Embrace Holy Interruptions & Be Gracious

This past Sunday, I had been asked to preach at a local Methodist church (due to my Lay Servant School training) while they transition to a new pastor. Fortunately, my own church meets early, and since the churches are in the same small town, I got to attend my church before giving the sermon at the other one.

The lectionary this past week featured Mark 5:21-43, which tells of Jesus’s encounters with Jairus and an unnamed woman as He and the disciples travel through a village. Jairus’s daughter is sick, so beckons Jesus for help. The unnamed woman also seeks healing, but rather than throwing herself at Jesus’s mercy, she simply finds Him in the crowd and touches His garment.

My pastor spoke about “holy interruptions,” which I thought was an intriguing takeaway. These stories are technically interruptions to whatever Jesus and His disciples had been on the way to do. If we look outside of ourselves and take the time to really see people and situations around us, and if we actively try to follow the Spirit, we might find that God constantly throws “holy interruptions” in our path–conversations and actions we didn’t intend/expect to have/take…but they were meant to be. Another word that’s often used for these instances is “divine intervention/interaction.”

I think of the good samaritan story here. The priest and the Levite missed the holy interruption God put before them because they were in a hurry…because they were putting their convenience before others’ suffering…because they were too stringent about the rules/laws.

It’s perfectly possible to justify their actions by pointing to said laws. Yes, it’s true that one would be ceremonially unclean for several days if they touched a dead or dying person, which would be especially inconvenient for a priest or Levite. But there are also laws about caring for your neighbor. God had already modeled unconditional love to them. So, to me, it’s a matter of discretion. They should’ve known helping a neighbor in dire need would be worth not being allowed to enter the place of worship temporarily.

We, too, often lack discretion…mostly out of selfishness or short-sightedness. The combination of those qualities causes us to lack generosity with time, money, grace, love, patience, peacemaking, forgiveness, etc.

I’m not going to call my grandma back because she’ll keep me on the phone an hour (But once she’s gone, will I lament how I clung so hard to my time instead of sharing it with her?) That friend hasn’t apologized, so why should I be the one to initiate reconciliation? (But once they’re gone, will I regret holding that grudge?) My fiance always leaves the coffee table a wreck, and the fact that I have to straighten it up makes me naggy and resentful. (But in the grand scheme of things, is it reallyyy THAT big of a deal? If he got in an accident tomorrow, would that matter to me anymore?)

Remembering that we all die and life is short, fragile, and unpredictable grounds me. Be joyful, be generous, love hard, forgive swiftly, all that jazz. Easier said than done, but yeah, worthy goals.

Anyway, my pastor also talked about peace. When Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, He doesn’t just mean to be well and be blessed. He means, “go in salvation.” Jesus offers peace that passes understanding. In my message, I discussed how Jesus offers HOPE to hopeless and desperate people.

It was an emotional morning. I got teary-eyed several times during my home church service and rode on the verge of choking up through my sermon. To me, this is one of the most stirring stories in the Gospels, period. And it’s ripe with important lessons on peace, hope, faith, mercy, healing, compassion, and more.

I’m thankful for that beautiful story and thankful I can write out my thoughts on it. Writing is a therapeutic exercise in reflection. I needed a little break, to remind myself that this is a hobby instead of a job–I’m not obligated to post week unless I want to–but I’m happy to be back.

In honor of today’s topic, shalom!

P.S. Check out my YT channels! 🙂

I Gave Up Online Shopping for Lent This Year (Sort Of)

With Easter just in the review mirror, I’m admittedly relieved that the season of Lent has passed. This year, I attempted to give up online shopping. I didn’t completely fail, but I didn’t completely succeed, either.

FYI, Lent is the six weeks leading up to Easter that symbolize the forty days Jesus spent in the desert–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually preparing for His ministry while Satan tempted Him. Lent is a season of preparation and reflection–preparing to celebrate Easter and reflecting on what Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection mean for us (salvation, eternal life, a call to follow Jesus and love/help others).

