Studying Scripture During Lent

Studying Scripture During Lent

I love when I learn something new, but what I appreciate even more is learning something that helps expand my capacity to learn more new things. My friend gave me a cookbook for Christmas called The Food Lab. While it has recipes in it, what the author really wants you to know is the science behind cooking so you don’t need as many recipes. If you know what types of ingredients go together and how to prepare and season them, the idea is that you can successfully cook without having to follow step-by-step recipes because you understand the basic principles of putting together a good meal.

Studying Expands Our Capacity To Grow

The same is true for Scripture. When we learn basic principles like how to study Scripture, how to interpret certain texts, and what we’re looking for when we study, our capacity to learn increases. Ultimately, the goal is not for more knowledge, but for loving Jesus with more of our hearts and lives.

As we move into a season of Lent—a time when we set aside something so that something new can grow—stretching our minds in our pursuit of Jesus should be a part of our process. Maybe read through a book on the latter days of Jesus, the crucifixion, or the resurrection.

Knowledge Affects How We Live

What I think directly affects what choices I make. And what I think is directly influenced by the knowledge I have.

My brother makes homemade pizzas that are better than anything in town, which is saying something. My knowledge of David’s great pizzas had a direct impact on the choice I made on Super Bowl Sunday to possibly have six slices. What I know affects my behavior. (I also happen to know that six slices makes me gain weight, which I really don’t want to do, but that’s another issue for another post.)

The more I understand about Jesus, His nature, His power, His love for us, the role He plays in history, His desire for those in my life to know Him, the more my life choices will be impacted.

For instance, knowing what Jesus says about our treasures in Matthew 6:19-24 changes what I do with my money. Listening to what He teaches about the worthlessness of worry in Matthew 6:25-34 helps me approach my fears and anxieties differently. Understanding what He says about not judging others in Matthew 7:1-6 is a constant reminder for me to look for the good in people instead of being critical.

Knowledge affects my behavior. And knowledge of Jesus not only affects my behavior, but also transforms my heart behind my behavior, especially if I’m walking in His Spirit.

Knowledge Makes Us Better And More Humble Teachers

While knowledge of God and His Word are encouraged throughout Scripture, we also know that knowledge can puff us up (1 Corinthians 8:1). And no one wants to be around a puffed-up person. But if we approach our studying with humble hearts learning new things in Scripture should actually make us more humble as we continue to realize how much more we don’t know. It’s like the phrase, the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

Learning more about Scripture will also make us better thinkers and teachers. We’ll have more to offer those around us by way of what we’re able to teach them, ultimately so they can grow in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

We’ll also have more confidence when we share with others why we believe what we believe about Jesus and the Bible. We’ll teach and evangelize with humility, love, and kindness, because this is what the Bible teaches. And we’ll know this is what the Bible teaches because we’ve have studied it.

The post What Happens When You Study God’s Word? appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

As we untangle the lights from the tree, store our precious ornaments in the attic, and make tentative plans to come off sugar at least until the second week of January, many of us will make resolutions for the coming year.

Charting plans and making goals at the top of the year seem like wisdom to me—no time like January to consider what we want to do with a fresh beginning. But what will prove more significant than the one or two major tasks we hope to accomplish this coming year will be our small, daily, faithful acts of obedience to Jesus. These are what will make a far greater difference in our lives when we pull those lights back out next year (and half the bulbs aren’t working). Our daily obedience to Christ in the seemingly small and hidden places will also put us in the best position to experience our Savior.

ZECHARIAH, ELIZABETH, AND THE NEW YEAR

Though we tend to think of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s account in Luke 1 as a Christmas story, their faithful obedience is also a good New Year’s one. Luke goes out of his way to detail how good and faithful these two servants were (Luke 1:6). He also goes out of his way to detail the plight they bore as a childless couple (Luke 1:7). Can you imagine how many times Zechariah showed up for work for his daily tasks as one of 18,000 priests? Or how many times he ran through his ritualistic duties, offered a sacrifice, or prayed for a worshipper, meanwhile wondering when God was ever going to answer his and Elizabeth’s own prayer for a child? Not to mention their prayers for a long-awaited Redeemer to come and rescue their people. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s daily obedience was being worked out when it’s most difficult to obey—in their trials and longings.

