“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).
Twenty-some years ago God stirred in me a passion for in-depth Bible study. It started with a Ladies Bible study group. That whetted my appetite for more. And the more I chewed on Scripture the more I wanted. I went to seminary. I’m currently a seminary grad student. Bible study is life-long work, and God has made it the mission of my life. Studying the Bible changed EVERYTHING. Suddenly I had a whole new perspective on my life, my circumstances, my purpose, my struggles, the church, relationships, the world, and human history – I saw it all through an eternal lens. The Word became – and still is – the filter through which everything passed. The Bible is light and life to me and nourishment to my soul.
I’ve been asked often about my “Bible study methods,” and I developed a course called “Bible Study 101,” to encourage believers to dig into God’s Word. Here are just a few points: NEVER take a verse out of its context. Always read the surrounding verses. If you do nothing else but this, you will avoid the majority of errors people make in understanding the Bible. Also, chase down the cross-references. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Don’t just rush through in a five-minute devotional time. Meditate on it. Marinate in it. (I don’t recommend trying to read through the Bible in a year until you’ve had more experience with it. I like a three-year pace.) Pray for insight and listen to the Holy Spirit. He wrote it – He can tell you what it’s all about. I like to write out the Scripture passage and do word studies. Granted, this is all much more time consuming, but it helps the Scripture take deeper root in your heart.
Beloved, the Word of God can change your life. It can change your heart and mind. It can change your perspective. It is Light. It is Life. It is what your soul hungers for. Spend some time in the Bible and it will be “the Joy of your heart” (Psalm 119:111).
The Lord said: “These people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service–yet their hearts are far from Me.” Isaiah 29:13
When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, the story was told of a young woman who died because she affirmed her faith in God. I remember a friend insisting, “I would have said ‘Yes!’ too – I would take a bullet for God!” Yet I saw her daily life, and it denied her profession. I think for so many Christians in America, we believe that “making the choice” for Christ means one day standing before a firing squad and saying, “I believe in Jesus!” then bracing ourselves for the gunfire. We don’t realize that the choice is made every day in a thousand small ways.
In choosing time with God over an extra hour of sleep. In choosing to turn off worldly programming. In choosing to speak gently in the face of insult. In choosing to have our kids in Sunday School rather than on the ballfield. In choosing to love and care for our lost neighbors rather than avoiding them. In choosing to put down the cellphone and talk to our children about our faith. In choosing to run away from pornography. In choosing to worship God rather than a politician. In choosing humility over anger. In choosing surrender and submission to Christ over national rights and privileges.
The thing is, if we’re not making these lesser choices every day, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to make them when it’s a matter of life and death. The proof of our relationship with Christ is not in a sensational act of courage, its in the quiet moment-by-moment choices we make day-after-day.
Beloved, are you choosing Christ?
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” 1 John 3:2.
The children of the great composer, Bach, found that the easiest method of awakening their father was to play a few lines of music and leave off the last note. The musician would arise immediately and go to the piano to strike the final chord. His spirit could not leave the song incomplete. We all have projects we’ve started but shoved aside and left unfinished. We run out of time or funds or motivation. We lose interest and give up.
I look at my life sometimes, at all my starts and stops of Christian growth, and wonder if God has considered giving up on me. Has He just decided that I am just more trouble than I’m worth? Has He become frustrated with me (as I do with myself) and moved on to someone more capable, more intelligent, or more “spiritual” than me? Is He just going to leave me here in this unfinished state?
The Bible assures me that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). I remember a song I taught to the children at church:
He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me
Beloved, if you are frustrated because you just can’t seem to “get it right,” don’t give up on yourself. God hasn’t. He’s still working on you.
Yesterday after church and lunch, my sweet Joy-Joy and I settled into the recliner for our Sunday afternoon siesta. She wanted her toy dog “Violet” to play lullabies, but even as she snuggled next to me with the soft music playing, she let me know she wanted to me sing to her. I turned Violet off and started our nap-time song selection. That wouldn’t do. Joy wanted both. I turned the lullabies back on and started trying to sing. Have you ever attempted to sing a song while a different song was also playing? Let me tell you, it ain’t easy! I had to focus very intently on what I was singing to avoid being pulled into Violet’s tune.
