by Keith Ferrin, Guest Writer
The new year is upon us. For most people, that means New Year’s Resolutions. And for most Christians, one of the resolutions includes some form of the phrase “read the Bible more consistently.”
But how do we do it? How do we stick with it? How do we find a way to truly connect with God through His Word on a regular basis?
Helping people answer these questions has been my passion – and the centerpiece of my writing and speaking ministry – for the last 22 years.
In all transparency, I am passionate about it because I haven’t always loved the Bible. There…I said it.
I always felt like I “should” read it more consistently. I “should” know it better after being in the church my whole life. I “should” talk about it more. I “should” memorize more verses. The “shoulds” kept piling up…for almost 25 years!
Then, beginning in the spring of 1993, the “should” changed to “want.” It was amazing!
I started looking at the Bible differently. I started reading it differently. I started enjoying it more. I started studying it in a way that I remembered it days and weeks later. My time in the Word began to have a greater impact on my everyday life.
In short, I made two shifts in my Bible reading.
Pause and ask yourself this question: Why do I read the Bible?
What was your answer? I have asked this question hundreds of times to thousands of people. A majority of the time, the answer comes down to something like this…
“I read the Bible to know what God wants me to know, so I can do what God wants me to do, and live a life that glorifies Him.”
Sounds good, right? After all, knowing, doing, living, and glorifying are good things!
While all four of these are fantastic, I no longer believe they are the primary reason for being in God’s Word. Here is what God revealed to me over the course of 12-18 months starting in the spring of 1993…
“The primary purpose for reading the Bible is to hang out with Jesus. The Bible is the only book that’s ever been written for the purpose of helping you fall in love with the Author.”
Put even more simply: Read the Bible relationally, not informationally.
The best part is that the more relational our approach – and the more we fall in love with Jesus – the more He will teach us, encourage us, shape us, challenge us, and mold us into people who live lives that glorify Him.
We are not setting aside knowing, doing, living, and glorifying. We still accomplish all of those things as an outflowing of the beautiful relationship God has desired all along!
My approach to HOW I study the Bible (and the flaws I see with many of the Bible study methods I have tried in the past) can best be explained by thinking about movies. (Yup…movies.)
I love movies. Funny. Moving. Intense. True stories. Twisty-Turny. I love all kinds of movies.
Now, imagine you and I sit down to watch a movie neither of us has ever seen. The opening credits fade into the first scene. We are both drawn into the characters, setting, and mood of the film. As Scene 1 transitions to Scene 2, I push the Pause button and say, “Let’s discuss that. What did you think?”
After an awkward conversation, I push Play and we watch Scene 2. Then I pause the movie again and want to discuss it. Then Scene 3…
What do you think? Would you enjoy that? Me neither!
And yet, don’t we frequently do that with the Bible? We read one verse, or maybe a chapter. Then we study it, think about what it means, and try to find the truth to apply. The next day, we do it again.
We study the scenes before we watch the movie!
Don’t get me wrong. Studying the “scenes” in the Bible is immensely valuable. However, if you truly want to enjoy the Bible watching the “movie” of an entire book is where we need to start.
If you and I watch a movie, and after the movie we discuss a scene, character, or plot twist, the watching AND the discussing will BOTH be enjoyable.
If you want to enjoy – and remember – what you read in the Bible, start with a relational mindset. Then pick up a book of the Bible and “watch the movie.” Read the book – in its entirety – every day for a couple weeks. Then go back and “study the scenes.”
You will be amazed at how much more you see. And how much more you enjoy what you read!
Keith Ferrin is the author of Falling in Love with God's Word. If you would like to hear more from Keith, register for his webinar, Jumpsart YOUR Time in God's Word on January 18, 2018!
Founder of That You May Know Ministries, Keith has been doing Scripture presentations since March 1996. He has served as a speaker for retreats, conferences, outreach events, and fundraisers. His practical, humorous, and thought-provoking style makes the Word come alive for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. From December of 1991 to August of 1997, Keith was a youth and worship pastor in Tacoma, Washington. Since then, That You May Know Ministries has been his primary vocation.
