Thursday, November 29, 2012

Answer to Prayer!

God is faithful! He inspires us and then equips us. We're never alone as we seek to please Him.

Amen to that!

The associate pastor of our church contacted me today and affirmed our desire to minister to neighborhood children and families. They will provide the Jesus Storybook Bibles for us--for eight families to start. They will also pray for us and provide for our other ministry needs as they arise. So excited doesn't begin to cover the emotions here! Thank you for praying about this with us!

I prayed about celebrating Christmas in a God-honoring way and it came to me to give Jesus three gifts, just as He received as a baby over 2000 years ago. A Jesus Storybook Bible for eight neighborhood families here, followed by a Jesus Storybook Bible Children's Bible Study hosted by us, were two of the gifts I planned to give!

When the Holy Spirit inspires, he also equips! Our part is to move forward in obedience, not demanding all the answers and details up front. We live by faith.

In other news....

I'm studying peace for our Fruitful Friday series, but as Beth's dental procedure under general anesthesia is tomorrow morning, I may not have the post quite complete for a Friday publishing. Look for it soon. (Not that I assume you were on the edge of your seats or anything.:)

One amazing thing I've learned so far? God does not give us our own peace. He invites us to share in His peace.

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

More to come....

images here

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Homemaking: Taming the House (Kids and Chores)

Today we continue our series on HomemakingTaming the House, keeping in mind that our ultimate goal is to delegate, train, and teach our children to run a house by themselves, hopefully by their sixteenth birthday. If we grasp perfectionism with clenched fists, delegation will never work for us and when they're all teenagers, nothing will have changed.

They'll still need us to wash, fold and hang their laundry, make their meals, clean their messes and organize their school days. All that work continuing for years and years, and then their spouses despising us for failing to launch them?

Oh, the horror.

Taming a house full of kids starts with taming the toy clutter, followed by taming the children. I've found nothing better than graphic organizers to help kids organize themselves, enabling them to take on their appropriate share of the work.

I own very little software and use even less, but if you're good with technology you can whip up something pretty and easy. I don't even use a ruler anymore, but just write the weekdays on the top and the subjects on the left margin, and make boxes to write the assignments and chores in. Certain times of year we have a timed schedule, but when routines are well known we just use a boxed-graphic schedule for each school-aged child. My schedule includes what I need to do with my preschooler.

Here you see History, Bible and Reading in the first picture, and science and writing boxes in the next image.

Besides the school subjects, we have boxes for standard chores and a box for "love offerings". The children must do 3 "love offerings" a week for free, and then I give them additional paid chores, such as vacuuming and sweeping and mopping.

The paid chores are not the same every week, but are more of a sampling to help train them and help me catch up as necessary. If they want friends over and I've been steadily busy all day, they sometimes have to help me by vacuuming or sweeping beforehand--either as a love offering or a paid chore.

They can choose their own 3 love offerings every week, such as reading to the girls, doing therapy with Beth, folding extra clothes, making cookies for neighbors, sweeping the kitchen or dining room, etc. They put a check in a love offering box and write one word to describe what they did, such as "read" or "bake". On Fridays if they don't already have 3 love offerings done, they have to catch up on the weekends.


The standard daily chores for the boys are:

  • Making their own beds
  • Clearing their bedroom floor of stray clothes, etc.
  • Feeding any pets, changing cages once/week
  • Folding all of their clothes from the clean-clothes baskets (and if there are none of theirs, they fold Daddy's pajamas or underclothes, or our towels/washcloths)
  • Putting any recycling out in our bins, and putting the bins on the curb on Thurs. morning
  • Putting away anything they use each day (construction paper, paints, Lincoln Logs, Legos)
  • Clearing off and dusting their dresser and bookshelf twice monthly. They still use way too much lemon spray, but we're working on that.
Paul, age 9, is still learning to sweep corners well and vacuum entire areas thoroughly. Peter, age 10 (11 in Jan), is quite good at both sweeping and vacuuming now. Peter also does well with a squeegee on the windows, but we don't do them often, I'm ashamed to say.

Peter can also start laundry but he sometimes forgets the soap. I ask him to start laundry only occasionally and only if I can be close to watch him with the soap. I do all the dishes and emptying of the dishwasher myself, mostly because we have little money to replace broken dishes and the dishes are kept in high cupboards anyway.

I will need to let go of my worry over broken dishes in the next couple years, as most kids can do this chore by 12 or 13, I suspect. Our experiences, remember, are with the boys being the oldest, not the girls. 


Five-year-old Mary folds her pajamas, underwear and socks, and helps clean the playroom as necessary. We've worked on bed-making together but I gave her a break with that, deciding we'd try again in a few months. I am not picky with beds, as you could see with the boys' beds if I were brave enough to photograph them. They aren't great at it, but everything gets pulled to the head of the bed and the trucks on their comforters face the proper direction. (Yes, they've had the same little-boy truck & car comforters for 7.5 years and so far, no complaining or asking for updates. It seems as though they could care less!)

