Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Yeah, Tough I Walk - Good Gifts

  
At nine o’clock in the morning it was already hot, unbearably so out in the sun, and uncomfortably so in the overcrowded kitchen. The concrete floor had been swept, the hammock tied in a knot out of the way, and our friends gathered around us to say goodbye. They said goodbye with gifts, gifts that were given to us out of their sacrifice. Some gave an item that cost them money that they couldn’t afford. Others gave items they possessed that could never be replaced, such as the two brothers who gave away their high school trophies to our two male leaders. That year in Belize we learned about good gifts, ones that are given out of the sacrifice and the love of the giver, gifts that have meaning.

God also gives us good gifts--gifts that have meaning. He gives us people – dear friends, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, coworkers, neighbors – people of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we enjoy those people for many years sometimes for only a short time. When these gifts, these people, leave us never to return, it causes grief.

We may not understand why we have one person for many years and another for only a short time. Our view of death is so different from God’s view. We experience it as a loss, an end. For us it is a cause of grief and heartache. God says that it is precious to Him. From His perspective it is a birth for His children into new life where there is no pain or suffering. It is a birth into life in God’s presence.

When we lose someone we love, it is easy to close ourselves off to love, to close our hearts to keep from feeling such intense pain ever again. Yet, God has many wonderful gifts He wants to give us. One gift does not replace another--each is unique and priceless in its own way. God wants to bring other people and experiences into our lives to bring us joy, to meet our needs, to help fill the void of loss, to love us, and to be loved by us.

We value, cherish, and love God’s gifts while they are with us and we must also learn to release them when they are gone. We love, we trust, we accept, we treasure the people who are given from God’s hand. We grieve--deeply, painfully. In the face of our loss, we trust God to meet our needs. In time we move forward. We thank God for the gift we had, for the time we had. We cherish the memories. We reorganize our lives. We learn to laugh again, to accept new people into our lives and we follow God to new things . . . in time.

What is one of your favorite memories of a good gift, a beloved person, whom you have lost?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

End of the Year Update - Guest Blogger


From guest blogger Dakota Colwell filling in for Dar:

Meowry Christmas!!! Greetings from our family to yours!!

Mama has again given me the task of writing our Christmas letter. (She says it’s important for me to help out when I can. She says I’m a very good companion and mouse catcher, [purr, purr] and this is my other once-a-year job.)

Let’s paws for a bit to reflect on the meaning of the season. Recently, Mama was in a meeting where she was asked what Jesus’ birth means to her, not only at Christmas, but all year ‘round.  She answered with (purr, purr) a story about me that went like this:

Seven years ago, I got an itty, bitty kitty. At Christmas time I put him in his carrier to travel to my
parents’ home with me. He didn’t like it and cried for the whole two hours. I spoke soothingly to
him and told him that although he didn’t like it, it was the safest place for him. I told him that if
he were out he would get under my feet and distract me and kill us both. But he couldn’t
understand. I thought of God and how many times He tried to communicate to me and I couldn’t
understand, how He tried to console me and show me that the difficult situation was really for
my best. I couldn’t become a kitty and speak in Cat, but God did become a man, a human being
so that He could communicate to me in a way I could understand. I’m so thankful for that.

Just for the record (hiss, growl) I still don’t like traveling in the carrier!!!

Let me give you a little recap of our year:

·         In March Grammie fell and half of her face was pretty colors for a long time. Uncle Don took her to the ER and they kept her for observation. They wouldn’t let her go home unless her family could guarantee someone would be with her 24/7. Mama was very thankful that Aunt Karen was willing and able to take on this job.

·         Aunt Karen’s girls planned a surprise party for her in April. Mama helped with the surprise by going with her to see a movie so the girls could decorate and set up. Aunt Karen was very surprised and deeply touched by the thoughtful gifts her daughters gave her.

·         In May Aunt Cindy planned a surprise party for Grammie’s 88th birthday. Almost all of her children, many of her grandchildren, and a few of her great-grandchildren were able to celebrate with her.





·         In June it was Mama’s birthday and Aunt Karen put together a special gathering and Aunt Carol made Mama’s favorite red cake to celebrate the momentous occasion. Mama is calling it her Year of Jubilee and made a list of 50 things she would like to accomplish before her next birthday.


·         At the end of July Mama took a little weekend excursion to Connecticut to spend time with her friend Anne. They went to the ocean, visited a butterfly garden, stopped at Yankee Candle headquarters, and had lunch with some of Anne’s friends. Mama crossed several things off her Jubilee List as a result of this trip.


·         Shortly after her return, she heard sad news that Uncle Don had bone cancer. Following surgery and radiation treatments he has received a cancer free report from his doctors. They will continue to monitor him regularly. Mama is thankful for his renewed health and God’s answer to many prayers on his behalf.

·         On September 16th Mama left for work and had a few “firsts” take place (although these were NOT on her Jubilee List - hiss). She rode in an ambulance for the first time and was a patient in the ER for the first time. On her way to work, a pick-up pulling a trailer pulled across the road in front of her. Mama was okay, just a few bumps and bruises, but her car was smushed. Thankfully God provided through the insurance company and her church and now Mama has a cute little white Mazda (purr, purr).

Mama continues to visit Grammie every other weekend and on breaks, work at the church, blog, and edit papers for doctoral candidates. This year she also completed training to become a life coach specializing in spiritual development as well as grief. She hopes to build her coaching practice in the coming year.

We hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Blessed 2015!!

Meowry Christmas,


Dakota for Mama Dar J

Friday, December 12, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk - Lost (My Little Cousin)

I stood at the window in the lobby of my dorm waiting. It was an April day and I had someplace that I very much wanted to be, yet at the same time didn’t want to be at all. I watched intently out the window waiting for my ride to come. As I waited, I remembered.

She had been born less than 4 years before. A sweet new life, a second child, a little sister, a new granddaughter, the promise of dreams and a rich life to come entered the world on June 15, 1979. She was loved and wanted, and full of hope. She grew. She cooed and giggled and wiggled her fingers and toes. She learned to roll over and to sit up. Then one day the doctors discovered that something was wrong.

An awful diagnosis sent her parents’ world spinning wildly out of control. Leukemia. So young to receive such a dire diagnosis.

