Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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

I originally posted this, this time last year, in hopes of making serious inroads into scripture memory for 2016.  However, February of 2016 our family became very fitness focused and while that was a positive thing for our family, it did lead to a lack of focus on spiritual growth as it relates to disciplines in the home.  Oh we went to church and did Sunday School but our efforts away from corporate worship were lacking.  

It is my sincere hope to strike an appropriate balance in 2017 and so this post applies to me and my family as much as anyone.  I hope you will find it informative and inspiring and choose to develop the discipline of Scripture Memory in your life this year.

As a side note, this years extended memory selection is Romans Ch. 5-8.  These are some of the richest passages in scripture and bring home the heart of the gospel like none other.  The individual weekly passages are also very rich and include several significant passages such as Psalm 103, Galatians 5:22-25, Psalm 91, & Isaiah 53:4-6  

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....

Motivation

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

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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.

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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.


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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,

Josh

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Holiday Despair and Holiday Sadness, Christmas Hope and Christmas Gladness

Hello All!

I wrote this a couple of years ago 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.  Many times future holidays feel like salt on the wound of the loss that was experienced.

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 drama domestically related to racial tensions and the shock of our President-elect as well as the never ending terrorists activity and news of refugees etc. on the world scene, not to mentiong the usual 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 a 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 Healthline.com 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 varying 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.

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Holiday Sadness

The last year has seen so much tragedy all over 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.

The year we lost Mom, I felt it particularly strongly and as I approach the third 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.


MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!