31 December 2015

Throwback Thursday: Saying adios to 2015

I'm cheating a bit on my Throwback Thursday post today. Since it's New Year's Eve, it's the perfect time for a brief review about our year.

When my 2014 ended so terribly, I was happy to see a fresh year start last January. I wasn't sure where God was going to take our family this year, but He remained faithful, He never abandoned us, and He brought us through another year, better and brighter than ever before!

After spending some time decompressing and enjoying life with Damon at home, God orchestrated countless details that allowed me to start my own freelancing business. It's been a slow start, but that's usually the way small businesses begin. I have a few clients with consistent work and other clients who contact me when my help is needed. Now that I've gotten my feet wet in this entrepreneurial adventure, I plan to work on recruiting more clients in the coming year. I'm also committed to improving my business blog, so follow me on there as well!

To bring in some more consistent income, in August I started working part time as the office administrator at a local church. It just so happens that it's the church where Chris grew up and where his parents still attend! Through this work, I have discovered that I love helping behind the scenes at a small church. And I especially love helping a congregation that holds a very special place in my heart.

Chris is the lowest paid, most unappreciated investments manager I know. He enjoys his work and is a fantastic employee. This year brought some challenges to Chris at work, but he handled them all masterfully. On top of this, Chris is a phenomenal basketball referee. I love watching him do something he loves so much and is so good at doing! And if that's not enough, he's the most incredible husband and father I know, and I know a lot of them!

What can I say about these two? Avery surprises me every day with how much she is learning and growing. She can't get enough of her Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody books, and she has fallen in love with playing the piano. I used to think Avery was a mini-Chris; then along came Damon. Not only does he look like Daddy, he acts like him too. It is so encouraging to watch Damon learn new things so quickly, and I'm extra happy that he finally started saying Mama more consistently this month!

I have no idea what 2016 holds for us. But I do know that God is holding our future and us in His hands. The Carefree Clarks wish you a very blessed New Year!

24 December 2015

17 December 2015

10 December 2015

08 December 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 6

Let’s head back into the book of Revelation! Remember that John is in God’s throne room, witnessing all of creation worshiping Him. John’s eyes are constantly on the Lamb who was declared the only one worthy to open the scroll with seven seals. Today we look at the first six seals on the scroll.

There are three judgments in Revelation – the scroll, the trumpets, and the bowls. The seven seals on the scroll set the stage for more severe judgments from the trumpets and then the bowls.

When the Lamb opened the first four seals, four riders on horses were released.

The white horse and its rider – The rider is carrying a bow and was wearing a crown. The rider most likely is the Antichrist because the word used for crown here refers to a victor’s crown not a kingly crown.

The red horse and its rider – The rider represents war. He is given the power to remove peace and to promote killing.

The black horse and its rider – The rider represents famine. He is given the power to limit food supplies.

The pale horse and its rider – The rider’s name is Death. He is given the power to kill more than 25 percent of the earth. The “pale” color actually is a pale green, sickly color.

The four horses and their riders will bring conquest, war, famine, and disease. God allows all of these judgments, but they are limited. God has the authority to send judgments on humans. These judgments are a warning for anyone who does not know Jesus as their Lord and an invitation for people to repent and turn to God for refuge.

When the Lamb opens the fifth seal, John sees the souls of martyred believers under the altar (which is the Altar of Sacrifice). The martyrs are crying out to God, asking when He will avenge their deaths. He told them to wait because more people must be martyred.

Why does God allow suffering? If we suffer for Christ, it proves we belong to Him. Suffering is temporary. It produces perseverance, character, and hope. Believers are called to wait on the Lord to resolve suffering.

When the Lamb opens the sixth seal, there is a severe earthquake. The people recognize the judgment is from God, but they refuse to turn to God. They cry out to the rocks instead of the Rock of Ages; to creation instead of the Creator. Who do you call on when you are in trouble?

Things to Think About
  • The only refuge for God’s coming wrath is Jesus Christ.
  • God told the martyred souls they must wait for their deaths to be avenged. What am I waiting for God to do?
  • I must take comfort as I trust in God’s sovereign timing and righteousness.
  • God’s wrath will fall on those who refuse to call on Him for rescue.

This Week’s Memory Verse
“They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’ ” – Revelation 6:16-17 NIV

This is the end of the first part of this BSF year! I’ll be back with more weekly lessons after the Christmas break. As you celebrate Jesus’ first coming as a baby, also celebrate His victorious second coming yet to take place!

06 December 2015

Avery’s piano premiere

Since Avery has had her taste of sports, we figured it was time for her to try something new. So back in June, she started taking weekly piano lessons. We simply wanted her to expand her horizons – we had no idea that she would enjoy music so much! It usually doesn’t take much prompting for her to practice each day, and she never has fussed about going to her lessons.

For about the past six weeks, Avery has played almost nothing but Christmas music. It all culminated yesterday when she had her first public performance at a local nursing home.

As we waited in line for her turn to play, she started growing a bit nervous. I told her the audience didn’t care how well she did; they would love her playing and applaud her no matter what! I also think she didn’t want to go up to the piano by herself. But I was so pleased when she bravely walked up to the piano when it was her turn.

Sorry that I didn’t get a better view of her, but you can see her little head behind the piano:

In case you can’t tell, the first song is “We Need a Little Christmas,” and the second one is “Jingle Bells.”

I was so proud that she played so well! She flubbed just a bit because the audience started singing “Jingle Bells” as she played it. She wasn’t used to that!

