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Archive | Discipleship

I am Clueless

Have you ever been wronged by someone who had no idea she had done anything? It may have been hurtful words or inconsiderate actions. But she was completely clueless. It’s happened to me. And I know without a doubt that I’ve done it to others as well.

I read a Psalm recently during my quiet time that I’ve read dozens of times. However, this time God showed me something I had not really noticed before.

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Ps 19:12-13

At first read, it’s easy to understand “hidden faults” as those things we do we don’t want others to know about. The things we do in the dark, hide from others. But the surrounding statements shed a bit of light. David realized that he was not capable of even recognizing all the ways he sinned against our high and lofty God.

Let’s read it again from the New Living Translation:

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep me from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. Psalm 19:12-13, NLT

Sometimes I sin against God and don’t even realize it. My sinful heart keeps me from being able to recognize the depth of my transgression against our holy God. I’m clueless. My sin nature blinds me to my own sin.

The psalmist, David, asked God to forgive him for the sin he was not even aware he had committed. Then he asked God to protect him from yielding to blatant temptation. David longed to be blameless – innocent in thought, attitude, and deed. And not in just the things that people would notice. David wanted to be innocent in the eyes of his holy God. Wow!

God has brought me back to these verses several times in the last week. Do you think He’s trying to tell me something? Every time, my prayer has been David’s prayer:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Ps 19:14 

Are you brave enough to ask God to reveal your hidden faults?

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5 Signs of Authentic Faith

Are we living out true, authentic faith in Jesus or simply fooling ourselves? It’s easy to tell, if we take an honest look. The apostle John challenged first century believers – and believers today – to do just that. In his first letter, John clearly laid out signs of authentic faith. And he clearly stated his purpose in writing:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

John wanted his readers to be sure they were saved. He longed for them to stand firm in God’s truth and not be swayed by false teachers. And he wanted “false believers” to wake up.

He did not tip toe around the truth. That would not do them, nor us, any good. In the first two chapters of First John, the apostle gave us 5 signs to test our faith. His “If we…, then…, but…” style describes what a true relationship with Jesus will – and won’t – look like.

5 Signs of Authentic Faith

  1. If we walk in darkness, then we do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light we have fellowship with God.
  2. If we claim to have no sin, then we are deceived and we call God a liar. But if we admit and confess our sin, God will forgive us and give us Jesus’ righteousness.
  3. If we do not obey God’s commands, then the truth is not in us. But if we obey God, it reveals we truly know Him and His love is made complete in us.
  4. If we do not love fellow believers, then we still live in darkness and prone to fall. But if we love other believers, we live in the light.
  5. If we love the world, then it proves we do not have God’s love. But if we do not love the things of the world it shows we truly have eternal life.

So, how are we doing? Are we walking in the light or in the darkness?

You may also be interested in: How to have a relationship with Jesus

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9 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Bible Study Material

Bible studyThis post first ran in August of 2014. But the tips for choosing a Bible study still apply!

I have dealt with Bible study from almost every conceivable angle. I have studied my Bible and used Bible study materials for decades. I have participated in countless Bible study groups. I have led Bible study groups. I have organized women’s Bible study for several churches. And I have written Bible study curriculum.

Yet, there is one question I still must grapple with again and again. “What study material should I use?” Whether you are a ministry leader selecting material for a group or an individual choosing a book for your personal study, your question is the same. “What study material should I use?”

With so much great material available, the answer is seldom easy. The sheer abundance of choices can be overwhelming. Add to that the scope of your options – everything from looking at classic TV shows with a biblical lens to in-depth, exegetical Bible book studies – and the task becomes daunting!

9 Tips for Choosing Bible Study Material

However, these tips can get help you narrow down your choices. The following tips were written from the women’s ministry leader’s perspective but are also applicable to the individual Bible student!

