Simple Tips to Study the Bible

Today I’m sharing from For The Church.

Simple Tips to Study the Bible

by David Prince

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all stories are telling one Big Story. It is the Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. – Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

The Bible is not a book about God; it is God speaking to us. – David Jackman

1. Open the Bible. D.L. Moody prayed for faith and waited anxiously to receive it. He thought it may come one day and hit him like lightning. “But faith did not seem to come, “he said. “One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since.” 

God spoke the world into existence and He uses words still to engage human hearts. Today, God speaks. I used to pray, “God make Your Word come alive in me!” Instead, God awoke my dead heart to His living breath. The problem is not with the Bible or our study techniques. The problem is with our dead hearts. The Bible is already alive.

Will you pray that God will show you the power of his living Word? Will you commit to simply open the Word of God daily?

2. Pray. King David pleaded with God in prayer to help him love God’s precepts. His humble request reflects his dependency on God’s work in his heart towards the Bible. No Christian comes to faith on their own. Nor do they grow in Christ’s likeness by their own efforts. Why, then, would we expect to study and love the Bible in our own power? We need God’s work in our hearts to do just that.  David prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Commenting on this, John Piper adds, “If God does not ‘give,’ we do not find.”

So, will you ask God to help you see inside his Word? Will you ask Him to give you the desire to study the Bible and the love to tether your heart to His words.

3. Read the Bible. An esteemed theologian was asked by one of his students how he finds what he finds in the biblical text. His answer: “Well, first I read it. And then I read it again. And then I read it again…” 

Read the rest here.

8 Key Takeaways from the Psalms

I’m sharing today from The NIV Bible blog.

8 Key Takeaways from the Psalms

The psalms represent a priceless treasure trove of resources for relating to God in all circumstances. They instruct us in how to live, and they teach us great truths about God the great King, his sovereign rule over all things, and his plan for reconciling the world to himself through his Son Jesus, the Christ. With all their beauty and spiritually uplifting messages, here are 8 key takeaways from the Psalms.

1. The book of Psalms engages almost all of the great themes of the Bible.

Beginning with Psalms 1 – 2, the Psalter lays out the theme of —
• The righteous versus the wicked and the importance of relying on God and his Word.
• God’s sovereignty and rule over all people and nations.
• The interplay between divine and human kingship.
• God as a place of refuge for all.

2. As human words to and about God, the Psalms instruct us in myriad ways about how to worship God.

They teach us how to sing, dance, rejoice, give thanks, confess sin, grieve, express anger, make requests of God, proclaim God’s name far and wide, and more.

3. The Psalms teach us that God has sovereign rule as the great King over all things.

God rules over creation itself and over all nations and people groups — down to each individual person. As the sovereign King, God asserts his control over the most powerful forces in nature. He proclaims his authority over all the false gods of the nations, gods that were such a temptation for his own people time and time again.

4. The Psalms celebrate that God is a good God.

God is holy, loving, merciful, protective of his people, faithful, a keeper of promises, a giver of good gifts. He protects the vulnerable in society — the widow, the fatherless, the outsider, and the poor — and expects his representatives on earth to carry out this mission.

5. The Psalms praise God for being a just God.

The Lord vindicates his people, punishes evil, and cares for the marginalized. He opposes the wicked, whether individuals (e.g., Psalms 1:4 – 6) or nations (e.g., Psalm 2), and will mete out justice for their wickedness.

Read the rest here.

Becoming Beautiful in God’s Time: He Makes All Things New

Last week I introduced Tammi Rhoney, our new writer. You can read about that here. Below is her first devotional contribution to this blog.

Photo credit by Tammi Rhoney, taken at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA

Becoming Beautiful in
God’s Time:
He Makes All Things New

By Tammi Rhoney

I love God’s promise in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that He makes all things beautiful in His time. Many of us with chronic illness and pain don’t feel very beautiful, especially when we compare ourselves to younger, healthier women. As one middle-aged friend put it after attending a Bible study at her church, “I feel like a beat up old Volkswagen next to a bunch of sleek, shiny brand new Corvettes.” Chronic illnesses take a toll on our bodies inwardly and outwardly, but God’s Word says that “our momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond compare” and we are not to lose hope (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV). God has something very special planned for those of us who suffer, just as he does for the caterpillar.

