Tuesday's post, I was explaining to you how my overwhelmed self was trying to get God to lighten my load, remember? Specifically, I was pleading with Him to allow me to give up some of my church responsibilities. I remember thinking and even saying to Him, "You know, God, it would be nice to just sit back on the pew and enjoy the services instead of always having to be such a big part of them." Believe me, I meant every word.
But then, it was as if I heard the voice of Balaam's donkey saying, "Wow, you remind me of my master!" And I was immediately humbled and realized that God did not need to give me an answer to my request because He had already given me one; I simply didn't want to accept it. From that point on, I was fine and ready to move on. My bad attitude had lifted. My heart was lighter. And my relationship with God seemed less strained. But God wasn't through with me yet.
Last night at church, our former youth pastor stopped in for a visit and was invited to preach for the service. He wasn't ten minutes into his message before his words slapped me upside the head. This is basically what he said, "God doesn't want you to just sit on a pew. He has something more for you to do. He has a plan and a calling for your life, and you need to be busy serving Him in every way you can." Say what? I stared into the preacher's face to see if he was staring right at me as he said these words. He wasn't, but I have no doubt they were meant for me.
You may be wondering why I'm telling you all of this. Well, if you've not figured it out by now, this blog is like my life's journal. In it, I mark down what the Lord says to me, lessons He teaches me and even mistakes I've made along the way. The reason I do this is to help others like you. My prayer is that you will learn the lessons I've learned without having to make the mistakes I've made. In order to do that, I must bear myself to you and give you an honest account of what's taking place in my life. . . and in my heart.
So what can you take away from today's post? First off, know that God still speaks to His children today. It may seem like He's silent and like you're all alone in your decision or circumstance, but you're not. He's there, and He has promised to answer each and every request. Jeremiah 33:3 says, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. He doesn't say He might answer us, He says He will. We can count on it!
Second, when it does seem like God is quiet, realize that maybe it's because we haven't quit talking long enough to allow Him to answer. I was so busy pleading with God that I wasn't really giving Him a chance to talk. But once I got my heart right and I shut my mouth for a while, the answer was right there, plain and simple. As I said earlier, God didn't owe me an answer. He had already given me one the last time I went through this "confusion crisis." By the time He gave me His answer, I had already resigned myself to His will. That being said, I cannot tell you what a relief it was to hear that clear, unarguable answer spoken in plain, everyday words that this doubting disciple couldn't miss or misunderstand. When I stopped talking, God gave me His answer loud and clear, and He'll do the same for you.
One last thing to keep in mind, just because God has promised to always answer doesn't mean that He's always promised to answer "yes." Take my case, for example. The answer was "No." God would not allow me to give up my church calling. But "no" is still an answer, and so is "wait." There are certain prayers in my life that I've been praying for years, and at times, it does feel like God is not listening or answering. But by faith, I believe that not only is He listening, He is answering. Unfortunately, at this time, the answer is, "Just wait, child." Am I happy about that? Not always, but if I keep in mind that God does all things for my good and His glory, it helps me to be content about the waiting. Rather than seeing it as God not giving me what I want, I choose to view it as God has something really good in store for me. And suddenly, it's like Christmas--waiting to receive that mysterious gift.
I don't know what may be on your heart and mind today, but I assure you, God does. Talk to Him. Ask for help and guidance. And then stop talking, and take the time to listen. He has something important to tell you if you'll only give Him the chance.
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. - Isaiah 55:11
Friday, April 29, 2016
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Unfortunately, last week, I recognized another character in my life, and it was not one I would have ever imagined. Allow me to set the scene. The past several months have been rough on my family. There has been illness. There have been financial difficulties. We've faced many trials and many heartaches. And frankly, I'm tired. So tired, in fact, that I was just ready to set everything else aside and focus on me. I need rest to heal my body. I need time to calm my nerves. I need a break from the chaos that is my life. So, I begged God to take away some of my responsibilities. Blogging. My church responsibilities. Teaching. Even writing. At my lowest point last week, I didn't care. I didn't particularly want to give up teaching or writing or even blogging, but I just felt like something had to go.
For the past couple of weeks, I've been praying and searching about what to give up. Honestly, I was hoping the Lord would take away my church responsibilities, mainly playing the piano. I know it may not seem like much, but if you knew how much time I spent preparing for church services, not to mention spending from 9:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night at church every Sunday in order to be part of Sunday School, morning service, Spanish service, choir practice and evening service, you'd probably understand why this would be a big deal. Giving up my piano responsibilities alone would free up a lot of time and greatly reduce my stress level, not to mention the relief it would give my aching shoulder. So, I begged and pleaded for God to excuse me from at least this one thing.
Here's the catch, though. This was not the first time I've asked God to let me out of my responsibility of playing the piano at church. It was more like the third or fourth. And every time before, God's answer has been a resounding, "No." He acknowledged that I didn't feel comfortable or competent in my position as church pianist. He accepted that the task added more time to my already full schedule and taxed me physically and emotionally. But, as He did with Paul, He assured me that His grace would be sufficient and that I should stop thinking of the task as duty and start thinking of it as another way to worship Him. And for a while, I got it, and I accepted God's will. But when I got tired and started to feel overwhelmed by all the demands on my time and energy, I found myself going back to God and asking again. "God, are you sure you want me to do this? Are you positive I can't give this up? Please let me pass this role on to someone else."
