Friday, January 22, 2016

6 Things That Will Help You Read The Bible Every Day

So it's the new year.
You've probably started working out more, trying to drink more water, or maybe you're trying to spend less time in front of the tv and more time with your nose in a book.
Maybe you have decided to start a Bible reading plan, and spend time in God's Word every day.

But, have you found yourself struggling with all of these things recently? I know I am not the best at keeping New Years resolutions. In fact, I hardly set them.
The stigma of New Years Resolutions actually sometimes works in the opposite way, and leaves people failing three weeks in, like me.

I tweeted a while back about how my husband and I read the whole Bible last year, and there's been people since, that ask me for tips on how to help them do just that.
So, in an effort to guide those who want to read the Bible more this year, I want to give you some advice on what I found helped me stay committed and fall in love with reading God's Word every day.

I think if there is one major thing I learned after completing the whole Bible, it is the crucial importance of it for every believer, or anyone who wants to know more about Jesus, God, or the reason for your existence in this world.
I think sometimes people hear the world "Bible" and think rules and religion.
I promise, it's not.
Don't be scared of it!
Here are 5 things that my husband and I have learned were super helpful in reading the Bible every day.

1. Strive for quality time in the Word

Last year, before my husband and I got married, we started reading the Bible every day.
We found a plan (a list of what to read every day, month by month) and stuck to it.
The next December (as in last month) we finally finished the whole Bible.
We took a break on Sundays; we would go to church, or I would go to church if Ken was at the field and Ken would usually listen to a podcast of some sort.
We also weren't super religious about if we skipped a day.
For example, if we had a 4 am wake up call to be on a flight across the country, then Ken had to go directly to the field, we didn't read.
Super busy days would come where we were just absolutely exhausted and knew that the only reason we would read the Bible was to say we did... we didn't want that to be the reason.
We wanted to spend quality time in the Word; that was our focus.
I'm not saying that when we "didn't feel like it" we just didn't read the Bible.
We did it even when we would rather go do something else first, but we found that through being disciplined in putting God and time with Him first, it became a want and desire to read the Word above everything else.

2. Don't start with Genesis.

I think every time I have tried to read the Bible in the past and failed, I had started with Genesis. I guess it might just be how my brain works. This time, we started off in the middle of the Bible.
I think the reason I would say don't start in Genesis is that one, it can be pretty hard to get into, and two it can remind you of past times were you failed and didn't pick up the Bible as much as you wanted to. I would suggest starting with the life of Jesus in the New Testament (we started in Luke)... which leads me to my next point.

3. Don't be intimidated by the Old Testament.

In our plan, we read two New Testament passages and two Old Testament passages.
I'll be honest, some parts of the Old Testament are so dry.
I'm telling you, IT IS OKAY to skim some chapters in the Old Testament as long as you are getting fed through the other passages that are being paired with it. Some parts I don't understand, and that's okay. I know the more I read, the more God will reveal. He doesn't expect you to ever understand the whole Bible the first time you read it (or even the tenth time! that's what makes it so great! I feel like I'm constantly learning NEW things in the same passages I've read before!)
Anyways, don't feel guilty for thinking the Old Testament is a bit dry and boring.
 It will come alive, just like the rest of the Bible does, when the time is right.

4. Journal every day. 

This is so important and a key thing I think people miss out on.
We aren't just supposed to read the Bible then go about our day.
The Bible actually tells us to meditate on the Word.
So here is what Ken and I do.
We read the passage, and as we go, we write down the verses that stick out to us.
After you write it down, write out WHY you like it, for example:
What about God's character did you learn?
How does it apply to a certain situation you're facing now?
The more I have just written out what I think God is trying to teach me or tell me, the more it actually applies to my life; after practice, you'll start noticing that you're actually memorizing and remembering the Scripture you're reading.
After this, we always spend time writing out prayers. I will tell you, there have been so many times I have looked back through my journal and I see prayers answered, and see how God moved in my life with various situations I was facing.
It's amazing.
This can be as long or short of a process and you want.
It could be one or two verses or there could be ten! There are no rules!
Just make sure to remember the helpful tip number one I gave you- you're looking to spend QUALITY time with the Lord, not just go through the motions.
Here are is a sample (I blurred out my entries) of how I format my Bible reading/prayer journal.
You can see, I highlight the verse in my bible, then highlight it written out in my journal; the bottom portion of the page is where I write out my prayer.

