Category Archives: Bible Study

Humanity – Romans 12

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Romans 12: 14-16

I know that all we want is normal. And this year is far from normal on so many fronts. It’s easy to slip into the fear, to grasp onto the entitlement that we think or hope to deserve. Making ourselves the underdog hero of our story makes that triumph feel within our reach. And when it doesn’t happen, when chaos whips around us, it is really easy to lash out at the other side, make them the villain.

In movies, the villain used to be all bad. It was the thing or person that the hero conquered. But in more recent years, movies have presented the villains as misunderstood or misguided, even capable of being good or changing course. It gives more depth to the characters, more understanding in their own humanity. In Romans 12:14, this idea of blessing people who are persecuting you gives that same chance to keep other people’s humanity intact.

Removing their humanity requires us to remove a piece of our own humanity, to forget our flaws in the face of outrage.  To forget the grace we need when we are learning and growing.  We forget how long it sometimes takes for our hearts to soften, or how much pain or fear can blind us to what is going on around us. But in addition to keeping the humanity intact, or maybe in order to do so, there is also this thread through these verses to keep our entitlement in check as well. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn requires a healthy dose of empathy.  The empathy removes entitlement.  I rejoice because I connect with those who are rejoicing.  I see their humanity, their need to rejoice because things are so hard.  Same with mourning.  I see their humanity, their need for space to mourn how they need to, not how I think they should.  I won’t push their pain or their joy under the rug when it is convenient to me.

I am willing to associate with people in a lower position. Or maybe even a different position. People who are not like me, who don’t think like me or read the same news outlets and articles that I do, who don’t have the same priorities that I do. It’s really easy to disassociate myself from others and make judgment calls and create labels to write off their humanity from my own echo chamber.

When we see each other as humans, as creations of God, it doesn’t matter what labels are given to the people around us. We are called to have the sober understanding that under God, we are all the same. These verses are really challenging me to put down the desire to be right and superior in that rightness.  Instead, we are called to love wholly with the love we receive from our holy God.

I don’t know when the chaos will stop. But judging from my past experiences with loss and disruption, I know that the day will come. I have real concern about the divisions in our country, our church, and our community. But I also know that God is in control, that he loves us completely in our own humanity. So, I can trust in God, and that frees me to humbly embrace others in their humanity and love as God first loved us.

Trust – Romans 12

I really love this chapter.  There are so many good verses.  The entire chapter, Paul is talking to the Romans about living in community.  He stresses living humble lives, not conforming to the expectations of the world around them, not letting that world define who they are.

He ends the chapter encouraging the Romans to live a life of love, especially verses 9 to 21.  I’m going to spread out some of these verses for the next couple of weeks because I just want to be totally immersed in this reading.  So, first let’s look at 9 and 10.

Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:9-10

In this first verse, the word love used in the Greek is Agape – that unconditional godly love. This is a love that flows from God through us to others.  Paul is challenging the Romans to love in a way that builds trust.  Be aware and vigilant of the things that are hurting other people.  Denounce those activities and look for ways to be encouraging and good.  It is an active, relentless exhibit of kindness and sacrifice, not dependent on our own strength or ability to love, but that which is given freely to us by God.

The first part of verse 10 uses a different kind of love – Philostorgoi which is Greek for brotherly, familial love. It’s a continuation of that trust being built. The second part of verse 10 is written to be an act of humble leadership, setting an example to others on how to love.  To see others as priceless, worth more than money, even worth more than themselves.

We live in unknown times where trust is broken a lot. We trust leaders to make sound decisions. We trust medical providers to give clear diagnoses. We trust community to care and be dependable.

But we also live in a broken world, which ends up breaking trust. Which is why I feel like these verses are so important right now. Right now, as Christians, we need to be exhibiting a sincere and consistent love. We need to lead in a humble way to show how God loves to other people. And the only way we can do that is by dying to self and turning to God.

Because ultimately, love is meant to be a step out in faith, trusting that God will equip us in the unknown. Above everything else, that is a truth I can trust.

