Acts: The Unexplainable Church

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Last night I was at a church in the country outside of Augusta.  Friendliest church to newcomers I’ve ever been in.  I was quickly shown a seat, many people were including me in conversations, introducing themselves to me, and telling me about the oldest church building in Georgia and that they did baptisms in the creek there and still do them there.  Talk about a loving church.  A welcoming church.

The book of Acts is all about the early church, the adventurers they had in sharing the Gospel, and how the word of the Cross was shared throughout the region.

In Erica Wiggenhorn’s second Bible study, The Unexplainable Church, one covering the last half of the book, you will find thoughtful questions, great history, and spaces to write your own story – how God is leading you to obey the commands that is found in Acts.

We all have a journey in the Gospel.  Acts is filled with conversions, and beatings, joys, friendship, sorry.  And today, in the life of Christians, we find relationships, new relationships with Christ, we find our brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted because of the name of Jesus.

When you study the book of Acts, you find yourself in God’s story.  His story is neverending.  And so thankful we get to be a part of it.

For a good study on Acts, check out this one., which is the first half of the book of Acts – and then follow it up with this one here. Here is my review of the first one. They are a great set of studies and you will know God’s story better.  Thanks SideDoor communications for this book and Moody Publishers.  All opinions are my own.

Quiet Time Plans for the New Year

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New Years is almost upon us.  We start thinking about our plans for reading and for goals, for lists, and new adventures. How we want to grow?  What we want to stop or pursue.

This year my plan was to read through the Word and write down what it tells me about God.  Its been rather insightful, even though I’ve not gotten as far as I would like.  I think I will keep at it though not as systematically as I’ve done this year.  I love flipping through already read passages and quickly seeing how God shows up in the Word.  How brilliantly he displays himself.

This next year, I want to read the Gospels and tell what they tell me about how Jesus, the Son of God, makes God known to the world because He reflects His Father, perfectly.

Two new devotionals I’m going to start out with: Earth Psalms (which I just got for Christmas) from Francine Rivers (a review later) and Waiting for Wonder.  Litfuse sent me this book (all these opinions are my own) and I’m super excited to really dig into this book and study the life of Sarah.  In the Old Testament, we read and study so much about Abraham, but we don’t know much about Sarah – or maybe not as much as we would like.  In this book, Marlo Schelesky, writes for women who are anticipating what God is going to do in their life – much like what Sarah had to do.  Wait  and Wonder.  She picks up the Biblical narrative of Sarah and adds to it (like making some of it fictional).  I think any woman who has ever waited for anything should be able to understand and internalize many thoughts she puts out there.  I love how it is chock full of Scripture and will use it in the new year to not only study the Word more, but hopefully bring my heart around to God’s in this prolonged season of unknown we are in as a family.

You can this waiting for wonder gift pack! Head over and find out how!

 

Jesus and the Beanstalk (a review)

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I’m one of those people who find it hard to stick to one thing.

Maybe blame it on a lack of patience, or always wanting to see results, etc.  I really find it hard to believe I’ve been blogging for 11 years almost – that I’ve stuck to something that long.

For me, I like to jump around in my Bible study  I don’t mean that I just pick out a verse and think about that.  No, I like to do different things any given year.  Maybe I’ll read through the Psalms while doing a Bible study.  Right now I’m going page by page through the Bible to find out what God says about Himself.

Jesus and the Beanstalk would be helpful for folks like me, who may want to change up their quiet times or Bible study time near the end of the year.  Lori Roeleveld has written a humorous but good study through the book of Second Peter.  This will give you a lighthearted look at life while walking you the little book of 2 Peter.

She helps you look at the characteristics that you need as you walk the life of faith in Christ to battle any (and many) of the giants that you will inevitably face in this life.

Thank you to Litfuse for this book.  All opinions are my own.

Should You Study the Book of Acts? (Giveaway and Interview)

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I minored in history, I grew up doing cemetery rubbings on vacation (put a piece of paper over old headstones and coloring it with a crayon), I love love love history, and honestly, confession here, I often times find the book of Acts boring.

I know…maybe it has something to do with its narrative and I’ve read it before so I know how it ends – or maybe there aren’t enough imperatives in it for me to live our in my daily life (like sharing the gospel and being a sold-out Jesus freak aren’t enough).  Or maybe it is because I don’t experience the Holy Spirit and his work like that in the book of Acts on a daily basis.  Maybe its because my Christian life experience is so different then those in the book of Acts.

