Building the kingdom

When we think of building a house, or an environment, for ourselves and our families, there are a few levels to which we can extend this metaphor.

Our first home is our self: body and mind. These work in harmony; when one is negatively affected, the other often suffers too. Many of us are learning how to care for our bodies, or battling depression and anxiety. Your body is your “house” — build it up and cherish it. When your own well-being is put off in favor of more urgent needs, your body suffers and this will affect those you care for. Making real self-care a priority builds your physical and emotional home.

Next, we can think of “building our house” as the home where our family or roommates live with us. Often, for better or for worse, it falls to the woman of the house to create a warm and welcoming environment for the family. We can take advantage of this and use it as a way to love those we live with, using our own tastes and personality to infuse the space with beauty and comfort through our furnishings, meals, and celebrations. When our home is pleasant, comfortable and filled with joy, we thrive, and our families do too.

Once we have taken care of ourselves and our families, it’s time to think of the wider community. We may think of “church” as a building where we go to hear a preacher on Sunday morning, but church is really the outreach of the home and family to their local community. This is how we serve the world — we start at our own front door. We’re corporately accountable to “go and make disciples,” which we can understand as taking responsibility for our influence over the lives of everyone we encounter. It’s easy to complain about the communities we live in and the local policies we can’t change, rather than using our actions and influence to build better lives for those in our midst.

Building a house is about taking responsibility to foster a positive environment, not only for our own wellbeing, but also for the benefit of those whose lives we touch. It’s an initiative to bring truth, meaning and beauty to the world, starting with our own little corner. How different everyone’s houses will look once completed! How beautiful that we each pursue different ideals, but together we form a mosaic — the body of Christ. Encouraging each other, cheering each other on to our different responsibilities, bearing each other’s burdens, and together bringing the Kingdom of God here to earth.

Building her house

Women are such a beautiful creation of God, given an awesome capacity for nurturing and making any place feel like “home.” For many of us, it’s in our nature to see the needs of others and try to meet them, whether physical or emotional.

As I understand it, in Jewish thought, a wife (bayit) is a man’s “house” representing the household and his food and shelter. For around nine months, a woman’s body is her baby’s “house,” nurturing and nourishing the child as he grows. And for mothers who are parenting alone, the idea of a woman being a “house” seems even more true, as she is stretched to be the protector and provider for her family as well as everything else. And you don’t gave to have a partner or children to be a house: all the single women I know are remarkable at bringing a magical effect into the lives of those around them; celebrating their friends’ birthdays, cooking for people, and spending time listening to the struggles of others and offering encouragement. It seems that women come by this naturally, bringing a bit of home with them wherever they go.

Is it because of these extraordinary gifts that we are more vulnerable to the deception of the enemy? He tells us, sometimes through the mouths of other women, that we need to do more, be better, do it differently. That our tenderness and our emotions are weakness, and that our strength is in achieving everyone else’s ideals, doing it all ourselves, creating a world where we don’t need a man as much as we need a glass of wine.

Once we realize that the enemy’s goal is to tear down families and destroy our self-confidence, it’s easier to see the ways he slips in to erode the very value we have as women. Sometimes it takes the form of extreme feminism, pushing women to dishonor their bodies and their value by destroying the life growing inside them, or displaying an over-sexualized image, or seeking money and power as the highest goal. But it can also come in the form of legalism surrounding what it means to be a “biblical” single woman or wife and mother, keeping women squeezed tightly into ideals that are based on her appearance and works. (Isn’t it interesting how, at the end of the day, both extremes boil down to the same elements.)

As part of my research for this series, I read a book about hospitality published a decade or more ago. It’s a fairly innocuous book of encouragement and tips, where the author begins by explaining that we don’t have to be perfect to be hospitable. I agree, I thought, and read on until I reached a surprising section where she advised that the way to be a more confident hostess was to “get up earlier and stay up later” to get more done! Citing the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 whose candle never seems to go out, the well-meaning author revealed that she still believes the way to find our feminine calling is to do more work.