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

The first week in June my husband and I visited the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and Butterfly House in Richmond, VA. Since then, I’ve been studying the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly. It’s a very amazing and interesting process! Butterflies go through four life stages: the egg, larva or caterpillar, the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. Each stage is unique to the individual species. In the Egg Stage, when the female butterfly is ready to lay eggs, she begins to search for an appropriate host plant for the young caterpillars to eat because they have big appetites. She finds the plants by sight and smell and then places an egg on a leaf, stem, flower or seedpod. The butterfly’s body produces a special substance that glues the egg in place so it won’t wash off in the rain.  It’s glued on so strongly that the egg will tear apart before the leaf does. Butterflies lay their eggs in many different formations: single eggs, groups of eggs and eggs stacked on top of each other.

Caterpillar Stage

In the Caterpillar Stage, these tiny creatures devour the leaves of their host plant storing up enough energy for metamorphosis, the change from caterpillar to butterfly. The more a caterpillar eats, the faster it will grow, a process called molting. A caterpillar may molt up to five times depending on its species, weather and the availability of food.

Once a caterpillar has reached maturity, it starts to look for a good place to pupate, or begin the Chrysalis Stage, spinning a patch of silk as an anchor point for the chrysalis. The caterpillar continues to spin until it’s completely enclosed in an outer shell called a chrysalis, similar to a cocoon. The chrysalis dries and hardens, protecting the caterpillar from weather and small predators. The dull coloration helps it blend in among leaves and twigs. During this stage, the caterpillar liquefies inside the chrysalis and reorganizes, almost magically transforming into a butterfly. If the weather is warm, the butterfly will emerge in about two weeks. If it’s cooler, it may wait until spring to emerge. Using its long legs, the butterfly pulls itself out of the chrysalis, letting its crumpled wings hang down. Slowly it begins to pump its wings up and down, forcing blood into the wing veins so they can expand and open to their full size.

Adult Stage

In the Adult Stage, the butterfly then begins the life cycle all over again. Its two primary goals are finding food and a mate. Depending on the type of butterfly, their life cycle can take one month to a whole year.

Just as a caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly, so too God has a purpose for our chronic illnesses and pain. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says,

16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things which are seen but to the things which are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (temporal), but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV)

Do Not Lose Heart

Paul instructs us, first of all, to not lose heart. Yes, living daily with chronic illness and pain is very difficult, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but we must persevere. God is bringing glory to Himself and preparing us to share in His glory in eternity even through our weaknesses and discouragements, just as He did through Paul’s ministry. Our outer man is decaying daily like the body of the caterpillar when it changes into a butterfly, but the good news is that our inner man is being renewed daily by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit, and in this we can rejoice!  In this fallen world our bodies are vulnerable to many kinds of afflictions, but Paul contrasts our body’s outward decay to the unending inner vitality of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that our “momentary, light affliction,” even if it’s lifelong, cannot compare to the “eternal weight of glory” to come. Our troubles are preparing a great reward for us as Believers (James 1:12). Our faith and obedience in suffering also please God and He will not forget (Romans 8:17-18; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

Transformation

So take heart, fellow Christian sufferers, and remember that like the slow transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, God is using our afflictions to conform us slowly into Christ’s image and prepare us for the glory that awaits us in our Heavenly Home. For then our sanctification will be complete and we will emerge victorious in our resurrected bodies just like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

Praise God, we will be free from all affliction and pain forever (Rev. 21:4)!


Originally published at https://chronic-joy.org/becoming-beautiful-gods-time/

9 Ways to Guard Your Personal Relationship with God

Today I’m sharing from Crossway.org.

9 Ways to Guard
Your Personal Relationship
with God

by: David Murray

Time and Energy Required

Like all healthy and satisfying relationships, our relationship with God needs time and energy. But giving time and energy to our relationship with God actually increases free time and energy because it helps us get a better perspective on life and order our priorities better, it reduces the time we spend on image management, and it removes fear and anxiety.

