a smörgåsbord of Bible memory methods

The benefits of hiding God’s Word into your memory are innumerable. It’s a good cure for spiritual Alzheimer’s. Recently I have been challenged to get back into the daily habit of digesting the Word. It’s proved to be a delicious buffet that I am eager to go back to for seconds, thirds, and much more.One of the most unique and purposeful ways to memorize the Word is this suggested method:

Prepare – survey it, visualise it, see it, carry it

Repeat – read it, say it, write it, hear it, walk it, sing it

Recall – reread and check it, reflect and pray it, use it

Reinforce – trace patterns, know why, learn with others, study it, teach it

Review – forget it, review it

This method was taken from a post by at The Briefing on June 21, 2012. I encourage you to read the full version HERE. If you want more ideas here is a Smörgåsbord of helps for Bible memorization:

  1. App like Memorize Anything or Fighter Verses.
  2. Baa baa doo baa baa and Seeds has a collection of memory verses set to music. Also, check out Sons of Korah and Sovereign Grace’s Psalms.
  3. Nothing will help you more than Scripture memory.
  4. An approach to extended memorization of Scripture.
  5. Becoming Saturated.
  6. Memorize Now.

Do you have any ideas or resources?

Cure for Spiritual Alzheimer’s

My wife frequently praises my memory. That’s coming from one who misplaces items or thoughts daily (and that’s a compliment). What she thinks is a blessing, I often think is a curse. There are things I wish I could forget that are hardwired into the recesses my brain. Now I don’t have photographic memory. That would have been handy for the French exam I had last week. But like most people, I have selective memory. I remember ridiculous things like: sports stats (especially about the Green Bay Packers), song lyrics to bands with big hair from the 80’s, and phone numbers to every house I’ve lived at since I was 4-years old (and that’s a lot of houses).

I dread the day when my memory will decline. As a young child I’d visit my great grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A once strong and jovial woman was now being spoon-fed from her tender-loving husband whom she had long forgotten. The pain of watching someone you love and care for deteriorate can sometimes be too much to bear.

I am not going to talk about Alzheimer’s today nor am I aiming to offend an elderly crowd. But I do want to talk about a spiritual form of Alzheimer’s that many Christians seem to be suffering.

Problem 1: Forgetting God

Remedy: Repentance

While wandering in the Wilderness, Moses told the children of Israel over and over again, “Whatever you do, do not forget God.” They had the attention span of a toddler. They had the best seats to God’s miracles and were still wishing for slavery in Egypt over the Promised Land.

There is a spiritual Alzheimer’s that sets in when you forget that God made you free but you are still live in bondage to this world. The Lord told the church of Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5). This warning comes less than 40-years after the gospel first came to them. How quickly have you forgotten what the Lord has done? The good news is that while there is no cure yet for the disease of Alzheimer’s, the cure for forgetting God is repentance.

Problem 2: Forgetting God’s Word

Remedy: Rehearse it

There is another form of spiritual Alzheimer’s; it’s forgetting the Scripture you just read or heard. James the apostle said, “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23–24).

My wife and I are in our 2nd month of French language school at Parole de Vie Bethel. We are learning French in preparation for serve in Chad. One of the aspects I really enjoy about our studies is the requirement to memorize Scripture, yes, in French. I began memorizing Bible verses as a teen after a challenge given by my youth pastor. Later I memorized a section of Psalm 119 each week with my South African friend Cal. Again, I am being reminded of the importance of treasuring God’s Word.

Speaking of Psalm 119, David understood the benefit of memorizing Scripture for the sake of his spiritual health. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored (treasured) up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11) According to rest of Psalm 119 the Bible helps guard against sin (vs. 9, 11), brings life (25), strengthens (28), produces hope (49), comforts in affliction (50), gives good judgment and knowledge (66), gives understanding (99, 104, 130), gives guidance (105), and peace (165), and more.

Do you believe Word of God is a priceless treasure? You may doubt that you can put Scripture to memory, especially if you are older. If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” The real value of the Word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The cure for forgetfulness is to treasure reading the Bible and proactively rehearse it often.

Problem 3: Forgetting your need of God

Remedy: Daily Dependence

God creates you; He knows you have a finite memory. That is why He has given the greatest tool to aid your memory–His Spirit. Jesus said to the disciples in the Upper Room before His death., “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26; 16:14) Do you remember how quickly they forgot it? Soon after Jesus’ death they were back to the boats fishing, and not for men.

