Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cheerful Charity

When the church asks for donations - do you grieve over losing that money or is your heart happy because you know you are doing a good thing?  Sometimes we go through the motions and donate this or that for a good cause because it is simply something we're supposed to do.  However, I'm hoping you've also had that moment when you donate to a charity or fill a shoebox for a child half way across the world and as you walk away you have a smile on your face and a tune in your heart.

Deuteronomy 15:10 - You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.

First of all, the "him" in this passage is the poor (if you don't believe me, pull out your Bible and check out Deut. 15:7-10).  :)  

"...your heart shall not be grieved..."  What do you think the opposite of grieve is?  Joy?  Cheer?  Happiness?  Any and all of the above?  If you really think about it, "Here is a command to give cheerfully" (Henry).  You see, "thou shalt give, not only with an open hand, but with a willing and cheerful mind, without which thy very charity is uncharitable and not accepted by God" (Wesley).  

But why?  God doesn't say "Cheerfully give to the poor because I said so" or "because they need it," but rather "...because...the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings..."  He tells us to give generously and cheerfully for our own benefit - "Giving cheerfully in charity will enrich us, it will fill the barn with plenty (Prov 3:10) and the soul with true comfort" (Henry).

Today I challenge you to find a charity of your choice and donate what you can.  It doesn't have to be $500, it can be $5 or even some change.  But when you give, make sure you do so with joy in your heart!  You will be blessed, God has promised.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Who Needs Pinterest? Well...

Sometimes Pinterest doesn't give me one single idea or one project, instead, it sparks my creativity and inspires me to be creative!  And that is exactly how this original masterpiece came to be:

I adore it.  Mostly because I didn't steal the idea from someone else.  Hubby wants me to sell it because he doesn't particularly care for it...but I don't know if I can part with it...

Here is a close up of the main piece that took me eternity:

In case you can't read that, the passage is Matthew 6:25-34 - one of my favorites!  It talks about how if God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, than how much more so will He take care of us?  Stop worrying. That is a reminder I need every day!  :)  Check out the paper flower tutorial over at "Dozi".

The other two pieces took much less time to complete but I think they turned out pretty well: 

The following three blogs provided me with most of my inspiration:
Creating While Waiting
Blue Cricket Design
Tatertots & Jello

Hoping my inspiration inspires you!  Happy Crafting!

On a side-note, I officially made my own laundry detergent yesterday!  

Really excited about this!  Should last me longer than store-bought, be a lot healthier, it was cheaper, and it wasn't very difficult!

There were two blogs I referred to:

Sew Much Ado and Being Creative

I technically used the recipe from Sew Much Ado - it is a small recipe (perfect for someone that just wants to try the homemade thing) so I quadrupled it.

Being Creative includes Oxi-Clean in her recipe, but other than that, the recipe is basically the same...just bigger, much bigger.  And since I didn't have a 5-gallon bucket laying around, I decided to use the recipe from Sew Much Ado.  However, I did buy a big container of oxi-clean (I got off-brand) and I add a scoop of that to each wash as well.  I simply combined the best of both worlds...or blogs...

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.  Let's make the world a better place, one washing machine at a time!

Good-For-Nothing Thought

How many times have you heard someone say, "It was just a thought - I didn't act on it, so it doesn't matter"  or at least something along those lines?  I may have said it myself at some point in time or another.

Deuteronomy 15:9 - Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you.

There are two small things I want to discuss before moving onto the main point here.  First, the seventh year, the year of remission, also known as the Sabbath year, was a year when all debt was released.  Whether you had lent it 7 years ago or 3 years ago or yesterday - when you entered the year of remission, you had to release the debt, simple as that.  Can you imagine if we still operated like this how different life would be?  From less bankruptcy, to many more homeowners, to less suicide due to unfathomable debt....the list goes on and on.... 

This verse is saying that you won't lend to the poor because you know that the year of remission is near and you won't get your money back.  It also states that if you do this, the poor can cry to the Lord and it will be a sin against you.  What I really want you to catch here is this: "What a consolation to the poor and the oppressed, that they have a sure friend in God, who will hear their cry and redress their grievances" (Clarke).  Even when we aren't a friend to the poor - they still, and always will, have Someone!

