Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rethink your New Year's Resolutions

For our fifth wedding anniversary on December 28th, Ryan surprised me with a night's stay at the Blue Lantern Inn--in the same room where we stayed on our wedding night. It was so relaxing and wonderful. I felt like I got to see my husband for uninterrupted, precious time, away from phones, e-mail, blogs and a little distraction called Carter. We had dinner at the Charthouse, walked in the harbor and spent much of the time discussing and writing our annual marriage goals.

Now, when I say goals, I am not talking about your typical New Year's Day goals of which the world speaks. Since we got married, Ryan and I meet together on our anniversary weekend to do annual goals. He will be training other couples in this practice at an upcoming Thrive night, and I cannot stress the benefit we have seen in our own marriage.

We started the session by telling one another what the other did well in 2007. I encouraged Ryan that he is a godly dad with Carter, he is a wonderful provider, he is responsible and organized with our budgets and finances, he is doing a wonderful job serving the church body by co-leading Thrive, he is amazing at encouraging me, he has done a fantastic job at getting home earlier from work and balancing the two worlds of work and family, he has been a gardener extraordinaire at our home each week, he is much better at bringing up issues or discussions at ideal times, and he is doing a wonderful job at planning dates and trips for our family. After we read our list of encouragment, we have a safe time to offer some ways in which the other person has an opportunity to improve or grow. For example, I can work on organizing piles around the house and not getting defensive when Ryan wants to help me find places for things that are sitting around the house. This time is convicting (as you know your spouse is right on the mark), but it always is such a blessing to us both. Issues are brought up lovingly and at an appropriate time, and we really think about what the BIG issues are to us when we make our list--tending to those weeds that might creep into our marriage.

After this time, we make goals as a couple (about 10) and goals as individuals (about 10 each). The goals cover our walk with God and spiritual growth, our marriage, our finances, our home and personal "other." For example, my goals for this year are to memorize at least 10 more verses, along with reviewing and knowing my last 20. In addition, I need to quickly recall the Old Testament books in order (those minor prophets always get me). I will do learning time with Carter for 30 minutes, three times a week (one on one, focused learning time for Bible teaching, letters, numbers, art, fine motor, etc.). And the list goes on . . .

We then end the session, which takes a full day, so we break it up into chunks and take breaks, by going over our finances and budget for the year. This helps me plan grocery shopping, budgeting for clothes or home stuff, etc.

What is most important in our goals, which we discussed this year, is the flexibility of our goals to allow for God's leading and will. We might plan to take a trip to such and such place in May, but God might have us all sick that week. I don't plan on leading a Women's Bible study small group next year, as I imagine I'll be in bed sick for months if we get pregnant later in the year. However, God has every ability to give us a smooth pregnancy, and I could lead a small group again next year. Our finances might currently set a particular budget, but Ryan could lose his job or get transferred to Kentucky, and then we'd be back at square one. It is fine and, I believe, responsible to plan, but we must be open to God's leading and be holding on loosely to dreams and goals.

Have you made any New Year's goals? I highly recommend meeting as a couple and communicating about these issues. Have your husband lead the discussion and goal setting. It is such a blessing to be in Biblical roles when planning for your family in the year to come. Ultimately, however, hand it all over to God and let His will be done. He will change some of your plans, and He will exceed your expectations in other areas. The blessing is knowing that He has the final say and His sovereignty is filled with holiness, mercy, grace and love. Let trusting God in your goals be number one on your list this year!

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good
crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns
and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And
I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take
life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool!
This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you
have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who
stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Five Years

I love my husband. He is such a joy in my life. When I was looking for God to send me my future husband, I had a list of ideals in my head. Ryan is better than any man I had determined in my imagination.

December 28th is our anniversary. We were married five years ago. I had always wanted to get married near Christmas, with evergreens all around, twinkle lights in all the trees, and red (my favorite color) decorating everything. My affinity for Christmastime led to some issues--a very stressful December, high priced floral arrangements, and a difficult time finding an inside venue for up to 200 people.

However, my memories are not of all the difficulties. I remember how Ryan and I both were shaking with emotion in the church, the glow of the little chapel we chose in which to get married, how sweet he was in helping with all the details, and the absolute joy I felt on the day he graciously became my husband. He and I both were looking to face a "hard first year", as people warned us, but we never really did. We had adjustments to make, but perhaps getting married at 28 and 29 years old had prepared us for some bumps in the road. Having the Lord as the foundation of our marriage has kept the tempests or trials from causing too much harm.

The past five years have been a true, wonderful answer to my prayers. We have enjoyed traveling all over Europe, the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. We have nested in our first house and made our home a place we love to be. We have been blessed with a little boy who is so much like his father, and I am so glad! May he grow up to be as loving, honest and thoughtful as his dad. We have been very involved in attending and serving in our church body, and I have loved every minute of watching Ryan lead and grow in his relationship with God.

God is so very good! I know that every blessing is from above (James 1:17), so the wonderful husband that I have is a gift from my loving Heavenly Father. Thank you Lord for Ryan and all the events you have placed in his life to make him the man he is today. May I never take this gift for granted and may I always submit to both him and You. Happy anniversary, Ryan! You are an amazing husband, and I love you tremendously.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the Fourth Day of Christmas . . .

This year we had four days of Christmas! Saturday, we got together with my sisters, their families, and my parents for gifts, pot roast, and a great kickoff to family get togethers. The cousins all piled on my parents' bed to watch movies and relax. Carter's highlight was getting a bike--he can't even reach the pedals. He loves the fact he has a bike, though!

Sunday, we went to church, and then we went to Ryan's extended family celebration to have ham, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole and more gifts. We had a nice time seeing all the aunts, uncles, cousins and Happy. Carter and Ivy had fun being as silly as they could for their "audience."
Monday, we went to Christmas Eve services at church and then went to Ryan's mom's to open gifts with his immediate family and have prime rib. This was a fun evening, as we did kid dinner and gifts first and then put Ivy, Carter and Gabe to bed. We were able to have an unrushed, adult conversation dinner and then open our presents without meltdowns, accidents or whining. It was wonderful! Carter loved the baseball toy he got, but his two train track sets are his current obsession. He gets down on his tummy, face in his hands, and just watches the train (or "choo choo") go round and round. He also narrates what the train is doing, "down, tunnel, up, whoa," etc.
Christmas morning, Ryan and I realized that Carter has his meltdown on the fourth day of Christmas. He was grumpy, tired and not into presents anymore. Luckily, we bought very little for him, as he is blessed by all his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. He took a long nap after we opened a few presents and enjoyed homemade cinnamon rolls. Then, we had a neighbor and both of his grandparents (our parents) over for Mexican food and a mellow ending to our family get togethers. Carter slept over 12 hours that night, and I figure it will take a few days to recover from our four day whirlwind.

Christmas was wonderful, but, as every year, I realize the presents mean figuring out storage, food means buckling down on a New Year's diet, and so many family meetings mean tired individuals after four days of visiting. It is refreshing to know our true reason for celebrating brings nothing but joy and hope for Christians. Thank you Lord Jesus for the gift of salvation you bring! I pray you all had a joyous Christmas in Christ!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joy to the World

Psalm 98
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

If I have a moment in the day, I like to read newspaper editorials. I believe it is mainly to jolt myself out of my complacent attitude and to remind myself how most people in the world do not truly have Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They possess no truth and have relativistic thinking as their only compass.

