Category Archives: Resources

Galatians Bible Study: 3 Week Plan

I have so enjoyed our “Women Digging In” class with Katie Gerdt at Heritage Bible Church these past two months. We’ve dug into II Corinthians, and it’s been awesome–both refreshing and rebuking!

We have 3 weeks off before the next Life Application Electives begin, so I’m planning on using her 4 questions to go thru the book of Galatians between now and then…2 chapters per week. Who’s with me?

Here are the 4 questions:
1. Where is my heart?
Take time to set your cares and concerns before your loving Father,
and then put them aside and prepare your heart to listen to Him.
2. What’s going on?
Read through the passage (either whole chapter, or few verses at a time) and try to summarize the facts of what is happening.
3. What do I see about God?
What is the Holy Spirit telling you about God or revealing about Christ? How can you obey what you are reading? Who can you tell this week about what you have learned?
4. Do I have any further questions about the passage?

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Meditation Passage: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).

Schedule:
August 1-7: Galatians 1-2
August 8-14: Galatians 3-4
August 15-21: Galatians 5-6

Book Review: Bread & Wine, A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes

511z58htsll-_sx340_bo1204203200_Niequist, Shauna. Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table, with Recipes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Bread & Wine is, by far, one of the best books I’ve read in the last several years! Shauna shares raw, real life stories mixed with a collection of her favorite recipes. I have literally laughed out loud and bawled my eyes out reading this! I feel like the author is sitting across from me, sharing a cup of coffee and opening up the window to her true self, and it feels like we’ve been friends for a lifetime even though I just met her in these pages. It’s as if you’re reading an intimate journal of an everywoman’s soul, and she says, “Come. Sit. Eat.”

In the author’s note on page 10, she writes the following:

“My prayer is that you’ll read these pages first curled up on your couch or in bed or in the bathtub, and then after that you’ll bring it to the kitchen with you, turning corners of pages, breaking the spine, spilling red wine on it, and splashing vinegar across the pages, that it will become battered and stained as you cook and chop and play, music loud and kitchen messy.

“And more than anything, I pray that when you put this book down, you’ll gather the people you love around your table to eat and drink, to tell stories, to be heard and fed and nourished on every level.”

Shauna begins with an explanation of what being a “bread-and-wine person” means: “By that I mean that I’m a Christian, a person of the body and blood, a person of the bread and wine. Like every Christian, I recognize the two as food and drink, and also, at the very same time, I recognize them as something much greater–mystery and tradition and symbol. … The two together are the sacred and the material at once, the heaven and the earth, the divine and the daily” (p. 11).

I am very much a “food” person. I love to cook, to share meals, to host friends and family and strangers, to talk about food and hospitality and life and God. So this book was perfect. The recipes are simple and offer a wide variety of personalization. I could not put this book down! Not only was it beautifully crafted, it was inspirational to get back to sharing food and faith with friends and family.

She talks about her cooking club, a group of friends that met together frequently, cooked together, did life together, laughed together, cried together, prayed together. Even when life and jobs scattered them across the country, they found ways to come back together, and it always involved food and faith and friendship in some combination.

I love that they would meet for dinner regularly, kids included. After supper, they’d put all the kids down for bed in pack n plays and sleeping bags, or whatever; and then the adults would come back downstairs to share what God was teaching them and pray with one another. Then when they needed to leave, they carried their sleeping children to their cars and took them home, but they stayed long enough for their souls to be fed and not just their bellies. And when there was a death or a new baby, a sick parent or another loss, they would bring food to one another, almost instinctively. This is the way I want to live my life; the way we try to live our lives.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

“Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don’t know what to say, when there are no words to say. And food is what we offer in celebration–at weddings, at anniversaries, at happy events of every kind. It’s the thing that connects us, that bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and on a practical level, our ability to live and breath each day. Food matters.

“At the very beginning, and all through the Bible, all through the stories about God and his people, there are stories about food, about all of life changing with the bite of an apple, about trading an inheritance for a bowl of stew, about waking up to find the land littered with bread, God’s way of caring for his people; about a wedding where water turned to wine, Jesus’ first miracle; about the very first Last Supper, the humble bread and wine becoming, for all time, indelibly linked to the very body of Christ, the center point for thousands of years of tradition and belief. It matters. It mattered then, and it matters now, possibly even more so, because it’s reclaiming some of the things we may have lost along the way” (p. 14).

“When you eat, I want you to think of God, of the holiness of hands that feed us, of the provision we are given every time we eat. When you eat bread and you drink wine, I want you to think about the body and the blood every time, not just when the bread and wine show up in church, but when they show up anywhere–on a picnic table or a hardwood floor or a beach” (p. 17).

“I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are. Each one of us should be able to nourish ourselves in the most basic way and to create meals and traditions around the table that tell the story of who we are to the people we care about. And the only way to get there is to start where you are.

