How to Have a Bible Party, part 4

In this final post on how to develop a personal Bible study time, I’d like to offer three additional steps for those who wish to dig deeper.

A word of advise: these steps are optional and should only be considered after spending time on Reading, Receiving, and Responding. Let God’s Word speak directly to you before researching what other people have to say about it. If you have a study Bible with notes, I’d encourage you to use self-control and avoid reading them until the very end of your study time. When we don’t fight for understanding on our own, the learning process is short circuited. God might give you an insight unique to your situation that you won’t want to miss!

There are three websites I routinely visit when studying a passage:

1. www.biblegateway.com 
Enter the verse you are studying (ex: “Luke 8:22”) in the search bar. Below the verse you will see “Luke 8:22 in all English translations”. Click on the link and 59 translations of that verse will come up. It’s helpful to read other versions to catch nuance and expanded interpretation.

For instance, the Message Version of Luke 8:22 says, “One day he and his disciples got in a boat. ‘Let’s cross the lake,’ he said. And off they went.” Did you catch the difference? It’s subtle! Jesus got them into the boat first before saying, “Let’s go.” How does that impact your thoughts on this passage?

2. app.wordsearchbible.com/reader 
This site will give you access to the original language of the scriptures (Hebrew for Old Testament, Greek for New Testament).
Go to “Library” on the left menu and choose The Holy Bible: HCSB Digital Text Edition. Then go back to the “Reader”. Choose a book, chapter and verse from the drop down menu. Then click on the Greek symbol on the top toolbar. Numbers will be added to the text which you can click on and see definitions and usage.

Example: The word “cross over” in Luke 8:22 has “G1330” above it. Click on that and you will see other words that have that same number and how often they are used in the Bible. Included in the dictionary definition of the Greek word used here is the phrase “pierce through”. How does that aid in your understanding of what Jesus was doing? (He was crossing over the lake in order to pierce through the evil that was on the other side.)

3. www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/guzik_david
This link takes you to a commentary written by David Guzik. There are many wonderful commentaries you can choose from, but I like this one because it explains things clearly and simply. There are cultural and historical insights that we wouldn’t otherwise be aware of without the research and knowledge of other scholars.

Guzik cited this fact about Luke 8:22 — ““The Lake of Galilee is 13 miles long at its longest, and 8 miles wide at its widest. At this particular part it was about 5 miles across.” That helpful information gives details to enhance our study. The disciples rowed for 5 miles while Jesus slept!

Feel free to take or leave these extra study ideas!
I’d love to hear about resources you find!

One last word: Many people love devotionals which contain inspirational thoughts and reflections based on scripture verses. I enjoy them too, and have even written some myself. But don’t let devotionals take the place of focused time engaging with God’s Word. Consider using devotionals in the evening (or in the bathroom!).

Blessings on you as you commit to becoming a student of the Word.
May you find much joy in the journey!

img_8051

How to Have a Bible Party, part 3

Enough already. Let’s get to it!

Plan to set aside 15-20 minutes in a place where you can have some peace and quiet.* I’m a fan of early morning because it sets the tone for the day. I like getting in some Good News before being hit with the bad news. I have found that once I turn on the TV or open up the newspaper or look at the news feed on my phone, I have entered the world. My spirit needs some bolstering up before entering that war zone.

My Best Tip for Staying Consistent

This is going to sound deceptively simple, but it is surprisingly effective.

Before going to bed at night, go to your chair or desk or wherever you plan to study, and set out your Bible, notebook, pencil and glasses. Open up your Bible to the passage you plan to read in the morning. That’s it.

There is something about the open book that produces expectancy. When tempted to skip a day and snuggle down into my warm bed for some extra sleep, the image of that book waiting for me is motivating. God is waiting. To speak to me. Treasures abound. I must go.

3 Step Method: Read, Receive, Respond

Let’s walk through an example together.  Let’s say Luke 8:22-25 is your passage for the day. Some Bibles are nicely divided up into sections with headings, but you can take one verse at a time, one paragraph each day or one section per week — whatever pace you want. As you get situated, pray “Lord, open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word.” (Psalm 199:18)

1. Read the passage slowly and deliberately. Try to read it out loud or whisper it to yourself. Then, pick one verse to zero in on and copy it word for word into your open notebook. This helps you see every word and think about the meaning.

2. Receive, or take in the verse by doing 2 things: 1) make an observation, and 2) ask a question. Write them in your notebook. Start with one observation and one question. As you progress, you might make a list of observations and questions. The point is to engage with the words.

Here is Luke 8:22 — One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out.

Possible observations:

  • It must have been a pretty big boat to hold 13 men.
  • They didn’t just take somebody else’s boat – it must have belonged to Peter or James, the fishermen.
  • Jesus was the one calling the shots, in charge.
  • The disciples obeyed without questioning.
  • Jesus had a purpose for going but the disciples didn’t know the reason.
  • One day – Jesus chose the day for this trip.
  • Today Jesus wants me to get into His boat and let Him direct the course.

