God is Infinite

One time I asked my dad to take one of my dogs to the vet to get spayed. I said that Duff needed to go to the vet, but I couldn’t leave work at the time that they needed her there. My dad called me to see if he had the correct dog, since I have two dogs, and they are both black. 

He was calling Jules (the wrong dog) by the name Duff (the right dog) but ultimately he had the wrong dog. 

I think that sometimes, we think we are talking about the one true God, but because we don’t truly know who He is and what His character is like, we have the wrong god. 

If we are going to have a faith that lasts, we need to know who we are putting our faith in. We need to make sure we have the right God.

We also need to know that this side of heaven we will never understand our God fully. We won’t truly know Him until we get to meet Him face to face. The Bible says that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Even still, He has given us the Bible so we can know Him as well as our minds can comprehend here on earth. My goal is that in this life, I won’t let anything come between me and my study of the Bible so that I can know God as fully as my human brain will allow; and I want to introduce you to Him.

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When starting to learn about His characteristics, I think we need to start in the beginning. The Bible opens up in Genesis 1:1.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


In the very beginning, God was there. We know that God had to be God before the heavens and earth to have been able to create them. So we can gather that He always was. In John 1:1-3 we get a little more detail about what it was like at the creation. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

The Word that this is talking about is Jesus. By this we can know that Jesus and God were both there before the beginning, so they have no beginning. Revelation gives us even more detail and says that God is the beginning and the end. 

As humans, we all have a beginning. There is a day that we were born, and none of us will get to escape the day that we will die. We all have a defined beginning, and a defined end. Our God exists outside of that. 

Human beings also have a body. There is very defined matter that is a human, and it can be measured where that body stops. Contrary to humans, God cannot be contained in all of heaven, and much less can be contained inside a body.

Solomon when building the temple for God in 1 Kings 8:27 said:

Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, 

Much less this temple I have built.

He knew that God could not be contained, yet humanity has tried over and over again, creating cast idols trying to put an image or a being to who God is. But God is more vast than we could ever imagine, and cannot be measured. 

Psalm 145:3 speaks of this as well, saying:

Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
    No one can measure his greatness.

So what does this have to do with us? Why should we care about the greatness and infiniteness of God?

Well, first it proves that we are not God (just in case that may have been in question). Since we can be measured, and we have a definite beginning and end, when held up to the standards God has set for being God, we don’t measure up. We fall short. This should cause us to walk humbly with God, knowing that He is greater, and knows better than we do.

Second, it can assure us that God is big enough to handle our questions. God is not threatened when we ask Him big questions like “why,” or “how?” He knows the answers, and He wants us to draw close to Him to find comfort in the questioning. Our questions are not a threat to God, and are even encouraged. God is more than big enough to handle them all. 

Third, knowing that God is infinite, and that the whole universe cannot contain all of Him, we know we are never far from where He is. He is everywhere, all around us. He is the air we breathe, we cannot hide from Him, there is no where we can go that He is not also there. Psalm 139:7-8 says we can’t go anywhere to escape from God. No matter where we go, He is there. 

So this week, what are some ways you can acknowledge God’s infiniteness?

How does God’s infiniteness change how you relate to Him?

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5 Tips for Studying the Bible

Last year, Rhett and I went to the Grand Canyon and viewed it from the rim. We could look over the edge, see the mark it made in the earth, and get a sense of its size but that wide view was it. We didn’t get up close and personal and we couldn’t quite grasp the scope of the canyon from the top. from that little taste, I knew I wanted more.

This year, we hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. We started on the North Kaibab trail, and hiked down into Phantom Ranch. We camped at the bottom, and then hiked up the Bright Angel trail to the south rim. We saw several of the creeks that fed into the Colorado river, and dipped our feet in them. We came within a few feet of a deer that was grazing. We saw lizards, a snake, and so many different types of bugs. The trees were gorgeous, and their ability to thrive in a desert ecosystem was awe-inspiring. 

If we had settled for visiting the rim, yes, we could say that we had been to the Grand Canyon. However, because I have had the incredible experience of hiking it, I have seen the Grand Canyon in a deeper, more revealing way. I know it more intimately.

I think this same thing can happen with us as we read and study the Bible.

Reading the Bible is like visiting the Grand Canyon from the top. You might see a little bit of it, and you might get some of the highlights, but you won’t get to the really good stuff. You won’t get to know the depths of it, or see themes that run through from beginning to end that tell of the glory of God. You might get glimpses, but won’t get the whole picture.

Studying the Bible is like hiking the Canyon. You spend time in it, get to know what it is like. Feel the words speaking to you about who God is as He reveals Himself to you. 

For much of my life, I feel I have been satisfied with far too little. Reading the Bible, and reading other people’s thoughts on the Bible might have been okay for a time, but I am at the point now where I want to know it for myself. I want to hear directly from God about who He is, and I don’t want anything less than that to quench my thirst for Him. 

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5 Tips for Studying the Bible

1. Pay attention to the text. 

Do you consider yourself observant? What color shirt was each member of your family wearing when they left the house today? Or what about the mileage on your car when you drove it last? 

Small details are easy to miss, but when we are studying the Bible, it is imperative to pay attention to all of the small details. Those details help complete the picture as we study. 

2. Think critically. 

You can always follow a template and ask the same questions of every passage you approach, but if you think critically, and investigate different aspects of the specific passage you are reading, you will come away with a greater understanding. As you approach the Scriptures, pay attention to what it is saying, and then start to process what that means, and how it happened, and why. Exploring different questions based on the passage helps to understand the passage more clearly. 

