Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families


Having been raised Southern Baptist in the 1980’s, I’m not sure that I heard the word Lent before I was a Religion major in college. Since learning of the liturgical calendar, I have been fascinated with this way of faith that gives a structure to the year and an intention to my worship.

Forty NamesThis is part of the reason that I jumped at the chance to preview Jennifer Spencer’s work Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families. The other reason is that, in the years that I have known Jennifer, I have learned that she is a learner, a teacher, a mother, and a friend who is naturally curious and desires to do life with excellence. A curious teacher writing a Lenten devotional was something I simply could not pass up.

In the preface, Jennifer shares her inspiration for researching and writing this book; she had a need for something to teach her children about Jesus and couldn’t find material to meet that need in the particular manner she desired. That desire to help her children move from knowing stories about Jesus to actually getting to know Him intimately resonated with me as a new mom. As I read, I more and more appreciated her work as a teacher as well. While there are many strengths to this devotional, the following aspects make Forty Names particularly useful to me as a mother and an educator.

First, the devotional is adaptable. Jennifer does a fantastic job helping the reader understand the different tools she intentionally provided. While the actual reading for each day is relatively short, she provides multiple ways to adjust the breadth and depth of the study so that it is age appropriate for each member of a family. With a key verse and concept for each name as well as additional passages of study, I can use this to introduce my toddlers to the names of God but can also use it with my small group of high school freshmen without having to do much prep work on my own.

Second, the devotional is educational. The word devotional tends to have the connotation of fluffy or feel good, and there is a time and place for warm fuzzy devotional books. What is so appealing in this particular devotion is that Jennifer finds a way to warm the heart through engaging the mind. Moving seamlessly from Hebrew to Greek and Old Testament to New, Forty Names digs just a little deeper by providing historical and literary information that helps the reader understand and appreciate each name just a little more than you did before you started.

Third, the devotional is theological. A vital part of teaching children about our faith is helping them see the common themes throughout Scripture that point the reader to Christ. This particular work falls in line with recent works for children such as The Jesus Storybook Bible, which declares the precious truth that “Every story whispers His name.” In terms that even young children can understand, Jennifer teaches about concepts such as redemption, sacrifice, and propitiation, and uses familiar Bible stories to illustrate the meanings.

Fourth, the devotional is readable. It is possible to teach deep theological truths in layman’s terms. With simple definitions and a multitude of cross references that will help the reader increase familiarity with the full counsel of Scripture, there is an attractiveness to this work that draws the reader in and invites you to stick with the book, to come back for the next reading. A good teacher leaves a hook for her students so that they begin to internalize their motivation to keep learning, and the daily entries in this devotional are specifically written to guide the reader to the conclusion that she should just keep reading.

With all that has been written in recent years about the exodus of youth from the church and the biblical illiteracy of professing believers, devotional works like this one show us that learning about Jesus does not have to be either loud and flashy or dry and boring; learning about Jesus can be simple and satisfying. Learning can be fun, and it can be genuine, and it can be done alone or in groups. We can even learn as families. An ideal plan for families with kids spread across developmental stages is to simply start small (one verse and the concept) and then just allow the conversation to continue by using the additional passages and questions as your guide. You may be surprised just how long even the youngest in your family may stick around to talk and learn.

This is a devotional that can be added to your family’s permanent library because Jennifer wrote it in a manner that will allow you to also use it year after year and build upon what you’ve studied in previous readings. I am thankful that it is a resource that I have for years to come. If you are looking for a guide for your family for this upcoming season of Lent, I highly recommend Forty Names of Jesus.

Motherhood, Month One


On September 20, I met two little kids who were in a foster home down the street from a friend. Playing with babies is a favorite pastime of mine, so I offered to be a respite home for them. 

As circumstances changed, the way they often do, the respite home became a transition home which turned into a permanent home on December 22nd.

So one month into this motherhood thing, here are some things I’ve learned so far:

1. You never need as much sleep as you think you do.

2. Single parenting is HARD. Even with an army of amazing friends to love and support us, night terrors at 2:00 am just suck when there’s no back up.

3. Childhood diseases are called “childhood” because that’s where they should stay. Adults with childhood diseases are pitiful and generally worthless.

