Family Devotions…

happy-family-reading-book-illustration-45672105FAMILY DEVOTIONS. What image does that phrase evoke for you?  Do you smile as your think of your own family habits?  Do you cringe knowing that you’re not doing what you probably should be doing?  Did you think, “I have no idea how to lead family devos” or “Why do we need to do that?” Did you (like me) remember growing up with post-devotion consequences because of too much giggling or inattention?!  🙂

Regardless what image or memories come to mine, family devotions are an indispensable part of a family that wants to be strong in their faith!  I gotta say that I am very proud of our family regarding family devotions in 2017!  This has been our best year yet, as far as actually having regular family devotional time.  The fact that we have read 85 out of 100 Bible stories, as well as 175 pages in a Christian autobiography just thrills me!   If the only “Christian” thing we do in our homes is attend church Sunday mornings, then that is all we are passing on to our children (and research shows that they might not even do that when they are grown).  It makes such a difference to prioritize even a little time each day to tell our kiddos that God is our primary focus!  Daily devotions (or even “every-other-daily”) help us to remember WHO is most important, and reminds us that the Christian walk is about our every day living, not just our Sunday church attendance.

I am not a “Family Devotions Expert” but I wanted to share what has worked for our family this year and maybe it will give you some ideas and inspiration for creating or enhancing this habit in your home.

Make sure the devotional is age-appropriate. 

We definitely are doing that.  Our current read is Step into the Bible – 100 Bible Stores for Family Devotions by Ruth Graham.  It includes 100 short, easy-to-read stories, concluding with a few comprehension questions and a memory verse.   It is perfect for young children, and now our seven year old will read it to her younger siblings.  We have kind of lagged on regular devotions and I am thrilled that we are on Step (story) 85!   It also includes some tips for parents when addressing more difficult topics like death and sin.  A wonderful section in the back is entitled “Life in New Testament Times” and informs children what the culture was like back in the time that these stories occurred.  Along with this, let’s not forget to often use the actual Bible in our reading times together!  It’s so easy to use the children’s versions with compiled stories, but is  so important to also take some time to read straight from the Bible even if it might be a little more challenging to understand.

Secondly, select something that’s not necessarily age-appropriate. 

So, my second point is opposite of my first point!  What about choosing something that will stretch your children’s thinking, vocabulary, empathy, and grasp of Scripture and Christian character?  Something that will cause them wonder or concern or sadness.   Maybe even shock or amazement.  Maybe  incredible inspiration, challenge or conviction.  (And that might not just be for the children; it might be for us parents too!)

We are also doing that right now!  We are 175 pages through Kisses from Katie, the fascinating true recounting  of a young woman living out God’s love amidst the abandoned, poor and needy children in Uganda.   The book is subtitled “A story of Relentless Love and Redemption.”   Our girls are 7, almost 6 & 4 1/2, and THEY LOVE IT.

They are amazed to think of sick children sleeping on dirt floors.  Concerned about the children not even having one healthy meal a day.  Astounded that parents have to pay to sent their kids to school and so many cannot afford it.  Flabbergasted by the fact that Katie Davis adopted 12 children while in her early 20’s.  Challenged to hear of Katie’s total reliance on and trust in God.  Pondering how they might serve God through reaching out to others.

Many times Lilly (5) interrupts me to say, “What does that mean?” and I explain before continuing the tale.  Katie’s heart for the Lord is impacting my girls, and me and my husband too!  Her name is frequently brought up.  Sometimes by me, as in, “What do you think Kisses from Katie would think about you wanting more toys when you already have so many?”  And, sometimes, my girls will say it to me, “Mommy, what would Katie Davis think about your complaining?”

So, why not mix it up with something age appropriate and also something that will really inspire and grow our families?

Finally, I love having a special conclusion to our devotional times.

We started doing that this year, and that repeated “ritual” provides a special kind of bonding, unifying routine.  We conclude each family time by saying The Lord’s Prayer together and then singing the Doxology.  (It only takes about two minutes and this ending is something we can do together before “lights out” even if we have not been able to get to devotions).   I think this will be a special tradition that will always be a part of the Walker family.

Those are my thoughts on family devotions.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, routines and the materials you are using.  If you have not been doing family devotions, I encourage you to start today!  God bless!!!

