Thursday, June 28, 2018

Whirlwind Days

We all have those seasons. When life changes faster than we can fathom.

Job transitions, graduations, holidays, birthdays, milestones, major purchases, moving, family changes, birth, death, relational change, sports seasons, injuries, travels, medical challenges, church rifts, neighbor conflict, mechanical failure, homeowner disasters, storms, etc., etc.

We probably never face all of those in a short time period, but sometimes many will pile up fairly quickly. Some are good; some are awful. All are life. All cannot separate us from God's love.

I think I can say that I have just ended a season like this. For more than two months life has raced by, quickly transporting me from one activity to the next, another commitment, another question, another obligation, another change. 

Now, this week, a chance to breathe. Nothing pressing, except catching up, and spring cleaning that never got done.

I have started reading more. Lots. I forgot how much I loved it. Even on busy days I could pull up Hoopla for a few minutes here and there and catch a few bits of books. I have used audio books, too. I have spent hours upon hours driving on some days, and audio books were my companion for many of those drives. Books. Kept me sane, and challenged me mentally as my physical self was on the go.

Books keep me mentally alert, thinking, growing. I never want to quit that. And, with how busy I was, they somehow gave me a break even in the midst of the crazy. Reminded me that the whirlwind around me wasn't going to last forever, and it wasn't all there was either.

So, here's my list for the past few months:

Gospel Reset by Ken Ham
- Seriously challenged my thinking about how the gospel should be presented in this day and age. A must read for anyone that desires to share their faith meaningfully.

Gospel Fluency
- Pressing me to think about how my life lives out the gospel. Did the gospel impact me one day 40 years ago, or is it a daily reality that shapes my thinking and relational interactions?

 Evangelism for the Rest of Us by Mike Bechtle
 - As an introvert I really appreciated this gentler look at evangelism. I'm not going to be the street preacher, or the bold confrontationalist. But, God still calls me to share my faith, so what does that look like embedded in the personality He gifted me with? Love the practical tips and deep encouragement that I needed to hear.

Dealing with the Elephant in the Room by Mike Bechtle
- marriage relationships can never be ignored. They must be constantly nurtured, and this book nudged me that way. Probably one I need to reread now and then. 

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes
- A long book, glad I had it on audio book, or I might've stopped reading. But, I'm so glad I continued. Such a powerful story of standing up to evil. We have it too easy in America today and the story of Hitler and the final solution is one we should not let this generation forget.

Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McAllister
 - Really fun read. A random grab off the library shelf and we loved it! Eli said it reminded him of Narnia. I can see the correlation, but I found it a bit different. A little bloodier, the author was definitely not afraid of killing off characters, but with a meaningful storyline as well. It kept us all enchanted and eager to come up with extra errands to run so we could keep listening. :)


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (loved, loved this!)
- What can I say? I had no knowledge of the story other than recognizing the title as a classic. It was everything I love in a good fiction book - drama, fear, rags to riches, and a sweet, love story that kept me coming back for more. The only downside, I had the hardest time putting it down and it is a rather long book.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- This one was ok. I read it before Jane Eyre and glad I did or I might have been disappointed with it. It really has a similar story line, but not nearly as involved. Probably won't read it again, but it was an enjoyable read.

And, now I'm in the middle of:
  • In the Presence of my Enemies by Gracia Burnham, 
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, 
  • Red Rock Mysteries (audio book with the kids)
  • Red by Ted Dekker (not sure what I think about this one so far). 
What are you reading? I'm already thinking about what I'll read next. :) 



Monday, May 14, 2018

Prayer Challenge - wrestling in prayer

Setting my mind on Him:

Pray through Scripture: God, help me to wrestle in prayer!
Genesis 32:24-40
Psalm 86
Luke 22:39-46
Colossians 4:12

Confession:
Apathy - not caring enough. Living my culturally appropriate life inside my Christian bubble

Heart of Gratitude: 

Colossians 4:2
 

Response:
Sometimes prayer is like breathing, just walking through our day with God on our lips. Then there are those moments of powerful prayer when we wrestle through each word with God. Those are the prayers that have changed me and changed my life in the past couple years. I realized at some point that my prayers had grown into just talking in my head. Just words. They lacked the focus of with whom I was speaking and the intensity that my requests deserved. 

Lately, I've started really wresting in prayer. Take a breath, focus on the eternal God of the universe, and pray believing. Sometimes, often, this changes the pray-er (me), and the request changes as I seek God's best and not selfish demands. Walking in step, or limping in step with the Father, requires times of wrestling.

Lord, God, thank you for Your constant revelation of who You are and Your awesomeness. You know my needs greater than I. You know what's to come and what I need to experience and bear up under now to be ready for it. Help me to constantly rest in Your sovereignty while not sinking into apathy. ~Amen

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Favorite Resources

When my kids were younger I couldn't imagine life without pacifier clips, a travel container of wipes, board books, etc. Times have certainly changed, and this past week I came up with a fresh list of items I could not live without.

