Dispatch from the Front of the Refugee Crisis

Dispatch from the Front of the Refugee Crisis

Word in Season

Editor’s Note: The following are some reflections Maya Johnson has posted online as she works with war refugees fleeing from Ukraine into Poland. Today is her final day on the ground in Poland. Please keep praying for her and those with her (the Movida team).

My mind and heart cannot yet find all the words needed to untangle the many layers of pain. How does one explain and process what is happening on all sides of this madness?

But, in a way, I am gaining a fuller understanding of the biblical narrative. There has been a lot of refugees and people who faced great injustice in God’s story and I see that God’s hand – and his Word – was true in those lives. This gives me hope today.

When David ran from Saul, Jonathan stood up for him. He investigated his case, advocated for him, and helped him flee. Jonathan sent David away with much weeping and prayers, sought him out, and strengthened his soul in the Lord.

Will we be Jonathans?

There was also the priest who gave David both bread and Goliath’s sword. And there was Abigail who stopped David from sinning.

And David, on his side, did not just hide in the caves. He hid in God! In those caves, he poured out his heart in Psalms of lament that we can now read and use for processing our pain. David actively helped his people and protected their cities and sheep from the Philistines. He took under his wing those who were abused by Saul. David’s heart stayed soft towards God and people, even in the midst of his hardship.

He knew that one day he will sing and praise God among the nations and tribes because God’s mercy is great to the heavens, and his faithfulness to the clouds (Ps. 57).

#refugeeCrisisEurope #StandwithUkraine #lament

When Your Child is Struggling with Fear

When Your Child is Struggling with Fear

Word in Season

What do you do when your child is struggling with fear? When a scary story is being replayed by the mind and a sticky, frightful image won’t stop haunting?

As parents, we have walked with our kids through many a sleepless night, wiped many tears, looked under beds a gazillion times, held them in our arms while praying over them. Answers seem so easy and so obvious, and yet it is a struggle to guide a child through the battle in his or her mind.

A good starting point when working with fear is what the Bible says about it. It doesn’t just tell us not to fear, it also provides multiple reasons for why we are not to fear. And the Bible calls those who are around fearful people to “encourage the faint-hearted” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)”. We know that Christ, as he walked among imperfect people, often said, fear not. We know that his presence was gentle, as Isaiah had prophesied about him: “A bruised reed He will not break.” (Isaiah 42:3).

The Bible also has a solution to fear: trusting the Lord. There may be dangerous and frightening things out there, but we belong to someone who holds our very existence in his hands by the power of his word (Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:3). The reason why we need not be afraid when we walk through valleys of the shadow of death is that the Shepherd has gone through those himself. He took the punishment for our sins, including our tendency to seek refuge in things other than him, and he defeated death. Death and resurrection of Christ apply to big things in our life – like terrible dysfunction of this world – and the little ones, like a night terror.

Here is what not to do when helping someone to work through fear:

  • Become frustrated and resort to manipulating the fearfulness out of their fear.
  • Call the child only to use logic. Fear is often not based on or tied to reality and it is hard to explain it away and make the feelings go away.

What we do need to do and say:

  • Speak openly about it. Help the child put his feelings into words; it looks to me that you are feeling ____, is this right?
  • Turn to the Lord” – help the child turn to the Lord with these feelings. Help her see how big God is. Fear makes real things around us, including God, seem small and insignificant. As a parent, my role is to help the child keep the right perspective. And by the way: talking Big God theology with kids is important on calm days so that in the day of crisis we have something to call to mind and lean on.
  • You are not alone” – we say this all the time. Another lie of fear is that you are all alone facing danger and that it is up to you alone to overcome.
  • And here is what my husband says all the time in times of crisis and in times of calm: “Trust me”. A child needs to learn to trust the parent. That is how he learns to put his trust in something other than himself. On a very basic level, that starts with trusting his parents.
  • Do not let fear control you. Fear wants to be your master, but you already have one – the Lord – who also calls himself a Good Shepherd! Fear lies; it says that it can make you its slave to obey its commands: “retreat, play ___thoughts over and over in your mind, feel ___, hide”.

