7 Life Lessons from Bugs of Fire and Light

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A few years ago, Robby and I had the pleasure of joining our friends Paul and Mary in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was during the month of May, and I was thrilled to experience something that had been on my bucket list for years: to see the fireflies. Since I’m from the South, I’m quite familiar with fireflies (aka lightning bugs), but I had read that these amazing insects would gather by the thousands in certain areas in the mountains. Not only would they signal to one another by flashing on and off, but they would actually blink in unison. I could only imagine what a field looked like with thousands of lightning bugs blinking on and off throughout the night.

So when Paul and Mary asked us if we wanted to share their cabin for a few days and join them in watching the lightning bugs, we jumped at the opportunity!

Now, the park in which the fireflies congregate has worked out quite a system. You have to park a couple miles away, take a shuttle to a designated area, and then walk about half a mile to the clearing where the fireflies perform their nightly ritual. The tours were well-organized…and advertised. By the time we tried to purchase our tickets, all of the tours were booked. And since the lightning bugs only perform their dance for a few weeks out of the year, it looked like we were going to miss them entirely.

We were so close and yet so far from those illusive fireflies.

Not to be outdone, though, Paul and Mary asked around. The locals told them about a different, lesser-known spot, on the other side of the mountain where the official tours took place. We just had to drive there and walk up the mountain a bit. No big deal.

I should mention that Paul and Mary were in their 70s, and Paul had hurt his knee earlier that week. I was a bit concerned for them when I heard we had to do some walking, but they assured me they’d be fine.

With restrained excitement, we drove to the park’s back entrance right before sunset. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw something else on my bucket list: a big black bear. I’d wanted to see one in the wild since I was a kid, and this one was lumbering through the picnic area only a couple hundred yards away. I was thrilled to see him so close, but it reminded me that bears called this mountainside home. And we were about to walk right through that home…in the dark. Sure, we had flashlights, but we couldn’t see the fireflies with our lights on, so we’d be feeling our way up the mountain road.

I was slightly disconcerted, but we were not to be dissuaded. So up we went. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. And still we walked. Paul and Mary did fine, but my knees were starting to feel the strain. And it was dark…really dark…on the side of that mountain. My imagination ran wild as I wondered if every sound was a bear poking its nose through the trees to get a better look at us. Although the locals supposedly knew about this place, no one else was around save for a handful of intrepid climbers. I began to wonder if someone had played a trick on us…or sent us into a trap. And yet we continued to hike—for now it felt like a full-on hike.

The humble lightning bug by day.

To make matters worse, we only saw a few lightning bugs here and there. They were nice, but there was hardly enough to create the blinking-in-unison effect I was looking for. There had been rumors that more fireflies were higher up the mountain, though, so we continued to climb, and I prayed that our adventure wouldn’t end in disappointment.

Finally, at the site of an old abandoned cemetery, we saw what appeared to be lightning bugs, but they behaved differently than the ones I was used to. Instead of flying around in the air, blinking on and off, they stayed “lit” for a long time and hovered just a couple inches above the ground. Their light was a soft glow, slightly green in color. As they circled around the brush and crumbling tomb stones, I imagined so many miniature creatures, going about their evening tasks holding tiny lanterns to illumine the way. Although this wasn’t what I had longed to see, the site was surreal and lovely, and I was glad we had made the trip.

Finally, we started the long trek down the mountain. As we turned a bend, suddenly the sky lit up with hundreds of little white fireworks, each a cluster of dozens of fireflies. They danced above us in the trees. They floated down the side of the mountain, which dropped precipitously into a creek below us, once invisible but now seen in the crackling light of the lightning bugs. They even flew up to us, curious about the visitors who dared the night to join them in their dance.

I looked down at my feet and saw the same greenish lights I had seen in the cemetery. They crawled along the grass and played along a short wooden bridge that connected the path.

Solid green lights below us and brilliant flashes all around us. It was if we were floating in the darkness of night, surrounded by living stars that danced to a song only they could hear. This was more than “blinking-in-unison.” This was better than seeing fireflies from a distance. This was more than we could have hoped for or imagined.

We were speechless as we stood in awe of the magic of it all.

Since then, I’ve thought about researching the types of fireflies to learn more about the ones we saw that night. But it seems that knowledge would only detract from the mystery of the experience. So now, I like to think of the ones with the greenish light as fireflies and the ones that blinked with such enthusiasm as lightning bugs. I feel honored to be able to make such a distinction.

Not only did I have a memorable adventure, and I crossed off an item on my bucket list, but I also learned a lot that night.

