Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On finding a good bible study...

Stumbling into Study
In 2009, I was recently married and seeking to do something more intentional with my time.  Haphazardly, I was also looking for a bible study as a way to add another activity to my week and have some community.  I had no idea how this choice would change my life!  Although I had been a Christian for a few years, was reading many biblically based books, and was trying to navigate the bible on my own, I had not really "studied" the bible in a structured way.  This meant I did a LOT of picking and choosing and a LOT of reading out of context.  While God is gracious and able to use any of our bible reading to grow our knowledge and love for him, I had no idea the richness of scripture that I was missing out on with my random reading.

Next week, I will begin my 6th year of in-depth bible study.  In the past 5 years, God has transformed the way I read and understand scripture - and in turn, He has transformed my heart.

Making Bible Study a Priority
As I enter another year of in-depth study, I want to encourage you to consider some questions, and pray about how God might want to answer them in your life.

1.  Is the bible a key aspect of your relationship with God?  
2.  Do you read specific scriptures in context and seek to understand them in relation to the greater narrative of the bible?
3.  Do you have people in your life who regularly hold you accountable to reading and studying scripture?
4.  Are you involved in a community of believers with whom you can discuss God's word and its implications for daily life?

Reading the bible is not a requirement for being or becoming a Christian.  The only requirement is that you put your faith in Jesus Christ, repenting from your sin and trusting that his sacrifice for sin on the cross has fully cleansed you and reconciled you to God for all eternity.  However, the implications of this type of faith includes a transformed heart and a strong desire to know God more deeply, obeying him and following his instructions.  If this is a strong desire of yours, then it also logically follows that reading and understanding the bible is an important part of living out your faith and being continually changed.  Because the bible is the way in which God speaks to us, thus transforming our minds and hearts.

Doing a bible study is hard, and it requires sacrifice, but the rewards are eternal.

If you haven't ever studied the bible, why not start now?
I went almost 3 years into my walk with God before participating in a bible study, and it greatly affected my my faith when I finally started.  Studying the bible is different than just reading it at face value, and there is an infinite depth of knowledge as you get to know God through his word.  This is achieved as you give specific portions of scripture your full attention, meditate on the meaning, and pray about how it impacts you.

If you haven't been very consistent in reading your bible, stop worrying about it and get back into it!
God doesn't love you any more or less because you read the bible.  He loves you because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Having time in the bible isn't something for your to-do list, it's something you do because you love God.  So stop feeling guilty, pray and share your heart with God, and get started again!

If you can, join a good bible study and be accountable to other believers!
This could be through your local church, a friend's church, or a para-church organization.  Having a regularly scheduled time when I had to show up, discuss what I read with other Christians, and complete specific study questions was what impacted me the most.  Without fellow believers and a structured study, I'm pretty much still a person who randomly reads my bible here and there without much direction or practical application.

This isn't about being a "better Christian" or adding another thing to your proverbial to-do list.  This is about the truth that God's word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.  It will pierce your very soul, transform you, strengthen you, give you peace, and offer deep wisdom.  God will speak to you through it, and draw you near to himself as you ponder who He is and what he has done through Jesus.  Go and enjoy what he has richly blessed you opportunity to study the bible.

Resources and Study Options
Many studies take a break over the summer and start again in now is a great time to get involved!
  • Your local church:  Most local churches have good bible studies or even a Sunday School class that might have material to review throughout the week to help you stay consistent.
  • Bible Study Fellowship:  This organization holds studies in many cities all over the country (and the world).  You can go to their website to look up a location near to you, and visit the welcome class to get involved.  It runs for about 9 months (with breaks for holidays and summer).
  • Precept Ministries International:  This is another organization with wonderful in-depth studies all over the country.  Visit the website for more information and locations.  It runs for several weeks to several months depending on the length of the study.
  • She Reads Truth:  This is an online study where you can also connect with a computer and use an app on your phone or your blog RSS feed to keep up with it.  I think you can also invest in hard copy materials if this is easier for you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When we travel...

We change diapers in cars, throw pacifiers over our shoulders, and tell babies to 'hold on' as if they can understand our gibberish from the front seat.

We wear kids like backpacks, let Lewis run ahead, and sweat profusely.

We hike, and switch kids around 2-3 times until everyone is comfortable (doubling the time needed to get from point A to point B).  We smear bug spray on everyone only to realize there aren't many bugs, and we listen to the question, "why?" dozens of times.

We take self-timed photos, rejoice if everyone is smiling, and go "oh well" if try number 10 was still unsuccessful.

We neglect to pack all the right clothes, so we bundle our kids under blankets.

When we travel, we pose for pictures, hoping the moment doesn't slip away too quickly.

We try to get cute pics with our kids, only to have them refuse to look anywhere near the camera.  When we travel, we want to document the 'fun' moments, and when they don't come, we snap anyway.

