Review: Life Explored by CE Ministries

 

Summary: Life Explored by CE Ministries is ambitious, compelling, well-produced and divisive. It accurately presents the Bible’s grand narrative of humanity’s age-old longing for happiness, found most fully in the unsearchable riches of God Himself in Jesus Christ. The combination of engaging preaching, high-quality film-making, and discussion-based relationships combine to effectively transform the hearts of 21st-century men and women, Christian and non-Christian, who are able to grasp the idea of their sin ultimately as the worship of other gods before God Himself. 

This is a long review! The summary / TLDR version is above. The full review is below.


Update 13/3/17: Barry Cooper has kindly written a “cheat sheet” to help kick off the discussion following Film 1 – https://barrycooper.com/2017/03/07/life-explored-cheat-sheet/

 

Communicating the gospel in a “post-truth” world

Earlier this year, a friend of ours did a round-the-world trip that included some of the ancient sites of early Christianity. He shared how while they were in Athens, Greece, they got to sit at the top of Mars Hill and read the Apostle Paul’s famous sermon recorded in Acts 17:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

(Acts 17:22-31, NIV)

As noted by many scholars and bible teachers, Paul’s sermon here is a master class in communicating the saving message of the risen Lord Jesus to an audience without any knowledge of the Christian faith. Tim Keller points out:

“When Paul addresses the Areopagus, a body of the elite philosophers and aristocrats of Athens, he was, quite literally, speaking to the cultural elites.”

Now – imagine you were a Christian, travelling with Paul (as Barnabas, Silas, or Tychicus did). Picture yourself at Mars Hill, listening to Paul preach his heart out among the who’s who of philosophers (perhaps the equivalent of the combined forces of every world-famous Ivy League / Oxbridge academic).

I wonder if you would have been critical of Paul’s sermon. Was it Christian enough? What kind of sermon skips mentioning the name of Jesus? Why no mention of the Ten Commandments? What about the cross? What a terrible way of preaching the gospel!

Of course, we know from Paul’s other sermons and letters that he’s very capable of proclaiming the gospel of Christ using “Christianese” (try read Romans with a non-Christian friend and you’ll know what I mean!). Yet in Athens, confronted day by day with people who behave religiously but don’t know it, and with no exposure to the God of the Bible, Paul deliberately chooses to present the gospel in a way that resonates with them – quoting their own poets, revealing their own worship, and introducing the God of the Bible and his appointed Man, who displays His authority over all people everywhere by his resurrection.
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Life Explored: CE Ministries’ attempt at the Mars Hill method

Enter Life Explored (LE) – a new resource developed by the makers of Christianity Explored, that tries to present the gospel with this same approach in mind. Their website sums up the course content well:

LE is a seven session series featuring a combination of short films – shot around the world – and Bible interaction… [it] is an exposé of the little gods that promise us so much happiness, yet deliver so little. As it explores the Bible story (creation, fall, redemption, new creation), Life Explored shows how our deepest desires for happiness can only be satisfied in one person, Jesus Christ. The best gift God can give us is himself.

Over the years I’ve used and benefited from all kinds of tools and methods to support my faltering efforts at sharing the gospel with others – the Way of the Master, Four Spiritual Laws, Knowing God Personally, Two Ways to Live, Perspective Cards, Christianity Explored, the Romans Road, group bible studies, informal conversations to name a few. I’ve had the awesome privilege of seeing God save people with some of these approaches, and see strengths and weaknesses in each approach as they try to make evangelism easier for Christians.

So it’s exciting to have the opportunity to carefully consider LE – especially since it seems to be the first evangelistic tool specifically designed to try and reach our generation of post-truth millenials, most of whom have absolutely no Judeo-Christian heritage or background. Here are the four distinctives of LE:

  1. Increasingly, people have no understanding of biblical literacy. There’s no context to know who Jesus is and why he came. So in seven sessions, LE gives a bird’s eye view of the whole Bible story – creation, fall, redemption, new creation. Unlike Christianity Explored (which focuses on Mark’s Gospel) or other courses, LE tries to present the grand sweep of the bible – in seven weeks you cover creation (Gen 1), the fall (Gen 3), Abraham’s promise (Gen 12), the Exodus (Ex 3-12), Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4), the Gospel (1 Cor 15) and finally the new creation (Rev 21-22).
  2. More and more people today reject a caricature of God, rather than the One actually presented throughout the Bible. So in each session, LE presents a different aspect of God’s character – in seven weeks you learn that God is good, trustworthy, generous, liberating, fulfilling, life-giving and joyful.
  3. In a postmodern age where more and more people today don’t understand the concept of law-breaking. Or if they do, there is less agreement with sin as rule-breaking (“Stealing’s not wrong, depending on the context.” “As long as it makes you happy, it doesn’t matter who you sleep with.”) So throughout the course, LE explains sin as idolatry – looking to something other than God for their ultimate security, contentment and acceptance. That way no one is off the hook, because all of us have broken the First Commandment – we’ve replaced God with something else, exchanged the truth about Him for a lie.
  4. Humans have always loved to tell and listen to engaging stories, and sometimes these narratives connect in ways that stating propositional truths can’t. To tap into this, LE includes a series of short films to help people grasp biblical truth in a deeper, more convicting way.

You can read more about the course here. For those familiar with Christianity Explored (CE), the main difference between the two is that LE seems to start further back than CE, is more thematic, it doesn’t require any homework, and you go through the whole bible story, and not just one book of the Bible.

It all sounds ambitious, right? I thought so too. Yet LE certainly came with heavyweight endorsements when it was released worldwide on 1 September this year. For example, New Testament scholar DA Carson’s commendation reads:

“At a time in the Western world when basic knowledge of the Bible is increasingly rare, it is a pleasure to recommend Life Explored. Here is an introduction to the good news found in Jesus Christ, sweeping through some of the “big pictures” in the Bible. As far as a short series can, Life Explored outlines what the Bible is about, exposes our idolatry, and makes clear where forgiveness and hope lie. This is one of the best of the rising number of evangelistic tools addressing men and women in the twenty-first century.”

