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Blessings Without Measure

posted on December 21, 2011, under Member by

by Gladys Neigel

Indiana Academy faculty members Fred and Gladys Neigel.

It was a cold, blustery winter evening, far removed from the balmy Florida nights I would later enjoy. It was home leave for Indiana Academy students, and the empty campus was covered in deep snow. A blizzard howled about us as my husband, Fred, and I trudged through the snow from an evening meal and fellowship with the boys’ dean’s family.

When we arrived back at the girls’ dean’s apartment, I discovered my watch was missing. Not just any watch—the white gold watch with its slender band was a statement of commitment to a marriage still in its beginnings.

What was a dutiful husband to do but retrace the lighthearted steps of the evening in response to his wife’s tearful entreaties while the hosts of the evening searched their apartment. The watch was not to be found.

Upon the students’ return to campus two days later, they looked up and under and around snow banks searching for the missing watch. At first, I prayed that my husband or one of the students would find the watch. While appreciative of their efforts, I had lingering doubts of ever seeing my watch again.

From the beginning of our life together, returning tithes and offerings was part of a pattern that we each brought to the marriage. I began to claim the promise found in Malachi 3:10:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

The engagement watch, shown in its original case (with a new band), was lost in the snow and miraculously found. Even today, the experience reminds Fred and Gladys of God's care and concern for large and small details in life. (Photo: Lee Bennett)

Claiming this promise gave me hope. One week went slowly by and then another began with no watch to be found. On the last day of the second week, the rains came and made short order of all the snow piles. That afternoon, my husband grabbed an umbrella and headed for a class he taught in the administration building, which was quite a distance from the dormitory. As he was about to open the door to the building, much to his surprise, he saw a shiny object in the mud and rain. Yes, there was my watch! After a little cleaning, it was as good as new.

The watch still resides in its original case, and the young couple who have become seasoned veterans of marriage still work for the Lord from a warmer climate. However, the remarkable recovery of the watch has not lost anything in telling and retelling the story. God’s Word is still sure—the God who rewarded our faithfulness still opens the windows of heaven and pours out blessings without measure to those who steadfastly return their “tithes into the storehouse.”

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The Impact of One Life

posted on December 21, 2011, under Conference, Member by

by Gladys Neigel

“Without the blessing of God and the dedication of our Pathfinder lay leaders, this could not have happened,” are words Cheeko Cotta often repeated when constituents approached him with accolades about the Florida Conference Pathfinder program.

Cheeko, your team thanks you for the impact you've had on their lives and the lives of young people in Florida Conference. (Photo: Tamara Fisher)

Cheeko burst onto the Florida Pathfinder scene in December 1983. At that time, there were approximately 2,000 Pathfinders. When he retired in May 2011, there were more than 5,000.

“No one can measure the impact Cheeko has made in Florida,” says Micky Santiago, a fellow staff member. “His service was always consistent and unselfish.”

Cheeko knows no strangers. Everyone he encounters is rewarded with his friendly smile and words of cheer. “He is a man of God, a leader, and a friend to everyone,” says Stu Davis, Brazilian Chapel Pathfinder director in Deerfield Beach.

“When Cheeko accepted the challenge to direct the Pathfinder program in Florida Conference, his vision was for growth,” say Calvin and Myrlin Brooks, south area Pathfinder administrators.

“His philosophy was to allow lay leaders to build the program under his direction, and it worked. He left a defined mark on the Pathfinder program in Florida Conference and on our lives.”

Lisa and Brad Gary, Conference lay Adventurer directors, add, “We have always considered Cheeko as our close friend and confidant. In the years we worked together, he not only taught us so much about Adventurer ministry, but he taught us to have confidence in ourselves and in our ability to help others.”

When Cheeko received a Ministry Award from the North American Division, he was cited for “his commitment to a caring Pathfinder ministry, his steadfastness in teaching Pathfinder values, leading young people to meaningful spiritual experiences that blessed the lives of thousands of young Adventists, and being an example to other Pathfinder leaders.”

How can you measure the results of 28 years of Pathfinder ministry in Florida Conference and more than 14 years in Potomac Conference? Any report would include: thousands of young people baptized, mission trips, Reveilles, Red Zones, camporees, drill and drum corps competitions, and Bible Bowls.

Every winning team has an encourager, guide, trainer, planner, and leader. Cheeko was that person. Through it all, he would say, “With the Savior’s blessing and thousands of dedicated volunteers, these things were accomplished.”

