Shalom in Psalms

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Shalom in Psalms: A Devotional from the Jewish Heart of the Christian Faith by Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur is more of a light commentary than a devotional.

The Tree of Life Version

The real treasure of the book is the translation of the Psalms. The Tree of Life Version was translated by Jewish Christian scholars. The translation was easy to understand. At the same time, the word choice called to attention the first audience of the book. I don’t often hear from Hebrew scholars when learning about the Psalms. My understanding of the Psalms was deepened because of the explanations of the meanings of the original Hebrew words.

Devotionals

I liked that the Scripture was printed right along with the devotional. And each devotional varied in length and by author so that they were not rigid in form, but felt like the author was just explaining the Psalm to the reader.

But this also means that the devotionals were little more than explanations of the Psalms. 90% of the applications were broad, sweeping, general application questions that only require Sunday School answers like “when I sing praise to His name I feel strength. How about you?” or “it’s good to remember God’s works on our behalf, isn’t it?”. Shalom in Psalms lacked the deep, convicting applications with specific call to action I expect in a devotional.

There were two exceptions.

What is Shalom?

One devotional explained the meaning of the word “Shalom.” I knew Shalom meant peace. Hearing “shalom” conjured up a calm sea or quiet sunset in my mind’s eye. But the author says “Shalom is more than just an emotional state of mind. Shalom also means that the abused will get justice, wrongs will be made right, menacing foes will be refuted.”  This Shalom was not a pastoral scene. This Shalom was actively pursuing justice and restoration.  Although it was not expressed in the devotional, I pondered what true Shalom would look like at home and have now redefined what a peaceful day with my kids looks like.

Holy Spaces and Places

In Psalm 48 the sons of Korah praise God in Mount Zion and consider the physical appearance of the temple in connection to God. The author points out how quick we are to understand the passage as referring to eternity in heaven without reflection on the earthly temple. In evangelical Christianity, we don’t think much about holy spaces and places. The author challenged Christians to take a trip to Jerusalem to experience the energy and meditate of his lovingkindness in the very place that inspired the sons of Korah to lift their praises to God.

Bottom Line

If you are looking for an easy, breezy reading of the Psalms with an emphasis on Jewish culture and the Hebrew language, this book is for you.

If you are looking for a simple Psalms commentary for teaching a short Bible lesson, this book would also be helpful.

But if you are looking for a deeply personal devotional full of hard-hitting conviction, you will be disappointed.

 

[Note: This post contains Amazon.com affiliate links. Read disclosure policy here.]

Why We Chose Public School

After thinking and praying and visiting our school, we chose to send our children to public school. I do not think it is the right choice for everyone. But for us in this time and place, God made it clear this is where our kids should be.

Here’s why:

Time and Energy

When my oldest started Kindergarten I had three younger kids and my husband was working a lot since we were still relatively new at church and we were about to begin a building project at church. I already had trouble keeping up with normal housework. Both Christian school and homeschooling would have required more time and energy than we had. I could have quit doing some things at church, but God made it clear I was to continue to do them.

why-we-chose-public-schoolThe Resources of a Public School

Public school has a lot of resources and professionals to help children who need it. Initially, we chose this because we suspected our oldest would need the gifted/enrichment program. But what we didn’t know at the time is that our daughter would need extra reading support. If she were not in school, I would not have caught her reading issues until later and I would have missed out on valuable time. Some Christian schools may offer great learning support, but I did not find that the ones in our area had as extensive a program as the public school does.

We want our children to be missional.

This the most important reason we want our kids in public school. Being in the public school gives them so many opportunities to share Christ with those who they may not otherwise meet. Nathaniel is now in 6th grade. One of his friends is an atheist. And this friend knows Nathaniel is a Christian. We will see as the years go on how the Lord uses their friendship to open his heart to the gospel. Molly, a first grader says, “If I weren’t in public school, I wouldn’t know anyone to tell about Jesus.” Of course, iffirst-day-of-school you are intentional, you can do this with your neighborhood and others you meet and there are some amazing parents out there who do that. But for us, this works both in having us meet people who need Christ and to give our children a chance to do the same on their own.

