All Posts By

Kristin George

Relationships

Why Celebrate Christmas?

With Christmas just a few short days away, I wanted to share with you something I came across a few days ago that reminded me about the “true meaning” of Christmas. I know, that’s such a cliché saying, and it seems like such an obvious thing, but sometimes it is worthwhile to dig a little deeper into the obviousness of God’s Bible truths.

Most Christians, if asked why they celebrate Christmas would say that they celebrate it as the day of Jesus’ birth, the day the Son of God left his rightful place in Heaven to come as a helpless baby to save the world. And I would say that I agree; that’s the reason that I celebrate Christmas. And most frequently when I think about the Christmas story, I think about the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, and of his birth being the ultimate gift of Love from God. But a few days ago as I was reading in Genesis for my morning devotions, I came across a story and a verse that I had not previously connected with what I typically consider the “Christmas story.” In fact, the story does not directly connect with the birth of Christ, but the story perhaps lends itself to giving a deeper and more rich meaning to the birth of the Messiah.

I have shared before some of my thoughts on the story of Cain and Abel. But as I was reading it most recently, I came across this verse:

“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.'” (Genesis 4:13, ESV)

I think when I have read it in the past, I have mostly focused on Cain being afraid of someone killing him to avenge the death of Abel, and I have always kind of thought maybe he wasn’t truly repentant for his crime, just afraid of being unable to bear the consequences of his actions. And maybe that is the truth. However, I think there is more to it.

My Bible gives a note about how the first sentence can be translated. It is often written the way that I have quoted it here, but another translation of the sentence that is given in the ESV is, “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My guilt is greater than I can bear.'” This may seem like semantics, but when I think of the word “punishment” I think of consequences. The word “guilt” however, evokes imagery of sin and its effects rather than simply the consequences of actions, although I think that is part of it too. But when translated as “guilt” instead of “punishment” it seems as if Cain is saying that he is unable to carry the burden of his own sin, his guilt, not just that his punishment seems too harsh.

This is where the true meaning of Christmas comes in: Jesus, the Son of God born as a baby, was sent into the world to bear the guilt that we could not carry on our own. We are, like Cain, unable to carry the weight of our own sin, and God must hide His face from us, unless one could be found who was able to bear the burden for us. And One was found; Jesus, the Lamb of God that was born to take away the sins of the world– your sins, and my sins.

We celebrate Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, because what happier news could there possibly be than the news that God has given his Son as an offering of one who is able and willing to bear our guilt for us that we might live to see the face of God again.

Merry, happy, joyful Christmas to you all.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Home Life

3 Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas

I don’t know about you all, but I LOVE a good handmade Christmas gift. They are so thoughtful, sentimental, and they warm my little heart to the core. Unfortunately for me, when it comes to making those types of gifts for others I am afraid that I somehow missed out on a couple of the creative genes necessary for making cutesy things. I kind of like to imagine that if I tried my hand, I could be the queen of Pinterest fails.

Why am I telling you this? Because today I’m going to share a few creative homemade gift ideas that even I can manage! So, if you’re like me and are lacking in the creative-artsy-amazingness genes, this one’s for you. And, honestly, if you are the creative genius who can make Pinterest look like child’s play, this one’s for you too. Because even the creative geniuses sometimes need a little inspiration.

1. Homemade Candy Bags
My husband and I have discovered in the past that it’s easy to go a little crazy with this idea…

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Some of the pretzels were dipped in crushed peppermint candy canes after they were chocolate covered

There are SO many different types of candies that are actually fairly easy to make from home. One that we did for Timothy’s co-workers for Valentine’s Day was chocolate-covered caramels. And in the past we’ve also done chocolate-covered pretzels for Christmas. Both are simple and you can get “fancy” dressing them up by using food coloring in white almond bark and drizzling it over the finished product.

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For the pretzels, simply buy an assortment of small pretzels and large pretzel sticks, melt some almond bark, chocolate chips, or melting chocolate (Ghirardelli’s melting chips are the best!), dip them and lay them out on a wax-paper lined baking sheet to harden. Then refrigerate them until hard, and package as desired.

Caramels are also simpler than they seem. Once you have your chocolate melted, unwrap some individually wrapped caramels and microwave them for about 15 seconds so that they are warm and moldable, but not melting.