“If you don’t cook, begin by inviting people over. Order pizza and serve it with a green salad and a bottled salad dressing. Get comfortable with people in your home, with the meds and the chaos. Focus on making people comfortable, on creating a space protected from the rush and chaos of daily life, a space full of laughter and safety and soul…and little by little, build a sense of muscle of memory, a body of knowledge, a set of patters for how your home and your heart open and expand when the people you love are gathered around your table” (p. 40).

“Learn, little by little, meal by meal, to feed yourself and the people you love, because food is one of the ways we love each other, and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather” (p. 51).

“One of the best part of my childhood was traveling with my dad” (p. 93). “…he taught me that where we are, we eat what they eat, and we eat what they give us, all the time. We taste the place when we eat what our hosts eat. As we traveled, food became a language of understanding, even more so than museums or history lessons” (p. 94). “…I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak…. I want them to know that ‘our way’ isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood–they love to play, to discover, to learn. … I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bit of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious” (p. 98).

“What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd. …So that’s what we do. We throw open the front door and invite people into our home, despite its size, despite its imperfections. We practice hospitality, creating a soft and safe place for people to connect and rest” (p. 106-7).

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment. Part of that, then, is honoring the way God made our bodies, and feeding them in the ways they need to be fed.

“I do draw a line between food restrictions for health reasons and plain old picky eating. I bend over backward for the first–I make sure to have a meal that includes a filling and beautiful option for people who can’t eat one or another part of the whole meal….

“What I don’t do, though, is knock myself out for picky eaters. Part of eating at someone’s table is learning about the tastes and textures and flavors of their home, and part of eating at someone’s table is understanding that homes are not restaurants and your host is not a short-order cook….

“So this is the dance, it seems to me: to be the kind of host who honors the needs of the people who gather around his or her table, and to be the kind of guest who comes to the table to learn, not to demand” (p. 114-5).

“[Y]ou can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide” (p. 195).

“The church is at its best, in my view, when it is more than a set of ideas and ideals, when it is a working, living, breathing, on-the-ground, in-the-mess force for good in our cities and towns” (p. 208).

“When you offer peace instead of division, when you offer faith instead of fear, when you offer someone a place at your table instead of keeping them out because they’re different or messy or wrong somehow, you represent the heart of Christ” (p.250).

“Body of Christ, broken for you. Blood of Christ, shed for you. ‘Every time you eat the bread and drink the wine,’ Jesus says, ‘remember me.’ Communion is connection, remembrance. …the genius of Communion, of bread and wine, is that bread is the food of the poor and wine the drink of the privileged, and that every time we see those two together, we are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us” (p. 251).

“And I believe that Jesus asked for us to remember him during the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine every time, every meal, every day–no matter where we are, who we are, what we’ve done” (p. 252).

“Most of the time, I eat like someone’s about to steal my plate, like I can’t be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I’m coming to see that the table is about food, and it’s also about time. It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

“…if you can satiate a person’s hunger, you can get a glimpse of their heart. There’s an intimacy in it, in the meeting of needs and the filling of the one’s stomach, that is, necessarily, tied to the heart.

“I want you to gobble life up in huge bites, tasting everything, trying every new flavor, remembering every smell and texture like it’s the best thing you’ve ever had. I want you to live with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it” (p. 257-8).

See why I couldn’t put it down?! And it comes with recipes at the end of almost every chapter, a 4-week book club discussion guide (along with suggested menu for each book club night), and all kinds of entertaining tips. It’s beautiful and relatable, sharable and practical. Pick up a copy, read it, re-read it, share it, try the recipes, but most importantly, open your home and your table to the people God brings across your path, and enjoy!

Bon Appetit!

Top 10 New Mom Resources

There is SO much information out there for new parents. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. I was fortunate to come across some really great resources. Here’s my list–which is mostly about eating and sleeping:

  1. Recipes for Babies and Toddlers: 365 Quick and Healthy Dishes by Bridget Wardley and Judy More. (I have the 2004 edition that I found at TJ Maxx. Below is 2006, but the inside is nearly identical from what I can tell. The biggest differences is that the newer edition includes recipes for children beyond the toddler stage. My favorite part is the meal plan by age at the back.)

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2. “Feeding Guide for the First Year” by John Hopkins Medicine Health Library. (This one has charts for each month and was hugely helpful! Just remember that every child is different.Also note that the “ounces” recommendation is for bottle-fed babies; number of nursings is for breast-fed babies. Don’t let yourself stress about how many ounces if you’re breastfeeding. If they’re happy, eating, soiling diapers, and sleeping, they’re probably pretty healthy, even if they’re not at the exact month on the timeline.)

3. “Lists and Schedules” under “Baby Basics” on Cloudmom.com. (I especially found the Baby Feeding and Sleeping Schedule for Breastfeeding a 4 to 6-month old helpful. But she has videos on everything from basics on breastfeeding to bottle feeding to first baby foods, baby care, baby books and gear, traveling with baby, baby sleep basics, breastfeeding tips, etc. Truly a wealth of information from a very knowledgeable, completely judgment-free mama.)

