For the Love — an Online Bible Study

JohnStudy1When a biblical character hits me, stays with me for months, and fills me with questions that draw me, daily, deeper into Scripture, I’ve learned to take notice. And to hit my knees, because often, God is about to do something.

This happened six or seven years ago, when I became fascinated with Joseph (from Genesis), and I had a quiet yet steady niggling–hold tight. You’re about to be trained.

I soon realized how true that was as, for the next few years, God hit me with challenge after challenge. Not exactly fun times but oh, so necessary.

Fast forward a few–or seven–years, and a character flaw became more and more apparent–a selfishness, or perhaps self-obsession, had begun to rise. So I prayed for God to help me close my ears to accolades and expectations, turn my heart from sales numbers and worldly success, and to daily offer myself on the alter (Romans 12:1-2) so that Christ might shine, unhindered, through me.

Around this time, I visited a friend’s church–just once, mind you, rather coincidentally, or so one might think. As I sat there, rather distracted by my tumbling thoughts, one word caught my attention: deflect.

Deflect, spoken in reference to John the Baptist, a man whose life exemplified his famous quote, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV).

A statement that is easy to make but oh so hard to live. Yet so very necessary, because Christ is worthy, amen? And His mission–the mission He’s assigned each of us–is worth cross-423157_1920it. So much is at stake. Everything we do or say creates an eternal impact. We’re either drawing others to Christ or pushing them further away. We’re either exemplifying what it means to love as He did or we’re consumed with self.

We’re either revealing God’s amazing grace or we’re distorting it.

You and I, we were created with purpose for a purpose; a glorious, eternal purpose. And yet, we’re still being created as God removes everything within us that gets in His way and sharpens and hones those things that further His kingdom.

That, my sweet brothers and sisters, is where this study comes in. Join me and some of my most cherished blogging friends for the next two and a half months as we take an indepth look at the life of John the Baptist. Not only will we be digging deep into Scripture and discussing how it applies to our lives today, but we’ll also be sharing some Bible study methods to enable you to glean God’s truth from your own reading.

You can join discussions here, and we also invite you to interact with one another on Facebook in our John Study Group.

You can begin this study by reading Luke 1:1-10 each day for the next week, jotting down every question and observation that comes to mind. Consider reading the passage in numerous Bible translations. Then bring your notes back here, next Thursday when we’ll discuss ways we, like John’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, can be faithful in the mundane. (Luke 1:1-7)

Then, on September 12th, join me on Christians Read where I’ll discuss making prayer a priority. (Luke 1:8-10)

Then, on the 13th, I’ll be on Faith, Friends, Chocolate expanding on the importance of prayer further and sharing how we can make our prayer time rich and meaning. (Luke 1:8-10)

On September 15th, the amazing and insightful Chaka Heinze will visit us here to talk about those times when we’re crying out to God but it feels as if He’s not listening. (Luke 1:5-7)

On the 19th, my dear friend Maria Morgan will discuss ways we can choose faith over doubt. (She’ll also be sharing some information about a wonderful Bible study she’s launching.)

On the 22nd, Susan Aken will talk about a painful time in her life when it felt as if she’d be waiting forever, and what happened when that waiting ended.

Finally (for the month of September), on the 29th, my guest Candee Fick will talk about how as parents and grandparents can raise children who deflect (live lives that point others to Christ).

That’s it for September.

I hope you’ll join us, because as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), we can all learn from and teach one another.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Can you relate to my steady tug? When has a biblical story or character fascinated you and resulted in an extended study? Did you find God used that person or story to teach or show you something? How about John that Baptist–have you spent much time studying his life? What intrigues or inspires you most about him? Share your thoughts here with us in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a chuckle (at my expense), pop on over to Modern Day Mishaps to read how I almost became Trapped in Atlanta, and how God preemptively saved me from my scatterbrained mess.

Tears Not Wasted

portraitI think we’ve all had times where all we can pray is, “Lord, why?” Why me? Why now? Why this? Unfortunately, I don’t believe God always gives us answers this side of heaven, but every once in a while, we catch a glimpse of God’s glorious, loving plan. And when that happens, all we can say is, “Amen!” Today my sweet friend Jodie Bailey, author of Freefall, shares such a moment and the heartfelt praise that ensued. As you read her account, pause to praise God afresh, knowing He truly does work all things to good, that He never wastes a tear or heartache, and that His plans are always, always loving and good.

