One Week To A Better You

My friend Cody is launching a startup business called Affirmations Coffee. Part of that project involves an encouraging blog and a short e-book titled Be Awesome: One Week To A Better You. You can get the e-book by supporting his Kickstarter, along with some other really cool rewards like this mug:

Affirmations Coffee Kickstarter

I’ve been curious about the e-book for a while now, so when Cody asked me to review it for my blog I jumped at the chance. It’s a motivational 30-page devotional with repeatable weekly tasks to help you move forward in life. I spent a week working through the book and writing down something for each day.

Survey Sunday

Sunday’s task is to plan out a schedule for the rest of your week. I’ve been using The Freelance Planner to help keep track of assignments each week, so I spent some time Sunday morning filling out my main goals for the week. Mine is a very different sort of planner than the one recommended in the e-book so my planning took a less detailed form, but it was helpful to actually fill out all the days at the beginning of the week (something I don’t always do). I also spent some time journaling that morning — a habit I’ve been meaning to get back into.

Motivation Monday

E-Book review: One Week To A Better You | marissabaker.wordpress.comMonday’s challenge is to think about what motivates you to achieve your goals. For me, it’s often quotes, scriptures, or songs that resonate with something deep inside.

This might seem odd to non-writers, but for quite some time one of the most motivating things I’ve encountered has been the song “Non-Stop” from Hamilton. That picture on the left is hanging over my desk right now, alongside John Keats’ poem “When I have fears that I may cease to be.” I suppose you could say I’m motivated by the idea that I’m running out of time to write all the stories, articles, and studies overflowing my mind.

Tranquility Tuesday

I already have a morning routine designed to build focus and calm, so Tranquility Tuesday started out with prayer, yoga, breakfast/reading (yes, those go together), and Bible study. We all need to take time for ourselves and I find that’s a good way to start every day if I want to be more productive and engaged.

Wisdom Wednesday

The Wednesday chapter reminds us to actively seek wisdom. As I mentioned before, I start every morning with Bible study so I suppose I could have just left it at that. Because of today’s theme, though, I determined to spend some extra time taking in other peoples’ perspectives, knowledge, and experience. I began reading an Enneagram book because I’ve heard the theory layers well with Myers-Briggs to give more complete pictures of personality. I took some time to read deep-thinking posts from other bloggers. And I read a chapter in Proverbs before bed.

Thankful Thursday

E-Book review: One Week To A Better You | marissabaker.wordpress.com

For today’s focus, I made a list of five things I’m thankful for. It’s not necessarily my top 5 (more like what came to mind first that morning). I’m thankful for

  • The Lord’s love and the fact that He offers us the chance to be friends with Him
  • My blog readers, family, and friends
  • Having the opportunity to dance and to help teach dance at my Messianic Congregation
  • Books. Every single one of the 1,100+ on my shelf, plus others
  • My boyfriend ❤

Fearless Friday

I really didn’t know what to do with this day. The books says to go outside your comfort zone and overcome a fear. But Friday is a whirlwind of article due-dates, blog scheduling, and baking for Shabbat. How’m I supposed to find time to identify a specific fear and conquer it today!? (somewhat ironically, I started feeling anxious just thinking about it.)

One line did resonate with me, though: “Live purposefully, not fearfully.” So my goal for Fearless Friday became not letting the little fears and anxieties that pop-up throughout the day control me.

Sabbath Saturday

Ah, the Sabbath. My favorite day of the week. Most of the day isn’t particularly “restful” for me since I leave at 9:15 to get to my morning church and pretty much go non-stop until getting home from my afternoon church around 5 or 6 that evening, but it’s a wonderful time of learning more about God and fellowshipping with brethren. And the Saturday that I worked through this book, I had a chance to spend some time after church chatting with two friends and my sister at a coffee shop, then come home and spend time with both my siblings.


