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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Love: The Mark of Maturity

Jesus tells us, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Two commands. Both are to love. Love is truly something we don’t ponder much as we strive to be like Christ. It’s something we believe is a naturally occurring virtue. We certainly don’t think loving others is as difficult as having patience or self control.

However, are we really loving others as God would have us love them? When our family and others are around us, is our mind focused on seeking to understand how we can  minister to them? Or are we seeking to understand how they can love and minister to us?

There is a story long told about John, the apostle and disciple of Christ: In the evening he would sit for hours with his younger disciples gathered at his feet. One day, one of his disciples complained, “John, you always talk about love, about God’s love for us, and about our love for one another. Why do you tell us about how to love?” John is said to have replied, “Because there is nothing else, just love…love…love.”

This is from a man who knew Jesus intimately. Why then do we, as followers of Christ, often fail to love others? Why do we not truly reach out with Christ’s love to everyone around us? Why are we not others-focused in our day to day lives?

Perhaps it’s our preoccupation with self. We busily go about our lives trying to secure the things that we believe will bring us love (or the honor and respect that we think will result in love). We want love!

Ironically, we desperately seek that which we already have. We richly possess the kind of love that is able to make us feel completely and totally secure.

John recognized that if we could truly grasp how deeply and passionately God loves us —just as we are—we would be released from our longing to be loved. We would reach out to others in true, meaningful, and sincere love. We would love them freely, sacrificially, and selflessly—without a thought given to our needs. We must sincerely love others without our fears and insecurities hindering us, lest they become an obstacle in our obedience to God’s second most important command. We should abandon self-absorption and embrace self-forgetfulness, forgetting ourselves as we love one another. Just as Christ did.

When I think of genuine love, I often think of Stephen, the first martyr. How much he must have grasped the knowledge of God’s love. Described as having “the face of an angel,” Stephen truly cared about the souls of those who torturously stoned him to death (Acts 8). How I long to be like Stephen—so full of the Holy Spirit that my love for others just naturally flows from my heart to theirs, not only to my family and friends, but also to those who have hurt me.

The power of love is way within our reach. It is something we can do. It is a command of God and, therefore, completely and absolutely His will for each of our lives. Yet we are powerless to love in this way. It is only through His power, through Him changing our hearts, that we can truly love others. The only thing we can do is cry out to Him for this change. A cry from a repentant heart is the attitude in which He delights. It is the essence of true prayer.

It is my prayer for all of us that we truly internalize the love God has for us. That we love one another with authentic vulnerability. That when we encounter others, we unreservedly embrace them with sincere love.

Here are some verses to encourage us in love:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-18

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Galatians 5:22

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6

Love must be sincere. Romans 12:9


The Better Part

Long ago, the homeschooling mother had time to read novels to her children. Dinner was unhurried and filled with laughter and rich conversation—often about the latest learning adventure. Playing games together in the evening, the family drew close to one another and the children knew peace and unity. In contrast, today’s homeschool mom rushes through the day’s curricula, grabs lunch in the car on the way to lessons and activities, then rushes home to complete the task for the committee on which she serves. She hastily prepares a quick dinner so the children are not late for the evening’s activities, then jumps back in the car to get everyone where they need to be. Finally at home for the night, she falls into bed, completely exhausted, resenting her husband’s pleas for affection.

Isn’t it wonderful that homeschooling offers so many opportunities, so many great field trips, fabulous clubs, and exciting activities designed to enrich our lives? Isn’t it relieving to know our children will not miss out on these great experiences? But the question we must ask is, “Does this hurried lifestyle really make their lives better?” “Does it truly contribute to a better future for them?” “Does it enhance our lives so that we are the mothers they need us to be?”

With all of these wonderful events and happenings comes a great many not so wonderful eventualities; continuous phone calls, full calendars, hours in the car, hurried lessons, harassed mothers, and totally worn out, depleted of all energy wives in the evening. Isn’t a rich life one where there is joy, peaceful conversations, and time for family play and fun in the evenings? Could it be that our involvement in so many activities, with moms working over-time to make it all happen, actually hinders us from experiencing the abundant life God has for us?

There are certainly times when God calls our children and us to activities outside of our homes, but in those cases, He provides the stamina we need to do all He has called us to do. If the activity is from Him, it does not rob us of joy. If, however, it’s not part of His purpose and plans for us, we will forfeit joy and peace when we do participate. We’ll find ourselves trying to make things work, trying to keep it all together.

