First Tuesday of the month, 6:30 PM - 7:15 PM
Join us on the first Tuesday evening of each month for prayer. We be praying for our church, community, nation, and the world.
For several weeks now, I have been on a metaphorical journey to grow in authenticity. And by authenticity I mean being more genuine, honest, and real. There have been several factors that have contributed to my desire to develop in authenticity but the primary reason is fatigue. I find it exhausting to pretend. And by pretend I mean having shallow conversations, keeping people at an emotional arm’s length, and smiling and saying “I’m fine, how are you?” when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s like being an iceberg, revealing only a fraction of your whole self when there is much more beneath the surface. So far, my metaphorical journey has been more of a blundering shuffle forward where I constantly have to think about and remind myself to not let conversations with the people I care about revolve around temporary subjects like the weather, sports, and movies. But it has been good. I’ve been able to learn and grow and combat the emotional atrophy that plagues so many of us. Although the journey towards authentic living is far from over, here are some of the things I’ve picked up along the way.
To be authentic is to be true, genuine, and faithful. To be true, genuine, and faithful is to be reflective of the character of God which is a fulfillment of our calling which leads to the best version of ourselves (because it is the one that most precisely honors our imago dei origin). Being authentic will also lead to the most genuine (and best) form of community. Relationships will grow and flourish because the façade will have been removed and the posing will have stopped. We will be able to deal with each other with honesty and sincerity. C.S. Lewis understood this by explaining that “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”1 When we can interact with each other in an authentic manner, we are able to recognize the One whose image we are made in, and improve in our ability to treat people with honor, dignity, and respect. On the flipside, when we live in an inauthentic manner, we pretend to know God (and the person He has called us to be), we pretend to have intimate relationships with family and friends (because we think it’s easier to keep our shortcomings buried deep), and we pretend to know what’s best for ourselves (assuming that putting on a good face is our first and only option). Our ability to know and recognize love hinges on our understanding of the gospel: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” and in response to an understanding of Christ’s loving sacrifice “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”2 The way we love and live for others is not only in “word or talk but in deed and truth.”3 So again, to be authentic is to be true, genuine, and faithful. To be true, genuine, and faithful is to be reflective of the character of God which is a fulfillment of our calling which leads to the best version of ourselves and will also lead to the most genuine (and best) form of community.
There are two extremes (one dealing with the internal, the other external) to guard against in attempts at authenticity. First off, being authentic doesn’t mean telling every single person every single thing going on in your life. More often than not, when someone asks “How’s it going?” they mean it as a greeting rather than “Tell me about your struggles and insecurities.” Without question, we need people in our lives that we can talk to and pray with but there should be some discernment as to who those people are. If you’re married, one of those people should be your spouse. If you’re a man, you need other men speaking into your life. If you’re a woman, you need other women speaking into your life. If you’re younger, you should probably have someone older speaking into your life.4
Secondly, authenticity does not excuse brashness. “Telling it like it is” does not equate to letting your yes be yes and your no be no5 if you aren’t “speaking the truth in love.”6 To speak the truth in love means to deal honestly and genuinely with someone but to do so in a manner that communicates encouragement and grace. The balance between these two extremes is difficult but important to grasp. One direction will come off as reckless and while the other will come off as rude (and both will be relationally polarizing).
God bless you on your quest for authenticity.
1The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis
21 John 3:16
31 John 3:18
Many people have experienced Bible memory like a crash diet or a cram session for finals. A small group leader or sermon challenges us and we go hard after our Bible memorization for a few weeks but slowly and surely we lose the practice, forget what we memorized, and get discouraged. Or we just cram the Bible verse for 5 minutes before our accountability group, repeat it out loud amazed that we actually remember it, breathe a sigh of relief, and forget it forever. Like crash diets and final exams, our experience has been primarily stressful and practically useless.
But what if I told you that in about five minutes a day for the next year, you could have at least 3-5 chapters of the Bible memorized cold, forever a blessing to you, your family, and those you minister to? It is possible. It just takes a slow and steady plan and commitment to practice the discipline for five minutes a day most days a year. Here’s how to start memorizing Scripture today if you’ve never tried before, or if all your experiences have been frustrating or failures.
First, get the point of this practice firmly in your mind, refusing to fall into Scripture memory legalism or arrogance. This is not about you being an impressive, rigorous, and disciplined Christian. Many of us love accomplishing things, we love checking the box, and if we approach Scripture memory with that mentality, it will lead inevitably to arrogance when we succeed (“look how much Bible I’ve memorized, I can’t believe that others don’t do this”) or frustration and guilt when we fail.