What could be better than that, right?

 

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Photo credit: Ray Scrivener

LE @ Howick Baptist: our church’s experience

When our Senior Pastor saw the trailer and the promo material, he was immediately excited by the possibility of using LE as a tool to help our church engage more people with the gospel. Our elders and staff team also warmed to the idea of using this tool to evangelise our community, and also to encourage our church to band together and serve together.

So from October to November 2016, my home church (Howick Baptist) had the unique privilege of being the first in NZ to run LE as an event-based, evangelistic outreach. We showed the promo materials and did some upfront interviews about LE a month beforehand, and gave every church member an invitation card with the details of our church’s course on it. We tapped about a dozen members to lead the discussion and bible studies at tables and others to coordinate a shared meal and childcare for each session. We used our church website and social media to advertise the course and encourage church members to invite their family, friends and co-workers along.

So what was our experience as trailblazers for LE?

Encouraging. We managed to have 55 people show up the first session, with numbers hovering between 40 to 50 right through to Session 7 (for us, this was double the number of people who attended a similar outreach using CE the previous year).

Engaging. Everyone who came heard the good news of Jesus clearly and passionately presented, from Genesis to Revelation. Several guests who didn’t consider themselves Christians came along, invited by church members. We started at 5:30pm and ended at 7pm with dinner (provided by the church) – but many people (especially guests) stayed on past 8pm chatting and enjoying the company.

Effective. Since the course ended, two of these guests came along to our Sunday morning church service (and one plans to come next week). One decided to follow Jesus Christ, while a few others have come away genuinely wrestling with the gods they love, and considering the cost of turning away from their idols and trusting in Jesus. Also, those of us who served together during LE had great times of prayer, fellowship and encouragement, and we drew closer together as a church family and in our personal relationships.

 

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Here’s what we found excellent about running LE:

  1. The Bible content was fantastic. Each session included a 10-15 minute sermon from either Rico Tice (the favourite presenter for some), Barry Cooper and Nate Morgan Locke. Every phrase seemed carefully crafted to lay the foundations of a survey through the whole Bible, and showed how different threads and storylines tie together in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The final bible talk on Revelation 21 was stunning – tying up all the threads of the previous videos and stirring a longing to see the face of Jesus Christ and accept the invitation to His wedding feast. Another positive was that each video was accompanied by a short bible study on a different passage to the video sermon – these were very well-received. So over the 7 weeks we also studied Psalm 19, Romans 1:18-25, Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus), Matthew 11:27-30 (Rest), Luke 15:14-32 (The Prodigal God), Acts 17:22-31 (Paul in Athens) and Matthew 22:2-14 (the Parable of the Wedding Feast).
  2. Jesus was presented not only as factual, but also as beautiful. Yes, the important facets of the gospel is communicated – salvation by grace through faith does come through, as well as substitutionary atonement (especially in Week 4 and 6 when discussing the Passover and the cross). But what LE did really well was identify with our longing for happiness, for fulfillment, freedom, life, rest and so on, and then present God in Christ as the most compelling solution for all these longings. Unlike other gospel presentations, Christ was presented as more than a band-aid or bridge, but as the centrepiece of all our hopes and dreams. Here’s an example from Nate in Week 3:“So, who is this offspring of Abraham, through whom God would bless all nations? Who’s the descendant who would solve the world’s problems? It’s Jesus Christ. He is the promise come true. He’s the one who said to all those who are exhausted by the demands of their gods… he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and [heavy laden], and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He’s the one who says to those who are sick and tired of being minions, “[I’ve] not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). He’s the one who washed his disciples’ feet. He’s the one who gave his life for people of all nations. He’s the one of whom it was said, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) He is the Generous God.
  3. It was accessible to non-Christians. Everything was worded carefully to give support to our guests with no prior background to Christianity. Those guests engaged really positively with the films, with the discussions, and it was very easy to follow up into personal 1-to-1 conversations about the gospel. The handbooks had good explanatory notes and they didn’t need any prior experience with the bible to study it.
  4. As leaders, we were challenged to be honest and transparent ourselves. Time and time again I’d chat with fellow table leaders and share how because we were convicted of own idols during the week preparing for the study, we were then able to lead our discussion tables with openness and authenticity. Where it’s easier for a course like CE for leaders to be the “experts” and guests the “novice”, LE’s content convicted both leader and guest, and levelled the playing field. All of us were challenged to see how we need to repent and trust Christ, instead of all the other good things we find our security and comfort in.
  5. The videography was top-notch. The short films / parables were excellent aesthetically, and would have fit in seamlessly at a contemporary film festival. People appreciated the quality and slickness of each video. One leader remarked: “It’s good that the films were so well-made… often Christian videos aren’t very good quality.”

 

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Here are a few things we found challenging about running LE:

