[Note: This is part 4 in a 5 article series on using memorization to increase knowledge of the Bible and develop a sanctified imagination. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.]
Let’s continue with our process of memorizing the events in Genesis:
Location 5 – Nook 1: The Story of the Tower of Babel
What image comes to mind when you think of a tower? For many people it is the Eiffel Tower in Paris (or it’s kitschy knockoff in Las Vegas) so we’ll use that as our tower. Picture the Eiffel Tower spewing BUBBLES (Babel) from its top and a BABBLE of strange languages coming from its base.
Location 5 – Nook 2: God calls Abram to go to Canaan and Egypt
When remembering people from the Biblical narrative it can be helpful to associate them with the first person whose name comes to mind. Unfortunately, while I know many women who share the name of this patriarch’s wife (Sarah) I don’t know any Abrahams or Abrams. Instead I have to create a specific visual image for Abraham (e.g., a dusty, old and bearded nomad) that I can use throughout my memory palace. For this nook, I picture Abraham looking at an Egyptian pyramid (my go-to image for Egypt) that is surrounded by a fence made of candy canes (representing the similar sounding Canaan). Above the pyramid is the Representative Hand makes a beckoning motion to come toward the pyramid.
Location 5 – Nook 3: Abram has a son, Ishmael
There are many notable births that we’ll need to remember as we create the biblical narrative in our memory palace, so you’ll want to create a standard visual that represents “birth of a child.” As a boy I was told that the stork delivers babies, so that has visual has stuck with me. In this case, I picture a stork dropping a baby into the arms of Abraham. Since I don’t know any Ishmaels, I picture the baby with a sign around its neck that says, “Call me Ishmael” – the opening line of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. An alternative would be to use a similar sounding term. Instead of the stork delivering a human child, you can visualize him dropping a load of FISH MAIL onto Abraham.
Location 6 – Nook 1: God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah
Creating a visual to represent unfamiliar cities can be difficult. While its best to avoid using words in our visuals, this is case where is might be helpful. Picture two signs next to each other with the words “Welcome to So” on one and “Welcome to Go” on the other (an abbreviation that can be easier to picture than the words Sodom and Gomorrah). Each of the Representative Hands – which are now on fire – squashes the signs until there is nothing left but ash and debris on the floor.
Location 6 – Nook 2: Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt
This one is easy: As a woman looks back at the ashy signs on the floor, the Representative Hand taps her on the head and she turns into a human-sized saltshaker.
Location 6 – Nook 3: Sarah gives birth to Isaac
When picturing Sarah and Isaac, you may want to use an image of a friend, actor (e.g., Sarah Jessica Parker), celebrity (e.g., Sarah Ferguson, former Duchess of York), politician (e.g., former Alaska governor Sarah Palin), or historical figure (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton). As with Abraham and Ishmael, picture a stork dropping a baby with the face of your Isaac into the arms of the Sarah you picture.
Location 7 – Nook 1: God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but provides a ram as substitute
Create an image of the two figures preparing to engage in an act that you’ll recognize represents “sacrifice.” For example, you might picture Abraham with a knife standing over Isaac, who is also standing. As Abraham is bringing down the weapon, a ram butts Isaac with his horns, knocking him out of the way and taking the blow on his behalf.
Location 7 – Nook 2: Abraham's wife Sarah dies
As with births, you’ll want to create a standard image that can be used for common events such as deaths and weddings. For instance, you might want to use an image of an open coffin and a person crying over it. In this case, Sarah is lying in the coffin while her husband Abraham weeps.
Location 7 – Nook 3: Isaac marries Rebekah.
While it is tempting to create images we think would be more historically accurate, it is often easier to remember images that are familiar to us. For example, when imagining weddings mentioned in the Bible, picture the characters dressed in a modern wedding gown and tuxedo. An image of the 18th-century physicist Sir Isaac Newton marrying Christian pop singer Rebecca St. James (my visual cue) doesn’t become more accurate simply because we imagine them dressed in Ancient Near Eastern garb. The important factor is that the images be easy to remember. You don’t have to tell anyone how you remember them so feel free to make them as silly and strange as you want since silly and strange are more memorable).
Location 8 – Nook 1: Rebekah gives birth to Esau and Jacob
While Rebekah and Jacob are still common names, you don’t find too many Esau’s around nowadays. Creating memorable visual cues for Esau can be difficult, so you may want to use similar sounding words (like a children’s SEE-SAW) or create an absurd term (PEA SAW – a saw either made of or used to cut peas) and have the man carrying them. So for me, Esau is a bearded nomad who is carrying a chainsaw made of green peas.
Location 8 – Nook 2: Esau sells his birthright for bowl of stew
Picture Isaac wearing a chef’s hat standing behind a table with a large, steaming bowl of stew. His brother, licking his lips and holding an oversized spoon, hands over his birth certificate as payment to a gloating Isaac.
Location 8 – Nook 3: Jacob wrestles with God; has his name changed to Israel.
Create an image of Jacob wrestling with the Representative Hand. When the hand touches Jacob’s hip, the shirt he is wearing turns into the flag of the State of Israel (i.e., a blue Star of David on a white background).
Location 9 – Nook 1: Joseph angers his brothers and is sold into slavery
As a reminder that Joseph was also the given a coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3), I recommend creating an image of Joseph wearing a garish, oversized fur coat of wild colors. A group of angry young men of various ages is standing behind a supermarket checkout counter while Joseph is lying on the conveyer belt wrapped in his coat and chains. An ancient Egyptian is handing over a fistful of dollar bills to the brothers as payment for the newly enslaved Joseph.
Location 9 – Nook 2: Potiphar’s wife has Joseph thrown in jail
Picture an Egyptian woman (perhaps one that looks like a movie version of Cleopatra) holding on to the neck of Joseph’s fur-lined multi-colored coat. As he tries to get loose the coat breaks away and he runs straight into a jail cell.
Location 9 – Nook 3: Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker and then of Pharaoh
Picture Joseph (back in his coat again) standing before three men. One man is holding in his hands a giant cup filled with grapes (Gen. 40:10-11). The second man is balancing on his head a silver platter with three cakes that are being eaten by birds (perhaps peacocks again?). The third man has a head the shape of an Egyptian pyramid. Under each arm he is holding a cow–the one on the left is emaciated while the one on the right is plumb. The skinny cow is chewing on the ear of the fat cow.
Location 10 – Nook 1: Joseph is made prime minister of Egypt
Create an image of Joseph (in his coat, of course) sitting on a lavish throne. He’s wearing a clerical collar and baseball cap with ‘#1’ emblazoned across the front – a symbol that he is the #1 (prime) minister (not the clergy kind, but you get the idea) in Egypt.
Location 10 – Nook 2: Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain
Joseph, wearing his coat, is now the one standing at a supermarket checkout counter serving as the clerk. Each of the brothers (from the image you created for Location 9 – Nook 1) is standing in the checkout line holding a loaf of whole-wheat bread and looking sheepish.
Location 10 – Nook 3: Jacob dies and then Joseph dies.
Picture two open caskets, once with the image of your Jacob and the other is of Joseph laid out in his fancy, colored coat.
Where to Go From Here
The author of Ad Herennium says that the duty of an instructor in mnemonics is to teach the method of making images, give a few examples, and then encourage the student to form his own. When teaching ‘introductions’, he says, one does not draft a thousand set introductions and give them to the student to learn by heart; one teaches him the method and then leaves him to his own inventiveness. That’s the approach I’ll take here.
The task of creating your own images will certainly take time and effort. But here are a few suggestions for how to make the process less intimidating and time-consuming:
Create your own shorthand – Rather than writing everything out word for word, create shorthand that will remind you of the images you create and where you plan to place them in you memory palace. For example, you could write the details of “Location 3 – Nook 2: God Rests” like this:
Genesis :: 3/3 :: God Rests :: RH sleeping, snoring
Just remember that the 3/3 refers to the particular location and nook, not the chapter and verse.
Divide the workload – While image pegs that you create yourself are often easier to remember, for a complex task like this it may be helpful to share the workload. Instead of coming up with image pegs for every book of the Bible all by yourself, divide the tasks up among your family, friends, or small group. Work together to come up with a consensus for which events to include, but then have each person take one book and create a list of mental pegs for that part of the Bible. Be sure that everyone shares the same code or shorthand to avoid confusion.
Set aside time each week for this task – Use the techniques we covered in this series to schedule a time to accomplish this task. You gain no benefit from merely agreeing that memorizing the Biblical narrative would be spiritually helpful; you have to actually make time to accomplish this task. Isn’t it worth twenty minutes of your time each week to embed the entire Bible storyline into your imagination?
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers. I talked with Tim Keller about what’s on his nightstand, books he re-reads, biographies that have shaped him, and more.
What's on your nightstand right now?
I’m reading Augustine’s Confessions very slowly in two different translations and using a commentary on the Latin by J. J. O’Donnell. I’m reading a bit every night using all of those.
Other books I’m working through the next few months:
One of my favorite scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies appears early in the Fellowship of the Rings when Frodo and company first encounter Aragorn. Frodo and his adventure mates were putting the happy in happy hour at the Prancing Pony Inn, frolicking, tipping mugs of ale, and generally making a public hash of themselves—foolhardy behavior for a party of hobbits and dwarves embarking on a dangerous clandestine mission. Frodo slipped the ring on his finger and instantly became invisible, took it off, and reappeared to an astonished audience of merrymakers. Aragorn appeared from a dark corner of the pub, grabbed him by the collar and slung him into a side room as if he were a side of beef. “Are you frightened?” Aragorn asked the wide-eyed hobbit. Frodo answered a breathless, “Yes.” Aragorn’s counter line is unforgettable, “Not frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”
Ringwraiths. That’s what hunted Frodo. The evil emissaries of the dark lord Sauron were searching meticulously for the ring bearer; they wanted to destroy him and capture the one ring that ruled them all. Indeed, Aragorn was spot-on: the naïve little hobbit did not know what hunted him. And his naïveté was anything but humorous: the future of Middle Earth hung in the balance.
That scene came to mind Thursday night as I watched the sad news about Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton scroll across the screen: Relapsed, again. Drugs and alcohol, again. The sin that has hunted Hamilton since he was a teenager found him, again. I whispered a prayer under my breath: “Father, lavish your mercy on Josh Hamilton and his family. And have mercy on us. Let us never forget what hunts us.” I’m a big fan of our national pastime. I’m a big fan of Josh Hamilton. And like Josh Hamilton and Frodo Baggins, I, too, am hunted. I’m well aware that something hunts me, something deadly, an enemy I can only shake by unilateral grace: sin.
Hamilton’s story is deeply compelling. At 18 years old, he was an all-world talent with a powerful bat that reminded some of Mickey Mantle and a howitzer arm that conjured memories of Roberto Clemente. He was the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, chosen out of high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but Hamilton’s path to greatness was blocked by the twin demons of alcohol and drug addiction. Twice he failed drug tests, and on another occasion he was arrested after smashing the windshield of a friend’s car. Major League Baseball suspended him for most of three seasons from 2003 to 2005. His star appeared to have fallen.
But the effectual grace of God found Hamilton after this tumultuous period. God gave Hamilton new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His conversion also breathed new life into his baseball career. Hamilton made his Major League debut in 2007 with my beloved Cincinnati Reds. He was an instant star. During the past seven years he has become what scouts expected him to be from the beginning: one of the best players in the game. He led the perennially mediocre Texas Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and was named American League MVP in 2010. There were hiccups along the way, like a time in 2009 when he was photographed in a bar in a compromising position. And there was a seemingly small slipup 2012 when he admitted to drinking three beers. But Hamilton has mostly kept a strong witness for Christ. His family has helped build an orphanage in Uganda and established an outreach called Triple Play Ministries. Hamilton chronicled his fall and redemption in a 2008 book, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back (FaithWords).
Hamilton has kept accountability partners constantly at his side while away from home. He travels with only a small amount of cash and carries no credit cards. His wife, Katie, shuttles him to and from the ballpark during home games. After the Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010, Hamilton celebrated with ginger ale rather than champagne. I once heard Hamilton quote the apostle Paul, saying that he does not want sin to have mastery over him. No follower of Christ does.
Despite all that, sin continues to want to rule over Josh Hamilton. It wants to rule over us all. As a follower of Christ, Hamilton no doubt knows and agrees. Paul Tripp puts it memorably:
Sin is every human being’s core disease. It is completely beyond the power of any human being to escape it. It separates you from God, for whom you were created. It damages every aspect of your personhood. It makes it impossible for you to be what God created you to be and to do what God designed you to do. It robs you of inner contentment and peace, and it puts you at war with other human beings. It renders you blind, weak, self-oriented, and rebellious. It reduces all of us to fools, and ultimately it leads to death. Sin is an unmitigated, almost incalculable disaster. You can run from a certain situation, you can get yourself out of a relationship, and you can move to another location and choose not to go back again. But you and I have no ability whatsoever to escape from the hold that sin has on us. It is the moral Vise-Grip that has held the heart of every person who has ever lived.
