Bible Study 101

“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).

Left Out in the Rain

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Twice this week, I’ve been stuck outside in the rain. Sunday morning was my turn to pray during the worship service. Not wanting to be disruptive, I exited the building and walked around to the door nearest the prayer room only to find it locked. I knew the sanctuary doors were also locked. I had no way in. I tried to knock on the door to alert my prayer partner, but she couldn’t hear me. Then the sky let loose a torrent of rain. Thankfully, the awning kept me out of the deluge. When the rain slowed a bit, I walked around and happened upon one of the deacons who – glory be – had keys. I slid in for the last few minutes of prayer.

Yesterday, during a heavy storm at my office, our building took a lightning hit that set off the fire alarm. Which is VERY loud. I quickly called the maintenance supervisor and stepped out onto the patio entrance. There was just enough roof overhang to give me shelter from the downpour until the alarm could be silenced.

Jesus told a parable about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who were all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise virgins had filled their lamps and prepared extra oil. The foolish virgins had only what was in their lamps. As they waited all the virgins fell asleep, with all their lamps burning. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the wise virgins refilled their lamps and headed out to the celebration. The foolish virgins had to leave in search of more oil. By the time they arrived at the wedding site, the doors were locked, and they were denied entrance. (Matthew 25:1-13) I had a better understanding of that parable this week.

Jesus is coming back to gather His people – those who are ready through faith in Him as their Savior – and bring them to His wedding feast in heaven. For those who do not know Him there will be no last second scramble for salvation. Nor will they be able to “borrow” from the redeemed. If you do not have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be shut out. But you don’t have to be. The Gospel is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to pay for your sins and mine. He was buried and after three days, was restored to life. He now sits in heaven, awaiting His Father’s command to return and gather every person who believed on Him for eternal life.

Beloved, I pray that includes you.

What are You Talking About?

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

I confess – I spend far more time on social media than I should. I love seeing pictures of your kids and grandkids (sorry, but mine is cuter). I like silly memes and funny posts, especially in this season when the world is so grim. And I love to read your testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Those kinds of posts make my day. I do not like political posts. I do not like posts that contain the words: “like and share,” “bet I won’t get one share,” or “make this go viral.” I don’t like fake posts – grocery stores or fast-food restaurants giving away $250 worth of food or warnings about false dangers. But what I dislike the most are false posts that are “religious” in nature. The one about why Jesus folded the napkin. Images that have been manipulated to look like Jesus in the clouds. The urgent prayer request for 20 Coptic Christians set to be executed or the little kid that shot himself with a nail gun. It’s important to share prayer needs and stories of faith – but only if you know for a fact that they are true.

This world needs truth. Not made-up stories. There are a LOT of people saying a lot of things about God, about Jesus, about Christianity. Not all of it is right and true. That’s Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. He was advanced in Judaism and highly educated. He knew a lot of stuff about God. But He said only one thing was “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (v. 3-8, paraphrased).

I will occasionally post something silly or fun, or something meaningful and encouraging, but I am careful and selective about what I put out into the cyber-world. Because only one thing matters: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, and coming again. If the world learned about Jesus only through your conversations: verbal, social media, even overheard in the coffee shop (if we ever get back to the coffee shop) would they hear the truth? Would they hear what matters? Beloved, are you saying what’s of first importance?

Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”

A Place Called Home

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Two summers ago when everything in our lives fell apart, we had to find a place to live back in our hometown. We drove around for days looking at apartments, houses, mobile homes – any place we could land. But when we found this house, I knew I was “home.” When I drive around town and see houses for sale or rent, I don’t give them a second thought because I am happily settled where I am.

In John 15:1-11, Jesus told His disciples that He is the Vine, and they (and we) are the branches. Branches must stay connected to the vine to live and to produce good fruit – the word he used is meno meaning to “remain” or “abide. He used it three times in this passage: “remain in me, [let] my words remain in you,” and “remain in my love” v. 9). The word gives the idea of being settled – like we are here in this house.

I think Jesus wants us to “settle down” with Him. I think He wants us to dismiss all other options and opinions because we are happily abiding in Him, curled up on the couch drinking in His Words, wrapped in the warm quilt of His love. Maybe even a cat purring at our feet. Storms may rage outside the walls, but we are not anxious. We are at home.

Beloved, do you long for this kind of peace and contentment? Are you weary of the storm and the confusion of the world? The Master of this house will never turn you away. Come home to God through Jesus Christ. The door is open for you

The B-I-B-L-E

I grew up on Bible stories.   I loved hearing them, and as children do, I believed them.  But come on you say, you’re an adult, isn’t it time stop believing in “stories?”

I suppose that’s a valid question, and it deserves a solid answer.

The truth is, I would stop believing if I thought they were only stories made up in the minds of men.  But I am confident in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God from the mind of God given to human authors through the Spirit of God.  That’s exactly what Peter said: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16, 20-21).   David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Bible is not man-made stories to support a man-created God. Nor is it man’s ideas, thoughts, opinions or views on what God has said.

Think about it, if God desires to reveal Himself to humankind, why would he allow men to include fantasy and fallacy in the written account of Himself? Archeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today.  Most modern translations have been painstakingly taken from the ancient Hebrew and Greek from the most ancient manuscripts available and research has proven that any changes from those manuscripts are minimal and do not affect the original message.

That said, I don’t hold to the authority and authenticity of the Bible because of these things.  They support my faith in the Bible, but they are not the reason I trust it.   I believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God because it has changed my life.  It was there that I met Jesus and He turned this sinful woman into the daughter of the Most High God.  That’s proof enough for me.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.