Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts

Bible Verses To Write In Your Christmas Cards (+ Printable!)



I think this might be the latest I've ever gone without sending my Christmas cards.

I am very fond of Christmas cards.  December is the only time of year when my mailbox (I almost said "inbox" - sheesh) is flooded with happy mail, and it cheers me up every time I receive a new card to open.  I like thinking that by sending out our cards, I can give a little bit of that cheer to people I care about too.

This year I am trying to personalize our cards a bit more.  I love photo cards, and usually that's the route I go with our Christmas cards, but I also realize that it's not as personal.  It's a printed card and photo, and unless someone leaves room to write on the photo card, everyone gets the same one.

I had a bunch of old-school Christmas cards lying around and decided to use them this year.  I'm going to tuck our photo inside with a handwritten note.  I can't guarantee that the notes are all going to be particularly meaningful, but they'l be written in my own hand, and I think that's something.

Another thing I love about Christmas cards is that they can also be a chance to encourage other believers by pointing them back to Christ during this hectic Christmas season.  It is so easy for the true meaning of why we are celebrating Christmas as believers to be lost in all the festivities.  Handwriting my cards gives me a chance to give a little Christian encouragement.  These are a few of the verses that I think are wonderful to tuck inside your Christmas card.



"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; And the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:1 (ESV)

"And the angel said to them 'Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Luke 1:46b-47 (ESV)

"...And they will call His name Immanuel, which means 'God With Us'." Matthew 1:23 (ESV)

"And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, that we may know Him who is true...He is the true God and eternal life." 1 John 5:20 (ESV)

"This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him." 1 John 4:9

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)



These verses are wonderful ones to write or type on your Christmas cards and newsletters, but I've also been working on something else...





A couple years ago I opened an Etsy shop to sell Bible verse card printable for labor and for new moms, but I have been really wanting to make a printable set with Bible verses for the Christmas season.  Something that could be tucked into a Christmas card as a little extra, something that can be attached to a present as a tag, something that would point back to Jesus.  Cards that could be used as a bookmark, or used as a tool to memorize Scripture around the Christmas season.












I finally made them this year, and I'm really happy with how it turned out!  I used an app to create some watercolor "winter woodland" illustrations - each card has a unique watercolor image on it, along with a Bible verse.

These come in a full size set, which are 5.6 inches wide, and a small set with are 3 inches wide.  I think the large set would be a nice addition to a Christmas present, and the mini set are perfect for tags, bookmarks, or tucking inside a Christmas card!

These verse cards are going to be up in my Etsy shop early next week, but I want to give a set to each of you who reads this blog.  I so appreciate all of you who stop by here and read my ramblings, and who still appreciate old school blogging.  This is my little Christmas present to you!



If you would like to receive the PDF of the cards, please either comment with your email and whether you would like the full size cards or the mini cards, or fill out this form before Tuesday (after that they will be up for sale in my shop)!



Happy Christmas, my friends!

I hope these little cards will be an encouragement to you to look to Christ for your Christmas joy this season.

(That sounds like I won't be blogging until after Christmas - I will be.  Just Merry Christmas early, I guess!)

See You Later, Social Media


  (Photos from our October fishing day.)

It's been growing for a while.  This uneasy relationship that has been developing between me and social media.

It all started with a blog post I read about social media addiction last year.  It opened my eyes to something that had already been eating at me.

I don't like the way I sometimes feel compelled to look at one social media platform or another.

I don't like having the weight of my phone so often in my back pocket.

I don't like how I feel...well, yucky after spending more time than I meant to browsing on Facebook or Instagram.

I don't like that feeling that I've missed out on something more important after my eyes have been glued to my phone.



For a while I wanted to be able to just cut back on my usage, set some phone time limits to help me stay off, develop better habits.  But when I take a break or set a limit for one social media platform, I find a lot of my energy is only diverted to a different one, and there I am, still wasting so much time.  Too much of my days wasted.

I'm taking a break.  A break from all social media platforms except here on my blog.  That is how it all started out anyway, right?  All these social media platforms I initially set up to help this blog are actually stealing from it in many ways now.  I am excited for the weeks ahead, to be able to put all my creative and writing energy into this space, the one that I always come back to.

So yeah.  I'm just taking an Instagram and Facebook break, and deleting 75% of the apps on my phone.  I'm not sure exactly how long I'll be off, but I imagine it will be until January so I can enjoy the Christmas season without the social media burden.  If you see updates on my blog Instagram and Facebook page, it will be automated posts that I'll be setting up through a scheduler.  I may pop on once or twice to say "Happy Thanksgiving" and "Merry Christmas", but otherwise, if you want to keep up with me, I'll be here on the blog.



I have lots of plans for what I'm hoping to accomplish with my extra time over the next one or two months.  Maybe I'll share that in another blog post next week!  But my main goal is to get rid of social media for a while, let the impulse to check it fade, so I can evaluate what, if anything, social media is actually adding to my life.  With a clear head.

