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Memorizing Scripture has been one of the most beneficial forms of Bible intake I’ve practiced over the last several years. Here are some thoughts on the importance of Scripture memory and how to do it.

Biblical Examples of Scripture Memory

Jesus Memorized Scripture

Jesus obviously had much of Scripture memorized, because we often see him quoting Scripture in the gospels. For example, each time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he responded by quoting Scripture (“it is written . . .”). There are many other places in the gospels where Jesus quotes Scripture as well (e.g., Matthew 19:4-5, 22:44; Mark 7:10; Luke 19:46; John 13:18).

Early Christians Memorized Scripture

Like Jesus, his early disciples also practiced the discipline of Scripture memory. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples, the apostle Peter stood up to preach the gospel to a large crowd. He began by quoting Joel 2:28-32 from memory, and telling the people that this passage was being fulfilled in their midst. Obviously, Peter had set this passage (and probably many others) to memory.

Throughout the book of Acts, we get snippets of the preaching of the early disciples of Jesus, and it is filled with quotations from Scripture. One of the longest of such sermons in the book of Acts is from a disciple named Stephen. Just before he was stoned to death by angry Jews, Stephen preached a sermon in which he quoted many passages from the Old Testament (Acts 7:2-53).

The apostle Paul also quoted Scripture in his sermons. For example, in Acts 13 Paul preached a sermon in a city called Antioch of Pisidia while on one of his missionary journeys (Acts 13:16-47). In that sermon, he quotes several passages of Scripture.

The authors of the New Testament epistles frequently quote Scripture in their letters as well (e.g., Hebrews 1:5-13; Romans 4:7-8; Galatians 3:10-13). More than likely, the authors of these New Testament letters were quoting these passages from memory rather than copying them from their Bibles, since most people did not have their own personal copy of God’s Word in those days.

Benefits of Scripture Memory

There are several ways memorizing Scripture can benefit you. Here are just a few:

1. Helps Resist Temptation

Just as Jesus quoted Scripture when he was tempted in the desert, being able to call Scripture to mind quickly and accurately can help you resist temptation by reminding yourself of God’s truth.

2. Helps in Witnessing and Counseling

When you are sharing the gospel with a lost person or when you are giving counsel to a fellow believer, it is helpful to be able to use Scripture without having to look it up first. Scripture memory can equip you for this.

3. Helps in Meditating on the Word

Throughout Scripture we are commanded to “meditate” on God’s Word, and to “store up” God’s Word in our hearts (e.g., Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”). This means that we are to think deeply and prayerfully about what Scripture means and how it should change us. Memorizing Scripture allows you to meditate on God’s Word more easily, because the passages you have memorized can be brought to the forefront of your mind at any moment. When you have set a passage of Scripture to memory with your mind, it is much easier for the truths of that passage to make it down into your heart.

Approaches to Scripture Memory

There are basically two approaches to Scripture memory: (1) memorizing individual verses, and (2) memorizing extended passages or books.

1. Memorizing Individual Verses

Memorizing individual verses of Scripture is helpful because it allows you to memorize key verses from anywhere in the Bible. The Topical Memory System is a 60 verse Scripture memory system that we encourage our church members to use. After memorizing all of the verses in this set, you can easily add any verse you would like by using blank business cards.

2. Memorizing Extended Passages or Books

Memorizing several consecutive verses in a passage of Scripture, or even an entire book of the Bible, is also a great way to memorize God’s Word. One of the benefits of this approach is that it allows you more easily to keep the verses you are memorizing in context, helping you understand how each verse fits into the overall flow of the passage, chapter, or book. Try using the method laid out in Andy Davis’s booklet “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” for memorizing large chunks of the Bible or an entire book of the Bible.

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Interpreting Scripture: 4 Questions to Ask of any Passage in the Bible

Christians are called to be people of the Book. The Word of God is meant to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). But reading, studying, and applying the Bible to our lives isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always done faithfully. People often misread and misinterpret Scripture, and then end up misapplying Scripture in a multitude of ways. Because we live in a fallen world, and have fallen minds, there is plenty of room for error when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Word of God is perfect, but our human ability to understand it will not be perfect until we get to heaven. What this means is that until that day we must work on our ability to “rightly handle the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The goal of this post is not to give a comprehensive guide to Bible interpretation, but merely to give four basic questions that can be asked of any passage of Scripture (Old or New Testament). I believe that answering these questions of a particular Bible verse or passage will go a long way in helping a believer discover the meaning of a text and its significance for their lives. Here are the four questions:

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

This first question is intentionally broad and is meant to help you get your biblical bearings when you are reading and studying a particular passage of Scripture. It’s meant to help you see the forrest for the trees, and keep the larger context of the Bible in mind as you read and study. Here are some more detailed questions to help you answer question #1.