Such was my experience in light of reading the Register today. A columnist had entitled his column, "Christmas is what we want to make of it." Right away, I knew I had found a goldmine of worldly lies and misplaced hope. The article had quotes such as, "After all, in America the Christmas holiday is whatever we want to make of it", "Nobody owns Christmas--and how we choose to celebrate it shouldn't offend anyone else just because they choose to do it differently, or not at all", or "We can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or revel in Santas and reindeers, or simply enjoy a quiet day off from work, or any combination thereof."

All of these points are enough off the mark of Biblical truth to elicit a reaction, but I was left extremely sad when I finished reading the article. What prompted my despair was, in his attempt to encourage those experiencing loss or sadness this December, his hope and advice was this, "I hope that the memories of joyous Christmases past, and the hope for joyous Christmases in the future, will give you comfort in this Christmas present." To him, joy can be grasped at by finding memories of happiness or uncertain futures of possible happiness to get us through the present. This was depressing!

In the face of this article, I was reading a book that tells the history of hymns and carols. The song Joy to the World was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts. He took the 98th Psalm in the Bible and used this as his inspiration. This song has survived nearly three hundred years to tell us that true happiness and joy is that the Lord is come! He is our King and Savior, who humbled Himself to live a perfect life for us and who died to pay the penalty of Christians' sins. Because of this, we know our futures are secure in a perfect, eternal place with Christ and our Heavenly Father.
"Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let earth receive her
King. Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav'n and nature sing, And
heav'n and nature sing, And heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns: Let men their songs
employ, While fields and floods, Rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding
joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He
comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found. Far as the
curse is found, Far as, Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the
glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,
and wonders, and wonders of His love."
This is true joy--a joy that transcends circumstances and memories. It is realizing that Christmas is NOT what WE make it. Thank goodness! It is joy because of Jesus Christ coming for us so many years ago. God made Christmas and will continue to be faithful to His promises. People might find comfort in their autonomy and ability to choose Santa over Jesus, but this is a fleeting struggle for happiness. To my dear friends and family, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, joy to you for our Lord is come!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finding Meaning in some Traditions

With Christmas just a week away, I was wondering about some of the history of our culture's Christmas traditions. Many of the secular traditions have pagan origins, but the church has added some of their own meanings along the way. Here are some traditions I researched, but please let us know if you are aware of more detail or information. Merry X-Mas everyone! (You'll read why I say X-Mas below) . . .

The wreath--Pagans began using wreaths on the head to symbolize victory, such as in the Greek Olympics. However, Christians have come to see the wreath as a perfect symbol of our eternal God. (The circle never begins or ends). It is also adaptable to say, using the victory analogy, that the final, ultimate victor is Christ.

The Candy Cane--This has no pagan origin. It was created with Christian meaning when it began. The shepherd hook shape represents Christ, our Good Shepherd (I Peter 5:4). The candy is hard because God is our rock. (I Cor. 10:4) There are 3 stripes in a traditional candy cane, which stands for the Trinity. The stripes represent the lashes and pain Christ received before He was crucified. The largest stripe is red, standing for the blood He shed for our sins. (Ephesians 1:7) The white stripe shows us that Christ was spotless and washes away our sin when we place Him as Lord of our lives. (2 Cor. 5:21) The Peppermint flavor relates to the herb hyssop, which is from the Psalms verse about being washed clean with hyssop. (Psalm 51:7)

The Christmas Tree--This definitely has pagan beginnings--the early Germanic tribes worshipped their gods of nature, such as the tree. However, there are several legends of redeeming this tradition. It is said that Saint Boniface was trying to convert these tribes to Christianity and saw them worshipping an oak tree. He cut it down and later a fir tree sprouted. Boniface used the triangle shape of the fir tree to teach the pagans the concept of the Trinity of God.

It is also said that Martin Luther was one of the first to place a tree with "lights" (candles) in his home, in order to represent the beauty of the star-studded sky on the Christmas Eve when Jesus was born. People place an angel or star on the top of their tree to represent the nativity story. Also, it became popular to put apples on the tree at one point in Puritan history, in order to represent the Garden of Eden and remind ourselves of our fall from grace.

Christmas Cards--These began first by a British Postal worker named Sir Henry Cole. He had an artist depict 3 scenes on a card. In the middle was a family together at a feast/dinner at home. The right side picture was of the needy being clothed. The left side of the picture was of the hungry being fed. He even included the famous "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" on his first card.

Stockings--The beginnings of these are deep in folklore and probably started as a pagan tradition to get blessings from the gods. (In shoes left out at night). The stockings idea began in the 3rd or 4th century when Saint Nicholas, a bishop, used to make anonymous gifts to people all the time. He was traveling in the Caspian Sea area where a widower had 3 daughters. They were poor and had no dowry, so they were not going to be able to marry. It is said he gave them an anonymous gift at night by placing "gifts" in their stockings, which were drying by the chimney.

Santa (Saint Nick)--Santa isn't a completely forbidden word in our home, but we are not teaching our boys that Santa Claus is real. We want to focus on Jesus. However, we do teach our boys about Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop/pastor during the 3rd and 4th century.  We tell our boys that people who don't have Jesus as Lord have to attribute characteristics of love and generosity to something, so they focus on a man named Santa Claus, rather than God.

Here are some facts about Saint Nicholas, the bishop from whom Santa comes. He was extremely generous and loved Christ in word and action.  There is a great sermon on him from our pastor with many details.  You can listen to the message here:
Over the years, humans have elevated a sinful man (just like all of us) in a way that is much like an idol. As I stated, Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the 3rd and 4th century. He was very generous and gave many anonymous gifts. He became very famous and legend built up around him.
Certain churches claimed he stopped a storm on the ocean (sound familiar of Christ?) and became a patron saint of sailors. He also was said to have brought 3 young boys back to life, 7 years after they had been murdered and cut into pieces. Thus, he became the patron saint of children too. His death in December and the celebration and remembrance of him got mixed in with Christ's Mass in the Catholic church. Thus, Christmas all became intertwined with St. Nicholas Day and Jesus. Voila! There you have it.
We, as Christians focused on Biblical truths, choose to expose the folklore as false and celebrate the real man who lived in service to Christ and loving others with generosity.  His life points to Christ's example, which is the REAL deal!

X-Mas--People might cringe at this saying, thinking modern, liberal people are trying to replace Christ and make it neutral. They might be, but little do they know that the early Christian church used the Greek symbol X (chi) to represent the name Christ. So, this gives you an opportunity to explain this 2,000 year old tradition to the next person who says or writes this to you! They might be shocked!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blue Christmas

This year particularly, it seems some friends of ours have hit deep valleys and trials in their lives. It is especially painful to face such dark times in the blaring lightheartedness and merriment of Christmas--parents dying, children being called to heaven, terminal diseases and other big hurts in our earthly pilgrimages. Family and friends expect a smile, cheer and the usual joy that surrounds the holiday. It is difficult.

Ryan and I were doing our Bible study together before bed two nights ago and the topic was on suffering during the Christmas season. Though it is a call for celebration that Christ came to redeem Christians, the passage of Isaiah 53 reminds us that it was also a solemn occasion. Jesus left His glory to begin a life of suffering and pain. He understands the difficulties that people face in life. This passage in Isaiah says,

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his
appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was
despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed
him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was
pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed
and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to
the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did
not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and
judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he
was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people
he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the
Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes
his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will
see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous
servant will justify many,
and he will bear their
iniquities." Isaiah 53: 2-11

It is comforting to know that God is with you in trials, but it is even more reassuring for those in pain that Christ is personally familiar with such extreme sorrow. He understands. What is most amazing is that He faced these difficulties not as a result of life's circumstances, but by choice and submission to God the Father's will. This year I have greatly enjoyed Bebo Norman's new Christmas CD. The song "Born to Die" is speaking to me powerfully, as it touches upon Christ's sacrifice from the moment of His birth.

