You CAN Find Hope and Comfort in the Midst of a Calamity

My friend, Jason, lives in the Houston area and recently updated his Facebook status to these words: Isaiah 43:2. Why would he choose those words?

I can’t speak for Jason, but knowing what a strong believer he is, I suspect it is because he knows the context of the words. When we know the setting in which Isaiah’s words apply, we can see why someone dealing with the overwhelming aftermath of the flooding produced by Harvey would chose this particular verse on which to ground his response.

Questions Need Responses

If you are struggling with God right now because you look around and see so much destruction, suffering, and pain, I get it. Without the context of God’s character and his love for his rebellious and fallen creation, it would be only natural to have questions.

I saw an example of this very kind of inquiry on Twitter the other day. And the responses I saw to that question reflected a knowledge of context (and a personal knowledge and relationship with God).

Here’s the question tweet and one of the responses from a believer:

Now, I don’t know for certain God’s reasons for doing or not doing specific things. Why does he allow storms like Harvey to cause death and destruction? I don’t know.

But I do know God’s character as revealed in the Bible and in Jesus. And so, like my friend Jason, I can cling to the words of Isaiah and find comfort and hope. Yes, the storm waters seem to have the upper hand. They have claimed lives and destroyed homes.

Yet, I also see God present with those who are suffering and grieving.

I see him giving us perspective on our pettiness and selfishness.

I see him offering us opportunities to express love and self-sacrifice rather than hate and self-centeredness.

What is the context for Isaiah 43:2?

It is never a good idea to pull a verse out of its context. We run a huge risk of twisting the intended meaning and message. So, to understand why there is such hope and comfort in verse 43:2 of this very large and complex book, I want to share this amazing overview from The Bible Project. In around 16 minutes, you’ll understand the context, see the character of God on display, and be equipped to understand how these words are right at home in a seemingly hopeless scenario.

While the two situations (Israelites in exile due to a man-made disaster and Texans suffering from a natural disaster) are very different, the general context is similar: suffering people who are struggling to understand where God is in the midst of their ruin. What hope do they have when everywhere they look they see destruction and suffering?

That is the situation into which Isaiah’s words were initially addressed.

Watch these two 8-minute videos and you’ll see why Jason and other believers find hope for their situation from this ancient prophet. And why you can, too.

Part 1: Isaiah 1–39

Part 2: Isaiah 40–66

God is Here for You and So Am I

If you’re struggling, hurting, or questioning, I would love to come alongside you and offer you some hope and prayer.

If that sounds like something that would be helpful to you, select a time on my online calendar and we’ll have a short visit via phone or video chat. There is no cost for this call. I’m honored to have the opportunity to minister to you.

Don’t want to visit one-on-one but would still like to share and be prayed for? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me via email or social media.

Now, if you just want to argue for the sake of arguing, I’d rather spend my time and energy on more productive causes ministering to those hurting or searching for a closer connection with God or more peace and purpose in their life. So, if you sincerely want to dialogue about legitimate questions and struggles, I’m here for you.

And I’m always happy to pray for and with you. Let me know how I can minister to you. 

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

You Can Be There for Those in Need

Want to reflect God’s loving character to those who are hurting? You can join Making It Real Ministries, Main Street Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Huffman, Texas in providing practical and needed resources and support to those in the Houston area impacted by Harvey. Just click the button or image below to learn more or to make a donation.

Donate at http://www.lauranaiser.com/harvey

LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP!

The Best Way I Know to Compare Multiple Bible Translations Side-by-Side

One of the easiest tools to help you understand a confusing or unclear passage of Scripture is simply an alternate translation. Each translation, working from the original manuscripts of Scripture, uses slightly different criteria for translating the original language into English. The translation is actually the first layer of interpretation. So today, I want to show you how to easily compare translations of a particular passage.

The video below is a quick little screen cast in which I’ll show you how to view chapter four of Philippians in the NIV, ESV, and NASB translations, side-by-side.

Grab this FREE Handout with More Tips

Want a handout that provides additional keys for understanding the Bible? Just click on the button below and I’ll send you 7 Keys for Unlocking Life-Changing Truth.

