Finding Cheap or FREE Resources for Bird Nature Study

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Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase through that link, I will earn a few pennies, nickels, and dimes.  I only link to products I would happily recommend even if no compensation were possible.  🙂 

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Our family doesn’t completely follow the Ambleside Online (AO) free curriculum, but we pull heavily from it for our book list, among many other things.

One of those other things is their Nature Study schedule.  If I want to pick a particular topic of nature study for us to focus on for a while, why not start with their suggested schedule and tweak it along the way, if need be?  This way there is less choice-fatigue for me and I can find some community around what we are studying, whether with other AO families I know in real life, on the AO forums, or on the Facebook group.

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This summer and fall is for the birds, so I’ve been doing a bit of research and collecting materials that will prepare me to assist and inform my children in their own observation and enjoyment of our feathered friends over the next several months.

I’ve seen a lot of materials for purchase on the interwebs, and many of them were quite tempting, but I wanted to see what was available to me for free before punching in credit card numbers.

First, I searched my own shelves. 

We already own the Handbook of Nature Study, which will serve us for many years and topics to come, making the purchase price slim over the long haul.

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Birds are covered on pages 27-143.  The pictures are not the most impressive, but this book is chock full of information so that you, the parent, can be a literally walking resource for you children on the trail.  Types of birds, parts of birds, migration of birds, lessons with suggested questions, pictures, diagrams, and even related poetry are included.  I plan to read this section for my own knowledge and make a few notes on particular questions or topics to raise while I’m out with the kids.

Remember, the purpose of Nature Study is to get the child in touch with the world and creatures God has made and to enjoy it.  The Handbook of Nature Study is NOT a textbook of information you have to cram into your precious children’s little heads.  It’s a tool to aid the work of observation that the kids ought to be doing and delighting in on their own.

I found another volume that I may reference over the next few months:  Living with Wildlife: How to Enjoy, Cope with, and Protect North America’s Wild Creatures Around Your Home and Theirs.  I don’t think there’s much to say about this book now since the title is so descriptive!  We found this gem at a library cast-off sale for probably about 50 cents.

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The point here isn’t so much that any of you need THIS book, but that if you keep your eyes open, you may find something similar.  If I didn’t have the Handbook of Nature Study, this book (or some other like it) would suffice quite nicely.  Birds are covered on pages 180-252, if any of you by chance come across this guide or find it at your library.  There aren’t so many pictures or diagrams, and it’s not aimed at teachers or parents to instruct their children, but the information is valuable and would do the trick of providing a parent with both a general and some specific knowledge of birds.

My oldest has read many chapters in The Burgess Bird Book for Children, one of the great selections found on the AO booklist.

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It’s a narrative introduction to all kinds of birds, with animals talking and acting consistent with their particular habits and personalities.  Each chapter covers a different bird, and we may just read one here and there for fun if we’re interested.

My mom gave us a laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide of Arkansas Birds for Christmas several years ago.  This guide isn’t particularly detailed, but it does provide color pictures of a variety of birds, including their Latin names, size, and an occasional special note.  Listed on the back are bird viewing areas and sanctuaries, as well as a state regional map.

For very young children, a laminated field guide is almost a necessity!  Even when they can’t read, they love feeling like real explorers with a guide in their pack that they can pull out at will.  And you as the parent love feeling like it won’t be destroyed on the first expedition!  If you don’t live in Arkansas, you can look up the Pocket Naturalist field guide for birds in your state.

Even just one or two of the above resources is more than enough to get started with nature study.  Actually, all you really need to do to get started is step outside and pay attention, and maybe take along a notebook and a pencil!  But we’ve been at this for several years now and I wanted to add to our resource collection (and convince myself that I didn’t need to buy anything new or shiny in order to do so).

So…where did I go for new FREE resources? 

I went online.

Many of the paid resources I’ve seen lately were all ebooks and video courses anyway, so I thought I’d search in the same format–starting with websites specific to my home state of Arkansas.

The Audubon Society of Arkansas and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have a wealth of free resources for studying birds, among many other kinds of wildlife!  There’s a searchable database where you can find pictures, details, and songs of birds when you search by color, size, habitat, and more.  The Game and Fish Commission provides free printable brochures on birds and so much more, but they will also send you a hard copy for free if you send them your mailing address!

If you’re outside of Arkansas, check out the corresponding organizations for your state.

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All I asked for was the Arkansas Backyard Birds booklet, but they sent the other three as well!  I suppose they figured someone like me would eventually ask for more booklets and they could save on shipping by sending them all at once.

There are two more ways I’d like to complement our focus on birds, and both can be achieved without spending a dime.