If you are experiencing a blue Christmas this year, read Isaiah 53 and cling to Christ's work and suffering for you. His pain brings Christians hope, redemption, life and a promise of heaven. This is how we can find joy and peace in the midst of a blue Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Unexpected Pause

This past week, I have been busier than I can remember. No, I was not out buying presents, decorating the house or running from Christmas event to Christmas event. I was doing insane amounts of laundry, fetching popsicles, searching for blankets, scrubbing bathrooms, making soup, and heating and re-heating the hotpad for your back. Yes, our house was struck by the stomach flu. Carter began the adventure on Monday night, and Ryan followed course at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. God graciously spared me, and I was able to tend to my poor, terribly sick guys.

Through this detour in the Christmas season, we have neglected the advent calendar, not wrapped any gifts and have had to decline our attendance at several Christmas events that happened over the course of the week. Though this was a disappointment at times, it was also refreshing to step back from the flurry of December and focus on God and our family. We were forced to step back from my list of "December must do's" and pray for health and give thanks for foundational blessings such as God's provision, the power of prayer and our ability to approach God, and the amazing, ultimate blessing of salvation. Though we all fought tears and exhaustion this week, God gave us a gift of refocusing us and putting us back on the proper path of gazing on Him and realizing the simple blessings--such as health--that we so often take for granted.

Hopefully it won't take the stomach flu to focus your family on God and each other. Amidst all the decorating, baking and shopping, schedule time to continue Thanksgiving--for God's goodness, provision and the blessing of family.

James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spotlight on Jesus

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11

I recently read an article in the paper about a woman who was "sidelining" Christmas this year. She grew up a Catholic/Buddhist due to the mixed religions of her parents, and she believed that the ideas of Santa and gifts (what she considers the "Christian" aspect) aren't as noble as the mission of Buddhists at this time of year--peace on earth/general goodwill for mankind. Therefore, she wasn't celebrating Christmas with the commercial trees, gifts, etc. She was going to celebrate family and friends on Christmas Eve by just being together. My heart was just aching as I read this story, because she was missing the foundation for Christmas. She was comparing two man-made and human-focused ideas and seeing which measured better on her "moral" scale. She didn't even mention Jesus Christ and the hope He brings to mankind.

As true Christians and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, this season of the year should not be merely the worldly celebration of Santa Claus, parties, lights, cards, cookies, trees, and gifts. There is nothing wrong with having these be a PART of your Christmas, but the world should see that we have a more noble cause to celebrate. A more prominent focus should be our SAVIOR, who came to earth in the form of a human so that He could live a perfect life for us, could be a perfect sacrifice in place of us to pay for the punishment of OUR sins, and could rise to life again to conquer death for us and ensure the hope of our eternal life with God in Heaven.

As Carter is getting older, I want to make sure this message is crystal clear to him. We have received two invitations to birthday parties for Jesus this December. I am impressed at the creative way my friends are pushing Jesus to the forefront of Christmas in their homes. Ryan and I want to also take the focus off US and OUR enjoyment. We are trying to think of ways to serve others and to point to Christ. Instead of toys or chocolates, Ryan put scripture focusing on Jesus in our advent calendar doors. We are scaling back on the gifts we are giving among the three of us, and we are giving Christ-focused Christmas CD's we burned to all of our neighbors. My Bible study co-leader had a great idea of buying Feed the Children donations and letting our small group know we all are paying to feed two children this year in lieu of our Christmas gifts we would normally buy for the group. In our Thrive group, we are sending care packages to soldiers who are family members of Thrive attendees. In addition, Pastor Dale is letting us know some families within our church that we can bless with donations, food, gifts and scripture this Christmas.

With all this, I still worry that the worldly focus of Christmas will overtake our true celebration. I know how creative you all can be. I'd love to hear how you put a spotlight on Jesus at Christmastime when you were growing up, in your family now, or in church activities. Are there any traditions you would like to start that you haven't put into practice quite yet? The true joy of this season belongs to Christians. Give praise and thanks. Our Lord has Come!

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

Monday, November 26, 2007

Representing Christ

"But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." James 2: 18

I was out to a brunch with my mom and Carter recently. As we left, a man held the door open for us all, and Carter rushed out mumbling something that sounded very similar to, "scuz me". I dismissed it right away as a coincidence, but my mom asked, "When did he start saying, 'excuse me'?" I started to pay more attention to this phrase when I heard Carter say it. Indeed, when he goes through a crowded doorway or squeezes by something tight, he says, "excuse me." He was saying it to the dishwasher the other evening, as he squeezed between the dishwasher's open door and the kitchen island. The odd part of this phenomenon is that I NEVER have intentionally taught Carter to say excuse me. I have mentioned it occasionally when he burps in public, but he still doesn't repeat it on those occasions. This led me to realize that Carter learned this phrase through modeling and my example.

Before anyone pats me on the back, however, I have to confess that my "excuse me" phrases are usually said with a drip of sarcasm and impatience whenever anyone is blocking the middle of an aisle with a shopping cart or their bodies. It is my "nice" way of reminding them they are blocking everyone trying to get through. Carter doesn't know this, luckily, and he is using it correctly--asking people to excuse HIM.

Panic set in as I realized the power my actions had on this little boy I constantly have next to me. He sees me groan in frustration at traffic, he sees me laugh at funny stories, he sees me singing praise songs to Jesus, he watches me pray with gratitude to God for blessings throughout the day and he sees me roll my eyes when I am not being loving. Everything I do is soaking into his thoughts and behavior. If I truly realize the depth of this responsibility, I would be on my knees, asking God to strengthen my fight against sin and to increase my desires and modeling of righteousness.

The truth is that we all have eyes and ears absorbing our every action and word. We often forget the influence we claim over others, but we represent Christ to the world. Our co-workers hear us gossiping or encouraging. Family members see us pouting in anger or hugging in forgiveness. Members at our church see us serving the body of Christ or hear us making another excuse as to why our needs take priority over those of the people at church. Our neighbors see us smile and wave with sincerity, perhaps even taking time to converse; or they see us quickly usher our kids into the house as we close the garage door. Our actions demonstrate Christ to others, and they are watching.

It took a 20 month old boy learning a habit of mine to remind me that I influence the actions, words and thoughts of others. I can use this influence in a positive, godly way, or I can let sinful actions taint all my efforts to point to Christ. Who do you influence on a regular basis? Are you representing our holy Christ well or are you conforming to the patterns of a sinful world? Start fresh today and model the righteousness of Christ in your own life! People may come to know our Savior through the words and actions you demonstrate.

"We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:20

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Encourage one Another (I Thessalonians 5:11): Rose White and Roberta Cleary

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Once a week or so, I have been trying to encourage people in my life. I use the call of I Thessalonians 5:11 as my motivation, and it has been such a joy and powerful tool--more so than I could ever have imagined. Today's recipients are both working side by side in the classroom hallways of our church. If you have young children and you attend Compass Bible Church, you have been blessed by Rose White and/or Roberta Cleary. Under the talented direction of our Children's Ministry Director, Susan Grover, they cordinate the children's ministries for the early childhood and elementary age children.

What you may not realize is the stress and joy that comes with participating in children's ministries. Having taught elementary school for nine years, I am well aware that working with kids means not only training the hearts of little ones, it means working with fellow teachers, supervisors, and parents. It is not always a job that gives you thanks in equality to your efforts and energy, but it is a job in which you are greatly affecting the lives and hearts of others.

