Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bible Study: Support among Christians

Romans 15:26
2 Corinthians 8:10-15
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The parish we belong to has 20 Masses scheduled a week, not counting weddings, funerals, and holy days. Paul may have made every effort to preach to people who had never heard of Christ before (Rom 15:20), but someone has to stay behind to continue ministering to those converted through Paul's efforts. All those Masses aren't scheduled because the bored priests have to look busy somehow (ha!): they're scheduled because they're attended, some by a small crowd and some by a full church. As a Church we need both the missionaries and the individuals to continue at home and we need to maintain our connection between the two. We need the Pauls working where Christ is unknown and we need the local pastors strengthening the faith of those who have already responded. There will be no one to fund or fill the mission field unless the home group is healthy and vibrant, and the act of supporting missionary efforts improves the health of the home church. We both have gifts to share with one another. We are both stronger for our connection with one another.
Of course it's not just the leaders of the Church who are working for the health of the Christian community, both at home and abroad. I may be sitting in the pew rather than standing at the pulpit, but I have just as great a responsibility for strengthening the bonds between Christians. If I try to live my faith in isolation, thinking that I don't have to support others or be supported by them, my faith will suffer and the Church as a whole will be weaker. No one will be reaching out to bring new members in and no one will be ministering to those who have already joined, strengthening my faith and that of my Christian family. Whether I am figuratively living in Jerusalem, the home church who sends out the missionaries to the hinterlands, or living in the foreign mission field, financially positioned to support those whose efforts originally evangelized me, I need to recognize my connection with other Christians and actively support them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Changing my outlook

Several years ago a friend told me I was very negative. Realizing she was right, I began writing down everyday three new items I was thankful for. The exercise changed my outlook tremendously. Last week I decided I needed to start up the practice again. It was a day that included a text to my husband that said "I quit." so he would call me back and console me. It was a day that included my 15mo learning how to reach the top of the kitchen counter and inside the scissors drawer. It was a day that included one of our best cloth napkins receiving an instant demotion to paint rag. It was one of those days improved by tears. It was a day that clearly revealed my need to focus on the blessings so I wouldn't become overwhelmed by the challenges. So here are the first three items that come to mind today for which I thank the Lord.
My children are healthy. Thank you, Lord, that so far this is not one of the crosses I have had to carry. Please, Lord, be with those who are carrying this cross. Encourage them, sustain them, comfort them, heal them.
My husband. I am eternally grateful for being blessed with the best husband in the world. He even puts up with me.
My faith. Faith that the Lord exists, faith that He is good, faith that He is capably in charge.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bible Study: Good plans overruled

Romans 15:23-25
Jeremiah 29:4-7
When we got married, several people asked how many children we planned to have. Even then my husband and I didn't know how to respond. I suppose people ask the question for their own amusement when the couple with a particular number in mind finds their plans completely upset. We know couples who wanted large families but end up with few or none due to trouble with fertility. We know other couples who wanted small families and ended up with far more children than they had "planned" to have. Yes, there are ways to plan out a family, and most newlyweds have at least a general idea of the family size they are hoping for. Yet this is simply one area of life where it is especially easy for God to change things up on us. How many children...born "too close together" or "too far apart"...adoption...health issues... Our plans may be good and pleasing to God, yet He may still lead us on another path.
Paul had plans for his future, plans which should have been pleasing to the Lord. He didn't expect to visit Rome or Spain for his own amusement; he planned to share the Gospel everywhere he traveled. He did make it to Rome, but he arrived as a prisoner quite awhile after he initially planned to go. Did he ever arrive in Spain? There are no letters of his to or from Spain. That's not a clear-cut no, but he probably did not. I'm not a Bible scholar who's examined the travels of Paul in minute detail, but the case seems pretty good to me for Paul arriving in Rome as a prisoner and never being released. Never walking freely through the streets of the city, executed before another trip as a missionary. His plans were good and probably delighted the Lord, yet God had another path for his life.
The exiles in Babylon were told by God's prophet to rearrange their life plans. They were to settle down and stay rather than expect a quick return to Jerusalem. It wasn't wrong for them to desire a quick return to home. It wasn't wrong that they identified themselves with the land God had given to them and their ancestors. Yet God still chose a different life story for them.
What good plans have you made which God has overruled? Have you been able to see afterward greater blessings from His plans than those which would have come from yours? Have you been able to rejoice in a participation with the Lord although things did not continue according to your plan? (I love this reflection on the privilege of mothering a miscarried child). Sometimes I don't see how a change in my plans could possibly be better than my original. Sometimes I just have to live with the new direction and rearrange my life accordingly.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bible Study: Assigning chores

