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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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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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Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual Junk FoodYesterday, in the grocery store, I made some poor choices. The Super Bowl was my primary excuse. My husband’s requests ran a close second. But much of the junk food also happened to be my favorites.

Nothing required any preparation and met the requirement of having “plenty of snacks for all four quarters.” Chips. Hot wings. Jalapeno poppers. Ice cream. Popcorn. You know, football food.

Instead of buying real food and committing to the effort I know must accompany it, I bought frozen, pre-made, easy-to-fix, nutritionally lacking junk food. Sadly, the only benefit that kind of food can give is momentary pleasure.

As I loaded my selections on the checkout counter I thought about two things. First, I knew I would regret my “food” choices on Monday. And second, I thought about how often I make the same mistake with my spiritual health. I resist the effort it takes to feast on the nutritional meat of God’s Word and instead binge on spiritual junk food.

The author of Hebrews addressed a similar issue with his readers:

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT

These “Peter Pan” Christians didn’t want to grow up. Their diet of spiritual milk temporarily relieved their spiritual hunger. Contentedly skipping along on the surface of their faith, they took in the same basics over and over. They refused to put forth the disciplined effort that spiritual growth and maturity requires. They took the easy path instead of working to ingest the rich, healthy meat of God’s Word.

We often live the same way, filling the holes in our spirits with mere baby food, or even spiritual junk food. We play in the shallows and talk about how great the water is when we could – and should – be in over our heads.

Examples of Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual junk food sits eye level on the shelf. It’s easy to grab for a quick bite. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick devotional thoughts based on a small passage pulled out of its context
  • Visually pleasing memes with an inspiring, spiritual-light slogan
  • On-the-run prayers substituted for time on our knees

Characteristics of Spiritual Junk Food

While a few things on the spiritual fast-food menu can give some benefit – I enjoy a beautiful meme as much as the next person – they should be appetizers or snacks, not the basis for our spiritual diet. Evaluate your spiritual diet by reflecting on these characteristics of spiritual junk food:

  • Gives quick, but fleeting spiritual satisfaction
  • Lacks deep, real spiritual value
  • Provides a “feel good” spiritual high with no correction, challenge, or call to obedience

Our spiritual health requires preparation, hard work, discipline, and persistence. If we want to be spiritually mature, we must train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7-8). We can’t microwave spiritual growth.

How’s your basic spiritual diet? Is there some junk food in your diet you weren’t even aware of?

If you’d like to evaluate your discipleship check out this post.

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Discipleship Resources for 2017

Discipleship ResourcesDid your purposeful commitment to spiritual growth fall by the wayside some time during 2016? 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 2017 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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5 Reflection Questions for 2016

2016 ReflectionWith a new year just days away, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year just ending. But why bother to look back? Shouldn’t we forget the past and focus on what lies ahead? After all, we cannot change what has already happened. We can’t go back. We can only move forward. In fact, didn’t the apostle Paul tell us to forget what is behind? Here’s his words from his letter to the believers in Philippi:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul did not mean we should never reflect on the past. In fact, earlier in the chapter, he had done just that. (See Philippians 3:4-6 and check this post for more.) His point in verses 12-14 was that he refused to allow anything in his past to foster a false sense of “arrival.” Dwelling on past spiritual “accomplishments” would only lull him into inactivity. Instead, he committed to continue moving towards spiritual maturity with determination.

Reflecting on what God has done in our past can help us see His continued path for us. The clearer picture we have of what He has been doing, the better sense we can have of where He is taking us next.

5 Questions for Purposeful Reflection on 2016

  • What trials and difficulties has God brought me through this year that He may want to use to comfort and encourage someone else who will go through similar circumstances?
  • What learning or training experiences did God bring into my life that could be His preparation for future areas of ministry?
  • What new people have crossed my path in 2016 that God may want me to develop a relationship with?
  • What major life change or event occurred in 2016 that God may want to use as a crossroads for a new direction?
  • What has God taught me about Himself this year – Who He is and how He works – that needs to impact my relationship with Him and others?

My 2016 has been full of significant life events – some joyous and some painful. My husband Wayne and I have already done a lot of reflecting, talking, and praying about how it all impacts what God wants to do with us in 2017. Some major changes seem to be coming in the near future. (Stay tuned!)

I pray God will give you insight and wisdom as you take time to reflect on the past 12 months. May He also grant you clear direction for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

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5 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life

trialsDoes God care about the trials you endure in this life? Absolutely! God sees every detail of your life. He knows your every need and He cares deeply about each one.

However, as much as He cares about your physical needs and condition, He cares even more about your spiritual condition. His first desire and primary purpose is to transform His children into the image of Christ. (See Romans 8:29.) The spiritual and eternal take priority over the physical and temporary. But how does God do the work?

Let’s consider a physical analogy. If we want to strengthen our muscles we must add “stress.” When we lift a heavier load than our muscles have lifted before, a physical process begins to adapt the needed muscles to the new load. Without stress, our muscles are content with their current size and strength. Add stress, and our muscles begin to change to meet the need.

Our spiritual strength and character are similar. The difficulties of life “stress” our faith. Trials give our faith a work out like heavy loads work our muscles. As we faithfully endure, we grow spiritually stronger. Without difficulty, our faith tends to stagnate. Do you want stronger faith? You need stress.

Trials work our faith. Like using our muscles to carry heavier loads make them stronger, the trials of life give our faith a workout. God will use them to grow and develop our faith so we will be spiritually mature, not lacking anything!

Our gracious God never wastes a trial He permits to enter our lives. If we will cooperate, He will use every difficulty, heartache, and hardship for our good and His glory.

