I had been wrestling with the idea of blogging some of my life experiences with the intent of encouraging others who may be going through similar situations. Although the main audience being those who have been attending church for a long time and are caught in the cycle of just "doing church", I believe these stories will reach all audiences with God's help.

I'd rather fail miserably at something I feel God asked me to do than just sit back and wonder what could've, would've or should've happened.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sister Pat's Woodshop

During my Jr. High years I worked at Sister Pat's Woodshop with a few of the other guys from our church. This was an after-school program that this particular Catholic Church had for Jr. High-schoolers to keep them out of trouble. In the woodshop, we would make wooden objects that would eventually be sold - the proceeds going to the church. Our salary was based on our performance or should I say Sister Pat's evaluation of our performance.

Sister Pat = a no-nonsense, in-your-face, take no crap from nobody, serious, all business, fire you on the spot, rehire you on the same spot, tough as nails nun. This little nun was no joke! Truth is she had to be that way to deal with these inner city kids she was responsible for. In retrospect, she had a great heart - and I'm sure still does.

We had a great time there! Lots of laughing, joking and learning went on in that woodshop. There were many great memories and some not so great. But this one particular day taught me a great lesson:

As usual, we were joking around and laughing. This time it was "make fun of Sister Pat day". We made fun of everything we could think of - maybe too much! She gave us several warnings to lower our voices and control our laughter but we would continue. For a moment, she briefly walked out of the room and came back in only to catch us making fun if her. I was sure we would all hear, "Izzy, Franky, Billy, Sammy (names were changed to protect the innocent) YOU'RE FIRED!" as we had heard many times before. Instead she put her head down, walked toward her desk and between her weeping barely got the following words out: "and you're supposed to be Christians".

OUCH! It was as if someone took a samurai sword and shoved it through my heart in a lower-case T motion! I would rather be fired than hear that! We made Sister Pat cry!

Since I was the PK and the oldest of our group, I eventually gathered enough courage to approach her and apologized. Things seemed to be back to normal but I learned a hard lesson that day - we represent Christ wherever we go!

I've heard this phrase thrown around a lot, "you may be the only Jesus someone sees". When you really think about it, that's a pretty tough responsibility! There are so many people all around us depending on us: at work, school, neighborhood, grocery store and even our family gatherings. We MUST represent Jesus well if we are to reach those around us.

Now some might take this to the extreme and try to shove Jesus down people's throats but I would argue that it is the little things that we do on a daily basis that will demonstrate Jesus (or the lack of Him) in us to others. Here are just 5 little things we can do:
  1. Treat your coworkers with love even though they may not deserve it.
  2. Work as if God was your Boss.
  3. Say hello to your neighbors every time you see them.
  4. Choose your words wisely around your family.
  5. Show God's joy in you by smiling!
These little things will open up God moments for conversations that will introduce Jesus to those around us.

As I'm reminded of this "Sister Pat" experience, I am committed to represent Him well one day at a time by asking the Holy Spirit to help me as I "gear-up" daily! I challenge you to do the same.

God's plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. (Colossians 1:27 GNT)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gearing Up For War

I feel like I left you hanging last week with the war thing (read We Are At War Whether You Like it or Not blog). It's almost like I told you "we are in big trouble" and left you with no solution. Well the rest of Ephesians 6 explains how we should gear up for this war. 

Of course I am going to put a twist in it so that we can have a little fun and learn something at the same time. Now this book of Ephesians was written back in the day so they used visuals that were common then - war gear. I'm going to try to bring it to something more up-to-date and since it's football season, I will use that.

I also believe that these different war gear suggested by Paul is talking about different characteristics of the Word of God (don't try to sue me....it's my opinion & my blog). Hopefully by the end of this blog you will understand where I'm coming from.

Belt of Truth (Ephesians 6:14) 
The last thing you want to happen in a war is have your pants fall down! Talk about AWKWARD!! The Bible is also considered the Truth. We should use the Bible as a comparison tool in life - "what does the Bible say about that?" 

Breastplate  or shoulder pads of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)
One way to kill someone in a war is to stab them in the heart. This breastplate protected that. In football, the shoulder pads protect the heart and give you confidence. The only way to be righteous before a Holy God is by His son, Jesus, who died for us for that same reason, among other things. The Bible is a love story about just that. John 1 explains more. 

Shoes or cleats of the Good News (Ephesians 6:15)
The right shoes are important for anything you do. War and football is not different. So we are to share the Good News a.k.a  Jesus' sacrifice for us with everyone we can. It's what Jesus left for us to do. 

