only help my unbelief


What I’m Learning from Memorizing Scripture
January 23, 2009, 9:13 am
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As I’ve said before, encouraging Scripture memorization is one of my passions. For too long that discipline was inactive in my life, but recently God has been cultivating a love for His Word in my heart.

The funny thing is, when I write about Scripture memorization here, the traffic remains the same, and the post rarely gets viewed. But when I write about LOST or how I met Christian, traffic jumps to three times its normal rate.

Now, I don’t really care how many people visit my blog. I don’t have any advertising, so it’s not like I’m trying to earn money. And enough people read it and mention things I’ve written to me that I don’t feel like my writing is futile.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m going to keep writing about memorizing Scripture, even if no one reads these posts. It’s helpful to me to think about the process of memorizing and meditating, because it makes it even more real to me.

When I started memorizing 1 John, I thought that what I would take away from it was the ability to recite the whole book. I still hope that’s true, but there is so much more than that. The Word truly is living and active.

God answers prayers to love His Word with a love for His Word.
Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m a firm believer that God always answers this prayer. When I started memorizing 1 John in November, it was slow going. I tried to memorize six verses a week, but it took me several weeks to memorize the first chapter (10 verses). But then I started praying that God would give me a love for His Word that expressed itself in a diligence in memorizing it. If you’re struggling with wondering if God really does answer prayer, then try praying about this and just see if He doesn’t answer. He will.

It gets easier as you go.
This was a surprise to me, because I thought that when I got into the middle of the book, it would get harder, because there was so much more to review. Actually, the farther I get in, the more encouraged I get, so the more I want to memorize. Whereas in the first couple weeks it was a struggle to memorize even one verse a day, now I’m trying to memorize two verses a day, and sometimes three if they’re somewhat familiar and not too long. Of course, you should never press on too quickly at the expense of remembering previous verses, but if you’re struggling in the beginning, take heart. It will get easier as your mind becomes more adept at memorizing.

Sin is no longer as tempting.
Well, some sin, anyway. Unfortunately, our hearts really are deceitful above all things, and just because you’ve got solid words of truth in your heart doesn’t mean that you’re never going to sin. But God tells us in Ephesians 6 that the Word is a sword, and that means He means for us to use it to fight against the devil, and, sometimes, against our own hearts. 1 John 3:10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love His brother.” I won’t get into the theology of losing our salvation, because I don’t believe that we can, but I do believe that God is serious about sin. Several times since I’ve memorized that verse and been tempted toward sins that I daily struggle with, I’ve been able to recall that verses – “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” Add to that a sincere prayer that God will rescue you from the temptation, and Satan has no chance.

Books with Scripture references are way more fun to read.
This is probably bad, but most of the time when I’m reading a book with Scripture references in it, I don’t often look them up. Sometimes, of course, the author actually quotes the verses, but sometimes it’s just the reference. This hasn’t happened much, yet, but in one book I’m reading, the author quoted at different points several verses from the beginning of 1 John. I saw the reference, and the verse popped into my head. I probably wouldn’t have looked them up, so having the verse in my head actually increased how much I was edified by the book.

Scripture memorization precedes Scripture memorization.
It’s true that I’ve gotten more encouraged to finish up 1 John since I started, but I’ve also found an increasing desire to keep memorizing after I’ve finished. My goal before was simply to finish 1 John before the wedding, but because I’ve been able to pick up the pace a little bit, now I’m going to try to finish 1 John by the beginning of March, and then try to memorize as much of the book of James as I can before the wedding – especially chapter 3, which focuses a lot on the tongue. Which needs a lot of work, in my case. And I’ve made a list of other things I want to memorize – several Psalms, Romans 8, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes. These are long-term goals, but the more Scripture I get into my heart, the more I want to be in there.

I truly hope none of what I’ve written sounds like I’m bragging. I’ve been a Christian for about 17 years, and until I started this endeavor last fall, I had very little Scripture captured in my heart apart from verses I learned when I was under the age of 10. I’ve wasted many, many years in which my mind was fresh and hungry for knowledge. My hope is that in reading about how rich the experience of memorizing Scripture has been for me, you will discover the joy of having God’s Word in your heart, no matter how old you are.