Okay...now to the main point.  Yes, this verse obviously has the connotation that we need to give to the poor.  However, it is hard to apply to our lives today since we do not have the year of remission anymore.  However, look back to the beginning of this verse where it states "Beware that there is no base thought in your heart..."  First, let us define what "base" means.  In the Hebrew, it is actually beliya 'al meaning "worthlessness, wickedness, vileness" (Strong's H1100).  Or as Clarke defines it, "good-for-nothing or unprofitable.

You see, "we mistake if we think thoughts are free from the divine cognizance and check" (Henry).  God hears our thoughts!  That's why we can pray without speaking.  Isn't it funny that we know God hears our prayers, so we don't say them out loud.  But at the same time, we like to think He doesn't hear each and every one of our individual thoughts.  After all, thinking is where our sin begins: "Those that would keep from the act of sin must keep our of their minds the very thought of sin" (Henry).  "Beware," or shamar, is defined as "to keep, guard, observe, give heed" (Strong's H8104).  As Wesley states, the natural conclusion of this defenition is that we need to "suppress the first risings of such uncharitableness."  In other words, we need to guard our thoughts.  We need to make sure that sinful thoughts are quickly suppressed and kept out of our mind.  This is not an easy task, but a vital one!

Today I challenge you to think better.  :)  When you notice that you are having a negative or sinful thought this week, stop whatever you're doing and take a deep breath.  During your "breather" refocus on something positive or holy - like God's love.  His love can change a heart of stone, so I'm sure it can change a teensy-weensy thought!  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Folding Shirts = Happier Hubby

Justin and I are forever frustrated with his t-shirts.  I fold his shirts and put them away, trying my best to keep it so he can see which one is which - but there is only so much space!  I would get back in the drawer after doing laundry the next time and it would just be a mess.  Nothing we fought over - just something I wish could be fixed.  And then Pinterest saved the day!  

I discovered a new idea over at Darkroom and Dearly.  However, I merely used her idea - when I decided to try it, I folded all by myself without her instructions - I just folded how I usually do and then added an extra fold.  So, beware, if you check out both blogs, our folding methods may vary.  :)

Anyhow - this is what the drawer looked like after I refolded:

And here are the steps for folding:

Here's to better organized drawers!  Happy folding!

Not-So-Rainy Day Fun

On Thursday, I had plans to take 3 of the 4 kids I watch to the zoo.  However, with threats of a "derecho" (whatever that is...) - thunderstorms, rain, high winds, slight chance of tornadoes...generally unpredictable weather, I thought it best that we spend the day at home instead.  So I came loaded with some awesome rainy day activities (thank you Pinterest) so that the kids wouldn't be disappointed that we didn't go the zoo.

And it worked perfect!  We had a fantastic day!  However...it didn't rain until after I had already headed home.  Regardless, for our next rainy day, I might pull one, or both, of these activities back out!  Megan spent the whole next morning telling her dad how much fun she had!

After playing hide and seek inside (which was a big hit in itself), I had all 3 of the kiddos hang out and play in Megan's room.  They weren't allowed to leave, not even open the door - I had a surprise game for them that I had to get ready.  :)  While they were playing, I whipped out the yarn I had hidden in my "Nanny-Pack" and started stringing it ALL over the house.  The picture below is just one little sneak peek of what was from the upstairs to the downstairs, in the hallway, through the dining room, kitchen, and living room!  

After finishing, I managed to crawl my way back upstairs without breaking anything and sneak into Megan's room.  I had them all line up at the door and then I opened it: "Whoa!"  "what's that?" and "How do I get out?"  Can you tell they are all 3 so very different in their perspectives?  I love it!  Anyways - I explained that they had to go downstairs, through the dining room and kitchen, touch the mudroom door, go through the living room, and then back upstairs (yes, one of the 3 year olds was able to repeat these instructions almost word for word to her dad the next day...).  They LOVED it!  We went through twice.  And for me, that was NOT an easy feat!  haha.  Wrapping the yarn back up was probably the most challenging task - but SO worth it!  I found this idea via Pinterest on Be Different Act Normal.