I’d like us to improve our artistic abilities in the area of drawing birds, so that our nature journal entries can better represent what we see out in the field.  Enter YouTube.  There are TONS of FREE video tutorials to help us hone our skills.  I think we’ll get a start with watercolor painting a saucy little wren like the ones we see every day around our house.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts I can imagine giving my children when it comes to nature study is to tie God’s truth to what they see.  The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and I want them to see it.  I just read the Sermon on the Mount this morning, and I think we’ll incorporate Matthew 6:26 into our memory work as we observe the winged creatures around us:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

I hope this has been helpful to you, my friends.

Do you have any other super awesome free resources for bird nature study?  If you’ve studied birds already with your kids, what did your family enjoy most?

The Cashier at Walmart

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She was probably 15-20 years my senior, with bright eyes and her long brown hair, half pulled back and half resting gently on her standard navy blue shirt and coordinating vest.

She was still helping the customers in front of us when it happened–my antsy five-year-old, who had earlier decided to don gym shorts and cowboy boots, accidentally stepped backward–right on top of my seven-year-old’s sandal-clad foot.

The scream was ear-piercing.

We had already been in the store too long after spending far too long at our previous errand stop.  The boys were tired and so was I.  And when the wailing persisted for several minutes, I’m sure everyone else’s ears were tired, too.  I tried to calm my big boy down without much luck, and the whole situation was so traumatic that the five-year-old started crying because he was so sorry that he had apparently hurt his brother so badly.

It was a meltdown.  I looked up at the cashier and said something about missing nap time…not that my boys take naps anymore, but the downtime would have been good for them.

The boys were fairly well calmed down by the time the cashier started ringing up our order.

“I miss shopping with my boys,” she said with a warm smile.  “They’re grown and moved away and both married now.”

I paused a moment to consider her words (trying to decide if she’s crazy) before asking, “How old are they now?”

“They’re 24 and 26.”

Two years apart.  Just like mine.

“What I wouldn’t give to have them with me again–even on the rough days.  I just miss having them with me.  And tucking them in at night.  You know, all those special times together that you don’t think about much until they’ve grown up and you don’t have them around all the time anymore.”

I don’t usually handle other people’s sentimentality that well, but hers, in this moment, was a gift from God–a redirection of my heart away from the frenetic and frustrated mode that I was in to see the blessing it is simply to have my children near–with the sobering reminder that that nearness won’t last forever.

But she didn’t just make me see.  She made me feel.

I think that’s why other people’s emotional moments make me uncomfortable.  It forces me to feel something that I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with (because, to be honest, my own emotional moments make me uncomfortable).

But sometimes that can be a very good thing.  I may have been most comfortable feeling embarrassment or frustration in that check out line, but she made me feel affection for my kids, turning what could have been a nosedive in my attitude into a total rebound.

“Thank you for sharing that,” I expressed before pushing the cart way, “especially in the midst of a minor meltdown.”

She may not have realized it, but she changed the tone of the rest of our busy afternoon with her kind words and heart-felt nostalgia.  This was a little bit of Titus 2 in action, friends.  At Walmart.

Love those boys, mama,” she had communicated in no uncertain terms.  “Love them well–even when it’s tough.  You will miss them someday.”

 

 

The Friday Five: Hospitality Edition

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Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase through that link, I will earn a few pennies, nickels, and dimes.  I only link to products I would happily recommend even if no compensation were possible.  🙂 

013Do you have a vision for hospitality?  Do you use your home as a place to welcome and refresh others?  Here’s some reading material on the subject that I’ve been chewing on lately.  I hope it will be an encouragement to you in this endeavor.

  1. Mystie Winkler has written several articles on homemaking and hospitality lately that I have found quite helpful.  Forget Pinterest or that magazine cover, Mystie’s tips get straight to the heart, encouraging us to be ready to show hospitality toward everyone who enters our home–by practicing on our own family members.  Here’s the most recent article I’ve enjoyed.
  2. Did you know that hospitality is a characteristic required of those in church leadership?  Tim Challies reminds us that the hospitality that elders are to exemplify is to be a characteristic all believers should pursue.
  3. I don’t usually read Christianity Today, but this article came to me recently by recommendation from another blogger.  Have you considered God’s role of “home-making”?  There’s good food for thought here, but I would suggest the conclusion we draw from this shouldn’t stop at awe and consolation for our souls (as wonderful as that is in and of itself!).  We’ve been made in the image of God and we can reflect His care for humanity in our care for our homes–in fact, it’s both explicitly encouraged and commanded.  All the same, if you are in a season in which you are overwhelmed by the mess, wondering if you’ll ever get things under control, take heart.  As the article says, your God has prepared and is preparing a home for you.  And He’s always on top of His game.
  4. My father-in-law recently finished reading Alexander Strauch’s The Hospitality Commands to our church over our fellowship meal on Sunday afternoons.  We took it about a chapter at a time and discussed how we might grow individually and as a church in showing hospitality.  This is a great read if you want to go deeper than a few blog articles will take you. 
  5. As I’ve considered God’s call for His children to practice hospitality, I’ve been reminded of a metaphor from one of my favorite mommy books:  Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic.  The chapter entitled “Heavy Branches” likens our gifts and the things we produce to fruit on a tree.