 

There are some draw backs to the public school.

Our particular school is weak in history and science. So we make that up at home with the things we do and watch and talk about and research and look up and what we check out at the library. And just because this is true of our school, doesn’t mean it’s true for yours. My friend in Texas has her kids in a public school that has science as a top priority even employing a teacher specifically for science at the elementary level.

And obviously since it’s public school, there is no Bible education. And although many teachers have been Christian, not all of them have been. Being faithful to attend church and Sunday school and talking about Scripture at home has given our children a firm foundation for a Biblical worldview.

Regardless of where we send our kids to school, ultimately, it’s up to the parents to make sure our children’s education is complete.

What do you do for your child’s schooling? What made you decide to educate your kids that way?

 

7 Steps for Picking the Right School for Your Kid

This week is National School Choice Week.

We are blessed in America to have the choice of where to send our kids to school. But it’s not an easy choice. How much did your school setting impact you as a child? Immensely.

How can you make this overwhelming decision?

Here are 7 steps for choosing your child’s school:

#1  The first thing to do is pray! Pray constantly as you investigate your options that the Lord will make it clear to you what is best for each one of your kids.

#2 Pick a good time for discussion. Let your husband know ahead of time: “I’ve been thinking about what to do for our kid’s schooling. Can we talk about it tomorrow night after the kids are in bed?” Give him a chance to think and pray about it instead of just springing all your fabulous ideas and questions on him. If your child is in high school, let them in on the discussion, too.

#3 Visit each school option yourself. It’s okay to ask around for your friends’ opinions of different schools. But nothing will be as telling as you going to visit the actual classroom to meet the actual teachers and principals and secretaries. Our media culture makes us panicky when we hear about something terrible happening in a school in another state or in another city. When we hear the news, we imagine the situation also applies to our local school. But schools are not like McDonalds. They are not the same in every location. They vary greatly depending on the district leadership, community, parent involvement, and principal. Homeschooling also comes in many varieties. If you are thinking of homeschooling, ask a homeschooling friend if you can come over for a day to see how she does it. Leave your kids at home so that you can quietly observe to see what an actual day looks like. Ask her to show you the paperwork she needs to turn in to the state. If you didn’t love her style, find another homeschooling friend to observe.

#4 What should you look for when you visit?

  • When you call to schedule the visit, are the people kind? Are they respectful to you?
  • When you visit the school, how is the security? Do you have to show ID? Are the doors locked?
  • When you walk in the hallways is there artwork on the walls? Then you know the kids aren’t just doing worksheets all day.
  • How are the desks set up? Are they all lined up in rows facing the front? Then they probably expect a lot of independent work. Are the desks in little clusters? That may indicate they allow the children to work together. They understand children are social and they harness that energy for their learning rather than trying to squash it.
  • For younger elementary, do you see boxes of manipulatives in the classroom? Or do you see centers set up around the room? Then there is hands-on learning that allow children to use all their senses.
  • Ask if they have recess time. How often? What do they do when there is bad weather?
  • Ask about the curriculum they use. See if you can flip the textbooks, or write down the name and search online to check out the content they will be learning.

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#5 Think about how the school will encourage good character or godly character. In one of my children’s public school classrooms, the class rule poster hanging in the classroom was “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Sound familiar? The Golden Rule! The teacher was using Scripture as the guiding rule for her class just without the Bible reference. There are also school wide behavior programs that promote respect, responsibility, kindness, trying your best. All these are part of Godly character. At the public school, they do not reference the Bible, but I connect this at home. “Oh, they are talking about kindness! God says to be kind in Ephesians 4:32!” Look for this in Christian schools, too. Memorizing Bible verses is not the same thing as developing godly character. Look for how they are applying God’s principles for daily classroom life.

#6 Ask about enrichment or special education services. If your child were to need special help or extra challenge, is the school equipped to help?

#7 If after much discussion and prayer, you and your husband disagree on what to do, he wins. We are called to submit to our husbands. That’s the way God has structured our families. If you believe that he is wrong, God will take care of it. He will be responsible before God for the decision. You are responsible before God to obey your husband.