After she finished, her teacher asked her to play one more time in the separate Alzheimer’s unit. After a little convincing, Avery agreed to play her songs again. I could tell she was much more relaxed the second time around.

This time, I got a better view of her in action.

I’m so excited that Avery has found a new hobby! I think she’ll be sticking with music for the foreseeable future!

03 December 2015

Throwback Thursday: Hold on!

Undated photo
Circa 1991
Tucson, Ariz.

When they were younger, my dad and his brother had a tradition of taking these silly photos on family vacations. They appear to be falling off a cliff, but in reality they're on solid ground. Somehow, they passed this goofiness along to Karen and me. Recently, she found this picture and insisted I post it here. But how convenient that she didn't find a picture of herself!

01 December 2015

BSF 2015-2016: The Day of the Lord

If you knew when Jesus would return, you probably would live and think differently. Well, the Bible tells us that God’s judgment and Christ’s return are imminent. The Day of the Lord is coming.

What is the Day of the Lord? It is a term referring to God’s catastrophic judgment on the world and the corresponding deliverance of His people. It is not a single time or a single event.

The Day of the Lord is certain. And God lovingly warns us that His judgment is coming. The Day of the Lord shows that God is sovereign and in control. He is the one calling the shots. Sin and Satan will not triumph; God is the winner.

No one will escape God’s judgment. But there still is time to turn to God before He pours out His judgment. Believers should urgently share the Gospel with others.

The Day of the Lord is spoken about many times in both the Old and New Testaments. One such place is in the book of Joel. The prophet Joel called his readers to repentance. He warned his readers about physical destruction from locusts and an impending judgment against the country of Judah. But Joel’s book also has a spiritual warning for us.

While the impending locust invasion and the Day of the Lord seem like hopeless situations, God offers redemption. He called on the people of Joel’s day to grieve and mourn their sin then repent and return to Him. He calls on us to do the same.

Eventually God no longer will relent and will pour out His judgment. The Day of the Lord is coming – repent!

So what should we do as we wait for the Day of the Lord? We should live a repentant lifestyle, and we should ready ourselves and those in our lives for God’s judgment.

In 2 Peter, Peter tells us to do six things as we wait for the Day of the Lord:

  • Think rightly
  • Expect scoffers
  • Trust God’s timing
  • Live holy, godly lives
  • Expect hard questions
  • Be on guard and grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus

The Day of the Lord is coming – live a holy life and be ready!

Things to Think About
  • Do I live with an urgency to share the Gospel with others?
  • How will I live differently because the Day of the Lord is coming?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13 NIV

26 November 2015

24 November 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 5

Last week, John entered God’s throne room. He was so overwhelmed with what was happening there that it took him awhile to see God (sitting on His throne) holding a scroll. Now in chapter 5, we see the unveiling of the One who is uniquely worthy to accomplish God’s purposes.

An angel shouted that no one is worthy to open the scroll or even look inside it. John wept at this news. The scroll contained information about what was about to take place. The double-sided scroll symbolized that it was complete, no more information needed to be added.

One of the elders pointed John to Jesus as being the only One worthy to open the scroll. John saw a lamb that looked as if it had been slain standing at the throne. The lamb is Jesus. The Lamb had seven horns, which symbolized that He is all-powerful. The Lamb had seven eyes, which symbolized that He is all-wise and all-knowing.

After Jesus took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down and worshiped Him. They sang a new song about Jesus’ delivering His people. Then thousands upon thousands of angels began worshiping Jesus. And finally, all of creation worshiped Jesus – every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea.

Jesus alone is worthy to take the scroll because He died to save His people. He saved us to be His priests – to share His Gospel message, to serve Him, and to be His ambassadors.

Things to Think About
  • Jesus conquered death through sacrifice and is uniquely worthy to consummate history.
  • Jesus redeemed the unworthy and is uniquely worthy of worship.

This Week’s Memory Verse
“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ ” Revelation 5:9 NIV

19 November 2015

17 November 2015

BSF 2015-2015: Revelation 4

In Revelation chapter 4, we see God seated on His throne in heaven. What a beautiful picture this is of God’s sovereignty. He has complete authority over all creation, and He is in complete control of all creation.

After Jesus shared with John the messages for the seven churches (in chapters 2 and 3), John saw a door standing open in heaven. Jesus invited John to enter and see what will take place.

At the center of heaven, John saw God seated on His throne. A rainbow encircled God and the throne (showing that God keeps His promises). Surrounding the throne were four living creatures. Beyond the four living creatures were 24 elders. Later in Revelation, we will see that beyond the throne are thousands upon thousands of angels worshiping God. In front of the throne were seven blazing lamps (signifying the Holy Spirit) and a sea of glass (signifying purity and peace).

It is impossible to describe God. So John described God’s appearance using precious gemstones. This signifies that God was beautiful, pure, and brilliant.

The 24 elders were wearing white robes (signifying purity) and crowns (signifying authority). There are many possibilities for the identity of the elders, but no one knows for sure who the elders are. They probably symbolize the people of God who are rewarded in heaven. The elders were worshiping God.

John saw lightning and heard thunder. They signify God’s judgment that will come from the throne. God rules and reigns with power and purity.

The four living creatures were worshiping God and proclaiming His holiness by crying out “Holy, holy, holy!” They are the creatures closest to God on His throne. God created them to worship Him. They offered Him endless praise. In His holiness, God is worthy of our praise.