I remembered her sweet, energetic little being coming to the Awana Cubbies class that my parents led during our youth program at church. In a room filled with two and three year olds, dashing about, playing and exploring, I could see her bright eyes and her little bald head. She seemed so bright . . . and so vulnerable with her mesh shirt holding her chemo port in place. So tiny, her fair skin so white.

Her treatments were given in a city over an hour away. The schedule was grueling. Her parents were often separated as her mom stayed at the hospital with her and her father took care of the family business. Her older sister would later praise her parents for choosing to include her grandparents as co-parents for her during her little sister’s illness. This was a time of anxiety and fear for My Little Cousin’s immediate family and for our extended family around them.

I remember too her mother telling me that one lesson she sought to teach My Little Cousin was that pain is not an excuse for bad behavior. My Little Cousin was in pain, great pain throughout her short life, yet her mother saw with hope that one day she would grow up and that good behavior would be important and that pain was not an excuse to behave badly. Sadly, she did not grow up, but the lesson her mother sought to teach her was an important one for any person to learn.

The day came when My Little Cousin’s mom gave her daughter a bone marrow transplant. For a short time it seemed to work and then the news came that My Little Cousin was no longer responding to treatment. There was nothing more the doctors could do.

She and the other children in the hospital sang a song based on Revelation 4. “Worthy is the Lamb to receive . . .” and in place of the words of the song they would insert the names of the children that went to be with Jesus.  On April 6, 1983 My Little Cousin’s name was added to the song as she went to be with Jesus. She was only with us for 3 ¾ short years, too short a time. Her passing left behind pain and devastating grief and loss.

My ride never came that day. I never found out why. I have always felt a little sad and disappointed that I never got to say good-bye to My Little Cousin, that I wasn’t there to support, to express my love on this very sad day.

We all struggled to make sense of this loss, yet it seemed so senseless. Her older sister questioned why God would take My Little Cousin and no one really had a good answer. My Little Cousin’s parents seemed lost in the face of this gargantuan loss, unsure how to navigate the grief, crushed and dazed. My heart ached with them and longed to somehow ease their pain, to somehow fill the huge, empty hole that had entered their life. But, I had no idea what to say or do.

With this loss, my questions and doubts continued to grow. I wrestled with “why” and it was a long time before I found peace with that question. I think this loss more than the others gave me a desire to learn how to comfort grieving people, to learn how to walk with those who have suffered great loss in a way that would console and encourage. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Why? (My Missionary Cousin)


I stood in a room filled with books at the Seminario Teologico Bautista in Lima, Peru. The building was simple and dedicated to training young men for the ministry. Before me was a memorial plaque dedicating a section of the books to My Missionary Cousin.  A few days earlier I had listened to a group of missionaries telling their stories and several of them mentioned My Missionary Cousin. They had known him and had planned to minister shoulder to shoulder with him and his family.

In 1977, ten years before I stood in that small library and sat in that living room in Lima listening to missionary stories, My Missionary Cousin and his family left for language school in Mexico. They were to learn Spanish to prepare to serve in Peru. They had only been there a short time before it became apparent that something was wrong. He was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over the course of the next 5 years his condition deteriorated and he passed away in May of 1982 during my senior year of high school.

As I listened to the missionaries’ stories, I thought about My Missionary Cousin. He loved God. He loved Peru, the Peruvians, but he never made it back. He loved his wife and 3 young sons. But he had to leave all of that behind in a long torturous death. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I could not hold them back. He was part of the inspiration that led me to Peru as a Summer Missionary Apprentice that year. I was there, but he was not.

After his death I began to ask “Why?” When My Uncle died, I was too young to ask.  Perhaps I was still too young to ask at 12 when My Pastor’s Son died. However, at this point in my life I was beginning to question not only My Missionary Cousin’s death, but also why My Uncle and My Pastor’s Son had to die. All of them loved God, were serving Him, and yet they died. Their loved ones experienced this horrible loss and grief. It seemed so very unfair. I wondered why and somewhere deep in my heart began a stirring doubt about what kind of God would do this.

"Why" is a normal question when facing grief. 
How are you or how have you worked through that question?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Strength in Loss (My Pastor's Son)

A slight man with blonde hair stood at the end of a lightly yellowed pine pew near the front of the plain country-creamery-turned-church. His face was set in a solemn pose, filled with sadness and yet with peace. The lines that often crinkled at his eyes and the smile that picked up the corners of his mouth were not evident that day. A line of people snaked out the sanctuary doors into the foyer. Most people found a place to stand inside on the March 9, 1977. Person after person stopped and shook the slight man’s hand and spoke words meant to comfort and assuage his grief. Yet so often he was the one offering comfort, hope, and strength.

After they stopped to speak to the man, the people moved forward to stand beside the casket. Inside the casket lay the body of a thirteen year old boy. A framed picture of him rested against the inside of the open casket lid. My Pastor’s Son.

My Pastor’s Son was seven months older than I. He was born on November 11, 1963. He was the only son of My Pastor and his wife, the only biological son they would ever have. Although we knew each other when we were in upper elementary grades, we didn’t hang out much. He was a grade ahead of me and he was a boy . . . and at that age, boys had cooties.

When he was 12, he was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents did all they could to get treatment for their son seeking help from both medical and holistic sources.  I don’t remember seeing him much after he was diagnosed, but his dad continued to preach and shepherd our congregation.  I remember three things about his dad during this time.  

I remember My Pastor telling us several times that he would give his life for his son, that he would gladly die so that his son could live . . . if only he could.

To this day I cannot read 1 John 5:13 without thinking of My Pastor’s Son. My Pastor talked about his son’s imminent death and the normal questions about what would happen after he died. My Pastor’s Son had underlined this verse in his Bible: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13 KJV). Not only had My Pastor’s Son underlined this verse, but he had circled the word KNOW over and over again. This was the confidence that My Pastor’s Son had regarding what would happen after he died.


The last thing I remember about My Pastor was the obvious depth of his pain and his great strength and faith in the face of that pain. His pain was so stark, so unrelenting, and so all-encompassing and yet his faith was stronger. In the face of his loss and pain, he clung to God with unswerving faith and taught me that in the worst, most terrible losses of life, God is there and able to comfort, strengthen, and provide – even when He chooses not to heal.

Have you had someone in your life that taught you about facing profound loss?
What was he or she like? What did she or he teach you?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Why a Series about Grief?


