Bible Studies For Your New Year

Bible Studies For Your New Year

As we head into the New Year I hope you’re making plans to study the Bible. So many wonderful tools and options are available and the most important thing is that you choose something and commit to it. If one of my studies could be of help to you I’d love to come alongside you. As you think about what you might want to study, here’s a little information about each of the studies I’ve written and the heart behind writing them.

Finding God Faithful: A Study on the Life of Joseph

I loved getting to write on Joseph’s life because he’s one of the most beloved in all of Scripture. His story has fascinated me since I was a little child sitting in Sunday School. As I’ve grown, so have both my joys and pains, which is why I love Genesis 37-50 even more. Joseph’s story welcomes us with open arms, summons us into the living room and invites us to sit down awhile and listen. So many have found a dear companion in Joseph because his life displays so much of the human experience. We all “get” Joseph on some level. We can relate to him. We’ve probably never owned a multi-colored robe that nearly cost us our lives, or traveled as a slave by camel to a foreign land, but we understand difficult family relationships. We’ve experienced betrayal. We know unfair. Broken dreams have nearly sunk us. And almost every one of us has wondered at some point in our lives, where is God?

Joseph’s story doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions, but biblical stories rarely do. They actually accomplish something more important. They reveal truths about God, our world, and ourselves, and in doing so sweep us into the much bigger story that’s being told: The saving story of Jesus. No matter what season you’re in, Joseph’s story speaks to all of us. (Teaching videos are available for this study, as well as a teen version.)

No Other Gods: The Unrivaled Pursuit of Christ

People often ask me what my favorite study was to write. While my favorite is typically whatever I’m writing at the time, No Other Gods is definitely what I would call my life-message. It’s the most personal of all the studies I’ve written because I struggled and fought this one out with the Lord years before, and even while, I was writing it. I was thankful to recently add teaching videos to No Other Gods while updating the content because no journey has been more full of blessing and freedom than the journey of turning from the things I’d put my hope and trust in (my personal idols), and being obedient to Jesus. There is nothing and no one like Him.

In this study we’ll spend a good amount of time looking at the Israelites, since they had so much experience with idolatry, while also jumping to the New Testament for a good measure of the power and freedom and healing we have in Christ. If you only do one of my studies, I would encourage you to do this one. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians

I was initially drawn to this letter because of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the sufficiency of Christ that met him in the midst of his trial. But I realized how much more there was to 2 Corinthians. For starters, the city of ancient Corinth was much like our own modern-day cities. It was a melting pot of electrifying cultural experiences, along with the myriad pitfalls of spiritual depravity. Still, Paul wrote to the church of God in Corinth. Consider that—God’s church in the middle of a booming culture. Through Paul’s letter we see that God’s church is meant to thrive in any city and every circumstance, making his message as timely as ever.

If you’ve never studied 2 Corinthians before here are a few things we’ll explore: What it means to bear treasures in jars of clay; How to meet Christ through a pressing trial; How to open your heart in the midst of hurtful relationships; What it means to embrace the lost and lonely; The joy and adventure of living generously; And perhaps what was most meaningful to me, what it means to live as ministers of the new covenant (the new covenant changes everything, by the way). Because of Jesus the old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians is a great book for the new year and new beginnings. (Teaching videos are available for this study, as well as a teen version.)

What Love Is: The Letters of 1, 2 & 3 John

I was drawn to John’s letters because he speaks refreshingly in absolutes. He tells us what we can know about God and what we can be certain of. He draws straight lines between truth and lies, light and dark, and loving God versus loving this temporal world. John’s letters were written to encourage followers of Jesus to remain faithful to the truth, a message that’s as relevant and needed as ever.

I also love John’s emphasis on the meaning of true fellowship and community. He was big on us loving God and walking in the light in the context of rich community. And I learned a great deal about the doctrines of the Christian faith, which can sound academic, but when pressed into our daily lives are more grounding and hopeful than I could have imagined. John was all about the unfathomable love of Jesus, and he wanted you and me to know Him more than anything else in this world. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break

Nehemiah had always been taught to me from a leadership angle (which it does lend itself to), but as I began studying it I realized it’s a book about missions. Nehemiah’s heart for the hurting, suffering, and poor stands out in dramatic fashion as he leaves the comfort and security of the Persian palace for the broken down city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s heart for the oppressed and suffering is a reminder to the church that we’re to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

