A Legacy

I could hear the angry wind bullying the trees and shrubs outside my frosty window, slamming sleet, branches, and brittle leaves harshly against the glass. After such a mild winter, this nasty blizzard wannabe in mid-March caught me off-guard. Old Man Winter’s last hurrah. I shivered in the cold and watched a small caravan of utility trucks crawl by on the icy road in front of my home.  “My heroes,” I whispered to myself, grateful.

We had no power.  Sometime in the night, somewhere down the road, something had torn down power lines. We had no electricity, no heat, no phone service, no water—a very miserable way to begin a very miserable day. Of course, I hadn’t thought to charge my phone the night before either.  But worst of all, no coffee! I slumped into our comfy, new recliner and pulled a faded coverlet up to my nose. Ah, warmth. Hopefully the power would be restored soon. I had a lot to do.

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In the filtered light, with a rare uncluttered morning unfolding, I absently noticed that my hand rested on a patchwork child in a big sunbonnet. In fact, the hand-sewn quilt was covered with meticulously stitched little girls decked out in carefully coordinated calico bonnets and dresses. What a labor of love! I was wrapped in hours of tedious sewing! This heirloom had been tucked in the bottom of my hope chest, overlooked for years. Recently, sorting and cleaning, I had discovered it and carelessly thrown it in the laundry. As I ran a finger over the design, appreciating its intricate beauty perhaps for the first time, happy memories settled over me, warming me like the quilt had moments earlier. The names! How had I missed them? What if I had ruined them with the washing?

On aqua patches, a telling clue to the age of this gift, someone with lovely cursive handwriting had artfully inscribed the names of every person on the membership roll at First Baptist Church in Elmer, my hometown church.  I wished I could remember who. I smiled as I examined the square by my elbow. My funny bone was resting on Kenny’s name! How funny! Nestled there among his parents and six siblings was Kenneth Hill, a name I would proudly take a few years after this quilt had been lovingly given to my daddy in the early sixties. I smiled again, remembering how, smitten with puppy love, I would wrap myself up on Sunday afternoons when this blanket was new, making sure the Hill square was near my heart.  Sweet, precious memories.  

One by one, as I read each name, old and long-forgotten faces flashed brilliantly up on a dusty screen hastily hung in the recesses of my mind. Like stars in old home movies, the folks smiled and waved; my heart was warmed again. I pushed the now cozy chair back further and closed my eyes. All those names. All those people. All Daddy’s legacy.

If I remember the story correctly, Daddy was elected as Sunday School Superintendent when he was yet a teenager. The responsibility compelled him to hitch hike across the country to Illinois where he enrolled in and attended Wheaton College; he had decided he would obtain a biblical education to help him better carry out his duties. He was very serious about the job he had been entrusted with…for decades.

It became a family affair. We helped plan the annual picnic, we sorted materials, we previewed filmstrips and Christmas programs, we made posters to promote events, we cleaned the Sunday School closet at church, we visited new families that had come to First Baptist, we wrapped up Christmas fruit and candy, attendance pins, and award Bibles to give away at certain seasons of the year, and we helped host the teacher training meetings Daddy held quarterly in our home. We loved them. We would lie at the top of the steps and listen to the teachers complain about or praise their students, unaware that three sets of curious little ears were intently gathering any juicy gossip they could. And my mother would bake and fuss all day, the glorious smells of freshly brewed coffee and spicy applesauce cake floating up that dark stairway to taunt us, the Banished-to-the Bedroom Bunch. No TV, no phones, no computers, no hand-held electronic games. What on earth did we do? Eavesdrop, what else?

The worst part, though, of having a Sunday School Superintendent for a dad was us having to be at church a half-hour or more earlier than anybody else each Sunday morning. Daddy wanted to make sure all the rooms were set up and that the Sunday School papers were ready for distribution. He loved to greet his teachers and offer a word of encouragement or answer any concerns or questions they had. He wanted to meet the families as they arrived, making certain he knew everyone and that each one felt personally welcomed. But we hated the Sunday morning rush, all of us clamoring at the same time for the one bathroom we shared. Even though weekday mornings we all were out of the house two and a half hours earlier, Sunday always seemed to be chaotic and we kids resented his hurry-up-and-wait plan. We probably drove him crazy. If he was anything, he was conscientious, purposeful, and punctual.

It was my childhood perception, one I still hold today, that my dad was loved and highly esteemed at church. I think the quilt that was so carefully crafted and so affectionately given to him for his years of faithfully serving as Superintendent speaks to and validates my impression.

My dad was not a handsome, assertive, outgoing, or charismatic man. He was quiet, plain, and humble. He loved God. He loved God’s people. So he served them both.

My dad died only a few months after he received the quilt. I was seventeen years old. He was fifty-two. From that day to this, I still hear about how Daddy influenced a situation, cared for a particular family, impacted some person, or taught a random group. He studied God’s Word, he shared his Gospel story, he marveled at creation, he prayed for the broken, and he visited the sick and elderly. To put it succinctly, Daddy loved. Under the radar, he quietly went about his Father’s business of making disciples, of building a legacy. I wonder how many names could be added to his quilt if all those he touched for the kingdom were inscribed there? How big would it have to be?

As I stretch my legs in my chair, I’m struck with a thought. In spite of the warmth the quilt has provided me, I shiver as I consider it. I have outlived my dad by many years. So how big is my quilt? The size of a napkin? A lap blanket? A king-size comforter? Just what or who is written on it? What is my legacy?

We all have one. What will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

I was privileged to be Daddy’s daughter. I was well-trained. His lessons were both taught and caught. Out of an over-flow of love for a God who first loved me and gave himself to rescue me, I am compelled to love and esteem others better than myself. With whatever gifts I have been graciously given, I must spend myself on behalf of the Gospel. Not for a quilt. That was a very kind gesture from the church in Elmer to my dad, one that surprised and embarrassed him. But even if my obedience and my efforts to love and serve others go completely unnoticed, I know my Father in heaven sees. Isn’t that all that really matters? What I do, big or small, really must be done for an audience of just One. I think that’s what Daddy did. I want to, too.

My children won’t have a quilt to comfort them when I’m sitting at the feet of Jesus with my parents. My grandkids won’t have a litany of names to smile about, remembering puppy-love and first beaus. But my prayer is that they all will have my invisible quilt wrapped around their hearts that is gratefully inscribed with the words “faithful, obedient, beloved daughter of the King.”  That is the legacy I aspire to. Don’t you?

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,

if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received

 from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

(Acts 20:24)

 

--Eileen Hill

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God As I Desire Him To Be

Do we really trust in God, or do we do so as long as He helps us gain what we want for our lives? Author Skye Jethani exposes some faulty ways in which we think about God and how we end up living a Christian life very different than the one God invites us to. Jethani argues that the Christian life is a life where we are invited to live with God, not under, over, from or for God. Click here to watch this brief, clear and helpful reflection.

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Charmin Toilet Paper, Children and Youth

I was considering what to write about this time around, and my blog happens to fall right smack dab on the week many children will be returning to school. Whether it’s public, private, charter or home school, kids are heading back for another year of learning. It has been interesting; this week there have been a whole host of cancellations due to back to school things, appointments having to change to accommodate new bus schedules. I called to make a doctor’s appointment, and the receptionist said that they have had many cancellations and no shows this week as well. Sometimes the franticness of back to school can be overwhelming. For some, it is an utter relief to get back into a schedule again. I leaned toward writing on what I call “The Schedule Monster”, but that can wait for another time.

I chose this: challenging parents to dive into the culture of our children and youth in order to be a soft place to land from the world. I actually Googled Charmin, and this is the advertisement for it:

Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is the same great softness you love, but just more of it! ... Charmin Ultra Soft is our softest toilet paper ever, so it is harder than ever to resist! ... See for yourself why Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is a great long-lasting choice for you and your family.

The softness you love and harder than ever to resist! The great long-lasting choice for you and your family!! Wow, if only we would be willing to dive into the current culture of our children and youth and get educated and learn about what they face, at very young ages, on a daily or weekly basis- not only in the public schools, but everywhere. Unless the child never leaves the home, has no friends, or any way of communicating with the outside world, he or she will be influenced by the world in some way. Please note, the goal would definitely not be moving toward the above protection methods to insulate your child from the world either. Thought I had better add that!

