Get serious about your studies: you and your technology

Bible study has never been easier. We live in an age where we have more and better translations, more books, and more technology to assist us than ever before. Honestly, we should thank God for the assistance the technology that exists today brings to studying the Scriptures. Nevertheless, we have to be careful.

Being mindful of technology

In his book The Next Story, Tim Challies wisely cautions us to be mindful about how we use technology. “Am I giving up control of my life,” he asks. “Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?”

Technology, in other words, is a wonderful servant but a cruel master. How this applies to our Bible study is simple: Technology should aid us in confirming our conclusions, not determine them for us. We use the tools that exist to dig deeper, rather than skim the surface of the Scriptures. But technology can easily make us lazy, if we’re not watchful.

  • We can run a word search “wrath” or “love” and come up with a short or long list, but not come to a comprehensive knowledge of what the Bible teaches on either.
  • We can look up the Greek behind a particular word or phrase and still not actually get what it says.
  • We can pull together an explanation of a text from multiple sources, but not actually understand it ourselves.

And so we must be mindful. Technology is a wonderful tool, but one that always tempts us to become lazy in our studies.

What are the right tools for me?

But because we have so many really, really good options available to us, it can be a bit overwhelming. We can be paralyzed by choice. So I want to take a second to offer some recommendations on a few different tools that will help you in your study of God’s Word in three broad categories:

  • Memorization and devotional
  • Basic study
  • Comprehensive study [Read more...]

My Memory Moleskine: Wash, Rinse, Repeat…

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

For the last several months, a few thousand people have been working to memorize the book of Philippians as part of the Partnering to Remember project started by Pastor Tim Brister. Now that the formal part is over, one of the biggest challenges I’ve found is making time to actually practice going through the whole book. I usually try to get through even a chapter a day in the morning, but with little kids who seem to know just when not to wake up, I rarely seem to get through it. I try to make up for it by working on it a bit in the car on the way to the office (or my office away from the office [read: Starbucks]) and on the way home, but… sometimes the day just gets in the way.

But I’ve not given up. I’m committed to not letting the last four months of work go to waste because it’s probably been the best use of my private worship time so far in 2011.

Now what about you? Are you in the “wash, rinse, repeat” phase of memorizing Philippians? If so, how are you keeping on track?

My Memory Moleskine: Panting and Provision

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Thursday night, Emily and I were talking about something she read in Jamie Munson’s book, Money – God or Gift. In it, Munson talks about how we treat money and that basically, the idea of divvying everything up into categories of “needs” and “wants” is an oversimplification. Why is that?

Well, the reality is that the wants vs needs dichotomy doesn’t take into account two things:

  1. That “wants” can be used for evangelistic goals.
  2. That sometimes God allows you to abound simply because He wants to bless you.

Christians in the west have got a weird relationship with wealth in that we tend to fall into one of two extremes, either prosperity theology or poverty theology. One treats wealth as something we’re entitled to, the other treats it as something utterly wicked. Neither is true.

Continuing to work through Philippians 4:10-13, I was reminded of how these arguments miss the point. Here, Paul reminds us that the point is not asceticism any more than it is affluence. God is no more honored by deprivation than He is by gluttonous over indulgence. Instead, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are panting for our basic needs or basking in an abundance of provision, we are to remember that it is God who strengthens us. Because God provides, and because God sustains and strengthens us, we can be content in any and every circumstance.

So what are we doing differently in the Armstrong house in light of this?

We’re continuing to look at how God might be calling us to be more generous and how we can wisely steward the finances He has entrusted to us. But, the thing I’ve been convicted of recently has been not enjoying what He has entrusted to us. Being a single income family, there’s not always a lot to around, so it gets tempting for me to get a bit freaked out about money. And in doing so, we fail to actually enjoy what we do have, focusing only on what we don’t.

Again, not appreciating and enjoying what God has provided with a spirit of thankfulness is no more honoring to Him than extravagant indulgence. Both show that our trust is in the gift, not the Giver. Neither leads to contentment.

So our first step in this course correction has been two adjustments to our budget:

  1. We’ve rejigged things so babysitting money exists
  2. We’ve created an “unexpected/in case/do something fun” line item

Even if we don’t use the money allocated to these immediately or in the budget cycle, it’s there to use. So we can save it up and do a big night out, or we can enjoy simple things like a couch date with a movie from Blockbuster and a couple of drinks from Starbucks.

Nothing too extravagant, but it’s been helpful in reminding us that He has blessed us with much (and really, He has), and it’s helping us to learn to be content as we thankfully appreciate all that He has provided.