Shield or stiff-arm of faith (Ephesians 6:16)
In football there is no "shield" but you can stiff-arm a defender if they try to tackle you! Faith helps you protect yourself when your opponent tries to come against you. Faith come by hearing and hearing the, you guessed it, Word of God. 

Helmet of Salvation (Ephesians 6:17)
Obviously protecting your head is important at war or in a football game -but this also includes your mind. We are continuously thinking (well some of us) and this is the perfect place to begin the attack for our opponent. This is why we should protect our minds daily! Salvation is part of that love story the Bible keeps referring to time and time again. 

Sword or Football of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)
The sword is how we attach the enemy and in football you can't score without the ball! Most of us would agree that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. My thought is that Paul was doing one of his run-on sentences and when it says ", which is the Word of God" he was referring to all of the previous gear he mentioned. Once again, this is just my opinion. This is no theological conclusion (that I'm aware of). 

In a nutshell, prepare for this war daily guarding your mind & heart by reading the Word of God then share the Good News to others. Memorize some verses so you can defend yourself against your opponent and ATTACK him with the Word of God!!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We Are In A War Whether You Like It Or Not

I was in a men’s prayer one night and I felt the urge to pray for one of the men there. This man had a son in the war in Iraq and it was a difficult time for him and his family. Now I’m not one to go around doing these kinds of things but this night I felt a strong conviction to do so. My plans were to go over to him, lay my right hand on his shoulder, kneel next to him and pray this powerful, spiritually-scripted prayer that would encourage even the dead – or so I thought. I gathered enough courage to go over there and pray with him but I did not anticipate what happened next.

As soon as my hand touched his shoulder, I felt this overwhelming compassion for this man and began weeping uncontrollably! It was as if his pain was transferred to me and I was able to relate for a moment with his situation. I eventually let out a brief prayer of encouragement (nothing like what I had planned) and sat back down.

This experience taught me several things and I was amazed at how God works. Here I was thinking I was merely going to encourage this man who was going through a tough time in his life but God wanted to teach me something, too!

We Are In A War Whether You Like It Or Not!

You see every week the church prayed for this man’s son and all the other families who had loved ones in the war in Iraq. Most of us prayed but not with the same urgency as those people whose family members were over there! Although we knew there was a war going on, we were disconnected from the war since it was not as personal as those whose loved ones were actually fighting this war. When it’s personal there is a different level of prayer that is exercised… that fervent, up-against-the-wall, all-or-nothing, totally-dependent-on-God kinda prayer!

The Bible talks about a war that we are constantly fighting – a SPIRITUAL war.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

Are you ready for this war?
Do you prepare yourself daily for the attacks that are inevitably coming?
How fervent is your prayer for this war?

I challenge you to make an effort every day to prepare for this war. Read Ephesians 6 so that you can be ready!  

Whether you like it or not, WE ARE AT WAR!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming To America

January 6, 1979 was a day I will never forget. It marks a new beginning for the Cabreras - coming to America.  For those that don't know, we were born in the Dominican Republic and my father wanted to bring us to America for better opportunities. When we arrived I was only 7 years old but I have vivid memories of the journey.

I remember:
  • Crying when I found out Magina was not coming with us. She is our "adopted" sister who helped my parents bring us up and since I was the youngest, I spent a lot of time with her.
  • Lidia's wooden platform-styled sandals coming off her feet and falling all the way down the stairs as we are climbing into the airplane and Isaias had to go fetch them - the joys of being the oldest! Sometimes I can close my eyes and hear the clinging sound of those things!
  • Dinner on the plane (that's back when they served real dinners on planes), the choices: Chicken or Fish and how confusing this was to us. Isaias finally figured it out and explained it to us. The strong accents we had (some of us still have) still rings in my head.
  • New York welcoming us with a snow storm! Our first sight of snow and yes I did attempt to eat some.
  • The drive from NYC to Rochester took forever with all the snow. If that's not enough, the van we were driving lost its heat and it was cold.
  • We stopped at a Burger King to eat. I can still smell the fries - well the old fries they had are better than the new ones. I took another taste of the snow there too!
Do you want to know what was my most vivid memory? It was us sitting in the waiting area in the Dominican Republic waiting for the people that have the authority to give us permanent residence to make their decision. You see we were all nervous about it since we were requesting 7 permanent residencies at the same time. My dad came to America before us and made the request to bring his family over - ALL 7 OF THEM! Not the best strategy to have since most people made request for 1 or 2 at a time. 
I remember the couple that entered before us being denied and they were only 2!! The lady was in tears!! Then it was our turn. Before I tell you what happened (which may be obvious but just humor me for a moment), I did a little research on some immigration politics that were going on behind the scenes without us even realizing this. Check this out:

(From Wiki) The  Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a non-profit tax exempt organization in the United States that advocates changes in U.S. immigration policy that would result in significant reductions in immigration, both legal and illegal. It was founded on January 2, 1979.

