Archive for Sarah Beals

My 3 Small Resolutions for 2017

Like everyone else, I love the idea of a new year and a clean slate but like I mentioned in my last post entitled New Year’s Resolutions For the Rest of Us , grand goals are not a realistic option for me in this stage of life. I’m currently a caregiver by choice (my own kids and a foster son who needs lots of care) and my days are never my own.

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I did however make three small resolutions that I plan to focus on this year. I chose these things after some prayer because I believe they will feed my soul and help develop the gifts that God has given me so I can steward my “talents” well. (Matt. 25:14-30)

1. More Meditation.

I don’t have a lot of extra time for extended Bible study in this current season of life (toddler…hello.) and that has been a little frustrating for me. I’ve come to grips with the fact that God would have me meditate more right now with the time constraints I’ve been given.

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Bible reading is where we find God’s truth. Meditation is where we commit it to memory by dwelling on that truth. Meditation/remembering is what changes us according James 1:25:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

Obviously, these verses need little explanation, but the gist is that in order to grow and change, we not only read carefully but we must choose to remember what we’ve read vs. “being a forgetful hearer”. Remembering—>leads to being an “effectual doer” because it changes our mind—->which changes our behavior.

As Matthew Henry puts it: “Mere hearers are self-deceivers.”

In Joshua 1:8, the Bible connects meditation as the tool that helps us obey:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

 

Meditating can be as simple as

  • writing a verse on a 4″X6″ card and posting it where you’ll see it as you work
  • listening to a sermon several times to cement the truths in your heart
  • Singing Psalms or spiritual songs that talk about God’s character, promises, or providence in our lives.

2. Nurturing My Gifts:

God made me creative and I’m thrilled to be able to glorify God with my “pen and paint.” I love writing here on the blog when I have time, and am reading more about the mechanics of it. Last year I pursued some freelance writing and loved that. This year, I’d like to do more. Also, I want to learn a new type of watercolor technique that I’ve been putting off. And I am about to jump into a local knitting class for beginners.

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Hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts and I’m eager to spend more time practicing hospitality this year after a slight decrease last year. I’ve found that God has opened up doors for me to spend more time mentoring younger moms because of Brayden. Hospitality and mentoring go hand-in-hand beautifully, and I’m eager to jump back into that now that Little B seems like he’s doing well.

3. Creating Margin

Believe it or not, I still struggle with doing too much. You would think that having mono would have taught me, but the tendency is still there. I really have to pace myself or my priorities can easily get out of whack. This means saying “NO” to good things in order to say “YES” to what God has called me to. Saying no to good things allows me to put the time and energy into the people, ministries, and priorities that God has ordained for my life, and it allows me to do it with joy, competence, and excellence. (vs. trying to do too much, being haphazard with tasks, and being unprepared or sloppy in my work.) I need to take small steps to feed my soul.

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I have noticed that my mind is not as sharp if I am overstimulated or over-committed. I need silence and rest, so I can regroup and organize my thoughts. This means that I need the “Sabbath rest” and I have been intentional to get a few hours to myself on Sunday to rest, read, and focus on God. During the week, I need to turn off the notifications and scale back distractions, electronics, and noise in general because I have limits. Too much “input” robs my time to process, think, and meditate.

In The Overload Syndrome, Richard Swenson discusses the God-given limits we have, and how our culture suffers physically, mentally, and spiritually from general overload. (His chapter on “expectation overload” was astonishing–contrasting current day expectations in every area, like our homes, cars, kids, health, income, fashion, government, and retirement to our grandparent’s era and how all of this unrealistic expectation is robbing our joy.)

“We are not infinite. None of us has more than twenty-four hours in a day. We do not have an inexhaustible source of human energy. Limits are real, and despite what some Stoics might think, limits are not even an enemy. Overload is the enemy. As the Author of limits, God puts them within us for our protection. We violate them at our peril.”

So, there you have it. Three small changes I’m making this year. What about you? Did you make any small (or big) resolutions? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Also, here are a few articles about planning that I enjoyed from around the web:

A Tradition for the New Year: Decluttering My Soul by Sally Clarkson

7 Killer Steps to the Best Missional Year Yet

Don’t Make Resolutions, Make Commitments by Paul Tripp

Happy New Year, friends.

New Year’s Resolutions for the rest of us.

This post is for women who can barely get ready in the morning without littles banging on the bathroom door, for the mom who is nursing a baby and trying to train toddlers, the one who can barely eat a meal while it’s warm without an interruption.

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This post is for the mature woman who is caring for an aging parent  whose days are more like one continual stretch, dotted by doctors appointments and scares at the ER.

This post is for all of us who are caregivers by choice and nature, whose days and schedules are not our own.

