Forgiveness – The Epoxy of Christ and Character by Jo Russell

As Jolene came to the long table set up at a café for the women’s luncheon, she juggled a vase brimming with a fresh bouquet of flowers and ferns from her garden and sunroom. “Whoever needs it the most today!” she mentioned to the leader, Carla, as Jolene set the vase on the table.

“I think I know who that may be,” Carla responded and pushed a note toward her. “Read this from Rhonda. She’s not here yet.”

The plea came from the widow Rhonda, who had been sharing a house with the homeowner, recently widowed. Because of a bank foreclosure on the property after the homeowner’s husband died, both women were now without a place to live.

Great, Jolene remembered. It would have to be her. I’m still ticked off at the woman for breaking her promise and letting me down when I counted on her. So much for trying to help someone who needed help and extra money.  

“I’m sorry I can’t serve for your party,” she had told Jolene just days before the event with one hundred guests and not enough workers. It was too late to get a replacement, “I really wanted to go. But a family event came up and my daughter is taking me.”

It looked like Rhonda was the one needing the help now. As Rhonda sat at the table just as the waitress was totaling checks, distress showed on her face.

But the ladies pooled their experiences and directed Rhonda to just the right people and organizations to help her solve her housing need. The tears ran down Rhonda’s face as Jolene placed the vase of flowers in front of her. “Enjoy them. They should last you almost two weeks.”

Forgiveness is a frequent opportunity in a small town. God must be smiling as he gives residents lots of practice in seeing and working together. Country people continually run into each other everywhere – the grocery store, the post office, the vet’s, the gym or even the local eateries.

But Jesus took forgiveness to another level—and it’s not just for country people. He told Peter that he had to forgive “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” [Matthew 18:21] He also taught that “And when you standing praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” [Mark 11:25]

When the author of this blog shared a story at a prayer group from the new release from April, 2015 Chicken Soup for the Soul – The Power of Forgiveness, tears ran down Laura’s face. Was it Jo’s own story of an unfair action that turned into a blessing?  No. It was “The Greatest Gift” by Immaculee Ilibagiza. During a political coup in Rwanda, this woman ran and hid for her life while her family was brutally slaughtered. Later when the jailer brought her before the murderer and said, “I brought him here so you could spit on him. But you forgave him! How could you do that?”

She replied, “Because hatred has taken everything I ever loved from me. Forgiveness is all I have left to offer.”

Jesus himself in his last moments before dying on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]. In doing this, he allowed all who accepted him and his gift of forgiveness to live with him in heaven.

That he would forgive those who humiliated, tortured, and murdered him is unthinkable in human terms – but not in God’s.

For forgiveness is the epoxy of Christ’s character, and can be in ours.

Share your flowers and forgiveness often. If you live in a small town, God will give you many extra opportunities to practice.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

 

 

God Loves a Generous Giver By Jo Russell

George loved the pastor’s sermons and would “Amen!” through them. When Pastor talked about helping others, George remembered how friends had helped him when he needed it—like when the zipper on his wallet stuck and wouldn’t open.

When the class members went out to eat after Sunday church, George would join them, smiling, laughing, entertaining the group with his stories and experiences. Then the bill came and, George got out his wallet. As he tugged at the c-shaped zipper, he frowned, “Son of a gun! The zipper is stuck!”

And Roger, sitting next to him said, “Never mind. It’s my treat.”

The next group lunch, Bob sat next to George when he tried to unzip his wallet. “Darn! The craftsmanship these days is terrible!”

And Bob offered, “Forget it, George. I’ll buy you lunch.”

The third time, Angie, an avid do-it-yourselfer, sat next to him. When his c-shaped zipper stuck yet again, Angie pulled out a compact multiple tool outfitted with both scissors and pliers.

“Try this,” she suggested, unfolding the pliers.

“But this wallet cost of lot of money! I can’t ruin it with that!”

She let him wrestle with the wallet as long as it took without offering to buy his lunch. Nor did anyone else. Most diners had left by the time George got it open. It was then the waitress noticed the cause of the malfunction–a $50.00 bill caught in the zipper.