After thinking and praying and visiting our school, we chose to send our children to public school. If you want to know why, I explain it here. I do not think public school is the right choice for everyone. But for us in this time and place, God made it clear this is where our kids should be.

How do you school your kids? How did you decide that was right for you?

5 Christmas Gift Giving Tips from the Expert Gift Giver

(Don’t take this post too seriously. Merry Christmas!)

The typical American is stressed out at Christmas time. There are decorations to hang, family get-togethers to plan, and dozens of cookies to bake. But most stressful of all are the gifts to be purchased and given.

Who should get a gift? What should you get for them? Where is the best place to buy the gift? When should you give it? How can you do gift giving the right way?

Exhausted woman in a Santa hat sitting with a long shopping list of gifts, surrounded by bags and gift boxes, vector illustration, EPS 8

God the Father, the ultimate gift-giving expert, offers these 5 tips for infusing joy into gift giving again.

 

Tip #1

The best Christmas present is given out of love not out of duty.

John 3:16 says

For God so LOVED the world that he GAVE his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but will have eternal life.

Tip #2

Make sure your gift is given at just the right time. Not too early and not too late.

Galatians 4:4 says

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.

Tip #3

Build anticipation by creating a scavenger hunt or clues for finding the gift.

Matthew 2:1-3 says

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Tip #4

Think “outside the box” when it comes to wrapping the gift.

Luke 2:7 says

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

Tip #5

Include various descriptive names of the gift so the receiver understands the gift’s full value.

Isaiah 9:6 says

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

These 5 tips will put you well on your way to a joy-filled gift giving season. If you need further gift giving guidance, consult the expert, God the Father, through prayer or in a Bible near you.

How to Make a Collage Writing Desk or End Table

I needed a writing desk. I had a long desk that I loved, but I also loved to pile stuff on it to the point that it was so full that the space wasn’t really fit for working. I had been given this round end table by a friend and the top was flaking off so that whenever I touched it, I had an imprint of fine brown dust on my fingers.

So I needed a plan. I decided that I wanted to have writing on my writing desk. So I went on the lookout for handwritten letters for the top, but I couldn’t find any after months of looking. Then I was shopping at a second hand bookstore yesterday and they always have a bin of free books outside. There was a book called The Low Calorie Cookbook from 1952 that was so fragile and the pages were so brown with age that I knew it was perfect! I also found another paperback or two in the bin that were falling apart and had different fonts and different shades of pages.

Here’s how I created the top of the writing desk:

First I tore out pages from the old books and laid them out to see how I wanted them. I discovered I liked it best without the margins showing so I tore a lot of the pages in half or tore off the top margin so that text was right up against text. I let the pages hang over the edge of table.

After I tore out the pages and laid it out, I moved the pages off the table top and began at the top to brush a layer of Modge Podge onto the table like glue and to lay down the pages on top of the glue smoothing out the pages and air bubbles. If I had to do it again, I would have had less pages overlapping because those areas of overlapping remained thick when I was doing the final coats and they were hard to seal in because they were so thick. Then I let it dry for two hours.

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After the pages were glued down, I trimmed around the edges with an Xacto knife which gave a ragged look to the edges. I could have trimmed with scissors if I wanted a cleaner look.

Next I began the finishing coats on top. I ended up brushing on four coats on top. Like I said before, the places that were very thickly overlapped where hard to finish, so I wish I would have glued them down better when overlapping or that I would have not had so much paper overlapping. For every coat, you brush a thin layer and then let it dry for at least an hour. Since this was such a small surface, the brushing only took a minute or two each time.

Now the table is finished! I’m so pleased with the look!

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My writing corner

I use the writing desk for my writing corner with my $8 chair from the ReStore. When I bought the chair, I couldn’t fit it in my car, so I had to wait in the parking lot for my husband to come get me and my treasure in the van! Oops! But it was worth it!

restore-chair

And my corner is complete with the Elizabeth Elliot quote that my dear friend made for me to keep me on track when too much has piled up: Do the next thing. I can hear Elizabeth Elliot saying it “Do the next thing. Just pick up the next piece of paper from the pile and take care of it. Then pick up the next piece.”