The first main purpose of Scripture memory is to have the joy of the presence of Jesus today through the Bible saturating your mind. John 15:7-8 says we abide in Jesus (have fellowship with him and remain in his presence) when His Words abide in us. You will find more joy and have the Scriptures influencing more of the habits of your heart when the Word saturates your mind throughout the day through Scripture memory (also see Joshua 1:8).
The second purpose of Scripture memory is long term: preparation for future spiritual battle and ministry. We want to prepare ourselves for life’s trials, temptations, and opportunities for ministry by having God’s Word hidden in our hearts. The passages you memorize will be your most useful weapons against the evil one, the best gateways to fruitful prayer in various moments of your life, and the passages you can readily share with believers who need comfort or unbelievers who need Christ. Memorized Scripture is a tool box and treasure chest for your soul.
My grandfather had Alzheimer’s for the final years of his life. It was hard to see him lose his awareness of surroundings and ability to live in and understand the present moment. But boy he could tell me all about what happened from when he was 20-60. His long term memory was fantastic. As a guy potentially genetically geared for dementia or Alzheimer’s, if the day comes when my memory and/or mind goes, I want the Scriptures close at hand. When I can’t remember where or what my Bible is I want it seared into my memory through years of meditation. Scripture memory prepares me for some of the scariest and loneliest moments of life and increases my joy in the happiest moments in life.
We need an attainable daily disciplined goal if we’re going to consistently memorize Scripture. Set one for yourself. It could be something like—“Monday through Friday, I won’t use any entertainment media or news until I have spent five minutes memorizing a verse or reviewing some memory verses.” Or you could say, “Five days this week, I will spend 5 minutes of a meal time/lunch break working on Scripture memory.” I personally enjoy setting aside 5-7 minutes of my time with the Lord for Scripture memory. Once you’ve gotten direction (where you’re going) and set a disciplined goal (how you’ll get there), you need to get started.
The first thing you need to get started is a plan for what you will be memorizing. I think the best place to start would be to ask yourself questions like—what passages have most made my heart sing? What passages do I want with me on my death bed? What will help me pray most fruitfully for myself and others? It is also wise to memorize passages that deal with particular sins and issues in your life. For example, if you struggle with anxiety and fear like me, you could start with Psalm 27, 121, Matthew 6:25-34, or Proverbs 3:5-12. If you’re a spouse, memorize passages about your role as husband or wife. Likewise if you are a deacon, elder, parent, or child, let the Word touch your life in your greatest areas of need. Make a plan for passages you will memorize; it could be a note on your phone or a page in your journal.
It is best to memorize passages or chapters of the Bible and not individual verses. The reasons for this are twofold: first, it is simply much easier long term to remember passages than individual verses. For example, let’s say in the next year I commit to memorize 52 verses, one a week. If I do individual verses, I have to not only remember the verses themselves, but also remember fifty-two different Bible references. But if I memorize Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Psalm 34, and Psalm 63 (total of 54 verses), I only have 4 references to remember to recite. It would be even easier if I memorized the first two or three chapters of a New Testament epistle.
But beside the obvious practical benefits, memorizing passages instead of individual verses is also based on the solid principle that you understand and apply the Bible better in context. For example, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is much better understood if you see in the verses before and after that Paul is primarily talking about being able to suffer and still be content.
The second thing you need to get started is a plan on how you will memorize—a simple and repeatable method. I have found the 7x7x7 method to work very well. Take 7 minutes in the morning to memorize a verse cold (this is generous on time; some of you will be able to memorize an average-length verse in 2-5 minutes.) If you normally have a 20-30 minute devotional time, take 7 minutes out of that time; if you can’t have a devotional time, take 7 minutes over your breakfast or coffee. Sit with the verse in front of you. Look at the first word and take a picture of it with your brain, then look away from it and repeat it out loud. Repeat for each word in order until you can say the whole verse without looking at your Bible. (If you were memorizing John 3:16, it would look like this: First you say, “For.” Then look back at your Bible. Then you say, “For God,” then back at your Bible. Then say “For God so…” until the whole verse is down cold.) Then say it again slowly with your eyes closed, forming a picture of each word in your mind as you say them out loud. Finally conclude by writing the verse out. Other methods may work better for you, but whatever you do, you will want to actively engage your brain and senses as much as possible; this will greatly help your recall of what you memorize.
