Skip to content

Most Recent Blog Posts

Studying and Believing

howtostudythebible

This lesson is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Study the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


Many people today have heard that faith is not possible anymore, that we know better than that now. To say that you absolutely believe in something or someone is to be certain where there is no certainty. It is to risk being a social pariah because to say you absolutely know something will prove antisocial to at least somebody along the way. One thing is certain, these people say, be suspicious of certainty. And they are quite certain about this uncertainty.

But belief is not about us. The true believer doesn’t focus on himself, saying, I believe this. Rather, he or she says, I believe this. The more focus there is on the experience of believing, the greater the risk that we can believe something just for the sake of believing.

praying-man

Belief is not just about knowing; it is about trusting. True faith in God is one of the most intimate personal states a person can find himself or herself in. It is not just about gathering and processing information, otherwise a computer would be a “believer” of sorts. Because there is so much information to process, so many voices to listen to, so many topics that get thrown in our faces everyday, we use up most of our “belief energy” just sorting it all out. In the contemporary world, believing becomes calculating, and drawing a sum. We forget that the most important belief in life is a decision not about what, but about whom. Faith says, this God I can trust.

When we believe, when we trust, we are the most human we ever are, because we are actively connecting with our Creator, anchoring ourselves in his unchangeable nature. Knowing and trusting a friend or a spouse projects us into a world larger than ourselves—and how much more when we know and trust the God who made us and loves us with an irrepressible love.

But whom should we believe? And why? Which God? Which religion? Which doctrine? What about the Bible?

Time and again people responded to Jesus’ words with speechless astonishment. Perhaps as they listened to Jesus’ teaching, they occasionally found themselves turning a corner and stunned by a vista of reality that was bigger and grander than they had imagined. Not everyone who heard Jesus became believers because we all have personal agendas that can hold us in disbelief. But everyone who did hear had to grapple with the power of what he said, and they had to decide what to do with the authoritative voice with which he spoke—an authority that did not come from a booming microphone or spotlights or banners, but from the ring of truth in the words themselves, backed up by every action he performed.

The gospel writers make it clear that one of the outstanding features of Jesus’ ministry was that he freely and naturally exercised this authority. People sensed that they were under the immediate influence of God. Jesus’ words struck at the heart; they were clear, strong, unequivocal, simple, and mysterious. They both wounded and healed, and when they did wound, they offered immediate healing as well. His words still stick in people’s minds and keep moving across the landscape of history like a cyclone. That’s why almost everybody, including even proponents of other religions, show respect for the thunder and lightning of Jesus’ teaching.

But showing respect is one thing; responding is another. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about one man who built a house on a rock foundation and another whose house rested on a bed of unstable sand. The house-on-sand person hears Jesus’ words only, whereas the house-on-rock person hears and practices. Respect plus response. It was right after this tale of two builders that Matthew mentions the people’s astonishment at Jesus’ authority. The people were not saying, “Did you hear what this fellow is trying to assert?” They were swept up in the power of the Word himself. His authority carried them, and it carries us still. It summons us not just to listen, but to act.

House building is a metaphor for life. Christ does not assert authority so that he can push his weight around. God doesn’t impose commands so that he can have a bevy of mindless followers. His is an act of grace. These authoritative words come to us because God knows there is so much we need to learn about life. Ignorance may not be a sin, but it is an extraordinarily dangerous way to live.

When someone asks, “Why should I believe what the Bible teaches?” or, “Why should I believe the specific things taught about personal ethics, and life after death, and God’s providence in history, and angels, and failure?” the answer he or she deserves is that followers of Jesus Christ believe such things (knowing and trusting) because they believe they have heard an authoritative voice on the matters. Christ summons, and the oracles of prophets and the writings of apostles are Holy Scripture—the exhalation of God’s own Spirit.


Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Tune In—Hear God: An Interview with Robert Morris

Robert MorrisBelievers in Jesus Christ want to know how they can hear God’s voice. Does God speak? Is it like a radio host broadcasting his voice into the airwaves? Perhaps the question is, are we tuned into the right frequency?

Bible Gateway interviewed Robert Morris (@PsRobertMorris) about his book, Frequency: Tune In. Hear God. (Thomas Nelson, 2016).

What idea are you trying to convey with the title of your book?

