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Portabello Spaghetti with Spaghetti Squash. Make sure you drain the squash; it can water down the sauce! The Black Bean Broth and Kumatos make for a rich, red-brown sauce.

Lately I have posted a lot more faith articles than food, so it is good to get back to sharing some of my culinary exploits!  One of the most important parts of a Daniel Fast is to do meal planning in advance.  Here is our weekly Daniel Fast menu with links to some of the recipes:

PRE-FAST (the week before): Make sprouted black beans, sprouted lentils, sprouted wheat berries, and sprouted rice.  The cooking water from the black beans is “Bean Broth” and can be used in stead of chicken stock.  Store sprouted grains/legumes and cooked beans in 2-cup portions in the freezer.  Make Summer Squash Broth to supplement bean broth (if needed) and Green Soup to eat when you don’t have much time to prepare anything.  Buy lots of fruits and vegetables; to see which produce items should be bought as organic (Dirty Dozen), and which are safe to buy conventionally (Clean Fifteen), check out the Environmental Work Group’s Executive Summary for Produce.

Breakfast: Pineapple Oatmeal.  Since we have to avoid dairy, I use pineapple juice instead of whey to soak the grains overnight.  We have the same breakfast each morning to keep things simple!

AM Snack: Nuts, Organic Raisins & Fresh Fruit.  Nuts help me to avoid headaches from having too little protein, and raisins help curb sugar-cravings (grapes are notorious for having dangerous pesticides on them; only buy organic grapes and raisins).  Apples and Bananas are great options; apples have many healing and detoxing benefits and bananas supply carbs missed from leavened goods (like bread) and potassium lost through loose stools (although sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beet greens, and raisins have more potassium than bananas).  Again, only buy organic apples because they top the list of pesticide-ridden produce.

Lunch: Meal leftovers, Fruit & Veggies.  This is a great time to have a salad, or “finger snacks” like celery, carrots and tomatoes.  If it’s cold outside, Green Soup can help warm you up and relieve stress symptoms.

PM Snack: Salted Popcorn, Nuts & Raisins.  Use an air-popper if you are abstaining from oils; otherwise, to hold to the spirit of the fast, use only as much oil as necessary to pop the corn kernels in a covered pot on the stove; I use Palm Kernel Oil (in non-hydrogenated organic shortening form, Spectrum brand) since it has a high smoke point.

Dinner:

  • Monday: Portabello Spaghetti.
  • Tuesday: Savory Stuffed Peppers.  (Add Bean or Summer Squash Broth to leftover stuffing to make a tasty soup for lunch!)
  • Wednesday: Lion’s Den Stew.
  • Thursday: Greek Summer Squash Stew and Sprouted Wheat Berry Soup Biscuits.
  • Friday: Mushroom Pesto Pizza (Cheese-free; recipe coming soon)
  • Saturday: Bean Curry and Sprouted Rice (recipe coming soon)
  • Sunday: Roasted Root Vegetables and Steamed Broccoli.  (recipe coming soon)  This is a perfect day to take the organic potato peelings and use them to make Potato Peel Broth (recipe coming soon), another great source of potassium.

As far as drinks go, a true Daniel Fast uses only water.  However, what you drink on your fast is between you and God.  Some churches advise that fruit juices and herbal teas are fine; make sure to ask God what is right for you.  I drink water throughout the day, but I have a hot cup of green-tea infused Potato Peel Broth in the morning to help me wake up and replenish lost nutrients.

I hope this resource gives you a hearty helping of hope for your fast (it is achievable!); even if you aren’t fasting (if you’re vegetarian or vegan, for example), these recipes are still pretty tasty and economical.  Bon Appetit!

If you enjoyed this week’s Recipe thuRsday post, please share with a friend by using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

Ah!  It has been a long time since I had a Friday free to do one of these.  Te recap what we learned last year, I’m going to review the ten MIQVEH verses and use my engineering powers to rearrange and organize the verses to draw out additional meaning and see if we see a pattern.

To review, MIQVEH means “hope”.  It can mean something waited for but it often refers to a collection or gathering of things.  It is used to refer to bodies of water (the ocean, reservoirs, springs), possibly a drove of horses, a good future, and God Himself.  A key word that ties all these verses together is “SOURCE”; gatherings form sources of hope that we depend on.  We may conclude that the chief purpose of the word MIQVEH is to present God as the One, Unified Source of our hope.

The Father of Hope.

Jeremiah 50:7 presents God as the Hope of Israel and identifies Him as the Source of Israel’s rest.  This “rest” is associated with the chief person of the Trinity, our Heavenly Father, Who prepared a rest for us all to enter by faith in His Son.  We can link this verse to Genesis 1:10, the very first instance of MIQVEH, to see that just as the oceans were gathered into a MIQVEH that is deep and powerful, God is our unsearchable and incomprehensible “Gathering” or Source of Hope.  It is to the Father that we look as the paramount Source of Hope ; the only means we have of approaching Him is through His Son.

