Friday, March 25, 2011

Rethinking Modesty: Another Great Link

I have been studying and meditating quite a lot lately on our recent subject of modesty. I even completed my inductive Bible study on our passage, which is eye-opening and heart-changing, but I don't have time this morning to post it. Really quickly, I want to share with you a post (from a blogger I don't know) that I just happened to run across from a Facebook link this morning. Well-written and with all the feisty indignation that I appreciate, from a mom whose is set to fight the forces that want children to be tiny adults. The blog post is not specifically about modesty, but then again, IT IS. So much of our spiritual battle within this world is about modesty...or at least it begins with modesty. Versus a lack thereof.

Get fired up. This is important.

Back with the actual inductive Bible study later...I hope you'll join in!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rethinking Modesty

I want to point you guys to a blog with great spiritual thoughts in general...and the last few days, great thoughts on modesty, specifically. It's such a touchy subject and I think Jennifer Gerhardt is handling it very admirably. She's allowing me to pass it on and I hope you will do the same. Meditate on it, pray about it, and pass it on. Because modesty is not a superficial's a heart problem, if we're honest with ourselves...

Check out her first post about this subject...and be sure to read the subsequent postings with really fantastic quotes afterwards. (In case you didn't catch that, many of the words in the last sentence are links.)

Things have been quite busy around here lately, what with the tea party planning starting up again...I have gotten behind in assigning new verses for the next inductive Bible study and I haven't done the second post in the hospitality series. Or the giveaway. Not that I don't have plans running out of my ears for all of this! So many that it's difficult to focus sometimes...seriously. I've made a Google calendar, which I'm totally enjoying, but I keep having to rearrange things from one day to the next because I haven't been able to get everything done and still hold a cute Maltipoo on my lap. (We puppysat the last two weekends and loved having Lily around!)

Anyway...I'll stop making excuses now and go ahead and tell you about the next passage for our Bible study. I want it to go along with the modesty posts above.

Do not let your adorning be external, 
the braiding of hair 
and the putting on of gold jewelry,
or the clothing you wear,
But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart
with the imperishable beauty of a gentle
and quiet spirit,
which in God's sight is very precious.

I Peter 3:3-4 (English Standard Version)

I hope you'll join us in the study of this verse by completing an inductive Bible study (instructions in this post)...both in examining the actual verse and also in exploring what it means for us today. And here's something to ponder...what about men? This verse was geared toward women, but feel free to do some extra studying/thinking about modesty in men, too.

As with last time, I'd love for you to blog about this inductive Bible study and link back to this post. Go ahead and bring in any other verses to help also. Do multiple posts if you need to. We'll meet up again in about a week to pool our links together, so that we can all benefit from each other's study.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Art of Hospitality

When my friend Becky sent out a plea for thoughts, ideas, and appropriate recipes to use in an upcoming lesson on hospitality at our congregation, I immediately told her, "Yes, I'll do a blog post!" I didn't even have to think about it because I have run across so many instances of generous hospitality in my lifetime that I knew I'd have many experiences to draw from. Now that I sit down to actually write this blog post, though, I am realizing how difficult it's going to be to narrow down and focus on the topic instead of excitedly shouting out a vast number of memories and ideas, such as in an enormous brainstorming session. Frankly, this one post could be immense. Oh, dear. What a good problem to have, right? Amen.

But I'm not going to do that to you, though sometimes I *am* longwinded. (ahem) So this may turn into a continuing series of posts, which is exciting! Let's get started.

To me, the idea of hospitality encompasses an enormous amount of both sweepingly large and seemingly small gestures. The spectrum can range from offering a cold drink to someone working on your A/C unit in the sweltering summer heat to offering your guest room to out-of-town visitors. One obviously takes a little more work, organization, and planning, but offering a ten-minute respite of ice water to a virtual stranger exercises just as much hospitality. Remember Matthew 25? The small things ARE the big things. 

On the Judgment Day, Jesus will say, "Come, you who are blessed 
by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you 
from the foundation of the world. 
For I was hungry and you gave me food, 
I was thirsty and you gave me drink, 
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 
I was naked and you clothed me, 
I was sick and you visited me. 
I was in prison and you came to me."