We climb on rocks, but try not to be too disappointed that we have to turn back and stay behind because mommy can't get over her fear of slipping while holding a baby.

We feed endless amounts of cheerios and goldfish...or anything it takes to buy minutes of patience.  We skip naps and roll around in tiny rock piles.

We cherish our sweet kiddos, who have no idea what lengths we go to in order to keep them safe and relatively happy.

When we travel, we endure unexpected tantrums and tears and try to just take it in stride.

We let Lewis throw things...because really, he wants to do that all the time and at home we say no.  Hey - he's on vacation!

Traveling has been more difficult since we've added two sweet babes to our family.  It really caught me off guard (shouldn't have), and unfortunately I spent most of our trip feeling internally stressed and disappointed in our new normal.  It's times like this that I'm thankful for God's grace, because even though I think I've arrived as a sacrificial mom, my desire for everyone else to serve me creeps up without warning.

Praise the Lord for the opportunity to travel, and for the perfect example Christ gave in laying down HIS life for us, when he was the one who deserved to be served.

(In case you were wondering, we visited the North Shore area in Minnesota on Lake Superior.  We stayed in a house near Lutsen and visited Duluth and Grand Marais.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just wait - I'm working on it!

It's VERY common in our house for children to have to wait for things.  I'm one mom with two arms and three boys.  Sometimes they all need something at once, and other times, I'm in the middle of other important things and they just have to wait a few minutes.  That's okay, and from my perspective as a mom, it's hopefully teaching long-term character qualities like patience and contentment.  I don't want my kids to have an attitude of 'want it now, get it now'.  So honestly, their waiting doesn't bother me much anymore (at least not as much as it did when I was a first time mom).

It would be easier for everyone if babies and toddlers could just comprehend statements like, "I'll working on it!" and "Hang tight, mommy knows that you are hungry!".  I'm often hopeful that they can be reassured of three things:
1.  That I hear them.
2.  That I'm doing something about it.
3.  That my timing is going to be good.  (even when I choose for them to wait)

Unfortunately, babies aren't like adults.  All they know is that they have a need...NOW...and you aren't taking care of it fast enough.

I'm convinced that one of God's ways of sanctifying us as parents is showing us little glimpses into our relationship with him as "Father".  And I think if we are honest, our hearts are much like babies and toddlers sometimes.
  • We cry (complain / grumble / whine to our friends) because we want and need things.
  • We don't really trust that our Father hears us - so we keep trying to either take care of it in our own way or we remain bitter and upset.
  • We aren't really sure that our Father knows our needs, and don't feel confident that he is doing something we can't see.
  • We haven't considered that our Father might be wanting us to wait for bigger and greater purposes (maybe even to teach us patience or contentment).
  • We don't believe that our Father has our best in mind and has better perspective than we do.
When I say, "Babies - I'm getting your bottles ready...I'm almost done...just wait a few minutes!", I'm reminded that God is in the process of meeting my needs too.  I might be doubting it or feeling confused about how God is going to take care of a situation, but I need to have faith that my Father is "making my bottle" (so to speak).

Of course one thing that doesn't carry exactly in this analogy, is that sometimes when we think we need something, God's answer might be "no" or "wait a really long time" or "I'm going to give you something completely different".  And even in this, I pray I can respond more like an adult who is okay with waiting a while (even for a lifetime), trusting my Father to give me only what's best for His glory and kingdom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Rest is Disguised as Work

Since I've had 3 little ones at home, I've found it more important than ever to strike a healthy balance between rest and work.  No matter how much I strive, there are always more crumbs under a high chair, more dirty clothes, and more unexpected spills.  The tasks never stop, and giving into the temptation to beat it once and for all can leave me drained and disappointed.  In the moments where I feel overwhelmed by having a toddler attached to my knees and babies on my hips, I sense God's word beckoning me to experience the blessing and command of sabbath rest.  Regardless of your season of life, you need to rest, or eventually you will experience negative consequences of trying to be all things to all people at all times.  

One of the more interesting things I've discovered about rest, is that it often comes disguised as work and things that might appear 'restful' sometimes end up being meaningless or even burdensome.  I've spent many rest times frustrated by this, and I wanted to share the way I've experienced this play out in my life.  (Maybe you can relate to some of them, and have a few to add to the list!)

*For the sake of this post, I'm defining 'rest' as: taking a break from our normal labor in order to re-gain strength, mentally, physically, and spiritually. 

