Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 2013 Reading List

If you do not read books, you will be bored by this blog post.  For that matter, if you are not interested in finding new books to read, you will be bored by this blog post.  You have been warned.

I knew my senior picture would come in handy one day.
To sum up 2013, I'd like to share a list of the books I've read this year.  I know I've forgotten a few, which bugs me a little, but it's my own fault for forgetting to write down every title I've read as I went.  I'm an avid reader, and if you are too, hopefully this list will be of some help if ever you're wondering what to read next.

My goal for this year was to read at least two books a month, and I went above and beyond that goal, which makes me happy.  My reading goal for 2014 will be to read more than fifty books.

I'm going to give a 1-5 star rating for each book I've read in 2013, depending on how much I enjoyed the read.  If you see my list and have a book to recommend for me, please let me know in the comments!  Also, I will put (RR) next to books I re-read, because this means the book is good enough to read over and over again. 

My 2013 Reading List:
  1. Outlaw by Ted Dekker: ****
  2. Black by Ted Dekker (Twice this year, in June and November!) (RR): *****
  3. Red by Ted Dekker (RR): *****
  4. White by Ted Dekker (RR): *****
  5. Showdown by Ted Dekker (RR): *****
  6. Genesis by Ted Dekker: I will not rate this, because this actually is not a published book available to the public.
  7. The Blood Book by Ted Dekker: This is also not a published book.
  8. House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti (RR): ****
  9. Iscariot by Tosca Lee: ****
  10. Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley (RR): ****
  11. Elsie's Holidays at Roselands by Martha Finley (RR): ***
  12. Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley (RR): ***
  13. Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley: ***
  14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: *****
  15. Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins: *****
  16. The Boys of the Dark by Robin Gaby Fisher: ** (Warning, a lot of violent content)
  17. 19 Minutes by Jodie Piccoult (RR): *** (Warning, explicit language and some sexual content)
  18. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis (RR): *****
  19. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (RR): *****
  20. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (RR): *****
  21. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (RR): *****
  22. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (RR): *****
  23. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (RR): ****
  24. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (RR): *****
  25. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: ****
  26. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: ***
  27. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship by A.W. Tozer: ***
  28. Radical by David Platt: *****
  29. Follow Me by David Platt: ****
  30. The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler: ***
  31. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker: ****
  32. 7 Experiment: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker: ****
  33. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: ***
  34. My Story by Elizabeth Smart: ****
  35. Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton: ***
  36. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (RR): ****
  37. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane: *** (Warning, some pretty heavy content)
  38. Daisy Miller by Henry James: ***
  39. Carrie by Stephen King: ** (Warning, a horror novel with graphic content and language)
  40. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (RR): *****
  41. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (RR): ****
  42. Specials by Scott Westerfeld (RR): ***
  43. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau: ***
  44. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (RR): *****
  45. Praise Habit by David Crowder (RR): ***
  46. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali ****
  47. I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose A. Lewis ***** 
  48. The Color Purple by Alice Walker ***
I'm actually quite surprised by how many books I re-read this year!  If it's a joy once, it's a joy again.

If you kept a list of what you read this year and post it on your blog, send me the link!  I would love to have some ideas of what more to read in 2014.

See you next year, friends!

One year ago: Recap of 2012
Two years ago: Help Find Haley (Updated)
Three years ago: Because I'm Broken
Four years ago: The End of a Decade

Monday, December 30, 2013

Romans: Putting away our idols

I write a monthly Bible study over Romans for my sponsored daughter.  You may print out this Bible study to send your sponsored child as well.

Romans 1:18-32

Everybody in the world has sinned.  Sin is anything you think, say, or do that breaks God's laws.  Because God is holy, sin separates us from him.  This passage is about sin and how sin hurts our world.  God's wrath is anger, but it is a just anger because the world has turned away from God's laws.

Anything that you put above God in your heart is an idol.  Do you have any idols in your life?  I used to have an idol.  It was what other people thought of me.  That sounds like a strange idol, but I wanted people to like me more than I cared about obeying God!  I put my image over God, so it became an idol for me.  Other idols can be gods, carved statues, or things like money, things you own, or even friends.  Having idols is sinning.

God has shown himself to the whole world!  He is our Creator and everything he has made shows how beautiful and holy he is.  God is the only one we should worship.  We need to put him over all other things in our lives.

We live in a very broken, sinful world that has many idols: other religions, wealth, success, sex, and popularity are some big idols.  But you and I know the true purpose and joy of our lives is to worship God.  Everything else is only a distraction from him.  We can enjoy the blessings God has given us, but remember to put God first in your life every day.

Memory Verse:
"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." -Romans 1:20

1.) Have you ever put something in your heart above God?
2.) How would you explain the difference between a blessing from God and an idol?  How does this change the way we view our possessions and our values?
3.) In what ways has God shown himself to the world?

Words to learn:
1.) Reveal: make known
2.) Divine: of God
3.) Invisible: not seen
4.) Futile: useless, not effective
5.) Degrade: to lower in character
6.) Penalty: punishment after breaking a law or rule
7.) Retain: to hold or have
8.) Depravity: bad or evil
7.) Distraction: to draw away attention

Two years ago: Before you bug out, READ THIS.
Three years ago: Recommended Reads
Four years ago: Who does God hate?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Romans: Thankfulness

Feel free to print this Bible study and send it to your sponsored child, just as I do for mine!

Romans 1:8-17

In this passage, Paul gives thanksgiving for the Christian churches.  He also explains how the gospel is the saving power of God and the good news for the whole world.

What are you thankful for?  In the United States, we have a holiday called Thanksgiving, where we take a day to express our gratitude to the Lord for all of his blessings he has given us.  I am thankful for my family, my friends, my school, and my church.  I am also so very thankful that you are my daughter!  I thank God for you every day.

Paul is very thankful that the Christian church is following God and proclaiming the gospel all over the world.  He takes the time to pray for the churches in every nation.  Did you know that in some countries, it is illegal to worship God?  Christians are killed or jailed for praying and going to church.  Let's take the time to pray for those who must struggle every day to stay strong in their faith.

Even in Kenya or America, there will sometimes be persecution for what we believe.  Sometimes it will come by people not liking us or treating us unfairly.  Even if you face hard things because of your faith in Jesus, do not lose hope.  We must not be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation for everyone who believes!  This means that God gave us the gospel to save us so that we can be his children.  How could we be ashamed of such good news?  Let's be thankful and encourage our friends to stay strong in the Lord.

It is very good to say the gospel over and over again, like Paul does in Romans, so that we will never forget how the Lord has saved us from death.  The gospel can encourage us every single day!

Memory Verse:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes." -Romans 1:16

1.) What are you thankful for?
2.) In what ways can you be bold and unashamed of the gospel?

