Think of These Things

I came home the other night from a full day of work, rushing to kids’ activities, both body and mind exhausted. Then I stepped into my backyard that evening and couldn’t help but feel a sense of complete gratitude. 

Birds fluttered and danced across the yard. Hues of pink and orange began to streak across wispy clouds. Fragrant lilac was being carried by the breeze. Neighborhood kids could be heard in the distance giggling and chattering together. 

A stroll out to my little garden revealed bright white flowers speckling my strawberry bed. Pops of green and purple lettuce greeted me. Happy little peas began to grab hold of their trellis. Tiny zinnia seeds began to push their way through the dirt. 

My mundane backyard was transformed into Eden. 

I could have chosen to dwell on the fatigue my body felt or the annoyance my son stirred up in me that afternoon or the neverending to-do list I couldn’t seem to make much ground on. But that day, I didn’t. 

Some days I inevitably do give in to that grumbling spirit and I go down the path of “woe is me.” Every now and then we need to feel all the feels. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging what is hard or stressful, and it is perfectly okay to have legitimate seasons of grief or lament (we’ve talked about that in What To Do With All The Feels: A Lesson On Lament). 

But regardless of the season in which I find myself, whether fast and chaotic, slow and boring, the perfect happy-medium, or especially trying, God is developing in me this constant need to dwell on that which is good and lovely and excellent. 

Finally, brother and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I make choices about the content I allow to enter my mind: 

Too much news produces anxiety; The Dick VanDyke Show makes me laugh. 

A little bit of HGTV can spark creativity; too much can produce a spirit of discontent. 

However, that’s only part of the equation. Consciously taking time to see all the good and right and admirable in the day-to-day becomes life changing. 

Our perspective changes things. The lens with which we view our day changes our approach. Therefore, more and more, I am trying to find those places and moments of seeing God’s hand or artistry in my daily routine. 

The kindness displayed by an encouraging co-worker. 

Sentimental words from my daughter: “you’re the best mom ever.”

The sweet tune of the goldfinches as a thank you note for their thistle.

Vibrant blue hydrangea waiting to say hello outside my front door. 

A family that still comes together for dinner in the evening. 

The wonder on my son’s face as he discovers a new stone.

A quiet moment with just my Bible, journal, and a HOT cup of coffee.

You can tell I’m a small-town girl moved by nature, but for you it could be entirely different. 

Instead, maybe it’s: 

The smell from the corner bakery. 

The neighbors who congregate every evening in the shared greenspace. 

The familiar hustle of people rushing home after work. 

The intricate stone architecture on the church the next block over. 

A breezy stroll in the neighborhood fruit market where each vendor knows you by name.

Whatever it is that brings us joy, wherever we live and with whom we interact, we can grab hold of those nuggets of glory. 

There is power in the thoughts on which we dwell. These thoughts, constantly sprinkled through the day and week, change us. They shape our view of life. They draw us closer to the heart of the Father and ultimately mold us to be a little more like Him. 


Share your nuggets of glory with me! Where did you see God in your day? What moments brought you joy?

Part 8: Making the Head to Heart Connection

Even as a champion for reading and understanding the Bible, I understand that without absorbing today’s topic, everything else I’ve written these past weeks is meaningless. When we approach the Bible, we must come with an open, humble heart that allows the cerebral information to penetrate into our hearts. Without that, we’re reduced to academic scholars, pushers of religious dogma, even to Pharisees. 

Let’s look at this quote from a Seminary Professor, C.L. Blomberg: 

“If we wanted to be brutally honest…one would have to say that the conservative, evangelical Christian…is probably the closest parallel to the ancient Pharisees.”

What terms or adjectives come to mind when you hear Pharisee? Does that statement seem a bit extreme? Did it strike a chord? Seem a little offensive to your Christian sphere? 

Before walking off in a huff, hold onto your panties, take a deep breath, and hear me out. Let me remind you that the man who made that statement is not anti-Christian. He is a Bible professor, teaching pastors and ministry students who will go on and teach more people. So why would he say such a thing? 

Jesus actually had a lot to say on this topic. 

In Matthew 23, Jesus spends the entire chapter rebuking the Pharisees and teachers of the law. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." - Matthew 23: 25-28

Yikes! Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs, calling them dead on the inside. Clearly he takes it very seriously that they care more about following the rules and looking good on the outside than they do about cleaning their hearts. 

Again, in John 5: 38-39, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “nor does God’s word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Of the religious groups of the day, the Pharisees knew the scriptures better than anyone, adhered to the rules better than anyone, yet they were missing the main point! Jesus was making it clear that their strict rule following wouldn’t save them. Jesus’ message was about coming to Him for salvation.  

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection.

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection. If all we ever do is store up a wealth of knowledge, a list of dos and don’ts, we become too much like the Pharisaic Jew or the legalistic evangelical, and forget what is at the center of Christianity: a transformative relationship with Jesus. 

