Monday, July 30, 2012

better than marriage

During my recent bloggy silence I wrote and led a seminar on marriage. One of the things that struck me as I read and reflected on marriage is how there is something much, much better.
Human marriage is just a shadow. Just a hint. Just a pale echo. Just an appetiser. Just a teaser. Just a foretaste of the real context in which love can be given and received and enjoyed…(Eph 5:22-33)... All the love and security and protection and companionship and intimacy and ecstasy of any healthy human marriage is just a pointer to the far greater love and far greater security and far greater protection and far greater companionship and far greater intimacy and far greater ecstasy of being with God himself. (From my husband's sermons on the Song of Songs)
Marriage…is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short…Very soon the shadow will give way to Reality. The partial will pass into the Perfect. The foretaste will lead to the Banquet. The troubled path will end in Paradise. A hundred candle-lit evenings will come to their consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this momentary marriage will be swallowed up by Life. Christ will be all and in all. And the purpose of marriage will be complete. (John Piper This Momentary Marriage 178)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

online meanderings: insular Christians, scary obedience, revealing worry, and more

Better late than never...There's lots here because I'm still catching up from when we were away. Let's start with 3 great quotes.

Quotes of the week
"If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ." Bonhoeffer HT Ali.

"Christians have a remarkable capacity to live insular lives...I have asked people in name people outside of the church with whom they have had thoughtful conversations...I usually get a short or a very short list...We are called not to live insular lives. We are sent people, sent by Christ to the world. We are called to penetrate our communities with the message of Christ." Mark Lauterbach HT Vitamin Z

"Nobody who is a preacher lives fully what he preaches. That’s the danger of preaching. When we’re preaching, a lot of times we’re preaching to ourselves...I keep my focus on the holiness of God because it needs to be there because I’m not holy. I don’t focus on it because I am holy. I focus on it because I’m not." RC Sproul with Challies

Best new blog
The prayer project - A new blog by Wendy. Written prayers for you to use. It looks great.

Top 5 posts
Will everything turn out right if we obey? - " may be the death of us...but that doesn’t let us off from obeying.” CS Lewis quoted by Chris Brauns.

Worry - "What we worry about...reveals two things. First of all, it reveals what we value the most...But on a deeper reveals where we trust God the least." Craig Groeschel HT Vitamin Z

The pain of rejection - A woman abandoned by her husband talks about where to turn to for comfort when you've been rejected. Beautiful.

How to mentor - "Everyone needs a mentor, but not everyone is promised a mentor. However, everyone can be a mentor to others." A great post on discipleship. Jonathon Dodson HT Vitamin Z.

Fight for the time to read - "The fight to find time to read is a fight for one’s life...I, for one, am not a self-replenishing spring...For your own soul and for the life of your church, fight for time to feed your soul with rich reading." For pastors and others. Piper, Spurgeon.

And 10 more
Loving those who grieve - A compassionate and wise post. Justin Taylor.

Listening by WALKing - How to listen well. There are some helpful suggestions here. Garrett Higbee.

When hope hurts - “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Prov 25:20)...Hope isn’t something to be tagged onto the end of your counselling session." Winston Smith.

Humble says sorry first - Be the first to say sorry. Christ Brauns HT Vitamin Z.

7 ways to put on humility - I really liked this. Mark Altrogge HT Vitamin Z.

Lamentless faith
 - Singing laments in church. I've often wondered why we don't do this more, since laments are so prominent in the Psalms.

A woman writes about her struggle with bulimia - "The Lord began to show me my obsession with self and food was more than a “problem”—it was a worship disorder of the soul...He alone is my Refuge, my Deliverer, my Stronghold (Psalm 18:1-3)."

10 tips on solving mysterious Bible passages from Sherlock Holmes - Good stuff. Trevin Wax.

Holiness is the sum of a million little things - "...the avoidance of little evils and little foibles, the setting aside of little bits of worldliness and little acts of compromise, the putting to death of little inconsistencies and little indiscretions..." Kevin DeYoung. 

