Archive for January, 2018

The Treasure in God's Word

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

In today’s world of instant communication it’s not nearly as common to write a letter or email to someone just to share your life with them, but I find that it is especially appreciated. Years ago I would write long letters to Phil’s mom telling her what was happening in our lives – the big things and the small things. We would talk with her on the phone at least once a week, but the letters provided more of the everyday things and the deeper what’s-on-our-minds things than we might communicate in a phone conversation. Phil now writes long emails to his sister sometimes. I always ask him to send me a copy of the emails because I get a different perspective of how he views what is happening in our lives as I read him describing situations and encounters to his sister.

Reading a letter has a way of bringing us into the life of the person writing. Think about a time when you have received an unexpected letter or an email from someone you love. As you read, you enter their world for a short time. You can hear them speaking the words that have been written. You can see the gestures they might be making if they were standing in front of you telling you stories you are reading. The letters bring you into their presence.

The same is true of God’s Word, but to an even greater degree because God’s Words are “God-breathed”. They were written under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and they carry that anointing with them. How amazing is that? I mean they are just words on a page, right? No, they are not. They are God-inspired and they bring us into the presence of a holy and amazing God.

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

In a previous blog, I encouraged everyone to read through the Bible each year. It is so do-able. Today, however, I want to talk about different ways to read the Bible. Each has its own purpose and benefits. We’ll look at three methods:

  • Reading for Information
  • Reading for Inspiration
  • Reading for Transformation

Regardless of how you’re reading, there are a couple of principles that apply:

  • Pray before you read. This seems so obvious, but I find that it is so easy to forget this step. I sit down to read each morning and I might be so eager to read what’s next I just start reading. Or I might just be in the routine of things and forget to pray. Ugh! That’s so wrong. Remember, if Scripture is God-inspired (and it is), it is the Holy Spirit that unlocks that inspiration as we read. Pause to thank God for preserving His Word and speaking to you today through that Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to open its treasures for you. Even when we are reading for information we’ll find treasures that will stick with us throughout the day, and sometimes we’ll find treasures that change our lives forever.
  • Avoid distractions. Find a place where you won’t be distracted by your To Do list. I find it helpful to have a piece of paper or spreadsheet open where I can jot down things that might flit through my mind that I don’t want to forget. Writing them down lets me avoid the distraction of trying to remember them. It releases me to return to reading.
  • Look for application in your life. Regardless of how you’re reading, you always want to ask God how and what to apply to your life.
  • Take notes or journal. Develop the habit of taking notes or journaling what you’re reading. I don’t do this every day, but frequently when a verse or an incident in Scripture grabs my attention, I will journal about it. The experience of writing about it opens my thoughts (or perhaps my spirit) to it so that I receive more insight into the passage or verse. I’m a writer, so my journal is all words with the occasional song or diagram. If you are an artist, perhaps your journal will be a collection of pictures instead of words. Let me note here that often when I start to write, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write – I just know that a verse has caught my attention. So I start writing about it. It almost feels silly sometimes to be writing when I don’t know where I’m headed. But God (don’t you just love those two words? I do)…But God opens the door to more treasures as I write and Scripture becomes more alive to me.

Now let’s look at the three different ways to read Scripture. It’s important to note that there is a great deal of overlap in the methods, but they are distinctly different. God will speak to you when reading using each method.

Reading for information
Typically, when we are reading through the Bible according to a schedule or reading through the Bible in a year, we are reading for information – that is, to get the “Big Picture” and to understand the principles, facts and directives of Scripture. Reading for information is like reading a history book. You are reading to learn names, places, dates, facts. You are reading to learn the story of the Bible. But the Bible is more than a textbook and as you learn the story, you will see how it is the story that leads to salvation and power through Jesus Christ. What I love about reading through the Bible in a year is that by reading larger portions in each sitting, I see the inter-connectedness of Scripture.

Reading for information is looking into the Word and brings light into your life.

Reading for Inspiration
Reading for information engages your mind; reading for inspiration engages your heart. It is devotional reading and usually involves reading only a single chapter or story. Reading inspirationally allows you to get to know God more intimately and love God more deeply. It is reading at a slower pace. It is pausing to consider what characters are saying and thinking about what they’re feeling. It is reflecting on actions and words.

Reading for inspiration is looking into the face of God and calms your spirit.

