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The Deposit We Take For Granted

Today, 86,400 of a limited precious commodity has been deposited into our stewardship account.

Actually, we are given that gift every single day.

86,400 seconds is ours every time the sun rises, orbits, then sleeps.

And as the clock’s hands go round and round, we will have either invested today to grow exponentially for eternity, or let them tick by into the abyss of meaningless.

We will have spoken words to encourage and build, or spewed words that hurt and deflated.

The Apostle Mark understood such an investment. He penned the word “immediately” no less than ten times in his Gospel’s first chapter alone.

Carpe diem.

Seize the day.

How will you seize this day? How will you invest or waste today’s 86,400 seconds?

This morning I seized a moment to utter this prayer in my quiet time, “God, give me the wisdom to spend Your deposit wisely today.”

And as I get ready for the day, looking beyond the mirror, I’ll look into the eyes of my heart with a whispered reminder, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your Maker.”

What awaits me today? What awaits you?

86,400 moments to be grateful, scared, happy, sad, joyful, or wasteful — but once gone, those moments are forever out of our grasp.

To write words that will change a life.

To sing a song that will touch a heart.

To tell someone you love them.

To tell them about a Savior who loves them more than you ever could.

God has given us the gift of time that ultimately all belongs to Him.

So…
How will you spend your 86,400 stewardship deposit today?

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Your Messy Bravery Makes This Mess Brave

You have gathered close and invited me across state lines and beyond our country’s borders for one simple, profound privilege: to huddle our hearts together around God’s Word. 

And I’ve seen you come from all over — bags packed, faith intact, and prayers offered with the desire to go deeper with God. You did it again just a few weeks ago as we gathered at my home church to tape a new DVD Bible study series in partnership with the LWML.

And I have to tell you:

You are brave. 

Every. 
Single. 
One. 
Of. 
You.

You have come regardless of insecurities and difficulties, not knowing if you would belong. Hoping to fit in somewhere. And it’s as if I’m looking in a mirror. 

We come with our stories searching to see how they fit into His bigger story — because that is what we have. Stories. God’s Word shining light on our lives to write stories that bleed, heal, and bless.

The lines of our stories become life-lines we share with each other when life’s storms blow hard.

Jesus often taught through stories called parables. Because people can relate to stories.

In the midst of our brave story-sharing, we discover there are a whole lot of other women out there who are a bit of a mess just like us. Messy because of those days we have to fight for joy when the enemy pulls out his arsenal. Messy because we long for eternity while living in a fallen world.

We are a mess — you and I — saved by grace. A brave mess. Brave because each day you get out of bed despite wanting to pull the covers over your head until the aches and disappointments subside.

We brave the harsh world to share our messy stories because other women need to know perfection this side of heaven is an illusion.

And as we gather around His Word, sharing our messy stories, the Spirit of God can bind our wounds. He can take away the sting of loneliness and restore joy despite the laundry heap, crying kids, bruised marriages, and frayed dreams.

Please keep getting out of bed.

We need your messy, real, authentic, unmasked stories trusting that in the hands of the Spirit, the stories become salve to the battered souls. Because as we gather in community around God’s story, the Word is made flesh in our own lives.

I need your messy story… and you need your messy story. We need people who will tell us their story, not their sermons — their thrashing, not their theology. Because we need to know that we aren’t the only messy ones. 

You are BRAVE.

Your bravery makes me brave.

And together we bravely face this world armed with the Sword of the Spirit that reveals the life-altering story of a Resurrection Easter love written for all. So we suit up.

Not because we, the messy, are perfect.

But because of the perfect One who wasn’t afraid of our messes and risked it ALL to write the perfect ending to our stories.

Thank you for being brave.

WWW.LWML.ORG/BIBLE-STUDIES

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One Thing You Need To Know To Face Tomorrow

Sometimes, I wonder if the bends and twists on this road of life can break things.

Some days, I find the courage to admit that I’m scared.

Like today. 

As I read through these piles of research, scribble down notes, and whisper fragmented prayers, the outline of my next book surfaces. Sharing about perseverance despite life’s head-on collisions, steps toward healing slowly focus onto the page. Hope faithfully emerges.