My Memory Moleskine: Think On These Things

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

Continuing to work through the last portion of chapter four and reflecting more on Phil. 4:8-9:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

These verses have been ones worth savoring in the last several weeks. The hoopla surrounding you know who continues and it has been really easy to get distracted from everything else. In light of that, I’ve been considering the following question(s):

Despite the need and command to be extremely discerning (see Phil 1:9-10), is it possible to spend so much time focused on what is unpure, unlovely, lacking commendation, and unworthy of praise that you miss out on all the glorious things that God is doing around you, through you and to you? Do you need to be intimately familiar with evil to know what is good?

Discernment is essential, and I am grateful for the measure of it that the Lord has given me. But I’m also by nature something of a curmudgeon. This tends to make it very easy for me to focus solely on negative things rather than on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. And sometimes I wonder if this is what gets us into trouble when it comes to issues of discernment?

I know that whenever a pastor writes a book that says something either heretical or merely stupid (while all heresy is stupid, not all stupidity is heresy), there is a tendency to say “You need to read the book first before you can say anything about it!”

Now, to a point I agree. I do think we would all do well to guard our tongues, especially in making pronouncements without facts. But Philippians 4:8-9 have been reminding me of an important truth:

One does not have to engage with what is evil in order to know that it is evil.

In fact, Paul says the opposite: “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b).

In the same way that I don’t need to try heroin to know it’s bad for me, I don’t have to familiarize myself with false doctrine to know it is evil. If my focus is on what is right, true, pure and praiseworthy, if my focus is on knowing what God is saying to His people through the Scriptures, it’s easy to discern what is evil and avoid it—or, if necessary, confront it.

And truth be told, I’d much rather read my Bible than a bad book any day. Wouldn’t you?

My Memory Moleskine: Do Not Be Anxious

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

There’s a little under a month left until Easter Sunday. If you’ve been participating in Partnering to Remember, that means we’re coming into the home stretch. As you may recall from past updates, I’ve found myself a couple of weeks ahead on memorizing Philippians, but lately I’ve noticed that I’m having a much harder time focusing on it. I think I have 15 or 16 verses left, but for whatever reason they just aren’t sticking.

Maybe there’s a lot going on right now (which there is). And maybe I’m also being a bit too slack in my discipline (which I am). It’s funny though, I found myself starting to get a bit anxious about it a few days ago.

While working on Phil 4:10-13.

Yeah, I’m ridiculous.

So it’s probably a good thing that I’ve been continually coming back to Phil. 4:6-7

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

(Confession: Every time I read or speak Philippians 4:6-7, my mind immediately goes to the song that is on the Rizers album. Abigail still adores that record.)

While these verses speak to issues much larger than my tiny, silly anxieties (read: pride issues), it is an excellent reminder that at the heart of anxiety and worry is a lack of trust in and thankfulness to God. Jesus made this point well in Matt. 6:25-34, when he repeatedly points to the birds in the air and the lilies in the valley and says,

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

It’s important to remember, but oh so easy to forget, that we always have two choices in all things: We can live by faith—that is, live with confidence that God will always do what He promises—and be free to pursue His purposes in this life, or we can spend our time worrying ourselves into a tizzy.

I’d much rather do the former than the latter. How about you?

My Memory Moleskine: Jesus’ Righteousness, Not Rubbish!

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not with a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share in his sufferings, becoming more like him in his death so that by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

Working through these verses (and clumsily through Phil 3:12-14), I kept coming back to the same thing that Paul does, over and over again in these five verses:

Whatever righteousness I may have on my own, whatever good I accomplish, whatever I do under my own power in an attempt to justify myself before God—all of it is to be counted as rubbish.

Garbage.

Excrement. (Or a harsher word according to some commentators.)

In other words, if I’m trying to find justification outside of Christ and His life, death and resurrection, whatever I gain has the value of that dog turd you narrowly avoided stepping in this morning.

That may not sound terribly cheery, perhaps even joy-less. And perhaps it is.

If all we have to hope in is what we do, in what we say, in how we act.

But what does Paul say?

In essence, he says I want to be found with the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ and nothing else. I want nothing else—and nothing is worth more than Jesus and His righteousness.

I would rather lose my life for Christ’s sake so that I may find it.

Now the question for me right now is, how will this continue to play out in my life? What am I holding onto right now that I need to stop seeking to find my identity in?

Where am I prizing garbage when I could be rejoicing in the greatest treasure of all?

My Memory Moleskine: Reciting Philippians 1:1-30 (and a Few Words on False Humility)

As promised last week, here’s a video update:

As I mentioned, I didn’t do too bad that time; actually, I probably should have recorded my dry-run as it was much better. Ah well.

This week, I made my way through Philippians 2:1-7:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of me.

I also started on verse eight, but I’m really shaky on it. What’s most striking to me is Paul’s emphasis on unity and humility. I don’t know about you, but these are subjects I need to really get beaten into my head. Just yesterday (Thursday), I fell prey to one of my all-too-frequent sins: False humility. Seriously, I need to learn how to just take a compliment, or say “yes, I did that.”