Click to buy your copy of Frequency in the Bible Gateway Store

Robert Morris: As believers in Jesus Christ, we naturally want to know how we can hear God’s voice. Does God speak? Is he speaking to me? The good news is yes; he is speaking. And like a radio host broadcasting his voice into the airwaves, God speaks all the time. The question is, “Are you tuned in to the right frequency?”

In my new book, Frequency, I share about how God communicates with us in multiple ways—through the Bible, circumstances, and even a whisper. He demonstrates how we can mature from hearing his voice as sheep to hearing it as his friend to conveying his voice to others. When we begin to understand the general and specific ways God speaks to us, we cultivate a life of deeper connection with our creator.

What do you mean when you write that hearing the voice of God is about “who you are”?

Robert Morris: Hearing God’s voice is a question of identity. Who are you at your core? The answer is this: you are a sheep. Hearing God’s voice is not about something we do. Rather, hearing God is about someone we are. Hearing God is not primarily a behavior. It’s a reflection of our identity. We hear God because of who we are, and because of whose we are.

In John 10, Jesus explains this idea in depth. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and he contrasts the work he does with the work of Satan, a thief and a robber. Satan comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus the Good Shepherd comes that people might have life, and have it abundantly (vv. 8, 10-11).

The whole idea of us being sheep is that our identities are rooted in a shepherd-to-sheep model. Being a sheep is what a human being was designed to be. Sheep, by nature of being sheep, need a guide. It’s not that we hear God because of some action we take. Rather, we hear God because we were designed to hear God.

What does the Bible say about God’s voice?

Robert Morris: God has always been a speaking God, and God still speaks to us today. Fifteen times in the New Testament alone, Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” In John 8:47, Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s word.” And in John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

How do you respond to people when they say they fervently pray but God is silent?

Robert Morris: That’s why I wrote Frequency. I want to help provide a fuller answer to this question, because the explanation as to how to hear God’s voice can’t be given in a quick formula. Rather, it arises intrinsically as part of a genuine and ongoing relationship with God. If you want to get to hear God’s voice, then you must get to know God as a person—and this takes time and intention; much the same as it takes to know any friend.

How is God’s voice distinguishable from our own subconscious thinking?

Robert Morris: Both the old and new testaments clearly describe God as a speaking God. The real task—and wonderful opportunity—is for us to learn to hear His voice.

If you want to get to hear God’s voice, then you must get to know God as a person—and this takes time and intention, much the same as it takes to know any friend. John 10:4 says, “When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jesus calls us to a close relationship with him where we instantly recognize his voice. The God of the universe invites us to enjoy a familiar relationship with him, a relationship where we pray to him, and he listens to us, and where he speaks and we listen to him. A true dialogue.

When God speaks to you today, chances are that he won’t speak to you in a big booming voice. Instead, God will speak to you by the moving of the Holy Spirit in your life (John 16:12-13). He’ll speak to you by his still small voice. And what you do after he speaks to you will require faith.

What do you mean by the general voice of God and the specific voice of God?

Robert Morris: When talking about God’s will, there’s a general will and a specific will of God. When we have a job change or we’re buying a new home or we have an important decision to make concerning our marriage or family or future, we want a specific word from the Lord. And we need one from him too. And he will give us one. But my concern is that we sometimes try to hear a specific word from God without first developing the habit of hearing a general word from God every day. That’s an important part of the process of learning to value God’s voice.

If we’re just checking with God every six months or so whenever a big decision comes up, then we will not only miss out on knowing God’s general will, we will also miss out on a close, everyday friendship with God. So we must learn to value his voice, his general voice, on a regular basis if we want to hear his specific voice from time to time. If we’re not in the habit of meeting with him and hearing from him on a regular basis, then it will be much more difficult to hear a specific word from God.

There are four practical steps to do this, and are listed in much greater detail in my book:

  1. Set an appointment with God.
  2. Be still and worship.
  3. Pray and read.
  4. Listen and write.

It’s important for us to set regular appointments with God in order to learn from his Word and to hear his voice. To develop a regular time with the Lord, set an appointment, be still and worship him, pray, and read the Bible. Write down your prayers. Listen for his response.

How should people read the Bible to best hear the voice of God for themselves?