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Then cut them in half (or leave them whole), mold them into little balls and dip in chocolate! Lay them out on a wax paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate until hard.

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Timothy molded some of the caramels around salted cashews and then dipped them

2. Apple Butter 
If you have a crockpot, this isn’t actually that hard to make. And honestly, you can even cheat a little bit and save time by starting with applesauce instead of apples, because that way you literally just dump the applesauce, sugar, and spices in the crockpot and let it cook, stirring it every few hours. It does however take many hours (likely between 7 and 10), but they are mostly passive hours.

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For my apple butter, I use applesauce, brown and white sugar (though less than most recipes call for), cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. When cooking it, I actually cook it on high for the first 4 or 5 hours and I have it mostly covered, but cracked a little bit to allow some of the water to cook off so you get a nice thick apple butter. Then you can cook the remaining few hours on low. If you want an actual recipe to follow for ideas of how much of each spice to add, here are a few: One, two, or three. If you want to can them in a water bath so they last longer, you can do that, or if you don’t have time, you can just refrigerate the jars. To make them look a little more holiday-ish, you can take some thin Christmas ribbon and use a hot-glue gun to attach it around the ring of the mason jar lid. You can also get some holiday fabric and cut small circles to cover the lid; attach it by simply screwing the ring over it while it’s covering the lid.

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I know it’s hard to see, but in the top right corner, there’s an example of the apple butter with fabric covering and Christmas ribbon around the lid.

3. Mini Books
You guys, I saved the best for last… These are amazingly wonderful little creations and I LOVE them.

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My friend has an Etsy shop where she sells beautiful digital prints and mini book kits. If you have no idea what a mini book is, you’re not alone. I had never heard of them before either. But your life will be better now because I’m going to tell you what they are. Basically, they are pre-made mini scrapbooks for the creative-at-heart that you fill in with your own pictures and words. These are great, first of all because they are small, and therefore manageable to create.

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They can also easily be themed since they are so small; like you could do one of your summer vacation, the first year of marriage/dating, your pregnancy memories for one of your children, or a book of encouragement and hope. In addition, they are super affordable, and they have lots of texture and shape. If that doesn’t sound amazing to you, let me help you by showing you some more pictures.

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This is what a typical kit looks like when you receive it.

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Simply add your favorite pictures and some words to make it yours

I hope this has been helpful in giving you some good ideas for homemade Christmas gifts, or maybe it has at least gotten the creative juices going for you to make something else. Either way, I wish you well in your gifting ventures this holiday season. May you find many ways to warm the hearts of those you love!

Relationships

God and the Five Love Languages

Today I wanted to follow up on my previous post about extravagant love because I felt like I could make it a little more practical and less nebulous. In that post I was writing about how God craves from us the extravagant kind of love like Mary Magdalene showed when she anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment—the kind of love that goes way above and beyond what is expected or necessary. I had asked what ways we can show that kind of extravagant love to God and someone commented that we could show God love by obeying Him. I agree, and I think that’s a great start; but I also think that there are also many other practical ways that we can more abundantly express our love for God.

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You may or may not be familiar with the Five Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. The five love languages are different ways that we show and receive love from other people, and I think it’s a solid place to start when thinking of practical ways to express your love for God. So I’m going to share some examples from each of the five different love languages to help give you some ideas of ways to give back extravagant love to God.

Acts of Service
This expression of love can take on many forms; it could be shown by participating in your church work bee to help keep God’s sanctuary beautiful and clean, going on mission trips, giving Bible studies, or by something as simple as helping an elderly neighbor rake their leaves or go grocery shopping. Remember, in Matthew 25, Jesus said that at the final judgment God will say to his faithful followers, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (verse 40, ESV). When you do kind things for other people, it is a sweet offering to God. I have also thought about how God admonishes his people throughout the Bible to take care of the widows and orphans; I think this was meant literally, but also as a principle. Widows and orphans in Bible times were often unable to provide a living for themselves, so any time we are able to help someone who is unable to provide for their own needs, we are in essence taking care of the “widows and orphans” of our society.

