Category Archives: Christian Growth

Discipleship topics

My 4 Fathers


How many fathers have you had? Were they good ones? I’ve had 3 dads in my life +1 – all of whom brought something special into my life that have contributed to who I am and what I am becoming.

My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.

Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.

My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC.  He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.

James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.

As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.

He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.

Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.”  And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.

At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”

So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.

My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.

I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.

Dad  Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.

All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as:  generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.

But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.

I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.

Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.

©2011, Marcy Alves

 

Mom by Birth, by Choice, by Design


love you momHow do you define “mother”? “Bing” dictionary defines “mother” as a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the egg which in union with a sperm grew into a child;  a female parent.”

I find those definitions to be inadequate. Because being a real mother has more to do with caring nurture, not an accidental relationship. Most women I know are moms by birth, by choice, or by God’s unique design; they are either “momming” their own children, motherless kids, pets, friends, elderly parents, or other needy people (my husband would jokingly add “even their husbands”).

I have had two special “moms” in my life, one by birth and the other by God-created circumstance.

My birth mom gave me life, as well as birthing 6 other children – 3 prior to me and 3 after.  She took care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself – which to me was when I was about age 6 and thought I didn’t need anyone to take care of me or tell me what to – until I got hungry or was afraid of the dark or got sick. My mom taught me to read by reading books with me, cut out paper dolls with me, made sure I attended school, and saw that I was fed and dressed for the weather. She listened to me when I needed to talk, corrected me when I tried to put the blame on others, defended me from my 2 older brothers until I was old enough to fight back, and was always available as a stay-at-home-mom  – which gave me a great degree of security. She died while I was in college. You can read more about her in a previous blog post,

Shortly after I graduated from college, the Lord gave me another “mom”. She is still Mom to me. She was my pastor’s wife, a totally different person from my birth mom. She was a “birthless” mom, in the sense of physically bearing children. But she heart-adopted several young women, of which I am one.  I was very involved in her life of ministry. She mentored me and encouraged me in my endeavors to serve the Lord. She involved me in the ministry of the church by taking into account my abilities, gifts and passions and channeling them. She made me a part of her retreats, special events, etc. by allowing me to use my musical gifts. She even launched me into teaching seminars on her retreats, even though I was untested and she knew that there were areas of disagreement on a few theological issues.

My second mom and her husband also involved me in their personal lives, invited me to share their vacations at the ocean and at their cottage on a lake in the Pocono Mountains. After I married, my husband, David was also included as one of the family. My second mom was Dorothy Worth, better known as “Dot”. “Mom Dot” took an interest in my romantic life and often gave me her counsel on different boyfriends or tried to steer me toward those she was more favorable toward. She took me on shopping trips and taught me by her lifestyle how to do hospitality in the home.

Whereas my birth mom was a home-body, shy and a bit reclusive, countrified, unsure of herself in many areas, my second mom was confident, out-going and full of energy.

My birth mom was a “good woman”, open to God, but not knowledgeable about the Bible or spiritual things. I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord Jesus during my first year of college.  My adopted mom was a radio Bible teacher, who spent time in the word and in prayer. She gave me guidance and helped to round out my spiritual development. Later in her life, following a serious stroke, she was confined to a wheelchair, and lived in a total life-care facility in Lancaster, PA. Even there she played a big part in my life – encouraging and praying for me. She also played a mean game of Scrabble, challenging me whenever I visited her. She also keept up with the Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. Mom Dot passed away on December 21, 2016 at the age of 92. I really miss tlking with her on the phone and reading to her from her Facebook page as her eyesight faded more and more.

Both moms – by birth and by God’s direction are very special to me. They both had a profound effect on my life. They were both caring nurturers, each in her own way.

I have not birthed a child. My daughters are “born” out of a heart relationship with me and my husband. They are heart adoptions. We recently moved in with our special daughter, Tmmy, and her husband, Lew. The others live a distance away, but there is still a heart-connection. Whether by birth or God’s design, mothering can be very fulfilling.

A friend of ours was unable to bear children, so she and her husband adopted 7 children of mixed racial and national backgrounds. She is a super mom who home-schools her kids, teaches them about God’s creation through outdoor schooling, shows them self-reliance by involving them in gardening and raising chickens, and loves them into the kingdom of God.

Another “childless” friend of ours is a free-lance “social worker”.  She does not work for  an agency, but through her church and social contacts is always “mothering” people who need encouragement, help, caring nurture – no matter their age.  Another friend who is single, invests herself in the lives of troubled youth. She has a “mom” heart.

