On Studying Well

Something I get asked fairly often is “how do I get to the point where I actually want to spend time in the Word and enjoy it?”

My short answer is probably frustrating and redundant: “by spending more time in the Word.”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be familiar with what God says to us. We accept the authority the scriptures, their place in history and their effect on human events. Most of us desire to gain knowledge from our study time, which is good and noble. Why then, do so many of us struggle to even want to dig deeper? We have everything we could possibly need and more at our fingertips… commentaries, books, studies, you name it. Yet we simply don’t make the time. When we do, we often stop at the knowledge part and never move on to much application.

When I was a teen, the big buzzword in our church youth group was the “devo”, short for devotional. We would carve out time every morning to do our devo, journal some verses, and dutifully pray over what we studied. I even had a notebook that was neatly divided into four sections for praise, thanksgiving, confession and requests. It was well-intentioned and helped me build a good foundation for understanding God’s word, but something was still missing.

Years go by and we grow and change, our study and understanding of Jesus and His word hopefully growing and changing with us. There are high points and low points, times when we stubbornly turn our backs on Him and moments when we run straight into His arms. It took years of spiritual rollercoaster-riding for me to finally put into place some practical steps that helped me stay connected and abiding. Realizing this was His will all along, I tasted the freedom and joy it brought and never wanted to go back. Here are some of the “big ideas” that helped me, I hope they can help you too:

  • Just be a branch. In John 15, Jesus gives us a powerful picture of our position in life. We are branches attached to the Vine. It is through constant and consistent abiding in Him that we receive everything we need to be alive and bear fruit. The burden producing fruit isn’t on us, it’s a natural occurrence to our staying connected. Branches don’t disconnect one day and reconnect the next… they simply stay connected and receive what they need. Study the branch and vine relationship!
  • Camp out in the Word. It’s easy to want to follow a chronological reading plan, and they can be useful in giving us a total overview of what the Bible is about. It is important to study the entirety of the Bible for ourselves. Often, He wants to speak a specific word to us and have us meditate on it. If we are bouncing all over the place trying to keep up with a reading plan, we can miss out. When God places a verse on your heart, don’t rush on to the next thing. Cross-reference it, look up commentary about it, journal it, and let it sink in. If it’s too hard to believe at first, that’s ok. Our job is to remain and allow Him to clarify things and change our hearts in the process.
  • Stay Thirsty. Ok, yes I realize this is a slogan from a beer commercial, but when it comes to our spiritual growth, it’s true. No matter the circumstances, we must stay thirsty for more of God. Great times should push us forward just as much as difficult times. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Once we have experienced the joy that comes from abiding, it’s only natural that we will be thirsty for more.
  • Remember Obedience. This part isn’t very fun or cozy feeling, but it must be said. The Bible is clear that life is not always going to go our way. We can’t just go around doing whatever we please and expect God to bless our endeavors. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that a condition for discipleship is denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Obedience can be a sticking point for us though, if we see it in the wrong light. We don’t obey just to get a reward, we obey because we love Him and cherish His commands. We don’t follow rules out of legalism, we do it because we are in relationship with Jesus and because He has freed us from sin so that we may obey Him. It’s a privilege and a blessing to want to live in accordance with His word. We’ll mess up, we will fall short… but when our hearts are set on following His direction, we say no to the wishy-washy rollercoaster life that gives sin such a foothold over us.

I often think that we make it too hard on ourselves. We feel so overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible studies and books and seven-step programs out there that we never really get started. We forget that God Himself is our source and He’s all we need. James 1:5 tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. How encouraging this should be for us! We can start right where we are at, with our questions and our doubts. We should actually expect Him to illuminate His word and clarify it for us.

We can’t live for very long on the spiritual experiences of others or expect anyone else to do the digging for us. The challenge (and blessing) of getting in the Word for ourselves is that we have to get our hands dirty. We must taste for ourselves that the promises are true. Once that happens, I promise you, you’ll never want to go back to a lukewarm relationship with His word.