4. Bathing can easily become a luxury if you let it. Don’t let it. Take a shower, even if it’s at 3:00am when the night terrors have stopped. You’ll sleep better if you’re clean. Trust me.

5. There are an endless number of chores and other activities that you only thought required two hands. Cooking? Cleaning? Carrying things from the car? You can totally do all of those things while also carrying a sick/sleeping/crying toddler.

6. Parenting reveals your self-centered spots and your idols faster than just about any other relationship. 

7. The carpet doesn’t need to be vacuumed nearly as often as you previously thought.

8. An adult, two toddlers, and a mastiff can all fit in a half bath.

9. People like posts about cute kids a lot more than they do ones about cultural crises or theological truths.

10. I can parent well, or I can career woman well, but I haven’t figured out how to do both well.

11. Kids extend inordinate amounts of grace to struggling parents, even when parents aren’t as quick to do the same.

12. Playing in the snow just isn’t worth it. Find someone else’s cute snow pics and photoshop your kids’ faces into those snowsuits.

13. Pregnancy brain is just parenting brain. I didn’t birth these kids, but I lost my mind when they moved in.

14. I’m in awe of parents who teach. To care for dozens of other people’s children all day while also keeping up with the needs of your own is a daunting task.

15. Sometimes it’s ok to cry through lunch.

16. Kids really are sponges, so if you don’t want your kid doing or saying it at a most inopportune time, you better not do it at all.

17. Next time you’re really mad at your kid, try singing “You Are My Sunshine” to her while putting her to bed. Really. Don’t be convicted.

18. Alone time is more precious than gold, which is another good reason to shower at 3:00am.

19. Sometimes it’s just a matter of survival and that’s ok.

20. Apartment complexes charge pet fees and tell you it’s for replacing the carpet because it would be inappropriate to charge child fees.

21. The best piece of teaching advice I ever received also applies to parenting: at the end of the day, you’re older, you’re smarter, and you win. If you think you’ve lost, walk away and try again later.

22. When someone offers help, just say “Thank you” and take it. No one is impressed with (or fooled by) your attempt to be Wonder Woman.

23. Kids may appreciate works like The Chronicles of Narnia and Where the Sidewalk Ends, but you can’t truly appreciate them until you’re grown.

24. Even when you’re a mom, some days you just need your mom.
What are some things you learned as a new parent?

Social Media Tattoos


This is a post I originally published in 2011 for Christians in Social Media, but unlike most things in the social media world, it is still very relevant today.

Yesterday, author and speaker Jonathan Acuff posted a comment on his Facebook fan page that could lead to very beneficial discussion between teens and those who live and work with them.

“Posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once it’s on, it’s on forever. You wouldn’t let your 12 year old get a tattoo. Make sure they understand what they’re doing when they post a photo online.”

As Christians who actively participate in social media, it is important that we teach our teens (and first learn ourselves) the importance of applying biblical truth even in our interactions on social media sites.

The fact that our every move is known and “recorded” by God is an ancient truth; in Psalm 139 David praises God that we can never escape His all-loving, watchful eye. But being “watched and recorded” 24/7 by other people is new to human culture, and it places upon believers a new pressure to be wise in our walks, even at our most relaxed times like social gatherings. Here are some tips on caring for your “digital testimony”.

1. Be proactive. Don’t wait until you see that one of your students is tagged in a picture that captured a moment of poor judgment. Begin talking now with your tweens and teens about the permanence of anything posted online, not just photos. Even if you “delete” a comment from a social media site, it is captured and saved somewhere. Talk with them about where they go and who they hang out with. Ask them if they have talked with their friends about boundaries concerning what is ok and what’s not ok to post online. Remind your students that personal information such as address, phone number, and age should never be shared with people online that they don’t also know in person. And as much as possible, get to know your child’s friends, both those in reality and those with whom they only associate online.

