Monday, December 16, 2013

What I've Been Reading This Year

When I first began blogging some years ago, one of the things that I liked about it was finding good books as I read what other bloggers I followed read. I was always glad to see when a favorite blogger would either post a list of books they were reading or had enjoyed or when they would write about books along the way.  In that spirit, I started keeping a list on my blog of books I read during the year, plus it's fun for me to look back over the year and remember what I've read, too. So, even though I have a dedicated page for my reading list, I thought I'd do a post here as the year is winding down and share what I've been reading. I did not add the Bible in my reading list, but I could have, since it's a convinced habit of mine to read it daily, so I didn't add it in my list of 'other' books, but of course it would be the one I recommend most highly of all. Read it first, then any other book, especially in the theological/devotional category. When someone asks how to discern what's good or not in the multitude of books out there in the Christian bookstores, my advice is, "Read the Bible first! Know it well and by it discern all the other stuff. The better you know the Bible, the better you'll be able to discern if any other theological or devotional book is biblical or not."Speaking of reading the Bible, before I move on to my list, I read this post just today about daily Bible reading, and the part where he discusses things that can sidetrack our actual reading of the Bible was excellent.

As to the list now, feel free to share any books you've read that you've enjoyed recently, too! I'm always looking for good books.

January 2013:
  • Les Miserables (F) - Victor Hugo. I'm obviously reading a translation of this book since I don't know French, and I'm reading it on my Nook (actually started in December, but I'm so early in the book, I'll count it with January's reading). Really liking it so far. I've heard such good things about this being a great story about law vs. grace and about redemption, that I'm greatly looking forward to reading this. Drew and I went to see the movie and really liked it. It IS a great story about redemption and law vs. grace. Now I want to see the musical live sometime. I have a feeling I won't be updating this list for a while. It's a LONG book. 
Februrary 2013:
  • Still reading Les Miserables
  • The Gospel According to Jesus (NF) - John MacArthur. 
  • Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved (NF) - J.D. Greear. Highly recommended!
March 2013:
  • Still reading Les Miserables, about 75% finished as March begins.
April 2013:
  • The Inner Circle (F) - Brad Melzer
  • Kinsey and Me Stories (F) - Sue Grafton
  • Crucifying Morality (NF) - RW Glenn. Recommended!
  • The Forgotten (F) - David Baldacci. One of my favorite authors, did not disappoint.
May 2013:

  • The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel (F) - Diane Setterfield. I really enjoyed this. It's reminiscent of the Jane Eyre type of gothic novel.
  • The Gospel is For Christians (NF) - Mitchell Chase. RECOMMENDED
June 2013
  • The Woman in White (F) - Wilkie Collins. I discovered this as a free book on Kindle and it's the first I've read by this 19th century author. It won't be the last - I enjoyed it.
  • The Misremembered Man (F) - Christina McKenna. I discovered this through the Kindle Daily Deal one day, and I very much enjoyed the book. It's one of those that had a perfect ending and it left me crying and satisfied at the end, a story that I'll remember.
  • What Does it Mean to Be Born Again? (NF) - RC Sproul. From the Critical Questions series. 
July 2013
  • What is Faith? (NF) -  RC Sproul. From the Critical Questions series.
  • The Moonstone (F) - Wilkie Collins
August 2013
  • All of Grace (NF) - Charles Spurgeon. Highly recommend!
  • A is for Alibi (F) - Sue Grafton.
September 2013
  • Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (NF) - Francis Chan
  • The Testament (F) - John Grisham. I loved this book. 
  • When You Reach Me (F) - Rebecca Stead. I really liked this one, too. 
October 2013
  • B is for Burglar (F) - Sue Grafton.
  • The Giver (F) - Lois Lowry.  My son had to read this for school, and I decided to read it, too, to know what they were discussing. It lead to good discussions at home, and we enjoyed it. We also discovered the other three books in the series and I devoured them all.
  • Gathering Blue (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Messenger (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Son (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Tower of Babel (NF) - Bodie Hodge. This was very interesting, though at times a bit technical, overall, I found it fascinating.
November 2013
  • Face of Betrayal (A Triple Threat Novel) (F) - Lis Wiehl with April Henry. I enjoyed this one, and will probably look for more in the series.
  • In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (NF) - Sinclair Ferguson. Recommended. This was not a fast read, because I read nonfiction differently than I do fiction. I am very much appreciating authors and preachers who are helping me to think through and apply a gospel-centered understanding of life. So encouraging.
  • Risked (The Missing series) (F) - Margaret Peterson Haddix. This is a series my 7th grade son and I are both enjoying reading, and we are anxiously awaiting the next installment, which hasn't been published yet.
December 2013
  • The Gravity of Birds (F) - Tracy Guzeman. I really liked this book. One of the side benefits from my Kindle is the daily and monthly deals. I've found several books I've enjoyed that I never would have stumbled across had I not clicked on the deals once in a while. This was one, and I very much enjoyed not only the story but the writing as well. It's a gift to be able to write a story well. A good story coupled with good writing is a treasure to read. 
  • Strange Fire (NF) - John MacArthur. Necessary discussion that is causing quite a stir, but I'm thankful for it.
  • Crucifying Morality (NF) - RW Glenn. This was a reread, since a small group of friends met together with me to read and discuss this book over about 2 months or so. I recommend reading this and really thinking about the premise that Jesus IS the Beatitudes. Best read not as rules for living, but rather a picture of what a life that has understood the gospel of grace will increasingly look like as you are conformed to the image of Christ. I cannot tell you how freeing it is to finally begin to understand grace and grace-centered, gospel-centered living and thinking, and this author (in this book as well as the sermons I'm listening to as I've subscribed to his Sunday sermons from the church where he pastors) has been instrumental in helping me learn to think biblically about the gospel-centered life.
  • The Darkest Path (F) - Jeff Hirsch. I just started this one, but I'm adding it to the list for 2013 because most likely I'll finish it before December is out. I'm reading this because my 7th grade son read it and wants to discuss it with me, so he begged me to read it. 
  • 11/22/63 (F) - Stephen King. I am not a Stephen King reader, normally. In fact, I don't know that I've ever read any of his books. I tend to stay away from things that I know would encourage nightmares, since I am very prone to them, and his brand of thriller is something I think would probably be that for me. But I found this through the Kindle daily deals and the premise looked so interesting and from what I read it seems different from the scarier books, so I'm giving it a try. It's another one I've only just started but will probably finish, so I've added it to the 2013 list, too. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dwell on Christ

James 1:2-8
“2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials, 3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4)And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7)For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

There is a hashtag trending on Twitter recently that says “ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion”. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, the best I’ve been able to tell about what hashtag trends are is that it’s a little like the old blog meme - you type your update and put the hashtag on it and it lets you join in the ‘fun’. I don’t do much with hashtags on Twitter, I don’t do much at all with Twitter beyond an occasional tweet, truth be told, but I was tempted to use this one. I had one all composed, then I decided that to post it without any commentary might not be wise. 