Words to learn:
1.) Gratitude: being thankful
2.) Persecution: being oppressed or hurt because of your beliefs
3.) Proclaim: announce
4.) Salvation: being saved
5.) Encourage: to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence
6.) Obligate: to commit or bind
7.) Reveal: to make known

Two years ago: The Road Trip
Four years ago: The Dollar

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Anna: The Proclaimer

Today is Christmas!  Throughout the month of December, I have been studying about the women whose stories are told in the Bible around the time that Jesus Christ was born.  Their faithfulness and joy were so evident, and their stories reveal the Lord's love and grace.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have blogged about two women of Christmas: Mary and Elizabeth.  Today I would like to talk about Anna.

Anna is not talked about as often as Mary or Elizabeth.  Her story in the Bible is brief, sweet, and often forgotten. 

Anna is one of only ten female prophets mentioned in the Bible.  [Isaiah's wife (Isaiah 8:3), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Miriam (Micah 6:4, Exodus 15:20-21), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Huldah (1 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22-28), and Anna (Luke 2:36-38)].

Anna, bless her heart, was eighty-four.  When I think of her, I imagine an elderly woman of frail stature with smile lines that creased across the apples of her cheeks and hair as white as snow.  She had been a widow nearly all of her life.  In Anna's time, women married very young, and Scripture says she was married only seven years before tragedy struck her life and her husband died.  For the rest of her life, Anna never remarried but focused her heart and desires solely on the Lord.

Anna spent all of her time in the temple.  She never left, but instead worshiped the Lord all night and all day.  The sacrifice and physical toll that came from constant fasting, worship, and remaining within the temple courts 24/7 for at least fifty or sixty years must have been great, but Anna allowed the Lord to sustain her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  She loved and served God with all of her heart.

Preceding Anna's story in the Bible, Mary and Joseph had brought baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present Him to the Lord.  In the temple courts, an old man named Simeon who was filled with the Holy Spirit approached them.  He lifted Jesus into his arms and said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).  The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah, and now He had come.

The Bible says that Joseph and Mary marveled at Simeon's words.  They had been visited by angels; they knew what the Lord had promised them.  However, to have such a declaration from a complete stranger spoken over their son must have been a source of great wonder.

At that very moment, Anna approached them.  She was also filled with the Holy Spirit who was guiding her to the young Messiah.  Anna prophesied about Him.  We do not know her words, but we do know that she spoke about Jesus and joyfully thanked the Lord.

What brings me so much encouragement from Anna was the way she proclaimed the truth to everyone who would listen.  Simeon was a righteous man.  He had the honor of prophesying about the Messiah in the temple courts.  But Anna is made known for her proclamations about Jesus.  She was one of the first to share the good news about Jesus Christ coming to earth with the public. 

Luke 2:38 says, "she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." 

Anna was filled with hope.  She trusted God with every moment of her day.  She lived among a people who were struggling under the oppression of the Romans.  With desperation and discouragement, the Israelites were crying out to God for a Savior to free them from the yoke of their oppressors.  They were looking for an earthly king, but Anna found great joy in the sight of a child being presented before the Lord, her Messiah and eternal King.

We live in a world of discouragement and brokenness.  We may not be under the oppression of Rome, but we are faced daily with a barrage of sin and hurt and doubt.  So many people on this earth are crying out for a Savior.

Let's be like Anna.  She rejoiced in the hope of the Lord and she proclaimed redemption to anyone who would hear the good news.  Let's thank God for His gift of Jesus Christ, for giving us a child that grew up to be a man who paid the price for our sins on a cross.

Jesus Christ brought redemption to the world.  Let's proclaim this with boldness.

Merry Christmas.

Four years ago: Alone, Yet Not Alone

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Elizabeth: One Who Waited

As Christmas Day approaches, I have been studying in the Bible about women whose stories are told around the time of the birth of Christ.  They lived in faith and courage, and there is much to learn from them.  A couple of weeks ago, I talked about Mary, a woman of faith.  Today I will share the story of Elizabeth, Mary's relative and the mother of John the Baptist, a woman who waited in hope.  You can find her story in Luke 1.

Elizabeth is first mentioned in Luke 1:5-7.  She was married to a priest named Zechariah.  Elizabeth was also in the lineage of the priests as a descendent of Aaron.  The Bible describes her as "righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly."  Elizabeth was also quite old.

There was tragedy in Elizabeth's life.  She was barren.  She lived in a time where a woman's value was often defined by her ability to bear children, particularly sons.  Barrenness was considered a punishment from God.  As a woman who loved the Lord and served Him wholeheartedly, Elizabeth must have struggled with the fact that she had been given no children.  By the time she reached an old age, she must have long since given up on ever having a child of her own.

One day, Zechariah was on duty burning incense in the temple.  As he stood before the altar, an angel appeared before him and said that his wife would bear a son that would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born and who would make ready the people of Israel for the Messiah.  Stunned, Zechariah questioned the angel and doubted God's word.  He was reprimanded and unable to speak again until months later, when he named his son John.

Zechariah was made to be silent until the promise of the Lord was fulfilled.  Elizabeth became silent by choice.

After her husband returned from his service as a priest, Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant and went into seclusion for five months, spending all of her time in prayer before the Lord.  How filled with hope she must have been!  "The Lord has done this for me.  In these days, He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people" (Luke 1:25).

Six months into Elizabeth's pregnancy, her cousin Mary was visited by Gabriel and given news about her own pregnancy.  Mary was greatly encouraged by the testimony of her older relative.  Gabriel shared Elizabeth's story with Mary when she was troubled, and she immediately rushed to Elizabeth's town in Judea, a journey that was probably the length of a couple of weeks.

The reunion of the two cousins was filled with great joy.  The child in Elizabeth's womb already had the Holy Spirit, but as soon as Mary entered the room, Elizabeth was also filled with the Spirit.  When she spoke in a loud voice, she prophesied, saying, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!" (Luke 1:42-44).

Mary had been pregnant for very little time at all, a few weeks at the most.  She almost certainly had not yet begun to show.  Though she waited, not even she may have yet noticed a change in her body.  The immediate reaction from Elizabeth, brought forth by the Holy Spirit, was a confirmation of the Lord's promises to her.

"But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Elizabeth said joyfully.  She was one of the very first to wholeheartedly place her faith in Jesus Christ, before He even emerged from His mother's womb.  Without hesitation, she called Jesus her Lord.  She recognized Him as the Son of God.

There were many years between the two women.  Elizabeth was elderly; Mary was a youth.  However, both were bonded together through the promises of God, a Messiah to come, and hearts overflowing with thankfulness for the Lord.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home to Nazareth around the time her cousin gave birth.  Elizabeth had a son, just as she had been promised.  Everyone she knew heard about the Lord's great mercy, and the Bible says that they shared in her joy.