I want to really look at my kids this Christmas season.  I want to take pictures of them merely because I think they are adorable, not in order to have something to share on my Instagram feed.  I want to bake, and sing, and paint, and fill photo albums, and figure out if I really can be a crafty mom, or if I'm as hopeless in that area as I always thought I was.  I want to memorize verses, and do an Advent study, and have enough blank space in my day to meditate more on what I've read.  I want to stop insta-sharing, and let things ruminate a little bit, and grow into something better so I can share the thought here, fully formed.

I want to focus more attention on my actual life instead of focusing on just making it look pretty on social media.

I love that quote from Annie Dillard that I came across earlier this year.  She said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

I want to spend mine on something better than Instagram.



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Have you ever taken a social media break?  How did it go, and how long did it last?

This isn't my first break, I took a break from Facebook years ago, and again last December, but I'm looking forward to a more thorough break this time!  It's the first time I've said goodbye to Instagram since I joined.

The Real Reason Why We Homeschool



"So, why did you decide to homeschool?"

I've been asked this question many times over the last several years, and sometimes it feels like a loaded question.  My standard answer has been that I was homeschooled myself and always knew that I wanted to homeschool too.  It's my non-confrontational, let's-not-get-too-far-into-this answer.  People can potentially get pretty fired up over educational choices, so I've fallen back to citing my own experience in an attempt to not rock too many boats.

But the truth is my standard reply is not really a real answer.  It's not a real "why".  "I always knew I would homeschool" is not a reason that gets you through the hard days when you wonder if it would have been easier to just put them on the big yellow bus.

If you know a homeschool mom, even one who grew up homeschooled like me, homeschooling is not the default choice.  You have to be a little bit of a rebel to homeschool, and you have to have a reason why you think it's better.  That might ruffle some feathers, but I do think it's a necessary ingredient to homeschool successfully.  As a homeschool parent, you have to have a solid reason why you think homeschooling is the better choice for your family in order to stick with it, because it's not easy.  That reason might vary from family to family, but you need one.

It occurred to me that maybe I’m not doing anyone any favors by not getting into the full reason why we homeschool.  So in this post I wanted to be little more up-front by sharing mine.



The main reason why we homeschool is because it is very important to us to protect my kids' childhood, and to train our children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  And we think homeschooling is the educational choice that is most conducive to those goals.

There are a lot of reasons we choose to homeschool and think it’s beneficial, but this is our most important one.

First, let's talk about protecting our kids' childhood.

Your mind probably jumps first to protecting their innocence, and that is part of what I mean here.  With things like comprehensive sex education and a rampant por.nog.raphy problem among younger and younger kids, if I can "shelter" my children from those things from a while, you bet I'm going to.  But there are other aspects of a childhood to protect as well.

To me, homeschooling is more conducive to protecting childhood in the matter of simple time.  I want my kids to have chunks of their day with time to play together, to read books for no other reason than interest, to explore God’s creation, to build something with their hands.  I want them to have time to connect meaningfully with the rest of the family each day, to be creative, to get bored, and time to just be.  To be a kid.  

I knew from my own homeschool student experience that homeschooling takes much less time (I found the estimates in this post to be pretty accurate), and there is obviously no homework.  That leaves my kids more time in their day to experience all the fun of childhood.  I wouldn't trade that for anything.



My second reason is that I want to train my kids up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

As a Christian parent, I believe it is my duty to train and instruct my children in the faith.  This is backed up by Scripture.

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

We will not hide them from their children, but will declare to the next generation the praises of the LORD and His might, and the wonders He has performed. Psalm 78:4

There is no shirking this duty to teach the next generation about the Lord, whether our kids are homeschooled or go to public or private school.  My greatest desire for my children is that they would repent of their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior, and that they would want to serve Him with their whole lives.  My goal as a Christian parent is to do everything I can to bring my kids to Christ and encourage them in living their lives for Him.

In my experience, homeschooling is more conducive to training my children in the faith because I have the freedom as a homeschool parent to integrate this instruction into every aspect of their education.  Every subject they are learning is an opportunity to also point them to the Giver of all knowledge.  

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."  Proverbs 9:10

It is a huge perk to me that homeschooling allows us to start with a biblical foundation for our kids' education and build their faith along with their studies, as long as I am faithful in teaching them this way.




A Few Things I Am Not Saying

You should know that I am NOT saying that if you send your kids to school, you are not doing a good job training your children up in the faith.  I don't believe that at all.  I know many godly, Christian parents who don't homeschool and are doing a great job with their kids.  But it also can't be denied that there is a more limited window of time in which to train them up in the faith when they are at school most of each weekday.  I don't believe education is neutral - all instruction is guided by a worldview, one which may or may not be biblical.  You can be successful in training up your kids in the faith with any educational road you may choose, but some roads are going to have more obstacles to work around than others.  Personally, I would rather go with the road with less obstacles.

I am not saying that if you don’t homeschool your kids won’t have a childhood.  I am saying that it might take more vigilance and intention and effort to protect innocence and time to be a kid when they are at school for much of the day.