If you are a “wannabe” mom who has not been able to conceive or carry a child to term or are unmarried and beyond the age of childbirth possibility, ask God to connect you with someone who needs a caring relationship – child or young adult – that you can minister to by loving nurture. Be a mom to someone who has longed to have a mother to encourage, counsel and care for him or her. I can testify from both sides of the picture that being a “mom” by birth, by choice, or by design is a very important and fulfilling role.

 

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

Living in Light of the Resurrection


 

empty tombI woke up on “Good Friday” a few years back, thinking of the day more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was crucified.

I wondered how something so sad, like the death of a righteous man on a cross could be called “good”. It seems that it should be called “sad” or “disappointing” based on the way the disciples of Jesus must have felt on that day.

Can you picture it? The one you had counted on who was going to rescue you from Rome; the hope of the Jewish people who would change the way religion was done, was now hanging on a cross – suffering the same fate as thieves and other law-breakers. How can that be good?

The events of that original Friday would have been justifiably the saddest day in the lives of the disciples if another promised event had not taken place on the Sunday that followed. The victory of the cross over sin and death was climaxed by the resurrection. Without the resurrection it would not have been a victory at all – not then and not now. And the church of Christ would not have survived into the 21st century.

The apostle Paul said several things about resurrection:

I Cor. 15:13-17,32

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

The empty tomb sealed the deal.  Death could not hold Jesus down. And it doesn’t have to hold you down – His resurrection opened the way for us, a door into life – not only in the future, but right here and right now.

In a sense, what happened on Friday of that first “Easter” weekend needs to happen in each of our lives, in order for it’s intended purpose to benefit us.  A personal “crucifixion” has to take place:

Gal. 2:20a – “I am crucified with Christ:” says the apostle Paul.

I hadve to die to myself to come to Christ. Everyone of us who has had a true conversion experience has to come to this conclusion: there is nothing I can do to save myself, to get myself right with God; Jesus did that for me on the cross – He made a way for me to get right with God.

Thank God, Jesus was raised from the dead! And because of His resurrection, I too can share in that resurrected life:

Gal. 2:20:  “ . . . nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)

I don’t have to wait until I die physically to experience a resurrection. When I died to myself at the foot of the cross of Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for my sins and giving up doing it on my own, He raised me up spiritually. I have already been resurrected in Him. Now I am truly alive – and the life I live is His life in me.

The challenge for all of us is to reckon that we are dead to the old ways and now are freed to live in the light of the resurrection – for

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new is here.” 2 Cor. 5:17

That’s what is good about “Good Friday” – it had in view what was to come, and paved the way for us to be able to walk in the light and power of the resurrection, right here, right now.

Are you experiencing resurrection life?

The message of resurrection life is captured in a song from one of my music CD’s. Hope you enjoy it:

We Are the Reason

©2011, Marcy Alves, revised 2015

Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day: Saints or Sinners?


Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?

What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?

The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.

Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent,  St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland  March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.

After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly.  He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.

There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.

Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.

Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.

Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.

We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.

As Gal. 4:6-7 says:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.

I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

©2012, Marcy Alves

re-posted 2013

Related Post:

St. Patrick Was a Protestant!!

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 4


Part 4 of 4

2014 calendar #2In my three earlier posts regarding Christmas traditions that teach our children leading up to this final installment, I dealt with the reality that our kids learn by our example and specific illustrations and activities; about how we first need to focus on Jesus, then focus on others instead of ourselves. But we also need to set the tone for Christmas all year. Following are some ways to do that:

Prepare for Christmas All Year

  • For your child’s own birthday, plan a special day with presents, activities, and individual time. This will set the stage for doing the same for Jesus on His birthday.
  • During the year, buy things your children are asking for in the way of clothes (both necessities and treats) as you can afford them and give them to the kids before Christmas. Each time you buy them something, explain that Christmas time will be time for giving to Jesus. Set them up for it – create excitement and expectation by the following:
  • Save money in a special bank all year for a Christmas gift to Jesus (have everyone in the family contribute toward this gift, or have each family member save in their own private bank) — and give the money or the gifts which you will buy with the money just before Christmas either to your church or to a particular mission or para-church organization, for use to bring Christmas joy and the message of Christ to a child or family. Think Christmas Child or Angel Tree or World Vision or the Salvation Army, for instance.
  • If you give to the general ministry of an organization, have your kids write an accompanying letter or card with the gift(s), explaining how they saved all year toward this gift for Jesus and His work.
  • Encourage your child to make gifts — have the whole family make their Christmas gifts for others. Plan time in September or October to decide what gifts the family will make and to whom they will be given. Have a gift-wrapping night for these homemade gifts when the whole family does wrapping together (except for those prepared for family members who are present at the time.)