After I got everything "wrapped-up" (literally), we ventured to the kitchen for a unique cookie making adventure!  You see, I found this recipe (yes, via Pinterest) on I {heart} Nap Time.  The dough is almost exactly like play-do!  So...we washed the counter AND our hands REALLY well.  Then started mixing the dough.  Everyone took turns stirring, adding ingredients, and counting (baking is a wonderful learning tool in SO many ways).  After I added the food coloring and jello, I separated each color into three pieces and let the kids play with their "play-dough" while I pre-heated the oven and handled clean-up duty.  Here are their creations (again, very unique to their personality):

Then they each helped me roll the dough into balls for the cookie sheets too!  Here is the final result (taken with my phone since I forgot to take a pic of the cookies when I had my camera with me the other day):

This was another much-loved activity!  Again, the recipe for these "Play-Dough" Cookies is found here.  Mine differed a bit because I only had 2 packs of Jello at home instead of 4 and I ran out of butter so I had to substitute a with a little bit of oil (final result was still great but the dough was a little greasy).

Hope your rainy days are as successful as my not-so-rainy day was!  :)

Attics, Puzzles, and Nursery Themes....

 My parents are preparing to move.  Because of this, my mom and I have been cleaning like crazy!  We went through my grandma's attic (with the help of my cousin and, of course, Grandma!) and then a few days later we tackled my childhood room.  Both of these adventures were very sentimental.  We discovered a lot of neat stuff:

- Grandma's wedding dress
- Mom's wedding dress
- Military uniforms
- Cake topper from my grandparent's wedding
- All of my old toys (it was so hard deciding what to keep!)
- A box of ALL the notes I had written/received over the course of highschool

And the list goes on and on and on....

One of the neat things we discovered were old puzzles.  We found some in a box Grandpa had hidden in the attic (Mom had never even seen them).  Three of them to be exact.  I decided to put them all together to see if we had the pieces.  Two of them weren't missing a thing.  And one was missing 2 or 3 pieces.  But still!  Pretty awesome.  Here they are:

We also found a bag full of puzzle pieces in my room.  They were obviously old and I couldn't remember putting them together, though the back of the pieces were vaguely familiar since they are so unique:

Then I remembered that each puzzle had a different pattern on the back!  So I separated all of the pieces.  In the end, what I thought was 4 separate puzzles, turned out to be 6 puzzles - each a different nursery rhyme!

I'm thinkin' vintage themed nursery?  :D

I forgot how much I love putting puzzles together!  Something about it is just SO relaxing!  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Emptying the Clouds

Have you ever been at a stop light where there's a man or woman holding a sign begging for money?  And you do everything you can to pretend like they aren't there, to avoid eye contact at all cost?  Guilty as charged.  I've done it...a lot.  When we lived in Oklahoma City, there were a couple of places we drove through repeatedly that you could count on someone being there.  Not once did I do a thing about it.  After all, in this day and age, how do I know if they're actually homeless or in trouble?  And what if they use my money for alcohol or drugs?  But maybe that doesn't matter...

Deuteronomy 15:7 - If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in you land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother.

I want to define a few things here before I get to the heart of the matter:

  • To "close your hand" could be translated as being "tightfisted" and quite a few versions refer to it in that way (Parallel Bible).
  • "Poor" in the Hebrew can mean quite a few different things, the chief meaning in this verse is "in want, needy, chiefly poor, needy person" (Strong's H34).  However, it can also be defined as someone "subject to oppression and abuse" or someone "needing help, deliverance from trouble" (Strong's H34).  
  • While it would be easy to dismiss this verse because I literally don't have a poor brother, it isn't that simple.  "Brother" also can be defined in a variety of ways, from the literal blood relationship to simply resembling someone to having a relationship with someone.  In some verses, it is simply translated as "countrymen" (Deut. 17:20).  You see, "brother,"  much like "neighbor," covers a vast array of people (Strong's H251).
So this verse simply put: If you know of someone in need (whether that be monetarily or otherwise) do not be hardhearted or tightfisted.

As soon as I read this verse, I was convicted.  Sitting at those stop lights, hardening my heart is exactly what I did!  Because there is ALWAYS a chance that that person really needs help...but I shut those thoughts out of my mind, hardened my heart, and tightened my fist - there was no way they were getting my money...it was too risky!