Rose and Roberta work tirelessly to do their job well because they know through it, they are loving the church body and serving our Heavenly Father in every phone call they take, every diaper they change and every baby they hold. "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:16

Our family has personally been blessed by both of these ladies. We met Rose a few years ago, when she and her husband, Jeff, were a mentor couple in our marriage Bible study. Immediately, I was impressed with Rose's honesty, openness and willingness to discuss real struggles and trials. Ryan and I just loved working with the Whites, so I was ecstatic when Rose took the job as early childhood coordinator for the church. I knew our 19 month old son would be in good care, and I knew that, as a volunteer in the nursery, I would be interacting with a caring and loving sister-in-Christ. As expected, Rose always returns e-mails, always stops by the classroom to make sure I am doing well, always responds to requests and always does her job with every bit of energy she can. She thinks of her own sacrifices rarely, and her thoughts are constantly on the needs of the kids and the volunteers in the classrooms. In all she does, she is humble and always points to the Lord in her efforts and achievements.

Our family met Roberta when we had our son, Carter. Roberta originally had Rose's job (and did an amazing job as well) and more, but as our church has grown, she has moved to the more specific role as our elementary age coordinator. What strikes me most about Roberta is her joy in all circumstances. Though she might be dealing with a difficult situation or have a screaming toddler in her arms, she smiles and radiates God's love. She lives by the truths of I Thessalonians 5:17-18, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." Right away, she got to know our son. Admittedly, he isn't always the easiest child. He needs attention from time to time, and he is either in a GREAT mood or a BAD mood. He has highs and lows and very few in-betweens. Roberta has, on several occasions, taken Carter and strolled him in the stroller through the hallways. She has taken him into the older kid's rooms for music, which he absolutely loves. Her time and attention allow my husband and I to co-lead the Thrive marriage ministry and for me to co-lead a small group in Women's Bible Study. If Carter were not loved and given time from Roberta, it would have resulted in quite a few phone calls to Ryan or I to come retrieve our cranky son. She has no idea how very thankful we are for her individual concern and care for our precious son.

Rose and Roberta work harder than any of us can imagine. I am constantly thinking of how great a reward they are earning in heaven. I want them to know how much I personally appreciate what they do and who they are in our church body. If you have a little one, don't forget to tell them how much their labor has blessed your family and served the church body.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

From Eden to the Movie Theater: Putting off Deceit

I Peter 2:1 "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind."
In Women's Bible Study last week, we studied the passage of I Peter 2:1. The scripture listed five specific types of sin that believers should stop practicing. All of the behaviors listed were extremely convicting, but the subpoint discussion of deceit was the most powerful to myself and my small group.

The speaker, Tana Larson, defined deceit as covering up the truth and giving a false impression for your own benefit. She explained that deceit was the sin Satan used to tempt Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3) My first impression was, as your's probably is, that you don't cover up truth on a normal basis. You make efforts to tell the truth and not lie to others. However, as Tana continued her discussion, she moved into the practical ways that we all practice deceit. Ouch! As she continued the list, I sank lower and lower into my chair. There are so many "harmless" things that we do, basically because society has deemed them "normal." It is a case of "everyone does that."

How many of you still bring your own "snack" into a movie theater? We all know that candy and popcorn, let alone beverages, are outlandishly expensive in a theater. A nice dinner is equivalent in cost to some munchies for the movie. However, there is a rule that you may not bring in outside food. We are deceitful when we sneak in our own goodies.

Do any of you speed when you are driving? The speed limit is 40, so you go 50 down the parkway. You might be over the speed limit, but you are going with the "flow of traffic."

How many of us completely stop at every stop sign? Do we obey the parking spaces that say 15 minutes only? When the sign says, "Right turn only", do we turn left? Do we lie to the telemarketer who is asking to talk to our husbands. "He isn't home right now," you say, as you look right at him.

Pastor Mike, my head pastor at Compass Bible Church, talked about this subject once in a sermon. His refinance company had wanted him to backdate signatures he was putting on his home loan papers. They told him everyone does it, and it was needed to speed up the process. He didn't want to practice even that deceitful habit, and he had to wait longer for his loan to go through--which might have cost him the lowest rate he could get.

What do all these examples have in common? They use excuses as their foundation. The movies overcharge people for food. I am only speeding because we are late or because I'm going with the flow of traffic. I don't need to do more than a rolling stop here because there are no other cars around. I can park in this 15 minute space because there are no other spots, and that is the fault of whoever planned this parking lot. They say right turn only, but that is because of school traffic. School isn't getting out right now. If the telemarketers would not call my home, I wouldn't have to lie to them to leave me alone. If I lie on this refinance date, it is harmless. I will get the best rate, and the company won't think I'm some righteous freak. Etc., etc. Satan used such excuses in the garden. Eve blamed the lies of the snake, and Adam passed the buck onto Eve for his deceit. However, when the sin first occured, the goal of each person was to benefit him or herself. The excuse given is to try and free him or herself from the consequences and guilt.

Now, we might not practice all these offenses, but one or two might look familiar. Why is it so important not to practice these deceitful actions, even though so much of society does and thinks us weird for avoiding them? First, God asks us not to be deceitful. I Peter 1: 15 says, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do". That should be enough if we properly fear God. Secondly, as Christians, we are representatives of our Heavenly Father. What message do we send to the non-Christian who recognizes us in the movie theater when they see us pull a box of Red Vines from our jacket or purse? What do our lost co-workers see when we take office supplies home from work in order to use at our own home? They see us acting just like the "pagans." We are immediately labeled hypocrites, because, like our Creator, they hold Christians to the high standard of holiness. Our witness is tarnished and much less effective. In addition, those of us with young children, do we not realize our actions speak louder than our words? We are teaching our little ones where we draw the line of holiness and how we expect them to obey God by the standard we hold.

Peter urges the churches to rid themselves of "all" deceit. There is no exception or excuse. We need to actively pursue truth and purity, purposefully ending all deceitful practices that entangle us and weaken our usefulness in reaching others. Ask yourself, "What deception is in my life?" "What do I do to avoid consequences?" "What do I do to gain for self?" God will reveal the areas that need repentance and effort on your part. Remember this necessary battle against deceit next time you are tempted to steer your eleven item cart in the direction of the express checkout line.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Haircut

Well, I didn't think it was possible, but Supercuts asked us to leave--ever so politely. "Perhaps we should try this again another day," they whispered. I don't know why they were whispering, because you couldn't hear much over the screaming wail that was coming out of Carter. He was fine when we walked in the door. He was fine when we were waiting. He was fine smiling at the hairstylist lady. He was not fine when he realized he was going to sit in that chair and get his hair cut. He screamed the most ear-piercing scream I've ever heard him perform. We only got as far as putting him in the chair and trying to put an apron on him. That alone took about five minutes. It was a rough start, and the hairstylist knew it was a useless situation. All the other men getting their cuts stared wide-eyed at the snot covered kid in the haircut chair. Most of them were wishing he'd stop screaming and leave them in peace. Well, humbled and somewhat humiliated, I left Supercuts, ushering Carter through the exit, barely noticing he was covered in the sticky, green lollipop they tried to give him while consoling him. I'm not sure, but I think we were kicked out of Supercuts.

We've had about five or so haircuts. I've lost count. Each time it gets worse. He is deathly afraid of the razor. Unfortunately, this does not bode well, as Carter inherited my thick, fast-growing hair. I dread the haircuts. One morning I'll realize his hair has reached that unkempt level, and I'll bite my lip in dread. After that point, I still wait about a month before I admit the need for his haircut out loud. What is funny is that Carter will hear me and joyously repeat, "Haircut!" I think he just tries to make me feel better, so I'll even attempt walking in the door.

