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Archive | Spiritual Growth

4 Ways to Foster a Thirst for God

Do we really thirst for God? If we had to measure our desire for God, how would we rank it? Let’s try. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hardly at all and 10 meaning you constantly desire to be in God’s presence, what number would you give yourself?

By the way, this is a personal question. Just think your answer to yourself. I simply want us to consider our level of spiritual hunger. Since we were made by God and for God (Colossians 1:16), we are at our most fulfilled and joyful when we are close to Him.

Thirst for God

In the 63rd Psalm, David the shepherd king expressed his desire for God:

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

If I’m being honest, I can’t claim these words as my own every day. The things of life claim my attention and even sometimes my priorities. But, thankfully, I’m growing and they describe my desire for God more than they used to.

4 Ways to Foster a Thirst for God

In Psalm 63:2-8, David gives some insight on how we can foster a growing desire for God. Though I’m sure there are more, I spotted 4 specific ways.

  1. Worship with God’s People – David experienced the presence of God in His house among the people of God. And it whet his appetite. Let us not neglect gathering with other Christians to worship.
  2. Practice Praise – I know some days we don’t feel like praising God. For instance, those days when everything and more seems to be going wrong. And those days when we struggle with grief or pain or loss. But every day, we can remember God’s steadfast love. And we can praise Him.
  3. Meditate on God’s Past Provision – Sometimes our current circumstances are so difficult and heavy we can think of nothing else. We wonder if and when God will come to our aid. Reflecting on times in the past where God has intervened, helped, strengthened, or comforted will give us reason to draw close to Him.
  4. Go to Him First, Always – I don’t know about you, but sometimes when trials hit God may be my second or third or last person I run to. Probably because I’m too focused on the physical instead of the spiritual. God longs for us to go to Him first for strength, help, provision, comfort, and support. He want to help us. He is just waiting.

As we purposefully and consistently practice these things, we will experience God’s presence and provision. And as we do, our desire and longing for Him will grow. Once we taste the goodness of God we will not be able to get enough.

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A Bible Reading Plan for the Rest of 2017

Get ready to be shocked – there are only 10 full weeks left in 2017! So, how have you done with your 2017 resolutions? Maybe you resolved to regularly read God’s Word this year, but life got in the way. It’s not too late to start over. To begin again. And I’ve got the perfect Bible reading plan for you.

This Bible Reading Plan is Rich and Doable

I’ve developed a 10-week Bible reading plan highlighting the life and writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul’s ministry and letters dominate the New Testament. Much of our doctrine of faith came from God through Paul’s pen. The “Roman Road,” the lavishness of God’s grace in Ephesians, God’s strength for us in trials, and the role of the church.

This 10-week reading plan chronologically melds Paul’s life and ministry with his letters. The plan includes 5 days of reading per week, each roughly about 30-40 verses. The two “off” days give you plenty of time to catch up when needed, making this a worthwhile, but doable plan.

Bible reading plan

Let’s Read the Bible Together

I would love to help you make and keep a commitment to get into God’s Word. So… I will read along with you! I have created a closed group connect to my Facebook page so we can keep all our discussion in one defined place. If you begin the plan on Monday, October 23rd, you will finish the plan Friday, December 29th. It’s always a good time to make a commitment to get into God’s Word.

2017 Finish Strong

Don’t wait until January 2018 to recommit to spending time regularly in God’s Word. Start now and finish the year strong! You’ll have a spiritual running start on 2018! Download and print the Bible Reading Plan here.

Will you join me? Let me know in the comments. Then go to the Facebook event page and “join!”

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3 Consequences of Inside-Out Faith

FaithIs your faith inside-out? If it is, you may not even be aware of it.

“Inside-out faith” happens when the doing of our faith eclipses the being connected to Jesus. It’s religion over relationship. It’s faith the way the world would do it. Packed full with stuff – works, activities, committees, and to-do lists.

The New Testament sisters Martha and Mary are perfect examples of inside-out and right-side-out faith (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus came to the sisters’ home for a visit, Mary sat at His feet soaking up His teaching. But Martha, who frantically ran around hostessing, complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping.

I can just imagine the kindness in Jesus’ response. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha was “distracted” (Luke 10:40). She was “too busy, over-occupied, drawn away.” Martha wasn’t doing anything “bad.” She had simply allowed too many good things to crowd out the best. She missed sitting in the presence of God Himself.

Sadly, many of us fall victim to inside-out faith. We fill our lives too many good things, leaving no room, for the better thing, the best thing. We put the religious motions of our faith over the relationship with the Object of our faith. And the consequences can be profound.

3 Consequences of Inside-Out Faith

  1. Legalism – When the activities and work of faith overshadow the point of our faith we lose our joy! And when “serving” drives our behavior and attitude we also become critical of others. That’s exactly what happened to Martha.
  2. Busyness – Our culture perpetuates the false idea that a full calendar somehow defines our value, who we are. But when our calendars rule our lives, our families, our health, and all our relationships pay the price. The worst result is that often we are too busy for God’s purposes and plans for us.
  3. Burn out – A serious commitment to church can hinder your faith! When religious activities become the driving force of our faith, our relationship with Jesus gets pushed to the back burner. We close our ears and our hearts to the strength, guidance, and encouragement of Jesus. We end up taking on too much under our own power.

None of us purposefully choose this kind of faith. Sometimes it’s all we’ve known. Sometimes, we slowly slip into it. However it happened, it doesn’t have to be this way! Come back Thursday for some suggestions for turning your faith right-side out!

 

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Are You Too Busy? A Brief Checklist

Our culture has lied to us. It tells us that “busy” is good and margin is bad. In fact, surely an overflowing calendar means we are wanted. Needed. Talented. A person of worth.

