Stop Seeing the Bible as a Reference Book

A guest post by Chandler Vannoy

Dictionary.

Thesaurus.

Encyclopedia.

We all know what these are. These are all reference books, and a reference book is only used when you need to use it as a source to make a point. The definition reads, “a book intended to be consulted for information on specific matters rather than read from beginning to end.“It’s a source that we pull up when we need to back up a point or further clarify what we are trying to say.

And this is exactly how many of us treat the Bible, simply as a reference book.

We see it as a resource in our pocket to be searched when we are trying to win an argument. As a book of inspiration to post on social media. Or as a book we consult on specific matters but have never thought about reading beginning to end. And this is a dangerous habit for us to fall into.

Why? Because we need to see the Bible not as a book to be referenced, but as a book to be lived, and then let our life be saturated by it. It should be the source of life for us. Not a source that we footnote or cite to make a point.

Honestly answer this question: how do you mainly interact with the Bible?

Do you pull a verse here and there to tweet or Instagram?

Do you Google for a verse every now and then to back you up in an argument?

Or do you daily read it to soak it up and let it transform the way you live?

I promise, this is not a gotcha type of question. I only ask this question to you, because I recently asked the same question to myself. And when I answered it, it made me realize that I had not made the Word of God a big enough of a priority in my life.

It is so easy in our “information at our fingertips” lifestyle to go about our day and simply see the Bible as a reference book that supplements our lives when it is convenient to us or we have a question to be answered. And when we do this, we are missing out on the true riches of Scripture. As Matt Chandler would, “We are adults playing around in the kiddie pool of faith.”

After being convicted of this myself, I found a few ways to get past this type of thinking:

1. Simply, read the Bible daily.

The greatest way to get out of the habit of seeing the Bible as a reference book is to make a daily habit of reading, studying, and applying it to your life. This will cause Scripture to be in your mind and vocabulary constantly rather than just as a reference. It will begin to flood your mind throughout the day, so you are thinking about it not just when you need to defend something, but in every decision that you make.

2. Before you share a verse, read the whole chapter for context.

Sadly, often when we share Bible on Instagram or Twitter, we morph Scripture to fit into our life rather than fitting our life into Scripture. Because of this, we’ll take verses out of context and post them as inspiration even if that is not what the original author intended.

One example is Jeremiah 29:11, you know, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We love to post this one in hard times, like right after a break up or unexpected job change, but we end up using a verse as inspiration that the author was writing to show God’s judgment to His people.

3. Create a habit of memorizing Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is normally thought of as a super-spiritual habit. But it should be seen as essential for all believers. Think about this, we can memorize lyrics to a song, but we don’t have the capacity to memorize God’s Word? Yeah right. It’s just that we don’t focus on it, so we allow our minds to be filled more with culture’s influence than the Spirit’s influence. But when we memorize Scripture, we are keeping a reference book of the Bible in our mind. When we draw from it, we aren’t looking it up, but rather we are drawing it out from a past reading or devotion.

What are some ways you have made Scripture more of a priority in your life?

Chandler Vannoy is the Brand Manager for LifeWay Leadership. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and is now pursuing his Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves the NBA, C.S Lewis, and good coffee. Connect with him on Twitter: @chandlervannoy.

Mother: What a Great Word!

Demonstrating love in so many ways.

Mother

Is there a sweeter word in the English language?

Maybe your word is:

Mom

Maybe your word is:

Momma

Or, many of the tousands of words in any other language which comes with the same deep meaning and emotion.

Unconditional love.

Sacrificial giving.

Forgiving easily.

Striving to provide perfect environments for others.

Incredible patience.

Strength beyond measure.

Always believing the best from and for her children.

A model and teacher of compassion.

Skilled for laughing at kid jokes – even those which aren’t even funny.

Accepting of others.

Stability during chaos.

A tender touch and a firm hug that never lets go – even when no longer physically together.

Mother

I’m always reminded of the mother’s heart who doesn’t have children of her own, but who displays the applied meaning of the word every single day.

Thank God for the mothers of the world.

What do you think of when you hear the word mother?

7 Things Forgiveness IS…

I often wonder if the reason we don’t forgive as we should is because we don’t understand the subject well enough.

Yesterday I posted 7 Things that Forgiveness is NOT. It seems appropriate to also post 7 things that forgiveness IS. I should warn someone. The previous post was easier to write – and probably read – than this one. Especially if you are the one having to offer forgiveness.