After our Supercut ban, we went the next day to First Cuts in the mall. We had gone there for Carter's first haircut, and it was more expensive than Supercuts. I walked in timidly, knowing they would only smile at me on the way in and scowl as we left. So sad. The poor hairdresser was amazed at Carter's lung capacity, but, since this was a kid's haircut store, they couldn't really ask us to leave. I'm sure they get criers from time to time. They probably even have a Carteresque screamer once a day or so. Other hairdressers came to the aid of the poor lady doing Carter's hair. They brought toys and books and more toys. They blew bubbles and tried to distract him. I sighed and knew better. Only Thomas the Train on TV could get him to take 2 second pauses between the siren wail. I had them cut his hair EXTRA short--army cut short. I don't think I can do this again anytime soon. I cleaned up his snot covered, puffy face and left an enormous tip for the unlucky hairdresser. I was tired and relieved as we limped out of First Cuts. We survived and Carter's hair got cut. I'm not going to think about what I'll do in 2 to 3 months. I also can't imagine what going to the dentist with Carter will be like. I still have a year and a half to be in denial.

Palm Springs

A couple of weekends ago, Ryan and I took Carter out to Palm Springs for a couple of nights. We stayed at the Embassy Suites right off Highway 111. We left on a Sunday after church and let Carter nap on his way out to the desert. Driving on the tollway, we had an upfront view of some of the Santiago fire damage. It was a huge wildfire.
Ryan went swimming with Carter once we got to the hotel, and I tried to take a nap, as I was just starting the healing process of a bad cold (17 days later, I am still sniffling and coughing from time to time). Carter loves swimming, as long as you bring a ball into the pool. He is obsessed with throwing things, "high", as he calls it. Usually that means throwing the ball straight up, having it land on his head, and then watching him giggle himself silly. He also likes any rough and tumble play with daddy.
While we were in Palm Springs, we enjoyed pool time, the Living Desert Zoo, the Children's Museum, parks in La Quinta, and eating at all the fun restaurants at The River. By far, Carter's favorite activity was watching all the trains at the miniature train "land" at the Living Desert. Forget feeding the giraffes or petting the goats, watching the tiny trains travel around was the highlight of the trip. I've never seen a child so in love with choo-choo trains. He doesn't even watch Thomas the Train on television. He just loves choo-choo trains, whistles and train crossing guardrails. Ryan and I have taken him to San Juan Capistrano, just to sit and watch the commuter trains and Surfliner trains stop and go in the station. He is fascinated!
We had no injuries or trips to the emergency room! As many of you know, that is always a worry after our Seattle trip. We had a great time in Palm Springs, and we made sure to stop and see the giant dinosaurs near the freeway on the way home. Enjoy the pictures!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Weeping Bitterly

Some of the saddest verses in the Bible are Luke 22:61-62, " The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly." I choke up every time I read these verses. I sadly identify with falling short in what God expects of me. I mourn Peter's sin, as it could easily be my own, and ache when I think of how I would feel if Jesus turned aside and gazed intently into my eye at such a disgusting, sinful moment. I can't fathom the sorrow.

We might think that we are lucky we won't have to see Jesus's eyes personally witnessing our sinful moments, since Jesus already completed His ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection here on earth and is now glorified once again, next to the Father. However, we are missing our understanding of a very important attribute of God--He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. Though He is with God the Father, He is with us. He is with us when we tell lies, when we have impure thoughts, when we are unrighteously angry, when we are disgustingly proud, when we purposefully slander a brother or sister, and when we sit mute and do not stand up for Him--essentially denying Him much like our poor brother, Peter. In addition, we will all stand before God one day. Believers will account for and be rewarded for the gifts they used for God's glory. Those who cannot claim God as the Lord of their life will have to face that gaze without hope. They will weep bitterly, never to stop.

As Christians, haven't we all felt the intent gaze of God upon us? Don't we recognize that pang and our inward gasp when we understand His loving, patient, hurt, comforting, forgiving and encouraging presence? All at once, He admonishes, loves, teaches and encourages us with the help of His Holy Spirit. We should be utterly touched by the despair of Peter, for we have all been under His precious gaze and tangibly felt his sorrow at our sin.

What we have, that Peter did not at that moment, is the completed sacrifice of Christ. We are not utterly ruined and hopeless. We do not give up and return to "fishing in Galilee", for we know His mercies are new every morning.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he
has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or
fade—kept in heaven for you" I Peter 1:3-4
If we have put our confidence in Christ's work and repented of our sin, we are sure that we are forgiven. We know that gaze is one of love and help, not the judgment and wrath that will fall to unbelievers.

It should give us all the more sadness when we cannot properly be obedient, knowing what Christ gave to pay for our denials and sin. May we weep bitterly when we fall short, but not utterly despair. We should run to the One who gazes in sympathy and love upon His repentant children, and weep in His loving provision. In the process, we need to rejoice at His mercy and grace. Knowing our forgiveness is complete, we should have the renewed desire to show Him our thankfulness through our obedience to Him. Mourn sin and cling all the more to the just and holy Father who loves us enough to credit us the righteousness of His Son.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We are Family

But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. I Thessalonians 2:17-20

Before I was a Christian, I was attending UCLA and a member of the Alpha Phi sorority. We would sing a song every year at rush to the tune of the famous song, "We are family. I got all my sisters and me!" With a big smile and heartfelt hugs, we would belt out the song to the girls in rush, and then, when the girls who were shopping for a sorority were gone, we would wipe the smiles from our faces and separate into our own little, comfortable group of friends. We weren't quite the family we were hypocritically portraying to the outside world.

Pastor Bobby Blakey did a sermon at church this weekend on 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20. He entitled it "Church is a Family: Seeing Each Other as Brothers and Sisters in Christ." He made the point that Christians are all born again into the same family: the family of God. We are, therefore, brothers and sisters. The Greek word, brother, or bretheren, is adelphos. This is derived from delphus, or womb. As Christians, we are spiritually born again from the same "womb"/Father. Because of this, we should be passionate in loving, caring for and helping one another, just as we might help our own brother and sister from growing up in our biological family.

He layed out some practical ideas that challenged us all to show care and concern for our bretheren. Some examples were being at church on time, getting together consistently and often, and making sure to know what is going on in other people's lives. Face to face contact is ideal, but, when that is impossible or delayed, he said we sometimes need to call, e-mail or even read one another's websites/blogs! I knew I would someday get endorsed for spending time blogging!

Seriously, however, we need to find ways to love one another and invest in the lives of the brothers or sisters we encounter. Along with the great ideas that Pastor Bobby illustrated to the church, I thought of some others. Why don't we all park in the least desirable spots in the lot, thus allowing some frazzled bretheren, driving in at the last minute, to have a close spot? As our church is getting more crowded, why don't we take seats in the sanctuary that aren't the best or the preferred spots, thus freeing up spaces for others that are ideal? Instead of putting our Bible next to us on the chair, we should keep it on our lap, allowing another person to possibly sit immediately next to us during the service. Perhaps we might even strike up a conversation with him or her. We can, of course, be passionate about others and show them love in many tangible, practical ways. Volunteer in childcare so a couple can hear the Word of God without interruption and worry. Remember a person's birthday by taking him or her to lunch or sending them an e-card. Bring someone a meal and include a list of helpful scripture. Burn a C.D. full of songs that speak to a trial that a person is facing. Pray for the person who is needing comfort, and mention the prayer and ask for an update on the trial when you talk to them. Visit the new mom or sick person in the hospital, and bring an appropriate treat with you--an In n Out burger or a Ruby's milkshake, flowers, scripture upon which they can meditate, comfy socks, a scented candle, etc. Be creative! Babysit for that mom on bedrest or the couple who can't do date nights because they are low on funds. There are a million ways you can purposefully serve and love the body of Christ, just as you would love and be there for a biological sibling.

