Christmas tree time of year

There are many opinions within the church surrounding Christmas and what we should and shouldn’t do. Some believers think we should change the date because it is unlikely that His birth was in December. Others feel we shouldn’t have one day set aside to celebrate it. Whilst still others abhor anything related to the old pagan celebration of Yuletide. The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate on different days to the Western churches.

Even Glenn and I have different preferences surrounding celebratory days such as Easter and Christmas. Glenn counts all days the same, where I love keeping special baking treats, music and decorations for certain times of the year. For me, it is a time of reflecting on certain aspects of the Gospel message; keeping these days as special pushes me into a special season with God. Glenn, on the other hand, does not speak to God in the same way and so the days are not made special for his faith.

So what is right, what is wrong, and does it matter?

This morning I reflected on our differences as I put on Christmas music and painted play-dough decorations with my toddler. During this time, I was reminded of Romans 14.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:4-6).

That makes it fairly clear, doesn’t it? We get to make the decision for ourselves and we aren’t to judge our fellow believers. The important thing, according to Paul, is that we seek to honour God. Please note that I am not talking about people celebrating in ways that contradict Scripture (drunkenness, orgies, pagan worship . . .)! I am talking about how we honour God, from believer to believer, can vary. For example, some of us find special days call us to reflection and remembrance, where others do not.

I highly recommend you read through the whole passage of Romans 14 this week and keep it in mind when you come across someone celebrating (or not celebrating) Christmas as you do. By all means, discuss your varying views with others, but only so far as it does not cause another believer to stumble. Let us walk in love, peace and mutual upbuilding. 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13).

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).

Christmas crafts

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Walking without sight

for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

This verse’s context is awaiting our eternity; until we die the first death, we must walk by faith and not sight.

This has been a theme for me as I have studied Deuteronomy again in preparation for teaching it this month. It is also a theme God has been stretching me in. But the good news, for those of us walking with God, is found in verse 5 of this passage:

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:5).

The Spirit is our guarantee of the life that is to come. He is also the One that enables us to walk without stumbling during this short season of blindness. It is His voice that must be our guide – even when it goes against all our natural instincts and human understanding.

The Spirit guides us along the path God has for us. God gives us some further helps as well, which are strongly reflected in the book of Deuteronomy. Here are a few of the gems He is giving me from Deuteronomy:

  • Trust in God’s character plays a large part in walking by faith. The Word of God is our guide to God’s character and then personal experience cements our understanding of His worthiness of our trust.
  • Understanding of God’s character leads us to love Him and it is from love that obedience flows most successfully. It is easy to obey a loving Father.
  • Remembrance of God’s past faithfulness also increases our faith in Him and breeds further trust and reliance on God.

This year God has stretched our faith in Him to provide on time. In fact, throughout my life walking by faith God has always perfectly matched provision to need. This past season He has deepened the lesson that we can afford to give hilariously (2 Cor 9:7 – cheerful can be rendered “hilarious”) where He leads us because it isn’t our money, but His, and He has plenty more in His storehouse for our needs! We have had several large provisional breakthroughs this year; all supernatural and all on the back of obeying His call to give in an extravagant manner (for our personal income and possessions) that had us laughing with incredulity!

He had also had us step out in faithful obedience to chase a ministry vision that is impossible without God’s input. Remembering Him doing the same in my life when calling me to co-found Redefined Ministries DRCongo and pioneer YWAMs Bible School in Rwanda is a good example of remembrance building future faith. I hold on to how these two ministries have grown since their birth when I am discouraged by lack of  (perceived) momentum in this current season. Again, Glenn and I are walking by faith and not sight in this area as we put money into converting our home into a mission hub, able to host visiting mission teams.

Walk by faith in God

It seems that God hasn’t finished with my lesson in this area yet. We fly out on a mission trip Thursday, but are still awaiting a passport to arrive. We both have peace not to change flights or make other plans, yet it is stretching us! Walking by sight would be allowing anxiety to creep in, change flights, or make alternative plans. Waking by faith means holding firm to the peace God has placed in our hearts that Thursday is our flying date. Again, remembering past lessons helps somewhat. I am racking up quite a few last minute miracle stories, but two memorable ones include:

  1. My first Rwandan visa coming through so last minute that I had taken a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg without it and had to run to my gate with my check-in luggage on my person.
  2. My son’s visa for a trip last year coming 10 minutes after the close of business day on the last business day before we flew.