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Gift Giving
The most obvious way that we can give gifts to God is by donating money to our local churches, to mission projects, or to people who are homeless or in need. But another type of gift giving can be gifts of special music at your church, or singing at a nursing home. We often think of gifts as money or physical things, but any way that you can use the talents and special abilities that God has given you for His service, that is like giving a gift to God. This kind of goes hand in hand with acts of service.

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Quality Time
This too, seems obvious; we show God love by spending time reading our Bibles and praying to Him. However, I think we can show a deeper love for God by not only reading our Bibles and praying, but also by giving God the best of our time. So maybe for someone this could look like making time earlier in the evening to pray to God so that they are not falling asleep during their prayers. Or perhaps it might mean going to bed earlier so that you are well rested and alert during your morning devotions. The general principle is not just setting aside time for God, but giving Him priority in your time, giving him quality time.

Physical Touch
Now, I admit, this one is difficult for me to figure out in relation to God. We cannot physically touch God or hold His hand. But something about physical contact with loved ones that makes me feel loved is just the fact that I can feel them present and close to me. So following that principle, some ways we can show physical love to God is by being 100% present mentally and physically when we are spending time with God—either at church, or in our personal devotions and prayer time. Also, in the Bible Paul says that our bodies are the temples of God, so keeping ourselves in good physical health by eating well and exercising is another way to show physical love for God.

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Words of Affirmation
This is something I think I often neglect. And the easiest way to do it is simply by thanking God for the blessings in your life, thanking and praising Him for the ways He has revealed Himself to you, and acknowledging in our prayers His power, majesty, and worthiness of our worship and adoration. Some ways you may not have considered before might include writing love notes to God (just like you might to your spouse), praying Psalms of praise and thanksgiving out loud to God, or sharing with other people the great things that God has done in your life.

Relationships

Extravagant Love

You know how Bath & Body Works has special scents around the holidays? Well, there’s one in particular that I just love! It’s called Pink Sugarplum, and oh my word it smells delightful.

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I remember one year when my husband and I were dating he had somehow found out that I really liked that particular lotion, so for Christmas that year he bought me some. But he didn’t just stop at buying me one bottle of that lotion; instead, he got me like 12 or 14 bottles of various kinds of Bath & Body Works lotions and shower gels! I have to admit that I kind of laughed when I opened them all, and no joke, I still have one or two bottles left almost 4 years later. I told him that I would have been happy with just one or two bottles, but he said he knew that, but he wanted to give me more.

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I was thinking about that Christmas gift a few days ago as I was using my lotion, and I kind of laughed to myself again because looking back I realize that at the time I had no idea that that kind of over-the-top extravagance was going to be par for the course with Timothy. When he gives me gifts, when he does sweet things for me, or when he gives me words of affirmation, it is quite frequently in that same hyperbolic fashion. It makes me feel slightly spoiled, and it also makes me feel very secure in his love for me.

As I was reflecting on the generous measure which Timothy often shows me his love, I had an epiphany: That’s exactly how love is supposed to be. Extravagant. Excessive. Over-the-top. Always wanting to give more than what is expected or acceptable.

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Mary Magdalene understood this. When she anointed Jesus’ head and feet, she was giving a very extravagant gift. The ointment she used could have been sold for almost a year’s wages! And she just poured it out all at once. The disciples who saw it were, appalled and even asked, “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) Jesus’ response? “’Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.’” (Matthew 26:10, 13)

Jesus wanted to make an example out of the extravagance of Mary’s gift to him. He wanted everyone who hears her story to know that you can never give too extravagant or costly a gift of love to God. No gift that you could give to God would ever be so excessive as to be considered a “waste.” Because love can’t be wasted.

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That’s the kind of attitude, the kind of crazy, extravagant love that God has toward us—He sent a part of Himself to Earth, gave up what was rightfully His, and laid down His own life just to be with us! And it’s the same kind of over-the-top, hyperbolic kind of love that He craves from us.

So let me ask you this, when is the last time you gave extravagantly to God? What are some tangible ways that you can give of your love in excess to God? How can you give God more than what is acceptable or expected?