4 reasons men like porn - Odd questions, interesting observations. (If you struggle with this, male or female, read Tim Chester's book "Captured by a better vision".) Luke Gilkerson.

Thinking about time with an eternal perspective - "If close friends and family don't think they have access to me or can interrupt me, then I know I have things on my To Do list that shouldn't be there." Carolyn McCulley.

For wives
Why bother? He'll never change! - The importance of courageously speaking the truth in love to your husband. Keri Seavey

Responding to a husband's sexual sin - Helpful advice for a difficult situation. Julie Ganschow.

Raising kids
Encouraging mission-minded kids - I like the idea of going on a beach mission as a family. Marcelle Smith HT Gordon Cheng.

Teens and movies with sexual content
 - "Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners, and are less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners." Jim Liebelt HT Challies

Have our children forgotten how to play outdoors - “I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” “Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” Louv quoted by Albert Mohler.

Creativity and writing
The fight for glory - Why I write even though it brings temptation. "If the fight for my affection was going to be everywhere, I decided to fight in the place I loved. Jennie Allen interviews John Piper HT Lisa Writes.

Start doing stuff - How to be creative: Just do stuff. "Your voice will come with expression...You will find it and lose it and find it again, maybe even on a single page...You will be good and bad and good and bad. And they key in all this is this: just do stuff." Barnabas Piper HT Vitamin Z.

A digital free vacation - How you might go about it. Challies.

Is the internet making us crazy? What the new research says - "The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts." Tony Dokoupil.

I have just read a book about Rubber Duckies and loved it - and now I want to too. Meredith.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The delightful results of memorizing the Bible

This is the final post in my series on Bible memorization. Today I'll talk about the "why" of memorizing Bible passages and the impact this has had on me. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

God's word written on three-by-five inch index cards: it doesn't sound like much of a weapon. But there I was, sitting on the floor, staring out the window, repeating words scribbled on the index card in my hand: " not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own..." (Matt 6:34).

I was twenty-five years old, four years married, and filled with anxious questions about the future. I'd never set out to memorize whole Bible passages, and I'm not sure what prompted me now; but I chose Philippians 4:4-9 and Matthew 6:19-34 and committed them to memory. Slowly but surely - and I still remember how miraculous this felt! - my worries actually went away. The battle against anxiety was won with a set of Bible passages written out by hand, driven into my head through sheer repetition, and pressed into my heart by the Holy Spirit. Anxiety is still one of my chief struggles; but at least I now have a weapon close at hand.

