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.

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.

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?

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.

Word made Flesh

This morning’s Bible reading was John 1, which gives a beautiful description of the Word made flesh. In case you are curious, the Bible Reading Plan I’m using right now is “The Bible Project: Gospels” on YouVersion, found here. But instead of just reading it on the app, I’m reading it in my physical Bible. My sweet mom got me this Journal the Word Bible for Christmas and I’m using it to write my observations, study, and application in the margins.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John, John 1:1-5

I’ve always loved this visual and it helps me to get my mind around the concept of the Trinity. God’s word is part of Him. It has the power to create. I imagine God speaking and these words coming out of Him and swirling around a dark abyss – full of power – creating animals, stars, and oceans. God spoke, and His “Word” created heaven and earth.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

God spoke and created humans.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

Then He watched the self-destruction of His human creation. He decided to do something radical. He had His Word take on flesh and come to earth in human form. Still as powerful as the when the Word created all humanity; this Word now had a name: Jesus.

God’s “Word made Flesh” came to save humanity from our destruction and bring light into a dark world.

Living Through a Torn Curtain

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46

God had given Israel precise instructions in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25 – Exodus 27) and the temple (1 Chronicles 28). There was a room called the “Holy of Holies” or “The Most Holy Place” where God’s presence lived. This room was only entered once a year, by the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. There were very specific instructions on what the priest was to do (Leviticus 16), including cleansing, sacrificing animals, and sprinkling blood. If the High Priest entered any other time, or without following God’s specific instructions, the consequence was death. The purpose was “atonement” (reparation for a wrong committed) for the sins of Israel. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.

Leviticus 16:15-16,34

Then Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. This symbolized a change in the way things were done – a new covenant on how sins would be atoned and a new operating system:

  • Jesus came as the new High Priest and the blood he brought was his own perfect blood. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
  • No longer does a High Priest need to enter the temple every year to atone for sins, Jesus did it once and for all, when he entered heaven after sacrificing himself. (Hebrews 9:24-28; Hebrews 10)
  • Atonement from our sins, and salvation, is through believing in Jesus. (John 3:16-21, John 14:6)

Under the new covenant, the punishment for sin is still death, but we have a High Priest who already died. His blood paid our price and atoned our sins. The temple is no longer a physical building, but it is the human bodies of those who believe in Jesus. God lives in us.

So what does this mean for us? If you haven’t already put your faith in Jesus, I encourage you to read the verses I have linked and spend time reading both the Old Testament and New Testament. God loves you and sent His Son to die for you, at no cost to you. For those of you who have put your faith in Jesus, thank him for his sacrifice. And then live for him, loving others, meeting together with other believers, and encouraging them to do the same.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Paul, Hebrews 10:19-25

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.