Beth, age 3 (4 in Dec.), helps clean the playroom, though I have to keep on her a lot (sometimes she ends up in time out). She does better when we give her a specific job, such as put away the stuffed animals in the stuffed-animal bin. Put all the dishes in the play kitchen, etc. One direction at a time. When I walk away, she's lazy and lost. She can also fold her underwear and towels, and I'm not picky as this point about the quality of her folding.

I hope someone finds this helpful. I know we definitely would live in more chaos without graphic organizers.

I think it helps our sanity that we participate in very few extra-curricular activities. Beth goes to physical therapy and speech, back to back on Wednesdays, and Paul and Mary will join her for group speech therapy in January. I have been staying home and continuing to school, letting husband take Beth to her appointment during the last 6 weeks, finding that it gives me more uninterrupted time to school Mary one-on-one, without Beth feeling jealous (I can't include her in everything).

AWANA/kids' choir is on Wednesday nights, but doesn't interrupt our daytime schedule. Their verse practice time is on their graphic organizers, but I help my girls with theirs.

 The three older ones will go once or twice a month to homeschool gym, which runs for six weeks at a time throughout the school year. And we go every other week to the library around 4 PM, or more often if we need a specific book, or if they have a worthwhile program offered.

There are fancy chore organizers you can buy, specifically one on called Managers of Their Chores, which sells for $25 and comes with a hanging chore pack with cards kids manipulate. It covers appropriate chores at specific ages, and how to train children effectively.

Managers of Their Chores: A Practical Guide to Children's Chores

Happy Homemaking and choring! Please share what works in your home?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Growing Thankful, Giving Children

As mothers I believe our main concern is always the heart of our children. Sure, we get distracted sometimes with educational matters and extracurricular activities, but our focus usually goes back to the heart, soon enough. We dwell closely with our children and their hearts cannot remain hidden from Momma.

Momma knows.

Scripture tells us that God himself is like this.

1 Samuel 16:7 ESV But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

But the Lord looks on the heart.

And when he looks on the heart, what pleases him there? A beautiful heart, one that shines for the Lord, believes and loves truth and obeys, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Once a heart believes, loves truth, and obeys, it begins to grow spiritual fruit, pleasing the Lord exceedingly. 

Once our children come to know the Lord they need to understand that the Bible--the living, active Word of God--is the most powerful, transforming force in their lives. Our Heavenly Father dwells on those pages. That's what it means when we say the Word is alive and active. It isn't just ink and binding.

It lives.

Being truly and wholly concerned with our children's hearts means we are giving them the Words of Life, read aloud to non-readers, and assigned to fluent readers. Assign the study notes at the bottom of the Bible as well, so a child reads for comprehension.

Children are self-focused, by nature, but with our help they can expand their point of view and greatly impact their world for Christ. When they truly understand how rich they are in Christ, they can begin to love others with the overflow of their hearts. 

Consider the current season and how it might reveal your child's point of view. A child who doesn't know how rich he is in Christ writes a Christmas list of things he wants to receive. But the child who understands what the Lord has already given? That child writes a list of things he wants to give.

A Compassion employee went to a dirt-poor church in Burkina Faso to observe and measure the impact of a new Bible Study program. I think what he observed illustrates what I'm trying to convey:

We facilitate Qavah (Hebrew word for "binding together") through Bible studies held with new church partners and potential church partners. So far we’ve done it with 50 churches in six countries. It takes them through several different steps.

The first step is to help churches understand that God has placed them in their community for a reason. There are needs in their community that they can address, and children are a big part of this.
The second step is celebrating what we already have, and that’s a key distinctive. Often when you go into a community, you ask, “What do you need?” When you go in with a needs-based approach, you get a huge laundry list of needs. But through Qavah, we’re training churches to first ask, “What do we have? What has God given us already?”That makes such a difference in terms of a developmental mindset. 

I visited a church in Burkina Faso doing this Bible study. It was a dirt-poor area, and the facilitator had one blackboard. You could hardly read what he was writing on it. But he wrote on one side, What do we have? and the people were listing, listing and listing.
Then he wrote What do we need? on the other side. They listed some things, like a water well and other important things.

But when they compared the lists and saw all they already had, it was powerful.
The pastor asked, “Are we poor?” And the church all shouted, “We are rich, we are rich, we are rich!” They understood the new mindset. Full story here on Compassion's blog.

When our children understand what they already have, they suddenly realize..."I'm rich!" Their me-focus shifts and their hearts cultivate beauty for the Lord. They move away from consumerism and grasp what it means to love others with the overflow of their hearts.