As parents who are called to raise our children in the Lord, we wanted to put this struggle with fear in the context of his or her life with the Lord. Here is a simple exercise we did with one of them recently to root her confidence in Christ. This is by no means a formula to follow, but an example of how to engage a child in the life-giving Word. We read Psalm 23 with her and asked her to do some simple things, and all of it took about 15 minutes:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Let’s take turns dictating the verses to each other and writing them down. You read, and I write and then we switch. What do these words mean?

Can you circle three things that stand out to you about God and us? And I will circle mine. Can you explain why you picked these things?
Let’s pick a couple of things from this Psalm to draw. Can you explain what you drew? And here is my drawing! Can you bring this picture to mind – yours and mine – when you feel afraid? We can hang it up in your bedroom if you wish.

Let’s pray together about this Psalm.

What can we learn about Jesus in this Psalm?

Here are some truths we dwelled on as we read the Psalm together:

  • God is the Lord of all. We do not have to let fear control us, but instead, can be led by the new master, the Lord.
  • God is a good shepherd who knows all of our paths. Sometimes they lead to the still waters, and sometimes they cut through valleys of the shadow of death.
  • He not only knows them but takes care of us every step of the way.
  • He is always near; the rod and staff are symbols of his guidance and protection.
  • He is the God who grants peace and victory in the midst of war.
  • His love is inseparable from us.

What was important to me as I worked with her:

  • That the child had a maximum engagement with the Word, not me talking at her. That she would absorb it through different channels: writing, hearing, drawing, talking about it, picturing/imagining it, meditating on it.
  • That the child had some initiative in this: I gave her a choice in what to draw and which concepts to talk about.
  • That she saw me actively engaging with the Word and me being affected by it as well.
  • That she had an image in her head that could solidify the truth for herself.
  • That ultimately, she could get to know God’s character through this, because it is easier to trust someone you know!

All of the above is just an example of how we as parents can turn to the Lord in any situation and lean on him, and guide our children to him. It may not bring about desirable results immediately, but engaging with the Word of God will certainly bear the good fruits of trust and rest.

And last, but not least; besides working with the child through these points, as a parent, I also must depend on Christ. I must rely on him to help me be patient and gentle as he is with those who are afraid. My child is not the only one who needs to learn these truths and grow more into Christ!

2022 Ridgeview Women’s Retreat

2022 Ridgeview Women’s Retreat

Announcements

What: A retreat for the women of Ridgeview with the goal of fostering deeper relationships among us as we come together for a time of teaching, fellowship, and worship.

When: January 14 (check in from 4:30-5:30pm) and 15 (ending around 3:30 pm)

Where: Camp Norwesca, 79 Camp Norwesca Rd, Chadron, NE 69337

How Much: $50 Includes lodging and all meals
(or $15 for no lodging)
*You will be directed on how to pay this fee after you sign up

Featured Speaker: Glenna Marshall
https://www.glennamarshall.com

Register Today: Click Here

*Registration closes December 19th

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

Word in Season

Some time ago I had the privilege of observing the beauty of God’s grace at my dinner table. As I was cutting up cucumbers and strawberries for salad, shredding meat for sandwiches, I admired the color and the fragrance of his provision and had no idea of another degree of grace I was about to witness. That evening there were two ladies at our dinner – one, with a broken heart, pouring her story out in tumbling words, grotesque images. God’s grace was already at work at her, pulling her to God’s people, shedding light on her darkness, reviving her through God’s
word, working repentance into her soul, breathing hope into her whole being. The other – with a heart broken and healed by that same grace. The same grace has made her firm in the hope, sanctified her, and made her whole and fruitful. The same grace was now in her words of truth, spoken with sincere joy and tenderness: “This doesn’t define you.” “Christ is enough for this.” “There is hope.”

And there I was, with my breath taken away by this beautiful display of God’s glorious grace. Peter’s words: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10) – took on flesh and color.

What is this varied grace? What does it mean to be a good steward of this grace? And what does it have to do with how we relate to each other in the church? I wanted to explore this theme and here is what I came up with from looking in the Word.