Just like that, all of the insecurities and disgrace Elizabeth had felt for the entirety of her adult life faded away.  She was loved.  She was favored.  She was an instrument of the Lord, and she clearly felt His compassion for her.

There are times in my life when I feel like I'm stuck, unable to see God's plan for me in a difficult situation.  I've never experienced the cultural disgrace that Elizabeth felt, but I have faced discouragement and loneliness.  

Elizabeth had a gentle faith in God that did not falter.  She served Him, even when she felt as if her dreams were sifting through her fingers like sand.  When promised a son under impossible circumstances, she waited.  She worshiped.  And she was given the honor of being one of the very first to believe in Jesus Christ as her Savior.

If you are in a place of waiting in your life, do not be discouraged.  The Lord's promises are true.  "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."  He is faithful to you.  He loves you.  He brings hope.

Wait in His arms and shout with joy about the good news He has brought to earth. 

Two years ago: I'm excited.
Four years ago: Christmas poems

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Christian's Response to the Duck Dynasty Fiasco

Duck Dynasty has flooded social media over the last couple of days.  Facebook, Twitter, email, and dinner conversations are consumed with discussions about Phil Robertson, his statements about homosexuality, and his indefinite suspension by A&E from his television show Duck Dynasty

In an interview with GQ, Phil Robertson made some controversial remarks about homosexuality and race.  If you have somehow escaped reading what Phil had to say, his suspension, and his family's response, this shorter article pretty much sums it all up. 

When I first read the GQ interview, I honestly cringed at Phil Robertson's comments.  I may not agree with the delivery of Phil's message, but I also was not really surprised by what he said.  He is a 67-year-old conservative from Louisiana with a history of speaking his mind.

However, I am appalled by my Christian community's fiery reaction to Phil's suspension from Duck Dynasty.  I've seen a whole lot of status updates from my conservative friends and relatives, most of them stating things like: "Freedom of speech is dead."  "If Miley Cyrus can twerk on television, why can't Phil Robertson share his faith?"  "This is yet another example of how badly Christians are being persecuted in America today!"

Why is this such an explosive issue?

For one, freedom of speech isn't even the problem here.  Phil had total freedom of speech when he made those comments to a journalist for a popular secular magazine, which brought realistic consequences from his secular employers.  Phil may no longer have freedom to speak out on A&E, but he is a rich and famous man; he will have many opportunities to publicly speak his mind via other outlets.

Two, this is a reality TV showAs Christians, our goal should not be to stay popular on television.  Duck Dynasty portrays godly morals, but the show has very little meaning in and of itself.  It's about a family of wealthy duck hunters who love Jesus.  Entertaining, family-friendly, but does it have eternal value?  Not really.

If you have lapsed into a public rage over Duck Dynasty today, then I encourage you to check your heart right now.  Why have you not become this angry over the 21,000 people who will die today from malnutrition-related causes?  Or the 153 million orphans worldwide?  Or the 633,000 homeless people in the United States? 

Why is the outcome of a reality TV show more upsetting than issues that break the heart of our Creator?  Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."

In the Bible, God calls us to share the Gospel, to love people, not to judge, to serve the needy.  We are never asked to rage against our government or to have heated arguments over Facebook.  Rather, we are commanded to respect our authority (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13, Titus 3:1) and not to engage in quarrels (Proverbs 17:19). 

One of my favorite passages from the Bible is 1 Peter 3:14-15, which says:
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.'  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect."  
Let me also include 2 Timothy 2:23-25: 
"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth."
Christians, go back and look over your conversations, online and in person, and see if they follow the two Scripture passages above.  Were you gentle?  Were you respectful?  Were you kind?  Were you not resentful?  

Personally, I wouldn't consider Phil's suspension persecution.  There are Christians in other countries who are being killed and jailed for their faith, and Phil Robertson will certainly continue a very successful career until the end of his life.  But even if you view his suspension from Duck Dynasty as persecution, why is the Christian community displaying so much indignation and defiance?

The disciples and early church did not react with anger when freedom was torn away from them.  They endured persecution with thankfulness and rejoicing because they were counted worthy to receive the same treatment as that of Jesus (Acts 5:41, Luke 6:22-23).

We should not come to expect the freedom of sharing our faith and preaching God's Word without persecution, whether or not we are American.  As long as we live on this broken earth, we will receive opposition in return for our faith in Christ.  If we are being embraced by the world, something is wrong.  In John 15:19, Jesus says: 
"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." 
Christians, our response to the Duck Dynasty fiasco is being observed by the entire nation.  And they are laughing at us.

So let's turn down the drama when it comes to Phil Robertson and his reality TV show.  Instead, let's focus our passion and energy on things of eternal value, like loving people like Christ, extending grace, and feeding the hungry.  

One year ago: It's okay to ask why.
Two years ago: The Chilly Winter Air
Three years ago: Curious George put me to bed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Trade

I've been reading a devotional by Richard and Reneé Stearns called He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World.  This book consists of stories about what these two servants of the Lord have learned from those they have had the honor of meeting all over the world.  One story I read was about a little boy living in Malawi.  He and his friends were kicking a homemade ball around their village in a soccer match.   

Having visited Africa before, I have seen what kind of ball that Reneé Stearns described in this passage.  Children in third world countries will often crumple layers upon layers of plastic bags and twine until they have made a ball of sorts.  These homemade balls are rough and take a lot of repair, but children are creative and make do with what they have.

Rich and Reneé had a real soccer ball with them - a nice Nike ball that would roll smoothly upon the ground and last so much longer than the mass of crumpled plastic bags the little boy was holding in his hands.  They offered to trade soccer balls with him, the old for the new.

Surprisingly, it took a few minutes of hesitation and discussion with his friends before the little boy was willing to trade his roughly-made soccer ball in for the shiny, new one.  He had always used a ball that he had made with his hands.  Even with the offer of something so much better than what he had ever owned, he was drawn to what was old and familiar.  The idea of change brought uncertainty, even when the answer seemed obvious to anyone else.

Reneé compared the boy's struggle of letting go of the old with a spiritual struggle.  "A lot of people feel about their lives the same way the boy felt about his ball, especially when they sense that God is calling them to something new.  They like what's familiar, what's comfortable, and they're reluctant to leave it behind, even if they are reasonably certain that to do so would be to follow God's leading.  Hanging onto something that might be good, they miss what's even better."

This story resonated with me.

I am so much like that little boy.  My life is often surrounded by what is comfortable and cozy for me, even if it is ultimately to my expense.  As a college student nestled deep within the comforts of the Christian community at my university, even the ministry I pursued last semester often became familiar and comfortable for me.

As Christians, we have been called to evangelize when it tears us out of our comfort zones, to serve the poor when it means sacrificing material comforts from our own lifestyles, and to love all people when it means dying to self in a very uncomfortable way.  We are constantly warring against our flesh in order to pursue a lifestyle that reflects our Savior.  How we live our lives is a battlefield, and yet I often find myself resting comfortably in a cocoon of "sexy Christianity."