I am not criticizing anyone for making a different educational choice, and I’m not criticizing teachers.  I'm fully aware that not everyone is able to homeschool, and I personally know many public and private school teachers who care about their students.  Parents I respect may come to a different conclusion about what they should do about their child's education, and that's ultimately up to you as a parent.  This post is not meant to be taken as a criticism.  I’m only hoping to share a few of my honest thoughts about an educational choice (homeschooling) that is certainly not the road of least resistance, though I may have given that impression with my standard answer in the past. 




When it comes down to it, I think people ask me this question because homeschooling is a novelty still.  Public or private school has been the default option for many people, and they wonder why someone would choose something different.  My hope in sharing my honest thoughts here is to bolster anyone who may be thinking about homeschooling, and to provide more meaningful insight as to why someone would choose to homeschool for those who have not thought about it seriously before.  You may disagree with my reasons, and that's fine, but this is why we have made the decision to homeschool our kids.



Maybe I should turn the tables next time and ask "Why did you decide to send your kids to school?"  That might make for an interesting conversation, ha!

If you are a homeschool parent, what is your main reason for homeschooling?

The Day I Became Pro-Life

(My precious Georgie, inside and outside the womb.)

I don't remember ever not being pro-life, but I do remember the day that term came to mean something to me.

In the early 2000's, the deabte was raging about whether partial birth abortion should be allowed.  For those who do not know, this is a procedure where a baby is partially delivered and the child is brutally killed in the process of birth, right before the baby is fully delivered.  I won't go into any more detail here, you can look it up if you need to know, but the fact that there was even a debate about whether to ban such a barbaric procedure is still shocking to me.

In the early 2000's, I did not know about the debate or the procedure.  I was 12 years old, and I knew about abortion but didn't think about it that much.

Around this time, Focus On The Family bought ad space in a newspaper to run comic strip in an attempt to clarify and impact the debate.  I'm sure it did have an impact too, because I know how it impacted me.

On the bulletin board at our Bible study, someone had pinned that comic strip.  One day, bored as I was waiting for my mom, it caught my eye.

I couldn't find the comic strip online to show you now, but the strip portrayed a baby in his mother's womb, learning new skills, growing and thriving.  Finally the time comes for the baby to be born, but right before he's about to enter the world...it's all over.  Nothing but darkness.

In the moment I really understood what happens in an abortion.  I knew about it before, but I didn't really know.  I thought about that comic all the way home and couldn't shake it the rest of the night.  And as I thought about it that night laying in my bed, tears ran down the sides of my face.

That was the day I truly became pro-life.

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From that day forward, the abortion issue was something I cared deeply about, but when I finally got pregnant with my first baby, it became all the more poignant.  I read the books about each stage of development, looked up pictures on the internet.  I felt his first little kicks at 16 weeks.  I cried when I thought that other babies the same age as my son, who might have been his friends someday, who were guilty of nothing except existing at the wrong time in the wrong place, who could acceptably be torn apart.

And I know I might be losing some of you with this post.  "It's more complicated than that," you might say.  "What about what the mother is going through?"  And I agree with that, it is rather complicated, but also kind of not.  Because a baby is a baby.  We, especially the church, need to offer more support to empower mothers to choose life for their children.  I love being involved with a pregnancy center that is trying to do just that, while also making sure every woman who comes through their doors hears the Gospel.

Partial birth abortion became illegal nationally in 2003, but Illinois recently re-allowed it in their state.  I live in a state that allows a baby in utero to be killed at any time, up until birth, for any reason.  This just blows my mind.  But I'm encouraged that in other areas of the country, many pro-life laws are being passed.  The current generation is more pro-life than the one before it, and I think that's because we can see inside the womb better now than ever before.  And it's harder to pretend that abortion is something other than what it is.

When it comes down to it, once you know, you can't not know.  That's what happened to me all those years ago.

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There is a church in our area that fills its lawn with small blue and pink flags every October.  It looks like there are thousands of them out there.

There are signs as you drive past that say: "These flags represent the babies who have been lost to abortion, and the men and women who mourn that decision.  Jesus, Divine Healer."

Jesus, Divine Healer.

I'd just like to finish this post by saying that if any of you have had an abortion that you regret, I'm so sorry.  I am not judging you, my heart is just shattered for you.  Please know that I am praying for any who might be reading this who have gone through an abortion in the past, that you would know the healing and forgiveness that can be found in Christ.

And for anyone in my state, I'm working on a petition to get a measure on the ballot to limit abortions after 22 weeks, so if you are interested in signing and helping to stop late-term abortion in our state, send me an email!

Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday - A Review



Are you all ready for a really long review? (I'm sorry in advance, but I couldn't make it shorter.)

I saw Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday by Valerie Woerner when a blog friend shared a few really good lines from one of the chapters.  I've developed an aversion to books written for Christian women in general, but I thought the points from the book that my friend shared were really interesting, so I decided to give it a go.  And I do have thoughts.  A lot of thoughts.