I meet many parents on a weekly basis in my office who are not aware of what their children or youth are involved in. Electronics are not monitored, protected with parental controls nor boundaries set up for their usage. Another example: years ago, I had a six year old little boy who came into my office looking very sad and a bit nervous. He told me he needed to talk to me about something but was afraid to. I told him he could tell me anything and I would do my best to help him in the ways I was able. He proceeded to tell me that the kids in his Kindergarten class wanted him to have sex with a girl in his class. That’s right, he said have sex with a little girl in his class. He then said he didn’t know what that meant, and his parents told him he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. He was crying by now. I calmly explained in age appropriate ways, what sex meant and that he was not going to do that with the little girl in his class. He was relieved. Our meeting time ended, and I informed his parents what our talk was about. Due to their own issues, they weren’t willing to walk him through it and withdrew him from our sessions. I have always wondered whatever happened to him.

Our children and youth need us. They need us to be that soft place to land. They need us to communicate daily with them. They need us to teach them and model for them, how to make good choices in life. They need us to love them by actually showing them we want to be educated and learn about their culture.

WE need to be their soft place to land at home. WE need to be the ones that ask them to teach US about THEIR worlds. WE need to become students of their culture. If we don’t learn about it, we will walk in ignorance and discipline through ignorance. We must seek to understand first before making harsh judgments and hiding behind Christian-ese talk. Our religiosity can begin to stink and push desperate kids away from Jesus, all because we insist it must look and act a certain way- your way.

Please parents, caregivers, anyone who pours into children and youth: it is our job to teach our kids what is Truth so when they do hear lies, they can tell the difference. We must be the ones who mold and shape them so when they have the blunt offered to them they will reject it. When they are invited to perform sexual favors in the school bathroom, they will say no. When they are sent a porn pic, they will tell you. Communication is HUGE. Humility is huge. Treat your kids with respect. Know them. Really know them. Please don’t write them off and wait for them to become 25, when it’s easier. Jesus doesn’t write anybody off and neither should we. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it encouraged you if you already have become the educated, soft place to land or challenged you to become that soft place.

There are plenty of resources available. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Talking to Your Kids About Sex- Dr. Mark Laaser
  • Unglued and Tattooed - Sara Trollinger
  • Five Love Languages of Teenagers- Gary Chapman
  • Five Love Languages of Children- Gary Chapman
  • Group magazine Youth Ministry- Rick Lawrence youthministry.com
  • Duffy Robbins CPYU.org
  • Josh McDowell josh.org

--Lois Robinson

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Rabbit

Once upon a time, we had a sweet, loving dog who thought that she should be mother to all small creatures. Puppies were not in her future, but she would hopefully bring us very wet, very well licked candidates. It might be a kitten from next door, or a baby squirrel, or a mouse – whatever she could find that she thought needed mothering. 

One day she brought us a very wet little bunny. Naturally, the girls wanted to keep it and turn it into yet another pet. Veto. I grew up in a city, and knew absolutely nothing about rabbits who were not named Flopsy and Mopsy and Peter, and for all I knew they might carry rabies!  My husband the hunter, whose main interest in rabbits was hasenpfeffer, was very little help. But he did have the idea that if we took the bunny back out to the woods a little way behind our house its mother would find it or it would find its way home. So that’s what we decided to do.

I didn’t go the whole way back to the woods; it certainly didn’t take all of us to let a bunny out of a box. I just watched from about half way, and off they went. They put the box on the ground, pointed it toward the trees, tipped it up and out ran the bunny. But to my horror the stupid and probably rabid rabbit turned around and ran straight back toward ME!

I shrieked; I turned around and flew toward the house (I was 50 years younger then and highly motivated) while the demented and surely diseased bunny came right for me, gaining with every bound! I was screaming “Help! Help!” but no one helped me! And when I looked over my shoulder, there was my husband doubled over and crying with laughter, joined by my obnoxious children who were holding their sides and rolling on the ground! But blessedly, just before it was close enough to bite me, the bunny swerved out and under a shrub and down a hole which was undoubtedly home sweet home! I guess he didn’t live in the woods after all.

Over the years I have made so many unwise decisions, all based on a lack of knowledge and understanding. But God is good, and I have surely found that the lessons learned through my human errors are the ones that have stuck. It’s troubling to realize how many times I have constructed my own problems through pride or ignorance, and then had to suffer the consequences. But God has always stepped in, and lovingly shown me the way He wanted for me, and assured me that I was not expected to straighten out the whole world, or solve all its problems, that I have enough to keep me busy with my own. Often the consequences of error are more serious than being laughed at over a frightened bunny, and I know that my life is much more satisfying when I trust God for directions before I act. (I guess that’s why Proverbs 3:5-8 mean so much to me):

                  Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

                     Do not depend on your own understanding.

                  Seek his will in all you do,

                     And he will show you which path to take.

                  Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

                     Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

                  Then you will have healing for your body

                     and strength for your bones.

 

--Norma Stockton

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The Heart of a False Teacher, Part 4 - Demanding Signs & Wonders: When Jesus Sighed Deeply

Did you know that Jesus sighed deeply? I would like to think that my Lord, Christ Jesus, the God-Man Messiah, never really sighed over people. But He absolutely did. He sighed deeply in one particular situation. Sighing is a sign of discouragement and displeasure, the body language of a deeper disapproval of the person or a group or of a situation. It's a natural response of breathing as a result of almost head shaking grief and utter disappointment. It's our version of, "You guys don't get it!" without saying a word. In Mark 8:12, John Mark writes, "He (Jesus) sighed deeply and said 'Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given it.'" To whom is our Lord responding? Is He saying this to the crowd of four thousand men whom He just fed miraculously (Mark 8:1-9)? The sigh may (somewhat) be for them, but the heart of His deep sigh is actually for the Pharisees. It was for the ones who questioned Him, who tested Him, and who plotted and planned against Him. Mark 8:11 says, "The Pharisees began to question Him. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven."

I think I can almost envision what happened in that moment. I picture in my mind that the Lord closed His eyes, gave a quick shake of His head, perfectly coordinated with a deep inhale followed immediately by a long exhale - one that is heard and seen and felt by anyone nearby. It's a moment of the Lord bringing condescension over not just their foolish request, but over their fleshly inner hearts. If you have ever sighed as such, even your shoulders as they shrug in this moment display a mode of sadness and disapproval. But more than His sighing, Jesus says "No" to their demand. Right after He has just done a miracle of feeding so many publicly, they demand a sign. It's audacious. Their purposes were not noble. So He sighs deeply.

Jesus knew that they were looking to accuse Him. He knew that they were the real blasphemers who attributed His true work not to the Holy Spirit, but to the power of Satan. He knew they hated Him and wanted Him dead. He knew that they hated His influence. So, Jesus sighed deeply. There's a merciful longing and loving patience in a deep sigh; sure, it's combined with a deep disapproval of their demand. Maybe as they try to trap Him, He can actually see a longer pending judgment. It is not the intent of my heart to over-interpret Christ's deep sigh, but I have sighed over similar situations and people. There's a love in that inhale and exhale that is observant of a deeper blindness. There's an injustice in seeing the Truth rejected. Maybe the Lord just feels them putting Him to the test. Wisely, He refuses to sharpen His pencil and won't succumb to their supposed exam by giving them their wanted sign. So instead of a sign, He sighs deeply. You gotta love the bold candor and upfront authority of Christ in these decision moments. He stands up to them so many times, and I fear we miss it. Often, we easily see the astounding miracle but miss the master missionary take on the establishment. Maybe this is what Paul meant when he said that we sometimes only look at the surface of things; it's a call to go deeper. We have to look inside of things.

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus strongly rebukes the Pharisees (mainly the Sanhedrin) and the teachers of the law (the scribes) by saying this in reply to their demand of a sign: "A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign" followed by a deep sigh. They had already accused Him falsely. They were already plotting to destroy Him. They looked to bring charges against Him or catch Him in something He would say. They questioned Him voraciously to try to trap Him. And so, the Creator as God-Man, the literal Truth standing before them, sighs deeply. Oh, to have the heart of our Lord! His merciful heart gets put on display not in signs and wonders, but in moments like this where He sighs deeply. His Godly gasp at their wickedness isn't one of surprise; it's body language that says, "You are wrong!"

Our beloved sweet Savior sighs deeply not over every sin, but over FALSE RELIGION and WOLFERY (my word) - He's sighing over the false prophets, false teachers, false apostles, and false brothers who disguise themselves in sheep's clothing. You see, the deception of the deceivers who masquerade as angels of light are not unseen. These hidden reefs are exposed by the Scriptures because God's Word unveils their exploitive greedy works, their self-centered preeminentness, their lack of real love, their mystical materialistic experiences, their desires for money, and their lack of Truth discernment. Their bad fruit smells of rotten in Denmark. Their instincts for more deceive them and give them away. Their hatred of chosen true pastors who cling to the Scriptures without apology in white knuckle fashion is a dead giveaway.

