Category Archives: Church

Why I Ditched Religion – by Katharine Trauger

On Monday, I asked a sincere question, and I have received some really great, honest feedback from you all in return. You can check it out on my post Truth-Seekers? Are You There? Be sure to read the comment section, because that’s where you’ll be challenged and find the best conversations.

Today, I wish to share one of those answers with you.

Guest post by Katharine Trauger at Home’s Cool!

When I was twelve–I remember it clearly–I sat in church wondering. I knew I was looking. I felt I knew what I was looking for.
I knew there was truth somewhere in the Bible because I knew there was this basically unexplainable thing that the original 12 disciples had found and were completely willing to die for. And, sorry, but I also knew it wasn’t religion. Nope. There are tons of religions and religions are what make people willing to KILL, not willing to die.
I truly sat in church and realized what I was getting was what people were willing to kill for. I had not found anything I was willing to die for. I was pretty sure those who went before in the Believing tradition had found whatever that was. All the martyrs had had something, found something, and all the Crusaders had not.
I wondered what it was and wanted to find it, if possible.
I’m a sort of scary personality in that I usually just calmly watch and listen. And when I know that I know something, I teach. But if I get pushed, I might flare up. A little bit. Maybe. Heh heh.
So I just sat in church and waited and listened and watched. For all the love I had for the history/tradition, for all the artistic beauty inherent in the average formal church setting, and for all the comfort of repetition, I could not find anything that would be hard to walk away from. At all. But I felt pretty sure whatever it was that I could not find, it was still there to be found, but I could not find it.
Eventually I left for college and ditched it all for a disobedient lifestyle. I married an atheist/agnostic who was a brilliant thinker. (Oh, and he was in the same denomination, so my parents were pretty pleased. Snowed, more like it.)
The VietNam draft and the cost of college forced us to choose the military life for a short while. Then back to college and on to married parenthood and a real job. During this time came the movie “Jesus Christ, Superstar”. We did not view it, but did purchase the soundtrack, for which, for some reason, the product insert included a Bible reference, and we opened the Bible in our home for the first time, ever. And my mostly unchurched husband had questions which I could answer, from the storehouse of Bible memory work I’d spent my childhood learning.
Ironic, no?
Eventually I began feeling guilty about not attending church and since my husband was okay with it, I went a couple of times. You know how that can make you a member, sometimes? First thing I knew, I was teaching VBS. It was 1976, the bicentennial year. I remember that, because the VBS curriculum was all “God and Country” and having just exited the VietNam/college culture, I was really having trouble teaching little children something I did not believe. Really.
I remembered things from the childhood Bible memo work, still, and I remembered that if we ask for spiritual gifts, God always says “yes”. (Or so I was taught.)
Therefore, one night, still angry at the curriculum, and also angry at God, I prayed. “God, if you’re really up there, you’ve got to do one of two things: You either have to change my brain or else you have to get me out of teaching VBS, because I REALLY cannot teach things to little children as truth if I don’t believe them myself.”
Two choices. I actually had issued an ultimatum to God that He had two choices, if He wanted me to believe He exists.
Guess which one He chose.
I was so sure He could not change my brain (because He probably wasn’t really “up there”), and still so mad that He’d let me get into the predicament (because, although He does not exist, everything is His fault, right?), that I was fuming the next morning about what I was going to have to teach to little children.
My husband noticed my agitation and asked what was wrong. I began showing him all the propaganda in the teacher’s book that had made me so angry.
And I could not find it. I could find the book and no pages were missing. But I could not find the “opinions” that had so angered me. I could not find the untruths. I could not find a. single. thing. in that curriculum that was not reasonable, not conceivable, not plausible. I was dumbfounded. I had locked horns with God and lost.
Won, actually. Because overnight, He had instilled faith in my heart. Because I told Him He had to, then rolled over and went to sleep. And He did it.
And I want to tell you what I got was NOT religion. NOT. NOT. NOT.
What I got was life. It’s a whole different thing, entirely.
Even the Bible describes religion: looking after widows and orphans, and keeping yourself unspotted by the world.
That is admirable, yes, but also SO MUCH NOT what I got. I got life in Christ. I finally found what it was that the martyrs had. I’d actually seen God at work and no longer knew He was probably real. I KNEW HIM. His fingerprints were and always are on me.
Just not the same, at all.
Yes, I’ve looked back a bit. Trouble is, He’s got my back. He is always very near. Well, actually, He is in me. In me. The Living Water is not a parable. Nope. It is reality.
It is the only reality.
I used to say, and I think it is relevant, here, that there are 3 Kingdoms:
The Plant Kingdom, which we know for sure we are not a part of.
The Animal Kingdom, which many think they are part of because they think that is the only alternative.
And.
The Kingdom of God, a spiritual kingdom that invisibly coexists all around and among and within us, who belong to Him. A kingdom into which a person must be born. Again.
And that is where I am and where I have been for over forty years.
I have been young and now am old, and I’ve never seen anything I can regret about His lifting me from my slow death into this fractalesque explosion of true life.
Hope you didn’t think our answers would be short… 🙂