  1. Establish your purpose – Recall why you study the Bible and keep that foremost in your mind. Through His Word, God reveals Himself, His ways, and His will. Our primary goals should be to know and experience God more deeply and to allow Him to make us more like Jesus. A good Bible study will have the same goals for its readers.
  2. Contemplate the needs of the students (or yourself) – For instance, do they need the doctrinal basics or are they ready for something deeper? If part of your purpose is to appeal to seekers, consider a study on a topic such as parenting. Young moms have different life needs and interests than empty nesters. They also have less time! Make sure the topic and the time required will fit your group.
  3. Consider the experience of your leaders  – Less experienced leaders will benefit from a study that has a solid, helpful leaders’ guide. Those with more experience won’t necessarily need one. If your leaders are inexperienced or not confident, look for a study with lots of leader helps! If you plan to study on your own, consider your own level of experience. For instance, if this is your first time to do a Bible study, fewer weeks may be better to start.
  4. Enlist a few trusted friends – Enlist 3 or 4 women who have lots of Bible study experience to help you in the process. First, ask for study and author recommendations. Then later, after you have gathered a few possibilities, ask them to help you read through and review the selections. If you are an individual, ask trusted friends for their recommendations.
  5. Do a little research – Visit your local Christian bookstore and browse the Bible study section. If you’re looking for a very specific topic, check the non-fiction or Christian living section. Many trade books now include group discussion questions. Also do topic searches on online bookstores like Amazon and ChristianBook.com to find lots of options!
  6. Explore a few new authors – During your research, take a look at a few authors you’ve never used before. We all have our favorites, but different voices can bring freshness and encourage us to look at timeless truths in new ways. Visit the authors’ websites, check their “statement of beliefs,” and check out reader reviews.
  7. Gather some options – After your research, narrow it down to a handful of options and purchase a single copy of each. Review those choices with the help of your enlisted friends.
  8. Check the doctrine – Just because a book is published by a Christian publisher doesn’t mean the author’s doctrine will line up with your church’s understanding of God’s truth. Some things are insignificant like how often we should partake of the Lord’s Supper. Others – like how we are saved – are non-negotiable. Make sure the material is on solid ground!
  9. Confirm the material encourages spiritual growth – Go back to your purpose to make your final decision. Some material can be engaging and even grow our biblical knowledge, yet not encourage application and growth.

 Cover it all with prayer and you’re ready to select the next Bible study for your women. Happy studying!

What tips do you have for choosing new Bible study material??

 

 

 

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The What, Why, and How of Devotional Bible Reading

devotional bible reading

What is devotional Bible reading? Should we do it and if so, how do we do it?

Devotional Bible reading focuses on your personal relationship with God. The primary goal is not to gain biblical knowledge – though that will happen too. It’s not for the purpose of preparing to teach others – although you will become more prepared. The main purpose of devotional Bible reading is your “spiritual edification.” This time of devotion is for you to hear from God with the help of His Holy Spirit.

Why should I read the Bible devotionally?

“Spiritual edification” is a really churchy phrase, but it carries a lot of meaning. Here’s a quick rundown of the goals and benefits of reading our Bible to be “built up” spiritually:

  • To express our sincere devotion to God
  • To give God an opportunity to reveal His presence
  • To heighten our affection for God and build deeper intimacy
  • To find guidance, encouragement, wisdom, peace, and renewal
  • To align our thoughts, our will, our actions with God’s
  • To encourage continued spiritual growth

Ah! We want to encounter the living God through His living Word. And through that encounter, to allow God to continue to conform us to the image of Christ.

How do I read the Bible devotionally?

Since in-depth Bible study is very active, you may think devotional reading is more passive. But it is in fact, quite active. The devotional style combines reading, prayer, listening, and response. While the only must-have is your Bible, there are a few other tools that will benefit your devotional time:

  • Pen, highlighters, and or colored pencils
  • Wide-margin Bible, journaling Bible, notebook, or journal
  • Bible reading plan
  1. Read with intent – First, don’t read haphazardly. Don’t just open the Bible and drop your finger on a verse. Have a plan. For instance, use a Bible reading plan or work through a Bible book from beginning to end. Second, don’t just read the words. Pray before, during, and after. Expect to hear from God and actively listen for Him to speak to you through the Scripture and through the quiet prompting of His Spirit.
  2. Meditate on the passage – Meditation is not emptying your mind. It is deep thinking on spiritual truths. As you read, linger over verses that impact you. Allow God to apply these truths to your life. Use your journal to record insights and impressions. Or use colored pencils to creatively illustrate truths in the margins of your Bible or in a journal.
  3. Ask God questions and “listen” for His answers – Below are examples of questions you can use to interact with the Scriptures you read:
    • Does this passage present some truth that should change what you believe or the way you think about God?
    • Does this passage prompt you to praise God, thank God for something specific, or trust God in a situation?
    • Is there something in this passage you should pray for yourself or for someone else?
    • Does this passage bring to mind a sin you need to confess?
    • Is God using this passage to move you to a particular act of obedience or to make a decision?
  4. Respond to God’s leading – The Word of God has the power to search our minds and penetrate our hearts. God will use it as both a balm to our souls and a scalpel to our hearts (Hebrews 4:12-13). He knows exactly what we need. We need to respond. We may need to repent from a specific sin. We may need to step out to heal a relationship. We may need to change the way we think about a particular issue. Or we may need to simply sit in the comforting, healing presence of our Savior. However God leads, let us respond.

