Zephaniah might be a book that is often overlooked but the prophet brings an important message about pure worship. Read more from the Dancing in the Desert Devotional Bible
Only decades before Jerusalem’s fall and one generation before Jeremiah, Zephaniah warned of judgment. On the surface, he was an unlikely source for such severe words. He was a descendant of one good king (Hezekiah) prophesying during the reign of another (Josiah). Josiah was early in the process of tearing down unholy altars and revitalizing the nation’s worship. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction. What could be so bad that God would overthrow his people?
But Judah’s idolatry was too deeply entrenched to be reversed by Josiah’s reforms, though God would promise to withhold judgment until after the good king’s death (2 Chronicles 34:28). So Zephaniah predicts the worst: “a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zephaniah 1:15). At times, his words seem broader than for just Judah and point to a greater, later judgment. But they are painfully urgent for his hearers. These spiritually complacent people are sabotaging their own destiny and are apparently desensitized to God’s voice. Zephaniah’s words are meant to jolt them out of their apathy. They need to know they will begin to experience God’s painful discipline in less than a generation.
Zephaniah’s prophecy doesn’t end in despair, of course. A restoration is coming, and God will delight in his people and rejoice over them with songs (3:17). Again, Zephaniah’s words seem broader than for his nation alone. God’s restoration will have global consequences—the purification of all people for unified worship. Entire nations will come to worship him (3:9). Israel will be the centerpiece of a much bigger salvation than its people have expected.
That’s the goal of God’s plan. This ongoing battle throughout Scripture and history is about one primary issue: worship. Idolatry, along with all its symptoms, derails our ultimate purpose. Pure worship fulfills it. And God will do everything necessary to bring the hearts of multitudes into alignment with his own.
Matt Sherro is the pastor
of Abounding Grace Baptist Church, a church plant in Phoenix, AZ. Abounding Grace is intentional about reaching
people for Christ. Instead of meeting in a building, they gather in a local
park on Sunday mornings, inviting everyone to come worship and learn more about
God’s plan of salvation. Read how Matt is using the Christian Basics Bible to disciple new believers.
I chose to use the Christian Basics Bible as my guide for one-on-one discipleship for many reasons. The primary reason was that it uses the NLT text. Over the last year, the NLT has become my favorite teaching translation. It is very easy to understand and is thus incredibly useful for discipleship. I cannot begin to explain the feeling when the person you are teaching finally connects with the Bible.
Many disciples, my own wife included, have commented that
when they began reading the NLT, it was the first time they really felt like
God was communicating with them. I would argue that when you begin using the
NLT in your church, you will see similar results in the people you are
For us, the 28-day reading plan gets the most usage of any feature in the Christian Basics Bible, since most of the people I minister to have never seen the inside of a Bible. It is really helpful to begin here because it is a non-intimidating way to enter the journey of understanding Scripture. I am really glad to have this plan because, as a pastor, I sometimes have trouble with the fact that not every Christian is as familiar with or engaged in the Bible as pastors are.
I also get plenty of use out of the topical articles and the
“Basic Truths of the Christian Faith” guide, but not in the way you might
expect. For many pastors, these articles would be useful as a sermon-preparation
tool, to create topical series, for instance. But I like to pair the topical
articles with Q&A sessions. I have new learners write down their questions
on a particular topic, and then we turn to the “Basic Truths of the Christian
Faith” guide to find out what the Bible teaches us on a particular topic. This
allows me to connect in a unique way with individuals, as each new learner may
have different areas of life in which they need to hear from God.
I’d like to round out my discussion by mentioning the “Now that
You Are a Christian” article. This Bible was created to help new Christians develop
into faithful disciples, and along those lines I get tremendous use out of this
brief article. Here, we can take a new learner through the process of
developing an understanding of God, Christ, sin, salvation, and the church. My
goal is to help new disciples develop in their theology in such a way that their
theology is strong enough to sustain them through the trials that will no doubt
come as they mature in Christ.
There are a number of different ways to use the Christian Basics Biblein your ministry. I hope that it is as helpful to you as it has been to me.
If you are interested in learning more about Matt check out his blog.
