Archive for the “Scripture/The Bible” Category

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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Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)

 If you are following the Treasure Seeking in God’s Word reading schedule with us, you are reading through the Proverbs this month. I have to be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the book of Proverbs. Yes, I recognize its value, but I don’t enjoy reading it – largely because of the writing style. The content is good (uh…it is the Word of God, perhaps I should say the content is inspired and holy and awesome – “good” seems a bit pathetic now that I think about it)…but the writing style is off-putting for me. I guess God’s Word has styles for everyone, right? Still, whether it’s my style of preference or not, I recognize the value of reading the whole Word of God, so I’m in Proverbs.

Just in case I didn’t recognize the value of reading Proverbs, the first four verses describe that value:

 1These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
Proverbs 1:1-4 (NLT)

The purpose of the proverbs is to teach us wisdom and discipline. Who wants that? OK, most of us want wisdom, but most rebel at discipline. (Have you eaten healthy and exercised regularly this week?) These verses tell us the consequences of making the Proverbs part of our lives:

  • Gives us insight to the wise
  • Teaches us to live successful lives (yes, we learn that, it’s not a matter of luck)
  • Gives us insight to the simple – in other words, we can understand people, both wise and simple
  • Gives knowledge and discernment to the young – we don’t have to wait until we’re older and more experienced, the Proverbs can give us wisdom while we are still young

Those are pretty valuable benefits of embracing Proverbs – the Solomon, the writer of the Proverbs, says they are a source of wisdom and knowledge. In today’s reading, Solomon takes his discussion of wisdom further. While the first chapter taught the purpose of the proverbs, chapter 4 teaches us about the value of wisdom.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
7Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
8Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
9She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.”
10Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
11I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
12When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Proverbs 4:6-12 (NIV)

“Do not forsake wisdom” Solomon writes – because here are some of the benefits:

  • Wisdom watches over us – it protects us and gives us security
  • Wisdom exalts us – it will bring us success
  • Wisdom brings us honor
  • Wisdom will “set a garland of grace on your head” –our lives will be characterized by grace
  • Wisdom crowns our heads with beauty – our lives will be beautiful (to ourselves and others)
  • Wisdom leads to a long life
  • Wisdom keeps us from stumbling over the pitfalls of life

If you want security, success, honor, grace, beauty and a long life that avoids the major pitfalls this world would throw at you, what you really want is wisdom. The book of Proverbs consistently tells us that wisdom is something we must pursue, practice and guard. In other words, it doesn’t come naturally. It also tells us that wisdom is found at the feet of the Lord. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning [or foundation] of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10, NIV/NLT)

By pursuing God, we are pursuing wisdom. Let’s continue together.

You can download our Treasure Seeking in God’s Word from this blog – it provides a schedule for reading through the Bible in 2014. Starting late? No problem. Start today and read a little more each day and you’ll catch up to us, or use the schedule as is and finish a year from today. Either way, you’re seeking treasure – God’s Word is full of them!

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1These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2
Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.
5Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance
6by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.
7Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 1:1-7 (NLT)

I don’t always enjoy reading the book of Proverbs, but I appreciate its value. The Proverbs are straightforward in their purpose and advice. There are many who read through the book each month, reading about a chapter each day. After all, who doesn’t want wisdom?

The first verses of Proverbs 1 establish the purpose of the book – to teach wisdom and discipline. Why would anyone want to be taught discipline? Because it leads to a successful life. That’s a pretty good reason.

Notice that the book has value for those who are already wise – they will become “even wise.”

So as we begin to read Proverbs in our Resting at the River’s Edge readings, let me encourage you not to breeze through them, not to allow your mind to go into autopilot as you read. Ask God before each reading to teach you the wisdom and revelation he has for you in each day’s passage.

