Scripture Memory

A couple of years ago, I started meeting every week with a guy who is on staff with the Navigators. We got to know each other and developed a friendship out of which we started the discipline of reviewing verses of the Bible that we were memorizing. My friend had been memorizing parts of the Bible longer than I've been alive and I was just getting started with the Topical Memory System. After about eighteen months I had memorized the sixty passages in that pack and have moved on to memorize other passages.

Psalm 119:9,11 says, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." That was kind of the reason I started memorizing parts of the Bible. Also, you know, it's one of those things I thought I was supposed to do and, I felt a little guilty that I could quote Homer Simpson better than Jesus. So, I did it. At times I wondered why it was so important to me do something that did not come naturally to me at all. Was it misguided piety? Was it so I could rattle off verses and impress people? I really didn't have that kind of "look at me!" motivation, I just wanted to do it. I think it helped my preaching a bit, but I've never been able to figure out where the discipline fit into my life and ministry.

Until tonight.

Tonight, I was getting ready to leave the church when one of my guys had a buddy with him who wanted to talk about baptism. While talking about baptism the guy from my church turned to the other and said, "Are you saved?" I had assumed, wrongly, that if someone was asking about baptism that, well, they were already following Christ. The fellow said, "I don't really know." So, we immediately turned around and the three of us went into my office. I asked him if he even understood the question: what does "saved" mean? I wanted to start at the beginning and explain the human condition. Without thinking I started in sharing and explaining:

Romans 3:23 Romans 6:23 Romans 5:8 Romans 10:9 Romans 10:13 Ephesians 2:8,9 Romans 8:1 2 Corinthians 5:17 Luke 9:23

By the time I got into my truck to drive home I was thinking, "Whoa!" It was amazing to see how a simple discipline meant so much in explaining the love of God in Jesus Christ not with my own words but with God's Word. I carry no authority. It does.

And, because of storing up those words in my heart, one new guy knows the truth about God's love for him and is following Jesus.

Best. Evening. Ever.

Growing in Prayer

I started teaching on some basic matters of discipleship last night and we began with prayer. I'm attaching the notes I wrote up below the fold for those who are interested.

Why pray?

Communicaiton is the most important aspect of any relationship. Prayer is how we communicate with God.

 

The more we communicate, the more we value what God values and when that happens we start making choices and living more like God in Jesus Christ lived. In order to do this we must abide or remain attached to Jesus in prayer:

 

John 15:1 (CEB)  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.  2  He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.  3  You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you.  4  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.  5  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.  6  If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned.  7  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 

 

μένω - abide, remain, stay. How does a person become a disciple or an apprentice of another person? By staying close. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus we must stay close to him and there's no way to stay close to Jesus that doesn't involve prayer. We must pray.

 

How many of you feel like you have arrived in prayer? That it's like breathing to you?

Me too. There's a danger in telling people you're going to teach them to pray and that danger is that you shouldn't come off like you know very much yourself. We are all pilgrims and beginners in prayer. A seminary degree means you've completed coursework, not that you know how to pray. Maxie Dunnam writes in his Workbook on Intercessory Prayer, "Emphasis is on growth, not perfection." We're going to emphasize daily, constant growth.

 

Maxie also says that we learn to pray by praying. Amazing. We're going to spend sometime tonight praying. I'm not going to ask you to pray out loud but I'm going to just to model my limited understanding.

 

Luke 11:1   

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 

 

Jesus was praying and his disciples wanted to know how to pray, so he showed them with the Lord's Prayer. In Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus is preaching the sermon on the mount and says several things about prayer. If we want to pray then we should look to Jesus and learn to pray the way he did it.

 

Matt. 6:5   

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.  6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. 

 

When you pray, don't put on a show.

 

Matt. 6:7   

“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.  

 

Don't babble or heap up empty phrases.

 

8  

Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.

 

Remember, God knows you better than you do and knows what you need. This ought to be of great comfort to us.

 

9  

Pray like this: 

 

Not, pray only this, but pray like this. It's a prayer but it's also a pattern. Let's look at it more closely.

 

9b 

Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name. 

 

Recognize God's sovereignty and holiness.

 

Matt. 6:10

   Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. 

 

Recognize that God's rule is preferable to our control.

 

Matt. 6:11   

Give us the bread we need for today. 

