Category Archives: God Encounters

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

 

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!!

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’s Wife: Called or Drafted?


?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????October is “Pastor Appreciation Month”. This is an article with a different slant which deals with the need to encourage your pastor’s wife. I want to give you an inside look at what life might be like for your pastor’s wife.

“Most mornings I wake up with a sense of purpose, destiny, direction, and confidence to begin a new day.  At other times I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Did I volunteer, or was I drafted?’ ”

That’s the way I began an article written in 2006 for a newsletter that featured women in ministry, whose vocation included being a pastor’s wife. I revisited that article and realized that I’d lost some of the optimism of five years prior. I was in one of those places where “purpose, destiny, direction and confidence” seem to be shrouded, as if a fog had moved in to obscure my vision.

Maybe twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry can do that to you? One thing I know: those of us who find ourselves in this fogged-in place can easily become disenchanted with people-ministries.

Being a pastor’s wife can be one of the loneliest occupations in the world. It’s one thing to look at the pastorate through rose-colored glasses, how fulfilling it will be, how much you can help people and how grateful they will be for the help. The truth of the matter is that some of the people you help most will not be grateful. Sometimes they will resent you, be angry with you, take sides against you, talk behind your back, resist your husband’s leadership, and complain about how you don’t reach out to them.

Others in whom you invest time and energy and love will be gracious, friendly, accommodating, supportive, co-operative – all the things that encourage you in the ministry – and then leave for greener pastures during plateaus or tough times in the church or in your personal life. Those of us who are pastor’s wives feel the pain – it’s very hard not take it personally. It’s a sense of desertion – like a divorce.

So what would make anyone crazy enough to take on this role?  For most of us, it simply came with the territory; we married someone who became a pastor, so we in tandem became a pastor’s wife. It’s not a role that we always enjoy, though it is sometimes very rewarding; especially when you see someone grow spiritually because of your investment in their lives,  your encouragement toward spiritual things, your prayers for them, or just your friendship with them. It’s also rewarding when someone appreciates those investments.

There is something else that helps us not only to cope, but to find pleasure in fulfilling our particular ministry role: that coping mechanism is a sense of “calling”.

What do I mean by a “sense of calling”? The “calling” is three-fold:

  • First, the pastor’s wife is called to Christ by the Spirit of God. A woman who is not sure of her own salvation would do best not to marry a man with a pastoral gift and office. If her life is not dedicated to loving and serving her Savior, she will burn out very quickly in church ministry.

I believe that my first “call” is to minister to the Lord God Himself.  I am becoming more and more convinced that until I get this part right, all other ministry will have little eternal effect for the kingdom.

Sometimes in the midst of the busyness of ministering to others, I sense my Father God calling me to come and sit down by Him for a while so that He can refresh me. He also wants me to minister to Him, as a cuddling child ministers to its parents; it’s a matter of “my child acknowledges her need of me”.

The “calling” has in it that sense of total dependence on God and deep love for the Father. When I focus on staying close to God, delighting in Him, the sense of “calling” on my life increases.

A true calling of God does not end.  Rom. 11:29 . . .  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Is this different than any believer’s “call” to discipleship? I believe it is. It takes a special unction from the Spirit to hold up under the spiritual attacks that come against ministry couples and their families and to continue loving those who can drain you.

  • Second, the pastor’s wife has a “calling” to her husband.  Even if she is involved in the activities of church ministry, she must be able to create a space of peace and contentment for her husband. She needs to be a safe harbor for him – not just to minister to him, but to help protect him from other women who might try to fill the void if she leaves it vacant.

The pastor’s wife must be a consoler, good company, a playmate, an encourager, a sounding board, a counselor or confessor, a good listener, and a sympathetic friend.

So many ministry couples have ship-wrecked because the wife does not recognize, desire, or know how to fill this calling to be her husband’s helpmate.

A pastor’s wife who does not have a strong sense of “calling” will have a hard time with the stresses of pastoral life.  She can easily grow to resent the time and energy commitments that pastoring necessitates, both her husband’s and her own.

Though on paper the pastor’s job description does not include time commitments from his wife, and even though she is not obligated in any way by written or verbal contracts, there are usually unspoken expectations regarding her role in the church body.

In a small church, often it is expected that the pastor’s wife should fill in where there are church needs within her skill areas. She should do the recruiting for or planning of special events. She should envision and implement the vision for women’s outreach, participate in the women’s missionary program – or head-up that group. She should be able and willing to teach kids’ church or lead the youth program.  She should also do one-on-one ministry with women in the church,visit the elderly shut-ins.  Such are some of the expectations, often unspoken, that a congregation may subtly impose on a pastor’s wife.