The Son of Hope

(Keeping in mind that “Son” in this sense doesn’t mean One who is born/created, but One who is an exact representation, carries out Another’s wishes, and has an inheritance.)  Jeremiah 14:8 presents God as the Hope of Israel and identifies him as Israel’s Savior.  We can link this verse to 1 Chronicles 2:15 that shows we cannot gather life together to hold onto it.  Jesus, Messiah or Christ, is the Second Person of the Trinity; as the Savior, He is our source of Eternal life and eternal hope.  He saves us from death and gives us the ability to endure beyond the grave.  He is the only Way available to Mankind to not only hold onto life, but have it in abundance.

The Spirit of Hope

Jeremiah 17:13 presents God as the Hope of Israel and its source of Living Water.  We can link this verse to Leviticus 11:36 which says that a spring or cistern cannot become polluted by an unclean carcass.  As we see Jesus performing miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, He touched “unclean” lepers and was not contaminated by them.  He taught and lived with sinners and did not become one of them.  The Holy Spirit is called “Holy” because He is separate from every form of uncleanness and darkness; like the cistern in Leviticus 11:36, He cannot be made dirty.  He is in direct contradiction to the concept of “Yin and Yang”; in Him there is no darkness at all.

The Holy Spirit is the Source of living waters in the New Testament that resulted in miraculous outpourings and supernatural giftings of the earliest Christians (and this still continues to this day).  Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit: Jesus is the One who gives the Holy Spirit to us.  We are born in the Spirit when we first profess faith in Jesus; the Spirit comes to dwell within us to change us to be like Jesus.  We are baptized in the Holy Spirit by Jesus when we are fully committed to Christ, are open to His work through us, and ask persistently for more of His power in our lives; as a result, the Spirit who is already in us from our conversion flows OUT of us more evidently and empowers us to be a potent cleansing force in a perverted and hopeless world.

Returning to the Source

Ezra 10:2 underscored our need to repent of our tendency to “muddy the waters” of our hope by mixing our faith in God with faith in other things.  The Jews had to put away the sources of syncretism in their community; the wives taken from pagan cultures around them.  In the same way, when we realize we have fallen short of declaring God to be our ONLY Source of hope, we need to put away all the influences that undermine dependence on our MIQVEH, God.  Many TV shows make it seem OK to be a Christian and yet consult with the occult, practice premarital cohabitation, or believe that there are many ways to God.  If we want the living waters of Hope to flow freely through us, we must unite with other believers in eschewing relativistic ideas in favor of putting all our eggs in one basket, one truth, one way, one MIQVEH.  Our hope is in God alone; the only way to Him is through Christ who gives us His HOLY Spirit!

Exodus 7:19 shows us that we cannot expect God’s blessing if we are actively oppressing other people.  Even if we believe we adhering to godly principles of resource management, those resources will become tainted if we are practicing injustice.  The Egyptians had reservoirs as a result of Joseph’s management of Egyptian domestic affairs; 400 years later those reservoirs turned to blood because of the enslavement and mistreatment of the Hebrew people (the Israelites).  If we want to ensure that our hope is not in vain, we need to represent the cause of the needy and make sure we are not mistreating one another.  To preserve hope, we must ask God for help to fight injustice.

Separating from the Source

1 Kings 10:28 and 2 Chronicles 1:16–identical passages, whether or not they are truly MIQVEH or QAVAH verses–demonstrate that material excess and military might are false sources of hope.  In fact, they are often connected with the consequences of injustice that Exodus 7:19 warns us about.  As we grow closer to the end of this world, the Bible makes it clear that more and more people are going to stop relying on God to make Man moral and instead rely on government, eventually global government.  Wherever there is military and material excess/disparity, there is always corruption and an abuse of power.

Jesus warned us against the deceitfulness of riches; this doesn’t mean that it is wrong to be rich, but that we are often misled to put our hope in riches.  Solomon, for all his wealth and human wisdom, his peace treaties and arms dealing, could not protect himself from being corrupted by lesser, inferior cultures whose gods were not gods at all.  It seems the only thing that Solomon believed in, at the end, was himself.  This is the ultimate death to hope that we are experiencing in the Post-Modern Age: having eschewed any real commitment to a confirmed deity, or any unique truth, we are “an end in ourselves” and “live to get rich or die trying”.  It seems to work if we’re one of the “haves”, but if we are one of the “have nots” we get resentful and think others are holding out on us; we don’t have anything else but money to hope in and don’t want to be treated as inferior. Our anxiety confirms that far from making humanity fair, post-modernism only makes big fish and little fish; no one wants to be the little fish.

Summary

If we trust in God, it doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor; we already have the most valuable possession, True Hope.  Such hope never disappoints, because we are convinced God loves us and will take care of us!  He is the Source of our assurance for the future, our passion for everyday life, and our motivation to reach out to others to share the hope we have.  He is deep and limitless, powerful and trenchant, compassionate and satisfying.  Where else would we want to go?