But, as difficult as forgivesness may be to extend, it is often a most important ingredient in healthy relationships and in being a completely healthy person. 

Here’s to a better understanding of forgiveness.

Here are 7 things that forgiveness IS:

A choice

Granted – it’s a very difficult choice. Forgiveness is never easy. And, the deeper and more frequent the wounds were the harder the choice is to make. In fact, holding on to pain is an easier choice. But forgiveness is a conscious decision made by the injured party. You simply – and, of course not so simply – choose to release the injury and forgive.

Letting go of a right to get even

This is a hard one. You give up the right for revenge when you forgive someone. In the truest sense, it’s a clean slate approach to forgive. In fact, God actually encourages us to hand revenge over to Him – letting things happen in His time which make things right. “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”” (Romans‬ ‭12:19‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

Moving forward

Forgiveness is like saying, “It hurt. I didn’t like it, but I’m moving forward with my life in spite of the pain.” Imagine running the a road race with a sack of potatoes hanging from your neck. Until forgiveness is granted theirs a proverbial weight around your neck. Often the weight is more on you than on the person who did whatever has to be forgiven. The author of Hebrew illustrates that for us also, “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, emphasis mine)

Dropping resentment and grudge

Forgiveness releases the angst towards the person who did the injury. One definition of forgiveness – knowing you really have forgiven someone – is what happens when the person comes to your mind again. If the pain they caused is still the first thought you have about them – you may not have really forgiven them yet. (Now might be a good time to go back and read the first post of what forgiveness is NOT.) 

A step towards healing

Again, forgiveness releases a weight from the injured, which opens the door for emotions to eventually heal. And, it does take time. It’s not an overnight thing, but when true forgiveness occurs most people feel a huge weight released from them immediately and then emotions begin to heal and trust rebuilds over time. 

An opportunity to display grace

There is no greater picture of God’s forgiveness to others than for us to forgive one another. It’s literally being the example of Christ. Paul wrote in Colossians, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.” (‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:13‬)

The removal of a roadblock

Forgiveness removes the barrier between us and living at peace again with ourselves, others, and God. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:18‬)

I know these are difficult. I know some of the pain runs deep. I can’t describe it for you adequately, but I can tell you forgiveness IS all it’s claims to be.

As a small story of my personal journey, the hardest person for me to forgive was my dad. He was absentee most of my childhood and I resented it greatly. I didn’t understand why I had to forgive him when he did wrong against an innocent child. One day – and over time – God convicted me. In one moment I chose to forgive him. And, yes, it was a conscious choice I made to release the pain I held against him. I cannot describe the freedom which came to me when I did. It wasn’t really about him at that point – it was about me. (But, that moment changed our relationship and the way I saw my dad from that point forward. I wish he were still alive today to enjoy time together.) 

If you truly want to be free of the hold the injury has on your heart, forgive the one who injured you.

(As I stated in the previous post. This is not a new post. This is one of my most frequented subjects, so there have been others who have used portions of this post and the other one in blog posts and books (some even with permission). If you see others who have posted it prior to me remember I first wrote this a decade ago. I bring it forward because it is such a relevant issue.)

7 Things Forgiveness IS NOT

I have posted and reposted this for over a decade now. (If you see this list elsewhere, I must offer the reminder this is not the first time I’ve put these in print. I simply bring it forward because it remains such an important topic in leadership and life. 

The fact is, we get confused about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Maybe we don’t really know sometimes.

I would contend forgiveness is not an option for the believer. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. For most of us (all of us if we will admit it), there’s a whole lot of forgiveness which has been extended to us.

Understanding forgiveness doesn’t make it easier to forgive, but it does make it more meaningful – perhaps even tolerable. I believe understanding the process could make us more likely to offer the forgiveness we are commanded to give.

In the next post I will share elements which are true of forgiveness.

In two posts, I want to share what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Here are 7 things forgiveness IS NOT:

Forgetting

When you forgive someone your memory isn’t suddenly wiped clean of the offense. I know God can do this – and I’m thankful He can. Honestly, thought, it almost seems forgetting the offense would be the easy way. If we could simply not remember what was done wrong to us by choosing to forgive, who wouldn’t? My suspicion is God wants forgiveness to be more intentional than this.

