Monthly Archives: February 2018

MEMORIZE THE WORD! Getting The Word into your Heart.

ThePastorsPenHave your children or youth ever ask you how grownups deal with problems or unexpected situations? If so, Tell them we pray. A discussion may ensue about the difference between bedside prayers and those uttered in the heat of the moment, when the car is careening from the roadway or we’re late for a flight. Are both kinds of prayers equally effective?

I believe the answer to that question has to do, in part, with our memory. Yes, God hears the prayers of His people—even believers who don’t know Him very well. But if we have a reservoir of faith built up through the discipline of memorizing Scripture, we benefit more from the act of praying. Having biblical truth stored in our minds and hearts may not change God’s response to our supplications, but the Holy Spirit works through the message powerfully to change us.

“One thing has become clear to scientists: memory is absolutely crucial to our consciousness,” says Janellen Huttenlocher, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “There’s almost nothing you do, from perception to thinking, that doesn’t draw continuously on your memory.” Assuming this is true, it stands to reason that if a person’s memory is infused with Scripture, his or her consciousness will be informed by God’s Word. The Bible tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). And how much more, then, is such transformation possible when we commit Scripture to memory?

Think about it: how do you know what you know? The knowledge you have is available to you now only because of your previous experiences. Even before you finish reading this sentence, its first few words are already part of the past. And by the time you reach the end of this Pastor’s Pen, you’ll have to draw on your memory to decide what you think of it. This is the case with everything in your life. Your memory provides a framework for you to interpret and interact with the world. It allows you to file information and events as past, present, or future.

Now, consider your prayers. When we petition God for the future, we draw on memories of what we know about His character and our past experiences with Him. This enables us to commune with Him in the present. The more time we’ve spent with Him, the more memories we have—and the more knowledge we have about Him, the richer our prayers.

THE CASE FOR MEMORIZATION
Asked if memorizing Scripture enables her to live according to the Bible’s dictates, Sophie LaFleur—17-year-old winner of the Chairman’s Oratory Award at the 2009 Bible Bee—said, “[Scripture is] so ingrained in my heart that I can just say it. I know it without looking it up. It becomes so much more a part of every moment of your life. As you lie down and go to sleep, whenever it’s quiet, verses will come to mind.”

Theologian John Piper, an ardent proponent of memorizing Scripture, tells a story about his initial motivation for doing so. Early in his career, he was called to a hospital when a good friend’s wife suffered a heart attack. About 20 family members huddled together waiting to hear if the woman was alive or dead. Piper’s friend embraced him and asked for a word from the Lord. “My mind went blank. It was horrible,” he recalls. “If I had my Bible, I would have opened it to a psalm.” That night, Piper dropped to his knees and promised God he would never again find himself in such a situation. He opened the Bible to Psalm 46 and began memorizing: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help (v. 1). To this day, he can in trouble quote the entire psalm verbatim.

Moses instructed Israel: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).

Margaret Taylor, wife of Living Bible translator Ken Taylor, has spent most of her life attempting to carry out this command by helping children internalize God’s Word. In fact, the Living Bible came about as a result of her husband’s vision to reword Scripture so children could more easily understand it.

Many have spoken with Margaret about the importance of learning Scripture by heart and the ability of young children to do so. “Our grandson and his wife have five children,” she said. “They memorized Isaiah 53 and recited it for us at Christmastime.” According to Taylor, the youngest weren’t expected to memorize, but the four-year-old learned the passage simply from hearing his siblings repeat it so often. “The children [don’t] necessarily [understand],” Taylor said. “But that doesn’t matter as long as the verse gets inside them. Later they will [understand], and they will be grateful.”
Well, we all need to improve and practice our scripture memory skills. It is not a children’s drill, remember this helps us as grownups, adults if you will, when we face those difficult situations in life.

Next time we will look at many of the benefits of memorizing the Word and getting it into our hearts.

Until next week, Love and prayers,

Pastor Rick Signature

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The Word Is Alive! Getting to the Heart of Scripture.

ThePastorsPenIN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD. It’s how the story begins, both The Old & New Testaments.

In the very beginning, God speaks the word, and light tears into the formless void. There’s a reason Genesis 1 tells us that creation began with light. In the second part of the story, when the Creator stepped into creation in the form of a flesh-and-blood human baby, Scripture says that He was “the true Light” (John 1:1-9). Jesus was again bringing life to the world but this time as more than the mysterious agent of creation: He was the Word incarnate—the light to all mankind—come to redeem His creation.

