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Archive for the ‘memorizing Scripture’ Category

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Lifeway Research released some disturbing statistics recently. Only eleven percent of Christians have read through the Bible once, and only nine percent have read it through more than once.

You may have a hard time believing the percentage is so low, but I can personally vouch for it. In every group of believers I’ve asked, Lifeway’s research has been vindicated. It really is that low.

It’s disturbing to me that so few people who consider themselves Christians have read the Bible – God’s inspired revelation to us – even once, and even fewer more than once. God has revealed Himself, His plan, His will, and His ways to us through His Word, but how can we know any of it if we never open the Book and read it? The answer is obvious. We can’t.

Based on the Lifeway statistics, the vast majority of Christians read the Bible (when they do) in little snippets, and probably not in context, or treat it as a book made up of pithy sayings suitable for framing. Though it’s made up of sixty-six books, the Bible is one story that encompasses a number of themes. We gain so much more when we read the entire book and begin to see the big picture.

Is it any wonder that the church is so influenced by the world? Is it any wonder that the church is rife with false teaching?

There’s a simple solution: Read, hear, study, memorize, meditate on, and obey the Bible! Look, I know that reading the Bible isn’t magic (“three chapters a day keeps the devil away”). It doesn’t work that way. But look at it this way: If we don’t read the Bible (much),  do we honestly think things will magically get better? We know the answer.

As I’ve been reading through Psalm 119, there are some verses that I hope will help encourage us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (v. 9).

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (v. 11).

“I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word” (v. 16).

“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors” (v. 24).

“I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love” (v. 47).

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (v. 50).

“The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).

“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).

“I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (v. 131).

“I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).

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meditate-on-gods-word

It’s the desire of every true Christian to pursue holiness, to live a life that’s pleasing and honoring to God. Psalm 119, which is a 176-verse song dedicated to God’s Word, talks a lot about holiness and the pursuit of it. There’s a direct connection between the two.

Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young man (or anyone else for that matter) keep his way pure? ” Next comes the answer: “By living according to Your word.” Purity is the result of obedience to God’s Word.

Verse 11 adds action to the truth expressed in verse 9: “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” One of the most important ways to pursue a life of holiness is to hide God’s Word in our heart. But what does that mean?

First, it’s a personal commitment“I have hidden” means that I myself and making a decision to do something, and it’s not one-time only but rather an ongoing commitment. “I have, and will continue to, hide God’s Word in my heart.”

Second, it involves God’s Word. Notice the psalmist says, “Your word” which means God’s Word. When Psalm 119 was written, “Your word” meant the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) primarily. Today “Your word” refers to all 66 books of the God-inspired Scripture. What we hide in our hearts is God’s Word, not our own or someone else’s.

Third, it involves the meaning of hiding God’s Word“Hidden” means “treasure” and “meditate,” but carries the idea of careful reflection. Hiding God’s Word doesn’t refer to reading at a service level or even devotionally. It refers to memorizing and meditating on God’s Word in such a way that it becomes hidden in our heart. In other words, we know it “by heart” as the saying goes.

Fourth, it involves the goal. The result is “that I might not sin against You.” Hiding God’s Word in our heart advances our spiritual health and holiness. It will change your thinking which will, in turn, change your behavior. It’s how the pursuit of holiness takes place.

As someone has said, “The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. “

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A mark of conversion is a love for God’s Word, the Bible. Someone who has experienced the grace of God, and has had their heart changed by God, will delight in His Word. On the other hand, an unconverted person is marked by a disdain for the Word of God (which can be done through a number of different avenues – ridicule, mockery, and outright hostility).

Here’s what God Himself says in His Word:

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law
and keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain (Psalm 119:34-36).

I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love (Psalm 119:47).

If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (Psalm 119:92).

O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).

The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (Psalm 119:130-131).

For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man (Romans 7:22).

There are two ways to increase our delight in God’s Word. First, pray for it. Ask God to give you a delight for His Word along with a hunger and thirst for it. Second, practice “Bible intake,” as it’s called. Read it, hear it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, and apply it.

Lord, may we delight in Your Word in order that we may delight in You. For  Your glory and our good, through Jesus Christ, amen.

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Question – Should you read from one Bible or more than one?

Answer – You should have a primary translation of the Bible that you study. It’s good to have a consistent reading of Scripture when you’re digging deeper – observing, interpreting, and applying the Bible to your own life. Become familiar with its wording – its rhythm, so to speak.

You should also have a secondary translation for study, as well. It’s a good idea to “check your work” by comparing the two versions.

For study and regular use, I recommend the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible (1995 Update). These two English translations are by far the best and most accurate available today. They’re excellent for reading, study, and memorizing. I study, preach, and teach from the ESV  because although it’s as literal in its word-for-word translation as the NASB, but is more readable (easier to read).

You should have many Bible translations that you read from. A secondary Bible could be any of the following: The New Testament in Modern English, by J.B. Phillips; The New King James Version; and The Holman Christian Standard Bible. I would also highly recommend The Disciple’s Literal New Testament, which is the closest you’ll get to reading the New Testament in Greek. This is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means.

Reading in another translation does something very important – it slows you down. If you’re too familiar with a verse, passage, or chapter, it’s quite easy to skim or skip over material quickly. You don’t pay as careful attention as you normally would when read a familiar section that “fits like an old shoe.” When you slow down, though, you’re forced to think and linger over the meaning of Scripture (which is a large part of the biblical practice of meditation).

