Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What Does It Mean To Be Childlike?

I’ve been mulling over what it means to have child-like faith, which is an expression we use based on Jesus’s words to His disciples, which are recorded in three of the four gospels:
Matthew 18:3: “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

Mark 10:15: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Luke 18:17: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

In Matthew, the word often translated as turn or repent is better translated as convert or change. The language here is passive voice, suggesting the individual has received the action of change, rather than doing it.

In contrast, both verbs for become [like children] in Matthew and receive [the kingdom] in Mark and Luke are in middle voice, meaning the subject is acting in some way upon himself or concerning himself. The verb for receive implies to reach out and take hold of.

In other words, these phrases mean the same thing: becoming like children and receiving the kingdom like a child means we, as believers, do the action to ourselves, and that action is having childlike qualities.

The key here is to understand those childlike qualities. What does it mean to be like a child or to reach out and grab hold of something like a child?

1. Children ask for what they want without fear or doubt, even if they’ve been told no before. Sometimes my toddler asks for more goldfish when she’s had plenty, and sometimes I’ll tell her no. That’s never once stopped her from asking for more the next snack time. She doesn’t understand or feel or imagine rejection in the face of a no. Her past experiences with no—in the sense of asking for what she wants, not in the sense of discipline—have not limited her enthusiasm for asking in the future.

2. Children trust their parents with utter dependence. My daughter never has to wonder if we’ll feed her. When we go out of town, she’s not concerned about whether we’ve packed clothes or have a place for her to sleep. She doesn’t worry about the route we’ll take or how much time it will take to get there. She knows we, her parents, take care of all those things, and she just gets to be a kid, along for the ride.

3. Children believe what their parents say is true. If I told Emmy her Daddy was in the garage, she would run toward that room and try to open the door to see him. She believes me because I said it, and she has no reason to doubt it. I could show her the empty garage within a few minutes and do it all over again, and she’d still believe me. Obviously, I wouldn’t do that because I’m lying and tricking her, and God doesn’t play with us like that either. But the point is, she would believe me again and again and again because I said it, and if I said it, then it’s true.

I’m using examples with my toddler on purpose. The word for child or children in all three of these verses is the same word, and it implies infancy or a young age, like a toddler.

Certainly by the time some children reach the later stages of childhood, and as we grow into adults, we don’t retain these characteristics. Our experiences or our circumstances have taught us that we don’t get what we ask for sometimes, so we stop asking for certain things. We may worry our parents will forget to pack our favorite blanket or pjs, so we remind them. And we have a better sense of how long we’ve been on a car ride and want to know when we will get there. And we doubt or don’t believe because someone has tricked us before. We’ve been lied to, deceived, and we hesitate first before absolute belief.

But to enter into the kingdom of God, to reach out and take hold of it, we have to go back to those days of infancy and toddler-like innocent.

And to do that, we have to suspend all of our experiences and circumstances, to return to utter dependence and belief, to ask for what we want without fear of rejection or disappointment.

It sounds like freedom to return to these childlike qualities—and yet, it’s so, so hard to let go of our control, to get out of our own heads, and to release our past disappointments. But Jesus tells us we must—and don’t we want all that He has for us? Don’t we want to experience His kingdom—righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) right now?

Let us return to that childlike faith, the absolute hope and trust and belief in the security and goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Deeper Look at 1 John 4: Love Perfected

Can we be honest? Sometimes when we read 1 John, it feels condemning. One example? “Anyone who does not love does not know God” (4:8).  

Yikes! We can read that and think, wellI’ve sure had plenty of ‘unloving’ moments, so I guess I don’t know God.  

Sigh. Grumble. Grumble. Cry.  


But to read and study 1 John, we have to first understand John as a person. He considered himself Jesus’s favorite and repeatedly refers to himself in the book of John as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Seems pretty bold, huh? 

Actually, John just had a deep, deep, DEEP understanding of who he is in Christ. He is, I think, one of the best pictures of a disciple walking in his identity in Christ. And so yeah, he comes across a little arrogant sometimes, a little over-confident, but if we read his words in the context of his full and complete confidence in who he is in Christ, then we can see why he makes the bold statements that he makes.  

And the more I study him, the more I can see his style of writing, where what feels like a super bold (and condemning) statement is usually explained in more context if we continue reading and also if we make connections from earlier statements to later statements. And always those statements are rooted in an understanding of either who God is or who we are in Christ, as believers with His spirit and new nature.  

I’ve been meditating on chapter 4, specifically verses 16 through 18 because I have been consumed with quite a bit of fear and anxiety lately. It started with verse 18—and again, we can read this and think, gosh, I’m fearful. I guess God’s love is not perfected in me. Sigh. Sigh. Grumble. Grumble. Cry.  

