Posted in Bible Studies

Mark Your Bible

How do you mark your bible? A member of a church I once attended asked the minister this very question. The minister related this story during a sermon. His answer was surprising. He said, “How do you mark your bible? You mark your bible.”

As simplistic as it sounds, he was right. Sometimes we tend to overanalyze a rudimentary task and place a process around it when, in fact, all we need to do is do what comes naturally.

I say this because I am one of those people who needs structure and cannot start a project until I have all the pieces in place of where I want to go, what I want to do, and with whom I want to do it. Some tasks are meant to be organic, in that what we are doing at the moment is what should be done.

However, that is not to say that if you have a bible-marking system that works for you that you ought to abandon it. On the contrary, keep doing what you are doing. If it helps you learn the scriptures, there is no need to change something that is working. My advice is for those Christians who are wondering what to do when they buy their first bible and want to make notes in it but have no idea how to do that.

Again, I will say it: mark your bible.

How I used to mark my bible

How I marked my bible thirty years ago

I once had an elaborate marking system that enabled me to visually look at certain passages of the bible and know instantly what it was about. My color categories where:

  1. Blue—God
  2. Red—Angels and demons
  3. Brown—Humanity
  4. Orange—Civilization
  5. Purple—Israel
  6. Yellow—Church
  7. Green—Kingdom of God

In addition to coloring the verses, I also placed red-pen boxes around words I would want to define; and if something really stood out, I would underline phrases and words with a red pen. Of course, thinking I would need to differentiate what I learned at home with what I learned at church, I would carry around a blue pen and mark my bible that way during sermons.

For a long time, this system suited me. I appreciated it, and I enjoyed reading through marked sections again, gleaning tidbits of truth as I went along. I found, though, as the years went on, my understanding had grown and what I had believed twenty-five, thirty years ago, is not what I believe today. Several fundamentals are the same, but through diligent prayer and bible study, scriptures I had once marked as one thing suddenly had taken on a different meaning.

How I mark my bible today

Nowadays, I simply mark my bible. If a thought or a verse really stands out for me, affects me in a way that it has never affected me before, I mark it with whatever pen I have in my hand. I agree, it is a simplistic approach, but ultimately God through the Holy Spirit reveals what we need to remember when we read our bibles:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25)

It is not how we mark our bibles, but what we gain from those passages we have marked.

Posted in Bible Studies

God’s Purpose

God is amazing. He really is. There are no other gods, because he is the only God; and as many times as we read that, he is even more amazing when bad things happen to Christians.

The book of Acts tells us about the early days of the church, from the time when Jesus ascended to heaven to when the apostle Paul arrived in Rome. Of the numerous accounts told, one in particular is an inspiration for Christians going through trials.

This week’s scripture is in the book of Philippians:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

The story of Stephen

In Acts, chapter 6, the apostles needed someone who would look after the widows in the church on their behalf in order that their preaching would not suffer neglect (Acts 6:1-2). They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It was in those days that the church was growing larger, multiplying with believers (verses 3-7).

Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great signs and wonders among the people. But there were certain men who rose up against him, disputing with him, wanting him to stop what he was doing. The more they went against him, though, the more they could not seem to overcome the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen was speaking. So they tried another tactic. They secretly instigated false witnesses to spew lies against him, saying he had spoken evil of the law and of the temple (verses 8-12).

The men eventually seized Stephen, brought him before the high priest and accused him of blasphemy (verses 12-14). And after a lengthy speech where Stephen spoke about Israel’s history, Moses’ part in the exodus, and how his accusers were resisting the Holy Spirit, the men brought him outside the city and stoned him (Acts 7).

Had God failed Stephen?

For a Christian to read this account, it may seem as if God had failed Stephen. One might ask, why would God allow this to happen? Did not Stephen believe God would have rescued him? Would God not have silenced his accusers and intervened on his behalf?

However, two very important things happened during Stephen’s death. First, before the stoning, Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55). Second, those taking part in the stoning were laying their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (verse 58). Both points are significant in that it shows God had not really abandoned Stephen during his time of trial; and not only God but also Jesus was there with him, reassuring him everything was going to be fine (verse 56). Even more so, Stephen did not die in vain. His death served to transform Saul from a man who persecuted the Christians, to the apostle Paul, a man preaching about Christ Jesus the son of God (Acts 22:20-21).

God has a purpose

Only God could do this. Only he could put meaning to a tragedy and make it work for good (Romans 8:28). As much as we try to understand why bad things happen to Christians, it all makes sense in the context of God using that tragedy to do good from a thousand perspectives (Psalms 147:5). We may gain a glimpse of a fraction of one of those perspectives, but God ultimately knows why certain things have to happen in certain ways (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we have to do as Christians is trust him (Psalms 25:2). We may not receive the answer we desire, but we will certainly receive the answer we need (Philippians 4:19).

