A Quick Guide to Scripture Meditation

 

scriptureMeditationGuideSit still. Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus.

Sounds impossible right?

Meditation can seem difficult and impractical–even intolerable.

Meditation can appear nebulous and mysterious–even an invitation to trouble.

In fact, some types of meditation are dangerous. Eastern meditation emphasizes the emptying of the mind. Jesus warned against this in Luke 11:24-26 where He said an empty mind could be an invitation for evil to take up residence.

But Scripture meditation is different. Instead of emptying the mind, this type of meditation focuses on filling the mind with God’s Word. This type of meditation turns your heart to God’s infinite supply of grace and hope.

Still sitting still and simply thinking can seem difficult–even boring–especially to the person who craves action or thrives on crossing off items on her to-do list.

So here’s some advice for those of you who want to try Scripture meditation, but are a little fuzzy on the process.

1. Don’t expect perfection. You are human. We are living in a world with an average of eight seconds. Your mind will wander. It’s OK. Simply bring your mind back to the Scripture your are meditating on. (Hint: You might want to keep a pad of paper nearby to plunk down distracting, but important things that come to mind.)

2. Know the world will conspire against you. Just as you sit down to concentrate on God’s Word, the neighbor will start up his lawnmower, your phone will announce a tempting text message, your body will ache in a spot that never hurt before. So begin with prayer. Ask God to help you focus. Listen to the Holy Spirit whispering to your heart. (Hint: Determine a time of day that is most likely to be free of interruptions.)

3. Choose a favorite Bible verse and meditate by emphasizing different words. Repeat the verse over and over–each time emphasizing a different word. How does stressing that word change the meaning? For instance, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Be still–be is a verb, an action word. Stillness doesn’t happen automatically. We must take action to make it happen. Be still–take that word literally and, for now, ignore the laundry in the hamper and the dishes in the sink. Don’t jump up to answer the phone. Be still. (Hint: Other verses to try: Philippians 4:6, Ephesians 3:20, Isaiah 40:31)

4. OR Choose a Gospel story and picture yourself in the story. What do you see? smell? hear? touch? taste? Turn your attention to Jesus. How does your heart respond as you meet Him in this story? (Hint: Some stories to try: Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 17:11-19.)

5. Remember meditation isn’t magical. Meditation is simply a fancy way of saying focused attention. There isn’t anything supernatural about it. (Hint: The miracle isn’t in your mind–it’s in the Word.)

6. But meditation can be transformative. Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As we let powerful God’s Word roll around in our hearts and minds it changes us. It makes us more Christ-like. It reminds us of God’s love. It fills our souls with peace. (Hint: Expect God to speak to you through His Word and change you from the inside out.)

Meditation? Sounds hard. Sounds mysterious.

But it is really just focusing on God’s Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.

Next step: Choose a favorite Bible verse or story and meditate on it for 5 minutes. Journal about what you learned from that time.

Book Review: Women, Leadership and the Bible

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I met Dr. Natalie Eastman at a retreat for writers. She nearly bubbled over with excitement for equipping women to study the Bible for themselves. She has since written a book on that topic. Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? teaches women a five-step process for studying God’s Word and discerning answers to theological questions through this intensive study of the Bible. As an example of the process, she uses the issue of women’s leadership in the church. Dr. Eastman does not tell you what to believe on this issue, only helps you study Scripture for answers on the issue. She does include examples of women pastors in the book, but asks the reader to make their own conclusions.

Following is an interview with Natalie about her book:

womenLeadershipBibleQ: What’s the purpose of your book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe?

A: The term “empowerment,” it seems to me, is vastly overused these days. Yet, admittedly, that’s exactly what I’m doing through WLB and Biblical Breakthrough! Through equipping women with seminary-level tools by which they can study, understand and interpret the Bible; then, stuffing them full of confidence through constant encouragement that they can do this, I hope to empower them to change from an internal status of paralyzed and possibly ignorant (or simply the feeling that one doesn’t know much or enough) to confident, ready, and trained to engage and effectively apply God’s Word with theological reliability and biblical skill.

