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