Celebrating Purim as a Christian Family

By Alyce-Kay Hanush

Purim is Saturday evening, March 15, through Sunday evening, March 16 this year.  So what is Purim, you ask?  Purim is the celebration begun at the end of the story of Esther in the Bible — the time that God preserved His people through a brave, young Jewish queen.  There are some wonderful lines in the book of Esther, such as “for such a time as this” and “if I perish, I perish.”

In Jewish families, this is a fun celebration.   You get to dress up as the various characters in the story.  You get to put on plays.  (And you get drunk, but I’m not advocating that.)  To learn more about the story of Esther, the traditional celebration of Purim, and  enjoy some fun Purim songs, you can go to the playlist I’ve put together for my grandkids.

How can we as Christian families (and I’m thinking mainly of families with elementary and younger children) make good use of this celebration?  Well, most obvious is the fact that we can use it to get to know an important story in the Bible.  But i think we can go much deeper than that.  Here are some of my ideas to get you started.  I would love it if you’d add your own ideas in the comment box — and feel free to include links to coloring pages or other goodies you find online.

TIP:  You can use this list for pretty much any story in the Bible.

1. OF COURSE, read the book of Esther as a family. You should definitely read it from the Bible, and you can probably find some books at the library, online, etc.  If you own a set of flannel graphs, I think this is a great way to learn Bible stories.  You can do the story each day, then have the kids move the pieces while you tell the story again, then have the kids tell the story and move the pieces.  We modern day families tend to look askance at flannel graph, but I’ve never found a child who doesn’t love it.  (I have a set of Betty Lukens flannel graphs — everything you need for the entire Bible, along with a book that has all the stories and tells you which pieces to use.  And the flannels are lovely and vivid.  You do have to cut out the pieces, though — I hired someone to do it for me.)  http://www.amazon.com/Large-Deluxe-Bible-English-Flannelboard/dp/B000TMKE6E/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1393199685&sr=8-3&keywords=betty+lukens

2. One of the things that I love about internet is that you can print your own coloring pages.  There are lots of sources for these.  You can keep these loose, or take them to your local FedEx shop or other print shop to have them bound into a coloring book for your kids.   My daughter, Sam, who has 4 young children, especially likes this site for Jewish story coloring pages:  http://www.chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/361573/jewish/Coloring-Crafts.htm

3. Look for the character qualities in the story of Esther — both good and bad. (Examples of good qualities:  Faith, courage.  Examples of bad qualities:  Envy, lying.)  You could take one each day and talk about them. Here is a process you could use to talk to children about these qualities, starting with the good ones.  (Parents:  You don’t have to do all of these!)

a.  Explain the quality to them.

b.  Show how it’s illustrated in the book of Esther.

c.  Give some examples from your own life or someone the kids know to illustrate the quality.

d.  Look for other stories in the bible that demonstrate the quality.

e.  Ask your librarian to help you find story books that demonstrate the quality.

f.  Ask your kids what they think the benefits were to the story’s characters of having these qualities.

g.  What would the benefits be to them (your children), if they developed these (good) qualities in their own lives? How could they do that? Be sure to reinforce that we need God’s help with these things. We can pray and ask Him to help us have the kind of faith Esther had, for instance.

h.  As you see your kids exhibiting these qualities — even just a little — be sure to praise them for it. Ask them what motivated them to do that? How did it make them feel? How would they feel if they could keep doing that? What do they think God thinks about them doing that?  Questions like these will help to reinforce those qualities and the desire to grow.

i.  Look at some of the bad qualities.  Talk about those, too.  Help them to recognize those qualities in Bible characters and in other stories.

j.  Talk through what would motivate someone to have those negative qualities.  What should your children’s response be to someone with those qualities?

k.  Ask what the signs would be that they might recognize in themselves so they can guard against developing the bad qualities.

l.  Come up with your own stories about each of the qualities.  I used to have my children dictate their stories to me — try to type them exactly as they say them.  Don’t worry about story telling skills (unless you’ve been specifically working on that).  Make sure that you include the author after each story.  You can type them up and then print them out and take them to your local print shop to bind into a family book of Purim stories. (It generally costs a buck or two to bind pages into a book form.)  You might include a smattering of their coloring pages, too.  You might want to print out a copy for your family to enjoy now, a copy for each of your children which you’ll hide away and give to them when they start having kids, a copy for grandparents.  Each book would be uniquely adorned with different coloring pages the kids have done.  Talk about precious memories!