What about the New International Version? I can no longer recommend this translation because of the many serious changes, not only in translation but philosophy, since the 1984 revision. The latest revision – done in 2011 – is horrible and reflects the worst of agenda-driven gender-neutral political correctness. Unless you have a 1984-or-earlier NIV, don’t use it.

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Maybe you remember the commercial of a few years ago – it was a public service announcement for the National Basketball Association focusing on the good deeds of some of its players. One particular advertisement featured a boy from New Jersey who went to an event where Keith Van Horn (there’s a “blast from the past”) of the New Jersey Nets spent time reading to and with the kids. At the end of the commercial, the boy is seen on the school bus saying, “It was a good day!”

Yesterday was a good day for me – long but good. Here is a list of reasons why:

  • Good Sunday School class (led by one of our elders). Lots of questions and excellent discussion.
  • Music in the worship service was God-honoring and relevant to the themes in the sermon.
  • I had the privilege of preaching Mark 7:1-23 (a tremendous passage).
  • Spent several hours in the Intensive Care Unit with the family of a friend of one our church members. I’m not their pastor (I doubt they have one), but the friend has visited our church a few times and asked that I come. I was privileged to be with them during their conference with the doctor (where end-of-life issues where discussed also – the prognosis is very serious).
  • In the evening taught a class on the reliability of the Bible called “Can You Trust the Bible?” It’s an 8-week course. The subject was the Bible’s own claim to be the Word of God. Lots of good discussion and questions (yes!).
  • A lady at church took me up on my “challenge” to memorize Psalm 119. I meant it as a joke and she didn’t. Knowing her, she’ll do it.
  • Watched The Amazing Race with Karen and ate some popcorn.

I praise God that even though it was a long day, it was also a good day.

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One of the “respectable sins” Jerry Bridges talks about in his book Respectable Sins (aptly titled!) is anxiety.

He makes it clear that anxiety is a sin. He quotes Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:7; Philippians 4:6; and 1 Peter 5:7 to make his point. Bridges describes anxiety as a negative way we respond to the pain generated by the ordinary difficulties of life.

Anxiety is a sin. Bridges explains:

Anxiety is sin for two reasons. First, as I’ve already mentioned, anxiety is a distrust of God. In the Matthew 6:25-34 passage, Jesus said that if our heavenly Father takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, will He not much more take care of our temporal needs? And Peter told us that the basis of our casting our anxieties on God is that He cares for us. So when I give way to anxiety, I am, in effect, believing that God does not care for me and that He will not take care of me in the particular circumstance that triggers my anxiety of the moment.

Anxiety is a sin also because it is a lack of acceptance of God’s providence in our lives. God’s providence may be simply defined as God’s orchestrating all circumstances and events in His universe for His glory and the good of His people. Some believers have difficulty accepting the fact that God does in fact orchestrate all events and circumstances, and even those of us who do believe it often lose sight of this glorious truth. Instead we tend to focus on the immediate causes of our anxiety rather than remembering that those immediate causes are under the sovereign control of God.

Therefore, when I get anxious, I’m either not trusting God to care for me or I’m rejecting His providential control of my life (or both). That’s the root cause. It seems to me that Bridges has hit the nail on the head.

If we battle anxiety, and I do, Bridges encourages us to

memorize and pray over some of the texts I have mentioned in this chapter, especially in connection with any recurring circumstances you identify that trigger your anxiety. Above all, ask God to give you faith to believe that His providential will for you in these circumstances comes to you from His infinite wisdom and goodness and is ultimately intended for your good. And then ask God to give you a heart that is submissive to His providential will when it is contrary to your plans.

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

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My pastor recently preached a sermon in which he brought up a good application in an unusual way. He asked, “Are there any bullets in your gun?”

Here’s what he was talking about: All of us face various temptations every day (usually lots of them!). How we handle them is very important. We shouldn’t be like Mae West who made the famous, or infamous remark, “Whenever I’m tempted, I give in.” We should, on the other hand, have ammunition. We should have bullets in our gun.
Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

Jesus exemplified that verse and having bullets in your gun when He resisted Satan’s temptations after He had fasted for forty days in the wilderness. He answered all of the evil one’s attempts with Scripture – the Word of God. He treasured His word in His heart so that He did not sin, and treasured it so much that He could quote it even while under pressure.
We should do the same. When we’re tempted to sin against God in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, quoting memorized Scripture is a whole lot better than throwing a Bible across the room and saying, “I know it’s in there somewhere!”
Here are some practical examples: 
If you are tempted to sin by the things you look at, Psalm 119:37 is your bullet – “Turn away my eyes from every worthless thing, and revive me in your ways.”

If too much chocolate cake (or anything else in which you might overindulge) is tempting, Galatians 5:23 is your bullet – “But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.”

Wives may need this piece of ammunition – “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).
Husbands may need this one – “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them” – when they’re tempted to get bitter with them (Colossians 3:19).
When a bad attitude begins to creep in, Philippians 2:14 may be the needed piece of ammunition – “Do all things without grumbling or disputing (or complaining).”
The biggest bullet, or most effective one in my opinion, may be Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” is useful when we’re tempted to think God isn’t at work, or if He is that He doesn’t know what He’s doing.
These are just some of the ammunition we have at our disposal as God’s children. Don’t be like Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show – who had a gun, but the bullet was in his pocket, and then only one. Have a full arsenal of ammunition and some bullets in your gun!

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