Getting into Narnia

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“No,” he said, “I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route… Eh? What’s that? Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again some day. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.” -The Professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

You must strike a difficult balance in your devotion to God. Psalm 1 tells us to meditate upon God’s Word day and night. In other words, the devotional life depends upon a routine method of experiencing God: meditation. On the other hand we know that our encounters with God never happen exactly alike.

One evening I meditate and the Spirit speaks. The next morning my heart is cold, cracked, and callused. Almost nothing has happened. I’ve only slept. How could I sense God’s love so deeply and 9 hours later feel a million miles from him?

One Sunday the prayers and songs of the church break my heart and drown my sin in grace. Next week I worship, but there’s a height or depth my heart isn’t reaching as it did before; or the effort required seems to have doubled.

You never get into Narnia the same way twice. When the Spirit of God gives you a moment of piercing clarity and assurance just be in the moment. Don’t try to remember how you got to that moment. Don’t try and replicate the moment later. It won’t work. Do your daily meditation as the Scripture commands and wait. Gather with the church to sing, pray, and wait. God’s presence, the high assurance, only comes by his grace, not our effort.

Recommended Resource: Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

51fBcQ3mCGL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Yesterday I finished reading Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson (the same pastor who gave us The Message). Just as Tim Keller’s book will be my go-to resource for Christians who want to learn to pray, I highly recommend this book for those wanting to learn to read the Bible for spiritual nourishment.

The title comes from the passage in Revelation when the Apostle John is commanded to eat the scroll which contained God’s Word. As he devoured the Word it was sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach. Peterson’s hope was that Christians wouldn’t just read the Word of God, he wanted us to would devour it, taste it’s utter sweetness as well as feel the bitterness of conviction it can bring.

Peterson spent part one of the book explaining what kind of book the Bible is, and how we should approach it. Part two is a method for reading the Bible spiritually (lectio divina), and the end of the book includes Peterson’s commented on textual transmission, translation and his work on The Message.

This book will lead you to a higher observation of God’s Word than you’ve known before, and it will push you headlong as a participant in the world of that Word. Here’s a link to purchase it along with some quotes to mull over:

Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. pbk. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Pub Co., 2009, ©2006.

  • Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.
  • An interest in souls divorced from and interest in Scripture leaves us without a text that shapes these souls. In the same way, an interest in Scripture divorced from an interest in souls leaves us without any material for the text to work on.
  • This may be the single most important thing to know as we come to read and study and believe these Holy Scriptures: this rich, alive, personally revealing God as experienced in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, personally addressing us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, at whatever age we are, in whatever state we are- me, you us. Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.
  • It takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible.
  • Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a “message” or a “meaning,” and then run off and talk endlessly with their friends about how they feel.
  • Contemplation means living what we read, not wasting any of it or hoarding any of it, but using it up in living.

 

Sensing the Scriptures

I’ve had an ongoing conversation with a handful of church members about meditation on the Scriptures. We’ve been talking about how we practice meditation, what it is, and how we can increase in the blessing it brings to us. We all agree, as do many Christians throughout history, that meditation moves from merely reasoning the words of Scriptures towards sensing the words.

Just as we have 5 physical senses, taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing that we use to live in and experience the world around us, inwardly our imaginations possess those same qualities.

  • If I asked you to think about your mother’s voice you can hear it. She doesn’t have to be in the room with you, but you hear her speaking. Her voices lives inside you.
  • Remember, when as a kid, you walked barefoot outside in the height of Summer? You’re running down the line of woods near house and the sweetness of honeysuckle washes over you. Following your nose, you locate the vine overflowing with white and butter-yellow blossoms. Carefully pulling the stem, that one drop of nectar hits your taste buds.

In meditation we imaginatively use our senses, much like we do in remembering, in order to contact with and hear the text.

In Bible study we de-contextualize and isolate texts. We dissect words, relationships, structure, and meaning. We stand over and above the text as interpreter. We bring our questions to the Bible ask it to answer us. We reason with the text. Our rational capacities engage, and the result is knowledge and understanding.

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In meditation we see, taste, touch, smell, and listen to Scripture. We sense it. The Word becomes our guide as we sit under and beneath it. We don’t ask it questions, as much as it addresses us and calls us to answer. We sense the text. We descend with the mind, down into the heart. We laugh, smile, cry, gasp, and wonder. Truth becomes light. Law becomes pain. Grace issues forth into song.

Jonathan Edwards left us an example of what it means to sense the Scriptures:

I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the banks of Hudson’s River, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things and secret converse with God: and had many sweet hours there. I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.

