From the Past

It was a little more than a year ago when I wrote this post on my personal blog. While I don’t write there much any more, this popped up in my memories recently. I find it a fitting thing to share as it is as true today as it was then. Each day offers so many opportunities. Some I take up with gusto and others that I choose to let slip away. It is a journey, a process always. 

~Rita

No Regrets


  
 There’s been this glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. The peek of which looks like I get enough sleep at night, and can wake and have quiet time before the girl announces, “It’s morning!” It’s a beautiful thing…. Except, that it is not always. There are still many nights where I do not get enough sleep for one …or four reasons. And though, my self discipline is improving, I still hit the snooze quite often.
On these mornings I confess, I am usually in a less than chipper mood. There’s something about that cheerful greeting on those mornings, which seem more akin to a rooster crowing at midnight than a sweet voice to welcome the day.  It’s not that I’m not a morning person. I really do love the morning. I love getting up early. But, I suppose I just like to do it at my own pace. You get that right?

Anyway, so this particular morning was one of the latter. I had barely crawled out of bed before her morning greeting. I had just cracked my Bible open and  took a breath, and there it was: “It’s Morning!” Thud. Her feet hit the floor, and the day was running.

I am now behind. If I’m honest, I was never really ahead. But now I am surely behind. Unable to keep up with all the requests and needs of the people in my care.
I find myself snapping and correcting in tones much harsher than I even want to deliver them. I see the wounded eyes. Those souls just wanted a gentle beginning to their day, just as I wanted a gentle beginning to mine.

I grab for my escape. Just a moment to recharge, and catch a breath. I announce, “I’m heading out to do chores.” I am met with a chorus of voices wanting to join me. Really?! Even after the absolute bear I’ve been they still want to be around me. I huff a sigh, and reroute my plans. Quickly grabbing breakfast orders and making each what they like. We rush through breakfast and into clothes and –Sorry ponies, your breakfast is going to be late.– We eventually all get out the door.

It hits me right about the moment I suck in that first breath of moist winter air that this is precisely what we all needed. They knew. I don’t know why I’m so slow to catch on? We need to be together outside every day. It just works for us. I often feel there just isn’t time. But, the reality is. There has always been time. Sometimes, I just choose not to take it.

My pondering’s lately have been on regrets. Reading things and hearing stories about what people regret, but also, about things that one will never regret. And the latter has me absolutely fascinated. You see, I don’t believe for one minute that anyone can live without regret. We can certainly learn to make peace with our regrets, but the fact is we all have them. What is interesting however, is that we all have the opportunity to do things that we will never regret. Sure I regret being grumpy with my children this morning. But, I will never regret playing outside with them today. I will never regret reading them that “one more,” story. I will never regret saying, “I’m sorry.” I will never regret sitting down and having that heart to heart about their, or my attitude. So, I’m wondering what would happen this year if I paid more attention, and sought to do the things I know we will never regret?

An interesting experiment, I think.

 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 21

Applying S.O.A.P. to God’s Word

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For some (myself included) studying the Bible can seem like a daunting task. There is so much to think about: context, theology, relevance for the original audience, relevance for us today, etc… It can be quite intimidating to think that we can not only read God’s word, but understand it and apply it to our lives.

Of course there are thousands of great resources out there to help us along our journey. But, again the intimidation factor weighs in. …and sometimes the time factor does too. For however much we love spending time with our Lord, we humans have a knack for over scheduling our days. This may not leave us a ton of time to dig deep into theological works or studies (And just so you know, I’m talking to myself here too.)

On the other hand perhaps it is not the depth of study or time that concerns you, it is the fact that you have gotten into a rut of sorts. Perhaps you’re in a season where study of the Word is more like a task on your check list of things to do. A time where the still small voice of the Holy Spirit seems more still than speaking… I’ve been there too.

The point is: whenever we seem a little lost when it comes to God’s word there might just be a few simple adjustments we can make.

The first suggestion is an easy one: find an online Study group. There are a bunch out there. I’ve been a part of several over the years and find them to be an awesome resource and encouragement. There is also a wealth of books on the market that vary in depth as well as subject. I don’t think I need to go into more detail on these as it is pretty easy to understand how they work.

For those of you who wish to study God’s word as he leads you, independent of a study guide. Yet not really knowing where to start or how to go about it; I can suggest a few things you may find helpful.

