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Tag Archives | discipleship

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 Practical Steps to Turn Your Faith Right-side Out

faithDo you too often feel like you are doing religion instead of living out an abundant relationship with Jesus? If you tend to fall into legalism, busyness, or burn out, your faith just may be “inside-out!”

In Monday’s blog post, we defined inside-out faith and explored three consequences of doing Christianity instead of being in a relationship with the Object of our faith. Today, we will consider three practical steps that will help us turn our inside-out faith right-side out.

Unlike inside-out faith, right-side out faith is characterized by surrender and discipleship. One verse that consistently challenges me describes what it looks like to be completely surrendered to Jesus.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Our culture has a negative view of surrender, but if we want to experience the full, abundant life Jesus promised, surrender is vital. Surrender means we “die” to our own will and way and yield to the authority of Jesus. We no longer live for ourselves, but we allow Jesus to live His life through us.

Discipleship goes hand-in-hand with surrender. After we surrender to Jesus’ lordship, we then purposefully follow Him wherever He leads.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25

3 Practical Steps for Right-Side Out Faith

So, how do we do this? How do we purposefully live faith with our focus on Jesus and our relationship with Him instead of going through the motions of religion? The following three practical steps will help us put the relationship first, allowing the works of service and obedience to flow naturally from Jesus through us.

  1. Seek Jesus First – Our top priority should be to foster our relationship with our Savior. That means spending regular time in His Word and prayer, listening to Him. Initially, it make take disciplining ourselves. (For some helps, tips, and resources for spending time with God, check out my resources page.) But just as we can develop a craving for sugar – the more we eat, the more we crave – our discipline will turn into delight! Soon, we will run to meet with Him each morning. (See Matthew 6:25-33.)
  2. Follow His lead – God has a specific purpose for you. He has specific works for you to do. And His way in every circumstance is always best. But how can we know where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do? If you have a saving relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within you. He is waiting for you to listen to His leading and follow Him. Read Romans 8:5-14 for more about following the Holy Spirit.
  3. Live it in Community – God has designed us for community, to do life with others. We cannot be everything God wants us to be or fulfill the purpose for which He has called out, outside of a vital connection to a local body of believers. A church will encourage, support, equip, and challenge you! (See Ephesians 4:11-16.)

Don’t keep living your faith inside-out! You will miss out on God’s best for you.

Have you been living your faith inside-out? Maybe even in little ways? What do you see that needs to be turned around?

My book “Fed Up with Flat Faith” may also be helpful as you seek to turn your faith right-side out. 

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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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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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3 Quiet Time Cautions

Quiet timeWe are five days into the New Year. Five days into starting fresh. And, for many Christians, five days into working toward a new set of spiritual goals. Perhaps you even set some goals and strategies for a regular quiet time.

Regularly on this blog and when I speak, I encourage believers to “train themselves for godliness.” This website offers dozens of free tools and resources to help. Including quiet time tips. But today, I want to go to the flip side of the coin and share some words of caution about quiet time.

3 Cautions for Your Quiet Time

  1. Don’t do all the talking – Why do many of us always talk more than we listen? It’s a bad enough habit with our friends and family, but it’s far worse with God. Yet, often we allow prayer to become a one-way conversation. We end up talking at God instead of with Him. Honestly, this is a struggle for me. I have to remind myself to listen, to sit quietly and allow the King of the universe to speak. And isn’t it amazing that He does?!
  2. Don’t be unprepared – It is not unspiritual to plan and prepare. Jesus told His disciples to count the cost of following Him. Paul wrote to Timothy that he must “train Himself for godliness.” Both teach us that we must be purposeful and diligent in our discipleship and spiritual growth. Keep your tools – Bible, pen, journal, etc. – together and at hand, ready to go each morning. And have a Bible reading plan. Dropping open your Bible and pointing your finger is haphazard at best.
  3. Don’t succumb to legalism – This point does not contradict caution #2. Our goal should be to be prepared but flexible. I am a list maker who loves to check off the boxes. Too many times, I have found myself rushing through my Bible reading so I can check off the day’s box. Or I felt guilty when I missed a day of quiet time. Legalism in our quiet time robs us of its joy and inhibits the intimacy we long to have with God. Let’s keep our goals in mind, but let’s also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to “get off script,” and give ourselves some grace when life gets in the way.
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Today’s My Birthday. Am I “Old” Now?

BirthdayToday is my birthday. I am 55 years old. Some days I feel old. Some days I feel like I’m just getting started good.