To commemorate Jesus’s temptation in the desert and Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, many Christians give something up for Lent like a certain beloved food or social media–anything that would genuinely be tough for that person to go without for forty days.

My own experience with Lent has varied over the years. When I was younger, I didn’t REALLY understand it. My conception of it was superficial; I knew WHAT but not WHY. For instance, I might decide during Lent NOT to get any of the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies that sat next to the cash register in my high school lunch line. But they were just sooo darn tempting and delicious that I would eventually break…and that was that, experiment=failed. I was metaphorically gritting my teeth to do it, almost arbitrarily, rather than using it as a way to draw closer to God or enrich my spirituality. Once the futility of that–giving something up only for the sake of giving something up–dawned on me, I stopped commemorating Lent for years.

As of this year, I’m making intentional choices for what I’m giving up and why and approaching it differently–which brings us back to my Lent resolution.

During the pandemic, I’ve practically become an online shopping addict–it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s fun, it’s fulfilling–and that last one is so problematic, for reasons I’ll expound on in an upcoming sustainability post. Knowing how this compulsion has gotten out of hand made it a clear choice of something from which I should attempt to abstain for forty days.

I had some urgent purchases, like “need to buy more of this skincare product I’m running out of” and “my laptop might have a virus so need to back everything up to an external hard drive ASAP,” but I resisted many temptations. Admittedly, I went plant shopping in person a couple times, which felt like a loophole. A couple plants I ordered before Lent arrived during it, which also felt like cheating.

As far as using these temptation opportunities to turn to prayer, I didn’t always do that; there was still a lot of good ol’ teeth gritting where I resisted the urge but didn’t use it as a spiritual exercise. It’s hard for us to lean into God’s grace, which goes back to the ever-prevalent “saved by grace vs. saved by works” concept; people have always tried to be righteous on their own instead of asking God for help.

This whole experience has made me reflect on a lot, like how blessed I am to be able to afford fun stuff while many have to penny pinch, how the cycle of consumerism is insatiable (you always want more), how consumerism is inherently self-centered and self-serving while Christians should be serving others as much as possible. While I’m probably not going to stop online shopping, this experience will make me take a little more pause when I want things and be less impulsive.

Though I hope to do better in the future, I did at least learn some things from my Lent resolution this year; it wasn’t just superficial or arbitrary.

What’s your experience with Lent been? How did you commemorate Lent this year? Thanks for reading!

P.S. Here’s my latest vid, a fun break from serious stuff. Check it out and subscribe if you enjoy it. Thank you so much for your support! ♥

The Bible Can Justify Anything, So Weigh Scripture Against Scripture

You read that title right! So, how can we discern the heart and will of God–if His Word can be twisted to fit any narrative? Well, I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers–as if all the answers could be had. But looking at scripture as a whole is a good suggestion.

People have gotten upset in the past when I’ve spoken against fixating on one tree within a whole forest. I think some Christians are so wary of “progressivism” that their blasphemy radar is waaay too sensitive. Viewing scripture holistically is the only sensible way to approach the Bible. The alternative is pulling verses out of context and building a doctrine out of them.

In the book Oliver Twist, the orphanage director, who serves as the parish beadle, is a mean, selfish man. When he meets nine-year-old Oliver, he gives him a cold, stern lecture (because why be kind to a CHILD WHO IS ALONE IN THE WORLD, right?) and quotes 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Hey, man, ever read the one where Jesus says that we should become humble like children? Or the one where Jesus insists His disciples let the children come to Him? Guess not.

This fictional example reflects the contradictons that lie within so many Christians who are condescending, rude, and unempathetic–in the name of Jesus. Pride and righteous indignation reign even more supremely than God in many of our hearts. Have we forgotten that Jesus said the first would be last? Or how Paul wrote that none of us have cause to boast because we are only saved by faith, not our own works? Or, like, the other countless ways we are told in the Bible that arrogance is condemned? I think the man who went out to eat after church that’s screaming at a waitress because the chef messed up his order missed the memo. The town gossip who happens to hold several “power positions” on church committees just doesn’t get it. [SN: I’ve literally heard the term “power positions” used in reference to church committees. Hmm…ever heard of “servant leadership?”]

