Tag Archives: Bible

Isaiah 1: When It’s All About Me (But Really…It’s Not)

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My husband and another man at our church took our Sunday School class through lessons on the prophets last year. It was (mostly) chronological which I found extremely helpful in placing their prophecies at the correct times in history. Knowing the context opens up our understanding of  the text. For example I learned that Isaiah’s prophetic ministry ran from 739 BC – 681 BC and through four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah). In addition to this, I know that in 722 BC King Shalmanesar V of Assyria attacked Israel and dispersed them into various regions in his kingdom, while also importing other cultures into the northern kingdom (Israel). He mostly speaks to Judah, but still addresses Israel in his prophecies. Interestingly Isaiah was a well educated aristocrat and had access to the king and the royal court. Having this knowledge makes me more aware of certain nuances in the text and provides more meaning behind some of his message.

Now when I read the Bible for my own personal benefit (as in, I’m not reading it to teach to someone else), I like to research the background and then take a long, slow stroll through the text. Sometimes I’ll double back and walk the same path several more times just to make sure I didn’t read it too quickly or miss something. I will underline in different colors (with my new Bible because it is an illustrated Bible), and each color has a purpose (teal for mankind, purple for God, blue for commands, and so on). I will also circle words that are repetitive (Holy One of Israel, Lord of Hosts, a series of I’s and you’s), and I watch for patterns of thought that might meander throughout the entire chapter (burden, sin, evil, fire). I even write main themes for verses and draw pictures if I have a really vivid image in my mind after reading the text (fire). This is how I search the Scriptures. This is how I observe and sift through the details. I’ve been reading Isaiah 1 for a week now if that gives you a clue (and I’m not sure I’m done reading it yet).

Last week, I wrote about the expectant heart when searching the Scriptures. It is approaching the Word with a certain expectation that the Holy Spirit will speak through it and being unwilling to turn back until you have gained a fresh insight. It is bold, and it might border on foolish, but it’s what I do. Sometimes the insights are tiny, and sometimes they are enormous. I’ll take what I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers.

This week as I’ve read through Isaiah 1, I’ve listened for the heart of God for the people of Judah. I’ve listened for Isaiah’s heart as he prophecies to God’s wayward people. And I can’t lie – I heard something for my own heart. No, I don’t mean God audibly spoke to me out of the pages of my new, beautiful, teal Bible. I mean the Spirit provided me with a spiritual perspective that spans the ages. It’s utterly amazing to me that God can use a message written specifically for one group of people at one specific point in history and also speak it into the hearts of His people throughout all time. His Word has life and breath, and it breathes into my life today. Thanks be to God for His Word.

However this Word can break my heart with its raw emotion and dramatic (sometimes gut-wrenching) word pictures. At least that’s where I found myself this week. (taken from ESV)

My people don’t recognize my care for them. (v. 3)

They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him. (v. 4)

Then I got to verses 10-15:

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.

There’s an awful lot of you‘s and your‘s in those verses. It actually disgusted me (and apparently it disgusted God too). How do we get so turned around, thinking that even worship is about us? Of all the things that should always and only be about God, worship is at the top of the list. And yet, Isaiah writes that God is repulsed by the sacrifices, the ceremonies, the gifts, offerings, celebrations, special days, meetings, festivals, and prayers. What makes you think I want this? Well, didn’t you tell us in Your law to do these things? You’ve missed the point of the Law then… 

When have I missed the true intent of God’s commands? When have I made even worship about me? When have I done something for God that was more like a burden than a blessing? That wasn’t actually for Him at all? Stop bringing Me your meaningless giftsI want no more of your fake worship

Yikes. That’s bad news. That’s a heart check right there.

Lord, forgive me when I make my life all about me, myself, and I. Reorient my perspective so that my focus is on You. Help me to learn from these moments so that I don’t also find myself in exile (like Israel and eventually Judah).

 

It Can Change Your Brain

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I happened to be perusing Facebook one day and noticed that someone had posted a link to an article regarding how certain television shows can change a person’s thinking on certain social issues. The writer, an Indian man, supplied some of the psychological research that has gone into this theory and spoke of his own experience growing up watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Mumbai, India. One of the working theories is that people will be less prejudiced against people who are different from them (in any way) when they are given the chance to interact with those people. Black and white. Gay and straight. Alien and earthling. Then they can all sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya together.

