2015 Verse of the Week #13: Philippians 4:12-13

2015-03-30 10.04.21

Passage #13 brings us to the next Seeds Family Worship album: “The Power of Encouragement.” The song for Philippians 4:12-13 is called “The Secret” and is track #1, and it’s a good one. The new NIV version is slightly different from the 1984 version used in the song, and the ESV is quite different. I’m posting the new NIV here simply because I prefer it.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

This passage looks like my life! And I’m sure many other followers of Christ would say the same. I don’t mean that I’m perfect at this, just that I have seen God’s sustaining hand work in my life to bring contentment in a variety of situations. Think about it: have you ever been in need? This could apply to financial need, but also need of strength, joy, encouragement or in need of help in some other way. Have you ever had plenty? Maybe you’re not swimming in money (a la Scrooge McDuck), but if you’ve ever known where your next meal is coming from and were able to pay all your bills, you’ve had plenty. If you’ve owned a vehicle or a home, gone out to eat or to a sporting event, been on vacation, etc. you’ve definitely had plenty!

So we’ve all been in need and in plenty- that’s probably obvious, and can apply to most people. What is to be different for the follower of Christ is that we can be content “in any and every situation.” Grammatically and structurally, verse 12 sets up that there is a secret to contentment, and verse 13 shares what that secret is: strength from Christ.

The word “secret” kind of throws me for a loop, as do other passages in the Bible that make reference to a secret or mystery. The best I can come up with after a quick peek at some commentary (which means, yes, I am over my head and pay grade here! Read with a side of salt!) is that Paul, with help from God’s Spirit, is making special knowledge available to all. The phrase “I have learned the secret” carries a meaning of exclusivity, or of being initiated into the ways of mystery. In Paul’s time there must have been many things that Jewish leaders learned or knew and to some extent held over the heads of regular folks. But that is not how God wants it to be anymore. From what I can tell, Paul uses similar wording to describe salvation- a secret made known to all who believe, and not just special people. When we become reconciled to God through Christ, the Spirit guides us in the wisdom and truth of God- things that would otherwise be secrets or mysteries to us. We can also use these gifts to encourage and instruct one another, and generally build up the Body of Christ.

If contentment is the secret that is accessible to all who believe in Christ, then strength from the Strengthener (God) is the vehicle that gets us there. This is what encourages me so greatly when I read this passage.

I tend to see the negative side of situations very easily, and have experienced times of emotional darkness. But because of God’s presence in my life– and specifically his Spirit in my heart and mind– the emotional darkness is nothing more than a film coating the surface of a body of water. I may feel sad or hopeless, or I may temporarily believe a lie, or I may complain, but underneath that, in the depths of my heart, there is still a strong undercurrent of hope, joy, and peace, and that is the direction I “flow” in. Giving up is never an option– because I claim the one who has overcome the world, I wouldn’t even know how to give up or give in. God’s strength, available to us because of Christ and delivered by his Spirit, sustains us and keeps us going. He is peace, hope, joy, light, and love when we know we can’t produce or access those things on our own. How else could I have slept at night when there was no money in the bank account? How else could I have stayed away from greed when I already had everything I needed and more? How else could I have stepped out in love when I felt like withdrawing because of pain?

This is the secret, written by God in heaven and given freely to be written on the heart of every woman, man, and child who believes: I can do all this because of him who gives me strength.

Do you have any insight on this passage? I’d love to hear about it, or about how you are encouraged by these powerful words of truth.

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2015 Verse of the Week #12: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

1Thess_5_16-18

I can’t believe this is passage #12. That means I’m 3 months into a year of weekly Scripture.

This week my passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. The Seeds song is called “Be Joyful Always,” track 12 on “Seeds of Purpose.”  The song uses the 1984 NIV version, but below I have pasted the ESV.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How many times do we struggle to discern God’s will for our lives? Lucky for us, this is one of those passages that literally spells out God’s will for us in black and white.

