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Archive for the ‘my cup of tea’ Category

a   r e d e m p t i v e   g l i m p s e

f o r   a   1 5 -p a s s e n g e r  v a n

I wasn’t exactly thrilled at upgrading from mini-van to 15 passenger van.  I called it the Great White Ark.  Chris’s employees called it Moby Dick.  I cringed every time I passed someone coming the other direction the first few months, not out of embarrassment, though I might should have, but out of fear of side-swiping them. Whenever I had to drive it, I felt as insecure as a fifteen year old with a driver’s permit, only I was on my own now, with five kids in tow at the mercy of my driving skills and, more importantly, the goodness of God.  I parked in the farthest parking lots.  I literally stopped at a low tunnel bridge to ask assistance of a road construction worker:  “Sir, can you tell whether this thing will fit under there?”   He laughed, but he wasn’t so sure either…he told me to pull up slowly and helped me to decide.  It did.  Tunnel height signs had never meant anything to me before.

Despite my initial lack of confidence and skill in driving it, in the short months of owning the Ark, I have (amazingly) only caused incremental damage:  I backed into a bike leaning against our retaining wall; the handle bar broke a fragment of our brake light cover.  I went on my merry way down the road in the early-darkening night of winter to get groceries only to be pulled over by a cop.  I was flustered.  I docked the boat in the nearest shopping mall and upon finding out my crime—the important one regarding fragmented brake light covers—I commenced to look for my papers.  Next came my new-found discovery.  I had no interior lights, a luxury I had always formerly taken for granted.  I managed to feel for the car papers and give them to the policeman who, noting my nervous concern, tried to alleviate it by saying he’d just give me a warning and that frankly, the reason he pulled me over was because my van fit the description of another that had committed felony in the area—the five children and I on our way to get groceries just didn’t fit the suspects, I suppose.  Chris and I saw that same description of the suspect vehicle posted on a downtown restaurant a couple of days later and had a hearty laugh at our Great White Ark’s twin: broken light cover (yep), dent on the side (yep), tinted windows (yep)…  Yes, not flattering, but a very honest description of our own Great White Ark.  The other day,  Chris, who looked inconveniently shady himself, wearing a black toboggan on his cold, bare head, (not a sled, mind you, but a “toque”, for all you Canadians with translation problems here) waved at a passing pedestrian friend on the UT campus and offered him a ride.  Our friend, not recognizing him from across the street and in our “suspect” van, looked a little concerned for his safety as well. (:

It isn’t a thing of beauty, true, this van; and I sarcastically exhort others to tame their temptations to covet it.   But lest its ugliness be despised altogether, I must relate its redeeming values which endeared this former church bus and this former Mexican landscaping van and brought it into our family.  It’s paid for.  And its utilitarian tool value was high because not only can it haul more than twice our family size, it could haul all our family and everyone’s bike; or, in a pinch, it could pull Chris’ work trailer.  It has vinyl floors which can handle the wear and tear of its hauling vocation and be hosed down fairly easily—a car feature any one with children can appreciate to some degree.

But Sunday was a very redemptive day for our Great White Ark. It had borne my sarcasm and ridicule long enough, awaiting the glorification that only God can bring to those dented, dirtied, and large gaping spaces in our lives. Pastor Grimsley had noted earlier this week in the Wednesday Bible study how, as we see in the order of creation, God first creates spaces, then fills them appropriately, meaningfully fulfilling their purposes.  This van was one such space begging for His filling. And fill He did.  A college student with connections to a ministry with Section 8 housing in downtown Knoxville brought her two little friends two Sundays ago.  The next Sunday, six more little people eagerly awaited a ride to church.  We met them and invited them home for lunch, but they had plans already and so we rescheduled for the following Sunday. To our delight, plans were made to fill the corridors of our Great White Ark  with the next Sunday’s additional children who needed a ride to church and our house afterwards.

