Bible Study Hack: My Secret Shortcut to Experiencing the Almighty

I’m just kidding. There are no shortcuts.

But I do have a sort of secret for how I stay faithful in my daily reading the Word of God, though it is neither very secretive nor mysterious. What is it? Simply this: I enjoy it.

I actually adore getting up and spending my first hour or so with the Lord, reading His Word, studying it, praying through it, and even interceding for others in prayer. To me, it’s like getting to start my morning with the Person I admire the most in the whole wide world, because… well, that’s exactly what it is.

The Bible is not something I read because I have to, nor even because I ought to; I read it because I love it and I love its Author.

It excites me to know that the Most High God, the magnificent Creator of all that has being actually left us here on this crazy, blue and green satellite with a written account of His character and work. Even more, it thrills me to the core that He actually participated in the experience of humanity instead of remaining on the outside like some cosmic marble collector.

It may seem a trifle odd when I confess to you that I do not only love the inspirational chunks of Scripture; I love all of it, even the parts that make me squirm uncomfortably because they expose my sin and shame. I welcome the heart-wrenching as much as the heart warming. I love it all because I know that even the awful lash of discipline is administered personally and perfectly by the hand of my infinitely loving Father.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.
Psalms 119:92-94

Yet in all truth, there really is something like a secret behind my enjoyment, and I feel I would be remiss if I did not clarify this point: I cannot claim even a particle of credit for my delight in God’s Word. Not even the barest sliver stems from any righteousness or natural goodness on my part. It all has to do with God.

And all of it has taken time. Lots of time.

You see, the only reason I am able to enjoy His word, to look forward to reading it; the single solitary reason for my tendency to think about Scripture or ponder the nature of God when I am walking or washing dishes or gardening, or whatever it is that I do is because of His life at work in me.

To put it bluntly, I have because I asked, not for my glorification but for His.

… You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James 4:2b-3

Even my love for the Lord is something that He has given me. All that lives and loves and is good in me is because of His life-giving power, His breath in my lungs, His love poured out into my heart.

Nor is this the quick work of a single hour. I have spent years desperately, tearfully entreating God to help me overcome my unbelief – and He is doing so. Yet I also know that I will be praying the same prayer for all the years that are left to me, for each new day brings with it yet another understanding of how pervasive my unbelief truly is.

If any faithfulness or goodness is seen in my life, it stems from God’s grace and work alone. You can be dead certain that all mistakes and wrong turnings are my own.

Believer, I do not know where you are on the narrow path that leads to life, but I want you to know that there are no shortcuts or cheats to intimacy with God, nor is there a bypass that will allow you to circumvent the pain of contrition. Yet every step of the way, every atom of faith, even the will to press on, is freely offered by the One who is both the Beginning and the End.

And you are invited along for the journey!

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Blinded: A Migraine Lesson

Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
(John 9:40-41)

In my last migraine post, I shared a bit about how one of the weirder migraine-associated symptoms (aphasia) has affected me and how God has used that particular bit of unpleasantness to pare down my pride.

And no, the irony that most of the time aphasia is associated with damage to a part of the brain is not lost on me. Like I said, it has been an effective humbler…

But these temporary bouts of aphasia are not the only oddities that migraine has brought into my life, nor are they the only symptoms that carry an embedded spiritual lesson. Let’s check out another one:

Ocular Migraine

While some degree of aphasia precedes almost 90% of my migraine attacks, ocular migraines are much less frequent. However, if my first bouts of difficulty speaking were disconcerting and embarrassing, my first ocular migraine was downright scary, not the least because I was driving with my three small children.

When they were all toddlers, it seemed we were forever driving to the pediatrician. Most of these trips were unremarkable, but there is one that stands out clearly in my mind mainly because “clearly” did not at all describe my visual ability.

I was on the interstate en route to the pediatric clinic when a jagged, roughly circular line of black and white appeared in the left of my visual field. It’s rather difficult to describe, but imagine a scintillating border of alternating, diagonal black and white stripes. Inside that flashing border is… nothing. Nothing at all.

At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that there was some kind of funky hole in my vision – and that hole made it impossible to see if there was anyone in my left rear view mirror or in the lane beside me. Forget my vehicular blind spot – I had almost an entire blind side. 

