4 ways to study your Bible in 2016

reading

In the previous post, we discussed goal setting. It’s important that your goals are specific and measurable. One of the goals I have for 2016 is to read my Bible daily. That is something I’m already doing at the present time, but I want to continue. If you are trying to establish that goal for the coming year, but aren’t sure where to get started, consider the following ideas:

#1: Read the entire Bible in a year.

If you have not yet read the entire Bible, I strongly recommend this approach, especially if you have been a Christian for awhile. It’s important to get the big picture of the Bible and what better way than to read through the whole book?

Remember, to achieve a goal, it’s important to monitor and measure. So if you are serious about this goal, then I suggest the following tools:

The Daily Bible by F. LaGard Smith. This particular book only comes in the NIV as far as I am aware, but what I like about this particular bible reading plan is that it places the Bible texts in chronological order. It also has the day of the month in the top margin so you can keep track of where you need to be. The compiling author (F. LaGard Smith) puts commentary in front of many of the readings which may or may not be to your liking. I found it helpful when going through the prophets, but some may disagree with his comments. It can always be skipped! Reading the Word of God is the goal, not someone’s commentary.

The One Year Bible: The Entire English Standard Version arranged in 365 daily readings. I really like the English Standard Version (ESV) because it is a bit easier to understand in today’s vernacular. One very nice aspect to this particular setup is that you get a passage each from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in each daily reading. This may appeal to someone who has gotten bogged down in the Old Testament even though they really wanted to get to the New Testament. One negative aspect to this approach: it might be harder to really absorb the context by reading from so many different passages at one time. You must decide what works best for you.

YouVersion Bible AppHands down, this is my favorite Bible app to date. I’m not saying it’s the best one, it is simply the one that I’ve had the least trouble using. You can use it on your smartphone or tablet.

Within the app, there is an icon at the bottom of the screen that says “plans.” Select that icon and a list of plan types will appear. Select “whole bible” and it will give you a list of various plans available (The ESV Study Bible is similar to the One Year Bible listed above). The great thing about their plans is that they give you the date you are on and they will send you notifications if you need reminding. So, you have a monitor, a measure and a reminder.

If you enjoy listening to the Word, this will also be a useful tool because you can do your “reading” while driving to work or folding laundry. Some people concentrate better if their hands can be active while listening. Again, know thyself!

Bible Gateway Bible App. (see also the online plans here.) This is also a great app, though it is a bit newer to me than YouVersion. Again, you can select a reading plan on the app and it also gives you the option to have a daily reminder. This One-Year plan actually gives you the option to select your start date! You can select your reading plan and go from there. I haven’t figured out how to “listen” to the plan via audio so if one of my readers knows how to do that, please let me know in the comments section!

There are many more tools out there, these are simply ones that I’ve personally handled.

For those of you who plan to read the Bible in a year, here are some things to consider:

First, if you fall behind, catching up is hard. The best thing I can recommend is don’t fall behind for more than a day. If you do fall behind by a week or so, you may want to simply jump to your present date and start from there so you can continue to monitor. The only problem is, of course, that you’ve missed out on that text, but if it keeps you motivated to read daily, then do it.

Second, try not to rush through your reading. The temptation with a one-year plan is to simply “get through it” and fail to actually absorb and learn from what you are reading. One great thing about listening to the Bible versus reading it (for me) is that it slows me down. I enjoy reading, but if I find myself skimming ahead or skipping around, then I need to go back and do the audio version so I pay better attention. I fall into this trap, particularly with books I am very familiar with or in genealogy sections.

#2: Read 1-2 Books of the Bible per month. This is great for someone who is new to Bible reading altogether. It’s a little less overwhelming. The downside is, of course, that you may miss out on certain parts of the Bible by selecting only your favorite books. Here are a couple ways to execute this approach:

  1. Write down the 12-24+ books of the Bible you want to read for the year and name each month. For example: January – Proverbs, February – Hebrews and James etc. If you get through the book early, then go back and re-read it or move on to the next book in line. Look at the number of chapters and decide whether you need to include more or less books in your designated month.
  2. Do 30-day reading plans from your Bible App. The YouVersion App has a plan called “Let’s Read the Bible together” and it is setup for each month of the year. I have not used this plan, but again, it is a way to measure and monitor your progress.

#3: The Absorption approach. This one is a bit more advanced and requires more self-discipline.

To do this approach, have a calendar or daily to-do list with your “Bible Reading” as a check-off box. Make time each day to read or listen to a minimum of one chapter. You might end up reading the same chapter or same book a few times until you really grasp what is being said. I read through Ecclesiastes 3 times in 3 days because I was just having such a hard time focusing on the message.

While you read/listen, consider these questions:

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about people (myself included)?
  3. How does this tie in to God’s plan of salvation?
  4. What can I learn from this?

You may not be able to answer every question, but use them as a way to dig a little more effectively into the text.

#4: Chapter-per-day approach. If you are struggling to get in the habit of daily reading and the above plans seem overwhelming, then this is where I suggest you begin. The primary goal is to read from the Bible each day. Like prayer, I suggest you start with meal times. People don’t typically skip meals. When you sit down with your family for dinner, read a chapter aloud after the meal. Make it part of your daily routine. Begin in January, with Proverbs. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs—one for each day of the month. After that, move on to the Psalms. From there, go to the New Testament and read from Matthew to Revelation. Once that is completed, start in Genesis. One chapter a day isn’t that daunting until you get to Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Make sure that you make a little more time for that one.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. It’s important to make a plan that is realistic and one that you will stick to. If you have additional suggestions or tools, please leave a comment below so we can help one another grow closer to God through His Word.

