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Do you want to know more about the Bible, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve started, but have problems sticking with a daily Bible study routine? Are you tired of the same old devotionals and ready for something deeper? Swim in the Deep End invites you into the adventure of studying the Bible for yourself. It answers questions that many people have about Bible study: How do I find time? Where do I start? How do I understand what it means? How do I apply it to my life? And what should I do if I get out of my devotional routine?

This book contains practical answers to these questions and emphasizes relationship with Christ rather than religion. It also has thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, making it useful for both individual and group study. The last chapter gives several study plans on topics such as the attributes of God, the will of God, suffering, anxiety, and conflict. It is a great tool for new Christians or anyone who wants to freshen up their Bible study routine.

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Thirsty, Not Guilty

We are halfway through our study of 1 Peter, and if you are anything like me, I suspect you could use some encouragement!  If you’ve fallen behind or missed a few days, don’t feel guilty:

Anyone who has ever devoted themselves to studying the Bible has also experienced the inevitable “dry spell.”  It’s inevitable both because of the sin that dwells within us and the crazy life circumstances that occur outside of our control.  Before we know it, we’ve missed one day, two, then a whole week or month of hearing from God through His Word.  Eventually, life reaches a “boiling point” where we get desperate for God, and we dive into a new devotional or Bible study with renewed vigor, starting the cycle over again.  What if, instead of feeling guilty when we got out of the routine, we felt thirsty?

Granted, we are guilty because we are sinners, but Jesus took away that guilt at the cross and declared those who trust in Him to be righteous.  No amount of reading, underlining, cross-referencing, or memorizing can make us more righteous.  No amount of missed quiet times or forgotten prayers can condemn us in His eyes.  So how about we stop with the legalistic guilt trip and call it like it is:  This world is a desert wilderness, and without a constant trip to the stream of living water, we are bound to be desperately thirsty! –Swim in the Deep End

“On the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38

FREE study of First Peter and chance to win Chick-fil-a giftcard!

hope

Sometimes everything seems upside down and backwards of how it is supposed to be.  The extent of brokenness in the world has been weighing heavy upon my heart. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that this world is not our home.  The letter of First Peter reminds us that we are pilgrims and sojourners, and while we are grieved by various trials for a short time, we can also rejoice with inexpressible joy because of our salvation in Christ.  Through His resurrection from the dead, we are given a living hope that doesn’t perish or fade away, no matter what our circumstances.  Discouragement fades away in light of what is to come.  Peter experienced that in his own life and then wrote this letter in order to encourage others.

But in order to be encouraged, we must dig down deep into the Word.  When we experience disappointments, failures, and affliction, our natural response will not be hope unless we have read about it, studied it, and made it a part of our lives as natural as a heartbeat.  If we want hope that lasts, we must abide in Christ through the intentional study of His word and prayer!

On August 3, I am going to start a 30-day online study of 1 Peter, following the methods outlined in my book, Swim in the Deep End.  You do not need to have the book to participate, as I will be putting everything you need on the blog.  You will need a journal or computer to record your notes.  The study will last 6 weeks with 5 days per week.  Each day will challenge you to study the text and can probably be completed in 30 minutes or less.  If you would like to participate, please click the “follow” button on the right side of the page and enter your e-mail.  Then you will receive each day’s post right in your inbox.

To promote community interaction during this study, I will also be having a drawing for a $15 Chick-fil-a gift card.  To be eligible for this drawing, you need to comment on at least 4 out of 6 weeks of the study.  Comments that qualify will do at least one of the following:

  • Share what you are learning in 1 Peter/ how it applies to your life
  • Ask a question about what we are studying that week
  • Give a thoughtful reply to someone else’s comment or question

Please share this Bible study opportunity with others who could use some lasting hope!  I will see you in August!

How Much is Enough? (+free book download!)

The other day a woman I was counseling asked me a great question: “How much time should I spend in daily devotions?” She confessed that she felt pressured to live up to what other women in her small group were studying and how much time they were spending. I fought the urge to tell her exactly what I do for my quiet times, and instead answered her question with a question: “How much time do you need in order to have a vibrant and growing relationship with the Lord?” When I asked her that question, she was able to come to a reasonable answer on her own. I think a lot of people are unsure about what devotional times should look like, and often have the question, how much is enough? This is a subject that I address in Swim in the Deep End, as you will see from the following excerpt:

The most cited reason for not studying the Bible (according to my unscientific survey) is “I don’t have enough time.”  In fact, I have used this very excuse in explaining to my friend why I hadn’t been spending time in the Word.  Her response?  “We make time for the things that are important to us.”  Ouch.

