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Category: God’s Word

Straying or Staying: What Kind of Sheep are You?

Biblically, sheep have a problem with straying. And so do we. It’s no wonder that several writers used sheep as an example of us.

For example, Isaiah says, “we all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned — every one– to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

We’ve strayed from God, but Jesus was the one who took the punishment. So that’s sort of good news– aren’t the recipients of the consequences. But it’s not wholly good news because we’re still strayed from God.

Peter takes it a step further. He says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).

Healed to Righteousness

So first, we sinned. That sin took us away from God, and we were stuck at a distance. But God wasn’t content with that distance, so he put the sin on Jesus instead.

That’s great for us, it’s quite the burden lifted off. But God didn’t leave it at that. He took on the sin, dying on the cross, so we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

There was purpose and intention behind Jesus receiving the punishment in our place: so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He healed our wounds, our sin, and now we are enabled to actually live to righteousness.

We have been healed by Jesus’ sacrifice, and returned to our dear Shepherd. That’s the gospel right there– we were far, but God healed us and forgave us and brought us near again. He is a very good shepherd indeed.

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Four Ways to Prioritize the Kingdom of God

Jesus tells us disciples to prioritize the kingdom of God over our temporal needs. This isn’t natural for us because our needs are legitimate. It’s natural to be anxious about what we will eat, drink, and wear because those are vital to life. But Jesus goes so far as to say that the ‘Gentiles’ SEEK after these things, and calls us disciples to something else.

Prioritize Eternal Things

Jesus asks us to seek the kingdom of God, which is eternal, rather than things on this earth, which are temporal (see 2 Cor 4:18 as well as Matthew 6:19-20, 25-33).

The eternal things are what last after we die, so it makes sense that we should prioritize them. Jesus calls us to lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven rather than on earth (Matthew 6:20).

To make eternal things our priority is more challenging than you would think. In my experience, I can call something a priority but not make lasting changes. Like when I wanted to learn to play the guitar, but didn’t want to give up any of my other activities and hobbies. The instrument stays tucked in the corner of my room, still a mystery to me because I didn’t actually prioritize it. 

For something to actually be my priority, something else has to be demoted. It requires relying on God because the other things, my temporal needs, don’t get my first attention any more.

[Related Post: How a Clean Room and Quiet Time Get Shoved to the Bottom of the List]

Jesus encourages us, saying that “all these things”–our temporal needs– will be taken care of. God is trustworthy. Obviously people are worth more than birds or grass, and God feeds the birds and he clothes the grass with lilies (Matthew 6:25-33). We can trust God to take care of us and our temporal needs.

And once we can trust God with our temporal needs, we are free to pursue the kingdom of God. There will be time to make sure the temporal things are taken care of later.

I’m not saying we stop grocery shopping because we believe God is going to send us food every day. I’m saying the order is important.  God knows which is your actual priority day to day, and he says it’s better to prioritize his kingdom.

How to Seek the Kingdom of God

Jesus says that to seek the kingdom of God, but at first glance it looks like he doesn’t tell us how. But if you go back and read the sermon on the mount leading up to this point in the sermon, you’ll see he actually does get very practical.

Seeking the kingdom of God involves doing things the way God intends them. So Jesus not only told us to participate in spiritual disciplines, he’s very particular about the motives and attitude we do them with. The spiritual disciplines Jesus calls us to in Matthew 5 and 6 are love, giving, praying, and fasting.

  • Love (Matthew 5:43-48). Beyond loving our friends, Jesus calls us to genuine, selfless love for even our enemies. Our relationships matter (Matthew 5:21-42, 7:1-6, 7:12-14).
  • Giving (Matthew 6:1-4). But not only generosity, secret generosity. Our generosity should flow out of our love for God and other people, and seeking obedience to God, not attention.
  • Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15). Again, not for attention, but prayer for the sake of communicating with God.
  • Fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Yes, fasting. And yes, again, in secret.

These are how we lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven. These are how we seek God’s kingdom before the kingdom of man. And these are how we learn to give up our anxieties.

What about you? How have you seen God’s provision when you prioritized the kingdom of God? With which of the four disciplines do you think God wants to reorient your motives?

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Study the Bible in 5 Steps, and Connect with God

Studying the Bible is important, and you probably already believe that. But sitting down to study the Bible is a whole different can of worms. Although we know it’s important, sometimes we get stuck on what that time should actually look like. There are many ways to study the Bible. Below are five steps you might want to try.

Why Study

I wrote a post about why we study the Bible. You can read the full article here or, read this summary/conclusion

  • We study the Bible because God talks to us every day. How do we listen to him? By reading the Bible.
  • We study the Bible so we can know God better. The Bible reveals to us everything we need to know about him.
  • We study the Bible because God says that’s how we allow him to change us to be more like Christ.

Study the Bible with These 5 Steps

Those are some good goals! But how do we get there? How do we actually study the Bible?