  1. Make sure you have friends who are older and more stubborn and adventurous than you. They’ll encourage you to shoot for your dreams when you would otherwise give up.
  2. Life is still beautiful and breath-taking, but sometimes you have to seek it out.
  3. The most amazing experiences are often just around the bend, but you have to make the effort to get there.
  4. When life is the darkest, a single light is all the more brilliant and inspiring.
  5. If a little bug can light up the world, then so can we.
  6. The difficult, little-known path—where fewer people dare to tread—is where all the amazing things really happen. So forget the bus and take the hike.
  7. Yes, there are bears in the woods. Say your prayers, keep your distance, and keep on trekking.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson is that God is not afraid to give us more than we can imagine. He’s not a stingy God. Instead, He’s an over-the-top, wild, fully-alive, fun-loving, merriment-making kind of God who created little bugs that flash in the dark. And this is the same God who rejoices over us. Make sure your heart aligns with Him, then pray for your heart’s desire. You’ll be surprised what He can come up with!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NAS).

Are you reading your Bible all wrong? (Part 2 of 2)

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Last week, I posed the question, “Are you reading your Bible all wrong?” We looked at two main approaches to studying the Bible: eisegesis (inserting your beliefs into the text) and exegesis (drawing understanding out of the text).

This week, let’s look at other ways we tend to approach the Word:

1. Pray and Flip – We pray for an answer to a question or dilemma, and we flip open our Bibles hoping to find the exact answer we need. If we don’t see it immediately, we flip to another page, and another, until we feel we’ve settled on a passage that gives us clarity.

Issue: While this method does involve prayer and the Bible, it leaves little room for God to actually speak to you and give you guidance as He sees fit. In fact, it can be quite manipulating if you approach it with the wrong spirit, so use this method with care.

2. Pick and Choose – We read our favorite books and passages over and over again. Usually, these involve Psalms, Proverbs, and parts of the Gospels—sections where we reaffirm God’s power and love for us.

Issue: Those warm-and-fuzzy Scriptures are literally a God-send! They’re God’s love letters to us. However, if you read those exclusively and avoid parts of the Bible you find challenging, it can limit your understanding of God and how you fit into His Kingdom. This approach can also lead to a skewed theology because you miss the history and context of the passages.

3. Stand Alone – We focus on a passage we’re drawn to but fail to read the whole chapter or book.

Issue: If God draws your attention to a specific passage, that’s great! However, don’t stop there. Be sure you understand the passage thoroughly by reading the entire chapter, and then the book. Otherwise, you can miss the meaning God’s trying to share with you.

4. Skim Along – We read the text, but we skim over the challenging parts or unknown words.

Issue: Skimming can be a great way to get a high-level view of a passage, especially if you’re reading it for the first time. However, you should then go back and read the text again so you can catch the context and nuances of the parts that seemed more challenging. If you don’t, you can easily miss—or misunderstand—the richer meaning of the passage.

5. Devoted to Devotions – We read a short devotion every morning, and let it set the tone for the day.

Issue: While devotions are a great way to get your mind focused on God, they are not a substitute for reading the Bible. Don’t rely on someone else to condense a passage and provide an application for you; study God’s Word first hand and let Him speak to you directly. You can still add those devotions as great pick-me-ups to your morning routine.

 

So how should you approach God’s Word?

1. Pray before you read.

We can understand God’s Word only because He gives us understanding. (See 2 Timothy 2:7.) Each time you pick up your Bible, pray something like this: “Lord, please give me understanding as I read your Word, and help me to see how to apply it to my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

[Click to Tweet: We can understand God’s Word only because He gives us understanding. Each time you pick up your Bible, ask God to give you understanding and help you to apply it to your life. #bigsisterknows #faithlife #biblestudy] 

2. Pick your Bible version carefully.

There are so many versions of the Bible available today! Are you reading the best version for you?

If you’re new to Bible study, or you find it difficult to read the Bible for any length of time, you may want to get a translation that focuses on readability, such as The Message, The New Living Translation, or the New International Version. Unique formats, such as the Rainbow Bible (which is available in the New International Version or King James Version), can also make it easier to focus on the text. (My sister has ADHD, and she raves about her Rainbow Bible!)

However, if you’re more comfortable with reading the Bible, and you’re interested in deeper study, pick a version that translates the original Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible. My favorite is the New American Standard.

Media types are also important to consider. It’s fine to read your Bible on your mobile device, but be sure to buy a physical Bible in your favorite version because you never know when the power will go out or your phone will die (which is probably when you need your Bible the most). Also, you may want to write notes, underline, or highlight your text, and that’s easier to do—and to see later on—in a physical book.

3. Try to understand the context.

You can’t fully understand a passage if you don’t have a basic understanding of the context. As you read, ask questions like:

  • Who wrote this passage?
  • Who’s speaking?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the meaning of the passage?
  • How do I apply the meaning of the passage to my life today?

If there are unusual words or phrases, use a Concordance or Bible Dictionary to look them up. (You can buy these or use free search engines online.)

Also, avoid skipping around the Bible. Pick a book and read through it. You’ll be amazed at how much more you understand of the context when you immerse yourself in the story.

[Click to Tweet: When you study the Bible, pick a book and read through it. You’ll be amazed at how much more you understand of the context when you immerse yourself in the story. #bigsisterknows #biblestudy #faithlife]

4. Pay attention to the type of literary style being used.

There are many, many different literary styles used throughout the Bible, and each style is used to convey something different. If you’re reading historical excerpts (e.g. passages of Joshua and Matthew), the focus is on accurately relating historical events. You may notice much of the language used is literal, which can come across as dry and to-the-point.

