Got Hobbies?

Art. Writing. Photography. Reading. Research. Scrapbooking/journaling. Music.

Borrowing a line from a song in The Sound of Music, cheerfully sung by Julie Andrews, “these are a few of my favorite things.” Among many others, of course. 🙂 I have many enjoyable hobbies, but it seems like there is never enough time to do everything.

How about you? Do you have things you love doing, but hardly seem to find any time for as a wife and mommy?

Not long ago my own mother, who homeschooled my four siblings and I, gave me a little piece of wisdom. She told me that during the years she was schooling us, she put all her own hobbies and interests aside. Almost completely.

But she was wrong, she said.

Today she regrets that she did not carve out a little time for doing the things she took an interest in. Her advice was to make time for some of those things, even as we take care of our children, our husbands, and our household duties.

But how do we do that?

It will look different for every person and every household. For me, I have found that an afternoon “siesta” works beautifully. Every day at 1:30 in the afternoon, the house practices “quiet time” for awhile. During this time, the children can play, read, or do homework quietly in their own rooms. This is the time I use to work on my projects and hobbies.

This is not merely beneficial to me. Studies show that having a silent, disengaged period of time actually helps build brain cells (okay, we’re talking kids here so achieving “silence” may be a stretch). But at least by having a quieter period during the afternoon the children have time to disengage from all the noise and excitement of life, relax while they engage in quiet, productive activities, and then return, rested and refreshed, to the bustle of life later in the afternoon.

Everyone wins.

It’s also possible that we could include our children in some of our interests. Do you love preparing gourmet meals or baking fancy desserts? Maybe the kids could help. Do you love reading? Share that love with them.

When I started a travel journal I gave both my older two kids their own book to record stuff in. When I sat at the table working in mine, Brianna sat with me, using my stickers and decorations as she drew and worked in hers. It even became an educational project, as we researched facts about the state and drew pictures of state symbols.

One of the best ways to encourage our children to develop skills and creativity is to model an interest in and love for these things ourselves. When we love learning and doing new things and we share that excitement with them they will love learning and doing new things, too.

Everyone wins.

We certainly do not want to neglect our household duties or the care of our family. Then everyone loses. Priorities must be examined and time managed well. But perhaps there are still ways to work in time for gaining and developing Christ-honoring skills, knowledge, and creativity as we practice good stewardship with the life He has given us.

How would this look for you and your family?

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

1 Corinthians 10:31

“Art of Homeschooling” Part 2

This is the second post in a two-part series “Art of Homeschooling.” These notes represent ideas I had for implementing the principles taught in Mystie Winckler’s e-course. You can read the first part here.

Connecting with my Children/Starting the Day Off Right

Our daily schedule looks something like this: We get up, we eat, we do chores, then if I am still busy with chores the kids play or do other activities till it’s time for school. After school they may play. In the afternoons they have quiet time and work on school assignments; after supper in the evening they
play, we read together, etc.

GOALS:

I think I need to stay on top of their time between eating breakfast and starting school; they could be more productive and efficient except that I am distracted and not doing as much directing.

Make sure they are staying busy with chores and not piddling.

If they have free time, channel it properly (suggest exercise outdoors, take a nature walk, or give them an assignment indoors—puzzle, coloring, art, reading, etc.). Help them to see that this time in the morning is already planned and we are just to work through it steadily together.

Teach them to come to me after they complete each assignment. Their day is not their own till after school.

The daily habit I can practice in order to affectionately connect with my children each day is to greet them warmly in the morning with a smile and a hug, and (if I have time the evening before) to write them a “love letter” in their journal.

Laughter throughout the day is another good connection. And when there is time for it, extra fun, games, crafts, and reading. School should not be the only time I spend with them intentionally and meaningfully.

In order to help us be on the same team, working toward the same goals, we can start our day by hugging, holding hands, discussing the plan, and cheerfully encouraging one another to complete it
well. Make eye contact and commend them for something. Notice when they are working together and working well and commend them.