It made me think of a comedian’s sketch I watched on Last Comic Standing as he joked about how he had no problems doing extreme sports with his white friends. It was his white friends who had trouble kickin’ it with him (to watch the sketch go here and slide to minute 4:45, ending around 5:56).

But I digress.

As I read the article, my first thought was, “oh I’ve watched that show and it was funny!” But I also remember that I stopped watching it because it walked over a few lines that I had drawn in the sand. I’m fairly particular about what I put into my mind, especially when it comes to television shows. [For instance, my husband and I used to watch Criminal Minds, but it got entirely too creepy and made me think a serial killer was going to kidnap me and cut me into tiny pieces. No peace of mind I tell ya. I didn’t need those nightmares!]

Another show we stopped watching early on was House. We liked how the writers showed the tension between opposing beliefs and made you seriously think about these moral issues in a different way than you usually do. However, it too crossed some defining lines of what we believe and on these issues we won’t compromise. Now I must pause and say that my beliefs don’t result in me hating the characters on Criminal Minds or on House. Nor do I look down on anyone who chooses to watch those shows (maybe they are braver than I am and don’t think serial killers are lurking around every corner). No, rather, it was just a choice of what I will not spend my time on. I won’t fill my mind with the opposing beliefs or the images that place fear in my heart. No harm done.  End of discussion.

To be blatantly honest, this article gave me pause. I don’t want TV shows to change my brain. Don’t get me wrong, this article and the research behind it is so fascinating to me. As a student of the psychology department at Oklahoma Baptist University, I remember reading about studies like this and even doing research related to issues of the same nature. I think that having empathy and sympathy for another person is a good thing. The problem I find with this is simply that I believe there is something better out there that can and has been changing my brain.

It’s called the Bible.

Within its pages you will find the Author who is utterly holy and completely full of love and compassion. You will see how Jesus loved the unlovely. How He met the needs of the outcast and sinner. How He reached out to the unclean and the hurting, and He restored them to life. He spoke out against the hypocrite and challenged the spiritual. He taught His closest followers like a father teaching his children. He gave dignity to women and championed their cause. What is more, He took twisted men and women, people full of evil and deceit, and He changed them from the inside out. THIS is what it looks like to have someone change your mind.

It is a bit of a mystery how God’s Word, being alive and active, could change a person, starting with the thoughts and intentions of the heart. When it is my habit to be harsh to my kids in their moment of disobedience, He changes me to be gentle yet firm. Truthful but loving. To look at a person with different beliefs from my own, resulting in different actions from my own, and to love that person with the love of God. It starts with His Word. That’s where TRUE change begins.

Many people will say that reading the Bible produces a bunch of bigoted religious nuts. However His true followers will find themselves anything but religious or bigoted. Because it is Him at work inside of those people, producing strong character and compassionate hearts that speak His truth in love.

It is not enough to have my mind changed by a television show, to produce friendly feelings toward a person of different color or religious background or sexual orientation. That is surface level. His Word sinks in deep and clears out the areas in my heart that might harbor hate or judgment. His Word produces a love that cannot be manufactured or faked.

Finally, in this article, the writer points out one research project showed that people who encountered or observed a less-liked person of a minority group (his example was Omarosa) were more likely to be prejudiced against that minority group. His point was that television doesn’t reinforce a positive view of a minority group unless the minority person portrayed in the show has a favorable personality. MY POINT is that how you live matters greatly!

If you are a believer, you represent Christ. Far too many people don’t take this seriously enough. This is why they laugh at us (see Ann Voskamp’s article on that here). Or rather they mock us. They label us all hypocrites. Religious nuts. Yet I know of thousands who are quietly living out their genuine faith each day, making an impact in people’s lives for the kingdom of God. I personally know many individuals who have chosen not to settle for surface level spirituality and work out their faith in fear and trembling, searching the Scriptures to find the picture of Jesus as they figure out ways to imitate the One they call Savior. No religiosity. Just relationship.

I don’t need a TV show to change my mind. I need Jesus. He informs my beliefs, my views on life. And where my beliefs aren’t in line with His, He changes them so that I more closely resemble my Savior.

Relentless Pursuit

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One of the things I love most about the Spirit of God is how He weaves thoughts and words together in my mind (and in other’s minds) to make the largest impact, not only in my heart but in countless others. It is completely impressive to me that He can speak one message that lands thirty different ways in thirty women’s hearts.