I enjoyed this e-book’s daily suggestion to take time and focus on connecting with God and exploring an aspect of personal growth. You can get the book and support Cody’s Kickstarter at the same time for just $5. I also highly recommend you follow Cody’s blog and Facebook page. His positive, encouraging focus is something I think many of you would enjoy reading and appreciate seeing in your inbox or Facebook feed.

Once again, here’s the link to his Kickstarter:

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The Incredible Reasons God Gives Us For Not Being Afraid

It’s all well and good to say, “God doesn’t want you to be afraid,” like we did in last week’s post. But that doesn’t actually help much with getting rid of our fear. Even knowing He’s patient with our fearfulness doesn’t take the fear away.

Thankfully, God’s doesn’t just order, “Fear not,” and leave it at that. He offers specific promises that give us tangible reasons not to be afraid. And when we are fearful, those promises can help us overcome to act in faith despite our fears. This past week, I went through the Bible looking for all the reasons God gives for us not being afraid. There are many, but I’ve sorted them into four main categories:

The Incredible Reasons God Gives Us For Not Being Afraid Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: HarveyMade via Lightstock

God Is With You

Before Moses’s death, God inspired Him to share these words with Israel:

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or scared of them; for Yahweh your God himself is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6, WEB)

The number one reason we have for living without fear is that God Himself is with us. And not just as a church or a group of people. Individuals can also receive this promise, as did Isaac (Gen. 26:24), Joshua (Josh. 1:9), David (Ps. 23:4), Solomon (1 Chr. 28:20), and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8).

Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness. (Is. 41:10, WEB)

God promises not to let us down or leave us alone. That means the most powerful being in existence is at your side through everything. He doesn’t leave us to figure things out on our own nor abandon us in our struggles. Read more

What Does God Have To Say About Fear?

Is being afraid a sin? I think most of us, me included, would say it isn’t sinful in and of itself. Fear is often a natural gut reaction to things happening around us, and it serves a self-preservation role. It only becomes an issue if we act on it wrongly or let it paralyze us and prevent right action. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m letting my own fears cloud my perspective on this issue. Because it seems God takes our fearfulness more seriously.

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev. 21:7-8, KJV)

Some translations say “cowardly” instead of “fearful,” but the Greek deilos really does mean timid or afraid. Strong’s dictionary adds that it implies faithlessness. Hence Jesus’ question, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” to the disciples in a storm (Mark 4:37-40, WEB). Is it really the case that God sees our fears and timidity as lack of faith?

What Does God Have To Say About Fear? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: HarveyMade via Lightstock

The Right Kinds of Fear

The Bible talks about fear in both positive and negative ways. The kind of fear that is connected with reverence and respect for God and His authority is good. In fact, it’s essential.

This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14, WEB)

Fear of God has long been a commanded part of following Him (Deut. 5:29; 6:2; 10:12). And in the New Testament, the apostles tell us to perfect “holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1, WEB), to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12, WEB), and to live our lives on earth “in reverent fear” (1 Pet. 1:17, WEB). Read more

Lessons From Sukkot

My family and I just got back on Thursday evening from a wonderful Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) gathering in eastern Pennsylvania. While it was packed full of spiritual lessons, there wasn’t much time for the sort of personal Bible studies that typically end up becoming blog posts on Saturdays. So today I’m just going to share a few lessons I learned this past week:

