Seek the Lord and his strength

“The language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God’s power to save. As scripture says: I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned. Where are the philosophers now? Where are the scribes? Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom? If it was God’s wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message that we preach. And so, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (taken from The Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966.)

How is it going for you in your Lenten discipline? When we finish this week, we’ll be halfway through Lent. What have you learned? What have you been prompted to develop in yourself? Are you finding it more difficult this week to keep up with reading the scriptures and doing good works?

Here is some Good News to encourage you!

As Paul writes in verse 18: “The language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God’s power to save.” We believe salvation is not “one and done.” We believe when we wake up to our need for Christ, which some call the moment of salvation, it is only the beginning of our journey to salvation. We are daily being saved, walking with Christ, increasing our faith, and becoming more like Him.

However, we cannot do it alone, by our own power, our own wisdom, or faith in ourselves. He writes in verse 25: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” We need God’s strength and God’s wisdom on our journey to salvation. Psalm 105:4 says: “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore!” (NKJV) and James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NKJV)

We cannot do anything in our own strength. We cannot overcome the things about ourselves that we do not like or we know God does not like without His strength and wisdom. And we cannot add disciplines to our life without help from God. First, we must make sure God is the one who has told us to change and it is not simply condemnation from Satan, and then second, we must depend on Him to help us repent and begin to walk in freedom.

Here is the good news: He loves us and wants us to be restored to Him and He will help us get there!

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.

You shall be my people

Yahweh says this:
Your wound is incurable,
your injury past healing.
There is no one to care for your sore,
no medicine to make you well again.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they look for you no more.
Yes, I have struck you as an enemy strikes,
with harsh punishment
(so great is your guilt, so many your sins)
Why bother to complain about your wound?
Your pain is incurable.
So great is your guilt, so many your sins,
that I have done all this to you.
But all those who devoured you shall themselves be devoured,
all your oppressors go into captivity,
those who despoiled you shall be despoiled,
and all who preyed on you I will make into prey.
For they used to call you ‘The Outcast’,
‘Our booty whom no one cares about!’
But I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds – it is Yahweh who speaks.

Yahweh says this:
Now I will restore the tents of Jacob,
and take pity on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt on its ruins,
the citadel restored on its site.
From them will come thanksgiving
and shouts of joy.
I will make them increase, and not diminish them,
make them honored, and not disdained.
Their sons will be as once they were,
their community fixed firm in my presence,
and I will punish all their oppressors.
Their prince will be one of their own,
their ruler come from their own people.
I will let him come freely into my presence and he can come close to me;
who else, indeed, would risk his life
by coming close to me – it is Yahweh who speaks.

And you shall be my people and I will be your God.

(taken from The Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966)

In this beautiful passage, Jeremiah is prophesying to the nation of Israel. For a long time they have been immersed in sin, but God desires to restore them. He loved them tremendously — he loves us just as much! Just as Israel was immersed in sin, so were we before God saved us. He wants to restore us and bring us back to him.

In order to have this reconciliation with God, we must repent. The word “repent” means to turn around, turn away from sin, and change our mind in such a way that we change our heart and our behavior. We make an initial change, turning to God through Jesus Christ and, repenting of our sins, make him Lord of our life, but there is also the day-to-day wherein we pursue holiness. No one is perfect — we all make daily mistakes and poor choices. Sometimes we fall into sins we never meant to commit. We must seriously examine our motives and our hearts and repent of any sin. Lent is one of those times of examination when we take an honest look at our lives and make sure we are following God’s way and have not let secret sin into our hearts.

The second part of the passage is about restoration. God is all about restoration! Remember, the ultimate gift to ensure our restoration is Jesus and his death and resurrection, which we are looking toward as we move through Lent and on to Easter. God promises many wonderful things in this passage: homes and cities rebuilt, an increase of their numbers and blessings, thanksgiving instead of mourning and shouts of joy. He promises to make them honored and not disdained. Their sons will be lifted up into esteemed positions and he will punish their oppressors. As the body of Christ, we can claim these promises as our own, now! In Christ we are free from sin and free to live in this new inheritance.

Finally, my favorite verse: And you shall be my people and I will be your God. What a truly wonderful thing to be his, and he, mine! What a comfort in difficult times. What a joy in any time!