God promises blessings to those who are generous. “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will be refreshed.” [Prov. 11:24-25.]

Good stewardship – helping others – is what makes God smile.

That beats a c-zipper on a wallet any day.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

Be a Cheerful Giver of Time and Talents by Jo Russell

“I can’t believe you’re painting this house for free!” Nick commented high on a ladder above Jenny. Normally, the job and the preparation would pay in the four-figure range. As three of them painted–Nick, his wife, Ruth,  plus Jenny–the owner of the house, Norma, was at Mayo Clinic nearly two hundred miles away fighting for her life.

Nick’s wife on a second ladder, turned to see what Jenny would say. They were finishing the paint on the two-story log house in a wooded neighborhood. All expert painters, they knew the paint could not be rolled on or sprayed because of the condition of the house and the curves of the logs. It had to be hand painted with brushes as wide as telephone books.

“I’m not doing it for free. I’m doing it for God!”

Nick laughed out loud. He and Ruth earned their living painting and roofing houses. When their chuckles stopped rocking the two ladders, he said, “Well, I sure hope God is paying you for this!”

“Yep!” Jenny told him, “he already did.”

Jenny explained that a mistake from her mortgage company yielded a large refund windfall the week before. “Besides, God loves cheerful giver! That means my time, too.”

Would Norma survive the cancer? Only God knew. Jenny did know that Norma’s house had to be painted to preserve the dwelling, whether Norma won the battle over cancer or not.

If she didn’t survive, her only child, a grown daughter, Erica, would have less work to get the house ready to sell.

Jenny had handled two family members’ deaths and estates in a year, and then lost the rest of the generation within six months. She knew handling estates is complicated and time-consuming.

“Long distance makes it harder,” Jenny thought as she pictured Erica, who lived thousands of miles away.

Was Jenny a cheerful giver? Yep. She, Nick and Ruth enjoyed the mild spring day in the shade of evergreen trees all afternoon and finished the painting job.

Norma returned from her cancer treatment to a home makeover. Months later, she had recovered to be a part of her daughter’s wedding.

Nick, Ruth and Jenny’s service became an example of God’s provision for others.

Paul writes, “Now he who supplied seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion and through your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in expressions of thanks to God.” [2 Corinthians 9:10-12]

Just as it takes hard work to make a garden grow and produce, God encourages us to use our skills generously. Jenny didn’t hide hers in tool bucket or a shed full of paint cans. She put her experience and tools to use.

In doing service using our gifts, God’s light shines brightly as a great expression of our faith and thankfulness to the Creator.

Whatever your talents, God will nudge you to use them. See what surprises come from following his way!

Which of your talents can God use?

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

 

Rain? Why, its Water and Kindness from the Sky! By Jo Russell

As desert dwellers thousands of miles from home, Janelle and her boys didn’t know what to do about rain. No raincoats ever hung in their closets. An umbrella was something one might use in a school play. Windshield wipers in southern Arizona died of sunstroke, not overuse. Until this rainy afternoon, the family’s desert tents and gear had not had a moisture test.

In the last four days as Janelle drove east across Canada, rain had enveloped the compact station wagon with the four of them inside–the five-year-old twins, her teen nephew, Chris, and herself. Even when she turned the wheel into a spacious wooded campsite, the three boys glumly glanced at everything misty with rain.

“Cheer up, Boys! This rain can’t last too much longer!” Janelle quipped, remembering summer monsoon rains in the southwest that lasted about an hour, and then shut off like a faucet. After a monsoon, the Arizona ground would soon be as dry as crackers.

To make shade and a rain cover, most campers string a waterproof tarp between trees. Not Janelle. She still clung to the monsoon theory. Though they were being assaulted by rain, Chris and Janelle spread out the large dining canopy over the pine needles under some evergreens.

Soon the tarp was collecting puddles while the lady of the camp coaxed a hot dinner from the sputtering camp stove.

With the crunch, crunch of footsteps in the gravel, she turned toward the joyful Canadian voice, “So you’re all the way from Arizona, aye?” The senior’s raincoat was nearly dry. Janelle nodded. “Haven’t seen another car around here from Arizona for a month or more.”

