Archive for the “Scripture/The Bible” Category

There is only one man God referred to as “a man after my own heart” – King David. Wow! What a way to be known by God! We know that the King was not without his flaws and not without sin, but what earned him the title of “a man after my own heart” was his deep, passionate love for God. God saw into King David’s heart and knew that he had found a friend – someone who would stand by His side forever.

King David was a bit of a renaissance man –

  • Mighty in battle – of course, there’s the story of killing Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and then there’s the refrain that ate at Saul’s heart – “Saul has killed his thousands and David has killed his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7)
  • A great King of Israel
  • A true friend – to Jonathan (1 Samuel 18) and then his son Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)
  • An inventor of musical instruments (Nehemiah 12)
  • An extravagant worshipper of God (2 Samuel 16)
  • A songwriter and poet (the Psalms of David)

That’s quite a contrast – a man of war, a great administrator and a poet! One of King David’s Psalms is described by Matthew Henry, a favorite commentator of many, as being “like none of the rest; it excels them all, and shines brightest in this constellation.” He goes on to describe it as “David’s pious and devout exclamations, the short and sudden breathings and elevations of his soul to God.”

With that as a backdrop, it seems appropriate, even beneficial to study this Psalm. What you’ll find is that such a study will be quite different from most because the Psalm is quite different from all others. It is more than twice as long as any other Psalm, and is written in a distinctive manner.

The psalm of the hour is Psalm 119. Matthew Henry goes on to describe the Psalm:

“The composition of it is singular and very exact. It is divided into twenty-two parts, according to the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and each part consists of eight verses, all the verses of the first part beginning with Aleph [the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet], all the verses of the second with Beth [the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet], and so on, without any flaw throughout the whole psalm.”

Archbishop Tillotson says, “It seems to have more of poetical skill and number in it than we at this distance can easily understand. Some have called it the saints’ alphabet; and it were to be wished we had it as ready in our memories as the very letters of our alphabet, as ready as our A B C.”

In other words…it’s a worthwhile read.

I find it fascinating that when King David decided to put pen to paper in this unique Psalm, when he wanted to write a poem or song that started each verse with a different letter of the alphabet and worked through all the letters, from A to Z (so to speak), the subject he chose to write about is God’s Word. It wasn’t God’s grace or His mercy or His compassion or His love. It was His Word. David’s love for God was so deep and so passionate, that David loved each Word that came from Him.

Reading through the Psalm, you’ll find that David uses many different words to describe God’s Word: statutes, laws, commands, word. King David loved the Lord and he loved God’s Word. As I read Psalm 119 – all 176 verses of it (!), three themes stand out:

David’s love of and delight in God’s Word
The value of God’s Word
David’s request that God teach him from His Word

As we look at a few verses related to each theme, I’m sure you’ll find some that are quite familiar to you. And as we look at them together, I’m praying that God will use David’s words to ignite a love for God’s Word in each of us.

David’s love of and delight in God’s Word

Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.
(Verse 24)

David describes God’s statutes – His laws – as a delight! They are not burdensome as some might consider them, they are a delight. We’ll see why when we look at what David says about their value.

David is so confident in God’s statutes that he uses them as counselors. In other words, he uses them to help make decisions.

The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
(Verse 72)

Is God’s Law more precious to you than your gold and silver? More precious than your job and paycheck? When that’s true, we act differently on the job. We are better employees in most ways – because we are obedient to God’s laws about respecting our employers, working diligently and honestly, and being kind and having a positive attitude.

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
(Verse 97)

Oh, to have the love for God’s law that David had. Lord, help me to meditate on it all day long! Help me to keep it in my mind while I work through my days.

The value of God’s Word

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
(Verse 1)

Those who follow God’s laws are blessed. It’s the simple principle of sowing and reaping. Living according to God’s laws puts us in a position to receive His tremendous blessings. Conversely, walking outside God’s laws opens us not only to reap the consequences of our choices, but also to being more vulnerable to attacks by satan.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
(Verse 11)

Hiding God’s Word in our hearts keeps us from sinning. Memorizing Scripture and meditating on it helps us to make right choices.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.
(Verse 105)

God’s Word shows us the way we should go. It illuminates our thinking opening creative options when all ways seem blocked.

