Are You the Real Deal? By Jo Russell

In a room crowded with country folk in cowboy hats as big as patio umbrellas–some wearing holsters with pistols–and the smell of savory, sizzling prime rib, the caterers worked quickly. The husband and wife team were serving the big cattlemen’s event in the rural mountain area.

Wrapped in a white apron and tall hat, Chef Ruth, barely five-foot-five, carefully cut the perfect beef slices into servings. Serving up plates, her husband, Bob–well over six feet–also wrapped in an apron, worked efficiently.

“Are you the chef?” one hat-wearing cowboy nudged Bob. The western-clad guest assumed that apron-clad Bob had created the gourmet meal. After all, aren’t nearly all chefs men?

“No,” Bob corrected him as he pointed with his elbow, “She is.”

“Well, now, Little Lady, are you a real chef?”

“Yes, I am,” the culinary school-trained professional affirmed. Then Ruth asked, “Are you a real cowboy?”

It would be easy to tell the cowboy from the chef by the way one rode a horse and the other created a meal.

In the same way, a person is not known to God by personal appearance, social or economic standing as he or she is for actions and words.

Jesus would call it fruit. “No tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its fruit…The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:43-45 NIV].

What is coming from your heart, mind, and mouth? God knows your voice, sees your heart as well as your actions. He never stops loving the unique creation you are.

Based on that, how would you answer this question:

“Hey, Big Guy, are you a real Christian?

“Say, Little Lady, are you a real Christian?

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Grand Theft Ice Cream by Jo Russell

Ice cream! Steak! Pizza! Every month when the large food truck delivered orders to families in the rural ranching area, it was like Christmas! What a relief! To the busy cattle-ranching crews, they appreciated the prepared frozen food as a gift of time as well.

Nearly dark when the truck roared into the circular drive of the Peterson’s ranch house, the driver wasn’t surprised to see the neighbors, the Monroes, rush over.

Soon all were poring over the colorful catalogs that guaranteed great gourmet meals with a minimum of effort, plus ice cream in bulk that would hold them over for the next month.

While the two ranch families were busy with their choices for the next delivery day, the food truck driver heard a racket outside in the drive. He glanced up to see a shadowy someone helping himself to cases of food and ice cream from the truck.

“Stop!” he yelled, running toward the truck. “Call 9-1-1!”

When the families ran outside, the thief spewed gravel as he sped out of the driveway in his dusty sedan. Identification was easy. They gave the sheriff his license number.

Not long after, a sheriff’s deputy pulled the driver over on a dusty country road. “I bought all this stuff! I didn’t do anything!” the driver claimed. But he had no receipt. His timing and license number incriminated him. Besides, the evidence was melting all over the back seat – chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, English toffee bars, and butter-soft frozen pizza. Worst of all, he was already on probation. Busted!

We all know that wrong doing is not restricted to Grand Theft Ice Cream. Are we ever guilty? Aren’t we pretty good people who do pretty good things most of the time?

Ever done anything that reaped red-faced embarrassment like gossip or envied something someone else has? Ever break a promise? Take something that didn’t belong to you? Fail to help someone who genuinely needed it when you could have?

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” is stated in Romans 3:23. Wow! Even though we are “pretty good people.” Busted!

A local pastor commented that when any of us do the wrong thing, we may find it hard to accept that we can be forgiven. “They don’t know where to begin,” Pastor Dave added, then explained that it has to start with the old-fashioned word and action involved in “repentance.” The action is two-fold: to feel regret and to return to God.

So begin with baby steps, recognizing that you didn’t make the right choice. Are you sorry enough to turn away from doing that again? Can you ask God to accept your apology? Of course! He reaches out with love and forgiveness.

What does God do with our wrongs? He forgives them and they are gone. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 [NIV].

A fresh start! A new beginning! It’s a gift that’s better than Christmas and as sweet as ice cream!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Fashion or Comfort? By Jo Russell

A woman’s scream coming from the shoe department pierced the quiet atmosphere of the large retail store.

Sprinting over to her friend, Clare, Susie cried, “What’s wrong?”

Clare had been doing nothing more dangerous than trying on shoes. Clare’s latest choice was a pair of four-inch heels decorated with an acrylic heart-shape. When she stood up in the open-toed shoes, the woman gasped and then screamed. Clare limped back to a bench, easing herself down. “I think I pulled a muscle!” She paused as she regained her composure. “Susie, how do you think those shoes look on me?”

Though Clare had always been willing to make sacrifices as a Fashion Diva, Susie was the Queen of Comfort. Oh, how Clare suffered for fashion! Her great look often only survived for a short period of time because of discomfort. But at one and a half seconds, the acrylic sandals set a new record. Clare bought them anyway.

Susie was enjoying the shopping trip as she was inspecting the shoes on display. With her large feet, she could never find her size at stores. “Look, you can use these pointy little numbers for killing cockroaches in corners – or for self-defense!” Susie commented as she picked up leather pumps on display. She checked another pair, “Maybe these could do double duty as a hammer for quick home repairs!”