Sometimes, like the Lord, I SIGH DEEPLY. I observe a real blindness that comes from a scheming enemy. I SIGH DEEPLY. I watch the itching ears that have gathered teachers in accordance with principles of experiences and signs and wonders. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see people united in error when they should actually remember that Christ divides as He cuts to the quick of the heart of men and women; for a false unity isn't unity at all. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see a perilous trap set by many false Christs, false gospels, and false spirits - the kind of error and deception that people put up with deception and error so easily (when the plain truth dictates otherwise). I SIGH DEEPLY. I see senseless shepherds who have jumped on liberal ecumenical bandwagons and so called marketplace ministries for the security of a false unity and for greedy gain. They are not secure in their strongholds of approval from others, for the Lord contends against those paper walls too; God disapproves of their desire to please men and the hearts for money and possessions. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see self-appointed authorities who put words in God's mouth and take words out of His mouth too. They have no standard for preaching and teaching, and they neglect the Truth proclamation of Scripture. This is forbidden and grievous! Oh my! I SIGH DEEPLY. I hear false visions spoken from their own minds because they are not called by God and not sent by God - because they do not trust Him to rely on His Holy Word. Their authority is counterfeit as false spiritual leaders. They add to and take away from the Scriptures. Woe to them! I SIGH DEEPLY.

My heart senses a bit of Solomon's grief and sadness from this knowledge of God, for the wise man has much to grieve about and upon. Like our Lord, Solomon probably also sighed very deeply. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see evil being called good and good being called evil (and by those who should know better!). I see the righteous accused and found guilty and the wicked set free and declared innocent. I see an unrestrained flesh even in many supposed spiritual leaders, where covetous greed and dirty, deluded hearts reveal a darker inside. What?! Oh my! I SIGH DEEPLY. I see murmurers and complainers who spread the contagion of false religion by their counterfeit authority - these religious hypocrites, who like actors, wear the masks of deception and the theatrical and "false humility" emotionalism. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see a haughty pomp of pride that lacks real true humility, and I see it marked and masked in a false manner of deception that manipulates with strategy and guile. I see many who are walking (and talking) in error, but I observe a hopeful remnant few who actually do covenant with true Truth. So, as I sigh deeply, I also praise Him who is Christ - the Savior who takes away the sin of the world. He deals with those who cause His (and my) deep sighs. And like all the tears someday, the sighs too, His and mine, will ultimately finally end. But for now, the sighs remain.

--Thor Knutstad

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Surely Goodness and Mercy Will Follow Me

Every summer for the past several years, my parents and my siblings and their kids, who are now scattered all over the country, and even in South America, come together for a yearly get-together. Our time together usually lasts somewhere between 3-6 weeks. When we're all together, it's 22 people in one big house on a lake. Those weeks are so many things: simply wonderful to be together again, at the lake; intense to be all together, 5 families in one house, for those concentrated weeks; chaotic and funny and FULL.

But when everyone leaves...it's empty. 

Some years when the family get-togethers are over, I feel thankful for the space that the emptiness creates: the return to regular life and relationships, margin to catch up on responsibilities. But this year, the emptiness has left me feeling sad, grieving the void they left, suddenly unsure of what I even did before they were all here. It's been a strange feeling and I've been trying to regain my emotional footing.

In the midst of the vacuum that my family's departure has created for me, I have September and the school year staring me in the face. I'm sending both of my daughters to school this year...and for the first time in what? 7 years? 8 years? I won't have any children at home during the day. 

The sadness and the emptiness that I feel about my family has started to kind of...intimidate me about my girls going to school in the fall, too. I've started to wonder, 'What if I just keep feeling even MORE empty when they're gone, too? What if I don't like them being in school, and the space that it creates for me is just SAD and EMPTY and it leaves me in a more confused place?' Those worries have left me feeling fearful, a little bit worried, and intimidated. 

Sitting on the couch yesterday afternoon, I was telling Caleb about these things. It always takes me awhile to remember that I probably won't be helped by trying to figure out my emotions on my own, inside my own head. It'll help to talk. I just forget that helpful fact every time I feel a confusing emotion.

But it really did help to talk out what I was feeling. Caleb reminded me of a theme I was holding onto awhile back. I even wrote several blogs about it. Sometimes I forget the things that meant so much to me at one point of my life...and then I need to be reminded again. It's a little annoying. But anyway, he reminded me that I used to hold onto the truth from Psalm 23 that says: 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

Remembering all that that verse signifies for me helped my soul take a deep breath and it was like I could almost feel the intimidation starting to back pedal. In more words, what 'goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life' means for me is that, in Christ, good is around the cornerDisaster is not around the corner. Destruction is not around the corner. My life falling apart is not around the corner.

GOOD is around the corner. 

Good might not always look ideal. But because of Jesus and His love and His power and His commitment to never stop doing good to me, even hard will be good for me.

So I can pretty much rest about the fall, rest about what I might feel, what my life might be like, because I know I will have Jesus, and I know that with Him, it will be good.

Check out my previous blogs I wrote on 'good around the corner' 2 years ago:

Good Around the Corner Part 1

Good Around the Corner Part 2

Good Around the Corner Part 3

Good Around the Corner Part 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERE I Raise My Ebenezer

If anyone was wanting a glimpse at my writing process, here it is. It is currently 3:26 on Tuesday morning, which is the day that this is due, and here I am beginning to type away. The girls are asleep. Joel is asleep. I am sitting on my couch next to one dimly lit lamp, with the whir of the fan and the tapping of my keys breaking the silence. It’s quite peaceful actually. Why am I writing this late? Is it because I procrastinated? Actually no. When it comes to writing these blogs I have now learned to trust the process, and I enjoy it. I think about my topic and wait for inspiration all month long, knowing that this blog entry is coming up. Even up to the day before I mull it over and mull it over. I usually have an idea and begin writing much before this 3am time only to scrap everything and start over when that alarm goes off. I always go to bed thinking, “This is dumb. You are setting your alarm for 3 as if you are actually going to be able to wake up and think clearly.” Yet, for whatever reason, it works every time and so here I am again.   

What is on my mind this 3 am? This morning I am basking in the afterglow of God’s incredible goodness these months. This past Sunday evening, some of you may have seen my post on Facebook bragging on my husband who swept me away on an AMAZING surprise date. What I couldn’t relay in one little post was the incredible significance that time held. After six years of relationship, four years of marriage, two children, many joys and many struggles, my husband having taken all of that into consideration set up this date to commemorate all that God has done.   

He had our little adventure all planned out. We traveled to Philly and ate at a good restaurant where I had THE BEST SCALLOPS EVER (seriously), then we went to the top of Liberty one observation deck where you get a 360 degree un-obscured view of the city. Once we were up there he sat me down at a high table next to the window. With the sun setting over a beautiful view, he explained to me that his reason for doing this was to acknowledge all that we have been through and all that God has done. He pulled out a jewelry box and said, “Here are two of the most precious things God has given to us.” I opened the box to a beautiful tree locket with pictures of my gorgeous girls inside. Well, cue heart melting and tears because I lost it.   

My husband and I go on weekly dates that aren’t as elaborate as this one. However, whenever we have the chance to celebrate a milestone or anniversary we go all out. Going all out doesn’t mean that we spend huge amounts of money every time. Sometimes we go all out in our creativity and thoughtfulness. We have noticed that while we have gotten used to suffering in some ways we want to be good at celebrating too. Some people wonder what it is that we do when we date or will make comments like, “What are you celebrating this time???”

So what do we celebrate? Honestly, sometimes it is just the fact that, “Phew!” we made it through the week and we still have each other. Other times, and many other times at that, we are celebrating some aspect of our love story and how we love being together. Recognizing our part in a bigger story, we want to be quick to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness in our relationship, so we invest in our marriage. On August 6, 2017 we raised a hypothetical Ebenezer as we recounted again God’s miraculous help and enjoyed our time.

