Bible Study

How to Study the Bible- and How Not To!

Originally published December 31, 2020

It’s almost the new year! Are you making a resolution to start having a personal, daily Bible study time? Would you like to improve on the way you study your Bible? Maybe you’re looking for a Bible reading plan, or maybe you’re just looking to change things up a little?

If that sounds like you, give a listen to this December 2020 episode of A Word Fitly Spoken:

How to Study the Bible – and How Not To!

Amy and I discuss what our own Bible study times look like, plus some other helpful methods and resources. We also discuss false doctrine and false teachers to avoid as you’re studying your Bible.

This episode is a great way to kick off the new year. And don’t forget to subscribe to A Word Fitly Spoken on your favorite podcast platform!

Additional Resources:

Bible Study Resources (how to study the Bible)
Bible Studies
Bible Reading Plans for the New Year- 2022

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends


Anna’s Example

Remember Anna? She’s one of our often overlooked sisters from Scripture. As with Elizabeth, we don’t usually hear much about Anna, except sometimes, once a year, at Christmas.

When Jesus was about a month old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple to fulfill the requirement of the Levitical law of purification. And that’s where they encountered Anna.

Now, just a little lagniappe here, the purification ceremony where we meet Anna was completely separate from Jesus’ circumcision ceremony.

Circumcision took place when the baby was eight days old, probably in the parents’ home or possibly in the local synagogue (the synagogue was sort of a “branch campus” of the temple in towns that were outside of Jerusalem). Mary would not have been able to enter the synagogue in Bethlehem or the temple in Jerusalem for Jesus’ circumcision since she would still have been ceremonially unclean from His birth.

The purification ceremony that made her ritually clean again took place when Jesus was 33 days old at the temple in Jerusalem. A sacrifice was offered for Mary’s cleansing and Jesus was dedicated to the Lord. (see Leviticus 12)

I spell this all out because, if you’re like me, and you hear the Luke 2 account of Jesus’ birth every year, you tend to let it wash over you without really thinking about it. I never really gave much thought to the fact that these were two different events in two different places until I was studying about Anna.

And Luke 2 presents all of these events in kind of a machine gun fashion so it can practically feel like everything in that chapter is happening on the same day, and we can conflate things we shouldn’t. For example, many people think that Simeon and Anna were married just because their stories appear back to back in Luke 2. As we’re about to see, that wasn’t the case.

Let’s take a look at Anna’s story:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

Anna had a lot of strikes against her in life:

She was a woman. In Anna’s day, women were “low man on the totem pole” so to speak. They were regarded as less than men in practically every way- intelligence, abilities, worth, and so on. They couldn’t testify in court because their testimony wasn’t considered credible. And, maybe you’ve even heard of the daily prayer that Jewish men still say today, thanking God for not creating them a gentile…a slave…or a woman.

She was a widow, and possibly childless. A woman of that time without a husband or grown children to take care of her would have been in very real danger of poverty.

She was old. Average life expectancy in Anna’s day was 55. She was 84. When you’re 84 in ancient times with no modern medicine, you’re feeling it.

So, Anna was a woman, she was a widow, and she was old. She had some disadvantages. But Anna didn’t let those things stop her from serving the Lord full throttle. In fact, she took some of those supposed disadvantages and put them to work for her.

Anna didn’t let disadvantages stop her from serving the Lord full throttle. In fact, she took some of those supposed disadvantages and put them to work for her.

If Anna had had a husband to care for or children to raise, she wouldn’t have had the time or the energy to serve the Lord full time. And she wouldn’t have had the opportunity either, because no one in that culture would have thought it appropriate for a woman with a husband and children to abandon them to stay in the temple.

Also, in a culture that respected its elderly, it’s likely that more people – especially younger women – would have listened to her than if she had not been so advanced in years.

So Anna turned these disadvantages into opportunities. And what did she do with those opportunities? She used them to serve God and to tell people about Jesus.

That’s what the Christian life is all about – serving God and telling others about Jesus – whatever your station in life.

Maybe you’re single like Anna, and God has blessed you with the time and freedom to serve Him full time – or at least fuller time than you’d otherwise be able to.

Maybe you do have a husband and children- and God has given you the opportunity to serve Him by serving them: pouring the gospel into your children, being a godly helpmate to your husband, and being a faithful, serving member of your church.

Maybe you’re older, and instead of using your golden years for travel or hobbies or shopping, God is leading you to teach younger women or throw yourself into ministry in some way.

Anna’s example to us is to bloom where God plants us and grab hold of every opportunity to serve Him and tell others about Jesus.

