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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alone? Walk with Me a Minute...

It's early morning, just after my run. I sit on my back porch, drinking my coffee in solitude and thinking about the work I must do this day...most of it in my home office, with music piped in from the family room and dogs occasionally barking, but, otherwise, alone.

God has had me in an "alone" season for some time now. Make no mistake about it, I'm getting out and about, lunching, and chatting with friends at church. My phone receives friendly texts throughout the day, and my husband and I have been walking and talking more than ever. I have plenty of people in my life.

I'm not completely by my lonesome.

But I feel alone at times. Maybe you do, too.

I'm still getting used to my son living 1,000+ miles away and my daughter being away at college (and packing to spend the summer in Oregon). My spring speaking season is over, so I am not out meeting new people as often. My weekly women's Bible studies at church have ceased until next August, so the absolute social "highlight of my week," when I get to hang with my most precious gals and talk about sweet, spiritual treasures has disappeared from my calendar temporarily.

Still, it's not like I can't pick up the phone to call someone or run out to join the masses at Starbucks, right?

And yet, I know God has me in this "alone" place for a reason. So to pick up the phone or spend hours on Facebook or run to the mall would defeat the purpose.

I'm not just physically alone right now. I'm walking through some things alone.

And you, undoubtedly, are, too. 

Some things we just have to do on our own...

by ourselves...

without anyone else.

But I'm choosing to embrace the "alone" rather than run from it. And I want to encourage you to do the same.

Whether you feel alone because...
  • you're parenting single-handedly
  • you're the only one taking care of your aging parent
  • you must diligently care for an unhealthy spouse
  • you're battling cancer
  • your husband is deployed
  • you have a situation to deal with that no one completely understands
  • you've been abandoned
  • you're grieving
  • you've lost your job
  • you broke up with your love interest
  • or
  • ______________ you fill in the blank,
this I know...

You are never really alone.

First of all, the God of this universe...huge, mighty, awesome, holy and grand...loves you so much that He chooses to focus on you. His eye is on you at all times. (Psalm 32:8) Not only does He never "lose sight of" you; He intentionally pursues you, summons you, thinks upon you. (Isaiah 43:1) He is with you.

And then consider this. It is good to be alone with Him. God does amazing things in the privacy of our One-on-one relationship with Him. 

You're in good company in your "aloneness."

When they were alone, God...
  • spoke to Moses through a burning bush and commissioned him to lead His people out of bondage
  • prepared David to fight battles against unwieldy foes
  • issued courage and a calling to Gideon
  • opened Hannah's womb
  • encouraged the depressed and despondent Elijah in a still, small whisper
  • granted Joseph the ability to forgive his brothers
  • blessed Ruth with an unexpected romance
  • privileged Mary with birthing the Savior of the world.
  • revealed to John the glories of heaven.
Don't be afraid of alone. Embrace it. Invite God into it. He's already there, in fact, waiting to do amazing things in your lonely place. If you're walking through something alone, take the hand of the One who walked to His death in a throng a people, but all alone. He's there...waiting to take you on a unique adventure, just you and Him.

I'm not alone in encouraging you today. 
I'm linking up with Holley Gerth and 
friends at her weekly Coffee for Your Heart Wednesdays. 
You'll find dozens of encouraging blog posts here.

And since I'd like to join Holley
 in encouraging you each Wednesday, 
I hope you'll join me again next week for

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Praise Our Conquering Redeemer!

He is Risen! 

Praise Jesus, who was obedient unto death, but rose to reign forevermore! 

Praise the Father, who sent His only Son out of love and grace for you and me! 

And praise the Holy Spirit, who reigns powerfully in our hearts even now!

Because Jesus is alive, I have hope, certainty.

I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Help! I've Lost My Parents!

Do you remember the first panicky moment when, as a child, you lost sight of your parents in a crowded place? I don't recollect the exact incident, but I'm sure we were probably in a crowded Rich's department store.

