It happens on a fairly-regular (more than I’d like to admit) basis where I find myself in a spiritual conversation of sorts and say out loud, ~or more likely say to myself~ “that’s in the Bible?!?!” Which can be a little embarrassing since I’ve been a Christ follower for pretty much all my conscious existence! And while I don’t feel the need to defend myself per se, let me encourage those of you who may have found yourselves in similar situations.
I have read through The Good Book cover to cover with certain ‘intentionality’ 4 times; which does not include all the other days that book has been opened before me in over 40 years of sermons, seminars, Sunday school classes, life group discussions, conferences, personal devotions and more. So,…. why do I continually find myself asking “That’s in the Bible?!?!”
Well, I can pretty much boil it down to the simple fact that the Bible is living (Hebrews 4:12, John 6:63, 1 Peter 1:23) and I take that to mean our encounter with God’s Word will be different every time we read, (as is our experience with every other living thing). There’s always something new to see … something unique to discover … something fresh to glean.
“…our encounter with God’s Word will be different every time we read…”
Christmas, in all its beauty, will be celebrated to the fullest tomorrow. Some families will finally put that baby Jesus figurine in their nativity sets, others will gather together to read the cherished Luke 2 passage and grateful words of thankfulness for the baby Jesus will be prayed all around the world. And when everyone goes home, and the tousled paper is piled high in the recycle bin, many will begin placing hopeful eyes on the New Year.
I love the exercise of resolutions. Don’t get me wrong. I rarely see my list of goals to the finish line but every attempt is still a success at moving towards good habits for my mind, body and soul. I ask myself the question, “what will my Bible reading resolution be this year?” I just read an article that said “most Christians approach yearly Bible reading goals with trepidation and guilt.” I get it. My goal to read the Chronological Bible in a year accidentally stretched into a 3-year goal. Literally December 31st of THE THIRD YEAR I was cramming down that super-easy Revelation-read at about 11:45 pm….And just to be super honest with y’all, I didn’t get to: “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)”until after the clock rolled past 12… so yeah, technically I was in my 4th year before I actually finished…but who’s counting?
Friends, that is still a success. Taking three years (and one day) to read through The Bible started years and years prior when I first resolved to read the New Testament in a year. (Are you looking for an easy goal? Start there!) And that goal turned into an Old Testament read-through plan the following year.
As you consider your 2019 plan for personal time in God’s Word, know there are lots of creative ways to approach it. Find something that excites you and remember; taking the time is a great win all by itself. If you need a little inspiration, here’s a link to some different Bible reading plans (Click this link here)(and another here).
Do you have some interesting Bible studies/plans that worked for you? Tell us about it in the comment section! Let’s learn from each other and “spur one another on to good reads!” (Hebrews 10:24~ish)
“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”
– Psalm 78:5-7
I accepted Christ as my Savior in 7th grade. My mom and step-dad had faithfully been taking me to church since I was in the 5th grade and I enjoyed being at church because it was fun getting mixed up in different shenanigans with my friends. I remember during bible study one night, I slapped a girl (who would later become my dear friend) and as I tried to flee the scene, her brothers pinned me up against a window…hard… which ended up breaking the window. Don’t worry our youth pastor fixed it!
As time passed, the church experienced a split and slowly my friends began to dwindle down to one. I, unfortunately, was simultaneously dealing with some really hard times at home as my family was also splitting apart. By the time high school rolled around I had established deep into my school community of friends and in the marching band. That was the community I belonged to and I would visit the church from time to time. Looking back, the people speaking into my life at church were my pastor (Pastor Bob), my youth pastor’s wife (Shannon Clifton) and a former youth leader (Julie Manriquez). 3 people. Three people would ask how I was doing and check in from time to time, but this was not enough to keep me in the church. I had become a visitor to the church and did not feel like I belonged.
After I had my first daughter I met with Pastor Bob and told him that I wanted my daughter to have a different experience in the church than I did. I wanted her to have real friends at the church. His question to me was “What are you going to do about it?” It sounds simple but it took me back. I hadn’t really considered how this was in my control and good intentions would not be enough. We can want this for our children but unless we do something about it nothing will change. That was when I decided to get really involved at Green Hills. I desired for my children to have a real sense of belonging to the church but I realized that just bringing them would not be enough.