I don’t know what the coming years will bring, but if the past couple of years are any indication, persecution is becoming more and more common. And I don’t know if it will ever get to the point that our Bibles are taken away from us, but what if they are? I want us to be ready.

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Self-directed or Christ-directed?
January 13, 2009, 8:00 am
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If you read a lot of blogs like I do, you probably tend to skim more than read. This is probably one of those posts you’re not going to want to read, which is OK, because I don’t really care if you read it. I just care that at the end of the day, you’ve listened to three of the best messages I’ve ever heard.

A friend of Christian’s who goes to Southern directed him to the Great Commission Lectures by Dr. David Platt. Platt is only in his 20s, but he is passionate about the Lord, and he has lengthy passages of Scripture memorized (there are other awesome things about him that I can’t remember).

I was listening to “The Command of Christ in the Great Commission” when I heard Platt ask a question that stopped me in my tracks:

Are your plans self-directed or Christ-directed?

Here’s the thing: When I’m overwhelmed or feel like I won’t get things done, I want to trust the Lord, and I often pray about those struggles. But when I pray, I’m very tempted to pray in such a way that I’m basically just asking God to give me what I want in the way that I’ve decided is best.

And when it comes to actually making plans, while I suppose on the surface I want people to think that those plans are Christ-directed, when I really think about it, I’m making them in a way that suits me best.

Take my current job situation. Most likely, in a couple of weeks, I won’t have this job anymore (and I refuse to talk about the terrible economy, the recession, the downturn). As I’ve thought about other opportunities, most of them revolve around the following thoughts:

  • What will make me happy?
  • Where can I earn “enough” money?
  • What will be best for me and Christian as a married couple?

Those aren’t necessarily bad things to take into consideration, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that they’re very self-directed. Not a single mention of the Lord! A better way:

  • What will make God happy and me holy?
  • How can this situation teach me to trust God more for finances?
  • What job will most allow Christian and me to glorify God with our marriage?

Dr. Platt says later in the message, “God does not bless based solely on our motives. The reality is that God always blesses His plans.”

Well said.



Retaining Scripture you’ve already memorized
January 12, 2009, 8:00 am
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Most people, given a few minutes during the day, can memorize something. Even if you have a cell phone, you probably have numerous phone numbers memorized. You know addresses of family members. You might know your license plate number. You know your social security number.

So it’s really not that difficult to sit down and memorize a verse of Scripture, even a longer verse. If it’s already familiar, even better. Take a verse I memorized last week, 1 John 3:1

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

If you spend 10 minutes right now reading that verse out loud several times, then repeating it without looking several times, you could probably memorize it.

That’s all well and good, but will you be able to remember it tomorrow?

As I’m working on memorizing the book of 1 John, making sure I’m retaining the verses I’ve already memorized is more and more important. When I was working on 1 John 1:6, it wasn’t so hard to quickly repeat the first five verses. Even when I was into chapter 2, it wasn’t so bad, because there were only 10 verses in the first chapter. But last week I finished chapter 2, which, added to chapter 1, means I’ve memorize 39 verses. It actually takes a fair amount of time to repeat those back – and I also want to memorize a new verse every day.

For several weeks, I did repeat all the verses I had learned almost every day. But as time went on, I realized that I knew some of the earlier verses so well, I didn’t really need to keep repeating them. At the same time, before I continued on to chapter 3, I wanted to make sure I knew 1 John 2 backwards and forwards, especially since there were some verses I had stumbled over. I developed a simple system of checking myself. This takes about 30 minutes, depending on how much your reviewing, but it’s worth the time if you retain the verses.

Many of these principles I gleaned from the helpful article An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture. The author discusses ”weeding the garden” (reading through passages you’ve already memorized to catch stray words) as well as picking a time each week to review certain passages.

1. Review a chapter at a time.

I started by opening up a blank document in Microsoft Word and typing out 1 John 1, which each verse on a different line beginning with the verse number. When I finished that, I checked it with my Bible.

