Monday, October 17, 2016

Are We God's Physical Presence?

Asking if we are God's physical presence is a rather big question. In a stewardship Temple Talk at my church yesterday, I stated that I believe we are.

To be perfectly clear, I am in no way suggesting that we are God or anything of that nature. But, I do think that He allows the holy spirit to dwell within us and then do His bidding. An example would be  when someone needs a reassuring hug; we can physically give it on behalf of God.

Since God's presence on earth is spiritual, I simply believe He sometimes uses our physical presence to represent Him as noted. It's the reason I think we were put on this earth - to care for one another. God equips us to do so and then uses our physical presence to make it happen.

There is another side to this. I never, ever want someone to look at my flaws and say, "That's God at work." As a Christian, I believe there was only one human ever capable of being God, and that was Jesus Christ. I, and other human beings, are pretty poor substitutes.

When I feel those little nudges to do something good, I'm certain that it's God who's telling me to do it. As a spiritual being, He isn't going to walk up to a homeless person and buy them lunch, but I can. And, I'm very glad to do it on His behalf!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Legal Versus Moral

I suspect that other people of faith have the same occasional conflict as I do - it's deciding sometimes between what is really legal and what is really moral.

Now, I know we should always try to do what is moral; that is the only real behavior that will change the world for the better. And, hopefully our motivation toward that change is our love for our fellowman, our planet and our creator. But this coming election has brought out issues that really make us think. Spoiler Alert:  I'm not going to talk about any particular candidate - we've had enough of that.

The issues really come down to this: How we view others, individual rights, and honesty. I'm tired of the political approach to mudslinging, especially because there are a lot of half-truths and spin involved. Instead, I want someone to tell me, not just that something is wrong, but how they will fix it in practical terms to make it better.

One of the legal versus moral issues for me is how to keep terrorists out of the country without punishing all those who have a different faith than mine. Morally, I can't stand by and condone refusal of immigration to people, who have been persecuted in their own lands, just because they are a different faith or come from a particular country. How do we fix this problem? That's what I want to know.

In that same vein, how much privacy should we give up to ensure that we are safe? Most of us have nothing to hide, but what is legal and what is moral here? It might be legal to profile someone, but is it always the ethical thing to do? I'm torn because privacy invasion has thwarted some very heinous acts.

It seems that some people are so forgiving on some issues, but stand tight on others. Entitlement especially appears to be a problem. No one wants to be taken advantage of, but should programs that actually reach people who need them, be abolished entirely such as Obamacare, or should it be fixed? I'm pretty confident about how I feel about that one.

Gun control is another issue. Most of us don't want to take guns away from hunters, those who occasionally like to target practice, or truly require one for needed protection, but is it moral for  everyone to have a gun, especially without knowledge of how to use it? Personally, I don't want a society where you have to own a gun to protect yourself from everyone else who has a gun. In Kansas, you don't need a permit or training for concealed carry. How do you fix this? I want to know.

People sometimes cite "charity begins at home" and "family first," and think it comes from the Bible. It doesn't, or at least, not in those exact terms. While caring for family is important, it doesn't always just refer to immediate blood relatives. Family is defined as much more, as in the family of believers, and in more general terms, mankind. How can I say that I will only support feeding or defending people in the USA, and then ignore others in need who were not fortunate to be born in this country? We are all God's creatures.

A final question might be: Just because you can and it's legal, should you take advantage of it? Most of you will probably know what I'm referring to, but I'm sticking to the issues rather than candidates. I believe we need God's help with the issues, not rhetoric, and with the guidance to face them with what is moral, not just legal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Temple Talk on Tithing

I've been asked to do a five minute temple talk in October about tithing. That is just a quick speech during church services about a particular subject. And, since we are about to begin our stewardship campaign and ask for pledges for 2017, it is fitting to address this matter.

Tithing isn't new - it begins with the Old Testament and there are a lot of references to it. Tithing didn't necessarily mean money, but also produce, stock, etc. Today we recognize it also as the giving of our time and talents, but it really comes down to simply returning a tenth of what you are blessed with to God. It should be done not out of obligation, but in willingness. The idea is that God has given you a gift, and in appreciation, you show your gratitude by giving back a portion.

There seems also to be a question as to whether that means 10% to the church or 10% for all charitable giving. I think one has to come to that decision on his/her own. I just know that I'm not limited to 10% and am fortunate to be able to contribute to both. You don't need to have an over-abundance of wealth and resources, but if one has everything he/she needs, why not share additional blessings with others? 

Last year I wrote a poem just for stewardship. I remember what it was like just starting out married life (when I joined my church), and later having a young family. I believe meeting a pledge is somewhat like forgiveness - you really need to pray in order to do it. That covers the unforeseen as well as any temptation not to do it.

For anyone who hasn't seen the poem, here it is:

What If?