This post is for all of us who want to make New Year’s resolutions but who are too scared or too realistic to try anything “big” because big dreams require chunks of time and we don’t have that right now.

Me? I’m in a season of homeschooling and carpooling and caring for a just-turned-3 foster son whose needs are ever evolving and whose care consumes most of my days. So setting anything but the most basic goals is not a realistic option for me.

As Katherine Brooks pessimistically replied to Anne of Green Gables hopeful ideas for her future–“Bend in the road? There’s no bend in my road. I can see it stretching out straight in front of me.”

If you’ve chosen a life of caring for others and your schedule is not your own, and there’s little to no “bend in your road”, and you’re feeling a little down about that, wondering if your life will matter, here are a few thoughts I’ve been processing myself, that I hope will encourage you.

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  1. Success is not defined solely by doing great things. Success is doing small, faithful things with great love.
  2. Success is not reserved for the woman with no boundaries or constraints on her life. Success is doing what you can with what you have. Many of the greatest inventions were born out of need not abundance.
  3. Your quiet time may not be as quiet as you like, with toddlers on your lap or interruptions that you can’t avoid. Remember that Bible reading is only half of the equation. Meditation is the secret weapon that brings change and peace. So even if you’ve only got 5 minutes to read the Bible, you will benefit greatly by meditating on what you’ve read throughout the day. I try to write one truth on a 4″X6″ card to remind me of the verses I want to think about that day.

Reading is the exposure to the Scripture, but meditation is the absorption of the Scripture.

Donald Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life

When living your daily life, even when your time is not your own, you can still grow spiritually by asking this simple question before you act or react: “What will bring the most glory to God?”

Spiritual growth can happen no matter what our circumstances because God uses ordinary days to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus.

  • So on the days when you feel like you have no control over your situation (kids sick, dog throwing up, money tight) ask, “What does the Bible say about this situation?”
  • When you are unsure about the future, ask “What truths about God do I know for certain?” and meditate on those.
  • When you are frustrated or feeling stuck, ask “What is God teaching me about contentment and godliness today?”

For all of us with no foreseeable bend in our road, we may not have grand goals or plans for the next year, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t set our heart to seek the “things which are above, where Christ is”. And isn’t this what true spirituality is all about? Seeking God’s will and glory faithfully, right where you are, trusting Him with every detail of your life?

Happy New Year, friends. May we all be faithful wherever we are and love God and others more in 2017.

Measuring God’s Goodness, In Joy or Trials.

How do you measure God’s goodness to you?

If you are like me, you tend to equate material and physical blessings with God’s smile, and hardship and trial with God’s frown. When my kids are doing right, and we’re on top of the world (aka organized and on track for school) or when God provides ministry opportunities and we see fruit in our work, then God is blessing us.

But the dark side to this thinking is that when trouble strikes, we assume Satan is after us because we’ve been so righteous (pride) or that God’s somehow withholding blessing from us (self-pity…aka…pride).

Looking back at this past year, our family has had tremendous blessing. We’ve traveled more than ever, enjoyed health and happiness in our family, grown in size with a new son-in-law as our daughter married, and we’ve seen God provide in miraculous ways for our family. If I’m not careful, I can equate God’s goodness to us as a correlation to our performance or His happiness with our family.

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Our family has also known worries and trials that we’ve never experienced before with the care and keeping of our foster son. Emotional unrest, uncertainty, and fear were all very present in 2016. If I’m not careful, I can equate all of this to God’s displeasure or a reflection of our poor performance in our Christian lives.

The wonderful truth about God is that He is good to His children because that’s His nature. The end. It’s not based on how good we are. This is at the heart of the gospel. God seeks us when we are sinful and unlovable, and does all the work to save us. It’s not about us or about our performance. I don’t know about you but I need this reminder daily.

This small line of verse has been ringing in my ears for the last 6 months:

“Every joy or trial, falleth from above,

Traced upon our dial, by the Son of Love.”

“Works Christianity” can creep into my mindset so easily, even though I’ve fought that natural teaching my whole life, and worldly philosophy like Karma and survival of the fittest can jade my worldview, distort the truth of the gospel, and rob my joy.

Circumstances are not an indication of God’s pleasure or displeasure, love or coolness toward me. God’s act of sending Jesus to die for us on that bloody cross is the final indication of His love for us.

When we have plenty of money, lots of opportunities, when life goes smoothly and people treat us with love and respect, God does indeed love us.

But when God seems distant, and everything we touches falls apart, when money’s short, and hurt surrounds us, God also loves us.

Whatever comes our way, “every joy or trial”, comes from His good hand and it’s intended to bring us close to Him.

