November 27, 2011

Observing Advent 2011

This year, we'll be doing these readings through the Jesse Tree symbols at breakfast or dinner each day.  Until a few years ago I didn't know of the Jesse Tree Advent symbols; but I wanted a simple advent wreath we could use annually and found the one above online.  I hope to pick up a round glass centerpiece mirror to go under it this year.  We've never done any readings to go with it, so I guess we're starting a new tradition!

For personal reading, I cannot recommend this book enough and look forward to reading it every year:

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

Adding to my collection, I've picked up a used copy of this (by one of my favorite authors/commentators James Montgomery Boice) to read this year, thanks to AbeBooks, the best place to find used books online!

The Christ of Christmas

There's nothing magical about Advent and observing it, no sin if you don't, it's simply a time of building up expectation to the celebration of Jesus' birth at Christmas - a great opportunity for extra focus and heart preparation, similar to Lent.  Boice reminded me yesterday that the Christmas story is far from sentimental and cuddly - it's raw, rough, and intense.  The Angel told Joseph to give the baby the name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.

To do that, He knew He was coming to die, and did so willingly and joyfully, that God's people might be restored unto Him.  The wonder of Christmas points to the toil of the crucifixion and the glory of the resurrection.  Christmas turns our hearts and minds to the God our Emmanuel, who came to be with us, and who will one day make His dwelling with men, forever and ever.


May God bless you in the Advent season
as you prepare your homes for the holiday
and your hearts for the celebration!

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving Eve, preparing for our traditional breakfast:

Ready to go into the fridge!
Got the dishes washed
and, later, the table set.

Thanksgiving morning!

Thanksgiving afternoon!
We were at my folks with my side of the family.
Since we'd been sick, I'd been relieved of my cooking duties.
But we were all (thankfully!) well enough to enjoy the best meal of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!
 Here's to a great holiday season!

And, for those not on Facebook, here's how I'm looking these days.

November 24, 2011

Psalm 65

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion;
   to you our vows will be fulfilled.
O you who hear prayer,
   to you all men will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
   you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
   and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
   of your holy temple.

 You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
   O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
   having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   and the turmoil of the nations.
Those living far away fear your wonders;
   where morning dawns and evening fades
   you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
   you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
   to provide the people with grain,
   for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows
   and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers
   and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty, 
   and your carts overflow with abundance. 
The grasslands of the desert overflow;
   the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
   and the valleys are mantled with grain;
   they shout for joy and sing.

May the day run out before you run out of words of thanks to God the Great Giver!
(Hopefully this psalm will get you off to a good start.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2011

She's This Kind of Mom

We are all sick, well, the kids have done their sickness but today Colin and I are good for nothin'.
I'm thankful for the television & Wii sitters who were available to care for the kids.

I called my mom to bring us a few things.  THIS is what she brought:

I want to be this kind of mommy and gramma, someday.
Thanks, Mom!

November 18, 2011

Wampanoag Wetus and Pilgrim Houses

Next Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving; I love the excuse to make holiday crafts!  We have spent the last several weeks learning about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag People.  Most of the books we read came from Sarah Clarkson's Read for the Heart in the history section about pre-colonial times.  I thought it would be fun to make some Wampanoag Wetus and Pilgrim Houses.  A Google search helped me fine this site, then I adapted their craft to suit our needs and make them look slightly more authentic.  If you'd like to give either a try, I've included supply lists and some rough directions below.

Wetus and Pilgrim Houses

Materials for the Wetus:
  • pipe cleaners
  • paper lunch bags or brown construction paper
  • white glue
We did a Wetu Google Image search to see what the frames looked like and built little frames, starting with a pipe cleaner formed into a circle.  Then we made arcs of pipe cleaners to create the shape.  They mold and twist so easily it worked out great.  The outer covering we made with squares of cut-up paper bags.  This was a little complicated.  We put glue on the pipe cleaner frame, then starting at the bottom, and putting glue on the squares, we made the base circle of paper squares, then put on an outer pipe cleaner circle to hold it in place while it dried.  Then we did another circle of paper above that, securing it the same way as the first. Finally we glued a little flap onto the top, where the smoke could escape from the fire inside.  Once it was all dry, I cut a little door flap on one side.

Materials for the Pilgrim Houes:
  • top halves of orange juice containers
  • paper bags or brown construction paper
  • Raffia or straw
  • glue (stick and white)
Having the frame for this one made this much easier than the wetus.  Cut a bunch of strips of paper bags or construction paper for the "logs."  Glue stick all over a side and place the strips, trim as needed.  Continue with the 4 other sides.  You can add a door if you'd like and cover it with a solid piece of paper.  For the roof we covered each side with a solid piece of paper bag, so that the raffia would stick better.  Then we smeared it all over with white glue, (thick enough to just place pieces of Raffia into it and they would stay), and covered each side with little strips of the Raffia.  Also, we decided not to bother with the indented sides of the oj container tops, as you can see.