Janelle noticed his puzzled look when he spied the three damp boys huddled on the tarp. The rain dripped over them and their dinner.

“Doesn’t rain much in Arizona, I hear.”

“Nope,” Janelle told him. “We’ve never seen it rain this much before ever!”

The smiling senior offered, “If it stops raining, I’ll come over and start a fire for you.” He jaunted back to his dry, warm travel trailer in which he and his wife were able to watch the camping drama. It was better than TV!

Chris and Janelle then set up the two-person tent camper for him and one twin. That’s when the zipper died on the tent trailer. She threw a tarp over the tent door. Chris and one twin started a board game inside, but drops of water squeezed through the keyhole and wet the board. An explosion of cards blasted out of the tent.

Chris announced, “That’s it! I’m finding a dry place!” Janelle thought how desperate Chris had to be as he sprinted to an outhouse nearby. She remembered that pit toilets were at the top of his hate list. Soon his face was pressed against the screen as he sucked great gulps of clean air and the smell of freshly washed evergreens. He was dry, but not a happy camper.

The Canadian campmate returned in his black rain gear carrying a hot pot of tea. “It’s not dry enough to make a fire, so I brought you something to warm you up,” he said. His smile was cheerful. The ceramic pot of tea he held up belonged in a tidy kitchen, not so far from town. The shiny black surface was decorated with delicate flowers and gold trim. Janelle thanked him and headed for the privy door.

“Hey, Chris!” she coaxed, standing at the privy door. “Open up!” Chris squeaked open the door wide enough to see the elegant pot of hot tea. Soon the four of them sat in the car, enjoying the warm drink. Their sense of humor returned as they all were filled with thankfulness.

Out of the thousands of miles they traveled, they would remember that couple’s act of kindness to strangers as an example of Jesus’ command to go and do likewise for our neighbor.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he illustrated an example of showing kindness to all—including to less desirable people. He himself took down the walls between people based on race, social status, economic condition, health or position.

The Samaritans, generations before, came about when Jews intermarried with their women. To Jesus’ audience, Samaritans were half-breeds and not worthy of any attention. Yet Jesus used one in his parable as a hero who saved the traveler from death.

When Jesus healed a group of ten lepers, who was the only one who came back to thank him and praise God? Only a Samaritan, a foreigner. [Luke 17:11-19]

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”[Jesus asked]

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37]

The Canadian who showed kindness could easily have sized up this woman with a car full of kids as poor – Who else would sleep in a tent? – and dumb – Who else would lay a tarp on the ground, instead of tying it up in the trees as a shelter from the rain? as well as naive – Of course it rains in the north. How else do the thick forests grow so green?

But instead, he showed kindness to strangers to foreign visitors—leaving them with a warm memory for a lifetime.

Who is your neighbor?

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

 

When All Systems are Down, Be Happy! By Jo Russell

“It’s just like a small town to have only one eatery open after nine at night,” Paul commented to his fiancée, Carole. “Sorry. I’d hoped for some place nicer. But the only place open is the 24-hour McDonald’s.”

“That’s okay,” Carole smiled. “I love their senior coffee and fancy coffee lattes topped with cream.”

But as the seniors waited under the bright lights for their turn in line in the fast food place, Paul and Carole overheard the clerk telling the late night crowd the bad news, “Sorry, the computer is down. No debit or credit sales.”

When the couple got to the counter, Paul asked, “How about I write a check? That’s cash to you. Besides, you know me, Carole, and everyone else in town.”

“I do. But no checks. Just cash tonight. So sorry.”

So Paul and Carole stepped back, put their heads together, and counted the currency and coin in their wallets.

“I have $1.26.”

“And I’ve got $2.70.”

Together they looked at each other and got the idea, “Let’s check the car seats!”

“Dibs on the back!”

The senior couple dashed out to check in and under the seat and floor mats for more change.

They hit pay dirt.

“Two quarters!

“A dime and a penny!”

“Wow! A half dollar and a nickel!”