Well Being

For Days When You Feel Alone

I’m going to take a bit of a risk here with a wild guess that most of us at some point or another in our lives have felt bitterly alone. In fact, I’m going to take it a step further and venture to say that at some point(s) in our lives, we have felt so alone that it seemed like even God was not near to us. I know I have. And recently when I was reading the story of Job for my devotions I was reminded that even God’s most faithful servants have felt that way.

Job knew in his heart that he had not forsaken God’s commandments and that he had been living in harmony with God and his fellow man. And yet as he cried out to God for mercy, for relief, and for answers, he received none. Not only did he receive no answer from God, but he also felt utterly alone and abandoned by God.

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In chapter 23, Job says,

“’Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.’” (Verses 8, 9, ESV)

What’s interesting to me is that Job does not question God’s existence. He says that God is working; he just can’t see or feel him working. Job still knew and trusted that God was there, he just wished that he could see it more clearly. The other thing that was inspiring to me was the very next verse after Job complains of feeling like God is hiding from him.

“’But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.’” (Job 23:10, ESV)

 

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Even when Job felt completely alone and abandoned by God, he still had the faith and trust that comes from truly knowing God to realize that God knew the path that Job was on. God still saw Job in his aloneness. And even though Job couldn’t feel God’s presence, he clung to his faith and belief in the goodness of God.

When I was reading this story and thinking about Job in his aloneness crying out to God, I remembered some of the lyrics to one of my favorite Andrew Peterson songs, “The Silence of God.”

“There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll,
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold.
And he’s kneeling in the garden, silent as a stone,
All his friends are sleeping, and he is weeping all alone.

And the Man of all Sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought.
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God,
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not.
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.”

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Jesus knows your sorrows. He knows what it feels like to be utterly and completely alone. And most of all, he knows what it is to cry out to God and hear only silence in reply. But when we read these stories, of Job and of Jesus in their aloneness, we can be comforted by the knowledge that in both of those stories even though God’s presence was not felt, He was there all along. God saw Jesus and God saw Job in their aloneness; and He was still loving them even in His silence, despite what Satan would have had them believe.

So when you’re feeling all alone and when you feel like the only answers you’re receiving from Him are silence, take heart; He is with you still, and He loves you, even if you don’t understand the reason for His silence.

Well Being

A (Healthier) Guide to Productivity

Confession: I love being productive, but I am not always very good at it. In fact, sometimes I feel so bad at being productive, that I just get overwhelmed and want to crawl back into bed. Unfortunately, this can be a vicious cycle: Want to be productive —> Get overwhelmed —> Waste time instead —> Feel like a terrible failure —> Want to be productive. It’s not pretty; just ask my husband.

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Now, while this isn’t always the cycle that I fall into, it happens frequently enough that my husband and I decided it was time for an intervention. Mostly because I got tired of being unproductive, and he got tired of me feeling like a failure for not being productive (he’s a keeper).

So what did we do, you ask? Well, we came up with a system that we’ve been trialling now for the past month. So far, I have been able to accomplish much more than I had been doing, but even more importantly, I feel so much healthier emotionally now as I’m meeting my goals; that’s why I decided to share with you what I’ve learned from the beginning of my journey towards a healthier pattern of productivity.

First, a disclosure: this is not an 8-step program to make you a more productive person. Instead, this is meant to be a helpful tool, or guiding principles to help you get ideas on how to create a system that works for you, because let’s be honest– different strokes for different folks.

I would also LOVE to hear some of your ideas on how to stop wasting time, be more productive, or on ways to motivate yourself to accomplish goals. I can use all the help I can get, and I’m sure others would love to know your secrets to success as well!


1. Lists are your friend (and your enemy)

No, really. Lists can be helpful, but they can also be overwhelming and time consuming. My suggestion is this: Start with one week at a time, and at the beginning of the week take a quick minute to make a list of the things you would like to get done. Then prioritize; be realistic and choose only a few things that are most important to get done. Make these your goal for the entire week, and the rest of the items on your list are whipped cream on the pie if you complete them. This process really shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

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2. Find what motivates you

This is very important for me and my husband both. Truthfully, the feeling of accomplishment that I get from being productive is a type of reward in itself, but it’s not often enough to keep me motivated. Here are some ideas for rewards/motivations that might work: When you complete a task, you earn some “free time” for guilt-free relaxation (a nap, reading a book, writing, watching a show, taking a walk, or anything that makes you feel guilty when you have too much to do). Or you can use money as incentive if your budget allows; Timothy and I get personal money each month, but we have been getting a small amount of extra personal money if we meet our goal for the week, kind of like earning your allowance like you may have done as a kid. Whatever it is that motivates you, find a way to use it as a reward for accomplishing a reasonable amount of things per week.