Stay thirsty, friends.

The Brains God Gave You

“My oldest son recently became a teenager and I attended a meeting for youth group parents at my church. The leaders said they’d be tackling a myriad of topics this year, ranging from respecting one’s parents to unpacking the transgender phenomenon permeating our local high schools. A parent asked, “What curriculum are you using?” The leader responded, “The Bible.” We need more of this, please and thank you.”

A really insightful article today at Uncomfortable Grace discussing our need to use the brains God have us when discerning who and what we pledge our allegiance to. In this age of opinions and outrage, we must be careful to not set our minds to autopilot when it comes to deciding where we plant our own flag.

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Rise Up

I have a friend who told me a most eye-opening story the other night. She was speaking with a fellow mom who candidly just blurted out how Facebook was making her feel like crap. “Do you ever feel like that?” she asked. When my friend explained she wasn’t on any social media and neither were her teens, she was met with total confusion. “Well… do your kids even have any friends then?” was the honest and brutal response. It turned into a whole long debate, but ended with my sweet friend holding up her phone and proclaiming “this may define you and your family, but it’s not going to define mine!” And that was that.Sadly, unplugged people like her are kind of an anomaly these days. We treat them like weirdos and wonder how they ever get anywhere in life. To say we are letting the tail wag the dog is an understatement. We genuinely believe that going with the flow is in our best interests, even when it causes hurt and harm. It’s not that we don’t have the intelligence to know better, we do. There’s just this nasty thing called pride that will not be hushed. It’s fueled by a relentless enemy who knows that if he can keep us focused on ourselves, we can’t focus on much else. This passage from Lisa Whittle takes the breath right out of my lungs as she laments seeing kids she loves fall into this trap:“I have heard this story over and over again, and I’m sick to death of it. Another talented, God-breathed soul with a limitless future stuck in a web of earthly entanglements that will alter the course of his life. My anger takes me aback. I expect the sadness. I expect the tears, I don’t expect the mad. But my sadness has taken me here, to the manic food chopping and yelling out loud at the devil. With deep love often comes a rising up, and this is where I am. I am fighting for this kid and my kids and all the kids whom satan wants to take down with drugs and sex and alcohol and porn and self-harm and eating disorders and violence and apathy and entitlement and mind games. All my heart and soul and love is rising up within me and crying out.”I think this is what my normally quiet friend must have felt. In this long list of tragic vices, I find apathy to be the worst. It robs us of any desire to get out of our predicament. We stay lazy and self-focused and uninterested in rising up.Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” If our highest goal is to look good or if we are driven by a fear of missing out… we are going to “cast off restraint” and make poor choices. It can be as dull as wandering aimlessly or as deadly as running totally wild. A vision is more than just a pipe dream or even a goal… in this context, it means revelation from God. A Biblical vision gives us a bigger purpose outside of ourselves. It’s the thing we align ourselves up with because we believe it to be worthy. It’s looking beyond the little screen in front of us to something larger.Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Approval from God first and foremost. Let the rest shake out how it will, but being right with God is first. Yes, we will look weird at times. We may even miss out on some things. There’s a heavy-handed message telling us to keep on in that rat race and que sera sera… it’s the enemy hoping we’ll trade in the vision for some cheap imitation. The God-breathed kind of adventures are so much more interesting than the filtered little worlds we create. Being unapologetically tied to His Word eliminates a ton of dicey situations if we have the good sense to seek it and treasure it. This “web of earthly entanglements” is no game, but neither is the riches in grace that have been provided to believers through Jesus. Power to rise up and fight for what the enemy has stolen. Crazy love that keeps our feet planted when they want to turn and run. A sound mind that can be quiet and humble in a world gone totally mad. Power, love and a sound mind are riches worth fighting for (1 Timothy 1:7).Will we rise up and fight against this apathy? Will we tell the demanding world that it isn’t actually the boss of us or our kids? We don’t need to go cold turkey on it, but we do need to hitch our wagons to something that isn’t fleeting, something bigger than what we create. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

Joy Is Our Default Setting

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We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God. 2 Corinthians 1:12

November days can be dreary. The world seems like a foggy and grey place as well. The past few days we find ourselves in a familiar cycle of shock, sadness and general confusion. We dig deep to understand the complexities of the human heart, usually ending up where we started, in our corner with the particular brand of beliefs or anxieties we started with. We start down rabbit holes that don’t have an end, find ourselves in labyrinths that just keep twisting, and notice our questions just lead to more unanswered questions.