In a totally different instance, I once wrote a post in which I said that followers of Jesus should be active in helping their neighbors. A reader pointed out the sentence fragment of 1 The 4:11 (and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you) as a way to negate what I’d said. I replied that, perhaps in that particular scenario, the Thesalonnians–Christians in Greece–needed to keep a low profile to avoid persecution (confirmed by a Google search). But it’s clear when one reads the entire New Testament that we are called to really love our neighbors, and biblical love is an action verb. We must take up our crosses and follow Jesus, being His hands, feet, and face in the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

The Bible has been used to justify so many things–slavery, bigotry, political agendas, etc. I don’t want to delve into it all because ain’t nobody got time for that here; countless others have written articles, essays, and even whole books on these subjects. And people disagree.

But here’s the point: weigh scripture against scripture. And always stay humble enough to learn and take direction from the Spirit.

Have you ever seen a Bible verse taken out of context? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Is Christianity Superficial & Arbitrary?

Those who’ve read the Bible and/or had God set their hearts on fire for mission and ministry know the answer to this question. In case it wasn’t obvious…NO! But I have to remember that many people did not grow up in church (or didn’t grow up in a church that was actually passionate about meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs and also exemplified grace within its walls). For so many, ideas of Christianity as a religion, Christians as individuals, the purposes of church, etc. stem from bad experiences, sterotypes, etc. But you know what’s the sad part?

We did that!

Generally, the responsibility for distorted views on these subjects lies with Christians and the church.

The Christian who walks in a grocery store without a mask and harrasses the cashier about going to hell may be the only “Jesus” that person ever meets.

When sects of the church turned sexual purity into an idolatrous obsession or fixated on the blasphemous horror of R-rated films and secular pop songs, they sent out the message that Christianity’s main purpose was to dictate people’s lives.

When certain mega churches opened their doors to preach a prosperity gospel yet closed them to the hungry, freezing homeless people outside, they demonstrated that religion is only needed when it can be manipulated to support capitalism and the status quo.

Maybe that ruffled your feathers if you believe R-rated movies and secular pop songs are sinful. Self-control, wisdom, discernment, and conviction are integral to the Christian life. And if a song or movie or whatever else makes you feel uncomfortable or promotes wrong choices, don’t partake in it. I know some things convict me waaayyy more as I’ve grown closer to God. For me, it’s more often things like “the harsh words I said to a loved one in a moment of impatience” or “an instance when I could’ve witnessed but was afraid.”

But, I digress…

Here’s the point: Christianity is about being reconciled to the God of the universe, who created all things and loves us dearly, through Jesus, who died and was resurrected to defeat sin and death. The Holy Spirit guides us through life in pursing God and following Jesus, and this relationship with the three-in-one God gives us a life abundant in love, joy, hope, peace, and strength; we’re driven to share these things with others.

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS. It’s sooo much more than the “rules to follow for a ticket to heaven” box in which we want to confine faith.

This week’s video briefly delves into this topic. Amazingly, what I wrote here isn’t even part of it; I just said a prayer before opening this blank post and word-vomited everything above as fast as I could type it. Divine guidance or the heretical musings of a misguided woman? You can decide. 😉

If you have five and a half minutes, I’d so appreciate a watch. Also, hit the like button and subscribe if you enjoy it. Thanks so much for watching and/or reading!

We Need to Stop Apologizing

We often feel guilty for things we shouldn’t.

The desire to please people feels almost instinctive for me, probably due to both nature and nurture. People like myself are hyperaware of the shifting moods around us; we sense tension in the air. We can tell from the subtlest change in vocal tone or body position that someone is defensive or relieved, irritated or intrigued.

And many women (+ some men) apologize far too often. We endlessly criticize ourselves. No matter how hard we try, we’re never polished enough, prepared enough, impressive enough. We are all too aware of our inadequacies. These issues are worsened by the social-media-comparison-game; our cluttered houses or loud kids or hastily-thrown-in-a-bun hair seems pitiful when we behold stylish women with picture-perfect homes and mild-mannered children.

