2021 Bible Reading Challenge

How Studying the Bible Changes You

I was so perplexed and started to grow angry. Was she kidding? No, there was an unpleasant glint in her eye that gave credence to her words.

My daughter had been given permission from the guy at the top of the bridge to have her baby’s car seat in the plane. When we arrived in the plane, the stewardess informed us in no uncertain terms that this would not be possible. She condescendingly told us it was a full flight and she highly doubted there would be room for his seat. But the plane was far from full. So not only was she rude but she lied. We did question why permission was given at the top, which seemed to set her against us. She continued her churlishness with us throughout the flight. This same stewardess was quite rude to the rest of family behind us as they made legitimate requests. It’s hard to believe that someone like that has a job working with people.

A few moments before the flight started, a man came and very kindly explained that, due to Covid, car seats were no longer allowed on the smaller planes. While this didn’t make any sense to us at all, his calm and kind manner as he explained was comforting after the stinging meanness of the stewardess. (They all seemed to be rather confused as to protocol regarding car seats and the rules about them. It was very disorganized. It does seem like we now live in a world where anything and everything can be blamed on Covid. It’s actually very strange.)

As we taxied on the runway and then took off, I could feel myself growing angrier and angrier at this woman. I wanted nothing more than to be rude back to her. But about fifteen or twenty minutes in, as I started to settle down, it dawned on me that she was very likely unsaved and that I had a Christian testimony to keep. While I (to my shame) did not go out of my way to “kill her with kindness”, I did manage to hold my tongue and to mumble a “thank you” a time or two as she brought things by.

I do long for the day that I can overcome my flesh in these situations and actually be extra kind when someone is so incredibly rude to me (or my child.) But Sunday was not that day.

The next morning, I was reading in Matthew and I came across these verses in chapter six–

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I thought about this lady from the day before and remembered the danger of holding grudges. I thought of how anger and bitterness shatter all relationships–whether it be with a stranger, a customer, a person at church, a friend, or a family member.

Unforgiveness and bitterness destroy everything in their path. It can never be allowed to set up residence in our soul. Even over the small matter of an extra-ordinarily rude stewardess. At that moment, I chose to forgive her. I wished I had been able to do that on the plane so that I could have been a better testimony. I will probably never see her again and that chance is gone.

So, honestly, I am not a big one for flying. Flying with masks is far worse. But the thing that had me the most worried was that all of the women, save one, in our family were on the same plane for four different flights. About two weeks before we had left this hit me and I grew incredibly worried about something happening to all of us at the same time. Enter Matthew, chapter six again. It was from the end of that chapter that I drew much comfort and chose to trust the Lord.

You see, in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge we have been reading Matthew 5-8, which contains the Sermon on the Mount. There have been so many times that what I have been reading and studying over this past month have been practically applied to my daily life. I gave just two examples above but there are so many more. The scriptures have exhorted, reminded, encouraged, and rebuked me. They truly are life-changing.

Any good in me, any right response, is the Holy Spirit working through the Word to transform me and make me look more like Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my efforts to be a “better person”.

I wish I could get every single person who claims to love Jesus to actually study the Word. It would change the world because it changes the individual.

If you’d like to study the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to invite you to join this year’s Bible Reading Challenge. It’s a great time to join because we will begin the book of Ruth on April 1st. You can find the details here. I would love to have you join me in studying God’s Word.

But any study of God’s Word is life-changing. The key is to get started. Paul tells us in I Timothy 3:16-17–

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If we want to be transformed by the Word, it will require study and meditation. Cursorily reading it isn’t a bad thing but it could be compared to a lollipop in its sustenance regarding our spiritual health.

Life happens. Every day we face various trials and challenges. Big ones and small ones. We face rude stewardesses, customer service reps, and clerks. We find out a company scammed us or cheated us or didn’t receive our payment. We learn that our child or spouse or family member did something very disappointing. We find out that someone passed away, is getting divorced, or has been diagnosed with illness.