Additional Suggestions

1. Set realistic prices on purchased gifts for family and others – refuse to go into debt to satisfy your child’s every whim or to buy “guilty conscience gifts”. Buy some things during the year and take advantage of some great sales during the “off season” of retail sales, but wrap them closer to your gift-giving day so you don’t forget what you already bought.

2. Keep individual gifts to family members at no more than 2 or 3 gifts each, if they are purchased ones.

3. Create a festive atmosphere during the two weeks before Christmas – in preparation for the big celebration. Plan time for fun things together– like a special musical, a play or movies with the Christmas theme, (i.e., A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.). Make a huge family bowl of popcorn to share together.

4. Help your children look forward to the season, without gifts to them being the focus of their attention.

  • Give special privileges during the holidays, such as taking turns with the lighting of the advent candles;
  • Plan all-nighters or late nights watching videos together as a family or doing a fun activity with special friends;
  • Get together with other families to attend special church Christmas events or Christmas exhibits;
  • Spend an evening driving around to see Christmas lights;
  • Go caroling to neighbors or shut-ins or patients at convalescence facilities.

Realize that if your children are already older, the re-education will take time and work. If you do this joyfully, they will soon enter into that joy. Both parents must be equally enthusiastic about it. Encourage your children to ask their friends to join your family for some of the special occasions.

Share these ideas with other families in your church, with your extended family and with your close circle of friends. It would be very encouraging and helpful to the cause of a Christ-filled Christmas if your kids can see others doing similar sacrificial, life-instructive things during the Advent season.

Ask God to help you to come up with creative ideas for your own family with it’s own special needs. Keep the themes of “joy” and “praise” in your thoughts, speech, actions and activities during the Christmas season. For God Himself inhabits the praises of His people.

Hope this four-part series has been helpful and encouraging.

Have a wonderful, Christ-filled, blessed Christmas season!!!

©2011, Marcy Alves (edited 2012)

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 3


Part 3 of 4

In two earlier blogs I began to share some ways to make your celebration of Christmas a joyful time, instead of a period of tiresome, meaningless rituals that have little to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ, and leave you an exhausted, bundle of raw nerves. You and your family need to first refocus on Jesus. Then you can properly . . .

Focus On Others

1. Emphasize to your kids that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. Teach them how to be generous toward God by giving to others:

a. As a family, help to serve a meal in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day.

b. Let the kids help to make and serve a special Christmas meal in your own home to which you invite homeless people, or neighbors who have no place to go for the holiday, or people from your church who have no family in the area–single people, elderly adults, or foreigners and aliens residing in your town or neighborhood.

c. Visit someone in a nursing home or a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.

d. Bake cookies for neighbors, shut-ins, or service people (the postman, garbage collector, etc.), considering dietary limitations if you are aware of them, such as those of diabetics.

e. Send a money gift to a Christian organization that deals with world or national hunger, housing for the homeless, etc., in the name of someone on your list who is hard to buy for. Have your children write a card to the person in whose name you are making the gift, explaining what your family did in that person’s name.

2. While your child is still young, teach him/her about personal generosity that reflects God’s generosity to us. Let’s face it: none of us were born with natural generosity. We learn how to be generous by example and teaching from others.

David and I have some friends who encouraged their young son to select a few of his Christmas gifts, before opening them, to take to less fortunate children. He learned to give. Today, as an adult, he donates time and money to such enterprises as Habitat for Humanity. Several other families have their children give some of their toys that are in good condition to children who have none; or to spend some of their own money to purchase gifts to send to a less fortunate child somewhere in the world.

More to come . . . Part 4

©2011, Marcy Alves

edit and re-post 2012

Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith


How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?

Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.

As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day;  in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.

Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.

In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of  gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.

Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:

  • a roof over your head
  • food to eat
  • clothes on your back
  • friends (come on, you must have at least one)
  • family
  • your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
  • freedom of speech (while we still have it),
  • a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
  • a sunrise or sunset,
  • trees and flowers,
  • snow, rain and early morning dew
  • the ability to walk unassisted
  • the ability to read
  • the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
  • art and music
  • hundreds of other things

A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21).  In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:

 “ . . .  Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).

When should we give thanks and for what?

Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  . . .  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.

Col. 2:6-7  ”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.

Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.

May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

©2013, Marcy Alves


Pastor Appreciation: Saying “Thanks”


When is the last time you said, “Thank you” to your pastor or priest? Or have you ever done it? October is “Clergy Appreciation Month”. It’s a time to say, “Thank you for your service,” as we stop to think about the pivotal role of “pastor” in the life and health of the local church body. This is a national awareness month, a time when we honor those men and women whose vocational ministry and spiritual calling is to nourish, instruct, and shepherd the sheep in their appointed area of God’s spiritual pasture.