  1. The story films received a mixed response. Although the six story films / parables connected very well with millennials and other younger guests, they were confusing or frustrating for other guests, and in particular older Christians. Sure, you could dismiss the criticism and argue that the films weren’t aimed at them. But it makes it harder to get buy-in from a multi-generational church family if the older half come away dismissing it as “airy-fairy” or “a bunch of gobbledy-gook”. Some videos were clearer and more effective than others: general consensus in our group was that clearest films were Week 4 (Lawn), Week 5 (Geisha) and Week 3 (Gold); while the most obscure/confusing films were Week 2 (Hotel) and Week 7 (Space). That being said, there was always lively discussion straight after the videos (even if it was people saying they didn’t like it!).
    (Update 13/3/17: Barry Cooper has kindly written a “cheat sheet” to help kick off the discussion following Film 1 – https://barrycooper.com/2017/03/07/life-explored-cheat-sheet/)
  2. It’s more emotionally draining to lead LE. Because of how each week our idols are exposed and laid bare, for leaders it can be more draining to lead and run LE than other evangelism tools and methods. One of the strengths of evangelism tools like CE and LE is that you get to share the Word in the context of ongoing relationships. Because of the nature of the content, from Week 1 you are asking tough heart questions and trying to expose idols of the heart. That made for really awkward silences at some tables, and some exhausted people towards the end of the seven weeks. Consider that if/when you select leaders.
  3. The course seemed to elevate the story films above the Bible talks. Whether it was the constant cutting back to the story films during each sermon, or CE’s broader promotional and social media arm trying to sell these “six stories exploring our longing for more” as award winning, there’s this sense (whether deliberate or not) that the CE promo guys want the story films to be accepted and recognised, more than the bible content. The suggested timings in the leaders guide seemed to emphasis discussing the Film 1 set (the story/parables) more than Film 2. I think this is a shame, because what’s in Film 2 set (i.e. the bible talks) is so incredibly good. We found that leaders and guests really wanted to spend more time chatting about the bible talk. Sure, some of the stories were great discussion starters, but you don’t want them to overshadow the simple unfolding of the Bible’s One Story of redemption through Jesus.
  4. The “sin as idolatry” theme got tiring after awhile. Some weeks it would seem like you were discussing the same idols week after week. (e.g. “I struggle with ____ as an idol, I think God’s not generous if I don’t have it.” Next week: “I struggle with ____ as an idol, I feel like I’m not free because I don’t have it.” Next week: “I struggle with ____ as an idol, I feel like I’m not fulfilled when I don’t have it.”) One leader put it this way: “The 5 questions in the middle all hit at a very similar things (what are you worshipping). By week 6 I felt like we had exhausted the topic. It did however drive the point home.”

Out of these “negatives” (which should be read as constructive criticism!) I think the concept of the story films was the most debated among the leaders and guests. I personally found them very engaging in the main, though I agree that some of the stories were stronger than others.

 

Photo credit: Ray Scrivener

Photo credit: Ray Scrivener

Here are some practical tips for others planning to run LE (given that our context was a church-wide outreach):

  1. Don’t skip the meal! Most of the best evangelistic conversations happened over dinner, as people ate together at their tables and kept chatting. Our meals weren’t elaborate – most weeks we had pizzas, salads and water/juice/tea and coffee. On the final session we invited everyone to bring a plate to share and it was like celebrating the end of a journey together as a family. It was great to finish a bible study on the Parable of the Wedding Banquet and move straight into an actual feast! What a great opportunity for non-Christian guests to experience the warmth and hospitality of people united in Jesus, and for them to “catch” the idea of a gospel community in the same way as Jesus Himself did so much evangelism around meals.
  2. Choose leaders who “get it”. It’s quite a mind shift for people to understand and present the Bible’s understanding theme of sin as idolatry, and to grasp the idea that repentance and faith means turning away from little gods that fail us, and trusting in the God who gives up His life for us and satisfies us fully. If your leaders aren’t confident in communicating and being transparent about this in their own lives, the discussions will stay theoretical and won’t get to the heart of people’s sin.
  3. Split off the “Christianese” people. We had several people from church who came along to check out the course for themselves instead of bringing their non-Christian friends. It was helpful to group them into their own table so that the questions and discussion material could be better tailored to them as believers. This also means that church members who struggled to communicate without using Christian jargon were better understood by others, and didn’t confuse non-Christian guests.
  4. Keep guests at the same tables as much as possible. Because LE requires guests to be honest and transparent, for some guests (particularly non-Christians) a different person or leader at the table can affect the table dynamic quite significantly, and be a barrier for them to open up. Establishing rapport and relationship takes time.

 

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Finally, since it’s such a new course, here are some of my own personal suggestions for future updates and adjustments to the material – arranged from radical to cosmetic (CE Ministries in London, this bit is for you!)

  • Nix Film 1 completely – Replace the six story films with interviews of real people around the world answering the opening discussion questions (in the same vein as these social media vox-pops).  For those who have real trouble connecting with the films, a vox-pop type approach might be less confusing, and actually match more closely with Paul’s approach with the Athenian intelligentsia as he debated them in the marketplace. So why not start each session with 4-5 people from different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities answering the opening question: “What’s the best gift God could give you?” “What keeps you going in difficult situations?” “What’s your ‘if only’?” Perhaps these short clips would be useful standalone content in themselves and still connect well with post-moderns/millennials. Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” DVD (where you watch a discussion with a group of six skeptics through several sessions) could be another model / starting point for this kind of content.
  • Change the opening question of Session 1 (The Good God). We found the question: “What’s the best gift God could give you” was quite deep and personal for people you hadn’t established a rapport with yet (“What? You’ve just met me and you’re asking me about my deepest, darkest desires?”) For our church’s outreach, we gave table leaders the option of using the following opening questions for a gentler entry into the discussions:
    • “What’s your name and what made you come along to Life Explored?”
    • “If you could ask God to give you something, what would it be?”
    • “Think about the god you’ve asked. What is that god like?”
  • Change the opening question of Session 2 (The Trustworthy God). It’s a massive jump to move from the Hotel film – a heartbreaking story of a broken friendship in colonial India (with its complex undertones of racial injustice, unrequited love, paradise lost, etc) – to a very cerebral question: “What’s your current view of of God, and how did you reach that viewpoint?” To more clearly connect with the theme of the trustworthy God, we suggested an alternative question to our table leaders: “Have you ever been in a situation where someone let you down?”
  • Give more guidance to churches and leaders presenting the course. Our experience as a staff team was that it took a lot more effort and planning to MC and lead the course – you couldn’t run LE straight “out of the box” because the Leaders Guide gave too little detail regarding how to run it in a big group. While I appreciate the idea of adapting the Leaders material to make the course more flexible for other contexts (e.g. 1-to-1 use), it would have been far more helpful if there was a script outlining an event-based session, with examples of what the MC could say and suggested timings, in the way the pre-2015 version of Christianity Explored did. It’s easier for leaders to strip those details out than to try and come up with it ourselves.
  • Offer videos of female teachers presenting the 2nd film bible talks. I think there’s genuine benefit in having women present the bible talks. Perhaps make it a separate downloadable resource and charge for it. It could be really engaging for a women’s bible study going through the LE material with quality teachers like Rosaria Butterfield, Carrie Sandhom or Jenny Salt presenting, with their own illustrations and examples tailored for women.
  • Change the name of Film 5 (Geisha). The character in the story is portrayed as a modern-day Hosea’s wife. But geisha aren’t prostitutes! (It’s a terrible misunderstanding that dates back from post-WW-II American GI’s giving actual prostitutes the nickname “Geesha girls”.) It seems like a minor detail, but a Japanese person would notice.