4. “What to Eat and What to Avoid While Breastfeeding” from Healthfulmama.com. (Great chart for us visual learners! See below.)

healthful-mama_what-to-eat-when-breastfeeding

As far as the “Fennel tea” and “Honey (raw)” goes, a friend gave me “Mother’s Milk Tea” by Traditional Medicinals, and it really grew on me–someone who is NOT a huge fennel or licorice fan–and it worked! I found a 6-box pack on Amazon for a really great price and added it to my Amazon registry to get an extra 10% off.

5. “Five Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby” on Parents.com. (Sleep traps and cheat sheet for how much sleep is needed per age.)

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6. “Pumping Essentials” and “Pumping to 1 Year: Tips & a Cost Analysis from a Working Mom Who Did It” from ThePhotographersWife.com. (I was so nervous about the whole pumping thing with going back to work at 8 weeks, but this site really helped walk through the details. And at 4 months, Kyle switched himself to only eating 4x per day–breakfast, lunch, supper, and bedtime–so I only have to pump during lunch at work.)

7. IdealistMom.com was a huge help with going back to work after maternity leave! My favorite posts were “7 Tips for Postpartum Fashion,” “9 Secrets for a Successful Return to Work after Maternity Leave,” and “How to Keep Breastfeeding after Going Back at Work.”

8. “6 Natural Ways to Treat Infant Gas” from TheStir.CafeMom.com. (The biggest tips for us were the feeding positions and massage.)

9. “Pumping Schedule from NB – 12 MO” from NaptimeTales.com. (Very practical advice and low stress methods.)

10. “6 Tips for the First Month of Breastfeeding That You May Never Have Heard” by BreastfeedingPlace.com. (I also still vividly remember bawling my eyes out that first week home out of exhaustion and frustration, not being able to reach a nurse or lactation consultant because of a random snowstorm, and my husband having to call my sister-in-law to ask my questions then put her on speakerphone to calm me down and tell me I was doing a great job and to try leaning back or lying down so the baby had to slow down and not eat quite so fast. Blessings on her!!)

I am so thankful that I got to become a new mom at the same time as some of my best friends. And I’m thankful for my friends who were experienced parents when I became a new mom. It’s nice to be able to text a friend and say, “Please pray for me today. I’m really struggling with this mommy-hood thing” and know that they are already praying…and that you’re not alone (they either are or have struggled with similar things).

I didn’t have a ton of time to research like I wanted to, and I honestly believe God brought these blogs and books across my path on purpose. I skimmed through On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ecko and Robert Bucknam. I found it largely repetitive and a little too rigid for me, but the one thing that I did take away from it was the pattern: Eat, Play, Sleep, Repeat. And that worked really well for us (slept 6 hours by 6 weeks, 9 hours by 11 weeks, 10-12 hours by 14 weeks).

One caution: resist the urge to over-analyze or over-research things that moms have been doing by instinct for centuries. Do the best you can, ask your doctor and friends for advice, and know that God loves your baby more than even you do! And He loves you too, mama!

What were your top resources for those first 12 months of being a parent?

Book Review: “Glimpses of Grace” by Gloria Furman

I love to read. Always have. Over the years, I’ve had a handful of books that have risen to the top of my list to “Must Read” status. Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home by Gloria Furman is definitely one of those books! It is probably one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years!

Gloria has a personal style that lets you know she’s been there–in the trenches with kids and cross-cultural ministry, serving her husband who pastors while struggling with a debilitating condition, keeping a home and keeping up with writing books and blogging.

Glimpses is full of encouragement from real-life illustrations and Gospel-centered, soul-refreshing, rich, theological concepts. Glimpses is full of Scripture and quotes that reflect Truth and Hope. Gloria doesn’t see herself as a super-mom, but rather a woman with a powerful Savior! She talks about glorifying God in the mundane–where, if we’re honest, the majority of our lives fall. God uses these simple, everyday things to communicate Truth to our hearts. From doing dishes to sweeping up sand again and again, God showed her to see her own dirt and sin that needs repeated repentance and to rejoice in His faithful forgiveness and unrelenting grace.

Here’s a glimpse into Glimpses from the author herself:

And some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory, our faith and hope are in God (1 Pet. 1:21), not in our ever-changing circumstances or in the comforts of our homes and meticulously planned routines” (21).

“Even in my darkest doubts, when I do the same thing again the next day, my hope is still built on the righteousness of Christ. The gospel keeps me relating to God on the basis of Jesus’s perfections, not on the illusions of my religious achievements. God strengthens me and protects me according to his faithfulness, not mine (2 Thess. 3:3). So I can scrub dried blueberry bits as unto the Lord as my heart is satisfied in God because his kindness to me in Christ leads me to repentance again and again” (33).

“Christianity is not a how-to manual for having a nice life. … Jesus’s work on the cross means more for you than an example for good living. The Bible is God’s story of how he redeems a people he has chosen to worship him for all eternity. …In the end, the good-life formula will not bring you to God and save you from your sins. Only Jesus does this through the gospel. In its worst work, the good-life formula can help create a delusion that because you are living in a Christian-like manner, you must be pleasing to God. In reality, your righteousness may be like that of the Pharisees, whom Jesus described as whitewashed tombs with dead men’s bones inside. In this way, the good-life formula is an offspring of self-justification” (45).