Hamilton’s story could be my story or your story. The world, the flesh, the Devil is an unholy trinity that hunts us all. His story is in the news because of his profession; ours is not. What should we take home from Josh Hamilton’s sad brush with sin?
Life between the times is brutal war. We face enemies within and without that relentlessly wage battle against us. We will not defeat them fully in this life, but in the next. Thankfully, Christ has defeated them for us. My own pastor, Tom Schreiner, preached a powerful sermon from 2 Corinthians 10 this past Sunday on this reality. Even Paul, in Romans 7, continued to be hunted by indwelling sin.
Sin is subtle and sneaky. It is not always obvious. Satan operates as an angel of light. I don’t know what happened to Josh Hamilton, but no doubt he never planned for a relapse. Temptation never takes a day off. We are all recovering sinners.
Killing sin is a daily vocation for believers. So serious is sin, Jesus spoke of plucking out the eye and cutting off the hands and feet that tempt us (Matt. 5:27-30). As the Puritan John Owen put it, we must be daily killing sin or it will kill us (Rom. 8:13).
Humility is not optional for believers. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Beware you stand, lest you fall.” Sin is always crouching at the door. We need to let the Savior answer the door, for he is our only hope. And when famous believers like Josh Hamilton fall, we should fight for them on our knees, knowing that but for the grace of God, it might be us. Self-righteousness should die a thousand deaths in the face of such news.
Preaching the gospel to ourselves daily must include seeking the result of a gospel-entranced life: holiness. We need to know that we are in Christ and that we are not saved by works. And the fruit demonstrates the health of the root. Hebrews 12:14 is far scarier than Tolkien’s ring wraiths: “Strive . . . for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
Let us pray for Josh Hamilton and for Katie and their three daughters. I wrote about big league baseball before surrendering to ministry, and a Christian player once told me that the daily opportunities to sin for a professional athlete are almost beyond comprehension. “Take your temptation to sin and your opportunities and multiply them by 10,000,” he said. “A lot of people want a piece of you because of who you are, and many of them are emissaries of Satan sent to destroy you.”
May we as followers of Christ, though redeemed and set free from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:12-14), never forget the monster that hunts us.
The wonders and delights of the things of earth pose a serious practical problem for Christians who want to glorify God and flee from idols. On the one hand, we know that God’s wrath is revealed against those who exchange his glory for created things. And we know that idolaters—those who love creation more than God—will not inherit the kingdom of God. Aware of this danger, some Christians have sought to wall themselves off from the world, escaping from the danger of idolatry with a well-timed stiff-arm to pleasures that we can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch.
But the Bible teaches us that we can’t solve the sin problem by rejecting creation outright. If we do, we simply move from being sensuous idolaters to foolish lackeys of the Devil (1 Tim. 4:1–5). But most of us aren’t about to become hermits living in the desert, far away from all possible temptations to indulge our appetites. We have no interest in becoming monks, so the warnings in passages like 1 Timothy 4 and Colossians 2:20–23 don’t hit home.
Failed Monks and False Guilt
However, while we may not be taking vows of celibacy or renouncing all food except moldy bread, I wonder if many of us don’t adopt a more insidious form of the same mentality. We still enjoy our hamburger and French fries, but we do so reluctantly, and perhaps with a tinge of guilt (especially if it really tastes good). We may not be actual monks, but have we adopted some sort of monastic standards, and then, because we fail to live up to them, suffer from low-grade guilt?
If rejecting God’s goodness in creation is demonic, then might there not be more subtle forms of this temptation, such “schemes of the Devil”? Ask yourself the following questions and probe the reasons for your answers:
Do I feel a low-grade sense of guilt because I enjoy legitimate earthly pleasures?
Is this guilt connected to any particular, concrete sinful attitude or action? Or is it rooted in a vague sense that I’m not enjoying God enough (whatever that means) or that I’m enjoying his gifts “too much”?
Am I attempting to detach from creation and God’s gifts out of fear of idolatry, lest my love for them surpass my affections for him?
Am I overly suspicious of created things, looking at my delight in ice cream and sunny spring days and hugs from my spouse with a wary and skeptical eye, perpetually unsure whether they’re too precious to me?
Do I have the sense that as I progress in holiness, my enjoyment of fresh raspberries and hiking in the mountains and an evening of games and laughter with old friends ought to diminish, because I’m becoming increasingly satisfied with God alone?
Do I regard certain activities like prayer, worship, and Bible reading as inherently more holy and virtuous than others like doing my job or listening to music or taking a nap?
My point is not that you shouldn’t worry about the danger of idolatry. Far from it. Good gifts really can become distractions that keep us from communing with God. Idolatry isn’t a game; it’s a suicidal reality that wrecks our souls and awakens the wrath of a jealous God. My concern is that, in general, thinning out the gifts and rejecting the stuff and suppressing our delight in created things actually hinders our growth in grace and our ability to resist the pull of the Devil’s lies. In fact, by stiff-arming created things, we miss the crucial role they play in the faithful Christian life.
Why We Should Eat Honey
Tucked away in the book of Proverbs, Solomon gives us a window into one of the main purposes for the things of earth:
My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (Prov. 24:13–14)
Why did God make honey so tasty and sweet? So that we would have some idea what wisdom is like (at least, that’s one reason). The sweetness of honey points beyond itself to the wisdom of God. Honey is “good,” and we are exhorted in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good!” Our souls have taste buds, just like our tongues, and we can train the soul-buds by exercising the tongue-buds. When we savor the sweetness of honey or sweet tea or pumpkin crunch cake, we engage in a fancy bit of “reading.” We transpose the physical enjoyment of taste onto our souls and offer thanks to God, not only for the simple pleasures of food but also for the spiritual pleasures to which the food is but a fitting echo.
But this means we can’t short-circuit the enjoyment of the honey. In order for us to gain the full spiritual benefit of honey, we must really enjoy its sweetness. There must be a savoring of honey as honey before there can ever be a savoring of honey as a pointer to divine wisdom. In short, if we’re to obey the biblical exhortation to “Know that wisdom is such to your soul,” we must first “Know . . . such”—that is, we must first eat honey.
Created Beams of Divine Glory
So as we confront a world full of potential idols, let us not overlook the true purpose of creation. Creation is communication from the triune God. God loved his trinitarian fullness so much that he created a world to communicate that fullness ad extra, outside himself. And not just any world. A world full of fish tacos, tickle fights, afternoon naps, Cajun seafood, back rubs, wool house shoes, and church softball.
The infinite and eternal God created something that is not God, but nevertheless really and truly reflects and reveals God. As a result, creation is glorious, created beams of divine glory. As the light of the sun is refracted by water droplets into a rainbow, so creation refracts the glory of God, allowing the full spectrum of his beauty to be displayed for the knowledge and enjoyment of his people. Created glory mediates divine glory, so that when we chase the pleasures up the beam to the source, we arrive at the Joy of Joys, the River of Delights, the Person of Persons, the living God and Father of Jesus Christ.
[Note: This is part 4 in a 5 article series on using memorization to increase knowledge of the Bible and develop a sanctified imagination. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.]
Christ can only be truly and properly known through the revelation presented in the entirety of God’s Word. The British theologian Alister McGrath notes that Scripture is regarded as a channel through which God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered. Faith accepts Scripture as a testimony to Christ, and submits to Christ as the one of whom Scripture speaks.
Too often, though, our faith is based on testimony about the testimony. We may be able to affirm that Scripture is, from Genesis to Revelation, where God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered without truly having encountered that revelation directly. Even if we have read the Bible in its entirety we may only have a general sense of how any particular book, much less all of Scripture, reveals Christ.
An aid to developing this understanding is to delve into Biblical theology, the discipline of understanding how the person and work of Christ are the center of all of God’s works in redemption and the end to which all of the Scriptures point. But it helps to have a mental framework in which to hang the insights we can glean from that field.
One practical and immediate way to prepare for study of Biblical theology and to develop a deeper appreciation of Scripture, to thread it into the warp and woof of our imagination, is to embed as much of the Biblical narrative into our minds as possible. By having a detailed overview of the entire Biblical narrative available for recall, we can better see what Graeme Goldsworthy calls the binding theme of the whole Bible, the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
Narrative comprises the single most common form of writing in the Bible. These are the books that contain the main story line of the kingdom of God. Biblical narrative stories compose approximately forty percent of the Old Testament and a large part of the New Testament. The narrative based books would include: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, Haggai, some of the Prophetic writings, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and Acts.
Memorizing the Narrative of Genesis
In this article you’ll learn how to apply the techniques from the previous articles to create a detailed mental overview of these books. You’ll soon be on your way to knowing hundreds of people and events in the narrative books and where they fit into the story of the Bible. By the time you finish this exercise you should be able to correctly recall the following thirty events from the fifty chapters of Genesis
God creates night and day
God separates the water into atmospheric water and oceanic water
God separates dry land from the oceanic waters and brings forth vegetation
God reveals the sun, moon, and stars
God creates birds and oceanic creatures
God creates land animals
God creates Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and leave the garden
Cain kills Abel
Noah builds an ark
God makes a covenant with Noah
Tower of Babel
God calls Abram to go to Canaan and Egypt
Abram has a son, Ishmael
God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah
Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt
Sarah gives birth to Isaac.
God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but provides a ram as substitute.
Abraham's wife Sarah dies
Isaac marries Rebekah
Rebekah has Esau and Jacob
Esau sells birthright for bowl of stew
Jacob wrestles with the Angel of God
Joseph angers his brothers and is sold into slavery
Potiphar’s wife has Joseph thrown in jail
Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker and then Pharaoh
Joseph is made prime minister of Egypt
Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain
Jacob dies and then Joseph dies
Having read the book of Genesis (hopefully several times) you are not unfamiliar with the story. Yet the task of memorizing these events still seems daunting, doesn’t it? Why start by memorizing the sequence of events of the fourth longest book of the Bible? Wouldn’t it be easier to start with a single verse from Scripture?
Surprisingly, no, it wouldn’t. Most people will find that they are able to memorize these thirty events easier and faster than they would a thirty-word verse. You’ll soon see for yourself. In an hour, after you’ve read the following section and made a concerted effort to create the mental images, go back and read over the list and you’ll see that you can remember almost all of them. With only a little more practice you’ll soon be able to remember them with near perfect recall.
Let’s get started on what will be the first step in memorizing the story of the Bible, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1 to the city of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.
Memorizing the Narrative of Genesis
The book of Genesis begins with creation (Gen. 1:1) and ends with the patriarch Joseph in a tomb in Egypt (Gen. 50:26). To help us remember the sequence of events that occurs in between, we’ll create image pegs that can be placed in the nooks and locations of your memory palace (see article #3). Since the same memory palace can be used again and again for remembering different material (we’ll use the same locations for each of the narrative books of the Bible) it helps to have a “trigger” that reminds you of a particular sequence. A useful technique for the narrative is the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This will serve as the cue to recall the list of thirty items for this part of the Biblical narrative.
A Caution on Making Images to Represent God’s Actions
One of the challenges of making our unique and creative mental impressions is that significant parts of the Biblical narrative involve direct action by God. The Bible warns us, however, against making images of our Creator (Exodus 20:4-6). As R.C. Sproul explains, “God is spiritual and invisible; nothing, therefore, in the earth or in the heavens above corresponds with His nature. Nothing can adequately or comprehensively represent Him.” We must therefore be careful to distinguish between images that represent actions by God and images of God.
For instance, in creating images to represent the actions of God in Genesis I’ll recommend the use of a pair of hands that are doing the “creating.” These images—which I’ll repeatedly refer to as the Representative Hands—should be considered a representative abstraction used for the purpose of creating a memorable mental image and should not be taken to represent “the hands of God.” The distinction is subtle but necessary to avoid confusion about the intention of the imagery we are using for our model.
Let’s get started . . .
Location 1 – Nook 1: God creates night and day
In the first nook of our first location, we want to represent the action of Gen. 1:3: “And God separated the light from the darkness.” Picture our Representative Hand –a pair of massive hands at least three feet long – pulling a huge, very bright light bulb out of a very large and extremely dark hole in the floor. It may help to imagine the words “day” and “night” written on the images.
