Take the Challenge: A Verse A Week

Very few spiritual exercises have impacted me more than scripture memorization. Even though I have only memorized a handful of verses in my life, the ones I have memorized have always been deeply impactful for me. So I invite you to join my challenge of memorizing a verse a week. We will start with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” By the end of March we should have four verses memorized.

Here are the steps to accomplish our goal of a verse a week:

Monday: Read the verse five times

Tuesday: Write the verse down on a sheet of paper five times

Wednesday: Read the verse aloud and then close your eyes and repeat it. Do this five times

Thursday: Find a mirror and say your verse in front of a mirror. If you do not have a mirror, do something else physical that helps you remember the verse such as act it out or provide motions to it.

Friday: Try to recite it from memory five times without looking. If you can’t make it five times then do this pattern: read, write, close your eyes, mirror.

Saturday and Sunday: Test your long term memory. Anyone can remember a phone number for five minutes but can you remember it the next day? Use the Weekend to recite it from memory and meditate on the verse.

This may sound too simple for you but our goal is not to become a memory athlete but become a type of person who memorizes scripture, enjoys doing it, and can reap the benefits from it.

If you are willing to take this challenge, please email me so that we can do this together. Accountability is a great motivator – scott dot jeffries at gmail dot com

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How To Implement A Scripture Top 10

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If your scripture reading has become stale and you wish you could get more from it, then you might want to try what I call the Scripture Top 10 Method. Earlier this week, I detailed how it has worked for me and which passages made my list. Today, I want to offer a guide to implementing your own Top 10.

1. Change Your Thinking – If we have been in the church for very long we have been exposed to Bible Highlight Shows. This is where a pastor will take a topic and then dump every verse he can come up with on that topic on the lap of the congregation. A virtual highlight reel on the topic. This is a problem because it makes us view individual scriptures in complete isolation and without context, language, or history. Some have called the Bible “God’s love letter to his people”. Who would write a love letter just filled with one liners and isolated phrases? No, your letter is going to have recurring themes and consistent emphasis. In order to implement a Scripture Top 10, you have to start recognizing the major themes and connections within scripture.

2. Start with what you know – Even if the only verse you know is “Jesus wept,” you can still begin to ask questions that will lead you to other verses. In this example, you could ask, “Why did Jesus weep?” And then determine that it is because of his humanity. Then this could lead you to the Christmas story and the humility and earthiness in which Jesus came into the world. In this story, the Wise Men bring gifts fit for a king. Then you could find the verses that talk about the Kingdom of God and start to understand what kind of King Jesus is.

3. Ask a friend or find a Bible with good study notes – You will need help making connections with other passages, especially with ones in the Old Testament. Find someone who is more knowledgeable of the Bible than you and talk to them about your desire to discover more of scripture based on your favorite passages. You may also need a Bible that will give you some background on certain passages and references you to other passages that address the same concept. Don’t make too much of the study notes, use them for reference and discovery purposes. Save in depth study for another time. The Bibles that I have used include Life Application Bible, Spiritual Formation Bible, and ESV Study Bible.

4. Ask Why? – If you have a favorite verse or passage, ask why that scripture means so much to you. Pray for God to show you to parts of the Bible that remind you of your favorite scripture.

5. Relax – God did not inspire scripture for us to understand all of its complexities and mysteries. Our entire life will be filled with more discoveries of God through scripture. He designed it this way. The whole point behind this method is to start the frustrated Christian toward a path of lifetime discovery in a way that is fun and adventurous. Don’t take it too serious. Remember that this is your process and God has unique and personal things that he wants to show you that he does not have for anyone else. Enjoy the ride.

My Scripture Top 6-10

Yesterday, we looked at five scriptures passages that have not only been enriching to me but also key transition points to other passages. Today, I list the rest of my top 10.