By the grace of God, I made it to the pediatrician where I  had difficulty signing in because the left side of the page kept disappearing into this mysterious visual void. After unsuccessfully trying to tilt my head in a manner that brought the entire page into view, I finally told the receptionist what was going on.

To my horror, the nurses clustered around me, bringing me juice, getting me a chair, and in other ways causing what all young moms dread: a scene. Finally, one of the nurses or doctors asked if I had migraines, and when I replied in the affirmative, she reassured me that this was “normal” for migraine sufferers (a term that has only ever been applied to me with the addition of “normal for…“).

Since then, I have had a handful of these somewhat bizarre events, though now I know to just wait it out for 30 or 45 minutes. However, dealing with these unannounced blind spots got me thinking about a different kind of blind spot.

As I journey down the narrow path of sanctification, I have often asked the Lord not to allow me to be unaware of sin but to expose it. Lately, He has shown me blind spots in my relationships; places where I have areas where I have harbored resentment, allowing this ugliness to taint both my words and actions. Doing good works, maybe, but with sullenness rather than the cheerful gratitude which befits a daughter of the King. In other spots, rather than rejoicing in the success or blessings of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have nursed a small and secret envy.

Rather than keeping my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith as I ought to be doing, these blind spots of jealousy or bitterness have grown in an increasingly hungry arc across my view of certain friends or family members, blinding me to several of their very excellent attributes. Such blindness leaves ragged holes in what should be relationships alive with genuine warmth and closeness.

But my Father is good, and I am thankful that He does not leave me to grope about in the darkness of my own animosity. Instead, He chastises me,  revealing the full extent of the sin-taint by exposing it in the brilliant light of His own holiness and perfect love. When my sin is brought thus into focus, I feel a keen grief that leads to repentance.

Then by His redemptive power and loving mercy, He restores the sight of this old sinner, bringing His healing into the rifts of my relationships as well. Once I can see clearly,  love for my brethren and appreciation for their gifts is also revived.

So what are your blind spots? May He who gives sight to the blind cause us to recognize and repent of our sin so that we may be brought into a right relationship with Him and others.

Unplugged

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalms 37:4

For the last couple of weeks, I have spent most of my time unplugged. My family took a brief getaway to the beach, staying in a quiet residential neighborhood with no Wi-Fi.

Although I love many of the bloggers I follow, it was nice to take a holiday from the digital noise and to spend time reflecting on God’s Word surrounded by His creation and my family. Perhaps ironically, one of the most refreshing portions of the vacation included a little bit of conviction.

On the Saturday that we began the 7-hour drive to the nearest beach, the forecast for the 3 full days we planned to stay called for rain. A lot of rain. I confess that I was somewhat dissatisfied. As I expressed my disappointment on that first rainy day, He began to remind me of my own words written just a couple of weeks prior; words that spoke of finding contentment in Christ alone.

While we were at it, He also brought my attention to places in my heart where I had harbored jealousy instead of the satisfaction and gratitude that are appropriate for a daughter of the King of kings.

Grieved at my own hypocrisy, I repented,  thanking Him for His chastisement, and I began to intentionally offer Him thanks, reminding myself and my family of the abundance of His mercy and love manifested in gifts we have done nothing to deserve.

In my heart, I determined to satisfy myself with the Lord alone, yielding even a long-held desire to see a particular stretch of protected dunes sandwiched between high-rise vacation rentals and walk along the boardwalk that threads its way there from the road to the beach.

Yet now that I was truly and fully content in Him alone, He had something to show me.

On Monday morning, I rose around 7:00 to find that the rains had ceased, leaving behind only clouds. My mom and I headed to a nearby trail in the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, leaving behind my sleepy teens and my husband who was recovering from a cold.

The weather could not have been more perfect as we walked through the shade of live oaks and around a salt marsh and a lake.BeachNature003

As we walked, I stopped here and there to capture some of my Father’s artistry while at other times I merely savored the beauty.

To my great delight, we found that the trail we followed was intersected by another trail featuring a trek through natural sand dunes dotted by scrubby plants and low-growing vegetation.

GulfShores055Also along this trail was a ruin of some sort; a foundation of some small home and posts of unknown purpose that were gradually being reclaimed by the natural vegetation.

