Dessert Discovery

My husband and I have a special tradition for Valentine’s Day. It began when we were dating: he called my grandma to ask her what my favorite meal was so he could prepare it for me. She told him I would like roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans– which I did– and our first Valentine’s Day celebration was a success. He’s been cooking the same thing every February 14th (or thereabouts) since that first time way back in 2004.

Thing is, dessert isn’t part of the package. Or, more accurately, dessert is served out of a package.😉 The main course is the feature of the evening and the focus of our celebration, so over the years he will just buy something, or I might buy something, or I might make something. And once I discovered my sensitivity to basically every foundational ingredient of every dessert, desserts became much more complicated. So I’ve taken over that portion of the Valentine’s Day meal.

This year was no exception. You might say that on this day I literally “had one job,” as the saying goes.

And I almost forgot to do it! Several days before V-Day I had found a recipe for chocolate mousse which I thought would be well suited to allergy-friendly substitutions, I purchased ingredients, and I thought through the process (important!). I planned to prepare this sweet treat on Sunday afternoon so it would be chilling in the fridge before Mike’s preparations were going full tilt and I wouldn’t get in his way.

But I took a nap instead.

I realized my error as Mike was about to serve up the beefy, potatoey, beany goodness. I may have shed a tear. How could I have forgotten the dessert??? Sigh. I decided I would make it anyway, because my heart was set on it, and we could enjoy it as a late-night treat.

I’m glad I was stubborn! This mousse whipped up like a dream, set more quickly than I thought it would, and tasted amazing. And since an easy, “normal” tasting treat like this is so hard to come by in allergy-friendly-dessert-land, I had to share.

This is the recipe from Lemon Tree Dwelling that saved my Valentine’s Day. All I did was sub in a can of full fat coconut milk for the heavy cream and I still ended up with a great taste and consistency. I heaped in some extra cocoa, as well. I feel like it could handle more alterations, like less sugar, sugar substitute (i.e. stevia drops), carob instead of cocoa, etc. etc. But this time I went for it, keeping the sugar and only amending it to be dairy-free.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the can of coconut milk should be refrigerated for at least a few hours beforehand. I usually keep one can in the fridge at all times, just in case. 

You’ll notice this recipe is for a “spiked” mousse, but it needn’t be. Try it without that extra liquid, then add a little water if it needs thinning out. I don’t have my own picture of this because I was in a frenzy when I made it. So enjoy Cathy’s lovely image and try her recipe if you want to whip up something special but so, so easy.

image from Lemon Tree Dwelling

 

Starting 2016 with Prayer

Here it is– another new year. So far I’ve been pretty successful with writing “2016” when it is called for, which feels like an accomplishment!

I don’t feel very accomplished when it comes to this blog– seeing that it’s 25 days into January and this is my first post– but hopefully the motivation will pick up before long. I do have things I want to write about. (And please feel free to give me ideas- I neeeed more ideas!)

This year feels like it’s gotten off to a late start for me, which is kind of silly because the year starts whether you’re ready or not! But exactly 2 weeks after Christmas Mike and I took off on a cruise vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary (which was in July). We were gone for almost 2 weeks and it felt like an extended Christmas in a way. After a 3-day work week and a relaxing weekend, today we are officially back to “real life.”

my own photo, taken at Orient Beach in St. Martin

my own photo, taken at Orient Beach in St. Martin

Although I suppose “real life” actually started yesterday when we were back at church, finally! As a ministry couple it’s extremely rare for us to miss 2 Sundays in a row, but our cruise went from Sunday to Sunday so we found ourselves away from our church family for longer than usual. Our church is in the middle of an exciting time of refocusing around updated core values, and while I was sad to have to miss the first couple of sermons on these values (thankfully I can catch up online!) I was happy to be back for the message on prayer.

As 2015 was winding down, I felt the need for revitalized prayer habits and structure. I found myself forgetting things that I meant to pray for, or found my list to be too long to really dig into each day. I knew I needed to do a better job of managing my time, my list, and my focus.

Our pastor’s message on prayer yesterday provided great motivation for me through the truth of God’s Word. (Click here and then on “We Believe God Answers Prayer” to listen.) Because I believe God is the source of my life (and all life), because I want my relationship with him to be my top priority, and because God graciously hears and answers prayer, I know I must pray. I must turn to God daily in praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and to listen and learn.