As an old man, John, who’d walked and talked and eaten with Jesus, looked back on those years and wrote of the experience: “We saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). The disciple had seen the One through whom all things sprang into existence—and came to know Him. “That which was from the beginning,” he wrote to the early church, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 NIV).

The Word made flesh. It’s the key to the entirety of our faith. While some would assume that, like many other religions, our belief is centered on a holy book, the Bible itself speaks other-wise. Rather than a long litany of divine commands, we recognize the Old Testament as an elaborate, intricate buildup to—and the New Testament as a celebration of—the person of Jesus Christ. Taken as a whole, the written words point to the Word.
While inspired by God, the Bible is an incredibly unique anthology, written by many human authors spanning millenniums. There we find everything from moving narratives and violent sagas to worship songs and angry prayers; genealogies and love poetry to historic records and cryptic prophecy. A stranger to its pages might wonder why, exactly, believers call such a diverse range of writings God’s Word. But if you allow Scripture to ask you deep questions—’piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12)—and let it inspire you to ask some of your own, it becomes apparent that every verse pulls the reader toward the same desire, the same center: the Word in the flesh. And He reveals the heart of a Creator who longs to be with His creation—a Father who will do whatever it takes to bring His children back to Him.

From the very beginning, the story of Scripture is about the Word.

A few decades ago, a group of linguists were welcomed by a community in Indonesia. The purpose was to live with the tribe, learn their language, and create a written alphabet so the Bible could be translated. Considering the scope of the project (66 different books, with 1189 chapters) the translators initially figured that following standard procedure would be the most logical: start with a gospel book from the New Testament and get straight to the story of Jesus as soon as possible. But as they gradually learned the new language’s nuances and the culture behind it, they came to realize how important elaborate oral storytelling was to the tribe’s identity. The plan changed. If ever there was an epic story to tell, it was this one. And the story of Christ didn’t just start with His birth.

That year, the translators labored over their spoken language skills while one of them, an artist, drew hundreds of large, symbolic illustrations that followed the Bible’s narrative arc. Finally, they announced that they were ready. All the surrounding villages were notified, and on the day the storytelling was to commence, the entire tribe gathered to listen. And the translators started at the very beginning.

The process took days as they moved from character to character: the first people on earth who hid from God; their son who killed his brother; Abraham, who climbed up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac; Moses, who led his people out of slavery; David the teenage shepherd who became a warrior king and legendary poet The storytellers told of sin and loss and exile and God’s continual acts of redemption. And then they finally came to the end of the Old Testament—400 years of silence and waiting. The tribe hung on every word.

All this, and they still had yet to explain “the plan of salvation,” who Jesus was, and, for that matter, what any of these stories had to do with one another. Yet, the day The New Testament began, the translators started to tell of a baby born in the darkness of night in the town of David, and something astounding happened. The audience erupted in excitement. “This is the One!” they said, cries of recognition rippling through the crowd. “This is the One everyone’s been waiting for! He is the sacrifice, the Lamb of God who will take away the people’s sin!”

This is why Scripture says of itself that the Word is alive—because the Word Himself, to whom the Bible points, is living and active (Heb. 4:12).

The Word of God goes beyond its written message, and even beyond history or prophecy or song. It goes beyond the ancient commandments and even the parables Jesus told. When taken in as a whole story that points to the Word Himself, the written letters are illuminated by God’s Spirit, revealing His grace and truth to us.

John ends the closing chapter of the Bible with these words of Christ’s: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). He is the first word and last word. Which is why, as Scripture says, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). It is His Word—alive, moving in and through us—that ignites the words and writes them on our hearts.

God’s Word Is Alive! His Word should and does impact the lives of believers, His followers. Can you answer these questions in your own life? Tim Keller offers a group of “questions designed to wake up sleeping Christians.” His questions focus on three hallmarks of a growing relationship with God.

These questions would make good small group material or could also be used when mentoring someone one-on-one. They also serve as excellent fodder for self-reflection!

What evidence of God’s presence is there in your life?
How real has God been this week to your heart?
How clear and vivid is your assurance and certainty of God’s forgiveness and fatherly love. To what degree is that real to you right now?
Are you having any particular seasons of sweet delight in God? Do you really sense his presence in your life? Do you really sense him giving you his love?

