Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The most wonderful, greeting-filled, time of year

This week we step out of our gratitude celebrations and into a month-long preparation to celebrate the greatest Gift of all. During this most precious time of year, our thoughts turn to those we love.

One of my favorite ways to communicate with my loved ones each year is to send a card including a letter and current family photo. In recent years I have begun to use Shutterfly to order prints of my digital photos, and have always been pleased with the quality. Shutterfly printed Lulu's birth announcements for us, as well as our family photo included in last year's Christmas card.

Note: you are about to read a compensated promotion for a product I love. 

Beyond just prints, Shutterfly also offers many templates to incorporate my photos into a flat premade card. I upload my photo, they send me a finished product including envelope. This has, of course been available for years; yet while this is a great easy option, I usually have opted for prints, a separate card, and a letter. Recently I discovered that the available folding cards have become more the all-in-one product I would desire.

This year, as I looked at the available Christmas card designs, I got excited to see the many options available to combine photos, colors, and even a letter. The number of choices just in the religious greeting card selection lets me feel I can choose something that expresses my personal style beyond just "the religious option."

Don't tell my mailing list, but this is the design I chose!
The options have also grown to include a nice variety of additional gift items such as calendars. This extends the gift of your shiny faces all the way through next year. The fresh, customizable layouts and choice of wall, desk and poster styles add your sparkle and personality to the already priceless gift of photos. If calendars don't work for you, they have other classy photo gifts available also.

I love any chance to save on postage by one-stop shopping, don't you? While looking at purchasing Christmas cards, and considering creating gift calendars, my thoughts leap ahead a few more weeks to the two birthday parties I will be holding in January. Why not go ahead and plan the party and design birthday invitations while I'm at it?

I had better be careful or I could have my December to-do list finished in pretty short order. Oh, and if you order your cards today or tomorrow, you can get some pretty good "cyber-week" discounts for yourself, also!

 *Disclosure: promotional consideration for this post has been provided by Shutterfly. In exchange for me sharing with you my favorite aspects of their services (which I already use), they are providing my first 50 Christmas cards free of charge. If you are a blogger and desire to share in this promotion, check here for details.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Well, if you haven't noticed, the 30 days to Unlock the Bible series is being extended to encompass more than 30 days. After running into a wall born out of a combination of the impending holiday season and an increasing need to take the necessary time with the upcoming posts, I realize I am not accomplishing my goal on time.

The more I have invested in this series, the more I have experienced the need to spend time with my family. I have sensed such a growing desire to share God's truth with whatever audience he brings me, while at the same time becoming more convicted of my family commitments. It's as if the Lord has said, "Here is your dream; will you hand it back to me, allow me to hold it for you until the time is right?"

This weekend I visited with a relative who discovered I had studied piano for 14 years, but currently never play. "You know, you could pick it up again in just 30 minutes a day!" he responded enthusiastically.

I had a sudden vision of all the things I would do if I had 30 minutes a day. I am already working pretty hard to carve out 45 minutes a day to read through the Bible in 90 Days; to keep up with menu planning, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, mopping, and vacuuming; to read to my baby whenever she wants; to run trains with my cowboy; to connect with my 8 year old daughter; to simply be emotionally available for my husband; to plan for the upcoming holiday season.

And in a moment of clarity I knew that all those things are my priorities that come before writing.

I don't always know what I do with all my time. I just know I already don't have enough of it. It is stretched thin. And I seem to have reached the point where my family, and my need for sleep, outweigh my drive to share a 30 day series in 30 days.

It will come. The second half of the series will resume soon. And I think it will be better for waiting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Inductive Bible Study :: Unlock the Bible {15}

After a good start to our spiritual day with Breakfast Bible time, we moved on to open a Literary Lunchbox and look at tools to help us look more closely at the Bible. Sounds like at least some of my readers have found this useful information, which only means God is speaking!

This week we arrive at the biggest meal of the day: Inductive Dinner Delight. I think many of us are familiar with dine and dash dinners, whose spiritual equivalent might be a quick dinner prayer, maybe a few minutes of devotional reading before bed. But right now we are thinking more about the key meals that should form the foundation of our spiritual nutrition.

We call this foundational Bible time Inductive Study.

When a detective goes on the hunt to solve a mystery, he collects clues and attempts to deduce, or reason out, a logical conclusion. He starts with the facts and tries to uncover the big picture.

When a Bible detective goes on the hunt, she starts with the big picture, and breaks it down into elements: what happened there? who is this letter addressed to? did this happen before or after the captivity of Israel? As she does this, she finds the elemental truths behind each passage, and allows them to induce a change in her life.

One published curriculum that teaches this especially well comes from Precept on Precept Ministries. Kay Arthur has been educating people in the methods of Inductive Bible Study for more than twenty years. If you are looking for a strong resource that will equip you to dig out biblical truth for yourself, I recommend anything from her. I will warn you that to get the most out of your study, you will need to invest in a set of colored pencils, and probably be comfortable with the idea of writing in your Bible.

Inductive Study method is simple: Observe, Interpret, Apply.

This builds on a simple premise: A text cannot mean what it never meant. In other words, you can only read a verse and immediately apply it to your current situation, if you do enough research to know that the original audience could have drawn the same application, and that application is consistent with God’s character throughout scripture.

Therefore, you begin to study a text by observing what actually happened. Then you begin to interpret the message: why was this passage included in Scripture, what are the general lessons to be drawn from it? And only after satisfying yourself on the first two points do you move on to the final (also important) step of deciding how to apply it to your own life.

Over the next three posts we will study a passage or two illustrating these steps. We will finish out the week with a simplified method to get you moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(slightly) off topic: kids' character development

Holy Mackerel!

I was just doing a little blog surfing this morning (you know, instead of keeping up with my 30 Days series, which I hope to catch up on TOMORROW) and found out about a nice giveaway. I enter giveaways all the time, and even find some resources worth purchasing whether or not I win.

Recently I have found out about a Children's Illustrated Bible Dictionary and a kid-size Theology book (wish I could remember where I saw that one).

Just now I found a giveaway for a Character Development Curriculum for Preschoolers.  I thought it would be cool, and I entered to win.

Then I actually went to the publisher's site and checked it out a little more thoroughly. IT LOOKS AWESOME.

So, while I secretly hope you do NOT enter the giveaway to increase MY chances of winning, I would also love to hear that one of my readers went there and won it. Seriously.