On an emotional level, I simply want to tell Christians, especially women, “You can do this.” This is not rocket science. Nor do these abilities rely on a special gifting of the Holy Spirit. These are learned skills. Anyone who puts their mind and effort toward the training can and will learn how to know what the Scriptures are saying, as well as what they’re not saying. They can learn how to filter through the many voices “out there” that interpret God’s Word; how to tell the difference between when someone’s giving their opinion about what God’s Word says and when they’re interpreting; and what to do with the many conflicting opinions and interpretations. It can be done. People do it every day. And you can do it with greater skill and effectiveness, while still being sensitive to and filled with God’s very presence throughout the process.

Q: What makes it different from other books on women’s issues?

A: Plenty of books espouse one position or another on women’s roles or any other issue, effectively telling women what to think and why to think that. Yet, few teach women to discern God’s messages and desires for his people through systematic, thoughtful, seminary-level analysis. Women, Leadership, and the Bible steps into that void, offering step-by-step, approachable, “non-jargonese,”methodical process of analyzing an issue on many levels: scriptural, academic, spiritual, emotional, community, and personal. The ultimate goal is to equip women (and any men who desire to read it) to thoroughly and effectively investigate God’s Word, along with filtering through various interpretations of it, and subsequently make up their own mind about an issue.

Q: How could things change if every Christian woman was to read your book? :)

A: Just IMAGINE a world in which Christian women humbly, yet skillfully study Scripture to get clarity on their hardest biblical questions! And imagine women sifting and sorting through all kinds of opinions and interpretations as they study and consider what the Bible’s text says!

True freedom and self-confidence await the woman who engages the material in Women, Leadership, and the Bible. That freedom and confidence come from knowing and understanding not only what she believes, but why she believes what she believes. She will know she has formed her own thoughts, opinions, and interpretations using reliable, tested, and grounded methods, carefully testing her own and her community’s beliefs against Scripture. It is life-changing!

If women can engage their difficult life-issues with competent biblical integrity (and they can!) rather than relying exclusively on emotions, what others say, or the last book they read’s interpretation, as I did for so long, just imagine the difference this will make in their lives, their churches and, yes, the world! Women (and men who learn these skills, too) can feel confidence before God that they are attempting to understand his Word as best they can, as they subsequently seek to follow and obey it.

Q: What benefits does Women, Leadership, and the Bible provide to women?

A. Whether or not the subject of women in church leadership roles is an “issue” in your community, a thoughtful approach to understanding the issue can help a person feel secure in their practices and help them understand the interpretations of others. That type of studied, thoughtful understanding promotes good and helpful dialogue among Christians. The method taught in WLB benefits people wanting to get to the bottom of other issues, too; for, as we all know, many other theological issues have been or will become “issues” there at some point. WLB can benefit your church or ministry in numerous ways:

  • Engages women with the Bible.
  • Encourages women toward further biblical and theological development.
  • Develops women as critical thinkers, so they can embrace their faith and service with groundedness and confidence.
  • Urges independent thought within the context of Christian community, with unity being the ultimate goal.
  • Equips women with seminary-level hermeneutical skills and tools on an introductory level and, hopefully, whets their appetites (or satisfies one!) for further and deeper biblical studies.
  • Teaches women to recognize and face internal and external influences that impact their faith and practice.
  • Encourages grace-filled dialogue and study about this and other “controversial” issues within a safe space.
  • Provides a “virtual community” for women who really want to “get to the bottom of things,” biblically speaking.

Q: Do any other resources exist to help women take this material further?

