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).

He is Risen!

See the source image

Happy Resurrection Day! It’s Easter Sunday and Jesus is alive! Death could not hold Him. Satan lost and Jesus won! It’s a day to shout the news from the mountaintops – or, for Easter 2020 – across the airwaves. Because of COVID 19, the Easter story will be more widely available today than ever before. The whole world will have the chance to hear: “Jesus Christ is Risen!”

There is one part of the Easter story that I hold dear to my heart. It’s in John’s account of the resurrection in chapter 20. Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb to grieve her Lord. She saw it was open and looked inside to discover that His body was not there. I imagine her stumbling backward in confusion and fresh waves of grief. Through her tear-filled eyes, she sees a man, probably the gardener. He approaches and asks her the reason for her sorrow and whom she is seeking. She pleads for the body of the one she loved. He speaks one word: “Mary.” And she knows. It is Jesus. He is alive! Heart pounding. Thoughts racing. Hands shaking. She speaks one word: “Rabonni!” And all her grief turns to Joy.

Easter is celebrated around the world – and rightly so. It is the most important event in human history. The day the Son of God rose from the dead and assured eternal life for all who would believe on Him. But in that quiet morning, Easter was very personal for one woman. Before the rest of the world would hear that Jesus had risen, Mary saw Him with her own eyes.

As you gather around screens and radios and phones today to hear the glorious Easter story, imagine yourself all alone in the garden early on that Sunday morning. Listen closely as the Lord calls out your name. Easter is for all the world, and it is just for you. May the Joy of the resurrection fill your heart today Beloved. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

The Day Between Death and Life

See the source image

“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Is That What the Bible Really Says?

Image may contain: 1 person, night and outdoor

One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.

Holy Week


“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others.  For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.

Then come to the resurrection.

 

This is My Passion

See the source image

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly hands the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

I’m taking a writing course and the first lessons are on understanding my “writing style” and my passion. As I’ve pondered the passion question: “What burns in my heart?” the answer always comes back to “rightly dividing the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

In the modern Western church, we are taught the Christian faith in “soundbites,” a story here, a parable there, Noah and David and Jesus. But those disjointed Sunday School lessons fail to teach the beautiful continuity in the Bible and the seamless work of God throughout human history. Worst of all is a verse pulled from it’s neighbors, sitting out all alone. It makes for a nice wall plaque, but do we know why this verse matters. What is its context? What is its backstory? What is the heart and principle within?
Jeremiah 29:11 is the “graduation verse” in every church, but do we understand its context? Do we know why God spoke those words and to whom? Do we understand the history of Israel and how that verse was such a source of hope to them and how it can be for us as well? It’s a great verse, but it’s even better taken in its full context.
John 3:16 speaks eloquently of God’s gracious love, but the greater context in chapter 3 also speaks powerfully of the condemnation of the human race and the reason why God sent His one and only Son. It’s the breadth and width of the gospel and it makes the truth of His love shine as brightly as a diamond on black velvet. We need to know the whole Bible, not just a verse here and a passage there.
That is my passion. That is what I long to give to the church. That is the seed God planted in my heart. It’s why I write and teach. It’s who I am.