3. Cumulative rewards help you stick with it

It is far too easy to say to myself, “Well, if I don’t accomplish this week’s tasks, there’s always next week.” So what we’ve done to keep ourselves motivated is having an extra reward for being able to complete our goals for all four (or five) weeks in a month. Because then if you miss one week, you’re really giving up two rewards.

4. Revise your system if necessary

If you picked too many tasks for your first week, don’t be discouraged. Just realize that there are only 24 hours in each day and it is not healthy or helpful to try to fit too much into that time. Use trial and error to help you figure out a balance of how many goals or how big the goals are that you’re setting for yourself and how you are handling them. If you become stressed or overwhelmed by the goals you’re setting, tone it down. If you find that you didn’t choose enough things to accomplish and it was too easy, add some more (because it’s good to have a little bit of a challenge).

5. Healthy expectations = healthier productivity

What I have discovered for myself is that when I set attainable goals and accomplish them, it actually helps me to accomplish more. Having healthy expectations of what we can get done decreases the stress and discouragement that often go hand in hand with having “too much to do.” God did not create us to be non-stop working machines; too much productivity can be just as unhealthy for your body and mind as being completely unproductive.

6. Cut yourself some slack

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This is the most important thing I will write in this entire post, so I hope you’ve kept reading… Do not link your productivity to your self-worth. Ever. You are so much more than what you can accomplish. My husband, thank the good Lord, does not love me because of how much I can get done in a day. Do not fall into the terrible black abyss of feeling like you are not enough, you are a failure, or you are somehow less than everyone else because you are struggling with getting things done. God has never, ever, ever said anywhere in the Bible that our value comes from what we can do. That’s not the way He based the plan of salvation, and it’s not the way His love for us us works either. As Brené Brown so aptly puts it in her book Rising Strong,

“I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.

Devotions

A More Acceptable Offering

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” (Hebrews 4:11, ESV)

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I love the faith chapter. And I have read it many times. But I read it a few months ago and this verse really caught my attention, and I’ve thought about it frequently since then. I want to ask you a question, and once I’ve asked it, please stop reading to answer it for yourself before you read further. You also may want to take a minute or two to read the story in Genesis 4:2-7 before you answer. So, here goes: What made Abel’s sacrifice more acceptable than Cain’s?


Personally, I’ve always just thought that Abel was following what God had asked and Cain wasn’t, and this is true. Abel sacrificed unblemished sheep, just like God asked for, while Cain eventually began to bring God offerings from his farming produce, which was not what God had asked for. But honestly, I think that’s only a part of what made Abel’s sacrifice “more acceptable.”

To get to the bottom of how Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable to God, I actually think we have to take a look at why Cain’s offering was less acceptable. So, I’m going to point out a few things that I noticed when I studied this. Consider this a miniature Bible study if you will. All of my references to the Bible are from the ESV.

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In Genesis 4:3, it says that “In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground.” This suggests to me that at first, Cain was bringing to God a different offering, perhaps offerings of sheep like God had asked. So what made Cain change what type of offering he was bringing to God? Well, Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a farmer. Maybe in the course of time in his heart he began to feel like the fruits of his labor should be just as worthy to give to God as the fruits of his brother’s labors. I think this is possible explanation, because in verse 7, God tells Cain that “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” This makes it sound like Cain had not yet sinned, even though he was not bringing the offerings that God asked for, but that God was warning him that if he didn’t make some changes, that sin would take control of him. I think that Cain was beginning to have pride and self-sufficiency building in his heart by thinking that what he could offer to God should be a worthy offering. If this were the case, then Cain would be bringing offerings to God not because in his heart he wanted to please God, but rather because of a pridefulness of heart.