I am not a homeschooling mom, but I have kids. And this content is not included in what they teach in public school. It's a preschool curriculum, but Sarah Mae says it would be easy to make it multilevel. I would do that if we had a copy of it at our house.

So, here's the link to the giveaway. In it you will find access to the publisher website to find out more.

Happy hunting!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Running Ahead :: Unlock the Bible {14}

Funny how much I need to share with you the marathon experience of blogging every.single.day as much as I need to share the content on my heart. Perhaps the process is as important to personal transformation as the actual information, and I so want you to experience the transformation with me.

I keep finding myself falling further and further behind pace in this marathon. Of course I am being hard on myself; the pace is completely arbitrary. But I am feeling the strain, the need to get ahead far enough to relax a bit and still stay on pace.

And I know that while this pace is self-imposed, I also have something to learn from it. I need to learn this:
I try too hard. When I run ahead of my Muse, or forget to invite him to speak, the words gum up between my eyes, then settle in my chest with a tiring weight.
When God blesses, he multiplies my efforts and puts the words right for me.

This struggle to wait on the Lord, it never ends. I am a fully broken human being, with no good thing on my own. In the past week I have begun to feel convicted of my sinfulness more than I have in a long time. Don’t worry, this is good. It is a necessary part of growth.

I have been seeking growth by choosing to find moments of silence in which God can speak to me; by choosing to ask God to be honored in the everyday moments; by gulping the Bible in 90 days.

And as a result, I realize I need to ask God for more: for personal discipline and focus that will create time for those moments of silence; for patience in my everyday moments; for a passionate love affair with his Words.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14
And the more convinced I become of my utter worthlessness on my own, as I ask God to remove my pride and self-centered attitudes, the more he is able to fill me up with himself.

Maybe the reasonably picked-up, clean-laundry, done-dishes house I sit in tonight represents God’s strength of focus poured out on me. Maybe the fun I’ve been having with the kids is a gift, not a surprise. Maybe reading the Bible in 90 days really is beginning to transform me.

The passion to pray and the hunger to read my Bible grows more slowly than I would have expected; but it grows. And by day 14 of a 30 day marathon, that’s good news.

Truly, I am excited to share the contents of the second half of this series even more than I have been to share the beginning. The best really will come more toward the last, and my heart is full with anticipation.

Sanitized Faith :: Unlock the Bible {13}

A year ago I started my first garden. Gardening in Texas has some special considerations, so I had to learn a lot about soil amendments and plant dates and frost dates. The first two seasons involved a lot of research, and a lot of learning.

By the third growing season (we get two a year here), I began to get a piece or two of produce here and there. For our current season (our fourth time around) we built a greenhouse to improve yield.

Then I realized my problems run far deeper than the ability to grow things. I discovered I didn’t want to eat my produce.

For starters, I didn’t know when to harvest it for best taste. It didn’t taste right after suffering through terrible soil and terribly hot growing conditions. But the biggest problem was that the produce didn’t look like grocery store produce. Cherry tomatoes the size of the tip of my pinkie. (Maybe we should call them pea tomatoes?) Yellow watermelon. Jalapeno peppers that turned red. Red/yellow/orange peppers of irregular shape and size, that stay green (I hate green peppers). Watery looking, tasteless fingerling carrots. Lima beans. Seriously? The one thing that grows vigorously in my garden is lima beans?

After a lifetime of getting my food all waxed and robust and sanitized from the store, it has taken more work than I expected to get used to eating out of my garden. I have had to consciously retrain myself to see backyard produce as food.

Sometimes it seems like this quest for honest food takes more work than it’s worth. But when I get a handful of baby tomatoes, they taste so much better than store tomatoes! And I love the satisfaction of knowing I grew that tomato plant from a seed.

So it goes with getting used to growing your own Bible interpretation, not just getting it all sanitized from the publishers.

As children in Sunday School, we are fed highlight stories of the Bible: Creation, Noah, Joshua, baby Jesus, the parables. As we grow, we learn about the armor of God, the fruits of the Spirit, the hymn of Christ. Somewhere along the way, we pick up a Study Bible, with a mini commentary down in the footnotes.

Eventually we get brave and start attending Bible study, or maybe even reading directly from commentaries to see what scholars and theologians have concluded after their in-depth research into a phrase or passage. But without realizing it, sometimes we end up with a sanitized faith, one built only on the insights of someone else. We live in an era of wide access to the scriptures through printed material and education. Let’s not delegate the beauty of discovering truth for oneself to anyone else!

Literary Lunchbox week has included tips and tools for Bible interpretation. These are valuable resources that I hope you learn how to use efficiently. Bible study tools provide valuable insight to us as we try to decipher the message of the Bible.

However . . . tools are not meant to substitute for our own personal study! Of all the things I learned in school about how to study the Bible and what tools to use for research, STEP ONE is ALWAYS to read it for yourself. Look for context, repeating words, all the things you will read about here before the month is through. And only after you have examined, questioned, and wrestled with a passage does the time come for further study.

As you read the Bible and attempt to draw conclusions about what you read, you may feel uncomfortable the way I am uncomfortable with garden-grown vegetables. But in the end, that backyard produce is so much more satisfying because you worked so hard for it. It’s totally worth the effort!

So go for it. Try your hand at interpretation. Then check it against a commentary. And let me know how you do!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Word Study :: Unlock the Bible {12}

In addition to the book I mentioned in the last post, a student of the Bible in our present age has access to a wealth of tools and insight from generations of theologians and scholars. The internet is a fabulous resource in this area, especially for free tools, but today I will focus on printed matter.

My ultimate favorite tool is an exhaustive concordance. If I can remember a word from a verse, I can look it up. Or if I want to see all the verses that include a certain word, I can look them up. The term "exhaustive" does not mean it's exhausting just to pick it up, although with such a huge book one could easily draw that conclusion! Rather, it means that even every iteration of the word, "the," is included. Sort of the equivalent of saying a book is "unabridged."

Because so much of my Bible memory has been done in NIV, I own the Zondervan NIV Bible Concordance. However, I also have a Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for KJV, and I will tell you why in two words: Word Study.

First published in 1890 when King James was about the only English version available, James Strong's concordance catalogues and numbers every single Greek and Hebrew word in the original text. Every word in the English portion of the concordance is keyed to its actual original-language equivalent. This provides additional clarity for study, because sometimes several slightly different words all were interpreted into a single English word. Sometimes this just represents a choice of the author; sometimes it provides additional illumination.