David’s request that God teach him from His Word

Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
(Verse 18)

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
(verses 33 and 34)

Notice that David promises to follow God’s laws as God leads him in greater understanding of them. With such a valuable resource, David understands that simply reading God’s Word and not obeying it is a travesty and an affront to God.

Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
(Verse 73)

Scripture describes us as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). David understood that the One who created man is worthy of man’s obedience. He also knew that God didn’t create man and then walk away – He remains actively involved in our world and in our lives if we invite Him in.

All of this leads David to one final overriding theme: Praise for God and His Word.

I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,
and I meditate on your decrees.
(verse 48)

Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.
(verse 54)

I like this verse. It challenges me to rejoice over God’s Laws no matter what my circumstances are – wherever I happen to be lodging at the moment, Lord, let me rejoice in Your Laws.

At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.
Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.
(verses 62 and 164)

Your word, O Lord, is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens.
(Verse 89)

Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are they joy of my heart.
(verse 111)

Wow! Another verse that I love. God’s Laws are the joy of David’s heart and are so rich that he considers them his heritage – his inheritance – that thing of value that has been passed down through the generation, preserved and passed on to him. They are an inheritance that, when made his own, enabled David to have a lasting legacy.

They can do the same for us. Whether God’s Word was an inheritance you received from your parents or one you are building for those who follow after you, when you treasure God’s Word as David did, it brings wisdom and joy that enables you to live a life that goes beyond what you might even begin to accomplish in the natural. There’s one more verse I love that applies here:

To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless.
(Verse 96)

Everything in this life, even those things that are perfect here on earth, has limits. Everything except that which comes from God. His commands are without limits. His Word is without limits – boundless – and they open opportunities for us to have boundless influence.

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to partner with You to impact my world and beyond. Teach me Your ways so that I might know You better.

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I periodically get asked about various translations of the Bible, so today’s blog is a bit different from others. It will be much more informational than most blogs. Even so, this is a very summary level overview of the topic, but it’s a good start. I haven’t included all translations by any means, only the most popular or well known ones.

Bible translations fall into three categories, based on how the translation was developed:

  • Formal Equivalence (word-for-word)
  • Dynamic Equivalence (thought for thought)
  • Paraphrase

Formal Equivalence
Formal Equivalence translations seek to translation the Scripture word for word. Examples of this type of translation are:

  • King James Version (KJV), also known as Authorized Version (AV), published in 1611
  • American Standard Version (ASV), published in 1901
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB), published in 1971 (New Testament revised in 1969)
  • New King James Version (NKJV), published in 1982
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), published in 1990
  • English Standard Version (ESV), published in 2003

Technically, word-for-word translation is the most accurate method of translating text, but it is not always the most accurate method of conveying the thought being expressed in the text. That’s where Dynamic Equivalence translations find their strength.

Dynamic Equivalence
Dynamic Equivalence translations seek to translate the passage thought by thought. Instead of translating word-for-word, they are translating thought-for-thought. Here are some examples of Dynamic Equivalence translations:

  • Good News Bible (GNB), also known as Today’s English Version (TEV), published in 1974 (New Testament revised in 1993)
  • New International Version (NIV), published 1978
  • New Living Translation (NLT), published in 1996

Most people find these translations to be more readable than the word-for-word translations (as you’ll see in the examples below).

Paraphrase
A paraphrase translation is just that – it is putting the concepts into different words. When Phil and I were in the Air Force, a running joke was that after a new second lieutenant gave his boss an answer to whatever question was on the table, the sergeant would always say “what the lieutenant meant to say.” In other words, unless you’re speaking the language of your audience, you’re most likely going to get yourself and others in trouble. A paraphrase translation seeks to speak the language of the audience while remaining true to the text. The most commonly known paraphrase is:

  • The Living Bible (TLB), published 1971

Why So Many Translations?
It’s important for people to read the Bible in their own language, and language changes over time. The King James Version was the only English Bible available for over 300 years. Most middle-aged and senior Americans were raised with that version. Most of the Scripture memorization that I have done is in that version. (And it’s hard to re-learn Scripture that one has memorized.)

Yet Phil often comments that he now realizes that what he once thought of as “revelation” about a passage was simply finally being able to work through the arcane language of his Bible and understand the plain meaning of the text.

