Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Chosen People, a Royal Priesthood

Patrick and I have been blessed to experience God's grace in finding a church home at Lowcountry Community Church.  While it's much different from the Harbor (our church in Okinawa), LCC is a place where Jesus is exalted above all, and Truth is taught with passion.  The last two weeks the pastors have done a series on worship, and the messages have resounded with my spirit throughout the week.

If you asked 10 people for a definition of the word "worship", you'd likely get 10 completely different responses.  Joe (the missions pastor at LCC) gave the following definition: "the act and attitude or wholeheartedly giving yourself to God; body, mind and spirit."  When we think of a worship service we tend to ask the question, what can I get out of this?  How can I be spiritually fed?  In reality, the purpose of worship is to give something to God.  The notion that we can give anything to God seems almost outrageous, but consider that God created us with hearts bent on worshipping.  Our purpose on this earth is to bring glory to God through praise and thanksgiving.  For the unbeliever who doesn't worship God, he or she will default to worshipping other (little g) gods (i.e. sports, careers, possessions, etc.)  There seems to be a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only He can fill.

I love this verse in 1 Peter 2:9 that says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  What a beautiful picture of grace!  God saves us from death through sin and calls us to be a holy people.  When you consider the weight of God's grace and His everlasting love, the only appropriate response is worship!  Scripture gives many examples of worship including thanksgiving, prayer, music, dancing, clapping or raising hands, and offering tithes.  Though our individual worship may be different, the heart behind it should be the same.  God is glorified when our hearts are submitted to Him and our spirits are humbled before Him.

Psalm 96
I sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns."
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.

Book Review: "32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny" by Philip Done

I can say without a doubt that reading this book changed my life.  This is the book that made me want to be a teacher.  It is one that I read about twice a year and never tire of it.  Philip Done is a third grade teacher, and is the winner of the Schwab Foundation Distinguished Teacher Award, an achievement he certainly deserves.  In this little book he tells story after story of the antics of his class of 32 students (and one bunny).  It is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and many chapters had me in tears.  From getting his tie stuck in the laminator, to searching for an escaped snake, Philip has seen it all in his many years of teaching.  He brings the reader in to the world of education, and helps us remember what it was like to be students ourselves.  The simplicity of his writing style and the charm of the stories themselves make this a treasured book in my library.  Philip has a way of putting on paper what so many teachers probably wish they could!  On a daily basis we experience so many wonderful teacher moments, but usually fail to write them down.  I think it is the shared experiences between teachers that make this such a precious book.  I would, without hesitation, recommend "32 Third Graders" to anyone in need of some lighthearted reading and a hearty dose of laughter!    

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Recovery: A call to return to God's ways of doing things.

Economically our country is in a mess.  A mess most of us are tired of living in and are ready to do something about.  Dave Ramsey, a financial expert who has offered millions of people a way out of debt, is heading up a new movement called The Great Recovery.  He has rightly said that God is still in control and is stirring in our country.  As God's people we are called to do things His ways, not our ways.  Many Americans are suffering with financial issues that seem endless, filling them with a sense of despair and near-panic.  This is not how God intended us to live.  The Bible has much to say about how we handle money, and it comes as no surprise that people who don't handle money God's way don't always do so well.

We all eventually have to come to a point where we recognize that everything we have is God's.  We are called to be good stewards with what He has given us because none of it is ours in light of eternity.  If we are responsible with money and resources He blesses us with, we will prosper.  On the flip side, if we are irresponsible with money, we will lose it.  Being irresponsible can include things like going into debt for things you can't afford (i.e. a house.)  I'm not sure where we got this idea that we all deserve to live in a big house, drive nice cars, and have fancy things, but it's a lie.  In some ways the whole American Dream is never ending spiral of having to have more.  When we are sucked into that spiral we become obsessed with always wanting bigger and better things, leading to debt or other bad money-related choices.  Wake up!  Having more stuff isn't going to make you happier.  That should seem like a no-brainer since we've all experienced the disappointment at realizing we aren't fulfilled when we finally get something we've wanted for a long time.