Whatever accomplishes that,

whatever makes us look up at Him, whatever strips us of our own delusions of goodness or self-sufficiency, whatever makes us realize how small and out of control we are apart from Him, whatever drives us to cling to Him as our only Hope, that is exactly when we can see the love and goodness of God despite the circumstances.

This past year, despite highs and lows like we’ve never experienced before, the goodness of God’s love has shined through the circumstances and God’s grace has shown us His presence.

In the end, dear friend, God is the goal and to know Him is the stabilizing factor in our lives.

Whatever your goals for 2017, don’t assume that God’s goodness is measured by the amount of ease, plenty, respect, happiness, approval, or health you’ll experience. Good or bad, come what may, be willing to embrace everything and anything as from the Father’s good hand, knowing He’s there with you and present, and that is the ultimate gift.

 

Still, Still, Still: The Missing Key to Adoration.

There’s no shame in listening to Christmas carols before Thanksgiving in my book. They somehow bring all of the sentiments we hold dear–home, family, faith, hope, love– and tie them all together in one musical, merry package. {And who can lift your spirits like Bing Crosby or Perry Como?}

One of my favorites Christmas hymns, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” says,

“Come and behold Him, born the King of angels,

O Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

I love it because it beckons you and me to worship.

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Isn’t that exactly the call we need when we have over-burdened ourselves with mammoth to-do lists?

Before we pull a Black Friday all-nighter, coordinate/dress/photograph a Pinterest worthy family Christmas card, bake ourselves into oblivion,

before we run to do one more thing,

we need to bow.

Worship is our first priority. 

And we need to worship rightly,

because worship can so easily shift and drift into false worship of anything and everything. 

As conservative Christian women, we’d confess that we do, in fact, worship. Oh, yes. We document our quiet time on Instagram, yes we do. #soblessed

When talking about our quiet time, we can produce lists, plans, schedules, and studies. We trot out our favorite commentary and think we’ve done okay. That’s all good,

but have we worshiped?

Have we quieted our heart at all before the Lord?

Have we taken the time to recognize His presence and ascribe Him the worth He is due, or are we so busy talking to Him and telling Him all that needs to be blessed and done and fixed?

Come, let us adore Him. Let those words do their work on your tired soul.

When was the last time you were still in the presence of God? Still, as in, quieted, weaned, submissive, yielding-– nothing to say or dictate, no agenda but to know Him, see Him in His beauty, acknowledge and adore His presence?

And if it has been a while, have you replaced worship for service? Let’s be honest, service is safe. You can control it. Yes, I’ll do this. No, I’ll not do that.

Worship requires submission and admission that God is greater and worthy of anything and everything, and that’s a little scarier than service.

Some have spent their entire life in ministry and service and have never surrendered to the Lord. We’ve given parts, sure. But we cling and hoard those secret loves that we refuse to part with. We still fight and demand self-adoration. We say, “No, Lord. That’s too much. I can’t release that.”

I like this quote from Joseph Carroll:

“The first essential condition for true worship is total submission. The second essential is that Christ alone should be glorified. We must meet these conditions, submitting ourselves absolutely, without reserve, to Jesus Christ.

In Revelation 4:11, we find the worshipers ascribing worth to the One on the throne, telling Him he is worthy.

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

What have they done? They have abdicated and cast their crowns before the throne, divesting themselves of their glory and saying, “You are worthy to receive glory, and You alone.” Honor and power follow. These three things are what men seek: to be glorified, to be exalted, to be honored.

Therefore to worship Jesus Christ, we must divest ourselves of all desire for glory and honor and power; for He and He alone is worthy of such.”

“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

So much clamors for our attention this season.

The world promises we can have it all.

Advertisers tell us that if we do more, buy more, we’ll be happier, more glamorous, more, more, more.

God says to be still. Adore. Come unto me.

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple.”

Let’s take a few minutes today to do this: be still, truly adore, and go forward mindful of God, aware of His presence, submitted to His will, and active in His service to love others and exalt Him. This is the worship-ful life.

 

A Mary Heart During the Busy Season

Got a minute? Good. That’s all I’ve got these days. So my posts will be short, because we’re all busy.

Christmas hands us a never ending to-do list: present-buying, baking cookies, decking halls, and family parties. All this merry making can be exhausting.

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Tis the season when we tend to neglect our souls. {Yes, you, mom.}

How can we accomplish so much without becoming frazzled?

How do we keep our hearts focused on Christ in all the clamor and noise?

The only way is to choose the “one needful thing”–a mental “sitting at Jesus’ feet” during the hustle and bustle of the season.

This is done by dwelling, living, staying in the “secret place of the Most High.”

Ps. 91:1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.”