Things that look restful (but really aren't)
1.  Browsing blogs, social media, and Pinterest.
This is one of my go-to 'restful' activities.  It tricks me nearly everyday.  I get a few minutes to myself and my immediate reaction is to pull out my computer or smartphone.  I figure it must be restful because I'm sitting down and I'm not having to think critically about anything.  However, 1 hour later, I usually find my heart in knots.  I've read a handful of controversial and divisive Christian blog posts (which have left me doubting all of my own biblical convictions), I've seen a massive array of home decor items I didn't know I was missing, and I've realized I forgot to Instagram my afternoon tea.  I usually end this time feeling let down and frustrated that I didn't do something more productive, because nap time is over and all I've done is scroll and click.

2.  Retail therapy.  (namely, walking around at Target)
If blogs, social media, and Pinterest are my go-to inside of the house 'rest' activities, then I would call retail therapy my go-to outside of the house activity.  When someone else is watching my kids for a few minutes, a trip to browse the aisles at Target with no one rushing me sounds like bliss.  I picture trying on flats, admiring the new throw pillows, and even digging through clearance items without the threat of anyone's temper tantrums.  But let's face it, when I leave Target with a cart full of items I didn't even know I needed, I don't exactly feel awesome.  I come down from that Target high, and I'm not even sure why I purchased more blue aztec print napkins.  Rest has slipped between my fingers once again, and now I'm wondering what to do with this new stuff I need to manage.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.  Trips to Target alone are nice, and it is fun to get new ideas on Pinterest.  I'm only saying that in my personal experience, these things aren't good substitutes for REST.  They might provide a entertainment and recreation, but I'm usually not returning to real life feeling energized and ready to go. 

Things that look like work (but can really provide rest)
1.  Exercise
Over 4 months ago, I started training for my first 5K.  Before that, I had not 'sweat' exercised consistently in almost a decade.  Sure, I live a fairly active lifestyle, but I was not a person who really pushed hard at physical exercise.  Running a 5K in July (albeit, slowly) really changed my mindset on these things.  What I've learned is that exercising (to the point where I'm breathing heavy and sweating for 30 minutes or more 3-5 days a week) significantly boosts my mood and energy levels.  Did I mention the word, significantly?  This was shocking to me.  When I take 30 minutes out of my evening or morning to exercise, it sounds like it's going to be a ton of work, but instead it leaves me energized to take on the day.  I never regret exercise (once it's over), and I can often use that time to listen to a sermon or reflect quietly on the things God is teaching me...which is extremely helpful!

2.  Studying scripture
When the kids go down for a nap, I often knee jerk to pull out the laptop, but I love it when I get out my study books instead.  It sounds a little like school work to voluntarily study a biblical doctrine or a few verses of the bible, but I find it to be extremely rewarding.  Getting my mind of off myself is crucial to good rest, and studying God's word gets my perspective right every time.  Worshipping God with my mind is very relaxing to me, and so is writing about what God is teaching me.  I can usually end this time by praying for God to help me re-align my heart and do the tasks at hand for his glory...which is exactly what rest is about!  

3.  Meeting with friends
Once again, it sounds like a lot of work (especially if you are a busy wife and / or mom) to find time to be with friends.  And for introverts, this might not be relaxing at all.  But I am really energized by good conversation over coffee.  In fact, if I'm in a funk and feeling a little isolated, I can usually trace it back to a lack of community and time with women who encourage me in my faith.  I've never left a time with girlfriends feeling more exhausted thinking, "that was draining and not worth it."  No!  I always leave encouraged to pursue Christ and tackle the callings God has laid before me.

4.  Keeping a tidy house
This one is a little tricky, because it requires work before rest (and sometimes if you work more, rest never comes).  But all I know is that when I've managed my house well and kept things tidy, I have a much more restful 'rest time' than if the place looks like a pit of destruction.  I've found that if I leave my cleaning for later, I'll often spend my time resting feeling slightly guilty (so it's hard to fully enjoy).  Also, I have to keep tabs on the clock for my rest if I don't clean ahead of time, because I know that I still need to get up and keep working (versus getting my work done and using the rest of the time for relaxation).  Just a thought!

5.  Crafting, creativity, and baking
Does anyone else feel like working with their hands is therapeutic?  Getting out the craft supplies or the sewing machine makes a huge mess (and one that does take more effort to clean up later), but it's almost always worth it.  Having an hour or two to sew quietly can do wonders for my mood and excitement to be with my kids later in the day.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but a little creativity and using my brain for other things I can focus on the joy of completing a project for fun...not because I have to, but because I like it.  The same is true for un-obligatory baking!

Of course, there are always obvious things that are restful no matter taking naps and having a quiet time reading and meditating on scripture.  And I don't think it's less spiritual to choose the nap - because God created us to need sleep and we are being prideful if we think we are that one superhuman who can survive well without it.  

What do you do for rest?

...and if you are struggling with resting a little too much, you might like this post on being a "Sluggish Woman" or my sister-in-law's thoughts on being a hard-working wife and mom.