Monday, February 28, 2011

there is no inbetween

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." - C.S Lewis.

Righteousness by Faith

Read carefully :) 

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves.  It is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9

"We maintain that of whatever kind a man's work may be, he is regarded as righteous before God simply on the ground of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Chris, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him as if it were his own.  This we call the righteousness of faith, that is when a man, empty and drained of all confidence in works, feels convinced that the only ground of his acceptance with God is a righteousness which is wanting in himself, and is borrow from Christ.  The point on which the world goes astray (for this error has prevailed in almost every age), is in imagining that a man, however partially defective he may be, still in some degree merits the favour of God by works... God reconciles us to himself, from regard not to our works, but to Christ alone, and by gratuitous adoption makes us his own children instead of children of wrath.  So long as God regards our works, he finds no reason why he ought to love us." - John Calvin


A friend of mine made a list of some of her favorite things and I'm stealing that idea :) You can check her favorites out here!  But, "these are a few of my favorite things"  [side note - name that musical!]

Disclaimer: some of these are actually things and they are definitely luxuries.  No necessities listed (except number 8).

1.  My husband's dad introduced us to this website for memorizing scripture.  You can add verses as you please, or use their list of commonly memorized verses.  You can test your verse memory, practice memorizing verses, or quiz your reference recall.  The website has a system for tracking how long it takes you to memorize a verse and continues to "quiz" you on it and gives you new verses according to your pace.  Not very high tech, but pretty great for an alternative to flash cards (which I still love!)

2. I love browsing this website for decorating ideas.  Although not the easiest to navigate, its fun design ideas for small spaces make up for its inefficient website layout. 

3. We live in a typical, old Chicago apartment.  Detailed window trimmings, high ceilings, arched doorways, open kitchen/ dining/ living layout, no closets, radiators, window air conditioner, kick-butt fire place... with grimy walls, cracked ceiling paint, and floors that would be dusty even if I scrubbed them daily.  The sweep, dry swiffer, wet swiffer routine got old very fast and we invested in a vacuum.  I LOVE having a vacuum.  We have the shark navigator, which I'd highly recommend for both wood floors and carpet.  

4. Sally Hansen Maximum Growth plus quick dry top coat.  What a name! (You'd think they could come up with something easier.)  I put this on top of every self-given manicure and pedicure.  Dries fast and keeps the color looking good for at least week.  (It also makes it difficult for me to pick off the nail polish... a habit I'm trying to kick!)  It also prevents my nails from breaking so easily.  A small and unnecessary thing, but hey... it's something I love to have around. 

5. Mary Kay face wash and moisturizer.  I am not one to spend a ton of money on cosmetics, hair product, etc...  But, I recently was hooked on to using Mary Kay Time Wise facial cleanser and moisturizer.  Background - I attempted selling Mary Kay in high school (big mistake for a high school student) and loved using velocity.  But, I was poor and it's not cheap so when I ran out, I just started buying stuff at Walmart.  No shame in that.  Recently, I've been so irritated by the dry skin on my forehead and around my nose.  A friend's sister gave me a great deal to just try Mary Kay and I LOVE it.  Clearly, I'm a walking advertisement.  Worth the investment, especially if you have sensitive skin.  The girl I bought mine from is sweet, accomodating, and flexible.  She gave me a great price and delivered the stuff to my house before I even wrote her a check :)  She has also shipped things to me in the mail, for those of you who are not in the Chicago area.  E-mail me [] for her contact info.

6. Affordable, yet amazing camera.  My dad works for Canon, so the brand was a no-brainer (although, I have to say, Nikon makes a great camera).  This camera was a Christmas gift for my sweet husband and I, and my parents got a great deal on the price at Best Buy (it was even cheaper than the Canon company discount).  Mom and Dad have the digital EOS rebel (one of the professional line cameras) and the picture quality on ours is comparable... of course, I am no professional photographer.  The reaction time is quick.  It has all sorts of different settings (with explanations for newbies) and it has a 12x regular zoom!  (The digital zoom goes even farther, although it tends to get blurry at that point.)  Most small digital cameras have only a 4x or 5x zoom.  I highly recommend this camera to anyone in the market :)

7.  This recipes website is a great source for new recipes of any kind.  Everything I've tried from here is tasty.  Plus, you can keep your recipes in a digital file on their website (a pretty common feature on recipe websites) and use a menu planner to help consolidate ingredients you buy at the grocery store.  Handy if you're on a budget!

