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Preparing for Christmas (Free Printable Included!)

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Earlier this year, I approached my husband in our tiny apartment kitchen and semi-jokingly asked, “Can I share a deep secret of my heart?” And I proceeded to tell him, “I think about my Christmas decorations almost everyday.” He laughed and said, “Seriously?” I have this weird sense of humor where I occasionally like making him think we’re about to have a serious moment, and then I just say inconsequential things. But, there was some truth to this comment! There is something in my heart that longs for Christmas and the visual reminders that signify we are in a special season.

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Advent Bookmark

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Paper Peony Press and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We hope you make many sweet memories and find joy in the Christmas preparations and festivities. But most importantly, we hope you find Jesus and delight in His Word as you seek Him during this beautiful season.


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The Biblical Meaning of Thanksgiving

I’m thankful. I’m guessing we’ve all said these words at some point or another. We typically know what we’re thankful for, but do we always know to whom we are thankful?

Practicing thankfulness as a child

I grew up with parents who taught me from a very young age the tedious task of writing thank you notes for every Christmas and birthday gift. Looking back, that’s a good example of not only acknowledging what we’re thankful for, but to whom we’re thankful.

But perhaps there are things in life that we’re typically just thankful for. Meaning, they aren’t a tangible gift we can hold or seemingly attached to any person. 

Keeping the childhood examples going, I think of the gratitude journal my parents had me keep as a young girl. I went through a long, pessimistic phase so my parents started helping me keep a journal where I’d write three things a day I was thankful for. I still have my first and most memorable journal, where—I kid you not—one day I scribbled, “I got to water my plant today.” 😂 Too funny! But I do remember that little plant. I grew it from seeds and the leaves would fold shut when I touched them. It really was something I treasured.

But anyway, my point is that as a little girl writing in my gratitude journal and even as I grew up, I learned to be thankful for things like my family, my friends, the ability to walk, talk, and breathe, and even the simple joys in life. But, it took me a lot longer to learn that there is always a Giver and it is to Him we owe each and every expression of gratitude and word of thanks.

The biblical meaning of thanksgiving

According to Strong’s definitions, the Hebrew word thanksgiving is tôwdâh (to-daw’) and it means confession, praise, and offering. When we give thanks in the truest sense of the biblical word, we offer God our praises and acknowledge to Him that He is the Giver of all good gifts.

Of course, the greatest gift from God is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Even if everything else is going wrong in our lives, we always have the good news of the gospel to give thanks for. We can always praise God for creating and loving us unworthy sinners. We can always praise Him for Jesus’s death and resurrection that paid the price for sin that no good works or intentions could ever pay. When we confess that Jesus is Lord and Savior, we can praise Him for the eternal life He has given us and that life with Him lasts forever.

The gospel is our everlasting reason to give thanks. But of course, because God is always good, we can always find more in our lives to be grateful to Him for. This may take some serious digging in darker seasons of trials and suffering. But because God is always with the ones He redeems through faith, we can trust He is doing good in our lives in big, small, and often unexpected ways.

Giving thanks to God

So what does it look like to give thanks to God? As I mentioned above, thanksgiving is an offering of confession and praise. So, what first comes to mind is prayer and worship. We can express our gratitude to Him with words privately or corporately. But, it’s easy to forget that obedience is a form of praise and another important way we express our love and gratitude for God and all He has done for us.

My pastor gave an analogy in reference to loving God that also applies to giving thanks through obedience: Imagine you have a child or teenager who says, “Mom, I love you and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me. You’ve been so good to me. But, I’m not going to listen to what you say.” Would that make you feel loved or appreciated? Obedience a response to salvation, led by the Holy Spirit. It’s not a work that contributes to our salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone! I’m learning in this season that obedience is an act of praise and thanksgiving.

He is worthy

So to conclude, as you and your families gather around the table this Thanksgiving, take a moment to pause. Remember who we offer our deepest thanks to and why. He is worthy of our praise and offerings of thanks because every good and perfect gift comes from Him and He works all things together for good for those who love Him (James 1:17, Romans 8:28).

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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Anxious to Abiding

Hello, friends! Lauren Ibach here with my first ever guest blogger! In this post, you’ll get to hear my friend Lauren Wallace’s testimony. Lauren Wallace is a faithful sister in Christ and she runs a small online shop called MOSS Collaborative. We met through Instagram and since she’s local, we met up and became good friends. I’m hoping her story about going from anxious to abiding in Christ will be an encouragement to you today.


Anxious to Abiding: Lauren Wallace’s Testimony

My faith wasn’t part of my life until I was 20 years old. I didn’t grow up in the church and quite frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever pursue a relationship with God. It was the anxiousness I experienced in my early college years that pushed me to open the Bible. However, the largest turning point in my faith wasn’t until about a year later when I stopped making my time with God all about me. That’s when I finally went from being anxious to abiding in Christ.

When I started out, I was reading the Bible to see how it fit into my life and could make my worries go away. Does God call us to cast our anxieties on Him? Yes, 1 Peter 5:7 tells us He does. However, we need to humble ourselves before Him and pursue a relationship with Him first. That’s not what I was doing. I was too consumed with a desire for control and just wanted the chaos to go away. 

