Thoughts on Scripture Memorization

I’m currently in the process of working on memorizing the first 5 chapters of the book of Romans.  I’ve probably read the  entirety of Romans 1 twenty or thirty times over the course of my life. I’ve read the whole chapter through in one sitting numerous times and I’ve also read, studied, exegeted and  interacted with different fragments of it hundreds of times. This is good because I can tell you what Romans 1 is all about and how it should be read and understood. This is bad because it makes memorizing it nearly impossible.

Before I settled on the ESV,  I have used and owned the NCV [extreme teen bible!] NASB, and more recently the NKJV. This is on top of all the times I have seen parts of Romans unpacked with an NIV. I used all those translations to interact with the text, and now I’m working on memorizing with the ESV, but those translations keep jumping to my mind.

Lets use Romans 1:1a as an example.  I originally memorized it in the NASB, which says “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle. “ The ESV has it as “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle.” Now, it’s not too difficult to switch from one translation to the next, except I know that the word servant and bondservant are poor and misleading translations. The Greek word is DOULOS, and it only has one definition. Slave. And so when I quote it, I end up saying “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to [or is it unto?!]  the gospel of God…” That’s one of the easier ones.

More challenging is Romans 1:26, NASB,  which reads “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.” The NASB has degrading passions, the NKJV has vile passions, the ESV has dishonorable passions, and the NIV 1984 has shameful lusts. I’ve heard and read them so many times that whenever I try to quote the ESV, it seems like I am incapable of it. I’ll interchange any of those other ones, so that it’s anybodies guess which one I insert, or else I’ll stick with “dishonorable”, but then I’ll stop midway and get distracted because I’m so used to saying it and hearing  it as “vile” that I lose focus because it doesn’t sound right. Then once I do that I lose my rhythm and flow and I have to start all over.

Not only that, but I find myself blurring various articles, determiners and participles, so that sometimes I will quote something and will get hung up on whether it should be “an” or “a”, and other such things. What this has resulted in, therefore, is an amalgamation of stitched and sewn together bible verses. More often than not it seems like I have my own translation. I can quote about half of Romans 1 from memory, but if you are following along in an ESV for any length of time, there’s definitely a few places there where you’ll be shaking your head and asking where on earth I got that particular string of phrases from. I don’t want to be the creator of the NESDV [New English Sanctified Dustin Version] but it seems that at least for certain chapters that I am overly familiar with it may be inevitable.

Which begs a few questions.

1. Do you ever have this problem- getting hung up because the verses you are trying to memorize in a new version sounds wrong due to overfamiliarity with a different translation? What do you do about it?

The Oxyrhynchus Hymn

The following is taken from a manuscript fragment known as Parchment Oxyrhyncus 15.1786 [or more commonly as POxy 1786]. It was found on a papyri fragment in an ancient garbage dump in Egypt in 1918  and dates from the late 3rd century. It is significant for two reasons:

  1. It is the latest in date of the extant compositions using ancient Greek music notation and thus marks the end of that era.
  2. It is the earliest extant example of Christian hymnody. There are a few other hymns that are arguably older, including “Hail, Gladdening Light” and some passages of the New Testament [though there's some disagreement there if they are hymns or merely poetic flights]

The Oxyrhynchus Hymn


“(Spoken) [Σε Πάτερ κόσμων, Πάτερ αἰώνων, μέλπωμεν] ὁμοῦ, πᾶσαι τε Θεοῦ λόγιμοι δο[ῦλο]ι. Ὅσα κ[όσμος ἔχει πρὸς ἐπουρανίων ἁγίων σελάων.]
(Sung) [Πρ]υτανήω σιγάτω, μηδ’ ἄστρα φαεσφόρα λ[αμπέ]
(Spoken) σθων, [ἀπ]ολει[όντων] ῥ[ιπαὶ πνοιῶν, πηγαὶ]
(Sung) ποταμῶν ῥοθίων πᾶσαι. Υμνούντων δ’ ἡμῶν [Π]ατέρα χ’ Υἱὸν χ’ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, πᾶσαι δυνάμεις ἐπιφωνούντων· Ἀμήν, Ἀμήν. Κράτος, αἶνος [ἀεὶ καὶ δόξα Θεοὶ δωτῆρι μόνῳ πάντων] ἀγαθῶν· Ἀμήν, Ἀμήν.”