For example, the Old Testament word for "help" comes from various Hebrew words. Consider all these different words that translate as "help," and the nuance of their meaning:
"If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it."  Exodus 23:5
5800 asab: to loosen, i.e. relinquish, permit, etc. As in, to commit self, to fortify, help, leave, refuse.
"If you see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet." Deuteronomy 22:4
6965 quwm: abide, accomplish, be clearer, confirm, help, hold, lift up
"'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD. 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the LORD, to help the LORD against the mighty.'" Judges 5:23
5833 ezrah: feminine form of 5826--to aid
"And they said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye say unto the men of Jabeshgilead, Tomorrow, by [that time] the sun be hot, ye shall have help. And the messengers came and shewed [it] to the men of Jabesh; and they were glad."1 Samuel 11:9 KJV
8668 teshuah: rescue(in the sense of 3467). Deliverance, help, safety, salvation, victory
"And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee." 2 Samuel 10:11
3447 yashat: to extend, hold out.
"The king replied, 'If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?'"2 Kings 6:27 NIV
3467 yasha: to be open, wide or free, i.e. to be safe
"Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great army, like the army of God." 1 Chronicles 12:22
5826 azar: to surround, i.e. protect or aid.

After getting an idea of the different ways "help" is used in the Old Testament, if I wanted to study it a little more deeply, I would then look it up in my Vine's Expository Dictionary of the Bible. When I do that, I discover that the most frequent usage of help is the 5826 sense found in 1 Chronicles 12:22:

This word and its derivatives are common in both ancient and modern Hebrew. The verb occurs about 80 times in the biblical text. Azar is first found in the the Old Testament in Jacob's deathbed blessing of Joseph: ". . . The God of thy father, who shall help thee . . ." (Genesis 49:25).

Help or aid comes from a variety of sources: Thirty-two kings "helped" Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:6); one city "helps" another. . . . Of course, the greatest source of help is God Himself; He is the "helper of the fatherless" (Psalm 10:14).

In the end, help still means help in all the above passages. But in my word study I have learned the glorious variety of ways to express one's need for help. As a wordsmith, I appreciate that! God probably knew he would be hearing that a lot, so he gave us lots of words to play with.

Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalms as Literature :: Unlock the Bible {11}

Today marks the 11th post in a series called 30 days to Unlock the Bible. My intent is to slowly but systematically provide an introduction to confident Bible study and interpretation. Apparently we are proceeding even more slowly than intended, as life for the past 48 hours has proven more all-consuming than I desired. Ah, well. Time to climb back on the wagon.

We are still exploring our Literary Lunchbox for tips, tools, and resources to draw the maximum spiritual nutrition out of our Bible study time.

As a college freshman, the idea of reading the Bible as literature at first confused me. Why would we need to do anything more than read it as the words of God direct to my ear?

During the course of my education I discovered that literary analysis of the Bible offers greater appreciation and understanding of the themes, cultures, and intent of the original writings. My Bible study matured greatly upon learning the simple fact that different types of literature comprise the book as a whole. Because different literature expresses thoughts differently, an understanding of the literature aids in understanding of the original intent.

A brief study of the Psalms as literature provides an example of how much information lies packed between the lines of God’s Word.

The Book of Psalms probably originated as multiple songbooks used in houses of worship. The Psalms are unique in Scripture because while they are part of God’s message to us, many of them are written as thoughts we would say to God. The Psalms speak to us because they offer expression for whatever we currently feel. For this, I love the Psalms: my prosaic soul appreciates the opportunity to lyrically express joy, thanksgiving, grief, oppression, and anticipation to God.

The Psalms are to be read both as poetry and as literature. Not only do they fit certain rhyme, musical and analogy parameters, but each one can be classified as a certain type of address, fitting a prescribed form.*

Psalms as Poetry

  1. Psalms represent Hebrew poetry, which is directed at the heart. This is accomplished by using words with strong emotional connections; and by parallel expression, in which the second line of a couplet restates and repeats the first. As such, they are often not to be interpreted too literally, keeping in mind that good poetry looks for the most elegant way to express a thought.
  2. Psalms are songs. The words used in the original language were not only trying to fit with meter and cadence, but they were meant to be sung. Word choice probably bears more influence from this than from the writer’s desire to use that exact word to best express the meaning.
  3. Psalms are metaphorical. They are not meant to express plain language. They sometimes paint word pictures that would seem strange if taken too literally.

Psalms as Literature

  1. Each Psalm is a certain type of address used during corporate worship. Psalms could be used for Lament, Thanksgiving, Praise, Historical Reminder, Celebration, Wisdom, or Trust. The original audience was familiar with these types. As we read today, it helps us to identify the type of Psalm as we read it, and to search out one of a type specific to what we want to pray to God about.
  2. Each of the above types of Psalm follows a certain form. Again, knowing this helps provide clarity in reading the Psalm.
  3. Each form had a function when it was used in worship by the people of Israel. Not every Psalm can be made applicable to every situation.
  4. Poetic patterns within each Psalm mean that each one is to be taken as a whole, not piecemeal. An individual verse is best understood in light of the whole.

Benefits of the Psalms

  • The Psalms provide words to help us pray in different situations. They give us a guide to worship.
  • The Psalms provide example of how we can relate to God.
  • The Psalms show us how important God sees it that we take time to reflect and meditate on him.

Psalm 19, our example text this week, is a Psalm of Praise. It contains three basic parts:

  • 1-6 Nature praises God by its beauty
  • 7-11 God’s law praises him by its perfection
  • 12-14 The Psalmist praises God by inviting God to keep him blameless and pure

This understanding does not carry profound revelation, nor take anything away from any inspirational passages I have ever found in Psalms. Rather, it gives depth to my search for deeper meaning. The very idea that each Psalm represents a specific kind of expression to God, helps me begin to see the book of Psalms as a tool to be pulled out especially in those moments when I want to talk to God but need help to get going, or to find the words when I’m fresh out.

*Factual information in this post represents a summary of a chapter from How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, called “The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours.” I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone wishing to maximize their understanding of God’s Word.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interactive Questions :: Unlock the Bible {10}

Yesterday’s Literary Lunchbox topic addressed a bit of literary criticism of the Bible. Today you get to try your own hand at it. 