5. Be accountable to another person, and ask them what he/she liked in the reading.

This was a big one for my husband and I, especially when we first started out.
I always knew that if I didn't read that day, Ken would read and ask me how my reading went or vice versa.
Another thing that has been really powerful is that we don't just ask, "did you do it?", but we actually talk and discuss what we learned that day in the Word. Even if he was on the road one week, or I went home to visit family, we would text or call one another every day about what we each liked in the reading.
Sometimes, it's just a simple verse we liked, other times it leads to one of us being so overwhelmed by the gospel that it brings us to tears.
This time becomes a time where you are eager to share what God is speaking to you.
It becomes real, alive, and personal.

6. Get in a practical routine.

I'm not saying wake up early before you go to work.
I'm not saying wait until right before bed.
I am not really even giving you a time!
I will say, find a time (and this may change through various seasons you go through!) where you are awake, alert, and attentive to what God wants to speak to you.
Don't use this time as a time to wind down and get sleepy, and don't use this time as a time to just check it off the list before you go to work.
Sometimes when I read, I spend hours in the Word, other times it's 30 minutes (again, you may start out with ten minutes!). All I am saying is that this should be a time you specifically set aside to spend time with God.
Remember, quality time!
For us, during season is different than off season.
In the off season, we have been reading first thing when we wake up, but in season we may read right before Ken goes to the field. Other times I wait to have my own quiet time (especially when we are traveling and staying in hotels), until after Ken leaves for the field. This will be a constant change for those with not as set schedules (like us!) and for other people, it may be easier to find the time that works perfectly for you. The key is sticking to that time as much as possible.

I can't explain how much our marriage has grown through this, and how important being in God's Word every day is.
Before, I would read books or do random devotions.
 I was in the Word, but definitely not every day and in the routine of hearing from God.
Now that I have been, I don't understand how I went through life without it!
It seriously makes so much of a difference.
I hope this helps you and encourages you!
If you have any questions PLEASE reach out!
I want to be here to help people get interested in God's Word.
It really does change the outlook of your life, and brings a lot of encouragement and hope.

If you want me to send you our plan, let me know!
I would love to share that with you! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Finally, A Clear Conscience

Have you ever seen the show The Biggest Loser?
Well, the other night was my first time watching it.
I know a lot of topics are brought up throughout the show to grip the viewers;
I get it, tears and laughs make good TV.
I'll admit, I laughed... but I'll be really really honest when I admit... I cried... A LOT.

It's funny, sometimes I watch TV and I will literally say to my husband,
"Wow, if only they knew Jesus. They're whole situation would be so different."
.... He then has to remind me that it's a movie and not actually real life.
BUT! This time, I kept saying it over and over and over as I listened to these people talk about their lives, their mistakes, and their self-worth all on reality TV.

The truth is, these people really do struggle with all of this.
The truth is, so do you and I.

As people told their stories, you could see how they viewed themselves in such negative light, but one woman's story gripped my heart.

Watch this short clip of her story:

My goodness.
My heart absolutely breaks for her.
"I should have had my life together."
She takes all the blame.
Her guilt is heavy.
Her heart is heavy.
The weight she feels from this unexplainable accident is heavy.
She felt regret, guilt, shame, and even said,
"There isn't anything anybody could say, cause it was my fault."

I'm not sure if you have experienced something this heart breaking.
However, I do know that at one point or another in our lives, we have all experienced the weight of regret and shame.
Maybe you have felt as if there was no way you could ever be forgiven for what you've done.
Sometimes we experience such deep shame from the things we have done; sometimes bad things happen TO us that make us feel this way too. 
Someone steals your innocence or maybe you experience loss or pain like this woman, and you feel like since you've had something stolen from you that it's all your fault, and that you could have prevented it.
Maybe you messed up and were left with a feeling of regret. You give into something you promised yourself you wouldn't do again.
Then,  after it's all said and done, you're stuck looking in the mirror disappointed with guilt as you face yourself. 
The shame and anxiety only build, they never fade.