Here’s what I was thinking about posting as my unpopular opinion: “For a Christian, unhappiness often has less to do w/circumstances than w/refusal to let thoughts dwell on Christ.”

But, I’m too long-winded for Twitter, and I thought maybe I want to flesh out that thought before posting it, instead of just throwing it out there as a zinger, so here’s a little devotional thought for today based on James 1:2-8, and incorporating my unpopular opinion, if you will. If you would like a good resource on this topic, I’ve been listening to a very helpful two-part podcast from Alistair Begg that is part of a larger series he’s doing called, “My Times Are in His Hands.” Part 1 is here if you’re interested.

So, looking at verse 2, notice it doesn’t say to “FEEL it all happiness” when we encounter trials. No, it says to COUNT it all joy. This means it’s a choice of where to focus our thinking. I recently was struggling through a bout of the blues, and as I listened to that podcast this morning, I began thinking this through. Let me share with you two ways we can respond when a bout of the blues hits seemingly out of nowhere, at least, this is how it often goes for me, so see if you can relate. I find myself feeling that pit gaping, the blues threatening, feeling low, and honestly having little control over those very low feelings, so I start to think, “Now, what is making me feel this way?” And I begin to diagnose it, find a cause, think about some usually valid thing in my life that could be behind my blues, start dwelling my thinking on that thing that I have decided must be causing the blues, and then the spiral begins. OR when the blues hit, though I may recognize some potential cause, I choose to run to Jesus, rather than spin and spiral and mope and DWELL in the blues. My prayer may go something like this: “Lord, I can’t shake these blues. They are real, there’s this THING, You know what it is, Lord, I can’t do it, please help me to look to You and not to the thing that’s weighing me down. Turn my eyes to Your word, guard my heart from deception, and help me to see You in the midst of this thing, please grant me the wisdom to know You and to love You and to understand Your word and turn away from my sinful bent toward wallowing.” And I’ve learned when these things come that it is wise to cut out things, if possible, that lend themselves to my dwelling on the blues and take time to immerse myself in reading the Bible and praying through it. Daily Bible reading has been a huge blessing and means of grace in my life. 

Does that mean the blues lift automatically? Not usually. Sometimes it’s a drawn out and difficult and hard-won fight for joy. But what it does do is it helps me to stop wallowing and start focusing my thinking better, focus on Jesus and what He has done to save me from sin and from sinfully allowing my circumstances to take larger precedence than they ought. That’s why I say ‘often’ in that hashtag statement. Many times our unhappiness really isn’t rooted in the circumstances, but in how we are thinking about and handling and facing those circumstances. Do we believe that God is in control - of all things? Then when we wallow and complain about where He has us today, what does that say about our trust in His good plan? Is this easy to do? Not at all. But it is worth it, to find our joy in Christ in the midst of our THING, whatever that trial is.

I’m not trying to oversimplify real suffering, not at all. I am not a word-faith/mind-over matter kind of teacher. Life is hard. It’s hard for ALL of us. I am not saying there is no room or place for grieving and tears, either. We all have some THING that we have to face in our lives. But how we face those things, how desperately we cling to Christ or choose to wallow determines much of what we are able to learn from those things and how we choose to glorify God or not in the midst of our things. Are we going to blow it up to large proportion and wallow in a woe-is-me, THIS is why I suffer attitude, or are we going to recognize the lie that our circumstances define us and cling all the more desperately to Jesus? I say all this because I have been there. I’ve wallowed. And it isn’t pretty when I do. But, oh, how much better when I learn to arrest those thoughts before they embitter me and learn to trust HIM.

One more thought, and this is the unpopular thought that will probably make people mad at me: Another thing I’m learning is that, as I mentioned last time, I’m not sure Facebook is good for us. It makes it WAY too easy to vent out every stray thought before we reign it in and share it with everyone out there in Facebook land. It makes it all too easy to wallow when we feel justified in venting every frustration with our circumstances for everyone to see. And, can I just be blunt? When we do that, vent our every frustration, it makes it really, really hard for our friends to not take offense or fall into the same trap. I know, I’ve been a venter. I NEVER feel good about it later, either. That is not to say we shouldn’t be honest or put on happy, happy, happy masks and only post rainbows and sunshine, either. That is problematic also. But how we go about being honest is important, and something else to consider is that it impacts our witness for Christ. Sharing our struggles privately with friends and asking for prayer or help is wise, venting everything publicly isn't always as wise.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about today, and thought I’d share it, for whatever it’s worth. May we seek holiness more than happiness, and may we find our greatest joy in knowing Christ. May the love of the Father, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our joy. 

Philippians 4:4-8
“4) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5) Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8)Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Status Update - December 2013

Seeing as I've let the blog lapse somewhat this year, I think I'll do a little status update in bullet points here on this first day of December:

 - Sitting in the apartment, which we have affectionately named "The Cave" due to the fact that it is on the ground floor of the building kind of built into a hill with a wall behind us leading up to the sunny land, and though it has lots of windows, it is not very sunny inside. The apartment really isn't all that bad, and I'm EXTREMELY thankful our house sold quickly, more quickly than we expected, which is why we're in The Cave, so I'm not really complaining, but of the things I miss about our house, I miss the sunny windows and back deck most…..

 - Our church family got to witness a baptism this morning. I never, never get tired of that. Rejoice with those who rejoice. I'm thankful for Sundays and for salvation and for my church family.

 - Planning to drink some decaf coffee with peppermint mocha creamer once I get the youngest child to bed, and oldest kids can help me catch up on some shows we have on DVR.

- Decorated the house for Christmas this afternoon after church, probably the earliest we've EVER decorated for Christmas, but it was good to do it while my husband was home to help me get the decorations out of storage. Now that the Nativity set is up and our little Charlie Brown tree is decorated, I'm ready to play Christmas music.

- Speaking of Christmas music, I let my 15-year-old run the iPod in the car this evening on the way home from the airport, and we got to listen to about an hour's worth of Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas music REALLY loud in the car, which is probably the best way to properly appreciate the genius that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas music (well, the instrumental pieces, at least; not so much the ones with lyrics).

- Since we've mentioned the airport, I have to say that for a military family, airports are pretty much the happiest places on earth or the saddest, depending on if your Army guy is coming or going. Mine was going back to school today, so…..sad.

 - But not sad for too long this time. We get to be together at Christmas, and for that I'm thankful. Yet one more reason to play that Christmas music.

- Speaking of Christmas music, my daughter gets to be in a children's Christmas musical next Sunday. She is so excited. We will be listening to her music this week, for sure.

 - And since we're discussing Christmas music, I have two band concerts to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. Band mom!

 - Not to mention the adult choir Christmas presentation I get to sing with, too! Music!!