Anna’s example to us is to bloom where God plants us and grab hold of every opportunity to serve Him and tell others about Jesus.


The “Merry Christmas” Melee

Originally Published December 6, 2010

It’s that time of year again. Time for love and good cheer. Peace on earth. Joy to the world.

And war.

Over the last several years, there’s been a sometimes quiet and respectful, sometimes loud and obnoxious battle raging between conservative Christians and merchants over whether said merchants use the term “Merry Christmas” or the more general “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in their advertising and in greeting customers at their stores.

I don’t know about you, but it’s driving me bananas.

Would I prefer for everybody to say “Merry Christmas”? Sure. But on my list of things to have an aneurysm about, it falls somewhere between my dentist telling me I should floss more and deciding where to get the dog a pedicure. I just really don’t care that much. And I’m wondering, in the grand scheme of things that should be pressing upon Christians’ hearts, should something this minor even register on the scale of issues that upset us?

What Do We Expect?

Speaking strictly numerically and statistically, genuine Christians– not just people who say they’re Christians and/or go to church, but people who have actually been regenerated by the blood of Christ –are a very small minority. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. It may have been founded on Biblically inspiried principles, but in practical societal terms today, this is a nation mostly made up of lost people.

This means that it’s a safe bet that the majority of the people at the helms of these corporations are lost. And guess what? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lost people gotta act like lost people (Romans 8:7). What this means is that their decision whether to use “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has nothing to do with Jesus or respecting the “true meaning of Christmas”. Their decision is going to be based on what’s going to make the corporation the most money. If saying “Merry Christmas” will get more customers in the door, that’s what they’ll do. It doesn’t mean they’re honoring Christ, it mean’s they’re pandering to Christians.

When we exert pressure on these corporations to say “Merry Christmas”, what real change are we effecting? Are we not just creating more people who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)? Are we not sending them the subtle message that external behavior, rather than a reborn spirit, is what counts? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). One day. But that day is not today. We can’t force change in people’s hearts by coercing them into saying “Merry Christmas”. And, to God, a change of heart is the only thing that matters.

Where Should Our Passions Lie?

I used to belong to a Christian “social issues” organization. In many ways, it’s a great organization. I got frequent e-mails from them regarding which social issues various corporations were investing their profits in, where politicians stood on the issues, and lots of other helpful information and resources.

But every autumn they would begin their annual “Merry Christmas” campaign. They have buttons you can order that urge people to say “Merry Christmas”. They have leaflets and stickers and videos you can order for your church to promote saying “Merry Christmas”. They publish a “Naughty and Nice” list of merchants who use “Merry Christmas” (nice) or some other wording (naughty), so you’ll know which stores to shop and which to boycott.

And it made me stop and think– how many man hours go into that campaign every year? How much money does the organization invest in it? How much money do churches and individuals spend on their materials? Is investing that much time and money in promoting “Merry Christmas” good stewardship?

We have brothers and sisters all over this planet who would give anything to own a copy of the Bible. There are crisis pregnancy centers that operate on a shoestring trying to help women and their babies. There are missionaries who live in poverty in third world nations taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it. There are people starving. There are children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers.

And “Merry Christmas” is what we want to get all worked up about?

What’s more upsetting to us, the fact that someone says “Happy Holidays” or the fact that the person who said it might die and spend an eternity in hell? Where do our passions truly lie? Are we passionate about the same things God is passionate about?

This Christmas, can we just focus on what’s important? We have a God who loves every person so deeply and so intensely, and whose mercy and grace are so unfathomable, that He came here personally to redeem us.

And there are people all around us who don’t know that.

And they desperately need us to love them enough to tell them that in Jesus there’s hope. A way out of their sin. A way to get clean. A secure eternity. Peace.

God and sinners, reconciled. Oh, what a Merry Christmas!


8 Christmas Tradition Do-Overs (and Do Over and Overs!)

Originally Published December 18, 2014

I love being one of the “older sisters” in the Christian blogosphere.  Reading about other writers’ young children brings back sweet memories of when mine were that little. It also gives me the opportunity to occasionally bring in the “been there, done that, here’s how I would go back and do it better if I could” perspective. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

I wish I had realized as a young mother that once you start a Christmas precedent, or fail to start one, it can be really hard to change later. Looking back over 20+ years, here are some Christmas traditions and precedents I would go back and change, and others I’m glad we started early and kept.

I wish we had minimized gifts.

