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The Perks of Being a Bible Quizzer: The Case For Setting Your Mind On Scripture

The Perks of Being a Bible Quizzer: The Case For Setting Your Mind On Scripture

When I was growing up, my dad helped lead a Bible quizzing program at our church and his energy and enthusiasm about it was contagious. Though I sometimes gave my parents a hard time about it, and even tried to quit once or twice, I was a highly engaged Bible quizzer from 3rd–12th grade.  

Looking back, I must confess that Bible quizzing is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Every year we would study a different book (or books) of the New Testament, and we had to be very familiar with the material, even memorizing particular verses and passages, to be successful in the competition.

Despite all of that Scripture in my mind, even as a Bible quizzer, I still found a way to be a rascal in many of my interpersonal relationships, but that was no fault of the Scripture. My life contains many mistakes, but my involvement in Bible quizzing, which led me to ingest large amounts of the New Testament into my long term memory, and eventually into my heart, is not one of them. 

I backed my way into immersing my mind in Scripture as a child, but now in adulthood, I have found it to be extremely helpful for the learning involved in discipleship to Jesus. 

 

The Why

If we have accepted the status of disciple (a student or apprentice) of Jesus Christ, then, as good students, what we fill our minds with will have important ramifications on our learning. As disciples of Jesus, our course of study is to learn how to live our lives within the reign and action of God, just like Jesus would if he were us. Such a way is outlined for us in Scripture.

In Psalm 1:1–3, we find a picture of the kind of person whose delight is in God’s law or word, and meditates on it day and night: he or she is like a tree planted by streams of water. Their fruit yields in season, their leaf does not wither, and whatever they do prospers. This kind of  student or disciple has their mind on the material, and will be successful in learning kingdom living.

How could we expect to grow in Christlikeness, if we don’t recognize our obligation to set our minds on the material of the course? If we set our mind on “whatever,” then “whatever” will be our result. The lesson of garbage in, garbage out, is completely accurate.   

Can you imagine failing a course, and then complaining to your teacher, “Oh… you actually expected me to study?” 

If our goal is to learn to live in cooperation with God’s action, then, as students, there is material available for us to set our minds upon to aid us in that pursuit. 

We can do this, and we can start afresh today. 

 

The How

With the right “why” in hand,  we are motivated and prepared to ask how we might immerse our minds in Scripture. 

To this end, Dallas Willard offers 3 keys for setting our minds on Scripture: 

 

  1. Concentration: We have to actually set our attention on the Scripture.
  2. Repetition: We have to go over the same material multiple times to become familiar with it.
  3. Understanding: We must understand it for it to be profitable to our hearts.  Sometimes looking at multiple Bible translations or resources like commentaries, BibleProject podcast and videos, and audio Bible recordings can help. 

If you are ready to concentrate, repeat, and understand Scripture, here are a few passages to start with. I know you will find many more to add to the list!

Psalm 23
Proverbs 3:5–8
Isaiah 40:27–31
Philippians 4:4–9
Colossians 3:1-17

In Psalm 119:11, we read, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

May this be true of each one of us this year, and for the rest of our earthly sojourn. 

Experimenting with the Disciplines

Experimenting with the Disciplines

by Tyler Sadlo

In Dallas Willard’s masterpiece, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he encourages the reader to approach “those activities that have had a wide and profitable use among disciples of Christ…in a prayerful, experimental way” (my emphasis added). Experimental? That was a word I hadn’t heard applied to the disciplines before. So, about two years ago, with that encouragement in mind, I decided to engage in the discipline of fasting. What follows here are reflections on my “experiment.” I hope they offer practical encouragement that shows the fits and starts of experimentation, but also the unexpected fruits. The spiritual disciplines need not be dry. Rather, they can be an entry point into the vibrancy of life with God.