I remember the congregational interview prior to our coming to our current pastoral situation where the question was asked, “And what ministry will Marcy be doing when you [my husband] comes here as pastor?” To which my husband responded that we would wait for the Lord to lead me in that regard. (Yes, I have a good man.)

Not only is it often expected – by church members or by herself – that the pastor’s wife will fill-in the ministry vacancies in the small church, but, if the salary afforded the pastor cannot cover his family’s personal living expenses, there is often the suggestion that his wife should get a job to make up the difference.

  • Third, the pastor’s wife has a calling to care for her family. If there are no natural born children, you can bet there are “heart adoptions” that are subject to compassion and energy drainage. Plus considerations of responsibility to both her extended family and her husband’s extended family and the reality of aging parents.

If your pastor’s wife has been involved in ministry for only a short time, maybe the glow of that role has not worn off, but the loneliness of the position might already have set in. And if she has been ministering for many years, you can know for sure that emoional and spiritual reserves have been seriously called upon if not depleted.

If you have never thought of the kinds of on-going pressure on your pastor’s wife that I have mentioned – both in her ministry and personal life, perhaps you should make an opportunity to consider her this week; pray for her, ask the Lord how you can bless her, and take the time to speak an encouraging word to her.

What will you do this week to encourage and brighten your “PW’s” day?

©2011, Marcy Alves

Related articles

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

Labor Day: Honoring the Working Class


One of my favorite national holidays is Labor Day – a special day off to honor the working class and extend a weekend to give people time to catch their breath. It closes the curtain on summer and welcomes autumn to end the summer heat.  It means town parades, backyard barbecues with family and friends, and the last hurrah before school gets into full swing.

For me Labor Day creates a lot of nostalgia, going back into childhood. As a child growing up in Virginia, the day marked the end of summer freedom and the beginning of the school year. It was also the end of fun times with my dad, taking us to the swimming place (a freshwater mountain pool) and playing softball with me and my 5 brothers in our backyard. It meant mornings began earlier and nights got dark sooner.

My nostalgic memories of Labor Day also include adult years. My husband and I enjoyed Labor Day weekends for about 30 years with my spiritual parents at their lake cottage in the Poconos Mountains of PA. The cottage had to be sold several years ago. I often feel the longing to return to the quiet of that cottage, with the sun shining off the lake, the sound of motor boats, the wind in the sails of our sailboat, and the the feel of the floating dock as it rose and fell with the moving water caused by the wake of motor boats entering the cove. I miss our annual lobster dinner shared with close friends and family.

According to the history of Labor Day in Wikipedia, this day to honor the American workforce was proposed by either Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who served as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York and/or by Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, in May 1882, influenced by the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada.

Oregon had the first official state Labor Day, followed by 30 other states. Then in 1894, Congress, under President Grover Cleveland, proclaimed the first Monday of September as the official national Labor Day.

I think that God would approve of the original intent of Labor Day, because He approves of labor. When He created the world and placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He gave them work to do:

Gen.1:28  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

That’s a pretty big job! And it was assigned to Adam and Eve and their offspring. He first told them to be fruitful (i.e., have lots of children), then to have dominion over everything that moves on the earth. Taking care of the earth involves a community effort, as it does today.

It really bothers me when David and I go for a walk on one of our local community streets and find trash that someone has left behind along the road or in the nearby creek or river. God’s creation deserves our care.

Gen. 2:8-9 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Gen. 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

God instituted the work ethic. He approves of the labor force. There are many verses in Scripture that deal with the benefits of honest labor, in contrast to the fruit that comes from laziness or putting your labor into the wrong things.

  •  Labor That Honors God

Psalm 128:2  Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Isaiah 3:10 “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.”

  •  Fruitless Labor

Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Isaiah 55:2 “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

  •  Abusive Force on Laborers

Habakkuk 2:12-13  “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

  •  Results of Laziness

2 Thess. 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ ”

Prov. 12:24 “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.”

  •  Working for God Pays Off

1 Cor. 15:8 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

I was raised with a “hard work pays off” ethic: that if I want something badly enough, I had to be willing to do the work it takes to get it; that I should not expect something for nothing; that if I take care of what I have it will last longer; that work is honorable; and that I should share with those who are willing to work, but are less fortunate with skills or have less opportunity than I have.

I have learned that in both temporal and spiritual labor, anything done to bring glory to my Heavenly Father is not done in vain, but I will see the rewards either in this life or in the life to come.