Motivation and Responsibility

I discourage the children’s responsibility by not staying on top of what is happening. If it’s okay for them to just putter out and off and do their own thing while I am busy, I am not requiring responsibility. I’m making it too easy for them to be irresponsible.

The kids are most prone to dawdling in the morning before school, and then sometimes during school (if distracted by something else going on). I don’t detect any specific motivation other than wanting to do whatever is “fun” or “interesting” at the moment.

I am most prone to dawdling in the morning before chores, and in the evening after supper (when I should be doing chores or could be spending time with the kids).

GOALS:

For me, first steps in our home will mean I must have them give an accounting regularly. If I give a directive, I must come back and see that it is followed. I must check their progress and their work. There will have to be a lot of hand-holding at the beginning.

If there is something to do that can be done by one of them, rather than shouldering the brunt of the work myself I should mete out more to to them in age-appropriate segments. I should not clean up after them, or let responsibilities I have assigned to them “slide.”

I tell them being an adult is a lot of work and responsibility. I should also express to them that there is joy/reward attached to that responsibility when carried out well.

I “check out” too often with Facebook or something else I can use as a distraction when I’m feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed. Rather than catch me doing this, they should see me cheerfully plugging along with a song, fulfilling my responsibilities without complaint or irritation. Limit internet
time in morning to a few minutes. NO internet in evening till kids are in their room.

When Cliff asks me to do something I need to be sure I fulfill it right away, setting an example for those under my authority.

Talk about the results of dawdling versus diligence. The natural consequences that result from
dawdling include not getting to have time later to do things we enjoy doing because our tardiness put us
behind and wasted our time that could have later been spent at (guilt-free) leisure. Dawdling goes against what we know is right, and so we sin against our conscience. It steals our leisure time, makes our chores and responsibilities more difficult, and makes us less appreciative of our free time.

Dawdling/laziness does not glorify God. Diligence gives us a good conscience. It permits us to have leisure time when the work is done. And that time can be fully enjoyed, guilt-free.

Persistence and Faithfulness

The feelings most likely to drive me off course are feelings of frustration with how the day is going, and anger and irritability when the kids (or circumstances) aren’t cooperating. Bickering kids, unexpected interruptions, extra work, etc. trigger these feelings.

I am most critical of myself when I am lazy or angry. I am most critical of my children when they are lazy, angry, or rowdy.

GOALS:

How can I respond? Remind myself of what a successful day really looks like: faithfulness. Fruitfulness, rather than perfection.

Attending to the needs of my children in all areas—physical, spiritual, in admonition, discipline, love, training, laughter and good will—is more important than completing a to-do checklist like math, spelling, and laundry. Seeking to worship Christ when a curveball is thrown in my day is worth more than dusted furniture and completed math pages.

I need persistence when the day doesn’t go as planned and I get thrown a lot of extra stuff. Then I’m tempted to give up because I’ve been set back. It was like having the goal in sight and then having someone move the marker while you’re running on the track. I can choose a calm, intentional response by examining my list to see if everything really must be done or if I’m being a perfectionist, then choosing to do the things that are truly a priority with a good attitude—even if it cuts into my “free time.”

I need to learn to have greater flexibility—and that comes by relinquishing control to God rather
than trying to keep a tight fist on it myself.

The feelings most likely to disturb Brianna and Marcus: anger, boredom, frustration. Anger, when they have a conflict together, or when they have been disobedient and require correction. Boredom, when they are confronted with the daily grind of school and chores. Frustration, when they feel overwhelmed by their work or feel like they can’t do a good job with it.

I can help them calm down and learn self-discipline by:

• Learning to stay calm, be cheerful, and be self-disciplined myself

• Teaching them truths about God, themselves, and life (motivate in proper ways; teach Scripture and life truths; give admonition and correction when needed)

• Doing what I can to help them avoid/redirect them from unnecessarily tense and frustrating situations (oversee their work together instead of leaving them alone; designate responsibilities when I am busy and cannot help them; give the right amount of help and encouragement at the right time)

I can trade harshness for humor by bringing the kids to the couch for a talk, ending with tickling/joking so we may leave in good humor.