The Bible has much to say about how we are to handle money.  God says that anyone who lives according to His Word is wise, but anyone who ignores it is a fool.  We have the tools at our fingertips.  Let us not be called foolish by the Almighty God!

Proverbs 22:7 reminds us that,  "the borrow is the slave of the lender."  Anyone who has been in debt understands that it is indeed a kind of slavery.  Unbelievers are held captive by the sinful nature of man, which is never content and always wants more.  1 Timothy 6:6-10 sums up the ultimate outcome of this kind of living.  "But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."  

Handling money God's ways means more than just avoiding debt or making wise investments.  We are also called to give back to God what is His to begin with, and do so with a joyful heart.  Deuteronomy 15:10 says, "Give generously to him (the poor) and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land."   It's not up to me to say how much everyone should be giving to the Lord, but if we are withholding from God what is rightfully His, we clearly have our priorities out of whack.  We should give generously unto the Lord and he will bless us greatly, though not always in a material sense.  Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, but we can rest on the promise of God that He will always provide for our eternal needs.

Dave Ramsey has made a video explaining The Great Recovery movement, and I encourage you all to watch it.  It's absolutely worth the time to sit down and hear what he has to say.  If nothing else, at least watch the first few minutes of the introduction.  His captivating way of speaking will keep you hooked, and you'll be inspired to start living differently.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Day in the Life of a First Grade Teaching Assistant

I have survived my first week of school at my new job as a teaching assistant.  I work in three first grade classrooms so I have a total of 60 students.  Although I'm bummed about not being a classroom teacher, I love that I get to know all the children in first grade!  That's way more students to teach and love than if I had my own class of just 20.

To give you a taste of what my job is like, here are some of the things I do during the day.  I'm the first to welcome the students to class in the morning as I take attendance and the lunch count.  I help them with their morning work and remind them that when writing the number 16 the one comes before the six.  I show them how to push their pencil into the sharpener so it actually gets sharpened, after they've been standing there for 5 minutes without making any progress.  I tie shoes, give permission to go to the water fountain, and show them how to line up in a "toothpick line" when we leave the classroom.  I hold glasses at recess and give hugs when they fall down because they were running too fast.  I remind the boys that one person can go down the slide at a time, not ten.  I examine loose teeth, and holes where teeth were the day before.  I draw stars and smiley faces at the top of their work, and I sit with them to explain things they don't understand.  I tell them to put all four chair legs on the floor.  I help them up when they fall out of their chair because they did not keep all four legs on the floor.  I create bulletin boards, and display the kids' work, and brag about them to the other teachers.  I remind them that it's ok to make mistakes, and that's why I have a job in the first place, because if they already knew everything, they wouldn't need a teacher.  I usually come home at the end of the day covered in marker and glitter.  I also come home exhausted.

I know this year is going to be challenging.  This school is a lot different from where I student taught in Okinawa.  Beaufort Elementary is a Title 1 school meaning they get special funding since the majority of the students come from low income homes.  Many students come to school hungry because they didn't get breakfast at home.  Often they come from unstable homes, so the only time they hear words of affirmation are at school from their teachers.  This makes our job that much more important!

I think one of the most important parts of my job is to pray for my students daily, since I might be the only one doing so.  There have already been a few students referred to social services for various issues.  It's clear that there is plenty to pray about for these kids!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Art of Making Sweet Tea

Although I'm not in the habit of posting recipes in my blog, I figured it's appropriate given the name of my site. Now that I live in the deep south I see myself as a southern belle in training.  Down here sweet tea is a big deal so naturally, I must perfect the art of making it.  In previous posts I've written about making mint tea with Mrs. Mom.  Before we moved down to South Carolina she gave me my very own mint plant, which is miraculously still alive despite the heat.  Who knew that mint could stay green in desert-like temperatures?