Here are some things that have helped me to keep my personal relationship with God personal and avoid falling into the trap of relating to him only through my ministry to others:

1. Guarded Time

I try to guard personal Bible reading and prayer time as jealously as I guard my own children. I keep my 6:20 a.m. appointment with God each morning as zealously as if it were an appointment for kidney dialysis.

2. Undistracted Mind

In a survey of eight thousand of its readers, desiringGod.org found that 54 percent checked their smartphones within minutes of waking up. More than 70 percent admitted that they checked email and social media before their spiritual disciplines.1 I agree with Tony Reinke, who commented, “Whatever we focus our hearts on first in the morning will shape our entire day.” So I have resolved not to check email, social media, or the news before my devotional time, as I want to bring a mind that is as clear and focused as possible to God’s Word.

3. Vocal Prayers

As I always pray better when I pray out loud, I like to find a place where I can do so without embarrassment. Hearing my own prayers helps me improve the clarity and intensity of my prayer. Also, I cannot cover up a wandering heart or mind so easily when I pray out loud.

4. Varied Devotions

Sometimes I read a psalm, a chapter from the Old Testament, and a chapter from the New. Other times I read just one chapter or part of a chapter and spend longer meditating on it. Or I may read through a Bible book with a good commentary. Though the speed varies, I do try to make sure that I’m reading systematically through both testaments and not just jumping around here and there.

Read the rest here.

Mercy from the Word

Today I’m sharing from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR).

Mercy from the Word

By Henry M. Morris Iii, D.Min.

“Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.” (Psalm 119:41)

The Hebrew word hesed, used here for “mercy,” has a breadth of meaning. Its basic connotation is “kindness” and is most often used in God’s patient dealing with the nation of Israel through their long, and often rebellious, history. The most frequent contextual use focuses on God’s withholding judgment during specific times or events, rather than executing the just sentence demanded by disobedience to His laws.

It is in that sense that “salvation” is often connected to mercy. God “rescues” a person or nation from the consequences of foolish or rebellious actions because He is merciful: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This section of Psalm 119 clearly states that these mercies are according to the Word of God. No event dilutes the holiness of God. No judgment withheld violates the innate nature of the thrice-holy Creator. Mercy may delay judgment for the sinner, and justification through redemption will eliminate judgment for the sinner, but God’s holiness does not abrogate the law. The sentence is carried out—either on the sinner or on the Lord Jesus Christ in the place of the sinner (Proverbs 11:21).

The psalmist thus praised the basis for God’s mercies, told of his trust and hope in the Scriptures, and then gave a series of promises to the Lord that marked his own commitment for obedience (vv. 44-48). As the stanza closes, the psalmist promised he would lift up his hands in public praise of the Word and meditate in private as well.

Would God that all of God’s children emulate the heart of this dear brother from the past. —HMM III

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

By Matt Smethurst 

Ever heard the parable about the man who, in order to discern God’s will for his life, would open his Bible and read whichever verse he saw first?

One day, as he was going through a difficult time with his family, he sought the Lord’s guidance. Opening his Bible, he pointed to a random verse. His finger rested on Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went away and hanged himself.” Puzzled by these directions, but still hungry for a word from God, he called a “do-over” and flipped to another page. His eyes settled on Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.” Flustered but chalking it up to coincidence, the man decided to give his method one last chance. Saying a quick prayer, he flipped the page and placed his finger on John 13:27. There, staring up at him, was a command from Jesus: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

It’s a humorous anecdote, but it illustrates a serious point. Misusing the Bible is easy; “correctly handling” it is not (2 Tim. 2:15).

In my little book Before You Open Your Bible, I explored nine heart postures that are helpful, even necessary, for rightly approaching God’s Word. But what happens when the prelude ends and you begin reading? What then?

1. Observe: What Does It Say?

The first step is observation (or perhaps better, comprehension). Whenever we open God’s Word, our most fundamental task is simply to see what’s there.