What has been your experience with devotional Bible reading? Any helps or tips?

A few other article you may find helpful:

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The 4 “R” Bible Study Method

Bible study methodThere is not just one right Bible study method. Depending on your goal, you can dive into God’s Word in lots of different ways. For instance, you can do a word, character, or topical study. You can dissect and ingest a small passage, a chapter, or an entire book.

However, there are some general guidelines for all and any Bible study. For instance, we must keep the genre of the book and the context of the passage in mind. We must seek to discover the original meaning of the passage. There are infinite ways to apply a passage, but only one meaning. And, to keep the proper perspective, we must always keep in mind that God’s Word is first and foremost about God.

This Bible study method below is a basic way to dig a little deeper into any biblical passage. You don’t need extra tools or resources. All you need is your Bible, a pen, a notebook or journal, and a humble, teachable attitude. The “R” repetition makes it easy to remember! You can literally take it anywhere! (Click here to get a printable PDF of the following study method.)

The 4 R Bible Study Method

  1. Read – Read the entire passage. For instance, if you plan to study the book of Philippians, read all 4 chapters in one sitting. If you plan to study John 15, read the entire chapter. If you can, it’s helpful to read the passage from several different translations. If you want to go the extra mile – or if your passage is relatively short – rewrite the passage in your own words.
  2. Record – Read the passage again with the attitude of an investigative journalist. If you plan to study a larger passage or book, break it up into chunks to make it manageable. Observe the text, ask the journalistic questions – who, what why, where, and when – and record what you discover. Here are a few other things to look for and record:

Facts

Keywords, repeated words and phrases

People

Places

Timing

Who is writing to who and why

  1. Recognize – Read the passage again and look back over your written observations. Ask God to show you what eternal truths and principles this passage teaches. For instance, what do you learn about God, His character, and His ways? What do you learn about Jesus and what it means to follow Him? What do you learn about the church, salvation, a life of faith, godly relationships?
  2. Respond – This is where the rubber meets the road! How does God want you to apply His truth to your life today? Is there some sin to confess and turn away from? Is there a relationship that needs to be healed? Is there a command to be obeyed or an act of service to perform? Are there beliefs and ways of thinking that need to be conformed to God’s truth?

This Bible study method is so flexible! You can work through it in one sitting with a small passage or weeks with a larger passage or book. Check below for a list of a few helpful resources that will give a good foundation to a lifetime of purposeful Bible study.

I’d love to hear about your favorite Bible study method! Please share!

Bible study resources

A few resources you may find helpful: 

 

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3 Tips for Understanding Proverbs

understanding proverbsWant to live wisely? Then read the book of Proverbs. They are chock-full of biblical wisdom and insight. Proverbs are easy to remember and often fun to say. For instance, men love to quote Proverbs 21:9: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” (Ladies, unfortunately this is sad, but true!)

However, believers today often misunderstand or misuse this ancient form of wisdom writing. In today’s post, we will briefly define a proverb and then consider 3 interpretive tips that will help us understand this practical advice for living.

What is a proverb?

A proverb is an observation of life stated in a memorable way. It is a “persuasive saying proven true by experience” (“Encountering the Old Testament” by Arnold and Beyer, page 314). Proverbs are not unique to the Bible. Many ancient cultures made us of this literary device.

However, for the ancient Israelite, the purpose of a proverb was to “apply the principles of Israel’s covenant faith to everyday attitudes, activities, and relationships”  (“Old Testament Survey” by Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, page 460). Biblical proverbs are also an observation of life, but they also acknowledge that true wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 1:7).

How can we understand the Proverbs?

Like the rest of Scripture, the Proverbs must be understood in light of their purpose, literary genre, context, and original meaning (See also “4 Things to Consider for Biblical Context“). Since proverbs are a unique literary style, we cannot interpret them in the same way we do a historical book or an epistle.

Although the tips below are just a tip of the hermeneutical iceberg, they will get us off to a great start in understanding the Proverbs and applying their wisdom to our lives.

3 Tips to understanding Proverbs:

  1. A Proverb is a Principle, Not a Promise

A biblical proverb seeks to apply God’s wisdom to the situations of life. They are guidelines for living, general principles, not promises from God. While generally accurate, they do not take into account every possible scenario or individual circumstance. Therefore, they are not guarantees of a certain outcome, but rather point hearers to the best chance for success.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Many of us have known Christian parents who claimed Proverbs 22:6 as a promise and then were disillusioned when a child turned away from God and never returned. This demonstrates how important it is to understand the nature of a proverb.