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Nine Days That Changed My Life

posted on December 05, 2011, under Member by

by Mason Sumner

"As I looked over the desolation, I couldn't even think of where to begin helping." ---Mason Sumner (Photo: John Sumner)

My name is Mason Sumner. I am 15 years old and live in Nobleton, Florida, with my dad, mom, and twin baby sisters. We were baptized into the Adventist Church in 2006.

My family and I are currently members at an elderly church in Inverness; however, we are searching for a church with younger people. With a youth group, we could help change lives by showing God’s love. Until that happens, I am going to keep doing all I can to positively impact lives, just as mine was forever changed in nine short days during the month of June, 2011.

Mason Sumner. (Photo: John Sumner)

You may recall the headlines in the spring of 2011 when disaster struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with no mercy. The after effects were devastating. Tornadoes destroyed everything, not caring if you were rich or poor, big or small. They came with one purpose; to completely desolate.

Out of that destruction, God put together a plan that sent me on my first humanitarian mission trip with my dad through our family’s 5 Loaves 2 Fish Ministries. I have grown up with a commercial contractor dad who, on the side, loves to give—whether it’s helping a neighbor put on a new roof or an elderly woman paint her weathered home.

When I saw the path of destruction the Alabama tornadoes left behind, it was hard to comprehend. Those people were left with only fragments of their home, scattered county wide. As I looked over the desolation, I couldn’t even think of where to begin helping.

This tent in a campground served as Mason's living quarters during her volunteer time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo: John Sumner)

During the next nine days, my dad and I worked hard in many different places for multiple organizations while staying in individual tents at a campground. It was eye opening. God showed me how blessed I am and how fortunate my family is. Our mission trip wasn’t to deliberately preach God’s word, but to show Christ’s love through our actions. We went in the name of God to be servants of the Lord for others. Wherever we picked up a branch or pieced a home back together, footprints of God’s love were left behind. As a result of this mission endeavor, I developed a stronger love for helping people in their time of need.

One memory that stands out above all the rest is the day I was volunteering for Salvation Army. A women and her son came for help to get back on their feet after they lost everything. Their home was no more, and their belongings could not be located. The fear and pain I saw in their eyes was heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but ask her, “How do you recover from this?” She replied, “God has a plan; He will provide.” Hearing that response from a person who just lost everything was such a powerful witness of faith—that there is still hope on this earth.

The enormous impact that one person can have on another is incredible. Just imagine that impact if we all came together and worked as one, united in the Body of Christ. It took a disaster for me to realize that, so it is my job to spread God’s love to other people of all ages now, before another disaster strikes.

I think we all see that some churches are failing to embrace their youth. As an effect, the youth are leaving the church to find unhealthy places where they feel truly welcomed. The whole church—not just a few pastors or youth group leaders—needs to embrace each other so, when disaster strikes, we can all help change lives by showing God’s love.

Disasters do not care if you are young or old, and neither should we. We are all God’s children.

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Elmer and Violet Jones Celebrate 65th Wedding Anniversary

posted on December 05, 2011, under Member by

by Naomi Zalabak

Elmer and Violet Jones.

Elmer Jones and Violet Sickler were married in Bridgeton, New Jersey on November 3, 1946. Their first date occurred after Violet’s mother twice introduced Violet to Elmer—once by a picture and then in person.

Elmer was a horticulturalist near Trenton, N.J., until they moved to Kettering, Ohio, when Violet was asked to help establish Kettering Memorial Hospital, now Kettering Medical Center. As the head nurse, she admitted the first patient.

Returning to their farm in New Jersey, Elmer started working in the greenhouses at Rowan University. Violet studied for a masters in public health at Loma Linda University while working as a public health nurse and teaching nursing.

For several years, Violet and Elmer visited Florida as snowbirds. In 1976, they moved to Sarasota, then retired in Avon Park in 1992. Violet’s nursing and health education skills gave her opportunities to conduct cooking classes and help more than 1,000 people quit smoking through Stop Smoking clinics. She also served as a church elder, and Elmer served more than 40 years as a deacon.

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My Journey Home: How Did God Get Me Here?

posted on November 04, 2011, under Member by

by Joan Smith

Joan Smith, right, preparing for baptism by Pastor Dave Swinyar, serves the Ocala Church in communication and developed an interactive web site with hopes of making members' lives easier. "I hope their smiling faces on the pages will lead someone else to our church, just as it was their faces on the web site that invited me in when I was searching for truth." (Photo: Sam Minosh)

My journey started a little more than a year ago. Life seemed fine the way it was; yet, God obviously had different plans.

I had settled spiritually into New Age after years of searching different denominations and facing disappointment in teachings and people. It seemed being alone with God and my books was enough.