Sunday Sabbath?

Did you know that the Hebrew word “seven” [שבע] is built into the word “sabbath” [שבת]? Yeah. God did that on purpose to help seekers unmask the lies about the change to the first day of the week.

Are you aware of what the sabbath signifies? Rest.

Believers, know that rest is coming for us. And it’s coming at the end of all this mess. The end of the week, not the beginning. Who would even want to rest before the work is finished?

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Hebrews 4:9

photo credit: Mars Hill Church <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/46161602@N00/8606727674″>Portland</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

I am one of them, and so are you.

“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.” Is this children’s-church song scripturally sound? I tell you, it is more sound than much of what you will hear coming out from behind the pulpit nowadays. But what does it mean? And what does it mean to you?

Are you listening to theologians who tell you that the Law was only valid for the Israelites?

They have been misled: “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 24:22

“One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” Numbers 15:15-16.
“One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.” Exodus 12:49. This particular passage is specifically referring to eating the Passover lamb, which foreshadows salvation. Any foreigner who wanted to partake in eating the lamb had to become circumcised first, joining himself to the Hebrew nation.

Today, there is no physical lamb to eat because there is no temple. Jews do not even partake of a lamb anymore because God warned them in His Law not to do so without a temple. There is, however, a spiritual Lamb to partake of – that is Christ. To eat the spiritual Lamb, you must be spiritually circumcised – that is the act of coming to Him for salvation.

You will hear many preachers preach against circumcision and against keeping the Law. They use Galatians to make their case. I would encourage you to read the entire book. It’s very short. Paul was angry with the Jews in Galatia who were demanding that the gentiles be circumcised in order to gain salvation. In fact, he makes this very strong statement: “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” Galatians 5:3. However, note that his problem was not with circumcision itself (read Romans 3:1-2), but in the requirement to perform an act to obtain salvation.

It’s perfectly okay to be circumcised because of health reasons or because it is the lawful thing to do. Most who are circumcised don’t even have a choice in the matter. Paul isn’t saying that any circumcised person cannot attain salvation unless they keep the Law perfectly.  He is saying that you can’t hinge your salvation on it (or anyone else’s, for that matter). If your salvation were to depend on circumcision, then it would also depend on the whole Law.

The Jews themselves never lived up to the perfection set forth in God’s righteous Law. “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Psalm 14:3, quoted in Romans 3:10. Not that the Law is difficult – it is easy. “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.” Deuteronomy 30:11, ESV. The Jews failed to keep the Law because they were human, sinful, rebellious – the same reasons all of us fall short. How could their consciences allow them to put a requirement on the Gentiles when they couldn’t live up to God’s requirements themselves?

The Jews were saved by grace alone. They knew it. Why did they believe that the gentiles would be saved through any other means? “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Galatians 2:14. The Law cannot justify you unless you are perfect, unless you have always been perfect. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:4.