Together (Ephesians 2)

I’m doing a devotional right now about peace, and Ephesians 2:10 was used in one of the devotional entries:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Paul was talking to the Gentiles in Ephesians in this chapter.  Encouraging them because they felt like outsiders.  But that Christ’s blood has unified them with the God of the Jews, giving them hope, making them heirs to the promises and covenants of God.

But as I kept reading, this verse jumped out to me:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Ephesians 2:14-15

And my heart breaks. 

In this particular passage, Paul is talking about the Gentiles and the Jews, but even today, our world is still split into us and them.  Anger and vitriol are spewed across social media feeds.  Fear feeds into a need for control, and conversations warp into misunderstandings and hurt feelings, continuing a cycle of fear.

Being a type 9, I hate conflict and confrontation, and honestly, I have to be really intentional with my online interactions, especially right now with stress levels already high because of the pandemic.  I have to filter my news intake and watch my stress levels, do copious amounts of self-care like meditation, exercise, eating well, and getting healthy amounts of sleep before I even think about engaging the world right now.

But there is hope.  Christ knows we are a split world.  His sacrifice was a catalyst for unification, not division.  He is a beacon of justice, redemption, and forgiveness.  He is a model of balance, peace, and faith.  Even though the world feels like it’s ending, Christ is there to remind me that the chaos is just a distraction from our calling to love one another. 

So, take a deep breath.  Breathe in Love God.  Breathe out Love Others.  And remember Jesus is coming soon, morning, night, or noon.  He is in control, and he will bring ultimate peace.

Burden (Matthew 12)

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking at the words of Jesus within the context of whatever was happening around those words, whether it was the death of a family member or faith in a storm.  Some biblical experts have said that it might be highly likely that these events may not have exactly followed one another, however, the author of each gospel put these stories in this order for a reason.  I was reading another section of Matthew when I found something pretty fascinating.

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12: 1-8

The Pharisees valued following the rules, so much so that they added extra rules to clarify how to follow the original rule.  Their faith was very outward and works-centric.  I can relate to a certain extent.  I’m a rule follower.  And I know that I can easily fall into the idol of rules.  Of being right.  The Pharisees made rules so they could be right, and anyone who did not meet these expectations was sinning.

In this back and forth, Jesus references Hosea 6 which has some interesting foreshadowing.  In verse 2 it says:

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Hosea 6:2

Three days?  That verse must have been on Jesus’s heart a lot, though in this conversation, he uses verse 6:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Hosea 6:6

The Pharisees were missing the point.  Love creates relationships, not rules.  Grace extended strengthens bonds.  Jesus was telling that God longs to know them and he longs for them to know him, to tear down the walls of outward perfection and embrace the perfect love in humility that is offered to them.

And Matthew prefaces this whole interaction with these verses at the end of chapter 11:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11: 28-30

People were obsessing about the wrong things, following rules to earn God’s love and favor.  Even I still do this.  I get worried about doing things the right way instead of slowing down, listening, and loving my neighbor.  I’m learning how to let go of being right and allow Jesus to show me true righteousness relationship through faith, grace, and love. 

Scatter the Seed (Mark 4)

I was familiar with pretty much every one of these parables in Mark 4.  The chapter opens with the story of the Parable of the Sower.  The seed scatters to various places – the path, rocks, thorns, and good soil which affect their ability in growing into a harvest.  Jesus then explains that these seeds represent the ways people will receive the word.  Other more familiar parables in this chapter include the one about hiding the light of a lamp (or maybe we know it better by the song “This Little Light of Mine”) and the “faith like a mustard seed” verses.

But between the lamp and the mustard seed, he also said,

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

– Mark 4:26-29

The Kingdom of God is like a man who has no control or understanding over the seeds he puts in the ground.  Whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed still grows.  All the man had to do was scatter the seed.

Growing up in the church, it was impressed on me that the number one job I had to do was convert people.  And that foundation has affected the rest of my faith.  I’m supposed to tell people about God, share my testimony, even love other people in such a way that at the end of the day, they became followers of God, too. But I am so preoccupied with the converting part that I forgot my job was just to scatter the seed.