A new study, written by Erica Wiggenhorn, helps me and hopefully will help you, learn to love the book of Acts.  In this study, she helps you engage with a part of history that you might otherwise find difficult, she helps you personalize stories and the character of the Spirit that otherwise might seem distant, and she helps you see the power of the Word of God.

Here are some insightful questions that Erica took the time to answer for yall:

Most women have two thoughts about Bible Study that hinders them from digging into God’s Word : 1) I don’t have time. 2) I won’t understand it. How does this Bible study encourage women to step out of those two hindrances?

I love these two questions, because they encompass a couple of primary reasons why I felt called to write this particular study. I’ll start with obstacle #2 first! The very first page of this study begins with “Let’s Open Our Minds” and quotes Luke 24:45, where it says that Jesus opened the disciples’ minds so they could understand the Scriptures. My favorite thing about Bible study is how it allows the Holy Spirit to open our minds and understand Scriptures in a new and fresh way we had never thought of before. It allows us to access all of the time, research and background that an author has poured into a passage of Scripture and consolidate it for us, the reader, in such a way that we can achieve greater understanding without having to spend hours researching ourselves! The characters and circumstances come to life in such a way that we can relate to them as real people.  So on to #1! What we discover in the lives of the early believers was that their lives were unexplainably changed due to their commitment to following Jesus alongside other believers and to studying His Words and teachings diligently. The truth is none of us “have time” but if we know in our soul that we are missing out on something in our Christian walk, we know in our heart that we are not as intimate with Jesus as we would like to be, and we know in our mind that there must be more to this whole following Jesus thing than we are currently experiencing, then we must intentionally choose to “make time.” Time spent with God in His Word will always return more to us than we ever spend!

 The book of Acts can be such a compelling book to look at the work of the Holy Spirit. What are one or two of your favorite characteristics of the Spirit?

I love how the Holy Spirit personalized each conversion story. He never does the exact same thing twice in the book of Acts. It’s as if He knows each person’s heart and does all that He can to help us believe and overcome our unbelief! Another thing I love is how He works in the lives of those who already  believe. Again, He does unique things in each person’s experience in order to give them the greatest chances to obey. Sometimes He sends an angel, other times He speaks directly, other times He operates through a vision, occasionally miracles happen, but each and every time the experience is personalized. It makes me realize that He is not some impersonal cosmic force, but a form of God Who knows me, sees me, loves me, and desires to be an intimate part of my everyday life!

How do you balance everything you do?  Is balance the right word?  

Well this is a funny question, seeing as I how I was just venting to my husband this morning that I “have way too much to do!”. I think balance may be a misnomer as every day contains new variables and unexpected circumstances for which we did not expect or plan. I think “prioritize” might be a better word! Despite what each day brings, am I able to keep my priorities in line with what pleases the Lord? Do I still spend time with Him, still talk to Him, still minister to my family above everything else that needs to get done? One thing that helps me immensely is to go back to the very beginning of creation and realize that the first thing God created was time. He is Lord of time and knows all I have to do and how much time I have to do it! When I intentionally make time for Him each day, whether I get everything crossed off on my to-do list or not, my perspective remains constant, my attitude is more likely to stay in check, and the people I love the most get the best of me rather than the leftovers! When I don’t start by investing in my relationship with God first, but frantically grab my to-do list, I’m usually less effective throughout the day and not nearly as gracious in my relationships :).

 What are three things you are loving right now?

Only 3?! One thing I am loving is continuing my study of the early church! I am making my way through the rest of Acts and I am in awe of  how the Holy Spirit continued to work in these early believers’ lives! I am starting to wake up and say, “Okay Holy Spirit, what have you got planned today? This cracked pot is your vessel- fill me and use me!” Secondly, I am loving David McCasland’s book Oswald Chambers: Abandoned To God, because it is the life story of my favorite devotional writer. I have gone through My Utmost for His Highest for the last several years and knowing the circumstances behind his devotional entries brings them to life in such a powerful way. It parallels the illumination that occurred in studying the historical and cultural background behind the stories in Acts and allows with me to connect with the apostles and early believers more deeply.  Thirdly, I’ll confess I am loving Hannah’s Italian Ice! It’s a little cafe near our home and they mix flavored ice and custard in layers- super delicious! My kids and I love to go there after school and cool off from the hot Phoenix afternoons and share what happened during the day. It’s a little splurge that helps me connect with my kids and when you’re raising tweens, you’ll take every moment you can get!

