Tag Archive | Bible Study

Joy From Abiding in Christ

In recent weeks, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have been doing a study on the book of Acts. This week, I’ve been looking at Acts 8. The previous chapter focused on the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Acts 8 begins with persecution spreading and many believers, both men and women, being dragged off to prison. The result was the dispersion of many of the believers from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria – which was God’s plan to begin with (see Acts 1:8). God used this difficult situation to begin spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.

As I was reading Acts 8:4-8, which talks about Philip going to the city of Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the crowds gathered to hear his message, verse 8 stood out to me. “So there was much joy in that city.

Facing severe persecution, being forced to leave my home and flee to a city of strangers that I really had nothing in common with doesn’t sound to me like the ideal soil for producing joy. But when God is in control, even the most difficult circumstances can be fertile soil for the growth of biblical joy.

The Greek word translated joy in Acts 8:8 is chara, which refers to “an inner gladness; a deep seated pleasure. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart. It is a cheerful heart that leads to cheerful behavior. Joy is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances but is God’s gift to believers. Joy is a part of God’s very essence and as discussed below His Spirit manifests this supernatural joy in His children. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.” (from http://www.preceptaustin.org, Greek Word Studies)

Alfred Plummer, pastor and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary during the late 1800’s, wrote that joy is “the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life…and which raises us above pain and sorrow and remorse.

Donald Campbell, former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, has defined joy as “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ. It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”

Jesus taught that abiding in Him is the secret to being filled with joy. Pastor John Piper explains what it means to abide in Jesus. He said, “active abiding is the act of receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ… It is trusting in Jesus, remaining in fellowship with Jesus, connecting to Jesus so that all that God is for us in him is flowing like a life-giving sap into our lives.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John‬ ‭15:5, 11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Even in the midst of suffering and weariness, abiding in Jesus is a key to walking in joy. And as Swiss theological Karl Barth has said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

Giving Thanks for Fleas?

It’s easy to rejoice and give thanks when we pray and God answers in the way we hoped He would. It’s also pretty easy to thank Him when we can look around and see many blessings in our lives.

But when our situation seems unpleasant and we’re struggling through tragedy or just plain hard times, it can be difficult to hold onto the truth that God is still in control and He is always loving and kind toward His children. Giving thanks in such circumstances is a step of faith in the character of our God.

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned with her family for hiding and helping many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, shares an incident that God used to teach her this important principle of giving thanks in all circumstances.

Corrie and her sister Betsie, had recently been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, the all female camp Ravensbruck. As with all newcomers, they were placed in the quarantine compound, located next to the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, Corrie says they heard “the sounds of hell itself” as the prisoners were cruelly beaten.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”

A short time later, they were moved to Barracks 28 and Corrie was horrified by their reeking, straw-bed platforms. But she soon learned things were even worse than she had realized.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?

Corrie wrote, “I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”

And Betsie said, “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took Corrie a second to realize she was praying.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!

Corrie continues, “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said.”

In verses 16 – 18, Betsie’s question concerning how they were to survive in this place was answered. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowded conditions, making it so that more women would be able to hear God’s Word. And Corrie went along with what Betsie was saying… until Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’“

“Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Later they learned that Betsie was not wrong. Yes, the fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. Because of the fleas, the supervisors avoided Barracks 28, making a way for the women to have Bible studies in the barracks without harrassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.

Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck became known as “the crazy place where women have hope… Hope in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of persecution. Hope in the midst of unimaginable evils.”

Many women in Barracks 28 came to know the hope that only can be found in a relationship with Jesus. They learned that (as Corrie put it), “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

I doubt any of us are facing a situation as devastating as this one Corrie and Betsie ten Boom faced. Are you willing to trust that God has a good purpose in your difficult circumstances, and thank God in the midst of them? We may not know why God has allowed the difficulties we face, but we can know that God is good and He will use the painful situations we walk through for our good and His glory.

A Different Kind of Gratitude

As I shared last Thursday, at the beginning of this year I felt the Lord prompting me personally to do a study of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Since that time, several ladies in God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness which I help lead have decided to join me in this study. I will also be doing a weekly post on this personal blog based on the chapter we are currently studying from the book.