Any time we ask questions of a text, it helps us interact with its message. Gloriously, this particular text interacts back!

I received a list of six interactive questions almost ten years ago, and they remain some of the best questions I have found to help me interact with Scripture. The person who shared them with me said she learned them from her time spent working with Campus Crusade. I cannot find them published anywhere, but I am certainly willing to share the credit with Bill Bright!

Remember to pause before reading and invite the Source of Wisdom to pull out the words, phrases, and ideas he wants you to notice. Then as you read, ask:

  1. What did I like about this passage?
  2. What did I not like about this passage?
  3. What does this passage teach me about God?
  4. What does this passage teach me about the human race?
  5. What stands out to me?
  6. What might God be trying to teach me?

1-2. These questions encourage me to be honest and admit, “I don’t like that” about a phrase or event. Often I have found that the things I don’t like continue to rattle around in my brain until I stop and ponder them more fully. And pondering almost always results in a spiritual revelation.

3-4. Another thing I enjoy about these questions is the way we consider God and his interaction with the human race, before considering self. It seems that often our first response to a passage is, “What does this have to do with me?” While the Bible was written to be applicable, we lose a lot of depth when we neglect to consider God and the big picture before examining self to see where we fit.

5-6. The questions leave open the possibility of a “nothing” answer. Perhaps this particular passage teaches little about the human race, but focuses entirely on attributes of God. However, when you find your answer to question 5 comes up with “nothing” it may mean you have not yet spent enough time camping on this passage. It is amazing to see the richness of Scripture when you approach every passage with question 6: “What might God be trying to teach me?”

Remember how we looked at Psalm 19 last week with our Breakfast Bible time? Let’s use the same Psalm, and ask it these questions:


1. What did I like about this passage?
I love the imagery of verses 1-6. The picture of the sun, joyfully running its course through the sky, fills my heart with a sense of wonder.
2. What did I not like about this passage?
When I first studied this passage, I didn’t understand it much. I got bored with the middle part, about the Law of the LORD. And I surely didn’t understand how it could be sweeter than honey. To be honest, I also don’t really understand what the word picture at the beginning, about the sun in the heavens, has to do with the end, about letting the meditations of my heart be pleasing to God.
3. What does this passage teach me about God?
God is so great, even the stars in the sky proclaim his glory.
4. What does this passage teach me about the human race?
v. 12-13, we have a tendency not to notice our own errors. All we can do is ask the LORD to keep us from them and point out to us when we do commit them.
5. What stands out to me?
v. 10 “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” I want God’s words to be that to me. As I read the Bible in 90 Days, as I study for my small group, as I write this series, and every day all the time.
6. What might God be trying to teach me?
I know I need to cling to God and ask him for everything. I sincerely desire that my words and thoughts be pleasing to him. But even reading the Bible every day has not automatically created this sense of beauty within me that I see described here. But since I am dependent for everything, I bet this is something I can ask God for instead of trying to grasp it for myself.

See how asking six questions helps me get into the text more than just asking one or two questions? Why don’t you pick a text and see where it gets you? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you more about the Psalms as literature.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Canon :: Unlock the Bible {9}

My 8th Grade English teacher had a sign on her desk that read:

Why didn't life's problems hit me
when I was a teenager
and knew everything?

At the age of 14, the irony of this statement was entirely lost on me; however, my first Bible class as a college freshman broke open everything I thought I knew about the Bible.

What do you mean, "Literary Criticism" of the Bible? You can't critique the Word of God! Didn't God just open his mouth one day and pull out this book and hand it to Paul for distribution to the world? (I didn't really think that; truthfully I had just never thought about it at all). What I did think I knew about the Bible went something like this:
God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

But how does that stand up against the storms of life? Against an enemy perpetually whispering in your ear, "Did God really say that?" Against people using isolated phrases from the Bible to buttress a viewpoint that doesn't quite sit right with you?

The next four years of my education were spent alternately tearing apart this simplistic philosophy, and rebuilding it more strongly with a greater understanding of how I could be confident that God did say it; of why I believe it; and of the reality that some things aren't as settled as one might think, which allows room for faith.

As I received my diploma and departed this learning-ground, the most important lesson I carried with me was to approach knowledge with humility. We simply don't know as much as we think we know about God.

The Canon
I promised you more solid information today on where the Bible came from. I keep dancing all around it, and the actual answer continues to elude my typing fingers. Perhaps this means it's going to be a good one.

(I also just tweeted about my cat's stinky feet. While this represents my challenge, I don't think it has any bearing on whether you are about to read a good answer).

"Canon" comes from a Greek word that sets a "rule" or "standard," and refers to the body of writings that make up the "revealed truth" found in the Bible. 

Generally speaking, the Old Testament canon was settled long before the time of Jesus. The books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) were recognized as "Scripture" even before the writing of many of the other parts of Scripture. In fact, other than Ruth, Esther, and Song of Songs, all of the Old Testament is internally attested as Scripture: the writings are referred to as Scripture, elsewhere in Scripture.

Writings that "made it" into the Canon had to pass certain tests:
  • Wide acceptance as Scripture
  • Known origin
  • Message consistent with the greater body of work

The New Testament canon became settled by AD 400. At that time the pope was simply validating a collection of writings that had been accepted as Scripture for centuries.

In the course of education, one learns that some of the books of the canon were questioned, partially because they contained no mention of God (Esther) or had no known author (Job). One also learns that other writings exist, which did not survive to be included in the canon. In fact (as this young Protestant Bible student was astonished to learn), some disagreement still exists about the actual Canon of Scripture. Bibles printed for the Catholic faith include several books called Apocrypha.

This academic information and much, much more overwhelmed me as a college freshman. Who wants to see their simplistic "God said it" theology ripped apart with questions about whether the Bible is even really the word of God? I had to stop and ask myself, "Could we have missed some important messages from God along the way?"

It may look like a wavering of faith, but I think one has to consider such a possibility before one can fully appreciate the beauty and truth of God's Word.

The Big Picture
For the most part, the hours and years of literary analysis brought me back to my starting theology, while expanding my understanding of how and why we have these particular words to study.

The story of the Bible is the story of God's redemptive work in history. From Creation and the Fall to the establishment of the Chosen People; from the failures of the Chosen to the prophecies of a Messiah, the Old Testament looks forward to God's redemption of his creation. From the time of Jesus, the New Testament shares the way of redemption and offers it to the world.