If lead with love first, instead of conversion, my trust is placed not in my own abilities or knowledge, but in the very hands of God.  I don’t need to worry about who gets to be loved or not.  Because the seed was still scattered to the path, the rocks, and the thorns.  The reality is that God knows how it all works.  I do not.  There is not a perfect process, memory verse, a complete understanding of the Bible or of people that will convert a single soul.  Only God knows that.  Only God can do that. 

This frees me up to just do what God has set out for me to do.  Just do the next best thing, the next step.  Love that person.  Just love them.  Help that person.  Just help them.  Remove the agendas, the need to do it correctly, because God’s plan is already in motion.  Living this way still requires me to stay connected to God, to lean in on His love so that I can love others freely and faithfully.

Ending it with the stormy seas being calmed by Jesus was perfect.  The people in that boat and the others with them knew how to sail.  They knew how to navigate the storms, but this storm was overpowering.  They could not rely on their knowledge or skill to see them through.  It brings me to this truth.  We do not control the storms or the seeds, but we can trust that God is behind all of it, making everything work to his command.  All that is required of me is to scatter the love of God and let God handle the rest.

Context: A Brief Observation of Matthew 14

I grew up in the church.  I have heard the stories of Jesus feeding the 5000 and of Jesus walking on the water, but I only recently realized the context of these stories.  What was actually happening in the life of Jesus during these miraculous events.

Because Matthew 14 opens up with the death of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how close Jesus and John were growing up.  I know that when everything was happening to Mary, the angel told her about everything happening to Elizabeth, and Mary traveled to help.  I know that in the womb, John recognized the divine nature of Jesus, just as he does at Jesus’s baptism.  But I don’t know how much they spent time together between these two events.

But here, we come to the end of John’s life.  Herod had imprisoned him for speaking out against his relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  And during a party, John’s head is presented to Herodias’s daughter on a platter.  John is dead.  His body, what is left, is buried by his disciples. And word is sent to Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

Matthew 14:13

He set out on a boat to a place where he thought he would be alone.  But when he arrived, the people were there, waiting for him.  And he had compassion.  I just can’t imagine, in those moments of grief, his compassion compelled him to teach, encourage, and heal those around him.

This chosen remote place wasn’t ideal for dinner preparations, which prompts the miraculous feeding of the 5000.  Once everyone is fed and there are enough leftovers to sustain his followers.  He sends them away on the boat he arrived in.  He dismisses the crowd.  And he goes to the mountainside to pray.

Because this entire time, he has yet to have a moment to grieve.  A moment to spend with his Father, perhaps talking to him about his loss.  If ever he needed a recharge, this would be one of those moments.  At then, at dawn, he walks on the water.

Yes.  Feeding over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish is amazing.  Walking on crashing waves through howling winds is amazing.  But doing it all in the midst of grief.  In the loss of family, both physically and spiritually, he kept going.  I just want to sit today in the awe of Jesus’s compassion.  He came on this earth to love and to show us how to love.  He grieved and then he showed the power of God over this broken earth.  In his lowest moments, he relied on the miraculous divine strength of God to do amazing things.  It gives me hope that even in the lowest grief, God is still working, preparing to do things beautiful and miraculous.

Burnout

In a recent therapy session, we talked about everything going on in the world.  From pandemics and protests to family and the daily stresses in life.  It can be so overwhelming, and my therapist replied, “That’s why self-care is important.  It means taking care of yourself so you can be 100% when opportunities that really matter come along, instead of only having 50% to give.”

This reminded me of a story that Jesus told his disciples.  The story begins in Matthew 25:

“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight, the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’

“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-14

It sounds like Jesus favors the prepared, but what does it mean to be prepared for the kingdom of God?  I don’t think it means keeping a lamp burning and a pantry full of oil jars.  Look at the previous verses:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 24:45-51

We aren’t just sitting and waiting, but we are called to take care of the things God has put in our charge.  Friends, family, community.  And sometimes these things can come in the form of unexpected opportunities.  Like a bridegroom at midnight.

I think that the burning lamps are like our influence, our responsibilities to love others in various ways. 

