Taking the Next Step in Spiritual Growth (aka: Was the Apostle Paul a Hottie?)

I think I’m developing a little crush on the Apostle Paul.

(just kidding!)

But really, I am so grateful for Paul’s willingless to obey. His faith. His dedication to writing letters to other believers. I’m pretty positive if I was sitting in prison I’d be feeling sorry for myself rather than writing letters to encourage, call out, and build up the church.

Right now I’m reading Hebrews. Hebrews 10 and 11 were exactly what I needed to hear today. Paul wrote about the basics of what we need to be doing and how we should be living:

  • Drawing near to God
  • Holding unswervingly to Him
  • Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds
  • Putting my faith in action

I don’t know if Paul meant these to be sequential steps, but if so, I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve spent the past four years committed to reading through the Bible (almost) every day. I’ve read through the Bible three times and this year I’ve been doing a deep dive in the Gospels and Paul’s letters; but now I ready for more.

In addition to reading and studying the Bible and praying daily (Drawing near to God), I want to jump into the other three simultaneously:

Holding unswervingly to God: this is where I think practicing spiritual disciplines like solitude and silence, memorization and meditation, and fasting come into play. This article does a great job explaining how to incorporate these spiritual disciplines into our Christian walk.

Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds: Community and accountability. I long for this. Not just friends. But a small tribe of women who are on fire for Jesus. I’ve heard many times that people are the “average” of the five people they surround themselves with. I don’t know if this is true, but I want to find five women who are at a similar place I am spiritually – and ideally a few who are more spiritually mature – who will push me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. And even though I’m not old (mid-40’s is the new 30’s, right?), I want to find younger women who I can encourage and spur toward good deeds.

Putting my faith in action: I know my primary mission field: the three beautiful people who live in my house. I need to be working my mission field everyday. Secondarily, I also believe God is calling me to be active in encouraging other women to spend time with Jesus every day and to be active in loving and supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies. I know my purpose. I know what God is calling me to. Now is the time to step forward in faith and take action on living out my purpose.

It is time to put Paul’s instructions to the early church into practice and go deeper in my walk with Jesus, taking each step in submission and obedience to Him.

P.S. Paul, thanks for writing these letters. Don’t worry, I don’t really have a crush on you. That was a joke. But, I can’t wait to meet you someday.

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Learning to Forgive

Forgiving isn’t always easy, but there are steps and resources to help us turn our offenders and hurts over to Jesus.

A few years ago, I was having coffee with a friend. We were having a casual conversation about something from my past when I felt myself on the verge of tears. She gently prodded as to why I was still so upset when I claimed to have forgiven him.  The more I reflected on it; I realized that even though I thought I had forgiven this man, I hadn’t. The pain and anger were still there, just buried.

God forgave us, and we are commanded to forgive: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

When my friend left coffee, she handed me a booklet from an organization called Fresh Start for All Nations. Going through this booklet, I discovered some essential truths about forgiveness:

  • I need to release the hurt to God. (Psalm 55:22-23)
  • I need to seek peace and leave their punishment to God. This also means I don’t gossip about the person or put them down. (Romans 12:16-21)
  • I need to pray for the person who hurt me. (Matthew 5:44)

Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing. It is a continual process, especially for the big hurts, and involves lots of prayer and reflection. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said to forgive seventy-seven times. For some of the people who have hurt me deeply, it has taken many months of prayer, repentance, and thanksgiving until I have been able to release them to God.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25-27,31-32 ESV)

I am grateful to my friend, who pushed me a little bit and asked me the hard questions, so I’ll ask you the same: Who has rejected you? Have you been violated or abused? What family members, friends, or acquaintances have said or done things that still sting?

And just like she told me to do, I’ll suggest you do the same, make a list of those names and ask God to show you others. Then take them to Jesus and start your journey toward forgiving them and replacing the hurt with peace.

I Am Going to Die

Sooner or later, we are all going to die. Keeping our eyes focused on eternity helps keep life in perspective.

You’re going to die. I’m going to die. It’s going to happen.

One of my favorite movies is “What About Bob,” and there is a scene where Bob, an obsessive-compulsive neurotic, is discussing fear with his therapist’s son. The boy confronts Bob with his greatest fear: death.  