While writing this study I was also working a good deal with a ministry in the Amazon Jungle. The Lord showed me a lot about how Nehemiah’s story is relevant to the work that needs to be done today all over our world. This study addresses teamwork, integrity, generosity, truth in culture, God’s compassion, and much more. It was one of the most practical and tactile studies I have gotten to write. Discover what God has put in your heart to do through the study of Nehemiah’s story. Let God break your heart for the lost and hurting, because a breaking heart is often what God uses to restore the broken. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

Ruth: Loss, Love & Legacy

Now this study may actually be my favorite. It practically wrote itself, because what more can you add to the book of Ruth? While it has all the elements of an epic story of love and redemption, God as the hero of the story is unmistakable and points us to the coming Messiah as clearly as any Old Testament book does. Plus, it shows us how God is always at work in our lives even when we can’t see it (or how it’s right in front of our face and we just don’t want to accept it). If you’ve ever been devastated by loss, struggled as a stranger, or longed to be loved you’ll find a place with Ruth. She is one of my very favorite women in the Bible. And the way God shows Himself present and faithful—when life’s circumstances seem anything but—is profoundly hopeful and encouraging. (No teaching videos available for this study, so more time to discuss with your group.)

A Place at the Table: Fresh Recipes for Meaningful Gatherings

Okay, so this isn’t a Bible study. Not even close. But it is a great way to get cooking and cultivate community in the New Year! I wrote this cookbook with my dear friend and accomplished chef, Regina Pinto, and it’s a lot more than a cookbook. I had the chance to write about my own life, share gardening and hosting tips and tricks, and also reflect on how nourishing people around our tables fills both bodies and hearts. If you’re wanting to reach out to others in the new year, invite people over, and cook more, I hope you’ll grab a copy of this cookbook. (Hint: the best deal on A Place at the Table is at,,

Click here to view Kelly’s products in the online store.



I recently finished writing a Bible study on the life of Joseph. His story is captivating for countless reasons—we all “get” Joseph on some level. We can relate to him. We may never have had a multicolored robe that nearly cost us our lives hanging next to our sundresses or ties, and we probably haven’t traveled by camel to a foreign land as a slave. But we patently understand difficult family relationships. We’ve experienced betrayal. Broken dreams have nearly sunk us. We know unfair. And almost every one of us has wondered at some point in our lives, Where is God? If none of those have a familiar ring, surely we can all relate to struggling to forgive someone when forgiveness felt perfectly impossible.

But another part of Joseph’s story stood out to me that is harder to define. Something I’d never seen before. When Joseph was sold as a slave into the foreign and pagan land of Egypt (Gen 37:28) this experience was not only devastating, it also appears to be in the wrong direction. If we go back to God’s covenant with Abraham (Abram) in Genesis 12:1-5, part of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was the gift of land, specifically the land of Canaan. What Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah (and their children, including Joseph) all got to experience at different times in their lives was life in this land of promise. Canaan was the promised land, not Egypt.


If Joseph was aware of God’s covenant with Abraham—and I have to believe he was—what must it have felt like for him to be traveling away from Canaan? It’s one thing to suffer in the direction of God’s will; it’s another to suffer when you think you’re heading against it. But what we find explicitly in Genesis 39:1-5, 21-23 is that the Lord was withJoseph in Egypt. We discover that the God of promise is able to dwell outside the land of promise. And that He’s even better than His promises. This, of course, isn’t to suggest that God doesn’t keep His promises or that He runs counter to them. It simply shows us that His presence is better than anything we can imagine, including His gifts.


If we go back to Genesis 17:13 we see that God told Abraham about a time when his descendants would live as foreigners for four hundred years in a land that wasn’t their own. Again, it’s hard to know how much Joseph knew about these conversations God had with Abraham, but even if Joseph was aware of this information Egypt wasn’t specified. Plus, it would have been really hard for Joseph to put together that he was the one who’d be kicking off this four hundred year stint in a foreign land. On top of the unspeakable pain of being sold as a slave into Egypt, being taken away from Canaan had to be terribly confusing for him on a spiritual level.

Joseph’s story reminds me that when it seems like some part of our life is running counter to God’s will, it’s possible we feel this way because we don’t know the whole story. We don’t have the big picture. Though the first several years of Joseph’s life in Egypt must have felt way outside of God’s plan, Joseph’s detour to Egypt was no detour at all. God would use Egypt as the place where Abraham’s descendants would proliferate into the nation of Israel. Joseph was right where God wanted him.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If our heart is in the right place before God, we can trust that our path will be too.” quote=”If our heart is in the right place before God, we can trust that our path will be too.”]