P.S. Kisses from Katie is truly one of the most extraordinary stories/books I have ever read.  I cannot recommend it more highly as a book to read together as a family whether your kiddos are 3, 13 or 23!  We are so excited that her new book comes out this Fall!!!

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A Few of My Favorite Verses

31,373.  That’s how many verses are in the Bible.  That is a lot to read, understand and follow!  But through my many years of reading, memorizing and learning from God’s Word, I have come up with a few favorites!  (Well, actually A LOT of favorites, but I’m only sharing four today).  Please feel free to reply with one of your favorites!

Over 25 years ago, my college choir, Point Loma Singers, sang an anthem by Eugene Butler titled,  “God Is Our Refuge.” It was a glorious rhythmic song accompanied by a trumpet duet.  The verse upon which this song is based has stuck with me ever since.

Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.”

I have “given” this verse to numerous people over the years to encourage them in the midst of crisis and hardship.  There is One we can rely on, who is always faithful and will help us in our time of need.

Another favorite is Psalm 37:24, which speaks of the righteous person – the one is following God:  “though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”  Ever since I memorized this chapter during a summer mission trip to Tasmania, I have especially loved that verse.  Along the way, I turned it into a song called,”God’s Hands,” which reminds us that the same hands that formed the universe, that healed the sick, that were pierced with the cruel nails – those are the same hands that hold us in times of trial, confusion and hopelessness.

This next verse still astounds me every time I read it.  Paul said, in I Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  A newer translation says, “And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.

Paul had the audacity to suggest that since he was so closely following Christ, they should follow HIS example and they would be doing what Jesus wants them to do.  That’s impressive –  to be so confident in your walk with Christ and the exemplary life  you are leading, that you can tell others to follow you.  That is something to aspire to!

There are so many more wonderful, inspiring verses but I will close end with Colossians 1:10.  Paul is sharing his prayers and hopes for the people in the church at Colossae, an ancient city in Asia Minor.  He prays…” that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”. 

This verse gives us what my friend, Owen, used to call, “a good challenge.”  May those of us who claim Jesus as Lord strive to live up to this verse – to walk worthy of His name, to fully please Him, to be fruitful in kindness and goodness, and to continuously grow in our understanding of God!  Whew!  That is a tall order, but if we could just follow this single verse, imagine how our homes and communities could change!!!

God’s Word is the best-selling book of all time…something about it attracts people of every age, gender and walk of life.  If you have some favorites, won’t you share them?  If not, you might enjoy checking out 100 Bible Promises to discover your own special verse.  God bless!

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A Few of My Favorite Birthdays…

Happy-Birthday-to-me-Wallpapers-HD-10-258x300

TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!  I will not even tell you how old I am because I can’t even believe it myself.  Suffice it to say that if I went back to teaching music full-time, I would be double the age of some of the new teachers.  Yikes!   The past few years with the kidney failure with extreme weight loss and then the kidney transplant followed by extreme weight gain, have really made me feel much older.  😦 I hate that, but I am thankful for another year of life to serve God, enjoy my beloved family, and love others.

Do you remember a lot of your birthdays?  I really don’t.  I know I had a big party for my 3rd birthday with several little friends over and we sat around the kids wooden picnic table out3rd birthday on our back patio in Southern California.  (That was the same patio where I one day carefully placed about 40 patches of grass, each adorned with two or three snails. My parents were ecstatic…or not).   I wore a sweet red-flowered dress with white lace (that matched with my 2 sisters) and fun was had by all.

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My favorite birthday was my 6th grade year when I turned 11.  A bunch of friends from Aliso Elementary School were there and I can still picture us sitting in the living room.  Much to my delight, all of my gifts were my favorite things: animals!   We already had some rats, hamsters and other critters.  But that birthday, thanks to my friends and family, I added a few fish, a couple of mice, a snake, and a parakeet.  I was in heaven!  (My awesome parents would let me have any animal as long as it was in a cage, although there may have been a few escapees along the way).