Some folks believe that if we follow the Law to the best of our ability, we are trying to earn salvation. This would be like suggesting that any time you do something righteous, you are attempting to earn salvation. We know better than that. If it has become a sin to follow the Law in circumcision, Sabbath days, and dietary restrictions, then it would also be a sin to avoid adultery, stealing, and murder. In fact, if it were a sin to perform the Law to the best of our abilities, then the entire definition of sin would have become the opposite of what it always was, and is! “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. “ 1 John 3:4. (Notice how inseparable sin is from transgression of the Law. It works both ways. If you are sinning, you are transgressing the Law, and vice versa. John wrote it that way on purpose to help us avoid confusion.)

However, keeping the Law cannot make you righteous, unless you keep the whole Law – that is, never sinning, even once. This is precisely what Christ did for us. His righteousness became our righteousness. It was attributed to us, as though we were the ones who had kept the entire Law – which is the only way to Life. (Sin equals death, Law equals Life – Romans 6:23, Deuteronomy 32:46-47) “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” Galatians 2:21.

The fact is, there is no one work that you have to do to “earn” salvation because it cannot be earned. There is no one act that you can do that will erase your past, present, and future sins. Doing something righteous, such as circumcision, does not atone for all of the wrong you have done. Once you have committed one sin in your life, you are doomed to experience the curse of disobedience (death), and there is no act you can perform to undo it. That is, you are doomed unless your sin can be atoned for – and it can! By the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the very reason that non-Christians will not experience eternal life. They are doomed by the curse of the Law. If the Law has become void, as modern-day theologians claim, then there is nothing by which to judge the unrighteous, nothing by which to separate those who will live from those who will not. (Read all of Deuteronomy for a more perfect understanding.)

The Law is the mirror by which we are judged, reflecting the perfect righteousness of God. In it, we can see what righteousness looks like. In Christ, we have an example of what it would look like for a human to continually abide in righteousness because He walked perfectly according to the Law. It is not the Law that is unrighteous. It is wholly righteous – it is the very definition of truth and righteousness itself. (Read Psalm 119:142&172). The only problem with the Law is that is makes no provision for redeeming yourself – except through your own death. “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6:7, Romans 7:2. But a dead person still cannot experience the eternal life that he never earned, unless Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him. So you see, the Law is not the problem – sin is. Read this: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Galatians 3:21. In this hypothetical scenario, Christ would not have had to die for us.

Maybe you are still convinced that the Law was given only to the Israelites. I don’t see how you would reach that conclusion, but okay. Don’t you know that once you have entered into salvation, you have entered into the covenant that God made with His people? Any stranger who wanted to follow the true God would do so by joining themselves to the Hebrew people through circumcision. That’s what salvation signifies. Like it or not, if you are a saved person, you are an Israelite. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. We are grafted into their family; we are heirs of their inheritance. The entire Word of God is all about Him, His Law (aka, His righteousness), and His people.

We hear that the church is the bride of Christ, and that any Jewish person wanting to get saved must do so by becoming part of the church. However, “church” just means congregation, and the congregation is spoken of over and over again in the Old Testament – it is not a new thing. This isn’t the “church age.” The congregation refers to His people. It has always been His people. If you don’t believe me, read Psalm 22:22, and Hebrews 2:12 which quotes it. Read Acts 7:38. Old Testament = congregation, New Testament = church. Congregation = church.

In regards to the church being the bride of Christ – that is also referring to Israel. Paul was familiar with Isaiah, chapters 50-54. The doctrine of the bride of Christ comes from those passages, and others, such as Hosea. You see, Israel was divorced for her unfaithfulness (chapter 50). In chapter 54, she is remarried to Christ. The death of God, Israel’s first husband, freed Israel from the law of her husband, allowing her to enter into marriage again, legally, without breaking God’s holy laws concerning marriage. (Isaiah 54:4 refers to her widowhood, just before her remarriage in the next verse.)

Salvation was offered to the gentiles almost as a side effect – but that’s just my way of looking at it; I’m sure God doesn’t see it that way. You see, it was too easy for the Messiah to save only Israel, so He made a way to save all of us: “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6. Salvation became available to the Gentiles while Christ was in the process of saving Israel.