    In the side yard, right outside my window, were two old apple trees.  And year after year they made apples.  …these trees had been throwing apples on the ground every August for probably ninety years or so.  It is something I love about fruit-bearing trees and bushes–that God told them to make something, and they do it enthusiastically.  They don’t care about what happens to the fruit.  They do not measure their efforts or fuss when no one appreciates it.

    …What happens to all our fruit is not our problem.  That doesn’t mean that we are not to care about the fruit.  While it is on our branches, it is our life work.  It is an offering to God, and we ought to care intensely about the quality of our fruit.  But the branches are our responsibility; the ground is not.

    May we joyfully produce fruit in our homes to bless our families and any who walk through our door–without being discouraged when an apple gets bruised or the beauty we sought to create gets overlooked.  May we not grow weary in doing good–our God is at work in it to accomplish His purposes.

What’s your favorite book on hospitality?  Have you read any good articles on the subject lately?

How have you been blessed by the hospitality of others?

What things get in the way of you opening up your home, and how can you, by God’s grace, overcome those obstacles?

If you’re in a tough season of life, what are some small ways you can show love and welcome to others?

Five Refreshing Scriptures for Finishing Strong when You Feel Weak and Weary

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This was intended to be a “Friday Five” post, but it just makes so much more sense on a Wednesday, doesn’t it? 

It’s crunch time around here.  We’re planting the last shoots and seeds in our garden, planning our homeschool group’s last big event for the year, watering the trees we planted in the fall, trying to keep up with the now-regular two-hours of mowing necessary to keep ticks at bay,  and–somehow–we’re going to have the house clean at the end of the month for a much-anticipated visit from my parents–a tall order since houses just don’t stay clean during gardening season.  Especially if you have two little dirt magnets helpers and no mud room.

Oh yeah, and then there’s my day job:  we’re still finishing up school for the year.  It’s only about two more weeks, but I must admit I wouldn’t mind fast forwarding to the pool side where I sip lemonade in the shade while the boys have their swimming lessons. At least that’s what I imagine June will look like.

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But I digress.

Are you in the thick of it right now?  As a student?  A teacher?  At work?  At home?  Do you wonder at times how you’ll have the strength to finish the final task (or twenty) for the season?

Maybe you’ll find these scriptures as encouraging as I have.  There is Truth we can rest in even as we roll up our sleeves to get the job done.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

 

Jesus in Matthew 11:28

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

 

1 Corinthians 15:55-58

‘O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

 

Galatians 6:9

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

 

Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Let God’s word be your sweet lemonade in the midst of a busy season.  Sip slowly.  Be refreshed.  And finish strong.

When you struggle to find the motivation and energy to see a project or season through to the end, what scriptures do you turn to?  What truths do you savor? 

The Friday Five: “Special Events” First Edition

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Today seems like an appropriate time to write my first “Friday Five” post.  After all, it’s not every year that the first Friday of the fifth month falls on the fifth day of the fifth month.  If I were really good, I’d have posted this at five this morning.

Don’t you just love the alliteration?

It’s my hope that “The Friday Five” will be a fun addition to the blog.  Some weeks it may be five related things, and other weeks it may be five completely random things.  And, just being real, some weeks it may be non-existent because life happens.  But when I do get to eek out one of these list posts, I plan to include spiritual encouragement, practical tips, personal anecdotes, and much more.

For now, we can call this a “Special Events” edition.  Here goes!