 - As to what I'm reading these days, though I haven't been blogging much, I have tried to keep up with my list of books read, if you're interested. Currently I'm reading "Strange Fire" by John MacArthur, and finding it weighty and important, and I really, really, really wish all those critics I've seen saying those of us who are concerned and seriously so should look at a more 'balanced' view of the Strange Fire Conference would actually listen to the talks and read the book and see what is being said there and see how serious this is instead of lecturing us on what they think was said or what they've only heard about was said from the blogs they've read. I'm also reading a fiction book I found through Amazon's Kindle deals called "The Gravity of Birds" byTracy Guzeman, which I am really liking. It's one of those I have a hard time putting down and am wanting to see how it will end. I have very much enjoyed my Kindle, and I've found several books through the daily/monthly deals that I've enjoyed but probably would not have found and read otherwise.

 - As I'm getting ready to read Isaiah 40:1-5 with my kids before bed in a few minutes for the first day of Advent, I can't help but hear Handel's Messiah in my head as I read it. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."

Happy December, everyone!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holidays and Limiting My Time on Facebook

Isaiah 26:3-4
“3 You keep him in perfect peace 
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

I’m thinking today and praying for friends for whom the ‘holiday season’ may be difficult this year. Some friends of ours just received very difficult news that will make this Thanksgiving a very hard one for them, and my heart is hurting for them and I’m praying for them and their family today. The holidays are difficult for many people for a wide variety of reasons, and today I’m thinking a little about that.

Here’s something I’m thinking through a bit. I’m increasingly not sure how good Facebook is for us, or, at least, for me. I use Facebook as my example because that’s the particular social media vice I find most addictive and where I find myself struggling at the moment. On one hand I have really enjoyed how it enables me to reconnect with old friends and stay in touch with friends we’ve made during our many moves from state to state as a family.

On the other hand, Facebook can also foster hurt feelings, anger, jealousy, misunderstandings, and frustrations, if we aren't careful with it. It can  be a little like a year-long, in-your-face,  happy, happy, happy Christmas letter on steroids. You know what I mean by the “Christmas letter” don’t you? Do you fight false feelings of inadequacy when reading certain Christmas letters every year, or is it just me? Anyway, on Facebook, you either have the happy, happy, happy holiday talk or you might also have the complainers who never seem to be happy about anything. That can affect the mood as you scroll through, too. And the thing is, it can make it very difficult not to feel a desire to distance yourself from friends who, if we weren’t posting EVERY thought out there on the news feed for all to see, we wouldn’t know QUITE so much about each other and wouldn’t be so tempted to let our attitudes about people and circumstances be bent out of shape nearly so easily. Then there are the downers who are miserable and feel like they need to lecture Facebook world on how insensitive we all are for being happy about the holidays and talking about it on Facebook. 

I know, for me, I’m completely dreading the impending ‘Elf on the Shelf’ daily updates that will be ensuing and flooding my news feed any day now, but if that brings joy to my friends they have every right to post them, and I have the option of blocking things if I don’t want to see it all day. (I find dolls in general creepy, but that elf moving around the house watching kids is creepy beyond creepy to me.)  Anyway, I have been thinking about how hard it probably is for people to read the happy, happy, happy status updates and days of thankfulness when, for them, the holidays are a difficult or lonely time. It can sometimes be irritating even when you like the holidays, generally, but for those for whom the holidays bring genuinely painful memories, I’m praying today. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be happy about the holidays or that we shouldn’t share our happy thoughts and posts. Not at all. I think we all benefit from sharing the joys, even the stuff we might not like as well as others. I’m just thinking about how hard this time of year is for some of my friends.

Our culture tends to mess up Thanksgiving and Christmas royally by getting our priorities out of whack.  We have this tendency to do what Clark Griswold does in ‘Christmas Vacation’ and build up the perfect holiday in our minds, and when that ideal doesn’t materialize, we are disappointed, disillusioned and depressed. We buy into the commercialized and secularized view of the holidays, trample each other at Black Friday sales just hours after supposedly taking a moment to be grateful for what we have (by the way, I WILL NOT be shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday - I loathe crowds, hate shopping even on a regular day, and there is NOTHING I want or need badly enough to support that nonsense), and it isn’t good for us. It breeds a subtle discontent in us that nothing in this world can ever satisfy. Overly sentimentalized sappy secular Christmas songs drive me nuts, too, and I’ve mentioned before my loathing for the movie “The Polar Express” so that’s all I’ll say about that now. 

Another thing I see on Facebook at this time of year that I find irritating is that we build up this secularized version of Christmas then get all smugly upset when stores don’t properly ‘honor’ Christmas. Why do some cultural Christians feel like we have to make it a big deal every year whether or not anyone says, “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Why do we have to talk about a perceived  ‘war on Christmas’ every year? I saw some chart the AFA has out that rates retailers on how Christmas-friendly they are or are not. Oh, please, just stop it. We come off looking so silly. Just be decent to people while you’re out shopping and get on with your celebration. Boycotting stores over whether or not they use the word Christmas is just SO not where our focus should be. In a world where people are dying and on their way to hell, does it honestly further the gospel to complain and rant and to boycott companies about Christmas? Aren’t there other more important fronts on which we should engage?  I don’t expect a secular world to care much about the real meaning of Christmas, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t do much good for us to be jerks in insisting they use just the right words to honor our holiday. They don’t even get it right when they do, so just get on with your own celebration of it, shop or don’t shop as you see fit, and share your joy in that for all to see. 

So, for me and my house, what keeps me sane during the holidays, is to focus less and less on the secularized version of the ‘perfect’ holiday and to think more about the Cross. To think more about Jesus, and His grace in saving us from our sin, in reconciling us to God. And if I have to limit my time on Facebook in order to keep in check my sinful bent toward becoming wrongly, sinfully irritated and agitated, that just might be wise.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Christmas and Choir Thoughts

Colossians 1:13-23 “(13) He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (14) in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (16) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (18) And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (19) For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (21) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Isaiah 9:2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Well, it’s September, and we all know what that means right? If you’re a choir member, you probably know this, anyway......Christmas music rehearsals have begun. If you ever need a reminder how quickly time is flying, join the choir or help in children’s choir and start singing Christmas music in September. Or listen to the lady who was standing in front of me in line the other day at Walgreens and had the perverse pleasure of announcing to anyone within hearing distance that there were only 14 Sundays until Christmas. That induced a small panic in my brain for the briefest moment, for some reason. Makes it a little hard to enjoy the present moment when you’re being forced to count off days like that. Or maybe it’s just me.

Do not get me wrong, I like Christmas. At least, minus Santa, and that oh-so-horrifically-creepy Elf on the Shelf new insanity, and the hurry, hurry of secular, Americanized Christmas, I do. I think what induces that little mini panic is knowing I have kids’ gifts to shop for, and it will need to be done soon, and that part of Christmas isn’t my favorite thing, no matter how much I try to keep it simple every year. I mean, I’m still overwhelmed with the constant busyness of high school band practices and competitions every weekend. It’s only barely FALL yet, people! 