Read all of Isaiah, and you will see how God is going to save the 10 lost tribes of Israel in spite of the fact that they turned from Him and walked in rebellion for thousands of years. They don’t even know who they are, yet God is going to gather them from the 4 corners of the earth, and they will once again become His people. In this process, He also made a way of salvation to every nation. We are saved by being adopted into the Israelite family. We are called to obey the Laws given to them – because they are us, and we are them. We are the seed of Abraham because of our faith. If none of this makes sense to you, I would encourage you to read the whole Bible. If that seems like too much of a chore, start with Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.

One more question, in parting: If the Sabbath day and feast days are perpetual ordinances, the way that God says they are so many times (read the first 5 books of the Bible), what would you suggest to Jewish people who trust in Christ? Would you suggest that they can stop keeping them now, that “forever” doesn’t really mean forever? What if someone told you that your eternal life gained through salvation wasn’t actually eternal, that it could be superseded by something new? And if you think that they should still be keeping them (you know, because forever really does mean forever), what would you suggest to the lost 10 tribes of Israel? These people have lost track of their lineage. They don’t know who they are. And how do you know you aren’t one of them? The Prodigal son, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the wheat and the tares: all of these parables point emphatically to the salvation of Israel, and our own salvation by extension.

What do I really believe?

I have been quiet lately, I know. I may appear calm on the outside, but my soul is stirring underneath, like a barely controlled tempest. My mind is altered. My life is beginning to take a shape that I am unfamiliar with. In a previous post, I alluded to a change in perception that has been taking place for over a year now. Well, today I am ready to talk about it.

I have been hesitant to publicly address how I now believe. One reason being that I am constantly learning new things, and I know that in another year’s time, I will have morphed completely beyond where I am now, and I am loathe to make a fool of myself, speaking of things which I barely understand. I have only scratched the surface, I know. But I am yearning, starving for more, and every week I uncover something new that has been hiding in plain sight all my life: Principally, I have uncovered 2 things:

  1. the overwhelming, inexplicable foreshadowing of Jesus Christ throughout the Law and the Old Testament. Something like this cannot be forged. The conspiracy would have to span thousands of years, countless patient martyrs, and make sudden and complete perfect sense of the hidden mystery of God that was revealed in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Messiah. The more you study, the more you will realize that the gospel message could not possibly have been contrived by men. I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one. Many of you have already discovered what has lately been filling me with amazement and unspeakable respect and awe in the face of our Creator and Redeemer. However, I want to lay these things out plainly for any other seeker that may be a bit behind, as I was (and am).
  2. the fact that the Law is every bit as relevant today as it ever has been. (This is the belief that I expect to be challenged for.) “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Joshua 1:8. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” I John 3:4. “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Colossians 1:24-29

The second reason is difficult for me to admit. I am afraid. Afraid that my dearest friends and family members will misunderstand what I have to say. Afraid that they will think that I am not “looking unto Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.” That’s why I intend to be very careful about how I word things. I will attempt to say exactly what I mean. I do not fear questions and challenges, so ask away. To quote a good friend of mine: “I am not afraid to discover the truth, whatever it may be” – which is what led me to this place to begin with.

Here is what has changed my life: deep inspection of the Law of God, the Torah. I have only just learned this term, its meaning, and the importance and impact of these books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). I am not saying they are the most important books of the Bible, merely that we have neglected them for centuries, and that it’s high time they reclaim their proper place in the hearts and lives of mankind.

Now I have long since wondered about Christianity and its neglect of just one of the Ten Commandments. Why neglect one? This has been an ongoing, nagging question in my heart since childhood. There have even been phases in my life where I have attempted to keep the Sabbath, but they were always short-lived. I lacked the urgency needed to follow God’s rules (due to being steeped in modern-day, “fluffy” Christianity).

However, my journey began in earnest after learning that I am BRCA positive. I started to wonder if my genes harbored some trace of a Jewish heritage. Having always believed that the Law was given to God’s chosen people, this wonderment changed something in me. Was the Law intended for me? However, I was only in a phase of curiosity. I had not yet reached the intense desire to find out everything that it’s possible for a person to know about God and His Law (which are insights into His personality and righteousness).