  1. A Proverb is Pithy Poetry

A proverb is a saying that encapsulates a broad observation about life. Its primary goal is to state an important, simple truth about life in easy-to-remember terms.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6

Brief and memorable, this proverb is about something much deeper than flesh wounds and kisses. True friends tell us the truth for our good, even when it hurts. “Enemies” simply tell us what we want to hear or butter us up to get something they want.

Let’s look beyond the surface and past the simple, catchy words of a proverb to find the deeper truth. Then let’s apply that godly wisdom to our lives.

  1. A Proverb has a Proper Perspective

Ancient standards guide these ancient proverbs. They usually speak of simple desires and basic needs. Yet, often we subconsciously impose our modern, Western mindset and values.

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).

Just imagine how the influence of our affluent culture can affect our understanding of “prospers” and “blessed.” The typical ancient Israelite considered himself blessed if he had shelter and enough food.

We could talk a lot more about proverbs. However, if we remember these 3 tips, we will be well on our way to wise living!

Did any of these 3 surprise you? In light of these 3 tips, have been misunderstanding a particular proverb?

 

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Healthy Church or Unhealthy Church? 7 Signs to Check

healthy churchWe’ve changed churches eight times in 34 years of marriage. No, we aren’t “church hoppers,” we’ve simply moved a lot with my husband’s job. In fact, my husband and I are currently visiting churches after our recent move to a new city. With all that “church searching,” we’ve learned to spot a healthy church and we’ve learned some marks of an unhealthy church.

After each church visit, Wayne and I talk about the experience. What did we see and hear? What sense did we get of the church body and its leadership? What did we learn about the church that helps us understand its priorities? What did we witness that was either positive or threw up some red flags?

Although not an exhaustive list, the following seven areas will help you diagnose the health of your church or one you are visiting.

7 signs to help you know if your church is healthy or unhealthy

  1. Quality of the Fellowship – God designed the church to do life together, not just gather for a brief time on Sunday mornings (Acts 2:42-47). Do the members  engage with one another before and after the service? Do they connect at other times during the week? Another important question – is their fellowship inclusive or exclusive? A healthy church will reach out to visitors with genuine interest and attempt to include them.
  2. Centrality of the Gospel– The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus should be of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Topical messages and sermon series are helpful and needed, but we should never neglect the Gospel. Whether a formal presentation or sprinkled throughout the Sunday message, the Gospel should always be in mind. How often do you hear it at your church? When was the last time someone responded to the Gospel invitation with a profession of faith in Christ?
  3. Involvement in missions – Jesus commissioned His church to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:16-20). How involved is your church in sharing the Gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, both locally and around the world?
  4. Attitude and atmosphere – transparency, share struggles and victories as fellow faith travelers, worship, prayer
  5. Commitment to spiritual growth – Commitment should start at the top. The church’s leaders should be personally committed to spiritual growth and maturity and they should purposefully work to guide the church to grow. Things like corporate prayer, Bible study, mentoring, and discipleship indicate a strong commitment (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  6. Accountability for its members – This is an area of weakness for any the healthiest of churches. Our culture has conditioned us not to mess in other people’s business. But that’s not how God designed the church. God calls us to holiness and calls us to encourage others to holiness. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-13, James 5:16).
  7. Passion for Jesus – The church not only belongs to Jesus, it’s all about Him. A church can work hard, preach the Word, and impact the community, but if Jesus isn’t her “first love,” her heart is not in the right place (Revelation 2:1-5).

What About Your Church?

Numbers, prestige, and celebrity pastors don’t mean much. I’ve seen huge mega-churches that weren’t spiritually healthy. I’ve visited small, country churches that shone with spiritual vitality.
As our church search continues, we are aware God may direct us to either a healthy church or one that needs some spiritual healing. That’s His choice. We will do our best to serve Him and the church where He calls us.
Are there any marks of a healthy church you would add to this list? If so, feel free to share them with a Scripture reference! 
Other posts in this series on the church:
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I Don’t Want to Go Church Shopping

church shoppingMany of you know my husband and I recently moved to a new area and are now looking for a new home church. We are just a couple of weeks into the search, but I already have a bit of a battle going on inside me. The church shopping mentality threatens to take control. My desires are trying to push their way to the front.

I want a church that… I’m looking for a church that will… I’d really love for our new church to… Wouldn’t it be nice if…

I have this idea of the church I want. It combines the best of our past church homes. Incredible, worshipful music. Solid, engaging teaching. Believers that do life together. Heavenly involved in missions. Strong community outreach. Active women’s ministry.

And we could look for a church like that and probably find one. We could make a list of all the attributes we desire in a church and compare each one we visit to that list. Does this one meet the criteria? Does that one make the cut? Do we cross off that last church?