3. Stop trying to reach perfect study.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. I feel like I can’t miss anything, and maybe even that I need to know everything. But that is just not true! I will never be perfect, and neither will anyone else. So instead of reaching for perfection in our study, we need to switch to simply reaching for God. Michael S. Heiser, author of Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study says, “Good but imperfect Bible study is better than no Bible study. God doesn’t expect perfection in our study of Scripture. He expects perseverance.” Persevere in your study of the Word, and God will help you to fill in the gaps. 

4. Look it up.

Don’t be afraid to look something up, even if you think you already know what it means. It could be a word, or a city, or even a process they may go through in Jewish culture. I have learned so much more, and understood things in such a deeper way, simply by making a habit of looking things up. 

5. Take it slow.

This is not a contest to see who finishes first, but instead it is a drawing of our hearts closer to God’s. This is not a race. Really take your time to dig in, and dig deep with the Scriptures so that they take root in your life. If our goal is to truly be transformed by the Word, that is not going to happen overnight -  instead, it is a slow steeping of ourselves in the Bible. This is what I want for my life, and it is my desire for you too! 

As I approach Scripture, I try to keep these things in mind. Bible study is a long game - not an overnight thing. It is not as glamorous as fancy teachers and social media make it out to be, but knowing God intimately though His Word is better than one could ever dream.



Grand Canyon: A Recap of my Rim to Rim Hike

Last year when Rhett and I went to the Grand Canyon, I knew that just seeing it from the top wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to hike it. I wanted to see the Colorado River, and view the canyon from the inside out.

Coming home from that trip, I mentioned it to my dad (the ultimate trip planner) and he emailed me an itinerary 2 weeks later for this past weekend in July. We invited the family, and then booked with Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA which is now REI Co-op). 

We started in Scottsdale, AZ, and our guides Casey and Mike picked us up there. The way the guided trips go, they have a main guide and a safety guide. The safety guide helps the hikers decide if they are cut out for the task at hand, and gives helps give a way out if the hike ends up being harder than it was expected to be. The main guide stays with the group the whole trip, and helps to navigate the challenges of packing enough water for the next segment, where to hike, and in our case, helped us recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion early so we would be able to complete the hike.

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As we drove from Scottsdale to the North Rim, Casey and Mike were a wealth of knowledge. They told us about the first civilizations to settle the Phoenix area, asked us questions to get us thinking about why different areas would have been advantageous for those early civilizations, and even explained the challenges brought on for those early civilizations by the terrain. Casey and Mike detailed the mountains we passed, gave us fun trivia facts, and even had laminated maps (thanks, Mike!) to show us the big picture of the ground we were covering on the Colorado Plateau. If we had only had the car ride with our guides, the whole trip would have been worth it for me. 

We arrived at the North Rim, and our guides showed us the daunting challenge laid out before us, and detailed the trail that we would be hiking the next day. They showed us some of the different layers of rocks that we could see from our vantage point, and we watched those layers glow in the sunset as we anticipated the days of hiking to come.

We camped on the North Rim, and woke up at a dark and early 3 am to get a good start on the hike before the sun (and heat) came up. We packed our sandwiches for the hike in the dark, and savored a cup of coffee before we started. It was a chilly 40* as we started hiking the North Kaibab trail with our food and water in our packs. Casey led us down the canyon, with Mike safety guiding and carrying our breakfast. The terrain slowly changed as we hiked down, and we could see the light peeking around the canyon as we twisted and wound down switchbacks past layers of rocks millions of years old. At the 3 mile mark, we ate a breakfast of bagels, fruit, granola bars and yogurt while Casey and Mike encouraged us that we were ready for this hike. Their encouragement was vital to us believing in ourselves that we could actually do this. 

Mike then left us with Casey so he could drive the car around and pick us up on the South Rim. The heart these guides had to take care of us and anticipate what we needed on the trails was astounding. It was obvious that their heart was in these trips, and that they not only loved this trail on this canyon, but they loved bringing other people into their world to help guide them to see the depths of the beauty that could not be seen from the rim. 

We would hike for a bit, and then Casey would stop us to show us a plant and tell us a little bit about it. We hiked a bit more, and then he would show us the changes in the rock. Casey not only had the head knowledge about the canyon, but he also had a heart knowledge, and wanted us to experience the fullness that the canyon had to offer. 

On that first day, we hiked down the North Kaibab trail, and it went downhill for about 6 miles, and the last 8 miles was a little flatter, and mostly along a creek that we got to see from its origin shooting out the rock in the canyon, to flowing into the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. This unexpected stream in the desert turned out to be such grace to help cool us as we hiked. Our first time crossing the stream, we all tried to not get too wet, but after feeling the heat of the desert, and the stagnant air of the canyon, every crossing after that we soaked ourselves as much as possible to keep away the heat exhaustion. 

My first experience with heat exhaustion on the trip, I simply whispered to my mom that I felt sick, and she told Casey. He immediately asked my heart rate, and then gave me water to dump on my head. Within minutes I was feeling better, and so thankful for a guide who could recognize the symptoms before it was too late and heat exhaustion turned into heat stroke. 

We then went into a section of the trail called “the Box.” It is a box canyon inside of the Grand Canyon, and the walls are tall and made of dark rocks. Those dark rocks absorb the heat from the sun, and then reflect it back onto the hikers passing through, making it feel even hotter. When in the box, it is easy to lose track of how far the hike is, and the miles drag on. The trail lead us to Phantom ranch right on the other side of the box canyon, and we got some lemonade and rest for the evening. 

The AOA, now REI handled all our accommodations for the trip, and took care of where we were staying, and even food. (I can’t stop thinking about the stew they served for dinner at the Ranch. YUM.) They got the permits for us to stay at Phantom Ranch, a working ranch, operated by a full time staff that lives at the bottom of the canyon. The staff works in shifts of 10 days and then getting 4 days off. The catch is if they ever want to leave, they have to hike out! Yikes. Talk about a commute to work! 

