Weary to Renewed: Driven to the Word

I’ve been weary lately. And in my weariness, I’ve been crying out to the Lord for strength. One morning this week, a those passed through my mind before I was even fully awake.

The Lord will renew your strength.

As I awakened fully, I realized that the thought was just a inaccurate version of Isaiah 40:31. I’ve transitioned most of my Scripture memory to NASB, but even if I memorize this particular verse in other translations, I believe my mind will always go first to the beautiful KJV:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…

Do you see the difference between my early morning thought and the actually verse? “They that wait…shall renew” versus “The Lord will renew…”

Because of the differences, I was driven back to Isaiah for context. I knew the idea of the context, but what were the exact words? Why would I think, even in my dreaming state, the words “The Lord will renew your strength” instead of just drawing comfort from a familiar and well-loved memory verse?

As I read backwards a bit, I saw this:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Isaiah 40:27-29

Oh, how much I could say about the whole process that took me from full-fledged weariness through an early morning sub-conscious thought to renewal. But, the truth is that such a process is intimate and personal. It comes from relationship, and there is nothing I can share that will draw you into that renewal. That’s between you and the Lord.

But, two other powerful realities struck me through all of this.

First, God takes what we have and builds on it.

I cannot remember when I memorized Isaiah 40:30-31. But I know that I’ve returned to it so many times that it is an ingrained part of me. This week, God took it, His Word, the seedling of His very Spirit within me, and used it to renew my strength.

Oh, my dear friend, if you are not hiding God’s Word in your heart, making it a part of you, then you are missing the most powerful avenue by which our Father connects with us. I’m not talking memorization, although that is the most direct avenue by which God’s Word is hidden in our hearts. I’m talking immersion. Digging deep. Not just reading to read, but learning, growing, and interacting with the Word of God, making it an integral part of your being.

Secondly, always go back to the Word.

The thought that came to my mind was not just intended to help me remember a beloved verse. It was intended to drive me back to the Bible. To study. To evaluate context. To explore more deeply. Not to simply rely on what I remembered, but to discover more.

We have the amazing privilege of having Scripture readily available to us. Not only do we have it in print, but most of us can pull up our phones and computers and snag any translation at the press of a button. There are hundreds of thousands of people lacking that privilege. But, we have it.

And our heavenly Father wants us to use it.

No matter how many great snippets of Scripture you’ve memorized, how many wonderful sermons or devotionals you’ve heard, how many solid interpretations you’ve heeded, always go back to the Word itself. It is alive. It is breathing. It is active. It is fresh. And when we return to it with open hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit will reveal living truths that speak to our immediate standing with Christ, even from the most familiar of passages.

Perhaps today your struggle is not weariness. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, I guarantee your heavenly Father is ready to speak life and strength and power and truth into your need. Will you immerse yourself in His Word and allow His Spirit to bring renewal to your heart?

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Ishtar’s Odyssey

I love celebrating Advent. Our family celebrates slightly differently every year, the main “tradition” being our Advent wreath. But, with people often asking me about Advent and how it should be celebrated, I do enjoy having resources to point them toward, especially resources that both explain Advent and provide guidance for the celebration.

Ishtar’s Odyssey is one such resource. In content, this book is 4393 ishtar cover CC.inddprimarily a story. It’s an enjoyable story, full of adventure and excitement. And, of course, it ends at the manger.

So, before I share my favorite aspects of Ishtar’s Odyssey, I will touch on the story itself. How does it align with the biblical narrative? How much liberty is taken? How well does it handle application?

  • If parents read the introductory material in Ishtar’s Odyssey (highly advised!), Ytreeide makes it a point to point out that this is a work of fiction. And, as such, it works well to paint a historical scene. I love that! Historical fiction brings familiar information to life, drawing the truth of history closer to our hearts, allowing us to live out those truths.
  • So, how does it align with biblical narrative? Well, I could not find a way it contradicted Scripture. Some might disagree with Ytreeide’s interpretation of the biblical narrative, but, in all honesty, there are a lot of gaps in Scripture. We don’t know the timing or the exact nature of every detail. Ytreeide’s literary license honors the integrity of Jesus’ birth – delving the spiritual truths while honoring what’s actually in the text.