My next favorite birthday is this one – TODAY!  I am alive!  I do not have a port for dialysis; I am not waiting on a transplant.  I am feeling healthy and am so grateful.  I have a safe and happy home with an incredible husband and three precious girls, plus my parents, siblings and their families all within 20 minutes.  I have some music jobs, the freedom and joy of homeschooling, more food than I need and plenty of clothes (most of which don’t fit right now -ugh)!.  PLUS, I have backyard chickens which I love.  God is good and I am thankful to have survived another year.  I anticipate another great year of fun adventures and learning. So, Happy Birthday to me.  I am so blessed!

And now, I shall leave you with a few birthday quotes…

P.S.  How do you keep track of your kiddos birthdays?  I’m not doing a very good job of keeping track of those memories.  I found a fun option on Amazon that might be interesting to some readers.  I actually have similar birthday scrapbooks for my girls that I hope to work on one of these days.  (This is an affiliate link, so if you happened to purchase this item for the listed price, I would get a very small percentage of the sale).

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Temporary

So as I thrust my “technology ignoramus” self into the world of blogging,  today I discovered that there is a site that gives you a word – just one word – as a writing prompt for your blog. I thought I’d go with that for today’s post.  Hope you enjoy.

“TEMPORARY”…Hmmm…My initial thoughts centered around the temporary nature of earthly things.  All of our possessions and most accomplishments will eventually be useless to us, but what’s done for God – our spiritual walk, the way we love and help others – that is eternal.  So many issues that we stress and  worry about, and fear and think about, may not even matter next week or next month or next year.

A few quotes and Scriptures also came to mind almost immediately:

Missionary C.T. Studd’s lines:  “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” (His poem can be read in its entirety here: http://paulhockley.com/2016/05/24/quote-only-one-life-twill-soon-be-past-poem-by-c-t-studd/

Martyred missionary Jim Elliot’s quote: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”   (If you haven’t read his life story, you are missing out!)  Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Lives of Faith))

Christian comedian and musician Mark Lowry’s comment that his favorite verse is, “And it came to pass….”  Get it???

And, finally, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18;  “17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

I also like the Living Bible translation.  I remember my mom reading her well-worn, mostly underlined, olive-green Living Bible throughout my childhood.  Here is how this version puts it:

17 These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! 18 So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”

What comforting, promising words!  Aren’t you thankful for the hope of eternal life?  And isn’t it a relief that God sees the big picture and is in control?

What do YOU think of when you hear the word “temporary”?  Let me know in the comments.

FYI:   The  above post contains an affiliate link which means if you click on the link you can peruse and/or buy a product I recommend. But totally zero pressure!

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Care needed

Rounding the corner of our house last night, I was surprised and awed by the beautiful irises in bloom.

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The spectacular flowers totally caught me off guard because I  had completely forgotten they were even there.  They were planted along the sides of the house before we even moved in.  We don’t do a thing to them, yet every Spring we are rewarded by their glorious sight.

It’s so nice to have something beautiful that I don’t have to maintain, that doesn’t require any work or effort on my part.  No care needed.

Not so for the remaining parts and pieces of my life. (Wouldn’t that be nice, though?)

When my husband and I don’t feel as close; when we haven’t been talking much –  care is needed!

When I can’t actually “see” a surface in the kitchen; when the clutter piles are rampant; when the sink is full for more than a day – care is needed.

When I’ve sent the kiddos to bed without much of a “Good night”; when I’ve exhibited more impatience than patience and I feel like I haven’t really spent quality time with them in days –  care is needed.

When I can’t even find my Bible because I haven’t used it in so long, when the list of things I need to pray for is long but not actually prayed for –  care is needed.

So, this is a reminder to my readers and myself that NOW (or any time) is the right time to do some tending – refreshing – revitalizing – nurturing of the most crucial areas/relationships of our lives.   A marital relationship, an organized home, well-parented kiddos, and a growing spiritual life won’t just take care of themselves like those irises.  But intentional upkeep and attention will provide satisfaction,  fulfillment and peace.  Even an almost dead plant can be brought back to life with enough time and tender care.

Gotta go…I’ve got some maintenance issues to address…

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Following Directions

The drive seemed endless as I motored my way through a zillion miles of corn fields.  My friend, Andy, had given me directions and I followed them painstakingly through this Illinois corn maze.