It’s been on my heart for a while as I listened to God and other Christians that with so much to be thankful for and so many requests for myself and others, and really for the world– in other words, with so much to pray for– I needed to plan things out a little better in order to get more out of the time I spend with my Creator. Specifically, I wanted to create a different list for each day rather than using the same list every day… which kept getting longer and longer, and would make prayer time seem like a more and more daunting task. As I write, list organization does not seem like a particularly deep or emotional way to relate to prayer, but in a roundabout way it is.

See, as I have spent more time in the Word learning about God, as I have felt more of his guidance and seen more of his grace in my life, I naturally want to pray more, and I want to pray about more. But I would forget, or run out of time, or whatever. So it seems that to re-organize and re-focus is what my prayer life needs right now.

I wouldn’t call it a “resolution,” per se, but I am starting the year off (albeit late) with the goal of adhering to a daily prayer time with a more detailed and focused plan. Each day I will focus on…

-an attribute of God from Scripture

-someone or something or some part of life I am thankful for

-requests relating to that same category

-confession of sin

-prayer for specific needs &/or current events

Those categories may change over time, but it’s what I’m starting with. I’m also not sure exactly which method will be best for writing down these daily plans, but for now I’ve been inspired by a menu planning notepad that I found in my basement. I’m considering a notebook or planner, too, but we’ll see how it takes shape. I could get hung up on those details forever, but I don’t want that to keep me from getting started.

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My “new” prayer planning notepad!

Speaking of, I should wrap up so I can go use my re-organized, re-focused list for Monday!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Happy New Year to you! I’d love to hear from you. How do you plan for prayer in your life? What methods do you use to track and/or organize? Are you a journaler, a list-maker…..?

2015 Verse of the Week #52: Psalm 46:10

Here it is, my 52nd and final verse for my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Looking back, it has been an enriching experience to write about each verse (or passage) as I attempt to commit it to memory. I don’t think I did as much as I could to memorize these verses long-term, so I might need to do some printing and flash-card-ing. I don’t think I would do too well on a quiz of all my verses, is what I’m saying. BUT meditating on Scripture is always a worthwhile exercise, and even if the words don’t all stay intact in the mind, the heart is never left unchanged. Almost a year after posting my first memory verse, I do feel different. I place more of a value on meditating on Scripture, looking at it in context, applying it to my circumstances, and sharing it with others. I can also see areas in which I can improve, specifically in the word-retention department. So I will work on that. I don’t think I will repeat this exercise in 2016, although I will be focusing on verses in other ways, but I am so glad I did it this year.

The final song for the final verse is called “Be Still,” which is track 12 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the English Standard Version, which is actually the same as the 1984 NIV used for the Seeds song:

Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

This verse is perfect for this week. In my planning ahead I figured it would work well for the end of the year at that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s. There would be time to reflect and time to look ahead. And that is true, but of course there is more.
The theme of this verse seems to be God’s constant presence, steadfastness, and help in the midst of human conflict or natural disasters. I particularly love verses 1 and 2 from this Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…
Hard things happen in the world and in our lives every year. That’s just the way it is. But at the end of this year, and maybe just today, I’m finding myself weighed down by it on a personal and universal level. Christmas, while joyful, can bring pain with the thought of those who can’t be with us. Remembering loss can make it hard to want to move forward, hard to know how. Also, reminders of the tragedies endured by people around the world are everywhere this time of year. Seeing and hearing those stories can make it hard to imagine better things coming in the new year. Of course there is hope with the start of a new year, and I do still feel that in my heart, but there is a downside to it that I’m noticing today.
During times of grieving over personal loss or over tragedies in our world, I naturally tend toward a couple of different responses (and I don’t think I’m alone in this): one is to distract myself with busy-ness or meaningless things so I don’t feel the sadness, and another is to focus on the sadness and get kind of caught up in it. But these are not fruitful responses, and in this week’s verse God calls us to a better response: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Something came to me in a time of sadness a couple of years ago as I found myself facing doubts about who God is and how he operates. I have to say, this was from the Holy Spirit and not something of my own invention. But I started to test doubtful thoughts or feelings of being upset at God with these questions: 1) Are the things I have known to be true of God still true? And 2) Do my feelings indicate that I am believing something false about God?
Psalm 46:10 does not call us to be still and give in as our minds race with panic over what-ifs. It does not call us to be still and feel hopeless. It does not even call us to be still and empty our minds of thought or our hearts of feeling. No, we are called to be still and know that God is God. In the context of this passage, the character traits of God we are called to know are his deliverance and peace in contrast with the turmoil seen in other nations and in the earth itself. Some of the things said of God in this chapter:
-he is our refuge and strength, ever-present help in trouble
-he causes us not to fear (so he brings peace)
-he makes his people glad (he brings joy)
-he stabilizes us
-he helps us
-he is in control of the earth (he will bring justice)
-he is with us
-he is a fortress for his people
-he is working among the nations on behalf of his people (again, justice)
-he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth (meaning he is worthy of praise by merit of his character and deeds)
I have found that when I ask myself these questions regarding what I believe to be true, worries and hopelessness fade away. Pain may linger, but there is comfort in the truth. If I am feeling like God doesn’t care or is withholding blessing because of something I’ve done, the Word and the Spirit call to my attention the truth of God’s care for me and his many gifts of grace (even if I don’t get what I think I need or deserve).
If I say I believe that God is good, that his love endures forever, that he cares for me, that he works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose, then times of pain or fear or hopelessness are the testing ground for those truths. Because if they are, indeed, true they will bring comfort, peace, wisdom, maturity, understanding, and character (which includes action). But we must take the time to be still before God. Knowing these things about him will not come if we distract ourselves and place our focus on things of this world or creations of our own minds.
I think my favorite set of passages to focus on this year came from Seeds Family Worship’s album The Character of God. These verses and songs would be helpful to meditate on during a time of doubt. For example, if I am feeling like God is withholding something from me, have I begun to believe that God is unfaithful, or unloving, or unwise in his relationship with me? When I boil it down like that it sounds ridiculous, so I come to the logical conclusion that no, I do not believe those things about God. He is faithful to sustain me (1 Cor. 1:8-9), he is love and has love for me (1 John 4:16), and he is wise in all his ways (Rom. 11:33-36). If these things have always been true, and the character of God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), and I want to continue to believe and live by these things, then this true God will help me change my perspective so it lines up with his truth. This brings comfort (although not instant pain relief), peace, wisdom, and maturity into my life. And I lather/rinse/repeat with it.😉
This week my prayer for myself is to know and embrace God’s truth and character as the new year approaches. I pray that I will take time to be still and know who he is, then carry that truth with me as he inspires me to action.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this verse or anything I have shared. And Happy New Year!

This image is the work of artist Ivan Guaderrama. Click the image to see more of his work.

2015 Verse of the Week #51: Psalm 136:1-6, 26

It’s week 51 of my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Only one more Monday left in the year! The words from the almost-last-passage of 2015 can be found in the song “His Love Endures,” track 10 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the New International Version (here the “new” NIV appears to be the same as the 1984, the translation used by Seeds):

Psalm 136:1-6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

 Thinking about Scripture around Christmas time usually takes on a different meaning– as it should. I’m looking across the room at twinkly lights and glittery ornaments and wrapped gifts this morning as I listen to words of truth about God in this song. I’ve also started my day with an advent reading which included passages from Genesis, Isaiah, Micah, Galatians, and 1 Peter (from She Reads Truth, which has been an excellent resource for me during the Christmas season).
The immediate connection I see between Psalm 136 and Christmas is that the advent of Jesus is an expression of God’s enduring love. But there is more, of course.
First of all, and this thought doesn’t really “flow” with the rest of what I want to say, but it is worth noting: this psalm was written and would have been read in a corporate setting in a call-and-response format. The priest would have read the instructions for praising and giving thanks and the descriptions of God, and then the congregation would have responded with “His love endures forever.” I mention this because I think it is important not to overlook the corporate part of faith: we were designed to worship together. I see a connection here to Christmas time, a time when we gather together. Our culture makes Christmas gatherings out to be either a harmonious celebration of traditions (Gingerbread! Turkey! Presents!) or a stressful obligation fraught with conflict (Politics! Racism! Judgment!), but among people of faith our Christmas celebrations ought to be filled with love and humility for one another, and acknowledgment of God’s gifts above material things. Not that I’m perfect at this or anything…. but it’s good to have goals!😉 Anyway…
My reading from 1 Peter this morning comes to mind when I read and hear Psalm 136:5-6 (about God’s creation of heaven and earth). Check it out (ESV translation):

1 Peter 1:20-21

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Jesus is present in the descriptions of God in Psalm 136! Jesus has always been present with God. The same God described in the psalm– he who is good, God and Lord over all, worker of wonders, creator of heaven and earth, he who reigns in heaven in enduring love– this is the God who came to be with us as the Christ.
Yes, he was with us by walking among men on earth, but once he completed his earthly work God again sent himself to be not only with us but within us as the Holy Spirit. According to another one of my readings this morning from Galatians (again, ESV):