Once the verse is memorized, repeat it 7 times throughout the day. This is easy because you don’t need a Bible—the verse is memorized, so you can repeat it when you get into your car for work, before you pray over your lunch, etc. But you must repeat the verse through the day or you will forget it. This is where most people struggle—simply remembering to recite the verse through the day. We only remember things we repeat! You may need to put a reminder on your phone at first, but soon this will become habitual.
After a verse has been memorized and you can say it without any mental jogging before you go to bed that night, recite the verse once a day for the next 7 weeks. That might sound like a lot, but remember—you’ve already done the work of memorizing. All you’re doing is recalling one verse each day; it will take you 10 seconds. It’s especially easy if you go on to memorize the next verse in the same passage the next day. Before you start memorizing verse 2, close your eyes and repeat verse 1 out loud. Boom, repetition done for the day.
So 7 minutes in the morning, 7 times that day, and then once a day for the next 7 weeks—and with some easy periodic maintenance, the verse is yours for life. If you practice this, you will quickly have a large amount of Scripture memorized and will need a plan to keeping it fresh. What I currently do is take one week of memorizing new verses, and one week of repeating and reviewing old verses. I’ll break each day of the week into a different passage or set of passages I review. And 95% of this is recitation on my commute or in my head as I fall asleep at night. The main thing is to just keep at it.
If you want to be inspired and convicted about Scripture memory, watch John Piper do this. (Make sure you listen to minutes 15-20 for his personal story). He admits freely that he has an average/poor memory. He’s just slowly and steadily worked at it. My encouragement is for you, by God’s grace, to do the same.
I was a believer for 7 years before I ever memorized and kept memorized a single passage of Scripture. In the Lord’s kind providence, however, I’ve been convicted about and practicing regular memorization of the Bible for the last two years, and the Lord has immensely blessed this practice in my life and ministry to others. Here are eight reasons, from Scripture and my experience, why you should start (or re-start!) memorizing your Bible today:
1. For your joy and blessing: The Scriptures abound with the truth that the Word memorized and meditated on is a great blessing to God’s people: “Blessed is the man who…delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). The Psalm goes on to describe this person with joy, fruitfulness, and usefulness in all seasons of life. If you have doubts on whether memorizing the Bible is worth the work, maybe you should start by memorizing passages that speak of its great benefits, like Psalm 1, 19, any part of Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3:16, or John 17:17.
2. Because your excuses are false: I hate to be negative so quickly, but I know what some of you are thinking—“Oh, an article about Scripture memory. Ahh, it’s too bad my memory is so terrible, I just can’t memorize Scripture!” If you can remember your phone number, spouse’s first name, child’s sports team, etc., you have a functioning memory. You don’t need a great memory to memorize Scripture; you just need a functioning memory. If you’ve tried and failed to memorize Scripture, it’s either your technique or lack of discipline, not your ability. Rejoice that you are not en exception; you are capable of enjoying the blessing of God’s Word memorized.
As a side note, most people get discouraged because they try really hard to memorize a passage or verse but cannot remember it a week later. There is a simple reason for this: we must frequently repeat verses we memorize to keep them. I like the 7x7x7 rule: spend 7 minutes getting a verse memorized cold, repeat it 7 times that day (it will only take 10 seconds to do this once you have it memorized!), and then repeat the verse once a day for 7 weeks. Then the verse is yours for life! Repeating a memorized verse is extremely easy, it doesn’t even have to be done out loud; the hard part is simply reminding ourselves to repeat it.
3. It will turn your drudgery into devotion: Life can be full of drudgery: monotonous seasons at work, dirty diapers, doing dishes, driving on 526. With no Bible memorized, you are in these moments left to, at best, prayers like “Lord help me get through this,” or at the worst, your wandering and often ungodly thoughts. But if you have the Word memorized, these moments can become times of devotion to and fellowship with God. Scripture memory lets the Bible invade all the moments of our lives, the good ones and the drudgeries.
