Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Learning from my Emotions

I’ve been in numerous Bible Studies that seem more like collective naval gazing rather than studying scripture together. The focus of the conversation is how the participants feel about Scripture rather than the content of Scripture itself. However, the gap between discussing Scripture and discussing our feelings about Scripture is wide. In my experience, women’s Bible studies frequently fail to bridge that gap. 

I confess, I’ve been arrogant and dismissive toward a lot of Bible study groups that I’ve been a part of because of the emphasis on feelings. A more loving response would have been to try to draw the participants into a conversation about what the Scripture actually says. Instead, I sat in a silent tiffy and didn’t show up the next week. 

However, recently I’ve been learning the role that examining our feelings toward a passage can actually have when we’re studying the Bible. While it is not the whole of Bible study, it can have a small role. When I read the command to do everything without grumbling or dissent, I get a little annoyed. I like to grumble. It makes me feel better than other people. 

My annoyance reveals sin in my heart. Pressing into and examining that emotion helps me to face my sin so that I may repent of it. What about this annoys me? What potential effects of this command on my life am I recoiling from? For me, its that in order to not complain, I have to find constructive ways to communicate about problems. In other words, I can’t leave in a self-righteous tiff. 

In acknowledging what we feel, we give room for the scriptures to teach us. Emotions do have a role in studying the Scriptures, but it’s not always a pleasant process. And while I am not fond of admitting my sin to people, the times when I’ve opened up about my less than pretty emotional responses to Scripture have been good for my soul. 

However, we need to be able pair this emotional intelligence with a deepening understanding of scripture. As I keep reading the passage in Philippians, I see Paul talking about some really negative, difficult things: someone he loves almost dying, a church that he’s worried about, his own sorrows and hardships. He’s not complaining about them. But he’s also not ignoring them. Through this, I learn that “not complaining” doesn’t mean “never communicate things that are hard or wrong”. It means trust the Lord, deeply and fully, so that when you’re talking about difficult things, you do it in a way that reveals more about your faith in the Lord than the difficulty of your circumstance.

If you’ve been in church long, you’ve probably been around someone who does this in a way that seems like they are putting on a face. Or maybe you’ve been the person glossing over hardships with a veneer of faith in the Lord, never letting people see how much you’re really struggling. I have too. When I read Philippians 2:14, Paul challenges me toward a genuine rootedness in the Lord so that my faith in Him is seen in the struggle. 

The only way I can cultivate that trust in the Lord is to know him through his Word. And the only way I can cultivate that emotional intelligence that true vulnerability takes is to examine my emotions before the Lord. 

Why You Don’t Have to be Married to be Holy

In my single years, I went to a church that had a lot of singles. The pastoral staff spoke purposefully to us from the pulpit. We constantly heard that we were not second-rate church members, that we were deeply valued and needed, that our gifts, our time, ourselves were a vital part of this church. It was a good place to be single.

But on other Sunday mornings, I heard a different message, usually when there was a sermon on marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. It’s a common refrain in the Body of Christ. After the aside to singles about how being single didn’t discount us from fully participating in the body of Christ, we heard how sanctifying marriage was. Specifically, that there is nothing quite like marriage for sanctification. With that one statement, all the inclusive rhetoric toward singles was negated. Because if there’s nothing quite like marriage for sanctification and godliness, then by being single, I am lacking the necessary prerequisites to be truly holy.

This didn’t add up with the other teaching of the church. So I knew the pastors’ ad nauseam statements about the value of singles within the church were false, or marriage does not have a unique ability to sanctify. I chose to believe the latter.

Now understand that I am not saying that marriage is not sanctifying. Not for a moment. Marriage can be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, and our sin. But it is only a tool. It is God who transforms us, whatever our life situation, into a clearer image of Himself. Singleness can also be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, our sin. And since it’s the same God wielding the tool, it has the same potential for sanctification as marriage.

Over the years of being single, this unstated message wore down on me. It was demoralizing to hear a statement on repeat which had as it’s logical underpinning that I simply didn’t have the same potential in my walk with the Lord as my married friends. Especially, as I got older and more people I knew – many of whom were selfish and immature – were pairing up and getting married. If it was true that there was nothing quite like marriage for sanctification, then I wasn’t just lonely and bored, I was lonely, bored, and unholy.

I didn’t speak up on this when I was single because there was always a small voice in my head that said, “But you don’t really know that. You’ve never been married.” I see now that I should have combated that voice with the simple truth that God will provide everything I need for life and godliness. My sanctification does not depend on my life circumstance, but on God. My husband and I are only a few years into marriage, so I know there will be people who will read this and think “Just wait till you’re five years in. Wait till you retire, and he’s home all day.” To that I say, “No”.

