Study My Bible…Really?

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The end of August is synonymous with back to school. This one event affects a vast majority of the population. Children, teens, young adults, teachers, parents - everyone jolted from the ease of summer to the demands of the school year. There are a whirlwind of activities that surround this event. Once the flutter of initial activity begins to lull there is one thing that remains. The delight of studying. It does not subside or end if success is in the student’s future. 

“Study hard!” “Don’t forget to study.” These are just a couple pieces of advice we give students.

The same could be said to all of us. This is especially true when looking at the most important book on the bookshelf. This book is more than just classroom material but instead something we consider a way of life. Do you see the Bible like this? If so, you too need to study.

How can the Bible be studied effectively so it is not just academic but a personal and applicable to our lives?

Options include:

  • read to receive inspiration
  • examine with a group
  • listen to a podcast
  • take in a video series
  • read, researched, and review
  • read Scripture, Observe the culture and activities, Apply to life, bath in Pray (SOAP)

So many ways, so little time! Each approach may be of benefit to you or maybe just one is in your wheelhouse. Test them out and see what’s best for you and your way of learning.

Read to Receive Inspiration:

This is just what it says - jumping into reading, pondering, mediating on Scripture anywhere in the Bible. Then listen, gain insight, and be inspired.  You may need to be patient. Some hear the voice of God sharing his insight… others often have to wait. Mediate on what you have read. What resonates could be the inspiration God has for you.

Investigate with a Group:

When we have a difficult topic to master at school, in college, or at work, we often try to get with others as a group. Investigating the  Bible is no different. Its okay to not understand and to lean on insight from others. Gather some people together and read. You can then discuss what it means, how it makes you feel, how it applies, and why it’s important. Need a Connect Group? For more information, call the church office at 410-551-6654 or go on line at http://severnrun.com/connectgroups/.

Listen to a Podcast:

Although this may seem high tech to some, its not difficult to tap into and learn from podcasts. There are many great speakers that produce podcasts to educate on the the Bible. Google “Bible study podcasts” and you will get a plethora of choices. Well liked Biblically based teachers include Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Ravi Zacharias, and Frances Chan, to name just a few. (If you are unsure about the Biblical beliefs of a podcaster, see if you can find a statement of their faith on their website or in the podcast description.)

Take in a Video Series:

Many women (and some men too!) love Beth Moore. Woman love her energy and excitement and most importantly her love for God and women. She brings excitement and energy to any space she enters whether physically or via technology. She and others teach using video series along with the study guides available for purchase on line or on dvd. Other Bible teachers include Pricilla Shrier, and Anne Graham Lotz. You can find these resources (and more) at lifeway.com.

Read, Research, Review: 

The Bible is comprised of 166 books and two separate testaments. Where does one begin? The book of John is an often recommended starting place. This book is John’s account of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. After reading each chapter, take the time to consult with various resources such as study guides or internet searches that speak to the meaning of the passage. Go back and read again, determine from the text and your research what it means to you and applies to your life.

SOAP:

This is another approach to reading Scripture a section at a time. While you read, Observe the culture of the time and activities of the chapter. Move to Apply the principles of the text to your life. Finally bathe in Prayer what you have learned and how you will apply it each day. Additional reading on this approach available at www.soapstudy.com. Want to go deeper with this method? Read “The Devine Mentor” by Wayne Cordeiro.

All these sound great but one thing is missing…YOU!  What’s most important is that your study is an intentional and planned out process. Good intentions are only as good as the plan behind them.

It may be necessary to:

  • Set aside time
  • Put on your calendar
  • Give up an activity (TV or device time)
  • Get up earlier
  • Go to bed later
  • Ask another to hold you accountable
  • Be patient!

This is a process. What works for one person may not work for another. God is faithful and will reward you regardless of which method you try or decide to use. Study his word. Take notes. Open your heart. Stretch your mind. See what happens.

Tools for a Successful Prayer Life

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As a church we are entering into a season of prayer. There is arguably nothing more central to the life of a Christian and to the life of a church than prayer.

In the Gospels, Jesus models prayer and emphasizes it with his disciples. He makes prayer a central part of his life. Not just when times were tough, but on a consistent and regular basis. I believe we will discover some of the reasons why it was so central to Jesus as we look at some of the resources we have for prayer. It is my hope that when you finish reading this you will walk away feeling empowered and confident that a meaningful and significant prayer life can be yours. So let me discuss a few resources from various authors (none of these ideas are original to me) that I’ve found helpful in my prayer life. Maybe they can help you too.

PLAN.