8. Speaking of budget, everyone in the world should read Financial Peace and follow Dave Ramsey's plan for getting out of debt (including student loans and mortgages), staying out of debt, purchasing items with cash, and sticking to a budget.  If you take only his budget advance, you will be a happy camper :)  Check out his website!  The website has lots of free articles, tools for budgeting, and more...  enjoy! 

9.  Universal remote.  Ours was $10 at target.  Why have separate remotes for the tv, dvd, wii, stereo, and cable when you could just have 1?  I was at my parents' house this weekend and my mom and I were trying to watch a movie.  They have multiple remotes (tsk tsk tsk) and the dvd remote is so small, she was operating it upside down and had no idea.  Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why anyone has more than 1 remote control...

10.  Standing kitchenaid mixer.  Mine is 5-quart and light yellow! They have a large variety of sizes and colors... the bottom line is I have a coffee cake recipe that calls for you to mix the batter for 25-30 minutes.  With a standing mixer, I could go for a run while it's mixing.  (Haha that was a ridiculous example - I have never gone for a run while the batter was mixing, but you get the point...)  My college roommate snagged hers at a garage sale for less than $50.00.  Keep your eye out for one this summer, otherwise, make the investment - totally worth it!

Do I have more favorites? Yep!  but this list is long enough.... what are some of your favorites?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

back home

When we're without something we like or someone we love, it helps us appreciate them all the more! 

My husband went to Nebraska this weekend to visit the phd program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  When I picked him up yesterday... and throughout the day yesterday... and throughout the night... and this morning... I had this overwhelming love for him.  I realize when he has to go away for a couple nights how I much prefer to have him in my bed.  I realize when he's gone that I really miss his conversation, his laughing at my dumb jokes.  I miss laughing at his jokes.

Is this sappy?  yep.  but, come on wives... you feel it too.  Alone time might be refreshing in it's own way, but there is nothing like that feeling of "yes, this is how it should be," when your husband comes back home :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Romans 3

This morning, I found a hidden treasure in the book of Romans.

Romans 3:20-24  "Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  But now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

As a little kid, I attended AWANA at our church.  I still stand by the belief that AWANA is probably the best thing your young child could be involved in.  But, that's beside the point right now.  Anyway, AWANA places a strong emphasis on scripture memory, even for its littlest "members" (pre-school age children).  Do 3 and 4 year olds know what "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" really means?  Though they may be able to tell you that God is perfect and they are not, they don't really grasp the deep meaning and implication such scripture holds.  (Hey, do any of us really ever attain full knowledge of scripture?  we might as well be 3 year olds compared to what God knows.)  At the same time, these kids are hiding God's word in their hearts from a very young age - and the Psalmist says that is the key for living a pure life.  "How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word... I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."  (Psalm 119:9, 11)

At some point in AWANA, I learned Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Today, however, the verses leading up to Romans 3:23 jumped out at me, making all the more sense of that verse I had memorized as a child.

Breaking it down - vs. 20 - "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law."  In other words, the best person you know won't even come close to getting into heaven simply through his or her "good" works.  Andy Stanley in How Good is Good Enough? presents the following logic to the person who says "well, sure, I believe in God, but I just think you need to be a good person to get to heaven."  Stanley suggests that "good enough" doesn't make sense because if "good" is never defined objectively and presented to all mankind, then that system is inherently unfair.  After all, it leaves you wondering - well I think I'm good enough, but what if...  And, what if "good" in one person's culture means running your planes into buildings on enemy soil.  "Well of course, I would never do that..." but that person genuinely thought it was good.  Stanley's argument is more eloquent, so you should probably just get the book at Borders (since so many are closing and everything is on sale) and read it yourself :)

vs. 20(b) "rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin" - with God's standard of perfect demonstrated in the law given through the Old Testament, it becomes clear that sin is unavoidable.