No, I will not wait to find out what the ideal situation for growing in holiness is. No I will not wait for my real growth in the Lord to start just because someone tells me that their real growth in the Lord started at such and such point in their life. I will pursue growth now. Where I’m currently at: as a “young married” who thinks this marriage thing is pretty fun and easy.

You see, if difficult things are sanctifying things, than for me, singleness was far more sanctifying than marriage. Over the last few years, there have been moments that were challenging, when I had to consciously choose to be selfless, or remember that I have a share in conflict, and it’s not my part to blame my husband when something doesn’t go right. I have had moments like that. But those are the exceptions. For the most part, it’s been just like normal life, but with less stress and more fun.

When I was single, especially before I met my husband, I was faced every day with a situations that demanded that I live selflessly. When I walked in my door in the evening and there was no husband, no partner in life, to enjoy the evening with, I had to choose not to wallow in loneliness, though it was deeply felt. I had to choose to use my time instead to serve, or to rest well, or pray. I couldn’t succumb to the pull of Netflix or the internet just because I was in my house by myself, though those things would numb the ache I felt.

Every time I spent time with friends and was the third, fifth, or seventh wheel at the table, I had to choose to enjoy the time and not focus on how everyone was paired up and I was not. I had to choose thankfulness over focusing on what I didn’t have. Each of those daily, moment by moment choices, drove me to the throne of God. To live life genuinely celebrating with others while walking in deep loneliness requires a profound dependence on the Lord. That is sanctifying.

You see I was single, not because I really wanted to be, but because there were a plethora of amazing Godly women around me, and very few men stepping up to the plate. The numbers just didn’t work in my favor. I’m a fairly logical person, so I couldn’t delude myself into thinking that marriage was a guarantee for me, though my happily (or sometimes not-so-happily) married friends liked to insist that it was.

In the middle of that day-by-day loneliness, I also had to wrestle with the fact that I was watching the majority of the people around me get their turn at this marriage thing, and my part was to celebrate with them, all the while knowing that I may never get my turn. If I wanted to be genuine in my friendships, then selfishness could have no role.

No matter your circumstance in life, hard things will happen, challenges will come up. There will be relationships or situations that demand more love and selflessness of you than you care to give. God uses those moments, even those years, to sanctify us and draw us to Himself. Marriage will bring up those opportunities for growth. But so will singleness.

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I Wrote a Lesson for Myself

Most of the time what we teach others is actually what we need to learn ourselves. I wrote a post right before Thanksgiving about slowing down and finding silence in order to focus on God’s word. I was feeling the rush of travel preparations and wrote a post as a meditation on finding God in the silence in the midst of our noisy world. I thought it was a good thought, but not ready to publish, so I published something else that week. I never could have guessed how much I would need to read it just a few weeks later.

From four weeks ago:

For an introvert, I don’t handle quiet well. When the podcasts turn off and my newsfeed darkens, the quiet inside my head grows deafening. As a stay at home mom lacking adult conversation for 40 hours a week, it can be tempting to use the crutch of a good podcast, or social media to feel connected to something outside of myself. But these paper thin props only gloss over the deep-seated need for connection.

I can only hear the need in the deafening silence.

But in the same silence, I can also hear my own anxiety. I still feel the anxiety in the middle of the noise, but it chokes me. In the quiet, I can offer it up to God as too big for me to hold. Then I can breath in the air of trust, knowing God is good and he is for me. I have trouble knowing this truth in the middle of the noise.

In the silence, I can focus. I can follow a train of thought and see where it goes. These rambling thoughts frequently lead to prayers I didn’t know needed to be prayed, or ideas better than anything on my to-do list.

In the quiet, when my thoughts aren’t bombarded with information, I am more myself and more in conversation with God.

This morning while my son napped, instead of hunting down a distraction, which is always tempting, I sat with a few pages of scripture, double spaced, 12 point font, lots of white space on the page for marking and arrow drawing. Armed with colored pens and coffee, I read and re-read. Then I re-read some more. I familiarized myself with the warp and weft of the chapter, its rhythms and patterns.

Peace settled into my soul along with the words on the page. The goodness of God was found in the stillness, in the focused train of thought dwelling on his Word. With the laptop in another room and the cellphone who knows where, I was able to train my mind on the the word of God. In that, I saw the goodness of God for this moment and this day, which would surge at me in the form of a toddler waking ravenous.