But hope and healing are the last things Satan wants for me. Or you.

So he hurls roadblocks of shame and doubt, blaring distractions like sirens.

He loves to cause wrecks.

As we slip behind the wheel of life, you and I need to know this one thing to face tomorrow:  
Christ wins.

This journey zigzags and twists, but what keeps us from faceplanting in a ditch is just that: Christ wins.

We stagger toward Sunday morning whip-lashed, bruised, and broken desperately needing God’s Resurrection promise. Our hearts face suffering in this fallen world but what can scare us when we know Christ wins?

When chaos shatters tranquility and we need peace like a river, God buckles us into His indestructible Resurrection truth that, no matter how dizzy the road blurs our vision, Christ wins.

It means we can risk it all to share the hope of Salvation, because when we surrender the driver’s seat to Jesus, we can release the wheel and rest in His amazing grace.  

Christ alone navigates life’s hairpin turns when life flings around corners on two wheels.

We suffer unexpected rollovers, yet we experience hope in this: Christ repurposes pain for His gain to use what we thought was wreckage for His glory. 

Sharing life’s painful collisions with others could send us careening into the ditch of fear to give up and not allow the power of His healing and forgiveness to shine bright.

Instead, His Word provides strength and assurance that this road leads precisely to one life-changing truth that buckles us in safe and sound:

CHRIST WINS.

And because He lives — we can face tomorrow.

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One Simple Thing

Less is more.

We hear that a lot.  

It’s a trendy phrase. 

Magazines embrace the vision of “Simple Living,” of pairing down, of decluttering.

Fashion shows promote what not to wear and dressing in straight-lined classics.

It feels new, fresh, and focused. Exactly what we need, right?

But Jesus rode the front of the trend — over 2,000 years ago.

Only one thing is necessary,” He reminded Martha, as she forgot and took a hard left into crazy.

Sometimes I forget, too.

In the midst of researching, writing, and commitments, the one thing gets lost in the shuffle.

This weekend I begin filming a brand new Bible study series for LWML based on John 15, “Where Love Abides.” Amidst all the preparation, I feel like I’ve taken a hard left into crazy. Just like Martha.

And I need to be reminded through His Word, “You are worried and anxious about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

Only one thing is necessary. 

That I walk in closer communion with Christ.

That I pause life’s chaotic pace to spend time at His feet.

That I tune out the crowd noise to hear His gentle whisper.

It’s simple—to take up my cross daily and follow Him.

Just that one thing.

Less is more.

In the lessening, He becomes greater.

Simple.

Well, not really. But He’s getting me there.

One day at a time.

 


 

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Little Old Lutheran Ladies Club

If history and literary geniuses have taught us anything, it’s that we love a good story. Stories that provide a new perspective. Stories that move our soul.

This is one of those stories.

A few weeks ago, several thousand LWML ladies attended our bi-annual convention in Albuquerque, NM. Long-time Twitter friend, Pastor Andrew (Drew) Ratcliffe, an avid supporter of LWML, attended the convention. Drew’s wife (Angie), her mom, sister (Liz), and a couple of Angie’s aunts also attended the convention with him.

Angie’s sister, Liz, was not very familiar with LWML since her Lutheran church in Idaho does not have an existing group. Her only familiarity with LWML is from attending her first LWML convention in Des Moines two years ago and the things that Drew and Angie have shared with her.

After attending her second LWML national convention in Albuquerque a few weeks ago, Liz penned her thoughts about the convention and shared them with Drew. Her thoughts brought him to tears, touching him deeply. After gaining Liz’s permission, Drew shared them with me to share with you.

I hope Liz’s beautiful story (in purple below) about the incredible Lutheran Women in Mission touches your heart and encourages you today.

Little Old Lutheran Ladies:

Some timid and proper, some outspoken and opinionated, many of them grandmothers, many of them widows. This used to be the extent of what came to mind when I thought of this particular demographic. I ought to be familiar with the subject, as the church I attend has many in its congregation.

