The Hope of Lent

The Hope of Lent

I didn’t grow up in a Christian tradition that observed Lent. It wasn’t until my late twenties, when I was going through a terrible time in my life, that I began to observe it. It was one of those seasons where I was stuck. Stuck in my sin. Tangled in counterproductive thinking. Sinking. I didn’t know how to get free. I needed someone to deal a severing blow to the invisible cords binding me. 

That’s when a counselor I was seeing at the time said, “How about Lent?” I’d always thought of Lent as a legalistic, religious type thing where people gave up chocolate or chips or soda to have a better shot at getting into heaven. At the very least, his suggestion seemed woefully short of what I needed. He encouraged me to set something meaningful aside during the 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not to earn God’s favor, but to make more room for Jesus. I don’t remember all the details of how that season went, only that what I gave up was a true sacrifice for me and by the time Easter arrived, something had changed. In a good way. I had more freedom in areas I previously hadn’t. And I’d drawn closer to Christ, partly because I’d made more room for Him by giving up what had previously taken up space. 

To be sure, Lent isn’t a magical formula that strong-arms God into doing what we want. No. It’s a practice. It’s a drawing closer to the Lord. It’s letting Him know that He matters to us, not by our mere words but through our intentional actions. As we focus on Jesus, and less on ourselves, we find healing. But, more importantly, we find Him.

I don’t know what you’re going through at the moment, but I wonder what you might lay aside so something new can grow in its place. No matter how many days are left until we celebrate Easter, it’s not too late to focus on the cross of Jesus and make room for Him. 

This particular Lent I’ve been focusing in Luke’s Gospel on Jesus’s march toward Jerusalem, the place where He would ultimately lay down His life. On the road toward the cross, He met a woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you” (Lk. 11:27)! In other words, this woman from the crowd recognized the importance of Jesus—to what degree we don’t know—and naturally understood His mother Mary to be exceedingly blessed as the one who bore and nursed Him. This is a logical conclusion. But Jesus’s response is both surprising and encouraging. He said, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28). 

As I read those words, my soul was lifted. I was reminded that to be blessed in this world isn’t to have a nicer house, a more lucrative job, a husband, or for the people around me to better meet my needs (all good things and blessings in their proper place). To be blessed doesn’t solely belong to Mary, the mother of Jesus. To be blessed, truly thriving in this world, is to listen intently to the Word of God and obey accordingly.

Are you holding back obedience to the Lord? Is there any area of your life you’re clinging to? Is there a place for you to make more room for the Living God?

As we move toward Easter, we can intentionally do both of these things (listening and doing). Perhaps we lay something aside so we have more time to listen, or simply more quiet to listen. And hopefully, our listening to God speak through Scripture will lead to greater obedience. And as we especially focus on the sacrifice of Christ, the triumph of His resurrection will shine even brighter against such a scandalous backdrop. I love Paul’s words in Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” 

I suppose Lent is a time to focus on the death of Jesus, His inestimable sacrifice for each of us. And Easter is the opportunity to focus on His resurrection, His life that saves us even now! 

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What It Means To Be Blessed

What It Means To Be Blessed

This is Day 5 from Kelly’s 90-day devotional book, The Blessed Life. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

Sometimes when I’m really out of sorts my friends will remind me of how truly blessed I am, how much I have to be thankful for. But this always feels like an evasion to me, like they’re not giving my “pain and suffering” its due. They’re looking for what is going well in my life, doing the math, and then deciding I’ve got more going for me in the blessed column than in the poor in spirit one, so blessed it is. 

I don’t know how the word blessed hit Jesus’s disciples on the hillside that day, or how it landed on the crowds, but I can’t imagine it was the first word the sick, lame, shunned, or hungry expected to hear Him speak to them that day. And Jesus wasn’t using the word to convince them that the good things in their life outweighed the bad, that they were more blessed than not. Instead, He was declaring those in His kingdom as wholesale flourishing. 


Think of that word hanging out there over a Jewish people hobbling under Roman oppression. The ones who for centuries had been pining for a powerful Messiah in the image of King David to knock their enemies out of the land. Surely some had followed Jesus out of curiosity but most out of pure desperation. Some were longing for a new leader who could help them figure out how to get back on the God of Israel’s good side, someone with a solid campaign slogan. Some may have showed up hoping to hear a strategic and gutsy military plan: Who’s ready to defeat Rome once and for all? Strap on your swords! Others may have been looking for something more personal and close to home, like a much needed healing or handout.


The word itself is not an unusual opener. It’s only shocking when you think about who He addressed it to: the poor in spirit, mourners, stomped on, hungry, innocent, persecuted. Well, now, this just feels like madness. How can the poor in spirit be the blessed ones? In what kind of a world, in what kind of a kingdom, in what kind of a religion, has this ever been so?