As I prayed and meditated on my request last week, a horrible thought passed through my brain, and I couldn't help but cringe at the comparison. I sounded just like Balaam! Remember Balaam and his talking donkey? At the beginning of his tale, Balaam asks the Lord for permission to consort with the king of the enemy of Israel. Understandably, the Lord tells him, "No." But when the king comes calling on Balaam again, the prophet goes back to God and asks him again, at which point God told him, "Fine, go." But when Balaam leaves to meet the enemy king, the Bible says that the Lord's anger was kindled against the prophet. Why? Because He had already given Balaam a clear answer, but Balaam wasn't satisfied with that answer and came begging again. When God told him, "Fine, go," I believe it was a test to see if Balaam would honor God's initial wishes or give in to his own desires. Balaam failed the test. And last week, so did I.
God has given me an answer concerning my responsibilities at church, and I have to believe that when/if it's time for me to move on, He'll let me know. I won't have to beg. Until then, I need to remember that He has given me another opportunity to serve Him, another way to worship Him, and if I'll keep that perspective, maybe I won't feel so overwhelmed and stressed. Besides, of all the Biblical characters I would love to emulate, Balaam is certainly not among them!
Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. - Deuteronomy 5:33
Monday, April 25, 2016
About the author: Lorilyn Roberts is an award-winning Christian author
who writes for the young and the young at heart. When not writing books, Lorilyn provides closed captioning for television. Lorilyn is a single mother by choice. She adopted her two daughters from Nepal and Vietnam. Read her Amazon best-selling memoir, Children of Dreams, endorsed by New York Times best-selling author Jerry Jenkins, and be inspired. Lorilyn has been a speaker at various events and functions, including women's groups, adoption support groups, and writer workshops. She is the former president of the Gainesville Chapter of Word Weavers International. Lorilyn has appeared on many radio and television shows, including WATC 57 Friends & Neighbors out of Atlanta, Georgia, and Discovery Channel's Monsters Inside Me related to increasing awareness of parasitic infections in international adoption. Lorilyn is also the founder of the John 3:16 Marketing Network, a network of Christian authors. Lorilyn has also been involved with the charitable organization Child Hope International bringing Christian books to the orphans of Nepal. She has coordinated the donation of over two hundred books from John 3:16 authors to prisoners at the Wakulla Correctional Institute in Tallahassee, Florida, and she has donated many copies of her award-winning devotional book, "Am I Okay, God" to Created Gainesville, a charitable organization that ministers to women involved in the sex trafficking trade.
The Castle is another thrilling adventure by Christian author, Lorilyn Roberts. As with the other books of the series, the author pulls the reader into the story with compelling dialogue and endearing characters. The reader gets a very clear view of what it would be like to live in Jerusalem during the time of Christ, and from the extent of the details within the book, it is obvious that the author did her homework.
I had the opportunity to read the first book in the Seventh Dimension series but not the second. That being the case, I had no real issues following along in Book Three though there were a few elements eluded to that left me wondering. I say this not in a negative way but rather to urge the reader to read each book in the series in order to gain the most from the continuing storyline. As much as I enjoyed the third book, I have no doubt that I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read the second book in the series as well. That is simply the nature of a good series!
Overall, I truly enjoyed The Castle and would highly recommend it to young adult readers and those who may simply be young at heart. It is a clean read with a lot of adventure, romance, mystery and much more.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Please watch the video above as this devotion is based on this short clip from one of my favorite animated movies, Kung Fu Panda. The video is pivotal to the devotion itself.
Wow! What can I say except, "Been there, done that"? Oh, yes, my friends, I have had some Level 0 days. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I only accomplished getting myself beat up and frazzled. By trying to prove just how strong I am or how much I have things together, I only succeed in proving to myself and all those around me the exact opposite. I'm not strong. I don't have it all together. In fact, most days I'm not sure if I'm coming or going. Let's face it--I'm definitely a Level 0, and I need some serious help!
But this is where my story differs from that of Po, the overweight Panda who set out to fulfill his life-long dream to become a Kung Fu master. As you saw in the clip, Po's teacher and mentor, Shifu, was not thrilled with his new student. In fact, he was so distraught that his plan was to make Po miserable enough to quit and walk away from his calling. Praise the Lord, my Teacher and Mentor does not behave this way. On the contrary, He is the One who keeps me from quitting. Not only does He lead and guide me, but He also comforts and encourages me when the way is tough and I feel like giving up. Hallelujah for such a Teacher!
Another way I differ from Po, contrary to the way I often feel, is that the Lord never declares me to be at Level 0. No matter how often I stumble or how many times I fall flat on my face, God picks me up, smiles and says, "I give you an 8 for effort, but you might want to work on that landing." Eight? Seriously? Yes, that's just the way my Father is. He doesn't only judge me by my actions or inactions but also by the intentions of my heart and my faithfulness to Him. No matter how many times the world may look at me and say, "She's a loser," God will never agree. No matter how often I feel like I've once again reached Level 0, God will reassure me that there's no such thing, and nothing I do will change His mind. Is that awesome or what?