Pray. Pray that God would lead you in some area of study. If you are really bold, pray God would reveal something that he would like you to work on or an area in your life that needs adjustment. But, be warned – He will answer.

Another option is to just start at the beginning.  I currently am doing this. I love neat packaged studies as much as the next gal. But, right now I have this hunger to feast on Gods word. All of it. I want to know what the whole of Gods word says. I’ll be honest; for though I have read a lot of it, I haven’t read all of it. Especially the Old Testament. I mean it has Leviticus, and Numbers falls right after that! Sorry, those books have just always been a bit intimidating to me. See? The struggle is real.

But, what if you are not used to consuming great amounts of God’s word? It can be daunting can’t it? It can be hard to focus. Believe me I know. We as a culture are rewarded for our ability to multi-task. It is considered a great achievement. So, it does take some reprogramming of the mind and heart to simplify in this area. But, don’t we hunger for that? For a life that is simpler? Less chaotic? less noisy? I know I do. And the one place that I find this solace is in God’s word.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16

Without daily immersion in God’s word I believe we easily open ourselves to walking with a fractured connection to him.

So tip #1 Plan to read God’s word and put on the same level of importance as you do eating or brushing your teeth. It really needs to be high on the list of important things we do daily.

But, how do we study it? What if we have a hard time understanding it? What if you don’t have commentaries or a great library of resources at your fingertips?

Let’s talk about those resources for a minute. While commentaries are wonderful and someday I dream of having a whole library of amazing resources. You really can start without them and still learn and glean so much. Most of the time I use the same Study Bible I got as a high school graduation gift. Add a notebook and pen and I’m ready to get started.

I learned a couple of helpful acronyms a few years ago that help me with Bible Study. One is S.O.A.P. and the other is T.A.N. Used together these little prompts can enrich your study time and help with the focus and navigation of God’s word.

First S.O.A.P. This acronym stands for S-Scripture, O-Observation, A-Application and P-Prayer.

S-Scripture: The way this works, is first you read whatever passage of Scripture God has led you to. In this method you can choose short passages or whole chapters or books, it’s up to you. Just read. However, when a verse or passage speaks to you that is where you’ll stop. And by “speaks to you” I mean: sparks your interest, makes you curious, inspires, brings a question to mind, etc… These are the ways I believe God begins to speak with us through his word.

Next re-read that verse or passage and copy it down. This is important. I think there is something that happens when we write Gods word. I almost always see something I didn’t before.

O-Observation: As you are writing and reading the passage that you have written, this is where you begin to observe what God is saying. This is also where that other acronym T.A.N. comes into play. T.A.N. stands for: T – Then, A-Always, N-Now.

Now, I’m just going to go out on a limb and say something. I personally think one of the worst questions you can ask when reading Gods word is: “What does this mean to me?”
Honestly, I don’t really think it matters what the Bible “means to me.” What matters is, what is God really saying? So, using the T.A.N. acronym will help us in our observation of God’s word. So, here is where we ask: Who was this scripture for THEN? Who was the intended audience? If you have a Study Bible, the notes should be able to give you some sort of clue as to who this passage of scripture was originally intended for. Next, consider the ALWAYS. What is this passage of scriptures timeless message? And then Consider the NOW: how does this passage relate to our world today?
What you glean can be as short as a phrase or God may lead you into some deep observation, but it is important to write it down.

After we have spent some time in observation of a passage or verse, we can move onto the A-Application: This is where we glean from our observation of what God is saying through his word and apply it to our lives.  It might be simple and short or deep and thoughtful. This is where we record God’s movement in our heart. Try to write it down, especially if you are feeling the call to make some changes. Writing will help you with your accountability to let God work in your life.

Finally, P-Pray: Pray God’s word back to him. Pray about what you have been learning. Pray that God will show you more. Pray as God leads you. This is the only area that I say it is up to you to write it down. I sometimes find writing my prayers helpful, but sometimes I have so much to say or confess that I could fill volumes, so I don’t write everything I pray. Also, don’t forget to listen. Speak to God certainly, but at some point during your prayer time take a moment to be still. Let Him have a word edgewise. Let His peace fill your heart. Let Him guide you along the path.

Well, I hope you find these idea’s helpful. Most importantly know that it really doesn’t matter the method you use to study God’s word. What is important is that you pursue the study of it. God wants you to grow and mature in Him, we cannot do that if we are not feeding our souls on a regular bases.