“The source of our faith, hope, love, joy, and gospel-grounded optimism is God himself and not our stuff or our circumstances” (59).

“…the point in forgiving one another is not just about the act of forgiving–it is the aim or goal that forgiveness seeks, which is reconciliation with God. … The forgiveness of our sins is a gift of grace, but it’s not ‘the’ gift. ‘The’ gift God offers us through Jesus’s work on the cross is everlasting fellowship with a holy God” (60).

“Whatever the ‘this’ that you desperately feel you can’t do anymore, it’s ultimately not about your circumstances. It’s about peace with God. And God has provided a way for you to have that peace that dominates any and all circumstances, regardless of how difficult they are” (78).

“Self-righteousness comes from within us and leads us to worship ourselves. Grace comes from God and leads us to worship him” (80).

“The gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.” -Milton Vincent (qtd., 84).

“When we minimize the offensiveness of our sin, we are attempting to diminish the holiness of God” (101).

“Our hearts cannot be the end-all authorities on truth. Only God can claim that right. Sometimes we really need to wrestle our hearts into submission to God’s truth” (124).

“We see glimpses of God’s grace in our homes when we cherish God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solution to our problems in the home and the impetus for our enjoyment of life in the home is fellowship with God through Christ Jesus’s atoning sacrifice on the cross” (180).

Coming Soon: “Dispatches from the Front” Book!

On May 31st, a new book will be hitting the shelves. Executive Director of Frontline Missions International, Tim Keesee, brings us Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult PlacesThis book is a must-read for all believers interested in missions. But beware, if you pick up this book: not only will you not want to put it down, you may also be encouraged to pick up the cross and follow Christ on a whole new level of Kingdom work.

If you’ve seen any of the Dispatches from the Front DVD series, you’ll recognize Tim’s journalistic style and hear his voice as you read his encounters of God’s Kingdom Advance, growing and expanding all over the globe, especially in the difficult places–places considered “closed” to most people, but not closed to our great God.

I was honored and thrilled to be part of the early proofreaders, and am so excited to share this book with you. I am privileged to not only know Tim as my boss, but also as my friend. He’s a gifted writer and a faithful, humble servant of our heavenly Father, who counts the costs and takes risks in order to share the Good News, wherever he goes.

You’ll feel like you’re riding on the train with Tim, as he journeys across Siberia and China, India and Egypt; you’ll drink coffee and tea with him in South Asia, Turkey and Ethiopia; then you’ll grab your boots and head with him through Cambodia, the Balkans, Pakistan, and to the “uttermost parts of the earth” (and, yes, there are maps included). You’ll cry with tears of grief, as cross-bearers give up their very lives for the sake of His name; and you’ll cry with joy, as former haters of the Gospel embrace Jesus as their personal Savior!

The stories take place over twenty years and multiple trips to a myriad of countries and regions and people groups. Tim’s writing is not just story-telling, but an act of worship, as he recounts not what he has done or where he has gone, but what God has done and revealed of His great glory all over the world.

But don’t take my word for it. Grab a cup of coffee (and maybe some tissues), and download a PDF excerpt of Dispatches from the Front. Then on May 31st, download the full e-book or pick up a copy at Crossway.org, and continue reading of our great God and His glorious Gospel!

Recent Readings and Reflections…

I have don’t a lot of writing recently, but I have been doing a little more reading. So, I wanted to share some articles that I’ve been reading recently. Warning: many of these are hot topics in the Christian world today, and some are uncomfortable, but in order to preach the full counsel of God, we are forced to deal with the hard topics too.

My friend Holly Stratton recently wrote, “The world is changing fast, and we need God to fill us with a love for Christ that is strong enough not to be left in the dust w/ our petty preferences. We need ministry leaders who are too driven by gospel conviction & Spirit power to be hindered by fear that they’re not honoring the preferences of others. Not leaders who don’t care what others think, but leaders who care deeply what others think. Humble leaders who care enough to boldly & confidently call for a self-forgetfulness that doesn’t allow the demanding of one’s own way. We may not like change, but we’ll dislike irrelevance even more. For the glory of God, let’s move.” (Author’s Note: “Relevant: related, pertinent, connected, applicable. The gospel is always relevant. Always. Ministries & people, however, are continually faced with decisions within the bounds of sound doctrine & biblical authority that can needlessly render them irrelevant.”)

One interesting article, along those lines, that a friend shared was “Keeping Young Fundamentalists in the Camp” by Jeff Amsbaugh. Amsbaugh writes, “My heart is not to eradicate the fundamental movement but to correct the abuses of it. These words are offered as a friend from within, not an enemy from without. But if the caricature of fundamentalism that we have presented is not replaced with an authentic model, my fear is that we will lose even more young preachers in the coming days. And though part of it may be attributable to the ‘coming apostasy,’ a good portion of it may be because of the raging lunacy. God help us to keep the baby but get rid of the bath water, for the bath water is indeed dirty.”

