For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Meditation on Meditation

One of Baptists’ major downfalls in recent generations is the overly reactionary nature of our faith and practice. We often define ourselves by what we are not, what we don’t believe, rather than by who we are and what we do believe. The end result is that we often miss out on many truths and experiences that would be to our benefit.

For example, our aversion to anything Catholic, or even Catholic-sounding, has led us to do away with the concept of catechisms. This is spite of the fact that there are several Baptist Catechisms in our history, most notably Keach’s Catechism and the Baptist Catechism published by the Charleston Association in 1813. Renowned Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon also produced a “Puritan Catechism with Proofs” in 1855. The Southern Baptist Convention actually voted to commission Baptist preacher/theologian J. L. Dagg to produce a catechism in 1879, and Southern Seminary founder/president James Boyce did write a Baptist catechism. In spite of all this, Baptists today largely have discarded this useful teaching tool.

Other concepts have been ignored or discarded because they have been appropriated by other religions all together. One such idea is the concept of meditation. Eastern mysticism and News Age philosophy has corrupted most folks’ understanding of what it means to meditate. When we hear the word, many think of shaven-headed devotees in robes sitting in the Lotus position, eyes closed, and chanting and humming. Obviously, our folks want nothing to do with such a practice.

However, the idea of meditating, especially meditating on the Word of God is very much a biblical concept. In Genesis 24, Isaac’s first meeting with Rebekah came while he had gone “out into the field one evening to meditate.” (Gen. 24:63 NIV) Joshua begins his leadership of Israel with a call to meditate on God’s Word: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. (Josh 1:8 NIV)

The Psalms are filled with admonitions to meditate. We are told to meditate on God’s unfailing love (48:9) and to meditate on God’s works (77:12; 143:5; 144:5). But most of all, the call is to meditate on God’s Word. In the beautiful song of devotion to God’s Word in Psalm 119, we are told on eight different occasions to mediate on His precepts and commands. Psalm 104:34 even asks that our meditation be pleasing to the Lord.

The key is in understanding the difference between this biblical concept of meditation and the corruption of that concept by others. Meditation simply involves going to the Word of God, spending quality time searching it out, and applying it to our own hearts and lives. Here are several practical helps in meditating on the Word of God that I’ve found useful.

I. First, we need to be alone with the text. Isaac had gone out in the field to meditate. Jesus removed Himself from public to pray and seek God. The idea is to get alone, to get away from distractions, to put yourself in a place where you can genuinely hear from God as you go to His Word.

This isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Some folks have a hard time finding time and place where we are completely alone. As a father with four children, I can sympathize. Yet we need to make the effort; find that time when you can at least go into the other room. Tune out all the other affairs of the day. Get alone with God.

II. Second, we simply need to meditate on the text. I know it may sound redundant to say that the way to meditate on God’s Word is to meditate on God’s Word, but follow along with me for a minute.

The word “meditate” simply means to consider, or to contemplate. In Psalm 48:9, the NIV says “we meditate on your unfailing love.” Other translations simply use the word “thought;” we thought on your love. We contemplated it. In Psalm 119 the word translated “meditate” is a word which simply means to ponder, to muse. Sometimes it is translated by some as “talk.” Talk it out. Work through it. Meditate on it. Ponder it. One word rendered “meditate” in Psalm 77:12 even has the idea of roaring and growling. It seems we are to deal with a text in a passionate, vigorous, concentrated way.

III. Third, meditation on God’s Word is helped along by memorizing verses; committing God’s Word to memory. One of the first verses our children learned was Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” This verse then becomes the driving force in understanding the need to memorize other verses.

Meditating on God’s Word means that we take time with the text. Go over it again and again. In order to commit it to memory, we need to read it in context so that we have a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. Then apply that text to our lives and review it again and again and again. To be in our heart requires meditation on God’s Word, memorizing.

IV. Let me offer one final suggestion for meditating on God’s Word: Sing it. This is why I began by suggesting that you should make every effort to be alone!