Yes, I understand that when we struggle to know God’s will we are usually struggling with a specific decision or situation for which we would like a specific answer from God. I have been there, thinking, “God, just give me some detailed instructions for this situation!” But he already has, although it’s not a “take a left at the next light” kind of thing. God’s will for my life is not that I would be at a specific series of certain places at certain times with certain people, but that I would seek him and use what he has given me. I’ve seen it before but still seem to forget that if I will be joyful, pray, and give thanks, the confusion and unrest are eased and God’s will is more clearly discerned. This is a great verse on which to meditate.

What is your experience with discerning the will of God? What helps you remember to be joyful, prayerful, thankful?

Finally, Spring!

I don’t mind winter, really. I’m not one of those people who gets upset when it seems to go on longer than we think it should. I get a little more time to wear sweaters and boots and scarves and my nice winter coat.

But there’s something about spring! The grass and trees are greening up and flowers are poking through the dirt after a long sleep. Birds are chirping and we actually see our neighbors outside again. People seem happier, which makes life better.

Spring rarely lasts as long as I want it to, and I think that’s one reason I enjoy it so much- the short length makes it kind of special. I have to savor the moments before the dreaded heat of summer arrives. So I treasure that slight chill in the air in the mornings and evenings, and the new warmth to the sunshine that wasn’t there in winter.

I keep thinking we will see snow one more time here in northwest Iowa, but I’m not so sure. My crocuses popped up about a week ago, and while they typically make an over-eager entrance and end up dusted in snowflakes, so far they remain unscathed by the white stuff. I’m nervous but enjoying it.

In honor of spring I must share this song. I was introduced to the comedic music of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards (pseudonyms for actual talented people Paul Weston and Jo Stafford) by a dear friend back in high school. We would listen to her parents’ album and just giggle and giggle, and of course re-enact. It is some truly special music. Its irreverence, wit, and comedic panache make it perfect for a Fun Friday… in SPRING!

2015 Verse of the Week #11: Psalm 34:11-14

It’s shaping up to be another busy week, and I am fighting off a sore throat with congestion. I can’t tell if it’s allergies or sickness- isn’t that frustrating? Whatever it is, I’ll be using my Neti Pot daily, taking plenty of vitamins and just generally throwing everything I can at these symptoms. You can read more about my “voodoo” here.

The passage for this week is Psalm 34:11-14, and the Seeds song is  “Listen to Me,” track 11 on “Seeds of Purpose.” Here’s the text:

11 Come, my children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
    and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

This passage is full of good wisdom. Much like with the will of God, sometimes it seems difficult to know what it means to fear God. From what I have learned from people who are much smarter than I am, I believe the main way we demonstrate our fear of the Lord is through obedience to him. I do think there should be an aspect of “afraid” fear involved, too, because God is so righteous and just and could totally wipe us out if he chose to do so, but this passage is focused on obedience that starts with love.

The first thing that comes to mind for me in this passage is teaching children the fear of the Lord. It is something parents are responsible to do at home with their kids, but adults in the church can also do in the context of church. That could be through teaching Sunday school or volunteering in other ways in the children’s or youth ministries at your church. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to teach some of our youngest kids, and while it was for a short time and I don’t know how well they were really listening, it was such a good thing. We adults and teenagers were demonstrating obedience to God through service just by being in that classroom. We demonstrated the importance of the Word by teaching from it and listening to it. We demonstrated love for others by being kind to one another and to the children. It may seem small, but when we give a child a snack of animal crackers, or delight in their creativity as they play, or when we guide them toward doing the right thing, God is working. He is teaching the child and teaching us.

For those of us who are older, if we follow Christ and say we fear God, this passage gives us some specific instructions for living it out. My paraphrase of these verses would go something like this: If are following God and want to have a good life, speak in ways that are good and honest. Do things that please God. Look for peace from aboveand hang onto it when you find it.