Regaining automatic trust

You don’t immediately begin to trust the person who injured you when you forgive them. And, if you think about it, that wouldn’t even be logical. Trust is earned, and the person who wronged us must earn trust again.

Removal of consequences

Even though you forgive someone, they may still have consequences to face because of their actions.

Ignoring the offense

You don’t have to pretend nothing happened when you forgive. The reality is an offense was made. Acting like it never occurred only builds resentment and anger.

Instant emotional healing

Emotions heal with time. Some pain runs deep and takes longer to heal. Emotions are not something you can simply choose to control.

Restoring the same relationship

The relationship may be closer than before, but it might not be. One thing is fairly certain – most likely the relationship will never be exactly the same.

A leverage of power

This is huge – and you’ll need to read the next post to fully grasp this one. Granting forgiveness does not give a person power over the person being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.

Look for the companion post 7 Things that Forgiveness Is.

Just a note before you get there: This post may have seemed easy, even freeing, but the next one may be more difficult.

A Key Component of Easter – Post-Easter Evaluation

Don't Miss It!

Easter is one of a few times a year churches have a unique opportunity to reach people who do not normally attend their church. Most churches spend weeks and – hopefully – months planning for the weekend.

In addition to the normal celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, I love the energy that Easter brings to a church. This energy, if channeled correctly, can fuel a church beyond one weekend per year.

The problem I see with many churches, however, is they stop the work put into Easter services a few days too early. Many churches close the church doors on Easter Sunday, “high-five and give God the glory” celebrate all God did and take a much deserved rest. Nothing wrong with any of this, but if we aren’t careful we leave some of the best work of Easter’s momentum undone.

One of the most important parts of effective Easter services -which help them to last beyond one day – is to spend time evaluating after Easter Sunday.  Make sure you evaluate all areas, from the planning, to the launch, to the publicity, to the recruitment of volunteers, to the actual weekend – and all things in between.

And, while you could do this anytime, as soon as you can evaluate after Easter services the better. We like to do it the week following Easter services. (In fact, I like to start making notes immediately after the services. I tend to forget if I wait to long.)

Most of the time we will meet on Tuesday after Easter to evaluate. Sometimes we are too tired to think on Monday and Wednesday is further removed.

Some of the questions we should be asking:

  • What worked? Where did we hit home runs?
  • What didn’t work? What did we miss?
  • Did our times of services work?
  • How should we adjust our times? Are there places to add services or services we no longer need to do?
  • What was a first-time visitor experience like? Could it be improved?
  • What follow-up with visitors do we need to do now? (This should be planned in advance, but now you review your plan.)
  • What changes would we make next year in things we offered those who attended? (Could be programs for age-graded ministries, special brochures, better maps of the church, etc.)
  • What did we do, which seemed to have the greatest impact?
  • What did we do, which took a lot of work, but seemed to have little or no impact?
  • What groups of people did God bring to the church? (Many times, you’ll see patterns – lots of single moms, young couples, young professionals, etc.)
  • What cool stories did we hear?
  • Are there any random ideas of things we could do to improve the Easter celebration next year?

Don’t close the books on this year’s Easter services until you evaluate.This time next year, you will forget the answers to many of these questions.  This should be one of the best brainstorming sessions you do all year. (If you are a single-staff church or smaller staff, bring key volunteers into this discussion. This is just as important – if not more – in the smaller church.)

Ask the questions, record the answers, then use them to make your church better all year and save that information to improve even more next Easter.

Also, and equally important, you need someone who is good at record-keeping and will be organized to remind you of these things next year. If only the “big picture” people participate you may never seen any improvements implemented. (In transparency, this means I need people not like me. I have great ideas, but I’m not an implementer. Big picture people need to complement themselves with detail people.)

How does your church evaluate Easter services?

What To Do When You Don’t Have Words to Say

Helping People Grieve...

I have done a few too many funerals for children when the parents are still living. Every funeral is difficult, but these are some of the hardest.

One teenager comes to mind. I went to school with his mother and his father is a dear, personal friend. He was supposed to start college the following week, but tragically died in a car accident. He was a well-loved, funny, popular boy and the funeral home was packed with people paying their respects. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of students wrestling to understand why this happened to their friend. The receiving line for the family lasted for numerous hours over a couple of days.

I remember a number of people asking me the same question as they proceeded through the line: “What should I say to the family?”