The good news is that observation isn’t complicated. It mainly consists of reading slowly and carefully in order to gather the basic facts of who, what, where, and when. Good questions to bear in mind include:

  • Are there any repeated words or ideas?
  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • To whom are they speaking or writing?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where is this taking place?
  • Are there words that show chronology?
  • Are there contrasts, comparisons, or conditional statements?
  • What is the logical progression in the author’s argument?
  • Are there words that indicate atmosphere, mood, and emotion? Figures of speech?
  • What are the section divisions and linking words?
  • What don’t I understand here?

Biblical observation doesn’t have to be some drawn-out, laborious process. You don’t need to consciously ask and answer each question. The more you engage the Bible, the more alert you’ll become to such things. (By the way, it’s best to work through whole books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than adopting a “popcorn” approach that ignores context and bounces randomly from one passage to another.)

2. Interpret: What Does It Mean?

The next step is interpretation. You’ve considered what the passage says, but what does it mean?

Read the rest here.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

By 

If we were to compile a catalog of practices that are essential to the Christian faith, what would be included? Among other essentials, baptism would certainly need to be high on the list. Baptism is one of the means by which Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). It’s also central to the preaching of the gospel at the inception of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). In short, the idea that Christians should be baptized—regardless of when or how—is central to the Christian faith. This should come as no surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that Jesus himself was baptized. Baptism wasn’t just something Jesus commanded his followers to do, but an experience he also underwent. As familiar as we may be with the Gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus submitted himself to baptism may still strike us as odd.

The plot thickens even more when we consider that the baptism Jesus submitted himself to was John’s baptism, which is described as (1) accompanying “repentance” (Matt. 3:2); (2) in conjunction with people “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); and (3) as the means by which to “flee from the coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7).

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what the New Testament says about Jesus—that he was God’s virgin-born (Matt. 1:19–25), sinless (2 Cor. 5:21Heb. 4:15), perfectly obedient Son (Heb. 5:8–9John 17:4), fully pleasing to the Father (Matt. 3:17), who pre-existed as divine but laid aside his glory to take on flesh (Phil. 2:5–8). Nonetheless, Jesus says it is fitting and appropriate that he be baptized (Matt. 3:15).

All this leads to an important question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Both Mark and Luke record this story but don’t raise the question (Mark 1:9–11Luke 3:21–22). John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the events of Jesus’s baptism but emphasizes the same effect as the other Gospels—that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, anointing him as the Son of God (John 1:32–34). Only Matthew raises the issue by including a piece of the story that the other Gospel writers don’t—John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).

Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is a weighty answer, containing two words—“fulfill” and “righteousness”—that are central ideas in Matthew’s Gospel. Something important is going on here.

Nonetheless, Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God).

Read the rest here.

Loving the Word

Sharing today from Tabletalk Magazine.

Loving the Word

By Daniel R. Hyde

Love is a complex thing. Contrary to popular notions, love is not a feeling or an emotion that you can fall into and then fall out of. Love is complex, meaning that love involves many things. Classically speaking, our human faculties are made up of the mind, the will, and the affections. Love is rooted in knowledge, exercised in willful decision, and experienced in the affections. To love someone involves all of this. To love someone means that you also love the things about someone. This is most true of our love for God. We love Him, and that leads us to love everything about Him. One of those things is His Word. To love God is to love His Word. Psalm 119 says, “Oh how I love your law!” (v. 97).

Because the Word is the means that God uses to speak to us, we need to love it and use it. Let’s consider how to do that.

BY OUR DUTY TO READ IT

We are to love God by loving His Word. Therefore, it is our duty to read it. Just as we give presents because we love someone and they open it in reciprocal love and gratitude, so too has God shown His love for His people by giving us the gift of His Word. The psalmist said: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules” (Ps. 147:19–20). Show Him you love Him by reading His Word. Scripture explains that we do this in three ways.

Publicly. We love God by loving His Word read publicly. This was done in the ancient Jewish synagogue, as evidenced by Jesus’ entering the synagogue and performing the appointed reading from the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16–24). The early church carried on this practice, as Paul tells us (1 Thess. 5:27Col. 4:16), and continued the practice after the close of the Apostolic age. For example, Justin Martyr said, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.” And Tertullian said, “We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast.”