But it is here in this verse that "we are...commanded to lend or give according to our ability and the necessity of the case" (Henry).  Yeah, I might not have much money to spare thanks to rent and student loans and gas money...but compared to some, I have a lot.  I can always give something...  If I'm not willing to give than my heart is already hardened.  As Henry brilliantly puts it, "If the hand be shut, it is a sign the heart be hardened; for, if the clouds were full of rain they would empty themselves."

Today I challenge us (yes, I'm definitely including myself here) to not just walk by.  The next time you see someone in need, whether that is someone begging on the side of the road or someone crying in a hallway, stop and help.  No, we can't know what is going to happen to the $5 we give that person, but that isn't for us to worry about.  You see, "When we have an occassion of charitable lending, if we cannot trust the borrower, we must trust God, and lend..." (Henry).  God told us to give, He will take care of the rest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Experience Through Trials

Have you ever been enticed to leave your job, your ministry, your calling, for something else because someone showed you the riches that were involved?  Or maybe the benefits of having different connections?  Or the extra time you would have?  I think, in reality, that most of us have if we're honest.  I know I have.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 - 1 If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

First of all, we should probably clarify what a "sign" or "wonder" is.  I could go into the technical Hebrew definitions but Clarke puts it simply: "But here the word seems to mean some portentous sign, such as an eclipse, which he who knew when it would take place might predict to the people who knew nothing of the matter, and thereby accredit his pretensions."

The fact that these signs and wonders are meant to take you away from the one true God is abominable.  You see, the Hebrew for "listen" here is shama' meaning "to hear, listen to, obey"  (Strong's H8085).  You see, "some temptations are so grossly vile that they will not bear a debate, nor may we so much as give them the hearing" (Henry).  Not only should we not listen and not obey, we shouldn't even give this kind of thing the time of day to begin with!

But the big question remains.  Why would God allow something like this to happen?  Testing, or nachah, means "to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test" (Strong's H5254).  He is trying to prove us, to make us better and stronger in our faith "for he who experimentally knows God cannot be drawn away after idols.  He who has no experimental knowledge of God, may believe any thing" (Clarke).  This kind of test gives our faith experience, experience with the only God - "therefore see that you acquit yourselves well in the trial, and stand your ground" (Henry).  Further, the phrase "find out" is actually defined as "to know" (Strong's H3045).  God truly wants to know if we love Him with all of our hearts, "namely...in a public manner, so as both you and others may know and see it, that so the justice of His judgments upon you may be more evident and glorious" (Wesley).  

I have said it before, but I will say it again, the thing your heart loves the most will overflow.  So if all of your heart loves the Lord your God, people are going to know!  God is going to know!  Because when you face those trials, your love for God will continue to spill over and you will be able to stand your ground.

Take a post-it or index card and write this verse on it: 

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" - 1 Corinthians 10:13.  

Place this somewhere where you will see it everyday.  It will encourage you on the hard days.  And if you're ready for this: memorize it!  It's a good one to have stored away in that brain of yours!

Face today's prophets, today's dreamer of dreams, today's challenges and trials and know that you know and love the Truth.  Remember that this experience is growing you.  God is always by your side.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sesame Street and God's Word

Have you ever seen the old trick of the string tied around the finger?  So that person will be reminded of something important.  I remember a Sesame Street storybook from my childhood called "Don't Forget the Oatmeal" where Bert ties a string around his finger in order to remind Him to get oatmeal at the grocery store since it is the MOST important thing on his list.  Due to Cookie Monster's appearance and a mild bit of chaos due to a cookie sale...Bert gets home and realized he has a string on his finger.  Oh no!  He forgot the oatmeal! Even when something is right in front of us, it is still hard to remember!