Happy New Year!

Setting Goals that last

Photo from daveramsey.com, #DaveDaily
Photo from daveramsey.com, #DaveDaily

In order to be successful, one must establish habits conducive to reaching their goals and must have established goals in the first place. How can success be measured without a measuring stick?

Most often I am most successful at tackling goals when I am ready to begin. Sometimes New Years isn’t the best springboard for me. I actually started getting in the habit of regular exercise in the middle of a desert summer two and a half years ago. I walked everyday, achieving 10 to 20,000 steps per day. It took 6 months to lose 20 pounds, but I did and it has stayed off for the most part except for the past few intensely stressful months.

The success was achieved not through some magical diet, but through sweat, self-control, determination and measurable goals. I had a tracker, a measuring tape and an app that helped me monitor my progress and stay motivated.

So moving on to weightier matters: how can we set and achieve spiritual goals for 2016?

Lets begin with the goal-setting process:

You need specialized equipment—a sheet of paper, a 3×5 card and writing implement (pencil, pen, crayon etc.)

Step 1: Start with the big picture. What are the largest priorities in your life? Write them down. They should be at the top of your paper. This is a brainstorming process. Don’t worry about making it pretty yet.

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This is what my list included: Growing stronger in faith and closer to God.  Maintaining a strong family. Raising children who know and love the Lord. Maintaining a strong marriage. Being a good steward. Growing wise.

Those are lifelong goals—big picture priorities. If I put them up on my mirror, I will get discouraged. There is no gauge by which to measure these things nor a plan to achieve them. Those goals are things I have to do until I die. However, having your main priorities in place will help you decide whether your smaller measurable goals are good ones or whether they will be detrimental to your priorities. For example, a healthy family is a huge priority for us, but we also want financial stability. You must decide how that looks to you. How do you plan to achieve one without compromising the other? For some people, having a stay-at-home parent is vital, but that means living with less. It may even mean living in a place with a lower cost of living. If you have high financial goals, you could end up without a stay-at-home parent or have a very distracted stay-at-home parent trying to run a business and ignoring the children, essentially defeating the purpose of having a stay-at-home parent. Set big picture priorities first, then determine how to acheive the lesser goals without undermining your priorities.

STEP 2: Set Smaller Goals

Still brainstorming.

Here you want to write what you hope to achieve this year.

This is what my paper looked like:

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You may write “eat healthy” or “read the Bible more.” Those are worthy pursuits, but we need to make them measurable.Monitoring and measuring your success will aid your momentum.

Let’s make one thing very clear when it comes to spiritual goals: checking things off a list does not make us more righteous or special to God. It does, however, help us to see that we are progressing toward a particular endeavor. If we never set goals when it comes to our spiritual walk, then we will be moving without direction. We need to be intentional, purposeful people in His service.

One of my goals for the rest of my life, (and definitely for the coming year) is to read the Bible every day. That fits in with my “knowing and serving God priority.” Daily is measurable. I can check it off on my calendar or to-do list. If you want to read through the Bible in a year, you can use a BibleApp or a “one-year Bible” to help you track your progress. It is a very good, specific and trackable goal. (In my next post, I’m going to talk about different approaches to this).

If you’re wanting to pay off debt (this falls under the stewardship priority), write down: “Pay off $6,385.47 in car debt.” That’s $532.25 per month. If your payment is $350, make a plan to come up with the difference. If you get an overtime bonus or tax refund, where will you put the money? If you start now, by March you might look at it and say, “I’ve paid off $1,596.37. I’m 1/4 of the way there!” Or, if you’re behind your target, you can decide how to step up your game. Either way, measurement is a motivator.

Step 3: Set a time everyday to work on your goal

Bible reading takes place early in the morning before I leave my bedroom. As soon as I leave the room, inevitably the dog wants feeding, the kids want to chat or some other demand is upon me before I can crack the cover on my Bible. I make it my goal to wake up earlier than I need to in order to pray and read. I give myself an hour. That’s my designated slot. Sometimes this gets upended because a long road trip requires me to be up at 4 am or someone was awake throughout the night and I didn’t get enough sleep so I miss my morning reading. When that happens, make a plan to do it at some other time during the day. We have been on shift work schedules for the past seven years complete with unforeseen overtime details—I know all about upset apple carts. Flexibility and prioritization are the aces in that game. It can be done!

When I was walking every day, I had a set time to go walk. For the first four months, I would walk in the evenings after dinner. As seasons changed, I had to be flexible and change the “when” but I didnt stop walking.

Now, write your small, measurable goals on your 3×5 card and stick it somewhere you look everyday (like your mirror)

Step 4: make plans to achieve your goal

You need a strategy. There are times in life when all we can do is fly by the seat of our pants and hope we come out on top, but we should make it our aim to live most of our life with intention and purpose. When we had three kids aged three and under, we felt like we were flying the Milennium Falcon through an asteroid field, yet we still had as much routine as we could muster and made every effort to balance discipline and love.

