Your Help is Needed, America

“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
–Proverbs 31:9

America is still the richest country in the world.  We can be thankful to God that He has blessed us with a country where most people have a place to live and food on their table.  Even during a recession, with an uncertain future, we are not doing nearly as bad as other countries.

In fact, according to an article from ABC News:

  • In 2005, the American government gave about 28 billion in foreign aid.
  • In the same year, private Americans gave about 33 billion to other countries.
  • Immigrants send about 62 billion to their families in other countries.
  • A few years ago, the American government pledged 900 million in Tsunami aid, while the American public gave 2 billion for the cause.

That is awesome, and no country comes close to us in giving to other countries.  The fact is that America is simply a generous country.  We can be very proud of that fact, except for one thing.

People are still suffering.

With all of the money that we send to other countries to help, there are still children in other countries who go to bed hungry, who don’t have the proper clothing, who are not getting the education they need.  The fact is that with all of the money we send, it simply is not enough.

It is easy for us to look at the statistics and say “we have done enough”.  But that is not what the Bible tells us to do as Christians.

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.”
–Leviticus 25:35

Throughout the Bible, they are many examples of how we are to treat the poor.  The fact is that Jesus gave a commandment to love our neighbors as we love our God.  As such, it is our responsibility to not turn a blind eye to the poor and needy in this world.

Here are some of the statistics from Compassion International:

  • Children under age 18 make up nearly 48 percent of the population of the world’s least developed countries, compared with 21 percent of the population of the world’s industrialized nations.
  • More than 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity and modern forms of energy.
  • Over 1.4 billion people in the developing world live below the poverty line (U.S.$1.25 per day).
  • More than 9 million children under age 5 die each year. Two-thirds of these deaths — more than 6 million every year — are preventable.

The bottom line is that our help is still needed.  It does not matter that we already provide so much help.  As Christians, we are called by our Savior to provide help for our neighbors, and it is obvious that more is needed.

How many times do you go to a restaurant and spend at least $40 or more?  Do you know that $38 a month will feed, clothe and educate a poor child for a month?  Do you know how many children have been saved from poverty by Compassion International in countries like Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and others?  They are currently helping 1.2 million children, yet so many are still not being helped.  It is Americans like ourselves that can mean everything to one of these children.

When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you are not just sending money to an charity.  The money you send is going directly to help a specific child.  Your contribution will clothe that child, it will feed that child, and it will educate that child.  They will teach the child about God.  You will have the opportunity to write the child and influence their life directly.  You can even visit the child if you choose.  You will have the opportunity to pull that child out of poverty, and give them a chance they would never have had otherwise.

Will you make a commitment today?

Click here to sponsor a child.

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Finding Strength

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
–Romans 8:35-39

Last week, I wrote a post where I talked about the economic situation in America.  I talked about how things are getting worse.  I offered a way through the mess, through our faith in God.  Today I want to talk more about adversity and hard times.  I hope that through this post, I can reach someone who may be going through tough times, and encourage them to keep their faith in our Savior.

Pastor Greg Laurie recently told a stadium full of worshipers in New Zealand that he simply does not know why God allows suffering.  I don’t know either.  I mean I have my opinions, and I am sure many Christians do as well.  But I truly believe there are questions we simply won’t be able to answer on earth. We will have the answers one day, when we get to Heaven.  Until then, we have to look at the Bible, and do the best we can in this fallen world.

I have had my hardships in life.  No, I have not been at war.  No, I have not been in real poverty.  But the word hardship is such a relative term.  What is a hardship for one man is nothing for someone else.  With that said, I can tell you that I have had times in my life where I simply did not know how I could go on.  I spent many nights awake, pondering how to move on with life.  Yet I have never walked in the shoes of a homeless person.  I have never lived the life of a political prisoner, or a child of war.  So I consider myself truly blessed, knowing that my life has been relatively good.

My wife and I recently started sponsoring a child in Brazil through Compassion International.  The program offers help to children in need around the world.  For $38, we provide food, shelter, and help with education for a girl named Livia.  I don’t mention this to boast, although we are very happy to be able to help her.  I mention it because this experience is serving to humble us, and help us recognize the hardships others endure in this world.