In this corner I write business blogs for Assistant Angel and write whatever else I am trying to get published. I’m looking forward to many hours in my cozy writing corner.

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Something You Need, Something to Read, Something for Fun: Purposeful Christmas Giving in Just Three Presents

nathaniel-christmas-gifts

When my children were young, there was a financially tight year where I could only manage to spend $5 per kid for Christmas.  What could I possibly get for $5 per kid that would make for a happy Christmas morning?

About the same time I either heard or read about a family that limited the Christmas gifts in their family to only three since Jesus received three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

I decided that buying three gifts would be a great challenge with my low budget.  As I was shopping for the three gifts, I found myself wanting to vary the kinds of gifts I gave and so I started “something you need, something to read, and something for fun.” These categories gave some purposeful meaning to what little I could buy with my $5 per kid limit.

That was 8 years ago. Now I have more than $5 to spend per kid, but each year I have stuck to the three categories.

 

Something You Need

One year I found bathrobes on sale to give to the kids. Once I got my crafty son some Scotch tape since he always needed it for crafts (and I needed him to have his own, too, so he didn’t keep using mine!)

Other ideas from past years:  flashlights, hair care kit with a new hairbrush, hair spray, hair gel, and hair accessories, new desk chair (this was a great score from Craigslist!)

Something to Read

Most of the time, this means books. Usually I buy used so I can give more for less. I can find inexpensive used books at a library book sale or yard sale. If I want something in particular, betterworldbooks.com has some great sales usually less than $4 per book and free shipping. Ollies Bargain Outlet has a great book section as well.

I don’t always give just one book. Sometimes it’s a pile of books or a series. For my daughter who struggles with reading, I often do a coffee table book so there are lots of pictures. Last year her book was a celebration of the life of Princess Diana. But you don’t need to do a book. My husband gave me a Kindle e-reader one year. You could do a magazine or newspaper subscription.

Something for Fun

The first year, I made teddy bears with supplies I already had. This went a long way for me keeping in my budget! My kids are still young enough that “something for fun” usually means a toy.  Legos are a big hit. And dolls are great for my girls. Opening just one toy means that particular toy is cherished on Christmas morning!

As the kids get older, the “something for fun” will branch out beyond toys. And I can take into consideration each one’s personal definition of fun.

Other Ideas

I’ve heard of other families doing something similar and adding on more categories like “something to wear.” Some friends also give “something to do” meaning a game or craft kit. Maybe you have an idea of a category that would fit your family!

“Something you need, something to read, something for fun” gives me a simple plan to follow for Christmas shopping and giving.  It’s also a subtle way to point to the Savior who is the original receiver of three Christmas gifts and the ultimate gift giver.

White silhouette nativity scene

(note: this post contains affiliate links. Read the disclosure policy here.)

 

 

We Stopped Giving our Kids Birthday Presents

I was tired of tripping over toys! My four kids had so many. Some they had outgrown but nostalgia had prevented them from passing the toys along. Some were only played with when I held it up and said “are we done with this toy yet?” followed by a chorus of “oh, no, that’s our favorite.” I tried to be sneaky and scoop forgotten toys into an unmarked cardboard box. Just when I was sure those toys had been permanently forgotten, I would hear “has anyone seen my…?”

Since my plans for downsizing were continually foiled, I redirected my energy to prevent further accumulation. Each birthday we amassed more from relatives and friends. It was like the toys had babies to mark the days I had babies. Only I reproduced one baby at a time. The toys multiplied like rabbits.

One day I announced that this year Dad and I would not be giving them presents, but instead they could have a Birthday Experience of their choice. Everyone froze. Then came the exclamations of “what!!!!???” and scowls with furrowed brows. I quickly moved on to explain the Birthday Experience as their choice of celebration or activity that our immediately family would happily do together. I waited a moment to let the idea take root and bloom into praise of my genius idea, but the tight lips and narrow eyes remained. So I further stated that they still would get presents from extended family. Only then did their bodies relax with a relieved sigh.