What is even more thrilling to me is that He uses us at all to take part in His grand mission of reaching hearts. What a privilege it is to be able to teach the Word of God and then hear how it impacted someone’s life in that very moment. I spoke about the widow of Nain, clearly a story of loss and restoration, and heard from many women how they needed to hear that God is the God who sees them. He hears their cries. He bends down to bring them out of their affliction.

I am struck with awe and humility. There’s no other way to describe it. I had no idea that what I would say would make any impact. I worked on the lesson months ago. I thought that as I typed, they were just words on a page. Any clever connections or interesting insights were divinely directed so that His message would be cast out like seeds on the tilled field. His Word goes out and it gets in.

I learned that my Father will stop at nothing to draw His people to Himself, reminding them of His simple love for them. That He sees. That He knows. And that He desires to show them mercy. A mercy that reaches down and draws us out of the misery.

His is a relentless pursuit of the human heart for His own divine glory.

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Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns

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When you hear the word disciple, what comes to mind? I think of my time spent discipling believers and being discipled. I also think of The Twelve? Or Jesus’ words “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)? Or you might think of yourself as a disciple. Perhaps you even think of discipleship, making disciples, etc.

What would you think if I told you that discipleship in ancient times was a very serious undertaking both for the Teacher and for the Disciple, and it involved more dedication than what we think of (or practice) today? What if discipleship had its roots way back to Socrates and even before his philosophical era? Now, I hope I have you interested (and not bored!). And I also hope you’re wondering what in the world this might have to do with Mary of Bethany. I’m so glad you asked! I would like to take you through a short (ha!) history of discipleship so that you can see why it is so important for understanding our Mary and her interactions with Jesus.

The word disciple in English means follower, adherent, or student of a great master, religious leader or teacher. The Greek word is mathetes and the Hebrew words are talmid and limmud. (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Sanzio_01_Plato_Aristotle  School of Athens by Raphael

One example of a well-known teacher and disciple in the Greek culture would be Plato and Aristotle. Here is a picture of Raphael’s fresco entitled “School of Athens” where you see the two men walking along discussing their philosophies. Aristotle was well-known for his peripatetic teaching (which simply meant, walking along as he taught), and we see this demonstrated in Raphael’s painting. You see all the people gathered in this area, indicating desire for knowledge.

By the time Jesus arrives on the scene, the term mathetes was most commonly used in the sense of adherent, or follower of a great thinker or devotee of a religious master. Within Judaism of the 1st century individuals were known as “disciples” if they were adherents or followers committed to a recognized leader, teacher or movement.

rabbis

Here is a picture of Jewish rabbis most likely immersed in a religious discussion. The best example of a Jewish disciple-teacher relationship would be Paul under Gamaliel studying as a Pharisee. Other examples included the more radical religious groups that tried to raise up zealot-like nationalists. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Remember what I said about the pious Jews and their thirst for the knowledge of God? Wilkins writes, “Pharisaism was at heart, though tragically miscarried, a movement for righteousness. It was this concern for righteousness that drove the Pharisees to their legalism with such a passion.”

Ray Vander Laan (a Bible teacher who teaches in the Holy Land) has a video on this topic called In the Dust of the Rabbi, and in his definition of talmid he explains that being a disciple is not just someone who wants to know what the rabbi knows, it’s someone who wants to be who the rabbi is.

Now in 1st century Palestine, to become a disciple, the student started very young. Boys attended Torah school when they were ages 6-10. This part of their schooling was called Bet Sefer (or House of the Book). They would have a Rabbi, or teacher, who taught the Torah, or first 5 books of the bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

On the first day of class the rabbi would take honey and would cover their slate where they would write. Honey was a sign of God’s favor. You may recall the image of the Promised Land as one “flowing with milk and honey.” As he rubbed the honey all over their slate he would say, “Now class, lick the honey off the slate and off your fingers.” And as they did this the rabbi would say, “May the words of God be sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth” (Psalm 119:103). May the words of God be the most pleasurable, the most enjoyable thing you could even comprehend.