4. After you’ve told your kids the story of Esther a few times, they’ll probably be ready to act it out. Here’s where your costumes come in.  (See instructions below for super easy Bible character costumes.)  You can let them choose parts or take turns doing various parts. Try to come up with someone they can put on a play for … this will motivate them to practice a few times … reinforcing the story and its values in their lives.

5. Learn about Persia, where the story of Esther takes place. What country is this now? Find it on a map.  Look for pictures online.  What’s the weather like?  Talk about what it would be like to live there. Can you find any information about King Xerxes? What kinds of foods do they eat there? Maybe you could include those in your Purim celebration.

6. Have 3 nights of banquets (maybe with Persian food? but any nice food is fine). Is there some big news that you can promise to share, but keep putting off, to build the anticipation in your children, like Esther did with the King?

7. The movie, One Night with the King, is absolutely excellent.  You’ll find it in my playlist, but I’ve included the trailer below.  This is the perfect time of year to watch it!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1f1Pi1DHP4

8. I would love it if you’d share your Purim ideas and resources below, in the comment box, or on my facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/ToolsForGodlyLiving?ref=hl   If you share on facebook, I’d love to see pictures of your activities and celebration!  🙂

Super easy Bible character costume:  Use my fancy-pancy drawing below as a guide.

  1. Measure your child from shoulders to the floor.
  2. Get double that amount of fabric.  (For example, if they’re 36 inches from shoulders to floor, you’ll need 2 yards.)
  3. It’s a good idea to wash the fabric before sewing, just in case it will shrink.
  4. Fold the fabric in half, crosswise.  In other words, both cut ends of the fabric will be at the bottom, the fold at the top, and the factory finished edges on the sides.
  5. On each side, measure about 14 inches from the top fold, then cut inward about 10 inches.  Do this on each side.
  6. Cut straight down from there to the bottom.  This will create kind of a sleeve.  Pin these together and sew about 1/2 inch from the edge.
  7. At the top, cut out a neck hole.  Be careful not to make this too big.  It’s always best to start small, try it on, and make the hole bigger if need be.
  8. If you’re not much for sewing, this is all you need to do.  Turn it right side out and voila!  You have your Bible character costume.  If you like to sew, you can do the following steps (9-13) to make your costumes a little nicer and last longer.
  9. Finish the neckline with bias tape, or hem it, or use a fancy edging.
  10. Hem the sleeve holes.  Add fancy edging, if you want.
  11. Hem the bottom.  You can add fancy edging here, too.
  12. Clip the underarm curves so they’ll lay flatter.
  13. Seam finish the inner seams.
  14. Accessorize with rope belts, head gear, etc., as appropriate.

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Newly released!  Next Year In New Jerusalem, a Passover haggadah for Christians.  Complete instructions for a Christian celebration of Passover. Scripted ceremony includes fulfillment of Passover prophecies through Christ, footwashing, and the Lord’s Supper in the Passover context. Over 150 Bible references provide an easy guide for optional in-depth study. Pronunciation and glossary included. The full ceremony takes about 3 hours, including dinner. It’s designed to be enjoyed by all ages. I hope that this will enrich your appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and that you’ll find yourself worshiping Him as you long to celebrate Passover next year with Him … in the New Jerusalem.

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http://www.thebookpatch.com/BookStoreDetails.aspx?BookID=32176&ID=5a08df7c-dae3-4e70-bc00-97bfdf072ca5

Slaves You Might Know

“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  — Bob Pierce

I think there have probably been times when I’ve recommended a book that would be appropriate for anyone (and sometime soon, I hope to write a review of a book like that, that I recently read), but I think this is the first time I’ve ever said that there’s a book I think everyone SHOULD read … I would almost say that everyone has a moral obligation to read. (The reason I say “almost” is because I know I have friends — God bless them! I’m kind of the same way — who would balk at me defining what their moral obligation is. If I were not to use that word “almost,” my statement would cause them not to read it, for that reason alone.)

This book was not easy to read. There were times I found it so disturbing that I had to put it aside and regain my composure enough to continue. But that’s exactly why it needs to be read. Not to decondition us or make us calloused, certainly not to get us used to seeing this kind of thing, but because we NEED to be disturbed by this. Too many turn their heads away — they’re afraid to face these facts, they scorn the people who are victims, they don’t know what to do, etc.  There were people in Theresa’s life — the school security officer, teachers, friends, and others, who turned away when they saw what was happening, and even when she begged them for help. Many of us would possibly be guilty of the same thing.