Lauren Wallace of Moss Collaborative

Figuring things out the hard way

I say “chaos”, but it’s not like there was anything crazy going on at the time. I actually really liked the way my life was going. It was the unknowns of the future I was afraid of. I was living based on my feelings, which often led to overthinking and anxiousness in my gut. Control was something I desired deep down, so I subconsciously tried predicting the possible negative outcomes. I thought if I figured out the storyline in advance, I could stop bad things from happening and avoid being blindsided or naive. When it came to my time in the Word, I was searching for answers I wanted to hear while clinging to my own plan. I approached God as if I had the best idea of what my life should look like and was just waiting for Him to agree.

As you may have guessed, that plan wasn’t working. My anxiousness worsened and filtered into OCD, which included intrusive thoughts and avoidance. To combat that, I tried deep breathing exercises, daily affirmations, slow stretching, and other various remedies. I desperately wanted to solve my own problems because that meant I was in control, but any fleeting sense of calm would soon wash away and anxiousness would return. Those quick fixes were only temporary bandaids on (what I didn’t know was) a Jesus-shaped hole in my life. I didn’t want to depend on anyone else, but I was tired and defeated. It turns out there is nothing that will satisfy us or bring us true peace like a relationship with Jesus, and I was figuring that out the hard way.

The turning point

At that time, I was following Lauren Ibach on Instagram. I saw one of her stickers, which read, “Trust your gut God”. That struck me. We’re often told to trust our gut, and I think we generally like how that sounds. It gives us a sense of independence, control, and being in tune with ourselves. In reality though, my gut was where my anxiousness was sitting. I felt like it was lying to me and even tormenting me, so trusting in that wasn’t going to work.

To go from anxious to abiding in Christ and to experience the true peace I was longing for, I needed to trust Him—not my gut. I reached the end of myself and realized I couldn’t be the most qualified person to come up with a plan for my life. Thankfully, Jeremiah 29:11 says, “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.” It was so freeing to realize I didn’t have to predict and prepare for an endless amount of doomsday scenarios. I could simply place my faith in Jesus Christ, abide in Him, and trust in this promise.

Looking to God

Once I took my eyes off my own circumstances and looked to God in awe, I was filled with wonder and curiosity. Who is He? How does He interact with us? What is His desire for His creation? By the power of the Holy Spirit, I realized my time with God was not all about me. Rather than searching for the answers I wanted to hear, I was hungry for truth.

Quiet Time

From that point on, I’d have quiet time pretty much every day. I wanted a relationship with Him and I was finally reading the Word to learn more about who He is. It’s important to note what an absolute gift it is to be able to have a personal relationship with God. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. The only reason we can even approach God is because Jesus died for our sins and makes us new again.

During quiet time, I’d often read a Scripture-based devotional, write in my prayer journal, or even watch Bible story videos geared towards children just to process everything on a basic level. Day by day, my relationship with Him grew and I went from being anxious to abiding in Christ. I experienced true peace for the first time. It was such a relief to find out I could be at peace even with a battle going on in my mind. It sounds like an oxymoron, but peace isn’t based on our circumstance, it comes from the Lord. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The transformation

 By God’s grace, through the transformative nature of His Word and prayerfully going through therapy, I did overcome OCD and anxiety. Reflecting on His faithfulness as He brought me to the other side of this struggle fills me with deep gratitude. Now, why would God allow this season of suffering in my life in the first place? Sometimes, we don’t know why. We can just trust He works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

In this case, though, I believe He has made the reasons pretty clear. I was living based on my feelings and grasping for control in a world full of unknowns, which will never lead to peace for very long. I needed a breaking point. It’s tough to reflect on this time where I was so selfishly approaching God, but isn’t it amazing to see His patience and grace through it all? He was still able to use my time in the Word and soften my heart enough to fully trust in Him, let go of control, and realize where true peace and contentment comes from. From there, He developed the spiritual discipline of quiet time in me which has become such a sweet, extremely important piece of my relationship with Him.

Anxious to abiding

This fall, I hope we’ll all grow in our understanding of what it means to abide in the Lord and live that out. I love that this is Lauren’s focus for the season. Ultimately, life is full of unknowns and there are plenty of reasons to be anxious if we base things on our feelings or circumstances. However, God has a better plan for us. I invite you to focus on abiding in Christ by reading the Word consistently to learn more about Him. When we learn more about our good and sovereign Heavenly Father, we’re humbled and our trust in Him is strengthened. He delivers us from our fears and takes us from anxious to abiding in Him— where we experience the true peace and contentment that comes from Christ alone.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read my dear friend Lauren Wallace’s testimony. Please show her some love by visiting her online shop, MOSS Collaborative and by giving her a follow on Instagram. She is an inspiring young believer and I praise God for the many ways I’ve gotten to witness how she is growing in her love for Jesus and living according to His Word. 🖤

About the Author of this Post

Lauren Wallace is a young believer who came to Christ in college. After graduating from UMN Crookston in December 2021, she started her job as a marketing coordinator. She lives in Minnesota and enjoys visiting local coffee shops, paddle boarding, kayaking, going for walks, playing volleyball, and board games. She loves being creative and designs fun vinyl stickers and greeting cards for her Etsy shop, MOSS Collaborative.