It was filling for us too.  We had been praying, Josiah joyfully reminded us all, that God would do just that—that he would open up doors for our family to share more of Christ’s love in our community.  I was  giddy with excitement.  I expressed it to Josiah.  He could understand, “That’s just how I feel about squirrels,” he admitted sincerely to me.  He’s been avidly defending our bird feeders against squirrels and raccoons, fulfilling some Y-chromosome based instincts that I don’t wholly connect with, despite the fact that I enjoyed shooting in my free time during my childhood, too.  The two nights before he had set a trap for a raccoon; this morning he had accidentally caught one of the neighbor’s cats who had been posted as missing for a month with a reward.  I understood his delight too, and laughed at our out-of-sync way of  connecting.

So Sunday came and the van filled.   Then it unfilled.  Then we filled two pews, then three, then two again. The filling and spilling were verily a little messy.  We filled, I hope, with God’s Word.  Then we spilled out of church, filled the van again, then filled up our home.  Fifteen children washed hands in turn.  Three or four girls, with sparkling exclamations about all the new smells and textures pulsating about them, passed Eden around and rolled and shaped the risen dough into four long baguettes with me in the kitchen.  They helped bring in logs for the fire.  One girl came in from the barn cradling a warm chicken egg on her cheek, explaining that she was going to keep it warm and hatch it.  Chris later tried to relate the comical barnyard introductions he had seen firsthand.  “That’s a real chicken?  I’ve never seen a real live chicken!  That an egg?  That [egg] came from the chicken?  You aren’t going to eat it are you?  Don’t eat it!  Yuck!” (:.

After the stray ends of lunch preparations came together, we filled the long harvest table, sang the doxology, ate till filled, then filled the house with more song.  Our cups overflowed, truly, since one dear little helper found such delight throughout the meal in being sure that everyone’s glass was filled with ice.  Dessert followed and I also made good on my outstanding debts to everyone—I had promised dark chocolate chips to all who memorized the first phrases of the Lord’s prayer on our trip home from church.  We spilled into house and yard again, filling it with abundant movement and noise, then back into the van, then back to apartments where we had met this morning, the place where this particular van seemed so specially suited.  I hope the filling and spilling don’t stop there.  There are so many spaces awaiting His redemptive purposes.

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m u s i n g  o n  a- m u s i n g

Amusement.  I had come across the word yesterday and it had scolded me slightly.  It always does.  I recall going to a seminar with my parents once at Berea Baptist Church when I was on college break—a rather long time ago now.  The speaker within the short designated hour clearly commanded my attention toward some simple everyday words, so that my future encounters with amusement and entertainment, were not to be so unguarded as they had previously been.  A-muse, he pointed out, was derived from the Greek, the “a” being the prefix for “without” as in a-gnostic (without knowledge) and a-theist (without God). The “muse” being the word for thinking, pondering, considering. “-Ment” is a state of being. So amusement would, by strict etymological dissection, be defined as “the state of not thinking”.    He speared the word “entertainment” with similar agility. It collapsed pathetically to the floor in three parts: “enter” (to enter) “tain” (from Latin: to hold, possess, take captive) “ment” (the state of being).  The application of such word play was the challenge for us to thoughtfully muse—to consider—what we allow to enter our thoughts to hold us captive. And it did.

I found myself more thoughtfully analyzing the screens that bombarded me daily:  the news, the ads, the tv shows, the movies, even cartoons, and all the old-school media forms, too: books, journals, the radio, textbooks. I started seeing them for they were— a pulpit, a relentless, hounding pulpit, preaching to me what I should do and be and think—and often starkly contrasting what the Bible says I should think, feel, and do.  But Paul in the Scriptures urges us to see the world’s propaganda for what it really is:  strongholds and warfare (I Corinthians 10:5).  He urges us to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ”.  Wow.  Weapons on screens.  Weapons in God’s Word, that double-edged sword.  Warfare in my brain, two conflicting sides vying for power to enter and take captive my every thought, feeling, action.  And everybody else’s too.  I came to realize that we are in a cultural battle with the world about our thinking on absolutely everything:  sex, money, glory, work, love, friendship,  marriage, family, children, purpose, sacrifice, justice, goodness, beauty, truth.  I dared not a-muse myself—any further not thinking on my part was an open invitation that the world would eagerly accept to entertain, “to enter and take captive” the very thoughts that ought to be obeying Christ