It’s difficult to say no when we are called upon to do work for the church or homeschool community. It’s hard to turn down an amazing opportunity. Yet before we say yes, we should discern whether it might hinder God’s primary purpose for us, seeking the Lord’s will in prayer. There may be someone else He has chosen to meet that need, or it might be that the program offered is not His will to begin with—thus, no one is really meant for the position. We must not allow guilt or fear of man to keep us from obedience to God’s plan for our lives.
 For without God’s blessing upon our choices, life becomes impossible to live and we are weighed down and burdened. Romance with our husband is lost, laughter with our children is lost, and peace is lost. Burnout soon follows.

I learned from experience that if I allow the Lord to lead in the planning of our schedule, we will all be doing exactly what He desires for us to do, and He will give us the energy we need to accomplish all His purposes for us. We’ve learned to say “yes” only when we know and have that strong sense of peace that this is the correct path to take. God has an incredible plan for our lives and for our children’s lives and future. Adding excessive activities does not enhance God’s plan or improve their lives. We will not do them any favors if we fill our children’s lives with busyness. Their souls yearn for the peace and joy that come with a family gathered at dinner enjoying unhurried discussions that draw them into a satisfying relationship with their parents.

As we are told in Ephesians, let us redeem the time, for the days are evil. Consider the plans you have made for next year. Will you allow yourself to take a year off of one of those activities? Could you take even a semester off? Wean yourself from the busy schedule, and you will be astonished at the incredible gift that days at home are to your spirit, soul, and your family. As Jesus once said to Martha, "Mary has chosen the better part." Let us also do the same.


Rocks

Sometimes we must stop what we’re doing and address issues that come up in our family. When we have everything all planned out for our day or week, these interruptions can seem overwhelmingly burdensome. Yet, we must see them as part of God's plan for the path we walk.

I once found the morning interrupted with a long overdue "talk" with one of my children who had been ever so stealthfully walking the wrong path in his heart—toward his siblings, chores, parents, school, bedtime, and who knows what else.

After a momentary discouragement, I realized something significant: We are on a path, a narrow path, in this homeschool journey. As with any path—even seemingly perfect paths—there are places where the road is smooth, beautiful, and filled with exultation. In other places rocks clutter our path and need removing before we can continue the journey. These rocks come in the form of negative attitudes that creep up on us and our children unaware. Sometimes they’re sinful behaviors that must be addressed and placed before God for complete removal. Other times they’re fears and worries that need to be cast on the Lord. There are many things that represent rocks in the road.

Homeschooling is such an incredible experience, but it is not without obstacles. Yet when we run into these obstacles, we should not become discouraged but see them as opportunities. They have the potential to mature us and draw us closer to the Lord.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6

The path you are on today may be strewn with rocks of all sizes, but it is only for a little while—and for a purpose. Don’t give up because of it. Allow the Lord to guide you in removing the rocks that you have encountered during this part of your journey.

And cut through and make firm and plain and smooth, straight paths for your feet [yes, make them safe and upright and happy paths that go in the right direction], so that the lame and halting [limbs] may not be put out of joint, but rather may be cured. Hebrews 12:13

Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Galatians 3:2

Be encouraged in this effort, for it is God Himself, through His Spirit and our faith in Him to do it, who will level those paths.




Dwell in the Lord

He who dwells in the Shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust...If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:1-2, 9-12

How do we dwell in the shelter of the Most High because this sure sounds like a place I want to be. How about you? There seems to be this condition of dwelling in His shelter in order to receive all these great promises. There’s another Scripture that says, “He will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” I pondered the questions, “How do I keep my mind stayed on Him? How do I dwell in His shelter?” The Lord seemed to say to my heart, “I am The Word.”

I instantly realized that to keep our minds on the Lord is to focus on Scripture. Before you open your Bible, ask the Lord to reveal His Word to your heart as you read, to speak to you through His Word. Ask in full faith and He will do it. Believe that He will when you ask.

As the Lord gives you a Scripture, mediate on it all day long. Write it down and carry it with you. Note the book and chapter so you can find it again when the Lord has you share it with someone else. Think on it throughout the day. This is keeping your mind stayed on Him—for He is the Word, and the Word is Him. This is also how you dwell in His shelter. You abide in Him by keeping your mind, heart, and thoughts on Him—His Word—throughout the day. You can then rest in peace, knowing that the promises in Psalm 91 are for you, as you make Him your shelter.

The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run in and are safe. Proverbs 18:10


They Will Know We are Christians by our LOVE

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23

In Jesus’ day, people brought gifts to the priests as a way of showing God their gratitude and love. Today, our gift to God is our entire life. Romans 12:1 tells us to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God. And Jesus has set before us the standard of love for others. Remember that song, "They will Know we are Christians by our Love?”

