Tuesday, January 31, 2012

two sons and a Father

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36

Revisiting the prodigal son story recently, I realized I did not know what the word “prodigal” meant. I thought it referred to the son coming back, but instead it means “characterized by wasteful expenditure”. As parents, we don’t want to find ourselves estranged from our children. We yearn for closeness and a strong relationship of trust as they grow. It may even be something you pray about regularly. What I find fascinating about this story is how it ends, or doesn’t end. The father is outside trying to convince the older son to come and welcome the prodigal back into the circle of trust. We don’t find out what he decided to do.

While I know we don’t want to raise a prodigal child, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to avoid raising a hard-hearted, judgmental child. The older son had a right to be upset and all of his arguments were founded, but the bottom line is that the Father chose to show mercy. It was a forgiveness that was expensive and undeserved, but that was the Father’s call. After all those years together, the older son somehow missed the nature of the Father.

May God’s kind of love and His unmatched forgiveness dominate our understanding of who we are to be on this earth. May our hearts resonate with His insistence on extravagant mercy in a way that our children also love to show mercy. Blessings as you parent each of your children to extend their arms to one another.

Jesus, You paid price for our prodigal behavior. You made it possible for us to be welcomed home again. Thank you for this powerful parable and the image of God that it offers us. Empower us as parents to help our children understand how to be merciful, just as you are merciful. Amen

Monday, January 30, 2012

They are his kids!

Ex. 2:2-3: But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile (NIV).
I was agonizing over an issue that one of my children had encountered and feeling quite overwhelmed to be honest.  I was trying to figure out in my mind how I was going to fix things and make them better.  It then occurred to me that I am not the one able to mend the struggles in my children's lives.  I am not the one I should be relying on to "make things better."  I needed to take it to the source that created these special beings that call my mommy and let him guide my steps.
Pharaoh ordered that every male born to the Hebrews be thrown in the Nile. Moses was born during this time and, after three months, his mother realized she could hide him no longer. Imagine her angst as she left him in the basket among the reeds in the Nile River! She did not know what the future held, but she released her son by her faith in God.
Some moments bring a special awareness that we, too, are releasing our kids to God. Saying goodbye as we drop them off for their first day of kindergarten. Handing them the car keys as they take it out for a drive on their own. Watching them stand at the altar and commit their life to another in marriage. As you release your kids, remember that God has a plan! The road may not always be easy, but have faith in His wisdom and eternal purposes.
Trust God—they really are His kids after all.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seeking Wisdom

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Proverbs 12:18

I have a long list of things I want to teach my children in this lifetime.  Very close to the top of the list is the willingness to seek wise counsel.  Proverbs 12:1 says “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”  Can’t get more straight to the point than that, can we?  Time and time again I have to take a second look at what I’ve done/said/thought and do a re-think.  Sometimes I come willingly to this realization.  Sometimes I am dragged there kicking and screaming.

I feel like I’m getting better at this.  Over the past year there have been many issues that have risen to the surface for which I have had to seek wise counsel.  I didn’t see the need immediately.  In some cases the issue had been brewing for years.  But it’s like this stubborn cough I have.  When I first got this cold I didn’t think much of it.  It wasn’t until week 3 that I started to get really annoyed and frustrated and wonder if I should do something about it.  Strained relationships often mirror this evolution.  A harsh word here or there, an occasional behavior that turns into a habit – one day we wake up and decide something has to be done.

And the way I feel, I could use some healing.  Think about how you feel the first good day after you’ve been sick.  It’s like a new start.  It’s like a fresh world.  “Woo!  So glad that’s over!”  It usually isn’t overnight – a magic drug that fixes everything in minutes.  It’s gradual.  And sometimes painful.  But in the end, there is healing.

Rash words can be exchanged easily.  Like the quick thrust of a sword, they can brutally injure us or those we love.  The tongue of the wise can bring healing.  I am not leaning on my own wisdom these days, but looking for experts to help me sort thru my messes.  I hope that my children will learn from my example and recognize the value of the advice we find in Proverbs.