Before I start, I just want to say up front that I really agonized over this review for one main reason - I'm really hoping the author will read this review.

I'm hoping she will read it because I think she is actually really talented.  It's no small thing to write a book, and her voice is relatable and fun.   I can tell that she really has a heart for the Lord and wants to serve the Lord well, and that goes a long way in my book.  She also mentions a few times in the book the value of having a teachable spirit and being able to listen to a critique.  I do have some critiques to give that I think are really important.  I'm hoping the author reads this because I have no doubt that she will write another book in the future, and I hope she can consider these points when she does.

First, let's talk about what she did well!



Positives

This is such a great topic for a book in today's culture.  I fully agree with the author's assessment of the problems with being a grumpy mom, and how the different aspects of modern mom culture (like wearing "hot mess" like a badge and one-upping each other on how little sleep we got, for example)  are only contributing to our general grumpiness about motherhood.  Her chapter on not being constantly offended is right on the money, while also being really self-aware of her own areas of weakness when it comes to being offended.  She hit on alot of great points throughout this book, and really did a great job in pointing out some of the problems in our collective attitudes about motherhood.

As I said, her voice is also really relatable, and the writing was overall fun to read.  Alot of her personal stories reminded me of the days when my kids were a little younger, and also of some of my own struggles as a mom right now!  This book does an excellent job of letting mothers know they are not alone in their struggles, and that I think is definitely valuable.

Negatives

This is the not-so-fun part for me.  I feel like I need to preface this section with saying that to me, this book actually felt like two separate books.  I felt like the underlying focus of the advice in the first 40% of the book, and the last 3 or 4 chapters was completely different than the middle. The first part and the last few chapters were mostly focused on more secular concepts with a Christian twist (by secular concepts, I mean concepts that would apply to anyone, secular or Christian, or that you could read in many psychology or self-help books), while the middle was packed with many more Bible references and a more biblical approach to the problems.

I don't know that much about the book writing/editing process, but it felt like the first part and the last part were written at the same time, and then the section in the middle was written later during a period when she grew in her faith and biblical knowledge.  If I'm right, it's a great thing that her outlook grew to focus more on Scripture.  For the sake of the book, it was not a great thing that the book couldn't all have been written after she decided which type of advice she wanted to focus on, because like I said, it felt like two completely different books.  All that to say, some of the critiques I give below are more prominent in the first half and last few chapters.


1.The gospel is poorly presented (and even misrepresented) in this book.

I am bringing this up as someone who has made the same mistakes in my writing in the past, so I hope it can be read with that in mind.

It was clear that the author was addressing her book to an audience that are already believers in Christ. The problem is that in the current culture, you can’t assume that everyone who picks up a Christian “self-help” type book will actually be a Christian. Especially with a title like “Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday” - all kinds of moms who struggle with grumpiness will be picking this up. As a Christian author, you have to keep this in mind.  If any nonbelievers pick this book up, it will do them absolutely no eternal good if they learn how to be less grumpy at their kids, but they still don’t know what it means to be saved.

In the first few paragraphs the author assured the reader that the Holy Spirit will help her on this journey.  She can make no such assurance though, because unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit. 

There are two things that need to happen to explain the gospel - you need to tell WHY we need to be saved, and tell HOW we can be saved. Unfortunately, the book missed the mark on both counts.  

Just to be clear, the gospel is NOT that God will help us to be better, less grumpy people. The gospel is not about doing our best for God.  The gospel is not about God helping us live our lives more abundantly. The gospel is not about self improvement.  Some of those things can RESULT from the gospel, but it’s not how we are saved.

Unfortunately alot of this book gives the impression that this is all there is to being a Christian, because the actual gospel is never explained in full, though in some of the middle chapters it is touched on.

The author makes an attempt to explain the gospel in Chapter 9 after admitting that until fairly recently, she was relying on works to save her, until she realized she could never do enough. But I was disappointed when the only thing she described being freed from was her “guilt” (not her sin and it’s consequences). She prays “Only you can save me from my own requirements for righteousness that I put on myself.” 

The problem is not that we are guilty of not living up to our own standards. We are guilty of not living up to GOD’S standard (Romans 3:23), and His standard is perfection, because He is perfectly holy. We have earned nothing for ourselves but eternal punishment in Hell, because we have sinned against an eternal God and broken His laws (Romans 6:23Matthew 25:46).  Even our supposed good deeds are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot pay this sin-debt, we cannot make ourselves righteous.  Which is why we need Jesus, because HE is the only one who meets God’s standard (Corinthians 5:21), and He took our punishment for us. 

