Invisible Gifts of Christmas

This ornament activity started at the Topeka, KS Corps for children who couldn’t afford to buy Christmas presents. It helps children understand that invisible gifts, the kind Jesus gives, are the best gifts of all.  

Directions: Use a large can of pumpkin pie filling to draw a circle on a piece of paper. Cut out the circle and let each child choose an invisible gift from the following list. Once they choose a color and write a word, make a small hole and run a piece of yarn through for hanging the ornament. Help the children to make enough ornaments for teachers and family and for their own tree.

Mercy, Strength, Companionship, Joy, Healing, Freedom, Truth, Faith, Life, Purity, Hope, Love, Peace, Forgiveness, Comfort

May every child in the world realize they have something to give. May every family in the world decorate their tree, their home and their church with the same invisible gifts Jesus longs to give each of us.

JOY to the world and especially to the children He loves.

____________________

— Charles White is a retired pre-school teacher and web editor of bibleparent.com.  For more ornaments reminding us who the party is for, visit bibleparent.com/holidays.asp.

Community Care Recipient Comes Full Circle

A little over eight years ago, Judie Price was a resident of the Avante Nursing Home in Lake Worth, Florida. She was unable to walk and began suffering from serious bedsores, and had to undergo a great deal of physical and occupational therapy.

One Wednesday evening, she was asked if she’d like to join a group of Salvation Army soldiers and volunteers in one of the main rooms for a time of praise and worship. The group (Community Care) was led by Dan Hager, who routinely made sure that everyone who wanted to attend be able to gather for the service. Dan pushed Judie’s wheelchair down the hall to the meeting room.

“What I didn’t know was that The Salvation Army is a church,” Judie says. “This loyal group of soldiers showed up every other Wednesday night, some with musical instruments, to gather the residents for a time of fellowship.”

Over the following four years, Judie looked forward to the Salvationists’ ministry and became very attached to her new friends. Meanwhile, Judie grew stronger and moved from using a wheelchair to a walker.

With her improving condition the time came for her to be relocated; and this caused her no small amount of concern over not being able to see her Army friends any more.

“I shouldn’t have worried at all, because several Salvationists offered to pick me up at my new residence, Cresthaven East, and take me to The Salvation Army’s corps in Lake Worth,” she says.

Judie began attending the corps faithfully, and her Army family became a critical support in her life when she lost her husband of 35 years to cancer.

“Without my new church family as well as my sons, I could have spiraled into a deep depression,” she says. “I found that my corps was the place where I found solace.”

Judie was asked if she’d like to become a soldier, and after prayer and reflection, she knew she was ready to do it.

“I was enrolled in The Salvation Army on Easter Sunday 2015, and I am so joyful to be a soldier,” she says.

The corps officer asked Judie to undertake a telephone outreach program, and to help schedule volunteers for the nursery on Sundays.

“I enjoy calling people and checking on them.”

She even arranged for her Community Care comrades to begin regular visits to Cresthaven East, just as they were doing at Avante.

That was one year ago. And Judie is so proud to be a part of a ministry that once ministered to her.

“I know what The Salvation Army has done in my life and I am so thankful to be able to help others have that same opportunity!”

______________________

Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor

Defeating Loneliness

My whole life I’ve felt like I’ve never gotten along with the people here. I do have some close friends, but it seems like I’m drifting from them as we get older. It’s hard to break into a social group here. I’ve felt suicidal a couple times because of it, not knowing whether it will be this way forever or not.

— 21 Year-Old Female College Student

I don’t have anyone in my life to talk to, spend time with, have a relationship with. No real friends, just a couple acquaintances and a family I hardly speak to. I’m so lonely that it almost physically hurts, it feels like my heart is being crushed; that’s the only way I can describe it. 

—   47 Year-Old Male Engineer

Loneliness is Painful

And there is no natural immunity or defense against it. As the above excerpts demonstrate, loneliness affects people regardless of age, gender, income or life achievements, despite the spread of online social networks.

In fact, there has been a sharp increase in loneliness over the last decades according to John Cacioppo, the director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

“The percentage of Americans who responded that they regularly or frequently felt lonely was between 11% and 20% in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2010, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) did a nationally representative study in 2010 and found it was closer to 40% to 45%. And a recent study done on older adults out of University of California, University of California, San Francisco put it at 43%,” he notes.

In spite of the fact that loneliness is on the rise, there is this good news: loneliness can be shaped, managed and even overcome. Here are seven ways to combat and defeat loneliness.

1. Remind yourself you are not alone in feeling lonely. Loneliness is a condition which almost everyone experiences at one time or another. Even those who wrote the Bible experienced bouts of loneliness. Many Psalms are cries of loneliness. Consider Psalm 38:11: “My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away” (NIV). Or hear the words of Psalm 31:11: “Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends. Those who see me on the street flee from me” (NIV).