Nancy DeMoss calls gratitude “a vital transformational life preserver amidst the turbulent waters of runaway emotions,” and because that’s where I’m frequently walking during this season of my life it seems like the perfect time to do this study. As we begin our study, this has for me personally been a week of battling runaway emotions. Between the skin rash I first noticed on December 4th (the day of our son David’s memorial service) that has not responded to treatment, a long list of tasks that needed to be done following David’s death that is taking much longer than we expected to complete, and the adjustments to all of the recent changes in our lives, this has been a challenging and emotional week.

Christ-centered and grace-motivated gratitude is the focus of the teaching in this book. The world acknowledges the importance of gratitude, but without a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, this gratitude usually lacks an object of gratefulness or becomes people-based. The kind of gratitude we need to enter the joy-filled Christian life is different. It is an expression of gratefulness to God that is both a byproduct of and a response to the redeeming grace of God.

A call to this type of intentional gratitude is a call to transformation through God’s grace and spiritual discipline. Change is a process that takes time and ceaseless vigilance. In this area, it will require both confronting the “stubborn weeds of ingratitude” – which manifest themselves in fretting, complaining, and resenting – and choosing gratitude in every situation until a grateful spirit becomes our reflexive response to all of life.

Nancy DeMoss says eventually choosing gratitude results in choosing joy, a quality we all desire to experience in our lives. But getting there will require each of us to constantly renew our mind with the truth of God’s Word, set our heart to savor God’s good gifts above all the world has to offer, and discipline our tongue to speak words that reflect His goodness and grace.

Choosing gratitude involves elevating it to a place of priority in our lives. Nancy DeMoss talks about how Christians tend to view gratitude as an inferior Christian virtue – one near the bottom of the long list of “important” qualities such as faith and love. There is one major problem with that reasoning. A grateful heart is a major key to effectively living out these virtues. Without gratitude, faith eventually deteriorates into a practice of religion that’s hollow and ineffective. Love without gratitude will over time “crash hard on the sharp rocks of disappointment and disillusionment.” Nancy adds,

“True gratitude is not an incidental ingredient. Nor is it a stand-alone product, something that never actually intersects with life… It is one of the chief ways that God infuses joy and resilience into the daily struggle of life.”

Christ-centered, grace-infused gratitude has the power to change lives – our lives and also the lives of those who observe and receive the benefits of our expressions of gratefulness. It is fitting in every situation and all the time, even in life’s most desperate moments and difficult situations. It gives hope and has the power to transform overwhelmed strugglers to triumphant conquerors. Nancy DeMoss says it has the “effervescent power… to freshen the stale air of everyday life.”

Understanding Wisdom and Insight

As I was doing some study on wisdom this morning, trying to understand the difference between wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and insight as they are used in the Bible, I came across an article that used the well known verses of James 1:2-5 in the J.B. Philips paraphrase to explain this. The title of this section of Scripture: “The Christian can even welcome trouble.”

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

“And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”

Though I knew these verses were together in Scripture, I’ve always separated James 1:2-4 from verses 5-8 in my mind. These words stood out to me in our current situation because it was so clearly tied together in this paraphrase. If “in the process” of all kinds of trials, you need wisdom concerning how to meet any particular problem, don’t lean on your own understanding. Ask God for the necessary wisdom.

This immediately prompted me to pray for wisdom, not just in general, but in a specific area that has come up as we seek to move forward into what God as for our future. And as soon as I finished that prayer, another area came to mind for prayer.

Wisdom from God is available for us in the numerous daily decisions we face. Do you tend to handle the small daily decisions in your own understanding? I know often I do. God wants us to go to Him for wisdom in the small and not just the major decisions that need to be made. As my husband and I walk through this painful season after the loss of our son, life is full of changes. God cares about the decisions we make in even the smallest hour-to-hour situations that arise. And that’s a new insight – sight into something giving new understanding – for me this morning into the true biblical meaning of wisdom.

Understanding Wisdom and Insight

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As I was doing some study on wisdom this morning, trying to understand the difference between wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and insight as they are used in the Bible, I came across an article that used the well known verses of James 1:2-5 in the J.B. Philips paraphrase to explain this. The title of this section of Scripture: “The Christian can even welcome trouble.”

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

“And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”

Though I knew these verses were together in Scripture, I’ve always separated James 1:2-4 from verses 5-8 in my mind. These words stood out to me in our current situation because it was so clearly tied together in this paraphrase. If “in the process” of all kinds of trials, you need wisdom concerning how to meet any particular problem, don’t lean on your own understanding. Ask God for the necessary wisdom.

This immediately prompted me to pray for wisdom, not just in general, but in a specific area that has come up as we seek to move forward into what God as for our future. And as soon as I finished that prayer, another area came to mind for prayer.