However, I love the worshipful side of Christmas a lot. But I don’t really, truly feel ready for happy, happy, happy, sentimental, sappy wishing-for-the-perfect-Christmas songs when I haven’t even gotten to welcome Fall properly yet. Actually, I NEVER feel ready for the sappy, sentimental, secular Christmas songs. I hate them. Sorry. I do. And I still have a birthday in the family to get through before I’m really ready to think about Christmas hustle. Thankfully, singing in the church choir means most of our Christmas music is of the worshipful type, so that makes it much easier to sing it in September. 

This year I have the privilege of helping with the children’s choir as they prepare a very cute Christmas musical. The young lady heading it up has a lot of energy and I’m glad I get to be there. When I first saw the promotional video for this musical I have to say I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but as I’ve listened to it, I really, really do like it. Some of the songs are more doctrinally sound than your average modern contemporary Christian radio song. Ahem. I’ve been brought to tears as I listen to the message of these songs, and I’m very glad to have to hear them over and over and over in the car as my daughter begs to listen to her choir CD so she can learn it. 

And the coolest thing about it is that yesterday in the car as I took my daughter and my 12-year-old son to school, listening to this Christmas musical sparked a GREAT conversation that has left me thinking. As we were listening to a song about the shepherds seeing a great light, my son looked over at me and said, “Don’t you think those shepherds would have believed in Him?” 

I said, “Well, they did. They went to Bethlehem, and they worshiped Him.”

He said, “No, I mean later. Wouldn’t they have known Jesus was the baby they heard about from the angels?”

Which sparked some interesting speculation, which I would probably not dogmatically present to a Bible study group, but we got to thinking that those shepherds were probably already grown men, who knows how old they were, and Jesus didn’t begin His public ministry until 30 years after He was born. He lived pretty much in obscurity during His childhood until He entered the public arena and John the Baptist said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” We got to thinking possibly not many of those men may have even lived to see that day. I wonder when we get to Heaven, will we get to meet some of those shepherds and get to hear them tell what it was like? 

Then my son also said, “Mom, you know how Jesus said if the disciples were quiet that the rocks would cry out? Well, I kind of wonder if maybe when the earthquake happened when He was crucified if maybe that’s sort of what was happening.” And then we talked about how I’d had that same thought. Again, not something I’d share emphatically before a Bible study group, but something I have thought as speculation. I told my son that the Bible does say that God is reconciling ALL things, that the creation groans because of the fall. 

And then last night in choir, our music minister read the passage from Colossians that I have at the top of this post during our devotional. You may remember that I’m working to memorize Colossians, so I perked up when I heard it even more than usual. He talked about how because of the fall everything is broken, every relationship is broken to some extent, and how understanding that should change how we think when we go to minister in the world, that God is most definitely reconciling us to Himself in the forgiveness of sin, but He is also reconciling all things, making all things right. 

And then, added to all those thoughts, I’ve been listening to some podcasts from John MacArthur preaching about the signs of Jesus’ return. 

One day Jesus is coming again. The Christmas music we began rehearsing in choir last night focused on that more than we sometimes do these days. I think we maybe don’t think enough about that fact, that Jesus is coming for us. This broken world is not all there is, He is coming again, and all will be made right. When we do think about the end times, we tend to get kind of weird and bogged down in ‘left behind’ and focused on Christian fiction books that I don’t think are wise to spend our time dwelling on. I think we do better to step back as we read the news and instead of trying to pinpoint and dissect it, just be reminded that HE IS COMING AGAIN. We will see Him and worship Him as we are meant to. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. For some that’s a terrifying thought, for others it is a gloriously beautiful one. 

So, my prayer for my family, my children, friends, the church today, myself is that we would be filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, because He has delivered those of us who have repented and put our trust in Jesus from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. (Colossians 1) May we live in that light. May we persevere to the end, faith firmly anchored in Christ. He came, God With Us, and died to reconcile us to Himself, and He rose again, and He is coming again. 

So, with joyful shout, Merry Christmas, even in September.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Time, Tears, and Seasons of Life

I had a funny thing happen today while I was in the midst of one of my busier mom-taxi runs this afternoon.  In fact, I wrote this on the back of some receipts and old grocery lists I found in the cup holder of my car because, of course, I did not have my notebook with me while waiting for my middle boy to finish his drum lesson. But I didn’t want to let yet another blog post slip away unwritten within the oblivion of busyness. Don’t judge. I know I’m not the only one with an avalanche of receipts and old grocery lists in my car. :-)

Anyway, while (somewhat) blissfully in autopilot brain mode, thoughts drifting everywhere while driving to and fro this afternoon (I do some of my best thinking in the car), the lightning bolt realization hit me from nowhere that my oldest is about a month away from turning 15. (!!!!!) It’s not like I didn’t already know it, but it suddenly smacked my attention for some reason, and a huge lump choked me and I fought back tears as the last 15 years flashed back to me. 

I am immensely thankful for the young man my son is growing to be. In fact, I often find myself in tears of gratitude, on my face thanking God for the totally undeserved grace He has lavished on our family in the way He is growing all of these kids and who He is molding them to be. It is not because I’m some great kind of mom on my own, I can testify to that. God is extremely gracious and merciful, and I am grateful.

But at the risk of sounding a whole lot like those older moms who used to sort of annoy me way back when, I just have to say to those of you who may be struggling through the day to day with littles and the trials of making it through the hard and joyful days and ups and downs of toddlerhood, it really and truly is only a blink and those days are but a nostalgic memory. I won’t tell you to cherish every moment, because if you’re a caring mom you already know that, and those hard days really are hard and real and trying, I won’t sugar coat it and forget that. But, seriously, a BLINK.

And those tears I fight? They are because I know that these high school years - long as they seemed when I was living through mine - will be over in only half a blink. Then, poof, he’ll be a young man, maturing and starting out on his own. 

I am so thankful my children seem to genuinely like to be with their crazy parents, and they talk to us and listen to us.  But the time is truly so short. So, I fight that lump in my throat and those hot, bittersweet tears, and truth be told, some regrets at time not so well spent along the way. 

I know that moms who are older and wiser than I would tell me they feel the same about their grown children and would say, “Cherish this time. It goes so quickly.” Only that no longer annoys me. Now I nod and say, “I believe you.”

This is just me speculating, but I wonder if part of the curse that womanhood bears in the increased pain of childbirth may not be limited to the actual physical moment of childbirth, but may also manifest itself somewhat in this bittersweet lump and tears as we contemplate our children taking flight from the nest, and close as we may remain, knowing they will grow up and form families of their own. And then we have to step back, trust God to hold them and entrust them to Him and to His care and pray He would please in His mercy draw them to Himself, just as we have done since the first moment we knew them. 