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

The reason this question is important is because understanding the context of the biblical book as a whole will help us understand each verse or passage in that book. The introduction to a biblical book in a study Bible is a great place to turn to discover the purpose and role of a particular book of the Bible.

  • How does the purpose of the book and the passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

As I mentioned in last week’s post, every passage of Scripture ultimately ties together to tell the big story of the Bible, which is Creation → Fall → Redemption → and New Creation. When studying a verse or passage of Scripture it’s helpful to understand where you are in the Bible’s overall story, and which part of the story that verse or passage is highlighting. How does the passage you are reading or studying contribute to the Bible’s big story?

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

This question is meant to help us discern the principles being taught in God’s Word. By answering this question, we are trying to discover what the biblical author originally meant to convey in the text. If parts of the text seem unclear to you, try reading the corresponding notes in the bottom half of your study Bible. More detailed questions:

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?
  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?
  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?
  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

Once we have discerned the principles taught in the text, we need to measure our lives by them. After all, following Jesus in discipleship involves learning to observe all that he has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). We need to look for the ways we don’t measure up to those principles so that we can repent of our shortcomings and sins and bring our lives into better alignment with God’s Word. Further questions:

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?
  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow (from the life of a faithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following that example faithfully?
  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

Discovering the principles taught in a text and then repenting of all the ways we do not measure up to those principles should lead us to see why we so desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we are faced with our sin, we should be driven to Christ to seek the forgiveness made possible through his sacrifice for sin on the cross. Furthermore, we need to realize that where we have failed to live up to the principles in God’s Word, Christ has perfectly lived up to them. All of the principles we discover in the text of Scripture are perfectly exemplified in the life of Jesus. He perfectly obeyed the Father in all ways. This means that we don’t just trust in Jesus for forgiveness when we fail to live up to the principles of God’s Word, we also look to Jesus as an example of what it means to live up to the principles of God’s Word. Ultimately, the goal in reading, studying, and applying the Bible is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

  • Confess to God the ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying? Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.
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The Big Story of the Bible

As a pastor and disciple-maker, one of my goals is to help people learn how to read and study the Bible for themselves. I believe one of the best ways to enhance people’s ability to understand and study Scripture is to step back with them and look at the big picture message of the entire Bible. The reason this is helpful is because having a good understanding of the Bible’s big story helps us see how all the smaller parts of the Bible’s story fit together. Ultimately, every verse, passage, chapter, and book of the Bible fits into the one big story that God tells from Genesis to Revelation. Here is how I explain the big story of the Bible.

God’s plan for this world is to have his people, in his place, under his blessing. And the Bible tells the story of how that plan unfolds from creation and the fall into sin, to redemption, and ultimately the new creation. Let’s look at each of these stages in the story of the Bible and notice how God’s plan unfolds through each of them.

1. Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). That’s how God’s story begins. The first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1 and 2) show us God’s plan for history. God’s plan is to have his people (starting with Adam, Eve), in his place (the Garden of Eden), under his blessing. We are told that God intends for his people to grow as Adam and Eve have descendants (Genesis 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply”), and that they are to spread out over the entire earth (Genesis 1:28, “fill the earth and subdue it”) cultivating and keeping it until multitudes of people all over the world are enjoying life under the blessing of God. There is only one condition that God’s people must meet to remain his people, in his place, under his blessing: they must obey him. Specifically, they must obey the one command God gave them, which was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17).

2. Fall

Of course, in Genesis 3 we learn that, tragically, Adam and Eve fell to Satan’s temptations and ate from the tree in direct defiance of God’s command. As a result, God placed a curse upon Adam and Even, as well as the ground they were to subdue (Genesis 3:14-19). By sinning against God, and thereby bringing upon themselves God’s curse, every aspect of God’s plan was affected. Now, Adam and Eve were separated from God because of their sin, which means that without redemption they were no longer his people. Adam and Eve were also driven from God’s place (the Garden of Eden). And Adam and Eve were no longer under God’s blessing; rather, they were under God’s curse. This “fall” into sin presents a conflict in the Bible’s story that leaves one wondering how the conflict will be resolved and whether God’s plan to have his people, in his place, under his blessing will be able to be fulfilled.

3. Redemption

Right in the middle of the passage where God’s curse is given, there is a glimmer of hope—a hope that God will redeem his people from the curse brought on by their sin. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that one day one of Eve’s descendants will come and crush the head of the serpent that tempted them and got them into this mess in the first place. As early as Genesis 3:15, then, we learn that God’s story will go on. His plan will be fulfilled. And so from this point on, the Bible tells the story of how God will redeem the world from sin and the curse so that one day he will indeed have his people, in his place, under his blessing as he planned all along.