For years, a friend tried getting me to church. I didn’t want to hear of it, but God kept working on my heart. Lying in bed one morning, I prayed, “If You want me to change course, then You have to show me the way. Just show me the truth, and I will follow wherever You lead.”

God started to do just that in a peculiar way. He began waking me each day at 3:00 A.M. It was perfect—no distractions just learning at the computer. I thought at the time He was validating my beliefs in New Age.

One day, I heard a speaker say the Garden of Eden wasn’t real. I knew this was untrue. Here, my journey took a new path as I began searching on my own instead of waiting for direction.

While sitting at the computer one morning, I typed, “What is truth?” in the search box. A list of comments about truth appeared, and two words caught my eye—Amazing Facts. I had watched this program some 15 years earlier and thought it interesting. I went to their web site and, day after day, listened to sermons.

Soon, Amazing Facts led me to 3ABN (Three Angels Broadcasting Network). Then, my search led me to other ministry sites. I couldn’t satisfy my thirst.

After months of studying, I knew I had found the truth. I started observing the Sabbath at home, but Doug Batchelor and Ken Cox kept telling viewers to become involved with a church.

The day I chose to visit Ocala Seventh-day Adventist Church, my true journey began. When my husband dropped me off, he said he’d wait for 10 minutes in case I decided not to stay. I told him, “Don’t worry, I’m staying.”

As I walked through the doors, I was greeted by warm, smiling faces. I explained I was new and was given a welcome packet. Heading for the sanctuary door, frightened to death of unfamiliar surroundings, I approached a gentleman who greeted me. I explained it was my first time to visit the church.

Jay Dewitt took my hand, said, “Come with me,” and led me to his wife, Joan, which caused us both to chuckle that we shared the same first name. Jay whispered in his wife’s ear, “She is new.” From that day, they have taken me under their wings and guided me through my journey.

When I recall that first Sabbath, tears fill my eyes. If I hadn’t been treated so kindly, I may not have returned. I’m a testimony that a simple smile or friendly gesture to a new face can literally save a person’s spiritual life.

After studying God’s truths for several months with Pastor Dave Swinyar, I was baptized December 10, 2010. The church members, surely a chosen generation of people, have accepted me so warmly.

Now, I pray for God to show me how I can be an active part of this body of Christ. My desire is to serve God with love, compassion, and grace.

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A Call to Service

posted on November 04, 2011, under Member by

by Deena Kemp, Karmin Rempfer

Marvin Williams, Florida Conference Ministerial Field Secretary for North Florida, left, offers a prayer for the ministry of Claudette Aleman, center, and her husband, Rene. Also present: Bill Kilgore, Claudette's Southwestern Adventist University mentor and former teacher, right; Tampa First Church Pastor Brad Cassell, behind Kilgore; and representatives of Florida Conference administration, background, from left, Mike Cauley, President; Tim Nichols, Vice President for Pastoral Ministries; Carmen Rodriguez, Executive Secretary; and Duane Rollins, Treasurer. (Photo: Ruth Pryce)

At Tampa First, Fla., Church, they call her Pastor Claudette. Around the theology department at her alma mater, Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), she was affectionately nicknamed the Apostle Paulette. “She told people about Jesus everywhere she went,” explains Dr. Bill Kilgore, Claudette Aleman’s mentor and former teacher at SWAU.

For Claudette, the call to ministry began as a little girl when she and her mother first moved to the United States. She had a hunger for God and a craving to learn more when an Adventist family adopted them and offered fellowship and Bible study.

The seed planted in her heart during her young years, blossomed even more on August 27, 2011, when her family, dear friends, and members of Florida Conference gathered for her commissioning service.

In his message about the call to ministry being a call to service, Kilgore reminded the church that the first criterion for ministry is to be a Christian. We are all called to minister in some way, and we should let the Holy Spirit be our guide. “Claudette may be a small lady,” says Kilgore, “but she is powerful on the inside.” Speaking directly to her, he offered the assurance, “Know that God will continue to lead you.”

Mike Cauley, Florida Conference President, and other ordained ministers joined Kilgore in laying of hands and saying a prayer of dedication for Pastor Claudette. She was welcomed into the ministry, and Carmen Rodriguez, Florida Conference Executive Secretary, presented her with the official credentials.

The service ended with a celebratory rendition of He Lives. For Claudette, her true purpose is to let this message ring clear to whomever she meets, and it is a motivating factor in her ministry.