And what is the oil that keeps that flame going?  My ability alone to l love isn’t sustainable, but God’s love is.  And the only way I can utilize the love of God to love others is to stay connected to Him.  I need my jar of oil to keep that lamp of love burning.  Whether it is spending time in prayer, in study, in meditation, in nature, in Holy conversation, in Spirit-led sacrifice, I must continue to remain connected to God.  Maybe that means slowing down, getting less busy, making more room, but whatever it takes, I need to stay connected.

It is vital to my survival.  Because when hard things happen, when needs arise in my community, in the places that God has entrusted to me, even in small ways, I want to give my all.  I want to lean on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish the things He has planned for me.  And I can only do that if I bring that jar, if I devote that time to keeping that light burning.

Maybe you are feeling spent, exhausted, depleted.  There is a God who is present and waiting to fill your jar with oil, to keep that light from going out.  Because the suffering and injustice will not go on forever, it is nearing midnight and bridegroom is on his way.

Fear and Faith

My life has had some pretty pivotal moments of anxiety and fear and hopelessness. When I turned to God, sometimes he answered my prayers in ways I hoped for, and other times he answered my prayers by walking with me through the pain, grief, and uncertainty.

In this point in time, in our world, we face a lot of uncertainty. I have been here before, on a personal level. Every pregnancy I had was wrought with anxiety and uncertainty. And I had people, well meaning people, tell me that there was nothing to be anxious about. That I needed to get a hold of myself, implying that my anxiety meant that I wasn’t being a good Christian.

At the beginning of this year, I started a study in the book of 1 John. Honestly, I picked the book randomly. The only real requirement was that it was a shorter book because I was going to be reading it in different translations and using the reference verses provided by my Study Bible. In this book, there is a verse that can be a little misused in times of uncertainty and fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

We are called to love God and love one another. In fact, in the very next paragraph, John says just that. But I think the Perfect Love he is referring to is God. God is not afraid. He is in control and he sees a much bigger picture. And though he doesn’t want us to fear, just like we don’t want our kids to be afraid, he doesn’t discount us when we are.

It reminds me of the story of Gideon in the Old Testament. God told him to go conquer the Midianites (Judges 6-7). And Gideon makes excuse after excuse. He’s afraid. But God remained faithful. God even pared down Gideon’s troops to show who was really the conqueror.

As I started to work on this post, I was reminded of all the times I turned to God. All of them turned out differently. When I gave over the mess of my dating life, God responded with the relationship that would eventually become my marriage to my husband. When I didn’t get the job I thought I would after graduating college, and ended up doing odd jobs just to pay the bills (which didn’t actually cover all my bills), I turned to God, and he connected me to a well-paying, stable job that I loved helping other people. I was even able to continue doing that job when I moved to another state, working from home. Even though I no longer work there, I still think of the people there as my friends and family.

But it didn’t always end up the way I thought it should. I still had my miscarriage and my two stillbirths, even though I pleaded with God for a miracle. But he never left my side, and he revealed so much to me about hope, community, and love, even when I was afraid and anxious.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s okay if you are afraid about what’s going on in the world right now. It’s okay if you are uncomfortable with uncertainty and aren’t as flexible as other people hoped you would be. But truthfully, God is bigger that other people’s expectations and he’s not about to walk away because of your anxiety. He didn’t walk away from Gideon, or Moses, or Abraham, or Jacob, or Elijah, or Jonah, or Peter, or any number of people in the Bible who were afraid, who may have even said or did the wrong thing because of that fear.

No matter how our circumstances, our lives, our normals may change, God is unchanging. We can put our faith and hope in him. And when we are afraid, he is ready to listen to our anxieties, hold our hand through our panic attacks, and whisper his love in our ear when our fear feels overwhelming. I’m right there with you. I feel it too, but I know that we will get through this together with God leading us every step of the way.

The Season of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I didn’t grow up observing this day or the season of Lent.  However, I’m very familiar with Mardi Gras, which was yesterday, because I grew up in New Orleans.  I marched in parades in middle school, and our family always went to the family-friendly parades in our area. 

