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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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.

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.

Worry Getting in the Way

Today’s #DailyBibleReading (Luke 21) spoke to my heart, especially about not letting worry get in the way of focusing on Jesus and hearing his word.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.

Jesus, Luke 21:34

And earlier in the chapter, Jesus talked to the disciples about the persecution that they would face and he said they should make up their minds beforehand not to worry:

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.

Jesus, Luke 21:14

Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts get weighed down by the anxieties of life and also to make up their minds not to worry. Right now I’m struggling with some worry. I can feel it physically in my shoulders and stomach. It isn’t even anything terrible that I am facing. I am re-branding my company and designing a new website and marketing materials. All good stuff. Exciting stuff. But what if the latest effort fails? What if I can’t find new customers? What if my current customers don’t like the new brand? What if I can’t live up to what I’m selling?

Personal insecurities and worries start to creep in. My mind starts going through scenarios. Trying to be proactive, I begin to strategize for every possible option, including failure. And then my time spent with Jesus in the Bible starts to suffer as my mind wanders. My prayer life starts to become rushed and unfocused. I snap at my kids and husband.

Jesus said not to let my heart get weighed down by the anxiety of life. It is a mental exercise. I need to make up my mind not to worry. I need to give it to Jesus.

A few weeks ago I read in Luke 8 about having my soul be “good soil.” Again, Jesus talked about letting God’s word penetrate my heart and not letting the worry of life get in the way.

This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Jesus, Luke 8:11-15

When my mind starts to wander into worry, I need to stop it. I need to take the worry off my hook and put it on Jesus. Look to him. Pray. Focus on him. And be careful not to let the worries of life get in the way of my walk with God.

Loving an Unbelieving Child

Jesus knows the experience of loving a child whose eyes are blind to the truth of the salvation he offers.

In Luke 19, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, with crowds praising him and singing about the miracles he had done. He came up on a road between two towns called Bethphage and Bethany to a mountain ridge called the Mount of Olives. (If you are a visual person, I highly recommend checking out this video and these photos to get an idea of where Jesus was and what it looked like).

From the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked down at Jerusalem. Looking down the slopes he could see his beloved city, full of God’s chosen people. His heart was so full of love for his children, but also full of sorrow. He knew that salvation, and peace, and healing were were offered to them, free of charge. He also knew that they were rejecting the gift they were being offered. And that the consequence of that rejection would be their own destruction and death.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44

For all you moms out there whose hearts are breaking watching your children make bad decisions and reject Jesus, Jesus knows exactly how you feel. For all you dads who wish you could just fix things and open your kid’s eyes to see the truth, Jesus understands.

Jesus knows what it is like to share the truth in love and have it rejected. Jesus knows the pain of watching a child suffer and not being able to stop it because it is the child’s choice to make bad decisions. Jesus knows what it is like to be willing to sacrifice everything to save a wayward child.

He knows because he did it. He gave his life for Jerusalem. He gave his life for me. He gave his life for you. He gave his life for our children. He loved, sacrificed, and told the truth. He prayed and cried for his and our wayward children.

And he didn’t stop.

Moms and dads, don’t stop. Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Take the hurt to Jesus. Take the love to your kids.

 

 

Four Questions to Ask When Studying the Bible

1. What does this passage mean?

2. What should I be thankful for?

3. Does this passage shine a light on any sin in my life?

4. How is the Holy Spirit leading me to pray after reading these verses?

Based on Martin’s Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray.

 

Should I Stay Married for my Kids?

I’ve often heard people say you shouldn’t stay in an unhappy marriage just because of the kids. What if the opposite is true? What if God intended children to be the glue to help keep a couple together as they go through hard phases of marriage?

Did you know that divorce doesn’t make people happier? According to a 2002 study by American Values, when unhappy people got divorced on average they weren’t any happier:

Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages
Signatories

Does divorce typically make adults happier than staying in an unhappy marriage? Many Americans assume so. “Does Divorce Make People Happy?” represents the first serious effort to investigate this assumption empirically. The finding? Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier, on average, than unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

Another study showed that 68% of couples who were unhappy in their marriage – but stayed together – were happy in their marriage 10 years later.

For those of you going through a rough patch in your marriage – there is hope. I’m not talking to you who are experiencing abuse or being cheated on. For the rest of you, your marriage won’t always happy, but don’t throw in the towel. There are ups, and there are downs, just like everything in life. You’ll experience joy in marriage. You’ll experience pain in marriage. I’m talking as a child of divorced parents and divorced in-laws. I’ve been divorced myself. I’m currently in a marriage that has seen some very dark days where all I could do was cling to Jesus.

My marriage has also seen some great days.

But mostly, my marriage sees ordinary days. We bicker. He annoys me. I nag him. We laugh at inside jokes and at our kids. We coordinate schedules and run errands. He mows the lawn, and I handle the bills. He buys too much junk food, and I complain (while eating it). He’s a spender, and I’m a saver. I wish he’d be more romantic and he wishes I wouldn’t be so critical. We occasionally have date nights and occasionally have huge fights. We love each other, but don’t speak the same love language. Our life isn’t glamorous. There isn’t anything Instagram-worthy (outside of our pets and sometimes our kids). We are humans.

For those of you in a dark place in marriage, the pain doesn’t last. For those of you thinking you made a mistake in who you married, God doesn’t make mistakes, and He’ll use your marriage for His glory if you cling to Him. Try not to focus on your spouse – concentrate on making yourself the best version of you possible by spending time with Jesus, praying for your spouse, intentionally loving him or her.

For those of you wondering if you should stay married for your kids: Yes. Stay married for your kids. Stay married for your spouse. Stay married for Jesus. Stay married for yourself. 

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Matthew 19:3-6