Casey gave us some options of fun stuff to do at the bottom, and we all promptly took a nap instead. The first day was 14 miles downhill, and to be honest by the time we got to the bottom, all I could think about was the fact that we were going to have to hike back out. 

The next morning, 4:30 am came early. We woke up, packed our bags, and got breakfast before leaving the camp. It would be 5 miles until we got to fill up our water again, so we filled our packs up to 4L capacity with water. The first thing we came to was the Colorado river rushing blue. We hiked over the silver bridge, and up the Bright Angel trail. Hiking up was definitely harder than hiking down was, but it was a much welcome reprieve for our muscles that were sore from hiking down the day before. We hiked along the river for a little while, and then turned and were alongside another creek that flowed back down into the Colorado. This time, we were much more willing to soak our clothes for the hike, knowing the heat that lay before us on our way out of the canyon. 

The progress made on the hike up was very visible, and seemed to go quick. Looking back, we could easily see where we came from, so it was encouraging to see the progress being made. Casey was again diligent in showing us little features in the canyon that we may have missed if it wasn’t for his guiding our gaze to parts of the trail that weren’t the places where our feet were stepping next. The first big stop for the day was at Indian Garden. It is visible from the South Rim, and looks like a grove of trees. We sat under their shade and ate lunch and filled up our water packs. We watched a deer eating her lunch not far away from us, and took a much needed refresh at this point in the hike. Because of all the downhill hiking from the day before, my knee had really started to bother me, so Rhett and my cousin Brandon took everything with weight out of my pack except my water and food, and I loaded up on Advil to finish out the hike. 

The top part of the Bright Angel trail was the most difficult part of the entire hike. It wasn’t too steep, but it seemed never ending. It was slow going and as the elevation got higher, it was harder to breathe. Mike met us with 3 miles to go with watermelon, Gatorade and sweet tea. He had listened to all of our favorites on the drive up, and hiked them into the canyon for us to give us the motivation to finish out the hike. 

The whole experience was wonderful. Casey and Mike were the best guides we could have ever asked for, and we could not have done it without them. 

This trip was one of the hardest, most beautiful, and fun things I have ever done. Everywhere you looked there was indescribable beauty, whether in a plant, an unexpected stream, or just the canyon itself.

I was asked if I would do it again, and I think my answer is yes. I would do it again, but I would do a few things differently. The first, I would take Oofos to the bottom. After hiking all day, I want my feet in something comfortable. The second, I would put my feet in the Colorado river. I am still bummed that I saw it, but never got in it. 

There is so much depth and beauty to the Grand Canyon that I would have missed had I been content to stay at the top. I wouldn’t have gotten an up close and personal view of each of the plants and the wildlife that we encountered. The Canyon is awe inspiring from the top, but intimate and revealing from inside of it. I am so grateful for the chance to hike it rim to rim, and experience it in such a personal way.

God-Breathed: Understanding the Power of the Bible to Equip and Transform

I love reading by Bible. But that hasn’t always been the case. When I was around 12, I confessed to my dad that I actually didn’t really like reading my Bible. This is not something a pastor’s kid, a regular church attender, a “good girl” should say.

But it was true.

I wanted to like reading my Bible, but I found it hard to understand, and there were often other things I would’ve rather been doing.

Let’s be honest, reading the Bible can be hard, and we don’t always like to, or want to. But we need to, because God’s Word is powerful. Through reading and studying the Bible, we come to know God more and are transformed into who He created us to be.

After graciously listening to me, my dad spoke a phrase that has stuck with me ever since: A divine interaction takes place when we read God’s Word.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed…”

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In Genesis 2, we read of God creating man. Verse 7 says God “formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Emphasis mine) God’s breath is the breath of life, and it brought people to life. All Scripture is God-breathed, so “The word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). God interacts with us through the pages of His Word. Because of this divine interaction, this God-breathing, the Bible is powerful. 2 Timothy 3 goes on to describe the powerful working of God’s Word in our hearts and lives, saying all Scripture “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (vv. 16-17)

Teaching

The Bible teaches us who God is, who we are in Him, and what it looks like for us to live in relationship with Him. From Genesis to Revelation His character is revealed to us and His will is made known to us. His covenant with His people and the Gospel of Christ are told, and we are invited to join in. We are shown our true identity and purpose, and taught how to live out this truth in our actions and attitudes. 

Rebuking

When there are actions, attitudes, priorities or perspectives in our life that are not in line with God’s character and will, the Bible rebukes us, convicting us of something that needs to change. Rebuke may seem like a harsh word, but God rebukes out of love, to draw us away from what is wrong and harmful, and draw us closer to Himself.

Correcting

In the Bible, we learn how to make the changes we need to make to live as who God created us to be. The new attitude we must put on, the new action we must carry out, a rearranging of our priorities, a transforming of our perspectives. There are definitely times in reading the Bible that we find encouragement and are uplifted, but there should also be times of correction; times of growth and transformation. This change can be hard, but “God disciplines us for our good, so we may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).”

Training in Righteousness

This discipline has a reward, for God’s Word trains in righteousness. The righteousness of God is our true identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through God’s Word, we are shaped into Christ-likeness, learning how to live like Jesus in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Through all this - the teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness - we become equipped. We are enabled and empowered to walk in obedience to God.

During the times of reading the Bible when it seems like you’re not getting much out it, when God maybe feels distant, when nothing is jumping off the page or is stirring your heart, keep going. Because in reading your Bible, a divine interaction is taking place, and you are being equipped. Each chapter read, each encouraging verse hidden in the heart, each time of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, is a time of divine interaction, transformation, and preparation.