Robert Morris: There are so many time in life when I need wisdom, and I wonder where to go or what to do. The imagery of brightness and guidance is found in Daniel 12:3: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” That verse along with James 1:5 are two of my favorite verses: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” That answer is so straightforward: ask God, and wisdom will be given to you.

Your invitation is to read God’s Word consistently, diligently, prayerfully, and fervently. Read the Bible with your heart wide open in prayer and in communion with God. Read and pray at the same time: “Lord Jesus, what are you saying in your Word about yourself? How does this passage teach me to love you and to love others more? How does this passage apply to me?”

Go to the Bible. Begin by worshipping him and seeking his face. Listen for his voice. You can have confidence knowing that the Lord will speak.

What do you mean that people should be stewards of God’s voice?

Robert Morris: Stewardship means we manage well someone else’s property or resources. As believers, our lives are not our own. We belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 3:23). That means our time, treasure, talents, and even our futures are not our own. So it’s important that we live as good stewards of what belongs to God. First Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

Stewardship relates to hearing the voice of God too. Think of it this way. God blesses faithful stewards (Proverbs 28:20; Luke 12:42-46). If God gives us time, treasure, and talents, and we’re faithful with those, then he gives us more. If we’re not faithful, then God doesn’t give us more. The same is true of hearing God’s voice. When God speaks to us, if we’re faithful with the word he gives us, then why would he give us more? Mark 4:24 says, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measure to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.”

Did you catch the last bit of that verse? “To you who hear, more will be given.” That’s the result of good stewardship. We must be good stewards of what we hear from the Lord.

Here are three ways we can be careful stewards of God’s spoken words:

  1. We are careful stewards of God’s voice when we truly listen to Him.
  2. When we respond in humility.
  3. When we heed his words.

God is speaking all the time, but the only ones who hear are those who tune in to the right frequency through humility and obedience.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Robert Morris: Bible Gateway is such an important free resource. It allows people all over the word to have access to the Word of God at any time. It’s a great resource for training and teaching as well as personal study.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Robert Morris: I want every believer to have an intimate, ongoing, and passionate relationship with Jesus Christ so that we will all love and serve and follow His voice.

Bio: Robert Morris is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church (@GatewayPeople), a multicampus church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex with more than 36,000 active members. Morris is featured on the weekly television program The Blessed Life and serves as chairman of the board of The King’s University. He’s the bestselling author of 13 books, including The God I Never Knew: How Real Friendship with the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life and Truly Free: Breaking the Snares That So Easily Entangle. He and his wife, Debbie, have been married 36 years and are blessed with one married daughter, two married sons, and six grandchildren.

Letters to the Church: Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians

Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at the follow-up to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church.

[See commentaries on 2 Thessalonians in the Bible Gateway Store]

[See other Blog posts in the Letters to the Church series]

Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians

Start reading it here: 2 Thessalonians 1

When was it written? Around A.D. 51, not long after Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.

To whom was it written? Like 1 Thessalonians, this letter was written to the new Christian community in Thessalonica, a major trade city in Greece.

Why was it written? This short letter expands on one of the subjects Paul addressed in his first letter to this community. The Thessalonians may have responded to his first letter with questions that needed further answers; Paul also mentions hearing reports of problematic behavior by some in the church, which he felt obligated to correct.

What does it say? It’s clear from this letter that the Thessalonians were very concerned with the question of Christ’s promised return to Earth. In Paul’s first letter, he assured them that the death of Christ-followers did not cast doubt on Christ’s promise. This letter suggests that the regular persecution they faced was adding a great urgency to the question “When will Christ return and usher in his kingdom?”

In addressing these fears and concerns, Paul does not lay out an exact timeline or set of dates for Christ’s return. Instead, he assures the Thessalonians that the frightening things they’re seeing and experiencing should not surprise them—and that they could expect more trials in the future. Paul urges them not to panic in the face of alarming claims and prophecies about the “end times,” but to endure in the knowledge that Jesus Christ’s victory is already assured.

Noteworthy passages:

  • 2 Thessalonians 1:4: Paul boasts of the Thessalonians’ perseverance in the face of persecution.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-6: Christians aren’t to obsess or panic about the “end times,” but wait patiently for God’s plan to unfold “at the proper time.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: Straying brothers and sisters in Christ are to be rebuked, but still loved and encouraged to repent.