Just like in writing, I am learning to trust the whole process and enjoy the ride. Even though life can be a mixed bag of circumstances, I still have reason to celebrate. I don’t know if you are anything like me, but I sometimes live as though my life is categorized into extremes. I shift in my thinking from everything is great to everything is awful or from hope to fear and back again. I have wrestled with the lie that I must be ok with pain OR faith-filled, like in Pastor Greg’s sermon on lament, as if the two can’t mix; and I have thought that celebration can only accompany “big news.” To me our more elaborate dates combat that thinking and celebrate a God who prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. I am finding that life is not always cut into nice even pieces, and I can’t postpone joy until it all pans out according to my ideals. Life is messy and complicated and simultaneously filled with joy and pain, laughter and tears, yet the midst of it all I have met Jesus over and over again with his sleeves rolled up and engaging me in the mix of it all.

Risk Wrapped in Bacon

In 2015, the World Health Organization designated bacon as a Class 1 carcinogen, meaning it is in the same class as smoking tobacco when it comes to causing cancer.  But it isn’t just bacon, it’s any processed meat, such as ham, pepperoni, corned beef, pastrami, etc.  It was big news, and it made people think twice before consuming bacon.

Apparently thinking twice about bacon just makes you hungry for more bacon.  I recently spotted an article about America’s bacon shortage, citing “higher than ever” demand for the delicious meat.  In fact, the article went on to say, pig farms now have record high “hog herd” numbers, and it still is not enough meat to meet the demand.

How do we reconcile these two facts?  Bacon probably causes cancer, and Americans can’t get enough bacon.  Do we just love to live dangerously?  If everyone knows it’s risky, why do we still eat it?

We continue to eat bacon because the perceived benefit (deliciousness) is greater than the perceived risk (might get cancer some day).  And while bacon is an easy target, the truth is, we do this sort of risk analysis all the time.  Often, declaring one’s faith feels very risky (and in some cultures, it is), yet people do it.  Sometimes, challenging a long-held belief can be risky, because we don’t know where it will take us.  Examining what is wrong in our lives is risky because who wants to do that?  But we accept the risk when we decide the benefit will be greater.  

For those of us who grew up in the church, maintaining our belief system is safe.  It is easy to ignore anything that challenges our comfort, our moral or theological constructs, or our way of seeing the world.  But growth doesn’t happen in this comfort zone.  Growth happens when we take risks.

In my own life, challenging lifelong ideas and assumptions that were starting to unravel felt risky.  If I wanted a deeper faith, I needed to “deconstruct” what I thought I knew about God.  I knew the possible risks included alienating my devout family and friends, and possibly being left with no faith or God at all.  But I knew that not asking the tough questions would lead to a faith that was stagnant and shallow. 

Choosing to accept this risk has had some profound implications and effects on my life.  Not being scared to take risks leads to a “growth” mentality, as opposed to a “maintenance” mentality.  Instead of trying to maintain the status quo, we can step out into uncertain territory, knowing that we will grow from the experience.  Otherwise we run the risk of a boring and stagnant faith that does not reflect the vibrant, passionate, risk-taking Jesus that we profess to follow. 

As I’ve tried to live this out, I often recognize ways that people around me are accepting the risks as well.  For my kids this summer, helping with Camp Grace was a risk.  Going into neighborhoods to build relationships with kids they don’t know was a challenge, much more so than sitting at home playing video games.  And I can see that they’ve grown and benefitted from it.  Because growth doesn’t happen in our comfort zone.  Growth happens when we take risks.

By the way, Jesus didn’t eat bacon, and neither should you.  That stuff is terrible for you.  Well, it’s bacon… maybe it’s worth the risk.

-- Jeff Hyson

 

A Perfect Day for Fishing

It was a perfect day for fishing.

And Asher wanted to go fishing for his 7th birthday.

Now I won’t say that what Asher wants, Asher gets, but we are grandparents, after all. We have a reputation to uphold. And this seemed like a pretty reasonable and easy request. Pop is all about spending time together, teaching his grandkids new things, being outside in the sunshine, and just having fun. He bought the first rod and reel he found.

I’m not sure who loved the gift more, Asher or Pop. No matter. The next day was one of those midsummer beauties, breezy and bright with little to no humidity. A perfect day. Late in the afternoon, the “men” excitedly piled into our little Ford and headed to a shady irrigation pond on Pop’s cousin’s farm just the other side of Elmer. The birthday boy’s adventure was on.

Now the rest of the story comes second-hand to me and there are several differing accounts, I might add. After a couple of hours, the fishing party exploded  back into the house in a burst of noisy energy, each one chattering and laughing all at once, trying to be the first to relate their tall tales.

So here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Law’s first catch of the day was only slightly bigger than his bait.

Jude, snagging the biggest bass of the afternoon, was so excited he forgot to reel in his line. He simply yanked his rod back over his head so hard that the not-really-a-flying-fish fish flew into the tree overhead, snagging leaves and branches in its aerial debut.  Hard to look like a pro when you’re climbing a tree to demonstrate your catch and release strategy.

Meanwhile, Pop, carefully lecturing the proper way to remove the hook from a slippery sunny, was in the middle of his diatribe. “You very carefully take the fish and hold him like this…” Suddenly, the little guy flapped his razor-sharp tail, catching Pop off guard. Some say he squealed like a little girl. Others say it sounded more like a baby pig. Either way, Pop isn’t talking; he’s just bleeding.

Greg, luckily, was so busy untangling lines, keeping track of the tackle, and baiting hooks, he escaped much ridicule. There was a lot of that going around, I’m told.

Asher.jpg

And then there was the birthday boy. His first catch was rather shakily recorded for posterity on his dad’s phone. I heard later it actually was a reenactment. Still, it is adorable. Nervous but obviously proud, Asher gingerly holds out the line with the wriggling fish (another sunny?) hanging on the end of his hook for the obligatory photo op. He is beaming. Amid cheers and Atta boys, Asher was informed by his second-cousin-twice-removed that a man always has to kiss his first fish on the lips because she might turn into a beautiful mermaid for him to marry when he grows up. Standard operating procedure for real fishermen. Initiation rites. You can hear Asher’s little voice repeating to a completely deaf audience over and over, a bit louder and a lot firmer each time, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” Really adorable.

Asher continued to catch fish the rest of the day; Pop wasn’t sure he would ever want to try it again after all of that. But he bravely went right back at it, a real trooper. All in all, it was a wonderful, memory building kind of adventure. I think they may even try it again someday, maybe on another perfect summer afternoon.

Fishing always reminds me of Jesus and his disciples, at least four of whom were professional fishermen. Some scholars think up to seven of the twelve may have been (cf. John 21:1-3). I’ve often wondered why Jesus particularly chose fishermen.

Thinking about it, it occurs to me that fishermen were (and are) a special breed of men. They had to learn, because of the very nature of their profession, many challenging skills to help them accomplish tasks under extremely difficult circumstances: stormy winds, raging waves, pelting rain, sleet, snow, drought, cold, fog, scorching sun, and even scarcity of fish.

These weather-battered, ordinary guys often worked all night and then had to wash and repair their nets, unload and sort the catch, clean the boat, upkeep the sails and other equipment as necessary---a huge undertaking. They did not quit when things were tough. They could ill afford to be lazy or distracted. They had to be courageous and bold, strong and resilient, patient and determined, energetic and motivated. Using nets to trawl the Sea of Galilee, these men had learned about hard work, cooperation, staying busy, getting along, and depending on one another. They had also learned to live by faith. What valuable qualities and habits they had developed! How useful for serving the Master!

No wonder Jesus called fishermen to Himself. He needed disciples He could train for the difficult work of the kingdom, work that would require courage, strength, focus, cooperation, hard work, commitment, and patience.    

“Follow me,” He commanded with authority, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) And they came. At once.

They left everything and, along with the others Jesus had chosen, these twelve lived with Him, learned from Him, and loved Him during the three years of His earthly ministry. They came to believe He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They began to vaguely understand His mission: “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) As eye witnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, this rag-tag bunch would become the prime conveyers of God’s truth and His purposes, His plan to rescue mankind and form a people for Himself.

They had become fishers for men’s souls, just as Jesus said. They would spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to humanity by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Theirs was a message not only of eternal life but one that encompassed the total plan of God to redeem people of every nation, tribe, and language from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.

In the following years, their message would turn the world upside down.

Ordinary men doing extraordinary things.

Ordinary men (and women) like us.

Okay. Maybe a call to become a fisher of men seems irrelevant, strange, or even archaic to us, but in that day, in that setting, to those men it was perfect. Even though they didn’t fully understand what they were signing up to do, they followed the Master.