One of the things I demonstrate on this handout is how some commonly used translations differ in their criteria. I find it super helpful when deciding which ones to compare with each other and to help me understand why one group of translators might have made the particular word choices they did.


Get Your FREE Handout!

Puzzled By the Bible? Look at the Big Picture to Make Sense of the Little Pieces!

This post and the highlighted resources will serve as your "picture on the puzzle box"!

If you’ve ever sat staring hundreds of little puzzle pieces and felt overwhelmed, I bet looking at the picture on top of the puzzle box helped you get your bearings and figure out how to assemble the many pieces into a coherent whole. Well, if the Bible feels like a jumble of stories, people, places, and ideas that you know are somehow suppose to fit together into a meaningful story but you just don’t see it, today’s post will help!

Understanding how a portion of Scripture fits into the overall story of the Bible is important to understanding the text correctly. While the Bible tells one continuous story, this story is conveyed in multiple books by multiple authors. Think of it as a library dedicated to the story of God’s self-revelation and His relationship, plans, and purposes with and for His Creation.

Context is Crucial

What is included in the library is known as the “canon.” Thus, knowing where a particular passage fits in the overall canon of the Bible is known as its “canonical context” and is just as important to properly interpreting the meaning of the passage as is understanding the historical and cultural contexts.

I’ve created a couple of graphics to give you a way of visualizing how the various books of the Bible fit within the overall canon. Also, these two graphics highlight some key info for each book such as its type of literature, author, how it was used by God’s people in Biblical times and other helpful bits of context.

Plus, at the end of this post, I’ve listed three of my favorite resources for helping you understand the big story of the Bible. There is even a special discount offered!

Tools plus Discount

Send me the graphics!

The Big Story is Key to Understanding the Little Stories

When we are aware of the overall plot line and key themes of the story of God and His Creation, we are equipped to see the unchanging gracious and just nature of God, the certainty of His bringing His plans to fulfillment, and our need for Him despite our repeated insistence we do just fine on our own.

Scholars refer to the “big story” as the “metanarrative” of the Bible. There are four critical turning points within this overall plot:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Restoration

Familiarity with these four themes allow us to recognize the appearance of those same themes within particular smaller stories and segments of Scripture.

So let’s take a brief look at each one of these themes so you can recognize it when you see it.

CREATION

Creation Icon-Green 5763Elements of this theme reveal God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of all things. By his plan, chaos becomes order.

Everything is created by God for His glory and pleasure.

Humans are created in God’s image, are given stewardship over the rest of Creation, and are created to worship and fellowship with God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”Colossians 1:15-17, NASB

FALL

Fall Icon - 227When humans rebelled against God, demonstrating a lack of trust in Him and a desire to usurp His authority, the relationship between God and humanity was broken.

All of Creation was impacted by the chaotic consequence of humanity’s rebellion against God. The fallout was the introduction of death, disorder, and alienation.

Our holy God is unable to overlook wrong-doing. Sin can not remain in His presence, and apart from God there is no life, only death.

…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
Romans 5:15, NASB

REDEMPTION

Redemption IconFor true relationship to exist between the Creator and those He created, humanity had to choose to love and obey God.

However, God knew we would choose self over God. Therefore, He planned our rescue and redemption before He set the foundation of the world.

Ultimately, God’s plan for our redemption was to save us through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. And if you pay close attention as you read the Scriptures leading up to the fulfillment of that plan, you will notice God’s redemptive actions which foreshadow and prepare for Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for our sin.

Our redemption cost God greatly. He endured the judgment for our sin and bestowed on us His righteousness. He redeemed us because of who He is and because of His love for us.

I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.
Isaiah 44:22, NASB

RESTORATION

Restoration Icon - blue yellowWe live in the “already but not yet” of the end times. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit and are being conformed to the image of Christ. And at the appropriate time, Christ will return and restore order to creation with a new heaven and a new earth.

Those who have placed their trust in Christ’s redeeming work on the cross will be resurrected and fellowship with God for all eternity. Those who rejected God’s plan for redemption will be resurrected and live eternally separated from Him.

