Sunday, November 29, 2015

A New Adventure In Scripture Memory For A New Year! Won't You Join Me?

Hey Everybody!  

I hope all are well.  I know my title may or may not be inspiring to some as it may sound much like a New Year's resolution.  It could certainly be taken that way.  I would be in denial if I did not acknowledge that in one sense, it is.  There is no getting around it.  It is at the very least a new New Year's idea or inspiration.  My hope, of course, is that it will be so much more.  There is a new tool out there that I want to introduce which is family friendly and could be very useful in growing in this skill set.  But first, a few thoughts.

I have posted a couple of times before regarding scripture memory.  Suffice it to say that I have developed a burden for it.  I have come to the serious conviction that it is an invaluable tool.  So many of the leaders that I respect are memorizing and quoting scripture almost every time I listen to them; leaders such as David Platt, John Piper, John MacAurthur and the many teachers at Ligonier ministries.  

If that were not enough, then I can look to the even more important and pertinent biblical examples such as Jesus, Peter, and Paul.  Christ defeated Satan during his time of temptation in the wilderness by quoting from Deuteronomy. Peter quoted from the Prophet Joel while preaching his first sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2.  Paul quoted and combined scripture all through his epistles. These men knew the scriptures.

Not An Easy Task!

In my last post entitled, "Successes and Failures in Scripture Memory",  I discussed some significant thoughts regarding the why's and benefits of scripture memory.  I also, admitted some struggles. These struggles have not ceased.  I do not want to imply or suggest that the process of scripture memory is always a cakewalk.  It can be discouraging, intimidating, and sometimes uninspiring. "How can that be?" you might ask.  It is the word of God after all.  I thought you found it so exciting Josh?  That is true however, the discipline of scripture memory is a discipline taken on by sinful, flawed human beings who's lives are full of distractions and who may fail to see the value in a particular scripture at a particular time.

It is for this very reason that we must be so intentional about not only memorization, but meditation. While I argue that it is much easier to meditate "on demand" if you already have it inside through memorization, I also readily acknowledge that the inspiration to memorize also sometimes comes through memorizing passages that already inspire us.  For instance, if John 3:16 is inspiring to you apart from the idea of memoriztion, then you might memorize it from the sheer joy the verse brings you rather than out of some sense of duty.  

By the same token, if I told you I was giving away $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, I'll bet you would figure out how to get some verses commited to memory.  So in many ways, it is a question of....


What inspires you?  What will make it worth your while to start moving in the right direction in this discipline?  It could be money, but let's face it, there are not too many people who are gonna pay you to memorize scripture.  

For me it has been the desire to be a godly father and husband as the spriritual leader of my home.  I have learned not only in theory, but in practice that the more I focus on matters of Christian growth, the better I become as a father and a husband.  Mind you, I have a long way to go, but that is why I think this is so important.  I also want to teach my children to do it, so I need to lead by example.

So that is the appeal I am going to make to you.  This will not be easy and the growth and skill development can be slow, but every success is a step in the right direction.  As they say, "practice makes perfect" and your spouse or children, or both are worth every effort.  That I can promise you.

So How Do We Do This?  What Is This New Tool

Image result for pics of fighter verses

As many of you know, my favorite tool is Fighter Verses.  While I have had the app for a couple of years, this past year has been my first real attempt at actually following the plan.  Out of 52 weeks, I would say I officially memorized about a third and some of those are not as readily accessible as I would like them to be.  There are many reasons for this, but none of them are very good excuses.  At the same time, there are other passages or verses that I memorized that were not officially part of their 52.  

There are a couple of reasons that I am excited for this year and that I want to inspire others to be as well. 

1.)  The Fighter Verses are designed to be a five year set.  What is quite exciting about this to me is that this five year concept resets this year!  That means we can start from the beginning and aim for five years of success.

Another aspect that invigorates me about this is that, when you get through five years, you have potentially memorized 520 passages usually containing at least but generally no more than two verses. That's over 1,000 verses in five years!  

What's more, is that half of the 520 passages are part of an extended memory collection that involves memorizing large chunks of scripture.  For instance, if we faithfully follow the extended collection during 2016, we will have the whole of the book of Philippians memorized.  2017 is Romans Ch. 5-8,  which is at the heart of a trememdous, theologically rich understanding of the gospel.  How awesome is that? 

