Monthly Archives: February 2013

Daisy Love and the magic eraser

I learned how to tie my shoes last week.

At least, I think so. My friend Tiffany had to remind me how on the way to Sunday school when, before entering the door, I tripped on my pump-action L.A. Gear. We are both entering preschool next week, and she still beats me at everything, including, apparently, how to tie shoes. Well, at least my birthday comes first.

Who knows when I actually learn how to tie my shoes successfully, because when I go to bed tonight I will wake up as a thirty-two year old. It goes by that fast.

I’m now on my way to the sports pavilion where we are gathering to celebrate the life of Daisy Love Merrick, my pastor’s eight-year old daughter who recently went home with Jesus. She was a bastion of Christ-like joy and child-like faith, and there are already thousands of people lined up to honor her. I remember playing board games with Daisy and our families by the fireplace; we never would have guessed she was fighting cancer by that darling way she asked questions, or when she hid an eraser in the house for us to find and giggled when we failed miserably; one does not simply find an eraser in a house if a little girl chooses to hide it from you. One by one, we adults succumbed to our usual fatigue leaving Daisy begging us for “just one more game.”

Now as I approach the sports pavilion, I glance at my shoes which, being tied very nicely, are double-knotted, and laced-through various rivets without any impeding folds. I stop to admire them and smile at a fleeting memory before getting that strange sinking feeling—the kind you get when you realize you forgot to do your homework and are now walking into class: this might be my best accomplishment in life. And I’ve lived much of my life already. I suspect that the next time I blink, my eyes will open as a fifty-year old man. When I was in elementary school, nothing ever came quickly; now time ruthlessly inundates all who overstay their welcome, with half of my life passing before my eyes while blinking.

Now, please don’t mistake this for self-deprecation, but much the opposite. For it’s only by the mercy of God that life is never wasted, and may I, of all people, be so bold as to declare with Wesley, “Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!”

Notwithstanding second chances, I still cannot ignore how fast my life was spent, and how much of it was spent on nothing. And all of this reminiscing has revealed a glad and simple truth to me: some live more life in eight years than others do in fifty.

I also wonder if she took the eraser to heaven with her. That would explain a lot.

What is there for singles on Valentine’s Day?

I know this is the day for celebrating romance, as it should be; marriage and relationships are a gift from God. But so is singleness. And on a day when many singles feel lonely, undesirable, or at the very least, bored, I hope this look back into church history reveals God’s kind intention for your singleness.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and a key player in the first Great Awakening published a fifteen-point expository sermon on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians entitled Thoughts On A Single Life (1835). I will summarize each of his extensive points so that you can soak it all in.

  1. Singleness can be as holy as marriage
  2. Christians often view singleness as a spiritual malady to be fixed by marriage
  3. Paul commands certain people to remain single because they can concern themselves more with the things of God (1 Cor. 7:8, 27, 28, 32-35)
  4. Paul wishes that all men could be single like him
  5. Singleness, it turns out, is a gift that God bestows on people, either for a season or for good
  6. Those who are given the gift of singleness have great advantages to enjoy…
    • being “without carefulness”
    • without the necessity of “caring for the things of the world”
    • desiring only to “please the Lord”
    • concerned for being “holy both in body and spirit.”
    • able to be “attending upon the Lord without distraction.” Wesley then compares the single person to Mary who is enabled by her freedom to “remain centered on God, sitting…at the Master’s feet, and listening to every word”
    • a blessed freedom from the “‘trouble in the flesh’ which must more or less attend a married state”
    • to experience “liberty from the greatest of all entanglements, the loving one creature above all others,” for Wesley later writes of how conceivably difficult it is “to give God our whole heart, while a creature has so large a share of it!”
  7. You have leisure to wait upon God in public and private…whereas those who are married are distracted by the “things of the world.”
  8. You can devote all your abilities, time, and energy to God.
  9. You must pray for God to help you see the value of your singleness
  10. You must pray for God to protect you in your singleness
  11. You must surround yourself with like-minded single people of the same sex
  12. It’s silly to hang out carelessly with the opposite sex if you are trying to enjoy singleness
  13. In fact, avoid all self-indulgence that weakens your desire for God. Wesley does not here advocate the avoidance of pleasure, per say, for God gives you all things to enjoy. Rather, he  implores you to “avoid all that pleasure which anyway hinders you from enjoying [God]”
  14. Enjoy all the advantages of singleness to the fullest, and you may find that being single gets easier.
  15. Don’t worry yourself about what is better between marriage or singleness, because perfection does not consist in an outward state but in “absolute devotion of all our heart and all our life to God.”