Things (personal, homeschool related, spiritual, organizational) I can simply not live without at this stage in my life, in no particular order:

Marker Boards. We use these for everything school related - math problems, spelling words, checking work, drawing while I read aloud, speed drills, oral tests, etc.

Kahn Academy. Where my mind ends, Kahn Academy is only getting started. They come in handy for test prep, re-teaching of challenging topics, filler when we finish a course early and want to keep learning, review, and even for a full math curriculum, at least temporarily.

Family Mint. A few years back I was on a homeschool review board and this was a website that we got to review a beta version of. I've been using the free version every since. The upgrade has some perks, but at this time we haven't upgraded. This is a great way to teach our kids about money without having to keep a separate bank account for them, and we also do not have a bunch of money sitting around. We keep it in our account and give them interest once a year.

Got Questions. I love this website. Maybe because it seems that every question I have, they already answered. Maybe it's because they are so exceptionally Scripturally sound. Maybe it's because after I was hooked on it I found out that my cousin's wife's sister's husband is the CEO (does it sound like less of a stretch if I say cousin's brother-in-law?)

Homeschool Tracker. Eight years ago our oldest child was approaching high school and I realized that my mental attendance notes and informal report cards that I made at the end of each year just might not cut it. So, after some exploring I came upon Homeschool Tracker. It has been a great fit for us, although at that time we could just buy the program for $50, so it was a very affordable option, too. We have now sent off three transcripts using the program and continue to be quite happy with it and the great tool it is for organizing our homeschool records and daily assignments.

Precept Bible Studies. This year I discovered first hand the joy of really digging into God's Word through Precept. It is everything I had hoped it would be. Meaty cross-referencing, sifting through Greek words, understanding and memorizing a whole book of the Bible. The growth and depth to my own spiritual walk has been such a blessing! Love It.




Monday, April 16, 2018

Prayer Challenge - God's presence

Setting my mind on him:


Pray through Scripture:
  • Psalm 91
  • Romans 8 (I think I could pray through this chapter weekly) 
  • Hebrews 4

Confession:
  • Complacency - may the fires of hell always fan the flame of urgency in sharing the gospel

Heart of Gratitude:

  • Psalm 118:1-18
 
Prayer burdens:
  • For me to have wisdom and direction - peace about major decisions
  • Husband's opportunities to use his spiritual gifts
  • Kids to be in this world and not of it (pray through John 17 - I do this once a month)

Response:

God protects, even when I am blind to the dangers.  He is the rock that I need when I don't even know why my knees are shaking or my mind seems numb. He holds me regardless of what comes at me. I always focused on the negative things on the list at the end of Romans 8, but lately I've been equally drawn to the other side of the list - life, angels, things present, height, etc. Sometimes the known is scarier than the unknown, the certain present than the possible future.

Lord, thank you for being that constant. More constant than the family's laundry pile that relentlessly taunts. You are all I need. More than that 2 minutes of quiet that I think I need before kids get out of bed. You are my defender. More than any person that I look to in my weakness and forgetfulness. Nothing can separate me from you. Even my own doubt. Even my own fear. Nothing. Thank you, Lord, for walking alongside through every little bit of life. ~Amen


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Prayer challenge

Setting my mind on Him:


(Love this song. It somehow became my go-to song at bedtime for my boys. A sweet, sweet reminder and challenge rolled into one)

Pray through Scripture:
  • Psalm 42
  • Romans 8:18-39
  • Revelation 21

Confession:
  • Self-sufficiency. If I'm not careful I slip into auto-pilot and just go through life out of habit.

Heart of Gratitude:

  • Psalm 9:1


Prayer Burdens:

  • My consistency in pursuing my relationship with God. 
  • My husband's relationship with our kids, that it would always grow closer
  • Kids' salvation - that God would truly grip their hearts as Lord and Savior
  • Outreach to neighborhood - partners in hosting a backyard Bible club


Response:

Sometimes I need that self-pep talk, "Hey, what are you complaining about? Where's your hope focused right now? Just hoping tomorrow is better? Look to the real hope -- God!" Hope is such a beautiful thing. But, there would be no reason for hope if we did not live in such a desperate world. The sinfulness, the curse, gave us a need for hope. And, God didn't miss a beat. he had provision planned before there was even a need.

So now I hope. Hope in Him. I can't fully understand what I'm hoping for, otherwise it would not be hope. Thankful for the glimpse of glory that keeps me on track. Thankful for the promises throughout Scripture that provide what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

Dear Lord, help me to keep hoping. Actively hoping. Patiently hoping. Gratefully hoping. Thank you for your Word, your Love, your faithfulness, your promises. I crave continued closeness with You and daily reset my thinking to follow Your way not my own. ~Amen

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Kids in Ministry

Barely older than the kids in the class, our seven year old remembers the week that we helped in the kindergarten class at church. He talks about how they didn't know their verses and he could help them. He owned that role and took it quite seriously. 