As it says in chapter 2 (I’ve read ahead just a little):

2Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.
3Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.
4Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.
Proverbs 2:2-8 (NLT)

Before reading each day, “cry out for insight, ask for understanding.” Don’t read with earthly wisdom, ask God for his wisdom as you read. The exciting thing is that He’ll respond. Proverbs 2 continues:

5Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God.
6For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
8He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him.
Proverbs 2:2-8 (NLT)

This last passage is the one that prompted me to write today. The Lord grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. I grew up believing that I didn’t have any common sense. I knew I could study and learn things, but things that others knew I didn’t seem to know. That logical answer that many called common sense eluded me. As an adult, I understand that those perceptions were lies and that I do have common sense, but childish notions often haunt us into adulthood despite our best efforts to dispel them. God grants a treasure – a treasure – of common sense to the honest. I seek to be an honest person (because long ago God got my attention with another proverb, but we’ll save that story for another blog). I can trust that God will grant me a treasure of common sense. Along with it He’ll grant me wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He’ll also be my shield and guard my paths. Sounds like great reasons to ask God to reveal Himself to me as I read through Proverbs this month.

Will you join me? If you haven’t downloaded the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedule for May, you can do it here. As you read, I’d love to hear what God is speaking to your heart. Post on our Facebook page or add a comment here. Blessings, friends, as you seek God for wisdom. May He give you a treasure of common sense along the way.

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I love it when the absolutely perfect Scripture comes to my mind just when I need it! That’s the working of the Holy Spirit. But He doesn’t have a lot to work with if we don’t regularly read and memorize Scripture. King David wrote:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Memorizing Scripture puts a hedge around our heart, minds and actions. The Holy Spirit uses it to direct us, to re-direct us, and to comfort us. Those are good things!

There was a time in my life when I was much more active in memorizing Scripture. I think the time has come to return to the practice, so I wanted to share some tips for memorizing Scripture with you.

  1. Pray! Ask God to help you memorize the passage. Ask Him to bring the passage alive to you.
  2. Repetition is the key to memorization. Whichever of the following tools you implement (and I recommend you use a combination of them), use them again and again to help you own the verses you’re memorizing. Make use of previously “lost” time – like standing in line at the store, sitting at a red light, waiting for your dinner to cook or the TV commercial to be over.
  3. Speak and hear the passage. Repeat the verses out loud first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and last thing at night. Speaking the verses uses a different area of the brain than simply reading them and it allows you to hear the passage, bringing in yet another area of your brain into the process.
  4. Visualize the words of the passage. Write it on a business card and carry it with you. Take a picture of it with your cell phone and make it your cover image. Put it on a physical or digital post-it on your desktop computer, your laptop or your notebook. Tape it to your mirror, your refrigerator or your TV. The point is to put it in a place where you will see it regularly. As you see it, say it.
  5. Visualize the meaning or sense of the passage. Imagine the scene of the passage or associate it with an image that draws out the meaning of the passage.
  6. Use the passage. There must be a reason you’re memorizing it – so use it! If it’s a passage about giving thanks, repeat it before giving thanks. Share the verse with a friend who needs the encouragement or wisdom provided by the passage. Quote the passage when facing temptations.
  7. Sing the passage. Either find a song or make one up!
  8. Teach the verses to someone else – your children or a friend. Teaching something always reinforces it in the teacher’s mind.
  9. Find a friend who will memorize passages of Scripture with you. Everything is better with a good friend.
  10. Study the passage in more depth. Often learning what the words mean helps me to remember the passage.
  11. Find a “hook” – something that helps you get past stumbling places in the passage. For example, I’m memorizing Psalm 92:1-2 this week. The hardest part for me is remembering the first phrase – that is, getting started. I studied the passage (tip #9) and learned that the word “good” in the first phrase was also used by God to describe His creation. So when I go blank at the beginning of the verse, I pause and remember the hook instead of the words to the verse. The phrase “it is good!” comes to me immediately and from there I’ve got the verse down. (OK, I almost have it down, I’m still working on it a bit.)
  12. Look for transition words. If you find yourself getting partway through the passage and then get stuck, think about what transitions the passage you know with the passage you don’t know. Often there’s a small word that connects the two parts and you can use that word as a trigger for remembering the second part of the passage.
  13. Try an app! Desiring God has an app called Fighter Verses that is available for both iPhone and Android. And there are others. If you’ve got one that works for you, let us know so others can check it out.
  14. Enjoy the passage! Remember, it’s God’s Word! His love letter to you. His instruction book to you. His guide for successful living.
  15. And in the now infamous words of Nike – Just Do It!