Now, as Paul warned, I want to assure you that I am not condoning sin in any way, shape or form. We ought to strive to do right no matter what. That being said, I also want to remind you of this: But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20b). I don't know about you, but I needed that reminder on this Kung Fu Panda Level 0 kind of day!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
First off, it was more of a chore than I thought to find grape juice in the box form. But we finally found some on our way home from church that morning and decided to leave early and set up before evening service. All was going well until Jason said, "Uh oh!" Not a good sound. "What?" I asked, dreading the reply. "I don't think this juice is going to work after all. The main ingredient is apple juice." "Seriously?" I asked (yes, I say that a lot). Sure enough, the juice that was marked "Grape Juice" was actually a combination of juices, with apple being the primary ingredient.
A quick squeeze on the first box confirmed Jason's suspicions. It looked like apple juice. It smelled like apple juice. It even tasted like apple juice. In fact, I wonder if there was actually any grape juice in there at all. With the time for choir practice rapidly approaching, we hurried down the road to the nearest store and settled for the smaller bottles of grape juice. Fortunately, we got everything done just in time, but I admit, I was quite frustrated. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to label that grape juice? Not grape juice medley. Just plain grape juice. How many people have made the same mistake we made (though probably not for communion)? A purple box with a picture of grapes and the bold words "Grape Juice" ought to be just that--grape juice.
Do you realize that when we call ourselves Christians, we are essentially telling others that we have Christ within us? But is that what they see? The Bible says we are known by our fruit. With the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the fruit of the Spirit should sprout forth. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23) Hmm, that's quite a checklist.
Love? Well, it depends on the person.
Peace? That depends on the day or circumstances.
Longsuffering? Hmm, that usually depends on my mood.
Gentleness? Yeah, most of the time, I think.
Goodness? You mean all the time?
Faith? Now there's a question for the person who just authored a book called, "Daily Discussion of a Doubting Disciple."
Meekness? Not so much.
Temperance? Let's not even go there today.
Some days, I look down into the deep, dark recesses of my soul and say, "Hello? Holy Spirit, are you in there?" I know in both my heart and mind that He is, but some days I feel like that silly grape juice box. I'm labeled one thing, but inside I contain something totally different. I hear others speak of me and say, "She's just so sweet. She's never said a cross word about anyone." And all the while I think, Boy, if only they knew what went on inside my mind, they'd have a different opinion.
I think that maybe this is what causes many to doubt their salvation. They measure themselves against that list of the fruit of the Spirit and see where they fall short. So naturally, they assume if they don't have the fruit that they aren't indwelt by the Spirit. But what they're forgetting is that cultivation of a fruit takes a long time. Many fruit trees don't bear fruit until their third or fourth year, and for those that do bear fruit earlier, it is advised to simply leave the tree alone and allow it a couple of years to nourish and replenish. Likewise, the Christian doesn't bear all the fruit of the Spirit in the first year. It takes years of nourishing in the Word of God and watering it with prayer before the fruit really starts to blossom and grow.
Perhaps you feel like that crazy juice box: labeled one way but feeling like you're filled with something else. If so, I ask you first to ensure that you have been saved. If so, then I urge you to not lose hope. Spiritual growth takes time, but God will not give up on us. He's still working to make us what we ought to be. And He won't stop until we're complete.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
1) Out of it are the issues of life.
Proverbs 4:23 says, Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. So, what exactly does that mean? It means that our thoughts, actions, attitudes, and feelings are all dependent on the condition of our heart. A bitter heart leads to a bitter attitude, negative thoughts and feelings, and wrong actions. The same can be said of a hard heart or a resentful heart. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of what's in our heart. If we want a happy and peaceful life that is obedient to God, then we need to guard our heart against any influence that would destroy that happiness, peace or obedience.
2) It is the source of our words.
We often think of our brains as the source of our thoughts and words, but according to the Bible, that's not really the case. And if you think about it, I'm sure you'll agree that we've all said some things that seemed to bypass the brain before coming out of our mouths, right? Luke 6:45 reminds us A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. The things that find their way into our hearts will eventually find their way out of our mouths. And we all know that once those hateful, bitter words have been spoken, we cannot take them back. The damage is done. Guarding our hearts is an essential part of making sure that we don't say things that we shouldn't say because the mouth will utter whatever the heart contains. A good heart equals good words. A bad heart? Well, you know the answer.
3) It is deceitful and desperately wicked.
It is imperative that we guard our hearts because they are naturally drawn to evil things. They cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We learn this in Jeremiah 17:9 which says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? The heart wants what the heart wants whether it's a good thing or night. That is one reason I grow so aggravated when I hear someone giving the advice, "Well, you ought to just follow your heart." No, you shouldn't! Why would you follow something that God says is deceitful and desperately wicked? He goes on to say in Proverbs 28:26, He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool. . . Our hearts will lie to us. They will promise us great things, but in the end, all we will receive is disappointment and guilt. We must guard our hearts against outside evil influences and even from itself. Our hearts cannot be our guide through life. That's God's place.
