Tag Archives: Bible Study

Generosity (2 Corinthians 9)

This year is hard. It’s affected pretty much every aspect of our lives. We have lost loved ones, our rhythms are completely interrupted, and social media feels like a powder keg on most days.

But one of the things that has kept me upright is acknowledging the blessings of God. I’m thankful for the health our family does have. I’m thankful for the roof over our heads and food on our table. I’m thankful for the many growth moments in my relationships. And I’m really grateful to get to be a mom to my kid, watching him adjust to a new normal and new experiences with excitement and curiosity.

In response to these blessings, we are called as Christians to express gratitude through generosity. I know that there are people who financially struggling in a lot of ways, but in the verse below, I feel like Paul is talking about more than just money.

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

2 Corinthains 9:11-12

“You will be enriched.” God is going to give you the things that you can share. Whether that is time, or skill, or even presence in someone’s life, God is providing the margins for you to give to others in different ways.

“Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” Everything will point back to God, not to our own abilities or resources. This is paramount in our generosity. We give because it has been given to us.

“Not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” The really cool thing is that even if what we have to give is small, God can do amazing things with it. He will multiply our generosity over and over again. We may never know the complete effect of our giving.

These verses have encouraged me this week to look for ways to be generous. Maybe it’s being generous with my time with my toddler – turning off the screens and playing games with him. Maybe it’s being generous with my love for reading by helping others find books they might enjoy. Maybe it’s being generous with my writing, by encouraging others with handwritten notes or texts or comments on their posts.

I am so grateful to God for all that He has done for me. I want to be a person who is generous to others so that my actions and words point back to God. Because that is what I want my life to be about.

Forgiveness

There is this popular saying, for lack of a better phrase, among the Christian community that God calls us to Love God and Love Others. It’s based on a conversation that Jesus had with Pharisees and teachers of the law over what was the most important of God’s commandments and he responds,

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-39

The “Love your neighbor as yourself” actually comes from a verse in Leviticus.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

In this verse, loving your neighbor has to do with forgiveness. We extend grace to others because we also extend grace to ourselves. Now, I know on a very personal level that I don’t always extend grace to myself, which is a whole other conversation. But one of the ways we show ourselves love is by extending grace to ourselves. In the same way, that is how we love others.

Forgiveness is hard. I don’t think it’s natural for humans because we are limited in how we see others and how we see situations, whether in the past, present, or future. There are hurts I have received that I can’t possibly see how they could be redeemed, how that person could grow or change.

Not saying that consequences should be ignored or avoided. God uses natural and legal consequences to helps people grow closer to him. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the son still ended up in a pig sty before coming home. Boundaries are still a thing, but forgiveness allows the heart to be freed up from the focus of retribution in order to refocus on the love of God.

But I believe that God is the reason I can forgive others. Not just because he calls me to forgive, but because forgiveness is giving my hurt to God. Only he has the ability to move within the relationship or situation to redeem it in the best way it can be done. He knows how to forgive better than we ever will.

And God’s forgiveness is pretty vast. In Psalms it is described as this.

as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

This is what he calls us to do in Colossians 3.

Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13

To forgive in the same way God forgives us.

To remove the transgressions from us, not suppress them, but not let that pain and hurt dwell in our hearts where God’s love should reside. Allowing God to work in the nooks and crannies to release us from our anger and our bitterness.

Ultimately, we do not have the capacity to love or forgive the way God does. Not on our own. Not without the strength and direction of the Spirit. Just like everything else, I don’t have to forgive alone. Forgiveness gives the control of your hurt to the safe hands of God. Only he knows the true path to redemption and healing.

Clouds

There’s this quote, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.” I’ve heard it used in the church to explain where God is during a tragedy. That he’s still shining, present, even though all we see are the dark clouds around us. But I want to challenge that.

What if God isn’t just the sun shining behind the clouds? What if God is in the clouds themselves?

I’m not saying that God creates tragedy in our lives, but he definitely works in those tragedies for our good. When my daughters each passed away, God was preparing communities, relationships, and even my own heart to enter into that tragedy. He worked in those moments, days, and weeks to show his power and presence in my life. He never left my side.

In a recent devotional, it showed how God’s presence in clouds is depicted in both the Old and New Testament. In Exodus, the Israelites were led by a cloud when they left Egypt, and once the tabernacle was built, the cloud remained.

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

Exodus 40:38

In the New Testament, Peter, James and John, along with Jesus, go up the Mount to witness the Transfiguration, and God makes himself known again from a cloud.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Mark 9:7

Clouds, like tragedy, can be uncertain. Anyone who has driven through thick fog can attest to that. We don’t know exactly when things will become clearer, but knowing that God is within that uncertainty, working in ways too great for me to understand, can bring me a sense of peace and hope. One day, the clouds will part, the fog will lift, and we will see everything as clear as a bright sunny day.