I’ve read some other pretty creative ways to help people memorize Scripture as I’ve researched the topic. If you’ve got a unique (or not so unique) approach or tip that works for you, share it with us. It might just be the tip that someone else needs to be successful at memorizing Scripture.

Preview There’s a purpose in me publishing this blog today…watch for Tuesday’s post!

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God tells us in His word that:

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) (emphasis mine)

And I choose to believe that…Then I come to long passages like the beginning chapters of 1 Chronicles. How are we to read and love Scriptures when for the past week it seems all I’m doing is reading names, names and more names. Most of which aren’t pronounceable and most of which I can’t relate to one another. Yes, I suppose it’s nice to know that…

10The descendants of Solomon were Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, 11Jehoram, Ahaziah, Joash, 12Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, 13Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, 14Amon, and . If you’re reading the additional reading Josiah.
1 Chronicles 3:10-14 (NLT)

And I might even be able to remember some things about some of those people (although without research I can’t be sure if what I remember about Jehoshaphat is really about this Jehoshaphat or some other Jehoshaphat), but…inspired by God and useful for equipping me for the works God has prepared for me? OK, that’s a bit of a stretch in my faith sometimes!

Yet it is God’s Word, so I choose to believe it. So I choose to read those passages. But let me be honest with you – because perhaps you’re a bit like me and wondering…why? And beyond the “why”, I want to address the “how” – how do I read those kinds of chapters.

First the “Why”
Why should I read chapters that seem to have no impact on my faith and practice? The answer to that one is simple – because God has told us that ALL scripture is God-breathed and has value for us. OK. I don’t get it. But then I also don’t get why He had to make more than 35,000 different types of spiders. This falls into the category of obedience for me. God said it would be profitable. I choose to believe God. I choose to do things that I wouldn’t normally do because I believe God.

Then the “How”
How do I approach chapters of names upon names? All of the above not withstanding, I usually don’t read these passages with the same deliberateness that I read other passages. Let me say that occasionally I do read them carefully, focusing on each name, or even reading them aloud forcing myself to concentrate on each name. Occasionally. Because I take God at His Word and believe there’s value in it for me. But most times, I approach the passages in one of two ways:

From a “Why did God include this” perspective –
I ask the bigger “why” question – “Why did God choose to have them included in the Bible?” Considering this question when reading passages that seem irrelevant to us will help us begin to appreciate them and find value in them. It’s often where I find the lessons in these passages. In the case of names, for example, I learn that God cares about individuals enough to have their names recorded. I learn that He is a God of detail and precision. I learn about the importance of genealogy to God. I can take any of those lessons into more depth (through study or meditation and prayer) to learn more about the heart of God and the ways of God.

From a “what catches my attention” perspective –
I skim the passages, letting my eyes touch each paragraph to find anything that is different about the paragraph or any name that jumps off the page at me. If there is, I will carefully read that passage and then study it if God leads.

It’s this kind of reading that will cause passages like this to jump out at you:

9There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. 10He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.
1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (NLT)

These two verses about Jabez fall in the midst of 37 verses of names upon names. All other verses simply tell us who was the father of whom. Names, names and more names. Except these two verses devoted to a man named Jabez. When reading long passages like 1 Chronicles, I look for anomalies – things that are different and stand out. Jabez stands out.