While I was mostly ignoring the occasional blips on my spiritual radar, I went on with my life as normal. On the other hand, my dad started to dig and began sharing things with me. His conversation and lifestyle sparked in me a compulsion to prove him wrong. I was afraid that he was placing his salvation in his own hands, not in the pierced hands of Jesus Christ alone. I feared he was on the verge of practicing gnosticism, wondering if he believed he knew things that were only revealed to a chosen few. I would come home from visits at my parents’ home and search and comb the scriptures, comparing the old (testament) with the new, and the new with the old, trying all the while to read them with naked eyes. Does that make sense? Eyes that were not looking through filtered lenses of world-view, doctrine, or any other type, striving to merely see what God is saying about His Covenant and everything else. Deeper and deeper, revelation after revelation, the Scriptures slowly began to change my mind, and only God knows how deep the rabbit hole goes. I am beginning to suspect it is infinite.

Here is the third reason that I have been hesitant to share, and it is the biggest. I have this fear that perhaps I am wrong. Maybe it’s the urging of the Holy Spirit asking me not to get into things over my head. Most likely it’s Satan, trying to prevent me from discovering the fullness of God’s majesty and plan of redemption. I would like to think that I know the difference between the voice of God and that of His adversary, and I believe that I do. However, for your sakes, please do not take anything I have to say at face value, and do your own digging. Please. If there is anything you take away from all of my rambling, be it this admonition: Find out for yourself; it is your responsibility. This is not, however, a disclaimer. I am not attempting to wash my hands of my part in this movement. I am not pretending that I won’t share the blame if I mislead anyone, and God knows that is the last thing I want to do, so I have waited this long to share the beliefs of which I am now fully convinced. I am just stating, that if you believe a lie without consulting the Scriptures, you will be equally responsible for your own misguidedness.

In my next few posts, I will be addressing a few of the things I have learned very recently, and I hope they spur you toward revival and a thirst for the Living Water and His righteousness. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6.Christie Thomas Even if you disagree with everything I say here, I hope these words compel you to dig and find out whether I am right or wrong. I urge you to search the Scriptures for yourself, Old and New Testaments alike, and find out what God has to say to you.

It’s time to stop relying on conventions, traditions, and unsupported doctrines of men. Some doctrines are good; some are bad, but we have everything we need to allow us to discern the truth. We have no excuse to mindlessly accept what we’ve always been told. We have been given the Word and the Holy Spirit of God. It’s time to stop neglecting the Holy Scriptures – the one thing in this world that reveals the message of life freely to all who believe.

 

This is enough for one day. Aside from the scriptures provided here, I realize I have said next to nothing of substance in this post. However, I am afraid to write everything I am thinking at once. (I am afraid you will get bored and stop reading!) Next time, if God gives me grace to complete it, I will begin to tackle what I believe is the three-fold purpose of the Law:

  1. To reveal sin in our lives, thereby proving our need for a Savior.
  2. To act as an indisputable sign, pointing perfectly and completely at Jesus Christ as Messiah.
  3. To show us how to live an abundant life during our sojourn here on earth.

 

Later, I intend to cover some common objections.

I would also like to talk about the names of God and His Son, the feast days, worldliness in the church (including pagan practices), and the tricky way that Satan has convinced us (almost collectively) that sin is okay.

These are all from a layman’s viewpoint; I am seeking to educate myself but have no credentials of any kind. However, I am a perpetual student of Yahweh and His holiness. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

 

I John 4:1-5:

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

Bible Study Tips

bible-1149924_1280After searching the internet for 30 or 40 minutes, I finally gave up trying to find the perfect Bible study tip sheet for my Sunday School class. There were a lot of good ideas out there, but nothing that fit our needs perfectly. We generally choose a book and go through it one chapter at a time, so I needed something that would fit that format. Anyway, here’s what I came up with. If you have similar needs, perhaps it will be useful to you!

Here is a link to download the pdf, along with the complete text below.

BibleStudyIdeas

Who: Look at the beginning and ending of the book. Is it apparent who is speaking and who is being spoken to? If not, see if you can find out by looking in a reference book or getting online.