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Acts 21:13
Paul was a man on a mission, headed for Jerusalem—even when common sense stood in the way. In Acts 21 we see the story of Paul’s travels and a couple of uncommon occurrences. First, in Acts 21:4 the disciples warn Paul (through the spirit of God, no less) not to set foot in Jerusalem.
Yet, Paul appears to ignore this counsel, instead moving toward that very city, stopping in Caesarea to stay with Philip the evangelist. While there, we have our second uncommon occurrence: A prophet, Agabus, came from Judea. He took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands saying, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
Those gathered did what any of us would likely do; they begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). Common sense, right? How many times did God have to make this clear?
Everything added up perfectly. Paul’s response then, should have been, “I’ll stay right here with you folks; Jerusalem is off my list of destinations.”
But Paul decided to go anyway. Some might read this and say, “This was Paul’s mistake.” Maybe they are right.
Perhaps however, Paul was being given a choice. Knowing danger awaited in Jerusalem, he could choose the common-sense path and avoid persecution. Or, he could go forward in service to Christ, knowing exactly what was ahead.
Agabus’ prophecy proved correct. In Jerusalem, Paul was dragged from the temple, beaten and bound with chains (Acts 21:30-33).
Yet something else happened in Jerusalem, too. Jews and Gentiles alike were encouraged through Paul’s visit there. In addition, the good news flourished, even as Paul experienced incarceration and several trials.
In our lives and in our work, sometimes all the arrows appear to point toward a common-sense decision. Sometimes, those arrows are correct. But we need to at least leave room for uncommon-sense decisions which appear to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
We must also be aware that “uncommon” decisions can lead to trial. We might lose something—as Paul lost a portion of his freedom—through an uncommon-sense decision.
Biblical historians may argue over whether Paul made the right choice, but we can know this: Paul’s decision was based on a desire to serve his master, and to take the good news message anywhere it was needed—no matter the personal cost. Because of Paul’s decision to think in terms of serving, God continued to use him in a mighty way.
When we find our work has a cost, we can take heart. We may not always make the correct decision, but we can know that if our heart is one of servanthood, God can work through us in ways we cannot imagine.
by Jay Hobbs, Communications and Marketing Director
You’d be hard-pressed to wordsmith a more hopeless turn of phrase than what we find in Isaiah 8:20—especially if you’ve ever endured a sleepless night, searching the horizon for the first sign of sunlight.
In his indictment of the self-righteous Southern Kingdom of Israel, the prophet Isaiah charges that, rather than hearing the word of God and listening to it, the nation’s leaders and teachers had shrunk back in embarrassment from God’s truth.
“To the teaching and to the testimony!” calls Isaiah, with the fervor of a battle-tested general. “If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
And there’s the hammer: “They have no dawn.”
What could be more hopeless than an endless night, with no hope that the sun will ever shed its glorious rays? Like nothing else on earth, sunlight dispels the gloom of night, giving life and vitality to what was—just moments before—cloaked in mystery and doubt.
And at that moment in history, Israel’s dawnless night was about to get far worse. Soon, all of the Northern Kingdom would be occupied by Assyria while the Southern Kingdom would be led off into 70 years of Babylonian captivity, only to return to a land laid bare in their two generations of expulsion.
Called and beloved as the people of God—His own vessel for shedding the light of His glory to the surrounding nations—Israel was plunged into “distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish,” Isaiah says to conclude chapter 8.
A darkness with no dawn. Sounds almost too bad to be true, until you realize that it’s not just a people in some far off land who walked through this night. It’s all of us, wandering hopelessly through the darkness.
It’s a darkness written all over the faces of the women we serve every day. A darkness that’s often intensified by a lifetime of broken promises and emotional abandonment has now come to another point of darkness.
To her, it’s a darkness without any hope of a dawn.
Kind of makes you want to light that first Advent candle—the “Hope” candle—and sing a Christmas carol, doesn’t it?
Amazingly, that’s just what Isaiah does. In the very next verse, he delivers a message from the Lord that, against this grim backdrop: “There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish” (Isaiah 9:1).
Instead of gloom, shame and devastation, God would bring about a glorious change that wouldn’t just heal Israel, but would extend God’s love and favor to those of “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9).
Against the deepest darkness of a dawnless night, and into “a land of deep darkness,” God was going to one day bring light: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).