But growing up, we didn’t observe Lent because it was something the Catholic community did.  Though to be quite honest, fasting wasn’t a discipline that was really talked about in our church circles.  Every now and then, someone would be fasting and praying about some situation, but it wasn’t really a dedicated practice.  So, an entire section of the year dedicated to fasting was entirely foreign to me.

And, even among my friends that did fast for Lent, it seemed like it was more of a sanctioned diet than it was a religious event.  The most common thing that people fasted was chocolate or sweets. 

Then, as an adult, I continued to have a very awkward relationship with this particular time of the year.  On a hilarious note, I didn’t realize that the fast wasn’t done on the Sundays of Lent until I had already participated for a few years.  I couldn’t figure out how people were saying it was reflecting 40 days of Jesus fasting in the wilderness when it was not 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Thankfully, I googled it at some point.

And I’ve also learned, as an adult, that it is more than just taking something away from your life but replacing it with God.  It is also a season of generosity and looking to the welfare of others.  Things that I would not have recognized as a kid, mostly because a lot of this is done privately.

But I still struggle with if and how I want to observe Lent.  Part of me feels like an impostor trying to do something I don’t really understand.  Part of me is curious and open to using this time to connect with God.  So, here is where this journey has taken me today.

Last year, Caroline Williams Yoga on YouTube did a weekly session for the Lent season, using a book called Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  And of course, being me, I made a mental note to get this book.  So, now it is a year later, and I have the book, ready to read these chapters over the course of the next 40 days (or so).  I want to use it to direct my thoughts each day, giving me focus during this practice.

I also decided not to fast. I know that is the traditional thing to do, but I really struggled with what I should fast, which really showed me that I wasn’t ready to take that step. I want to know more about this tradition before continuing to observe it in its most traditional sense.

Because ultimately, as with anything I do, my main goal is to have a closer relationship with God and be more like Jesus.  And hopefully, I will continue doing that on this journey, one foot in front of the other.

Bargaining Relationships

Recently, I have become aware of the unhealthy relationship I have with people pleasing and the attempts to live up to the expectations of others.  In this journey, I’ve also realized that one of the motivations for this is the transactional, or bargaining, nature of these kind of relationships.

In short, I’m nice to you which means you will be nice to me.

It’s something that was taught, both implied and outright, in schools and churches when I was a child.  Not just in relationships, but in every aspect of my life.  If I follow the rules, I get good things.  If I study, I will get good grades (meaning perfect A+’s).

It has even seeped into my relationship with God.  If I read my Bible and pray every day, then I will get all the good blessings in life. And if I am struggling, it means that I’m doing something wrong.  But the Bible says something different.

Jesus’s followers in John 9:1 saw a blind man and asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was blind from birth?”  Jesus responded that the purpose of the blindness was to glorify God, then he healed the man, further proving God’s divine power in him. 

Job was a righteous man who followed all of the rules, so much that God even bragged on him.  But he still lost everything, even his health.  His friends accused him of sinning some big sin.  He turned to God for answers, and God basically told him that he wouldn’t understand the entire picture, but that it was much bigger than Job could imagine.  And Job responded with faith.

And while there are instances in the Bible where God punishes someone for their sin (ie, David and Bathsheba losing their son or the Israelites going into exile), the bigger picture doesn’t change.  David even says that though he is separated from his son for now, he will see him again someday.  Because the picture is bigger than he could ever have imagined.

God is operating on a bigger playing field than a series of checks and balances.  Because the reality is that we will never measure up on our own.  That is why Christ came to this earth, to wipe away the debits and credits in our life so that we can really focus on what is the most important thing – our relationship with God.  Trusting him and keeping that faith through our love for others.

And loving others not in a transactional way but loving them because God loves us.  1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”  Not because they were nice to us, or they think like us, or they act like us, because that’s not the way Jesus loved.  He loved the broken, the angry, the selfish, the sinful, the ones who carry their pain in their hearts and bodies and minds, the ones who pour pain into others.  That is what he calls us to do. 

We love because he first loved us.

John 4:19

I am so grateful for my relationship with God, that it doesn’t depend on my own perfection but is covered in the perfect love of Christ.  May I live out that love more and more in my own life and in the lives of those around me by living beyond the expectations of others to the bigger plan God has for my life.