This past weekend while the Stewards were here, Mom and I spent awhile experimenting with our tea recipe.  Somewhat accidentally, we stumbled upon one that is worth sharing, so I hope you like it! Rather than adding regular sugar, this recipe requires simple syrup, the way real southern tea is made.  So without further ado....

The necessary ingredients
Sweet Mint Tea
1.  Start the simple syrup first.  Boil 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Whisk until sugar is dissolved then remove from heat.  Add mint leaves and stir.
2.  For the tea, boil 4 cups of water and steep 4 black tea bags.  Add a pinch of baking soda to reduce bitterness in the tea.  Do Not squeeze the tea bags!
3.  Add 2 cups of cold water and the simple syrup to the tea and stir well.  You'll end up with about 6 cups of tea.
4.  Pour over ice.
5.  Enjoy.

Tea tastes better with friends (and a porch if you can swing it)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Entertaining in South Carolina

The last two weekends have been busy since we've had visitors!  Last weekend Mom and Dad (Steward) drove down to stay with us from Saturday till Wednesday.  We had an awesome time with them despite the crazy heat wave we're having here in S. Carolina.  
We took them to Parris Island so they could get a taste of boot camp, and we also checked out the museum on base which displays the history of the Recruit Depot.  
Enjoying our tea on the porch
Mom and I spent lots of hours in the kitchen experimenting with our delicious mint tea, anadama bread, and other tasty dinners.  One afternoon while the boys went off in search of a shooting range, we went to PetsMart to hold the baby ball pythons.  I appreciate the fact that I have a mother-in-law that likes snakes as much as I do.  Makes me feel like less of a weirdo.

Baby ball python
You know you want one (or two)
The boys also stayed busy putting together the hammock stand so now we can finally use the hammock that Patrick made out in Okinawa.  The visit seemed to fly by, and we were very sad to see them go on Wednesday.  Hopefully their next visit will be a cooler one and we can spend more time outside!
The hammock that Patrick made

Happy reunion!
This weekend Pete, Emily, and Matias came to visit, and it was a welcome reunion after not seeing each other for over a year!  It was amazing to see how much Matias has grown and changed over the last 15 months, and he's too cute for words!  He did and excellent job of entertaining us for the two days they were here.  It was wonderful to catch up with such good friends, and I'm thankful that they were willing to make the trip out to see us.
Playing with bubbles outside

Boys are so charming
After so much excitement our house seems pretty quiet, but I'm looking forward to getting into a new routine soon.  I start my new job on Monday so I need to get back into the habit of getting up super early.  I'm sure I'll have lots of fun stories from first grade to tell after this week so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review: God's Call by Brother Andrew

This is the second book by Brother Andrew that I've read, the first being God's Smuggler.  Andrew is a missionary who takes the gospel into places where others dare not go.  In his first book he tells about his work smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.  In this second publication Andrew goes to war-torn countries in Africa, South and Central America, and the Middle East bringing Bibles and encouraging the church there.  His work is a testament to the faithfulness of God that the truth of the gospel is bigger than any political organization or revolutionary movement.

The book includes many stories of smuggling operations in dangerous areas where risk is high but faith in God is higher.  In it Andrew encourages Christians to answer God's call in taking the name of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  I especially appreciate that he discusses the fact that political and religious groups are never an enemy that we fight.  For example, Muslims are not enemies of Christians, and if we start to see them as such, God will never be able to use us to minister to them.  Rather, Satan himself is the enemy, and the battle we fight is a spiritual one.  Only through prayer and faith in our Lord will we be able to take back ground Satan has conquered.  Andrew reminds us that this battle has already been won; two thousand years ago when Christ was crucified and rose from the dead Satan was defeated.  However in this time, the enemy is trying to claim as many lives as he can in the time he has left.  Believers should be bold in their faith, and be willing to risk everything for the sake of Christ.