We are now in the second week of Lent. Maybe the newness has worn off and giving things up has become a little harder. But keep going, friends! God is pleased with our sacrifice and is happy to restore us in every way as his own.

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.

Teach the word day by day

How is this Lent going for you? Have you been challenged by the discipline? If you still want to join in, scroll to the bottom of this post for the free download! We would love to hear how it’s going for you! Drop us a line in the comments or on Instagram!

I wanted to share some thoughts from last Friday’s reading, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, because it seems so relevant to us today.

“Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths. Be careful always to choose the right course, be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5, taken from The Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966.)

In chapter three, Paul tells Timothy what the last days are going to look like: People will be selfish and greedy, think they are the only ones who know the answers, they will be disrespectful to their elders, and will not care about religion or being thankful to God. They will make up stories and will turn away from truth and everything that is good. Doesn’t this sound like the world today? Doesn’t this sound like what we see on social media? He also instructs Timothy to watch out for false teachers who will worm their way into families and prey on emotions. And he tells him to be strong under persecution and to read and learn the scripture so that he will be equipped and ready for any opportunity that comes along to spread the Word.

Then we come to the beginning of Chapter 4. Again, Paul warns Timothy that his duty is to proclaim a message of Truth and stick only to the Truth. He says to do away with lies, correct misinformation about the gospel and call people to obey the Word of God.

How does this apply to you and me today, especially if we are not preachers or Bible teachers, as Timothy was? Hopefully, each of us is doing the thing God has called us to do. For Anna and me, He has called us to take care of our families, to be keepers of our homes. Maybe He has called you to a certain job outside the home or maybe you do not have a family to take care of. Wherever He has us, He wants us to read the Word and learn it. That’s the only way we can fulfill the rest of the exhortation to proclaim the message of Truth, correct misinformation about the gospel and call people to obey the Word of God.

First, we must know it ourselves. The only way to know it is to get in the Bible and read it! He also says to tell people about it with patience: line upon line, precept upon precept. This is not “stand on the street corner and loudly preach the Word”. This is living and speaking about the precepts of the Bible as we live our daily lives, with the people we meet or the people in our home or our friends and neighbors. This is quietly and persistently putting in a word when we hear myths and fables and teaching that has been crafted for “itchy ears” – modern advice or Biblical truths twisted to appeal to our greed and selfishness. All this takes time. But God graciously gives us time and opportunities if we ask Him: time to have coffee with a friend, time to address an issue with our child, time to talk to someone we love who is going through challenging circumstances.

He sums it up in this passage with 3 important things to do in these perilous and confusing times:

1. Choose the right course yourself. Make sure you stay in the Word so you know the difference between truth and falsehood.

2. Be brave. In the face of opposition and persecution, remember that God is taking care of us.

3. Live the Gospel and keep on teaching it as an ongoing service to Him. Don’t become discouraged if you only see bad things happening — keep reading the Word and talking about it to the people who cross your path.

This Lenten discipline is a good opportunity to read the Word if that is not something you normally do. Be encouraged that this is something God wants you to do and He will give you opportunity to spread His Word as you are obedient to Him.

Celebrating Purim

Purim, this year on February 26, is such a fun holiday to celebrate with your family. I think one of the reasons we love to reread the story of Esther is that it is such a great revenge story. There’s nothing better than the bad guy getting what’s coming to him! Kids especially seem to enjoy the sense of fairness and really get into the spirit of booing evil Haman whenever his name is mentioned in the story.

The feast of Purim is observed in the spring to remember the heroic story of Queen Esther, who risked her life to save the Jewish nation. A young woman enslaved in the King’s harem, Esther earned his favor by her purity and beauty and was made his queen, which positioned her at just the right time to save her people from the evil plans of Haman, who wished to exterminate the whole race.

As you read the story again this year, note the parallels with the story of our redemption by Jesus (pure and humble) against the wiles of the enemy (Hasatan). It’s also a great reminder for us to be emboldened in our faith and stand firm as we were created “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

Here are some ways you can celebrate with us:

• Find or make crowns — the fancier the better! — so that all the little girls can be Esther, the beautiful heroine. I bought these and they are beautiful (not affiliated).
• Find or make “groggers” (noisemakers). Check out our Pinterest for ideas! I have these (affiliated):

Make hamantaschen!
• Wear costumes
• Read the story of Esther aloud, making lots of noise when Haman’s name is mentioned!