Happy Labor Day! May the Lord reward you as you seek to honor Him with the work of your hands.

©2012, Marcy Alves

Your Death on the Cross


Who was it that hung on the cross? It was a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a fornicator, a greedy person, a hardened criminal, a selfish person, an abuser, an addict, and the list goes on and on. But how can I say this? Am I a blasphemer against our Lord Jesus?

Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” NRSV

Jesus hung on the cross for us, in our place. He died for all kinds of sin, for all kinds of sinners. Think you’re not a sinner? I once thought I wasn’t. Keep reading.

Gal. 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  NRSV

I was a young teenager when God spoke to me about my personal sins by leading a speaker at a youth meeting to use the Scripture quoted above. I had not done really bad things, but I saw myself in the list of sins in the verses above. We were very poor and I had jealousy and envy and sometimes anger about not being able to have things I wanted to have or live in the kind of house where I could comfortably invite friends over. I also had a lot of pride, which is probably why I was ashamed about our house and our poverty.

We were all in big trouble before the crucifixion of Jesus. But thank God:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2: 24

I remember responding to an invitation the night of the youth meeting, to be cleansed from my sin. I told the Lord that I was wrong – I did have sin in my life – and that I was sorry. I asked for His forgiveness and He told me that because of Jesus death on the cross, I was already forgiven.  It felt like a warm blanket of love had been placed round my shoulders that night. I have never doubted from that night that God loves me and that I have access to the God of the universe now through Jesus. I was re-born that night.

According to the Scriptures, all who have been re-born by the Holy Spirit of God were “crucified with Christ” on that cross.

Gal. 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

You and I spiritually hung on the cross with Jesus – He felt our sin, our shame, our guilt. He took our punishment, our pain, our wounds into himself.  We have been set free.

Rom. 6:5-6 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, we who are born again by His Spirit also participate in that resurrection, both now and in the future when Jesus returns. The power that was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ is available to us to live the life we have been called to live – one of victory over sin in this earthly life and over death itself when the physical body “dies”. All this is through the gift of eternal life that was revealed in the resurrection of Christ and promised to all those who put their faith in Christ.  Halleluiah!

Forget the Easter bunnies and  colored eggs and chocolate candy. Praise the Lord that Jesus conquered death!

Happy Resurrection Day!!

 

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 4/19/2014)

The Ultimate Lover


Love ImaageValentine’s Day has arrived again, as it does every February 14th. There are exchanges of presents, cards and sentiments expressing someone’s desire to be your valentine, or for you to be theirs. Or if you are already someone’s “special person” the cards or gifts will reflect that relationship and the other person’s appreciation of what you mean to him/her. In most cases words of love will flow, both genuine and often not so genuine.

We all have a desire to be loved, it’s built into our psyche. It’s a need we all have, whether or not we recognize or acknowledge it. Not necessarily romantic love – but that sense that your existence in this world matters to someone. That it matters enough that your not being here in time-space any longer would cause a deep sadness to someone other than your dog or your cat.

We also have a need to love. I believe that is also part of our human nature. Our need to love is so deep a need that if there is no likely human prospect in our sights, we will often transfer our affection to our pets. Not that it’s wrong to care about our pets – but you could hardly call our connection with a pet a real “relationship”, where interchange of feelings, and ideals, and dreams can be mutually shared.

Perhaps I should reveal what I believe our two most basic human needs, to love and to be loved, really are. I believe that those two yearnings, along with our “conscience” are the few things that remain in humankind of the image of God from before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

You see, God is love. As such, He loves and desires to have that love returned. Our God is the God of relationship, as we see illustrated in Genesis when He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day to communicate with Adam and Eve. After their fall and the betrayal of His love, He had such a desire to return to that love relationship with His highest creation, humankind, that He came seeking the objects of His affection, by entering into the human experience in the person of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus, in a human body, experienced our humanness to relate it to the Father. And He came to relate the Father to us. He said, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father”.

Jesus came for more than just to reveal what the Father is like.  He actually came to make a way back to the Father. He came to quell the rebellion and to alter the results of the original rebellion against the Creator. He reconnected us to God.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10 NIV

God is the ultimate lover, who desires a return of affection from those He loves.

We all have known at some time the sadness of unrequited love – of unreturned affection – if not from a romantic enthrallment, then from an unreturned affection from a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance who caught our fancy. Is it hard to imagine that perhaps the God who is Himself “Love”, would also have a strong desire for a heart communion with His created beings?