Below is a list of things we need to stop apologizing for:

  • Not wearing makeup and/or fixing up our hair
  • Not having an immaculate home
  • Being tired
  • Not being able to take on another volunteer role
  • Needing time to ourselves and/or to relax
  • Not having the meal prepared just yet when people are ready to eat
  • Speaking up during a group conversation
  • Correcting misinformation
  • Our children misbehaving
  • Not wanting what a telemarketer or real-life salesman is advertising to us

Can’t you picture these so easily?

I’m sorry; I look like a train wreck today.

I’m sorry; I’ll have dinner ready in just a few minutes.

I’m sorry; I think you meant to say “the Civil War” rather than “the Revolutionary War.”

I’m sorry; I don’t need a new health insurance policy.

I know some men are more sensitive or more geared the way I’m describing. But I’ve only ever been a woman, so that’s my perspective; feel free to share another viewpoint. As a woman, I conciously and subconciously feel that I need to be small. Many women try to take up as little physical and metaphorical space as possible. Since speaking our minds, having needs, and requiring attention does the latter, we often compulsively apologize to minimize ourselves.

Coincidentally (or is it divine fate?), the lectionary this week includes lines of Psalm 139, which tells us we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Remember that you are specially crafted in the image of God and infinitely beloved.

To all those who are empathetic, who are people pleasers, who nitpick themselves, who never seem to be good enough: you are worthy of all the space you take up and more. Stop apologizing for being human.

What else do people need to stop feeling guilty for? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

P.S. In my latest vid, I discuss bitterness, both in the nation (extreme political divides) and my personal life (having a progressive disability, the tension that arises in the caretaker-disabled person relationship). Then, I mention other instances that can cause bitterness and beckon viewers to reflect on who or what causes bitterness in their lives. Then, I end with a devotional.

Please watch, like, and/or share if you are interested. Thanks so much. ♥

“The Perfect Gift” (a Christmas Poem) + a Proclamative Scripture Compilation

A couple weeks ago, I posted about gift giving during the holidays. It’s estimated that Americans waste billions of dollars on unwanted presents every year. I provided some tips for buying special gifts people will appreciate while also supporting local crafters, small businesses, and sustainable companies.

Multiple family members asked me what to get each other this year. Using my own advice, I gave deliberate instructions for each person and even went shopping on one person’s behalf. I can’t wait to see the look of delightful surprise on each face as they unwrap their presents. “It’s the thought that counts,” as they say. When my loved ones receive gifts perfectly tailored to their needs, interests, and style, they’ll hopefully know they are seen and loved.

These family members want so much to please each other that they seek advice, striving to make that just-right choice. We all want to bring joy to our loved ones. As I mulled it over, I decided to write this poem.

Since my next post would fall on Christmas day, I’m going to take a week off to prepare (I’m about halfway done wrapping!) then relax and appreciate my loved ones when the day comes. I wish you all a Merry Christmas–or Happy Holidays if you celebrate Hannukah or a different special time. God bless you all, especially anyone who is grieving loss or loneliness in this season.

The Perfect Gift

It’s the most wonderful time of the year–

Christmas and winter holidays are here

How the beauty of the season touches my soul!

I love to watch the magic unfold

Lights, decorations, stockings, wreaths

A festive mantle dressed in red and green

Tinsel wrapped around the beloved tree

Little figurines forming a nativity scene

These traditions are backed by a special thing–

Out and about, in the air, a certain feeling

When “chestnuts roast on an open fire”

Everyone’s spirits seem to be higher

What is Christmas spirit, and where does it come from?

Being more thoughtful and generous; sharing love

How exactly did this concept come to be?

What causes the boost of joy we see?


My family consults me for gift ideas

“What would mom, dad, brother appreciate?”

We want to see the look of satisfied gratitude

As they unwrap the box on Christmas day

What’s the perfect gift? We ask–

We ponder, bargain hunt, search, strain

But we should realize the very best presents

Don’t require us to wrack our brains

Our presence is the best present!