The trouble is, we humans tend to go to extremes. If you remember the introduction (An Intro: Why It’s Not Just For Your Pastor), I spoke about being informed in the Scriptures for ourselves so that we are not like lemmings and easily led astray. However, on the opposite side is an equal challenge of not becoming the hypocritical, white-washed Pharisee. We should neither have a faith that is led merely on warm fuzzies and our emotion of the day any more than we should claim a faith in Jesus that is reduced to academic knowledge of the Bible while ignoring its purpose to shape us into the reflection of the one we claim to follow.

We need balance. 

I will make this very clear: dogmatic reading of the Bible or a precise following of the rules will not save you. Only a relationship with our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is what saves. “For it is by grace you have been saved…not by works, so that no man may boast” (Ephesians 2). Repenting from our sin and accepting the gracious gift of Jesus that has been given us is the only thing that saves. However, if we don’t build on that foundation, if we ignore the opportunity to come to know our Creator God and Savior more through his Holy Scriptures, we miss out. We pass by on the chance to better understand the heart of God and to allow it to transform our lives. 

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

So if there’s anything with which I can leave you regarding the need to read your Bible, perhaps it is this:

Reading the Bible is not a “you have to,”
it is a “you get to!” 

Therefore, as we conclude this series, my prayer for you is that you can let this notion be your framework as you grow your knowledge of God’s beautiful, holy Scriptures. Let His word be your sustaining daily bread. Let it guide you and provide you with a discerning voice. Celebrate the unending richness you will uncover as you peel back the layers of its goodness. And then sit back and ask our gracious God to use all of that to work inside you so that you never resemble the Pharisees, who quoted the holy Scriptures yet failed to recognize when He stared them in the face. Rather possess a heart that is so transformed, it begins to reflect the heart of the Savior.

May our God bless you and keep you, and make his face shine upon you. 

~Renee

When Did We Forget to Love our Enemies?

I wrote this well before I knew what all would enfold today. The message hasn’t changed. But friends, I think we all desperately need to hear it again. While some have been more guilty than others, I have seen it on both ends of the spectrum. 

We have to let go of the hate. 

Don’t take my word for it. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, listen to his words. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:43-48

What is a fairly common passage read in modern-day church from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this would have been radical teaching to its original Jewish audience. Levitical law taught to “love thy neighbor” and urged not to hold a grudge against their own people, but that didn’t entail outsiders and enemies. Old Testament scripture never explicitly says to hate enemies, but some Jewish sects taught that idea based on examples of pious Old Testament figures like David, who wrote about hating the wicked and those who aren’t following the Lord (Psalm 31:6, 119:113, 139:21). So it would have made perfect sense to the Jews to love their fellow Jews, but to hate the wicked outsiders, Romans, and Samaritans– or any non-Jew for that matter. 

However, Jesus doesn’t just direct them not to hate their enemies, he goes so far as to say to love and pray for them! He’s asking them to love the dirty tax collectors who rip them off, the cult-like Samaritans living the next town over, and the domineering Romans impeding on their freedom. Jesus drives the point home by comparing his listeners to tax collectors and pagans if they don’t love in this way– “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God here. The final Day of Restoration has not yet come, but Jesus’ coming as flesh initiated a call to kingdom of God living while we wait. He was calling these Jewish listeners to a higher form of living– “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If they are to be the salt and light of the earth, his people to spread salvation to the ends of the earth, they needed to live in such a way that reflected they were children of their holy and righteous heavenly Father. 

So what does that mean for us? While the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture may differ from Western 21st century culture, our general challenges and struggles aren’t so different. Our lives are filled with political, moral, cultural, and social conflicts just as theirs were. And in the same way Jesus first called Jewish believers to spread the message of salvation through kingdom living, so we the church are called to do the same. 

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society?

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society? Or do I blend in amongst the crowd? How do I react when political debates begin at a family party? How do I treat my neighbor that I’ve determined has the “wrong” yard sign? How do I respond on social media when someone posts an outrageous opinion? How do I treat the neighbors who move in down the road that don’t “fit in”? 

Jesus is not saying that we roll over dead or stick our head in the sand to sin and evil. Other passages of scripture make it quite clear that he stands against wickedness. But he is calling us to a higher form of love; a love that rises above the worldly standard to only love those whose political views align with ours, share the same denomination, have the same color skin, or live in the right zip code. He is calling us to love in the way he has loved us, still covered in our filth of sin. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19

How can we engage with those who have hurt us or with whom we vehemently disagree? How can we shift our own hearts to begin to lift our enemies up in prayer instead of lifting up our noses? How can we begin to see our fellow humans through God’s eyes?

We may not be able to fix society on our own, but we can make a difference in our own sphere. We can control what we teach our children about those who “aren’t like us.” We can be the first to extend a humble hand of forgiveness. We can choose to speak with kindness even when we don’t feel like it. We can demonstrate outrageous, Christ-like, kingdom of God living right here, right now.

As it was those 2,000 year ago, Jesus’ call to love and pray for our enemies is radical. And yet it is this very form of radical love that reflects the heart of God and will ultimately bring about change. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35

Prayers for the nation,

Renee