I hope this post is an encouragement to some of you who might be trusting God for things that seem impossible by the physics or understanding of this world. Let’s keep in step with the Spirit, walking by faith and not sight!

 

As an addition (02/10/2018):

God came through with the passport and we are all set to go.

Last night and this morning He challenged me with these questions: “What is your understanding of Me and My character? Am I the Living God? Am I a God who keeps His Word? Have I not promised you it will come? Will you trust in Me and My word?” Yes, I trust Him and His word.

It was no longer a question of whether or not I should go; God had spoken to me that I should go on this trip. It had become a question of trust and – I felt God saying that, because I had written the blog post – it had also become a matter of His faithfulness to His Word. It had become about His character, not whether I had heard Him correctly. And, as we see, He is a God who keeps His Word. He is the Living God! 

Learning from John

Truth and Love

A big movement has arisen that declares that we can walk in love and grace, but ignore truth. The “hyper-grace movement”, as it has been termed. Yes, we must walk in love and grace towards one another, but part of love is holding one another to the truth.

Enter John. John ended his life known as “the Apostle of Love“. It is a name that, today, might bring forth images of dope-smoking hippies, but such an image couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus originally gave John, with his brother James, the name: “sons of thunder”. John was an emotive character and this didn’t simmer down as he aged. There is a tale of him jumping out of a public bath (streaking) when a known heretic entered it, because he would not share bath water with a false teacher. He remained passionate, but his passion became founded on the love of God.

John challenges me because he never compromised the truth to remain popular. He was known as the Apostle of Love by the body of Christ, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught in sin by him.  One only needs to read through 1 John to hear his fierce love for God’s people, and yet equal fire for the truth to remain unsoiled. I want to cut and paste the entire first epistle of John here, but I’ll content myself with a small passage with the hope that you will read through it yourself today (it’s only 5 chapters).

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

Pursing His truth and love

The prayer on my heart these past few months is that I would be known for love. Yet I know that this will only come to pass if I am also known for standing on the truth. God’s love and truth go together. The love of God is not a soft, wishy-washy love. God’s love is a fierce, jealous, consuming fire. God cannot abide sin, and those in Him will also be unable to continue in wilful sin (we all sin, but those in Christ should not make a knowing habit of any sin).

Our love for one another must also be fierce and protective. If we love one another, we will help keep one another from stumbling. When we read the epistles of Scripture they are commanding and corrective. The apostles guarded their flocks with a fierce love that called believers constantly back to the truth that they learnt in Christ.

Today we see a hyper-grace movement taking over the church. It falls under the same title as the gnostics of Apostle John’s ministry – libertarianism (from the gnostic belief that the body was evil and the soul good, so what one did with the body didn’t matter). Many churches today says that grace covers a multitude of sin and we must just “love one another”, but they ignore the fact that those who are in Christ have been made dead to sin! The love that is of God abhors sin. Those in Christ cannot keep making a habit of sin.

I feel like Paul’s argument in Romans makes it one hundred percent clear how we are to live (read Romans, or at least Romans 6-8!):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3)

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13)

Grace is not an excuse to sin and those who preach such are not standing on the truth of the Gospel! The good news is that we have been set free! We are no longer compelled by our sinful flesh!

Are you dead or alive?

Christ was humble and meek, yet He intentionally took the time to sit and weave a whip of cords and then go clear the temple out of those who had turned the court of Gentiles (where the Gentiles who loved God were meant to be allowed to worship) into a place of trade.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:15)

Jesus never condoned sin in all His ministry. He loved those in sin, offered them healing and forgiveness, and then called them to leave their lives of sin.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:10-12)

Those who are in Christ must turn away from the darkness and walk in the light – and who is the light? Jesus! He is the way, the truth and the life. Recently I was heard someone share that they were once told: “Stop being nicer than Jesus”. How appropriate. Jesus is love. Yet Jesus was direct and corrective. Remember His words to Peter?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Walk in His light

The New Testament is full of passages that push us towards living out the truth in love and I’ll list just a few at the end of this post. Not one of these passages, however, allow us to compromise the way of God for the ways of the world! Yet the church has washed out the truth to make way for the world’s understanding of love.