A: Yes! So glad you asked! This summer, July 9, 2015, in fact, The Verity Initiative LLC (Dr. Eastman’s overarching LLC) is launching Biblical Breakthrough! An Online Coaching Program with Dr. Natalie Eastman (BB!). This internet-based training program takes people who want to work through their questions concerning women’s roles in church leadership step-by-step through weekly videos, all of which are free! Two further levels of deeper training opportunities are also available at nominal monthly pricing on a subscription basis. In the future, “generic” courses of study as well as courses of study into specific theological questions (i.e. human sexuality, baptism, etc.) will also be offered that take people through the same method in the book, but they will be able to investigate whatever issue/topic on which they have questions and/or for which they need answers.

Also, Dr. Eastman has a mailing list, through which people can receive The Verity Initiative’s monthly newsletter, “Dig Deep!” You can register at this link:

https://ig183.infusionsoft.com/app/form/wlb-excerpt-request

When you join the list through this link, Dr. Eastman will send you a fairly extensive excerpt of the book – a “sneak peek” – as a way of saying thank you for joining the list. This will be delivered directly to your email inbox of your registered email address. Feel free to share that registration link with anyone you believe may be interested in WLB, BB!, or Dr. Eastman.

If you want to buy a signed copy of the book you can do so here.

If you want to buy the book on Amazon click here.

NatalieEastmanDR. NATALIE R. WILSON EASTMAN (M.Div. ‘02, D.Min. ’05–Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a freelance writer, editor, and member of the Redbud Writers Guild. She has served as a full-time youth minister to girls and women; Bible study teacher; worship leader and team developer; missionary to east Asia; and retreat and event teacher/speaker. She lives in Delaware, OH, with her husband and three young children. Links to her blogs may be found at natalieeastman.com, and her training and coaching at biblicalbreakthrough.com.

Connect with Natalie:

Twitter: Natalie_Wilson
FB: https://www.facebook.com/natalierweastman
FB: https://www.facebook.com/womenleadershipbible
G+: https://plus.google.com/+NatalieEastmanTVI/

Three Gifts I Received From My Mother

three gifts I received from my mother

Mother’s Day is coming.

We are all browsing at Hallmark stores and clicking on FTD.com. We’re looking for the perfect gift for the woman who gave us life.

All this gift shopping made me remember that my mother gave me even more than life. She gave me priceless gifts in the forms of lessons for life.

Here are three important lessons I learned from my mother:

1. Be a friend. My mom has more friends than anyone I know. And it’s because she is a good friend. She is there to listen to a friend’s sorrows. She helps out with meals when friends are ill. She never forgets a birthday and celebrates with delicious homemade cakes and festive parties.

How can you be a friend today? Celebrate your best friend’s good news. Listen to a breaking heart. Send a card of encouragement.

2. Be there. During my growing up years mom was always there. She greeted us when we came home from school with fresh baked bread. She helped lead my Brownie troop. She attended every piano recital, choir concert, and school play.

How can you be there for your friends or family today? Go to your son’s baseball game even though you have to take a half-day of work off. Meet a friend for coffee. Really listen to your husband talk about work.

3. Be in the Word. When I was in my teens, my mother gave me a Living Bible. This gift changed my life. I began reading God’s Word every night. The modern paraphrase helped me hear God’s voice and ever since I have loved to study Scripture.

How can you be in the Word today? Start by reading an encouraging psalm in a translation you don’t normally use. Try Psalm 62 in the Amplified Version.

Thank you Mom for your important gifts!

Action step: In your card to your mother this Sunday, thank her for two or three important gifts she gave you.

Finding Focus — in Lent

Lent is a time for soul transformation. As we remember Christ's love and sacrifice He changes us.

I’m on a quest to find more focus in my life. To zero in on the important and to ignore the rest.

To help me in this quest I am going to observe the holy Lenten season. Lent is the period of forty days leading up to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count.) It is a period of focusing on Christ and His enormous sacrifice and boundless love for us. During this time we can abandon the frivolous and concentrate on the eternal. It can be a season of transformation as we pull our chair closer to hear God’s words to us.