Back to Basics
By Kevin O’Brien, Brand Manager
The world goes by at a million miles per hour, and it seems
to get faster and become more complicated at every turn. It’s quite easy to get
distracted, disgruntled, and even disillusioned. We chase so hard after the
things we think we are supposed to pursue—success, respect, love, money, etc.
We adopt the causes we are supposed to adopt, get outraged over the latest injustice
that we are supposed to be outraged about. And next week it all changes.
Somewhere along the way, as the routines and cares of the
world have distracted us, we have forgotten the reality of our faith. In all
the busyness of life, our faith threatens to float away like dandelion seeds in
the wind. We need a firm foundation.
Becoming a Christian
is not about deciding to live better, trying to be more holy, going to church,
or following certain religious practices or behaviors. It is about beginning a
personal relationship with God. Religious rules and duties will always end up
tying us up, as Jesus often reminded the highly religious Pharisees of his day.
Jesus came not to tie us up but to set us free (see, e.g., John 8:31-32;
Galatians 5:1). He came with good news (the meaning of the word “gospel”); and
this good news is that ordinary people—even people who feel unworthy or have
failed or have done bad things—can know God personally and live in harmony with
him. (p. A11)
That’s a pretty “back to basics” truth right there. It’s
also unbelievably freeing if we take the time to actually read it, digest it,
and be changed by it. But the busyness of life, even the trappings of our
faith, can rob us of this truth.
So how can we make a practice of getting back to basics, of
being a “basic believer”? There are a lot of good answers to that question, but
here’s a starting point, a first step if you will. In the book of 2 Timothy,
the apostle Paul wrote to his young apprentice Timothy. Timothy was leading a
church in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was rich, influential, and cosmopolitan.
It was a center of religion and commerce and the most important city in the
Roman province of Asia. It was the place to be. In fact, minus the technology,
it probably had a lot of similarities to the type of crazy environment we find
ourselves in today. Unfortunately, the church in Ephesus had all kinds of
problems. Here’s what Paul tells Timothy:
“Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is
favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with
good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound
and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for
teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will
reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in
every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling
others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” (2 Timothy
A lack of studying Scripture
had led the Ephesian church to be led astray by every new idea that came along.
So Paul urges Timothy to keep studying Scripture so he can use it to correct
error and explain the truth (4:2-5). We need this book because it is not like
any other book, secular or sacred. It is “inspired by God” (3:16). That is,
God’s Spirit directed the thoughts of its writers so that what they wrote was
exactly what God wanted written. The Bible is therefore God’s revelation to
us—revealing his nature, heart, and purposes—and his invitation to join in his
story. (p. 1387)
Maybe you’re not in a pastoral role like Timothy—and maybe you
never will be—but the advice still stands. The only way Timothy could teach
others was to be captured by the truth himself, to really know it. Getting back
to the basics of our faith and of our relationship with God starts with getting
back into his Word.
Can Immerse Help You Keep Your New Years Resolution?
by Alex Goodwin
Reading the Bible more is one of the most common resolutions for Christians heading into 2019. But statistics show that 80% of new year’s resolutions fail by mid-February.
Maybe this has been your experience. You find a new reading plan, you try harder. But by springtime, that same feeling of guilt and failure is back.
How about trying something different?
This year, Immerse can help you accomplish your Bible reading goals. Here are a few tips for getting started:
• Start small. Setting out to read the entire Bible in a year is admirable. It’s also really difficult. Try starting with a smaller goal, like reading the New Testament in 8 weeks or 16 weeks.
• Use a different Bible. Each volume of Immerse: The Reading Bible was crafted with one goal in mind: to provide the best reading experience possible. If you’re trying to create a habit of reading the Bible, it helps to use a Bible made for reading.
• Don’t do it alone. Group support gives a huge boost to the odds of achieving your goals. So how about starting an Immerse group? Get a few friends, neighbors, or family members who will commit to a reading and discussion schedule. Having a community of encouragement and accountability will not only help you stick to your Bible reading, it’ll make it much more enjoyable and enriching
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.” Malachi 3:16, NLT
Some people assume that holy and sacred things only take place within the walls of the church, yet this verse says that every time you talk about the Lord with believers God is paying close attention. In fact, the phrase Malachi uses here means “to bend down so as not to miss a word.”