Why a series about grief? In a few words, to create a safe place to share our stories by first sharing mine, and to invite you to share your story of loss.

Grief has touched my life in many ways and far too often. Too many people I know have lost a loved one, lost a home, gone through a divorce, or suffered another type of loss and experienced deep, profound grief. I too have experienced painful losses.

I became aware of this pattern of grief as my church experienced a season of untimely deaths. Later while working on a timeline of my life for a spiritual formation class, I realized that grief was not only a theme in my church, but in my own life as well. As I processed this with our pastor, he challenged me in two ways:

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First, he challenged me to complete grief-work of my own that had been left undone.

Second, he challenged me that working with people who are grieving is delicate work that needs to be done with skill as well as love and compassion.

His challenge started me on a journey to work through my own unresolved grief and then to learn how to help others walking through the intense pain of loss.

Since then, I have read and studied, listened and learned about grief and how it impacts us. We never "get over" grief, but we can assimilate it into the narrative of our life in a way that allows us to both love the one lost and to live again ourselves. One of the key tasks of working through grief is to share our stories, to be able to put our loss into words and know that it is heard.

So, this series is about me sharing my story and inviting you to share your story of loss, about us coming together to comfort and encourage one another, to share experiences and hope, to share what helped us through, and to strengthen one another in this place called mourning, grief, and bereavement.

If you feel comfortable to share your story in a comment, I would be delighted to hear it. 
If you would rather contact me privately, you may send me a private e-mail. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Chaos and Fear


Ouch!! I looked down at the soft flesh on my inner forearm at the line of red that began to appear. Summer on the farm brings a plethora of kittens and this one was a little wild and not willing to be held. The scratch on my arm was evidence of her displeasure at my attempts to catch her. That scratch left a scar that can still be seen today, a physical scar that reminds me of the scars left on many lives later that night.

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I emerged from the hayloft with my bleeding arm and in need of some tending. In the driveway in front of our green farmhouse, adults and teens milled around as cars arrived. Laughter and conversation filled the air as teens chose seats. One high school girl invited her younger sister to ride in the car near her, a choice that she would be grateful for the rest of her days. Before long the cars were loaded with laughing, excited youth, eager to be on the road for their evening trip to an area amusement park. One by one the cars pulled out of the driveway and headed south.

Mom tended my arm and she, Dad, and I went about our evening activities. We had supper and then watched tv. A peaceful, normal evening. The green phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen shrilled and the peace turned to chaos. At first the details were confused and the information scant, but as the evening wore on the details became more clear, an accident with serious injuries had occurred.

My Uncle, driving a large Suburban, filled with teens in the days before seatbelts were law and long before the 55 MPH speed limit or even 65 MPH speed limit, had had an accident. One of the tires had blown. He was able to keep the vehicle upright and able to take it to the shoulder where the real mishap occurred. A large road sign had been upended and he was unable to avoid hitting the concrete base, the car rolled. A young woman, sitting in the middle of the front bench seat was thrown from the car and killed instantly. She was a junior in high school. Another young woman’s hand was crushed when the car rolled. A young man had a concussion. My Uncle was lucid and mobile immediately after the accident, able to talk to rescue workers, however he too had suffered a significant head wound and was taken to the hospital in Scranton.

In the days to come I was upset and frightened by the chaos and sadness around me. I was just 8 years old. My parents went to the hospital to be with my Dad’s brother and his family and I slept with my two sisters in their room. They talked about the accident and spelled words I shouldn't hear that described the scene. My sister and her boyfriend went to the funeral of the young woman who was killed. They were somber and very sad. There was so much I didn’t understand, but I felt the fear and the sadness in the adults around me.
We went to church one morning, My Uncle had been in a coma and his life had been hanging in the balance. The call came that the family should come. Most of us attended the same church – my father and all three of his brothers, my siblings, and many cousins. The brothers all left and church felt a little empty that day.  

I don’t remember just which day My Uncle died, whether it was that Sunday or soon after, but he did die. A man only in his forties, his first grandchildren just toddlers or infants, some of his children married, some still at home. His passing left a huge hole in our church, in our extended family, and in his immediate family.

I remember the day of the funeral, August 17, 1972 – the day my first niece was born and the day of his son’s birthday. I think it was the first funeral I attended. So much sadness, his body in the casket at the front of the church. The trip to the cemetery where he would be laid to rest near other family members who had gone before him.

At that age I did not understand death or grief. I understood that the adults around me, including my older siblings, were sad. I felt the chaos of sudden death and trauma, the heart wrenching pain of abrupt loss. I felt fear.

A short while after My Uncle died, I was on the front porch of our house and fell and hit my head on something. As head wounds do from even a small cut, it bled heavily. I was terrified. I didn’t understand about brain injuries or head trauma or concussions. I understood that My Uncle had hit his head and that he died. I was certain that I was going to die too. I ran screaming into the house and into my mother's arms, a place of comfort and solace. 

As a young child, sudden death meant chaos and fear to me.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Geocaching and God's Will

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Have you ever gone geocaching? It's a treasure hunt using a gps. People hide an item, then enter its location into a website using gps coordinates. Other people search for it.

Determining God's will for our lives can feel a little like geocaching, like we're going on a treasure hunt. The hard part is, sometimes the coordinates aren't so clear and we're not sure how to find it.

I have wished that God would speak to me like He spoke to Moses or David or Job. I have also wished that he would write it in the sky or on a billboard or send someone to tell me clearly what I am to do. However God doesn't usually use these ways of communicating with us. Yet, God does want us to know His will and does make a way for us to do so.

How do we find the gps coordinates for God's will for our circumstances?

1. Genuine Desire - Cultivate a genuine desire to know what God wants us to do and a willingness to obey Him when we know. Part of the process of cultivation is to come to a place where we have surrendered our own will and desires and we only want what God wants.

2. Study the Bible - As we search for God's will, a good place to begin is searching Scripture. The Bible reveals right and wrong, truth and lies, God's character, and man's character. As we come to understand these things, they serve as a filter. When we are faced with a difficult decision, we can ask which options are most closely aligned with what God has revealed He desires of us.

3. Pray - Prayer is a conversation with God in which we talk to Him and also listen for His response. What do we listen for? Thoughts He sends to our minds, a prompting of the Holy Spirit through words from the Bible, advice from people I trust that rings true, desires of the heart that surface. In that quiet place of prayer, what is God saying to you?