To win a copy of her new study, An Unexplainable Life, which is a study on the first half of the book of Acts, just answer the following: what are a few things you are loving right now?

Thanks to Side Door Communications for this study and for the giveaway to one of you.  All opinions are my own.

 

Do You Struggle with Shame? (Interview and Giveaway)

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In today’s world, as a woman with any title, career, family status, marital status, or body type – you have probably struggled with shame over something.

Maybe its your infertility and you think its your fault?

Maybe its over your husband’s sexual sin – or your own sexual sin?

Maybe its because your children regularly disobey you in public settings?

Maybe its because you binge or purge with your relationship with food?

Maybe its because your house doesn’t look like a Pottery Barn magazine like the rest of the homes in the neighborhood?

Maybe its because of the debt that you know has a hold on you – and your checkbook?

Maybe its because you are the only single woman at your high school reunion?

All of these situations can produce shame.  But, they don’t have to.  If you are in Christ, there doesn’t need to be any shame.  You are righteous in Christ.  You can not be condemned (Romans 8).  He is yours and you are His.  Sin, rightly so, needs to be repented of and turned away from – but you don’t need to feel shame.  Shame even happens in relationships in our churches.  Maybe we don’t live up to certain standards.  Oh, friends, don’t let shame run your heart and mind.

Laura Dingman recently published a study on shame and how we can let the Word and Jesus help us.  I got the opportunity to ask her a few questions (to help you get to know the book and her better).  Keep reading and there will be a great giveaway at the bottom of this post:

Why this study?  Why now?

I think a lot of writers end up penning what they’ve learned firsthand. That’s my experience, anyway. I feel like I can only write about that which I have lived. These are lessons God has taught me over the past several years. Lessons about who I really am in Christ. Lessons about why I really hide and how I deal with shame. Lessons about what it looks like to partner with friends for the sake of the Gospel. Lessons about God’s relentless love that just never quits pursuing. So, the short answer is it happens to be what I’ve been learning. The other piece is it seems to be a conversation I’m having a lot with people I’m doing life with—whether in ministry or just life in general. Shame cripples us and keeps us from so many things. The conversations about connection are growing right now as well. The Gospel story offers a solution to shedding shame and connecting with others. It seems to be relevant in our current cultural climate.

As you teach women to study the word, what is the one thing you hope they walk away with?

I pray they have a greater understanding of how Christ actually views them. That Jesus loves them enough to give his life away. That He values them and they matter to the Kingdom. I pray they know they were once lost and now have a place at the table with the King.

 

For those who want to be a writer, or ministry leader, how do you balance ministry life and personal life? 

This is something I’m still trying to learn!

Don’t be afraid to say no.

Don’t be afraid to prioritize the relationships that matter most—the ones under your roof.

Beth Moore has a great quote: “God will never call you to sacrifice your intimacy with Him on the altar of ministry.” This is so true. I think it’s also true of intimacy in your most important relationships as well. If something is suffering—your family life, your relationship with God, the fruit of the Spirit, your awareness of God’s presence—you’re probably doing something God hasn’t called you to do. It’s that simple.

So much of the time we do more than we need to do. We are driven by “should.” Wayne Cordeiro wrote an excellent book called Leading on Empty in which he talks about your 5%. He explains that as leaders we typically focus on the 95% instead of the 5%. Your 5% consists of things only YOU can do. For me, I’m Matt’s only wife (and I’d like to keep it that way!), and Abigail’s only momma. No one else can substitute for me in those areas. No one else can care for or steward my body for me. These are the things in my 5%. I’m a writer. Other people can write. I’m a worship leader. Other people can lead worship. I’m a Bible teacher. Other people can teach the Bible. If I lose sight of my 5% because of the 95%, I’m out of balance and in need of recalibrating. It’s hard to say no in our culture because we don’t want to disappoint people. I’m a recovering perfectionist and a people pleaser, so it’s extra hard for me. But when I do exercise the power of a well-placed no—which ultimately leads to the even greater power of a well-placed yes—the difference astounds me.

The more my identity is secured in Christ, the easier it is for me to stay balanced. I’m not searching for approval and acceptance based on what I’m achieving. Instead, I’m allowing the Creator to love me and give me worth. And from that place, I can do good works He planned for me long ago.