Joy and peace are results of sacrifice, mercy, and compassion, of trusting Christ even when He draws us away from the familiar.  Stepping outside of our American Christian comfort zones is not always alluring, but there is so much freedom waiting for us when we do.

I don't want to cling to my balled-up tangle of trash while God is asking me to trade it in for the real thing.

We have been commanded to serve orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to set captives free, and to proclaim Christ's love to all nations.  Not to press a shiny ichthys onto the bumper of our cars, not to wear Chacos because that's what Christian college kids do, not to keep a Bible in our backpacks "just in case someone asks."  Those things are fine (I have participated in everything on that list in the last year alone), but so much more has been offered to us than what is familiar.  Our eyes are dim.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."  Letting go of the familiar is frightening and difficult.  But He has placed beauty and delight in our paths, far beyond what our minds will ever conceive on our own.

Each day, there seems to be a new ball of trash that I find myself clutching defensively in my hands while the Lord coaxes it away in exchange for something so much better. 

And the freedom that comes when I do let go brings so much joy. 

"Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them.  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to You.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.'" -Jonah 2:8-9

Two years ago: Christmas Gift Ideas (Part 2)
Three years ago: Jack the dorky Yorkie
Four years ago: Hobos Rock

Friday, December 13, 2013

Romans: The Longest Greeting

Every month, I send my sponsored daughter Lavin a Bible study over a chapter from the book of Romans.  I am also sharing this here so that you can print it out and send it to your sponsored child if they are old enough to go through a Bible study with you.  This is a great way for you to connect with your child and help disciple them as they grow up in the Lord.

Romans 1:1-7

In this first section of Romans 1, Paul shares his greetings to the Christian churches in Rome.  This is a very long greeting!  Imagine if saying "hello" in our letters always took seven verses to write out!  Letter-writing would take a very long time.  The reason why Paul wrote such a long greeting is because he had not been to Rome and he wanted to fully explain the gospel to anyone who might not understand it.

Can you summarize the gospel?  It is a good thing to practice sharing the gospel in a way that other people can understand, even children.  I like to explain the gospel using colors.
  • Gold: God is holy and righteous. He is without sin.
  • Black: We have all sinned, and the punishment for our sins is death.
  • Red: God sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us and take the punishment for our sins.
  • White: If we repent and put our faith in Jesus, we are seen as clean and righteous by God!
  • Green: We can grow in our relationship with the Lord by being baptized, attending church, praying, and reading our Bible.
The word "gospel" means "good news."  When Paul is sharing the gospel, he is not just telling us what we should or should not do; he is talking about how faith in Jesus changes everything about our whole lives!

Paul calls himself a servant and an apostle.  When he does this, he is being humble by showing that his life is completely God's, but he is also showing his authority as an apostle.  An apostle is someone who has been chosen by Christ to disciple the church.  Paul had authority to write books of the Bible.

Paul talks about his life mission in Romans 1:5, which is to bring the gospel to all nations, and this is our calling too!  We are commanded by God to share the gospel in Kenya, in the USA, and all over the world.

At the end of this passage, Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  When he says peace, he does not mean "no war" or "no trouble."  Sometimes bad things will happen even though we trust in God.  The word Paul used was "shalom," which means that your life is transformed by God and the peace that comes from putting your faith in him.

Memory Verse:
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." -Romans 1:7

1.) Explain the gospel in a way that is easy to understand.
2.) How can you help share the gospel?
3.) What are ways that God has given you peace in your life?

Words to learn:
1.) Summarize: to share something in a few words
2.) Holy: godly, sacred, perfect, without sin
3.) Authority: a power that is given
4.) Transform: to change in nature

Three years ago: Wistful
Four years ago: The Broken Beam

Friday, December 6, 2013

Romans: Introduction

Over the summer, I sent my sponsored daughter Lavin some old Bible study pages I wrote a while back.  A few days ago, I received a sweet letter from her thanking me for them and explaining that she has been studying them every single day since she received them.  Obviously, Lavin has little access to many of the resources that I had when I was a sixteen-year-old girl.  While she learns about God in church and in school, she cannot go to Lifeway Christian Bookstore to grab a curriculum so that she and her friends can have a Bible study.

So we will be going through the book of Romans together over the next several months.  After spending time with Lavin this summer, I was able to see how intelligent and articulate she has become.  She is capable of walking through a book of the Bible like this with a little assistance. 

I will be sharing the short Bible studies I write each week (and I will send four weeks at a time with my monthly letters), and I am sharing them here as well.  You are welcome to print them and send them to your sponsored child if they are older, learning English, and you think they are at a place where they could be encouraged by a Bible study.  (One more note is that I know Lavin has a Bible because I gave her one this summer, so if you are unsure about whether or not your child has a personal Bible, you may want to contact your sponsorship organization and arrange for one to be bought for your child.)

For week one, I gave an introduction to the book of Romans.

Week 1: Introduction

My sweet daughter, I am so happy to read through Romans with you.  Even though I will split up each part of the study into weeks, please take your time and move as slowly as you need.  It might take you more than one week to do each part.  I am so proud of the strong woman of faith you have become.  You are also welcome to study this with your friends.  If you have trouble understanding anything, please ask your teacher.

Before we begin chapter one, let's learn about the book of Romans.  The apostle Paul was the writer of this book of the Bible.  It was first a letter to the Christian churches in Rome in the year A.D. 57, a very long time ago.  In the last chapter, Paul commends a woman named Phoebe to them, and she was probably the one who gave the churches this letter.

My study Bible says: "the theme of Romans is the revelation of God's judging and saving righteousness in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the cross of Christ, God judges sin and yet at the same time manifests his saving mercy."  This is a lot of big and long words, but it means that this book is about how God has made us righteous through the gospel of Jesus.  God is a judge of sin, but he saves us through his mercy.

This week as we get ready to begin our study of Romans, I ask that you pray that God will prepare your heart for this Bible study.  I am also praying that he will prepare my heart and show me what he wants me to learn.

Every week, we can also learn a verse together.  You do not have to memorize every verse, but I encourage you to continue to memorize Scripture often!  I was so proud of the way you could recite so many verses to me this summer.

This week:
1.) Re-write the theme of Romans into your own words.

Words to learn:
1.) Commend: to talk about as worthy of confidence
2.) Revelation: God showing us about himself and his will
3.) Manifest: to make clear

Three years ago: Jack is Smiling
Four years ago: The Lion

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mary: Woman of Faith

Over the next few weeks of December, I would like to talk about some of the women who had a part in the Christmas story.  This season is about Jesus, as should be every day of the year, but as we take the time to worship Him and celebrate His birth, I would also like to look into a little more what it would have been like to be a woman used by God in this precious story of Christ.