Lord, thank you for providing wisdom.  Whether in the form of the words of a friend or a pastor or a professional.  Teach us through the wisdom of others and especially through the knowledge and wisdom we can find in your gift of Your Word.  We thank you for all these resources and ask your guidance as we use them to learn and to teach our children.  Amen. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Want This Life!

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. Psalm 139:13-16

It’s a conversation most, if not all, expectant parents have as they share the news of their new baby with friends and family. It goes something like this.

“We have an announcement to make. We’re having a baby!”

“Oh, how wonderful! Congratulations! Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“We would be happy with either one, as long as it’s healthy.”

Those last words caught my attention as I talked with a friend who was getting ready to deliver her baby, and I remembered saying this very thing each time I was carrying one of my own children. “As long as it’s healthy.” We say it without even thinking about our response. It’s almost an automatic reaction to the question asked of us; an expected reflex. And while it is the desire of every parent to give birth to a healthy child, is “As long as it’s healthy,” what we truly mean? Does our happiness with the gift that God has bestowed upon us depend on whether or not our baby is healthy? Is a baby born with medical needs not just as much of a miracle and a blessing as a healthy newborn?

A friend delivered a beautiful little girl and minutes later heard a diagnosis of a disease that would quickly destroy her little girl’s body. “Healthy” wasn’t a term she would ever use to describe her daughter. Still, the happiness her parents felt in the presence of this gift of God, and this visible sign of His grace, was not dependant on, “As long as she’s healthy.” It was dependant on the promises of the God that had given her life on this earth, new life in baptism, and the promise of life eternal. Her parents spent only a few months with their daughter. God’s grace was abundant with his child every minute of her life here on earth. God’s grace abounds even more so as they await the promised resurrection.

When my Godson was born, his parents were surprised to find out he had several health concerns they were unaware of before his birth. He was born with a club foot, a cleft palate, and news from the doctors that he showed signs of several other potential, and possibly life threatening health problems. We still danced for joy at the news of his birth. We still called everyone we knew to announce his arrival. We were happy, not because of the challenges that he and his parents would face over the next several months, but because of the faithfulness of God to give him life. He is now a very active and yes, healthy, four year old. We value his life each day, not just because of the gift, but in thanks to the Giver.

In a world where the value of life is losing ground to a “pick and choose” medical industry, be reminded mothers-to-be, that the babies growing inside your bellies have value, not because they are perfect in our eyes, but because through Christ they are perfect in the eyes of our Creator. Do you want a boy or a girl? I want this life!

Creator of Life,

I am constantly in awe of your ability to create new and unique life with every passing moment. Help my love of your creation grow each day. Work in my children so that they may know too that they were fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank you, God for my new life in baptism and my promised life with you forever in heaven. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stay Close to Him

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
~Romans 8:38 & 39~
    As I looked at my children sitting next to me in the pew at church this Sunday, I was reminded of how precious life is and how quickly time passes.  It seems as if in the "blink  of an eye" our babies grow up and go off to school.  As they become young adults, they learn and experience many new things away from home.  Slowly, but surely, this world envelops them and they become more susceptible to the sin in this world.  As Christian parents, we hope that they remain faithful to how they've been raised.  We pray they do not make choices that will separate them from family and friends, or what's worse--separate them from God.  Yet, we are reminded of God's promise in the Bible passage above that nothing they do "will be able to separate them from the love of God."   
    As mothers, it is disheartening to live in a world that does not value life in the way God intended for us to .  Often times, the lack of respect in our society is stunning--it's evident when you turn on the T.V., pick up a magazine in the doctor's office, or step foot in the hallway of any school.  We want to protect our children from the evil in this world; to keep them safe.  Yet, we can only protect them from so much. Thankfully, God can be their true Protector.
    Remember God's promise: "Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Nothing....not sin, death, or the devil.   God's Word reminds us that sin was not part of God's original plan.  Because of that fact, He sent His only Son to conquer it.  God gave His Son so that we would not be lost in the sinfulness of this world forever.
    So, even though we live in a lost and condemned world, may we and our children stay close to where God promises to be--in His House, in His Word, and in His Sacrament.  In His Church, He gives us His gifts and promises to love and take care of  us.  Through His Word, He teaches us how to live the Christian life.  And, in His Supper, He feeds us, forgives us, and unites us with Him.  How blessed we are to serve a God that forgives and renews us, so that we may live the Christian life and never be separated from Him!   
Dearest Heavenly Father, We thank you for being our God.  Forgive us when we don't honor you in what we say or do.  Stay close to us and our families this day and always.  Fill us with the joy, hope, and peace that can only come from You. And may we, in turn, share it with our husbands, children, and all those we meet.  In Christ's name, Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fill'er Up!

“Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!” Psalm 105:4

(This devotion is borrowed from Pastor Aaron Witt's (my husband) church newsletter article. It meant a lot to me and I wanted to share it with all of you. Thank you Aaron.)

I have a leaky tire on my car. I know, I should probably get it fixed but just haven’t done it yet. No good excuse, really – I just haven’t taken it in to get it fixed. Instead, when it’s low on air pressure, I simply fill it back up until it needs air again. It’s an ongoing process that’s not going to end until I get the tire fixed.

I actually have a pretty good routine when it comes to putting air in the tire. At first, the tire was good for about a week before it needed filling again. So, I made it a habit that, when I went into town at the beginning of the week, I’d stop by the gas station and fill the tire with air and be on my way.

Lately, though, the tire needs to be filled up on a more frequent basis. Now, it needs air about every two or three days. If it happens to be a week where I’m putting on quite a few miles, I fill the tire with air about every other time I fill the tank with gas. I can simply pull up to the air hose at the gas station since I’m already there.

While this works well, the more frequent need for filling the tire can make things tougher. For example, when I went to the gas station a couple days ago, the tire needed air. Yet, I couldn’t get to the air hose because a huge truck was in my way and, considering that it was delivering fuel, it wasn’t moving any time soon. No big deal, I could just fill it at home with my air compressor or hand pump, even if it’s not as convenient as pulling up to the air hose at the gas station. By the way, yes, I used my hand pump to fill my car tire – and, no, it wasn’t worth the time and effort. Next time I’ll just power up the air compressor for just one tire!

What’s the point in all of this? Well, other than it would be a whole lot easier for me if I’d simply get the tire fixed, that leaky tire is a lot like our faith life. On Sunday mornings, we can get our faith all filled up and be ready to take on this sinful world. However, temptations, the troubles we face, and life in general, can take its toll on our faith and, it’s going to need filled back up. And, like my tire, it’s going to need to be filled up more than once a week.

Psalm 105:4 says, “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!” We need to continually seek the Lord so that our faith may be continually filled up. Of course, worship on Sunday mornings is a great way to be filled up. But, what about the fill-ups that we need on those days not called Sunday? Just as there’s multiple ways for me to fill my tire, there’s multiple ways to fill our faith including reading and studying the Bible, personal and family devotions, fellowship with other believers, and other ways. Thing is, our faith needs to be continually filled up and if we don’t find ways to do it, our faith, like a tire, can end up being flat.

Eventually, I’ll get my tire fixed and won’t have to worry about my regular routine of putting air into it. Likewise, the time will come when our faith will become full and we won’t have temptation and the troubles of this world running it down. That’s the day when we arrive into our heavenly home promised to all those who believe in Jesus. Until then, make sure you do what you can to keep your faith continually filled up!

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for refilling us with Your Word as we run our of air. Help us to continue to find ways to come to You. Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

“Let the children come to me…For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

“For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross.” Colossians 1:19, 20

The month of December is probably my favorite time of the year to be a Lutheran school teacher. It is a month filled with anticipation as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. There are many fun projects planned for the students. The children are filled with excitement as they make gifts for their parents and prepare for the Christmas program. The teachers are joyfully looking forward to a little vacation and some much needed family time.