Six weeks later the first family birthday of the year came. Caroline, the six-turning-seven year old, thought about the birthday parties she had attended and remembered several where the children had bounced on inflatable slides and obstacle courses in a large two-roomed gymnasium. Other kids got this experience for their birthday so she wanted this, too. I reserved our time slot for a glow in the dark open bounce time and had a great time! Even though we didn’t pay the extra $150 for the party room with the inflatable birthday throne and paper crown, Caroline felt sufficiently celebrated. The first birthday experience of the year was a success and now the other three children were busily brainstorming the possibilities for their own Birthday Experiences.

Molly, the five-turning-six year old, remembered that she had enjoyed roller skating when she was four years old and wanted to do it again. I looked back on that day, too, and remembered her shuffling around the rink like a preschool pro not being bothered at all that Dad and I couldn’t skate with her since we were helping the other three children when we weren’t falling down ourselves.

The day before we had planned to go roller skating, Molly found me in the kitchen and announced that she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese because Caroline thought it would be a good idea. I blurted out “Oh, no. We are going to go roller skating. This is YOUR experience, not Caroline’s!”

The next day we laced up and shuffled our inexperienced selves onto the rink. After managing one loop around with my two older girls hanging on me, I came back to see Molly limp on the rink floor crying. Apparently two years of growth can do a number on one’s center of gravity. As I skated up to her she screamed through her tears, “I told you I wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese!”

So we turned in our skates after having been there for about 15 minutes and headed off to Chuck E. Cheese where we did, indeed, see Molly have a happy birthday, her smile widening with each gold coin plunked into a slot.

A week later Evelyn, the eight-turning-nine year old, had her birthday. She is a “go big or go home” child. Her Birthday Experience was no different. She wanted to spend the night in a hotel since she had never been in one before. I booked a hotel 10 minutes away with a pool, huge fluffy beds, and a weight room. There was also a television which was a treat since we only have internet at home. Evelyn even invited everyone to eat from the vending machine–her treat–since she insisted that was part of being in a hotel.

Enjoying the hotel pool

After providing the hotel Birthday Experience, which was exponentially more expensive and time consuming than Chuck E. Cheese or bouncy inflatables, I was a little nervous about what Nathaniel, the ten-turning-eleven year old, would choose two months later on his birthday. Would he choose something even more over the top? Would he ask to see the Grand Canyon or go skydiving?

One day he announced that he wanted unlimited screen time for a whole day for the whole family.  His experience also included food (if you can call it that). He wanted sugary cereal: “you know, Mom, the kinds you NEVER buy…Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Trix, Froot Loops.” That choice dispelled my financial fears. You couldn’t get much cheaper than four boxes of sugary cereal.

The kids ate all 59 servings of sugary cereal that day (minus the crunchy rainbow of artificially-colored processed grains that bounced all over the floor after a bowl had been poured too quickly and minus the non-marshmallows from the Lucky Charms that were passed over by Caroline).  The kids enjoyed their lazy day. An unforeseen bonus: It was QUIET! My husband and I got to play a game and watch a movie together UNINTERUPTED!

What originally began as a tricky ploy to prevent our house from gaining more toys resulted in a gain of a different kind. First of all, we gained family memories. Most of the family time we have together is centered on holidays or vacations. Any other family activities usually get tossed away using the excuse that we do not have time. Tying the family experiences to birthdays forced us to plan time together that we normally wouldn’t have.

Each kid gained an experience of leadership and independence by picking the activity. Usually my husband and I are the leaders and the boss. Since both of us are firstborns this comes naturally to us. I could see each child’s confidence build as we lived their dream day.

We also gained a window into our children’s souls. What do they like to do? Things they’ve done before? New things? Do they want to be out with people or stay in? Are they swayed and motivated by what others have or suggest? Or do they bravely step out to do the unknown?

The next round of birthdays begins soon in our house. The children are already looking forward to choosing an experience again. Not only do they say that to my face, but I’ve even caught them proudly telling their friends that they don’t get presents from Mom and Dad but they get a Birthday Experience. This year my husband and I will jump in on the fun and choose our Birthday Experience, too.  I look forward to gaining more- more time together, more memories, more experiences, more of each of us contributing our individual personalities into our family fun.