6. 1 Samuel 16 – By the time I had become taken by the Sermon on the Mount and many of the other passages in my top 5 it was becoming clear to me that God is obsessed with the makeup of the heart. When he changes a person it is through a formation of the heart from the inside out. So when I re-discovered the story of Samuel anointing the future king, David, and here God tell Samuel that “man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

7. Galatians 5:19-25 – Another well-known passage, this one discusses the Fruits of the Spirit. The best words of scripture are ones that inspire and convict. This one convicts me every time. I often ask myself, what am I doing to foster the development of the Fruits of the Spirit?

8. Psalm 1 – ‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’

Before God broke me down and changed me, I would have read verse 2 with dread. How do you delight in law? And who would want to meditate on the law day and night? But I understood the law to be not a just set of rules but a God ordained way of nourishing my soul. Could I delight in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Ten Commandments? In 1 Corinthians 13? Yes. And I had already meditated on these “laws” and found meaning and strength for my life.

9. Galatians 2:20 – All that I had learned and processed through the previously mentioned verses kind of culminates with this verse. From a salvation stand point, I understood the new life found in Christ but this verse showed me the ultimate step in discipleship. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

10. Philippians 3:10 – All of the New Testament falls into these few words. The life of Jesus, his crucifixion, the mystery of the resurrection, discipleship; it is all there and just bursting off the page. This verse will take a lifetime to comprehend and live out but through the process of my Top 10, I can think of no other worthy cause for my life.

So there it is, the 10 passages of scripture that have had the most impact on me and renewed, not only my interest in scripture reading and study, but also my life. Next time, I will demonstrate how you can develop your own Top 10 and what benefit you will gain from it.

My Scripture Top 5

Yesterday, I discussed the Scripture Top Ten Method of approaching scripture. It starts with a favorite passage or verse and then through discovery or study leads to other similar or noteworthy passages. Here is five of my top ten and why they are significant. Nos. 6-10 will come tomorrow.

1. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) – I used to read self-help books and books on how to achieve success until I found the teachings available in the Sermon on the Mount. I discovered that if I became the kind of person presented in the Sermon then I would have no need for leadership gimmicks and success platitudes. Jesus became someone who could teach me how to live my life.

2. Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-21) – Much of the Sermon is referencing the Ten Commandments and the commands of the Old Testament. I felt that I needed to have a better understanding of the Ten Commandments. I realized that I had never really read them in context before and that they are not written in nice little one line commands. I was so taken by them, I decided I needed to memorize them. Memorization had never been a priority until scripture started to come alive to me.

3. Psalm 23 – I understood the command to have no other god before God but I didn’t fully understand what it meant to have the Lord be my “shepherd,” my protector, my nourisher, and “restorer of my soul.” I memorized this one as well and it has been a great comfort to me.

4. 1 Corinthians 13 – Another famous passage that doesn’t need to be dismissed just because it is well known. It is well known because it deserves to be dwelt over and meditated on. Also, if I was still thinking that the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments were simply rules and not a way of life then I would look at 1 Cor. 13 in the same way. Looking at this great passage on love and thinking that I have to go out today and be more patient, kind, and less boastful is to miss the point of inward transformation into Christlikeness.

5. Colossians 3: 1-17 – I think this one may eventually move ahead of 1 Corinthians 13. Once, I read this passage daily over a week’s time and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had with scripture. I encourage you to try the same exercise.

The Scripture Top Ten Method

For most of my life, reading scripture has been intimidating. I avoided reading scripture because I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand what I was reading or that I wouldn’t find my time meaningful or enriching. This all changed when I discovered the Sermon on the Mount. In the passages found in Matt. 5-7, I discovered the greatest teaching ever found and it became something that I wanted to read over and over again.

You know how an interest in a band or a writer leads you to seek out more items that are similar to what you originally discovered. I love the classic 60’s folk rock band the Byrds and through my love of the Byrds I discovered Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, International Submarine Band, Buffalo Springfield, Dillard and Clark, and the Desert Rose Band. I love the baseball writings of Bill James and that led me to discover Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus, and Michael Lewis. In the same way, my love of the Sermon on the Mount led me to discover other passages of the Bible that either inspired the Sermon (the Ten Commandments) or were a reflection of it.

