This spring I took Old Testament II online with Dr. Jim Hamilton at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of the primary assignments was to write an exegetical paper on a text from a book covered in the class. I chose Malachi 3:13-4:3. The teaching pastors at my church preached through the book this past fall. It was a great study for our church and it was the first time I had sat under the preaching of Malachi. I’ve posted the PDF below for your reading. May it bring you to a greater knowledge of God’s Word.
One of the biggest struggles most Christians have when it comes to practicing the spiritual disciplines is time. In an interview, Jerry Bridges gave the most practical advice I’ve ever heard on the matter. On multiple occasions I have passed it along as it has proven true in my life. When you consider your day and when it is you should practice the disciplines, he says to find the time when you are most free from responsibilities. For me that time is the early morning. No one in my house is awake and I’m not supposed to be at work. It is generally an uninterrupted time. Occasionally, my boys will wake up, but they don’t bother me. If they want to crawl up in the chair with me I don’t turn them away. That’s a great time I can talk about what I’m reading with them. My goal is to be sitting in my chair by 0500 with my coffee ready to begin reading, meditating, praying, journaling, or some combination.
Whatever that time is for you, find it, use it, and protect it. There’s no secret to making it happen. Why don’t you read your Bible? Because you don’t plan to read your Bible. Make a plan and execute. You don’t grow in the Lord through osmosis. God has sovereignly designed and supplied the means of grace by which we grow in our love for and knowledge of him and others. You have to make use of them. Paul tells us twice to make the best use of the time. What better way can you spend your time than getting to know the God who called you to himself?
Here is the full interview: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/the-christian-spiritual-disciplines
I don’t read books more than once, but when I do it’s Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I first read it in college then again in seminary where I had the privilege to sit under Dr. Whitney himself at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. It’s a book any Christian should read at least once. Deeply pastoral and immensely practical, this volume speaks equally to the head, heart, and hands, calling us to a deeper walk with Christ through biblically based spiritual disciplines.
My favorite and most revisited section of the book is found in chapter three, “Bible Intake” (Part 2), which addresses biblical meditation. Despite clear biblical mandate and modeling, Dr. Whitney notes that meditation has unfortunately “become identified more with nonChristian systems of thought than with biblical Christianity” (p.47) leading many believers to be uneasy with both the idea and the practice. If you’re a 90s kid like me the first thing you may think of is Rafiki from “The Lion King” sitting on a rock cross-legged, hands out to his sides. Or you may picture some monks in a jungle temple humming away in attempts to empty their mind. Whatever your mind pictures meditation to be it is likely not what the Bible has in mind. That was true of myself.
Dr. Whitney defines biblical meditation as “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer” (48). It is an active filling of the mind, not an emptying. Using the analogy of a cup of hot tea, he further clarifies the practice. If reading and hearing Scripture are quick dips of a tea bag into the water of the soul, meditation is soaking the tea bag allowing all the rich flavor and color to deposit into the water. As the tea bag fills the water with flavor and color, so biblical meditation fills the mind with truth and love.
Dr. Whitney points us to a few key texts on the matter, but I’ll focus on Psalm 1. This text is especially important to me as it is the first text I learned to meditate on. Another professor of mine at Southern, Dr. Bruce Ware, required us to spend time meditating on specific passages of Scripture. Psalm 1 happened to be one of them. This is where I learned to soak in the text, drawing out as much flavor as I could. The beauty of this practice is that we can never exhaust God’s Word of it’s flavor. There is always more to taste.
The Psalmist writes,
Blessed is the manwho walks not in the counsel of the wicked,nor stands in the way of sinners,nor sits in the seat of scoffers;but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and on his law he meditates day and night.He is like a treeplanted by streams of waterthat yields its fruit in its season,and its leaf does not wither.In all that he does, he prospers (Ps. 1:1-3).