While this time of year is full of enjoyable activities, it can also be a very stressful time. Teachers are also parents who struggle to find time to take care of their responsibilities at school and also take care of the details at home involved in celebrating the holidays. The student’s excitement is barely containable at times, and leads to lack of impulse control.

When we were conducting preschool program practice in the church, one little boy was struggling with listening and behaving as expected. After being reprimanded a few times, he sat down on the floor and put his head in his hands and cried. The cream carpeting in our chancel contains a maroon cross leading directly to the altar. It just so happens that this little boy sat down squarely in the center of the cross. The other teacher and I were so in awe of the sight this created, that I snapped a picture with my phone. It is truly one of those pictures worth a thousand words.

I keep this picture as a reminder to myself of the sanctuary found in the cross of Christ. How often do I feel stressed to my breaking point, frustrated with my failings, or misunderstood and alone? How often do I seek solace in venting to a sympathetic friend, in a tasty treat, or in a trip to the gym, instead of in the arms of my Savior? I foolishly try to control and salve my feelings. Instead, I should humbly cry out to Jesus like a child who has reached his frustration point, needing someone stronger than himself to help. Christ lovingly stretched out His arms for me on the cross, rescuing me from sin’s evil grasp. When I feel broken, His outstretched arms are the only source of true peace. Other things may provide temporary consolation for my bruised soul, but only the cross of Christ provides eternal comfort.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for making us your children through baptism. Help us to come to you, as needy children, finding all the love and strength that we need in this life. Thank you for making an eternal home for us in heaven.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Alone is Not Lonely

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 
Psalm 25:16

My kids never want to be alone.

We were discussing new room assignments tonight. We're hoping to add two more bedrooms in our basement this summer, making our three bedroom house a five bedroom house.  The extra space will be nice. 

However, only one of the boys wants his own room. No one else wants to be alone. 

As a mom, I often yearn for time to be alone. However, I've matured enough to learn the fine difference between being alone, and being lonely.

Lonely is the feeling you get when no one notices you, even if you are in a crowded room. It is that angst filled feeling of no one caring about you, or noticing your hurt. 
Being alone is a time for quiet and reflection. Being alone can be a  treat. Feeling lonely is an affliction.

As I observe my children, I see that the distinction between alone and lonely comes with age and maturity. To a child, to be alone is to be lonely.

As moms, are we able to recognize the lonely that live and work amongst us? Do we have a friend or neighbor who is not alone, but is lonely? How can we offer hope and companionship to our sisters?

I know that in Christ I am never alone! (However, I still need a near daily reminder!) Let us remember to lift up our sisters and not allow them to feel the affliction of loneliness.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for never leaving us alone in our sin and despair. Thank you for sending your Son to rescue us, and your Spirit to comfort us. Help us to lead others to the comfort of your salvation. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Who's in charge here???

Moving across the country when I was a sophmore in high school. Relocating my family only to find out that the primary source of income was not as stable as originally expressed. The diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes in my son. None of the experiences I listed were events that I planned on happening. Each time these events took place I struggled to accept that things changed from what I had originally planned.

I didn't want to leave my home and friends to move to California. I worried about how we were going to support our family of four without a consistent income. I worried about the long term health of my son and the management of his disease.

While none of these events were on my long term plan for my life, I have learned more about life and more about myself in the process. Moving across the country forced me to be more extroverted and meet new people. Relocating my familly while most definitely challenging and extremely frustrating allowed me to be available to find a new position that has allowed me to grow into the leader that I am today. The most difficult challenge I have faced up to this point is the diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes in my oldest son. Facing my own mortality is a challenge of it's own but struggling with the very real possibilty that I could outlive my own son creates a feeling of helplessness and sadness that is quite frankly, without description.

So where do we as mom's go when the world around us that we want to fall into our routine is truly out of our control. Where do I go when the frustrations of counting carbs, measuring insulin and pricking fingers becomes too much? I find myself searching through the book of Job.