I think that’s what He is asking of us even today...to follow Him. And even if we aren’t brave or strong or patient or full of faith, He can make us fishers of men as well. Peter didn’t think he was up to the task either, but Jesus used him powerfully to touch his world, and I believe God can use you and me to touch ours. He equips those He calls. He has created us with individual gifts, talents, personalities, experiences, and strengths to do good works that He planned long ago for us do. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live and work in us. He promises to be with us wherever He asks us to go. And there are still a lot of spiritually hungry “fish” out there that need to be “caught.”

Because they are following Jesus, LFA’s teens and young adults are out there “fishing” at Camp Grace this summer in Vineland, Bridgeton, Newfield and Millville. I’m so happy Jude and Law are part of that worthy effort. These evenings, they aren’t looking for silvery bass; they are fishers of men...and boys and girls.  Incredible. Thank you, Father.

Shouldn’t we all be “fishing for people?” With Jesus as Captain of our ship, we may end up with a net full! And you probably won’t have to kiss a one on the lips.  Asher didn’t.

Well, I’ve heard it said every day is a good day for fishing. 

I think Jesus would agree with that. I hope you do too.  

--Eileen Hill

How Far Do We Go To Help Others?

Not long ago I was faced with the anxiety and pain involved in helping other fellow friends. A few things started to emerge as I got deeper into their situations. At times I felt anxious and at other moments I felt like there was a knot inside my stomach. It took me a few days to emerge back into a place where I could breathe oxygen, relax and pay attention to other aspects of my own life. I guess for a moment a few dynamics came together at the same time:

  • I wanted to help.
  • I understood my calling to include helping others, so I dove into it.
  • The nature of the crisis others were experiencing was pressing—as it is usually with crisis.
  • I was doing a lot on my own to help bridge the necessary resources to help these friends.
  • Little by little my actions created less space for these friends to experience appropriate consequences and take responsibility for things they were to be responsible for.
  • I did not involve others in order to diversify the help that could be offered more efficiently.
  • I ended up running on “me” rather than God, and I felt drowned with little space to breathe. 

Can you relate to this? Have you ever been in a situation with a friend, relative or brother in Christ where you just drowned in the process of trying to help? Times like this eventually feel more like a burden than the light and easy yoke Jesus promised we would experience with Him, in Matthew 11:30. 

Perhaps we should go back to the passage where Jesus spoke those words and see what I was missing and what you may be missing. Here is what He said in verses 28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Whether you are already “heavy laden” or nearing that place, it is clear that we are to carry something. The question is, what are we carrying? Whose yoke are we carrying? The one our friends handed to us? One that is imposed on us? The one I believe I should pick up? Or the one Jesus assigns to each one of us in a given situation? It is obvious from Jesus’ words that what characterizes the experience of carrying His yoke is a form of “rest,” not a burden. What are you experiencing as you carry other peoples’ burdens? And, why do you think that is the case? 

Another reality worth observing is that there are a couple of attitudes Jesus instructs us to imitate as we carry the yoke He gives to us. I believe these two attitudes are required in order to carry the light yoke He offers to us. Gentleness and lowliness of heart (humility). I find it interesting that gentleness and humility go out the door the moment I take charge of a situation.  Yet Jesus’ way of serving and loving others was predominantly shaped and characterized by gentleness and humility. Gentleness and humility have a way of helping us identify both our personal limitations and God’s unlimited power and provision. 

So our challenge is to make sure we carry the yoke Jesus assigns to us—this defines how far we go to help others—and to learn from Him the attitudes that keeps us in the right place for the good of others and our own.

--Diego Cuartas

Chinese Buffet Foodie

I love buffets! The way I see it is this: why should I pay the same price for one dinner when I could get a whole bunch of different kinds of food for the same amount? People who know me well are very aware of my love for Chinese food! Man, I love some Chinese food!! Double exclamation marks, did you notice that? If so, you are very observant.  Now, less I digress.  I am always getting Chinese food buffet recommendations from folks. My best friend Jessica and I would load up in the car, head over to Glassboro, NJ and eat at Peking Buffet. They have some good food in that place. Great sushi bar, a chef that cooks whatever food creation you give him on the grill. My usual would be some lo mien noodles, broccoli, water chestnuts, chives, chicken, beef and some shrimp, pineapple wedges, a few green peppers, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, soy sauce, ginger sauce, teriyaki sauce, a dab of fresh garlic and a few hots. I would hand the little white plate with the mound of delicacies on top and say thank you. Then it would be time to toddle around the buffet while I waited. Just thinking about it made, and IS, making my mouth water, even as I am writing this blog! LOL. Soon, I would see him using both of his cleavers to lift the sizzling hot food onto my little white plate and place it on the counter. Time for me to grab that plate and eat!

Two days ago, I was sitting in my recliner chair on my day off.  It was lunchtime, so the thoughts of what I was going to eat was going through my brain. Now, I must tell you, my best friend Jessica is an amazing cook. She loves to experiment with food, introduce me to new foods and make things without any recipe at all, and they usually come out wonderful. I think in the 25 years I’ve known her, maybe a couple things were inedible. Me, on the other hand, not so much! I am not creative with food. I don’t enjoy cooking or going to the grocery store with meals for the week in mind. It seems that my giftings are not in that department! I tend to lean towards making something and eating it for several days until it is gone. That may sound weird, but it is the truth! I love to be creative in the counseling room, on the keyboard and in the yard building things. I get very excited in those areas. My brain fires away!

The point of this blog is not about my love for Chinese food, nor Jessica’s cooking creativity versus my lack thereof. What happened in that recliner chair was this: as I thought about lunch, literally, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart that I tend to do the same thing with the Word of God, which is the Bible. It may sound odd, but there are many references in the Bible about “eating” the Word of God. Just as we need to “eat” physical food and “drink” water to remain healthy, we also need to “eat” by reading the Word of God each day and “drink” the life that comes from it through Jesus Christ. Here are some actual verses I found that talk about “eating the Word of God”:

  • “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  • Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4). This is why Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:35).
  • The past grace of his death and resurrection guarantee a never-ending stream of hope-giving future grace for us extending into eternity. To eat these promises is to eat this living bread and live forever (John 6:51).
  • And Jesus has made the Bible the storehouse of nourishing, living soul food for his saints. It is stocked full of promises, and he invites us to come eat our fill for free (Isaiah 55:1)!

In much the same way that I make something then eat it for days, I have followed some commands of God, such as this one:

Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

I have done that with a bunch of Scriptures by reading them in the Bible and memorizing them. After memorizing them, I have to command my soul to BELIEVE them. Scriptures that pertain to fear, power, love, trusting God, strength. So when I am faced with a circumstance, a battle, whatever the case may be, when I desperately need God to show up, the Scripture flies right up into my brain automatically so I can lean into God, my good Father, to help me. I am not then facing the issue myself, His Word comes to defend me so I also don’t take matters into my own hands and sin against Him by doing or saying a wrong thing.

But, I have a tenancy to be “living off of the same food” for days, weeks and years! In other words, I have been lazy in memorizing more Scripture to add new food to my diet! I am going to take God’s correction from the Holy Spirit and begin to expand my Spiritual diet, new foods in the form of Scripture to be hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Him.

I would like to encourage any of you reading this blog, if you are interested, check out those verses I have included above. Examine your own patterns of hiding His Word in your own heart. What’s the last verse you memorized? 

Blessings Friends!

--Lois Robinson

Memories of War

One day in August 72 years ago, the radio gave all of America wonderful, wonderful news! The war was finally, blessedly OVER! It had gone on for four long years, but now it was ended, and the soldiers and sailors and marines would come HOME! I was fourteen that year and, as usual, was spending the summer on Long Beach Island. Suddenly an impromptu parade started in our town of Ship Bottom, marching south to Beach Haven on the only paved road on the island, and my brother and I ran to join the cars and people and flags and cheering and singing, the celebration of a day we were really still too young to understand completely.

All we really knew were the things that had affected our young lives directly. Our house was on the beach, so the windows on the ocean side were painted black, blocking our lights, so that German submarines could not determine the shoreline. There had been no more night time beach parties with fires, for the same reason. In fact, no civilians were allowed on the beaches at night at all, because there were Coast Guard stations all along the island, and at night armed Guards galloped their horses up and down the beach, accompanied by huge trained dogs, searching for any enemies who might try to swim in from submarines close to the shore.

When we came from the beach back to the house, there was always a bottle of Carbona on the step. We had to take the rag there and clean the crude oil off our feet before we came in the house. Everyone who swam in the ocean had this tar on their feet, because the edge of the water was always covered with it. It had come from tanker ships torpedoed and sunk somewhere off the coast, near or far away. I don’t remember ever thinking about the sailors and merchant marines who had been on those ships, or wondering what their fate had been. We were so innocent, and so protected.

