Take a Hike

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This time of year in Ohio is spectacular. The air starts to cool down, the trees start to put on their colorful clothes, and I feel the pull to get out of the house and onto the trails. I love to hit the parks, fields and other places to just get away and connect with God.

The God we serve is a very interactive God. He put his fingerprints all over creation, and calls to us to come and find Him. Everything in nature tells us about who He is, and what He's like. God knows we need the opportunity to search for him, and he promises that when we search, we will find him.

It reminds me of how kids play hide and seek. You know what I mean, they sit in the middle of the room, giggling away under a blanket. When we go looking for God, there He is in the middle of everything, plainly visible to anyone looking. That's exactly how he designed it. He wants us to see him and talk about him, especially with our kids.

I'd love for you to go with me on a couple walks, metaphorically of course. So pack up your water bottle, and grab your kids. Let's take a hike and explore what we can learn about God. Because you see, we are called to talk about Him, to discuss his principles while we do life. Deuteronomy 11:18-91 says it like this:

 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

So come with me as we walk along life's road and talk about the God who loves us so much.

Over the next couple weeks we'll explore simple lessons you can learn along the trail. Things that can teach lessons to your kids and maybe you will gain some insight too.

Defining Redemption

In my opinion, the word that captures my relationship with God better than any other I know is “redemption”. I love the words to that old camp song:

I’ve been redeemed – I’ve been redeemed
By the blood of the lamb -By the blood of the lamb
I’ve been redeemed- I’ve been redeemed
By the blood of the lamb-By the blood of the lamb
I’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb, filled with the Holy Spirit I am
All my sins are washed away, I’ve been redeemed

But, what exactly does it mean to be redeemed?

The Greek word “lutroo” is commonly translated redemption, and means gaining release by the paying of a ransom. In ancient Greece, during war-time, men of importance held hostage as slaves until a bounty was raised, and paid to the victor to redeem them from bondage.

That is exactly a picture of our lives, right? We are held hostage by our poor choices and the sin in our lives. Then Jesus steps in and pays the ransom for our freedom. Peter says it like this:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. ” I Peter 1:18-19

Here is a little exercise you can try with your kids or grandkids to help them better understand redemption. I suggest you use it with older children. Choose something of great value to the child in your life, perhaps their favorite stuffed animal, or maybe a video game, or even (gasp) their phone. Take it and hold it hostage. Set the redemption price high. Make it money, or chores, whatever is appropriate for your child. Don’t return the item until the ransom is paid, then have a discussion using some of these questions:

  • How did you feel when your important item was taken away?
  • How do you think God feels when sin takes you away from Him?
  • How high of a price would you be willing to pay?
  • Read I Peter 1:18-19 together.
  • What does that tell us about the value God puts on YOU?

Watch this little video “Twice Owned” it brings a picture of redemption in an old story to life.


Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Phipps Philms is a trade mark http://www.facebook.com/PhippsPhilms

From <https://www.youtube.com/user/PhippsPhilms/about>

Defining Sin

From our earliest days watching cartoons we’ve known that sin is bad. Watching that little devil, dressed in red, with horns and a pitchfork talking the innocent hero into doing wrong, we knew in our hearts, that sin is bad.

Now you’re a bit older. Maybe you have a little “cartoon watcher” of your own, and you realize your view of sin could use to grow up some too.

Take a moment and do this little exercise. Find a few pieces of paper. Now wad them up into balls. Go set your trash can across the room. Next throw your paper balls into the target. Did you make it? Great! But if you fell short, then you just demonstrated the word we translate “sin”.

Hamartia is the Greek word for “sin”. It means to miss the mark. It was an archery term. The very center of the target is called the “Mark”, today we call it a bullseye. Any arrow that did not hit the “mark”, or the Bullseye, anything that fell short, or flew too far, or missed even a fraction of an inch, was Hamartia…sin.

So, if sin is to “miss the mark”, then what is the mark for my life? What is the target or the standard? The Bible gives us some insight into God’s standard for our lives:

I Peter 1:16

“Be Holy because I am Holy”

Ephesians 4:22-23

 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Sin in our lives extracts a terrible price. There can be physical consequences like anger, addiction, violence, broken relationships. There are always spiritual consequences, Paul says in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death” – Sin separates. Like death separates us from those we love, sin separates us from others and from God himself.