Money can’t buy time together ♥

Having people who genuinely care for us

is a blessing; there’s nothing better

Except for one other thing–

Ultimately, the reason for the season

God’s love for us, demonstrated through Jesus

The eternal hope of salvation

Thanks for reading! 🙂

P.S. I put this together for my church service Sunday and am sharing here so y’all can be blessed by the wanderous beauty of the good news and God’s word.

Be strong and let your heart take courage–all you who wait for the Lord (Ps 31:24); weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Ps 30:5)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger coming to announce peace and salvation and bring glad tidings! (Isa 52:7)
Arise and shine, for now, the light has come (Isa 60:1); He brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, and proclaims liberty to the captives. (Isa 61:1)
You and all people–the blind, the crippled, and the lame–are invited to God’s heavenly banquet. (Lk 14:21)
The Lord comes to vindicate the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor. (Zech 7:10)
This hope is the sure and steadfast anchor for our souls. (Heb 6:19)
So, ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! And you who have no money–come and eat! (Isa 55:1)
Let the humble hear and be glad; O, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together. (Ps 34:2-3)
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior! (Lk 1:47)
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. (Jn 14:6)
He comes not to be served but to serve–and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)
For those who revere His name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. (Mal 4:2)
Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Matt 21:9)

What Is God Preparing ME For?

On the second Sunday of Advent, most of us heard sermons based off Mark 1:1-8 in which John prepares the way for Jesus. He beckons the Israelites to repent of their sins and receive a baptism by water, symbolically cleansing their spirits. Jesus would follow John and baptize with the Holy Spirit. Just as John prepared the way for Jesus, I’m reflecting on what God has been preparing me for in 2020.

In the last few years, He’s done a lot of work in me. Though I grew up in church, I don’t think I had my own faith, which is normal for a kid. Throughout my early college years–surrounded by different influences from those of my comparatively-sheltered adolescence–I grew lukewarm. That changed when I took an English course in which we studied the Bible. In that time, I read more scripture than I ever had, which sent me on a new trajectory of rejuvenation and rediscovery. Over the following years and up to now, I devoutly read the Word and prayed fervently. For the first time, I actually pursued God. And it changed my heart and life.

The pandemic has transformed the way we conduct our church services. I had taught one Sunday School class beforehand (for approx. 2 years) with 5-10 attendees each week, and we always did book studies. Now, since we meet outside, it’s more practical for everyone to be in one SS class together. Also, so we don’t have to sanitize books and so no one feels behind if they miss a week, I am conducting SS straight from the Bible. Each week, I study the upcoming sermon passage then find another passage (from the Gospels, unless the sermon will be from the Gospels) to compare , contrast, and discuss. Between my college training as an English major (analyzing themes, symbols, etc. is my jam), my God-given spiritual gift of teaching, and His guidance, we’ve had enriching lessons and conversation each week. I love that by connecting and finding the parallels between different parts of the Word, we are deepening our understanding of the ethics, will, and heart of God.

Since corporal singing is risky with regard to spreading germs, my mom and another lady named Cindy at church perform a handful of songs during the worship service. They study the sermon passage together to coordinate music that aligns well and reiterates the scripture’s themes. Like me, their biblical interpretation abilities are being pushed and tested. Since my mom and I play huge roles on Sunday mornings, we now spend time each week discussing the sermon passage, SS passage, and potential song choices. This new habit has been beneficial for my mom and me’s relationship; the times we passionately discuss and dig into scripture are when we synergize best. In the last few months, she’s become a spiritual confidant to me. I’m grateful for this new facet to our friendship.

Other spiritual relationships are strengthening, too. Before my mom and Cindy select and practice their songs, they spend an hour or more grappling with the scripture before deciding on the most fitting ones. I talk with my pastor for about half an hour each week once I solidify my SS lesson; I run the gist of it by her, and she tells me what she plans to focus on in the sermon. She bolsters me with encouragement, and we help each other by sharing ideas and interpretations that hadn’t occured to each other.