God calls us take every thought captive to him.  He wants to be the one to captivate us, to entertain us (:, to teach us the how and why and what we ought to think about sex, money, glory, work, love, friendship, marriage, family, children, purpose, sacrifice, justice, goodness, beauty, truth.  After all, He created them, and He made them very good.  So how should we think about these things?  Our thinking has to be be directed by God’s Word.  It is like a great compass to give us a sense of direction in the rambling landscape of life—if we ignore it through arrogance or ignorance, we do so at our inexcusable peril.  God has poignant language to describe those who yield their thought and feeling and action to His enemy—they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, their foolish hearts are darkened, their thinking becomes futile, they exchange the truth of God for a lie, they are given over to a depraved mind (Romans 1).  But as part of His kingdom, we are called instead to humbly submit our thoughts to the authority of Christ, the Word Incarnate.  And as we obey His Word, acknowledging its supreme authority in every aspect of life, we find we really are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We begin to understand these things aright and we learn to embrace and enjoy them in their beautifully resurrected form, in all their satisfying fullness, the way He intended us to before the Fall.

Christians of our day are unfortunately not exactly renown for their astute thinking skills.  “Feely” skills. Yeah.  Thinking. Not so much.  But in a cultural battle with the world for it all, God calls us to diligence and arms.  Our weapon is thought, and word, and deed shaped by the divine power, the transforming power of the Word Incarnate.

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r i g h t   n o w ?   p h o n i c s.

It had been a long phonics lesson.  Every word seemed to be just the segue for some diverting Matthias-tic explanation or definition and I had to some degree permitted it.  We were reviewing short “e” sounds and had meandered beyond the word “bread”, that Matthias excitedly noted was “just like we read the other day when Jesus fed the too-many people!”; and we had savored the word “steadfast” where he naturally broke out into the scripture song of Lamentations 3:22,23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning, new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord!”  And while the word “dead” wasn’t on the list, something jolted in that head of his–I think it might have been my permissiveness with the former diversions—prompting an all out random diversion:  “Are we all going to die?”  “Yes, we’ll all die someday” was my extremely short answer, for my determination was not to get side-tracked yet again (though admittedly, one of the reasons I am here, right now, home schooling with him, is for seizing with intention the opportunities that many of these diversions provide).  With a grin, a wrinkled nose, a furrowed brow, and a shrug of the shoulders, he recognized and admitted his inadequacy, “I don’t know how.”  I encouraged him that God will make us ready on the way and reminded him that right now, his job is to do phonics.

You just told him to do phonics?  Yes. I did.  Unapologetically.  For even phonics can be a lesson in dying, can’t it? Perhaps I didn’t seize the opportunity to explain the theological nuts and bolts of Christian death and resurrection, but I was still teaching it:  I was teaching a little one to die:  to embrace the seemingly hard way, to die to the urge to do and say and think about whatever I want. And I was teaching him to be resurrected, to live, to force his action, his lisping syllables, and tend-to-stray thoughts to stay cheerfully focused on the command God carved out clearly and especially for His youngest image-bearers:  Honor your father and your mother, the first commandment with a promise, that you may live… (Ephesians 6).  And if mom is calling you to do phonics, then right now, phonics is the way of life. (:

Teaching little ones to die requires a lot of teacher prep in dying and resurrecting which I’m learning, largely by field experience. I need to hear God’s directing Word and heed it, look hard and long in the guiding eyes of my own Father, at His Word and His Word Made Flesh; when I don’t hear and heed, life smarts with His discipline for my sin, often through my children, my emulating students.  Sin brings an emptiness—