I’m sure it’s not theologically perfect, but that’s my take. So this week, when I will probably have many opportunities to say things I shouldn’t, do things that will displease God, and get sucked into worry and other types of chaos, I think it will be very helpful to have these words going through my mind. And not because the words will activate my willpower and make me do good, but because the words are directly from God and his Spirit will renew my mind in ways I cannot fathom. That is what truly powers my obedience; it is not my strength, but God’s Spirit.

Because this passage is so long, I figured it would be a good one for a slightly different memorizing approach. Verses 11, 13, and 14 are pretty easy, but verse 12 isn’t stuck in my brain yet. So rather than writing the whole thing out I decided to only write parts of the verses so I can fill in the blanks with my brain when I see my chalkboard.

What’s your take on these verses?2015-03-16 16.52.25

Sweets Make Me Feel Normal: Monkey Bread from Heaven

I feel compelled to make a disclaimer: I don’t think anyone is normal, or that there truly is a “normal” type of person. As my friend Alan used to sing, “it’s not that we’re all weird, it’s just there’s no such thing as par.” There are many experiences and traits we all share as humans that are universal, but we are all pretty quirky in our own ways. So I guess it’s normal not to be normal?

And I am definitely not. One of my abnormalities is in the way I eat, and since it is a universal human experience to eat food regularly, I often feel my un-normal-ness in this area of life. Because of health issues I do not eat eggs, wheat/gluten, corn, soy, traditionally raised red meat, and more. I really try to avoid sugars and processed oils. Processed anything, really. I have a couple of posts brewing about my health journey and will be sharing eventually.

Anyway, sometimes I feel left out, although I know it’s not anyone’s intention to make me feel that way. It can be difficult to eat only carrot sticks at a party while everyone else eats pizza and cake. I also feel misunderstood, because I don’t have the time– or desire– to explain my health needs to people I encounter in social eating situations. I worry that people think I’m on a diet and not willing to let loose just once at a fun occasion, or that I’m a health-food snob and am silently judging their own choices, or that I’m just following the latest food fads. Some of that judgment is perceived, but some of it is real. I also feel like I’m a burden to people who try to accommodate my needs, because my diet doesn’t fall neatly into any one category: if a food is labeled gluten-free or vegan it still often contains corn, soy, or sugar. It is very rare that I can enjoy any packaged foods without having to make some compromises. And the packaged foods I can enjoy are usually not found at local stores. I feel terrible when someone has picked something up just for me but it turns out I can’t eat it.

Woe is me, right? I promise I’m not whining! My intention is only to explain my experience, and to let others in the same boat know they are not alone. I love the “me too” feeling I get from reading about others’ similar experiences and hope to give that feeling back to my (small group of) readers.

I don’t spend much time feeling bad about my “weird” diet because it is responsible for slowly and surely turning my health around. It’s hard to feel bad when I actually feel pretty good for the first time in many years! So if this is weird, I don’t want to be normal.

But on to my point: because most of my time is spent feeling different about food, it’s nice to get close to the ever-elusive “normal.” That’s where sweets come in. Several years ago I started to really hit my baking stride. I enjoyed whipping up brownies, cakes, bars, and even cookies (one thing I had always managed to burn). I started to try yeast bread and discovered it wasn’t as mystifying as I thought it would be. And now that I’ve made big changes, I sometimes miss my old friends! Coffee cake, banana bars, wheat bread, FROSTING….. sigh.

There are so many recipes that try to re-capture our favorite unhealthy classics using healthy ingredients, but they usually miss the mark. Trust me: I’ve tried and failed with three different donut recipes this year. Sad face.

I have learned not to expect much when I try a healthed-up version of an old classic. I will never again use avocado with chocolate. Forgive me, Lord, for ever thinking it would work; and please forgive everyone on Pinterest who perpetuates the myth.

But. BUT. This week I tried a new recipe and hit the jackpot! I am eternally grateful (not an understatement) to Gluten-free Gigi for her darn-near-heavenly pull-apart bread. This bread is surprisingly moist and light despite the absence of wheat, eggs, and dairy.