I had a dream the other night
About what I would do
If there no longer was a church
No altar, nave or pew

No wedding venue for anyone
No funerals for those who pass
No services on Christmas Eve
No baptisms or Easter mass

How can this be? I asked
The church is always here
Whenever I want or need it
Only a few times every year

And then I finally realized
The church needs funds year round
To keep it there for all of us
To give it solid ground

So I quickly sought my pledge card
And asked God to give to me
A generous and grateful heart
To support church continually

It hasn’t always been easy
Finances are sometimes tight
But I remember everything is God’s
To give back is only right

And now I’m blessed to know
That I’m helping my church to be
Always there for others
And especially there for me!

Vicki Julian (copyright 2015)

Blessings to all!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

When to Be Quiet

Have you ever been in a group meeting and almost every topic makes you want to comment or ask a question? It's annoying when someone does that, but recently I found myself being that someone!

There are a few things that I just can't keep quiet about like child welfare, certain political issues, cost of various items, etc. It seemed that all of those came up in church council recently. I asked questions, expressed concern and offered suggestions. I've never been quite so animated in a group setting! I can only hope that my fellow council members forgive my overindulgence.

But then, as I grow older and hopefully gain a little more wisdom, I find there are some other things that I can't keep quiet about: Injustice and unfairness (but I'm still working on that more), standing on principle, many political issues, bad business practices, inconsideration, intentional rudeness, stupidity (not to be confused with honest and unintentional ignorance), disrespect and my faith.

Growing up, I remember hearing that good manners meant you didn't express your opinions in an overt and disagreeing manner, especially on the subjects of politics and religion. Today, society forces and needs us to do that. In fact, the Bible has many scriptures that allude to doing so.

Jeremiah 22:3 (NRSV) states: "Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed."

Perhaps the best example to explain the expectation of us is Matthew 25: 43-45 - "43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 

Granted, I can't be called a paragon of mercy or champion of the oppressed, but I try to do what I can. It's all part of my faith because I truly believe we are here to care for one another. But to my fellow council members, please know that I will probably never be as vocal as I was at our last meeting. Let's just say, I want to take my own advice and be respectful without preaching to the choir!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trying to Understand Atheism

I don't often click on links from my web browser, but I did when one caught my eye with the caption, "25 Hollywood Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Atheists." Well, some on that list surprised me and others just made sense. Some also had misconceptions of what I think faith and religion to be, and others were too wrapped up in their own egos to think that anything or anyone else could be in control.

I know all about free will, but I'm somewhat confused by people who don't believe in God, or rather I want them to at least believe in something. That something should be an acknowledgement that there is more to this world and universe than ourselves regardless of whether it is a holy creator, enlightenment that surpasses our current existence, etc. If one doesn't believe in God, then at least be an agnostic who says he/she doesn't actually know.

I have no problem with science and explanations of how the universe and everything in it were created. Maybe God used the Big Bang Theory, or even evolution. The point is that it had to start somewhere, and I attribute it to God because I  can't explain it otherwise. Atheists go to maybe the point of "how" in order to explain things, but where did the matter or the energy come from to give us the starting point? They don't seem to be bothered with that - I am, and I need to make sense of it.

What I found about the self-proclaimed atheists in the article is that they fail to ask the one question that begins the pursuit of knowledge - Why? People of faith often wonder why with questions such as: Why are we here? Why do bad things happen? Why? Why? Why! It's acceptance of the reality that we don't and can't know everything.

Religion aside, our small, individual, existence does mean something. If it didn't, why would we even be aware of it being finite? If there is nothing greater than us, why don't we use more than a small part of our brain? Why aren't we better to one another? Why is there so much we don't understand? How do we comprehend existence that isn't lineal? There are so many questions, it could make my head hurt!

I accept that one does not have to be a Christian, or for that matter, a believer in God to be a good person and do good things, but I know I'm a better person because of my faith. I also know that I can't look at a beautiful sky or magnificent tree, hear joyous music or see so many wonderful gifts in this world and not believe that something greater than I is responsible.

We will all have the answers someday, but until then, I'll continue to be amazed and confused at (and probably pray for) those who proudly proclaim their atheism.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Bad Things Happen - The Schlitterbahn Tragedy

I didn’t think I could be more horrified by the tragedy of the 10 year old boy who recently died at the Kansas City Schlitterbahn waterpark until I read the newspaper today. Somehow, knowing the child was decapitated seemed to further increase the shock of this accident.  

My first thought was “that poor child,” and then, of course, my heart ached for the parents. At least for the child, it was over quickly. I was, however, relieved to hear the family’s statement that they are people of faith and believe that they will see their son again. That is often the only comfort to come out of such extreme sadness. But then I realized the pain and anguish of this situation extended even further.

