Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Ah-Ha Christmas Moment

I'm unsure of where it came from, but just as I was going to sleep last night, a revelation occurred - there is a difference between celebrating Christmas and celebrating Jesus' birth! Duh! That may not sound profound, but for someone who thinks in secular versus non-secular, it was surprisingly quite provocative.

Most Christians are aware of why we celebrate the season and the true meaning of Christmas, but isn't it remarkable that so many others "celebrate" it too? For one short period of time, many understand the best of what Christmas means in caring for, and having good will for those in need.

Of course family togetherness is also a part of Christmas that non-Christians define only as intimate family, while Christians see family as including the brotherhood of man. It's just unfortunate some don't recognize why all this wonderfulness of Christmas came about. Still, I'm thrilled anytime anyone acts to improve the lives of those less fortunate, even if it might only be for a short time.

Recently, I wrote a children's book called An Afternoon with the Christmas Angel. Although I intended it to be available this year, I decided to wait in order to add additional illustrations and changes. I want it to be perfect. It's seasonal, but also timeless, so one more year will not affect its marketability.

The story is about a little boy who still believes in Santa, but is in dire need of finding out what Jesus' birth has meant and still means to the world. It's awareness of the fact that much of what is right with this world is, in fact, due to the birth of Christ. After all, it was Jesus who stressed brotherly love, caring for each other, peace and justice. Too bad, even some Christians, fail to follow his teachings.

In any case, Christmas is a time for all mankind to rejoice. It's a time of giving, not taking, and for understanding the humanity that binds us all. That alone is worth celebrating, but as a Christian, I'm going to celebrate a lot more than just that, and for a lot longer than just a season.

Merry Christmas (and I'll be saying that a lot more in the ensuing 3 weeks)!

Monday, November 28, 2016

I'm Ready!

Last year, I had a little difficulty getting into the Christmas spirit. I enjoyed all the excitement of the season, but it took a while to "feel it." This year is different.

More than three weeks ago, my son and daughter-in-law (who would put up her tree on Labor Day if my son allowed it), unexpectedly dropped in saying, "We're here to help you put up your tree and decorate." Who am I to argue about putting the tree up approximately two weeks before Thanksgiving?"

As a former preschool and corporate director, I've managed to keep the "kid" within me alive. My faith plays an important part in how I celebrate the season, but there is still that child-like wonder with a touch of magic that lingers.

This year, I've been on the fringe of the Christmas spirit since late May when I purchased two special gifts for my sons at a fundraiser. This was followed by the shopping channels' Christmas in July promotions, and I've been buying ever since. That is why, when most people are just beginning to shop, I'm finished!

Last year, I finished early too, and it allowed me to focus more on what mattered. That's what ultimately got me into the Christmas spirit, and that made it easy to decide what to do this year. I'll give to charities as usual, read all the Christmas books I want, watch all the Christmas movies I want, and decide what special things I can do for others.

If I choose to shop and not just give a check to help those in need, it will be a special event for me - it will feel differently than buying for my family and friends. There is just something within our nature that makes us feel good to do acts of kindness without seeking anything in return.

Matthew 6:4 (NIV) states: "...so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." While I believe that we can share ideas (not boast) for doing good things as a way to encourage others, God knows how much fun it is for us to share our blessings. I am grateful that He lets me participate in that manner, and lets me truly "feel" the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Integrity: Not Just for Individuals

Dictionary.com defines integrity as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." Interestingly enough, those are some of the same characteristics commanded in the Bible, but also highly valued by most of us.

Often we think of integrity as an individual trait, but businesses can also be designated as having such -  it just depends on who's running it and who's representing it. As a former customer service manager, I believe that we should praise such individuals and companies that demonstrate integrity through customer service. A business truly shows its integrity, not just by the product it offers, but how it handles the inevitable problems that arise. Thus, my praise for a USA-based company, and please read the entire scenario.

I use a mobility scooter, and during the past 15 years or so, I've had three. The first two served me very well. My most recent one, however, turned out to be a lemon after only a year and a half, and I was most fortunate that the manufacturer was one of integrity.  

Less than six months of owning my scooter, a repair had to be made when the scooter would travel about 10 feet, beep several times, and then shut down. The handle that controls the seat position also had a portion break off. Fortunately, one of my old scooters was available to use while I awaited someone to fix the new one.

A few months later, the seat began to rip at the seams, followed by a rip in the rubber on the handle, chunks of the rubber tires fell out, and the inner tire hubcaps broke off when scraping against the vertical part of a door frame.  That was soon followed by more ripping on the seat where no stress occurs. 

There was no way that this scooter would last five years before I would be eligible for a new one. So, I handled this in the manner it should be handled - I nicely wrote to the President of Golden Technologies, a family-owned company that manufactured the scooter. 

My first letter was via postal mail, but when no response was received, I emailed the company. They had glowing reviews from others so I knew that something must be amiss. I also realized, that despite best efforts, manufacturing can still produce an infrequent sub-par product. Since this product was made in the USA by an American company, I was hopeful that was the case with my scooter.

Shortly after sending that second correspondence, I received a nice email from the executive assistant, Mary Walsh. I emailed pictures of the problems to her, and after several emails, it was arranged to have contact from one of their division heads. 

The end result was communication with the person who handles the mobility tech service, Mark Mrugal. He provided excellent customer service and kept me informed of how resolution was occurring through phone calls and email. Thanks to him, I received a completely new steering shaft with handles, three new tires, a new seat, and a new shroud kit (the color pieces on a scooter). 

So what can be learned from this? Integrity (both individual and cumulative) makes this world a better place because it's basically a true gauge of how we value one another. As a side effect, it's also a good business trait as it produces customer loyalty. Thank you, Golden Technologies, for demonstrating your integrity and making my world a little better place!

(Check out Matthew 18:15-16 to learn how the Bible says to resolve issues that arise. It works with businesses as well as other people). :-)

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!