2. Have an honest look at yourself. If your circle of meaningful friendships has shrunk over the past months, take an emotional inventory of yourself. Ask yourself if you have become too:

  • Self-absorbed — overbearing, boring or simply uninterested in others’ lives and activities.
  • Unbalanced — a loner, a workaholic or someone who struggles with social interaction.
  • Lazy — depending on others to do all the initiating, reaching out or inviting.
  • Critical, judgmental or angry — these are all hostile emotions that often drive people away.
  • Narrow minded — closed to other points of view and overly comfortable that your perception is always correct.

If these are problems in your life, be aware of them and begin working to minimize and eliminate these behaviors and mindsets. Seek out a counselor or therapist for guidance in what practical steps you can take. By doing some work on your inner life, you will strengthen your social portfolio.

3. Help someone who needs support. “The capacity to care is the thing that gives life its greatest significance,” wrote renowned cellist Pablo Casals. Those who volunteer their time live longer and happier lives. Acting on the compassion and kindness which is latent in every heart brings fulfillment, joy and purpose. It validates our self-worth and the worth of others. And, by responding to the needs of others, you will allow love into your own life. You might even find close friends among your fellow volunteers.

4. Increase your level of caring. An important key for warding off loneliness is care. Be a person who cares for others, for animals, for the environment, for life and for everyone and everything around you. “When you maintain a pattern of caring, whether for a house, a garden, pets or other people, you are protecting yourself against despair,” says Dr. Aaron Katcher, MD, co-author of, Between Pets and People.

5. Turn to God. God is a specialist when loneliness and anguish are deep. When it seems that no one understands or cares about you, remind yourself that God knows you, loves you, cares about you and is present in your loneliness. Turn to God in prayer asking Him to help you find joy even when things feel bleak. Let your thoughts and feelings be redirected by reviewing these Scriptures which affirm God’s faithful love and constant presence:

  • 1 Peter 5:7 — God cares about you and your feelings.
  • Matthew 11:28-29 — An invitation to find comfort in Christ.
  • Isaiah 43:1-4 — A powerful reminder that God is present, even in hard times.
  • Lamentations 3:22-26 — God’s love sustains us.
  • Joshua 1:9 — God is always with you.

6. Engage in more “face–to–face” time with people. Dr. Cacioppo argues that growing reports of loneliness among people are due in part to our modern, disconnected lifestyle. “We aren’t as closely bound,” he says. “We no longer live in the same village for generations, which means we don’t have the same generational connections. That releases social constraints—relationships are formed and replaced more easily today.” He recommends adding “face-to-face” time with people in addition to our online social networking: “We have Tinder, Match, eHarmony and all these kinds of places you can dial up and find friendships, connections and opportunities that didn’t exist. In the last 15 years or so, many of those “face-to-face” connections have been replaced with social networking. We’ve found that if you use social networking as a way to promote “face-to-face” conversation, it lowers loneliness. (But if it becomes a replacement for the “face-to-face,” it increases loneliness.”)

7. Remind yourself, “It’s worth the effort.” While strengthening your social portfolio does take some work and energy, the payoff is a richer, fuller, happier life. Lotte Prager owes her life and much of the happiness she has enjoyed during her 81 years to her friends. It was friends who helped her escape Nazi Germany in 1937 by paying her first year’s tuition at a British college. Friends at the college also helped her get her relatives out of Germany. Following her move to the United States, Prager met her husband-to-be at a party given by other friends. After her husband died and her children had grown up, yet another friend helped her find an apartment in New York City. Retired from her career as a social worker, Prager now relies on friends for companionship. Prager says she is comforted in the knowledge that “they will do for me and I will do for them.”

____________________

Victor M. Parachin lives in Tulsa, OK.

 

Making Time for Community

Jose came to the corps’ breakfast every morning. He would shuffle across the foyer area and head straight for the empty corner chair. There he would sit, drinking his coffee and eating his toast. He didn’t “need” the Madrid breakfast ministry in the same way as the homeless men who gathered around that same table. He came because he needed someone to talk with, someone to listen to his story. He was alone in this big city and had found a sense of community there at that table.

Mary came through the door of the corps every day it was open. Having retired from the workforce years ago, she was free to participate in every program that was available—and for the rest, she volunteered. She would sit in the corps officer’s office, sharing story after story of her daily life. Widowed and with her children long since grown, she was all alone in this world. The corps was the place she found new hope and a family to fill the loneliness in her life.

Matt and Erica had a busy schedule: kids to drop off all around town and employers with never-ending demands on their time. They collapsed on the bed at the end of each day and started all over again in the morning. The cycle seemed unbreakable, as was the emptiness of it all. The full days did nothing to fill that lonely void. The overwhelming schedule actually seemed to make it worse. They had recently begun attending the corps on Sundays, and the corps family offered the only moments of true fellowship in their cycle of survival.

The fallout of Adam and Eve’s choice in the Garden is the prevalence of loneliness in our world. Loneliness visits us all. The cry of the Psalmist echoes in many hearts: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16, NIV). When loneliness creeps into our hearts, the skies seem gray even on the brightest spring mornings. The days feel empty. The house echoes with each step.

I have come to realize that there is no one person more prone to loneliness than another. It affects us all. Young, old, single, married, officers or soldiers—all are affected by loneliness. When we have become disconnected from community and from God, the lie, “You’re all alone, and no one cares about you,” settles into our hearts regardless of our station in life.