At the end of a busy day, I love sitting and staring at my Christmas tree. It’s calming to my body and restful for my mind.  In the same way, our soul is refreshed when we gaze at the Light of the World, and reflect on His beauty and goodness. When we are still and focused on the only One who will truly satisfy every longing in our heart.

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You may not get long periods of time to physically sit, but it’s a mental mindset that is thinking heavenly thoughts while carpooling kids and speed-cleaning the house. It’s remembering His faithfulness as we fold our clothes and set our table.

I noticed this “dwelling” this morning in the Luke 2 narrative of the Christmas story.

Mary and Elizabeth both had “dwelling hearts.” Mary’s mind was focused in the whirlwind of events happening around her. Her heart was humble and her eyes spiritual to see what God was doing in her home and in the lives of her friends and family.

We see Mary’s humility in her words: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Basically, I want God’s will for my life and will embrace it immediately, wholeheartedly, even if it means people will misunderstand or life will be hard.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior.” Her focus in on promoting the Lord and agreeing with what God was doing!

Notice that Mary does not focus on herself. She’s not gloating. She’s thankful to be part of God’s redemption story to redeem mankind.

Elizabeth is another example of a humble, God focused woman. She’s spiritually sensitive. When her cousin Mary comes to her home, pregnant with the Lord Jesus Christ, we see her humility in this statement: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She feels blessed to have Mary, pregnant with the Savior entering her home. No animosity, no jealousy, no soap opera drama, no comparing, no thoughts of “She was chosen to have Jesus and I’m just having John the Baptist.” These women were righteous, inside and out. Not perfect, but striving to do right, and dwelling on the bigness of God and aware of all that He was doing around them.

And that’s our job today as well. You won’t be visited by an angel, but we’re all part of God’s redemption story as well go about our lives building and promoting the kingdom of Christ in our own little corner of the world.

Pray for eyes to see what God is doing and how He can use you.

Embrace your “lot” in life as “servants of the Lord,” like Mary and Elizabeth did. God is in control and you and I are part of His story. A humble heart and a heavenly mindset will help us to embrace our little piece of God’s story with contentment, joyfulness and anticipation of the great things the Lord will do for us!

So happy serving, and may your heart also rejoice in God your Savior as you cook, clean, carpool, and love the people God sends your way.

Additional Articles to Inspire You:

Have a Mary Heart includes two acrostics. Which one are you?

Scurrying or Seated by Karen Ehman

This interview with Pat Berg on how she does her quiet time.

Also, how Sally Clarkson approaches her quiet time in Walking with God for the normal, everyday mamas.

A Newsy, Political-free Post

This is going to be newsy because I haven’t had much time to blog in a while. I’m staying off-line for the most part because of the drama/hate/turmoil of the election. It breaks my heart to see the lows of humanity and the fact that #rapeMelania is trending on Twitter makes me realize just how broken we are and how much people need the Lord.

So if I’ve been quiet and slow with answering email and messages, that’s the reason.

On the home front, the cranberry harvest is over and I’m in full holiday mode.

img_4561 In the span of one week, we’ll celebrate three birthdays (Peter, Holly, and Little B) and host Thanksgiving. Matt is flying home and I’m so thankful to have a few days with him. Plus we started construction on our home to repair the water damage from a few winters ago.

What I’ve been up to:

Crafts::

I’ve been decorating (frugally) for fall. I wanted a few little accents for Thanksgiving. I painted this old picture frame and gave it a chalk board insert for fall. (I used Olde Century Paint in Pearwood.)

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Also, I wanted a natural wood sign like you see everywhere, so I decided to make one. In the process I realized that if you stain the wood, then seal it with glossy spray sealer, you can write on it with chalk marker and make it erasable like a chalkboard. I’ve made several of these sizes for the Christmas season and for my mantle. :)

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We had a craft night with some of the kids’ friends and made these little yarn hats to hang on the Christmas tree.

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Ministry::

Hospitality continues to be one of the biggest blessings of this season and I’m always amazed at how often God opens the door when I’m sensitive to His leading. Sharing burdens, encouragement, and common grace over a hot mug of tea or coffee, all while fulfilling God’s commands and the Great Commission. What’s not to love?

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Hospitality can be intimidating, but don’t shy away from it. Don’t confuse “entertaining” and “hospitality.” One focuses on the meal, the food, your performance; the other on the person, their need, and nurturing a growing relationship. We need other people and without the input of other believers, we believe our own “press” and don’t benefit from the truth that others speak into our lives.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

If you are nervous about extending hospitality, start with having someone in for tea. Use what you have. Don’t stress over having the best of everything. Most of my dishes are mish-mash and many are things I’ve picked up at second hand shops. They aren’t there to see your things, but to spend time with you, and to get to know Christ a little better through you, and vice-versa.