Let us know in the comments how you celebrate! Happy Purim!

Hamantaschen for Purim

Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from genocide, chronicled in the book of Esther. Esther is my favorite person in the Old Testament and Purim is one of my favorite holidays! The book of Esther is so inspiring. I’ve read books about Esther, done Bible studies that included Esther, watched every movie about Esther, and read the book of Esther many times.

When all my children were home, we celebrated Purim for several years, with much laughter and happiness. We usually came up with costumes and props from around the house and acted out the story, happily and loudly booing whenever Haman’s name was mentioned. We made groggers to add to the merriment. We colored paper dolls and one time made an elaborate puppet stage to act out the story. And we always, always made piles of hamantaschen cookies.

Hamantaschen can be a little tricky, but it’s fun to make. Here are a few tricks before you begin:

• The dough needs to be the right thickness when you roll it out. If it is too thick, it will crack instead of fold. If it is too thin, it will get holes and let the filling run out. About 1/8 inch thick is the right thickness. You can experiment with this dough until it feels right.

• Some people pull up three sides and pinch them together. This can be fraught with problems. If you don’t pinch it enough, the cookie will come apart and flatten out in the oven. It’s better to fold the cookies instead. Fold one third over, then another third and then the top down and make sure the corners are sealed. If you decide to pinch the corners instead, try a little beaten egg as glue.

• There are lots of filling options! You can find recipes on Pinterest (follow us while you’re at it!). Prune or poppy seed fillings are traditional. I decided to go simple with this recipe and use apricot jam. I have discovered that low-sugar spread does not work. You need a nice thick jam or preserve because it won’t melt and run out before the cookie gets done. You can also use Nutella or chocolate chips if you wish.

• This cookie dough is forgiving, meaning you can reroll it a lot. It’s better to divide it in four pieces and work with one piece at a time, while the remaining dough stays in the refrigerator. If you need to stop in the middle, put your dough back into the fridge to stay cool.

• The butter and eggs need to be room temperature. When you measure the flour, stir it to aerate, then spoon gently into the measuring cup and use a knife to level it.

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup jam or preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl or your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing on low speed until combined. Mixture should look crumbly, but hold together when gathered into a ball. Divide in four pieces, pressing into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes – 1 hour. May be refrigerated longer, but you will need to let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes to soften.

Take one-fourth out of refrigerator and place on lightly floured counter. Roll dough to about 1/8-inch thickness, adding flour to counter as needed to prevent sticking. Cut with a 3-inch round cutter and place each piece 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or greased. If dough gets too soft, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a few minutes and then continue rolling and cutting. Place 1/2 teaspoon of jam in the center of each round and fold to create a triangle, making sure corners are sealed. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until edges are barely brown. Cool slightly on sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool completely. Cookies may be kept for several days in an airtight container. Yield: about 5 dozen cookies.

“Haman’s Pockets”

Sabbath: wine

The fourth element we share in our Sabbath practice is wine or juice. The children are always excited to drink juice since it’s a rare sweet treat, symbolizing the joy and celebration in a life of freedom in Christ. It’s perfectly fine to serve juice for the adults, too (that’s pomegranate juice in the photo above), but if you don’t object to wine and you can afford it, there is something meaningful about the bittersweet quality of wine and its historical connection to Biblical times.

Wine appears often in the scriptures, perhaps most memorably in the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. Servants filled the large, heavy jars used for collecting water for ceremonial washings, and when it was poured out the people realized it had turned into excellent wine.

We drink wine on the Sabbath to celebrate our new identity in Christ, the joy of what he has done through redeeming us, washing us, and making us his bride. It’s reminiscent of blood, the blood of Christ poured out before his death when he cried, “It is finished.” It was the fourth cup of wine in the Passover Seder when Jesus said, “This is my blood,” the cup that symbolizes redemption. The Passover includes blood in another way: the Israelites were instructed to paint the blood of the Passover lamb over the doors of their homes — marking them safe from the angel of death.

How joyful that we are all marked by his blood, saved from death, alive in Christ. What a good reason to celebrate.