I can only imagine the horror of the two women riding the raft with the boy. Both had injuries, but how could you not be affected for life after experiencing and seeing what they saw? Also, imagine how the designers of the ride must feel. What a terrible thing to live with knowing that you created something so many people enjoyed, but also led to the death of one so innocent.

Three things come to mind: They all need our prayers, life is not guaranteed , and then the age old question of, “Why does God allow things like this to happen?”

The first one is easy to do. The second one reminds us of our own mortality. We ignore it and procrastinate thinking, “we’ll do it later.” But guess what? Later may not occur. If a 10 year old can die in the blink of an eye, what assurance do we have that we will still be on earth in the next day, hour, or even 5 minutes?

I’m thinking a little about the memoirs that our church members are writing for our congregation’s 150th anniversary. The deadline is November 1, and less than 20 people have taken the time to write something. We’ve already lost some very important people whose lives were integral to our church, but they chose to wait to make their contribution, and we will never have their memoirs to pass on to future generations. One thing that M.S. has taught me is to not procrastinate or at least not as much. I don’t know what I will feel like tomorrow, so if it’s important, I try to do it today.

Now the last part of my thoughts mentioned above relates to the questions: Why did this tragedy occur, and why didn’t God prevent it? I could give the clich├ęd response that we aren’t meant to live forever, but I think there is much more here to be said.

I hope no one says to the parents that it’s “God’s will,” or even worse, they incorrectly cite Corinthians 10:13 by telling them “God never gives you more than you can handle.” First, that refers to temptation − not all circumstances. Secondly, I don’t believe that God purposely gives bad things to people (Christians believe in the New Testament which doesn’t coincide with the Old Testament that depicts God as one who smites and hardens hearts). 

Romans 8:28 (NIV) tell us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” If we look at death as a punishment for those who die, then we can’t believe this verse, but if we know that something better awaits us, any “punishment” seems to fall on those left behind.  What is promised, I think, is that God will help us make lemonade out of the lemons because we need meaning to our lives and what happens to us. Life isn't meant to be punishment.

We might rephrase the question, “Why does God let things like this happen?” to “Does God really love us?” That’s what it really comes down to in the end. Ergo, if God loved us, He wouldn’t let this happen.  But when God does let tragedy happen, I must believe He makes it part of a greater good. 

I don’t mean that anything could ever replace the incredible loss that has befallen this family, or any other family who loses a loved one. But I do wonder if God will use this tragedy to protect thousands of others from injury. Perhaps, He is protecting a future president or the person who will ultimately find a cure for cancer. We don’t know what God has in mind, but I’ve learned to trust that whatever it is, He will replace some of the evil in this world with what is good.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 - Already My Year to Remember!

Aside from five different health issues since January that ranged from calcium crystals in the ear canal that caused dizziness, to eye infections due to allergens, it's been a monumental year. I'd like to share some of the current and upcoming reasons for which I feel especially blessed.

For the second year in a row, I will have a story printed in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas anthology. This year, the book is titled Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas, and it is due out October 18. If you've ever been interested in our family's gingerbread creations, I think you'll appreciate the story. This year, there may even be a picture of the one noted in my submission.

Also, another story that is soon to be published is included in the Hometown Memories anthology for northeast Kansas. That story details the heartwarming event where Bill Self gave my late husband the experience of a lifetime while Steve battled terminal cancer. 

Add to the anthologies, this fall will see publication of my first published children's book titled An Afternoon with the Christmas Angel. I will have a short introduction of the book on my webpage in late September. For any parent struggling with the secular and non-secular aspects of the season, it's a fun and educational story to give to children 3 to 10 years old. (A precocious two year old might even enjoy it). Since the business of early childhood was my background, it's about time I published a  children's book!

Now if I add these soon to be released works to my story included in the mystery anthology of Murder at the Liberty Ballroom: Anthology of mystery, thrillers and suspense, it explains how some of my time has been spent this year. 

In a few weeks, I'll introduce you to a wonderful memoir written by a friend, and for which I served as editor. It's a fascinating book from someone who worked for Billy Graham, served as an early Regional Director for Habitat for Humanity, smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, and much more. Even if I weren't the editor, I would recommend this entertaining and enlightening book to everyone! It's titled A Journey Worth Taking: God, M.S. and Me.

In July, my son and I submitted a patent application for a new type of adult walker. It is nothing like anything currently available and it is a vast improvement. I am hopeful that this will be a benefit to many people and enable me to maybe become a better philanthropist.

So what does all this mean? It is simply evidence of how blessed I am! Romans 12:16 (NIV) states:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." I thank God that He has helped me to identify mine and given me the opportunity to use them to do a little good in this world, now and in the future. I don't have any delusions of grandeur; I know where my inspiration and talents originate. God gets the credit - I'm just fortunate to be the vessel!