 

What: Read the whole first chapter. Is it easy to tell what’s going on? If not, you may have to read the entire book first or look up a summary of the book.

 

Where & When: Can you tell when and where the book was written?

 

Why: Why is the writer of the book speaking to his audience? Again, you may have to do a little digging for the answers.

 

You may want to spend the entire first week finding out the answers to these first few questions, before beginning with chapter one. If you decide to use outside sources for your information, and by that I mean anything other than the Bible, be sure you don’t just accept the first thing you read as truth. Check to see if the facts are widely agreed upon by Christians and if they can be supported. (Even then, be wary. Satan has his own agenda, and it is sometimes hard to discern.)

 

Chapter by Chapter:

 

After satisfying your curiosity about the previous five questions, you will have a good foundation for understanding the individual chapters of your chosen book. Beginning with the first chapter, follow the simple steps found on the next page. Commence each step with prayer. Genuinely seek the face of God and His will for your life. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” Psalm 27:8 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” Matthew 7:7

 

  1. Read the chapter, noting any questions you may have along the way. For instance, what does _____ mean? Do the Jews still carry on this tradition today? Why would he have said that specifically? Etc.
  2. Spend some time searching out a few more scriptures that address common topics or themes. Scripture is best understood in the light of other Scripture. The Bible is a uniform whole, communicating to us the story of God’s plan of redemption for mankind.
  3. Pray. This time, ask for help staying focused and finding helpful information. Look up the answers to your questions, and write down the results.
  4. Cultivate a desire for God’s truth, and ask for eyes to see the big picture. Read the chapter a second time, and write down any of your own thoughts and opinions. If another scripture comes to your mind while reading, look up the reference and make note of it.
  5. Pray again. This time pray for discernment before you read the opinions of others. Find out what other Christians believe about this chapter. This is where you need the most discernment, and if you aren’t sure, you may want to skip this step until you become more grounded in the Scriptures.
  6. Ask for strength to apply the Word of God in your daily life. Read the chapter one last time, writing down any personal applications you can find.
  7. Find your favorite verse from the chapter and memorize it. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Psalm 1:2

In the instance of preparation for a weekly group Bible study, these steps can be accomplished one day at a time throughout the week, spending 10-20 minutes in study each day. If you split the steps like this, be sure to begin each daily session with prayer.

When a Loved One Hurts You

Last night, my pastor delivered one of the greatest messages I have ever heard him preach. It was from 2 Kings 4:1-7:

Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.

And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.

Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.

And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.

So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out.

And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.

Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.

My pastor went on to say that oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We are anointed by the Holy Spirit, just as they anointed kings of Israel with oil.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…(Luke 4:18)

Oil was all she had left in the house, but it was the only thing she needed. Just as the Holy Spirit is the only thing we need to sustain us. The empty vessels represent other people in our lives. And here is the gist of the message: it doesn’t matter how many people you pour yourself out to. You will never run out of the Holy Spirit in your life. There will always be enough left over for you.

I have a few friends that are pastors or other types of ministers. I was thinking today about how difficult it must be to be heavily depended on by so many lives. What a burden to feel responsible for everyone’s relationship with God. What a weight to know that your life is a witness to others, that they are looking at you to see if they can find true Christianity. To some extent, every Christian lives under a microscope, but pastors and their families bear the greatest burdens. These people, who are constantly pouring themselves out, constantly sacrificing their time, their sweat, their finances, and their emotions, are taking a great risk by loving the rest of us. I have discovered, over the course of my life, that those who are closest to us have the greatest opportunity to cause us grief. I cannot even think of a good enough term to describe how we make them feel sometimes. Turmoil, vexation, sorrow? None of those words seem adequate.

So tonight, I want to encourage you if you have been hurt by someone you love. My heart especially goes out to those who have made it their life’s work to minister to others, but the rest of us are affected sometimes too. The fact is, people, self-proclaimed Christians, hurt each other sometimes. When someone hurts me, I have learned to compare where they are right now to who I was nine years ago. I was living in a back-slidden condition then, purposefully sinning, and putting my entire family at risk. Yet I was still me. I was still under the grace and protection of God, and He was still working in my life. Not through me perhaps, because I had made myself unavailable to Him, but rather working on my behalf.