Wesley is saying that the reason you are single is so that God alone can preoccupy your affections.

So if you are called to be single for good, know that this is a blessed calling, and one which God deems so respectable and difficult that He must call and anoint certain people to be so. But O! the joys of this kind of single life! For even if you are called to marriage one day, yet are single now, know that God designed your singleness to draw your eyes towards a better Love than this population can supply.

I pray our Valentine’s day be filled with the love of the Father in Christ Jesus by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as “every pleasure of sense prepares us for taking pleasure in God.”

You can purchase John Wesley’s full sermon Thoughts on a Single Life here

Memorizing long Scripture passages

This past Sunday, our church announced a plan to begin memorizing Scripture corporately again.

We will memorize and recite Matthew 28:1-7a (HCSB) as a church over the Santa Barbara coastlands on Easter morning! But we will start by working on it in bite-size chunks, starting this week with the first verse…

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb (Matt. 28:1).

If you’ve never memorized a large passage of Scripture, this is a great time to give it a shot, even if you are not part of this particular congregation. It may seem daunting, but I am about to show you how it can be done, and once you tackle a large passage, you will surely want to memorize more. The experience of retaining Scripture to dwell on in the heart brings with it eternal blessings to which no other spiritual discipline can compare. I wrote about some of these blessings here.

I wrote this post to share with you two tips that have helped me with retaining Scripture: repetition and review.

An immersion in Scripture (repetition) coupled with constant practice (review) is extremely effective in getting the word of Christ to dwell within you richly (Col. 3:16). And even if you do not feel like you’ve got a great memory, you can still do this. In fact, I implore you to try.

If you will commit to spending 10-15 minutes a day for the next six weeks, you will be able to recite this resurrection passage with ease.

Here’s how I memorize large paragraphs of Scripture…

  1. The first thing I do is read the verse over and over. At least 10 times. This is old-fashioned repetition, and there’s no substitute for it. It is important that you actually read and speak the words because the visual will burn a snapshot of the page into your memory and speaking the verse out loud will help you learn. If the verse is particularly long, I sometimes break it up into phrases made by the commas. 
  2. Then I shut my Bible, and recite the same phrase from memory 10 more times. Remember to actually speak the words, not just think of them. This will reinforce your memory. So by this time, I have only spent about 10 minutes in Scripture! Not bad. But the verse is not permanently engrained. I know this because 3 hours later, I have to look up the verse again! That’s ok. The form and feel of the phrase is somewhere in my memory. All I need to do at this point is drive it deeper through review.
  3. It is important to review memorized portions of Scripture. EVERY DAY. If you don’t do this, you will forget everything you’ve learned. So continue rehearsing and reciting what you’ve already learned at least 10 times a day. You will begin to notice after a few days that lines becomes easier to remember. After a week of doing this, it will become second nature. And this only requires about 10 minutes a day.
  • One last tip is what some call “cleaning up the weeds.” When you are memorizing large swathes of Scripture, you might recall most of it, but sometimes get a pronoun or a preposition wrong. Don’t be discouraged. But also don’t let those wrong words become engrained in your head! It’s important to clean up those weeds. I do this by periodically referring to the Bible, checking to see if I am reciting the Word of God accurately or not. If I found I have made a mistake, I quickly correct it by going over steps 1-3 again.

Here’s how I did this with the verse we are memorizing this week.