What can we learn from 2 Thessalonians? It’s natural that Christians have long wondered when to expect the return of Jesus Christ. We watch today for Christ’s return just as the Thessalonian believers did. But Paul’s words in this letter are an important reminder that a natural interest in the “end times” shouldn’t become an obsession, or a source of fear and panic. We can rest assured that no historical event or spate of persecution will stop God’s Kingdom from unfolding according to his perfect plan.

Consider these questions as you read 2 Thessalonians today:

  • Can you understand the Thessalonians’ panicky obsession with Christ’s return? Do you ever feel frustrated or upset at the thought of Christ’s return, or at the fact that he hasn’t yet returned?
  • What do you think Paul means when he mentions a “powerful delusion” that people will believe?
  • Imagine that you’ve received this letter from Paul. What might you write back to him in response?

Bible News Roundup – Week of April 24, 2016

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
Bible Gateway Weekly Brief
Newsletter signup

Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store
BibleGatewayStore.com

Entire Bible Will Be Read Aloud May 1-5 on Steps of US Capitol in 90 Hour Annual Bible Reading Marathon
Christian Newswire
DC Bible Marathon website
Read the Bible on Bible Gateway

Bible Reading Marathon Starts Sunday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Tuscaloosa News

Bible-Reading Volunteers Sought This Week in Alabama
The Troy Messenger

Highest US Military Court Hears Marine’s Religious Freedom Case Concerning Bible Verse
Stars and Stripes
Read Isaiah 54:17 on Bible Gateway

Oklahoma Voters to Decide on Return of Ten Commandments Monument
Associated Press
Read the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 on Bible Gateway

Ancient Sticky Notes Shift Secular Scholars Closer to Evangelicals on Bible’s Age
Christianity Today
Browse the Archaeology section of the Bible Gateway Store

Early Draft of King James Bible Brought to Light
The Times Literary Supplement
Read the King James Version of the Bible on Bible Gateway

The Book of Kells: Medieval Europe’s Greatest Treasure?
BBC

Full-Scale Noah’s Ark Embarking to Brazil for Olympics
The Times of Israel
Ark of Noah Foundation website
Read the story of Noah’s Ark from the book of Genesis on Bible Gateway

North Carolina Student Thinking of Isaiah 12:3 Develops Water Filtration System for Third World Countries
ABC11 WTVD
Read Isaiah 12:3 on Bible Gateway

1920s Time Capsule Opened at Iowa Elementary School; Bible Inside
Muscatine Journal

Local Church in Beijing Launches New Ministry of Bible Transcribing
China Christian Daily
Read Chinese Bible versions on Bible Gateway

China Reveals What It Wants to Do with Christianity
Christianity Today

Russian Sign Language Bible Being Translated
OneNewsNow.com
Read the Bible in Russian on Bible Gateway

Oral Learners Hear the Gospel with the Help of Updated Tools
Mission Network News

Iranians Are Coming to Faith in Christ and Requesting Bibles
Church Central
Read the Bible in Persian on Bible Gateway

Irish Solicitors Told to Carry Bible and Quran to Administer Sworn Affidavits
ABNA

How a Bible Dropped by an Australian Soldier in Gallipoli Made Its Way Home
The Sydney Morning Herald

Rare 1579 Bible Surprise Auctioneers When It Sells for 5 Times the Original Estimate
Christian Davies Antiques

Christian Women Most Persecuted in World
Premier
Christianity Today

Trevi Fountain in Rome Dyed Red to Represent Blood of Christian Martyrs
Premier
Blog post—I Am N: An Interview with Cole Richards and Jason Peters
Blog post—International Day(s) of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
See books in the Bible Gateway Store on the subject of Christian persecution

The World’s Largest Churches
Leadership Network

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

Passover Explained: God’s Deliverance

The season of Passover is April 22-30, 2016.
Browse resources for Passover in the Bible Gateway Store.

The 8-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring in the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. This fascinating story is found in the book of Exodus. The following video summarizes chapters 1-18. Take special note beginning at 2:54

[See our Blog post, The Bible Project: An Interview with Tim Mackie and Jon Collins]

[Sign up to explore the Jewish roots of Scripture with the new “Holy Land Moments” limited-time free email devotional]

From Exodus 12

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…[and] slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast….This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

This epic story has been depicted by Hollywood in various ways. Here are two:

Read more about Passover and other feasts of the Old Testament in our Blog post, Unlocking the Secrets of the Old Testament Feasts: An Interview with Michael Norten.