4. Wise Counsel - While the first people that come to mind might be a pastor or spiritual director, others may have much to offer as well. Skilled professionals may be able to offer advice based on their training and experience. Friends who have learned lessons in the School of Hard Knocks and have gained wisdom from their experiences may also offer wise counsel. Counsel from those who share a love for God is helpful, for they are more likely to understand the underlying desire in our search for an answer. However that does not prohibit God from using the expertise of non-believers to also direct us.

5. Desires, Dreams, Abilities and Gifts - God has created each of us uniquely with desires, dreams, abilities, and gifts. As we search for God's will, we want to pay attention to those longings and capabilities. God can use those to direct our path as well.

6. Consolation and Desolation - Consolation and Desolation are terms used by the spiritual fathers and mothers of Christianity. Consolation is an inner sense of life, peace, and rightness, of God's favor. Desolation is an inner sense of death, unease, that something is not right, that God's favor is not in this. One way to get a handle on these is to make a decision and sit with it. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you have a sense of consolation in your soul after you have made this decision? Do you have a sense of desolation? This is a powerful way that our souls communicate to us.

7. Circumstances - One of the most exciting aspects of finding God's will is seeing circumstances work together in an inexplicable way. We've prayed, we've listened, we've sought counsel, we're aware of what our soul is hearing from God, but nothing happens and we're waiting. Waiting. Then suddenly, circumstances start to come together in a way that goes beyond coincidence or human contriving and we know that God's hand is clearing the path He wants us to walk. And there is confidence that this is the path God has for us.

When have you known you had discovered God's will for you?
What confirmed to you or helped you know this was His will?



Friday, October 17, 2014

A Ready Heart

 
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          How do we valiantly survive the trials of life?

            Times in my life have been so full of trials and tragedies that I have dreaded what may be coming next and I have been afraid.  I have wanted to run, to find a safe cave where I can take all the people I love and keep us all safe and unharmed.  I find myself repeating Jesus’ words from His prayer in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me.”
            I didn't want to face any more pain or suffering. I wanted life to get back to “normal.” I tried to bargain with God, but of course that was futile. I tried to hide, to protect myself, but that didn’t work either. I wanted this cup to pass from me and the more I tried to make that happen the more miserable I felt.
            Jesus moved forward in His prayer. So must I. So must we. He surrendered.  He prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” I too, we too, must accept the pain and hardship and surrender ourselves to God.
            I was gripped by the opening scene of “The Passion of the Christ.” Jesus prays in agony in Gethsemane. His surrender is powerfully portrayed. Later, he stands stripped of his clothes, chained to a large rock about to be beaten and scourged by the Roman soldiers. The first blow has not yet fallen when He says,“Father, My heart is ready.” As I continued to watch the movie I was captivated by Jesus’ steely determination to keep going, to face all that his trial and execution entailed. He faced His suffering with courage, with strength, with confidence, with resolution, with steely determination. This is how I long to face life. I want to face life with courage, with confidence, with passion. How do I get there? How did Jesus do it?
            He had a ready heart. He had an intimate relationship with God the Father. He let go of His own desires and embraced God’s will, and then pursued it in passionate obedience. He saw beyond the pain. He saw the purpose. He had the right perspective.
            So often my perspective becomes skewed and I look at the pain, the suffering.  I get focused on the difficulty. I forget to look up. I forget the truth of Psalm 121:1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” When I forget to look up, I get stuck in the mire and muck. When I look up to my Helper and Maker, when I surrender to Him, when I obey Him I can look difficulty in the eye and say, “Father, My heart is ready.” I can valiantly, courageously survive the trials when I focus on Him.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Test and A Testimony

The Test

On Tuesday, September 16, 2014 I got out of bed and went about my morning routine. I prayed and thought about what I had on my agenda for that day. I climbed into my car and pulled out of my parking lot headed to work. I navigated the normal traffic lights and turns and was coming down a straightaway into an intersection that I don’t like. It is a busy intersection with people pulling out of gas stations and others merging on or off the highway.

I saw the pickup driver pulling forward, I saw him looking the other way. I saw him pulling forward not looking my way, not seeing me. I hit my brakes. I hit my horn. He turned toward me, but it was too late. I considered my options. Could I swerve behind him? No, he was pulling a trailer and I would hit it and possibly roll the car or go airborne. Could I swerve in front of him? No, he was moving that direction. I realized I couldn’t avoid him and I watched the silver nose of my car hit the side of his brown pickup. I saw the metal crumple and felt the snap and jar as my body was thrown forward by the impact and then snapped back into the seat by my seatbelt. My car was pulled slightly to the left and pieces of it were strewn across the road. Something smelled hot and either steam or smoke drifted from the front of the car.

I felt stunned. Disoriented. Alone. Struggling to know what to do next.

My purse, lunch bag, work bag had been thrown onto the floor on the passenger side. I picked them up and looked for my phone. I needed to call 911. This needed to be reported. My hands were a little shaky.

An older white man approached from the gas station and started to come to the window. I saw him ask if I was okay. I reached for the window control to open the window, but he moved around to the other side of the car. I rolled down the window. He asked if I was okay. I said I thought so. A woman with dark hair pulled back in a pony tail appeared holding a cell phone. She said she’d called 911. 

A man with skin the color of milk chocolate appeared and everything else faded from my comprehension. He spoke to me, calmly, kindly,“You need to get out of the car. You’re in the middle of the road and you might get hit again. You need to get out of the car.”

I heard him. He made sense, but I didn’t quite know what to do. I wanted to do what he said, but I felt very lost and unsure how to do it.

“You need to get out of the car. Open the door.”

I released the seatbelt latch. I tried to open the door, but it didn’t open very well. It got stuck. He pulled it open, telling me each step of the way what he was doing. I gathered my bags.

I said, “I need my glasses. I can’t see without them. They flew off in the accident.”

He looked down and saw them between the seat and the door. He picked them up. “I have them right here. Come on, now, let’s get you out of the car.” He was so calm and so comforting.

I got out of the car and stood beside it for a moment. He handed me my glasses and I looked him in the eye. His eyes were the same beautiful milk chocolate color. Our eyes held and a peace and calm washed over me. He never touched me, but I felt so comforted by him. He offered to take one or all of my bags, but I said I was okay. He walked with me over to the side of the road.