Age Appropriateness:
Brian, 3 years, was not terribly interested in the Wetu craft and I did it myself and helped Elizabeth, 7 years, a lot with hers.  But she persevered through the tougher things, like holding down the glued paper and twisting pipe cleaner shapes, and enjoyed herself.

Brian was sick and slept through the Pilgrim House craft time, but I'm sure a 3-year-old would need a lot of assistance with this craft, though it would still be quite enjoyable.  Elizabeth, was able to do most of it herself, though I cut some things ahead of time like the oj containers, the long strips of paper for the logs (she then cut them to size), and the pieces of Raffia.

November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Cards

When we lived away, we made a habit of making holiday cards for family.  It seems less of a necessity now that we see them all so often, but the Great Gram lives away so we have a good excuse to keep up the tradition! I got the idea for this year from the DLTK website.  We adapted it a little, using watercolor paints, gluing on  a 3D construction paper beak, and I drew light pencil lines on the paper for Brian to follow (and helped him with the first one, his is on the left and E's on the right.)

Brian, at 3.5 years old, seemed capable of trying it on his own.  He exercised his artistic freedom and some family members will be receiving a blue Thanksgiving turkey this year.  Or maybe it's a Thanksgiving peacock?

One more week before we get to stuff our faces.  Our menu is absurd and I CANNOT WAIT!!!!
Happy Thanksgiving!

November 16, 2011

I've Never Read a Parenting Book Like This One

Last night I finished reading Hints on Child Training by Henry Clay Trumbull.

Wow, what a book.

Trumbull penned this book in his sixties in the year 1890, having raised eight of his own children and in the midst of being a grandfather to many more.  (Cool fact: He's Elisabeth Elliot's great-grandfather.)  This book came highly recommended by the Clarkson family, founders of Whole Heart Ministries; Sally Clarkson has written many books on the call of motherhood that God has used to change my life and dynamics in our family.  So I picked it up at the MomHeart conference last spring.  But, I was skeptical.  Really?  Wouldn't a book from the late 19th century be just another treatise on spanking, speak-only-when-spoken-to, authoritative parenting?

The answer to my question, as I read through chapter after chapter was a resounding, "NO!" *

I would summarize Trumbull's book with one word: tenderness.  Paragraph after paragraph I was left desiring to love and value the little ones God has put in our care each and every day, from the moment they boisterously wake to the whispers we share at bedtime.

Chapters that made me pause and think ... and already make some changes:

  • Honoring a Child's Individuality
  • Training Children to Sabbath Observance
  • The Value of Table Talk
  • Never Punish a Child in Anger
  • Dealing Tenderly with a Child's Fears
  • Good-Night Words

The influence of Trumbull's words has little to do with specific methods.  Rather, he presents child training as a journey of respect and delight shared between parent and child.  He offers some suggestions for how to train children in specific areas, how to make the Sabbath or Christmas special, how to take advantage of the bedtime routine to bless your children, how to include children in dinner conversation, etc.  However, one does not finish reading thinking, Okay, I've now got to put Trumbull's plan into action to "get it right."  I was left thinking, Wow, our relationships in our family can be so much richer, our celebration of the Sabbath can be so much more special, our work to raise these kids is such a blessed calling and God will help us do it as we turn to Him and let ourselves really love our kids and take seriously their training.

My strong opinion: you can pitch all of your other parenting books, as long is this one is on your shelf (and it has been read!)  Pittsburgh peeps, my copy is now available for borrowing if you'd like to "try before you buy!"

* I should have known better than to think the Clarksons would recommend anything but the best.  My apologies, Clay and Sally!

November 14, 2011

The Means of Grace Vs. A Twelve-Step Program

I want to follow up on yesterday's post about the simplicity of the call of Jesus, Follow me.

There is a sense of let-down when someone says to us, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Really?  Just trust?  I want to DO something, make progress, be able to check some things off of a list so I know I'm doing it right.  How exactly does this work?