When I shared this story with a few friends while I was reading it, their response was that she was stupid to not get out.  This is why we need to read this.  We need to understand what holds people in those situations.  If we think that they’re stupid, that should be a red flag to us that we need to gain better understanding.  I learned in acting class in college that people do things because they think it’s the best thing to do.  In our omniscient wisdom (tongue in cheek), we may be able to see that their decisions are foolish, or we may be able to see other options, but it makes us more human, more humane, and more godly, when we take the time to figure out why they think it’s the best thing to do.  Not necessarily a good thing; but sometimes, our only options (or at least the only ones we can see) are all bad, and we choose the best of those bad options.  Hint:  Someone doesn’t live through the terror and pain this young woman lived through if they think there are better options.   We need to allow God to give us compassion.  We need to beg God for compassion.   “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  Bob Pierce (founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse) said this, and I think it’s one of the godliest prayers we can pray.

There are times when we have to be willing to say, “No, don’t turn your head. This is important.” Asking you to read this book is one of those times.

The main purpose of this book is to help us understand how someone gets trapped in sex trafficking … in this country. A nice girl from a good family. An intact, loving family. A girl who was not promiscuous and was committed to saving sex for marriage.  There may be people you know who are stuck in this lifestyle and you don’t even know it.  But I think that it goes beyond that. It can also help you understand what it’s like to be abused or bullied — and why people stay in those situations when you think they have options.  I can almost guarantee you know people who are in that situation, whether you realize it right now or not.  I think this is a book we should read so that we can become better educated about things that need to be changed in our society (not just some place on the other side of the globe), but mostly so that we can become better human beings.

Btw, I know that my posts are read by a number of homeschoolers, so let me say this about using this book in school.  Yes, I think it would be valuable, in about junior high or high school.  And having your child read it could quite possibly save their life (which is why I would recommend junior high), in addition to helping them become better human beings.  Having said that, though, I think it’s a very good idea for you to read it first, so that you have a heads up as to what kinds of questions and discussions would be helpful in working through it.  This book is disturbing.  There’s just no way around that.  You might even want to read the book out loud to your kids so that you can have those discussions as you read … and so you can decide if you need to censor any details.  The woman who wrote this — about her own experiences — is quite conservative and has strong family values, but she does occasionally give some details your children may not be ready to hear.  If you read it ahead of time, it’s easy enough to know what to skip over (just a few sentences in the entire book).  If you decide to read this with your kids for school and you’d like help with coming up with discussion questions, leave me a comment asking for that, and I’d be happy to put some together.

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(Btw, I’m not an Amazon associate and I don’t get anything if you buy this book.  Just want to let you know:  You should read this. It’s also available in a print version.)

http://www.amazon.com/Slave-Across-Street-Theresa-Flores-ebook/dp/B0034KYZQ8/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390266358&sr=1-2&keywords=the+slave+next+door

To Pay or Not to Pay: That is the Question

Should you pay your children to do chores?  This is an ongoing debate among parents.

Some people pay their children for everything they do around the house.  This can be a good way for teaching children a work ethic — if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  (II Thessalonians 3:10)

Other families don’t want their children to expect to be paid for everything.  They want their children to grow up with a serving attitude.  We know, of course, that serving is a very biblical attitude.

Both of these approaches make sense.  Pray and ask God what would be best for your family.