After attending a bi-annual convention for an organization made up many little old Lutheran women (among others), I’ve been reflecting on the identity of these exceptional women:

  • The many Sunday school teachers I had as a child that gave me a solid foundation for my faith.
  • The 80-year old woman from my church that sends me a card on every holiday and has remembered my birthday every year I’ve been alive.
  • The various ladies that lean over in the pew just a bit when I go up to communion to see which ridiculous pair of shoes I’m wearing that week. “I was hoping you were wearing my favorite pair – those heels with the polka dots!”
  • The 90 year old woman who really isn’t supposed to be driving, but made a trip from Meridian to the farm almost in New Plymouth by herself to visit my Mom after Dad died. “I wasn’t sure I remembered how to get there, but I passed the old Cloverleaf restaurant and figured I was heading in the right direction, so I just kept driving!” Mom said she opened the door and couldn’t have been more surprised to see her standing there.
  • The ladies in their pant suits or jacket/skirt combinations that love and compliment my crazy outfits instead of expressing disapproval.
  • The many widows of our congregation that make a special effort to check in with my Mom every week, and never shied away from the hard conversations and progressive bad news from her the past years.
  • The committee of women that provided and organized countless funeral dinners for families of the church with my Mom, free of charge.
  • The group of Lutheran women that formed a women’s missionary league during World War II, a time when being charitable and spreading the Gospel surely seemed of little importance to many.
  • That same group of Lutheran women who still give millions of dollars every two years to support many mission projects throughout the world. 

The women who traveled to Albuquerque, NM, despite some of them being poor in health, limited in their mobility, or facing tragedy and heartbreak in their home lives, came to give yet more of their time to this group.

I attended this convention, largely due to the suggestion of my sister. I was running through all the reasons I should be at home in Idaho instead of where I was when the event was starting.

As the convention progressed, I received the same lovely compliments and encouragement in my faith, but this time from Little Old Lutheran Ladies from all over the world.

These women are to be admired and respected, not pitied or dismissed.

I’ve realized through family discussion that my grandmother on my Mom’s side (that I never met) fit this bill. I am watching as my Mom and her sisters become them.

What an honor it would be to be one day included in the Little Old Lutheran Ladies Club.

I’m so grateful to Liz for her beautiful words and willingness to share them with you. Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I consider it a high honor to be part of LWML for over 20 years now. We are prayer-warrior women of ALL ages, nationalities, and from ALL walks of life coming together with a passion to serve the Lord through mission work.

I hope you share this to encourage other women — and perhaps take a moment to comment below and encourage Liz.

The LWML has been bearing abundant fruit in God’s vineyard for over 75 years.

Won’t you join us for the next 75?

To God be the glory!

http://www.lwml.org/bible-studies

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What Women Need To Know About Body Image

Each morning as I step in front of my mirror, I hear it whisper:

Wow, you should NEVER leave the house without makeup. Ever.

That wrinkle wasn’t there yesterday. You’re getting so old.
You’re so fat it’s a miracle anyone likes you. You should be ashamed.

Does your mirror whisper, too?

My mirror whispers what our culture has programmed my mind to believe about body image — that somehow my physical appearance determines:

…my likeability,

…my destination,

  …my worth.

After all, that’s what glossy magazine covers and rail thin TV and movie stars blare at us each day.

If you don’t have a Barbie figure, Malibu tan, perfect teeth, flawless skin, billowing hair, pouty lips, perky breasts, and endless legs, somehow you are less than.

Dustin Hoffman was once interviewed about his 1982 blockbuster movie Tootsie. Making that film so profoundly altered his tainted views about a woman’s physical appearance, that over 30 years later he cannot speak about it without choking up:

His experience revealed a devastating lie that confirms what women (and men) today have been brainwashed to believe: Physical beauty = value.

The statistics are staggering:
~ 90% of all women want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance.
~ 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat.
~ One out of four college-age girls have an eating disorder.
~ Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and teenagers.
~ Only 2% of women think they are beautiful.

The world’s obsession with physical perfection murders our self-esteem and mangles our self-worth.

As I approach turning 50 this September, I have finally embraced a truth that took me far too long to realize:

I AM BEAUTIFUL.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know this fact about my physical appearance confirmed by doctors: I am overweight.