One of the more difficult topics I’ve been studying is homosexuality. It’s been a taboo topic for too long, and lots of young people, especially, are struggling with same sex attraction. It’s time we came alongside them, empathized as fellow sinners, and showed grace and hope for change by conformity to the Word of God. Here’s an article that gives one perspective: “When Two Lesbians Walk into a Church Seeking Trouble” (an excerpt from John Burke’s book, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others Through the Eyes of Jesus). Burke says, “Do you realize that Jesus is not shocked by the shocking things people do?” He gives examples of Christ dealing with Zaccheus, the Samaritan woman, and Simon the Pharisee, and goes on to say, “It’s all about love! Don’t miss this very critical point Jesus makes to us all: If you truly recognize how much it cost God to forgive you, it will flood your heart with love for God and others who need more of the same;” and again, “It’s all about love! Not a love that ignores the mud and the damage that destroys God’s Masterpiece, but a love that recognizes how much loving mercy God has given a messed-up person like me! … That great love brings grace and truth together to give hope to a broken world in need of forgiveness and restoration.”

Another topic is modesty, and Jefferson Bethke wrote an interesting articled called “The Idolatry of Modesty.” Regardless of what you might think of Bethke, he makes some good points in this article. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Above that though, bring glory to God through your clothes. Dress in such a way that points to your Savior and Creator, not yourself. … Remember that clothes (and the attitude that puts on those clothes) are simply an outflow of what’s in the heart. … So, ladies, let our Savior’s grace, rather than your righteousness, be exalted through your dress.”

And yet another topic I’ve been thinking about is marriage.  I read an article called, “What You Really Need in Marriage” by Mark Altrogge. Altrogge says, “Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.”

Often we convince ourselves that our desires, wishes, wants, and even lusts are actually needs. It’s an easy error to make, especially in an “It’s-all-about-you” culture. But it’s important to constantly go back to the word…ground yourself…intentionally…to know what God says is really a need.

Speaking of intentionality and marriage, one couple had a brilliant idea that I read about in an article by Sarah Lang, called “A Slower Cup“: “A couple reflects on the slow and methodical brewing technique [of coffee] that allows them to spend time together and offers a relaxed start to their day.” What a great way to start the day…slow, intentional, and calm! Lang writes, “A beverage as alluring, delicious and influential as coffee should be savored.” I couldn’t agree more. And whether you take time to savor a quiet, slow cup of coffee (or tea) with your spouse or your Savior or both, make it intentional and enjoy the moment.

Photographs by Chantelle Grady

And while we’re on the topic of slowing down and being intentional, I read two articles by Leslie Ludy called, “Running on Empty and Refueling Our Souls” and “When Your Soul Needs Rest.” I’m working on being more intentional about refreshing and refueling my otherwise empty soul. Ludy says, “Taking time away to refresh and refuel should flow from a motive of becoming even stronger and more equipped to serve Jesus Christ—not simply to ‘escape’ from the responsibilities of serving and godly living. … Instead of looking to the empty allurements of the world to find the refreshment we seek, may we remember that He alone is the One who can fulfill us, revive us, and meet our every need.”

Sometimes we allow our culture to dictate our beliefs, instead of the other way around. And sometimes we allow lies to creep in. Other times, we make excuses for our sin, or expect perfection instead of the process of sanctification. I’ve been reminded over and over again recently of Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV). And the prayer of my heart is that I would focus on those three things. That I would be intentional about doing the next right thing. That I would love mercy and grace and love and truth. And that above all, I would walk humbly…not in conceit or pride or biting or devouring (Galatians 5, again), but that I would walk in reality of my depravity and the greatness of God’s saving grace that is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Finally, I want to share two songs that have meant a lot to me recently. The first is one of my favorite songs, “Before the Throne of God Above.” It was a special part of our Baltic Musical Mission Team in 2003! Guitar, flute, and a bunch of crazy Americans singing their lungs out for Jesus on street corners and buses, in churches, schools, and hospitals, in Poland and Latvia. And it’s as powerful today as it was then.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me
 
[Verse 2 from “Before the Throne of God Above“; Original Words by Charitie Lees Bancroft (1841-1892), Alternate Words and Music by Vikki Cook]

And the second song is a new favorite “Across the Lands” (Townend/Getty):

May God give you grace to live intentionally, loving Him, loving others, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God. Enjoy the journey, friends, and find rest in God alone along the way.

Random Musings from My Snow Days…

Yesterday and today have been official snow days for us. It’s been beautiful! And we’re loving sitting in the new room we finished this fall and staring out the big windows at the squirrels and cardinals, bluebirds and tufted titmouses, gathering food and playing in the winter wonderland that is South Carolina right now. And they’re not the only ones playing; the neighborhood children have been sledding on any flat surface they can get their hands on. And since no one’s driving out there, they’re sledding right down the middle of the road, giggling and guffawing.