Whenever the four living creatures worship God, the 24 elders were compelled to leave their thrones, fall down before God, remove their crowns, and put them at God’s feet.

Heaven is a place of perpetual worship. One of our eternal jobs is to worship God. But we can do that now too! To worship God is to focus on Him, to praise Him for all He is and all He has done, to give Him glory and honor.

God alone is worthy of our worship.

Things to Think About
  • Sitting at the center on His throne shows that God is the center of all creation. Is He the center of my attention?
  •  No matter what happens on this side of heaven, God is still on His throne, in charge and in control. God will not be dethroned.
  • All attention in heaven is on God. How often do I focus on God?
  • God is holy and calls us to be holy. To be holy is to be morally perfect, pure, set apart from sin. We cannot be holy without the help of the Holy Spirit.
  • Are others compelled to worship God because of what I’m doing? Am I leading people to worship God by the way I speak and act?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:11 NIV

12 November 2015

10 November 2015

BSF 2015-2016: God’s Kingdom

As we continue in Revelation, we will learn about the kingdom of God. But the theme of the kingdom of God is seen throughout the Bible. The Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign rule and reign throughout the course of history.

Today, the expansion of God’s kingdom happens through the Holy Spirit working through believers. And His future kingdom will endure forever. God is the ruler of all. He rules as King over heaven, earth, and our lives. He is a loving and gracious God who is fully in charge of everything.

Daniel, a godly man in the Old Testament, was focused on God’s kingdom. He showed respect and honor to earthly authorities while remaining faithful to God and His kingdom. Daniel shows us how to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God in a secular, ungodly environment.

Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were captive Israelites in Babylon. They probably were about 15 to 17 years old in Daniel chapter 1. They knew God and His commands well. They were committed to obeying Him.

King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to change everything about these four men – diet, culture, names, etc. Daniel and the other three refused to eat the king’s food. This food could have been sacrificed to idols, which was forbidden by God. This food could have been food that God had forbidden them to eat.

These four men asked that they have a different diet and be tested against the other officials. Ten days later, the four were found to be healthier and more nourished than anyone else. These four were devoted to God and were committed to His principles. God blessed their obedience with wisdom, knowledge, and earthly success. King Nebuchadnezzar found them to be ten times better than his other wise men.

Later King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He demanded that his wise men tell him what he dreamt and then interpret it. They could not, so the king ordered that all of his wise men be executed. When the commander of the army approached Daniel to kill him, Daniel questioned him then asked the king for some time to interpret his dream.

Daniel asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to join him in prayer, asking God to reveal the dream and its interpretation to them. That very night, God revealed the dream in a vision to Daniel. Daniel praised God for His wisdom and for answered prayer.

Daniel explained the dream to King Nebuchadnezzar – three kingdoms will destroy King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom of Babylon. And God’s kingdom will destroy all other kingdoms and will endure forever.

Daniel submitted to the authority God placed over him, even though it was a pagan king. Daniel was placed in high positions because he was faithful to God and was willing to submit to the authorities God placed over him.

Later, Daniel served under King Darius. His administrators were jealous of Daniel and wanted to destroy him and his authority. They convinced King Darius to decree that all people in the kingdom bow down to him only for 30 days. Anyone who breaks the decree would be thrown into the lions’ den.

Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, even in places where he knew others would see him. The administrators saw Daniel and reported him to King Darius. King Darius had no choice but to throw Daniel into the lions’ den. God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and delivered Daniel from the lions’ den. Again, God rewarded Daniel’s obedience with power and authority.

In another episode from Daniel’s life, God showed him a terrifying dream full of kings and kingdoms. Through the dream, God showed that He will intervene on behalf of His people. Suffering will occur for a time, but eventually it will end. One day, God’s people will inherit these kingdoms. Daniel is speechless and troubled by the dream. We will learn more about this dream later in our study of Revelation.

Things to Think About
  • Do I willingly join others in their prayers as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prayed together?
  • God ordains the rise and fall of earth’s kingdoms, but His kingdom endures forever.
  • How am I loyal to God while serving the earthly authority figures in my life?
  • The administrators and their families were thrown into the lions’ den. How is my sin affecting my family?
  • Loyalty to God comes at a personal cost. What does it cost me to be a faithful servant in God’s kingdom?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever – yes, for ever and ever.” Daniel 7:18 NIV

09 November 2015

At the bus stop

Every day, Damon and I take Avery to the bus stop in the morning and meet her there in the afternoon. Last year, Damon wasn't too sure of the bus. It was big and loud and scared him a bit. But when he learned that his best friend got off that big yellow thing every afternoon, and he started to get excited.

When I announce it's time to pick her up at the bus stop every afternoon, Damon quickly runs and excitedly points to the door. Then when he sees the bus come around the corner, he kicks his legs and points at the bus. When Avery steps off the bus, Damon grunts, giggles and waves a greeting to her.

I had to videotape his reaction. On this day, he wasn't quite as excited as he usually is. But you still can see his love for his big sister!

06 November 2015

A good hair day

Recently, Damon's hair has gotten pretty long. I feel like I'm constantly brushing it away from his eyes. So yesterday I decided it was time for his first haircut. It's hard to believe he got his first cut at just a little older than 1 year old. Avery was 2 1/2 years old when she got her first haircut!

We went to our usual kiddie hair salon. While Damon loves to brush his hair (Daddy says to enjoy it while you've got it!), I wasn't sure how he would handle the haircut experience. He was perfect and hardly moved a muscle!