Songs are an important part of God’s Word. Obviously we know the Psalms were intended to be sung, but there are other songs as well. Moses and his sister Miriam sing songs of praise for deliverance in Exodus 15, and Moses then teaches the people a remembrance song in Deuteronomy 31. Deborah offers her song in Judges 5. We see David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1 and his song of praise in chapter 22 (which parallels Psalm 18). And Luke records for us the songs of Mary and Zechariah and Simeon.

God’s people have always been a singing people. So much so that when Jehoshaphat went to war against Ammon and Moab, the singers went out at the head of the army, praising and glorifying God (2 Chronicles 20:21). Over and over in Scripture we are admonished to lift our voices in praise. Worship and singing and the Word of God all go hand in hand.

Not only is this an aid in worship and meditation, but in memorizing as well. I can remember when our oldest daughter LoriAnn was only about 4 or 5, she made up a little song to go with the last part of Nehemiah 9:5. To this day, our family remembers that verse, and that song!

Get alone with God and His Word; contemplate His great truths; break down and memorize the Word; and lift your voice in praise to the One who is worthy of your praise. Hopefully these simple helps will aid in reclaiming meditation as a part of our Christian walk on a regular basis. And “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14 NIV)

(NOTE: For more information of good, godly Christian meditation, I highly recommend any books by Dr. Don Whitney; Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, etc.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are We Really That Dumb?

All day long I’ve been listening to people talk about what a wonderful speech the President gave last night. I admit, I didn’t watch most of it, but did read the transcript of it (which can be found here). There is no denying that this President has a way about him, and is able to deliver a good speech (as long as the teleprompters are working!).

Here’s my problem. Are we really so dumb that we let our opinions be swayed simply by some nice sounding words? Remember that just a few months ago we had a radical rejection of this administration’s policies through the November elections. Just a month ago, the President’s approval ratings were bottoming out. Now, the numbers are better than 50%. What changed? A speech. Two speeches, actually.

First, it was the speech delivered by the President after the tragedy in Tucson. Hurting from the big political losses, the President used that event to offer a “reconciliatory” kind of message; let’s work together kind of stuff. It was more a political opportunity than any genuine desire for teamwork. But people ate it up.

Then, last night’s State of the Union address was full of the same sort of thing. And again, people are eating it up. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to get along, work together, etc. But let me ask you something: Do you really believe that the man who is without argument the most liberal leader we’ve ever had has gone through some radical transformation? Do you really think that his policies are any different now than when he took office two years ago? Just because he made a nice sounding speech, do you really expect his overall goals have changed? You remember, the goals just two months ago the country was ready to toss out on their ear?

Do we really believe that the President has changed his mind about his socialist agenda, bigger government, etc? Go back and read the speech again. While he does say we need to promote small business, etc., he goes on to say that it’s government’s job to create the right climate for that? Interpretation: more big government, which means more spending, which means more, more, more of the kinds of things we just rejected in November.

This administration is still the most anti-life ever. Remember, this is the man who defended the slaughter of innocent children in the womb because he didn’t want his daughter “punished” with a child. This same President who, just days after the information came out about the sick and twisted practices of a Pennsylvania abortion doctor, came out to reaffirm his support of abortion. None of this has changed.

His speech reaffirms the administration support of homosexuality as he discussed the famous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Which by the way, did you see the reaction from military men in the room? Not exactly a warm response. And these are the men entrusted with leading that military.

Do we really believe that there are suddenly more jobs now because of these two fine speeches? Of course not. Nothing has changed. The economy is the same. The state of the nation is the same. Our debt load is still completely out of control. And this administration’s plans to continue down the same path are the same.

Speeches are wonderful things. They can motivate and energize, and that’s a good thing. But folks, wake up. Fine sounding words don’t change reality. This is the political version of the “name it, claim it” theology. If I make a speech saying all is well, then it’s all well, right? Sorry. Doesn’t work in the church, and it doesn’t work in the capital.

If you were opposed to the course of the nation two months ago, you should still be concerned. Nothing has changed. Our nation is still in perilous times. So what’s the answer?

