The Gifts of God

At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift. 

Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.

About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?

There was one bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.

Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.

They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.

What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear.  So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?

Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us. 

First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you.  Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”

Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!

The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.

Third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent. 

Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow. 

These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.

The Reason of the Universe

The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so oftentimes looking up the Greek word provides helpful insight in understanding verses in the Bible. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Word in Greek is Logos. The Greeks used logos as an impersonal reason of the universe, a sense of purpose, holding everything together. John goes on to explain that Jesus is the Word, or the Logos. Jesus is the personal, reason of the universe.

The whole first chapter of John is an introduction to the identity of Jesus Christ. John tells us that Jesus is God (v1), the Maker (v2), the true Light (v9), the Son of God (v14), God the One and only (v18), Lamb of God (v29), Chosen One (v34), Rabbi (v38), Messiah (v41), the One Moses wrote about (v45), the King of Israel (v49), and the Son of Man (v51).

How can Jesus be all these things? Because He is God. God became a man, so we can have a relationship with God.

In this first chapter of John, we see the beginning of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew had been following John the Baptist until he saw Jesus and declared “look the Lamb of God.” Andrew left John the Baptist and started following Jesus. The first thing he did was go and tell his brother Simon Peter about Jesus and bring his brother to meet Jesus. That’s exactly our mission too – tell others about Jesus, starting with your family. Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus changes his name to Peter, telling him that He has greater things planned for him.

Then Philip finds Jesus and follows him. Jesus calls Philip to discipleship: a surrendering of himself to follow Jesus. Philip tells his friend Nathanael, who is not so quick to believe. But Jesus knows Nathanael before He meets him. Hearing what Jesus already knows about Nathanael, he chooses to believe, declaring “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Before He meets them, Jesus knows the disciples’ past and He knows their future. The same with us – He knows your past – the good and the bad. And He is calling you to a greater future. Don’t let your past hold you back from living the life Jesus has for you.

A Strange Introduction

I’m hosting a summer Bible study for women and children, complete with a babysitter to do games, crafts and Bible stories with the kids while the moms chat and study the Bible. But this first week I did the kids’ lesson. I thought you’d enjoy it too or want to share with your kids.

John 1:1

“The Word was in the beginning. The Word was with God. The Word was God.” (New Living Translation)

What does this even mean? Who is this about? It’s actually about Jesus! In fact this is an introduction. When you meet someone you might say, hi my name is Debbie. But what if they want to know more? What else would you say? You could add how old you are, where you are from, maybe your parents’ names.

That’s exactly what John is saying. He is introducing us to Jesus. If we replace “Word” with the name Jesus, it makes a little more sense to us: Jesus was in the beginning. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.

Now we have a little science experiment. We’ll take this empty plastic bottle and fill it 1/3 full of hot water. Then I’ll take this ice cube and put it over the top opening of the bottle. Do you know what ice is made of? Water! We have water in the bottle, frozen water (ice) at the top, and in the middle what is forming? Fog – that’s another type of water. All three things are water, yet they are all different. That is exactly like God! God is one God but in three forms: the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son Jesus Christ.

Let’s read a few more verses: “He was with God in the beginning. He made all things. Nothing was made without Him making it. Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for men. The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light.” (John 1:2-5)

Now I have some glow stick bracelets for you. When you wear these, you can remember that Jesus is the light. When you feel “darkness” – like sad or scared or lonely – you can talk to Jesus and remember that He makes the darkness go away. Jesus is the Light!

*If you live in the area, send me a message and come to the next Summer Study (Tuesday mornings). Stay tuned: I’ll be posting some of the adult lessons too!

Jesus is a Love Expert (Part 3)

img_4182Read part 1 about Discovering your child’s love language and Part 2 about Discipline with love languages. Also check out the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.

Ultimately our example is Jesus. The Bible says “the Lord disciplines those He loves.” So how did Jesus discipline? Two stories stood out to me.

Jesus and the Woman at the Well (found in John 4:1-26, 39-42)

Jesus is passing through Samaria and stops at a well in the middle of the day. A woman happens to be getting water at the same time and Jesus starts a conversation with her. First, we should notice some things: women usually got water in the morning to avoid the heat of midday, so this woman probably wanted to avoid the townspeople. She is surprised Jesus is talking to her because not only did men and women not talk to each other much, but Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk to each other.