A fruitful and vibrant prayer life does not happen by accident. It will not just appear for you one day at random. Prayer must be accounted for in your daily schedule. There must be a time that is carved out and protected in your day for prayer. I know it sounds really simple but in reality it becomes very hard. It becomes a value issue. Since our time is limited, we only schedule those things that we value most. Scheduling an exclusive block of time for prayer in our day is showing God that we value him, that we are willing to spend what limited time we have talking to him. Too often in my own life, I drift away from prayer just because I haven’t done the work to schedule it. Normal life just takes over. You can fight that trend by scheduling a block of time for prayer. If you are newer in your relationship with Jesus, it’s okay to start small and schedule 15 or 20 minutes to talk with him. If you have been following Jesus for some time, perhaps you are ready for a more extended period of prayer. Whatever time you are able and willing to devote to prayer, SCHEDULE IT, or it won’t happen.

KEEP A PRAYER LIST.

As you spend time in prayer you will come to realize that there are limitless people, organizations, churches, and things you can and should pray for. Creating a prayer list is very practical way to remember some of those things that you want to pray for on a regular basis. You can list people, such as family members, church members and pastors, friends, co-workers, and that person (or people) who really annoy you or tick you off (because let’s face it, God put them in your life for a reason, so pray for them!). You can list some of the churches that you have been a part of in the past. You can list just about any organization that is doing the work making Jesus known.

Some people prefer to make a few categories for their lists. One such way to break up the categories is to make a more permanent list of people or things that won’t change. This list would include parents, spouses, family and people very close to you.

Then you could make a more temporary list that includes short range requests or concerns. These would include some significant life choices that are approaching, short range needs, or goals you are pursuing. By their temporary nature, they don’t make it on your permanent list. But here is a really important point that you shouldn’t miss.

Make sure you leave enough space next to or below the item to write down how God answers that prayer. There are few things that will build your faith better than looking upon the faithfulness of God in your own life and the lives of those whom you have prayed for over a long period of time. And PLEASE do not throw these lists away. Going over these lists with your grandchildren one day will be a testament and a legacy to pass on to them.

“Make sure you leave enough space next to or below the item to write down how God answers that prayer. There are few things that will build your faith better than looking upon the faithfulness of God in your own life and the lives of those whom you have prayed for over a long period of time."

ASK AND YOU WILL RECEIVE.

We have the tremendous privilege of being called children of God. As such, God passionately wants to hear from us. He lovingly and whole heartedly wants us to find satisfaction in him and him alone. He is most interested in being your Father and having a relationship with you.

If you are anything like me, you have a horrible tendency to talk to God a lot like a teenager talks to his father: I want…, I want…, I want…, I need…., I need. Rather than a burning desire to spend time with my Father and reconnect with him every day and seek his will for my life, I turn to him like my genie in a bottle who will grant me a couple of wishes if I ask nicely. God wants so much more than this from me.

Yes, God wants to answer your prayers and his promise to us is that when we ask, we will answer. But perhaps a helpful question to ask is, “What does God want me to pray for? What are the things that God is waiting to say ‘yes’ to in my life?” There is nothing wrong with asking God for things or for stuff.

But when I really spend time growing close to God, I begin to realize that what he wants to give me is so much more important that stuff or things. He wants to transform my heart and my life and he wants to transform the world through me. And that has very little to do with the size house that I live in, the car I drive, how full my bank account is, the clothing I wear, or the amount of devices connected to my home network. God wants to answer your prayers so make them worthy of his glory.

GET A PRAYER PARTNER.

Spending time alone in prayer is critical. However, finding another Christian or a small group of believers with whom you can get together regularly to pray can bring much growth and fruit to your prayer life.

If you are married, your spouse is probably the ideal partner. It will foster intimacy and growth in your marriage and with God. If you are married and you have a prayer partner besides your spouse, ensure that it is someone of the same sex/gender as you. Prayer leads to closeness and you must guard your marriage. But finding the right partner will give you a level accountability and someone to help you reflect on the question posed in the previous point (what does God want me to pray for?).

If you are a newer believer, try to seek out someone who is more mature in the faith than you. You will have the opportunity to pray with and learn from them. It is Christian discipleship at its best. If you are the more mature follower of Jesus, then seek out someone who might be able to learn from you. We are made to be in connection with other believers and prayer together as brothers and sisters in Christ with strength that connection. It is worth finding a reliable and trustworthy prayer partner.

These are just four of the many practical suggestions for prayer that I’ve encountered. These points came mostly from Praying with Paul by D.A. Carson but there are many more great books out there and I would encourage you to explore some of them.

But don’t let reading about prayer be a substitute for prayer!

Start praying, develop a disciplined prayer life and then begin to read and learn more to make it deeper.