What is your MIQVEH?  Where are your hopes and dreams gathered? I challenge you to pray this prayer:

Father God, please reveal to me what I have been depending on.  Help me to put all my hope in You; take away my fears, my tendency to rely on myself, and any deceived notions I have about where my security lies.  You are my deep source of hope; I declare you to be my MIQVEH today.  Please send me Your Holy Spirit so I can spread your hope to others.  In the name of Your Son, Jesus, I ask.  Amen.

If you enjoyed this week’s Faith Fridays post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

If A Helping of Hope has helped you in the areas of Faith, Family, Food or Fun would you consider promoting it through Facebook, Twitter, or you other preferred social media outlets?

Thank you to all my wonderful readers!  I think this report gave me plenty of hope to keep writing for the upcoming year…A.M.

Howdy!  I apologize that it has been a long time since I posted anything.  In the middle of my ADVENT series, our family got sick.  We licked it in two days, only to have another sickness come back with a vengeance after our kids returned to school.  We spent the whole Christmas Holiday sick, hence so few posts. I think I will complete the ADVENT posts at a later date, in anticipation of next Christmas and re-post them at that time, with some editing.  (When I’m tired I tend to type too much!  I think I embody the term “ruminative writing”…I can hear my Written and Oral Communications prof shout “Cut the fluff!”  Ah, editing, how I love thee…)

I hope you had a Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  This is the time of the year when we set goals and resolutions; this is all very well and good.  However, unless we were given superpowers as a gift at Christmas (!) few of us have acquired the necessary character and ability to keep our resolutions!  We know where we’d like to go this year, but we don’t have the steam to get there.  This Word-UP Wednesday is about a little-used practice that helps us not only set our compass in the right direction, but receive the God-power we need to get there: fasting!

Our first outside source is an interesting site called daniel-fast.com (which also has a blog on wordpress)  According to author Susan Gregory, the Daniel Fast is a restricted vegan diet practiced for up to three weeks.  It is based on Daniel chapters 1 and 10 where the prophet-statesman Daniel fasted from meat, bread, and wine and focused on eating vegetables and drinking water to humble himself before God as he prayed (presumably, three times a day as was his custom).  The word vegetables in Hebrew has been expounded to define anything growing from a seed–including seeds themselves–so that fruit, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are included.  Because this is a fast that includes solid foods, it can be maintained for an extended period of time: traditionally, for three weeks, the time it took for Daniel to receive an answer to prayer when he fasted as recorded in the book of Daniel, chapter 10.

Source: Uploaded by user via Amanda on Pinterest

Susan Gregory has developed recipe books on her website so give you ideas how to fast.  Recipes can be made for the whole family, adding meat and dairy for children or making modifications for family members with health concerns.  Here are some free recipes that should be easy to make.  I came up with a few of my own, which I hope will make it into a Recipe thuRsday post this week (like the Salsa-Stuffed Peppers above).

Our second outside source is a local area church (Bethany Assembly) who is doing the 21-day fast as part of its series on gaining Momentum in the New Year.  If you’d like to join in, here are short, daily devotionals–statements of faith and prayers based on Scripture–that accompany each of the 21 days.

Our third outside source (Jentezen Franklin Media Ministries) is a short outline of a Daniel Fast used to ask God for healing.  The website also has fasting contracts that responsible family members can sign and keep each other accountable to.

Explanations of the spiritual benefits and reasons for the fast are given at the above sites.  I hope you will use them to celebrate the New Year in a way that keeps you running strong in Hope until the next year (and beyond).  God really does speak to us when we seek Him with diligence!

Helping of Hope.  Right Choice: Use Daniel-Fasting to ask God FIRST what He may accomplish through you this year; humble yourself (through denying certain foods and acknowledging your dependence on Him) to bring yourself in agreement with His much better plan for you.  Bright Future: a greater power at work in your life to transform you into someone God can use to defeat giants, move mountains, and minister to hurting people!

If you enjoyed this Word-UP Wednesday post, please share with a friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Good Morning everyone!

May you have a wonderful time of celebration blessed by the presence of none other than Jesus Himself!  If He is the Savior of your heart, you already have the greatest gift of all; what a wonderful future awaits those who have put their trust and invested their hopes in Him!

For your enjoyment (I hope!) I have included a Christmas poem below that I wrote for my husband a few years ago.

Merry Christmas!

 

The Stable of My Heart 

Amanda Mauricio (c) 2005

He deserves a temple of gold,
A palace o’er His head,
And yet He came to rest in me,
A manger for His bed.
Within the trough of my desires,
The King of Heaven lay:
Such unmerited favor for
This heart of wood and clay!

Before the world retained a form
And sunlight spanned the sky,
The Father knew that Man would fall
And that The Son must die.
Knowing this, He did not select
A palace for Christ’s birth;
But chose the stable of my heart
And gave my soul its worth.

Had I but known the King would come
To rest within my frame,
I could have been a temple bright
And not a stable plain.
But even gilded palaces
Fall short of God’s design;
Man’s efforts are all futile for
This little Guest Divine.