In addition to this they ate a honey cake (inscribed with the words  “The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue to know [Isaiah 50:4-5]). And they would also eat a boiled egg (with the words written on it “Mortal feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll and I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey to me [Ezekiel 3:3]). So these Jewish children were raised to cherish the words of God as the most important thing in all of their lives. To savor it. To taste the Word. (From a *Shavuot article by Rabbi Golinkin)

They would learn the Hebrew alphabet (if they hadn’t already learned it in their homes) and would learn to read the Torah in both Hebrew and Aramaic. And they would memorize the first 5 books of the bible by the time they were 10 years old. How many of you can say you’ve memorized a verse in the OT? What about a chapter in the OT? How about the first 5 books? No one has Leviticus memorized? I’m so surprised! Neither have I! That equals out to 187 chapters and more than 5800 verses! (5,853 in NAB) That is some insane dedication!

SCROLL

Another thing the rabbi did in their first year is he would take the scroll (the scroll was what the Scriptures were written on. Remember they didn’t have the Gutenberg press. In fact each scroll contained only a chapter or a short book from the Hebrew Bible. The scrolls were housed in the Temple at Jerusalem. This meant that they would circulate these scrolls so that they could get the full Bible read throughout the land. No one had the full Scriptures except maybe the very wealthy. So these scrolls were precious).  (From the article *Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine by Catherine Hezser)

So the rabbi would take this scroll, unfold it, and hold it up in view of all the students. As it passed the students, they would reach out and touch the scroll, and they would kiss it.

You might say, they grew up in a culture of a LOVE for God’s Word.

According to some sources, there was a second school called Bet Midrash, which translated meant House of Study. Only the best male students would go to this school from age 10-14.

If they weren’t one of the “best” students, they would go home, and they would “ply your trade”. Simply put this means that if you were a girl, you learned to be a wife and mother. If you were a boy, you learned your father’s trade. Peter and Andrew, James and John all learned their father’s trade: fishing.

In Bet Midrash they had quite the task set out before them of memorizing the entire rest of the Scriptures! That is a total of another 1,074 chapters and over 27,500 verses (27,570). Everything else…from Joshua all the way to Malachi! That’s a GRAND TOTAL of 1,261 chapters and over 33,300 verses.

The Rabbi also had a very different way of teaching than what we are used to today. Rather than asking questions and expecting to get answers from their disciples, the rabbi would teach the art of learning by asking questions and having them respond with questions.  (similar to the Socratic Method)

This is why we see Jesus at age 12 in the Temple in Mark 2:46,

they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

At the end of their study, if one was found to be a promising student, he would enter what is known as Bet Rabbi around age 13-14. Here is how it happened:

The student would go and present himself to a well-known respected, rabbi. And he would say, “Rabbi, I want to become your disciple. Please let me in your Bet Midrash.” Then the rabbi would ask him lots of questions, to find out if he was the best of the best. Because each rabbi wanted to teach his thinking, his philosophy, his interpretation of Scripture. Do you know what this was called? It was called his yoke. This rabbi wants to know, when he is questioning this possible disciple, “Is this boy able to become a rabbi himself and to teach and spread my yoke?” Remember in Matthew 11:28 when Jesus told the people:

Come unto Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And if the rabbi believed that this student was the best of the best, that he was able to become a rabbi, He would say, “Come, follow me.” Sound familiar? The boy would then leave his family. Leave his village. Leave the local synagogue where he had been studying to follow that rabbi. He would become a talmid, a disciple, a student. This boy would give his life to being exactly like that rabbi and would follow him everywhere.

The Mishnah rabbis would tell their disciples, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” It was because a rabbi would come to the village and these talmidim would be following right behind him. Since the roads were dusty these disciples would get covered with the dust of their rabbi. In fact they wanted to be so much like their rabbi that when he would pick up a piece of straw and put it in his mouth then they would too. If he washed his hands a certain way, they would mimic the way he washed his hands. If he ate his food a certain way, they ate like him. They would learn his gestures, his voice inflections, his teachings. And they would follow this rabbi everywhere. Because the rabbi believed that they could be like him.

So you see the student chose the Rabbi under whom he wished to learn, thus becoming that Rabbi’s disciple. And the goal was to be exactly like your Rabbi.

The rabbis would not seek out anyone to teach the Scriptures. There was a Rabbinic disdain for the masses which resulted in limited disciple circles. There was a saying among the teachers “Like the thighs of a woman, Torah was to be kept covered in public.” And this was because of fear of casting pearls before swine. (From an article in *Neotestamentica p. 245)

But what does Jesus do?