Jessica Faith Hagen is a single, 20-something gal who's learning to live with confidence and contentment in Christ, and writing to help other single, 20-something women find their worth and joy in Jesus. She shares encouragement and teaching from God's Word to help them root their identity in Christ, choose joy, and grow in Christ-likeness, all so they can live bravely and joyfully for Jesus on her site The Overflowing.

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Prayer for When You Need a New Start

I love it when the first day of the month is a Monday. Today is a Monday, the first day of the Quarter, and the exact halfway point for the year. It is like some sort of magical new beginning.

I love new beginnings. I get to restart where I may have messed up. I get to quit things that aren’t serving me well. I get new energy towards tasks I have let slide (hello, there huge stack of laundry).

But if we are being really honest, there is nothing special about a Monday. There is nothing special about the 1st of the month, or even the year. We can have a new beginning anytime we decide. If we are in Jesus, we have even more than simply a new beginning, we have new life!

Romans 8:11 says that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from death to life is at work in us, and if that isn’t some good news to start our week! Through Christ, we have new life.

If you have never asked Jesus for a new start but you want to, that is all you have to do. Ask Him. He delights in giving out new starts!

If you are a believer in the new starts Jesus gives, and just want some refreshment today, this prayer is for you.

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Father,

Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for the Spirit inside of us that brings us new life. Thank You for Your plan to bring life into this world, it is more than we could have ever asked for or imagined.

On this day, we ask that You would renew in us a spirit of delight. Help us to delight in You! Help us to search our hearts for anything that might be holding us back.

Show us anything we might need to quit that isn’t serving us well.

Show us anything that might be taking our attention away from You.

Show us any commitments we might need to renew.

Show us any where we might need to stop striving and simply rest in You.

You are the Father of new starts. Give us one today.

We love You.

Amen.

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James: Count It All Joy

The phrase from the Bible that comes to my mind the most often is from James 1:2, “count it all joy.”

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I think I take it out of context more often than not, since James was writing to persecuted Christians, and my life is pretty easy here in the States. But it reminds me of where my focus is. Where my focus should be.

James says count it all joy, because all these trials we go through are making us more like Christ, and as Christ followers, that should be our goal. But the thing I notice most about this is that James doesn’t say “feel joy.” He says to count it as joy. We can feel upset about something, yet note that we are becoming more like Christ so it is ultimately good. We don’t have to manufacture fake feelings to count it all joy.

Spend 5-10 minutes journaling about what it looks like for you to count it all joy. There are no right answers, as this will look different for everyone.

Next time you are going through something hard, remember, no matter how we are feeling, we can count it as joy.

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Lisa Hensley: How a Mom of 4 Prioritizes Bible Study

“Reading the Bible was something we were encouraged to do, and I wanted to do what you were supposed to do.”

When I got the chance to talk to Lisa Hensley this past week, I instantly connected with what she was saying. As Christians we are told to read the Bible, but sometimes it just doesn’t connect with the heart. Sometimes we do it simply because we are supposed to do it.

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Lisa started reading her Bible when she was 12, because as a child raised in church that’s just what you are supposed to do. She has now been studying the Bible for over 20 years, and it has moved her to a much deeper relationship with God. Her relationship with Him now comes from the heart instead of from a place of obligation. She will now do whatever it takes to study the Bible, even though she has 4 very cute reasons that might make it difficult.

Being a mom of 4 boys, Lisa has to protect her time in the Word. It could be very easy to skip that time, and who would blame her? Not me! But she has done everything from reading the Bible on her phone while nursing, to putting a tv show on for her boys so that she can get some quality time with the Bible.

She says, “I know that it is vitally important that I know who God is and that I know what His character is, because that is how I have to filter what’s happening in my life, and that is how I know how I am supposed to be acting. The only way I can do that is by being in the Word.”

During Lisa’s personal time studying the Bible, she is now going through the Bible chronologically. She described 2 Kings and the prophets as "fun," and her passion for all things Old Testament definitely came through in her descriptions of what she is reading.

(If you want to catch a little of this passion, check out her Instagram stories, @alwayslisahensley. She is all the time making connections, and showing you how the Old Testament really can be fun.)

One of my favorite things Lisa said in during this conversation was, “Reading the Bible is not a race.” There is so much emphasis put on reading the Bible in a year, but she says to take your time. There is no rush. Read what you can each day, and take a few notes on that portion. Lisa’s approach leaves little room for the excuse of time, but so much room for grace in the time you have.

When asked what her favorite book of the Bible was, she gave me 2. Ephesians from the New Testament, and Deuteronomy from the Old Testament. Hearing her talk about why she loved each of these books made me want to go read each of them as soon as possible!

“Ephesians,” she said, “is packed with the whole story. There is so much deep theology of what God is doing in the world and what God is doing to redeem the world through Jesus.”

Then Deuteronomy she describes as a recap of what has happened to the people of Israel up to that point in history, and then as she says it “looks forward to circumcised hearts, and how God is going to come in with a new way of living that goes beyond what they could see then.” Which is ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus in the New Testament. Through these two books, she connects what unfortunately so many people separate, pointing to the fact that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.

Toward the end of our conversation, Lisa gave some tips for Bible study. She said, “Read the Old Testament Chronologically. It makes way more sense if you do that. Read in community. Get with other people and ask questions, bounce ideas off each other, they might have a perspective that you missed. The Bible was meant to be read this way. Next, be patient. It is not a race. It is going to take years of reading to uncover layer on layer on layer. You will build on your last reading. And the last is ask questions. There are a lot of big questions in the Bible, but truth is not challenged by questions. People might be, traditions might be, but truth isn’t.”