Instead of showering each child with several gifts, large and small, I think I would either do one “large” gift plus stockings (candy and dollar store type items), or two to three small to moderate gifts, plus stockings, per child. Not only does limiting the number and price of gifts cut down on the holiday “gimmes” so you can refocus Christmas on Christ, but there are a couple of practical reasons this can be helpful. First, if your family is still growing, you may end up with too many children (we have six) for multiple gifts to be financially feasible. Second, family finances aren’t foolproof. Your husband could lose his job. You could decide you want to be a stay at home mom instead of working. Anything could happen. If your kids are used to tons of gifts every year, a financial setback will make Christmas disappointing.

I wish we had given more experiences and fewer material gifts.

We’ve all bemoaned the kids getting a toy they’ve BEGGED for for months only to play with it for a few days and tire of it. Not only that, but toys can take up a lot of space. And think back to your own childhood. What do you remember and appreciate more, the material gifts you received, or the memories of spending special time with your family? Plus, experiences can be spaced out over months and weeks and can be enjoyed all year long (and they don’t even have to be wrapped!). How about giving each child a calendar for the new year with things penciled in on certain dates? An afternoon at the skate park. A day trip to the aquarium. Lessons he wants to take. Mother-daughter mani-pedis. A family outing to a local festival. Making cookies together. It gives everyone something to look forward to.

I wish we had done Advent. 

I’m a lifelong Southern Baptist, and, not to sound too old and codger-y, but, in my day, we really didn’t do Advent (a lot of SBC churches still don’t). I was in my 30’s before we began attending a church that even did Advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. And I was in my 40’s before I became aware of all the wonderful devotionals and worship activites available for families to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Nightly family worship is a great way to bring the focus of Christmas back to Christ.

I wish we had “rescheduled” our December baby.

Don’t get me wrong here. I would still have my son, just in January, if possible, instead of December. Of course, pregnancies can be unpredictable, and babies are a blessing no matter when they arrive, but as anyone born between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can attest, birthdays around the holidays tend to get lost in the shuffle. It is extremely difficult to schedule a child’s birthday party in December and have anyone attend because everyone is already committed to Christmas parties, family activities, and traveling. December birthday presents and parties also add to the expense of the holidays.

I’m glad I did a yearly Christmas newsletter.

I started doing this the first year we were married. While most folks write a little blurb about what each family member has been up to since last Christmas, my format is a bit different. I do twelve little blurbs, hitting our family highlights for each month of the past year. When I’m finished, I send them out with my Christmas cards. I also keep a copy and put it into my “newsletter notebook.” Now, we have a complete family history. My kids love reading back through them every year, and it has also been helpful to us for record-keeping and filling out forms (remembering which year we moved to a certain house or when a child sustained a particular injury, for example).

I’m glad I didn’t do a “theme tree”.

I have seen some absolutely gorgeous Christmas trees. There’s a color scheme. All the ornaments match or coordinate. Maybe there’s a sports or regional or literary theme to it.

My tree kinda looks like a tornado hit a pre-school, made its way through a Hallmark store, and sucked up a souvenir shop before landing in my living room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a memory attached to almost every ornament. The ones from my childhood. The ones we bought on our honeymoon and the time we went to Disney World. The ones the kids made in Sunday School. And all the children have certain ornaments that are “theirs,” (we mark them with their initials and the year) that they made or that were given to them. And one day, when they grow up and get married, one of their wedding presents will be a box containing all of “their” ornaments to hang on their own trees, so they can take some memories with them.

I’m glad we have some family traditions
that are unique to our particular family.

There are some traditions that are common to lots of families, but it’s the ones that no other family on the planet does that can be extra special. For example, last year, after we got home from our annual family outing of picking out our tree, we sat around the table together and had hot chocolate. And chips and salsa. (I know. Weird, huh?) My 12 year old remembered this a whole year later and begged to do it again. It’s those little things that go the extra mile in binding you together and giving your family a unique identity.

I’m glad we handled Santa Claus the way we did.

We decided before we had children that we would not lie to them about the existence or omniscience (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc.) of Santa Claus. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, for that matter). But there’s nothing wrong with the fun of Santa as long as he arrives on the scene without lies or claims to attributes only God possesses. So we sang Santa songs and told Santa stories, but on Christmas Eve, our children knew it was Mom and Dad filling the stockings. When they were very small, my husband or I would don a Santa hat and say something like: “You know how you like to play pretend? Well, mommies and daddies like to play pretend, too, especially at Christmas! Now it’s time for you to go to bed so we can pretend to be Santa Claus.” So far, no one is in therapy from us handling the Santa Claus story this way, plus there were no conspiracies with the older children to keep the secret from the younger ones, and no moments of devastation as each child grew up and found out the truth.


Well, that’s my list.
What are some things you’d like to do over
-or do over and over- at Christmas with your family?