What an incredible thought! God deeply desires that we spend time discussing him, his attributes, and what he is doing in our lives with other believers. That gives us one more reason to make friends with other believers and take part in Bibles studies and church activities.
The next time you get together with your Christian friends, don’t just make small talk. Make the Lord, a central part of your conversation. He is listening.
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Hebrews 11:1-3, NLT
Hebrews 11 is one of the most extensive essays on faith in the NT and one of the most loved sections of Scripture, yet misconceptions about faith abound. Some see faith as meaning any form of spirituality (“he is a person of faith”). Others understand it as a resolute belief that something good is going to happen to them, a ticket to health and wealth. Still others think that faith is a blind leap against known facts. None of these constitutes biblical faith.
Instead, faith involves confident action in response to what God has made known (11:1‑3). As seen in the examples listed in ch 11, faith comes into play in a variety of life’s circumstances. The results of faith also are various. Some people get rescued, achieve success in life, and get some of what God has promised in their lifetimes. Others get mocked, beaten, tortured, put in prison, and killed. Faith is sometimes rewarded sooner and sometimes later, but people of faith anticipate the rewards because of their confidence in God’s character.
What does it mean to live by faith? It means that, in our various circumstances, we live out our belief “that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (11:6). Those who live by faith take confident action based on what God has revealed about his character, seeking to do his will in all things.
TODAY WE KNOW JOHN as “the apostle of love,” but he didn’t start out that way. Had he not allowed Christ to soften his personality and temperament, history might have remembered him in a very different light.
Whenever the Gospels mention John, they usually tie him to his brother, James. The pair ran a fishing operation with their father, Zebedee. John was among the first disciples to hear and follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:21-22). John tended to think in black and white with little gray, and he interpreted any slight as a personal attack. Early on, John’s hot- blooded temperament prompted Jesus to give him and his brother the nickname Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).
As the time grew near for Jesus to die, the disciples’ travel plans took them through Samaria. But when the Samaritans— who detested the Jews as much as the Jews hated them— heard that Jesus intended to visit Jerusalem, they refused to welcome him. When John and his brother learned of this slight, they snapped, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” John learned an important lesson that day when Jesus rebuked him for his hateful question (Luke 9:51-56).
At another time these “Sons of Thunder” approached Jesus privately and asked him for a favor: They wanted special seats of honor in the coming Kingdom . When the other disciples heard about their secret request, they were less than impressed. Jesus used the ugly incident to teach his followers that honor and positions of spiritual leadership come through service, not through power plays or personal striving (Mark 10:35-45).
As John watched his Master live and work and minister over the course of three and a half years, he gradually changed. Being part of an inner circle of three (with Peter and James), John gained a special insight into the character of his Lord. He witnessed Jesus bring a dead girl back to life (Luke 8:49-56). He saw Jesus robed in light at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13). And he joined Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his Lord’s arrest (Mark 14:32-42).
By this time, John had softened considerably. A combination of personal failures and his Master’s stubborn grace began to transform him. John was the only disciple who saw Christ’s crucifixion— and it was John to whom Jesus gave the responsibility of caring for his grieving mother (John 19:25-27).
John is a perfect example of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives. This hard nosed, hot- tempered businessman became an example of grace and love— and eventually wrote five books of the New Testament. The next time you read 1 John, remember that a former “Son of Thunder” penned the compassionate words.
Read Caroline’s Story: Hosting the Inspire Bible TOUR Was a Life-Changing Event
Caroline is our youngest Inspire Bible TOUR host yet! Amber Bolton told us it was wonderful to work with Caroline and to see the passion she put into it.
Hi! My name is Caroline Fisher. I am 15
years old and am a sophomore in high school. Of course, homework and chores
occupy alot of my time. However, when I’m not doing these, I enjoy
yoga, reading, photography, art, hanging out with my friends, and of course, Bible
journaling! I am left-handed, which some people say adds to my creative spirit.