God in his pursuit of glory, lavishes his grace on his people by redeeming it for himself through his Son. But Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished far more than just a ticket to heaven! His work continues being the source of “varied” grace of which Peter speaks in his letter. Here are some other facets of grace that we experience daily: This grace sustains believers in their hardships. As they are called to live righteously in this sin-cursed world, they have God’s Spirit’s help in their weakness:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. -1 Peter 5:10

There is an enabling grace that empowers believers to serve in the Body of Christ through spiritual gifts: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. When God predestines certain good works for his people to accomplish (Eph. 2:10), he provides everything needed for those works, along with strength to do them (1 Peter 4:10)! There is a sanctifying grace that is at work in believers:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. -Titus 2:10

Believers are free from their old slave master, Sin, and now live under the reign of the new one, Grace (Romans 5:21, 6:1-14).

The key component of all these facets of grace is that it’s available through Christ alone, through faith and dependence alone. All grace is bestowed on us freely, based not on our merit and performance, but on what Christ has done. In other words, there is never a point in my service, sanctification, or suffering, at which I can say: I did this.

Putting it all together, we may say that God lavished upon us the immeasurable riches of his grace in saving us for himself and continues to do so in sustaining us, sanctifying, and enabling us to glorify him with good works. We can say that grace is his kind face and his merciful heart when I turn to him, a helpless sinner; it is his helpful hand when I am serving him; it is his shears as he prunes me for more fruit-bearing; it is his embrace and nearness when I am hurting, and his steady feet that carry me to heaven.

In the light of this, Peter’s words: “Be good stewards of God’s various grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10,11) mean that as we receive his gracious gifts of saving and sustaining us, we are called, amid suffering and pressures of the world, to a very specific way of living – to steward, manage, administer his varied, multifaceted grace well. We are called to join God in his gracious activity towards his people in saving, enabling, sustaining and sanctifying it.

As good stewards of God’s saving grace, we are to proclaim and defend the Gospel, “the word of grace that is able to build up and give inheritance among the saints” (Acts 20:31, Philippians 3:1-3). We are to forgive and accept one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

As good stewards of God’s sustaining grace, we can offer our hands and feet, our listening ear and compassionate presence to those who are suffering. We rejoice with those who rejoice when God bestows his grace on them – and weep with those who weep, offering the grace of this kind God, who is near the brokenhearted. We are urged by Paul “to encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14b), and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

As good stewards of God’s enabling grace, we can, first, seek to exercise whatever gift we received in serving the needs of the church, so that it grows and matures in love. Various gifts of the Holy Spirit were given with a purpose – to build up the church, so that God may “fill all things with himself” (Ephesians 4:10), and to him would be glory in his church (Ephesians 3:21). And to be a good steward of this enabling grace will also mean teaching and equipping others to use their gifts and live a life of servanthood (Ephesians 4:11,12).

As good stewards of God’s sanctifying grace, we are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1) and watch that there is no bitter root sprouting in the church (Hebrews 3:12, 12:15). We are to warn those who are idle and disruptive (1 Thessalonians 5:14a). I watched this grace manifested before me, in the food on the table and in the words of my friend, a good steward of God’s grace, and my heart overflowed with praises of this glorious grace – just the way it was meant to be (Ephesians 1:6).

Where have you seen this grace at work in your life? Are you stewarding God’s varied grace well?

On Miscarriage

On Miscarriage

Word in Season

Miscarriage. I could not dislike a word more. It speaks of the senselessness of death: something was carried and it was a mistake, and it was cast out for its mistakenness. There was a life, little fingers were formed and a heart was beating, and for no apparent reason, it is no more. 

My fourth pregnancy was a happy surprise for us. As we dreamed of holding her and recognizing our features in our child, we also longed to see God’s own image imprinted in her. But on the 13th week we were facing a new reality. Life was swallowed by death. Physical pain now accompanied the ache in our hearts and sorrowful questions: why Lord? How could this be?

The subsequent days were filled with the chaos of talking to family and caring for our toddlers, whose needs could not be pushed aside, grief or no grief. I was surprised by the different ways my husband and I mourned. He cried unashamedly. He wanted to sit in the dark and hold hands. 

I, on the other hand, would start cleaning the bathroom late at night, had several sewing projects going, and furiously moved furniture. I could not sit still in fear that tears would come and flood my whole life. 

But at some point, I started listening to my husband, whose worldview is steeped in the Gospel more deeply than mine. I realized that my fretful activity functionally showed that I was minimizing the heavy reality of this death. I was acting as if this death was just like a wrinkle in the carpet: we tripped and kept moving. 

