Instant Spirituality

We Americans tend to be a people addicted to instant results. Smartphones with data answer every little question we have in just a few seconds. Restaurants offer ready made dinner to customers. Microwaves heat up food in a fraction of the time an oven would take. Social media provides instant access to contacting a friend or catching up on their life. Yet, some of the most important things in life take more time and patience.

Doing something as quick as possible can drain the fun out of it and often, when I take the fast-track to get a result or answer, it doesn’t mean as much to me. I’m more prone to be dissatisfied with my accomplishment or even forget the question I was seeking an answer to! Quick just does not make as big of an impact.

Maybe that is why Jesus said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6).

Jesus’ disciples were confused by the parable that these verses are a part of, so there is actually an explanation of exactly what it means!

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21).

What strikes me is the word “immediate.” This person’s decisions are made in the moment. They immediately receive the Gospel with joy, which you would think was a good thing. Yet later, he immediately falls away.

Our instant culture has trained us to think immediate results are a good thing. Here we see that they fall short, though. When a habit, skill, or way of thinking is not given a good foundation of understanding and time to grow slowly, it will likely disappear just as quickly as it appeared. Over time we become who we are. Over time faith becomes part of who we are at our core. Nothing can replace the role that God has given time in our sanctification. Consistently saturating our mind with the Word and spending time in community will bring about lasting change.

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Hosea

“For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold– which they prepared for Baal.” (Hosea 2:8)

This portion of Scripture is talking about a harlot, a wife who is unfaithful. It is an analogy that represents God’s people, Israel, though. Even now, Christians are called the Bride of Christ. We belong to Him.

In chapters 2 and 3 of Hosea, the man’s wife only comes back to him when she can’t receive sustanainse from her lovers. It wasn’t clear to her that her husband was providing quite well for her, but rather she thought her lovers were. She used the bountiful gifts given to her by her husband to serve other men, foreign god’s, and her own self.

The analogy is pointing to God’s people serving other gods with what He has given them. Specifically, Baal was named here, but in our American culture, our gods could be success, busyness, or influence.

Because the woman did not recognize the gifts as from her husband and used them to serve the purposes of worshipping false gods, they were taken from her. (Hosea 2:9-11) All that she had received from her gods and her lovers will be taken from her. (Hosea 2:12-13) Then, when she has been brought low, her husband brings her out to the wilderness and comforts her, gives her gifts, and restores the love relationship. (Hosea 2:14-16)

I love this story! As God’s people, how often do we forget that everything we have is from Him and for Him?  Yet, in our forgetfulness and rebellion and focus on other things, God’s goal is to bring us back into a restored relationship with Him. That restoration involves spending time in the wilderness. Who really wants to go to a desolate place? But if it is a place where God comforts us and draws us back to Himself, maybe we shouldn’t be so scared of it.

Peace to You

It’s Christmas time once more! Despite the many almost car accidents that happen this time of year, it still holds a little more joy and peace. Honestly, that’s probably because I haven’t been consistent in preaching the Gospel to myself. This time of year, though, my mind is brought over and over to the wonder of God coming all the way from heaven to walk among us. It’s truly an amazing thing.

Believing in, and contemplating, that action gives me greater confidence that I can trust God. If Jesus went so far to fulfill promises from the Old Testament to restore relationship with us, than I can . Even when circumstances around me would make me question God’s goodness,  I can look at the Gospel feel confident of His love. There’s nothing like the Gospel to give, or restore, faith. And along with this faith comes peace.

Abraham was the man in the Old Testament who is accredited for having great faith.

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised.” – Romans 4:20-21

Faith gives peace because we are sure that God will provide, guide, and protect as we follow Him. The interesting thing is that Paul says that Abraham’s faith grew stronger as he gave glory to God. It makes a lot of sense that when we’re focusing on who God is and what He’s done that we would rest easier in His present and future sustaining grace.

In comparison to Abraham’s faith, I’ve noticed that the people in the Old Testament who did not have faith were afraid and made terrible decisions out of that fear. (1 Chronicles 19-20) So trusting is incredibly important if we want to make wise choices.

The is post has gone a little off the topic of the birth of Jesus… But can we really appreciate Jesus coming without a heart of faith?

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” – 1 John 4:9

63. Love and Power

There are times when we see and feel God’s love clearly. Then those times come when we don’t feel or see anything. I’m beginning to see that this is not always the simple equation:

sin in your life = feeling far from God.

Sometimes God just seems further away, and while it may be disappointing, it’s not fateful. You can spend time in prayer and reading the Bible and not feel like you met with God, but you still spent time with Him. It only seems like we haven’t. And it’s only for a limited time; we will feel the intimacy once more.

Lately this pattern has been on a shorter, day to day basis for me. It’s been a practice in remembering the sweet things He has promised to fulfill in me. Even more specifically, I’m learning to step out into that promise. So often I don’t feel like living the life I’ve been called to. Yet, the Spirit will make it possible to do so if I’m willing.

“I am at work in you, giving you the desire and the power to fulfill My good purpose for you.” Philippians 2:13

I’ve met some amazing people who don’t follow Jesus, but in my experience, without His strength, I’m not going to make any truly lasting growth.

