Journaling Scripture To Make It Come Alive

There are some basic questions I automatically ask someone when they tell me they are having a spiritually low point in their life or they feel disconnected to God: 1) Are you reading your Bible, 2) Are you spending time in prayer?, and 3) How is your diet and sleep?  I rarely need to go past question number one.  When I ask about why the person isn’t in God’s Word I receive numerous responses but rarely are they new.  “I’m not a reader”, or, “I try but I find it so ‘dry’ for me.”  The first answer is usually a product of answer number two.  You find Scripture “dry” and therefore you are not a reader.  If we were to be honest, if someone told us that there was a book able to reveal to us the secrets of life for peace and contentment and fulfillment we would become readers!  We would hop on or boot it down to Chapters to pick up this incredible book ASAP…until the person tells us the book is the Bible.  Our perception of the Bible is what makes it dry.  If I told you there was a book containing the most incredible story of love and that story of love included YOU as being a recipient, that sounds much more interesting, doesn’t it?

The reality is, the Bible is JUST THAT.  It is God’s love story with our world and with us as His creation.  It does offer the ways of peace, contentment and fulfillment.  It shows us God’s incredible love which encompasses us when we didn’t/don’t love Him or want Him and how He reaches out to woo us back to His heart and pay for our wrong-doings that would otherwise eternally condemn us.  The first and most important filter we need to have when reading the Bible is “God is love.”  That means everything in the Bible somehow communicates God’s love even in the most disturbing of stories.  So, how can we read it so that it becomes more personal and more alive?  I have found one way that has been particularly helpful for myself.  First, I pray that God would be with me in my reading of the passage – that He would bring clarity and insight beyond my own perception.  Then, I read the passage and after reading it through a couple of times I then journal through it paying careful attention to how it communicates God’s love – especially God’s love for me.  In essence it’s like I am writing a personal commentary on the side.  Below I will post an example and I hope not only will it be helpful for those of you reading this incredibly popular blog (yeah right) but it will spur you on to at least trying this method for yourself.  May it bless you and fan your flames of love for God.  So grab a cup of coffee/tea, crack open your Bible and read along with me. 🙂

Psalm 91 Reflections On God’s Love

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

~ I’ll say these things because God will deliver me from traps set for my destruction and the death-giving plagues of this world.

~ Like a powerful bird of prey He covers me with his feathers and wings, claiming me to be his own to all challengers and dangers.  His faithfulness to me because of His love for me becomes a dependable shield/wall even against seen and unseen dangers.

~ Others may succumb to the darkness and it’s terrors — they may fall into and be consumed by it’s encompassing vacuum but I’ll not be drawn in…I’ll be nowhere near the hopeless death.

~ But I will see the wicked get sucked down into it with the realization and shock of what is happening showing in their eyes.

~ The Lord as my dwelling place (the place in which I live) is impervious to the disease of despair and the fever of performance fatigue.  Even the evils of this world will be transformed and muted into only good.

~ For all of this, God will even enlist his army of angels on my behalf!  And they, on their mission/command from God himself, will life and protect me.  Because of this I can live fearlessly (not foolishly) against those intimidating and poisonous forces who may desire to do me harm.

~ In living with God, dwelling in His presence in this way with faith, trust and love, God says, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.  In knowing my name, he knows me.”

~ O Lord, keep my grip strong to you, fan my love for you, reveal your name to me in such a way, so deeply, that I’ll never forget it and call on it often.

A New Paradigm For Discipleship In The Church

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Compared to some of you out there I have not been in ministry a long time. I began participating in church leadership teams from grade 8 onward and progressed to full time ministry in 1996. From there I have been in various stages of pastoral ministry and schooling. Throughout all that time one constant remained: we are called to make disciples for Jesus. But what does that mean? How does one do that? I can say I never felt like I was purposefully discipled as I grew up in the church. Nor was I purposefully discipled as a pastor in training or throughout my schooling. Now, I find myself as a lead pastor staring at the Great Commission and wondering what it should look like.

Books, articles, blogs, conferences, and special leadership study teams have all come my way and I really haven’t left any of them feeling content. Greg Ogden’s material has been the closest I have seen to something that points to what discipling looks like. Some have said that the “go” in the Great Commission means we always need to be outward focused and “find the lost sheep.”  In finding them your church will grow numerically.  I have heard many leaders discuss “conversion growth” vs “transfer growth” in churches. This means your church grows by people OUTSIDE the church coming to faith and then coming INSIDE the church versus people outside YOUR church leaving THEIR church and then coming to yours. When we take this and look at the Great Commission one might begin to believe that in order for any church to make disciples they need pure conversion growth (as previously defined) otherwise they really aren’t “going and making” disciples. This ends up with leadership scratching their heads regarding what they are to do with those already in their church. Transfer growth often has a negative connotation to it and if leaders concentrate on helping develop those inside the church they feel accused of being “inward focused” instead of “outward focused.” Perhaps we need to create a new paradigm for understanding discipleship in the church with new measurements? What if discipleship is in fact both an inward and outward focus?

Here is what I have been pondering. Our church has gone through a Church Health Assessment process and we are beginning to take the information now and review it. The questionnaire our people filled out covered some good areas to measure church health (preaching/teaching, leadership communication, vision and direction, etc.) but seemed skewed towards churches that have programs for everything. If you have a program for adult ministry people would score the church high because we “have that covered.” In our church we have tried to be less about programs and more about developing people as disciples who would listen to the voice of God, pray about what they should do, and then act in obedience. We have focused on individual relationships in the church, leadership development, people empowerment, preaching and communication. This translated into low scores in the some of the areas that would have been covered by programs. No, we do not have specific evangelism programs. No, we do not have an adult program, etc. The big question we asked ourselves as leaders was, “But have we seen discipleship growth?” We all agreed we had indeed and as we reviewed our church family we discovered some had been in the church for years and were now branching out into other areas of ministry. There was mentoring happening. Some of our young men committed themselves to full time ministry. Other people were pursuing full time mission work. Some became baptized. Some committed to go on short term mission trips organized by our church and all the extra training involved. New young leaders were coming onto the Board. People were going out from our congregation to other places to pursue eduction or engage in different ministries. And, we found many of our people participated in community events and other ways to care for people that could never be tracked by a survey.  Is that NOT growth in discipleship?!

We were so encouraged! For me the paradigm has shifted. People inside AND outside the church need to become disciples. People transferring to your congregation have been sent there by God and they too need to be discipled.  In the Great Commission it says we are to teach people to obey the teachings of Christ and that is what it means to make disciples.  So we are to teach everyone who enters into our atmosphere of influence as a church family. Here is what I propose the new discipleship paradigm should look like: A church knows it is making disciples when it sees movement in lives (in particular those who are attending): it sees an increase in the prayer life both corporately and individually, missional hearts reaching out to others beyond the group, open hearts receiving those who come into the group, missional action moving forward in obedience, an increase in thirst for the Bible, new people coming to faith through the various vines of contact and ministry of the church family, and decisions for the future based on Kingdom call instead of personal comfort. Some seeds may lay dormant in the heart for a long time but then the light of the Gospel shines on them, springs of living water flow over the seed, and the Spirit breathes new life. It doesn’t matter how small or large your church family is. What matters is faithfulness to the Great Commission and helping those closest to you grow as disciples in their love for God and their neighbor and beyond. May God bless us with conversions both of those who are currently “outside” and those who are “inside” and may the fruit of the Harvest abound!

It’s all about Jesus, it’s only about Jesus, it’s always about Jesus.