The last thing Lisa said before we left the phone call was that studying the Bible is worth the work. We may start off reading the Bible because it is what you are supposed to do, and some days might still feel like that. But it won’t always be like that. Lisa is living proof that Bible reading can move from something you do because you are “supposed to” to something you do for the joy of it.

If you want to hear more from Lisa, you can find her on her website https://www.lisahensley.me/ and on Instagram @alwayslisahensley. She aims to help you view life through the Gospel, and will break your book budget in the process.

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A Prayer for Reading the Bible

Are you ever intimidated when reading the Bible? What if you have questions? What if you don’t understand it? I have asked myself these same questions before. The size alone of a Bible with the small print can be enough to make you hesitant to crack it open.

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I got the chance to talk with Lisa Hensley the other day, and she said a something that really struck me about the Bible. She said, “truth is not challenged by questions.” I love how true that is about the Word of God. God is not threatened or offended when we have questions about His Word. He is not offended when we don’t understand something. Instead He offers that we come closer, that we look deeper into His Word and who He is.

One of the first verses I ever memorized was Psalm 119:11. It says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” All of Psalm chapter 119 is about valuing God’s Word, and putting it to practice in our lives. I want that to be true of me. If you get a chance today, sit down and read through Psalm 119. Ask God to give you a love for His Word like in the Psalm.

Do you have questions? God isn’t threatened by them. He wants to meet you on the pages of His Word.

Do you struggle to understand it? Ask God to give you wisdom to understand. Every time you crack open your Bible, ask Him to speak to you.

Father,

We so desperately want to be people of your Word. We want to meet You on the pages, and learn more about who You are. You have given us the gift of your Word, and we are so thankful.

In James, Your Word says that if we lack wisdom, we can ask You and You will give it generously. So we are asking for Your wisdom today. Help us to understand Your Word. Help us to boldly ask our questions to the One who knows all the answers. We want to be people who have chosen the way of truth.

As we study and uncover this truth, help us to not merely listen to it and walk away unchanged, but help us to do what it says, and walk in it. Light our path, and guide our steps.

Amen.

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Make the Bible Personal

Here in Middle Georgia, everything is personalized with a monogram. Purses, cars, earrings, luggage, notebooks, cups, everything. You can even buy the machines that cut out the vinyl that personalize everything. We have taken it to a whole new level.

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So how come, when we read God’s Word to us, we feel like it’s not personal? We feel like it isn’t relevant to our lives. But that isn’t the case. The Bible is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and is relevant to our lives today!

So I challenge you today. Take out your journal, and write out Ephesians 3:14-21 and personalize it. Where it says “you” write your name. Write it like it were a prayer from Paul, specifically for you.

How would your life be different if you took the Bible as a Word for you? Would your life change? Would you read it more, and do what it says (James 1:22).

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How to Pick a Bible Translation

I absolutely love shopping for books. It is one of my favorite pastimes. The smell of the books, the rows and rows of shelves combined with the hushed atmosphere is the best way to spend a Saturday morning. But there is something even more special to me about picking out a new Bible. I know it is the book I will spend the most time with over the next year, and I want to find one that is just right.

[Now at this point you could be thinking that I am obsessed with books. To that I say, you are not wrong.]

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Bible translation plays a huge role in what Bible to get. If you get a translation you don’t understand easily, but the cover is pretty, you are probably less likely to read it. So that brings us to the first point.

Get a translation you can understand.

If you can’t understand it, it’s not worth it. We are lucky that in English, we have so many different translations to choose from. They range on a scale from word for word translations, to a thought for thought translation. The thought for thought translations aren’t as close to the original language as a word for word translation is, but reading that is better than not reading the Bible at all! Common thought for thought translations are The New Living Translation (NLT) and the Living Bible (LB). If you are just starting out reading the Bible go read a couple verses in the NLT to see if you like that version.

Some translations that are closer to word for word are the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). The CSB is my personal preference for my daily reading. I use the She Reads Truth Bible, which has space to write next to the Scriptures. I also use the ESV for reference at times too. You can’t go wrong with either one of these versions.

A translation that is middle ground from these two categories is the New International Version (NIV). It has a mix of the two translation styles, and is easy to understand.

When you are picking out a Bible, I like to open to the same verse in each Bible and read the same passage of scripture to see which one is easiest to understand for me, and I pick that one. However, you don’t have to stick to just that one version.

Use more than one version.

It is beneficial when studying to use more than one translation. Like I mentioned, I use both the CSB and the ESV regularly. But when I am studying, sometimes I will look up a passage in 4-5 different versions. One translator may have translated a thought slightly differently than another translator, and I want to get as much information out of the text as I can! Using multiple translations helps me to do that effectively. The Youversion Bible App and sites like BibleGateway.com make it easy to use different translations. You simply have to pick a different version from a drop down list, and there you go! You have a great study tool for free right on your phone.

Taking the time to do a little work on the front end to pick out a good Bible translation will help tremendously when it comes to your time in the Word. It will be more enjoyable to read, and will be much easier to understand.

Have you picked out a favorite Bible translation? Which one do you use?

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    When God Answers Prayer

    I didn’t realize tadpoles were going to be the answer to my prayers.

    We were walking past a ditch on a road we had walked so many times before. Why I looked to see what might have been in the standing water, I am not sure. But today there was something there.

    Tadpoles.

    Just starting to sprout little legs, swimming through the water. There were too many to count! I had prayed that I would notice the little gifts God had placed throughout my day, and there they were. I didn’t want to miss out on something good He had planned for me, no matter how small.

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    I am not saying God always answers prayers with tadpoles. But I am saying that sometimes the answer to our prayers is unexpected.