I once had a falling out with someone. I really was fine with the whole thing. But the other person was not. Whenever I tried to pray and become intimate with God, I would feel a prick in my heart—a conviction that I needed to make amends with this person. Even though I didn't feel offended or think I had done anything wrong, I needed to extend the olive branch her way. I needed to apologize for the way it came across to her in a way that made it right for her.

Jesus instructs us: before you come and tell God how much you love Him, make up with those who are angry with you. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “if you are angry with someone.” He says, “if someone has something against you.”

If you know that someone is mad at you for something you did—even if it was years and years ago—and you have not gone to apologize, then you really haven't walked in love toward that person. Even if the reason they are mad seems ridiculous to you, even if the thing they have against you doesn’t seem right to you, you should ask for forgiveness for hurting them. But especially when you know that the thing you did was wrong—as hard as it is—you must apologize. Repent for the hurt you caused, even if it was unintentional. Do it for God, to show Him how much you love Him. Jesus says that we show our love for God by obeying Him. And obedience to Him means loving others. So that means that we show our love for God by loving others!

Reach out by sending a letter or gift, or better yet call the person or go for a visit. If it’s a family member living in your house who has something against you, ask his or her forgiveness today. Make your peace. You will be not only loving the person but loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind.


Who Are You?

You are significant, united with Jesus and given a purpose in life.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

You have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. John 15:16

You are God's temple.

If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16

You are a minister of reconciliation for God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17

You are seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6

You are unique, made to God's specifications for a purpose.

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

You may approach God with freedom and confidence.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Ephesians 3:12

You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

You are accepted.

To the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he made us accepted in the beloved. Ephesians 1:6

You are God's child.
 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. John 1:12

You are a friend of Jesus.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

You have been justified and declared righteous.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

You are united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit.

But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:17

You have been purchased and belong to God.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

You are a part of Christ's body.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27

You are chosen by God and adopted as His child.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3-8

You are redeemed and forgiven of all your sins.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14

You are complete in Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

You are welcomed and listened to when you approach God's throne in prayer.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16


When We're Weary

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Do you, like me, sometimes forget that this is what Christ offers? Have you forgotten that He longs to give you rest? He has the kind of rest that floods us with peace. Rest that makes us feel as though we’ve slept well. I know I need to be reminded of this. I forget that God has not called me to minister and work until I'm weary. No, he wants me to rest. To feel restful. To feel peaceful. He offers me rest every minute of my day. But what does this really mean?

Not so long ago, I was conversing with God—mostly a one way conversation. I kept saying, "Oh Lord, what should I do? What do you want me to do? I have all these projects and yet I wonder where to put my energy, my priorities? What should I do, Lord?" Over and over I felt this strong impression to read Psalm 46:10. So, I did. And what did I find? Be still and know that I am God.

“Um, God. That's not what I was asking. I need to know what to do.” Yet again, I sensed that still small voice speaking to my heart. Be still. “What? What does that mean? I have to work. I have to write. I have to homeschool, cook, clean, drive hither and thither. I have to go, go, go, go. And I don't have a choice! There ain't no rest for me.” (Said with a twang.)

Okay. Well I'm obviously not very receptive when it comes to receiving spiritual counsel, even if it's from the Almighty Himself. So I picked up my handy dandy Hebrew lexicon. There were many synonyms for Rapah, the Hebrew word for still. Synonyms such as, to relax, be idle, slack, lazy. Yet one stood out to me: to be weak.

Be weak and know that I am God.

Yes. That makes perfect sense. For when I am weak, He is strong. I need to cease from my work—and let Him work. I need to quit fussing and fretting and striving and allow Him to work it all out. I need to believe that He will. God doesn't need me to figure it all out. He doesn't need my help. If I will just relax and rest in Him—oh, the peace!

Jesus offers us rest. What does this rest that Jesus offers look like? Well the lexicon says the actual Greek word, anapauo, that Jesus used means this:

1. to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength
2. to give rest, refresh, to give one's self rest, take rest
3. to keep quiet
4. calm and patient expectation

Wow. That's what Jesus offers us. But how do we receive it? I think the answer lies in being still. Being weak. Going to God and giving all our stuff to Him. Everything. All our fears. All our worries. All the troubling thoughts. All our duties. Our accomplishments. Our hopes and dreams. Our needs. Our expectations. Our desires for our children. Our husband. Everything.

Lay it before Him and be weak. We simply can't do this thing called life very well on our own. Only God can. And He'll do it perfectly. We must allow Him to remove those things that are not of Him so that the things that are will bear the beautiful fruit He has planned.

Let's go to Jesus, for He has compassion. He knows when we are weary. He knows when we are burdened. He knows when we are fearful. He knows it all and He bids us to come. If we do, He will give us rest. The rest our souls long for.


Someone's there...