The Lord has used Scripture memory to transform how I deal with a personal drudgery: sleeplessness. I’ve always struggled periodically to sleep, and even struggled with “sleep dread,” a weird and rare sleep disorder where the lack of sleep leads to the fear of not being able to sleep, which of course leads to more sleeplessness. (It is embarrassing and difficult to explain this to someone who doesn’t struggle with it.) Before I started memorizing Scripture, I would just lay in bed, or get up and pray, and basically say, “Lord please please please PLEASE take this away.” Then I started memorizing passages in the Psalms and I came to Psalm 63, where David says, “My soul will be satisfied with fat and rich food, and my tongue will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed and mediate on you in the watches of the night.” Talk about a different kind of prayer for one’s sleeplessness! (Also, for you sleep dread-ers out there, Psalms 121, 127, and Matthew 6:25-34 have been hugely helpful for me).
4. Because 20 minutes a day with God is not enough: A worshipful time with the Lord in the morning is the spiritual version of a healthy and filling breakfast. It hopefully warms your soul, and as Buster would say “feeds your inner man.” But just like a physical breakfast’s benefits, by 2PM the benefits of a morning quiet time are often gone and forgotten. Many people who are disciplined in their Bible reading simply cannot remember or keep applying what they learned at 6AM, and almost all of us need some kind of spiritual refreshment throughout the day. If we are going to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) we are going to need truth to rejoice about, fuel for continual prayer, and things to be thankful about all the time—things we will only have if the Bible saturates our mind through memorization.
5. It will make you more effective in all kinds of ministry: Most of the passages I have referenced in this blog post have been something I have memorized. I say that only because I’ve found the only passages I actually use in ministry or remember for daily life are the ones I’ve memorized!
There is a huge difference between familiarity with a passage (“Oh, you need an encouraging word in your grief? I think there is something in either 1 or 2 Thessalonians somewhere…”) and certainty about a passage (“1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 will help you in your grief”) when it comes to using Scripture in the various informal circumstances we all minster in (small groups, informal counseling, personal evangelism, parenting our children, etc.) What we read once will influence and be useful us for a short time; what we memorize, for life.
6. Because it is one of the most efficient means of Grace: You might be thinking, “How do I have time for this?” Lucky for you, Scripture memory is extremely time-efficient. Most people, with the right technique, can legitimately memorize one average length verse in 5-7 minutes. Because you’ve now memorized the verse, it’s yours for the rest of the day. In 5-7 minutes you have a whole days worth of truth to rejoice in, obey, and pray through for yourself and others.
7. Because it is the cure for your boredom and addiction to entertainment: Pascal said “All of mankind’s problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.” There is a reason our minds are restless and a reason we are all, to various degrees, addicted to our phones, entertainment, music, etc. Our minds were made to be occupied by something. Memorizing the Bible occupies your ever-craving mind with the things of God. Want to be captivated by beauty and freed from boredom wherever you are? Memorize Scripture.
8. Because you need to counter the ungodly and trivial influences in your life: Speaking of media: Netflix, when used properly, can be a gift of God. It is sometimes such a blessing to sit and relax your mind through an appropriate TV show. But it is almost impossible to use any kind of media without trivial or ungodly influences or worldviews being presented to you. Almost all TV shows, movies, and advertisements promote some kind of lie or anti-God worldview. And most of us don’t use our media with an open Bible, so we need truths in our minds continually to help us counter all the lies that come before us.
For example, my bride and I have been enjoying the much acclaimed series Friday Night Lights. In many ways it’s a great show, but most of its characters are engaged in immoral relationships. If I watch this show unthinkingly it will inevitably influence my views on sexuality. Every time I see even the insinuation of someone who commits sexual sin on TV with no consequences, I need to hear again and again: “Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”(1 Corinthians 6:18). If I read my Bible faithfully, I get that verse once a year, if I memorize it, I have it every single time I need it.
So get alone with God and ask Him to give you the desire and ability to memorize His Word this year. And get up tomorrow and block out 5-10 minutes to memorize a favorite verse (let it be a part of your devotion time!), repeat it 5-10 times in your head or out loud through the day, and see the way God blesses your heart and mind.
Today is the anniversary of the death of my favorite Puritan, John Owen. Owen died on August 24, 1683 at the age of 67. My love and esteem for this man is so profound that when our son was born, Sara and I named Zack after John Owen; Zachary Owen Brown.
Many of my heroes in the faith have been named John.
John Wycliffe (1320-1384), who labored to give the people of England the Bible in their native language and led the “Lollards”.
John Huss (1369-1415), who worked to recover the gospel of grace among the Czech people.
John Calvin (1509-1564), the reformer from Geneva and chief theologian of the Reformation.
John Bunyan (1628-1688), who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress and spent 12 years in jail because he would not cease from preaching the gospel.