The cellphone lady came over and so did a woman with light brown hair and skin the color of milk. She said her name was Mary. She said she was a nurse and that she had heard the accident from where she was at Dunkin Donuts across the street. Mary asked if I was okay and offered to let me sit in her car. I said I thought I was okay, but that I was pretty sure I was in shock and the adrenaline was flowing, so I wasn’t sure.

The driver of the pickup approached me. He apologized and said it was his fault. Mary asked him if he was okay. He was shaken too. He had pulled the pickup across the road and it was sitting on the shoulder just past the exit ramp. I felt a twinge of anger that she asked if he was okay, after all it was his fault, but then almost as quickly as the twinge of anger came, so did a twinge of guilt that I would be so selfish. He was just as deserving as I of concern.

I began to feel very shaky and weak, I wasn’t sure if I could hold myself up any more and told Mary that maybe it would be a good idea for me to sit down after all. Mary and cellphone lady walked with me over to the car and let me get settled in a seat. 

A State Trooper came over to talk with me. I handed him my license, registration, and insurance card. He walked away while I notified  a friend about the accident. I told her where I was and asked her to reach my boss.

The State Trooper checked in again and told me to go to the hospital and get checked out sometime that day.  He also told me they would tow my car. I asked if I could make a request. He said yes, as long as it wasn’t 50 miles away. I said no, it was a place close by and next door to where I live. In my shock-induced state I had trouble remembering the name and pronounced it incorrectly. Thankfully the other State Trooper was familiar with the place and figured it out from what I was saying.  

The driver of the pickup approached me again and apologized with tears in his eyes. I told him that I didn’t hold it against him. I felt sorry for him.

Then the ambulance people arrived – two sturdy people, a man and a woman. I liked that they were sturdy. Since I’m not a little person, I felt safer with two sturdy people to do the lifting and caregiving. Since the State Trooper had told me to get checked out sometime that day,  I decided that was probably as good a time as any. I didn’t know how I would get to the hospital otherwise. So, for the first time in my life, I rode in the back of an ambulance to the hospital. My first time in the hospital as a patient as well. I called my boss, who is also my pastor, from the back of the ambulance and told him what had happened, where I was, and where I was going.

At the hospital a nurse and physician's assistant checked me out. They x-rayed and bandaged one knee that was swelling and gave me muscle relaxers and suggested something for pain and told me what to do to deal with the pain that would likely come the next day. My pastor and his wife arrived while I was being x-rayed and sat with me until I was released. They took me to the pharmacy to drop off my prescription and then took me on to the office. They suggested I go home or come to their house, but I didn’t want to replay the accident over and over in my head, and I felt okay. I chose to go to work.

As days turned into a week and I hadn’t heard more from the insurance company, I became more and more anxious about how I would pay for another car. The car I had been driving had been an answer to prayer. A decent vehicle that my nephew-in-law had found for me at a really good price. Cars like that don’t come along every day and I had no idea how I would pay for another one. I talked with God a lot. If He didn’t come through, I was sunk. I didn’t know what I would do.

Since I had never been in an accident like this before, I wasn’t sure how the system worked. I became more and more nervous and anxious about how much the insurance company would give me and how on earth I would find a car in that price range and before the rental expired. I began putting out feelers and paying attention to what was around me. Still, I was scared. I prayed. I prayed that God would show up and show off – show off His power, His ability to provide. I asked Him to turn this Test into a Testimony.

I got the offer from the insurance company Wednesday, September 24th. I had hoped for a certain amount, prayed for an amount almost double what I hoped for, and feared I would get only a pittance. I was floored when the adjuster named a price that was nearly $500 more than what I had prayed for – oh me of little faith!!! I was so happy I nearly did a happy dance. I had to share the good news with someone, so I told my pastor the good news. Little did I know that he had devious plot of his own.

The Testimony
The next day, he revealed his devious plot. He had asked the leadership of the church if it would be possible to help me out. He wasn’t sure how much it would be, but he thought the church would help. I waited to see what God would do.

On Friday, one of the leaders of the church, a man I have grown to appreciate and respect deeply, came in the office. He scolded me for not telling him about the accident, asked a bunch of questions and then told me that he was quite sure that they could match the amount from the insurance company. Oh. My. Word!!!!!!!!!! The tears of course filled my eyes and I couldn’t believe what he was saying. That bumped my car search to a whole new level. I began scouring the internet that weekend.

The following Monday my rental through the insurance company expired. My pastor and his wife loaned me her car until I could find another one. At each step of the way, I felt anxiety not knowing how the next step would play out. Waiting to see what God would do, thinking through my options. At each step of the way, He provided.

On Tuesday, September 30th (two weeks after the accident) I got another call from the church leader. More money than he had originally hoped had come in and I could bump up the price range significantly again. I scoured the internet again changing my search parameters to fit the new criteria.

On Wednesday morning I realized that although I had been praying for God to provide, I hadn’t been including Him as I searched for cars. I prayed that He would lead me to “my” car. Later that day, I found a car that moved to the top of my list, a 2010 white Mazda 3 with only 43,000ish miles on it and within my price range. I showed it to my pastor/boss and he encouraged me to call. I called and left a message twice. No response. I was so sure this was “my” car, yet when I didn’t hear back all my fears and anxieties popped up again. What if it was sold already? What if . . . (fill in the blank)? On Thursday the call came. It hadn’t been sold. I set up an appointment to see it on Friday.

My pastor and his wife went with me and between us we looked it over from stem to stern, inside and out, under the hood and in the trunk. I think Pastor J even got under it at one point. We found a few little cosmetic things that needed tweaking. Then we went for a test drive. Pastor J gave it a run for its money – something I wouldn’t have had the boldness to do, but I was so thankful he did. It gave me greater confidence that I really was getting a good deal. I drove it too and liked how it handled. I put a down payment on it that day.

I drove my little white car home on Thursday, October 9th.