Before we consider an answer, it is worth asking, why are you here? Why have you come to listen to the words of Jesus?

Are you looking for Him to overpower someone who has wounded you? Is a family member ailing and you need a healing? Are finances tight? Is work unfulfilling? Is your marriage suffering? Are you simply tired of the grind, like the average Jewish peasant in first-century Galilee looking for a sustaining word of encouragement, a change in the political landscape? Perhaps you’re not looking for anything from Him as much as you simply want to be with Him and listen to what He has to say. 

Note the “them” who Jesus begins to teach in verse 2 appear to be His disciples. But at the end of His message, it was the crowds who were astonished at His teaching (Matt. 7:28). We should establish at the outset that both disciples and undecideds are invited to listen. Whichever you are, I’m glad you’re here.

But back to our question. How can people like the poor in spirit be blessed? In the original language, the word for blessed is makarios, and it means “prospering, fortunate, flourishing, and in some cases, downright happy.” (This is different from the word used when someone pronounces a blessing on another, translated eulogeo). Makarios is a description of the state of a person who is thriving in the kingdom of God. So Jesus isn’t saying that the poor in spirit will eventually gain a blessing. He is saying that their current state of being is a prosperous one because God’s very kingdom is theirs. In fact, in every case of the nine Beatitudes, a difficult state of being is paired with a promise of blessing. 

So if you’re struggling or hurting today, may Jesus redefine your circumstances as only He can. If you find yourself poor in spirit, malnourished by the “blessings” of our culture, you’re in prime position to experience the blessed life of the kingdom.

Ask Him to teach you and show you what it means to flourish in whatever your circumstances. Look for Him to answer you as you go about Your day. He is eager to meet you in it. 

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What Will You Receive This Year?

What Will You Receive This Year?

Happy New Year, friends. If you’re anything like me, every last Christmas tree needle has been swept from the house, the gnarls of Christmas lights are tucked away in boxes, and you just found a stray ornament, one that will possibly sit on your dresser until next year because you’re just not walking that thing down into your unfinished basement when it’s six degrees outside. Or maybe no one is like me. At any rate, here we sit at the beginning of a new year. A fresh slate, prime for dreams and ambitions to be etched into its stone. Another chance to strive for what might not have been accomplished last year. A new beginning.

As I sit atop the New Year, I will tell you something. I am less about dreams and ambitions this year and more about listening and receiving from Jesus. My personality hasn’t gone through a sudden transformation, nor have I finally figured out a newfound secret to this journey we call the Christian life. It’s more that the Lord has stopped me in a sense. Oh, yes, I am still doing all the things I feel very much called to–teaching, writing, studying, investing in family and friends and my local church, but how I go about these things is somewhat in question for me for a few reasons.

For starters, and maybe you can identify, a few of the doors I’ve tried to jar open aren’t budging, while some other ones I’d never considered before, appear wide open but I’m not sure how to walk through them. I don’t mean to be vague, except I’m trying to make sense of it all myself, and maybe you’re in a similar position. Maybe I can best frame it the way the Gospel writer Luke did.

Do you remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus comes to Mary and Martha’s house for a meal? I talk about it in my latest podcast episode. Martha is frustrated because she’s “serving alone.” The person closest to her isn’t doing for her what she is sure needs to be done, and she’s distracted by many necessary tasks (anyone?). Jesus goes further when He describes Martha as worried and upset about many things. Meanwhile, Mary is taking the position of a disciple. She’s sitting at Jesus’s feet and listening to what He says—a once in a lifetime moment for her. She’s not so concerned about what she can serve Jesus in this moment but rather what He can serve her. The good portion, or the right part, as some translations read, is what Mary has chosen, and Jesus says, “It can never be taken from her.”  

I believe Jesus was inviting Martha to come sit alongside Mary, not because what Martha was doing didn’t matter, but because He was offering her something better. To listen. To receive. Oh, yes, we all have much serving and many things we need to do this year. And that is not wrong. As Christ-followers we are called to reach out, invite in, love others in tangible ways. But we’re also called to sit. To commune with Christ. To partake of the Bread of Life. To let Him fill us up. And that is what I want to do more of this year. And this is what I hope you will choose this year. 

One of the primary ways we sit at Jesus’s feet and listen to Him is through Bible study*, prayer, and our fellowship with others. If you haven’t decided on a Bible study at the top of this year, I hope you will choose one today. Or maybe you’ll start a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. There are many free ones to choose from. One wonderful place to start is seeing what your local church has to offer in the way of studies. Just know I’m cheering you on in 2023 as you look to not only see what you can do for Jesus, but as you first invest in quality time with Him. That which can never be taken away!