One specific area the kids and I can practice persistence in together is Bible time. We will start there. We will try to be faithful with devotions every day, not just school days.

*   *   *

What habits have helped you motivate yourself and children, Mamas?

“Art of Homeschooling” Part 1

I stumbled across some notes I had made from Mystie Winckler’s “Art of Homeschooling” course last year while searching for something else the other day. I read them again, and was again reminded of areas of personal growth that I need to persevere in.

Mystie’s course helped me pinpoint and troubleshoot “problem” areas in my life and our school/family life. Her questions were penetrating and her insights illuminating. I would definitely recommend her course! (She conducts the online 5-week course periodically.)

Presented here as abbreviated, edited, reorganized, and otherwise condensed notes, I made these for myself during my brainstorm sessions while working through Mystie’s assignments/reading material. The goals I identified are still that—worthy goals I want to work on, but am far from having consistently attained. 🙂

* * *

Fostering a Love of Learning

I love to learn. I am curious about many things. I spend hours reading, researching, and trying new skills and projects. While teaching school I will sometimes get curious and interested in something and pursue rabbit trails trying to learn more about it. After hours I work on new skills and gaining new knowledge.

My problem is not that I do not model a love of learning. My problem is that I become impatient and ignore the kids when I’m wanting to get my work done precisely so I may pursue my many interests. In such times I selfishly fail to foster their curiosity, questioning, and interest because it’s not convenient for me.

GOALS:

When I notice that they are taking a delight and interest in something, I need to encourage it. To get excited with them. To ask questions together.
When they ask me all their “why?” questions, I will try not to shut them down, but instead listen, engage, and encourage further independent research. I don’t need to have all the answers to their questions. I do need to encourage them to keep looking for answers, and not throw water on their fire of curiosity with hasty, blank dismissals.

If I am truly busy and truly cannot help, I can either suggest we talk about it at a more opportune time, or give them some materials they can use to start researching independently. If I am busy but simply not wanting to be helpful because I’m in a hurry, I need to repent, give a thoughtful reply and/or encourage them to research.

I need to take the time to teach them skills. When Marcus wants to crack an egg. When Bri wants to tie her shoe. When Marcus wants to know how to spell a word. When Bri wants to help cook dinner.

When we go places and as we go about our work for the day, I try to notice more and help them notice more and tie it into whatever we are learning. We wonder. We ask questions.

When possible/appropriate I should include them in my interests and let them help/watch me.

Modeling (and Requiring) Diligence

My biggest temptation toward laziness during the day is to “cop out” for awhile and browse social media. The kids’ biggest temptation during our mornings is to grumble and complain about their schoolwork and chores.

GOALS:

Limit my time on social media and the internet in general. Do not look at my phone when the children are up/around except for necessary uses or quick checks (responding to certain texts, phone calls, calculator/bills, library orders, other orders, etc.). Spend more of my time in the afternoon on profitable things like reading and writing rather than internet browsing.

Guide the children into paths of faithfulness:

• Scriptural admonition (obedience/diligence/doing all we do for the glory of God)

• Common sense reasoning/big picture perspective (sound mind)

• Teach them to learn to enjoy work

• Fun has its place, but cannot usurp more important things

• Helping them recognize there are rewards to work (reaping and sowing)

• Delayed gratification

• Community/Family/Household dynamics (everyone is needed; we must all work together)

• Projects to encourage them to see and believe truth. Eventually they can keep Heart Journals, do word/Bible studies, etc.

• Discipline/Correction for whining, complaining, and laziness when appropriate

• Modeling faithfulness myself by not grumbling about my own responsibilities, and seeking repentance before God and them when I do.

• Being a present and loving mom. I need to give them my full attention when they are speaking to me or we are doing something together, to communicate that I love each one, to show no favoritism or partiality, and to spend time with them beyond school and chores.