  1. My boys recently participated in their first musical stage play, “No Strings Attached: The Musical Adventures of Pinocchio.”  They had a fantastic time playing 19th-century school boys, donkeys, a marionette, and singing fish.  They were the youngest in the production, so the five-hour-long dress rehearsal was pretty exhausting for them (and their parents), but they absolutely had a blast.  IMG_0001 (2)
    When the last performance was over, our five-year-old shed a few tears.  I assured him that he would have the opportunity to be in another play sometime, but he was quite upset that it would likely not be Pinocchio again.  “I like THIS play!”
    He later had a dream that they did the play again, and he reported the following morning with a beaming smile, “It was the most wonderful dream!”
  2. Pink eye isn’t exactly the kind of visitor that you usually want to celebrate as a “special event,” but it’s been a guest at our house for a couple weeks this spring so it’s at least worth a mention.  We’ve had pretty good luck getting rid of it by mixing a 1/2 teaspoon boric acid in one cup boiled water.  001Once it has completely cooled, you can place a few drops into each eye.  We had our kiddos lay down on a table and close their eyes while we dripped a bit of the water onto each eye near the tear duct.  Then they could open their eyes so that the water could come in.  This is way easier than holding a spoon over open and very frightened eyes.
  3. I invited my local Scholé Sisters group over for a Nature Study Day at our place. DSC_0101 We live on seven mostly-treed acres, have a creek running through our property, and last fall seeded a part of our land for wildflowers.  We feel so blessed to have such a lovely slice of creation right outside our door, and it was so much fun to share it with friends!  DSC_0110We identified trees and flowers, had a picnic lunch, and the kids spent the rest of the time playing in the creek.  DSC_0142.JPGHaving other curious moms around with their various field guides also meant that we now know a little bit more about what’s growing on our land than we did before.
  4. We also had our last day of co-op classes a week ago.  In the first hour, my youngest got a cookie in his Hands-on-Science class, and my oldest enjoyed a cupcake complete with his own personally-decorated edible stamp for his Stamping Through History class.  As if that weren’t enough of an end-of-year celebration, the much-anticipated Book Club Party awaited them after recess.  Each family was to choose a favorite book and bring a snack and an activity to share with the whole elementary group.  We settled on Stuart Little the morning of, and I like to think our little table-top presentation turned out alright considering the high level of procrastination.  laurens-phone-5-2017-271.jpgAfter so much excitement the kids fell fast asleep in the van while I ran errands.
    Unfortunately when we got to the library and I actually had to get out of the van and take the kids with me, my little guy didn’t wake up happy and said he didn’t feel that well.  I knew we only needed to go inside for five minutes, so I carried him–the five-year-old on my right arm, purse and bag of books on my left.  Well, that did it, apparently.  Just as we stepped up to the front door of the public library the poor little man puked all over my left side.  And my purse.  And on the bag of books.  And all over the steps.

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    Maybe eating all those cheese cubes after an equally large amount of sugary treats wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    Again, I wouldn’t normally consider sharing a puke story as part of a “special event,” but how often do I get to be “that mom” with the sick kid who just made a horrid mess for everyone else to walk through?  I’m at least hoping this was a “special” occasion–and not a new norm.
    And, when I think about it, I am so incredibly thankful that the mess happened outside where a kind man washed it off with a few buckets of water.  A few more steps and it would have been inside the library itself: on the carpet, smelling up the whole place for who-knows-how-long.  Or it could have happened in the van.  God was merciful.  And I was thankful.  With no fever and the sick feeling lasting only about six hours, I also thanked the Lord that this was apparently just a response to way too much junk food and not a virus.
    Our last day of co-op sure was fun–a real blowout!

  5. This isn’t a last-but-not-least kind of #5.  No, this is a save-the-best-for-last #5.  Ten years ago today it was Saturday.  I was studying for the last finals week of my senior year of college.  Later that afternoon, I played paintball with a few friends, including this guy named Nathaniel.  After the game we all returned to campus and discussed dinner plans.  My dad had told me to go to a local Italian restaurant to try a few dishes so he could plan for an after-graduation lunch for our family and close friends when they would all be up for the ceremony the following weekend, so I lamented that I wouldn’t be joining the group for dinner.  Nathaniel said he had a project to work on.  We all parted ways.
    But an hour later Nathaniel asked if he could borrow my camera for this project of his.  I obliged.
    After cleaning up for the evening, I grabbed some books to study at a local coffee shop after dinner and headed to the restaurant.  I asked for the manager, just as my dad had instructed, and she curiously led me to a table in the back.  A table set for two.  A table where a cleaned-up Nathaniel sat with his Bible open to the verse that says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing…”
    After a few nervous words and a question from him, I said, “Yes.”  And he said he loved me for the first time.  He pulled out a ring and my camera.A “project”, huh?!?

How about you?  Any special happenings or celebrations lately?  Any “special” visitors or messes?

Of Atheism and Fools, Part Four

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This is the conclusion of Nathaniel’s series on Practical Atheism from Psalm 14.  In case you missed them, here are Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

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“Christian Loses his Burden” Etching by William Strang found in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

So can a christian even seek after God at all?  Are we pursuing the unattainable?  Well, yes and yes.  Part of seeking God is accepting what He says, even if it makes you feel bad about yourself.  Only when we admit the rottenness of our condition can we see our need for His salvation and begin to seek Him, to value what He values, and to hate what He hates.