For my family, I actually adopted a mixed approach, which went something like this.
•There were certain chores that each person was required to do and they were not paid for.  (This corresponds to things in the grown up world that you do without getting paid.  We don’t expect someone to pay us for cooking dinner for our family, working in the nursery at church, driving our kids to their piano lessons, etc.)  These included most of the things that needed to be done daily, such as keeping their room picked up, mealtime chores, etc.
•There were also chores that they would get paid for each week.  These were required chores and it basically provided them with an allowance.  (This corresponds to a job that you go to every day and get paid for.)  I generally included in this category the chores that didn’t have to be done every day, such as mopping and cleaning the bathroom and dusting, and as they got older, things like mowing the lawn or helping change the oil in the car.  There were times when I paid for these, and other times when I had a certain amount set aside to give them at the end of the week, but I deducted from that if they didn’t do a chore or if they didn’t do a good job of it.
•There were chores which were optional, which they could get paid for.  (This corresponds with opportunities we have in life to make extra  money, such as odd jobs or overtime at work.)  These were often seasonal or periodic jobs, such as washing windows, detailing the car, or extra things I wanted done, such as making a cake for a potluck.
•Service projects.  For most of their growing up years, my kids were involved in service projects of some sort.  Often, they didn’t realize it — it was just part of the fabric of our family.  Other times, I made it a school requirement to have a certain number of hours of “community service.”  Or I would require them to choose someone to serve each week, each month, or each semester.  It could be someone in our family (babysitting for their older sister), or someone outside our home, or a group effort, such as Teen Missions or something their youth group was doing.  It didn’t have to be an “official” charity.

Another thing you can do is say that you will pay them chore chart rewards or tool tickets for the first 1-3 months that they’re learning a chore; after that, it becomes just part of being a member in your family.  The book featured below has lots of ideas about creating rewards using “tool tickets” for work done.

You could also allow them to continue earning rewards for a chore they’ve mastered if they teach it to another child — a sibling or cousin, or maybe a friend’s children.  (This last option will make you very popular with your friends!)  Teaching others is always a great way to cement what you’ve learned.  It will also make your child more confident in their skills and will give them a great sense of accomplishment.  Teaching others will provide them with leadership skills as well.

Most of the above article is excerpted from The 21st Century Kid’s Book of Chores.  For more information about the book, see previous posts.  For ordering information, click on the link below.

http://www.thebookpatch.com/BookStoreDetails.aspx?BookID=21860&ID=40d1059a-c536-4448-9382-e259b257b92c

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How to Teach Children to Complete A Chore

So you want to teach your children how to do chores, but you’re not sure how to go about it?  Here are some ideas, from The 21st Century Kids’ Book of Chores, to help you out.

Ages At Which To Teach Chores

Everyone teaches their children how to do chores at different ages … and within those ages there is a big variety of maturity levels.  Teach the chores at the level that’s appropriate for your children.  For example, a 4-year-old may not be able to fold towels as intricately as you do.  Come up with a simple way for now, and as they get older, you can teach them the way you really want them to do it.

There are many resources for figuring out what chores are appropriate to teach at which age.  I’ve pinned some of these resources on the Tools For Godly Living page on Pinterest.  http://www.pinterest.com/tools4gl/chores/   I do suggest that you take these lists and charts with a grain of salt.  Children — and even families — have varying maturity levels.  Something that’s not appropriate for one child at 4 may be completely appropriate for another at 2, depending on the maturity of the child, the perfectionist factor in the parents, time and family resources, etc.

Avoid the temptation to follow behind your child and redo their work to bring it up to your standard.  They should be doing the best they can, and this is a great opportunity for you to practice accepting them as they are, just as God accepts us in our imperfection.  If you can do this, you’ll help them understand how God loves us when we honor Him with our best, but He doesn’t expect us to be perfect.

Steps in Teaching a Chore

Before you teach a chore, do it yourself and think through every step.  Break it down into the smallest steps possible.  You don’t want to just say, “Pull the sheet up.”  What exactly does it mean?  Do you want them to tuck in the bottom first?  Do you care how far up the top is pulled?  Do you want them to smooth out the sheet after they pull it up?  Do you want the sides of the sheet to hang over the sides of the bed?  Don’t tell them too many steps at once.  Show them how to do each step and make sure they understand by doing it, before moving onto the next step.  Children who are 4 and older can usually handle 2-3 steps at a time, if they are simple.  Children who are 6 or older may be able to handle more.

I’ve found that the best way to teach something like this is to take 4 steps:

  1. Do it in front of them.  Make the bed yourself, explaining as you go.
  2. Have them do it with you.  Make the bed, with them, helping them with any parts they have a problem with.  You may need to do this a few times on subsequent days.  It’s very important to be patient.  Encourage their efforts.
  3. Have them do it in front of you.  Have them make the bed by themselves, with you watching.  Remind them of anything they’re forgetting.  Praise them for doing a great job.
  4. Let them do it completely by themselves.  Once they’ve mastered step 3 and are able to make their bed without any help from you, you can leave it for them to make their bed without supervision.  You should check it before letting them check off the blank in their book or put a sticker on their chart.  Once they’ve been doing the chore consistently, you’ll only have to check occasionally.