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 6:32-35

~Rita

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More on the S.O.A.P method of Bible Study:
http://lovegodgreatly.com/lgg/how-to-soap/
http://www.soapstudy.com/

A New Year, New Habits

psalm-143-8

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Psalm 143:8

We are already a month into the new Year and you may have noticed that I took a little sabbatical in the month of January. Though, it was not because I lacked inspiration. I just felt the call to reorder a few things. And so that was what I worked on. The funny thing is God was hard at work re-ordering me and now I have a plethora of new lessons he has been teaching me that I can share with you.

But, let’s start here. How did your New Year’s go? Did you make any resolutions? And how are they going today? I know, I know, getting deep pretty fast.

If your like me, you might find your resolves waning a bit. I get it. February is a hard month. It’s hard to stay motivated to do anything in February, except maybe hibernate. Ha, ha.

I digress.

Here is where God has been dealing with me: We must remember that while goal setting is good and that living in the knowledge that God has offered us an abundant life here on earth, and that he wishes to bless us so that we can have joy –It really is nearly impossible to do so without HIM.

I personally made a resolve to read through the entire Bible. But, I’m going to do it a bit different than I have ever tried to so before.

My goal is rooted in the fact that to know God we must know what his word says. We need to truly internalize the fact that the whole of Gods word was written with purpose. That in order for us to walk closely to him, reading his word, meditating on it, memorizing it is truly is the best way to hear His voice.
So, this year I want to read every word of it. Or at least as much of it as I can in the next twelve months. But, rather than pick up one of those neat and tidy guides, that are all pretty in the package, but quick to overwhelm, I’m going to adopt a little bit more flexible approach.

 

First, I’m getting up in the morning. Though this has been my habit for a while, I want to encourage you to know of its value. I’m not saying that you have to study God’s word first thing in the morning, but I do believe it is vital that we make a plan for Bible study in the same way you make time for other tasks throughout the day. Do you brush your teeth everyday? What about that morning cup of Joe? Do you make it a point to arrive to work on time? Why do we make time and plan for these things? Because they are important for our health, sanity and livelihood, right? Well what if we gave God’s word the same relevance to our lives? What if we felt like we still had stinky morning breath if we missed him during the day, or had that brain fog like we would if we missed our morning coffee? God’s word really is an awesome way to start your day, or end it, wherever you need it to be. But, it must be without fail, one of those things we build in as a daily habit.

But, what if you just have that jam packed schedule that is already full to the brim? I know mine is most days. Some days I wake up late because the girls where playing that fun toddler/child game: Let’s see how many times I can wake Mommy before she snaps during the night (Please extend grace because I’m human too.) Hey, I get it. It happens. But, I hope those days will be the exception not the rule. We need to develop a hunger for Gods word just as we hunger for our meals. While snacks are fine, a nutrient dense meal is the only way to truly satisfy our bodies needs. Taking in little bites of Gods word through the day is fine, go ahead read that verse meme on Facebook, tune into that Christian Radios Station. But, don’t ignore the nourishment for your soul that comes from feasting long and deep in His word.

So, today I encourage you to open your Bible and read it. Wherever God is leading you. Next time, I’ll be sharing a few tips on how to study God’s word even if you don’t think your a great Theologian.

Blessings,

~Rita

 

Ba-Humbug

john-3-16

These days the Christmas season can bring a variety of “meanings” to the table. There is the commercialized Santa Claus out there distributing toys by the mountain to every “good” little girl and boy. There are the sales, and the commercials broadcasting abundance and the general idea that if you don’t have “X” you will be incomplete somehow. There is also this underlying disdain I have noticed – even among Christians – that because of the greed and commercialism maybe Christmas isn’t so important after all.

Another portion of the population would like Christmas to move away from the commercial and Christian emphasis back to it’s pagan roots as a Winter solstice celebration.

So, it’s no wonder some say, “Ba-humbug.

But what really is the “right” way to view the season? What should we do?

I’m going to be honest, I’m not really sure. How we observe and celebrate Christmas is something my family and I are working on and walking out.

But, here is something that has helped.

Opening Gods Word.

God Chose a young girl to bear His son. The Son who created the world and was with God and was God,* would leave heaven and come to all the squalor of the earth. He would walk with the lowest of the low, he would speak truth into hearts and he would draw on his breath life and hope and joy and peace. None of which were found in a physical item. None of which could be bought with any amount of money.

He just came.