In this process of letting the Sermon lead me to other life changing scripture I discovered an interesting scripture reading method. Instead of obsessing over reading chapter after chapter, I let my favorite scriptures lead me to the next passage. So I went from the Sermon on the Mount to the Ten Commandments to Psalm 23 to 1 Corinthians 13 to Colossians 3 to Galatians 2:20 to Psalm 1 to 1 Samuel 16 to Romans 12 to the Parables of the Kingdom.

A critic might say that I am just scratching the surface of the richness of scripture and that is obviously true but each one of the above passages taught me something about God and helped me draw closer to him in a way that I had never done previously. Scripture was coming alive to me, I was seeing changes in my life, and I was excited about diving into God’s word in a way that was new to me. These passages were entry points into God’s word for me just as the Byrds were an entry point in to other great music.

Do you have an entry point into scripture? Have you been discouraged by people who tell you to just start reading, or Bible reading programs that are more about volume than formation? If so, then try out the Scripture Top Ten Method and see what God wants to uncover for you in his word.

Tomorrow, I will list my top ten scriptures and provide insight into what I learned and how I discovered them.

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A Guide To Dying To Self

In my life, a challenge, among many, is selfishness. I like things done in a particular way – mine. I often manipulate situations so that my preferences will override others. I am subtle and passive aggressive about it but I am as guilty of selfishness as an outspoken narcissist. God has changed me over the years to see more of his will in contrast to my own. And I have had enough experiences with God’s will to start to recognize my “maximum fulfillment” is found within it. But it is a slow process. Philosophers argue “if there is any such thing as a selfless act?” I wouldn’t know the philosophy maxims that would help answer this question but from my experience, selflessness is very rare.

What can be done about this constant tendency toward self? Well, there isn’t a whole lot that we, as individuals do. God has to do the bulk of the work. One thing that might help is to understand the progression of love in God’s kingdom. First, God loves us (John 3:16). Second, we love God. And third, we love others through God (1 John 4:10). With this progression we see that all love starts with God and is only fulfilled through his power. We can’t even properly love ourselves without help from God so how would we think about loving others in a way that is sacrificing and selfless without God showing us how.

Are you trying to love others without having a proper love of God? Do you have trouble understanding the level of love that God has for you? Try this exercise. Read John 21:15-17 and meditate on Jesus’ question of Peter, “Do you love me?” Think about how you would answer this question and your response to Jesus’ command to Peter to “care for my sheep.” Who is it that you need to “feed?”, to care for?, and to love? Ask God, he will give you an answer and you can start to “get over yourself.”

How to Find Maximum Fulfillment

The late 20th century professor and ethicist T.B. Maston once defined God’s will as “our maximum fulfillment.” I think about this quote regularly, especially when I am waging a war with myself over a part of my life that I am unwilling to change because I am afraid that I will lose something enjoyable. Maston stresses that only God’s will contains ultimate meaning and purpose, even happiness and enjoyment. Before you think that Maston was some super Christian that never had to face the realities outside a Christian context it would be best to understand something about his son.

Maston’s son was severely handicapped, had no use of his arms and legs, and never said a word in his life. Maston and his wife cared for their son for 50 plus years including feeding him, turning him over during the night, and countless other duties that most of us would never even imagine having to do for another person. But yet, Maston could say that God’s will is his maximum fulfillment. From a worldly perspective, Maston’s life experience would seem agonizing, torturous, and limited but in God’s Kingdom it may have still been difficult and challenging but it was also blessed with God’s strength, God’s mercy, God’s care, and God’s love. Why would anyone want to walk outside of this strength, mercy, and love?

Find God’s will and find your maximum fulfillment. This is a daily struggle for me as I seem to fight God’s will repeatedly. But slowly I am learning, slowly God is showing me that He knows what he is doing and that he has my best interest at heart. Oh Lord, that I might not fight you at every turn but submit to your will in my life.