One of the greatest joys in the universe is knowing that you are not alone–the God of the universe is your Helper. He is with you forever (John 14:16). And when you read and study Scripture He helping you understand and remember it. The more you read the more He will help you remember. Isn’t that amazing? He uses the Word to give you His peace (John 14:27), His love (John 15:9, 10), and His joy (John 15:11). These are profound truths that comfort and strengthen your hearts and minds in a troubled world.

Proverbs 22:18-19 says: “It will be pleasant if you keep [the words of the wise] within you, that they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the LORD.” How is your trust? Your confidence? Your peace and joy and assurance? Your faith? Your faith rises or falls to the degree that it feeds hourly on the treasure of God’s truth stored in the heart. The cure for forgetting your need of God is having a joyful dependence each day on His Word for your spiritual sustenance.

Forgetting God, His Word, or you need of Him happens. That why it is important to ask yourself often, “Do I have Spiritual Alzheimer’s?”

How to study the Book of Revelation?

I’ve just begun a study of the Book of Revelation. I am excited to study this most interesting book. Before studying a new book of the Bible I like to remind myself of some helpful tidbits when studying the Bible.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Prayer is most important. When studying the Bible–including Revelation–you should humbly depend on God to give you wisdom and understanding. It is wise to pray before, during, and after your study, asking God to direct you. It’s a responsibility the Holy Spirit enjoys and takes seriously, “He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). How wonderful it is to have the interpreter dwelling within you as you read.

Understand the big idea of the book of Revelation.

Determining the meaning of Scripture is a very most important task. God says you must read and study the Bible with care (2 Timothy 2:15). When it comes studying the Book of Revelation it is critical to study verses in their context. Let the text speak for itself. Often, weird interpretations of Revelation are birthed by someone taking one verse out of its context. This is dangerous and a sign of very bad interpretation skills.

When determining the meaning of an entire book of the Bible it is good to have read through the entire book. It is too simple to say that the book of Revelation is about the future, that’s not the main purpose of the book. The main purpose of the book of Revelation is to reveal Jesus Christ. The book begins by stating “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” To properly study the book of Revelation you must see Jesus as the main character.

Understand the flow of the book of Revelation.

Revelation is divided up into three main veins. Revelation 1:19 describes the divisions as:

(1) Past: “the things which you have seen.”
(2) Present: “the things which are.”
(3) Future: “the things which shall be hereafter.”

Understanding these veins will help you follow the flow of the book of Revelation.

Understand the difference between figurative and literal language.

The Book of Revelation is graphic, but it is not a graphic novel. You do not have to be a literary scholar to know the difference between figurative and literal language. The apostle John describes future things that did not exist when he was writing the book of Revelation. As a result, he described what he saw in terms that were used in his day. When John uses terms such as “like” or “as” he is using symbolic language to to describe what he witnessed. This is common with any prophetic literature. Be careful not to over interpret figurative language, but embrace it’s ambiguity and mystery.

Take scrupulous notes.

You are bound to stubble upon passages in Revelation that will make you scratch your head in wonder or awe. Anything you read that is confusing or meaningful jot it down in a journal. I love to use type notes on my computer and organize them by Scripture reference or theme. It is fascinating to look over previous notes I took and compare them to newer passages I study.

Expect to be blessed.

Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed are they that read, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein.” As you study the book of Revelation, and marvel at Jesus Christ and obey what you learn from it, you can expect to be blessed. Revelation is one of the most fascinating books of the Bible. It will certainly stir you to worship Jesus Christ in a powerful and moving way.

4 benefits of regular intake of the Word through memorization

1. It feeds biblical meditation (Ps.1:1-3; 19:14; Josh.1:8-9). To think deeply about the Truth. To purposefully mull over and over the Truth throughout the day until it grips your heart and changes you within.

2. It flushes the mind of sinful thought patterns (Eph.4:22-24; Rom.12:1-2). The Word encourages us to replace worldly thought with godly ones.

3. It forces our emotions to submit (Ps.42:3-11). Talk to yourself, hear your thoughts, and hear yourself speak of God’s authority.