What evidence is there of Scripture changing you?
Have you been finding Scripture to be alive and active?
Are you finding certain biblical promises extremely precious and encouraging? Which ones?
Are you finding God’s calling you or challenging you to something through the word, in what ways?

What evidence is there of a growing appreciation for God’s mercy in your life?
Are you finding God’s grace more glorious and moving now than you have in the past?
Are you conscious of a growing sense of the evil of your heart, and in response, a growing dependence on and grasp of the preciousness of the mercy of God?
How do you answer these questions? Seriously, Think About It!

Until next week, Love and prayers,

Pastor Rick Signature

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We Are Transformed By The Word.

ThePastorsPenWe live in a digital age, constantly propelled by new electronic devices. Technology changes so quickly that keeping up with the latest developments can be overwhelming at times. Before we’ve figured out one gadget, a new one takes its place. In fact, learning how to use all the current technical gear may leave us feeling intimidated and confused.

That’s the way many folks—even Christians—feel about the Bible. They own one but don’t understand how to use or interpret it.

Finding it big and confusing. they don’t know where to begin reading or how doing so will affect their troubles. if at all. The result is that such people simply don’t bother with Scripture. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

The truth is, how you and I handle something depends on its value to us, and many people simply don’t realize the absolute treasure God has given us in His Word. Consider this: If I gave you an old shoebox, you’d wonder, What am I going to do with this? But if there were fifty thousand dollars inside, you’d cherish the box for what it contained and make use of every dollar.

Likewise, nothing you or I own is more precious than the Bible. People who ignore Scripture suffer as a result–going through life’s hardships without ever realizing the riches at their fingertips. But those who embrace God’s Word discover benefits that money could never buy.

Using the Bible Effectively

Is anything keeping you from the blessing of God’s Word? Some people tell me they don’t read Scripture because it’s too difficult to understand. So I’d like to provide you with some simple and practical ideas to help you use this holy Book and comprehend what it says.

Read. The first step is to open your Bible and begin reading daily, even if in small portions at first (Prov. 8:33-35). I suggest meditating on the Word first thing after you wake. This isn’t always possible, so choose a time when you can focus all of your attention on reading without interruption. The Bible is not just for emergencies. Sure, we can find help in times of trouble, but God wants to reveal Himself to us each day. Apart from prayer and worship, reading the Word is one of the primary ways we get to know Him. Those who read Scripture only during times of crisis miss the joy of an intimate relationship with the heavenly Father, which develops through consistent fellowship with Him.

Benefitting from the Scriptures In the life of a believer, the Bible:
Guides (PS. 119:105)
Gives wisdom (PS.
Strengthens (Ps. 119:28)
Provides peace (Ps. 119:165)
Reveals hearts (Heb. 4:12-13)
Protects from sin (Ps. 119:9-11)
Produces hope (PS. 119:49)

People often ask me, “Where do I begin?” Start with one of the gospels, like John, or an epistle, such as Philippians. Even if you read just a chapter a day, in a week or a month you will have covered an entire book. You could try reading one chapter of Proverbs each day for a month, or Psalms if you’re going through a hard time. As you open your heart to God, His Holy Spirit will guide you in your readings. All that’s required of you is to make the effort to begin.

You might wonder, How much should I read each day? Bible reading should be a matter of quality, not quantity. In other words, you should be more concerned with how effectively Scripture is changing your life than with the number of pages you’ve completed. As you go through the Bible, are you storing the Lord’s truth in your heart or merely finishing the task of reading?

The goal is character transformation and an ever-deepening relationship with the Savior. If you’re not experiencing greater Christlikeness and intimacy with God, you may need to go more slowly and thoughtfully. Sometimes reading less will actually allow the Word to really permeate your soul.

Meditate. Meditation is simply a conversation with the Lord about the passage you’re reading. If a section is difficult to understand, meditation is the process that will make the meaning come into focus. But this can’t be done in a hurry. It’s a discipline that requires silence, stillness, and concentration. The process involves focusing on one particular verse or passage at a time—pursuing the truth of the text until it sinks into the depths of your being. Word by word and phrase by phrase, ask the Father to reveal both the meaning and the application He wants you to make in your life.

The process is slow and thoughtful, but as you continue, the Bible’s pages will come to life with significance. Remember, your goal is to gain a deeper understanding of God and yourself. Ask Him to show you His ways, search your heart, and reveal any changes you need to make. If a verse doesn’t make sense, look to the Lord to guide your search for answers.