Well, big picture, the only true answer is in Jesus. Only a genuine revival in this land will do any lasting good. The answer ultimately isn’t about politics, but about the redemption of souls.

But in the meantime, we are called to be good citizens. And as good citizens we need to be discerning about the things we hear. Actions still do speak louder than words. Until policy genuinely changes, all the fine speeches in the world mean nothing. So stay involved, continue urging your Senators and Representatives to act responsibly, to faithfully adhere to the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, to think more of the people they represent than the political machine they are a part of (I know, I’m asking for a lot). This is not over. Surely we know one or two speeches don’t change reality. We’re really not that dumb….are we?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Excerpts from "Surprised By Grace"

I just finished reading Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian (full name William Graham Tullian Tchividjian; that’s right, he’s Billy’s grandson). In short, it’s a detailed exploration of the prophet Jonah, yet showing how this story is really the Gospel story. I must say, that in the last year or so, this is one my favorite books. (It came out almost a year ago. I’m behind on my reading!)

The lessons here are not just about Jonah, though I learned a few things there even. It covers a wide variety of things; most notably the nature of the gospel, the nature of sin, the pursuing nature of grace, even the nature of worship.

I hope I don’t break any copyright laws, but I just wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes. I hope this will encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and read it for yourself. I think it’s well worth your time. (No, I don’t work for the Crossway Books sales department). Enjoy:

Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.

Every time we sin, we’re telling God, “My way of navigating this particular situation is better than yours. My wisdom and skill are more efficient and more effective in this moment than your wisdom and skill.” It’s not that we stop believing. It’s just that what we believe has shifted…When we sin, that something which we choose to believe in is not no God, but ourselves as god.

Running from God keeps you from “breathing” and living the life he intends you to live. You thereby rob other people of the blessing God intends to give them through you, because you’re less than you’re meant to be—

(speaking of Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven”) Thompson fled, but God, hounding him from heaven, gave “long pursuit” with “strong Feet that followed, followed after,” and with “a Voice above their beat.” God’s love has a mugging nature to it. We can run, but we can’t hide.

The incarnation of Christ tells us most emphatically how God spares nothing in going after those who run away.

Jesus is the storm. Jesus is God’s gracious intervention for those who are enslaved to themselves. He comes loudly, not subtly, with an aggressive affection to pursue fugitives like you and me.

God is more interested in the worker than he is in the work the worker does. He’s more interested in you than in what you can accomplish…one expression of God’s amazing grace is that he pursues our rescue even though we cannot do one thing for him.

Churches for years have struggled over whether their worship services ought to be geared toward Christians (to encourage and strengthen them) or non-Christians (to appeal to and win them). But this debate and the struggle over it are misguided. We’re asking the wrong questions and making the wrong assumptions. The truth is that our worship services should be geared to sinners in need of God’s rescue—and that includes both Christians and non-Christians. Since both groups need his deliverance, both need his gospel.

In unforgettable events and imagery, the story of Jonah reveals how this perfectly patient God pursues fugitives—a God who has every right to give up on rebels like us and to move on, but doesn’t. It’s a story that reveals forever the heart of God for sinners from every race, every age, and every social class.

Again, I hope this isn’t any copyright infringement or anything. This is a wonderful book, and I would strongly encourage you to pick it up. God’s grace is truly a surprising thing, in more ways than one. We should never grow weary of hearing of it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What the World Sees in Us

The circus finally came to town; well, almost. For years we’ve been hearing about Fred Phelps and the folks from what is unfortunately called Westboro “Baptist Church.” Those who know anything about this man and his followers know that they certainly don’t represent the majority of Baptists, or even Churches for that matter. While many in the Church will agree with their condemnation of homosexuality, their hate-filled actions bring embarrassment to the cause of Christ on so many levels.

Yesterday, they were scheduled to be in a nearby town to “protest” at the funeral of a brave soldier who gave his life in service to his country. I never have understood how terrifying and demeaning a grieving family can help promote the cause of Christ, but this is their chosen means of getting their “message” out. Fortunately, word got out and a multitude of folks from the area came together to protest the protest; simply standing in honor of the soldier and “blocking” the family from those who would make this difficult day even harder. Eventually, I understand that no one from the Phelps group showed.