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.”
Ephesians 1:9–10, HCSB

Big Story Themes in the Little Story of David & Goliath

Let’s consider each theme and how it shapes our understanding of what is going on in this particular story found in 1 Samuel 17.

Creation: From Chaos to Order

At the beginning of this story, we see the Philistines and the Israelite armies faced off in battle. Israel is the nation of God’s people, created and called out of the chaos of all the nations (See Genesis 11 and 12). Israel has only to trust and obey God and He promises to take care of them.

Fall: Failure to Trust and Obey

In the big story, the fall happens when Adam and Eve believe the lies of the serpent rather than trusting and obeying God (See Genesis 2-3). In 1 Samuel, we see echos of this when Saul and his army fail to trust in God and instead believe the taunts of Goliath.

Redemption: One Man of Faith Defeats Death

David, in the eyes of the worldly men around him, seems inadequate to face off against such a powerful enemy. Yet, his faith in God, rather than in his own abilities, empowers him to stand in the place of all the men of Israel and carry out God’s will. He uses the enemy’s own weapon to deliver the death blow and bring victory to God’s people.

Hear the echos of the cross from the big story? Jesus, one humble man with faith in God, faces off against those who defy God. The very instrument by which his enemies planned to use to destroy him (the cross), He used to defeat sin and win the victory for those who place their faith in the One True God.

Restoration: An Already But Not Yet King

As the story of David and Goliath ends, David is the victor. Even Saul, the current king, recognizes there is something different about David. “Find out whose son this young man is!” Saul demands.

I can’t help but recall a similar reaction at this same plot point in the big story. When Jesus accomplished the victory on the cross and the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

David had already been anointed king before this battle with Goliath, but the world didn’t recognize him as king yet. In fact, it would be many years before David’s rule would be recognized and established. In the interim, David experienced the “already, but not yet” aspect we see in the big story. The victory was won, his place secure, yet the full realization of the kingdom awaited fulfillment.

And just as surely as God fulfilled his promise to seat David upon the throne and establish his kingdom, Christ will return and establish his everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and new earth.

Some Tools To Help You See the Big Picture of the Bible

If you want to become more familiar with the big picture and the metanarrative themes, here are a few great resources to help you:

Clarifying the Bible

Clarifying the Bible

Clarifying The Bible is a DVD presentation with an accompanying workbook. In less time than it takes to watch the average movie you will be introduced to the Bible like never before. The DVD presentation takes viewers on an exciting journey from Genesis all the way to Revelation.

I recently watched this fantastic program at a training for my church’s adult teachers. AWESOME! I highly recommend you grab either the DVD and workbook or get the digital downloads.

In fact, over the next three weeks, ending on May 17, Mitch is offering readers of my blog a 10% discount on their purchases. Use the coupon code lauranaiser to receive the discount. Note: When you hover your cursor over your cart you’ll see the button Proceed to Checkout. Click that button, then the request for the coupon code shows up in the blue box.

If this resource had been available back when I was serving as the Adult Ministries staff person at a large congregation, it would have been a huge help in equipping my teachers and congregation members. So if you’re a pastor or church staff person, take advantage of this special discount offer and order Clarifying the Bible for your next training.

Get 10% Off Clarifying the Bible!

The 10 Day Bible Companion

The 10 Day Bible Companion

 

Dr. Pamela Harrison has guest posted on my blog in the past and has a wonderful book which connects the individual stories and pieces of the Bible into one amazing story.

Pam and her husband, Keith, are the co-founders of High Seas Ministries, a ministry dedicated to serving guests and crew members of the cruise ship industry. She teaches the complete Bible as presented in The 10-Day Bible Companion on ships and for groups on land. (I’ve attended one of her weekend intensives and it was fabulous!)

She presents God’s Word in a way that anyone can understand. And when you sit down with her book and your Bible, you can walk through the big story in ten very interesting sessions. Work through the book on your own or with a group of friends or a Sunday School class. You’ll have a new appreciation for the creation-fall-redemption-restoration themes as you read your Bible.

Order The 10-Day Bible Companion!

Seamless

Seamless-teenI wrote an entire blog post about this Bible study after I participated in it at my home church.

We did the regular version, which is great for a ladies Bible study whether at church or hosted in your home.