 

Conclusion: what’s the best gift God could give you?

So – is LE worth using as an evangelistic tool for your church? Despite some of the challenges, I think so. I agree with Jeff Higgins who said this:

“All in all, I highly recommend Life Explored as a passionate, piercing presentation of the Gospel. Life Explored gets right to the heart of the question; which God/god do we worship?”

You might have to tweak it a bit to work for your church or small group. You may need more time studying and processing the paradigm shift towards the underlying principles of sin as idolatry, biblical theology and communicating the gospel in a post-modern culture. Don’t be afraid to rewrite some of the questions. Be prepared to be convicted yourself, as you journey through LE with those you’re evangelising.

But I’m confident that, by God’s grace, you’ll come away from LE more captivated by the beauty of Jesus Christ, and more convinced that the best gift God could give you is Himself. What could be better than that?


If you’d like to find out more about LE, you can chat with Cam Gracey, the NZ Coordinator of CE Ministries, or visit The Good Book Company NZ to view the resources.

The best contents page I’ve ever read – Thomas Brooks, Precious remedies against Satan’s devices

Our church has been going through the book of Ephesians. We’re at the part where the Apostle Paul gives final instructions (more like marching orders) to his readers:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…” (Eph. 6:10-11)

Paul calls us to know the opposition, and then stand firm against his scheme. And so during my reading this week, I worked through the contents page of a helpful book on the topic of spiritual warfare called “Precious remedies against Satan’s devices” by Thomas Brooks. I found it incredibly helpful. Have a look for yourself (I’ve marked in red the ones I found particularly helpful in my own walk):

SATAN’S DEVICES TO DRAW THE SOUL TO SIN [12 devices and their remedies]

  1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook: For remedies, consider that
    • we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait
    • sin is but a bitter sweet
    • sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses
    • sin is very deceitful and bewitching

  2. By painting sin with virtue’s colours: For remedies, consider that
    • sin is never the less vile by being so painted
    • the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is
    • we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it
    • sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus

  3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin: For remedies, consider that
    • sin which men account small brings God’s great wrath on men
    • the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater
    • it is sad to stand with God for a trifle
    • often there is most danger in the smallest sins
    • the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin
    • the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul
    • there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction

  4. By showing to the soul the best men’s sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance: For remedies, consider that
    • the Spirit of God records not only the sins of the saints, but also their repentance
    • these saints did not make a trade of sin
    • though God does not disinherit his sinning people, He punishes them severely
    • God has two main ends in recording the falls of His saints

  5. By presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy: For remedies, consider
    • It is the sorest of judgements to be left to sin upon any pretense whatever
    • God is as just as He is merciful
    • sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgements on men
    • though God’s general mercy is over all His works, yet His special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified
    • the saints now glorified regarded God’s mercy as a most powerful argument against, and not for, sin

  6. By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning: For remedies, consider that
    • repentance is a difficult work above our own power
    • repentance changes and converts the whole man from sin to God
    • repentance is a continued act
    • if repentance were easy, the lack of it would not strike millions with terror and drive them to hell
    • to repent of sin is as great a mark of grace as not to sin
    • Satan now suggests that repentance is easy, but shortly he will drive his dupes to despair by presenting it as the hardest work in the world



  7. By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin: For remedies, consider
    • certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
    • there is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
    • saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
    • to avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace



  8. By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from outward miseries: For remedies, consider that
    • we cannot judge of how the heart of God stands towards a man by the acts of His providence
    • nothing provokes God’s wrath so much as men’s abuse of His goodness and mercy
    • there is no greater curse or affliction in this life than not to be in misery or affliction
    • the wants of evil men are far greater than their outward blessings
    • outward things are not as they seem, nor as they are esteemed
    • God has ends and designs in giving evil men outward mercies and present rest from sorrows and sufferings that cause saints to sigh
    • God often plagues and punishes those whom others think He most spares and loves
    • God will call evil men to a strict account for all the outward good that they have enjoyed

  9. By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness: For remedies, consider that
    • all afflictions suffered by Christians turn to their profit
    • all such afflictions only reach their worst, not their best, part
    • all such afflictions are short and momentary
    • all such afflictions proceed from God’s dearest love
    • it is our duty and glory to measure afflictions not by the smart but by the end
    • God’s design in saints’ afflictions is to try, not to ruin, their souls
    • the afflictions, wrath and misery consequent upon wickedness are far worse than those linked with holiness

  10. By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves: For remedies, consider that
    • to be quick-sighted abroad and blind at home proves a man a hypocrite
    • it is far better to compare our internal and external actions with the Word than to compare ourselves with others worse than ourselves
    • though our sins may not appear as great as those of others, yet without repentance responding to mercy, we shall be as certainly damned as others