Jesus asks for water, she’s surprised He’s talking to her and He says you should ask me for living water.  So she does. Jesus says go call your husband. I don’t have one, she says. Jesus says that’s true you’ve had 5 plus the man you live with now is not your husband. Probably feeling convicted or guilty, she tries to change the focus of the conversation by acknowledging Jesus must be a prophet, and asking him a controversial question about where people should worship. Jesus says a time is coming when the place you worship doesn’t matter, because we will worship in spirit and in truth. Finally she asks about the Messiah and Jesus says I am He.

The woman leaves her bucket and immediately runs into the town to tell the people about Jesus. Many of them become believers. They hear Jesus teach and they tell the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

What Love Language did Jesus use? Quality Time. He spent time with this woman – probably something she was craving. We know she had been bouncing from relationship to relationship with six men. She avoided the townspeople because they probably gossiped about her. Jesus spent time with her and the result was that she believed, she told the town, and many others believed in Jesus.

Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery (found in John 8:1-11)

Jesus is teaching in the temple court and a crowd of people are gathered around Him. The religious leaders & Pharisees interrupt and bring in a woman caught in the act of adultery and ask Jesus “In the law, Moses says to stone such women. What do you say?” They were trying to trick Jesus so they could accuse him.

Jesus seemingly ignores them, bends down and starts writing in the dirt with his finger. These men keep badgering him “what do we do? She was caught in the act!” Finally, Jesus stands up and says “whoever has not sinned can cast the first stone.”

We don’t know what Jesus was writing. We can pretty much assume if this woman was “caught in the act” then she’s not wearing much clothing if any. So when Jesus bends down to write in the sand, where does everyone look? Do they look at the woman? No they’re looking at what Jesus is writing. They want to know what his answer is.

Was Jesus making a list of sins in the dirt? This woman did something wrong, but so did the men who caught her. Probably so did the town. Maybe Jesus is writing “Gossip. Lust. Jealousy. Anger. Malice. Hate.” Slowly one by one the crowd walks away.

Jesus asks the woman, “has no one condemned you?” No. “Then neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus showed some love languages here: Acts of Service by protecting the woman from this angry crowd, Gifts of mercy and grace, Words of Affirmation. He showed her she wasn’t alone in sinning.

Then Jesus gives her a command. He doesn’t make a request, Would you please leave your sinful life? No, He makes a command and tells her “Go and leave your life of sin.” But because He has shown such love to her, she is more likely to listen, isn’t she?

Jesus was perfect and lived a sinless life. He could have condemned that woman. But He chose to give her grace. We are not perfect. I hate to break it to you friends, but you are not perfect. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. And our children are sinners in need of a Savior. God has entrusted dither to us so we can discipline them – train them in the way they should go. May we demand less perfection and show more grace.

I’m a Discipline Expert (part 2)

 

3deb

From my childhood. 4 years old.

Now maybe you think I’m speaking this week because I’m an expert at discipline and love languages. But actually there was just an opening in the schedule. This chapter was hard! I find myself thinking in a totally different way than before. Perhaps you grew up similar to me, where if you did something wrong you were spanked, sent to your room, or couldn’t go out with friends on the weekend. My parents actually don’t remember me ever doing anything wrong as a child, but unfortunately that obedience was not hereditary. Everyone makes mistakes, and this chapter gives some great insight.

[Did you read Part 1 about Discovering your child’s Love Language?]

We must keep the child’s love tank full, BEFORE we administer discipline.

Spanking, time-outs, etc, are actually considered punishment, which is a form of discipline but it is the most negative. Discipline actually means to train.

The main cause of misbehavior in our children is an empty emotional (love) tank. You can’t demand good behavior from a child who doesn’t feel loved. The second cause of misbehavior is a physical problem. The younger the child, the more true this is, right? For some of us, it is obvious when it’s nap time, or when the child hasn’t had a snack. Misbehavior still isn’t acceptable even if your son is hungry or tired, but the problem can be quickly relieved.