You see, God by his Holy nature cannot have anything to do with sin. It is like light and dark. When you turn on the light in a dark room, where does the dark go? – I’s just gone. This is how God and sin operate. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy God. And if sin is there…God is not.

Well then. If God won’t be where sin is, what hope is there then for my life? I certainly don’t live up to the standard Jesus set. I do things I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I know I should. Both of these “miss the mark”. So why even try?

Because at the heart of the Good News , we learn that Jesus paid the price of our sin. One perfect gift for us all.

2Cor 5:21

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I know when we look at sin and then at our own lives, it’s so easy to become discouraged. But DON’T STOP READING our definitions. Trust me, as you look at more of those mystery words we use in church, you will find a freedom and joy you never imagined possible.

Hang in there, we’re on this journey together.


Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Saint

Summer is a wonderful time of the year! I especially love the picnics where everyone shows off their very best recipes. I bring my Mother-in-law’s famous strawberry pie. Well, I bring it if I can keep it unmolested until it’s time to eat. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found a little hole in the perfect red surface, evidence that someone has plucked a strawberry from its nest of yummy goodness. Luckily some well-placed whipped cream has covered a few sins now and then.

Over the years I’ve gotten smarter and now I make two pies. One is for our immediate enjoyment, and the other is set aside, with a note that says Hands off! Reserved for the picnic!

I tell this little story because it paints a good picture of a word we use in church, and over the years have lost sight of it’s true meaning… Saint.

Most of the time we use the term Saint to talk about someone who is perfect in their behavior, a character who might be “holier than thou”, but the term actually comes from the Greek word Hagiazo, which means to “set apart for a specific purpose”. Hagiazo shows up in scripture in a variety of forms:

  •  As an Adjective – we translate it Holy
  • As a noun – we translate it Saint or Holy People – that’s YOU!
  • As a verb– we translate it sanctify, make holy, or consecrate

So you see, being a Saint is not about what you DO, it is about who you belong to.

What does all this mean? YOU are God’s strawberry pie! Set aside for a sweet relationship with Him, with a sign for the evil one that says “Hands Off! This one is mine!”

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy (hagion) nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Pet 2:9

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Words: Making “Churchy” Words Simple

God has this thing about the spoken word. When you get right down to it, words are what God uses to actually create things.

Go back to Genesis, and we learn:

”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit God was hovering over the waters. And God SAID “let there be light” (Genesis 1:1)

What did God use to create? – Words. Over and over the phrase “God Said” is repeated.

What God wanted, expressed out loud with words, brought all of creation into being.

If we fast forward to the Gospel of John, and read the first part of the first chapter.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made.” (John 1:1-3)

What God wanted… expressed out loud, in the person of Jesus, brought all of history into relationship with Him.

You see, God has a thing about words. And if God thinks words are important, then we should too.

I understand, it’s hard enough trying to figure what’s going on today when you’re ‘earjacking’ your ‘hipster’ ‘boomerang child’ making a ‘duckface’ wearing her new ‘kicks’ while she’s ‘chillin’ with her ‘bestie’.  And yet, we expect ourselves to fully understand what a middle eastern, nomad who lived over 3,000 years ago, meant when he wrote part of the Bible!  Don’t be so hard on yourself! It takes work, and time, and often a friend to walk alongside you.

So let’s go on a journey together.

Over the next few weeks we’ll feature common “religious” vocabulary words and take a deeper dive into what they mean.  We’ll look at how they are used in scripture and sometimes even outside of scripture.  We’ll try to look at things in simple terms and stories, so whether you have been in church your whole life, or are just starting out in your God walk, you’ll find something to help you.

Hey, drop us a line if there is a word you want us to explore. We want to hear from you. After all, we’re on this journey together!

Go to the GPS page, and see the “Words: Making Churchy Words Simple” article to follow our study.


Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

The ONE Thing God Wants for Christmas

“What’s the ONE thing you would like for Christmas?”  Every year I ask at least one person that question kids, my spouse, sometimes friends… I wonder how God would answer?

I imagine God would say, in his big God voice, “There is one thing…  One thing I want for Christmas more than anything else…”

3……God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

If you have a family, or are part of a family, God has given you a very important task.  He told us what he wants, to ensure that the next generation “knows the truth” about God.  He wants all our children to know a God of extravagant grace,  a God overflowing with generosity.