What if you were with your child all day long and he never even acknowledged your presence. He didn’t speak to you or even look at you, yet you still followed him everywhere—into every room, down to the mailbox, into the shower, outside to play. You were there all day long, right there beside him, wanting to talk to him and longing to relate with him but he was totally oblivious to you. However once in a while, he would speak to you—sometimes at night or when he was very distraught; yet, when he talked, he spoke very formally and distantly, as if you hadn't been there all along and you were just now coming in to hear him. Then, after speaking to you, he would go back to pretending you weren't there, not even bothering to listen to you or linger in your presence.

That would be strange wouldn't it? It wouldn't make for a very good relationship. And it would probably hurt your feelings a little, too. Well this is how most of us approach our relationship with God.

The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. That just means talking to God all throughout the day. He's right there. He wants us to speak with Him as we go about our day. Jesus says He will be with us always.

Sometimes we forget how real that is. I think if we ask God to help us be mindful of His presence, asking Him to give us an awareness of Him, He will. It should probably begin with a confession that we have been ignoring Him, pretending like He wasn't even in the room with us.

Having a continual conversation with God helps us become more aware of how He wants to lead us each day. It's a great blessing to begin a life long habit of talking to God. I know how often I can get off track with my attitude, my choices, and how I spend my time. However, during the times when I'm acutely aware of Him, chatting with Him throughout the day, not only does it bring me more peace, I also have a heightened awareness of those "red flags" in both my attitudes and decisions. I am more sensitive to the Spirit of God.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26

Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143:10


My Sheep Know My Voice

And whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: This is the way. Walk in it. Isaiah 30:21

Here we see a promise from God to His children. He will show us which way to go, what to do, and how to live each moment. This is not just talking about the big decisions, like whether or not you should homeschool, where to live, or if you should sell your house and be a missionary in Africa. God has the ability—and not just the ability—but the desire to lead us in every decision we make. He wants us to be attentive to His still small whisper that tells us which path to take this very second.

I remember the first time I learned this. I had been a Christian several years and became close friends with a gal who had been a Christian since she could walk. We were in a spiritual friendship, and God was our main topic of conversation. She was younger than me but with a great deal more knowledge and maturity. Her name is Heather (and yes, my daughter bears her name).

My friend Heather loved to cook. She told me she had been at the store about to buy pineapples for this chutney she made every week. She was reaching for the can of pineapples when she sensed that still small voice telling her to buy a different can. It was so sudden and odd that she decided she would do it, though she was skeptical. She took the can home and opened it only to realize she had just purchased a can of pineapple chunks that were cut into the exact sized pieces she labored to cut her pineapples into every week.

Does God care about pineapple chunks? I think so. I know it's hard to believe He would take the time to lead us in such small things, but He does. If God notices every detail about the anthill under the ground and what each ant's job is, would he not so much more care about the details of your life? You are made in His image; you are the crown of His creation. He delights over you with singing. His Word says He is your counselor! God wants to lead you, and He promises that if you will listen, you will hear His command behind you showing you which way to walk—yes, even when you are picking cans off the shelf at the grocery store.

Would this same God not delight to show you which science curriculum to buy? Would He not love to tell you what to do about your child's math struggles? Would He not give you instruction concerning how much time to spend on spelling? He would.

Listen to His voice, for we are His sheep.


A Godly Mother

Abraham Lincoln said, "I regard no man as poor who has a godly mother."

I heard this quote today and really began pondering. Why would a godly mother make such a difference in a man's life? What benefit—surpassing riches—would a godly mother give? A man can become a Christian as an adult, or even as a child, without a godly mother and still have Jesus for all time. So why is a godly mother of any importance to a grown man? As I thought this one through I realized it's because a truly godly mother models a tender loving God to her children. A godly mother shows Jesus to her children. Jesus had extremely high standards, yet He was so full of mercy, so full of compassion, so full of acceptance and love. He had high standards but showed us the way to reach them—through understanding that there was no way we could; only He could. He asks us to quit striving and simply rest in Him, allowing Him to fill us with strength. A godly mother teaches her children to recognize their frailty and inability, and in seeing it, how to depend upon Him.

I'm fully convinced that a godly mother isn't perfect. We must show our children how to live out their faith. If we modeled perfection, our children would be very discouraged when they entered the world and found out they weren't perfect. They might wonder what to do. I think it does our children a disservice to pretend we are perfect—with no bad thoughts, no bad deeds, no sin, and no weakness. A godly mother isn't perfect but she’s honest. She's real and frank about her imperfections, her sins, and her fears, modeling for her children repentance, prayer, and dependence on Him for transformation. Yet, above all, a godly mother is merciful, accepting, and compassionate toward the weaknesses and sins of her children—and of herself. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Many of us have a hard time being merciful and compassionate toward our children because we don’t fully grasp God's merciful compassion toward us. We often feel we don’t “measure up” to the standards we believe we should reach. We think God would be more pleased with us if we were doing things better. The sad truth is, we have it all wrong.

