Monday, September 30, 2013

Blog Musings

If you've been around my blog any length of time, you'll know that one of my favorite evangelism blogs is that belonging to Paul Latour at The Word Street Journal. I hope you're checking it out on a regular basis. Paul and his wife, Kim, continue to encourage and challenge fellow Christians with their zeal for sharing the gospel on the streets of Ottawa Canada.

Recently, Paul shared about a fatal bus accident that occurred in his city. Click here to read this post and find out how the gospel was shared during this tragic time. May we be so gospel-minded ourselves.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friendship Musings

This past weekend my good friend, Kim, and I celebrated our 12-year friendship anniversary with a road trip to Schaumburg, Illinois. We were privileged to attend the Revive 13 conference hosted by Revive Our Hearts radio ministry. This particular conference focuses on women in leadership roles in their churches. The speakers this year were: Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Paul Tripp, and Elyse Fitzpatrick (need I say more--so good). 

Kim and I were also able to spend some time with Melissa (pictured below) over the weekend. We met Melissa at the very end (literally, it was the last few minutes) of the conference we attended in 2011. Melissa and I have been in contact several times in the past two years via e-mail, texting, and phone conversations. I was happy to hear she was attending the conference again. Kim and I were able to sit with her during the conference main sessions and enjoy dinner together both nights of the conference. It was a lovely time. 

All the speakers were very good, each speaking Biblical truth with passion and compassion. 

Here's a takeaway from each speaker that my mind has returned to many times since leaving the conference. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Speaking on 1 Samuel 4:1-4 and referring to "God our help", she said, "Some people would rather live in defeat for a very long time than do what it takes to get help, which may include a willingness to get rid of the gods we are leaning on for help and turn to the true God (Jehovah Ezer, God our helper). 

Paul Tripp: Speaking from Mark 6:45-53 said this: "God will take you where you did not intend to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own." 

Elyse Fitzpatrick: Speaking from 1 John 1:1-10 said: "Walking in the light (as were told to do in this passage) does not mean we are sinless. It means we live openly and transparently. We live our lives without hiding. Sin makes us want to hide. Walking in the light eventuates in holiness."

The breakout sessions were equally rich. We enjoyed the entire time. We thank God for the opportunity to attend the conference and for this now 12-year long friendship. May He use both to make us more like Jesus. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cookie Baking Night 09/23/13

Tonight was Cookie Baking Night. In attendance this evening: Ethan, Carissa, and Alli.

Greg has traveled so much this summer that he hasn't joined us at a Cookie Baking Night in quite some time (he usually eats supper with us on those nights).  It was good to have him with us tonight. 

Due to an unexpected change in schedule last night, I took a little detour from the "year of the cookie" and went with the ever so easy pumpkin bar for the evening. This recipe provides a lot of activity for the children, and they really enjoy it. 

As you can see (above) there is opportunity for measuring ...

Cracking eggs ...

Stirring batter ...

And don't forget frosting the bars and adding the candy pumpkins ...

Since we now have a younger one in our midst, we decided to change devotional books for the time being to allow for participation from everyone. (We'll return to God's Names by Sally Michael at another time). We're now reading "Sammy and His Shepherd" by Susan Hunt. This book takes a walk through Psalm 23. The subtitle of the book is "Seeing Jesus in Psalm 23". It is divided up into 11 small chapters and each chapter ends with discussion questions. Tonight we read chapter 1, "The Lord is My Shepherd: I Shall Not Want." 

We also found time to take a short walk and enjoy the beautiful fall weather this evening (Greg joined us on our walk, as well). It was a lovely time. 

As usual, a fun time was had by all. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Musings (Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness)

"Whenever there is suffering, and depression is most surely suffering, there are always questions that we must consider about God and our relationship to him. We can avoid these questions when everything is going well, but hardships always uncover these submerged realities. We can't avoid questions about God when depression comes knocking on our door.