Job, a man described as being blameless and upright. I am who desired so much to follow God's commands that he would make sacrifies to God on behalf of his adult aged children. Yet God allowed Satan to test Job by taking away his livelihood, his family and ultimately his health. Job lost everything of value and was then left to struggle through this difficult time on his own by his wife and his friends. Despite all of his losses Job continued to remain faithful to God. It is often times just the perspective I need to snap me out of my own pity party and back to the reality that God uses just these times of challenging time to grow in us a better understanding of ourselves and who we are as His child.

There are a multitude of verses in scripture that I have read, memorized and can recite but one that I most often find God leading me back to in times of trouble is found in Jeremiah, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord."Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future."

I do not know what is coming on the temporary horizon of this world around me. I do not know where God is going to send in this world to lead next. But what I know with assurity is that these challenges are continuing to purify me and allow me to grow in my faith.

Thank you Lord for being in control and knowing better than I do what experiences will allow me to grow into be the child of God that you want me to be. Thank you for walking me through these times and guiding me as your child. May you continue to refine and purify me. In your name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Praying with Children

"This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen" Matthew 6:9-13

A cherished moment in our house is at bedtime, after the day's dirt has swirled down the drain, the tangles are straightened, and the kids are adorned in their super hero or princess pjs. We all snuggle together to sing and call on God. We pray the Lord's prayer often, as taught by Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We share stories of prayerful people in the Bible. My oldest son is in awe of Paul and Silas singing hymns and praying while being wrongfully imprisoned. We point out that Jesus would go off in solitude to pray to His father. Prayer is, in fact, embedded throughout the beloved story of the birth of our Savior. Mary's song, the Magnificat, is a prayer that gives all glory to the Lord for fulfilling His promises to His people. When the shepherds returned from seeing the Holy infant, they praised God.

Our hope is that our children learn to call on the name of the Lord at all times and in all purposes. Below is a poem that I wrote for our kids that follows the Lord's Prayer.
Through Jesus, you made me your own and created me.
I'm not perfect, but I know you have a perfect plan for me.
You give us love and food and shelter and all we need.
Forgive us all we do wrong and help us take your lead.
Help us to forgive and love others just as you forgive and love perfectly.
Protect us from all sin that we can feel, hear, taste, speak, and see.
Let us put on your full armor so that we do not give in to what is bad,
Smiling with the knowledge that we belong to You, our heavenly dad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's Who God Is, or "It's Not You, It's Me"

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord," says the Lord God, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations." Ezekiel 36:22-30 (NKJV)

"It's not you, it's me"...the classic breakup line. I once was broken up with by someone using if not those exact words then something to their effect. I may have even used them myself once. Maybe you've heard them or used them, too--if not in a breakup then perhaps in some other context. They do make for an easy, supposedly "nice" excuse to get out of something or to let ourselves off the hook. But we all know what those words really mean: it is you, but I don't want to make you feel any worse.

In these verses from Ezekiel, God says something to the effect of "It's not you, it's me" to the nation of Israel, but here it's not a breakup but a reconciliation...not an excuse but a reason. Israel has turned away from God, and so God has allowed them to be taken into captivity and exiled from the land he promised them. In their captivity, they have continued to disobey God and turn away from Him, and so they have profaned His name among the nations. In a sense, they've made a laughing-stock of God, and that's something God isn't willing to let stand.

So He makes this promise to them: He will take them out of captivity and restore them to their own land. He will wash away all their uncleanness and make them increase and know abundance. He will soften their hearts and put His spirit in them. He will be their God, and they will be His people. He will lavish love upon them.

And all this is not because of anything Israel has done--rather, it's in spite of what they've done. It's because of who God is. "It's not you, it's me," God says to Israel, and He says it to us, too. It's not because of who you are that God lavishes His love upon you, but because of who He is. It's because of who He is that He reconciles us to Himself and gives us His spirit.

I find it comforting to know that God loves me because of who He is rather than who I am. I don't always feel very loveable or worthy of such lavish attention, and beyond feelings, I know I am not worthy of such love. But He loves me anyways.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

In your prayer time today, reflect on the ways God has shown His love for you even when you don't deserve it. Give thanks and praise to Him for showing that love through His son, Jesus.

