Week 18 – Be Transformed

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Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2

These are my FAVORITE verses. I read them regularly when I’m speaking to women (just not this translation). Although I’ve heard these two verses most of my life, and feel as if I already have a great understanding of them, God always has something more. A deeper place of discovery for us, when it comes to His word. There are several phrases that seemed to be bolded in my mind as I read. This week, I want to tackle those with the hopes of gleaning some new treasures and truths from these familiar verses.

Mercies of God” Would you agree that it is easier to consider and appreciate the endless mercies of God after we have done something wrong and need it? Something struck me this week as I reflected on these verses from Roman. Those mercies we only consider after the BIG sins are the same mercies God extends to us every single minute of every single day. Even when our hands aren’t doing something sinful, our minds are working or our mouths are moving. There is no doubt in my mind that God should have run out of “mercies” just on me, but God’s mercies are endless. Notice it doesn’t say His mercy, but by “His mercies”. Please know and trust that no matter what, He doesn’t ever run out of mercy to extend to each of us. This is a beautiful reminder for me this week of our loving Father and because He loves me and I love Him, Paul continues and tells us to

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. Thankfully, Jesus has done the hardest part for us. He died a criminal’s death on the cross with nails through His hands and feet. God only desires for us to use our personalities, gifts, talents, time, and love to share His great love with His other children (our family members in Christ). Your eyes to see someone in need and give, your mouth to share a conversation over lunch with a friend (or stranger), your smile to encourage someone who is broken with sadness, your intellect to reach the minds of those who surround you at work, your introverted or extroverted personality to shine His light. . . He has blessed us with the bodies (no matter how broken, saggy, dysfunctional, young or old) He will use them if we offer them up to Him.

Don’t conform to this age” Wow! What a concept, right?! These five words haven’t lost any relevance since they were first scribed thousands of years ago. Now that my children are approaching middle and high school, I feel as if I am always reminding them of this. How do we teach ourselves and our children to savor and expect the uncomfortable? How do we instill in them the fact that, as Christians, we will never fit into this world? This isn’t our home, heaven is! Instead of changing how we look, act, feel, think and believe, to look like what is going on around us, Paul implores us “do not conform.” If we are fitting in with our culture then we are doing something seriously wrong in our walk with the Lord. Embracing the uncomfortable and ordinary will bring us to a point where we can “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Transformed into what? Well, not an actual Transformer©, but similar. When we allow God’s mercies to save us, present ourselves to Him with open arms to serve and love, and look to Him for our direction, God will transform into something new.  Our old heart, life, and mind will be transformed into new and beautiful offerings that will become eternal treasures that will never fade, rust or be lost.

It all sounds a little complicated, a bit difficult and even more challenging. However, it’s all about perspective. Now, I’ll let you in on my favorite translation of Romans 12:1-2. If you have followed me for a while or read any of my books, you will understand why these verses strike a fire in my heart. After all, aren’t we all just ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God? He is the one who turns my ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s never by any of my own doing. Just follow with an obedient and willing heart. Place your life before God and He will take care of everything else.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

 

 

 

Week 17 – Brotherly Love

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Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2

This year’s scripture study is proving fun, interesting and eye-opening for me. Even though I’m picking each scripture out randomly each week, I’m certainly noticing a theme God is weaving together. If you look back over the past several weeks of this scripture study, they have all been focused on love (brotherly love). I adore how God works in the details to teach, love and open our eyes to new things when we are seeking Him. He will always honor hearts that seek Him and “tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