Support (Exodus 17)

Between the stories of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments, the Amalekites attack the Israelites in the desert in a place called Rephidim.  A little cool history about the Amalekites.  They descended from Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Jacob’s brother).  Also, the grandson of Adah, Esau’s wife, who was the daughter of Elon the Hittite, one of the Canaanite women that Esau married that “grieved” his parents (Genesis 26:35).

On Moses’s direction, Joshua (the one who will eventually lead the people into the actual promised land) takes some men and fights the Amalekites.  Moses goes to the top of a hill and raises his hands to the Lord.  Whenever they were raised, Israel was winning.  And when he lowered them, the Amalekites were winning.

But Moses wasn’t on this hill alone.  The text says that Aaron and Hur were with him.  I did some brief digging, and according to Jewish tradition, Hur was Miriam’s husband, so basically Moses’s closest family was with him on this hill.  When they noticed he was tiring, they provided a stone for him to sit on and held his hands up for him, one on each side, so that he could have a little respite.  And with their help, the Israelites defeated the Amalekites.

Have you ever held your hands up for a long period of time?  As time goes on, the arms feel heavier and heavier.  Moses was an old man at this point.  Aaron was his older brother, and Hur had to also be around their ages as well. So no one on this hill had immense youth or vigor, but together, they managed to keep Moses’s arms up until sunset.

I don’t know about you, but friends, I’m getting tired.  This year has been crushing for so many reasons.  So many of us have lost loved ones, been pushed into unknown and uncertain terrains, and we all long for a sense of normalcy in our lives.

Sometimes just making it to the end of my day with my family fed and the house still standing is considered a win.  And that’s okay. But I’m also called to love my neighbor, stand up for what is right, speak truth in love. And my arms are getting tired.

But I also realize that I’m not meant to do any of that alone.  We need the encouragement, the propping up of others.  No one gets through this life without others.  All through our life, we depend on caretakers, mentors, teachers, and our community as a whole to do the things we are meant to do.

What Aaron and Hur did for Moses wasn’t some great feat.  They did what they were able to do to help win the war against the Amalekites.  It inspires me. I don’t have to be the Moses, the achiever all the time. I can be the support, and it doesn’t have to be a great big showy thing. What small thing can I do to help prop up another?  Maybe it’s prayer.  Maybe it’s saying good morning to a neighbor. Maybe it’s sharing a post of another writer or liking a comment of a friend. 

So, I leave you with this.  Keep your hands raised toward heaven.  Help lift up others who are doing the same.  Because sunset is almost here, and we will win this war together.

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.

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.

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! 

Genesis 2:3


Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:3 (NIV)

I thought this would be an appropriate verse to enter into the sort of Sabbath I’m doing this month, taking a break from blogging for a bit.

It can never be said enough how important rest can be. And yet, rest always seems to be last on the list. Or, if I do manage to get rest, I tend to feel guilty afterwards because I could have been doing things.

To be transparent, I struggled with this idea of resting for the month of May, even though I have done it in years past. I love writing, but I also know that I can burn out with the best of them. And it can be weeks past the burnout before I even know that I have burned out. Because I just keep moving from one checked box to the next until I break.

America doesn’t really do rest well. We aren’t taught how to rest in school or church. Colleges don’t encourage rest on transcripts. Every hour is filled with extra curricular or community service or productive hobbies (the kind that can make you a little extra money on the side). And as an adult, I find myself patterning my life in a similar way.

So, this month, I’m going to try to rest. God did it. And after he rested, he continued on with his creative work. Rest is not the end. It’s a continuing. So, I choose to embrace it, and I will talk to you again next month.

1 John 4:10-11

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. We love because he first loved us.

I John 4:10-11 (NIV)

Somewhere in my childhood, I learned about the meaning of retaliation. If I hurt someone else, then they will hurt me. And it might come when I least expect it. They could hold this hurt over me until they deemed that I had paid for it.

So, I embraced it for myself. Retaliation seemed like a way to hurt someone else so they would never hurt me again. Though, really, it didn’t seem like the hurt ever really stopped, but instead just kept cycling.

This verse is saying that retaliation, or punishment, is sourced from fear. That fear I knew well. But there is a perfect love can drive out that fear, leaving forgiveness. It ends the cycle.

And this love that enables me to forgive others doesn’t come from being a really awesome person. In fact, I doubt I could really forgive well without the Holy Spirit guiding me through it. It is the love of Christ that teaches us how to forgive, a love that pours into our spirit so that it can overflow into the people around us. The ones who need to experience compassion, forgiveness, and a respite from fear so they can be freed from their own cycle of pain, retaliation, and punishment.

Psalm 37:7

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37:7 (NIV)

This verse feels like the opposite of the American reaction to adversity. The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and outwit the enemy” mentality. Instead this Psalm encourages stillness and putting trust in God, letting go of jealousy.

We want to see the bad guys lose, the underdogs win, but it doesn’t always happen that way. And we get frustrated. But we don’t understand the bigger plan the way God does.

Ultimately, there is a bigger picture. Whether we are called to be still or called to move forward, whether or not we overcome the obstacles and defeat the adversaries, may we continually wait on the Lord, be still in his presence and put our trust in him.