These are men and women who have been called by God and have responded to that call by committing their lives to training disciples of Jesus and equipping their congregants to do the work of the ministry in their individual areas of gifting.

This is no easy task.

There are many sheep whose inclination is to wander off from the flock and become prey for predators, to be obstinate and un-teachable, to butt and bite the other sheep, to become “cast down” so that they can’t get up without help, or to become sickly from eating the wrong food.

My husband, David (who is a pastor) and I have been watching ABC’s documentary on the tape recordings of First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States. On those forty+ year-old recordings she spoke of the terrible loneliness her husband experienced as he tackled the affairs of State, his sleepless nights, his doubts and fears over decisions he had made, and the tears he shed over the failure and loss of life resulting from such decisions gone bad, such as at the Bay of Pigs.

My heart is drawn to Mrs. Kennedy in her obvious compassion for her husband.  I identify with her sense of the weight of the burdens he bore, and with her desire to ease his distress. Although the responsibilities of the pastor do not compare with the weighty decisions of the President of the USA and their possible consequences of national importance, like the President, that’s where the buck stops if something goes wrong. And though the pastor is not involved in international wars, the spiritual impact of a pastor can have eternal results in the battle for good over evil.

Anyone who has not been a pastor cannot imagine the stresses and energy drain of pastoral ministry and the on-going spiritual warfare that is part of such ministry. Pastoral ministry can be an extremely lonely existence for the pastor, and for his wife and family.

I have watched my husband (my pastor) agonize in prayer over the course our church body should take and when things didn’t work out, to wonder about his ability to hear God. I’ve seen him flounder under undeserved criticism and misunderstsanding, fight against feelings of rejection or failure when families have left for greener pastures, wonder if he’s in the right place and if he should leave the pastoral ministry, puzzle over the lack of comprehension when he’s preached and taught what he believes is the heart of the Father – with sometimes little visible results. I’ve seen his struggle to accept a phone call when he’s already exhausted.

No one in his right mind who knew ahead of time about the temporal and spiritual challenges of pastoral ministry would choose such a vocation. Most of us who have been personally involved for any extended length of time (say, more than a year?) can no longer be casual or callused about the struggles inherent in pastoral ministry.

I have been a pastor’s wife for 20+ years now. Four of those years we were in local church youth/family pastoral ministry while also in part-time itinerant ministry. We also spent about 10 years in strictly itinerant ministry. Neither the years of youth-pastor ministry, nor the years of itinerancy,  during which we ministered to many pastoral couples, prepared us for the role of full-time local pastoral ministry.

We blush a bit now at the presumptions of some of our early “Come Away” ministries – four-day weeks of small group outreach to pastors and their spouses. We were encouraged as we watched their tensions lessen and their tired faces reflect some easement of their ministry stress.  But we did not know by personal experience the feelings of defeat and futility that pastors and their spouses often felt over their local church ministries. We now know it firsthand.

Besides the smile of our Heavenly Father that we feel in His presence, the warmth of His love that drains off the stress and exhaustion of pastoral ministry, there is one other thing that keep us going:  the expressions of gratitude from our church family.  There are things that make it all worthwhile: words of appreciation, the “ah-ha” reflected on the face of a congregant who “gets it” as he/she opens like a flower to the work of the Spirit, a simple “Thank you for that message”, or a sincere hug as someone leaves the worship service. And once in a while a card, or a gift, or a dinner invitation. Or we hear the pride in a voice as it says, “I’d like you to meet my pastor,” or, “You ought to visit our church sometime.”

If you are a member of a church, I’d like to challenge you – this month, this week, today – to think of a way to thank your pastor for his commitment and service to the Lord, to you, and to the rest of the church body. And if there is a clergy person from your past who positively affected your life, take a moment to contact him/her and say, “Thank you for caring about me and having an influence on my life. I’m a different person because of your influence.”

If you have a pastor for whom you are thankful, how about jotting down a few sentences and sending them to me. I’d like to include them in a post before the end of October. Also, share this post with others and remind them to thank their pastors.

Thank you!

©2011, Marcy Alves

This post is a re-post of an article from October of 2011. There is a sequel coming this week on ideas to express thanks to your pastor(s), entitled How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor.

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 2


So, you finally decided what to give your pastor as a gift for pastor appreciation month. Maybe you decided to share verbal or written approval, or a kind deed to express your thanks.  But is what church members do once a year enough to truly let a pastor know that people are glad he is serving their church or parish?