And when the righteous ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry
or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?"
Jesus will answer, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of
the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

(Matthew 25: 31-40 - partly ESV and partly paraphrased by me)

Conversely, those who Jesus refers to as the "goats," did NOT do any of these good deeds: giving food or drinks or clothes or welcomes or visits. And as verse 46 says, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." So why do we do any of it? Only to avoid Hell's fire? It's a compelling reason...but is that good enough?

Obviously God thinks that being kind and hospitable is an important lesson for us. Why? To simply be a nice person? To show off what a great hostess we are? I hope not. I pray that we're showing love, in a tangible way, to someone who needs it. To share God's love and God's comfort and God's peace.

The idea of hospitality implies that we have something to give from the comfort of our own comfort zone. To make it their comfort zone, too. To explain further, being nice to a sales clerk is something I place importance on, but it's not exactly hospitality. However, if said clerk makes me feel welcomed at their shop, though, that's hospitality because I'm on their turf.

What's your turf? It's not just your home, although that's an obviously wonderful place to extend hospitality. I recommend that you grab a notebook (or a piece of paper) and scribble down all of your comfort zones. Places where you're either the person in charge or somewhere that you have access to items (both material and intangible) available for others' comfort. Places where you can make newcomers (or even frequent guests) feel at home. Remember that you can even be hospitable online!

Below each item, jot down something you have done to be hospitable in that area in the past. Leave a few more spaces between each item to add to your list afterwards.

For instance, my list would be:

1. My house - entertaining small (hot tea, scones, and a Jane Austen movie) or large (overnight guests)

2. My Sunday morning young professionals Bible class - encouraging visitors to attend

3. My Wednesday night kindergarten Bible class (during the parts of the year that I'm teaching) - calling each student by name and making sure they know I'm glad they came

4. Any interaction with newcomers at church services - answering questions about location of classes

5. Any FHU Associates' function - especially the tea party! Thanking other Associates for volunteering and thanking other individuals for their attendance

6. Any conversation or correspondence with customers/clients of Hester Publications - keeping customers up-to-date with their orders, especially if there happens to be a delay

7. My blogs - interaction to express appreciation for visitors (and comments!)

8. My Facebook page - thank friends for nice comments or send them a link to something in particular they might enjoy

9. My geographical area - help visitors out with directions or information (restaurant suggestions maybe)

10. My family - get to know "new" members of the family by spending time with them and having one-on-one conversations

And I'm sure there's more! Now look over your list and add some ways you could be even more hospitable. It doesn't have to be expensive or complicated or over-the-top. The point is to recognize something that might be pinpoint it so that it will rise to your consciousness easily the next time a situation presents itself.

One thing we should always remember though is that true hospitality hinges on being gracious and pleasant. Don't send mixed messages by being gruff and short along with your "helpful" answer to a question. Take a moment longer and be pleasant. Night and day difference, folks. Night and day.

And God didn't put us on this earth to say, "That's not my job." I have been guilty of that, yes - and don't even kid have, too. It's easy to complain and huff and roll your eyes (even figuratively) when someone asks waaay too much of you. But the second you start doing that, your attitude shifts and all hospitality goes out the window! I've seen it happen. You've seen it happen. It's not pretty. This is where diplomacy comes in, though. Don't just shut the person down. If you truly don't have time or the resources, offer what you can do and then make a pleasant suggestion to take care of the rest. Please don't be a person that people have to "walk on eggshells" around. What a sad description for a Christian! It will earn you the word "scary" in others' explanations of you. =)

To end on a positive note, though, I want to tell you that hospitality is one of the most rewarding aspects of Christianity. And it's a continual process. If it doesn't come easily to you, it could be that those traits weren't modeled for you during your growing up years. But it's not too late! Start paying attention. Mimic hospitable individuals. Glean ideas from others. Do what you're comfortable with and go from there. It's not all-or-nothing. Sometimes it's the little things that mean the most.

Like a glass of ice water on a hot day.

P.S. Remember what I said at the beginning about being long-winded? Yeah, forget I said that. ;)

P.P.S. I'll soon post a new recipe on the other blog. Because Becky wanted recipes and who am I to deny her??

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For where your treasure is...

Last night Jeremy and I were in the kitchen making coffee (decaf or neither of us would have gotten to sleep). I was happily pulling the Coffeemate Italian Sweet Creme creamer out of the fridge door and extracting some spoons from the drawer when I looked up and noticed that Jeremy, unwittingly, was pouring water partly into the coffeemaker...and then a smaller stream partly onto the counter.