Dealing with Irritations and Bad Attitudes

I am most likely to get irritable or shut down when I feel like my responsibilities just keep piling on me and I can’t complete them in my goal time. This is even more pronounced when the kids are whiny, rowdy, or needy simultaneously. Sometimes I complain when I’m tired.

GOALS:

When tempted to be irritable or complain I need to step back and assess things:

• Am I doing what I need to be doing RIGHT now?

• Can some things wait?

• Do other things need priority?

• Is everything on my agenda for the day even necessary?

• Is it possible to multi-task on some hings, get the kids’ help, etc.? (Work smarter and not harder?)

• Am I practicing good stewardship of my body? (Getting enough sleep and eating well so I don’t become moody/emotional?)

If everything absolutely must be done and I am still overwhelmed at the moment, I can back off, go into the bedroom for a few moments, pray, realign my focus, ask for grace, and consider the big picture.

When I feel the conviction of the Spirit, I can turn my heart to obedience rather than stubborness by taking a moment away. Acknowledge the struggle. Seek repentance before the Lord if I have complained or become irritable/angry (and before my children if needed). Go outside. Take a few moments for giving thanks.

If the kids’ attitudes and behaviors need tending to, I can first readjust mine, then help them with theirs. If I am unable to do that immediately I can send them off to do something for a little bit so I can regain composure and good attitude before trying to deal with theirs. It would be better to deal with their issues “late” than to deal with them in the heat of the moment while angry. Send them to complete a responsibility or to room but do not try to address the issues while I am angry.

I can help my children when they feel stubborn and want their own way by helping them to stop and see the big picture. By reminding them of truth. By helping them see that the good is desirable and right, and evil comes with consequences. I can give them time and space to think. To freely make a choice of obedience. When they fail to I can administer discipline if it is truly required.

Remember to determine if there may be underlying causes to the complaining that may need addressed first: Are they tired? Hungry? Not feeling well? Truly overwhelmed? Deal with each of these issues first.

Continued here

Swim Lessons and Children’s Devotionals

Mom, look at me! I can do it!”

I sweltered in the near mid-day sun next to the pool where my kids were both excitedly calling for my attention, but repeatedly smiled, nodded, and gave them the “thumbs up.”

They were taking their first-ever swimming class.

Water has been a little initimidating for us, so some milestones were observed that first day as Bri ventured off from the reassuring steps and rails and began to actually play in and enjoy the water (even jumping off the diving board!); and Marcus, of his own free will, let himself touch bottom.

The next day it had rained and it was cool, so the instructors did not have anyone get in the pool. Instead, they had the kids watch water safety videos. It was not “swimming,” but it provided some important information.

* * * * *

A few weeks ago while searching Grace and Truth Books  for a gift for someone, I came across Lydia White’s The Attributes of God for Kids. Seeing that it was loosely based on A. W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, I was intrigued. (Yes, an extra book made it into my order. Cue cheesy grin emoji.) IMG_3913

This bright, cheerfully colorful devotional appears exceptionally kid-friendly. Simple and to the point with relatable illustrations (and a touch of reverent humor), this looks like a great doctrinal introduction of the character of God for children.

The book is divided into two parts: the first covers ten of God’s UNIQUE attributes (unchanging, infinite, creator, eternal, self-sufficient, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, and trinity); the second covers eleven of His MORAL attributes (He is good, just, righteous, merciful, gracious, loving, holy, jealous, wise, truthful, and faithful). IMG_3914

Each attribute of God is paired with a very simple symbolic picture; these serve as memory pegs as the kids wind their way through the Attributes chart (free download included; also, stickers can be printed off on Amazon that correspond with a blank spaces chart so kids can fill them in as they go; plus there are free downloadable flashcards and other extras).  IMG_3921

Each attribute is also paired with a corresponding truth about me. Because God is Unchanging, I am Secure. Because God is Gracious, I am Accepted. And so on. This brings these truths down to a personal level—what they mean for me, today. As we learn Who God is, our faith and trust in Him can grow.