Mentoring::

I’ve been helping a younger mom who is having some struggles with her kids. In the process, I’m reminded that we so often believe the lie that proper parenting guarantees that your kids won’t make mistakes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m guilty of falling into this mindset as well. I can recall several times when our kids failed and instead of realizing that we are all sinners, I wondered where I went wrong. In my sleepless nights, I’d wondered if maybe I gave them too much leeway, or perhaps too many rules. Did I train them enough in righteousness or just give them all the dos and don’ts.

Friends, we are flawed parents who want to teach our kids the right way. But we can’t function from the mindset that our performance, wisdom, or righteousness is what “sures up” and sustains our family. We can’t measure success by an absence of sin because that is to deny what scripture teaches about all of us.

We are all sinners. You, me, everyone. So don’t be surprised when your kids mess up, and please, please, don’t shame them into thinking that they are in some special class of sinners because you are angry, embarrassed, or devastated by it.

We were never meant to parent as though it all depends on us or our performance. God is a God of grace: for you, me, and our kids.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your job. Not at all. Do it with all your might. Heed Deuteronomy’s command to talk of God as you rise and sit and live and go your way with your kids. Teach them diligently. But don’t make perfection an idol. It’s an illusion. Make God the aim.

Meals::

I’ve been trying to save some money for Christmas, which means that I’ve been trying to do meals that are less expensive than normal. I’ve really enjoyed these frugal meals.

Quinoa Chili from Cooking Classy. My cousin, Susan, told me about this meatless chili that uses quinoa for protein. My kids even liked it. I served it topped with cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. YUM.

Shakshuska. I don’t even like eggs and I loved this. It’s inexpensive and so yummy. I served it with warm bread and lots of feta on top. Note: If you can’t eat eggs or just plain don’t like them, you could fry up some boneless skinless chicken breast slices in the oil (for protein) and then make the sauce as directed. It could be served over pasta, “fra diavalo” style.

Christmas:: My cards are almost done. Woot.

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Reading::

I’m currently reading through Colossians with Weirsbe’s Commentary and Dr. Constable’s notes , which are very helpful and free online.

Humble Roots is on sale right now for $7.73 (usually $12.99). If you haven’t read it, I’m going to be bossy and insist that you do. 😉 I’m giving it to a few friends for Christmas, it was THAT good.

Also, Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin is also on sale for $7.23 if you haven’t read that yet.

Articles I appreciated::

Steward the Gift God Has Assigned to You. “Our lives are not about pursuing our dreams. Many of our dreams are self-exalting pride fantasies and gratuitously selfish when we really examine them. And the truth is, we rarely know what’s best for us and what will really make us happy. But our Designer knows.

Mothering or Smothering our Adult Children Appreciated the wisdom of this older woman.

I hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for and if we don’t praise the Lord, who will?

 

**This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

On Being A Counter-Cultural Mom

My mom was a counter-cultural mom.

When everyone else was watching certain movies and listening to certain music, my mom said no. When disrespect was flying out of the mouth of teenagers everywhere, mom expected respect to our elders, including her. We didn’t call boys. We didn’t dress provocatively. She expected us to be in church on Sunday, whether our heart felt worship-ful or not. Some days I thought she was the strictest mom I knew, but now I know that she was actually a God-fearing mom, and I’m so thankful.

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Today, as mothers, we have to make similar choices. Often, being a follower of Jesus Christ means saying “no”, not only to the outright wrong, but to questionable activities that the world views as normal. And this can lead to being labeled: legalistic, over protective, old-fashioned.

I’ll be honest, there are stands in the Bible that I don’t completely understand, and sometimes I don’t know exactly where to draw lines when it comes to application and practice.

This is where I have to walk by faith.

When God says “no” to something and calls it sin, I have to agree, whether I understand completely or not. When God says that I can’t be like the world and we can’t embrace the values, norms, or philosophy of the world, I have to trust God to lead me through the grey areas. I have to use the best information I have at the time and follow Him without apology.

Moms, when you have to make hard, unpopular decisions, and you are swimming upstream, don’t waver. And when you see other Christians and blogs and articles telling you that your “verboden” area is nothing to worry about and why your kids should do XYZ, pray, ask God about it, then do the right thing.

This world is full of rationalizing and line walking. And it has infiltrated the church under the guise of enlightenment and moderation.

But, dear mom, you answer to God and not the latest blog. Rely on Him.

In order to stay the course, we have to remember that we are called out to be a people unto God. Separate. Not isolationists, but consecrated to God’s Work as the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” There can be no mixing of darkness and light.