I Am N: An Interview with Cole Richards and Jason Peters

Cole RichardsWhat is it like to live in danger every day because of your Christian faith? What can be learned from these faith-filled brothers and sisters around the world? How can we pray for persecuted Christians? How can we help them? And what do their remarkable stories teach us about a God whose light shines in a dark world?

Bible Gateway interviewed Cole Richards, executive vice president of The Voice of the Martyrs (@VOM_USA) and Jason Peters, associate vice president of connection for VOM, about the book, I Am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists (David C. Cook, 2016).

[See our Blog post, International Day(s) of Prayer for the Persecuted Church]

[Browse resources about the persecuted church in the Bible Gateway Store]Jason Peters

Explain the work of The Voice of the Martyrs.

Cole Richards: The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) was founded in 1967 by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was imprisoned for 14 years in a Communist prison because of his active faith and witness. He wrote the international bestseller Tortured for Christ and later spoke widely as a voice for the persecuted, even removing his shirt during testimony before the US Senate to reveal scars caused by severe torture. Today, VOM provides spiritual and practical support to persecuted believers in 68 hostile and restricted nations. VOM also inspires fellowship between Christians in the US and their persecuted family members.

Click to buy your copy of I Am N in the Bible Gateway Store

What does “I Am N” mean and how did it originate?

Jason Peters: When militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses. Families would find the Arabic letter “N” (ن) painted on their buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Quran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.

After being tagged in this way, our Christian brothers and sisters were given the choice of converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In the Iraqi city of Mosul (Nineveh in the time of the Old Testament), more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted, or killed in less than one week. That happened more than a year ago and none of the displaced believers have been able to return to their homes.

We’ve had the privilege of meeting with and hearing the incredible stories of many of these sisters and brothers during recent visits to Iraq and neighboring countries.

Click to buy your copy of I Am N Devotional in the Bible Gateway Store

How do you want “I Am N” to become a movement?

Cole Richards: VOM is inviting American Christians to serve alongside their brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. The joy they have in Christ is something the extremists cannot take away from them. These Christians are our family members—part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.

Having seen firsthand the way these followers of Jesus live out their faith, we organized the I Am N book around six themes that capture the essence of their faith and inspire us to stand strong for Christ no matter where we live. The book explores the themes of sacrifice, courage, perseverance, faithfulness, and two other themes that many find surprising—forgiveness and joy. These last two are characteristics that we’ve witnessed repeatedly in hundreds of interviews with persecuted Christians. All of the themes are both universal and biblical.

Click to buy your copy of I Am N Curriculum Kit in the Bible Gateway Store

The book I Am N tells the stories of 50 Christians who face persecution. Who are they and how did you find them?

Jason Peters: The subtitle of the book is “Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists.” VOM actively supports and serves alongside followers of Jesus in nine hotspots of Islamic extremism around the world, and VOM field workers have met these Christians face to face. We’ve prayed with them, wept with them, and listened to their incredible stories.

What will readers of the book gain from it?

Cole Richards: In a word: fellowship. Readers will get to know their brothers and sisters as they read this book and, more specifically, will learn how they can serve alongside them. Our prayer is that the book will inspire American Christians to stand with their persecuted family members. We also pray that this movement will help each of us develop more of an eternal perspective. Right now—today—we personally have close friends, our brothers and sisters, who are being imprisoned, tortured, and oppressed because of their faith. But they are never alone! Genesis 39:20–21 (ESV) reminds us that “Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” God is present with our persecuted family members, and we pray that we can also stand with them and their families during these incredibly difficult experiences.

Share an example of a story from the book.

Jason Peters: It’s difficult to select just one story to share, but one of our favorites is the story of Habila, from a chapter titled “Point Blank Forgiveness.” Habila was shot in the face by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and left for dead. The extremists first gave him the choice of converting to Islam, but when Habila refused to deny Christ they shot him with an AK-47 in front of his wife and young son. When Habila told us his story, we were stunned by the supernatural ability that God has given him to forgive his attackers. Today, he says that if he met his attacker he would embrace him and tell this terrorist that he chooses to forgive him. It is a strong testimony of God’s grace in Habila’s life and a reflection of Christ’s words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 [ESV]).