 

Provide for me - God is the source of all our sustenence. Remember, Maslow's heirarchy of needs. Basics are breathing, food, water, etc. Then safety, then love and belonging, then respect, and on down. We don't live in a time and culture in which we need the basic levels of needs, but we need safety, love, and all that. So it might be that we need to pray for that which we cannot provide for ourselves - that which is outside of our control.

 

Matt. 6:12   

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. 

 

Forgive us and help us to forgive others. Hard, hard, hard. Peter Kreeft says "Do you realize that everytime you pray the Lord's Prayer you're asking him to damn you to hell if you don't forgive others?" We must keep our hearts free from bitterness and unforgiveness.

 

Matt. 6:13   

And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one. 

 

Keep us from temptation and evil. Notice he doesn't say "harm" or "evil that other people do to us." Keep our souls, more or less.

 

Remember, "Emphasis is on growth, not on perfection." Persistence is the key.

 

Luke 18:1   

Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged.  2  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.  3  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’  4  For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people,  5  but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.”  6  The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  7  Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them?  8  I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One  comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?” 

 

E.M. Bounds

He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day.

Mark 1:35

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.

 

Let’s give is a shot. With persistence, let’s pray like this:

  • Recognize God’s sovereignty and holiness.
  • Recognize God’s rule and that it is preferable to our control.
  • Provide for me - God is the source of everything we need to be sustained.
  • Forgive me and help me forgive.
  • Keep me from temptation and evil.

 

Then, intercede. 

 

James 5:13   

If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing.  14  If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 

 

How Efficient is Your Bible Reading?

Hopefully, it's inefficient. Alastair is one of the smartest people I've never met and has played an important role in my Bible reading in the last few years by turning me onto some pretty amazing Bible teachers (even if they're Calvinists).

His post reminds me of a line from Alan Jacobs' book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
If most of us read too fast, most of us also read too many books and are unwisely reluctant to return to something we think we already know.

Your To Do List Just Got Awesome

Here’s what you need to do today. You need to go to this web page, download those four mp3s, and listen to them. Sooner rather than later. If you’ve only got time for one today, listen to the second one.

For reasons I’m not going into here - for today at least - I nearly started hyperventilating in my truck yesterday while listening to that second talk. I believe the topic of gospel wakefulness to be a pretty significant one. We’ll talk more about that later, though.

For more information just read Jared’s blog and pick up his book which comes out this fall.

What I'm Learning in Ecclesiastes - Part Four

This is probably the last post I'm going to make on Ecclesiastes in this series unless something really jumps out at me in the next few weeks. We just wrapped up chapter 2 and got into chapter 3 and, of course, had to mention the Byrds and Turn! Turn! Turn! There is a time for x contrasted with a time for y. That seems to be the formula for the first several verses of Ecclesiastes 3. This is what I learned from it:

4) God will often use one season to prepare you for the next.

This isn't implicit in the text, but it's something I'm confident of as I grow in age and in faith. For example, there is a time for mourning and God will teach you and comfort you so that the time for rejoicing will be incredibly sweet.

For instance, in filling in the details for the statement that there is a season and a time for everything, Ecclesiastes 3:2 says that there is "a time to be born and a time to die". Last week, I officiated a funeral for a man that I respected a great deal. This season of death and mourning for the family and the community has been, I believe, tempered by the season of preparation given to him through birth. He was an amazing fellow who not only lived fully but also experienced the new birth (John 3:3). The psalmist writes "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15). It's precious to us as well, no matter how hard it is to say good-bye, because of the life well-lived through a deep belief and faithfulness to Christ Jesus.

I don't want to go all crazy hermeneutical guy, but I've also been thinking about v. 5b which says, "a time to seek and a time to lose." Two of my Scripture memory verses are Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." and Luke 9:23 "And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Going one verse further in Luke gets you, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." I've been reflecting on what it means to seek God's kingdom and his righteousness and how that leads me into losing my life for Jesus' sake. One has been leading me to the other and there is not only a time for both, but also a time in which they exist together in my heart.

I'm still waiting for that season by the grace of God.