As we read through the Bible’s story, we learn that there are two major phases of redemption: (1) God’s redemption of old covenant Israel, and (2) God’s redemption of the new covenant church. From the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 to the end of the Old Testament, the Bible’s story tells us how God began to redeem a people for himself. Abraham’s descendant’s (the nation of Israel) were God’s people. He redeemed them and forgave them of their sins. He allowed them to live in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Out of all the nations on the earth, Israel experienced life under God’s blessing. They were his people, in his place, under his blessing. But, in order to maintain this, Israel (like Adam and Eve before them) had to meet a condition: they had to obey God’s law. By the time we get to the end of the Old Testament, we learn that Israel failed to obey God’s law, and as a result they were no longer God’s people, they were driven far from his place (in exile), and they were placed under his curse.

The second phase in the “redemption” stage of the Bible’s story is the new covenant church. At the beginning of the New Testament, Jesus (the hero of God’s story) steps onto the scene. Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus establishes a new covenant relationship with God in which sinners from all nations can be redeemed from the curse of sin so that they can become God’s people, can have the promise of one day inheriting God’s place (the new creation), and can experience life under God’s blessing forever. This is our experience as the church of Jesus Christ. We are currently living in this phase of God’s story. And our job as characters in this part of the story is to tell as many people as possible how they can be redeemed from the curse of sin through Christ.

4. New Creation

But our present experience of redemption in Christ is not the end of the Bible’s story. The Bible teaches that one day Jesus will come again, and on that day he will finish the work of redemption that he started at his first coming. Satan will finally be crushed, sin will be eradicated, the curse and its devastating effects will be totally lifted, and God will make all things new. The bodies of believers will be raised from the dead and glorified, and creation will be renewed (Romans 8:19ff; Revelation 21-22). And in that new creation, all the redeemed of all the ages will experience God’s plan coming to fruition: we will be his people, in his place (the new heavens and new earth), under his blessing for eternity. Creation → Fall → Redemption → New Creation. Ultimately, all the individual stories of Scripture tie together to tell this one big story of the Bible.

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10 Christian Books I’d Want My Church Members to Read

Christian Book Expo recently published a list of the bestselling Christian books of 2016. There were a few good ones on the list, but on the whole, it was full of books I would not recommend to my church members. What makes a list like this so tragic is that there really are a lot of great books out there, but instead people are bypassing those great resources to buy books that won’t help them as much, and in some cases will actually be detrimental to their spiritual health.

I don’t place all the blame for these bestsellers on the people buying the books, though. Part of the blame rests on pastors and church leaders who need to be helping their members grow in their hunger for good, solid resources, and in their ability to discern between the good and the bad. Part of the blame also rests on the Christian bookstores themselves who promote and display prominently the junk they know will make money rather than the books with good content that might not sell as many copies. The average Christian is probably overwhelmed when they walk into a Christian bookstore and see thousands of books on the rack. How do they know what to buy? If they just randomly buy something off the shelf, there’s a good chance it won’t be worth reading. And we’ve already established that going over to the bestseller rack isn’t going to help.

So, rather than just complain about all of this, I’ve put together a list of ten books that I would encourage my church members to read. None of them are too academic, so you don’t have to have a degree in theology to read and understand them. Also, this is not a top-ten-books-of-all-time list, and they aren’t in any particular order. They’re just ten good Christian books that are actually worth your time. If you are wanting to get your hands on some good books this year that will help you grow, here are ten good ones (with links to buy them on Amazon.com):

  1. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis—A true Christian classic. This might be a bit more difficult to read than the other books on this list, but it’s worth it. Great defense of the Christian faith.
  2. I Am a Church Member, by Thom Rainer—Short, helpful book on what it means to be a faithful church member.
  3. Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send, by J. D. Greear—The goal of the local church shouldn’t be to grow as large as it can, but to send as many people out to fulfill the Great Commission as it can. J. D. tells us how to become this kind of church.
  4. The Cross-Centered Life, by C. J. Mahaney—So many Christians go throughout their days and weeks without a thought toward the gospel, or they are trapped in a legalistic mindset of works-based religion. Mahaney shows us how to stay focused on the gospel of God’s grace.
  5. What Is a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever—Just as Rainer’s book explains the marks of a healthy church member, Dever’s book explains the marks of a healthy church. Every Christian should want to be a part of a healthy local church, but how do we define what that is?
  6. What Is the Gospel, by Greg Gilbert—It’s been said that if one generation assumes the gospel, the next generation will lose the gospel. Gilbert does a great job of laying out very clearly the contents of the gospel message.
  7. Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples, by Robby Gallaty—How do we fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples in a 2 Timothy 2:2 kind of way: “What you have heard from me, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also”? Folks at Calvary who have joined a discipleship group in recent months will be familiar with much of what Robby says here.
  8. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible, by Vaughan Roberts—If you want to know how the big story of the Bible fits together, you won’t find a more helpful little book than this one.
  9. Ten Who Changed the World, by Danny Akin—Akin highlights ten missionaries from church history that made a huge impact for the Kingdom of God.
  10. Family Worship, by Donald Whitney—This book casts a vision for why families should have regular times when they gather together in their home to read the Bible, pray, and sing together. If you’ve wondered how to do family worship, this short book will be a tremendous help.
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Sexual Purity & Relating to the Opposite Sex