God has told us how to respond to these things and so much more in His Word. But if we don’t know it, we are missing out on the greatest strength and guidance God has offered us. Let us not ignore this wonderful gift God has given us for this life.

 

 

Finding the “Whys” to our “Whats”

In reading the first four chapters of Matthew yesterday, I came across something that I had never really considered before. In those first four chapters alone, there were seven fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament. Seven very specific prophecies. I encourage you to go look at them for yourself.

So you may be thinking “what’s the big deal”?

Well, as I was reading these I realized that if God fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament very specifically in the first coming of Jesus, why wouldn’t He do so again in the second coming? And if He filled the prophecies of the Old Testament so specifically, why wouldn’t He do the same for the New Testament prophecies?

I think it is always good to really consider why we believe what we believe. If we believe Revelation will be fulfilled literally, then why do we believe that? If we don’t believe that, then why don’t we believe that?

If we are honest, most of us our beliefs go back to what we were taught at home, what we were taught in our church denominations, or what we were taught by a favorite celebrity pastor or teacher.

It’s so important that we know not only what we believe but why we believe it. Without the “why”, the “what” will be flimsy, weak, and vulnerable to change and to false doctrine.

(And, actually, I do believe this is one of the major reasons you see much of the younger generation leaving the biblical churches. They were never given a “why” and the “what” without the “why” is like a personal invitation to deception. It’s up to us parents to make sure our children know why we believe what we do. And, actually, many children don’t even know the what. How important that we be discussing the stuff that matters with our kids, grandkids, and anyone else that we come into contact with. It might feel strange at first, but if we intentionally work at this, there will be much fruit. But I digress…!)

As we intentionally start working to find out our “whys” to the “whats” of our biblical beliefs, there are a few very important steps we must take before we get started.

First, we must humble ourselves. Psalm 25:29 explains why:

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

As does Proverbs 11:2:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Pride is the opposite of humility and it is the one great sin of all mankind. We all struggle with it, whether we would admit it or not. In fact, often in our public shows of “humility”, we are most prideful!

Pride is what keeps people from God, plain and simple. They pridefully think they are a “good enough” person that God will accept them. It is only with humility that we can first see ourselves as we really are–a sinner in need of a Savior. But, Christians, we need to keep growing in this area of humility even after we are saved. We need to be examining ourselves and our actions to see if we truly have a humble heart or if we have just fooled ourselves.

God has convicted me over and over again regarding this area of my life. Even a simple argument with my husband shows me just how prideful I really am. Our responses to criticism and praise, our “teachability”, our willingness to admit flaws and failures–these all can show us just how humble we truly are.

Second, we must be willing to embrace what we don’t like or care for. A few years back, a ministry came out with a book that claimed that Calvinism was a heretical doctrine and that people who believed in it weren’t saved. I was quite taken aback by such a claim and re-evaluated why I believe what I believe, in relation to this whole Calvinism/Arminianism debate (and just for the record, I landed exactly where I had been before that book came out, which is staunchly in the area of biblical truth where we learn that we are chosen by God but that it runs parallel with free will in a way we could never possibly understand. I highly recommend the sermon titled Twin Truths: God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility by John MacArthur if you, too, are struggling with this debate that never seems to go away.)But to get to my point: Something that this ministry wrote in their email introducing this book with its unbiblical conclusion really spoke volumes as to why their premise was all wrong. As they explained why they wrote the book, there was a sentence that began like this: “We cannot believe in a God who…”

Whoah. Wait just a minute. We don’t have that right! We don’t get to say what we can or cannot believe about God. We must read and study the Bible with a heart willing to accept even the doctrines we don’t like.

This is not a popular concept these days, is it? Election (Ephesians 1:4-6), eternal hell (Matthew 10:29), salvation without evidence of a changed life isn’t salvation at all (Matthew 7:20) and many other “unpleasant” doctrines are being eliminated because people just don’t like them (I might add that I offer only one verse of many that prove these unpopular doctrines are true.)

