Transformation Not Information

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9. 

A. W. Tozer once said that “Unused truth becomes as useless as an unused muscle.” He is right. Information is good, but application is everything. It’s like an app on our phones – they can get us organized, they can monitor our health and track our diet, but they are useless unless we use them. 

James says we should not merely listen to the word, we have to put it into practice. If we don’t we deceive ourselves. We are deceived because just listening to God’s word is like joining a health club and never actually going. Just coming to church doesn’t make our faith stronger. Staying awake through the sermon isn’t living a life that pleases God. Even being part of a small group learning all we can doesn’t make the difference. If we listen and learn and think that we are growing in our faith and living the life God wants for us – we are being deceived.

God has always been interested in how His people apply His word. If we go back to the Old Testament we see that just listening and being in worship brought God’s people a false sense of security, in other words they were deceived. God was not calling His people to listen –he was calling them to obey and be faithful. Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

But the people weren’t faithful and they didn’t follow the principles God gave them or apply the word of God to their lives. Their deception eventually led to the destruction of the Temple and the defeat of their nation. What happened to them is exactly what James is talking about here; they only listened and so were deceived. They forgot the one thing we can’t forget and that is that application is everything.

Listening is not enough, we have to live out God’s word if we want to experience the blessing of freedom and life. Application is everything. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7:24-27: “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the ways that we can apply God’s truths in our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to make the Bible more actionable?

The Most Important Story In The Bible

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.” – John 15:9.

The Bible is full of amazing true stories. We can read about The Red Sea parting for Moses, David beating Goliath, Jonah in the big fish, Daniel in the lion’s den and many more. But there is story that overshadows every other story in the Bible; the story of Jesus. 

Imagine you are walking with a friend along a dusty road near Jerusalem, talking about the latest news. You look at your friend and comment, “Can you believe they actually killed him?”

“It is hard to believe” your friend says. “But the latest news on the street is that some women are saying they actually saw him alive this morning. What do you make of that?”

Before you can answer, another guy joins the two of you. “Whatcha talking about?” he asks.

“Current events,” you answer. “There is a rumor that Jesus has come back from the dead? But it sounds a little too crazy, doesn’t it?” The new guy pauses for a moment and says, “I’m not sure why you find that a little crazy? Didn’t Jesus predict that it would happen?”

Then the guy goes on to tell you everything the Scriptures said about Jesus. Things that were predicted hundreds, even thousands, of years before. Things that had, indeed, come true through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Here are a couple examples.

” … Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt. “ (Zechariah 9:9). Not long before his death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mark 11:1-11). “But he was pierced for our rebellion…He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus indeed was pierced-by the nails of crucifixion and by a spear in his side-and died for our sins (Romans 5:8). “They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:18). That’s just what the Roman soldiers did at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:35). “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.” (Psalm 16:10). Jesus didn’t stay in the grave for long. He came back to life (Mark 16:6-7).

It is at that moment that you realize who this guy is, it is Jesus in the flesh, alive and well-just as the Scriptures predicted. And just as Jesus himself had promised. It’s a true story, this walk down a dusty road in the Jerusalem suburbs. (You can read it in Luke 24:13-35).

There are dozens of predictions that ultimately came true with Jesus. In fact, the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells his story, clearly pointing to Christ.  

Discussion Question:

  1. What can we do this week to increase our knowledge of the story of Jesus?

Why Should You Read The Bible?

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 

What would we do without GPS? It is hard to imagine life without it. Today, GPS units are in our cars and phones politely but firmly inform us when we’ve gone past a planned turn or destination. Indeed, we can determine our location at any given moment with a mind-boggling level of precision. It is nearly impossible to get lost. As Christians, we don’t need to feel lost in our lives.  Fortunately, we have been given the best GPS there is, the best guidance for our lives: the Bible.

The Bible is our instruction manual, it shows us how to live our lives, it gives us examples of others who have walked this life well. It’s practical help for our daily lives, as well as showing us the future God has for us.

When you read the Bible, it heals and transforms you from the inside out. Reading the Bible settles your fears, gives you faith and hope for your daily life. As we read it and do what it says – our lives are transformed.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books by different authors written across thousands of years. This is the best historical collection of books ever! When you really study the Bible, it comes alive. You will fall in love with Jesus as you read the gospels, you will feel the passion of Paul as he talks to the Corinthians, you will be frustrated alongside Moses as he walks the Israelites through the wilderness. 