Instead, I do this stupid, “Aw shucks, it was nuthin’, Der-hyuk” nonsense.  If there’s one thing that’s going to eventually get me in a lot of trouble, this is as likely to do it as anything else. It does a disservice to me, to those around me and ultimately to God, who gave me the capacity to do all the things I can accomplish.

(And as a side note, it drives my wife up the wall, which is as good a reason as any to knock it off.)

That’s it for this week’s update. How was week five of partnering to remember for you?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:27-30

I (along with a whole lot of other people) am now four weeks into memorizing the book of Philippians. When I started the project back on January 1, I wasn’t sure how things would look by the end of January. Would I be right on track, a little bit behind—or would I have called it quits thinking it was too hard?

Well, I’ve not called it quits, and I’m a week ahead on the schedule, which is pretty cool. But I did find this week to be one of the most challenging so far, despite having only four verses to memorize. Wednesday, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of getting Phil 1:29-30 down –

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

(And yes, I did type that from memory if you’re wondering.)

Thursday morning, though, I went through a run-through of the chapter and after I got finished reciting verse 28… I just blanked.

All 43 words. Poof! Completely disappeared.

That was incredibly annoying.

One of the really great things that I’ve seen come out of this project so far has been seeing other people start to gain a desire to memorize Scripture as well. Last Friday I was surprised to learn that while I was off at the Truth Xchange Think Tank, my men’s group had decided to take up the discipline of memorizing Scripture. Their choice? Philippians 4:6-7.

One of the older gentlemen in the group mentioned to me during our prayer meeting on Tuesday that he’s starting to memorize the whole book, too.

It’s very cool to see how God is using this project in the lives of other people.

Next week: Philippians 2 (and if I can muster up the courage, I’ll even try reciting Phil 1:1-30 on video).

How was this week of partnering to remember for you?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:19-26

So far, this Partnering to Remember project has been a lot of fun—but it’s also been a lot of work.

But it’s the good kind of work.

My third week into memorizing Philippians I hit a snag. That snag?

Philippians 1:20

…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I would not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always, Christ would be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I did type that from memory. I did check it to make sure it was correct afterward, though. Is that cheating?)

This is one of the most complicated verses I’ve come up against so far. To actually get through it, I ended up splitting it into three separate chunks and working on it over the course of two days. While this slowed down my progress a little, it did give me an opportunity to chew on the content of this verse a little more.

Paul’s confidence in Christ is inspiring. In verses 18b-19, he writes, “Yes and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance…”

He’s in a filthy Roman prison. He’s likely going to die for all he knows, but he is confident that Christ will deliver him from his imprisonment should He choose to do so. And what’s Paul’s response? “That with full courage now as always, Christ would be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

He’s not concerned about whether he lives or whether he dies.

He’s only concerned that Christ be honored in both.

I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to live in that confidence; it would be incredibly freeing, wouldn’t it?

If there’s one thing I’m hoping to come away from in the rest of this project, it’s that I can have the same kind of confidence that motivated Paul to say, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

How has week three of partnering to remember gone for you?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:12-18

Two weeks into my memory moleskine and how am I doing?

Last week, I managed to get a full two weeks memorized in one. The upside is that it left me some wiggle room for memorizing the rest. The downside is it left me a little cocky for week two.

And this was a bad week to be cocky.

Philippians 1:12-18 is a surprisingly tricky set of verses. Where v. 15-18 are relatively smooth sailing, v. 12-14 are fairly complex. One of the great challenges of memorizing in the ESV is that, because it’s a formal equivalence translation, it sometimes has rather unusual sentence structure. I had to spend several days on these verses before feeling somewhat confident in them.

One of the more exciting things about this project is being able to see real progress. Before I started I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep the verses I learned the prior week (or as it progresses at the beginning of the project) in my mind. This is where the discipline of constant repetition comes into play. I find myself reciting Phil 1:1-11 at least two times a day now, and I really enjoy it, especially as I play with emphasis. It’s a lot of fun to try to imagine which words Paul would have been stressing as he dictated the letter.

The other pleasant side effect of the project has been how applicable each section has been week-to-week. As we prayed at the end of the Truth Xchange conference, Phil 1:9-11 were incredibly timely to keep in mind as we had spent several days seeking to grow not only in our knowledge and discernment “so that [we] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” but that our love might abound more and more as we seek to apply this knowledge at home.

So, that’s been my second week. How has week two of partnering to remember gone for you? What challenges have you seen, and what has been the most exciting thing for you so far?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:1-11

So last Saturday, I started working on memorizing the entire book of Philippians as part of Tim Brister’s Memory Moleskine project. When I started the project, I didn’t know how it was going to go – would it be quick and painless? Excruciating? Somewhere in between?

And the answer is… yes.