Galatians 4:6-7

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

The gift of the Spirit that would eventually be accessible to all who believe was ushered in by the first Christmas. Salvation, life, comfort, guidance, reconciliation with God (and much more) can be ours because of the goodness of the God whose steadfast love endures forever.
We humans have turned Christmas into a frenzied season, a season during which we often end up worshipping our own creations of traditions, gifts, decorations, etc. over the one who really deserves our awe and wonder, the one who really works the “magic” (aka “great wonders, Ps. 136:4) of Christmas.
Because of God’s sending his son as a redemptive gift to the world, we should give him our thanks and worship. That is what Christmas is about. I am praying this morning that my Christmas will be less about celebrating my own personal gain (in the form of presents) or my own accomplishments (like getting presents wrapped and delivered), less about traditions, and more about giving thanks to the God of love who sent his son to the world for me. And for you!
Merry Christmas- only 4 more days until it is here!

from year27.com. This artist, Jill Davis, has a shop that is worth a look. 

2015 Verse of the Week #50: Zephaniah 3:17

I can’t believe I’m on week 50 of my verse of the week! This week’s verse can be found in the song “Mighty to Save,” track 8 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. They use the 1984 NIV, which I really like, and I had a tough time choosing a translation of the verse to post here. I settled for ESV, but thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the different translations of the verse on Bible Gateway. Here is the verse, before I get carried away with translation talk:

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

It seems there are many different ways to translate these words, but the over-arching theme is the same: God is strong to save his people, in whom he takes delight. Some translations leaned more toward a militaristic interpretation of God’s might in the first portion of the verse, and in the latter part of the verse some translations use analogies of a marital relationship to describe God’s love. If you find these things interesting as I do, I would really encourage you to look at some different translations! But enough about that.

Zephaniah is one of those often-overlooked “minor prophet” books. Its 3 chapters occupy a scant three pages of my Bible. But the content is no less important than the longer or more popular books, as it addresses some of the most important themes of the entire Bible: God’s judgment and salvation. Zephaniah’s prophecies apply both to his contemporaries in the kingdom of Judah as well as to future generations. Jesus himself quoted from this book on a couple of occasions (Mathew 13 and 24) when making reference to “the day of the Lord.” Zephaniah has come up a few times already (albeit briefly) in my Bible Study Fellowship study of Revelation due to the similar themes, so I was happy to get to focus on this verse this week.

While this verse is drawn from prophecy regarding the always-mysterious “day of the Lord,” the words can give comfort, lead us to truth about who God is, and even provide certainty in spite of the mystery surrounding end times.

I also love this verse at Christmas time. The advent of Christ is such a huge, important, game-changing part of God’s working to bring his plans and promises to fruition. God judges, but he also saves because he loves.

This verse tells me that God is near, not distant as a judge has the right to be. He is seated on the throne in holy majesty, true, but he simultaneously dwells with his people in Spirit in addition to having sent his Son to walk among men.

This verse tells me that God is victorious and strong.

This verse tells me that God is extravagant, demonstrative, and joyful in his love for his people.

This verse tells me that God is trustworthy.

I haven’t been doing as much of my chalkboard art lately, hence the borrowed images from others for the past several posts– instead I’ve been creating artwork on paper in conjunction with my Advent readings– but I did create a digital image for Zephaniah. Enjoy!

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created by me with the Rhonna Designs app for iPhone

2015 Verse of the Week #49: 1 Chronicles 16:8-10

This week’s passage can be heard on track 7 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. They use the 1984 NIV on the album, which has since been updated. I found that the ESV is actually the same as the old NIV used in the song, so that is the version I’m including here.

1 Chronicles 16:8-10

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

This is a great song, and I have a new memory to go with it. A few weeks ago at preschool I played this song for the children in an effort to stretch my Bible lesson out while our lead teacher was at the store picking up food we had ordered for our Thanksgiving feast. We were learning about David in our Bible lesson, specifically his worship of God through words, music, and dance. I put this song on and told the kids it was perfect for Thanksgiving. Because it isn’t a fast song I said they could dance but needed to be gentle and peaceful and listen to the words so we could sing together. At first they sat and swayed, mostly just watching me as I sang the words, but as they started to pick up the lyrics my sweet little class began to stand up and hold hands with one another in groups of 3 or 4, walking in slow circles. A couple of the little girls got experimental with “ballerina” moves. By the end of the song they were all singing, walking around, holding hands with friends, some lifting their hands or jumping. Once the song had ended we all said, “Thank you, God!” It was a precious moment to see them respond to the Word in a way that made sense to them without specific instruction from me.