God loves all people, but few of them are His. Those who are saved are those who accept Christ Jesus as Lord. Full stop. God will not save everyone, but only those who believe on Christ’s name. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; all need God’s salvation. When did the church stop preaching this foundational message? We are all sinners in need of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.If we tell people that they are “good people” and “God loves them”, but do not tell them of their desperate need for God’s healing mercy and forgiveness then we have failed in our God-given commission. Accepting Christ means dying to our old self that was enslaved to sin and being set free to live righteously! 

The Gospel message is offensive to the world. We are not meant to be loved by the world. The New Testament is overflowing with the promise of persecution; Jesus Himself promised it (John 15:20, John 16:33)! If you are a Christian offended by this post then I challenge you to open the New Testament and read it from start to finish. What do you see of Christ? Who is He? What is His attitude to sin and compromise? And if this doesn’t convince you, go and reread Revelation and soak in the two camps – we are either in God’s camp, or we are in the world’s camp. There is no middle ground. And Christ’s camp is righteousness. 

So let us challenge ourselves to walk in truth with love. Let us challenge ourselves and our faith communities to walk in step with the teachings of the Bible. Let us ask God to reveal the true expression of love to us. Let our hearts be transformed into the image of Christ. Let us love sinners, and disciple believers. Let us no longer be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the Spirit into the glorious likeness of Christ.

Light or dark?

Here are those Scriptures I promised (that are very far from a complete list!):

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33 36).

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” . . . Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pe 1:14 -16, 22-23).

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. . . But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:15-17, 20-25)

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22)

Famine in the land

My last two posts have been focused on digging into the Bible so I thought I may as well continue the theme. I still have vivid memories from childhood and adolescence of asking God to open His Word up to me. I was hungry to go beyond a surface level understanding, but didn’t know how to. I was also a shy child when it came to revealing a lack of knowledge – I didn’t want to appear stupid – so I avoided asking questions. God faithfully answered my prayers to understand His Word and continues to do so. He has also emboldened me to ask questions and not fear man’s judgement. He is a good Father!

Despite knowing a lot more of the Word than I did, I still feel like I know the Word to a fraction of the extent that I should know it. Yet, when I look around me, I see that I know the Word more than most believers. This saddens me, because I do not know much of it at all! The treasures of the Word are unending, and yet there is a clear famine of the Word of God amongst His people today.

Why is the church experiencing a Bible famine? I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty, but a couple of my thoughts are: (1) we don’t make time for Bible study, (2) pastors are more concerned about keeping their congregations happy than preaching the Word of God, (3) believers rely solely on their pastors and the latest hit Christian author for their knowledge, rather than seeking truth from the Word, (4) believers (including pastors) are afraid of persecution from the world if they stand on the truth, (5) we want to make people feel good, rather than challenge each other to grow in character, (6) the church has lost its awe of God – awe meaning: reverent fear and wonder.

How sad that we live in a world of Bible famine, for the Word is God. It is living and active; it is sharper than a two-edged sword; it is the bread that sustains; it is the truth that sets free!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

Get into the Word of God and let Him transform your life! Ending Bible poverty has to start with our own knowledge. It has to start with our own hearts; we must be hungry for more knowledge of God, we must hunger to know Him.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)

This is my prayer. I long to hunger after God with my whole being. I long to crave Him as I do fine foods, rich desserts, and delectable drinks. I want to open my Bible and see Christ. I want to be transformed by His living Word. And I know that as I do, those around me will be drawn to it too.

Hungry, but not for food. Thirsty, but not for drink.

Scripture memory/ meditation

​Developing discipline, developing character

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8).

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3).