I think it's easiest to imagine Mary, as she is the woman who is remembered most often during this season, and for good reason.  She was the mother of Jesus.

No one knows Mary's exact age, but in an era when child brides were the norm, she was most likely in her early teens.  Mary likely still lived with her mother and father, but she was betrothed to a man named Joseph, which in their Jewish culture meant Mary had already entered the first step of a binding marriage.  In order for her to break her engagement, she and Joseph would have had to file for divorce. 

Even today, when a girl is engaged and turns out to be pregnant before marriage, there are sideways looks and whispers.  Imagine if a girl you knew from college became pregnant with a child that was not even her fiance's.  Surely judgment and gossip from everyone she knew would rain down over her head like a thunderstorm.  She would face so much condemnation. 

In Mary's time, a Jewish woman who became pregnant outside of marriage would instantly receive a death sentence.  Mary was bound by the first covenant of the Old Testament.  Both her parents and Joseph carefully followed the Jewish law.  Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10 set forth the punishment for adultery, and that was death.  Mary was considered married, and remaining a virgin was necessary in order for her to keep her life and her future secure. 

A thought that has left me awed in recent months has been Mary's bravery when she was approached by the angel Gabriel.  I have been reading through Ezekiel and Daniel this semester.  Scrawled along the margins of a few pages of my Bible, I have written things like: "This is how people react to an angel."  The immediate reactions tend to be terror, falling over, and trembling violently.

Daniel 8:15-17 says, "While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man.  And I heard a man's voice from the Ulai calling, 'Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.'  As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate."  

A little later, in Daniel 10, Daniel cannot even speak without assistance, he is so awed by his visions of heaven.  "'How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord?  My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.'  Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength.  'Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,' he said.  'Peace!  Be strong now; be strong.'" 

Mary may have been terrified at the sight of Gabriel as he appeared before her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you," even if she did not fall over in fear and in trembling.  In fact, Luke 1:29 did say she was greatly troubled by his words.  The Greek word for this is διεταράχθη (dietarachthē), which can also mean perplexed or pondering.  My ESV Bible says that she tried to discern what kind of greeting it might be.  Mary was concerned by the visit, but instead of reacting out of terror, she pondered to herself what the angel could possibly mean by appearing before her this way. 

Gabriel responded, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High."

The Jewish people had been waiting for a Messiah for so many years.  They expected a man to appear on a throne and with great power and force to rescue them from the Romans, but instead Gabriel spoke to a child, to a virgin girl, and told her that she would give birth to the one for whom all of her ancestors had been eagerly waiting. 

Mary asked, "How will this be?", which was nearly the same question as her cousin-in-law, Zechariah, had asked Gabriel before being reprimanded for his lack of faith.  Mary asked a very similar question, but she asked it with pure motives.  Her heart was not one of fear and doubt.  God is our loving Father; He answers our questions in the way that we need, and beyond that, we are called to have faith that our Blessed Controller (1 Timothy 6:15) will keep us safe in His will. 

Even in her curiosity, Mary had the faith of a child.  While Zechariah doubted that God could perform a miracle in his life, Mary merely wondered how the Lord would use a girl like her.  Gabriel realized this and so he did not reprimand her for her curiosity.  Instead, he answered her question: "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."  This was enough for Mary.  She believed. 

Gabriel's words certainly would have terrified me!  The Most High would overshadow her and impregnate her?  What an overwhelming thought.  Mary's calm and graceful response leaves me amazed.

"Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

These words are so very powerful.  As Mary spoke, she surely realized the consequences that were to follow.  All her life, she had been warned about the punishments for breaking the law.  She likely had seen punishments with her own eyes, women stoned for sleeping with other men.  Now here Mary would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit as a young virgin girl, already betrothed to a man.  Who could possibly believe that her pregnancy, out of wedlock, was of the Lord?  Why would Joseph not abandon her?  Why would her parents not drag her into the streets to be put to death?  Mary's reputation as a godly woman would not be the only thing lost; her very life was in danger. 

Yet Mary's faith did not waver.  She humbly took her place as a servant of the Lord.  The whispers of fear and doubt crumbled from her shoulders.  "Let it be to me according to your word."  And so it was.

She would take it all for the sake of her Lord, her Creator, her true Husband.  Her life was His.

God will never approach me to birth His Son, but He may approach me with a calling that is frightening and difficult to accept, and when He does, I hope that I have the same response to Him as Mary did: "I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." 

God asked for Mary's life with no exceptions.  She was willing to be ruined for the Lord, if that is what He asked from her.  Her faith brought so much favor. 

If the time comes and the Lord asks me to allow my life to be ruined, will I say yes?  

Let it be to me according to Your word.  

Two years ago: The Embarrassing Picture
Four years ago: Legacy

Monday, October 21, 2013

Early Hour

I have to keep a journal for an English class I am taking.  We're encouraged to use our creativity in the form of poetry and drawings, so I wrote a silly poem in the style of Emily Dickinson.

I do realize my poem isn't even about death, so that's a pretty big difference between me and the "other" Emily.  But here goes.  The poem is about my 8am class.  I'm blessed, right?

Early Hour

Walking in the Morning
Sun's whisper and caress -
On one hand I am weary
On the other, Bless'd -
The Early Hour aching -
How it stings to rise!
Thankful for the Learning 
My tired Body cries -
I will awake each Morning
Walk the way to Class
My Life — that of the Student
To Learn, my Noble Task -

September 2, 2013

Two years ago: He was ALWAYS there.
Three years ago: Leave an anonymous letter of encouragement.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Unveiled: Molly

Today's guest-blogger for the Unveiled Project is the lovely Molly!  She is exuberant and vivacious, a worshiper of Christ with so much joy inside her heart that it overflows everywhere she goes.  I am so excited to hear what Molly has to say today.

Hi, my name is Molly!

I love listening to and creating music.  I love swinging on all types of swings, having picnics, going on adventures, taking spontaneous trips, laughing, reading good books, and drinking coffee.  I like surprises and pretty things and autumn.  I always keep a kite in my car (whose name is Max, by the way), just in case it's windy.  My favorite color is yellow, although sometimes I prefer blue.  I love the mountains and camping and climbing rocks and swimming and being outside.  I love giant storms - I like listening to the sounds and watching pounding rain and lightning.  I like to listen to sad music.  I like it when it's really cold but I'm bundled up and warm and cozy.  I like the smell of fires and anything chocolate.  I like lots of things.

I am a junior at Texas A&M University and I am nineteen (but almost twenty) years old.  Most importantly, I love my Lord and Savior.  He has adopted me and made me His daughter.  I want to go everywhere and love His people - I would love to be a missionary.  I trust that He has a plan for my life, even though I don't have a clue what that plan is.  I am passionate about His word and His people.