The older I get, cliche as this may be, the more I realize how very fleeting a thing is time, how life truly is a vapor, how it just slips through your fingers and is gone before you know it.

May I use my time wisely, not fritter it away and miss the treasured moments with my head bent over a stupid cell phone or wasted time, and live this life well for the glory of God and to bring honor to Jesus’ Name, during those fleeting vapor moments as the seasons of life change and mature and during the ordinary busyness of life.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Scripture Memory

Some time back, I followed Tim Brister’s Partnering to Remember challenge to memorize the book of Philippians. We took sixteen weeks and memorized the entire book of Philippians, as it was broken into segments each week. That was an amazing experience for me, and I’ve intended to try on my own to memorize another book of the Bible sometime. There are significant benefits to memorizing large passages of scripture. 

One benefit is that it encouraged me to really think for a long time on the book of Philippians, in a different way than if I merely read it through a few times. I spent sixteen weeks laboring over hiding those words in my heart and thinking about what they said and what they meant, and that was very, very good for me. Time I might have wasted on mindless things like Facebook games or such was instead devoted to working on memorizing scripture. I had a little notebook that I carried around with me for those sixteen weeks and I referred to it periodically during the day to work on each week's passage, while reviewing what I’d already learned. I even carried that notebook with me to jury duty that winter to study on breaks. 

Another benefit is that I found myself applying things I was pondering and learning and thinking on as situations arose, and I still do. It’s amazing how often what I was memorizing springs to mind even now when it is applicable to something I’m walking through. When you spend time in God’s word, your thinking begins to line up with it, it changes you, and you begin to think biblically, and that is an awesome thing.

Something else I found as I worked through Philippians was that those ‘coffee cup’ verses we all know and love and spout off kind of flippantly often have a much deeper, richer and even vastly different meaning when we read and learn them in context. I can no longer read a verse on a coffee cup or in a status update or on a poster without needing to know the context and actual meaning of the verse. SO many of our pet favorite verses that we flippantly quote often do not mean what we think they mean and should not be used how we use them much of the time. Learning a long passage helps you to understand that vital truth, and encourages you to read more carefully when you read other passages. (As an aside, take Psalm 46:10, for example. It does NOT mean what most people think it means when they quote it, very often. Read that whole Psalm prayerfully and thoughtfully and think about it. That is a verse that I often see taken out of context and it frustrates me a lot.)

So, all that being said, I’m getting ready to start another memory project. I’ve kind of hesitated to do that because I’m scared I’ll forget Philippians after working so hard on it. Silly, I know. Anyway, I’m planning to spend this week reviewing Philippians, and then next week I want to start memorizing Colossians. I have wanted to memorize Colossians ever since I attended a Bible study at my church in South Carolina where our pastor’s wife taught on Colossians and encouraged us ladies to memorize it. She was a big proponent of scripture memory. I didn’t take up the challenge then, but I’ve always wanted to. 

So, I’ve spent the afternoon today trying to figure out how to format a table to make nice little memory pages like I had for Philippians for my notebook. Thanks to my ever-helpful teenage son, I have spent the afternoon typing Colossians into the table he helped me design. I’ll spend this week proof-reading it, and I hope it will fit my little notebook, and I hope to start next Sunday.

 I’ll be using the ESV since that’s what I use these days, and I’ve broken it up into 16 weeks. 

Here’s the method I used last time, and I found it very helpful:
  • On the first day of the week read each verse for that week through 10 times each. Then try to say them. Don’t move on to the next verse until you can fairly well say the verse you’re working on. After you learn the next verse, say the first two together before moving on to the third, and so on.
  • Each day for the rest of the week, review the verses for that week. Say them several times, referring to the notebook if needed, but really work toward not needing to refer back to it. It worked best for me to do this several times a day, not just sitting with it once. I referred back to the notebook during free moments throughout the day and worked on the week’s verses. At the end of the day, I reviewed it again, and said it with the previous week's verses. Every day make sure you keep reviewing what you’ve already learned as you add new weeks. You’ll end up knowing those first weeks REALLY well.
  • The more you review, the more you’ll retain.

Borrowing from the Partnering to Remember project, I use a little 5x7 size notebook like this: 

This method of scripture memory was very meaningful to me and I’m looking forward to starting a new project. 
Anyone want to join me in memorizing Colossians? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Few Random Things to Limp the Blog Along Another Day

 Meet Marvin. 

In an effort to fight off the malaise and blues that have been hanging around the past few weeks, I decided to try my hand at sourdough again. I’ve had marginal success in the past, mostly because I end up losing interest and letting the starter die eventually, truth be told. But I’m trying it again. Only I cheated. I used yeast this time. Also, after tearing up my kitchen and pantry looking in vain for the glass jar I usually use, I have come to the conclusion that I short-sightedly decided it was one of the items we could live without while we downsized to the apartment for the year. So, I read somewhere in a comment thread while I was searching for what can be used as a starter container that someone somewhere used a gallon ziplock bag, and upon realizing the plastic jar I had that I had planned to use is actually too small, I decided to try the ziplock bag route. It works for Amish Friendship Bread, so maybe it will work with sourdough starter, too. We shall see. 

I’m also attempting something else culinary today. I stumbled across a recipe for cinnamon almonds made in the crock pot. If this works well, it will be like those yummy crunchy coated nuts you buy at places like Disney World that my husband and I just really like. I hope they turn out well, because if they do I can send some in a care package to my husband at Army school.  Again, we shall see. Meanwhile, I’m stirring them every 20 minutes, and they smell super good.

Anyway, that’s what my oh-so-domestic self is doing on this lovely Monday. 

In other random foodish news, I bought myself some flavored green tea because I read somewhere that it can help with weight loss. I don't actually love green tea, but I'm trying it. Gotta get over this hurdle of the stalled scale. I'm also trying to exercise more, and the lovely cool weather we've been having the past week has helped me want to get out and get moving. It's helped with mood elevation too. It feels almost like Fall. In July. If this is global warming, I'm not complaining. ;-) 

In other random randomness news, the kids are gearing up for back to school, and in some ways I'm ready, in some not really. For my high school boy (slight pause while I hyperventilate) school has pretty much almost already begun, as he's been having all-day marching band practices for two weeks now, and he goes tonight from 4-9. Band pretty much takes over our schedule from here on out until after October. We like it mostly. I'm attempting to be a more involved band parent  this year. It's the right thing to do and I need the camaraderie. And he'll actually be a high schooler this year. That's almost painful to say, and even harder to wrap my brain around. In only 4 more years he'll be graduating, y'all. And the others are speeding right along behind him. Urp. My middle boy is playing the trombone and taking drum lessons every week, so it looks like band will be in my extended future for a while. My daughter recently informed me, while listening to The King's Brass in the car, that she wants to play the tuba some day. I can totally see it. Of course, her seven-year-old reasoning is that her oldest brother plays the trumpet, her middle brother plays the trombone, so it's only logical she should play a brass instrument starting with 't' also. Sound reasoning, I suppose.