To grow thankful, giving children, start them on a continuum:

  • Believe, love truth, the power of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Read and study the active, living Word of God. Meet your Heavenly Father there and be filled to overflowing.
  • Make a list of what you already have in Christ (salvation, comfort, truth, fruits of the Spirit, etc.)
  • Bless others with the overflow of your heart (your love, your time, your talents, your resources)
How generous can a child be? How generous can a mother be? Our generosity grows in proportion to our grasp of what we already have.

Scripture tells us if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, our needs will be met. Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

These things refers to food, shelter, clothing. So we don't have to fret about whether we're saving enough for ourselves. We can never out give God.

How generous was our Lord? 

Jesus Is Nailed to Cross

He gave it all.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Multitude Monday: His Grace Never Fails

Some mothering days end like this 

I can't tell you when, exactly, it started with each child. But the older three all have paralyzing fears of some kind and it gets exhausting, knowing what to say and do. Anxiety runs on my side of the family and in me, it manifests itself in a couple ways. One is a fear that my children will fall down the basement steps at my aunt's house. Hers are the only basement steps we deal with and we go to her house only rarely, because she is busy with her own grown family of four children. But on occasion when I have to leave my children with her, my anxiety about the basement steps is very powerful.

When my husband uses a knife or saw around the children, I become terrified of a freak accident, partly because double vision long ago destroyed his depth perception.

Any dangerous power tool or gadget, especially loud and sharp ones, like a garden tiller, also strike fear in me. In my mind's eye I can see the blood gushing, and in my ears I can hear the screaming.

My children inherited fears, I'm sorry to say.

For Thanksgiving we left out the table candles; Mary fears fire of any kind. We went through this same fear with Peter and for a time avoided fireworks and candles and bonfires. When the furnace acted up and made loud popping sounds, we wondered in husband-and-wife whispers if it could lead to an explosion. Fire fears also encompass explosion fears, so that word became taboo for a few years.

Eventually Peter's fire fear subsided and I know Mary's will too. Forgoing the candles seems like the best thing to do; the kindest thing to do for now. It's a sacrifice for the rest of us but a loving one, I reminded my candle-loving boys, who would light candles at every meal if they could.

Paul has feared sunflowers for several years and we no longer plant them. Stray mini sunflowers sprung up in the garden from seeds long forgotten this last year, two of them, and Paul did tolerate them from a safe distance. But when the flower began to droop, it become too menacing for him and I asked a reluctant Peter to pull it. Paul would no longer go anywhere near that part of the yard. When we walked past giant sunflowers in other yards on family walks, Paul stood paralyzed, crying, and wouldn't pass by at all until I suggested he close his eyes while I led him through.

Paul also developed a fear of throwing up that kept him from enjoying dessert for several months this year. You never know what tidbit of information their brains are going to exaggerate into an irrational fear. I must have casually said something about overeating causing vomiting, when someone gave themselves a too generous portion of cake. I don't remember the actual scenario, but Paul began fearing dessert even though he loved it.

Eventually, months later, he began enjoying dessert again, no longer bringing up the vomiting issue. One more life stresser gone, I told myself afterwards.

Until last night, that is.

Husband loves summer sausage and though I think it a horrible food to serve my family, I buy it for husband around Thanksgiving every year. Maybe he had it for holidays growing up, I don't know, but he associates it with holidays. It makes him happy and he joyfully shares it with the children, who for some reason, actually like it. I can't stand the sight of it, but I figure it won't kill them to eat it once a year.

Husband served it to the boys last night while he read aloud to them. I guess Paul asked for seconds, so husband gave him another chunk. It didn't set well with Paul's stomach, because at 2:30 AM, he threw up. In the sink, thank goodness.

He woke me up, tearfully relating his horror. I cleaned up the mess, disinfected, and gave him some tender attention before sending him back to bed with a throw-up bowl. Then I secretly asked the Lord for mercy, because a family of six with a stomach bug is...well, not fun.

He didn't throw up again and I didn't know what to make of that. I exercised caution, only giving him a pretzel stick at 11:00 AM, to test the stomach waters. So far, so good. A couple of hours later I gave him some Cheerios, plain. So far, so good. For a late lunch I gave him plain turkey, another pretzel stick, and a few raisins. Then later, a non-dairy drink. So far, so good. At dinner I gave him a lean turkey burger and baked beans, and then later, a non-dairy drink. No problem.

Except that at bedtime, fear struck his heart. He lay awake, crying, telling me his stomach hurt. I got the throw-up bowl, still wondering if we were dealing with a stomach bug.

But as I listened to him, I realized that fear and anxiety were causing his stomach upset. The possibility of throwing up again was about the worst thing he could think of. He dreaded it to the point of crippling insomnia, and I knew better than to try to convince him he was being irrational.