Another reason I think that Cain’s offering was less acceptable is because I believe that God asked for a lamb as a sacrifice in order to point them to the plan of God’s salvation– to Jesus as Messiah. God wanted them to understand that He would provide the way of reconciliation through the Lamb of God. Every time they offered a lamb up to God, it was to be a reminder to them of how God would one day save them. By Cain offering something other than a lamb, he was in essence ignoring the message that God wanted to speak to his heart. And when we begin to turn away from the voice of God (whether it be audible, through symbols, or the writing in His Word), sin is crouching at the door, just waiting for an opportunity to seize our hearts.

When we stop looking to Jesus as our Savior and turn our hearts away from the voice of God, we are placing ourselves further away from God’s reach.

The final reason I think that Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable to God is because I believe that it was an offering given from a pure heart, a heart wanting to worship God. Abel wanted to do well, to please God and follow his instructions. Cain, on the other hand, was not bringing offerings in an attempt to please God; rather, his offering became a pharisaical offering from a prideful heart. I believe that it wasn’t necessarily Cain’s offering itself that God was not regarding (although I think that was important too), but rather the half-hearted, going-through-the-motions way that Cain was bringing his “sacrifices” to God that made God reject his offerings. Cain was not loving and worshipping God with all of his heart.

So now, the heart of the matter, the reason that any of what I’ve said matters, is this: What kind of sacrifice are you giving to God? Are you bringing to God your whole heart and the best that you have to give in your worship time, your actions, your spending habits, your prayer life? Are you worshipping God in the ways that He has asked and following him? Or are you, like Cain, in need of heeding God’s warning that sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you. I ask you these questions, not as a pious person, but as someone who is in need of asking the same question of myself each and every day. I, too, need to be searching my heart to know whether I am giving to God the very best I have, not out of pride, but out of a desire to please and worship Him.

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“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:8-15)

Devotions

Expressions of Beauty

It is amazing to me the capacity that we have to create and enjoy beautiful things.

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Whenever I am taking pictures of a field lit up with the day’s dying light or flowers in the sunshine, or any nature scene, I am always astounded by how much more beautiful the scenery/object is looking through my own eyes rather than captured by a camera lens. Our eyes are incredibly skilled at taking in scenes of beauty. I think God created us that way because He wanted us to be able to appreciate and enjoy the things that He made for us. I think that He wants us to be a little bit in awe and wonder at the world we see because He is its Creator, and as such, it bears His mark. When God created this world, He was putting on display a piece of Himself, of His own heart and mind.

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Very recently, I spent a day in Washington, D.C. with my parents and my husband. As much as I hate the hassle of trying to get anywhere in D.C., seeing all the ornate buildings and experiencing different aspects of art, culture, and history makes it well worth the effort. We weren’t able to see very many things because we didn’t have much time, but we did stumble upon an incredible museum and display by accident.

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I had never been to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery before, and we ended up there mostly to escape the heat and because the entrance intrigued Timothy. In any case, it was a good find because they have a display going on (until January 2017) called Turquoise Mountain that is just captivating.

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The display highlights artisans from Afghanistan who are hoping to reshape and rejuvenate the art culture of their country after so many years of war and destruction.

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It included many different things from jewelry and pottery to painting and woodworking.

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As we walked through, I was in a sort of dazed state of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of everything, and with the woodworking in particular I just felt compelled to touch and trace all the details. It was so beautiful.

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And I couldn’t help but be amazed. To think that humans are capable of creating such beauty made me reflect on what an incredible gift God has given us. Not only did He create beauty for us to appreciate, but He also gave us the ability to make beautiful things. We can create beauty, through our art, our words, our music, and even our actions. And when we make something beautiful, it bears our mark, a piece of ourselves.While I was contemplating all these things, I began to think about Genesis 1:26.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our own likeness.’” (ESV)

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This verse could be taken to mean many things. But in the context of what I had been thinking about, it made me realize that just as each of the pieces of art that I saw in the museum were expressions of the artists who made them, we too, are an expression of our Creator. We were created in God’s image; we are each a beautiful piece of art that He made as a reflection and expression of Himself and His glory. We bear His mark.

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“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:27, 31, ESV)

Recipes

Vegan Fried Mac n Cheese

Warning: This is not a quick meal option. But I promise you, it is worth your time.