Friends, I think it is so important to look inside ourselves and find our true value. The beautiful feminine nature God created is in our very DNA. Even so, we keep striving, looking for the perfect number (weight on the scale, ounces of water, miles walked, minutes of quality time, books read aloud, it goes on and on), trying to accomplish everything, trying to be enough. I don’t write this series to pile more guilt on. Yes, we often do burn the candle at both ends to keep our homes running smoothly. Yes, we are seeking to build our houses day by day rather than tear them down, seeking God to find the strength we need to keep going. Life is difficult and challenging wherever you live it. But perhaps we can find grace here together — rest from doing it all, peace to just be who you were made to be, with your own giftings and personality.

You are already enough — you are a house. A shelter, a dwelling, a home, a sanctuary.

As we build together in the coming weeks, I hope you will be gentle with yourself. I pray that you find grace in your walk with God to build a beautiful house that looks like you, with Christ as the foundation stone. It seems to me that it’s not about doing more work, but about shifting our mindsets to live into who God made us to be. Welcome home.

Life update

As March quickly gave way to April, so April is speeding by with plenty to keep her busy. Yesterday was a perfect spring day; sunny, breezy and tranquil. Here in southern Indiana the flowering trees are in bloom, birds are making nests, and sunny jonquils, tulips and dandelions are everywhere. Baby J and I spent much of the day outdoors while I cleaned out the garden boxes, stirred the compost and cleaned up the back yard. In between these outdoor jobs I flitted inside to proof sourdough bread, bake a banana loaf, and cook dinner. This morning we awoke to a grey sky and chillier breeze, the earth fragrant with rain and new mown grass. When spring comes, the earth and its people breathe more deeply, and begin to stir.

I’m anxiously awaiting the right time to plant my vegetable garden. I have new indoor plant starts, succulents and aloe vera, in addition to my sourdough starter and kombucha scoby. Growing things. Living things.

On Sunday we went on a guided nature walk, in the rain, to see spring flowers in the forest. Rich purple wizard-cap Larkspur, the tiniest green violets, creamy, dancing “Dutchman’s breeches,” and countless others — a treasure chest of nature that would have passed unnoticed if we hadn’t gone out of our way to observe them. As the naturalist guide told the stories of the plants, I felt full of wonder at the beauty and detail of the quiet forest all around us. God gave beauty in our world that serves no purpose except to show his glory.

The heavens declare the glory of God, the dome of the sky speaks the work of his hands. Every day it utters speech, every night it reveals knowledge. Without speech, without a word, without their voices being heard, their line goes out through all the earth.” (Psalm 19:2-4 CJB)

Each season gives us a wealth of understanding about the nature of God. The whole world boasts traces of his fingerprint, because when he spoke the world was created — his essence suspended in the universe. God’s impassioned words from the storm to Job (Job 38-41) give us a hint of this truth. Who can know all about God? Who can understand his ways? We ask “Why, God?” as we journey through difficult circumstances, but we miss the detail in the world around us that is giving small clues to the answer.

We have been a bit quieter on the blog and social media of late due to circumstances that I’m sure are familiar to all of you. Joy’s father (my grandpa), is in critical health, and she has gone to help her mother care for him. As my own baby turns seven months old and learns to crawl and pull himself up, my grandpa in the winter of his life is learning again how to sit up on his own as well. Sickness juxtaposed with spring, death standing always at the door of life.

In the spring, one aspect of God’s nature becomes most obvious — new growth shows us he is the God of life. The newness all around us, the showy array of beautiful blooms tempting pollinators with their fascinating colors, the freshness, the hope. Things are planted within us that will come to fruition later, as we reach maturity slowly and naturally over the course of time. Perhaps we are being pruned now, the deadness cut away to make room for new green shoots. We can’t compare our green nubs to someone else’s fruit-laden branch. God is doing a different work with each shrub and flower.

On Easter Sunday I called my grandpa in the hospital to play my violin for him. I played outdoors in the soft beautiful weather and as I did I thought of how amazing it is to know the power of the resurrection. Death has no hold over us. Life holds the victory for ever more. Some have taught that this means our earthly bodies will never die, but the truth I think is more beautiful — that when our earthly bodies give way, there is waiting for us a new, shining body to represent our new identity in God.