God loves us, and because He loves us, He didn’t leave us in our sins, but provided a way for us to be saved. God became a man, Jesus who was fully man and fully God. He lived the sinless life that we couldn’t, and then died in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. Then He rose again, defeating sin and death, proving He was God! And now all we must do to be saved is repent, meaning to be sorry for our sin and turn to Jesus, putting our faith in Him to save us and not in any work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we do that, He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), so we can stand blameless before God. He also gives us the Holy Spirit, who then empowers us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

I’m not saying the author doesn’t understand the gospel, I think she does because of different things she writes. But no one could read this book and put the gospel together unless they already knew the gospel themselves.  Elements of the full gospel are scattered in various phrases throughout the book, but it’s like a super-confusing Easter egg hunt, one that starts with the results of the gospel and works backward. But even the reason Jesus died for us is never explained, His resurrection never mentioned. 

The whole gospel is awfully hard to find in this book amidst all these disjointed and missing puzzle pieces, and perhaps an opportunity to reach unbelieving moms who pick up this book is missed. Worse, I’m afraid that because our sin problem isn’t addressed and the gospel isn’t fully explained, some may leave with a confusion about what it really even means to be a Christian. This is so important to get right in any Christian nonfiction book, in my opinion, and the lack of a clear explanation of how to be saved was my biggest problem with the book.



2. There was more of a focus on self-help than biblical advice.

A lot of the advice in this book is repackaged self-help, with a few Bible passages sprinkled in to support her points. I thought this was a shame. The Bible actually has a ton to say about complaining, selfishness, worry, grumbling, unthankfulness...all the things that make us act like grumpy moms. This book could have been so Biblically rooted if the author had started with the Bible and worked out from there, but she often starts with her own thoughts (many of which are not that different from other self-help books) and her own experiences with Christian living, and then the biblical references felt tacked on in order to support her points.

In all fairness, this critique applies more toward the beginning and last few chapters of the book. She hit a better note in the middle. 


3. She seemed afraid to address the actual root cause of being a grumpy mom. 

The truth is, we are not grumpy just because we aren’t flexible enough. We’re not grumpy because we don’t take enough time for self-care, or because we rely too much on chocolate. At the root, being grumpy at our kids is really a lingering sin struggle.

We don’t like our kids interrupting whatever we’re doing because we’ve put our interests ahead of theirs (Phil. 2:4).  We complain about all the work kids involve and how we never have time to brush our hair because we are viewing a gift from God as a burden, harboring ungratefulness.  

These are just examples from the book, but hopefully you can see my point.  These things won’t be fixed by bandaids like more flexibility and self-care. Selfishness, complaining, and ingratitude are all sins, and ones the Bible has plenty to say about, but she didn’t include any of the really relevant verses, or address them as sins at all. She didn’t explain how Jesus has freed those of us who believe in Him from the power of these sins in our lives BECAUSE He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. This book would have been so much more powerful and useful if she had spent more time on these things. Christians still need to be reminded of the true gospel too.  I think that’s the most effective way to overcome these struggles -when we are focused on what Christ did to save us from sins like these, they automatically lose some appeal.

I got the feeling through some of the book that the author just wanted to be positive and not address the hard truths. She seemed mostly hesitant to use the word “sin” through most of the book, mainly using euphemisms like “mess” and “brokenness”.  

There is such a thing as being too nice - and it’s when it causes us to avoid speaking the truth in love because we are worried speaking the truth clearly might cause hurt feelings. Avoiding saying hard things might be “nice”, but it’s not kind.

4. Questionable use of Bible translations.

Warning: This is just a pet peeve of mine.

I almost hate to bring this up, because a lot of you may just tune me out here, but can we all just be a little more careful with our use of the Message? This is not an actual Bible translation, and it’s not God’s Word. It’s a paraphrase. If I paraphrase something you say, I’m not spreading your words, I’m taking what you said and putting it in my own words. A paraphrase of the Bible is man’s word, not God’s Word.  There is nothing wrong with referencing it occasionally, but please, let’s not quote the Message as if it’s God’s Word. Because it’s not. 

The author did okay with qualifying that it was a paraphrase at the beginning, but she used the Message heavily throughout this book and then eventually dropped the qualification. 

Whether you like the Message or not (can you tell what I think about it? ha!), the Message should not be referenced or read as your main “Bible translation”. Because it’s not an actual translation. 

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now.

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To sum it up, who would I recommend this book to?

Because of the problems with presenting the gospel clearly and the confusion that might result, I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone that I was not already sure was a strong Christian who really understands the gospel.  

Because of the weak beginning and end, I am hesitant to recommend the book to my Christian friends too.  There are some gems in this book, but they are buried beneath too much soft or confusing language, and a hesitancy to address these issues as sin.  I just think there are alot of other books that are more rooted in the Bible and the gospel (Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is one).

Again, I'm sharing all this not just for people who want to know what to expect, but also because I hope the author sees this.  Valerie, if you are reading, please know that I tried my best to approach this review in love, as a sister in Christ.  I've been praying over this review, and hope you can see my heart and give some thought to these issues.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for free, in exchange for an honest review.

The One Thing Your Church Needs To Get Right




(The steeple from my childhood church, in case you were wondering.  It was the best church photo I had.)

Let's do a little evaluating exercise, shall we?