We have been created to thrive in community. As a Salvation Army officer, one of my privileges is helping those who feel alone in this world find their place in our community. I covenanted with God to serve the poor, the hungry and the lonely. We as Salvationists are called to see the lonely around us and remind them of their value and place in God’s family. We get to be the voice of Love and Comfort in a world that isolates people.

I have a calling to offer hope and a sense of belonging to all those I encounter. My continual prayer is that God would open my eyes to see the lonely around me, to see the people I encounter as He sees them. I must be willing to depart from my schedule and my plan in order to meet the needs of the lonely. Every day, I must be willing to take the time to listen to a familiar story again, to linger over a cup of coffee even when there are other things on my to do list or to invite that struggling family to dinner. The ‘lonely’ need relationships, not self-help quotes. They need a genuine response of ‘me too’ to their troubles and frustrations. They need a community.

I want to be a person that remembers personally and shares with others the truth: We are never alone. God has told us “I have called you by name—you are Mine. When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. For I am the Lord, your God. … because you are precious to Me and because I love you and give you honor, do not be afraid—I am with you!” (Isaiah 43: 1 – 5, GNTD) This is a promise that through community with Him and with His people, our chains of loneliness can be broken.
____________________

Captain Valerie Carr is the secretary for programs for the Army’s Heartland Division, with headquarters in Peoria, IL.

 

In Good Standing

The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, commented, “Conceit is incompatible with understanding.” No parable of Jesus more clearly illustrates this idea than the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple. 

The story tells of two men who could not have been more different. The Pharisee was a devout person, widely admired and respected. He not only did all that was required, but went above and beyond. The other character was the polar opposite. The tax collector was a collaborator with the Roman government, a man who had sold his soul to make money. By collecting taxes for the hated occupation government, he betrayed his nation. When Jesus told this story, everyone knew how it would go. A hero and a villain. But they could hardly have been more shocked by what followed.

The first scene belongs to the supposed hero. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank You, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income” (Luke 18:11-12). Taking the traditional stance for prayer in his day, the Pharisee would have stood lifting his arms toward Heaven and turning his palms upward to symbolize his readiness to receive God’s blessing.

In these days, silent prayer was virtually unknown. So out loud, he ticked off the things he did right—and they were very good things. He had led an exemplary life, overcoming temptation and dedicating himself to righteous living. He went above and beyond. Where the Scriptures only required a yearly fast during the Day of Atonement, he had fasted twice a week. Where the Scriptures required him to tithe the harvest from his land, he gave 10 percent of every single thing he received. It is not wrong to thank God for victory over sin. Nor is it wrong to thank Him for being in a favorable place where temptations are minimized. However note the lack of any thankfulness. Something was very, very wrong after all.

It was his attitude. When he prayed, it was in a prominent place where no one could miss seeing him. His first words were not of praise to God or seeking His help and guidance. Why should they be? He seemed to have all the answers himself. Instead, he strained to pat himself on the back before God and anyone who could hear him. He did so by putting down others, by contrast showing how really special he was. “I am not like them,” he was saying, a sneer adding emphasis to his contempt.

Knowing the tax collector was close enough to hear, the Pharisee singled him out for ridicule. In writing on this passage, Church Father Cyrile of Alexandria commented, “No one who is in good health ridicules one who is sick for being laid up and bedridden.” He failed to see that any good fortune he enjoyed was because of God’s blessing. He felt that it was because he was so wonderfully good that God simply had to bless him. Sort of an, “Aren’t I doing You a big favor by being a Christian” approach.

The tax collector was the opposite. He would have been avoided as he came into the Temple. People would have whispered to one another, “What is he doing here?” Most would likely have thought he didn’t belong, and the poor tax collector probably agreed:

“The tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to Heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
(vs. 13).

He dared not stand close to the “saintly” Pharisee, not only because he knew the man’s contempt for him, but also because he felt so incredibly unworthy. We don’t know what led him there, yet he was drawn to the Temple despite his great shame. It was as if the holiness of that place shone a spotlight on how pathetic a man he was. In that crowd of people, he knew himself to be the least deserving, the least loved, the least worthy to even be speaking to God.

In beating his chest, he showed the ultimate sign of mourning for the time, the same that would be done if a wife or child had died. This was grief unbound. He was so caught up by it that he didn’t care who saw it. While the Pharisee lifted his eyes and arms toward Heaven, the tax collector’s head bowed in anguish. He could not boast of what he had done because all of it looked pathetic. All he could think of was his failure. Every scene that marched across his mind showed how useless his life had been. He cried out, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Actually, his words would be better rendered, “I am THE sinner.” The worst of the worst. He prayed for mercy because he could ask for nothing more and he could live not a moment with anything less.

The shock came to those listening to Jesus when He said, “This sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God” (vs. 14).

Better to be broken before God and accepted than admired and rejected. God doesn’t want to see our resumé, but our repentance. When we empty ourselves before Him, our Lord gladly fills us with Himself.

___________________

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief and National Literary Secretary