"Hey, lady. What do you think you're going to do with those scissors?"

Now we can see his blue eyes better!

When he realized that he was in a car, he grabbed the steering wheel and pretended like he was driving.

Damon was a very good customer. He was very stoic for the entire time but finally gave a smile and a wave to the stylist as we were leaving. I was just glad he didn't scream the entire time like I've seen too many other kids do!

He looks a little older now, but the shorter 'do definitely is better! And just like with Avery, we got a tiny lock of hair for Damon's baby book.

05 November 2015

04 November 2015

Halloween hijinks

October is always a busy but fun month for us. And now that Avery is in school, we enjoy two weeks of fall break each October. This year, our Halloween hijinks weren't anything out of the ordinary.

The month started with glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas...

...and our annual trip to the pumpkin patch and pumpkin carving adventures with Grandma and Grandpa.

Expert Pumpkin Carver Grandpa and his helpful assistant made a great scary pumpkin this year.

Avery chose to be Snow White this year. I was Snow White once as a kid, and that just might be my favorite costume. Avery's was just as special, thanks to Grandma's sewing magic.

Originally, we thought Avery would be Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. So Damon's being a lion would have been perfect. It's OK that their costumes didn't "match" like last year, but they would have been cute as Wizard of Oz characters! Grandma wanted to make a lion costume for Damon, but the pattern she had was too big and she couldn't get it to work on Damon. So this is a store-bought costume. I can almost guarantee you that Grandma will make Damon's costume next year!

We went to our church's Fall Fest on the night before Halloween. Avery was excited when we found her best friend, Faith, early in the night. So we spent the evening together with Faith and her mom.

On Halloween night, Mommaw, Poppaw, and Aunt Karen came over to see the princess and the lion. Then Karen stayed for a pizza dinner and trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.

Poppaw was making both of them giggle here!

For trick-or-treating, Daddy joined in on the fun as a Navy pilot. The costume's components are courtesy of gifts from Uncle Casey.

It only took about two houses before Damon figured out what was going on. He wasn't shy about carrying his pumpkin to the door and holding it out to get a treat, though he didn't know he was collecting candy. In between houses, we put Damon in the wagon. While in the wagon, he hugged that pumpkin tightly to guard his treasures.

Chris estimated that we visited close to 30 houses. It started to rain about halfway through our course, but we were pretty well prepared and didn't get too wet...although Avery was nervous about her costume getting wet!

When we got home, we had to investigate the candy stash. Damon plopped right in the middle of this pile and started picking out his favorites. We let him try a few things, but most of his stash was given to Avery...and us adults!

03 November 2015

BSF 2015-2016: God’s People

The book of Revelation is all about God’s people and where He is taking them. In the first three chapters, we saw Jesus walking among His people, the church. So who are God’s people? We must go back to the beginning of the Bible and look at God’s people throughout history.

God created Adam and Eve, but they sinned against Him. God promised them a Messiah, a Deliverer. Adam and Eve believed in the coming Messiah. They were God’s first people. Since then, there are two camps for all humanity – those who believe in God and those who don’t.

Later, God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation of God’s people. God promised a Messiah to Abraham and his family. Abraham’s physical descendants are the nation of Israel. God promised that the Messiah would come from Israel.

Skipping ahead, God chose King David. God promised that the Messiah would come through the line of King David.

All of these people broke their promise to God and sinned against Him. But God never rejected them. He does not reject His people.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He chose 12 Jews to be His people. Then God’s Gospel message became available to Gentiles in addition to Jews. Before Jesus died, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit. This happened at Pentecost, a festival that took place just a few weeks after Jesus was resurrected. The Holy Spirit now indwells every believer at his or her moment of conversion.

While now there are more Gentiles than Jews in God’s family, by grace He always keeps a remnant of Jewish believers.

God’s people are any people who hear His message of salvation through Christ and then believe in Him as their only way to eternal life.

In Ephesians 4, Paul tells God’s people how to live in unity and how to mature. We become more like Christ by using our spiritual gifts and by having a new attitude of relating to people. We must see everyone as God sees us.

Things to Think About
  • God chose believers before the creation of the world to be His people. God delights in His people, and they are His treasured possession.
  • God’s love is so outrageous that He adopts broken people.
  • Who will I tell about God’s outrageous love? To whom will I show God’s outrageous love?
  • God’s people have a unified mission of spreading the Gospel.

This Week’s Memory Verse
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV

02 November 2015

The Pioneer Woman's Chicken Quesadillas

Mexican is my favorite cuisine, and I love quesadillas. But I've always been intimidated to make them at home. I can't say what made me think they were so difficult. So after watching The Pioneer Woman demonstrate her chicken quesadillas on TV, I realized they're not so challenging after all.

Chris and I made this recipe together. It turned out to be very helpful to have four hands doing the work! That made it easier to assemble the quesadillas and make sure nothing burned in the process.

We both loved these quesadillas! Avery even ate a few bites without complaining. It was another successful PW recipe for the Clarks!

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons taco or Cajun seasoning mix
1 large onion, cut in half and then into slices
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
12 tablespoons butter, for frying
12 large flour tortillas
2 1/2 cups grated cheese

Preparation instructions
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, and taco seasoning. Add the chicken to the skillet and saute over medium-high heat until done, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and dice into cubes. Set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet over high heat. Throw in the onions and peppers and cook until the peppers have a few dark brown/black areas, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Sizzle 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in a separate skillet or griddle over medium heat and lay a flour tortilla in the skillet. Then build the quesadillas by laying grated cheese on the bottom tortilla and then arranging the chicken and cooked peppers. Top with a little more grated cheese and top with a second tortilla.