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Bill and Mavis Sager Celebrate 60th Anniversary

posted on November 04, 2011, under Member by

by Naomi Zalabak

Mavis and Bill Sager. (Photo: Tom Amos)

Bill and Mavis Sager were married September 2, 1951, at Oakdale Sanitarium, Oakdale, Iowa. After graduating from high school, Mavis worked in this Sanitarium where her mother was a patient.

During their early years together, Bill drove a delivery truck for Loma Linda Foods and owned a service station in Iowa. In December 1958, he sold the station and began working for the denomination at Oak Park Academy in Nevada, Iowa, where he wore several hats. Among them were: operator of a commercial laundry that serviced motels, hotels, and the hospital in the area; assistant boys’ dean; and bus driver for student trips. In 1965, he helped build and administer a 70-bed nursing home on campus that provided work for students.

In 1967, Highland Hospital, Portland, Tenn., called Bill to be administrator. During the 12 years he served there, the Sager’s five children grew up, and Bill became involved with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee, Rotary, and other community organizations.

In 1979, Bill accepted a call to become the administrator of Walker Memorial Hospital in Avon Park. He continued his involvement with Rotary and Salvation Army, and he served on hospital boards. He was also in charge of the building of Florida Hospital Lake Placid.

Bill and Mavis so loved their church family and the community they chose Avon Park as their place of retirement in 1991. For a number of years afterward, Bill served as treasurer for Walker Memorial Academy and, until this year, Mavis served as Sabbath School superintendent.

The Sagers have five children: Mark, Kyle, Scott, Jan, Brent, and Pat; 16 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

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Stories of Stewardship

posted on October 05, 2011, under Conference, Member by

Faith and Finance is a 12-lesson practical study on money management, prepared by the North American Division Stewardship Department. This guide to financial planning with a faith factor was edited by Edward Reid, former Stewardship Department director. Throughout Florida Conference, congregations have included Faith and Finance training among their small group ministry programs. “Our first Faith and Finance small group was life-changing and even marriage-saving,” testifies Miami Springs Church Pastor Glenn Aguirre. “It was so effective that leaders Ray and Damaris Mateo have been asked to start another class. I praise God for the lives and marriages this series has changed!”

An Ancient Institution With a Modern Application

by Conrad Duncan, Florida Conference Vice President for Administration

History of Tithing
In the early years of the Adventist Church, there were few settled pastors. Nearly all paid workers were evangelists, church planters, and overseers or administrators of mission. Lay members who served as volunteers conducted member care as well as ongoing local evangelism.

Because of the nature of this dynamic movement, a decision was made early in the Church’s history to send all tithes from congregations to the regional conference or mission office headquarters that coordinated mission expansion. Thus began a most effective system for church finance. As the Church has matured, it has continued to expand its perspective on mission.

For example, Christian education has become recognized as an effective and essential method for discipling young people. Today, Christian education is partially funded by tithe dollars, second only to pastors and evangelists. Other ministries such as literature evangelism and youth ministry are viewed as part of the mission of Adventism and, thus, are sustained in part by the tithe dollar.

Use of the Tithe
God established the tithe and further stipulated its use. Based on these instructions, the Seventh-day Adventist Church follows biblical directions for use of the tithe.

Nearly 80% of the tithe dollar remains in Florida Conference to advance the gospel in our territory. Of the dollars spent in Florida Conference, approximately 75% is spent on salaries and support for workers. Approximately 20% furthers the work of preaching and teaching the gospel around the world.

The portion of tithe dollars not retained by Florida Conference helps fund ministries such as:

  • Overseas missions.
  • Media broadcasts such as Hope Channel, Voice of Prophecy, It Is Written, and other radio and television ministries.
  • Institutions of higher learning such as Loma Linda University, Oakwood University, and Andrews University.
  • Publications such as Adventist World for members and Ministry Magazine for pastors and other church leaders.

Portions of the tithe dollar retained by Florida Conference go toward Christian education. Greater Miami Adventist Academy and Forest Lake Academy, as well as Southern Adventist University, benefit from tithe. Also, up to 30% of our elementary church school salaries are paid with tithe.

The preparation of curriculum for children and youth Sabbath School ministries, as well as courses taught in Adventist elementary and secondary schools, are supported with tithe.

Tithe pays for the quarterly Conference publication, Florida Focus, and contributes to the budget of Southern Tidings which is published monthly by Southern Union Conference.

Camp Kulaqua and Pine Lake Retreat benefit from tithe dollars. At these facilities, dozens of young people accept Jesus as their Savior each year and are baptized. Hundreds more recommit their lives to Him.

Florida Conference also uses tithe to subsidize the MagaBook program which hires young people for literature evangelism. Their earnings help pay for their Christian education while they work to spread the gospel.