So, let’s dig into these verses from Hebrews and see what He has in store for us today. Although the author of this book was writing to the Hebrew people, as usual, we can glean a lot for ourselves. Just like in these verses from Hebrews, we see the term “brotherly love” throughout the Bible. What exactly is it? What does it really mean? Should we love each other like brothers do? Some brothers don’t even like one another.  This phrase “brotherly love” is explaining that we should love one another because we ARE brothers (and sisters). You know that saying “you get to pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family”?  Sometimes, it’s only because we are a family that we can find the reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and love to offer those who hurt us, take a wayward path or cause destruction in our hearts. Brotherly love means we should look at everyone who is a believer as a family member and love them in such a way. Learning to extend our idea of family offers us the opportunity to love the body of Christ the way He desires for us to love one another. Think about it. I know it’s easier for me to give my close family the benefit of the doubt, another chance to do the right thing and to extend forgiveness when they have done something hurtful. The grace and love we offer our immediate family is the same grace and love we are called to give those in the body of Christ, no matter how different we look. Consider an adopted family. They don’t all look the same, but the amazing love of a family is there and holds them together. As it should be with all of us who have been adopted into a family of believers under Christ Jesus.

Hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts. There is nothing more fun than filling up my house with friends and feeding them. It feeds my soul. Many of us are like that, but hospitality to strangers can be a different thing. Extending love or a helping hand to someone we have never met and may never cross paths with again may seem strange or make us uncomfortable. Years ago, I also struggled with this and didn’t make the time to reach out when given an opportunity. However, as I’ve grown in my faith, I now see these opportunities to be an answer to prayer for one of God’s children. Looking at it through His eyes changes my perspective and my desire to be a part of His great plan grows deeper and deeper.

These angels that are mentioned in Hebrews could be referring to human messengers from God or Godly beings sent from Heaven, either way, it’s amazing to consider. In the Old Testament Abraham, Joshua and Jacob all encountered “ angels as guests without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) I urge you to take some time and look back on some of those stories this week. 

When we begin to practice brotherly love and show hospitality to everyone we meet, God will show up and show off in incredibly amazing ways. After experiencing the amazing responses of so many over the years, my eyes and heart are always looking for another opportunity. Most of the time, kindness is received with such surprise and gratitude it’s overwhelming, but other times, it’s met with resistance and anger. That’s ok too. Don’t give up if you don’t get the response you were expecting. It’s not about that. It’s about obedience in showing love. You never know what a bit of kindness will do to a broken and weary heart over time. Our love and kindness is always planting, nourishing or growing a seed planted in the heart of God’s children.

 

 

Week 16 – Every Good Thing

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I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ. For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. Philemon 1:6-7

I recently sat down with a new friend for lunch. She is a successful business woman. In the midst of our conversation, she expressed how nice it was to sit and talk with another Christian woman. We shared stories of how God has worked in our lives and how He is continuing to guide and direct our paths, not only professionally, but personally. It was nourishment for my soul. As a Christian, it can be lonely out there. So often, in the office, neighborhood or school, it can feel as if we are the only Christian around. Sometimes it can feel like our faith, love and joy are being questioned and scrutinized from every angle. Have you ever felt like your prayers for others are seen as condescending, your joy as suspicious, your peace as naive and your generosity as frivolous?

Paul didn’t have the luxury of sitting down with Philemon to have lunch, so he sent a letter. The book of Philemon is the personal letter that Paul sent to Philemon expressing his love, faith experiences, and appreciation. Verses 6 and 7 from Philemon show how grateful Paul was for the great love and faithfulness Philemon and other believers shared with him in Christ Jesus. It brought him comfort and joy to consider all of the good things they were doing through their faith and love of Jesus.

Read the verses again in The Message translation.

Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers. Philemon 1:6-7 (MSG)

As believers, we need to lift each other up, share our stories, pray for one another and continue to encourage one another in the faith. If we can’t sit down over lunch and share with one another, sit down and go old school with pen and paper. Write a letter to someone you know and tell them how much their prayers mean to you, how thinking of them encourages you and pray for them.

Your love, actions, faith, prayers and life can be a great encouragement to other believers. When we join together and share how Christ is working in our lives, it makes our faith, joy, and love shine so brightly it can lift the hearts of other believers. Believers who feel as if they are all alone in a world that conspires to hinder the light of God in every way. In fact, it reminds me of another wonderful verse from Matthew that describes the light within us as Christ followers. 

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14

Don’t hide your light. Share it, but share it with as many believers as you do non-believers.

