As a kid growing up in church, I remember being warned about meditation. Meditation was a weird and scary habit, something practiced by Hollywood actors who sat in a lotus position while reciting ancient Hindu mantras. Perhaps because of the fear that meditation is too closely connected to Eastern religion, I’ve rarely heard of a pastor encouraging his congregation to meditate.
The Bible does encourage God’s people to meditate on His Word, though.
When I was in college, one of my roommates had very long quiet times every day. He would pray and read his Bible for at least an hour every day, if not longer. Sometimes I started my quiet times exactly when he did, but I always finished mine much sooner. I would read several chapters of the Bible and then pray for everything I could think of. If somebody in my Bible study had asked me to pray for their sick poodle, I prayed for it. But for some reason, I always found myself running out of things to say long before my roommate did. I’d look over at him and wonder what was taking him so long. Did he talk slower than I did? Or was he genuinely a better Christian than me?
Every Sunday morning before I stand up to preach, I take my seat on the left side of our church’s auditorium. From where I sit, I have a fairly good view of the people in the congregation. While I know that I ought to concentrate on singing, I sometimes find myself watching the people around me during our worship time. (Don’t judge me! You’ve probably done it too!) Although some people don’t sing at all, other people sing enthusiastically. They keep their eyes focused on the worship leader or the lyrics, and they even raise their hands or close their eyes.
Sometimes, when I see a person singing praise songs with that sort of abandon, I think, “Wow, that person must really be feeling the goodness of God right now. She’s responding to a feeling that God has been good to her, so she’s singing wholeheartedly.” And quite often that’s true: sometimes we sing because we are in a joyful frame of mind, and we respond accordingly.
Most Christians believe that prayer is important. If you’re like me, though, you sometimes wonder exactly what to pray for. There are so many problems and needs in our lives and in the world that we can easily grow overwhelmed. When I feel that way, I find it helpful to look at what the Scripture says about what types of things we should pray about.
When I was young, the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 confused me. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. How exactly can a person do that? After all, I have things to do! Am I supposed to simply stay in my closet all day and pray, neglecting my family, my job, and my friends?
When you lie down in your bed at night, or when you awake in the morning and your house is quiet and still, what voices do you hear? What are the thoughts that fill your mind when your gadgets and books aren’t there to distract you? Perhaps you hear words like these:
“I’ve made a mess of everything.”
“My best years are behind me.”
“God could not possibly love someone like me.”
Maybe you repeat those words to yourself, over and over again, until they seem like indisputable facts. You find yourself caught in a loop, one that causes you to question God’s goodness and love for you. Not long ago, I heard a quote from the well-known 20th Century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Here’s what he had to say about those words of condemnation that we heap upon ourselves in those moments of quiet reflection:
I was hesitant to listen to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” The new podcast by Christianity Today examines how one of the largest and most influential churches in the country fell apart, seemingly overnight. I’m not too keen on celebrity gossip (even “Christian” celebrity gossip), and I especially hate the sort of schadenfreude that often characterizes these types of journalistic investigations. But a friend’s recommendation encouraged me to listen. And it turns there’s a lot there that’s really worth considering, both for church leaders and for congregants. It isn’t only a story about the flaws of one church or its pastor; the podcast also raises some great questions about how we approach “church” as American evangelicals.
Perhaps most significantly, the show explores some of the dangers we face when there’s a large gap between a leader’s charisma and his character. How can churches avoid platforming people who are especially talented, but who lack integrity? What sort of accountability structures do we need to prevent this sort of catastrophe from repeating itself again and again? These questions are especially relevant in 2021, as Mars Hill isn’t the only well-known church or Christian organization to suffer devastation because of the flaws of its leadership.
As important as those questions of leadership integrity are, there might be a more basic set of questions we need to ask. (And perhaps the podcast intends to ask these questions in later episodes, to give them the benefit of the doubt). For starters, is bigger really better when it comes to the effectiveness of a church? Is building a global media platform a better way to fulfill the Great Commission than building local communities of faithful disciples who make faithful disciples?
Scripture memory is an important discipline for everybody who wants to know God better. God’s Word equips us for righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11), and allows us to graciously and truthfully tell people about Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). If we really believe in the power of the Scripture, then we will try to write it on our hearts and our minds. Since we won’t always have a Bible with us in moments of temptation or spiritual opportunity, it helps to have a variety of passages memorized. That way we always carry them with us, wherever we are.
However, people often tell me that they just can’t memorize Scripture. They’re convinced that they are deficient in some way, simply unable to store Bible verses in their long-term memory. While that might actually be true for a tiny minority of people, the vast majority of people are capable of Scripture memory. We just need lots of practice, and a good process to follow. You can do this!
With that in mind, let me offer a basic step-by-step process that has helped me in my endeavor to memorize Bible verses. You might need to add to this, and certain steps might be more helpful for you than others, but this is a place to start:
A Solid Frame: 8 Things Fathers Should Tell Their Children
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This Sunday will be the first Father’s Day since my dad passed away. As the day approaches, I find myself facing fresh grief, but also feeling fresh gratitude. I wish I’d had more time with him, but I’m also aware that not everyone gets a dad like mine. He was imperfect, but he was good. When we’re young we tend to zero in on our parent’s flaws, because we think we don’t have that many of our own. Eventually we come to see just how difficult this parenting thing really is. It exposes us all for the selfish and sinful people we are.
But what I remember most often now is how much my dad loved us and how hard he tried. And being in the “dad trenches” myself, I find myself leaning on his example. Much of what I learned from him he never said out loud, and I think that’s how good dads often operate. When it comes to parenting, often more is caught than is taught, as the old expression goes.
When I think of the task of parenting, I often think of it like building the frame for a house. Each saying, each principle, every aspect of our example, is like a nail that helps hold the pieces of the frame together. We can either build a structure that is sloppy, ugly, and rough, or we can fashion a frame that is carefully crafted and beautifully designed, a structure on which our kids can build a life pleasing to the Lord.
Last Sunday I preached on the David and Bathsheba story from 2 Samuel 11-12, an incident that easily ranks as the darkest moment of David’s life and reign. It’s stunning how quickly David’s life takes a terrible turn, from success to devastation seemingly overnight. Complacency leads to lust, which rapidly leads to abuse, adultery, deceit, and murder.
As I prepared my sermon, it occurred to me that this story is often misunderstood in some troubling and – I think – dangerous ways. Quite often our faulty interpretations of a Bible story tell us more about ourselves than anything else, and I think that’s especially true with the sad tale of David and Bathsheba.