Then along came the newer translations. Now we can read passages in a language we understand so that the plain meaning of the text is easily understood. Understanding the plain meaning of the text is the first step to Biblical interpretation and further revelation.

The Value of Many Translations
While some people are uncomfortable with the concept of multiple translations of the Bible being available (either they have a significantly strong association with one translation or they are uncomfortable that there isn’t a single, definitive translation), having multiple translations is really a good thing.

  • It gives the reader the ability to compare how different passages have been translated. Such comparisons often yield a rich understanding of the original writer’s intent.
  • It provides the translators the opportunity to apply knowledge that has been gained over time to the new translation. Translations are not being made from the original manuscripts. They no longer exist. Rather, translations are made from copies of the more than 24,000 ancient manuscripts that exist. (If you have questions about how reliable the Bible is, I recommend this site by Josh McDowell, or read his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict.. Josh has done a tremendous job of reviewing data from a skeptic’s perspective and presenting it in a compelling and readable fashion.)
  • It allows a broader representation of the Body of Christ to participate in the translation, reducing the opportunity for error based on denominational bias. For example, the King James Version was translated by 47 scholars, all who were members of the Church of England. The new King James Version was translated by 130 scholars from a broad spectrum of Evangelical Christiandom.

How to Choose a Manuscript
First, don’t think of it as choosing one over another forever. There are many opportunities to compare multiple translations. There are several good online Bible translation sites, but the one I use most often is www.BibleGateway.com. I highly recommend reading in multiple translations when you are studying or meditating on a passage.

Having said that, you do want to choose a single translation for “every day” reading. This “every day” reading Bible may change periodically, but for continuity I think sticking with a single Bible makes sense. I tend to stick with a single translation for my Resting at the River’s Edge until I have read through the entire Bible. Then, I consider selecting a different version for the following year’s reading.

How Do You Find Your “Every Day” Translation?
You simply have to try several out to determine which version accomplishes your goals. If you are studying scholarly, you probably want a word-for-word translation. If you are a layman studying for personal edification and teaching those around you, I recommend a phrase-by-phrase translation. I would never recommend a paraphrase as the primary translation you read. It is much better in a supplemental role.

What do I read? My every day reading Bible is the NIV. It’s phraseology is easiest for me to follow. I enjoy reading it more than others.

A Point on Which We Ought Not to Divide
There are some who feel that a specific translation is the only accurate one. May I suggest that no one has the corner on Truth and we ought not to argue this issue. Just as there are many denominations and we’ll find members of each of them in heaven with us, so there are many opinions on Bible translations and we’ll find those who prefer different translations next to us in heaven. If you believe that a single translation is considerably more accurate than others, I encourage you to continue to read that translation. If others prefer a different translation, allow them the freedom to do so.

Following is a taste of several different translations. Perhaps it will be a starting point for you. Hebrews 12:1-3 is provided in each translation.

A Side by Side Comparison

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. – King James Version (KJV)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. – New King James Version (NKJV)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – New International Version (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up. – New Living Translation (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. – English Standard Version (ESV)

Above all – READ! Reading God’s word daily is incredibly more important than which translation you choose to read.

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“When satan brought his ‘A’ game, what did Jesus do? He quoted Scripture.”
Pastor Dan Caudill

When my pastor made this statement in his sermon last week, he had my attention. He was  preaching from one of my favorite passages:

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 3:14-17

Usually I jump right into verse 16, but there are some interesting things to note in verses 14 and 15:

  • Paul is writing to Timothy – a leader in the church. Continuing in God’s Word is important, no matter how long we’ve been a Christian or how spiritually mature we may be.
  • Studying Scripture makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” – I take this to mean that as we continue in God’s Word, we learn more and more about “such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

Then we get to the good part. All Scripture is “God-breathed.” How cool is that? When we read God’s Word, we know that what we’re reading has been infused with God’s Spirit – His wisdom, love and character. No wonder it so often speaks to our hearts and our needs.