The entire chapter of 1 Chronicles 16 is a description of what happened after David brought the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant back to Jerusalem. Verse 8 is the beginning of a song David appointed the Levites to sing as they were ministering before the Ark. The entire song is 28 verses long and worth a read.

With Thanksgiving over, Advent in full swing, and Christmas around the corner, I’m thinking of how I can tie them all together. I have a visual reminder of the things I am thankful for which I have placed in a visible spot, an art journal I am using to record my journey through the She Reads Truth Advent devotionals, and I can see reminders of Christmas everywhere– within my own home and beyond. I like to see Thanksgiving as a time to put the brakes on the quickening pace of life that we start to feel as “the holiday season” approaches. It’s a time to put the focus on what matters most, which for me is the fact that God is the source of everything– not just everything I have, but my life, every person, the earth, and the connections between it all. He is the source of true life– salvation through Christ– and that is where I want my focus to be as Christmas approaches.

This year I’m feeling the pull to be more intentional and thoughtful as Christmas approaches. I know this motivation is from the Spirit, of course, but I’m wondering if my little verse of the week project (also motivated by the Spirit) played a role in tuning my heart toward intentional contemplation. Anyway, with much prayer and after many times of failure, I am finally waking up earlier to have a time of reading and prayer at the beginning of my day. It’s been maybe a year since I’ve done this. And after a few times it wasn’t so difficult anymore; I am now actually excited to get up, read the day’s devotional, and create something artistic from it. It is my hope to continue this early-morning routine into the new year, but whatever happens with that, I’m glad I can have these early morning moments in the days leading up to Christmas.

Speaking of the new year, I have been thinking of how I will structure my blog posts in 2016. The verse of the week definitely helped me create content regularly, but I don’t know if I want to do it again next year. I do know that if I don’t have a plan I will probably only post every few months, but I don’t like that– I need to write and share more frequently than that. I am pretty sure I will share the verse of the month I memorize with my high schoolers at church, but I’d like to continue to post at least once a week. So if you have any ideas, please tell me!

Finally, here is a lovely image I found for this week’s passage.

this image is from duoparadigms.com; if you download it, please download it from their page by clicking on the image to go to their site.

 

2015 Verse of the Week #48: Psalm 86:11-13

My verse of the week is featured in the song “Undivided Heart,” track 9 on Seeds Family Worship’s Seeds of Praise. I was on schedule to do track 6, but since this song is part of the set list for our upcoming youth retreat this weekend and will be on my mind anyway, I figured I would blog about it now. I’ve pasted the updated NIV version of the passage below; the song uses the 1984 NIV.

 Psalm 86:11-13

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.

We had some snow overnight, and school is cancelled here. I made a quick trip to the store– before even eating breakfast– to pick up a few necessities, so my morning is all thrown off. Thankfully I was able to get up early this morning (so hard!) and get in some advent and BSF reading and some prayer time, so I feel grounded. But I also feel pressed for time, so I will just share a little bundle of thoughts that I have on this verse before I get on with my day.

As I said, this Seeds song is part of the worship set list for our youth retreat this coming weekend. I sent my husband (the youth pastor) a list of songs I thought would fit our theme and asked him to choose one based on what Scripture he thought would fit with the teaching material. As our little worship team has been practicing, I’m seeing all the words work together already. I know this is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his people! Our theme is “Monsters,” and we will be talking about the things that lurk around vying for our hearts like fear, anger, shame, etc. and how God works to overcome those things for us.

Regarding an undivided heart, I can already see a connection between our retreat theme and this passage/song. When we hold onto fear or greed or pride in our hearts, we are attempting to divide the heart- to partition it off from God. We know we can’t hide these things from God, but we try anyway, thinking that we can somehow hold onto a lie and the truth at the same time. In reality, the second you hold onto a lie you have let go of the truth.

Psalm 86:13 says God delivers us from the depths of the realm of death (or as the song says, “from the depths of the grave”). Surely hanging onto the pride, greed, anger or other sins that have us believing lies of self-sufficiency and other false hopes can only lead to death since they lead us away from God. But, as always, God provides a way.

If we will learn his way, we can walk relying on his truth and faithfulness rather than clinging to any false hopes. If we will learn his way, we can have an undivided heart that is surrendered to God in humility and will be transformed by the work of the Spirit. It is because of God’s great love for us that he provides this freedom, and therefore he deserves our praise.

As always, let me know your thoughts on this matter. I’m sure I’ve left gaps today.🙂

Here is another great image from Year27.com to get these words into our heads and, Spirit willing, our hearts.