After driving for a while, doubts started to arise… Am I actually going the right way?  Seems like I’ve been driving longer than I should have been.  Should I have turned already?  Did he make a mistake in the directions?  I’m just not sure this is right.

Almost immediately, my common sense chimed in.  Tori, he has lived here all of his life.  He wrote down the directions and they are correct.  You can trust his directions.

Sure enough, a couple miles later, I made the final turn and there was the highway I had been seeking.  I had not needed to doubt.  There had been no need for concern and wondering.

So also with God’s Word.  We can trust Him and we can trust His Word, the Bible.  Sure, there may be confusing things in there; there may be verses that seem to be contradictory; it may seem outdated.  But the Bible still gives the only fully reliable, foolproof, BEST EVER directions for life:

We can trust Him. He is faithful. His love is unending. Love Him.  Love others.  Obey Him.  Follow His way and will.  He provides salvation and redemption. Seeking His wisdom will bring peace and comfort.  He knows the plans He has for us.  Do justly. Love mercy.  Walk humbly with Him.  He is able.  He will never leave us or forsake us.

When we follow His directions, there’s no chance of us getting lost.  (Even Siri can’t claim that).

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A Matter of Respect

The newlywed teacher plopped down at the lunch table, immediately regaling her co-workers  with the story of a tiff between her husband and herself.

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“I told him,” she huffed, “If that’s the way you’re going to act, there’s the door!”

My immediate thought was, “Well, that marriage isn’t going to last.”  Sure enough, the marriage dissolved a few years later.

RESPECT – a crucial element in our marriages.   Three things troubled me about this event.  One, the fact that she was, so early in her marriage, issuing ultimatums to her husband.  Two, the fact that she was being so rude and speaking in anger. Three, the fact that she shared it, almost proudly, with a bunch of us at lunchtime.

It exhibited so much disrespect for him, for herself and for their marriage.  To respect each other means to esteem, admire, think highly of, reverence and honor.   Throughout each day, our words, actions and reactions communicate respect or disrespect to our spouse.

Am I cutting him off when he’s trying to tell me something?

Is he ignoring me when I’m talking to him?

Am I speaking critically of him to others?

Is he disregarding my input on a decision?

How is my tone of voice?

What message is he conveying with his body language?

There are many ways in which disrespect shows up in a marriage.  Mutual respect is crucial. Let’s take a moment to “check our respect” and see if some improvement is needed.

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First Impulse

A family unable to make ends meet.  A homeless man perched on his backpack by the road. A teenage mom on her own.  Refugees needing a simple meal. A husband mourning the loss of his wife.  Children devastated by the break-up of a family.

The needs around us are rampant.  What will be our response?

Doubt?  Hesitation?  Judgment?  Looking the other way? Just being too busy?  Fear? Procrastination?  Leaving it for someone else to deal with?   Just not really caring?  Or maybe not even noticing?

Let me tell you about my 4 1/2 year old.  If I mention I’m cold, she rushes to get me a sweater.  If her oldest sister complains that she wants more mac and cheese, she gives her the rest of hers.  If Daddy is sick, she pats his hands, and says, “Poor Daddy.”  If her middle sister mentions she doesn’t have anything to wear, this little gal is quick to offer her own clothes.  If she hears me talking about someone who is sick or sad, she later will bring me a picture she colored for them.  She often tells me that she wants to give away her toys and clothes to kids who don’t have any.  Her sweet sensitivity to others is amazing to me.

I see it day in and day out.  The moment Allison is made aware of a need or desire, her first impulse is to meet that need!   I want to be more like my 4 1/2 year old!  It’s not up to me to decide if the recipient is worthy.  It’s not important for me to know all the details.  It’s not my job to be certain someone understands their wrongdoing in a situation.  It’s not my place to decide what they do or do not deserve.

It’s up to me to “give them something to eat and drink; to provide housing for the stranger; to clothe the naked; to look after the sick; and to visit the imprisoned.”  (Matthew 25:34) It’s up to each of us who claim to be followers of Christ.

What’s your first impulse when you see or hear of a need?  I know what I want mine to be: love, compassion, and generosity, just like my Allison.

 

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YET!

Recently, as I read the beautiful Scripture from Isaiah 40:28-31, one particular word caught my attention:  YET!

