Category Archives: Bible Study

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.

Bible Goals

Last year, I read all the way through the Bible.  I would like to say this goal was well thought out and planned for months before the year started.  But honestly, I was looking for a New Year devotional on my Bible App, and a “read through the Bible” option was available.  So, I was like, why not?

I’ve never actually attempted to read through the entire Bible, but I now get the appeal.  There is so much hidden in all of it.  The Kings and Chronicles books give context to the minor prophets who give context to the letters from Paul.  It’s all one really big picture.  And I like reading things that are all connected.

However, I don’t want to do it again this year.  Instead, I would like to try a few other types of Bible study, primarily verse mapping and memorization.  Verse mapping was introduced to me last year, though I don’t remember exactly where I read about it.  But I did copy the how-to onto a word document on my computer, so I’m excited to try it out. 

Verse mapping is basically just selecting a verse and then really digging into it.  Look at it in different translations.  Pick out certain words and check them out in the Hebrew or Greek.  Read for context.  Read for revelation.

And while I’m digging into these verses, I might as well memorize them.  I would like to memorize a few books of the Bible this year.  And I’m going to go easy with the first one and pick a book with one or two chapters in it.  Build up my confidence. 

In addition to all of this, I want to do shorter, topical or seasonal devotionals.  There are a few I have in book form, but most of them will probably be from my Bible app.  And of course, whatever I find neat or insightful, I plan to share with you all throughout the year – whether from the verse mapping or devotionals.

Looking forward to digging deep in 2020! 

No Other Gods

I’m part of a Mom Bible study group this fall, and we are studying Kelly Minter’s No Other Gods study about the false gods in our life. I’m right in the middle of the study, but man, is it convicting.

Of course, most of us don’t have actual idols in our houses, like the ones that the Israelites had in their homes in the Old Testament. But we definitely still have false gods that we turn to for the security, value and identity we are supposed to be seeking for in God. The big one that I’ve heard about before was money, how we will do anything for the security that money supposedly provides, but she also touches on good things in our life that can turn into gods.

Which is where I felt the sting of conviction.

Because you see, I like to make people happy. I like to encourage them, support them, make them smile. I like to please them.

Pleasing people sounds good. What is wrong with wanting people to like you? With being kind to people? With serving other people sacrificially? Aren’t we suppose to think of others as better than ourselves?

But being a people-pleaser, to me, means being held captive by other people’s opinions. I’m not just sacrificing myself, but other relationships, especially the ultimate relationship in my life, the relationship with God. I placed the opinion of people above everything else and allow it to affect my decisions, choose my paths, and define who I am.

It has become so ingrained in my life, that when I started to see it for the idol that it was, I realized I don’t actually have that strong of an identity on my own. My confidence has been eaten away. My sense of worth is low. Frankly, I don’t have a high opinion of who I am. I’ve been relying on the opinion of others for that.

I also realized that being a people-pleaser is not just a victim mentality, but it is also quite self-centered. Other people’s actions and reactions are taken personally. I would look inward at ways I could improve or change, thinking it was to better myself as a person, but really it was to appease someone’s opinion of me.

I couldn’t look outward to helping other people because I was so dependent on their opinion. I couldn’t look inward to work on the very low self-esteem because it had been so long dependent on other people I simply couldn’t do it myself. I needed to go up.

God, the creator of the universe. The Heavenly Father who sent his son to die for a world that was deep in their own sin. I can only imagine how long he has been watching me suffer in this captivity, waiting for me to simply look up.

I need to go to him for my worth, identity, and security. He is the solid ground that I crave. As I’ve been reading through the Bible this year, I have seen a God who is desperate for his people to love him, not because he needs it but that he desires us. He created us, and he knows what we need, and he actually wants to give it to us.

We don’t need the opinion of others to drive us. But, friends, this is really hard. I’ve been doing it for so long in one way or another. I’m not sure how else to be. But I rest in the fact that God knows the way out. He separated the Red Sea for the Israelites, surely he can rescue me.