Jesus completely reverses the Rabbi-disciple exchange. Jesus, the Rabbi, calls the disciple rather than waiting for a disciple to come to Him. In fact, He beckons for all to come to Him! It wasn’t just the spiritual elite who could be a disciple. The one who had made it through to the Bet Midrash. He was calling for anyone to come to Him. Remember His words:

Whoever wants to be My disciples… (Mt. 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 14:33)

You did not choose Me, I chose you… (Jn 15:16)

Come to Me, ALL who are weary and burdened…(Mt. 11:28)

He went to Andrew and Peter, James and John, the fishermen, who had already been told they didn’t make the cut as a disciple, who were already plying their trade, and He called them to follow Him. He chose the fisherman and tax collector. And more amazingly, He chose women!

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Ah, yes, here is where our Mary comes in. You noticed in all of the information you heard regarding discipleship, not once was a girl given the chance to learn in Bet Sefer much less go on to Bet Midrash. Remember Jewish men thanked God that they were not “a gentile, an outsider, or a woman.” (From *Neotestamentica p. 244) Not once could she be considered by a Rabbi as a disciple. She was supposed to go home and learn how to be a homemaker. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (!) Jesus chose women to be His disciples as well! To be a learner. An adherent to the Master. One who was called to be exactly like the Rabbi.

[Stay tuned next week for part 2 on Mary of Bethany (I know it was just getting good!)]

 

Sola Scriptura!

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By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

My oldest son, who is very small for his age, also seems to be wise beyond his years. It certainly has nothing to do with me. I’ve given up on trying to take credit (or even joke about taking credit) for the good things that come out of him because he’s advancing beyond what I remember teaching him! While this may seem like I’m bragging about how great he is, I have to pause and acknowledge the same thing for him that I know is true in my life. There can be no other explanation for this except that God is working in his life.

A few weeks ago, as we were driving home, my son –out of nowhere, I might add– says, Mom, do you know what I did last night? You got me, son. What’d you do? Well, I was praying to God and I asked Him to forgive all my sins and for Him to be with me forever. So I’m going to heaven now! 

Come again? You did what?!

That’s wonderful, son! So God is your Savior now?

Yes, He is.

By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I can say that my husband and I have both shared with our kids what it means to know Jesus as our Savior. We never pushed any kind of formulaic prayer or super spiritual experience. In fact we have strayed from urging them to make any kind of “decision” because we have heard of people pressuring children to “be saved!” (and they end up “getting saved” every other week which doesn’t sound to me like good doctrine or practice). But in our home, we teach the Word of God. We take them to church. They have amazing Sunday school teachers who faithfully teach them the Word. We take them to a Protestant catechism class where those teachers help them learn the doctrine and the Word. I’d say they’re growing up in a culture of Sola Scriptura.

So it should come as no surprise to me that when my son is receiving the Word on a constant basis, it starts to get in him. The seed has been planted and lots of people are watering it. But God causes the growth!

This is why I can say that he is wise beyond his years, and he knows things I never taught him. God is teaching him. God is giving him spiritual wisdom.

Just this week he told me he began reading his Bible. It’s a children’s Bible called the Big Picture Bible, so when I say “reading” don’t think of paragraphs, think of a few lines on two pages. He would tell me each morning what he’d read that night. He had questions about words and about concepts. He would read out loud as we ate our breakfast and lunch. He read in the car as we drove to the store or the dentist. He was excited when he got all the way to the New Testament. Mom, look! I’m in the New Testament already!! Wow, son, where did you get the desire to read the Word?

By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

I used the phrase “Sola Scriptura” not to discuss Church history or to argue over all the details surrounding this Reformation cry, but to say that the Scripture is sufficient for making one wise to salvation. For knowing how to be saved and how to walk in that salvation.

He would point out the times where God’s people disobeyed God and he would say I’m at a sad part, Mommy. Yep, and one day we’ll be dealing with this in your life. I hope you’re as sad about sin in your life as you are about reading it in God’s Word.

Somehow I’m not as nervous about him growing up to truly know God. The same God who is at work in my life is visibly at work in my son’s life. Thank You, God, for Your Word!

 

It’s Got Me Shaking in My Boots

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As I mentioned before, I’ve been working on some Bible study lessons for an upcoming women’s study called Interruptions of the Heart (Jesus’ interactions with women). I forgot to mention that not only did I write part of the study, but I will be presenting a lesson for each of my 3 women. Can I just tell you how I feel about this?

EEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKkkkk!

While I am definitely excited, I’m also decidedly nervous. I have been known to hold my own at a microphone, but I can get a wild hair, making my talks take a turn for the awkward. I would not exactly describe myself as poised. I get off topic too easily and then get flustered, leaving no escape for myself other than to ramble on and on until I can wrap it up in a crinkly bow.

Top that off with the fact that I can’t tell a story to save my life, and you’re in for a real interesting ride! I have this (annoying) habit of needing to tell every detail in the story, leaving my listeners tilting their heads with furrowed brows wondering when I’m going to get to my point. Charming, I’m sure. (My sister tells me it’s endearing, but I personally think it’s because she does it too! hehe)

Obviously I’ve been thinking about these quirky weaknesses of mine as I’ve been writing out my lessons, and this makes me even more nervous. What is more, I’ve learned enough about teaching God’s word to know that one must never take this task lightly. And this makes me tremble in my cute polka dot rain boots way more than the thought of displaying my awkwardness before these ladies.

However, at the end of the day, I find great consolation in the fact that none of this is about me anyway. I get it that God has given me certain gifts that will be used to edify His Church. But this little stone does not get the spotlight. No, it’s always Him. He’s the One who gives the gifts. He’s the One who picks up each little stone and sets her in her place to do the thing He’s designed her to do.

So off I go to teach the Word, praying earnestly for wisdom to know how to do it. And thank God that His Word can get inside of these ladies despite my peculiarities. They must know that every word has been carefully scrutinized, every thought initially well-formed, and every intention well meaning.

I’m so thankful that His Word is alive and active. So even if my thoughts become jumbled or my words lose their way, His Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11)! He accomplishes what He purposes.

Lord, I may be shaking, but I’m steadfast in spirit. Teach me Your Word that I may know You. Help me to teach Your Word so that they may know You.  

My Sweet Tooth

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A kid in a candy store

 

I’ve been working on a collaborative Bible study for our women’s ministry this fall, and I can’t get over my excitement about it! Even though it has consumed MY ENTIRE SUMMERI keep going back to the three lessons I’ve written to soak it all in. You see, this Bible study is about Jesus’ interactions with women. We’re calling it Interruptions of the Heart.

It’s really true that you never learn as much from a study until you are the one who has to teach the study. I have done hours of research, scanning through articles and through books, reading as many writings as I can get my hands on. I actually prefer to approach my own personal study times in this way which is why it takes me a very loooong time to get through a passage.

I don’t know how you feel about studying God’s word, but for me, it’s like I’m a kid in a candy store! I’ll have 50 of those Psalms and 4 of those Gospels. I really like these spicy prophets. Oh and can I get a Hebrews to go? Better yet, I’ll just buy out the whole store. His word is rich and sweet and satisfies those cravings of my heart.

This is how I feel about reading the Bible. This is me discovering God.

This is how I feel about reading the Bible. This is me discovering God.

But honestly there are days when I’m in His word and nothing exciting happens. No wow factor. I’ve come to terms with those kind of days and see them as me brushing all that sugar off my teeth. It’s a necessary part of my life to be in His word because even if the moments aren’t always fireworks and eye-opening breakthroughs, His word is getting in me. The seed gets planted, it gets watered, and it grows.

I can say I’ve had a “successful” personal study time if for no other reason than the fact that I’ve spent time with my Father.

Perhaps for you, it’s a struggle to get in the word on a daily basis. I get that too. I have 3 boys under the age of 6. Quiet times are rare. This is another thing I’m coming to terms with. There are seasons in life in which personal study comes easily and often. Other seasons feel like hard work or like you’re in the trenches fighting for even a few minutes of Psalms or Hosea or John.

I say keep fighting, sister! It’s how we get in shape and learn the discipline of perseverance in trying times.

You’ve also got to know that God desires to spend this time with you and will give you the desire to seek Him. He delights in you and loves the look you get in your eyes when you find the treasures He intentionally placed in His word for your taking.

So dig in. Mine the diamonds and the gold. Eat the sweets.

Then watch as you go about your day for moments when the Spirit whispers, You remember when I showed you _____… This is how it looks for you in this moment. Walk in it. 

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4

The Apostle John said this about the Church. Imagine how God feels about you and His Church, His Bride.