A Call to Repentance

The late great DC Talk opened their hauntingly poignant song “What If I Stumble” on the double-platinum selling album Jesus Freak with this quote from the admittedly controversial Brennan Manning:

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

It is worth pausing a moment to consider whether or not we live like those who believe.

Be careful with your cream pies.  We shouldn’t mock the philosophical atheist.  Of course, neither should we defend him.  Instead, we should beg him to join us in deep contrition and earnest repentance for our failure to acknowledge God in how we live our every moment.

We may be shocked by the revelation of the waywardness of our own hearts, but is God surprised by our frequent disregard of Him?  No, He’s used to it.

Before Paul used this Psalm in Romans 3 to illustrate mankind’s universal need for salvation in Christ, before David wrote Psalm 14, before the nation of Israel had driven their enemies out of the Promised Land, God told the Israelites through Moses that they were not being given the land because of their righteousness, but because of His covenant with their forefathers, and because of the exceeding wickedness of the natives of the land.  Check out Deuteronomy 9 for more details.  Here’s verse 6:

‘Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.’

And while Moses communicated to the people all of God’s marvelous works, all of the promises of blessing, and all of the warnings of consequences should they become unfaithful to their covenant with God, the LORD tells Moses at the end of Deuteronomy that soon after he dies, they will forget their God.

He wasn’t surprised then.  He isn’t surprised now.  But He continues to graciously call us to repentance.

The Antidote to Practical Atheism:  Gospel-Grounded Godliness

As Christians, we are no more deserving of God’s grace than the oft-forgetful Israelites–or the most flagrant atheists around us.  At best, we are more aware of the depths of our own depravity and our desperate need for God in every moment of every day.  If we truly understand this, we will be ever more grateful for the means of salvation that He has provided through faith in Jesus Christ!

That salvation is really the key to all of this.  All I am suggesting is that we live our lives as Christians in the light of the same good news that brought us to God in the first place: that Jesus died for wretched sinners like me.

I am a wretched sinner, I have disregarded God—His will, His glory, and my need for Him—pursuing instead my own agenda.  I must repent of this disregard of God, this practical atheism.  I must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ: for forgiveness of my sins, and for direction and power to live my life according to His word and purpose.

And I must do this not only in the initial moment of my conversion, but in every moment thereafter, so that the Holy Spirit can make me more like Him until He takes me home to be with Him.

I can’t fix the philosophical atheists.  I can’t fix you.  But I can attend to me.  I am very cognizant of the tendencies in my own heart and life to both philosophical atheism and practical atheism.  I must repent.  I must continue to remind myself of the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus.  I must seek more and deeper awareness of the presence, work, and will of God in my life.

After condemning ungodliness, Jerry Bridges explains the goal of pursuing godliness in every aspect of our lives:

Our goal in the pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in our conscious awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we are responsible to Him and dependent on Him.  This goal would include a growing desire to please Him and glorify Him in the most ordinary activities of life.

And again:

Above all, pray that God will make you more conscious of the fact that you live every moment of every day under His all-seeing eye.  While you may not be mindful of Him, He is certainly aware of you and sees every deed you do, hears every word you say, and knows every thought you think (see Psalm 139:1-4).  Beyond that, He even searches out your motives.  Let us then seek to be as mindful of Him as He is of us.

May we be mindful of His presence, knowledge, power, wisdom, goodness, holiness, grace, truth, justice, mercy, faithfulness, and tender love for those who are His.  And may we repent when we lose sight of Him.

Dear Father!  How far short of Your glory I fall!  Please sober me under this Psalm that teaches that no one, especially not I, does good, or seeks You as You deserve. Please confront me with my sin, and help me to trust in You, in Your forgiveness of my sin, and in Your work to cleanse me from it.  Make me more like Jesus, in whose name I pray.  Amen

Of Atheism and Fools, Part Three

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Here is the third installment of my husband Nathaniel’s series on Practical Atheism from Psalm 14.  If you missed them, check out Part One and Part Two

DSC_0005.JPGHow Bad is it Really?

So the scriptures are clear.  There is no one who does good, not even one.  We are all corrupted, which according to Adam Clarke, cited in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, is a picturesque and vivid metaphor taken from milk that has fermented and turned sour, rancid and worthless.”  Does this match our experience?  Am I really as nasty as rancid milk?  That is a pretty hard statement to swallow…

And here’s the other quandary… on the one hand this Psalm is telling me that we are ALL corrupt, practical atheists who do abominable deeds instead of what is good, but it’s pretty hard for me to get that concerned about it if everyone else is doing it too.  But on the other hand, I can look around at everyone else, and I actually feel pretty good about myself.  I’m not nearly as corrupt as some of them are… especially those nasty atheist fools!