 

2015 Verse of the Week #47: Isaiah 26:3-4

Time for another verse featured on Seeds Family Worship’s Seeds of Praise. This song is “The Rock Eternal” and is track 5 on the album. Here is the passage from the NIV. (The song uses the 1984 NIV’s he/him while the new NIV below uses they/them. Personally, I’m not such a fan of this change, but what can you do. For my personal Bible study I use the New Living and English Standard versions.)

 Isaiah 26:3-4

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

With Thanksgiving mere days away, I was almost a little sad to see that my verse this week was not from Psalms and did not explicitly mention giving thanks. However, when I looked up Isaiah 26 in its entirety, I found it is actually titled “A Song of Praise.” That should work!😉 And, really, anything would have worked because I should be (and am) thankful for all of Scripture.

I am also thankful for the connections the Holy Spirit puts together in the minds of believers. I’m experiencing this today, as I see ideas from last week’s passage (Psalm 100:1-3) plugging in to this week’s passage.

As I read a bit of Isaiah 26 I also found connections to my Revelation study through BSF International, AND, some connections to a talk I heard in October at the Middle School Ministry Campference, delivered by the one-in-a-million Heather Flies. Oh, and Psalm 100 was featured prominently at church yesterday through congregational reading AND in the sermon. Wow! I’d better lay this all out and solidify it before I forget.

So. Last week in Psalm 100 I read that we are God’s people, the sheep of his pasture. I learned at church yesterday that this wording shows God’s care and provision for us. This plugs into Isaiah 26:3 nicely– he keeps us in perfect peace, just as a shepherd does for his sheep. This is where I think of the talk I heard at the Campference. We learned that shepherds would create makeshift pens for their sheep to rest in when the herd got to a stopping place of the shepherd’s choosing. The talk was about waiting well, and my takeaway was: when God (my shepherd) causes me to wait, do I trust that he has me in a good place and rest peacefully trusting him? Can I be satisfied to only move on when he opens the gate? OR, do I fitfully press myself up against the wall of that pen because I’m so focused on what I want to happen next?

Even when it seems like my sheep pen will never open, I want to accept the “perfect peace” given to me by the shepherd. The lesson I’m seeing here is that I sometimes resist what I’ve already been given. I can be like a little sheep in a beautiful meadow, with plenty of room to graze and romp, but I’m pressed up against the wall and bleating for what’s on the other side. My mind can only be steadfast when I trust. Isaiah 26:3-4 contains great reminders to trust in God because he is the giver of these good things like peace, protection, and guidance, so I’m excited to get it memorized.

The last connection (for now anyway) is between Isaiah 26:4 and the books of Daniel and Revelation. The image of a rock is often used to describe God. This image represents strength, protection, safety, and something that exists naturally. We cannot create a rock– it is just there. Many times in Scripture people (like Moses and David) were protected by rocks or caves, and in the story of the Exodus alone there are many different mentions of rocks: they were used for protection (Moses is placed in a cave as God passes by), for provision (water gushes out of the rock), for remembrance of God (altars are set up to remind the people what God did for them). In the book of Daniel, chapter 2, Daniel interprets King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue made up of mixed metals and other natural materials. In Daniel 2:34-35 Daniel tells the king about his dream. He saw that “a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” This points not only to events that would happen after King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as the Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans rose and fell in power, but points to God’s eternal kingdom described in Revelation. Maybe it’s a stretch, but when I read “rock” I thought of what I had read just over a week ago about the rock from the king’s dream.

To sum it all up: I can be held in perfect peace, with a steadfast mind, if I will trust God. I can trust God because he is the Rock eternal, plus all of the other things I know about him from his Word, which his Spirit graciously weaves together in my mind at the right times. This is because of his love for me. Thank you, God!

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my own image, edited with Rhonna Designs for iPhone

My final thought is a funny one. When I hear this Seeds song, “Rock Eternal,” I will forever think of a middle schooler who heard this playing in the background at a summer work project and asked me, “Did that just say God is a rocky turtle???”

It’s Rocky… with his turtles!

What connections does the Spirit bring about for you when you read these passages?

2015 Verse of the Week #46: Psalm 100:1-3

This week the passage is from Psalms again. It’s fitting that Seeds Family Worship included so many Psalms on their album Seeds of Praise. The song for this passage is called “Shout,” and while you might be expecting to hear screaming children on this track… it’s actually quite a calm, peaceful tune. Check out the verses in the NIV below:

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

There is a lot to this passage, but unfortunately I am a bit short on time and motivation today. In fact, I don’t feel like writing at all. It’s dreary outside, I have household tasks to do, errands to run, and the entire Internet to distract me from it all.

