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.

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.

Jesus: I Am

After Jesus had finished praying for us, he went to a garden with his disciples. This was a garden Jesus frequented, and Judas knew he’d be there. Judas brought soldiers with torches, lanterns, and weapons to arrest Jesus. Jesus knew exactly why there were there and what they were going to do, but he asked: “Who is it you want?”

They answered: “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus replied: “I am he.”

When he said those words, the soldiers drew back and fell onto the ground. John 18.

Why did they draw back and fall?

We don’t know for sure. Maybe there was some powerful force that came from those words. Maybe the ground shook. Or maybe the reality of what Jesus was claiming was too much for the soldiers to handle.

“I AM.”

“Ego eimi”

Earlier in John, Jesus had said:

  • “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
  • “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10:9
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
  • “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Jesus had told people who he was, why he had come, and the benefit of following him. But there was even more to it.

When Jesus said “I am,” he also claimed his deity.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58

These words pointed back to when God spoke to Moses, telling Moses that He would be with him when he led the Israselites out of Egypt:

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “ I AM who I AM . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord , the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” Exodus 3:12-15

Jesus loves us.

Jesus came to save us.

Our substance and life are through him.

Jesus was. Jesus is. Then. Now. And Forever.

Jesus is I AM.

Jesus Loves Me

Sometime between the washing his disciples’s feet at the Passover meal, and his arrest later that evening, Jesus looked up to heaven and had a conversation with his Father. John recorded the loving prayer in John 17. If you ever doubt the enormity of Jesus’ love for you, read this prayer he prayed while knowing he soon be tortured and killed.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3

Jesus knew the was close to death, and he prayed for God to be glorified and that we might have eternal life.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus, John 17:11

Jesus prayed for the protection and unity of believers.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus, John 17:13

Jesus prayed for us to have joy.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus, John 17:15

Jesus prayed for our protection from Satan.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus, John 17:17-19

Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified, which means that we will become more like God.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Jesus wasn’t just praying for the disciples that were with him at that time. He was praying for the believers that would follow. He was praying for you. He was praying for me. And he wanted us to have unity with God, with him, and with each other.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus, John 17:24

Jesus wants us to be with him. Wow. The creator of the universe wants to be with me and show me his glory. What an immense love. I understand Jesus having compassion for his creation. I can even wrap my mind about Jesus being willing to die to save us. But here Jesus takes it even further: he wants me to be with him. Jesus wants to spend time with me. He doesn’t just love me in a paternal way; he likes me. He prays for me. He wants the best for me.

And as he prayed below, Jesus wants me me to know that I am loved:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

Jesus, John 17:25-26

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?

Am I Loving Jesus?

In John 14, Jesus repeatedly tells us that obeying him equates to loving him. If I claim to love Jesus but don’t obey him, I need to question my claim of loving him.

If you love me, keep my commands.

Jesus, John 14:15

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Jesus, John 14:21

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Jesus, John 14:23-24

Taking a personal inventory of my behavior helps me see if my love for Jesus is genuine or just lip-service.

Am I obeying Jesus’ Commands?

  • How do I handle insults and rejections because of Jesus? (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • Am I letting my light shine so people may see my good deeds and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)
  • Am I lashing out in anger, or making sure my words are kind and loving, even when I am upset? (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • How I deal with someone who is upset with me? Do I reconcile with them and settle matters quickly? Do I forgive others? (Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Am I lusting? (Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Do I condone divorce? (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • How do I treat people who hurt me? (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • Am I praying for my enemies and showing them love? (Matthew 5:43-47)

These are just the start of the commands. Matthew 5-7 has many more, in addition to Jesus’ other commands in the Gospels. I need to know what Jesus commands by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and memorizing it. And then I need to put my love for him into practice by obeying, with the help of the Holy Spirit.