Knowing this, is it any wonder God cautions us to daily take up our armor, including the breastplate of righteousness. The world is out to get us. Satan is out to destroy us. Even our own flesh is against us. Every day is a spiritual battle, and we must be armed and ready to defend ourselves and our faith. Guard your heart today, my friend!
Monday, April 18, 2016
I used this verse last Friday to remind us that we need to be telling others about Christ and not hiding our lights under a bushel. Today, I'd like to share with you another thought that struck me as I came across this verse last week in my Bible reading. This idea focuses on the first half of the verse: What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light.
It occurred to me that the opposite of this should be true in our lives as well: What I tell you in the light, that speak ye in the darkness. There's an old saying that admonishes, "Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light." Same thing, right?
There are times I am so certain of God's will and so trusting in His will for my life that I feel I could move mountains. Those are the times in the light. Everything is clear. The path is made straight. The plans are laid out. Let's do this! But inevitably, the darkness comes. What seemed so clear now looks uncertain. The path is anything but straight. As for the plans? Who knows? While following through with God's will for my life, I somehow stumbled into a pit of indecision, and in that smothering darkness, doubts invade my mind.
It is during these times that I often cling to one of my favorite quotes: "Feelings are very real, but that's not to say that they are always true." In the midst of darkness is not the time to make a decision because I know that decision would likely be based on feelings, not necessarily facts. So instead, I cling to the truth of God's Word. I go back and look at what He showed me in the light because, whether I feel like it or not, God's truth is unchanging. What He showed me in the light is still good in the dark. I can trust in that. . .much more so than I can trust in my ever-wavering feelings.
Perhaps you find yourself in a series of dark days, and you can't seem to figure out what God wants you to do. Don't panic. Trust in what God showed you in the light. Return to His Word. It will always lead and guide you. And whatever you do, don't make any hasty decisions based on your current feelings. The feelings will pass, but the results of poor decisions made in haste have a tendency to linger. Wait out the darkness, and while you're waiting, meditate on what you know, not what you feel!
Friday, April 15, 2016
When was the last time you told someone about your time with the Lord? When was the last time you shared a Bible verse that the Lord brought to your attention or a Scriptural question that He raised in your mind? Why do we, as Christians, seem to treat Jesus as the best-kept secret? That's not what God wants, and the verse above proves it.
Wow, I already hear the excuses flowing. "I'm not a writer and speaker like you. I don't have those kinds of opportunities to share." "I would share with my co-workers, but most of them aren't Christians, so they wouldn't understand." "I'm afraid people would view my sharing as pride like I was trying to prove how much I know about the Bible."
Nice try, but I'm afraid there aren't any reasons that will excuse any of us from our duty as Christians--to share the gospel of Christ. No, we aren't all pastors, teachers, writers or speakers, but that doesn't mean that we don't have the opportunity (and obligation) to tell others about Christ. It seems we can talk about everything else under the sun. The weather. The news. Politics. Shopping. Family. But when someone turns the conversation to something about the Bible, boy, it gets quiet in a hurry. Why is that? What are we afraid of?
And I'm not just talking about witnessing to the lost, though, of course, that is a big part of it. But, what's wrong with a group of Christian friends sitting around and chatting about the Bible? Perhaps comparing opinions about things that the Bible doesn't make very clear. Or maybe sharing something that God revealed to them in their Bible study time. Outside of Sunday service. Outside of church functions. Just people, in their everyday lives, taking the opportunity to talk about the God of the Bible.
I fear we don't do it enough. There are so many other things to occupy our minds that we lose sight of the one thing that should have the majority of our focus. After all, didn't Jesus say, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God"?
Today, I challenge you to share God with the world around you. At home. In the office. At the ball game. Whatever. Wherever. Whenever. Tell someone what God has done for you, whether that be your salvation experience or how God blessed you with the ideal parking place. Don't keep God's grace and greatness a secret. Let it be known to any and all who will listen!
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Fortunately, the Lord knows exactly how we feel. Remember, He's been there. And just when we need it most, God sends us a reminder of why we're doing what we're doing. At just the right time, He assures us that our work is not in vain and that our service does matter. Last week, I received one of those blessed reminders, and I would like to share it with you.
I am a member of a writing group called John 3:16 Marketing Network. As the name implies, the group is comprised of Christian authors striving to make a difference in the world by sharing the gospel through our literary works. One way we do that is through various programs such as sending our books to orphans around the world and also to prisoners in a correctional facility in Florida. The prison ministry is set up to where we (the authors) donate our books to the prison library and any prisoner who checks out our books is required to write a review or summary of their reading experience. It has been an awarding process
, but I was late getting into the program, so I didn't receive my first reviews until last week when I received twelve of them! Yes, twelve!
All of the reviews were wonderful and brought a smile to my face, but there were a few that made me nearly dance out of my skin. I would like to share with you my favorite of the bunch.
This is a devotional book filled with humor and encouragement. Ms. Rongione shares her life and lessons with us as we journey together to draw closer to Jesus. She is very candid and witty. I could relate to each short story. The entries are things we all go through, and Dana says what a lot of us want to say but don't actually have the nerve to say! In other words, she keeps it real!! I learned a lot, took some hard hits, and laughed a lot. This is one of the most thoughtful and encouraging devotional books I've read. A gotta have it book!! Bravo!!