Dust off that Bible and enjoy!

{Also stay tuned for my posts relating to the Bible study coming in September! The widow of Nain, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene.}

A Guide for the Unsettled Seeker

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From CreationSwap

Here we go again. Off to another church. Will this one have Sunday school or just “Lifegroups”? Do they have a women’s ministry? What about for men? What do they say about certain doctrines? Does the pastor preach topically or expositorally? What is their worship service like? What can I expect from their children’s ministry?

You may have been in this situation before and have asked some of these same questions (or should have asked them!). You move to a new town or simply determine that you want a change in where you worship. You get this feeling that you’ll never quite find that place to call “home.” Why is this such a big deal?

I thought it would be challenging to feel “settled” as we wait to move into our new home, but I never knew how unsettled I would feel as we church hop each week. It is that same feeling I wrote about in my post on Craving Connection. We want to feel connected to the Body of Christ not only for our benefit but for our desire to serve in the Body.

Here are a few things I’ve learned through this small journey to finding a “church home”:

1) It’s incredibly hard not to compare former pastors with these “potential” pastors at each church we try. I’ve decided we were rather spoiled at our former church because we had a pastor who faithfully preached the word in a dynamic way so as to keep our attention while at the same time challenging us to think and to live out what he preached. It was no fluff, let me tell ya. My litmus test these days, unfortunately, is whether or not I can stay awake (and trust me, I NEVER fell asleep at my old church).

2) Closely related to my first point, it’s important to let your pastor know how he’s impacted you in the way he serves your church. A lot of people sitting in the Sunday morning pews have no idea how fortunate they are to sit under the teaching of a well-rounded pastor. Can we just clone the good ones? Is this too much to ask?? (Note to everyone at IBC: You should go tell Dr. Fisher how much you appreciate him. Go.)

3) It takes time to find where you should serve. This is true of you even if you already have a church home. What is more, you should be asking yourself this question if you aren’t serving somewhere already. Does the church have ministries that you are already interested in (women’s, children’s, missions, etc.)? Is there a need in the church for someone to lead a particular ministry (service, reaching singles, college)? It’s a fine balance to determine what you want from the church and how you can serve in the church.

4) There are far too many churches that are going with “trendy” rather than “truth“. Like I alluded to above, I’ve heard a few “fluffy” messages…ones that have very little substance. This tells me something very alarming about church-goers today–they like the fluff. UGH. I’m not ok with this! This also tells me something about the pastors–they’re either lazy and don’t take the time to prepare a really great sermon, complete with illustrations and packed with the Word of God OR they have lost the purpose of being a pastor…preach the Word faithfully, guide and protect the flock.

I’m sure I could go on for eons about what I’ve learned, but because that part of me that says I have to have a point is yelling at me, I must stop here. I challenge you who are searching for a church home, think and pray about what kind of message you’ll be getting every week. Also research what the church offers for you and as a way for you to serve (what you can offer to the church).

For you who already have a church home, I encourage you to consider how you can serve as a part of that Body. It will look different for you than it does for your best friend…and this is ok, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Also take a good hard look at the messages that your pastor presents. Is the Word of God primary or is it an afterthought? Does he jump from topic to topic without a seeming goal in mind or does he have a plan for your church as he goes through a sermon series or book of the Bible? Do you fall asleep? (ha! just kidding…that could be your problem, you know.) May you never be satisfied with “fluff“, my friend.

Introducing: Theology Thursdays

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One of my favorite things to talk about is the Bible. Related to this, I also LOVE theology. I took three systematic theology graduate courses about five years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. I’m hoping you’ll be hooked too after enjoying some of my posts related to theology. I’m definitely no expert, but I certainly love to think about these things (and you should too).

The reason that theology is so interesting to me is not just for the benefit of knowing something that sounds intelligent, but it has more to do with what we do with the theology behind the passage. It’s the famous, “so what?” question. Sure, it’s nice to know things that scholars love to dig into and research, but what will we do with it for our lives? If we have knowledge but are completely unchanged by what we know, is it really worth knowing? That’s why I’m writing Theology Thursdays (although it remains to be seen if I will actually stick with Thursdays…we shall see).

