Training my brain on scripture

I read recently about the ways technology is changing our brains. For instance, easy access to information is training our brain to “index” rather than “retain” information. Makes sense.

I can still remember my family’s home phone number from when I was growing up, but who bothers to memorize a phone number these days? And all that time I spent memorizing sports records seems like such a waste now that anything we want or need to know is easily found with a quick and simple Internet search. We just need to know the key search words that will lead us to the facts. Or the fake news, as the case may be.

In many ways, this is awesome. There’s only so much room in my head for information, useless or otherwise, so I’m OK with keeping most of it stored on a hard drive or the cloud or wherever it is Google stores such things. If I need it – say, to win an important argument about who is the all-time leading scorer in NAIA men’s basketball history – I know where, or at least how, to find it.

On the other hand, I’ve come to recognize the value of the basic disciplines my parents tried so hard to instill into my ever-resistant soul when I was growing up.

For instance, I argued for years that it was pointless to make my bed each morning when, as was plainly obvious to anyone, I would mess it up again that evening. Why not keep it perpetually prepared for my impending slumber? As an adult, however, I’ve discovered that making the bed each day provides a nice sense of order in the midst of my sometimes chaotic life. Plus, it makes my wife happy. I retain many of my youthful slob-like tendencies, but I find comfort in knowing things are well ordered. Things have a place and they are in their place.

Retaining knowledge is as important as ever. Very often, I hear arguments on the political debates of our day that are weakly rooted in quick Google searches that led to unverified articles that shade the truth and do little more than promote confirmation bias. But retaining knowledge requires discipline, and some of us, myself included, aren’t particularly good at it.

This is frustrating at times, but never more than when I’m trying to remember a Bible verse. Of all the things we should memorize, scripture should top the list. Yet, I stink at this discipline. I’m not bad at remembering what scripture says, but I fail miserably at quoting it chapter and verse. I’ve used a journal, index cards and an app. I memorize verses for a few weeks or months, but then they slip away.

That’s OK, though, because I know I never want to become just an indexer of God’s word. I want to keep it in my heart. So, I’ll keep at it and do the best I can. If I forget the chapter and verse but remember the gist of the message, I figure I’ve gained something important. I might not have every pillow fluffed perfectly and properly placed, but I’ve made my bed.

Trivial side note: I was a cub reporter working for the Arkansas Democrat in the late 1980s when someone on the sports copy desk asked the question, “Who’s the NAIA’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball?” There was no Google, so I reached for the NAIA media guide. Before I could flip a page, Robert Yates, a college kid working with us part-time, said, “Bevo Francis.” And he was right. Two other players have since surpassed Francis on the career scoring list. But Francis still holds the record for most points in a game, scoring 113 for Rio Grande (Ohio) in a 1954 game against Hillsdale (Mich.).

Clarence “Bevo” Francis

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Finding Wisdom in Troubling Times

Deciding on a blog topic isn’t always easy, and not always because you feel like you have nothing worth saying. I seldom have writer’s block. More often, I have writer’s fire hydrant. And the Charlottesville violence left me overwhelmed with opinions and ideas regarding racism, monuments, statues, hatred, evil, protests, politics and all sorts of other things that were spewing forth from my mind.

How can I write everything I’m thinking and feeling? How can I contribute beyond all the other voices? What should I say and how should I say it?

Then I re-read Proverbs 8, one of my favorite books in the scriptures. Rather than doting on the symptoms of the problems we face in this world, it speaks to the cure for the root cause of our disease. It won’t tell you if statues should come down in your town’s square, what you should or shouldn’t write on Facebook, or specifically how to respond to friends and neighbors who look or think differently than you. But it will tell you how to put yourself in a position to find those answers.

Proverbs 8 is 36 beautiful verses, 33 of which are poetically written in the personified voice of wisdom. Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and the troubles in our lives and in this world are rooted in a lack of wisdom. Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit because she lacked wisdom. Adam stood passively beside her, ignoring his responsibility as a husband, because he lacked wisdom. Racists in America and terrorists in Europe drive cars into crowds because they lack wisdom. So, when wisdom speaks, we should listen.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn about wisdom when you leave this blog and read Proverbs 8 for yourself:

  • She raises her voice and takes a stand.
  • She detests wickedness.
  • She is just and righteous.
  • She is more valuable than silver, gold or rubies.
  • She dwells with prudence.
  • She isn’t the same thing as knowledge, but she possesses knowledge … and discretion.
  • There are things she hates … evil, pride, arrogance, perverse speech.
  • Her insights are powerful.
  • Those who seek her, find her.
  • She was the “first” of the Lord’s works and present for creation.
  • She brings a blessing to those who keep her ways.
  • She is the path toward life; without her, the path leads to death.

Wisdom isn’t synonymous for Christ or God the Father or the Holy Spirit, but the Trinity possesses and provides wisdom to draw us to Jesus and to strengthen our relationship with God. The wisest thing we can do is surrender our lives to Christ, and then we can begin to really grow in wisdom because we’re listening to Him, not to our flesh. As we navigate the troubling times in which we live, we need this wisdom more than ever.