Walking in nature this past Sunday, I felt so loved by a God who would create such beauty just for us to enjoy. I invite you to take some time in nature this week, marveling at the handiwork of God, releasing your struggles and burdens to him and letting yourself rest in the treasure of his goodness.

Intro to our summer series!

As we enter the season of the church year called “Kingdomtide,” I have been pondering how to bring value to your lives as we take a brief respite from holiday celebrations for the summer. Through prayer we have planned something exciting for you to hopefully draw encouragement, inspiration, and grace from. This summer we will be featuring one blog post per week on a topic I’ve named Building Her House, an allusion to Proverbs 14:1.

Throughout the summer we will be sharing what it means for a wise woman to build her house, in both practical and philosophical approaches to the scripture (taking a rather liberal view of its original meaning). I’d like to explore some thoughts about how we as women can build stronger homes for ourselves and for our families and communities, because I believe we hold the key to building healthier societies.

I hope you will join us this Kingdomtide as we explore together ways to bring the kingdom of God to our homes and communities by shaping our own mindsets surrounding the home.

Be made new

“So then, my dear friends, continue to do as I tell you, as you always have; not only as you did when I was there with you, but even more now that I am no longer there; and work for your salvation ‘in fear and trembling’. It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you. Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life. This would give me something to be proud of for the Day of Christ, and would mean that I had not run in the race and exhausted myself for nothing. And then, if my blood has to be shed as part of your own sacrifice and offering – which is your faith – I shall still be happy and rejoice with all of you, and you must be just as happy and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:12-18, The Jerusalem Bible)

This past few weeks during Lent, we have made the decision to give up things that we thought were not beneficial for us in some way. Or maybe we added some things that we thought would serve other people or help us spiritually, like adding more prayer or reading the Bible regularly. Perhaps we did well with our sacrifices, or perhaps we struggled to keep it up!

Paul is urging us to continue on and to work for our salvation. He is urging us not to complain or argue. One of the problems I’ve encountered is that after Lent, I feel sort of the same way I feel when I lose weight and get off my diet: I can have it all again. But if God has shown us places where we are spending too much of our time or money or whatever it is, then we need to make permanent changes in our habits, not just change them for six weeks and then go right back to the way we did things before. If God is the one who puts the will and action into us, then we need to ask him to help us continue in our good work. We should not complain that it’s too hard or argue with God that we will just do the thing ‘a little bit’ and won’t go overboard ever again. Instead, we must “not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart”. (Galations 6:9 NKJV)

So here is good news: We can ask God to help us continue to put his will and action in our hearts and we can have faith that he will do as he has promised.

Resurrection Day is coming!

Matzoh Crunch

Here is a delicious Passover dessert that is quick to make. Kids and adults alike love this crunchy, salty-sweet treat that has become a special tradition in our family! Caramel toffee is baked onto crispy matzoh squares and sprinkled with chocolate and nuts while it’s still warm. When it cools, the large matzohs are broken into small pieces so no one knows just how much you are eating! This recipe is simple enough for children to help make.

6 sheets matzohs
1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
Sea salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate)
1 cup toasted sliced almonds or chopped pistachios (optional)

1. I’m not a fan of aluminum foil but it is very helpful in this case (unless one of your favorite pastimes is scraping burned sugar off your baking trays — mine is not!). Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges of the pan. Cover the foil with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Line the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.
3. Bake matzoh for a few minutes to crisp it a little before making the caramel toffee. Don’t let it get brown.
4. Next, melt the butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add a pinch of salt, and pour over matzoh. Work quickly to spread the caramel evenly over the matzoh with a spoon or spatula.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bake caramel-covered matzoh for 15 minutes. Careful it doesn’t burn; reduce heat as needed.
6. Remove from oven and cover with chocolate chips while it is piping hot. Let rest 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate with an offset spatula.
6. Sprinkle with sliced almonds or pistachios and a little coarse salt and let cool completely before breaking into cookie-sized pieces. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Matzohs on the lined tray (I made a half recipe, so only three sheets appear here.)
Covered with caramel, ready to bake.
Chocolate chips melting.
Spread with chocolate and sprinkled with salt (no nuts this time!).

Week five!