There’s a lot of noise in the world around us that can interfere with the Jesus-song we’re trying to sing with our lives. It’s a constant cacophony of voices and shouts and it seems that everyone has a megaphone. There’s a lot of “wisdom” and folks are quick to share their advice. How are we supposed to stay true to the song of Christ? Paul gives us three pointers that will help us stay focused. Go grab your Bible and read Galatians 5:16-25. I’ll wait for you here.
Did you see them? “Live by the Spirit” (v. 16), be “led by the Spirit” (v. 18), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). Jesus promised to send His Spirit to live in us, to remind us of His teaching and help us stay true to the song of the Savior. I know, that sounds really “spiritual,” but not practical. But it is. It comes from the Bible and prayer. If you and I are not filling up on the Scriptures every day, those outside voices are going to be hard to shut out. That worldly wisdom is going to sound so sensible.
Beloved if you’re struggling to stay on pitch, I encourage you to get into God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and then listen. That still, small voice becomes the sweetest song and stands out above all the rest. Trust me, you’ll recognize the tune; it’s the song of holy love.
Ever done something that made you feel guilty? Who hasn’t? Guilt can be such a heavy load. But some add to guilt the weight of shame. That was me. I wasn’t just guilty of my sins I was ashamed of them. And that shame wasn’t only what I’d done, added to that was shame because of what others had done to me. I didn’t just carry shame – shame was my identity.
Until the day that God gave me a vision of sorts. Of Jesus, bleeding and staggering on His way to His crucifixion. As He walked, he reached out into the mass of people that lined the road and picked up their sins and draped them across His shoulders. I was in the crowd and when He came to me, He didn’t pick up my sin. He picked up me and draped me over His shoulder. I stayed there through those agonizing hours. I felt Him struggle to breath. I heard Him cry out to the Father. I felt His body grow still. I had to turn my head when they stabbed the spear into His side. Somehow, I remained on His shoulders as they took His body down and wrapped Him in burial cloths. I lay with Him on the cold stone slab in the tomb. And I rose with Him three days later. The remarkable things was, I rose with no shame. None. It was gone.
Beloved I want you to envision this with me. When Jesus went to the cross, He took all your sin and all your shame with Him. When He was placed in the tomb, be still bore all your sin and all your shame. The He rose to life. And when He walked out of that tomb of death, He left your sin and shame behind. Buried. Done. Forever. If you struggle like I did with shame, you need to know that Jesus left it all in the grave. Hear this loud and clear: you are free of guilt and free of shame. You are a new, beautiful creature in Christ. Now lift your head and walk in it.
What do these statements have in common?
“Copy and paste this to your page to circumnavigate the Facebook algorithms and see all your friends again!”
“If you’re being held up at an ATM, put your pin in backwards and the bank will alert the police.”
“My lawyer friend said to copy and share this legal statement to prevent Facebook from using your photos and posts without your consent.”
“When Jesus folded the napkin, it was a sign that He is coming back!”
Besides the fact that they are shared over and over and over on social media, they are all false. They are lies. But because they have been passed on multiple times, people assume they are true. And they keep sharing them.
Paul warned about false doctrine that takes deep root in the church. He said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). In the three letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he prefaced several statements of doctrinal truth with the words: “Here is a trustworthy saying:” He wanted these two young men, whom he had assigned to care for the believers in Ephesus and Crete, to be careful with what they believed and what they taught. He wanted them to only pass along “trustworthy sayings.” My favorite Bible folks are the Bereans from Acts 17 who were considered “noble” because they checked out everything Paul told them. They didn’t take his word for it. They wanted to know if what he was saying was true.
I want you to be a Berean. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In your daily life. In your knowledge of the Bible and spiritual things. In what you pass along to friends and family. In what you teach your children. Check things out. Especially where it concerns the Scriptures. You need to build your faith and your life on “trustworthy sayings,” not “myths and old wives’ tales.” As Paul said, “Train yourself to be godly” through daily Bible study (not just a 5-minute devotional), meditation on God’s Word, and prayer. Fill your mind and your heart with truth.
What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Because it’s what you’ve always heard? Or because you’ve checked it out for yourself and found it to be trustworthy and true? Be a Berean Beloved.
I asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!
I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.
Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.
We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?
There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”
What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?
Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?
But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.
Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.
Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.