This has truly been a test. But it is a test that God has turned into a testimony and I thank Him for so many things:
  • The man who helped me out of the car and calmed and comforted me. 
  • That I wasn't more hurt than I was. When I saw my car the next day, I realized that I could have been hurt much worse.
  • That the pick-up driver immediately took responsibility -- not only to me, but to the police and to his insurance company. 
  • That so far, I haven't had to fight with the insurance companies.
  • For my friend that I called and for her husband who came to the scene of the accident and oversaw the transport of my car and getting it settled at the garage next door. 
  • For my pastor and his wife who came to the hospital and watched over me that first day, who helped me car shop, who loaned me their car, who instigated getting additional funds to help me get a better car.
  • For friends who called to check on me the night of the accident and in the days following.
  • For the rental car from the insurance company.
  • For people from the church who gave so generously and many who have spoken so kindly to me.
  • For those who gave me possible leads on cars
  • For Mary and the cellphone lady at the scene who offered a sheltered place to sit and who thought for me when I wasn't able to think so well for myself. 
  • For the church leader who helped orchestrate the gift to me and who gave me invaluable car shopping advice along the way.
  • For those who wrote and delivered the check to me.
  • For those who have prayed with me through this. 
  
I am thankful that God not only showed up, 
but also showed off His ability to provide for me and 
turned a test into a testimony!




Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Blessed Heart

Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . . ah-choo!!
          “Bless you!!” 
          We sneeze and someone blesses us. Routinely, glibly we say the words, but do we stop and think about what it means to be blessed? Do we recognize the blessings God has given us?
          There is a story I love about twin boys (although I don’t know the original source).  One was an optimist and one was a pessimist. Their parents were concerned about the direction their attitudes would take them in life, so they decided to teach them a lesson one year on their birthday. 
          The parents filled the little pessimist’s room with toys – every size, shape, description, color. They got the latest, the greatest, the most popular toys on the market. They filled the little optimist’s room with horse manure. (I don’t know who was responsible to clean it or for health care issues, but I’m glad it wasn’t me!!) They stood at the door to the little pessimist’s room, hoping he would be thankful, but before long he was complaining. The toys were too hard to assemble, they weren’t the right color or size. They weren’t what he wanted. Nothing pleased him. The parents peeked into the little optimist’s room, hoping that he would have learned to be more realistic about life. The little optimist was wandering around the room smiling and happy. When they asked what he was doing he replied, “With all this horse manure, there just has to be a pony in here somewhere!”
          Are you complaining about the beautiful “toys” you’ve been given or are you looking for the pony?
          Paul wrote the book of Philippians from prison, yet over and over he tells the church in Philippi to rejoice. His circumstances were not what we would call favorable or a blessing, yet Paul didn’t see it that way. He considered where he was a blessing because he got to see the Gospel spread because of his confinement. He rejoiced. He saw the blessings in the middle of a place where many of us would only see the horse manure.
         Have you taken time recently to count your blessings? Why don’t you take a few minutes to list some of your blessings? Write down 10, even 20 things that you are thankful for. They can be simple, general things like clothes to wear and food to eat to very specific things. 
Are you looking for the pony or complaining about the toys?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - Thematic

This is our final approach to digging deeper into the Bible. I have shared with you some of my favorite ways to study the Bible, approaches that I have found helpful over the years.

I would love to hear your stories of different Bible study methods you have tried and your experience with them.

So our final method is called the Thematic Study and revolves around following a theme through the Bible or a portion of the Bible. (If the theme is broad, you might want to limit your study to book or section of the Bible.)

The flow of the Thematic Study:

Begin with Prayer. Pause and ask God to teach you through His Spirit and to show you new insights and ways in which this theme applies to your life.

Choose a theme.

Find references in a concordance that deal with your theme.

Read the verses. You may need to read the surrounding verses to gain context and understanding.

To go deeper try comparing translations and define the theme word. (Bible Gateway makes it easy to compare the verses in a variety of translations.)

As you read, jot down answers to the following questions:

  • What do you observe in the verse/passage? What do you learn about the theme?
  • What questions are raised? What answers are found?
  • When you've read the passages and taken notes, review what you've written.
  • What patterns do you notice? What principles do you observe?
  • Summarize what you have learned from this study


Suggested themes:
knowing God's will
obedience
praising the Lord in the psalms
Jesus' prayers
Paul's prayers
heavenlies in the book of Ephesians

Thank you for joining in this look at ways to understand the Bible better. 
Take a minute to share a comment about ways of reading or studying the Bible that have helped you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - Recreate a Journal

A fun follow-up to the Biographical study is to create a journal entry for the person you studied. It can also stand alone as a way to become more familiar with a Bible character or a particular event in their life.

As always, begin this study with prayer asking the Holy Spirit to give you insight and understanding.

Choose the person or event about which you would like to write a journal entry.

Using your concordance, find the verses where this person or event is recorded in the Bible.

Read the verses.

As you read, take note:
  • Carefully observe the text
  • Consider the background
  • Ask what the person might have thought or felt
  • Put yourself in that person's shoes
  • Consider looking at it from a different perspective (e.g. in the march around Jericho you could write from the perspective of an Israelite soldier or priest, a resident of Jericho, Rahab, or an Israelite woman or child who stayed in camp or even an inanimate object such as a horn or stone in the wall) Don't be afraid to think outside the box and be creative. 
Write a journal entry from the perspective you have chosen. 

Suggested stories:
  • Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3)
  • Ruth leaving Moab (Ruth 1)
  • Rahab after hiding the spies (Joshua 2)
  • A person of Jericho as the Israelites march around the walls (Joshua 6)
  • A Philistine describing Goliath's death (1 Samuel 17)
  • Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus in the garden (John 20:1-18
If you would like to see an example of this study, visit "I Met a Man" - a journal entry I wrote from the point of view of the woman with an issue of blood who touched the hem of Jesus' robe. 

What Bible character intrigues you the most? What about him or her captures your attention?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - The People of the Bible

I have a confession to make, this is my favorite way to dig more deeply into the Bible. I love looking at the people of the Bible trying to understand what it might have felt like to be in their sandals, to think about what their world was like. When I use this style of study, I find that the characters become so much more real to me and I learn from the rich experiences of their lives.

A Biographical Study is looking specifically at the life of one person from the Bible in an attempt to understand who they were and the experiences that shaped them.