Then He gave us the perfect tool to use to teach those truths…Christmas.

Everything about Christmas tells wondrous stories of God:

  • The way we make our homes beautiful is a picture of how the grace of God takes ordinary lives and makes them beautiful.
  • We wake in the morning to find a room normally empty, miraculously filled with gifts.  It’s a picture of lives once empty, suddenly filled with blessings too numerous to count.
    People all around us, treating one another with kindness, and courtesy, living in peace is a picture of what life is supposed to be like.
  • From the lights, to the decorations, the world filled with music and united in celebration,  everything about Christmas points to God  calling to His creation.

And the ONE most important picture…a child sleeping in a manger reminds us He doesn’t want heaven without us.

YOU are God’s ONE thing…. This Christmas make sure He is your family’s ONE thing too.

 

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Christmas posts here.

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

4 Games for Your Gift Exchange

 

Does your family gift exchange need a little excitement? Try one of these 4 ideas to inject some extra holiday fun.

1. Dice Game

Everyone brings 2-3 wrapped gifts (can be white elephant or something nice). the more gifts, the more fun.

All the gifts are piled on the floor in the center of the room.  Guests sit around the gifts in a circle (so they can easily reach the person next to them).  You need a pair of dice for every 4 guests.  Pass out a pair of dice on a small plate for rolling spaced out as evenly as possible.

The game is played in 2 rounds.

ROUND 1: At the same time, those with dice, give them a roll and then pass the plate with the dice to the left.  If you roll doubles you pass the plate to the person on your left and go and grab a gift from the pile.  Place the gift on the floor in front of you but DO NOT OPEN IT!!  The play continues until all gifts are distributed.

ROUND 2: Set a timer for 5 minutes and start rolling again.  This time, however, each time you roll a double you get up and steal a gift from someone else.  When the timer goes off, the game is over and each person gets to keep the gifts in front of him.  There may be a bit of re-distributing to do, so that everyone gets one or two gifts. Use this as a teaching time about giving and generosity.

Go around the room one person at a time and open the gifts.

 

2. Left- Right Nativity Story

Use a nativity story to make gift giving fun and exciting.  Everyone stands in a circle holding their own gift.  Read the story provided and any time you say “left” – players pass their give to the left, and if you say “right” they pass the gift to the right. Use this story of the nativity (click HERE and print out the story), or find your own Christmas story to read.

 

3. Trading card game – best for groups of 10 or less

Sit in a circle (or around a table). Each person has his/her own gift. Place a deck of cards in the center. Ensure the cards are at least twice the number of players. Take turns drawing a card from the top of the deck and following the rule aligned with the card drawn. Print out the instruction sheet so players will know what to do.

Click HERE for a printable instruction sheet.

 

4. Musical Gifts – best for groups of 20 or less

You will need your phone or other player, loaded with your favorite Christmas music.  Everyone starts in a circle, and you pass one of your gifts round the circle while the music is playing.  Stop the music at a random time and the person with the gift opens it and then leaves the circle. Repeat till the final gifts are won.

 

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Christmas posts here.

 

11 Great Recipes for Christmas

So many Christmas gatherings to get to! Have you ever looked around and wondered what you will bring? Time is short, and you need ideas that will WOW your family and friends! You may even need a little help for dinner tonight. Here are some of our tried and true favorites.

Appetizers

1. Erica’s Crockpot Buttered Mushrooms – from April Smith

What’s not to love about these buttery, spicy mushrooms. Easy to make, easy to eat!  Thanks, Sis for handing over this recipe! Click HERE for the recipe

2. Crab Tartlets (yields 24) – from April Smith

These little bite sized snacks go fast. Mix it up! Swap out the crab meet for chopped ham, or broccoli and cheddar! Click HERE for the recipe

What’s for dinner?

3. Tortellini Soup – from April Smith

This hearty soup is my favorite. Pair it with a crusty bread and a snowy day. Guaranteed to warm your insides. Click HERE for the recipe

4. Ham & Potato Crockpot Casserole – from April Smith

Use up your ham left-overs with this easy crockpot recipe.  Sure to be a hit! Click HERE for the recipe.