I was a weary Momma by this time. It had been a long day of strife with his older brother and my emotional energy stores were dangerously low. The thought of his vomiting fear returning made me feel discouraged and rejected. So many people have normal children. Couldn't I just have one of the four without problems?

Why God? What does life bring me one problem after another?

Two days ago Peter broke the zipper on his winter coat, and today, while playing football outside, Paul pulled on the hood of Mary's jacket and ripped it. The furnace is doing the popping thing again and we're wondering how much life its got left, or if it just needs cleaned and serviced. And why, oh why, is Peter wild with OCD and tics again? His ADHD is difficult enough, but when all three are present, life is significantly altered.

One problem after another, and now I've got a nine-year-old boy too paralyzed with fear to fall asleep.

Sometimes mothering feels as crazy as this looks
The temptation was great to just leave him be--to walk away in frustration. Husband was doing some painting at work, it was 10:00 PM, and I had to handle everything myself.

I wanted a cup of cocoa and my Bible more than anything else. I needed those two things something fierce.

But something inside me said no. Not you, not now. Instead, I crawled into bed beside my nervous nine-year-old boy and stroked his forehead and cuddled with him while reciting the 23rd Psalm. Reluctantly, at first. 

But then, as I felt his whole body relax at the Scriptural promises, I knew this was a holy moment. And I got to be a part of it.  Something beautiful and healing. Something sacred and true. The Holy Word of God is alive and active. More powerful and transforming than anything we can imagine.

John 16:32-33 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus has overcome this world! Rejoice, because in Him, we are healed. We are whole

Me, a weary Momma about to explode, finds the power of the Holy Spirit at just the right time and cuddles the boy I was about to walk away from. I am inadequate, selfish. There is always an end to me, but never to God's grace. His grace carries me through my mothering, just as it carries my children through their own personal trials.

My grace is sufficient, he tells me in Scripture. And I live this truth. Moments like this, beautiful ones I couldn't put together myself...they prove to me that yes, His grace is sufficient. That no hardship, no disorder, no problem, is too much to bear. Because in Him, we are whole once again. He takes our brokenness, eclipses it with the Cross, and we become whole. 

Suddenly, heart racing with excitement, I wanted to explain it all to the boy beside it is that the Cross makes us whole.

But I noticed his even breathing. He was peacefully slumbering, his arms wrapped tightly around my neck. All I could do was privately, tearfully, give thanks to God that I hadn't walked away. 

My heart went from lamenting over my hardships, to marveling at his grace. My grumbling turned to thanksgiving and I felt like the richest woman alive. 

Giving Thanks Today:

  • A life lived under the power of His grace
  • A hardworking, hard-loving husband
  • Children eager to bring smiles to their neighborhood friends this Christmas
  • Hot cocoa and Scripture taken together
  • The power of the Spirit making me more than I am as a mother, even in the middle of the night
  • The first snow fall
  • Neighborhood-friend Lexie over for dinner and baking, teaching us that love is patient 
  • Sons learning to be gentlemen
  • Daughters learning to say please and thank you
  • Siblings making up indoor games on a snowy, windy day
  • Warmed-up sweet potato casserole
  • Two days of turkey noodle soup this week (their favorite)
  • Delicious cranberries boiled with orange juice...even better the second day
  • No stomach bug...I think
  • Beth has a dental surgery this Friday and has to be put to sleep for an hour. They didn't want to fix a cavity with her awake, unfortunately, because I couldn't guarantee that she'd cooperate. I've been dreading it for months and fearful about the anesthesia, but God has settled my heart tonight. They'll also get her first x-rays and a hygienist will clean her teeth within the same hour. We had to be put on a waiting list so this has been long in coming. Please say a short prayer that she doesn't come down with any illnesses? If so, it would have to be postponed. Thank you!

Giving thanks with Ann today, and other thankful ladies.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Love For Neighbors

Why did God give me this specific home and neighborhood? I believe it's divine design, most certainly. The people who surround us--who surround you, too--need the Gospel delivered in a personal way, through smiles, waves, gifts, helps, and through prayers.

It's taken me years to understand that you don't have to go to Burkina Faso to be a missionary. In fact, the command to "go and make disciples of all nations" doesn't mean you have to get on a plane, train or boat at all. You can just go across the street. Not only can you go across the street, but God wants you to.

I beg God's forgiveness in taking so long to understand this. It took the power of the Spirit through Scripture study to move me away from an us- or me-centered, nuclear-family existence, to a more active missionary existence. Family time is still sacred around here, but it's balanced with missionary time.

The boys have schemed up salt-dough ornament making for neighborhood friends, and I've decided to add an adult flair to the love offerings by mixing up a homemade hot chocolate mixture. The other mixture I gave you is probably too healthy for most palates, so I'll use the one printed below instead. If you click on it you'll find that the full recipe calls for a food processor to grind up the white chocolate. We don't have one so I'll finely chop the chips instead. Attach the recipe and directions with a ribbon and put the mixture in a jar or mug.

