Faith counselors try to put economy, loss in perspective

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ó James 1:2-4 (NIV)
By Kathy Chaffin
As a Christian counselor, LuAnn Grambow assures suffering people that God will take care of them.
“I can personally attest to that from my experiences,” she says, “and from the many clients I’ve worked with through the years.”
Grambow says she learned how quickly life can fall apart when her husband of 21 years walked out on her and her son. “I had to find a way to survive and pay the bills,” she says. “I was in a place of panic.”
People are under the delusion that life is supposed to be “happily ever after,” Grambow says. “They think it’s about getting their needs met, everything being the way they want it and always being comfortable.
“And we don’t want that delusion to be threatened,” she says. “The truth is, that is not what life is. God wants to enter into that time in our lives and do spiritually powerful things.”
Grambow says God not only took care of her and her son after her first marriage failed, he helped transform her life. Today, she dedicates herself to helping people in crisis through her Hope Found Christian Counseling service.
She has even written a book titled “Hope Found in Paradise Lost” about what she says may be “the two most daunting challenges Christians face: the struggle to die to self and coping with life’s hurts.”
When people experience loss ó whether it’s money, a job, relationship or a loved one’s death ó Grambow says they are forced to face the fact that they can’t hang onto everything they want.
“That frees us to think, ‘What is it that we can do with our lives?’ ” she says. “And God says, ‘Yes! I want you to focus on this …, just you and me and what I can do for others through you.’
“We have to let God teach us that lesson.”
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The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
ó Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)
“God is always with us,” says the Rev. Steve Haines, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Salisbury. “He’s always there to take care of us.”
The recession “is not in any way, shape or form God’s punishment,” he says. “If anything, it’s a challenge for us: How do we respond in a compassionate fashion in a time of crisis to those in need?”
Haines says First United Methodist has always been a giving church. “Most of what we do is through Rowan Helping Ministries,” he says, “and I say that not because we’re trying to avoid doing that kind of work ourselves but because Rowan Helping Ministries is kind of a clearinghouse.
“Those folks know what they’re doing when it comes to helping people in need much better than we do.”
Church members contribute to the ministries and volunteer at the soup kitchen and homeless shelter.
Haines says the church has also personally helped a few members going through hard times right now, and he’s thinking of offering a money management class at some point.
“The Methodist church is truly a church that believes in social action and social justice,” he says. “We believe that God loves us and therefore, it is our responsibility to say thank you to God by doing good works.
“I always tell our people that for a Methodist, doing good work should be as natural as breathing the air.”
During the Lent season this year, when Christians are called upon to give up something, Haines says he is going to ask his congregation to give to others. As part of the Ash Wednesday service, he plans to pass out cards for people to fill out weekly listing the secret good deed they have done.
Every Sunday, Haines says he’ll ask members to turn a card in when the offering is collected. “They won’t put their names on it,” he says. “It’ll just be a silent act that only God knows about.”
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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
ó Psalm 46:1 (KJV)
“God comes to us wherever we are in our lives,” says the Rev. Mary Louise Sitton of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on N.C. 801 in Mount Ulla. “When we are in the dark places, God is there with us. When we are in the bright places of our lives, God is there with us, too.”
By dying on the cross, Sitton says “Jesus has already been in the darkest place.”
St. Luke’s has always had a very strong social ministry, she says. The church contributes regularly to Rowan Helping Ministries West and helps with service projects and other needs in the community.
Right now, Sitton says many church members are focusing on how fortunate they are to have jobs and housing.
“There’s been a lot of concern in the congregation about how we can reach out to the people who are in need,” she says. “What can we do and how can we be ready to help?”
Sitton says there have been a few members who have lost their jobs, but most have either been able to find part-time work or are in a situation where their spouses are employed and they still have a place to live and food to eat.
If somebody in the church had a need, she says, “we would find food or money or housing, whatever is needed. I believe our faith community would respond in a big way because that’s how they live their lives.”
St. Luke’s prays every week for people who are struggling because of the recession, Sitton says. “That’s our constant prayer.”
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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ó Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
At Cornerstone Church on Webb Road, Pastor Bill Godair Jr. says prayer teams pray daily for the economy to improve.
The church has also taken an active role in helping members deal with hard times. “We’ve probably given out more money on a weekly basis the last three months than we ever have,” he says. This past week, for example, the church gave $2,300 to help a struggling church family with mortgage and car payments, he says, and $2,100 to another family two weeks ago.
“Of course, we can’t do that for everybody,” he says. “These are just faithful people that have been giving here.”
Cornerstone has given away three cars to people in need of transportation and, during Christmas, provided complete turkey and dressing meals and gifts to people all over the community.
Godair tries to encourage his members to stay positive during the recession. “I’ve been saying almost weekly, ‘If you go to work tomorrow and you get a pink slip, it’s just because God has got something better for you,’ ” he says. “Don’t be down. Don’t get discouraged.
“Every weekend when they come here, for the last several weeks, they get a dose of positive.”
Godair shares an example of how God works to prosper the faithful even during hard times. When a woman in his congregation recently lost her bank job along with her immediate supervisor, he says a regular customer of the bank heard about it and ended up hiring both of them the following week at $2 more an hour.
“I think hard times brings us back to our core values,” he says. “There’s a fine line … I believe God’s people ought to be blessed, but at the same time, we can get so blessed that if we’re not careful, we forget who the blesser is.”
Godair believes churches should play a role in teaching members practical money management skills. He started a series of sermons last Wednesday night called “Attack Your Lack: Changing the Economics of Your Life.”
“I think there’s a lot of things that we can do to help ourselves during down times,” he says.
The services will be held on Wednesday nights at 7 for the next several weeks. Godair encourages people going through financial difficulties to come and bring a friend.
“If somebody is borrowing money off you, bring them,” he says. “They need to hear it.”
Read more about the “Attack Your Lack” series in next week’s Post.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.