But a distracted, busy life does not open the heart to love or the mind to wisdom. Thanks to God’s leading me beside still waters and restoring my soul (Psalm 23) in the past, I recognize the need for quieting my heart, contemplating the Word, and acknowledging who God is. So I will try my darndest to do those things he is leading me to do, fighting against everything else that wants my attention (but is not as worthy of it as the Lord) and focusing on this passage for a brief slice of my morning.

Worship: Obviously, the phrase “Worship the Lord” makes me think of worship, but so does the phrase “Know that the Lord is God.” My study of Revelation through BSF is increasing my understanding of worship. This week in our at-home study material we looked at Revelation 4, which weighs in at only 11 verses and describes the throne of God in heaven. The beings who occupy the space closest to God’s throne are in a constant state of worship, and this is a description we find throughout the Bible. Any being that is in the presence of God, whether it is an angel/heavenly being, or if it is a human encountering the glory of God (such as Moses, Joshua, or Jesus’ disciples during the transfiguration), their responses include postures and behaviors signifying humility, unworthiness, maybe even fear, and ascribing all glory to God.

Here on earth it is difficult to get into that posture. Not only can we not physically see God, but our sinful souls get in the way of focusing on his Spirit, his Word, and his character. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are clouded by the sin within us and in the world.

I think that’s why the reaction of humans in Scripture faced with God’s glory is often one of fear. When presented with holy, blinding perfection, one would be immediately aware of the darkness within. Last week I mentioned that I’m working on love and enjoying some softening of my heart. One of the times during which I notice this is worship time at church. To join with my church family in singing praise to God using words of truth is a little taste of heaven, and I feel it in my heart.

But in studying Revelation and thinking about how angels and heavenly beings worship God continually in heaven, I see the contrast between earthly and heavenly worship. My understanding of worship here on earth can and will change, yes– I will have a deeper understanding of how to worship, God’s worthiness of all worship, and the Spirit can bring about a more God-centered, heartfelt experience as I worship in church and at other times. But I think what changes more is my understanding of and my longing for the true worship of heaven. Those in heaven can worship God fully because they are not weighed down as I am by sin within and around them. They are in God’s very presence. His presence floods the heavenly realm with glory. It is the only thing that matters, the only thing to focus on. When we get there it will feel right, not like a fight against distractions and sin as it is here. I look forward to the day when I am free of sin, free of the world, and free to worship.

In the mean time I desire more of God’s Spirit to take over my eyes, heart, and mind so I can experience a little more of God’s presence (which is heaven) even while I am here on earth. He allows me to do this because of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, and he sent his Spirit to literally dwell with me. Thankfulness for these gracious gifts is where the “gladness” comes in!

God’s People: When I read “we are his people,” again I think of Revelation. We have studied Romans 11 and Ephesians 4 to see the unfolding of God’s plan to include not only the Jewish people in salvation through Christ, but also Gentiles. Looking at these chapters increased my appreciation of being adopted into God’s family, and therefore also increased my awe and gratefulness to God for being welcomed to heaven someday as a co-heir and co-ruler with Christ as Revelation describes. This is part of what it means to be “his” as Psalm 100:3 states.

Sheep: Just one more thought, and this is perhaps where my distraction shows the most. There is a lot of information (and possibly misinformation) out there about how stupid sheep supposedly are. I’m not going to go there because I have never actually met a sheep and I wouldn’t want to hurt any sheep feelings.😉 What I do know is that, throughout history and still today, these are creatures that always need help. They seem to be defenseless, whether this is due to low intelligence or physical construction, and require the guidance and care of a shepherd. If we are God’s sheep, I don’t know that this means we are stupid (maybe it does– even the best of us have “moments”), but it does seem to mean we were created to need the care of the Good Shepherd. I see this in different ways: from the very basic fact that we humans require sleep and must cede control for at least a few hours each night, to the more complex ideas of “eternity in our hearts” (Eccl. 3:11) or the longing of the human soul to connect with God (Acts 17:22-32). Because of what I know of God’s character from the Bible and the assurance of the Spirit, I am happy to be a sheep in his pasture.

A sheep.

Wrapping it up: I’m thankful to God for guiding my mind to truth about his Word and his character today, and pray that he will grow good things in my heart from the seeds planted there. This is what the Spirit does for us, God’s people.