Angie Smith also created a version specifically for teen girls. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce your teen daughter and her friends to the beautiful and seamless thread connecting the people, places, and promises of the Bible in a whole new way.

Order Seamless!

Free Biblical Library and Periodic Table Graphics

Free Bible Study Infographics

Also, don’t forget to get the free printable I made you. This full-color handout illustrates how each book fits into the library of 66 books comprising the Protestant Bible. And the Periodic Table of the Bible provides you with some context for how these same books were grouped and used in Biblical times.

Send me the graphics!

Register Now for My New Bible Study

Philippians Begins April 18 (Free child care deadline is April 11)

Would you like to learn the apostle Paul’s secret to being content in any circumstance? Would you like to better understand the mindset of Jesus Christ (and discover how to have it yourself)? That’d be pretty awesome, right? Well then you need to register for my new Bible study on Philippians which begins April 18. Paul will inspire you to press on toward the goal, for the ultimate prize of full knowledge of and communion with Christ. Instead of living with a sense of inadequacy or defeat, discover why Paul is confident God will bring the good work He has begun in you to its full completion.

If you regularly struggle with fear, worry, suffering, or negative thinking, this study will help you walk in joy, confidence, and the strength of Christ. You’ll have a new perspective on your challenges.

You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to immerse yourself in these encouraging and inspiring words from Paul—and the fun, fellowship, and insights of some really amazing classmates!

So Here’s a Summary of What You’ll Get

    • WorkbookCover 300 pxA printed workbook designed to encourage and guide you through Philippians no matter what learning style you prefer. (I’ll hand these out at our first session).

 

    • Extra resources, tips, and strategies to help you anytime you study any portion of your Bible.

 

    • Six weekly group sessions (conveniently located in the heart of downtown Georgetown at Main Street Baptist Church). Morning classes meet 9:30 am and are out by 11 am. Evening classes will meet at 6:30 pm and be out by 8 pm.

 

    • Recordings of class discussions so you won’t miss out even if you have to miss a class.

 

    • Free child care if you register and submit your child care request by April 11! I’m partnering with my home church and thus we can offer a limited number of child care spots for free!

 

    • But that’s not all… I’ve created a couple of amazing bonuses for you.

Get All the Scoop & Register Now!

To learn all the details about the class and these bonuses, click the button below to jump over to my Philippians information and registration page.

The books go to the printer April 7 so if you want to be sure your workbook is ready for you at the first session, you need to register by April 7. Also, the deadline to request child care is April 11. So while you could register later, you may not get a printed workbook until the second class. So, if you live within driving distance of Georgetown, Texas, click the button below and get signed up!

Register Now!

Why Summer 2016 is the Summer of Freedom!

Ah summer… sleeping in late, lazy days by the pool sipping a cool drink and reading a best-seller. No worries, responsibilities, or stress. [wait for it…] Yeah, right! Summer doesn’t usually pan out to be like that fantasy. If I am by the pool, I’m trying not to melt while watching the kids and reminding them for the millionth time to put on sunscreen. The tedious treadmill of the Monday through Friday school week is replaced by a chaotic stop-n-go madness that has the kids bored one week and exhausted the next. By the time the fireworks go off on July 4th, the “freedom” I was looking forward to celebrating during the summer has been replaced with a longing for school to start and temperatures to fall. I think this Summer, I’ll pursue a different type of freedom. One that will prove much more satisfying and less illusive than my typical summer daydreams. Want to join me on the adventure to real freedom?

Last week I tested the waters to see if anyone was interested in studying Galatians this Summer. Well, quite a few of you have said you’d like to join in on my quest for true freedom. So, it’s time to claim your spot for whichever format/session works best for you.

You can choose from four options:

Georgetown Groups – Tuesdays Morning or Evening

If you live in town and are available on Tuesdays, join me in person. The morning session meets 10 – 11 am and the evening session is at 6:30 – 7:30 pm. These local classes will meet at Main Street Baptist Church in downtown Georgetown, Texas. Tuesday groups will begin on June 21 and wrap up on August 2  June 28 and wrap up on August 9 (needed to change this to avoid conflict with VBS!).