Inspiring Testimonies
History is filled with people who believed, accepted, and practiced Bible teachings on tithing. There is mention of patriarchs such as Abraham (Genesis 14:20), Jacob (Genesis 28:22), and even the whole nation of Israel—priests and people alike (Leviticus).

In modern times, there are stories of famous and wealthy people who credited the returning of tithe to God as the secret for their success and prosperity. Among these individuals are: William Colgate of Colgate Toothpaste, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Henry John Heinz of Heinz Ketchup, Milton S. Hershey of Hershey’s Chocolate, and James Cash Penney of J.C. Penney.

As I write, myriads of people in Florida Conference, and around the world, are following this godly principle of tithing and experiencing God’s prosperity in their lives. Continuing this article, you’ll be inspired to read success stories of faithfulness and obedience shared by members of the Florida Adventist family.

Tithing: A Matter of Faith

by Rommel and Theresa Pageotte-Andre, Jacksonville Mandarin Church Members

The Pageotte-Andre family. (Photo: Kern Hercules Images)

It has not been easy, yet, by God’s grace, we have kept our three children, ages 17, 11, and 7, in Christian schools all of their lives. However, something was missing.

With our income, as it was, we were not able to fully pay our monthly debts. We would pay what we felt were the required bills, and we would place tithe at the end. This meant that tithe was usually eliminated.

My wife attended elementary, high school, and college in Adventist schools. She felt strongly about an Adventist or Christian education for our kids. I did not. I believe the devil attacked me often by reminding me that our bills would be paid if the children went to public school. Tithing was always in the back of my mind, but I was ashamed to deal with it.

One day, I spoke with our pastor, Juan Rodriguez, about some family financial difficulties. He politely, but bluntly, told me that tithing is a matter of faith. This truth hit me really hard. I know God is faithful, but I was not obedient to Him. I consider myself a logical person. Logically, it did not make sense to pay tithe and have money to pay our bills. Remember, we did not have enough money in the first place. A few months passed by after talking with our pastor—still not returning tithe—and the financial difficulties remained.

Throughout our wonderful years of marriage, God has blessed us. We have seen and felt His grace. We have testified about what He has been and continues to be in our marriage and family life. Why was it so hard to simply trust that He would bless us financially? He had never failed us before. We knew it was our choice, and that we needed to make the right decision.

Approximately three months ago, my wife and I decided to trust God. We decided to return God’s tithe and let Him lead. The first week, tithe was the first item paid, and our account overdrafted as expected. The next week, our tithe was, again, the first thing paid. To our surprise, everything else was also paid. everything, with no overdrafts.

It didn’t make sense. It was not logical any way we looked at it. We tried to do the math, and it did not add up. Unbelievable! Yet, we are believers. How could we allow the devil to take our hard-earned money? How did we expect God to grow His people if we were selfish in what we wanted for ourselves and our children? He told us He would take care of us. We teach our children that God will always take care of them.

In our humanity, we do not know how, but the bills are getting paid. God has opened and closed the right doors, and He has clearly shown us He always does what He says He will do. Through human eyes, the God we serve is not at all logical, but He is our Father, our Redeemer, and our Provider.

Thoughts On the Fount of Blessing

by Elisa Rahming

Elisa Rahming, Florida Conference Undertreasurer, enjoys traveling, participating in mission trips, and teaching biblical financial principles. (Photo: Kevin Shearer)

The Lord loves to give gifts to His children and is always there to listen to our requests. While I was in college, two required courses for graduation were scheduled at the same time. After much prayer, the Lord worked it out for me to finish both classes and graduate on time.

This experience played a significant marker in my spiritual journey. My relationship with God was deepened, enabling me to experience God’s faithfulness and blessings firsthand. When I consider all He has done for me, how can I not give my time, talents, and tithes and offerings to Him?

Although I spend a significant portion of my day working with dollars and cents, true biblical stewardship is so much more than handling money. It starts with God as our Creator, our Owner, our Provider, and our Sustainer.

Stewardship is the lifestyle of one who has a daily, living relationship with Jesus Christ, accepts His Lordship, walks in partnership with God, and acts as His agent to manage His affairs on earth.

God is the owner of everything, and He is the giver of all good gifts. God is a God of blessings. He pours out blessings, and then He wants us to be held accountable for them. He expects us to act in good human stewardship and to act responsibly.

God wants us to act in partnership with Him. This close association reminds us that there are two sides of stewardship. One side is about embracing that desire for God and His relationship with us. The other side is when God initiates a relationship, and stewardship accepts and embraces that relationship.