2. If you don’t have any trouble with that chapter, plan a time to review it.

I didn’t miss any words, so I decided that I would relegate that chapter to a specific time each week. I chose Sunday afternoons, so I wrote that in my planner.

3. For longer chapters, review the verses out of order.

Now for 1 John 2. This chapter was interesting to memorize, because some parts of it were very familiar – like verses 2 and 15 through 17 – but others were completely unfamiliar.

It’s also taken me more than a month to memorize this chapter, so I wanted to make sure I really, really knew it. I also wanted to make sure that I knew each verse individually with its verse number. It’s helpful to know it no matter what, but if someone asked me what 1 John 2:20 said, I didn’t want to have to quietly say the first 19 verses.

To test myself, I opened another Word document and began typing in random numbers on each line (8, 17, 26, etc.) until I had all the numbers 1 through 29.

From there, I just typed whatever verse went with each number. They were out of order, so I couldn’t cheat by knowing what verse came around it.

After I finished, I checked what I had typed with my Bible. Out of the 29 verses, there were 11 that weren’t quite right.

4. Review problem verses until you’re sure of them.

In most of them, I had forgotten a word like ”but” or ”that,” but I wanted to be exact. I deleted all the verses I had gotten right, jotted down the 11 verse numbers I needed to work on, and then re-did the Word document randomly typing those 11 numbers on each line.

I then repeated what I had done earlier by typing in the verses again. Because checking them in my Bible had refreshed my memory, I was able to correctly enter in 10 of the 11 verses on the second try. For that last verse, I just typed it in correctly several times to remind myself.

5. Continue choosing specific times each week to review passages you’ve mastered.

Even though I had pretty much convinced myself I knew those verses, I was concerned that I was a little shaky on the second half of the chapter, mostly because I often memorized those verses in packs of 2 or 3, instead of one at a time (because I slacked off and got behind).

Just to make sure, I decided that I would relegate 1 John 2:1-17 to Sunday afternoons along with 1 John 1, because I haven’t had any problems with those verses. For 1 John 2:18-29, though, I’ll keep repeating those every day for the next couple of weeks (maybe until I’m done with 1 John 3).

For those of you who aren’t as technical or who feel like this is a chore, then adjust it to your life. Maybe you’d rather write out verses, or maybe you don’t have any problems reviewing 40 or 50 verses a day, and you don’t need my system at all. But for those of you who are placing an emphasis on memorizing Scripture and are worried about retaining those verses over time, I hope that my method helps.



Here we go, 2009
January 1, 2009, 8:00 am
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So I’m not a huge fan of pointless New Year’s resolutions, but I think that it’s always good to take stock of where you are and see areas in which God still needs to grow you. After all, even the Psalmist prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

In order to keep myself accountable like I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’m gonna stick these resolutions over in a page on the right sidebar. I’ll check back in once a month and see where I’m at.

I haven’t included anything like “Read the Bible more” because 1) that’s something hard to measure and 2) I don’t want to treat my relationship with God like I treat my workout plan at the gym. He’s eternal and holy and precious, and if anything else, I want to pray more that I would be like Jesus. But that’s not going on this list, because I want that to be the cry of my heart.

Spiritual

  • Finish memorizing 1 John before our wedding
  • Start memorizing a longer book of the Bible (maybe one of Paul’s epistles; Philippians?) and finish it before the end of the year
  • Write Lisbet, the little girl I sponsor through Compassion, at least one letter a month
  • Work with the children in my Sunday School class to memorize the rest of the first 10 questions of the First Catechism (we can do it, Lee!)

Physical

  • Compete in a 5-10K race
  • Lose 10-15 pounds before our wedding
  • Lose 25 pounds by the end of the year
  • Avoid soft drinks and other sugary beverages / no soft drinks until after the wedding

Financial

  • Have less than $7,000 to pay off of Christian’s loan by the end of the year
  • Plan a budget for each month and stick to it
  • Save up enough money throughout the year for next year’s Christmas presents
  • Stay within our wedding budget

Miscellaneous

  • “Compete” with Christian to see who can read the most books (more about this another day)
  • Pursue more freelance editing opportunities and other forms of alternative incomes

I feel like all of these things are do-able, mostly because some of them I’m already in the process of doing; I just want to continue them in the new year. For example, Christian and I have both been sticking to a budget for the last three months. We’ve both stayed within a few dollars of our budget each month, which has been an awesome discipline. As far as Bible memorization, I’m about 1/3 of the way through 1 John, and it is a joy.