We demand to know why evil is allowed to run amok, we fly around trying to figure out how to make it stop… we go through the same motions over and over again. With each awful, heart-shredding event, we bow our heads and repeat the anxious prayers of our hearts with the hope that they will somehow stick.

But this sin. This crazy, from the pit of hell, not real life sin… it has us pinned down. It can be bold and brazen. We see it on the evening news and we die a little inside at the reality of it all. It can also creep up silently and set up shop in our minds and hearts as we navigate a world gone off the rails. We hear people say things like “where is your God now and if He’s so good why does He allow such evil?” After the Texas church slaughter a fancy pants politician quipped “We have priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers” hoping to push us away from such silliness and towards a law that would have prevented this mess. Wrong. I want to write four paragraphs about that quote alone, but just… no.

Those who have never experienced love have a hard time loving. Someone who doesn’t know the truth of prayer mocks it recklessly. Making fun of what you don’t know is weak. So we divide up into our two teams and reload. This is not sustainable behavior.

I don’t have any fancy answers and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing the cacophony of talking heads on both sides. Sin gripping the heart of man was, is, and always will be the problem. If we know the story of Jesus at all, we know that the law was powerless to make men live right, but what the law couldn’t do, God did do through His Son (Romans 8:3). Change the heart and you change the whole man. Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:16). Therefore, we have got to be in the business of being love and speaking the truth friends. Back to the Bible. Back to doing what Jesus instructed when He said “Go and make disciples.” We’ve got to get out of our comfort zones for this. It might get awkward. It might save a life.

So again, I go back to Paul’s reminder: “We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Behave and act with simplicity and sincerity. Not sticking our heads in the sand, but not running around like a chicken with it’s head lopped off either. The wisdom of the world is not real wisdom, it is anti-Jesus, anti-love and soul-sucking selfishness. We act by the grace of God. We live by the simple and sincere truths in His word. That’s how we find pops of color in a grey world. That’s how we find joy in tragedy. We aren’t immune to the consequences of sin, but we aren’t ruled by sin either. Joy that runs deep is our default setting dear friends – if you’ve lost it, return to Him in simplicity and sincerity and find it again.

Just A Reminder… He Really, Really Loves Us!

IMG_0313“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17

A few weeks ago, I was walking past my kitchen table and saw this. My Bible was laid open from the day before, the sun was shining just right through the lights above the table. It lasted just a minute, but I’m glad I caught it. It slowed me down and gave me a smile. I sat down and just thanked God. I thanked Him for His love, His truth, His words to me.

So much wisdom and truth for our lives is contained in His word, and it’s so very easy to walk past it. We run to it in emergencies, but God intends it to be our DAILY bread. The fruit that grows in our lives is a result of constant abiding, not connecting and then disconnecting and then connecting again. A long, continual abiding yields fruit.

We need the wisdom from above. We need it because it’s the only pure thing we have. Our natural ways steer us towards anything but gentleness and mercy. Even on our best days we are still full of selfish, self-centered ambitions.

Gentle? Willing to yield? Not without Jesus.

Satan likes to complicate simple things. He wants to keep us away from these words of life, he wants us to think it’s too hard. Here’s a truth for you today: IT ISN’T!!!

God’s word and the understanding of it should be our very lifeline, not just another thing to check off after all our other lists are done.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17). Do you see where it starts? Right there in His words to us. It’s our launching place from which everything else comes. Faith. Forgiveness. Direction. Wisdom for our actual lives, our very real issues and very big decisions we make.