If we have put our faith in Jesus, death isn’t something we need to fear, but we need to be aware of it. Our time on earth is short. Eternity is forever. God loved every person on earth enough to send Jesus to die for them. God commands us to love others: we are to love our neighbors and love our enemies. We need to view ourselves and everyone else through an eternal lens.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:3-9 ESV)

When Jesus was visiting his friends Mary and Martha, Martha was preparing food while Mary was hanging out with Jesus. Annoyed, Martha asked Jesus if he cared that she was doing all the work while Mary was just listening to Jesus. Jesus answered: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 ESV)

Mary had an eternal perspective. Martha had an earthly view. Most of the time, I’m Martha. I’m worried about what someone at church said about me. I want the last word in an argument with my husband. I gossip about difficult family members, rather than praying for them. I’m impatient. I get stressed about things with no eternal value.

Statistically, I’ve lived half my life, give or take a few years, and I need to make those remaining years count. I need to ask myself if I am thinking and doing the things that matter for eternity.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16 ESV)

Along with spending time with Jesus every day, I need to remind myself that this earth is not my home. Today could be my last day on earth. And the person I’m struggling with might not be here tomorrow either. I need to view myself and everyone else in light of eternity.

I need to live and love, every day, like it’s my last.

Being Content with a Boring Life

Am I the only one who feels inadequate? I want a life of significance. I want to do big things, but I never feel like I’m doing enough. I’m not a missionary overseas. I don’t volunteer every week or make huge donations. Realistically, I haven’t impacted that many lives.

I feel pressure to do more. I remember being a high schooler in youth group hearing speakers that would encourage us to go out and change the world. I had big dreams and goals, but now I’m just a mom who can’t even keep up with the laundry.

I recently read in the New Testament that Paul said the Christians in Thessalonica should “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV)

I keep waiting for God to reveal to me this incredible purpose He has for my life. Social media doesn’t help when I see other people doing things that seem so much more important. I read books about making a radical difference. I listen to podcasts about people selling everything to serve the poor.

But maybe, that isn’t where God is calling me. Maybe I’m “just” supposed to live a quiet, ordinary life. Perhaps my mission field isn’t another country or even another zip code. My missionary work might be with my own children.

This morning I read Paul once again, writing to another church and encouraging them to live a peaceful and quiet life of godliness and holiness.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

I need to be content if God is “just” calling me to live a holy life and serve the people in my house and neighborhood. And honestly, it is easier for me to volunteer at a food pantry and hand out food to strangers than to be kind, patient, and loving while serving dinner to my children who are complaining because they hate what I made.

God told Joshua, repeatedly, to be “strong and courageous” when Joshua was taking over the leadership of the nation of Israel. Those words get me excited, and I imagine some adventurous calling that takes strength and courage. But if I drill down into what God is saying, He’s also telling Joshua to be strong when it comes to memorizing God’s word and meditating on it. He’s telling Joshua to be courageous when it comes to obeying God. (Joshua 1:6-9 NIV)

Right now, God is calling me to be bold in reading the Bible. He’s telling me to be content with my role as Mom. God is asking me to be courageous in serving, respecting, and submitting to my husband (and believe me, some days, that takes a lot of courage). He’s calling me to love my neighbors. He’s asking me to pray.

I have a quiet, peaceful life, which is right where God wants me. Maybe someday the call will change. But for now, I need to fold the laundry when I don’t feel like it and be patient with my children when they complain about my cooking. I need to be content and joyfully live my ordinary, and sometimes boring, beautiful life.

Smelling Pleasant to God

My favorite scents are vanilla, pumpkin, babies, books, homemade bread, coconut and suntan lotion, campfires and lilac. Some smells evoke memories of my childhood: reading my mom’s Nancy Drew books and visiting libraries and bookstores, going to the pool, and walking around my college campus during spring. Some scents are comforting. Some invigorate. Some help me relax.

We are made in the image of God. A God who also loves pleasing aromas.

Imagine Noah in the ark: 40 days with hundreds of animals. Would his small family have been able to keep up with cleaning the manure of all those animals? Doubtful. I assume the ark stunk. And outside the floodwaters would have carried the decay of all of humanity, besides Noah’s family. But when Noah finally left the ark and made a sacrifice of clean animals and birds, the smoke rose to Heaven, and the scent pleased God.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are instructions on how Israel was to make offerings and sacrifices to God. The aromas of the grain, animals, drink, and incense pleased God.