Because I’d Been There by Jodie Bailey

I don’t know about you, but it seems like, at least around here, Satan is mad about something.  He’s kicking and screaming right now, and it seems like there are a lot of people taking hits.  I’ve seen division, hurt feelings, illness, crazy left-field things happening to families, churches, schools…  Maybe his time is getting short and he knows it.  I don’t know.  I just know it seems to be amping up.  Anybody else seeing it?

And I just realized that’s a tie-in to what happens to Joseph in Genesis 40.  Honestly, I didn’t see it until just now.  But Joseph knew a thing or two about situations getting worse, about hope appearing and disappearing.  Favored son to slave.  Favored slave to prisoner.  Favored prisoner to, perhaps worst of all, forgotten.  It’s one thing to have little hope.  It’s another to have hope brush your fingertips then evaporate.   In Proverbs 13, it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”  I wonder how sick Joseph’s heart was after this?

Genesis 40:23 (GW)–Nevertheless, the chief cupbearer didn’t remember Joseph. He forgot all about him.

Some time after Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker land in prison and start dreaming dreams that Joseph–by God–correctly interprets.   In gratitude and, wholeheartedly, the cupbearer promises to remember Joseph before the king… then immediately forgets.

How long do you imagine Joseph sat in prison waiting to get his say?  How much hope do you think he had when the cupbearer headed into freedom?  How long did he sit on the edge of his bed, jumping up at every sound, just knowing this was the moment, unable to sleep for the anticpation?  How long before he sank into dejectedness and came the day he didn’t even bother to get out of bed?  From Joseph’s view, it was hopeless.

I’ve been there.  See, when I was mired down in fear for nearly ten years, I knew God could heal me.  I knew he was 100% capable.  Yet time after time after time, prayer after prayer after prayer, the healing didn’t come.  I begged.  I cried.  I raged.  I gave up.  I hoped.  I lost hope.  I hoped again.  Yet healing didn’t come.  Until my birthday, eleven years ago tomorrow, when He freed me completely, healed me totally, in a moment.  Over.  Done.  Free.

A few months ago, I sat with a student in the throes of a panic attack… and I knew what to say.  I knew how to respond.  And sitting there with 584970_untitledher, it came over me.  It was worth it.  Nearly ten years of crying out prepared me to sit with a hurting child.  And I finally, finally, finally saw why God waited.  He had a reason.  He had a purpose.  And even if it was just to help one heart, it was worth it.

It was the same with Joseph.  God waited.  He had a purpose for allowing Joseph to suffer.  No, I can’t explain it totally, but I know all Joseph went through prepped him to save thousands of lives later.  I know God knew what He was doing, even when Joseph thought he’d been locked in a dark, black, hopeless box.

We can’t see the whole chess board.  God can.  As hard as it is–and believe me, it’s hard to say it even–but that’s when trust happens.  That’s when we have to believe that we believe that we believe that God knows what’s coming, and none of this is wasted.  In the end, it’s going to be glorious beyond anything we can possibly see coming.

Jodie Bailey is Tarheel born and bred. After fifteen years as a military spouse, she’s proud to be a retired military spouse settled back in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. She is the author of the military suspense novel Freefall and is a contributor to Edie Melson’s devotional for military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home. When not working on her next novel, she teaches middle schoolers to love writing as much as she does (if she’s lucky that day and they’re actually listening…). Jodie loves to bake, ride the Harley with her husband, and fish the Outer Banks with their daughter. You can find her on the web at www.jodiebailey.com.

Her debut novel, Freefall, has been called amazing, awesome, and explosive:

9780373445691With one accusation, army officer Cassidy Matthews’s name, reputation—and life—are on the line. A Special Forces soldier insists that Cassy’s Fort Bragg-based unit is smuggling drugs. And the accuser? It’s Cassy’s handsome, stubborn ex-husband, Major Shane Logan. Shane knows Cassy is innocent, which is why he’s sure she’s being set up to take the fall. Proving it, though, means working together…and trying to ignore the feelings they still share. The closer they get—to the truth and each other—the more the danger grows from a ruthless criminal who’ll stop at nothing to destroy them both.