I turned to the Lord then and this is what he taught me. 

I learned not to push against grief, but instead, accept it. 

Death is the awful curse for sin upon this world and has brought so much chaos with it. Ecclesiastes speaks of it: all our aspirations and toil end up being vapor because death hangs over us all like a heavy cloud. It catches us like birds into its nets and sucks the meaning out of everything that our hands touch (Ecclesiastes 2:17-22, 9:11,12). Yet we shrug our shoulders, numb the pain, speak flippantly about God having a plan, and push the tears down  – and with that we minimize the reality of death and God’s work to overcome it. 

But God calls us to live, walk, rejoice, weep in the light of his glorious Gospel. He calls us to name things as they are. He calls us to assess reality honestly, so that in the thorny paths of life this pain – acknowledged and accepted – could bring us closer to him. 

And God invites us to mourn before him. He inspired David to record his laments for us in psalms. These words that we are ashamed to say out loud are pleasing to him: “How long of Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). In these psalms we can pour out our pain, bewilderment, disappointment: there is something deeply wrong with this world. This should not be. How can it be that a life is swallowed by death? The silence around miscarriage only makes the void created by death palpable. My body knows, and my heart knows: there was a life, and it is no more. Death came and swallowed it and I feel the emptiness. 

I will lament before the Lord. He knows and hears and sees. 

I learned to mourn wisely. 

The feeling of emptiness lingered and made what seemed stable to be shaky and uncertain. Troubled, bewildering questions ran in circles. Grief often takes our thoughts in so many directions, not asking us permission on what to leave untouched. 

Grieving wisely means being patient with it all. It takes time to sort through the lies, face our fears, get used to the new reality. It means not boarding the train of emotions; but instead, waiting on the Lord to comfort me and strengthen me.     

I was learning to mourn as a child of God.

Grieving meant not only honest mourning, but also a deeper appreciation of things that are just as real as death. God conquered this enemy, and this victory will one day swallow death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54). The perishable will one day be clothed in the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. There will be a day when we will see our baby clothed in glory that far surpasses the glory of angels and the glory of our best intentions (1 Corinthians 6:3;15:43,44). 

This resurrection has meaning not just for my future: it is also hope and power for my dark days now. As I was groping for something stable in the shaky places, his Spirit guided me into his truth that has not changed since the day there were two hearts inside my body. 

These are the truths that my feet found as a strong foundation:

  • Who is God?

He is the God who sees, the Shepherd who became a Lamb and passed through the valley of the shadow of death to defeat this enemy; whose resurrection means a living hope for now and for eternity (Psalm 23, Genesis 16:13, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:3). He has not changed. I can trust him even if I do not understand why he let hope take root in our hearts and took it away with no apparent reason. I can trust him because his words tell me I can, no matter how strong my emotions rage. Together with Spurgeon, I will learn to say: “His sovereign will is the pillow on which I can rest my head amid suffering”. 

  • Who am I? 

A redeemed child of God, called into the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). A sheep that was lost but now found, always seeing the rod and staff before her (Psalm 23). I am loved with the same love that the Father loves his own Son (John 17:24). 

In this grace, there is true power for my days. Life will flow on, and my pain will continue reminding me of how broken this world is. But gradually this pain will become clothed with a hope – a living, steadfast hope that is founded – not on what is seen and tangible, and thus, corruptible – but on his word, and on God himself (1 Peter 1:23-25, Hebrews 6:13). 

I learned to grieve in community

Many conversations after the miscarriage revealed that we were not alone. People gathered around us and shared their past experiences – their helpless feelings before the death of their children. My eyes started noticing a layer in the biblical narrative of a multitude of women who suffered a loss. In this community our hope took on flesh and became more real: our child is not dead, and death does not have the final say. 

We were very comforted by the prayers, food, and offers to watch our kids. The Lord taught us to be patient with the awkwardness of those who did not know what to say or offered simple, even if often untrue, platitudes. We accepted the grace offered to us and tried not to allow grief to isolate us: we saw the Lord himself stretching his arms out to us through his church. 

This creation, in which we are called to live and be transformed from glory to glory, is subjected to curse and futility (Romans 8:20) – and miscarriage is one of the terrible manifestations of that curse. Sorrows like this one will always be part of our life here, but we can be confident in this: the one who walked on this earth and who tasted the curse to the fullest, will finish what he started in us and this world (Philippians 1:6). His Spirit within me is truth and life, leading me into his glory so that one day I can say with all that is within me: “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7). 

