Well, it's a week on in my quest to memorise Scripture. Another member of PT staff is joining me too. It's been OK this week – I've got the first few verses firmly in my head, though quite what will happen when I get further in, I don't know. I am cursed (or blessed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to remember endless useless trivia, but retain very little of any importance. I can tell you that France are the reigning Olympic Cricket champions, but that's not really much help. Unlike the dear saint who often sits behind me in church and can recite great swathes of Scripture and Calvin quotes. Now, that's the sort of memory I would like to get.
Here, BTW, is why I am having a go at this project. This is from some time ago now, but I remember being struck when I first read it and it's the reason behind me signing up for the memorisation programme. Incidentally, over the next four weeks I'm preaching four sermons on Genesis 1 at church and I'm going to encourage the church to try to memorise that first Bible chapter – for the same reasons. This is written by John Piper:
First a few testimonies: I have it third hand, that Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary once made the statement (and I paraphrase) that if it were his decision, every student graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary would be required to learn one thousand verses word perfect before they graduated.
Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7).
Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], p. 61).
One of the reasons Martin Luther came to his great discovery in the Bible of justification by faith alone was that in his early years in the Augustinian monastery he was influenced to love Scripture by Johann Staupitz. Luther devoured the Bible in a day when people earned doctorates in theology without even reading the Bible. Luther said that his fellow professor, Andreas Karlstadt, did not even own a Bible when he earned his doctor of theology degree, nor did he until many years later (Richard Bucher, "Martin Luther's Love for the Bible"). Luther knew so much of the Bible from memory that when the Lord opened his eyes to see the truth of justification in Romans 1:17, he said, “Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory,” in order to confirm what he had found.
So here are a few reasons why so many have viewed Scripture memorization as so essential to the Christian life.
1. Conformity to Christ
Paul wrote that “we all, . . . beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18)) If we would be changed into Christ likeness we must steadily see him. This happens in the word. “The Lordrevealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.
2. Daily Triumph over Sin
“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” (Psalm 119:9, 11). Paul said that we must “by the Spirit . . . put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The one piece of armor used to kill is the “sword of the Spirit” which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.
3. Daily Triumph over Satan
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight (Matthew 4:1-11).
4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love
The times when people need you to give them comfort and counsel do not always coincide with the times you have your Bible handy. Not only that, the very word of God spoken spontaneously from your heart has unusual power. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” That is a beautiful way of saying, When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.
5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers
Opportunities to share the gospel come when we do not have the Bible in hand. Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn. We should all be able to sum up the gospel under four main headings (1) God’s holiness/law/glory; 2) man’s sin/rebellion/disobedience; 3) Christ’s death for sinners; 4) the free gift of life by faith. Learn a verse or two relating to each of these, and be ready in season and out of season to share them.
6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways
The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes. Therefore, storing texts in our minds about God helps us relate to him as he really is. For example, imagine being able to call this to mind through the day:
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)
I used the word “enjoyment” intentionally when I said, “communion with God in the enjoyment of his person and ways.” Most of us are emotionally crippled—all of us, really. We do not experience God in the fullness of our emotional potential. How will that change? One way is to memorize the emotional expressions of the Bible and speak them to the Lord and to each other until they become part of who we are. For example, in Psalm 103:1, we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” That is not a natural expression for many people. But if we memorize this and other emotional expressions from the Bible, and say them often, asking the Lord to make the emotion real in our hearts, we can actually grow into that emotion and expression. It will become part of who we are. We will be less emotionally crippled and more able to render proper praise and thanks to God.
There are other reasons for memorizing Scripture. I hope you find them in the actual practice.
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Happy Christmas Eve. In North Africa.
Tomorrow some of the oldest churches in the world (together with some of the newest) will be celebrating Christmas Day – January 7th. I'm thinking of having a day off to celebrate.
More seriously, much of North African Christianity (though small in places) will be celebrating tomorrow. In previous years there have been disturbances, bomb threats and explosions. Let's pray that this really is a peaceful Christmas for our brethren.
I'm writing some church history at the moment, and I've realised how many of the church greats come from that swathe of land we now call Arab. Augustine in particular was Bishop of Hippo (present day Annaba in Algeria – see picture). I wonder how many Christians are there today? Not many, I guess. We have lots to thank God for that came from North Africa, now we should be praying that the gospel goes in again with great power.