Reading for Transformation
Reading for transformation is the step beyond reading for inspiration. It is learning what God wants for and from my life. Primary purpose of the Bible is to change and transform us. The objective of reading for transformation is not to cover as much as possible or complete a specific reading assignment. You might find yourself on a single verse for quite a while (that is, a number of days or weeks). The point of transformational reading is meeting God in the text. It’s more indepth. You have to take time with it to hear what it says.

The practice known as lectio devina (literally “divine reading” in Latin) is transformational reading. It involves reading the text slowly and with reflection, meditating on the text, praying through the text and waiting and listening for God to speak to us through the text. It is a relaxed, meditative process.

Simply reading for information doesn’t typically transform us. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., author of Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation wrote this:

 “In informational reading, we try to master the text. In transformational reading, it masters us.”
M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation

If reading for inspiration is looking into the face of God, reading for transformation is crawling into His lap and listening to His heartbeat.

Where Does Study Happen?
What we typically call “Bible Study” occurs in all three methods, although you may find it more heavily in reading for information than the other approaches. But in all cases, good Bible Study guides, devotionals and commentaries can improve your understanding and personal application of the Bible in your own life. For me personally, I find that learning what the Greek or Hebrew words really mean greatly enhances my reading in all three areas. But I’m a word nerd. He may speak to you differently. The point is to not eschew outside help. God wants to speak to you, He wants to teach, inspire and transform you. He wants to see you become more like Jesus day by day.

Why Read?

Because God’s Word holds the greatest treasure of all:

13You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13 (HCSB)

What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you today?

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6So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” ?thinking,? “The men of the place will kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is a beautiful woman.”
Genesis 26:6-7 (HCSB)

Sins of the Father Visited Upon Their Children

This verse records Isaac committing the same sin as his father Abraham. In Genesis 12 verses 2 and 3, God makes a covenant with Abraham (then called Abram) to make him into a great nation, to bless him and to bless all the people of the earth through him. (The covenant is repeated in Genesis 17.) He also told Abraham to leave his country and go to the land God would show him.

Also in Genesis 12, just 10 verses later, Abraham instructs his wife Sarah (Sarai at the time) to pretend to be his wife “so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:13).

We have a classic example here of the sins of the father continuing in the son. We read this in Exodus 20:5 (and other places):

5You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity [sins] of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
Exodus 20:5 (ESV)

Hmmm…does this mean that the children commit the sins or they simply experience the negative consequences of the parents’ sin? I would say both. It’s easy to understand how children experience consequences of their parents’ sin, but if we look around us, we also see many examples of children committing the same sins as their parents. This leads me to believe that the passage can also indicate that the sins of the father somehow spiritually give the children a proclivity toward that sin. John Piper, author of Desiring God and many other books, agrees and says this about the passage:

We are not told how the father’s sins become the children’s sins. That is a mysterious thing left in God’s mind. But they do. What we are told is that when father’s sins are visited on the children it is because the children have become sinners like the fathers. The father’s sins are the children’s sins.

It All Comes Down to Trust

What impressed me more than the repetition of sins through generations is that Abraham’s sin and Isaac’s sin both boil down to being acts of not trusting God. Both men had a covenant with God (although Isaac hadn’t yet received it personally). Both men chose not to trust that God was able to keep them safe so that He could, at some future time, fulfill the promise He had given them.

It was only ten verses of Scripture from the time God established His covenant with Abraham until Abraham denied Him. God’s covenant with Abraham wasn’t a small thing. He made it clear that He was going to make Abraham into many nations and that Abraham would not only be blessed himself, but that he would be a blessing to all people on the earth. So Abraham began to follow God. But along the way, he quit relying on God and began to rely on himself.

I’m sure Abraham (and Isaac) didn’t see that they were missing the mark on this. They were simply doing “what seemed right in their own eyes” (ref. Judges 17:6). They were protecting themselves. Protecting ourselves often seems like wisdom. So they too action – probably without a lot of thinking and certainly not a lot of praying. Abraham and Isaac developed plans to protect themselves in a foreign country.

What they didn’t do was trust God to protect them.

We’re Not So Different from Abraham and Isaac

I suspect that most of the lies people tell come from the same root – wanting to protect themselves either from the consequences from something they’ve done or not done, or from some real or imagined threat. So we make compromises hoping (or perhaps “helping” God) to “protect” our current life so that God can fulfill His promises for the future!

Can there be any Godly wisdom in that? Of course not. It is foolish, earthly wisdom. God wants to use our present situations to prepare us for the future fulfillment of the promises He’s given us. He wants to teach us to trust Him in the little things and the big things of today so that we are better prepared to trust Him in the little and big things we will face tomorrow and ten years from now.