Having that groundwork laid, let me point out what I really like about Ishtar’s Odyssey.

  1. The supplemental information is exceedingly helpful. Ytreeide offers a history/explanation of Advent, a discussion on the benefits of using fiction to bring Scripture to life, menu suggestions for identifying even more closely with Ishtar’s culture and experiences, and a calendar to help plan an Advent observance.
  2. The story is divided beautifully! Because the exact length of Advent adjusts each year, it is hard to provide a daily reading to cover all of Advent. Ytreeide provides distinct, manageable readings for the definite Advent days, then offers a calendar to help parents know how to combine the final parts of the story to fit that year’s exact schedule.
  3. Each day’s reading finishes with an application thought to encourage family discussion.

If I were to choose a negative, I would probably come back to the application/discussion starter that ends each chapter. Sometimes, we go too far when we take a story and lay out an application rather than letting the readers/hearers digest and apply for themselves. Sometimes, instead of making the application, simply asking questions is a better route.

In the final reading sections of Ishtar’s Odyssey, that’s exactly what Ytreeide does. He uses simple, one-line questions to spur thought and discussion. In the earlier reading allotments, however, he goes ahead and provides an application.

While this application is not a true negative, I can see how using a simple, one-line question throughout the book could be useful. Perhaps provide the application as well as an option to guide parents. But, for those who would prefer to nudge their children to draw conclusions, the question might be a more useful tool.

But, does that truly detract from Ishtar’s Odyssey? No. Because, in all honesty, parents can use the application portion however they please. In fact, my primary reason for bringing it up is to simply encourage parents to consider asking questions instead of feeding their children the application. But, it’s helpful for us to have a starting point, isn’t it? And the included information provides just that.

So, bottom line, I would definitely recommend Ishtar’s Odyssey as a family Advent resource.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.

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What is Advent, Anyway?

Tomorrow, I will be posting a review of a family Advent story. So, today, I wanted to talk a bit about Advent. We hear the term Advent applied to wreaths, calendars, and liturgical traditions. But, what does it really mean? And is the celebration of Advent really appropriate for non-liturgical traditions?

The answer is a resounding YES! It is not only appropriate, but highly encouraged! Last year, I wrote an “intro to Advent” article for Home Educating Family. Check it out, then start exploring ways to celebrate Advent yourself this year!

What is Advent, Anyway?

‘Tis the season when Advent books and products are everywhere! There are Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, Advent devotionals, Advent Bible studies . . . and the list goes on. But, what exactly is Advent? What does it mean?

Advent Defined

In one of his devotionals, my husband describes Advent as “the idea of coming, of expectation.” Christmas celebrates the incredible moment when Jesus, King of creation, left royalty beyond our imagining to come live as the humblest of humans — all for the sake of mankind’s redemption. Our redemption!

When we celebrate Advent, we do more than simply set aside one day to wish Jesus, “Happy birthday!” We reset our focus over the course of the whole season…

Click on the image below to read the rest of the article.

When we celebrate Advent, we do more than simply set aside one day to wish Jesus, “Happy birthday!” We reset our focus over the course of the whole season. Nothing can make Christmas more precious than an increased awareness of what Jesus really accomplished by taking on our flesh. #homeschool #advent

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Stand Up!

Several months ago, we discussed the idea of our spouses being competent – and how our belief in that competence should impact our actions, including publicly supporting our spouses rather than declaring their weaknesses. But recently, my thoughts pressed the public support concept a little further.

How often do we actively stand up for our spouses?

I want you to think about your spouse for a moment. In what ways do your personalities differ? Your interests? Your perspectives? When each of you view the world, what colors your lenses differently?

Next question: How do you respond publicly to those differences?