Livia lives near a city named Recife.  If you follow my blog, you may remember that I posted a story about Recife, and the garbage dump people there.  This is the story of the people who live off the scraps of food and items they pick up at the garbage dump in the city.  Livia lives in a small town near this city.  Compassion International is helping to keep Livia from this situation.  They not only provide food and shelter, they educate her and her family, and teach her about Jesus, encouraging her in her faith.  Thousands of children just like Livia have been helped by Compassion International and have been able to get out the slums and ghettos of these countries as a result.

The reason I mention Livia, is because there are so many children just like Livia around the world.  Yet here I sit, in an air conditioned room, sipping on a hot coffee, typing on my computer.  Yes I have suffered hard times, but Livia has nothing.  She lives in a shack with a dirt floor.  I live in a two bedroom villa, with a fully stocked refrigerator.  So I have been thinking about Livia lately.  How is she expected to survive her situation?  How can she persevere, so that she can grow up and get out of that situation?  How can we survive our situation, and get out of our hardships as well?

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
–Philipians 4:11-13

Paul writes in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Poverty will not do it.  Sickness can’t.  God loves us no matter what our situation is.  It does not matter if we make mistakes.  God knows we are fallen creatures.  He knows that no matter what hardships we suffer, that He has provided a way out, a way of escape. In the verses from Philipians above, we are told that through Christ, all things are possible.  No matter who we are, where we live, or what we have done, there is a God who loves us unconditionally.  We are special to Him, and through our faith in Him, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
1 Peter 4:12-13

In this passage, we learn how we are to deal with adversity.  We are to rejoice.  Why?  Because by suffering, we come closer to our Savior.  Remember how our Messiah suffered on the cross? Remember how he was beaten and tortured?  He did that for us, to save us from our sins.  In suffering, we can remember our Lord, and what He endured on Earth, and we can know that our suffering, no matter how bad it may seem, is only temporary.

In my last post, and in many that I write, I make reference to us being spoiled in America.  I always try to make comparisons to others around the world, how much other people suffer compared to our relative prosperity in America.  I believe for most of us, it is a good comparison.  It helps us to realize that we have it pretty good in America compared to others around the world.

But the fact is, for the homeless, for those that have lost their jobs, for those who are suffering from illness, my comparisons do not make their situations any better.  I understand that.  No matter how much more someone else suffers, we are still burdened with our own suffering.  I have been there my friend, and I do understand.  But know that no matter what we suffer in our earthly lives, God is with us.  He is right there next to us.  As the passage from Romans says, nothing can separate us from His love, and our faith will be rewarded.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast..”
–1 Peter 5:10

Again, we will never truly understand in this life why God allows suffering.  But we do know – through His word – that He will stand with us while we do.  Our suffering will strength us, it will make us wiser, and it will draw us closer to our Savior, who suffered on the cross for our sins.  We can know that our trials and tribulations are temporary.

For Livia, and  for us, our faith will carry us through.

“I can’t stop the rain, From falling down on you again
I can’t stop the rain, But I will hold you ’til it goes away”
–When the Rain Comes, Third Day

Psalm 49

“Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.”

I love it when I see Jesus in the old testament. The psalmist is speaking of people who put their trust in earthly possessions rather than the one true God. How true that nothing we idolize – including money – can save the life of our brother. Only our Savior Jesus Christ can do that. We will all meet Him one day, and our earthly possessions won’t be there with us.

“For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.”

We can’t take it with us folks. How many times have we seen families destroyed over an inheritance? We fight over foolish things. How many times do we see a marriage destroyed over selfish interests, and see them fighting over money, even using their children as pawns against each other. Their eyes are so filled with greed and selfishness that they don’t see the damage being done to their children, not to mention their souls.

What exactly are you trying to control, when none of it is really yours anyway? It all belongs to God, to be given and taken from you as He wills it. When you stand in judgement, what will your excuse be for not honoring God with your actions? How will you explain that your measly possessions and your earthly pursuits were more important than your children, your family, your eternal soul?

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.”

The glory we receive from this earth is foolishness to God. We are not supposed to be satisfied with this life. We are supposed to want more. God provides a place and eternal life greater than any man can even comprehend. Yet how often we see people conformed with the pleasures of this fallen world. Do we really have such low standards?