He chose me just the way I am
With cobwebs, dust, and dirt:
Such an unstable construction
Weakened by years of hurt!
He didn’t come in judgment but
His life revealed all:
The dirty floors, dark corners, and
Rusty tools on my wall

I haven’t much to give: no gifts
Of Frankincense or Myrrh,
Just a life of disappointment,
Dreams that did not occur.
My accomplishments mean nothing;
My busyness is vain.
This I have to offer Him:
My guiltiness and shame.

My offering He bravely bore
Upon Calvary’s Hill:
What love the Christ must have for me
To do the Father’s Will!
To give up the joy of Heaven,
Forgiveness to impart,
And to take up residence in
The stable of my heart.

Since then the Holy Carpenter
Has chiseled at my beams,
Straightened a warped and buckled roof,
And repaired broken seams.
There still is so much work to do;
A stable still I am,
But I can be a palace when
I trust the Maker’s hands.

The hands that were once so little,
Wrapped up in strips of cloth;
The hands that hewed the wood that His
Creations were made of;
The hands that were pierced and bloodied,
He stretched them far apart:
He gave up His life to rebuild
The stable of my heart.

If you want to spread some Christmas Cheer, and a helping of hope besides, please share this with a friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

image

A healthier alternative to the jar!

I love mince pies at Christmas. It’s
an English tradition and it seems to have caught on in the ‘States too! Until now the only mincemeat I could find was the jarred variety: its main ingredient? Corn Syrup 😦 Today I found this option which has fewer ingredients, all it requires is reconstitution with hot water. It is not a healthy as homemade (it contains brown sugar, dextrose, and cornstarch), but it is a much healthier version than conventional mincemeat products.

For a gluten free crust, consider mixing melted butter with almond meal (you can add a little honey or maple syrup if you wish) for a Graham-cracker crust alternative. Push the warm almond dough into the cups in a greased, mini-cupcake tray and bake for a few minutes until the insides look drier or lightly golden. Scoop reconstituted mincemeat into the shells and bake a few minutes more, until crusts are golden brown. (I’ll have measures and temps in recipe format shortly: if you experiment in the kitchen as I do, this should be enough info to get you started! You can always follow general Graham cracker crust and open mini-pie baking guidelines)

If you enjoyed this post, please share with a friend using one of the many options below. Thanks!

Just a quick note to apologize for the lack of posts over the past few days.  We’ve been fighting off sinus infections/colds in our house; we tend to take turns getting sick so it drags out over a few days.  We’ve recovered surprisingly quickly…much faster than we did before switching to whole foods!  Usually my kids would take one to two weeks to get rid of a hacking cough: we did it this time in two days!  Here’s how:

  • Breakfast: Banana (minerals, energy), Homemade Yogurt (probiotics, protein) flavored with Cranberry Jam (anti-infection), Honey-Juice (anti-infection, vitamins, comfort)
  • Morning Snack: Hard-boiled eggs, 2 each for children, 4 each for teens and adults (vitamins), Sliced & Cored Organic Apples (fiber & vitamins), Honey-Juice (anti-infection, vitamins, comfort)
  • Lunch: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with extra fresh, grated Garlic (minerals, vitamins, gelatin, natural antibiotic), Honey-Juice (anti-infection, vitamins, comfort)
  • Afternoon Snack: Grapes and Chips (Granny came to visit so chips became whole foods temporarily 😉 ) Honey-Juice (anti-infection, vitamins, comfort)
  • Dinner: Whole Grain Rotini Pasta (fiber) in Organic Spaghetti Sauce (vitamins) with Ground Turkey (protein) and Steamed Broccoli (vitamins & minerals), Grapefruit Juice (ran out of Honey-Juice!)

So what is this Honey-Juice, you may ask?

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Honey-Juice | A Helping of Hope

Honey-Juice helps to soothe sore throats and fight off colds!  Give 4 oz. (1/2 cup) to children over one year old every one to two hours.  Grapefruit Juice provides vitamin C and has an amazing ability to strip infection and film off the throat.  Honey soothes sore throats and has natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (it also kills infectious amoebas, viruses, and reduces fever).  The added salt makes the liquid electrolytic, so it is more easily absorbed and better hydrates.

    • 1 cup Grapefruit Juice
    • 1 cup Filtered water
    • 1/4 cup Honey
    • 1/4 tsp Real Salt

Mix ingredients in a small pan (avoid nonstick) on medium heat until warm to the touch (do not over heat or allow to boil: high temperatures will kill off enzymes in the honey).  Sip before giving to children to ensure a safe drinking temperature.

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Did we use OTC drugs? Yes, somewhat.  Since I do not have a stocked apothecary (!) I still use Tylenol and Ibuprofen to help reduce fevers and Children’s Mucinex at night to help suppress the coughing (here is a better, all-natural option I need to try).  As a rule of thumb, I avoid drugs unless the fever approaches 102F and/or at night; a good night’s sleep is essential to getting better.  One day I hope to have natural remedies that are as effective as OTC drugs, yet without the artificial sweeteners and synthetic, side-effect inducing ingredients.  Until then, I use them sparingly and prayerfully, relying as much as possible on nutrition and physical rest.