  11. By polluting the souls and judgements of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness: For remedies, consider that
    • an erroneous vain mind is as odious to God as a wicked life
    • it is needful to receive the truth affectionately and plenteously
    • error makes its owner suffer loss
    • it is needful to hate and reject all doctrines that are contrary to godliness, that lead to self-righteousness, and that make good works co-partners with Christ
    • it is needful to hold fast the truth
    • it is needful to keep humble
    • errors have been productive of great evils

  12. By leading men to choose wicked company: For remedies, consider that
    • there are express commands of God to shun such company
    • wicked company is infectious and dangerous
    • it is needful to look upon the wicked in such terms as Scripture describes them
    • the company of wicked men was once a grief and burden also to saints now glorified

 

III. SATAN’S DEVICES TO KEEP SOULS FROM HOLY DUTIES, TO HINDER SOULS IN HOLY SERVICES, TO KEEP THEM OFF FROM RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCES [8 devices and their remedies]

  1. By presenting the world in such a garb as to ensnare the soul: For remedies, consider that
    • all things here below are impotent and weak
    • they are also full of vanity
    • all things under the sun are uncertain and mutable
    • the great things of the world are hurtful to men owing to the corruption of their hearts
    • all the felicity [happiness] of this world is mixed
    • it is needful to get better acquainted with, and assurance of, more blessed and glorious things
    • true happiness and satisfaction does not arise from worldly good
    • the value and dignity of the soul is to be a subject of contemplation

  2. By presenting to the soul the dangers, losses and sufferings that accompany the performance of certain religious duties: For remedies, consider that
    • all such troubles cannot harm the true Christian
    • saints now glorified encountered such dangers, but persevered to the end
    • all such dangers are but for a moment, whereas the neglect of the service of God lays the Christian open to spiritual and eternal dangers
    • God knows how to deliver from troubles by troubles, from dangers by dangers
    • In the service of God, despite troubles and afflictions, the gains outweigh the losses

       

  3. By presenting to the soul the difficulty of performing religious duties: For remedies, consider that
    • it is better to regard the necessity of the duty than the difficulty of it
    • the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to the obedient soul and thus make the service easy
    • the Lord Jesus has Himself engaged in hard service and in suffering for your temporal and eternal good
    • religious duties are only difficult to the worse, not to the more noble part of a saint
    • a glorious recompense awaits saints who serve the Lord in the face of difficulties and discouragements

  4. By causing saints to draw false inferences from the blessed and glorious things that Christ has done: For remedies, consider that
    • it is as needful to dwell as much upon scriptures that state Christian duty as upon those that speak of the glorious things that Christ has done for us
    • the glorious things that Christ has done and is now doing for us should be our strongest motives and encouragements for the performance of our duties
    • other precious souls who have rested on Christ’s work have been very active and lively in religious duties
    • those who do not walk in God’s ways cannot have such evidence of their righteousness before God as can those who rejoice in the service of the Lord
    • duties are to be esteemed not by their acts but by their ends



  5. By presenting to view the fewness and poverty of those who hold to religious practices: For remedies, consider that
    • though saints are outwardly poor, they are inwardly rich
    • in all ages God has had some that have been rich, wise and honourable
    • spiritual riches infinitely transcend temporal riches, and satisfy the poorest saints
    • saints now appear to be ‘a little flock’, but they belong to a company that cannot be numbered
    • it is but as a day before these despised saints will shine brighter than the sun
    • the time will come even in this life when God will take away the reproach and contempt of His people, and make those the ‘head’ who have been the ‘tail’

  6. By showing saints that the majority of men make light of God’s ways and walk in the ways of their own hearts: For remedies, consider that
    • certain scriptures warn against following the sinful examples of men
    • those who sin with the multitude will suffer with the multitude
    • the soul of a man is of more worth than heaven and earth

  7. By casting in vain thoughts while the soul is seeking God or waiting on God: For remedies, consider that
    • the God with whom we have to do is great, holy, majestic and glorious
    • despite wandering thoughts it is needful to be resolute in religious service
    • vain and trifling thoughts that Satan casts into our souls are not sins if they are abhorred, resisted and disclaimed
    • watching against, resisting and lamenting sinful thoughts evidences grace and the sincerity of our hearts
    • we must labour to be filled with the fullness of God and enriched with all spiritual blessings
    • we must labour to keep up holy and spiritual affections
    • we must labor to avoid multiplicity of worldly business

       

  8. By tempting Christians to rest in their performances: For remedies, consider that
    • our choicest services have their imperfection and weaknesses
    • our choicest services are unable to minister comfort and aid in days of trouble
    • good works, if rested upon, will as certainly destroy us as the greatest sins that we commit
    • God has met our need of a resting place in Christ Himself


       

       

IV. SATAN’S DEVICES TO KEEP SAINTS IN A SAD, DOUBTING, QUESTIONING AND UNCOMFORTABLE CONDITION [8 devices and their remedies]

  1. By causing saints to remember their sins more than their Saviour, yes, even to forget and neglect their Saviour: For remedies, consider that
    • though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from sin’s presence, He has freed them from its damnatory power
    • though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from the vexing and molesting power of sin, He has freed them from the reign and dominion of sin
    • it is needful to keep one eye on the promise of remission of sin, and the other eye on the inward operations of sin
    • believers’ sins have been charged to the account of Christ as debts which He has fully satisfied
    • the Lord has good reasons for allowing His people to be troubled with sinful corruption
    • believers must repent of their being discouraged by their sins

  2. By causing saints to make false definitions of their graces: For remedies, consider
    • there may be true faith, even great faith, where there is no assurance
    • the Scriptures define faith other than Satan tempts the saints to define it
    • there may be true faith where there is much doubting
    • assurance is an effect of faith, not faith itself

  3. By causing saints to make false inferences from the cross actings of Providence: For remedies, consider that
    • many things, though contrary to our desires, are not contrary to our good
    • God’s hand may be against a man when His love and His heart are set upon him
    • Cross providences are sent by God to work some noble good for saints
    • all the strange and deep providences that believers meet with further them in their way to heaven