Here are two examples of strategy:

Goal: Read the Bible every single day.

Strategy: Read in the morning before I get up. Set my alarm one hour earlier. Put Bible (or bible app) in the room away from the bed so i have to climb out of bed to get it. Read for 30 minutes.

Goal: Walking a minimum 3-4 times per week.

Strategy: Walk Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. Set shoes, socks, workout clothes, Fitbit, earbuds, beanie and sunglasses in a designated spot so I can get dressed quickly and go. In the winter walk immediately after lunch; spring, summer and fall, in the early morning after Bible reading.

Step 5: Fight

Get ready for everything to spoil your lovely plans. When I pray, sometimes I fall asleep. When I want to exercise, I get sick or sleep through my alarm. There will be times you fall short. Get back on the horse and keep advancing toward the goal.

My next 2 posts are going to address some spiritual goals you may have for 2016, and some suggestions for achieving them.

Merry Christmas!

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A high desert Christmas! Not sure who made the art, but I hope you enjoy it!

Merry Christmas!

May your day be blessed wherever you are.

Please pray for the people who are not able to be with their families or who are having a difficult Christmas, including:

  • Soldiers deployed overseas
  • Law Enforcement on patrol today
  • Nurses and Doctors working today
  • Elderly folks—particularly those in nursing homes—who may not be with family today

I want to extend a special “Thank you” to those who work today to protect us and watch over the sick. I appreciate the sacrifice you make for others! My spouse and I spent many Christmases the way you spent yours, so I understand how difficult it can be!

May the Lord bring peace and joy to you today whether you are with family or on the road.

Still waiting…

imageI posted this on the Elihu’s Corner Facebook page this morning, but since I know many people who do not use Facebook, I am posting this here as well. It’s short, but I hope it encourages you!


This passage—one of my favorites—was in my daily reading today:

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
‭‭
Isaiah‬ ‭40:28-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God doesn’t get tired and he understands our weaknesses.

Are you waiting on the Lord today?

Waiting is hard. Observe grown adults standing in a long line at the store. They get impatient and start switching lines only too often to discover that the line they just left was actually moving faster. They get angry at either the cashier or the person with two shopping carts stuffed full of items.

They grumble.

They sigh.

What do you do while waiting on God? His timing is so much different than ours—some would say “slow.”

We get impatient.

We grumble.

We sigh.

Don’t lose heart—God will sustain you during this waiting period. Be patient, stop grumbling, keep praying and do the task before you today.

The Joy of Anticipation

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My children have hardly paid attention to the wrapped presents under the tree. When I was a kid, I used to shake boxes eagerly guessing what the contents would be.

Last night, however, my 4-year old started digging around for his packages and shaking them. He was delighted that his sisters had bought him presents and was bouncing up and down with glee imagining what was in that shiny box that sounded suspiciously like Legos.

Christmas presents bring us the delight of anticipation. We don’t know exactly what lies beneath the paper and bows, but it’s some token of affection from someone who loves us. If we are only excited about the stuff, then we won’t enjoy the gift as much. Knowing the giver endows the gift with greater intrinsic value.

My 6-year old daughter bought everyone in our immediate family gifts with money she had earned doing chores. She diligently saved a portion of her money throughout the year and when December arrived, she was ready to go shopping. I am anxious to open that gift, because it was given with such great intention and love. I didn’t ask her for a gift, nor did I expect one. I was overcome with emotion when I learned she had picked out and purchased a gift for me. It doesn’t really matter what she bought, but I will love it primarily for the effort and love behind the object.

Jesus has also given us a loving and intentional gift. We often talk about how we are spared from eternal loss—and that in itself is a great gift—but there is a far more exciting gift we will not see until we leave this earth: Heaven.

Heaven. Living with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Angels and my fellow Christians forever. I live with Him now, but I cannot see Him as He is. Just imagine: No more grief. No more sickness. No more bitterness. No more doubt. No more fear. I wonder if I’ll get to chat with Abraham, Elijah, Ruth, or Moses. I wonder how I will recognize my loved ones who have gone on before me.

We know on some level what the gift is, but we don’t really know what we will look like, how our surroundings will appear, or what exactly we will do.

This earth offers shadows of heaven. We see the created beauty of rugged mountains, fiery sunsets, intricate snowflakes, and colorful ocean life. We hear music that raises our spirits beyond circumstance and we feel the comfort of the Lord that passes comprehension. These are pale glimpses, the hint of what’s behind the wrapping, a whiff of a delicious dessert.

We are given these pieces in contrast with the dark ugliness of the world. It gives us hope for something far better.

We press on through the drudgery of this life with the joy of anticipation. 

I want to seek the Lord and know Him as well as I can in this life so that when I finally meet Him face to face, it will be like meeting an old friend. When I finally unwrap the gift of heaven, it will be all the more beautiful because I know the cost of that gift and the love behind it.

I’m excited!

Are you?

How to be properly angry

This is the final post in the series Chip Removal for Christians to read the previous post, click here.

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There is something beautiful about fire. Undulating lights of amber and red colors color the dark wood while dancing orange flames leap merrily about, destroying the very substance glowing beneath it. It’s a beautiful sight when contained within the safe confines of fire place or fire pit.