Helping of Hope.  Right Choice: rely on good nutrition and rest to get well.  Medicines deal with symptoms, they do not typically give your body what it needs to function properly.  Supplements are not as well absorbed as vitamins and minerals in food and can be very expensive.  Antibiotics kill your body’s natural ability to fight infection and shut down your digestive system so you can’t get nutrients from your food.  Do as much as you can (with food and rest) as soon as you can to avoid having to take medicines, supplements, and antibiotics or it may take you several weeks to get back to normal.  Bright future: FASTER recovery time, less money spent on OTC remedies, no antibiotic-resistant illnesses, healthier immune system!

I hope this Christmas finds everyone well and not sick. If you find yourself ill, try the Honey-Juice!  It works wonders…

If you liked this…natural remedy? post (!), please share with a sick friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s Advent Calendar Piece (A generic “seed” shape to represent a mustard seed…)

December 17th | Faith

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: Even before the New Covenant was given, righteousness came from faith.  Regardless of Biblical time period,  Covenants in force at the time, and the revelation of God that man had available to him, there has only ever been one way to please God: Faith.  Faith has two parts: believing that what God says is true and acting on that truth. Faith is very powerful: a small amount can cause great changes.

Noah had faith that God would judge the world; he built the ark. Abraham had faith he would have descendants through Isaac; he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, trusting God would raise him back to life! By faith Moses put the Passover lamb’s blood on the doorposts; by faith Joshua had the courage to lead Israel into Canaan. By faith King David sang that he would have an eternal throne through Messiah. What do all these people have in common, other than faith? God considered them all to be righteous. Notice how they showed their faith by their actions! They weren’t perfect, but God did great things through them because they believed and obeyed Him.

The New and Final Covenant was going to hinge entirely upon justification by God’s Grace through our faith.  The entire Old Testament supported this “Grand Finale” of Faith that started with the heroes described in Hebrews 11 and culminated in Jesus Christ.

Bible Study Question: Read Habakkuk 2:4; what promise did God make about faith?

Today’s Main Idea: There are six theological terms that are commonly used when talking about living by faith:

  • Salvation means to be delivered or exempted from sin and its due penalty.
  • Justification means to be declared “in the right”, put in good standing with God.  Only the righteous may be in good standing with God; The only way an unrighteous person may be justified is through the righteousness of Another.  To be “just” and “righteous” is synonymous.
  • Sanctification means to be set apart/made holy.  To be “sanctified” and “holy” is synonymous.
  • Glorification means to share in God’s ultimate triumph through His manifest excellence and fulfilled purpose in our lives.  It refers specifically to receiving new “Resurrection” bodies that never die, get sick, or sin.  I could do with one of those today 😉
  • Holiness is a state of separation, distance, from corruption or commonness; being designated for a unique, divine purpose (“Holy, Holy, Holy”, while most likely a Trinitarian reference and the numerological connotation of Divinity, to this scientists’ mind also conveys DEGREES of separation: i.e. an untraversible  distance between created beings and their Creator.  We may be made holy, But God is Holy^3, so far separated from everything impure or inadequate that there is no way Man can call Him into question or claim to know His thoughts apart from His revelation of them–A.M.).
  • Righteousness is a state of being above accusation, blameless: to act righteously means to do the right thing at the right time with the right motive.  In Christianity, the righteousness of Jesus covers up our unrighteousness and enables us to be declared ‘just’.

At first glance, it seems spurious for unrighteous people to be justified, given righteousness, just because God appears to “wave a magic wand” over us and declare it.  It seems like people could take advantage of this system, saying they believe in Jesus and then living as they please thereafter, declared righteous while living unrighteously. It may seem hypocritical and contrived to some.

Our struggle to understand the grounds on which justification is…well, justified…causes us to come up with extreme theological positions.  Some say our behavior has no bearing on our salvation whereas others base salvation entirely upon it.  This is why an understanding of faith is key to sorting out these terms in a balanced way without over-constraining the Scriptures to support our preferred theological positions.

God expects faith because in it our motives are made clear.  He can tell the difference between someone who takes Him seriously and someone who merely thinks what He says is true conceptually (in an allegorical, relativistic, figurative sense conducive for the time being…until it is too difficult, requires too much, or goes against popular opinion, in which case we re-interpret it, condition it, or ignore it and then attach “God” to whatever idea we make up that best suits us).  People who take God seriously act on what He says; this is Faith.  They have accepted God on His own terms.  People who have a mental assent toward God applaud Him in theory but do not obey Him in practice; this is unbelief.  They have rejected God on their own terms.

We are fallible creatures in a fallen world: we are going to act unrighteously and make mistakes, even after we accept Jesus as our Savior.  When we have faith however, God sees it.  It stands out in our humanness like gold ensconced in rock.  It requires digging out, refining, shaping, and implementing but it is the raw material God likes to work with best.  Ultimately, it is all we really have to offer Him (so it works out well that it is the only thing He is pleased by!)