Their mission:
FAIR advocates "7 Principles of True Comprehensive Immigration Reform":

1. Reduce the flow of immigrants
2. No legalization
3. No Guest-Worker Program
4. Protect Wages and Standards of Living
5. More Enforcement
6. No Asylum
7. Immigration Time Out (Very strict immigration only for "a narrowly focused refugee resettlement program" and limit family reunification each year)
(Back to me) During the late 1970's there were a lot of immigrants coming to America and the US was not making it easy for anyone to come in. This organization was established specifically for this. BUT GOD HAD OTHER PLANS FOR OUR FAMILY!

So there we were waiting for the verdict... they allowed ALL of us to come to America with no problems at all!! WooHoo!! Did we slip through the cracks?? Was it a coincidence?? I don't think so. You may be thinking that it is not a big deal. But I know it was a miracle!

I asked my mom recently to relive the experience with me and she told me that the night before our appointment with the decision makers, we had our devotional time (check out the Legacy blogs so you can fully understand the "devotional time"). Loida was asked to pray for our meeting and she felt from God that we were going to be able to come to America. She was right! God is faithful!

If you are going to be confronting someone of "importance" to speak on your own behalf whether it is for a job interview, a teacher/professor, a judge, or what ever it may be. Remember that God is with you and will help you get through this situation if you allow Him.

"When they drag you into their meeting places, or into police courts and before judges, don’t worry about defending yourselves—what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes." Luke 12:11-12 (MSG)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Living The Dream

I'm sitting in the dealership thinking to myself, "why didn't I have a better answer for him? My life is better than that..." You see my ex-coworker came up to me with his little arrogant smile and asked, "how's it going, Ish?" I replied, "good". To which he replied "that's it?" and I had nothing! Did he catch me off guard? Was I not in the mood for conversations? I don't know what happened but the words escaped me.

Of course his reply is always an arrogant, "GREAT! I'm living the dream!!!!!" (dude if you happen to be reading this I won't tell who you are if you won't - keep reading though!)

What does that even mean? Who's "dream" are we living? Is it the infamous "American Dream" with the wife, 2.5 kids, a dog, a cat, 2 cars, a white picket fenced house, the pursuit of happiness and success/status? Or is it bigger than that? 

There is this perception of living the "world's" dream - usually involves possessions, success, money, power or influence, and "happiness". All of these things are great to have - wouldn't you agree? But that can't be all there is to life. How do I know?? I'm glad you asked! Well there are many people that have these things and yet they are not happy - some even commit suicide!! 

Besides, there is an after life that does not include any of that stuff - heaven or hell. So living this dream would be living limited to this world. I believe God has bigger dreams than this. 

Here's my take on this dream thing:
  • Hope - God is our hope. This is the foundation of His Dream for us. There is a "space" in all of us that can only be fulfilled with God. He made us this way...PURPOSELY! But we try to fill it with other things such as: work, love of money, drugs, alcohol, sexual sin, etc. 
    We need to stay connected to this Hope to keep His dream alive in us. "I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him." (Psalm 62:5 GNT)
  • Family - united in: spirit, love, peace, joy, supporting each other, serving each other and God. This includes extended family, also. If the family is healthy, the church is healthy, the community is healthy and the world is healthy. "but as for me and my house, we will serve The Lord" (Joshua 24:15 AMP)
  • Community - this part includes the church. We are made to belong to a body. This is where we find additional support and we use our God-given gifts to serve others. "He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." (Ephesians 4:16 NLT)
  • Joy - there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness = a state of being happy or contentment. Joy = a metaphoric oasis of peace and love (as defined in wiki).  The Bible repeatedly talks about the joy of The Lord. When you have this joy you don't wait for the circumstances around you to be positive but inspite of the circumstances you have joy. "You love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him. So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express," (1 Peter 1:8 GNT) 
Interestingly enough, I watched this documentary yesterday that my sister-in-law suggested (thanks Kim) and it spoke about similar concepts. The documentary was about a bunch of doctors studying happiness and they found that people are happier when they believe in something and have strong family and community activities. I wrote this blog before I saw this documentary. Things that make you go hmmm! 

So getting back to my ex-coworker with his "living the dream" phrase... If I have the opportunity to redeem myself, I would say, "I have hope...THE HOPE ... Jesus my Savior! He has given me His unexplainable JOY. I have a beautiful, loving, united FAMILY that loves God and people. We BELONG to an awesome church COMMUNITY and are CONNECTED as we SERVE unto The Lord! 

The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness. (John 10:10 GNT)