Bible Study 101

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“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

I love to work with Cryptogram puzzles – where every letter in every word is substituted with another letter of the alphabet throughout the sentence or list to be solved. My son watched me one day and asked. “How do you know what letters to use?”  “I’ve learned to recognize word patterns – single letters will always be an “A” or an “I” – three-letter words are often “the,” “and,” or “you” and a four-letter word that begins and ends with the same letter will almost always be “that. Apostrophes will always be followed by an “s” or a “t.” ” I build from those words and eventually, the whole thing becomes clear.” Then he said, “But if you start wrong you’ll end wrong.” “Absolutely,” I said.

You know this is not just about word puzzles.  There are a couple of great Bible study applications here. First, the best way to begin studying the Bible is to read it, read it, read it – even if you don’t understand it at first. I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT QUIT. You’re not going to learn anything if you give up. The more you read the Bible and learn the pattern and flow of Scripture, the more you’ll start to recognize names, places, themes, and principles through repetition. Use what you understand to help you unlock what is more challenging. Eventually, the context will become clear and you will be amazed at what you’ve learned.

Second, be sure you start with the right understanding. How can you know? First, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” When I started seriously studying my Bible, the first thing I did was look up the cross-references. If your Bible doesn’t have cross-references, I would suggest you get one that does.  This is invaluable. The second, and I think, most important step is context, context, context. An isolated verse can say almost anything you want it to say. What comes before it? What comes after it? Ask: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Word studies are a great tool too, but if you do just these two things, you will avoid a lot of misunderstandings. And last, but not least, never hesitate to ask a seasoned believer you trust for guidance. It’s a holy privilege to mentor someone in the Scriptures. The Word of God can be a puzzle, but it isn’t unsolvable. It takes time and determination, but it’s worth it!

Peace Rules

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We live in a world filled with turmoil. If you need proof, just look to Washington D.C. There is unrest and violence in our nation and even our homes are rocked by discord and anger. Our hearts are filled with anxiety, hate, and fear. Yet, peace is possible in my heart and yours – and it might just cause a ripple of peace in our homes, workplaces, schools, communities, and nation.

Colossians 3:15 tells us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The original terminology for “rules” means, to decide, to make the call – you could say we must “let the peace of Christ be the umpire.” My husband used to umpire for Little League baseball, and it was up to him to decide if a pitch was a ball or strike, a hit was fair or foul, or if a player was out or safe. Whatever he decided stood. Coaches argued his calls at times, but his decision was the final word. When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, we take His determination, through His Word and His Spirit, as the final word on our situation.

He said “Do not worry . . . your Father knows what you need” (Matthew 6:25-34), so we rest our anxious hearts and trust in His faithfulness. He said, “Rejoice and be glad” when you face persecution Matthew 5:11-12), so we receive the suffering of Christ with Joy. He said “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39), and your enemy (Matthew 5:44), so we let the love of God love through us (1 John 4:19). He said “Ask, seek, knock,” and then trust Him to give (Matthew 7:7-11) and so we present our petitions and wait for His answer.  He said, “turn the other cheek, give more than is asked of you, and go the extra mile” (Matt. 5: 38-42), and so we set aside our “rights” and take up the humble nature of a servant (Phil 2:6-8). He said, “I will love you with an everlasting love” (Psalm 103:17), and so we take Him at His Word.

When the peace of Christ rules and reigns in your heart and mine, there is peace on the inside and peace on the outside that affects our homes, our nations, and our world. Beloved, will you let the peace of Christ be the rule in your heart?

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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Some time ago I ran across some old photos of myself.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hairstyles and some really strange fashion sense.  I saw something else. Somewhere between 10 and 15, the girl in those photos took on a dark demeanor and I remembered my past – things that had been done to me, and things I did to myself..  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those dark eyes. God said, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul said, “You were once darkness…”  Then he gives the contrast: “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  Like painting a before and after portrait he said,  “You are not who you once were.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are free from your past. You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once held captive to sin, you are now bound up in God’s love. You have the power to say no to sin.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” 

Beloved, I want so much for you to understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all your transgressions; you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound to a painful, sinful past or those dark desires.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  Because you are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

When the Lion Roars

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When I was younger my family went to a “wild” animal park, the kind where you drive through while the animals roam around.  All the animals ignored us for the most part; they were used to the steady parade of cars.  We drove through the lion’s section, most of whom slept in the sun or lazily watched us passing by.  But there was one male lion who didn’t take too kindly to our presence, and as we slowed to get a closer look at him he shook his head, sending his mane spiraling outward and let out a thundering ROAR!  We all jumped, my little brother started crying and my dad stepped on the gas.  I’ll never forget how my heart pounded in my chest.

Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We have an enemy who is like that roaring lion.  He is fierce and ferocious and always on the hunt for easy prey.  He is ruthless and malicious and will attack without provocation.  He hates humankind because he hates God and everything God loves.  And he has a particularly fierce hatred for Christians.   He stalks believers, pacing back and forth with his menacing demeanor.  And he roars.  He roars out accusations and threats.  He roars out a list of your failures and sins.  He roars about what a bad mom you are, that you’re a lousy husband and a hopeless, useless mess.  He roars out that God could never love you.  He roars out lies.

How should we deal with this roaring lion?  Peter tells us exactly what to do. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith,” (2 Peter 5:9) James agrees, saying, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7.  Paul tells us to “Stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).   Proverbs 28:1 says “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” Friend, when the lion roars, you stand in the righteousness of Christ and roar back the Name of Jesus and the Word of God.  You remind the devil that he is a defeated, powerless fool and that his destruction is assured.  You declare that “The Lion of Judah” (Rev. 5:5) has already claimed the victory.  The devil roars, but that’s all he can do to those who belong to Christ.  Don’t tremble.  Don’t run.  Don’t back down. “A lion . . . retreats before nothing,” Proverbs 30:30.  You are a righteous lion. ROAR!

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.

Lead Us Not into Temptation

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James said, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (1:13).  So why then, did Jesus include in His prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)? Isn’t James contradicting Jesus? How are we to understand this? Jesus is teaching us to ask for deliverance from temptation.  He is not in any way implying that God would usher us into tempting situations, although He may, as a step of purification, allow Satan to press us with temptation. Peter can attest to that.  

After the Passover meal, just before His arrest, Jesus announces that all of the disciples will abandon Him in His hour of need. Peter declared: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). What passion! What boldness! What foolishness!  Jesus answered His disciple, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Luke noted that Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).  Satan wanted access to all of the disciples (the first “you” is plural), but Jesus permitted him to lean only on Simon Peter (the second “you” is singular).  Why? Because He intended for Peter to be a powerhouse in His church, and there were things in him that needed to be sifted out. Things like pride and arrogance and self-sufficiency. By the way, did you catch Jesus’ promise – “I have prayed for you, Simon. And did you also catch His assurance – “when (not if) you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It’s as if Jesus was telling Peter, “This will be rough, but I am praying for you, and you will win this battle – you have My word on it.”

Beloved, is temptation and struggle pressing hard against you? Perhaps the Lord is using the enemy to sift out something that could hinder you from becoming a mighty servant in His Kingdom. Gold is purified by fire. If it’s hot where you are right now, trust God in the process. As Job declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Salty Christians

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I’m studying in Matthew 5, and Jesus is speaking about being salt in the world. He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13). That caught my attention. “How does salt lose its saltiness?” I wanted to know the practicality of Jesus’ statement so I went searching for a “scientific” answer, not just a “biblical” answer. I learned that

  1. Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad. But when it is refined for cooking iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it; these degrade over time, reducing the life and effectiveness of the salt.
  2. When Sodium chloride is exposed to moisture it breaks down and eventually evaporates.  In New Testament times salt was generally not pure and contained many compounds that held up to moisture. The sodium chloride would evaporate, but the other compounds remained, leaving behind a white powdery substance that looked like salt but had none of its flavor.

So what was Jesus saying? Salt is our witness in the world – and two things will render our witness ineffective: adding things to it that do not agree with the truth and taking away from the truth leaving a witness that has no saving power.

Jesus said this false “salt” is “thrown out and trampled on by men.” This perfectly describes the witness of the church today where political correctness is added and the truth is watered down to make it culturally appropriate. We no longer tell people they sinners and the blood of Christ can save them. Instead, we tell them that God wants them to live their best life now, to be comfortable in their sin, and to practice social justice. We have exactly what Jesus was describing: a worthless witness. Is it any wonder that the world holds the testimony of the church in contempt and tramples all over it?

Beloved, is your witness pure and true? Do you need to take away some additives and bring your conviction back to its natural state? The world has enough fake seasoning – they need the real thing. Be salty in this generation.