Faith is necessary because we are caught between two worlds: the old (current earth) and new (future earth).  We haven’t received the promise in full: we merely have a preview of it inside us.  We have the spiritual “stuff” but not the physical “stuff” (except in miraculous moments when the reality of the coming physical kingdom of Jesus is made manifest by the Holy Spirit in the present).  We have been born again spiritually, but we are waiting for new bodies that cannot sin.  Our hearts are changed, but our mindsets, habits, and physical brokenness remain.

Here is how those theological concepts above relate to this “preview” situation, and how the faith we have in Christ demonstrates itself as a result (read Romans 8 for a better explanation!  I am merely using these terms as examples of how our beliefs should affect the way we live):

  • Salvation.  Now: deliverance from Sin; the more we spend time in God’s presence, the less sin is able to enslave us.  Future: deliverance from apocalyptic judgment (God’s wrath) and eternal damnation (the second death).  Faith: we 100% believe God is going to deliver us from judgment; therefore, in the present, we no longer live in fear of God’s wrath or of death.  We don’t need to earn brownie points “just to make sure”.  We don’t hide from our mortality and the subject of the afterlife.  We can face our future without uncertainty or fear.  Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are saved.
  • Justification.   Now & Future: we are in right standing with God; we are highly favored.  We have a priority line of communication open to God. Faith: we 100% believe that we have a privileged relationship with God; therefore, in the present, we can come to Him with boldness with all our requests and concerns.  While our sins may grieve us, we recognize we are not under any condemnation or shame; we do not beat ourselves up or try to earn forgiveness by being extra-religious; instead, we repentantly turn to God for His help and forgiveness **in confidence** that He will give it because we are in good standing with Him through Christ. Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are justified.
  • Glorification.  Now: God displays His great strength through our weaknesses; others recognize that God is helping us and is accomplishing His agenda through us.   Future:  We will shine like the sons and daughters of God Jesus made us to be, in our resurrection bodies, displaying God’s creative brilliance in the diverse and splendorous ways He has equipped us to function.  No harps on clouds!  We will be living adventure after adventure!  Faith: we 100% believe God will make Himself known to others through us, so we quickly confess any impediments or hindrances to Him and trust He will give us Grace to overcome them and use them for greater good than we could have imagined.  We also believe that what we do in this life affects our VOCATION in the next life; therefore, we do not tire of doing good and we do not become obsessed with the temporal benefits of our current situation.  We look forward to receiving resurrection bodies and seeing Christ as He is!  Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are glorified.
  • Sanctification/Holiness.  Now: we are set apart to do good works for those outside the faith to see; we function within the church to build one another up and take care of each others’ needs.  We are commanded not to be bound in covenant to those who are in opposition to God.  We are called to separate ourselves from sinful practices.  Future: We will be “light years” beyond our current status as fallen creatures; we will no longer have anything dark or corruptible in our natures.  We will be able to carry out our tasks without any internal impediment to the joy of performing them.  Faith: we 100% believe God has separated us from everything that would steal, kill, and destroy the purpose He has for us; therefore we no longer want to rejoin the futility of popular cultural practices or buy into the false promise of freedom through sin.  We don’t take pleasure in coarse conversation or gossip: we want to remove everything that displeases the Holy Spirit.  We are willing to get rid of anything that desensitizes us to or distracts us from hearing God’s voice; we long for Him to put His instructions on our heart so that we may be about our Father’s business.  Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are holy.
  • Righteousness.  Now: we have been declared righteous because we are “in Christ”; we have the Spirit of righteousness within us.  As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, more of our behavior becomes “righteous” (right action at the right time for the right reasons).  Future: without sin, we will not have any cause to do wrong; righteousness will be regular practice.  Faith: we 100% believe we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus; therefore, we do not give up when we sin, but trust God to change us so that His righteousness will shine through us.  We look forward to the day when this will no longer be a struggle, when what God has declared us to be will take full, tangible form.  We do not let accusing thoughts attack us or undermine us; our position is determined by Christ, not our behavior. Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are righteous.

All of these theological terms and explanations make faith seem incredibly complicated, but it isn’t.  Faith is as easy as falling off a log… IF we truly believe.  If we really believe in the foundational truths of the Bible, all the above corollaries will follow.  The behavior, though imperfect at times, will follow.  IF we believe.

Application: Paul explained that before we put our faith in Christ, we need to hear about Him first.  If we want our faith in God to grow, then we need to spend time listening to His word.  This Christmas, let’s take time to immerse ourselves in the Bible; even if it’s your first time buying a Bible, why not get one for yourself and a loved one this Christmas?  (I recommend The New Believer’s Bible in the New Living Translation.)  Christmas is the very best time to grow our faith as we see how God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us!  Jesus Himself proved that God’s Word is true.  We can trust it, and as we do, we will grow in faith and please God.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us the ability to have faith. I am so glad I don’t have to please you by being the best at something, or by following a strict legal code. Help my faith to grow so I can please you even more. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.”

Family Activity: Push mustard seeds in a wad of wet paper towel in a container. Every day, add water to the paper towel to keep it moist. Decorate some plant pots, write out Hebrews 11: 6 on them, and fill them with soil. When the seeds sprout, plant them in the pots and think how much your faith has grown since you first heard about Jesus.