But more importantly, I know this life-changing fact confirmed by Scripture: my Savior sees me as an immeasurable treasure for whom He sacrificed His life.

Jesus, my family, and my friends do not value or love me based on my physical appearance.

And neither will I.

After a lifetime riddled with roller coaster diets, over-the-counter diet pills, crash exercise regimens, fat-reducing body wraps, and a painful divorce, I have planted both feet on God’s firm foundation and roar from the depths of my soul:

ENOUGH!
I am beautiful.  

AND SO ARE YOU.

Not because the world says so, but because the One who created you says so:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

The One who created fields of vivid flowers, soaring mountains, and deep blue oceans created YOU. Not because He had to, but because He wanted to. 

And God does not create ugly.

He created you to enter into a loving relationship with Him — to lavish on you unconditional love, extraordinary blessings, and gifts that never hinge on your dress size or complexion.

Through the world’s eyes, physical perfection hisses destructive lies.

Through God’s eyes, Christ’s perfection provides redemptive truths.

Jesus, perfection made flesh, walked this earth and loved ALL — without regard to race, gender, age, mobility, social status or physical appearance.

He demonstrated how to love others likewise and invited us to love Him. When Jesus voluntarily gave His perfect life to provide the certain hope for imperfect people to spend eternity with Him, He promised that we will be like Him.

So here’s the soul-freeing truth: Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

When you and I look to God for our identity and worth, we are radiant. BEAUTIFUL! He invites us to see ourselves through His loving eyes, not a culturally warped, photo-shopped magnifying glass.

When I remember Mother Teresa, I don’t think of physical beauty. I think of Jesus. His love shining through her made her more beautiful than any super model on the planet.

We have a generation of girls killing themselves — literally — to strive after physical perfection. Please do not pass up any opportunity to tell them that they are beautiful — not because of how they look — but because they are created in God’s glorious image that transcends outward appearance.

It is extraordinarily hard to undo society’s brainwashed definition of beauty that our culture has ingrained in our minds. But please hear this today:

A mirror’s reflection does not determine your worth because Christ’s perfect beauty reflecting through you makes you priceless.

And each time your mirror starts whispering, duct tape it shut with the truth of God’s Word:

God created you.
Jesus died for you.
You are beautiful!

Thank you, Lord, for loving us beyond ALL worldly measures.

Have you ever struggled with body image issues?
How did you cope with or combat it?
What wisdom can you share to help others?

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Dealing With Our Labels

We all wear them.

Labels.

Some labels we like: Smart. Beautiful. Rich. Skinny. Successful.

Some not so much: Stupid. Ugly. Needy. Fat. Lacking.

But some labels go much deeper. Sometimes the adhesive leaves marks on our heart.

Scars.

Labels that cause us to lower our head. Avoid eye contact. They strike something so deep in us that we just want to run. From the stigma. From the memories.

From the pain.

Childless. Widowed. Divorced. Abused. Abandoned. Failure.

It doesn’t matter who attached the labels. Sometimes we adhere them on ourselves. Perhaps we switch them out depending on circumstances and mood. Or attitude. Or who we’re blaming. Or who we’re mad at.

People in the Bible wore labels, too:

… King David, Adulterer
… Moses, Murderer
… Solomon, Idolater
… Judas, Betrayer
… Noah, Drunk

It’s easy to label others. It doesn’t cost us anything. We take a glance at the less-than-stellar aspects of someone else’s life and our mental label-makers start cranking. We hear malicious gossip so our label-maker shifts into overdrive.

But you and I wear a label that trumps the rest. Made before the beginning of time by God Himself.

LOVED.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3

He labeled us first. A manufacturer’s stamp, so to speak. But we’ve covered it over. Allowed others to deface it with a mustache and beard.

Perhaps you’ve even tried to peel it off just because you don’t feel worthy.

So how do we deal with our labels?

1. Pray. Maybe you’re not aware the detrimental labels you adhere to yourself. Ask God to reveal them to you.

2. Identify them accurately. You may struggle with insecurity, but that’s a secondary emotion. The root is fear. Fear of not fitting in, not excelling, not being “good” enough. Accurately identifying what you’re afraid of opens doors of understanding.