***

Have you ever encountered someone going through a trial you once endured, and if so, how did your previous experience help you minister to them? Do you believe genuine compassion deepens with understanding? How might pain and struggle help us further God’s kingdom?

Let’s talk about this!

Share your stories with us in the comments below, on Living by Grace, or join our online Bible study. We’d love to have you!

Blessed to Be a Blessing

I think I’m on an “offend as many people as I can” streak lately. Yesterday On Reflections, I talked about submision in marriage, and today, I’m talking about our tendency to rob God’s glory. Neither of which are very popular topics. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m about to break rule number one in blogging–never go over 1,000 words. So…I’m warning you now. Feel free to check out at any time.

Most of my friends are writers, so I hear a lot about being goal oriented and “pursuing your dream!” But often, it appears the dream overshadows the Dream-giver. It’s easy to get so caught up in the things of God that we forget God all together. Only problem, without God, they’re just things.

Let me illustrate. When you think of Abraham, what comes to mind first? We often hear about how God blessed him and made his offspring into a mighty nation, right? Or what about Joseph? God gave Joseph a dream of grandeur, a dream that was ultimately fulfilled some thirteen (or so) years later. When we retell the story, what do we focus on? The dream, right? How God gave it to Joseph and everyone else wanted to slam on it, but God exalted Joseph anyway.

Only it wasn’t about Joseph, and it wasn’t about Abraham. God raised up Abraham for a purpose–not to bless Abraham, but instead, to bless all the nations through him. Abraham was the father of the Jewish race, and the Jews were the nation God used to reveal Himself to all mankind (and to bring about salvation through Jesus Christ.) When God blessed Abraham, in reality He was blessing us.

Same with Joseph. When we first meet Joseph in Genesis 37, it appears he’s consumed with the dream and how he’s going to rule over his brothers.

Genesis 37:5-11

 5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

 8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

 9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

After a few hard knocks and some rather painful humbling, he comes to realize it was never about him. It was about how God wanted to save many, including his brothers.

Notice the difference in tone, and who Joseph points to, in this passage:

Genesis 45:5-7

5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

So, although God used one man, named Joseph, to bring about His plan, all the while He was thinking about the masses. Because that’s how God works. (I can’t help but wonder how his brothers felt, once they’d reached the end of the story and realized that God had their well-being in mind the entire time. Ah, if only we could see the bigger picture!)

So how does this related to writing? (Or any other “dream” God has given you.) God doesn’t give us gifts for our own benefit. Nor are they ever intended to bring glory to ourselves. He gives us gifts so that His purpose can be fulfilled. He blesses us so that we will be a blessing. But when our eyes are on ourselves, we get in the way.

The first step, it seems, is to let it go. Hand your gift, whatever it is, over to God, to be used as He sees fit. Whether that means writing a best-selling novel or spending hours crafting a Vacation Bible School lesson for your small, unknown church. It’s His gift, remember? You’re just the vessel.

As I continually work towards intentionally living, I’m going to ask God, daily, to empty me of self, fill me with Him and help me to catch a glimpse of the bigger, eternal picture. I’m going to actively and personally pray Romans 12:1-2

“Dear Lord, do not allow me to conform to the things of this world, but transform me by renewing my mind. Help me to see and understand Your good, pleasing will. Help me to offer my body, my time, my gifts and my mind, to You as a perfect, pleasing sacrifice. This will be my act of worship.”

The world says forge ahead. God says wait on Me and allow Me to live through you, as I want, when I want, because I see the bigger picture, and I’ve written the ending.

Yesterday a fb friend sent me a message with this video in it and I thought I’d share it. After you watch it, spend a moment in prayer, asking God to show you areas or times when you’ve been tempted to seek your own glory instead of acting in humbled obedience. Then, ask Him to help you lay yourself, your gifts, your dreams, your time…whatever, on the alter so that you can be a cleansed and open vessel ready to do His will. Ask Him to enable you to catch a glimpse of His bigger, eternal picture. And remember, when our time on earth is done and we stand before the throne of God, we will be held accountable for not what we accomplished, but how well be obeyed.

(And be patient. Eventually I’ll quit talking about Joseph…I think.)