Describe the state of Christian persecution, in general, worldwide.

Cole Richards: The rise of Islamic extremism has led to increased, severe persecution of Christians around the world. Followers of Jesus are persecuted by many other groups as well. We should not be surprised by this. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20a [ESV]). VOM is busy helping victims of persecution in 68 hostile and restricted nations around the world, and we expect persecution to continue to increase as believers faithfully follow Christ.

Is it still difficult for persecuted Christians to access the Bible, even though it’s widely available on the Internet?

Jason Peters: Yes, many persecuted believers are unable to access God’s Word via the Internet or in any other way. On recent trips to places like Sudan, Cuba, and Nepal, we’ve witnessed firsthand how difficult it is to get Internet access. Additionally, in some countries access to the Bible is restricted by governmental controls. And, of course, if you’re a refugee you aren’t likely to have an Internet connection in your tent. Many of the people we serve have lived in these types of conditions for a long time. Last year, VOM distributed 1.5 million Bibles in some of the most difficult places on earth. In fact, we’ve provided more than 80,000 Bibles to ISIS victims alone; quite possibly more than ISIS has destroyed in their attempts to eradicate Christianity.

Jason Peters distributing Family Med Packs in Iraq

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Cole Richards: In order to help, we all need to get to know our brothers and sisters. VOM offers a free monthly newsletter that tells the stories of persecuted Christians. Part of our mission is to be their voice in the US. Another part of our mission is to provide spiritual and practical support to those who are suffering. One example of the way we help is through something we call Family Med Packs.

Jason Peters: Believers in the US fill the packs with health and hygiene items (or sponsor packs that we fill for them), and VOM distributes them to displaced believers as a source of encouragement and practical aid. This is just one example of the many types or practical support we provide in these hostile places. We say, “We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.” Every Christian benefits from hearing these stories and experiencing the perspective and eternal hope that they offer. People can make their commitment and find out how best to help at i-am-n.com.

Bio: Cole Richards is executive vice president of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). In this role, he leads VOM’s global ministry work, which includes significant outreach both in the US and abroad. VOM ministers internationally by serving, and serving with, Christians who are severely persecuted for their faith. This is accomplished through a multinational team of 51 missions leaders from 22 nationalities, based in 23 countries. VOM accomplishes more than 1,600 projects annually in 68 hostile and restricted nations by responding to persecution and advancing God’s eternal kingdom on the world’s most difficult missions frontiers.

Dr. Jason Peters is associate vice president of connection for VOM and executive editor of I Am N. Dr. Peters travels frequently to meet face-to-face with persecuted believers around the world and equips VOM to tell their stories. He leads VOM’s outreach initiatives, including media development, special events, public relations, and oversees hundreds of speakers and representatives.

Reminder: “Holy Land Moments” Devotional Begins Soon!

The season of Passover is April 22-30, 2016.
Browse resources for Passover in the Bible Gateway Store.

holylandmomentsIn just a few days, we launch our newest devotional: Holy Land Moments, a devotional experience that explores the Jewish roots of Scripture and faith! There’s still time to sign up—click here to do so.

Holy Land Moments runs for two weeks, and offers a short reflection on Scripture with additional insight from Jewish teachers and thinkers. It’s written by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Each reading also includes a Hebrew Word of the Day (with an audio pronunciation). It’s written to bring a new historical and cultural perspective to familiar Bible texts. Sign up by clicking here to visit our Newsletters page.

The launch of Holy Land Moments coincides with the opening days of the Passover festival, which commemorates the rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Passover is an important historical and theological moment for both Jews and Christians, and we thought it appropriate to mark it with a devotional that explores the connecting points between Jewish history and Christianity.

Holy Land Moments starts on Sunday, April 24 and continues for two weeks. If you’re interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity or are just looking for a different devotional experience, click here to sign up!

5 Reasons Why You Should Become a Member of Bible Gateway Plus

We recently launched Bible Gateway Plus—an alternative membership service that removes banner ads from Bible Gateway and greatly expands the online study materials you can access while reading Scripture. From the beginning, the response from members has been overwhelming—they love the absence of banner advertising and the exclusive Bible study resources.

Click to learn more about Bible Gateway PlusIf you’re on the fence about trying it, here are five reasons to sign up for your free 30-day trial today:

5. You’ll focus better!

Without banner ads vying for your attention, you’ll be able to concentrate more fully on the biblical content you’ve searched for and are reading.