But this specific number –  “55” – comes with an “old age” stigma. I keep thinking about this group they had at church when I was growing up. They called it the “Double Nickle” club. It was for the “old people” at church and they met once a week for lunch and games. Probably Bridge. That strikes me as a game for old people because my grandmother played Bridge every week with a group of friends. But I digress…

So, one day not long ago, I was thinking about turning 55 and it hit me – the “Double Nickle” club was for people 55 and over. I am now old enough for the “Double Nickle” club.  And for the senior menu at iHop.

I must look it too. A few weeks ago my husband and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. He dropped me off to buy the tickets while he parked. The young man at the ticket booth quoted me a price less than I expected for two tickets. When I questioned him, he told me that included the “senior discount.” Turns out the “senior discount” is for those 62 and above. The young theater employee just assumed I qualified.

But I really don’t feel “old” – most days anyway. But, ask me again some morning after I worked in the yard for hours the day before. Funny, my Bridge-playing granny told me something about aging when I was little that I still remember. She said, “Your body ages, but your soul never does.” I didn’t really understand her statement then, but now I think I do.

God created us for eternity. Oh, yes, we have a temporal, physical “tent” that breaks down and falls apart. But God’s purposes for His children are eternal. And He wants to keep using us here on earth as long as He allows us to remain.

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!”
Psalm 92:12-15

Here’s my conclusion. I am not necessarily “old,” but I am “older.” And until God is finished with me here on earth, I am certainly not “done.”

So no “retirement” for me. Nope. As long as I’m able, I want to serve the Lord and His people. On that day when God calls me home, I want to be able to declare with the Apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

And discounted movie tickets and cheap pancakes are just an added bonus!

 

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7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

mature christianWould you describe yourself as a mature Christian? Honestly, that term feels sort of subjective. What one person considers mature, another might not.

However, the Bible does give us some guidelines for spiritual maturity. First, God calls us to spiritual maturity:

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:13, NIV

The Greek word translated as “mature” in Ephesians 4:13 is teleios. It means to be “complete, perfect, brought to end, of full age.” Spiritual maturity is God’s goal for us.

Next, our maturity is so important to God, He allows trials into our lives to grow our faith:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

If our maturity is this important to God, perhaps we should take it more seriously. But how can we know if we’re growing spiritually? What does a mature Christian look like?

7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

The Bible gives us many marks of a growing believer, like perseverance and spiritual fruit, but the Bible specifically mentions the following 7 characteristics in conjunction with the Greek word teleios:

  1. Recognizes the difference between right and wrong then does what is right (Hebrews 5:14)
  2. Not easily swayed by false teaching (Ephesians 4:13-16) – So grounded in the truth of God’s Word, she quickly recognizes falsehood.
  3. Rooted in love (Ephesians 4:13-16) – Our words and actions flow from love for our fellow believers.
  4. Serves the church (Ephesians 4:13-16) – A Christian cannot grow to her full potential apart from a vital connection to a local church. She must find her place of mutual service and encouragement.
  5. Lives with an eternal perspective (Philippians 3:13-15) – The reality of the spiritual and eternal drives her life. She purposefully strives to continual spiritual growth because she knows this life is temporary.
  6. Controls her tongue (James 3:2) – If a Christian has good control of her speech, you know she is on a path to maturity!
  7. Reflects God’s character to the world (Matthew 5:48) – God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity in order to reflect the character of Jesus to a watching world.

So how are you doing? What area do you struggle in the most? Why?

Want to be purposeful in your spiritual growth? You may find this post helpful.

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Thankful I was Forced to Unplug

unplugMy phone blasted out a severe thunderstorm and tornado warning at 4:30 yesterday morning. I had been awake a few moments anyway, so I crawled out of bed. Since I knew we might have to “shelter in place,” I quickly took the dogs out to potty, fed them, then made some coffee. First things first.

The wind began to howl so I looked out the front windows. No rain yet, but I could see the trees whipping in the light from our front porch. Then it happened. About the time I took my first sip of java the lights went out. Everywhere.

We keep two battery operated lanterns for times such as this. I grabbed them both from the cabinet in the laundry room and took one to Wayne. He was in the bathroom getting ready for work.

On a usual morning I get up when Wayne heads into the kitchen so we can visit while he has breakfast. He leaves for work about 5:45. That’s when I sit at my desk with my Bible, journal, and coffee. After some time with the Lord – often rushed and never long enough – I open my laptop and get to work. Then some time late morning I get some exercise on the treadmill while I watch the news or something on my iPad.

Yesterday’s routine looked a little different. No electricity meant no internet. No electricity meant only so much battery power on the laptop and phone. No electricity meant no television and no treadmill. So, what was a plugged-in girl to do?