I’ll leave the discussion of these two verses for another time – or you can check out one of the many books on the verses the book here one of the many books on the verses the book here. For now, let me encourage you to keep reading! It’s OK to skim sometimes, but keep reading!

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History was never my strong suit and it was a subject I never enjoyed. Still, I remember learning about Julius Caesar, and the names Plato and Aristotle have a familiarity. I’m sorry to say that if you asked me anything specific about these three I would be hard pressed to come up with one fact about each. What I do remember, though, is that whatever my teachers tried to teach me, I was taught as fact and accepted what they said as fact. This was happening at the same time that I somehow came to the conclusion that the Bible was not fact.

What’s interesting about this is that based on verifiable historical evidence – that is actual copies of documents, the New Testament is significantly – and I mean significantly – more reliable and accurate than everything we have about Caesar, Plato and Aristotle, and a ton of other ancient writers I don’t remember learning about in history class. Reliability and accuracy of an ancient document is determined largely by the number of copies found (each of which might be fragments of the whole or the whole document) and the length of time between the writing of the document and our oldest copy of it. Let me give you a taste of the difference between the New Testament and some of these other ancient documents:

Plato was a Greek philosopher and mathematician who lived approximately 427-347 BC. Wikipedia describes him as “one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy.” Our earliest copy of his writings is dated 900 AD – about 1200 years after they were written. We have a total of 7 copies.

Aristotle was a student of Plato and a teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on a wide variety of subjects between 450 and 385 BC. The oldest manuscript we’ve found is from 1100 AD – also about 1200 years after they were written. We have 10 copies of his writings.

Julius Caesar lived from 100 to 44 BC. Much of what we know about his life were from his own writings. The earliest copy we have is from 900 AD, 1000 years after they were written. We have 10 copies.

The New Testament was written between 50 and 100 AD. The earliest copy we have is from approximately 130 AD. That’s less than 100 years after it was written. We have fragments from the Gospel of John that could have been one of the first copies. We have approximately 5,800 ancient manuscripts from the New Testament.

I accepted as fact ancient writings for which we have ten or less copies, the oldest of which were made 900 or more years after the original was written yet I doubted the veracity of a document for which there are 5,800 copies, the oldest of which was made less than a generation after the original was written.

I think that’s what the Bible would call deceived. I’m thankful that God opened my eyes to the Truth of His Word.

For more on the subject, check out these resources:

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

Wikipedia

Special thanks to Bible Study Magazine, Nov & Dec 2009 issue

And if you’re really interested in the subject watch Josh McDowell, author of Evidence that Demands a Verdict, present evidence about the validity of Scripture in this video.

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Bible with Gems in Treasure ChestI read a passage recently and as I read it, I thought “Oh, that might be a good passage to preach at mom’s nursing home on Sunday.” What followed was a particularly busy and hectic week. When Friday evening came around I was worn out and hadn’t started my sermon for Sunday. I knew I had some ideas rolling around in the back of my head, but I hadn’t prayed about it as diligently as I typically would nor had I made any notes or settled on a topic or passage. I knew Saturday was set aside to celebrate our anniversary so I had begun to think that I might read over one or two of the passages that were possibilities and simply preach extemporaneously. That is much less than my normal preparation, but I’ve learned that God extends grace when we are faithful. I had been faithful the previous week to do the unexpected things He’d thrown my way, so I would trust Him to bring a message on Sunday that would meet the needs of the nursing home congregation.

After a short rest, I knew I wanted to decide on a direction for Sunday’s sermon, even if I wasn’t going to do the study I typically do. I returned to the passage that had caught my eye earlier in the week – 2 Corinthians 1. I reread it, and was satisfied that I could preach from it without any notes if necessary. But that’s not my pattern, so I thought I’d make just a few notes in case I was a bit foggy brained when it came time to preach.