Deuteronomy 11:18 - You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

"Impress" simply means "to put, place, set" (Strong's H7760).  So, we are to place God's word on our heart and soul.  Then it goes on to say we are to "bind" them on our hands and, basically, place them on our foreheads.  This part of the verse is a little bit confusing.  You mean I'm supposed to wear the Bible on my forehead?  The Jews did!  Frontals were "scrolls of parchment with sentences written on them out of the law of Moses...bound to the forehead and the left wrist" (Lexicon).  The Jews took this verse rather literally.  However, I think it is safe to look at this figuratively - what does it mean to bind them to our hands and place them on our foreheads?  In Matthew Henry's words, "Let our eyes be fixed on the word of God."  If the Word of God is bound to our hands and on our foreheads, how can we miss it?  You see yourself in the mirror at least once or twice a day and your hands are in front of your face constantly!  Basically, God wants the Word to be active and present in our lives.  But as we learned from Bert, just because something is in plain sight, right there on you hand, does not mean you will remember its importance!

However, is the Word is placed in our hearts, which is what the Lord first mentioned, the active presence of the Word will be much easier!  After all, "We cannot expect good practices...unless there be good thoughts, good affections, and good principles in the heart" (Henry).  And how do you suppose those thoughts, affections, and principles get there? The Word of God!

Today I challenge you to tie a string around your finger.  Seriously - go do it!

Okay, now every time you see that string today, remember to keep God's Word in your heart.  Let the Word teach you the good thoughts, good affections, and good principles that it has to offer!  If something is truly in your heart, it will naturally overflow - let it!

And just for giggles, I ran across this video when searching for Bert's adventure:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Grandma's Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

My dad always jokes about my grandma - she is THE worst cook!  Burn things, undercooks things - you name it, she has done it!  However, she can bake, oh can she bake!  For my wedding shower she gave me the recipe to her soft peanut butter cookies.  I love them for a couple of reasons:

1. They are delicious!  (And I don't usually like peanut butter cookies)
2. The ingredients list is super small.
3. From start to finish - the process takes under a half an hour!

What you need:

- 1 cup of peanut butter (smooth or chunky - your choice!)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla

(this makes right around 2 dozen...I usually double the recipe)

Combine all the ingredients, drop on a baking sheet, press with a fork (make an "x"), bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes.

See?  SO simple!  And so delicious!

Dragons, Dora, and Dyeing

Before we get into the detailed stuff, I have to share the funny moment of the week.  I asked Mary to tell me a story because she was pretending to be the mommy for the day.  This is what she came up with:

"There was a princess in a castle who was going to be eaten by a dragon.  But the prince saved her first.  And then Dora found Boots.  The End."

It is now my go to nap-time story - I love it!  ;)

Anywho, I know it has taken me eternity but I have finally taken some time to blog about a craft/activity that kids seem to love!  

This has been tested by two separate families for a total of 4 children (ages 6, 4, and 3) and it has been kid-approved!

So what is this wonderful idea?  Dyeing Noodles!  

Yes, I know...sounds a little messy...BUT, totally worth it.  And, in reality, there really wasn't much of a mess!  

What you need:
- Food Coloring
- Ziploc Bags
- Noodles (duh! Almost forgot that one...)
- Cookie Sheet or Other Container/Space (for drying)
- Paper towels (optional)

The first tutorial I found on this had me soaking noodles in bowls.  While this may have worked, I really wanted to get the kids involved and didn't want to risk spilling a bowl full of food-coloring ANYwhere...  So I got to thinking and decided ziploc's would do the trick!  (Though I thought I had pinned the original tutorial, I can't seem to find it...but I obviously don't claim the genius behind this...just HAD to share!)

Step 1 - Place about a handful or a little more of noodles into a ziploc bag (one bag for each color you are doing).  This is obviously something the kids can help with, but for them you need 2 or 3 handfuls.  ;)

Step 2 - Add 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol to each bag.

Step 3 - Put 3 or 4 drops of food-coloring in each bag.  Feel free to mix and match - creativity is a plus!  (I let the kids do this step while I held the bags)

Step 4 - Seal the bags VERY tightly.

Step 5 - SHAKE AWAY!!  This is the kids favorite part.  Shake, shake, shake.  They even danced at the same time.  :)

Step 6 - I laid a few paper towels on top of an old cookie sheet to prevent staining and then dumped all the noodles out to dry.  I tried to spread as thin as I could...but I only used a small cookie sheet for 4 bags of noodles.  Leave sit for a few hours to dry.

Step 7 - CREATE!  Grab a glue stick and some paper and make all kinds of designs.  I prefer black paper to make the colors pop!  We made flowers and numbers and letters and the list goes on...and on...and on...