Another fascinating aspect of fire is how quickly it can flare up and go out. How many raging bonfires have you witnessed that burned high and glorious for a few minutes only to drop down to embers and scattered flames? They are highly destructive and uncontrollable. It may momentarily heat the watcher, but it won’t sustain them through a night. By the time they can get near enough to warm themselves safely, they have to throw more wood on the fire, and even then, there may not be enough coals to keep it going.

Our anger is often like a raging bonfire. It flares high and hot then diminishes to a pile of ash and embers, succeeding only in destruction. Yet anger is not without purpose and can be useful if carefully managed.

The Bible does not tell us that we should never be angry. It actually refers to anger this way:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
‭‭~ Ephesians‬ ‭4:26-27‬ ‭ESV

“Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

~ James 1.20-21

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”
‭‭~ Proverbs‬ ‭15:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.”
‭‭~ Proverbs‬ ‭29:22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
‭‭~ Proverbs‬ ‭22:24-25‬ ‭ESV

“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
‭‭~ Ecclesiastes‬ ‭7:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

~ Psalm‬ ‭103:8-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I don’t normally like to pull multiple passages to make a point, but I want you to see that this idea of being “slow to anger” is a recurring theme throughout the scriptures. The last scripture shows us that God Himself is slow to anger. The word “slow” implies that He does get angry, but it is a justified, powerful anger. When God  pours out His wrath, it will be (and has always been) precise, calculated and perfect.

When someone—particularly someone close to us—says or does something careless or hurtful, our immediate reaction is either sadness or anger. (If it begins with sadness it will often end with anger.) We expect that the people we love will not let us down, say hurtful things or cast us aside. When they do, it causes greater pain than when a casual acquaintance or stranger does the same. This is why disputes between Christians cause so much strife. We are supposed to be like Christ, but so often we let each other down in that regard.

How do we control our anger? When is it “OK” to be angry?

4 steps to controlling anger: 

  1. Breathe
  2. Pray
  3. Think
  4. Expel

You may be saying to yourself, “Elihu, you’ve oversimplified this!” Perhaps. But consider:

When your spouse leaves their socks on the floor for the thousandth time since you’ve been married or you step on your child’s sharp Lego after your told them to clean up, or your spouse overspends yet again, what is your initial reaction?

Anger. Verbalized anger.

“how many times do I have to tell [insert name] to do [insert action]?!”

“I’ve told you a thousand times, PUT YOUR SOCKS IN THE HAMPER!”

“GET IN HERE AND PICK UP THESE TOYS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”

“How dare you overdraft us AGAIN?!”

Sound familiar?

Before you lash out, follow the steps:

#1: Zip your lips (in other words don’t speak!) and breathe deeply.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

Very good!

That was easy, wasn’t it?

#2: While breathing deeply, Pray.

“Lord, help me control my anger & frustration.”

A short prayer. An immediate plea for immediate help.

#3: Think:

Is it worth being angry about? What can you do about it? Was this a personal attack or just carelessness?

Often times, it is the latter. Consider how you can correct the problem without a fiery reaction. You don’t want to be that bonfire that flares up and destroys your relationship over dirty socks, sharp toys or a few lousy bucks. We are called to be better than that. Humble. Strong under pressure. Loving others in spite of their foibles.

#4: Expel your anger. 

If you haven’t already lowered your blood pressure with steps 1-3, find a healthy outlet. There isn’t always the time for immediate release, but if there is, go somewhere you can’t be heard or can’t hurt anyone and start expelling your anger physically. Rip some weeds out of the ground, throw some rocks at your block wall, go for a brisk walk, lift weights, shred some paper with your bare hands or something similar. Sometimes the physical exertion helps release the chemical-physical sensations of anger and helps you see clearly once more.

Learn to control your anger or it will control you.

When is anger justified?

The American Revolution did not begin with the Boston Tea Party or even the first battle. It was a fire that began with a small flame lit over newspaper that was wedged beneath kindling beneath sticks of wood and ever so slowly fuel was added that made the fire grow into a hot burning force to be reckoned with. It was a slow anger that finally grew into a fierce fire. Every injustice, every slight from the British isles aided in the strength of that fire.

It is righteous anger.

For me, this includes:

  • When I see cowardly men hide behind women and children because they are afraid to face the soldiers that they have tried to kill, I get angry.
  • When I watch children mowed down in the safety of their schools by evil people, I get angry.
  • When politicians use tragedy as an excuse to steal the freedoms that so many have fought and died for, I get angry.
  • When Christians are told they can’t even bring a Bible to school, but Muslims are given breaks for “prayer time…” Yes… I burn up.
  • When people who claim to be Christians refuse to really read and understand what God is teaching through his word—you guessed it, I’m livid.
  • When I hear people defame God, ridicule Jesus Christ and belittle Christians, I get fiery.
  • When Christians wax apathetic and stop listening to the God they claim to love, the anger burns white hot.

There are times when we should be angry. That anger needs to be controlled and channeled and prayed over before we take action, lest we cause the wrong kind of destruction. Does that mean we should look like Anger from the film Inside Out—red and surly with a little flame on the top of our heads? No. But We have to decide what to do with that anger and how the frustration with injustice can be used to serve God and others. Often the way we act doesn’t (and often shouldn’t) even look like anger.