But Lord help us – and I mean that as a prayer – I don’t want to find our new church home that way. In fact, I will boldly say, God doesn’t want us to find our new church home that way. I don’t want to choose my favorite; I want to search for and find the church God has already chosen for us.

The term “church shopping” rubs me the wrong way. Yet, sadly, not only do many of us use it, but it also adequately describes how many of us look for a church. We shop for one like we do a car or a prom dress or laundry detergent. Honestly, it’s easy to fall into that mindset. Our consumer-oriented culture programs us to think that way.

But God doesn’t do things the way we do. The Bible tells us that God puts the body together like He desires (1 Corinthians 12:18). He places the people He has chosen into leadership (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). He determines the gifts to individual believers and selects their place of service (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28).

God’s Word applies to my life today. He already has a church and places to serve picked out and waiting for us. I am determined not to “shop.” I want to seek His will and then follow it. May He help us do just that.

How does this biblical view compare with what we usually hear?

You may be interested in the following:

 

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Why Do You Read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? If you and I had coffee together and I asked you that question, how would you answer?

Why Do Americans Read the Bible?

A 2016 study by the Barna Group shows that about 1/3 of Americans read the Bible at least once a week. The same study also cites why people read the Bible. Here’s a quick rundown of the top answers:

  • Brings me closer to God (55%)
  • To receive comfort (16%)
  • To find direction or an answer to a problem (16%)
  • Because I am supposed to (6%)

Why do I Read the Bible?

As I write this blog, I’m thinking about how I would answer this question. I mean, honestly answer this question. And you know what? I think my answer would depend on the day. Absolutely I want to be closer to God. But, some days I do read it because I know I should. Other days I need some godly direction or an answer for a specific problem. And on tough days, I just need some comfort.

And you know what? I think all those reasons are legitimate. God’s Word does give comfort, offer direction, and have answers for life today. And yes, sometimes we really should read our Bibles when we don’t necessarily want to, because Christian life requires discipline and purpose. We must “train ourselves for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:7-8).

While all those reasons and more are wrapped up in why I read the Bible, there is another reason. One I desire to be my primary reason.

I want God’s Word to shape me. To refine me. To make me more like Jesus.

For the word of God is alive 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

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And as it does, all those other things will happen too. My intimacy with God will deepen and grow. His constant presence will comfort and guide me.

So, now it’s your turn. Why do you read the Bible? Maybe your current reason isn’t what you’d like it to be. Or maybe you don’t read the Bible regularly now. The best way to create a hunger for God’s Word to simply to begin to read it. Once you get a taste… (Psalm 34:8).

Why do you read the Bible?

If you’d like to begin to read the Bible but you aren’t sure how to get started, check out my free resources page. It is full of helps, including quiet time tips and Bible reading plans! 

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When the Going Gets Tough Where Will You Go?

When the going gets toughYou know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Ever wonder just where all those tough people get going to?

Well, we know the saying doesn’t mean a place. It’s a proverbial observation of the human condition. When life becomes trying and difficult, “tough” people will find the strength within themselves to determinedly soldier on. To bravely rise to the challenge of their “tough” circumstances.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we meet the challenges of life head-on with grit and determination? Shouldn’t we refuse to run and hide or depend on the strength of someone else?

Let’s ask ourselves: When the going gets tough, where do we go? 

Or maybe rather: When the going gets tough, where should we go? 

Trials, difficulties, pain, struggle, and grief often fill our lives. Sometimes we don’t understand what God is doing. We can’t see Him working. Occasionally, we even doubt He cares.

Where will we go when the going gets tough? Will we leave God’s path for us to find an easier way?

One of my favorite passages of Scripture highlights this question. The day after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with just two loaves of bread and five fish, the crowds sought Him out in Capernaum. Jesus used their desire for more physical provision to teach them about the far superior spiritual nourishment that only He can provide.

But the truth that Jesus is “the bread of life” was difficult to understand:

“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:47-51, NIV

The teaching was just too hard. God’s truth presented a path too difficult to walk. Give my life to Jesus. “Feed” on Him alone. So many of those who had followed Him turned away to walk another path (John 6:66).

But then there was Peter!

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69, NIV

I love Peter’s declaration of trust. He chose to cling to Jesus no matter how the circumstances might look. No matter how tough life might get. After all, Jesus was the only One who had all life’s answers.

So, what about us? We can also choose to go to Jesus when the going gets tough. No matter how things look. Even if we don’t understand what God is doing. Even if we can’t see a way out. He knows. He sees. He can.

So, where will you go when the going gets tough?

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