I am extraordinarily blessed with an incredible family, including two adorable
kittens, and I am very involved in my school and church. I am a part of Team
LEAD, a mentoring program for middle schoolers. I am also in Concert Choir,
Spanish Club, and Educational Helpers, and I am usually a part of the dance
team but recently had to take a season off. And I actually have a job at my
church! I am the Sunday School Assistant each Sunday, helping out with children’s Sunday School. I love kids, so this job suits me
perfectly. Every Sunday is an adventure that I so look forward to. I also go to
youth group, which meets every Wednesday night. Before youth group, we usually
go to a coffee shop—we’re all very close friends!
I have attended church my entire life.
Currently, I attend Valparaiso First United Methodist Church. I have attended
this church since I moved to Valparaiso nearly fourteen years ago. My church is
truly a wonderful place and I am so lucky to have it. Being in high school, my
faith is constantly challenged. Most of my peers are pretty accepting, but it
can be tough when less than 10 percent of the student body regularly attends
church. With this challenge, though, my faith has grown much stronger. When you’re part of a
minority, it can be easier to grow your faith more securely because it’s something unique to
you, making it more fun and inviting to explore. One of my many life verses is
Philippians 4:13: “I
can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I have been Bible journaling for almost seven months now. I am so glad that I have discovered and expanded on this creative outlet. My favorite part about it is decorating the page and being able to really connect with Scripture. Journaling helps the verse(s) to really sink in and helps me to truly believe the Scriptures. I first found out about the InspireBible TOUR after stumbling across Amber Bolton on Instagram. As I fell in love with her work, I began to explore workshops and hoped that one would show up near me. After months of wishing, I decided to make my dream a reality. Hosting a workshop had never occurred to me before, but I realized that there was nothing really stopping it from happening. My highlight from hosting the workshop was probably seeing all the smiling, excited faces ready to learn and praise the Lord. I loved seeing how joyous and fulfilled everyone was.
As the host, I organized everything
between my church and Amber, found funding, set up decorations, and spoke at
the event. There was a lot of work involved, but that’s right up my alley!
I absolutely loved hosting. I saw God a lot throughout the weeks leading up to
the workshop. One way that he particularly surprised me was with the turnout.
Being a relatively small church, I figured we’d be lucky if we had 25 participants, but it ended
up being over 50! And there were people from all different walks of faith
those who could memorize the book of Psalms to those who didn’t know what a Bible
was! Another thing I did not expect was how quickly the workshop would fly by.
I ended up being at my church for over 6 hours that day, but it did not feel
over 2! I would say I knew almost half of the people who attended. The
community outreach I did was extensive! I designed posters and put them
everywhere. And it was great to see so many faces I did not recognize. I was dramatically
impacted by hosting the workshop and by attending it. It was
so rewarding to be able to put so much effort into preparing and organizing the
workshop and then actually get to sit down and attend it as a participant.
The workshop itself was phenomenal. Even
as a somewhat “experienced” Bible journaler, I
learned so much and absorbed everything
Amber had to share. I keep describing that day to people as “life-changing”—and it truly was! It
was surprising to discover how much work goes on behind the scenes for an
event. Much more work went into the workshop than I ever would’ve fathomed as a
participant. It was almost like Christmas: The day was built up, anticipated,
and talked about so much, and then it was over in an instant. But God was
unquestionably smiling upon the faces of everyone who was at the workshop. We
talked, smiled, laughed, prayed, and bonded over the experience.
God certainly used this experience to
stretch me. It gave me hope, purpose, and, of course, involvement in a
wonderful activity. I’ve grown in my faith through this experience and
have found myself closer with God. To those of you scrolling through the TOUR
website, deciding if you should pursue this “crazy” idea—do it! I would never hesitate to tell someone to
host a workshop. Although it’s hard work the reward is so worth it, much
greater. My time in God’s Word has most definitely changed for the
better since the workshop. I learned so much and was able to apply it to my
journaling. I feel like I am more mindful and aware as I read, and can really
take the verses and passages to heart. And my church started a monthly Bible-journaling
group! Every second Monday, we spend the afternoon at Starbucks unleashing our
I was inspired in so many ways through this workshop. It was truly a transformative experience. I will never forget this life-changing event and will be forever thankful to God for leading me to do this and blessing me with the successes it has brought.