  1. First, we pray. We talk to God and ask him for his help as we read so that we can understand, and be more Christlike.
  2. Then, we read like we are on a treasure hunt. It is best to read slowly. The whole point is to understand, so we don’t want to speed through it. Instead, we want to go slow enough that we understand what we’re reading. Studying the Bible is an exciting thing that helps us grow closer to God. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss anything. So I read slowly, paying attention to what God might be trying to say.
  3.  To check if we know what’s going on in the story, we ask ‘who and what?’ after we read it. This helps us make sure we know what happened in the story, and if we’re not sure, we can always go back and read the story again.
  4. While reading, we pay attention to what Jesus says and does, since we are trying to learn about him. And we ask ourselves what we learned about God from that story.
  5. Finally, we think about how remembering that about God will help us today, or in our life in general. We prayerfully consider how to apply what we’ve just learned about God.

Studying the Bible for ourselves helps us learn more about Jesus. It’s not enough to just learn about God in school and chapel. To grow up as a Christian, we need to study God’s word for ourselves. That means we read it and we make sure we understand it. By doing this, we learn about Jesus, and we realize how knowing that about Jesus will help us that day, or in our life in general.

What about you? How do you study the Bible? What helped you create the habit?

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Study the Bible to Grow in Christlikeness

Reading the Bible is different from studying the Bible. And it’s an important distinction. Often, reading the Bible leaves us with knowledge. But studying the Bible leaves us with life change. We study the Bible to grow more like Christ. 

[Related Post: Why Reading the Bible vs. Studying the Bible Matters]

The Story

First, a story.

After Jesus died and rose again and returned to heaven, his disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began telling people the good news, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. Two of these men were Paul and Silas.

Paul and Silas went from town to town teaching people all about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. One of these towns was called Thessalonica. Many who heard Paul and Silas speak believed what they said.

The next day, Paul and Silas went to a town called Berea. This is what the Luke says in Acts 17:11

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Luke tells us that the Jews from Berea were more noble, better, because they studied the Bible. The Jews in Thessalonica did not study– they just listened.

But the Jews in Berea wanted to read for themselves what Paul and Silas were teaching.

And Luke says that is better.

This is something we can do, too. At church and in small groups, we hear stories and teachings about Jesus.

Then we have a choice.

We could choose just to listen, or we could choose to study it for ourselves.

[Related Post: Stop Forgetting What You Read in the Bible]

Why Study?

But why should we study it ourselves?

  • Sometimes people study the Bible to learn more. That’s not what our goal is supposed to be.
  • Sometimes people study the Bible because they think they have to, and they feel guilty if they miss a day. But studying the Bible is a privilege, not a requirement.

So what is our goal then?

  • We study the Bible because God talks to us every day. How do we listen to him? By reading the Bible.
  • We study the Bible so we can know God better. The Bible reveals to us everything we need to know about him.
  • We study the Bible because God says that’s how we allow him to change us to be more like Christ.

Study to Grow

Personally, I can’t wait for God to make me more like Jesus. But I know it takes time. And I know that I’ll only make progress if I take time to study God’s word on my own.

Through study, I learn how I should react when I’m scared, or angry, or happy. God tells me in the Bible how I should treat my friends, and how I should spend my time, and what my attitude should be like. But I won’t know those things unless I read the Bible.

And I can’t make myself do these things the Bible says to do all on my own– Paul tells us that if we could do it on our own, Jesus died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). No, I need God’s help to change. And so I ask him to change me when I pray.

I’d love your thoughts in the comments! What are some ways God has used your Bible study to make you more Christlike? Can you share some of your favorite Bible study methods/tools?

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Kingdom of God Series: Assimilate to God’s Culture

Every kingdom, every culture, has its own set of rules, its own way of doing things. Culture shock can happen when we spend time in a different culture. Becoming accustomed to how things work in other cultures challenges many people.

Several years ago I spent some time in England. In a mere week and a half, I became used to having a cup of tea after each meal. And after coming home I kept up the practice for a couple weeks.

Jesus made it clear that God’s kingdom, heaven, has a culture of its own. And he painted clear pictures of what that culture is like.

Some people read these and think how it’ll be nice to live this way when we get to heaven. But that wasn’t Jesus’ goal for us. Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God was at hand. He told them the kingdom of heaven was near.

So, Jesus intends for us to live in this culture even now. 

It’s a sort of Christian culture, if that means a way that Christians act.

This series explores what the kingdom of God is like, and how we can start assimilating and avoid culture shock:

Part 1: Becoming Great (Matthew 18:1-4)

 

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Memorize Slowly: Living in Freedom

Memorizing verses from God’s word is a privilege. Too often we treat it like a chore, finding every excuse to avoid it. Many Christians claim they are simply too busy to take the time to memorize.

Personally, I tell myself that if I don’t have twenty minutes to dedicate to memorizing a verse, it’s not worth it.