    I want to be able to hold my requests loosely before God, knowing that His plans are better than my plans. His schedule is better than mine, and His gifts for me are better than anything I could have dreamed up myself.

    Father,

    I am so glad that your ways are higher than my ways, and that your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I have in my mind the way I think my days, weeks and months should go, but it is ultimately up to you how they unfold.

    Help me to hold my plans with a loose grip, but grasp onto you with all my strength.

    Help me not to blow past the little things, but to acknowledge that you are in the details, just as much as you are in the big picture. Guide my thoughts away from situations, and instead to You.

    Thank you for faithfully being the God Who Answers Prayers.

    Amen.

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    5 Tips for Studying Difficult Bible Passages

    This is a guest post by Cyndee Ownbey. Cyndee writes at her site Women’s Ministry Toolbox, and s passionate about pointing women to Christ and teaching them how to dig into the Word of God.

    Have you ever blown anything out of proportion? Made something harder than it really was?

    Several years ago, we visited Stone Mountain in Georgia. There is a high-speed Swiss cable car that “provides a stunning view of the Confederate Memorial Carving as it transports guests more than 825 feet above ground to the top of Stone Mountain.” Our boys could not wait to ride it!

    That sounds like great fun unless you’re terrified of heights! The longer we stood in line, the more nervous I became. I worked myself into such a panic that I felt like I was going to pass out before we even got in the cable car. I purposefully positioned myself in the middle, held on for dear life to the handrail, closed my eyes tight, and prayed. My heart raced. My legs shook, and my hands were so sweaty I almost lost my death grip on the handrail.

    When we finally exited the top, I wanted to celebrate and kiss the ground! We made it! As my heart rate began to slow to its normal pace, I was able to admit that it was not quite as terrifying as I had feared. On the way back down in the cable car, I even managed to open my eyes and look, admittedly still with a firm grasp on the handrail.

    I almost allowed my worries and fears to keep me from experiencing the beauty that could only be viewed from the top of the mountain. Not to mention the ribbing I would have gotten from our boys had I stayed on the ground down below!

    I think many of us do the same thing with Bible study sometimes.

    There are certain passages we skip over or avoid because they are too hard.

    This doesn’t make any sense.

    I can’t possibly understand this passage.

    I don’t know what this means.

    When we decide to skip over a passage because it’s too hard, we miss out on the beauty and knowledge God wants us to experience.

    Unfortunately closing our eyes to overcome tough Bible passages doesn’t work! But I do have some tips and tricks to share that may help you push through difficult Bible passages when you encounter them.

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    5 Tips for Studying Difficult Bible Passages

    Examine the context.

    What do we know that can help provide some clarity? Who wrote the passage? Who was it written to? Why did they write it? When did they write it? What was the purpose of this passage? Once you’ve answered those questions, try and read it again with fresh eyes and understanding.

    Dial out and look at the big picture.

    That passage on its own may not make a bit of sense, but when you zoom out and look at the verses or chapters before and after, things just might click! What is the topic the writer is talking about in this chapter? Does my interpretation line up with the surrounding verses? Where are other places in scripture that communicate the same message or truth? What does this passage say about God?

    Consult a trusted commentary.

    I am thankful for men and women who have dedicated years of their lives to the study of the Bible. Commentaries, books written by Biblical scholars, provide snapshots of historical and cultural facts that can dramatically affect our interpretation of a Bible passage.  If you use a study Bible, those notes at the bottom or in the margin are a commentary. If not, you can access many free commentaries online. Or you may find it worthwhile to invest in a set of commentaries. I use The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (2 volume edition), they make a great Christmas or birthday gift!

    Text or phone a friend.

    Stop for a moment and think of a godly, wise friend that may be able to get you unstuck. God’s given us brothers and sisters in Christ to spur one another on. Small group leaders, present and former, can be great resources.

    Pray and let it go.

    Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Some things are just beyond our understanding. Rather than get permanently stuck, we can pray, listen to the Holy Spirit, wrestle with it a bit, and move on.

    Don’t let a difficult Bible passage sideline your time in the Word. Work through it if you can using the tips listed above. Revisit those passages in the future and trust God’s timing.


    Cyndee Ownbey serves as a mentor to thousands of women’s ministry leaders through her website Women’s Ministry Toolbox. Providing practical tips, encouragement, and resources gleaned from 20 years of ministry experience, she assists leaders in creating relevant events and activities that meet the changing needs of the women in their church and community. Cyndee is passionate about pointing women to Christ and teaching them how to dig into the Word of God.  

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    Good Gifts

    It seems like the days are passing especially quickly this summer. Things I looked forward to for so long have already come and gone, and things that I am still looking towards are right around the corner! I don’t want to get caught up in the rush, and miss out on the little gifts God has placed in my day. Let’s take a second together today to thank God for those little gifts. Let’s ask Him to help us slow down long enough to see them.

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    Father,

    You are the author of every good thing. The Bible says in James that every good gift comes from You. We are surrounded by such good gifts, if we would only take the time to see them. This doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but God it means that You are with us, giving us good gifts, even in the mess.

    Help us to look for You this week. Help us to see You in the good gifts all around us. Help us to see You in that first sip of coffee in the morning, and the sunshine of summer. Help us to notice little joys that make us smile and think of You.

    As our Father, you delight in us, and we want to delight in You too! Tug on our hearts. Draw us to you. Help us to notice when You do.

    Amen

    Journal Prompt: Gratitude

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    Over the past month, I have been so overwhelmed with the to-do lists and the craziness. I could blame this on the final days of school, and the transition to summer, but y’all, I don’t even have kids to blame it on!

    But one thing that I have found always calms me down is gratitude. Spending time acknowledging the gifts I have been given, and giving thanks to the One who gives them.