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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.


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What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?

Does the idea of abiding in Christ seem like an abstract or elusive concept to you? Are you overwhelmed by the weight of good works in your Christian walk? I shared a bit about some of these struggles in my own life with my email subscribers and that my focus in this season is simply to abide in Jesus. So I began to wonder, what does it really mean to abide in Christ? What should that look like in our daily lives? In this post, we will dive into John 15:1-11 and explore the answer to this question.

Scripture

Context

Just before this passage, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and exposed Judas as the one who would betray Him. This ultimately led to Christ’s crucifixion (John 13). After that, Jesus went on to affirm that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And, He promised the Holy Spirit would be the disciples’ Helper (John 14). Jesus knew that He would soon face crucifixion. And, our passage includes some of the last words He spoke to His disciples before that took place. In John 15:1-11, Jesus is speaking to His disciples (minus Judas)—preparing them for the trials and sorrow ahead. With that in mind, let’s read our passage.

John 15:1-11 ESV

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” — John 15:1-11 ESV (divided in two paragraphs for easier reading)

Digging Deeper

The Word “Abide”

Given that Jesus’s primary command in this passage is “abide in me” it’s important that we understand the meaning of the word abide. The original Greek word is menō (pronounced men’-o), which simply means to remain. But, it can be used in several contexts, which adds depth to the meaning of the word. Some of the more nuanced definitions are: to be held or kept continually, not to perish, to last, endure, live, and to remain as one. [1]

The Meaning of This Passage

In this passage, Jesus is telling His disciples to remain in Him. Ultimately, explaining the nature of genuine salvation by using a word picture. [2] He explains that He is the Vine. God the Father is the Vinedresser (or Farmer) and there are two types of disciples who are the branches. The first kind of branch (or disciple) is like Judas—one that does not bear fruit and is cut off from the Vine and thrown into the fire (hell). The second kind of branch is one that’s firmly attached to the Vine. It’s nourished by the Vine, bearing fruit. And, the Vinedresser prunes it so that it can bear more fruit.

To be clear, Jesus is not implying that someone can lose their salvation. There are many verses throughout Scripture that confirm once a person is born again, they are saved once and for all. There are no “take backs” when God gives the gift of salvation. Instead, Jesus is explaining that “disciples” like Judas who ultimately reject Him were never true disciples in the first place. Those who are truly saved bear fruit. 

But, it’s not up to us to produce our own fruit. We must be attached to the Vine for life and pruned by the Vinedresser. As I reflect on this, I am looking at the maple tree growing outside my window. It doesn’t bear fruit, but if I were to cut off a branch, the leaves would wilt and the branch itself would get brittle and die. A branch cannot hope to survive, or turn vibrant red in the fall, or grow leaves again in the spring without the life of the tree. We need to have a similar mindset about life and works.

What fruit looks like

If bearing fruit in the Christian life is as important as Jesus says it is, we must understand what fruit looks like. Thankfully, God explains this to us through the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” All other good works flow from this fruit.

The world today is filled with messages to love your neighbor, be kind, and do good. But if these are fruits of the Spirit, can they truly be accomplished apart from Christ as many attempt to do? A branch cannot will itself to bear fruit. Only the Vine and the Vinedresser have any real control over whether or not a branch bears fruit.

So how do we abide in Christ? Thankfully, Jesus makes this clear to us if we listen carefully.

Application

Abiding in Christ means having faith in Him alone.

Again, the primary message Jesus is communicating is that salvation is found in Him alone. To abide in Him is to repent and believe in the gospel. The gospel is the good news that while we were guilty and dead in our sins, God the Father lovingly sent His Son to die on a cross and rise from the dead for the forgiveness of sin so that we could be declared righteous in God’s sight, receive the gift of eternal life, and not fear judgment and wrath on the day Christ returns. (Mark 1:15, Romans 5:6-11) (Read this post for more details on the gospel.)

Jesus forgives us out of His abundant grace when we put our faith in Him. Faith isn’t an abstract concept. Jesus is very clear throughout Scripture that to believe in Him is to trust in Him alone as God, Savior, and Lord of our lives. It also means we repent, which is to confess our sins, turn from them and towards Christ. It’s to surrender to His will for our lives. I’ve heard it said that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. (To learn more, read this post.)

Important questions

Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life? If so, what fruit has receiving the gift of salvation produced in your life? If you’re struggling to see fruit in your life, why might that be? I encourage you to prayerfully ask the Lord to reveal the fruit in your life if there is fruit. And if there’s not, ask Him to show you why that is. If you have not yet put your faith in Christ, will you do so today? All God requires is repentant faith. He wants a relationship with you and you can start pursuing Him today!

Abiding in Christ means we abide in His Word.