When the tortilla is golden on the first side, carefully flip the quesadilla to the other side, adding another 1/2 tablespoon butter to the skillet at the same time. Continue cooking until the second side is golden. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and fillings. Cut each quesadilla into wedges and serve with salsa and sour cream.

29 October 2015

27 October 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 3:7-22

Today we will review the letters Jesus sent to the last two churches. He only commended one church and only rebuked the other.

The church in Philadelphia was passionately devoted to the Lord Jesus. In the city of Philadelphia, the Christians were a minority and were persecuted for their beliefs. Yet they remained faithful to God.

Jesus only commended the church in Philadelphia; He did not rebuke it. He commended the church for its faithfulness through persecution. He called on them to hold fast, to persevere in His grace. He made four promises to His followers:

  1. Make them a pillar in God’s temple – a symbol of strength and security
  2. Write on them the name of God – a symbol of possession
  3. Write on them the name of the city of God – a symbol of a new permanent address with God
  4. Write on them a new name – another symbol of possession

Jesus called this church to view its identity and circumstances through Him. He asks the same of us today.

While Jesus only commended the church in Philadelphia, he only rebuked the church in Laodicea. Laodicea was a very wealthy city. But the Christians in this city had lukewarm hearts. Jesus reprimanded this church because of its complacency. This church left a bad taste in Jesus’ mouth and made Him vomit.

The people in the church in Laodicea felt competent and confident; Jesus said they were wretched and pitiful. The people felt secure in their wealth; Jesus said they were poor. They thought they were self-sufficient and didn’t need God. They were more satisfied with wealth and material possessions than with God. They ignored God and the needs of others.

In spite of these downfalls, Jesus still loved this church and wanted to correct it. Jesus urged them to recognize their spiritual poverty and “buy” the true gold of His Word, to trust completely in Him and His truth.

The church in Philadelphia came to the end of themselves and focused on Christ, but the church in Laodicea was full of themselves and focused on the wrong things. Jesus called both churches to look at themselves in the light of who He is and to align themselves only with Him and not the world.

Jesus calls us to stand for biblical truth rather than pursue comfortable lives.

Things to Think About

  • “God sovereignly and personally preserves His people in their suffering, even if they suffer to the point of death.”
  • Jesus does not delete the struggle, but He empowers the endurance.
  • Jesus calls us to view our identity and circumstances through Him.
  • “Self-satisfaction with a superficial life reveals spiritual poverty.”
  • In which areas of life am I complacent or spiritually empty? Where am I being lukewarm?
  • Is my comfort resting in earthly possessions and situations or in Jesus?
  • We studied seven different churches. Which church most resembles my life? What adjustments will I ask God to make in my life so I more closely align with His standards?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” Revelation 3:11-12 NIV

23 October 2015

22 October 2015

21 October 2015

15-month doctor's appointment

It's hard to believe yesterday was time for another well-check visit with the doctor! Here are Damon's current stats:

Weight – 23 pounds, 4 ounces (50th percentile)
Length – 29.75 inches (25th percentile)
Head – 18.25 inches (25th percentile)

The doctor said Damon can start taking vitamins now to help him on the days he doesn't eat as well as he should.

We discussed a few minor skin issues – a light rash that came up just last night, the beginnings of a cough, and what we think was a case of roseola last week. The doctor thinks the skin rash might be eczema. And we'll need to keep an eye on Damon's cough to be sure it doesn't turn into a chronic one like he suffered last winter. The good news is that Damon doesn't seem to be bothered by any of these minor ailments. He hasn't slowed down at all (except during the roseola...that one knocked him out for a few days)!

Damon got two vaccines and the flu shot. He's all done with vaccines until he starts kindergarten!

The next appointment is at 18 months.

20 October 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 2:12-3:6

Let’s talk about the letters Jesus sent to the next three churches – Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis.

In the letter to the church in Pergamum, Jesus described Himself as coming with a sharp, double-edged sword. The sword represents the Word of God. He was telling the church in Pergamum to be more concerned with Jesus’ sword than with the Romans’ swords.

Jesus commended the church in Pergamum for being faithful. But it also was compromising in the areas of sexual immorality and eating foods sacrificed to idols. Jesus commands the church to repent from these false teaching.

Jesus commended the church in Thyatira for its good service, but He said it also tolerated evil in the prophet Jezebel. The Jezebel mentioned in Revelation was used to point to the Old Testament prophetess who encouraged people to worship false idols. The mention in Revelation points to an evil person in Thyatira.

Jesus promised that the Jezebel in Thyatira as well as all of those who followed her false teaching would be punished with a bed of suffering. Jesus told this church to hold on to the truth they knew. We must not mix our Christian values with the world’s values (tolerate or compromise), and we must not discriminate against those in the world. We must share the truth of the Gospel with them. Christians must hold tightly to the basics of the Christian faith and avoid any new teachings that take us away from God’s Word and the fellowship of believers.

The church in Sardis had a good reputation, but Jesus knew it was dead on the inside. This church was complacent and spiritually dead. Jesus commanded this church to wake up and remember what He called them to do.