The unwanted unplug was a blessing in disguise

Bible by LanternWithout the ability to turn my attention to email or deadlines or Facebook, I lingered with God’s Word, reading and journaling by lantern light. Without power for the treadmill, I walked through our neighborhood. I purposefully choose not to listen to music or an audio book. Instead I talked to God about some things on my heart and mind.

And I worked to listen.

The power was out for about six hours this morning. When it did return, I was a bit disappointed. I actually felt grateful for the forced time to unplug. God blessed it. And it highlighted how noisy my life has become.

Email. Social media. Online research and study. Instant entertainment. All this “convenience” is deafening. And addicting. I will be totally honest with you. I had some difficult moments in those 6 hours. I tried to do a needed task or two on my phone when I should have simply turned it off too and completely soaked in the silence.

I believe God is asking me to unplug a lot more regularly for the sole purpose of plugging back in with Him. Not sure how often or how long or exactly what that looks like yet. But it’s coming. I’m going to pull the plug!

What about you? Has God been asking you to spend some time unplugged? If so, what will it look like for you?

Regular, quality time with God can be difficult. You may find these posts helpful:

 

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3 Steps to Help You Choose a New Bible

New BibleTime to choose a new Bible, but overwhelmed with the sheer volume of the choices available? Dozens of translations combined with a myriad of features yields hundreds – if not thousands – of specific Bibles to choose from. Selecting a new Bible can be a daunting task!

Before you throw your hands up in surrender, keep reading. This post will walk you through a simple 3-step process to help you choose the Bible that will best meet your needs.

Since many of you probably already have one or more Bibles, the first step is to determine why you need another Bible and which Bible that should be.

3 Steps to a New Bible!

  1. Determine Your Primary Purpose – How do you intend to use this new Bible? Your purpose will guide the next two steps. Maybe one of the following describes your intended purpose:
  • In-depth study
  • Devotional reading
  • Casual reading/simple enjoyment!

2. Choose the Translation – Unless you read Hebrew and Greek – the original language of the Bible – you must choose from one of the many English translations of the Bible. There are three basic levels or groups of translations. One of these groups will better align with your purpose than the others. Also, it’s always helpful to have more than one translation. You can compare the same passage in different translations for a greater understanding.

  • Word-for-Word (also known as Formal Equivalent) – These translations are the closest to the grammar and syntax of the original language as possible, but they can often sound wooden. Also this kind of translation makes no consideration for cultural changes. This kind of translation is a great choice for in-depth Bible study. (Ex: Amplified, NKJV, NAB, ESV, NASB. Note: NIV falls somewhere between the Formal and Dynamic Equivalent)
  • Thought-for-thought (also known as Dynamic Equivalent) – These translations work to keep the overall original thought rather than attempt a literal word for word translation. Although not as literally as accurate as the Formal Equivalent, they are much easier for 21st century westerners to understand. For instance, Dynamic Equivalent translations change idioms, figures of speech, and measurements into “equivalent” terms that we will understand. This kind of translation is still close enough to the original to be good for Bible study, but it can also be used for devotional reading. (Ex: NLT, CEV)
  • Paraphrase – this translation group departs the furthest from the original language but it provides a fresh reading experience. A paraphrase is more of a big idea-for-big idea translation. This translation group is fine for devotional reading but not a good idea for study. With the paraphrase’s “storytelling” format, it would be great for family devotions with young children. (Ex: The Message)
  1. Select the Features You Want – Ah, there is no end to the possible tools, special editions, and unique features you can get in the different Bible translations. Select the ones that best meet your needs and circumstances. By the way, at ChristianBook.com you can refine your Bible search by translation and features! Here is a sampling:
  • Study Bible – includes book introductions, character studies, notes, etc.
  • Tabs – helps you quickly find individual books
  • Cross-references – read related passages
  • Concordance – alphabetical index of words and where they are found in the Bible
  • Dictionary – definitions of Bible words and terms
  • Journaling space – empty wide margins on every page gives room to journal or draw
  • Large print – hard time reading tiny print? This may be for you!
  • Maps, charts, timelines – helps you step into Bible times
  • Devotional – will help you meditate on and apply the passages
  • Focus on a select audience like women, students, men, children
  • Parallel translations – shows more than one translation side-by-side

You’re almost there! Choose the translation based on your purpose. Then add in the features you’re most interested in. Congratulations on your new Bible!

What was the last Bible you purchased? Why did you choose that particular one?

Helpful articles and posts:

 

 

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