    So I challenge you today to take 10 minutes and sit down with your journal. Take the first 5 minutes and list as many things as you can think of that you are thankful for. Then take the next 5 minutes and thank God for those things. Take note and see if your whole spirit is calmer afterwards. I would bet it is.

    “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

    his faithful love endures forever.” -Psalm 107:1

    Read the Bible Like It Really Matters

    This is a guest post by Elizabeth Cravillion. Elizabeth writes to shine a light on the hard places of life on her website elizabethcravillion.com.

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    2019. An impressive time to live.

    We can practically have anything we want. I’m sitting in a Starbucks coffee shop with an Earl Grey latte with almond milk and honey. I drove here in my husband’s Silverado listening to a classic Easton Corbin song in a ball cap and my silver Allbirds. I get to customize all my choices.

    2019. Unlike our parents generation, we’re allowed to talk about our feelings and our mental health. Self-care is on trend. We’re bringing dark things into the light. Hashtags create a way for people to share their stories, even if from behind a screen.

    You could argue that we are healthier as a society than we’ve been for a long time.

    Problem? When we focus on one thing, we fall off balance and let other things slide.

    Generation X zoned in on appearances. Studying the Bible with stacks of commentaries and Bible dictionaries looked good and equated to being more spiritual. Learning has value but not if it just stays in my head. And paper Bibles a thousand thin pages long don’t feel relevant anymore, because we care less about looking so put-together spiritually.

    Old motives are no longer relevant, so what is?

    Truth.

    God’s word is truth and it never changes.

    And while we’ve shifted to self-care instead of self-neglect and practice shining a light on our pain and brokenness, we’ve turned ourselves into the center of our universe. And for us Jesus-followers, that’s not where we need to be.

    Jesus brought us truth and life but not always in the way we think. He says, “Here’s a new way - walk in it.” Yes, he brings freedom and mental and emotional health and loves that we’re finally valuing ourselves. He’s passionate about being in relationship with us, after all. But not on our terms. He is still God.

    So, 2019. Am I still supposed to read the Bible? What good does it do me?

    The Bible lays out clearly how God’s sees us and our culture, through dramatic stories of spiritual victories and moral failures, gut-wrenching prayers and worship, practical guidance in letters to Jesus-followers and God’s direct words to people through his messengers.

    “Make them holy - consecrated - with the truth; Your word is consecrating truth.” Jesus prayed this for us (John 17:17, MSG).

    How can God’s truth shape my real life today?

    I have to know what it says.

    So I stick it on audio and listen to it through my earbuds. I buy an actual paper journal and write out verses so I can focus my attention on the truth for a few quiet minutes.

    We can find a Bible translation that connects with our soul. Original Bible authors wrote in everyday Hebrew and Greek - street language. Centuries later, Reformers translated it from the formal Latin into common German and English. God never intended us to read the Bible in archaic language. We can try the NLT, MSG or CSB or compare different versions of the same sections until we hear the truth in our heart language.

    I have to contrast my perception of life with God’s.

    I read lots of words that feel good on my phone every day. But do they all speak the whole truth? The Bible helps me redefine them. I write out my own mantras based on God’s truth.

    “I am okay,” becomes “God accepts me just as I am.”

    “I can do this,” shifts into “I can do this through Christ.”

    “Give myself grace,” changes to “Today I receive God’s grace for me.”

    Same principles, but filtered through God eyes.

    I believe I have control over what messages I let in.

    Even today, in a society of flash advertising and easy distractions, I still get to choose what I believe.

    God put us in 2019 for a reason. We live in the present. Let’s look for the ways we can leverage the healthy aspects of culture and always compare its messages to God’s truth and let him transform what needs to be redeemed in our minds.

    You can find Elizabeth on her Instagram, @ElizabethCravillion or her website at elizabethcravillion.com.

    Fear

    This post originally appeared on Laura Fox’s blog, Dandelion Centerpieces. Laura blogs about her life with her husband and 3 kids, and how she finds God in the middle of it all.

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    I remember as a child how long the route to my parents’ room was in the middle of the night. Darkness seemed to expand the hallway to three times its usual size. I imagine it’s the same way for my kids when they break into a dead sprint with my door as their goal. I sleep with one ear listening for the sound of a doorknob, pitter-patter, quickly I find I am the big spoon with tiny cold feet jammed between my calves and a sharp reminder to keep up on the toenail trimming.

    There are many reasons they come to me at night, but the most common culprit that pulls them out of bed to flee to the safety of my arms is

    Fear.

    Shadows. Unfamiliar noises. They each went through a phase where they were afraid of their ceiling fan because “it has eyes.” They are currently going through a fear of bees, making getting them outside to enjoy these beautiful Spring days an exercise in hostage negotiation (in which I am the hostage).

    Sometimes their imaginations take over as they lie in their beds, launching them into hysterics. This can usually be remedied by a quick flashlight search of their rooms and turning on the hallway light.

    The hardest are the vivid nightmares that seemingly come from nowhere. For these I hold the little spoon tight and pray until the trembling subsides.

    Can we talk about fear?

    To be called fearless would be the highest compliment I could receive and yet I know that I could never genuinely accept it because the truth is I am far from fearless.

    I am afraid of so many things.

    Fear is a shape shifter and takes many forms. Sometimes I don’t even realize that tugging the strings of my emotion marionettes of anxiety, stress, control, anger, insomnia— is that gleeful puppeteer: fear.

    My imagination can spin out of control as I play out scenario after scenario of what possibly could potentially be my future should certain things happen. Anxiety rises up to my neck. I reach my hands up and out grasping for something solid. Real. Predictable. Planned.