 Old fashioned. Unpopular. Weird. Those are a few words that spring to mind when I think about Bible memorization; but I've experienced the delightful results of this neglected practice, and I can't shut up about it. Here are seven of the benefits. I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones that stand out for me.
  • Memorization won't let us skim the surface of God's word. The Hebrew words for "meditate" literally mean to "mutter",1 and that's what happens when you memorize: whether you write, sing or speak, you tell God's word over and over to yourself. When I read silently, or even study a passage, it's easy to skip words and phrases, and see only what I expect to see. Memorization forces me to stop and say every word, so that passages I thought I knew well surprise me. Even when I forget what I learned, the act of memorization forces me deeper into the Bible and the Bible deeper into me.
  • Memorization fuels meditation and prayer. One of the signs we belong to God is that we delight to meditate on God's word "day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2; 119:97, 148; Josh 1:8). But how can we do this if God's word isn't available, right there in our minds, in the odd moments between activities and during the empty hours of the night? JI Packer says,
    Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God...It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.2
    More than any other practice, Bible memorization fuels my meditation, helping me to preach God's word to myself and turn it into prayer and praise.
  • Memorization transforms our minds, emotions and choices by turning our thoughts to Christ. How does true change come? By the renewing of our minds, as we look to Jesus and set our thoughts on him (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:1-17; Heb 12:1-2). Our thoughts and desires are, of all things, most difficult to master; yet discipline them we must. Memorizing God's word lays a new set of thought patterns over those that come naturally to us. It transforms our hopes, desires and choices as God's truth cajoles and pummels them into a more Christ-centred form. Most amazingly for me, it even shapes my emotions, slowly but surely changing despair into hope, fear into trust, and self-pity into joy.
  • Memorization is a help in times of struggle. Some of us face suffering when we are younger, some when we grow older; but suffering comes to all of us, bringing sorrow, doubt and fear. Grief over a child's sickness, the struggle with depression, the temptation to grow weary and give up: in times like this, passages like Romans 8:18-30 and  1 Peter 1:3-9 have become my solid stepping-stones in the dark. They give words and purpose to my pain, affirm the faith I don't feel, reassure me that God hasn't let me go, give me courage to endure, and remind me that Jesus trod the path of suffering and is now in glory.
  • Memorization puts the Spirit's weapon in our hands. The word of God is a sword in the Spirit's hands, uncovering sin and equipping us for the fight (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12).3 But a sword isn't much use if we leave it in its scabbard. In a battle with envy, despair, lust or anger, I don't need my only offensive weapon in a book on my shelf or on my iDevice. I want the words of God inside me, ready to be picked up and used by God's Spirit. "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11 cf. Matt 4:1-11; Josh 1:8).
  • Memorization is for others. It's tempting to turn memorization into just another pious practice, another means to personal change; but the Bible is not just for me, but for others. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom" (Col 3:16). Like a glass so full that it overflows, the words of God poured into our minds will spill out through our lips, encouraging our brothers and sisters and equipping them for service (2 Tim 3:16-17) and helping others to come to know Jesus through his powerful word (Isa 55:10-11).
  • Memorization is an expression of love. What we choose (and don't choose) to remember shows what matters to us: the words of a song; a child's birthday; a friend's phone number. A miser counts his gold. A collector pores over her treasures. And we leave our Bibles on the shelf! Perhaps, in the end, the best reason for memorizing the Bible is simply because we love it and want to make it our own (Psalm 119:72, 103, 127, 131): the wisdom in our thoughts, the music of our hearts, the power in our words.
Why memorize the Bible? There's no "have to" about Bible memorization! If I spend time reading and studying and reflecting on God's word, it will make its way inside me without me deliberately remembering it. In fact, if memorization becomes mechanical or magical or the indispensable mark of spiritual maturity, we'd be better off engaging with God's word in other ways.

(But here's another question: why not memorize the Bible? Why do we emphasize Bible reading and study so much, and not memorization? My guess it's got something to do with the fact that we're an electronic and print culture, not a memory-based culture. We assume that we will always have our Bibles with us, forgetting that, one day, they may be unavailable to us or taken from us. Perhaps it's time to revive some old skills.)

They said that when you pricked John Bunyan, he bled Bible. That's my goal. I want to bleed Bible all over my death-bed and my life as well. I want to carry my lamp with me so it can illumine my path. I want my tools to hand so I can teach and train others. I want God's sword in my heart, probing my actions and motives. I want to open the door and invite his word in to dwell in me richly. I want it written across my forehead and my doors and the inside of my skull, so I can think it and speak it and pray it and live it day and night.

That's why I memorize God's word.

Have you tried memorizing God's word? What have been the benefits? Share them with us, and challenge and encourage us.

1. From the Olive Tree article Meditating on God's word.
2. From chapter 1 of JI Packer's "Knowing God".
3. Spirit and word go together: compare the parallel passages  Eph 5:18-20 and  Col 3:15-17.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by chefranden at flickr

Saturday, July 21, 2012

online meanderings: good fear, beautiful lives, trusting God with your children, and more

Hi people! Sorry I haven't written much for a while - well, nothing actually. We've been away, first for a university conference and then for a family holiday, plus a week of school holidays, plus a week of catching up on a couple of articles that needed to go out soon... Still, here I am, and I have at least been catching up on my online meanderings. Here they are. 