Of course, there are times when we feel like our life is running counter to God’s will because it is. We’re choosing the pleasures of sin over obedience, we’re harboring unforgiveness, we’re going for the money instead of the ministry, or whatever the case may be. But if our heart is in the right place before God, we can trust that our path will be too. And even more so, we can trust that God’s presence will accompany us. And the God of Promise is even better than the land of Promise.

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I’m battling an invasive weed cropping up in my vegetable garden beds. It surreptitiously twists itself around my tomato vines while somehow looking like part of the team. It’s quick to grow and hard to root out. Its most troubling quality is its ability to blend in while being stared at. After some formal and extensive Google research, I’ve determined this garden destroyer to be the honeyvine milkweed. I found its name to be most problematic—why ever would we assign the good words honey and milk to a most vicious weed? We gardeners should stand up to such misrepresentation.


As gardening observations so often go with me, I found an interesting parallel in my daily Scripture reading. Did you know the honeyvine milkweed is found in 2 Samuel 11? Well, not by that name of course. It’s called something else. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

In this chapter, David comes across a beautiful woman bathing beneath his rooftop view. He should be at war, but he’s not. He sent someone else to do that job. After inquiring about Bathsheba—who is the wife of one of David’s chief warriors—he sends for her, sleeps with her, and she becomes pregnant. Eventually, David has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed on the frontlines of battle (v. 17). (I had never noticed that additional men also die in the fallout of David’s sin to cover up his sin). David and Bathsheba’s firstborn son would also die shortly after birth. The sword would never leave David’s house.

At this point, I must mention that I’m not sure who exactly blog posts like this are for. Those who are actively in sin are rarely interested in reading about its characteristics or consequences. And the people who just love a post about sin and all its sneakiness, and can’t wait to share it with their wayward nephew, are often not aware of their own sin of pride or self-righteousness. So maybe this is just for everyone who, like myself, could use a really stark reminder about how—if we’re not watchful—the honeyvine milkweed, otherwise known as lust, lying, selfishness, adultery, possessiveness, murder, or denial can spring up in the middle of good fruit and wrap its tendrils around us until we can hardly tell our own skin from sin’s tendrils. Until someone like a Nathan has to come along and say, you are the man (or woman) who has done this evil.

What struck me about David’s story is that prior to 2 Samuel 11 he’d had a long and mostly faithful history with God. They’d covered a lot of ground together. David had made humble decisions and courageous moves, he’d valiantly battled and enthusiastically worshipped. And then suddenly a poor decision to stay in Jerusalem, an abdication of leadership, a glance at Bathsheba, an inquiry, a summons, a bedroom.

Honey? Milk? Or a fast growing, ensnaring vine whose consequences would never leave his house?


I kept thinking, Lord, how did David get here? How do any of us get here? For one thing, we must keep about the business God has called us to. For David, it appears he should have been with his men fighting instead of in Jerusalem wandering his rooftop. When we’re busy cultivating the work God has given us to do, there is less room for unwanted growth of wayward ambitions. And when we do grant soil to sinful ambition, we must deal with our sin swiftly at its root.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”“No matter the extent of the devastation, it’s less than what it will be if we wait to confess tomorrow.”” quote=”“No matter the extent of the devastation, it’s less than what it will be if we wait to confess tomorrow.””]

David had moments to back out, confess, or at the very least stop the bleeding. He didn’t have to keep piling bad choices upon bad choices, although when we’re in sin we tend to convince ourselves this is our only option. We wrongly believe there’s no turning back, that repentance would be too costly, that God’s forgiveness only extends as far as the mile marker we cruised past a long time ago. But this just isn’t true. We can always cooperate with God in dealing with our sin. No matter the extent of the devastation, it’s less than what it will be if we wait to confess tomorrow. David himself showed us we’re never past repentance: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5, also Psalm 51.)

After Nathan called David out for his relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, David confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (v. 13.) This is important. David didn’t call sin by another name like milk or honey or my truth. As soon as we redefine our sin—whatever sin it may be—we stop eradicating it and begin cultivating it.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”What I most hope to remember is that, no matter how entangling sin’s hold, there’s always opportunity to repent.” quote=”What I most hope to remember is that, no matter how entangling sin’s hold, there’s always opportunity to repent.”]