    I find myself attempting to author my own life, slipping into micromanagement just to feel like I can be in control of… something. Anything.

    Because, fear.

    I remember a former coworker of mine. She has since gained the heavenly crown I always envisioned on her regal head. Her memory continues to mentor me.

    I hear her voice so clearly in my mind.

    “I fear nothing and no one, but God Himself.”

    And I knew that to be true for her, without a doubt. Her chin was set in the perfect balance between pride and humility.

    Fear of God is not debilitating, controlling, or paralyzing. To fear solely God brings freedom.

    When I am particularly fearful (which has happened a few times lately), I seek to emulate that perfect chin. I declare,

    “I fear no one but God!” I proclaim it into being.

    Sometimes I blurt it out it and shuffle forward while covering my eyes with my hands.

    I sprint through the darkness to my Father’s door.

    Then I get to be the little spoon surrounded by that perfect love. The perfect love that casts out all fear.

    The perfect love that lights up my swollen feet as I put one foot in front of the other.

    I plod onward, and watch as he opens his hands and makes my path smooth. Shadows of irrational fears are lit up with His presence. Fears that I have given the strength of giants through my imagination, shrink and cower.

    And the things that are real? That are in fact my adversaries–

    I find I am no longer that afraid, because have you seen my God with his sword?

    He is fearsome.

    To find more of Laura’s writing, find her on her blog Dandelion Centerpieces.

    How to Get It All Done (hint: don't)

    I am in a stage of wondering how everyone else gets it all done. Have you ever been there? Seen the pictures with the perfectly staged meal, the clean kitchen and the happy husband? Being totally honest, I think we all feel that other people somehow have it all together and we are the only ones who didn’t get the memo about how to do it all.

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    I follow Erin Moon on Instagram, and she one time said that life is like spinning plates. Some of them are paper, and some of them are china. At some point you are going to drop a plate, so just make sure the one you drop is paper. So maybe all of those pictures we see from other people are simply the plates they have chosen to keep spinning. We don’t always see the plates that fell.

    Right now, my main china plate that I am choosing to keep spinning is having fun with my husband, Rhett. I will drop all of the plates to go to a Braves game or just on a drive to get a slushie with him. That means my house is not even close to being clean, and don’t ask me how long the dishes have been in the sink.

    Last night I came home from work and sat on the couch with Rhett. I had a blog post to write, but I completely forgot about it and ended up falling asleep watching a movie with Rhett. My china plate kept spinning, but unfortunately the plate of my 100 days of blogging in a row fell. Looking at it now, I think that was just a paper plate. Maybe a nicer paper plate like those you want for messy BBQ and baked beans. But still paper.

    Maybe it is time for you to reflect on the plates you have spinning in the air. Which ones are paper? Which ones are china? Is there a plate you aren’t spinning that you need to pick up? Which ones could you set down for a season?

    Take out a pen and paper. Make a list of your plates and sort them. It help you feel better about the dishes in your sink, I promise.

    Anger and Sarcasm

    My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry - James 1:19 NIV


    My Bible study lately has brought me to this verse. It seemed pretty self explanatory, and goes along with the common saying, we were given 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason, right? So I was just kind of going to skim over it. But in talking with a friend about it, I was convicted about just how common that sneaky little word "anger" works it's way into my daily life - specifically through sarcasm.

    Sarcasm is a pretty socially acceptable way to display little pockets of anger throughout your day. These comments seem harmless - witty even - however when added up, they become corrosive, each comment building on the last, slowly tearing others down. It's like a stream that over time tears through the rock, creating a chasm in it's wake.

    What if instead of letting these comments out, we held our tongue and were slow to speak? What if instead of meeting others with sarcasm, we met them with a little grace? To be honest, I am not very good at this. This past week I have watched my sarcastic comments pile up, and only once did I truly hold my tongue.

    But grace.

    I didn't become sarcastic overnight, and I won't all of a sudden stop overnight either (old habits die hard). But where the air was clear of that one comment, it seemed like a spot made room for just a little more Jesus in that moment. And I don't know about you, but I know my life could use a lot more of that.

    The Enemy of Your Bible Reading Plan

    Have you ever started a reading plan, and then life gets in the way? Maybe school starts picking up, or work gets crazy. Maybe your kid gets sick and it throws your whole schedule off. Sometimes life just happens. But ultimately I think there is one thing that keeps us from picking back up where we left off and finishing the reading plan - perfectionism.

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    I tend to have really lofty goals. But whenever something gets in my way, and I miss a day, I tend to beat myself up, and never finish the plan. Where as if I went into the plan knowing that sometimes life happens and I will miss a day, would I beat myself up so bad?

    If we know that we probably won’t achieve perfection, maybe we can give ourselves a bit more grace, and simply pick up where we left off.

    What if we broke the cycle of falling off the wagon, and started a new cycle of finishing, even if not perfect? I know it would help me with that extra push to keep going, even if I missed a day.

    Monday Prayer

    Monday’s are one of my favorite days of the week. I know, I know. That isn’t typical. But there is something about a fresh start every Monday that just gets me excited. Here is a prayer I am praying for each of us as we walk into this fresh start.

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    Father,

    We seek You out at the start of our week. We are looking to You to guide us and be with us as we face today. As the King of the Universe, only You know the course this week will take, and we want to follow You, wherever You lead. Please show us the next right step we should take.

    As we take these steps, help us to be a light. Help us to put You on display through our lives, and help us to love others in a way that reflects your very nature.

    We are Your people. Help us to live like it.

    But God, we know that we are only human, and we will make mistakes. We are thankful for Your love that covers even the worst mistakes, and never stops loving us. Meet us right where we are. We know you will, because You are faithful, even when we are not.

    Amen.