So you push it out of your head. 
You push the feeling of regret, remorse, and shame and fill it by trying, in your own efforts, to become a "good girl" or a "man of integrity". You might start getting involved with church, you start serving the poor, or feeding the hungry.
 Or maybe, you shove it out of your mind, and try to forget by finding the next thing to make you feel fulfilled or numb the pain. It could be anything- your job, your social life, drugs, alcohol, the same sex, the opposite sex, seeking others approval, harming yourself- the list could go on and on. 
I don't mean to make this such a heavy topic, but I'm tired of the enemy lying to God's children and making them feel like they're isolated and alone and the only ones feeling as if they're always coming up short with no hope for a clear conscience. 
The truth is YOU'RE NOT alone, we have ALL felt this way, myself included. 
 God has created you; He sees and knows your every mistake and your every effort to erase and redo the past. 
The truth of it all is that you can't. 
But that's where Jesus comes in. 
That's where the Hope for all generations comes in. 
You see, God sent His only son, to come down from Heaven, a King who left His kingdom, to take away all of your mistakes, sin, and shame. 
I love how Francis Chan puts it in his book "Crazy Love"; he writes, 
"The wages of sin will always be death. But because of God's mercy, sin is paid for through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of the death of you and me." 
You see, the consequences of every mistake we make is death, depression, guilt, shame and regret, but because God himself had mercy and LOVE for us all, He came down, in His perfection, to not only die in our place, but also take on all the mistakes, sins, depression, shame, guilt, and embarrassment we would ever experience in this life so that we didn't have to. He came in love to set us free from all shame and regret. 
Even while being mocked by the people killing him, His plea is for them to be forgiven (Luke 23: 34). This is just another example of his boundless compassion and divine grace He has for all people.

You see, before Jesus came, there was absolutely no sacrifice, no good deed, no action that could clear the human conscience (Hebrews 9:9). 
Isaiah 64:6 says that "all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags." 
Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins.
In all our efforts, we could never be good enough to come into God's presence. 
But because of Jesus, there is grace and mercy. 
Because of Jesus, we can have a clear conscience. 
Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ came to free us from all of our dead-end efforts to clear our conscience, so that we may forever be in His presence and be fulfilled by Him and His glory and magnitude. That we may live our days serving Him and being dramatically changed for better and better as we draw closer to Him and learn more about how loving and good He is. 
The last part of Isaiah 42:16, God says, 
"I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them [me and you]."
He turns our darkness to light, and every rough season we face, He levels the ground; 
He walks with us.  
I have more good news. 
When you believe that Jesus did all of this for you, that God loves you and wants to be in relationship with you, and that Jesus left God's side to be by yours, the beautiful truth about grace is that God "blots out your transgressions (your mistakes, your every dirty thought or action), and will not remember your sins." 
It sounds crazy.
It is crazy.
We deserve shame and guilt, but instead, God offers us love and acceptance?
It sounds so opposite of how things work. 
That's the beauty of it. 
God is that good that you don't have to live with regret anymore. 
When you surrender your life to Him and His goodness, this is what you find. 

In Isaiah 43:11 God says "I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior." 

I can attest through experience that God is the ultimate Savior, the only savior. 
I have found that all other "saviors" are superficial, but God is everlasting in His fulfillment of our every void and need. He forgets our sin. He cleans up every mess we make. Through our rough times, through our short comings, mistakes, and sins, God shows His glory by his ultimate love for us. By giving His life for us. By giving us an exchanged life. He took our shame, so we wouldn't have to experience it. 
He took our guilt, so that we can live a life with a clear conscience and free from anxiety and worry. 
This is how God shows He is the ultimate savior;
He forgets your sin, and pours out His love on you. 
Because you are His. 
Because He made you to be in relationship with Him so that you may be free from all guilt, depression, shame, and regret. 
Because, without Him, you have no chance of escaping the bondage of your sin. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