2020 has been an extremely difficult year for many people. I found out around Thanksgiving that my sweet Aunt El in Arkansas (my dad’s home state) contracted COVID in a nursing home and passed away. I count my blessings every day that I or a close loved one haven’t contracted it yet, and due to my privileges and blessings, I have not faced the turmoil of financial strain, homeschooling children, relapsed alcoholism, and countless other issues. Let us always be cognizant and compassionate to the suffering of our neighbors!

This year has challenged me to grow in discipleship and leadership. The last few years have all led to this point, today, as I type these words. Here I am now, nursing the strongest spiritual bonds of my life and leading about 20 people each week in the cutting, dissecting, and consuming of the Living Word. The Lord is refining me, and some of those around me, like silver (Zech 13:8-9). What does it all mean? What does the future for me, our church, our community, America, and the world hold?

Who knows. But it will all be used to further the kingdom of God, which brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, and proclaims liberty to the captives (part of Isaiah 61:1).

The OT prophets cried out to the Israelites to turn back to God–“so He could give them mercy” (part of Isaiah 55:7). John does the same, urging them to repent of their sins; he would baptize with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And salvation–the hope, peace, strength, grace, joy, conviction, and sanctification offered by and through Jesus–would be opened not just to the Hebrews but to the whole world. We who lean into our calls to discipleship are preparing the way for His second coming and, in the mean time, doing the work to bring hurting, imperfect people (all people) to the really, really GOOD news of Jesus.

Thanks for reading!

Are We Stepping Stones Or Stumbling Blocks?

I wrote this a few months ago as a “stand by” post, and it seems fitting to share as we await final tallies of American state and federal elections. Many of us feel passionately about who and what we support. Calls for unity sometimes feel tone deaf when they gloss over what’s at stake. So please don’t misunderstand; I am not treating this flippantly. But bear in mind that plenty of societal strife existed in Bible times. In spite of it, our Lord iterates, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We do not always reflect that instruction, gravitating to divise social media posts and harsh words spoken against the neighbors we are supposed to love.

Fear and hostility will increase as results come to light. In such a contentitious historical moment, I urge us to cling to faith and be a calm presence. The days I take time to pray and read scripture are my best ones. When I don’t check the news for an hour and instead concentrate on my spirituality, I’m reminded of beauty, hope, love, and mercy.

Will we condescendingly gloat if we’re happy with the outcomes? Will we bitterly lambast our opponents if we don’t get the results we want? Or could we try, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to show empathy and compassion, whether we’re ecstatic, devastated, or somewhere between? [It will benefit us to remember that God is still working things to the good, regardless of what happens.] We can be a stumbling block who antagonizes and brings the worst out of others…or we can be a stepping stone who eases tensions and puts people above politics.

Some people in the church are stumbling blocks who cause discord and discourage the furtherance of God’s kingdom, while others are stepping stones who build up the body of Christ. Which one are you? Which one am I?

Some people are nosey and gossip to and about others in the church. Others are petty and cling to real or perceived grievances. Still others are too caught up in a few trees to see the whole forest. Many have not actually allowed their hearts to be transformed and renewed; rather, belief in God is an arbitrary, compartmentalized tradition with no effect on their attitudes and actions.

It’s tragic that these people are spread all throughout churches of every denomination, but alas, the church is made up of human beings…broken, sinful human beings. Even those of us who try NOT to be stumbling blocks have our moments of being selfish, irrational, and quick to condemn. Even those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness fall short of the glory of God.

For our churches to flourish–to bear fruit that makes disciples and transforms the world–we as individuals and altogether need to be stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks.

People who serve as stepping stones in the church actually try to follow Jesus and be guided by the Holy Spirit. They are peacemakers, not drama starters. They seek God’s heart and look for ways to minister to the needs in their communities. They strive to create a sense of unity, so the body of Christ can function as a whole. They encourage the gifts and the passions of others, wanting them to fully embrace their call to discipleship. They try to squash the issues that get in the way of the real purpose and focus–mission and ministry. They love God and their neighbors.