One of my favorite attributes of Scripture is the use of imagery from the natural world to help us understand the spiritual world. The Psalmist uses two pictures here to contrast the blessed man and the wicked man: physical motion and plant life. The blessed man finds his delight in the law of the LORD, not in the way of wickedness. He doesn’t walk, stand, or sit with them. He delights in the Lord, and he cultivates that through daily and nightly meditation. After all, you cannot delight in something or someone that you do not spend undistracted time with. God has revealed himself in Scripture, so it is there we must go in order to know Him.
In verse 3 the Psalmist shifts his imagery from that of physical motion to that of a tree. We’re told multiple things about the tree, but the most important thing about it is where it is planted: near water. You don’t need a PhD in agricultural studies to know why that matters. The tree is planted by one of the necessary sources of life. Without water plants die. They do not “yield fruit,” nor are they prosperous. Without water the leaves wither.
If we are to be blessed men and women, we need to be like this tree. Through meditation we push our roots down into the life-giving waters of God’s Word. The more time we spend mulling over Holy Scripture, the more its truth begins to take root in our lives. It’s flavor begins to permeate every ounce of our being. To use the language of Christ, it is abiding in him in order that we may bear fruit (Jn. 15:5). To use Pauline language, this is letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). As the truths of Scripture take root in our lives we will be prosperous, we will bear fruit.
One thing we need to understand is that this takes time. Notice in verse 2 that the man meditates on the law both day and night. And, consider the tree. Is it ever removed from the streams of water? No. That’s where it lives day and night. Can we meditate day and night, 24/7? Of course not. However, by spending significant time meditating on God’s word we can saturate our hearts and minds so that it is ever present in our consciousness throughout the day. In an ever-distracted, never-stop culture this practice is desperately needed. Christian, open your Bible. Sit at the feet of Jesus and mull over His words. As Eugene Peterson put it, “eat this book.” Chew it, swallow it, and digest it. Go deeper than the cursory reading of your yearly Bible plan. Unless we stop and sit with the text of Scripture musing, pondering, we forfeit much of what God has for us. God offers endless blue oceans to immerse ourselves in, while the world offers a pig wallow.
As we look ahead to a new calendar year, let us commit to going deeper. Maybe you’ll read less, but you’ll read deeper.
Our church did a brief series on spiritual disciplines in 2017. Here is a link to the message on silence, solitude, meditation, and prayer preached by Kyle Beshears: Spiritual Disciplines (Part 5).
Recently I was listening to a lecture on the Mechanics of Expository Preaching by Dr. Steve Lawson at The Master’s Seminary. Early in the lecture Dr. Lawson spoke to the necessity of the preacher’s personal holiness. He quoted a few well known pastors of previous generations. A quote by Charles Spurgeon really struck a nerve, as his words are well known to do. Dr. Lawson quoted him as follows:
It will be vain for me to stock my library if I neglect the culture of myself. For books are only remotely the instrument of my holy calling. My own spirit, my own soul, and my own body are my nearest machinery for sacred service. My spiritual faculties and my inner life are my battle axe and weapons of war.
I dare not add to the words of Spurgeon here, but I would encourage you to consider his words, and to listen to Dr. Lawson’s entire lecture. The quote comes from Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students and begins at 19:52.
This was originally posted on my church’s blog on October 8, 2018. You can read it on the church’s site here, or simply read it below.
The task of spiritual formation in today’s world is arguably more difficult than ever. Thanks to the advent of the smart phone disciples have never been more distracted. These devices provide us with instant access to more information than our brains could ever dream of processing. Social media in particular is in constant competition for our attention. The never-ending feed of status updates, tweets, and pictures can draw us in to hours of wasted time we can never get back. The implications for our growth as disciples are massive and cannot be overlooked.
Like many I’ve had multiple social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Over time I became involved to the point that my wife told me I was addicted (she was right). This addiction, as all addictions do, began to control my life. It consumed my time and my thoughts. It determined where I went and what I bought. Further, my mind could hardly process anything apart from its relationship to social media. I would literally think in tweets or statuses.