. . . Let it be silent,

Let the luminous stars not shine,

let the winds and all the noisy rivers die down;

and as we hymn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

let all the powers add ‘Amen, amen.’

Empire, praise always, and glory to God,

the sole giver of all good things.

Amen, amen.

Alliance Church Sermon Review. March 6. Communication. Pastor Phil.

Alliance Church Sermon Review. March 6. Communication. Pastor Phil.

Pastor Phil begins the sermon by telling  the story of going on a cruise to Hawaii. He uses different aspects of his trip as a metaphor  for relationships and conflict, such as going through storms, not letting the boat idle in 20 foot swells, that the journey won’t be easy, that you need to trust the captain at the helm, etc.

He spends some time dispensing with the belief that if we serve God that at some point “we’ll make it” and everything will be good.  The reality is that if there’s life, there’s going to be problems, and that the Lord would have us develop an ability to walk through the problems.  He then reads a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “Tis the set of the sail” which is about how in life will have problems, and that its up to each person to get through those problems.

We are not born with conflict resolution skills, and we need to have the proper perspective, so that we don’t get in trouble. A captain would never put his boat in peril on purpose, and yet if problems arise, there is no choice but to go through. Our society runs when that happens though. People run when they get hurt, which is detrimental. For this reason our attitude cannot be “oh no, a storm”, because if that’s the case we’re done. If you put your confidence in God the captain, you’ll be able to get through anything,  especially in regards to relationships and communication. Conflict resolution can usually best be seen in the context of a marriage. He then gives us several steps in conflict resolution.

1. Call on God and say “God, we need your help”

13 minutes into the sermon we get our first crack at scripture, which is Psalms 145:18 “ The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. “ We are then told in no uncertain terms that “You are the righteousness of God in Christ. Not cause you’re in church, but because of what Christ has done for you”

2. Realize the person you’re dealing with isn’t your enemy.

Ephesians 6:1-18. There is no posturing or favoritism in God. Talks about how we ought to put on the armor of God and have that battle-ready mindset. He says that the number one tactic  that the enemy wants us to do is fight each other. He points out the truth of the matter that  if people are fighting each other, nothing happens.  And yet our struggle is not against flesh and blood, and how do you rectify the two?

“The first thing you can do is say look, in your own mind first, my struggle is not against- we’ll I’ll use my wife as my example. My struggle is not against Linda. And there are times in our heat, and in our marriage, where I’ve had to look at her or she’s looked at me and said “I am not fighting with you. My fight is not with you”. And we’ve had to deliberately position ourselves in our thoughts, as to what it is that we’ve doing. And that was one of the first steps after calling out to God, I’ve looked at Linda and I said “You know what, I’m not fighting you. This isn’t between you and me, this is an assault of the enemy trying to get in and divide us, and make us go against each other.”

Phil says that knowing where the battle is key to your success. Its 85% of the battle. We must not fight against people, because our fight is against something else and someone else. Its not easy to do that, but we must. “You see that’s where we have to… the bible says cast down every vain imagination and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ. What’s the knowledge of Christ? My fight is not against you. That’s the knowledge of Christ. Anything else that comes against that I have to cast down. I have to throw it away, because that’s not an accurate thought.”

3. Show up and be fully present.

This is the hard part. If we’re in a struggle, the last thing  people tend to want to do is be together. They want their space or they want to walk out of the room or go into silent mode, Ignoring or letting someone landlord your life. We can’t do that. Conflict is not fun, but it’s necessary

4. Take ownership for actions that you’re responsible for and repent.

This is not saying something like “sorry you got hurt” or “sorry you were offended” but rather “I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I offended you.”