Each lesson has its own two-page spread and is broken down into several short sections: a brief explanation, an application (what this truth means for me), suggested Scripture readings, verse to memorize (and even a suggested reading in The Jesus Storybook Bible), a prayer, and Scripture praise songs (from Seeds Family Worship). IMG_3920 

Because I want to extend each attribute to a week-long study, I’m making some notes as I come up with additional activities. And because it’s been by my bed while I’ve been in the process of doing this, I’ve actually been using it in my own worship time in the morning. (Yes, a children’s book!) But its truths are enduring and worship-inducing.

* * * * *

So what do swim lessons and kids’ devotionals have to do with each other?

I’ve just been thinking about the teaching of doctrinal truths to children and the place of books—such as The Attributes of God—in their lives. We read the Bible to our children. We help them memorize Scripture. We read books to them. We inculcate them with doctrinal truths—facts. Yes, plain old facts. These facts in and of themselves are not life-changing. Reading a book about the character of God will not automatically make a child understand Who He really is. Knowing God goes far beyond the academic, piercing more than the frontal lobe of our brain. It is grasped both in life relationship with Christ, and through the Spirit’s illumination of the Word to the believer.

But I believe that ingraining our children’s minds with these truths—these basic facts—about God can be used by Him to draw them to Himself through the work of His Spirit, as they learn that He is good, trustworthy, and sovereign. They have their place. They are not, of themselves, transformative; but in the hand of the Spirit they are tools. They are not Life; but they can point to Life. We pray for our children that truth will awaken their conscience and touch their heart.

Our hope is not in cramming our children’s heads with knowledge; our hope is in the Lord who can take the truth we give these precious little minds and use it to draw them to Himself.

My kids are in Level 1 swimming lessons this week (and next). They don’t actually learn to swim yet, of course. They blow bubbles. They float. They kick. They dunk their heads and bob for rings. Even outside the pool they receive rudimentary instruction on water safety. Is all this a waste of time because it’s not actual, “experiential” swimming?

Of course not. They are being carefully prepared to experience real swimming for themselves. In the final analysis it’s up to them to get in the water and swim. All the books and videos and instruction in the world can’t be a substitute for that. But all this technical instruction is leading up to that by preparing their minds and bodies for it.

In the same way, our children can only truly know God by seeking Him for themselves as He draws them to Himself. They can only experience Him by taking that plunge and casting themselves on Christ. As parents our role is to make the most of the time we have with our children, patiently instructing, line upon rudimentary line. Doctrinal truth upon doctrinal truth. Fact upon fact.

And then, to let them see us “swimming”: “doing life” in Christ. Acknowledging our own daily need of Him. Sincerely seeking to grow in grace, knowledge, and truth.

First steps. First kicks. Even a little bubble-blowing. It’s the way of life. 🙂

 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up…And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates…And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always…

See Deuteronomy 6

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 9:24

Gospel Alphabet

Feeling frustrated? Lonely? Disappointed? Anxious? Angry? Discouraged?

There are some days we just need to be reminded of who we are in Christ and what He has done for us in the gospel. I say there are “some days.” Actually we need this everyday–even on our best days! One of the best little books I ever read was A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent. Vincent encourages the reader to recognize and savor the truths of the gospel as we see what they mean for us in a very real and practical sense in our day-to-day lives.

Once during a time of discouragement, my sister-in-law encouraged me to reflect on these truths again by making an alphabetical list of the many gifts God has bestowed on me through His gospel. The bolded words (at least most of them) are the ones I scratched onto a piece of paper and stuck in my Bible a long time ago:

A: I am Accepted in the Beloved, I’ve been Adopted, and I’ve been made Alive to God. When I sin, Christ is my Advocate before the Father.

B: I am Beloved in God. I have been Born again and am Blessed in Christ. He gives me Boldness to enter before God (Hebrews 10:19), and to do what is good (2 Timothy 1:7).