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s Calendar Piece:

December 16th | A New Heart that Loves God

Please read these Bible verses first!

Bible Background: So far we have discovered God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. In today’s reading, God told Jeremiah there would be a New Covenant for His people. This New Covenant would get rid of their sin, cleanse their hearts, put God’s Laws and Spirit in them so they would have the ability to obey Him and do His will.  The real issue with the Old (Mosaic) Covenenat wasn’t that it was bad, but that people were not able to keep it.  The reason?  Man’s incurably sick (perverted/skewed/wicked) heart!

Bible Study Question: Read Hebrews 10:11-18. Why are animal sacrifices no longer needed under the New Covenant and what does this have to do with our hearts?

Today’s Main Idea: The heart we are talking about represents the “inside person”, the place where our emotions and thoughts come from. Not many people today are willing to accept that human hearts are sick! They say that people are mostly good even if we’re not “perfect”. This is not true, for several reasons. If people were mostly good, human history wouldn’t have so many terrible events in it (and no, we can’t blame it all on religion: plenty of atrocities have been caused by atheistic governments). People cheat, steal, and lie on a regular basis from company paper clips to unreported revenue on taxes. Those who act nicely to others often hide unkind thoughts on the inside.

God doesn’t just judge us on our “outside” actions alone, but our “inside” thoughts too! Most of us are more selfish, greedy, and angry than we would like to admit.  Don’t believe me?  How would you like your thoughts broadcast beyond your control to those around you for a week?  A day?  No, thank you.  We like to keep our thoughts to ourselves for good reason: no matter how we may justify them to ourselves, they are not easily justified to anyone else!

God’s solution to our problem is Jesus. It was out of His perfect heart that perfect obedience to the Father flowed. Sin is the antithesis of love: if we love God, we will obey Him. When Jesus’ love-filled words (from the abundance of His pure heart) fill our minds, our sick hearts are challenged and we see just how far off the mark we have been; we see our sinful, unloving behavior.   This conviction doesn’t condemn us, rather we feel relief that we know how we are supposed to act; we see clearly how we have been harming ourselves and others and want to stop.   The only thing we lack is the power to make that change happen by ourselves.

The success of the New Covenant in truly changing people from the inside out–sometimes miraculously with an instant deliverance from entrenched sins, but more often over long periods of  time as we learn to trust God–is based on one word: Spirit.  He is the Person of God who makes internal change possible: He can re-write what is on our “hearts” so we will love God properly.

Application: It can be depressing to think how skewed we are from what is right.  We try hard, do our best…and we still fall short!  It is tempting to want our behavior to be accepted as it is, to get frustrated at how difficult it is to change, and to be angry at God for expecting us to be able to do things we can’t do yet (or so we think).  All these objections underline the main problem: we aren’t ready or willing to change.  We are still immature, waiting for our feelings to motivate us rather than receiving His Grace to change now.

When God shows us an area of our life that needs to change, He gives us the strength and resource to do it.  As always, there is a step of faith involved; we put aside immature objections and with God’s help, set our thinking straight and follow with action.  When we set our minds–our “hearts”–toward doing the will of God, those foot-stamping objections miraculously fade away and we grow maturer, another “inch” taller toward the nature and stature of our “Big Brother”, Jesus.

Our actions reveal what we truly believe, what has been deposited in our hearts, NOT who we are.  A kind word can help us to be brave and make good choices if we receive it; a negative word can cause us to doubt ourselves and fall to temptation if we give in to it.  Our beliefs are incredibly affected by what we see and hear and choose to listen to.  If we want to keep our beliefs in check, we need to be careful what we are watching, listening to, and the company we are keeping.  Are the people we lean on like Jesus?  Are the things we are watching or reading causing us to doubt the Bible or compromise our convictions?  This Christmas, let’s monitor our beliefs THROUGH our behavior and bring errant ideas into subjection to Christ.  Proper behavior will follow with God’s help.

When we realize how much we need to change, it can be “dis-HEARTening”.  We often connect our self-worth to our performance.  This Christmas, when you are confronted by your own impatience, unforgiveness, unrealistic expectations, or lack of self-control, remember that Jesus loves you very much: you are very valuable to Him.  He corrects us because He loves us and wants what is best for us.  Let’s be patient with ourselves and others’ failings this Christmas as we learn to exercise the new heart we have been given to love God and one another.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for sending Jesus to be my example of a pure heart overflowing with goodness. Please heal my heart and forgive me for its wickedness. Write your laws on my heart and give me the strength of your Holy Spirit so I can obey them. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity:  Make a Heart-Journal. Help each child assemble 7 pieces of lined paper for each day of the week. Hep each child to decorate a construction-paper cover with hearts. Write “MY HEART JOURNAL” on the front of each cover and staple them together with the paper.  As a family, keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings each day for the next week: negative thoughts as well as positive ones. In the margin next to each entry, write down the kind of heart you had at the time (“forgiving” or “angry”, etc.). Also keep a record of ideas that influenced you and what you watched, read, or listened to.  At the end of the week, see if you can notice any trends between what went into your hearts and what came out, and if your hearts are “healthy” overall.