I didn’t know what I wanted out of fasting when I began, but I knew that it was a discipline I could do without a lot of startup cost, and at the time I wanted to get started on what was within reach. I had two things in mind when I began: 1) I did not want to disrupt family dinnertime (this conclusion was reached through previous trial and error), and 2) I was compelled by Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline to fast for 24 hours each week over an extended period of time. Ultimately, that extended period added up to 20 consecutive months of weekly fasting (with maybe 1 or 2 “skipped” weeks).

 

An instructive journey

It began as most practices likely do: it was difficult not to eat; I was extremely low on energy; I made mistakes when ending the fast and sometimes hurt my stomach or my mouth (yes, the process of chewing food was actually painful). I’d like to say that I quickly learned from this, but it was an ongoing struggle to keep my post-fast meals light. Over time, my energy on fasting days increased, but the path was not linear. More than a year in there were still times when I had very little energy in the afternoon. But without question, I gradually became more skilled in the practice.

I learned early on that fasting was a considerable disruption to my schedule. I had to reshuffle priorities in order to make it work. But this was one of the great, hidden benefits of fasting: I was taking steps to build my life around the practices of Jesus rather than fitting some of them into my life where it was convenient. For example, my lunch hour on fasting days was free so I could walk, pray, and read. This eventually became the most appealing part of fasting, and the anchor that kept me coming back week after week. Nowhere else in my schedule was time set aside for extended prayer, which meant that fasting was helping create space to engage in another spiritual discipline. That benefit was unexpected, but I don’t think it was a coincidence.

I recall a conversation perhaps nine months into the practice when I tried to explain its benefits to some friends. I was very clear that I could not apply a direct relationship between fasting and any outcomes in character formation or the like. Usually there’s some direct connection between fasting and self-control that’s touted, but I did not experience it that way. I experienced being forced to slow down, both physically and mentally, and I enjoyed the freed-up time that was meant to be dedicated to one-on-one time with the Lord.

 

A change in the journey

Eventually, though, things started to lose their savor. For example, instead of replacing breakfast preparation with meditation and reading, I slept in. I had seen real progress toward becoming a more thoughtful husband, a more patient father, and someone who experiences God’s presence without interruption, but I had been focused on this specific discipline for so long that I had started hoping it would be a silver bullet for these benefits, benefits that one discipline was never meant to provide.

Multiple times in the months that followed, I contemplated pausing my weekly practice of fasting. The reason was simple: it was becoming stale. I was not waking up to take advantage of the mornings. I was running errands instead of praying and reading. I was not experiencing the transcendence that had sometimes accompanied fasting days in prior months. But could I really just stop? Staleness felt more like an excuse than a valid reason. I began to wonder if any reason could rise to the level of “valid,” or if they would all seem like excuses. It was important for me to realize that this language and thinking had a flavor of legalism and guilt, and I certainly didn’t want fasting to be built on that.

Enter Dallas Willard and his encouragement to approach the disciplines experimentally. He adds to that a reminder that what “prevent[s] them from becoming a new bondage…is [the] love of Jesus.” The disciplines are for no more and no less than moving us into deeper union with God. 

Which is why, about two months ago, I decided to pivot. I chose to skip just one meal a week, leaning into the draw of fasting that still resonates deeply: lunchtime prayer and reading. I affirm the value of fasting, and I honestly wish I could recapture some of the feeling (the transcendence, the feeling that I was moving closer to God, the eagerness to use the freed-up time) that I had before. For now, though, I’m hoping to remove some of the drudgery and legalism from the practice, and maybe re-sensitize myself to its benefits. 

I’ll conclude with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Breakfast of Champions, that crystalizes my mindset: “I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.” I look forward to continuing to engage in this and other practices in experimental, adventurous ways that grow both my obedience to God and my relational closeness to him and other people. I want to retain what brings me closer to God, and I will throw over my shoulder that which does not.

Fresh Insight into the Ten Commandments

Fresh Insight into the Ten Commandments

Someone once said insight isn’t primarily about getting new information but about seeing old information in fresh ways. This happened to me recently with the Ten Commandments. Our tendency is to view the Ten Commandments as merely a set of prohibitions.