*If I can be of any help to your Bible study journey, you can find all the studies I’ve written here. I’m also thrilled that on February 7th, I’ll be releasing my first devotional called: The Blessed Life: A 90-Day Journey Through the Teachings and Miracles Of Jesus. Every day for 90 days, we’ll walk through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount as well as 10 of His most notable miracles and healings.

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Savior and Friend

Savior and Friend

The Christmas season is fully upon us. I have no idea how this happened, since it feels like only a few days ago I had 31 people at my house for Thanksgiving. I love hosting, but this was the longest day of my life. I am not at all opposed to going back to my growing up years, where I did absolutely nothing on Thanksgiving except show up with all my relatives at my grandparents’ house and proceed to plow through turkey and mashed potatoes until I was tipsy on tryptophan. Those were some good days. 

Christmas is here whether we’re ready or not, and I pray it’s your best yet–not because your circumstances are the best they’ve ever been, but because you’re leaning into our Savior more than ever before (For some encouragement, check out this month’s special Christmas Cultivate Podcast). We have a choice this Christmas: to set our expectations on the inability of people and presents to meet our deepest longings, or to cast ourselves on Christ who is the fulfillment of our souls. I’m choosing Christ, and I hope you will, too. 

As we prepare our hearts, I’m reminded of Gabriel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1:21-23. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,’ which means ‘God with us’” (emphases mine). 

Notice these two bookends regarding the name of Jesus.

The first is that He will save us from our sins (v. 21), and the second is that He will be with us (v. 23).  I’ve read this account many times, but never noticed the marriage of God’s power to save and His intimate nearness. If He was only mighty to save but not mercifully with us, we would have a Deliverer but not a Friend. And if Jesus had merely drawn near to us apart from any power to save, we would have a Friend but not a Savior.

This time of year accentuates whatever place in which we find ourselves. If all is right in our world, the season is extra celebratory. How can eggnog, Christmas lights, and a month-long dose of sentimental music not make us feel extra hopeful? But if we’re walking through grief, loss or pain, these very same things only amplify our sorrow. So we take great comfort in our Savior, who is both strong enough to save and loving enough to have made His home with us. He is both Savior and Friend. I pray you are experiencing Him as both this year. 

As we end this year together, I want to say thank you for all your encouragement and support. That you would go through my Bible studies, listen to my podcasts, and come visit me on the road is truly a gift to me. 

Merry Christmas,



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Seeing God in Every Season

Seeing God in Every Season

It’s November, one of my favorite months of the year. I don’t know if you love all-things home
like I do, but I have my autumn décor and colors out, and I’m about to slash open some
pumpkins for pumpkin pie. The leaves have mostly fallen, and with the crunch of them under
foot, I’m reminded of the fresh change the rhythm of seasons brings about. And this is to say
nothing about the uses of butternut squash, apples, and things like cinnamon, cloves, and
ginger in all manner of recipes.
I wonder if you’re in a happy season or a sorrowful one, if you’re looking forward to the holiday
season or approaching it with dread, if spring and summer are your months to shine, while fall
and winter feel like one long crawl under the covers? No matter how the current season finds
you, it feels like a good time to talk about three benefits to seasons that I hope will be
1. Seasons bring newness, even when they’re hard. Can we all agree we’re happy that it’s
not 95 degrees with 100,000% humidity every day of the year? (unless you live in the
Amazon jungle, one of my favorite places…whoops!) Reflected in God’s creation are the
rhythms of life that bring forth both blossoms and dying leaves, fallow ground and
freshly plowed soil, dormant seeds and prolific crops, freshly fallen snow and
shimmering summer’s dew.
The changing of seasons reminds us that God is always doing a new thing, even when
we find ourselves in a long season of what feels like interminable death to self, pruning,
and cutting back of comforts. No season lasts forever. Let the good Master Gardener
(John 15:1-5) have His way with you. He will never waste a painful season.
2. Seasons make us grateful. Last year was a challenging year for me on many fronts. I had
work challenges I couldn’t resolve, despite throwing every cell of energy and thought
into fixing them. My house was being renovated, and though this does not qualify in the
least as “suffering,” I was displaced for much longer than I anticipated, and being
without my home was hard on my daily rhythms and sense of well-being. (If you’re
about to do a house project, add eight months and a zillion dollars to your current
expectations.) And I was dealing with the pain of a loved one.
God used that time to sanctify me (purify me and make me more like His Son, Jesus),
even though it was a difficult season. In fact, I would say it was precisely the difficulty
that God used to lovingly prune away my reliance on my own resources and abilities.
But it wasn’t just a taking away, it was an adding. I learned more gentleness, patience,
prayer, and more of resting in His presence with me. Now that I’m in a new season,
where many of the things I was facing have been resolved, I’m more grateful for a
peaceful and joyful season than I would have been.