I had myself convinced that I’m unable to memorise Scripture. I told myself I’m not naturally gifted at memorisation, and that’s okay. I made excuses such as: “I know x,y,z in the Bible, so why must I know exactly where it is?” But God has challenged me on this. The Bible tells us that we should let the word dwell richly in our hearts, and that this makes our path sure. 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:30-31).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3).

What’s in your heart?

Meditating on the Word and tucking it away in our heart is what brings change in our lives. We should see growth in our character through time, and the Word and Spirit are the two that bring this about. When we memorise Scripture, the Spirit is then able to bring the right Scripture to mind to guide us in any given situation.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Beth. How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11).

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

Is the Word tucked up in your heart?

In Jesus’ time, Jewish boys were expected to have memorised the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), knowing it by heart by the age of 12! Jesus expected people to know the Law and be able to draw conclusions from it – memorising the Word, but also meditating on its meaning.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28).

The Law also expected the people to memorise God’s commands, write them on their houses, and physically tie copies to their heads and hands to remind them of it. They were to teach the Law to their children, talking and thinking of it all day long.

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).

Today’s education system is set up to have us forget – we cram all the information in for a term, are tested, and then forget it the very next term as we move on to new information. There is no building, there is no expectation to remember. How different from what the Scriptures above reveal about treasuring wisdom and knowledge, and what knowledge is more important than what God has revealed to us in His very Word!

We need to walk in obedience to God in all seasons of life, and God’s Spirit will guide us. In this season, God has challenged me to focus on Scripture memory and it is blessing me abundantly. It changes playing toddler games all day (which could feel rather mundane, rather quickly) into hours of worship. It invites God into my relationship with my son, and has me speaking truth over my boy. What a blessing for both of us!

Help for Scripture memory

I pray that God guides me into making Scripture memory a life long joy and devotion. I pray that I will pass this treasure on to my children and that they, too, will store the Word up in their hearts and minds. I pray for a change in our thinking as a church, and a change in what we value. Scripture memory takes time and focused attention, it means that we will have to sacrifice other activities and time wasters (Facebook, cough cough), in order to devote time to it – but what rich fruit it will produce! God, make memorising your Word a priority in our lives, and help us to simplify other areas in order to devote time to learning of you in your Word. Guide our memorisation with your Spirit.

In ending, I want to make it clear that we are not under the Law; we live out these spiritual disciplines from a place of sonship, as children who want to spend time with our loving Father. For me, Scripture memory (and meditation on it) is the area God has me focusing on and it is turning daily living into abundant life as it transforms my heart and brings me into His presence. If God is highlighting it to you also, then I suggest starting small – try memorising one verse you love each week.

Soaking up the Word

Bible study

​Developing discipline, developing character

Glenn and I often joke about how God chose us to be in ministry because everyone will know it is God, not us, doing the work. Why? Because Glenn and I are both inherently lazy people. Don’t get me wrong, we can both be work horses, but you have to appropriately motivate us. In actual fact, it usually takes God to motivate us to get off our backsides!

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6) – Yep, definitely is by His Spirit!

I am completely content spending my days reading novels or working on whatever latest project strikes my fancy. Glenn is equally happy to play computer games all day, with a little travel interspersed in between. Whilst this all might be fine in relaxation time, it is not a great choice for daily life. Laziness is not life giving and it certainly doesn’t bring a sense of purpose. Yet, even experiencing a feeling of purposelessness, it still feels easier to live for the flesh than to train (discipline) ourselves in the things of the Lord.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc 1:2-3) . . . Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; (Ecc 12:1)  . . . The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Why am I sharing this wonderful (hehem) insight into our character? Despite joking about God’s choice with Glenn, I have often had people make my life choices seem to be more to do with my person than with God at work in me. And so I bring this up in a blog about Bible study because this discipline is one I’m sure most people assume I find really easy to live out – because I am fiercely passionate about the Word of God and making it known. I want you to know that it is a choice I must make to strive after God, and I have to let Him put strategies into my life that push me into Bible study.

Gods living Word

Even though I love the Bible, it takes effort to study it. It takes energy to dig beyond the initial surface level of a passage. It takes time to study inductively (exploring what the Word says), rather than deductively (reading the Word with preconceived notions and established beliefs). Yet if we are really hungry for truth, and if we desire God’s heart rather than religion, then we will make the time to study inductively. 