Jesus called these three churches to repent. Repentance involves a conviction of sin, a contrition for sin (a sorrow or repulsiveness for sin), and a conversion from sin (turning away from sin and back to God).

Things to Think About

  • Is there an area where I’m compromising with the world to avoid suffering or to achieve success?
  • Is anyone influencing me to rationalize behavior that God’s Word forbids?
  • When we are spiritually tired, we must persevere and not let Satan take control of us.

This Week’s Memory Verse
“The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” Revelation 3:5 NIV

15 October 2015

13 October 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 2:1-11

For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation. Jesus gave specific messages to each church, and many of these messages have applications for us today!

First, what is the Church? The Church is God’s redeemed people. There are two facets to the Church – the Church Invisible and the Church Visible. The Church Invisible is all of God’s redeemed people – past, present, and future. The Church Visible is all of the people we see in local churches on earth right now. Not all members of the Church Visible are members of the Church Invisible. But all members of the Church Invisible should be a part of the Church Visible by participating in a local church.

The Church’s responsibilities are to spread the Gospel, to make disciples in all nations, to love God and people, and to live as Jesus lived. All members of the Church Invisible are called to listen carefully to God’s Word and Spirit.

Now let’s talk about the first two churches Jesus addressed. The church in Ephesus was a large, booming church. This church worked hard and persevered. This church recognized false teachers because its members knew God’s Word.

But this church had forsaken its first love – its love for God. Jesus told the church to remember how far they fell from their first love, repent, and go back to what they used to do. If you have fallen away from loving God, remember His love for you, repent of your sin, and go back to what you did when you first started loving God.

The church in Smyrna was located about 25 miles away from Ephesus. Jesus promised a limited suffering for this church. He also promised to be with them as they walked through the suffering. He told this church not to fear people who can kill their physical bodies because these people cannot kill their spiritual souls. He also promised the victor’s crown and eternal life to this church.

Today Jesus also calls believers to remain faithful through suffering and persecution. God uses suffering to purify His Church and to lead the Church to victory. Suffering will come. Ask God to enable you not to be afraid for the suffering that is to come. But when the suffering does come, stand firm, remain faithful, and don’t fear those who can kill the body.

Things to Think About

  • If you are a believer, are you actively involved in a local church?
  • How carefully do I listen to God’s Word as I read it?
  • What is distracting me from hearing God’s Word?
  • Do I know God’s Word well enough that I can discern false teachers?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7 NIV

12 October 2015

The Pioneer Woman's Skillet Cookie Sundae

I was tasked with bringing dessert to a family gathering yesterday. I really wanted to have a new and different sweet dish, so I checked out The Pioneer Woman's recipe box for some ideas. When I saw this recipe, I remembered watching her make this on her TV show. It looked delicious! I knew I had to try it. And I already had all of the ingredients. No trip to the grocery store with two kids in tow – bonus!

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Ice cream, such as vanilla, strawberry, mint chocolate chip or chocolate, for serving
Ice cream sundae toppings, such as hot fudge, canned whipped cream or maraschino cherries, for serving

Preparation instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Add the vanilla and eggs, mixing well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing after each one. Stir in the milk and semisweet chocolate chips. Spread the mixture into a 10-inch skillet and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, top the cookie with several scoops of your favorite ice cream, drizzle on some hot fudge and top with whipped cream and a cherry.

I made this the day before we ate it, but I think it would be better straight from the oven. I guess it went over pretty well with the family since several people asked for this recipe!

08 October 2015

06 October 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Revelation 1

Finally, we get to jump feet first into Revelation! In chapter 1, we see the beginning of John’s vision from God.

God gave this revelation to John through an angel. God explained that the purpose of His vision, and thus the book of Revelation, is that its readers would know what would soon take place and that they would be blessed for reading and applying the truth in the book. Blessings come from reading, hearing, and applying God’s Word to our daily lives.

The message of the prophecy is found in verse 7 – Jesus will come in the clouds. Because we know Jesus will return to take us home to heaven, we don’t need to fear today. Our future is secure in God.

In verse 9, John describes when and where he was when he received the vision. John was exiled on the island of Patmos because he shared the Gospel. John received this vision from God on the Sabbath Day. He would have been praying, worshipping, and thinking about God. He would have been in a position of being ready to hear from God. John heard a voice like a trumpet behind him. He turned around and saw Jesus as the glorified Messiah. John immediately fell to his face in worship.

The first part of John’s vision is seven golden lampstands, which represent the seven churches.  Jesus was standing among the lampstands holding seven stars that represent the church leaders. This shows that Jesus is with His church and knows exactly what is happening to it. He held the church and its leaders in His hands. He also holds us in His hands!

Things to Think About

  • When considering the end times, we must be anchored in biblical truth not our own opinions and conjecture.
  • Do I read God’s Word? Do I listen to God’s Word? Do I apply God’s Word?
  • Is the return of Christ good news for you? Are you ready and watching for Jesus’ return? Are you living in obedience to God as you wait for Jesus’ return?
  • How often do we put ourselves in a position of being ready to hear from God?
  • I cannot slip through a crack or be overlooked because God knows me and sees me.

This Week’s Memory Verse
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” Revelation 1:7 NIV

01 October 2015

29 September 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Overview of Revelation

Since we have reviewed the Bible and biblical prophecy, it’s time to take a bird’s eye view of the book of Revelation. This outline of the book will help guide us this year:

  • Christ and the Churches – Revelation 1-3
  • The Judge and the Judgments – Revelation 4-18
  • The Coming King and the Coming Kingdom – Revelation 19-22

The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. He had a deep relationship with Jesus during his time on earth. In Revelation’s prologue, John explains that God sent an angel to reveal His plan in a vision to John.