This was a reminder to me to slow down and remember the simple truth that God loves us so very much and wants to just be with us. The rest will fall into place, we don’t have to strive for it.

Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Staying connected to Him keeps us from those consequences of our selfish ways. Our heart starts to beat in sync with His, we step when He steps, we wait when He waits… when we are full of His truth there isn’t room for all the other junk. We can be gentle when others are not. We show mercy. We have forgiveness. Best of all, we don’t go searching for love or accomplishment in all the wrong places.

Give His words a chance. He tells us that He will “open our understanding” so we can understand His words (Luke 24:45). Watch and see… He is closer than we think!

Pure and Bold, Like a Child

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Been on a bit of a writing break, bear with me while I try and get back into the swing of things! I’ll start off today with some classic truth from one of my favorites…

The men Jesus chose as His disciples were not exactly the most mature or qualified people for the job at hand. They came from all different walks of life, had different personalities and temperaments. The Bible tells us that they were both “uneducated and untrained” (Acts 4:13). Simon was a ‘zealot’, Matthew a hated tax collector, Peter was impulsive, none had much understanding of what they were signing up for. It was like Jesus was pulling an entire JV team off the benches and telling them “suit up!”

What did they have then, that made Jesus choose them? Lets look again at the rest of the verse from Acts 4:

“Now when they (the high priests) saw the BOLDNESS of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v 14). 

They prayed for boldness, asked for wisdom and it changed everything. They may not have been the smartest, but they were teachable. They struggled and messed up, but they overcame.

“they were made like lions to meet any difficulty. They were made to stand any test, and these men that failed before the crucifixion, when the power of God fell upon them in the upper room, they came out in front of all those people who were gathered together and accused them of crucifying the Lord. They were bold. What made them so? I will tell you. Purity is bold. Take, for instance, a little child. It will gaze straight into your eyes for as long as you like, without winking once. The more pure, the more bold; and I tell you, God wants to bring us into that divine purity of heart and life – that holy boldness. Not self-righteousness; put a pure, holy, divine appointment by One Who will come in and live with you, defying the powers of satan, and standing you in a place of victory – overcoming the world” (Smith Wigglesworth, On Prayer, Powers, and Miracles)

Think on it – the more pure we are in our thinking, the more bold we are able to be in our actions. If I believe something to be true, I act accordingly. Simple, childlike faith in the One who says what He means and means what He says. “If you abide in My Word you are truly My disciples” (John 8:31). If we submit to His words, take them at face value and apply them… mountains will move.

The disciples didn’t become like lions on account of their natural abilities. In spite of all their shortcomings, they simply set their hearts to keep walking with Jesus. When our hearts are single-minded and focused on following Him, it doesn’t really matter if we fall or fail. A child learns to walk by falling. Eventually the things that once tripped us up have no power over us and we move on. Purity of heart makes us bold; we can believe what He says, proclaim it, and not fret about all the outcomes.

I’ll end on one more quote from Wigglesworth that sums it up;

“The scriptures do not tell two stories. They tell the truth. The power of God can remodel you. Pure in mind, heart and actions – pure right through.”

You don’t need to be a natural born anything to be a disciple – all He asks is for an open heart submitted to Him. He will purify and simplify everything until we are exactly who He created us to be!

 

Know the Genuine from the Counterfeit

This past week I have been all aflutter with the news that the very prominent megachurch duo Joel and Victoria Osteen made some “questionable at best, blasphemous at worst” kind of remarks and, thanks to social media, are being called out on it. For whatever reason, nothing rolls my socks as much as false and fraudulent Christianity. Taking God’s word and tweaking it for our own purposes. Making it up as we go, whatever feels comfy and cozy Christianity. Yuck. So… being in agreement that things like this need to be exposed, I was happy to read the articles and blog posts. Admittedly, I kind of lost it when people commented saying things like this:

“You shouldn’t be so harsh and mean… who are we to judge?”