Location 1 – Nook 2: God separates the water into atmospheric water and oceanic water
In the second nook, we want the same Representative Hands to be placed on the top (palm facing down) and the bottom (palm facing up) of an extraordinarily large drop of water that is floating in midair. When the hands pull the drop apart, the top half turns into series of fluffy clouds that bounce on the ceiling while the bottom half splashes onto the floor creating a waist deep expanse of ocean. Try to hear the sound of the ocean water splashing about and the clouds dripping rain into the water below.
Location 1 – Nook 3: God separates dry land from the oceanic waters and brings forth vegetation
In the third nook, the Representative Hands will reach into the ocean water (which has seeped over from nook 2) and wipe it away until a large section of dirt and land appears in the middle. Have one hand reach down into the dirt and quickly pull up a large fruit tree (Gen. 1:12), an action that causes some of the fruit to fall and bounce on the ground. As a hand pulls the tree to the ceiling, picture grass growing along the rest of the dirt and the ocean water lap around the edges of the dry ground.
Location 2 – Nook 1: God reveals the sun, moon, and stars.
Now let’s move on to your second location. For the first nook in this location, picture the Representative Hands reaching up to attach a comical-looking sun and moon being attached to hooks or beams (sunbeams and moonbeams?) on a black expanse of the ceiling. Picture the sun giggling as the moon tries to shield its eyes from the glare. Once the hand has the sun and moon firmly attached, it uses one of its fingers to poke holes in the dark ceiling, revealing the stars.
Location 2 – Nook 2: God creates birds and oceanic creatures.
In our next nook we are once again waist deep in ocean water with clouds above us. One of the Representative Hands reaches up into the clouds and pulls out a peacock (or other colorful bird that you find easy to remember) while the other reaches into the water and pulls out a great white shark. Picture the shark trying to take a bite of the peacock as the bird squawks and furiously flaps its plumage in an attempt to avoid being eaten.
Location 2 – Nook 3: God creates land animals
Next we move to the last spot in the location. Imagine the Representative Hand reaches into a relatively small burlap sack and pulls out three or four large land animals, like cows and elephants. The hand struggles to pull the various animals out of the sack and each land on the floor with a plop and annoyed grunt.
Location 3 – Nook 1: God creates Adam and Eve
We move on to our third location for the creation of our first parents. You likely have mental images of Adam and Eve already, so picture the hand reaching into a pile of dirt on the floor and pulling out a man. While one hands dusts him off, the other reaches into Adam’s ribcage and pulls out a woman.
Location 3 – Nook 2: God rests
On the seventh day, God rested. So to represent this action we’ll have the Representative Hands (which, keep in mind, are not God’s hands but mere abstract representations of his actions!) lie clasped on a pillow. The hands are emitting a deep and bellicose snoring sound.
Location 3 – Nook 3: Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and leave the garden
We don’t know what fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked like, so feel free to picture whatever image pops into your head when you hear the word “fruit.” For this example, we’ll use an apple. Picture Adam and Eve in a garden that is about waist high (it can be sitting on a table or other object in your location). As they share an apple they fall off the side of the garden and onto the floor (representing mankind’s fall from grace).
Location 4 – Nook 1: Cain kills Abel
Even when we are familiar with the story of the first fratricide, it can be easy to forget which brother was the murderer and which was the victim. To help us remember, we’ll use terms that sound similar as a helpful mnemonic device. So for this visual picture a man holding a massive candy CANE in both hands (Cain) who is using it to bludgeon another man who is lying on the ground and not ABLE to get up (Abel).
Location 4 – Nook 2: Noah builds an ark
Since the story of Noah is one of the most common in all of Western culture, you probably already have a strong visual you can place in this nook. If nothing else comes to mind, imagine an old man loading animals into an ark as the rain begins to fall.
Location 4 – Nook 3: God makes a covenant with Noah
The two cues we will use and tie together for this part of the story are the burnt offerings and the sign of the covenant (i.e., the rainbow). Create a picture of Noah setting fire to the feathers of a live peacock (perhaps the one from Location 2 – Nook 2) and as he does, a rainbow shoots from the plumage and creates an arch of color. (Bird-burning can be disturbing image, so it might help to make the visual less violent—and more memorable—by making is somewhat cartoonish.)
That should be enough to get you started. Make sure all of these points are firmly ensconsed in your memory palace. In our next article we’ll add the rest of the events from the book of Genesis.
Over the last five years at The Gospel Coalition we’ve gradually diversified efforts to fulfill our Theological Vision of Ministry and consider the implications of the gospel for arts and culture, faith and work, current events, and Christian living. But our first audience, and in many ways still our primary audience, has been pastors. The same goes for our regular contributors. We publish pastors. And not just our Council members and other high-profile leaders. We have featured hundreds of mostly unknown and lesser-known pastors laboring in diverse contexts with myriad challenges but buoyed by the same gospel, preached “not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17).
For the last decade Erik Raymond has faithfully, regularly, and insightfully written about pastoral ministry and many other subjects for his blog, most recently titled Ordinary Pastor. With a name inspired by D. A. Carson’s memoirs of his pastor father, Ordinary Pastor captures our desire at TGC to make much of Jesus Christ and not ourselves, because when we are weak, Christ is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). For that reason we’re excited to welcome Erik and his blog to TGC. We know he will make a valuable contribution to our online community, because he’s already been serving us for years with articles and reviews that help Christians stay calibrated by the gospel and not the fads of pragmatic ministry or theological downgrade.
A Boston native, Erik is the senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He and his wife, Christie, have six children. We greatly admire his cooperative vision of ministry in Omaha, where he guides other pastors in adopting gospel-centered teaching and practices. Since the Lord gripped him with grace as a young man caught up in a lifestyle of open rebellion and hostility toward God and the church, Erik has demonstrated special passion and gifting for evangelism. You’ll want to pick up Erik’s new small-group curriculum, published by TGC and The Good Book Company, on Gospel-Shaped Outreach. Along with fellow TGC blogger Jared Wilson, who has written on Gospel-Shaped Worship, Erik is launching this major new multi-year initiative to help church leaders implement the values of our Theological Vision for Ministry in their various settings around the world.
Please join us in welcoming Erik to TGC and praying that God would uphold and equip him to steward his writing and thinking for the good of the global church.
Only the grace of God can explain Charles Spurgeon.
In 38 years as pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle (known as New Park Street Chapel during his early years), Spurgeon’s output was superhuman. He often preached 10 times per week at the Tabernacle and in other places. Spurgeon (1834–1892) led evangelistic activities between services on Sunday afternoons and weekday evenings. Then there were all the institutions and activities at the downtown London church that received input from the great pastor: an orphanage, a Colportage association, various almshouses, and numerous other gospel-driven social works. Spurgeon founded and lectured in Metropolitan Tabernacle’s Pastor’s College, where he interacted regularly with students. Both the church and college were active in missions activities in China, India, Africa, and other places.
Those facts are staggering, but they only scratch the surface.
Spurgeon weekly interviewed numerous prospective church members and anxious unregenerate souls under conviction of the Holy Spirit. He wrote more than 140 books, edited and published his sermon each Lord’s Day, and edited the monthly Sword and Trowel magazine from 1865 until his death. He also responded to some 500 letters per week.
This prodigious output came despite living with a body that was often wracked with painful gout and various other physical maladies. Worse yet, he suffered perennially from deep, dark depression, a spiritual disease the Puritans and Spurgeon himself called “melancholy” or, more descriptively, the “dark night of the soul.” In his 2013 biography of Spurgeon, Tom Nettles called Britain’s greatest pastor “a living theology of suffering.” Indeed.
In his new book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression, Zack Eswine outlines Spurgeon’s struggle with depression, quoting judiciously from his sermons and ultimately using the legendary pastor as a case study and manual for giving instruction on how to deal with this far-too-common ailment among God-called men.
At 144 pages, the book is brief, but it’s packed with powerful, practical substance. Eswine, lead pastor of Riverside Church in St. Louis, spends the first third of the work diagnosing the problem, describing depression and how it tends to cling to those God has called to vocational ministry. There are essentially two types of depressed people, according to Spurgeon: those given to melancholy as a temperament and those driven to depression through difficult circumstances. “Some of us are marked by melancholy from the moment of our birth,” Spurgeon remarked. They are more difficult to cure, for “desponding people can find reason to fear where no fear is.”
One event loomed large on the landscape of Spurgeon’s life and ministry, an event that triggered what would become a decades-long inner war with anxiety. On October 19, 1856, the 22-year-old Spurgeon was preaching for the first time at the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens to accommodate the massive crowds that followed him. An attendee yelled “fire,” causing a stampede of people that left seven dead and 28 injured among a crowd of more than 7,000. Spurgeon was never the same. Parishioners and fellow elders reported that the incident had a serious affect on the “nervous system of our pastor.” From that point forward, Spurgeon suffered from bouts of deep depression until he was set free by death in 1892.
Eswine correctly ties Spurgeon’s dark night of the soul to that event and in the second chapter, mainly through Spurgeon’s sermons, he begins to build a practical theology of the role of suffering in the Christian life, beginning with the countercultural biblical claim that “grief is God’s gift to us.” Depression often results from grievous circumstances, and sometimes, Spurgeon said, it’s something a believer brings upon himself. Depression is not always, nor even usually, a sin. In the third chapter, Eswine gives an excellent discussion of the disease of melancholy, showing how it can be tied to bodily pain, as it often was in Spurgeon.
The second section helps readers comfort others suffering from depression. Spurgeon counseled thousands during his ministry at New Park Street and Metropolitan Tabernable, and his experience assisted him in that task. Spurgeon warns against “one size fits all” cures, provides a brief but insightful discussion of Scripture’s metaphors for suffering, and warns against giving shallow, unbiblical advice to depressed believers. Chapter 8 shows how Jesus wrestled with anxiety and depression as the shadow of Calvary increasingly loomed. “How completely it takes bitterness out of grief,” Spurgeon told his congregation, “to know that it was once suffered by him.”
Healing Balm for Depression
The book concludes with three chapters that, like a Spurgeon sermon, provides biblical application to the problem of depression. Chief among the medicines Spurgeon took to regulate his melancholy was prayerful focusing on God’s promises in Scripture. In typically inimitable phraseology, the Prince of Preachers pointed his congregation to the Bible as a lighthouse illuminating the dark and wind-tossed harbor of the depressed soul:
I like in my time of trouble to find a promise which exactly fits my need, and then to put my finger on it, and say, “Lord, this is thy word; I beseech thee to prove that it is so, by carrying it out in my case. I believe that this is thine own writing; and I pray thee make it good to my faith.” I believe in plenary inspiration, and I humbly look to the Lord for a plenary fulfillment of every sentence that he has put on record.
Chapter 10 provides what Eswine calls “natural helps.” Here Spurgeon commends things like laughter, quiet hours, relaxing vacations, and in extreme cases when physical pain is pulling depression along in its train, medicine.
In the final chapter, Eswine and Spurgeon wrestle with the depression’s darkest dungeon: suicide. Spurgeon deals frankly with the issue and admits that genuine believers can become so downcast that they’re tempted to let go of the tether of hope. Such thoughts aren’t necessarily insane (Paul’s desire to depart in Philippians 1 demonstrates this, Spurgeon says), but he shows that ultimately the Christian is called to choose life, understanding that dark seasons will come to every person in a fallen world. This is a particularly important discussion since depression and suicide among pastors seems to be on a sobering uptick.
Church History Applied
Eswine’s work demonstrates the value of reading biographies, old books, and sermons. Interacting with godly men and women from church history can be a vital aid to Christian maturity. He handles Spurgeon carefully, yet provocatively at points, and produces a volume that promises to help pastors and laypeople confront the sad terror of the dark night of the soul.
My main critique is minor: the book could stand a bit more biographical detail of Spurgeon’s life and ministry. It would have been even more powerful to sketch some of the events of Spurgeon’s life that put him under the yoke of melancholy.
Spurgeon was a great lover of the Puritans in general and John Bunyan in particular. He often used characters from Pilgrim’s Progress as sermon illustrations. Having served as a pastor, I’ve been shackled in the dungeon of Doubting Castle under the baleful eye of Giant Despair, and thus I found Eswine’s tapping of Spurgeon’s life and sermons on depression deeply satisfying. If I could write a final page of take-home for pastors in 2015, here are four major lessons from Spurgeon’s war with depression:
If a man so great as Spurgeon suffered from depression, then many of God’s men today will likely be called to walk through the same treachorous valley.
Spurgeon is a prime illustration of A. W. Tozer’s famous words: “Before God uses a man greatly, he must first bruise him deeply.” If you desire to be used for God’s kingdom and glory, don’t expect your best life now.
Depression does not have to undermine a man’s ministry, but can become a significant catalyst to it. God gave Paul a thorn. Melancholy was Spurgeon’s thorn. It may be yours, too, but through it God’s strength can be showcased in your weakness. God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.