vs. 21 "BUT NOW a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known." I love Paul's dramatic writing here (Paul is the author of Romans).  The pastor at the church I grew up at used to joke that "there are a lot of big buts in the bible..."  and this is huge.  Through chapter 3, Paul was explaining to the Jews, look, I know you thought you had it made because you are God's chosen people and whatnot, but that's not gonna cut it.  The law was only created to show you how much you don't deserve God on your own, regardless of how fabulously religious and Jewish you are, so "no one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law."  This was a colossal disappointment to the recipients of this letter, which makes the "BUT NOW" so great.  If you were a Jewish member of the church in Rome and someone was reading this letter to hundreds of people and you heard "But Now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known," you would be thinking that this guy reading the letter could not spit the next part out fast enough... what is it!?!?!?

vs. 22-23 "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Did you catch it?  The little verse I learned in AWANA sandwiched between all that great news...  Paul goes on to explain, in a rather systematic way, what all that entails and how it works.  But, for today, we can end there.  We can end with "There is a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to anyone who believes."  Anyone.  Me, you, that murderer in prison, that prostitute, that self righteous fundamentalist, ....  There go I but for the grace of God.

1 John 1:9 says "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

So, do you...?  Believe?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I have 3 students that have gone from being a major pain to a total joy this year - as a direct result of prayer.  I'm talking, over night.  Literally.  Huge issue Monday...prayer Monday night and Tuesday morning... problem eliminated.  Okay okay I admit - not eliminated entirely, but the transformation has been so large with each of these students that it feels as if each problem just disappeared entirely.  The minute traces of negativity that are left seem hardly worth the energy to address.

Prayer works. 

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

John 14:13-14 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Phillipians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Colossions 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

James 1:7 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;

As I grow closer to God, I am more convinced than ever that there is nothing as powerful as prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.  People need our prayer - our neighbors, our families, our friends, our coworkers, our country's leaders.  So, Who or what have you prayed for lately?  What have the results been? 

Believing in the power of prayer,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.

In a little (but potentially life changing) book titled "More Than a Carpenter," authors Josh and Sean Mcdowell present this truth:

"Many people want to regard Jesus as not God but a good, moral man or an exceptionally wise prophet who spoke many truths.  Scholars often pass off that conclusion as the only acceptable one that people can reach by intellectual process.  Many people simply nod their heads in agreement and never trouble themselves to see the fallacy of such reasoning.  Jesus claimed to be God, and to him it was of fundamental importance that men and women believed him to be who he was.  Either we believe him or we don't."

Pause.  [More to come from that passage in a minute...] But, today, when I was reading John 8, this book I had read a year ago came to mind because of Jesus' emphasis on belief.  In the 8th chapter of John, Jesus and the pharisees are going back and forth.  Bottom line: Jesus tells them he's God and they think he's nuts.  Jesus claims "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  The pharisees challenge him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."  Jesus answers "Even if I testive on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going... but I am not alone... I am one who testifies for myself; the other witness is the Father, who sent me."  These excerpts are from John 8:12-18.  The conversation continues and escalates.  The pharisees argue "The only Father we have is God himself."  Jesus replies "If God were your Father truly, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here...why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and youw atn to carry out your father's desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning... there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is the father of lies.  You do not believe me....He who belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."  The Jews then answer "Aren't we right in saying you are demon-possessed?"  (excerpts from John 8:41-48)

Ok.  So, clearly this is not a wishy-washy-you-think-what-you-want-and-I'll-think-what-I-want.  The Jews final response that Jesus must be demon-possessed, though clearly a false conclusion, makes more sense than thinking that He is a good, moral teacher, but not who he said he was.

In More Than a Carpenter, the authors go on to further explain this issue.

"Jesus didn't leave us any wiggle room for in-between watered down alternatives.  [Either we believe him or we don't.]  One who claimed what Jesus claimed about himself [see the rest of John 8] couldn't be a moral man or a prophet.  That option is'nt open to us, and Jesus never intended it to be."

C.S. Lewis (a Cambridge professor and former agnostic) also understood this issue clearly:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]. 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.'  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else, a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to."

Bottom line?  Jesus claimed to be God.  He expects a response - do you believe it or not?  He is either true or false.  He asks his disciples (most famously Peter and Martha) "Who do you say I am?"