Though it’s unfortunate so many stumbling blocks are scattered throughout the universal church, we can appreciate this good news: just as many stepping stones make up the church. In fact, Christ as the cornerstone along with His brothers and sisters, the stepping stones, create the foundation that has held and will always hold up the church. Even more inspiring? All the stepping stones are also broken, sinful human beings. But God has made them (us) into new creations.

How can we be stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks?

Thanks for reading! If you are feeling anxious today, I recommend getting alone, closing your eyes, and lifting up prayers aloud. I guarantee it will help. 😉

John 15:1-8: Abiding in Jesus & Bearing Fruit

It’s been a while (too long, really) since I dove into a passage of scripture. Let’s discuss John 15:1-8 and why it’s important all the time but particularly now. The gardening imagery and symbolism gives us a lot to chew on–bearing fruit, being pruned, growth in general, abundance and vitality (the abundance of God’s grace and blessings, how the Word is refreshing and rejuvenating), simply being alive (and how cool it is that nature is technically alive), appreciating the inexplicable wonder and beauty of creation (and how God values us more than all that), etc.

A few words on the Book of John

The Book of John stands apart from the other gospels in a couple ways. Mark is the shortest gospel with a handful of parables and the most crucial details of Jesus’s ministry. Though Matthew and Luke each have some passages unique to their books, they are basically two sides of the same coin. Oversimplifying the contrast a bit: Matthew was a jew speaking to jews, and Luke was a gentile speaking to gentiles. Hence, we see a greater emphasis on “outsiders” in Luke and more references to Israel in Matthew. There’s more to say on their differences and what they imply, but perhaps I’ll make a post on the gospels someday. For now, let’s get back to the point–

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John is not chocked to the brim with parables, yet it’s not as short as Mark. So, what’s taking up all the space? John is a very ‘spiritual’ book. It starts of with those cryptically beautiful sentiments that in the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The book contains a lot of theology on the relationship between God and Jesus and also great images that are unique to John–Jesus as the great shepherd, the true vine, etc. Some stories like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and praying for them only appear in John.

Jesus=the vine, God=the gardener

In John 15, Jesus calls Himself the true vine and God the gardener. The gardener cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit and prunes those that bear fruit so they can do so more effectively. We must stay connected to Jesus, the vine, so we can continue to grow.

Of course, this is all symbolical, so what does it mean? When the phrase “bear fruit” is used in scripture, it refers to leading lives that reflect our beliefs. If we claim to love God and follow Jesus, do our actions and heart reflect that? Look at the mission and ministry of Jesus. He reached out to the marginalized–the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick, the sinners. He modeled a posture of humility and servitude. He said that we need to take up our crosses and follow Him–not just go through the motions but make sacrifices and take risks. He calls us to forsake idols like materialism and detrimental qualities like pride and idleness. He was repulsed by arrogance, injustice, and hypocrisy. He urged people to turn away from selfishness and evil ambitions to seek true salvation through Him.

So, considering those standards, how much fruit are we bearing?

And in case we needed further clarification, Paul literally lists out “the fruits of the Holy Spirit” in a letter to the church at Galatia.

If we are connected to Jesus, the vine, we bear fruit; in other words, He guides us through the Holy Spirit to have traits like generosity, love, humility, empathy, meekness/peacemaking, patience, etc. Through the process of sanctification, we will improve upon those traits with time. God, the gardener, trims back the fruitless branches. Though we will never be perfect, He can help us become less bitter, less judgemental, less gossip-y, less lazy, less cold-hearted, less rash, less petty, less self-centered, etc.

Abide in Jesus

Jesus goes on to instruct the disciples: Abide in me.