4.It fortifies the will to choose God’s way (1 Cor.10:13; Ps.119:11; Mt.4:1-11; Eph.2:3; 4:23). We are at war. And the war is within and without. Submit to the victor.

Adapted from Chapter 6 of Counsel One Another by Paul Tautges

Surgery from God’s Word

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

1. It is a divine book (“the Word of God”). God thinks, He has spoken, and it is recorded for you in Scripture (Gen.1, 2, 12, 15, 31; Jn.1:1-14; Heb.1:2; Mt.4:4; 1 Pt.1:19-21).

2. It is a living book (“constantly actively alive”). Because Jesus Christ is the Living Word. (Js.1:21; Jer.15:16; Ps.119:50; Jn.17:17)

3. It is an active book. It is productive; it is the instrument for the production of spiritual results (Is.55:9-11). God never sends His Word without accomplishing something for His glory. It takes time for fruit to become visible, but God’s Word will change lives. You don’t have to ‘doctor’ (manipulate) it up to make it more appealing or relevant (i.e. plastic surgery), just speak it in love and let God do His work.

4. It is a penetrating book (“sharper”). The Word has cutting power (Acts 2:36-38; Phil.1:6; Ps.103:8). His Word is the divine scalpel used by the Divine Surgeon to cut and expose the cancerous sin that must be dealt with in order to gain spiritual health.

5. It is a discerning book (“judge”; cf. Jer.17:10; Ps.119:130; Eph.6:17; 2 Cor.10:4-5).

Adapted from Chapter 6 of Counsel One Another by Paul Tautges

Will Jesus’ grandpa please stand up?

Dealing with the problem in the genealogies of Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23

It is clear from the Bible, Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34ff) and His earthly, legal father was Joseph. However, sometimes you come across a sticky question from within the Bible where an apparent contradiction appears that there doesn’t seem to have an immediate answer in the text or context. One such sticky question is, who really was Jesus’ grandpa? Heli or Jacob?

Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But there is one problem—they are different. Luke’s genealogy starts at Adam and goes to David. Matthew’s genealogy starts at Abraham and goes to David. When the genealogies arrive at David, they split with David’s sons: Nathan (Mary’s side of the family tree) and Solomon (Joseph’s side of the family tree). And the point of contention for some is when Luke says that Joseph is the son of Heli (3:23), while Matthew says that he was the son of Jacob (1:16).

How do you reconcile the two genealogies? Who is right? Is the Bible wrong? How do we handle contradictions in the Bible? What do you say to skeptics who point out contradictions like this and say, “See, here is another reason why we cannot trust the Bible. Christianity is a farce.” We will seek to tackle these questions as we look at the two texts from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Why Are Matthew and Luke so Different?

When you compare Matthew’s genealogy with Luke’s between David and Jesus, are they almost completely different. First, for example, all the names but two are different (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel). How are these differences to be explained? The differences between these lists stem from the purposes for which the gospels were compiled and the meanings they were intended to convey to their audience.

Second, Matthew places his genealogy at the very beginning of his Gospel (1:1–17), Luke placed his genealogy between the accounts of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. There is OT precedent for this in Moses’ genealogy (Exodus 6:14–25), which is not recorded at the beginning of His life but just before He started His ministry.

Luke doesn’t stop with Adam but goes on to say that Adam was son of God. Luke does not want his readers to think of Jesus as the Son of God in the same sense that Abraham and David and all the other descendants of Adam were. Luke 1:35 shows that His sonship depends on His unique creation in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. This then calls to mind Paul’s teaching that Christ is a second Adam, the beginner of a new humanity. Paul says,

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47–49)

Luke was not ignorant of this idea since he was a companion with Paul. Therefore, like Adam, Jesus was man and uniquely created by God. He is a new and second Adam whose ministry will be to create and assemble a new race of humans who are not marked by Jewishness or Gentileness, but by the character of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Luke’s list is a lot longer than Matthew’s. Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam while Matthew’s stops at Abraham. Why is Luke’s genealogy longer? It might seem that there is some genealogy rivalry going on that Luke has to out do Matthew. It’s plausible, but just silly.