So back to my garden for a moment. While I would like to petition we change the name of the honeyvine milkweed to something more appropriately representative, perhaps the next time I spot this imposter in my garden I will remember that names are not always accurate definitions of who or what they’re attached to. I will remember that sin grows fast as a weed, not as an eggplant—there’s a reason for the expression. I will think of sin’s obscurity and how it can grow up even in the lives of God’s anointed. And what I most hope to remember is that, no matter how entangling sin’s hold, there’s always opportunity to repent.

And the next time I’m in my garden I will think to look for a lighter subject, say, the cucumber.


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The concept of delegating isn’t a new one.

Anyone who’s been a leader in any capacity knows that at some point you have to let go of certain pieces of your work.

You realize that you can’t get to everything and you’re not good at everything. You see the idea of raising up new leaders and delegating to others as a strategy that will drastically help you. You realize that letting go and trusting others will relieve stress, keep you focused on all the things you’re especially good at, and more effectively grow whatever it is that you’re trying to grow. And all of this is true. It really will help you.

But it wasn’t until recently that I was reminded that delegating our work to others and raising up new leaders isn’t just about how it can help us. Sharing the workload and getting help isn’t merely about what it can do for you or me. It’s also about what it can do for others! I might have expected to read about the mutual benefits of delegating in a leadership or business book. Why was I not expecting to come across such a concept in the book of Exodus?


Moses was under a crippling weight when leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert. He was the sole judge of all their problems and disputes. When Moses’ father-in-law Jethro witnessed Moses handling the Israelites’ compounding issues from morning until evening he told him, “What you’re doing is not good. You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-19, emphasis added).

I always knew this scenario wasn’t good for Moses, but it never occurred to me how detrimental it was for the people he was leading. When we take on too much and try to control all the pieces, we not only wear ourselves out but also the people around us.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”When we take on too much and try to control all the pieces, we not only wear ourselves out but also the people around us.” quote=”When we take on too much and try to control all the pieces, we not only wear ourselves out but also the people around us.”]

I remember a few years ago sitting down with my pastor and asking for some advice. I was tired and stressed and had taken my work as far as I could go. He encouraged me to let go of certain areas of my ministry and trust others to carry those pieces out. I was desperate to do this because, frankly, I was concerned about how my lack of knowing how to delegate was affecting me. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the way it was affecting the people around me—those who worked for me, my closest friendships, my family relationships. (Why am I consistently late to the it’s-not-all-about-me party?)


As I continued reading Exodus 18, I found Jethro’s offering of wisdom to Moses profound and enlightening. “If you do this, and God so directs you, you will be able to endure, and also all these people will be able to go home satisfied.” (Exodus 18:23) We see here that Moses delegating to others wasn’t just about Moses’ relief. The word satisfied that describes the people who were depending on him can also mean “go to their place in peace”. The more help Moses received, the more peaceful were the people he was leading.

As we think about loosening our grip on some of our work, sharing the load with others, and trusting people to handle the things we hold dear, it’s not just about the relief it will bring us. It’s about the peace it will bring the people we’re serving and the people we’re working with.

What an encouraging notion to think that when we delegate our work, our load will be lighter and the people we’re serving will be adequately taken care of, at peace, and satisfied. This is what I call a leadership win-win from the book of Exodus.

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When God Doesn’t Open A Door

When God Doesn’t Open A Door

My church has been in a study on the book of Esther. Many truths have stood out to me, but one particular bend in Chapter 5 challenged me in a way that I couldn’t have expected. A little background on how I often decide where God is leading me: When stepping out in faith, or even beginning something new, I’m the person who’s looking for the open door. I want the specific answer to prayer, the “thus sayeth the Lord” moment, the talking donkey. It’s not so much that I’m unwilling to step out in faith; it’s simply that I want to know my step of faith is grounded in the Lord’s direction. The “open door” tends to be one of the things I look for. But is that always the right criteria?

When Queen Esther’s cousin and adopted father, Mordecai, informed her of a plot to kill all the Jews in the provinces of Persia, she felt overwhelmed with fear (Esther 4:4). Mordecai implored her to approach the king on behalf of her people, to save the Jews from annihilation. Esther explained to Mordecai that she could only approach the king if he summoned her. Approaching the king without having first been summoned, even as the queen, was grounds for the death penalty. If the king happened to extend grace, he would do so by extending his golden scepter, but Esther wouldn’t know this until after she’d put her life on the line.

Is a closed door really a closed door?

Putting my life on the line is precisely what I would consider a closed door. But Mordecai responded, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14.) Now see, this is another problem for me. When stepping out in faith, I’m typically looking for something a little more rock solid than who knows? Furthermore, Esther responded to Mordecai’s plea by saying that she would approach the king and “If I perish, I perish.” Statements like who knows and if I perish, I perish don’t exactly have a ring of guarantee to them. But Esther and Mordecai’s faith wasn’t grounded in the open door scenario. Something else was present.