I was probably playing among the circular racks of women's clothing when my mom moved on to a different section of the misses department. Or I may have been lagging behind my dad as he looked at uninteresting power tools or electronics. Or maybe I was fixated on the caramel cakes in the bakery (remember when they had bakeries in department stores? I know, I'm old.) and they had moved on to the candy counter to buy chocolate covered peanuts and malted milk balls. But wherever I was and whenever it was...I'm sure I panicked.

Similarly, I panicked for about an hour or two this morning. I couldn't find my parents, who, by the way, live 2,000 miles away to begin with and don't generally tell me their schedule each day. Still, I had called all three of their phones yesterday, to no avail, and again this morning. It wasn't like them to disregard my calls and messages, so by this morning I felt like a little girl whose hand had slipped from her daddy's strong grip. I was fretful.

When I sent texts to my brother and sister-in-law, who usually know my parents' whereabouts better than I do, my fears were only confirmed. They didn't know where they were either.

Panic mounted.

I busied myself with daily chores and resisted the temptation to call other relatives or family friends. I didn't feel like I really had the right to panic to that degree, since I live 2,000 miles away and don't normally keep my parents on a short leash.

So I was greatly relieved when my Dad called me around 8:30 this morning. And sure enough, he and my mom are right where I suspected they might be...in the deep, mountainous woods of northern Alabama, visiting family...where cell phone reception is sketchy and minds are on other things besides checking in with grown kids.

My Daddy's warm, cheerful phone call was so much better than the canny, mysterious voice you and I heard over the department store's speaker system: Would the little blond-haired girl who has lost her parents please find the nearest Rich's employee and stay put in their presence? That voice didn't comfort me; it intimidated me and made me afraid to turn myself in. But my Daddy's sweet voice called me back to my senses.


Have you ever felt like you have lost contact with your Father in heaven? I have. Whether I felt separated by too much time spent on frivolous activities or my sin or simple negligence or just the ceiling above my head, I've known that panicky feeling as well.

But the truth is that while we may lose sight of our Father, He never for one moment loses sight of us. He's not moved on to other things and left us behind. He's not focused on someone else and forgotten to think of us. He's not too consumed with the major events in Ukraine and Washington D.C. to pay us any attention.

He always has His eyes on me...and on you. In fact, He's always searching for me...waiting for me to look up and call out His name. He's always there.

Nothing can separate me from my Father's love:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:37-39)

Are you panicking today? I have those days when I just feel a little out of sorts, out of touch, out of control. You, too? But there's no need to panic. Instead, remember that your Father still has you by the hand...

With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
(Psalm 136:12)

Be assured, nothing can separate you from your heavenly Father, not even anything of your own doing. Nothing. Nothing.

Do you hear Him calling you? I do.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Guaranteed Answer to Your Hopeless Situation

I've got it. I absolutely have the answer to where you can find hope in the middle of your hopeless situation.

Let's back up a minute first, though.

I've been hopeless before. I've felt like there was no way, no help, no solution, no answer, no hope.

And even if I thought there might eventually be relief, help, a light at the end of the tunnel, I still felt hopeless because all of that seemed an awful long ways off. Like on the other side of eternity, long ways off. Know what I mean?

I know some dear friends who could use a little hope these days. I know of so many people who are in and out of the doctor's office or even the hospital lately. And I know of marriages that are pulling at the seams. And I know of parents who are at their wits' end. And I know of employees who are losing their jobs...even as I write. And I know of grown children who are hundreds of miles from their hurting parents and cannot go to them. I know, and you know, people who are hurting...and feel hopeless.

Maybe you're in that number today. Maybe you even know the truth, but you feel hopeless. I've been there.

But today God showed me the answer to our hopelessness in His Word. He's so good to do that!

It's only fitting that I found it in the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah's lament of woe and doom. He, too, felt helpless, hopeless. He says in Lamentations 3:17-20:

And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord." Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.

Hopeless. No hope. Even this man of God, this divinely appointed prophet, this truth-bearer...felt hopeless.

And yet... Jeremiah breaks through to hope...