Church history has great value for Christian living and maturity. We are not the first Christians to suffer, and many of those who have gone before us have thought deeply and biblically about life in a fallen world. They’ve left behind a wealth of sermons, books, and essays on how to cope with it to the glory of God. Hundreds of Spurgeon’s sermons are available online.
Every pastor should read Spurgeon’s sermons and mine them for practical help. For many years I have sought to read a sermon from Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones each Lord’s Day, and I have reaped much fruit from it. If you have fallen into the Slough of Despond, as Eswine has shown in this helpful work, Spurgeon’s Christ-centered, gospel-driven life and ministry will provide solid ground for your soul.
I knew something had changed when he walked in the door. Avoiding my gaze, he walked through the kitchen into the dining room and sagged down into a seat in front of the baby’s high chair.
“How’d it go, today?” I asked, turning to stir the vegetables, ignoring his body signals.
Silence. And then a series of giggles escaped from the baby, happy at the sight of her daddy’s return home. When I turned to look at them, I saw my husband’s shoulders slumped forward.
His body was shaking from the sobs. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, he barely got out the words, “I was fired today.”
My husband is—now—a former pastor; the words still seem surreal. Unfortunately, the term “former pastor” isn’t unique to our situation. Many men walk away, willingly or not, from the ministry (I am thinking of believers who, for a season or the rest of their life, turn from an earlier call of pastoral leadership for reasons other than gross misconduct). According to an article from 2012, nearly 800 Southern Baptist pastors are terminated each year; that is just one evangelical denomination. Paul Tripp has accurately labeled the pastorate a dangerous calling.
Since this situation affects so many ministers, my husband had many outlets to turn to: other pastors, his mentor, support groups for wrongly fired pastors, and historical precedents. He, like other men before him, could take comfort in thinking, Take heart, Jonathan Edwards was fired from his first pastorate, too.
Strangely, there are fewer avenues that address the proper response for the wife. Perhaps this is because the term “pastor’s wife” is nebulous and undefined in the first place. Initially, I bucked the phrase “pastor’s wife,” citing the ill-informed stereotypes. However, as the years have passed and the Lord has changed my heart, I have grown into the role. I thoroughly enjoy ministering to those in need and especially treasure the opportunity to teach, love, and share Christ with teenagers and children.
However, because we don’t share our husbands’ responsibilities or spend every day at the church, we don’t see or experience the less desirable things: the conflict, the emotions, or the sin in many of our churches.
So how should a pastor’s wife respond to his termination?In attempt to answer that question, I offer five observations.
1. Recognize the effects of the fall.
A post-Genesis 3 world means that sin pervasively enters all aspects of life—even, sadly, churches. When Christ appoints a pastor as the under-shepherd to a church, he calls that man to love, protect, and minister to the flock. A minister of the gospel knows that this calling requires sacrifice: family, time, resources, and most of all, self. However, the pastor surrenders willingly because he loves the church body, the bride of Christ. A pastor’s family is implicated in this relationship as well: we care deeply for the people as family. When ties are severed and pastors are taken away, it isn’t merely an inconvenience, but a separation. It is like a divorce or a dissolution of a close familial relationship.
2. Don’t give in to sin.
My initial response to my husband being fired was a strange mix of sin: anger and resentment against the church leadership, relief that God had finally and definitively closed the door, and fear at the loss. My second response? Mama-bear protection mode; give me a phone to tell “those” people just what I think of their actions. Neither response was appropriate. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit prevented me from acting on either. Instead he is convicting me of sin, constantly steering me away from the trap of bitterness.
3. Seek wise counsel.
Our closest friends and family received the news first; they came alongside us with encouragement, support, biblical counsel, answers, and even gracious silence. While the counsel of friends is extremely helpful, I urge you to also seek advice outside your personal sphere. Other Christians love you, they hurt for you, but like a divorce when things get messy, ultimately they side with you as friends. Some of the best counsel we received came from a neutral party who had walked through a similar situation.
4. Know you are replaceable.
This statement really hurts. Thankfully it came from a wise and dear friend. The church continues. God’s kingdom will advance here on earth with or without our leadership. Christ promised Peter in Matthew 16, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It does not depend on us.
5. Look to the promise of final restoration.
Ultimately, we find hope in the promise that God is making his church more holy each day, as Ephesians 3:20-21 explains. We long for the true restoration, when all things will be made new, resting on Christ’s words, “Behold I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7). We can then stand confidently alongside the past, present, and future church crying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” as we expectantly look for that day of renewal (Rev. 22:20).
What’s the hardest part of this situation? The transition right now. Possessing neither the hindsight nor wisdom that accompanies time, we pray that together we might obediently walk upright through this trial, looking to Christ, so that in everything we might make much of him while turning aside from our own selfish desires.
H. Richard Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture is one of the most significant theological and missiological works of the 20th century, offering a memorable categorization of the ways Christians have related to culture throughout history.
Serving Christ gets hard. Harder than we expected. Harder than we can endure, even for one more day. We are tempted to think, “No way can this turn out well. My life – the only one I have – is going to end up on the junk pile.
President Obama on Thursday called on nations around the world to expand human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue as they struggle to combat a spate of terrorism that has recently struck places as far afield as Australia, Canada and Europe.
The number of words we can’t use without offending is ever growing, and if the supporters of the right-to-die movement have their way, it will stretch yet again to include the word “suicide.” At least when that suicide is the result of a dying patient taking a lethal dose of drugs to avoid impending mental and physical anguish.
The UK has passed a bill that allows for genetic engineering of children through nuclear transfer technology and germ-line modification. Young women will be needed to supply their eggs. But egg donation—or more accurately, egg selling—is risky business.
Here’s how it worked: McCarthy’s church offered funds as collateral so she could qualify for a loan through the Virginia United Methodist Credit Union. McCarthy agreed to repay the loan at an annualized interest rate of about 6 percent – meaning monthly payments of $25 for about 2 1/2 years, drawn right out of her bank account.
“The Americans,” along with the History Channel’s “Vikings,” has done something that almost nothing else in pop culture dares to attempt: It depicts Christianity as a seismic force, something capable of producing profound transformation in both individuals and society.
Slightly more than half of Utah residents say they attend religious services every week, more than any other state in the union. Residents in the four Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas are the next most likely to be frequent church attendees, with 45% to 47% reporting weekly attendance. At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont, where 17% of residents say they attend religious services every week.
It’s not normal these days for a teen to live with their married mom and dad. Fifty-four percent of U.S. teens 15-to-17-years-old do not live in a home with their married mother and father, according to the Fifth Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection released this month by the Family Research Council.
Measles killed 82,100 children under age 5 in 2013, ranking the disease at No. 7 on the list of the top causes of child death, according to recent statistics from the Global Burden of Disease study published in the Lancet.
Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain in Iraq, with the help of a group of Americans, are building a fighting machine to stand toe-to-toe with the Islamic State group to preserve their homeland, their history and their heritage.
It is morally indefensible for Catholic institutions to recognize and incentivize same-sex marriages by extending marriage benefits to employees who declare themselves legally married to a person of the same sex.
A Washington state florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a gay wedding “because of [her] relationship with Jesus” violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Stutzman is the Washington florist who has been sued for living out her Christian beliefs. In 2013, a long-time friend and customer came to her flower shop and asked her to provide flowers for his gay wedding. Stutzman had known this man and had done business with him for about nine years. Nevertheless, she told him that she could not participate in his wedding “because of my relationship with Jesus.”
Samantha Elauf was apprehensive to interview for a sales job at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch in 2008 because the 17 year old wore a headscarf in accordance with her Muslim faith. But a friend of hers, who worked at the store, said he didn’t think it would be a problem as long as the headscarf wasn’t black because the store doesn’t sell black clothes.
Imagine your friend has just purchased a new piece of furniture and invited you over to see it. When you walk into his living room, there it is—a brown upholstered rectangle with three large cushions centered against the wall. As he offers you a cup of tea, he suggests that you sit on it.
You discern that his new piece of furniture is a couch. You don’t know this because you’ve seen this particular couch—in fact, you haven’t—but because you know about the category of “couches.” You’ve sat on them. You’ve bought them. You don’t need an explanation.
“When you’re able to recognize a particular object as a member of a particular category,” says Lulu Miller, co-host of Invisibilia, “all your knowledge about that category guides your response to that thing, which means you don’t have to figure out everything from scratch every time you encounter something new.” This, of course, saves a lot of time and energy.
Serving as shortcuts for better and quicker decision-making, categories help us navigate our days. What happens, though, when we categorize wrongly?
I Can’t Breathe
Last July, when NYPD officers confronted Eric Garner about illegally selling “loose” cigarettes, he cried, “This ends here,” which led to a physical altercation and a chokehold. Suffering from advanced diabetes, heart disease, and severe asthma, Garner struggled for air, yelling, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times before he died.
Robyn Semien, a former corrections officer in the Bronx, watched the Garner arrest footage with her friend, an NYPD officer. They interpreted what they saw differently. In This American Life’s “Cops See It Differently, Part Two,” Ira Glass explains:
When Eric Garner says over and over, “I can’t breathe,” Robyn sees a man who’s dying. Her friend does not. She tells Robyn people say that all the time when they’re being arrested. They can’t breathe. You’re hurting them. It happens all the time. The officer totally understood why the police on the scene did not pay any attention to it.
In other words, the officers put Garner in the wrong category—a man just trying to get out of being arrested—when, in fact, he was a man who could not breathe.
Implicit Racial Bias
Was he a victim of wrong categorization in another way, too? When asked whether it mattered that Garner was black and most of the officers on the scene were white, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said, “I personally don’t think race was a factor.”
But it’s not that simple.
Psychologist Josh Correll has tested the implicit racial biases—that is, the unconscious feelings we have about different races—of hundreds of cops. On a computer screen, he rotates images of white and black men—each holding a weapon, a wallet, or a can of soda—and asks them to decide whether to shoot. He then measures how quickly they decide and how many mistakes they make.
“Most of our participants,” he says, “associate young black men with the idea of threat.” (His findings, by the way, show that cops—except ones on gang units—do far better than untrained people like me and you. “We’re more likely to shoot a black man with a wallet,” Semien says, “and we’re less likely to shoot a white man with a gun.”)
Unfair and Partial Policing
Unconscious bias isn’t necessarily bad. As we saw with the couch, it can serve as a neutral automatic decision-making mechanism to categorize everyday things. It can also protect us. When we assess something as “unsafe,” for example, our “danger detector” sets off a “fight or flight” fear, psychologist Joseph LeDoux says.
The problem, of course, is when that detector malfunctions. Although we fix it in some cases, we usually come up with reasons why our gut instinct was right. In policing, this can have serious implications. Unconscious racial bias becomes unfair and partial policing when we see an individual as “threatening” based solely on his or her race because of our other experiences with people of the same race. When we fail to correct that mistake at a systemic level, a cycle begins—the more people of a particular race are arrested, the more our bias against that race grows, which leads to more arrests, and so on.
So, which comes first—the race or the arrest? When African Americans are arrested “at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black” in at least 70 police departments across the United States, we should—at least—start with honesty. Some departments, like the one in Las Vegas, are now doing this through new training programs. Officer Maria Stevens tells her trainees:
Why am I really stopping this guy? Am I stopping him because I just watched him jaywalk and there’s something not right here? Or are you stopping him because he’s a black guy in a white neighborhood? Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself those questions. And if you have that bias, you need to recognize it. . . . And if you can’t fix it, then maybe you’re not in the right line of work.
That’s the first step—recognizing our mistaken categorizations. If we want to move toward more impartial and fair policing, we must uncover our unconscious racial biases.
On Earth as It Is in Heaven
When I took my first Implicit Association Test in January, I was scared of what it might say. I don’t consider myself a racist, but that’s what makes implicit bias hard—the fact that it’s unconscious. It’s much easier to look at explicit bias and “those horrible unrepentant racists.” Aren’t I so much better? But knowing that we're all biased and that I'm a product of my cultural moment, I wasn't sure I wanted to know my unconscious.
So I preached the gospel to myself, “Bethany, you’re already so sinful that Christ had to die for you. But you’re also already so loved that he chose to die for you. What are you afraid of?” Then I took the test. It assessed me as having a “mild” bias, which confirmed my fears.
The gospel, though, gives us the power to confront our brokenness and not be destroyed by it. It empowers us to pray without fear, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there is any grievous way in me” (Ps. 139:23-24).