My Snow Day Spot

My Snow Day Spot

Yesterday, we started the day by making Eggs Benedict–Bryan’s practicing his Hollandaise Sauce for his mid-terms. I read An Introduction to the Chinese Mainland Soul. It’s a short book, but worth the read, and a fascinating cultural insight into the Asian culture and mindset.  Today I’m reading Teaching in a Distant Classroom: Crossing Borders for Global Transformation. And while I don’t plan on teaching overseas anytime soon, it’s always good to open your eyes to other cultures and how to relate to people who see the world differently than you might.

We made a batch of tomato soup and griddled sandwiches for supper last night. And I did take a slight break from my television fast yesterday, but only after having read for several hours and listening to music with Bryan for a while too.  In addition to the books, here are a few of the articles I’ve read recently:

  • Listening to Lies by FancyNonsense.com (Such a practical and convicting article; and it’s for everyone–married or not. It talks about listening to what people are saying–not what you think they’re saying; and repenting of being a “me monster”–in a culture that tells you to believe “It’s all about me.”
  • Friendship and Marriage by Jay Younts (“Romance that flows from friendship will have a sure foundation.” This article mentions Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage; and it reminds me of Gary Inrig’s Quality Friendship, a book that Bryan and I read while we were dating that talks about being friends first and then deciding to be friends forever.)
  • To Live or Die (a new hymn by Chris Anderson of ChurchWorksMedia.com)

Now, it’s back to reading for me. Enjoy these last few hours of glorious white powder, as I hear the sun is coming out today to melt it all away. And maybe read one of the articles listed above–you won’t regret it.

“Lessons in Limitations” – Pastor Tim Chaddick, Reality LA

Pastor Tim Chaddick,    Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Reality LA

My brother and sister in law went to this church in L.A. when they lived out there. The few sermons by Tim Chaddick that I’ve had the privilege to listen to have been outstanding! This one entitled “Lessons in Limitations” was particularly convicting and refreshing.

Pastor Chaddick was on sabbatical this summer, and this was his first sermon back after his time of rest and renewal. It’s packed full of practical theological truths. There’s some intro comments, then the sermon starts right around 5 minutes in. Sermon from II Corinthians 10:11-18. Definitely worth listening to! I can’t get the video to embed, but you can listen to it here: http://realityla.com/teachings/lessons-in-limitations/.

Here’s the basic gist and some of the comments that really stuck out to me:

II Corinthians 10 was written to a church who was influenced by “self-proclaimed leaders who did not live in reality but in fantasy, and whose influence was damaging the church. His portrait of them is not painted with the exaggerated illusions they used for themselves, but with sober words rooted in reality…living a life that went beyond the truth, a life that went beyond boundaries, a life that went beyond God-given limits, and they were talking as though they were. What they needed was a lesson in limitation.” “These arrogant and errant teachers started creeping their way into the community, and they were corrupting sound doctrine. And one of the reasons many people fell for it was because they looked so impressive. In an attempt to establish their credentials, they talked a big game…but their mouths were writing checks that their lives couldn’t cash.”

Imagine this passage was written not only to these teachers but also to us. We are “constantly tempted to go beyond God-given limits. Holy Scripture tells the truth about us…about humanity, exposes our temptation towards illusion, image management, and half-truths, and pushes us towards Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, others-oriented, healthy and humble living.”

  • Recognize Your Limits.
    • Social media–“illusion” and “distraction” and “disconnection” and “overloaded”; “We feel this constant need to be up-to-date, but the reality is in our world today, to be up-to-date all the time would mean you would have to be unemployed.”
    • Overwork–trying to go beyond our God-given limits; often because “we need to feel needed” or our “need to be successful” or “need to be known” or “need to avoid what’s in front of you right now”…
    • Exaggeration–hide our weaknesses and then constantly live in “image management” mode; symptoms: “falsely lifting yourself up,” “playing up your abilities and strengths,” “putting other people down,” “taking credit for other people’s work,” “only looking at ‘what if’ not ‘what is,'” “constant comparison to other people…cycle of arrogance and insecurity…starving for the praise of men, you boast”

“When we go beyond God’s limits, we are not advancing His cause–we are advancing our own cause;” “Limits can have a profound way of teaching us to reflect on our motives.”

Recognizing limits “cultivates humility…For in recognizing noble limits, we are essentially recognizing God is Creator and we are creature. We are His creation. …it’s a prerequisite to worship, recognizing that God is God.”