This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The "Lord is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore, I have hope in Him." (Lamentations 3:21-24)

Make sure you get this...

Jeremiah didn't see God's faithfulness morning by morning, necessarily. But he knew of it. And He didn't feel God's compassion necessarily at that moment. But he chose to count on it.

Jeremiah chose to "recall to mind" the truth, and therefore, he had hope.

What do you need to "recall to mind" today so that you, too, may have hope again? Let me suggest you recall to mind:

  • God's past victories in your life.
  • God's faithfulness to walk with you previously.
  • God's promises, which never fail.
  • God's timing, which is always perfect.
  • the last crisis you made it through, by the grace of God.
  • the answers to prayers you have experienced.
  • God's goodness.
  • God's faithfulness.
  • God's mercies, which are indeed new every morning, whether you feel them or see them...or not.
Hope is at your fingertips. You do not need to walk through this day without hope. Instead you can be filled with hope...as you choose to recall the faithfulness of God.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Can I pray for you today? I know how it feels to desperately need hope. If you'd like for me to pray for a specific "hopeless situation" in your life, please email me here. It would be my honor.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Give a Little Bit - the 7th Key for Spiritual Growth

I went on my very first mission trip when I was about 10 years old. Actually, I was just tagging along with my parents. Still, that week of serving in the heat outside of New Orleans had an amazing impact on my spiritual growth.

Just a child and not able to fully participate, I watched with awe as my parents and the rest of the team from our church gave selflessly and exhaustingly of themselves to a large group of inner city children. We had taken them for a week of overnight camp to a rustic and un-airconditioned facility in the south of Louisiana...in July! The group of adults and teenagers from our church wrangled energized children, cooked all of the meals, facilitated games and activities from sun up to sunset, and shared the gospel. I simply befriended the children, ran errands and performed menial chores.

But I served.

Service is the final key for spiritual growth.

Surprised? Did you think the final key would be something more studious or holy? Actually, is there really anything more holy than serving others in the name of Jesus?

See Matthew 25:31-46 for the answer to that question. Something about doing unto the least of these?

When we serve, really serve... roll our sleeves up, get our hands dirty, step out of our comfort zone and into the very uncomfortable...and serve, we experience a pruning of sorts that encourages new, fresh growth in our lives. The challenge, the push, the call for something we don't even know we have within us causes us to bow low, reach our empty hands to the sky, and beg for grace to make it. God rains down His grace, His sufficiency, His strength and infuses us with Himself.

And we grow.

A little.

And then we serve some more. And we grow some more.

Serving stretches us. When we minister to the unlovable, we must open wide our hearts so that God's unfailing love can flow through us. When we minister to the reprehensible, we are forced to consider deeply the grace we have received and share it lavishly. When we minister to the different, we open our eyes and see others as God sees them. When we minister to the broken, we step out of God's way and put down our silly formulas and call on the power of an almighty and all-loving God to intervene. When we minister to the hopeless, we remember back to where we found hope and we hold out the lifeline to the one who is drowning in despair.

And we grow.

Sure, we grow simply from serving our families and our friends, our co-workers and our church family. I know I have become more Christlike simply because I have done 52,398 loads of stinky laundry without a single "thank you." :) But I encourage you to, at least occasionally, take your service to those beyond your normal circle of influence. It is when we step beyond the boundaries of our "normal" and venture into the testy, deep waters of the unfamiliar that we grow the most. And it is when we serve those with whom we have no familial ties or friendly bonds that we develop a larger, God-sized heart.

Whom could you serve this week? How would that stretch you?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Seek Out Accountability - the 6th Key for Spiritual Growth

I set several goals for myself last week. No one else knew anything about them. I didn't tell a soul.

I didn't achieve a single one of those goals either.

Most anything we attempt without accountability will rarely be achieved. Do you find that to be true?

My bet is you've attempted to develop new habits, accomplish certain tasks or attain goals without telling anyone as well, even if your goal was as simple as "I'll floss every night this week" or as spiritual as "Every day I'll have my quiet time with the Lord before I check my email."