I copied the text into my word processing software and I began to make a few notes after each verse. And that’s when the passage came alive to me. I was so blessed to find gems buried just below the surface. They were just waiting for me to spend a little time digging. It didn’t take hours of research and umpteen resources. Just a Bible and a pen and paper – or the modern day equivalent – I use QuickVerse and/or Wordsearch on my computer and Microsoft Word.

So I was again reminded that even a little effort – working through a passage verse by verse and actually making some notes instead of just reading a verse and then moving on to the next – gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to take us to a deeper level in understanding, receiving and applying God’s Word to our lives. In a short period of time, God had not only assured me that the passage was the perfect passage for Sunday’s message, it was also a message that so many of us need to hear regularly. It was a message to me. And I believe a message for you. I’ll share that message in a few days, but the first message is…

Study your Bible. Just take a passage that piques your interest as you read and begin to write your thoughts about it. Verse by verse. What does it say? What does it mean? Here’s a quick approach to study any passage:

  • Read over the whole passage. A passage might be anything from 1 to 15 verses – there’s no “rule” about it – just a chunk of Scripture that can be digested at one time.
  • If you have more time, read the material before and after the passage to be sure you are reading the passage in context.
  • Now read each verse one by one and make notes about it. Your notes don’t need to be whole sentences. Sometimes it’s just underlining words that grab your attention. Ask questions like:
    • What does the verse say?
    • What does the verse mean?
    • What do the words that grab my attention really mean? (A dictionary is a great companion for studying the Bible, and a Greek-Hebrew dictionary can give you better understanding of the meaning of the word that was translated into English.)
    • How does the verse connect to other verses?
    • Who is doing the talking/writing and who is he talking/writing to?
    • What would your reaction have been if you had been there and heard/read the words?
    • Why has this verse (or this word) caught my attention? What is the application to my life? What is God teaching me?
  • Don’t write non-stop. Pause to hear God’s voice. He may have some comments of His own to add!

Enjoy your Bible! It’s a great place to start a treasure hunt!

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Two weeks ago my pastor made this comment in his sermon: “we must rearrange our lives around living through Christ.” When he said that, my brain exploded a bit. Every significant thing that happens in our lives requires rearrangements – a changing of patterns. When you got your first job…your life was rearranged. When you got married…your life was rearranged as you learned to live as a couple instead of as two individuals! When you had children…your life was really rearranged! When you came to Christ…was your life rearranged? I hope so. I trust that it was, because serving God means rearranges our lives:

  • Get up earlier to spend time with Him
  • Our schedules are rearranged when we honor Him by giving Him one day of our week
  • Our finances are rearranged when we begin to tithe and when we give offerings as He directs
  • Our lifestyle is rearranged as we pursue Christ more and more, leaving behind things that aren’t pleasing to Him

Looking at that short list, though I see that they are all rearrangements of our schedules and activities…but God wants to rearrange more than our schedules and activities – He also wants to rearrange how we think.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…
Romans 12:2a (NIV)

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…
Romans 12:2a (NLT)

The word “conform” means “follow the pattern of” – it’s related to the word that we get the word “schematic” from.

Schematic…pattern…blueprint…

Don’t follow the patterns created or established by this world but let the power of God transform you by changing the way you think. Let God rearrange the way you think! Continually!

How do we do that? The process starts by studying God’s Word for ourselves. There is no substitute for letting God speak to you by studying the Bible. It’s why I create our Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules – as an encouragement and aid to help you – to help me – read through the Bible consistently. And if reading through the Bible in 2 years is too much for you, take it slower. Read only the New Testament this year. That’s only 1 chapter a day five days a week. You can do that! You don’t need my permission, but I give you permission to ignore the other two columns in the schedule! Whether one chapter or ten, be in God’s Word every day.

In Romans 12:2, the word translated “renewing” in the NIV – “transformed by the renewing of our mind” – the word “renewing” carries the connotation of repetition. It’s not just made new or made new again, but made new again and again and again.