My adaptations: I used coconut oil as my fat and almond milk in place of dairy. I didn’t have any yogurt, so I doubled the buttermilk and added a tiny “flax egg” of 1 tsp. flax + a tablespoon or so of water to get that gelatinous texture the yogurt brings. Next time I’ll probably skip the flax to see if it made a difference. I added vanilla extract to both the dough and the drizzle. I found ways to cut the sugar significantly by using stevia in the dough. I did cave and add coconut sugar to the cinnamon coating, but that was less than 1/4 cup and I felt okay about it. I used honey and a bit of stevia in the drizzle because I was out of maple syrup. I thought it tasted great but Mike thought it might “need work.” Should I have told him that he needs work? 😉 I didn’t, but I thought the honey drizzle was good. Maybe it was the stevia my husband didn’t care for, so next time I’ll leave it out of the drizzle.

At any rate, I loved this recipe. It instantly endeared itself to my heart, and will be a new go-to dessert that I can share with “normal” people. I also plan to make it a go-to recipe for a special “normal” breakfast. A Saturday morning with monkey bread, hash browns (with homemade ketchup!), and a big cup of coffee sounds like the perfect way to forget my (admittedly small) troubles for a while.

Without further ado:

image from glutenfreegigi.com

Prep time:  20 mins
Cook time:  35 mins
Total time:  55 mins
Free from: gluten, dairy/casein, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, corn, eggs and yeast.
Ingredients
  • Dough:
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour (See notes at end of recipe for blend.)
  • ½ cup sugar (white granulated, light brown or coconut)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup fat, cold (dairy-free butter substitute or real butter if not dairy-free)
  • ½ cup milk PLUS ½ Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (Your favorite dairy- or dairy-free milk will work.)
  • ½ cup vanilla yogurt (dairy-free or dairy)
  • Coating:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • Drizzle:
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ¼ cup fat, room temperature (dairy-free butter substitute or real butter if not dairy-free)
  • ¼ cup milk (dairy-free or dairy)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup (substitute honey, agave, or other liquid sugar of choice)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a Bundt pan (or other tube pan).
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon coating ingredients; whisk to blend; set aside.
  3. Combine milk and vinegar in a small measuring cup or bowl; stir; set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend.
  5. Cut cold fat into cubes (if using stick butter or dairy-free baking sticks) OR scoop teaspoonfuls from the measured ½ cup of dairy-free spread (if your product comes in a tub). Add these small fat portions to the dry ingredients. Cut in with fork, pastry blender or your hands.
  6. Add yogurt and cut it in with a fork. (Hands = too messy.)
  7. Add milk/vinegar mixture; stir with spoon until dough is uniform. It will be sticky.
  8. Set up your work area by having the bowl with dough, a Tablespoon (measuring spoon) or small ice cream scoop, the coating mixture and your greased baking pan lined up. (This will keep the process moving along and keep the mess to a minimum.) I like to work near the sink for this so I’m able to keep the water at a trickle to run my hands under periodically. Moist hands mean no dough sticks while we work.
  9. With moistened hands, scoop dough in Tablespoon portions, roll gently into ball shape (not perfect rounds, just until smooth and formed), give each dough ball a good coating with the cinnamon sugar mixture, then place each in the prepared pan. You will make a complete circle in the bottom of the pan, then begin again with an inner, then an outer circle of coated balls of dough. No need to press the dough together.
  10. You will have leftover cinnamon/sugar coating mixture. Evenly sprinkle it over the top of the dough in the baking pan.
  11. Place the pan in your preheated oven and bake 25 minutes.
  12. While the bread bakes, whip up the drizzle by combining ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until mixture bubbles, then cook about 5 minutes. Removed from heat; set aside.
  13. When bread is baked, remove from oven, pour about ⅓ of the drizzle over the top and allow it to cool in the pan 10 minutes.
  14. After 10 minutes, invert it onto a serving plate. Pour remaining drizzle right on top and you’re ready to serve!