Along with the recipe, attach a Bible verse with special meaning. Maybe a verse relevant to something your neighbors are experiencing in their lives, or just your personal favorite verse. Another option: 20 Bible verses for Christmas cards.

INGREDIENTS:  recipe found here
3 cups nonfat dry milk powder
2 cups powdered sugar
1½ cups cocoa powder, dutch-process or natural
1½ cups white chocolate chips or finely chopped white chocolate
¼ teaspoon salt

photo courtesy of this site

A simple salt-dough ornament recipe (below) and tutorial can be found here, courtesy of The Imagination Tree. Salt dough images are also courtesy of The Imagination Tree.

 How to make salt dough:
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • Up to 1 cup of water (add gradually)

  • Combine the salt and flour then pour in the water gradually, stopping when it has become dough-like and not too sticky. There should be no residue left on your fingers when you touch it. Knead it on a floured surface for a few minutes to make it soft, workable and stretchy, like you would with any dough. 
  • Poke a straw through the center, near the top, of each shape so that ribbon can be threaded through later.
  • Lay them on some grease-proof or baking paper and on a baking tray. Cook them on a VERY low heat (around 100 degrees C/ 202 F) for up to 3 hours. If the shapes are over 1cm thick then they will probably need to be turned over during cooking.

image courtesy of this site

My favorite verses for this time of year:

Philippians 2:8-10 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wanting a Better Way For My Children

As I wrote in this post, our goal is to de-commercialize Christmas, modeling it after the one and only Christmas in the Bible during which Jesus received three gifts. If we're to celebrate Christmas at all, we figure why not model it after the one true Christmas?

This is a difficult thing it turns out, because Christmas celebration is an extra-biblical matter. The first celebration wasn't meant to be copied, apparently, because no where in the Bible was it ever recreated and no biblical feast ever started because of it. The roots of our cultural celebration of Christmas come from the Catholic church trying to force Christianity on a pagan culture. To appease the pagans, elements of their culture were interwoven into church practices, including parts of the winter solstice celebration. The Catholic church did the same with cultural Easter celebrations.

The Roman Catholic Church contends that its origin is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in approximately A.D. 30. The Catholic Church proclaims itself to be the church that Jesus Christ died for, the church that was established and built by the apostles. Is that the true origin of the Catholic Church? On the contrary. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament will reveal that the Catholic Church does not have its origin in the teachings of Jesus or His apostles. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the papacy, worship/adoration of Mary (or the immaculate conception of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the assumption of Mary, or Mary as co-redemptrix and mediatrix), petitioning saints in heaven for their prayers, apostolic succession, the ordinances of the church functioning as sacraments, infant baptism, confession of sin to a priest, purgatory, indulgences, or the equal authority of church tradition and Scripture. 

So, if the origin of the Catholic Church is not in the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, what is the true origin of the Catholic Church?
For the first 280 years of Christian history, Christianity was banned by the Roman Empire, and Christians were terribly persecuted. This changed after the “conversion” of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine “legalized” Christianity with the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. Later, in A.D. 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicea in an attempt to unify Christianity. Constantine envisioned Christianity as a religion that could unite the Roman Empire, which at that time was beginning to fragment and divide. While this may have seemed to be a positive development for the Christian church, the results were anything but positive. Just as Constantine refused to fully embrace the Christian faith, but continued many of his pagan beliefs and practices, so the Christian church that Constantine promoted was a mixture of true Christianity and Roman paganism.
Constantine found that with the Roman Empire being so vast, expansive, and diverse, not everyone would agree to forsake his or her religious beliefs to embrace Christianity. So, Constantine allowed, and even promoted, the “Christianization” of pagan beliefs. Completely pagan and utterly unbiblical beliefs were given new “Christian” identities. Some clear examples of this are as follows:  Read more here


Every year Christmas becomes more nauseating in the stores. If you infiltrate the stores earlier and earlier with Christmas-consumption messages, surely you'll get more people spending money they didn't intend to spend? Why yes, of course, say the marketers. (Here is a succinct origin of the modern Santa Claus.)

This cover from 1906

This cover published in 1925

Corruption that Constantine initially allowed is added to ad nauseam by capitalism. So what is a Christian supposed to do, other than ignore the whole matter and go with the flow? Being acquainted now with how 80% of the world lives, we have a harder time going with the flow on this, though we'll still put up a tree and make a holiday meal every year. But instead of spending resources on each other, we'll spend them on the unreached and on the least of God's people, in keeping with what was important to Jesus. To be His disciple we have to love what the Lord loved, and hate what the world loves. And not to draw attention to ourselves, but to express God's love and bring Him glory. People who do good in this world are at risk of prideful hearts--Christians or not. We have to pray for pure hearts and make sure that whatever we do in the name of the Lord, we do for his glory and not our own.