All of this changed in May as I finally quit social media. As the Prodigal Son “came to his senses,” realizing the wasteful life he was living, I came to my senses realizing how wasteful and harmful social media was for me. Though not sinful in itself, my addiction was sinful and it was time for radical action. This was not a time for moderation, but mortification. Jesus calls it “cutting off,” while Paul calls it “putting to death.” The distraction had to go completely. The relief I felt was immediate and palpable. I was free to be present with my family, present at work, and most importantly to be present with the Lord.
Before I go any further let me say that I am not here to tell you to delete all your social media accounts. Maybe you will, but that’s not what I’m here to do. However, I do want my story to serve as a warning to you about the potential danger and an encouragement to consider how it may be affecting your spiritual growth.
I have two primary concerns regarding the use of social media as followers of Christ: the life of the mind and the use of time.
The distraction of social media is a battle for the mind. As I stated above my mind was so consumed by social media that I could hardly think about anything apart from it. Scripture is very clear on what should be the driving thought of our minds. The following texts provide a few examples:
“his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Ps. 1:2
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matt. 22:37
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Rom. 12:2
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Col. 3:2
These texts make it clear that our thoughts should be consumed with the things of God. When this happens we are more equipped to filter out the noise of the world that bombards us from all angles. When we constantly fill our minds with tweets, statuses, and pictures from social media, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill it with what is most important. Instead we should fill it God’s Word. As the Psalmist writes, we should meditate on it day and night.
The second concern is the stewardship of time. This concern is inseparable from the first. Whatever it is we fill our minds with takes time to do so. How we choose to use that time is critical. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15–16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We can all agree that mindless scrolling through feeds for hours is hardly making wise use of our time. The days are also short according to James 4:14. Jesus expressed an awareness of the fleeting time: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn 4:14). The time we have is all we get. We are not guaranteed more. We must use it wisely.
Whatever the distraction may be there is one cure: a disciplined commitment to pursue Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We will not haphazardly win the battle for the mind or wisely use our time. In Christ we have been given the power and tools necessary to win these battles. So, let us make the best use of the time setting our minds on things above.
Recently I’ve been on a search for a method of recording notes on Scripture as I study through a book. While I haven’t completed my search I was reintroduced to the method of Jonathan Edwards known as his Miscellanies. In his Miscellanies, Edwards recorded his thoughts on a vast multitude of scriptural topics. Pastor Matt Everhard put together a great video talking about the Miscellanies. I have considered adopting this method for a similar purpose or even posting them here on my blog. If you have developed a system for note taking, I’d love to hear it.
Here are my notes on Creation, Man, and Sin. My class is breaking for the summer and should resume in early September.
I’m way behind on posting this and the next set of notes, but here they are:
We finished up the doctrine of Scripture a few weeks ago in Rooted. If you have looked at my notes from the first time I taught this, they are all being updated, edited, and expanded as I teach through them again, so keep that in mind. Here are my notes: RTD Bible PDF.
As many of you know, if you are reading this blog, I taught a class on systematic theology two years ago at Living Hope Church here in Mobile. I have been given that wonderful opportunity again at Crawford Baptist Church, where my wife & I are members. Fortunately, this go round will give me more time to go through the material allowing more discussion and questions. My pastor is adamant about me taking my time so I will heed his suggestion joyfully! The neat thing about this is that my pastor taught me systematic theology in college at the University of Mobile, and it was in that class that I first realized the need and gained a desire to teach like this in the church. Not many have such an opportunity. I am very grateful for it.
I was able to put together a whole introduction to the study this time, whereas it was a few paragraphs originally on top of the doctrine of Scripture. It took three weeks to get through, but we had a great time. Senior adults are the majority of the class and I hope to see some younger members, especially college students attend future lessons.
Here is a link to a PDF of my introductory notes: RTD Introduction PDF.
May this be edifying to you in your studies!