It also gives us a vision and a passion for racial reconciliation—for Christ died to redeem a kingdom people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). And Jesus taught us to pray for this reality to come in the here and now—not just for our churches, but for our cities, too: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, onearth”—not “in the church”—“as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
The church can serve as a model of racial unity (Acts 10:1-48). But our witness doesn’t stop there. Individual Christians can go out into the world that God loves (Jn. 3:16)—attending community board meetings, praying for police offers, serving as public defenders or prosecutors, volunteering at mercy ministries, and more—as lights in dark places. We can point the way to the New Jerusalem, where all our present categories of people will come under one ultimate category—those who know the Lord (Jer. 31:31-34).
Editors’ note: Join us for a panel discussion at The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference about justice and race. On Tuesday, April 14, at 6 p.m., Bethany Jenkins will moderate a focused conversation with people from various industries and different faith commitments, who are committed to building trust between the church, their communities, and law enforcement. The panel features Ed Copeland (TGC Council member, former public defender), Cecil Smith (chief of police of Sanford, Florida), Robert Lang (assistant U.S. attorney in High Point, North Carolina), Alex Medina (music producer and art director at Reach Records), and David Kennedy (criminologist and creator of the problem-oriented policing initiative known as “Operation Ceasefire”).
Being a writer and a mom is hard work. No one knows that better than Jen Hatmaker. Hatmaker is a blogger, author, and speaker who, in addition to maintaining a popular blog, is a much-sought-after conference speaker and author of many bestselling books. She knows the writing life. She also knows the mom life.
So it was with great interest that I read her recent piece on what it takes to be a writer. I’m also a mom and writer. I know what it’s like to barely squeeze out an article or chapter during naptime, or in the early hours of the morning. I know what it’s like to quickly write ideas for articles in my phone, while fixing chicken nuggets or bathing my kids.
She Lost Me
Throughout much of her post, I was nodding my head in agreement, while also making mental notes about how to improve my craft. But I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when I got to one section of Hatmaker’s post. After talking about how choosing to write means making sacrifices of time and other activities, she tells a story of her own mother, who decided to go back to school when Hatmaker was still at home.
I remember crying a river when my mom went back to college when we were in elementary, middle, and high school because she was less available to cater to our every whim, but it very soon became a source of great pride for me, because I watched my mom do meaningful, hard work that mattered. She went for it, right in the middle of living life. As it turned out, I needed a mom who mothered, dreamed, worked, and achieved. We all did. (emphasis original)
And that’s where she lost me. I wasn’t bothered that her mom went back to school. I commend her. It wasn’t even that Hatmaker used the story to illustrate how writing work sometimes takes you away from your kids. I know it does. My problem with her illustration, in the midst of an otherwise helpful post, is that she seems to pit one kind of work against the other. By saying that she needed to see her mom doing meaningful work she implies that the work she was doing previously (which I assume was at-home work) was less meaningful.
Whetner or not Hatmaker intended this contrast, we know it’s common in talk about at-home work. While we would agree that all work matters, we tend to more highly praise others for doing great things on their own outside the home. I’ve even seen it in my own life when, in some circles, I define myself first as a writer in order to prove that I do something meaningful with my life during the day.
But it’s not either/or. The mom who writes, preps IVs for patients, or goes back to school is doing meaningful work. But so is the mom who is doing at-home work. Our work has meaning because of the one who is doing it. My work as a mom is meaningful in the same way that my work as a writer is. It’s meaningful because it’s born out of my role as an image bearer and, when I work, I bring him glory. Regardless of what type of work I am doing—whether it is doing another load of laundry or crafting a phrase—it’s valuable and meaningful because it is for the good of the world.
Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf capture the meaningfulness of all work well:
The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God created for, cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor. When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, the “fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.
I think many who primarily do at-home work would resonate with Hatmaker’s story about her mother. The daily monotony of toys that never stay in their proper bins, spilled apple juice, and endless school events and practices makes a mom wonder if there really could be life beyond the pile of laundry she can barely see over. It’s grueling work most days. But it’s not of little consequence.
I’m not advocating that we elevate motherhood to saint status. That doesn’t serve anyone, nor does it view our work through the right lens. Being a mom matters immensely, yes, but it’s not ultimate. Let’s be careful that we not pit one type of work against the other. The mommy wars have done enough damage to women over the years, and recovering a robust understanding of the value of all work would go a long way in tempering some of the attitudes surrounding women and work.
We elevate at-home motherhood because we want to show the watching world that we matter, too, in the same way that Hatmaker makes the argument that her kids need to see her doing meaningful work elsewhere. Both are coming from the idea that this work is mundane, needing validating or escape. But God provides us with another way. It’s all meaningful, from wiping bottoms to writing sentences. We can all work, mothers and non-mothers, and find great meaning in what we do on any given day—not because the world tells us it is meaningful work, but because the God who created work tells us so.
So write on, fellow writers, there is meaning in your work. But let’s not forget there is meaning in doing the dishes, too.
Perfectionism has not been a friend to author and pastor’s wife Christine Hoover. She confesses she was born with a list in her hand and has been obsessed with being good and performing well all her life. She doesn’t boast in these credentials, and she’s tried hard to shake free from them. In her new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel, Hoover puts her finger on the pulse of young women today.
For many, the “goodness gospel” looks like a life driven by exteriors: a perfectly decorated house, laundry that’s always clean, well-mannered children, daily quiet times, or perfect health and fitness. However we seek perfection and “goodness,” we hope our efforts pay off big and that God will be more pleased with us than if we hadn’t tried at all. The hope that our small acts of obedience might add up to make us world-changers often keeps us striving and functionally gives our life meaning. Consequently, if we feel we aren’t making a difference or performing as we should, we not only feel despair—we also feel we’ve disappointed God himself.
As a recovering perfectionist myself, I think Hoover is both justified to call our twisted motives into question and merciful to call readers like me to meditate on God’s amazing grace. Her writing is gentle, funny, convicting, and compelling. Each chapter offers a beautiful meditation on the gospel; salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone. She humbly uses her own stories of fears and failures to illustrate her journey in overcoming self-justification.
From Good to Grace aims to teach readers to seek what God wants for us, not just from us. The book is arranged into three sections. The first, “Good, Bye,” explores the varying ways the goodness gospel expresses itself in our lives, offers a compass for steering clear of the poor motivator of perfectionism, and calls us to abandon the goodness gospel long-term. Part two, “From Good to Grace: Receiving,” focuses on God’s part in equipping believers through his love, his help, and his freedom. The last section, “From Good to Grace: Responding,” considers the believer’s life and what it looks like when freed from the goodness gospel. Overall, the book paints a beautiful picture of God’s grace for the believer.
Doesn’t Grace Lead to Goodness?
This was the one question that stuck with me after reading From Good to Grace. When believers are forgiven and liberated from their bondage to sin and death, aren’t we supposed to become slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18)? It seemed to me that much of the book equated the pursuit of goodness with legalism. While our acts of righteousness are nothing more than filthy rags, Peter tells us we’re called to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:14–16). Paul exhorts us to imitate God (who is the definition of goodness) as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). I’m assuming this means God intends us to strive for goodness in some regard. Unfortunately, Hoover does little to address the ways in which these two realities—grace and the pursuit of holiness—interact.
She isn’t the first to step foot into this gray zone. Many have attempted to address the dissonance, and the conversations have often become muddied and misunderstood. We must admit these are complicated and delicate issues. I would love to have seen more willingness to acknowledge the scriptural discord created by hanging out exclusively on either end of the law/grace spectrum.
To be certain, this is a book written for women who live on the perfectionist side of the scale, so it tempers law-lovers with heavy-handed grace. I love heavy-handed grace. But we must not avoid or shy away from the fact that even those of us who struggle with legalism are still called to run the race set before us, striving for “holiness without which no one would see God” (Heb. 12:14). Not every pursuit of goodness is bad or sinful. It’s actually God’s good pleasure to enable us to strive for goodness so we might glorify him more and more as we are sanctified by the Spirit.
Insightful and relatable, Hoover offers a message of good news for the weary perfectionist. She writes:
The gospel ransoms me from my prison of performance. In Christ, I am not my performance. . . . Grace frees me from a focus on self and all the sins and burdens that come along with it: selfishness, insecurity, pride, trying to prove myself worthy, seeking love and approval, fear of not being enough. . . . This is the explosive power of the gospel: it frees us from ourselves and enables us to live for God and for the sake of others. (117)
Hoover does a fantastic job convincing us to move on from performance-based Christianity toward a greater understanding of salvation by grace. If this is what we take away, I believe we will walk away richly served by the message of the cross. From Good to Grace beautifully adorns God’s gospel grace, and it will encourage and strengthen you in his lavish love.
[Note: This is part 3 in a 5 article series on using memorization to increase knowledge of the Bible and develop a sanctified imagination. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 4 here.]
Now that you’ve learned to create images and string them together to memorize lists, let’s examine some of the ways you can expand on that technique to develop your ability to quickly and effectively memorize large collections of information:
Tip #1 – Use images as mnemonic pegs:A mnemonic is a device, such as a formula or rhyme, used as an aid in remembering. You probably already use simple verbal mnemonics to remember such things as which way to turn a screwdriver (righty tighty, lefty loosie), adjust a clock for Daylight Savings Time (spring forward, fall back), or remember musical notation (Every Good Boy Does Fine for treble clef notes on the line E, G, B, D, F and FACE for the spaces on the bass line (F, A, C, E)).
The “peg” in each of these mnemonics is a word that serves as both a reminder and placeholder for an action or item. For instance, “righty tighty” is the peg that reminds us to turn the screwdriver to the right when we want to tighten a screw. Unfortunately, verbal pegs often rely on rhymes (e.g., righty tighty) or words that sound the same but have different meaning (e.g., spring as an action and Spring as a season), which limits the ability to quickly create them. Also, while words are the best tool ever invented for the purpose of communicating, images are the most effective means God has given us for remembering.
In Thomas Aquinas’ magnum opus, Summa Theologica, the theologian lists “four things whereby a man perfects his memory.” The first on his list is creating strong images:
First, when a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted [i.e., unusual] illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind; and this explains why we remember better what we saw when we were children. Now the reason for the necessity of finding these illustrations or images, is that simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects. For this reason memory is assigned to the sensitive part of the soul.
In The Memory Book, Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas offer four simple rules for helping to create such unusual images:
The Rule of Substitution – Picture one item instead of the other.
The Rule of Out of Proportion – Try to see items as larger than life.
The Rule of Exaggeration – Embellish or overstate some feature, number, or expression of the image.
The Rule of Action – Action is always easier to remember than static imagery, so try to incorporate some form of action into an image.
Applying all of these rules will help to accomplish our goal of developing one of the most important tools for memorization: the ability to quickly create ridiculous and unusual images.
Tip #2 – Link image pegs together: The link system is one of the simplest of all memory techniques and connects many of the other techniques we’ll be using. This method is applied by linking words or images together into a chain by using a sequence of events or simple story. Notice how in our Ten Commandments example, the sequence of events tied each peg to the next one and helped us to remember the order by placing it within a specific context. For short lists, this technique can often be sufficient for your memorization purposes.
Tip #3 – Create a “memory palace”: Next to creating memorable images, the “memory palace” is the single most effective tool for remembering large amounts of material. The invention of the technique is credited to Simonides of Ceos, a famous fifth-century Greek poet. After performing at a banquet, Simonides stepped outside to meet two men who were waiting for him outside. But while he was outside the banquet hall, it collapsed, crushing everyone within. The bodies were so disfigured that they could not be identified for proper burial. But Simonides was able to remember where each of the guests had been sitting at the table, and so was able to identify them for burial. This experience suggested to him the principles that were to become central to the later development of the memory palace.
He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember and store those images in the places, so that the order of the places will preserve the order of the things, and the images of the things will denote the things themselves, and we shall employ the places and the images respectively as a wax writing-tablet and the letters written upon it.
This technique, which is also known as the “method of loci”, is a use of an imaginary journey through a sequence of places, or loci, each of which acts as a memory link system. For ancient Greeks, the “places” were often rooms in palaces. But since most of us aren’t intimately familiar with the layouts of any palaces, it’s preferable to use a location that you already know well, such as your current house or apartment or a childhood home. The key is to choose a memory palace that contains at least ten locations (e.g., kitchen, bedroom, bathroom) that can be reached in sequence.
The imagined journey through your memory palace might start on the front porch (Location 1), then into the foyer (Location 2), on into the living room (Location 3), then the kitchen (Location 4), the dining room (Location 5), up the stairs (Location 6), into the hall (Location 7), your bathroom (Location 8), in your bedroom (Location 9), then ending in the spare bedroom (Location 10).
Choose a journey that matches the actual layout of your house. Imagine that you are walking along this journey and don't cross over your path or backtrack since this could cause you to either miss some locations in your journey or use the same ones twice. You can use the same rooms more than once, even on the same list, but be sure to complete the journey completely before starting again at Location 1. (By the way, this practice is said to be the origin of the expressions “in the first place,” “in the second place,” etc.)