Of course, the adults had coped with other realities. Everything was rationed, and there were books with coupons for everything: gasoline, meat, lumber, things that I never had to think about at all. And I never heard my parents complain about any of it. It was all for the war effort, and everyone was involved. Back in Philadelphia, as in all cities in the nation, there were air raid shelters and air raid drills, with Wardens patrolling their neighborhoods to be sure that all lights were extinguished. And absolutely none of it really affected my day-to-day life at all. Unlike Europe, we never had a real air raid.

I wonder how many, today, are at all affected by the wars we are now fighting against true evil. Behind our self-centered lives, there still are men fighting and willing to die to protect us. Back then there was a draft to turn men into soldiers, but today they are all volunteers…every one of them. Is it any wonder that I burn when someone claims to “hate the military?” How do they think we got here, to be the only true practicing democracy in the world? Who protected their God-given freedoms?

God sent his people out to war many times, and blessed and protected them many times, and is still miraculously protecting Israel today. On this 4th of July in 2017 I wonder how we have reached the place where so many of us here in this land have turned against the God who has so blessed us, and want no mention of God and certainly no mention of the only true Savior, Jesus Christ, in schools or government or anywhere else?

Pray for our country, people of God, and especially for those hearts and minds which are being led astray. Pray for the children who know nothing about God or patriotism. Pray for the Godless, that their hearts would be turned. Pray for our missionaries everywhere, who are introducing Christ to a lost generation.

PRAY.

--Norma Stockton

The Heart of a False Teacher Part 3: Satan, the Unexpected Preacher

The enemy (called Satan, the Accuser) is always preaching to you.  He is continually teaching you false religion and false gospels, stemming from false motives and spun out by false teachers. Yes, the devil preaches fervent lies with much deception, much delusion, much subtlety, much haste, and much manipulation - in season and out of season.  In other words, he preaches and proclaims and heralds often - pretty much incessantly; nonetheless, he communicates all the time as he assaults the true knowledge of God. It may be a new paradigm for you to consider the enemy a preacher, but it's true. He's always talking about all the wrong stuff.

If only today's preachers had his (Satan's) diligence and effort and endurance and energy! If only those who were supposed to herald the Word of God would wage the good warfare of Truth with sound doctrine as Paul commanded Timothy! If the devil is always preaching to hearts with lies and misconceptions, why do so many "so-called" shepherds and "so-called" preachers and "so-called" teachers refuse to proclaim the full counsel of God's Word? Your personal stories and your delegated testimonies and your vague spiritual rhetoric and your apologetic defenses of how you do ministry and watered down proof texts and mystical delusions and emotional game playing sound just like Lucifer; and by this you try to control the people and you try to bind up the unchained Word of God. But you cannot do either; and neither can the devil. The Scriptures cannot and will not be shackled. But are you restraining people and souls by letting the enemy preach to your people? Let it not be so! Woe to you! This delusion offends the heart of the Lord! For He demands sound teaching and is intolerant of error. Why is this? Are you only in the Word to prepare to speak, or do you comb the fine hairs of Scripture daily because you love what He says? Maybe you're too busy trying to figure out how to say something and have become blind to what He clearly says.  Woe to you. Woe to you. Woe to you.

If your calling to preach and teach and bring innocent worship to glory be a truly sacred one of God, then soul-shaking and heart-stirring power will be felt on earth and in heaven; and yes, it will be felt even in the depths of hell. But, if your calling be not sacred, or if that calling is stifled by deception or immoral living or covetous greed or any fleshly dark dominion, you won't do much shaking and quaking when you speak because the Spirit of the Living God refuses to bless another gospel or bad teaching or the clanging voice of the enemy. Your influence will decrease unto an influence of death because you have not rightly divided (literally "cut straight") the Word of God.  Who has deceived you and tricked you into cutting curves?  Why have you forsaken a proper handling of Truth?

Your hearers are getting ruined because you have itched their ears with doctrines of demons and avoided certain truths. You have followed bad counsel unaligned with the LORD! Woe to you! Repent! Woe to you! For this humble under-shepherd is mindful of our common enemy and has labored and toiled over and studied the Word all of my life everyday and speaks with all authority given by God for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And if any of you gnash your teeth or rail at these truthful words, or if you try to flatter in response over such a prophetic utterance and rebuke, or whatever, then your folly will be clear to everyone as the Scriptures already so indicate. Silence and quiet repentance may be your best and most Holy option; and I'm glad you read this article to the very end. Preach the Word, and do not despise prophecies (preaching) and test everything (heralds and declarations and conversations - 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). The truth is at stake, pastors. And, if this makes you a bit uncomfortable, that's the Spirit pressing into you. I have said nothing that isn't of The LORD nor without gentleness, and it comes from a meek heart; but I am bold and not shamed nor ashamed of this Gospel Truth. For as the Lord, I do not want people captivated by the devil.  And I fear he captivates some of you even now. Let it not be so Father. Let your Word make us captive to all truth.  

—Thor Knutstad, Pastoral Counselor

Looking Back to Re-label Failure

Friday was our last day of homeschooling. Summertime has officially arrived in all its glory, but before we could fully jump into it, I knew that I needed to close out the homeschooling year, especially because Caleb and I have decided that in the fall we're going to send our now kindergarten and second grade daughters to public school for a year. I knew we needed closure.

This year of homeschooling hasn't been as easy or as...'thriving' as I would have imagined it to be. I knew I wanted to homeschool; I also knew I was called to do it for this year. But I found myself to be more impatient, more bothered, more unsure and overwhelmed, more confused by figuring out the balance of all that I had to do than I imagined I'd be. When people have asked me, "How's homeschooling?" I've often replied, "Honestly, it feels like a discipline. It feels like dragging myself out of bed in the morning when I don't really want to go to the gym, but running anyway. It feels like continuing to run when I just want to stop and walk."

I think the fact that this year wasn't often 'easy and breezy' for me internally has led me to sometimes feel like somewhat of a failure, or that this year was quite possibly a failure. It's like I've thought that my struggle has disqualified me for success.

So, like I said, summer was coming closer and closer, and our last days rolled around, and I knew I had to bring closure to our year together.

I decided to take each of my girls out on a date separately...with me, "Mrs. Teacher." I wanted to help them see how much they had grown throughout the year, so I brought samples of their work from the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and now. We looked together at how they've progressed. We looked over their journals and writing samples.

I also wanted to let each of them in on some of my mixed feelings about the sweetness and hardness of our first experience of homeschool ending. So we talked together about my emotions surrounding saying goodbye to "Sassafras School of Discovery" for now. We talked about our excitement for summer, and about what we each felt about public school next year. We cried together as "Mrs Teacher" said goodbye to them...and again as I told them that we were officially all done going up to our school room on the third floor of our house (for now). I gave them each a gift, showed them a note I had written to them as their teacher, and prayed for them.

And do you know what? I didn't really plan it out this way- I had just wanted to bring good closure to our year together- but something changed in my heart as I spent that time with my girls.

There was something healing in the looking back, in the honoring of how they had grown, even in the remembering together of how "Mrs. Teacher" had sometimes been grumpy and hadn't known what to do (but that they had been kind and gracious to her as she learned to be a homeschool teacher.)

It was like something loosened inside of my heart, something that had been clenched up all year, something that was wondering if I was failing, scared to death that I wasn't good enough, woman enough, mom enough, to succeed. But as we looked back on how the Lord had carried us through it all, through the overwhelmed times, through the stretched times, and had even caused us to grow and thrive, I was able to see the Lord's goodness where I hadn't in the day-to-day moments.

And I was able to see that the year, was NOT, in fact, a failure. And neither was I. The struggle didn't disqualify me. The struggle was a part of my success, because it was part of how all three of us grew in the middle of the discipline of homeschool.

--Sarah Howard

Greater Than Wonder Woman

A little over a week ago I randomly went to see Wonder Woman in the theater. I will try not to spoil it for anyone who may still want to see it, so here is a general synopsis. It was a super hero movie focused around a woman named Diana who is the princess of a hidden mythical people called the Amazons. Born to fight, she is trained to be an undefeatable warrior from the time she is a little girl. Through a series of events, she meets a pilot named Steve who tells her about a great war happening outside of her world. Filled with compassion and convinced that she can end the fight,  she goes with him to war and kicks butt the whole way. The End. Haha

As Diana grows up, the movie gives glimpses into her training by the General of the Amazon army Antiope. Antiope does not go easy on her as she tries to prepare her for a battle that everyone knows is coming but is not sure when. We see different sparring scenes where she is learning and growing in strength and skill. During one such sparring session with the general, Diana is doing well but not winning. Antiope goads her and essentially tells her that she is capable of more than she knows.