  • Learn to Receive Limits.
    • “Though we do not choose the times in which we  live, we do choose how we live within those times.”
    • “Receiving limits means choosing to live within God’s boundaries.
      • “…a matter of living according to Scripture…God has given all of us moral, ethical, and spiritual boundaries. The doctrine that we learn from Scripture shapes our lives….Scripture is our authority.”
      • “…living within your sphere of influence and responsibility.”
    • Physical Body–“God is not bummed out in heaven right now that you are not in five places….God gave you a physical body…your finiteness does not equal sinfulness.”
    • 24-Hour Days–“We must make a decision: How am I going to live today?”
    • Your Work–“What does it mean to be faithful in the job that God has given you right now?”
    • Marital and Family Status–“That is a season of life that God has allowed you to enter into.” How are you glorifying God in your current status?
  • Learn to Set Up Proper Boundaries
    • Spirit-Led Discipline vs. Laziness–“Most things that are good for you in your life actually take some work to put into place. Like nobody just accidentally started exercising.”
    • Benefits: Focus on what God has given to us right now, Freedom from living without comparison to the callings of others, a way to be Faithful and Fruitful
  • Rejoicing in Limits
    • The commendation from God becomes the only commendation that matters.
    • “It is Christ’s glory not ours that matters….This is a radical change in our definition of success. What if we went into every situation being not thinking like, ‘What can I get out of this?’ but ‘Will God get glory? How can Christ get glory in this situation?'”
    • “The truth is this morning you woke up to a world you did not create in need of a salvation you could not accomplish. That is the truth. God does not need you, but in His grace He loves you, He saves you, and He gives you meaning, and He gives you purpose, and He gives you work in life.”
    • “Jesus came in humility, and He limited Himself to the path of the cross….to rescue us…”

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord’ (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

“You can’t do everything, you can’t know everything and be everywhere with everyone, and confessing this honors God, who alone is wise, who alone is all powerful, who alone is omniscient, who alone is compassionate….by recognizing that Jesus is the one who accomplishes your salvation alone, receiving Him as your Savior, and rejoicing in the salvation that He gives you freely as a gift of  His grace. See, you can rejoice in limitations when you know you have God’s commendation. God’s calling us to pause, to stop, and to pay attention to Him. Where are we going beyond noble limits?…”

[from “Lessons in Limitations” sermon by Tim Chaddick at Reality LA, preached on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013]

Interesting Articles and Tips for College-Age Students

It’s back to school and the blogosphere is flooded with tons of helpful tips, advice, and info about heading back to college…or jumping in for the first time.

First, I read two articles specifically addressing “20-somethings.” The first was “The 20 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me at 20” by Dr. Karin L. Smithson on HuffingtonPost.com. It has some good reminders worth reading as so many head back to school…about picking friends, staying healthy, the importance of family and faith, etc.

The second was “20 Things 20 Year Olds Don’t Get” by Jason Nazar on Forbes.com. For all my friends heading back to college…or just out of college…or just trying to build traction in your careers, this article contains some fairly sound advice. It’s not necessarily that young people “don’t get it” but rather some good career tips that they “should get,” or maybe “don’t get yet,” or “what to strive for.” From productivity to professionalism, online etiquette to face to face communication, reputation and fiscal responsibility, this article hits the key topics that are crucial for young people to grasp early on if they desire to be successful.

Also, I’m noticing lots of college-age or recent post-college grads struggling with “discerning God’s will for their lives.” One book I recently read that I wish I had read when I started college is Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something. See my recent book review here. Also, remember that you don’t have to read every spiritual self-help book known to man; if you have a Bible and read it regularly, seek godly counsel, and prayer, those three things are more valuable than any “how to” book or article out there.

In regards to what to major in, I read “The Decline and Fall of the English Major” by Verlyn Klinkenborg on NYTimes.com. It is sad to hear that the number of students majoring in English is declining. I could have majored in a great number of things, but I am continually thankful that I majored in English. It has been invaluable in every aspect of my life–personally, professionally, socially, even spiritually. The most beneficial classes I took were probably Critical Writing with Dr. Horton and Philosophy of Education with Dr. Salter (both should be required by every major, in my humble opinion). To think clearly and logically and to be able to write concisely and coherently are two of the most precious yet neglected treasures in this culture. Klinkenborg writes: “Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.” and “No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.” Well said, Verlyn.

Finally, it’s important in your college years to stay healthy in this fast-paced, stress-filled season of life. Here’s a fun “Cheat Sheet for Healthy School Lunches” from The Honest Co.:

Book Review: “Just Do Something” by Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. Chicago: Moody, 2009. 128 pages.

The “alternate” title to this book is How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc. As humorous as that may sound, so many young people have been taught that one or a combination of those things is exactly how they should be “finding” God’s will for their lives. Just Do Something debunks so many of the “Christian” myths that have been tossed around over the last several decades (or centuries). My reaction after reading this book is “Amen and Amen!” I wish I had read this in my early 20s. What a freeing sense of faithful living instead of fearful and futile “searching”!

Our lives are filled with so many questions and decisions. It’s easy to wonder if we’re making the right choices. We want to please God, but we’re not always exactly sure how. DeYoung provides a Gospel-centered, refreshing perspective that frees us from guilt (and laziness), and tells us to “Just Do Something.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“As the crafters of the Heidelberg Catechism put it so eloquently back in the sixteenth century, ‘Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty–all things, in fact, come to us not by chance, but from his fatherly hand'” (pp. 20-21).

“God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know–and need to know–what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom” (p. 26).

“We may have the best of intentions in trying to discern God’s will, but we should really stop putting ourselves through the misery of overspiritualizing every decision. Our misdirected piety makes following God more mysterious than it was meant to be” (p. 28).