To understand why Matthew only goes to Abraham and Luke goes beyond to Adam, you have to know each gospel writers audience. Matthew is writing for Jews who are interested in Jesus’ connection with father Abraham, but Luke is writing for Gentiles and is more interested in Jesus’ solidarity with all humanity through His descent from Adam. And this runs parallel to Jesus message of coming to bring the gospel to all men. Jesus is not just a son of Abraham—more importantly He is a son of Adam—He is a man. His humanity, not his Jewish ethnicity, is the crucial thing. And that seems to be Luke’s point in connecting Jesus to Adam.

Fourth, the most contested difference between Matthew and Luke is that Luke says that Jesus’ earthly father Joseph is the son of Heli (3:23), while Matthew says that he was the son of Jacob (1:16). There are suggested solutions for this assumed contradiction:

First suggestion: The gospel of Matthew,

“gives the legal descendants of David—the men who would have been legally the heir to the Davidic throne if that throne had continued—while Luke gives the descendants of David in that particular time to which finally Joseph, the husband of Mary, belonged”.[1]

So, for example, Luke says in 3:31 that the son of David was Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14), while Matthew in 1:6 says the son of David was Solomon, who was heir to the throne. The two lines could easily merge whenever one of Nathan’s descendants became the rightful heir to the throne. According to J. Gresham Machen,

“The Lucan genealogy, in other words, starts with the question, ‘Who was Joseph’s “father”?’ the answer to that question is, ‘Heli.’ . . . In the Matthean genealogy, on the other hand, we start with the question, ‘Who was the heir to David’s throne?’ The answer is, “Solomon,’ and so on down to Joseph.”[2]

Jesus’ family tree in Matthew is meant to establish that He was legally a descendant of David (cf. 1:27, 32, 69) through His relationship to Joseph, and also to demonstrate that He was a member of the human race. It is not meant to show that Jesus was the Son of God by descent from Adam, since that would be true of all descendants of Adam.

Luke’s family tree compared to Luke’s is in reverse order, and it goes back beyond Abraham to Adam, and thus places Jesus in a wider context than does Matthew.

“Many have suggested that the regressive order in the genealogy is probably Luke’s instrument to focus attention on Jesus. The fact that Luke traced Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, “the son of God,” was probably due to the fact that he wrote for Romans and Greeks. By tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, he shows Jesus to be related to the whole human race. In Luke’s genealogy Jesus and Adam are both “sons of God”; Jesus, of course, is the son of God by nature; Adam, the son of God by having been created in God’s image. Jesus is a member of the race to which all people belong.”[3]

Second suggestion: Luke gives Mary’s genealogy and Matthew gives Joseph’s as Jesus’ legal father. The key to this interpretation is extending the parenthesis of verse 23 to include Joseph. So it would read, “Jesus was about 30 years old, being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli.” By including “of Joseph” in the parenthesis the point is made that Jesus is really the son of Mary, not Joseph, and Heli is his grandfather (Mary’s father). D.A. Carson says,

Both lists give the descent of Jesus through his supposed father Joseph (so it was thought; 23). The theory that Luke really gives us the family tree of Mary rather than of Joseph is improbable. The theory with least difficulties is that Matthew gives the descendants of David down the royal line (i.e. who was heir to the throne at any given time), but Luke gives the particular line to which Joseph belonged. Even so there are still problems, and in the absence of fuller information the problems of explanation and harmonization with Matthew remain insoluble.[4]

There are a few other suggestions,[5] and both of these solutions are possible; the first is more probable; but neither can be completely proven. It is beyond human reach to discover for certain the full solution to the differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus, or the actual relationship of Jesus to them. Enough has been said to show that they are reconcilable, and the purposes of each, suggested here, indicate that either of the ways outlined above does full justice to the Davidic descent of Jesus, as rightful heir to His ancestor’s covenanted throne, and also to His virgin birth by Mary.

Why is it so important to dig into such questions like this related to the family tree of Jesus? Perhaps the best lesson one can gather from  sticky questions is simply that apparent contradictions in the Bible do have plausible and possible solutions and we should be slow to throw out a book that has proved itself over and over for thousands of years as the mighty, saving, transforming word of God.

[1] J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, New York: Harper Brothers, 1930, 204

[2] Ibid. 207

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 520-21.

[4] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Lk 3:23–38.

