beginning, He has been faithful to answer that prayer.

Thank You, Lord, for answering the prayer of this humble servant.  I know You will continue to provide for the needs of our family, and I trust You implicitly for everything.  Thank You that You are in control ~ not me.  We all know what a mess I would make of things.

This week I challenge you to take a look at your priorities…where are you laying up treasures?  Are your treasures here, on earth – where they can be destroyed in an instant?  Hurricanes, tornadoes, drastic loss of income, theft, any number of things can take it all away in a split second….

Or are you laying up heavenly treasures:  eternal life, love of Christ, servant hood, faith, patience, diligence, self-control, etc.  These treasures have eternal value…and they can’t be destroyed or lost! 

If your treasures are material and earthly, is God calling you to give those back to Him in some way?  I’m not saying He expects you to give it all away, but perhaps you have placed more focus on accumulating and hanging on to wealth and “stuff.”  If you have, you may not even recognize it….here’s a sure fire way:

Ask God to show you.

Yep – ask the Lord of Heaven to show you where your heart is.  And, He will.  It may be hard…

Remember the young rich man?  He went to Jesus asking what must he do to be saved…Jesus walked him through several commandments…to which he replied that he had, indeed, kept those commandments from his youth – what did he lack?

Do you remember what Jesus said?  Matthew 19:21 says:

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go an sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:  and come and follow me.

Jesus told him that to be complete in his salvation, to go and sell it all.  Everything.  Why?  The man had broken the First Commandment – he had placed money and wealth above God.  And, in doing so, he had also violated the Second Commandment – he had made images and idols, if only in his mind, of what to worship.  Did he bow down and pray to his possessions?  Probably not – certainly he didn’t.  But, our allegiances are shown by our priorities, and this man’s priorities were not in the right order.

What was the man’s response?  Did he run to his house to gather his things to sell, so that he could simply follow the Savior?  No. 

The next verse in Matthew 19 says:  “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful:  for he had great possessions.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, for sure.  Go and sell everything and follow me.  Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay His head at night.  It was a choice He made.  He doesn’t call everyone to give up everything they have, but some of us are not called to be wealthy.  And, while it may be hard for some, for others, they wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The Bible doesn’t say that wealth is wrong.  And, it DOES NOT say that money is the root of all evil….it says the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  There is a difference.

What the Bible does say, is that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved and enter heaven.  But why?

I think one reason is because when we are wealthy we tend to think we have it all under control.  WE are in charge.  WE make things happen.  When there is a problem, OUR money can fix it.  We learn to rely on ourselves for our provision instead of the One who allowed us to have the blessing of riches.  Too often, I’ve seen people with money ignore God because they could buy their way out of a problem.  And, even when God allows the problem to become worse, in an effort to draw them to Him, they will keep throwing money at it hoping it will go away.  So, as much as money can be a blessing, it can also be a curse.  Where there is no money to buy a solution, one must learn to trust God to provide. 

But, the Bible also says that…well, I’ll let Jesus speak for Himself:

But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible;  but with God all things are possible.  Matthew 19:26

So, again, I challenge you to look at your priorities and see where you stand….What is God calling you to do with it?