Wisdom from God is available for us in the numerous daily decisions we face. Do you tend to handle the small daily decisions in your own understanding? I know often I do. God wants us to go to Him for wisdom in the small and not just the major decisions that need to be made. As my husband and I walk through this painful season after the loss of our son, life is full of changes. God cares about the decisions we make in even the smallest hour-to-hour situations that arise. And that’s a new insight – sight into something giving new understanding – for me this morning into the true biblical meaning of wisdom.

Walking By Faith into an Unknown Future

This Christmas, our family is preparing to enter a new phase of life. As a new year approaches, we are adjusting to no longer being caregivers for our special needs son David, who is spending this Christmas whole and in the presence of Jesus, and looking ahead to a much different year.

To prepare my heart for what lies ahead in 2019, I decided to end 2018 by doing a devotional study called Life Journey, aimed at those who are facing major changes in life, written by two of my favorite writers, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of the Boundaries series of books.

Today’s devotion focused on the life of Joseph. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Joseph, Genesis 37 tells of his jealous brothers selling him in slavery, and the story picks up in Genesis 39, which begins with these words: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭39:1‬) From there things went downhill, as a series of difficult circumstances begin to change Joseph into the man God was calling him to be, second in charge over the land of Egypt and a key character in the preserving of God’s chosen people through a worldwide famine.

The following quote stood out to me from this devotional reading.

“Joseph’s fruitfulness, or success, came from putting his faith into action. He trusted God to do the divine part, then invested himself fully to do his human part.

Joseph didn’t try to manipulate the pieces of his life that were out of his control. He entrusted those to God. Note what Joseph didn’t do: try to escape slavery or prison; despair and forfeit his identity and integrity; resent and hate the ungrateful cupbearer; or develop a victim mentality. Knowing what circumstances were out of his control, Joseph handed them over to God and focused on his responsibilities.

Joseph embraced the tasks he could do: He waited patiently on God for his vindication and reward (see Psalm 37:6–7); worked hard for his master, Potiphar; resisted Potiphar’s wife; managed the prison for the warden; interpreted dreams for his fellow prisoners; respected God’s warning of famine; stockpiled food and grain for the lean years; married and raised two sons.

Joseph couldn’t possibly have foreseen how God would orchestrate the pieces of a worldwide famine to reunite him with his family. He simply did what was in front of him at that moment and trusted God with the big picture of his life. And God made him fruitful (see Genesis 41:52).”

Good advice for how to walk into an unknown future!

The Discipline of Memorizing Scripture

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah‬ ‭61:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I began a study earlier this year of Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, one of the first assignments was to memorize the above passage. As I struggled phrase by phrase to learn this rather long portion of Scripture, I had no idea of what our family would be facing a few months later – or of how God would use several of the truths in these verses to bring comfort in the midst of sorrow. This whole situation with the sudden loss of our son has given me fresh understanding of the importance of memorizing Scripture so it will be available for God to bring to mind in our times of need.

This passage written by the prophet Isaiah describes some of the reasons Almighty God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Beth Moore wrote: “One of the primary reasons God sent His Son to this earth was to bring tender salve and relief to those whose hearts have been broken.”

As I’ve walked through many of the practical aspects of dealing with the death of our special-needs son David this week and of making preparations for his memorial service next Tuesday, this passage has taken on special meaning. I’ve experienced the Lord’s comfort in the midst of mourning, joy and a garment of praise instead of the deep despair I had always thought would be a part of this event which I have dreaded since David’s initial diagnosis as a three-month old. In those early days, we were told it was unlikely that David would live beyond early childhood, yet God graciously gave us thirty-four years with our precious son before He took him home to be with Him and to restore him to complete health.

So during this tough week of dealing with many of the practical aspects concerning David’s death, I’m grateful for the truths of Scripture that God has brought to mind and used to strengthen and comfort me. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up when I was struggling a few months ago to commit these verses to memory.

Have you made memorizing Scripture a part of your daily walk with God? If not, I highly recommend making this discipline a part of your daily quiet time. I’ve personally found the Scripture Typer Bible Memory app to be a helpful tool for committing Scripture to memory and regularly reviewing those verses I’ve memorized. Our God can use many methods to speak truth to our hearts in our time of need, but as I’ve grown as a Christian I’ve learned that one method He uses repeatedly in my life is that of bringing to my mind a truth that I have already made the effort to memorize.