He’s reading the Bible, but he’s being touched, and handled. Looking at words on a page he senses his interior person pulsing with harmonic vibration in response to the Word. The words taste sweet, yet in them he also submits to a superior strength pressing against him. Every sentence deserves the attention to detail given to a mouthful of wine, wonders beyond wonders available to the patient and perceptive. Meditation is participation in the living world of the text.

How to Meditate: Luther’s Garland Prayer

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5 centuries ago Martin Luther’s barber asked him how to pray. Luther responded with a 40 page letter entitled A Simple Way to Pray that has been read and practiced by Christians ever since. Last night I shared one of Luther’s methods for meditating on God’s word with our church. It’s called garland prayer.

As a garland is made by intertwining multiple strands of greenery, Luther teaches us to weave a 4 strand prayer. Here’s a simplified, and somewhat modified, outline of Luther’s method:

1. Find a Quiet Regular Place for Morning and Evening Prayer

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room,

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

2. Begin with a Prayer of Acknowledgement

… kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can:

O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all Your saints and Christians on earth as He has taught us

I’ll typically begin my time of reading and meditation by echoing this prayer. I am usually sitting and I open my hands. There’s nothing super spiritual about opening my palms to God. It’s just a cue to my heart that I am opening myself up to receive from God whatever he chooses to give me.

3. Read Slowly

as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.

This is where meditation begins. You must read slowly, word for word. And do not just read. Taste. See. Hear. Meditation is sensing with the mind. Theophan the Recluse defined prayer and meditation like this, “To meditate is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.” George Muller encouraged us to not let our Bible reading become like water flowing through a pipe.

4. Practice Garland Prayer

I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Luther applies the garland concept specifically to the Ten Commandments, but it can be applied to any passage. When you read the passage ask two simple questions to find the instruction:

  • What does this teach me about God/Christ?
  • What does this say about who I am or who I should be?

Here’s an example of taking a short passage and practicing the garland method:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Instruction: Our Father. Jesus doesn’t say, “My Father.” He says, “Our.” Now what does that mean? It means that we aren’t just saved as individuals. We’re saved into a family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God, that you’ve given me a family. I don’t have to be alone in this world because of what you’ve done!

Confession: Forgive me God, some of my brothers and sisters irritate me. I don’t like being around them, and I certainly don’t feel like loving them in your name. Jesus died for me just as much as them. Forgive me.

Supplication: Make me more aware and thankful for my family in you. Change my heart towards that family member I can’t stand. Give me an opportunity to serve them in love

5. When Your Heart Begins to Flood with Goodness, Stop. Do Not Move On.

If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one word of His sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.

6. Proceed with Vocal Prayer

Having devoted yourself to meditating on God’s Word, then move on to normal, vocal prayer. Pray through your requests.

When you practice this method your Bible reading will cease being like water running through a pipe.

 

20 Questions to Gauge Your Bible Reading

It’s the middle of January. How’s your Bible reading going? How can you know how it’s going. These certainly aren’t the only questions you’d want to ask to gauge your Bible reading. There’s a host interpretive questions I’ll post later. For now, ask some penetrating questions about your Bible reading, and share some thoughts in the comments.

  1. Do I believe the Bible is primarily about me or Jesus?photo-1450101215322-bf5cd27642fc
  2. Do I primarily read the Bible to find something to try harder at today?
  3. Do I primarily read the Bible to understand my life?
  4. Do I primarily read the Bible to know God?
  5. Do I primarily read the Bible to be closer to God?
  6. Do I read the Bible in order to feel better about myself?
  7. Do I read the Bible in order to feel guilt over my sin?
  8. Does my Bible study result in guilt, shame, and condemnation?
  9. Do I feel like a failure when I read the Bible?
  10. Does my Bible study result in a sense of accomplishment, pride, and condescension to others?
  11. Do I feel assured in my obedience to God’s commands when I read the Bible?
  12. Does my Bible study result in confidence before God because of the finished work of Jesus?
  13. Does my Bible study result in action that stems from fear or pride?
  14. Does my Bible study result in action that wells up from a heart of love for God?
  15. When I study my Bible do I equally sense God’s hatred of my sin and God’s mercy towards me?
  16. When I read my Bible do I feel more like a hopeless case, a self-assured worker, or a chosen son/daughter?
  17. Am I reading the Bible in order to say I’ve read the Bible?
  18. Is my Bible reading generally refreshing or dry?
  19. Am I working to see Jesus on every page?
  20. Does reading my Bible cause me to lift my heart to Jesus on the spot?

Worship Away From Church: An Encouragement to Members and Pastors

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We live in a week to week world, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. My guess is that the spiritual EKG of the average church member spikes once every 7 days. We receive a boost of spiritual life through meeting with the body of Christ only to descend from Monday onward. How can you as a church member become a better worshiper in between worship services, and how can pastors help you?