One of the things that struck me was the theme of hidden potential. All throughout the movie it comes back over and over again as Diana’s complete identity and therefore power is hidden until the end. Spoiler alert: Unbeknownst to her, Zeus was her father therefore making her a goddess. As you can imagine, her fighting changes upon this discovery and goes up a notch once she knows what she is capable of.

But you know what, friends? We have something greater than the power of Wonder Woman that we don’t always take advantage of. No, we are not gods, but we have God as our Father and His Holy Spirit sent to us as a powerful helper. How does he help us?

He teaches us. Jesus tells his disciples that when He returns to the Father that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to “…teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25).

He helps us in our weakness. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

He changes our morale and gives us hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).

He reveals to us the heart and mind of God enabling us to walk in truth. “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:10-12).

These are just a few of the things He does. This should change the way we fight. I don’t want to forget the access that Jesus died to give me and how that impacts my everyday life. He sent the Holy Spirit to train me in following Him whispering, “This is the way. Walk in it.” He teaches me about Jesus. He knows what God thinks and feels, and He tells me about it. He gives me strength in my weakness. He changes my heart and gives me hope.   

Sounds pretty amazing and useful, but how does this change the way I live? First, if I believe those things to be true and that God has thoughts about my life and my world, I want to seek to know Him and be more informed by the Spirit than by my phone. I want to give room to being taught. If He gives help in my weakness, then I want to lean into His strength and not rely on my performance. If His presence offers power, then I want to be a conduit and let Him move through me giving me the words to say to my children when they ask me questions like, “Is God a good, good Father and is He a Holy Spirit?” (as my daughter Savanna has taken to asking these days).

“…the Spirit of God dwells in you…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…” (Rom. 8:9,11). He enables us to “ have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear” (Jude 22). He is able to keep us from stumbling that we may walk out our identity as sons and daughters of our great God and declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Can Wonder Woman do that?

--Sophia Howard

Strange Inspiration

I recently came across an article titled “Bible Verses that Atheists Love.”  I cringed a little bit, because I’ve seen these sort of lists before, full of verses that condone harsh treatment of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21), or that promote inequality (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), or show an unreasonable side of God (Deuteronomy 25:11-12), so I figured this would be much of the same.  Not one to shy away from an honest critique, I usually read them and think about the challenges they pose.  But I could tell by the subtitle that this article was different.  “Bible Verses that Atheists Love: We asked prominent atheists what parts of the Bible they find inspiring and beautiful.”

Instead of a list of that instantly makes Christians rationalize (with varying degrees of success) or run and hide, this list is really quite intriguing.  Here are a few examples:

Jeremiah 22:3 - This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Proverbs 29:7 - The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Exodus 23:10-11 - For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Proverbs 10:14 - The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

As you can see, there are clear themes that run through many of the passages chosen.  The themes of justice, caring for the poor, as well as knowledge and wisdom.  I’ve seen lists of favorite Bible verses of believers, and I don’t remember such themes.  Generally, when we think of our favorite verses, we tend toward promises of God, or other spiritual truths or comforts, which are all great, if not somewhat inward facing.  Is it possible that, when we think of the core of our faith, we focus so heavily on the inward, personal relationship aspects, that we overlook the outward expression of our faith - things like seeking justice for the poor, or standing up for the foreigner or the outcast?

We are at a time in history where people, particularly young people, are walking away form the Church in record numbers.  At the same time, young people, along with the atheists that this article spoke to, are more and more concerned with social issues.  Dozens of articles have been written about why young people are leaving, but it usually boils down to the idea that the Church has become irrelevant.  

Justice and truth have been a huge part of my faith for a long time now.  I’ve argued with other Christians when I can clearly see that they are forgetting that justice in society is a key component of the message of Jesus.  It’s not just me and God in this thing together, it’s me and God and everyone around me that I have the power to affect.  And this movement is growing within the body of Christ.  As Christian young people grow up in a society that values justice, they will become leaders that value justice.  They will be able to show the love of Jesus to a society that is, judging by the verses chosen above, looking for Christians to put into practice what our Bible says we believe.

Perhaps atheists are a strange place for us to find inspiration, but if they can find it in a God-inspired book, we might want to take note and get inspired right along with them.

--Jeff Hyson

Hide and Seek

“There’s something in our room!”

Untangling himself from the quilt and sheets, Kenny stumbled out of bed then picked up speed, sprinting clumsily out into the hallway. Shaking from that rude awakening, heart thumping wildly, I wriggled down in the bedding, conflicted about my next move. I could hear Kenny bumping into chairs, pictures, and a few assorted knickknacks as he fumbled for light switches in the early morning shadows. I heard a couple of annoyed grunts and breathless groans and a whole lot of unidentifiable clamor, all the more ominous and frightening because I had no idea what was happening and who or what was being chased around my downstairs. I shivered again under the covers, more from fear than the chill, staring into the blackness, wondering if I should grab my trusty Daisy Red Rider hidden in the back of my closet. The seconds seemed to stretch into what felt like unbearable hours. Then Kenny’s heroic silhouette appeared in the doorway and he flipped on the overhead light, spreading welcoming brightness into the bedroom. “Get me some towels,” he commanded like a four-star General preparing his troops for battle. He pivoted crisply on his bare heels and bravely marched back toward the fray. He spared me a salute.

Towels?  I had been imagining a scruffy armed terrorist skulking through my living room--or a headless horseman or a bloodthirsty pirate. Yes, I have a very active imagination. So, retrieving towels did not seem to me to be a very necessary or urgent mission given our dire circumstances. We needed a strategic battle plan including force to save us from my as yet unnamed enemy.

“Towels?” I repeated incredulously…this time out loud. “Are you kidding? What on earth do you need towels for?” Okay. Not my best honoring wife moment. I was not confidently trusting in Kenny’s role as my fearless protector and leader for sure. But I did gingerly tiptoe across the bedroom floor to the linen closet in my bathroom. “And what is loose in this house?” I yelled, dreading his answer.

Kenny tossed his response over his shoulder as he grabbed his baseball bat from the corner, storming the kitchen battlefield. “It’s some animal.” My heart thudded harder as I stepped into my slippers and zipped up my bathrobe. An animal?  A mouse?  No, Kenny wouldn’t be worrying about a mouse. A bat? Maybe, but this creature seemed to be something skittering around the floor. Not bat-like. A snake? Oh, no! That was a distinct possibility. I shivered again but forced myself to move toward the ruckus, gripping the towels like my life depended on them.                   

As I stepped into the kitchen, I peeked around the table into the mudroom. I saw it, back against the door to the garage. It was quivering in terror, its huge eyes fearfully darting from Kenny to me as it frantically searched for a way of escape. Kenny stepped back to get the towel I offered him and, in that instant of his distraction, the critter dashed right past us and scampered down the hallway back into our bedroom.  

“It’s Rocky,” I giggled in relief. “All we need is Bullwinkle.” If you are younger than 55 you will have no idea who I’m talking about. Whatever did we do without Google? Anyway, my anxiety dissipated as quickly as it had appeared and I eagerly gave chase. The little fuzz-ball with those huge eyes was simply adorable. I almost wanted to keep it! “However did a flying squirrel get in here?” I asked Kenny. He was too busy rustling the curtains and peering under the bed to even hear me.

I wish I had taken a picture. It was the cutest thing ever.

We had quietly crept into our bathroom on our search-and-rescue mission, and there, half-buried in the beach towels in the bottom of our linen closet, was our little home invader.  In my hurry to grab the towels for Kenny, I had inadvertently left the closet door wide open, a perfect safe haven for squirrels on the run. The little guy’s head and arms were totally hidden, but its hind feet and scrawny, trembling little tail were fully exposed for the world to see. Well, not the world. Just us. We stood there and laughed, out of breath. Because it couldn’t see us, it thought we couldn’t see it. No, not a very effective “hide” job. Not at all.

My precious grandkids have played this same game of Hide and Seek. As I count to ten, they bury their cherub faces in a pillow, torsos completely exposed, but, shivering with excitement, wait for me to “find” them. Of course, I never do. So, giggling, the pillow is pulled off and I hear something like, “Here my am, Grammy. You couldn’t see me.” Sweet. But again, not a very good “hide” job.