For me, even though I was baptized in the ocean at the age of 12 in my home town of Nassau, Bahamas, I didn’t fully grasp the concept of Jesus Christ as Lord of my entire life until later in my walk with Him. In fact, I was in my late 20s. I fully understood Jesus as Savior, but understanding the concept of His Lordship was something that took a little while. I’m thankful that I understand it now. It’s not just one segment or two segments of my life, but it’s everything. It’s my time, it’s my talent, it’s my treasure, it’s my career life, and it’s my ministry life. It’s everything.

The Lord wants to be our Helper by guiding and directing us in everything that we do. Putting God first and foremost in everything and being fully committed and devoted to Him means that we move as He leads and go in the direction He calls us to go.

God expects accountability from us. He also expects faithfulness for what He has given us.

Stewardship is a lifestyle of service. Jesus set an example of a lifestyle of service, a lifestyle of ministry, and a lifestyle of giving. He wants us to do the same. What is lifestyle? It is a way of being and a way of doing. It is living God’s life in the way He did through Jesus Christ when He was here on earth. It is living the way that He would want us to live in every single area of our lives.

Stewardship is all of me in response to all of God. He’s given so much, and He wants all of us. That’s actually part of what gives me joy in giving all of me to all of Him, because He brings me joy in doing so. There are so many blessings that we receive when we give our all to Him, and I’m not just referring to monetary blessings.

We’re not just returning to an entity or an organization. Rather, we’re actually returning to Him. We’re not just returning money. Rather, we’re returning our time, our resources, and our talent. We’re returning all of us to what God is, because He is Lord of our lives.

God wants our heart. He does not just want the money from our pockets. He wants everything that we have, and I enjoy this relationship with Him in giving Him my heart and in giving Him everything that I have. Doing so truly brings joy to those who accept His Lordship and walk in partnership with God.

Elisa’s thoughts in this article are blended with those taken from a presentation by Erika Puni, Ph.D., director of stewardship ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church.

Learning To Live God’s Way

by Mickey and Ana Cuesta

Ana and Mickey Cuesta, Miami Springs Church members, attended a Faith and Finance seminar which changed their lives forever. (Photo: Arlene Montello)

We were married in 2002, and both of us had children from previous marriages. It was a struggle to agree on how to cover our children’s expenses and our own. Each of us had a separate bank account, and this brought friction to our marriage.

A few months ago, our church, Miami Springs, decided to offer a 10-week seminar based on the book, Faith and Finance, by Edward Reid. From the start, Mickey felt this seminar was sent by God.

At the time, Ana was on disability. “Why should we share,” Mickey said, “if she is not bringing any money home? If we could not manage our finances when we both were working, why do it now?” Mickey was also struggling with faithfulness in tithing. His mentality was, “I don’t feel like it,” but Ana was always faithful in this matter.

During the first seminar session, nothing was said about money. It was all about God. He is the Creator, and He owns everything. We are just His stewards. Little by little, conviction came to our hearts that this was going to be a life-changing event. We had to learn to completely trust in God and in each other!

After several weeks, the reality hit home, and Mickey declared, “The hardest part is putting the ego into my pocket,” yet he was not ready for a full commitment. Among the 10 couples taking the seminar, six had separate bank accounts. A short while later, we decided, “We are going to have only one bank account.”

What a major shift in our relationship! Now, no more arguing about how to spend the money. We are consulting each other before paying expenses, purchasing items, and how to help our children. Credit cards were paid off or put in a drawer. “This was the hardest part for me,” confesses Ana.

Through prayer and commitment, we have learned that it’s about doing things God’s way and not our way. God has blessed us in many ways that are not necessarily monetary. We came to understand that faithfulness to God includes returning a faithful tithe. Our relatives and friends have noticed the tremendous change in our relationship—especially no more fighting. We communicate much better and on a deeper level. There is peace and happiness in our home.

We recommend that all churches offer the Faith and Finance seminar for their members. It is such a great blessing, and it will change lives for the better!

Forever Faithful Is Our Goal

by Brian Mori, Miami Springs Church Member

Brian Mori

I am 34 years old and have been a Christian since I was a little boy. Yet, it was only about three years ago that I came to know Jesus Christ. Up until that time, I took my relationship with God for granted by just going through the motions. I didn’t have the fire for Christ that others talk about. Not having this relationship with Christ kept me from receiving the wisdom and knowledge necessary to make it through these economic tough times.

About three years ago, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. Somehow, my wife and I had quickly accumulated more than $14,000 in credit card debt. I had never before in my life had credit card debt. This situation was causing even more problems in my marriage and family life.