The beauty of this simple Sabbath ritual is that it shows us how we come to a place of entering God’s rest: First, as we light the candles, we are illuminated to our sinful condition and our need for redemption. Next, as we wash our hands, we repent of the sins we have committed and ask God to wash our hearts clean. Third, as we break bread, we are acknowledging that God has done the work needed, through Christ’s broken body, to redeem us. We need only take and eat, with gratitude for his work. And finally, as we drink wine, we celebrate our newfound freedom in Him and are finally able to enter into His rest.

Each Friday it is so meaningful to renew our commitment to our new life in Yeshua, and as we do this as a community, we are witnessing together that we put our trust in him. Shabbat Shalom!

We bless you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who gives us the fruit of the vine.

Pancake Day!

It’s tradition to celebrate on the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent’s forty-day fast begins. The custom is to eat something sweet like king cake or pancakes, to use up the milk, butter and eggs before the fast!

This delicious German pancake bakes up quickly in the oven, perfect for a weekday breakfast. We topped ours with a dusting of icing sugar, blood orange slices and homemade blackberry jam. Since there’s no sugar in the pancake, anything you can imagine can go on top!

Here are some of our ideas:

Ricotta, toasted walnuts and honey
Blueberries and maple syrup
Raspberry jam and whipped cream
Pesto, sautéed vegetables and a fried egg

German Pancake
Serves 4 • Ready in 30 minutes

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
4 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted and divided

1. Preheat oven and iron skillet to 450°.
2. We’re going to mix the ingredients in a blender. If you don’t have one, I’m sure it would work to whisk the ingredients vigorously. The blender blades help get everything mixed together with no lumps. I put everything in a large bowl and used an immersion blender to get it whipped up. Combine flour, salt, milk, eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter in a large bowl OR a blender and mix together until it is smooth.
3. Pour the rest of the melted butter into the hot frying pan and follow with all of the batter. Return it to the oven.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the pancake is golden brown and puffy.
5. As it cools, the pancake will fall a bit and you can add toppings and serve!

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Sabbath: bread

The next element in our Sabbath ritual is the bread. Sweet, braided loaves of challah are traditional in Jewish homes, but of course any bread is suitable to serve on the Sabbath. For Passover, only unleavened bread is eaten — baked with stripes and pierced with holes, wrapped in a linen cloth.

On the Sabbath, a blessing is said over two loaves, symbolizing the double portion of manna that God gave the children of Israel in the wilderness each Shabbat. When God provided manna in the wilderness, he said, “by this I will test whether they will observe my Torah or not.” (Exodus 16:4b CJB) Would they gather only what they needed for the Sabbath day, or would they fail to trust God and hoard extra manna just in case? There are so many lessons we can learn from this alone, and on the Sabbath we eat bread to remember to trust.

So they said to him, “What should we do in order to perform the works of God?”
Yeshua answered, “Here’s what the work of God is: to trust in the one he sent!”
They said to him, “What miracle will you do for us, so that we may see it and trust you? What work can you perform? Our fathers ate [manna] in the desert — as it says in the Tanakh, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Yeshua said to them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you it wasn’t Moshe who gave you the bread from heaven. But my Father is giving you the genuine bread from heaven; for God’s bread is the one who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread from now on.” 
Yeshua answered, “I am the bread which is life! Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:28-35 CJB)

Bread represents work, since work is tied so closely to our survival. For many of us in the States, food is plentiful and we don’t have to work every day in order to afford it (of course there are exceptions — I am generalizing here), but even so, I think it can be challenging for us to take a step back from work and recognize that it is God who sustains us.

There is even a lesson to be learned about “work” in a more philosophical sense — trying to earn love by our actions, trying to force ourselves to “be” better. Much of the self-improvement advice masquerading as positive (“productivity,” “growth mindset,” and so on) is really a stand-in for a works-based paradigm that says we have to do it all.

Lately I am pondering how God does this work, too, just as he did the full work of redeeming our souls. We are all so different in personality and bent, we all think, believe and act so differently. Yet God can work with all of it (and created much of it!). Why then strive and contort to fit into an ideal? The washing of water and the Holy Spirit changes us — all at once and day by day. This is enough. In our obedience that comes through trusting, God does all the work to change and equip us. We only need to rest in him.