Still, the whole thing has started a conversation about this group and folks like them (which I’m sure is part of their plan). My first response has always been, “I wish they’d change their name.” As a Christian and a Baptist, it bothers me that people will take those names and drag them though the dirt like this. I want to stand up and shout: “These people do not represent me!”

Of course, the mainstream media, in spite of their drive to be “fair” and “unbiased” has never done anything to explain in their coverage of this group that they are a fringe group and in no way represent Baptists or Christians as a whole. And so we are left with the image in the mind of many in the world that these folks are what Christianity is all about. Like our job isn’t hard enough already.

However, the more I thought about it, the more this thought came to mind. As distasteful as groups like this are, are we so confident in the lives we live each and every day that we would hold ourselves up as the representation of Christ and His Church? I know we like to play the comparative game; well hey, we’re a lot better than those folks. But is that what Christ really demands of His people, just to be better than the next guy? Or is the standard a bit higher than that?

We are called to be a holy people. Holiness is the standard. Thomas Brooks wrote in his wonderful exposition of holiness called The Crown of Christianity that, "It is not armies, nor navies, nor walled cities, nor fortified castles, nor golden mines, nor solemn counsels which will secure a nation, if once the people of God's holiness be cast by as broken pitchers. It is their piety and prayers which keeps off sweeping judgments from a nation, and that brings down variety of mercies upon a nation." It is our holiness that the world needs.

I know that we are not now, nor will we ever be this side of eternity, perfect people. I know that we are sinners saved by grace, who struggle daily with the “old man,” the flesh. But is that an excuse? When we take on the name “Christian,” we take on an identity in this world as Christ’s ambassadors, and we are called to live in such a way that is worthy of that calling.

So, is that what the world sees in us? Do they see it in our lives, in our churches? Are we the kind of ambassadors for Christ that we were called to be, or are their times when Jesus looks at us and says: “I wish they’d change their name. These people do not represent me.” It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Homeschooler Moment #2

For the last few weeks they've been running this commercial with a series of kids jumping up and down with joy in slow motion, and at the end a caption comes on saying "Snow Day!" It's an ad for that channel's news with their school closing report.

So as this last winter storm was approaching, our kids are sitting in front of the TV watching the news and especially watching the list of school closings scroll across the bottom. As our city gets close, they begin a countdown, and when our schools are officially closed, they fist pump and whoop imitating the kids on the commercial.

I just looked at them in confusion and said, "Uh, guys, you're homeschooled. What's the big deal?" My son says, "I know, it's just fun. And besides, this means there will be enough snow to actually play in."

I guess homeschoolers like snow days, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Touched By God

Sometimes I don’t think we know what we’re asking for. People say they want a real encounter with God, to be “touched by God,” but I’m not sure they’re always ready for what that truly means. We want to be “blessed” by God, but again, do your realize what that may entail?

Jacob asked for a blessing from God, and he got it didn’t he. His “wrestling with God” in Genesis 32 would lead to great blessing, but that blessing literally marked him for the rest of his life. He wanted to know God more, to understand Him better; and just as a side note, Jacob knew this was God he was wrestling with because in verse 30 he says “he saw God face to face…” He wanted to know God and that knowledge affected him permanently. Verse 31 tells us that this little episode left Jacob, now called Israel, with a limp.

A few years ago I preached on that passage, and I really wanted to entitle the message: “If you want to be touched by God, you’d better be prepared to limp.” But I thought that was a little verbose, and it would be hard to fit it all in the bulletin. But that’s the basic truth, isn’t it? Being touched by God marks us for life. It changes us. It changes our walk through this life very literally.

I know it’s not my job to judge people in there relationship with Christ, but the church is called upon to examine the fruit in one another’s life. And if someone comes to me and claims to be a Christian, claims to have been touched by God and a follower of Christ, and yet there is no visible sign of it in their life…I believe I am justified in doubting their testimony.