As a family. We love God by loving His Word read as a family, if the Lord provides us with a family. Moses exhorted the Israelites to teach the commandments to their children (Deut. 6:6–7). Family Bible reading is necessary to propagate the Christian religion in our children. Studies show the rising generation in American churches leaving those churches; is it any wonder when parents, especially fathers, are not taking the time to read the Word with their children? Ignorance of Scripture leads to ignorance of Christ.

Read the rest here.

3 Common Arguments Against Trusting the Bible

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

3 Common Arguments Against Trusting the Bible

For various reasons, many people argue that the Bible is untrustworthy. As a Christian, when we find ourselves in conversation with these kinds of people, it can feel like we’re in over our head. They’ve had time to establish their position and reinforce their arguments, and we can feel like we’ve been caught off guard—and possibly make us doubt Scripture ourselves.

Here are three common arguments against trusting the Bible and reasons why they’re mistaken.

1. We Can’t Trust the Gospels

While the argument often boils down to the fact that we can’t believe any books of the Bible, people often focus on the Gospels. Why? Because if someone can discount the validity of the Gospels, the whole Christian story falls apart. Generally, these people argue that the Gospels do not include eyewitness accounts. They’re not written as first-person narratives, and nothing suggests that they were composed by people who were personally present to witness the gospel events.

Why this isn’t true:

The whole New Testament started coming together while there were still plenty of people who could deny or corroborate the gospel story. It’s those people that Luke interviewed when he was assembling his Gospel:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” —Luke 1:1–4

When Luke goes on to write the book of Acts to document the birth of the church, he often slips into the first person point of view in his narrative. It’s obvious that Luke believes the eyewitness accounts he shares in his Gospel enough to make personal sacrifices for the growth of the church.

In Peter’s second epistle, he not only affirms that he was an eyewitness of the gospel story, but he also highlights Jesus’ transfiguration as an example (Matthew 17:5Mark 9:7Luke 9:35):
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ ” —2 Peter 1:16–17

The author of John’s Gospel also claims to be an eyewitness:
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”John 21:24–25

Furthermore, we read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the disciples weren’t the only eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Hundreds of people saw the risen Christ:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. — 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

Read the rest here.

Bible Study Tips for the Book of Acts

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Bible Study Tips
for the Book of Acts

By Kevin Halloran

Have you ever felt like having a little guidance in your Bible reading would help you learn and understand more than you currently do?

Or maybe you heard an idea presented in a sermon and thought to yourself, “How on earth could I have missed that?!”

Learning and observing themes in certain books of the Bible can have a tremendous effect on your understanding of the book and whole Bible story.

The book of Acts comes at a special time in the Bible story and there are some unique things to watch out for as you read.

Christ had just risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and given the apostles the Great Commission. How do the disciples combine their experience of the risen Christ, the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and the call to make disciples of all nations?

Bible Study Tips for the Book of Acts

1. Highlight these three themes in different colors:
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Prayer
  • Witness

The purpose of highlighting these themes is to see how prevalent and powerful each of the themes are throughout the book. When you see the connection between these three themes and the events of Acts, you will see them in a new light and understand what God wants to teach you about them.

Highlighting the Holy Spirit will encourage you to seek more the Spirit’s power in your own life.

Highlighting prayer will drive you to your knees and pray bold prayers to our loving and living God.

Highlighting the bold witness of the apostles will encourage you to be a bold witness and remember the life changing power of the gospel to save sinners.

2. Make note of Old Testament passages quoted.

The book of Acts marks a monumental shift from the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming to the proclamation of the Messiah’s coming. Making note of the use of the Old Testament in the book of Acts will give you insights into the amazing prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what the Jewish world was expecting in their Messiah.

This will deepen your appreciation for Christ and your understanding of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, and how he can claim in John 5:39 that, “All Scriptures testify about Me!”

Example: In Acts 2:14-41, Peter addresses Jews in Jerusalem quoting Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110 to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The passage ends describing the powerful results: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).

Read the rest here.