[5] I.e., Luke followed the Davidic line through Nathan (cf. Zech 12:12–13), whereas Matthew (cf. 1 Chr 1–3) followed the line through Solomon. The Matthean genealogy thus gives the legal line of descent from David, whereas the Lukan genealogy gives the actual physical line of descent. Or both Jacob and Heli were in some sense Jesus’ grandfathers. Variations of this explanation include: (a) Jacob (Matt 1:16) and Heli (Luke 3:23) were brothers, and upon Jacob’s death Heli assumed the role of husband via a Levirate marriage (cf. Deut 25:5–10) and fathered Joseph. Heli was thus Joseph’s natural father, whereas Jacob was the legal father. According to Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 1.7.1–15), Julius Africanus (ca. 225) claimed that he knew this from information that came from the descendants of James, the brother of Jesus. However, whereas the father of Joseph and Heli for both Matthew and Luke was Matthat/ Matthan, the father of Matthan in Matthew is Eleazar, while in Luke, it was Levi. (See R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah [Garden City: Doubleday, 1979], 503–04.) (b) Matthew’s genealogy was that of Joseph, whereas Luke’s genealogy was that of Mary. This depends upon how one reads “so it was thought, of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). The phrase can be interpreted in two ways: “Jesus was the son (supposedly) of Joseph, who was the son of Matthat” or “Jesus was the son (supposedly of Joseph but really) of Matthat,” who is then identified as the father of Mary. The major problem with this explanation is that in 1:27 Jesus’ Davidic descent via Joseph is stressed. (c) Heli was Mary’s father, but due to lack of a male heir, he adopted Joseph as his son in order to maintain the family line. Thus the Matthean genealogy was Joseph’s actual lineage, whereas the Lukan genealogy was his adopted lineage. This latter explanation lacks any evidence and can neither be proven nor disproven.

Why do people have difficulty trusting the Bible?

The Bible is an ancient book.

It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic by prophets, kings, tax gatherers, fishermen, and scholars. In various genres narratives, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, promises, stories, commands, wisdom literature, history (although not exhaustive), and letters. R. Laid Harris adds about the historical setting of the Bible,

Its historic setting changed from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age to Roman times. Its events occurred in Canaan, Egypt, Greece, and Asia Minor. No wonder it has puzzled some readers. These supposed difficulties are the result of ignorance of Bible lands, customs, and languages. Most problems fade away under deep, earnest, and prayerful Bible study.[1]

Christians do not believe that the Bible dropped out of the sky or was dictated to men who scribbled down furiously to catch every word from God. Christians believe that the Bible is both fully inspired by God and fully written by humans. Christians believe that Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts, not the copies and translation. Christian doctrines of the Bible allows for the human elements of style to be present in the writing process and accounting for the inevitable human error that occurs in textual transmission. Some of the supposed contradictions are because of obvious copying errors. But many of the contradictions are because many skeptics or contradiction seekers do not seem to know the basics of how to read an ancient text.

The Bible is a strange book.

It is different from all other books. It deals with spiritual things that cannot be understood “naturally.” Spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). Unfriendly critics and skeptics, therefore, discover problems even where no real problems exist. Nicodemus exclaimed to Christ, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). People unwilling to accept the Bible’s spiritual message cannot understand it. So we must help them find answers through wisdom, spiritual discernment, and godly character.

People have a difficult time trusting the Bible because it is ancient and strange. But that is not what makes it most unbelievable. What makes the Bible most difficult to trust is what it says about God redemptive plan and that God calls you to believe it. The message of the Bible might just change your life, and for some self-ruled people that is too hard to swallow.

[1] R. Laird Harris, Exploring the Basics of the Bible, Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 72.

the God who reveals (general & special revelation)

I am fan of games. My wife and I enjoy playing strategy games together and with friends. I suppose my love for games was bred into me from a young age. I got my first Nintendo when I was about 12 years old. But I think my love for games even goes back earlier to tag on the elementary school “playground” or peek-a-boo with my parents as a toe-headed toddler. Peek-a-boo is a fun game. My 19-month old daughter loves to play by covering her little eyes with her little hands.

Peek-a-boo is the first step towards playing Hide-and-seek. It is interesting that Hide-and-seek is a game that we love to play with our children, but God never plays with us. He is always with us and He has revealed Himself plainly to mankind. You can summarize the ways God reveals Himself to man in two ways: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. Special revelation refers to the more specific truths that can be known about God through the supernatural.