I prioritize other gods (usually self) before Him and don’t work and live in a sense of coram Deo—and I taste the emptiness of my vain worthless pursuits and see my children following suit right behind.  I have not rightly served, or worshipped, God as God, but rather serve these false priorities or serve God in my own way while belittling the humble ways and means He has directed me to worship Him in His Word—and I taste the emptiness and share its bitter fruit with my children.  I use His name in vain because I bear His name and image,“child of God”, but I slander it by living a life grossly misshapened and distorted by sin—and my children and I, with the watching world, who are looking on for an answer to their own void, feel empty.  I don’t work diligently at my given calling when He says to (six days)—I feel fruitless, empty while I scold rather than teach my children for lazily neglecting their work.  And I don’t remember and rest when He says to–because, I say, justifyingly, “I will remember all the time”–so I don’t take any time, and in particular I neglect this one time lovingly, divinely set apart at creation and redemption, to look back and rest and celebrate deliverance from bondage and invite everyone in my spheres to do the same—I rather choose bondage and its emptiness and use this time in bondage, serving, worshipping other gods carrying God’s children, a stolen sacrifice to pagan altars. I have cursed and mocked God-given authority and taught my children to disregard God’s authority by allowing them to disobey, ignore, and disrespect their parents—I think I am being benevolent and I justify it and may even call it grace–but I am the one being disobedient to my Father, I am the one guilty of the disrespect; the dishonor that comes upon His name in the eyes of my children is rightly mine.  I kill with thoughts, with looks, with words, cloaking my murder in a thousand guises—and I feel the depths of hate in sharp words and insults, our bloodless but hate-filled pools of emptiness.  I have not regarded with due honor the sanctity of sexuality and holy matrimony, a holy vow to abide in love as one; watching child eyes are filled with tears as they see empty love.  I teach my children to be a thief of blessings God lends me, a thief of His glory which I claim as my own—and despite the hoarding of money, time, & glory—I am empty.  I am a slanderer of the Truth, and slanderer of others usually by blame-shifting rather than owning my faults–and I feel so empty.  I covet. I want and want and want some more, something I wasn’t given, something that isn’t there; I am a gaping unsatisfied hole of discontent of grumble and complaint and why can’t these kids just be grateful?–I feel empty.

And that excruciating empty means something. It wants something.  It’s craving something. The Bible has an interesting way of presenting itself:  A stumbling block for the wicked, life for the righteous.  Foolishness to the wise-in-their-own-eyes, wisdom for those in Christ.  Parables to confuse; parables to enlighten the wise in heart.  For those who reject Christ, that emptiness drives them in pursuit ad nauseum of the infinitely unsatisfying.  For the righteous in Christ, that very emptiness itself is part of God’s blessing—His discipline calling us home to be satisfied, calling us to leave behind the false idols and pig sty dung, calling us to the good mud, the mud on knees on holy ground in homage to Christ, the good mud that even the knees of the self-righteous-clad-in-his-good-enough-morality-elder-son doesn’t know and in his blindness, he can’t give thanks for.  A welcoming Father embraces prodigal with open arms of grace in spite of the sty fumes that linger.  But he bathes us. Clothes us.  Feeds us.  We are His children, sons and daughters of the living God. We are starting to smell like it too. We don’t return to sty life (we think: “I can’t believe I used to eat that stuff!”), we’re resurrected to live on thankful knees.  We still get dirty (very), but here we know the blessing of cleansing well water (or indoor plumbing as it were) and the bread and wine in His house.  And unlike the older brother with slave mentality to the house rules and loving parameters, we are thankful. The Bible doesn’t carry the prodigal parable ad infinitum to tell us how the sin struggle ensues with these two sons.  But it comprehensively does.  Those who stand in their own righteousness boast in their own grave clothes.  And those who receive the righteous covering of Christ to replace their grave clothes ought to wear them.  Unrepentant wallowing-in-the-past immorality and slave-mentality ingratitude meet the same fruitless empty end because neither live in the present embracing love and obedience of Son to Father.

I have this quote above my desk, in my window:

It is not the case that God does the initial work of salvation and then stands back and we have to do the rest all by ourselves.  But the logic of God’s grace goes deeper than the question imagines.  God loves us as he finds us—which is more or less messy & muddy—but the grace which meets us where we are is not content to leave us as we are.  The whole New Testament insists that it’s not so much affirmation as transformation, a transformation shaped and energized by Jesus’ death and resurrection and by the work and power of the Spirit.  That, after all, is what the New Testament insists on as the meaning of baptism. Learning the Language of Life, Wright

God’s Word is a double-edged sword; a sacrifice tool. Piercing. Dividing. Discerning thoughts and intentions.  Exposing.  It prepares, cuts, empties, kills.  But it doesn’t leave me there… empty.  It empties and kills to bring fullness and life.  It resurrects, transforms, renews mind, raises, and draws me out of the formless void waters, takes me to Hebrews 4  & 5, to Jesus–able to sympathize with us in our weakness, in every respect tempted, yet without sin—takes me with confidence to draw near to Him for mercy…the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

The little people in my life are home schooling me.  We had hunch that would happen. They are always asking the good questions that drive me to God to ask good questions, too: How do I die? I am so uncertain.  But God takes my hands and leads me through the right now.  Right now, Rach, you learn to die by teaching phonics.