“We can want this for our children but unless we do something about it nothing will change.”
I got to attend the ELRC Parenting Conference this last week and one thing that they kept repeating was the importance of having 5 people pouring into the life of our kids. They referenced a study that showed, students who had deep and long lasting roots into their faith and faith community typically had 5 people investing in them as they were growing up and those who drifted from the faith usually had 3 or less. See, our kids will find a sense of community and belonging somewhere and they will be visitors everywhere else. Their spiritual foundation must always be the home. We, as parents, need to be teaching them and modeling for them what it means to walk with Jesus and how they can live that out too. But unless we have a tribe behind us, this will likely not be enough to stick. I went to church, my mom taught me the love Jesus but that was not enough. I had 3 people. 3 was not enough.
I know you’re probably thinking “you’re the children’s director! How was it not enough?” Let me tell you! God intervened in a HUGE way! My mom made me go to Biola. For that, I am forever thankful. If not for her push, I have no idea how different my life would look today. Biola thrust me back to the church and back to Lord, coupled with a few tough times along the way. Tough times can be refining but I certainly don’t want to invite additional difficulty for my own girls or anyone else’s kids either!
Church members,…I need your help. I need the help of other faithful followers of Jesus who are willing to pour into the life of my girls. We all need a tribe of other believers pouring into the lives of our kids (and we need at least 5). I think of those giving of themselves to the betterment of my girls and pray that they continue to do so all their lives. I want Kailey and Bella to have their community (family) be that of the church so they become visitors at school, on the sports team, etc…
Proverbs 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companions of fools, will suffer harm.”
I want my girls to seek wisdom from the people at the church because I know they will speak into them the love of Jesus.
One of the biggest problems for the global church today is that students aren’t staying in the church after high school. We need students to stay and the only way that will happen is if we are investing into the lives of the kids in the church. Not just one or 2 people pouring into them but 5. We need 5 people pouring into their lives.
Parents: Who are the 5 people pouring into the lives of your kids?
Church Members: Who are the kids you are pouring into?
We are losing students all the time to sports, band, school etc. We need to give them a sense of belonging, first, to the church.
Cuando era un niño mi tío Milo se acercó a mí una vez y dijo: “Martin, tienes que orar por todo!” … ¿”Todo”? Le pregunté-… “Sí,” dijo, “todo”. Desde ese momento comencé a preguntarme; ¿Cómo puedo orar por todo lo que hago? ¿Es eso posible? ¿Es bíblico? No me tomó mucho tiempo para averiguar cuan significativa era esa declaración. 1 Tesalonicenses 5:17 dice: “Orad sin cesar”. la oración es parte fundamental en la vida de un cristiano. Estamos llamados a orar ~ no sólo sin cesar, sino por todo; incluso por nuestros enemigos.
“La oración es parte fundamental de la vida de un cristiano.”
El pasado mes de enero nuestro Pastor Jared, me pidió que tomara el liderazgo en los ministerios de misiones y alcance de nuestra iglesia, y como de costumbre, dije “sí. No hay problema.” Pero con el paso del tiempo me di cuenta de que la responsabilidad que heredé necesitaba mucho más que decir “sí, no hay problema,” se necesita mucha oración. Oración no sólo de mí parte, sino de mi familia, mi familia de la iglesia y cada cristiano en el cuerpo de Cristo, porque el ministerio de misiones requiere de mucha oración y trabajo en equipo.