"Oh no oh no oh no!" I think I said - and reached over to grab things out of the way. In the process, I knocked the sweet little lid off of our sugar bowl, which crashed to the ground and broke into 17 pieces. I was immediately frustrated and started talking to another, less important, item on the counter. "Why couldn't you have broken instead?" (I've got problems.)

We stood, staring at the ground. I remember Jeremy offering to glue it back together. Though he is excellent at repairing things, I knew it was a lost cause.

"No, it's in too many pieces," I said, sadly. "We'll have to buy another one. It matches our china."

While we commenced to the clean-up session, I tried to cheer myself up as I always do. "They're just things. It's O.K. It doesn't really matter."

And Jeremy spoke up just then. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..."

"Where sugar bowls don't fall and break," I finished.

"That is definitely not what the verse says," he teased me.

But the sentiment is the same. Isn't that some kind of a relief?? There will be nothing that you will have to replace because it smashes into a million pieces. There will be no dying A/C units, no accidentally defrosted refrigerators, no hardwood gashes or computer crashes in our heavenly mansions.

All will be perfect and our hearts will be happy, because while on earth, we laid up for ourselves treasures in heaven...where moths and rust won't destroy and where thieves won't break in and steal. We've got to pay close attention to where we keep our treasures, because Jesus said that's where our heart will be found. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Where's your heart today? It's not difficult to track it down. How do you spend your time? How proud are you of the things you own? What do you mostly think about?

I'm stepping on my own toes here, so you're not alone. These are some ideas to remember...and keep remembering...I find that I have to remind myself all the stinkin' time!

P.S. Sorry I've been MIA on this blog lately. Life got super busy there last week! But I'm planning to make it up to you with a special giveaway soon. Yes, it's a "thing" and things do break, but this thing will help remind you of other things. Heavenly things. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Part IV - The Good Fight: Our Own Challenge

At least six of us participated online in our first inductive Bible study this past week! Woo hoo! It was really fantastic to read how the other ladies put the passage into their own words - and then add some extra insights, too. This process really did help me "see" the verse and meditate on it instead of just "calling words." I hope it did the same for you, whether you joined in online or at home.

I've been brainstorming about the next step. Well, actually, I've been brainstorming about waiting two weeks in between each new inductive Bible study (one week more at this point). So...a new inductive Bible study two times a month. I'll tell you why...I want to add an activity to go along with the passage. My mother taught me to use an application story at the end of teaching a Bible lesson to children - and when I do that, it definitely seems to tie it all together for them. So I want to do something similar.

I thought we could use another week to really explore what a certain passage means to our lives. Because we don't want to just look into the mirror and then turn and immediately forget what we look like. (James 1:22-25) We want to be doers, not just hearers.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this:

Take your notebook (or computer) and Bible and go, by yourself, to a coffee shop or cafe' or bookstore. Somewhere you can sit and people-watch quietly. For thirty minutes. Read our passage again. Read your paraphrase again. And then observe the people around you. Of course, we cannot see people's hearts and true intentions and the state of their eternal souls by doing this exercise...BUT, we can start training ourselves to see people the way God sees them. Is there someone who was rude to the person working behind the counter? Or rude to you? Is there someone whose behavior makes you want to roll your eyes or shake your head? God loves them. Just remember that. God loves you, but He Loves Them, Too. Even when they run into you and don't even say, "Sorry." Be God's voice and God's hands and God's patience. Don't be sullen if the line is long and they get your order wrong. Recognize that as being entirely unimportant in the whole scheme of things.

The whole point is realizing that each person there is someone who God would like to see in Heaven. You could have a hand in that. I'm not expecting you to say, "Hey, how is your spiritual life?" to each person in that coffee shop, but while you're sitting there, be thinking of ways you can reach out to "preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." How can you make that happen in your life?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Part III: Thoughts on The Good Fight

I really enjoyed paraphrasing this passage from II Timothy 4:1-8. It was interesting to envision Paul writing a letter to his friend and helper Timothy on the subject of staying true to God while the world around him changes. Wouldn't all of this wisdom be great advice for us today also? Because that's our challenge, too.