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Another Scot lost? Or gained?
Our loss is the United States' gain – yet another Scot is going West. We were going to say at this year's EMA that Liam Goligher is the Senior Minister of Duke Street Church in Richmond, but it now looks as though we'll be saying Liam Goligher is the Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia joining Alistair Begg, Sinclair Ferguson et al across the pond. Happy for Tenth. Sad for Duke Street. It's rather fascinating (though it does feel a bit like curtain twitching) to read the search report (here).
Happy New Year from Philippians…
Happy New Year!
This morning I've started to try to memorise Philippians using Tim Brister's handouts (H/T Tim Challies). I'm not finding it easy, though I know it'll be worthwhile. Part of my difficulty is that the cut outs are all in the ESV. I love the ESV for studying, but it can be a pig to read, and it is particularly clunky at Philippians 1. (Gordon Cheng says he is reading the ESV to his seven year old without problem, but I think he must have wunder-kids, all strength to him!).
I'm tempted to swap my memory notes into the HCSB that I'm enjoying reading along with a friend who is doing the same. Here's the two passages for this week, first in ESV:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The same passage in the HCSB:
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Hmm. Not actually heaps better – verse 4 is simply tricky to translate well as there are so many clauses.
Simplicity in preaching
My attention has been drawn to this short piece pleading for simplicity in our preaching. I thought it had a number of helpful observations and practical common sense.
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Happy Christmas, and NO to EMA cuts
Not sure why the good students of the UK might think we are cutting the EMA. We're not. And booking is open!!
May we wish readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year and a deep and abiding knowledge that Jesus is both the man who will save his people from their sins and Immanuel – God with us. See you in the new year.
Women in Ministry 2011
If you're a woman in ministry in a conservative evangelical world, you may feel a bit uncared for. After all, we spend ages explaining and thinking through what we mean by women's ministry or women in ministry, but then we just leave you to it!
That's why our Women in Ministry conference is a key part of our conference calendar. Next year it will be held at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire from 17 to 20 January 2011. Speakers include Angus Macleay, Kate Selby and Kirsty Birkett – a really great line up.
- If you're a woman in ministry, do think about joining us – you can book here.
- If you're a church leader and you employ women in ministry, why are you not encouraging and building them by sending them along? Invest in this important area of ministry!
As you read this, I will probably be on final approach to Inverness (see picture, although I'm guessing it's not going to look quite like this on Monday!!). I say probably because more snow is forecast, who knows….?
Anyway, Vaughan Roberts, Sam sam the media man and I are off to see Christian Focus our publishing partner. PT jointly publish titles with them:
- Our Teach the Bible series is now growing, with a few new titles planned for launch in 2012. So far we've launched Teaching Isaiah, Teaching Amos, Teaching Matthew, Teaching John, Teaching Acts, Teaching Romans, Teaching the Christian Hope and Spirit of Truth. More info here. Look out in 2012 for some new volumes from both OT and NT books.
- Our Practical Preacher series currently has two titles: The Priority of Preaching and Bible Delight both by Christopher Ash. We hope to add a third in time for next year's EMA. Watch this space. More info here.
We've started to translate some of the books into Russian with (hopefully) more languages to follow.
It would be relatively straightforward to preach passages without thinking how they fit together. Here's a good example. Hebrews 1.1-4 is a stonking description of the supremacy of Christ. Hebrews 1.5-14 is a good OT exposition of how Jesus is better than the angels – and seeing as angelic supremacy is not a particular problem to tackle today you could just turn that into a sermon on angels. Then have a week's break and preach Hebrews 2 on how Jesus is the perfect man.
That misses the logic and flow of the passage, though. The overall theme is the supremacy of Jesus. No doubt first century Jewish converts thought that angels too were exalted beings and so chapter 1 is necessary to put this right. No, angels are actually servants of men! Now, follow the flow. Wasn't Jesus a man too? OK, I understand that he is better than the angels, but bringing him down to another human hardly asserts his supremacy, does it? True – hence chapter 2 which shows us that Jesus is not just another man….
That, I think, is the flow of thought, and it gives more substance to the preacher who tackles Hebrews 1-2. I think he's going to preach a better sermon as a result. At least, he should….
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Well, it is Christmas….
H.T Tim Challies