For example:

When we see our brethren apathetic and lazy, we need to become a positive motivator. We need to burn brightly not with fiery anger, but with the light of Christ so that others will be drawn to the heat and start becoming a light too.

When the overwhelming majority speaks against God, we need to be the vocal minority speaking for God. Noah preached the entire time he built the ark. Just because he was the visible minority, didn’t mean he needed to hide his light under a bushel.

When the helpless—the truly helpless—are being threatened, we need to do what we can to help them. (And no, I’m not referring to illegal immigrants or Syrian refugees… In case you are wondering.)

Be like Godslow to anger and abounding in love.

We will cause so much less strife in the church if we learn to control our anger and approach each other with love.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?”

~Micah‬ ‭6:8‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Justice will never be served if we are never angry about evil, none of us would be saved and forgiveness never extended if we did not give mercy. And we will destroy one another in our anger if we lack humility.

Be slow to anger. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

 



 

This concludes the series on Chip Removal for Christians. If you have missed the previous posts, I have put a list below with the links to the posts within the series:

Introduction: Do you Honestly Think You’re That Important?

Chip removal for Christians:

  1. Assume goodwill: “Is My Brother My Enemy?”
  2. Perfect the art of listening.
  3. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
  4. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
  5. Think before you speak: “3 practical remedies for foot-in-mouth disorder.”
  6. Be slow to anger. (This post)

 

 

3 Reasons I love the new Star Wars movie

There are no spoilers in the post—I promise!

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Image from Starwars.com.

Yesterday afternoon, I waited with a hundred or so other people and a small group of friends to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. It was a fun experience and, though my expectations for this movie were low (see episodes 1, 2 and 3 to understand why) I was pleasantly surprised. It captured the essence of the original Star Wars trilogy balancing good humor and the fierce battle between good and evil.

The parallels between Star Wars and the Bible are many, but I’m going to focus on three in order to avoid spoilers.

Great people are forged in the wilderness of suffering.

Yes, I’m talking about the desert again.

The main character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been caring for herself in a harsh desert climate since her youth. She scavenges for things she can exchange for food. The extreme environment conditioned her for the extreme battles to come. She was a fighter, but she also possessed humility and a steely resistance to evil. Luke Skywalker also grew up in the desert and it prepared him for his harsh future (though he was far less scrappy than the girl in the movie).

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I’ve been an exile in the desert for nearly 7 years. For a coastal kid like myself, this has been agony. Shortly after we moved here, I was doing my daily Bible reading and trying to find some good in this situation when this verse—addressed to the Israelites—came up in my reading:

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.”

‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭8:2-5‬, ESV‬‬

I laughed out loud when I read those verses. I was being humbled too… In a literal and spiritual desert. Ah, the irony.

I knew it was addressed to the Israelites, but the timing was incredible. God through His Word was reminding me that these wilderness oddeseys have a purpose.

Jesus also spent 40 days fasting alone in the desert. He had just been baptized by John and the voice from the wilderness had said: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” He went from a glorious moment to a period of isolation and deprivation. When Satan came and tested Him, He was ready to do battle.

What verse does Jesus quote to Satan when he tries to persuade Him to turn stones into bread? “Man shall not live by bread alone…” Yes—The above passage!!

After he resisted temptation (using the Scriptures to refute Satan) the Angels came and ministered to him. He went on to do great things as we well know.

Use your difficult circumstance to draw near to the Lord. He has great things planned for you.

It may be that you live in beautiful surroundings, but your circumstances are a desert of suffering. It could be that you, like me, live in both conditions. Whatever the case, we have to allow God to shape us.   He brought the Israelites through the desert to teach them to place their trust in Him. Unfortunately, the majority of them spent their time wailing, whining and rebelling. They allowed their circumstance to harden them against God. And as we see in Star Wars, a lot of desert dwellers were hard, ugly and downright mean.

While we are in the desert, we have to depend on God. We have to fight the urge to complain and rebel. He will provide in some way, a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to guide us, He will sustain us wit’s His word. Our job is to keep walking, keep trusting and keep obeying.

In Star Wars, the fight to survive prepared this character for the more critical conflicts ahead. Your desert experience is preparing you for greater things. Don’t let it harden you against God.

#2 There is always a remnant

 

In this Star Wars movie just as in Episodes 4-6, the Jedi are few and far between. Yet even in the midst of the enemy there are people who know that there is something wrong. Even those who are the villains feel a slight pull toward the good side of the Force. And, even in remote places, there are people who believe in and are willing to fight for the good.

Maybe you feel, like Elijah, that there are none left but you. Maybe like Noah, you think, “surely someone besides the eight of us want to be saved?” Serving God can be a lonely walk at times. Jesus too went to the cross without His disciples. It was a lonely path, but He walked it for us.

Bring your loneliness to God. Ask Him to reveal to you that you are not completely alone. When Elijah sat, desperately depressed in his cave, he said to God “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord told him to go and anoint kings and his own successor (Elisha) and concludes with, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Seven thousand! That’s not such a lonely number.

There is always a remnant.

#3: The fight against evil is ongoing.

As I promised, there won’t be spoilers, but I’ll just say that evil took another foothold in the galaxy and the Jedi are… few. It appears that evil will control everything. They are larger in numbers and firepower. What’s a good person to do in the face of overwhelming evil?