I had just begun my new walk with Christ, and He allowed me to realize that Satan was trying to attack me and bring me down. I began listening to a Christian radio program about money. I kept hearing people in my similar situation getting and staying out of debt while, at the same time, staying faithful to God and being good stewards. Although I slipped many times, I tried to stay faithful to God and give Him 10% as I paid down the debt through making sacrifices while living paycheck to paycheck.

I continued praying and reading Christian books about debt and finances, as well as taking a finance class at my church. All of these resources showed me that only God can allow us to get out of situations we have gotten ourselves into, and we need to remain faithful to Him and do as He asks.

I now fully understand Malachi 3:10 where God talks about opening the floodgates of Heaven and pouring His blessings on those who are good stewards. One of the things I learned from this situation is that if we just ask God to give us a content heart, He will, and He will keep us from falling into the traps of needing earthly possessions.

I am blessed to say that it took a couple of years, but my family and I are now free and clear of the $14,000 credit card debt. We will forever remain faithful to God and keep being good stewards and managers of His money. Our goal now is to pay off all of our debt and ask God what He wants us to do for Him.

You Can’t Outgive God

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Heritage Scripture Studies

Barbara and Jeff Zaremsky lead the Beth-El Shalom congregations in St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.

Jeff Zaremsky and Barbara Gurien met and fell in love—a real match made in heaven. Finances being one of the most important areas of marriage, they decided to find out how compatible they were in this area before they got married.

It turns out that both were already giving a full 20% (10% for tithe, 10% for offerings) of their gross income to the Lord. Even though they were both volunteers, earning just a small stipend at the time, they always had enough.

As plans of a wedding were birthed, they wondered how they could give tithes and offerings on their wedding gifts. How do you give 20% of a blender? Most of their friends did not earn much more than they did, and they were expecting mostly homemade afghans for gifts. They decided to figure out the value of the physical gifts and then give the appro-priate amount in cash. If they did not have enough cash, they would return a blender or something so they would have money for tithe and offerings.

The Zaremskys on their wedding day in 1991. (Photo: Tyrone Greene)

When they finally opened all their presents, they not only had enough in cash gifts to cover their tithe and offerings on both cash and physical gifts, they had enough to cover the cost for their entire two-week honeymoon, including airfare, rental car, and hotels. In addition to the cash, they also received more than they needed for furnishing their new apartment—including two blenders. There was even a little money left over to put in the bank. Weeks after their honeymoon, they took a class on how to set up a spending plan that has kept them out of debt (other than their mortgage) and has helped to buy the things that they really need and often want.

For more than twenty years of marriage, Jeff and Barbara have never lacked for anything they really needed, nor have they even questioned whether they could afford to give 20% back to the Lord. Actually, they decided they couldn’t afford not to and have increased their percentage over the years to 25%. Today, they are totally debt free, including their home. God has always been faithful, and Jeff and Barbara have always had more than enough.

God Sometimes Works In Very Mysterious Ways

by Naomi Zalabak, Avon Park Church Member

Naomi Zalabak shares a memory about faithfulness from her Depression-era farmhouse childhood.

Back in the 1930s, our family was suffering from effects of The Great Depression. Out of work, my father was trying to get established as a farmer on our newly acquired 40-acre home place.

We had a vegetable garden and could pick wild berries in our woods, but my mother was in need of essentials for preparing bread such as flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. I recall hearing Mother and Father discussing their need and whether, under the circumstances, it would be acceptable to borrow the money they had set aside for tithe.

Their decision was to not use the tithe. Right away, Father started walking the mile to church to give the tithe to the pastor so they wouldn’t yield to the temptation to use it.

Shortly after midnight, we were awakened by a strange noise in the field in front of our house. In the dim moonlight, I could see a shadowy figure from my window and heard plodding through the deep grass. As the figure approached the house, Daddy picked up something to use as a weapon, if necessary, and went out to confront the intruder who had started to climb the steps to the front porch. Father was about to strike when he heard a woman’s muttering voice.

The woman was a patient who had escaped from the mental hospital 12 miles from our home. She intended to head toward a relative’s place in town, but a wrong turn brought her to our farm instead.

Father put her in the car and headed for the mental hospital. Upon arrival, those in charge rewarded him with money enough to supply our needs.

God sometimes works in very mysterious ways.

