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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Lessons from the Olive Tree

Did you know there are olive trees alive today that are estimated to be between 2,000 – 4,000 years old?  There are trees at the Mount of Olives who some believe may have been there when Jesus prayed in the garden.  Pretty incredible.  Makes we want to plan a trip to visit the Holy Land!

I’ve never given olives or olive trees much thought (expect when contemplating going on a Mediterranean diet which sounds completely wonderful . . . except that anything with the word “diet” tends not get past mental contemplation for me).  But as I was doing my morning Bible reading I read a verse that stuck out to me:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.  Psalm 52:8 NIV

I love this image that David created in this Psalm.  “An olive tree flourishing in the house of God.”  I can just picture it – a beautiful tree in God’s garden.  So I dug a little deeper into this verse as well as other verses about olive trees and branches in both the Old Testament New Testament, as well as from a historical perspective.  The Bible is full of references to olives and olive trees:

  • The olive was a major agriculture product in Israel.  In addition to food, the oil was used for cooking, lighting lamps, sacrifice and anointing.
  • When Noah was on the ark, looking for dry land, he sent out a dove.  The dove returned with an olive leaf in his beak which was a sign to Noah that the flood was receding.  It symbolized that God was done with his judgement and the world was coming back to life.
  • When two battling enemies were ready to make peace they would extend an olive branch between them to show they were done fighting.
  • In Romans 11:17-21, Paul referred to Gentiles as wild olive shoots, being grafted into Israel.  He said:

    “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”  

  • Not necessarily an olive tree, but I love this picture that Jesus creates in John 15:

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

There are so many more verses that reference olives, trees, and branches . . . and so many lessons to be learned.

How to Be a Flourishing Olive Tree

  1.  Be Planted in Good Soil:  Jesus told a parable of a man scattering seeds that landed on different types of ground – a path, rocks, thorns and in good soil. I can relate to each of these  – sometimes I think I’ve been each of them in the span of a week! What does it mean to be good soil? Jesus explains in Mark 4:20: “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Read the Bible, believe it, and apply what it says.
  2. Stay in the Vine: How do we bear fruit?  Jesus says it is by staying in the “vine”. Spending time reading the Bible.  Praying.  Meditating.  Fasting.  I even love meditating on John 15 and picturing myself as branch attached to Jesus.  If I am spending time with Jesus and applying what I learn from him I will naturally bear fruit.
  3. Let your Light Shine: The fruit of an olive tree is an olive.  When crushed, olives produce olive oil.  Olive oil had many uses in the Bible, including lighting a lamp. In Matthew 5, Jesus said:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
  4. Accept Pruning:  God is my gardener.  And sometimes I need pruned.  I need to get rid of bad influences and bad habits.  I need to cut sin out of my life.  I need disciplined.  And I need to understand that God does it because he loves me and it will help me mature as a Christian.

Let’s follow David’s lead.  Let’s become Olive Trees.  Flourishing.  Trusting God.  And going deep into the vine of Jesus.

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Fasting

October 6, 2016 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Ezra 7-8
  • Luke 20

He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Ezra 7:9-10 NIV

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  Ezra 8:21 NIV

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:23 NIV

OBSERVATION

  • Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees . . . and the gracious hand of God was with him.
  • Ezra petitioned God with prayer
  • Ezra called for the Israelites to humble themselves before God
  • Ezra and the Israelites fasted
  • God answered their prayers

ACTION

I am fasting (and praying) today for my oldest daughter’s heart procedure  tomorrow (on October 11)  and the salvation of a loved one.

PRAYER

Lord, please give me the strength and discipline to fast and to bring my prayers throughout the day.  Please listen to my prayers.  Hear my cries for my daughter and loved one.  Please help us to cast our fears on you and give my girl strength.  Please guide the doctors and nurses and may the surgery be successful.