“…God’s plans can include risk–and an opportunity to show courage” (p. 38). “Many of us–men and women–are extremely passive and cowardly. We don’t take risks for God because we are obsessed with safety, security, and most of all, with the future. That’s why most of our prayers fall into one of two categories. Either we ask that everything would be fine or we ask to know that everything will be fine. We pray for health, travel, jobs–and we should pray for these things. But a lot of prayers boil down to, ‘God, don’t let anything unpleasant happen to anyone. Make everything in the world nice for everyone.’ And when we aren’t praying this kind of prayer, we are praying for God to tell us that everything will turn out fine” (p. 40). “Obsessing over the future is not how God wants us to live, because showing us the future is not God’s way. ” and “Because we have confidence in God’s will of decree, we can radically commit ourselves to His will of desire, without fretting over a hidden will of direction” (p. 41).

“God certainly cares about these decisions [re: school, where you live, job] insofar as He cares for us and every detail of our lives. But in another sense, …these are not the most important issues in God’s book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality, love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mention, while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible” (pp. 44-45). “My point is that we should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (as instructed in Micah 6:8) as a [fill in occupation] and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a [fill in said occupation]” (p.45).

“Our fascination with the will of God often betrays our lack of trust in God’s promises and provisions.” and “We don’t have to say ‘If the Lord wills’ after every sentence, but it must be in our heads and hearts. We must live our lives believing that all of our plans and strategies are subject to the immutable will of God” (p. 47).

“Worry and anxiety are not merely bad habits or idiosyncrasies. They are sinful fruits that blossom from the root of unbelief. Jesus doesn’t treat obsession with the future as a personal quirk, but as evidence of little faith ([Matt. 6]v. 30). Worry and anxiety reflect our hearts’ distrust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. Worry is a spiritual issue and must be fought with faith” (pp. 56-57).

“…after you’ve prayed and studied and sought advice, make a decision and don’t hyper-spiritualize it. Do what seems best. Sometimes you won’t have time to pray and read and seek counsel for a month. That’s why the way of wisdom is about more than getting a decisive word about one or two big decisions in life. The way of wisdom is a way of life. And when it’s a way of life, you are freer than you realize. If you are drinking deeply of godliness in the Word and from others and in your prayer life, then you’ll probably make God-honoring decisions. In fact, if you are a person of prayer, full of regular good counsel from others, and steeped in the truth of the Word, you should begin to make many important decisions instinctively, and some of them even quickly. For most Christians, agonizing over decisions is the only sure thing we know to do, the only thing that feels safe and truly spiritual. But sometimes, oftentimes actually, it’s okay to just decide” (pp. 96-97).

“…the last thing I want to do is discourage people from praying. …But isn’t it possible that if we are walking with God in daily prayer, and we have some sanctified common sense, that we should be able to make decisions on the spot once in a while?” (p. 98).

Make a decision. Don’t over-spiritualize. You can serve the Lord in a thousand different jobs. …don’t ever think you are a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God if you aren’t in full-time ministry. You can honor the Lord as a teacher, mother, doctor, lawyer, loan officer, or social worker; you can work in retail, fast food, politics, or big business; you can be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. You can be just about anything you want as long as you aren’t lazy (Proverb 6:6-11; 26:13-16), and whatever you do you perform to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” (pp. 102-3).

“Sometimes you feel a sense of calling to your job and, you know what, sometimes you don’t. …But we’ve taken this notion of calling and turned it upside down, so instead of finding purpose in every kind of work, we are madly looking for the one job that will fulfill our purpose in life” (p. 103). “God can be pleased with your work so long as you are taking pleasure in Him as you do it” (p. 104).

“…while I’m jumping on toes, let me explode the myth of ‘the one.’ …don’t think that there is only one person on the whole planet to whom you could be happily married. You’re not looking for that one puzzle piece that will interlock with yours. ‘You complete me’ may sound magically romantic, but it’s not true. Yes, men and women are designed to rely on one another in marriage. However, the biblical formula for marriage is not half a person plus half a person equals one completed puzzle of a person. Genesis math says one plus one equals one (Genesis 2:4)” (p. 109).

“…instead of ‘letting go and letting God,’ we need to make every effort to grow up in our faith (2 Peter 1:5ff).” and “…I encourage older Christians to set a good example of steady, faithful responsibility; to model Christ-centered consistency and risky decision making for the glory of God; and to be honest with the rest of us about when you have failed and where you are struggling to live up to the good example you want to set” (p. 112).

“It would be bad enough if we were just restless, meandering through life, and a little cowardly. But we’ve spiritualized restless and meandering cowardice, making it feel like piety instead of passivity. … If you are going to be anxious about one thing, be anxious to keep His commandments. If we must fear something–and we all do–fear God, not the future. The will of God isn’t a special direction here or a bit of secret knowledge there. God doesn’t put us in a maze, turn out the lights, and tell us, ‘Get out and good luck.’ In one sense, we trust in the will of God as His sovereign plan for our future. In another sense, we obey the will of God as His good word for our lives. In no sense should we be scrambling around trying to turn to the right page in our personal choose-your-own-adventure novel” (p. 121).

“So the end of the matter is this: Life for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (p. 122).