  4. By suggesting to saints that their graces are not true, but counterfeit: For remedies, consider that
    • grace may mean either the good will and favour of God, or the gifts of grace
    • there are differences between renewing grace and restraining grace, between sanctifying and temporary grace (to particulars given)

  5. By suggesting to saints that the conflict that is in them is found also in hypocrites and profane souls: For remedies, consider that
    • the whole frame of a believer’s soul is against sin
    • a saint conflicts against sin universally, the least sin as well as the greatest
    • the conflict in a saint is maintained for several reasons
    • the saint’s conflict is constant
    • the saint’s conflict is within the same faculties
    • the saint’s conflict is blessed, successful and prevailing

  6. By suggesting to the saint who has lost joy and comfort that his state is not good: For remedies, consider that
    • the loss of comfort is a separable adjunct from grace
    • the precious things still enjoyed are far better than the joys and comforts lost
    • the glorified saints were once in the same condition
    • the causes of joy and comfort are not always the same
    • God will restore the comforts of His people

  7. By reminding the saint of his frequent relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against: For remedies, consider that
    • many scriptures show that such relapses have troubled saints
    • God nowhere promises that such relapses will not happen
    • the most renowned of glorified saints have, on earth, experienced such relapses
    • relapses into enormities must be distinguished from relapses into infirmities
    • involuntary and voluntary relapses must be distinguished
    • no experience of the soul, however deep or high, can in itself secure the soul against relapses

  8. By persuading saints that their state is not good nor their graces sound: For remedies, consider that
    • the best of Christians have been most tempted by Satan
    • all the saints’ temptations are sanctified to them by a hand of love
    • temptations cannot harm the saints as long as they are resisted by them

SATAN’S DEVICES TO DESTROY AND ENSNARE ALL SORTS AND RANKS OF MEN IN THE WORLD [5 devices and their remedies]

I. DEVICES AGAINST THE GREAT AND HONOURABLE OF THE EARTH

  1. By causing them to seek greatness, position, riches and security: For remedies, consider that
    • self-seeking sets men upon sins against the law, the Gospel, and Nature itself
    • self-seeking exceedingly abases a man
    • the Word pronounces curses and woes against self-seekers
    • self-seekers are self-losers and self-destroyers
    • saints have denied self and set public good above personal advantage
    • self hinders the sight of divine things: hence prophets and apostles, when seeing visions, were carried out of themselves

  2. By causing them to act against the people of the Most High: For remedies, consider that
    • all who have acted against the saints have been ruined by the God of saints
    • the Scriptures show that God gives victory to His people against their enemies
    • to fight against the people of God is to fight against God Himself
    • men of the world owe their preservation from instant ruin, under God, to the saints

II. DEVICE AGAINST THE LEARNED AND THE WISE

  1. By moving them to pride themselves on their parts and abilities, and to despise men of greater grace but inferior abilities: For remedies, consider that
    • men have nothing but what they have received, gifts as well as saving grace coming alike from Christ
    • men’s trusting to their parts and abilities has been their utter ruin
    • you do not transcend others more in parts and abilities than they do you in grace and holiness
    • men who pride themselves on their gifts and set themselves against the saints will find that God blasts and withers their gifts

III. DEVICE AGAINST THE SAINTS

  1. By dividing them and causing them to ‘bite and devour one another.’ For remedies, consider that
    • it is better to dwell on the saints’ graces rather than on their weaknesses and infirmities
    • love and union best promote safety and security
    • God commands and requires the saints to love one another
    • it is better to eye the things in which saints agree rather than those things wherein they differ
    • God is the God of peace, Christ the Prince of peace, and the Spirit the Spirit of peace
    • it is needful for the saints to make more care and conscience of maintaining their peace with God
    • it is needful to dwell much upon the relationship and union of the people of God
    • discord is productive of miseries
    • it is good and honorable to be the first in seeking peace and reconcilement
    • saints should agree well together, making the Word the only touchstone and judge of their words and actions
    • saints should be much in self-judging
    • saints should labor to be clothed with humility

IV. DEVICE AGAINST POOR AND IGNORANT SOULS

  1. By causing them to affect ignorance and to neglect and despise the means of knowledge: For remedies, consider that
    • an ignorant heart is an evil heart
    • ignorance is the deformity of the soul
    • ignorance makes men objects of God’s hatred and wrath
    • ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins

 


You can read the whole book here.

Edify Conference – building the church in word and song – set list

It was a joy over the weekend to serve at the first Edify Conference, hosted at our home church (Howick Baptist). We had a great time opening the Word and considering the importance of what we do when we sing together as the gathered church.

Cheryl and I were in Sydney for Emu Music’s Word in Song Conference last year, and in 2011 got to attend the WorshipGod conference hosted by Bob Kauflin. And after talking about the idea of a music / gathered worship conference on and off for years, it was great to finally have a go at hosting one in NZ ourselves in partnership with Rowan Hilsden and the team at Auckland EV.

It was also neat to meet and get to know Greg Cooper, a songwriter and musician from Sydney who served on the Edify band on Friday night and led several workshops on Saturday. I personally learned a lot from observing and considering how skillfully he played the guitar – in a way that served the band and supported the church singing. I also loved his servant-hearted attitude and easy-going nature.

I enjoyed playing guitar and sing in the Edify bands – once on Friday with a full band, and again on Saturday morning with a stripped-back, acoustic team. It was good to have a go at modelling congregational church music for different contexts.

A few people asked for the songs we sang over the weekend, so here is the set list below:

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST:

 

FRIDAY: CONCERT / EVENING OF WORD AND SONG

SATURDAY: MAIN SESSION 2

 


Interview: Angela talks about memorising scripture

Scripture memory doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of intentionally memorising the Bible is a habit of grace that is worth cultivating for God’s glory, and the good of His people.

To encourage myself and others with this, I’ve interviewed a few people that I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with the spiritual discipline of scripture memory.