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My Personal Devotional Time: A Fountain of Many Blessings

posted on October 03, 2011, under Member by

by Marti Jones, former Coordinator of Spiritual Nurture and Spiritual Ambassadors for Florida Hospital Orlando

Marti Jones says, "When I look out at the new day and see the water bubbling over the top of the fountain in the yard, I am reminded of the appointment Jesus kept with the woman of Samaria." (Photo: Don Jones)

It is always difficult to put into words the thoughts of one’s heart. It is such a personal and unique way we each sense and feel, particularly when it comes to our relationship with our Creator. However, it is important to share what has been a blessing and of deep meaning in our own life. It is part of our personal testimony and, therefore, may be of benefit to someone.

I am, by nature, an outgoing person. I love other people, but as much as I enjoy company, I also love and appreciate my time alone. It is in these moments of solace that I really find out what is going on inside my being. I have discovered how important it is to my spiritual growth to share meaningful time with God. It has been during these special visits with Him that He reveals through scripture what my soul is in need of, and He always does it with loving care.

When I first committed to a devotional time, I decided to do so in the evening. I have always been more of a night owl than a morning person. However, I noticed that frequently the day brought varied challenges for which I had felt unprepared. Quite often, due to the many necessities or urgencies of life, I had postponed time with God until fatigue prevented me from enjoying His company.

Since I have made my first appointment of the day with Jesus, He provides, through prayer and study of His Word, the support I will need in my very busy schedule. He even wakes me up without the alarm clock, and when I awaken, it makes me smile to sense His desire to be with me.

My early morning visits that include listening to His Spirit have become vital to me. It is a time to express joy and wonder at His gift of life—to praise Him and thank Him for my family, to sing songs in my heart, and to proclaim praise to the Father, Jesus my Savior, and the Spirit of Comfort who is my peace. Now, when things get crazy, and they still do, the Word of God comes alive in me to impart deeper wisdom, greater patience, or persevering effort to meet difficult moments.

Most importantly is where this time with Jesus has brought me personally. I am in the process of learning true surrender—something that is very challenging to our humanity. He has impressed me that this is perhaps the most important work in which God calls us to participate. He is able to do great things through His people. He has promised the outpouring of His Spirit, the empowering of His church before His coming, but this is only possible if we allow Him to prepare our temple.

In my personal time of prayer and study, I now seek renewing of heart and mind day by day. It is less difficult for me when I remember to cultivate an active and living relationship with Jesus. The more I come to commune with him, the lighter my load. His Spirit has blessed my role as wife, mother, and Pila (that is what my grandkids call me).

Outside the window where I sit to visit with my God in the early morning is a lovely fountain. When I look out at the new day and see the water bubbling over the top of the fountain in the yard, I am reminded of the appointment Jesus kept with the woman of Samaria. To her, He offered the Water of Life, Himself, when He said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” —John 4:10, 13–14 (NIV)

In the coming months, look for a how-to list of ways/experiences in which our readers have found special meaning to their devotional time. We invite you to share your thoughts. From them, we may select a sentence or two or, possibly, your story.

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Family Finds Home In Orange Cove Church

posted on September 23, 2011, under Church, Member by

by Dana Amatangelo

André Van Heerden prepares to baptize Jerry Smith while Bonnie, who was baptized first, waits to share her joy with Jerry. (Photo: Kern Hercules Images)

Every pew of the Orange Cove, Florida, Church was filled with members and guests awaiting the beginning of a new journey for a couple who, only a few months before, were without a home, without direction, and consumed by broken hearts and shattered dreams. The picture was so bleak that their two children were taken from them when they lost their home.

On March 25, André Van Heerden, Orange Cove pastor and volunteer president of The Mercy Network of Clay County, was involved in a county-wide outreach to help the homeless. He met the Smith family of four who were, then, using their car as a home.

When Jerry and Bonnie asked Pastor André if he would be willing to help them, he assured them he could take on their case. They became residents of one of the group homes sponsored by The Mercy Network of which Orange Cove Church is a member. Invitations to church services and other activities were extended to the family.

Jerry and Bonnie Smith's children joined them on the platform as Pastor André Van Heerden offered a prayer over their new life as a family. (Photo: Kern Hercules Images)

Two months later, a celebration of renewal took place where Pastor André baptized Jerry and Bonnie. This day would mark two covenants. The first promise was demonstrated for all to witness as the couple were lowered into the water and brought up again, signifying their new birth and commitment to the Higher Power that had brought them so far in such a short time.

The next covenant, just a few minutes later, would be to one another in a marriage ceremony. While every person in the congregation rose to their feet, Bonnie stepped into the sanctuary as her soon-to-be husband, Jerry, stood beside the pastor and watched his waiting bride with tears in his eyes.

Two lives, changed because of kindness, are now beginning a new life together that will change their future, the future of their children, and possibly many generations to come.

Visit the Orange Cove Church web site ministries page for an update on the Smith family:

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