First, we need context. Let’s start in verse 12. It says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”  

It feels like this means love is perfected in us, if/when we love one another.  

We love >> then God abides >> then love is perfected  

But keep reading... 

Paul explains how we know that we abide in Him and He in us: we have his Spirit (v. 13), we have the gospel testimony (v. 14), and we confess Jesus as the son of God (v. 15).  

Now we get to what I’ve been meditating on—verses 16 through 18: 

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment because as He is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  

After we know that we abide in Him (i.e. we have his Spirit, we believe the gospel testimony, we confess Jesus as the son of God—in other words, we’re born-again believers), THEN we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us (v. 16).  

Now we see that God is love and to abide in love is to abide in God and to have God abide in us.  

THEN is love perfected—“by this...” (v. 17).  

So when Paul says (v. 18), whoever fears has not been perfected in love, it means he who is fearing/fearful is not abiding in God nor God in Him. There’s a disconnect.  

When we disconnect, we fear. When we fear, we expect punishment. When we expect punishment, we have forgotten the love of God—what we first came to know and believe.  

The more deeply we’re rooted in our identity in Christ, the more fully we accept His love for us, the less likely we will be to walk in fear.  


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Book Recommendation: Pockets of Purpose


This week, I am participating in the blog tour for Laurie Stroup Smith's new Amish fiction release, Pockets of Purpose, Book Two in the Pocket Quilt Series. Keep reading for my review, the book blurb, Laurie's bio, AND a giveaway!

A beautiful Amish story with realistic characters facing unexpected obstacles, who overcome it all by grace and love. Laurie Stroup Smith gives us another great book in the Pocket Quilt Series to remind us that life does not always work out as we planned, but God is still good and makes a way for us. This book can be read as a standalone, but I appreciated getting to see some of the characters from Book One again.

Back Cover Copy: Two years after exchanging her first love letters with Gideon Petersheim, Dixie Yoder tucks his notes into her pocket quilt and travels from Pinecraft to Holmes County, hopeful for a future together. Upon her arrival, their relationship blossoms until the auctioneer has surgery to remove a cyst from his vocal cords. Complications from the procedure interfere with his healing, leaving him searching for his passions and purpose. Instead of leaning on Dixie through this tough time, he pushes her away and turns his back on God. Frustrated and heartbroken, she is torn between staying in Ohio with the new friends she has grown to love and packing her bags. Having lost everything, he must fight his way back to her, but his apology is long overdue. Only a grand gesture to show her how much she means to him will cause her to pause and reconsider.

Available now on Amazon

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What's Your Knee-Jerk Reaction?

Our fun-loving almost 17-mo-old toddler has started a new thing. When she doesn’t get her way or has a different idea about something, she sits down or lays down and throws a bit of a fit. It is both cute (she’s got that pouty lip, tilted head, and fake tears)—and not, so we’ve recently begun trying to teach her “that’s not how Brandenburgs act.”

Her reaction is so innate, knee-jerk almost, and yet, I’m amazed at how quickly she can change her attitude with a little correction (or our ignoring the little fit). It’s like she jumps up, realizes this is not the way to be, and moves on, happy to play with another toy.

I’ve been thinking about my own knee-jerk reactions I pick up without thinking. I told you that my word this year is Freedom, and as I have sought the Lord to understand what areas in my life I’m experiencing bondage, he has been faithful to show me place after place in my heart that needs to be free.

When I am in bondage to fear, I am not free to live the full and rich life that Christ intended.

Sometimes fear can have other words to describe it like worry or anxiety, and I’m finding that these are my knee-jerk reactions. I pick up worry before I even know it, and I’m sitting in a fit of anxiety before I’ve thought through why I would be anxious when the King of heaven and earth fights for me, provides for me, loves me.

Through my little toddler, the Lord has been showing me, that’s not how the daughter of the King acts. Not when she knows who she is in Christ. Not when she knows who her Heavenly Father is.

I have been meditating on two verses lately: One is from Proverbs 31—and all of us know this woman as the epitome of women, right? It says in verse 25, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

The other verse is Psalm 112:6-7: “For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.”

So I’ve been thinking about both of these—what would it look like to laugh without fear of the future? What does it mean to never be moved? To never be afraid of bad news? That’s a deep, deep level of trust, right?

What I was thinking about specifically for this post today is the fear of lack or insufficiency. This can be about financial provision, but I was thinking about it more practically for my everyday tasks.

I’m at the end of the semester, which means I’ve got final papers and projects and grades pouring in. And my stress level begins to rise higher and higher.