Monday, January 16, 2012

You won't have to screen His call

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13,14

We've all heard it lately- today's economy is a hard one to live in.  People everywhere are having trouble paying their bills, due to pay cuts or layoffs.  It's easy to get in over your head, especially when you have bills to pay.  Sometimes, unfortunately, some bills just can't get paid.  People end up getting calls from collection agencies, wondering when they're going to get paid.  Even when there's no money to give them, those calls keep coming.  

God's commandments are like that collection agency.  They tell us that we owe God for what we have or haven't done.  The pain word for this debt is sin.  We all have a huge debt with God--like a credit card bill that just won't go away.  The collection agencies are easy to pay off--pay the bill, you're done.  But God--that's not so easy.  When we try to scratch together the works in our lives as payments for our sins, God labels them for what they really are--counterfeit.  When we try to ignore the calls, to "screen" the commandments, they only keep coming, stronger and stronger.  

How scary is that debt?  More scary than any debt to American Express or the phone company.  But the beauty is that God has given us a way out of that debt.  Jesus took our sins, our debt, to the cross.  He nailed the sins there on the cross with Him.  Because He was God's own Son, He took care of those sins.  With the ink of His own precious blood, He wrote across our debt of sin, "Paid in full."  

Instead of having to screen calls from a collection agency, we're able to be forgiven.  God will never come calling for us, asking us to repay every sin that we've committed in our lives.  Instead, God sends us a different letter, one that says, "I have forgiven all your sins."  What a gift He has given to us!

We pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, we know that we carry a huge debt of sin.  We also know that there is no way to ever repay that debt to you.  Thank you for sending your Son to the cross to die for those sins.  We praise you for the gift of forgiveness that sacrifice gives us.  In Your name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

All She Had to Live On

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21:1-4

Throughout the past couple years, you might be hard pressed to tune into any news program without being met by a cautionary tale of a family in debt, or a list of the things you must do today to save for retirement. In this world of stockpiling or even just saving for a rainy day, this widow’s act in giving everything she had seems out of the question.

We hear of entrepreneurs who give great gifts out of their abundance, but not tales of people giving everything they own. Honestly, the whole idea of giving all I have makes my stomach a little queasy. I have four children and I am a planner. I want to know where our next meal, or our next fifty, is coming from. I can learn something from the widow in today’s reading.

This is a woman whose trust was so fully entrenched in the God of the heavens and the earth that she gave all she had, everything. I can scarcely imagine that kind of trust. A true “Give me this day my daily bread,” trust. With only two coins to her name, I can imagine her praying those same words in earnest and seeing God’s faithfulness day after day.

I have read her story and countless others where God is more than faithful in meeting the needs of his people. I have read these stories and still I doubt. Still I rely on myself instead of God.

I am not down to my last two coins. I have more clothes than I wear, own more videos than I watch, and place more food on the table than I can eat. Still, I pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and then doubt that He will actually do it.

I believe, help my unbelief.

Creator and Sustainer of Life,

Give me this day my daily bread. Help me to trust in you to do the exact same thing tomorrow. Show me where I can give to others and enable me to do so always in thankfulness to you for the gift of Jesus who gave everything he had for me. Amen.

*If God has given you time, talents, or treasures in abundance, I encourage you to be the answer to someone else’s prayer this weekend. Seek out a family that needs a little extra at the grocery store, invite your older neighbor over for supper, or do a chore at home that you know your spouse dreads. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Want It

5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

Lately my 18 month old Olivia has been using the phrase, "Want it," or "Want that," which is then followed by a sweep of her hand as she gestures in some general direction of her choosing.  Keep in mind that she is not necessarily pointing at some toy or object that she specifically wants...no, instead she is letting her audience know that she wants something, and evidenced by her whiny tone, she wants it now.

Last month as we were home visiting my parents for Christmas, my dad (a retired pastor) turned Olivia into a Bible lesson.  Oftentimes we are not content with what we have and believe that we need more of this or that.  As a Christian parent, I want Olivia to know and feel content.  In a world that encourages kids to want and parents to spend, sometimes it is hard to stand firm in the boat of contentment.  How much do you give children, and how do you help them appreciate all that is given to them?