Online Groups – Thursdays Morning or Evening

Need another option? Sign up for one of the Thursday sessions which will be live, interactive webinars. That means we can interact live and in a private group where we don’t have to worry about internet trolls disturbing us! You can choose to interact via typing in the chat box to ask your questions and share your comments or you can jump on camera and address the group! It’s like a Google Hangout or a group Skype call. Cool!

The morning webinars will happen at 11 am Central Time and the evening ones at 7 pm. Class will last about an hour. Thursday groups will begin on June 23 and wrap up on August 11 (we won’t meet on July 7).

Why, of course, there’s a workbook!

I’m in the process of preparing lessons and creating a workbook for you! There probably won’t be a lot of commentary in the workbook. I’m envisioning it as more of a guide to note-taking. If you’ve ever done a Precept Upon Precept study it will be along those lines.  But don’t worry, if the Precept marking and color coding drive you crazy, this will be very flexible to fit many different styles of study.

Use of the workbook is totally optional! Our primary text will be the Scripture. The workbook will just be a tool to help you get more out of your study of the Word.

Here is a sneak peak at the workbook cover…

Workbook-Cover - 300 px

Worried about missing some sessions?

Don’t fret, I’ve got you covered. It is Summer and many of us have vacations planned, and with the kids home, schedules can be less predictable than ever.

But don’t let that stop you from getting in the Word with us.

I’ll  record each group’s sessions and post those recordings in the Making It Real Member Area. You’ll have a user name and password that will allow you to access the videos (along with your workbook and any other goodies I come up with) whenever it suits your schedule.

So what are you waiting for? Claim your spot now!

Seven sessions of Bible study, a workbook, video recordings of each session, and I’ll probably come up with one or two additional goodies by the time we’re done. All this for only $19! That is less than $3 per session! So spread the word and let’s explore our freedom this summer!

You can get all the details and register for the group using either of these buttons…

Button Get More Info-YellowButton Claim Your Spot-Green

 

What do you think of this cool idea for summer?

Study Galatians with me — in person or online — your choice!

The past few weeks of teaching the pilot students of my soon to launch online course about setting healthy boundaries has reminded me how much I love teaching and interacting with other people as we study God’s Word. And I don’t know about you, but I always do a better job of consistently staying in the Scriptures when I’m part of a Bible study group. For a while now, God has put it on my heart to study Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is a relatively short book (only 6 chapters) which makes it a good choice for a summer study. So, I’m putting this idea out there to see if any of you are interested. I don’t have all the details set yet; I’m just testing the waters for interest at this point. Your feedback will help me fill in the details. So here’s the scoop…

Summer is often associated with freedom: freedom from routines, to go on vacations, to sit by the pool and relax. So what a perfect time to study a book of the Bible that reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ. I don’t know about you, but I have some strongholds that I wrestle with. I think Paul’s wise words will help me find some freedom from those this summer.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1, NIV

How this will work…

I’m thinking we will need six or seven sessions to study the entire book of Galatians. I’d like to start the week of June 21 28* and wrap up the study the first week of August 9*.  Don’t worry if you have vacations planned and will have to miss one or two sessions. I’ll try to record the sessions (very rough – no fancy editing and the lighting might not be great), and have those for you to download if you miss a session.

*I changed the dates to avoid conflict with my home congregation’s VBS since we will be meeting at Main Street Baptist Church in downtown Georgetown.

I’m planning to keep this very simple. Our primary text will be our Bible! I will create a PDF workbook that will provide you some structure for taking notes as you study, but it won’t be a polished, published workbook. I’ll email that to the registered participants and you can print it out and put it in a binder or folder.

The cost will be $19. That’s less than a grande latte or Iced Caramel Macchiato per session. Pretty sweet! Invite your friends!

Traditional Live Local Group or Live Online Group

So, here’s the different options as far as when and how we could meet:

In Person in Georgetown

Many of my readers live close enough to Georgetown, Texas (my hometown) to be able to join me in person.  So, for those of you who prefer getting together in person,  I’m tossing out a couple different options.  We could have a Tuesday 10 – 11 am group or we could have a Tuesday 6:30 – 7:30 pm group.  The location will Main Street Baptist Church in downtown Georgetown.