Christians, let us not be conformed – and consumed – by this world. What awaits us is much grander, much more glorious, than anything we could ever possess on earth. Anchor yourself not to money, greed, selfishness, and conceit, but rather the waiting arms of Jesus Christ. Don’t be the beast that perishes without the gift God so graciously provides us.

Is this world really all that you want?

Be careful what you ask for.

You just might get it.

Gratitude – A Lesson Learned

Mid 1960’s.

My grandfather had been in the country only a few months, having been forced to leave his homeland. One of many Cuban exiles, he was a University professor, but was unemployed, collecting unemployment benefits. Already in his 50’s, it was difficult to find work in his field, since English was not his first language. After searching for a few months, he finally found a job. Now that he was working, there was something he had to do.

“What? Um…what do you mean, give it back?”

My grandfather had asked my father to go with him to the unemployment office. My father, having been in the country longer, already spoke enough English to be able to translate for him. As they waited their turn, my father was nervous. He knew what his father was about to do, and he knew this was going to be a difficult thing, but he also knew there was no talking his father out of it. He could be a little stubborn, and trying to persuade him out of his mission would only embolden him.

“My father wants to know how much money you have paid him in unemployment” My father asked the lady behind the counter.

She looked at my grandfather, who smiled back at her, eagerly awaiting the answer. Realizing he was serious, she told him. Once my father translated the number back to the older educator, he immediately went to work. He took out his checkbook, and began writing a check. The government worker tried to tell my grandfather it wasn’t necessary, but he stopped her by lifting his hand, as if he was a traffic officer directing a car to stop.

“Por favor…” he answered her, then kept writing, handing her a check for the full amount of unemployment benefits he had received. He instructed my father to continue translating his words.

“He wants this to go back to help the other Cubans that are coming from the island.”

My father hunched his shoulders and smiled sheepishly, knowing this was a little uncommon. The lady looked at the check as if she had never seen one before. She kept looking back and forth between the check and my grandfather, perplexed as to what to do next.

“Sir, this is very nice of you, but I don’t have any idea how to process this. There is nothing in the system to let me take this check back.”

My grandfather was not deterred. He told my father to tell the lady that he would not take no for an answer. All this of course was said in the most polite and amicable way, always smiling back at the confused worker. The lady excused herself to get her supervisor. After another discussion with the supervisor, the elder immigrant was adamant, not budging in his demands. My father was forced to do something he really didn’t want to do. He had to lie. It was the only way. He told him that it was illegal for them to take the money, that they could get fired as it could be thought of as a bribe. My grandfather, not wanting to get anybody in trouble, relented. He excused himself as politely as he he began, smiling and thanking the lady for her help.

It made the papers the next morning.

I just learned that story recently. I would like to tell you that this was a unique story, that my grandfather did something that had never been done before. Not true. It was not uncommon for Cuban exiles to try to give government assistance back to the government once they were back on their feet. In their minds, it was not their money. It did not belong to them. Cubans – as many immigrants of that era – were not taught to take money from anyone. They were taught to work for their money. It did not matter if they were poor or rich. Work was something to be admired, and as such, taking money while not working was not acceptable to them.

Here is the lesson I have learned from this story. It is about gratitude. My grandfather understood the concept of gratitude. He did not see that unemployment benefit as an entitlement, as something he was supposed to have. He understood it as a debt. He was grateful, but not only was he grateful, he realized the great responsibility that came from taking money he had not earned. The money came from somewhere, and he knew someone had to work for that money. In his mind, it was only natural for him to give it back.

What a concept.

We are talking about money here, but it really applies to anything we take without actually working for it. How many times have we been help by someone? Have we always paid it back? Are you in debt to anyone? We all are in one way or another. Have you expressed your gratitude lately to those in your life who got you through a tough time?

I will take it one step further. Have you thanked God lately? We all go through tough times. In those dark times of our lives, many of us pray. We pray that God will help us, that He will give us the strength to get us through. Then, somehow, we make it through our tough time. Things change, things get better. Do we ever recognize the one that got us through that difficult period?

One last point. Do we ever recognize where that gift really came from? Did the unemployment check my grandfather receive really come from the government, or from God? No my friend, the government does not own anything. It all belongs to God. We are called by God to be stewards of His resources. It was right for my grandfather, being a good steward of those resources, to want that money to be used to help another immigrant. He understood the concept of stewardship. Do we?