For me, I believe that much of that begins with the example set by parents.  Modeling a spirit of peace and contentment that is focused on others and the joy of giving can be a great start, and managing the household income in a way that is God-pleasing is of equal importance.  Setting boundaries and expectations for trips before heading to the store can help children understand that not every excursion ends with a treat or a toy.

Dear Jesus,
Being a parent in a world of want can be hard.  Partner with us as we work to parent your children, and help us model a spirit of contentment for them.  Thank you for all that you provide to us and for the gift of eternal life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Too Blessed to be Stressed?

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119:28

I don’t know about you, but I always get the post Christmas blues. The lights and decorations come down; radio stations stop playing Christmas music and return to their regular formats. It happens every single year, and I have yet to find a way to prevent myself from being a little bummed out.

Sometimes I get the “mommy blues” too. Does this ever happen to you? That feeling of needing and wanting a break from the 24/7 responsibility of another human being? That feeling of every day being exactly the same but completely different all at the same time? There’s nothing really major to complain about. The children are (relatively) healthy and happy, life with the hubby is good. You know that, as the saying goes, “You’re too blessed to be stressed,” but you’re still stressed or feeling down anyway. When this happens to me, I find myself feeling guilty about it.

In reading the scriptures, it is clear that feelings of sadness and stress are not uncommon for followers of Christ. There’s an entire book of grieving called Lamentations, and one glance at the Psalms gives us even more proof. In fact, Jesus is very clear when He tells us that our life will not be easy. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 I find that when the pressures of life and the sadness of this world are too much, those are the times when I more fully rely on the Lord. I don’t want to feel guilty for my real, human emotions. I don’t want to be told that I don’t have the right to feel negative feelings because that doesn’t make the feelings any less real for me. In my experience, God uses the difficult times in my life to draw me closer to Him.

I just wanted to encourage all of you fellow moms in this. Life is hard. Life as a parent is harder. Other struggles of this earthly life make life harder still. It’s okay for us to experience and deal with the unhappy feelings, even if our life seems perfect on the outside. God is there with open arms to comfort and forgive us even though we don’t deserve even a drop of His grace, and we can always rejoice in that truth even in times of sadness.

Psalm 30:1-5

"I will exalt You, O Lord,

for You lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

O Lord my God, I called to You for help

and You healed me.

O Lord, You brought me up from the grave;

You spared me from going down into the pit.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His;

Praise His holy Name.

For His anger lasts only a moment,

but His favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning." Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rejoice in the Lord

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything..."
(Philippians 4:4-5)
The decorations are down and the excitement of Christmas is over. The inside of our houses feel bare and empty.  If you live in the Midwest like we do, looking outside doesn't help the situation.  Everything is brown and dreary, and will stay that way for the next couple of months.  Sometimes, it feels like the Christmas joy has been put away with the decorations.
"Rejoice in the Lord always."  As Christians, this verse reminds us that our cause for  rejoicing is not found in our circumstances.  As sinful human beings, we often forget this and tend to focus too much on the current hardships  in our lives.  We only find temporary happiness in ourselves, our material possessions, and  in those around us.   But, the apostle Paul reminds us to rejoice in the Lord always--in good times and in bad-- for our true joy is found in God's gift of salvation, which is everlasting.   The reality is that we are sinners living in a sinful world--we will have  tough days; those we love will let us down; and we will let those we love down, too.  On our own, there is not much cause for rejoicing. However, it is in these tough times that we are reminded: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything."  Through the help of the Holy Spirit, we are not to be anxious.  Rather, we are to trust in Him. It is during times of hardship that our Savior draws us to Him, sustains us, and strengthens our faith.  And, it is through His death and resurrection that we find our true joy.
At first glance, it may appear that the Christmas season is over.  Yet, as Christians, may we continually rest and rejoice in the true source of our Christmas joy.  May we daily give thanks for the Son of God who was laid in the manger--for it is in Him alone that we have everlasting salvation.  And, it is in Him alone that we can find true joy and peace forever. 