It means I can’t sin in order to get a chance to witness to someone, and I can’t compromise or engage in worldliness to somehow affect the people around me.

We are to be “salt and light” according to Jesus. Light shines in dark places, and salt preserves and flavors. Faithfulness right where you are is what will make the difference. 

I’m studying the quiet faithfulness of women of the Old Testament and how God used them to accomplish His will. Most had mundane lives, living in obscurity, with little to no rights, but what made them great is their faith that led to brave, counter cultural acts of obedience. Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives, are two examples of counter-cultural, God-fearing women. They refused to comply with the king of Egypt’s order to kill all the Hebrew baby boys as they were being born. Exodus 1:21 tells us they defied the king “because the midwives feared God” more than they feared the King. Their refusal to sin preserved the fledgling nation of Israel. Talk about being part of God’s story.

And this has to be true of us today, right where we are, in our little homes or out and about living our everyday lives, raising families for God’s glory. We have to live with our eyes and hearts toward God, and we must fear and respect Him enough to boldly live out our faith when it’s counter cultural and unwanted by society. It’s okay to be different. In fact, we have to teach our kids that this world is not our home. We are truly strangers and pilgrims on our way to a Better City.

So, if you have to say no to the worthless, so you can pursue and ingrain the eternal, do it.

When you are the only mom saying no to that movie, or that activity, or that music, or that type of dress, or that questionable situation, or that type of screen time, because you don’t believe it will help your child’s spiritual growth, stay strong. Keep your eyes on heaven. Remember Christ. This world is not all there is. This is only a moment. Eternity is forever. Rely on Christ and be faithful.

A few thoughts on foster care from the first year.

Several of you have asked me to write about my fostering experience, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about that. Obviously, I can’t write details, but I can give you some general thoughts.

In some ways, fostering at my age is like being a grandmother except that I have full time care of the child. We love seeing all of B’s “firsts”, from big things like seeing Disney and having his first airplane ride, to small, daily things like learning to wink and trying apple pie.

Fostering is emotionally draining on levels I never knew with my own five. It requires wisdom about how to interact with the family (kinship), DCF, court, lawyers, etc… Everyone has a say and their own set of expectations. Ultimately, my job is to advocate for little B and do what is best for him.

As a homeschooling family, DCF was always portrayed as the monster lurking in the background ready to snatch your kids if you didn’t put them into the public school system. I can honestly say that I’ve had nothing but REASONABLE interactions with DCF. They’ve been pleasant, helpful, resourceful, and really quite “hands off” in our case. Yes, we had to meet certain requirements and they came to the house each month, but B’s case worker honestly just wanted to see him safe and thriving and was relieved to see that he was. She was overworked, and still had time to sit in my living room and talk about fun stuff B was doing. I can’t imagine the brokenness she’s seen at her young age (27-30 years old maybe) and I certainly couldn’t do her job without becoming depressed, but she was amazing and upbeat to all of us.

Fostering brings out the best in people. Someone has said that you can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they treat someone who can do nothing for them in return. There are people who just ooze with compassion for our little guy. You can see it in their eyes–they just want this little guy to land on his two feet and their hearts hurt for his little plight. They text that they are praying for him. They give him toys and more toys. And it’s true that if you want to love people well, love their kids–or in this case, their foster kids. We’ve been so amazed by the good friends God has given us.

On a spiritual level, fostering has taught me to love without strings attached and simply for the good of the person.

Fostering has also opened up doors of ministry.  It’s put me back into the throws of younger mothers who want to do play dates and meet for coffee. When they ask me for help with parenting, I’m not talking from a “rosy” “I remember when” nostalgic view which can forget how hard the day-in and day-out really is. I can speak from a place of both experience from my adult children, and compassion and understanding from my 2 year old. I totally get it when they tell me that their toddler is taking a tantrum and they are too exhausted to read their Bible in the morning with any intelligent attempt at study.

Fostering has shown me a little more about the effects of sin on other people, and has made me more aware of my own sin. No man sins in a vacuum. It ripples out and punishes “innocent bystanders”, whether it’s heroin use or a bad mood to selfish behavior.  No where do you see little ones paying for the sins of their parents like in the foster care system. It opens your eyes to the brokenness of this world like nothing can. Any of you who’ve read here know that I have a particular HATRED for cruelty to children in any form. So to read and see the brokenness surrounding these kids makes me sob. Fostering has made me hate sin more and love God more. It’s also made me thankful for the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus Christ made possible. The gospel truly is good news for this broken world.