Will you make it a point today to thank God for everything you have?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
–James 1:17

Will you thank Him for your trials and tribulations, knowing He allows them to strengthen you, to prepare you for something much greater, that He is planning for you?

“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.“
–Deuteronomy 8:2-3

With God’s help, we make it through good times and bad. Let’s praise him always, showing our gratitude, and being good stewards of the resources He provides.


UPDATE: After writing this post, I was informed by a family member that this story did not exactly occur as stated above. I was told that the check was not for unemployment but was instead for Welfare. I was also told that my grandfather did indeed know English at the time. I am reminded by this that family stories tend to get watered down through the years, and the facts get cloudy. The message of the post is the same nevertheless. My message to those who remember the story differently – don’t shoot the messenger.

The Bruthas

1992.

I am the assistant manager for a video rental store. It’s a franchise, a competitor to a larger video rental franchise that shall remain nameless. This was before online video rental. Back then, people actually got in their cars, drove to a store, and physically picked out the movies they wanted. Then they would drive back home, watch them, and return them the next day. I know I know, it was a crazy concept, but trust me it is all true.

So it’s Saturday night, and the place is packed. There were three employees besides myself, and we were all at our respective terminals, checking out customers. Each one of our lines was at least 6 or 7 customers deep, and we were working as quickly as possible to help our customers.

“Ring! Ring!”

The telephone rings, and one of my employees picks it up. It is her husband. They have been having problems, and I can hear that they are arguing. From discussions I have heard before, he apparently likes to drink, and when he does, likes to fight. This goes on for about a minute or so, and then she hangs up. I am relived since we cannot afford this tonight. We are too busy. She is visibly upset but continues working.

“Ring! Ring!”

Great. She picks up the phone and begins arguing again. This is not going well. I give her a look and she hangs up again. This is now becoming a problem, and customers from her line are moving to others as they realize that her line is moving slower.

“Ring! Ring!”

I reach for the phone, but she beats me to it. She pleads with her husband to stop calling, but he apparently continues the conversation. She put the phone on hold, and walks into the office in the back to continue the conversation. Customers are now upset and complaining. I assure them we will get to them as soon as possible. I am fuming inside now, but I try to work faster, and start handing out free rentals to the most angry customers, without tipping off the rest of the customers so that we don’t start a fury of free rental requests. After a few minutes, I go back and tell her she needs to get off the phone, or go home for the night. She hangs up again, and I can see she has been crying.

“Ring! Ring!”

I reach it first this time. It is him again of course.

“She is busy and can’t talk right now!”

I hang up. My employee looks at me, fear on her face. I don’t really care. I was fed up with the constant phone calls.

“Ring! Ring!”

This time she gets the phone and once more, puts it on hold to continue the argument in the back office. She comes back, and tells me “Now you did it! He is coming here to kick your @#$!” Apparently, he was in another county, but was so enraged by my hanging up on him that he decided to drive drunk all the way down to the store to beat me up. The most alarming thing was, my employee seemed almost happy about it, like she was proud of her drunken husband for standing up to me.

I am no hero. I suddenly started having visions of disaster, a drunk maniac coming in with a bunch of his friends to exact their revenge. And here I am with three young women. Those were not good odds.

“Ring! Ring!”

This time it is me calling my older brother. I tell him what happened. He tells me to hang up, call the police, and tells me he will be right there. He asked me if I had anything to defend myself. I kept a Louisville slugger under the counter just in case, and I told him so. He told me to keep it handy.

In about 5 minutes, my older brother, and one of my younger brothers were in the store. Both of them were carrying their own form of defense. The color suddenly left my female employee’s face as she saw that this was getting out of hand.

“You didn’t have to call your brothers!”

Was she really serious? Did she really think no actions would be taken, that I would just wait to be pummeled by her drunk husband?

You may think that the end of this story involves us fighting our way out of the store, warriors dodging bullets and sniper fire to save our fellow employees and the store from the assault of my employee’s husband and friends. No not really. When he got there, he was alone, and his wife told him what awaited him inside. In an apparent moment of clarity, he decided this was not a fight he wanted. They both left, she quit the next day out of embarrassment, and all ended well. Mind you, none of us were really that brave, and I have no idea what we would have done should he have gotten violent. But one thing I do know is that my brothers would not have allowed him to lay a hand on me.