“I have stored up your Word in my heart
That I might not sin against You.”
– Psalm 119:11

Previously:


a_robb_photo

I first met Angela Robb at a bible conference that our church in Howick hosts each year. Since then, I (and others) have been encouraged by her love for Christ and committed service to His people. I was quite struck by the fact that, prior to a conference with messages from Philippians, Angela had memorised the entire book beforehand!

Angela moved to Rolleston, Canterbury in February 2016 where she is now a member of Rolleston Baptist Church (and before that, Shore Baptist Church in Auckland’s North Shore). With her family she has spent time living in both Canada and China. At the moment she spends her week studying at the Tim Training Course in Christchurch, working part-time on a pig farm, and keeping in contact with friends while seeking God about future plans. She is also working on publishing her first book as a way to encourage others by sharing of God’s faithfulness to her through a season of personal struggle with chronic fatigue.

Angela has kindly offered to share her experiences with memorising Scripture.


1. Share with us a Bible passage you’ve just memorised.

– James 1:1-18 (ESV)

 

2. What are some passages that youve committed to memory?

I’ve memorised several psalms over the years – such as Psalm 1, 8, 19, 23, 25, 84, 90, 103, 121, and half of Psalm 119. I’ve also memorised the books of Ephesians and Philippians, as well as various other passages, such as portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and some of Paul’s prayers (Col 1:9-14, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, etc.). These are all passages that at one time I have been able to recite word for word, though I must admit they do not all come to mind as readily as they used to.

 

3. What convinced you to start memorising Scripture?

I first started memorising Scripture because it was something we did as children, both in my family and at my church. We often had passages from our church’s Sunday school that my mum and dad would teach to us at home during our family Bible reading (either in the morning with my mum during homeschooling, or in the evening around the dinner table with my dad).

I think I first became personally intentional about it as a teenager, when I came across an article about memorising bigger portions of the Bible and was inspired by the lofty goal of memorising the whole new testament in five years (see link in resources listed below). It started well, but with other life responsibilities needing my attention, I think I was only finishing Ephesians about five years later! The practice I had in learning what worked well (and what didn’t work so well) in memorising Ephesians gave me good experience to apply to future Scripture memory.

 

4. How do you choose which passages to memorise?

I choose passages for a variety of reasons. For example, I’m currently memorising James 1:1-18 with my pastor’s wife and a few others.

At the moment I am doing a Bible course in which we regularly give talks from assigned passages. I generally try to familiarise myself with the passage beforehand. I find memorising it is a great way to both pay attention to the details in the passage and also have it in mind for ready access it to meditate on whenever I want.

I might choose to memorise several of the prayers of Paul if I’m wanting to grow in the area of prayer (as I read through D. A. Carson’s book “Spiritual Reformation”), or I might choose to memorise a passage related to a series we are going through at Church or Bible study group. For example, I memorised the book of Philippians to prepare for a conference where it was being taught.

I often memorise passages relating to a particular “current event” in my life, such as learning Psalm 90 when I am moving to a new place. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 is a big help if I am struggling to love a difficult neighbour and need help in remembering that it is Jesus’ love, not my own, that I can rely on. Memorising particular passages to address particular issues is particularly helpful.

 

5. Do you suggest memorising whole books of the Bible or selected verses? What are the pros/cons?

If you are just starting out, I’d recommend starting with selected verses. These will be less intimidating to memorise, take less time to learn, and are more immediately practical. For example, one of my favourites is 2 Corinthians 9:8 when I am feeling anxious or intimidated about an upcoming situation. However, something to be aware of in memorising smaller passages is that you may miss the bigger meaning of the verses if you are not familiar with the context.

Whole books take a bit of extra time and effort, which can feel quite intimidating if you haven’t memorised much before, and a bit discouraging as progress can feel slow. On the other hand, the challenge can be quite motivating. So think about where you are starting from and plan realistically. I appreciated memorising the book of Ephesians (which did take me a long time, but now seems firmly stuck in my long-term memory) as it covered so many areas. The security of our adoption in Christ, being saved by grace alone, practical instructions for how to live a saved life, insight into the work of Christian ministry and the purpose of the church, how to fight spiritual battles, are just a few of the issues addressed.

If you are just starting to memorise, starting small with selected verses and then working up to longer passages and eventually to whole books would probably be a good idea. Long-term, I think memorising both whole books and selected verses is a good idea – just like we can enjoy both full meals and smaller snacks.

 

6. What are some of the blessings youve experienced in committing Scripture to memory?

I think the biggest blessing is just how immediately available the word of God is when you have it stored up in your heart. It’s more accessible than your phone. You don’t even have to open your eyes or put in headphones. Stored up Scripture means you can think about it as you go for a walk or talk with a friend or drive in the car or fall asleep at night. Verses will often come to mind even when you aren’t intentionally trying to remember them.

For example, I might be about to have a difficult conversation with a friend. As I talk with God about it, He might remind me of Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” With that in mind, I might realise I need to go and apologise to my friend because I didn’t speak in the way God wanted me to, or I might be instructed in how I will speak to my friend again in a way that is more honouring to Him. God’s Word is incredibly powerful and you could say that the more we have memorised, the more He has to work with in bringing various verses to mind at appropriate times.

I also find that the actual discipline of Scripture memory gives me a particularly good opportunity to observe the details of a text, to notice particular words or phrases, and to meditate on it in more depth, letting it correct my thinking and direct the way I live. It takes mental effort and a good amount of perseverance, but it is definitely worth it.