2. Be gracious. Even the most well meaning person can end up in a photo or post a comment without thinking, and when (not if) you or your child gets caught in a moment of thoughtless social media usage, don’t panic and don’t blow up about it, even if that is your first impulse. If it is something you or your child posted and you have “social media regret”, delete it. While it doesn’t change the fact that it took place, repentance for a wrong decision includes attempts to make it right, and removing the questionable post shows an admittance that it was wrong and a willingness to correct the situation. If a friend has posted something of questionable or unflattering content, go the extra mile to make personal contact as soon as possible (a phone call, a face-to-face conversation), asking them to remove the photo or comment. Making personal contact lets them know that you are both sincere and serious in your request.

3. Be accountable. The best way to prevent photos or comments of questionable content from becoming social media tattoos is to avoid questionable situations to begin with. Teach your teens (and practice yourself) accountability with a friend in social settings. A good rule of thumb these days for where to be and who to hang out with is to ask yourself, “Would I want my friends and family members to see this posted on online?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to excuse yourself from the situation.

These are just a few ways to protect our testimonies online from negative impact.

What are some ways we can share a positive testimony online?

Remembering to #NeverForget


Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the word “remember” is used 162 times. The phrase “do not forget,” 15 times. Paul may encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead (Phil 3:13-14), but God is adamant that we also take the time to look back and remember. To think on the past, to recount His faithfulness. But also, I think, to ensure that we never forget the feelings and consequences, both positive and negative, that we encounter in life.

Why is God so insistent that we not forget?

Why do we so easily forget?

Some things, though, we want to forget. The feeling of traumatic events. The scars on our hearts, minds, and bodies that come with tragedy. The sights, sounds, and smells that remind us of the worst moments of our lives. Sometimes we are able to on most days; to move on with life, to see beyond the tragedy, to find a new normal.

I would dare say that most Americans have done just that in relation to 9/11. It is a part of us, but the impact of that day is now such a part of our daily lives that it is no longer in the forefront of our minds. The War on Terror is just the backdrop to our lives. It so defines our society that we hardly notice it; until it is thrust back in our faces.

This summer, it was thrust back into the face of my hometown. When I first heard about the attacks in Chattanooga in July, there were conflicting reports as to what was going on, and the worst scenario I heard was that recruitment centers in the South were on high alert due to “coordinated attacks.” My first thought was, “Not again.” I had forgotten, and that day forced me to remember.

#NeverForget has become a catchphrase in our society. Its use has mostly become satirical and sarcastic, a caricature of our society’s absurd reaction to non-events:

While the phrase is a humorous way to point out the absurdity of the things we deem tragedies, it is also a phrase that should remain on our lips about the things that really matter.

Today I saw firsthand why God tells His people so often to never forget and to always tell the story, whichever story that may be. I walked into a 6th grade classroom this afternoon as the teacher was telling his students that they had enough time to watch the “9/11 video” that he had told them about earlier in the class period. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the actual news footage of that day, and this video was a compilation of live news coverage at 9:03 am, when the second tower was hit.

My reaction to hearing and seeing it all again was unexpectedly physical. It took my breath. A cold chill swept over me with such power that my skin hurt from the goosebumps. I had to sit down.

But as I gathered myself, I looked at the students whose eyes were transfixed on the screen. They were silent, watching, soaking it in.

And it hit me.

This was probably the first time many were seeing this footage.

None of them were even alive on September 11, 2001, and until the last year or so, they weren’t really old enough to grasp the impact of the day. Maybe they had seen pictures or had talked about it in class each year, but 9/11 was just a date to them, a distant memory like the assassination of JFK is to me or the attack on Pearl Harbor is to my parents.

It was a 14 year old distant memory. That’s how quickly our collective memory can forget.

It had been just a story to them, but today it was real. It was real for them for the first time, and it was real for me again. Suddenly I was once again a terrified college student, away from home for the first time and acutely aware of being far from my family and close to Oak Ridge, TN, a nuclear facility that is a known high alert potential target. I was staring at cloudless and silent skies as flights were grounded for days. I was helpless because I couldn’t leave school to go to New York, and I couldn’t even donate blood because there were no survivors who needed it. I was desperate for connection with others.

I remember 9/11, but I had also forgotten 9/11. And our students had never known for themselves. I needed to be reminded, and they need to know.