Laura’s book, I Am Found, is helpful with Scripture, probing questions, and her desire is for you not to be perfect, but to rest in and pursue Jesus.  His love for you – let that be where you find your identity.  If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment here or on social media with a verse that helps you when you have those less-than-perfect moments.  Thankful that she wrote this study and allows women to come wholly to the Word to experience freedom in the gospel.

Thanks Side Door Communications for the book and the giveaway.  All opinions are my own.

 

 

Illustrated Faith: Getting Started & Supplies

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Illustrated Faith Getting Started

There is a whole new movement called Illustrated Faith.  Just a group of people wanting to meditate on the Word of God by making their Bibles more colorful.  Really, my Bible has never been more colorful – but here are some real reasons I do it.

I can get easily bored with just reading the Word.  I’ve not found it helpful in retention to read on my iphone.  I read it there – but if I’m really wanting to study and read for retention it needs to be in a quiet place with a writing utensil in hand.

I love creativity.  Being a mom has really sparked new creativity in me.  I’ve always been a creative person, but the last 3 years has brought more of that out in new ways.  I still write and cook – but also doing art for people to get the Word in the homes is something I’m really enjoying.

Meditation on the Word is commanded and a joy.  Right now I’m writing out Deuteronomy in a Journibible (more on that soon) and then meditating on a portion or a truth found in those verses by drawing or cross-referencing (looking for other verses that speaks of the same thing).  Today’s reading sparked an obedience and boundary issue with me – and I wanted to search out the Scriptures to see why God set up the boundaries he did for us and why he demands obedience from his children.

How do you get started in Illustrated Faith.

1.  Get a Bible.  Any Bible will do – but I use a Journaling Bible from Crossway which has wide margins, perfect for journaling (whether writing or drawing).

2. Get a notebook or paper if you don’t want to colorize your Bible.  I understand that may not be your thing.

3.  That’s really all you need, but here are some fun extras: watercolor, markers, colored pencils, stickers, etc.  Its like high school art class all over again!  I didn’t love it much then but I love it now.

Read – think – pray – journal.

That’s all there is to it.  I always carry a pencil with me now.  As I take notes in church or Bible studies I think of ways to be creative.  It gets the Word in me – and isn’t that what the base of Psalm 119 is!  You can find a lot of my doodles on instagram but I might start putting some on the blog as well.

Go – learn the Word and be creative!  The point of doing this isn’t to see how creative you can be but how to bless your soul (and others you share what you learn with) by being in the Word!

Read This: Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin/Crossway)

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Women of the Word

Our days are so full!

As a Mom of two toddlers – and very active boys at that – I know what full days are.  They are fun, encouraging, eventful, demanding, and days filled with laughter.  We are always on the go, exploring new parts of our city or heading out to hang out with some friends or go see Daddy at work, or walk along the river or see animals at the zoo.  I love cherishing times with my sweet boys.

But, something else I highly look forward to is either the days when they sleep in late and I get up to get some time in the Word in early – or their nap times – so I can again get encouraged by being in the Word.

The new(ish) book by Jen Wilkin, who serves at The Village Church in Texas, helps women with their understanding of how to better study – and fall in love with – the Bible (and more importantly, it’s Author).

I’m thankful for Jen’s organization, gospel-driven remarks, personal history with the Word, and imploring her readers to invest their time in the study of the Word – not just the glancing at it as you go along.

One of the hardest chapters for me to impliment on a daily basis if praying and the word.  I love the pray – and have written journals for wives to pray for their husbands, working on a prayer journal for moms to pray for themselves as moms, but really to engage in the word – before, during, and after – by praying.  Usually, I approach the Word quickly and haughtily and just start reading.  I’m thankful that Jen included this in her book.

“Ask him to make his word come alive for you in such a way that you

know him better and see your own needs of him more clearly.

 – Jen Wlkin

If you are looking for a way to learn how to study the book, or need encouragement in how to love the Word – turn to Jen’s book.  It is for women, new believers and the believers who’ve known Jesus a while.

 

Short How-To Study the Bible

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How to Study the Bible

Most of us, if we are Christians, know that we are to read the Bible – the Word of God.  But, so many of us feel intimidated to open the book up so often times it sits on a shelf – even decorated pretty with flowers or other books – and collects dust.  Or maybe we just let others study the Bible for us and we are tempted to stay only with a book study with questions already done for us.