Pastor Bobby went on to mention that Satan kept Paul from revisiting the Thessalonians. In fact, Satan hates the unity of the church and the love we show for one another. We are being foolish if we don't think he is working against us in our efforts. The sermon mentioned time, money and distance/effort as the three big roadblocks that keep us from being close to our church family. If time is an issue, write out a schedule of your day--hour by hour. Look at how much time is actually "me" time--napping, reading for pleasure, watching T.V., being on the computer, shopping, etc. Make a goal to take one of those selfish roadblocks in your schedule away. DVR that television show so you can go to Bible study, cut your nap short by half an hour so you can make a phone call, or tell yourself you cannot turn on the computer until you have written that encouragement card to your brother or sister in Christ.

If money is a roadblock, look at your budget. Perhaps sacrificing eating out one time a month or not getting that pedicure or new pair of jeans would allow you to buy groceries for that family who is out of work. Maybe such sacrifice will help you afford ingredients to make a nice dinner for that couple who is new in your small group study and you want to invite into your home. If distance is a problem, think about how you can turn your negative attitude into a positive one. Use the driving time to make a thanks list to God, call that member of your old Bible study to see how she or he is doing, or to pray to or worship our Heavenly Father as you drive the commute.

Many of us, myself included, have our plates full. We are trying to balance quiet times and the ministries to our spouse, family, and church body. To ask us to take our involvement and effort with bretheren to a higher level is overwhelming and, at first, paralyzing. However, our ministries do not have to be isolated and separate. Intertwine your commitments and service, as they are not always exclusive. Combine part of your heart training of your child by working in their classroom, their high school or junior high group, or their AWANA program. This allows you time as a parent, time to minister to the church body, and time to get to know bretheren. Be a part of the Thrive marriage ministry on Thursday nights. This is a great way to minister to your spouse and marriage, while getting to know bretheren at church in a real and wonderful way. Take a member of the church body through the Partners program, which gives you an opportunity to further your study of scripture, serve the church, and disciple a brother or sister at Compass Bible Church. During your long commute to church, use the time to minister to your family and spend one on one time with them. If you bring someone a meal, have your children help make the dish or create a card for the person. You are teaching them to serve and love others, while also ministering to and loving a brother or sister in the church body. Be a ministry leader in a home group or church Bible study, allowing yourself time to get to know others and train yourself in the doctrine of scripture. There are so many creative ways to combine your time and efforts, as God wants us to be fruitful in all areas. Pray and see where the Holy Spirit leads you. Remember it isn't easy, and we have to make it a priority and a goal. Satan wants us to give up, but we must resist his tactics and barriers. James 4:7 urges, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
What a wonderful message Pastor Bobby gave to the church body this Sunday! He truthfully explained God's word and gave us all much to contemplate and apply. What strikes me most, is he that he and his family are walking the walk he preaches, which speaks even more powerfully to the congregation. May we all love our church family like Christ loves us--with passion, sincerity, sacrifice and forgiveness. As Pastor Bobby reminded us, may we delight in these relationships to the end. May you, my brothers and sisters, truly be my glory and joy as I run the race God prepares for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Encourage One Another (I Thessalonians 5:11): Yvonne Foust

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Proverbs 31:26-28

Yvonne Foust is not a person who is always front and center on the Women's Bible study teaching stage, but numerous people have spoken with her by phone or e-mail and have partaken of the fruits of her labor. For many years, Yvonne has overseen the Partners discipleship program at church, blessing countless people with opportunities to study true repentance and biblical sanctification.

I first met Yvonne back in, I believe, 1999. I was attending my first women's retreat at a church I was newly attending, and she was my small group leader. Attendees would hear the teachings at women's retreat and then go back to a leader's room, with several other ladies, and discuss the teaching and the practical application. Yvonne was amazing! Her honesty and boldness to these strangers was powerful and effective. After a year of avoiding the "singles" Bible studies, she convicted me to be an obedient daughter and be plugged into church. This led me onto a path from which I have never looked back--delving into Bible studies at whatever stage I am in life and serving the body at church. Having grown up in churches that didn't talk about the true gospel or quiet times, and having truly become a Christian in 1996, this was also the point at which I clearly understood that I needed to apply myself to daily Bible reading and prayer. I wrote my goal for daily discipline on a stone, which I still have to remind me of my priorities to our Heavenly Father. What wonderful fruit she has helped me to bear in my life!

This story alone is encouraging, but that is a fraction of what Yvonne has done in others' lives. In overseeing the discipleship program at church, Yvonne has taken the great commission and put it into very real practice. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 She will say that she didn't write the program and is not taking every dear brother and sister through the chapters, but her love for God's truth and her desire to see people saved and growing in holiness is evident in the hours she spends pairing partners, answering questions by phone and e-mail, and setting up trainings for Partners graduates. I certainly have been thankful for her guidance in going through and taking others through the program.

What strikes me most about Yvonne is her quiet and gentle humility. She weighs her words carefully before she speaks, making sure they are encouraging to the hearer or in agreement with the Word of God. In her family, she trains her children diligently in the scriptures and in knowing their Creator and Lord. As a wife, she is thoughtful, loving and submissive to her husband. "Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 1 Peter 3:4 She is a role model to so many young women at church, and, I'm sure, that is a place that makes her uncomfortable, as she, instead, quietly points to God and His provision and grace. You can read about Yvonne and her Biblical insights at the Foust blogsite. If you haven't gone through the Partners Program, read more about Partners here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

First Opinions: Chaper one, Verse one

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Christians are often labeled as seeing black and white, being judgmental, being legalistic (although they are misusing the word) and putting too much credence into rules and laws. However, we know as believers, God has definite truths and laws in His word that are very black and white. The world doesn't like these absolutes about sin, but we know we are to cling to and love God's directives for us. Thank goodness we have clear sin and clear righteousness spelled out for us.

Sometimes, however, I believe we transfer our nature of seeing things in terms of black and white into areas that are merely opinion. I can't say whether this is a human quality or a problem that plagues the church body, but we often find ourself judging others on areas that do not warrant judgment.

For example, some believers ademently believe in homeschooling or Christian school. The Bible does have directives on teaching the Word to your children and being holy, but the Bible does not say to avoid public school. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with believing that this or that school is the best situation for YOUR family, but we run into problems when we project our preference onto others. Another family could be doing more teaching of the Bible at home with their publicly schooled children than you assume a Christian school is doing for your child, while you don't as zealously pursue it at home since the Christian school is "covering" it.

The book of opinions runs deep: what foods you should be eating, the amount of activities into which you can place your child, what vitamins you should be taking, how expensive of a car is being vain, how much money should be given to church, whether television in any amount or capacity is evil or unholy, the correct way to feed your children, the book method of discipline to which you ascribe, how many Christian books we should be reading, preferential birthing methods, at what age children should date, what is a more biblical curfew: nine or ten?, when and if can girls wear makeup, whether dancing is unholy, and the list goes on and on.