One cool thing about the kids getting older is the incredibly cool conversations we get to have. And the questions, oh wowza. I thought the 'why' phase in toddlerhood was challenging. The 'whys' and 'hows' get a lot more complex when they hit the teenage years. But it keeps me thinking, that's for sure. One really encouraging thing is when one of them asks a spiritual kind of question and you tell them about a biblical passage that will answer that, and you discover him later pouring over his Bible to check it out for himself. That is very cool. 

And that's about all I've got for this Monday post. 

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Favorites on Friday

A few simple joys:

A cool morning with windows open. It’s hard to feel melancholy on a day crisp and cool enough to have the windows open. Listening to the birds singing is just cheerful and the kind of music that brings a kind of peace to the heart, unlike booming bass for hours which makes you feel anxious. There’s something so calming about the fresh air feeling in the house when the windows are thrown open as you listen to the birds sing that makes laundry and morning chores enjoyable. It kind of has that early Fall feeling today, and that’s one of my very favorite things. I know it’s only July and this is a fluky day weather-wise, but I’m taking advantage of it while it’s here.

Tea....iced or hot, sweet or not, I like tea. Making a pitcher of sweet tea right now. Another favorite simple treat is a large unsweet peach tea from Sonic. 

Having a friend over for a play date for my youngest child. I like hearing them enjoying each other’s company. 

Bible and prayer time in the morning, and even more so when the windows are open and the birds are chirping.

Good books to read, fiction and nonfiction. There is need for and joy in both. Reading is one of life’s sweet pleasures, and I’m thankful for it. Saw this quote the other day: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” - Mark Twain

The desire to write. I don’t so much enjoy having to gin up that desire, but once the words and ideas start flowing, it’s sweet. Plan to work on my project today.

The feeling after I’ve exercised hard. Again, not so much the enormous amount of willpower it takes to overcome my inertia and get moving, but that exhilarating feeling when I’ve pushed past the overwhelming inertia and really worked hard and sweated is great.


Happy Friday, Y’all.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Time Well Spent

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

I needed to clean the bathrooms yesterday. What I did instead was run errands and then work on a craft my daughter had been wanting to try. She had been asking for the past several days, and I had asked her to wait until I could get the supplies we needed, which was why we went on the errands yesterday morning. She had been so patient, I just didn’t think I should put her off again. So, we tried to make this cute little dolphin craft thing she saw in her Highlights magazine. My daughter was blessed with a not-very-crafty person for a mother. Let’s be honest, I actually would rather clean bathrooms than to do crafts from Highlights magazine. There’s a reason I avoid the Pinterest website like it’s a zombie infected wasteland. 

Our effort resulted in a rather pathetic end-product, but a satisfied seven-year-old because her mom sat down and spent the time with her and tried it, and we had fun together and made a good memory. That was time well-spent, even if the bathrooms had to wait another day. For a little perspective, those bathrooms get cleaned, on average, twice a week at least, so it’s not like we were teetering on the edge of toxicity yesterday or anything. 

I read this blog post from Ligonier Ministries yesterday about some parenting dangers to avoid, and I appreciate it. I want to be ever mindful of gospel-centered thinking in our home, and to remember that more than anything we need to be modeling grace for our children and pointing them to Jesus. I’ve been thinking some about what it means to frustrate, exasperate, or provoke our children to anger. I know the specific instruction is to fathers, but I believe it is for both parents to heed because we are complementary partners in the calling of parenthood. My husband bears the responsibility as the head of our home, and I have a calling to love my husband and children and therefore not exasperate my kids either.  In the situation we find ourselves for the next year, my husband is away a lot for work, and he trusts me to keep the day-to-day things running smoothly at home so he can do the work he does to provide for our family. One way I honor him and live as the helpmate I’m called to be is to join with him in raising the children in the nurture and training of the Lord, and an important part of that is learning what it means not to exasperate and frustrate them wrongly.

I’ve noticed that one way I am prone to exasperating my kids is in being always busy (or worse, not so much busy but not wanting to be bothered, and I hate admitting that) and telling them, “Wait,” “Not now,” “Later,” when often putting them off with later ends up being ‘never’ if I’m not careful. Don’t get me wrong, my kids need to learn to wait, and they need to learn that it’s not all about them and I don’t exist to answer their every whim at the moment they want it done. There’s a balance to life in the family. We are the parents, and the kids do not run the home. They do need to learn to wait and not demand things of us. But always being put off by a busy mom who doesn’t value their interests can exasperate them, too, if they are made to feel unimportant or that they don’t matter. I’m also not saying we don’t ever need to ask them to wait while we get the necessary chores done. Kids need a clean and sanitary home, too. If I don’t eventually get those bathrooms clean, I’ll be exasperating them in another way. Keep it in perspective here, as I said before, it’s not like we were filthy, just needing to be done soon. Sometimes the everyday chore here and there can be put off for a bit to make room for time spent to love a child who needs it.

Teaching the kids to wait is another side of that balance. I think another way to exasperate a child is to never have order or discipline - flying by the seat of our pants, lack of order in the home, bathrooms that are never cleaned, rooms that are constantly chaotic, jumping whenever the kid whines and never training them to respect others will also exasperate them and everyone else who spends time with them. It’s good to teach kids that we do our work first, then play. I just have a hard time remembering to stop and play sometimes. Do kids need to be told to wait and to learn that sometimes we must get our things done first? Of course they do. But here’s an example from my own life. I may spend most of the day putting my daughter off so I can get done what I need to, then, finally, after I’ve pushed it pretty far into the evening finally sit down and start to read to her when the phone rings. And it’s someone I really need to talk to, so I ask her again to wait. And by then, she’s frustrated. The person on the other end of the phone hears a whiny kid who doesn’t want her mom on the phone at that moment. I feel guilty because I’ve put her off all day, and just when I was ready to finally say, “Yes,” rather than, “Wait,” I’m telling her to wait again. So, I understand the frustration. Not that it excuses the whining, but I can’t say I don’t bear some of the blame, either. If I’m ALWAYS too busy, then, well, I’m too busy. Some things can wait.

So, I’m not advocating letting the chores go and letting the children set the agenda. I’m also reminding myself that I need to watch how often I’m putting the kids off for things that I could maybe rearrange and do after what they need from me. Kids need order, and they need parents to be PARENTS, and sometimes that does mean they must wait. And for my part, I need to balance how that looks on a day-to-day basis, letting them know I love them and value them and want to spend real time with them, even if that means doing a craft I don’t enjoy or talking Legos with a boy who really likes Legos or explaining politics to a kid who has lots of questions when all I want to do is sit down and read a book and not think about solving the problems of the world. 

And, honestly,the actual chores that need to be done end up taking a lot shorter time in this new place now that we’ve downsized - I can clean the bathrooms and vacuum the whole place in about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, tops. Especially if I put the three kids to work and we all do our part. 