At you visualize each location, imagine always looking at the scene from the same location and perspective and looking around the room in the same order, such as from right to left. Practice mentally following your journeys and be able to visualize as much detail in each location as possible. The more details you can see in each location the more mental hooks you can use to attach your image pegs.
Keep in mind that the memory palace is simply the storehouse for the memorable images you create. It provides a structure to help you remember the order and sequence and to prevent you from leaving items off of a list. Memorizing each specific item in a very specific location will help to prevent getting items out of order or leaving them out altogether.
Tip #4 – Incorporate the “nook and cranny” method: This is a method for expanding the capacity of your memory palace without adding extra rooms. Rather than placing only one peg in each location, you’ll identify three to four areas – which we’ll refer to as “nook” – where you can place your images. For instance, if you use your kitchen as a location you could use the refrigerator (either inside or in front of), the pantry, and a counter space as a nook. Keep in mind that because you will be applying the Rule of Out of Proportion, the mental images will often be larger than would actually fit in the space of your nook. Don’t let that physical constraint concern you: unlike in the real world, your imaginary space will expand to fit the object. The important consideration is not what you choose as a nook, but that you’ve identified several areas in your location where you will be able to place your images. Be sure that you have a minimum of three nooks for every location.
As the author of the famous book on memorization, Rhetorica ad Herennium, noted over 2,000 years ago, there are two kinds of mnemonic images: one for ‘things’ [res], the other for ‘words’ [verba]. That is to say ‘memory for things’ makes images to remind of an argument, a notion, or a ‘thing’; but ‘memory for words’ has to find images to remind of every single word. In this series we’re focusing on “memory for things” (that’s why there is an “almost” in the title). Memory for words is a bit more difficult and relies primarily on drill and repetition (for more on that, see this article).
But for now we’re going to stick with the easier (and more fun) stuff. And for our next task—memorizing a detailed sequence of events and people from the Biblical narrative—these tips will be sufficient.
Before we learn to memorize the narrative of Bible, though, let’s practice using the tips mentioned in this series to memorize another list of item. Choose a list that suits your particular interest. For example, a movie buff can practice by memorizing all of the Best Picture Oscar winners for the past 20-30 years; history buffs can memorize the U.S. Presidents or the monarchy of Britain; literature buffs can memorize the titles of Shakespeare’s plays, etc. The key is to choose a list that you have an interest in rememmbering and that have between 25-50 times. It may take 30-60 minutes to come up with the images and put them in your memory palace. Then you’ll want to practice by going through your memory palaces and reciting the items in order.
If you do a practice run like this over the weekend, you’ll be completely prepared next week to quickly and easily memorize the events of Genesis.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it for so long, but one day as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark, I stumbled across a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks. In Mark 6, we are told that Jesus, who was spending his time as an itinerant rabbi, came back to Nazareth. The hometown crowd listened to Jesus teach in the synagogue, and they were stunned by their native son who was displaying such extraordinary wisdom and power. In their eyes Jesus was first and foremost a carpenter from Nazareth. Mark records the crowd exclaiming with a tone of incredulity, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3).
As I slowly pondered these words, I began to reflect on the significance of Jesus spending so much of his time on earth working with his hands in a carpentry shop. Here was the Son of God sent to earth on a redemptive mission of seeking and saving the lost, of proclaiming the gospel, yet he spent the vast majority of his years on earth making things in an obscure carpentry shop. We know from Luke’s Gospel that even at the age of 12, Jesus was demonstrating his amazing rabbinical brilliance to the brightest and best in Jerusalem (Luke 2:47). How did Jesus’s brilliance fit in with a carpentry career? At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a strategic use of the Son of God’s extraordinary gifts or his important messianic mission.
Why was it the Father’s will for Jesus to spend so much time in the carpentry shop instead of gracing the Palestinian countryside, proclaiming the gospel and healing the multitudes?
He Could Have Had Your Job
The New Testament records Jesus spending only about three years in itinerant ministry, what we might refer to as full-time vocational ministry. But for the many years before that, Jesus worked as a carpenter. Speaking of Jesus as a carpenter, Dallas Willard brings a refreshing perspective:
If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles. In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family surroundings and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.
Several years ago I remember reading a fine book that was winsomely titled More Than a Carpenter. In this book, the author points out a great deal of convincing evidence that supports the deity of Jesus. This is essential to understanding the person and work of Jesus. Yet in no way should we conclude that because Jesus was more than a carpenter, his vocational calling to work as a carpenter was somehow less than important. Clearly the Son of God was much more, but not less, than a carpenter. This incarnational pattern of Jesus’s earthly life speaks volumes about the importance of our day-to-day vocational work.
Incarnation and Work
When we contemplate who Jesus really is, his joyful contentment to work with his hands day after day constructing things, making useful farm implements and household furniture in an obscure Nazareth carpentry shop, we find him truly stunning. Jesus’s work life tells us that he did not think being a carpenter was somehow below him or a poor use of his many gifts. Here is the very One whose hands not only created the world but also the very wood he was crafting in a carpentry shop. The apostle Paul gives us a glorious description of this carpenter from Nazareth:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15–17).
Think about it for a moment. The very One who was the master craftsman of the universe spent a great deal of time during his 33 years on earth crafting things with his hands. The One who had masterfully fashioned humans from the dust of the earth was making chairs for people to sit on in their houses. No doubt Jesus had strong, well-worn, callused hands. It is all too easy for us to overlook the fact that Jesus knew what it meant to get up and go to work every day. Jesus experienced both the exhilaration and exhaustion of putting in a hard day’s work. Jesus faced work and a workplace profoundly affected by sin. I am sure Jesus dealt with difficult and demanding people in the workplace who complained about this and that. I am also confident that the sinless Son of Man not only modeled humility in the workplace, but also maintained a teachable spirit as he served under the tutelage of Joseph, his human guardian father. I doubt if Joseph was the perfect boss. I have yet to meet a perfect boss, and when I look into my mirror each morning, I see anything but a perfect boss.
Basin-and-Towel Kind of Servanthood
We are rightly in awe of Jesus, who shockingly ignores cultural convention by picking up a basin and towel and washing his disciples’ dirty, stinky feet. Yet we tend to forget that Jesus had been modeling a basin-and-towel kind of servanthood in a carpentry shop for years. Jesus’s humble service in the workplace was the training ground for that glorious display of servanthood in an upper room in Jerusalem.
Working with his hands day in and day out in a carpentry shop was not below Jesus. Jesus did not see his carpentry work as mundane or meaningless, for it was the work his Father had called him to do. I have a good hunch that Jesus was a top-notch carpenter and did top-notch work. Even before Jesus entered his itinerant rabbinical ministry, Matthew reminds his readers of the Father’s good pleasure in his Son. Following Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit of God descended as a dove, and a voice out of heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). I am sure there were many things that made the Father well pleased, but one important aspect of Jesus’s well-pleasing life that we must not overlook was his work as a carpenter.
Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have yet discovered and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.
If you were asked to list the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, you would probably name nations in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. But I doubt you would include Mexico.
Last year the Pew Forum released a report indicating that social hostilities had remained low in the Americas (even below the global median), but increased from “moderate” to “high” in Mexico. In fact, for the first time in three years, Mexico returned at 38 to the World Watch List, an annual survey of the persecution of Christians around the world:
Mexico’s appearance . . . is explained mainly by the progression of organized crime in the country and the recording of more violent incidents targeting Christians. Criminal organizations and drug cartels have targeted Christians because they view churches as revenue centers (extortions) and because churches support programs for the rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics. Local communities in the southern states of Mexico are led by the indigenous traditional law of “uses and customs” to force all community members into a homogenous lifestyle. As soon as community members accept a different religion, the law of “uses and customs” becomes the noose that threatens their very existence.
In this interview we learn about the new work of grace in Mexico, the need for a culture of biblicalleadership among pastors, and more. Below is a translated and slightly edited version from the original interview in Spanish.
How would you describe the state of the church in Mexico?
Although it has several problems and shortcomings, the church in Mexico is generally situated in a good place. The church has grown numerically over the past 30 years and has the potential to continue being used by God as witness to the transforming power of the gospel. I have been able to see in many places that an atmosphere of enthusiastic faith. There is evidence of a possible new work of grace—similar to the “stirrings of revival” elsewhere throughout Latin America. This is a time of great possibility, great opportunity, and great anticipation of a new stage of development.
What most encourages you about the evangelical church in your country?
It definitely encourages me to see a new generation of young people who are embracing the gospel with great passion and zeal. I know of many young church leaders with great hunger for sound doctrine and a great desire to be used by God in thier generation, which is similar to what happened in the 70s where many young people were converted and many churches were planted. For someone of my generation it is exciting to see this new generation to which we can entrust what God has built over the past 40 years.
What is the biggest challenge facing the evangelical church in Mexico?
Two main things concern me. The first are churches being established without the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of moral and religious teaching, but there is not a sense of the supremacy of Christ and his work in the life of the church. There hasn’t been an abandondment of the Bible per se, but it is noticeable that many churches appear more like Jewish congregations than distinctively Christian congregations. The second concern I have is regarding the absence of a culture of biblical leadership. A kind of despotism prevails in many churches where the pastor assumes a role of absolute control over the church; and this, combined with a lack of biblical preparation, makes the church vulnerable.
What do you think distinguishes the church in Latin America from the church in the United States?
The main distinction is that Mexican church and possibly the larger Latin American church consists of first-generation Christians. In other words, there is not an established, historic presence of evangelical believers in our countries. That means that our church is immature in many aspects. In addition, the rapid growth of the evangelical church in Mexico in recent decades has produced a generation of leaders without adequate preparation for their role. Moreover, I believe that the religious influence of many centuries under Roman Catholicism and the historical reality of our pre-colonial days have produced a church culture of religiosity, emotionalism, and mysticism.
With the increase of persecution of believers in Mexico, particularly in the southern region, how would you encourage and help Christians in your country think about these events?
The persecution of believers in the indigenous southern Mexico is real and serious, and many have been displaced by local bosses (“caciques”). However, the testimony of these brothers should encourage all of us who are not in that situation to be even more zealous in our evangelism. With regard to believers who have been victims of organized crime, we must remember that the general population has borne the brunt of this violence. Our brave and sanctified response, which is being observed by the community around us, will be a powerful witness to our faith and trust in our sovereign God.
What word of encouragement would you give to pastors and church leaders in the Spanish-speaking world?
First, I would call them to return to the expositional preaching of the Scriptures. The Word of God that must reign supreme in building up the church, and this Word must be preached, with integrity and fullness, by true servants of Christ.
Second, I would call them to the primary task of equipping the next generation of young pastors, so that they would be commissioned to plant new churches and serve the next generation.
Third, I would urge us to unite in prayer for a real awakening in the gospel of the cross of Christ—an awakening that would bring a new reform to the Latin American church, a return to a sincere faith based on the Word of God, and with the ultimate goal of truly exalting Christ.
Other articles in the the Gospel in Latin America series:
Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition National Conference returns this year to Orlando, Florida, from April 12 to 15. We're delighted to partner with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a special pre-conference for Spanish speakers on April 12 and 13. TGC Council members Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez, Don Carson, and Albert Mohler will deliver keynote addresses, while Juan Sánchez and Felix Cabrera will join them on panels about gospel partnerships, church planting, and evangelism methods in the 21st century. Spanish speakers who stay for the full National Conference receive a 30 percent discount on the subsequent event, which features workshops and simultaneous Spanish translation.
I would like to address rather directly the clergy. Do you desire, with all your heart, what is best for the congregation you serve? Then you must ask yourself how much time you devote to praying the sort of prayer that Paul prayed in Philippians 1:9-11. Part of the problem we ministers in the West face when we butt up against this challenge is that, while we know we have been called to the ministry of the Word and prayer, several notable pressures impose themselves, pressures so persistent that they end up shaping our values and therefore our schedules.
The pastor’s job has been diversified. We no longer give ourselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer, because we have become professional counselors, fundraisers, administrators, committee members, referees, politicians, and media personalities. Many pastors are confused about their own identity and may suffer from low estimates of the value of their work.
Up until 30 years or so ago, clergy were generally respected in the Western world. Three decades of rising secularism, of the media’s persistent presentation of clergy as wimps or charlatans or both, of public perceptions that we are obsolete (like dinosaurs) and arrogant, and we may feel a little insecure. Many of us work with professionals and even teach professionals, but we quickly discover that we are not treated like professionals ourselves. It can be argued that such pressures should not bother those who follow in the way of the cross. In practice, however, many clergy overcompensate, acting far too much like professionals and far too little like those given to the ministry of the Word and prayer.