But a closer examination of them reveals three things that help us gain fresh insight.

 

The Ten Commandments remind us who God is


First, these commandments remind us who God is. He is the rescuer! This is vital! Notice how the Ten Commandments begin in Exodus chapter 20.

And God spoke all these words, saying,  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:1–2 ESV

If we miss God’s identity as the rescuer, we will completely misunderstand the purpose and heart of the Ten Commandments. God did not give Israel these commandments while they were in Egypt and say, “Now if you keep these perfectly, I will rescue you from Pharaoh and bring you into the promised land.” No! In his grace and mercy, God has compassion on the plight of his people and he rescues them. It is only after they have been rescued that he gives them the gift of the commandments as part of his covenant agreement with them.

Even more than revealing that God is a rescuer, these commandments reveal the kind of God it is who rescues like this. Sandra Richter writes in her outstanding book, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament:

In its place in redemptive history, the law served to sketch the profile of God to a fallen race who no longer had any idea who God was or what he defined as “good.”…This god [sic] was different, and what he expected of his people was different as well. This is what the Mosaic law brought into focus and Israel’s world. It was a very good thing.

 

The Ten Commandments remind us who we are


But that’s not all. The Ten Commandments also remind us who
we are. We are no longer slaves! We are the rescued! That is our new identity; we are rescued people. The commandments then define our identity and way of life as people who have been rescued by grace. These words to live by are not a means of salvation or rescue, but obedience to them can shape the identity of those people who have been rescued.

The moment we start viewing the Ten Commandments as primarily about making God happy with us, we have missed the heart of God. It is true that we express our love to God through our obedience to him. But we do this because we are already secure in his love for us.

In the original moment of their giving, the Ten Commandments served to make God’s people distinct in the world. They served as an identity marker. This fact is the foundation for the third insight.

The Ten Commandments remind us how to act

Not only do they remind us who God is (the rescuer) and who we are (the rescued), the Ten Commandments also reveal how to act like rescued people.

In their fascinating and hopeful book, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks explain that God has created our brains in such a way that we are constantly asking Who are my people? and How should I act right now to be like them? Here is how they unpack this:

Through infancy and childhood, the brain is designed to develop individual identity through attachment to the parents and other caregivers. Around age 12, the brain undergoes a structural change that balances individual identity with group identity. From this point on, our group identity is a key player in the formation of character. We are formed by our strongest attachments and the shared identity of our community. Our brains are wired this way.… 

Our brains were designed to respond to group identity in order to help us act like “our people.” … every one-sixth of a second our right brain tries to answer the question, “Who am I? How do my people act now?” If my control center is working smoothly, my circumstances are integrated with my group identity. I spontaneously act with joy and peace. If my control center desynchronizes, I forget who I am and how to connect with those around me. I stop acting like myself. Even though I am a Christian, I stop acting like one. My brain has cramped.

When we fail to build the character of Christ into the identity of our community, we easily forget who we are. We become salt that’s not salty, and our character lacks the savory flavor of transformation.

So, then, far from being a way to earn favor with God, the Ten Commandments are God’s gracious gift that reveals who he is and how to act like his people. 

So how is it to act like God’s rescued people? What are we to do? What are we to be like?

Rescued people don’t have any other gods. They don’t look to anyone or anything else for their rescue, hope, and satisfaction. The rescued bear God’s name and identity with wholeness. Rescued people receive God’s gift of rest as a reminder that they have been rescued. They aren’t slaves anymore. They can stop and rest. Rescued people treat their parents with honor, respect, and kindness. Rescued people don’t murder people with their hands or in their hearts. Rescued people joyfully receive and practice God’s design for sexuality even when it can seem counterintuitive and is countercultural. Rescued people respect the fruits of other people’s labor and refuse to steal in any way. Rescued people tell the truth even when it hurts, and they refuse to use the truth in ways that harm others, such as gossip. Rescued people are content with what God has given them. They don’t look down on others who have less or envy those who have more. 