But if we don’t read it…

  • We miss His special message to us
  • We don’t learn more and more about our great salvation
  • We can’t expect to be prepared for the attacks satan will send our way

If Jesus’ defense against satan’s “A” game was Scripture (Matthew 4:1-10), can there be a better one? The problem is, if we’re not regularly reading (and memorizing) Scripture, there’s no way we can bring our “A” game when satan comes with his. And while topical studies are good, there is no substitute for reading Scripture as it was written – as complete books or letters. Reading an entire book or letter helps us learn the whole thought the writer was trying to communicate, not just a portion that relates to the topic we’re interested in. (Sometimes what we most need to hear are the topics we’re not interested in studying.)

The exciting thing is that anyone can read the entire New Testament through in a year by only reading one chapter a day five days each week. The longest chapter is eighty verses – most are less than half that. Fifteen minutes each day will put you in a position to hear God’s special messages for you throughout the year, learn more about our great salvation and be better prepared for satan’s attacks. I can’t think of a better deal!

Our Resting at the River’s Edge goes a bit further. We’re in the second year of a reading plan that has us reading through the Old Testament in two years and the New Testament each year. We’ll begin 2011 by re-reading three foundational books of the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy. After that, our Old Testament reading will be new territory – we’ll cover the books we didn’t read last year. Our New Testament reading will begin in the gospel of Matthew. What follows will unfold in months to come.

So let me encourage you, readers, to read along with us. If you can’t find time to do both the Old Testament and New Testament, simply follow along in the New Testament. My blogs often come from my daily reading. As God whispers in my ear, I often share it with you. So as you read along with us many of my blogs will reinforce what you’ve been reading. Of course the best benefit, is that as you read, you’ll experience the fantastic benefit of hearing from God.

The recommended reading schedule for January is below.

To download a PDF of January’s recommended reading plan, click here.

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So Many Books, So Little Time

Well, it’s many books, but it’s not really much time. We’ll finish six books and start two others in August, but we’ll do it at the same pace as we’ve been travelling throughout the year – three chapters each day, Monday through Friday.

I’ve had a number of conversations about reading through the Bible recently. It seems that many people have the misconception that they just can’t do it. “I’m not much of a reader,” is what I’ve been hearing.

The good news is that:

(1)  You don’t have to be much of a reader to read through the New Testament in a year. All it takes is reading one chapter each day, five days a week. Even if you are a slow reader, you can probably do that in less than ten minutes. Increase that time to thirty or forty minutes each weekday and you can follow our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule. Over a two year period, you’ll read through the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament twice.

(2)  There are many modern language translations available. You can check out different translations online. Read from several different versions. If you find one you like, head on over to ChristianBook.com and pick it up.

(3)  It’s the inspired Word of God. I confess – sometimes it doesn’t feel like it! But when it does, it’s magical! (That would be magical in the sense of “wow!” and “cool” and “how does God do that?”, not magical in the sense of sorcery of course).

Reading through the whole New Testament and/or the whole Bible pulls the story of God’s plan together in a way that isn’t grasped by reading less methodically. So even if you haven’t been reading along with us yet, I invite you to join us in August.

In August we’ll finish 1 & 2 Samuel – the story of David’s life. God called David a man after His own heart – that seems like reason enough to study his life. In the New Testament we’ll read Collossians, Philemon, and Hebrews. In the book of Hebrews we’ll read about how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all that is taught in the Old Testament – He is our sacrificial lamb; His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins; He is our great high priest. Mr. T used to say “I love it when a good plan comes together.” Hebrews pulls God’s plan together and spells it out for those of us who didn’t catch it on our own!

May God whisper in your ear as you read with us this month!

The recommended reading schedule is below.

To download a PDF of August’s recommended reading plan, click here.

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In my last blog, I confessed how frantic my brain can be sometimes when I’m trying to spend time with God. That blog stated the “problem,” and I ended it by saying that I was trusting God to give some “solutions” to share in this blog. Well, the reason I’m late in posting this blog is because God took me in a different direction. I ended up with a blog of more than 2000 words! Rather than subject you to all that at one sitting, I’m going to give you the first part today and the second part later in the week. The next blog won’t be “Unplugging! Part 3” because God shifted gears a bit on me, and it’s a subject that I suspect will yield more blogs in the coming days (or weeks or months). So today it’s practical ideas to help control a misfiring brain – to help you focus on God and enter into His presence. The next blog will be the beginning of a discussion on more underlying lifestyle issues (be afraid, be very afraid!).