  • I can organize people. If I’d known agreeing to plan a singles/young adult activity would have ended up involving 30+ people doing 5 different activities I would have probably wanted to hide under a desk. But it all went really well and I had lots of help from people who volunteered (or had someone volunteer them) to lead some of the activities.
  • The only ancient text with anywhere near as many copies still around as there are for the Bible is Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Stacked together, the existing copies for both those works would only be a few feet tall. In contrast, a stack of all the surviving Biblical manuscripts would be so tall it’s nearly outside earth’s atmosphere. Wow! (One of the speakers shared this fact in a Bible study about the reliability of the Bible.)
  • Spending a week with my boyfriend (who joined my family and our church group for the Feast) does not make living an 8-hour drive apart any easier. I suppose it’s a good thing that I miss him so much, though, since otherwise I’d have to re-think whether or not we should be dating. In related news, my new favorite love song is “Over And Over Again.” They played it at the dance our church group hosted and not only is my boyfriend a really good dancer but he also sings ❤
  • The “fear not” reminders just keep coming at me. On the second day of Sukkot someone gave a message about why those who are “fearful” are lumped in with murderers, sorcerers, etc. as people who won’t be in God’s kingdom (Rev. 21:8). The Greek word means “timid” or “cowardly” and carries the implication of faithlessness, as in a Christian who is too scared to act in faith doesn’t trust God enough. Thankfully, we serve a God who embodies the kind of love that casts out fear and who has the strength to help us overcome fears. That’s a reminder I need as I prep for giving my second seminar (I’m actually speaking in front of people again!) in a few months.
  • It’s always interesting to look back on sermons, Bible studies, and conversations at the Feast and find common themes. This year, I noticed an emphasis on shifting our focus as we move toward God’s kingdom. Instead of just focusing on, “How can I get into God’s kingdom?” we should be thinking about, “How can I be the kind of person God wants to bring into His family?” Those thoughts are related of course, but one’s focused on what we get out of our Christian walk and the other is focused on becoming like God in how we live our lives and interact with other people.

I’ve got a few other thoughts on things I learned and heard this Feast/Sukkot, but they’d be better served by each having a blog post all to themselves so we’ll wait on that. I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful week and have a fantastic weekend! I should be back to more of my usual posting routine by Monday, so I’ll “see” you then 🙂

Spiritual PTSD

Why did the prophet Elijah flee from Queen Jezebel in the story recorded in 1 Kings18-19? It’s a question I’ve heard asked quite often in sermons, typically with some laughter. Elijah had just faced down all the prophets of Baal, saw God work a mighty miracle, and finally got the people of Israel’s attention. Then he runs for the hills when a woman threatens him. Really? What an appalling lack of faith!

A few weeks ago, my sister asked, “Do you think people can have spiritual PTSD?” For context, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed” a traumatic event such as “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation.” That could very well be something Elijah was dealing with in this story. And I suspect that since you chose to click on a post with the title “Spiritual PTSD,” you or someone you know might have experienced some kind of trauma as well. Perhaps God’s response to Elijah’s trauma holds hope for us today as well.

Elijah’s Traumatic Day

The first time Elijah steps on the Biblical scene, he tells one of the scariest kings to ever rule Israel, “As Yahweh, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1, WEB). We know nothing of Elijah’s background save that he was a Tishbite from Gilead. What we do know is that God promptly sent him into hiding first by himself and then with a widow’s family (1 Kings 17:2-24).

I don’t know why God hid Elijah. Perhaps God wanted him to learn patience and trust. Or maybe He wanted to keep Elijah safe. Whatever the reason, there’s no indication Elijah was hesitant to come out of hiding when the Lord said, “Go” several years later. First Elijah presents himself to King Ahab, then he calls hundreds of pagan priests to the now famous meeting at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1-20).

We often read this story and focus on God’s awesome work in demonstrating that He alone is God. Today, let’s try to see it from Elijah’s perspective. He came out of hiding to talk with a king who wants him dead. He called 850 priests and prophets of a hostile religion to a meeting and spent a full day taunting them in public. The scripture records “they cried aloud, and cut themselves in their way with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them” (1 Kings 18:28, WEB). That couldn’t have been much fun be around. And with so many there, I doubt every evil priest stayed right by the alter. I imagine they also tried to stir up the people and spent time threatening and taunting Elijah as well.

Elijah and the Priests of Baal by Lucas Cranach the Younger, ca. 1545
Image credit: “Elijah and the Priests of Baal” (cs. 1545) by Lucas Cranach the Younger

That went on all morning. In the afternoon, Elijah single handedly prepared a stone altar, butchered a bull, and set it up for an offering to God. I imagine he was physically exhausted by the time he stepped back and ordered the people to pour water over the altar three times (1 Kings 18:21-38). Then he prayed. God responded in spectacular fashion, burning up the water, stones, and dust as well as the sacrifice and wood. The people “fell on their faces” and said “Yahweh, he is God!” But Elijah’s job wasn’t done yet. He said, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let one of them escape!” They seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there” (1 Kings 18:39-40, WEB).