We’ll walk to the grocery store. He’ll eat from his stroller tray, drawing adoring looks from passersby. Then we’ll check items off a list and rush home for his afternoon nap. The next ten days will be a whirlwind of travel and friends and family. Silence will be taken over by plane engines and airport announcements and the greeting of old friends, long unseen. Squeals over little blue eyes and walking feet. GPS directions and car horns. Meals cooking, dominoes clinking and cousins playing.

Quietness of soul can be found again even in the midst of a happy holiday by resting in the God’s word. It’s warp and weft, it’s depths to plumb. The felt goodness of God in greetings and meals is anchored in his communicated goodness in Scripture. If only we can quiet our souls to hear.

Now after Thanksgiving, I need to pursue silence even more. But the pull toward noise to deafen my thoughts is even stronger.

The plan was to travel to see friends and family. We did, but the visit was not what we had hoped. Instead, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My spry, healthy, active Granny.

She died two weeks later.

I never knew cancer could be so sudden. This was not a slow fade to death. She was healthy with some unexplained itching. Then suddenly, she was gone.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t post last week, now you know. Words were hard.

Pursuing silence is harder now. Not the least because our household is sick with a seasonal yuckiness that makes toddlers miserable and toddler’s parents exhausted. And of course, clogged drains needs clearing, and another holiday needs preparing for. Life keeps going in the midst of grief.

Grief makes me want to run from stillness.

In the quiet, I cry for a grief too big for me to hold.

Yet in the same silence, I behold God big enough to hold my grief.

More than at most times, I need to make space to see that God is good, and he is for me. It is where I can know he holds grief. He holds anger at cancer. He holds a whole family under the weather in a week of grief.

He holds the gentle memory of my son playing peekaboo with his great-grandmother and the grief which now colors it. He holds the knowledge that my little boy won’t remember his great-grandmother delighting in him through the pain of her fatal diagnosis.

In meditating on God through his word, I get to know his peace even in the silence.

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Why Every Christian Should Clearly Understand Sola Scriptura

It’s easy to think theology is dry and boring, useless to the life of the average believer. But theology is the most practical thing that we can do because what we think about God shapes the whole of who we are. It carries us through every season of life, and shapes every interaction we have. If we think wrongly about God, then we’re not equipped to follow him well nor to enter into the fullness of joy he offers us. The invitation to know God through the Bible is an invitation into joy.

God sent his word to us so that we can know him. He cares about how we approach it. His word is his mediated presence in our lives, so how we read and understand it is vital. So let’s do a little theology.

During the Reformation the reformers codified their beliefs into five statements that are still useful for us today. These statements are not infallible; they are not scripture. But they are useful for talking about what the scriptures teach us. For now I’ll focus on Sola Scripture, or translated, Scripture Alone.

What is Sola Scriptura?

Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.” (Ligonier Ministries) In other words, Scripture teaches us everything we need to know to follow Jesus. We don’t have to go to teachers, books, sermons, or even historical doctrinal statements of the church — however excellent they might be — to learn what it is to follow Jesus.

Are these things still useful? Yes. We know this because we see sermons, collections of songs of worship, and teachings within the Scripture. We even see church leaders gathered to discuss important doctrinal decisions. All of these things are a part of the life of the church and useful for the Christian, but they all serve to point the Christian to the scripture.

Prone to False Doctrine

Without a clear understanding of Sola Scriptura, we are apt to succumb to the false doctrines that surround us. We don’t live out our faith in a vacuum, but in a culture which has it’s own doctrines that we are steeped in with or without knowing it. If we don’t understand Scripture as authoritative, then we will be knocked around by every wave of doctrine. In the changing norms of our culture, we must be rooted in the Eternal Truth revealed to us by the Eternal God in his Eternal Word. If we understand that scripture alone has the highest authority on any topic on which it speaks then we will necessarily measure all other teachings against it, even the implicit teachings in the culture around us.

In the same way we test the teachings of our culture we should test the teaching of a Church tradition, a favorite pastor or blogger, or our own underlying assumptions. During the Reformation, the reformers made the radical statement that Scripture had a greater authority than the traditions of the Catholic Church (referred to as the magistirum). Luther and his counterparts wanted the Church to submit itself wholly and fully to the word of God. The traditions, while valuable, were not on the same level of scripture.

To the modern day evangelical, this seems obvious. However, if we outsource our theological thinking to the catechism and doctrines of our protestant churches, or to our favorite popular pastors, then we follow the same pattern of the Catholic church in trusting a magisterium over and above Scripture. We must faithfully measure all we are taught according to the standard of Scripture. This requires close study, a skill we must learn to cultivate.