We live in a world of self-help and 12-step programs.  While these can be very helpful means of change and growth in certain areas of life, they can be damaging to our faith, giving us the sense that we can "arrive" at some point where we no longer need the blood of Jesus daily.  Growing in faith requires discipline, yes, but we can never disconnect ourselves from the Father, Son, and Spirit in favor of a "growth program;" no matter what kind of promises it makes, nothing can be better than the promises of God.
That said, simplicity does not imply complacency.  There are things we can "do" here and now to take hold of Jesus and grow and change.  The Westminster Catechism calls these "the ordinary means of grace."  Brace yourself, though, because there's nothing fantastic about them.  As the phrase indicates, they are ordinary:

  • The Word
  • The Sacraments (Lord's Supper and Baptism)
  • Prayer

I don't feel qualified to speak at length on the means of grace and all of the theological intricacies.  From what I can gather, however, we're to understand that the means of grace are the ways that God communicates with His people.  Yes, you read that right; God communicates with His people.  The Rev. Bruce Buchanan wrote a helpful series of articles he posted here.  At the beginning of the final section (prayer) he makes this comment:  My desire has been that you would grow in your appreciation for the worth and the benefit of participation in God's regular and non-flashy, non-gimmicky means of communicating with His people.

That is I was getting at yesterday.  Walking with Jesus is really quite simple; we seek to know Him and take hold of Him through the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.  It's in the midst of this "ordinary" life of faith that we will see GOD work, doing supernatural things in our life and the lives of those around us: freedom from sin, growing to love others more than ourselves, daily provision, and more.  When we are walking by faith, practicing the ordinary means of grace, our eyes are open to see many ways God is at work in and around us - the supernatural begins to invade our ordinary, little lives, our faith is strengthened, and God is truly glorified as we acknowledge His handiwork!

I mentioned in one of the October posts a period in college when I was seeking a flashy Spirit experience that would assure me that I was "getting it right."  I was so very wrong, looking for the right books to read to figure it out, when God's Word was ever before me to communicate to me how beloved I was, how secure my salvation, how present the Spirit already was, and so on and so forth.  God is awesome, yet He's chosen ordinary means of communicating with us.  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  There are no big secrets; God wants us to know Him and makes it possible!

In Isaiah 30:15 we read,
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 
   “In repentance and rest is your salvation, 
   in quietness and trust is your strength, 
   but you would have none of it.
Will YOU have it?  Will you apply yourself to getting to know God in the "ordinary" ways He's chosen to make Himself known to us?  For despite the ordinary-ness of the means, we're still speaking of the Lord of all Creation communicating with those who rebelled against Him.

Friends, there's nothing ordinary about that!

Keep It Simple

In Acts 10, we find the story of a man named Cornelius.  He is a military man and a Gentile (not a Jew).  Here is how he is described in verse 2:
He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
The story continues about God working in his life and the Apostle Peter's.  Big things happen: God shows Peter that the Gospel is for the Gentiles, not just the Jews (a MAJOR paradigm shift) and Cornelius' family receives the Holy Spirit and is baptized.  The story is famous in Christianity and many applications can be drawn.  Today I'd like to focus on that second verse.

Cornelius' family feared God.  How did that express itself in the way Cornelius lived?  He was generous to those in need and he prayed regularly.

Seems so simple.  But these simple behaviors are the expression of a life that was surrendered to God.  He trusted God enough to share what he had.  He trusted God enough to talk with Him regularly.  The base-line reality of Cornelius' life was a trust in God.

From there, God did some amazing things through and in his family.  All of Christendom knows His story.  But it began with the day-by-day life of faith, nothing flashy or dazzling.  Trust and obedience ... reminds me of a song I know.

*     *     *

I have wondered a lot lately what being a Christian should look like.  Is there a mold?  Should we all look the same?  Is my life too void of amazing supernatural works, indicating that my faith is too weak or, worse, not authentic at all?

When I look around me and try to determine what it means to "be a Christian," I'm going about it all wrong, aren't I?

Lord, forgive us for seeking an experience or recognition, rather than seeking You.
Lord, forgive us for comparing ourselves with others, rather than asking You what You have for us.

We need to look to the Lord Himself, the one who's calling us to be His, to know how to live with and for Him.  This year as I've read through the gospels a couple of times, I've been jarred by how simple the call of Jesus is.  All He said to the twelve was, Follow me.  In his teaching he fleshed out the call - it would require their all - but that never changed the simplicity of the invitation to follow Him.  He's the vine, we are branches.  Being a Christian at it's most basic level, is connecting to that vine: daily, intentionally, whole-heartedly.

He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

So my word to you today is KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Cornelius put one foot in front of the other WITH the Lord, praying regularly and giving generously.  He sought God, not a chance to get his name in the Bible.  God does move among His people as we walk by faith.  But usually, it's not glamorous or profound.  Today most of us will do our jobs, eat our meals, talk with family and friends, and so on, without any radical supernatural events.  How long did Cornelius live obediently in relationship with God before and angel showed up and he met Peter?  And I'll bet he continued to live the same way afterward!  Most of his life was like ours: work to do, family to care for, the needy to tend to, etc.