It's the End of the World as We Know it - So Go Make a Disciple

I jokingly wrote on Twitter earlier that if I were a lying opportunist with no conscience, this would be a good week to write an end-times e-book for $50 a pop. In the last week we've seen a huge earthquake in New Zealand, continued protests, unrest, and revolution in the Middle East, one of the weirdest political stories of my lifetime unfolding in Wisconsin, and oil prices shooting up 9% in one day. I'd almost bet Tim LaHaye was busy working on a new bestseller as I write.

Someone loaned me some of the end-times novels that were popular in the late 90's when I was in college and seminary. It didn't take me long to grow in my disdain for both the quality of writing and the theology behind the book series. One of the first questions I had was a practical one: "Could I look in the eyes of a brother in Christ from a persecuted part of the world and tell him, 'It's okay. Before persecution comes, Jesus will vacuum you up and let everyone else suffer.'"? This kind of thinking could only appeal to comfortable, middle-class white people who can't tell the difference between persecution and having their feelings hurt.

For some reason, our little bubble of Christendom is caught up in second-coming fever - when is Jesus coming back? I get asked this a lot. How do I answer? Easy. It's in the Bible. Jesus says in Acts 1:7 "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." I know this isn't a satisfactory answer for folks who turn on the television and see the events I've already mentioned. "Surely the time is near!" they say. Back in the Bible, however, I make it a point to look at Matthew 24:3-14
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Here are some of the questions I ask folks who are so ready to turn the events in the news into Jesus' coming:

  • Has there ever been a time in which there wasn't a war of some sort, or at least the possibility that one was coming?

  • Has there ever been a time in which one nation or kingdom didn't rise against another?

  • Has there ever been a time in which there were no famines?

  • Has there ever been a time devoid of earthquakes in various places?


Since, as best as I can tell, the answer to those questions is "no", I like to point to the end of that passage. If you are so intent on knowing when Jesus might come back, then do something to address the fact that there are 2,000 people groups in this world that do not have a witness of Jesus Christ among them. Since the risen Jesus gave a command to make disciples, maybe we should do what he said and make sure we spend ourselves in that and leave his return to the appointed time of which we do not know.

What I'm Learning in Ecclesiastes - Part Three

Here are the last two posts in this series.

So, Ecclesiastes isn’t the most upbeat writing in the Bible. At least in the first two chapters which is all we’ve covered so far in the Sunday School class I’m teaching. The third lesson I’ve learned so far isn’t all that cheery, either.

3) When I die, the world will keep on going.
Ecclesiastes 1:16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

I’d like to think that the world will stop, but that’s not reality. My departure from this life is going to affect a very, very small number of people. Here's how I figure it - I’m connected to 374 people on Facebook right now. If I take that number and add the people I’ve been a pastor to in 8 years, then round that total up to the nearest thousand, my overestimation of how many people will in one way or another be affected by my death is 2,000. According to the internets, the world population is expected to hit 7 billion this year which means, theoretically, that my death will affect .000028% of the world. In addition, most of the 2,000 people I know won’t give it much more than an, “Oh.”

The world will keep on going. If you're as much of a wicked-hearted narcissist as I am, that fact hurts.

By God's grace, I can live (and die) with that. On most days I’m not out to make a name for myself - well, mostly I’m not. I really hope that I’m making much of Jesus’ name. I try to remember constantly the line from that poem by C.T. Studd "Only one life 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last." The world will keep on, but hopefully a witness and testimony to the mercy and grace of God will remain that causes people not to remember me, but Jesus. I’m praying that the death I die every day to self will result not in people remembering me but seeing Jesus.

If that happens, for any of us, then who cares if we're remembered?

A Remarkable Story

Luke 14:12-14   He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

I just got an E-mail from a high school friend who is serving in an Asian country. She told about a colleague of hers who has done much for Christ's reign among the disabled in this country - a class of people consistently trampled upon. I'm talking really heartbreaking treatment. As best as I could understand, this person was sharing Christ with the rejected and seeing much fruit. Praise God!

The best part1 of this report was that the people she serves and loves turned Jesus' teaching on its head. The poor, crippled, lame, and blind pooled their meager resources together to have a banquet for this lady. Can you imagine? Not the lofty and exalted, but the rejected and despised. They had a banquet for her. The loved throwing a party for the lover.

That's about as adequate a picture of worship as I can come up with.