The problem here is my standard of measure.  I am comparing myself to other people.  The result is that I either think, “Hey, I’m not that bad!” or “Hey, we’re not that bad!”  But when the Lord Himself looks down from heaven in Psalm 14:2, He’s not grading us on a sliding scale.  He is comparing us to His standard of perfection, and not only moral perfection, but perfect devotedness to Himself.  And His conclusion?  “There is no one who seeks after God.”  That is the root of everything else wrong in the world.

If we really sought after God, if we valued what He values and hated what He hates, if we weren’t so inclined to neglect Him to pursue our own agendas, then moral perfection would be possible.  But there is not one of us that can dodge that label of “practical atheist” and therefore not one of us that can attain that moral perfection.  And it is repulsive, like rancid milk, to our Holy God.  We must face up to the fact that the root of all our sin, even as Christians, is practical atheism.

Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book Respectable Sins, confronts the many abominable deeds which Christians are inclined to tolerate in themselves, because “they aren’t the heinous sins of unbelievers”.  The book tears down the Us Versus Them mentality, and reminds us again and again that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  One of the first sins that Bridges addresses is Ungodliness.  He contends that Ungodliness, rather than Pride, is the root of all sin.  He explains:

Contrary to what we normally think, ungodliness and wickedness are not the same … Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God.

 Oh that cuts deep!  How rarely are my thoughts on God, His will, His glory, or my need for Him!  How rarely do I consider my actions in the light of His character, His word, His purpose in the world.  I am such a fool!  Back to the NET Bible’s note:

This practical atheism — living as if there is no God who will hold them accountable for their actions — makes them fools, for one of the earmarks of folly is to fail to anticipate the long range consequences of one’s behavior.

If we deny the applicability of Psalm 14 to our own lives, or refuse to admit our own practical atheism, we can turn aside into some dangerous places!  I have been studying the Psalms in tandem with the life of David.  In one of David’s crowning moments of godliness described in 1 Samuel 24 he spares the life of King Saul, the man who is unjustly pursuing him to death.  Saul abandons his hunt for David, and David has some room to breathe.  But in the very next chapter, David interacts with an evil man named Nabal whose name is the very same word for “fool” that is used in Psalm 14. When David allows himself to scorn Nabal from the moral high-ground of having just spared King Saul’s life, he foolishly decides to slay Nabal and all his servants!  Thankfully a wise woman interposes herself into the pending deadly confrontation and in 1 Samuel 25:23-31 Abigail reminds David of God’s promises to him, of God’s will for him, and of the danger that shedding blood without cause brings both to his relationship with God and to his coming kingdom.  She delicately confronts David with his own foolishness, his own failure to anticipate the consequences of his behavior, and his own practical atheism.  David, the man after God’s own heart, was about to commit mass murder because of a verbal insult.

Brothers and sisters, fellow Christians: if you really believe that God will hold you accountable for your actions, that there are long range consequences for your behavior, how differently should you live?  I have already quoted in passing Romans 3:23 twice in this article.  We must face up to this reality daily, before we can daily move past it to our calling in Christ.  All have sinned, and beyond that, all fall short of God’s glory!  He deserves our full attention, our full submission, our deepest love, and our highest worship.

And we all fall so short.

And then, instead of seeking His mercy and grace (which ought to be the most natural response for those who have already tasted it), we look for someone who is even worse than us, and we mock the philosophical atheists so that we can avoid feeling so bad over our own practical atheism.  This blame shifting hearkens back to Adam’s response to God’s first confrontation of his sin, reflecting the very opposite of the trust and repentance that should characterize our walk with Christ just as much as it did the initial moment of our salvation.

What is Sin

Check out Part Four for the conclusion of this series. 

Of Atheism and Fools, Part Two

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In part one Nathaniel challenged us to see ourselves in the fool of Psalm 14 rather than merely pinning the title on the nearest atheist. 

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You can’t get out of this!

“But really!  This psalm can’t be about me!  I’m a Christian—I do believe in God!  I do seek after Him!  I do good things!”

I hear you, I hear you, and I am in no position to argue with you.  I get defensive when I read this Psalm too!  But as much as I wish it did, I don’t think the scriptures allow us to exempt ourselves from the condemnation of this passage.  Bear with me as I make the case that we all play the fool–not from my own opinion–but from the passage itself and the apostle Paul’s use of it in the epistle to the Romans.