I've mentioned a couple of times briefly that Derek and I have had some church upheaval to deal with over the last six months or so.  I won't get into details here, but we decided in light of everything that we needed to take a step back and evaluate our church situation a little bit, and seek where the Lord may have us go.  So we've been trying some of the churches in our area.

This is the second time we have gone through this process in the last few years, so between Derek and me, we have checked out over a hundred churches, either online or in person.  I wish I could say it's been an encouraging process, but on the contrary, it's been incredibly discouraging to me.  The most discouraging part hasn't involved service styles or anything to do with the people in these churches.  So many have been friendly and welcoming.  I've been more discouraged than anything by the content of some of the sermons.

One illustration we heard at a church-that-shall-not-be-named particularly bothered me, maybe because it is an example of everything that I've been discouraged about in our church hunt.  I'm tipping my hand here, but see if you can understand my point after you read the sermon illustration below.  I understand that every illustration is imperfect and falls apart when you try to take it too far, but I was particularly concerned with this one.

This is roughly what was said in one of the sermons we heard.

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"Let's imagine that a man gets called into his boss's office one day.  His boss tells him that he needs to sell a million dollars worth of product.  He needs to do it in six months, or he'll lose his job.

The man works to sell the company's product.  Six months later, he gets called into the boss's office again.  He sits down, and his boss looks at him.  The man sweats a little bit in nervousness.  He doesn't think he did well enough.   He is fearful that he'll have to go home tonight and tell his wife that he's out of work.

His boss announces that he only sold $7 worth of product in the last six months.

The man hangs his head.  He knows he's going to lose his job.  He didn't do enough.

But his boss looks at him, and tells him that no, he didn't sell enough.  But because he cares about him so much, he's going to give him another six months to sell the million dollars."

"That," this pastor announced proudly, "is grace."


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Okay.

The only problem is, that is not the Gospel.

I'm going to give that pastor the benefit of a doubt and assume he was merely trying to explain the general concept of grace rather than a Gospel illustration, but I'm using it as an example because the illustration was representative of alot of the teaching we've heard lately.  Let's just be clear:

The Gospel is not that God gives us grace to do better.

The Gospel is not that Jesus is our example.  He is, but He's so much more than just that.

The Gospel is not even about God changing lives.  That is the result of the Gospel, but it's not the Gospel.

The Gospel starts with understanding that we have a sin problem.  Not "messiness", not "mistakes", not "brokenness".  A pervasive, indwelling sin problem that we can never make up for because we are always piling on more sins.

No, nobody is perfect. And that's the problem, because we are talking about a perfect, holy God, full of goodness and light.  And we have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4).  We have broken His laws.  God must punish sin, or He would not be perfectly just nor good.  We have earned for ourselves death and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23).  With every disobedience.  With every grumbling or unclean thought. With every "white lie".

That is not a message that some pastors want to focus on these days.  That is not a feel-good message.  That is bad, bad news.  It might even be offensive, because we all have a tendency to think we aren't "that bad" (guilty here).  But even that attitude is the sin of pride!  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We're in trouble.

You have to understand the bad news to understand the good news.

God, out of the richness of His loving-kindness, didn't leave us in our sin and death.  He sent His Son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, and He was perfect.  He did everything we couldn't, lived a life without sinning even once.  Then because He was perfectly righteous, He took the punishment we had earned upon Himself.  He died in our place.  Then He rose from the dead, conquering our sin and death itself.  He took our sin upon Himself, suffered the wrath against sin that we deserved, and in exchange He gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When we recognize who we are, and who Christ is and what He has done, the only thing we need to do is to repent.  We need to turn from our sin and turn to Christ with faith that He will save us.  With faith that He has done everything required for our salvation if we will just turn and trust in Him.

We don't have to be a "better person" to earn His favor.  We don't have to "clean up our lives" to earn forgiveness. We don't have to strive to do things "God's way" in hopes that we've done enough to make up for our wrongs.  We can do nothing to deserve His mercy, we can't make up for our wrongs. But Christ did.  

 "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior," 

Titus 3:4-6

And when we understand that and turn to Christ, God takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  We will respond in loving obedience, because when we understand Jesus died to save us from the punishment of our sin, we will start to hate our sin.  We want to turn our back on it and turn to Jesus because He already saved us from that.  And He enables us to now live for Him (2 Cor. 5:15) through the Holy Spirit working in us, sanctifying us.



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So if we were going to take that illustration at the top of this post and make it represent the Gospel more truly, it would be something like this.

Your boss comes to you one day and says you have to sell a million dollars in six months or you will lose your job. Worse, you have been embezzling from the company for years, so you have to pay that money back before you can start earning the million dollars.  The total is astronomical.  You will never be able to earn it back.  You are in trouble.

In six months your boss sits down to look at your accounts.  He looks at the papers, and then looks up at you.  You are sweating.  You've done nothing that has decreased what you owe.  You know you deserve to lose your job and be thrown in prison for what you've done.

But he looks at you with eyes filled with compassion.  And he smiles.