Is that what Jesus meant about giving us a “full” life? Or is “busy” one of those “thieves and robbers” He warned us about?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Full or Busy?

In John 10:10, “life” refers to “life in the absolute sense as God has it” and that He extends to us through Jesus. It is eternal life, found in part now and consummated in eternity. “Full” means abundant, overflowing, to abound.

God desires our lives to be “full,” not busy. “Busy” is packed with activity – some purposed by God, but a lot purposed strictly by us. “Full,” on the other hand, describes a life filled up with the plans, purposes, and peace of God. A “full” life will be characterized by relationships, service, good works, and time. Time to focus on things that matter for eternity. (See this post for a little more on the danger of “busy.”)

Busy Checklist

Now, let’s get personal. Are you too busy? Though not a scientific test, the following checklist will give you a good idea. You may be to busy if:

  1. You apply any makeup in the car – other than lipstick –more than once a month
  2. You grab fast food for dinner more than 1-2 times a week
  3. You regularly turn down invites to get together w/ friends
  4. You’ve felt led by God to participate in an area of service or ministry but said “no” because of your schedule
  5. You feel like you and your husband are just “two ships passing in the night”
  6. You have dinner with the family around your table less than 4-5 times a week
  7. You and hubby have a detailed flow chart to get the kids back and forth to their activities
  8. You flop into bed every night exhausted
  9. You skip church to just “stay home and rest” more than twice a year
  10. You have good intentions for a regular time with God but it rarely happens
  11. You rarely enjoy long conversations with current friends
  12. Weeks go by without seeing your local friends face-to-face

Our lives may even be packed with “good” stuff, but without any margin, we have no room to respond to God’s best for us.

If God has shown you that your life is too busy, that you’re missing out on the full life He offers, consider doing a serious evaluation of your calendar. Here’s a guide to help. Give up busy. Embrace full!

Is your life full or just busy? What are you going to do today to change it?

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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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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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3 Reasons for Joy in Trials

Joy

Does God’s truth ever seem just crazy to you? Like the perfect God-Man, Jesus, dying for us sinners? Well, we find more of this counter-intuitive craziness in the first chapter of James. The brother of Jesus, who was also the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote this to Jewish believers scattered around the world by persecution:

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” James 1:2-4, NLT

Through the years, I’ve heard preachers, Bible teachers, and others say that Christians can experience joy in spite of trials and troubles. And while that is true, that’s not what James meant in this passage. Depending on the translation you’re using, at the beginning of verse 3 you may see “for,” “because of,” “when,” or “whenever.” But you won’t see “in spite of.”

As crazy as it sounds to us, James did indeed mean that believers should consider trials an opportunity to experience joy. He even tells us why.

  1. God’s Process – Trails build and grow our faith like weight training does for our muscles. Life’s difficulties, Christian persecution, and temptations all put our faith to test. God uses this process to burn away impurities, refining our faith. He builds and shapes our character to look more like Jesus.
  2. God’s Purpose – I love the way the NLT translation puts it. When our faith is fully developed, we will be “ready for anything!” God has a specific purpose for each of us Ephesians 2:10). He has a plan, a way He wants to use us for His Kingdom. But He must shape and prepare His tools (you and me) so we will be useful in His hands.
  3. God’s Presence – Throughout God’s Word, He promises to be with us always and through everything (Isaiah 43:1-2, Matthew 28:19-20). Trials provide an opportunity to experience God’s presence in ways we cannot in easy times. If we never have to rely on God, we would never experience His faithfulness. If we are never weak, we would never experience His strength. Through trials we move from merely intellectual knowledge of God to experiential knowledge. Shared times of trial fosters deep intimacy and dependence.

This truth seems crazy to us because we often move through life spiritually short-sighted. We are stuck in this physical world and fail to see the greater reality. God works on an eternal time-table with eternal purposes in mind. He’s working for the end game. Let’s join Him!

Which of these 3 P’s do you struggle with most to keep in mind? Why?

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14 One Anothers for the Church Today

God does not intend for us to live out our faith on our own. When He saves us, He saves us into His family, the church, so we can live and grow together with other believers. We cannot be everything God desires for us, we cannot fulfill God’s purposes for us, we cannot receive everything God has for us, without a vital connection to a local church.

One another churchGod designed the church to be a unique fellowship. The Bible uses the Greek word koinōnia to describe this spiritual relationship between believers (Acts 2:42). Koinōnia means “having in common, sharing, partnership, fellowship.” Individual believers both receive what they need and give what others need within the context of the church.

 So, what does this giving and receiving – this koinōnia – look like? There is not one single passage in the Bible that gives a detailed, all-encompassing description. However, the New Testament is peppered with examples, principles, and commands about what believers should be for each other. For example, the phrase “one another” is frequently used to point to a specific way believers should relate to other believers. Although the following list is not comprehensive, these 14 “one anothers” are a great start to helping us understand the koinōnia of the church.

14 “One Anothers” for the Church Today

  1. Love one another (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7)
  2. Comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  3. Serve one another (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)
  4. Restore one another (Galatians 6:1)
  5. Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  6. Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  7. Build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  8. Honor one another (Romans 12:10)
  9. Do good to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  10. Meet one another’s physical needs (James 2:15-17, 1 John 3:17)
  11. Pray for one another to be healed (James 5:16)
  12. Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  13. Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16) – correcting wrong belief and behavior and instilling correct belief and behavior
  14. Spur one another to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)

These “one anothers” reveal the scope and depth of our koinōnia relationship – from putting the needs of others before our own to allowing another believer to hold us accountable for our behavior. This spiritual relationship is so different than anything we can find in the world. Only in the church can we give and receive everything God intends. He has provided everything we need through “one another.”

In what ways have you experienced the unique koinōnia of the church?

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