The Internal Case

Psalm 14 is full of strong statements.  Not only is the charge laid out that the practical atheist is a fool, but along with that come moral judgments–and every one of these has a universal application.  Twice David says, “There is no one who does good,” and the second time, as if anticipating our objections, he continues emphatically, “not even one.”

Spurgeon explains:

But are there no special cases, are all men sinful? ‘Yes,’ says the Psalmist, in a manner not to be mistaken, ‘they are.’ He has put it positively, he repeats it negatively, ‘There is none that doeth good, no, not one.’ The Hebrew phrase is an utter denial concerning any mere man that he of himself doeth good. What can be more sweeping? This is the verdict of the all-seeing Jehovah, who cannot exaggerate or mistake. As if no hope of finding a solitary specimen of a good man among the unrenewed human family might be harboured for an instant. The Holy Spirit is not content with saying all and altogether, but adds the crushing threefold negative, ‘none, no, not one.’

And this judgment is not the opinion of David.  As we see in verse two, “The LORD [YHWH] has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men”–it is the result of an investigation conducted by Yahweh, God Himself!

“But what about the fact that the second half of the passage seems to be talking about the victims of the corrupt individuals called out in the first half?  Surely there is an ‘us versus them’ scenario in mind there!”

We certainly can’t avoid wrestling with the latter half of Psalm 14, especially the statement that the LORD is the refuge of the afflicted righteous in verses five and six.  How do we make sense of this?

In my efforts to exempt the “righteous” (and myself with them) from the sweeping condemnation in verse one,  I took a closer look at the investigation performed by God Himself in verses two and three.  Remembering that sometimes a biblical phrase is used that implies a certain group distinct from another group (e.g. “nations” in the scriptures always means Gentiles distinct from Jews), I thought to check in on the phrase “sons of men”. Could it be used to designate a certain subset of the human population, while excluding the rest of us who actually do seek after God?

It turns out the phrase “sons of men” is literally “sons of Adam” or “people/descendants of Adam.  Think about that for a minute…  It would be hard to come up with a more inclusive term for all of humanity.

No, you really can’t get out of this.

The External Case

If you are still inclined to exempt yourself from the condemnation of practical atheism in this psalm, consider the fact that there’s a remix: Psalm 53.  This Psalm is only slightly different from Psalm 14.  The Hebrew scribes were far too meticulous to have accidentally duplicated the psalm, so the only feasible explanation is that David rewrote the psalm with a few variations because it was such an important message as to deserve restatement.

And, as if that were not enough, the Apostle Paul makes the application abundantly clear in Romans chapter 3.  After spending the previous two chapters demonstrating that Gentles are guilty before God because they have violated the laws that He has written in their hearts, and Jews are guilty before God because they have violated the law of Moses, he uses Psalm 14 to tie these arguments together and prove that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  Take a look at Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;  as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;  all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’

So tell me, do you find yourself anywhere outside of the categories of Jew + Gentile?  Are you “better than they”?

No, you really can’t get out of this.

It would seem the fool’s hat fits all of us.  But since we’re all equal in this regard, does it really matter?  Just how big of a deal is this?  Check out Part Three for the answer.

Of Atheism and Fools, Part One

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I’m happy to introduce this guest post as the first in a series by none other than my husband, Nathaniel Scott.  He’s been studying and teaching through the Psalms and the life of David in our church for the past five years.  In this introductory post, he invites us to take another look at the oft-quoted early verses of Psalm 14. 


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Whose Day is It?

There is a running joke on the Christian interwebs that April 1st is “International Atheist’s Day”–a pointed jab based on the opening line of Psalm 14: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  While I don’t question the validity of this application, I would suggest that we Christians often fail to recognize when the joke is on us.

Atheism has two dominions.  That of philosophical atheism is the mind.  It is here that the famous atheists dwell, building arguments and spewing hatred against a Being whose very existence they deny, but who has managed nonetheless to get them rather perturbed.  The occupants of this realm make up a relatively small percentage of the human population.

The second dominion of atheism is the heart and the actions.  This we call practical atheism.  This dominion is occupied not only by the famous atheists, but by the men, women, and children throughout history who disregard God and His will and pursue their own ways.  This describes all of humanity.

So today, amidst the cream pies that are being thrown at Richard Dawkins, Voltaire, and Christopher Hitchens, we as Christians need to consider Psalm 14 as a call to check our own God delusions.

Here’s the full text to get us started:

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.
Do all the workers of wickedness not know,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon the Lord?
There they are in great dread,
For God is with the righteous generation.
You would put to shame the counsel of the afflicted,
But the LORD is his refuge.
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores His captive people,
Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.