3. God works in every season, but He doesn’t change with them. One of the things I’ve
been studying in seminary is God’s immutability, meaning His unchanging nature.
Though the literal seasons change, and the seasons we walk through continually give
way to the next, our God remains the same (Heb. 13:8). We can count on His
faithfulness, goodness, and presence to remain unshakable and steady.
I was recently on a panel at a Fresh Grounded Faith event with my friend Jennifer
Rothschild. Someone asked her what we’re to do when we don’t feel like God is near.
Jennifer pointed out the word “feel” and how important it is that we don’t base our
perception of His nearness on our feelings. She wasn’t dismissing our feelings or
diminishing their importance, rather she was turning our attention to God’s attributes
and nature—His love for us doesn’t change even when our seasons do.
So, just a word of encouragement however this November finds you. If you’re in a challenging
season, surrender to God’s work in your life. The pruning will only mean a greater harvest when
the spring showers come and the sun’s summer rays shine down. And if you’re in a season of
joy and tangible blessings, rejoice in your heavenly Father who gives good gifts to His children
(Matt. 7:11).
**Kelly would also like to include this fun, fall ginger snap recipe for the holidays with the
devo: https://women.lifeway.com/2016/10/13/minter-kitchen-recipes-homelife/

A Case for Grace

A Case for Grace

I baked bread yesterday. I milled my grain, used a digital scale my brother bought me for my birthday, and converted everything from ounces to grams. It was a disaster. I’m not sure where I erred but one loaf looks like it’s trying to throw up and the other like a sagging hotdog. On the upside, both still taste delicious and are unbeatably fresh. Even in the worst scenarios you can’t outshine bread out of the oven.

This freshness is what I’m hoping for in these monthly Cultivate devotionals. Some monthly offerings might be better than others, but at least each one will be newly milled grains of thoughts I’m pondering, questions I’m chewing on, truths I’m thinking about. This month, I’ve been considering grace. I’m a dyed-in-the wool do-gooder whose core fear is being morally corrupt (according to Enneagram #1 wisdom). This doesn’t mean I am good, or even that I do good when I’m supposed to, it just means that checking religious boxes tends to feel good to me. I rather like earning things.

This has risen to the forefront of my awareness in recent weeks. I’m in a peaceful season without major business upheavals due to pandemics. My home is calm in the absence of a 14-month renovation that was supposed to be 6, but who’s keeping track. I’ve had a lot more time to be still with the Lord. And I’ve been feeling a tinge of guilt. Or maybe a sense of not pushing myself hard enough. It seems the more time I have in God’s presence, unharried and unhurried, the more I realize how easy it is to substitute busyness for godliness. Being busy for God makes me feel like a better Christian. In this quieter season, this distorted thinking has become more obvious to me.

This is where grace comes in.

I don’t know how you grew up but I was raised in a Christian environment where the term grace was deeply associated with salvation. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, a person is saved by grace through faith, not from any works we add to the mix, it’s a free gift from God that none of us can take any credit for (Eph. 2:8-9). My whole life is founded upon this truth. The problem for me—and maybe for you—is that we tend to confine grace to that single aspect of our future lives. Grace is for salvation when you die but it’s kind of up to us to figure it out until then, or so the thinking goes. But when we follow the concept of grace throughout the New Testament we also see that another major function of grace is to compel us toward good works now, it’s to change our hearts now, it’s to fuel us to Christlikeness now. Being busy doesn’t accomplish this for us, being dependent on God’s grace does.

Take in these words from Dallas Willard: “We consume the most grace by leading a holy life, in which we must be constantly upheld by grace, not by continuing to sin and being repeatedly forgiven. The interpretation of grace as having only to do with guilt is utterly false to biblical teaching and renders spiritual life in Christ unintelligible.” In other words, we tend to think that the people who need the most grace are the ones who keep messing up, who keep draining God’s forgiveness. But in some ways it’s the polar opposite of this. As Dallas points out, those who look the most like Jesus on the inside and outside are actually the ones consuming the most grace because holiness runs on grace. Earlier I referenced Ephesians 2:8-9. Now consider verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” Notice the good works God has for us to do are based on the grace Paul begins talking about in verses 5-9.

If I can sum up my thoughts for you it’s this: Busyness doesn’t equal godliness. Yes, we as Christ-followers should be passionate about good, concrete actions of love for others—Paul says we were created for this. But as you work steadily for the Lord (at work, in your home, running carpool and errands) be sure you’re being fueled by grace simply because we can’t fuel our own holiness. And if you find yourself in a quieter season like myself, don’t believe the lie that being busy will make you a better Christian. It will only make you a busier Christian. So let His grace fill you and fuel you in times of quiet. Because we know how this goes. The crazy seasons are usually just around the corner. And we’ll need all the grace we can get.