So if there is someone in your life that has hurt you deeply and has behaved unseemly toward you, perhaps they are not hypocrites after all – the first conclusion we want to jump to – but a work in progress. Perhaps this is a phase, and God is going to create something beautiful in their lives. I think that God not only looks at the whole person, but at the whole span of a person’s life.

One of my long-standing prayers has been to see people through God’s eyes. Now, some of us get really good at seeing unbelievers and new believers like that (hence the patience and call to deal with drug addicts, etc.). These are people who we view as needing our help. We look at them, and visualize a beautiful future for them, saved from the depths of despair by the majesty of God’s grace. In a way, I think we sometimes self-worship, and believe that it is due to something good in us that brings these folks to God. I think that’s why it is so easy for us to “help” them. Because we get some pleasure out of it and perhaps a pat on the back. That’s how I feel sometimes, even though in reality I know I am nothing, but a hopeless sinner saved by the grace of God. (Only I can know and understand the depths of my own depravity.)

But it’s 100x harder to see “mature” believers through God’s eyes. Especially if they are hurting us, or if they are in the process of indulging in sin. I’m not saying that I’m completely immune to having my feelings hurt by others, but if I can believe that these people are just short-sighted at the moment and are destined for awesomeness (I think of Paul’s conversion and ministry), then it is easier for me to find peace. And I hope that when I sin against others (and believe me, it will happen), they can extend the same grace to me. I hope they can look into my future and envision a time when I am no longer at odds with them, and a time when my sin no longer dictates my words and actions.

Wednesday evening at church, we all shared our favorite verses with each other. This is my favorite (Job 23:8-9):

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:

On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him:

I believe this means that He is always working in our behalf, even when He seems completely absent. So every negative comment, every health struggle, every relationship issue, – it is all a gift from God to form us into the people He is perfecting. Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Embrace it, believe it, make decisions based on it, treat others by it, live it.

The verse following my favorite passage (Job 23:10) says this:

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

Again, he is looking at the whole person. He knows your way – your life, your destiny. You can be at peace with everything that happens to you. But keep in mind that this verse also applies to every other Christian on the face of the planet. He is molding them, using their own situations and shortcomings to teach them.

I want to leave you with this, the favorite verse of one of my brothers in Christ. When he spoke the words Wednesday night, it immediately struck a chord deep inside of me (Psalm 119:165):

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

Train Up a Child: Prayer

Ever since Ian told me that God has called him as a missionary, I’ve been taking his training a lot more seriously. I know that I should have been diligent to train him all along – it’s not like he will always be surrounded by like-minded folks, or that he will never fall into temptation – but suddenly, his Christian development has taken precedence over everything else. For instance, we’ve been praying out loud together every day. The first day, I prayed out loud; the second day, he did, etc. By doing this, I hope to accomplish a few things:

1. Give him an idea about the variety of things we can talk to God about (aka, everything).

2. Teach him to be thankful and worshipful above all things – that these are the most important aspects of his communion with God.

3. Train him to only ask for personal things occasionally. This is not the sole purpose of prayer. I have said before – God is not a vending machine. However, we pray for salvation of the lost pretty frequently.

4. Show him that prayer is not meant to be mindlessly repetitious or ritualistic. Every approach to the throne of God should be fresh and unique to that moment, and our hearts and minds should be focused on Him.

5. Get him in the habit of taking the time to pray. Every. Single. Day. It should be non-negotiable, just like brushing his teeth.

6. Increase his comfort level in praying out loud. As a man, he will be called on to pray in church with some regularity, and as a missionary, he will have to take the initiative and teach others how to pray.

7. It just occurred to me – I should also teach him to be silent for a few moments as well – to give God our undivided attention, and allow Him the opportunity to answer back.

8. We haven’t done this yet, but I also need to emphasize the importance of searching our hearts, admitting to sin, and earnestly repenting.