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.

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.

Light Shining through Darkness

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While reading through the Bible, I haven’t found one specific answer to this question of why bad things happen to good people. The Bible gives examples pointing to various reasons for different people and different situations. And sometimes what we think is a “bad thing” isn’t actually bad if viewed through the lens of eternity.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

This man was born blind. I am sure for his parents thought this was a bad thing. People thought the parents’ sin caused their son’s blindness. They probably carried guilt, shame, sadness, and maybe anger.

For the man, a life of blindness probably equated to life as a beggar. People might have also blamed him for his blindness. He may have felt sorry for himself, blamed his parents, and been angry at God.

But for this man, in this situation, the reason for the “bad thing” in his life was to bring glory to God. Jesus mixed saliva with mud, put it on the man’s eyes, had the man wash it off, and the blindness was gone. Jesus showed God’s power by healing the man.

And not only did Jesus heal the man’s physical eyes, but Jesus gave the man the opportunity to see the light of eternity. His physical blindness allowed him to see Jesus, physically and spiritually.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

John 9:35-38

Sometimes, what we see is a curse, is a blessing in disguise. What we see as a bad thing, may actually be something good. God sees the bigger picture and sometimes uses the darkness in life to lead us to eternity.

Lessons learned from Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary had been waiting 30 years. Thirty years earlier, an angel had come to her and told her that as a virgin, she would miraculously conceive God’s son. She was to name him Jesus and he would be given the throne of King David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word be fulfilled.”

Mary most likely experienced ridicule as an unwed, pregnant teen. Her fiance almost left her. She gave birth in a barn and then had to move multiple times to escape a king who wanted to kill her baby. She had experiences that she knew pointed to Jesus’ destiny, and she stored those things up in her heart.

I wonder what Mary experienced spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I wonder what she thought when Jesus followed Joseph’s footsteps in becoming a carpenter. Did she worry she had misunderstood something the angel had told her? Did she doubt? Was she relieved that his ministry hadn’t started, thinking about Simeon’s prophesy that a “sword would pierce her soul” or was she anxious for Jesus to show the world who he was?

After 30 years of waiting, things were starting to happen. First, Jesus was baptized by the son of one of Mary’s relatives, John, and God spoke from heaven during the baptism. Then, a few of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus, and Jesus recruited a few more followers. The wheels were starting in motion.

Then there was a wedding. Mary and Jesus and his disciples attended. Mary noticed that they had run out of wine, and she saw the chance for Jesus to shine.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:3-5

Even though it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time, he obeyed his mother and turned the water into wine, performing his first miracle.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:6-11

What lessons can I learn from this story?

  1. God is in Control: God had a plan for Jesus that had been in the works since the beginning of time. God had a plan for Mary. Jesus knew when his ministry should start and how. He knew the time and place. God also has a plan for my children, and He sees the bigger picture. One of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend and it is eating me up, but God sees the bigger picture. Maybe there is something my daughter should be learning from this tough situation she is going through. Maybe there is something I should be learning. Maybe this is an opportunity and a blessing, rather than a curse. He loves my kids even more than I love them. So much he sent His son to come to earth, to be born to a virgin, and die for me and my kids. God has it under control. My job is to trust Him.
  2. It isn’t my job to try to “fix” everything for my children: I’m really struggling with this one right now. As I’m mentioned, one of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend, and I want to jump in and fix everything. I hate seeing her hurting. But in reality, I can’t. I can’t control her friends. I can’t control her friends’ parents. And God never calls me to smooth the road for my kids or open doors for them or fix things for them. God commands me to train them up in the way they should go, to discipline them, and to teach them about Him. God’s commands should be my first concerns when it comes to parenting.
  3. Be Patient: God isn’t finished with me or my kids yet. Mary waited 30 years for her son’s ministry to begin. I imagine these were 30 years of praying and pondering, but being human, probably also doubting and wrestling with all the emotions that mothers feel. God knows the perfect timing. My job is to keep loving, keep praying, keep obeying. And to wait on Him.
  4. God is bigger than my mistakes as a mom: Jesus clearly stated that it wasn’t yet his time to begin his ministry, but in obedience to Mary, he started his ministry. No, it wasn’t the right time. Maybe there was another “start” that would have better, but God worked it out. Mary’s mistake as a mom didn’t derail Jesus’ ministry. It didn’t make God abandon His plan. God is bigger than my mess ups as a mom. He’s bigger than my sins, and temper tantrums, and poor timing and poor parenting. Regardless of what Mary did or didn’t do, Jesus still fulfilled his mission and died to save us.