Friday, May 24, 2013

Philanthropic Friday: Rebuilding Oklahoma

I'm sure we've all been closely following the devastation caused by the EF5 tornado just outside of Oklahoma City, OK, on May 20. 24 killed, 377 hospitalized, schools and homes destroyed...  Above all, as always, residents badly need your prayers. Parents have lost children, children have lost parents, lives and homes have been permanently damaged. What's needed most is hope. If you'd like to donate to help rebuild their lives, money is generally the best way to assist in providing clothing, food, and supplies to those in need,  unless you live very close.

A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school in south Oklahoma City.
Photo: Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman, May 20, 2013
  • Send a personalized message of hope to be hand-delivered to families in Moore, OK. Text HOPE to 38383 and you'll be asked to send a message with words of support--maybe your favorite scripture, maybe just let them know you're thinking of them. This service is provided by
  • Give blood. Disasters like this where so many are injured and treated at hospitals create high demands for plasma donations. Do your part by giving blood at your local blood bank or hospital. To find one near you, search your city on the AABB website.
  • The Red Cross has set up shelters for those whose homes were destroyed by the tornado. To support their efforts, you can donate in several ways--via their website, by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 (to have the donation included on your cell phone bill), over the phone by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or even by donating frequent flyer miles that they can use to fly volunteers and staff into emergency areas. For Delta, email with your SkyMiles number, the number of miles you want to donate, and specify the Red Cross as the charity. Click here to donate US Airways miles, and here to donate United miles.

  • Support teachers and help rebuild Moore schools. Two schools were completely destroyed and more were damaged. The website helps teachers raise money for needs in the classroom. They are doing a special project to help teachers and students in Moore. "When teachers in Moore are ready, we will help them create classroom recovery projects for critical supplies such as clothing, food, books, therapy resources and classroom furniture. These teachers know best what their students need, and we can empower them to rebuild their classrooms. Your donation will be sent directly to teachers in Moore, OK, empowering them to restock their classrooms and help their students recover." If this is something you're interested in getting involved in, click here.
  • The OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund was established by Governor Mary Fallin, "in coordination with the United Way of Central Oklahoma... to assist with the long-term needs of victims devastated by the May tornadoes." If you'd like to donate to this fund, head to the United Way website portal here.

  • For an extensive list of other ways to donate, see this article from US News.
Thanks for your generosity and your prayers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Portraits of Proverbs 31: Abigail {Part 2}

Last week, we discussed the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 and how she exemplifies the lesson of Romans 12:21. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Today, I'd like to talk about some of the more specific lessons we can learn from Abigail and her dealings with Nabal, with David, and with the rest of her household. We'll start with the core issue: love.
What is the love that God expects from us, and how is it evident in Abigail's story?

Love is an active choice (not merely a fuzzy emotion) that we owe to every person because we all have the same loving Father.

In 1 Samuel 25, Abigail shows love for David, for Nabal, for her household, and for God through her wise and generous actions. She would not have been killed in David's planned slaughter, because David only vowed to kill all Nabal's males. But Abigail could not stand by and let this happen, even if the course of action she took was action more dangerous to herself.

Picture yourself as a teenager going down to the basement to tell your older brother that dinner was ready, and he was going to have to stop playing [insert gory masculine video/computer game] right before he clobbered a whole bunch of bad guys. Now multiply that by 127 and you've got Abigail's encounter with a furious David. Her love for her husband and her household (I like to focus on her husband, because I think her respect for a man who, from a human perspective, deserved no respect whatsoever, is an incredible example) were obvious in the courageous stand she took to pacify David.

I used to wonder why on earth an intelligent, graceful woman like Abigail would be married to a fool like Nabal. Then I found in my research that according to the customs of the day, Abigail and Nabal's was almost certainly an arranged marriage. (Duh, Erica!) It's reasonable to assume Abigail's family benefited from her marriage to him, as he was a very wealthy man. God blessed her through it because of her character and faith, but her marriage to him (and even her marriage to David afterwards - see v. 43-44) was not ideal.

So, while Abigail did a commendable job of showing respect and love for her very undeserving husband, it's good to keep in mind that he was not the kind of husband God would have wanted her to choose. We today are blessed with the ability to choose our own mates, and we should take that task very seriously. How should we, as Christian women, use our ability to choose who we date and marry to ensure the most spiritually and physically nurturing lives possible for ourselves and for our children?

For example, carefully consider:
-Does he put God first, even above you?
-Does he make wise decisions, and seek God's guidance and sound advice in making those decisions?
-Does he love and respect you, and all other people?