 

 

Week 15 – A Chosen Race

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But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

 

Race. Race can be a tricky topic and word these days. Simply put, a “race” is a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc., a population within a species that is distinct in some way, and a group of people descended from a common ancestor.

So, no matter what your skin color, no matter what the state of your heart, the stack of sins you have committed or the internal demons you fight. If you are a Christ follower, we are from the same race. That’s right! You. You and me. Even if I have a head of blond curly hair and you have dark straight hair. Even if I’m pasty white and you are beautifully tan. We are one race. When we decide to follow Christ Jesus, He is there waiting to open the door and give us access to all His love, blessings and forgiveness. He desires to make us part of His holy and royal family. No questions asked. We are daughters and sons of a King. We are family. Family with the greatest King who has ever been and will be.

It’s only in Christ we can stand in this holy, chosen and royal position. He is calling us out of the darkness that roams in this world so that we may bask in His glorious light. His loving, healing, eternal light. He will never force you to choose His way, His path or His light, but He will always be there waiting if you decide to become a part of His royal family.

So today, put on your crown and wear it with honor and love – not pride and condemnation. Live your life through Christ’s ways so that His light shines so brightly in you that you become one of His many faces in this dark place until we are all called home to be together as one. Embrace the

Embrace the sacrifice He made for you on the cross as we look forward to celebrating Easter this weekend.

Many hugs, Allison

 

 

 

Week 14 – Deep Roots

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“For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:36-38

Yikes! What a statement from Jesus. The Message Translation puts it this way.

“If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.” Mark 8:36-38

Do you have any of those “fickle and unfocused” friends? Do you feel like you might fall into this category sometimes? This makes me ask myself a few tough questions. First, what kind of Christian example am I setting for my family and those around me? Is it a life of trying to fit in with the world and follow its lead or I am taking the narrow road that few take? Am I keeping my eyes on the latest cultural fads or the cross? Am I surrounding myself with enough deeply committed Christians to hold me accountable and build me up? Finally, am I living a life that glorifies God or myself?

I know that following Christ with wild abandon can come with persecution, judgment, and loneliness. And let’s be honest! It can be difficult to stick with Jesus when everyone and everything around us is moving in the opposite direction. So how do we ensure we stand firm and not falter? As Jesus explains in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4), it is those who hear the word of God, but don’t nurture it in their hearts and continue to grow their relationship with God that will stumble “when pressure or persecution comes because of the word.” We need deep roots!

Just like plants with deep, healthy roots are more likely to survive severe heat, frost, and drought – as Christians, the deeper we are rooted in Christ and His Word the stronger and more prepared we will be to face challenges, disappointments, desert times, persecution and trials.

Another important point to consider is that what you see above ground (in your actions) is really determined by what’s hidden underground (in your heart)?  The fruit we produce is much more desirable to God and others when our hearts are firmly rooted in Christ.

Through prayer and studying scripture, our roots grow deep and strong. Those deep roots provide the anchor needed to keep us firmly grounded.

We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:19

They provide us with a lifeline to God and give us wisdom and strength beyond our comprehension.

Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

They also give us a deep faith and understanding of God’s truth and great love for us.

 Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. 1 John 3:1

May we all cultivate, nurture, fertilize and tend our hearts with the truth of God’s glorious Word. May we strive to grow deep roots of faith, hope, trust, and love so we never become fickle or unfocused in our walk with God. Amen

 

 

Week 13 – One Plus One

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Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

You just never know where a verse will lead you. Whoever says the Bible isn’t the living word of God has never read it! Most will agree that having a companion to do things with makes it a bit more fun or less scary. Goodness, as women, it’s even better when we have a friend to go to the restroom with. Everything from travel to getting bad news from the doctor is better when we aren’t alone. These verses from Ecclesiastes remind us of that, but we are going to dig a little deeper than just these two verses today.

Ecclesiastes is a very interesting book in the Bible. Solomon, known as one of the wisest men to ever live, wrote this book along with the Song of Solomon and the Book of Proverbs. Unlike Proverbs, where Solomon shares all of his wisdom for living, the book of Ecclesiastes shares his “foolishness” while living apart from God. If we look closely, I’m sure we can all relate to Solomon in many ways.