John 15:3 reveals we are saved by hearing the Word. And, verse 7 indicates that abiding in Christ and abiding in His Word go hand-in-hand. One commentator I listened to likened the Word of God to the knife the Vinedresser (the Father) is holding. This passage, along with Hebrews 4:12 supports this analogy. His Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Likewise, Spurgeon said that “It is the Word that prunes the Christian.” The more we know the Word, the more we love the Word, and the more we allow the knife to do its work. [2]

Do you believe that the Bible is God’s written Word to us? Do you believe all of it is perfect and without error? If so, how has that belief impacted your life? If not, what do you struggle to believe and why? Ask God to help you understand His Word rightly.

And, are you regularly reading the Bible? Are you studying it? Do you seek to know and love God more deeply through His Word? Consider the impact His Word is having or could be having on your life by abiding in His Word daily.

Abiding in Christ means we obey Him.

As God produces fruit in us scripturally, He develops the fruit of obedience within us. And, He uses our obedience to produce more fruit. Oftentimes, we jump straight to obedience by doing good works. But, when this isn’t a result of faith in Christ and faithfulness to His Word, it doesn’t bear good fruit. Instead it leads to striving and spiritual burnout. And at worst, it even leads some to have false assurance of salvation. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do I have more faith in my works or in Jesus to save me? Only Jesus saves. Or perhaps you’re like me and you know Christ alone saved you, but you still fall into doing and striving that leads to burnout. If that’s you, consider: Am I trusting that I already have God’s favor because of Christ’s righteousness given to me?

And finally, do you pray for the Holy Spirit to help you walk in obedience? If we aren’t living Spirit-led lives, we will attempt to do far too much in our own strength. Our passage comes right after Jesus promises the Holy Spirit in John 14:15-31. Jesus was communicating that relying on the Holy Spirit is critical to abiding in Him.

Abiding in Christ means we have joy.

The disciples didn’t understand it yet, but Christ was preparing them for His death and resurrection as He spoke the words in John 15:1-11. In verse 11, Jesus communicates that He revealed all of this so “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Considering this passage, what does it mean to be filled with Christ’s joy? Examine your own heart and life. Are you a joy-filled Christian? How might reflecting more on the gospel increase your joy? What might it look like for you to be filled with joy, even in the midst of hardships and grief? If joy is lacking in your life, how might this passage be speaking into the reason why? 

Conclusion

When we abide in Christ, He bears fruit in our lives. This glorifies Him and blesses us and those around us. 

So, as I consider what it means to live my own life abiding in Christ as a born again believer, I know that it means I must continue pursuing Jesus faithfully through His Word and obedience by the power of the Spirit. In doing so, I can joyfully trust Jesus and the Father to prune and bring forth fruit in my life.

Before you close this window, consider: How is God prompting you to abide in Him?

Notes


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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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All About Bible Translations

What do you know about Bible translations? Perhaps you prefer a particular translation, but do you know why? It may seem like an irrelevant topic to some. But, having a basic knowledge about Bible translations is foundational to spending quality time with God in His Word and accurately understanding and interpreting Scripture. In this post, we’ll talk briefly about how the Bible is translated. Then, we’ll talk about the two main Bible translation philosophies and where several popular Bible translations fit within those approaches.

How the Bible is translated

To begin on the topic of Bible translations, it’s important to understand that quality, trustworthy translations are not based on a certain individual or group’s own unique interpretation of Scripture. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Sound translators recognize this reality. They seek to communicate God’s intended message to us by translating Scripture from the original languages into English in a way that’s true to the original text, while also being understandable to readers. We’ll get into more of that in the next section. But, if you’d like to do more reading on the history of the Bible in English, read this great article.

The two philosophies

There are two primary philosophies or approaches to Bible translation: word-for-word and thought-for-thought (also referred to as “literal” and “dynamic”). Word-for-word translations try to remain true to the wording and structure of the original languages, while also remaining clear to understand. Thought-for-thought translations are more liberal with wording and structure in order to emphasize clarity and understandability without sacrificing accuracy.

Which translation should you read?

Maybe you already have your favorite Bible translation picked out. If that’s the case, I encourage you to do a bit more research on that translation to learn why you like it. Is it word-for-word, thought-for-thought, or somewhere in the middle? 

Or maybe you aren’t sure what Bible translation you prefer. If that’s the case, I encourage you to compare translations. Next time you sit down to read or study the Bible, read the same passage in multiple translations on the Bible app or on Bible Gateway. They are free to access and a simple way to discover the differences between translations and which you prefer.

Regardless of your preferences or knowledge of Bible translations, reading multiple translations can be a great way to study the Bible to gain a more well-rounded understanding of God’s intended meaning. Just be sure you are reading solid and trusted translations. Not all translations included on the Bible app or Bible Gateway are sound or accurate. I’ve included a short list of popular trusted Bible translations below (as well as a couple to avoid). But if you are interested in learning more about how to determine whether or not a translation can be trusted, this article is very helpful.