Online Live Interactive Class

For my out-of-towners or those who prefer an online experience, I’ve invested in the technology that will allow us to have interactive, live class via the internet. I know it might sound scary if you aren’t used to doing webinars or video chats. But if I can figure out how to do this, anyone can! With my software, you will have the option of being on camera along with me or participating without being visible to the rest of the participants. Basically it will be like a Google Hangout or a Periscope/Blab except I will have the ability to limit attendance to only those registered. No weird internet trolls posting inappropriate comments!

The only technology you will need is a computer and an internet connection. If you want to appear on screen you’ll also need a webcam and microphone (most newer computers have those built in). You may also be able to use your smartphone or tablet (ipad). I need to double check that, but I’m pretty sure that is the case. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you step-by-step through how to navigate the tech!

I’m thinking the online class will meet on Thursdays at either 11 am or 7 pm.

Isn’t it cool we live in a time when geography doesn’t limit our ability to gather together in fellowship and study of the Scriptures! Awesome!

So, which group would you be interested in?

Summer Bible Study Galatians Iced Tea

If enough of you are interested, we’ll move forward with one or more of those options. I’ll figure out the details and send you a link to officially enroll. For now, just let me know if you would be interested in getting more info and possibly attending one of the groups.  You’ll do this by clicking the button below that corresponds with the group in which you’d most like to participate. Then I’ll email you with more information really soon so we can get started in June!

CLICK ONE OF THE BUTTONS BELOW TO LET ME KNOW YOU’RE INTERESTED!

Tuesdays In Person In Georgetown

Exact location to be determined. Morning class at 10 am, evening class at 6:30 pm. I’ll set up my iphone and microphone and post a recording within about 24 hours of each class in case you miss that week’s session.

I’m interested in the Tuesday Morning class

I’m interested in the Tuesday Evening Class

Thursdays Online Live and Interactive

I’ll send registered participants a link to join the online class each Thursday. Morning class will go live at 11:00 am, evening class at 7:00 pm. If all goes well with the tech, I’ll send out recordings of the class within about 24 hours or so after we end the broadcast.

I’m interested in the Thursday Morning online class!


I’m Interested in the Thursday Evening Online Class

I can’t wait to see which button you clicked! Feel free to share this with your friends using the buttons above and below the post! The more the merrier.

Grow in Your Understanding of Jesus with These Reading Plans

Last week, I shared Five Benefits You Can Expect When You Follow the Christian Calendar. Based on how many readers requested the copy of the calendar, many of you want those benefits.  So, this week, I want to provide you with an introduction to the current season as well as point you in the direction of some reading plans that will help you in your quest to reap the rewards we discussed in last week’s post.

Free Reading Plans and Free Calendar

Count on Growing During Epiphany

Epiphany, which was on January 6, celebrated the arrival of the Magi to worship Jesus. Matthew’s account (See Matthew 2) highlights the message that all who are willing to recognize who Jesus is are welcome to come and worship him. This King of the Jews is Savior of all who would receive him.

Depending on denomination, the time from January 6 until Ash Wednesday, is known as the season of Epiphany or Ordinary Time (as in ordinal or order of things). The Sundays are referred to by their order after Epiphany (for example, Second Sunday after the Epiphany).

In some traditions, this season is referred to as Growing Time. Whatever we call this season, the emphasis is on the manifestation of Jesus as God Incarnate and the long-awaited Savior.

An epiphany is an appearance or manifestation of a deity. And the term can also refer to one’s gaining insight into the reality of something extraordinary through something commonplace. The counting of days as the season progresses emphasizes the concept of progression or growth.

During this season, we follow the story of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature from the infant worshiped by the Magi to the pre-teen sitting among the teachers in the Temple astounding all who heard him (see Luke 2:40-52). One of the highlights of this theme of growing in revelation and understanding is the account of Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34).

Our understanding of who Jesus is continues to expand as we read of his miracles and teaching throughout the Gospels. And the season of epiphany reaches its climax in the account of the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8).

Try it!