Like any book of the Bible, it’s important to understand the background and reason it was written. Although we are just looking at two verses in Ecclesiastes today, it’s important to know that when you read this book of the Bible, there are many things Solomon says that go against other scripture because it was written about the time in his life he stepped away from God. Think about a time in your life that you stepped away from God and imagine you had kept a journal of all that was going on in your heart at that time. What would it say? I shudder to think of my own. The unfortunate part of this is that many non-believers misuse scripture from this book of the Bible by taking it out of context and using it to support their own selfish and Godless lives. Thus, proving the importance of understanding context and background when reading scripture.

If atheists understood this book, they would see that Ecclesiastes is the story of a man (Solomon), who decided he was smarter than God and could figure everything out on his own. Solomon decided to try and live apart from God and see if that would be enough. He lived as if he had the right to enjoy every pleasure of the flesh regardless of the consequences and did whatever pleased him. However, after his journey of selfish and self-righteous living, Solomon discovers quite the opposite. After trying it all, having it all and living it up, Solomon concludes that true satisfaction and joy can only come from the gracious love of God and by living in His ways.

Solomon learned the hard way that it much easier to live life with God as a companion than without Him. Two really are better than one. And even when we feel alone, we can trust God is always with us. He will love, lead, guide, conquer and bless us if we allow Him to.

Companion: a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels. “his traveling companion”, one of a pair of things intended to complement or match each other.

 

Week 12 – The Only Way

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Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6

Truth be told, I struggled with this verse for much of my Christian life. Until I actually opened up the Bible and began to read and study it for myself. It was then that the truths and concepts I had always heard about in church came into focus and the lines no longer blurred together. With knowledge of God’s word comes clarity, strength, and courage about His ways.  I was no longer willing and vulnerable to the watered down version of living that the world was trying to pour into me.

I know this verse can be controversial, even among Christians, and can seem exclusive, but I think these eighteen words Jesus spoke so long ago are the axis on which everything else spins. In the Greek, the article “the” in “I am the way” is an adjective, showing that Jesus isn’t just the person who shows us to God, but that is He personally is the way to God. So, if we follow this Greek definition we understand that Jesus doesn’t just tell the truth. He is truth. Jesus wasn’t just alive, but He is life.  In John 14:5, when Jesus was with his disciples in the Upper Room,  Thomas said,  Lord, we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?”

John 14:6 is the answer to that question. Thank goodness we have it. If we open our eyes to the love, not the exclusivity, that Jesus is showing in His words, it blows your mind. Unlike other “ism’s” and “spiritual” ideas, with Jesus,  you don’t have to complete a checklist, wonder if you have accomplished enough good deeds, given enough money to charity or reached the highest level of awareness. With Jesus, the only thing you have to do for an eternal life and a relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth is to believe in Him. Believe in God’s son who He sent to die for each of us. I wonder if people reject it more because it seems to good to be true than for any other reason? Or, maybe they just don’t like the idea of following God’s commands and being accountable to someone other than themselves.  I’m not sure, but I do know that when we believe in Jesus, the love He lavishes on us can spread to others as long as we keep our eyes on what the love of Jesus looks like.

One of my biggest frustrations with the world right now is the lie they are spreading about love. The world says, “If you don’t agree with me, then you hate me.” NOTHING could be further from the truth. You can love someone and not agree with them. You can love someone and not follow their destructive ways. You can love someone who has chosen a path you can’t (and may never) understand. You don’t have to agree with someone to love them.

When your child does something wrong and makes a terrible decision that you don’t agree with, do you all of a sudden hate them? I have never met a parent that does that and I hope I never do. Different opinions, cultures, values can reside in love if we have Christ in the center. Jesus said, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Thank goodness Jesus doesn’t choose to love or to hate. He chooses to love even when we fall from His ways and stray from His path. Does your love look more like Jesus or the world? I pray He guides each of us as we tackle the truth of love.