“I don’t think you should be attacking fellow believers this way… it’s not very Christian-like.”

“We need to just love more. He is helping people and we shouldn’t stand in the way of that.”

I never comment on big Facebook threads, but this put me over the edge. Not that I wanted to stick it to these people, because I didn’t. It’s not my argument to win or lose. God’s word is what it is and can defend itself. But I passionately desired to speak the truth in a way that would hopefully make them think about what they were saying. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us to “speak the truth in love”.  So I put my two cents in. Most agreed, some didn’t. It became like a giant rabbit hole, I found myself wanting to defend every point and counter-point. “If they could just understand what God’s Word REALLY says! They would never think this way!” It was exhausting because I was trying to address every single false argument some of these people put up. 

Then it became clear. The TRUE gospel is inherently offensive to the world and it always will be. It isn’t politically correct. It’s super fashionable right now for people (Christians included) to embrace the “don’t judge” mentality.  It sounds nice and inclusive and justifies everything, so when discernment shows up, they freak out and scream about judgment. I could (and did) speak the truth in the most loving, kind way possible and I still got chastised for “judging.” It’s truly mind boggling. 

I could go on forever about the specific arguments, but I wanted to focus instead on what God revealed to me after all of this. 

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

…But I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” Romans 16:17-19

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that doctrine is going to be altered and people will come who twist the truth. It’s always happened in the church and it always will. I noticed the use of the word ‘simple’ twice:

1) teachers coming along and deceiving the hearts of the simple

2) a call to make ourselves simple concerning evil

They seem to be at odds. If a simple person is one who is deceived, why in the world would we want to then make ourselves simple???

So I studied it a little and learned that while we have one word (simple), the Greeks used two separate words with two separate meanings. 

-The first use means “gullible or ignorant, lacking discernment.” (Bad!)

-The second means “unmixed, pure”. (Good!)

It’s here where I wish the English language (or Bible translators) would have done a better job. So, we need to become LESS gullible and MORE pure. Or as the English would have it, “less simple and more simple…”

God certainly doesn’t want us to walk in ignorance. Unless we move to a cave, we are aware of what is happening in the world and it’s a lot of evil. I believe God is saying don’t indulge in evil. This is different for different people, but for me this means I don’t need to constantly expose myself to the world and all its happenings. I can know what is going on without watching the news 24/7. I don’t have to read ALL the comments on a contentious story. I don’t even always need to get involved in it. We need to know our boundaries and our limits. 

It is good to be informed and to speak truth. I got informed about something this past week that troubled my heart, and I spoke up about it. Christians need to do that. But we also must find balance. Instead of spending all our time studying the “fake”, we need to make ourselves more familiar with the “real”. 

Theres a scene in the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” where the art experts demonstrate how they determine a real Monet from a counterfeit one. They photograph the borders of the genuine painting and then frame it. Whenever a fake comes along, they compare it to the photos of the real one. So – we don’t need to spend all our time focusing on and studying the “counterfeit”. There’s just too much counterfeit out there to keep up with. If, however, we are able to recognize the genuine when we see it – God’s truth, not watered down or altered – then we are truly being “wise concerning what is good”. 

It’s good to take a look at the counterfeit and call it out for what it is. What happened this week isn’t a bad thing. It makes people aware that there may be a problem. But we can’t camp out there. We can’t keep going back and forth arguing because eventually it’s going to lead down a wrong path. We have to get our focus back on the REAL thing. We can argue against things all day long, but there comes a point when we need to focus on what we are for as well. 

When the dust settles, the false stuff will fall away. Whats true is what lasts. That’s where our focus needs to shift to. May we be “simple” when it comes to the discussions and distractions of this world, knowing when to speak up and when to leave it alone. May we also be “wise” in all the genuine, real things of God, knowing that the best way to counter the fake is to make ourselves totally familiar with the genuine.