That’s a lie. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to assume memorizing takes a huge chunk of time.

The Freedom to Memorize Slowly

I heard someone say once that memorizing God’s word should be like savoring a favorite dessert.

Take it slow, enjoy it, get every last bit possible.

I had never treated memorizing like that before, and the idea intrigued me.

I mean, what’s the harm? If it takes me a whole month to memorize just one verse, then I’ve learned one more verse than I would have otherwise.

I would never get around to it if I didn’t give myself the freedom to go slowly, to savor the words from God. Memorizing slowly, rather than as a chore to be completed, transform the experience of memorizing. I’ve noticed that it even feels more like worship when I take it slowly.

To Memorize Is To…

… meditate on the verses. It’s to think on it, pray it, get to the heart of the verse.

… hide the verse in your heart. It’s to make it available to yourself in a time of temptation.

… live out the verse, letting the words become a part of your day. Random things become triggers to remembering the truth God is communicating in the verse.

What to Memorize?

Then comes the question about what to memorize. Here are some ideas:

-any verse or passage that strikes you during your Bible reading time or Bible study time. If it feels powerful or important to you, mark and and make a point to memorize is.

-the verses listed on the Fighter Verses website (fighterverses.com) . They are called fighter verses because they help us fight temptation and remember God’s truth. You can sign up for the weekly email and just pick the few that stick out to you, or scroll through their lists and pick one to start with.

-use your concordance (or a search on the internet) to find verses about a particular topic. Struggle with peace? Look up verses about God’s peace, and pick one to memorize. This works for any topic explicitly covered in the Bible.

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Help me out! Share in the comments how you decide which verses to memorize, or a success story of taking your time to savor the scriptures as you memorized!

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Inviting Jesus to Step Into Your Problems Transforms Them

For a long time, I’ve felt guilty praying for and praying about things that were not spiritual necessities. I wasn’t good at inviting Jesus to solve my problems.

Somehow, a long time ago, I began to believe that God is only interested in uber-spiritual requests. I thought I had to know how God could use *blank* for his kingdom before I could pray about it.

And then I read about the time Jesus attended a wedding.

The Story

Jesus, his disciples, and his mom Mary are at a wedding. Celebrating, probably, having a grand ol’ time. Then Mary comes to Jesus with a problem. There is no more wine.

She could have complained to the other guests about the problem, but she didn’t. She could have mentioned to the bridegroom or the master of the feast about the lack of wine, but she didn’t. Goodness, she could have taken steps to solve the problem herself, but Mary doesn’t go off to the store or take up a collection. She goes to Jesus and tells them they are out of wine.

And at first, Jesus tries to stay out of it. He tells her it’s not time yet for him to start getting involved, doing miracles. Mary doesn’t really listen, she seems to assume he’ll solve the problem anyway. She tells the nearby servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and then we don’t hear any more from dear old Mary.

But that’s okay, because Jesus is up to something now. So much for it not being time yet! He has the servants gather over 120 gallons of water, then take some of it to the master of the feast. And somewhere between the water being in the jars and it being on the master of the feast’s taste buds, Jesus transformed it into some of the best wine that man had ever tasted.

The disciples saw all this, and believed in Jesus.

Woah

Mary doesn’t come to Jesus because she sees how he’d use it to help his disciples believe in him. She brings the problem to Jesus because it’s a problem.

And yes, when Jesus solves it he uses it for his glory, but that’s up to him. Figuring out how to advance the kingdom was Jesus’ job, not Mary’s. All she needed to do was invite Jesus into the solution.

The Little Things

It’s always left an impression on me that Jesus actually steps in and solves the problem of the wine.

At first he tells dear old mom that it isn’t his time yet. He’s not ‘supposed’ to start doing miracles yet. But then he does the miracle anyway.

So he started doing miracles earlier than he’d anticipated– to provide wine for a wedding, not to heal someone who was deathly ill, or bring someone back to life who would lead a nation to salvation, or feed a multitude of hungry people who have no other means to eat.

The wine wasn’t a necessity, but Jesus provided it anyway.

All because he was invited into the problem.

Inviting Jesus

Mary invited Jesus into the problem simply by telling him about the problem. She confided to him the problem of the wine, with the expectation that he would do something about it.

Mary knew enough about God and her son to believe this was the sort of thing Jesus would fix. She really thought that the lack of wine was something God would want to fix.

I tend to look at my problems and assume God’s got better things to do, so I try to fix the problems myself. Which I suppose is ‘fine’, but it’s not ‘the best‘– because God knows, and God cares, and God wants to be involved. He came to earth in the flesh, for crying out loud, I think he’s made it obvious he wants to be involved.

So I’ll take a few leaps this week, I’ll turn to God when I see a problem. I’ll tell him what the issue is, and I’ll listen. Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them, and I have to be willing to do the same. More on that another week!

In the meantime, leave a comment and tell me about a time you took a problem to Jesus, however big or small, and he solved it!

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