I've never had a boyfriend.  My (nearly) twenty years has been a sweet season of singleness.  I'm not here to tell you that you should date Jesus or that singleness is the answer to your problems - but I will say that God has a lot to teach us in both seasons of singleness and seasons of dating and eventually marriage.  It's all part of His plan to sanctify us and make us look more like Him.  Life has all different seasons - my life has had seasons of change and seasons of pain and seasons of general comfort.  And God has used all of them to shape me and teach me and grow me.

What does the phrase "guard your heart" mean to you and how do you practice this?  How would you define this Biblically?

Okay, I am personally guilty of using the phrase "guard my heart" as kind of a joke.  Whenever someone shows me a picture of puppies or something else that triggers my typical girly love of all small or fluffy things, I've been known to laugh and say, "Guaaard my heeeart."

Christian circles throw this phrase around quite often as a matter of fact.  We are constantly told to guard our hearts - but what does that even mean?  I am a counselor at a summer camp and this summer, God showed me that I didn't actually know as much about this as I thought I did - looks like it's something we get to keep figuring out more and more as we go.  I grew up attending church and so I heard Proverbs 4:23 a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.  I wanted to pursue the Lord in all I did, so I knew I needed to guard my heart.  I mostly thought this meant from boys.  But the problem was that I tried to guard MY heart.  I tried to do it in my own strength and in the way I thought was best.  I thought that guarding my heart meant avoiding hurt by putting up walls.

I love the Oh Hello's and I love their song, "Hello My Old Heart."  One of the lyrics in that song says, "Every day I add another stone to the walls I built around you [talking about their heart] to keep you safe."  Seriously, great song, great band - go listen to them.  However, that is not actually what guarding your heart should look like.  That is definitely the approach I was taking.

I have literally run in the opposite direction if a boy showed interest in me (like a dead on sprint, I'm not kidding).  I was careful about what I would say and sometimes I would try to avoid my brothers in Christ all in the name of guarding my heart.  God revealed to me this summer that this was a MAJOR control issue.

I was reading through the book of Isaiah and God decided to use chapter 30 to speak directly to my stony, "guarded" heart.  The chapter starts off by saying, "Ah, stubborn children."  It goes on to reprimand the Israelites for carrying out a plan for their own protection without consulting God.  It wasn't His idea for them to run off to Egypt where they thought they would be safe!  He had way better plans for protecting them!  The next few chapters were full of words that God used to reveal my stubborn heart and my desire to be in control so that I wouldn't ever get hurt.  The Lord showed me that I was holding onto my heart too tightly.  I should be less concerned with how I can protect MYSELF and more concerned with loving others - God makes it clear that loving others is our priority, second only to loving Him.

So what am I saying, exactly?  That you shouldn't guard your heart?  No!  Proverbs 4:23 still clearly commands us to guard our hearts above all else, and 1 Peter 1:16 reminds us that we are called to be holy.  But as you guard your heart, make sure that you are constantly surrendering it to the Lord.  Ask HIM to protect you and to do what is best for you.  There may be seasons of hurt - that's okay!  God uses even painful seasons to shape us to be more like Him.

Guarding your heart isn't avoiding a broken heart; it is pursuing the Lord and focusing on His good things.  Colossians 3:2-3 says, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things, for you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."  2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every single thought captive to obey Christ.  So think about what you think about!

Nothing should have more of your affection than Christ Jesus.  If we are pursuing Him first always, we can trust Him to "guard our hearts" and to give us opportunities to share His love with those around us.  It's not about boys, it's about pursuing purity of thoughts and actions.

What is the most difficult part of finding satisfaction in the Lord through singleness?  How have you learned to find fullness of joy in Him?

Do you feel like there are seasons when EVERYONE is beginning relationships, you attend a bridal shower or engagement party at least once a week, and your refrigerator is covered in save-the-dates and wedding invitations?  I know I do.  To me, seasons like this are when I find it most difficult to keep my satisfaction steadfastly in the Lord in my singleness.

In all honesty, I am absolutely NOT ready to be walking down the aisle tomorrow!  My life is so full right now - God has given me deep friendships and community, and I have gotten to experience all kinds of stuff during my time in college so far.  No part of me legitimately wants to fast-forward this unique and exciting time in my life.  And yet, when I see so many people going on dates or falling in love, it is hard for me not to give into the temptation to believe that God is not doing what is best for me - that maybe being in a relationship would be better than the incredible season of singleness that I find myself in.  That thought process is completely my ugly pride.  How could I ever think even for a second that I might know more than the sovereign Creator of the universe?

2 Corinthians 10:5 comes in handy again here.  It commands us to "take every thought captive to obey Christ."  Every thought.  All of them.  It is normal for us to long for intimacy with a man.  (Although this will never be a substitute for intimacy with God.)  That is how we were created!  And when this season comes in the Lord's timing, it is AWESOME!  So we will definitely have thoughts from time to time of longing to be in a relationship!  When those thoughts come, we have a choice.  We can either choose to negatively dwell on our singleness and not be content in that.  Or we can set our minds on God and all the many blessings He has given us - how He is protecting us and growing us right now!  How He has given us ministry right now - we don't have to wait until some other stage of life to minister to people!  He longs to use us right now!  I promise you this: being used fully by the Lord always brings fullness of joy.

A practical way to fight our fleshly desire to be discontent is to make a list of the lies we are believing and then COMBAT THEM!  How do you combat a lie?  With truth!  We know that the Bible is 100% true, so it is our best weapon against lies!  When we believe lies about our singleness or anything else for that matter, we must turn to Scripture.

I like to make a list of the lies I'm believing and then write the truth from Scripture that combats those lies right next to it!  When they are right there next to each other, the truth wins every time.

What does waiting mean to you?

Okay, so I know this asked me what I personally think that waiting means, but I did some homework.  I wanted to look up the meaning of the Hebrew words that we translate as "wait."  I took this from an article on bible.org.

In the NASB the word most often translated "wait" in the sense of waiting on the Lord is the Hebrew qavah.  Qavah means (1) "to bind together" (perhaps by twisting strands as in making rope), (2) "look patiently," (3) "tarry or wait," and (4) "hope, expect, look eagerly."

The second most frequently used word translated "wait" is yachal.  Yachal means "to wait," or "hope, wait expectantly," and is so translated in our English Bibles.

What  sticks out to me in these definitions is the expectancy.  What does it mean to wait expectantly?  It's not this idea of sitting around in a doctor's office waiting for our name to finally be called so that we can accomplish the purpose of our visit.  It's more like when my parents would leave me at home as a child to clean my room while they went to the store.  I knew they were coming back!  I didn't waste any time (okay, sometimes I wasted time... but I shouldn't have!), I cleaned my room!  I wanted them to come home and find that I had accomplished the task they had given me.