“Susie, you could probably use a fashion update, and it doesn’t even have to be in shoes!” Clare suggested. “I know you can’t find your size in stock, but the grungy sweatshirt, green knee-high wool hunting socks and hot pink Crocs are out!”

Comfort and women’s fashions seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Yet we all need comfort in the highs and lows of life. New shoes won’t do it–nor sweatshirts and fuzzy slippers during the winter. Not even fluffy fleece pajama bottoms will satisfy the needs of our souls. When it comes to a need for comfort, we may not find it in friends or family. Often, we feel alone. But we are not.
Our comforter is always there: God.

Think on this famous passage from Psalm 23: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” What is the significance of the staff? Jesus called himself “The Good Shepherd.” A shepherd used the staff for defending his own from enemies, for representing his authority, guiding and nurturing the sheep, and as a walking stick. Creating a word picture of God’s care for us, his sheep, Jesus told the parable of losing one sheep, leaving the ninety-nine in an open field and looking for the lost sheep until he found it. [Luke 15:3-7]. Jesus said there is much rejoicing in Heaven when lost sheep are found. They are the people who turn back to God.

God is still always present in our need for comfort and joyful in our relationship with him.

But the well-known derivative “comfortable” may not apply to fashion or a relationship with God. Like a good shepherd, he keeps his sheep from harm, but also pushes their limits. They may walk further than they think they can, eat less than they think they need, or learn something they didn’t think they needed to know.

That is the same with us. God does push us beyond what we believe are our limits. That brings out the best in us, because there is no limit to a growth spurt with God as supervisor. He makes it work for good – ours and His.

Is fashion giving you the style and comfort you seek – or are you ready for the warm embrace of God’s assurance each day?

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Money Maul and Other Fun Games By Jo Russell

“It’s about time the kids learn about money,” Chrissie decided while looking in on her sleeping toddlers. As a first-time mother, she was wild with excitement when they had graduated from diapers forever. Now they could now walk and talk. Recently, the preschoolers had graduated from cribs to regular beds. Her sons were even learning to help at home. “Now it’s time for them to learn about an allowance and about handling money!” she decided.

“You get money for helping,” Chrissie explained as they put away their toys, dropped clothes in the hamper and helped smooth out their bedding.

The young mother made a special trip to the bank for their first payroll–one hundred new pennies each totaling four wrapped packages.

Chrissie sat on the bed with her sons and a couple of piggy banks. First, she showed them how to count out ten pennies from each dollar that they would give to God. “You put this in the basket at church. The rest is yours,” she said “Dad, Momma, and Grandma buy you toys and food and clothes. Now you can buy something, too.”

She showed them how to drop the coins in the piggy banks. With each clink of the coins, her sons giggled. It was better than a toy!

“You can buy ice cream or a toy or do whatever you want with it. You understand? Okay? ”

They nodded.

But that afternoon Chrissie opened the door to a surprise after her sons’ nap. The boys took her for her word when she said they could do anything they wanted with their money. The shiny pennies were everywhere – stuck inside the pillow cases, glittering in the toy box, slam-dunked under the bed, and speckling the floor like confetti.

If money could talk, it would confess that toddler’s penny-shooting battle ended in a draw – and disorder.

God thinks that money is important enough that there are over 2,000 verses connected with it in the Bible. The advice connected with money, blessings, possessions, and wealth revisits a recurring theme of trust in God from the time of Moses.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9 [NIV].

The modern application may not involve grapes, olives, or wheat, but instead good health, relationships, manageable bills, paychecks, deposits, savings, bonuses, retirement plans, capital gains, or earned interest income. Will God bless you today as you trust him and honor him first with your tithe and attention?

I wondered if that really worked when I first tried it three decades ago. Ever since, I’ve been watching in awe how God met every physical need and bill when raising my twin sons from diaper-clad newborns to strapping six-footers as a single mom without financial help.

Through the years, I knew God took me through the uncertainties of parenting, health, and career challenges. He always came through. Even though my own uncertainties are slightly different now, God hasn’t changed. Nor has the sage advice of money-handling in the Bible. First, tithe, and second, stay out of debt.

A friend asked, “What’s the difference between a family living on welfare and one living entirely on credit? Solomon points out the common thread between the rich and poor is that God created them both. [Proverbs 22:2] Is someone living entirely on credit rich or wise?

Interesting that King Solomon asked God for wisdom, not wealth, when he took the throne in 970 B.C. Yet he was known for his wisdom, wealth, and wives. He attributes wisdom and his relationship with God of the highest value. “For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”[Proverbs 2:6] So wisdom with money is essential.

Dave Ramsey paraphrases Proverbs 22:7 often as he restates, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” Well-known financial guru on today’s scene, Ramsey is author, radio show host, and founder of the Financial Peace University. [DaveRamsey.com] He says he has helped more in America get out of debt than anyone else. Ramsey explains he starts with wherever they are. But at the top of every client’s budget plan is their tithe, to be paid first to God — all other bills after that. Does honoring God work? Has it brought blessings?

More than you and I can ever count.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]