No, really. Try it right now! Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you better understand Jesus as you read the Scriptures. Then, click on those links in the previous two paragraphs and read at least one account of each portion of Jesus’ life. As you read, pay attention to what is revealed about who Jesus is.

By focusing our Bible reading on this motif of growing in our understanding of who Jesus is, we are better prepared to reflect on our need for him. We are also better equipped to see just how uniquely and completely Jesus meets our need to be reconciled with our Creator.

Helpful Bible Reading Plans

If you haven’t focused your spiritual growth and Bible reading around the Christian Year before, I invite you to give it a try and see how enlightening it can be. There are a multitude of reading plans which will help you do this. Here are just a few you might consider:

  1. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)

The RCL is a three-year cycle of Scripture readings structured upon the seasons of the Christian Year. It is used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in the United States and Canada. The list of readings was compiled by representatives of nineteen different denominations. The RCL differs somewhat from the Roman Catholic lectionary, primarily as to the feast days that are specifically observed by the Roman Catholic Church.

  1. The Book of Common Prayer Bible Reading Plan on the YouVersion App

This plan follows the Daily Office Lectionary found in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) used worldwide by Anglicans and Episcopalians. But one doesn’t have to be a member of those denominations to benefit from the reading plan.

  1. Daily Reading Plan by the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society has created a nice printable 2015-2016 Christian Year reading plan. It provides daily readings corresponding to the various seasons of the Christian year in a simple format that could be tucked in your Bible.

FREE Seasons of Faith Calendar

Many readers downloaded a copy of the Seasons of Faith calendar I made for you. This calendar describes each season of the Christian year and gives the 2015-2016 [Updated: 2016-17] dates for each season.

If you want to develop your own reading plan, you can review the descriptions of the themes for each season and use a topical Bible to find relevant passages to read. (That’s what I’m doing this year.)

If you haven’t requested your copy yet, it isn’t too late. Just click the image or button below and I’ll email your copy instantly!

Send Me the Calendar!

Help Choosing the Right Study or Plan

If you need a little more help selecting which Bible study or reading plan is best suited for you, check out my guest post over at Life Letter Cafe.  llc-blogger

At the end of that post, be sure pick up the free step-by-step guide to choosing the plan perfect for your learning style and schedule. The post is called How to Enjoy Reading the Bible and Get More Out of Your Time In It. It will help you evaluate those three plans above or any others you might be considering. It will also give you some ideas for where to find reading plans and Bible studies that are best suited for your needs.

How to Enjoy Reading the Bible

How about you? What type of Bible Study or reading plan are you using? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How Grace Differs From Mercy and A New Resource to Share

Insight into Christ's "upside down" kingdom...

Dr. Pam and Keith Harrison

This is a guest post by Dr. Pamela Harrison. She and her husband, Keith, are the co-founders of High Seas Ministries, a ministry dedicated to serving guests and crew members of the cruise ship industry. She teaches the complete Bible as presented in The 10-Day Bible Companion on ships and for groups on land. They are passionate about presenting God’s Word in a way that anyone can understand it and share it with others! For more on the Harrisons and the ministry, visit www.highseasministries.org, or send an email to pam@highseasministries.org.

Yesterday, many of us celebrated Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year.  The season of Advent—that glorious anticipation of hope, love, joy, and peace—begins next Sunday.  Soon we will push ourselves to the limit to meet all the requirements placed on us by others—and ourselves—at this busy time of the year.  But, for now…let’s stop.  Just for a moment. And consider this amazing, “upside-down” kingdom of Christ as the Bible describes it.

So began the "upside down" kingdom of the long awaited King of Glory!

A Very Different Kind of Kingdom

We get an early hint that God’s kingdom is not like man’s when we read of Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob in Genesis 33:4:

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

Once Jacob finally got away from his Uncle Laban, he faced another challenge—his twin brother Esau, the same one he had deceived out of his first-born child status and blessing. He certainly had no reason to expect Esau to be anything but angry and bent on revenge, even after twenty years had passed, so he sent gifts ahead with his servants to ‘soften him up’.