  • I broke verse one into sections, and started with the first phrase, “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning”. I read this phrase 10 times, then shut my Bible, and recited it from memory 10 more times. I did this periodically throughout the day until it stuck. The next day, I did the same thing with the next phrase in the verse, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb.” Finally, I put the two phrases together, and worked on reciting the verse from memory 10 times (sometimes double-checking my Bible to make sure it was right). After I was fairly familiar with the verse, I simply recited it 10 times a day through the week. Even though I have a horrible memory, simple repetition and consistency helps me to retain the holy and precious words of God.

You can do all of this in about 10 minutes.

After a week, you’ll have deeply memorized a short text of Scripture. Now you’re probably wondering what happens when we start adding more verses. Well, more on that next week!

Do you have any Scripture memorization techniques you can share? Have you been greatly blessed by memorizing Scripture? Are you going to try this? I’d love to hear from you.

On the deception of legalism

Legalism is something to which we are all prone, because it is one of the key tendencies of the sinful human heart. At its base it is an assertion of our control over our relationship with God. It is a soft-pedalling of the greatness of God’s grace to sinners. On the surface it may appear to be an exalting of the law, however the law is understood. Yet when we examine the nature of legalism, we find that the opposite is true. Once we imagine that we can somehow add to God’s grace or establish our righteousness by our deeds, we have in fact dragged God’s law down to our level of imperfection. If salvation is by faith in Christ plus some form of obedience, the gospel is diminished tot he extent that we add to the principle of Christ alone. (Graeme Goldsworthy. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 171)

Scripture Memorization: why?

In the last blog post, I put forward the ancient practice of memorizing God’s Word. Many of us, if we’re Christians, might find this easy enough to ascend to if only because God tells us to do so. But, perhaps in the back of your head you are still wondering, “why devote so much time and energy to memorizing Scripture when I can just look it up on my smartphone?” It certainly does seems like the Christian climate is saturated with an eclectic array of spiritual disciplines. I can’t count how many times I’ve inundated myself with trying to keep up with all the latest spiritual fads promising freedom from sin, eternal joy, and sanctified living. I don’t think the fads will ever taper-off. As long as there is a consumeristic demand for easy spirituality there will be a supply of products to meet the insatiable thirst for Christian nominalism. If you’re tired of the noise…I would like you to consider going back to the timeless practice of memorizing and meditating on Scripture. But this brings up another objection…

Why devote yourself to memorizing the Bible (which is old) when there is so many other contemporary techniques (which are new) to choose from?

What is the value of memorizing Scripture? We need only look to the Bible itself to find it wrought with testimony of the effect it has on the believer’s soul. Allow me to share a few…

What does Scripture do for us…

As good as these disciplines can be, Christian bestsellers, worship music, devotionals, being in nature, and sermons (among others) just cannot match the supernatural weight allotted to the Word of God by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, not the least of which is the divine guarantee that if you give yourself wholly to memorizing the Scripture and letting the word of Christ dwell within you richly, you will be transformed.

What would you add to this list about Scripture?

Scripture memorization: what?

If you walk into the religious section of any bookstore, you’ll find aisles filled with how-to guides for spiritual growth. Some of them are good, and some of them…not so good. This post is going to concentrate, not on the bad or good disciplines, but on one of the greats: memorizing Scripture. For while there are many worthwhile spiritual disciplines, only a handful of them come directly from the Lord Jesus Himself: the ancient practices of prayer, baptism, Lord’s supper, and the internalization of God’s Word.

Why memorize Scripture?

For one, because God tells us to over and over and over…

  • If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. (John 15:7-8, HCSB)
  • How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
  • I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11)
  • I will never forget Your precepts, for You have given me life through them. (Psalm 119:93)
  • Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
  • This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. (Joshua 1:8)
  • My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands. (Proverbs 3:1)
  • Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
  • Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
  • We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
  • So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

We are not to settle for the mere reading of God’s Word, or even understanding His Word (though we are certainly not called to less than these!).