Of course, looking ahead 700 years from Isaiah’s word, Jesus himself—“The true light, which gives light to everyone.” (John 1:9)—would fulfill this prophecy. Against all odds and amid the wreckage of abandoned hope, God shed His light onto a darkened world.
This Christmas season, we remember that the hope of light has come into our darkened world. And that light’s name is Jesus.
May our hearts be enlightened by His Advent, and may God shine His light on every woman, every man and every child we seek to serve this season.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” James 1:19
We’ve been told countless times how we should be “slow to speak and slow to anger,” as James writes. Many of us have been taught to “count to ten” before we speak, so that we won’t be driven by impulse and say the wrong thing.
This is important wisdom we should live by each day.
And yet, there is something else in James’ exhortation to his readers: an admonition to be “quick to hear.” It’s an interesting use of words, isn’t it? For how can we hear “quickly?”
As we know, James is not talking about jumping to conclusions on what we are hearing, or listening “fast” so we can get it over with. Perhaps James wants us to focus in on those we are listening to, saying to ourselves, “What this person is about to say is important to me. They need my undivided attention, and quick-like.”
Too often we can find ourselves “waiting to speak” instead of stopping to truly listen. Because of this, we have miscommunication, which can lead to frustration, division and anger. But when we are “quick” to listen, we set aside our desire to create a retort and instead wait patiently to hear the core of what our friend is saying.
James is a practical writer. Later in his letter he will tell us how faith must lead to actions on our part, or it is not faith at all.
In this short excerpt, James wants us to know faith leads to listening with our whole heart. When we choose to listen with all we have—and choose to focus on our speaker in a hurry—many potential problems are averted.
As we serve those we see, let’s be quick to listen. We might hear a heart which is open to the love and faith we offer.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” Colossians 4:5
When we see attacks on pregnancy help ministries by those who oppose us, our first reaction can be to fight back, and sometimes we must do those things necessary to repel these onslaughts.
For instance, when we see false reviews of our ministries on Facebook, Google and Yelp we must set the record straight. It’s unfair not just to us, but to our potential patients and clients, when a false review deters them from seeking our services.
And yet Paul, in wisdom that can only come from the Lord, writes that we must “conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders . . .” Outsiders are those outside of the faith, like so many who work with the abortion industry.
Wisdom dictates that in our communication with these outsiders, we must, as Paul says, make “the most of the opportunity.” Where we see a threat—and it is—Paul sees something greater; an opportunity.
When attacks come, we have an opportunity to do so many things: We can show the world how Christians best respond to attacks, shining the light of Christ in a dark world. We can show our clients and patients we are never deterred and always looking out for their best interests.
In addition, we can show the abortion industry—the very group attacking us—that we will not cower but will choose to advance as we love those who come in our door.
Every outsider, whether a client, patient or even one who wishes to tear us down, is an opportunity. When we begin to look at each person or each situation as an opportunity instead of as a trial, we find the wisdom we need to reach out with love, compassion and strength.
So, who is coming in the door today? Is it someone with a problem? Or is this someone who presents an opportunity to show the love of Christ?
Paul had the wisdom to find opportunities in all situations, whether in a jail with Silas in Acts 16 when they sang and a miracle took place, or in front of kings, as he shared his message. Paul was an ordinary person with an extraordinary message.
And that makes us . . . just like Paul. Let’s look for opportunities. We never know what God might do.
by Hannah Ellis, International Program Specialist
In a recent piece on Pregnancy Help News, Heartbeat shared that Life Choices, a pregnancy help organization in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, is on the verge of opening their first maternity home, “The Inn.”
After hearing the story of the home’s beginnings from Christy Pittman, Project Coordinator, and Bri Sherman, Development Assistant, I noticed a prominent theme that may be helpful to share with others in the pregnancy help movement as you strategize for the future.
In the beginning, Life Choices had a plan for the new maternity home.
Initially, they wanted a large structure that had a lot of rooms (eight, if you want to get specific). Yet, in their searching and looking at properties, God kept bringing them back to the idea of focusing on the relationships with the clients more than the structure of the program. When they began praying through properties, that’s when the funds started coming in and God showed them the house He had for them – a smaller, more intimate house with potential for growth.