The kids have seen the toys in Aldi's and every time they see the ornaments and trees in Walmart, they want new decorations since ours are seven years old and a bit shabby. They also want the whole house decorated as many in this neighborhood do. On all that, we say no. The decorations are nice and we can drive to see what others have put up if the kids desire, but spend that money ourselves on something so fleeting and lacking in real meaning? We can't do it, unless it were to turn into a neighborhood outreach some day, much as trunk n' treats at churches and handing out Gospel tracks during Halloween make that affair more worthy of consideration.

Each time I study the Bible in depth, I'm quickly given an object lesson to illustrate the principles. This time the words "hate your life in this world" come alive here as we struggle to live according to biblical principles, including at Christmas time.

We've told the children there will be no presents this year. We say that nearly every year but some kind people--most often my mother and step-dad or my dad's sister--send some money for presents. This year we were given an early Christmas present (a new microwave) right before Thanksgiving from my mom and step-dad, and my aunt gave us a pizza gift card before leaving for Florida this year, so the kids will spend their first Christmas with nothing under the tree and I consider it a blessing that it turned out this way. I'm not looking forward to what the kids have to go through, I must say, but my prayers lead me to this and my husband's do as well.

A sense of entitlement at Christmas is something our culture has ingrained in kids and because we bought into it for a number of years, we have to pay the consequences now, as our kids slowly reform their own toy-loving, present-unwrapping hearts. All four of my children have birthdays from November to January so there will some present unwrapping to make it easier on them.

To help make the de-commercializing even gentler on them, I've decided to do all the grocery shopping without them for the next month. The commercial lure is overwhelming as soon as one enters a store. There's no end to the "Christmas" spending, spanning all the way from extra food to home decor, to toys, to fancy cookie containers and cutters, to Christmas cards and photos and fancy paper for Christmas letters. Whew!

I know my kids and they will probably make presents for one another, as they've read about in the Christmas Little House books, in which Laura and Mary make homemade presents for each other and for their little sister, Carrie. That is a wonderful, loving, anti-commercial expression of gift giving and I'll encourage it. The Little House books reveal a society far less obsessed with Christmas. The girls received knitted mittens or homemade dolls from their mom often, and maybe some peppermint candy from the local general store, stuffed into darned stockings placed on the mantel. The girls were excited and very thankful and not a bit spoiled.

Oh, but how kids have changed. Sigh. As we read book after book portraying children growing up in the 1800's, I bemoan the loss of all the elements of childhood that built character. Our era has replaced hard physical outdoor and indoor chores with too much leisure and too many possessions.

Building character in children is hard parental work. I think the hardest part for us modern parents--most of us were probably spoiled as tots--is to deny ourselves first. We have to say no to the world in our own hearts and then parent from that perspective.

My children will grow up and make their own decisions on Christmas and on a consumption-obsessed society within their own families, without any interference from us either way. My goal is to give them a godly foundation of self-denial from which to make sound biblical decisions. Without a history of self-denial they will have a lot of personal spiritual issues to work through before they can truly parent biblically.

They won't understand this for many years, but the kindest thing I can do is to teach them discernment and make their childhood less a fairy-tale and more a preparation. Children, when given the chance, will make their own fun. It's their God-given nature to turn their environment into a playground. That natural upbringing is the fairy tale I'm after. And it's okay with me if gratitude from them comes many years from now, when they're in the throes of child-rearing themselves.

I don't write any of this to change your mind, but to cement in my own mind what I perceive the Lord wants from me. This blog is nothing if not my main method of self-preaching, so hopefully no offense is taken.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gratitude with a Side of Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!

The Thanksgiving holiday is as good a time as any to offer a year-end thanks to God. What has He accomplished in our hearts this year? What prayers can I offer for the next year and beyond? What prayers have been answered? Time to take a thorough inventory and offer Him thanksgiving and praise.

Psalm 100:1-5

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; 
Make known His deeds among the peoples! ... 1 Chron 16:8

Oh, Lord, how good and faithful you've been! My Peter's OCD and tic disorder have been mostly absent for months. Why they returned last week, I don't know, but I give thanks for the reprieve for most of the year. Bless this boy, Father. I ask that you heal his handicaps, but I also ask that his life bring glory to your  Holy name. If his handicaps will bring you more glory, I offer him to you as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and I just ask that you protect his heart. May his heart stay pure and lovely. May it beat strongly for you, despite what may come.

stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at evening ... 1 Chron 23:30 

Oh, Lord, how we thank you for 54 hours of weekly work for my husband. Many enter the holidays this year with lost jobs and lost hope. Thank you for providing work and thank you that my husband is a blessing where you've planted him. Thank you for a day and a half off per week for family.

Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. “Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name ..” ... 1 Chron 29:12-13 

Dear Lord, thank you for this lovely young lady, my Mary. I praise you for her! Thank you for her determination, her dedication, her familial love, her nurturing heart. She is stubborn, Lord, and I must lift her up to you, asking that you protect her from herself. May she be a holy young lady, chasing after the things of God all the days of her life. May she possess a gentle, quiet spirit that blesses her family and brings glory to you.

... indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying:“For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud ... 2 Chron 5:13 

Dear Lord, what a treasure my husband is. I thank you for his dedication to family. He gives so much all the time Lord, and I praise you for his steadfast, long-suffering heart. Even though children aren't easy for him, he never shirks any responsibility for their care or discipleship. His long obedience in the same direction is a wonder to me, and I know You are responsible for the miracle his parenting is. He did not have a loving father, but you have overcome that in his heart, Lord. Behold my great God, who eclipses our pain with his perfect love. Hallelujah!

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid ... Ezra 3:11 

Dear Lord, the last four years have been anything but easy, but behold, we are still one. One family unit clinging to your promises and to your Grace. Thank you for the overhaul of our foundation. We are stronger, wiser, more faithful to you and more in love with You. Where there is hardship there should also be thanksgiving, for hardship means a remodeling of the heart is at hand. Hallelujah!

That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works ... Psalm 26:7 

Dear Father, I dearly love this family you have so graciously given. I praise you for the gifts you have given me in each one of them. Help me to give generously of myself and to make the most of every minute with them. Help me point the way to You each and every day. May my dedication to them be my thanksgiving to you.

To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever ... Psalm 30:12

Dear Father, thank you for neighborhood children and for the challenge they've been for us. Thank you for nudging us to give of our time and our resources and thank you for protecting my own children from the world. May they shine for you and may our imperfect efforts to share Christ's love have lasting impact in each neighbor's heart. Thank you for the ministry opportunity and that church elders are praying about how to involve our church in our efforts in this community. Give us all guidance and strength and wisdom.

Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High ... Psalm 50:14 

Oh, Lord, thank you for the friendship between my two daughters. You are a gracious and loving God, giving us many good gifts. My sons, while very different, are learning what a treasure they have in each other.  Thank you for your work in their hearts.

So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; We will show forth Your praise to all generations ... Psalm 79:13
 Dear Lord, thank you for my marriage. It is not perfect but it is peaceful and loving, long-suffering and forgiving. The more our marriage endures, the more beautiful it becomes. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Every Christian marriage gets its beauty and exquisiteness from you. Oh, Father, you have been so faithful and I love you!

Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! ... Psalm 107:8

Oh, Lord, how good and faithful you've been! A great deal of Beth's arthritis pain and discomfort went away after May of this year. She isn't in remission or out of the woods, but You have heard our prayers about her pain. Hallelujah! Thank you for the blessing Beth is to us all. She brings a smile to all our faces every day. She livens up our lives and her very presence among us is a Grace. I praise you for the wondrous gift each child is. May Beth grow in knowledge of you and may she dedicate her life to bringing you glory.

I praise you for the piano for Paul. Thank you for his dedication and for his love of music. I pray that he will bless many with any skill you bestow upon him. I pray that you will divinely provide lessons for him, in a way that brings glory to You. Because you have given him so much, Lord, he struggles with pride. May he lift every skill, every task that comes easy, up to you and give you thanks for it. May he internalize this truth: that all good things come from you and not from ourselves. May he shine for you and may his life be all about you.

Dear Father, a special thank you for my online friends. They bless me so, and without them, I shudder to think how lonely I'd be. Friends are hard to come by, especially when it's only after my children are asleep that I have any time to offer. Thank you for late-night and early-morning connections with all these ladies whose hearts beat with yours. What a treasure a friend is! I praise you for friendship, Father.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fruitful Fridays Part 6: Dying to Love

We continue our series on the Fruits of the Spirit today. Read part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here. Our main text for Fruitful Fridays will be Galatians 5:13-26 (ESV). 

This is our final post on Love. Next week we'll be moving on to Peace, God willing.  I recently wrote three posts on Joy as part of Ann Voskamp's Walk With Him Wednesday, so we'll skip joy for now. 

Some review: Last week we learned what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. We explored the connection between having faith in God's promises and in loving others. When we have faith in His promises we can love (serve others) without concern for ourselves; God will provide for us, as His Word promises. 

We learned that we are free to love because in Christ we are dead to sin. We don't have to waste our time on self-centeredness; we are freed from that sin. And lastly, we learned that even though love is a fruit of the Spirit--coming from Him within us, not from ourselves--we are still commanded to love. We can obey that command by reading and studying Scripture, because this is the main way God works love into our hearts--through the transforming, alive, active Word of God.