Give your children tons of positive reinforcement.  Tell them how proud you are of them.  Brag on them in their hearing.  Post their achievements on Facebook — you’re welcome to post these on the Tools for Godly Living page, as it will feel kind of like a club when they see other children’s accomplishments.

By the way, most kids really enjoy learning to do chores.  After all, this means they’re a big kid!  So don’t approach it as a dreaded task.  This should be exciting and rewarding for your child!  Make chore time fun.  Put on some happy music and sing along while everyone does their chores.  Put on a cheerful attitude yourself and your kiddoes will likely follow suit.

The above is an excerpt from The 21st Century Kid’s Book of Chores by Alyce-Kay Hanush.  To order the book, see below.  The book contains information about teaching chores, ideas for motivation, etc., but the bulk of the book is the program for kids, which is an organized system of learning new chores, practicing them, and constantly reviewing chores which are already learned, along with memory verses and mini Bible studies for building a solid work ethic.  The 21st Century Kid’s Book of Chores is recommended for ages 4-10.

http://www.thebookpatch.com/BookStoreDetails.aspx?BookID=21860&ID=40d1059a-c536-4448-9382-e259b257b92c

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First Week of Advent: Prophets

There are a few different ways of celebrating Advent, and with those come various themes, such as hope, peace, joy and love.  The theme I chose many years ago, when I started bringing Advent into our family celebrations is that of the various people who “saw” Jesus’ birth:

  • The prophets who “saw” and foretold Him hundreds of years before He came to earth.
  • The angels who had watched this amazing story unfold, and told Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds about Him.
  • The shepherds who came to worship this God-baby who had been humbly born, Someone they could relate to.
  • The magi (wise men) who heard about Him through a star and sought Him out, traveling far with treasures to honor Him.

This week, the first week of Advent, we’re reading some of the prophecies about Jesus’ birth, along with the Scriptures that describe their fulfillment.

There are a couple of things I’d like to highlight about this week’s theme.  First of all, one of the reasons we read about the prophecies about Jesus is because they help to prove to us who Jesus was.  Without the help of the Holy Spirit, how could anyone have known these details about the Messiah ahead of time?  There are many more prophesies about Jesus, but these are the primary ones we think of at Christmas.  (My Passover Book, Next Year In New Jerusalem highlights many, many more of these prophecies — no promises, but hoping to have it back in print this spring for Passover).

Another reason we look at the prophecies about Jesus is because they remind us what we should be doing:  Telling people about Him!  In the US, we now live in what has been called “the post-Christian culture.”  In many ways, this is a tragedy, but in other ways, it can be good.  It’s very difficult to help people in a Christian culture understand that they can have a relationship with God or that they have a need for Jesus’ sacrifice.  Say what?!  Yes, you heard me right.  People who think they’re Christians because they’re American don’t understand their deep need; they don’t know what they’re missing because they think they’ve got it.  The contrast of God’s true love with our current culture is stark, making it easier to see that there is a need and that Jesus truly makes a difference in a person’s life.

Telling about Jesus doesn’t mean just … telling.  Anyone can talk about Jesus.  The strongest way to tell those who don’t know Jesus about Him is to let them see the evidence in you, your transformed life, the fruit of the Spirit.  There’s a famous quote about this that I love.  I’ve seen it attributed to various people.  “Always preach the Gospel … and if necessary, use words.”  The Apostle John said similarly, “Dear Children, let us not love with word or tongue, but with action and in truth.”  It’s all too easy to tell people about Jesus, to push Him on others, to make them feel condemned or inferior (which is not what He would want).  But to let Him shine through me, to humbly apologize when He isn’t reflected accurately in my life, to let Him express Himself to those around me through my hands and feet and mouth … can be a much clearer expression of the Gospel.

Am I saying not to ever use words to tell about Jesus?  Am I suggesting that the Gospel should never be taught or preached with words?  Absolutely not.  Scripture is full of exhortations to preach and teach, and most people can’t come to Christ without hearing the Gospel explained to them.  What I’m suggesting is that our actions need to precede and/or back up those words.  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  YOU are a living photograph of what it means to have Christ in a person.

Let’s be aware all the time, but let’s be especially mindful this week of what our living photos portray.