Controlling the Misfires
If you’re like me, you sometimes sit down to be with God and your mind repeatedly interrupts your reading or prayer. I refer to these distractions as “misfires.” Sometimes the misfires are of God, but usually they’re a result of my mind moving forward to all the things of the day, instead of resting with and before the Holy One, because, quite frankly, most of us are much better at moving than we are at resting. Here are some basics to help you quiet yourself so that you can enter God’s presence more regularly:

  • Have a consistent time where you meet with God. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day. Although consistency works best, if your schedule doesn’t allow it your “God time” might be at 6am on Mondays and Wednesdays, and at 3pm every other day.
  • Have a consistent place where you meet God. I have two. During the week, I usually meet with God at my desk in my home office. On weekends, I have a reclining chair in which I sit when I meet with God. It doesn’t have to be a place that is exclusively for meeting with God.
  • Be “legalistic” about meeting with God in your scheduled time and place. (For all you anti-legalistic “freedom” folks, relax, I’ll get to you.) Consistency establishes lifestyle patterns. Over time, you will come to anticipate meeting with God at your “scheduled” time and place. The location and time become “set apart” – holy to the Lord – and simply going there begins to set your mind, heart and spirit in a mode that is receptive to hearing from God.
  • Keep the distractions in your meeting place to a minimum. For example, when I meet with God at my desk, it’s important that I NOT open e-mail or look at my to-do list when I sit down. On days when I am more distracted than others, I sometimes cover up papers on my desk that might take my mind elsewhere. When I meet with God in my recliner, I let the answering machine take phone messages for me.
  • Deal with distractions creatively. It’s the enemy who is distracting you from meeting with God. Use the distractions for good. When I meet with God in my reclining chair, I can easily be distracted by pictures on the wall or books on the shelves or any of a number of other things in our living room. I can use those distractions as reminders to pray for family members or life situations.
  • Find a pattern for meeting with God that works for you. This may require trying several different things over a period of time before you find that pattern that draws you into God’s presence. Don’t be discouraged, don’t quit trying, and don’t limit yourself. The time and place are just the first two elements of the pattern.
    • I like to have a cup of tea and a piece of toast during my quiet time. God and I have breakfast together.
    • You might relax with God better with soft music in the background. For me, that’s usually distracting or it puts me to sleep.
    • You might want to begin with vibrant worship. I love to do this, but I usually can’t make the transition from vibrant worship to quietly sitting with God, so I don’t begin my quiet time with vibrant worship, but it sometimes ends with it.
    • Maybe sitting with a drawing tablet or at an easel puts you in a place to hear God easily.
    • Lighting a candle helps some people quiet their spirit and focus on the Lord.
    • Think about how God has created you. You are probably most easily able to hear from God when you are relaxing in your area of gifting.
  • Be sure to have some kind of visual cue that draws you toward God in the place that you meet with Him. This visual cue can help you get back on track when your brain misfires.
  • ALWAYS begin with prayer. ALWAYS begin with prayer. ALWAYS begin with prayer. It can be so easy for me to plop down in my place, begin munching on my toast and reading Scripture, just as if I’ve dived into a novel. Ouch! It’s great that I look forward to being with God, but hey, at least be polite enough to greet Him! I’m not saying your beginning prayer has to be a long, drawn out intercession for the world in crisis. I’m just saying that you don’t take God’s presence for granted. Greet Him as if he were sitting beside or across from you, because He wants to have real fellowship with you, not just watch you go through the motions.
  • Be honest with God. Struggling today? He already knows it! He’s waiting for you to confess it and ask for His help. You know what? My husband usually knows when I’m struggling, too, but there’s something magical that happens when I turn to him and say, “Babe, I can’t do it today. Will you help me?” Phil might see me struggling, but until I ask for help, any help he gives me will probably be rebuffed because it’s getting in the way of trying to do it myself! Humble yourself and God will honor it by giving His grace.
  • Some suggest that you have a piece of paper and pen to jot notes about your brain misfires – making quick notes frees your mind to return to the Lord. This doesn’t usually work so well for me. I find that the act of writing the note takes my mind out of the spirit world and into the daily world of “to-do’s” and my quiet time with God disintegrates after that. I am usually more successful at sharing the distraction with God and asking Him to bring it to mind after we’re done. I am learning to trust that God will bring to mind those things I need to remember. But sometimes I do stop to make notes. And sometimes that’s OK.
  • Which brings me to my last point – don’t be too legalistic about your time with God. I am “unlegalistically legalistic” about my time with God. If I’m not legalistic about it, it too easily falls from my schedule. But if I’m too legalistic about it, I get into a rut of “doing” rather than “being.” So sometimes I have to mix it up a bit – change my pattern.

Dealing with our misfires is part science and part art. It’s part spiritual and part nature. So science, art, spirit and nature all shaken together mean that there is no “set” way that you should enter God’s presence. Hopefully, this list helps you find a place in the spirit that pulls you away from the world and into God’s presence.

We often have the misconception that after we come to know the Lord, that things of the spirit should come naturally. Not so, my friend. We must learn and practice spiritual disciplines that draw us deeper into God. It’s not natural for me to sit quietly and wait for God’s presence. I’m the first-born, with a Type A personality. God is rubbing, shaving and chiseling the rough edges off that natural personality, but He does so in such a way that I don’t lose “me.” Who I am in Christ, who He has designed me to be, is “me” way better than I can ever be on my own. But it is still “me,” so the way I meet with God will differ some from the way you meet with God. That means we must each learn on our own (with God’s help, of course), how best to enter His presence.

One final and important thought: Look upon your quest for entering God’s presence as a wonderful adventure. He wants to meet with you. It might take a little effort on your part – no, it will definitely take effort on your part – to have a growing relationship with Him, but what an adventure! The treasure at the end is beyond our expectations and anticipations – but the journey is also the journey of a lifetime! Enjoy it!

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If you’re Resting at the River’s Edge along with us, today you’ll read Psalm 119. And that’s all you’ll read! Usually we read about five chapters of the Bible, but today only one. That’s because Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible at 176 verses.

Reading Scripture in English, or any other modern language for that matter, sometimes things are lost in the translation. For example, sometimes the author uses words that sound like what they mean in the original Greek or Hebrew. When they’re translated, however, the beauty and sometimes impact of the passage is lost because the word no longer carries the sound as well as the meaning.

Why do I bring that up today? Because Psalm 119 is a classic example of an acrostic poem. Its 176 verses are divided into 22 stanzas, each corresponding to a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. You’ll notice that each stanza has eight verses. What you won’t be able to see is that all the verses in each stanza begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the letters are arranged alphabetically. In other words, it’s as if we wrote a poem about God where the first eight verses all began with the letter “A,” the second eight verses began with the letter “B,” et cetera until you reached the letter “Z.” Wow!

That’s a pretty impressive feat for the author! It’s also a great exercise to challenge your ability to praise God! The author of Psalm 119 made the overriding topic of his psalm the Word of God. Nearly every verse extols the virtues of God’s laws. I’m giving you a challenge today, friends

— pick a topic (for me, it’s going to be a very broad topic – the goodness of God),
and spend the next few days (weeks?) trying to write a poem (or song) about that topic as an acrostic –

If you’re not a poet (as I’m not), don’t be overly concerned with meter and rhyme – simply set out to write a short sentence or two about your God-topic beginning each sentence with the letter appropriate letter of the alphabet.

The exercise may come across as silly or a waste of time. It’s not. It will challenge you to think of new ways to declare God’s truths. Here, I’ll get you started:

Alleluia! My God is good!
All knowing is He.

Beyond my imagination are His plans for me.Better than I could ever hope for.
Blessed be His name.

Can I praise Him enough for His goodness?

…Now I’m off to find a dictionary and look for another “C” word!

Be blessed, friends.

Oh, and by the way…I’d love to read some of your writing and perhaps include them in a future blog. You can share some of your verses by commenting below, or e-mail me your poetry. Include the subject line “Psalm 119” when you e-mail me at Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com.

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James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.
James 1:1

I am always struck by how the writers of the epistles begin their letters. In twenty-first century America, we typically begin our letters by addressing the person to whom it is written. In the early days of Christiandom, the culture was to first identify the writer of the letter, then to identify the receiver. Hence, we have greetings similar to that of James 1:1, as quoted above.

The greetings are not fly-over country, folks. They tells us something about both the author and the audience. Both are significant pieces of information if we are to properly understand the message the writer intends the readers to take away from his letter.

What always strikes me is the humility of the greeting. In this case, James identifies himself as “a servent of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Although there are three James’ identified in the New Testament, scholars are fairly certainly that the book was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. So James could have written “James, brother of our Lord Jesus .” Instead he wrote “A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It challenges me to consider how I would begin such letters – how would I describe myself? I’m not sure taking the humble approach would be my first thought. I’d be more tempted to mention my credentials to establish my authority – to let you know why you should listen to me. But the truth is, James’ greeting provides those credentials – you should listen to him because he is a servant of the Lord and because that is the credential he considers most important to use in his greeting. That is the identity he embraces above all others.

How about you? Is your identity that of “servant of God?” Lord, keeps us in the mindset that we are Your servants. You are the master, you are the King. We are the servants.

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Hi folks — Yes, we’re still planning on creating an online study of Ephesians, but I’m putting it off a week or two. Watch for more details to come!

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God cares! He must because He chose to preserve it for us to read!

I’ll be honest with you…sometimes that reading is more like slogging through mud for me! I’ve found, though, that there are some precious things to be found in mud, though. There are some beautiful flowers that grow in/near mud – like lotuses, water lilies, marsh orchids and sea lavender. When I’m in slogging mode, though, I know that I don’t always pause to notice them.

aquatic plant

In my reading of Chronicles, I try to look for the beautiful blossoms. For example, when reading all those lists of names, I don’t pronounce each name in my head. I skim the material looking for names I recognize from my reading of Kings. Sometimes the process brings an “oh, yeah!” moment. Not quite an “ah ha!” moment, but a familiar, “look at that connection” moment. Now the truth is that all these names run together for me and I don’t in any way feel prompted to study the genealogies, but occasionally something jumps out at me.

I also look for passages that break the pattern. That’s how you’ll find the prayer of Jabez. Stuck right there in verses 9 and 10 of 1 Chronicles 4, in the midst of chapters and chapters of genealogies, we learn about an honorable man who was named Jabez because he born in pain. Jabez cried out to God “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” The end of the verse speaks for itself: “And God granted his request.” There’s a whole book (or two or three) in those two verses!

A break in the pattern is also how I found 1 Chronicles 2:7: “Achar, who brought trouble on Israel by violating the ban on taking devoted things.” I read this verse and it prompted an immediate prayer in my heart: “Lord, I don’t want to be remembered for all posterity as one who disobeyed You. Keep me devoted to You.”

Friends, let me encourage you not to get stuck in the mud as you read through 1 and 2 Chronicles. Don’t belabor the chapters, but look for hidden treasure. Sometimes it’s closer to the surface than you might expect!

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  • Casual reading. This is my term and I recognize that some may be offended by it. Let me implore you not to be. I am not in any way implying that we regard Scripture with anything but the respect that God’s Word deserves. I am simply recognizing that sometimes, perhaps most of the time, we pick up God’s Word and simply read it on a very surface level. We read it in a way similar to how we would read any material. This is how I do most of my reading as I read through the Bible each year.
    • The value of casual reading: Casual reading usually involves reading larger portions of Scripture and allows the reader to get a sense of the “big picture.” It is how we learn the stories of the Bible and the timeline of the Bible. 
            That is not to say that God can’t speak to us through casual reading. At times He will speak to us through the message of the whole story. For example, there is an awesome message to be learned from the whole of Jewish history – that God’s faithfulness has been proven over and over and over again. We don’t learn that from just one story, we learn it from reading through major portions of the Old Testament.
            At other times, God may speak to us as we read Scripture casually by causing a verse to jump off the page and explode in our minds. That verse speaks to us by itself in the midst of many others. This is how most of my blogs originate. I am reading and along comes a verse that says “look at me!” Perhaps I do more study on that verse, perhaps not. It depends on the message of the verse and what God is speaking to me. But it comes out of my casual reading of a passage.
    • The drawbacks of casual reading: In casual reading, the reader typically will not catch the exciting nuances of Scriptures, the relationships between words or passages, and perhaps even the underlying theme of a passage. Without knowing the background of the book, its author and intended audience, we can sometimes take verses out of context and misuse them. Without taking time to learn what the words meant in their original language we lose the richness of the meanings. Without diligent study we lose the joy of discovery.
  • Meditative reading: While there are many different approaches to reading Scripture meditatively (we’ll look at some of them in future blogs), the approach generally means to linger over the text in a meditative manner. It involves centering ones’ self and quietly entering into God’s presence while reading His Word.
    • The value of meditative reading: Reading God’s Word meditatively puts us in a position to be more “present” with God. It allows God to touch us in a different way than casual reading or in-depth study. It brings a stillness, a peace, a quiet assurance, into our world as we meditate on God’s Word in God’s presence.
    • The drawbacks of meditative reading: Meditative reading is wonderful, but it is not a substitute for casual reading and in-depth study. One cannot read large passages of Scripture meditatively in one sitting – the two concepts are antithetical. Similarly, reading meditatively does not usually uncover the gems that can be mined from in-depth study.
  • In-depth study: In-depth study enables the reader to find treasures hidden in God’s Word that might otherwise go unnoticed. As with meditative reading, there are many different ways to study Scripture in depth, but all include asking questions of the text – who, what, when, where, why and how. It involves looking up the original meaning or derivation of key words using Bible dictionaries. It takes the reader on a journey to similar passages using a concordance to find those passages those that carry the same theme or include the same key words. It often includes reading what others have written about the passage using Bible commentaries.
    • The value of in-depth study: In-depth study uncovers gems that you’ll never discover from casual or meditative reading. It is the kind of reading of Scripture that ensures orthodoxy, that is “correct thinking” or “correct belief.” In other words, it keeps us from error. It is sometimes like taking a journey into the mind of Christ. Additionally, I find that the lessons I’ve learned from studying passages in-depth stay with me the longest. Those discoveries are “my discoveries” and they have become more deeply planted in my spirit than the lessons I’ve learned through the other two approaches to reading Scripture.
    • The drawbacks of in-depth study: In-depth study, by its nature is slow and plodding. The reader makes slow progress through the Bible as he or she studies single verses or paragraphs. The “big picture” is outside our field of vision as we search the depths of a single verse. I also find that I have a more limited capacity for in-depth study than for the other two methods. It’s not an issue of discipline, it’s an issue of giftings and callings. I truly enjoy in-depth study, but at least at this time in my life, in-depth study isn’t something that is a part of my every day life. In-depth study is often my Saturday morning time with God – a day during the week when I can devote more time to finding God’s hidden morsels.

As I write this blog, I am spending a couple of days at a friend’s retreat cabin. What a blessing to be in such a serene place, nestled in the middle of a forest of trees! As I look out, I see the beauty of the forest of green leaves and brown tree trunks. They sway and rustle in the light breeze. There are various shades of green and brown against a blue sky that’s scattered with white puffy pillow-clouds. It’s beautiful and quiet and peaceful. I can sit here and breathe deeply and listen to God’s voice. I can also stand at the edge of the porch, though, and see that some of the leaves have jaggy edges and some have smooth edges with sharp points. Some are large and broad; other are small and slim. Some have obvious veins in them, others are more subtle. Some of the tree trunks aren’t really brown but a shade of gray. And I wonder at the creativity of the God who created it all. Such is the nature of the casual observation, the meditative observation. Were I to do an in-depth study, I would learn about how nutrients are carried from the roots of the plants to the very tips of the leaves and how various species have different characteristics and I imagine that God would teach me more about His nature and character through such a study. So it is with our reading of Scripture. Each method is valid and valuable and we benefit from incorporating them into our time with God.

No how matter how we read Scripture, it’s important to ask the all important question “Lord, how does this apply to my life? What would you have me to do or become?” Reading Scripture without making personal application is like the person who looks in the mirror, sees that their hair needs to be combed, then walks away without doing so. The blessing is in the obedience to God’s Word (James 1:22-25).

May you come to know the Living God who inspired every word that appears on the pages of your Bible as you read it casually, meditatively, and studiously.

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