He came to a poor family and watched them do the best they could to live and even save his life. He watched them marvel at how God provided for the deepest needs. He grew as boys do. He learned as children learn, he worked as men worked, he served as and example for us all.

But first he was born to fulfill the promise made long ago. When man and woman took the perfect fellowship they had with God and broke it.

We have observed Advent at our house. Not perfectly. Not religiously. But in reverence and remembrance that we need a savior. If we are to have any hope or any joy. If we are to truly love others, if we are to have any peace. We need more than what is within us. We need a Savior. The savior that took on our flesh, walked in our shoes and paid the price for our own wretched ways.

I think it was fitting that Jesus was born in the family of a carpenter. Not only can a carpenter craft some amazing and useful things, He also know’s how to fix things.

Jesus.

He came. He fulfilled a promise. He restored what was broken. And he did it because he loves us.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

~Rita

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*

John 1:1-4
John 3:16

Finding Joy

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Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;

I can’t sing a lick! It’s just a fact. But, I also love Christmas Carols. So, chances are if you are next to me in church, or hanging in my kitchen this time of year you might think that some strange creature is howling at the moon right next to you, only to realize I’m singing (Ha!)
Also, there is just never the proper punctuation to convey a joke in written form.
Oh well, I digress.

As you can tell, I’m feeling a little jovial this morning. It’s one of those things that happens when I wake up and see that beautiful (even if it is tipping a bit to the east) Christmas Tree.

My memories of hunting the perfect Christmas tree goes back a long way. Back to the days when I was growing up in North Idaho, where our Christmas tree farm was comprised of the better part of a mountainside. Here in the Midwest we actually have farms for Christmas trees, which has always made me chuckle.

Still the memories are fond: Driving up some perilous two-track in the family’s rear-wheel drive car. Trekking through thigh-deep snow looking for that perfect tree, only to catch a glimpse of the expression on my dad’s face change from happy tree hunter, to ax/saw wielding maniac! My sister and I frantically trying to run through the deep snow as he chased us.

This is no joke. This was my family’s tradition until we moved to the Midwest when I was in high school. Ahh, good times.

And so, to the great trepidation of my Midwest born husband, whom I might add, had a family tradition that included a fake tree most of his life.(Please note: this is not a judgement if you choose a fake tree. I’m just stating a fact. ) Yeah on that first year we were married, I insisted we hunt a real tree.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a Christmas tree.” He wondered.

Just a tree? How could he say it was just a tree? 

We scouted out a local tree farm. For real. Still so odd to me even twelve years later.

What we brought home was a 10 foot Blue Spruce. What transpired next? Well… we proceeded to have our first real fight as a newlywed couple.

I’m not even kidding. That tree almost caused us to renounce our marriage vows, right there on the spot! 

Let’s just say my husband did not appreciate the whole process of slogging through the cold and slush while having his bride carefully inspect every. single. tree.
I knew what I was looking for.  It had to be that perfect cross of Christmas Card Perfect with a touch of Charlie Brown. You get that, right?

I did find it. All 10 feet of it. And of course I would pick one of the prickliest trees in all of Gods creation. We wrestled it into the back of the truck and headed home. Then the thing wouldn’t fit on the stand we had, so we had to get a bigger one. Then there was the matter of getting into the house, and still it wouldn’t stand on its own. Somewhere from under that tree came a lot of words not fit for repeating. Above, I began to resent my insistence on the whole idea. We snapped and we snarled at one another. And just like that this tree had gone from a joyful symbol of  the season, Gods grace, and fond childhood memories, to a symbol of life’s trials.

Sure we can look back at this story and laugh, …now. It honestly wasn’t a bit funny on that day. But, it just goes to show just how easily, how quickly we can let our joy be snatched away. What started as a beautiful continuing of a tradition, and the start of a new tradition, quickly became a trap, and a snare.

I feel like John 10:10 has been a recurring theme this holiday season. It seems like, these days it is harder to hang on to joy. It is harder to feel grateful, it is harder to be happy.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life,
and have it to the full.
John 10:10

It feels like there is a very real thief prowling about looking for those still small, joyful moments and working quickly and often quietly to snatch them away. Gone, is the joy and the peace that we so carelessly flaunted a few moments ago.

But, here is the the thing. This “thief?” He has no right to your Joy. He has no right to your Peace.