What can you say to grieving parents, family members and friends at a time like this?

In times like these, there usually are no words, which can fully bring comfort to devastated people in the initial shock of their loss. They are hurting. They are hurting with a pain whose depths most of us can never imagine.

When there aren’t words to say – say nothing if there’s nothing to say – just be there.

Of course, you’ll speak. So, tell them you’re sorry, but don’t try to make explanations. Don’t try to give them a why. Don’t try to have fancy words of wisdom.

Give them a hug – and hold them until they let go.

Cry with them – and assure them you care.

Pray for them – and do this continually after you leave their presence.

When there aren’t words to say – just be a friend.

I’m reminded of the great sufferer Job. When he had lost literally everything he had – his wealth, his family, his health – and the respect of his wife – his friends came. And, they sat with him for seven days and said nothing. 

Sometimes your presence is the greater gift in times where there are no words.

In fact, when someone you love is hurting, the presence of a friend in those initial days of grief may be more valuable than the words of a counselor, or pastor, or any other professional.

Words will come in days to come – and, then you may need the professionals to help you say the right things, but initially, just be present.

When was the last time you were in a situation where there was simply nothing to say? 

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Personal Success

Advice to young leaders

I get asked frequently by young leader what I would you attribute most to my success in business, ministry or life.

Great question. I love people who think. It takes intentionality to achieve much of the success we do in life.

My first thought when I am asked, however, is usually “What success?”.

When I look back at my life, in many ways, I see a life scarred with personal failures and setbacks. But, over the years I have learned God has blessed me greatly – much in spite and much because of my personal failures.

Let me be clear about something, one of my missions in life is to help younger leaders succeed, so this is my sole motivation for answering this question. I am still very much a work in progress, but as I reflect on where I am midway in my life and career (and approaching a little beyond midway), I can clearly point to some things which have helped me succeed personally.

Here are 7 things which have brought me personal success:

God’s grace

I can’t deny it. It’s really all grace. I do not deserve the favor I have found. His grace has been amazing in my life. And, the more I have pursued Him, allowed Him to have His will in my life, and credited all to His glory the more grace He seems to extend. He’s a generous God.

Other people

I have had so many people invest in me. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been intentional with networking and wisdom-seeking – always having mentors in my life whom I recruited, but I’ve had great people in my corner to help me along the way. Nothing of value is done without the help of others. And, if your goal is to be a leader – there is no leadership without people.

A little luck

Honestly, I don’t believe much in luck. It IS all grace. I think God is always at work around us, and He certainly has been in my life, but sometimes we find ourselves in “the right place at the right time”. Learning how to capitalize on those times has been key for me. Seize the day and seize the moments. Every moment and every connection you make is an opportunity – and sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Purpose

I have usually known what I ultimately want to accomplish. I believe you hit more targets when you have them in site. Sometimes this has been a few months down the road or a few years down the road, but I’ve most always tried to keep some direction in front of me – as much as God will allow me to see at the time. And, you may even get it wrong, but you’ll learn from this too and find a better purpose.

Intentionality

Probably if there were one word to describe how I want to live my life it would be this one. Since I was in high school, I have intentionally pursued opportunities to accomplish where I felt God was leading me. But, I’ve been intentional in every area of my life, not just in my vocation. I think it is critical to living a balanced life (as much as we can achieve balance) and for attaining personal success.

Tenacity

I have weathered a few storms – actually, many storms. My list of failures, setbacks and disappointments is long – some I caused and some which were beyond my control. Every time, again, by God’s grace, I have gotten back up, refocused, learned valuable life principles and moved forward. The longer you dwell on the past and missed opportunities the longer you delay future success.

Commitment to help others

I believe this is huge. I genuinely love helping other people succeed. It’s been a pulling force in my life to do much of what I do. The purpose of this blog, for example, is for this reason. (I seldom look at my analytics. It doesn’t matter except in the sense I’m trying to be purposeful and intentional.) And, here’s the thing – my personal investment in others has always returned to me tenfold.

So, there’s my attempt at an answer to how I have attained any success I have.

What has gotten you where you are today?

The Leader’s Crisis of Belief

Every Leader Must Push Through

A Leadership Crisis of Belief

Every leader at some point faces a crisis of belief in their leadership – or what her or she is attempting to lead.

Questions such as:

Will this work?