Fostering has taught me to embrace every season with gratitude. I can’t do what I could do a year ago because I have a God-ordained job to do right here with this little guy. I don’t write as much as I did, I’ve declined speaking invitations, I’ve backed away from things that would be good and pleasant to do, but that aren’t best for us or Little B right now, and God has given me joy in that obedience. Seasons change, moms. Embrace the NOW with your little ones.

“”Don’t let the fear of loving a child who might leave deter you. Let the fear of a child not knowing love drive you.”

That’s about it for today. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or message me. Have a great week.

 

Polluted Worship

Imagine God sitting down with your conservative, conscientious church and describing it as one that:

  • despises God
  • is polluted
  • is profane
  • is unacceptable.

That’s the scenario that plays out in Malachi, a book we are studying with out teen group for a regional Bible quiz.

misty-church

God tells them they’ve despise Him, polluted His alter, wearied the Lord with their words, left Him, robbed Him, spoken against Him (blasphemed).

The Israelites can’t figure out where they’ve gone wrong. They are literally clueless. They answer, “Wherein”–“How have we done this?”

God goes on to say that they’ve used terms of endearment for Him, saying “Father” but not honoring Him as such, and “Master” but not giving Him the respect due a Master. Basically just taking God for granted, like He’ll take anything from us, even our worthless, leftover sacrifices.

He mentions their “polluted” offerings, basically the cast offs that cost them nothing, given like they were the best they had.

To use modern terms, these people honestly thought going to church, serving in the church, and doing the “right things” would make up for the fact that their heart was far from God.

G. Campbell Morgan says,

“These people are not in open rebellion against God, nor do they deny His right to offerings, but they are laboring under the delusion that because they have brought offerings, they have been true to Him all along.

Theirs is not the language of a people throwing off a yoke and saying, “We will not be loyal,” but of a people established in the temple.

It is not the language of a people who say, “Let us cease to sacrifice and worship: and let us do as we please,” but it is the language of a people who say, “We are sacrificing and worshiping to please God,” and yet He says be the mouth of His servant, “Ye have wearied me: ye have robbed and spoken against me.”

…They have been most particular and strict in their outward observances, but their hearts have been far away from their ceremonials. They have been boasting themselves in their knowledge of the truth, responding to the knowledge mechanically, technically: but their hearts, their lives, their characters, the inwardness of their natures, have been a perpetual contradiction in the eye of Heaven, to the will of God…..and they look with astonishment and impertinence and say, “We don’t see this at all?”

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as we study together and think it’s relevant to Christendom in general today.

All I can think of is this verse,

“Having a form of godliness, they deny the power thereof.”

We see this in our own lives and in the church around us. It’s a display, masquerading as holy, but hollow and vacant in the heart.

We see this with people who’d never miss a service but who have a sour, contentious spirit.

Or those who take pride in dressing modestly, but have proud hearts, feuding and arguing with others, marring their “Christian” walk.

Or those who have Bible knowledge coming out the ears, but can’t seem to love that one brother.

Or those who teach “the truth” but don’t live it themselves.

God also said that He is “wearied with their words” because they claim that God loves everyone who does evil, and that He won’t judge sin. They portray Him as the big softie upstairs who just giggles at our rebellion. They said, “Our God is a God of love; there is no judgment.” We should be clear that God does and will judge sin. He is the one who names it and defines it. We can’t excuse what God forbids.

It’s easy to see the sin in others and miss our own. So let’s not be too hard on the old Isrealites. Let’s ask ourselves how we are like them in areas where we compromise. Let’s ask God’s Spirit to show us our impurities. Where does this all start?

“Ye departed out to the way.” Malachi 2:8–Instead of teaching the law and keeping it, we’ve gone our own way in these matters. We paid lip service, but lived any old way.

We know the right thing, but do the wrong without remorse and without repentance. We assume that God will accept our service while our heart is polluted. We imagine that God will be appeased by sacrifice or service, but without a devoted heart, it’s all worthless.

A form of godliness…but denying the power.

We may hold to the truth of scripture intellectually, even condemning false teachers and speaking out against false doctrine, but if our heart is astray, it’s all polluted, detestable, not accepted.

I think this serves as a warning to us today to really check our hearts. I was thankful for the grace of conviction during this study. Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.

Some questions:

First, do we actually love God, and is that love displayed in obedience for Him?

Second, do we come to the “table” with clean hands? Are your motives pure? Are you obedient? Are you hiding sin? Is your conscience clean? Are your desires pure?

Thirdly, do we serve in a sacrificial way or do we serve in ways that benefit us? Do we seek recognition? Do we get miffed when someone gets an opportunity we wanted? Do we manipulate to get preeminence? Do we put others first? Do we only serve when others will know or when it’s easy for us? Do we get agitated when we are treated as a “servant” rather than a “master”?