He leans forward and tells you he knows what you've done.  He knows what you owe, and that you can never do enough to repay it, no matter how many years he might give you.  But he cares for you like his own child.  You have fallen incredibly short, but His son sold enough to cover everything you owe.  He has credited what his son has earned to your account, and he won't be pressing charges against you for the embezzlement because his son has paid your fine.

You don't have to do anything.  Your debt is payed, your way has been earned.  You can keep your job forever. 

That is mercy.  That is grace.

That is the Gospel.


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If you have not trusted in Jesus for your eternal salvation, I urge you, please be reconciled to God.  Trust in the One who has done everything necessary to give you eternal life.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Him.

And if you are a believer already, please get this right. And get yourself in a church that gets this right. 

It does little good for church pews to be filled each week, it does little good to hear superficially inspiring sermons, if the message doesn't point us back to Christ and what He has done to save us.  The pure, beautiful truth of what Christ has done for us that we couldn't do for ourselves. Understanding and believing this truth is what brings about actual life change, through God's grace.

I have seen the "gospel" taught wrongly so many times in the past few months, and I don't think I even realized how much of a burden that discouragement was putting on me until a few weeks ago, when we finally sat again in a church that preached everything I just tried to explain above.

I sat there in the pew with tears rolling down my cheeks.  It was such a relief to me, even as someone who is already a believer, after months of "do better" sermons, to hear again from the pulpit the beautiful truth of the Gospel preached clearly.  To marvel again at what Jesus did for me.

We believers still need to hear the Gospel too.






When Wiping Faces Doesn't Feel Satisfying



Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, the years in which we have seen evil.  Let Your work appear to Your servants, and Your glory to their children.  And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us.  Yes, establish the work of our hands.

  Psalm 90:14-17


There are days, as a Christian woman and as a stay at home mom, when it’s hard to keep perspective.  No one is very excited to hear what you are doing day in and day out, and to be honest, it’s not exciting to tell it.  I wipe little faces.  I make meals to fill little bellies. I listen to long stories, agonize through sounding out words, correct attitudes that have gone askew.  I try to mold little hearts, but often feel as if I’m making a mess of it, more like a child forming mudpies than a sculptor forming a work of art.

We all love instant gratification, immediate results, the fruits of our social media-saturated culture. We like to look at our work each day and point. “See what I’ve done! See what I’ve grown!” 

Motherhood is not like that. There is no instant progress, and the dopamine hits are few and far between. 

I read in some book once (maybe Teaching From Rest?) about how in medieval times, when the gothic cathedrals were being built, it took several generations to bring them to completion.  So some may have worked on a cathedral their entire lives, and they were lucky if they saw the end product.

I think often the work that will really last, the stuff that will really matter, is not like building a social media platform. It is like building a cathedral.

This passage in Psalms stopped me in my tracks today, because it is the cry of my heart on those days when it is hard to keep perspective. It is everything I want my life to be, everything I want for my children.

Satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!  I want my children know the kindness of His mercy early, so they may follow Christ all their days. When the days are long and feel fruitless, I want to rest and rejoice and be glad in the salvation He bought for me too.

Let Your work appear to your servants, and Your glory to their children.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, to open my eyes to see the work God is doing here, even in the mundane.  I want to teach my children to do the same, so they will know the glory of the One who made them.

Establish the work of our hands for us.  Remember that there are things that will last for a moment, and things that will last forever.  

Money will be spent.  Things will wear out.  Beauty fades.  Fame is fleeting, and social media kingdoms crash to the ground every day.  Some of these things we need to a certain extent, and some things we don't, but all these temporary things are ultimately meaningless by themselves.  If we put our satisfaction in these things, one day we will wake up and realize we wasted our lives.

But there are things that last forever.  There are souls to invest in, from the woman who needs a kind word at the store, to the friend who needs encouragement, to the children giggling down the hall who need to know Jesus.  There is the work we do for Christ.  Even something as simple as wiping chocolate off the little face of an eternal soul, when done to bring more glory to Jesus, is significant.  

Wiping little faces, filling little bellies, showing patience through frustrations, all the while speaking of the mercy and kindness and glory of our King.  Speaking of what He has done to save them if they will just turn to Him in repentance and faith.  So our children (and others) will know it.  So they will know Him. 



That's the work that is worthy of establishing, friends.  That's a cathedral.  And you may not see what this day to day, mundane faithfulness is building, but God does.

Yes, Lord, establish the work of our hands.


He Is Risen!


"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it..." Acts 2:23-24

This verse never fails to make my heart jump.  Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, demonstrating His great love for us by paying the penalty we had earned. He died to pay it, even while we were still defiant and rebelling. But it was not even possible for our Savior to be held by death.  Now He is alive forevermore!  He has paid for our sins and conquered death! 

This is everything! 









Happy Resurrection Day, friends. He is risen!


An Easter Memory



My mom has always been better at sewing than me.  The most impressive thing I have ever stitched is quilts for the cribs of each of my children, but any experienced seamstress would look at the back of those and note how messy they are.  But my mom, she was amazing.  