Top Three of 2010

Hopefully all my subscribers have enjoyed having a week of Slattery-free blog post updates. grin. I was going to wait to post the top three of 2010 until tomorrow, but I realized I need to kick off my plans for January…

So what were your favorite devos of my top twenty? In my opinion, all the devos were awesome and drew our hearts closer to God in continual surrender. However, there were three that appeared to strike a heart-chord with you all.

By far, Edie Melson’s God’s Timing is Always Perfect, was your top choice. Apparently we all struggle with patience and faith, trusting that God is still working even when things don’t go according to our plan or timetable. You might want to read her post again, then spend some time reading through Genesis 37-45. God revealed His plan to Joseph when he was seventeen, but for decades, circumstances appeared to negate the vision he had received. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, taken into a strange land, thrown into prison. Could all that really be part of God’s plan? Had he heard correctly? Had God changed His mind? Not at all. God was working the entire time, molding Joseph into the man He created him to be.

Your second favorite happened to be one of my favorites as well, primarily because of the little God-moment application God gave me the night before. Who would have thought God would use taxes of all things to share His love? Thanks Gail for reminding us all of our need to be magnetic. May God’s light shine so brightly within us that no matter where we go, no matter what we do, the people we come into contact with catch a hug from God. Read her post again, Oh, To Be Magnetic, and ask God to fill you so completely with His Holy Spirit, His love pours out unhindered.

Your third favorite was Sheila Holinghead’s A Glimpse of Beauty. Let each day, each moment, each moonlit stroll and early morning sunrise be an opportunity to discover afresh the beauty of our Creator.

Join me tomorrow as I prepare for the New Year and the series God’s laid on my heart.

The Never-ending Action-Reaction Cycle of Life

Life has a way of spinning Isaac Newton’s third law of motion on its head. Physics tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Life has an equal, and often duplicate reaction. No one lives in a vacuum and everything we do has an impact, either positive or negative, on others. And yet, how we act and react is completely up to us.

Yesterday I had to complete a conflict resolution case study for a class I’m taking. Using personal experiences. To be honest, I’m waiting to get an “I’m concerned about you, Jennifer,” email from my professor. Funny how the spotlight on past behaviors cuts through the self-justifying fluff we spoon ourselves every day. “If only he hadn’t…” “But I deserved…” My all time favorite? “I can’t help it!”

Galatians 5:22-23 and 2 Timothy 1:7 says differently:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

and

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

According to the Bible, if we have given our lives to Christ, we’ve been given everything we need to live lives pleasing to Him.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

So no more excuses! (And yes, I’m talking to myself!)

I’ve been camped out in Genesis lately, studying the life of Joseph, and I have a feeling I’ll be staying here for quite some time. The story of Joseph’s life is like a big, multi-layered onion. Or more accurately, like a multi-eyed potato will thousands of off-shooting, intertwining roots. Talk about a dysfunctional family. His father, Jacob, was a deceiver, (which is what his name means) as was his grandfather Laban. His mother and aunt (both married to Jacob) were in constant conflict, a conflict they dragged the entire family into. Joseph’s brothers were violent, reactive, and consumed with jealousy. And in the midst of it all was little Joseph–the boy with the fancy robe.

Joseph was anything but perfect. From what I read, it appears he suffered from a heavy dose of pride, but the one thing he had going for him? Somehow he managed to stay above the fray. Mound upon mound of manure was hurled his way, but no  matter how many commentaries or study guides I read, I can’t find a single instance of him hurling back. I think this is because he kept his eyes upward–on God–and not on the manure pile. In the end, his full surrender led to glory–glory to God and glory for himself. Not to mention the saving of a few thousand lives (if not millions. I really don’t know how many people reaped the benefits of Joseph’s obedience. If you have a round about figure, I’d love to hear about it. Just shoot me an email.)

Life is one giant chain reaction. Ever choice we make has consequences, either positive or negative. We act, our spouse reacts, then we react on their reaction.

And every day, we have an opportunity to stand above the fray, to tap into that spiritual powerhouse Christ has given us as believers, and turn our eyes upward instead of on the stinking manure pile. We have the power to do it. The only question is, will we? Is Christ’s death worth our full obedience, even when our pride is at stake? Because that’s normally what it boils down to–pride. But God opposes the proud, remember?