Monday, October 7, 2013

The Tax Envelope: Friend or Foe

     When Leslie was around eleven, Keith and I tried an allowance system that was modeled after the way we handled our paychecks. We promised to pay her $10 (it was twenty years ago and to be perfectly honest, I don't remember the amount) in exchange for a week's worth of helping with household chores.
     Right off the top, 10% of her allowance would then go into an envelope designated as her tithe. She could contribute to the church or to a mission of her choice.
     The next 10% of her allowance went into an envelope marked "long term savings." We explained that our long range savings went into a retirement fund but for her, this allotment would be put into a college fund. And yes, I understand that since 10% of $10 is $1, Leslie would have to plan on applying for an Alexander grant.
     Another 10% went into "short term savings." This envelope could be tapped when she wanted something that exceeded her weekly income.
     And last, but not to be ignored, 10% went in the "taxes" envelope. We explained that everyone was obligated to pay taxes but that should be considered a good thing. That is the reason we could have firemen and policemen available by simply making a phone call. We pay taxes so we have military service to ensure our freedoms. Taxes make it possible to have roads to drive to our friend's homes. In a sorta similar fashion, Leslie's tax money would be used by the family for dinner at a restaurant because after all, that's how taxes work. They are gathered for the benefit of all.
     The remaining 60% was available for Leslie's desires that she could afford.
     Leslie had no problem with the system--except for the tax envelope. She argued every week about it. "Why do I have to pay taxes?" "Why do I have to put money in an envelope that everyone gets to spend?" No matter how many different ways we tried to explain, it was a weekly debate.
     Today, based upon what Keith and I pay for federal, state and local taxes, we would put 50% of our daughter's allowance in the tax envelope. The remaining three envelopes would maintain the same percentage which would leave Leslie with 20% of her allowance available for spending. For that reason, I am sure we would have even more questions to answer about taxes... and should. Are we using her money wisely or selfishly?  What we are entitled to because we belong to the same family and what are privileges? Everything became so complicated and subject to opinions. I fear that I would no longer be able answer the questions of a child.
     I still believe that "it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:5-7) But this passage leaves me pondering. Why do our governing officials serve? Who do I "owe" respect and honor? Can I respect the office and not the person holding the position? If so, how do I accomplish that? How is respect earned?
     Honestly, the older I get, the less I seem to understand!


Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Close Look in the Mirror Reveals ...

Another one of those"big" birthdays is fast approaching.

I'm happy about it ... really! Well, maybe for the most part. I love acquiring the "wisdom" that only seems to come with experience and age. Things like that. But we all know that there are some things that I don't like or appreciate about growing older.

 Last Saturday morning, I took a very, very close look in the mirror. Results: a few revelations ... very few... passed my inspection with a smile. But those lines in my face (some people call them wrinkles) did not make me happy. I tried lifting my eyelids and pulling back the skin on my face. I tried to restore the face of my youth. But when I let go, the face resumed its original look.

I did the only thing I knew to do. I slathered on moisterizer and vowed not to take a close look in the mirror for another 10 years.

Fast forward one hour. I joined my accountability group for our weekly meeting at the local bagel shop. We've been meeting for twelve years so this group knows the inner good, bad and ugly (and still profess to love me!). We hold one another accountable for the choices that we make and for our commitment to Christ. We call ourselves the Bagel Babes because of where we meet and because in our eyes - we are still babes!

Nell shares first. Of course, she would open by saying, "Sometimes we should spend time with God in the same way that a woman looks at herself in the mirror."

Zing! Double Zing!

Based upon my very recent mirror experience, that would mean close examination.

That would mean rejoicing in the Christ like character that is evident.

That would mean recognizing and acknowledging that all is not good in my character/behavior.

That would mean pondering where improvement is needed.

That would mean seeing things that I previously overlooked or ignored.

That would mean ... fill in the blank. You've got the gist of it.

Yep, gotta love those Bagel Babes. Speaking truth in love!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How is it possible?

Try to visualize this scenario...

18 women, ages 17 - 80:

In a foreign country
Living for 7 days in a home for 500 children (babies to university students)
Sleeping in one large room on bunk beds (lots of ear plugs in action!)
6:00 AM alarm each morning

Sharing 3 bathroom stalls with shower curtains for doors
Sharing 3 shower heads with only shower curtains to provide a smidgeon of privacy
Sharing 3 sinks
Sharing lives

Hearts broken over broken children
Ears hearing travesties committed against children who should have been able to trust adults
Eyes seeing God's power to heal and restore

Crying together
Working together
Praying together
Playing together
Worshipping God together

This was God's recipe for: Perfect

What an amazing, dedicated team He put together - the body of Christ at work, using everyone's gifts and talents.

It could only be God at work! All glory be to Him.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I love my mom

Today I am reflecting on why I love my mom. It's not because she was a perfect mom. Living in any family automatically produces many moments of "If I only could only have a do-over." I have many of those and I am sure that my mom does too. But I do love her and want to honor her.