C: I am Chosen. I am also Chastened as a child for my good and God’s glory. I am being Conformed to the image of Christ!

D: I have been made Dead to sin!

E: The gift of Eternal life awaits me.

F: My God is always Faithful to me. He is my Father. I have been Forgiven.

G: Through the gospel, I have received Grace upon grace! I daily experience the Goodness of God. He gives me Guidance as I seek wisdom in His Word. Ultimately, the gospel offers not just the many Gifts, but the GiverGod Himself.

H: Christ is my spiritual Healing. God is my very present Help in trouble, and He has given me the gift of the Holy Spirit. He comforts me with eternal Hope.

I: I am promised an Inheritance with the saints! The Holy Spirit is my Intercessor, praying for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

J: JESUS is the center of my gospel hope! Regardless of the evil and injustice of this world, I know that God will render Justice for all His saints.

K: My Father is a King! God shows me His Kindness every day in a multitude of ways.

L: I know true Love in God. He is my Light. His Word is a Lamp to my feet.

M: God’s wrath has been turned away in Christ, and His Mercy freely poured out on me!

N: I am raised to New life—the old things are passed away and new things have come!

O: I have Obtained an inheritance with the saints. My Old man has died in Christ and I am a new creation.

P: I have been Purchased and Pardoned. God is my Provider and Protector.

Q: I am Qualified in Christ to enter the presence of God through His imputed righteousness (Matthew 22:11-14, Jude 24).

R: I am Redeemed and Rescued from sin. I am being Rooted in Christ, and one day I will Reign with Him.

S: I have been Saved from sin, Sealed with the Holy Spirit, and I am daily being Sanctified.

T: The Truth has been revealed to me and the Truth has set me free! I have been Transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-13).

U: When I am afraid, God promises me an Understanding-passing peace as I trust in Him and take Him all my troubles. In Christ we get to experience true Unity with other believers.

V: I have Victory in Jesus!

W: I am the Workmanship of Christ, and He is made Wisdom to me.

X: My life has been eXchanged for Χριστός!

Y: God has put within me a Yearning for His righteousness.

Z: There are ZERO charges laid against me—my account is clear in Christ!

Believer, what could you add to this list? 🙂

Dreams

We all have our own plans, dreams and desires.  Especially when we are young.  But we learn very quickly that life never goes exactly according to plan, and we are forced to grapple with realities that do not match our imagined idealisms.  This poem pictures the struggle of accepting disappointment, and learning to gain an eternal perspective as we learn to seek first Christ’s kingdom, rather than our own.

Weaving dreams and making plans,

The ethereal unfolds

In the mind where these stand—

Jewels of desire to behold.

Rich I deem myself to be,

I write my story page by page,

Charmed by lucid fantasy,

And passion of youthful age.

There are no words, and yet,

I know it all, I am so sure;

Dreams of light I’ll not forget,

As though encased in jasper.

On and on the music plays,

The siren song of passion;

Into my future I, smiling, gaze

In such a careless fashion.

Everything is bright and fair,

There is no dreary way,

A frown, a fret, a care—

These things will not play,

Not in my song of songs,

Nor in my visions sweet.

No dissonance or raucous gongs

Will bring desire to defeat.

But then one day—it happens;

From my pleasant dreams I wake.

I sit, awestruck, as passions

A restless roar within me make.

For there they are, my perfect dreams—

Stardust scattered o’er the ground.

The shattered bits flicker and gleam

But to an empty nothingness are bound.

Stepping round the ice cold shards

I survey the dismal scene.

It all came down, this house of cards—

A useless, empty fling.

Then looking up from this cruel turn

To the steel-gray heavens above,

I feel my heart within me burn

And wish for the wings of a dove;

That I might fly above all this—

Beyond the darkness into light

And find a true and steadfast solace,

A rescue from my night.

Pegasus and Scorpius

In their proud courses run;

The glory of great Sirius

Only pales by moon and sun.