Remember, we are only talking about a couple of verses per week.  Four if you aim to do both the extended and regular memory verse aspects. When you think about all of the other lyrics, stats and pieces of information that we commit to memory, useful or useless, 2-4 verses a week really isn't so outrageous.  Even if you don't do the extended collection, you still have 260 awesome passages of scripture commited to memory, many of which you will not fully appreciate until that moment when you really need them and are so glad to have them readily available.

Image result for pics of fighter verses

While the ministry that created this tool, Children Desiring God , has these scriptures available in a small three-ring flip style binder that you can sit on the counter as a reminder, they also have a terrific app for Apple or Android.  In this marvelous digital age in which we live, this app makes all the basics of the program available at your fingertips.  This includes a favorite feature of mine which is called My Verses.  In this part of the app, you can save verses outside of the program that you would like to work on memorizing.  You can organize them according to the order of priority by which you would like to work on them.

Image result for pics of fighter verses
2.)  The second reason is that Children Desiring God has come up with a whole new tool which brings a devotional style to the Fighter Verses concept.  These tools are pictured above.

As you can see, there are numerous tools available in the Fighter Verse study.  From discussion guide to Study guide, to a journal and or coloring book, everything you need to help keep you and your family focused on the current Fighter Verse passage is here.  It also develops the whole idea from plain jane memorization, to having a tool that helps you better understand the passage and meditate on it properly.

I hope to get some of these resources to use with my family. 

Combat Negativity

Now there will be those detractors who will argue that scripture memory can lead to a bunch of verses being memorized out of context and thus being applied out of context.  However, as many distractions as this world provides I will take any tools that I deem useful in keeping my family focused on the word.  Besides, a tool like this is designed to give you context; and help us as the parents to do what we should be doing anyway which is making God's word the center of all that we say and do.  I'm not saying I do that perfectly, just that it should be done that way.

As I have said before, there are also those who may argue that there is too much danger of this becoming a guilt-creating, legalistic idea and that it is enough to know concepts without committing much to memory.

I address this in the Succeses and Failures post that I linked to above.  If we are honest with ourselves about what scripture teaches and illustrates on the matter, we will realize that this is simply not a valid argument. 

I'll just provide two references here for your consideration, Colossians 3:16-17 and Psalm 119:11.  I would also point out that each instruction to internalize God's word is followed by a benefit to that action. 

Please do not let any thoughts like this hinder the possibilities of excellence in scripture memory that can be yours.  The benefits far outweigh the risks.

So Now What?

My goal is to continue sharing verses on FB as I have been and to continue challenging others to come along on this adventure.  But I can't do it for anyone else.  It takes great effort to accomplish it myself.  That effort applies as much to maintaining focus, if not more than it applies to the actual memorization of scripture.  

Make no mistake.  The enemy does NOT want this to happen because he understands that memorized scripture is a mighty weapon in the perverbial hand of the child of God which can strike him a devastating blow.  He does not want us to succeed.  That is why I would love to get more people involved in this concept.  I believe the accountability and togetherness will help to strengthen our efforts.  

The main goal of this post however, is to present tools and thought processes to facilitate the spiritual discipline of scripture memory.  I also want to encourage you, YOU CAN do this.  If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are a child of the Most High God.  2 Peter 1:3 tells us that, 
"His divine power has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us according to His own glory and excellence."  

This means that, He has already given us all that we need to pursue righteous living in Christ Jesus.  It also means that as we grow in knowledge of Him through study, memorization, and meditation on his word, we will continue to grow into the fullness of all that He has given us.

So let's do it!!!

I am posting this roughly one month before the New Year and will be shamelessly sharing it alot in hopes of impacting many with this idea as we approach the New Year.  Then I hope to start the New Year off right by engaging us further in this exciting discipline.

I pray you will feel inclined to join me on this EPIC adventure!!!!

See ya soon,


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holiday Despair and Holiday Sadness, Christmas Hope and Christmas Gladness

Hello All!

I wrote this last year with the knowledge that it may have been my Mom's last Christmas.  As many of you know, it was. She passed away on Christmas Eve 2014.  Since then I have known friends who have also lost parents or children.  It is never easy dealing with the loss of a loved one but particularly during the holiday season.  Then of course there are those who may have lost jobs or experienced any number of other life altering tragedies in the last year.  

However, loss doesn't always come in the form of loosing something or someone. Sometimes it may be stressful family dynamics that seem to put a damper on the holiday season almost annually for some.  There are many reasons to need reminding of the hope that is within us as believers or the hope that is available for unbelievers.  It is for this reason that I want to reshare this post.  