That is how it is for us to act as God’s people who are salt and light, pointing others to the rescue we have found.

How to Discipline in Love

GUEST AUTHOR: JEN WILKIN

How do you discipline in love?
Even when your child makes you really, really mad.

Parenting small children can feel like Groundhog Day: correcting the same behaviors over and over again, often with no discernible improvement. When children disobey a clear expectation, parental anger can surge as a response. What should we do with that anger? Is it sinful? Or is there such a thing as righteous anger over the disobedience of a child? And most importantly, how can we keep anger from corrupting an act of discipline (training and correction) into one of retribution (getting even or vengeance)?

Many parents have a disconnect when thinking about anger and discipline: We suspect that disobedience should never touch our emotions—that good parents are able to correct their kids in an almost robotic, non-emotional way. It’s important to acknowledge that we will get angry when our kids disobey, and that our anger is not sinful by definition. It turns sinful when we welcome it and use it to justify an unmeasured response. I do think it is extremely rare that we feel righteous anger of any kind, much less in moments of child disobedience. My anger in those moments was almost always related to the feeling that their disobedience was a personal offense against me or evidence that I was a failure at raising obedient children. That’s a dumb kind of anger. And it’s a dangerous kind, because it turns discipline into retribution lightning-fast.

Power Brokers and Peacekeepers

I believe the answer is not to be a robot, but rather to take time to calm down and gain control before administering discipline of any kind. We are allowed to get angry, but we are not allowed to sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). We are even allowed to express our anger on our faces or in our tone. However, because children are not as good at filtering those expressions as adults, I believe it’s the better part of wisdom to control our outward reactions. Most children tend toward one of two categories: power broker or peacekeeper. The power broker recognizes emotional displays on our part as a sign that they are gaining leverage. If we show our anger over a disobedient act, we can actually reinforce the behavior. The peacekeeper, on the other hand, sees a display of anger as rejection. Seeing our anger may cause the peacekeeper to cease disobeying, but it may also breed fear and secrecy.

But if we completely hide our anger from our kids in those moments (particularly older kids), we can miss another training opportunity as important as the correction at hand: modeling how to handle anger well. We can do so by taking time to calm down before disciplining, and by assuring our children (verbally and physically) that our love for them is untouched by their disobedience. We can also model repentance when our anger expresses itself rashly. We can confess it to our children and ask forgiveness, demonstrating to both the power broker and the peacekeeper the power and peacefulness of humility.

Slow It Down

Proverbs 14:29 warns, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (ESV). If ever we need to exercise great understanding, it’s in moments of disciplining our kids. By thinking through what triggers our anger, we can begin to repent of its sinful aspects, working to slow it down to a safer speed. Once the moment of conflict has passed, we can do a personal debrief, asking ourselves what was really at the root of our anger. Did we have a wrong expectation? Did we allow an age-appropriate lack of self-control to get underneath our skin? Is anger our go-to response in general when things don’t go as we had planned? How could things go better the next time?

Consider also how our own childhood influences our discipline patterns. For the parent who grew up in an angry home, the combination of disciplining and anger will feel either so normal that we forget to question it, or so inseparable that we avoid disciplining altogether. Neither of these is healthy. Sometimes agreeing to “divide and conquer” with our spouse can help. If your spouse has better control than you do, consider deferring to them as the primary disciplinarian until you can trust your own responses better. Know your triggers. If neglected chores drive you crazy, hand off discipline to your spouse. If back-talk sets off your spouse, maybe you are the better parent to discipline for that.

In every discipline moment, keep in view that our children are our neighbors, to be loved as we love ourselves. By remembering that they are people, we are more likely to correct rather than avenge. If anger arises, we will temper it with compassion and forgiveness, expressing it appropriately and disciplining out of love.

Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. You can find her at JenWilkin.blogspot.com

Following Our Crucified King

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]During our year-long exploration of the Gospel of Matthew, I have often thought of a memorable dialogue in C.S. Lewis’ classic literary work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the imaginative land of Narnia, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver prepare Susan for the upcoming meeting with Aslan, the Christ figure. Lewis writes,

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

These words, written by C.S. Lewis in the 20th century, describing Jesus, could have also been penned by the Gospel writer Matthew in the first century.

For twenty-eight chapters, a central thread of Jesus’ kingship has been woven tightly into the fabric of Matthew’s inspired eyewitness account of Jesus’ 30-year sojourn on a sin-ravaged earth. From the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen how Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnational fulfilment of the Messianic Davidic King foretold in the Old Testament. He is Immanuel, God with us, who has come to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus is not safe, but He is good, for He brings to us forgiveness of sin and a new creation life: a radically changed life and a reordering of our heart loves, lived out in faithful vocational stewardship in the context of a radically new community called the local church.

The Gospel writer Matthew presents a compelling case for Jesus as King, both in His sinless humanity, as well as His Trinitarian deity. Jesus’ kingship was manifested through His supernatural power, healing of the sick, calming of the storm, and the ultimate miracle of His bodily resurrection from the dead. More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew displays Jesus’ kingship through the brilliance of His teaching on the truly good life and how it is experienced in His easy yoke of apprenticeship. Here we encountered the paradoxical topography of the kingdom Jesus is ushering into our lives and our world. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we lose our life, but in losing our life, we find it. When we put on Jesus’ yoke, we find true freedom not slavery.

Matthew points us to Jesus’ transforming path of discipleship in the Great Invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Jesus’ yoke fits us. In Jesus’ yoke, we learn to live our lives like Jesus would if He were us. In Jesus’ yoke, we embrace both His precepts and practices as we experience transformation and the life we truly long to live. Matthew also reminds us that it is Jesus’ yoke of apprenticeship that makes it possible for us to live into the Great Commandment, to love God rightly, and to love our neighbor rightly. It is in Jesus’ yoke that we, His church, can fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.

Throughout our journey in the Gospel of Matthew, we have seen Jesus heading step by step to the cross in faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father. On His way to the cross, where He became an atoning sacrifice for us, King Jesus revealed that His plan for redeeming a lost world centers around His church. In Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded that the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)

Matthew builds to a grand crescendo with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In each successive movement toward the cross of Calvary, he reminds us that Jesus’ impending death is not a tragic accident, but a triumphant plan orchestrated by a sovereign Trinitarian God. Carrying our sin on His shoulders, Jesus, the sin-bearing Son of God, was cursed and abandoned by God the Father so that we would never have to be cursed or abandoned by God. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) Jesus’ bodily resurrection is vindication of what was accomplished at the cross: the forgiveness of our sin and our reconciliation with God.

The resurrection of Jesus affirms the goodness of the everyday material world we live in and work in. The resurrected body of Jesus that cooked breakfast and ate with His disciples demonstrates that there is significant continuity between the present world and the new creation world to come. The empty tomb declares all of life matters; the school work we do, the customers we serve, the companies we run, the things we fix – they all matter. The resurrection is the hope that our deep longings for significance will be fully satisfied. It fulfills our longing for a love that never fails, a life that never ends, and work that truly matters.

Matthew ends his Gospel account of King Jesus similarly to how he began his writing. The risen Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us and will never leave us. Because of who King Jesus is and what He has done, there is nothing more important than following Him wholeheartedly in all of life. Jesus is not safe, but He is the King. He is worthy of our greatest thought, our most wholehearted devotion, our best sacrifice.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vcex_feature_box style=”left-image-right-content” heading=”HEAR MORE” image=”7388″]You can listen to any of our sermons on the Gospel of Matthew by visiting our SERMONS resources. Look for Sermons beginning December 2015 – A King for ALL People in the SERIES ARCHIVES.[/vcex_feature_box][vcex_button url=”/sermons” style=”outline” align=”right” font_family=”Merriweather Sans”]SERMONS[/vcex_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]