As disciples of Christ who are called to live holy lives, one of the areas in which we must strive for purity is the area of sexuality. Sexual sin is one of the main ways Satan destroys our minds, our bodies, our marriages, our homes, our churches, and our lives. In order to guard ourselves against sin in this area we must understand what the Bible teaches about the purpose of sex, the boundaries for sex, and the importance of maintaining sexual purity of heart and eyes.

1. The Purpose of Sex

If we are going to walk in sexual purity, we first need to understand what God has to say about the purpose of sex. The Bible teaches that there are at least three reasons God has seen fit to make us sexual beings: 1) procreation, 2) pleasure, and 
3) avoidance of temptation.

The first purpose for sex is procreation (i.e., human reproduction). In Genesis 1:28, God told Adam and Eve they were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This meant that they were to have children, grandchildren, and so forth, until the earth was full of God’s image bearers carrying out God’s work. Of course, God has designed it such that the way humans multiply is through sex. Thus, one of the chief purposes of sex is procreation.

The second purpose for sex mentioned in the Bible is pleasure. God did not give humans the gift of sexuality simply so they could have children, but also so a husband and a wife could experience the pleasure that results from sex. This is seen, for example, in the book of Song of Solomon. The entire book is a love song between a husband and his wife, and much of it speaks of marital sex. Solomon, the author of that song, also tells us that sex is for pleasure when he writes in Proverbs 5:18-19, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”

The third purpose for sex given in Scripture is that sex between a husband and a wife can help them avoid temptation. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Paul is saying that husbands and wives should have sex regularly, and that one of the reasons for this is so they will not be tempted to fulfill their sexual desires with someone outside their marriage. One of the best ways to avoid sexual sin is a healthy sex life with one’s spouse.

2. The Boundaries for Sex

The fact that God has given humans the ability for sex does not mean people are free to have sex with whomever they want. Sex is a good gift from God, but it is a gift that must be enjoyed within certain boundaries. The Bible teaches that the only proper place for the fulfillment of sexual desire is in the context of marriage. The act of sex is part of what initially joins a husband and wife together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and it is only in the context of the one-flesh union of a marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime that sex is to occur. This is why the Bible forbids both “fornication” and “adultery” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Fornication is sex before marriage. Adultery is sex outside of marriage. Both of these sins involve sex with someone to whom you are not married. This is also what the author of Hebrews means when he writes, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4, NASB). In other words, in order to hold marriage in honor we must keep the marriage bed (i.e., sex) undefiled by not committing the sins of fornication and adultery.

3. Purity of Heart and Eyes

It’s very important that we not commit the physical act of sex with someone other than our spouse. But Jesus went further than this and said that we should not even lust after someone with our hearts and eyes. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). This means that even looking at someone of the opposite sex and desiring in one’s heart to have sex with them is sin. This would rule out lusting after a physical person, but it would also rule out the use of pornography of any kind. This is why Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). We must guard our eyes, and therefore guard our hearts, from lust. Any sexual desire that is directed toward someone other than our spouse is sin, even if that lustful desire remains at the heart-level and never leads to the physical act of sex.

One of the practical out-workings of this is that we must be vigilant in guarding how we relate to the opposite sex so as not to fan the flame of lustful desire with someone who isn’t our spouse. This is why Paul tells Timothy to “treat the younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). No Christian is so strong that he or she cannot succumb to sexual temptation (e.g., David with Bathsheba). We would be wise, therefore, to set boundaries for ourselves with those of the opposite sex. For example, it is extremely unwise for a man and a woman to be alone together if they aren’t married. Likewise, we must guard against communicating with those of the opposite sex in ways that do not include their spouse, or at least a third party of some kind. Many cases of adultery can be traced back to texts, phone calls, emails, and other forms of private communication between unmarried people.

Questions for Reflection

Have you seen sexual immorality destroy the lives of people you know? How so?

Why is it helpful to understand that God gives marital sex for pleasure and not just for procreation?

Why is it unhealthy for a husband and wife not to have sex regularly?

What are some practical ways you can set boundaries with the opposite sex in your workplace, church, and other areas of life, to avoid the temptation of sexual sin?

What measures might you need to take to avoid the specific sin of looking at pornography?