This is not intended to be a triumphalistic, everything is roses with Christ in your life thought process.  However, when all hope seems lost, or you just don't know where else to go or what else to do, the only sure hope we have to cling to is Christ.  In fact, sometimes we know this truth in our heads, and even in our heart of hearts, but the light is still difficult to see. That is the purpose of this post.  To hopefully shine the light a little brighter on "The Light of the World" so that those who are struggling with darkness can perhaps grasp hope a little more easily this holiday season.  

As many of you know, I work in a hospital emergency room. This time of year it can be a very sad place to be.  At times, it has been very difficult for me.  Every year there are sad stories.  This year has been no different.  Life does not care that it is the holiday season.  Time moves on and personal tragedy, as well as large scale tragedies continue.  

With the continuing of mass shootings, ISIS dominating the world scene, and the ususal insanities of the retail aspects of the holiday season, it can be easy to loose sight of what we are celebrating or why we should celebrate it.  It can be difficult to even find reason to hope at all. 

Holiday Despair

This time of year it is often believed and reported that suicides go up due to holiday depression and despair.   According to the CDC and this is actually inaccurate.  According to these two sources, December really has one of the lower percentages of suicide however, there is actually an increase after the holiday season.

Depression comes in many degrees and lasts for different lengths of time but once it becomes despair, a person is in real spiritual, emotional, and physical danger.  Despair robs people not only of joy and hope, but reason.  They begin struggling to think straight.  Their emotions run a muck.  If they are unbelievers, they have no source of hope outside of themselves.  If they are believers, then they tend to forget who their source of hope is.  That is why suicide happens among Christians and non-Christians.  Despair is no respecter of persons.  The longer it lasts, the greater the danger.

Image result for pics of holiday sadness

Holiday Sadness

The last two-three months has seen so much tragedy all over this area in the form of accidents, murder, and then just plain illness that people succumb to.  If the stats are right, then it must not be that it is happening so much more.  Rather, it must seem more severe because all death and loss seems more tragic during the holiday season  It may not be reasonable but many feel that way and this year I have too.

Last year, I felt it particularly strongly and as I approach the first holiday without my Mom, I know I have to be prepared to feel it some this year as well.  For most, the holidays are never the same after they loose someone.  That can be particularly true for the very first set of holidays.  

So where do we find joy?  In this world filled with tragedy and this season filled with loss, how are we to keep hope alive?  There is but one answer.

Christmas Hope

This may sound cliche, but it is no less true.  The reason for the season is the reason for our hope.  Jesus is the source of hope.  But he cannot simply be a fleeting idea or whim that people latch on to this time of year..  Nor is he a name that we call upon merely when we are in want or need.  Colossians 1:27 says that the mystery of the gospel is "Christ in you, the hope of glory".   Jesus must be on the inside, birthing hope in our hearts.  

Even then, it is not enough to simply believe.  Christianity is a relationship with a living Savior.  The only way to build that relationship and create a solid foundation that will carry you through the darkest nights is through study of the word and prayer.  
Faith and hope run hand in hand and "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"(Romans 10:17).  This is not a reference to soul saving faith only, though it certainly should include that.  This is a reference to enduring faith.  Faith which, after walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, carries us out of those shadows and valleys to soar on the wings of eagles taking us to mountaintops. However, this happens much more easily when we spend the mountaintop moments reinforcing the foundation so that it is firm through the times in the valley. 

This is why I write and preachers preach so much about application of the word in faithful living.  It is not because these are commands of some tyrant who will destroy you if you don't follow them.  It is because these are the words of a loving Savior, who was also a suffering servant "who gave His life as a ransom for many"(Matthew 20:28).  It is in these words that our understanding of who God is, is found.  It is in these words that hope is found.  And, it is in prayer and communion with this loving Father and Suffering Savior that relationship is built. 

Christmas Gladness

That relationship is where our hearts are made glad.  An intimate understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ brings the knowledge that, as true believers, there is coming a day when we will spend eternity with the Prince of Peace.  There is coming a day when all fear, sorrow, pain, and suffering will cease.(Revelation 21:4)

As believers we know that we have been born again to a living hope.  We know that we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  We know that this inheritance is guaranteed, and kept in heaven for us through the power of Christ's resurrection.  Even without seeing Christ face to face, we are blessed with a faith and knowledge of Him and His Gospel which produces in us joy unspeakable and full of glory.(1 Peter 1:3-9)

This holiday season should and can produce such joy and gladness, even in spite of trials and tribulations we may be going through.  As we consider the celebration of the coming of our Savior, let us share this joy and gladness with others.  Let us spread the Good News of Christ's love.  In so doing, we not only have the opportunity to present the hope filled news of the Gospel to a lost and dying world, but we remind fellow believers and ourselves of that same Good News.  