Possible questions:

  • Why did Jesus want to go to the other side of the lake?
  • What was on the other side?
  • Who did the rowing?
  • Did the boat smell like fish guts?
  • What did the men in the boat see, hear, smell?
  • How far was it to the other side? How long did it take them to cross?
  • Am I willing to get into the boat with Jesus, not knowing where He’ll take me?

The observations are meant to help us enter the scene and connect with the people in it. The questions are to help us dig into the passage. Don’t worry about the answers! Gradually move from the surface to deeper, underlying meanings.

3. Respond by turning your observations and questions into a prayer. You might consider using the acronym A.C.T.S. to give some form to your prayer. Example:

  • A (Adoration) — I praise You, Lord, for knowing where this day is going. You know everything. I love that about You.
  • C (Confession) — I admit there are times when I dig in my heels and don’t want to get in the boat. Forgive me for being resistant.
  • T (Thanksgiving) — Thank You for inviting me to come with You into this day. I don’t know what’s coming, but I know You’re with me. Thank You.
  • S (Supplication) — Help me to trust Your plan, Your purpose. Help me to jump in when You say, “Let’s go!”

There it is. Copy a verse, write an observation and a question, pray a 4-sentence prayer, and you have the beginning of a life-long habit of hearing God’s Word and letting it work its way into your heart and life.

Next Up: 3 Additional Steps to Deeper Study

book

*15-20 minutes of peace and quiet are attainable for some people, but not everyone. If you are a mom of a newborn, in a household with several “littles”, or transitioning in life, you are in a season when personal study time is challenging. Grace abounds for you! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Snatching a prayer time during a 2:00 a.m. feeding or singing a praise song in the shower may be all you can manage for now. Someday, bigger blocks of time will come your way. Stay faithful in the small things now!

How to Have a Bible Party, part 2

Where Do I Start?

The old adage, “If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail,” is especially true when trying to develop a personal Bible study and devotion time. It doesn’t need to be a detailed or complicated plan, just a loose guide to help keep you on track. There’s not one right way to do this. Different personality types will be drawn to different methods, systems, or tools. Regardless of your temperament, regular time in God’s Word will prove to be life-changing.

Ephesians 4:16 says, “Grow and build yourself up…” God wants His people to step up and take some responsibility instead of depending on others to feed them spiritually. I’ll offer some suggestions but you can tweak them to fit your preferences. It may take some trial and error and you may want to change things up from season to season. Just start!

Where to start?
Ask God. You might be drawn to a book of the Bible after hearing a sermon or a podcast or a song — follow that lead. If you don’t sense any direction, start with one of the gospels. There’s wisdom in spending time in the gospels. We need to watch Jesus, hear His words, keep falling in love with Him. Some people think the gospels are “JV” material and that studying the deep theology in Paul’s letters is for the mature. I beg to differ. Get a front row seat and watch the Master. Start with Mark (the shortest gospel and most action-packed) or Luke (the only gospel written by a Gentile for a non-Jewish audience).

If you’d rather start with a shorter book, try Philippians, James or 1 John. You can’t go wrong! The main thing is to pick one and go straight through the book, taking a small passage or paragraph at a time. (Details coming in next post.)

There are two methods I would not recommend for personal study.

1. The Flip and Point Method
You are looking for help with a problem, so you flip open the Bible, close your eyes and land your finger on the page. This is not a good plan. This is how cults start because it is easy to take words out of context and make the Bible say anything you want. For instance, if your finger lands on Matthew 27:5 (“Judas went out and hanged himself”) and then for a second swipe at it, you land on Luke 10:37 (“Go and do likewise”), you could make a case for something the Bible doesn’t actually say. Context is key. Stay put in the same book for a while. Soak in it, savor it, take your time.

2. The Read Through the Bible in a Year Method
There is nothing wrong with reading the Bible from cover to cover. It’s just not conducive to lingering over passages and it’s hard to engage with the scripture at the pace required to get through it in one year. This is not a race. Take a long term view. Read slowly and deliberately. Volume doesn’t equal blessing. God want us to enjoy this!

Next: How to Have a Bible Party, part 3
My Best Tip for Staying Consistent
My 3 Step Method: Read, Receive, Respond

book light

How to Have Bible Party, part 1

Recently I led a one-hour class at our church on how to have a Bible party (a.k.a. a personal study and devotion time). The response was very positive.

Thank you so much for the class last night. It’s exactly what I was looking for! Everyone who goes to our church should have been there! It is that important!

I might need a bigger notebook. This just makes you more hungry for the Word!

Then I saw this comment:

I couldn’t make it, but would love the syllabus!

Umm, there was no syllabus.