 

 

 

As we walked, the vegetation thinned, giving way to sea oats and the shore. GulfShores057BeachNature016

When I delighted myself in God, He took one small desire of my heart and returned it to me sevenfold. I absolutely adore natural places, and instead of settling for my small, cramped space of untouched dunes, He gave me a four-mile stretch of trail that encompassed even more than I had hoped to see. GulfShores059

Other gifts were more intangible: a genuine smile from my moody 12-year-old, a few moments of silliness from teenagers who are often irritated with one another.

Indeed, I am refreshed.  Sin has been brought to light and addressed, my family enjoyed some time together, and God granted not only the fullness of joy that comes in His presence, but many breathtaking glimpses of His creative genius as well. Oh, how great is my God!

 

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great….

…May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works… I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.   Psalms 104:24-25, 31, 33-34

 

 

Speechless – A Migraine Lesson

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
(Proverbs 11:2)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Most people have some familiarity with migraines as well as the standard symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and/or odors.

What you may not know is that a migraine is much more than a bad headache and often involves some fairly bizarre neurological symptoms before, during, after, or even occurring entirely apart from the actual onset of pain.

Just for kicks, let’s explore one of them – and how it helped deflate my ego:

Aphasia

In my personal experience, aphasia is a fairly good humbler of pride. As a child, I was frequently told I was smart and by the time I was an adolescent I began to believe it. I particularly liked to think my knowledge base was somewhat broader than it actually was, and because I was also insecure, was threatened when others knew more than me.

In my young adulthood, I also held a fair amount of intellectual smugness, somewhat oddly wedded to a crippling fear that I was not so very bright after all. Often, the resulting product was an arrogantly offensive attitude and included many distinctly unintelligent actions.

When aphasia strikes, however, it is rather difficult to feel oneself to be intellectually superior.

The first (and most extreme) instance of aphasia in my life happened very memorably when my children were very small. I cannot remember whether it was before my episode with meningitis or afterward, but I can very clearly recall the humiliation I felt.

I was hosting a play date for my littles and was talking with some other moms. Suddenly, I realized that the sounds coming from my face bore no resemblance whatsoever to the clear and coherent words I had composed in my mind. In despair, I remember trying to correct my speech only to have more garbled gibberish erupt from my now-red countenance before I finally hit upon the brilliant idea of shutting up.

It took a few heartbeats of silence before the other moms closed their mouths and looked away, probably wondering if I were drunk. It was the longest play date of my life.

I never spoke of this incident until I saw reporter, Serene Branson’s very public episode with aphasia and recognized the look in her eyes. However, it wasn’t until I read an article written to dispel rumors that she’d had a stroke that I learned the term “aphasia” and that it was linked to migraines.

Although my aphasia is rarely that severe (and from the look in the reporter’s eyes, I highly suspect panic set in, making things worse for her at that moment just as they did in my living room years before), it can still be embarrassing to speak in slurred speech, mix up words, or lose them altogether.

It’s also decidedly difficult to feel pompous when you have just asked your daughter to pass the couch at the dinner table. Not to mention those dignity-deflating moments when the name of a relative or close friend fails to roll off the tongue during an introduction…

But of course, my younger self desperately needed humbling, and I daresay I still do. Certainly, aphasia is only one of many tools my Father has used in taking me down a notch or two.

And while discipline is not always pleasant to the erroneous child, there are some delightful byproducts. While I may temporarily lose my ability to speak intelligibly, I have gained the ability to laugh at myself. Because if I am honest, plenty of my random word-swaps or numb-tongue exhibitions are more than mildly entertaining!

No longer do I feel the sting of humiliation when my words become tangled or fail to be in any recognizable tongue. Now, each instance of aphasia (and of the milder sort, there are many) serves as a reminder to keep my pride in check… and also to watch my words.

Have you had any embarrassing migraine moments you’d like to share?  Feel free to comment below. I’ll be unplugging for a few days, but I’ll respond as soon as I get back!!