We need to continually allow God to rearrange our thinking – to challenge us. What kind of an attitude does it take to be challenged in our thinking? A humble one. We don’t go to God’s Word with the perspective “I’m going to read this and determine what it means. No, we go to God’s Word and say “Lord, will you teach me?”

In a good marriage or a good friendship, your life and your relationship is rearranged many times as you each grow and change. Phil and I have been married almost 34 years…about 3 years ago Phil developed an interest in tea. That interest literally lead to a rearrangement of our kitchen to make room for the new tea cabinet and our counters to make room for the teapot and various accoutrements that go with it. Phil’s developed another new interest lately. We’ve had long discussions – because I process things by talking about them – so we’ve had long discussions about schedules and finances and possessions and even our theology as our lives are rearranged simply by Phil developing a new interest.

Our relationship with God is not so different. It’s not that He changes His interests, but as we grow in Him, He reveals more and more of His heart to us and His desires for our lives.

As the bride of Christ…is your life being rearranged by Him regularly?

Studying God’s Word on a regular basis provides the instructions for rearranging our lives around Christ. When we meditate on Scripture, it provides the conversation, if you will, that allows us to process those instructions…to understand and to “own” them.

Words can rearrange our thinking, but it requires more than simply words to transform us into the people God wants us to be. Transformation requires the power of God. That power is alive in the words of Scripture. Hebrews tells us…

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

Scripture doesn’t just inform us, it doesn’t just teach us, it transforms us by the power of God. The word translated “power” here is “energace” – energy – active power, effective power! When we start with prayer, asking God to open our hearts and minds and spirits, Scripture becomes alive and powerful. The words take on the power, the breath, of God.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV/NLT)

Some translations say “All Scripture is ‘inspired by God’” – “God-breathed” is actually a better translation because the word translated as “inspired by God” is one word in the Greek. Scripture is “God breathed” – it’s not just inspired by God – it is the very essence of God – His breath. It’s that miraculous relationship that God has with Scripture that enables it, that gives it the power to rearrange our thinking and transforms us.

Let’s let God’s Word transform our minds…who knows what exciting rearrangement of our lives that might bring!

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading guides, you started the book of Leviticus this week. I’ll be honest with you – as I read about the various offerings this week, I was a little less than excited about what I was reading. I know there’s more to the book and I knew I was missing it. So I began to do a little research, and of course, that research becomes a blog…but not for today. As I started to write the first blog on Leviticus, I found that my “premise for writing” encompassed a full blog on its own, so I’m going to run with it. I’ll share what I’ve learned about the book of Leviticus in upcoming blogs. In the meantime…on to the premise.

I knew I was missing something as I was reading Leviticus because I start from the conviction of 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

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. (NIV)

I love the phrases used in this translation – “God-breathed”, “useful for…” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” All Scripture is all those things. How can I discount major portions of Scripture when it is all God-breathed? How can I not honor it when its purpose is to equip me – thoroughly equip me – for every good work. As I wrote in my last blog, God has ordained works for each of us. Scripture prepares us for that work. Whew! Or perhaps more appropriately – “Hallelujah!”

This year I’m reading through the Bible using the New Living Translation. While it is not as accurate as some other translations, it offers a more every-day language experience while reading. The NLT translates the passage this way:

16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. (NLT)

We have some of the same words, yet some words and phrases that are expressed differently. I like the phrase “make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” Yep, I need that sometimes. OK, all the time. I also like the phrase “It is God’s way of preparing us in every way.” Yes the meaning is the same (of course) as the NIV translation, but it reminds me that God is preparing me – in every way – for the work He has for me.

Dwight Moody put it this way in his book The Pleasure and Profit in Bible Study (copyright 1895 by Fleming H. Revell Co.):

“I never saw a fruit-bearing Christian who was not a student of the Bible. If a man neglects his Bible, he may pray and ask God to use him in His work; but God cannot make use of him, for there is not much for the Holy Ghost to work upon.”