However, I did give everyone the essential tools for putting on a great Bible party — a blank spiral notebook, a sharp pencil and a Bible. I believe with all my heart that developing the habit of consistent time in God’s Word is an absolute key to growing spiritually. Over the next few days, I’ll share the gist of what we talked about at the class.

It’s time to par-tay.

Bible sparkles

Three things to get straight before we dig in:

1. The Bible is about Jesus, not you. The goal in studying is not to find yourself in the pages, but to find God. This is not a self-help book where you will find 10 steps to your best life. When you open the Bible, you are putting yourself in a position to receive so much more. Moses said it: “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life.” Deut. 32:47

Study time is not meant to be like an ATM machine, where you withdraw a tidbit to get you through the day. Instead, think of it as making deposits into a savings account that will provide you with an astounding return on your investment.

2. The purpose of studying the Bible is not to accumulate information and facts so you can impress everyone at your next small group discussion. “God has not given the deep things to the smartest people, but to the most eager people.” (Matt Chandler) The goal to grow in biblical understanding is never to say, “I have answers,” but to say, “I love God more than ever.”

3. We desperately need a solid grounding in The Word. In a confusing culture where truth is relative, we need to anchor ourselves in God’s truth. The current secular worldview believes truth is inside of us and is ever-changing. In reality, the truth is outside of us and is fixed. If we give 90% of our time and attention to the world’s interpretation of truth, we will become confused with a skewed understanding. Instead, we need to steep ourselves in the Bible, root ourselves in its teaching, take a stand on its solid ground.

When officials at the federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing are trained to spot counterfeit money, they only study the real thing. They don’t pour over every fake dollar bill. By knowing the genuine article inside and out, anything false that comes along is easily identified. Let’s do the same and commit to becoming students of the Real Thing.

Next:
How to Have a Bible Party, part 2: Where Do I Start?

Exhale

Take a deep breath.
I mean, waaaaaay down deep.
Until your tummy puffs out and your lungs are about to burst.

Hold it.

Hold it.

Okay, now let it go.

There now, didn’t that feel good?

Our cells do a happy dance when we take in all that lovely oxygen.
Our over-loaded brains get a turbo-boost,
our tight muscles sing for joy,
our frazzled nerves fire down.

My word for 2019 is EXHALE.

We were created to have a natural rhythm:
inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
I’m afraid our way of life has developed an unnatural cycle:
inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale, get sick, exhale.

I’m going to try to step into the Creator’s cadence,
listen for the heartbeat of the Master,
watch for His ebb and flow.

exhale1

I’m going to learn to exhale.

In the book of Exodus, we read, “In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.” Here, the word “refreshed” literally means, and God exhaled. All creation moves with the rhythm of the inhale and the exhale. Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible. ~ “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller

2018 Bible Reading Plan

IMG_5209

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The days between Christmas and New Year’s are my favorite days of the whole year.
They are slow and quiet — perfect for reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

The new Bible Reading Plan is ready to go! Just click on the link at the top of the page.
We are starting in James this year. May God bless the reading of His Word!

IMG_5205

10 Things I Read Last Year

In December, I learned to be quiet. That’s all.

So instead of 10 things I learned in December, here is a list of 10 things I read in 2016. I collect quotes like some people collect antique dishes or shoes or shot glasses. Here’s a peek at some good quotes from my reading year.

books3

1. “Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith…I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless; prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.” Lauren Winner, Still: Notes On a Mid-Faith Crisis

2. “The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

3. “Right theology is ultimately hospitality that lives broken right open — with your time and your space and your heart. Every day you can do one thing that you wish you could do for everyone.” Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

4. “If you want to really tick people off, just bring up the word Jesus… Say Jesus and people either get happy, or they get mad. They either smile, or a cloud comes over their faces…No other name has such potency. Not Clinton, not Gandhi, not Thatcher, not Lennon.” Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

5. “I have spent so much of my believing life trying to chain myself to a rock in order to prove my love to Jesus that I may have missed the chance to be chained to Jesus instead… Maybe I’ve missed the point all along. Maybe being chained to Jesus doesn’t involve a chain at all.” Micha Boyett, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer

6. “Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it.” Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

7. “The ordinary activities I find most compatible with contemplation are walking, baking bread, and doing laundry.” Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

8. “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

9. “Had God pulled me from Adam’s rib and placed me naked in the garden, the story would be no different. Let’s not blame Eve anymore. If she hadn’t eaten the fruit it most certainly would have been me. I would have eaten it again and again, and then I would have given you a bite.” Amber C. Hains, Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home

10. “It seems that God arranged the most humiliating circumstances possible for his entrance, as if to avoid any charge of favoritism.” Philip Yancey, as quoted in Watch For the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

What’s in store for 2017? How about a little more Wendell Berry? I must have been a very good girl this year. Tell me, what book are you reading to start 2017?

img_2795