The Bible gives us truths to follow and apply in our lives. I believe the Bible is applicable to all situations we face. For example, television can be bad when it is given priority over our relationship with God or our serving our ministries. Also, it can be sinful when the content you are watching is unholy. Even when we have "gray" areas, there are right and wrong answers for each of us, but they might differ from one situation to another.

We all know we need to repent of our sin and put our faith and trust in Christ, we need to make God our number one priority, we need to love others more than ourselves, we need to be involved and serving in the church body, we need to discipline our children, we need to encourage and admonish others, we need to be holy, and we need to go and make disciples of all men. There are commands we cannot ignore or see as "gray."

However, we must be careful about our strong opinions. We can cause division and false judgment of others when we see our preferences or where God is leading us as the only way (I am NOT talking about the truths spelled out clearly in God's word). Before you cast judgment on another believer, see if God's word is in agreement with you or see if you are only clinging to an opinion. We must remember that everyone's situation is different regarding finances, schooling, diet, etc. When you come to decisions in life, look to the Word, pray, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Once you make a decision, thank God for giving you wisdom and leading, and humble yourself to know that God is the one who imparts wisdom and insight, not us. We are all, hopefully, sheep looking to the Shepherd for answers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Christmas Events/Activities for families in November and December

I know this post is early, but many of these events begin in early November. Plus, as party and get together invitations escalate, I know November and December calendar planning is a delicate science. Orange County is not at a loss for celebrating Christmas, or the "holidays," as many of the events are entitled. I have been to some of these fun events, so if you have a particular question, you can e-mail me or make a comment to the post. I highly recommend bringing a hot, steaming cup of hot cocoa or a Starbucks flavored concoction when you go to many of these places. Even if it is only 65 degrees out that night, bring a fun red scarf or a festive knit cap to get you in the spirit--and you'll be bound to get some cute pictures! The Hawleys go to Roger's Gardens each December, and we even got a Christmas picture out of it last year. The boat parades, driving through Nellie Gail and visiting El Corzo street are also "must dos" in the Hawley list of traditions. We hope you find some of your favorite traditions listed here, but, if you don't, and you have a suggestion, PLEASE let us in on it. Make a comment and let us know what fun event we are missing.

Of course, these activities are fairly "worldly" in focus. We hope you take time, in all this crazy season of Santa Claus and Christmas lights, to talk about the precious gift of Christ Jesus. As Christians, that is our celebration and joy, and we pray, our focus at CHRISTmas! If you don't have a church to visit for Christmas or Christmas Eve--or even attend in general--here is the website for our home church. Merry Christmas, everyone!

The 22nd Annual Dana Point Harbor Turkey Trot: This is the only Thanksgiving event on this post. It is an annual walk/run race on the morning of Thanksgiving. There is a 5K and a 10K event. Adults cost $35.00 to enter a race if you register after November 1st. What a great way to feel okay about eating that second helping of stuffing and mashed potatoes later in the day! You can get details at

Holiday in the Harbor: There are three Christmas events at the Dana Point Harbor. You can find out about all of them at The quaint, local funspot is celebrating the holidays with carolers, face painting, bands, magic and juggling shows and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus. You can partake in the family fun on Friday, November 30th from 4 to 8 p.m.

The harbor will also be hosting boat rides with Santa for free. Kids can come take boat rides and pose with Santa from 10-2 on Saturday and Sunday, December 1st and 2nd. Pictures cost $4.00 if you get one. Be ready for some lines and waiting, especially if you get there late.

Finally, the Dana Point Harbor is having its 33rd annual boat parade of lights. The theme this year is "A Merry Mardi Gras". The parade runs Friday and Saturday nights on December 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th. It all begins at 7:30 p.m. If you would like to be in the boat parade, you can get on a boat through the Dana Wharf Sportfishing shop. Adults cost $25.00 and kids are $15.00.

South Coast Plaza--The 27th annual tree lighting ceremony, associated with South Coast Plaza, is November 26th at 6 p.m. It will take place at the town center park, next to the Westin/South Coast Plaza. In addition, you can come for the Santa "arrives" parade on November 16th at 4 p.m. It will be in the Jewel Court, on the first level. If you miss both of these events, you can always come later to just stroll around, shop and check out the Christmas decorations throughout the mall/shops. Santa will be there all season to visit. You can get more information at

Fashion Island--We love to come here to see decorations, because it is outside and you can bundle up and hold coffee. Plus, we make it a fun night to also see Roger's Gardens (further info later in the post), which is right across the street. They will have an opportunity to take photos with Santa November 16th- December 24th. This usually requires that you buy a portrait package of some sort.

They have a huge tree that stands in the center each year. The tree lighting ceremonies are November 16th and 17th at 6 p.m. This will be in the Bloomingdale's Courtyard. They light the trees and Santa arrives. There will also be a song and dance performed by the California Conservatory of the Arts.

Carolers will be at this mall on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m. by the Christmas tree. This will be in effect on the weekends from November 17th to December 23rd. Usually they also have a Christmas train that kiddos can ride for a small price. All of these events at Fashion Island can be read about at

Spectrum--The newest of shopping centers, the Spectrum also enters the season with some fun treats. They will have their annual ice skating rink from November 1st (soon!) to January 21st. It will be in the Giant Wheel Court. Santa will be at the Spectrum November 23rd to December 24th. Photo packages with Santa start at $13.95. Santa will be stationed outside the Target and H&M stores area. Like Fashion Island, this area is all outside, which makes it fun for feeling "winterish." Find out all the information at

Irvine Regional Park--It is time for the Christmas Train! Currently, the park is closed, as it is a maincamp for the men and women fighting the Santiago fire. Check the website, which is well updated, to see when it re-opens. There shouldn't be a conflict, as the Christmas train begins November 30th and is also open December 1,2,7,8,9,and the 13th through the 23rd. The time is from 5 to 8 p.m. The cost is $8.00 per person, but the normal parking fee is FREE after 5 p.m. You take a twelve minute train ride through the park, and see all the decorations and lights, including the tunnel with hundreds of lights at the end of the ride. You can meet Santa, and they allow you to take your own pictures with your own camera. If you forget your camera, their polaroid picture of your dear ones and Santa is $5.00. They will also be selling coffe, hot cocoa, fresh popcorn and cookies. There is also a way you can pre-mail your child's Christmas list to Santa, so when you visit, it will be right there on Santa's list. The mailing instructions and all the details of the Christmas train can be found at They say to dress warmly, as it does get chilly out there when the sun goes down!

Santa Ana Discovery Science Center--The science center is having an exhibition called "The Science of Gingerbread." It is through the month of December. Kids, ages 3-17 cost $9.95 (under 3 are free), adults are $12.95, and parking is $3.00. Last year, they had a snowblowing machine at the entryway, and we spent a good 20 minutes there listening to Carter laughing at the snow and the kids dancing in it. I am not sure if they will do this again, but I'm guessing they will. Find out more at

Anaheim Nutcracker Festival--December 4th, from 3 to 7 p.m., you can go to the Center Street Promenade in Anaheim for a holiday street fair. Food, games, music, face painting and family fun are promised. You can call 714 956-3586 for more information, or you can look here.

