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Memorizing Scripture was always one of those things I said I wanted to do as a Christian, but I never had substantial goals, a plan to reach those goals, or tools to help achieve those goals. A renewed interest in memorization came after my friend Truman won second place in the National Bible Bee in 2009, where he memorized hundreds and hundreds of verses from many different books of the Bible. And recently my good friend Matt told me about a blog he read about an individual that was almost finished memorizing the entire New Testament!
Needless to say, I was again provoked.
This time, I wanted to arm myself with a tool. I went on a quick Google hunt and found a great little app for my smartphone that allows me to memorize on the go! It's called Memorize Anything and will work with any fairly recent iOS device.
A couple of weeks ago Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." In a radio interview shortly after his initial statement, he said: "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'"
Backlash from politicians and activist groups ensued. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee began to organize "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day", calling Christians to support Dan Cathy's company for their stance on marriage. Billy Graham even offered his support for the company. In the past several days my social media streams have been inundated with posts from well-meaning Christians vouching their support for the fast food chain because of their stance on marriage and family values.
While there may be some merit in offering support for Chick-fil-A (I certainly enjoy their food), we must not do so at the expense of marginalizing the gospel and the pilgrim character of the church (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). In all of the social media posts and news articles I have read surrounding this issue, only one has mentioned scripture, repentance, the hope of the gospel, the coming Day of the LORD, or the glory of Jesus. Has the church's message been subtly reduced to moralism and chicken sandwiches instead of Jesus' return and signs that confirm it? With many tears like the prophet Jeremiah we should be lovingly calling the unrighteous to repentance in light of the coming judgment on unrighteousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). Instead we seem to be seeking to promote morality by gaining social and political influence. In doing so, as Alva McClain says, "the sharp edge of the church's divinely commissioned witness is blunted". It should be alarming to us that the American media's presentation of the church has very little to do with the glory of Jesus, His cross, and His return.
Every year since July 4, 1776, America has observed "Independence Day", the day when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress and the United States became an independent nation. Though I am an American citizen by birth, the Bible describes me as "born again to a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3). My true nationality and citizenship is not here, but "in heaven" (Philippians 3:20), because it is from there that Jesus will return to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem. My true home will not be on a cloud with a harp but will be with Jesus on this very earth in a very real city that will descend and come out of heaven (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2).
The Bible is filled with descriptions of that mountain city called "New Jerusalem", "heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22) or the "Jerusalem above" (Galatians 4:26). We are constantly encouraged by the scriptures to set our minds there and ponder it often (Colossians 3:2). Thus as believers in Jesus and citizens of that city it is fitting on this day to meditate on our eternal home and to behold what transpires there. Far from yawning angels reciting dry liturgy in a musty, dimly lit hall, the Scriptures describe the Temple in heaven as filled with unfathomable colors, sounds, music, and smells because of the splendor of the One enthroned there. His Temple also has fireworks of its own - thunderings, lightnings, and noises are coming from the throne (Revelation 4:5). I'm certain they're way better than anything Kansas City can put on tonight.
Heaven is not a hall of mirrors where we like what we see, but the grand gift of self-forgetful joy in the glory of Christ.
In this present evil age, sin causes us to believe that life's greatest joys are found in being praised, affirmed, loved, and recognized. In our quest for lasting joy we work hard for promotions. We seek a bigger and better house to entertain guests. We promote ourselves beyond our actual ability in order to be recognized - all because we believe the lie that these things will give us the fulfillment we are seeking.
Though the acts of working hard, buying a home, or advertising our skills are not sinful in and of themselves, they become sinful when we use them to seek our highest and lasting joy, because Christ Himself is to be the sole source of our highest joy (Mark 12:30). The "American Dream" is in direct conflict with biblical Christianity for this very reason. These idols are presented as the source and the terminus of our joy, not as things that help us to exult in the Maker of them.
Yesterday much of the Far East and the Southwest US experienced an annular solar eclipse, often described as a "ring of fire" because of the way the moon blocks out most of the sun, leaving a bright ring around it in the sky. Much of the event was also visible here in Missouri, beginning around 7:30pm and lasting for 45 or 50 minutes.
I was able to view the eclipse at my folks' house where they have an open view of the western sky thanks to the rolling Missouri plains. We took turns looking through a thick, dark welder's lens. The sights were breathtaking! One news report I read on the event quoted a NASA official describing people's reactions to the eclipse: "You get everything from stoic, staring into the sky ... to people breaking down and crying, they're just so moved".
In this age where sin has deeply rent the human heart from its created purpose to make much of God's glory, there are heightened moments our lives when the Holy Spirit engenders faith to believe in a restoration of that purpose. Several months ago I had one of those moments - not while in prayer, worship, or study, but simply standing in my kitchen eating a banana.