The God who reveals Himself through nature (general revelation)

First, God is seen in creation. God’s existence and power can be seen throughout the vastness of the universe, in the order of the animal kingdom, in the rules of gravity or thermal dynamics, and in the details or structures of plants and cells. The wonder of creation declares it must be made and just did not happen by mere chance, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen” and “understood” from what He has made, and there is no excuse for denying these facts. This is was I wrote about a few weeks ago, when I was on a hike with my family through the Muir Woods just north of San Francisco.

Second, God is seen in humanity. He is not only seen in your biological makeup, but also your psychological[1] makeup too. God has placed within every man a moral compass that that points us True North, a radar system that warns us of evil and harm, and a homing beacon that deep down gravitates us towards God (Jeremiah 31:33). How is it that sinful men still have a bearing of what is right and wrong? Did that just didn’t happen? No, it is imbedded within your DNA as a gift from God. It is divine proof that your Maker has marked you with His image (Genesis 1:28).

God reveals Himself through nature. He has put redemptive themes all throughout the universe, planet earth, and humanity, which point the creation back to its Creator. You do not have to look far or wide to find it, but most people choose to ignore it or redefine it.

The God who reveals Himself through supernatural (special revelation)

God doesn’t just reveal Himself through nature, but also through supernatural means. Special revelation is when God reveals Himself miraculously. He revealed Himself through physical appearances (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4, 34:5-7), dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2) , visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7), the written Word of God, and most importantly—Jesus Christ.

One of the primary means God reveals Himself supernaturally to man is through the writing of His Word—the Bible. Think about it, God wrote a book. He did have to, but God decided to reveal everything that you need to know about Him, what He expects from you, and what He has done for you in the Bible. He spoke in a way that is clearly understood. He miraculously guided the original authors of Scripture to accurately record His redemptive message to mankind, but He still used their own styles and personalities. The Word of God is inspired, profitable, and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12).

Where special revelation is seen in its ultimate form is in the Person of Jesus Christ. God became a human being (John 1:1, 14). He came as the Word within human skin, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Hebrews 1:1-3) God became a human being, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to become the atoning sacrifice for your sin on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Human sin needed a perfect human substitute for His sin, which is Jesus. He is the ultimate “special revelation” from God.

Why is general and special revelation so important?

First, God makes Himself known so that you can know Him. God wants to be known. He is not silent. He has given you a glimpse of His character, His purposes and plans, and has given you many avenues to know Him. Simply read the Bible and look to Jesus and you will get to know an amazing God.

Second, not only does God reveal Himself to you, but He also reveals who you are too. He makes Himself known because He knows that you need Him. He is Creator and you are His creation. He is perfect and you are imperfect due to sin (Romans 1-9). He is Savior and you need redeemed. He takes the initiative to reveal Himself to you so that you would respond and join in a relationship with Him.

God does not play peek-a-boo. He does not want you to be left in the dark as to who He is and His purposes for humanity. Instead He has revealed Himself to all people, at all times, and in all places that proves that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent. You can know Him and have a relationship with Him today.

[1] And I mean the true sense of the word psychological, which means the study of the soul.

thumb licks [6.7.12]

Best graduation speeches.

What do introverts think of church?

How much do you owe mom since your birth?

Is Mormonism a cult? What about a Mormon president?

10 things you have to do if you want the next generation to listen.

It Is What It Is, But It Is Not What It Shall Be.

Why Bible study doesn’t transform us?

The Real Avenger.

The gospel for those who’ve grown up in church.

Muslim Unreached People Groups.

Is the book of Acts descriptive or prescriptive?

Acts tells the story of how His church began and how the message Christ spread. Christians who read the book of Acts are inspired by the explosive expansion of the early church. Thousands of people were coming to Christ, people were being miraculously healed, supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues were heard, and believers preached the gospel with boldness. Honestly, many desire this kind of outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the church today.

It is certain that Luke, a disciple of Christ, wrote the book of Acts. He writes the book as history in action,[1] particularly related to redemptive history and the spread of the message of salvation to the world.[2] Luke adds further details and personality sketches that help us understand what happened in the first century church.[3] He tells us the outcome of the story of Jesus contained in the Gospels and introduces the apostolic writings and their historical context, especially those of Paul.[4] He tells us what is happening during the early church days, but he rarely indicates what should happen today.