Alright, here's the scripture if you're just joining us. Below it you'll find my paraphrase of this passage and then my thoughts at the end. Inductive Bible study style. =)

"I charge you in the presence of God 
and of Christ Jesus, 
who is to judge the living and the dead, 
and by his appearing and his kingdom: 
preach the word; 
be ready in season and out of season; 
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, 
with complete patience and teaching. 
For the time is coming when people 
will not endure sound teaching, 
but having itching ears they will accumulate 
for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 
and will turn away from listening 
to the truth and wander off into myths. 
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, 
do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out 
as a drink offering, 
and the time of my departure has come. 
I have fought the good fight, 
I have finished the race, 
I have kept the faith. 
Henceforth there is laid up for me 
the crown of righteousness, 
which the Lord, the righteous judge, 
will award to me on that Day, 
and not only to me but also 
to all who have loved his appearing."

II Timothy 4:1-8

My paraphrase:

With the God of Heaven and His son, the Christ Jesus (the world's judge) looking on, I issue you a challenge: Be active in preaching the good news. Always be prepared, whether you are literally on the "mission field" or not. You will have to correct some, but do it gently and with much patience. There will come a time when many people will leave the sound teaching straight from the Bible. They will want to hear something novel...something new and different. They will find teachers to teach them these things, to fulfill their own wants, which will cause them to stray from God's wants. But you - you should always guard against these untruths, even if it involves pain and suffering. Keep being what you know you should be - an evangelist.

My time on earth may be ending, but I feel triumphant that I am able to state with assurance: "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."

Because of the truth of that statement, I have a crown set aside for me when I enter heaven. It's a crown of righteousness that the Lord, the only righteous judge, will give me as a reward for being faithful to Him. But I am not the only one who will receive it...all of us who love him faithfully will receive one.

My thoughts:

*Paul calls for a great deal of ACTION. Preach, Be Ready, Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort, Teach. Do the work of an evangelist. Fulfill your ministry. There's no sitting back and all that, "I'm O.K., you're O.K." jazz.

*He tells Timothy to be prepared "in season and out of season." I liken this unto being ready to answer questions/tell the good news whether one is literally teaching a Bible class...or just simply talking to a friend.

*It is entirely possible to turn away from the truth and follow our own desires. See how those don't correlate? Our fleshly desires often lead us in the opposite way of the truth.

*Some will need correction as they are no longer seeking God's truth...even if they think they are.

*Paul's statement regarding the good fight, the race, and the faith is a very powerful analogy. It's the very best feeling that any of us could express at the end of our lives. He was able to say this with assurance because he, himself, had completed the challenge he was now giving Timothy.

*We will receive a crown of righteousness if we remain faithful to Him! Not one of those fake tiaras for playing dress up. This will be the real deal. And won't it be amazing to meet Paul in Heaven??

Your turn - if you haven't participated yet, but would like to, post your own paraphrase/thoughts on your blog and link back to this one. Let me know so I can add you to the link post. =) Hope you all got as much out of this study as I have. We'll start a new one soon!

I'm off to read the other blog posts now! I didn't read them in depth before finishing my own study and I'm excited to read them today. =)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Part II - The Good Fight: Links!

(Edited to add a fifth link)

If you've been here lately, you know that we're in the process of beginning our first group inductive Bible study here on PrettySweet: HeavenMinded. We're pretty excited about it! Our passage is II Timothy 4:1-8. If you haven't been here, well, you will be wondering WHATINTHEWORLD is an inductive Bible study? Find out here.

We've got five participants (that I know of) with their posts already up! I'm going to go ahead and give you the links to those posts now and I'll keep adding any others who would like to be added. Just send me a message or let me know. And remember - if you're not a blogger but you are on Facebook, you are welcome to join in the discussion by writing a "note." Not all of us may be able to read it, but your Facebook friends can, so go right ahead. And if you just want to write some thoughts in the comment section here, well, that's more than fine, too. =)

1. The Fastest of the Fast: Jennifer from Hart to Heart: I Have Fought the Good Fight

2. The Second Fastest But Still-Very-Fast: Becky from Slipping Through My Fingers: A Charge

3. Here's another!! Yea!! Brittany from Wonderwheat:  My First Inductive Bible Study

4. One more! Woo hoo! Kathy from Moments to Memories: The Good Fight

5. And all the way from Malaysia! Kimberly from Go Into All the World: Inductive Bible Study #1

6. And here's mine...

P.S. I am LOVING reading these other studies. It always amazes me to get insights from other people. Even if they say it just a little bit differently from what I paraphrased, I am able to understand the verses a bit more. Sometimes, though, we can all say things pretty differently, allowing for even great insights. Great work, ladies! Great work. =)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Part 1 - The Good Fight

Welcome to our first Heaven-Minded inductive Bible study! If you're new (or need to review the instructions) take a few minutes to read this first. Great! We're good to go.