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s fiery Calendar Piece:

December 15th | A Light to the Nations

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: Many Jews thought (and still think) that Messiah’s main task is to set the Jews free from their Gentile enemies, but Isaiah pointed out that the Messiah would guide the Gentiles to God, as a light in the darkness. Anyone who claims to be the Messiah, God’s (symbol of) Covenant to the people, must also bring the Gentiles closer to God.

The Jews in Jesus’ day were members of the Israelite tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi: descendants of the exiles of the southern kingdom of Judah that had returned to their homeland centuries before.  Jesus rarely interacted with Gentiles: when He did, it was exceptional and the results are noted in the Gospels.  Despite the narrow focus of His earthly ministry, Jesus did take the time to heal Gentiles who responded to Him in faith; He also went out of His way to speak with a Samaritan woman, who was not Jewish.

Jesus came at a pivotal time in human history. Trade routes, shipping routes, and roads had been established; common languages had been developed–Greek and Aramaic–so that barriers between people groups were removed; the Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah had been scattered all over the world (the “Diaspora”) and with them, a knowledge of the Scriptures; these three elements–infrastructure, language, and the Diaspora–combined to make the perfect conditions for spreading the good news about Jesus to these scattered Jews and the Gentile peoples around them. God waited for the perfect time in human history to send His Son, so that all the Gentiles in the world would have an opportunity to hear about Him.

Bible Study Questions: For many years the Gentiles lived in ignorance about God. What was one result of this (see Matthew 6:31-33)? How did the Gentiles respond to the news about Jesus, the Jewish Messiah (Acts 13:45-48)?

Today’s Main Idea: Before His resurrection, Jesus was duty bound to extend salvation to the Jews because they were the covenant people of God.  After His resurrection (and ascension), Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples to preach to Jews AND Gentiles.  Jesus made this clear in visions to Peter and to Paul (formerly Saul), and the Holy Spirit confirmed it by giving Gentile believers the same radical, spiritual experiences that had been given to Jewish believers.  The Gentiles were now “in” on God’s plan of redemption.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is key to understanding how this was possible.  The principle involved is this: ethnicity, legal status, and religious requirements only apply to the living, not to those who have died!  Because He died and rose again, Jesus secured freedom from ancestry, the Law, and the old system of priesthood.  I say “secured” because God set up a spiritual “mechanism”, by His Grace through our faith, that Jesus’ freedom could be ours.

When we believe in Jesus and are baptized into His death, we are reborn to a new spiritual life that is not defined by ethnicity, social standing, or gender (Galatians 3:28-29).  We are spiritually “born again” apart from everything that defined and limited us; since we are born of the Spirit, we are empowered by the Spirit to be obedient to His law written on our heart (more on that tomorrow).  This is good news to Jew and Gentile alike!

Application:  The Gentiles were worried about where their material provision would come from; they also thought their prayers were more effective by repeating them over and over.  They assumed they were on their own, “making it” on their own, even as they made up their own idols and superstitions.  Materialism and superstition both connect to the same problem: a lack of relationship with God and an improper understanding of who He is.

This Christmas we need to get to know the Father.  When we focus on what He is really like, we will no longer approach Him superstitiously or drudge through life believing “God helps those who help themselves”. Let’s ask God for His help and guidance this Christmas.  Let’s trust He will provide for us and take care of us as we give Him our cares and worries and allow Him to direct us.  We no longer have the excuse that past Gentiles had: Jesus is our Light and He has shown us what the Father is really like.  We can come before Him boldly with our requests and troubles.

There is a further step to take!  We all need God’s light in us this Christmas, but He expects us to do something with it: shineWhen we know something of God’s love and care for us, then we have a great gift worth giving!  Jesus told us to let our good deeds shine before others so that they will become open to the Father’s love.  Focusing on material things makes us dim and dull; let’s take our eyes off the things that do not matter and focus on what matters to God: people!  Beyond buying and wrapping presents for others, let’s gift others with smiles, hugs, words of affirmation, a helping hand and undeserved kindness.  God’s Light is the best gift worth giving this Christmas!

Prayer: Father God, thank You for sending Jesus at the right time to be my light. Help me to open my eyes to Your light by taking my focus off what I want. Give me the creativity and thoughtfulness to come up with ways to share Your goodness with others so they can see You clearly through me. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity: Christmas List! Using some pretty Christmas paper and a colorful pen or pencil, write out a Christmas list…but not for toys! Write “Christmas Deeds” on the top of the page. This list will include kind and helpful deeds you can do for the people you know. Leave gaps between the items on the list; after you have done each good deed, write a good thing that happened as a result in the gap.  For smaller or special needs children, print out a small (2″x2″) image of each person on the list and glue it to the paper; draw or print clip-art images (2″ x 2″) pertaining to good deeds that your child is able to do and cut them down to size .  Have your child pick an activity and “match” it to the face of a person on the list.  Help your child to accomplish that task and help them strike it off the list with a pen when they are done.  Everyone can shine God’s light, young and old!

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share it with a friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

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