It only takes a few minutes a day to read the Bible. But don’t read the Bible alone, the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read and bring it to your memory when you need it the most (John 14:26).

So, jump in today and read your Bible, the GPS for your Christian life. Let it light your pathway into the great life and future that God has for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a daily time for reading the Bible? If not, what are the obstacles?
  2. How can you make reading the Bible part of your daily routine?

The Most Incredible Book

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39. 

Whether you accept and believe in it’s teachings or not, it cannot be denied that the Bible is the most remarkable, amazing, unique and incredible book that has ever been written. If you read the Bible you can find just about anything: Drama, love, hate, peace, war, romance, poetry, prophecy, history, mystery, to name a few.

There are other reasons the Bible is an incredible book. They include: 

First, consider the continuity of the Bible. Here is a book written over a 1,500 year time-span by over 40 authors from every walk of life. Nevertheless, from beginning to end, its authors spoke on hundreds of subjects with harmony and continuity. Second, consider the fact that the Bible has been read by more people than any other book in history. The Bible has out-sold every book ever written and still sells more copies every year than any other book. This is in spite of the fact that the Bible was the first major book ever to be printed on the Gutenberg press.

Third, the Bible has been translated and published in more languages than any other book. Wycliffe states that parts of the Bible are available in approximately 2,900 out of the 6,877 known languages, and that there are currently 554 languages with a complete Bible translation. The New Testament is available in 1,333 languages and many more have at least one book of the Bible available.

The Bible lived through more attacks than any other book. People have tried to burn it, destroy it and outlaw it, from the days of the Roman emperors to today. The fact that it not only survived but thrived is in itself miraculous. Discoveries by archaeologists both confirm and prove the Bible’s absolute accuracy.  Not one archaeological discovery has ever contradicted or cast doubt on a Biblical reference. Add to that the Bible is the only volume ever produced which contains a large amount of prophecies accurately predicting the future of individual nations, peoples, cities, and the coming of the Messiah!

The Bible is truly an incredible book. No matter how often you read the Bible or what book or passage you are reading, you will encounter truth, some wisdom, some life lesson that is still relevant to us today. Given all that, why don’t we read it? Why don’t we study it? Why don’t we soak up the timeless truths and wisdom that can be found in every part of the Bible?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes the Bible remarkable to you? Why?
  2. What are some reasons we don’t spend more time studying the Bible? What can we do to overcome those obstacles.

Something May Have Been Lost In The Translation

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” – Hebrews 4:12. 

There are times when what you are trying to say is lost in translation. It happens often in translation from one language to another or in printed media. For example, an ad for a Bangkok dry cleaner when translated to English read, “Drop your trousers here for best results.” Another example was printed in a local newspaper. The story revolved around a major explosion at a chemical plant. The reporter interviewed a person who lived close to the plant. Something was lost in translation when the quote in the article said, “I was awakened by a loud blast in my pajamas.”

Nothing should ever be lost in translation when it comes to the Bible. If you had been looking to purchase a Bible fifty years ago, your choices would have been between the King James Version (KJV) and maybe one other. Today, you are faced with shelves and shelves of different Bible versions. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of available options. Which one should you acquire? What factors should be taken into consideration before making your decision? 

God’s Word does not change, but languages does change, thus the need for updated and revised translations of the Bible. The overriding goal of the modern translations is to help convey to readers in contemporary English what the original text meant. Each translation has limits. The church uses the NLT, but the ESV and NIV are excellent versions as well.

The next question you hear is should you stick with one version or several.  A rule of thumb is to use multiple translations for the purpose of increased understanding — for instance, use them as commentaries — and use one main translation for the purpose of memorization. It is hard to memorize scripture when bouncing around amongst several versions. It becomes very confusing. 

Remember two things: First, we must keep in mind that the Bible must be prayed over, studied, and committed to the heart in order for it to function in the manner that God intended. The truth of Scripture is given to us for living. We may own every version of the Scriptures that is available and not profit by any of them. Regardless of what translation you use, what matters is the changes in thinking that result from what we read.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What translation do you use? Why?
  2. What can we do this week to improve how we read and study the Bible?

Small and Sustainable

“Be good to your servant that I may live and obey your word. Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” – Psalm 119:17-18. 

Why should I read the Bible? Why is it important for my life today? And how do I go about doing it?

We believe the Bible is the standard for everything we do in life as Christians and we also believe it’s our primary way of forming a deep personal relationship with God. As you read, study, seek direction, and grow, you begin to see God more clearly, and your life changes because of that. Digging into God’s Word is the foundation for a strong, healthy spiritual life.