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The Blog God Spiked

Several weeks ago, I wrote two blogs and scheduled them to post while Audrey and I were on vacation. When we returned, I realized one of them never posted. One of two things happened. I didn’t schedule it properly or my really, really smart, hi-tech blog posting system malfunctioned. You decide.

Last week, I reread the blog and decided to use it. I polished it up, sent it to a friend for proofing, and then reread it one last time yesterday morning with plans to post it today. That’s when it hit me: Don’t post this blog.

There’s nothing wrong with the content itself. Actually, I rather liked it. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it reflected my warped sense of humor and made a decent point about how leaders can use manual labor (e.g., not typing) to clear their minds and spark some creativity.

Then something dawned on me. About the time that blog was originally scheduled to post, someone I know died while doing the exact hard work I had described. I suddenly imagined his friends and family reading this tongue-in-cheek blog and finding no humor in it at all. My heart sank, but my spirits quickly lifted. There’s no greater feeling than to realize the hand of God somehow intervened in your life. I’ve experienced it in some big ways – like with the birth of my children or the day I realized Audrey was “the one” for me.

So, today’s blog is about the blog I didn’t write. The one God spiked for me – twice.

We never know when God will allow us to see how He is intervening, but our response should always be the same: Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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Read this Blog and Earn 10 Points!

My wife tells the story of a teacher who motivated his students by awarding their obedience and success with points.

“What do we get for the points?” one student asked.

“Oh, points are great,” the teacher said with great enthusiasm. “They are the best! Everybody loves to get points. When you’re older, you’ll really understand. Points are great. Trust me. You want more points!”

We live in a world that keeps score, even if the score doesn’t always matter and the points don’t really hold any value. You can’t redeem them for money or merchandise or favors. All they buy is ego biscuits.

I, too, like points. I prefer points that matter, like the ones that get me a free cup of coffee. And I like it when my team (the Arkansas Razorbacks) accumulate more points than their opponents, especially when the opponent is Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, or Ole Miss. And don’t forget Texas. But I also like points that are essentially worthless – points in a computer game or points in a friendly game of cards with my wife (she usually wins).

Points are great. Trust me. You want more points.

The problem with points, however, is that we often come to expect them. We feel entitled to get points for anything and everything we do. And even when the points clearly have no real value, we expect to somehow redeem them for something. You owe me points, and, by the way, I’m ready to cash them in. It’s in the Constitution, right? But expecting a payoff for everything we do can suck the joy out of doing things for others.

When I cook breakfast for my wife, should I do it because I love her and want to bring joy to her life, or because cooking breakfast will earn me points? When I memorize a verse of the Bible, should I do it because it earns me points (and maybe a “level up”) on my Bible memory app, or because it draws me closer to God? When my wife and I lead a Bible study, should we do it because it earns us jewels in our heavenly crown, or because it’s a natural response to God’s love for us?

We all need a little help with motivation from time to time, and points and other rewards can be a good way to keep us engaged. But we’re wise to keep those points in perspective. God looks at the motivations of our hearts. If we want to grow in favor with God (Luke 2:52), we won’t get very far if our primary motive is to earn points. Such points are worthless in God’s economy. The Apostle Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

That’s far more valuable than all the points the world can offer. Trust me. Points are great. Love is better.


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The Rocks of Our Hearts

Is the soil of your heart prepared for growth? … 

Our home rests near the top of a hill, and we’re mostly surrounded by woods. Bermuda grass thrives on the sun-soaked front and one side of our lot, but the back remains very close to its natural state – it mostly grows rocks, not grass.

We need fewer rocks and more bird seed.
Tuck surveys the rocks of our yard.

I’ve been thinking lately about investing some time into the backyard – more to make it easier to maintain than for aesthetic purposes. What’s stopping me? Well, it looks like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve removed most of the bigger, blade buster rocks. But several areas are covered in smaller stones that seem to multiply like rabbits. I pick one up and toss it into the woods, and two more emerge in its place. If I really want more grass, however, I’ll need to remove the rocks, prepare the hard Ozark soil, put out some seed, fertilize, water and wait.

Hard work. Just like preparing the heart. If we want to grow like Jesus, we have to prepare our hearts. As pastor/author Max Lucado says, we have to pull the stumps and remove the rocks.

“God’s seed grows better if the soil of the heart is cleared,” Lucado writes in Grace for the Moment.

How do we clear it? We don’t; God does. But we allow it when we come to Him in humble confession, seeking His help with our stumps and rocks.

“Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts,” Lucado writes. And, he adds, “Confession invites the Father to work the soil of the soul.”

This is hard work. It makes us uncomfortable, and the more sins we confess, the more we seem to find. Like the rocks in my backyard, they often are hidden just beneath the surface. If we ignore them, they emerge and clutter our lives. If we give them to God, however, our hearts are prepared to grow.


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