5. Agree with the other person

6. Use submissive language.

This involves your tone and the words that you speak. You don’t want to take the accusatory role of “you disrespect me!”, but rather should be something akin to “when this happens, I feel disrespected’.” Don’t listen to the enemy who gets you riled up and makes suggestive thought, listen to the person.

7. Repent and forgive and ask God for your help.

The balance of the sermon involves telling a story of a counselling session, how he pushed a young man’s buttons to help him get the truth out, and how we need to forgive. He says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. If we cry out and ask him for his help he will be there for us.

REFLECTIONS

This sermon had its strengths and weaknesses. I think it was at its strongest in the middle section, when he used large portions of scripture to back up his assertions of how we don’t fight against flesh and blood. That we’re not fighting people, but rather are fighting against something altogether different. I found it quite instructive, because oftentimes this can get hyper-spiritualized and relegated to the realm of spiritual warfare for prayer warriors and other such things. But this is a great, real world application that we are not fighting our spouses, employers, families, friends, or even enemies. Even stopping in the middle of an argument and saying “Love, I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m not fighting with you.” That makes sense, and it was rooted in a strong scriptural foundation. I can only hope that next time I’m embroiled in an argument with my wife or family, that I can recall these words and bring it to bear. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” Ephesians 6:12-13.

The rest of it though… I’m not sure it was as successful. Not because it wasn’t instructive, because it was, but rather because this sort of relational/non-theological topical  sermon is not my cup of tea. Well- that’s not really fair. It was theological, just…loosely, if that makes sense. It’s probably good advice, but that’s not what I personally come to church to hear, or what I’m looking for in a sermon. I think he spoke true things about God, and I like that the whole thing had a very loving and pastoral tone. But but with little  biblical support used to buttress each point, it seemed more like a lesson in spiritualized psychology than biblical theology. Its probably all completely true with the right application, but I was hoping for more and found myself wanting.

Two points I did want to comment on, was when he said the #1 tactic of the enemy is to have us fight each other. I’m not sure where it says this in the bible- that its the main tactic. I think its something that Satan utilities, sure, but I don’t see a basis for saying it is the number one of anything.

The second was that he said “but the Bible commands us to forgive [people]. And you know why the Bible commands us to forgive? Because if you don’t forgive you’re hooked to them for the rest of your life. And they don’t care that you’re hooked to them because they don’t care about you cause that’s why they hurt you in the first place” I would  like to know what scriptures he bases that on. Where does the bible tell us to forgive, because if not were hooked to people for the rest of our lives? That may be a truism and a legitimate inference, but I’m unfamiliar where we see that that’s why the bible commands us to do it, and so if anyone could provide that reference it would be much appreciated.

 

Having a hard time “connecting” at Church?

John Acuff over at the legendary “Stuff Christians Like” wrote this phenomenal  gut-checking post. I thought it was worth sharing.

Stuff Christians Like- Saying you’re having a hard time “connecting” in Church

“This church isn’t very friendly. Have you noticed that? We might need to change to a new church, because we’re having a really hard time connecting at this one. We’ve been coming here for six months, sitting in service, not talking to anyone, then immediately sprinting out of the building and going home. And no one has connected with us. Rude!

We haven’t met anyone in small group either. We didn’t sign up for one, but still, it would be nice if a small group kind of magically happened in our living room, on a night that was convenient for us and someone brought banana pudding. Not box banana pudding, but like the kind your grandmother used to make. Is that so much to ask for?

Probably, considering that this church doesn’t really seem to reach out to people who have spent six months attending Sunday morning service and not participating in any other activities.

No one even called us and asked why we weren’t at the fall festival. Sure, we’ve never given them our number, but google it. And then help us connect.