Posted in My Journey

You Are My Redeemer

Oh, Lord, creator of all things,
maker of all things great and small,
hear my prayer.

You are my redeemer;
you have given your son as a sacrifice for my sins.
My sins no longer blot me out of the book of life;
I am your servant; I am your son.

Lord, Father, you are my savior,
you are my king.
You are merciful and kind;
you have given me a tender heart.

When my enemies build ramparts against me,
you tear them down and turn them into dust.
I am safe with you,
for your bosom is my fortress and my strength. Selah.

All glory belongs to you, my God,
for your love is from everlasting to everlasting.
You are my redeemer;
you are my king.

Posted in My Journey

Trust in Jesus Until the End

My wife and I recently celebrated another year of marriage. As it has been our habit of late, we booked a very nice hotel for several nights north of town and enjoyed each other’s company in the midst of all that has been going on in our lives. We are incredibly thankful we could do that, considering our autistic son’s condition. He really wanted us to leave him in his younger brother’s care while we had time alone. It was a tough decision, but it also involved a certain amount of trust from our end to feel everything was going to be fine when we came back.

Now I understand what Jesus must have been thinking when he left his disciples to be with the Father. As it says in Acts, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).

Much like my wife and I did, sending text messages to our younger son to reassure him we’d be back soon, Jesus sent his angels to his disciples to reassure them that he would be back soon. Sometimes, we, as parents, have to let go in order to allow our kids to grow. Jesus, who loves us, oh, so very much, is doing just that with us, Christians. The apostle Peter confirms this when he wrote:

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

There is nothing God would not do to save us, including giving his only son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16). As we grow in knowledge and in truth in Jesus, let us grow to love one another as Jesus loves us, so that when he comes back on that fateful day he will be able to say to us all, “Well done, good servant!”

Posted in Bible Studies

God Loves Us

God loves us so much that he was willing to give his son Jesus to save us from the penalty of sin. That through him, we could come before God’s throne and render our hearts and our minds to an omnipotent being who would do anything to have us sincerely call him Father.

One of the things one finds when reading scripture is the presence of intertwining thoughts between passages. There are interesting plays of words that a reader spots when viewing the bible as a complete text. For instance, Psalms 23:3 says:

“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Then Matthew 5:10 says:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Both verses contain the words “righteousness” and “sake” and both verses present a beautiful message of hope for those needing God’s presence in their lives.

But aside from verses that complement one another, the bible is rich with verses demonstrating God’s love for us:

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)

“For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27)

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

Today’s simple message is this: with every moment God grants us breath, let us love one another as God loves us.

Posted in My Journey

Faith in God

God is leading me in everything I am doing. This recent discovery has led me to make many significant changes in my life that I would not have otherwise made had God’s spirit not been with me. The biggest of these changes is how I view Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins. No longer am I taking his suffering lightly, for I now weep when I read the prophet Isaiah:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

I become distraught by knowing just how much Jesus suffered for me, but then my sadness turns to joy when I realize that I will never have to worry about my past sins ever again. God has forgiven me.

How wonderful a God I worship because now I have hope for a future where I will be with him forever. That faith he imparted through the Holy Spirit is the delight I now have living within me. And this has brought to life the beautiful belief I experience and is spoken of in Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

For as I believe Jesus is the Christ, son of God, who has saved me from the penalty of sin, which is death, faith is my guarantee that my reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:12).

And knowing this, what an amazing God he truly is!

Posted in My Journey

God Is My King

God is great. I have learned that. When I pray to him, I am talking to him and when I am reading his word, he is talking to me. That tender and intimate relationship will always be there. I have learned he will never leave me nor forsake me. I may fall in utter despair but he will be there to catch me. His love for me will never fail. I let him into my heart knowing he would change me, and as I see him changing me, I am falling more and more in love with him. He is my savior. He is my king.

My prayers have changed, too. No longer do I come near enough to his throne room with expectations. I now come into his throne room sometimes not having anything to say but to be in his presence. His peace overwhelms me. His glory lifts me from my trials and gives me hope. He is not a million miles away. He is here always ready to hold me in his bosom, to remove anything that might come between him and me. He is my fortress. He is my king.

I have learned to forgive. I have learned to let go. When I realized he would be willing to fight my battles for me, I surrendered to him. Hatred soon disappeared and love appeared. If he could give his son Jesus as a sacrifice for my sins (John 3:16), I can forgive others what they have done to me. My sins are worse. His righteousness clothes me and is my comfort. He leads me beside still waters. He is my shepherd. He is my king.

God listens. If you need help, try approaching God’s throne with no expectation other than to be in his presence. He is there always, waiting. He wants a relationship with you, even if you feel he is a million miles away.