This relational, loving God is revealed in the Bible from Genesis through Malachi in the Old Testament to Matthew through Revelation in the New Testament. He is a longing Deity, desiring relationship with His earthly family of humankind. It’s really an amazing love.

I remember seeing an ad in the newsletter of a Christian humanitarian organization which depicted a young sad-faced orphan girl in tattered clothing with the caption “Who will tell her that her Father loves her and is looking for her?”

If you are one of God’s “orphans” who has lost connection with your Heaven Father through some disappointment of choice of your own, I want to remind you that your Father is looking for you and desires to reconnect in a deeper more meaningful way than you have yet experienced.

If you have never realized that you can enter a “relationship” with Creator God, please consider and believe that He desires a heart connection with you. He wants to enter into that kind of love relationship with you through the gift of His Holy Spirit; for according to Romans 5:8:

” . . . hope will never disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

You and I will never find anyone who can love us as God loves us. His love is the kind of love that produces change in those with whom He is in relationship – and it’s always a change for the best of those He loves.

Don’t settle for a lesser love as the main love of your life than the love of the ultimate lover. And allow that love to work in you the kind of love you need to shape your love of others in your life.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Christmas: Is Something Missing?


empty mangerA young girl who helped me decorate for Christmas this year told me her dad doesn’t allow Christmas decorating at their house. He says that Americans get all involved in the show, but don’t think about what Christmas is really all about. All too often, I see his point of view.

Although I am acquainted with some Scrooge-like personalities, I personally love the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – Christmas being my absolute favorite holiday of the year. I love to decorate house and tree with things that carry memories of people and places of my life. I could write a history based on my collection of decoration items – antique ornaments from my parents’ Christmas collection, gift ornaments from friends and children I’ve worked with in youth groups over the years; home-made and store-bought – many with personal meaning.

My husband and I enjoy a night-time drive during Christmas time to enjoy the creative light displays. I enjoy the warmth of the season, sharing smiles with other shoppers, Christmas music in stores and on street corners. But often I come home with a feeling of “something is missing”.

There is a home-owner on our street who every year does a 1/4 acre Christmas light display, which was featured on our local NH network TV news show. The display is complete with Santas and sled, a minature helicopter, a ferris wheel, candy canes, carolers, and other entertaining light displays – you can even tune into music on the radio dial that the various displays are synchronized to – but amidst all the dazzling, flashing light images, not one image relates to the birth of Christ.

I have attended Christmas shows,  tree lighting events, school concerts, etc. over the years – both indoor and outdoor events -but often in recent years I have gone away feeling that something was missing.

Often the children sang or played “Christmas songs”, however, not one song even hinted at the real meaning of Christmas – no old standards such as “Silent Night”, “Away in a Manger”, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – nothing except Santa songs or the old standards like “White Christmas”, “Jingle Bells” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. Most often kids today don’t even know the lyrics or melodies to traditional Christmas caroles.

I can’t listen to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” without thinking of how misplaced Christmas awe and worship is in the secular culture today. It’s Santa who is reverenced during the Christmas season, not Christ.

Young children very often don’t realize that Santa is really dad, or mom, or granddad. They see Santa as a magical, mystical figure who watches them daily, or has an army of elves who spy for him, or an “elf on the shelf”  . . . sort of like . . . God and His angels – only not. Which results in being good not to please and be obedient to parents, but to get things they want from Santa.

Many, if not most of todays kids don’t know that there is someone else, someone very real, who is watching them – or should I say watching over them; someone who knows they can’t be good enough to deserve the gifts He has for them, yet He keeps on giving.

We have generations of children who are growing up celebrating Christmas year after year, never being taught that the origin of Christmas is the birth of God’s Son, come to earth in the body of a baby – Immanuel “God with us” – fulfilling more than 300 Old Testament prophecies, made hundreds of years before his birth. They don’t know that this baby, who was named Jesus, came to let us know what God is like; or that this baby grew up to die on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Some of these inadequately informed children are being raised in “Christian” homes – so called.

I’ve written a 4-part series of blog posts entitled “Christmas Traditions that Teach Our Children”, which you can access from the link above. I would like to encourage you to check out these posts for suggestions to help you teach your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or other children in your life the real meaning of Christmas.

If you also feel something is missing in your own celebration of Christmas, I trust that these posts will remind you of where you and your family should focus during Christmas season, and give you a plan of action for future Christmases.

May God bless you as you seek to enter the real spirit of Christmas during this holy season.

©2013, Marcy Alves edited 2015

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