And as for those bathrooms? Got ‘em done this morning. 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Status Update - July 2013 my new dining room/computer area, which is basically one with my new living room area, too. I think I mentioned that we are in the process of selling our house and have moved into an apartment for the next year. 

Drinking....chocolate mocha coffee with fat free hazelnut creamer. Needed a little caffeine coffee break this afternoon.

Feeling.....a mixture of things....tired, thankful, a little melancholy, a little frustrated - though I think the reason for that may be on the way toward being mended hopefully, mostly, though, overall fairly content, in spite of it all.

Why tired and frustrated? Remember how I mentioned that we have moved into an apartment? WELL, our upstairs neighbors seem to have a love for loud, booming bass music played loudly for hours and hours and hours and hours on end, into the night. Long story short, first night we were here my husband had to go upstairs and ask them to please turn it down in the middle of the night, things got better for a few weeks, then things got loud again, I finally reported it to the office, things got better again, until last night. Cue music - over the heads of our bedrooms, VERY loud - we were hearing more than just the bass, but the words even, from early afternoon until after I went to bed last night. We had a little excitement around 9PM, too, when two very nice police officers knocked on our door and asked, “Are you by chance playing music in here, maybe in that back bedroom?” I said, “No sir, it’s upstairs,” and explained that we had complained about it at the office before. He told me no one was answering up there and it was like they had turned it on and left. Great, I’m thinking. We all have to get up early in the morning. He advised us to make a formal, written complaint today at our office because it is obviously bothering other neighbors now too, so I did. I was hesitant to do that because I didn’t really want to be the complaining neighbor, but we tried to ask nicely, and it’s common sense, really, don’t you think? Then again, we are living in an increasingly ruder society by the day, in my opinion, so what’s common sense got to do with anything?So. Here we are. It’s quiet up there since 10:45 this morning anyway.

Why thankful? Well, when we put our house on the market it was with the thinking that it would probably take a long time to sell it, and now is as good a time as any to downsize a little. We've seen houses sit for months and months in our neighborhood, but we had a contract in a little over a month. Not what we were expecting, but we are grateful. Very grateful. But now we’re back to apartment living, which really isn’t bad as long as our neighbors will pipe down up there. When they are quiet, we like it here just fine. We have a pool and a treadmill. I like that part.

Why melancholy? Same as the reason I’m thankful. We really enjoyed that house. It’s probably the house we’ve liked best of all we’ve lived in yet. We made a lot of sweet memories there. It’s harder to leave a house and move across town, knowing after closing day I’ll never have a reason to drive down that street again. That makes me a little sad, even though I am convinced it’s right. I went over there to the empty house today and enjoyed the quiet (oh, the blessed quiet) one last time and remembered some sweet times there and prayed - I thanked God that we got to live in that house for 3 years, I thanked Him for the memories we made there, and I prayed for the people who are buying it and will take ownership of it on Wednesday. I prayed they will have as happy a time in that house as we did, and I asked God that if they haven’t yet heard the gospel that please sometime during their living here that they will hear it.

Why content? Because God is good all the time, and I know that this is where He has us now and I’m thankful for my family and the incredible attitudes the kids have had throughout all these changes. And I"m very thankful for my husband and how hard he works and the sacrifices he makes to love and support the kids and me. 

Reading......The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - I have recently discovered this author through some free (yes, I said free!) Kindle books, and I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. You can look at the Books Read 2013 tab for other books I’ve read recently if you are interested.

Pondering.....the future of this blog. I don’t seem to find time, energy or ideas to post much here these days. Is it time for the blogging season of my life to end, or am I just in a slow-down period? I’m not sure. I’ve had slumps before, but they never seemed to last this long. Maybe my blogging is just evolving. Time will tell, I suppose.

Hmm. I guess that’s enough about me for today. Happy July, everyone!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pray Until You Pray

“Our greatest claim to nobility is our created capacity to know God, to be in personal relationship with him, to love him and to worship him.  Indeed, we are most truly human when we are on our knees before our Creator.” - John Stott

I came across this quote during the week while reading the book for our Sunday school lesson as I prepared to come to class this week. We are using The Gospel Project from Lifeway, and we are studying about “The God Who Is” this month. Very encouraging discussions, and I’m thankful for this class and the people I get to join with each week.

While thinking about prayer, I think it may be one aspect of the Christian life that I’m not sure I’ve always understood or practiced as well as I want to. I’m catching up on old podcasts as I’m quite behind after the whirlwind summer we’ve had so far, and I was listening to Alistair Begg teaching a sermon he called, “Lessons From the Flyleaf of My Bible,” and he made a comment about how he suspected many of us would be embarrassed for others to know how little we actually prayed. I think that’s probably true. I know that for me, I don’t find it hard to be faithful to read my Bible daily anymore. That has become a joy and a comfort and I look forward to it, and often I do pray as I read, but honestly, I have not been as diligent to set aside time daily to really labor in prayer, calling out to God fervently, if you know what I mean.

In the past few years there have been controversies and disturbing trends about so-called prayer techniques and contemplative practices and ‘spiritual formation’, that I do not endorse or think are appropriate or even biblical. I think I understand the motivation behind some of it, at least from some well-meaning people I’ve known, in that we all know we need to be praying and we want to experience a relationship with our Creator. Because we find prayer kind of mysterious and often difficult, yet knowing it is vital, I think we are always looking for SOMETHING that will spur us to the ‘next level’ of being a praying people. But I think those methodologies and man-made approaches to look within and use of creative props and whatnot are not the answer. I think many of us have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to pray and what prayer is. We come to prayer meetings and bring our laundry list of requests that focus mostly on temporal concerns, and we expect to feel something immediately and we expect prayer to come naturally. The thing is, it doesn’t always. 

I heard once that there was a Puritan saying, “Pray until you pray!” I tried looking it up and came across this blog post that sums up what I’m wanting to get at here pretty well, I think. I think the sentiment behind that exhortation is that prayer is not an easy, quick thing. It takes some work. You have to pray long enough, purposefully enough, fervently enough that you move beyond checking a box that says, “Well, I said my prayers, done with that ritual, on with the day,” you move beyond the merely formalistic notions of prayer, the initial inertia that if you’re anything like I am which is sometimes hard to overcome, and get to the point where you are actually crying out to God in a purposeful, meaningful way. 