Both families I did this with asked to create for days afterward: "Can we make another noodle picture Bri?"  It was a blast and kept them busy for awhile!

Educational possibilities:

- Counting - we had to count the drops of food coloring, you can count the noodles as you create (how many green ones, how many in your hand, etc.)

- Measuring - for older kids adding the alcohol gives them a glimpse of measurements and being precise.

- Colors! - You could talk about the rainbow, mixing colors, color identification...whatever fits!

- Letters/Numbers - This worked well for the twins - we had been working on identifying the letter "A" so I created one and they loved it!  

When it comes to teaching kids, hands-on stuff is the way to go I think.  Get creative, use your brain...the possibilities with stuff like this are endless!

Avoiding Deception

I remember in high school that, unlike many, I was very concerned about my school work.  Because I cared so much, I never missed an assignment and I always handed things in on time (if not early).  I remember wanting to go to a friend's camp for the weekend pretty badly but I had a fairly large project due on Monday...my solution was to take my homework with me (I mean, who wouldn't?).  Needless to say, my friends talked me out of it, they convinced me to not care.  I think I managed to finish the project on Sunday afternoon...but it wasn't as "perfect" as I liked things to be and, in the end, I didn't receive the grade that I had hoped for.

Deuteronomy 11:16 - Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them."

Instead of saying "beware" some translations say "take heed" (KJV, ASV) or "be careful" (NIV, NLT) and rightfully so.  The Hebrew word here is shamar which is defined as "to keep, guard, observe, take heed" (Strong's H8104).  In our language this word is screaming: Be careful! Otherwise your heart will be deceived!  

"Deceived" is defined as "to be spacious, be open, be wide" (Strong's H6601).  Wait, what?  That doesn't even make sense.  But Gesenius's Lexicon goes onto explain it this way: "to be open, figuratively, to be open and [youthful] in mind...hence to let oneself be persuaded."  I think back to that weekend in high school - my youthful mind was very easily persuaded.  And it is so easy for us now to revert back to that youthful mind, to let down our guard and turn away from what we know is right.

Matthew Henry bluntly puts it this way: "All that forsake God to set their affection upon, or pay their devotion to, any creature, will find themselves wretchedly deceived by their own destruction...A little care would have prevented their being imposed upon by the great deceiver."  Did you catch that?  All it would take to avoid deception of the heart or a persuasive youthful mind is a little care!  If we simply care than our hearts will not so easily be deceived.

Today I challenge you to care.  Care for your heart, give it what it needs to thrive.  Set aside at least a half an hour today to read your Bible and pray.  All it takes is a little care to avoid the great deceiver!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

...Then the Lord will Provide

Do you remember learning about cause and effect in school?  Or maybe you have simply witnessed it in life.  For instance, if I drink my juice (the cause) then my glass will be empty (the effect).  Did you notice the "if" and the "then" there?  (I hope so, I made them bold for a reason. hehe.)  The Bible is FULL of "if...then" clauses.  God is telling us that if we do something then He will do something!  Cause and effect!  

Deuteronomy 11:13-15 - 13 It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14 then He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil.  15 He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied."

We have already discussed what it means to love the Lord with all of your heart as well as what it means to serve the Lord with all of your heart (check out those blogs here and here).  But this verse says it clearly: we are to do both.  

So if we do that, if we love the Lord AND serve Him with ALL of our hearts then what?

Then the Lord will provide.

The verse says that He will give rain in its "season" which in the Hebrew is actually defined as "time" (Strong's H6256).  He will send rain in its time.  The verse then goes onto discuss the early rain and the late rain.  While this may seem insignificant this reference was vital to their way of life!  

The early rain fell from late October to early December (Strong's H3138).  November is about the time they would sow their seeds so if there was not an early rain then there would not be vegetation come harvest (Clarke).  

The late rain fell in the months of March and April before harvest time (Strong's H4456).  This rain would grow ripen the crop, rendering them "plump and perfect" so if there was not a late rain then there would be no harvest due to lack of ripening (Clarke, Welsey).

This shows us that "the very rain of heaven falls by particular direction, and the showers are often regulated by an especial providence" (Clarke).   