It is Scripture that teaches us God’s way of thinking, God’s way of living, and God’s way of loving. Learning those things makes us usable in the Kingdom – to accomplish the purposes God has prepared for us.

Two words that these translations have in common that apply to our upcoming look into the book of Leviticus are those two words at the beginning of verse 16: “All Scripture”. It doesn’t say that some Scripture is useful, it says that all Scripture is useful. Which takes me back to reading Leviticus. It is a book of codes and regulations. Is there application for me today? According to 2 Timothy there is. Join us as we explore the book in the coming weeks.

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9bOur Father in heaven,
may your name be honored.

10May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done here on earth,
just as it is in heaven.

11Give us our food for today,
12and forgive us our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.

13And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9b-13 (NLT)

As I read Matthew 6 recently, the Holy Spirit whispered into my spirit “Do your prayers reflect Jesus’ Instructions?” I am sorry to admit that often my daily prayers do not reflect the same priorities as Jesus’ prayer. I so easily fall into the pattern of praying needs – my needs, the needs of family members and friends, and needs that touch my heart from around the world. Jesus includes a pray for God to meet our needs, but it’s almost incidental compared to the other elements of the prayer.

I am reading through the Bible in the New Living Translation this year. While I have a favorite translation, I like to read other translations because the different phraseology sometimes draws my attention in a new way. That can be especially true when I am reading well known passages like the Lord’s prayer. It’s easy for my eyes to skim over the words that I’ve heard and read so often. When I read the Lord’s prayer in the New Living Translation, it came to life in a new way.

Before looking at the prayer in more detail, however, let’s look at how the prayer was introduced in Luke’s gospel:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT)

Luke tells us that it was after the disciplines saw Jesus praying that they asked Him to teach them to pray. What’s interesting is that the disciplines presumably knew how to pray. They had been raised in Jewish homes and were regular attendees at their local synagogue. Prayer was not something they were unfamiliar with. The disciples recognized something different about Jesus’ prayers, however. They saw prayers that were more vital than any they had seen before. They saw lives changed as people were healed – physically, emotionally and spiritually. They were stirred in their spirits when Jesus prayed. They recognized that their prayers didn’t carry the authority and power that Jesus’ prayers did…so they asked Him to teach them.

And the prayer He prayed in response to their request is surprising in its simplicity and power. Let’s look at it a bit more closely.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored.
Matthew 6:9

Jesus begins by exalting His Father in heaven. The New Living Translation says “may your name be honored.” The New International Version has a better translation: “Hallowed be your name.” The word translated “hallowed” or “honored” means holy, consecrated and sanctified and is derived from a word meaning “sacred.” In that single phrase, Jesus recognizes and declares God as above all things and completely holy.

I frequently begin my prayers with the simple statement “God, you are so good.” Somehow that beginning centers me – it’s like breathing in a breath of fresh peace and it pulls me from the chaos around me into the center of God’s presence. The beginning of my prayer isn’t meant to get God’s attention, it’s meant to place my full attention on God and His goodness. Jesus’ prayer goes a step further. It exalts the Lord beyond His goodness to His perfect holiness. “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed be Your name.” The phrase itself steps me into worship.

An aside: I began this blog a couple of days ago. It got interrupted and I am now returning to finish it. It’s early in the morning and quiet in the house. The day hasn’t gone crazy yet. As I whispered the words I wrote – “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed by Your name” – tremendous worship filled my heart. I am so glad we serve a holy God. It is His holiness that makes His goodness possible. If He were not perfectly holy, He would not be perfectly good. “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed be Your name.” Wow!