3. Seek help. You may uncover serious issues under those labels that may go beyond your capability to properly work through. Seeking advice or guidance from a pastor, counselor, or support group may be in order.

4. Put on the Teflon of God’s Word. When we view ourselves through God’s love and forgiveness found in His Word — finding our peace and contentment in Him alone — we discover that other labels won’t stick for long. Filling our mind and heart to overflowing with His rich truths from Scripture leaves no room for mislabeling.

As we read through God’s transforming Word, He offers you these life-restoring labels:

Forgiven – Psalm 86:5
Redeemed – Job 19:25
Pardoned – Psalm 103:3
Renewed – Isaiah 40:31

God’s labels don’t change. You are always loved by Him — regardless of what you’ve told yourself or heard from others.

In Christ, you are His priceless treasure and dearly loved child. 

Worth creating.

Worth dying for.

Worth spending eternity with Him.

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What People In Deep Pain Need Most

As the Manchester bombing victims slowly move toward recovery, pain piles high next to the debris.

Heartbroken parents who will never again nuzzle their child’s hair. Children never again hearing a favorite bedtime story from mom. The widowed wife who rolls over to greet an empty pillow.

What can we possibly say that will make things better?

Nothing.

When unspeakable loss crumples a heart to its knees hard, deep grief doesn’t hear well. They experience devastation deafness, so to speak. I’ve been there. Felt that.

This tragedy caused me to reflect on how I initially comfort those who grieve.

Am I helping or hindering?

So often at funerals, well-intentioned people launch feel-good speeches at a grieving person about how God has a plan. How He will bring good out of their loss. That through adversity, God provides opportunity for faith to strengthen and grow.

But hold on.

There is a right time and place for those truths. But it’s not during the funeral.

After the tragedy a well-known pastor tweeted: “In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or speeches. They just need you to show up and shut up.

Exactly.

Devastated hearts need someone to sit in the mud and cry with them. Or a strong shoulder to lean against when their knees tremble weak. Or a comforting hug expressing love in a thousand silent ways.

And lots of prayers without ceasing.

God promises to “heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) 

And He is faithful to do exactly that. 

So if someone in your life has suffered a deep loss, perhaps save the words for later — when lessening degrees of grief allows them to actually hear the comfort.

Until then, just show up.

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How To Balance Life While Writing A Book

With four books and several Bible studies published, I finally feel qualified to write this post. Perhaps it’s just the experiential miles talking.

As an author, the question I field more often than any other is: “How do you have time to write books, work full time, travel to speak at events, and maintain a satisfying personal life?

The simple answer is the amazing grace of a faithful God and the incredible support of family and friends. But there’s more.

It requires commitment. Sacrifice. Focus. Organization. And no small amount of blood, sweat and tears.

Through trial and fire, I’ve discovered five specific ways to stay sane while meeting manuscript deadlines. There are many more, but these five help set solid boundaries.

     1) Say NO to new commitments until the manuscript is turned in.

New and cool opportunities will start pouring in the moment you commit to a writing deadline — trust me. It’s like when you commit to eating healthy and suddenly chocolate materializes everywhere. However, resisting the urge to add entries to your calendar is crucial to protect your writing time.

     2) Take a sabbatical from voluntary, time-consuming commitments.

I sing on my church’s worship team and absolutely love it. However, it requires time learning music, diligent rehearsal, run-through, and singing at both services on Sunday morning.

I took a sabbatical from the worship team for the two months prior to my last manuscript deadline to shift that time toward writing. The team’s support and prayers touched me to the core. The cool thing? A few new worship leaders have stepped forward to become amazing blessings to our church.

     3) Commit to writing a certain word count each day.

I created a 3-month daily chart containing current commitments. It allowed me to ascertain at a glance which days/evenings could be devoted toward significant blocks of writing time.

Regardless, I committed to adding 1,000 words to the manuscript each day (except Sundays). Some days I only added 500 words, but others reached over 3,500. The chart kept me on track right up to the deadline.

     4) Sign off of social media and devote all spare time to your manuscript.