Three tools I am going to use to concentrate on the spiritual during this time are:

Fasting. The whole idea of forty days of Lent may have been inspired by Jesus’ forty-day fast before He began His earthly ministry. But please don’t try this at home. Fasting as a spiritual discipline can have life-changing effects, but forty days is extreme. Try fasting one day a week during this season of Lent. Or give up a favorite food or activity for forty days. In the past I have abstained from chocolate, ice cream, TV watching and shopping. When I do this kind of focused fast I am reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice every time I deny myself a simple pleasure.

Bible study. Lean in to hear God speak by spending more time in His Word during the next forty days. There are many ways to do this. My Bible studies Soul SpaDivine Design and Bless These Lips are designed to be completed in 40 days. This year I am leading a journey through practicing Spiritual Disciplines. My daughter and her husband have written a family Lenten devotional. Author Margaret Feinberg is inviting people to join her in reading the book of John this Lent.

I have been praying about how God would like me to spend time in His Word these 40 days. Continuing with my 2015 theme of focus, I have decided to concentrate on one book of the Bible. Philippians seems the perfect book as it talks about Christ’s sacrifice and becoming more like Him. I am going to prayerfully read this book every day of Lent asking God to change me through His Word.

Focus on Christ. Fasting and Bible study can become merely rituals of Lent. If we’re not concentrating on Christ, they are only outward habits that will not transform our souls. But if I recall Jesus’ sacrifice when I turn down that piece of three-layer chocolate cake, my heart can be content with God’s presence. If I listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice as I read the Word, He can satisfy my soul.

Jesus is ready to bless you with joy, love, and transforming grace. Receive His blessings. Look for Him in the ordinary moments of this Lenten season. Hear His voice speak His care for you in His Word.

Psalm 278

Question: How will you observe the Lenten season?

God’s Love Letter to You

God's love letter to you. Click here to discover His relentless love.

The Bible isn’t always an easy book to read. At times it seems like a long list of dos and don’ts. Sometimes it reads like a rather dry history book. Some parts read like a racy novel. Other chapters seem like an action movie with plenty of violence.

So when you hear that God’s Word is His love letter to you, you might raise an eyebrow or stifle a laugh.

But it’s true. All the way through God’s Word He has woven His theme of love.  Take a look at the book of 1 Kings which is full of tales of unfaithful rulers and tyrants. Even there in 1 Kings 8:23 we find:

O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way.

There is no God like ours who relentlessly loves.

Who continually treasures us.

Who constantly pursues our hearts.

Take a minute and let that settle into your heart.

Breathe in and allow that truth to seep into your soul.

God relentlessly loves you. He will never stop. There is nothing you can do that will change His constant, persistent, unchanging, unyielding, unfailing love. You can mess up and He will be there with arms open. You can fall down and Jesus will gently pick you up. You can be too busy to notice the Father’s loving care, but even then He will be there right beside you ready to hold your hand.

This week in your Bible reading, look for reminders of the Savior’s love. Read God’s love letter to you and find evidence of His care in every book in the Bible.

Our God relentlessly loves.

relentlessly loves

Question: How does contemplating God’s relentless love change your day?

Remember This: 7 Practical Tips for Scripture Memory

Deut 11-18

Scripture memory.

Some of you love it. You can recite dozens of verses by memory. You faithfully hide God’s Word in your heart.

Some of you struggle with it. It reminds you of learning required verses for Sunday School or VBS, earning a gold star, but not remembering the verse the next day.

In my last post I talked about how memorizing God’s Word is not just an intellectual exercise, but an exercise of the heart. We store God’s Word inside of us because it reminds us of His love for us. We hide God’s Word in our hearts because it transforms our souls.

But memorizing anything can be hard. And so today I am giving 7 tips to help you to memorize Scripture.