Fight.

I’m not talking about jihad or some holy war. I’m not encouraging people to pick up guns and start shooting up abortion clinics. I’m talking about resisting the pull of evil in how we live each day. Persuade people earnestly to get on the boat because destruction is coming. Take a stand against those who call evil good and good evil.

So many people think Christians are docile and weak, but a strong Christian possesses a warrior spirit against evil. We resist Satan even when the odds are overwhelmingly against us. Here is a list of people in the scriptures who were small in number, but fought and won, because they had God on their side:

  • Joshua
  • Gideon
  • Hezekiah
  • Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego
  • Esther
  • The Apostles

Battles take many forms. Often the battle rages in our own mind: Turn off that screen, don’t say that word, refuse to go along with that, take a stand, speak out, be different. Fight Satan! 

In the words of Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Fix your mind on doing what’s right and put your trust in God. Don’t just half-heartedly try. Do it.


 

Whenever they say goodbye in Star Wars, those who believe in the Force say, “May the Force be with you.”

I believe in a stronger and real force called God. So, I say to you in conclusion:

May the Lord be with you!

3 Practical Remedies for Foot-In-Mouth Disorder

This is the sixth post in a series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read the previous post here.

talking

Foot-in-Mouth Disorder: A common disorder found in anyone possessing a working mouth, characterized by the imaginary sensation that something is lodged in their mouth after they say something inappropriate or erroneous to another person.

Symptoms include:

  • Irrepressible talking
  • broken verbal filter
  • loss of friendships
  • feelings of guilt

Foot-in-mouth disorder can manifest itself at any time during the life of an individual, especially if it goes untreated. Even with a well-treated individual, Foot-In-Mouth disorder will occur, especially when tired, intoxicated, medicated, foggy, irritable or suffering from dementia or Alzheimers.


 

What causes the most offense between Christians?

Words.

Written words. Spoken words. The tone of words.

Words, words, words…

Well-intended messages are often destroyed by the delivery. Malicious meaning may be masked by smooth speech. Blundering lips can crush a spirit. If you are suffering from Foot-In-Mouth disorder, the following phrase needs to be your focus: It is more important to hear than be heard.

There are 3 things that are important when speaking (or communicating in any form):

  1. What you say.
  2. How you say it.
  3. Why you said it.

Any time you prepare to speak, type or write, those three things need to be considered.

The following passage discusses the gravity of what we say:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

~ James 3.5-12, ESV (emphasis mine)

It almost sounds impossible to control our mouths, doesn’t it? It’s similar to a chronic disease. Even if it is monitored and managed, it lies below the surface and will rear it’s ugly head if we are not vigilant. How do we treat this disorder?

Three Practical Remedies to Foot-in-Mouth Disorder:

Train your mind (heart)

This first point is the most critical and the other two will certainly fail apart from it. Notice this segment from the above passage: Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Think of your heart as though it is a well of water—the only source of fresh water on your property. If someone asks you for a glass of water, you are going to give them water from that well. If the well is polluted with arsenic or chemicals, the results will be lethal even with a half-way decent filtration system. So it is with our words. If our mind and heart are full of toxic material—cuss words, impurity, malice, envy, greed, etcetera—then those things will spill into our speech. Smooth words cannot completely conceal ill-intent. A perceptive person will detect it.

Our heart is the source. Maintain the purity of the source and the output will be pure as well.

It is critical that we meditate on good things and do regular checkups on our mind and heart. What are we thinking about? What are we watching? What are we listening to? Are we processing things according to God’s way or society’s? We need to train our minds to think like God which requires reading and meditating on the Bible.

Run through scenarios

Law enforcement officers and military personnel are trained to run through mental scenarios of possible situations in order to prepare themselves for what they should do. An officer may play out this scenario:

I’ve just pulled over an beat-up van with purple limo-tinted windows. The driver was going 90 mph. In the rear view mirror, I can see the driver is fidgeting nervously with something. Suddenly the door flies open and I see what definitely looks like a gun. What do I do?

Well, I need to make sure when I walk up to vehicles—especially suspicious-looking vehicles—that I have my hand ready to draw my pistol. I need to make sure I always wear my vest on duty so I have a better chance of surviving an attack. First, I’ll draw my pistol and shout for him to drop the gun and put his hands over his head. If there isn’t immediate compliance and I see the suspect raise the gun to shoot I will fire. I’m not going to keep asking the suspect to comply. If I don’t neutralize the threat with my first shots, I had better go for cover, first behind the van and then behind my patrol vehicle in case there are more people in the van (since I can’t tell if there’s more people inside) and it’s imperative that I get on the radio and call for backup as quickly as possible.

Now, in today’s society, that may seem like a horrible thing to do (shoot immediately), but what most civilians fail to comprehend is that time is limited. Officers don’t often have more than a half second to make decisions, so they have to prepare their minds for action. I have seen the videos of cops practically begging for people to drop their weapons and it rarely ends well for the cop. They know that they need to decide, long before such a deadly scenario, when and how to use the tools at their disposal.