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NKJV)

This is our fifth week, reading the lectionary texts and doing good works and sacrificing some things that we were spending too much time or money or effort on to do the better work instead. If you’ve come this far, you can do it, you can finish next week. Keep going!

We are only about a week away from Easter. The celebration of the risen Lord is getting closer and closer! What are you doing to prepare your family for this important celebration? You’ve been working on your own heart for several weeks, repenting and sacrificing and getting to know the Lord better through His word. Perhaps you’ve had opportunities to talk to other people about the Lord. Perhaps you have had opportunities to read the story about Jesus’ death and resurrection to your children. Perhaps you’ve made extra time these past few weeks to pray for people you care about. Perhaps you have creatively extended love to your neighbor.

The Lord wants to put the law in our hearts and in our minds. No more going to the Temple to make sacrifices. No more killing a lamb or a dove. The ultimate sacrifice was made so God can be our God and we can be His people and we can know Him. He says He will forgive our sin and will remember it no more! He did all this through the cross. The instrument of torture has become a gift of redemption for us.

God used the cross as the way to make a new covenant with us, to put the law into our hearts through coming to Him, not through the Temple but through Jesus, who died on that cross and defeated death. He had to bear the cross, carrying it a long way and then hanging on it. We also have to bear crosses daily. What is your cross? Can you learn to bear it daily with joy? Does that seem impossible? It is a pretty big thing to ask of us. We can only do it with help from God. As we have read in our Lent readings, He is our only source of strength and the One who gives us the grace to do what He has asked us to do. So can you learn to bear your cross daily with joy? Can I? Yes. By asking for strength and grace that only He can give. What Good News!

Easter is coming shortly, the greatest celebration in the church year. By the cross and the defeat of death by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and through the forgiveness of our sins so we can have a right relationship with Him, God has made with us a new covenant, written on our hearts. The celebration is almost here!

These thoughts come from the scriptures in our Lenten discipline, Be Made New. You can still join in! Click the download button to download the PDF and read this post to find out how to participate.

Celebrating Passover

Those of us who believe Jesus is the Messiah find Passover an exciting holiday to celebrate, joining in with our Biblical heritage to observe the feast Jesus held with his disciples just before his death. It’s the night Jesus broke bread and shared wine with his disciples, telling them to remember it as his body and blood. We celebrate our freedom in Christ — we are no longer slaves!

Passover has been observed for millennia, and Seder meals are still very common. The Seder (liturgy) retells the story of Passover with four cups of wine and six elements on a Seder plate. Traditional Seders vary in length — some are quite long! We have put together a simplified version for download here.

Jesus’s disciples had been following the Seder ritual every year of their lives, and would have been well familiar with it. Jesus made it even more memorable for them by placing himself in the elements of the Passover, particularly the third cup – the cup of redemption – after the meal.

As followers of Jesus, we reenact this night every year with a simplified Passover Seder. Rereading the scriptures about Passover gives us a chance to pass the story on to our children, and share how God saves his people even now from the slavery of sin and death.

You don’t need anything extravagant to celebrate Passover with your family. A meal, a Seder plate with the elements and a simple retelling of the Passover story are enough. We made a complete list of Passover essentials if you’re following along with our Seder liturgy. Download it for free here.

The Seder plate includes:

Charoseth, a blend of apples, raisins, and walnuts sweetened with honey and wine
Horseradish or bitter lettuce
Parsley snd salt water
The shank bone of a lamb
A roasted egg

Each of these elements is symbolic of a part of the Passover story, and is explained in the Haggadah, or liturgy (literally, the telling).

You can purchase matzos online; here are the ones I bought this year (click the image to go to Amazon — we are Amazon Associates so we may benefit from your purchase):

And check out our Pinterest for recipes, activities, and decorating ideas!

While Passover is traditionally an eight-day festival, we only observe one night during Holy Week leading up to Easter. It’s tradition for Jews to avoid chametz (leavening, which represents sin) for the duration of the holiday. We try to nod to the significance of this tradition by preparing our Seder dinner free of chametz. I found this blog really helpful if you’re interested in learning more about Passover food rules!

We hope you will celebrate with us this year and learn more about Jesus in the process! Let us know in the comments or on Instagram if you’ll be celebrating Passover this year!