The thing is, God knows the right season, the right time that we need rain and He knows the right time that we need sun...MUCH better than we do.  We think we know what we need and when we need it and so we become frustrated when we feel like the Lord isn't providing.  But you see - He will!  Every time!  IF we love and serve Him with ALL of our hearts THEN He will provide in HIS time!  

"The favor of God shall put gladness into the heart, more than the increase of corn, and wine, and oil will" ever be able to (Henry).  And He has promised us that favor! 

Rest in His favor today.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cutting Off our Stiff Necks

**Note - Again, Blogger is being superbly frustrating and highlighting random things and I can't change it.  The highlighted parts are no more important than the rest...

Deuteronomy 10:16 - So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.

What does it mean to circumcise your heart?

The Hebrew word used here is muwl which means "to circumcise, let oneself be circumcised, cut, be cut off" (Strong's 4135).  The lexicon, more precisely explains it as , "to remove unpure things from your mind...to purge, because the foreskin was regarded as unclean and profane."  Basically what this verse means for us is that it isn't about "cutting away a part of the flesh," but rather, "purification of the soul" (Clarke). So what does purification of the soul or circumcision of the heart look like?  Matthew Henry describes it as this: "Cast away from you all corrupt affections and inclinations, which hinder you from fearing and loving God...Away with all filthiness and...naughtiness, which obstruct the free course of the word of God to your hearts."  

Sometimes the imagery that the Bible uses makes me giggle.  What exactly does it mean to "stiffen your neck?"

Referring back to the Hebrew, the word for "stiffen" is qashah (pronounced "kashaw").  It means "to be hard, be severe, be fierce, be harsh" and the lexicon, when combining it with 'oreph, or neck, explains it "to make hard, harden...the neck, i.e. to be obstinate, stubborn" (Strong's H7185Strong's H6203).  So if anyone ever tells you you're being "stiff-necked" they mean - "you are being stubborn!"  :)

So why combine these two things?  What do circumcision of the heart and stubbornness have to do with each other?

As Henry states, "the circumcision of the heart makes it ready to yield to God and draw His yoke."  Circumcision of the heart is key to our relationship with Christ.  We need to "cut off" the filthy and unpure because it is the filthy, unclean things that are making us stubborn and obstinate!  Without them we are much less "stiff-necked" and much more likely to yield to what God has in store for us!

Take a moment to examine your relationship with Christ.  Is there an area where you are being stubborn or where you need to "cut-off" the filthiness?  Confess that area with a mentor or trusted acquaintance.  Have them help to hold you accountable to changing that!

Monday, July 2, 2012

God Asks us to Fulfill Knightly Duties

**Note, Blogger is being weird again and highlighted most of this blog.  I can't get it to go away so I just changed the text color so you could see it.  Just wanted to clarify that the highlighted information is no more important than the rest!

I remember in high school that there was an accident with a drunk driver.  While we really didn't know the victims personally, it still was an awful reality.  That kind of thing happens...even in small towns.  I remember my mom looking at me and saying, "Please don't ever drink and drive or even get in a car with someone who has been drinking, okay?"  While I knew that not drinking at all was something my parents required of me...here she was asking me not to do that very thing.  Why?  Because she was so concerned for my well being, she loved me so much that she didn't think telling me was adequate - she asked me not to.  Somehow, that makes it more personal.  It wasn't just a demand from someone in authority, it was a plea from someone who loved me beyond words.

Deuteronomy 10:12 - Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul..."

While God does require these things of us, and we know that, the Hebrew word for "require" here is sha'al which means "to ask, enquire, borrow, beg" (Strong's H7592).  God, because He loved them so much, was at a point with the Israelites that He was asking them to do the things that were vital for their well being!  I get the image of my mom, sitting on my bed near tears at the thought of ever losing her daughter, asking me to avoid alcohol and dangerous situations.  God is sitting on our bed, tears in His eyes at the thought of our potential pain, asking us to fear Him, to walk in His ways and love Him, to serve Him with all of our hearts.... It's a beautiful image isn't it?