 

7. OK – walk us through your step-by-step method of memorising Scripture.

The main way I learn a passage is simply by reading and reciting it. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Read through the whole passage aloud (to get a general grasp of the main flow and message).
  2. Choose a smaller section to work on for this occasion and read aloud.
  3. Read the first verse (or part of a verse) aloud several times.
  4. Try to recite it while looking away from the page (check the page again if stuck).
  5. Repeat reading and reciting aloud until reciting easily and accurately (at least three times in a row without looking and without a mistake).
  6. Move on to learn the next line in the same way once the first line is comfortable.
  7. When second line is easy and accurate, recite both together until comfortable.
  8. Continue for each line (learning individually and then reciting altogether) until finished either the allotted time or the allotted verses for that occasion.
  9. Move on to other activities for the day, but try to practice them when opportunities are available (washing dishes, driving, brushing teeth, falling asleep, etc).
  10. At the next set aside occasion read the whole passage aloud, review previously learned verses, and then work on the next section of the passage as you did for the first, reciting them altogether at the end before finishing.

Keep reviewing your new verses if you want to keep them in your mind. However, if it does get rusty, you can simply return to your original memorising method and relearn them. It will be much quicker the second time round.

 

8. What are some practical tips you can share that can help us be more successful with Scripture memory?

  • Keep it simple. If all you do is just read and recite aloud (as described above), it should be quite effective and will help you avoid overcomplicating the process. Starting simply makes it easier to simply start.
  • If a passage contains a list, sometimes I will come up with acronyms to make sure I don’t leave something out or miss the order. For example, for the forces that we fight against in Ephesians 6:12, I remember RAPS – the Rulers, Authorities, cosmic Powers and Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Find acronyms that are memorable for you, but don’t stress over them. Just use them as needed.
  • Make up a tune and sing the words you are learning (often you can find the verses already set to music by others – try searching online if you have the time).
  • Print the verses out and stick them where you’ll see them often- like on the bathroom mirror or next to the kitchen window or by a light switch.
  • Write the passage out by hand – copy it as you first learn it, then write it from memory and compare with the passage afterwards to check for accuracy.
  • Find a friend to who is willing to check your progress (or even memorise with you). This helps with overcoming both pride and discouragement.
  • Take time to think about what you are memorising. What is God saying in these words?
  • Use actions to help you remember the words.
  • Move while you memorise – jumping, skipping, walking, jogging, etc. This works best for reviewing rather than reading (though you can keep a verse card or Bible nearby or in hand and check it as you go).
  • Review your verses while doing everyday activities – brushing your teeth, driving (safely!), or falling asleep.

9. Any other words of encouragement for those of us having a go?

  • Expect it to be hard. Scripture memory is not only mental exercise, but a spiritual battle. Be prepared to put in committed effort. It will take self-control on your part – but we know that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so we can trust God to grow this good fruit in us, even as we memorise. The discipline will make you stronger and it will get easier over time.
  • Ultimately, the goal is for God’s Word to dwell richly in our hearts and transform our lives. Don’t simply store up arsenal, but use these weapons for warfare. As you memorise, pray that God will cause his Word to work powerfully and grow us in holiness. Pray that we won’t get puffed up with head knowledge, but that we will be humbled as He touches our hearts.
  • Finally, keep the goal in mind. Jesus persevered for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2), and it is helpful for us to do the same in whatever hard thing we undertake for His sake. Remind yourself of the reasons for practising this discipline – for God’s Word to dwell richly in your heart (Col 3:16), to wash you clean (Eph 5:25-27), to keep you from sin (Psalm 119:11), to teach, reprove, correct, train in righteousness, complete, and equip you (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Ask God for help in memorising His Word, and do it for your holiness, the good of others, and the glory of His name.

 

Some suggestions for further reading and listening:

Why memorise?

How to memorise:

Scripture songs:

 

 

I have stored up your ______ in my heart

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
even as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world
that we should be holy and blameless before him…”

 – Ephesians 1:3-4, from memory

I’m in the middle of intentionally memorising the book of Ephesians, in light of our church’s upcoming sermon series through the same book.

I was convicted about scripture memory, funnily enough, after getting stuck into Pokémon Go, the new game that’s taken the world by storm. I was reliving my childhood! I could join a diverse, passionate community! I could escape into an alternate universe!

After a few weeks, however, the novelty wore off. I could see how it was sapping away at my attention in other areas. And then in God’s kindness He reminded me: I could catch all these imaginary monsters, become the most successful Pokémon trainer, and it would have no lasting, eternal value. God graciously allowed me to repent of my idolatry, and believe again that Jesus is more satisfying than all the Pokémon in the world.

Perhaps in your case it’s not an addictive augmented-reality game that chips away at your time and attention. Perhaps it’s your newsfeed, Netflix, or Instagram, or YouTube videos, or NBA, or Xbox, or fishing, or cars.

But imagine if all the 2-3 minute snatches of time throughout our days could be redeemed by “letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly”. Think of the value of having God’s living and active sword memorised, ready to be wielded when you need: when you’re bored, when sharing the gospel with a friend, when counselling someone, when you’re tempted to sin (like Jesus was in the wilderness).

Andy Davis (a pastor in the US) points out, memorising scripture seems to be the most obvious way to follow in the footsteps of the blessed man in Psalm 1, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

I’ve managed to “recruit” a couple of others so far on this journey through the verses of Ephesians, so we can “catch ‘em all” – all of God’s Word, that is. So far it’s been refreshing and exciting to memorise Scripture. Reciting each word and phrase repeatedly is like watching tea leaves steeping into water. Or like muscles being strengthened. Or like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season. And even if I forget what’s memorised, it’s comforting to know that the time spent meditating on, and storing up God’s Word in my heart was still edifying and worthwhile!

So if you’ve never considered scripture memory as a worthwhile habit to cultivate (like prayer, bible reading and so on) – or perhaps like me, you have found all kinds of excuses to avoid it, here are some helpful links to inspire you, and show you how to start.

Getting inspired:

Getting started:

Helpful tools:

I hope to share a couple of interviews with people in future who have quietly gone about scripture memory, and hear how storing up God’s Word in their hearts has shaped them.

“I have stored up your Word in my heart
That I might not sin against You.”
– Psalm 119:11