At this point, here is what you know: Life is lifeless. Misery tinges everything. Your first reaction is, 'How can I get rid of this as quickly as possible?' And there is merit to decreasing pain quickly, if it's possible. But depression should also be approached carefully. It might be pointing to important matters of the heart that are crying out for attention. Ignore them and they will just call back later. There are times when depression is saying something and we must listen."

Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cookie Baking Musings 09/16/13

Recently, I caught a few minutes of a program where Josh McDowell was speaking on raising children in this "internet" world. He said the key to it is relationships between parents and children. He made this statement: "Rules without relationships lead to rebellion." This struck a chord with me because it summed up my philosophy concerning Cookie Baking Nights. The entire reason I started Cookie Baking Nights with my nieces and nephews 10 years ago was because I wanted a way to have an ongoing relationship with them. I was very aware that children eventually go through some kind of crisis (call it crisis of conscience, crisis of identity, crisis of morality, crisis of spirituality, crisis of self-righteousness). Whatever the crisis may be, it is next to impossible to step into the life of someone you barely know and expect them to respect and listen to you. That is most effectively done through the avenue of relationship. From 1 year olds to 21 year olds, this is the lens I constantly keep in view concerning Cookie Baking Nights. It is more than just fun and cookies, folks, believe me. And I thank God often for the privilege He has given me of being part of their lives in this way.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bible Musings

Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9 (ESV)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cookie Baking Night 09/09/13

Tonight was Cookie Baking Night. In attendance this evening: Emily and Alli. Tonight the request was for a Sesame Street Cookie, so what better character for the occasion than Cookie Monster?

Due to some road construction on the way home, I was the last one to arrive at Cookie Baking Night this evening, so things were running a little behind schedule. While I prepared supper, Emily and Alli sat at the kitchen table and colored a Cookie Monster headband. 

After supper, we commenced with the cookie decorating (I pre-baked the sugar cookies due to time constraints, used a small flower cookie cutter shape). We used a "grass" tip on the pastry bag, which made the frosting come out looking like fur. The girls loved it! 

I found the recipe/instructions at this blog site (oddly enough, a blog titled Katrina's Kitchen). I made a few adjustments to the recipe since my decorators were an all-kid crew, and I think we came up with a pretty cute product in the end. 

We also had time to read from God's Names by Sally Micheal. Tonight we learned the name Jehovah-Sabaoth meaning The LORD of Hosts (hosts meaning armies). My favorite line in this lesson was the ending line: "We can see and think about all the big, scary, sad, and hard things. Or we can see and think about Jehovah-Sabaoth. It takes faith to see God as big and other things as little. It takes believing that God is Jehovah-Sabaoth." Definitely something Aunt Katrina needed to hear tonight. There are things for both the young and the old to learn at Cookie Baking Nights. 

We ended the evening with a lively game of Zingo. And, as usual, a fun time was had by all. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Evangelism Musings 09/07/13

If you're looking for evangelism opportunities, they are everywhere. Sometimes, they involve spending a day handing out gospel tracts at a large event. Sometimes they involve spending a day at a large event trying to have conversations with people about the gospel. Sometimes they involve street preaching and publicly proclaiming the gospel in the open air. Sometimes they involve being in the right place at the right time (aka God's sovereign hand) to share the gospel with a coworker, a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger. Sometimes they involve inviting a friend, coworker, or neighbor to church where you know the gospel will be preached. This I know, gospel opportunities come in many shapes and sizes (many packages). I would recommend not limiting yourself to one avenue. I also know this, if you don't make your life about sharing the gospel, you won't be ready when the opportunity is in front of you.

Several years ago now, I wrote my own gospel tract because 1) I was (and still am) in awe with the work God did in my life. I was amazed that in one moment I went from being a slave to sin, powerless against its effects to being a new person, free in Jesus Christ. I knew I did nothing to accomplish this on my own, and God did everything. I wanted to tell others about it. 2) I knew that if I had some ownership in what was written in the gospel tract, I would be more likely to hand it out to people (and that has proven to be true). Click here to read the contents of the gospel tract. We (Greg and I) are about to order our third printing of this gospel tract. We order them 500 at a time, which means 1,000 tracts have been distributed up to this point. I mention that because most of them have been distributed one at a time (literally) through encounters I have had with strangers in daily life. I thought I would share some of those encounters in this post.