I think the hardest part will be the physical things. I purposefully didn’t say anything like “work out four times a week,” because that’s destined to fail in the face of busy schedules and unexpected engagements. Losing weight isn’t all about working out; it’s also about eating healthfully, so I think that it’s definitely attainable – it will just require a lot of sacrifice.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? I promise not to make fun. 😉



Five things about New Year’s resolutions
December 31, 2008, 8:00 am
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I promised I’d tell you what I think about New Year’s resolutions. Here ya go…

1. New Year’s resolutions are more for December than January.
Christmas is coming up, you’ve been spending more money than you wanted to, you’ve been eating more food than you wanted to, and gosh, there just isn’t time to go to the gym. Instead of cutting spending, counting calories and highailing it to the local YMCA, it’s much easier to sit down and make a list of all the things you’re going to do after January 1. Thus in addition to the general abundance of The Christmas Spirit that everyone is always talking about, you’re also experiencing a happy dose of denial about how much is exactly going to change in the new year. And when January comes and you don’t meet any of your goals, no big deal, because who keeps their resolutions, anyway?

2. There’s no accountability with New Year’s resolutions.
I’m speaking broadly here; maybe some of you do share your resolutions with other people. But I’d venture that most people (bloggers excluded) jot down a few things privately, trying to will themselves to change. It just doesn’t work. We’re quite skilled at lying to ourselves and justifying things into legitimacy. Without accountability, there isn’t anyone to tell you that you’re actually not doing all that well at keeping your resolutions.

3. Most people make resolutions that are virtually impossible to attain.
One year, I made a resolution that I wasn’t going to eat chocolate. Those of you who know me are probably wondering why in the world I would do this. I don’t know. Guess how long I lasted? Less than a day. Another year I gave up soft drinks, and it was hard, yes, but I managed it until my birthday in March, at which time all I wanted was a Coke. So I drank it. And never got back off (or is it on?) the wagon.

4. Most resolutions are made for the sheer purpose of making resolutions or to assuage guilt.
You really can’t expect to succeed if you’re completely void of internal and external motivators. The year I gave up chocolate, I just gave it up because I wanted to see if I could do it. That wasn’t enough. If I had discovered in December of the previous year that I had diabetes and needed to give up sweets, I bet it would have been a lot easier. So if you’re thinking about making some resolutions, make sure they’re things that matter to you. If you want to exercise more, then do it because you desire to be healthy. If you want to read the Bible more, do it because you want to know God – not so you can say you read the Bible in a year.

5. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
If you don’t read anything else I’ve written, read this. If you don’t put God at the center of your goals, your resolutions, your plans, then it’s all a waste of time. Willing yourself to read your Bible every day won’t work. You have to get on your knees before the Lord, ask Him to give you a desire for His Word, and then you have to open your Bible every day. But the thing is, God’s not up there keeping a tally mark system like you are. If you miss a day, you may feel like a failure, but God doesn’t. He’s more concerned with you continuing to press on to know Him than He is with you reading four chapters of the Bible each night. The same is true of any other resolution. If your goals are more financial, ask God to make you a wise steward of what He gives you. If they are heath-related resolutions, then pray for God to let you glorify Him with your body. And then wake up tomorrow morning awash in the grace He so freely offers, grace that is greater than all our sin and failed resolutions.



Drifting off
December 3, 2008, 9:06 am
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Last night, as I crawled into bed, I grabbed my pocket ESV and opened to 1 John.

I reviewed the verse I memorized yesterday.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.

Got it. Good. Now on to the new verse.

At the same time, it is a new commandment I am writing to you…

I tried to say it with inflection so I’d remember it.

which is true in him and in you…

Not too hard.