God calls us to know His “every word” (Matt. 4:4) “richly” (Col. 3:16) “in our hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19) and  “minds” (Deut. 11:18) so that we can “recite it day and night” (Josh. 1:8).

But why devote such labor to memorizing words that for some of us feel very archaic? Wouldn’t we be better served by memorizing one-liners from contemporary sermons, pithy sayings of wisdom, or quotes from modern authors? I will share more exhaustively in the following post the value of memorizing Scripture. But today I wish to leave you with this: Read the rest of this entry

Book Review ~ Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves.

I remember facing an uncomfortable tension many years back while studying pre-calculus (math is not my forte). Everything discussed in the class was absolutely foreign to me–from the symbols being used to the professor himself, who danced around the chalkboard as if these complex formulas were poetry to his heart. I, however, work better with words, not numbers! The tension was between not understanding the subject and the nagging feeling that it was important to learn. So there I sat, wrestling with concepts I couldn’t grasp, hoping they would eventually sink in. But they never did. So I relegated most forms of math to the back of my brain, assuming that if I’m ever required to use derivatives, referring to the calculator on my iPhone will suffice. As it turns out, I’ve discovered that life is full of equations that bewilder my smart-phone.

So, what does this have to do with a review of a book on God?

What I just described is how many deal with the doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity’s basic belief in a God who exists in three persons. We sense that it’s an important doctrine to believe, but we may not necessarily know why we believe it, or why it matters. So as I did with pre-calculus, we put the doctrine of the Trinity on the shelf where it won’t bother us, but can be easily accessible in case an angel of the Lord drops in to give us a theological pop-quiz.

But there is good news!

Michael Reeves writes Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith to confirm that our intuition is at least half correct. It is an important doctrine, for “what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God” (15). But it can also be thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, Reeves will make his case that the doctrine of the Trinity is worth pulling off the dusty shelf to gaze at for a while.

The first two sections are worth the price of the book alone.

In the introduction, Reeves explains that the essence of the Trinity is the source of everything Christian you will ever experience, declaring that “what we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor a technicality,  the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy” (18). And it’s this hope that Reeves uncoils through the rest of the book.

Having a knowledgable professor (King’s College) write on a weighty topic with a young audience in mind seems to give the book a pleasant feel. Reeves keeps the jargon at a distance, choosing to wrestle only with concepts that satiate the average reader’s appetite for who God is. His writing style is sprinkled with a charming vernacular not ordinarily found in a subject of this girth. For example, he refers to the doctrine of the Trinity as a “perplexing dish” (12), a “vital oxygen” (18), and “delicious” (96). One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Reeves wrestles with your affections, as well as your intellect.

But don’t think this book is only for the young believer. Though Delighting in the Trinity is winsome, it is imbued with a robust theology spanning a panoramic view of church history, ranging everywhere from the Athanasian creed to Martin Luther, from ecclesiastical developments, to vignettes of past saints.

Chapter one is a beautifully crafted doxology. If Reeves desires to persuade you in the introduction, his main intent in this chapter is to thrill you. He moves you past the necessity of believing in the Trinity to wondering how your communion with God ever got along without such a potent view! Interacting with God the Father and God the Son, he tackles the themes of life they affect, from childhood issues and broken relationships to our longing for something more.

The rest of the book is filled with the personal interactions between each Trinitarian Person, where Reeves devotes one chapter to each. This is followed by a treatment of inevitable misunderstandings that are typical when talking about God, such as the reason for evil, and whether God is just in displaying his wrath. Throughout his writing, Reeves never assumes the reader will capitulate to his viewpoints, but carefully navigates his convictions using clever analogies, conditional statements, and sound logic, all of which is done with tremendous compassion.

The book concludes as succinctly as it began, with an intellectually honest appeal to consider the object of your worship. If you are a Christ-follower, or are thinking about becoming one, this is a fine introduction to Christianity’s most enduring tenet: “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three God’s, but one God.” (Athanasian Creed, 15-16)

Get your copy on Amazon!


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