THIS is why God tells us not only to remember but to also tell our children. If we don’t tell them, we forget. We forget His goodness. We forget the consequences of our bad choices. We forget the blessings of our obedience. We move on with life.

We forget. And they never know.

So how do we never forget? We teach. We tell. We remember, in community.

In order to remember, we must never forget, and to never forget, we must always remember.

Guest Post: Give Her Wings Book Review


As many of you know, I serve with a ministry called Give Her Wings, whose mission is to “raise gifts and money for mothers who have left abusive situations… to give these brave ladies a chance to get on their feet . . . to breathe . .. to heal their broken wings and fly free again.”

Megan Cox is the director of Give Her Wings, and is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. She tells her story and provides insight into the experiences of domestic and spiritual abuse in her book Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.

I recently asked several friends in different areas of ministry to read Megan’s book and write a review for us that gave their response to the book and how they could see it being used in their particular ministry. 

The following is the response I received from Sarah Mitchell. Sarah and I attended seminary together and served alongside one another in a variety of ways during that time. Sarah has served overseas and is currently serving in the (more than) full time role of wife to Chris and mother to their three preschoolers. The Mitchell’s live in Salem, VA, where Chris is the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
A dear friend of mine knows how much I love to read and how I used to like to write…well, I still like to write, I think, but I haven’t in forever (something about 3 kids 4 and under!). Anyway, I digress already! So, Bekah asked me to read a new book, knowing that the book would be a helpful resource as a pastor’s wife in a local church.

Naturally I was excited to get to read a book that was both hot-off-the-press and a potentially useful resource. Little did I know how helpful this little beautifully written book would be over the last couple of months. A lady I know is currently struggling with the decision to stay in or leave an abusive relationship. Aside from praying through Scripture with her, which is, of course, the richest resource on the planet and applicable in every situation, I was clueless how to help her when she asked me for counsel and prayer, but that VERY SAME WEEK I received this book in the mail. The Lord’s timing is so utterly perfect and He obviously knew that I would need Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse by Megan D. Cox to give me a glimpse behind the curtain of someone who is struggling in a situation of abuse and to provide a practical guide for me as I walk this journey with my friend!

Things with my friend are complicated and fragile and I feel totally inadequate as her confidant and life-line, but God has very definitively crossed our paths and I know that obedience looks like helping her in whatever way I can. As I began to read Give Her Wings, I instantly loved Megan’s ability to share her personal story, truth from God’s Word, and practical advice both for the victim of abuse and the ones seeking to help her. Towards the beginning of the book, Cox writes some of the most life-giving words to encourage victims of abuse to come out of their situation into freedom. She says, “A seed must first die and be buried, then life comes…I was made to be free. That thought right there is the new life peeking out” (6). LIFE, and life more abundantly is what Christ offers to all of us and it is what we, those who are believers and ambassadors of the gospel have to offer others. Cox reminds her readers of that purpose over and over again throughout the book.

Complicated. Messy. Scary. Ugly. Dark. Those are words that describe the life victims of abuse long to leave behind. As encouragers, we offer the hope of life after abuse but it often requires personal sacrifice. To me one of the most profound statements Megan makes for those seeking to be helpers to victims is this: “There really is something to our lives being messy…Look into the life of one person you knows God and you will find a bit of chaos somewhere along the way…What unintentionally separated the wheat from the tares in my life was the fact that some people decided to get into our mess and get all muddied up” (45). I have a choice to make…I can run and hide and leave my new friend to fend for herself or I can hang in there, push up my sleeves, get on my knees, and really just be a friend. I know what Jesus did for those who had messy lives, He reached into their messes and just loved them. Cox calls us to do the same.

If those of us who are in full-time ministry or are involved in ministry at any level are at all tuned into what’s going on in the lives of those whom God has surrounded us, then we will likely run across people who need us to get into their messy lives and help. And Megan Cox doesn’t mean fix them or their situation. No. In fact she will tell us that we can’t fix it and that fixing it isn’t ultimately the point. The point, according to Cox, is to love them well. We need to be available, loyal, truthful, and pointers to the One who made them and loves them. Cox writes, “Tell her [the victim] that God does not wish anyone to be abused. She needs to know this right away…If she understand that Jesus cares about the pain and loves her, the seeds are planted for her to be able to separate an abusive husband from the true God who loves her” (90).