Elijah killed (probably with some help) at least 450 people that evening, perhaps 850 if “the prophets of the groves” from verse 19 were included with the prophets of Baal. And that still wasn’t the end of his day. He went up to the top of Carmel and prayed earnestly for rain. Once he saw a little cloud forming “he tucked his cloak into his belt and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46, WEB). That’s at least 15 miles and he was running faster than a chariot.

There’s little indication what Elijah’s mental state was at this point. Was he exhausted but still patiently trusting God would work things out? Was he excitedly hopeful Ahab would turn back to God? We don’t know. We just know that when Jezebel promised to kill him within 24 hours “he ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:1-3, WEB). He ran about 100 miles from Jezreel to Bersheba, then goes another day’s journey in the wilderness and prays for death. In his series “Profiting From The Prophets,” Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh suspects Elijah could be “diagnosed as suicidal” and depressed at this point. I’m not a psychologist any more than Pastor Deffinbaugh is, but I’d say PTSD would be an equally valid diagnosis.

God’s Course of Treatment

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is how God responds to Elijah’s fear. He doesn’t get angry or tell his traumatized, depressed follower to suck it up. He sends an angel to offer encouragement, food, and strength so Elijah could get to Mount Horeb. There, God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:19:9, WEB). Elijah responds,

“I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

1 Kings 19:10, WEB

I’m not sure why God answered with “a great and strong wind [that] rent the mountains,” then an earthquake, then a fire. The scriptures say “the Lord was not in” these things. Perhaps Elijah refused to come out of his cave when God called the first time. Maybe he needed to see a display of God’s power as an encouragement or reminder. Whatever the case, he responds this time when the Lord calls in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13, KJV). The LEB translates this as “the sound of a gentle whisper.”

The Lord asks again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah gives the same answer, probably the only one he could come up with after all that. The Lord responds in three parts: He gives Elijah a mission to anoint two kings, he tells him to anoint Elisha as his replacement, and He reveals there are 7,000 faithful people still in Israel (1 Kings 19:14-18). Food, something to do, a helper, and reassurance that he’s not alone. That’s what Elijah needed and that’s what God gave him.

What About Us?

click to read article, "Spiritual PTSD" | LikeAnAnchor.com
Image credit: “Elijah In The Desert” (1818) by Washington Allston

When my sister brought up the idea of spiritual PTSD she wasn’t just talking about people in the Bible who God brought through traumatic situations. She was also asking about a kind of spiritual parallel. Can someone experience a traumatic event in their spiritual walk that gives them a sort of spiritual “PTSD” that affects how they interact with God, churches, and fellow Christians?

I think it can. One of the perks of writing a blog is that I get to hear from many of my fellow Christians who reach out to share their stories. But the heartbreaking thing is that many of those stories are ones that involve deep hurt, much of it caused by fellow church members. We probably all know stories (or have personal stories) of being abused, dismissed, slandered, and much more all by people who claim to be following God. Even worse, the party at fault is often in a leadership position. Far too often, a Christian’s deepest hurts come from the people who should be the first ones to reach out in love and compassion.

But that’s the great thing about God. Nothing limits Him. He can help us just as effectively as He helped Elijah, whatever the source of our trauma. Because we can look at examples like Elijah’s, we know God follows through on promises like, “‘I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.’ So that with good courage we say, ‘The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:5-6, WEB).

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Walking by Faith (and next e-book announcement)

I just got back yesterday from an incredible  service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).

I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …

… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.

It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.

Walking by Faith | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: Dan4th Nicholas, CC BY via Flickr

Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.

That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.

This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.

  • If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:

Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.

My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.