A question to ask yourself before disciplining your child: does my child feel sorry for what he has done? If there is genuine repentance, then there is no need to proceed further. He has learned and repented. At that point, punishment could be destructive.

That helps us understand why our kids misbehave, but we still want kids who are behaving well so the book lists 5 ways to control your child’s behavior:

  • Make requests: this shows you respect his feelings, you believe he is smart enough to form an opinion, your expect him to take responsibility.
  • Issuing Commands: more forceful than requests; this disregards a child’s opinion and feelings, not giving responsibility to them. The more you use authoritarian techniques such as commands, scolding, nagging, screaming, the LESS effective you become.
  • Gentle Physical Manipulation: move the 3 year old. When you are saying “time to come inside” and they are saying no, no no, just take their hand and move them gently.
  • Punishment: Make sure it fits the crime, be consistent, be appropriate. In order to do these things you need to plan ahead. 
  • Behavior Modification: Positive reinforcement – reward for appropriate behavior (piece of candy)
    • Negative reinforcement – take away a positive element from child’s environment (take away TV time)
    • Punishment – Place negative element in child’s environment (send to his room)
    • Don’t overuse or child won’t feel loved, he will think love is conditional

Don’t use a form of discipline directly related to your child’s primary love language.

If your child’s primary love language is Quality Time and you put your child in a Time Out by himself, you are sending a message of painful rejection. Instead consider a “time in” where you sit with him, talk about what went wrong and how to do things differently.

If your child’s love language is words of affirmation and you speak harshly, you are sending a message of rejection. And remember if they don’t feel loved the discipline isn’t effective.

Thanks for reading Part 1 and Part 2 of my talk, but my favorite part is coming up. How did Jesus discipline? Check back tomorrow for some examples of how Jesus showed love through these love languages.

I’m a Love Expert

Not really. Not at all. But I did recently speak about Love Languages at my moms group Bible study. We are reading The 5 Love Languages for Children (by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell) and I had the privilege of speaking on chapters 7 and 8 – discovering your child’s love language and discipline with love languages. These were weighty chapters with lots of great information. First, if you aren’t familiar with the 5 Love Languages, these charts might help.

You might be wondering WHY? Why do we need to know what our child’s primary love language is? Well, we all need love expressed in each of these ways, but each of us has a primary “language” of how we feel emotional love. These Love Languages provide great insight into how our children think and behave. 

When your child feels loved, when her emotional tank is full, she will be more responsive to parental guidance in all areas of her life. She will listen without resentment. (P. 109)

Learn all five love languages, practice all five, but specialize in the one primary language for each of your children. However, know that it can change, especially in adolescence. Use the Primary Love Language when your child is discouraged or feeling distant, so you can show them emotional love.

  • 5 ways to Discover:
    • Observe how your child expresses love to you;
    • Observe how your child expresses love to others;
    • Listen to what your child requests most often.
      • Examples: If your child is saying: look what I’m doing, come play outside, sit & read a book, then they are asking for Quality Time.
      • If your child is asking what do you think of the paper I wrote, do you like my outfit, how did I do in the game, they are asking for Words of Affirmation.
    • Notice what your child most frequently complains about;
    • Give your child a choice between two options. Examples pages 116-117.

The authors also suggest you conduct a 15 week experiment where you focus on each love language for a couple weeks. If you’re doing that, then you must really love your child. Who has that kind of time?! Just kidding. Some of you have already started your 15 week experiment and that is awesome! Report back to us in March about how that went (ha!).

Next, how to Discipline your child in relation to their love language. But you’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Big Problems. Small Problems.

A friend of mine just underwent surgery for breast cancer. We talked on the phone a few days beforehand as she filled me in on what the procedure would be like and the details. Then asked me about what’s new in my life. “Nothing.” Seriously, with all she has on her mind, we don’t need to talk about me. “Please, I need a distraction. Tell me about your boys.” Well, ok…

I told stories and rambled on about things that certainly don’t seem important compared to upcoming cancer surgery. Funny how our lives, our complaints and worries, dim in comparison to another’s. It’s good to look around and realize our lives aren’t as hard as so-and-so. It could always be worse, right?