We have a much better chance of pushing ourselves past the hurdles to reach our goals when someone else is at least aware of our attempt. Accountability, while somewhat daunting and exposing, is a necessary component in our spiritual growth.

How do you go about enlisting someone to keep you accountable in your spiritual life? Well, you don't necessarily need to have just one accountability partner, although that is certainly one way to handle the situation. But I kind of like the idea of simply "living out in the open." By that I mean that you make yourself accountable to different people in every situation. For instance, you might

  • join a Bible study group and ask the gals at your table to check on you if you don't show up. Check up on them, too, if they miss class.
  • enlist a good friend to ask you once a week if you've been having your quiet times.
  • get to know the people who sit around you at church so they'll notice when you're missing.
  • enlist another friend to ask about the scriptures you're memorizing and meditating on. Partner up!
  • confide in a counselor, mentor or mature Christian about a temptation you're trying to shake. Allow them to ask you the tough questions once a month...and be honest with your answers.
  • join a support group for a particular issue you're trying to grow through, such as grief, addictions, or parenting. Be honest and transparent in the group.
  • ask an older couple to mentor you and your spouse, spending time with them and allowing them to lovingly "scrutinize" your marriage and speak into your lives.
You can probably think of other ways to develop similar transparent, honest and accountable relationships with people. The key is to first see yourself as living "in the light" instead of in the darkness. 

And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 
1 John 1:5-9

Did you catch the significance of the last sentence of that passage? You see, we are all dealing with sin. We all sin. So we might as well get out in the light about it, invite a little accountability and allow God to deal with it. Out in the light of accountability and transparency, God can transform us, change us, grow us up.

As we are about to wrap up this little series on keys to spiritual growth, I want to encourage you to embrace this one...accountability. It is the growth component that was missing for much of my life. Not that I slunk around in the shadows of darkness all of my life, but I did keep to myself more, protect my privacy and stear clear of nosey questions. I feared accountability and shuddered at the thought of opening up about my struggles. But I also missed out on the benefits of sweet, gracious and loving encouragement and empathy.

In recent years I've made it a policy to live out in the light. I tell a friend about my goals, allow people to ask me about my scripture memory and meditation, confess my struggles and ask for prayer and counsel, and meet regularly with accountability partners who have permission to ask me the "tough questions." And it is under this "light" that I have seen the greatest spiritual growth in my life. Yes, sometimes, when I've struggled and fallen down or missed the mark, the light of accountability seems blinding and annoying. But soon my eyes adjust to the glare and I see the questions, the comments and the encouragement for what they are: necessary tools for spiritual growth in my life.

Do you find it difficult to be accountable to others? Why is that? What one thing could you do this week to increase your accountability among gracious and godly sisters so that you can grow in the Lord?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Meditate on Scripture - the 5th Key for Spiritual Growth

I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of meditation. I was told to empty my mind of everything and let it rest. Unfortunately I was told wrong.

In fact, an empty mind is a vacuum for temptation and evil. Instead, our minds should be occupied, full and active. You see, the concept of mediation has been hijacked by worldly and new age religions. But meditation was originally God's idea.

Just before Joshua led God's people into their promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey (or abundance and satisfaction), God instructed Joshua and the people:

"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."
Joshua 1:8

God told the people to meditate

  1. on the Word of God
  2. throughout their day
  3. so that they would prosper.
Proverbs 23:7 says that as a man thinks, so he is. That which occupies our minds, guides our behavior. Unfortunately, left to our own thoughts, we're up a polluted creek! That's why the Bible tells us in Romans 12:2 that our lives will be transformed when our minds are made new. How does that happen? By meditating on God's Word, truth.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to think only on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise. In fact, we are told to "dwell on" those things...meditate on them. So the best thing you can set your mind to thinking on would undoubtedly be scriptures, the very words which have proceeded from the heart of our God.