My husband and I differ in many ways. I need lots of sleep. My husband needs less. We’re both introverts, but I crave social interaction (as long as I get a recovery break later!) much more than he does. He is decisive, grasping what looks best right now and dealing with the consequences as they come. I want to ponder through every possible scenario before I make a decision. He is an idea person. I am an implementer. He is energized by constantly changing or updating the plan. I am energized by bringing a decided-upon plan to completion.

I could go on and on and on. And, in all honesty, there are times when I just don’t understand his way of thinking. It is foreign to me. My brain doesn’t work that way. My actions cannot be shaped that way. Although there are many ways our differences complement one another in the long run, we have to get through the immediate, contradictory implications long before we can get to the point of complementing one another. And in this in-between period of time, it would be easy for both of us to find great ways to “tease” one another about our differences.

That attitude of teasing is second-nature in this culture. We are entertained by it, and it flows naturally into our conversations. It’s much easier to tease than to praise. But, what if we were to break away from that natural response and actively stand up for our spouses instead? Not just reactively or occasionally, but proactively and boldly.

I’m married to an absolutely amazing man. He is brilliant in so many ways. He is funny. He is observant. He can problem-solve in ways that blow my mind. He has ideas that seem to come from nowhere. He often introduces and implements strategies in life and ministry years before “experts” make those strategies popular.

He also loves me fiercely. He encourages me. He pushes me to be better. And, amazingly, he is proud of even the parts of me he doesn’t “get.” He opens my eyes to things I never would have contemplated, much less pursued, without his perspective.

As I contemplate those praises of my husband, I realize how rarely I shout them in public. Oh, I have long striven to not criticize him publicly. And, when someone makes a comment like, “How do you survive living with him all the time?” I enjoy responding with, “Oh, I love it!”

But, to proactively praise him? That comes more rarely. And I want that to change.

My friends, it is so easy for us to demean others – intentionally or unintentionally – by “teasing” about differences. Let’s instead go out of our way to praise the God-given characteristics of others, especially those that differ from us the most.

And let’s start with our spouses. After all, they’re probably the most amazing people we know!

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Not My Strength

Do you have one of those areas? Of course you do. We all do. That thing that, whether we like it or not, we absolutely stink at!

Yet somehow, at some point, we find ourselves having to do that very thing.

I’ve dealt with that thing in ministry. I’ve dealt with it at work. In fact, I’ve got one of those things on my work plate right now. This week it has caused me to spend several hours plodding through a still unfinished task that should have been done in under an hour. Because it’s not my strength. Because I’m not good at it.

But guess what, my friends. Even those things need to be done. And sometimes we get to be the chosen ones. For some reason, the wonderfully gifted just can’t do it this time around. So, it falls to us.

So, we do it.

As frustrating as it can be to have to tackle things that do not fall within our strengths, I believe God has a very grand purpose when He puts the jobs before us.

First, we are reminded that the strength is His, not ours. Why, oh why, do we need that reminder? But we do, don’t we? We go through daily life and rely increasingly on our own strength. Oh, my friend, our strength is so small! Even in the areas of our giftings, our strength is so very limited. And the more we limit our activities to our “natural talents,” the more even those areas of talent become a struggle.

If God is not working through us, then we’re not working successfully. Period. And when we forget that reality, God has to remind us – usually by taking us outside our comfort zones and forcing us to rely on His strength again.

Second, we understand others better. If you are a natural when it comes to working with children, you might not understand my struggle with and aversion to being involved in children’s ministry. On the other hand, if you tell me that a simple sewing pattern looks like a foreign language to you, it will blow my mind. It’s just a pattern. It’s as clear as day. Right?

Just because a task is natural to me does not mean it will be to you, and vice versa. And that’s okay. It really is. Neither of us is deficient in any way. We are not faulty or incomplete.

We say that we know that to be true – we all readily agree that different people have different talents. But, often we forget to make that knowledge a part of our everyday understanding of people. We get irritable when someone else doesn’t “get” it. And God has to put a task before us that stretches us outside our strengths to remind us to be patient with others.