Recuerdo cuando era niño que siempre disfrutaba de la llegada de los grupos misioneros a nuestra iglesia en San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Recuerdo la experiencia desafiante para comunicarnos en un lenguaje “híbrido” (signos y palabras en inglés) pero a pesar de las barreras del idioma, todos encontrábamos unidad a través de la oración. Hoy, tengo la bendición de estar en el otro lado de este ministerio de misiones. He sido parte de dos viajes misioneros a Guatemala, y ahora estoy preparando dos grupos misioneros para ser enviados al centro y sudeste de Asia para compartir el Evangelio. ¡Ese niño Hondureño nunca se hubiera imaginado esto! Siento que el Señor me dio el entrenamiento para ser un misionero antes de tiempo. Pero entiendo que con la formación y deseo de servir en misiones no es suficiente para hacer que las cosas sucedan. Necesitamos unirnos en oración para tener éxito en compartir el Evangelio. Es lo que Santiago dice en 5:16 “… “La oración eficaz del justo puede lograr mucho…. ”
“Necesitamos unirnos en oración para tener éxito en compartir el Evangelio “.
Durante el pasado mes de marzo nuestra iglesia se unió en oración todos los días al mediodía por todos los cristianos que han sido afectados por los cambios políticos relacionados con cuestiones de inmigración. Este mes de julio estamos desafiando otra vez al cuerpo de Cristo a comprometerse a orar al mediodia por los grupos misioneros que serán enviados en los viajes de corto plazo. Al orar con nosotros, usted será parte importante de estos grupos. No importa donde esté en ese momento, levante a nuestros grupos en oración para que puedan seguir con la misión de Dios para compartir el Evangelio. Tengo que decir que tío Milo tenía razón acerca de orar por todo,.. .pero me gustaría añadir, no solo por todo; Necesitamos orar ~juntos~ por todo. ¿Se compromete a orar junto a nosotros todo el mes de julio?
When I was a child my uncle Milo came up to me once and said: “¡Martín, tienes que orar por todo!” Translation: “Martin, you have to pray for everything!”… “Everything?” I asked- … “Yes,” he said, “everything.” From that moment I began to ask myself; how can I pray for everything I do? Is that possible? Is it biblical? It didn’t take me long to find out how significant that statement really was. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says: “pray without ceasing” Prayer is a critical part of a Christian’s life. We are called to pray ~not just without ceasing, but for everything; even for our enemies.
“Prayer is a critical part of a Christian’s life.”
Last January our Senior Pastor, Jared, asked me to take leadership over all the Missions and Outreach Ministries of our church, and as usual, I said “Yes. No problem.” But as time went by I realized that the responsibility I inherited needed more than just saying “yes, no problem,” it needed a lot of prayer. Prayer not just from myself, but from my family, my church family and every Christian in the body of Christ because Missions requires a lot of prayer and team work.
I remember as a kid always enjoying the arrival of mission teams to our church in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I remember the challenging experience to communicate in a “hybrid language” (signs and few words in English) but despise the language barriers, we all found unity … through prayer. Today, I have the blessing of being on the other side of these types of missions efforts. I have been part of two mission trips to Guatemala, and now I am preparing two teams to be sent to Central and South East Asia to share the gospel. That little boy from Honduras never could have imagined this! It feels like The Lord gave me the training to be a missioner ahead of time. But I understand that having the training and desire to go on missions is not enough to make things happen. We need to come together in prayer to have success in sharing the gospel. That is what James says in 5: 16 “…The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much…”
“You can be an important part of these teams by praying along with us.”
Last March our church prayed every day at noon for all Christians who were affected by the political changes as it related to immigration issues. In July we are challenging the body again to commit to pray every day at noon for mission teams that are being sent out on short term trips. You can be an important part of these teams by praying along with us. It doesn’t matter where you are at that time, just lift up our teams in prayer so they can carry on with God’s mission to share the gospel. I would have to say that uncle Milo was right about praying for everything, …but I’d add, not just for everything; we need to pray ~together~ for everything. Will you commit to praying together with us throughout all of July?
I grew up in church my entire life. As a kid, I learned all the stories in Sunday School, memorized all the verses in AWANA, and had many godly people pouring into my life and relationship with God. But none of that could compare to the life transformation that took place in me when I started doing one simple thing… studying the Bible for myself.