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Advent is a four week daily focus that leads up to Christmas. It prepares our hearts to celebrate Jesus and to long for His presence. In this book, you’ll find instructions for celebrating Advent, as well as the Scripture readings for each day, carols to go with the theme for each week, skits to add to the fun and meaning, and other activities to help you experience Jesus in a very real way. Celebrating Advent is also a great way to establish family devotions.

Worry: Mind Your Own Beeswax and Kick Satan in the Balls

Picture this:  A little, tiny girl, overshadowed by a gigantic, strong, menacing bully.  She kicks at him and says in her little, squeaky voice, “Take that, you big ole bully!  That’ll teach you to mess with me.”  The bully staggers back, surprise and pain written all over his face, as he doubles over and protects his weakest parts.

Okay, so I’m not a diminutive, sweet, squeaky-voiced girl.  I’m a fat, old lady.  But compared to Satan, the biggest bully of all time, I am all those vulnerable, pathetic things.

Now pan back and see the big picture.  There’s an enormous, even stronger, shining person behind the little girl.  He’s the one who is actually delivering the blows, but He’s there because the little girl called Him and asked Him for His help.  He’s there to make sure her pitiful, albeit somewhat brave efforts are powerfully enforced.  Oh man, she just kicked the bully in the balls!

That little girl is me.  And you.  (If you’re a guy, you can picture a wimpy, skinny guy with horn-rimmed glasses and not an ounce of muscle.)  Satan loves to bully us.  He enjoys making us think that we have to cower in fear of him.  It’s his happiest moment when we become ineffective because we don’t want him to hurt us.  And you know what one of his most successful strategies is?  Worry.

He gets me to worry about finances.  I’m then afraid to step out and do what God asks me to do, because I’m worried I won’t have the resources to accomplish it.  Worry can distract me from loving on people.  It can tie me up in knots so that I’m ineffective at just about everything.  I become bitter about not being paid more for my hard work.  I become stingy with the resources I have because I think that they’re in short supply.

I worry about what’s happening in our nation.  That anxiety can sometimes consume me.  Every possible outcome (all bad) sinks my world.  I lose hope.  I stop praying for our leaders.  And yeah, bitterness sets in again.  I get worried about what this world is going to be like for my kids and grandbabies.  What are they up against?  I can imagine a lot, but I also know that it can be worse than I imagine.

Substitute whatever it is that you tend to worry about.  How does that effect you?  How does it keep your focus away from God?

Worry draws my focus away from gratefulness and worship.  When my worries loom huge, God seems to recede into the distance … and He looks awful small from so far away.  Thanksgiving sucks when I’m filled with anxiety.

I realized something interesting today.  Worry only happens when I mess with other people’s business.  It’s when I start taking responsibility for things that aren’t mine to worry about.  Here’s my analysis of my financial worries, since financial anxieties are probably something many of us can relate to.

1.  Not being paid what I’m supposed to be paid?  That’s not my problem.  It’s between God and those who are supposed to pay me.

2.  Having to accept charity and be on food stamps?  I tend to think that means I’m inadequate.  But I’m working hard, doing my part, and for now at least, this is God’s way of providing for us.  I do my part, He fills in the rest … and teaches me humility in the process.  My business in this is to work hard and with integrity.  His business is to fill in the gaps.

3.  God calls me to do something and I don’t have the resources?  That’s not my problem.  His will, His bill.

4.  Trusting God and praising Him for His provision.  That’s MY business.

See how this works?  Suddenly, my only responsibilities are things I can handle:  Work hard, with integrity.  Trust God.  Praise Him.  All that other stuff that’s too much for me is not anything I need to concern myself with.  In the past week, in addition to how He normally provides for me, He has also had various people pay my electric bill (they had no idea there was a need, because I didn’t tell a soul), provide money for a Christmas tree, offer to prep and deliver and set up our Christmas tree, give us a turkey … Our needs are provided and some non-necessities as well.  I had things I was worrying about for the future, too, but this process has helped me differentiate between my responsibility and other’s and God’s … and that worry has mysteriously dissipated like the morning frost.  If I mind my own business and no one else’s (God’s included), I have nothing to worry about.