Through the process of contemplation, exploration, and prayer, the Lord’s transforming power is released in your life, and He enables you to face every difficulty or situation that comes your way. Therefore, begin reflecting on God’s Word today by trying the meditation exercise at the end of this Pastor’s Pen.

Study. So often we read the Bible only when we’re longing for a verse to help us through a moment of need. But how often do we really look for the Lord—examining Scripture for understanding about His ways? Do we care enough about Him to search out His character and learn who He really is? One of the greatest benefits of investing our time in thoughtful Bible study is an ever-increasing love for our Savior. The more we learn about Him, the more we love Him, and that increases our desire to continue meditating on and studying His Word. What a wonderful cycle of joy!

Don’t let the word study scare you off—this doesn’t have to be some abstract, academic process. As you go through the Bible, are you storing the Lord’s truth in your heart or merely finishing the task of reading? Think of it as a more intense form of meditation. Any believer facing a challenge or difficulty would greatly benefit from seeking deeper understanding of his or her situation through Scripture (Isa. 55:9-11). For example, if you’ve been badly hurt and have trouble letting go of your bitterness, research what God says about forgiveness.

Having some basic study resources will greatly enhance your time in God’s Word. Those who are computer savvy might want to invest in some Bible software or check out Bible study websites. If you prefer books, a Bible dictionary and a concordance (an alphabetical listing of words in Scripture) would be good investments. Just make sure the concordance is the same version as your Bible. If you need further help in understanding difficult passages, try using commentaries.

You may be thinking all this sounds somewhat difficult, but I assure you it’s not. The truths discovered through your study time have a way of sticking with you more than those handed to you by teachers or pastors. Don’t be afraid—jump in and discover the endless riches of the Word.

Apply. This last step is very important. If you want become a spiritually mature Christian, application of what you learn is essential. As we spend time reading the Bible, the Lord reveals what He wants us to do, whether through direct commands, principles, or examples. But if we ignore His promptings or refuse to obey, we’ll get stuck and stop growing. Why should God reveal deeper truths if we haven’t done the last thing He said? In that case, our understanding of Scripture will be limited, our walk will suffer, and our spiritual fruit will dry up.

Doing what God’s Word says is not always easy. When the Lord tells us to step out of our comfort zone or do something we don’t want to do, we may be tempted to back off. But at such times, remember that obeying God is always the best path. The Father both uses and blesses those who say no to self and yes to Him (Prov. 3:5-6).

Making the Bible a Priority

The Lord has so much to give us if we will make Bible reading a priority in our lives. He wants us to long for “the pure milk of the word” so that we can grow into mature believers (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Few of us will miss a meal, but how often do we skip spending time in the pages of Scripture? How can we be so careful to feed our bodies, which will one day die, and yet starve our spirits, which will live forever?

If you’ll start seriously “tasting” God’s Word, you will begin to develop a hunger to go deeper. Not only that, but the more familiar you and I become with the Bible, the more we will value and delight in it (Ps. 119:111). Instead of feeling an obligation to read, we’ll long to spend time hearing from our Savior and growing in our understanding of His character and ways. We’ll become walking treasure houses—filled with wealth that cannot be stolen from us, even by death (Matt. 6:19-21).

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION EXERCISE

Read Psalm 1:1-3 and begin a conversation with the Lord, working through the following questions.
VERSE 1:
• Do I take advice from those whose ways are contrary to Yours? Am I missing some of Your blessings because of my choice of friends?
VERSE 2:
• Lord, what is my chief source of enjoyment? How can I begin to enjoy You more?
• What do You mean by “meditates day and night”? How can I do that?
VERSE 3:
• How can I become like a fruitful tree? What kind of fruit do You want me to yield?
• What does it mean to prosper? What blessings await those who honor You?

The Bible’s greatest purpose is to reveal Jesus as God’s Son. It tells us that a personal relationship with Him is the only way to be saved from sin and death.

First John 5:11-12 says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
Friend, do you know the Savior? There’s no better time than now to confess your sins and invite Him into your life. You can use the following prayer or your own words:
Lord Jesus, I believe You are truly the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in word, thought, and deed. Please forgive all my wrongdoing, and let me live in relationship with You from now on. I receive You as my personal Savior, accepting the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross. Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You. Amen.

Now tell someone, get into the word, get into church, and follow the Lord in Believers Baptism.

Until next week, Love and prayers,

Pastor Rick Signature

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