I was in Jr. High at the time and, honestly, living a pretty hypocritical life. I went through all the right motions at church, but at school would do anything to fit in and be popular. During those years I continued to be involved in our church’s youth ministry and had different men leading me in a small group setting as well as mentoring me on a personal level. On one occasion, I remember a volunteer leader named Matt talking to me about the importance of studying my Bible for myself. Now, I already knew the Bible was important. I already knew it was the very Word of God. I already knew it was the authority in my life. (Remember, I went through AWANA!) But that day talking with Matt he made me act on what I knew. He said, “Jared, I challenge you to read your Bible every day for the next month.” Whoa whoa whoa, why so legalistic? It’s not legalistic, it’s that Matt knew the Bible could do something I needed most. So, I was up for the challenge and jumped in.
I don’t remember what book of the Bible I started studying. I don’t know if you could even say I was studying the Bible, because all I knew at the time was how to read it. But each day I would get ready for school and before leaving I would read one chapter. Maybe on an especially good day I would pray when I was done reading that chapter. And you know what happened? Nothing. I can’t remember any new insights of God that took place those first two weeks as I read the Bible. But then I missed a day of reading.
The one month challenge of reading the Bible every day got the best of me and I failed. I hate failure. But guess what happened on that day. I remember standing outside on the field at recess, as a seventh grader, and whatever the circumstances where, I was having a bad day. So I stopped just for a moment and started thinking, “What’s wrong with me today?” I even said a quick prayer to ask God what was wrong with me. (He could have listed a whole bunch of things when I opened up that can… but He didn’t.) All I remember sensing at that time in my mind or heart, or both, was I didn’t read the Bible today! I DIDN’T READ GOD’S WORD TODAY!
That’s when it struck me. There was something different about this book than any other book I had ever read. This book wasn’t as much about me reading it for comprehension, as it was about opening my life to allow God to read me and guide me. That’s what did it for me. The challenge resumed, but not as a challenge, as a new desire in my heart to actually get to interact with and know the Almighty!
This book wasn’t as much about me reading it for comprehension, as it was about opening my life to allow God to read me and guide me.
I wish I could say that every day since has started with a deep time in God’s Word, but it hasn’t. The more complex my life became, the harder it was to prioritize time with God. See, many Christians (maybe even the majority) struggle with reading the Bible daily because it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in their lives and to top it off, it’s hard to understand sometimes. But let me give some tips I’ve learned over the years following my realization of the importance of reading the Bible. And not only reading your Bible, but studying God’s Word. And not only studying to understand, but studying to be transformed by God. I’m not always ritualistic about this process, but here are some steps I try to take when I encounter God’s Word, both in preparation for preaching as well as personal study.
Start with prayer.
It doesn’t have to be long, but start by asking God to use this time to shape you. A prayer I like to say is something I picked up from one of my theology professors in college, “Lord, open your Word to my mind that I may understand it. And open my heart to your Word that I may be transformed by it.”
Ask questions of the text.
Read a section of verses as many times as needed and simply come up with questions. For example: Who is saying this? Who is receiving this? Where are they located? What does that word mean? Are there any repeated words or themes? Etc. This is a hard step to take because we can be in such a hurry to figure out what a passage means. But good questions will help reveal the meaning. Also, a pen and paper are handy for this step.
Write a sentence or two capturing the “big idea”.
Once you’ve gathered the big themes from your selected verses, make an attempt at stating the overall message or “big idea” in your own words. You might want to write several drafts of this statement to refine the words that really capture the heart of the passage. And don’t be scared about getting the “right answer”. This is about you drawing near to God, not taking a quiz.
Pray about how it applies to you and changes your life.
Finally, and most importantly, reflect on your own life in light of what God’s Word says. Are there sins to confess? Relationships that need to be restored? Habits that need to be started or stopped? The Bible is not just to be understood but to be practiced so our lives are transformed by God Himself. And transformation doesn’t happen after one time of studying, or one month of studying. We invest in the long-term process of God’s authoritative Word molding us over months and years and decades of communing with Him.
Where will you begin?
If this excites you but you don’t know where to start, consider studying the gospel of Mark. At Green Hills we’ll be hearing sermons from this book for the next 7 months, so let’s dig in and seek to know Jesus more as we strive to follow Him more closely.