Thoughtful. Encouraging. Saying what others want to say but don't have the nerve to. Keeping it real. Relating to others. This is what my ministry is all about, and I praise the Lord for this blessed reminder. It soothes the weariness and refreshes my soul. It helps me to readjust my focus. But most of all, it serves as a testimony that my work is not in vain, even when I feel that it is.
I don't know what it is the Lord has called you to do, but I hope that you, too, can find the peace and joy of knowing that your work is not in vain. Your service matters, and your obedience will be rewarded. Hang in there!
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Without giving away too much of the story, let me just say that Merlin later has an opportunity to speak one on one with the Master of Miracles, who urges the great magician to forsake his magic. Merlin is confused by this admonition since he is certain that God is the creator and giver of all things, including his magic. Additionally, he is unsure how his magic differs from the "magic" that Christ used to heal the sick and raise the dead. When he poses these questions to Jesus, he soon learns a valuable lesson about magic and every other gift from God. I would like to share with you the gist of Christ's response:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: - Colossians 1:16
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. - James 1:17
Merlin was correct in his thinking. According to the verses above, God is the creator of all things, and it is God who bestows on man gifts and talents. So, why would God give a gift, then condemn the use of that gift? Simply put, it is God who gives the gift, but man is the one who uses and misuses those gifts. Just as with salvation, God gives man a choice. He does not force us to do things, but He guides us and encourages us to do right and to live by His Word.
But this is where Merlin really grows confused because he intends to only use his magic for good. There is no evil intent in his heart. Just a Jesus healed and helped, so does Merlin want to do the same. Still, Jesus cautions him against the use of magic. Why? Because with that gift must come wisdom. Jesus didn't heal everyone when He could have healed them all with a single breath or batting of the eye. But he didn't. He didn't even free his own cousin from prison when He certainly had the power to do so. Even though He possessed all power, He refrained from using it in certain ways and on certain people. Why? In order to fulfill His Father's plan.
You see, unlike Merlin, Jesus knew and understood the Father's plan and could, therefore, act according to that plan. What Merlin didn't yet understand is that his intentions to do good could interfere with God's plans. By using his magic to work things out the way he thought they should be, he was depending on himself and his own powers rather than the Lord. In a way, he was putting himself in the place of God by determining when and how to change things to his advantage. And that, my friend, is what is wrong with magic--even magic that is intended to be used for good. In fact, that's what's wrong with any gift of God that is misused. The ability to sing or teach or play an instrument is a gift from God, but those things can fill a person's heart with pride if they're not careful.
The moral of the story? God has given us many gifts, but we must be careful not to abuse those gifts. Without wisdom and a pure heart, even our best intentions can go astray. And, as was the case with Merlin, if the gift is one that would turn our hearts and attention away from God, it might be best to leave it be because, like Merlin, we cannot see the big picture, and we may end up causing more harm than good.
Monday, April 11, 2016
A few years ago, I determined that I had to stop viewing my Bible reading as another chore to check off my to-do list. It wasn't some act of sacrifice that I was doing to earn favor with God. I had to make myself see that my Bible study time wasn't supposed to be a duty but a delight. I won't say that this change of mindset came easily, and even today, I will occasionally find myself drifting back into that bad habit. But, I can tell you that the Lord has helped me by opening my eyes to the wonder of the Scripture.
I've saved this post for last because following all of the other tips I've mentioned up to this point will help to make this attitude adjustment easier. Having the proper tools and expectations can make us feel more comfortable and at ease about our Bible study time. As for the proper attitude, it takes time, but I promise you, it can happen.
For me, it helped to imagine that each time I sat down with my Bible, I was on a treasure hunt. I was searching for something, even if I didn't know what it was, and in a way, not knowing made the search that much more exciting. With a more inquisitive mindset in place, I found myself "stumbling" upon curious things that made me want to study the Bible even more to find the answers. These were things that I read in the Scriptures and immediately went, "Huh?" But then, instead of shrugging my shoulders and going on with my reading, I felt too intrigued to leave it alone. I had to find out what was going on. My curiosity was peaked, and I found myself devouring more verses than I had intended to. But I didn't mind because my duty of reading had turned into the delight of a treasure hunt, and it was too exciting to stop.
As usual, I'll give you a couple of examples. In II Samuel 18, the army of Absalom goes up against the army of David, but this battle is unlike anything else I've ever read in the Bible. Why? Here's the verse that caught my attention and caused me to study out the chapter more thoroughly:For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. (vs.8) Did you see it? The wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. Talk about saying, "Huh"? That verse threw me for a loop, and actually still does. I've studied it out, but scholars are torn on the exact meaning. That's not to say, however, that there aren't a lot of theories. In my mind, I pictured the trees from the Wizard of Oz along with the trees from the Narnia and Lord of the Rings movies. Was that the case? I don't know, but it sure did make for an exciting Bible study time. I mean, fighting trees? How cool is that?
If you'd like another example, check out this one: Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. - Matthew 27:50-53
Okay, which graves opened up at the time of Jesus' crucifixion/resurrection? All of them? Who were these people? Why did they go to the holy city? What else did they do? To whom did they appear? And how long did they walk the earth? So many questions from such a short passage of Scripture. Do I have the answers? No, not really, but again, it made for an interesting study time trying to figure it out. It was definitely more exciting than any movie or any other book. After all, this was real life. Spooky!