That baby in the manger, came to bring “Joy to the World*,” he came to give you peace.* He came that you might have an abundant life.  Life filled with plenty. Not plenty of things. Not a perfect life, or life that would not see sorrow. But, he came that you would have plenty of life. He came so that you could have Eternal Life.*

It’s one of those big picture things.  And when we have our eyes on the big picture, the whole thing is beautiful isn’t it? When we have our eye on Him, there is a whole abundance of Joy isn’t there? But, still we know the big picture is made up of millions of little brush strokes. And some of those brush strokes land wrong, and some don’t follow the line we planned and some… Well, sometimes we think because of those wrong strokes the whole thing is trash.

If I’m honest. It is hard for me to have joy in the little moments. In the moments when the house will never stay clean, when the car is on it’s last leg, when the job is too hard, when the money is too tight, when there is want and suffering and pain and heartache in the world. When I feel I can change nothing. When I am stuck in pajama’s because there was no time to breath today, let alone get a shower.

Joy sometimes seems a distant memory. Joy is sometimes too far away to even hope to grasp. Joy get’s stolen right out from under my nose.

Ann Voskamp did a piece on this 3rd week of Advent. She spoke of Joy being like a woman in labor. She shared John 16:20-22

 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:20-22

It was such a poignant reminder to me that Joy will come. Even in the moment of struggle, when we think the pain is more than we can bear, Joy. will. come. It already has, and it surly will come again, because HE came, and He is coming. Hallelujah!!! 

May The LORD of Hosts fill you with his joy today. 
God Bless,

~Rita

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*

John 10:10
Luke 2:10-14
John 14:27
John 3:16
John 16:20-22

Peace

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As the second week of Advent wraps up, I feel the war amp up. The enemy of our souls is bent on pulling us away from every thing, and the One that offers us peace.

I think I’ve written a fair amount about my struggle with worry, and you might think that by now I should be the most peaceful, put together person. Yeah… hate to burst your bubble, (and I’m glad to bring you comfort)  with the knowledge that I’m still a work in progress in this area.

This past year has been a mentally taxing one. If we were to consider only the news headlines, you could probably agree there is a real war on peace out there. Then you add personal stresses like: family relationships, raising kids, finances, job stress, not having a job stress… Marriage, the list could go on and on. We struggle and we worry. And before we know it, our peace? That’s out the window.

John 14:27 is posted on the bulletin board above my desk, it says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

Can I confess something? That verse has been posted above my desk for more than a year. But I don’t see it that often anymore. I mean I know it’s there, but I kinda take it for granted. At least I did until a few days ago, when a friend asked me about it.

This friend happens to be going through a rough time. And she commented that this verse was a good reminder for her. As, we chatted, my thoughts filled with the memories of life when I had found that verse. How it felt like Christ himself was whispering these words directly to me. I remembered that in a time where I felt very distinctly caught in a whirlwind of worry and trial, and trouble how these words, His words, calmed the storm around me and all was absolutely still.

Absolutely still, quiet, and calm.

I remembered how I clung to this verse, said it over and over. I did everything I could do, to grasp the peace Christ said he had already given me.

You should know that, my problems didn’t go away, because I read a verse. No. They were still there as large as life. What changed is who was in charge of them.

I have to think that when we own our worry. When we are the ones trying to figure it all out. We are trying to be god in our worry. But, when we let God be God over our troubles, well, then there is nothing that can worry us.

Mary.

She was just a girl who lived in a culture where purity before marriage was very important. And an Angel shows up at her house, greets her, and says:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Luke 1:30-33

Well, that must of been a lot of information to take in.
I mean, I totally get why God didn’t pick me for the job. But, Mary? What was different about her? I think her response says it all.

 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Did you catch the exclamation point there. (!) An exclamation is a statement of sudden or strong feeling. She was strongly stating that her very body, mind and soul were the Lords. For him to use as he saw fit. No, if’s, and’s or but’s. She was Gods.

Of course this is easier said than done in our own lives. In fact as I contemplated writing about peace, don’t you know the enemy ramped up his efforts to steal mine! Yep, but he doesn’t win. You see, if there has been one thing that I have learned over this last year, it is that perspective is everything when you are looking for peace. If we can say, we are the Lords, if we cling to the truths that He is the Prince of Peace. If we can choose to trust rather than take on the problems, If we let Christ be our root and our foundation. There is nothing that can shake us.
And during a season where we feel like things are spinning faster and faster and the demands become increasingly great. We can focus our eyes on the one who speaks to the storm and we can walk to him and live in his peace.

Peace be to you all.

~Rita