  1. Choose verses that are meaningful to you. If a verse speaks to your heart, you will be much more likely to remember it. You will pull it out of your memory banks often when you need encouragement or peace.
  2. Write the verse on a card that you post by your computer or sink. Review it while you are waiting for the computer to boot up or while you are washing dishes.
  3. Say the verse out loud. Seeing and hearing the verse will help you fuse it to your memory. When you speak the words it helps your mind to store them securely.
  4. Memorize phrase by phrase. Read one phrase then try to say it without looking.
  5. Memorize the reference. Say the reference before and after the verse so you can also remember where to find your favorite Scriptures.
  6. Review, review, review. Keep a file of verses you have memorized and review them periodically.
  7. Recite the verse or verses you are memorizing while you are walking, doing chores, or like me–when you are trying to go to sleep.

As you fix God’s words in your minds and hearts, you will discover a transformation of your thinking, a confidence of God’s love for you, and lasting peace in your heart.

Question: Do you have any Scripture memory tips you want to share?

 

 

Remember This: Why God Wants us to Fix Scripture in Hearts

Deut 11-18

I am a keeper of memories.

I try not to save a lot of “stuff.” I regularly purge my clothes, shoes, and books.

But the stuff of memories I hang onto. We have scads of scrapbooks. Dozens of pictures albums. Thousands of digital pictures on our computers.

Because I want to remember. I want to recall the impish look on my son’s face when he pushed an ice cream cone on my nose at his first birthday party. I want to see again my daughter’s lopsided smile when she was missing a front tooth.

It turns out that God wants us to remember too. He wants us to remember His words to us. Deuteronomy 11:18 says:

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds.”

Perhaps when you think of Scripture memory you think of your days in Sunday School or VBS. You diligently memorized the required verses so you could get a gold star or a cool prize. But probably as soon as Sunday School or VBS was over, you promptly forgot those Scriptures.

I know that’s what happened to me. I think it was because I fixed the words in my mind, but not in my heart.

God does not want us to memorize His Word as an intellectual exercise only. Yes, any kind of memorization requires concentration and repetition. But if we are only memorizing the words and not the message the words won’t go deep into our souls.

Memorization of Scripture is an exercise of the heart. God wants us to remember His Words for the same reason I want to save pictures–out of love.

Through His Word, God tells us over and over again of His love for us. And when we store those words in our hearts, we can pull them up anytime we are discouraged, frustrated, hurt, ridiculed, or even downright depressed.

As we fix God’s Word in our minds and our hearts it changes us. The words weave into the fiber of our souls and transform our attitudes and emotions. The words refashion our purpose and our will.

Lately, I have found Scripture memory to be especially useful when I can’t sleep at night. Somehow when I lay my head on my pillow, I immediately think of all the stupid things I did that day. Or my anxiety about getting everything done resurfaces. Even after I have prayed, confessed, and turned over my worries to God, my mind will run over the concerns like a hamster on an exercise wheel.

But recently I have started using the verses I have memorized as my new hamster wheel. I get off the wheel of regret and worry and hop on the wheel of God’s Word.

Here are a few of the verses that have been especially helpful:

  • “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” Psalm 32:10b
  • “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16
  • “Grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:18b

As I run over these verses again and again, God gives me peace, contentment,…and sleep.

God wants you to fix Scripture in your mind and heart not as an intellectual exercise but as exercise of love.

 

Remember God’s Word’s of love!

Gods mirror 3For even more encouraging verses, download this picture/poster with verses on how God sees you!

How to Run When You Can Barely Walk

psalm 119-32

 Don’t you love watching little kids run?

I mean they don’t run because they really need to up their fitness program.

They don’t run because they are trying to get their 10,000 steps a day in a shorter span of time.

They don’t run because they are trying to burn a few extra calories.

Little kids run because they want to. They run out of joy. They run because energy literally bubbles out of them.

I’ve been reading Psalm 119. Every day I read a stanza–meditating on it, savoring it.

The other day I got to verse 32 and stopped.

“I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32 NIV 1989)

Immediately I pictured a little kid whose just been sitting in school all morning running out of the door out of sheer joy of being outside.

He runs because he is free.