And, let’s be honest, no one really likes these doctrines. They are difficult to understand and come with ramifications that make us so very heavy-hearted.

And so, as a result of this, we see so many people doing literary back flips and cartwheels in their efforts to change what the Word really says. In contrast, we need to approach God’s Word with a heart willing to believe and obey even when what we read is abhorrent to us.

Third, we must be outfitted in the complete Christian Armor. The truth has never really been popular, but perhaps that has never been so true than right now. If we choose to humbly and willingly trust, obey, and proclaim all of God’s Word (and not just the parts that are pleasant), we must be ready for the darts and arrows of the enemy. These will come not only from antagonistic, angry people, but they will come from the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). We cannot fight or even continue to stand on our own strength. No human courage can withstand these deadly attacks. We must put on our full armor so that we are able to stand strong and firm. Find the complete armor we have been given to wear in Ephesians 6:10-20.

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It’s funny, this post ended up being nothing like I planned. At all. But I do hope it was an encouragement and challenge to all of us as we strive to live whole-heartedly for Jesus. May we give great efforts to grow in humility, yield wholly to God, and to be protected by the armor God has given us, all while recognizing that it is the Holy Spirit that works in us for God’s glory and our good.

 

I Can’t Think of Anything More Important Than This

I have told this story often. If you’ve been around Growing4Life for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard it before. So I hope you will forgive me for telling it again.

I lived most of my life as a Christian. I loved the Lord and desired to obey Him but my Bible was not a priority. I read books about the Bible. I listened to radio programs on how to be a better Christian. I went to church where the Bible was taught. But the Bible itself seemed too hard for me to understand so I didn’t really dive into it.

Somewhere in my 40s, I was convicted about this through a series of events. As I dove into God’s Word with zeal, what I discovered was incredible! Not only was I able to understand much of it, but I was amazed at the cohesiveness of it all. I was truly astonished how it all ties together and proves itself consistent over and over again. As I grew in my knowledge of God’s Word, this consistency and cohesiveness gave me so much confidence in the Bible that I was able to trust God for the things I cannot understand. Some of those things have been made clearer through deeper study. Others still remain a mystery. I am okay with that because it simply reminds me that God is far more infinite and greater than me. I don’t have to understand everything.

Since that time, I have made it my main mission here at Growing4Life to encourage you, my readers, to do the same. I don’t want you to make the same mistake I have made, wasting so many years reading and studying materials about the Bible but not the Bible itself. While these materials aren’t necessarily wrong (if they are biblical), they are no replacement for reading and studying the Word for yourself.

And so I want to encourage you to get in the Word in 2021. Be intentional. Be dedicated.

I have only seen the need for this grow in its importance, as we face life in the midst of “whatever in the world is going on”. Knowing the Bible has always been and will always be critical for every believer. But I cannot think of a time in my lifetime when we believers have ever literally needed it more.

We need it to build up and encourage us.

We need it to convict us of our self-centered, complaining hearts.

We need it to show us what is going on.

We need it to tell us what is coming and what we can expect.

God has been so kind and gracious to give us His Word. I want to encourage you to be intentional about reading and studying it in 2021. Put away (or at least re-prioritize) those devotionals about the Bible. Some of them are okay, but they are no replacement for reading the actual Bible.

If you think the Bible is too hard to understand, then I challenge especially you to give it a try. It is amazing how God opens our eyes when we will but take some of our precious time and dedicate it to knowing Him more. He is so faithful. I have heard testimonies of this time and time again.

I encourage you to get in the Word however you choose. But if you are not sure what you want to do, then I want to invite you to join me for the 2021 Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge. Each year, I create a challenge for all of us to keep us accountable to be in the Word. If you have no other plan in place yet, then I’d like to invite you to join me in reading the Bible in 2021.

You can find out all about the challenge at this link. I’d love to have you join me!

 

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