Back to Abigail.

Abigail showed love for her husband by protecting him in the way she could and trusting his fate to God. In the same way that David, no matter how horrid Saul was to him, would never kill God's anointed, Abigail, as horrid as her husband was being, would never stand by idly when she could do something to prevent his death. She selflessly saved him and all the males in her household from death due to his foolish actions.

In both cases, David and Abigail knew that if Saul or Nabal were to die, it would need to be clearly by God's hand. Because she loved and respected God, Abigail, by extension, loved and respected her husband, regardless of his own personal merit.

She also showed love and respect for David in stopping him from taking foolish, bloody action that would have brought bad results for both her family and for him. Her love for God are also evident here, as she respected his will and his laws and did what she could to keep David from breaking them.

Thus, Abigail exemplified love for her mate, for all people (see John 3:16 and 15:12), and for God Himself (see Deuteronomy 11:1 and Mark 12:30).

She also demonstrates active love--her love was not just a feeling (and possibly not really a feeling at all, in the case of Nabal) but a choice demonstrated by action seeking the good of the other parties (see Romans 12:9-10, Romans 13:10, Matthew 7:12, and James 2:15-16).

Jesus told His disciples shortly before his crucifixion and death, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Jesus's love was the ultimate active love, as He not only felt it and spoke of it, but acted on it through teaching, through healing, through forgiving, and through giving His priceless, perfect life as a payment to cleanse us from our death-deserving sins.

Abigail's self-sacrificing love is a beautiful example to apply to our lives today. In what areas of your life can you improve to make your love look a bit more like hers?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Philanthropic Friday: WFP {The Syria Crisis}

The goal is to bring you a different charity every week that I think you may be (or that I think you should be (; ) interested in donating to or volunteering for. I tend towards skepticism when it comes to spending my money, so I usually hold off on donating to charities until I've done a lot of research and I'm certain that they're honest and that the majority of their money really does go to where they say it does.

I'll do my best to bring you only the best charities, but please understand that as much research as I do, I still might miss things. So if there's something you think I or other readers should know about an organization, please keep in mind that viewpoints may differ on many issues, but please do share the information with us so everyone can make a decision accordingly on whether or not they feel comfortable donating.

We'll start with an organization very close to my heart: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

According to their website, "The World Food Programme (WFP) fights hunger worldwide, saving lives during emergencies while building a better future for the next generation. WFP is funded solely by voluntary donations."

They are a very large humanitarian agency (they claim to be the largest fighting hunger) and traditionally they have received most of their funding from governments around the world. Of late, however, individual private donors and businesses have given increasingly significant amounts of aid. Care to add your name?

First of all, take a look at this Hunger Map and learn about where the world's greatest needs are, and where WFP works. Click on any country to see its hunger status and what programs WFP has in the area.

The focal point: The Syria Crisis is the current focus (and has been for awhile). WFP is aiming to feed 2.5 million displaced people in Syria and 800,000 refugees in neighboring countries every month. Plus, they're providing snacks at school to kids in refugee camps. That's a lot of mouths to feed, and they need $19 million USD every week to do it. Your help is urgently needed! Donations can be given through Paypal to make it safe and convenient.
  • Click here to donate to the Syria Crisis and help WFP feed 3.3 million who have been affected by the tragedy. (You can read more about the crisis itself on this page so you can understand and pray about the conflict.)
  • Click here to donate to help the children in Zaatari Refugee Camp continue to receive snacks in the classroom--they are currently only funded until the end of May, and they urgently need your help to keep the program going.
  • Aside from the Syria Crisis, you can also donate to the WFP "Fill the Cup" program. $1 feeds 4 kids a nutritious meal. The money you donate to this program goes to whatever area has the greatest need, or you can select a specific program to donate to.
Besides the Syria project and the many other programs WFP runs to which you can donate, they also have some awesome sponsors that enable you to help even if you're unable to give money.
  • I challenge you to the Hunger Quiz! All you gotta do is answer 5 questions and a child will get a hot meal. Look how precious this is and tell me you don't have 1 minute and 15 seconds to take a quiz. (Not to brag or anything, but I got a 5 out of 5 my first time taking it... this is my appeal to you competitive people... can you ace this?? You might be surprised!)