Don't know how to meditate? Well don't follow the advice given to me and empty your mind. Instead, focus on, chew on, ponder, mull over, circle and work out...truth...a Bible verse.

Do you ever worry? Then you already know how to meditate. Whenever you worry you're meditating on your problem. You've got the procedure down pat. You just need to change the focus of your meditation. Jesus told His followers not to worry or grow anxious. So we know that kind of meditation is fruitless. But when we meditate on truth, God's Word counteracts the lies we are fed by Satan, the world, and our own futile minds. Those lies drain us, starve us. But truth feeds our hungry souls.

For more pointers on how to put this spiritual discipline into practice visit my earlier post on this topic here. But it all boils down to finding a verse or two that speaks truth into your life on a topic with which you are wrestling or need a little encouragement, and then spending chunks of time throughout your day thinking on and pondering those verses in the presence of God. Taking your time, inquire about the scripture in His presence. Give Him time to speak to you through the scripture you've chosen, too.

More than any other spiritual discipline, meditating on truth three to four times a day has dramatically changed my life. It has transformed my life by changing my thinking. 

Right now I'm meditating on:
Remember, this series of posts is all about positioning yourself so that you can grow spiritually rather than remaining a baby Christian. If you want to see measureable growth in your life, spend time each day meditating on (or eating) God's Word. And since most of us are prone to feeding our stomachs at least three times each day, I think it's reasonable that we set aside a few minutes three times a day to feed our souls with truth. Does that sound manageable to you? Believe me, it's worth it to develop this simple little discipline in your life.

Do you meditate on scripture? What are you chewing on these days?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

She's My Priority This Week

Abby's home! Yay! It's University of Arizona's spring break, so my college girl has returned to our nest.

So that's why this post is so short and my final promised posts about 7 Keys for Spiritual Growth are so non-existent. This week, Abigail is my priority. I love spending time with my young lady. We've shopped, eaten out, cooked her favorite meals, gone for walks, talked about everything under the sun, and watched Season 4 of Downton Abbey.

And, while squeezing in a few writing assignments that are due soon and catching up on my Bible study (yes, I get behind, too!), I'm going to continue to spend all the time I can get with her. After all, this summer she will not be here; she'll be in Oregon, working at the Cannon Beach Conference Center where I spoke this past January. I'm so thrilled for her, but I'll miss her, too. So I'll not spare a moment this week that I get with my precious girl!

I'll see you next week, I hope, as I continue to share the 7 Keys for Spiritual Growth. Meanwhile, share with me:

What is your priority this week? Spring cleaning, planning your summer vacation, getting ready for a move, hunkering down on school work? I'd love to know what has your attention this week!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

High Ho! High Ho! Off to Ohio I Go!

Today I'm travelling to Independence, Ohio!


Alone! Ugh!

I almost always travel with my dear friend and ministry assistant Kim or some other sweet helper to these speaking engagements.

Me and Kim visiting with Ruth Cowles,
 Women's Ministry Director at Olathe Bible Church in
Olathe, Kansas, last spring.
In the past I've also been accompanied by my husband James, my daughter Abby, my mom Louise or some other sweet friend. But this time I'm flying up to the top of Ohio into brand new territory all...a...lone.

And I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty or bad for me by letting you in on this little tidbit. It just turned out this time that I would need to venture out solo. And, hey! God knows what He's doing. He's got my back on this. I'm totally confident of that. But I did want to ask you to say an extra little prayer for me as I try to manage all the travel details and my speaking assignment and my resource table all by my lonesome.

Not that I'll be left on my own completely, mind you. I've been assured that the good ladies of Community Church of Portage Lakes will be right there at my beck and call to help me out, and I have no doubt that that will prove to be true. I'm always so blessed by the amazing graciousness shown to me on these trips. And I absolutely cannot wait to meet Traci, the coordinator, and her team. These women-who-minister-to-women always bless my socks (or tights) off!