Not a few clergy feel discouraged and unfruitful. Many pastors work for months and years without seeing a single convert. Some have bright ideas but feel they cannot pull the weight of ecclesiastical tradition with them; others value the traditions from which they spring and feel threatened by the endless succession of faddish innovation. The years trickle past, and dispirited resignation sets in.
Some clergy bury themselves in endless activism. Through no one’s fault but their own, they give themselves to endless work, always keeping busy but never carving out time to study, think, meditate, and pray. These and similar pressures corrode our values, deflect our aims, and finally corrupt our schedules. If we regain biblical priorities, all these pressures will appear in a different light.
Has the job been diversified? Once our priorities are straight, we will learn to relegate tasks to their appropriate rank according to the values of Scripture. Delegate some things; cancel others.You do not have to have a bulletin; you have to pray. You do not have to chair every committee or attend every meeting; you have to pray.
Are we confused about our roles? If we remember what we have been called to and devote ourselves to praying for what is best, we may care a little less about the opinions of a secular world and devote ourselves more scrupulously to serving the only Master whose opinion matters.
Do we feel unfruitful and discouraged? Not only must we remind ourselves that our Master is more interested in faithfulness than in statistics; we shall also be bold enough to ask if some of our unfruitfulness is the result of being diverted from the ministry of the Word and prayer. How much have we prayed for what is best—for a spiritual harvest, for conversions, for demonstrations of the fruit of the Spirit? Could it be that we have experienced little because we have asked for little? Is our unfruitfulness proportionate to our prayerlessness? Paul’s prayer knifes through so many of our excuses.
Finally, do we bury ourselves in activism? When, then, do we devote ourselves to that to which we have been called, to the ministry of the Word and prayer? When do we pray for what is best? Of course, Paul’s determination to pray along these lines for the believers in Philippi must not be restricted in its application to clergy. Each believer must ask: To what extent do I pray for excellent things, things judged excellent in God’s eyes, both for myself and for those around me? Do I pray that my love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I can distinguish between what is passable and what is excellent, between what is acceptable and what is best, testing out and approving what is best in my own life? Do I pray this for my church? Or, quite frankly, do I prefer sullen mediocrity?
Paul prays for what is excellent, and it is quite certain that this sort of excellence cannot be attained without prayer.
[Note: This is part 2 in a 5 article series on using memorization to increase knowledge of the Bible and develop a sanctified imagination. You can find part 1 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.]
You say you can’t remember your own phone number? I can’t either. But we don’t need to know those strings of digits; remembering phone numbers is a job for our smartphones.
You don’t have to have a “good memory” (whatever that means) to fill your imagination with Scripture and knowledge about the Bible. By the time you finish this series you’ll have learned how to memorize lists (e.g., the Ten Commandments) and almost every key event that occurs in Genesis (that’s the first step in memorizing the entire narrative structure of the Bible, including details about hundreds of persons and events mentioned in the 66 books). But before you accomplish those amazing feats I have to convince you that the memory God gave you is sufficient for the task.
Later I’ll outline the ancient techniques and tips of memoria technica that were developed by the Ancient Greeks and perfected by the Europeans in the Middle Ages. For now the main thing you need to know is that the art of memory, as Ed Cooke explains in his book Remember, Remember, is the “art of making sure what you give your mind to remember is as bright and amusing and energetic and outrageous as possible.” In other words, you are unlikely to forget information when it has been associated with a vivid image.
In order to quickly and easily remember any new piece of information, associate it to something you already know or remember in some ridiculous way. Those last four words are essential to effective memorization—and they are also the reason why many people who have been taught memory techniques do not apply them. The technique seems silly because it is silly. For some reason unknown to us, God designed our brains to remember things that are absurd and unusual. This fact didn’t bother giants of the faith like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas so it shouldn’t bother you either. Use it, as they did, to honor the Creator of our imaginations.
Let’s put this concept into practice by memorizing these twenty items in sequence: Otter, Thor, Zeus, American, Idol, Weathervane, Ice Cream Sundae, Parents, Sleigh, Adult, Tree, Steel, Bear, False, Eyelashes, Watches, Wife, Ox, Butler, and Donkey.
While you may be able to find associations between some of these words (e.g., Thor and Zeus are both mythological gods and otter, bear, ox, and donkey are all animals) there isn’t any obvious connection that ties them together. You could use a brute force technique (e.g., reciting the words over and over until you can repeat them verbatim) but that is too time-consuming and not very effective. Instead, let’s try to associate them in some ridiculous way.
Let’s take the first five items— Otter, Thor, Zeus, American, Idol—and combine them into a ridiculous, but memorable, mental picture. Since most people are familiar with the music competition show American Idol, let’s combine those two words (American, Idol) as the basis of our first vivid image.
Instead of the usual panel of judges on the television show, picture the guest judges as an Otter, Thor, and Zeus. To make it easier to remember these items, give them an action: The Otter loves the singers and is enthusiastically clapping; Thor too appreciates the music and is banging his hammer (Mjölnir) on the desk in approval; Zeus, however, is displeased and is throwing a lightning bolt at the contestants. (To remember them in order, be sure to see each one in turn, creating a vivid picture of them before moving on to the next.)
Now follow Zeus’ lightening bolt as it misses the singers and hits the words American Idol in the logo behind the stage. The shocked duet that was singing are dressed as a Weathervane and an Ice Cream Sundae, but when you look closer you notice they are . . . your own Parents (or someone else’s parents if that makes it easier to picture).
Frightened by the Greek god’s action, the Parents look for an escape. To their surprise (and ours) Santa Claus comes to the rescue, beckoning them to jump into his Sleigh. As Santa rides off into the sky, the Sleigh crashes into a very tall Adult Tree (the children trees on either side are unhurt). Santa and your Parents fall out of the Sleigh, but before they crash to the ground they grab onto a Steel beam that is sticking out of the side of a building.
The Parents are barely hanging on by the tips of their fingers but, fortunately for them, underneath is huge Bear ready to catch them if they fall. The Bear is rather peculiar looking, though: he is wearing large False Eyelashes and two diamond-encrusted Rolex Watches, one on each arm. Coming toward the hero are his bear Wife riding an Ox, and his very human Butler (dressed as a proper English servant) riding a Donkey.
Now before you do anything else, close your eyes and try to remember each of the items—starting with Otter—by picturing them in the sequence of events. Chances are that you were not only able to remember at least ten out of the twenty but were also able to remember their order. That’s not bad for having merely read through the passage one time. If you spend an additional five to ten minutes reading through the list and sequence again, and create clear mental images of each (particularly the ones you missed) you’ll soon be able to recall all twenty perfectly.
The purpose of having you memorize this list of seemly random terms was mainly to have you prove to yourself that you could, using absurd visual images, quickly and easily remember new information as well as the sequence in which they are presented. But you might have also noticed that the terms weren’t chosen at random. Strung together they provide cues to remember the order of the Ten Commandments using terms that are the same or similar sounding:
1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” – No other (Otter) gods (Thor, Zeus)
2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” - No idols = American Idol
3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Vain = Weathervane)
4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” – Sabbath = Sunday = Ice Cream Sundae
5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Honor your Parents
6. “You shall not murder.” Murder = slay = Sleigh
7. “You shall not commit adultery.” – Adultery = AdultTree
8. “You shall not steal.” – Steal = Steel
9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” – Bear false witness = Bear False (Eyelashes) Watches
10. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” – Do not covet wife, servants, ox, donkey = Wife, Butler, ox, Donkey
If you are completely unfamiliar with the Ten Commandment then these cues are likely to be of no value. But if you have trouble remembering whether “You shall not steal” comes before or after “You shall not murder,” then it may help in learning the proper sequence.
Now that you know that you can memorize – and that it wasn’t as painful or difficult as you might have imagined – let’s look at few of the techniques we used in the exercise. In our next article you’ll learn four tips that will show you how to apply this process to remembering lists of items and how to store them in a “memory palace” so that you can instantly recall an extraordinary amount of information. Then, next week, we’ll put it all together so that you’ll memorize thirty key points in the book of Genesis.
In the meantime, practice memorizing a string of terms. Make a list of 10-20 words (preferabaly nouns), create an action-oriented images for each, and string them together in a simple story. Then test yourself to see how quickly you can memorize the words and how many you can remember by using your image-string-story technique.
Sex and Violence in the Bible goes where the prudish, squeamish, and sheltered fear to tread. The subtitle, A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book, delivers on its description. These are the topics that make parishioners blush and pastors perspire.
I knew I wouldn’t study Scripture’s passages on sex and violence deeply enough unless I had to read a book about it. Reading verses about sex make me feel like a little kid asking his parents, “Where do babies come from?” And reading verses about graphic or massive bloodletting have me alternating between a thirst for adventure and baffled disgust. Sometimes the Bible is hard to understand. Add to that the fact sex and violence aren’t typical dinnertable topics, and you have a critical need for this book.
Stack of Library Books
Joseph W. Smith III writes for both the preacher and the layperson. An average churchgoer can read this extensively researched volume without being troubled by complicated jargon or convoluted Hebrew and Greek word studies. At the same time, a minister of the Word can find rich and nuanced commentary to aid in preparation.
The book is arranged in three sections: (1) “Uncovering Nakedness”—Sex; (2) “The Blood Gushed Out”—Violence; and (3) “Any Unclean Thing”—Other Blunt or Unsavory Material. Some of the subsections include “Please Give Me Some: A Few Aphrodisiacs,” “You Shall Not: Bestiality, Voyeurism, Incest, and Homosexuality,” “This Abomination: Murdering Children,” and “Unclean Until the Evening: Menstruation, Semen, and Other Discharges.” Smith’s book is every junior high school boy’s mischievous, snickering dream.
Sex and Violence in the Bible is thorough. Smith, a newspaper columnist and high school English teacher for more than 20 years, surveys Scripture for all he can find on a particular topic, helpfully sifting through not only each word or phrase but also various commentaries. So you’re reading the equivalent of a stack of library books to study a single word or passage. Instead of fumbling through multiple tomes and hundreds of pages, now you can pick up a single book and get a broad sense of the scholarship on the subject.
Sex: Discuss Among Yourselves
Aside from the technical research, Smith’s book makes an important contribution to the “Christian aesthetic,” as the back cover puts it. Victorian prudence toward impolite topics like sex and bloodshed lingers in the church like a grandma’s cloying perfume long after she’s left. If the Bible talks about rape (Deut. 22:24) and “mountains flowing with rivers of blood” (Isa. 34:3), then Christians should be able to talk about them in their appropriate context, too.
Sex and Violence in the Bible actually provides a productive framework for Christians to talk about socially untouchable subjects. Sex, always one of the most hand-wringing topics for good church folks, is celebrated in the Song of Songs. But the Bible also talks about sex as a sign of unfaithfulness, immorality, and idolatry. Smith’s book reminds us that we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about both the joy of sex as it was originally intended and also the devastating abuses of this gift because of sin.
Violence: Blood, Guts, and War
In a similar way, reading Sex and Violence in the Bible helps Christians wade into the rivers of blood gushing throughout Scripture and not be swept away. Tens of thousands of people sometimes die in a single verse of the Old Testament. How does a Christian reconcile this account with the New Testament where Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11)? Many believers know Christ fulfilled the law and that violence no longer has to be used to conquer a physical land or protect an ethnic-national group from pagan influences. But those passages don’t go away. They have to be preached, they have to be pondered, they have to be explained to a modern world horrified by such massacre. Even we Christians don’t always know what to do with violence in the Bible. We’re often just as flabbergasted as our unbelieving neighbors.
Easy answers to the violence in the Bible are an illusion. But Smith gives us a helpful first step by explaining the exact nature and scope of the brutality. No clarification of violence in Scripture can be made if Christians don’t first have a clear view of what actually happened in those passages. These are moments in our collective religious history with which we must contend. Most of us either content ourselves with a shallow answer or ignore the difficulties completely. Smith forces us to keep our eyes locked on the sometimes savage scenes of a fallen world and to believe in God’s benevolence at the same time.
Any Unclean Thing: Yuck
The final section of the book catches whatever sensitive material is left over from the sex and violence chapters: feces, vomit, and leprosy fall under this heading. Cleanness, both spiritually and physically, was a significant topic in ancient Israel. “The ceremonial regulations throughout Leviticus locate uncleanness in proximity with anything that smacks of death,” Smith explains. So these bodily fluids and diseases are reminders of the effects of sin on all people.
Smith shows how God makes extensive provisions for separating unclean people from the camp of Israel and then details rites of purification for their return.
All Scripture Is God-Breathed
Sex and Violence in the Bible is a necessary book because it forces you to squarely face the reality of sin. Every Christian has favorite verses, few of which are explored in this book. But “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), not just some of it. Even the parts that talk about breasts, semen, infanticide, and leprosy are inspired.