In the New Testament, under the new covenant, Jesus died as a final sacrifice to take away the sins of those who believe in him. And the aroma of that sacrifice pleased God. Ephesians 5:2

Did you know we can have a pleasing aroma to God as well? When we spread the knowledge of God to others, we are the pleasant aroma of Christ. When we spread the Gospel, we bring the scent of life into a dying world.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

It is incredible to think that if I am sharing the Gospel and telling others about Jesus, the creator of Heaven and earth is breathing deeply and is pleased with the scent of my obedience.

Am I “doing” church all wrong?

Are we doing church wrong in the United States?

Earlier this week, a woman who attends my church posted a comment on the church’s Facebook page about how many people in the church feel disconnected from other believers and lonely. Why is this? Is it the society we live in of busy schedules and social media, or is there a fundamental disconnect between how we “do” church in America and what Jesus intended the church to be?

I’m reading through The Pauline Epistles (the Letters of Paul), which are Paul’s letters to various early churches. When Paul talks to the early churches in Corinth and Rome, he is referring to the “church” as a group of believers who meet together, bringing hymns and prophesy to build each other up (1 Corinthians 14:12). The church wasn’t a mixed group of believers and unbelievers hanging out together on Sunday morning to sing a few songs, listen to a nice sermon, and do a few service projects. The early church wasn’t a gathering where people come to be introduced to Jesus and feel good about themselves. No, the church was a group of people who already believed in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). They each brought their gifts of the Spirit and held each other accountable (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Paul called them to love God and love each.

The early church didn’t open its door to everyone.

The early church was a group of people who had formerly been alcoholics, adulterers, homosexuals, idolaters, and thieves; but who had been washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus.

Paul said the church should judge those in the church and hold each other to a higher standard of godliness, but not to judge those outside of the church.

The early church removed from the church those who claimed to be Christians but were practicing sin and refused to stop.

Paul called on the church to be set aside. To love others and live godly moral lives. When the outside world looks at the church, it should see a group of people loving and living like no one else.

I don’t see any evidence that the early church went out and invited their neighbors to attend a church service to learn about Jesus. No, they went out into the world and shared the gospel, and once people were converted they were invited into the church.

The early church didn’t grow from slick marketing campaigns or having the most bells and whistles. It grew because its members made converts and brought the new believers into the church.

Speaking for myself, I know I am complacent. Do I share the gospel with anyone? No. Sure, I’ll tell people I’m a Christian and mention I go to church and might even invite people to church and hope the church service converts them. But sharing the gospel? Getting into the scary topics that might offend? Nope.

Do I feel confident that the others who attend my church will be bold enough to call me out on the sin they see in my life, as the Bible instructs? (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:14). No.

Was the early church perfect? No, there were problems. They were humans just like us.

Does today’s church in North America do lots of good? Yes. Christians give generously, serve others, hold Bible studies and more.

But do we really reflect the church that was described by Paul? Not that I’ve seen. And maybe that is just my personal experience. Maybe the church that was described in the New Testament is active and alive today, and I’m just missing it.

Or maybe we’ve gotten a little off track of what church should be.

Living as a Christian in a Hostile World

We live in a crazy, lost world. Political divides, war, genocide, infanticide, suicide. Mental illness, poverty, and violence, all amplified on social media as part of our daily feed. And while the screaming might seem louder and the voices amplified by the media, this discord is nothing new.

Two thousand years ago Jesus lived in a time when Rome was trying to take over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was conquering nations and seizing control. In Asia, dynasties battled for control of China. There were coups and assassinations. There was civil war, tyranny, and greed.

Jesus was born at a time when Judea had been conquered by Rome and was ruled by the emperor Augustus, adopted son and great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Tiberius ruled when Jesus was crucified and the early Church blossomed during the rule of some of the worst Roman Emperors: Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Life under these rulers included torture and death.

Knowing he was soon to face death, and that his followers would also face persecution and possibly death, Jesus said:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Around the world, Christians are facing persecution. In America, we don’t face physical persecution, but a growing sentiment that Christians are bigots, hateful, and stupid. Some of this sentiment in the U.S. is deserved because of some Christians disobeying Jesus’ command to love. But some of this prejudice toward Christians is Satan at work, to turn the world from the truth of the gospel.

How are Christians to live in a world of darkness and hostility?