You see, God adores you, delights in your presence, and enjoys you totally even though you messed up this day, this week, perhaps this whole year. You are a child of God. You stand before Him clean, for you are IN Christ. He's not shaking His head saying, "How many times do I have to tell you?" He knows exactly when you're going to stop doing this or that thing. He looks at you and sees the finished product, not the work in progress you are right now. He's so much bigger than that. God wants you to spend time with Him, for you are His and He wants you to know how loved you are.

I know that when we grasp God's great love for us, we feel free. Free from the rules, the stifling standards of perfection, the striving, and the fear and insecurity that plague us. Knowing, really having a heart knowledge of God's precious love for us, makes us feel secure and peaceful. And that peace will fill us with God's love for others, especially the darlings He placed under our care.

Let me share a visual that helped me grasp this. Cup your hands as if you are holding a tiny kitten. Imagine gazing upon the kitten feeling tenderness and love for it, just adoring the cute little thing. If you don't like kittens, imagine something else tiny, cute, and darling in your hands. Do that now. Okay, now imagine you in those hands and God holding you with that same amount of love and tenderness. The fact is, God does that but with immeasurably more tenderness and love for you. And He does it every minute of every day. Wow.

Oh Lord, let me being rooted and firmly established in love, able to comprehend the breadth and width, height and depth of Your love that surpasses knowledge, so that I may be filled with all the fullness of God. May I overflow with Your love for me, pouring out on my children the abundant acceptance they so long for. Forgive me and cleanse me of my stern, selfish, striving pharisaical mothering. Allow me to be full of You. Please make me a godly mother.



Paper Jam

Have you ever heard that God has an incredible sense of humor? It never fails that when I'm considering some spiritual concept, have some spiritual revelation, or especially if I'm supposed to teach or write something about a spiritual principal—I'm tested on it.

I remember the day I was finishing up my Botany Co-op Manual. With every lesson, I included a short devotion the co-op teacher could read to the kids. I was writing on suffering and how Christians grow through it. I included Bible verses about thanking God for our trials. You know, they produce in us incorruptible good, so therefore, we should thank God for the trial. I didn't write about, but thought about the times in my life when I applied this principal—when I walked the walk, if you will. When my marriage was failing, I thanked God, trusting it was part of His perfect plan. He later restored and blessed my marriage. When I had cancer, I thanked God and trusted that whatever His will was, it was perfect. He later healed me, but I was surrendered to whatever He willed.

Sometimes it’s easier to walk out spiritual principals during the big piercing trials. It's in the little pin-prick trials that we forget. One summer, my daughter didn't get a good part in a play. I counseled her to thank God for not getting the part. Then the very next day, I wrecked my brand spanking new car (which I had waited an enormous number of years to get). As I was driving away from the scene, I remembered my counsel to my daughter. It hit me like a ton of bricks. So I stuttered out a thank you to God for my car wreck. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the power of this material thing over me melted away. It's not that I didn't care. I just no longer cared in a way that was unrighteous and full of self pity. The amazing way that God works in our hearts when we thank Him for our trials is nothing short of a miracle. It's our way of saying, "I trust You. I trust that You have Your hand on every event and circumstance in my life. I trust You with everything."

So there I was, fondly ruminating about this lofty spiritual concept. I even considered posting a blog about it. I clicked print because I really needed to read a hard copy of the Botany Co-op Manual in order to edit it. Clicking print reminded me that I had busted my printer the other day when it fell over. My printer printed about four pages before it jammed. Extremely irritated, I cleared the jam. It printed a few more pages, then jammed again. GRRRRRRRRR. Clear, print, jam, grunt. Clear, print, jam, grunt. Clear, print, jam, grunt. I was...well, not feeling very godly at that moment. I mean, if one of my children happened into the room to ask me to do something for them—let's just say they would have ended up doing a mountain of laundry instead. I was fuming with every jam wondering how much a new printer would cost. Suddenly, it hit me. My whole mindset that day was on thanking God for trials. I almost laughed out loud as I cleared the last piece of jammed paper, thanking God for His sense of humor and my printer problems.

"Thank you God that I'm learning to be patient by thanking You in the midst of trials. Thank you God that no trial is wasted. You use everything in Your efforts to make me like You. I trust You that having a broken printer is more valuable to my faith than having everything work out perfectly in my life. I believe You allowed this because You intend to use it for my good—which will result in inexpressible joy."