A few of the most popular and trusted Bible translations

King James Version (KJV)

This old and trusted translation was published in 1611. The goal was to bring the Word of God to His people in a language they’d be able to understand. The KJV blends transparency, as well as the original form and structure of the Bible documents that were available at the time. It’s perhaps best known for its beautiful 17th-century English. But, it’s often challenging for modern readers to understand. (Read more about the KJV here.)

New King James Version (NKJV)

The publisher released the NKJV in-full in 1982. The translators prioritized transparency and used the same source documents as the KJV. Since translators updated the English, it’s easier for the average reader to understand. (Read more about the NKJV here.)

New International Version (NIV)

The NIV was first released in-full in 1978 and has remained a popular translation to this day. The goal of the translators was to recreate a reading experience that closely resembled the experience the original audience would have had. According to the publisher, translators used the best-attested manuscripts. They sought to balance the form and structure of the original language with understandability to communicate the original meaning of each verse. (Read more about the NIV here.)

English Standard Version (ESV)

Crossway published the ESV in 2001. It’s considered an “essentially literal” translation that’s still easy for today’s readers to understand. It prioritizes transparency to the form and structure of the original documents. For many Bible readers, the ESV is a favorite because it’s more literal than the NIV, but more readable than the NASB. (Read more about the ESV here.)

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The goal of the NASB translators was to remain as true to the original documents as possible, while still remaining comprehensible in English. The publisher released it in 1971 and it was a favorite translation among Bible students for many years. (Read more about the NASB here.)

New Living Translation (NLT)

Over 90 evangelical Bible scholars worked together to release the NLT in 1996. The goal was to communicate the original meaning while remaining accurate to the original text. (Read more about the NLT here.)

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

The goal of the CSB translators was to produce an accessible English translation that was true to the original documents. The publisher originally called it the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) in 2004. But when they updated the text in 2017, it simply became the Christian Standard Bible. The publisher brought together an international team of 100 scholars from many denominations—all committed to the inerrancy of the Bible. (Read more about the CSB here.)

Proceed with caution 

The Message (MSG)

I debated on whether or not to include The Message (MSG) on this list because it’s not technically a translation. Therefore, it’s not technically the Bible, but because of its popularity, I included it here. The Message is said to be a paraphrase written by one man named Eugene Peterson. Proceed with caution whenever a translation or paraphrase is written by an individual instead of a committee. Accountability comes into question and there is much more room for error and personal bias.

I have heard conflicting views from respected Bible teachers on whether The Message should be entirely avoided or if it can be helpful supplemental material in one’s own personal studies. Considering this, The Message should not be used as one’s primary Bible translation. I tend to err on the side of caution in these cases, so I personally tend to avoid it. It would be better to read a thought-for-thought translation like the NLT if you are looking for something easier to understand. (Read more about The Message here.)

Avoid

The Passion Translation (TPT)

I only wanted to include accurate and trusted Bible translations on this list. But given the growing popularity of The Passion Translation (TPT), I felt it was important to include on this list as a “translation” to avoid entirely. I put “translation” in quotations, because it’s not truly a translation or even a paraphrase. To put it simply, TPT reimagines the Bible. It’s interpreted primarily by one man as he thought it should be written. (Read more about TPT here. This video is also a great resource and speaks briefly into the difference between The Passion and the Message.)

Enjoy your time in the Word

I hope this post has helped you understand a bit more about Bible translations and will help you discern the differences between translations as you come across new ones. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s living and active (Hebrews 4:12),and proves itself true (Psalm 18:30). God is intentionally speaking to us through the pages of the Bible. Therefore, how our Bibles are translated should matter to us. His Word is perfect and authoritative. And, we should read and study translations that honor the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible.

If you are interested in receiving more resources about personal Bible study, subscribe to my mailing list! I’ll send you weekly emails to help you grow in your faith. I look forward to being in touch!


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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Personal Update: Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

Hello, friends! It has been awhile since I’ve blogged. But if you’re subscribed to my mailing list, you know I haven’t disappeared. I’ve had a busy spring and summer and now that things are starting to slow back down again, it’s time for an update and to start getting back into the swing of things!

I wrote another book

Initially, I took a break from blogging to write my next book—which, Lord willing, will be out before Thanksgiving. I had a shorter deadline this time around and a lot more studying to do, so all my mental and writing energy was put towards that. I’m not sharing specifics about it just yet, but I will hint that it’s a type of book that I haven’t done before… can you guess? You’ll have to wait and see!

Once again, God taught me so much throughout the writing process. This time around, I dealt with a lot more insecurities, but the Scripture I was writing about spoke into my personal fears and anxieties. God was having me apply what I was learning as I wrote, which was a humbling experience. I am so grateful for how His Word continually informs and transforms us.

We moved

Right around the time I finished writing my book, Luke and I found a house! We moved a little further out from Minneapolis than we already were and are still pretty close to church and family. Our 2-bedroom apartment was our home for about 6 years, so it has been bittersweet to say goodbye and start new somewhere else. We are loving all the extra space, particularly in the kitchen and having separate offices. 