In order to explain I have to start sometime late last year when I listened to this teaching by Stephen Venable entitled Sovereignty and Prayer. Stephen's goal in this teaching was to remind us what the scriptures say about God's rulership and governance over His creation. We live in an age where "Mother Nature" and "natural laws" have taken the place of the LORD as the sustainer and ruler over all that He has made. Scripture emphatically declares that the LORD gives life and breath to all things actively (Psalms 104:27-30; Daniel 5:23; Job 12:10; Isaiah 42:5), causes plants to grow, gives rain, and gives food actively (Job 5:10; Job 37:6-13; Psalms 65:7-11; Psalms 104:7-13; Psalms 147:8; Psalms 147:15-18), and presides over the lives of men actively (Job 34:14-15; Acts 17:24-25; 1 Samuel 2:6).
I had been meditating on some of those scriptures, particularly Psalms 145:16 and Psalms 65:7-11 and how the LORD is the one who sends rain for the earth's crops to grow. I was asking Jesus to shake me from my naturalistic perspective, that His word would renew my mind and take root in my heart, and that awe and gratitude would be my response to His glory as the creator and sustainer of all. I didn't really "feel" much during this time, but continued to ask in faith knowing that He heard my prayer.
During Passion Week last week, I tweeted a harmony of the chronology as recorded by the four gospels, based on The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim.
In the Twitter sphere where humanity gets wrapped up in movies, bashing political figures, debating social justice issues, and showing off what they ate for lunch today, I wanted to bring to remembrance perhaps the most neglected One on Twitter - God in the flesh Himself. The very real memories He has of Passion Week must be the substance of our friendship with Him, as I briefly wrote about before starting last week.
My chronology is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully is a good representation of the events of Jesus' final week leading up to His death on the cross. In order to make the scriptures clickable, I did edit these tweets from their original form on my Twitter account by expanding "Jn" to "John", "Mt" to "Matthew", etc. Besides those edits, the lines below are exactly what I tweeted in order last week.
I hope this summary serves to encourage you and strengthen your friendship with Jesus.
- Beginning today through next Sunday, I'll be tweeting a chronological narration of the events of Jesus' passion. Stay tuned! #passionweek
For over 2000 years, Christian clergy, laymen, scholars, and poets alike have often reflected on Passion Week, the holy days leading up to the most precious moments of all of Jesus' years on the earth - the days of our Lord's death and resurrection.
Lent, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday are commonly known terms to many in and out of the church of Jesus, but the actual events of Passion Week are at best very fuzzy in the minds of many believers. Often more able to recall fine details of scenes while quoting myriads of lines from their favorite movies, many modern believers have neglected meditation on the life of Jesus during these days.
If He is our Lord and we say we treasure Him above all else, shouldn't we be able to tell others with clarity about what He said and did during the most important week of His recorded ministry? And if a friendship is based on relational knowledge, shouldn't these words and deeds be so vivid to us and be the very substance of our intimacy with Him?
I'm burdened by this myself - so beginning today, I'll be narrating the chronological sequence of Passion Week on my Twitter account. Every day I will tweet several times about the details of the corresponding day in our Lord's life. I hope it helps you to remember Him and know Him more deeply in His passion.
If they are encouraging to you, share this tweet or post on your own social network (or anything similar):
I'm following @joshprays for a chronological overview of Jesus' last week before His death on the cross. You should too! #passionweek
If you tweet about Passion Week yourself, use the hash tag #passionweek so that others can glean from your meditation as well.
May the Lord grant us nearness to Him this week as we remember Him!
From about age 9 until my early teen years I remember looking forward to camping in the woods of New England with my church's youth group. We would pack our provisions and drive several hours to set up our camp with the basics - shelter, food, and fire. We learned essential wilderness survival skills, knots, safe food storage, and water purification. The older ones taught the younger ones, and everyone learned and grew together. We were far from the comforts of running water, furnaces, air conditioning, and home cooking. We were in the wilderness.
Yet all of us knew that in just a few days we would be back in our comfortable beds with an easily accessible refrigerator and microwave oven. In other words, we knew that our setup at camp was just transient and temporary. We did not use brick and mortar to build our shelters, we patched holes in our tents and tarps with duct tape. We did not construct the fire pit to last for years of harsh winters. We did not bring enough food and water for more than a week. Though we were extremely grateful that we had protection from the rain, food for our bellies, and soap to clean our hands, we did not seek to overhaul our camp into our permanent home. As we camped, we let our small "delicacies" remind us of home cooking. We let our lawn chair remind us of our dad's plush lounge chair and blanket back home. Even just a day or two into our trip, we would all be longing for the comforts of home again.