Now I’m not going to say a specific number, like “you need to spend x amount of time studying the Bible every day” Remember, this is about building a relationship.  God refers to us as “friends” and the even more tender term, “children”  (John 15:15; Ephesians 1:5).  The relationship between Christ and His church is compared to the most intimate relationship of all, husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Can you imagine what my husband would do if I told him, “Okay honey, I can hang out with you every morning between 7:00 and 7:15.  Except on the weekends, when I’ll be sleeping in.  Those days, I probably won’t get around to talking to you at all, except while we’re at church.”  What kind of relationship is that?  I wouldn’t communicate with my husband like that, so why would I do that with God?  While our communication isn’t strictly planned, it is regular and frequent.  Without consistent interaction, we would start to drift apart, immersed in our own worlds.

In the same way, a good relationship with God is a combination of spontaneity and intentionality.  It responds to daily circumstances, but is also comprised of daily discipline.  Some conversations are pleasant and easy; others require hard work and careful listening.

Like what you read? Click here to download the entire book for free now through March 8!

He did WHAT?!?

A man going into battle made a vow to God: “Let me win this battle, and when I return home victorious, whatever comes out of the door of my house I will give as an offering to You.” God gave him victory in the battle, and he returned home. Who should appear at his front door, but his only daughter, playing music and dancing to celebrate his homecoming?

The man informed his daughter of the vow, saying, “I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.” Stoically, she accepted this news, and asked only that she have two months to spend with her friends and mourn her fate.

At the end of the two months, he carried out his vow and offered his only child as a burnt offering to God. This sounds like something out of a twisted Greek tragedy, but actually, it’s in the Bible (Judges 11:29-40). Which leads to some pretty tough questions:

Was God happy about his actions? Does He sanction child sacrifice? What kind of God would do that?

Are we supposed to imitate this myopic dedication to God?

These questions arise because we tend to read the Bible prescriptively rather than descriptively. In other words, we think that Bible stories are meant to impart moral lessons, and just because someone’s in the Bible, we should follow their example. However, we are hard-pressed to find any human in the Bible who set a consistently good example. Noah got drunk. Jacob lied to his father. David committed adultery and murder.

The only consistently good, heroic character in the Bible is God!

For the most part, stories such as the one above are not condoning behavior, just describing it. There are some sections of the Bible which clearly do contain ethical teaching, such as Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul’s letters. However, reading descriptively rather than prescriptively helps alleviate many interpretive problems, especially when reading Old Testament narratives.

Another method that helps interpret these difficult passages is taking the whole of Scripture into account. In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God speaks out strongly against child sacrifice and even punishes people harshly for sacrificing their children. He is as appalled as we are, if not more so, and says, “I did not ask you to do that, nor would such a thing even come into my mind!” (Jeremiah 19:5-paraphrase). Both Jesus and James caution believers against making any vows, but rather “let your yes be yes and no be no.” Jephthah’s actions would probably not be commended by God, nor should they be imitated by us; rather, it seems to be the pattern of the book of Judges to demonstrate the inadequacy of Israel’s human leaders and point to the need for a divine Shepherd King.

In my book, Swim in the Deep End, I challenged people to get deeper with their Bible study. Inevitably this leads to passages which are shocking, disturbing, and difficult to apply; however, following the above suggestions can help make it easier.

The Things Which We Have Seen and Heard

In my recent study of Ezekiel, I started to get a little confused. At certain points in the book, God tells Ezekiel that he is going to be mute. Then, in the very next verse or chapter, Ezekiel speaks to the people (see Ezek. 24:27 and 25:1, for example). I wondered, how can he be mute and also be speaking?

The answer lies in what he was speaking: the Word of God. He was restricted from speaking unless the word of the Lord came to him. This was explained back in Ezekiel 3:26-27, although I had forgotten about it: “I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute….But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God…..”

The prophet Amos confirmed this experience: “The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) And when the Apostles were severely threatened by the Jewish Council and told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore, they responded, “Uh, that’s all well and good, fellas, but we don’t really have a choice in the matter…for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:13-20).