On the other hand, books of poetry (e.g. Psalms and Proverbs) often use figurative language (like similes and metaphors) to express worship or to help the reader memorize the text. However, these may gloss over important events while focusing on the impact or meaning behind them.

Whatever passage you’re reading, try to understand the types of literary styles being used. This will help you draw meaning from the text and apply it to your life. (For more on this, check out the Literary Study Bible.)

5. Remember God’s Word is infallible…but man’s word is not.

As you read through God’s Word, remember that it is perfect and suitable for teaching and correction. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17.) But dictionaries, commentaries, and notes in the margin of your Bible…these are all compiled by people, and people can make mistakes. If you read something that doesn’t seem to align with God’s Word, set it aside and focus on what the Bible says.

 

Time to Dig In!

This week, I challenge you to avoid flipping, skipping, picking and choosing, and just dig into a book you’re unfamiliar with. Take notes if you need to. Grab a Concordance if you have to. But dig in. You’ll never regret the time you spend in the Word and in the presence of God.

“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16 NAS).

Do you have Bible study tips to share with our readers? We want to hear from you! Leave you tips in the comments below. Thanks!


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Are you reading your Bible all wrong? (Part 1 of 2)

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Are you stuck, spiritually speaking? Do you have a hard time understanding the Word or seeing how it applies to your life? That may be because you’re reading your Bible all wrong.

In this two-part series, I’ll share different ways that we can approach God’s Word. Some of these ways are beneficial, while others are not-so-helpful or even downright wrong.

 

In or Out?

In today’s post, I want to point out one of the biggest no-nos. I’m talking about the way we approach our Bible study, whether it’s using eisegesis or exegesis. Don’t be put off by these Greek words, though! The ideas behind them are quite simple.

  • eisegesis (ahy-si-jee-sis): interpreting a text in such a way that you introduce your own beliefs, presuppositions, agendas, and biases into the text. Referred to as reading into the text.
  • exegesis (ek-si-jee-sis): interpreting a text in a critical way using the text itself to provide explanation, without introducing your own beliefs into the text.

Exegesis is all about drawing out (ex) the true meaning of the Word, while eisegesis involves putting your own understanding into (eis) the Word.

You’re probably wondering who would ever try to insert their own understanding into the Word…and yet we all do it from time to time. Our beliefs and experiences shape our understanding of the world, so it makes sense that they would also affecting our understanding of Scripture. But when those Scriptures fail to line up with what we believe, we find ourselves in crisis.

We can either:

  1. Skim over the text and forget we ever read it
  2. Make excuses for why the text doesn’t align with our beliefs (e.g. it was a different context, it involved a different culture, it doesn’t apply to me or my circumstances)
  3. Change our understanding based on what we read in the Scriptures

Obviously, option three is the appropriate way to go. Still, change can be hard, especially when we’ve grown up believing something different…and it doesn’t even have to be a life-shattering change.

 

A New Understanding of an Old Story

I remember one such instance from Bible college. We were reading about Joseph and his multi-colored coat in one of my classes. Here’s the text in the NAS version:

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic” (Genesis 37:3 NAS).

However, the Hebrew word for “varicolored” really means “flat (of the hands or foot).” This most likely means that the sleeves of Joseph’s coat went all the way to his hands; it was a long-sleeve coat, not a multi-colored coat. And this makes sense because back then, laborers wore shorter-sleeve garments while overseers wore longer sleeves. By giving Joseph a long-sleeve coat, Israel was effectively promoting him over his brothers. No wonder Joseph’s older brothers were mad at him!

This short Bible study provides greater clarity into this well-known story, but when I first learned the true meaning behind the text, it upset me a little. I had always been taught that Joseph had a beautiful, multi-colored coat. I’d even heard powerful sermons using the multi-colored coat as imagery for the various talents within the Church Body.

But the truth is the truth. And God’s (real) Truth is always better than our (make-believe) truth.

 

The Lessons of Truth

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NAS).

It’s not easy to change our beliefs or see things in a different way, but we must approach God’s Word with a willingness to do just that. We have to humble our hearts, accepting any reproof or correction we receive from the Word, which is our training for righteousness. If we don’t, then we eventually turn away from God’s Truth, make our own religion, and go our own way. No wonder we end up feeling spiritually stuck!

This week, I encourage you to humble yourself as you read your Bible. If you come across a Scripture that differs from what you’ve believed, ask the Lord to help you understand what it means and how to apply it to your life today. If you have to change your way of thinking, then do it. You’ll never regret aligning your life—and your beliefs—with God’s Truth.


Have you ever had to change a long-held belief because you learned it didn’t line up with God’s Word? Was it a struggle for you? How do you feel about it now? I’d love to hear from you! Just leave a comment below.

[Click to Tweet: True Bible study involves changing our beliefs to match what we read in the Word…not changing the Word to match our beliefs.]

 

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