God's Beautiful Response When We're Scared to Death of Death

In the world we live in today, anything can spark fear in our lives. Out of no where, I feel like fear can deceive us into thinking about the worst that could happen, and twist it into us thinking it's our reality. Are you with me? 
Maybe it's just me, but I can let fear seep through my mind, my heart, and before I know it my whole body is consumed with fear! Unfortunately, I struggled with this the other night. 
Something that taunts me, and may taunt you, is the thought of death. 
The other night, my husband and I got done praying, I rolled over, and instantly was overcome with such fear. To be honest, my biggest fear in life is losing my husband. I was full of worry, my stomach started to fill with anxiety, and my thoughts were racing. 
Maybe you can relate. Maybe your biggest fear is losing a child or a loved one you hold dear. 
I can't tell you why I was so fearful, but all I know is that the devil wanted me to give in to the fear of death.  

Rather than letting all those thoughts consume me, I began running scripture through my head over and over and over. The truth about death for every believer is that Jesus has already overcome it. He conquered death, so that we don't have to experience it. 
The Bible says in Isaiah 26:8,
"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces..."
Jesus came and lived a life of love for people to come to know Him so that they don't have to experience the worry of death or even death itself. 
The thought of death may be so scary. I know it is for me, but the promise of hope that Jesus brings to people who lean into Him, trust in Him, and believe in Him and His promises is absolutely unfathomable. 
The reason I can't be scared about my husband dying, is that ultimately I know he will live forever, in the presence of God. 
The reason I can't be scared about my own death is that I will have that same outcome. 

I hate more than anything when the devil tricks people into fear and oppression. I hate how he tries to bind people up and forces them to cower to every worry in life. 
Living a life of worry isn't healthy! 
God never intended us to live an easy life, but instead He intends for us to live a life of JOY no matter what comes our way and the beautiful thing is that He is near through the whole process. 
My hope in Jesus and what He offers far outweighs every possible worry I can come up with.
I know, because of how God has revealed Himself to me before, that everything that happens in my life is ultimately for my good and God's glory. 
I've said it before, I'll say it again, we don't know what the Lord is sparing us from, the grace He is actually pouring out on us, when He allows us to walk through a dark or miserable season. 
I'm not saying and never will say that death of a loved one is easy to walk through; it's miserable, it's dark, it's lonely, it's full of depression, it's evil, it's so wrong. 
BUT. Our God hates it just as much as, if not more, than you fear it and dread it. 
That's why He came to defeat it. 
That's why He came to be the source of life for all mankind. 
God hates death, and His wish and desire is for all people to walk in life. 
The opportunity is there for you. 
When you start viewing this life through a lens focused on the sovereignty of God, it becomes more and more clear just how much He loves you and wants to reveal Himself to you. 
In my life, sometimes it has taken the darkest of seasons for me to realize the goodness and faithfulness of my God. 
He is the source of life. 

I'm reminded of Hebrews 2:14-15
"Since the children (that's you and me) are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them (you and me) by His death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death." (MSG version)

If you're struggling with fear, maybe it's the fear of death or maybe it's something else, I challenge you to speak truth over it.
I love that every time I share my fears with my husband, his response is, "Well if it does happen, it doesn't surprise the Lord, and He will walk with me or walk with you every step of the way."
What a beautiful response.
The Lord is gracious to hear our cries, heal our hurts, and bind up our wounds.
(paraphrase of Psalm 147:3)
He is for you. HE is the source of life that will consume your thoughts when fear tries to creep in. 
 Recently I tweeted: Sometimes fear tries to settle in our hearts and minds, but I love how God rips it away, pulls us close, and pours His peace all over us. 
And that's exactly what happened that night when the fear of death tried to grab me. God bombarded my thoughts with His truths, and the choice was mine to receive it. 

What will you choose? I pray that you choose to believe in God, believe that He is all you need in this life and for eternity, and believe that He holds you with the most sincere love-- a love that conquers every fear or chain that tries to drag you down.