Especially now, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and the American presidential election, we must abide in Him. If we abide in anything else–anxiety about the future, hopeless anger, a superiority complex against those we disagree with, our possessions and privileges, etc.–we can’t bear fruit, so we can’t be the light the world needs every day but especially today. Also, we won’t have that inexplicable strength and peace Jesus offers. If I get busy and don’t make time for God several days in a row, there’s a definitive difference in my spirit. I’m more easily riled up, I’m more easily stressed out. But when I abide in Jesus, I can live into His strength and peace and continue acting as the hands, feet, and face of Jesus in a divisive, uncertain environment.

Thanks for reading! Do you have anything to add about this story, the Book of John, nature imagery in scripture, etc? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. Here’s my latest video; thanks in advance to anyone who watches! I pull in so few views that I get excited about each individual one, haha.

Who Are “the Orphan and the Widow” Today?

Throughout the Bible, God, Jesus, Psalmists, prophets, etc. refer to God’s compassion for the orphan and the widow. From a modern standpoint, one might wonder why these two constantly go hand-in-hand. Understanding what they represent helps us fathom God’s heart for the marginalized.

In the patriarchial times when the Bible was written, a person without a father, husband or son did not have a caretaker. Hence, widows and orphans were basically helpless and at the mercy of others’ charity. Again and again, God commands the Hebrews to care for them and reiterates His love for them.

Thanks mostly to our government programs, widows and orphans are not the most pitiful people in society anymore. If the events of scripture unfolded today, these two group names would surely be replaced. Some options might include old folks with no family or a family who doesn’t visit…those addicted to hard drugs that have/will ruin their lives…those serving prison sentences…those who are homeless or living in extreme poverty…immigrants…women and children being abused…the list goes on. It’s also the people we avert our eyes from, hoping they won’t come close to us or talk to us–those who look dirty, sketchy, “not all there.”

Some may take issue with my “modern conversions” because of the implications. Orphans and widows faced their circumstances through no fault of their own, whereas most of my examples played a small or large role in their own outcome. Here, we reach an impasse where many Christians draw a line and justify apathy or even contempt. “That person chose to stick the needle in their arm; that person could pull themselves up by the bootstraps; let them lie in the beds they made. God helps those who help themselves.” Many more Christians never see–I mean, really SEE–the marginalized clearly enough to even have those thoughts. The groups I mentioned, along with all the others in our world suffering from pain, oppression, and dire need, struggle for acknowledgement in the tiny boxes that hold the contents of our self-absorbed minds and quaint lives. In many ways, in many places, the rough edges of prophetic Christianity have been filed down to leave a pretty religion that only requires church attendance and tithes (or, for some, saying a prayer over Thanksgiving dinner and holding some vague belief in God).

Pursuing God’s heart, following Jesus, and living in the Spirit means going above and beyond–above and beyond ourselves to really see our neighbors, including and especially the marginalized–going above and beyond our superiority complexes and judgement to realize others are not unworthy of our help and love–going above and beyond our lives of comfort and privilege to make a Kingdom-shaped difference in our communities. We must go above and beyond the motions.

Jesus, the embodiment of God, also ministered primarily to the marginalized. And unlike the widow and the orphan, many of them were lying in the beds they made. Jesus had mercy for the Hebrew collecting taxes for Rome and likely skimming off the top, the woman who had married five husbands, the woman caught in adultery. He had little patience, however, for the religious elites. The main thing about them that was so repulsive to Jesus was their condescending arrogance. They knew the letter of the Law of Moses but disregarded the spirit of it; they were adamant about rules and regulations but had forgotten the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and God’s preference for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the foreigner…and, of course, the orphan and widow. Some of us Christians resemble the religious elites far too closely–caring about our religious traditions more than our fellow human beings.

I’m thankful God’s grace doesn’t carry the footnote, “*Unless the person screwed up of their own accord.” I’m thankful He doesn’t make us lie in the beds we make. And I’m thankful that He always has and always will care for the marginalized, whether it’s orphans, widows, or anyone else in need.

Thanks for reading! What groups do you see as modern day orphans and widows? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I have a YT channel with two videos, and I’m editing one today to go up this weekend about the letter vs. the spirit of the Law. The last video is on my homepage and posted below. It would mean so much to me if you watched and/or subscribed!