Jesus power starts with Identity

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What are some of the qualities of individuals that you believe hold power? 

We're all born with a certain level of resources, we're all born with certain capabilities that we have control over. Then for the rest of our lives, in order to gain power, we try to gain more and more resources! In fact, history is ripe with examples of this, is it not?

If you think about most wars that have been fought, most wars from a historical perspective in some way shape or form, have been fought over resources. Whether it's water, diamonds, land, gold, it doesn't matter what it is, often times, most wars are fought over resources, because if we want to "gain power," and let's face it, we're human beings, then we've got to acquire more and more resources.

In fact, I think of one of the worst examples in American history is slavery. Slavery was about resources wasn't it? It was about control and it was about the worst form of resources: it was about the control of other human beings actually becoming individuals property. The worst part is that we have more people that are in slavery today than have ever been in slavery before in all of world history because we as human beings think that we can own each other! 

The government is always about resources isn't it? Communism was about resources, it's about gathering all of the resources for the people. Imperialism is about gaining all of the resources for the crown. Capitalism is about raising all of the resources and then letting each person own their own resources and then he who gets the most resources wins! No matter how you cut it, the human experience and the first part of the equation of power is about resources.

We always want to get more, we always want to gain more! Our lives are also ripe with examples of that too aren't they? In this thing called life, we're all on this quest to gain more and more resources: the car that we drive, the clothes that we wear, the neighborhoods we live in, they are all about status symbols. Look at me, I've acquired the right type of resources to be able to have the right type of power! We will always find a way to gain power with our resources. We will always find a way to say we're better than you because of what we have.

Once you gather enough resources, you then need to add to that "position." Once you have the resources + the position, then you have this thing called power.

From a young age we have the desire to achieve the next step of power don't we? Then in all of this trying to constantly get to the next step of power, we look back and we say "Oh look, life is gone, now what?" Life has passed you by because there are no more positions to get to. And as a result of always wanting the next position, we come to miss out because positions to hold run out don't they?

This equation of power: Resources + Position = Human Power

This is what we constantly watch everyone try to achieve around us. The problem with gaining power this way is that resources always run out. Resources are unsustainable because we always need more. Resources leak out of our bucket of life. And the problem with gaining power via position, is that every position is temporary.

The problem with human power is that it runs out, and ladies and gentlemen can I just tell you this is why I Iove the life of Jesus! That's why being on the road with Jesus matters so much because as we've walked through the book of Matthew this year, what we've been able to see is that Jesus' life is about what "real power" is supposed to be! 

Jesus' life is the ultimate example, in fact, as we've journeyed through Matthew together, we've seen him heal the blind, cure the lame, walk on water. We've seen Him do lots and lots of amazing things, but these are not the things He does that make Him powerful at all -and Jesus understands that.

Matthew 12:15 says, "But Jesus knew what they were planning, so he left that area and many followed Him and He healed all the sick that was among them but he warned them not to reveal who He was." Does that sound like anyone you know running for office right now? It doesn't matter the party and it doesn't matter the person, achieving human power is all about "Look at me!" 

If anyone had the right to stand up and say He was incredible, it certainly was Jesus Christ! This humbleness of spirit in Jesus, fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah 42:1 concerning Him, "Look at my servant who I have chosen." God is speaking of Jesus in this way. "He is my beloved who pleases me, I will put my spirit upon Him and He will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise His voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed, or put out the flickering candle, He will cause justice to be victorious and His name will be the hope of all the world."

After everything you've seen Jesus do, think about this deeply - this is Jesus power!

When you think about Jesus power, what are the words that come to your mind after reading these passages? Would you believe there is a formula for Jesus power? It starts with "Identity" and it looks a whole lot different than the formula for human power! 

Human power is Resources + Position. But the formula for Jesus Power starts with "Identity." Jesus starts with the fact that He is the son of God and once you are a child of God, you don't need any resources do you? Every person was created in the image of God but just because that is the case, that does not mean you are the child of God! The first level in the equation of Jesus power is identity! When we have identity as a child of God, we don't need any more resources do we? He's the creator of everything!

There is something about the identity of knowing you are a child of God that will give you more confidence than your resources and position ever will! Jesus didn't only have identity, He had purpose! There was a reason why He was here! There was a reason why He walked planet earth, in fact it tells us what that reason was "I will put my spirit on Him and He will proclaim justice to the nations and His name will be the hope of all the world." (Isaiah 42:1)

He had identity and He had purpose and I can tell you that if you're a child of God, God has put a passion in your heart, He's given you something to do - you have a purpose! -Pastor John B. Smith

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