Those writings which convey this theme of redemption through history, constitute the Canon of Scripture. The extra-biblical writings which provide additional history without emphasizing the theme of redemption, were saved to be simply additional ancient texts.

My confidence comes primarily from two verses. I realize this is using the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible, but I believe these verses give us permission:

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." 2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
"Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Matthew 5:18

God spoke his words to the hearts of ordinary people, so that no one could claim their own intelligence made them wise. He supervised while they wrote his message down. Jesus fulfills those words, and will make sure that not even the dot on an i is lost until he has returned to fulfill all of it.

In the end, I conclude that God is big enough to protect his message from shortsighted humans. I choose to trust God. And I trust that the Bible contains what it needs to contain, for us to know what we are supposed to know.

I don't know as much as I used to know about the Bible, but I do believe that God said it.

Bright, John. A History of Israel, 3rd ed. Westminster: Philadelphia, 1981.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1993.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Literary Lunchbox :: Unlock the Bible {8}

Good Monday morning!

Welcome to week two of this 30 Day series on Unlocking the Bible, to uncover its truths for yourself. The Bible is our spiritual food, so this systematic study builds on the idea of food and nutrition. Last week we eased into the Bible with Breakfast Bible Time. We talked about Preparing yourself through rest and inviting God along; collecting the right Ingredients for Bible study; and a very simple Recipe for opening the Bible, breakfast style.

Now it's time for lunch!

When I pack a lunch for my kids to take to school, I make sure their lunch boxes are full of brain food to help them get the most out of their learning experience. School day lunch usually consists of simple, elemental food such as carrots, celery, grapes, apples, ham cubes, cheese, whole grain crackers, and other similar items.

This week we will open our Bible study Lunchbox and identify some elemental information that supports good Bible study nutrition. The Literary Lunchbox addresses literary questions such as who wrote the Bible, how the Bible came to be, types of literature in the Bible, and essential tools to enhance Bible study. 

Who Wrote the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of writings from about 40 people, written over the course of about 1500 years. Authors include Moses, Jeremiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and more. These authors ranged from highly educated, such as the Apostle Paul to menial laborers, such as Amos the farmer; from prophets such as Isaiah to royalty like King David (who wrote music, now some of the Psalms, while still a young shepherd).

 Usually the author of a book names himself at the beginning of the writing, in Chapter 1, Verse 1. You will notice a few exceptions, but that rule of thumb will reveal the answer most of the time.

The anthology includes 66 books in two main categories: 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. "Testament" is another name for "Covenant." The Testaments are the story of God's covenant with first his chosen people, the children of Israel (the Old), then with whomever asks to become his child (the New).

Jesus stands as the dividing line between the Testaments. The Old Testament looks forward to a promised Messiah; the New Testament reveals Jesus as Messiah, and tells us how to live as we wait for him to return a second time. Jesus did not write any of the books of the Bible, although we believe all Scripture is given by God's inspiration:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).

The natural next question asks, who decided what's in the Bible? I will answer that tomorrow!

Many thanks to those of you already reading and commenting on this series. You encourage me immensely with your kind words and support. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

To Pray or Not to Pray, for Patience? :: Unlock the Bible {7}

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

As a kid I learned this adage:
Never pray for patience, because God will just put you in lots of situations where you have to practice patience.

Does that sound familiar? Being an ace student, I thought to myself, "I'm a generally patient person, so I will just work on this one myself. No worries, God, you don't need to test me on patience, I'll just start out as your star pupil."

So in my life I have never, EVER, prayed for patience. Not once, because I know better. Who wants to set herself up for guaranteed testing?

Now I have kids. Three of them. One has been around almost nine years. And can I tell you what they will never, EVER, say about me when they grow up and reflect on their childhood?

My mom was always so patient with me.

Oh, I struggle with patience with those kids. They drive me to the moon--and back--pretty much day in and day out. 

Shortly after this moment, I turned around to find
every key popped off the keyboard
and laying around on the floor
like so many pieces of a puzzle.

Recently I had a stunning revelation: God already puts me in lots of situations where I have to practice patience. Like seven hundred and twenty-nine times a day. Those kids drive me crazy so much, sometimes they're already on the next iteration before I even finish being impatient with the first one.

Patience may be a virtue, but I think the time has come for me to admit it is not my virtue. Not even close.

So it's time to call in The Big Gun and beseech him for a little patience.

This is not "The Big Gun".
This is my boy, who stole my free Fruitista from Taco Bell.
I thought it was funny, until he drank the whole thing.

It's also time for a little Word Study. To start looking for Scripture that will help plant seeds of patience in my brain, I turn to my very first Bible. This KJV edition, printed specially for school students in an A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) program, features the words of Christ in red; large print that substitutes a pronunciation guide for all those difficult Old Testament names; and a list in the front, of 60 character attributes with a Bible Memory verse for each.

The first verse I ever learned about patience:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1 KJV).

While I know this applies to the spiritual life, it's pretty clear to me that for right now, raising children is the race that is set before me. From me they have their first look at God, both in the training I give them and in the example I set. 

I look the verse up in a few other versions. The New International Version translates it:

". . . let us run with perseverance . . ."

while the New American Standard, English Standard, and New Living Translation all put it this way:

". . . let us run with endurance . . ."

So, patience equates with perseverance and endurance. Neither of which particularly appeals to me, but I am at the end of my rope looking for change. I've got at least 17 years of active parenting left, I might as well learn something while I'm in this stage.

She's at a dangerous age.
I didn't photograph her standing on top of the piano
by those stuffed animals
later that day.
And that's all I can say about that.

I look up "patience" in my Strong's Bible Concordance, which turns out to be word #5281 in the Greek, hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay'):
cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy:--enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).
So now I don't just need to make it through, but there is a cheerful attitude attached to it?!? That's just great.

But wait. Suddenly I see one of my favorite words: hopeful. 

Hopeful endurance. Sticking with the kids, loving them through their only-human failings, thinking of parenting as a marathon. . . all with the hope that eventually they will get it, and that God has his influence already locked on their life. They are lovable buggers, and I really do enjoy them a lot of the time.

Do I even need to caption this one?

I don't have endurance. I have zero interest in ever running a marathon. I have a hard time hosting small group at my house for an entire semester. And this is actually the first time in twenty five years that I have lived three years in a place and not had plans to be moving on soon. But I digress . . .