I've chosen II Timothy 4:1-8 for us to study this time. It will be very familiar to you already, most likely. The other day I heard a quote, though, to the effect of, "If you see a familiar verse, it means you need to read it more carefully." I know I do that quite a lot...see a verse somewhere, recognize it immediately and skip on to something I feel that I don't know as well. But let's try this. Let's try to extract something(s) out of this passage that we didn't notice before. I know that we will.

You are welcome to use the quote from my English Standard Version, but also feel free to use your own version. Obviously, we should get the most insights from all of us using different versions. =)

"I charge you in the presence of God 
and of Christ Jesus, 
who is to judge the living and the dead, 
and by his appearing and his kingdom: 
preach the word; 
be ready in season and out of season; 
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, 
with complete patience and teaching. 
For the time is coming when people 
will not endure sound teaching, 
but having itching ears they will accumulate 
for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 
and will turn away from listening 
to the truth and wander off into myths. 
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, 
do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out 
as a drink offering, 
and the time of my departure has come. 
I have fought the good fight, 
I have finished the race, 
I have kept the faith. 
Henceforth there is laid up for me 
the crown of righteousness, 
which the Lord, the righteous judge, 
will award to me on that Day, 
and not only to me but also 
to all who have loved his appearing."

II Timothy 4:1-8

Let me know if you're planning to blog about this particular Bible study this week. We'll get everybody linked up somehow! You can link back to this post. And I'll send out a links update, on, say, Friday or so, with everyone's posts. If you don't have a blog but want to participate, remember that you can write a "note" on Facebook. Totally acceptable. =)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Devotional Thoughts: Let Your Light Shine

First of all, I'm so glad that you guys are excited to participate in our new challenges! I'll be scouting out the perfect passage to start with at the beginning of this next week. Stay tuned. In the meantime, let's change gears for a moment...

Sometimes I will want to pass along links to other devotionals, information, or good websites. Today is one of those days. Below is a link to an article I got this morning from The Christian Courier in Stockton, CA. I would encourage you to sign up for their email newsletters. We sign up for coupons, for home decor or crafting tips, for birthday party ideas, for financial advice, for recipes...all delivered to our inbox. Have some non-worldliness delivered to your inbox, too. =)

Read the whole thing - it got really good in the second half.

P.S. The picture above shows my Grandaddy's old globe - and the "votive holder" is really a teacup from a set that my friend Kevin brought back from China. Both of these items are from people who really do let their lights me, their combination makes a beyond perfect illustration for this lesson. =)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inductive Bible Study

If you read the post below entitled "Write it Out," then you have gotten the first step down already in doing an inductive Bible study. As I said before, our friend Kevin taught us how to do this a few years back - we've done it in a few Bible classes since...I've done it on my own...and Jeremy and I have done a few studies together, too. It's super great for any situation, I think.

Here's what you do. Wait, first of all, I would recommend purchasing a notebook to keep all of these studies in one place. Dedicated for Bible study. And don't get a tiny one either - you need a lot of room to write...enough to make at least two columns, side by side. I would also recommend a spiral-bound notebook because things are just easier that way. =) Now, if you're sitting there without the luxury of a notebook beside you, don't despair, though. Try it on a plain piece of paper and then staple your study into your notebook later. Don't let perfection stop you from starting.

This is how Kevin first taught us. Everything was on one page. I tend to write kinda big, though, and I don't do terribly well on unlined paper, so the notebook idea was perfect for me.

Alright, now find a section of verses you want to study. It can be five verses or it can be a whole chapter. Let me warn you, though - if you pick a whole chapter and it's pretty long, well, you'll be writing for awhile. Might feel like you're back in school. So I suggest starting out with a smaller bite and going from there.

Open your notebook and begin by drawing a (somewhat) straight line down the center of the page. On the left side you are going to copy, word for word, your actual Bible text. Think about what you're writing. Don't write fast and sloppy, like you can't wait to get it finished. You want to be able to focus on what you're doing. And you want to be able to read it again.