As we wait for the Lord and for future seasons of our life, we need to be active.  To me, waiting is doing something now!  The things I'm doing now are preparing me for the future that I'm waiting for!

What advice/encouragement would you give to girls who are pursuing holiness in singleness and relationships?

Regardless of whether you're single or in a dating relationship, something I want to encourage women to do is continuously seek wisdom.  James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

How can you seek wisdom?  First and foremost, seek wisdom from Scripture.  The words in the Bible are inspired by and directly from God.  By spending time in the word, we grow in wisdom.  Secondly, I would encourage you to seek out wisdom from older women who are more mature believers and have experienced more life than you.  I'm not even twenty yet, so while I can tell you about things that God has revealed to me, I still have a ton to learn!  We can learn so much from older believers.  We see Timothy learning from Paul throughout the Old Testament.  Find someone who can give you mature perspective founded in truth!

Also, I want to encourage you to remember Ecclesiastes 1:9.  "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."  The hard things we go through are not unique.  Tons of your sisters are facing the same struggles - whether struggling to be joyful in singleness or facing difficulties and temptations in relationships, you are not alone!  God has named you His daughter and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart!  So keep on striving towards Him!

Two years ago: Homesick
Three years ago: Donate clothes to a shelter.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

7: Waste

My friend Sammy and I are undertaking Jen Hatmaker's 7 Experiment, a seven week fast from excess.  Our first week, we fasted by only eating seven foods.  Our second week, we only wore seven articles of clothing.  Our third week, we gave away possessions.  Last week, we fasted from seven forms of media (the hardest week by far!).

This week is a fast from waste. 

I struggled with whether or not I wanted to share anything at all about this week's fast.  I have been completely honest and open about the last four weeks, so I'm going to be transparent about this one as well, even though it may bring on a bunch of negative responses.

I'm not enthusiastic about this fast.  In fact, I'm a few days in and I'm still not sure how it's going to work.

Jen Hatmaker chose to fast by being proactively eco-friendly, such as only driving one car for a week, composting, buying locally, shopping thrift, and etc.  These things just don't work for a college student!  I only have one car already.  I have to take a test thirty minutes away in another town this week, so I can't give up my car.  Composting is unrealistic for my life.  I make very little money as a college student and have the schedule of a crazy person, so buying local/organic won't work well.  And finally, I just gave away half my clothes, so there is no need for me to shop from a thrift store!  Basically, this week is going to be complicated. 

Sammy and I chose to give up things that could harm the environment.  I am giving up paper towels, disposable plastic bottles, soda cans, plastic grocery bags, styrofoam cups, and sandwich baggies.  Sammy is replacing the last item on that list with washing all of her dishes by hand.  And our seventh thing will be to plant a garden together in Sam's backyard.

The thing is, we are Texas girls and college students.  We survive on fast food and efficiency.  While we love the earth God gave us and love the idea of having a garden and eating organically, going green isn't always an option for our lifestyles right now. 

This last weekend, we went to a Rice Festival that was a celebration of cajun food.  We'd been planning this trip for over a month, so we decided to shorten our fast to the week days, because there was no way to avoid styrofoam and paper towels at this festival if we were going to eat anything.

We're trying to stay motivated this week, but as another round of exams and all-nighters tumbles into our laps, we're already tending to cheat a little by choosing paper cups over styrofoam (because hey, they technically aren't bottle, styrofoam, or can, okay?) and napkins instead of paper towels.  My mom is out of the state for the next several days, so she is taking a break from the 7 Experiment altogether and will be re-joining next week.

I'm being honest here.  This is how we're skimping this week.  This fast simply hasn't convicted my heart yet like the others have.

Perhaps we haven't gone into this with the right mindset, and I'm reading 7 and its workbook and trying my best to understand the points Jen is making, but I just haven't gotten it so far.  While I hate the idea of oil spills and littering, I don't have a problem with using paper towels and sandwich bags.  I'm sorry, eco-friendly people.  I'm sorry.

So I'm asking the Lord to teach me something over the next four days, to break my heart for what breaks His, to change the aspects of my lifestyle that do not glorify Him, despite my lack of motivation and conviction.  His grace extends much further than my fickle emotions.

So we'll see.

If you have any ideas of how we could approach this fast differently, you are very welcome to discuss in the comments.  Be sure to remain respectful and kind in regards to the beliefs of others, green or not.

One year ago: A Taste of Encouragement
Two years ago: Creepiest Puppy Ever
Three years ago: Leave an encouraging Bible verse

Monday, October 7, 2013

Letters for Lavin: September

Every month of 2013, I am sending my sponsored daughter Lavin a letter and sharing it here on this blog.  I get so many emails and comments asking for ideas about what to write and send to your sponsored child.  Hopefully this can give you some ideas.

If you don't sponsor a child and are feeling a call on your heart to do so, check out Christian Relief Fund.  You can completely transform a child's life for $35 a month and continue to pursue a relationship and mentorship with them through letters.

This month, Lavin's letter was simple.  Her card was orange, which is the color of hope for AIDS orphans in the horn of Africa.

Inside the card, I wrote about:
  • Thanking Lavin for her letter!  I feel special when I know she received my letters.  I want her to have that same joy.
  • Encouragement for her to study.
  • I gave Lavin Scripture and promise verses for her to read.
  • I updated Lavin about my life and the classes I'm taking in school. 
  • I ended the letter with a few questions so Lavin can have ideas of what to write the next time she decides to compose a letter.
Inside the letter, I put:
  • Three photographs of me and my siblings (with names and ages on the back)
  • Hologram stickers
  • Two Silly Bands that represent my university

Notice that everything fits flat into the envelope.  This is very important to keep postage inexpensive.  Otherwise, your sponsorship organization may not be able to send the letter.

I know some of you sponsor young children.  In these cases, it's very difficult to know what to write because they are just learning to read and often don't understand a lot of English.  This month, I wrote to my sponsored son, David, who is four years old.  Here are some ideas for your letter.

I kept the front of the card simple, without words, and instead put an animal that David will know well: an elephant!

I kept the inside of the letter very simple, so that it'd be easy for the teacher delivering the letters to read to David if needed.  I even drew a little picture on the inside.

Inside the letter, I shared:
  • A picture with me and each of my siblings, with their names on the backs
  • A picture I took of David when I met him this summer!
  • "Football" stickers.  Kenyan kids love to play soccer. 

Have you written your sponsored child this month?

Two years ago: Jack the Mountain Goat
Three years ago: Donate $5 to charity.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Waging War (Seven Fast)

My friend Sammy and I are fasting from Media this week as part of The 7 Experiment Bible study by Jen Hatmaker.  While I did not post any blogs (nor check my comments or view count) for the entirety of the week, I did keep a daily journal.  Here are a few of my thoughts from Wednesday and Thursday.