This Sabbath, as we thank God for the double portion of bread, let us remember that Yeshua has done all the work needed to redeem us. Let us trust him, and by so doing, in obedience, enter into his rest.

We bless you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who gives us bread from the earth.

Be Made New: A Discipline for the Forty Days of Lent

We have an exciting free download for you today! As Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday on February 17, we are pleased to share this 40-day discipline to enrich your walk with Christ.

Don’t be scared off by the word discipline — it has garnered negative connotations but it simply means training and focus. Lent is a season to sharpen our focus onto Jesus, and train our thoughts, mindsets and habits to be more like his. “Discipline” and “discipleship” have the same roots!

A couple of years ago, I was encouraged to work through this Lenten discipline with my church. I have done a lot of Bible studies, but have rarely read the Lectionary readings daily. And I have always given up something – usually something fairly easy – and taken on something extra as part of Lent for several years. But this particular plan, along with daily/weekly sacrifices, really challenged me.

The plan follows the six weeks of Lent with daily scripture readings, prayers, and challenges for you to complete on your own. Consider going through it as a couple or small group to build relationship around a central goal.

I encourage you to commit to the daily readings. Holiness is not a to-do list to accomplish or a plan with definite steps. The way to holiness is committing to the time to get to know Jesus intimately. Yes, it’s hard to find time. But for me, if I really want to do something, I find the time is there.  

It’s hard to reach out to other people daily — I know this firsthand! — but it is a blessing to the other person and it is definitely a blessing to me. Make a plan so you are prepared for busy days and opportunities that may pop up: purchase items you might want to give, have some food on hand to prepare a meal for someone at a moment’s notice, make a list of people you want to remember to call or send a note or pray for.  It doesn’t have to be big, expensive things: one year I gave out packages of gum and small wrapped candies, which I kept in my car during Lent. People just want to know you love them and are thinking about them.

Lent is a time to repent of our sins, deny ourselves, give to others, and prepare for Resurrection Day. Anna and I are praying for you, that our Lenten discipline will help you in your desire to know the Lord better and become more like Him every day.  We’ll be checking in later to find out how you’re doing and share our thoughts!

God bless you!

Sabbath: water

In last week’s post I discussed the symbolism behind lighting candles to welcome in the Sabbath at day’s close on Friday. This week I’ll share my contemplations around the meaning of washing our hands together before the meal.

Water, especially in the context of the Sabbath, represents baptism: repentance from our sins and being made new. We must be washed before we can take part in the meal, just as we must be made new before we can enter the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said, “Yes, indeed, I tell you that unless a person is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” John 3:5 CJB

In this story, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must become like a newborn baby to be a part of God’s kingdom.

I am no Hebrew scholar, but I would like to share what I have read about the Hebrew letter mem. In the Hebrew language, you can search out the deeper meaning of a word or thought by understanding the letters that build it. Hebrew is different from English in this way. The letter mem, represented by a wave pictograph in antiquity, has several related meanings but primarily that of “water.” It also has a numerical value of 40.

Just as the earth was washed in water for forty days and nights during the flood in Noah’s day, so a baby is formed in a bag of waters over a period of forty weeks. We see also the forty years the people of Israel spent in the wilderness before entering the promised land, and the forty-day wilderness fast of Jesus before beginning his ministry.

It seems that in these instances, something is being purified and made new. In the waiting, something is about to be born.

Thus says Adonai, who made you,
formed you in the womb, and will help you:
“Don’t be afraid, Ya‘akov my servant,
Yeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit on your descendants,
my blessing on your offspring.
They will spring up among the grass
like willows on the riverbanks.
One will say, ‘I belong to Adonai.’
Another will be called by the name of Ya‘akov.
Yet another will write that he belongs to Adonai.
and adopt the surname Isra’el.”
Isaiah 44:2-5 CJB

As you wash your hands before the meal this Shabbat, consider the beautiful meaning behind the ritual. Each week we renew our repentance and admit that we are in need of being washed. Each week a chance to remember how Jesus has cleansed us and we are no longer sinners, but pure and spotless like newly born babies.

I wash my hands to Messiah, the hope of glory, to serve him only.