On the right side of the page, you are going to write, in your own words, what the Bible text says. Sometimes it's a little difficult to paraphrase something, but just do your best. It gets easier. Also, if you get stuck on something, (as in, you're not sure if you understand the text - and therefore, have a problem with the paraphrasing part) I find it good to make a little question mark or a star beside your paraphrase. It's something you can go back and look up later.

After you finish the whole section of text-copying and subsequent paraphrasing, go back and make notes on what YOU can take out of this passage. Maybe you realize something that you need to change about yourself. Something that you need to add to your thought processes when making a decision. Maybe you need to rearrange your brain cells, as my Grandaddy would say. Here's also where you can make notes or jot questions about a particular passage/paraphrase. Or just some thoughts in general. It doesn't have to be extremely structured...just focus on the general themes from the verse and go from there.

If you're doing this Bible study in a group setting, it's great to hear others' rewording of the text. Obviously, no one will have the exact same paraphrase; it's entirely possible that someone else's thoughts may clear up a question you had in your mind.

And that's it! It's incredibly simple but super effective. Try it and see.

Every once in awhile, I plan to throw a challenge at you. Maybe at the beginning of a week I may send out a passage for you to complete an inductive Bible study on. And we can convene at the end of the week to look at the results. Interested?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Write it Out

A few years ago, our friend Kevin taught us to do something called an inductive Bible study. It's an excellent way to go about studying the Bible. I'll have to tell you more about it sometime. One of the reasons I believe it's so successful, though, is because you write out the scripture you're studying. I find when I write something out, it helps me to think about it more deeply. I keep myself from just "calling out words." And when I can go back and look in my Bible study notebook and see God's words written in my handwriting, it's powerful.

Try it with these verses:

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place, 
What is man that you are mindful of him?
And the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower 
than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, 
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalms 8:3-9 (English Standard Version)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Friends and Figs

First of all, thanks to you, dear readers, for following me over to the new blog. I have read - and have been thrilled by - your comments. I look forward to studying the Bible together. I hope we can train (or retrain) ourselves to think about heavenly things in every object we see, in every person or situation we encounter. Today, let's consider an object: the fig. But I've got to get you up to speed in a roundabout way...let's see...

Most usually, one's friends are all around the same age. It's easy that go to Bible class together - or you are young marrieds or young singles together - or you have kids who go to school together. Many friendships fall into that easy pattern. It makes sense. And for the healthy friendships, they are, indeed, continual blessings. I have been also blessed, though, to become friends with a group of ladies who are both older and younger than me. Did I say that right? You can't be "both older and younger than me." It's a paradox...I hope you can figure it out. ;)

These ladies come together for a common interest. Actually, two common interests: tea parties and Christian education. Here's how it fits together. And it's almost time for our committee to start meeting again! I'm getting excited.

But this post is not about a tea party - it's about a fig tree. Albeit a fig tree belonging to one of the ladies on the tea party committee. See how it all comes full circle?

Ms. Laurel has been on the tea party committee for many years and I have so enjoyed getting to know her a bit better in that setting. She's a former FHU president's wife who still stays very active in university life, along with being active in our congregation and in the community. Right now, she and her husband are on a mission trip to India. You might want to check out her blog about this very topic. It continues to be a very interesting read...yes, many things about Indian culture seem primitive but they have Wi-Fi, so she's able to post while on the trip! Crazy.

Last year after the BIG tea party, our committee decided to visit a tea room ourselves and do a little relaxing and celebrating. Charlene's Colony of Shoppes (with the Just Divine Tea Room) was a ways away, so we embarked on a field trip. You can see the evidence here. There were six of us who went - Debbie, Margaret, Sasha, Laurel, Rhonda, and me - and we had a fantastic time talking on the way there and on the way back and all the time in between. I do so love being around these ladies!

Well, sometime during all this conversation, the topic turned to figs. I cannot explain how this happened. But several of the ladies raved about fresh figs and I mentioned that I had never tasted one. Since I am a regular food blog reader, I already had a suspicion that I had long been missing something! I had never seen them sold in a grocery store around these parts, so I assumed that they just weren't grown around here. Maybe they're too delicate to ship or something? Anyway, I found out that Ms. Laurel and her husband have a fig tree in their yard, so this was a very exciting discovery. Especially when she told me that she would make sure I had some figs when their tree produced later. Yes, please!