I never really was big on macaroni and cheese, but one year when I began sharing an apartment with a friend from college who was vegan, she introduced me to her mother’s vegan version of macaroni and cheese. I was hooked from the first bite. Since then I have obtained her mother’s recipe (tweaked it a little bit) and have eaten this dish very frequently. Thanks Margie!

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I don’t really know how to describe this dish to you, because it doesn’t really taste like dairy mac n cheese, and I’ve never had anything else similar to compare it to. But it is oh-so-good. So if you’re up for something new and different and you have some time on your hands, this one’s for you.

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Ingredients:
2 cups raw cashews
3 cups hot water + 1 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup pimientos
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-4 cloves of garlic (depending on the size)
1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 box of pasta (1 lb)

Directions:
1. Soak the cashews in 3 cups of hot water in the blender for 20-45 minutes. Once again, the more powerful your blender, the less important it is that you soak the cashews for a long time. But even with a good blender, you should soak them for at least 20 minutes.
2. While your cashews are soaking, put water on to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to box instructions. Then drain and set aside.
3. Add the yeast flakes, pimientos, lemon juice, garlic cloves, garlic salt, onion powder, and cayenne pepper to the blender and blend until completely smooth. This may take a good 5-10 minutes depending on your blender.

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4. Put the cooked pasta and the “cheese” sauce into a large, deep skillet* and turn the heat to medium-high. Then use your extra 1 cup of water to rinse the sauce from the sides of the blender and pour it into the skillet as well.

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5. Stir the pasta and sauce occasionally as it is thickening.

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This is the hard part… it will take a while for the sauce to start to thicken, so this is where your patience might be tested.

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You can serve and eat the macaroni once the sauce is thick and creamy to your liking, but if you are willing to wait until it is crispy and fried, it is really yummy!

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Once the sauce starts to get creamy and thick and is starting to stick a little to the bottom of the pan you will need to stir it fairly frequently, making sure to scrape everything off the bottom of the pan so that it just browns and doesn’t burn.

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6. Serve and enjoy! Makes enough for 4-6 servings.

*In choosing a skillet, you want something wide and deep so that more pasta is touching the bottom of the pan for frying it. Also, you will definitely want something that has superb non-stick qualities because when the sauce is somewhere in between the creamy and the fried stages it will stick like crazy to the bottom of your pan.

Devotions

This Cup

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m guessing that I’m not. And I feel a little ashamed to admit it, but here goes…

Sometimes I wish my life were different. I know I’m not supposed to wish that. And honestly, deep down I don’t want to wish that things were different. I want to be content with my life as it is now.

But the truth is that I have felt a little overwhelmed with all that’s been happening. I’ve recently finished orientation for work and have been on my own taking care of patients for the past month in a very stressful and fast-paced environment. On top of working full-time hours there, I’ve been trying to maintain things at home—cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, finances, etc. Add to that a little bit of traveling, making time for family and friends, and I end up with a very full and demanding schedule.

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And when life gets overwhelming like that, it is so tempting to give in to the desire to waste my days wishing for better ones. I can easily think to myself, “I wish I wasn’t working all the time,” when six months ago I would have done almost anything to have a job! I am frequently tempted to sulk and imagine that I could be so much happier if only I had more time/money/freedom or less work/cleaning/responsibilities. I begin to be discontent with where I am here and now because I imagine that I could be so much better off if only my circumstances were different than they are now. It’s the lie the Devil feeds me, and I buy into it far too often.

But here’s the honest truth: I can be content, fulfilled even, in any circumstances. The secret? The apostle, Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi says this:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV)

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Christ is the secret to contentment. When I am feeling overwhelmed and wishing for things to be different, I can turn to Christ for strength to meet my life head on. That’s not to say that I may not need to re-evaluate and cut some things out of my increasingly busy schedule, but I can face each day and each situation with joy in my heart, knowing that the most important detail about this day is that Christ is with me. The other details about my circumstances become less important when I view my present life through the filter of God being with me every moment.