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

I’ve been mulling over this simple three letter word, and pondering the HOPE it offers…

The implication of “yet” is that of possibility – of something more to come – of optimism – of progress – of continuing…

God hasn’t answered this prayer…yet

That difficult relationship has not been mended…yet

I haven’t gotten to my goal weight…yet

She’s not healed from cancer…yet

We don’t have any answers…yet

They’re not out of debt…yet

The problem has not been solved…yet

Reading the above Scripture, combined with a conversation with a piano student really confirmed the importance of this tiny word.  Savannah was referring to some acquaintances noting, “They’re not believers YET.”  Although this middle school student was not trying to make some amazing statement, I was delighted by the faith and hope implied by her simple sentence.   The hopefulness, the expectation that in the future, those folks WILL choose to follow Jesus! It just hasn’t happened YET.

Many Scriptures use this word…

I John 3:2 – “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be…”

II Corinthians 4:8 – “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed.”

Phillippians 3:13 – “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Don’t give up my friends!  Whatever we’re dealing with…there’s a yet…

So hang in there!  Keep doing the right things!  Continue trusting God!

As the old bumper sticker says, “God isn’t finished with me (or you) yet!”

Blessings!

 

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Practice Makes Better

One of my professors in graduate school admonished us regularly, “Practice makes better.”  The class involved “ear training” for musicians; I scarcely practiced, so I suppose that’s why I never improved much at being able to aurally identify chords and intervals.

I love that quote though.  Usually we hear: “Practice makes perfect.”   Tell that to the Olympian runner expected to win the gold who falls instead.  Tell that to the law student who doesn’t pass the bar.  Tell that to the musician who does not make it into Julliard. Tell that to the dad who can’t seem to stop losing his temper or the mom whose children are rebelling.  Tell that to the single who keeps falling into temptation or the child who feels like they just cannot be obedient no matter how hard they try. (That was me!) Tell that to me when I’ve missed my daily devotions yet again…

Perfection is not going to happen this side of heaven.  There is only One for whom that is reality.  Scripture tells us this repeatedly. “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4).  2 Samuel 22:31 says, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”  Hebrews 5:9 and other verses indicate that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins: “In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.”

It’s pretty easy to believe that God is perfect. I mean, He is God, after all.  Yet as I studied this, I was amazed how many times perfection is referenced throughout the Bible as it relates to us!   Isaiah 26:3 promises that God will keep us in perfect peace as our minds stay on Him.  John 17:23 calls us to experience perfect unity.  Romans 12:2 says we should learn to know God’s perfect will for us.  I Corinthians 13:12 speaks of a time when we will see things with perfect clarity.  Colossians 3:14 admonishes us to clothe ourselves with love which binds us together in perfect harmony.  And Matthew 5:48 actually says we are to BE perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.

Whew!  That’s a lot of perfection, which I feel pretty far from!  Most things – despite our every effort, despite our ongoing practice – do not end up being perfect.  This should not surprise us though!  The world we live in – Yikes! – it is a scary, sinful place!  Things definitely are far from perfect. Sometimes even our best efforts are insufficient.  Paul addresses that in Galatians 3:3: “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become  perfect by your own human effort?”  Ah, there’s the key!  That’s a great question – Why ARE we trying so much with our own human effort?!

In Philippians 3:12, Paul speaks of his own journey toward perfection: [Pressing toward the Goal ] “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”

Two lessons here.  One, we must avail ourselves (day by day; moment by moment) of God’s help through the Holy Spirit and not just rely on our own efforts.  When we have His power working through us, our human efforts are amplified!  Sometimes our efforts might be completely superceded because God doesn’t even NEED our meager efforts to accomplish His will.  Two, keep on keeping on!  Persevere!  Don’t give up!  Even Paul – super missionary, Scripture scholar, suffering servant and author of much of the New Testament – even HE had not achieved perfection, but he continued pressing on; he continued endeavoring, with God’s help, to become more like His Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

God’s Word says we can do ALL things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), so let’s avail ourselves of His strength and power and keep up the practicing.  Be encouraged!  With His help, “Practice really does make better!”

Keep Choosing Well!

Tori

 

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