What it all boils down to is this: your Bible study time will be what you make of it. If you approach it with a ho-hum, duty-bound attitude, then you'll have a ho-hum, duty-bound experience. However, if you approach your time with God with the excitement and zeal of a treasure hunt, you won't be disappointed. It's your choice, but I think we all know which method would please God more.
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. - Psalm 119:18
Friday, April 8, 2016
Can you imagine if we treated our other loved ones this way? "Okay, I have thirty minutes to tell you everything I want to tell you, and if you have anything you want to say to me, you'd better say it now because I'll be busy the rest of the day." That wouldn't go over too well in our other relationships, would it? News flash! It doesn't go over well in our relationship with God either.
I honestly believe many people struggle with their devotion time and complain about not getting anything out of God's Word because they close their eyes and ears to God as soon as their allotted devotion time is over. Whether knowingly or not, they basically give God the ultimatum, "Speak now or forever hold your peace." But, my friends, God doesn't work like that. He doesn't operate on our timetable. He has His own.
Here's the truth of the matter: God can, and often will, speak to us during our quiet time with Him, but that is not the only time He wants to speak with us. (I don't use my "bold" feature very often, but I felt that statement needed some emphasis.) If we will meditate on God's Word and pay attention to what He's doing around us in our everyday lives, we will hear so much from Him and learn so much about Him. We will begin to see the Scriptures come alive in our lives and understand things in a way we've never understood them before. But that means paying attention to God all day long, even when we're going about our other work.
Need an example? No problem. I have plenty. One week, I was reading through the account of Abraham and Sarah and God's promise to them that they would have a son. For the first time in my life, I decided to take note of how many times God promised a son and how long it was before the promise actually came to fruition. I discovered that it was twenty-five years from the time that God first promised a son to the time that Isaac, the promised son, was born. Twenty-five years! Putting myself in Abraham's place, I wondered how I would have felt during those twenty-five years of waiting. And for a few days, I meditated on these things.
When I went to the grocery store that week, I immediately heard a barking dog upon pulling up to the parking place. (Yes, I have told you this story before, but bear with me.) Being a dog lover, I looked around to find the dog that possessed such a deep, ferocious bark. I like big dogs! But as I turned my head, I spied this tiny dog-wanna-be in the van parked beside me. Sure enough, he was barking up a storm, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how that deep, rumbly bark could be coming from that pitiful little excuse for a dog (no offense to all of you who love little dogs). Anyway, to read the whole story, you can view this old post, but for the sake of time, I'm going to cut to the spiritual lesson. The deep bark was coming from a big German shepherd that was behind me. It just happened to be barking at the same time the little dog was barking. As I laughed at my confusion, I thought of Abraham, trying to believe in what He knew (that God wouldn't lie) yet seeing something totally different (that years were passing without a son). And in that moment, I understood Abraham and his story better than I ever have.
When I'm paying attention and open to what God has to teach me, hardly a day goes by when He doesn't show me something outside of my Bible time. But here's the kicker: it's always related to my Bible time. Sometimes, God shows me something after the fact that reminds me of what I read that day or the day before. Sometimes, God opens my eyes to something fantastic, and then when I sit down for my devotions the next day, I'll come across a verse that reminds me of that very thing God showed me. If I hadn't been paying attention, that particular verse probably wouldn't have meant anything to me, but now it has new meaning. See what I mean?
In I Thessalonians 5:17, the Bible says "Pray without ceasing." That doesn't mean we have to stay on our knees all day in prayer. We wouldn't get anything else done. What it means is to keep an open line of communication with God all the time. You can talk to Him. He can talk to you. There's nothing formal about it. It's just a matter of being constantly aware that God is with us and that we can talk to and listen to Him at any time of the day. That's what I'm talking about in this devotion. Keep your eyes and ears open all the time. God has a lot to show you but only if you're paying attention.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
A devotional journal doesn't have to be fancy. It can be a nice leather journal or a simple wire-bound notebook. That is completely up to you. It can be lined or unlined--again, your call. And what you decide to write in your devotional journal is also up to you. There are no hard and fast rules about what does or doesn't belong in your devotional journal; however, if you would like a few ideas, I'm happy to oblige. Here are a few ways I use my journal:
1) I write out verses that speak to me and that I hope to memorize. Writing them out helps me to concentrate on each word and helps instill the verses in my mind more fully.
2) I note the reference of verses that I highlighted in my Bible (or Bible app) and why I chose to highlight it. Marking the reference of the verse makes it easier for me to find later. And as for writing down why I chose to highlight the verse, well, you'd think I'd remember if the verse was special enough to mark in the first place, right? But here's the thing about the Word of God. It is alive! While the Word itself is unchanging, its meaning and impact on our lives changes depending on our current circumstances and state of mind. There have been many instances where I reread a verse that I had marked and, for the life of me, couldn't figure out why I marked it. Sure, it was a good verse, but it didn't speak to me the way it did when I marked it. God opens our eyes and helps us to see what we need to see when we need to see, but I don't want to forget these precious lessons, so I jot down a short note about why the verse is special to me. For example, this morning, while reading in the book of Hosea, I came across a verse that talked about "the fruit of lies." Since I've been meditating and studying about Eve for an upcoming ladies' meeting, that was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the phrase, "fruit of lies." So, I wrote down the reference in my journal and beside it, I wrote: "This reminds me of Eve. We may not know exactly what kind of fruit she ate in the Garden, but we can be sure it was a "fruit of lies" since the devil tricked her into eating it."