As I’ve been struggling with learning contentment in all circumstances there has been a song that has really spoken to my soul. It’s a song by Sara Groves called, This Cup. In it she speaks of her challenges with dreaming of life being more exciting or adventurous, or just different, and how she wants to learn to drink up the cup that God has given to her. To soak in the challenging and beautiful reality she lives in instead of trying to live some other fantasy. This has been one of the themes of my prayers to God lately. I hope you enjoy this song and the challenge of learning to love and live in the present life that God has seen fit to bless you with as I am learning to do the same.

Recipes

Baked Tofu Sandwiches

Has anyone else started to notice that the days are already getting shorter?? I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not, but I seriously have no idea how it’s already the middle of August! Just yesterday I went for a walk in the evening and noticed that the temperature was a tad cooler than normal, and I almost panicked thinking that before I know it, New England will be in the icy grips of winter. Ok, so maybe that’s a stretch, but I truly did panic a little bit on the inside when I realized that summer is winding down.

So, in honor of hanging on to summer for as long as I possibly can, I want to share with you one of my all-time favorite recipes: Baked Tofu Sandwiches! I actually hesitate to call this a recipe because there isn’t much cooking involved, but that’s just another thing that makes it so great.

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These sandwiches are incredibly delicious and surprisingly filling. And there’s quite a bit of room for you to make it your own. Our favorite way to eat these in our home is on ciabatta rolls that are lightly toasted, which I unfortunately didn’t have on hand today. In any case, here is the recipe for the most important ingredient– the tofu.

Ingredients:
Extra firm tofu
Olive oil
Garlic salt
Basil (dried or fresh)
Nutritional yeast flakes

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Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain/press your tofu until most of the moisture is gone and then slice it into somewhat thin rectangles.

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2. Lay your rectangles out on a baking pan and lightly brush each piece with some olive oil.

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3. Sprinkle the garlic salt, basil, and yeast flakes on each piece of tofu to your liking. Remember that tofu by itself is fairly bland, so while you don’t want to over salt these, you do want a healthy helping of the garlic salt. I will caution you though, that if you’re using dried basil, don’t be too generous with it or else the flavor will be a little overwhelming.

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4. Bake tofu for about 20-25 minutes, then assemble sandwiches while the tofu is still hot!

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As for toppings on the sandwiches, you can get creative, but here are the basics that we usually put on them:

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Hummus/mayo
Lettuce/spinach leaves
Tomato (a must!)
Cucumber
Black olives
Avocado (this is the difference between a mediocre and an incredible sandwich)
Feta cheese (optional, but really good with the avocado)
Red onion (optional)

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So while you’re soaking up the last bits of summer, I hope you enjoy these wonderful, messy little morsels as much as we do!

Devotions

Prayer and the Promises of God

Lately I have felt like my prayer list is growing exponentially. And it seems like the majority of those requests for prayer revolve around aching hearts and really hard life situations. It makes my heart ache for these people who are dear to me that I’m praying for.

Community in prayer is a gift to us from God; it builds fellowship and brotherly love in Christ. It lifts us up and binds us together. However, just because it is a good gift, that does not make it an easy gift. I will not lie and tell you that it’s always a joy to present these requests before God for my friends and family members. In fact, some times it is more of a heart cry of desperation for God to do something, anything. And in those moments, it is easy to wonder what God is up to, why He doesn’t seem to be answering. Sometimes it is easy to doubt, and so hard to trust.

In times when we are tempted to doubt the goodness of God, our best defense against Satan’s attacks is found in the Word of God. Even if we do not doubt God’s goodness, but are simply discouraged by the seeming silence of God, our best encouragement is also found in God’s Word.

My current favorite verse in the Bible is this:

“Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:45, ESV)

It is my favorite because it reminds me that God has made good promises to us, and that he intends to keep them all. Not one word of all of His good promises will fail; all will come to pass.

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But in order for that verse to have any meaning for us we have to know the promises God has made to us. What are some of your favorite promises from the Bible? What are some of the true and faithful words in God’s Word that you turn to when you need encouragement or reminders that God is good?

Here are some of mine:

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deut. 7:9, ESV)

“He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:8,9, ESV)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV)

“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16, ESV)

“And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11, ESV)

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25, ESV)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, ESV)

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“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31, ESV)

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39, ESV)

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:20, ESV)

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18, ESV)

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2Thess. 3:3, ESV)