2015 Verse of the Week #10: Matthew 4:18-20

image from biblestoryprintables.com

image from biblestoryprintables.com

I’m back home after a great weekend with my volunteer “family.” Despite my late-night packing habit, I wasn’t too much of a zombie, and I had almost everything I needed. I brought along a scaled-down version of my natural medicine cabinet but neglected to include my peppermint essential oil, which was a shame because nearly every member of our party experienced some degree of intestinal discomfort at some point during the trip. I am kicking myself for forgetting the peppermint! I had orange with me, which is helpful for digestive issues, but doesn’t hold much of a candle to the power of peppermint. Lesson learned.

I unpacked last night, got a good sleep, and now I’m ready to get my week started as I continue adjusting to a new schedule. I’m now a long-term sub for the teacher’s assistant at a preschool where I used to work, so I get to spend my Tuesday and Thursday mornings with some 3- and 4-year-old darlings and their sweet teacher. It looks like they may need me until the end of the year, but we’ll see. I’ll just help out until they don’t need me anymore!

This week’s passage is Matthew 4:18-20, and the Seeds song is  “Fishers of Men,” track 10 on “Seeds of Purpose.” The song uses the NIV 1984 translation, but the verse below is from the ESV.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

This is such a cool verse. I love the glimpse into the very beginning of the disciples’ relationship with the man whom they would later discover was God’s Messiah. Peter and Andrew were not the coolest, smartest, or most accomplished kids on the block, and they were probably stinky from all the saltwater and fish, but a “rabbi” singled them out to teach them, mentor them, and prepare them to introduce the world to the good news of God’s salvation for all who believe. This verse is also great because it shows an immediate response to Jesus’ call.

I tend to make an obedience connection when I read verse 20, but I’m wondering about that connection as I try to articulate my thoughts on this passage. To look at the passage grammatically, sure: “Follow me” could be considered a command. But looking at the words all together in context, it seems Jesus is giving more of an invitation or an offer. So when the brothers leave immediately, are they obeying… or are they simply accepting the offer and the one who gave it? The more I think about it, the more I think it is the latter.

Obedience is of great importance, and there is plenty of material in the Bible available for study on that subject. But accepting Jesus’ call is the most important thing a person can do when presented with his story. Because Jesus was God in flesh he must have seen and spoken to these young men as no one had before. Something about him must have shown that he knew what they wanted and what they would be capable of if they followed him. It’s such a brief exchange with very little detail as recorded, and I often wonder what was going through the minds of Peter and Andrew, how Jesus spoke, what else they said, etc. etc. But what we have is all that matters; Jesus said, “Follow me,” and the young men dropped what they were doing and followed him “at once,” or “immediately.”

Rather than making this passage about obedience I am going to make it about responding to the call. This can mean one’s initial response to Jesus, aka accepting salvation for the first time, but it can also be a daily response. Am I willing to drop something that I’m doing so I can follow Jesus and participate in “fishing” for people to join his Kingdom? I hope so, but there are many times when I don’t leave my “net” behind in favor of that higher purpose. When I do that, I am missing out and cheating myself, but because I have accepted Jesus’ initial call to salvation, this is where the obedience connection comes in. I have already said I want to follow Jesus, so when he calls me to put down my net, I need to listen and obey… “at once.” To disregard the call at this point is disobedience.

Immediate obedience is a hard thing to do, but this passage encourages me to make it more about knowing the character of Jesus and responding because of who he is. If I’m finding it difficult to respond (obey), I’m seeing that I need to pay more attention and spend more time on discovering Jesus’ love for me. Something in his Spirit knows me, knows that I want to follow, and knows what I am capable of if I will only put down my net. He speaks to my heart as no one else can.

What do you think about this passage? What thoughts or feelings do you experience when you read about Jesus’ call and the brothers’ response?

biblestoryprintables.com

biblestoryprintables.com

Traveler

We’re hitting the road first thing tomorrow morning for a youth leader training event with some awesome friends/fellow volunteers from church. It promises to be a great time… once I’m ready. I’m okay at traveling. Some parts of travel are tough for me, like sitting for too long and finding safe food options, so in those ways I turn into a delicate flower, but because of those things I’m always very prepared. I’d like to think I’m actually a good traveler, but because of the bad habit I am currently engaging in, I think “okay” is the final verdict.