It may be the greatest condemnation against the church that our rolls are filled with names of people who claim to know Christ and yet show no evidence of a changed life. At one time or another they came to church seeking to be blessed, to be touched by God, but apparently they were only seeking it for worldly reasons. Because after a time, they simply turned their back on the church altogether. (Maybe a Parable of Soils application here as well?)

And yet so many churches have stood by and said nothing; done nothing to verify that these folks even have a genuine relationship with Christ. They simply carry their names on the rolls and claim them as members each year when they turn in the annual church profile. And the worst part is that no one even seems to care. Folks are not bothered by it at all.

John MacArthur writes of the words of an engraving from the cathedral of Lubeck, Germany. It says this: “Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us,
“You call Me master and obey me not, You call Me light and see Me not,
“You call Me the way and walk Me not, You call Me the life and live Me not,
“You call Me wise and follow Me not, You call Me fair and love Me not,
“You call Me rich and ask Me not, You call Me eternal and see me not,
“If I condemn thee, blame Me not.”

Those words should both wound us and challenge us. To be touched by God leaves an eternal imprint on our lives. To be touched by God changes the way we walk. It changes the way we talk; the way we think; the way we do business; the way we deal with our families; the way we handle our relationships; it changes everything about us. Not that we become perfect overnight. We can read the rest of Jacob’s story and see that he still has some faults. He still falls short of the mark from time to time. But anytime he doubted who he was or what his relationship with his God was, all he had to do was get up and walk across the floor. God’s touch leaves a lasting imprint.

So ask yourself: do you really want to be touched by God today? And if you claim you have been touched, can people see your limp?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Here’s a “Flame” To Warm Up Your New Year

I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Christian music. For some, the Christian element doesn’t excite them. For others, the rock music just doesn’t seem compatible with Christian faith, etc.

As I’ve said before, I’m one of those rather unique individuals in that I’m highly conservative and reformed in my doctrine and collect antique hymnals as part of my passion for church music. And yet at the same time I love Christian rock bands like Skillet, Newsboys, Decyfer Down, etc., etc. as well as an eclectic collection of other stuff.

On top of it all, I’ve developed a real taste for the rap/hip-hop of guys like Flame, Shai Linne, Json, and Lecrae. Actually, it was the sound lyrics that drew me in. As I’ve said before, there is more sound theology on a Flame CD than in many pulpits these days. (I’ve written about this before; you can go here or here if you are really that bored and need something to do.)

Anyway, all this is simply to say that I am absolutely loving the latest Flame CD, Captured. The whole concept is based on the idea that we are born into this life “captured” by sin and need to be captured again by the grace of God. Wonderful truth; great concept; lots of fun “raps and hooks.”

I know this isn’t for everyone. My own kids don’t even enjoy it as much as I do. I’ve just been very impressed with this young man’s passion for God, his commitment to sound doctrine, etc. Anyone who even can remotely tolerate this style of music will find a great blessing here (as well as in his previous releases).

Here’s a “promo” recorded for the release of the new CD, just in case you’re interested. End of commercial. (Think I can get any advertising dollars for this?)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Homeschooler Moment

The heading of this blog says that it is to be “random thoughts from a grace saved sinner, small church pastor and homeschool dad.” With the exception of an occasional article about the politics of homeschooling, I haven’t really posted much from the “dad” standpoint.

New Year’s resolution: I will from time to time post short, fun glimpses from our homeschool life. Here’s the first.

On Saturday we had to get up fairly early to take our oldest back to college. The youngest was not excited. He insisted he wanted to stay up the night before to watch the “ball fall” at midnight, so getting up early was not on his little six year old agenda.

So I’m standing there trying to get him to wake up enough to put his clothes on so we can get in the car and leave. He’s not being very helpful and finally says, “Is this Sunday?” I said, “No, hon, it’s Saturday.” He then says, “Then why do we have to get dressed?”

Ahh, the joys of homeschooling.

(Note from my wife: Please tell people that we don’t really let the kids go all week in their PJs!)