Surprisingly, it was a lot easier to make it through the first six verses than I anticipated. I actually picked them up very quickly (by Sunday night I could recite them from memory without much difficulty).

However, the one significant challenge that I came across was with one word: “all.

You’d think that it would be a simple one to remember, but for some reason I kept tripping up on it. Phil 1:3 says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” but it would come out, “I thank my God in my remembrance of you.”

Already the weeding has begun.

I’m, as of today, a good part of the way through week 2 (Phil. 1:7-11) and the “alls” are coming at me again. (As is the weird sentence structure of v. 7.)

Still, I am persevering, and for the most part have these verses down. Since I can’t prove it to you in typed form, you’ll have to wait until I get brave enough to do a short video post of the whole first chapter.

Are you partnering to remember? Tell me about your journey to remember Philippians so far.

Resolved!

Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Jonathan Edwards

As I’ve written about in the past, Scripture memorization is a huge challenge for me (and I suspect a good number of others as well); it’s something I’ve wanted to work at for a good long while, but never seemed to make the time. So this year, I’m going for it. I, along with a good number of others, am going to try to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter Sunday, 2011.

Why should we memorize Scripture? John Piper offers these encouragements:

Conformity to Christ – Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.

Daily Triumph over Sin – 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.

Daily Triumph over Satan – When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight.

Comfort and Counsel for People You Love – When the heart full of god’s love can draw on the mind full of god’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.

Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers – 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.

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.

I’ll do my best to give regular update here on my progress. Want to join in? Connect at the Memory Moleskine page, download the resources and get started.

Around the Interweb (12/26)

Partnering to Remember

 

Image via Tim Brister

A few weeks back, I wrote about the benefits of memorizing Scripture. Tim Brister wants to help you develop this discipline by partnering to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter 2011:

The goal is to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter Sunday (April 24, 2011) through partnering with other believers using the memory moleskine.  Paul praised the church in Philippi for their partnership in advance of the Gospel, and in the spirit of that partnership, this project intends to bring Christians together for the deepening work of God’s Word in their lives.  Simply put, we are partnering to remember.

Using the Cahier moleskine, we have created a pocket-size notebook that provides a practical and accessible way to memorize Scripture. Through collaboration with The Resurgence, a customized PDF has been created for you to download with a week-by-week outline for memorizing the book of Philippians in 16 weeks using the English Standard Version (ESV).  On one side of the moleskine you simply paste the week’s verses to memorize, and on the other side you write your reflections on the verses while indicating how many times you rehearsed them each day.

You can download the materials here.

Also Worth Reading…

 
Justin Buzzard: “The Gospel is not like dessert”

Ben Reed: “The art of small talk”

Desiring God: “An Open Letter to Clarence the Angel (from the film It’s a Wonderful Life)”

David Platt at CNN: “My take: Why my church rebelled against the American Dream”

CNN on Francis Chan: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia”

In Case You Missed It…

 
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Charles Spurgeon’s 1859 Christmas message, “A Christmas Question”: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

William H. Smith: “When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize…Christmas is disturbing.”

Why Memorize Scripture?

In the above video, John Piper recites Psalm 1, Psalm 16, Psalm 103 and Romans 5:1-8 in their entirety.

From memory.

There’s something powerful about seeing someone live out the command that we should abide in God’s Word (cf. John 8:31, 15:7). Yet, it seems that memorizing Scripture is one of the most difficult things to do, and one of the most neglected disciplines.

Why should we do it, then?

In the following video, Piper gives eight reasons from his own experience why memorizing Scripture is so valuable:

  1. Memorizing Scripture makes meditation possible at times when I can’t be reading the Bible, and meditation is the pathway of deeper understanding.
  2. Memorizing Scripture strengthens my faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, and that happens when I am hearing the word in my head.
  3. Memorizing Scripture shapes the way I view the world by conforming my mind to God’s viewpoint.
  4. Memorizing Scripture makes God’s word more readily accessible for overcoming temptation to sin, because God’s warnings and promises are the way we conquer the deceitful promises of sin.
  5. Memorizing Scripture guards my mind by making it easier to detect error—and the world is filled with error, since the god of this world is a liar.
  6. Memorizing Scripture enables me to hit the devil in the face with a force he cannot resist, and so protect myself and my family from his assaults.
  7. Memorizing Scripture provides the strongest and sweetest words for ministering to others in need.
  8. Memorizing Scripture provides the matrix for fellowship with Jesus because he talks to me through his word, and I talk to him in prayer.

I’ve been slowly working on memorizing some Scripture for a couple of years now; it’s been difficult to keep up with, but it’s been helpful for me. If you’re looking for a helpful resource for training yourself to memorize Scripture, check out the Topical Memory System from Nav Press.

Are you trying to memorize Scripture? If so, what have you found helpful in doing so?