I consistently put off packing until the last minute, then stay up half the night in a tired state trying to put everything together… and not just the necessities, but many unnecessary items get added to the list as I get more tired and the stupid ideas begin to flow. And I start my travels as a tired zombie. It’s the worst! I’m the worst!

Then I feel like this.

I have all my clothes packed, most of my toiletries, most of my special food and vitamins, I’ve switched to a more sensible purse, and I am prepared for a variety of weather scenarios. I have maybe 2% more to pack. But that last 2% has kept me up almost 2 hours past my bedtime, as it does every time. This is the witching hour for me. Ideas start popping into my head, like:

“I should update all the music on my phone.”

“I should make sure my bluetooth speaker is charged up in case we need to have a dance party this weekend.”

“Why haven’t I packed any candy?!?”

“I should really print shipping labels for those returns I keep forgetting to send back.”

“Maybe I should do some light cleaning…”

It’s when the ideas stop being travel-related that I know I’m in trouble. So I’ve updated my list with all the things I need to assemble in the morning, and I’m shutting it down. I’m no good at this hour and stage in the packing game. You got me again, 2%. I surrender.

In my defense: I rarely forget anything. I pretty much always have everything I could ever need once I get to my destination. I will be prepared for that dance party when it happens some day!

How do you pack? Are you a mess like me, or do you have it down?

2015 Verse of the Week #9: Romans 8:28 & 31b

image from biblestoryprintables.com

image from biblestoryprintables.com


I’m really enjoying listening to the song for this week’s passage. I had a fun and busy morning at preschool followed by some errands, and the song is mellow, relaxing, and encouraging.

The passage of the week is Romans 8:28 & 31b. The Seeds song is called “If God is For Us,” track 9 on “Seeds of Purpose.”

24 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
31b If God is for us, who can be against us?

I love Romans 8:28, as do many people, I’m sure. It can be comforting and inspirational and motivational. It is an oft-quoted verse, and not always applied or interpreted correctly. Like last week’s verse, I want to talk about what this verse does not mean before I talk about what it does mean.

This verse does not mean that only good things will happen to those who love God.

It also does not mean that if God works all things together for our good, he must “cause” all of the bad things that happen to us.

Reading Romans 8:28 in the context of the above misconceptions can lead us to think that if things are not working together for good in our lives, then we must not love God enough.

Reading Romans 8:28 in the context of the rest of the chapter gives us the real meaning of the verse. I’m thinking specifically of 8:26 and 8:38-39, but the entire chapter is worth a read in order to gain better understanding. From what I understand, the meaning is that, although we live in a sinful world in which we will certainly see trouble, God will help his children. We have the Spirit to guide us, the Son who saved and intercedes for us, and– as verse 31 points out– the almighty Creator God, who has already won the victory, is “for us.”

This verse encourages me to follow God as closely as I can, through good times and bad. I have seen him work things together for my good time and time again, although not always in ways I would expect, and not always (or ever?) quickly. And not usually in ways that caused me to think, “Oh, so it was actually good when that bad thing happened!” He does not always make my life easier when I struggle, although I’m convinced that on multiple occasions he has done so very graciously. In him I find hope and truth and love, and he allows me to share in his victory, which I celebrate in my heart now and will eventually celebrate in heaven with the rest of the saints.

Well, that was more serious than I thought it would be… as always! But I shared a cute little picture at the top of the post, and wanted to share a link to some really nice teaching resources that go along with these Seeds songs/verses. I would encourage you to visit Bible Story Printables or Totally Tots to find cute and useful visuals for these verses if you are teaching them to your children. From my perspective these resources could be useful for students of any age.

What does this passage mean to you? Have you heard any enlightening teaching on it?