Any hoo...'cause this is not all about me, mind you...would you please be praying for the women of Community Church as we gather this weekend for their annual women's retreat in Independence, Ohio? We'll be learning about how our hungry souls get us in all sorts of trouble and how God's mighty, powerful and true Word can get us out of that trouble. We'll be learning how to be Satisfied...at Last!

Pray for 

  • the women to come to the retreat more keenly aware of their hungry souls
  • them to come teachable and approachable
  • the leadership team to accomplish their roles and then sit back and soak in
  • smooth transportation for me and the ladies
  • me to present clear, biblical and relevant messages
  • for Holy Spirit controlled communication between us all
  • for his Spirit to be in our midst all weekend long, speaking clearly to each of us
  • for lives to be changed...including my own!
Thank you, sweet prayer warriors, for praying for me and these dear ladies. It means more than you'll ever know. Especially since this time the only thing accompanying me on this journey will be your prayers...and, of course, sweet Jesus Himself! Praise Him ahead of time! He is so faithful!

Will you pause right now and pray a sweet, short and simple prayer for me and the ladies of Community Church? Thanks so much!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Join a Bible Study Group - the 4th Key for Spiritual Growth

Shortly after my first child was born I encountered a few crises in my life. Those little challenges drove me to a book I found in my mom's bedroom called Lord, I Want to Know You. It was a short Bible study written by Kay Arthur.

Hungry for something to establish my shaken life upon, I hungrily devoured that Bible study book. It was probably the first time I had ever used a guide to take me through the Scriptures in search of concrete answers to life's problems. From that precious study I discovered my God's true character and ways. Before, I had constructed in my mind a God of whom I had heard and a God who fit my bill, so to speak. But as that little Bible study guide led me through the scriptures, I discovered how big and powerful and loving and sufficient and gracious my God really is. That Bible study changed my life.

And that little paperback Bible study gave me an insatiable hunger for more of the Bible.

When I turned to the last page of the book, I read a little note to the readers. It simply said something like, "If you're interested in learning more about how to study the Bible, call ###-###-####." (That was well before the days of websites!) So, still reeling from all that I had learned and dizzy with the anticipation of learning more, I immediately dialed the number on the page. The book, still on my bookshelf today, indicates that I jotted down the dates and costs of a Precept Training Seminar that was to be held about an hour from my parents' house the next month.

I went to my parents' home, left my 4-month old nursing son with some bottles in the care of my dad each day, and drove the hour-long commute to the training classes for three days. And there I learned how I, a seminary drop-out who had never really even studied the Bible very much, could not only study the Bible, but teach Bible study classes to others. Oh. My. Word.

My life has never been the same.

The Bible is God's Word. God's Word. Straight from His loving and holy heart to ours. His Word on every subject life will ever present. His Word for our day. His daily bread meant to feed our hungry souls.

Do you read the Bible? Better yet, do you read it for answers? Do you search it through and dig in it and pose your questions to it and expect answers and pray through it and spend time in it? Do you long to know what it has to say to you...today?

You will never waste a moment spent studying God's precious Word, especially if you take the time to learn some good Bible study tools and techniques. 

For that reason alone I encourage you to 

join a Bible study group

if you want to grow spiritually. But, in a Bible study group you will also find support, friendship, encouragement, instruction, accountability, prayer support, and godly guidance. You will have greater opportunity to study the Word of God responsibly and consistently when you surround yourself with other eager students and position yourself under sound and biblical teaching. 

Granted, not just any "Bible study" will do. You do need to be careful. I suggest you look for a study group:
  • where Bibles are opened and read, not just discussed
  • where the teacher has been trained or mentored
  • where the Bible is upheld as inerrant and inspired by God
  • where discussion is valued and allowed, but controlled and constrained by biblical authority
  • where you have to actually open your Bible and look for answers to meaningful and appropriate questions.
Have you been considering studying the Bible? Here's a great resource for finding a study. And I'd also like to suggest that you give one of mine a try as well. But better yet, call around to churches in your area and find a study group to join. You'll not regret it!

How has studying the Bible changed your life? What is a favorite Bible study of yours? Do tell!