 

 

Death of an Atheist

Note: If the beginning of this post sounds familiar, you are probably one of the lucky handful who caught me in the midst of a weird glitch wherein a draft by accident… 

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 6:11)

Before I came to know and love the Lord, I was a self-proclaimed atheist… and a pretty angry one at that. If you had asked the late teen/early adulthood version of myself what I thought about Christianity or religion in general, I probably would have answered something to the effect that religion is just a crutch to prop up people who are too weak to face life without it.

Ironically, now that I have come to enjoy a relationship with the living God, I partially agree with my old self on this point. If I have learned nothing else in my forty-odd trips around the sun, I have at least come to realize that I am too weak by far to attempt to live life without God.

The only difference between the Heather who did not recognize this fact and the Heather who now does is that the old me was in denial of very obvious weaknesses (even though said weaknesses resulted in alternating bouts of sobbing, self-loathing, and self-medication with alcohol).

The old me held a firm belief that life was all about what you could get out of it. Yet each attempt I made to seize the proverbial day left me with nothing more than double fistfuls of wishful thinking and palms slashed with bloody furrows from clinging to the shards of shattered delusions.

Perhaps the realization that disturbed me most profoundly in my old life was that the more I lived for myself, filling myself with what I thought was good and fun, the emptier I seemed to become until the inner void was so great that I was certain I would implode.

I had become a person wandering on an endless search with no goal, traveling at great speed yet without direction or purpose. My life was a confusion of restless and increasingly frantic, but futile, activity. I was locked in what seemed to be a perpetual circle, forever following my own footsteps.

“What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare.” – G. K. Chesterton, from “The Head of Caesar,” a Father Brown mystery

Yet all the time, God was there waiting patiently for the day when I, footsore and disillusioned, would finally grasp the extremity of my need. But when I first realized that each broad and inviting path I took only led me back to a trackless wilderness, I became convinced that the answers lay beneath my feet, as if some clue to joy could be unearthed like buried treasure.

As I delved deeper and ever deeper, my subterranean quest did not diminish my need but merely increased my darkness. It was there, knee-deep in muck and covered in grime, that I finally saw my folly. Suffocated by despair, I collapsed.

The God I had once laughingly dismissed as a crutch found me where I had fallen, miserably entombed in the pit I had dug, lifeless and caked in mud. The sudden Light of his presence woke me and I cringed in anticipation of the wrath and contempt I deserved from Him. But He did the unexpected.

Rather than move on by, as I would have done, the One I had once scorned knelt beside me in the mire. Lifting my lifeless form, He carried me out of the grave and washed me clean. He removed my shabby tatters and covered my shame with His own spotless garment of righteousness. And He took my stone-cold heart and kneaded it until it became a living thing, responsive to His love.

Then He hefted the full burden of my degradation onto His own shoulders and bore it because I could not. In those moments of His tender care and mercy, I finally realized what He already knew. I had been broken, lame, and dead long before that moment of despair. I just needed to see it.

To me, God became so much more than just a crutch – He became my reason to breathe, my motivation to wake. My life.

Oh, I can do things apart from Him. I can fail. I can be hateful. I can be selfish and stingy and all sorts of nasty. But I cannot be good apart from Him, for only God is good. I cannot be righteous – I can only wear His righteousness. Every moment, every hour, for every action and word, I need Him.

Yes, He is the One I lean on so that I can stand, but He is so much more. He is my Savior and gives my life purpose and meaning; the color to my world; my Master, Guide, Comforter, and King. May my lips always praise Him and may I never again try to venture out on my own!

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

(Psalms 40:2-4)

In the Furnace

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10-11

I have yet to develop a desire for affliction. To this day, I can guarantee that the words, “I sure hope to be hit by a killer migraine today,” or “Boy, what I wouldn’t give to engage in battle with cancer,” have never once crossed my lips.

Affliction of any sort is unpleasant. Unpleasant, but not unprofitable.

In fact, I would venture to say that my faith in God has grown more through times of discomfort than times of ease.  That is not to say that my faith has been unshaken – far from it! In truth, my faith has been shaken, stirred, turned inside-out, boiled, numbed, seared, battered, and even left for dead.  But it has not been destroyed.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Oh, I will admit that I have had my moments of doubt; wondering how a God who loves so deeply could stand to watch so much pain. But then… He not only watches pain, He participated in it.