One thing I have found is that when I first bow to pray, I often have a hard time settling down and praying with a purpose. I find myself thinking about anything and everything that can distract me away from prayer, and rambling, and even sometimes wandering to where I at some point come back to it and think, “What have I been saying? Am I even connecting with what I’m thinking and saying here?” I have found a tool that, for me, has been very helpful in ordering my thinking as I go to pray. I received a book called, A Way to Pray by Matthew Henry, some time back from Alistair Begg’s ministry, Truth for Life, and I’m finding it to be helpful in teaching me what kinds of things to pray as I work through it. It’s divided into helpful sections like praise, confession, petition, and some others, and I don’t read it straight through, but I have markers in each category and I usually take a short section from each and pray through that, which informs my thinking in such a way that I am often able to springboard into praying about more specific things that pertain to what I need to be praying about. What I like most about the book is that it basically takes scripture and writes the prayers using scripture, so I am not praying random rambling thoughts, but Bible saturated prayers, and as I spring from there, my thinking is clarified and I am much more able to pray effectively - when I am disciplined enough to use it, that is. Because, ultimately, I want to pray prayers that please God, that I can truly say, "In Jesus' Name," as I pray. Prayer really isn't about how I feel, but to Whom am I praying.

Anyway, I just thought that it might be good to share this resource that has helped me, and I pray I will diligently seek Him in prayer as I continue to grow in Christ. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Everyday Mercies

Have you ever been overwhelmed, blown away, speechless, just in amazed awe at the kindness and compassion and mercy of God? I had such a moment today. 

To give a little background, I’ve just finished reading a book called The Gospel is For Christians by Mitchell Chase. I was encouraged by that book and recommend it, and I think the biggest take away I got from it is the reminder to be preaching the gospel to myself, reminding myself, daily, moment by moment. The gospel isn’t just something we teach as an entry point into the Christian life then we move on to pulling up our bootstraps and attempting to live that life by sheer act of our own will. No. The gospel that saves us is the same gospel that sanctifies us. As we focus on and remember the gospel, we grow ever more aware of the love of God for the world in that He saves sinners, and He’s not a reluctant savior! He delights to save sinners! He LOVES His redeemed ones. And that changes us. 

Something I subtly struggle with, and I’m being painfully transparent in this, is in truly believing that God loves me. I believe He loves me, believe He sent His Son to save me from my sin, but something in me has a hard time truly resting in the understanding that it is not a grudging love. I do not deserve grace. I am a sinner, still. I fail Him daily. As I’ve been reading through 1 Kings in my daily Bible reading, I notice that a statement about King Solomon that is devastatingly heartbreaking when I read it is, “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.” (You can read more about it in 1 Kings 11) That makes me cry whenever I read it. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and I realize I fall short.

And the awesome thing is, that’s the point about grace, isn’t it? That we don’t deserve it? What does it say in Romans 5:8-11? “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 

God loves us so much He gave us Jesus to save us and reconcile us to Himself. It isn’t because I’m so wonderful that He loves me. He loves me for the sake of Jesus. His love for me is lavish and secure and solid because Jesus died to reconcile me to Him. Jesus is precious. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. And that, my friends is real, and truly secure love. The favor of God rests on those who are hid in Christ, who place their hope and trust in Him alone. Now that I am reconciled to God, He doesn’t roll His eyes and sigh and reluctantly accept me. No. It was all His initiative. I am His and He is mine and He delights to save me. That’s awesome, truly.

Now, in light of that understanding, here’s where I’ve been in the nitty gritty everyday part of life recently. We’ve had a lot of stuff and changes going on in our lives here, the details of which I don’t think I need to go into here for the purposes of the post, but which are ultimately all good things, but hard in the short term, nonetheless, and part of that has involved selling our house and moving into something smaller for the next year while the Army stores a lot of our stuff for the year until we find out what the next adventure for our family will be.

Anyway in the midst of the upheaval of the past few months and my trying not to get depressed over things that I don’t think I should, but change, any change, is hard sometimes, now that we’re settling into our new place, I had to make decisions about what to keep with us and what could go to storage for the next year. The other night I was having a particularly low time, feeling lonely and blue and just downright down, my husband was out of town on top of it all for temporary Army assignment (not a deployment), and I thought, “You know, a nice pot of tea sure would be comforting right now.” Then it occurred to me that I was pretty sure that I had not opted to bring it with me to the smaller place. I sure didn’t remember packing it, anyway, and it’s the kind of thing I could see myself deciding I could do without for a while. Feeling bummed, I checked the cabinet just in case. There it was. My cheerful little teapot was right there. And I cried, and thanked God for allowing me sometime in the past few weeks, not even remembering I’d done it, to have the forethought to pack and bring it. You might think that’s a small, silly thing. But I don’t. I'm not trying to be all weird or make more of the little things than I ought to, but I believe God is sovereign in all things, and I believe He granted that to me, not from a wonky prosperity gospel kind of perspective, but from His kindness.

And this morning, before church, now I know these are ‘first-world’ kinds of things, but I have been really feeling low this week, and I was looking for a computer disc that went with a keyboard I’d gotten for my daughter for her birthday. It’s loaded with lessons I was going to use to help her learn to play her piano, and when I couldn’t find it, I realized I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to get it out of the office cabinet at the house - which had been packed and loaded by the movers on Friday. I sighed, sucked up my lower lip and realized that there was nothing I could do about it, so just accepted I won’t have it this year. Then I found it in the basket it was supposed to be in on my kitchen desk here with me in the new place. And again, I cried. It was such a small thing, really, an insignificant little thing, but seeing that disc there just reminded me that not only does God delight to save us from sin, but He loves us in the everyday things of life, too. Whether I’d found that disc or not, it’s true that He loves me in the everyday things of life, and I recognize that, but finding it when I was feeling so low and lonely and blue, that was a mercy and it reminded me to thank Him for His kindness and grace once again.

I’m not saying that believing in Christ means I’ll always find lost things or that everything will always be sunshine and roses and there will never be any problems. If you’ve read my blog long at all you know I don’t think that way. Life can be hard sometimes, and being a Christian doesn’t guarantee a problem free life. Like I said, I know the teapot and the lost disc are not deep and abiding and serious problems. It’s not the teapot and the disc I needed, but the reminder that I must worship and rejoice and delight in God in the everyday moments of life that I needed so much this week, and by allowing me to look to Him when I found those little things, He granted me that reminder. 

As we worshiped God together with our church family this morning, I was overwhelmed by God’s great and awesome kindness. He has saved me, not only has He reconciled me to Himself, but He LOVES me and has made me His own. It is not reluctant love, but agape love that transcends even my low days. I don’t deserve such love, but He lavishes it anyway, for the sake of my Savior, Jesus. It is enough and more than enough that He has saved me and reconciled me to Himself. I don’t even deserve that, but He goes even beyond and continues to grant His mercies which are new every day, and today, I couldn’t even sing I was so overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for His daily mercies. 

We talked in Sunday School today about remembering the great truth that Jesus is coming again. When we are tempted to get bogged down in the tyranny of the everyday things, REMEMBER that we can and must worship Him and remember His coming as we go about those everyday things and live in the light of the fact that this is not all there is - live a life of expectant anticipation, day in and day out. 

Today I am thankful for simple, seemingly insignificant little things in the everyday that remind me to worship such a kind and compassionate and saving God.