Day 6: Wednesday

Dear adoption blogs, I miss you.  I read you diligently every day, even though I'm just a kid and still ages away from being legally allowed to adopt a child (Hey Em, you're turning 21 in less than two weeks... surprise!).  Regardless, your words of hope and familial love have warmed this lonely college student's heart.  I have only two more days to go without your adorable stories, insight into God's heart for the fatherless, and photographs of rainbowed families.

I went to a worship night tonight for my Life Group.  I led for half of it, but for the last bit, I got to sit back and listen to songs play sweetly from speakers across the room.  Songs I love, like "Sweetly Broken" by Jeremy Riddle and "Mighty Hand" by Jon Thurlow. 

While doing my Bible study, I read John 17:13-18, which says, "I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them.  I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified."

A quote from Jen Hatmaker about this passage that left me thinking hard was: "I grew up in a Christian culture that valued a sequestered worldview.  'In the world, not of the world' was the mantra that kept me separated from 'sinners,' isolated from complicated questions and quarantined with other believers.  ...A heavy emphasis on morality reduced my concept of discipleship into simple lists; do this and be esteemed, do that and be condemned.  ...I artfully skipped over the part where Jesus said, 'I am not praying that You take them out of the world. ...As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.'  I avoided this concept, preferring a protectionist view point, meaning pull out, detach, ignore, disengage, disconnect, wall it off.  ...But Jesus chose a different way to protect us: truth.  Evidently He deemed that enough to anchor us."  

I've grown up with this perspective.  A fast from media has many people expecting me to step back and say, "Now I see.  Media is of the flesh, not of the Lord.  Movies are bad.  Music is bad.  Facebook is bad."  And that simply is not true.  I'm fasting from media to refocus my heart on Christ, but media in itself is not sinful or wrong.  In fact, it is a resource that can be used for God-glorifying things.

Jesus didn't pray that we would leave this world.  He sent us into the world armed with truth.  And as I go out into the world, including the one of social media and internet, I want to be fully equipped with the truth of God's Word and the love of Christ.  Not naively boxed away into a Christian closet, but aware of the darkness and ready to fight against it with light. 

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus said, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  In the words of Jen Hatmaker, "Maybe remaining culturally savvy, sharp, and discerning, shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves is an advantage."  

Am I going to go immerse myself in pornography and listen to music riddled with degrading messages just because I'm a member of this world?  No.  1 Corinthians 10:23 says, "'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial.  'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive."

Am I going to intentionally become more aware of the hidden messages the media is throwing at me, like, "Everybody has sex.  You deserve to buy whatever you want.  Without friends, you are nothing."?  Yes.  I want to know the lies being slipped into those advertisements, materialistic messages, and even my classroom lectures so that I can stand against them with the truth of God's Word.  "The marriage bed should be kept pure.  Those who give to the poor will lack nothing.  Your name is inscribed upon the palm of His hand.  No other thing gives you worth."

It was a good day today.  I'm learning.
Day 7: Thursday 

I think I was tempted the most to cheat today, believe it or not.  The knowledge that the end of my media fast is coming up in ten hours, eight, six, four, has left my hands twitching near my computer, my brain murmuring, "Emily, it isn't that long until tomorrow.  7pm is practically midnight.  Go ahead and watch a show.  Go ahead and check your blog comments.  If a thousand years are like a day to God, then three hours must be like less than a millisecond."

Let me clarify: the point of my fast isn't ritual, legalism, cheating or not cheating.  The point is giving my word and sacrificing something to the Lord, saying, "I want to be uncomfortable for an entire week if it means worshiping You, focusing fully on You."  It's giving up something I thought I needed in reliance of the sustenance of my Father.  And He's been gentle with me this week, helping me to push past my silly temptations.

Out of the four weeks I've now fasted from excess in a row, the Lord has answered prayers the most clearly during this one.  Two specific prayers have been answered in the last few days.  I don't think it's because fasting from media is any more significant than the other fasts, which have all been transforming and challenging in varying ways.  But perhaps it's because I was the most frustrated this week, the most weary and desperate.  I've had to sit back and listen to the Lord in silence instead of fleeing to my own resources, and His calm voice is what I received instead of my usual accompanying noise.

I've been attacked viciously the last seven days.  Sleep has come sparsely.  I didn't sleep last night at all.  Not a wink.  As the alarm on my phone sprang to life at 6:30, I was still staring blankly at the wall.  Insomnia leads to exhaustion, which brings spiritual and emotional fatigue, not only physical weariness.  I'm most often attacked through anxiety, and I like to retreat from those feelings by escaping into movies and loud music and social media connections with my friends.

With all of that stripped bare this week, I was forced to face my anxiety, totter under sleeplessness and frustration, and finally collapse at the feet of God in utter desperation.  I'm tired.  I'm weak.  I can't do this on my own.  Not just the fasting from media, but taking care of me.

I like to cling to my own sense of control when I feel overwhelmed.  I like to think I used to struggle with these things and now I'm strong and independent, when in reality, it's a daily transformation to be more like Christ.  Jesus is gently loosening my grip on my self-centeredness and holding my trembling hands in His.

"You are Mine.  You are secure.  I will give you rest.  I will give you peace.  I'm giving you life to the fullest, Emily." 

As I end this week with only an hour and a half left to go before my fast is complete, I'm not left feeling a hatred or disgust for media.  Media is a tool that the Lord uses to connect people, to bring families closer together through shared photographs on Facebook and movie-watching experiences, to raise awareness about all sorts of issues, and to share His love.

How many times have I been truly blessed or challenged to be more like Christ through a blog, email, comment, or Facebook status?  More than I can count.  Media is a wonderful resource.

But media can be time-consuming and addictive.  It often projects false ideals and tempts its users to become inwardly-focused and hungry for constant digital interaction.  It leads people to covet (try looking for home design ideas on Pinterest, if you want to know what I mean), gossip, and fly into impulsive rages and arguments about silly things.  For me, media sometimes brings a weight of guilt when it shouldn't.  If I don't read and respond to every email or comment I get on my blog, if I'm not keeping up with what my friends say on social media, I feel bad.  I shouldn't feel obligated to keep up with media more than I do my face-to-face interactions.

There are good and bad sides to media consumption, just as I've also come to realize there are good and bad sides to food, clothing, and possessions.

The most important thing is placing the Lord first in my heart and allowing everything else to fall into place behind Him and people.  I want media to be a tool to grow nearer to my Creator, not a stumbling block that distracts my attention from Him.

As I finish this week, I'm meditating on 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, which says, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

I refuse to allow media use in my life to be an addiction, coping mechanism, or distraction from the Lord.  Instead, I pray that it will be a resource to help me demolish every pretense in my life that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and an encouragement as I work to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, online and off.

What has the Lord showed you this week?

One year ago: The Room
Two years ago: Plus-Sized Mannequins... or Not
Three years ago: Leave an encouraging note on the mirror.