Imagine my apprehension when she and her husband came in a couple of weeks later to rent a video. Of course, I tensed up as he came towards me. Was this the day of revenge for my drunken opponent? Was this the end of my walk on this earth as he pulls a weapon on me and finishes the job? Nope. He extended his hand, shook it, and apologized. He told me he was wrong.

This was not the first nor the last time my brothers came to the rescue. I have been truly blessed in this life with brothers who would do anything for me, and I for them. There have been countless times we have been there for each. No don’t go there. We are not mobsters – far from it. I am not talking about anything illegal. In most cases, it was simply an ear to listen, a hug at the right time, advice when we need it the most.

Sometimes I look at photos we have taken of us together and I think back at all we have been through together. No matter what has been asked of us, we have never asked for anything in return. Our love for each other has truly been unconditional. No it has not always been pretty. We have each been stubborn at times, and there have been arguments. Most of them have been foolish on our part. But even when we were angry at each other, we always knew it would never stop us from stepping up to the plate for each other. It is a truly great feeling to know that in this world, there are a few guys just a phone call away, willing to stand toe to toe with you through any situation.

When I need it most, I will always be able to count on….

The bruthas!

Children Of God

One of my favorites from Third Day!

Praise to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ
Our God and our King, to Him we will sing
In His great mercy, He has given us life
Now we can be called the children of God

Great is the Love that the Father has given us
He has delivered us
He has delivered us

Children of God, sing your song and rejoice
For the love that He has given us all
Children of God, by the blood of His Son
We have been redeemed and we can be called
Children of God
Children of God

A mystery is revealed to the universe
The Father above has proven His love
Now we are free from the judgment that we deserve
And so we are called the children of God

We are the saints
We are the children
We’ve been redeemed
We’ve been forgiven
We are the sons and the daughters of our God

You Hungry?

I had a toasted bagel with butter, and some coffee this morning for breakfast. Then later on, I had a second cup of coffee. Over the weekend, I ate out twice. On Sunday at a class my wife and I are taking at church, everyone at our table brought in food. We all left with our stomachs full, and we even took some food home, since there was much more food than necessary.

I don’t remember ever picking up anything from a garbage dump and eating it.

Unfortunately, this is the life for many in the city of Recife, Brazil. If you are not aware, Recife is a major city in the Northeast of Brazil. If you look up this city in Google.com, one of the first links is this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recife

You won’t find any mention of the garbage dump people there. The article explains quite a bit about the city and its people, but stays away from the negative aspects of the city. Brazil transitioned to Democracy quite a few years ago, and since then, has become an economic force in the world, a major industrial nation. However, in doing so, many have been forgotten. The plight of the street children in Brazil is well known, and much has been done by many organizations to help them. But it is still a huge problem. It is estimated that 1 in 8 Brazilian children live on the streets.

In Recife especially, poverty is rampant. There is a clear separation of classes. On the one side, one of the most prosperous cities of Brazil, and on the other, a huge poor community left to defend itself by searching through the local dump in search of food and items to sell. The video is heart wrenching. Yes I know this exists in America today. The difference is that the huge disparity between rich and poor is much greater there, as well as the blatant lack of help from the government. The poor in Brazil are truly second class citizens in Brazil. There are only a few ways to survive for them. They either beg for food, steal, or prostitute themselves. Many die on the streets or end up in jail, where they are beaten daily. Those that survive do so by resorting to the actions you see on the video. Many sniff glue or take other drugs to escape their reality.

Let’s put a few things in perspective:

  • Two movie tickets, a large popcorn and two sodas – $40.
  • Dinner for two at Chili’s, including appetizers and tip – approx. $50
  • A round of golf for two at a public golf course – approx. $100

These are things we all do for enjoyment. We work hard for our money. You may feel you have every right to spend it how you see fit. This is not a guilt trip. But what would Jesus say?

“He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”
–Proverbs 19:17

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
–Luke 14:13

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
–1 John 3:17-18

The cost to sponsor a child through Compassion International?

$38 a month.

You hungry?