Aren’t joy and peace the sources of happiness that we seek? Indeed, they don’t come when all our plans go perfectly. They come in spite of our plans failing, when we trust that God was in it. It’s astonishing how in an instant, the power that printer's issues had over me completely vanished. I believe that giving thanks in all things isn't really for Him; it's for us. We are the beneficiaries. He is our Great Benefactor. Oh, what a God we serve!

You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9



The Homeschool Journey

I've had the privilege of meeting so many new homeschoolers that have just begun their homeschool journey. Most of them find homeschooling a delight. As they spend each day with their children, they begin to glimpse into the windows of their little hearts and see things they didn't know were there—good things and not so good things.

What is so precious about this is that we really do come to know our children the way God intended for us to know them. God did not set up schools where children would depart for hours from the very people to whom He gave them to be reared. Education was intended to be done at home from the very beginning, as was the training of our children's hearts. God's perfect order has been disrupted by the institution that came in to replace God's intention for homes and families. That order was disrupted so long ago that now parents don't know how to parent because they weren't parented, and they weren't parented properly because their parents weren’t parented—and on and on it goes down the line. The home became second to the institution of school. There was a time, long ago, when most kids were either home educated or only went to school during certain seasons. Most of the time was spent at home with the family where generations passed on what the generations before had been passing on for as long as anyone could remember.

If we don't have lengthy amounts of time with our children, we will likely miss the nuances that betray what is really happening in their hearts, what they really believe. If I only had a few hours every night with them, when we were all worn out from the day, I may not know what their wrong beliefs are, or what their right beliefs are. Would I even have the time or energy to work to correct them? Because I spent my entire days with my kids, I knew them so well. I knew the exact areas where I could trust them to always make the right choice, and I knew the exact areas where they needed more training. I knew their hearts. When I saw misconceptions, we worked through them during the morning devotions, prayed through them, and explored what the Bible said about them. No big hurry. We had time.

I had one mom describe to me, when she brought her children home from school to homeschool them, the experience of getting to know her kids. She was astonished when she realized that because they had been in school for several years, she didn't even know—really know—her kids. Could not really knowing your children be God's plan for the family? No. Sadly, it's really no wonder children are in the mess they are today.

I believe homeschooling is so right. It is the model God set in place. It's a return to the ways of old. Isaiah 58:12 says, ...you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.

I pray you will find joy in your homeschooling journey as you get to know and disciple the hearts of your children—the way God designed it to be.


Geography

I want to share some of the things we did for geography in our homeschool. Our method was not only educational, it was a blessedly easy way to do geography and it included incorporating living books into our studies.

Each summer at the homeschool convention we scoped out the YWAM booth. We would purchase all the Heroes of the Faith missionary stories that took place in one single area or country (South America, China, Africa). I would then organize them chronologically. Before beginning the books, we’d do a one or two week unit on the country we had chosen. We’d make a little notebook or lapbook, with maps, minibooks, and such. Then, we’d begin reading (Truth is: my husband read to the kids at night before bed). It would take us all year to complete all the books we had chosen because we didn’t read every night. But by the end of the year, the kids knew a ton about that country, and especially about their Christian history!

One year we studied China and read Gladys Aylward, Johnathon Goforth, and many others. Another year we studied India as I was anxious to read about Amy Carmichael. South America led us to Jim Elliot and the others who braved the jungles there.

We incorporated
 A Child's Geography into our studies as well. Reading Ann Voskamp's books really made the subject come to life, as they are written with such rich and lively prose. I highly recommend them.

So that's a little peek into our geography studies. I hope it has been helpful for you!

Am I doing enough? The Question of Every Homeschooler


I have a question. Have you ever asked yourself, "Am I doing enough?" Why does every homeschool mom ask this question? I believe the problem is that when you are doing enough—it feels too, too easy. So you think, I’m surely not doing enough. It can’t be this easy! Certainly my child isn’t learning enough or getting enough knowledge. I need to fill his brain with more, more, more until we are so challenged, so overloaded with information, that we simply can’t fill another minute of our supposed school day with anymore. When we’re really doing quite enough, homeschooling is as it should be: wonderful, joyful, pleasant, and peaceful—with children learning exactly what they need to learn with time on their hands to pursue other things and other subjects of interest. Time to contemplate what they have learned and what they want to learn. Time to contemplate their relationship with the Lord, to draw nearer to mom and their siblings. Time to settle down with good books and the Bible and time to learn to cook, to learn a new skill, to build something unplanned and unscheduled, something NOT in the books—something creative, expressing who they are. That’s what life is like when you’re doing enough. But you see, the question we should ask, the real question we should ask is…"Am I doing too much? Am I homeschooling out of fear? Am I deserting the truth for a lie? Have I fallen prey to the counterfeit for God's best and followed the world's standards? What can I cut out? What can I put away?"

