Monday, November 25, 2013

Family Devotions?

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, 
but you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful to do according to all that is in it;
for then you will make your way prosperous,
and then you will have success.

Joshua 1:8

The wandering in the wilderness had come to an end.  Forty years of living in the desert, burying one member of your family after another until the ones the Lord would not allow into the Promised Land were finally passed.  Can you imagine being that last one?  I can imagine you would have felt pretty targeted as the younger generation stared at you, waiting for you to die...but an unfaithful generation would be left in the wilderness and an new generation would now possess the land.

Joshua and Caleb had earned the right to lead the people into their new digs because of a great display of faith decades earlier.  When others saw giants, they saw prosperity.  When others saw fortresses,they saw potential.  When others ran in fear, they stood fearless.  When others denied the power, they declared the name of God.  They were faithful, when the rest were faithless.

And now it was time to enter the land.  A great battle stood before them, but God was leading them so they chose to simply follow in faith, believing God's plan was better than anything they could come up with - they acted on His instructions, setting aside their feelings, having the confidence that God would show up in a big way.  And of course, He did - walls fell at the sound of trumpets, their enemies ran in fear and the land was theirs for the taking.

But before Joshua declared to the Lord, "All that You have commanded us we will do, and wherever You send us we will go," he listened to the instructions of the Lord and here's what God said:  Know my Word so that you will be successful.  That was basically it.  If Joshua would marinate himself with the Word of God, if he would let it seep into his every thought, then he would be controlled by it and it would produce success in his life.

Does this command still resonate as truth today?  If we know the Word of God, does it affect how we live?  Does it make our paths straight?  Does it bring comfort in the storms and stability in the trials of life?  Does the word of the Lord enlighten, convict, reveal the heart of God and bless us?

When I was a young girl, I went to a friend's house to play after school and stayed for dinner. After dinner, the father took out God's word and read from it before we were dismissed from the table.  I really liked that and when I got home, I asked my mom why we didn't read from the Bible after dinner each night.  My mom furrowed her brow and replied, "But Kristen, we do more than that.  We talk about God's word all through dinner, in the car after school, while we are at the grocery store and even when you are getting ready for school."  And then she went on with what she was previously doing.

I thought that was a lame answer at first, but then I started to open my ears to the conversation that was going on in my home and soon realized she was right.  The discussion of God's word was constantly on my parents tongues - what they were reading, how it applied to life, what the pastor had taught on Sunday, what mom was learning as she prepared to teach ladies study, what dad was teaching to the men on the train rides into work, what the word said compared to current events, and it went on and on.  The word of God had soaked into my parents lives and it was such a natural part of their conversation that I didn't even realize that it was a big part of our conversation.

So how does the word of God affect your conversation in your home?  I still think dinner devotions are a great idea, but if that's the only time your children hear you talk about the Lord, then maybe it's more of a tradition than a lifestyle.  God told Joshua to make His word a constant point of conversation and I believe there is great benefit and protection that comes from this instruction.  When you are asked a question of a friend, a child, a spouse - a great response is, What does God's Word say about that?  Be that person who runs to the Word for answers, rather than relies on their own experience and feelings to guide them. And by the way, this means you need to be IN the Word to be able to talk ABOUT the Word...see how that works? 

As we head into Thanksgiving this week, what a wonderful time to start incorporating the Word into our conversations.  If you need a good example of examining your life to see the hand of the Lord, check out Psalm 118 and then write your own psalm of thanksgiving and share it with your family...

May your holiday be blessed with hearts of gratitude and praise for the goodness of the Lord in your lives!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Memorize?

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your Word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart that I might not sin against You.
Psalm 119:9-11

Scripture memory is hard work.  Period.  But show me in life what is of value that takes no effort?  
  • Parenting?  Yeah, might be easy to make a baby but carrying it for nine months and getting it out is not necessarily a piece of cake!  Then you have 18 years of molding and shaping - I don't care how sweet the child is, parenting is a sleep-deprived, battle-of-the-wills, because-I-said-so, God-given responsibility to produce responsible, tax-payers who, Lord-willing, will fear Him. Not easy but the potential for great joy and blessing is commiserate to the amount of effort applied.
  • Singing?  This one is on my mind because of the concert last night.  Some people wake up and sing like a bird - there is still great effort that goes into performing.  Yesterday, it took nearly a hundred volunteers, a bus load of equipment, a well-rehearsed though talented group of musicians, sound techies, and a bus driver, a versatile and patient babysitter, a sketchy night's sleep on a bus full of men and two babies, and schmoozing with a crowd of strangers for Meredith Andrews to use her God-given gift.  Was she a blessing? Yes, but it was with great effort!
  • Soccer? Practice.
  • Cooking? A series of failures leads to success.
  • Marriage?  Really? Do I need to record the effort it takes to have a good marriage?  Come on, friends...
  • Your job?  Effort.
I think you get the point.  Life takes effort but when you put effort into it, you can have a great relationship with your children, you can use your giftedness, you can hone your skills, you can feed your family, love your spouse and keep your job all for God's glory.

Memorizing the Word has great value - you can carry it with you all day long when it's in your heart.  When you're struggling, the Word can comfort you and give you something to put your mind on, rather than on your struggles.  It reveals the character of God and it gives you direction for life.  The Spirit uses His Word to encourage and guide, strengthen and convict.  But if you don't know the Word, if you don't put the effort into studying and memorizing, its power in your life is dramatically minimized.

Our passage today comes from Psalm 119, where every verse tells of the benefits of the Word of God.  In these few verses we see that the Word of God is a protection in our lives - helps us keep our ways pure and keeps us from sin.  Hiding the Word in our hearts, or memorizing scripture, takes effort but the rewards are great.