Revelation is written in apocalyptic form. This form of writing uses symbolic imagery and communicates both hope and warning.

John begins the book with messages to seven churches. We will study these in depth next week. Through these letters to the churches, Jesus demonstrates that He is aware of my deeds, afflictions, and shortcomings. He sees us serving Him and suffering for Him. He calls us to keep doing good deeds for Him, to patiently endure our afflictions, and to repent of our shortcomings.

In Revelation chapters 4 through 18, we will see the coming world judgments. There will be three seven-part judgments: the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls. As we study these judgments, our sinful minds probably will wonder if God is being fair. Because God sets the standards, His judgments are just.

Finally, Revelation ends with visions of the eternal city and Jesus as the coming King. Satan will be bound, and Jesus will reign. We will live with God eternally!

If you learn nothing else this year as we spend time in Revelation, I hope you will take away this truth – Jesus is coming soon, and we must be ready!

Things to Think About
  • God promises us a blessing for reading His words in Revelation and for applying the words to our lives.
  • The world is not spinning out of control. God is in control of everything!
  • Is your hope in Christ alone? Are you ready for His return?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:3 NIV

24 September 2015

22 September 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Overview of Prophecy

Since we will discuss a lot of prophecy as we study Revelation this year, today’s lesson will give an overview of biblical prophecy and will describe some prophecies of Jesus Christ.

Prophecy is the telling of God’s plan for all creation. Biblical prophecy reveals God’s story and its fulfillment. More than a quarter of the Bible is prophecy – 62 of the Bible’s 66 books contain prophecy.

God has a perfect record of fulfilling prophecy. This is sufficient for us to trust Him completely. God always does what He says He will do. When we see fulfilled prophecy, we know we can trust God.

We must know God’s Word so we can recognize false prophets. We can recognize false prophets by what they say (it doesn’t come true or it contradicts the Bible) and by their fruit (they point to themselves and not to God).

The greatest prophecies ever described and fulfilled are the prophecies about Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is the promised Son, Savior, and King. The first promise of the Messiah is in Genesis 3:15. Later in the Old Testament, there are prophecies about Jesus’ birth, life, and death. These prophecies were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, and they were fulfilled exactly as they were prophesied.

Jesus is the greatest prophet. Jesus Himself prophesied about His death, resurrection and second coming.

Knowing prophecy enables us to believe God, and believing God gives us security for today and hope for tomorrow. Everything we need to know is found in God’s Word. We don’t need to seek fortune tellers, horoscopes, or tarot cards. The future is written – believers are victorious in Christ!

Things to Think About
  • Because God knows and controls the future, we can trust Him.
  • Prophecy enables us to know God, and knowing God enables us to believe God.
  • Everything will happen just as God says it will happen.
  • Do I have complete confidence in God?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” Jeremiah 23:5 NIV

17 September 2015

15 September 2015

BSF 2015-2016: Overview of the Bible and the Redemption Story

Many of us in the BSF world have been waiting with bated breath for this year. Finally, we are studying the book of Revelation! Once again, each week, I will provide summaries about the lessons, starting today. Since I serve in the School Program, I also will share the students’ memory verse each week.

While the book of Revelation is filled with signs, symbolism, and uncertain timelines, the book is more about Jesus than anything else. In fact, the entire Bible is one story about Jesus Christ. So before we start looking at Revelation, we need to understand the outline of the Bible.

There are 39 books in the Old Testament:

  • Genesis to Deuteronomy are the books about the law.
  • Joshua to Esther are the books of the history of Israel.
  • Job to Song of Solomon are the books of poetry.
  • Isaiah to Malachi are the books of prophecy.

There are 27 books in the New Testament:

  • Matthew to John are the gospels about Jesus’ life on earth.
  • Acts is the book about the disciples and the beginning of the church.
  • Romans to Jude are the epistles (or letters).
  • Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Bible contains 66 books. More than 40 human writers composed the Bible as they were directed by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was written over the course of 1,500 years. God is the Bible’s Author.

God uses the Bible to reveal Himself to the world and to reveal His purposes. The Bible is one story about Jesus Christ.

Here is a brief overview of the story of the Bible.

God created all things. He created man to take care of the earth and to commune with God. God has a purpose for all of creation, including you and me. Adam and Eve are the first people God created. They chose to sin and disobey God. They made one wrong choice that resulted in severe consequences for themselves and all of humanity.

Then wickedness and evil spread everywhere. God was disappointed at how man had rejected Him, so He sent a flood to wipe out mankind...all except for Noah and his family. But because sin is passed down to everyone, sin continued to grow in people’s hearts around the world. Sin affected everything God created.

The rest of the Bible speaks of the history of Israel, Jesus’ life on earth and the establishment of the church.

Through it all, God promised to send a Redeemer who will crush Satan. Jesus is the only way we can be saved from an empty life. He fulfilled the law, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins, buried, rose again, ascended, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. He is the only way we can be redeemed from the penalty of sin.

Finally, in the book of Revelation, we will see Jesus crush Satan. Jesus will return to earth as the reigning King. He will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, and everyone who believes in Him as their Savior will live with Him forever and ever.