Quote of the week
"Why do I worry? Really, why do I worry? Why do I again and again resort to ‘trying harder’ or thinking that enough planning and enough busyness will alter the outcome of events?...Reliance characterizes me. Provision characterizes my God." - Reliance Elisha Galotti HT Challies.

Top 6 posts
When it's good to be fearful - When fear is good, and when it's bad. How to fear well. Such a helpful post from Paul Tripp! (And not just for pastors, either.)

In Christ I'm not a sinner - The older I get, the more I realise holiness is just about remembering the gospel. So easy to say, so very hard to do! This post is about living who you are in Jesus. Dane Ortland HT Challies.

Lifestyle coveting - Lifestyle blogs, magazines, advertisements, TV shows, beautiful houses, beautiful lives... What effect do they have on us? What can we do about it? Cathy.

Breaking hearts - Trusting God with the lives of your children: something I've been struggling to do. This is a wonderful post. RC Sproul Jr HT Sam Freney.

Power in weakness - God's power: not freedom from weakness, but strength to endure and obey. I want the first; he gives the second. Ed Welch.

8 bullet points on marriage - Straight from the Bible, these 8 points put marriage in its proper perspective. They would make a great foundation for a seminar! Challies.

And 10 more
The secret life of the cross-cultural missionary - "There are no “celebrity” cross-cultural missionaries." A call to sacrifice. Adam Gabriel Cavalier HT Challies.

Helpless sacks of sand - Insomnia and sleep. An encouraging post by a sleepless Challies with help from Piper.

Real refreshment comes form seeing glory not getting stuff done - I think he's right: when I've overwhelmed by anxiety about getting stuff done, it's time to stop doing and look to Jesus. Jon Bloom.

A broken past and the miracle of sanctification - How to use the Bible with those who find its words hard to hear because of past victimization. Ed Welch.
It's out with the old as Christian values fall away - What happens to the elderly and the helpless when we lose Christian values? John Dickson HT Emma Pfahlert.

The beginning of idolatry - Who do you look for first in your high school photos? Ouch! Don Carson HT Sandy.

If you came home from church discouraged - Encouraging - and challenging. Cathy.

More on living single - A great little post on singleness. Ali.

How many hours can I work? - An interesting post about work, fatherhood, the fall and Christian freedom. Challies.

Hope for those those who fear pregnancy - A series for those who fear miscarriage after pregnancy. I haven't read all of this, but it comes recommended by Lisa Spence, and may be helpful for you or others you know.

On writing and reading
JI Packer's advice to aspiring writers - "There is a certain art and craft in writing in such a way that it gets to the reader's heart." Great advice in a 9-minute clip.

So you want to be a writer? -"Figure out the parts readers will skip over; then cut them out." This and more on becoming and being a writer. Randy Alcorn HT Challies.

Self doubt and writing - "Your job is to get out of the way and let the story through." Sallly Lloyd-Jones HT Lisa

First book syndrome - How (not) to write your first book. Andrew Le Peau.

The death of reading: not so fast - Is reading dead? Personality types and reading. Kip Parent HT Ali.

Books and resources
Gospel-centred curriculum - Pastors and Sunday school teachers take note: here are 4 gospel-centred curriculums that cover the whole Bible and show how it's all about Jesus. Riches indeed. Reviewed by Challies.

The trials of theology - A book for the theological student in your life. Helpfully reviewed by Wendy.

A shelter in the time of storm - I'm loving Ali's quotes from Paul Tripp's book meditations. So much that I ordered this book!

No ordinary marriage - This sounds like a good book on marriage by Tim Savage. Mike Leake HT Challies.

Just for fun
What multitasking does to our brains - What multitasking does to our brains. Leo Widrich HT Challies.

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