Maybe you’ve never really read the Bible before, or maybe you’re finding that it’s tough to stay consistent. If so, you may want to start a short daily devotional that helps the Bible become a real and active part of your life, or maybe you want to work towards reading the Bible in a year. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to start somewhere, even if it is small. Small and sustainable are the objectives if Bible study is new to you.

Small and sustainable is regular, short times reading/studying scripture. Initially, have a 15 minute window; 10 minutes reading the Bible and five minutes for Bible-focused prayer. Initially that may be enough to not threaten your attention span. This takes introspection—knowing your limitations while working to expand them. If you can only concentrate for five minutes, start there. But also work to increase your stamina—start with a prayer for guidance, end with a prayer that reflects on what you’ve read. Pray and ask God to help it sink into your mind and heart. Then repeat it the next day until it becomes a routine.

Once the five-minute sessions become routine and easier, add a couple of minutes. Remember that 10 minutes focused meaningfully on Scripture is better than an hour that’s immediately forgotten. 

A daily devotional time reading and studying the Bible can truly be a life-changing experience. You have every possibility of growing closer to the Lord than ever before as you get to know Him through prayer and the reading of His Word. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a daily devotional time with God?
  2. What does it mean that he has “hidden God’s Word in his heart”?
  3. What can we do this week to start a small and sustainable daily time for reading/studying the Bible?

Game Changer

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” –  Theodore Roosevelt

You can never just read the Bible. We should want and need more. Whether you read your Bible before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, we need to read and listen to what God is telling us. The Bible is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal to grow closer to God. But, we often don’t use this God-breathed tool to its full potential.

I think I can guess your reaction: “Marty, I use my Bible daily or even weekly, so why would I say the Bible is under-utilized?” Reading the Bible is a good thing, but is often an item to check off on our obligated-to-do list. But there is a difference between reading something out of duty and getting something out of what we read.

Something happens when we study and absorb the Bible rather than just a daily chore. The Bible becomes a source of comfort and understanding. Suddenly, we are reading verses that speak to our circumstances, to our concerns and problems.  So instead of going through the motions, we read with questions, meditate on verses that stick out, write notes and look up cross-references. The more time spent studying, the more easy it is to realize and experience the very real power of God’s Word to transform, to comfort, and provide real wisdom for real life. A real appreciation for God’s Word will lead to spiritual growth. 

Maybe you’re a new work-in-progress believer who is just starting to study the Bible.  Maybe you have been a Christian for some time but the busyness of life keeps you from studying the Bible as much as you like. Or maybe you are somebody who does read the Bible, but wishes that you knew the Bible better.

I have learned over the years that the more you invest your time and energy into studying the Word rather than just reading it out of a sense of duty, the more you’ll experience the abundant Christian life that God has planned for you. Matthew 4:4 says, “…People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Psalm 119:9-11 says, “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

So what is the best way to study the Bible? Treat it like you would any other text that you are going to be studying. Get serious about it!  Don’t just read a verse and walk away. Ask questions about that verse. Find a Bible study method that really works for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a process/system for studying the Bible? Does it work for you? 
  2. What can we do this week to improve our study habits?

All Scripture is Inspired By God

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 

The Bible was written by ordinary men. These were real people: shepherds, soldiers, fishermen, and at least one tent maker. Some were elite: Solomon was a king, while others were outcasts. All lived in a world very different from ours. But all answered the calling they believed they had been given to communicate what was true, important, and worth recording for future generations. Their task, however, was made easier by a behind the scenes author. People of faith believe that God himself inspired men and women to put doubts and prayers, hopes and dreams into writing. Using ordinary people, He gave us an extraordinary message. 

The apostle Paul declared, “All Scripture is inspired [literally, ‘God-breathed’] by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The term “inspiration” explains how God communicated His message through human beings into the written words found in the Bible. Throughout time, people have wondered “how imperfect men could be expected to produce a perfect Bible.” Peter answers that question: “…no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Dr. Charles Ryrie (the editor of The Ryrie Study Bible) offers a simple yet effective explanation of the process of inspiration that led to the Bible: “Inspiration is God’s superintending of human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error in the words of the original autographs His revelation to man.”  In other words, inspiration means that the Holy Spirit of God superintended the human writers in the production of Scripture so that what they wrote was precisely what God wanted written. This does not mean that God dictated every word. Rather, his Spirit so pervaded the mind of the human writer that he chose out of his own vocabulary and experience precisely those words, thoughts and expressions that conveyed God’s message with precision.