I often like to complain when a task outside my strengths is put before me. But, I should instead thank God for the opportunity to stretch myself and better appreciate those who typically do the task. (And believe me, I’m very appreciative this week!) May that become our faithful response!

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On This Veteran’s Day

As much as I love to write, I often struggle to know what to say on days like today. I know a real thank you does go a long way, because I’ve been on the receiving end of such gratitude. But, other thank yous feel, well, trite. And I never want to be trite.

But it always works to go to Scripture. So, here I go.

I’ve been spending a little extra time in Hebrews 11 on a work related project. (Yes, that just makes me happy.) Especially Hebrews 11:1. And for today, verse two fits as well.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. Hebrews 11:1-2 NASB

There is so much packed into these two verses. So much depth. So much confidence. So much truth. Just a short couple of lines leading into a narrative of that action of men and women who simply had faith.

In all honesty, when I think of veterans and their service, I think of faith and the approval “men of old” gained through it.

Now, I know not all veterans are Christians. And even some who are didn’t go into service thinking of faith in Christ as much as service to country. But, they all walked in with an assurance of something. An assurance that they had a job to do. Whether drafted or volunteer, enlisted or officer, short-term or career, they had a job. And they had to trust in the bigger picture of that job, knowing they were just a small part of the whole.

That is our faith, too. A picture of the whole. A knowledge that we have a small part in the bigger plan of our Creator God. A hand in the redemption we are assured of.

As Christians, we can learn so much from our veterans. We can learn how to obey. We can learn how to give our all. We can learn how to walk in with abandon, whether or not we are certain of the specific outcome. And, we can learn to walk with a continued camaraderie, identifying with our fellow “soldiers” even in those times when our service roles are not as active.

Paul himself used the picture of a soldier multiple times as he taught churches how to follow Christ. As we thank our veterans, we can do the same. Let’s thank them not only for their sacrifice and service to our country, but also for their example to us. Their living display of how we as Christians should stand together in our spiritual battles.

So, veterans, thank you. We owe you much more than I can express. We learn more from you than we’ll ever realize. May we honor you not only with our verbal thanks, but also by following your example as we live our lives and grow in our faith, persevering as soldiers of the Cross.

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Just Write

Remember the old Nike “Just Do It!” slogan? That’s how I’m feeling today. “Just write it, Ann!”

But what do I write?

I don’t care…just write. Every day.

It’s one of those disciplines. I’d say it’s like exercising, because I want the results of working those writing muscles just like I want the results of working the physical muscles.

But really, it’s more like practicing an instrument. You always know how to do it, but you get rusty when you don’t do it daily. And you miss its impact on your life. The calming influence it has. The connection it provides with your Creator.

Do you get what I mean?

When I was growing up, I could always tell when my dad had not had a chance to build something. He loves to work with wood. It’s his outlet. And when he goes a while without the chance to create something with his hands, it shows. His creativity, energy, and joy all wane.

I see the same with my husband and teaching. If he gets so buried in the administrative side of pastoring that he doesn’t have a chance to truly teach – an interactive type of teaching – his joy in ministry fades. He also enjoys writing and gets discouraged when he doesn’t have the opportunity to write. Then there’s cooking. And oh, is he ever good at cooking. He’s not the only one who misses it when he doesn’t have the chance to cook! 

If my oldest doesn’t get to play the piano or write, it shows.

If my middle child doesn’t get to draw, sew, or do needlework in some shape form or fashion, it shows.

If my youngest doesn’t get to create from paper or Legos or some other medium, it shows.

All of these things require regular practice to maintain – and progress – in the skills. But, they also provide a sort of natural therapy. They are an avenue of connection with the Creator who gave us these skills and desires. And I can’t help but think that we are disobedient if we don’t utilize and hone these skills while also embracing the doors they open in our hearts.

Yet how often do we consider ourselves selfish for setting aside the time to daily practice? We forget that through them we are actually connecting with our Creator, refreshing ourselves,  strengthening our talents, and equipping ourselves to truly minister.

What do you need to buckle down and do today?

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