She was true to her word, hand-delivering a bowl of fresh figs to our house sometime later. I was charmed by her thoughtfulness and giddy when she suggested that I could come pick more myself. Giddy because those fresh figs are marvelous! Oh! I was astounded at the flavor and loved the texture, too. Jeremy enjoyed them also, yet noted that they "tasted nothing like Fig Newtons." ;)

Besides the delicious flavor, we were also very intrigued that we were eating something that dated back to Biblical times. Really, to the very beginning of the world. Soak that in. There was at least one fig tree that God planted in the Garden of Eden. The GARDEN of EDEN. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make clothes when they became aware of their nakedness. (Genesis 3:7) And now I know exactly what fig leaves look like - they're pretty huge - larger than many other leaves, so it makes perfect sense that they would have been chosen for coverings. (So sorry I don't have any pictures, and I wouldn't really recommend a "fig leaf" search on Google because there are some pictures with people showing, um, lots of skin. Be very warned.) There are numerous other mentions of figs or fig trees in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Speaking of the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples obviously ate from fig trees while on their journeys. This passage in particular is very interesting to me.

"On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.' And his disciples heard it." (Mark 11:12-14, English Standard Version)

Jeremy and I talked about this seeming harsh - the apostle Mark had even noted that "it was not the season for figs." But it's more likely that we don't know the whole story. Let's keep going. Immediately after this is the section in my Bible called "Jesus Cleanses the Temple."

"And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, 'Is it not written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations"? But you have made it a den of robbers.' And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.' (Mark 11:15-21)

Is it just a coincidence that the verses about Jesus cleansing the temple are sandwiched between the verses about the withered fig tree? A side note: too many times we stop reading a passage and think, "I don't get this. This doesn't make sense." And we close the Bible and walk away, wondering. I'm tired of doing that. I am going to start trying to make sense of seemingly confusing scriptures. We didn't even have to look much further for a possible explanation for the harsh withering of the fig tree.

Don't you think that the Son of God could have known, even before walking up to the tree, that there wouldn't be any figs? Could it be that the fig tree event was foreshadowing for his "withering" of those disgracing the temple? It seems he was making a statement about much more than just figs. If we "misuse the temple," he won't stand for that.

Jesus was a master teacher and prescribed to the theory of "teachable moments" long before that phrase was coined. So there's more teaching he does after they pass by the tree a second time.

"And Jesus answered them, 'Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and thrown into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:22-25, ESV)

A tutorial on prayer. Ask with belief and without doubting. Forgive those who need forgiving, so that you also can be forgiven.

So simple.

So difficult.

All from considering a fig tree.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why the New Blog?

I've been considering adding a second blog for awhile now...I've thought about it and prayed about it and considered it some more. The time it will take - the responsibility it will add. But I have come to realize that it's worth any extra time or responsibility that it will add. First of all, I love writing and sharing our life with you...blogging is very fulfilling to me. And yes, I blog about both important things and frivolous things and I truly enjoy every last bit of it. I pray that what I write encourages you, uplifts you, or at the very least makes you smile for half-a-second.

The thing is that I feel compelled to write more frequently about more important things. Like truly understanding God's Word - the Bible. For years I have been a Christian; I even grew up in a Christian home, thankfully. I know a lot of Bible facts and stories (though I need to learn even more) and I frequently enjoy teaching the kindergarten kids in Bible class. But much of the time I have been given thus far has not been used to my fullest potential because I hadn't totally taken God's Word into my heart. Believed it with everything inside me. Obeyed it even when I didn't want to. Spread the gospel effusively, with joyfulness. Not recognizing the peace that passes understanding. I have been a slacker. And the Devil loooved that about me. Isn't that just horrible to think about??

During the past few years God has been softening my heart, though, through a series of events and readings and conversations and sermons and prayers. I feel like I'm finally headed in the right direction. I still am journeying toward a fuller understanding of the gospel, but I'm excited about that journey of becoming - and finally, being - Heaven-Minded. It's what God demands of us and I certainly don't want to disappoint Him.

I have a feeling that there are many others out there just like me - or even sort of like me - and that you yearn to find your way to Him also. I'm glad you're here. I want you to come here often and I want you to contribute your thoughts, but more importantly...your findings directly from the Bible and how we can tuck God's word into our very hearts. Not for safe-keeping but as a call for ACTION.

Join me if you're tired of complacency.

Join me if you're weary of glossing over the truth in favor of something prettier.

Join me if you want to start pleasing God instead of only yourself.

I'll be here. Find me.