There is no way to prove that the Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word, any more than we can prove that God exists. However, we can remove a few potholes in the road to belief. In the remainder of this week, we will look at some of the greatest evidences that the Bible is God’s inspired and exclusive message to us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges have you heard people raise against the Bible? What do you think about the Bible’s reliability?
  2. What comes to your mind when you hear someone talking about the authority of the Bible? The inspiration? 

Retain What You Read

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39. 

The Bible is truly an incredible book.

No matter how often you read the Bible, or what book or passage you are reading, you will encounter truth, some wisdom, some life lesson that is still relevant to us today over 2,000 years later.  It is full of interesting characters, equally interesting stories, plot twists, enough to satisfy any novel reader.  The Bible has been the inspiration for people throughout the centuries. A case in point, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” speech contains numerous references to Bible passages. One is Amos 5:24, “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” Dr. King talked about dreams when he quoted Isaiah 40:4-5, saying, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (NIV)

The Bible is a rich book. But how do you remember or retain what you read?  It seems that too often you forget what you have read as the tasks and activities of life reenter the picture. How do you keep from merely scanning the page or checking out as the mind wanders to that project that is due at work, or that paper that is due at school. If that is you, you are not the only one. If that is you, you may want to consider the following when reading a passage or teaching that you want to retain:

Read and re-read the same passage over and over again. Read it as many times that is needed to understand what the passage is telling you and to remember it going forward. First read-through: Read as you normally would. Second read-through: Read out loud.  Read the passage once more, picturing yourself in the scene. What do you imagine the scene is like? What do you see around you? How do you feel?  In the last read through, use a pen or pencil to mark the passage. Underline anything that stands out, and feel free to write down any observations that come to mind.

Yes, this does seem like a lot of time and effort to go through. The reality is most passages won’t take you longer than 15 minutes for all 5 steps. And you’ll find that the more you engage with a passage, the more you’ll notice the details and nuances you didn’t see before.

Remember the goal isn’t to earn extra credit or to impress God with our efforts, but rather to grow deeper in knowledge and love for God. You can do that just as well through studying a handful of verses as you would reading chapters upon chapters at a time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What system do you use if you want to retain a passage of scripture? Does it work?
  2. What are the advantages of having a deeper knowledge of scripture in your day-to-day walk with God? 

Why Study the Bible

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” – Hebrews 4:12. 

It may seem an odd question to ask—Why study the Bible? Many Christians would look at the person asking that question and reply, “why wouldn’t I?”  Others would point to the fact that studying the Bible is a huge undertaking. It is also a lot of work if you really want to grasp what the Bible is really saying. The 66 books in the Bible collectively make a unique volume that talks about all the most important matters of life. It deals with right and wrong, morality, life on earth, life after death and touches on all the complicated issues of humanity. Biblical scholars have argued over different themes and passages in the Bible for centuries. While it is the most popular book ever written, it is also the most controversial.

And besides that, if you have spent any time attempting to understand the Bible, you have probably realized that it’s not always a walk in the park. It can take time, effort, concentration, and perseverance. At times, we must be willing to research and dig into resources outside of our normal reading. It requires teachability and the desire to learn.

So why should you study the Bible? The Bible remains the only source of divine revelation and power that can sustain you as a Christian in your walk with God. The Bible provides us the incredible privilege to know God personally through His Word. Bookstores are filled with books attempting to help us figure out this life. There are countless self-help books on marriage, parenting, relationships, and personal growth. There are countless other books on addiction recovery and the ups and downs of life. Still more give views on life after death, good and evil, and the human condition. But only the Bible gives us answers to those questions directly from the God who created us. The Bible is God’s inspired words to us. No self-help book can come close to the words of our Creator.

Studying God’s Word may be a challenging task, but it is doable and eminently worthwhile. God did not give us His Word to confuse us, but to enlighten us. He revealed the contents of the Bible so that we could understand. But understanding requires study. If we are not willing to put in the effort and the work, then it is easy to miss out on rich, life-changing knowledge we gain  by studying the Bible. The rewards of pouring over and examining the Bible make the work well worth it. The effort we exert in seeking to know the Word will be nothing in comparison with the payment we receive back from it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 119:103, 105, 114, and 160: What do this verses say to you about studying the Bible?
  2. What can we do this week to improve how we read and study the Bible?