 
How many times do we tire of taking the next right step or simply doing the next thing we know we’re supposed to do? The regular and sometimes mundane tasks of the day can seem like the least likely place for God to show up. And yet isn’t it true that most of the supernatural happenings we read about in the Bible took place in the middle of someone’s otherwise “normal” circumstances. While supernatural happenings solely belong to God, our daily faithfulness and obedience tend to put us in the places where we’re most likely to encounter Him. This is exactly what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
 

A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION

After decades of serving, Zechariah was chosen for a special task of service in the Lord’s temple. This sacred opportunity came around once in a priest’s lifetime. As Zechariah was burning incense and the priests were outside the temple praying, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard.” Those words changed everything for Zechariah and Elizabeth. All those steps of quiet obedience, every faithful act, every uttered prayer had led to this moment. I’m not talking about works-righteousness here or the false idea that if you do the right thing you’ll earn a blessing. No. I’m talking about how much the Lord delights in a long obedience in the same direction (as Eugene Peterson wrote about), and how our small acts of daily devotion make a difference over the long haul.

As we begin a new year, do you find yourself praying the same prayers you were praying last year? Are you wondering if your daily faithfulness and obedience are really worth it? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story should give you confidence. Not in your ability to be righteous and blameless, but in God’s power to accomplish His good work in your life. Not in your strength to crush the goals on your list for the new year, but in His grace to empower you to take daily steps of obedience, even when they seem small and insignificant. After all, God has been known to show up in the most unexpected places. And we want to be there when He does.

 

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HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

Entertaining during Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful but a lot of pressure can be eliminated with a little planning and by keeping our daily focus on Jesus’ command to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39). Here are a few tips to get organized and prepared so we’ll have room to do what Jesus calls us to do.

Plan Ahead

After your guest list has been decided, settle on your menu. Once your menu is set, make a list of all the ingredients you need at the grocery store or farmer’s market, as well as which stores you’ll need to visit. Pro tip: the holidays are not the time to try out a new grocery store. Stick to what you know or you’ll be wandering the aisles frustrated that you can’t find the vanilla extract or chopped pecans. This will put you in a very bad mood, and you can’t be in a bad mood when you’re about to possibly encounter sometimes-challenging relatives you haven’t seen in a year (we’ll get to relatives in a moment). While you’re shopping, cooking, and cleaning, pray as you go. Thanking the Lord for His many blessings and praying specifically for those you’ll be encountering is a great way to prepare your heart.

Do As Much As You Can Ahead Of Time

After you’ve bought your ingredients, whatever you can make ahead of time, make it. If you’re serving a salad, have your vegetables chopped, nuts toasted, dressing made and stored appropriately. If you have casseroles that can be chilled in the fridge, make them a day or two before. Appetizers like a charcuterie board can be put together ahead of time as well. Have your bread sliced, asparagus trimmed, lemons squeezed beforehand—you get the idea. Also, clean as you go. There’s nothing like waking up to a spotless kitchen on the day you’re hosting a large meal or party. Instead of running from room to room with your hair on fire, you’ll be able to enjoy your guests. You’ll have the capacity to ask good questions, listen, and watch for opportunities the Holy Spirit gives you to encourage or pray for someone who needs it.

Delegate

Every year I have this ideal that I want my guests to be able to simply show up and not have to do a thing. But the older I get and the more people I host, the more unrealistic this becomes. Friends and relatives really are happy to bring their specialty dessert, or pick up that artisan loaf of bread, or come with an overflowing bowl of salad. I find that for every dish or drink that someone else handles, a surprising amount of pressure is taken off on the big day. When others pitch in not only are you, as the host, more at ease but also more people get to share in having a part in the celebration.

It’s Not Your Responsibility To Fix Your Relatives

If your guest list happens to include difficult or awkward relatives, it’s freeing to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix them. I know what you’re thinking… but I know exactly what’s wrong with them and have so many good ideas! Let Jesus decide what He wants to do with those great ideas and then ask Him to help you walk out the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of how less stressed you’ll be if you don’t task yourself with having to change all your loved ones over Christmas. This is very freeing news. The day may come when you have to gently confront a loved one, or deal with a perpetually difficult problem. But the holiday season typically isn’t the time to try to solve decades-old issues. Throw off the responsibility of having to fix everyone, pray, and pick up a piece of pumpkin pie. You’ll thank me for this one.

Focus on What’s Right This Year

Every holiday season has a cultural ideal that none of our holiday experiences can live up to. Our Thanksgivings and Christmases will never totally measure up to the standard we read about in books or see in the movies. Someone or something will always be missing. Disappointments will happen. But make a decision to focus on what is right this year. Be intentional to thank God for who is present with you, for who He is, and for all the blessings He’s given you. A thankful heart will be a salve for whatever disappointments linger. With a little planning ahead, a few people to help, some delicious recipes, your loved ones around you, and most importantly, the presence of Christ Himself, this holiday season is sure to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Check out Kelly’s New Cookbook, A Place at the Table.

The post Holiday Hosting Hacks That Free You to Serve appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

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