One principle that has played a role in the upbringing of each of our kids so far is involvement in Christian ministry. For us it came kind of naturally. Both my husband and I majored in ministry in Bible college, and we have rarely had a season in which we were not in either vocational or lay ministry. And, our kids have always come along -- whether to youth group, to the tech booth, to after school programs, to house parenting -- and have seen ministry first hand from their earliest days.

Each of our kids has found their place to serve, although it might change over time. Our oldest enjoyed helping in the production end of weekend services. Most of our girls have enjoyed helping in kids' ministry regularly. One also spearheaded a ministry to homeless people. Our younger boys are still figuring out their place. For now, they help with tech as needed, serve alongside us, and volunteer periodically at places like Feed My Starving Children.

It surprises me when I meet believers that do not serve the body of Christ in some way. They might talk about donating to secular non-profit organizations, taking care of animals, or helping in their kids' classrooms or sports team, but they do not see that missing piece of functioning in the body of Christ. Since we are to do everything we do for the glory of God, even some of those activities can be transformed into ministry with the right focus.

Now, I will also agree that ministry can look quite different in each believer's life. It might involve weekly ministry in the local church, or serving in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, or serving in your own neighborhood or even your own family. No matter what it looks like, kids need to walk side-by-side as we model for them how to be the hands and feet of Christ.

As we've sought to pass on this habit to our kids these are some tips that have helped along the way:

Find their interest. Even when it doesn't match our own interest, we will at times step into a new area of serving to help kids find their niche. Every skill, gift, resource, and interest can be used for the glory of God and to build the body of Christ. Serving does not need to be miserable, duty-driven drudgery. Finding the area they enjoy is often a key to success and perseverance.

Work side by side. Especially to start with, kids need a role model. They need someone to show them the ropes, to ask the hard questions, to prompt them when they try to hold back, to take the first step so they learn how in the future. And, of course, it is terribly hypocritical to tell our kids they should serve if we do not. 😊

Start them young. Our kids really had no choice, but that ended up as a good thing. So far they have each chosen to do more than we ask of them. They pursue opportunities and find great joy in serving, especially alongside friends and family. Many godly friendships have sprung up from serving alongside other believers.

Encourage and reward them. Although we ultimately want the eternal reward and their love for Christ to drive them, sometimes they need a little more. And, if we reward them for good grades, good behavior, chores well done, or any other character trait, why would we not reward them for serving? We encourage them often, thank them for serving, share positive feedback we have heard from others. And, now and then we do something special just to celebrate their hard work and good attitudes. A special meal out, a small gift or gift card, or even a special outing can help them feel appreciated and press on.


With all of the many opportunities that crowd our kids' schedules, I truly feel we do them a disservice if we allow them to spend much of their time in peer groups pursuing pleasure and recreation and we do not leave time or expectation for regularly serving in and through the body of Christ. Pulling these thoughts together has been an encouragement to me to not let up in this area. Ministry involvement seems to act as a powerful fertilizer for spiritual growth, and it has been such a joy to watch.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Prayer Challenge - Forgiven!!!

Setting my mind on Him: 
 
Pray through Scripture:
  • Ephesians 4:32
  • Psalm 32
  • I John 1

Confession:
  • Legalism - how often I still judge outward actions of others, and myself. Holding believers to some invisible standard instead of extending grace.

Heart of Gratitude:

  • 2 Corinthians 9:15
 

Prayer burdens:
  • My nutrition - making wise food choices
  • Husband's patience - with kids, with himself
  • Kids' honesty - that God would allow them to be caught in any dishonesty and they would learn more and more to speak, live, and love the truth
  • Outreach - specific plans for this summer (dates, volunteers, locations, curriculum, etc.)

Response: 
A couple weeks ago we had a powerful service at our church that flowed a little differently than a typical service. In the week leading up to it we had been challenged to examine ourselves and ask God to reveal lingering sin habits. Using the second page of this document I prayerfully sought God's conviction for me personally. 

Then for 24 hours we fasted and prayed. Surrender, repentance, mourning over my sin, and then time to lay it at the cross. For some reason it was hard to let go of that scrap of paper. This was my list. The things I had to work on. The areas I needed to overcome. The sins that still trapped me.

Then a renewed knowledge settled in. I am forgiven. Not just that I was forgiven and saved, but that God continues to forgive me. I don't need to hang on to those sins. I confess them, and let them go.

He forgives. Again and again.

Lord, thank you for this fresh wave of forgiveness. Thank you for dying for each of my sins, even the ones I continue to commit. Help me to forgive others with that same grace and mercy. Thank you for keeping your promises, for your never ending justice, for your eternal atonement even when old sins resurface. I lay them down again and rejoice that I am forgiven! In Jesus Name ~Amen