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 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 My Journey

His Word in Season

After a very long, hard winter, it is a blessing finally to see some sun this week. I think spring decided to nap through most of the season, allowing the snow, wind and rain to have full reign. I had driven home from Pittsburgh last week, where it was like summer down there. What a contrast it was from our dark, gray skies here in Canada.

Sometimes we Christians also need a change in seasons. I know in my case, due to winter’s extended stay, I focused much of my bible studies on suffering: Jesus’ suffering and Christian suffering. I enjoy knowing that when God allows suffering, he does not allow it without a purpose; and most of the time, we may not know what that purpose is. I use the example of my autistic son’s recent hospitalization quite a bit to illustrate that point. As a family, we have no idea what brought on his catatonia just before Christmas. We know it was anxiety-related, but the purpose as to why he went into a catatonic state is still a mystery to us. I am sure that whatever the reason is, I trust God will one day reveal it to us.

With spring now appearing at our doorstep, I am finding myself reading Psalms of gratitude and memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7). Of particular interest is the one verse that has caught my attention this week and is not letting go:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

I always wondered what that verse meant; but as I am noticing spring unfolding, with the birds chirping and the first blades of grass spouting, it is evident to me that those who are trying to become more like God, are the ones who can also see God in nature.

Again, I am gleaning these tidbits as I walk the pilgrim’s path; and I am sure I will gain another level of understanding as summer approaches, too.

For now, let us appreciate what God reveals to us through his word in season, and let us move toward sharing that understanding with other believers.

Posted in My Journey

God Restores My Soul

My prayer life has changed over the years. Some seasons have brought untold anguish where I needed to drop to my knees with eager fervor wanting to know God’s will in my life. And some seasons have given me nothing but pleasure where I raise my arms to the heavens in joyous praise for what God has done. Zealously do I thank him for his marvelous work. He really is the only and amazing God.

Psalms 23 has been my unshakable stronghold in prayer. No more notable passage of scripture comes to mind when I pray to God than the words King David penned thousands of years ago. Those words have somehow become so personal to me that sharing them would seem as if I were giving you a good portion of my heart. I suppose it is because when I pray, I say them so that they personally apply to me. I do that a lot with other bible verses, but not as much as I do with Psalms 23.

This is how I pray Psalms 23:

Oh, God, you are my shepherd; I do not desire anything else.
You make me lie down in green pastures.
You love me so much that you lead me beside still waters.
You restore my soul; I shall dwell in your house forever.

The words change from time to time, but the meaning is always the same. God quiets my spirit, blesses me with hope and shares his dwelling place with me. He is my love, my strength and my passion. I have joy in him. No one else compares to him.

If you find it difficult to pray, try opening the bible and apply the words personally to your life. Intimacy with God starts somewhere, and when we allow God’s words to cover us, his presence will not be far off.

Oh, God, you truly restore my soul.

Posted in My Journey

Oh, Love!

Some of the most beautiful verses in the bible come from 1 Corinthians 13. Many Christians may know this passage simply as the love chapter. For me it defines the very essence of Christ’s nature when he gave up his life on the cross for us.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)

Oh, what a world it would be if everyone were patient and kind toward one another when waiting in line for anything. With envy and boasting out of the way, there would be no need for inflation because people would not be comparing themselves with others and desiring what others have. Eliminating arrogance and rudeness from society would do away with people’s sense of entitlement for special treatment. Selfishness would no longer rule. The world would have those who wore tolerance on their sleeves instead of irritability and resentfulness on their shoes. There would be rejoicing in justice and in truth.

We would bear with one another and bear with the burdens given to us. We would give others the benefit of the doubt and believe them first. We would hope always and never surrender in the face of our trials.

Oh, what a world it would be if everyone loved as Jesus loved when he died for our sins!

Posted in My Journey

Let Your Yes Be Yes

I once said to a friend of mine, a fellow Christian, it is easier dealing with unbelievers than it is to deal with some Christians. I said it off the cuff, but I also said it to express my frustration with believers who say one thing but do another.

The book of James talks about this and makes it clear that our words have an impact on people:

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12 ESV throughout)

For believers who are infants in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1), seeing other Christians sinning is discouraging. That is why we always need to be attentive of what we are doing so that we do not partake in hypocrisy. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

If we say something and do something else, then we are no different from the scribes and Pharisees. What we have to do though, is rise beyond mere display and ensure that our actions reflect our words. Otherwise, we would not only be in jeopardy of departing from the faith, but also cause others to do so, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

Putting it another way, liars will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is just that simple (Revelation 21:8).

Therefore, let us put aside vanity, lying and deceitfulness, and walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Especially so close to celebrating his death and resurrection, we need to repent and change in order for Christ to live in us. When we do that, then the fulfillment of God’s promise to us to inherit his kingdom will not be too far off.

Posted in Bible Studies

My Peace I Give to You

Yesterday I preached a sermon at my church about overcoming anxiety. The key bible verse I used comes from the Gospel of John:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV throughout)

I emphasized how that one verse in John has so much meaning for Christians, that it would take a series of sermons to cover all the layers. What I concentrated on most, though, was the message of peace Jesus delivered to his disciples.

Jesus was about to face crucifixion at Golgotha (Calvary) when he spoke those words. He said a lot more before that, but it was interesting that his first words after his resurrection were “peace be with you,” which he said once (John 20:21), when Thomas was not present, and once again, a week later (John 20:26), when Jesus instructed Thomas to place his finger and hand in his wounds.

To be clear, the disciples were behind closed doors when Jesus appeared; and who could blame them? The Romans had just killed Jesus, so for all they knew the Romans could have been after them as well. The chief priests were the ones who condemned Jesus in a mock trial, so who was to say they would not do the same thing to the disciples? Then there was this whole thing with Jesus having promised them persecution (John 15:20), and that ought to have made them even more apprehensive.

Imagine then what the disciples must have felt just before Christ had appeared to them that first time after his death. Their anxiety level must have been peaking. Those words he spoke “peace be with you” not only should have reassured them but also should have acted as a reminder of what he had said before his death:

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” (Matthew 10:19)

Saying it another way, the source of most of our anxieties is the fear of the uncertainty of what will happen next. Much of that anxiety turns out to be unfounded, since most of the things we think will happen never does. Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). If that advice sounds familiar, it is, because it sounds a lot like the latter part of John 14:27: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Overcoming anxiety takes work. Coming to have the peace Jesus spoke about requires extra help, too. Thankfully, neither were the disciples nor are we without that help.

Jesus promised us a comforter, a helper, who would provide us with everything we need to overcome our anxiety, usher peace into our lives, and bless us with the truth that comes from reading God’s word (John 16:7). That helper is the Holy Spirit; and through the Holy Spirit God gives us the power to overcome and the power to remember the things spoken of by Christ Jesus (John 14:26).

I am thankful to God every day that I have the Holy Spirit to guide my path and protect my way. Even more so, I pray that all of you may come to have the generous gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit, that he may also give you peace from your anxieties and worries.