Romans 15:22
Jeremiah 29:10-14
I have a vision for my children to become responsible, capable adults. I know from both my life and the lives of many others I know that responsibilities given to them as children will help them learn the skills they will need when they grow up and, conversely, a childhood filled with nothing but play will burden them with unnecessary challenges in adulthood. But they don't see these things. They wonder when I delegate chores and schoolwork whether I don't want them to enjoy the freedom to play. They don't see the opportunity to overcome innate laziness and the small proportion of chores to playtime that they are actually given. They don't realize that learning diligence now while mixed with a hefty dose of fun will make their later life an easier and healthier balance of hard work with relaxation. But I see their lives from a different perspective and my love for them motivates me to continue handing out small responsibilities out of a desire that they will make the bigger responsibilities they encounter later on will just a little bit easier to manage.
Life doesn't always follow the plans we organize for it. That is why we find Jeremiah 29:11 so reassuring: someone knows what is going on when we do not and has a plan to arrange our lives in a way that will bless us. We are like children who would rather spend our days on our own toys and hobbies but find circumstances switch up our plans when we least expect it. We know how things ought to turn out from our perspective and become confused when our plans become upset. Yet the Lord sees our lives from a very different angle. We might think that life should have continued along our original path--that Paul should have been able to travel to Rome earlier--yet trust that when reality turns us in another direction that the Lord, who sees from a better perspective, must have a purpose in the new path which will bless us more than we can understand right now. Even more effectively than a parent's perspective to bless children by assigning chores.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bible Study: Share the Good News

Romans 15:21
Matthew 28:16-20
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Are there any hidden tribes of people anymore, tucked away in a remote rainforest somewhere? Do we imagine that because only a few people have never encountered Christianity, our commission from Jesus is complete? I've heard that some believe that once every last tribe hears the Gospel, Christ will certainly come again. But although those in my neighborhood have encountered Christianity to one extent or another, many have not seen the true power of the Lord. Their encounters have inoculated them against Christ rather than attracted them to Him. Someone needs to carry the message, like Paul, to those who have never heard it. Yet someone also needs to carry the message to those we see every day who have also never truly heard it.
I have a responsibility to share the Good News, as good news, to those I encounter every day. It is part of my commission from Jesus. It might not be the first time they have heard the Gospel, but it might be and it might be the first time they have seen it lived out.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Using Google Images for Kids Bible Studies

The paper sits on this breakfast tray while she colors. When
she's done, she pushes away the paper and takes its place.
My third daughter, 14.5 months old, just began last week having a regular Bible study. She's been sitting in on her sister's "personal prayer time" nearly every day for several months and began "participating" in it semi-regularly for at least a month now. So I began printing coloring pages for her based on whatever story we read to her and her 6yr sister each morning.
It's all a matter of giving the activity the spin you want it to have. Each morning (well, most mornings...) I have a time of quiet prayer, Scripture reading, and journaling about what God speaks to me through that Scripture reading. I don't expect my children to have the exact same format at the level I do: I pray, meditate, and journal as an adult and they are children still! But I bring those down to their level to teach them a habit I hope they will continue throughout their lives. The prayers are simplified and brought to a higher level as gradually as their meals transition from mashed bananas to adult cuisine.
The first level of Bible study in our home begins by sitting on a parent's lap listening to a short selection from a Bible storybook and then being offered a picture to color. Eventually the coloring becomes recognizable enough that we buy a cheap notebook and sketch our own drawings in it each day for the child to color. But to begin with not enough crayon actually colors the paper to make the sketches worth my time. So I go to Google Images and type in the story name followed by the words "coloring page". Today I googled "Jesus mount coloring page". I can then copy the image and paste it into my word processor, expand it fill the page, and print. There are a lot of different resources offering coloring pages for different Bible stories, but none that I know of that offer on one website a page for every single Bible story. This enables me to spend only 1 minute searching all those different sites to quickly find a picture fitting the story I've read to my daughter. I do a similar search for my older daughters to find their ideal "princess" or "mermaid" or "pony" or "paper doll" coloring picture. Kinda makes me wonder why I still have so many actual coloring books crowding our bookshelves when they prefer the pictures I find online. ;-)
Linked with Modest Monday, Works for Me Wednesday

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bible Study: Sloppy action devoid of faith

Romans 15:20
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Is your faith more mature than that of an infant?
Many movies show a character sloppily making the sign of the Cross in a desperate situation. Certainly it is shown as a sort of prayer, a hope that the individual will survive, but what is the prayer worth without belief in the One being prayed to, a mental (let alone vocal) prayer to accompany the action, an ongoing faith before and after the current crisis? The action is often as unrefined as my 14 month old's attempt to make the sign of the Cross for herself, and she seems to understand better what it actually means.
Although the people we encounter every day have had a certain exposure to Christianity, that exposure is often flawed to the point of being counter-productive. We have the opportunity, in a certain sense, of imitating Paul in preaching the gospel where it is not known. If Paul's group of Christians in Corinth were still immature enough to receive only milk, some of the people we encounter are ready for nothing more substantial than colostrum. We should take care not to be one of those immature Christians, childishly imitating a prayer without the power of faith supporting it.
While Paul sought out those who had never heard the gospel, Apollos was willing to follow behind and water the seeds. Some of us today will be called to preach primarily to the unreached, but others are certainly needed to water the seeds and tend the young plants. There is no reason to believe one role is somehow better than the other. But before heading off to carry Christ to anyone, turn the question around and ask how you yourself are doing. Are you inclined to throw out a hasty act of faith only when a desperate situation arises? Are you a baby Christian, surviving only or primarily on milk? Or are you an older child, a teenager, or an adult Christian, understanding and living the faith day in and day out, witnessing to others even when you're not trying to?