Throughout the decision-making process, Christy and Bri realized they also needed to let go of their control over the details of the houseparent situation, and just a week after they did, a couple surfaced who wanted to fill the role.
The team officially closed on the maternity house this summer, and they have begun buying supplies and setting up policies and programming—which, it goes without saying, will be easier to implement in the smaller house. The staff is overjoyed about The Inn, and the official housewarming party will be on September 22, 2017. They are inviting supporters and community members, and are fully anticipating a waiting list.
Life Choice’s motto is “every life valued.” At the new maternity home—named after the inn that was too full for our Lord’s birth—the motto is “two lives at a time.” The Inn offers a safe haven for these women, where there hasn’t been room for them anywhere else. These young women now have a place of refuge where they are free to choose a parenting direction that is best for them.
Proverbs 16 tells us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Christy and Bri look back now and laugh about their wanting to be in control and said they’ve “learned to let go and let God move.” He has shown that His faithfulness and provision is beyond their own understanding.
Don’t we do that all too often?
We do more planning than praying and more scheming than surrendering, only to find out God’s design is far better than we could think up or imagine. It’s almost like giving an architect a blueprint for how to build our house. Except, add in the fact that the Architect doesn’t follow human rules or reasoning, and sees the whole picture where we see only a part.
When our Crayola-drawn blueprint gets superimposed with His intricate plan, we are humbled to a place of total trust in His more than capable hands.
What about you? Are you holding on to your design with a tight grip? Or, are you letting God hold the pen as He drafts His intricately beautiful plan? Let’s put the crayons down and instead clasp those hands in prayer, asking God what He wants to do. Trust me; He will blow your mind with what He’ll use you to accomplish.
Ephesians 3:20 – “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
“By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
One of the easiest answers in the Bible is found when we pose the question, “How can I show others my faith?”
While there are a variety of characteristics a Christian might display—including the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)—there is one salient attribute the outside world will never overlook: Love for one another.
Jesus’ words in John 13:35 often wind up on our refrigerators, in memes on the internet and on tee shirts. But here’s a question: Do we really get it?
I’ll be the first to admit, I enjoy digging around in scripture to find powerful truths and unique ways to highlight these thoughts. But in the middle of reading, studying and writing on these subjects, am I taking the time to love those who share this faith with me?
Am I making it the priority in my life to love my fellow believers so that others will know—without a doubt—we are all Christians, faithfully following Jesus Christ?
There are evangelism courses all over the place. There are writings on topics relating to defining our faith, sharing our faith and defending our faith. These are all good, and important. No question about it.
But I must ask the question of myself: Is living my faith by loving my fellow followers the key focus of my faith? Or is “the love thing” simply a sweet ditty of Jesus; a nice thing to hear, or a good subject for an occasional devotional?
Just before speaking the words above Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Do I take this command to heart so strongly that I truly believe our love for each other is all we need to identify ourselves to a hurting world?
Because if I believe “love for one another” will make everyone see the power and the impact of our faith, I also understand the first logical step in reaching more people with the message of Good News Jesus offered is . . . love.
“Love one another” is more than icing on the Christian cake. It is the nourishment which fuels a healthy body of Christ. When we love, we create a powerful, engaging incentive for those outside of the faith to say, “Can I join, too?”
The woman said to him, “I know that messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when that one comes he will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:25-26
Before his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” and as the son of God. While we understand the meaning and power of these terms today, if we read Jesus’ first references to himself, those listening might not have captured their importance.
For instance, God referred to the prophet Ezekiel as “son of man” on many occasions. And the Israelite people saw themselves as children of God, so “son of God” could have had multiple meanings without full context.
The point here is that early in his ministry, few if any fully realized who Jesus was. Except for a woman of Samaria; a woman with a checkered past, drawing water from a well outside of her city.
Remember, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting their messiah, the Christ. In their minds, this messiah would usher in a new kingdom. They were right that the messiah will rule a coming kingdom; they didn’t understand this kingdom would not come immediately.
Who would Jesus tell first that he was the messiah for whom all of Israel was waiting? Would he tell a religious leader? One of his disciples? A power broker in the Roman Empire?
None of the above.