5. Easy Meatball Stroganoff – from April Smith

Who doesn’t love noodles in a creamy stroganoff sauce, especially when it is made in the crockpot with only 4 ingredients (plus noodles)?  Click HERE for the recipe.

How About Breakfast

6. Monkey Bread – from April Smith

Your kids will LOVE shaking the cinnamon sugar mix onto biscuits, especially when this holiday favorite comes out of the oven! Click HERE for the recipe.

Desserts & Treats

7. Grandma’s Rice Pudding – from Cindy Snyder

This family favorite was made by my Grandma every Christmas. It was one of those dishes you just have to have. Just to make it special she always had lingonberries on hand to top it off. Click HERE for the recipe.

8. Low Carb Chocolate Mousse Tarts – from April Smith

These bite sized gems can be made with ANY flavor of pudding!  Add a surprise like an almond or strawberry on top. Click HERE for the recipe.

9. Trisha’s HOMEMADE Caramels – from Trisha Knaul

I LOVE Trisha’s caramels.  Try them out for a treat your whole family will love too! Click HERE for the recipe.

10. Divinity – from Bev Pomering

Even though my mom has been gone for eight years now, she feels near when we cook her favorite recipes.  Here is one. Click HERE for the recipe.

11. Molasses Drop Cookies- from Bev Pomering

 Click HERE for the recipe.

 

What are some of your favorite holiday recipes?

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Christmas posts here.

 

God Told Me “No”

Any time you explore the topic of prayer, eventually you come face to face with a time when God says “no”.  When that happens, if you are not careful, you can quickly find yourself in a theological quagmire.

Through the centuries this issue has made some followers walk away, has made skeptics feel justified, and the rest of us….well, feel uncomfortable.

Quickly we get dragged down the rabbit hole of “why”.  I’m telling you now, there are some things you will never be able to reconcile. Things like why a child dies instead of being healed, or why, even with fasting and prayer, your marriage still falls apart. To try to answer “why” will simply frustrate you, and hearing platitudes like “God has a plan” or “There must be a purpose”, do little more than drive a wedge between your grieving heart and God.

For a few minutes, set aside your desire to understand, why, and instead, think about what you can learn through the experience. Now I can’t begin to tell you what your lesson from “No” is, but I invite you to look over the shoulder of my experience and let me share what I learned when God gave me the biggest “no” of my life.

I met my husband in Bible college. When I graduated, we married and moved back home to start our life and our family. That first year together was everything a young couple could ask for. We threw ourselves into youth group, our careers, and family. Life was good.

In those early years, we learned how God would deal with us the rest of our lives. When we had a decision to make, we would pray about it, asking God to either open or close the door of opportunity according to His will. That’s exactly what He did! Time after time He demonstrated His faithfulness, and we became quite adept at recognizing His direction.

We had four young nephews, and we adored them!  We dreamed of a house full of boys or girls, at least 3, maybe even 4. Those first few years passed by, but no children.

In year five I talked with my doctor. We began testing to see why we weren’t getting pregnant. The tests all said nothing was wrong. There was “no reason” why I shouldn’t be able to conceive. Another year went by childless. My husband went through tests with the same results, “everything was working correctly”.  There was a lot of prayer, but no children, only closed doors.

Once we suspected we weren’t going to have children of our own, we started to explore adoption… I can’t express how deeply I admire those who welcome children into their home and raise them as their very own. It’s a reflection of how God deals with us, adopting us as His very own sons and daughters.

I’ve always had one great fear, though…that we would adopt a child who would later feel we weren’t enough and would go looking for his or her birth parents. In fact, as I prayed I told God about my fear. We asked Him to open or close the door for us to build our family through adoption.

Repeatedly the door was closed. Often like this:

I worked for a number of years as bank teller. One year I was assigned to a branch where a young woman (we’ll call her Stephanie) worked.  As I came to know her, I learned Stephanie was adopted. My husband and I were once again beginning the process to adopt, and I considered Stephanie’s arrival a confirmation we were moving in the right direction.

I spent many slow afternoons asking Stephanie about her relationship with her adoptive parents, and sharing my fears that my child would feel the need to go searching for birth parents. Stephanie assured me that no matter what happened, her adoptive mom would always be her mom.   She was saying all the right things! I was convinced God was saying “yes”. It was finally time.

