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: Imitating Godliness

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

Working through the final verses of Philippians chapter three couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you, and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is their destruction, their god is their belly and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil 3:17-21)

I love this call to be imitators of godly people. And I know I’ve written on this before at least once, but it’s something that can’t be stressed too much.

Thursday, I took a few hours while I was working to listen to catch up on the messages I’ve missed from my church while I’ve been out preaching (as well as a couple from Josh Howerton). And I was reminded listening to Norm speak how much I have to learn from him. One of the things that always impresses me is how well he balances earnest, firm contention for the truth with a real pastor’s heart. He’s never afraid to say that something is wrong, to call out sin or false teaching, but you know when he does it that it’s because he cares for people.

He doesn’t want to see people continue in sin. He doesn’t want people to be deceived. He does want people to know Jesus as He is described in the Bible.

That’s the kind of guy I want to imitate.

Do you have someone in your life that you can say is worth following the example of? Who is that person?

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: Jesus Plus Anything Equal Nothing

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

This week’s section of Philippians finds Paul doing some amazing setup. He begins by writing:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

So far so good, right? Seems like this is going to be a great encouragement. Next verses:

Look out for the dogs. Look out for the evildoers. Look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

And there it is. Paul lets this outstanding warning fly—look out for dogs, evildoers, mutilators of the flesh… Here, Paul’s talking about the Judaizers who plagued his ministry—those who were trying to say that salvation was through faith in Christ plus keeping the Mosaic Law.

And as we know from reading Paul’s other writings, Christ plus anything equals nothing.

So Paul lets this this fly and then reminds his readers that if it were a question of confidence in the flesh, “I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.”

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day; of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Let those credentials sink in for a second.

Paul was serious business. A Hebrew of Hebrews; a Jew by birth, able to trace his line back to Abraham. A pharisee, a persecutor of the church, blameless in his keeping of the law.

That’s a tough act to follow. And if that’s what we were to have to do to be saved, we’d all be completely lost.

Fortunately, it’s not the end of Paul’s rebuke against the Judaizers and encouragement to the Philippians. All this is just set up for what comes next:

But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ.

Jesus plus anything equals nothing.

How’s your memorizing been this week? What’s God been teaching you through it?

My Memory Moleskine: God’s Timing for Certain Texts

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

This week I’ve been working through Philippians 2:19-30 while at the same time preparing to preach on Psalm 1:1-6.

What’s been interesting is how God’s been using Psalm 1 to apply the principles I’m learning through memorizing Philippians. Here’s what I mean:

In Psalm 1, the Psalmist writes that the man who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on it day and night is blessed. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is working on him and in him, conforming him more and more to the image of Christ, giving him a heart for the things that He cares about. The man who delights in the Word of God bears much fruit.

In memorizing Philippians this week, that’s what I’ve noticed in Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is no one like Timothy, Paul says, “who will be genuinely concerned for your [the Philippians] welfare.” Likewise, Epaphroditus longs to see the Philippians again and is “distressed because [they] have heard he was ill.”

These two model the command Paul gives in Phil 2:3-4. In humility, they count others more significant than themselves, and look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others.

They are, as the psalmist wrote, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3) The Spirit’s work is evident in them and they are bearing fruit.

Anyway, that’s pretty much been my week in the text. Like I said, I’m preaching this weekend, so if you could keep me in your prayers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

What’s God been teaching you through your memorization this week?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 2:1-18(ish)

Last week, I put together a video update (and recited Philippians 1:1-30 with only a couple of minor flubs) and all the while have continued to work hard on Philippians chapter 2. This week on the schedule is Phil 2:1-4, however, I’ve been tracking ahead a fair bit.

Last week, I briefly spoke about false humility (something that verses 1-7 reminded me of), and this week’s reading only continued to reinforce that message.

This struck me most vividly in Paul’s exhortation in Phil 2:12-18:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to work and to will for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning so that you may be blameless and innocent, Children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, holding fast to the word of life so that in the day of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering on the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

One of the interesting things that has come out of this project so far is how it seems to get almost easier to memorize the text. This is good in that it allows me more time to chew and if a hard verse is coming up (and I’m sure that there’s going to be some really complicated stuff in chapters 3 & 4), I can eat up some of the “extra” time I’ve gained.

On the downside, it’s a breeding ground for pride. “Look at me and how smart I am; look at how keen my mind is,” and all that nonsense (people who know me well know this is a big enough problem as it is).

But verse 13 reminds me that, even though I’m working hard at this it’s God who is at work. I can memorize Scripture because the Holy Spirit is (hopefully) searing it into my conscience and heart. And Paul’s command in verse 14, to do all things without grumbling or questioning, it’s a reminder of the need for humility in obedience. Considered in light of Phil 2:1-8 and his vivid description of Christ’s humility, how can I not make it my desire to submit well, as it has been granted for Christ’s sake that I “should not only believe in Him, but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29).

So, that’s what God’s been teaching me through this project this week. What’s He been teaching you?

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.