Sharing the richness of memories of their teen years, they slurped a milkshake through two straws. With fries and a drink before them, the two remembered that contentment comes from the inside out in all circumstances. And this experience brought them both a smile.

Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:11-13].

Paul’s challenges were much more serious than not having enough currency for a late night snack. A need for real sustenance arose often enough, but he looked beyond that. Instead, Paul focused on God, not on what he did or didn’t have. And God provided for him as he does for us. Paul advises us to be content and to look to God for our true needs.

How often do we ask for or long something that is not a need? How often does God say ‘No’?” But do more possessions that crowd closets, storage lockers and sheds fill the gap where God should be? What could be better to choose than a lasting relationship and communication with a great God of love, care, and provision?

Compare wants to needs. God always gives generously and in a timely manner.

Best of all, God’s divine communication never closes down to accept cash only. He opens the door at any hour—and it’s all free.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping for the Season By Jo Russell

What strikes terror in the heart of most Americans at this time of year? Only 22 shopping days until Christmas? Only two paydays before the holidays? Where is my long underwear?

For me, the burning question has always been, “What can I get Sharon that she doesn’t already have?” Like three million Americans from all walks of life, she is obsessed with too much stuff coming in the door, and too little, if any, going out. In a five-bedroom house, the stuff occupied three. In two decades, I never once saw the top of her dining table. After she was widowed and living alone, Sharon downsized to three bedrooms. Her sunroom took the rap for her overflow. Once natural sunlight drifted in and kept a green jungle of plants thriving. No more. Only mushrooms love it now.

When I came from out of town to visit her, I noted that the patio was free of clutter and decoration. I looked for something unusual. At Christmas, I was proud to have something different for her: a wind chime that was one-of-a-kind.

Sharon’s eyes grew wet as she cried with genuine glee, “Perfect! I love it! I know just where to hang it!” Sharon strung it up on the patio–along with the twelve of them. Soon after, her neighbor came with yet another gift. It was a wind chime! “How thoughtful!” she chirped. “I love it! I know just where to hang it! It’s the perfect even number!”

But in thinking of future holiday shopping and her collections, I wondered if I myself kept too much, too. People know I have sixty-seven hats, several in each box and bin, with photos on the front of each. I have stopped buying more. Rotate that many hats and they don’t wear out.

A gift-giving revelation for Sharon hit me. I winced. “Perfect!” Once, it seemed heartless and without soul, but many today prefers consumable Christmas without fuss, gift wrap, and with no fruitcake made months ahead. Money and gift cards. Hmmm. Sharon had been too ill to cook much and had extended family coming to visit. A few minutes later, I knew her colorful gift card for a tasty local restaurant was on its way in time to take them out for the holidays!

Four months later when I visited her, I asked about it.

“Oh, yes!” she cried with glee. “I love it! It’s so pretty! It’s right here along with another one I got for Christmas!” Filed in alphabetical order along with the Christmas cards of the season, Sharon had it in one of the many boxes on her dining room table.

“Collection” was an integral part of her lifestyle. “Consumable” was not. She was saving the gift cards for “a rainy day.” In the arid desert where she lives, that could be a very long time indeed.

Trusting God for what we need day by day is basic. Jesus said, “Do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” For the pagan run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [Matthew 6:31-33 NIV]

God has much to say about laying up treasures on earth. When the Israelites wandered around the desert after leaving Egypt, he trained them to take it a day at a time and only collect what they needed. Anything extra would get dusty, rots, or be eaten by varmints.

Do we not see that in our own sheds, barns, and garages? If they are full, do we need to rent more space at a storage facility? Throw in more rodent-killing blocks? Put everything in plastic tubs instead?

Nope. God would say the answer is obvious. It’s time to clean the garage! As for the burning questions of the season, what can you do for someone that would meet their needs?

[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.]

SAVE THE DATE! CROSSWORD OLD TESTAMENT QUIZ DEC. 9. WIN A FREE BOOK SHIPPED ANYWHERE IF YOU ANSWER CORRECTLY FIRST!