Limits of Sola Scriptura

However, if we don’t understand the limits of the doctrine – that scripture contains everything we need, not everything that is useful — then we can be tempted to discount the value of Scripture when we encounter a question that Scripture does not address. For instance, the Bible does not address voting because democracy was not a form of government in the times and places the Bible was being written. So we can’t go to the Bible for simple answers on how or if to vote.

But we can learn from the scriptures about justice, power, peacemaking, how to treat foreigners, how to treat the poor, what God has to say about racism, wealth accumulation, and war. That insight should shape our voting. But there are other useful things that could shape our voting: an understanding of how our government works, if similar platforms have historically done what the candidates claim they will, a wise counselor’s interpretation of the Scripture and the political season. These things are extra-biblical, and useful, but they are not authoritative and are not to be trusted as being on par with Scripture.

Pursue Consistent Application

A clear understanding calls us to try to have a consistent application of the doctrine. It has been inconsistently applied since the early church fathers, by Luther and throughout the history of the Protestant church. Luther himself appealed to previous theological interpretations when challenged on the way in which the Lord’s Supper was taken. Even denominations like Baptists who say they follow the Bible alone, have strong traditions of interpretation through which the church members tend to view scripture.

We are far from perfect. Each Christian and church will have blind spots in our submission to Scripture’s authority. We will assume it says things it is not saying, and we will miss it’s clear teachings. However, we must pursue excellence in submitting our lives to scripture because through the Bible we get to know and experience God who is our Great Joy.

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What I Learned about Being a Proverbs 31 Woman

I went to a small, private Christian college for a year and lived in the dorm because they made me, so I heard one phrase like a broken record: “I want to be a Proverbs 31 wife”. Usually this statement was followed with some details about staying home and raising a bunch of kids and not working because it’s better for the family, and how could any mom who loves her children send them to the hell-hole that is daycare!

The young woman sharing these thoughts with me didn’t always (usually) have a boyfriend. I thought, “That seems cool, but my mom’s a programmer and as far as I know, my brother and I aren’t ax murderers.”

Being 19 and unable to handle conflict, I wouldn’t say anything. Also the fact that I never really read Proverbs 31 didn’t help in the stating an alternate opinion department. I knew I couldn’t live up to it, so it was too much of a guilt trip to read, so I avoided it. Again with not being able to handle conflict.

New Clarity

It wasn’t until I learned in a literature class (at one of those godless state universities) about the idea of a type character that I was able to read Proverbs 31, or anything else in Proverbs, without the crushing weight of guilt.

Once I had the idea of a literary type in my head, it was so obvious that Proverbs 31 is not describing any single woman, or what any single woman should be, but a type of woman: hardworking, kind, capable, honorable, loving, peaceful. No woman will ever live up to the full description. And we don’t have to. She’s an idealized example.

If I don’t “let my lamp go out at night”, i.e. stay up late working, and also “wake up while it is yet night”, I will not “have the teaching of kindness on my lips”. No amount of coffee could fix the crankiness that would emanate from me.

So with that freedom in mind, let’s take a look at a few verses in Proverbs 31.

“She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” (v 13)

“She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.” (v 14)

“She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” (v 16)

“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable” (v 18)

“She puts her hands to the distaff and her hands hold the spindle” (v 19)

“She makes linen garments and sell them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” (v 24)

Work to do

This woman works, y’all. She’s making stuff and selling it. She’s buying real estate and using it to produce for her family. She knows that her merchandise is worth money. She’s got a diversified portfolio. And she’s not discounting the value of her work. Instead she’s selling it for a profit.

Now some of these verses are arguably about the work she does directly for the household, but she’s clearly making things for sale as well.

“Yes but all of these things can be done at home. She’s not going to an office for 8 or 9 hours a day.”

Let’s have a little history lesson.

A Unfamiliar Pattern of Work

The economy of the Ancient Near East (or Western Asia, if we’re not being Eurocentric) was different than today’s. People didn’t clock in at jobs and receive a salary for being a warm body that looked busy. That particular annoyance came with the Industrial Revolution.

Instead, people produced something of worth, then sold it. Or they transported things for someone who made something. Or produced food for their own family from the land. There were other types of work, but that was the bulk.

The woman described in Proverbs 31 was engaged in the economy of the time. She was earning by producing goods and managing her assets well.

Was she still the primary caregiver for her children? Maybe. We can’t tell from the passage. But we do know she was fully engaged in the economy.

