Category Archives: Bible Study

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.

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