Sorry to say, like my little Rocky and my beautiful grandchildren, I often find me hiding. My tail is probably showing too.  Not a very effective hide job, right? And to be honest, I’m pretty tired of playing this silly game.

I’ve hidden a lot over the years of my life. I hide when I feel inadequate or insecure. I hide when I am fearful of people or a situation. I hide when I need to confront something or someone. I hide to avoid pain or failure or conflict. I hide when I can’t please. I hide when I sin and am ashamed. I hide when I am uncertain about what’s next or what’s going on or where I am headed. I hide when a task seems too daunting. I hide…a lot.

So what does “hiding” look like? In my life, it looks like avoidance, isolation, facades/masks, gratuitous conversation—and stomachaches, migraines, and sleepless nights. I may disappear altogether (with very proper excuses, mind you) or I may be present but intentionally unengaged and cautiously wary. But that’s only when I quite foolishly forget my true and merciful Hiding Place.  And the One who sees me no matter why or where I am hiding. My ways are not hidden from Him (Isaiah 40) and the darkness is as light to Him (Psalm 139). No matter what, He sees even more than my tail!

A worship hymn I love, You Are My Hiding Place, is based on three scriptures.

Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 56:3 reads, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”

Finally, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong.” 

Here are the simple but profound words:

You are my hiding place

 You always fill my heart

With songs of deliverance

 Whenever I am afraid

 I will trust in You

I will trust in You

 Let the weak say

I am strong

In the strength of the Lord

I will trust in You

The crux of the matter, no matter the situation, is my fear (so I hide) and my lack of knowing and trusting my Good Father (so I hide). I’m as foolish as the squirrel. Just as Kenny gently enveloped that quivering critter in soft towels and carried him ever-so-carefully out the back door to freedom, my Father wants me to willingly surrender to Him in the messes, insecurities, uncertainties and cares of my life, to know Who He is, to trust Him to cover me with His love and hide me in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8).

But He also wants to get me where I belong...delighting in whatever comes my way (weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties—all terrifying to me, all situations that normally compel me to hide) so that I may reveal to a watching and needy community the power and beauty of Christ in me, knowing He is strong, His grace sufficient. He wants to display His redeeming and refining work in me so others will be drawn to Him as well.

Sunday, Pastor Erik said that the observing world is never attracted to our faking and that our messy stories are valuable in demonstrating the work of God in our lives.  I am in process. I wish my story were “This is who I was…,” but that would be a lie and I want to be real. Though Jesus HAS graciously made huge differences in so many areas of my life (including this one of absolute trust in Him), I still sometimes find my fear default mode to be “Hide!” Too quickly I still forget Whose I am, Who He is, to Whom I should run, and in Whom I should trust. Then, sadly, I run like our Rocky. How foolish!

So, when you see my tail, pray for me. I want to be a recovered hide-a-holic. I long to, in all honesty, tell you, “This is who I was…” No more stupid hiding games.

I am very thankful He is a patient Father and that He is not finished with me yet.

Or with you.

Stay tuned.

 

  

It's True: The Familiar Often Beats The Good

Does this sound familiar to you?: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. " It was a statement made by the Apostle named Paul, and it is found in the 7th chapter of a letter he wrote and which is named in the Bible as the Book of Romans. Another way Paul's statement relates to us is that so often we prefer the familiar than what is really good. I want to point you to a short blog written by Ed Welch which reflects on this dynamic we all are well familiar with. Click here to read the blog and consider where help for us can come from!

Diagnosis Code 911: BUSZERKITI

Description- A tendency to stay very BUSY that can lead to a disorder called
GOING BERSERK.

I was driving to work one morning this week, stopped at a red light and thought, ”Hmmm, busy and berserk sound similar. That’s interesting!” That is how my brain tends to work. Think I will write a blog about that.

So, I get to the office. I then reflect on statements that I hear from the majority of the many people I chat with....

“It’s been such a BUSY week”
“Our kids are so BUSY”
“We are too BUSY to go to TFL classes”
“We were too BUSY to get to worship this week”
“We are too BUSY to pray together”
“I am too BUSY to spend time with God”
“I’m too BUSY to come to counseling”
“We are too BUSY to invest in our marriage”
“I am so BUSY at work”
“I have to stay BUSY because I can’t stand down time”
“BUSY is my middle name!”
“There is not enough time in the day because I am soooo BUSY”
“I am too BUSY to eat right”

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY!!!!!

My friends:) These are the statements that people truly believe but the truth is:

B- BEING

U- UNDER

S-  SATAN’S

Y-  YOKE

Often BUSYNESS is a tool of the enemy that pulls us away from our Savior and feeds the false gospel of saving ourselves.

There is no way any of us can hear God’s still small voice in BUSYNESS.

I used to buy into the American cultural belief system that staying BUSY meant that you were an active, contributing member of society that would be a successful, prestigious person who would have a great big house and blinged out car, get married and have a bunch of kids. That was success!  That was fulfilling the American Dream, right? I went BERSERK!! I really did. I began to feel empty, working many jobs at one point in my life to pay bills, and seek relationships as medication. The next chapter: I entered COUNSELING!!! I began to seriously seek God’s plan for my life. At this point, I live in a wonderful little house, drive a car that works, I am not married and have no children. I love my life!!! Because it is the life God has called me to. I would have been miserable if I continued to strive and pursue what my then friends, family and work said I was supposed to be and look like.

This is a lie my friends. It leads to a lifestyle that felt like I was going BERSERK! Have you ever felt that way, or was it just me??

I would encourage you to not let the “calendar monster,” as I call it, fill up with BUSYNESS. Set those boundaries. Say ‘Yes’ to life-giving things that lead you to Jesus and ‘No’ to those things He is NOT calling you to- even taking roles in the church ministries!

He has made you special, unique and one-of-a-kind. You have a unique design on your life and a purpose to live out. It is your responsibility to protect those gifts and talents that He has given you :)

Learning to say Yes and learning to say No prevents BUSZERKITIS. It is a painful disorder and I encourage you to take steps to avoid it!

Mothers and Daughters

All things considered, I think I was a pretty decent mother. It was easy; I just did what my mother had done. My two stepsons were helpful and delightful. All four of my babies were potty-trained the summer they were closest to two; I never had to spank anyone after about age three – a look would do it. I’ve written before about how blessed I always felt that I had a mother to follow, that I didn’t have to hack my way ignorantly through a jungle of parenting, because she and my grandmother had left me a clear path to follow.

I even navigated the teen years, and off they all went to college thousands of miles away from home, full of confidence and joy at being FREE. Of course, in the process, they became convinced that they now knew everything and that I, poor Mom, suddenly knew nothing. But in spite of my puzzling new ignorance they actually graduated in a timely manner and found jobs and husbands and wives and gave me 22 grandchildren. Not so shabby, I decided.

So much for wonderful me. What I really want to tell you about is a woman who loved and raised her children probably much like I did, but who also took on the role of mothering her own mother. Her name is Eileen Hill.

I don’t really know Eileen as well as I wish I did, but I learned so much about her through a book she wrote. It is titled, “WHO’S IN MAMA’S CHAIR?”

She had to face a situation which most of us, through the grace of God, will never have to face. Her much-loved mother became a victim of the dreadful disease of Alzheimer’s. And when the time came when her mother could no longer safely live alone in her own home, Eileen and her husband took her into theirs. It isn’t just that; it’s the way that they did it.

While her Mama was in the hospital, recovering from an illness, Eileen and her family stripped her mom’s home of all of her favorite things, including her favorite chair and her books and her stuffed bear collection and so many other things, and set it all up in the room which would be her new home. When her mom was discharged and came home to her new home, the sight and feel and smell of her treasures made the transition wonderfully smooth. And what a thoughtful and loving way Eileen chose to accomplished It.

Anyone who has cared for one who suffers from this awful disease knows about the personality changes which the victim undergoes. And so the title of Eileen’s book. When Eileen went to her mother’s room each morning, her Mama was often already dressed and sitting in her chair, and Eileen soon found that she could tell which personality was going to be there today. And she learned, through love and with God’s help, to be the exact daughter that her Mama needed that day. It wasn’t easy. And the charming thing about this sensitive and honest book is how Eileen continued to love and honor her Mama throughout the rest of her life.

I didn’t read this book because I faced or feared a similar situation. My mother was blessed to live to 102, in her own home and in full possession of her mind, which was a tremendous gift from God. I read it because I wanted to know Eileen, and I learned so many things about her through reading her honest portrayal of what it meant to be the loving caretaker of her Mama. I recommend this book. Eileen is surely a woman worth knowing.