Today I want to explore the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (the famous love chapter), and how they relate to the gospel life and Christ's teachings. These will not be my ideas, but Pastor John Piper's. In the summer of 1995 when John Piper was nearly 50 years old, he had a word from the Lord about the relationship between loving and dying. God gave him these verses in John 12:24-26, along with the famous love passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him."

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Pastor Piper then wrote two sermons about Dying as a Means of Loving: Part 1 Here and Part 2 here. I am providing his main points for you here with permission, but I urge you to read both sermons in their entirety for the meaty explanations behind his points, for John Piper is surely one of the greatest preachers of our time. His words are in blue italics below:

We saw that there were four great promises and four life-shaking demands.
  • Your life will bear fruit, if it falls like a seed into the ground and dies.
  • You will keep your life for eternal life, if you hate your life in this world.
  • You will be with Jesus where he is, if you follow him—to Calvary.
  • God the Father will honor you, if you serve Jesus.
I invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Paul gives 15 descriptions of what love is. And what struck me was how virtually all of them involve what Jesus called a dying or a hating of your life in this world.
    1. Love is patient,
    2. love is kind, and
    3. is not jealous;
    4. love does not brag and
    5. is not arrogant,
    6. (5) does not act unbecomingly;
    7. it does not seek its own,
    8. is not provoked,
    9. does not take into account a wrong suffered,
    10. (6) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but
    11. rejoices with the truth;
    12. (7) bears all things,
    13. believes all things,
    14. hopes all things,
    15. endures all things.

    A Call to Love . . . and to Death 

    • Being long-suffering means dying to the desire for an untroubled life.
    • Having no jealousy means dying to the desire for unshared affection.
    • Not boasting means dying to the desire to call attention to our successes.
    • Not acting unbecomingly means dying to the desire to express our freedom offensively.
    • Not seeking our own way means dying to the dominance of our own preferences.
    • Not being easily provoked means dying to the need for no frustrations.
    • Not taking account of wrongs means dying to the desire for revenge.
    • Bearing all things and enduring all things means dying to the desire to run away from the pain of obedience.
    So the call of the Lord on our lives in these weeks and in this summer, and as we gather tonight in earnest pursuit of awakening and all the fullness of God, is: are we willing to pay the price of love? Love at home, love at the office, love in the neighborhood, love in the body of believers? Are we willing to die? If we are this satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ, then the promises will surely come true: we will bear much fruit, we will live forever, we will be with the Lord, and the Father will honor us.
    When Jesus calls a man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, he bids him come and die. Come. Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to love.  John Piper, 1995

    How does John Piper's sermon relate to what I wrote last week about loving your neighbor as yourself?
    Therefore, to love your neighbor as yourself means to meet his needs as you would meet your own:
    • to desire relief for his hunger, as you eat and feel relief from your own 
    • to desire physical warmth for him, as you enjoy physical warmth yourself
    • to desire a covering for his nakedness, as you feel the safety of clothes yourself
    • to desire shelter from rain, snow, wind, and sun for him, as you sit back and enjoy your own shelter
    • to desire a job for him, as you reap the benefits of your own 
    • to desire a cure for his illness, as you obtain relief from yours 
    • to desire a flushing toilet for him, as you watch your own toilet flush
    • to desire plumbing and clean water for him, as you draw water from your own sink
    • to desire Living Water through Jesus Christ for him, as you feel the joy of knowing Him yourself 

    Whatever you need for yourself, you're to desire it for your neighbor too. And act on that desire, changing your lifestyle accordinglyInstead of procuring what you don't need, procure what your neighbor does need.
    This is how I think John Piper's words relate to mine: We must die to our notion of the good life before we can have equal concern for our neighbor. In essence, we must hate our life in this world.

    What sins or perks do we enjoy at the expense of our neighbor? Our neighbor refers to our husband, children, extended family, and everyone else. The answer to this question will be different for each of us at different times in our walk with Christ. We must learn to hate these sins to love our neighbor.

    To be wholly and truly concerned for our neighbor to the point of action, we must take a 180-degree turn from a worldly perspective and become as a lowly servant. We must reject any glory for ourselves and give it to God through identifying with Him in death.

    This dying to self is not a means to salvation, but the evidence of salvation...the evidence of saving faith. They will know us by our love.

    John 13:35
    By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    Prayer Time: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your perfect sacrifice. Thank you for your Words of Life. May the sacrifice and words penetrate our hearts to the point of action. May we move aside and die, allowing the Holy Spirit to prevail within our hearts. May sacrificing love come alive in our lives as we learn to hate our life in this world. Help us die to the desire for a trouble-free, frustration-free life, to the desire to call attention to ourselves, to the desire to give dominance to our own preferences, to the desire for vengeance. Transform us Lord, so they will know us by our love. 

    In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.