May I challenge you today to not only memorize the above passage, but go and read the whole chapter of Psalm 119.  Yes, it's the longest chapter in the Bible and it might actually take you 10 minutes to read, but you can do it!  If you do, you will have a greater appreciation for the Word and its value in every day life.

Question for the day:  Do you love the Word because of its transforming power or are you not sure what I am talking about?  

Now go and read Psalm 119.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Study Skills

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God 
as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,
accurately handling the Word of truth.

II Timothy 2:15

I have a friend who is my father's age.  He was one of my father's best friends and when we moved to Michigan from Chicago twenty years ago, he and his wife moved up here as well.  When my father died, I have often thought that he suffered more than my mom or myself, because we all had each other but he lost his best friend.  Dad's been gone for 14 years and this friend of my father's has stepped in at various times in life and been a grandfather to my children and even fatherly to me.

As much as I love him, we don't see eye to eye on everything.  Studying God's Word is one of our contentions.  He is a hunter/fisherman/outdoorsman and in comparison, he thinks I am an academic.  Many times he would stop over to help tutor the children after school to find me with my Bible and notebook open, madly taking notes and studying. When I asked him why he never studied his Bible, he said that God created us all differently - some experience God through nature (hunting, fishing, etc.) while others he gave an academic mind (me and my father).  Those people tend to enjoy God through studying.

That all sounds good and well if II Timothy 2:15 hadn't been written.

(Go the verse again.)

You see, studying the Word of God is not just for academically-minded people.  We are instructed to be diligent (persistent, consistent, faithful) in our study (handling of the Word of truth) because this allows us to prove who we work for and it helps us not be ashamed.  Interesting choice of words, don't you think?  

To accurately handle the Word of truth, you need to start by actually handling the Word of truth.  We have been given a precious love letter from God and instead of leaving it unopened on our desk, we are to read it with passion and with purpose.  I know that some parts of scripture are hard, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us understand and we shouldn't cower in fear.  God wants us to know Him, to grow in Him, to have confidence in Him and to imitate Him - this all requires accurately handing the Word of truth!

As we learn more about God from His Word, we will walk in faith more effectively.  We will be identified with Christ more easily and we will find obedience more readily.  But even more interesting, we will not have to be ashamed.  We won't be embarrassed because we don't know the One we worship.  We can have confidence in Him as we study the Word, because we know that God is who He says He is and He never changes. The world has many questions about God and we can again cower in fear or step up to the plate and answer their questions because we KNOW the Word!

There are so many benefits from personal study and yet so many of us simply do not do it.  May I make a simple suggestion?  It doesn't have to be rocket science.  Like our gal in the picture above, there is no reason to bury yourself under a sea of commentaries.  Just get a notebook, a pen and your Bible for starters.  Pick a gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  Read the first story and make some observations in your notebook - observations about God.  Who is God? What does this passage reveal to me about His character?  Who is Jesus? What is Jesus teaching, doing, saying, etc.?  Do I see the Holy Spirit in this passage - what is He doing?  Just look for God and make observations about Him.

You can really start that simply.  If you want to know Him more, start in a book that clearly tells about Him and make some observations.  Remember, this is not a race. You are on a journey with God - ask Him to reveal Himself to you and then work your way slowly through a gospel - and see God show up in a huge way.

Now if you want more depth to your study, I have provided the links to a series on How to Study the Bible in March of 2012.  Check them out and see if they help.  

Bottom line - just get going!  You've got to start somewhere and I PROMISE you, when you get started and it becomes a process/habit for you, you'll struggle giving it up!  It will energize you, it will enhance your prayer life, it will make you a nicer person and it will transform you into the image of takes effort, but it's definitely worth it!

Remember, this is not a suggestion...really.  We are instructed through the Word to be in the Word and to know the Word and be diligent in how we handle the Word.  


Monday, November 4, 2013

A Study in Definitions

All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; 
so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

II Timothy 3:16-17

Today is going to be a very simple word study.  I'm going to pull words from our verse, define them from and then put the definitions in a working order so that we can simply understand what this verse is declaring. By the way, we are not going back to the Greek, so this is NOT a translation of this verse, just a practical paraphrase with the desire to understand what is written.  

Sound good?

Word list:
  • All - the whole of (100% word)
  • scripture - sacred writings of the Old or New Testament or both together
  • inspired - literally God-breathed - animated by the Spirit to do something - by divine influence
  • profitable - beneficial, useful
  • teaching - doctrines or precepts
  • reproof - to criticize or correct, especially gently (interesting, huh?)
  • correction - something that is substituted for what is wrong or inaccurate
  • training - the process of developing habits, thoughts or behavior by discipline and instruction
  • righteousness - acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous
  • adequate - fully sufficient, suitable or fit
  • equipped - to furnish or provide whatever is needed for use or for any undertaking; prepare
  • good - morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, pious, of high quality, excellent, right, proper, fit
  • work - a task or undertaking
So let's put this all together:

The whole of the Old and New Testaments is literally brought to life by God and is beneficial for understanding doctrine, for gentle criticism,  for addressing what we have wrong or inaccurate in our lives, and for the development of virtuous and moral habits, thoughts and behavior; so that the man of God may be fully sufficient and fit, furnished with whatever is needed for him to accomplish morally excellent, virtuous, excellent, and proper undertakings.

Did that help?  Does this verse make you want to study the scriptures so that you can be fully equipped?  It almost sounds like we naturally are deficient and need the instruction of scripture to head in the right direction, doesn't it?  Hmmm....

If we truly believe the claims of this verse, my friends, we cannot sit idly by and live our lives in a mediocre fashion.  The pursuit of righteousness as imitators of Christ has been made fully possible through the combination of the gift of the complete Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let's not neglect such an awesome calling!