One of my favorite topics in the theology course had to do with covenants. There are varying views concerning this topic alone, but for my post, I’ll be looking at covenant theology (rather than dispensationalism…if you don’t even know what that is, great, neither do I, really! haha). Also please note that this is going to be very brief so you don’t get bored 😉

You are wondering what is meant by covenantal theology (right? please say yes). To boil it down: God did it all. We reap the benefits. Seriously! That’s it. But for those who aren’t really satisfied with that answer. I’ll give the main points from one of my lectures (Systematic Theology III with Douglas Kelly at RTS).

1. God sovereignly establishes the covenant.

I can almost hear you saying, “ok, and?” Well, it means that God is the one who initiated the covenant. What covenant, you ask? The covenant of grace. It is every covenant (or promise) that God makes with every human in the Bible (starting with Adam, then Noah, Abraham, David, and finding its fulfillment in Jesus). I’m not talking about the promises like Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you…), but about true covenantal promises that have to do with God initiating the promise and expecting the individual to agree to the terms. In other words both God and the individual are committed to the covenant. (Something else that can get confusing is the issue of multiple covenants. The way covenantal theology sees it is, God makes one covenant – the covenant of grace – and each of the successive covenants are just a part of the greater covenant. I believe this is one point that differs from the dispensational view.) It is important to note that a covenant is an agreement between two parties. This comes in handy later, trust me.

2. God sovereignly administers the covenant.

Establish. Administer. Po-tay-to. Po-tah-to. No, it’s actually not the same thing just said in a different way. In this point, God determines the nature of the relationship to the covenant and the obligations for the individuals agreeing to the covenant. In other words, man doesn’t get to bargain with God about the terms. God sets it up.

3. God sovereignly fulfills the conditions of the covenant.

EEEeeeeEE! This may be my favorite part. 🙂 You see, when two individuals enter into a covenant, both are required to fulfill their side of the bargain. If one party does not keep his end of the covenant, it means death for him (there is a great video by Ray VanDerlaan on this very topic). Do you remember when God makes the covenant with Abraham (then Abram) and has him cut up several animals, then God (the smoking firepot and flaming torch) “walks” through the blood? (You’ll find that in Genesis 15.) It was a very sobering moment for Abram because when God did this, He essentially said, “may this happen to Me if I do not hold up My side of the covenant.” But what about Abram? He didn’t walk through the blood! This is because God elects to fulfill the conditions of the covenant for both Him and Abram (we’ll see an even greater picture of this in Christ). The main point here is that none of us could possibly hold true to the covenant with God, and He knows it.

4. God sovereignly sustains the covenant.

If this doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will (especially since the last point was pretty awesome too). God by His will empowers believers to fulfill the requirements of the covenant. In other words, it is Him at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” He gives us faith, leads us to repentance, softens our hearts for obedience (all important requirements in keeping the covenant). It’s absolutely beautiful. Take it in. He gives us everything we need to be faithful in covenant to Him. Only my God would think of doing something like that.

So there it is! Four points about covenants. Sorry it ended up being a little longer than I originally thought! There’s so much more I wanted to say…maybe another day. 🙂 Stay tuned for the “so what” discussion (since that is, after all, why I wanted to write about theology in the first place!).

The Bible – it’s alive!

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You’ve probably heard the passage:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

And then you’ve probably wondered, “what exactly does it mean that the Bible is living? active?”

Me too, actually.

Have you ever read a passage (let’s say from Philippians), and you were struck by a verse, right to the heart, and at that moment, it was the most profound thing you’d ever read? But then you go back to that same passage months later, or even a year after your initial reading, and suddenly, you’re struck again but in a completely different way? THAT is what I’m talking about. It is alive! This is possibly the best news ever.

Here’s the reason why… Haven’t you ever been in a place in which you were desperate to encounter God or receive encouragement from His word or get help for a particular sin? Maybe you read your daily Bible reading, and it just didn’t do anything for you. You begin to think, “what’s wrong with me that I don’t get anything out of this Bible?” But then, you keep reading…and reading. And suddenly you begin to experience what the writer of Hebrews talked about. It pierces your soul. It discerns your thoughts. You start to change. It’s alive in you.

There is never a moment in which God’s word takes a break from working in your heart and mind. It is ACTIVE. Just when you begin to despair over a life circumstance or a particular sin that you can’t seem to overcome, His word penetrates those places of greatest need and you walk away changed. 

God so desires for you to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He uses His own words to break up the rough soil in our hearts and plants His truth there. It’s not just words on a page. They are words that have the power to transform our very lives.