A Descriptive and Prescriptive View of Acts

Is the Books of Acts descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, are the facts in Acts for the church today? In Acts 6:1-6, Luke describes seven men who were chosen to wait on tables these men became the leaders of their churches. Then there are some amazing events like the extraordinary miracles God did through Paul (19:11-12), striking claims that caused people to perish (5:9-10), speaking in tongues after the filling of the Spirit (2:2-3), and so much more. Are we supposed to follow these orders within the church today? How are suppose to know if we are to follow them or not?

Much of the material in the New Testament falls into two categories: descriptive or prescriptive. Descriptive is a narration of what took place (i.e. Acts 10:45,46). Prescriptive are commands about how to live the Christian life through direct teaching on spiritual truths (i.e. 2 Timothy. 4:2; Colossians 2:9). Readers must be cautious to identify the type of passage they are reading, especially in the book of Acts. John Stott gives some great wisdom on how to deal with such texts:

What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us, whereas what is promised to us we should appropriate, and what is commanded us we are to obey . . . What is descriptive is valuable (in determining what God intends for all Christians) only in so far as it is interpreted by what is didactic . . . We must derive our standards of belief and behavior from the teaching of the New Testament . . . rather than from the practices and experiences which it portrays.”[5]

A good principle is to interpret the descriptive in light of the prescriptive. We are not commanded to copycat what the Bible describes unless it is prescribed in direct teaching of timeless spiritual truth. In other words, we must interpret descriptions in the book of Acts in light of what the Gospels and Epistles prescribe and teach as timeless truths.[6] For example, Christians today cannot be witnesses in the same foundational sense that the apostles were (8:4; 11:19-21), but we can share in the task of testifying and witnessing Jesus’ redemptive message (1 Corinthians 15:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:2; 4:14).

The books of the Bible were written occasionally, which means they were written to particular people in particular places at particular times. Acts must be read as a history of God’s redemptive work in the early church, and only follow theological and doctrinal “patterns” that are clearly repeated and/or commanded within the text also appearing in the Gospels and Epistles. There is no one sentence of the Bible addressed to me today telling me what to do. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t apply to me today. This means that we must do theology with every book of the Bible, regardless of its descriptive or prescriptive character.

Since Acts is a narrative it is primarily descriptive telling us what the apostles did, and not necessarily prescriptive telling us what we should do.[7] There are numerous sermons in Acts, many of which record the basic message of the early church. Many of these sermons teach spiritual truth that transcends time. Just as Acts 1:8 gives a rough geographical preview of the book of Acts, so Luke gives us a preview of the theological message (Luke 24:46-49). Several sermons in Acts contain a portrayal of the gospel. These particular sermons argue that Jesus is the Messiah, that He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, that God raised Him from the dead, and that He is the answer to Jewish and Gentile hope. These sermons are timeless truths placed within history.

Read the book of Acts Purposely

The purpose of Acts is not to serve as a model in every area of practice or experience for what individual believers or the church should do now. Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive—it is history, not law. However, there is much to learn from the experience and history of the early church. As Gordon Fee sates,

“We must not lose sight of the fact that Acts purports to narrate historical events such as: the founding and growth of the church, the career of Paul, and without Acts we would knowing nothing of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, Stephens martyrdom, the early Jerusalem church and how the gospel first came to the Gentiles.”[8]

What we read in Acts does serve as a model for us in areas that are mandated in the rest of the New Testament when it comes to such dogma as evangelism, missions, prayer, sacrificial giving, church leadership, ministry and more. Acts overarching purpose that the church today can take home is that we must be risk takers for the sake of Christ redemptive message.

[1] Graeme Goldworthy shares that “Acts is a highly selective history and the presentation is carefully controlled by the author’s summary statements and transitional notes. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. 2000. 286.

[2] Frank Theilman. Theology of the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 114.

[3] “Luke is probably writing in the manner of the Greek historians Xenophon and Plutarch. What this means is that a selection of the hero’s acts…, historical vignettes which set forth the hero’s character, are his major concern. The Book of Acts, then, is not a mere chronicle of events, but a portrayal of the kinds of people and kinds of things that were taking place in the early church” William H. Baker, Acts: Evangelical Commentary of the Bible, edited by Walter Elwell, page 884).