Our mouth can be as deadly as a pistol. It’s important to mentally rehearse how you will respond if someone asks you about certain topics. In the scriptures we are encouraged to “always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within [us]…” In order to be effective in that regard, we have to run through what we will say in various situations. You’d be surprised how often people will ask the same question in different words.

For example:

“Why are you a Christian?”

“How can an intelligent person like you believe such nonsense? You must not be as smart as I thought.”

“You don’t believe in science, do you?” (That one always makes me laugh… especially as one who loves science.)

“What about the Crusades?”

“Why are there so many different denominations?”

“Didn’t you know that the Bible is plagiarized from the Greek and Babylonian stories?”

Have you ever thought about what you will say if someone puts a gun to your head and asks if you are a Christian? What should you say (or not say) if your coworker comes prancing in declaring their decision to be a woman instead of a man? What do we say when our spouse asks us about money? Do we snap or do we discuss?

Practice “The Pause.”

I told my 8-year-old to practice waiting at least 2-3 seconds before speaking after someone is done talking. She has the unfortunate habit of  blurting things out before someone is done talking—especially when she’s excited. I keep telling her to count to 3 in her head before speaking.

Mentally taxing discussions may require us to simply pause (without counting) and consider our words before speaking. I don’t think I could count to three and effectively compose a rebuttal. One great aspect of writing versus speaking is the ability to edit. When speaking, one cannot edit what has already been said. It’s a done deal.

Practice the pause. Consider what you’re going to say before you say it.

We would have far less trouble in the church if we would guard our mouths. Less division and infighting would occur if we would use our words with love. (Note: loving words also include rebuke! Letting things go is not loving. When admonition or rebuke are needed, much prayer and thought are required beforehand!)

Ask the Lord to help you watch what you say.

Train your mind.

Run through scenarios.

Practice the pause.

Repeat—until this life is over.

4 things to do before age 60

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”

~ Ecclesiastes 12.1, ESV

 

youth

When we are young, we think we have an abundance of time. After all, our parents and teachers tell us, “there’ll be time for that later,” or “not until your older.” We spend the first 18-20 years of our lives waiting until we are “older” to “do” things.

There is one thing we should never put off: serving God.

I remember asking my father if his hospice patients (those who were not Christians) tried turning to God near the end. They had lived their lives the way they had wanted—perhaps profligately—and now, with death staring them in the face, surely they’d want to make a change. He looked rather sadly at me and replied, “Once people get to that age, they’ve resisted God for so long that they have lost all desire for Him. Deathbed conversions occur once in great awhile, but it’s far more rare than it is common.”

It was an eye-opening statement, and one that has remained planted in my mind. We need to fix our desires, mindsets and habits now, before we do not have strength.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. 

By youth I mean anyone who is under the age of 60 not plagued by dementia or alzheimer’s. Even 70, if you’re still in great shape. Just because a child is 1 or 2, doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching them about God. Today is all we’ve got—make the most of it. I have sadly heard too many parents put off “church-going” because they think their kids won’t remember or “they’re too young.” They are more aware than you realize.

So, while we are still “young” we need to work on the following:

#1: Practice Forgiveness.

This should be a top priority. As I mention in this post on forgiveness, failure to forgive results in firmly rooted bitterness. We need to emulate Christ who forgave even his torturers. He also forgave us.

#2: Meditate on the Word.

Daily.

Don’t rely on Sunday sermons to fill you for an entire week. Even reading once a day isn’t meditation.

Meditating is not simply reading the Bible—it’s reading and pondering.

Here are three different ways to meditate on the Word:

  1. writing: keep a journal.
  2. walking alone: Some of the best thoughts come to me on my walks when I have time to think about passages I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard.
  3. talking with Christians: I love those kindred spirits who happily discuss biblical topics with me and allow me to think things through with them out loud.

#3: Pray Daily.

Again—daily. Multiple times per day.

If you are not in the habit of praying, start with meal-time prayers. After you get that set in place, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier get out of bed (this is important so you don’t fall back asleep) set the timer for 10 minutes and pray. After awhile, you may discover that 10 minutes isn’t enough!

Having regular communication with God while young will give us a stronger connection with him when we are old.

#4: Cultivate Joy.

This is one of my biggest challenges, especially as someone who is inclined to be a “brooding Irish” type. Joy does not equal happiness. Happiness is a momentary feeling swayed by circumstance; joy is a determined attitude.

There’s a few things involved in getting a joyful attitude:

  1. Know your home.
    This life overflows with uncontrollable circumstance. All that waffle about being the “captain of your destiny” is absolute rubbish. Most concentration camp survivors will tell you they couldn’t get out by their own power. A few succeeded in escaping, but most were stuck, plagued by illness or simply too helpless. The only thing you can control is your own mind. Knowing that there is an eternal home beyond the vicissitudes of earth is a source of joy for the Christian. We look to what Shakespeare calls, “The Undiscovered Country.” I long for that country which has been discovered by my brothers and sisters in the Lord who have gone on before me.
  2. Refocus the mind.
    If you are a long-time reader, you know that I have dealt with depression for many years (you can read more here). I still do. It is a daily fight to stay upbeat. I’m not always strong enough to keep my head above water, but God is! When this mess called life begins to weigh on my heart I have to recenter myself and focus my thoughts on what I know to be true.