When I initially read over this verse, I assumed it said "love the Lord your God with all your heart" just like the previous verse I had studied (that blog is a good one and can be found here).  However, as I started comparing translations, it hit me like a brick wall.  This verse it different!  It doesn't say to "love the Lord your God" it says to "serve the Lord your God!"  While I believe these two things go hand in hand, I had to pause for a second.  Obviously, this was an intentional difference so what are the implications for us?  First, I think that love brings in the emotional side of things, while serving is more physical.  What are your thoughts here?  Do you agree?  Anyhow, the scholars has a lot to say about what it means to serve with all your heart:

Matthew Henry believes that serving the Lord with all of our hearts means to "devote ourselves to His honour, put ourselves under His government, and lay out ourselves to advance all the interests of His kingdom among men."  I get the image of a knight here- knights, or soldiers, are famous for their honor and loyalty to the government they served. Stories and movies constantly depict knights (or knightly characters) laying down their lives for the interests of the Kingdom!  We are the Lord's army, are we not?  Henry goes onto say that "we must be hearty and zealous in His service, engage and employ our inner man in His work, and what we do for Him we must do cheerfully and with a good will."  If we are serving with all of our heart, then we are going to give our all!  And not just that...we're going to do it all with a smile on our face and joy in our spirits!  

Adam Clarke puts it a little bit simpler, "In a word, putting forth your whole strength and energy of body and soul in the sacred work."

And let us not forget that everything we do should be for the glory of the Lord (check out the fun reminder of this matter via song by Steven Curtis Chapman below) which means we are serving Him every minute of the day.  If that's the case, we should be putting our all into everything!  

I challenge you to day to examine your life. Take a post-it and write down one area of your life in which you are not serving God with all of your heart, giving Him your all.  Maybe it's your devotional time, maybe it's the work day, or maybe it's cleaning the house (guilty).  Stick that post-it where you will see it (mine will say "CLEANING" in big bold letters) as a reminder to give that area of your life your all...at least for a day.  At the end of that day, make note of the difference - I have a feeling we will be giving our all more often!

On a sidenote, I didn't really discuss the rest of this verse because I wanted to focus on matter of the heart.  However, if you would like some more information on what it means to fear the Lord, check out these two blogs here and here.  And if you take a look around, a few of my other blogs deal with that very matter as well!  

Have a wonderful week FULL of serving the Lord!  :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Forgiveness and Solutions Through the Eyes of a Child

The twins I work with are constantly amazing me...
And they ALWAYS make me laugh!  

Two things stuck out to me this week.

First, I wish I could have the forgiveness that comes so easily for children.

Mary and Charlie don't always see eye to eye - Mary can be bossy and Charlie is pretty stubborn - these two materials mixed together can catch fire pretty quickly.  We went to the pool and for some reason or the other, an argument erupted.  Charlie instantly was in tears at whatever happened and Mary was standing there with her arms crossed.  Not five minutes later, I hear Charlie,

"Mary, let's go to the fawm"  (The farm was the playground on this day...)

He reached for her hand and off they went, hand-in-hand to the playground!

They truly know what forgive and forget means.  For them, it's as easy as 1-2-3.  For me, it's nearly impossible.  It takes forever to forgive and forget?  Well  that's not only impossible, its unfathomable!  How could I possibly forget what hurt me?  

But for those beautiful, hilarious, innocent 3-year-olds, it is in their nature.  Forgiving and forgetting is natural for them.  Just one more reason why God wants us to be like children?  I think so!

On a lighter note - I love the solutions that kids come up with.  I was watching the kids yesterday and they had been promised a family movie night upon Dad's return.  Mary asks,

"We're having family move night, are you staying for the movie?"

"I can't sweetheart, I have to go home and make dinner for Justin."

"Oh"  (pause)  I can tell she is thinking hard...and then it happens, the head tilts a little sideways and she looks up at me with those huge gorgeous brown eyes:

"I promise you can go home tomorrow..."

My heart melted.

And in the background I can hear Charlie going "tiny rock" in a high-pitched voice and "BIG ROCK" in the deepest voice he can manage...just like I taught them.

This is their two personalities to a tee - Mary is always thinking, coming up with a solution to her problems (and this one is most definitely my favorite!) while Charlie is off in his own world, completely content.

Love them!