As Christian women, God is Master and everything that is done must be done to bring Him glory. We must heed Malachi’s warnings and check ourselves:

  • let’s worship with pure heart, hands, and minds
  • let’s free ourselves from greed in our service
  • let’s honor God in our activity to the point where our service costs us something.

Some things to think about:

Is God enough? If you were stripped of all your outward shows of ministry and service, would God still say He knows you as a friend?

Do you carefully follow God’s word, or do you live and worship any old way you want?

Is your “ministry” free from ulterior motives?

Is your worship worship-ful, from the heart, or just part of your routine?

Does your outward dedication to God reflect your inward longing for Him? If not, this is hypocrisy.

Have you read Malachi lately? I challenge you to do so. And then ask, “What needs to change today?”

On Painful Politics and Shaming

I watched the second Donald/Hillary debate and lived to tell about it. It was painful.

More painful was the banter on “social” media.

I saw people, Christians, {pastors even} claiming that if you vote for Trump (or Hillary–choose your side), you should hand in your Christian Card.

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Two frustrating aspects of social media right now:

  1. Christians who are questioning the legitimate-ness of another believer’s standing before Christ based on politics
  2. Christians who expect that others act/react/respond their way or, you guessed it, check your Christianity and be publicly shamed.

These things should not be.

Our hope is not in a world system. Our hope is in Christ and although we should vote responsibly, I doubt God would endorse turning inward on each other and biting and devouring one another.

He’s not surprised by any of this. God is actually able and willing to use wicked, sinful people to rule this world and He often has allowed that.

I understand that we are passionate about our positions and that’s a good thing. And passion, when driven by godly love and obedient actions, are a wonderful force for good.

But passion driven by anger or pride, that disregards God’s rules for speaking, acting, reacting and seeks to shut down and condemn another because they don’t agree is simply oppression.

May I just state something?

We don’t need to be the Thought Police AND we shouldn’t EXPECT that people react and respond to political events/news/media the way you do. And please forgo the public shaming.

Humility teaches us that we don’t know it all and shouldn’t insist on our own way.

Don’t project the wrongdoing of any candidate on me because you don’t like the response or lack thereof you are detecting from me.

Let’s give people the dignity to think for themselves, process in their own way, and respond or not.

Some of us choose not to publicly respond to the latest scandal and the media’s fear mongering because there’s wisdom in being quick to hear and much, much slower to speak, and even slower to become passionately angry and mouthy.

Isn’t it interesting how anger and corrupting speech walk hand-in-hand so often? And don’t you see so much of that this election cycle?

I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by wonderful people who respect my opinion especially when it comes to areas where we are not on the same page.

I have friends who are more passionate about certain social issues than I am, and God has given them “fire” in their belly to advocate for said causes in ways I never could.

It’s contagious to be around them.

It’s inspiring to be with them, and spending time with them makes me more compassionate and aware of their causes.

But I NEVER feel condemned or in competition with them. I know that they are serving God with A SOVEREIGNLY GIVEN GIFT-SET complete with sensitivities, desires, opportunities, and awareness to impact that task right where they are.

When I have coffee with one, I am inspired to consider the homeless more than I do. Another, racial justice. Another, fostering. Another, the single moms in our area.

And isn’t this how it should be?

Should they be condemning me because I am not just like them and don’t act the way they think I should in these areas?

No, I should be passionate to do the tasks that God has gifted me to do and help the people in my sphere of influence. I can applaud them for their obedience and they can respect the work I am doing.

There’s no group think or shaming because love assumes the best and humility doesn’t put us up on a chair looking down judging others who are not meeting our expectations.

Friends, we need to set boundaries on our emotions especially in the areas where we are passionate. And when you think you are justified in your “righteous indignation” remember to adhere even more strictly to the commands of scripture when you begin to censure or judge others. Watch your words. Check the log in your own eye before you set out to judge the splinter in your brother’s eye.

We cannot allow what is big to us to become “the end all” and an excuse for poor behavior, corrupt speech, or spiritual abuse.

Jesus Christ is the end all. His Word rules the day. We follow His ways especially in areas of disagreement.

The world is watching. My kids are watching.

Don’t let pride fuel your words and actions. Don’t anesthetize your conscience into thinking that because you are decent and loving to 90% of the people, that God will overlook the 10% you are slamming, demeaning, or publicly embarrassing because you think you are right politically.

Never back away from a good chance to hold your tongue. Especially when you disagree. Pray before you respond.

“I feel a strong desire to tell you–
and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me–
which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity

 

State your positions in love. Forgo the arrogance and insults. Give the listeners the dignity of respect. Because in the end, your word represent you alone and you stand before God and answer for them.