If homeschooling feels hard to you, you're doing too much. And just like with medicine, too much is not better. Too much will have repercussions. Too much will bring consequences you don't really want. And ultimately, too much will bring burn out.

Always be Ready

So you’ve started a conversation about spiritual matters...what now? Well, when I took Evangelism Explosion—a course where we went out in teams and witnessed to people in airports, malls, and college campuses—I learned to share my testimony in a three minute spiel. My little speech began with how I felt before I was a Christian. For example, “I was lacking peace and joy and was looking for answers." Then I shared the testimony of my conversion to Christ, ending with how I felt now that I was a Christian. As you prepare to share your testimony remember that no one can argue with your feelings. This is your personal testimony and by the "word of your testimony, the enemy is defeated." Personal experience is by far the most powerful method the media uses. Amazingly, God thought of it first with the use of our testimony. Begin by writing your conversion story out, then taper it down to a three minute or less spiel. Practice giving your testimony to family or friends until it easily flows and you feel confident sharing from your heart.


Possible Openers for a Spiritual Discussion

Here are some possible opening questions to lead in to sharing your testimony with an unbeliever:

So, is church a big part of your life?

So, what do you think about church?

So, do you go to church?

So, what place does church have in your life?
 

So, have you ever gone to church?

So, did you ever go to church when you were little?

So, did you grow up in a family that went to church?

So, have you thought much about God lately?

So, where do you feel like you are with God right now in your life?

So, do you feel you have a relationship with God?

So, are you into spiritual things?

So, do you know much about the teachings of Jesus?

So, do you know much about the teachings of the Bible?

So, have you ever read the Bible?

Sharing the Good News

Why do we hesitate to share with unbelievers what Christ has done for mankind? I believe it’s because we fear rejection. We fear what others will think of us. If asked, we would emphatically say we’re not afraid of people rejecting us if they learn we’re a Christian. Yet we don't explain the gospel. Why? Because we do fear. Deep inside we fear not being well thought of. We fear being ridiculed, or being considered pushy or senseless or weird. We’re afraid we’ll fall over our words and look like an idiot. We fear being the object of scorn. We don't share because we want to maintain the safety and security we feel in the presence of others. But do we value our feelings of security more than the soul of another? I am ashamed to admit I have many times preferred feeling safe and secure—feeling accepted and valued—over being about my Father's business. How utterly self-centered of me.

Lord, help me care less about my feelings of security than about the eternal resting place of those in my company.

God Reveals Himself in Psalm 23

I saw this in a devotional I have and wanted to share it.

The Lord is my Shepherd - Jehovah-Rohi (The Lord my Shepherd)
I shall not be in want - Jehovah-Jirah (The Lord my Provider)
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides quiet waters. - Jehova-Shalom (The Lord my Peace)
He restores my soul - Jehovah-Rapha (The Lord my Healer)
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Names sake - Jehovah-Tsidkenu (The Lord my Righteousness)
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me - Jehovah-Shammah (The God who is there)
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies - Jehovah-Nissi (The Lord my Banner of Victory)
You annoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will
dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Isn't this so encouraging?

It's all about LOVE

I’ve heard many, many commentaries about love and what Jesus meant when He told us to love one another. Years ago, I wholeheartedly agreed with the idea that love is a decision, not a feeling. The concept that love is expressed more out of choice than emotional sentiment made sense to me. I went along with that until…I got cancer.

It was weird how it all happened. One day I found out I might have cancer. The doctors couldn't tell for sure because the tumor was so small and the needle-like instrument didn't reveal much. I was newly pregnant so the surgeon decided not to operate quite yet.

I see now how God prepared me in advance for that time. He had given me a friend years before whose mother was a prayer warrior. Miracles happened when she prayed. So we decided to begin praying each week, though my faith was tremendously weak. We both had toddlers so we prayed over the phone. It wasn't long before we began to see miracles from our weekly prayer times. Over the next few years, we hardly ever missed a week and could always tell a difference in our own hearts and our children’s and husbands’ hearts and attitudes when we missed a week of prayer. It was our medication, and we needed a dose each week or we were a total mess—unable to cope with life.