Jesus said, Follow me; repent and believe the good news!  Jesus calls us to Himself, not an experience, not human praise, not someone else's experience.  John Stott says it this way:

Faith has absolutely no value in itself; its value lies solely in its object.  Faith is the eye that looks to Christ, the hand that lays hold of Him, the mouth that drinks the water of life.

THAT is the Christian life.  God may have in store for you a story that is recorded on paper, encouraging future generations of Christians.  Or not.  Either way, KEEP IT SIMPLE because that is the nature of the call.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 

   And what does the LORD require of you? 

To act justly and to love mercy 

   and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

As you "do life" today, ask God what that might mean at different moments, with different people, and in the midst of the various tasks you have to do.  And may He bless you as you simply walk with Him.

November 13, 2011

Lewis is Messing with Me Again!

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendor.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in  fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity much be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory   p. 46

Have a good Sunday as you worship and interact with the immortals around you!

November 11, 2011

Veterans Day: a poem and a craft

Today we are grateful to and honor the many men and women who have served and currently serve in our armed forces.  Thank you.

The symbol of the day is a red poppy, that comes from this poem by John McCrae, May 1915:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
You can learn more about the poem and McCrae here.
Pittsburgh has a yearly parade to mark this day, so we'll head downtown, all bundled up, to salute our veterans.  We'll be wearing these (not at all durable) poppy pins on our coats.  Perhaps you'd like to make the craft with your kids; I've posted a few pictures below.
Supplies you'll need.  Just hand-draw a couple of poppies per pin.
After cutting them out, glue one on top of the other, but not lined up together, and fold up the petals of the top piece of paper for a more 3D effect.  Glue in the center dot, tape a pin on the back, and you're done!
The finished product!

November 10, 2011

Who Can You Encourage Today?

Sally Clarkson is in the midst of a short series about loving our children.  She began by sharing how voices of criticism so quickly deflate the joy in our hearts and how important it is for parents to be agents of encouragement and love in their kids' lives.  If you are a parent, I encourage you to catch up on Sally's series (she's only three days in.)

But this post is not for parents, it's for you - whoever you are, wherever you are - to consider today how YOU can be a voice of encouragement in someone's life today.  In a world where we're asked to place our identity in our accomplishments or relationships, so many are walking around defeated, deflated, and depressed; sometimes we can't achieve what we thought we could and people let us down, not meeting our expectations.  Many will talk with you today who simply need someone to say to them, Hey, I'm really thankful that you are here.  Or Wow, that was really good work.  Or I noticed that you really excel at something and wanted to let you know I think it's great!  Or I'm praying for you and trusting God for you in this difficult time.

The Bible speaks often of the power of world to build up or destroy.  Who can you build up today?  A coworker, a friend, a spouse, a child, a pastor, a neighbor?

An anxious heart weighs a man down,
but a kind word cheers him up.
Proverbs 12:25

November 8, 2011

Since You Can Already Buy Christmas Decorations ...

*I posted this last year about this time; I want you to have time to get the book before advent (which begins on November 27.  I've read it over the last couple of Decembers; excellent for Christmas heart-preparation!

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Advent begins in just a few Sundays, Nov 27. Advent: the season where we remember the waiting for the long-expected Messiah, the many promises of God, the cries of the hearts of His people.

Then, Christmas Eve we celebrate the arrival of that promised Savior, THE King of kings, and Lord of lords!

Okay, now I am getting excited about Christmas and will henceforth quit my complaining when I hear the carols in the stores. Here's my book recommendation to prepare your hearts through the Advent season: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus ed. Nancy Guthrie, a collection of readings by a collection of well-known Christian theologians, preachers, teachers & speakers.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

My pastor recommended this when I was seeking some Advent "enrichment" last year. You will not be disappointed if you get your hands on this book! (There's plenty of time to order before November 27th.)

How the people of God waited for their Messiah! How he challenged their expectations!! How he changed so many lives!!!

May the Scriptures and these reflections do the same for us as we approach Christmas Eve. Jesus is the reason for the season, let's not lose Him in the lights, the gifts, the festivities, or even the religious traditions.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

November 7, 2011

A Fun Fall Weekend

These photo posts are mostly for the benefit of grandparents and far-off friends.

The Circus!

I'll call this one 'Mom and Child with Snot & Cotton Candy Face' - a masterpiece!

Last (very chilly) day of soccer!
Brian spent quite a bit of time watching from this position.  He said it was cozy.

Saturday afternoon fun playing in leaves my dad spent all day raking and then eating hot dogs roasted over the open fire.  Yum!

Cousins smiling

Cousins "sleeping"

Cousins yawning

And cousins exploring!

A stroll in the woods - someone had built a really cool lean-to.

Sunday dinner - we're working on making the Sabbath day extra special around here.
Why have china if you never use it, right?!

I hope you had a good weekend, too!