1. Choose a person. It is best to pick someone who is not mentioned in multiple chapters or multiple books. If your curiosity about one of the "big" Bible names (Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, etc.) draws you into studying one of them, another way to do so is to study their life one period as a time. (e.g. Moses - Moses' in Egypt before Age 40; Moses in the Dessert; Moses' Return to Egypt and Leading the Exodus; Moses and the 10 Commandments; Moses Preparing to Enter the Promised Land; Moses Leading the Israelites through the Wilderness for 40 Years; The End of Moses' Life - each of these periods of his life provide a rich and powerful study.) Also, watch out for duplicate names such as Joseph (son of Jacob and Jesus' stepfather) or Mary (Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of John Mark). You'll want to make sure that the references you are using all pertain to the same person.

2. List all references. Using a concordance list all the references that pertain to the person or the specific period of their life that you plan to study.

3. Pray asking the Holy Spirit to lead you and guide you, to show you insights and truths from this study.

4. Read the references about this person. As you read look for clues to the following items. Write down your observations.
  • Character development
  • Crises faced
  • Motivations
  • Reactions to life's events
  • Environment (location, culture, family)
  • Significant relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • If OT, NT references
  • Unusual birth or death
5. Summarize your observations and the lessons you learned. A helpful question to ponder as you do this is: Why did God put this person in the Bible and what can you learn from him or her?

Suggested people to study: Cornelius, Hannah, Dorcus/Tabitha, Caleb, Ruth, Daniel, Esther

What people from the Bible have especially impacted you? 
What about their life impressed you?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Letting Go and Listening

Another Five Minute Friday, when we gather to write unfettered and free for five minutes.

Overhead the sunlight filters through the shifting leaves. Below me the hammock gently sways. Around me the gentle breeze caresses my cheeks and lifts my hair ever so slightly. In the distance the sound of water tumbling over rocks provides a soothing backdrop. I relax.

The stresses of the past days and weeks . . . the weight of caring for an aging parent . . . an impending financial crisis . . . life-changing decisions to be made . . . concern for people I love . . . all begin to fade as the breeze continues to caress my skin.

My eyes drift shut.

My shoulders soften and the muscles relax.

In the quiet I hear a still a small voice, only a whisper, saying, "'I Am the Lord who Will Provide' and I love you. You are my own. I have plans for you . . . plans for good and not for harm. Rest in Me." The echo of the whisper stays in my heart and mind, calming, comforting, refreshing.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - Outline

I don't know about you, but I like variety to keep things fresh and, yes, even meaningful. I'd rather walk outside than on a treadmill, drive an interesting route rather than the fastest one, do something different sometimes just to shake things up. And, I'm the same with studying the Bible. I've been reading and studying the Bible for a long time now and at times it can get (dare I say it?) boring unless I change things up sometimes. That's why I'm suggesting an assortment of Bible study methods, so that whether brand new to the Bible or a long-timer who's gotten a little bored, you'll have some different ideas to choose from.

Most of these ways of studying the Bible are quite simple, yet each of them then deepen your knowledge, understanding, and experience with Scripture.

Today's is Outline.

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher required that we outline our history book for homework and two things happened. First, I discovered that after I had outlined a chapter I could ace the test with almost no additional study. (Loved that one!!) Second, I was drawn to the logical progression and understanding that comes with reducing something to outline form. I am beginning with the assumption that you know how to do a basic outline. (If that's not true for you, feel free to contact me and I'll be glad to explain how it works.)

When outlining the Bible, it is best to outline either a chapter paragraph by paragraph or a book chapter by chapter.

To begin this study, choose a chapter or book (preferably a short one to begin with) that you would like to understand more fully.

Pray. As I've said in the previous Bible Study posts, prayer to ask the the Holy Spirit to guide and teach you is always a crucial part of the process.

Read through the chapter or book for a sense of flow and how it fits together. At this time don't try to outline, just read it carefully to get the big picture of what's being said.

Read it again with an eye to outlining. If you're working through a chapter, give each paragraph a summary title as the main points of your outline. You may want to include key points from the paragraph as your sub-points. If you are outlining a book, give each chapter a summary title and then use your paragraphs as your sub-points.

Outlining is helpful for getting the big picture of the content and structure of a chapter or book.

If you'd like to take this study a Next Step, combine it with Observe and Question to help bring deeper understanding and to apply it to your life.

Suggested chapters:

Psalm 1
Psalm 23
Psalm 46
Matthew 5,6, or 7
Philippians 4

Suggested books:
Nehemiah
Jonah
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
James

What is your favorite way to study the Bible? 
What has helped you to keep your Bible study fresh and interesting?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - Observe and Question

Studying the Bible doesn't have to be big and scary.

Although the Bible is a BIG book, filled with lots of names and places that are unfamiliar, with some stretches that are not so interesting, it is also full of stories of valiant warriors, tender poets, miracles, and very fallible human beings. Many of the stories have rightfully been made into epic movies since they are stories of epic proportions.

The Bible is a wonderful blend of excitement, mystery, and truths that challenge our thinking and our reality. So how do we begin to understand what this big book says.

One way is to Read - Observe - Question. What does that look like?

Pray. Any time that we study the Bible, we want to invite the Holy Spirit aka the Spirit of Truth to help us understand what we are reading. (John 14:16,17, and 26)

Choose a Selection from the Bible to Read. The amount of time you want to spend and the depth of the study you want to undertake will largely determine the length of your selection. The length could vary between a few verses to an entire book. If you're looking for inspiration and encouragement, the Psalms would be a good place to begin. If you're looking for biblical teachings, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) or Epistles (Romans through Jude) would be good. If you're looking for the history of the world, the Jewish nation, or Christianity then Genesis, Exodus through Esther, or Acts would be helpful. Old Testament prophetic books are Isaiah through Malachi and in the New Testament Revelation is the primary prophetic book.

Read a Passage of the Bible. Read the passage you have chosen all the way through once without stopping. Pause.

Write down your initial response, observations, and questions.

Read it again slowly and thoughtfully.

Write: What else do you observe? What other questions arise? Do any answers surface?

Using your Bible Study Tools such as cross references, a study Bible, commentaries, and a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia search for answers to your questions. Bible Gateway is a website that offers several free resources as well as links to those for purchase.

Record your exploration, what you have learned, and your conclusions.

Apply. Ask yourself how this study has impacted your life and how it makes a difference in your day to day interactions with God and with other people.

If you try this type of study, I invite you to talk about your experience 
or what you have learned here in this online community. 