In the month of March, our Spanish speaking congregation decided to pray every day at noon for our Nation’s current political climate, specifically as it relates to immigration. It was an intriguing idea so I thought I might give a try, after all, it appeared to be a fairly low commitment with a clear end date. Now, I’m not here to declare one way or another the merits of immigration laws. Instead however, I’d like to reflect on my own journey as I “Prayed Through” the month with my Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters.
It should be noted that I am a third-generation, Mexican-American who speaks only English, (except when I’m at a Mexican restaurant ordering Carne Asada Enchiladas. Suddenly, I have a great Spanish accent). So whenever threats of immigration-crack-down blast through my TV, I don’t have any personal apprehension about my future. And if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t typically consider others who are daily living in the fear of suddenly being uprooted from a future they’ve dreamed of for themselves, their children and their children’s children. When it comes to immigration, it might be fair to say that I’m somewhat apathetic.
I don’t typically consider others who are daily living in the fear of suddenly being uprooted from a future they’ve dreamed of for themselves, their children and their children’s children.
Praying through is not about convenience. It’s about consistency. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” ~Romans 12:12
After praying through for a month straight, I’ve discovered there isn’t a “perfect time,” free from any potential inconvenience. Had I picked an early morning, I certainly would have “slept through” instead of prayed through. Likewise, my evenings are filled with long rehearsals and hang outs so…again no dependable free time.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have set my alarm to go off at noon every day but that was the declared time so I followed suit. There were a few lunch meetings when that alarm starting buzzing unexpectedly. But while it might not have always been ideal, that alarm never let me forget to pray. Some days may have gotten snoozed more than others but every single day saw me pause to lift up other people sometime between noon and 1pm.
It didn’t HAVE TO happen at noon. It just HAD TO happen. Without the alarm, I would have conveniently missed my opportunity to stop and pray daily. Stopping to pray was not always convenient but it was most certainly consistent.
Praying through was made complete because I was praying through with others. “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, you also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:10b-11
My friend had also taken on the month-long endeavor and it served both as an encouragement and accountability as we checked in with each other. I know it’s much more spiritual to pray in the secret recesses of my prayer closet…a holy time just between me and the Lord but this was a higher level of discipline and I needed the accountability to see it through. I needed to check in with someone else who understood what it meant when I said, “I’m struggling to think of different ways to pray over the same topic.” It was he who asked if this exercise had spurred me to talk about immigration with people who better understood its implications. Without his simple but ingenious encouragement, I would have prayed in uninspiring, monotonous circles.
Then, on March 31st, at about 12:08, I was filled with joy that I had actually done it! I had prayed through, every day, for a whole month. And since I knew my friend was also feeling something similar, I felt compelled to text him se we could rejoice together. I was a part of a bigger prayer effort because he was doing it too…and we were a part of something even grander because the entire Spanish congregation was lifting one another up every day, along with us. Friends, That’s a lot of prayer.
Praying through opened the eyes of my heart to a hurting world – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4
At the advice of my friend, I started talking with families who were feeling the pains of this immigration concern and my heart was broken when one young man said, “you can pray for my little sister. She is paranoid that the police are going to take our parents away and she will be all alone.” This pierced my heart through my throat. I know this family. They are very good, God-fearing people. This is not something that should be burdening a sweet young child. I now had several days of prayer fuel.
At about day 23, I was spending the afternoon with my daughter and my 12 o’clock alarm started buzzing while we were getting pedicures. As I considered how I would direct my prayers, my mind focused on the Vietnamese lady before me, cheerfully working away. I wondered what she thought about this immigration situation. She unlocked my limited view and I instantly envisioned our hurting world in desperate need of the peace and hope that comes only from knowing Jesus Christ. She was the one who helped me see beyond myself, beyond our laws, even beyond the Spanish, to something much, much bigger. The next 8 days of prayer took on a whole new level of urgency.
I believe it’s fairer now to say that my apathy for immigration reform has been transformed into a more passionate empathy for the world around; all because I committed to pray through with my friends.