Where All Are Welcome At Dinner By Jo Russell

Grammo taught her children and family well. “No dining room is complete without a table that seats twelve,” she might have said. Though none of her twelve children grew families that large, their homes and drop-leaf tables still reflected  warmth, welcome, and hospitality to all who came.

Widowed and left with a partially-remodeled, unprofitable hotel when most people were ready to retire, Grammo moved her large dining table to the hotel. She adopted a “can do” attitude as entrepreneur, contractor supervisor, and businesswoman.  It was a piece of cake. After all, she had managed a budget, large family and home for years.

As the hotel became profitable, Grammo added more faces, warm bantering and conversation around the large dining table –some family, some friends, and some strays.  

Her granddaughter, a student nurse living in the same town, was a frequent guest. No different than today, college students were short on funds and food. Laura Jeane was one of them. One day, she asked Grammo if she and another student nurse could come to the hotel for her uncle’s birthday party and dinner. “Is it any trouble?” she worried.

Grammo laughed, “Why no, Laura Jeane, it means only two more plates for you to wash!”

Love infused Grammo, that table, and her guests at every meal.

God’s love is an antibiotic that all of us need. We have the chance to share it around our tables Thanksgiving and any time. Jesus had something to say about it. Consider these lifestyle orders: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. ” [John 13:34 NIV].

When a neighbor approached Kathy and asked, “Can we spend Thanksgiving together? I would rather spend it with friends than family,” Kathy smiled, “Of course!”  Kathy’s kitchen would never fit a table for twelve, but every guest around the placemat-sized table knew the love of Christ through Kathy.  

May God’s love infuse your home, guests, and table – no matter how many it seats – this Thanksgiving.  

 [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.]   

SAVE THE DATE! CROSSWORD OLD TESTAMENT QUIZ DEC. 9. WIN A FREE BOOK SHIPPED ANYWHERE!

IF YOU ARE THE FIRST TO ANSWER CORRECTLY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customer Service Extraordinaire By Jo Russell

Have you noticed the entire aura of banks has changed lately? It’s all about customer loyalty and extraordinary customer service. Each is falling over the other with customer perks.

Banking is a far cry from the days I needed a washing machine, sought out a banker in the glass tower and asked her for a loan. She perused my paystubs, and sent me away with the message they weren’t interested in my kind – that being a working professional and single mom with two young children.

“You can always go to the Super Suds Laundromat in your spare time!” she called after me.

Spare time? As a teacher, I wondered if that fell sometime between June and August. What about the rest of the year?

Today as a baby boomer with grown kids, when I step up to the bank window, I’m showered with interest, eye contact, and a teller who welcomes me by name — though people only call me Josephine when they are mad at me. The teller gives a pitch for some of the new services and asks me if I need anything else.

“Your competitor just gave me a lollipop. Can you top that?” She gave me two.

After years of being a number, a name, and a bank balance, I felt nearly faint with all the attention. “Maybe I need to dress up to go to the bank and make sure that my socks match,” I thought after the last trip to the teller.

I pulled up to the drive-in window few days later, and after the enthusiastic welcome, service pitches, lollipops, Halloween candy, and a fall centerpiece, the teller offered, “How about a free car wash today?” He must have noticed my bug-smeared windshield and truck bed crackling with dead leaves.

What’s this really about? Customer service ratings and opinion polls. My two banks were neck and neck, but still ten points under the benchmark bank that initiated the program. In the big bank’s words, “A significant part of Bla-Bla Bank’s profit increase is directly attributable to increasing the quality of service we provide our customers.” Translated, it’s why they’ve been paying attention to us for the first time in a century. It makes profit. The lender image of Ebenezer Scrooge is gone forever.

In this season of generosity and giving that shadows the bank business, too, we need to get our hearts ready to give and serve for the right reasons. In the service of God, it’s not about profit, return, or customer service ratings.

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” [2 Corinthians 9:7.]

Doing extraordinary customer service for God doesn’t mean you have to pre-qualify with a financial portfolio, a designer suit, or matching socks. God will use you and what you have, wherever you are. He’s seeing the hearts like yours that are doing and helping where there is a need. That’s extraordinary customer service!

[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.]