Esther and Mordecai agreed to fast and pray for three days (prayer is not actually mentioned but implied) with their Jewish communities before she approached the king. We don’t have the specifics of what they prayed for, but don’t we know that one of them was, “Lord, prompt the king to summon Esther! Lord, it’s been over 30 days since she’s been summoned. Move on his heart to call her to his throne so her life won’t be at risk!” Could Esther herself have prayed something like, “Lord, if the king summons me, then I’ll know for sure it’s an open door and I’ll ask the king to spare the Jews!”?

We don’t know for sure, but I have to believe those three days included many prayers for the king to summon Esther. For God to open a door.

When do you knock on a closed door?

But on the third day, there was only silence. No summons. No invitation. No open door.

And what did Esther do? She got dressed. She did that mundane thing we all have to do. Put our clothes on for the day. Then she stood in the courtyard of the king’s palace and faced both her greatest fears and greatest hope. The king extended his golden scepter toward her. She had found favor in his eyes. She would not perish in that moment.

God had opened a door but not before Esther went knocking on it.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”God had opened a door but not before Esther went knocking on it.” quote=”God had opened a door but not before Esther went knocking on it.”]

When we knock and God opens

As I pondered Esther and Mordecai’s truly remarkable faith I had to ask myself, what was it based on? It certainly wasn’t based on God opening a miraculous door ahead of time safe within the reaches of their comfort zone. It wasn’t even based on a supernatural dream, a prophetic word, or an angel whose first words are typically “do not fear” after they’ve scared everyone to death—this would have been solid Old Testament fare to go on. But Esther didn’t have to wait for an open door or a specific word because she already knew God’s revealed will.

God had already revealed Himself as the personal God of the Jews, their Deliverer, Redeemer, and Rock. Esther knew God’s heart for His people. He’d been revealing it since Abraham. True, Esther didn’t have a guarantee on her life or how exactly this would play out, but she could step out on some pretty incredible history of God acting on behalf of His people. The combination of His unmatched strength and the Jews’ chosen-ness wasn’t a specific guarantee for her personal preferences but it was a solid rock to step out on. Simply put, Esther didn’t have to wait for an open door because God had already revealed His will.

I couldn’t help but ask myself, how much more do we as New Testament believers know the revealed will of God through Jesus? He’s told us through His Word what He cares about: The poor, the lost, the sick, the down-and-outers, the up-and-outers, those on the fringes of society. He cares about people! He cares about His Gospel being proclaimed. He cares about the rule of His Kingdom coming on earth. He cares about our relationships, our love for one another, His church—oh, He cares about His church of which He is the Head. He cares about the friends and families He blesses us with and entrusts to us.

Not only has Jesus revealed the things He cares about, but He’s also told us what to do: Share the good news of the Gospel; make disciples; lay our lives down for one another; store up treasure in heaven and don’t live for the temporal; overflow with joy in Him; pray without ceasing; be generous; love each other with the love of Christ; open our homes to those who need a place to stay; be hospitable; forgive one another; serve one another; be filled with the Holy Spirit; go and tell all about Him…

And sometimes, even knowing all of this, I wait and wait and wait to step out because I’m waiting for Him to open a door. And I wonder if all that is really a super spiritual sounding EXCUSE, in Jesus’ Name. Certainly I believe in God opening doors—we see that exact phrase used in the New Testament. But what Esther taught me is that too often we use this concept as the necessary pre-cursor to doing anything at all, rather than being obedient to what God already told us to do.

I believe that God still specifically directs our steps, I believe He still acts supernaturally, I believe He still calls certain people for certain things, I believe that He still flings doors wide open. I also believe the author of Hebrews’ words that in the former days God spoke at different times and in different ways, but today He has spoken through His Son, Jesus. And if we know who Jesus is, what He cares about, and what He’s told us to do, well then, that is the open door. More specifically—and He said it Himself—He is the door. (John 10:9.)

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If we know who Jesus is, what He cares about, and what He’s told us to do, well then, that is the open door.” quote=”If we know who Jesus is, what He cares about, and what He’s told us to do, well then, that is the open door.”]

What has He asked you to do through the revealed will of His word? What are you waiting for? Maybe the door is already open and God is waiting for us to put our clothes on, stand to face the task ahead, and turn the knob.