As you can see, there is one redemption story from Genesis to Revelation. Everything points to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

This year in Revelation, we will learn all about Jesus’ coming, the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth. I hope you’re as excited as I am about everything we will study this year!

Things to Think About
  • Knowing that God has a purpose for you, does it change how you approach daily tasks, how you spend your time, and how you think?
  • Is Christ your Savior? Do you act like it by obeying and submitting to Him?

This Week’s Memory Verse
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3 NIV

10 September 2015

03 September 2015

Throwback Thursday: Three generations of jockeys

Here are three very special pictures of a very special toy horse. Grandpa Hromada had this wooden horse as a boy. Then he passed it along to me and Aunt Karen when we were kids. For Damon's first birthday, Grandpa cleaned up the horse and made a few repairs so now Damon can enjoy it for a few years.

Grandma Hromada managed to find pictures of me and Grandpa on the horse. Damon's picture completes the set!

August 1945

June 1980

August 2015

01 September 2015

Microwaved scrambled eggs

I've never been very good at making scrambled eggs. They're either too wet or too dry. And they take too much babysitting. So when Chris' mom gave me this microwaved scrambled eggs recipe several years ago, I knew I had to try it. And now it's become my go-to recipe for scrambled eggs. The eggs from this recipe are perfectly fluffy and delicious. Plus, since they're cooked in a microwave, they're easy to make!

Salt and pepper to taste
(see amounts in chart below)

Preparation instructions
Combine eggs and milk in greased bowl or casserole dish. Beat eggs and milk together with a fork or whisk. Add salt, pepper and butter. Cover with glass lid. Microwave for half of total cooking time. (See chart below.) Stir with fork to bring edges to center. Microwave for remaining half of total cooking time. Remove from microwave while eggs are moist. Let stand covered for 2 minutes. Eggs will continue to cook and set completely during standing time. Stir gently with a fork before serving. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

Eggs Milk Butter Total cooking time
1 1 tablespoon 1 teaspoon 1 to 1 1/2 minutes
2 2 tablespoons 2 teaspoons 2 to 2 1/2 minutes
4 4 tablespoons 4 teaspoons 4 1/2 to 5 minutes
6 6 tablespoons 2 tablespoons 7 to 7 1/2 minutes

28 August 2015

27 August 2015

20 August 2015

13 August 2015

10 August 2015

Pork Chop Willy's Grilling Rub

Recently Chris decided to grill some pork chops for dinner. But he wanted a new recipe. Enter this pork grilling rub from Epicurious. The chops were delicious and juicy. I don't know if I can attribute that exclusively to the recipe. I'm sure Chris' grilling skills had something to do with it, too!

3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
Six to eight 10- to 11-ounce bone-in pork rib chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick
Vegetable oil spray

Preparation Instructions
At least 1 hour and up to 8 hours before you grill the pork chops, prepare the dry rub, combining the ingredients in a small bowl. Coat the chops with the spice mixture. Place them in a large plastic bag, seal the bag and refrigerate it. Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to medium. Remove the chops from the refrigerator and let them sit covered at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Spray the chops with oil and transfer them to the grill. Grill for 18 to 20 minutes total. Turn onto each side twice, rotating the chops a half turn each time to get crisscross grill marks. The chops are done when just a hint of pink remains at the center. Serve hot.

06 August 2015

05 August 2015

The little slugger's first birthday party

On Damon's birthday, Chris took a vacation day from work. He also did this for Avery before she was in school. It makes the birthday that much more special to have Daddy home from work. We enjoyed lunch together (where Damon ate more of Avery's sandwich than she did) and then dessert at our favorite local
fro-yo shop. Then we went home to give a few presents to Damon.

Avery wanted to give Damon a train set. So we found a durable wooden one that can expand with add-on sets. He might not be ready for this right now, but it won't be long before he's zooming the trains along the track. In the meantime, Daddy and Avery enjoy playing with the trains!

When it came time to plan the family birthday party, I was a little stumped on a theme. I knew Chris would want a sports theme since he's endured six years of Avery's girly parties.

So when I found this adorable invitation on a designer's website, I knew we found the perfect first birthday party theme. Chris agreed and fell in love with planning a baseball party.

After we decided on the theme, the rest quickly fell into place. We planned a menu full of food found in baseball concession stands or on the baseball field itself:

nachos...soft pretzels...corn dogs...

peanuts...Cracker Jack...


sunflower seeds and bubble gum.

While we didn't want a full St. Louis Cardinals theme for the party, we knew we wanted to include Chris' favorite team somehow. I found these (somewhat pricey) baseball helmet bowls online. We wanted to buy them for all of our party guests. Instead, we used them on the food table, as decorations and for the kids' desserts.

I also found a relatively easy-looking baseball cupcake online. It was a little time consuming to make all of the stitches on the cupcakes, but they turned out pretty well. I was just glad that everyone recognized them as baseballs!

Damon enjoyed opening presents for a few minutes. Then he was done with all of the commotion.

Daddy didn't mind finishing the job himself. I think he enjoyed the room full of boy toys and clothes. It was a nice change of pace from the Barbies and pink skirts he's survived with Avery.

My handy sister found this activity board online and created it herself. It's filled with hardware that Damon can spin, pull and push. The Internet is a wonderful place for ideas for us non-creative types!

The final activity was the cupcakes.

I was a bad mommy and completely forgot to turn on the video camera when we sang "Happy birthday." But Damon didn't flinch when the entire room burst in to song for him!

What a special day to celebrate the special boy in our lives!