There is so much you can get out of studies already written, but I challenge you to dig deeper and study the Bible for yourself.  The good thing of being a Christian (among others) is the the Spirit lives inside of us and gives us His guidance when coming to the Bible to read it and gain wisdom, joy, and abundant life.

This blog post isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it is a start to your journey in studying the Bible or yourself.  And believe me, when you do this – it will help with your parenting and your marriage relationship and your relationship with friends and neighbors.  The Word of God is impactful for every area of life.

Start:

1.  I would start with a Bible (I use the ESV Journaling Bible – there are wide margins for you to take notes and there aren’t any notes from other authors – only the Word of God).

2.  Other things that would prove helpful to you are pens, pencils, and a notebook.

3.  If you are curious to what “experts” say – go to them later.  At least first sit down with just a Bible and the Holy Spirit and bathe in the Word for yourself.  It is living and active and you can understand it!

4.  First things first, take time to read through the Word.  Just read it.  Most of the smaller books of the Bible can be read in one sitting.  Do that.  While you are studying a given book of the Bible, I would encourage you to read it often.  Get an app on your phone and read it while waiting in line or sitting in the carpool line for your children.  You would be amazed at how much you remember when you read it often.

5.  Then I would challenge you to write it out.  Thats what the journal is first for.  Write it – even though  you have read it writing it will bring new findings to your mind.  Make note of those!

6.  Then ask yourself these three questions: (and there are other methods, but these are mine) – which I think are maximized for what you need for growth in The Lord and in the Gospel.  What does God say about himself in these verses?  What therefore do you learn about yourself in these verses?  How do these verses point you to the Gospel.

7.  For further study: look at commentaries, read or listen to sermons on that particular book of the Bible, ask questions, look at the rest of Scripture to see what the Word has to say about that passage.  But, first – let the Word of God speak for itself!  The Holy Spirit will be your Guide

You may be in a book of the Bible for a long period of time – but in time you will learn much about God, yourself, and the Gospel.  Let it soak in.  He is worth your time!

Who God is For Us in James…

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James is such a little book, only 3 pages in the ESV Journaling Bible I use, but it is rich and full of practical wisdom and full theology.  As E and I have been studying/memorizing/praying through it in 2012, it has become something that just comes out of our mouths anytime we need a wise word or an answer to a problem we are having.  I now see the benefit of meditating on a certain passage of Scripture for what – 6+ months now. 

This week I had the opportunity to give a lunchtime devotion to a group of senior ladies at my church.  I chose to go through the book of James and pull out all the descriptors of God – or what James tells us God does for us in this tiny epistle.  I got more than I thought.  I just gave them a bulleted point overview, but I have determined to turn this list into a women’s Bible study that can be used individually or in small groups in local churches or coffee shops!  Here is the list with a brief synopsis of how God is those in the book of James. 

James: God For Us

1.  He is our Sanctification (1:4; 1:12; 1:21) – pair these with Philippians 1:6 and the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

2.  He is a gracious Giver (1:16) of both wisdom (1:5) and more grace (4:6)

3.  He is NOT our tempter (1:13)

4.  He is the Father of Lights (1:17)

5.  He is eternal and unchanging (1:17) by looking at men of old such as Job (ch 5) and Elijah the Prophet (ch 5)

6.  He is the Giver of the Perfect Law (4.12)

7.  Our Friend (2:23) – I randomly sing “I am a friend of God” in my head each time I come to this verse in chapter 2

8.  He is the Creator (1:18) and we bear His image (3:9)

9.  He desires us! (4:5)

10.  He is the Opposer of the Proud (4:6)

11.  He is near to the humble (4:8) (I think of the psalms that says the nearness of God is my good)

12.  He is our Righteous Judge (4:12)

13.  He is our Compass – He is our Personal Sovereign (4:13-15)

14.  He is our Coming King (5:7-8)

15.  He is merciful and compassionate (5:11)

16.  He is our Healer (5:15)

17.  He is our Justification, our forgiveness (5:15)

18.  He is our prayer answerer (5:17-18)

19.  To close the book and study – how we see all of this lined in the person and gift of Jesus – the greatest of all of His gracious gifts to us, His “indescribable gift”.

 

What would you like to have in a group or personal Bible study that I could include?  How has God ministered to you in these ways?  I look forward to interacting with you all on this!