Daily Bread

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The doorbell stirred me from my studies and I opened the door to find a dear friend from church standing outside with bags in her hands. “I have something for you,” she said and we unloaded bag after bag after bag of groceries from her car. “The Lord told me you needed some food,” she said very simply. I cried as I hugged her over and over. “Yes ma’am, we did – thank you so much!” She quickly made her way back to her car and was gone in minutes as my family stood in shock at the bounty God had provided. There was enough food for two weeks – milk and eggs and bread and sandwich fixings and meat and vegetables and even baby food for my granddaughter. I had told no one that we were down to a half a bag of grits in the pantry – and it was another week before payday. But God knew, and He gave us “our daily bread.” That evening our family sat down together and enjoyed a delicious meal of spaghetti and grace.

The first part of The Lord’s Prayer is praise, worship, and surrender. That’s so important to our relationship with God and our hearts. When I begin my prayers with praise and acknowledge God’s sovereign authority in my life, my attitude and desires shift from self-centered to God-centered. The more I focus on God, the less I focus on me.

But Jesus wanted His disciples and us to know that God is deeply concerned for the needs and cares of His children, so He taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). That’s exactly what God did for us.

In my fifty-something years of walking with God, we have been in some hard places financially, but we have never gone without a roof over our heads or food on our table. God has always provided for us. Sometimes just in the nick of time, but never too late.I don’t know what your need is today

Beloved, but I know that the God who sent His Son to redeem you and give you eternal life is also the God who loves you and cares for you and about you. He is Jehovah Jireh – “the Lord the Provider” (Gen. 22: 14) and He lives up to His name every day.

Forgiveness

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Matthew called them “debts,” Luke called them “sins.” Either way, debts and sins require forgiveness. Both for us and from us.  In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught His disciples that forgiveness is “a two-way street” which oddly always leads to the same destination: righteousness. It is something we must request from God and something we must give to others.  Sin always leaves the sinner in debt – to God ultimately, but also to the one that was sinned against.  Forgiveness is the only remedy for the debt of sin.

We like to be forgiven. We want that feeling of relief when the weight of our sin is lifted off our shoulders. It is a gift not to be taken lightly or for granted. Peter reminds us that our redemption was more costly than “perishable things such as silver or gold . . . but [was bought] with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18, 19). So when we confess our sins and repent from them – which is part of seeking forgiveness – we are cashing in on the blood of Christ Jesus to cleanse us of our sins and pay the debt we owe to God because of them. That sense of freedom is breathtaking.

But Jesus also said that we must forgive the debts of those who have sinned against us. We must give to others the same grace that has been given to us. What’s more, He said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt 6:14-15). That’s pretty sobering. Matthew also recorded the parable of the servant who, after receiving mercy from the king to whom he was deeply indebted, refused to give the same to a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt. The king withdrew his mercy and threw the servant into prison. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (18:35).

Consider the debt you owe God for your sins. Now consider the debt someone owes you. Which debt is greater? Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to give, it is commanded of us on the basis of God’s forgiveness. If God has forgiven you, Beloved, what can you hold against anyone? To whom will you give the gift of forgiveness?

Thy Will Be Done

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I’ve been in many worship services where “The Lord’s Prayer” is recited by the congregation and I often wonder if the pray-ers are aware of what they are saying.  One part in particular always makes me want to shout, “Wait! Do you understand these words?  Is this really your heart’s desire?  “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  Have you ever stopped to think about what that means and why Jesus included it in His model prayer?

I believe Jesus wanted us to recognize God as King and His rule as sovereign. The king’s will is the law of the land he governs. God is Creator and King of the entire universe – He governs the heavens which includes the angels and the earth which includes human beings. In heaven, His will is the absolute priority of every celestial creature. When we repeat this prayer we are saying the same of ourselves, that His will is our absolute priority, that we have no other will except His.

The question of God’s will has been a constant theme for generations.  We want to know God’s will for our lives, but this verse invites us to look for the bigger picture and how we fit into it.  While God does have a will – a plan and purpose – for our individual lives, that will is encompassed by the greater will of God: to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the sovereign authority of Christ (Ephesians 1:10). The ultimate purpose of all existence is the Lordship of Christ Jesus. God’s plan was firmly fixed from before time began. All of human history has been moving toward one result: the coronation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings with “authority, glory and sovereign power, everlasting dominion, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

So when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (emphasis added), we are surrendering our will to the will of God and committing to being part of ushering in the Kingdom of God and Christ.  Like the angels in heaven, we are swearing our total allegiance to the authority and rule of the only rightful Ruler of the universe.  This is God’s will for your life. He created you with so much more in mind than you can conceive.  He created you to be part of His eternal kingdom.  As you consider the words of this prayer, ask yourself, “What would the world look like if God’s will were done on earth as it is in heaven through me?”