With an infinite God, there is also an infinite capacity to suffer, and the agony He suffered on the cross was far more that mere physical pain. It was an agony of the soul; a tearing apart of a blessed Unity when the Man, Yeshua, took upon His human shoulders the burden of countless sins He did not commit.

When viewed from the proper perspective, my own misery seems puny in comparison.

No, true faith and trust in God is not consumed in the heat of the furnace of affliction.   Instead, it is refined; for as the blistering heat reveals weakness and impurity in all forms, they can be gradually separated and removed. Bit by bit, trial by trial, the faith I have in God is slowly but certainly becoming less about what He does for me and more about Him. 

One lesson I am learning through pain is that He will not yield His glory to another, not even if that “another” is me.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that while I have enjoyed many times of sweet and gentle communion with my God, they are often sweeter and more delightful because of the painful trials.

Yet what I am discovering is that the things my Lord allows to be devoured by fire are the very things that hinder me in my walk with Him. The cords of self-righteousness, self-importance, selfishness…. actually a whole lot of “self” is burned until there’s nothing more than ash.

And when all is said and done, what survives the flames will be whatever brings Him glory.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
(Daniel 3:24-25)

In Need

If you have ever been moderately involved in Christian circles, I am pretty sure you have already heard Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:13)

In my walk,  I have heard this verse quoted for encouragement or inspiration in countless situations, and it really is inspiring. It’s great to think that all things can be done through Christ, even wonderful to recognize that He is the sole source of our ability.

However, what I find a little bit funny is how I have not heard the verse used: I have never heard it used as Paul originally penned it.  As our pastor pointed out recently, the original context was about being content whether his means were meager or abundant.  Look back a couple of verses to see what I mean:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13)

While I am not saying that the only thing one can accomplish through Christ is Plenty010contentment, I do think it worthy of note that contentment ought to be clearly present in the Christian life. Whether the abundance or the need in our lives is financial, situational, or something else, we who bear the Lord’s name ought to find our satisfaction in Him alone.

By our contentment, we honor Him, showing our trust for Him in all circumstances because ultimately He is what we need. As Psalm 16:11 states, it is in His presence that we find the fullness of joy, therefore we can be content.

Another passage that has been similarly stretched until it is nearly unrecognizable from its original meaning is a portion of Matthew 19:26:

… with God all things are possible.”

Also true. All things are possible with God. However I think the context of this little snippet is of utmost importance:

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:23-26)

These days, it is not popular to talk about sin. In America in particular, rather than dealing in honest confessions of sin, many of us have soothed our consciences by talking about lifestyles or choices, by  blame-shifting or renaming (ie -calling gossip a “prayer request” complete with juicy and unnecessary details).

Rarely do we hear tearful confessions of sinful thoughts or contrition for smug self-righteousness. Even more rarely do we recognize it in ourselves.

Ironically enough, by this sort of blindness we nicely illustrate the words of Yeshua: “With man this is impossible,” because we seem to find it impossible even to notice our crimes.

My country is among the wealthiest, and so in many ways this verse applies very specifically (and uncomfortably) to us. So great is our wealth and privilege that we often fail to see our need for God in the little things, like daily meals or the grace we need to respond to others with kindness and humility. Too often, we trust in our salaries or the supermarket; too often we revel in our entertainments when we ought to be humbly finding delight the presence of the Most High.

I am no different. But for the very reason that I do see my tendency to sin and how prone I am to selfishness,, I am thankful that it with God it is possible for me to be saved. Because of His great love, offered while I was still in my sin, my strong desire is to humble myself enough to recognize and forsake sin so that I may honor the One who forsook His honor for me.

Despite our riches – and really because of them – we all need the Christ desperately. We can never enter the Kingdom of God apart from Him, for He is the Way. Certainly, we can never buy our way in. There are no first-class arrangements for the narrow path that leads to life; neither movies to pass the time nor comfortable seats. There is hardship, difficulty, sacrifice, and persecution.

But you know what? It will be worth it. And with Him, it is possible for us to let go of our riches and trust ourselves to the grace and care of the King of kings instead.

Blogger Brandon Adams also shares some insight into three other Scriptures – including my number one “Christian-ese” pet peeve. Follow this link to his article.