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 1 here)

With this post, I want to encourage you to consistently engage with the Bible in the new year. Below I have provided links to several excellent resources that you might find helpful. All of them are intended to help with one thing: How to engage with your Bible in the new year in a way that can help you better understand the Bible as a whole. But first, a few suggestions/encouragements:

  • Commit to reading the Bible consistently. While the Bible nowhere commands us to read it every day or read through the Bible in a year, a consistent engagement is encouraged everywhere. God’s people should have the Word of God close to their hearts so that their minds and their walks are renewed and transformed. Here is a tip (also helpful to other aspects of life): it is more effective to spend time every day reading a chapter or so, than it is to read many chapters in a day followed by a weeks-long break. Look at the rhythm of your day and find a daily time that works for you to spend 15-30 minutes reading Scripture – and then watch as God transforms your life through his Word!
  • Commit to read the Scripture itself. It is important to read the actual words of the Bible, along with whatever devotional you pick for the year. Learn to soak in the unprocessed, pure Word. 
  • Consider the context. See Scripture for what it is – a big story with each passage or story playing a part within it. As you read devotionals or listen to sermons that quote specific verses, teach yourself to pay attention to the context. What is happening right around this verse? What did the author of the text (not just the one speaking about the text) mean by this? How is this verse connected to the redemptive story of the Bible?
  • Commit to engaging with the Bible in the community of your local church. It is fine to listen to outsourced teachers, but they don’t actually see how the Word impacts you and what your life looks like on a daily basis. Make your local church the main context of your learning, growing and changing, as you lean into the biggest story ever – together. Find yourself a Paul, find a Timothy, and engage one of the resources below and grow together. Find a study to join in! Our church has several groups that you could join.

In 2021, seek to understand what the Scripture says, what it means, and how God changes and transforms our lives through his Word. Explore how a passage or a narrative fits within the larger story of the Bible. Do not stop at the do’s and don’ts! Also, make sure to join us for the C2C study on Tuesday nights at 6:30 at the church or online (beginning January 15th).

And now for some resource suggestions, including Bible reading plans, studies, and books that can help you better engage the Bible in 2021: 

A Reading Plan for Families. This is a Bible reading plan for a family with kids who can all follow along together to get the highlights of the Bible’s main points in a year. This plan has one passage per week. (Click here to download.) We have printed copies of this one in the worship lobby at church, so you can pick up your copy on Sunday.

Foundations for Kids! This is one of many reading plans for kids of various ages. Exploring the Bible is another example.

The 5 Day Reading Plan is a great option for adults. This plan works through the entire Bible in a year. You can click here to download, or pick up a printed copy in the worship lobby at church. This one is great because if you miss a day or two you can make it up on the weekend!

The One Year Chronological Bible arranges the books of the Bible chronologically. You will read Kings and Chronicles along with the prophets who lived in those times and some of the Psalms that were written during those events. It will give you a fuller view of the overall storyline.   

The BIBLE RECAP plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year and it has a podcast that goes along with it, and regular updates on social media. There are also options to create a group: so you can get a friend, your teen, or your spouse to join you and keep each other accountable.

This Amazon List is full of resources to help you understand the Bible as a whole.

The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus. This 15-chapter book gives a good picture of the main idea of the Bible. It is written very simply, compellingly and can be an awesome tool for helping someone understand the Gospel. 

Even Better Than Eden. This book will help you treasure what we have in Christ, giving you a fuller view of what the Bible is about, and what hope we have in Him. 

The Lamb. This book for children highlights the main idea of the Bible. That is something that is often missing from children’s literature, much which tends to put a larger emphasis on morals.

 Here is a study guide for men and women that can also help connect some dots.

 This series of videos on YouTube is helpful too! 

Let us go into the new year, seeking to understand the Bible as it was meant to be and not as a collection of random inspiring quotes, band-aids for our aches, or a list of do’s and don’ts. Let us lean into the biggest secret God has drawn us into and see it as his story, his Word for us, so that we may get glimpses of his glory and in that find: 

Our true healing,

Our true inspiration, 

Meaning for our days. 