Either our response will be that of Peter and Martha, "You are the Christ, the Son of God," or our response will be that of the pharisees, "This man is demon-possessed and a liar."

As the authors of More Than a Carpenter write, "liar, lunatic, or Lord?"

So, who is Jesus to you?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Random Updates

Ben has signed up for the Chicago Marathon.  It's official.  He'll be running it with a group from our Church (The Moody Church) who runs annually with Team World Vision.  "World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice."  They have focused on clean water in Africa for a long time, although they now have all sorts of outreach world wide. 

Ben also found out the other day that he has officially been accepted to the Phd sociology program at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  Yay!!  We are still waiting to hear from other schools he's applied to and we are waiting on the Lord to direct us.  The repeated command throughout scripture to "Trust in the Lord" takes on a new meaning in different situations, doesn't it?  We are learning this lesson each day.  We are also so thankful to God for his provisions!  His mercies are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23) 

We had a blizzard.  Oh wait, that was the only news story this week, so you probably heard about it ;)

Our church does a one-on-one mentoring program for women and pairs up younger women with older women under the command in Titus 2 to teach younger women.  I signed up to be a mentee and met with Valerie last night for the first time, my new mentor.  It was lovely getting to know each other.  I could see that this was a great fit :)
Reading lists are well underway.  Ben is powering through book after book - some of his latest are:
The Seeing Eye, C. S Lewis
What in the World is Going On, David Jeremiah
Brothers Karamosov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  

Some of my latest are: 
Choosing to See, Mary Beth Chapman
Forgotten God, Francis Chan
The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis 

We're both reading through the "Chronicles of Narnia" series again - brilliant!  I appreciate it SO much more as an adult.  The biblical metaphors are beautiful and moving in a fresh way.  It's such a quick read too... READ IT!

Book reviews to come. 
Our street was finally plowed last night - so Ben is faithfully shoveling out our car as I write.  We decided last night that this snow probably won't melt until July.  Bummer. (My students' drama has rubbed off on me, what can I say...?)

Happy weekend,

ACT Prep

I have found out that I will be teaching the English and Reading portion of ACT prep, 2 days a week after school for the next 10 weeks.  I don't know how many teachers get excited about ACT prep, but I am (hey, I new...)!  The gap in ACT scores fascinates me.  To be honest, it's something they should start in September.  That's obvious, right?  If the gap is so big, our students should be preparing for a longer period of time...

Anyway, 10 weeks is what it is.  I found out I'll have the group of kids with the lowest scores because "Ms. Cook has the patience for them."  haha I think that was a compliment and challenge all tied up in one.

Here's the thing about the ACT - for a very short period of time in life, your score is very important.  I have kids who get a 3.8 GPA and are Mr. and Mrs. school involvement.  Their 15 on the ACT (which they have been told is better than others) sets them way back in the college competition.  With a 25+ they might have been in the running for some extremely elite universities.  (No one at our school scored a 25 last year.)  But the ACT average at a school likes ours takes universities like those entirely out of the question.  The point is often raised in our meetings that the test is racially biased, as well as a poor assessment overall, and a poor assessment for students in a low socioeconomic bracket.  Our principle's response: "but, it's the test they're using, and I don't want a separate test for poor kids."

I like his brutal honesty. 

I'll be working on a planning team with 2 English teachers - and me, the music teacher. Yikes! Intimidating.

By the way, I get paid.  Booyeah!

Cheers to ACT,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

"There will be a snow day Wednesday for more than 410,000 students at Chicago Public Schools.
The nation’s third largest school system announced late Tuesday that it was canceling all classes
Wednesday at its more than 700 schools out of an 'abundance of caution.'"  First one in 12 years. 

Thanks to our interim CEO, I slept in until 6:30 :) For Ben and I, it's a cozy day inside.  Agenda: read, movie, make chicken wild rice soup, eat the soup ;), clean, blog, nap, scrapbooking might be in the cards.... maybe i'll even lesson plan for next week.  The possibilities are endless!

The way the snow peacefully blankets everything first thing in the morning is beautiful.

happy blizzard to all my chicago friends,