We started really intentionally praying about our house just over a year ago. And it has been amazing to see how God has answered so many of those prayers. There were specific prayers that felt impossible, especially considering the current state of the housing market, but our God is Lord over it all. Nothing is impossible for Him! Ultimately, we just prayed for His will to be done. And His faithfulness through prayer confirmed to us we are where He wants us to be in this season of our lives.

New content coming soon

Now that I’m through all the writing and moving, I am slowly getting back into a new routine. I’m excited to get back to blogging and already have some ideas for future posts. I hope you’ll join me back here for more new content! 

And If you aren’t subscribed to my mailing list, I invite you to join my community! You will get the best (and most consistent) content sent directly to your inbox.

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How to Stay Engaged As You Read the Bible in a Year

If you’ve been following my content for awhile, you know this year I’ve especially emphasized getting into the Word daily. I know many of you have made it a goal to read through the entire Bible with my book The Bible in a Year as your reading plan. And, I’ve been doing that right along with you! It has been such a blessing. But, staying disciplined while keeping the right approach has been a challenge. Would you agree? 

Today, I thought it would be helpful to talk about how to stay engaged as we read the Bible in a year. It can be tempting to just go through the motions. As a result, we forget that God is speaking to us through His Word and has so much He wants to teach us. When we lose sight of this and just power through in our own strength, reading the Bible becomes overwhelming. And, we often get discouraged or give up entirely. So, let’s talk about how to stay engaged as you read the Bible in a year.

5 Tips to Stay Engaged As You Read the Bible in a Year

Pray

We can so often underestimate the power of prayer. Do you pray before you open your Bible? Are you asking the Holy Spirit to empower you to understand what you read? That it would impact your thoughts and actions? Pause and remember that whatever passage you’re in, whether it’s an engaging historical account or an extensive genealogy—seemingly exciting or boring—it’s all God’s Word. Resist the temptation to get discouraged when struggling through a challenging chapter or section of the Bible. Trust that He is speaking through all of it and ask that He would bring understanding.

Could a lack of prayer be contributing to your struggles to stay engaged with your reading plan?

Change up the time(s) of day you read

I am currently reading the Bible using my 1-year reading plan, The Bible in a Year. It’s undated, so you can start at any time, but I started right at the beginning of the year. When I began, I would read 2-3 chapters in the morning and the rest in the evening. However, as time passed, it started feeling overwhelming to start my day with a lot of reading. And, I was struggling to stay focused. I prayed for God’s help and decided to change up my reading schedule. 

As a result, I still have quiet time in the morning and spend more of a bite-sized amount of time in Scripture at the start of my day, but I focus on getting the bulk of my reading done after dinner. I feel re-energized after a good meal, so this change has been a game changer. I’ve found as I’ve re-engaged with the reading, I am less overwhelmed and even eager for that time in the Word.

Could changing up the time of day you read help you stay engaged as you read the Bible in a year?

Schedule time in your week for deeper study

As I was reading 1 and 2 Kings, I kept thinking: 1) This has always been a challenging section of Scripture for me. And, 2) There’s a lot here that I wish I had time to study more in-depth! Then, through a class I was taking in my church, God revealed to me that there was a pocket of time in my weekly schedule that would be perfect for devoting to deeper study. So, as I read through my plan and I come across an intriguing passage or question, I write that down. Then, I save it for my special study time. A couple of my favorite things to do during this time are watching videos by the Bible Project (loved this one on Kings) and reading GotQuestions articles on Bible books or specific topics. Scheduled study time has made previously challenging sections of Scripture come alive to me. And, it motivates me as I continue reading and approach new challenges.

How might engaging in deeper study deepen your relationship with God and benefit your time in His Word?

We all have unique schedules and responsibilities. And, there is so much grace for those of us who are in seasons of life that are very full! However, we can be very good at filling our time with things we want to do, but don’t necessarily need to be doing. And, we can also be masters at making excuses for why we don’t have time for X, Y, and Z. I encourage you to pray for wisdom in this and that if God is calling you to deeper study, He would show you how and when you can schedule that time.

Jump to a different chapter

This idea came from a friend who was struggling her way through 1 & 2 Chronicles while doing The Bible in a Year plan. The idea of going out of order and skipping ahead may not appeal to you. But, consider this: If you’re really struggling to stay focused or need time to study a bit in order to better understand a section of Scripture, wouldn’t it be better to press pause on that and read a book you’re more familiar with in the meantime? The great thing about my book, The Bible in a Year, is that it’s easy to track your progress and even skip around if you need to. 

Could switching to a different section of Scripture help you stay engaged as you read the Bible in a year? If so, what might that look like for you? 

Talk about what you read

This is such a simple one, but I’ve found that talking about what I’m reading helps me remember what I’ve read and learned. This often prompts me to study more and it’s also great accountability. When we attempt to read the Bible in isolation, we are much more likely to get overwhelmed and lose heart. But, when we reflect with others on what excites or challenges us, God uses that to encourage us and spur us on.

Who could you talk to about what you’re reading in the Bible? What other benefits could talking about this have on your life or theirs?