And may we reflect that glory as we walk in obedience to this Word!

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 2 here)

One thing during this strange year that was quite bizarre to watch was the flood of conspiracy theories. More than once my messenger flooded with texts predicting this or interpreting that. The spike in these theories demonstrates a few things about us humans: we long to know what is coming, and we do not like to be in the dark. So we construct theories, hoping for some kind of security in knowledge. 

What if I told you that there really is a person who has been working out his agenda all this time – in fact, since before the time began – sending his agents at different stages, leaving us hints here and there, operating behind the thrones of the greatest leaders in history? What if I told you that this person, at a definite point in history, decided to disclose to the entire world his secret agenda and make us a part of his mystery? 

Yes, you guessed it – I am talking about God and his redemptive plan for mankind. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” (NLT). It pleased the Father to unite all things under the authority of his beloved Son. The cost for this unity is his Son’s blood with which God purposed to redeem us for himself, so that we may in this unity glorify him forever. 

This mystery – God fulfilling his plan through his Son – is the scarlet line stretching through the entire biblical narrative. That is why there is Noah, Abraham, and Moses. That is what David sings about in his psalms. This is what Isaiah looks forward to and why Hosea’s heart had to break. All these puzzle pieces – as confusing and obscure they may seem – comprise one story: God is saving his people from the dominion of sin and death. 

We are more fortunate than Isaiah and Moses: we see the big picture now, revealed to us in Scripture. What they looked forward to, we get to explore on a daily basis, having our hope established and rooted in something that is already accomplished! 

Why is it important to understand the main idea of the Bible? Because this mystery and this plan give shape and meaning to all the pieces of this puzzle. No one looks at a single puzzle piece and says, “I think this is what this particular piece means to me”. Instead, we work hard to discover how the piece fits into the bigger image as it was meant to fit. And so it is with the Bible: not paying attention to the whole picture designed by the Author, we risk misinterpreting and misapplying the Scripture. 

And this is why we are hoping you will join us for the Creation to the Cross Study (C2C) this upcoming semester as we explore this mystery; this huge secret that God has let us in on.

It all begins on January 15, 2021 at 6:30PM. Join in!

(Read Part 2 here)

Why You Should Read Good Books this Summer

Why You Should Read Good Books this Summer

Word in Season

When a sunny and summery reprieve finally came a couple of eons ago, I dug out my garden gloves and headed outside to tend to our long-neglected lawn and garden. Even though I had cleaned it all up in the fall, a few months of snow and wind had left a mark. Sticks and leaves and trash had blown in, and even dog poo was left here and there, courtesy of our neighborhood pals. We weren’t paying attention and look what happened! Spring came and exposed a mess that happened gradually, all by itself. That’s a simple fact of life for you: things left to themselves tend to get messy.

You can’t expect good things to sprout without planting, or thrive without consistent pruning and care. Only weeds do that!

Yard work (and housework) has always reminded me of the work that we, as children of God, are called to do on our minds: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Without constant and ongoing transformation, our minds fall into default mode: we become world-admiring and God-forgetting. You can’t expect good things to sprout without planting, or thrive without consistent pruning and care. Only weeds do that!

Which is why I want to make a case for putting some good books on your summer reading list! Reading good books is a big part of transforming one’s mind. And by “good” I mean a book that will encourage you in your faith, help you get better at loving others, and help you grow in your knowledge of God.

Here are some ideas (along with a lot of helpful links!).

  • Read Christian biography this summer. Looking at the life of someone who served God and finished well and seeing how God worked in difficult situations and “made all things work together for good” is incredibly encouraging. Reading biographies was helpful to me in our transition years when I didn’t have a mentor close by. I can still hear Amy Carmichael’s lessons in my head, 15 years later.
  • Read books on Christian growth. There is never a point when anyone can say: I know enough about God and the Christian faith. Our minds constantly need the fertilizer of knowledge and the pruning of solid advice.
  • If you are carrying some sort of ministry, summer is a great time to get refreshed and spurred on. As my husband says, “we’re not awesome”. We need constant input, new ideas and the examples of others. Ministry was never meant to be accomplished alone. Are you a Bible teacher? Pick up some books on Bible study this summer. Does your heart ache for the unsaved? Read books about how people from different worldviews think. Are you a parent who wants more ideas on how to instruct your children in the Lord? Read good parenting books written by godly and wise people. Do you find yourself in a lot of heavy conversations with people going through difficult times? Maybe a book on people helping or Christian suffering will help. Whatever your ministry – don’t do it alone, read a book. (Click here for a few other suggestions).
  • Read Christian classics! Books become classics not only because their messages endure, but also because these books apply to so many different settings and cultures. There may be centuries between us and John Bunyan, but I promise you, your heart will resonate with his writing as if he is your best friend, no matter where you live – Africa or Nebraska.