    This is my constant aim:

    Finally, brethren,
    whatever is true,
    whatever is honorable,
    whatever is right,
    whatever is pure,
    whatever is lovely,
    whatever is of good repute,
    if there is any excellence
    and if anything worthy of praise,
    dwell on these things.

    The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

    ~Phillipians 4.8-9, NASB

    Bring the mind back into focus. Let it dwell on the things listed above. For more on this, read here.

  3. Pray.
    As I mentioned in the previous point, I know I’m not strong enough to fight the weight of the world. I need help. Only God is powerful enough to pull me out of the stormy ocean of emotion and circumstance. Fix your eyes on Him. I have always treasured the account of Peter stepping out on the water toward Jesus. He walked on the water (which is physically impossible) as He looked toward Jesus. As soon as He took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the raging waters he sank like a lead weight. What did he do? He cried out to the one who could save him—and Jesus reached out and pulled him to safety. You can read the full account here in Matthew 14.

    When life threatens to crush your joy, cry out to God. He will lift you up.

Serve God today while you still have breath and mental clarity. For while there is life, there is hope.

Harmless and wise?

This is the fifth post in a series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read the previous post here.

fool quote

Much of the strife that plagues churches (and society as a whole) can be traced to plain, old-fashioned foolishness.

“I didn’t think ‘A’ would cause ‘B.’

“I didn’t think what I said would be offensive.”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

Key phrase: “I didn’t think.

The rapid pace of our society coupled with a constant influx of information affords little time for mental processing. We need that time. In order to become wise, time and meditative thinking are essential.

Why do we need wisdom?

Wisdom protects us from harm and prevents us from causing harm.
When Jesus sent his apostles out to teach in Matthew 10, he gave them several instructions, including this well-known phrase: “Behold I am sending you at as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

It’s an apt analogy. Crafty and cunning, the serpent stalks its prey. Before the hunted creature can even consider escaping, it’s being swallowed or constricted to death. Doves, on the other hand, don’t hunt anything but bugs. They are lightweight, gentle and, harmless. Learning to employ both tactics simultaneously requires practice and prayer.

Wisdom helps us perceive deceit and duplicity.
False teachers and moochers abound in our society. The time will come in our lives when such people need to be confronted, but it takes smarts to separate the sheep from the wolves. Many people are content to ignore the warning signs because of that teacher is “so nice”or that preacher is “so passionate.”

My friends, there comes a time when we need to offend a false teacher in order to protect those who are less discerning. It takes wisdom!Aside from false teachers, there are frenemies (enemies who pretend friendship) that can do a lot of damage to you and your family. Guard your heart carefully.

Wisdom guards our lips“Better to be thought a fool and remain silent than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln (or Mark Twain… depending on who you ask!)

If we are going to reduce the amount of offense we give, we need to talk less and listen more.

Wisdom knows when to comfort and when to discipline.
It is hard to discipline a child. The most critical component is to know when to administer discipline and when to offer comfort. So it is in the church. If you have a brother or sister in Christ who has decided to become addicted to drugs/alcohol/porn/gambling etc., and their life falls apart, do they need comfort or discipline? Probably a little of both!

We often fall short in the discipline department because its so awkward. I have seen former brothers and sisters in Christ weep over their troubles and talk about how sorry they were. They show up in the back of the church bemoaning their lot in life, wanting things to be better. But they are like the patient who comes to the doctor wanting more drugs so they can keep doing what’s making them sick. It’s utter foolishness. Their lifestyle needs to change. 

You can sympathize and comfort, but be sure to exercise some tough love. Don’t let them make excuses! Hold them accountable. Doing this effectively takes wisdom. Will they get offended? Possibly. But, as the proverb says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27.6, ESV)Be a friend.

Wisdom knows when to cover an offense.

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends
Proverbs 17.9, ESV

 

When we miscarried our child, we sort of hid from people for a few days. The pain was too great and neither of us wanted to put on a brave face. Well-meaning cards and calls came in. There was one card in particular I will never forget—and not in a good way. The card said, “So sorry to hear about your aborted child.” The heartless doc in the ER had used the same terminology. Words have weight. There are denotations (strict definitions) and there are connotations (implied meanings). Sometimes, docs will use “accidental abortion” when referring to miscarriage. When considering “connotation,” that phrase is grossly oxymoronic. Or maybe just moronic. Aborting a child is a deliberate act. Miscarriage is pretty much uncontrollable.

I wasn’t angry, I was wounded. What a terrible choice of words! But this is where wisdom kicks in: think about the sender—was she trying to be hurtful? No! She had sent a card to comfort us. She took the time to write it, stamp it and mail it. Many people didn’t even do that. The intent was to show compassion… she just had lousy word choice. So did I get my back up and give her the stink-eye when I went back to worship? No way! I knew that I had to let the offense go and forgive.

How do we get wisdom?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1.7, ESV

Experience and study are the best teachers. I can’t say this enough—read the Bible every single day. Deep wisdom resides within those pages. Use it!

Observe people. Become a reader of facial expressions and body language. Observe the 5-second rule. When somebody talks, count to 5 in your head before speaking if at all possible (for those of you who know me personally, I am working on this. I tend to gush overmuch when I get excited).

And, of course, it all comes down to two things:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”(Matthew 22:37)

“…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13.8-10)

Be wise… and harmless.