The Reason for the Season

Christ was preordained before the dawning of time to come and be born in a manger in Bethlehem.  He was predetermined to live the perfect life that we could never live in order to become the perfect, spotless lamb that could be sacrificed for our sins.  He was predestined to be crucified on our behalf, becoming the propitiation that would satisfy the wrath of Holy God toward our sinful rebellion.  

THEN HE ROSE.  By the power of the Holy Spirit He came OUT and demonstrated the conquering power that He has over death and the grave.  After a little more ministry to His disciples, He ascended to the right hand of the Father where He prays for us continually.  

This is the basis for our hope.  Our future hope is found in the knowledge that HE WILL COME AGAIN!!!!!  

If you are not a believer know this, You can have this hope.  You can have this relationship. Surrender your heart to Jesus and place your hope and trust in His finished work on the cross.  You can know joy that transcends any suffering.  Joy that carries you through the storm.

If you are a believer, never forget this: 
We do not loose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
In this holiday season, I rest in the joy that I do not have to succumb to despair and sadness.  Because, in Jesus, I can experience tremendous joy and gladness.

May it be so for you in Jesus Name.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Understanding Advent. What Is Christmas All About?

The Question.

"What IS Christmas all about?" That is the question I never asked which God brought to bear on my heart and mind about a couple of years ago.  It's not that I did not know the basic Christmas story that was revealed to me.  I simply had not thought of it from a perspective that moved beyond the manger.  Others don't know the story at all or have any idea that there is a different perspective either.

My Exposure.

I grew up Southern Baptist.  From there I have been associated with a non-denominational church for the last nineteen years.  In neither of these environments was Advent or Lent something that was practiced or taught as a theme throughout the holiday seasons.  At least not at the Southern Baptist churches I remember.

It is important to note that I am not saying this in order to insult or slight those ministries in any way. I have learned from both of these ministries, the first of which, my father was the pastor.  While I believe that this perspective is important, it does not necessarily have to be spelled out at Christmas time every year.  It really needs to be taught the whole year through.  With that said, it is the seasonal practice of Advent which caused me to think more deeply.  This is why I felt it was important to flesh out thoughts about it here.

 Advent seems to be one of those seasonal faith themes that is practiced more by some churches than others.  It does not seem fair to narrow it down by denomination because I am using a wonderful Advent app on my Ipod that is based on the Advent curriculum from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL.  This church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is also being promoted by The Gospel Project website which is multi-denominational organization.  I say of all that only to give some background as to my experience and exposure to this faith based, seasonal celebration.

Other protestant denominations such as Presbyterian and Methodist seem to keep Advent as part of their church calendar celebrations.  I believe Roman Catholicism does as well.  Whether they all give it the same weight or not I do not know.  What I do know is that Advent, when properly understood, should paint a much larger scale picture than just a baby in a manger.  For some, this is the sum of what they think about when it comes to Christ and Christmas.


The word Advent means "to arrive" or "coming".  As I am learning, Advent is a time of the year, if done right, that ties the story of the birth of Christ into the entire historical narrative of redemption in the bible.  In fact, many call the return of Christ the "second advent" or "second coming" because it will be final "arrival" which consumates the story and brings all His children home.

I have learned much about this narrative and the importance of understanding it properly.  The story of our redemption bought by Christ's perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection runs from Genesis to Revelation.

However, I had never considered the ways in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus into this world as it's own little moment, without ensuring that we are remembering and sharing with others it's place in the grand scheme of redemptive history.  This was a surprise to me.  I had never really thought about it.  Partially, because it is not something I am accustomed to hearing every year at Christmas.  So I figured, if I have been in church all of my life and had not properly thought through this truth and it's application, perhaps there are others.

The Greater Question.

The fact is that Advent is the answer to the question, "What is Christmas all about?"  So if someone asks the question, can you answer it?  Greater still the question should be, will you tell them even if they don't ask?  Will you start the conversation?  What will you tell them?

The Answer

The answer to this question, "What is Christmas all about?" should never simply be, "It's about the birth of Jesus."  Yet this is the typical understanding and response.  While it is true, it is incomplete. 