I thought this church was going to be different. I thought it wouldn’t be like the last three churches we attended. Remember those three? Always saying, “Please stay for lunch and learn about the church. Please let us know if you have any questions. Please come to our first time visitor’s luncheon.” So annoying.

What’s that you say? Where are we serving at the church? Serving is a great way to get connected and plug into a place that is ultimately a two way street of people loving and giving and growing together? Even something as simple as handing out bulletins can jump start new relationships with new people? Ugh, that sounds like a lot of work. Quit judging us.

And start connecting us.

We’re having a hard time connecting at this church.”

Paperthin Hymn. In Christ Alone

IN CHRIST ALONE

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sins curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a lifes first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

Reflections

Written in 2002, “In Christ Alone” was a collaborative effort between Stuart Townend and fellow Keith Getty. “The song came about in an unusual way,” Townend explains. “Keith and I met in the autumn of 2000 at a worship event, and we resolved to try to work together on some songs. A few weeks later Keith sent some melody ideas, and the first one on the CD was a magnificent, haunting melody that I loved, and immediately started writing down some lyrical ideas on what I felt should be a timeless theme commensurate with the melody. So the theme of the life, death, resurrection of Christ, and the implications of that for us just began to tumble out, and when we got together later on to fine tune it, we felt we had encapsulated what we wanted to say.”

The result, in my opinion, is one of the finest worship song in the last hundred years. Townend and Getty both admit they are motivated by the idea of capturing biblical truth in songs and hymns that will not only cause people to express their worship in church, but will build them up in their Christian lives. It seems evident to me that they have succeeded, and that there is both a theological depth and poetic expression that is incredibly rare in today’s worship writing. There are so many verses that cause my whole body to tremble, my heart to stir, and which thunderously rip my spirit into worship. It is a song that is such a sharp contrast to many of Christless and man-centered praise songs that filled the void that the old  hymns left when they were yanked out of circulation some thirty years ago.

There are many great renderings of it. Page CXVI has done one, so does Krystin Getty and Adam Young of Owl City. There are also numerous covers on Youtube and other places, and just under 200 professional recordings on Itunes.  But my favorite so far and the one I wish to showcase was done by Together for the Gospel.  Together for the Gospel (T4G) began as a friendship among four pastors: Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and Albert Mohler. In April 2008, more than 5,000 people, mostly pastors, gathered at the T4G conference to hear God’s Word and sing the praises of the Savior. Bob Kauflin on an acoustic piano led these men in worship, and the result is haunting.

You can purchase the entire album HERE

Identity in Christ- A Response to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way

Born this Way is a song  written by Lady Gaga [Real name Stefani Germanotta] and released less than two months ago. As it were,  it is the fastest-selling single in Itunes history, selling one million copies in five days. I have downloaded a copy of the song, but I have absolutely no interest in seeing the music video for it. I hear that it has been highly acclaimed and artistic, but I can’t imagine it being anything different than the sort of garish, hyper-sexualized softcore pornographic spectacle that we have seen before,  and so I would not recommend that anyone view it. That having been said, I would like to apply the biblical lens to this song and give some thoughts first on the person, then on the message of the song.

I should say right out of the gate that I am not a fan or hers, nor do I follow her life and music in any sort of meaningful way. My primary interaction with her is through covers and parodies of her music, as well as when she makes the news and is mentioned in some sort of ancillary way, and I admit that I am more or less ignorant on the matter. It seems that she is often pictured tottering down the street in some outlandish get-up and fright wig, and although she presents herself as the messianic voice of all the misfits, freaks, and non-conformists, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was upper-middle class and eventually affluent. She attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris Hilton. For this reason there’s a wild disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalized artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere. She is the shepherd who calls all her sheep to her, the pied piper with bombastic ready-to-mix club beats. Her style and personality is avant-garde, but I wonder for whom she is dressing for.