Is there a better way?

Will people support this?

What will be the fallout from this?

Can we afford this?

Can we afford not to do this?

Do I have what it takes?

Should I give up?

Should I keep going?

The crisis of belief period is real. And, it’s normal. Don’t think you’re unique – or weak – because you have doubts just before the big push. In my estimation, only arrogant or prideful leaders never struggle in this area.

It’s part of leadership. It often comes after the dream is well set and things appear to be in motion. When you’re just about ready to pull the trigger – the questions come.

In every new venture.

With every bold move.

With every meaningful change.

With every act of faith.

With every major change.

With every new risk.

You will question yourself. You will question your team. You will question the idea, the resources, and the outcome.

We need only look to Biblical examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon, and Peter. When the push becomes real and faith becomes the only option, human nature often kicks in, the enemy ramps up his attacks, and our minds try to convince us we do not have what it takes.

If it is something really worth pursuing, almost every leader will face the crisis of belief – sometime.

Are you there now?

What you do next will likely determine success or failure!

If you’ve prayed and done your homework. If you’ve included others. If you are prepared as much as you can be. If you believe this is something worth doing. Press into your faith. Trust God. Trust in the leader He has made you to be. Trust your team.

Push through the crisis!

I’m praying for you. You can do it!

7 Things I’ve Learned about Following God

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve attempted to listen to, obey and follow the voice of God. I have never heard it audibly but I have had it for only impressed upon my heart and mind. I have actually been a believer for over 40 years, but I got serious about my faith in my early 20’s.

It’s been a long road, and I’m still a pilgrim in the process, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. These are based totally on my personal experience.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned about following God:

I’ve never been able to see very far down the road. God seems to keep me from seeing all the details in advance. Sometimes I get a clear vision of a big goal God has for me, but I usually have no clue at the time how to get there.

The road for following God has never seemed to be easily paved. I assumed if I was doing things “His way” things would go my way. But, just being obedient doesn’t always remove the obstacles. This has always required faith. Thankfully, without faith it’s impossible to please God.

There have often been several options available of “how” to proceed towards what God is calling me. God seems to give freedom in the way I complete His plans. I’ve even made mistakes and watched Him redeem them.

I have been tempted to quit. How is that for honesty? When life is hard my faith is sometimes weak. I’ve learned God doesn’t give up – people do. I do. But, God is faithful even when I am not.

Satan is the great disrupter. And, he is crafty. The enemy stirs conflict with other people, stretches resources and tempts battles within my own mind.

God’s voice can be discerned. It’s so wild! The Maker of the universe is willing to let me hear from Him – even on the darker days. The more I know God and the closer our relationship, the clearer I hear His voice.

God calls people to impossible tasks. What’s impossible for me is possible for God. Praise His name! God brings eventual completion to His work – in His time. 

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to learn from and be encouraged by you.

What have you learned or experience about following God?

In Faith Leadership, Some Days We Walk Blindly

A personal experience

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005.

I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal.

I wrote, “God, at 41 years of age, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party”. Yes, even pastors have those.

The reason I’m certain it was, is because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and, even today, is accomplishing more than we ever dreamed possible for them as a church.

I don’t share this to bring attention to myself or our accomplishments. And, I wouldn’t suggest a church needs to grow at that pace to be successful. God may use you, as leader, in completely different ways than He has ever used me. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share my story because it points to an important principle in ministry which is true for all of us. I’ve seen it so many times. I wish I had a journal entry for each season.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

In fact, sometimes it can be months or years after our obedience before we realize the good God was allowing us to be a part of leading.

And, I’m not sure we’d be as successful – in God’s eyes – if we did.

Walking in the unknown keeps us humble. It keeps us in prayer.
And, best of all, it keeps us desperate for God’s hand to be upon us. It truly becomes His work and not our own.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

I’m not suggesting you may not need some people speaking into your life. You may not be able to see the good you’re doing, but don’t falsely assume the silence of God is the approval of God either. Allow others to speak into your life. Remain teachable. Make sure you’re solid on God’s plan, but hold your own plans loosely. Others may have better ideas than you.

But, if you are striving to be obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm. I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit – soon – from your labor, as you continue to trust Him. But, until then don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is always up to things we can’t even imagine.

God is using you, Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

You simply are having to walk by faith. Faith walking is never for sissies, but always rewarded by God!