“But I am not a reader”, you say, “where do I begin?” Here are a few tips:

  • Very few people in our society are total “non-readers”. Most of us read something, and our brains are capable of learning new tricks. Find a 15-minute pocket of time in your day, and spend that time reading. You’ll be surprised how much you can read by reading only 15 or 20 minutes a day. What a great habit to form.
  • Read and highlight sentences that will define the lesson you can take from that book. It is impossible to remember everything the author offers. What is the one thing that is helpful for you today? What resonated with you and encouraged you?
  • Read and talk about it! Share at your dinner table, on a hike, on a playdate. You will be surprised at how this will enrich your fellowship. Remember that when you grow, others grow around you!

So this summer, instead of checking out mentally, how about nourishing your mind, tending to your soul, and planting good things in your garden by reading good books? Paul reminds us: “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).

At the end of this summer, what will you be reaping?

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

Word in Season

After discerning the meaning that was originally intended by the author, it is time to ask the question: how is this relevant to me? How do I respond to this today, in my context?

This is what the last step of Bible study is all about: application!

Without application all the effort you put into observation and interpretation is just vapor that will dissipate as soon as you close your Bible and notebook. The Word of God, written for you thousands of years ago, will fall flat if your mind and heart and practical life are not transformed by it. Think about it – the Word of God falling flat!

In 2 Tim. 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul warns about people who are always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. In other words, it is possible to take in all the teaching and enjoy the intellectual exercise but do so in an empty way: with one’s life still marked by sin and various passions (2 Tim. 3:6).

So how do we “arrive at a knowledge of the truth”?

As we seek to apply a certain passage, we need to remember an important principle: the way we respond to a passage must be shaped by the main idea of the passage.

There are usually many ways to apply a given passage. And the specific ways one will apply a passage will vary depending on his or her age, background, and place in life. Even so, a legitimate application will always have something to do with what the author actually meant for us to come away with.

Thankfully, there is not a situation in my life that the Bible doesn’t address in some way! But as I seek to apply the Bible to various situations, I have to consider what the author was driving at.

In the last post, we determined that the main idea of Hebrews 3:12-14 can be said like this:

Because of the real and present danger that unbelief poses to Christians, the writer of Hebrews urges Christians to exhort one another every day in order to help each other continue holding on to our original confidence, and thereby show that we have truly shared in Christ.

How do we apply this? When we think “application”, it may be helpful to think about three areas: 1) the head, 2) the heart, and 3) one’s practical life. Let’s walk through those three areas.

Respond at the Head Level

What are some truths in the passage that I am to believe? What are some lies that this passage brings to light? What truths about God expressed here am I finding difficult to believe? Believing means more than simply affirming a set of statements. It means embracing them as true.

In our passage, some truths are made clear. For example, the sin of unbelief is deceitful, and it has a heart-hardening effect. Do I really believe that?

What is the original confidence that I am to hold onto? Surely, this refers to the gospel – the very foundation on which my new life with God began. Have I added something to that along the way? What I am hearing around me or in my culture that undermines that original confidence?

Respond at the Heart Level

How does the meaning of the text affect my affections and attitudes of my heart?

Do I feel the weight of the warning, and the urgency in this passage; the danger of not holding on to my original confidence firm to the end? Do I sense that danger for myself, and for those around me?

I need to think of the Christian faith as a marathon, not a sprint. A famous Bible teacher once said: “Don’t make 5-year long plans. Rather, think of yourself in 60 years: where will you be?” That is in line with this passage – will my original faith be deep and strong and shareable in 60 years from now?

What things must I do today for that to happen?

Respond at the Practical Level

How will this passage shape my personal life? How will this shape the way I relate to my friends or family or with the people I disciple?