Which brings me to Satan’s balls.  Satan’s desire is to reproduce his nature in me and those around me.  He wants to get me to despise God … or at least not trust Him.  When I worry, I’m not trusting God to do His responsibility.  I take on some of Satan’s traits:  Pride, bitterness, etc.  That affects others in that I’m not encouraging them to trust God, and maybe I get grouchy or withdrawn.  And it infects them with worry, bitterness, etc, too.  It reproduces Satan’s traits in them, as well.  When I recognize what’s my responsibility and do it, and I keep my cotton-pickin’ fingers (and mind) out of everyone else’s business, there is no cause for worry or anxiety.  I have peace and Satan hates that.  It causes him pain.  I severely impair his ability to reproduce.  That’s what I call a good ball-kicking.

We’re on the cusp of two important holidays:  Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.  (You knew I would get there eventually, right?)  And those holidays are really about God working through people to give Satan some serious ball-kicking.

Hanukkah is about the people of Israel, who had been conquered and were being ruled by an evil man:  Antiochus Epiphanes.  Antiochus defiled the temple.  He tried to force God’s people to bow to false gods.  He committed horrible abominations.  God strengthened His people and provided by His nation through a family, the Maccabees, who were a lot like the Wolverines in Red Dawn.  When the bad guys were thrown out of Israel and the people cleaned up the Temple, all they could find was 1 flask of the Holy oil.  It was only enough to light the Menorah for 1 day … and it takes 8 days to sanctify the Holy oil.  It was the people’s responsibility to light the Menorah and make more oil.  It was God’s responsibility to fill in the gap of 7 days’ without oil.  God miraculously made the oil burn for 8 days.  They did their part.  He did His part.  And now their/our responsibility is to praise Him for what He did.  That’s Hanukkah.

Back in the 17th century, a group of English believers wanted freedom to worship God according to their beliefs.  They came to America, where they suffered many hardships.  Many of their number died, and at one point, their situation was so grave that they each only had 5 kernels of corn to eat in a day.  It would have been very easy to stop trusting God at this point.  I would guess, since they were human, that they fought anxiety.  But they didn’t give up.  They didn’t turn away from God.  They worked hard and they believed in His faithfulness.  That was their job.   God provided them with Native American friends who shared their resources with them and showed them some of the things they needed to know in order to survive in the New World.  He also provided them with a good harvest the next year.  The celebration feast with their Native American friends and its ongoing celebration in our homes is the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  The turkey and many of the traditional foods we use, and having more than enough food on our tables that day remind us of God’s overwhelming provision.  (And I, for one, am additional thankful that the turkey did not make it as our national bird, my apologies to Ben Franklin.  I much prefer roast turkey to roast eagle on my table.)  Oh!  And I guess you could look at the football games as a celebration of our forefathers giving Satan a good ass-whooping.  (Is that taking the analogy too far?)

May I exhort you to do something this Thanksgiving?  Think through what’s your business and responsibility, and what responsibility belongs to God and others.  Remember that if others are not doing their responsibilities, it’s not your problem:  It’s between them and God.  Recognize that filling in the gaps that are left is not your responsibility:  Trust God to fill in the gaps that irresponsible people leave.  This will free you in ways you can hardly imagine.  Lift your voice in gratitude.  Call on God to stand behind you and lend you His strength … and go kick some balls.  (And I don’t just mean footballs.)

Worry. It’s the New Black

My Dad likes to say that he’s proven that worry works:  99% of the things he worries about never happen!  He’s being facetious, of course, and his point is that most of the things we worry about never would happen.  Which is true.  Worry is pointless.  Beyond that, God tells us not to worry.  But here’s where I stumble:  Many of the things I worry about really do have the potential of happening.

There’s so much to worry about in our world today.  You don’t need me to name the possibilities, and I won’t, just in case there’s something to worry about that you haven’t thought of yet.  🙂   Let me just say, I’m a skillful worrier — Olympic quality.  And public anxiety has become fashionable.  It’s the new black.

I have a friend in India who’s an evangelist.  He shares the gospel with Hindus.  It’s hard.  Sometimes, it’s frightening.  He and his family (wife and 3 adorable little girls) had to leave their home region because of persecution.  Now, he’s suffering in other ways.  Recently, he was threatened with eviction because they couldn’t pay the rent.  (His landlord has since shown him mercy and allowed him more time to get the rent.)  His little girls cried themselves to sleep the other night, because there was no food.

