Meditations

Ten Words Dissecting the Human Heart

Here at Trinity we find ourselves quickly approaching the turning point of the Ten Commandments. They have been called the two tablets of God’s law. The first tablet focused on explaining the command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. The second tablet focused on explaining the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. But I want to take a moment and consider the brilliance of how the Ten Commandments work by looking at the sort of life the first three commands prescribe. It describes a tightening circle that understands the particular nuances of human temptation and rebellion. 

First: Worship God alone. Don’t worship anything else besides the God who created everything and redeemed us from slavery. The human heart runs to all manner of different gods. We’ll make gods out of ourselves, our race, our wealth, our comforts, our petty achievements - almost anything. And so God commands us to come and find life and meaning and morality and goodness and beauty in Him above all else. He alone is worthy of our worship. 

But what happens when we are confronted with a God who is other and who doesn’t easily conform to our ideas of what a God should be? What do we do with a God who has such rough edges? What do we do with a God who doesn’t fit with the cultural norms that surrounds us - who isn’t very cool? We make images. Oh, we say we worship God. We sing songs about Jesus. We even open our bibles. But we subtly and sometimes not so subtly start to shave off the edges, give God a set of skinny jeans and hipster social ethics. We start remaining silent about all the ways the God of the Bible makes us or our neighbors uncomfortable. We change God’s image. We make a version of God who fits our own sensibilities. And so God next confronts us with the second commandment: Don’t make an image of God that conforms to what you want or can see surrounding you. 

Israel is confronted with a God who is terrifying in His power and glory. They are afraid. So they pool their theological resources. They raise some money. They make a golden calf - a far more manageable and less frightening vision of God. Romans and Jews see a God who dies on a cross, a God who deals with sin in the most scandalous way imaginable, and they find new images of God that are more palatable. We do the same. We detest holiness or exclusivity or patriarchy or authority or such a narrow understanding of sexuality and so we form new images, cutting out the parts of Him we find embarrassing. We make an image. God says not to do that

The church’s history is riddled with theologians going to great intellectual lengths to change God’s image, to spin God’s words, to avoid saying what God has said.

And then when confronted with a vision of God that is glorious and gracious and offensive and holy- that you can’t alter- what temptation comes next? We empty what it means to be the people of God of all real content - to take the name of God in vain. We become a people who have some sort of superficial association with Jesus, but it is empty. We confess Jesus is Lord, but do not do what He says. We talk about the grace and mercy of God, and do not repent of sin. Where the second commandment confronts the temptation to redefine what “God” means, the third commandment confronts the temptation to retain our desire to live however we want by simply ignoring God. We don’t pray. We don’t take what He says and commands seriously. Our identity as God’s people becomes a kind of empty label, retained to appease parents or a girlfriend or, even better, a girlfriend’s parents. But we’ve never taken seriously the call of Jesus and the real cost of discipleship. 

The Ten Commandments offer us a marvelous view of God’s remarkable understanding of the human heart. He knows us. He knows our particular temptations. He knows the subtle ways we chase after our own autonomy from His reign. He calls us to Himself, as He is and His law is given to lead us there. It is powerless to actually bring us home, but it is a nice map to understand why the way seems so hard. This week we turn our attention to the 4th commandment wherein God commands us to rest, to celebrate, and where He claims ownership over time. This worship and obedience of the one true God must move into the corners of our lives. Join us Sunday as we consider the God who is a fountain, who will not be reduced, who calls us out of vanity and makes uncomfortable claims on every moment of our lives.

Set Your Minds...

The Bible treats our mind as a muscle, as something that can be moved, as something that can be set on certain things and not set on others. Paul commands Roman Christians in Romans 12 to be transformed through the “renewing of their minds.” In 1 Chronicles 22 the Israelites are told to “set their minds and hearts to see the Lord your God.” In Colossians 3, Paul commands Christians to set their minds on things that are above. This isn’t often how we approach the task of thinking. We rarely consider thinking to be a task. It’s simply something we well, we “just do.” Which is another way of saying that our minds just kind of latch onto whatever slides in front of them. Our minds are bombarded from Social Media, what pops up on the radio while we’re driving, what comes across the computer screen or television screen. We check our email addressing a question or an advertisement. A notification pops up on our phones turning our attention to twitter or facebook where we find an infuriating article written by an obscure relative in New Hampshire, which was liked by an old friend of ours who has an incredibly cute squirrel living on his tree… We rarely approach the task of thinking intentionally. We rarely set our minds on something. We more likely, trip over our own thoughts all day, like water rushing down a pre-determined path. (Given the intentionality with which advertisers and other media groups approach their work, this path is intentionally shaped by forces that are ubiquitous in our world.) But the Scriptures call us to an entirely different approach to thinking.

This week I ran across this quotation in Psalm 19. Its a famous text, memorized by Sunday school children everywhere:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sign, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Here the Psalmist is making a request of God - a plea really, that the things he has set his mind on would be acceptable - pleasing to God. What sort of meditations - the setting of the mind on something please God? In Psalm 19 we see the Psalmist looking to two particular things.

First, creation itself, particularly as it reflects and declares the beauty of God. The description of the sun “running its course” day after day after day is particularly poignant. It reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s description of a child’s exuberance in discovering each day’s sunrise with “Look! He did it again!” But consider the work necessary to see these things, to meditate on these things. We barely notice the sun rising or setting. Our joy in seeing and giving thanks for the glories that surround us are often fleeting, like our attention. Our minds are not used to resting on something, like a sunset, and then meditating on its beauty, its meaning, its glory.

Secondly, the psalmist has described the glories of God’s law - its goodness and usefulness and wisdom. We Colorado dwellers have some practice in considering the mountains or the sunset. But almost none of us have fixed our attention on the words of God, to meditate on them, to consider their beauty and usefulness and wisdom. But this is what the Psalmist demonstrates for us - minds set on something remarkably complex and nuanced, historic and marvelous.

The Bible describes the life of the mind as a life of deep intentionality, of meditation. We are to hold something in our minds and consider the question again and again, “What must God be like?” The Psalmist’s meditations call us into a life of intentional consideration and seeing and then drawing all this thinking up into a consideration of the grandeur and goodness of a God who made and sustains all things by the word of His mouth.

As we continue our examination of the Ten Commandments this Sunday our goal is not only to understand the sort of life God is calling all of us into, but also to consider the character of God Himself as revealed in His law…. What must God be like?