Gimel. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:17-18)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Digging into the Word means coming to a greater revelation of Christ, Jesus, who is the living Word! What a great gift we have; and yet, what a gift that is set aside, unwrapped, by far too many of God’s people!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

For me, making the time is the key. Life tries to put many demands on our time. We need to make sure that Bible study is included in our daily life. I’ve learnt that I need to be pushed into study. I am always thankful when I am, but my innate laziness stops me from studying from sheer desire. To turn my desire and ideals into practice I need to have some goal in mind, or an obligation to keep. I love teaching for this reason – I can’t teach what I don’t know and thus I am “forced” back into study.

Teaching in Zambia

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

This is not to say that reading through and meditating on Scripture isn’t important, too – it just serves a different purpose in the life of God’s people. We need to do all three – read, meditate on and study the Word of God. [I’ll look at Scripture mediation and memorisation in upcoming blogs).

And, most importantly of all, we must allow the truths of Scripture to dwell in our hearts richly, transforming us into His likeness and producing fruits of righteousness. Studying the Word must lead to APPLICATION, or it is useless. Understanding without application is dead knowledge.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:9-10)

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Flowers fall, but the Word remains

We also see that Scripture knowledge is needed for evangelism, and that believers are also to teach each other from their knowledge. There seems to be an unwillingness today to debate the Word – not argue, but wrestle through passages together to come to greater understanding of the truth and its application. We need to start studying the Word for ourselves; we need to know it ourselves. There is such Bible poverty within the church today that pastors preach falsehoods from the pulpit and their congregations are none the wiser. Would you know if your pastor taught something scripturally unsound? Would you be prepared to bring it up to him (in love)?

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

So how will you study the Word? Will you faithfully work through a Bible study book? Will you join a Bible study group? Will you agree to lead a home group, or commit to running a Bible study, thus forcing yourself into Bible study? Will you sign up for a Bible study course through a distant learning theology school? The Word is the truth we are to live by; we must know it to walk in the truth!

Open the Word; Dig into life

If you want a free PDF copy of my Bible study resource, The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word, please just send me an email! Let’s end Bible poverty!

Discipline, what a beautiful word

​​Developing discipline, developing character

I’m not good at routine. Those of you who are familiar with Meyers Briggs will understand why when I say that I’m an NP – big picture, last minute, don’t like to feel trapped by plans, pioneer. This is part of my God-given DNA, but sadly I’ve also used it as an excuse to neglect some of what are known as “the spiritual disciplines”.

I didn’t like fasting; one of the “spiritual disciples”. You got to read how God addressed that in my last post – and how I’m coming to love it because of the fruit it produces.  But this is the whole point of the “spiritual disciplines” – to produce fruit of righteousness within us, developing our character and pushing us towards God. They help us to disciple our mind and body to focus on the things of God, rather than the things of this earth.

Scripture has a lot to say on discipline. We are to discipline/ train ourselves, and God also disciplines us as a loving Father. Some of the disciplines give life to us and refresh our souls from the start, others feel painful as we enter into them, but they all bear fruit of righteousness.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8)

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. (Proverbs 3:11-14)

I want to train myself for righteousness with even more dedication than a professional athlete training for their next event.

I recently enjoyed reading this article on What are the Spiritual Disciplines. It focuses on what can and cannot be a Biblical spiritual discipline, rather than prescribing a list. I also love that it reminds us that we are not under the Law; we live out these spiritual disciplines from a place of sonship, as children who want to spend time with our loving Father.

The Bible also teaches us that we are to train up each other, and those of us with children are to train them up, too. But how are we to train up others, if we first don’t train ourselves? We need to get experience in order to become teachers!

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8).

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, (Titus 2:3-4).

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6).

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

What training would the Lord have you grow your muscles in? What disciplines do you need to get back into? Are you trying to discipline your children, without disciplining yourself in the ways of God? Do you need accountability – such as a Bible study group to study the Word, or a walking partner with whom to pray and intercede? Ask God how you can draw closer to Him through discipline.

The fruit is worth the effort; train those muscles in the things of godliness!