The answer should be that Christmas is about the coming of a Messiah, a deliverer, a rescuer.  This then should prompt the questions, "What's a Messiah?"  "Why do I need a deliverer?"  "What do I need to be rescued from?"  If they don't ask those questions, we should suggest them.  Then we can answer them.

There are many verses and ideas that are involved in this answer.  If it is being taught or studied through over the month of December they should all be meditated on.  This Advent app is a great way to do that.  

It has an introduction that fleshes out the plot.  It then has six parts that are broken down like this: 

1.) the promise of His coming, 2.) the promise of His birth, 3.) the promise of His life,  4.) the promise of His death,  5.) the promise of His resurrection, and 6.) the promise of His eternal reign.  

Then an epilogue of promises kept.  All of these promises are crucial to the over all historical narrative of the story of redemption. 

Advent as Evangelism

Now, if we are in general conversation and this topic comes up do we need a six point response?  Of course not.  However, it is a prime opportunity for a basic gospel presentation in which the birth of Jesus is included.  For example:

"This is what Christmas is all about.  The creator of the universe created man in his own image to fellowship with him, that man might glorify the name of Almighty God and enjoy Him forever.  God blessed man and gave him the authority to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.  

His instructions of what not to do were minimal.  In spite of these instructions, Man was deceived by the evil one and disobeyed God.  This brought the curse of sin, death, and destruction into the world to be experienced by all of creation.  

However, from the beginning God knew this would happen and had already put in place a plan of redemption that would defeat the curse of sin.  God's plan was His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  

Throughout the Old Testament, God provides prophecies about the coming of His Son.  This is known as the first Advent.  His Son would be known as the Messiah.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  God's son, Jesus Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit, would be born of a virgin and live a perfect life of obedience to God, being both fully man and fully God.  

He would be a righteous branch springing up from a broken or cut down tree.  He would not be esteemed.  He would be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief eventually being crucified by His very own people, the Jews.  He would die on a cross, taking the punishment for and removing the guilt of, the sins of all who would believe.(Isaiah 53)  

But on the third day, Jesus would be risen from the dead by the power of God's Spirit, thus defeating death and making His righteousness available to all who would believe.  After a little more time with His disciples, Jesus would ascend to the right hand of the Father and there He would remain, praying for His people and directing the Holy Spirit whom He would send as our comforter and helper.  

One day, He will return again.  This is the second Advent.  On that day He will complete the story. He will destroy the evil one and every consequence of sin will be wiped away as the new heaven and the new earth are created.  He will bring all of those whom have put their faith in Christ to reign with Him forever in glorious perfection and endless worship."

Only By God's Grace

Or something like that.  It doesn't have to be quite that detailed in order to get the point across.  But wouldn't it be awesome to have such a comfortable handle on the basics of the redemptive narrative, from beginning to end, that you could do that.  What I just wrote is maybe a minute or two worth of explanation.  I just wrote that off the top of my head.  I don't tell you that to brag.  It is certainly not perfect.  I tell you that to say that I am better at writing it, than saying it out loud and I could not possibly give you all the scripture references for that little quote from memory.  But, there is something exhilarating about being able to write something like that down.  Because I know it means that this story is really getting on the inside of me. 

That is humbling, because I know it is all of grace.  God has saved me and God is helping me to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus.  It is also a thrilling adventure in which I play a part.

It is like being on a boat, on which I have to work.  Sometimes I have to row hard.  Sometimes I have to work a little to get the sails up and then I get to relax a little as the wind carries me along.  Sometimes there are sunny days, sometimes there are stormy seas.   However, all the while God is giving me strength to work and is keeping me safe for eternity.  He is ever at the helm, navigating and steering my life where He wants it to go.(Philippians 2:12-13, Psalm 37:23) 

You Can Do It Too

I want to encourage you to consider this.  1 Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." 

Consider making Christmas, not only about Jesus' coming as a baby, but that you would take this season as an opportunity to consider the entire story of what the Holy Trinity has done for us in this grand narrative.  Be ready to have genuine, knowledgeable conversation about this season which draws the Old and New Testaments together.  Be ready to make known the awesome plan of redemption that God had in place from before time began and glorify Him for it.(Ephesians 1:3-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10)

Remember, by our time table, we think of what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did, are still doing, and are going to do.  By God's time table, it is already finished.  From beginning to end, the story has been told.

Because of this we have a great hope that carries us through every difficult time with joy and drives us to share this awesome story with a lost and dying world.  This in hopes that many of them may come to possess this same great hope and share this gospel with that same joy!

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!