If nothing else, readers will become more acquainted with the euphemisms, idioms, and explicit subject matter of Scripture after reading this book. Getting more comfortable with the uncomfortable will enrich your understanding of the Bible and your appreciation of its ability to address every aspect of life. As Smith concludes, “The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, freely acknowledging what we all know: these things are an important part of life and by no means to be ignored or overlooked.”
Rachael Newton is married to Josh and is a stay-at-home mom to their three kids. Their 9-year-old son has autism. They live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and are members of Midtown Baptist Church, where she also serves as the children's ministry director.
How do you describe your work?
I’m a wife and a mother to my three kids, and I also serve part-time as the children’s ministry director at our church. I spend a lot of time taking my kids to therapies because I have two kids with special needs and developmental delays. Part of my role is serving as an advocate for my children with special needs, either in a school setting or concerning their medical needs. In addition, I also spend time doing normal errands like picking my son up from school, helping him with homework, fixing dinner, and cleaning the house. In the evenings I spend time doing my work for the church.
As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?
Patience is the first thing that comes to mind. I want to show God’s love and patience to them as I mother them, regardless of how they respond or act. But also, I have found that maintaining some sense of order in our home by doing the everyday things, like picking up toys and creating routine, helps model for my children what it means to live in this world. Because of Jack’s special needs, he thrives on routine, so to have order, not chaos, in the home is helpful to him. I desire to bring that order into our home for all my children, but especially for Jack because I know that serves him well.
How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?
Of course, because I am with little children I have the opportunity to see how early sin presents itself in their lives. But on another level, I uniquely see the brokenness of this world in my son, Jack. Because his brain is neurologically broken, I see the effects of that every day in his life. His unique struggles are such a clear picture of the brokenness of this world. In my daughter, Claire, I see it in a smaller way in her developmental delays and that her body doesn’t function physically as a typical developing child. As a parent, it is hard to see your children living with that brokenness.
Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How does your work provide an opportunity to love and serve others?
It doesn’t matter how much sleep my children got last night or what they have done on a given day, I’m still called to show kindness, love, grace, and patience toward them. I’m not to hold things against them. I want my kids to see my love for them not as a duty, but as an overflow of my love for Christ. I want them to see Christ in me and the strength that he has provided to love them. I don’t want to view them as a bother or live for bedtime, but instead I’m learning to take advantage of every opportunity to nurture them and care for them.
Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.
Much ink has been spilled and many words have been typed about shallow approaches to youth ministry and their damaging effect on young people’s engagement with Christ and the local church as they enter adulthood. There are valuable critiques; I’ve issued many of them. Youth pastors, directors, and workers need to be constantly called back to a focus on substantive, biblical, and gospel-centered ministry to young people, so that they do not fall prey to the gleam of a thriving and fun youth ministry that does not contribute to lasting kingdom fruit.
A strong and drastic reaction against youth ministry, by some, has been to eliminate it completely—to entirely integrate the younger generations of believers into the life of the church. There’s warrant in this move . . . when it actually works. The problem is that it can sometimes cut out a key season of ministry for both students and leaders, a time that God can use in powerful ways in spiritual development and relational growth in Christian community.
Holding the Balance
The “balance” that I want to call for in youth ministry today continues to walk a careful line between “entertainment” youth ministry (the shallow type that gravitates toward attraction rather than biblical substance) and the elimination of youth ministry (the move that provides no age-focused community for biblical teaching, training, and discipleship within the local church). It’s a balance that identifies a slightly different key question than the one that’s being asked many times: Should we do youth ministry? Here’s the question I would propose asking instead: Does this youth ministry contribute to the development of lifelong members, servants, and leaders in the local church?
In the church contexts where I’ve served, it’s the students who have connected with the wider local church body in significant ways during their junior high and high school years who have matured and become deeply involved in local churches during college and beyond. Many of them have participated in vibrant youth ministries filled with fun events and activities, yet they have been groups led by youth pastors who have intentionally labored to grow the students’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, a faith that will be lived out, built up, and strengthened throughout their lives in the context of biblically solid and gospel-centered local churches. If youth pastors aren’t preparing students for that kind of future for their faith, they aren’t doing their jobs.
Does our ministry compete in any way with the priority of corporate worship for students? We might consider, for example, how our desire to have relevant and age-appropriate teaching for our youth might sometimes prohibit them from being challenged to begin engaging with expository preaching, even during their young teenage years. This diagnostic question might force us to evaluate musical choices and styles as well, in both the youth group context and the corporate worship context.
Do our youth leaders intentionally encourage inter-generational relationships for the students? Part of the role of the youth leader is to do discipleship, obviously. But it’s sometimes just as valuable for a 20-something youth leader to encourage a high school student, for example, to meet regularly with an older leader in the church for prayer, encouragement, Bible study, and wise counsel. Youth leaders might consider setting an example for their students through their own engagement with the older generation in the church.
Does our ministry generally support or compete with the discipleship work of godly parents in our congregation? Is our heart truly to support parents’ gospel-centered work in the home, or do we secretly relish being the fun counterpart to parents, as students complain about strict rules and misunderstandings in discipline? Often, we can begin to evaluate the state of our ministry in this regard by looking carefully at our communication, transparency, and relational engagement with the parents of our students.
Are students encouraged to choose between youth ministry involvement/leadership and service in other areas of the local church? Especially in larger churches, this can become an issue, as participation in a youth group leadership team can become quite consuming. Youth leaders should be looking for ways to allow—and even encourage—students to serve in the broader church body as well as in the youth group context. They shouldn’t have to choose.
Does the youth ministry hinder, in any way, the preparation of young men and women to engage in local church contexts as adult Christians? This is a big question, but one that we should be constantly asking. Our answers will probably lead to constant tweaking of our approaches to youth ministry, as we prayerfully consider how our ministry can contribute to lifelong lovers and servants of Christ’s body in local churches around the globe.
Let’s ask the tough questions of our youth ministries, for the glory of God and the good of his church.
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent a letter March 2 to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) expressing "strong support for HB 0962, a bill that would increase the deterrents for animal fighting," and requesting that the legislation "be assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee."
On behalf of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, I am writing to express our strong support for HB 0962, a bill that will increase the deterrents for animal fighting. We respectfully request that HB 0962 be assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee.
The ERLC holds the family as the foundation of culture and society. With each passing year that the increased penalties fail to pass, we witness the incestuous relationship between animal fighting, gambling, and organized crime continues to grow. This is detrimental to many of our communities and the families that call them home. Unfortunately, Tennessee plays host to these conferences of nefarious activities because the punishment for dogfighting and cockfighting is a slap on the wrist in comparison to the payouts.
Gambling and animal fighting are societal ills that are each harmful to our communities on their own. However, when the two are combined, the result is individuals betting on the outcome of undeniable cruelty, and that is simply unacceptable. HB 0962 increases the penalty for a second or subsequent conviction for involvement in cockfighting to a Class E felony; increases the penalty for the offense of being a spectator at an animal fight to a Class A misdemeanor; and criminalizes bringing children to a fight. This bill is a step in the right direction in terms of protecting our communities, in particularly our young people, from unnecessary violence.
The ERLC greatly appreciates your ongoing leadership in protecting children and families. We are pleased to support this legislation and look forward to working with you to advance our mutual goals of creating stronger communities and families.
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Feb. 23, 2015—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention submitted an amicus brief today to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that marriage between a man and a woman is vital to the welfare of children, families and society. </p>
<p>The brief, submitted in the case of Lawson v. Missouri, demonstrates that limiting marriage to heterosexual unions is not the result of animus, but of clear biblical teaching and concerns for social welfare. </p>
<p><span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore commented on the brief:</p>
<p>“In this brief, we are standing together for a truth as old as human civilization itself. The state did not create the family, and cannot recreate it. We appeal to the Court to recognize and to stay within the limits of its authority. Marriage matters because marriage is about more than registering relationships at a courthouse. Marriage is about the common good and flourishing of society. And, as a Christian, I believe with Jesus and the apostles that marriage points beyond creation to the gospel union of Christ and his church.” </p>
<p>The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other diverse religious organizations in filing the brief.</p>
<p>The Eighth Circuit Court was the first appellate court to rule against same-sex marriage in 2006 when it upheld Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage. </p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Feb. 18, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/02/18/should-we-pray-for-the-defeat-of-isis-or-their-conversion/">commented</a> on the slaughter of Egyptian Christians by <span class="caps">ISIS</span>, and how Christians should think through religious persecution.</p>
<p>“These are my brothers, faithful to Christ even unto death,” Moore said. “We ought, indeed, to pray for the gospel to go forward, and that there might be a new Saul of Tarsus turned away from murdering to gospel witness. At the same time, we ought to pray, with the martyrs in heaven, for justice against those who do such wickedness. </p>
<p>“Praying for the military defeat of our enemies, and that they might turn to Christ, these are not contradictory prayers because salvation doesn’t mean turning an eye away from justice. We can pray for gospel rootedness in the Middle East, and we can pray to light up their world like the Fourth of July, at the same time.” </p>
<p>Additionally, Moore announced that the upcoming <a href="http://erlc.com/summit2015"><span class="caps">ERLC</span> Leadership Summit</a> on racial reconciliation, March 26-27, will include a conversation about engaging Muslims. At the event, Afshin Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, will discuss his experiences as a boy growing up in a family of Iranian immigrants in Texas during the Iran hostage crisis.</p>
<p>“In a time when the world is on fire with the threat of Islamic jihadist extremism and religious persecution, we must be the people who know how to engage our neighbors with the gospel that reconciles,” Moore said. “Afshin Ziafat is the best person I know to help guide us, having been on both sides of the church’s walls, as a Muslim child and as a Christian evangelist.” </p>
<p>At the Summit, Ziafat will speak on “The Cost of Following Christ: One Man’s Journey from Islam to Christianity.” Ziafat is a former Muslim who frequently speaks on Christianity and Islam. This session will specifically address the question of how churches can lovingly engage those in Muslim communities around them. </p>
<p>Ziafat will also address “Behind the Veil: Islam, <span class="caps">ISIS</span> and the Hope of the Gospel,” at a Summit breakout session to help attendees better understand Muslims and how to reach them for Christ in the current cultural context.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Feb. 12, 2015—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention released its 2015 Legislative Agenda today, outlining issues the organization plans to address in the coming year. </p>
<p>At the top of the list, the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> plans to address issues such as the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, human rights and marriage and family. </p>
<p>“The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> exists to be a witness to and advocate for issues of the common good important to Baptists,” said <span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore. “In a cultural moment when religious freedom is increasingly imperiled, with a new Congress, we have new opportunities to engage on these important issues, and I look forward to working with our team to engage in the public square for the cause of religious freedom and the common good.”</p>
<p>Other legislative efforts Moore and the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> staff plan to cover in 2015 include: </p>
<p>- Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit federal, state and local governments from subjecting any health professional, hospital, provider sponsored organization, health maintenance organization, accountable care organization, health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan from discriminating against entities that refuse to participate in abortion-related activities. </p>
<p>- Children in Families First Act, which simplifies the process for families seeking to adopt children internationally and helps foreign governments develop stronger child welfare systems that can find a caring family for every child in need.</p>
<p>- Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit performing abortions on babies at 20 weeks or greater gestation, except to save the life of the mother. </p>
<p>- Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from taking adverse action against a person if the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.</p>
<p>- State Marriage Defense Act, which would instruct the federal government to look to a person’s state of legal residence when determining marital status and application of federal marriage law. </p>
<p>- Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act of 2013, that would bring pressure on foreign governments to institute basic humanitarian measures to address deplorable prison conditions. </p>
<p>The entire <span class="caps">ERLC</span> 2015 legislative agenda can be accessed <a href="http://erlc.com/article/erlc-legislative-agenda-2015">here</a>. </p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Jan. 27, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, responded to today’s announcement by the Mormon Church to support legislation that would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in areas such as housing and employment, as long as the laws protect rights of religious groups.</p>
<p>“I have met with Mormon leaders about these issues repeatedly. I think the Latter-day Saints are well-intentioned but naive on where the reality stands today. I do not think, in most instances, sexual orientation ought to matter in housing or employment, but of course the proposals to address these concerns inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty. This announcement from Mormon leaders has, as I thought, been greeted with hostility from gay rights organizations and disappointment from social conservatives. Nonetheless, I look forward to working with Mormons and others on protecting religious liberty for everyone in the years ahead. </p>
<p>“As Southern Baptists, we believe gay and lesbian persons are created in the image of God and ought to be respected. We also believe that any sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally wrong. And we believe that freedom of conscience for those of us who dissent from the Sexual Revolution ought to be maintained.”</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />