Posts Tagged “2 Timothy”

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

Bible and Gems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “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 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

While fall doesn’t officially start until about three weeks into the month, the beginning of September always feels like the beginning of fall to me. And it’s always a time when routines are adjusted to the change in schedules. Be sure to keep your Bible reading in your schedule! Our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule will help you stay on track, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind, don’t worry about it! That’s why we only schedule readings on weekdays – so we can use the weekend to catch up. And if you can’t catch up on weekends, still don’t worry about it! Just keep reading at a pace that allows you to enjoy God’s Word. I’m confident that God will reveal Himself to you as you take time to get to know Him.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The September Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you about how God is speaking to you through His Word during the coming month. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for September is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for September 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

We’re down to the final days of summer. Take a bit of time to sit in the sun (or shade) and enjoy God’s Word over the next few weeks. Use our Resting at the River’s Edge schedules to stay on track with us, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind – don’t worry about it! Use the weekend to catch up or don’t worry about keeping up. Just keep reading. God will reveal Himself to you – He promises to! Ask Him to and He will.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the July/August bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the July/August 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The August Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I love the way God’s Word seems to speak to my specific situations as I read through His Word. I know He’ll do that for you, too. I’d love to hear about it. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for August is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for August 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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In his Monday Morning Memo on April 15th, Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting wrote this:

Every day we write the story of our lives, a continuing autobiography. I suspect that if we took the time to read it regularly, we might choose to change the plot. I suspect that if we took the time to read it regularly, we might choose to change the plot! Some of us are rooted in a poverty mentality, as if we’re trying merely to survive; some are in stability, feeling alive; some have an abundance mentality, feeling it’s good to arrive; and a few are in self-mastery, believing they can thrive. As we ascend, the key is to avoid sliding back, and to create water-tight, closed doors behind us. How interesting is your story? You can still change it.

I don’t know if Alan Weiss is a Christian. His Monday Morning Memos are directed to the business community. I couldn’t help but recognize the spiritual implications of his memo, however. As Christians, we know that God has created us for a purpose and that He works the circumstances in our lives to bring us into those purposes…if we pursue Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The enemy, however, has one goal – to derail us from the path God has created for us. His first tactic in achieving that goal is to keep us from spending eternity with God. When he fails at that, his tactics change from keeping us from heaven to minimizing the impact we can have while here on earth – to keep us from accomplishing God’s purposes for our lives. He does that by convincing us to believe lies about who we are and who God is.

  • He gives us a poverty mentality, when the truth is that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).
  • He makes us comfortable in a stability mentality – we’re alive and enjoying our Christian culture…and we’re happy to settle there. That’s enough. No, it’s not. God calls us to more. In 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul write to Timothy “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine…But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge your duties of our ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NIV) Paul wrote this shortly before his death. He wrote just a few verses later that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race, and because of that, there was a crown of righteous waiting for him – a crown that would be presented to him by the Lord. Wow! You may not be a preacher. You may not be an evangelist. But Paul’s message to Timothy applies to you. Whatever God has called you to do, continue in it. Discharge the duties of the ministry God has given you. Don’t become complacent.
  • He gives us an abundance, and with that comes the temptations of  “pride in our achievements and possessions.” But “this world is fading away… But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17)
  • He distracts us with pursuing success for the sake of success and the temptations of personal glory. This is what I take from Weiss’ description of “self-mastery.” As we pursue success by the world’s standards, we can easily in our own ability to achieve our destiny. We no longer depend on God for all things, but are confident in our own ability to thrive. We’re to do all things as if unto God (1 Peter 4:10-11), which means we ought to approach all things with excellence, but we’re to rely on Him in the doing. We’re not to rely on our own abilities, our own wisdom, our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Friends, God has gone to tremendous lengths to save us. He works continually in our lives – and that means in our circumstances – to work all things together for good if we continue in our love for him and in pursuing the purposes He has for our lives. Let’s make the story we are writing every day bring glory to Him and echo through eternity long after we’re with Him.

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Last week I shared some of the lessons God’s been teaching me while learning a new sport. Last week’s lessons were primarily lessons in humility and discipline. The lessons I learned weren’t all personal ones, however. Learning a new sport – that is an activity that I essentially had no familiarity with prior to eight months ago – provided a great reminder about the process of learning something new – and our walk with the Lord should always be a process of learning something new.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that becoming a more mature Christian simply happens – either by coming to know Christ or by knowing Him for a longer period of time. While the Lord is gracious, especially with new Christians, nothing is farther from the truth. If it were true, Paul wouldn’t impress upon us to “finish the race” – it would happen automatically.

I don’t think my experience was unique. Two things characterized my life as a new Christian: I loved studying His Word and spiritually I was growing at breakneck speed. Of course those two things were related, but both were also a function of God’s tremendous grace that is available to new believers. For many people, me included, spiritual lessons come easy in those early days.

While this is wonderful – wonderful! – it builds an expectation that spiritual growth just sort of happens automatically. After all, it didn’t feel like I was trying very hard and God was enabling me to grow andpractices o was consistently the worst shooter on the range on any given day to being able to consistently hit the target, usually within a couple of inches of where I’m aiming – for you non-shooters, that’s not bad, not bad at all. I went from being a lousy shot to being a pretty fair one. I’m not winning any awards, but I’m not doing badly either.

The  disciplines and that allowed me to improve as a shooter are the same disciplines and practices that will help me grow spiritually.

Why do I care about becoming spiritually mature? Two reasons:It pleases God and it benefits me. I like to think I’m motivated purely by the former. The truth is that the latter is important to me, too. Know what? God knows that! That’s why He’s taken the time to explain those reasons to me as well. The more I become like Christ (which is another way of saying becoming spiritually mature), the more I will live a blessed life. I will have more peace and contentment. I will walk into every situation with the presence of God as my constant companion. I will not be shaken by the circumstances of this world. What a great way to live! And of course it’s an even better way to die.

But I digress. Let’s look at the practices that helped me improve as a shooter.

Study: Shooting a gun accurately requires a whole lot more than picking it up, pointing it and pulling the trigger. Over the past six months I have spent a fair amount of time learning about what those other things are. I read. I watched videos. I read some more. I talked to people. I received formal and informal instruction from experts. I learned about types of guns, gun safety, gun handling, loading, cleaning, and of course shooting.

Paul urged Timothy to “study” to show that he is “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NRSV) If we don’t study God’s Word, we will not learn how to properly use it. It will not be a weapon available to us when the enemy attacks. That means you and I must spend time studying Scripture. Not just reading it devotionally, but studying it. Take notes during your pastor’s sermons. Join a small group that studies the Bible (not just books about the Bible). Study it on your own. Just study!

Apply what I learned: That manifested itself in three ways –

  1. I had to do things I’d never done before
  2. I had to do things differently than I ever had before
  3. I had to do things that just didn’t feel right

You can imagine that each of those things made me uncomfortable, but if I hadn’t endured the discomfort — worked through it – I would never have progressed. The same is true in our spiritual life. When we learn about practices in the Bible that are new to use, we need to try them. Maybe you’ve never fasted before – give it a try. Maybe you’ve never prayed with your arms raised – it’s Scriptural, so give it a try. It will feel unnatural – it won’t feel “right” – but try it. Then try it again. And again. Because it doesn’t feel right the first or the second or the third time. But eventually it clicks and it’s very right. Maybe you don’t like to pray in public. Get over it! Quit thinking about yourself and think about  the heart of God. Then pray.

Open yourself up to being obedient to serving and worshiping God in new ways. You will be uncomfortable. It won’t feel right at first. But there are facets of God to be discovered in those new patterns. Don’t miss them because youre unwilling to be uncomfortable.

Practice. Then practice more. Phil and I have taken many basic ballroom dance classes. One of our early instructors used to tell our class over and over again that we needed to practice each step a thousand times. Our next instructor was a very sweet older man. He would get a bit lost in his love for the dance and he’d encourage us to practice our dance steps as we walked down the street. Then he would demonstrate the practice. Phil and I were never quite ready to be that bold (aka, look that foolish) in public, but the point is both instructors agreed that the only way to learn the dance steps were to do the over and over and over again.

Getting something right doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. It means you’re somewhere between lucky and experiencing your “aha” moment – that point at which what you’re learning makes sense. To actually learn it you must do it correctly over and over again until doing it right is more natural than doing it wrong. Doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about target shooting or serving God.

The first time you pray publicly you might blunder your way through it. That’s OK. God isn’t judging you badly – he’s proud that you’re trying. Trust me – the person you know who prays beautifully in publicly – hey didn’t start out sounding like that and God doesn’t honor them or their prayers more than he honors you or your prayers.

Make time for it! To study, try new things and practice takes time. And time doesn’t materialize on its own. Phil and I had a weekly range date – Thursdays during lunch. Previously Thursdays had been our day to go out to lunch together. We had to give up those dates for our new dates. We also tried to fit another range date in many weeks. It meant not doing something else. To read in the evening we had to watch less TV. Growing spiritually means we have to make time commitments for God. When will you set aside time to study His Word? When will you set aside time to pray? When will you set aside time to serve Him in whatever area He’s called you?

There is payoff, friends. You will grow in Him. You will draw closer to Him. You will become more like Him. Those are very good things. Worth far more than gold or rubies. Worth more than the pearl of great price.

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Looking toward 2013 – Fear isn’t Part of God’s Plan, Don’t Make it Part of Yours

24Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”
Matthew 25:24-25 (NLT)

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27), the third servant did not use the talent given to him because he was afraid (Matthew 25:25, Luke 19:21). I wonder how often we let fear cripple or hinder us? Or how often is it an excuse for laziness? The master responded to the servant by calling him lazy (Matthew 25:26, Luke 19:22).

As we look toward 2013, I don’t want us to lose out on God’s tremendous plans for our lives because we are afraid. Afraid of success, afraid of failure or afraid of plain old hard work. I want to approach the new year with an attitude that says “Yes!” to whatever God has in mind. I suspect that will mean looking fear square in the face sometimes…

If that’s the case, perhaps it will help to remind myself what else Scripture has to say about fear. Here are a couple of verses:

God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)

For the Spirit that God has given us does not make you a slave and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God=s sons and by the Spirit=s power we cry to God, “Father! My Father!”
Romans 8:15 (TEV) (or “Abba! Father!”)

What a picture of God’s love! Think of the small child who is frightened – he runs to his papa, throws his arms up and cries “Father! Father! Protect me!”

And He will! We’re also told in John 16:33 “These things I [Jesus] have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

There are 2 parts to this verse:

Part 1: Jesus promises us peace
Philippians 4:7 says that His peace, which passes all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. When will this happen? Philippians 4:6 says it will happen when we reach up to Jesus, crying “Father, Father! Protect me!”

Part 2: Jesus tells us to take courage – He has overcome the world.
1 John 5:4 says “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” (See Romans 8:14, 1 John 5:6 for more.)

If fear is not of God, what is its source. Its source is satan. Satan has a very poor substitute for everything God has – his substitute for faith is fear! Fear is really faith that satan will win instead of God! But God tells us that the victory that has overcome the world is our faith – our faith in Jesus Christ and God the Father to do what He promises to do:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

In light of all this:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whew! Lots of Scripture in this blog! Meditate on them if you feel yourself being pulled toward fear. Don’t go there and don’t let satan take you there!

Friends, let’s look toward 2013 with a “yes” in our heart to the things of God. Don’t let fear cause you to lose the tremendous blessings He has for you.

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Ask God for His Strategy - Then Implement ItFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

This series is about moving from discouragement to faith. We’ve discussed three faith building actions that each of us can take to move our journey forward:

Let’s move on to the exciting, two-part fourth action.

Faith Building Action 4 – Ask God for His Strategy – Then Implement It!
Discouragement can come from many sources. Logically, then, Rebuilding our faith might take the shape of any of a number of different strategies. Here are some examples:

Rest – If your discouragement came from overdoing, you need rest. If you’re a fan of the Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum you’ll recognize the quote “Rest is a weapon.” It is a true statement.

Becoming overtired or overworked, opens a door that the enemy loves to run through. Often, havoc comes into our life and in our condition of being overtired, we can’t stand against it and we become discouraged. So if you’ve just finished a season of extraordinary effort for the Kingdom (whether from obeying God or simply taken more than He required upon yourself), a period of rest may be the best strategy to return to full faith strength.

Change – Sometimes discouragement comes simply because we’ve become bored with our routine. God can use such a time to nudge us into starting something new. Faith, by definition, means moving before we see God’s whole plan laid out before us. God’s strategy to rebuild your strength may be to point you in a new direction, giving you opportunities to trust Him. Experiencing the result of that trust builds your faith to trust Him more.

Persevere – There are faith lessons to be learned when we are required to simply persevere – which basically means to gut it out! Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines persevere as “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.” Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Despite failures, opposition and difficulties, sometimes we’re called simply to persevere.

Paul speaks of persevering in many different ways, but most notably as finishing well.

6As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.
2 Timothy 4:6-8a (NLT)

Persevere, friends – a crown of righteousness awaits you!

Seek healing in some other way – God’s plan for healing often takes us on a path to deal with past hurts and woundedness and He often uses others to help in our healing. His strategy for you might be to see a Christian counselor or sit under the teaching of a specific minister for a period of time or attend a specific conference. He might have you get involved in a small group outside your church. Or he may take you on a more personal journey to wholeness by having you write a book, create an art series or pursue one or more spiritual discipline more intentionally.