3) I jot down thoughts and/or questions that come to me while reading. When we invite the Lord to open our eyes and to speak to us through His Word, He will, and I like to write down what He says to me. Not in an audible voice, of course, but either in the words of the Bible themselves or in His still, small voice, He speaks to my heart. As a writer, book, story and devotion ideas jump out at me all the time, so I will often jot these down in my journal as well so that I can refer back to them later without letting my thoughts get sidetracked away from my Bible study. I also like to write down questions that come to me that I would like to study out later or about which I would like to seek the counsel of others. For example, in the account of the fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar told his counsellors that he saw four men walking in the fire and the form of the fourth man was like the Son of God. The last time I read this familiar passage, this question popped into my brain: How did the king know what the Son of God looked like? I jotted the question down in hopes of asking my husband and/or pastor about it later. (BTW, they didn't know either. That one's still a mystery!)
4) I write out a quick prayer. Often, in the midst of my Bible reading, the Lord will convict my heart about something, and I feel the need to deal with the situation right then. So, I'll write out a quick prayer of confession, supplication or praise, depending on what the issue is that the Lord brought to my heart and mind. While I realize I could simply utter the prayer aloud or in my heart, something about writing it out helps me feel more settled about the situation and allows me to move on in my study.
These are just a few things that I like to record in my devotional journal, but as I mentioned earlier, what you write in yours is completely up to you. Perhaps you already use a devotional journal. If so, I'm sure my other readers would love to hear what you record in yours. Would you share with us?
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
I've been taught how important it is to read the Bible through in a year, and there are many people who do that, and I commend them for it. But here's what happens to me when I try to read that much in a single session: I skim and scan. Yep, my mind gets overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to read five or six chapters, and I feel the pressure to get it done as quickly as possible because there are five hundred other things that need to be done. So, I "read" the five or six chapters and walk away without having any idea what I just read. I didn't comprehend it. It didn't stick with me. And because it didn't stick, I wasn't learning or growing. (Again, let me stress that this is me. I know of others who read multiple chapters each day and understand fully what they're reading. God bless them, but I am not among them!)
Several years ago, the Lord began dealing with me about my daily time with Him. Though I was consistent with my Bible reading, I knew that the way I was approaching the Scriptures was wrong. So, I began focusing on the quality of my reading rather than the quantity. Sometimes that meant I read three chapters instead of six. Other times, I only read a verse or two. The Lord impressed on my heart that it didn't matter how much of His Word I was reading if I wasn't paying attention to what I read.
As a result, my daily time with God changed drastically. Instead of rushing to get through because there was just so much, I found myself actually relaxing in God's presence. I read through the verses purposefully and attentively, stopping to reread anything that didn't make sense to me the first time through. I stopped to look up words I didn't know and gained a better understanding of what I was reading. I meditated on verses that spoke to me and allowed God to show me how they applied to my life. And to this day, this is my method for studying the Bible. I love it! It's no longer a dread but a delight.
Please don't let anyone dictate to you how much of the Bible you should or shouldn't be reading each day. Frankly, it's none of their business. God has made each of us to be different individuals, and because of those differences, we will often find that the same methods don't work for everyone. In other words, "how to read the Bible" is not a one-size-fits-all method. Don't worry about trying to impress others or to follow the instructions of some religious leader when it comes to the amount of Bible reading you do per day. That is between you and God. Pray and ask Him to help you discover what method will work best for you and will give you the greatest appreciation of the joyous love letter the Lord has given us. If He impresses on you to read and meditate on a single verse, then that's what you should do. After all, it's better to meditate on a single verse and allow that verse to get ahold of you than to read several chapters and walk away unchanged.
Think quality, not quantity!
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! - Psalm 119:103
Monday, April 4, 2016
Let me begin by saying that there is nothing special about me or the way that I study the Bible. Furthermore, the Scripture is quite plain when it says that the Bible is of no private interpretation. In other words, the things that I see can be seen by anyone. They're not reserved for only me. The fact of the matter is that, unlike many, I was raised and brought up in a Christian home. I attended Christian school all my life and a Christian Bible College where I was trained to rightly divide the Word of God. Beyond that, the Lord has allowed me to teach the Bible to various age groups and then to share His message through my writings and speaking engagements. In other words, I've had a lot of exposure to the Bible, and for that reason, certain areas of study may come to me more easily than they come to you.
That being said, I would like to satisfy this thread of curiosity and give you an in-depth look at my Bible study habits. Maybe you'll find some things that will bring alive your own study time. But, if I accomplish nothing else, I hope you'll get a taste for how precious and exciting personal study time with the Lord can be. Let's get started!