In a quiet, one-on-one conversation, Jesus chose a woman who was likely called many names for her improprieties with men. With her, he spoke directly, saying, “I who speak to you am he.”
This woman didn’t have to answer carefully-crafted questions, or work through parables. Instead, Jesus was direct and forthright. And her entire life changed. Suddenly she was telling those in her community about this man who she believed to be sent from God to save the people.
The result? “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.’” (John 4:39)
Those entering the door to a pregnancy help ministry appear—at least to most—to be the most unlikely to spread the gospel message. Sure, many applaud us for reaching out to these with checkered stories. But they don’t think much change will take place. Perhaps we don’t, either.
Yet we must keep in mind, this is who Jesus chose first. Because he did, the good news of the kingdom of God took off in a Samaritan city.
Apparently, Jesus gave hope to a Samaritan woman. We can do the same. And when we do, we never know how far that hope might spread.
by Jennifer Minor, Editor/Writer, Heartbeat International
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also ... saying that there is another king, Jesus.” Acts 17:6-7 (ESV)
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Acts of the Apostles. I love seeing the commitment of the early Christians, the conversion of Paul, the change in the Apostles after Pentecost, the community life of new churches, and of course, the way the entire world was shaken by the Gospel.
In Acts 17, we see an accusation of just that, when Paul and Silas come to Thessalonica, proclaiming Jesus as King.
"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also," the rabble yells, "... saying that there is another king, Jesus."
How? By proclaiming that Jesus is King.
Now this particular accusation was against Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, where Paul was speaking in the synagogue about Jesus Christ, but that’s not the only way to proclaim Christ’s kingship.
We proclaim that Jesus is King every time we show love for His sake. Every time we speak truth into someone’s life, offer material assistance to someone in need, invite supporters to participate in the lifesaving work in our organizations, begin to mentor a young woman or man, we proclaim that there is some authority higher than this world.
And every time we do it, we turn the world upside down – for the good.
This world that says women can’t have kids and an education or career, that encourages women to take an “easy way out” through abortion – that tries to convince us that freedom means no consequences – that shouts about claiming rights for women by taking away the rights of their children.
It's a world crying out for a Christ-centered upheaval and we're just the ones to do it.
If you can’t see this world being turned upside down, there’s plenty of evidence. Life is winning. There are national political gains, visible drops in the number of abortions performed in the United States, and even public opinion turning more and more pro-life.
It’s not always easy to see how our daily work is making the difference on the world scale, but every woman, man and child who lands in our centers is going through a major world change. We are there to make sure it’s a positive one.
We turn a woman's world upside down when we show her the love and support she needs to be a mother. We turn a new father's world upside down when we challenge him to step up as a protector for his child. We turn a child's world upside down when we help ensure that he or she is born and loved and cherished.
And it’s our commitment to Jesus Christ, King of Kings, that continues to turn the world upside down today, just as Paul and Silas did in Acts.
“And grant that your bond servants may speak your word with all confidence.” Acts 4:29B
At many of our ministries we start the day with prayer. We may do so individually, or in a group as the early church in Acts 4. Few of us face the situation they confronted, but even today we would be wise to pray as they did.
Setting the context, the religious leadership arrested Peter and John for the “sin” of healing a lame beggar and following up the miracle by preaching the good news message. After a quick convocation amongst themselves, they ordered the two apostles to stop preaching—immediately.
Peter and John’s answer? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Once released, the two reported to their friends that heavy persecution could be on the way.
The early church’s response was to pray.
Let’s note first what they did not pray for. They did not pray for the Lord to halt their enemies, nor did they pray for safety. Or even for positive responses to their message.
Are any of these reasons to pray somehow “wrong?” Not at all. There may be times to pray for each of these outcomes.
Yet in this situation the early church, knowing they would face beatings, imprisonment or death, asked of God, “Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you will extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.”
They did not ask for escape, but for boldness and confidence.
What a powerful example they set for us. When we pray before beginning our day, may the Lord give us the confidence to speak clearly, in love, to impart God’s truth to every situation. This is the boldness of the first followers, a boldness which literally changed the world.
When they finished praying together, “the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
God answered their prayer. When we pray for confidence, we can expect God to answer us as well.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
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