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 1:2-4, NIV

 5 Ways God Uses Trials in Our Lives

  1. God uses them to break our independence and foster our dependence on Him.
  2. God uses them to purify our faith and develop our moral character.
  3. God uses them to test, prove, and strengthen our faith in Him.
  4. God uses them to prepare us for His purposes.
  5. God works through them to prove Himself powerful, faithful, and reliable.

God is not finished with you yet. And He is definitely not finished with me. I know more difficulties lie ahead. Honestly, I wish God had chosen to work another way. But I will choose to trust His infinite wisdom and submit to His refining process. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste any trial or difficulty!

In what ways has God used trials and difficulties in your life to refine your faith and character? To make you more like Jesus!?

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3 Spiritual Benefits of Need

NeedIf we had our choice, most of us would choose abundance over need. We would rather have more than enough money to pay our bills. We would rather not go hungry.

Yet God’s Word actually warns us about the dangers of having plenty. Too much money, food, and possessions fool us into relying on ourselves. Material abundance fosters pride and self-sufficiency. “Plenty” leaves us spiritually bereft.

Are you in a time of physical need? Maybe you’re struggling with a health issue or job loss. Maybe some unexpected expenses has drained your bank account. God not only sees your need, He cares deeply. He longs to meet your physical needs.

Yet, the Bible also teaches God works through times of physical need to benefit us, to grow us spiritually. As much as God cares about our physical condition, He cares much more about our spiritual condition. Our physical condition is temporary. Our spiritual condition involves matters of eternity.

When the children of Israel were poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses warned them about the danger of their future material abundance (Deuteronomy 8:1-20). He reminded them of the spiritual benefit gained by wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. God used their time of physical need to foster great spiritual growth.

The same can be true for us. If we allow Him, God can work in our lives during times of material need in ways not possible during times of plenty.

3 Spiritual Benefits of Physical Need

  1. Humility – Pride is a root that sprouts an abundance of other sinful attitudes and behaviors. In times of physical need God can open our eyes to truth. We don’t possess anything He has not provided. Even our ability to work comes from Him (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
  2. Dependence – When we realize God provides everything in our lives we will begin to lean on Him, to rely on Him every minute. Our illusion of self-sufficiency is shattered.
  3. Growth – As we lean on God more and more, our faith is tested and proved. As we learn more about God’s character and ways, He develops spiritual boldness and we willingly take new steps of faith never considered before.

Are you in need today? Don’t waste this time! Ask God to grow you spiritually and teach you to depend on Him every minute. Times of material need can be glorious times of spiritual plenty.

If you have physical need now or have in the past, what spiritual benefit did you experience?

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Are you a Stunted Shrub or a Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17We’ve lived in the West Texas desert. Twice. Not much can grow there. Even the small, stunted mesquite shrubs quickly become tumbleweeds in a windstorm. But here in southeast Texas the foliage thrives. It’s green around here pretty much twelve months of the year. Something is growing and blooming all the time. The plants have what they need – sun, warmth, and plenty of water.

I’ve seen plenty of stunted shrubs and fruitful trees. Such a stark contrast. In fact, God uses this contrast in the book of Jeremiah. God does that a lot in Scripture; He gives us word pictures to help us better understand spiritual truths.

The first chapter of Psalms has been my favorite for a long time – the man who mediates on the law of the LORD is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:1-3). But recently, the comparison God gives us in Jeremiah 17 between a stunted shrub and a fruitful tree really impacted me.

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8, NLT

Which are you? Stunted Shrub or Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17

How does one get to be a “stunted shrub?” You turn away from God and trust in humans. And the results are not pretty. Stunted shrubs are cursed. They have no growth and no hope for the future.

How does one get to be a “fruitful tree?” You trust in the Lord and put your hope in Him alone. The results are far much better. This person will be blessed and secure in difficult circumstances. She will stay healthy and grow, producing “fruit” that lasts.

I would much rather be a fruitful tree! How about you?

What can you do today to put your trust and hope in God?

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4 Tips for Staying Spiritually Fit this Summer

Tips for spiritual fitness this summerSummer is almost here! For many of us, that means a break from the usual routines of school, work, and other responsibilities. We sleep in, take time off to be with family, and even get away on vacations and long weekends. Life seems to slow. Regular weekly activities – like sports, lessons, and Bible study groups – go on hiatus until fall.

All of this is great for our families, our bodies, and our human relationships. But unfortunately, the change of pace often throws even the most disciplined among us off kilter spiritually.

Because of the weird schedule, regular Bible study and quite time sometime get set aside. Even church attendance gets spotty due to travel. But rather than feeling guilty or giving up altogether, let’s work with the season instead.

4 Tips to Stay Spiritually Fit this Summer

The following 4 tips include lots of great resources to help you take advantage of the summer schedule and keep spiritually fit:

  1. Summer Bible Reading Plan – Use a plan that’s short-term and gives you some breathing room!
  2. Family Devotions – Since you’ll probably be getting away with your family this summer, make good use of that time together. Download this 7-Day Family Devotional Guide to use on that next road trip or family vacation. The guide includes a Scripture passage to read, very brief commentary, and 3-4 discussion questions to get the family talking!
  3. Online Bible study and community – Many of you participate in Bible study groups throughout the fall and spring, but most of these groups don’t meet during the summer. Rather than neglecting Bible study until September, make use of one of the these great online opportunities.
  4. Podcasts – Many churches make their pastor’s sermons available for listening through the church website. If your church doesn’t, you can listen to many great preachers and teachers from wherever your summer travels happen to take you. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Summer doesn’t have to mean a spiritual setback! Just temporarily change the way you do things. I would love to hear how you and your family incorporate spiritual disciplines into your summer schedule.

    Let’s share now! How do you stay spiritually fit during the summer months?

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