What I found especially interesting is that just four verses earlier in the psalm, the writer says, “My soul is weary with sorrow” (verse 28). It sounds like he could barely walk because of sadness. How was it that he could now run?

I think the psalmist could run because he went to a reliable source of strength–God’s Word. He says:

“Strengthen me according to your law” (verse 28). Lord I know that Your Word is where I’m going to find the energy and the hope to keep going.

“I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord” (verse 31). Even though things look desperate, I’m clinging to Your promises.

“I run in the path of your commands” (verse 32). I‘m sticking to Your path, following the signposts in Your law.

So when you can barely walk look to God’s Word. Ask Him to give you hope and strength from Scripture. Cling to His promises.

Because when we look to God’s Word and listen to His voice, He sets our hearts free. That word “free” is from the Hebrew word rachab  which means “to grow wide or large.” Some other versions use the phrase “enlarge my heart.” As God widens our hearts so that we can better understand His promises to us and more fully grasp His love, we no longer feel like we are plodding through life.

We are running on the path He has set out for us. Running out of joy.

Question: How do you feel today: plodding on a path of sorrow or running full of joy?

 

 

original photo credit

Three Gifts I Received From My Mother

three giftsMother’s Day is coming.

We are all browsing at Hallmark stores and clicking on FTD.com. We’re looking for the perfect gift for the woman who gave us life.

All this gift shopping made me remember that my mother gave me even more than life. She gave me priceless gifts in the forms of lessons for life.

Here are three important lessons I learned from my mother:

1. Be a friend. My mom has more friends than anyone I know. And it’s because she is a good friend. She is there to listen to a friend’s sorrows. She helps out with meals when friends are ill. She never forgets a birthday and celebrates with delicious homemade cakes and festive parties.

How can you be a friend today? Celebrate your best friend’s good news. Listen to a breaking heart. Send a card of encouragement.

2. Be there. During my growing up years mom was always there. She greeted us when we came home from school with fresh baked bread. She helped lead my Brownie troop. She attended every piano recital, choir concert, and school play.

How can you be there for your friends or family today? Go to your son’s baseball game even though you have to take a half-day of work off. Meet a friend for coffee. Really listen to your husband talk about work.

3. Be in the Word. When I was in my teens, my mother gave me a Living Bible. This gift changed my life. I began reading God’s Word every night. The modern paraphrase helped me hear God’s voice and ever since I have loved to study Scripture.

How can you be in the Word today? Start by reading an encouraging psalm in a translation you don’t normally use. Try Psalm 62 in the Amplified Version.

Thank you Mom for your important gifts!

Question: What important gifts did your mother give you?

What Will You Sacrifice?

eph 5-2

Lent is a time of sacrifice. I didn’t always see it that way. But in recent years I have tried to make some small sacrifice.

After all, Jesus gave up His cushy life in heaven to experience pain, weariness, hunger pangs, and mosquitoes. He willingly endured pain, rejection, and even death because He loved me. He sacrificed His life.

So during the 40 days of Lent I have made a point of giving up something to remind me of His sacrifice.

One year we gave up television. One year I gave up all sweets. Because that proved very difficult–the next year I gave up just chocolate.

Last year I added something–I added more Scripture reading. In fact, I read through the whole Bible during Lent. I was inspired by one of my favorite authors–Margaret Feinberg–who challenged her blog readers to read with her. It was quite the Scripture marathon!

This year she is modifying the Bible reading program a bit. She has developed a 40 Day New Testament Reading Guide  and invited anyone willing to join her in this Lenten Challenge. I’ve decided I’m in!

Yes, reading these extra chapters will require that I give up some of my time. But I’m excited to reread Christ’s life journey on earth during the season we remember His death.

Reading His words will draw me closer to Him during this sacred time.

Reading about His sacrifices will help me to appreciate what He did for me.

Reading about His acts of love will help me to love Him and others more.

How about you? Will you join me in reading the New Testament during Lent?

Question: What will you sacrifice during Lent?