October is “Clergy Appreciation Month”. In a previous blog post I shared some “hands-on” ways to express appreciation to your pastor. In this post, I would like to share some basic “attitudinal” ways to let your pastor know you are on his team and appreciate his team leadership.

Gifts, deeds and words are important ways to express appreciation for your pastor, but attitude gifts keep on giving. There are three attitudinal areas I would like to address in this post: consideration, respect and trust.

  • Consideration

Most pastors are on call 24/7, especially in a small church with a one man staff. There are days when the telephone never stops ringing – not just from current parishioners. In our church, people have learned to practice consideration in their calling. David and I take our weekly Sabbath on Mondays: our New Life family members don’t call us on that day – unless it’s an emergency. They also don’t call after 9:00 PM, if something can wait until the next day.

About 3½ years ago, my husband’s stress level sent him into a depression – there were mitigating causes, including a mini-stroke (his), plus my diagnosis of breast cancer the year before. Our small church (aided by our church Association) helped us to have a 6-month paid sabbatical. This was a gift motivated by consideration for our needs. My husband came back from that sabbatical a very refreshed man.

There are people who ask my husband for personal time, over breakfast or lunch. He eats out frequently. With our personal budget and our current church budget, there is little to cover such costs. It’s always a blessing when the person requesting the mealtime mentoring also offers to pick up the tab. Though it’s a small thing, it’s a consideration that means a lot to us.

Allowing your pastor to not have to attend every church calendar event is also considerate, especially if the church is a large, program-oriented church. The most important “work” things your pastor should give his/her time to is prayer, study, mentoring others, and preparation of Bible studies and weekly messages. He need not be the one who prays at every church function.

Another consideration: it’s very important that your pastor have down-time for rejuvenation and personal family time. He will not be of much good to you if his family or marriage is falling apart from neglect, in order to meet your personal needs or wants.

  • Respect

1 Thess. 5:12-13 instructs the church:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” ESV

It’s hard for a pastor to minister to the people if there is a lack of respect for him and the calling of God on his life. If your pastor has applied himself to ministry preparation through additional years of specialized education, that commitment should garner respect.  His/her care for the flock in continual preparation of sermons or special seminars, individual discipleship, time with members who have special emergency needs, and prayers for the body deserve respectful acknowledgment.

1 Tim. 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”  NRSV

The office to which God has called your pastor should also to be respected, just as in public areas of appointed or elected authority.

  • Trust

Appreciation for your pastor is also demonstrated in trust. Trust that he has the congregation’s welfare in mind when he has to make determinations in areas that call for leadership, admonishment, or correction is essential. Trust in his knowledge of and ability to teach the Word, his understanding of how to apply the the truths of Scripture, and his discernment of God’s desires for the congregation at any given time are very important.

That trust should carry over in those times of personal disagreement regarding doctrine, decisions on church polity, or other church issues; in such situations trust is demonstrated by an open mind and a humble, teachable spirit. Cordial, productive discussions are easy when mutual trust is at work.

As you contemplate “Pastor Appreciation Month” and how to effectively express appreciation to your pastor, I hope this post will be helpful to you. Remember, pastors and other church workers need appreciation all year long – one month a year can’t make up for lack of appreciation during the rest of a year.

How are you doing in the areas I have mentioned of attitudinal gifts? Do you need to polish them up a bit? Or to ask God to give you an attitude change?

Pastor Appreciation Month – October


thank you pic 2014

October has been designated for many years as Pastor Appreciation Month. I can verify that a little sincere appreciation goes a long way with these men and women who are serving the body of Christ by following God’s call on their lives. I have written several posts on the need for such a service to your pastors, and on how to best express such appreciation: links to those blog posts are listed below.

Also, I would like to add to my suggestions in those articles for a possible gift for your pastor; it’s a book written by my husband specifically geared to pastors. It is entitled “A Sabbatical Primer for Pastors“, and encourages your pastors to take needed breaks from ministry for personal refreshment and spiritual rejuvenation. It is available in both print and e-book versions. A sequel to that book is also available “A Sabbatical Primer for Churches” – this book will help guide local churches in exactly how to provide such times of spiritual refreshment and nourishment for their pastors and other full-time church workers.

It’s very important to honor those who serve us in their service to the Lord Jesus. I pray a special blessing on those who take the time to encourage their pastors and church leaders.

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

Pastor Appreciation: Saying “Thanks”

Pastor’s Wife: Called or Drafted?

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 1

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 2

Pastor’s Wife: Called or Drafted

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