What I’m Learning in Ecclesiastes – Part Two

In the last post I shared one of the lessons I’m learning from Ecclesiastes - time is short. That our time on earth is short is something everyone should be able to grasp, but I don't think many of us do. We humans do everything in our power - which is as vain as it gets -to extend our time on earth as if we were the ones in control of every second. Christians do this, too. As a follow up to the fact that the number of days we have is limited, the next thing I’ve learned in Ecclesiastes is this:

2) Not everything is worth doing.

Let me be clear and honest: I waste a lot of time. I know this. I also waste a lot less time than I used to because I've begun to see that I've got a lot less time to do important things than I'd ever thought. An easy illustration to begin with: if I have ten minutes before going to work and I have a choice between hugging and kissing my daughter in some brief daddy-daughter time or watching clips from last night’s The Daily Show, the choice is obvious. I’m spending it with my child. That is not a waste of time. It is not meaningless.We all know that we make choices about the way we spend our precious time. Some choose to spend that time in profoundly meaningful ways. Others choose the opposite. It gets tricky when we have to make decisions between seemingly important things like chores, work, and family time.
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:3

What do we gain with our work and our play? I’m not going to shy away from saying this: most of what we do is meaningless. By meaningless I mean “of no lasting value”. Does weedeating have eternal value? If it does, I haven’t grasped it yet. It keeps my home value up and makes my wife happy, but eternally valuable? I just don’t see it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop weedeating just like you aren't going to stop doing things that are equally meaningless from an eternal perspective. We will always engage in activities like this. I think Ecclesiastes shows us that we shouldn't kid ourselves.

If we’re honest, some of the stuff we do isn’t only meaningless, it’s worthless. Video games. Surfing the internet. Soccer. And it’s probably already been done before. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

Most of our entertainment has been done before - it’s just more sanitized. Most of our idle time has been done before - it’s just more technologically advanced. Most of our “me” time is a selfish waste of time - I’m preaching to myself here!

Before you call me Debbie Downer, I want you to know that these are not crippling thoughts to me. They are life-giving because Ecclesiastes helps give me the freedom to stop doing that which is meaningless and worthless. The book gives me permission to sink myself into that which is not meaningless and not worthless. It helps me seek the Treasure, Jesus Christ, and share Christ with other people.

Not everything is worth doing. Making much of Jesus is.

What I'm Learning in Ecclesiastes - Part One

In between the two worship services our church provides, I teach a Sunday School class. I’ve been doing it since August 2008 and while it does take a lot out of me physically and sometimes mentally, I get a lot out of it. That may sound odd to you, but we’re going through books of the Bible so I not only have to teach the text, I have to hear it and respond to it.

For the last few weeks, we have been in Ecclesiastes. I’ve never spent much time at all in Ecclesiastes, but it has been a refreshing eye-opener for me. I’m learning lots. With a few blog posts, I want to share some of the things that I've been learning.

1) Time is short.

That may not sound like a profound statement but that’s because it isn’t. Any fool can tell you that you don’t have much time on this earth. The problem is, we’ve too few fools to remind us of this fact. Or if we do, we block their message out. Is it fear? Annoyance? Chapter 1, verse 2 tells us that life is a vapor. It’s a breath. Here one moment and non-existent the next. No one wants to be reminded of this fact but we are fools if we ignore it.

What’s worse is that this vapor that we call life - we have no idea when it will end. We don’t get a perspective of our earthly boundaries. Some of us will get to die old and see death coming. Others of us won’t. Most of us do not have a single clue (I’m excluding those who have been given a terminal medical prognosis as they have a much better idea about their lives than I do about mine). Did the men and women onboard the 9/11 flights know that when they boarded their lives were over?When I turn the key to my truck, will it be the last time? I have no idea. What I do know is that I want my life to count and I want to be found doing something worthwhile and good for the kingdom of God. I don’t want to come to the end of my days and say, “I’ve wasted it!” the way this man did:
For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone's amazement he came and took my father's hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face-and what an impact it made on me to hear my father say this through his own tears-"I've wasted it! I've wasted it!" (Don’t Waste Your Life - John Piper)

Time is short. Let's not waste it on the trivial and innane. Let's obey John Wesley who told his Methodist preachers, "You have nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work." This isn't a waste of time like so many other things are. We'll visit that idea in the next post.