As a young pastor, I remember my desk being covered with Bible commentaries, dictionaries, Greek word-study guides, and other books as I prepared my sermons. While I still love books, Bible study resources are now at our fingertips. Today we have more tools to study God's Word than ever before.
Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." The Word of God is profitable for our lives, but we will never profit from it unless we study and apply it.
I am sometimes asked if I can recommend a commentary or Bible study tool to help someone understand the Bible on a deeper level. Below is a list of free online tools I use each week as I study the Bible.
When I was nine years old, my pastor gave me his pocketknife as a gift. I still have it to this day, and it makes me smile when I think of his kindness to me. My Dad taught me how to sharpen the knife with a sharpening stone. What makes a knife sharper is the combination of friction, heat, and very close contact.
In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon said, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
When believers form a close relationship for "sharpening" one another, we call this accountability.
God intended for us to share our lives in the context of community. The natural result is spiritual growth. Today, accountability is the missing discipleship component in most Christian's lives. No one is watching out for their soul. They are not open, honest, and vulnerable with anyone.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus only had 12 disciples? Why so few? We know Jesus spoke to thousands of people at a time. It seems as if crowds followed Jesus everywhere He went. Why didn't He have hundreds of disciples or even thousands? Jesus intentionally invested himself in the lives of a few men. He ministered to large crowds but went deep with a small group. This idea goes against our Western philosophy that everything bigger is better. Jesus understood the exponential impact of twelve men on the world. Limited on earth by time, Jesus could not train crowds of people, but He could impact the lives of a few who would then disciple others.
Would it work? Did He get it right? After all, He's starting with an eclectic group of men who were not educated and were not likely to be influential. Would this grand discipleship experiment actually work?
When I think of Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul's words, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It's an amazing thought isn't it? It's God's will for us to be thankful...in everything!
I truly believe that practicing gratitude on a daily basis will change our lives. It refocuses our attention, gives us perspective, and guards our hearts from discouragment.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of the Apostle Paul's words, "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It's an amazing thought isn't it? It's God's will for us to be thankful...in everything! I truly believe that practicing gratitude daily will change our lives. It refocuses our attention, gives us perspective, and guards our hearts against discouragement.
Yesterday I spent three and a half hours at the DMV renewing my driver's license. Due to Covid restrictions, the first two hours were spent outside the building, standing in line. While I was frustrated at the long wait, the one good thing that came of it was they gave me enough time to read a book.
I believe the old adage is true: "leaders are readers." For as long as I can remember, books have been a part of my life. Today we are living through a cultural shift where more and more of our learning is acquired through visual media. A Pew Research study conducted last year revealed that 27% of Americans had not read a book in whole or part in the previous 12 months.
Undoubtedly, many factors cause this decline in reading: our fast-paced lives, family responsibilities, financial pressures, and increased visual media consumption. Worldwide, the average person spends 144 minutes per day on social media. The current TV viewership is two hours and 46 minutes per day. Yet, I often hear people lament they don't have enough time to read.
My wife and I are very amateur gardeners. Over the years, we have dabbled with growing potted plants, vegetables, roses, and other flowers. To be honest, we are not very good at it. This month we moved to a new house, and in the process of packing and moving all of our belongings, we took inventory of the many potted plants in our back yard. We noticed that while the plants were getting plenty of water and sunshine, most were not healthy, nor were they growing.
While talking with a friend who has much more experience, we learned that the soil was the issue. The plants needed new soil because they weren't getting the nutrients necessary for the roots to go deep. The vitality of the plant is in direct proportion to the health of the soil. We had been preoccupied with the visible part of the plant with no consideration of the hidden part.
The same can be true of our spiritual lives, and it reveals why some Christians are not growing. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." The soil, the inner (unseen) part of us, must be healthy to have spiritual growth.
The preacher closed the sermon with a call for those ready to trust Christ as Savior to raise their hand. He acknowledged their decision and led them in a prayer of confession, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ. Afterward, the church applauded in celebration of those who committed their lives to Christ. The pastor dismissed the congregation, and everyone went home talking about what a powerful service they had. But what happens next? What happens to those new believers who courageously placed their faith in Jesus?
Discipleship is about continually taking the next steps. To be a follower of Jesus, you have to follow. So many Christians move forward until they find a place of comfort in their faith. It's here that, tragically, they plateau in their faith and stop growing. This is not God's plan, nor his will.
My wife and I recently bought a home in our community. The property has a good backyard, but the wooden fence is in terrible condition. Time, weather, and termites have taken their toll. If we don't take action to replace the fence, it will soon fall, leaving the property without the protection of the boundary.
Like a fence around my property, I need borders in my life. Boundaries are essential for several reasons. They clearly identify what belongs to me. They outline areas that are permissible. Within the limitations, I have accessibility and freedom. Boundaries also protect things that might bring danger or harm to my life.
The letter came to my church office. It was from one of our members, a woman we knew well. She was writing to inform me she was leaving our church. "I just don't get it," she wrote. "Why do you preach about doctrine so much? Don't you know doctrine brings division in the church? You should stop preaching about doctrine, and instead, focus on the love of God.
I was sad to hear she was leaving our congregation, but I wished before her departure, she had sat down with me to talk about the importance of doctrine. Even the love of God, she wanted me to focus on, is a doctrine.
As a youth pastor in the early 1990's, I was blessed to serve with a lead pastor who was 78 years of age. I was in my first ministry position. He was in his last. Some might have thought our relationship would be a recipe for conflict. After all, he was 55 years older than me. But the opportunity was exactly what I needed.
I was smart enough to respect his 50 plus years of ministry, and he was kind enough to give me a chance to serve when few others would have. We would spend two years together until he retired. Looking back now, I recognize how formative those 24 months were in my life. They were so impactful because of the pastor's intentional discipleship and mentoring of my character and ministry.
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