Wind and water, waves and sea,

Salty breezes, frozen steppes,

Mighty mountains, ancient trees

And tiny robins in their nests—

All the glorious grandeur here

Of nature flashes through my vision,

As before my eyes appear

Scenes of serenity Elypsian.

Had I the wisdom of the ancients,

The knowledge of Archimedes,

The eloquence of Antony,

Precision of Thucydides…

I could not, with greatest effort

Express the magnitude and beauty

Of the great creation concert

In perfect harmony of key.

Then I ponder, “Who am I?

In all this vast expanse?

Just cells and atoms, nuclei?

Result of random chance?

A speck of nothing on a ball

Flung out in time and space?

Forgotten when I take a fall?

Obscure member of our race?”

No. No I know better.

I have met Him whose name is Truth;

His gift to me is no dead letter—

His Word a comfort from my youth.

This King who made the earth and heaven,

Who rules o’er land and sea,

He stoops so low to reckon

With man His creation…with me.

Not a sparrow falls before Him

But He sees and knows it all.

From His kindness does life stem;

Nothing for His interest is too small.

I am loved and known by Him,

And His promise is to me,

A cup with mercy filled to brim

For all eternity.

Center of the universe I’m not—

That place belongs to Christ.

For mankind’s freedom He has fought,

His sacrifice sufficed.

His kingdom interests are supreme,

They take priority o’er all

Man’s infinitesimal dreams

And plans so trivially small.

He’s working out His purposes

Planned from eternity;

He works all for our good, He says.

In Him we find identity.

Sometimes when all our hopes are dashed

And disappointment all we know,

When plans are swiftly crashed,

And for dreams we get a “No”…

A broken heart may be God’s gift

To raise our eyes to better sights;

The imaginations of our hearts to lift

To much fairer heights.

To break us free from minuscule visions,

To see His bigger scheme;

A greater good to envision,

As we embrace redemptive theme.

As I find comfort in this certainty,

The gray of sky is lifted.

The rays of sun break through to me

And warm my heart uplifted.

Then gather I the stardust bits

Of dreams and plans all broken;

To give an offering that fits,

A sacrifice of love—a token…

To the Lord who lived and died for me,

The God of my eternity.

The Fear of the Lord: To Please…or to Appease?

In my daily Bible reading this week, a story in 2 Kings 17 seemed to leap off the page at me. Some years ago I went through a time of being challenged by the concept of the fear of the Lord. How to understand, define, and embrace the biblical fear of the Lord in a culture that sees all fear as “bad”—this was the problem.

This story provides some very probing insights and raises thoughtful questions concerning our own understanding of the fear of God and what that looks like in our personal lives.

So here’s how it goes:

The king of Assyria captures Samaria and removes the Israelites (ten tribes) from their land, replacing them with men from other countries (Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim). This is now a very mixed lot of men as far as religious beliefs are concerned; we’re talking quite the hodge-podge collection of idols—and a visit to Samaria would provide quite the multi-cultural experience. Despite their differences, they apparently manage to get on together just fine.

Then disaster strikes.

“And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord: therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them” (vs. 25).

This calls for action. The first thing they do is hit up the king who coordinated this poorly-planned relocation project: “Hey, we’ve got problems. We don’t know anything about the God of the land you’ve just dumped us in and apparently He’s not happy with us.”

The king, being the handy problem-solver that he is, snaps his fingers and says, “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got you covered. I’m sending one of the priests of the people I removed. He should know something about appeasing that strange God.”

Cool. They’ll wait. But in the meantime life insurance premiums are rising…

Soon after the Israelite priest arrives he teaches them “how they should fear the Lord” (vs. 28). What a relief. Now they can continue to safely worship their own gods while offering a sacrifice to the Israelite God now and then.

Because that’s exactly what they do.

So they feared the Lord, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods… (vvs. 32-33).

Talk about syncretism. These people are literally offering sacrifices to God while burning their children in fire to Adrammalech and Anammalech (vvs. 29-31)!