Our God is a creative God and He knows you better than you know yourself. Seek God for His strategy during this time. Once you have a hint at the first step in His strategy, implement it! Don’t wait around until you have the whole plan. Many, many people get stuck in this stage of their healing. All that accomplishes is the prolonging of their discouragement. You won’t fully see God move in your life until you begin to move as He directs.

Let me add that if you have fallen from discouragement into depression, you may not hear God speak. Your emotions are so overshadowing your ability to hear God that you may need to rely on someone else to hear God for you! I am not saying that God is not able to speak to you. I am saying that no matter how loudly God speaks you may not hear Him. If you stubbornly wait until you hear Him, you may hinder your own healing. So when a trusted advisor or friend suggests something that makes no sense to you but is witnessed to by another trusted advisor or friend – do it! (By the way, stubbornly waiting until you hear God is the equivalent of requiring that God speak to you in the way you want Him to. That’s called placing your own wisdom/desires above God’s. That’s called pride. That’s called sin and it’s putting yourself in opposition to God. Don’t go there!)

To stagnate in the place of discouragement as you wait to hear new things from God puts you perilously close to becoming lukewarm. God is not pleased with those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). So don’t get stuck – step out in faith!

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5I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:5-7 (NLT)

When I read this introduction to Paul’s letter to Timothy, it seems to me that Timothy was at a low point in his walk with the Lord. Paul is reminding him that his faith is genuine and he is reminding him of the faith of his ancestors. He is telling Timothy that he has confidence in Timothy’s faith. Then Paul gives Timothy a prescription for restoring the spark in his relationship with God. It’s a prescription we all need from time to time. Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you” (NLT). Other translations read “stir up the gift of God which is in you” (NKJV) and “rekindle the gift of God” (NRSV). That’s the prescription. Not quite as easy as “take two pills and rest.” What does it mean to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you”? Perhaps Paul didn’t answer the question because the answer varies from person to person.

Anyone who has experienced a down cycle in their spiritual life has wondered “how do I get back to where I was? How do I return to the passion I once had for God?” The good news is that once you’ve started asking that question, you can have confidence that God is there to help. God wants you back more than you do. Yes, He requires that you return to Him, but He’s been there waiting for you. Like the father of the prodigal son, He’s been watching for you and the moment He sees your repentant heart, the moment He sees you walking toward him, He will run toward you (Luke 15:11-32).

But how do you go about making that change – returning to God when you’ve slipped from the intimacy you once had? What are the details behind Paul’s prescription? Here’s five steps that will help restore the passion you once had for the Lord.

First. In rekindling the gift of God, first repent that you have fallen, that your spiritual disciplines have grown lax, that you have allowed the world to take a more prominent place in your heart, or that you have done things in your own strength instead of God’s and given the enemy an opening. Spend time asking God how you ended up where you are, listen for His answer, then repent of those actions or inactions that were not pleasing to Him.

Second. After repenting, have confidence that God will restore you! That’s called faith, and faith pleases God. In fact, Scripture says that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). To grow your faith, study the story of the prodigal son, first imagining yourself in the place of the son, then imagining yourself in the place of the father. This study will grow your faith by helping you see the attitude of the son and the response of the father. Then simply choose to believe that God is like the prodigal son’s father and that He will honor your actions and you will again experience His presence.

Third. If you’ve fallen lapse in your personal spiritual disciplines of reading your Bible, praying and attending church, return to them. While there are many more spiritual disciplines, these three are critical to a healthy life with God. If there are other disciplines that you once consistently practiced, return to them. Some other disciplines that may have fallen by the wayside in your journey away from the Lord are tithing, fasting, meditating, and practicing a weekly Sabbath.

Fourth. Do those things that you once did to build and feed your passion for God. Beyond the disciplines I mentioned in the third step, there are things you can do – things you probably did at one time – that fanned the flame of your passion for Christ. They might be attending the occasional retreat or conference, scheduling an extended time of study or worship periodically or getting together with fellow believers who challenge your faith. There are certain people Phil and I enjoy being around because we always leave their presence encouraged to pursue God more.

Fifth. Finally, don’t hoard what you’re receiving from God – serve Him and others by using the gifts He’s given you. If you have the gift of teaching, teach. If you have the gift of giving, give. If you have the gift of encouragement, encourage others. Consistently taking in without giving out leads to spiritual sluggishness. Being used by God is the best antidote to spiritual boredom. So step out and step up. Find (or start) a ministry that uses your gifts.

It encourages me to know that those who have gone before me – even those in the Bible – experienced down times in their walk with the Lord. It encourages me more that God and I have the same goal – for me (and you) to pursue Him wholeheartedly. Scripture says that He rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). I’m looking for the reward! I’m looking for a greater intimacy with God.

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