Day 322: Why You Should Obey Your Pastor (Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” -Hebrews 13:17

I grew up in a conservative church. As a result, we had a lot of “rules.” Now, almost all of it was based on the Bible, but some if it was just the pastor and church elders attempting to lead a congregation efficiently and properly. For example, telling people to put put their phones away while in church (that’s certainly not in the Bible, but is a good church rule, I think!).

I am often asked how I live with all those “rules,” which even many believers find restrictive and outdated. My honest answer is that for a long time, I didn’t. Like many teenagers, I was determined to do what makes me happy.

But when God began teaching me about submissiveness, I was most convicted about the fact that the root of my insubordination was a lack of respect for God and the men tasked to lead me spiritually (my grandfather, father, pastor and deacons).

My pastor likely felt it necessary to have specific rules for our congregation because the modern expectations of how a Christian should live have been watered down to the point where churches seamlessly blend in with the world. But above all, he has been tasked with leading each member of our congregation towards the gates of heaven. It’s not an easy task.

We need rules and clear expectations. That’s what leadership is: it’s bringing order to chaos and uniting a group of individuals to accomplish a goal by working together. The only way that’s done is if each person on the team respects and obeys the person designated to lead the team. Even when you don’t agree or think your way is better. No offense, but God didn’t choose you for this job, He chose your pastor. And one day your pastor will have to account before the throne of God for you and your life.

We must recognize the authority and responsibility given to our spiritual leaders, because that is where respect is born. In turn, when combined with humility, respect blooms into obedience. As we know, there are great blessings to being obedient to the Lord!

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Day 321: You Are Not Worthy of This World (Ezekiel 16, Hebrews 12)

In Hebrews 12:1-2, Apostle Paul says we should cast aside the world and focus on running this race well because we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” Yesterday, when we read chapter 11, we met a lot of those witnesses: from Moses to David.

They’re the ones who were “tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection,” who withstood trials of mocking, scourging, chains and imprisonment. The ones who were stoned, sawed in two, tempted, and slain with the sword. The ones who were destitute, afflicted – of whom the world was not worthy. These people and martyrs are waiting on the rest of us believers to finish our race before they inherit the promise of an eternal kingdom.

When God first opened this to me, it felt like the bottom of my world dropped out. Because for a second, I saw the world we Iive in through a bird’s eye view of those witnesses. Times have changed. Most of us have never experienced that kind of persecution for our faith.

We live in luxury and freedom. We’ve grown comfortable and lukewarm. We compromised and accepted how the world told us to live. Many churches and believers now blend in incredibly well with the world, and we think that’s okay (as if that’s a sign of God’s love and progress into a modern era!). We think that just because we don’t live in fear of persecution like that great cloud of witnesses, we can live more loosely.

There is a spiritual battle for our souls y’all. The enemy sees this and he pounces on this weakness and exploits it. I imagine those witnesses see this and wonder how we could have all of this freedom to grow in Christ without limits or fear of persecution and yet we choose to conform to the world. They could barely gather to pray together in the middle of the night without the threat of prison or death, but we can’t find more than a few minutes (if that!) in our spacious lives to spend on our knees with other believers (or even alone!).

You’re better than that. You are a daughter of the King of Kings. You don’t have to change to be worthy of this world. Be worthy of your holy calling and the crown of eternity!

Day 320: That’s What Faith Can Do (Ezekiel 13-15; Hebrew 11:20-40)

“…who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” -Hebrews 11:33-34

Around the world – and especially in the United States in the wake of the recent presidential election – there is a cry for justice. Single Christians spend year after year waiting on the Lord’s promises of a Godly spouse in His timing. Couples wait on promises of children and a family. Illnesses, wars, and natural disasters threaten the lives of many.

But what ties all of this together is the thin, invisible string of faith. It’s what people cling to in their darkest, loneliest, most terrifying and broken moments: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Because our hope is in Christ, we are assured that this hope is well-founded and true. And although we haven’t seen Him, we know He is there because we have a lifetime (and centuries worth!) of examples to prove His fingerprints are all over our lives and in this word.

That’s why faith brings comfort, strength, protection, and overcomes a great deal of things. Faith gives a young woman the boldness to speak up and fight for the injustices she sees in the world. Faith gives makes it easy to trust God to provide you with a spouse, a family, a job, or good health. Faith makes you brave in the fact of prosecution and disaster. Faith can move mountains, influence policy, and transform lives. That’s what faith can do. Yes, even in your life…even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed (and that’s tiny, y’all!).

Day 318: Is It Worth It? (Ezekiel 7-9; Hebrews 10:24-39)

“But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings; partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” -Hebrews 10:32-36

Often, when people try to lose weight or accomplish a certain goal, they’re encouraged to put up a photo or vision board where they’ll see it daily to remind them of their goal. The visual reminder helps serve as a reminder of your why and keeps you in check when you’re tempted to reach for yet another cookie.