Roger's Gardens--This is an upscale nursery/boutique type store in Corona Del Mar. It is right across the street from Fashion Island, so it is easy to combine a visit to the two places on the same night. Once you enter the store, you can veer to the left and see hundreds of ornate trees, each with hundreds of ornaments for sale. The gardens are the beautiful part. Head straight back. They have model train sets going, music serenading visitors, and photo opportunities (such as a set up sleigh) throughout the beautiful, Christmas light covered garden. The entry is free, and it is a quaint little excursion to help make the season slow down a bit. For directions and information, look at

Newport Harbor Boat Parade--This is a hot cocoa must have event. Go down anywhere along the Newport harbor in order to view the sailboats and watercraft float by with Christmas music and lights. It is approximately 2 and 1/2 hours long, and it happens every night from December 12-16th. The event starts at 6:30. Dress warmly, and have beach chairs ready in the car (along with some snuggly blankets). For more information, see

Santa Ana Zoo--The Holiday Lights Festival at the zoo takes place December 21,22,28th and 29th. There will be strolling musicians, holiday crafts, and lights. For more information, the website is

Laguna Niguel Holiday Parade--You can pretend you live in a small town. This is a true hometown parade, with cheerleaders, mayors, bands, baton twirlers and lots of old vintage cars. Yours truly marched in this parade once or twice in high school. Join the fun on December 8th. It starts at 10 a.m. The route is Crown Valley Parkway, between Nueva Vista and the Crown Valley Community Park. Expect some road closures and re-routing that morning.

Cruise of Lights in Huntington Beach--I've never done this event, but this looks fun. It is a benefit for the Philharmonic Society. It is a Narrated cruise through the waterways of Huntington Beach. You get to see a waterway view of the Christmas lights and decorations on the pricey homes. This takes place December 13th-23rd. On weekdays, you can go at 6,7, or 8 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the departures are at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, or 8:30. On the 17th, the prices are adults-$11.00 each and kids over 2 years-$8.00 each. On weekdays other than the 17th, adults are $13.00 and kids over 2 are $8.50 each. On weekends, adults are $15.00 each and kids are $9.00 each. Find out more at or call 714 840-7542.

Light Viewing--Our family always has three favorite spots. We drive through all the streets of Nellie Gail, playing Christmas music on the radio and sipping hot cocoa. You can spend over an hour doing this if you drive slowly.

El Corzo street in Rancho Santa Margarita (also known as Candy Cane Lane) is the best! You park at the end of the tiny cul-de-sac and walk. Plan to be amazed. Snow machines, music, animatronic creatures and thousands of lights greet you. There will most likely be many people joining you, as it is usually crowded. You can Mapquest the directions.

Finally, Ladera Ranch is another great place to drive to see lights. Last year, we bought hot cocoa from kiddos selling it on a light laden street. Fun! Have dinner beforehand and get the little ones sleepy with a drive through the festive city.

Of course, all the amusement parks, from Disneyland, Knott's, Sea World, and the Wild Animal Park, offer some Christmas themed fun. I hope you get some fun ideas from this list. Remember to share any ideas I missed!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fall Fest 2007

What fun we had last night! We left a bowl of candy on our porch and drove over to Aliso Viejo for our church's Fall Fest. WOW! It was amazing! There was any type of carnival ride you could imagine, free Carl's Jr., free popcorn and cotton candy, photo buttons, pony rides, hay mazes, face painting, balloon animals, and more candy than I've ever seen! Carter was not ready for the fun he had last night. At first he squirmed in his costume, but by the time we left, two and a half hours later, he was grinning from ear to ear, running around and giggling with glee (and he didn't even have more than a bite or two of candy in his system!) He was so sad to say bye-bye to the funnest place he's ever seen--we haven't done Disneyland yet. Hee, hee. The hay maze and swing ride were his favorite by far. We let him do the swings three times, but we cut him off after that because we didn't want him to get sick. He would kick his legs and belly laugh the whole time. It was hilarious! Hay mazes are just perfect for Carter. He's contained and he can run as fast as his hyper little legs will carry him. This one had the bonus of exiting right next to the entrance, so he would just run laps over and over again. It was a crack up!
So many people came! I saw a few people from the elementary school at which I used to teach, which is right around the corner in Aliso Viejo. It was also fun to see what everyone was wearing and see each child in their get-ups. I'm including a few pictures of Carter from the evening. (Ryan took tons of pictures of families in our marriage group--I'll let him show those at our Thrive group and e-mail them to the families.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sticks and Stones--Part II

I am writing this post in the utmost humility. A kind, dear sister approached me with some concerns about my past post, Sticks and Stones. I had talked about the need to work on our pride when someone "offends" us without sinning--not getting invited to lunch with others, having your child left off a birthday party list, not getting a phone call when you were going through that difficult time, etc. I had said that, too often, we build up resentment and feel a need to confront that person about their "error" when we are actually the ones sinning in pride. I sounded very absolute in my post, saying that we rarely need to confront others in instances like this--rather we need to pray about our pride and remember our own mistakes.

Well, this dear person pointed out that there are times to go discuss misunderstandings with others, especially if you have a broken relationship because of it. God never wants disunity or fractions within His church body. Even if you are pridefully hurt by someone who is innocent in motives, if you cannot get over your feelings, you need to approach the person in humility and repentance and tell them how you are feeling.

I was so confused and saw the correctness in both points! I had a talk with our amazing women's leader at Compass Bible Church, Stephanie Schwartz. She did such a great job clarifying this correctly to me. In the end, both points are correct, but my blog--in its focus on one side of this issue--was not correct. I have to ask that you forgive my mistake on that post and read this correction to clarify the issue.

Stephanie gave me some verses to use in my correction, so I am going to post what I have gleaned from her. She starts by offering two verses that speak to our need to forgive others:

Matthew 5:23-24, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against YOU, leave your gift there in front of the altar." If you have broken the relationship with feelings of bitterness, then your brother does have something against you that you need to go discuss. Be reconciled to the person with whom you have broken fellowship.

Matthew 6:12-14, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Our standard is clear. Think of how much God has forgiven you and apply that to how you deal with others' infractions. This will put your prideful feelings into perspective.

So, what are we to do when we are offended? First, we are to try and overlook it if there is not a sin that needs admonishment. This is what my first post tried to explain. At times, more bitterness and disagreement are created from a person selfishly telling someone they were hurt by the other person. First, pray and give it time. God wants us to grow in maturity and be able to overlook imperfections. I Peter 4:8 says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins." Proverbs 17:9 agrees, "He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." Stephanie says we often do this easily with our kids or people we admire and love, but we often have trouble with this when we are dealing with spouses or people who often are not the most lovable. This is the first option and is our goal if we can honestly overlook the matter and not feel resentful. This is where I focused my past post, but there is more the Bible says.

Secondly, if we are offended, and we cannot overlook it--someone has sinned against you or you are just not getting over the feelings of resentment, you must talk to the person. Luke 17:3-5 says, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' Remember, if you must confront someone, you need to do so with kindness and respect. If you are feeling vindictive or our of control with anger, you need to pray and calm down before you approach that person. God may be allowing you to not "get over" your feelings of disappointment or resentment because you need to humble yourself and admit your feelings to the other person. It could be a lesson in humility. In fact, Stephanie said an amazing fact about pride: It can make us stay sinfully resentful and cause us to confront others in error AND it can make us afraid of approaching someone who DOES need to be approached and admitting your feelings in a humble and repentant way. (We so want to believe we are above feeling petty and resentful over things like invitations and phone calls, etc.) In addition, the person who hurt you might not know they did at all, and the whole problem (if you can't overlook it) can be solved with a simple discussion and honest approach.

So, the two options are to cover the mistake if you can, and discuss the issue if you cannot get over your feelings and need to repair a broken relationship. I'm glad that this was clarified for me, as I learned some great facts about pride and the need to admit feelings I might not have previously recognized. Thanks to the sister who brought this topic to light for me and to Stephanie, who, as always, graciously imparted Biblical wisdom in a loving and gentle way.