I would love to hear form you: what sticks out to you about this passage from Psalm 100 or the other Scriptures I have mentioned? Where do the words cause your mind to go?

this image is from Logos Bible Software

2015 Verse of the Week #45: Revelation 7:10 & 12

Forty-five weeks into my verse-a-week challenge, and it has been just that! I haven’t always done my best with memorization or meditation, I’ll admit. I can’t perfectly recall the references for all of the passages, which is a little frustrating, and I’m looking into maybe some flash cards (digital or paper) to collect all of them in one spot for review and future reference. Please share ideas with me if you have them! I have experienced some benefits from focusing (strongly or weakly) on a verse each week, which I believe is the power of God’s Word and the grace of his character in action. Those truths are coming to mind when I need them, whether in moments of quiet reflection, conversation with friends, or teaching young ones.

When I was a child I didn’t understand the meaning of “hiding” God’s Word in your heart. I thought, “Why would I hide it when it’s something I’m supposed to see and remember?” To my young mind, hiding the Word didn’t jive with letting my light shine, learning and obeying, or really with loving God. But as I got older I started to have lightbulb moments with that phrase. It happened as Scripture I learned as a child came to my mind, accompanied by new understanding. It is not so much that we hide the Word in our hearts as we would hide a present until Christmas time. We don’t tuck it away to conceal the truth from ourselves, but we store it up (a simple change of translation could have helped me a lot as a kid!) for future use. The Bible tells us that God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), eternal (Is. 40:8 & 1 Pet. 1:25), and does not return empty (Is. 55:11). When God’s people learn his words, it’s like we pack all of those truths up and carry them with us on the journey of life, using what we have when we need, with help and guidance from God’s Spirit.

Another benefit of this verse-a-week thing, albeit a minor and less-spiritual one, has been numbering the weeks of the year. I have been more aware of how much or how little time is left in 2015. Forty-five feels like a good week number. We’re 7 weeks away from the end of the year and I am going to be at home for all of those weeks. I LOVE to be at home! To be sure, I will miss being with my families a little bit around the holidays, but it is nice to look ahead to this special season and know that I won’t need to pack suitcases or alter my work schedule or be ruled by a “to do before leaving town” list.

On to the verses of the week. The song on Seeds of Praise for these verses is “Amen,” and it’s track 3. The Scripture is Revelation 7:10 and 12, but I will also include verse 11.

Revelation 7:10-12

…and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

I’m studying Revelation in Bible Study Fellowship this year, and I’m enjoying it. We haven’t gotten to chapter 7 yet, though, so I don’t have any special insight on this passage. I’m excited to get there!

What I take from this passage today is this: if salvation belongs to God– and only God– and blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, and power all belong to him, then he must be the source we rely upon for all of these things, and we must give him credit and praise for who he is and what he provides.

I am working on praise. I am working on prayer. I am working on love. And it seems wrong to say I’m working on these things because of, you know… grace. But at the same time, these things do take work: living a life of praise, engaging in prayer, and accepting God’s love. Obedience takes practice and work. It isn’t that I can work my way to salvation. I cannot, as the passage above reminds me. But the proof of my salvation is in my desire to let the Spirit bring about fruits of praise and prayer and love and obedience in my life, and it takes work for me to yield to God rather than sitting in my mess and doing what I want. I have to pack my own suitcase, as it were.

In my thinking and praying about love, I am trying something: taking an intellectual moment and turning it into a heart moment. I’ve been having a lot of intellectual moments over the past several years. In fact, I think I could say my worship style has changed a bit from music to study. And I think that’s okay; the Word absolutely can and does lead us to praise. But I lost a bit of softness in my heart in that transition and I’m trying to get it back. So when I have moments of connecting two different Scriptural truths, or I see something in life that connects to Scripture, or I connect Scripture to my own needs or the grace of God in my life, etc. etc. I try to think, “This is because of God’s love for me,” or, “I am thinking this because of God’s Spirit, which means he is with me, and that is because he loves me.” That gets me a little emotional sometimes as I feel the Spirit softening my heart again. I pray this will continue.

Speaking of BSF up there, I should spend a little less time writing about Revelation here and a little more time doing that lesson I neglected all weekend. Here is a picture of the passage of the week from my own study Bible (with my very fancy BSF bookmark). FYI, my study Bible is the Open Bible in the New Living Translation.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts, and I hope you will be blessed by this passage from God’s Word.

my own image, edited with two apps: aillis and Rhonna Designs (both for iPhone)

my own image, edited with two apps: aillis and Rhonna Designs (both for iPhone)