If I had 30 minutes to write, I wrote! I loaded my manuscript onto a dedicated thumb drive and wrote during lunch breaks, waiting at the airport, and during flights.

You’ll be surprised at how much you get done when you’re focused.

I also scheduled a week of vacation from my full time job right before the deadline. I sequestered myself at home and fine-tuned the manuscript, taking time to pray often. I also took a two-month sabbatical from my blog and avoided social media for the final ten days to eliminate distraction.

     5) Become anti-social.

This one is extremely tough. Writing involves more than strolling along picturesque rivers at sunset while eating French bread washed down with wine while pondering deep thoughts that will eventually be captured on our laptop.

I’m sorry to pop the idealistic bubble, but writing entails long hours of research and typing with complete focus. Headaches, backaches and stiff necks go with the territory.

Explaining my deadline and commitment to family and friends included them in the process instead of shutting them out. They understood that I couldn’t go to impromptu movie nights until after the deadline.

Their encouragement and prayer support kept me going during those tougher writing days (yes, they happen).

I am looking forward very much to this summer, because come Fall I will buckle down, put these five items into high gear and complete my next manuscript before Thanksgiving.

And remember, intentionally rest between manuscripts to re-engage in normal life, putter around the house, take a vacation, and breathe again. Rest is crucial to tackling your next project with enthusiasm instead of exhaustion.

Bottom line? There are many ways to carve out the necessary time to meet your writing deadlines. Just prioritize, organize, and jump in with both feet, remembering:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

If you’re an author, what could you add to the list?

If you’re an aspiring author, did you find anything surprising?

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For the Love of Bible Study {plus free downloads}

When it comes to Bible study, I admit that it used to scare my freckles white. As a new Christian 25 years ago, my Bible’s table of contents was a lifeline to find my way around Scripture.

How do you view Bible study? Frustrating, fulfilling or downright frightening?

Much like a car’s GPS, effective Bible study tools often spare us the discomfort of getting lost in Scripture.

Because who likes getting lost?

Study Bibles and other resources are helpful tools, but when it comes to studying God’s Word for personal growth (rather than preparing to speak or teach from it), I’d like to suggest a method from personal experience that works well:

(1) Shelve your study Bible.

Don’t discard it, just shelve it initially. Get a Bible that contains only Scripture cross-references. Look up the cross-references to help you interpret and navigate through Scripture. Comparing Scripture with Scripture lets the Bible explain itself, allowing God’s context to speak.

Treat study Bible notes as what they are: commentary, and a brief one at that. Remember they are man’s words, subject to bias and error. Read them respectfully but critically.

(2) Take your time.

Ask God for insight as you begin studying His Word. Humbly ask God to reveal truth to your heart and mind as you read for understanding on your own. Ask again as you compare your discoveries to those of trusted commentators.

Even if you discover that you may have drawn an inaccurate conclusion from a passage, your diligence to discover the correct interpretation will cause you to remember more readily.

This journey is vitally necessary for spiritual growth.

(3) Consult multiple sources.

Study notes serve as a starting point, not a terminus. Once you have read the passages for personal understanding in a note-free Bible, consult several study Bibles and commentaries from trusted sources. Look for consensus and disagreement among them.

And keep those prayer lines open with God as you go.

There are many resources, so where do we start? Here are some of my indispensable research mainstays:

The Lutheran Study Bible by Concordia Publishing House
Logos Bible Software
www.blueletterbible.com
ESV Bible Atlas
The New Strong’s Expanded and Exhaustive Concordance
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture

There are others, but I usually use the above resources each time regardless. Just remember, those study tools serve as a reference point for your conclusions, but not as a substitute for them.

And don’t be afraid to get a little lost in Scripture.

Allow yourself to feel the extent of what you don’t understand. It’s a humbling feeling.

If wisdom and understanding define your destination, humility makes an excellent starting point for the journey.

After all, God faithfully promises: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

How do you view and/or approach Bible study?

Comment below and let’s learn from each other’s tips and study methods. We’re on this journey together!

FREE DOWNLOADS:
Here are four different Bible Reading Checklists to choose from. Tuck one (or all) neatly in your Bible for marking your study journey. Please feel free to share them.

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