It seems that when the Lord has something to reveal about Himself, there is no containing it. He speaks, the world is created. Whatever He says comes to pass. And we are privileged to have the Bible, which is God-breathed, living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword (2 Tim. 3:16 and Heb. 4:12). How can we not study it, dwell on it, and memorize it? How can we not speak the things which we have seen and heard?

Jesus Called. His Voicemail is the Bible.

Let’s play a game! The name of the game is: Jesus or Jesus Calling?

Go through the statements below and decide if you think they were actually said by Jesus in the Bible or if they are from the popular book Jesus Calling. Answers are below, but no cheating!

  1. “My Peace is like a shaft of golden Light shining on you continuously.”
  2. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
  3. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast in hell.”
  4. “I love you for who you are, not for what you do.”
  5. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  6. “Relax in My healing Presence.”
  7. “At the end of your life-path is an entrance to heaven. Only I know when you will reach that destination, but I am preparing you for it each step of the way.”
  8. “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
  9. “Come to me in all your neediness, with defenses down and with desire to be blessed.”
  10. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Answers:

  1. Jesus Calling (Feb. 11)
  2. Jesus (Matt. 10: 34-35)
  3. Jesus (Matt. 5:30)
  4. Jesus Calling (March 3)
  5. Jesus (Matt. 4:17)
  6. Jesus Calling (Jan. 2)
  7. Jesus Calling (April 14)
  8. Jesus (Matt. 7:14)
  9. Jesus Calling (Dec. 8)
  10. Jesus (Luke 9:23)

Scoring: 1,000 points if you recognize the stark contrast between the voice of Jesus in the Bible and the voice of Jesus as written by Sarah Young.

Young’s Jesus is shrouded in golden rays of light, and focuses on affirming people, positive thinking, and relaxing in His peaceful presence. Jesus of the Bible, on the other hand, seems to be a rather radical fellow, prone to exaggeration in order to get His urgent message across: you will die in your sins unless you repent, take up your cross, and follow Me.

To be fair, I did pick and choose quotes from both the Bible and Jesus Calling that would enable me to make a point. After all, Jesus is also the gentle Shepherd who comforts those who mourn and binds up the broken hearted. Likewise, as I looked through Jesus Calling I found a few days where she did talk about self-denial and submitting to the authority of God. Unfortunately, however, those days are few and far between, and shrouded in Eastern mysticism with a healthy dose of Western psychology. Which explains why her book has become a huge bestseller and spawned Jesus Calling Bibles, teen versions, and kids versions. On the other hand, if you look at how most people reacted to Jesus’ preaching in the Bible, many turned away and stopped following Him, complaining, “This is a hard saying, who can understand it?” (John 6:60)

Another key indicator that she misrepresented Jesus is that plenty of non-Christians read Jesus Calling and love it. According to 1 Peter 2:8, Jesus is a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to unbelievers. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Why, then, is Jesus Calling so widely popular?

Could it be that it contains neither an accurate representation of Jesus nor the gospel message?

This is what happens when you claim to speak for God, rather than directing people toward what He actually said in the Bible. It’s what happens when you make yourself a mediator between another person and God, which is essentially what she has done with this book. I don’t think true Christians will suffer much hurt from reading it, as long they are feeding themselves from the actual word of God in a Bible-believing community. But if they are, then Jesus Calling will soon seem to be unnecessary and superficial fluff. To non-Christians, however, reading Jesus Calling is like treating a gaping, infected wound with a band-aid. God does not like it when people offer superficial solutions to deep problems. In fact, He punished the prophets for doing this to His people in Israel, saying,

“They have healed the hurt of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, Peace!’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14).

He also warned His people not to listen to those who spoke from their own hearts rather than His words:

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You shall have peace”: And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.” (Jeremiah 23:16-17)

As I worked on this blog today, the mail arrived with a catalog from the local Christian book store, heralding a sale on all things Jesus Calling. My hope is that this post will cause you to think twice before buying this book for yourself or as a Christmas gift for someone you love.  Don’t let false proclamations of peace render you worthless or falsely secure. Get alone with God by reading the Bible, and see what He has to say without it being filtered through the mind of Sarah Young. Chances are you will find Jesus much more interesting, captivating, dangerous, and satisfying than the redundant and one-dimensional picture of Him in Jesus Calling.