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done here on earth,
just as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10

After declaring God’s holiness, Jesus speaks into the spiritual realm and asks God to bring His Kingdom to earth – here and now. He asks for God’s will to be accomplished on the earth. Jesus knew two things as He prayed this prayer: That God’s will is good – it is His will that all be saved; and that God’s will meant great personal sacrifice for Jesus. Jesus knew He was praying into His journey to the cross and He knew He was praying into His journey of making it possible for all to be saved. When I pray God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” I don’t know what that means for my future. What I do know is that I serve a perfectly holy, just and good God. I can trust Him with my future.

So let’s step back from the immediacy of our lives and pray into the future. “Lord, I want Your will to be done.” Praying into that future affects the immediate. Lord, if You don’t want me to have this job, I don’t want it. If You don’t want me to have this ministry, I don’t want to have it. If You don’t want me to have this spouse, I don’t want him or her.

I know. Those things are easier to write than to live when we really want the job, the ministry or the spouse. What I really want more, though, is Jesus and His life for me. “Father, Your will, not mine.”

I think it’s very easy to make this portion of Jesus’ prayer over spiritual and not apply it to our own lives. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are praying two aspects of the prayer. There will come a day when God’s Kingdom will be on earth so we’re praying “come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Until that time, however, it’s important to recognize that we’re praying for His will to be done through us. God isn’t just going to superimpose His great and glorious Kingdom here on earth (at least not yet) – he’s going to work it out in our lives. And that’s a good thing – what a glorious opportunity God gives us to live the life He (in all His holiness) has purposed for us!

Give us our food for today,
Matthew 6:11

God cares about our physical needs. In this simple phrase, Jesus’ prayer tells me two things: (1) ask God for what you need today, and (2) don’t worry about tomorrow’s needs. If we always trust for God to meet our needs today, is there any reason to worry about tomorrow’s needs? No. Yet we are very good at turning tomorrow’s needs into today’s worry, aren’t we? Just a few verses later Jesus encourages the disciples to trust God for everyday things:

25“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? 26Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. 
Matthew 6:25-26 (NLT)

As Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He included one phrase “Give us our food for today.” Implied in that sentence is our trust that God will provided the food we need – every day. “Lord, give us the food we need for today and I will be satisfied.”

and forgive us our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
Matthew 6:12

The phraseology in the New Living Translation is a little different from the more traditional phrasing of this verse. It puts our forgiveness of others in the past tense – “Lord, forgive my sins just as I have (already) forgiven others.” There is a relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. Unforgiveness hinders our relationship with God.

In Matthew 18 and Luke 19 Scripture records one of Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and reinforces this point. A King had a servant who owed him a great debt but could not pay. The King forgave the servant’s debt. The servant then went to those who owed him money and insisted on payment. Even though they begged for more time to pay, the servant showed no forgiveness and had them thrown into prison. The King was not pleased:

32Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
Matthew 18, 32-34 (NLT)

Christ died so that our sins (and they are many) could be forgiven. Shouldn’t we have mercy on our fellow servants as well?

Remember that previous line in Jesus’ prayer – “May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”? Forgiving one another is part of the working out of God’s Kingdom on earth.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:13 (NLT)

I like this translation of Matthew 6:13. It reinforces that I have a responsibility here – to resist temptation. James tells us to resist the devil and the devil will flee from us (James 4:7b). I like that verse!

God will deliver us from the evil one, but we must resist him. Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. Jesus had to resist the temptation. He battled it with the Word of God and satan fled.

As we walk purposefully through life, honoring God’s name and making His will our highest priority, yielding to temptation becomes less and less desirable. We will battle our fleshly nature as long as we are in the flesh, but the closer we draw to God, the less tempting those sinful natures become. The passage in James 4 continues with a key verse:

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.
James 4:8 (NLT)

Draw close to God today – through the prayer His Son taught us to pray. Make it your own.

“Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. May Your kingdom come on earth, may Your will be done on earth – as it is done in heaven. I trust You today for the food, clothing and shelter I need. Forgive my sins, Lord. I forgive those who have sinned against me. Help me to resist the temptation to sin today – deliver me from satan’s snares.”

“For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

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