Jacob soon discovered, however, that it was not Esau who would be given gifts in this situation, but Jacob himself, for Esau had forgiven him and greeted his younger brother with affection. Jacob, who deserved justice, received not just mercy, but grace.

In the 21st century—as in Jacob’s time—most people want to see justice done, especially justice for everyone else. When a wrong is done, we want to see that wrong avenged—someone must pay!

We see justice as “getting what you deserve.” Mercy, on the other hand, comes by throwing ourselves at the feet of judgment and pleading for the opposite of justice—“not getting what we deserve.”

What, then, is grace?

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Do You Settle for Off-the-Rack when God Offers You Custom-Made?

Maybe it's time to clean out your faith closet!

Have you ever admired one of your friend’s outfits, but then tried on something similar only to find you felt ridiculously self-conscious in that style? Well the same thing can happen in our faith if we aren’t intentional about developing a personal relationship with Christ rather than just a religious practice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning from others, but we must avoid trying to be some cookie-cutter version of them. There are some essentials needed in every person’s “faith wardrobe.” But within the basic categories, God provides a multitude of styles and options that will allow us to connect authentically and intimately with Christ. Why settle for a one-size-fits-all style when Jesus offers us a custom-made bond.

Grab the FREE Checklist!

I’ve made you a handy little checklist to help you assess your current faith “wardrobe” so be sure and get the freebie!


Click Here to Get Your FREE Checklist

My Big Ah-ha Moment Resulted from a Big Flop!

I’ve written before about my early misconception about the need for a 5:00 am “quiet time.” When I flopped at that, I beat myself up as if I was a total failure as a Christian.  Finally, I realized  my Creator designed a variety of ways we can live out our faith and some work better for me than others. So, I let go of the compulsion to force myself into some one-size-fits-all style.

As a gal whose weight fluctuates all over but tends to hang out on the heavier side, I HATE labels that say “one-size-fits-all.” Guess what? They don’t usually fit me! So why in the world would we even consider a “one-size-fits-all” expression of faith?

The Faith Basics

We all need some basic pieces in our wardrobe. It would be pretty difficult to get dressed if all I had were pants in my closet. For our wardrobe to function, we need the right balance of tops, bottoms, accessories, and shoes. Well, the same goes for the means of nurturing our relationship with Jesus.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to break our faith essentials down into four categories:

  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Study
  • Service

In all of these, we will have some more formal versions and some more casual ones. And just as the color, patterns, fabrics, and shapes of our clothing will vary according to our individual likes and needs, the way we pray, worship, study, and serve will also vary from person to person. My way of nurturing closeness with God will be unique to how he made me. And so will yours, hopefully. But we all need a balance of these essentials.

So let’s look at each of these basics as well as some other important factors we should consider when assessing what needs to be in (or out) of our faith wardrobe. And don’t forget to grab that free checklist.

If you read the article, How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ, some of this process will be familiar. These two posts support and build on each other but cover the topic from different perspectives.

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Would You Like to Have Wisdom Roll Off Your Tongue This Year?

Scripture Memory Team 2015 Launch and Verse 1

Wisdom is not usually the first thing out of my mouth; but it is the only language God speaks. So, if we want more of his wisdom coming out of us, we need to be putting more of it in us in a way that makes it stick. Because sometimes, let’s face it, situations hit us that don’t allow time to leisurely look up what God has to say about a subject. But if I’ve memorized a verse or two related to the situations I regularly face, I’m equipped to respond wisely. So, I’m embarking on something that is a bit out of my comfort zone and I’d love for you to join me in the adventure.

Psalm 119:11, ESV

I’ve Joined a Scripture Memory Team and Want You to Come Along Too

I have decided to participate in Beth Moore’s Siesta Scripture Memory Team. And because she is such a huge proponent of getting God’s Word into people’s hearts and minds, I doubt she would mind if we did something similar over here on this little blog.

Okay, I have a confession to make. I struggle with memorizing Scripture. I’ve diligently studied God’s Word for over 20 years, but have never been committed to memorizing verses. However, some haphazard attempts over the past few years have shown me how important and helpful it is to have some key verses tucked away in my heart. Doing so means God’s instruction is there when I need it.

Basically, here is how this Scripture Memory Team thing works.

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