I love my mom because:
She gave me life.
She first loved me.
She watched over me when I was a helpless babe.
She cared for me.
She provided for me.
She protected me.
She gave to me when I had nothing to give to her.
She picked me up when I took that really ugly spill on my bike and tended to my wounds.
She focuses on the potential she sees in me and parents in an attempt to draw that out.
She teaches me what is really important in life.
She's always available, ready to listen. She's always happy when I call her.
She likes spending time with me.

As I look at my list, I take note that these are the same reasons that I love God. And then, I realize that I love my mom for another reason. She provided a glimpse of the way that God loves. And yet, He is the perfect Father, perfect in His love. He never needs a "do-over." I could substitute His name in my list. I love Him because He gave me life and first loved me ...

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. And thanks!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

She has a past ... and a future!

I met a darling young woman a few months ago and I am still thinking about her. In our discussion, she revealed that she had been a prostitute and drug user. Hard core. In fact, she had only been out of prison for a short time. She spent two years behind bars but amazing things can happen with a captive audience. God paid her a visit. She's now a believer and very fresh in her walk.

She told me that she recently made a mistake, a big mistake. She slept with her ex. All I could say was, "Oooh." Her eyes welled up with tears as she said, "No, it's worse. He's married now." This time I said, "Oooooooh." She continued, tears streaming down her face, "What is wrong with me? I never had a problem with sleeping with someone. I slept with hundreds of men...most married...and I never gave it a thought. I didn't care."

This time, I had an answer that involved actually using words. "Sweet thing, from this point on, if you ever have a doubt about your salvation ... if you ever doubt that God has adopted you as His daughter and calls you His beloved ... if you ever wonder if you will get to spend eternity with Him in heaven ... then, think upon this moment. When you said 'yes' to the gift of grace found in the person of Jesus, you became a new creation. You will not think the same nor want to behave as you did in your past because you now have the Holy Spirit living within you. He will lead you and speak truth to you. Sometimes that means, you will be reminded of who you are in Christ and those are the sweetest of moments. But sometimes, He will convict you of your sinful choices. That is why you, my sister in Christ, feel bad. What you did was wrong. But our God is a God of second-chances. What's done is done. Today is a new day filled with His compassion."

I received a beautiful gift from this delightful daughter of the King. She gave me a vivid picture of God's power to redeem what is lost and restore what has been stolen. He made beauty from ashes.

It was a random meeting. I will probably never see her again ... on this this side of heaven. But one day, we can share notes about what God can do with divine appointments.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Better is one day in His courts ...

Yesterday, I was asked a question that stirred up a sweet memory. The problem is that the memory has continued to invade my every thought. Hoping to receive some relief from all of the pondering, I am writing.

My memory is of a migrant work camp in San Quintin, Mexico. Many years ago, we pulled up to the temporary housing of farm workers. People would work at this farm until the crop was harvested, then move on to the next farm.

As we approached, I first noticed the small tin, one room sheds that would be called home to an entire family in the evening. In the day, everyone in the family would work the fields.

The second thing I observed were the children. So many children. As we parked, they came running. Beautiful, smiling little faces. I had a jar of bubbles. As I would hold the wand out for a child to blow a bubble, giggles would erupt. I would turn my face and see another child, patiently waiting his turn to produce a bubble. No pushing, no shoving, no arguing. Just waiting to see if he would be noticed and have an opportunity to join in the fun.

A tarp was spread on the ground and a movie screen produced so that the Jesus film could be played. Parents came out to watch. I sat on the tarp and was immediately surrounded by children. Two sat on my lap. Two leaned against me, silently requesting arms that would hold them. Others sat at my legs and feet. Pure joy!

As we began to watch the film, a gently breeze began to blow. The sky was so dark that the stars twinkled like flickering diamonds. It was a beautiful evening...and then I began to think. "Hmmm...tomorrow I could have lice. I've never had lice. What do you do with lice? What do they look like?" As my mind took off in a self-centered fashion, suddenly a new thought totally interrupted my thoughts. I heard, not audibly, yet loud and clear, "Better is one day in My courts than a thousand elsewhere."

First, I was shocked. Then I began to smile. I knew exactly what the verse from Psalm 84 meant. I was actually living the verse. There was absolutely no place else in the entire world that I would rather be than sitting on the ground in that migrant work camp. I was sitting in God's courts.

I'm different today because of that blessing. I think that was the moment that I finally understood that nothing material in this world matters. Nothing!

But why is the memory obsessing my thoughts now? What lessons do I need to remember today?

1. As a Christian, I live in God's courts daily so why do I discover the richness of His presence in the humblest of circumstances?
a) Maybe because Jesus loves humility.
b)Maybe because Jesus came for the poor in spirit.
c)Maybe because "stuff" gets in the way of seeing God clearly. Simplicity can be very good thing.
d) Maybe we should expect to find God at work revealing Himself in the midst of human need.

2. If everything in my bank account were gone tomorrow, I could live joyfully because I have something of far greater value. I have Jesus in my life. It's more than a hope or theory. It's truth.

3. Grumbling and complaining are usually about things that have absolutely no eternal value. What does it matter? Who is in control and hasn't He proved Himself trustworthy time and time again? We have so much, why should we not be living our days in gratitude?

4. We can learn so much through children.

Oh, and no, I did not have lice the next day! Instead, I was left with a sweet memory and a taste of heaven.