And since all sin is rooted in unbelief, a clear way to apply this passage is to fight sin! So, I will fight that unbelief by saturating myself with the Word of God and surrounding myself with people who can discern in me a hardening of heart and exhort me to grow in my faith.

Hear the imperative in this passage: “Take care and exhort one another” (v. 12,13). Do I love my brothers and sisters enough to warn them against a hardened heart? Do I love God’s people to the point that I don’t miss opportunities in friendships and relationships, but instead use every opportunity to build others up?

Application: the Final Step

Application is the final step in Bible study. And, like the rest of Bible study, application has to be done correctly. And without this crucial step, the entire process of Bible study will fall flat. So let me exhort you today to apply the Word of God! 😊

Note: This is the 3rd of a 3-part series on How to Study the Bible. For part 1 of this series, click here. And click here for part 2.

Resolve to Apply the Bible in 2019

Resolve to Apply the Bible in 2019

Word in Season

So far, we have talked here about the importance of being in the Word, whether through personal reading or studying it in a group setting. Of course, that is very good. But it will have no value if the time we spend in the Word doesn’t produce fruit in our lives and in the community around us. And not only will it be of no value – as if it were merely wasted time; according to James, it is even worse than that.

Listen to what James says: “…Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:21b-22).

What do you mean, James, when you say deceiving yourselves?

Do you mean that after I listen to a sermon on Jesus being the King and nothing changes in the way I live my life or how I leverage my resources, I am living a lie?

That if I sit through a Bible study that clearly calls me to love others with a steadfast kind of love that doesn’t seek its own, and nothing changes in my relationships, I may be deceiving myself?

That if I read, in my reading plan, Romans 3:23-26 on being justified by faith and I don’t grapple with the hard questions and ask: “Lord, show me where I am relying on my own effort to win your favor?” – I may be okay with what Jesus vehemently opposed; namely, self-righteousness?

That if a mentor shows me the words from Matthew 16:24: “follow Jesus… take up the cross… lose your life”, and I stick with my old ways because that is how I roll (and besides, everyone has issues!) I may be, in fact, following the father of lies, who is bent on keeping me blind to the truth?

C.S. Lewis (among others) noted that the worst kind of deception is self-deception. It is the worst kind because we are masters at talking ourselves out of what is true and best for us. And unless we let God’s Word transform us, this self-deception will continue blinding us to truth. The answer, then, is to not be deceived and instead to be doers of the truths that God is purposefully sowing into our hearts each day, each week, and each month through his Word.

What does being a doer of the Word look like? Consider a few hypotheticals… 🙂

When you sit under a series of sermons on the Kingship of Jesus, don’t just hear the words. Instead, ask hard questions and ask for God’s help! Am I holding on to my own kingdom? Lord, give me the strength to surrender to your rule in real ways. Show me how to use what you have given me in ways that show genuine submission to your Kingdom. And then be practical – look hard at your schedule and expenses (and etc.) and consider ways to leverage your resources so that you aren’t just serving you and your family. For the Kingdom’s sake, make some room in your life to serve others.

When you go through a study of Colossians and the words from Colossians 3:13 jump out at you: “bearing with one another”, instead of doing what you always do – listing the reasons why a certain someone in your life is, and shall remain, unbearable – think about how to obey the words that are there: “Bear. Set your mind on Christ. Let His peace rule”.

When a friend prays over you the words from Matthew 6:25-33: “Do not be anxious… For your heavenly Father knows”, don’t dismiss this as a platitude. Instead, cling with all your soul to these words and fight to keep your thoughts in check and flowing in one direction: the Father is good. He knows. Don’t be anxious. Trust.

Being a doer of the Word is more than just showing up on a Sunday morning or attending a Bible study. It is more than reading passages each day from a reading plan. This process requires submission to his rule and relying on his strength to do it. It requires frank and gritty honesty. And it depends on the Body of Christ because, as we come together, we remind each other and spur each other on to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel. To be doers of the Word. And this is profoundly good for us. Because, according to James, being a doer of the Word will make you a blessed person (James 1:25).

So yes, by all means, resolve to read the Bible in 2019. And yes, yes, yes; resolve to study the Bible in 2019. But above all, resolve to apply the Bible in 2019!