In 2016 Tyndale House Publishers formed a partnership with avid Bible journaler, Amber Bolton (of Instagram’s @biblejournaling). Since then, Amber has traveled across the country offering two-hour-long InspireBible TOUR workshops. She also offers frequent Facebook Live Bible studies using her 4-Step Bible Study Process.
InspireBible TOUR workshops are booked through Amber at email@example.com, and Tyndale helps get the word out. Often, new people are drawn into local churches through these workshops. And Bible-journaling groups are frequently formed out of the workshops, as Amber encourages participants to keep meeting as a community of Bible journalers.
Amber was an early adopter of this practice after discovering it on Pinterest before it became widely known and appreciated. She champions artistic Bible engagement as a beautiful way of worship and of reflecting on God’s Word. As a youth pastor she has a passion to see people reading, digging into, engaging with, and living out God’s Word.
Her introductory workshop offers participants the opportunity to explore God’s Word creatively and to experience a fresh approach to Bible reading. She guides people through hands-on activities to inspire creativity in their daily walk with the Lord. The workshop is designed to focus participants’ hearts on Christ as they learn to color, paint, draw, and letter their way through God’s Word.
Did you or someone you know receive a journaling Bible for Christmas? You may be excited to get started but aren’t exactly sure how. Or maybe you are afraid to mess up. Sometimes all the extra space in the wide margins can be intimidating. Where do you start? How will you identify what to journal about? What does a creative response to Scripture even look like? What supplies do you need? There are many great questions that people wrestle with when they are just getting started. But just remember, your Bible is the holy Word of God. And God speaks to you through his Word! Our goal as followers of Jesus is for Scripture to be written on our hearts so that we can live it out in our daily lives. We want to know God and to make him known, and we want to become more like him. Bible journaling can help us do this. Not only does it give us a beautiful, meaningful tool for Bible study; it also gives us a collection of entries that we can look back to time and time again and be reminded of truths from the Bible and of God’s faithfulness.
Our advice for those who are just
getting started is: Just get started! Dive in. Do what feels comfortable and
natural to you right now. Use supplies you already have. Let God lead you.
Instead of buying all the supplies you see others using, be creative about
using things around the house. Use a cool Christmas card you received to make an
amazing insert, or place a picture of a family member near a Scripture you are
praying over them. (Many people tape on such items by using decorative tape
called washi tape, but any kind of tape works great!)
Your Bible journaling doesn’t need to be anything
extravagant to be meaningful. This is your Bible. This is your time with God.
Let God lead you, and don’t let your fears or questions (whatever they may
be!) hold you back from jumping in. No matter what your finished page looks
like, what is of utmost importance is being in the Word. Soak it in. Meditate
on it. Live it out. Bible journaling is a mechanism by which we can draw nearer
to God through his Word and through using our God-given creativity. We all have creativity, but it’s often expressed
very differently by each of us. Don’t let all the glitz and glitter of supplies and
techniques distract you from the One who is pursuing you!
If you are looking for more Bible-journaling resources, check out this 15-minute video by Amber Bolton. In it, Amber gives you a small taste of her two-hour-long workshops. You’ll learn about her 4-Step Bible Study Process and find encouragement to get started. The video is a study of 1 John 4:7-21. Get out your Bible and let’s get started!
In this video, Amber is using theInspire PRAISE Bible.Inspire PRAISE is the second Bible in the bestselling InspireBible line, with over 500 all-new line-art illustrations to color, including full-page illustrations. It has some special features that the original InspireBible did not have, such as thicker white paper, colorful vellum see-through journaling page inserts, stickers, and even a pocket in the back. There is a large-print edition now available as well, though it does not include the stickers or the pocket.
If you are ever able to attend one of Amber Bolton’sInspireBible TOUR workshops, we would encourage you to go! Or if you would be interested in hosting an event in your community, contact us. Workshops are for people of all ages and stages of faith. They are for those who have never Bible journaled before and for those who are experienced Bible journalers. Each workshop is unique because of the diverse mix of people that attend, and it’s a fun way to meet others from your community who are interested in Bible journaling. You’ll likely come away feeling inspired and blessed to be a part of the community of believers seeking to know God more through this creative avenue.