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Tag Archives | discipleship

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?

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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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3 Concerns about Spiritual Gifts Tests

Spiritual Gifts TestsLast week, I started a new Bible study on the Holy Spirit with the ladies of my church. At one point, the friend next to me asked what I thought about spiritual gifts tests. My answer? “You probably don’t want to know.”

But then we talked about it anyway. And yes, we should have been paying closer attention in class.

I usually try to avoid answering this question. If the topic comes up in a group I may stay silent or just walk away. Why? Because my opinion is different than most and I don’t want to start any doctrinal debates.

But after my conversation with Kimberly on Tuesday, I decided that I would share my thoughts with you. Maybe a thoughtful conversation about spiritual gifts tests can reorient our focus.

Sadly, spiritual gifts is one of those areas of faith where we believers tend to make it all about us instead of about God. We ask, “What can I do for God? How can I use my gifts and talents?” Instead, we should be asking, “How does God want to use the gifts He gave me?”

In their book, What’s So Spiritual About Your Gifts? (LifeChange Books), authors Henry and Mel Blackaby caution that spiritual gifts tests are limited by their nature:

“It can help identify how God has used you since you’ve become a Christian. But it shouldn’t be used as a guide for how God desires to use you in the future, for God’s purposes are based upon His strengths, not yours alone. He may choose to take you into areas of service in which you’re naturally weak, to reveal His strength and bring glory to Himself.”

At their best, spiritual gifts tests may identify spiritual gifts and natural talents and abilities. But at their worst, since they cannot distinguish between them, the tests could actually encourage believers to “serve” according to our natural talents rather than relying on the power and equipping of the Holy Spirit.

When you think about it, using a spiritual gifts test is a little like trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol. They attempt to determine the work of God with a test devised by human logic.

So, while I think spiritual gifts tests can be a useful tool when kept in the proper perspective, I think too often they can do more harm than good.

Here are 3 of my concerns about spiritual gifts tests:

  1. They can replace God’s purposes with our purposes – Since spiritual gifts tests tend to reveal our own strengths and talents, we may use the assessment to find ways to “serve” in our own power. We will miss out on God’s greater purpose.
  2. They can limit the Holy Spirit – Even when the test does reveal a true spiritual gift, we may find ourselves only serving in ways that use that specific gift. We forget that as a believer we have the entire person of the Holy Spirit residing within us. We have access to all of His power to follow and obey God in any way He leads. Yet, we may hear God’s call but reject it because “that’s not in our area of gifting.”
  3. They can become an excuse – We may conveniently use the test results as our guide instead of the Holy Spirit. It’s much easier to pull out that pat answer – “That’s not my gift” – than to lay aside our own plans and seek God’s will and direction. It also gives our “no” a “spiritual” reason.

I have taken spiritual gifts tests in the past. But I have also followed God to work in areas that didn’t line up with the results of any test. And He did things that only He could do! I am so glad I didn’t rely on that test.

What about you? Are you limiting what the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through your life because of the results of a spiritual gifts test? Has God ever done anything through your life contrary to the results of a spiritual gifts test?

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Discipleship Resources for the New Year

Discipleship ResourcesDid your purposeful commitment to spiritual growth fall by the wayside some time during 2015? Maybe your time in God’s Word became sporadic. Maybe your prayer time dwindled. Well, there’s no better time to renew your commitment to discipleship and recommit to your time with God than the New Year. This post is chock full of discipleship resources, tips, and tools to help you get started and keep going all year.

A Place to Start

The following four posts/tools will help you figure out where you are spiritually and where God is leading you in the New Year.

  • Discipleship Evaluation Tool – honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas of 2015 can be great growth areas in 2016.
  • Spiritual Goals Worksheet – Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This tool walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education to help you set New Year goals.
  • Setting goals for spiritual growth – These five tips will help you set doable, personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year.
  • 3 Steps to Create a Hunger for the Bible – Do you long to hunger for God’s Word but right now your desire is limited?

General Discipleship Resources

The following posts each offer a collection of resources and tools to help you meet your goals.

Specific Discipleship Helps

This last group of resources focuses on a specific area of discipleship like quiet time, prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture Memory.

I hope these resources will help you meet your 2016 spiritual growth goals. I’d love to hear from you about how God is leading you to step out in the New Year!

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Paul’s Life & Writings – 10 Week Bible Reading Plan

Not currently using a Bible reading plan? Start this one Monday and it will take you to the New Year!

Bible Reading planThe Apostle Paul’s life and writings dominate the New Testament. Much of 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 Bible 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.

This Bible Reading Plan is the perfect length to take you through the end of 2015. Maybe life got in the way and your daily time in God’s Word fell to the wayside. Maybe you’re ready to commit to regularly being in God’s Word for the very first time. This plan is for you!

 Download and print the PDF. Feel free to share!

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