We know that God uses all things for the good of those who love and pursue Him (Romans 8:28). So He takes our lies and our other missteps (aka sins) of the present, redeems them and uses them in our future if we submit them and ourselves to Him. But how much the better to have not sinned at all! How much the better to trust God in our present so that He can bring about the fulfillment of His promises

Where Do We Go from Here?

  • First, friends, ask God where you have made compromises in your life. The Holy Spirit will reveal them to you. Repent in those areas. Make changes where changes are necessary. Trust that God is in the process and He will be faithful as you do the right thing in difficult situations. I’ve lived by one maxim for many, many years: Do the right thing and trust God with the results. I find it especially helpful when faced with difficult decisions. Ask God to reveal the right thing, then do it, trusting Him to protect you.
  • Trust God to forgive past sins. Don’t carry around old guilt. That’s condemnation from the enemy, not conviction from the Lord. Confess your sins and trust that He is faithful to forgive them (1 John 1:9).
  • Be appropriately transparent with your children. Seek God about what, if anything, of your past sins you should discuss with children. They will see the change as you repent of past sins, but if a discussion with them helps them to avoid the same sins, ask God if and when the time is right to have those conversations.
  • Serve God in confidence that He is working in you and will fulfill all the promises He’s made to you as you continue to pursue Him.

God is very good, friends. He already knows your sins and He still loves you. Rejoice in that!

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16All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (HCSB)

Bible and Gems

I love the Lord, and if you’re reading this blog, I am guessing that you do, too. And I love how He changes things up sometimes. And the source of that change-up usually comes from His Word.

On New Year’s Eve we were worshipping and praying in a small church service. During the service my husband Phil quoted a verse of Scripture that will be his key verse in 2018. It has been a significant verse in our life for many years, but we believe it has special significance this year. (No, it’s not the key verse quoted above.)

As I meditated on the verse on New Year’s Day, I began to develop a sermon around it. About 2 weeks later I went back to polish up that sermon to deliver at a nursing home in which we minister. God didn’t polish the first sermon, He gave me a totally different message.

I tell you this only as an intro to say that it really excites me that God can give two totally different (yet related) messages on the same verse. It also really excites me that God gives the Word or message that specific people need to hear. When He gave me the first message I anticipated sharing it at our church. It turned out that our nursing home service was scheduled before I was scheduled to preach at our church. I thought I would be sharing a small part of the message I had prepared for our church at the nursing home. God had other ideas He used the same verse but totally changed the focus of the message. How cool is that?

God’s Word is amazing. It is what we need, when we need it. I suspect you’ll see bits and pieces of those two messages over the coming weeks, but today I wanted to praise God for His Word. It is good and powerful and life-changing!

God’s Word is a light to our path, correction when we’ve made a wrong turn, and wisdom for daily living. That’s easy to say (or write) but it’s not always easy to live. We can’t live it unless we know it and are immersed in it every day.

Being immersed in God’s word doesn’t mean simply reading your Bible every day. In years past I have placed a great emphasis in this blog encouraging you to read through the Bible in a year. I still do that personally and I still think it’s something that anyone can do. You can easily read through the New Testament in a year – there are only 260 chapters in it, so the only thing keeping you from accomplishing that goal is setting it – getting over the thought that it is un-doable, finding a reading plan you like (google “Bible reading plans”) and getting started. There are 1189 chapters in the entire Bible. Divide that by 365 days and you learn that you can read through the entire Bible by reading less than 3.26 chapters a day. That’s do-able, too! But I digress.

Immersing yourself in the Bible and reading the Bible are two different things. Last year, I decided NOT to read through the Bible. It was actually a hard thing for me to do, but I purposed to read each day until God impressed something from the reading on my heart. Guess what! (Again, I’m digressing, but…) God allowed me to read through the Bible while doing this and I actually finished early! That’s a first!

The point is, I wasn’t just reading. I was reading and listening for God to speak – to impress upon my heart some verse or event or concept. Then I was meditating on that. Now, let me be honest – each day wasn’t a “WOW” impression. That would have been overwhelming. But many days He did open my eyes, spirit and heart to something I needed to know. Many times He did highlight a verse as I read and that verse would speak specifically to a need in my life or the life of someone I would encounter in the next couple of days.

So, friends – in this first blog of 2018 – written here on the 15th of January (and refusing to feel any guilt about that), I want to encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s Word. Read it, study it, meditate on it. The treasures it will unfold will amaze you.

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