One day, on my lunch break at work, I went to a local grocery store to run an errand. While I was there, an elderly lady in front of me in line (her name is Kathryn) discovered that she had lost her keys. A thorough search ensued by the staff of the store and by Kathryn, but to no avail. She had a spare set at home, so I offered to give her a ride to her apartment (where she knew a friend could help her get into her apartment and then drive her back to the store with the spare key). We chatted a bit on the way home, but she was quite distraught and could only focus on what might have happened to her keys. As she was getting out of the car, I handed her the gospel tract and explained it was something I had written and wanted her to have. Convinced that God had sent me there (I agree), and that I must be her guardian angel (not so much), she thanked me profusely for the ride home and for the gospel tract.

One Sunday afternoon on my way home from church, I stopped into the local gas station for something or another and noticed they had very ripe bananas on sale. Noticing they were just right for banana bread, I took them to the counter to purchase. The clerk (a young man about 20 or so) asked me what I was going to do with the bananas and I said, "Make banana bread." Jokingly, he said, "Well, I get off at 3:00. I'll see you then." Not one who likes to see an opportunity slip through my fingers, I promptly went home, made some banana bread, cut it up and put it in a container, and showed up at the gas station again shortly before 3:00. I wrote out a card to the young man (I made sure I got his name from his name tag before I left the first time). The card went something like this. "I hope you enjoy the banana bread, but the kindest thing I can do for you is leave you with the best information I know--the gospel. Here's a gospel tract I wrote and want to share with you." Needless to say, he was a bit surprised that I actually baked him banana bread, but he gladly took it, thanked me, and even shared with me a few weeks later that he was touched by the gesture, and that he read the gospel tract (and called his mom to tell her about it).

This past Thursday morning, I was heading out to work and realized that if I didn't stop for gas within a couple miles, I would run out of gas. I pulled into the nearest gas station (not my usual one even though I was less than a mile from home). I went in to purchase a bottle of water, and as I came out of the store, an elderly gentleman stopped me and asked me if I knew where the VA clinic was. I told him I did. He said, "Am I close?" I told him he wasn't. It was on the other side of town from where we were. I tried to give him directions, but he was unfamiliar with the area, and it was hard to explain how to get there from our particular location. It is a newly built clinic, and his GPS device wasn't recognizing the address. So, even though I was on my way to work and he was going the opposite direction of the place of my employment, I heard these words come out of my mouth: "Follow me, sir. I can't seem to tell you how to get there, but I can show you." He followed me over to the clinic. I got out of my car in the parking lot. He thanked me, and I handed him a gospel tract and said, "I want to give this to you. It's a gospel tract that I wrote, and I like to give it to everyone I meet." He thanked me, said "God bless you", blew me a kiss as he passed in front of my car, and went into the clinic, and I went off to work (still made it on time too).

As you can see, my little speeches I give as I hand people gospel tracts are not flowery or eloquent or the same every time (I literally make it up as I go). But, I figure if God has gone to the trouble of divinely orchestrating a meeting with these strangers (people I would never meet otherwise). The least I can do is put the gospel into their hands. God will do the rest.

I tell these stories not to boast of my adventures but simply as a reminder that gospel-giving opportunities exist everywhere everyday if we're looking for them. So, grab your favorite gospel tract (or write your own). and keep your eyes open for opportunities.

P.S. Christian, feel free to leave me a comment and share some of the ideas you have for sharing the gospel in everyday life so I can learn from you.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cookie Baking Musings 09/01/13

Tonight is an off night for Cookie Baking Night, so I thought I would use the post to share a few of my "Cookie Baking Musings". Last week was Alli's first time at Cookie Baking Night. I found the evening left me very nostalgic. All night long, I kept thinking of the other children and what they were like when they first started and how they have developed as little people over the years. I'll share some of those thoughts with you now:

Emily was actually a little younger than the rest when she started. She was 2 years old. I remember she was obsessed with washing her hands. If anything got on her hands, she would hold up her little finger and say "I'll be right back". Sometimes she would wash her little hands 10 times during the cookie baking part of the evening. She's still a hand washer, but maturity has brought moderation. During those early years, Emily also ate everything with a spoon. I remember the convernsation we had several times during nights when I made spaghetti for supper. She would say, "I need a spoon, please." (which at the time, she pronounced as "poon"). I would say, "We're having spaghetti. Let's eat that with a fork." She would say, "I need a 'poon', please," with a little more intensity in her voice than the time before. Eventually, I would relent, and she would eat her spaghetti with a spoon. That habit, too, eventually gave way to maturity. But every once in awhile, I will ask her during dinner time "Do you need a 'poon' with that?", and she'll smile at me knowingly and giggle.

Several things stand out to me about Ethan when he started Cookie Baking Nights. He was three years old and about a head taller than Emily, who was 5 at the time. (He's now 10 years old and slightly taller than me, which I think puts him around the 5'7" range). When he first started, he had a very limited vocabulary (about 5 words at the time), so communication with the other children was challenging (at that time my nephew Joe was 13, my niece Meghan was 10, and Emily was 5). But what Ethan lacked in language he made up for in sheer enthusiasm to be there. He loved the other children and loved being around them (particularly Joe). He bounced around the house in a little cloud of happiness, and, within  a couple months, he was chattering away with the rest of them. One other thing that stands out in my mind is that Ethan would bring pajamas to change into at the end of the evening, which made it a little easier on his parents when he fell asleep in the car on the way home. So, getting Ethan into his pajamas was part of our end-of-the-night ritual for at least a year or so, which he happily complied with. He was so tall and skinny and wore "footie" pajamas at the time. I still see him leaping around the living room in his pajamas, and it brings a smile to my face every time.

Carissa came into Cookie Baking Nights when we were well established, and by that time we had become a well-oiled Cookie Baking machine. The structure was challenging to her at first. I soon learned to gear some of the activities more toward her age level and toward her particular personality bent. She did then and still does love a good project. She is methodical in her approach and sticks with a project to the very end. She's also the deep thinker of the group. She likes to know the logic behind what she's being asked to do.

One particular story stands out to me that demonstrates Carissa's contemplative side. She was about 5 years old, and she came into the kitchen while I was making supper and said, "I have a question." I said, "Okay. I'm ready." (expecting something like "Can we go for a walk after supper?" or "Can we watch a movie tonight?"). The question was this: "How come people have to die? Why doesn't God just take us all to heaven?" I said, "That is a really good question, and I'm happy to report that the Bible has the answer to it." I then asked her if she remembered the recent Bible story we read about Adam and Eve. She said she did. I reminded her that God had given Adam and Eve an entire garden for their enjoyment but asked that they not eat of only one tree within the garden. God said, "If you eat of the fruit of that tree you will surely ______________. Carissa said "die". I reminded her that when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of that tree, when they disobeyed God, they did not die immediately. Before that time, however, no one had ever died (or would die), but when they sinned, death came into the world. Now, they would die some day, as would all mankind. The answer to her question was "sin". (The discussion went on for a short while longer while I explained the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins so that eternal life is possible--in "5 year old" terms, of course). As the conversation came to a close I said, "Does that make sense?" Carissa said, "That makes a lot of sense! I'm going to go home and tell my mom that." (because when you're 5, the most important person in your life tends to be your mom, of course--sorry dads). And off she skipped into the living room, her curiosity satisified.

It is too soon to have many stories about Alli, but I know I will have plenty in the years to come. I also have memories about my older niece and nephew who have since graduated from Cookie Baking Nights, but I will save those for another post.

I'm grateful God has allowed me the opportunity of sharing time with my nieces and nephews on Cookie Baking Nights. I know them in a way I could not have without it and vice versa.

Cookie Baking Night 06/25/18

Tonight was Cookie Baking Night. In attendance this evening: Ethan, Carissa, and Enzo (Allison and Rylar were attending a birthday party els...