4. You’ll have more time to converse with your loved ones!

You won’t have to laboriously find and open multiple print Bible commentaries and search their pages for what they have to say pertaining to the Bible passages you’re currently reading on Bible Gateway (they’re already open and synchronized on your screen!).

3. You’ll go to bed smiling!

You’ll be content knowing that by joining this membership service you’re helping to make it possible for people in more than 200 countries to freely read, hear, search, study, compare, & share the Bible in—more than 200 versions and more than 70 languages—when they use Bible Gateway.

2. Your pastor will be amazed!

You’ll surprise even yourself with how you can summarize each book of the Bible in brief, single sentences (because you’ve read the “Leading Thought of Each Book” section in Halley’s Bible Handbook Notes, which is among the more than 40 Bible reference works included in your Bible Gateway Plus membership).

1. Your wallet will thank you!

There’s no risk or obligation in taking Bible Gateway Plus for a test drive—simply sign up for a 30-day free trial and you’ll get complete access to all Bible Gateway Plus features for a month’s worth of days.

Sign up today and see how Bible Gateway Plus can help you deepen your engagement with the Bible.

Of course, all the Bible resources that have been freely available on Bible Gateway will remain free. But we encourage you to augment your online Scripture reading without the distraction of banner ads and with more Bible study content by trying Bible Gateway Plus FREE right now! And tell us what you think!

How to Study the Bible: One Meaning, Many Applications

howtostudythebible

This lesson is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Study the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


The world is a better place when millions of Christians study the Bible seriously, searching hard for the original meaning of its authors, uncovering the foundations on which all of life can be based. But the world is not a better place when those students of the Bible neglect to apply the truth of Scripture to real life accurately and faithfully.

There was a group of people in Jesus’ time who prided themselves on studying the Scriptures, but their application of it was selfish and skewed. We know them as the Pharisees and Sadducees and “teachers of the law.” One day when Jesus confronted them over their interpretation of the Scriptures Jesus just came out and said: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). A shocking statement, for sure.

Knowing the Scriptures means careful reading, observation, analysis, background checking, etc. and then applying the meaning of the Scriptures to real life.

bible-reader

Here is an extremely important principle: a particular biblical passage has a singular and specific meaning—that is, it does not have many different meanings. But a particular biblical passage does have multiple valid applications.

For example, James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

We study this passage to get at the specific and singular meaning. We note that this injunction is similar to Proverbs in the Old Testament (which is true for much of the book of James). It is not directed at one particular group of people (as might be the case in a book like 1 Corinthians or 1 Timothy), but is a principle of healthy living for all believers. We look at key words like “listen” and “angry” and “anger.” We conclude that this passage is a general exhortation to believers that we should listen more and react less. Especially, we should hold in check any knee-jerk reaction of anger.

Now we apply the singular meaning of that passage to life. The application goes to many different real-life situations, and validly so.

Husbands and wives should take the effort to really listen to each other, which may mean asking back and forth for clarification, rather than reacting in anger, which erodes a marriage.

When people react negatively to a Christian leader’s decisions, the leader should not react in resentment, but listen carefully, seeking to understand and even to acknowledge the validity of at least a portion of the objection. Above all, the leader should not react in anger.

When a believer is confronted by a fellow-worker, it can be good Christian witness to listen to the confrontation, try to understand what it means, and to honestly engage the critic, rather than just reacting in anger.

A parent whose kid is upset can choose to take the time to understand what exactly is going on rather than just reacting in anger.

The applications of James’ “quick to listen… slow to speak… slow to become angry” can go on and on. And that is what is exciting about studying and applying the Scriptures. When we study the Bible we are acting as objective analysts. We commit ourselves to getting at the objective meaning that the prophets and apostles intended to convey. We do so out of respect for the authors, and even more, out of respect for God. And once we get the meaning, we enthusiastically seek to apply it to as many different life situations as we can.

Jesus did not want his listeners just to debate his meaning. He wanted his teaching to shape their lives. That is why he said:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27)

It is why James said:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)

We study the Scriptures not to gain some special, secret knowledge. We study the Scriptures in order for our lives to be confronted, challenged, and transformed. That is the art of applying the Bible.


Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Looking for Lovely: Guest Post by Annie Downs

Annie Downs How can you feel confident when the enemy whispers lies that you’re not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough; too dumb, too loud, too quiet, too thin, too fat, too much, or not enough? What if you don’t have what it takes to be who you really want to be?

In her book, Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments That Matter (B&H Books, 2016) (book website), Annie F. Downs (@anniefdowns) shares personal stories, biblical truth, and examples of how others have courageously walked the path God paved for their lives by remembering all God had done, loving what was right in front of them, and seeing God in the everyday—whether that be nature, friends, or the face they see in the mirror.

Click to buy your copy of Looking for Lovely in the Bible Gateway Store

The following article is excerpted from Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments That Matter (B&H Books, 2016) by Annie F. Downs.

Nail Polish

I take my nail polish situation pretty seriously. Which may sound silly to you, and I’m okay with that. But that’s the thing about looking for lovely around you—what you find beautiful may not be what I find beautiful. The moments you collect that will help you finish the thing you’ve started may not be moments that matter to me.

Oh the beauty of being humans who are allowed to be creatively different, yes?

So I paint my nails. Depending on my mood and the weather and the season and the event. Sometimes it is the new gel shellac situation that can last for a few weeks, but at the rate I like to change colors, gel is usually reserved for international trips or weddings. I’m about half-and-half getting my nails painted at the salon versus painting them myself at home. My personal nail polish collection has grown significantly as people have gifted me lots of bottles, many of them containing glitter. Which, clearly, is a joy to my heart. So I love laying all the shades out and picking the one that is right for the moment and right for the day. (Yes, sometimes I can change daily. I’m so annoying like that.)

Winter brings shades of chestnut and mocha, a personal favorite color being You Don’t Know Jacque from OPI. Autumn I love a good gray or a mauve, like my grandmother used to wear. Spring I prefer the light pinks, light gray with sparkles, or Easter egg colors. And summer? It has become my favorite. Brights. Hot pink. White. Orange. Anything that screams “Beach! Laughter!

First Peter 3:3–4 speaks of not focusing too much on your outward appearance. It was a warning, at the time, to the women of Israel to not become like the Egyptian women and spend hours focused on outer beauty. Instead, Peter says, spend time on who you are on the inside.

I used to not like these verses. (Am I allowed to say that?) It didn’t resonate with me because I thought about all the time I spent in church and all the time I spent trying to be the “right person,” but I never felt like I had a gentle spirit, and I continued to hate my body. But what I have learned of late is that when I focused on the inside, the outside changed, too. The focus isn’t on clocking time with God just for the sake of checking off your daily responsibilities. “Did I pray today? Did I read my Bible? Did I journal? Okay, then I’m good!” I tried that for a long time. I thought that was building my strength. But it wasn’t. When I am doing the hard work of healing for my soul, when I am letting God dig down into the hurt places and expose them and heal them, my body responds with health as well. But when my inside is neglected and hurting, it shows in my hands and in my eyes. Not in the crow’s-feet, but in the sadness that can’t be denied when someone looks right at me. I am never quiet (if I’m awake), but my spirit can be quiet. My heart can be at rest. And my painted nails will prove that to you.

What in your life paints the picture of the health of your soul? You know those verses I used to not love? Well, 1 Peter 3:3 tells us what beauty should not consist of but is quickly followed by verse 4 telling us beauty “should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit.” I love how Scripture leaves us with this true beauty that will last forever. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop painting my nails or working out or brushing my hair—all activities that make me feel good about myself and help me see lovely. It just means that I notice those things for what they are, put them in their appropriate spot behind the focus of a healthy soul and spirit, and continue to run toward that health.

The above article is excerpted from Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments That Matter (B&H Books, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Annie F. Downs. Used by permission of B&H Books. www.bhpublishinggroup.com. Pages 103-106. All rights reserved.

Bio: Annie F. Downs, author of Looking for Lovely, is also a speaker and blogger based in Nashville, Tennessee. Flawed but funny, she uses her writing to highlight the everyday goodness of a real and present God. An author of three previous books—Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have, Perfectly Unique: Praising God from Head to Foot, and Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter—Annie also loves traveling around the country speaking to young women, college students, and adults. Annie is a huge fan of bands with banjos, glitter, her community of friends, boiled peanuts, and football games.