After several years of being totally dependent on God for everything and learning through our prayer time what life was really all about—God, I learned about the cancer. Throughout the pregnancy I drew closer to God than ever before. The possibility of dying really does amazing things for your relationship with God, and the Scripture proved true that if you draw near to Him, He draws near to you. He drew so near to me that I actually began to experience His love for others. I spent so much time with God (probably neglected my children horribly as I immersed myself in the Bible) that I was overwhelmingly filled with love for others. I felt mercy and compassion toward everyone, and it wasn't a choice kind of love at all; it was a total feeling kind. I genuinely felt love for others. I would see people at church and just want to love them, find out what was going on in their lives, pray for them, and just care for them. I couldn't even find it within myself to judge others, think negatively about their faults, or be irritated with them. I prayed for other people more than I prayed for myself—and I had cancer! I believe I was experiencing a small taste of the love God has for others. A tiny drip in the ocean of His love was given to me and I felt it. I was fully convinced God had total mercy and compassion for me, and I think it was that knowledge—the knowledge of God's excessive, unwarranted, unreasonable love for me—that allowed me to forget about myself and totally care for others.

When I actually found out it was cancer, it was like finding out a bump on my finger was a wart. Yuck. I hoped it would be cured, but I wasn't all that worried about it. I'm telling you, this was all because of my obsession with God. I went through radiation and some very difficult times, but I'll spare you the gory details. However, the experience was probably the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I was just so close to God that I was overwhelmingly filled with the knowledge of His love for me and others. It was amazing. It was completely satisfying. I knew what it was to be satisfied with Jesus and in need of nothing else—not even my own life. Though I did feel sad to leave my children without a mother, I was so certain of God's love for them that I wasn't even worried about it.

I'm so thankful God allowed me that season of intimately knowing His love. I feel like I know from experience what it is like to genuinely love others from the heart. I personally am totally incapable of loving anyone like that, even my children. It was only through a close relationship with the Lord that He was able to flood me with that kind of love.

Now, when I think of being close to God—you know, being really, really right with God—I’m convinced it's expressed by my love for others. I know when I'm not walking in step with the Spirit because I'm more concerned with me than with anyone else.

The experience left me fully convinced that when God tells us we must love others, it isn't just a choice to be good to them, treat them with honor, and show charity, it really is a feeling. But it can only come through total surrender and allowing God to fill us with that love.

That was a mountain top experience for me. It taught me a lot about the character and love of God. Oftentimes in the busy, harried days of homeschooling, I forget what it's really about. I get bogged down in the details and in all that isn't going as planned. I get frustrated with how much I can't get done and feel like such a failure in different areas each day. Yet, I know that I know the answer lies in drawing near to God. That is the answer to the hunger of my soul for rest, peace, joy, and especially for the love I want to have again for every person God places in my path. The kind of love that doesn't think about being loved back. The kind of love that God has.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6


Forget about Me

Oswald Chambers calls it self awareness. I think that's an incredible way to describe it. In the past I've called it self focus. Self awareness is like self consciousness, but it goes beyond that. It's simply being concerned on a certain level with ourselves: our plans, our needs, our desires, our sin, our looks, our place in our world, our rights, our hopes, our fears, etc. Self focused doesn't describe it as well as self awareness. Being self aware is the more subtle issue. We can be self aware without being totally focused on ourselves.

Self awareness robs us of oneness with God. For we can't be totally submitted to Him, walking in step with the Spirit, seeking Him during every moment of our day, if we are self aware. We must forget ourselves and think only of Him. If we do, we will no longer walk in the fear of man, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the future, and all the other fears with which the enemy enjoys taunting us. If we forget ourselves, then we can't think on fear because it no longer matters.

If we forget ourselves and look only to God, then we will truly be able to love others as He calls us to. For, it won't be about us. We don't have to be afraid of loving others genuinely for we are simply living out Christ's life in our flesh.

If we forget ourselves, if we don't consider ourselves at all, then we can simply hear from God and do His will: love our children with His love, serve them with His joy, clean the house without a thought to our inconvenience. Simply focus our lives and thoughts upon Him every moment, and His life will be lived through us. And there is no joy, no peace, no fulfillment that compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him, walking in step with Him, focusing our hearts upon Him, and submitting our entire body—including our thoughts—to Him. The moment we begin to focus on ourselves, we walk out of step with the Spirit. We lose our close connection to God.

As I look at the papers and books spread out all over the floor—the items I meant to organize but didn't get the time—I want to jump into "me" and get moving, recruit the family and say, "hop to it!" However, I know I need to keep my heart focused on the Lord and ask, "Lord, what would you have me do? How would you have me spend my time right now? Guide me to choose the very best thing." And if that very best thing does not include cleaning up this mess right now, He will provide me with the peace I need to overlook it. Eventually, He will have me clean it up. But it must be through His guidance so that I can do it in His strength. My life is not my own. And though I want to be able to walk through this room without having to step over books and papers, that's about me and my wants and desires. That's about my own self awareness. I die to my wants and seek only His face. "What, Lord, would You have me do with this moment?” I must ask this each moment all day long to stay in step with the Spirit.