Principles to Apply

By understanding the idea of a type character, and by thinking about the verses in the context in which they were written, we can understand the principles Proverbs is getting at and apply them to our lives and our context.

A Proverbs 31 woman works hard, manages large and small assets for the benefit of her family, engages in the economy, and knows that the work she does has value.

You can live out these principles whether you are a stay at home mom, a CEO, or a teacher. Whatever your day in and day out employment, you can do work that economically benefits your family.

In our context, this may mean a 9-5 job, which brings it own challenges when raising a family. But Proverbs 31 — far from restricting women in employment choices — gives you some of the guiding principles you need to make a decision regarding the work you do.

Why Leper Laws Matter to You

I’ve been reading Leviticus lately, which is not the most thrilling book of scripture. However, each time I read it, I’m struck by how much beauty and foreshadowing of Christ it contains. The laws concerning lepers take more space than one would consider quite necessary until you realize this probably comprises the extent of their medical textbook. In the description of these public health practices, we get a foretaste of Christ’s sacrifice. Continue reading Why Leper Laws Matter to You

Applying Scripture Leads to Spiritual Maturity

It is easy to approach Scripture only looking for knowledge. After all, we spend years in school reading in order to learn, for the primary purpose of passing a test. However, the Bible is not only a way to learn more about God; it is primarily a way to experience God.

We experience God through learning from and obeying His word. In Psalm 119 — a staggeringly long poem about the beauty and value of God’s word — the Psalmist claims more maturity than his elders and teachers because he meditates on and obeys the Lord:

I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
– Ps 119:99-100 (NIV)

If we read the Bible only for knowledge, encouragement, or out of obligation or habit, then we miss the depths of what the Lord has intended for us. We must apply what we see in Scripture.

For years I read the Bible, wanting to grow in maturity. It wasn’t until I learned to find something specific to apply that I began to see my life transformed. While reading scripture, I began to ask myself the question “What specifically can I apply from this passage within 48 hours?” Most of the time, it’s not an earth-shattering act of obedience. One time – I can’t remember the passage – I began to feel convicted that I had neglected important relationships because I prioritized tasks over people, a frequent pitfall of mine. So for my application that day I delayed a few truly unimportant tasks and called my mom. Not earth shattering, but I’m pretty sure my mom’s love language is out-of-the-blue phone calls from her kids. I would not have called her that particular time if I had not read scripture and applied it.

I’ve asked this question while leading Bible studies with Christians and 90% of the time, people answer “read the Bible more”. Let me make it clear to you. If “read the Bible more” is your application most of the time, you’re missing the point. Should you read the Bible more? For most of us, yes. In addition to actually reading it, we must learn to apply it.

Once you get a little practice finding an application, it is not hard. Someone gave me a useful framework for thinking of an application: S.P.E.C.K

  • Sin to confess or avoid
  • Prayer, Praise, Promise
  • Example to follow
  • Command to Obey
  • Knowledge to pursue

I did not come up with this acronym. If anyone knows who came up with it, comment and I’ll gladly give credit.

Let’s do an example. What does this look like while reading the 23rd Psalm?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Some possible applications from the passage could be:

  • Sin to avoid: “I struggle with anxiety and fear. Whenever I find myself feeling anxious in the next few days, I’m going to repent and ask God to help me trust him.”
  • Prayer: “I don’t always feel like the Lord is active or interested in my daily life. For the next few days, I am going to ask him to show me how he’s working.”
  • Praise: “I’m reminded of the Lord’s goodness from this Psalm. In the next two days, I am going to write down as many ways as I can think of that he has been good to me as a way to praise him.”
  • Promise: “I’m in a scary/difficult situation right now. Over the next few days, I’m going to remind myself of the promise that the Lord is with me.”
  • Example to follow: “It seems like the Psalmist takes time to contemplate the goodness of God and responds to that goodness through creativity which is then shared with a community. In the next few days, I’m going to find a creative way to express the ways the Lord has been good to me and share it with someone who might be blessed by it.”
  • Command to obey: “It seems like the Lord commands rest at the beginning of this Psalm. I’m not very good at actually resting on the Sabbath. This week on the Sabbath, I’m going to spend some extra time reading the Bible and go on a walk without my cell phone. I’ll stay away from TV and social media for the day too.”
  • Knowledge to Pursue: “I’m not sure what ‘Your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ mean. I’m going to look into that in the next two days and try to apply whatever I learn.

Each of these are 1) specific, 2) have a time attached to them 3) actionable 4) and most importantly are derived from the passage. There’s even one in there about reading the Bible more.

What about you? What is one way you could apply what you’ve learned in Scripture this week?