So that’s the puzzling story of the settlers of Samaria. But what appears to be a contradiction arises in this passage. Verse 34 tells us “Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord…” and verse 41 says “So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images…so do they unto this day.”

They “fear not” the Lord to this day. And they “feared” the Lord to this day.

Isn’t this a contradiction?

Not if we’re talking about two very different kinds of fear.

These people had a good case of the collywobbles: a knock-kneed, pee-your-pants paranoia of a powerful God of wrath. They had no desire to know Him or please Him, they simply wanted to appease Him. They knew He was big. They knew He was powerful. They had no intention of actually serving Him, but He was scary to them so they needed to find some way to appease this foreign Deity. Ordaining a paltry handful of low-life characters from the seedy side of town to go through the motions of offering a few meaningless sacrifices to this burdensome but nevertheless scary God—that would do the trick.

Like a charm…which was literally all they were looking for: a charm to “keep the spirits away.” And lions. Lions too.

And that was the extent of their “fear” of God.

Solomon tells us that the biblical fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…” To hate sin and turn from it is the fear of the Lord. Those who fear the Lord are exhorted to trust in the Lord: these two things (fear and trust) are not considered mutually incompatible, but rather complimentary when taken in their biblical sense (Psalm 115:11). The biblical fear of God actually frees us from the fear of man and circumstance—destructive fears in our lives.

Many have a fear of God that is not biblical. Because they entertain a “fear” of Him that does not engender faith and trust in Him, they seek to reform some of their actions or to offer Him some vestiges of “service” in order to “appease” Him, so that they might continue on with their lives as they see fit. Or they may be genuinely “scared” of God, and feel that they cannot approach Him, but it’s the wrong kind of fear altogether and does not produce the fruit of holiness in their lives.

Those who fear the Lord with a biblical fear delight in Him, trust Him, and seek to please, not appease Him. They are not paranoid of the wrath of God: they know that’s been satisfied in Christ, having already been poured out on Him. They know God is big and not One to be trifled with, and they serve Him in reverence (see Hebrews 12:28-29, 1 Peter 1:13-21). But their fear of God draws them closer to Him, rather than pushing them away from Him into a corner where they cower in the shadows, afraid to approach Him. I’ve come to believe that this is the defining difference between a biblical fear of the Lord and its fraudulent counterpart.

In a world where people are awakening to the widespread reality of the fear and abuse that many individuals in destructive relationships experience everyday, the very concept of the “fear of the Lord” has gained a bad rap. God is a God of love. Why would He want us to fear Him? Isn’t that abusive and legalistic?

The problem is that our concept of fear is often viewed through broken, twisted, human experience—or knowledge of human experience. When a man seeks to abusively control his wife or children he employs fear to scare them into bowing to his will. He controls them with it. The fear they have for him is not a reverent one. They do not willingly submit to him because they respect and love him; they submit because (for the moment at least) he’s bigger and stronger—and meaner—than they are.

This is a fear from hell, not from God; it’s not the kind of fear He seeks from His people. He seeks a love that is characterized by deep reverence for Who He is: He’s not a teddy bear, a “pet,” or a grandfather figure handing out candy; He’s the holy God of the Universe. C. S. Lewis had it right:

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“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Do we love and reverence this great King, this Lion of the tribe of Judah? Does our fear of Him cause us to draw near Him or to shy away from Him? Does it cause us to walk in holiness or to begrudgingly go through the motions of religion? Do we seek to please Him or to feel we must appease Him? Do we trust Him and find our peace and joy in Him, or do we cower like a beggar in His presence? When we are in sin, does our fear of Him lead us to repentance or to sulk in perpetual guilt?

The nations inhabiting Samaria feared God with a disdainful, irreverent, cowardly fear. They did not fear Him with a biblical fear. Their fear was the same kind of fear enemies—not friends—of a king may have.

Does our fear of God more resemble that of the heathens, or of His own dear children for whom He sent His Son to suffer and die?