[4] Goldworthy, 290.

[5] John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975, pp. 15-17.

[6] Examples of interpreting the descriptive in light of the prescriptive:

Narrative: Acts 2:42 // Prescriptive:

Apostles’ teaching // Col. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:2

Fellowship // Heb. 10:24,25

Breaking of bread // 1 Cor. 11:23-34

Prayer // Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17

Narrative: Acts 2:43 Wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12).

Prescriptive Scripture: The phrase “signs and wonders” is used in connection with the apostles and their close associates to validate the truth of their message.

Narrative: Acts 2:44,45 Those who believed were together and had all things in common. They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Prescriptive Scripture: The New Testament never prescribes communal living. Rather it affirms the legitimacy of private property (1 Thess. 4:11,12; 2 Thess. 3:11,12) and teaches us to be generous (1 John 3:16,17).

[7] Gordon Fee. How to Interpret the Bible for All It’s Worth.

[8] D.A Carson. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 316-317.

thumb licks [2.9.12]

Ways to build spiritual conversation.

8 profitable ways to read your Bible.

C.S. Lewis and the power of Story.

Don’t take it from me: reasons you should not marry an unbeliever.

How to disagree online without being a total jerk.

Atheism: lessons learned from Christopher Hitchens.

Free Run: I wish I could run like this.


thumb licks [happy 2012]

7 things highly productive people do.

How to write a good sympathy card.

It’s not wrong to question your pastor. In fact, as a pastor, I encourage this.

The Tyranny of advice column Christianity.

Jellyfish tank. What I would get if I had a few hundred dollars laying around.

6 lessons from a year of family devotions.

Why keep the whole family together for church?

Why read the Bible with a plan?

Read the entire Bible in 2012. Here are some helpful tools.

Why studying the Bible won’t (necessarily) change your life.

Facts about Google. It’s big.

Don Sweeting looks ahead to 2012.

2011: a year in review through pictures

The Hobbit. A movie I will have to wait at least 360 days to watch this year.

are you too comfortable with the Bible?

Why do you suppose we have become so comfortable with the Scripture?

I think it’s partly our sin. One of the devil’s finest pieces of work is getting people to spend three nights a week in Bible studies.

The Bible is all there to be lived. It was given to us so we could live it. Most Christians know far more of the Bible than they’re living. They should be studying less, not more. You just need enough to pay attention to God.

Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co. Grand Rapids, MI. 1997. p.206-207

how to use the Bible in personal ministry

Connecting the Stories: How to Use Scripture in Personal Ministry

1. Some passages speak more clearly to certain issues that others, but all passages provide a lens through which to view any issue.

2. In ministry to others, we move from life to text or text to life.

3. Some passages are more easily used in ministry situations than others.

4. Major on connections that arise from the passage as a whole, not so much on isolated phrases.

5. Remember that all passages are linked some way to Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.

Adapted from the book, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Michael R. Emlet. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2009. 83-88.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (PDF)

implications for reading and using the Bible

Read back to front and front to back.

It means rereading any text in light of the end of the story–the coming of the kingdom in Jesus Christ. The end of the story forces you to see earlier parts in a new light. Details matter. Think about an accident scene investigation. The end of the story is clear; the debris lies on the road to prove it. Go back to the future. The end of the story only makes sense in light of what has come before. “Bidirectional reading” does justice to the unity and diversity of Scripture.

Bigger Bible, richer ministry.

Knowing that all parts of the Bible make unique contribution to the whole give us the courage and motivation to read and apply the Scriptures widely and deeply.

The centrality of God’s mission.

Seeing the Bible as a unified story of God’s redemptive mission helps us avoid introspective, individualistic application.

Bidirectional living.

No matter where you are in Scripture, you should feel the inexorable pull forward to where history will end up. The Bible shows us that we cannot live as mere “present tense” Christians. Our present moments are framed by God’s past acts of redemption and by the glorious future he has planned.

Interpretation and application are a community affair.

Scripture addresses communities with few exceptions [3 John, Philemon]. The Bible is God’s story and our story before it is really my story.

Adapted from the book, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Michael R. Emlet. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2009. 53-62.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (PDF)