Word of Life

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Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

The Living Word

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I thought I needed a new Keurig. Every morning it would whirr away but the coffee didn’t come out. I always had to shut it off and do all the steps again before it would work.  But the problem wasn’t with the machine it was with me.  I was trying to be quiet in the morning so I wasn’t pushing the lid down hard enough to piece the top and the bottom of the coffee pod. The pod would fill up with water, but it had no exit hole so it stopped pumping. Duh. I just had to give it a full stab to get my morning cup of life-elixir.

A verse has been bumping around in my head since I solved my Keurig problem. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now, I am all for getting into the Bible in every possible way, but I’m concerned that when we settle for a five-minute daily devotional we are not letting the Word of God do its full work in us. This is a “living and active,” power-packed Word and its purpose is not just to encourage us – though it does that well. It is meant to penetrate our soul and spirit – the part of us that responds to God. Do you see the reference to “joints and marrow?” Joints are where bones connect. We must let the Word of God connect the truths of Scripture to our lives. Marrow is the spongy center of major bones and it produces blood cells that keep us alive. The Word of God supports life in the believer. And it also “judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.” It will tell us if what we are thinking is true or a lie. It will chasten us for unChristlike attitudes. It’s a sharp Word that goes right to the heart.

Oh, brothers and sisters, you and I don’t just need a good word for the day, we need to let the living Word of God pierce deeply and let life flow into – and out of us.  We need to give the Bible full access to our minds and hearts. That’s gonna take more than five minutes a day.

A Hill to Die On

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Bible teacher Beth Moore (I know, she’s a lightning rod right now) said that there are spine issues and rib issues in the church. Meaning, a broken rib is painful and uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. But a broken spine can cause paralysis and even death.

There are points we debate in the church that are rib issues. They are really not the mountains we make them out to be.  And the enemy uses those issues to cause a great divide in the Body of Christ and bring scorn on her witness in the world.

But then there are matters we confront that are spine issues. They are hills worth dying on and spiritual truths that must not be left up to debate or cultural interpretation.

One of the most crucial is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has complete authority over the church.

In the past, the church argued over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus both fully divine and fully human? Was He even the Son of God or just a holy man? Was His resurrection bodily or only spiritual? Today, the hottest issues are homosexuality, abortion, and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to God.

But all these are only symptoms of a more severe, more deadly disease – disregard for the Word of God.  At the very root of all these debates is the question of the authority of the Scriptures.  Every discussion the church enters should ask the question: “What does the Bible say?”  And we must align ourselves accordingly. Peter said that the Scriptures came to men from the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). If the church is approving of or teaching things that disagree with the Scriptures then that is very much a spine issue. That will cause great damage to the Body.

Okay, but what does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? We also must submit to the authority of the Bible. In matters great and small, the Word of God must have the final say. In your thoughts. In your choices. In your words. In your marriage. In your home. In your relationships. In your job. The Bible is not just “the Good Book.” It is the holy words of the holy God of heaven and earth. Beloved, it is your life (Deut. 32:47).

Why Should You Read the Old Testament?

He asked, “We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament?”

The first and most important reason is because the Old Testament consistently points to Jesus. The Lord told the Jewish religious leaders “the Scriptures [what we know as the Old Testament] testify about me . . .” (John 5:39). On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus started with Moses and all the Prophets [again, what we know as the OT] and “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).  The Old Testament adds depth and detail to our understanding of Jesus. It sets the foundation for the New Testament. “Jesus in the Old Testament” is a fascinating and enlightening study.

Secondly, because there is tremendous insight and encouragement in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul declared, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” Romans 15:4

When I need understanding or reassurance I look in the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I turn to the stories of God’s deliverance of His people in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah and remember how God enabled them to rebuild the walls. When I face frightening situations Esther is my go-to place as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The God who created the universe. delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews is the same God I call on in my season of difficulty. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did for them then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit.

Beloved, if you need a closer, deeper look at Jesus, or if you just need some encouragement and hope, dig into the Old Testament Scriptures. The Word of God – Old and New – is light and life and nourishment for your soul.

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!

A Prayer for Today

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This is my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Nothing will touch me today that has not passed through the filter of your loving purpose.

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23).

Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

 

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Hiding God’s Word

 

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Quick! What Scriptures have you memorized? Fire ‘em off!
If you’re like most good church folks you can quote John 3:16 at least. And if you’re like me, you may have a fair amount of Scriptures sorta memorized. I don’t always know them word-for-word and often don’t know their address, but I’ve gathered some favorites and stored them up in my heart. I have verses to remind me of God’s love and patience and kindness and grace. I have verses to challenge me and encourage me. There are a few verses in there to remind me who I am and Whose I am. I have verses that etched themselves on my heart in difficult times.
But the Bible gives us the most important reason for memorizing Scripture: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It’s great to know lots of Scriptures for lots of different reasons, but if you’re not using it to resist the devil and keep you from sin, you’re fighting a battle you probably won’t win. The Word of God is the power of God to stand firm against the enemy and to turn away from sin. You need to put Scripture on the walls of your heart like a teenage girl pastes posters of her idols. (Donny Osmond, anybody?)
Here’s a few that I have papering my heart:
“I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23)
“I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (Psalm 17:3)
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13).
This whole section from Ephesians 4:
“Put off falsehood and speak truthfully” (25).
“In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (26).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth (29). (Are you detecting a theme in my life?)

Paul and the writer of Hebrews called the Word of God a “sword:” “Take up . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” (Hebrews 4:12). If all you have stored up in your heart is John 3:16 – which is a great verse – you’ve got a mighty short sword.
Beloved, I encourage you – no, I implore you – get into God’s Word and let God’s Word get into you. Learn to fight temptation and sin with all the power of God in your hands and in your heart.

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).

Hope in the Darkness

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

When do we most need hope?  In the darkness, in the season of pain and heartache and despair.  When it is hardest to find.  Our 3rd day of this Advent series focuses on the hope we must have to survive those seasons of darkness.  The hope in the promise of the Light of Jesus Christ.

I recall a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, and a room deep within the caverns where the park guide turned out all the artificial lights – the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch black darkness I lost all orientation, had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought myself completely alone.

There are seasons of our life that are like that cave adventure, when it seems that we are lost in a deep, black darkness.  We are overwhelmed with despair, confused and disoriented-not knowing where to turn or how to escape, and we feel completely and utterly alone.  I know this one well.  I walked out of that cave in the park, but years later fell into a pit of emotional and spiritual utter darkness that lasted nearly two years.  Yet God brought me through.

While we stood in the darkness inside that cave, the guide lit one small match.  With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome.  In my season of darkness God kept one small flame flickering for me – His Word, and in the Scriptures I found the promise of light.

You see darkness is the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

From the first day of creation, God determined that light should overcome darkness: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good and He separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:3-4).  He created the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day “to separate light from darkness” (v. 18).

Adam and Eve plunged this world in to the darkness of sin, and so we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  Rather than the sun and moon and stars, we walk in the distorted light of the world.  And so God sent His Son, Jesus to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame the darkness of sin and evil; and His light can overcome the darkness and despair of living in this world with all its struggles and heartaches and pain.

Paul wrote “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

Holy Father, You have declared through your Son that “darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).  Let Your wonderful light shine in and through me Jesus – not only at Christmas, but all the days of my life.  Amen.