In my life right now, that verse looks like: saying hi to people I don’t know at school, being intentionally caring toward friends, focusing more on God than anxiety, practicing the presence of God…

But it’s also realizing that all this comes from God, who made the first step toward us. It means living in and from the unconditional love that Jesus extended. “My love for you is not based on your love for me.” 1 John 4:10

Once again, I find the Gospel at the center: that good, good story is a recurring theme. I hope I never escape it, either.

What is it that God is giving you the desire and power to do right now?

59. A Righteous Ruler’s Promise

Is it really already Thursday? I feel like that will be my thought most weeks over the next semester… it’s just what college does to you. Time starts to fly, and you’re along for the crazy ride.

My goal is to keep up with this blog, posting every week. But I’m saying sorry in advance, because I’m sure I’ll miss posting at least once.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

When I read this verse at the beginning of the week, it struck me that it’s so hard to remember and believe the promises of God. They are just so crazy good! In real life, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Another verse helped me to take this particular promise to heart as I started school this week.

“But to the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” – Hebrews 1:8

I see this mental image of God giving Jesus a throne, a kingdom, and it’s defining feature is uprightness, righteousness. The one who came, died, and rose again; the perfect one who is now seen by God instead of sinful me. That’s the God I can see keeping the promise to uphold, be with me, and provide strength. That’s the God I can see fulfilling those words.

College has been a source of anxiety and panic in the past, so after a year off, I was nervous about starting this semester. It’s cool to see how God has set up “guardrails” this week to stop me from going too far into that anxiety, though. He was with me every moment and I’m slowly getting used to that idea. God wants to work in our lives/ bring His righteous kingdom: we just have to leave room for Him.

55. Despite Cares of This World

The past couple of weeks I’ve been living in the land of impossible. Thing after thing that usually cause me great anxiety have come my way, much of it healthcare related. It’s a miracle that I haven’t had a full blown panic attack, but anxiety has been building. At times of small, slowly mounting anxiety, verses such as, “Do not be anxious about anything” don’t often help. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what the heart needs, though. I found Jesus’ words on the end times and this warning:

“But take heed to yourselves, least your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36

In their own way, these verses can cause anxiety. Going back a few lines before these, you find Jesus describing all the things which will transpire leading up to His second coming. It scary stuff! Then He concluded the list with, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because you’re redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

When our focus is on Jesus coming back, it’s easier to not be dragged down by the cares life. Looking back, will the fact that I got stuck with a needle to have blood drawn matter? Will the time I eat dinner matter? I doubt it. Having a consistent conversation going with God helps us to focus on Jesus instead of _______.

53. Dinner Out, Turned Gospel Lesson

We were sitting at the table looking at the bill. “Let’s leave ten dollars as tip,” my brother says. That’s multiple dollars more than 20% goes through my head as I give him a confused/ disapproving look. Wheels spin in my head and more reasons why it wouldn’t be “fair” to give that much. It took a little while for the food to come, our order was mixed up the first time around, the power went out, we even waited a while for the bill. I forced myself to step back. Why is it such a problem? I used to love being generous. So I say, “Okay” and throw down the ten dollar bill. As we paid our waitress directly because of the power outage, it was obvious that she expected a much smaller tip.

In the car, my brother continued to hash out the math to figure out how much each of us would pay and came to the realization that he had messed up the math on the tip. He obviously felt guilty and covered the difference. I felt guilty because wasn’t it careless to “throw out” money like that? I’m sure my parents would not approve. But it turned into a lesson on grace straight from God.

As human beings, we know what we ought to do but we don’t. My conscience lets me know every day just how often I don’t do what I ought. I am, we are, completely undeserving of even existing (or, to keep with the analogy, receiving a 15% tip as a waitress). But Jesus went to great lengths to extend abundant mercy, grace, and life (above and beyond the 20% mark). He didn’t decide to stay in heaven because we didn’t deserve His gift.

Usually when we say, “life is unfair” we are referring to the negative things that happen, but it applies to positive things as well. Especially growing up as a middle class American, I take for granted to many unfair blessings every minute. Among all the commonplace blessings, is the gospel I’ve heard many times over. But do we really understand the gospel if we mix it in with the commonplace? Do I really comprehend the gospel if I think in terms of fair when I sit in a restaurant contemplating tip (and then feel guilty later about leaving a larger than normal tip)?

When we realize what Jesus accomplished for us, the eternal life we’ve been given, it puts a new perspective on everything. It’s not a guilt perspective; there is so much grace when you are resting in Jesus. Rather, it’s going about life compelled to share with others because of what’s been given to us, because of the rest we have found.

On the subject of spiritual disciplines, JD Greear writes, “Even our failures in these areas remind us that God bases His acceptance of us on Christ’s keeping of the law, not on ours. That realization will drive us to stand even more in awe of the grace of God, which will produce even more spiritual fruit.

It is by grace through faith that we are saved, but that amazing salvation compels a response.

The experience at the restaurant made me think. It may not have been the smooth, relaxed dinner I expected, but the glimpse of the gospel was worth far more than a dinner of ease.