The NET Bible, in one of its characteristically succinct and profound Translators’ Notes, says of the Psalm’s opening line:

‘There is no God.’ The statement is probably not a philosophical assertion that God does not exist, but rather a confident affirmation that God is unconcerned about how men live morally and ethically.

This practical atheism — living as if there is no God who will hold them accountable for their actions — makes them fools, for one of the earmarks of folly is to fail to anticipate the long range consequences of one’s behavior.

How many of us, as Christians, live as if there is no God who will hold us accountable for our actions?  How many of us fail to anticipate the long range consequences of our behavior?  We ourselves are under a delusion.  As we contend for the existence of God in the public square of cyberspace, let’s check our hearts and our lives to make sure we are living in the light of that existence.

Us Versus Them?

Using this Psalm as an insult against philosophical atheism is not new.  The meme goes back for generations.  In Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David you can find a collection of many writers over many eras barbecuing the atheist with a myriad of insulting terms.  These writers differentiate strongly between themselves and the atheist, much like the Christian internet warriors of today.

But there are a few writers in Spurgeon’s compendium who see the fool as representing the practical atheism of which we are all guilty.  These writers are much more gentle, and while clearly condemning the error of the fool’s ways, they do so with more humility.  They cautiously look to themselves lest they too be caught in foolishness.

As we dig deeper into Psalm 14, let’s follow their example.

Let’s not draw too sharp of a distinction between “us” and “them”.  To do so would be an attempt to write ourselves out of the line “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.”

And if you go on to Part Two, you’ll see why doing so would be quite problematic.

Running for Another

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I’m one of those crazy types that actually enjoys running.  Once upon a time I even looked like a runner.

Over the years, running has filled several important roles for me: it’s been a way of escape, a way to burn off energy, to get or stay in shape, to cope, to get alone and talk to God, to enjoy sunshine and wildlife, to improve my running time, to compete, to show off, to win.

Admittedly, some of those are more virtuous motivations than others.

But this past Saturday I had an opportunity to run for a very different reason.

My local women’s running clinic was invited to participate in the sixth annual Arkansas Run for the Fallen, an apolitical 146-mile weekend-long event honoring service men and women who died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001.  Our part was to join the team of running soldiers for one mile through the middle of town.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I thought about it quite a bit.  I read the stories of the two Navy SEALs who would be remembered at the Hero Markers at the beginning and end of our course.  I thought about my own grandparents and aunt and uncle who served in the Army Air Force and in the Navy.

And I felt quite small and pampered by comparison.  Not exactly worthy to be running with people who have taken on so much personal risk for something bigger than themselves–or for people who have quite literally laid down their lives for others.

When Saturday came and our red-shirted local ladies assembled, the anticipation we all felt was a strange mix of excitement and sobriety.  Soon the running servicemen arrived, paused to remember one fallen comrade, planted a flag in his name, and then we were off.

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The usual “racer’s mindset” tried to assume its place in my thoughts, but there wasn’t any room for it.  No room for looking ahead to see who you’re going to try to pass next–that wasn’t the goal.  No room for pulling away from the crowd–the purpose this time was to get lost in the crowd, in the small sea of red.  No room for going at your own pace–we had to keep pace with those who were leading us on.  No room for thinking about how to position yourself for the best finish so you could point to your rank or time in the end–this run was intended to point to someone else.

It’s easy to get comfortable in our lives here in the West and forget that the blessings we enjoy have been paid for by others.  So too as Christians, we can lose sight of the fact that our greatest, eternal blessings have been paid for by the Lord Jesus Himself.  Sometimes our normal routines need to be shaken up a bit to give us new perspective.

That’s exactly what happened for me on Saturday.  This whole experience has refreshed my view of the race set before us as Christians.

We “run with endurance” remembering those who have gone on before us and with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-4). 

We encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and cheer each other on rather than treating the gospel of God’s grace as a program for self-advancement and our fellow runners as competitors

We “keep in step with [His] Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26)–He sets the pace for us to follow, not the other way around.

Our run on Saturday morning lasted less than ten minutes, but the impact of running to honor someone else has been felt all week.  And while my legs have been resting, the words of John the baptist have continued to run through my head:  “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Let Him be seen as I run this race called life.  Not me.

In a world that preaches so often that we are the most useful or influential when we place ourselves on a pedestal to be seen by others, we need to be reminded that it’s ok, right even, to live outside of the spotlight, to blend in with the crowd of those who live–who run–not for themselves, but for the glory and honor of Another.

Soli Deo gloria.