Dear Heavenly Father,  We are thankful for all that you have done, are doing, and will do in our lives.  May we daily focus our eyes on You--the Defender and Perfector of our faith. Thank you for being our constant source of joy.  In Christ's name--Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Baptism Birthdays

We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:4

My son recently had his 2nd baptism birthday. We celebrated by taking out his candle that we received at his baptism and lit it during lunch and supper. We looked at pictures from that special day, and talked about the friends and family he saw in the photos. We read him a little children's book about baptism, and called our pastor so that he could say "thank you" as only a precious 2-year old can. We were not allowed to leave the table without singing his favorite "candle" song (This Little Gospel Light of Mine). :-)

Reese is too young to really understand the significance of his baptism yet, but we are working on building up in him to value what was given to him on this special day. "On this day 2 years ago, you became a child of God," we told him throughout the day on Tuesday.

I wonder... just because I have years on this little one, does the significance of what Christ has done for me through baptism really hit me completely? Probably it won't fully until I am face to face with my Savior and can truly realize the fruits of this incredible gift He gave me. Until that time, I daily "
by contrition and repentance" allow my "old Adam" to be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, my new man emerging and arising "to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." And I can encourage my little ones to do the same as we practice forgiveness and spend time internalizing the truths in God's Word.

Do you and your family members know when yours baptism birthdays are? If not, why not make it a point to find out and then start your own unique celebrations for these special birthdays!

Heavenly Father, Thank you for the work that you have done to provide forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation for me and my family. Please be with us as parents and show us how we can daily support and encourage your words and promises, given to our children through their baptism. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

You're A Good Mom!

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.   
Galatians 5:1

The mom-guilt flows freely, doesn’t it?  It is really mind-boggling that so many random things can evoke guilt in us when it comes to decisions we make and our children.  We know we don’t have control over everything, so we pour over the control we do have seeking to do the best thing for our kids.  Or we can’t understand that we don’t have control, so we pour over every decision.  Either way, it’s not easy.  

Sometimes we ache over the “little” stuff: I don’t play with my kids as much as I should; I didn’t get Sophie’s jeans washed tonight; I don’t know if I should drag my son thru the torture of grocery shopping.  I could go on and on.  I’m sure you have your list.  I buy too many processed foods, I don’t read to my kids often enough, I should have said something nicer to her before she left for school, I wish we had enough money to buy him the jersey he wants.  

But the other day a conversation during some much needed friend-time revealed some things.  First of all, can we stop beating ourselves up for the things we think we don’t do?!  Ok, yes, that sounds nice.  And second, how bout we start celebrating the things we DO do!?  It turns out that me being able to stay home with my kids means a lot of things.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that I will read 4 books to them daily.  But it does mean that I am available to my one-year-old when he brings me “Johnny Tractor’s Fun Farm Day” for the sixth time today.  It doesn’t mean I can suddenly whip up a fancy cake-boss style birthday cake.  But it means I have enough time to think so that I can be sure and make the birthday girl’s favorite meal for supper.  It doesn’t mean I spend hours playing number games with my preschooler.  But it does mean that when I’m paying the bills and she climbs on my lap and says “Why aren’t we rich?” – we can take the time to have a meaningful conversation about how hard daddy works for us.  

Today I challenge you – moms who work full-time, stay home full-time, beg for money on the street corner – whatever your situation: Celebrate 3 things you are happy about doing as a mom.  Something you’ve done for your kids or your family or your husband lately that was a good move.  It might be unconventional.  It might not be anything like what the mom down the street would do.  But it’s how God has YOU serving your family.  Here, I’ll go first.  I let my eight-year-old daughter help me pick out my jewelry and accessories before my meeting tonight.  It was fun.  I took the 4 minutes and instead of kicking her out of my room so I could hurry up and be ready, I let her explore my jewelry box and fix my scarf.  It was a good moment.  I’m thankful for it.  What’s yours?

Insert YOUR prayer of thankfulness here.  :)