First off, let's talk about some of the tools that you can use to enhance your Bible study. For starters, obviously, you'll need a Bible. There are many versions of the Bible on the market today, and I am not going to presume to tell you which version you should or should not be using. I will tell you that I personally use the King James Version (which you'll notice is the only version I use in all of my writings). The reason I use this version is because I feel it is the closest translation of the original Biblical texts. Many other versions leave out the blood of Christ, the virgin birth and/or other key doctrinal factors that are pillars of the Christian faith. Please understand me, I am not saying that the other versions are wrong. I'm merely telling you what I use and why. The version that you use is between you and the Lord, but I do recommend that you ask yourself why you use the version you use (even if it is the KJV). After all, "because my preacher does" is not a good answer. Use what the Lord tells you to use, but know why you're using it. Make sense?
Second, don't be afraid of a good old dictionary, particularly a Bible dictionary. Let's face it, there are words and phrases in the Bible that don't make a lick of sense to us. For example, in the detailed plans for Solomon's temple, the Bible repeatedly mentions the "chapiters." I don't know about you, but I've never seen or heard that word outside of my Bible reading. So, what does it mean? Instead of continuing the reading of the Bible passage when you don't understand what something means, stop and look it up. (BTW, a chapiter is the ornamental head or cap of a pillar.) The reason I recommend a Bible dictionary over a regular one is because many of the meanings have changed over the years, and Bible dictionaries take that into account.
Third, don't be afraid of technology. We use our phones and tablets for everything else under the sun, so what's keeping us from using them during our Bible study time. There are amazing Bible study apps that are free of charge. My favorite is YouVersion. This app allows you to read the Bible (in any version), set up reading plans, highlight favorite passages, and it will even read the Bible to you if you're more of an auditory learner. The YouVersion app has a huge selection of reading plans that can help you choose what works best for you. Some are long while others are short. Some allow you to read the Bible through in a year while others focus on just a few books. The choices are boundless, and it's all free!
Another of my favorite apps is the Blue Letter Bible app. Like the YouVersion app, this one allows you to read and search through the Bible, but it also contains a host of other useful tools such as Bible dictionaries, commentaries, Strong's Concordance and the like. This app makes it so easy to study the Bible without the use of any other tool because it's all in one. Click on a word to find out its definition, Hebrew spelling and pronunciation, and even where else in the Bible the word is used. You may not need or want all of this information, but that's what's so great about it. Use what you want; ignore what you don't. The point is to understand what you're reading so that it can help you and change your life.
Lastly, I recommend using a journal during your Bible study time, but I intend to cover this topic in depth on another day, so for now, I'll simply add it to the list of helpful tools.
There you have it! You don't have to have a fancy library or a doctorate degree in theology. In fact, if you intend to do your Bible reading on your mobile device, it can meet all the needs I've listed here. Lord willing, tomorrow will go into some greater detail about what to do with these tools and how to get in the Word in such a way that the Word, in turn, gets in you!
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15
Friday, April 1, 2016
In my devotions this morning, I was reading Philippians 4:8, which I call the "brain strainer" because it acts as a filter for the thousands of various thoughts that wander through our brains each and every day. Philippians 4:8 helps me determine which thoughts are good and helpful and which ones need to be cast away and brought under the captivity of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). As I read through the familiar passage this morning, for the first time in my life, the word "lovely" jumped out at me, probably because the Lord has had me focusing on love so much of late.
It seems that, in the past, I just glazed over that word, understanding that our thoughts should be lovely, which, in my mind, meant the opposite of ugly. Pretty thoughts. Pleasant thoughts. But as I meditated on it this morning, I realized that the word lovely means so much more than that. Not only does it indicate something that is acceptable or pleasing, but it implies something that is full of love. With that in mind, the word lovely acts as a filter inside of the filter of Philippians 4:8. What does it mean for our thoughts to be lovely or full of love? To answer that question, we need only look at I Corinthians 13, known in Biblical circles as "the love chapter."
To save time and space, I won't type out the entire chapter here, but if you will allow me, I'd like to give you a rundown of how the Bible describes love. Keep in mind that these qualifications should also describe our thoughts. Ready for this? Here we go:
Love is patient, kind, content, humble, well-behaved, unselfish, gentle, of controlled thought, joyful in the truth, persistent, diligent and unfailing. Yikes! That certainly narrows the list of which thoughts are acceptable and which ones aren't, doesn't it? But just imagine what the world would be like if each of us were to run our thoughts through this filter on a regular basis. Patient and kind thoughts lead to patient and kind people. Humility breeds humility. With each of us caring for others above ourselves, wouldn't the world be a pleasant and more peaceful place? And to think, it all starts in the mind.
As you know from yesterday's post, I don't like things that are sicky sweet, so I'm not going to sugarcoat this. God has given us the instructions in His Word on how to think and what to think. He's even given us not one, but two, filters through which we can sift our thoughts in order to determine what's good and what's not. So, if negative thoughts are continuing to swim around in our heads, it can only mean one thing: we're not using the filters that God has provided. And that single act of neglect has the capacity to cause more damage in our lives than we could ever imagine.
Use the filters! That's why God gave them to us. Do your part to make this world a better place.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. - Philippians 4:8