…because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

Somehow I already knew that part, probably from the early days of being homeschooled, when my mom would make us memorize a passage of Scripture every month.

I said those two verses (1 John 2:7-8) together a few times to make sure I had them. I put my Bible on my bookshelf, pulled the covers up and turned off the lights.

I closed my eyes and started at 1 John 1:1, intending to say everything up to what I practiced before I went to bed.

Sometime around 1 John 1:6, I guess I fell asleep, because when I woke up this morning, the first thing on my mind were those verses.

I can’t think of a better way to fall asleep.



Offending others or offending God?
June 19, 2008, 1:31 pm
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Note: I hesitated before I wrote this post. In fact, I wrote it yesterday (Wednesday) evening, but didn’t publish it because I wanted to think some more and also run it by someone else. I talked about it with someone I trust, and that person said that it sounded gracious. I hope it does. Even now, after it’s been up for several hours and a lot of people have found their way here through Pastor Lukaszewski’s blog, I’ve gone back in and tweaked some things that I felt could be misconstrued. I apologize if anything that was in the post previously was unedifying or disrespectful.
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I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis. I try to read a wide variety: Some are personal finance, some are news, some are from moms, some are from people I know, and some are from pastors.

One blog I read is by Michael Lukaszewski, pastor of Oak Leaf Church. I had planned to leave my thoughts on this as a comment on his blog, but he turned off all comments a couple weeks ago, so I wasn’t able to.

Yesterday he wrote a post about offending other people. Let me first say that although I generally tend to feel uncomfortable at a lot of stuff I read on his blog, when I think about it, sometimes it’s really just things that are a matter of opinion or of personal liberty in the Lord. So even when I do disagree, it’s still not something that I feel the need to comment on.

I say that because when I read this post, I really felt like I needed to say something, because it got me thinking.

His basic point is that it’s Christians who get offended at things that go on at his church. He’s right in that Christians can be really sensitive about a lot of things – sometimes to an extreme. He goes on to say that the things his church has done that have bothered Christians haven’t bothered unbelievers.

And it seems like his conclusion is that this “silent approval” by unbelievers is what the church wants, because they don’t want unbelievers leaving the church.

If I were to get pregnant and decide to have an abortion, I think that a lot of Christians I know would be offended. But most of the non-Christians I know wouldn’t be. That doesn’t mean it’s OK. (I know this is an extreme example.)

I’m not saying that the stuff that goes on at Oak Leaf Church is on the same level as abortion; it’s not. In fact, I think Pastor Lukaszewski would argue that the things Christians got upset about were methods of reaching unbelievers for Christ; in fact, he calls them “over the top” methods in this post.

Where I think his reasoning really falls apart is when he says:

If a Christian gets offended at something we do, he will get mad and go to another church. If a non-Christian gets offended, he may go to hell.

I don’t disagree. If a non-Christian gets offended by something at a church and decides to leave, that person might go to hell. But what does it mean to “offend” a non-Christian?

Derek Webb said something once about how the cross is both beautiful and offensive. It is beautiful to us as Christians, because on it we see the body of our dying Lord, who died to save us from our sins. But for non-Christians, it is offensive, because it tells them they are sinners who deserve what Jesus got.

If a non-Christian gets offended at the cross, they might leave the church and never know more about Christ’s saving work. But if a non-Christian attends a church where the cross is never preached, they can stay at the church and rack up the attendance count for years and still go to hell.

But the important thing isn’t so much about which group is being offended. The real issue is whether God is offended that a place that calls itself His church isn’t really preaching the gospel.

I’m not saying Pastor Lukaszewski doesn’t preach the gospel at his church. I don’t know; I’ve never been there. His church is doing a study on the book of Joshua right now, which is awesome. But I do know that what saves people is not entertainment, or smoke and mirrors, or catchy sermon titles, or cool videos, or all the things that so many churches are using today. God saves people. And God’s been saving people for thousands of years without all those things. What He asks of us is a commitment to prayer and evangelism – but, more importantly, a commitment to preach the gospel as God sets it forth in Scripture.