I do know the very next verse in Hebrews 12 continues:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross. . .

Jesus completes my faith. He endured the cross (very difficult); he can also help me endure the race set before me (small potatoes). 

When Jesus returned to Heaven, we were left with the Holy Spirit to work inside us and give us strength to change and grow. As a result of allowing the Spirit to work, we can expect to have these qualities in increasing amounts: love, joy, peace, and the like--including patience.

I don't know why I never realized the fallacy of that old adage, because none of us has any patience to begin with; all we have comes from God. If I ask him for more, perhaps he won't only put me in situations requiring it. Perhaps he might also pour into my spirit the hope I need to endure each day.

When they start laughing and rolling on the floor like this,
it's time to watch out. I have a saying for such times:
"This can only end in tears."
And on this night, it absolutely did, about a minute later.

Dear Father, I feel a little sheepish to have reached such a late time in my life to first come to you requesting patience. But I am a dry creekbed needing some rain in this area. Please pour your patience into me, and check my heart every time I am about to demonstrate impatience. Teach me how to put aside my own agenda and just sit with my kids, listening and operating on their time.

Thank you for gently revealing to me my need for growth in this area. Please be faithful to continue your work in me until I am complete. Amen.

Rest :: Unlock the Bible {6}

"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall rise up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

In October when I sensed the "Unlock the Bible" series coming on, I knew posting 30 days in a row would be a challenge. I expected it to feel like a marathon. And I braced myself to be strong; to prioritize this commitment above holiday hubbub.

Three days into the series, the Lord reminded me not to run ahead of him.

After all, God's Word is timeless. And posting a 30 day series in the 30 days of a calendar month... that's an arbitrary designation. And, he did just speak to me last week about spending more time with my family.

So, I am going to go with the natural flow of readership, and take weekends for rest, waiting on God, and preparing for the next week in the series. I'll still post! But I'll save the tips and direction on systematic study for weekdays.

And those 8 weekend days when I planned to share background information about "how to read" the different types of literature in the Bible? Will probably be first condensed as a single post, and then either expanded to a stand-alone 10-part series or simply added to this body of work that I hope to refine and publish as an e-book early next year.

Today, I encourage you to implement some Breakfast Bible Time. Spend time waiting on God, asking him to speak to you through his Word. The prompting of the Holy Spirit will provide far better instruction than I ever can.

By the way, did you notice that verse at the top was in KJV? When I find myself quoting a verse in King James' English, I know I learned it early, before the age of 10. This must have been one of the first, because I actually hear it as a song, sung by the reedy voice of my Kindergarten teacher. Gotta love music as a Bible memory tool.

We will look at the tool of memorization in about ten days. Yesterday we began some Lunchtime Literary Analysis by considering versions of the Bible. Over the coming week, we will look at more literary questions such as:

  • Who wrote the Bible?
  • Who decided what writings are the "inspired Word of God"?
  • What types of literature are found within the Bible?
  • What different tools can I use to help me understand what I'm reading?

Plus I will offer another way to read and interact with the text of Scripture.

Wait on the Lord with me today, and renew your strength. I'll see you Monday.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Version? :: Unlock the Bible {5}

After spending three days on a "breakfast" perspective of God's Word, let's buckle down to some midmorning mental gymnastics today and talk about Versions of the Bible.

I heard a story once of a commencement speaker at a major Christian university (surely it wasn't mine), expounding on the virtues of his favorite version of the Bible. As he reached the crescendo of his argument, he thundered to the auditorium, "And after all, if King James English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"

Maybe I have a few minor details mixed up, but the humor carries a valid point: Jesus never spoke a word of English. We can argue about the greater authenticity of one English version over another, but the fact remains that the Bible was originally composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Unfortunately, most of us have not had the training to read those ancient languages, so we have to rely on the scholars that brought God's Word into the language we know.

But where to begin? Go to the bookstore, find the shelf of Bibles, and . . . commence with a feeling of being overwhelmed. How can there be so many different editions? I just want "original!"

If you must choose only one with which to start, consider it your first instead of your only. This photo shows all the Bibles I have had through my entire life. And I continue to use most of them.

I have an obnoxious number of Bibles, don't you think? They have been collected over the past 30+ years, and in fact I only actually bought 2 for myself. The rest were gifts. 

Let's start by asking, what will you be using this Bible for?

Perhaps, with our blessed abundance of English versions, we can view them  not as "right and wrong" but as "better for one situation or another." For example, a more literal translation might be better for intensive study, when you want to know how many times a particular word repeats throughout a passage; but a modern English paraphrase might give you the spirit of the passage a little more clearly.

Wait, what's the difference between a translation and a paraphrase? All these big words are so confusing!

Translation: A translation attempts to take the words of the source language (Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic) and turn them as exactly as possible into readable prose in the secondary language. As the first English translation was painstakingly penned in 1385 by John Wycliffe, it makes sense that subsequent translations would attempt to represent our continuously evolving English language over the centuries and, more recently, decades.

Part of the reason for differences in translations can be explained by the difference in language structure. Different languages put subject, verb, adjective, etc in different order. In some languages word order affects meaning, while in other languages word order is nonessential. In addition, some versions attempt to translate a full thought at a time, while some take a phrase at a time. Some, called "transliterations", literally translate word for word, and are often found in works that present the actual text of the original language above the English words.

When choosing a translation, consider whether you intend general use, in-depth Bible study, or simply to appreciate it as literature.

1. General Use:
The most widely sold translations include the following:

English Standard Version (ESV)
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

New International Version (NIV)
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
Don't let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.

These vary between evoking the high language of KJV and expressing the actual prayer of the psalmist. Any of these makes a good "original" Bible. The NIV can probably be considered the current standard as far as Bible memory, but the more recently published English Standard seems to me to have a nice formal tone to it.

I switch around a lot between the NIV, NLT, and ESV because sometimes reading different versions helps expand my understanding of a passage. Most of the Scriptures I have memorized are in the NIV, but currently I am reading through the Bible in the NLT. I tend to take an ESV to church because it hits a nice balance between the more literal NAS (see below) and the more familiar tone of the NIV. And because it's my pretty red leather slimline gift Bible. 

2. Bible Study
My favorite literal translation to use for Bible study is the New American Standard. I think it does a good job of walking the line between readability and literal, word for word, translation. The Psalms present a bit of challenge in this version, but here's your example of Psalm 19:13.

Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; 

Let them not rule over me; 
Then I will be blameless, 
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

3. Literature

The King James Version of the Bible represents the state of the "King's English" in 1611. I enjoy reading this as Literature. All the high language fires off creative neurons in my brain. Also, I keep a KJV Bible handy because the ultimate Bible study tool, Strong's concordance, is keyed to KJV. I will explain that statement better, when you're older. Like a week older.

Here's an example of Psalm 19:13 in the King James:
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins];
let them not have dominion over me:
then shall I be upright,
and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

So if all of those are different translations, why would I want to confuse myself further with a paraphrase?

Paraphrase: A paraphrase may take an entire passage and rewrite it in common language, keeping the spirit of the thought but not necessarily every phrase. The most popular current paraphrase is The Message, written by Eugene Peterson.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

See how it states itself in such plain language? I love to read a paraphrase along with a more complete translation, because sometimes I have read the NIV so many times I get caught in the cadence of the words and forget that it means something. The Message scrambles up the thoughts and occasionally spits out words that startle me into realizing their meaning.

But which one to choose?

If I could only have one Bible, or if I were just starting out with my first, I am traditional enough to say that I would choose the New International Version. When I read the words of that translation, I sense the familiarity of the cadence and it reassures me.

But here is the miracle of modern technology: as long as I have internet, I don't have to choose! YouVersion offers 17 English versions right on my computer or smart phone, and I can switch back and forth between them on the fly.

The only problem is that it doesn't have a pretty red leather cover and gilt edges.

What version of the Bible do you read?

Next week we will discuss Lunch related topics, the Tools and Background Information we can use to support us as we Unlock the Bible for ourselves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Simple Breakfast Recipe:: Unlock the Bible {4}

There needs neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.
-Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Christian bookstores are full of books on how to live the Christian life. Devotionals, self-help manuals, commentaries, even special editions of the Bible offer to help us navigate applying the Bible to our lives.

I'll be honest, I hope that one day one of those books might have my name on the spine.

However: You are ultimately the one responsible for your understanding of the Bible. Not Larry Crabb or Bill Hybels or Erwin McManus or even Ann Voskamp. You.

Fortunately, just like Larry and Bill and Erwin and Ann, you have direct access to the one who spoke the words of the Bible, and he wants to reveal himself to you directly.

He puts his truth where we can reach it, right in the pages of his message. In the early days of the church, the Jews of Berea understood the importance of first-hand knowledge. When Paul came to them teaching that the God of the Jews had opened up his family to include the Gentiles, they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11, NLT). As a result of their study, many of the Jews converted to Christianity.

Why do we find it so challenging to open Scripture and tease out its truth for ourselves?

While study Bibles, commentaries, how-to books, and even devotionals have much value to the believer pursuing a deeper understanding of God, the fact remains that there is little of art or science needed to simply read Scripture for oneself. It should be as simple as reading.

Today I promised a simple, breakfast-style recipe for reading for yourself. Forgive me if you find it too simple; before going further I want to encourage you that if you can read, and you desire to pursue knowing God more, you already possess the skill to get into the Bible. The book is a marvel, but "Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!" (Matthew 11:15).

Breakfast Bible Time

  • Bible
  • Notebook
  • Pen

  • Preheat the oven by inviting God to speak to you.
  • Choose a passage in whatever way you wish. It can be a single verse, a paragraph, an entire chapter. At the top of your notebook page, write the date and the passage you are reading.
  • As you read, look for a word, a phrase or a verse that stands out to you. Write it down. Ask God to reveal to you his message. Write down whatever thoughts you have.
  • Bake by meditating on the passage for 5-10 minutes, or longer if desired.
  • Reading time is done when that stand-out verse is golden brown, sending a fresh aroma through your soul.

Usually a good confirmation of God speaking to you comes when you start getting the same message from every direction: Sunday message, Bible reading time, books you are reading, friends, Twitter, and so on (and no, I did not learn about God speaking through Twitter during college in the early '90's).

And that's the complete recipe!

Here's an example of my very simple recipe applied to Psalm 19 (by the way, I love Bible Gateway! It's one of the tools I will be discussing later on).

On my first read through, two verses stand out:
13 Keep me from deliberate sins
14 May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord.

I know that God gives forgiveness for all the mistakes I make. But the actions that keep me up at night are the ones I knew were wrong at the time I was doing them. I always want to know, is there grace for those actions? Because those probably outnumber the accidental sins by, oh, I don't know, maybe 14 (or 140) to 1.

Here I see that even David, the man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), had to ask God for strength to keep himself from willful sin. What a great relief. If he could pray it, then so may I.

And my prayer always, is that God would be pleased by the things I say and the things about which I privately think.

Dear Lord, give me strength today, to resist temptation to commit willful sins, and to act and think in ways that would make you happy. Amen.

Time to close the books, put the pen away (where baby can't get it and write all.over.the.house), and begin the rest of my day.

Read Psalm 19 with me? What verse stands out to you most on your first reading?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Collecting Ingredients :: Unlock the Bible {3}

Today marks Day 3 of a 30 day series discussing how to systematically crack open the Bible, using a food-related theme. This post addresses part two of this statement I made yesterday.

Three key elements make up a nutritious spiritual breakfast: proper preparation, a collection of the right ingredients, and a simple recipe.

What’s the first step to following a recipe? Before you bake a cake or make a stir-fry, you pull out your ingredients and set them on the counter. That way when you suddenly realize you’re out of baking soda or some other essential ingredient, you can stop and make a quick run to the store before getting to a critical step in the process.

So what ingredients do you need to study the Bible? Truthfully, all you need is . . . a Bible. I hope that by the end of this 30 day series, you may even be more comfortable with the Bible alone.

But I’d like to just share with you some of my favorite ingredients for a successful study time.First, I collect my ingredients in a tote bag. I have my eye on a cute new one for Christmas, but for now the bag I have does the job of keeping everything in one place. In my tote I keep:

  • My Bible (New Living Translation)
  • My journal and a special pen
  • A spiral notebook for jotting down the barrage of unrelated thoughts that try to sabotage my quiet times. Sometimes the best way to silence a noisy to-do list is to commit it to paper so I can ignore it.
  • A packet of blank greeting cards. Often a friend will come to mind as I read a particular verse, and I can just jot down a note to her while I say a prayer for her. As a side note, I have also begun to keep a book of stamps in my address folder so I can get that note out the same day.
  • Headphones. Yep, the kind you wear to keep out noise, not the kind that put more noise in your head. It’s amazing how much more easily I can focus the moment I put those headphones on my head.
  • Sometimes I also have a piece or two of chocolate in there, because a bite of creamy goodness releases the endorphins and propels me to a different spiritual plane. In case you are wondering, Dark Chocolate Dove Promises are my happy bites of choice.