I’m almost sixteen years beyond writing a decent bibliography, but these authors have fueled and shaped thoughts, though I’m sure they’d pray for more of that on my part, and I’d like to tip my hat to them (which is far easier than finding my book on MLA documentation which is most certainly out of date.)  And it’s the nice thing to do because they brought some great things to my attention–albeit some  of them 13 years ago–that have been simmering since then as daily reminders in my right now.

Convicting implications, positive and negative, of the Ten Commandments:

Johannes G. Vos  The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary

Hebrews and sacrifice language:

Peter Leithart, A House for My Name

Slave versus Son mentality in the Prodigal Parable:

Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God

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NTH, oil pastels

JDH, MH, oil pastels

Art.  A quaint picture isn’t it?  I especially like photos versus video on this one because it makes all the noise and movement stand still and it seems so idyllic.  There.  There’s home schooling. Right?

 

Unpainted and unpictured are my anxious thoughts, particularly the day prior when we work with watercolors and I dare not think of a camera for I am at the ready for all the potential artistic energy present at my kitchen table: water and color and eager fingers clutched around paintbrushes and souls ecstatic with the rush of being creative like our Maker.  My nerves and muscles tense with readiness to catch the inevitable: spilled, overflowing, and spattered creativity that cannot be contained.  Not to mention there’s the unpictured background, the antithesis of still-life, my sweet whir and whirl of happy movement, Eden, who I am anxiously tracking lest she apply a damp “wash” on the palette of my wood floor with her own watercolor technique–she’s toilet training.  Quaint mom.  Quaint kids.  Quaint pictures.  Quaint happy thoughts.  But real life and real art are messy processes.  More colorful than we intend.  And often damp.  So it’s good again and again to step back for some perspective, seize a little still-life glimpse, and savor with a grateful eye and heart the solitary beauty of the small moments.

I suppose it adds to the irony, but I am unable, for some odd reason, to rotate this photo

 

Siisum’s Flower, you thought?  And which child’s is that? Oh, that would be Matthias’ flower.  He can read forwards, but he struggles with writing forwards.  Read it backwards phonetically, with “Th” where you see one “S”, because he struggles to distinguish them in speech, and you can decode it too.  Yes, I am in the process of teaching him to write forwards too (:.

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Nathanael received the game Bananagrams for his birthday.  It’s a game where you use letter tiles to form your own scrabble-like crossword until you’re out of letters.  The first time we played it the other day, I showed him how to spell “adieu” when he was stuck with a lot of vowels.  Well, in this game you have the opportunity to trade in one letter for an additional three letters, but since the object of this game is to be the first to run out of letters, getting more letters usually isn’t the best maneuver.  So, I look over at a mass of letter tiles that have accumulated outrageously in Nathanael’s table space and ask with unsuppressed laughter, “Honey, why are you getting more letters?  You have a ton already.”  He looked a little sheepish at my apparent ridicule of him, but his eyes were no doubt twinkling at his treasure…come to find out, he was so enamored with the word “adieu”, he had spelled “adieu” five times with his letters and had exchanged as many as he could for more letters so he could spell it again.  I looked at his letters–he seriously had enough to letters to spell illumination, minuet, harmonize, and exiting, among several others not to mention one more adieu. (:  It made me laugh, (yes, Chris, my love), out loud.  And it made me consider how much the object, the goal, the purpose definitely affects the play of the game. Nathanael missed the game’s object, but he understood the larger objective of any game:  have fun.