I definitely found Megan’s book to be a useful tool for those who are counseling women who are victims of abuse or as a healing balm for those who have been or are involved in an abusive relationship. It’s a brilliant diamond hewn out of the rough grit of her personal experience leaving behind a life of abuse and straining toward the abundant life the Lord had planned for her. It’s a unique resource because Megan artfully weaves excerpts from her own journey in and around and through scripturally anchored advice and how-to’s. I highly recommend and urge those who are in women’s ministry or in church leadership in any capacity to read Give Her Wings. It is a must-have resource for the Church as we seek to demonstrate Christ-like love toward the hurting and the broken and the ones being put back together piece by beautiful piece.

The Law and Love


I’m not a rule follower. Some of my friends find true joy in following the rules and rest comfortably in the center of set boundaries. Those friends and I confirm the adage that opposites attract. If a hard and fast rule is placed before me, I will challenge it, question it, examine it for loopholes, discuss it with the rule maker… In my old age, I will follow the rule if it’s not immoral and is a part of participating in a group with which I align myself, but that has not always been the case. The concept of civil disobedience is thrilling to me. I’ll take your consequences if it shines light on your injustice.

 It’s not that I’m against rules. I’m just against unnecessary rules.

And I think God is, too.

Here’s the thought I’m pondering: if we are to love like God, we should take note of the fact that the more He revealed Himself, the more people could know Him, the FEWER the rules He put on them. I mean, we went from God’s 10 Commandments to 700-something man made laws, to God stepping in and instead giving us a Savior and TWO commands– love God, love others.

If we are interacting and loving like God, should we let fellow believers “off the hook” as they demonstrate a growing walk with God? Can we better love one another by giving the benefit of the doubt when we are concerned about a situation involving a brother or sister in Christ?

What say ye?

Fearless?


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Four weeks ago, a friend from Beauty for Ashes invited me to join a Facebook group called “One Word.” It is a group of women who declared one word that summed up their goals, dreams, and prayers for 2015.

I boldly posted my word: “FEARLESS.”

I want to walk this year in a spirit of power and a sound mind.

I want to enjoy serving without the distraction/crutch of my own school work.

I want to quit waiting for my life to begin and I want to LIVE, now and well.

I want to embrace who I am, strengths and weaknesses, struggles and victories, propensities and empowerment.

I want to lead and teach and serve and see new parts of the world and unexplored areas of my own life and potential.

I want to shatter my fear of “when” and “what if” and LIVE.

Three weeks after declaring my word “fearless,” one of my best friends from high school delivered twins, and I spent days seriously contemplating how I felt about the prospect of motherhood not being part of my journey in this life. At 35, motherhood has a real expiration date that is no longer an abstract idea. And for me, that is not a fear inducing possibility.

Being single doesn’t scare me, not having my own kids doesn’t leave me with a sense of being incomplete or less than. Truth be told, I like being free to serve others, and, selfishly, to not serve when I can’t– or just don’t want to.

While singleness or childlessness does not scare me, what is terror inducing is the phone call I received the day after I met those babies this week. I learned that my home study is being considered, not for fostering, but for adopting. A 16 year old.

FEAR. What do you with a 16 year old?!? I spend 8-12 hours a day with them in a classroom and on a court, but at home???

Do I trust He has my best interest at heart, knows my end from BEFORE the beginning?

I’ve had many friends open up about their sexual identity and attractions and struggles, and I’ve started talking more candidly in small groups when people ask why I’m still single. But I fearfully wonder, “Can I REALLY be open with others about who I am, what my struggles are, without fear of their responses?”

Can I be honest about the fact that fearlessness is a front, a wall that protects my insecurities from a watching world?

“Fearless” is a tested word. And test day is here.

Tested in my seriousness in my declared desire of sharing my life with a child who needs a family.

Tested in being honest within community about who I am and how God is working that out in me.

But there is great comfort in knowing that the test giver is the perfect Teacher, and He never passes us unprepared on to the next level.

I will pass this test, walking fearlessly, no matter how many times I must be tested until I pass it.