This week I have a few new additions to my ingredients tote:

  • The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. This book has been sitting on my shelf almost half my life, and I just finally opened it a month ago. What a treasure I have found in its pages, encouraging me to seek God's presence in every moment.
  • 199 Treasures of Wisdom on Talking with God, compiled from the writings of Andrew Murray. If I get stuck or need a kick in the right direction, I can pull out either of these slim books celebrating the Christian life. 
  • God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, by L. L. Barkat. I am very excited about this 12-week course gently encouraging spiritual discipline in a manner a bit more approachable than Richard Foster or Oswald Chambers (who also offer excellent, though challenging, writings on the Christian life). I have just managed to read the first chapter so far, but will be sharing more with you as I get into it further. Discipline is one of my key growth areas at the moment.

When I sit down for quiet time with my special tote bag, I can eliminate most reasons I might encounter to get up and look for something. If your life is anything like mine, sitting down for quiet time is challenging enough the first time, without having to get up for a pen and run interference through the household with the hope I can get back to my chair while all the plates are still spinning.

You have been patient this week as I get my stride, building a bit of foundation before actually discussing “how-to” read the Bible at all. Tomorrow we finally get a look at a simple recipe to crack the book open, breakfast style.

Do you have an ingredient collection?I have found two new friends online who discuss theirs. You might enjoy reading their posts for further ideas.

Jennifer Dukes Lee, discussing her Tent and Altar at Getting Down With Jesus.
Gordon Atkinson, posting about his Lenten Satchel at The High Calling.

To read more posts in this series, click the tag Unlock the Bible.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Prepare :: Unlock the Bible {2}

Have you brought your appetite today? It’s breakfast time! Wait, what? You say you don’t usually eat breakfast? I have to tell you, you are missing out!

A sizable percentage of Americans skip breakfast every day, in the interest of grabbing a few more minutes of shut-eye. But skipping breakfast sets your body up for an empty fuel tank just an hour into the day, and can poorly influence the choices you do make when you finally find a moment to eat.

Similarly, many believers skip that first morning meal with the Lord, their spiritual breakfast. Then the rest of the day becomes a catch-up game. But the Lord never intended us to live that way.

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.”
Psalm 127:1 (NLT).

Each day, the Lord wants to build our day. We can go charging on ahead of him and make our own way, but then we spin our wheels and wonder why we feel so ineffective day after day.

So how can you get off to a good healthy start? Three key elements make up a nutritious spiritual breakfast: proper preparation, a collection of the right ingredients, and a simple recipe. As you probably already know, when your morning routine strays from simple, it disintegrates into chaos.

Proper Preparation
1. Rest. Did you know that the Hebrew day started with evening, then continued with daytime? Notice the phrasing in Genesis 1: And the evening and the morning were the first day. Similarly, Sabbath began at sundown of the day before it.

The amazing result of this structure has us rising each morning to greet God in the midst of his daily work. He doesn’t need our help to do anything. He first gives us rest, then we join him at work by applying ourselves to our daily routine.

But first... he wants us to greet him, and perhaps he wants to speak at the beginning of our day. He can do this when we take at least a few moments to read Scripture, this living document that can speak directly to us.

And while getting up a few minutes early is seldom easy for me, it is always more difficult if I have not set myself up with a full night of rest. Prepare yourself to hear God by guarding your rest.

2. Invite. Before ever opening God’s word, train yourself to stop and breathe a prayer of invitation for the Lord to join you in the moment and speak to you through his life-changing Word. Without this, God can still speak, but I think it’s like trying to listen to your iPod through a set of earmuffs.

I like to picture myself inviting God to look over my shoulder as I read; to reach down to point out the words he has for me; to lift them from the page and give them life before my eyes.

Tomorrow we'll talk about having the right ingredients for your "breakfast" Bible reading time. For today, how about you? How do you prepare for your time reading the Bible?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Best Food Ever :: Unlock the Bible {1}

Welcome to November. 2010 seemed to have such import when it arrived; yet it continues to slip away just as quickly as the years before it.


The days pour into months, months into years, and years evaporate at a mind-numbing pace. Somehow almost 15 years have passed since I graduated college with a diploma certifying that I had successfully earned a degree in Christian Education (how to teach people about the God and the Bible), and had additionally studied the Bible itself enough for a second degree in Biblical Literature.

The Bible stands unique among literature, claiming itself as the living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

The Bible is a living document, that acts on the reader! In the 30 days series beginning today, you will not learn everything there is to know about the Bible. However, I hope you will systematically learn enough to increase your confidence as you study this amazing book.

The Best Food Ever!
My brain learns best when I can identify a system to the thing I am trying to learn, for then every new piece of information can be assigned to a part of the system. As I thought about how to systematically share background information, methodology, tools and more, I found a parallel between the Bible as spiritual nutrition, and food as physical nutrition. So I’m going with this as my system throughout the 30 days.

Just as we use food for different purposes throughout the day, so can we read the Bible in different ways at different times. In the morning, we look for God’s blessing on our day, and maybe a word of direction. Throughout the day, we call on memorized Scripture as sustenance. And at some point, we need to sit down for a good hearty meal of intentional study.

Did you know that when God first established his people as a nation, he declared that any new king was to write out the Law (basically the book of Deuteronomy) as his first task? And that his job was to read from the Law every day of his reign? (Catch it in Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself the queen of my little kingdom. Even if I don’t go to the extent of copying out the Law, I do need to be reading from God’s Word every day of my life, and making regular study an intentional priority. Without it, my spirit slowly starves until I have nothing left to give my family.

I am so glad you are joining me on this journey to break into that life-giving source of spiritual nutrition. Tomorrow we will start with Breakfast. We will stay there a few days, which makes me happy because breakfast is generally my favorite meal of the day. I hope you’re hungry!

Today I would love to hear from you. What are your favorite methods of Bible study? What questions do you have regarding unlocking this amazing (and sometimes intimidating) book?