Encouragement

I hope these brief tips will boost your motivation and help you stay engaged as you read the Bible in a year! Committing to reading the Word daily is a spiritual discipline. Therefore, we can expect days where we struggle and lack motivation. But, when we take the time to really learn and grow, God deepens our walk with Him.
If you’d like more tips on how to successfully complete a 1-year Bible reading plan, check out this post. If you’re interested in checking out my 1-year Bible reading plan focusing on God’s character, learn more about The Bible in a Year here. And of course, if you’re interested in receiving free resources to help you grow in your faith, you can receive exclusive content by subscribing to my mailing list here!


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Seeing the Gospel in Our Everyday Lives

I’ve heard it said that we should preach the Gospel to ourselves daily. This can be as simple as reminding ourselves that without Christ we are dead and condemned in our sin, but by His abundant grace, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead to save all who repent and believe in Him. This means, all who are born again have eternal life and hope in His return. What a humbling reminder! But, preaching the Gospel to ourselves can be taken a step further when we start seeing the Gospel in our everyday lives.

As I’ve been getting into the habit of pondering and declaring the Gospel to myself daily, I’ve felt compelled to ask the Lord to give me eyes to see the Gospel in all things—even the circumstances that seem unrelated to the good news. God will, no doubt, continually be answering this prayer. But, I wanted to share with you just one of the ways He recently responded.

A personal testimony

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with feeling unequipped for ministry and the things God is calling me to in this season of my life. I’ve felt overwhelmed and insecure. And I know these feelings aren’t from God, so I went to His Word. In the Bible, the Lord promises to equip believers for what He calls us to. So, I looked for a verse that spoke truth into my insecurities and was led to Hebrews 13:20-21, which says:

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

As I memorized these verses, truth replaced my insecurities. But the Spirit also opened my eyes to the Gospel in this passage. I could see written explicitly in the text that the Gospel is the reason it’s even possible for me to be equipped by God! When I received Christ as my Lord and Savior ten years ago, it was His death and resurrection that made forgiveness and eternal life possible. And today, Jesus remains my great Shepherd. He gives me everything I need in order to do His will and bring Him glory.

Without even realizing it when I started memorizing this passage, I was preaching the Gospel to myself! Ultimately, the answer to my seemingly unrelated insecurities was found in the hope of the Gospel.

Seeing the Gospel in our everyday lives gives us hope

I’m learning that seeing the Gospel in our everyday lives builds our faith, strengthens our hope, and gives us greater peace. The Gospel isn’t just for the moment we put our faith in Christ and one day when He returns. We get to experience the infinite blessings of the Gospel each day. Let’s pray that Jesus would give us eyes to see them and praise Him when we do.

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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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My Quiet Time Routine

To celebrate now having 10+ patrons on Patreon, I’ve created an exclusive video sharing my quiet time routine. You can watch this 2-minute version here. But if you’d like access to the full 12-minute version, you can become a patron for as little as $3 per month!

Watch the full video about my quiet time routine:

If you are already a patron, log on to your Patreon account to access the full video and learn about why it’s important to have a quiet time, hear about my quiet time routine, and hear some additional things for you to consider.

Why Patreon?

Selling products and working with like-minded companies keeps my business running. However, the content people connect with the most is on my blog and mailing list. I love creating inspiring artwork, free resources, blog posts, and weekly emails to encourage my community. It’s one of my favorite things I do! The only downside is, that type of work doesn’t bring in much income.

To clarify, I don’t do it for the income. I would do it regardless of whether I had additional help. But, running and growing a blog and mailing list costs money. And, if I am being compensated for even a little bit of my time writing and creating free content, I can devote more of my work hours to discipling my community!

So, please prayerfully consider supporting my mission by becoming a monthly giver on Patreon. Your pledges make it possible for me to reach more people and spend more time creating content that builds up the body of Christ! Will you join me in this mission?

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God’s Providence

When a word, phrase, or Bible verse repeatedly pops up in my Bible studies and conversations, I’ve learned over the years to pay attention. Lately, the topic of God’s providence keeps coming up. I knew providence was somehow related to His sovereignty—which I’m familiar with—however, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to understand what is providence? Does it differ from sovereignty? And as I dug deeper, I was curious to learn how God’s providence coincides with our free will. Do you have similar questions? I hope this post will bring clarity and encourage you.

What is God’s providence?

The word “providence” is found sparingly in some English Bibles. I checked several translations on the Blue Letter Bible website and the word came up once in the KJV in Acts 24:2 and another time in the NIV in Job 10:12. Even though the word itself seldom occurs in Scripture, the doctrine of God’s providence is woven throughout the Bible. Simply put, providence is God working circumstances together to accomplish His purposes.[1] 

A biblical example of God’s providence

There are so many examples of God’s providence throughout Scripture, but one of my favorites is the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Many of you are probably familiar with the story. But to quickly summarize, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, which landed him in Egypt. While there, he was falsely accused of a crime and Joseph was sent to prison. After some time, he interpreted a dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who was briefly imprisoned. Years later, Pharaoh himself had a dream that no one could interpret, but the cupbearer remembered Joseph. By God’s grace, Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, which warned of a famine to come. As a result, Pharaoh made Joseph his right hand man and Joseph prepared Egypt. And when the famine came, Egypt had an abundance of food, which led Joseph’s family there. After a series of events, his relationship with his brothers was reconciled and they all moved to Egypt.