NOTE: I do not receive any type of reimbursement or benefits from any endorsements made in this post. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - SCPTP

While we are often told that reading and studying the Bible are important, many are not sure where to begin or how to study the Bible. A simple way to learn more about the Bible is to read a few verses or even one verse at a time asking five questions. If you're new to reading or studying the Bible, this type of study creates a great foundation for deeper study at a later time.

How do you go about this study?

Choose a passage to read. This study works best when reading a single verse or paragraph in the Bible. Over time you can read a variety of short passages or you can choose to read through a book a paragraph at a time. This study works particularly well with the Gospels (Matthew through John) or the Epistles (Romans through Jude) in the New Testament. You may want to begin with a shorter book such as Philippians, Colossians, or 1 John.

Pray. Ask God to guide you through the Holy Spirit into a deeper understanding of His message to you through the Bible.

Read and Record. Read your chosen passage for the day. In a journal or on an electronic device jot down the date, reference of the passage you read, and then the answers to the following questions:

Is there a . . .

Sin to confess?
Command to obey?
Promise to claim?
Truth to understand and believe?
Prayer to pray?

Sin to Confess - Does the Bible address a particular sin, something that God says is not what He desires for us? If so, jot that down. To apply this question to your own life, ask yourself if this is a sin that you have given into. If so, God tells us to confess our sin and He will forgive us. (1 John 1:9)

Command to Obey - Is there something that God wants us to do? What is that? Record the answer in your journal. Think about how you can begin to do this thing God is asking of you.

Promise to Claim - Does God make a promise to you in this verse? Write down what the promise is. How can claiming that promise help you in your current circumstances?

Truth to Understand and Believe - What truth is captured in this verse or paragraph? Why is it important? What difference does it make in your life?

Prayer to Pray - Is there a prayer given? What does it say? What does it help you understand about how to pray? Are you willing to pray this prayer to God?

Let's do an example together:

We'll try a verse that is familiar to many, Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Is there a sin to confess? Not specifically.

Is there a command to obey? Yes, more than one: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" and "In all your ways acknowledge him". And, we are told not to lean on our own understanding (our own intellect, reasoning, or logic). How can I do this? Currently I am in the midst of working with my family to make some serious decisions. In those decisions I need to choose to trust God and to acknowledge His ability to guide us.

Is there a promise to claim? Absolutely, "he will make straight your paths." I can have assurance that as I trust God and acknowledge Him in these decisions that He will guide us and he will show us clearly the right thing to do.

Is there a truth to understand and believe? Nothing beyond those we've already identified.

Is there a prayer to pray? Not specifically, however praying Scripture and asking for God's help to trust and acknowledge Him, to avoid leaning on our own understanding, and claiming His promise to us, is appropriate and can make our prayer times more meaningful.

Have you ever tried studying the Bible this way? Was it helpful? 
What has helped you to study the Bible?


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How do I Understand the Bible? - The Necessary Tools

How do I understand the Bible? It's so thick with unfamiliar words and confusing stories and teaching. I don't even know where to begin. As a teacher and coach, I have heard this question asked many times. And, it's an important one.

God gave us the Bible so that we could understand Him better and it is the sacred Scriptures of the Christian faith. Therefore, reading and studying it will help us in our relationship with God and in growing in our faith.

Over the next few weeks I want to share with you ways of studying the Bible that will help you increase your knowledge of its contents, your understanding of what it means, and how to apply it to your own life and situation.

A skilled craftsman knows the importance of having the right tools for the job - be it a woodworker, an electrician, a chef, a diver, a teacher, a writer, a glassblower, a surgeon, or an artist. The right tools make it much easier to produce a great work and in some cases, such as a diver or electrician, it may be a matter of life or death. So, if you want to know how to understand the Bible better, what tools do you need?

Studying the Bible does not have to be complicated or involve a great many books or tools, although as you delve more and more deeply into the Bible there may be books, software, or apps that you would like to purchase. However, to begin the list is rather short:

1. A Bible. A study Bible that contains a summary of each book (giving its history, author, and an overview of its contents), maps, charts, and a concordance (a list of where particular words are found) is especially helpful. My favorites are The Life Application Bible, The Quest Study Bible, and the NIV Study Bible. I have found each of these to have comprehensive and helpful tools.

2. A journal, notebook, computer, or tablet where you can track what you are learning.

3. Prayer and the Holy Spirit. Some passages of the Bible and some people described in the Bible are difficult to understand. Therefore, it is important that you seek the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in your study and to reveal truth to you and to help you avoid misinterpreting the Scripture.

These three things are sufficient to help anyone get started toward a basic understanding of the Bible, what it says, and what it means.

Perhaps you are interested in going deeper in your study. Perhaps you are puzzled by various things and want deeper answers or maybe you would like to help someone else understand the Bible better and you want to understand the Bible more completely yourself first. The following tools are helpful for those who want to go deeper. I have listed them in the order I would recommend attaining them.

4. A Concordance. While today many Study Bibles have extensive concordances, most do not have an Exhaustive Concordance. An Exhaustive Concordance lists every word in the Bible and all the verses where it can be found. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is one of the most famous concordances and is very helpful. Some websites such as Bible Gateway can also function as a concordance by allowing you to enter a key word into their site and it will list all the verses where that word is found. Bible Gateway also has a number of other very helpful resources including the option to view a verse or passage in multiple translations of the Bible.

5. A Commentary of the Whole Bible. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible is readily available in both book and online formats and is well-known and widely respected. As your study grows you may want to invest in commentaries on specific books of the Bible or sections of the Bible. Also, many Study Bibles contain commentary at the bottom of the pages. A commentary explains the meaning and background of the verses in the Bible.

6. A Bible Dictionary. This is a dictionary that focuses specifically on biblical and theological terms that may be unfamiliar. My personal favorite is the Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words by Larry Richards. I have found this to be both comprehensive and easy to understand.

7. A Bible Encyclopedia or Handbook. I personally have found an encyclopedia more helpful than a handbook, however both can help you to understand the cultural context and history of biblical events.

8. Bible Study Books. Many good Bible study books have been written in a topical, systematic theology, or book study format. These books are useful in guiding you through a particular study, usually asking you to read a portion of Scripture, providing an explanation of or thoughts on the passage, and questions to help you think more deeply about it. Fisherman Bible Study Guides provide a plethora of choices for both topical and book studies. The Navigators also have many excellent Bible study guides available.

What have you found to be challenging about studying the Bible?
What resources have you found that have helped you?