Powerful grace

“And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins in which you used to live when you were following the way of this world, obeying the ruler who governs the air, the spirit who is at work in the rebellious. We all were among them too in the past, living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires and our own ideas; so that by nature we were as much under God’s anger as the rest of the world. But God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.” Ephesians 2:1-10 (taken from The Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966)

We have begun our fourth week of Lenten reading and discipline. I hope you are finding strength in the challenges and renewal in your walk with Christ!

The passage I have chosen today makes me so thankful for grace. I haven’t always understood the concept of grace but over time, God has shown me just a tiny bit about the grace He has extended to me. Remember, mercy withholds from a person what is deserved (like the judgement we deserve); grace gives what is not deserved (like salvation).

Romans 6 has something to say about grace that might make it more clear:

“Does it follow that we should remain in sin so as to let grace have greater scope? Of course not. We are dead to sin, so how can we continue to live in it? You have been taught that when we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life…you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

That is why you must not let sin reign in your mortal bodies or command your obedience to bodily passions, why you must not let any part of your body turn into an unholy weapon fighting on the side of sin; you should, instead, offer yourselves to God, and consider yourselves dead men brought back to life; you should make every part of your body into a weapon fighting on the side of God; and then sin will no longer dominate your life, since you are living by grace and not by law.” (Romans 6:1-14)

What an interesting thought that we must not let any part of our body turn into an unholy weapon fighting on the side of sin. Not the things we put our hands to, not the things we let our eyes look at, not the things we say with our mouth. We should instead offer ourselves to God and make every part of our body into a weapon fighting on his side. The things we put our hands to (our work, our leisure), the things we listen to, the things we look at, the things we say should all be made into a weapon fighting on the side of God. How exciting to know what we can accomplish with God’s help!

It is so encouraging that we have been given the grace we need to become more like Christ. We need only offer ourselves to God and accept (and pray for) grace for every situation!

These thoughts come from the scriptures in our Lenten discipline, Be Made New. You can still join in! Click the download button to download the PDF and read this post to find out how to participate.

The story of Passover

Those of us who believe Jesus is the Messiah find Passover an exciting holiday to celebrate, joining in with our Biblical heritage to observe the feast Jesus held with his disciples just before his death. It’s the night he broke bread and shared wine with them, telling them to remember it as his body and blood. This year the festival falls from March 27 to sundown April 4. As messianic believers, we have a Seder meal during Holy Week, which adds rich meaning and context to our Resurrection Day celebration.

Passover has been observed by the Jews since the eve of their release from Egypt almost 3,500 years ago. This special festival commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egyptian bondage and the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. In an amazing story, God uses Moses to convince the powerful Pharaoh to release the people of Israel, an entire nation enslaved to Egypt.

As Pharaoh’s heart remained hard against Moses’s appeals, God gave nine signs (plagues) to the Egyptians to demonstrate his power. God gave Pharaoh nine chances to turn away from his pride and change his mind. Through blood, frogs, lice, boils, livestock disease, flies, hail, locusts and darkness, Pharaoh was still unrelenting. God gave a tenth and final plague.

On that night, the people of Israel were commanded to take a lamb without defect, slaughter it, and smear its blood over the door and on the doorposts of their homes. They were to eat it roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. God told them to eat it hurriedly, with shoes on their feet and their staff in their hand, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. As the final plague of death swept the land that night, Pharaoh released God’s people to go free.

It’s a prodigious picture of our own release as believers from the bondage of sin and death. When the disciples gathered with Jesus for the Passover, he told them, “I have really wanted so much to celebrate this Seder with you before I die! For I tell you, it is certain that I will not celebrate it again until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16 CJB) Jesus fulfilled the meaning of God’s ordinances for observing the Passover, setting us free from our bondage to sin and bringing us out into eternal life. He is our Passover lamb, and it’s his blood that “marks” us to be passed over by death.

The traditional Passover liturgy holds many allusions to the messiah, who we know to be Christ. We’ve put together a simple Messianic family Seder available for download here if you’d like to celebrate with us — I’ll share how we prepare for Passover in a post next week!