One year, she made my sister and I matching Easter dresses, navy blue fabric with yellow roses, double-layered with a sheer, silky yellow fabric on top.  It had ties around the back.  I was almost to the age where I didn’t want to match very much anymore, but that year I loved the matching dresses and felt very stylish.  

I don’t know exactly what led our family to try that little church, but I do have an idea.  The winter after I turned nine, we had attended the church at the top of the hill in our little mountain community.  It was a bigger church in the community but still quite small.  I can remember the shape of the pastor’s hair, I remember going to the church one night to watch a testimony movie and feeling inspired by it.  I remember being baptized there and being so excited by the portable CD players my grandparents gave us as a congratulatory gift.  

But what I remember most about that church is the kids.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember them in a good way.

I remember always sitting on the perimeter in Sunday School class, and avoiding speaking as much as possible.  I remember fidgeting in my chair.  I remember dreading the moment the class was over.  Because after the class the other kids, who all knew each other (I didn’t know any of them), would go sit on the couches in the corner of the lobby and talk and laugh.  It always sounded like a mean-spirited laugh to me. I didn’t join them, I stood across the room, right outside the door of my mom’s Sunday School class, waiting for her to come out.  I just didn’t feel comfortable sitting with those kids.

One Sunday I plucked up my courage, and I went and sat on the couch while the kids talked.  None of them really talked to me, and it was nightmarishly awkward the whole time.  One of the ruder boys started pointing at me and teasing another boy about having a crush on me.  I don’t know if that boy did actually have a crush on me or not, I don’t know if I was the target or he was, I just know my nine-year old heart started thumping in my chest.  I finally got up the guts to sit with these kids, and now their attention was focused at me in a way that made me feel as if they were laughing at me.  Maybe they were.  Or there is the possibility that my childish self misunderstood the situation, but I didn’t wait around to find out.  I grabbed my hardcover kids’ devotional Bible and booked it back over to my spot by the adult’s Sunday School class door.

I never sat with those kids after that.  I cried every week while I was getting ready for church, not sure what to wear, terrified that the kids were going to laugh at me again and not wanting to give them any provocation with a silly outfit.  I vividly remember my mom trying to help me get dressed one day, but I was convinced all the kids would make fun of me.  I stood crying in front of the mirror, my eyes red and puffy.  I look back at this as an adult and realize perhaps I was being rather sensitive and a smidge ridiculous that morning.  But my mom looked back at me in the mirror, and I saw her eyes soften.  She turned me to her, gave me a hug, and softly said that I could just stay home with my dad.

My dad and I watched football on the couch that Sunday morning.  And I don’t ever remember going to that church again.

The next time I remember going to church, I was dressed in that pretty yellow Easter dress, matching with my sister.  We drove to a new place, a little white church in a high altitude park, surrounded by fields and mountains.  A boy was in the foyer with a tall white-haired man helping him pull a thick rope that rang the bell in the steeple.  We listened to the sermon while trying not to be distracted by a red-haired girl with the same name as my sister who sat in the row in front of us, grinning over the seat back.  My mom visited with the adults after the service and then walked us kids out back to the merry-go-round, one of the metal kind that spin impossibly fast, the kind they don’t make anymore.  Another girl with dark braids and a bright white smile, dressed in a long fur coat, elegantly watched the other kids as they spun, but she turned to grin at me as we walked up.  

It was a cold, blue day, with a strong wind that carried laughter.  But this time it was the good kind.  Laughter born of joy and friendliness and love for each other and for our Savior on that bright Easter morning.  The kind of laughter that I’m sure Heaven must be filled with.

We never left that church, we stayed there until I was grown and married.  They weren’t perfect, there were a few church dramas, but those people truly functioned as the body of Christ in our lives.  We spent countless Easters there.  We spent many Christmases caroling to the smattering of houses at the foot of the mountains.  The pastors taught us more about our Savior.  The church payed for Christian summer camp for all the kids, in exchange for Bible verses memorized.  They invested in us, and trained us, encouraged us, and taught us truth.  They helped grow me into maturity.  The whole church came to my high school graduation.  The ladies threw a bridal shower for me, they helped plan my wedding.  And the whole church came again the day I married Derek.

Sometimes I’m not sure why children grow up and feel the need to leave something that was good to them as a child.  Because I’ve never found a church that I loved, or that loved me as much, as that one.  It was the love of Christ they showed to us, the love of the One who suffered and died to save us from the wrath we deserved, the love of the One who rose again to free us from our sin.  The love of the One who keeps us still, now and through all eternity as we will worship our King forever in a place with no more tears.


They reflected His perfect love imperfectly.  But it was still dazzlingly bright.


Happy Easter, my friends!  Praying you reflect the love of Jesus our Savior to all who enter your church doors this Good Friday and Resurrection Day.  You never know when the Lord will use you, His hands and feet, in your little church right where you are, to make a lasting impact on someone's life.  Even someone who is already a believer, like I was.
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