It was a Friday in October when Stephanie arrived in the office and announced, “I found my REAL mom!” and over the next few weeks, as the holiday’s approached, she lived out all my fears. The door shut.

The years passed and I continued to pray for children. However, door after door has closed, always in different ways, always shut tight.

Three years ago I accepted the reality that even though God has given me blessing after blessing over the years, what we wanted most is a “no”. Why? I have no idea. We haven’t done anything noble or spiritual with the experience. We haven’t been unhappy…just, a little empty.

Recently the Spirit tapped me on the heart and asked me a life-changing question.

“Why do you serve God? Is it because He gives you what you want?  Or do you serve Him because He deserves your worship as the creator and sustainer of the universe?”

I’ve wrestled with this question for a while now, examining why I serve God. Is it because He does what I want?  Is it because I live this charmed life and He gives me good things? Am I like my cat who hangs around for the tuna treats, or do I serve and worship God because of who HE is? You see, He deserves respect, honor, and praise from a creature He made.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

So that’s my 33-year lesson. Maybe I’m a slow learner. My friends, you are not likely to find peace if you are looking for “why” – but after the pain fades, look for the lesson. He’s a gentle, patient teacher.

 

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Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Visual Prayer: A Gift for God’s Fridge

fingerpaintWhen I visit a friend’s house, one of the first things I do is check out what they have on their fridge. I find sport schedules, photos from vacation, pictures drawn by their kids, all kinds things important to them.

How many times have you been handed a masterpiece by an eager 5 year old with a “This is for you” – their eyes are expectant, waiting for you to hang it on your door of important things (the refrigerator)?

Monday, we started the conversation about Visual Prayer (click here to read it)…looking at art and how it can help us open our heart to God. I want you to think about your visual prayer project like a picture for God’s fridge. Something you create for His pleasure. And since it is from you, precious child. He is going to LOVE it.

So let’s get started with the rules…. THERE ARE NO RULES! This is totally about finding a way to let go of all the worries of your life and focus on you and your savior. Here is how I do it.

Pick a Purpose

Because visual prayer takes preparation (gathering materials and such) – I tend to approach it like a meeting with God. Meetings have purpose, and so does my time with God. Sometimes I need to vent, and lay my worry at His feet. Other times I long for Him to give me direction for an important decision, or I want insight. Maybe I want to pray for a friend’s encouragement.

Here is an example of when I put on my intercessor hat and prayed for someone special to me. I have been blessed with 5 wonderful nieces and nephews. I love them deeply and as they’ve grown up, I have made a prayer quilt for each of them. Every seam was filled with my prayers for their health, wisdom, their relationship with Jesus, blanketing their lives in prayer.

SEE IT

Pick a medium

After I have a purpose in mind, then I select a medium. It may be something complicated like a quilt, or quick like a coloring page. I’ve tried water colors, acrylic paints, and even scrap-booking.

Choose anything your imagination is drawn too. You were created in the “Image of God” – you are a creative being just like Him.

SEE IT

Open my Heart

The next two steps are the MOST IMPORTANT because this prayer time is about your heart connecting to the heart of God. So find your quiet place, turn on some music and get started. Lose yourself in what doing and you’ll find the worries of life fading away. Focus on the promises He has made and the faithful way God always come through.

Here is an example of something I did when my life felt out of control. Work and relationships were challenging. The result is not pretty, but neither was my life at that point. The funny thing is I was trying to make something beautiful… but it just wasn’t. That’s OK, it was a real conversation with my Savior…and He led me to a better place.

SEE IT

Create and listen

As you focus on what you are doing, open your spiritual ears. Some days when I finish I just feel peace, and sometimes God gives me insight or clarity into a problem.

One day I didn’t have a lot of time, but felt the pull of the spirit to work on a visual prayer piece so I decided to use a coloring page. I used markers, and the colors were very vibrant. Here is what the Spirit said to me and what I wrote on the back of the finished product:

bicycle

Put it on God’s Fridge

When you’re finished, put it on God’s fridge. Send a bookmark of encouragement to a friend. Give a gift to someone in need. Or share with us! You can do that by posting an image of your creation to our Project Prayer Pinterest board.  We would love to see what you and God are creating.

Ultimately, your prayer is between you and God. So keep a portfolio, then you can look back and celebrate the journey you and God take.

 

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Download all the Project Prayer extras here.