Jon(athan) Edwards (1703-1758), who was instrumental in the First Great Awakening and briefly served as president of Princeton College.
John Braun, who is one of my mentors and whose devotion to the worship of Christ, love for scripture, and commitment to prayer underscores that he is a latter day Puritan.
John Owen was significantly used of God to speak to his generation and the generations that succeeded him. Regarding John Owen, he wrote:
“Believers know of themselves they have no sufficiency – that without Christ they can do nothing: therefore, they look to Him, who is entrusted with a fullness of all grace in their behalf; and thereupon by faith derive from Him an increase of that in which they so desperately stand in need…From Christ do they receive the Spirit to dwell in them; from Him the new principle of life, which is the root of all of their obedience; and from Christ have they actual assistance for every duty that they are called to do. In waiting and expectation and receiving of these blessings, do they spend their lives and their time with Him. In vain is help looked for from any other mountain; in vain do men spend their strength in following after righteousness, if this not be centered in Christ. Fix your soul in Christ and you shall never be ashamed. This is the way, the only way, to obtain full, effectual manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us; to have our hearts purified and consciences purged, our sins put to death, our graces increased, our souls made humble, holy, zealous, and believing – and to be like Him…” (The Works of John Owen, Communion with God, Vol. 2, pp. 206-207)
I know that that is a wordy statement which is filled with run on sentences. But it breathes a Christ-centeredness which I long for in my life.
John Owen gave the valedictorian address at Oxford when he was 16 years of age. And he gave it in Latin!
He had the equivalent of several Ph.D.s and he befriended a lowly Baptist preacher named John Bunyan who was a man of little education and was a tinker (an itinerant tinsmith who mended household utensils). One day, Owen was in the presence of the King of England, Charles II. The king belittled Bunyan and asked how an incredibly gifted and educated man such as Owen could sit and listen to the illiterate tinker, John Bunyan, to which Owen replied: “May it please Your Majesty, could I possess that tinker’s abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.”
This is just one reason I love this man! Therefore, I celebrate John Owen on his death date. May we live lives of faithfulness unto the Lord.
From June 29-July 13, East Cooper Baptist Church sent a team to the Czech Republic to partner with a local Baptist church in the small town of Sumperk, about 140 miles east of Prague. The mission was to assist them in their annual English Camp for Czech high school students. The camp is a great opportunity to gather local students who have all taken English in school, but have had no conversational outlet with native English speakers. The nine days of camp were filled with English in the morning, sports, crafts, hikes, and workshops all afternoon, and Gospel-centered teaching and singing in the evening. Through that busy schedule, relationships skyrocketed, laughter was constant, and the hope of seeing students come to Christ became tangible.
A very prominent statue, which stands tall at the centermost point in Prague, is of Protestant Reformer Jan Hus. Hus was burned at the stake for holding firm to the Gospel of Christ alone. He is often referred to as the first reformer since he died nearly 100 years before Martin Luther. Every year on July 6, all Czechs celebrate Jan Hus with a national holiday. In spite of this rich history, the nation boasts of its predominately religion-less culture. One guide in Prague said, “We are 87% atheist.” Even the CIA’s World Fact Book lists the national religion as 88% unspecified or none. The cathedrals only host tourists and postcard racks and children are raised to believe what their parents teach…there is no God.
In spite of this, there are small candles all over the big house that is the Czech Republic. Small bodies of believers are living bright lives, eager to share the light, to gather in the light, and to feed on the Word which brings the light. This small church in Sumperk, with its 130 members and thriving student ministry was able to organize and pull off an English camp for 90 people. There was great prayer and fasting before the camp and truly impressive follow-up and discipleship strategies after. Over the nine days of camp, several students shared their stories of coming to faith in Jesus Christ through this very camp during previous summers. God is doing a great work in the Czech Republic!
The lights seem to be dimming in America. Church attendance is dropping, public displays of faith are deemed inappropriate or forbidden, and the Christian understanding of morality has nearly been lost. These are dark days. But...there is one great hope! There is one great light! There is one great light that Jan Hus stood for as the fires took his life. There is one great hope that draws the faithful few together in Sumperk, Czech Republic. There is one great light that motivates a faithful body three hours east of Prague to dedicate tremendous time, effort, emotion, and resources to sponsor yet another English Camp!
Even as the lights dim in our home country, we have the same hope that all Christians everywhere have always had…and it’s enough! We have Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). Be encouraged church! We are not alone. We are not in the dark.
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