When I feel myself start to get overwhelmed with work, when I start giving in to that anxiety, I have noticed that really that overwhelmed feeling or stressed out feeling is just a fear of lack.

Lack of time. Lack of mental capacity. Lack of patience. Lack of motivation.

And anytime I’m operating out of a mentality of lack, I’m operating out of fear because I’m making an agreement in my mind that God is not sufficient. That he doesn’t own time. That he doesn’t give me grace and strength and mental capacity. That patience and self-control aren’t fruits of His spirit.

But He is sufficient. And He does own time. And He does give me grace and strength and His own mind, even. Through His Holy Spirit, He has given me love and peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, even self-control.

So as we enter the busy months of April and May, if you’re struggling with the overwhelm of it all, like me, I hope we can practice pausing for a second, recognizing fear for what it is, and choosing instead to walk freely in His truth and His power and His life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

An Abbreviated List From My TBR Pile

Do you have a TBR pile? You know, the books 'to-be-read'? These days, my list seems to be growing faster than I'm reading, and it's been a while since I've shared some of the fiction books I'm looking forward to reading when I finish the semester. 

Here are a few at the top of my TBR Pile from books out in the last year(ish) that I want to catch up on soon. I've provided the back-cover copy from the publisher. 


1. The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner. 

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin's silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin's odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn't right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War and As Bright as Heaven comes a gripping novel about the bonds of friendship and mother love, and the power of female solidarity.

2. Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Lauren Bailey may be a romantic at heart, but after a decade of matchmaking schemes gone wrong, there's only one match she's committed to now--the one that will make her a mother. Lauren is a dedicated first-grade teacher in Idaho, and her love for children has led her to the path of international adoption. To satisfy her adoption agency's requirements, she gladly agreed to remain single for the foreseeable future; however, just as her long wait comes to an end, Lauren is blindsided by a complication she never saw coming: Joshua Avery.

Joshua may be a substitute teacher by day, but Lauren finds his passion for creating educational technology as fascinating as his antics in the classroom. Though she does her best to downplay the undeniable connection between them, his relentless pursuit of her heart puts her commitment to stay unattached to the test and causes her once-firm conviction to waver.

With an impossible decision looming, Lauren might very well find herself choosing between the two deepest desires of her heart . . . even if saying yes to one means letting go of the other.

3. Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom and A December Bride (now beloved Hallmark Original movies) comes the third and final novel in the Bluebell Inn series!

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

4. The Restoration of Celia Fairchild by Marie Bostwick 

Evvie Drake Starts Over meets The Friday Night Knitting Club in this wise and witty novel about a fired advice columnist who discovers lost and found family members in Charleston, by the New York Times bestselling author of The Second Sister.

Celia Fairchild, known as advice columnist ‘Dear Calpurnia’, has insight into everybody’s problems – except her own. Still bruised by the end of a marriage she thought was her last chance to create a family, Celia receives an unexpected answer to a “Dear Birthmother” letter. Celia throws herself into proving she’s a perfect adoptive mother material – with a stable home and income – only to lose her job. Her one option: sell the Charleston house left to her by her recently departed, estranged Aunt Calpurnia. 

Arriving in Charleston, Celia learns that Calpurnia had become a hoarder, the house is a wreck, and selling it will require a drastic, rapid makeover. The task of renovation seems overwhelming and risky. But with the help of new neighbors, old friends, and an unlikely sisterhood of strong, creative women who need her as much as she needs them, Celia knits together the truth about her estranged family — and about herself.

The Restoration of Celia Fairchild is an unforgettable novel of secrets revealed, laughter released, creativity rediscovered, and waves of wisdom by a writer Robyn Carr calls "my go-to author for feel-good novels.”

5. Facing the Dawn by Cynthia Ruchti 

While her humanitarian husband Liam has been digging wells in Africa, Mara Jacobs has been struggling. She knows she's supposed to feel a warm glow that her husband is nine time zones away, caring for widows and orphans. But the reality is that she is exhausted, working a demanding yet unrewarding job, trying to manage their three detention-prone kids, failing at her to-repair list, and fading like a garment left too long in the sun.

Then Liam's three-year absence turns into something more, changing everything and plunging her into a sunless grief. As Mara struggles to find her footing, she discovers that even when hope is tenuous, faith is fragile, and the future is unknown, we can be sure we are not forgotten . . . or unloved.

With emotionally evocative prose that tackles tough topics with tenderness and hope, award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti invites you on a journey of the heart you won't soon forget.


What about you, friends? What are you reading right now? What's on your TBR pile?