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul takes a similar approach. These people were being persecuted for their beliefs, their goods were being plundered, they were mocked and made a spectacle in front of their neighbors and friends, and sufferings tainted their lives. But they endured it joyfully because they were promised eternal life as their reward. So, Paul points to that vision of a heavenly home to motivate them to remain faithful.

Friend, we must be willing to give up this world, the lusts of the flesh and all that distracts us from our goal to live out the will of God, because He has promised us great and precious things: an eternal kingdom. As 2 Peter 1:4 says, we have been promised a heavenly city, a home land. And that is worth enduring suffering for, giving up this world and fighting the good fight. If you need a visual reminder of this promise, put up this verse (or another one that motivates you to stay the path) where you’ll see it every day. And then turn your gaze to that visual reminder and to Jesus to keep your focus on what truly matters.

Day 317: Thy Will Be Done (Ezekiel 4-6; Hebrews 10:1-23)

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Each of us wants these words to be the anthem of our hearts. Because there is a longing deep within us to matter – to do something that will make the world a better place, glorify God and leave a legacy once our time on this earth is through. But when you’re working a “boring” and “ordinary” job 9 to 5, haven’t started your own business or gone a single mission trip, you may start to question if you’re living out God’s will for your life.

Jesus was tasked to go preach radical new teachings to people He knew would not welcome His, and eventually would torture and kill Him. His calling ended with bleeding out on a cross for people who would reject Him and His sacrifice through out centuries and generations. That’s not a glamorous calling. It is difficult and selfless. Yet, Jesus chose to do it anyway.

In the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “Your  profession is not what brings your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”

Whatever God has tasked you with, that is your calling. Even if it’s “boring.” Even it’s difficult. Even if you’re doing grunt work behind the scenes. Do that with all your heart and all your strength. Do it as of God Himself tasked you with each job assignment and project. Do it with a smile. Be gracious and always point others around you to Christ with your words and actions. That is how you live out the will of God. You keep your gaze on Him and you diligently do the work He’s given you.

 

Day 315: The Beauty of Grace (Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8)

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“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” -Hebrews 8:12

It’s one thing to hear those words when they apply to us, but when you’ve been the “good Christian girl” all your life and see a prodigal child return to the church, this promise is a bit harder to understand.

As humans, we seem to have developed a sense of justice that doesn’t match up to the grace given to us through Jesus Christ. We are quick to wish harsh consequences about someone who sins or falls away: “she deserves whatever comes her way for doing x, y, z.” We condemn and compare. And all along, we might even slightly envy that she gets to live this glamorous, fun, exciting life with no restrictions or rules while you’re stuck being the good girl. And because of that, a small part of you may think she doesn’t deserve to also become a good Christian girl. You can’t cut into the heaven line.

But that’s not how Jesus sees it. Because when a criminal hanging on the cross next to Him confessed his faith, Jesus promised that soon they’ll be in heaven together. Human logic doesn’t get that. How can one person live a despicable life, confess his belief with his last dying breath and go to the same heaven with the person who lived a faithful, holy, set apart life full of good works and deep faith all their lives? How is that fair?

The simple answer is that it isn’t fair. It never was meant to be fair. Instead, this is just one way God shows us every life matters. No matter how far gone the world has deemed you. Even if you haven’t opened your Bible or spoken to the God you once loved in a dozen years. Even if you messed everything up. God’s grace is bigger than all of that and more.

Now, this doesn’t give you a free pass to live life as you please and then confess last minute and get into heaven. But it does remind us that we must extend the same grace Jesus did to ourselves and to others. Especially when the world cries out “that’s not fair.”

Day 313: Cultivate (Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6)

We would all love to grow into beautiful women of God. We want to bear the fruits of the Spirit – to be gracious, kind, loving and faithful. But, those characteristics don’t just sprout overnight – they must be cultivated over time. The word cultivate itself means to develop.

“For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and biers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” -Hebrews 6:7-8

That is not an easy thing to do. It takes dedication and patience to grow something, but it is especially difficult when it comes to working on yourself. Because it’s easier to sweep our faults under the rug than it is to face the tension head on.

I recently started a new job. And if you’ve ever started something new – a job, hobby, a family, etc… – then you know how difficult those first few months are as you adjust to this new thing in your life. But in order to move on and make something of it, you need to move pass the tension. You embrace the awkward and challenging moments. You need to be humble enough to admit when you’ve made a mistake or to ask for help. You need to recognize what you don’t know and to embrace what you excel at. But above all, you need to keep learning and growing. You start from the bottom – at the very beginning – and you do the hard work. All day, every day.

Cultivate your life, friend. Feed the Spirit with the Word of God and prayer daily. Face the tensions in your life. Work on your weakness. Prune  the bad stuff. Water the good. Show up and do the hard work. That’s where beauty grows.