I think that’s what strikes me about her more than anything whenever I catch a glimpse of her on my You Tube sidebar, or performing at some music awards, that  despite showing acres of pallid skin in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all, despite the efforts and millions of dollars that go into painting her as such. As Camille Pagila puts it “She’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? In Gaga’s manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualized and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era…”

For that reason I wonder how many of the young women in the Church see that and are caught up in it? How many of them think it’s cool and courageous? Surely the message of hyper-personalized and radical inclusive individuality must have some sort of effect on them. Because absent a biblical wordview [that is generally absent] I’m not sure how they would be any less susceptible than the unchurched and non-religious youth of our communities to be drawn into what she’s singing about.

BORN THIS WAY

It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you were born this way, baby

My mama told me when I was young
We’re all born superstars
She rolled my hair, put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir
“There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are”
She said, “‘Cause He made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up, girl and you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Ooo, there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
(Born this way)
Ooo, there ain’t other way
Baby, I was born this way
Right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be!

Give yourself prudence and love your friends
Subway kid, rejoice the truth
In the religion of the insecure
I must be myself, respect my youth
A different lover is not a sin
Believe capital H-I-M (hey, hey, hey)
I love my life, I love this record and
Mi amore vole fe yah

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way

No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave

This song, in every way possible, seems to be an anthem to individuality and to the prowess of mankind. It is the pop refrain of a generation, much like Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit was for the 90’s. Several themes run through the song. Some are admirable and should be echoed. Love and acceptance of oneself and others, that we ought to strive to be comfortable in our own skin, a disparagement of racism, a recognition that God made mankind a certain way and that in his sovereignty he did not make any mistakes, and that there is hope and comfort for the socially marginalized. Those are good things, and I think people looking for validation will find it.

And yet we see different aspects of the song which are troubling and which seek to burn to the ground the foundation of the biblical worldview I spoke of earlier. These would be an overemphasis  and a glorification of  self-love, self-hype, self-aggrandizement, and self-esteem. The eschewing of biblical sexual ethics whereby the expression of free love and the promotion of homosexuality, lesbianism, and the encouragement of sexual experimentation is lauded and encouraged. We see God/ Capital H-I-M make an appearance, but any notion of holiness and majesty is reduced to a deistic being who creates mankind and then endorses  and blesses every action and feeling they have. As it were, the whole song screams the message “I was born this way, and so whatever I chose to do and think and be is good in and of itself, and no one can tell me otherwise.”

At its core the message of Lady Gage and of “Born this way” is unrestrained unaccountability that is fueled and powered by subjective experiences, all of which according to her should be accepted as legitimate and good. It is a seductive message, and one that I think rings intuitively as true for most people who hear it because that is the experience in their own lives.  She comes into our homes through the airwaves, belting out the clarion call that is a simple continuation of the greater themes of our culture- that you are not fallen. You are not fractured. You are not a sinner. You are not broken. You’re perfect just the way you are, and instead of needing redemption from something outside yourself, you just need to look inward and love and accept yourself more,. Then you’ll be okay.

Our response to this then should be simple. The antidote to a script that says we ought to find our identity in ourselves by virtue of ourselves, is that we should find our identity in Christ. That’s the contradistinction that should effervescent in our bones, spirit, blood, skin and brains.  That’s the message that we need to communicate that will tear down the walls of self-lust and the pride of life; that our questions are given answers in Christ. Our insecurities are made secure in Christ. Our uncertainties are made certain in Christ. Our burdens are made light in Christ. Our hurts are made whole in Christ. Our attitudes are bent towards God in Christ. Our incompleteness has been made complete in Christ. Our tears are dried away in Christ. Our sexuality is redeemed and restored in Christ. Our pain is understood and made pure in Christ.

What Lady Gaga offers is nothing but a cold, hard, calloused imitation. It’s a dry husk. It’s a corpse. Its a prison of self-reliance disguised as freedom but betrayed by its own fragility. For this reason it won’t last long, and we need to be there with the truth of the gospel when this worldview collapses in on itself.