I love reading accounts of missionaries around the world, and Brother Andrew is one who always inspires me.  He is the founder of the organization Open Doors, which serves the persecuted church around the world.  You can check out their site here

Friday, August 5, 2011

Let Your Light Shine

Today has been an awesome day.  I had a job interview for a teaching assistant position at Beaufort Elementary School, and shortly afterwards I was offered the job.  I spent a lot of time preparing for the interview, and praying about the job.  I had given over the whole thing to the Lord, trusting that if it was his will then it would all work out.  While praying I reflected on the fact that God is sovereign even over job interviews.  I was able to go into it with a wonderful sense of peace.

A verse that was on my heart for the last few days was Matthew 10:32-33 which says, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before the Father in heaven."  Now, I know that you wouldn't normally go into a job interview talking about your faith, but that's what I felt God nudging me to do.  So as the principal asked me about myself my first words were explaining that I'm a Christian, and I love the Lord.  I told them how I felt that God has blessed me with a desire and a gift for working with children, and that's why I'm pursuing a teaching career.  When they asked where I see myself in five years I told them about our longing to do missions work overseas and my goal to lift children out of poverty through education.  It was a liberating moment getting to share my faith with these total strangers, but as my future employers I felt that it was necessary for them to know what (or should I say Who) it is that propels my life.

I know that I had little to do with getting this position.  I think what impressed them was the Light they saw in me that comes from knowing Jesus.  In John 8:12 Jesus says, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  Christ gives us this light and allows us to reflect it in the world as we see in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."  Christians are sort of like moons aren't we?  God is the sun and when we know Him, His light shines upon us and we reflect that light in the world.  "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world."  (John 1:9)  Praise God for light that shines in the darkness!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For where two or three are gathered...

Bible study girls in Okinawa
One of the most exciting developments in my life is that I have started a women's Bible study.  What I miss most about Okinawa is the fellowship with other women who share my love for Jesus.  As soon as we set foot on American soil, finding a group of like-minded girls was one of my top priorities.  Unfortunately, it's been difficult to meet new people, especially since I'm not working yet.  In Okinawa it was always so easy to strike up new friendships, but here I've had to work a little harder at it.

We were blessed a few weeks ago to meet our neighbors, Ian and Carolyn, who are also followers of Christ.  They told us about their church, Lowcountry Community Church, where we've been attending for several weeks.  I told Carolyn about my interest in starting a women's group and she was on board right away.  She called a few other friends who are interested, and now we've got a group together!  I'm excited to share my spiritual walk with these new friends and watch as the group grows together in our love for Christ.

There is something powerful about Christian fellowship that doesn't happen in just any group of friends.  Understand that when I say Christian fellowship I don't just mean believers who get together to socialize.  True fellowship happens when followers of Christ come together and share their spiritual lives with one another, pray together, and study God's Word together.  Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." (Matthew 18:20)  I've been blessed to witness this for myself in many small groups who come together in Christ's name.  The Holy Spirit is present in a very real way when we come together in fellowship.

Not surprisingly, the Lord knows that our need for fellowship is great.  That's why we are commanded in scripture to continue to meet with one another.  Hebrews 10:23-25 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  I love the idea that as Christians we can spur on one another in faith.  We've all had times of doubt or darkness in our lives, and sometimes it's the word or support of a fellow believer that helps get us into the Light once again.  Without fellowship we run the risk of missing out on many blessings that God has for us.  I would encourage you all to be involved in a small group and experience the presence of Christ in a whole new way!   

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I've been looking forward to writing this blog entry for awhile now.  We are finally moved in to our house and I took a few pictures of the new place with all our furniture.  The boxes are all unpacked and it really does feel like a home now.  I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
View of the living room from the kitchen



Master bedroom

Guest room

Guest room 


Cozy living room

We've sold our furniture and are waiting for our new sectional

Once it cools off I'll write blog entries from the porch!

Now that we're all moved in, it's time to start hosting visitors!  I hope to have friends and family visiting often!