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He carries Scripture in his mind & heart

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–“A lot of people will say, ‘This guy knows the whole Bible.’

“Well, I really don’t,” Rollin DeLap admits. “The reason they say that is because most people have memorized so little” of “the Word of God.”

DeLap seems to use a capital W when he speaks of “the Word,” attaching a deeper sort of respect to the Bible than mere paper, ink and ancient stories and wisdom.

When he started memorizing various passages from the Word more than 50 years ago, he was a college student who “never dreamed what impact it would have on my life.”

But it led to a career of speaking at campuses across the country, exhorting collegians to put the Word of God in their hearts and to tell others about how faith in Christ, rooted in the Word and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, could change their lives.

DeLap, 71, worked in student evangelism for 15 years with the North American Mission Board, 10 years with the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and 10-plus years with Baptist Student Union ministries at several Texas campuses. The Illinois native is a graduate of Georgetown College in Kentucky and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

When DeLap speaks of memorizing the Word, his conversation has an everyman tone and phrasing until it shifts toward eloquence when he quotes a Bible passage — and people’s attentiveness heightens.

“People respond to the Word of God,” DeLap says. “It’s not my authority, but it’s God’s authority. It’s His Word. All I am doing is delivering it from my heart to theirs. Proverbs 9:9 says, ‘Give instruction to the wise and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.'”

DeLap undergirds his point by quoting Deuteronomy 6:6: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

And 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Most people are shaped by “all the other words in their lives from the culture” -– from TV, movies and music, DeLap says. Yet, deep down, they are “hungry just to hear the Word of God coming off somebody’s lips straight to their heart and life.”

Whoever is “teachable to the Word of God … will be the one who is blessed,” DeLap continues. “Psalm 32:9 says, ‘Don’t be like a senseless horse or mule that has to have a bit in its mouth to keep it in line. Many sorrows come to the wicked but his abiding love surrounds those who trust in him.'”

When he was first challenged to memorize Scripture as a college sophomore, DeLap says he focused on three verses a week. After his seminary studies, it became a chapter from the Bible each month for five years. Since then, he has memorized a verse a week, “52 weeks a year.”

“I was a skeptic at first” as an engineering student, DeLap acknowledges. But two verses soon “caused me to think about my life” — Psalm 119:9,11: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Gradually, DeLap recounts, “The more I put the Word of God into my heart … the more I was interested in what God wanted for my life.” The Bible “began to take on new meaning. I began to pay attention to the content and the context of what the Lord was saying.”

To those who may think Scripture memory is too difficult, DeLap asks, “Well, what’s your name? And who’s your best friend? What’s your phone number? What’s your address? … Why do you remember [these things]? Because they’re important to you.”

“If the Word of God becomes important enough to us,” DeLap says, “we’ll begin to memorize it.”

The aging process has made it more difficult for DeLap to keep his Bible verses sharp. “They’re getting away from me faster and they’re harder to recall,” he says, “but that doesn’t stop me from reviewing a number of them each day and each week.”

DeLap continues to employ the same Scripture memory method he has taught to students over the years: He writes the passage on a small card (2½ by 1½ inches) and records the reference (where it is located in the Bible, such as Genesis 1:1) before and after the verse or verses he embarks on memorizing. He carries several dozen cards with him in a leather pouch and reviews a number of them in his morning prayer time and whenever he may have a few spare moments during the day.

He has sold a starter kit at his speaking engagements over the years, with each $10 packet containing 36 cards that already have key Scriptures printed on them, several dozen blank cards for people to add their own memory verses, a leather pouch and an instruction booklet titled “Memorize to Evangelize.”

With each Bible passage he memorizes, DeLap initially focuses on the reference. He then adds the first phrase of the passage, continuing to repeat the reference before and after each repetition; gradually, he commits the full passage to memory phrase by phrase.

He reviews his recent memory verses every three to four weeks by rotating a few of the cards in his leather pouch each day. For the hundreds of verses he has memorized over the years, he uses a Life Saver box for a long-term rotating review.

“The more you say [a verse] and the more you review it, the more it becomes a part of your life,” DeLap says. “It soon becomes what I call ‘your verse.’ … It feels like the verse belongs to you.”

It becomes part of a person’s thinking, part of the Word’s transformation of the person’s life, DeLap says. At times, a memory verse gives comfort, guidance, assurance or strength in times of difficulty or crisis, he says, adding that when a verse becomes a bit hazy, the reference often will spark its recall.

And there are times when a verse “begins to explode in your mind and your heart,” DeLap says. “That’s the thrill of the Word -– it comes to life.”

When he speaks of the Word, DeLap says it is “not just another book of history or philosophy…. It is the most important message that God has given to all mankind.”

It sets forth not only “principles to live by and to obey” such as the Ten Commandments, Proverbs and Psalms, DeLap says, but it offers people “the best message I know” -– salvation drawn from Jesus’ life, His teachings and, particularly, His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

At his home in Franklin, Tenn., DeLap has all the letters he has received from college students over the years who have embraced his call to memorize Scripture. The comments he has seen most frequently are “I’ve never felt so close to the Lord” and “I’ve never witnessed so much in my life.”

“They feel emotionally and spiritually close to God,” DeLap, a member of ClearView Baptist Church, says. “He becomes dynamically real and alive like never before.”

When a person feels a spiritual tug to tell loved ones and friends about the value of faith, memorizing Scripture helps lift the fear of “I won’t know what to say,” DeLap continues.

“When they start putting the Word in their lives, they start getting a confidence that they will have something to say,” he says. “Whether consciously or unconsciously, they begin to be free to share their witness for the Lord.” They are increasingly sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s activity “to help people see the way to get into the Kingdom of God through the grace of God — by seeing their sinfulness, turning to Jesus for forgiveness and inviting Him to dwell in your life now and forever….

“You can hear the Word, you can read the Word and you can study the Word, and these are good,” DeLap says, “but memorizing it is an added blessing and dimension that you don’t get from the other ways of putting the Word of God in your life.”

The Word “challenges your life, it corrects your life,” DeLap says. Memorizing verses about God’s call to love, for example, can help a person become kinder, more interested in others’ well-being and more merciful, he says.

“It sets you free. Free to what? Free to love. Free to care…. In John 8:31-32, Jesus says, ‘If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’

“Many people never get to the point of being free in their Christian life,” DeLap says. “They’re still bound by things that they’ve learned or picked up along the way. They never let the Word of God give them freedom….

“When the Word of God comes into your life, something has got to give. Either it causes you to go on and walk with God like you’ve never done before or you quit memorizing and your life goes downhill again.”

DeLap has sought God’s blessing particularly in his home. His wife Beverly embraced his passion and he regularly met with their four children to guide them in committing a range of Bible verses to memory as they grew up. A number of his grandchildren also have grown up memorizing Scripture.

DeLap quotes the words of Jeremiah 32:39: “I will give them one heart and one way that they may reverence me forever for their own good and for the good of their children after them.” “I’ve seen that work now,” he says. “That’s what we left in our kids’ lives and now they’ve left it in their kids’ lives.”
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. Queries for further information about Rollin DeLap’s Scripture memory plan, “Memorize to Evangelize,” can be sent to him at [email protected] or 509 Downy Meade Drive, Franklin, TN 37064.