We talk nearly every day, and he has been distressed this week.  I’ve not known what to say.  Oh, I know all the verses and platitudes … but I also know how I feel when someone says things like that to me when I’m distressed.  It doesn’t cure my anxiety.  It just tells me to make a note not to share my fears with that person in the future.  (I know that’s not the “godly” response, but it’s true.) When God brings Scriptures to mind that I’ve memorized, it helps me.  But when other people say, “Don’t worry, blah, blah, blah,” all I feel is condemnation.  I’m not saying that’s a commendable response, just being transparent here.

I prayed for him while we talked, but I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to offer him some kind of help, but I don’t have money to offer, so I kept my mouth shut.  The thought that kept coming to mind was where Peter said to the lame man, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I Thee.”  (Yes, I sometimes think in King James, lol.)  I kept asking God, “But what do I have that I can give him?  What is the ‘such that I have?’ ”

Then, the dreaded thing happened.  My friend asked me for help.

But do you know what he asked for?  He asked me to tell him stories of how God has provided for me and my family.  Well, that really is a “such as I have” because I have loads of stories to tell!  He listened intently, and his comments after each story were things like, “God is really good.”  “This is strengthening my faith.”  “Now, I know God will provide for us!”  “God will take care of us, even if it’s not the way we expect.”

I learned two really big things from this.

1.  We NEED to share with each other, over and over, the stories of how God has worked in our lives.  It’s necessary for our own faith and that of others.  (More on this another time.)

2.  The magnitude of the stories isn’t what matters.  I have never, ever come close to suffering what my friend has suffered and is suffering.  I would not have thought that my stories of what God has done for me and my family could possibly be an encouragement to him.  But reminding ourselves and each other of what God has done (and therefore, what He CAN do) is like making deposits in our faith bank … it all adds up.

Here are a couple of my stories.  I’ll share more in the future.

Once, when we didn’t have much food, my girls and I prayed together and asked God to provide.  God had shown me early on that I needed to include my kids in my praying and not hide from them what our circumstances were, because they needed to see the answers, in order to build their faith.  So we prayed.  Our doorbell rang.  It was a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years … with a box of food.  She said that God had told her to bring it over.  I remember there was bread and cheese, and I forget what else.  There was also a pie.  My girls (Jon wasn’t born yet) crowded behind me and when I closed the door, Lois, who was probably about 7 or so, said in wonder, “Mama, God didn’t just provide what we needed!  He provided what we wanted, too!”

Another time, I prayed, “Lord, my kids are growing and I don’t have money to buy them clothes.  I would be happy to sew their clothes, but I can’t even afford fabric.”  Another knock at the door.  A friend of mine who sews a lot said that God had told her to clean out her sewing room.  She brought over bags of fabric and wanted to know if I could use them.  🙂  They were fabrics in my kids’ favorite colors.  There were patterns — also in their sizes.  This is my favorite part:  There were some patterns pinned to fabric that had already been cut out.  (Cutting the fabric is the only part of sewing I really don’t enjoy.)

When I needed to find a home for myself and my two remaining children a year ago, I was looking at run down, little apartments that were barely within my means if I worked a lot of overtime.  It was depressing.  One day, God told me to drive around Lake Como.  Lake Como is one of my favorite areas in the Twin Cities, because I love the conservatory during the winter.  The whole time, I kept saying something that has refreshed my faith over and over.  I think I heard it from Joyce Meyers:  “Lord, You know what I need and You know how to get it to me.”  I didn’t get the sense that God was necessarily going to give us a place in that area, but simply that He wanted me to set my sights beyond the run down apartments.  A week or two later, I was offered a cute Victorian for less than the apartments.  The outside is somewhat run down, but the owners plan to work on it in the future, and to be honest, the outside doesn’t matter to me.  The inside is GORGEOUS.  And spacious.  The perfect combination of new plumbing and appliances with the old, original woodwork, doorknobs and hinges.  It is beyond what I could have imagined.  Beyond what I believed I deserved.  (Sometimes, I forget I’m a princess.)

I would like to ask you to do 2 things:

1.  Could you please pray for my friend and his family?  I don’t want to share his name publicly, as I don’t know if it would cause him trouble, but God will know exactly who you’re praying for.  Pray for God to provide for them and protect them.  But more than that, pray that God will strengthen their faith.  Pray that their landlord will be blessed because of his mercy.

2.  What are some of your stories about how God has taken care of you?  I would love it if you share them below in the comments.  We need to be strengthening each others’ faith.