Church Members:

Attend weekend worship with a different attitude. This coming Sunday, worship with an eye towards how to worship. Here’s what I mean in a few bullet points:

  • Consider the structure of the service as a model for your own private worship. Most likely the service begins with a call to worship, a time to recognize God’s reality and to focus the congregation on him above all else. You then move through prayers and songs designed to prepare you to receive the Word of God, penetrate your heart, and lift you to Christ. God’s Word is preached and you are called to repent and trust in Jesus. Prayer at the end of the service confesses sin and asks God for strength and grace to persevere. Use that structure as a model for worshiping alone.
  • Model the prayers you hear at church. In your personal worship you should pray prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, confession just like the ones prayed in church. Pay attention to them. Model them.
  • Listen to the sermon to become a better Bible student. The sermon shouldn’t just teach you what the passage says, it should also help you become a better student of the word. Your pastor isn’t just teaching you what to think, but how to think about and understand God’s Word.
  • Engage in daily fellowship. Hopefully you don’t rush in and out of your church’s worship services. Linger a while, make relationships, then carry those relationships into the week. Meeting together is a spiritual discipline. Don’t go 7 days without being in the life of a Christian brother or sister.

Pastors:

I pastor at a church whose worship services exhibit a high level of planning, training, practice, thought, prayer, and execution. We have highly skilled instrumentalists and singers on stage, screens with beautiful graphics designed to direct our minds towards God, and sermons that have undergone hours of study and contemplation.

My fear is twofold:

1. Due to the complexity and professional nature of our services the average church member cannot replicate elements of our corporate worship into private worship.

2. Because every piece of worship has been taken out of their hands and given to the professionals they likely do not know that our corporate worship should instruct their private worship.

Let’s design worship services as if our church member’s private worship depended on them as their only source of instruction. Here’s what I mean in a few bullet points:

  • Take time to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tell them that X, Y, or Z element in the service is there for their benefit. We’re currently in a series on prayer and we’re beginning our worship services by calling church members to come forward and bow and pray. We’re doing that in our service because we want them to learn to do it at home, or in the quiet of their office at work.
  • Pray prayers that you would want your church members to pray. Is your church failing to adore Christ? Lead in prayers of adoration. Does confession of sin need to happen more readily and easily? Lead in prayers confessing specific sins and thanking God for his provision of grace in Christ.
  • Craft sermons that make better Bible students. Your goal isn’t to perform theological and hermeneutical stunts before the eyes of your fans. Is how you preach on Sunday helping your church study the Bible for themselves on Monday?
  • Intentionally leave room for fellowship. We recently remodeled our front lobby. It’s gorgeous, and we always have coffee and places for our church members to sit and build friendships. Unfortunately, we’ve found that most people fly right through on their way to the auditorium. We’re going to start keeping the doors to the worship room closed up until a few minutes before services. We are trying to use the resources we have to create a space for relationships to develop.

This coming week attend with a different attitude. View the worship service with eyes that want to be instructed in private worship. Create worship services with an eye towards instructing you church on becoming better worshipers away from church. Christ will be honored.

Caught Up in Glory: Pascal and Ignatius of Loyola

Christians, by definition, know the love of Christ. Yet, Paul’s prayer for all Christians (Ephesians 3.14-21) is that Christ would continually dwell in them. He asks that we may be strengthed to know what surpasses knowledge: the love of Christ. He wants us to see the difference between knowing the love of Christ, and gazing at it until our hearts are transformed. Every Christian knows the love of Christ, and yet, we don’t fully know it. If we could comprehend the “breadth and length and height and depth” we would be shaken, pulled apart, put together, and remade. I shared two examples of this in the sermon I preached yesterday at Christ Community Church. The first comes from philosopher Blaise Pascal, the second from St. Ignatius of Loyola.

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When Pascal died his servant found the following note sewn into the interior of his coat:

In the year of the Lord 1654
Monday, November 23
From about half-past ten in the evening
until half-past twelve.

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God of Abraham, God if Isaac, God of Jacob
Not of philosophers nor of the scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy, Peace.
God of Jesus Christ,
My God and thy God.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the soul of man.
“Righteous Father, the world hath not know thee,
but I have know thee.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

Jesus Christ.
I have fallen away: I have fled from Him,
denied Him, crucified him.
May I not fall away forever.
We keep hold of him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on earth.
I will not forget Thy word. Amen.

Ignatius of Loyola wrote the following into his rules for practicing spiritual discernment:

Third Rule. The third: OF SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.
Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all
interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

Both of these examples tease out what Paul is getting at. We, who know the love of Christ, should continually seek a deeper experience of that love. We should continually ask God to shake us with his reality.