I don’t know how this will play out, what tests and trials are ahead. I’m afraid I will fail and turn back to the false gods with their false promises. Working through this study is helping, but ultimately, I know that I need to just keep trusting God, knowing that he will reveal my identity, worth, and purpose, all in his good and perfect timing.

Watched Vs Seen

I remember a song that we sang in Bible School, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see….For the Father up above is looking down below.” We didn’t sing it often, but it was enough to give me spiritual paranoia. God is watching. All. The. Time.

When I know I’m being watched, the walls go up. One time at the grocery store, I picked up and promptly dropped a jar of preserves. It was an accident, but I felt every eye in that store watching me. I wanted the aisle to swallow me up in that moment, or at the very least I wanted to quickly develop an invisibility superpower.

But most of the time, I don’t think about it. When I put up a post or picture online, I don’t really think about all the people who view that post. I usually think of a few people who might read it, but not much beyond that. However, if I realize just how many people are looking at something I wrote, all I can think about are all the flaws in that post, or flaws in other things I have posted that people might also be looking at. It can be paralyzing!

While being watched is a kind of exposure that gives way to paralyzing fear, being seen means being made vulnerable in a safe, non-judgmental place. Being watched is passive while being seen seems more active. And I think that is what God does, instead of just watching us, he truly sees us.

Yes, God sees your flaws and your brokenness. But he also sees your broken heart as well. He didn’t just watch his creation from afar. He came down close to it. In Jesus, we see a God who looks us in our eyes and sees us. Really sees us.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Like the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus watched her approach, but in conversation with her, showed her that he truly saw who she was. He listed her living reality with no judgment and allowed her to respond. She was a woman used to being watched. Why do you think she went to that well at the hottest part of the day? But when she was truly seen, her life changed. Transformed.

So, if I’m suppose to be a Jesus-follower, then I need to learn how to see, not watch. It’s so easy, even in social media, to scroll through and consume the stories of other people, making easy, fast judgments, instead of taking the time to really see people for who they are.

It means prioritizing my time and my relationships with other people. It means that I focus less on the number of followers I have and more on the people God has sent into my life. It’s being open. It’s not putting too much stake in what people think when they watch me. It’s slowing down. It’s trusting God to pull down some of my own walls that are blocking my ability to see others.

Sure, God is watching. But more importantly, God is seeing. He walks with me. He guides me. And I pray that I can continue to embrace vulnerability and humility in the same way Jesus did, trying to be more and more like him every day.

Anxiety Update

I wanted to write an update on my anxiety, but I’ve kind of been in the thick of an anxiety storm. And when I’m in a storm like this, it’s harder to really articulate what I’m trying to say. Every time I try to put pen to paper (or in my case fingers to keyboard), I’m constantly deleting what I’m writing because it sounds like gobbledygook.

Overstimulated has been a well used word in my vocabulary lately. Usually, it is used to describe my son when he is really in need of a nap or is experiencing big feelings. It’s been interesting how helping him to navigate his feelings can help me navigate my own.

Which brings me to what I learned about my anxiety. I realized that my anxiety ramps up after a string of days of being overstimulated. Mix that with major changes in my schedule and it becomes a perfect storm for an anxiety episode.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Autumn has always been a busy season in the year with a completely full schedule. All fun and exciting things, but a lot of changes to my schedule – travel, events, new experiences. Knowing what I now know about my abilities and limitations, I want to be able to incorporate times of rest and reflection between the craziness of the weeks and months ahead. I also realize that sometimes it might not be possible to balance everything perfectly.

In those moments when things are out of balance, it’s so important to give myself enough grace to learn from the experience and adjust. Of course, this is all easy to say and not always easy to do in the moment. I just need to keep reminding myself that I’m growing and learning about this season in my life. It’s okay to make mistakes.

But I’m not a mistake. Even though my limitations and my anxiety are a part of who I am, they are not the whole package. I am a daughter of the living God who created me as a part of His plan. I have purpose in that fact. Even in the darkest parts of my journey, God is the light guiding my way. So I’m making Isaiah 43 1 (the second half of the verse) my mantra this season to hopefully remember that I’m not alone in my anxiety, and that God will see me through all of it, one step at a time.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1