Nathanael wasn’t bogged down by any secondary objectives.  And I want to be like him, unhindered in the purpose that God gives.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #1, explains the object of the existence game with instructional brevity and clarity for the budding players:  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  In this culture, maybe that object sounds ludicrous–like spelling “adieu” five times in the middle of a game where the understood object is “you first wins”.  Glorify and enjoy God?  I’ve found that doesn’t really correspond to a lot of secondary objectives I’ve toyed with pursuing.  But the upside down, wonderful thing God does is that He tells us to lose our life with all its secondary objectives and to find it in Him. And in the midst of this exchange where someone may scoff at our presumed loss, we find, with our own twinkling, satsified eye, that our treasured object actually has been met and our joy strangely completed in Him.

 

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messes

She’s a mess,” a friend told me recently.  “I mean it”, she repeated, “She’s a mess.”  I wasn’t unconvinced the first time she said it.  Really.  I was throughly convinced before she told me.  I just thought I heard her saying the whole time– though admittedly she didn’t per se– that I wasn’t a mess.  And, that she wasn’t a mess.  And that is what astonished me.  And I thought, rather sadly, that she must not know me at all.  For I am very certainly a mess.  And whether or not she’ll own it,  she is too.  All the people I love best in life, I’m quite sure of this, they’re all messes.  And the ones I truly love most are the ones that eat and drink with me at the Table. The Lord’s Table.  Our eating and drinking are loud proclamations; they are our confessions together of our messes and thankful recognition that He has mended all.  And the Table offered there on the Sabbath is His confession  that “It is finished”.  Ahh, blessed Sabbath rest!  His death and resurrection mock death and scoff at the Accuser.  So we can too.  We rise up and walk and sing and dance and laugh with Him at our messes all wholly crucified behind us.  They are dead.  But we are still here, resurrected, alive, and nourished, because this Christ is the Living Bread in us.  We laugh at the taunts of yesteryear, yesterday, this morning, and a moment ago.  We know the laughter of freedom from our messes and we hear His earnest call to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, Living, as those who have passed through the waters, not as the dead, drowning, consumed, and conquered by their damned messes.

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O U T   O F   T H E    H A N D S    O F    N U R S I N G    B A B E S:

Early Learning & Sign Language as a Tool

Around 8 months, we start teaching all our small children some basic signs to aid their learning of our faith, language, and ways.  We give signs to them so they can learn to communicate nicely (Please), be thankful (Thank you), make pleasant requests (More please?, Help please?, May I be excused please?, Please stop.) and express their affection and emotion (I love you, I’m sorry).  And isn’t that ever so much more pleasant than training them (by default usually) that whining and screaming is how you get what you want? (:

We also teach them catechism answers with signs (we’ve made some of our own signs when the given sign seemed too complicated for little hands).  We start at the beginning:  Who made you?  God.   They learn the sign as we teach them the answer and we help their hands to do it.  And it sinks in slowly.  Who made that smiling sliver of a crescent moon?  Who made that towering, swaying tree?  And you?  Who made you?  God.  That’s right.  Creation’s already singing and signing and quivering and smashing and crashing all over itself to tell His story.  And as we look upon His unfathomable artistry, and as that child’s wide, bright eyes freshly gaze alongside our cloudy ones, we need only translate creation’s message into our English speech.  We say it.  And we sign it for their tied tongues: God.  He made all this stuff from scratch-nothing.  He spoke word to command it be and it was.  He gave creation speech, too.  Listen to the stars, the rivers, the skies–don’t you hear them all proclaiming, declaring His glory?   And soon the babes are doing it for themselves.  Signing and talking about it.  And knowing it themselves.  Not too many 8 month olds can talk fluently.  But they are listening and watching and copying and learning to speak.  For many a sermon, I have held a little 8-18 month old in my lap who is listening to the sermon and, though not an adept speaker at all, begins excitedly signing the words he/she recognizes.  From word to word, from task to task.  Teach them diligently.  When you lie down.  When you rise up.  When the sun rises, when it sets.  Creation hums faithfully as you sleep, trumpets it when you wake.  But creation can only go so far.  God gives a better speech, a better word.  He gives us His Word.  And he commands us to teach our children it diligently (Deut.6:4-9).  Speak the Word.  Teach the Word.  Sing the Word. Live the Word.  Let the Word dwell in you richly, the Bible says.  And for the littlest ones watching, perhaps, even sign it.

 

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