  • Freerice is an online vocab game. For every right answer you give, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice through WFP. I'm a huge nerd so I love that I can play this game in French or Spanish or Italian. (Or even Korean. But that would be... well... not very productive for me.) You can also start groups to play the game and donate together so you can watch even more rice accumulate! Bored in a meeting? About to fall asleep in lecture? Well, you could be doing something productive and feeding the hungry. So do it. :)
  • Also, be sure to sign up for email updates (just enter your name and email address at the top of the WFP home page)! You'll get cute pictures and updates about projects every now and then, usually not more than once a week.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Portraits of Proverbs 31: Abigail {Part 1}

Saul didn't start out a bad guy. When we first meet him in 1 Samuel 9, he seems genuinely nice--humble and caring, if a little stingy.

But it wasn't long before Saul messed up big time due to a lack of faith (1 Samuel 13), and God removed the blessings that would have belonged to him and his family. "The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you," Samuel told the presumptuous king (1 Samuel 13:14).

After yet another serious blunder by King Saul, Samuel was sent to anoint that other man--David, the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd and musician.

David proved to be an asset to Israel even before he took the office of king--playing peaceful music for King Saul and becoming his armorbearer, killing Goliath, and serving as a powerful military leader. He became best friends with Saul's son and caught the eye of one of Saul's daughters, and at first Saul loved him like his own son.

But as time passed and the Israelites grew fond of David, Saul became jealous of the attention he felt he should be receiving himself, and David was forced to flee.

David behaved, for the most part, very honorably in his dealings with Saul. Saul was the de facto King of Israel, and he knew no matter how hard Saul tried to kill him and those who protected him, it was God's right, not his, to end Saul's kingship.

Yet in a moment of peace between himself and Saul, David and his men encountered a man that apparently made David far angrier than Saul ever had: Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Nabal was a very rich man with a very foolish heart. (As you've probably heard, his name, Nabal, actually means "fool." You know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies...)

David and his men protected Nabal's shepherds and possessions for some time, and subsequently went to Nabal on a feast day and asked for some food. It was customary to give gifts of food as common hospitality. This kind of generosity would be especially expected from such a rich man, and especially on a feast day (1 Samuel 25:6-8). But Nabal was not feeling so generous.

In his request, David called himself "your son David," but Nabal responded scornfully, "Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?" (v. 10-11). (I just love that response, because I feel like I can hear him saying it in my head!)

This made David very angry, and he instructed his men to strap on their swords and get ready to murder Nabal and all the men in his household. As a man of war, perhaps killing had become commonplace to him. It seemed like the logical solution to this problem: this man is disrespecting me and not giving me what I want, so I'll just take him out. That'll teach him. (I don't mean to sound disrespectful myself of such a godly man--however, this is an instance where David's response is quite rash and illogical.)

Thankfully, someone told Nabal's beautiful and intelligent and definitely-not-foolish wife Abigail about the issue before it went too far. She acted quickly, not telling Nabal what she was about. Abigail hurried to get together food (lots of food) and to come down to David, humbly pleading for his forgiveness for the foolishness of her husband.

"Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: 'On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!" (v. 23-24). Abigail humbly took blame she didn't deserve and gave a touching speech encouraging David to rethink his intentions.

"No therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. ... For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days.

"Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling" (v. 26,28-29). (Side note: notice the "pocket of a sling" analogy, probably referencing the original source of David's fame. I love that.)

Abigail knew that God was with David, and she knew the end intended for him (and for her husband, and all David's enemies) by God. Some call Abigail a prophetess because of her words, but either way, she certainly knew God's law and the blessings that come from following it. She only asked that once David became king, as she knew he would, that he remember her and the good she had done for him in keeping him from murder.

David took her gifts, blessed her, and turned back.

She went home, found Nabal busily getting drunk ("holding a the feast of a king"), and decided it still wasn't the right time to tell him. She waited till the morning to tell him everything, and "his heart died within him" (v. 37). Ten days later, he died. God exacted the revenge for David (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19) and granted Abigail a new happy beginning with a man after His own heart.

A followup post is coming soon with several of the lessons we can learn from Abigail's beautiful example. The general lesson I'd like to close with here, though, is found in Romans 12, nestled around the "Vengeance is Mine" scripture I referenced a moment ago.

Paul writes, "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-19,21).

Abigail was married to a very wicked man, yet she did not let his darkness snuff out her light. She knew that with God on her side, her light would overcome his darkness. Evil can easily snowball us over, coating us with it and sending us hurtling down the same treacherous path. We have to instead stand firm in goodness, and trust that no matter what it seems like at the moment, God's way will always overcome in the end.