When we read this exciting narrative in the Bible, we can see that God was going before Joseph. We get to figure out the ending in just a few chapters. But, Joseph lived through abuse, slavery, slander, and imprisonment over the course of many years. After all that time of being rejected and forgotten, in the end, Joseph recognized God’s providence through it all. Genesis 50:20 sums it up so well when Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” This is just one of the many examples of God’s providence in the Bible.

God’s providence in my own life

When I reflect on where I have seen God’s providence in my own life, several memories come to mind. But most recently, I witnessed His providence at work through my book, The Bible in a Year. I prayed to God that if it was His will, that He’d make a way for me to work with a publisher on a book someday. Over a year later, I was approached by my publisher, who heard about me through a connection I had made with another company. That connection was made long before I even prayed that first prayer. After all this time, I can see that God was working in and through my circumstances to accomplish His will even when I couldn’t see it. I know I’ve shared this a fair amount with my community, so sorry if I sound like a broken record! But, reflecting on His providence through this recent experience continues to leave me in awe of His sovereignty.

Question: How have you seen God’s providence in your own life?

How does providence differ from sovereignty?

As I pondered and began studying God’s providence, I struggled to see the difference between providence and sovereignty. However, as I dug deeper, it became clearer to me that while these two truths about God are closely related, there is a distinction. I began to see that God’s sovereignty refers to His complete control over all things and His providence is the way He orchestrates all things according to His will. A wise woman in my life put it in even simpler terms: Sovereign is who He is, providence is what He does. God’s sovereign will is accomplished through His good and wise providence.

This means, God is never out of control. He is working all things together for a greater good—His perfect will. The greatest good He providentially accomplishes in the lives of believers is salvation in Christ. Looking back on my own life, I can see how God used my circumstances to communicate the Gospel message to me and prepared my heart for the day I would finally receive the good news that Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead to save sinners. I learned that all who repent and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior are given eternal life and do not have to fear when He returns to judge the living and the dead—our salvation is secure in Him! (Mark 1:15, Acts 17:30-31, 1 John 5:11-13)

Sometimes we will get to see His providence clearly in our lives—like in the circumstances that led us to receive Christ, or experiences like what happened with my book. But, His providence goes even further beyond our individual lives, circumstances, and outcomes. Ultimately, He is sovereignly working all things together for His glory and to providentially prepare all things for Christ’s return! (Ephesians 1:11)

What about free will?

So like me, you might be wondering how God’s providence coincides with free will. While much of this remains a mystery, we do see examples of both these realities throughout the Bible. I’m sure entire books have been written on this subject alone, but I’ll attempt to put it simply here. (I encourage you to do more digging into this yourself if you have more questions!)

Simply put, God is fully in control and we remain responsible for our actions. Going back to Joseph’s story, we see this clearly. God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in order for Joseph to go to Egypt and save many from the famine, and ultimately, become a foreshadowing of the deliverance that would come through Christ. Even though God used their sin to accomplish a greater good, the brothers still needed to repent of their sins. What’s incredible, is how God not only can use good in this world, but He can even take our sin and the things that fall outside of His moral will to accomplish His sovereign will.

We even see free will and God’s providence play out in Christ’s death when God used Judas Iscariot’s betrayal to send Jesus to the cross. (Luke 22:22) This was the greatest injustice of all time, yet God used it to fulfill biblical prophecy and save all who repent and believe in Him.

Clinging to what we know

This short explanation may not satisfy all of your questions on free will vs. God’s providence. However, when we don’t fully understand a biblical truth, we can always cling to what we do know: God is sovereign. This article on GotQuestions.org sums it up so well: If God is not sovereign, then He’s not really God. Why? If our free will can trump His divine providence, then who ultimately is God? We are. Divine providence does not destroy our freedom. Rather, divine providence takes our freedom into account and, in the infinite wisdom of God, sets a course to fulfill God’s will.[2]

Application

God is providentially working all things together to accomplish His sovereign will. How does the truth of God’s providence encourage or challenge you today? How might this reality cause you to think and live differently?

For me personally, the truths of God’s providence and sovereignty shape my thoughts and emotions in response to the chaos of world events. Things feel out of control, but when we cling to what we know, we can find peace in knowing God is still on His throne and He is still fully in control. We may not be able to see how, but we know that He is working all things together for His glory and for the good of those who love Him. (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28) And of course, these truths increase my hope in the Gospel! Nothing can thwart God’s plan to save sinners or stop His return! He is all-powerful and true to His Word.

As born again believers, we should respond to God’s providence by:

  • Confidently trusting fully in God’s providence. 
  • Committing our works to God. (Proverbs 16:3)
  • Encouraging others with the truth of God’s providence.
  • Praying for continued dependence on God and that His will, not ours be done. (Matthew 6:9-13)[3]

If you would like to learn more on your own about God’s providence, check out the links in the notes below.


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Notes:

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Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.