With a very hectic travel schedule for the past several weeks, I haven’t been able to write on this blog as I’d like, but the end is in sight!
In the meantime, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Damian Efta, Pastor Andy Huber, and Elder Kevin Gentzler, all shepherds at Church of the Open Door in Leavenworth, Kansas (www.opendoorinfo.org).
The church has a weekly podcast named “Sheep and Shepherds,” whose audience is primarily their local church body. In the first podcast we recorded in my time with them, I explained what IFCA is, a bit of our history, and why a church or individual might want to join.
You can listen to this particular podcast episode here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sheep-and-shepherds-podcast
There have been times in my ministry when an icy chill has come over my heart, when my soul no longer weeps, when my sermons no longer connect, and when the act of preaching becomes a drudgery. I know that I have then lost compassion for people. That is when I retreat to a small taco stand in the barrio of East Los Angeles, to a place where real people live. I order a cup of coffee and sit with my back against the wall. Then I watch, I observe, I read, and I listen intently for the heart cry.
A group of gang-bangers come in for a snack-one in four will die before the age of eighteen; two of the others will end up in prison. All are doomed to a hard life. A young mother comes in with her brood of youngsters. It is obvious that they are poor. They share drinks. They live in poverty; some will never see a forest or snow. An old drunk staggers in, begging for a meal. He is quickly thrown out. That was somebody’s baby boy. A mother at one time cradled that man and nursed him. The poor specimen of humanity has children. His wife is somewhere out there. They have long since disowned him, but they have not forgotten him. He is still somebody’s daddy. For all I know, he could have been my own.
I look, I listen until I hear their cries, until their souls cry out to me, “Please help, I’m perishing!” until the tears pour forth from my melted heart! I am in love with humanity once again. Now I am fit to ascend the pulpit, to weep with those who weep, to laugh with those who laugh, and to bring a living Word-Christ-to a needy people. Now I can preach with passion, for now I have compassion.— Dr. Alex Montoya, Preaching with Passion
Many areas of modern evangelicalism are devoid of deep thinking on biblical matters. It isn’t uncommon to hear Christians speak of the need to set aside doctrinal differences in order to foster a sense of unity. Although I am all for biblical unity, there can be little unity when there is no consensus on biblical truth. And it is this very issue that begins to show our need for a massive return to biblical meditation upon the Word of God and doctrine.
Saxton’s book takes twelve short chapters to uncover the largely lost discipline of biblical meditation in hopes that this much-needed excercise will be brought back as a mainstream practice in the Church.
In chapter 2, entitled “Unbiblical Forms of Meditation,” Saxton wisely warns of the counterfeits that masquerade as the genuine article. Roman Catholic spirituality, mysticism and contemplative prayer are especially important because of the current emphases that have promoted these practices and their accompanying works through the Spiritual Formation movement. Along with these the author briefly examines TM (transcendental meditation), yoga and Far Eastern religious ideas of meditation before moving on in chapter 3 with a short study not the biblical idea of meditation.
Saxton shows that he is very familiar with the Puritan’s wisdom on this subject, and he demonstrates their warm practices and wisdom throughout the book. One of the highlights of reading this book is all of the thoughtful quotes from the Puritans that are included within which serve to allow them to teach us the how and what of biblical meditation.
If I were to mention any negatives about this excellent book it would be just two. First, the chapter which defined what biblical meditation is (ch. 3) was a bit anemic in regards to the amount of biblical evidence and study given to it. I understand that this book was about the Puritan’s practice, but I was hoping for more than a very glossed over treatment of the biblical texts. Second, I found that this book read more like a compendium of Puritan wisdom with the author weaving it all together with a few sentences and phrases. When Saxton does find his voice, it is clear that he has absorbed much of the language and phrasing of the Puritans himself and so writes in an engaging manner that made me wish he had done so throughout. The final concluding chapter was closest to this idea and it was to me the most enjoyable as far as readability and smoothness.
Overall this book is a blessing to the Church and I pray that it will not only be read by many, but that it will become a practical handbook that engages more believers in the regular practice of biblical meditation.
[God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation, David W. Saxton (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015)]