IMG_3044But here’s what really struck me the last few days: no problem is small to God. And no problem is big to God either. God cares about all the details of our lives. He cares about my friend with cancer while also caring about my child who complains about how his clothes fit [insert eye roll]. God cares about these things in our lives because He cares about us. He loves us more than we can imagine.

Some people think God has bigger things to deal with than their little prayers. But I think God loves us so much and He wants a relationship with us so much, than He would love to talk to us about anything. Pray for a parking spot. Pray for healing. Pray for your children to stop arguing. Pray for your loved ones to know Jesus. No problem too big or too small. No prayer too big or too small.

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

“I pray that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:17-20

Jonah: More than a Fish Story

Jeff took this picture in Sydney, Australia on our honeymoon and it has been hanging on this wall for almost eight years. Despite being a high traffic zone in our house, and us opening and closing the doors nearby multiple times a day, this picture has never been crooked. Until two weeks ago.

The details are a little fuzzy in my mind, but it probably involves one or two children not getting out the door as fast as I planned. So, being the rational, Godly woman I am, I slammed the door shut. Very hard.

“Do you do well to be angry?” God asked Jonah.

“Do you do well to be angry?” God asked me.

For two weeks that picture has been crooked. No matter how many times I straighten it each day, it’s always crooked. One day I asked Jeff if he had some poster putty to fix it. “It’s so weird that the picture is crooked now,” Jeff said. Yeah, so weird…

I confessed my sin to Jeff. I think he rolled his eyes. I immediately felt regret for slamming the door, but I had a two week crooked picture reminder that my anger doesn’t accomplish anything.

How many times do I have the boys in their car seats and realize I forgot my keys, or sunglasses, or water? I’m just as guilty for making us late as they are. And does it even matter if we are a few minutes late?

After Jonah was swallowed and vomitted by a fish, he finally obeyed God and told the people of Ninevah that God was going to judge the city. The people repented. They changed their ways and called on the Lord to not destroy them. And God had mercy on them. He relented from His anger and showed them mercy. But Jonah… He wasn’t happy about it all. He was angry. Angry about a plant that provided him shade but then died. Angry that God sent him to Ninevah, only to show mercy to them. Angry that he couldn’t choose who received God’s favor.

Do you do well to be angry? It’s not worth a crooked picture frame for weeks. Or worse. Take a breath. Be thankful for the mercy God shows you, and start showing that mercy to others.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

Joy and Sorrow

On Christmas Day Jack was supposed to walk into our parents’ houses for gift opening and share a special announcement on his tshirt: Big Brother. But he never got the chance. A few days earlier I started having some problems. Doctor appointment, blood work, and several days of waiting, revealed that I was having a miscarriage. In the days of waiting, however, I waited in silence. Only Jeff and I knew that I was pregnant. I was still hoping that everything would be ok and that we could joyfully, happily announce this new baby.

Through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while everyone around me celebrated the birth of a Baby King, I wondered if the baby, who was only 6 weeks in the womb, was still alive. The season of advent is all about anticipation of a Savior, when I was waiting for results and answers. Would Christmas Day, a day of great celebration, turn into a day of mourning for me? Does it have to be one or the other?

Because of the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem – Jesus, the One who saves, because He is Immanuel, God with us, I can have comfort even in sorrow. I can find joy even when mourning because the God who is with me is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Even though I was only 6 weeks pregnant, I had hopes and dreams for this new baby. I was excited for Jack to have a sibling, for us to have a new little baby to hold and love. Things could go on without anyone knowing about this 6 week old life that was inside me, but I think it’s important to share. Every life has value and should be celebrated. At least 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but it’s often not talked about. Then if it happens to you, you might feel alone or ashamed, as if it’s your fault. But it’s not your fault. Usually there aren’t answers as to why miscarriages happen.

I share my story with you to celebrate the baby. I’ve thanked God for this baby and for the blessing of being pregnant three times – a blessing many women don’t get. It’s a strange thing to have more children in heaven than in my arms (read about Caleb here), but it makes me look forward to heaven even more.

No matter what challenging, sorrowful, or questioning time you are facing, it doesn’t have to be separated from hope, joy, and peace. The Baby in the manger came to save you, to be with you, to bring you peace even in chaos, joy even in sorrow, and hope even when you despair.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4