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Ministering Before Idols

  • Ezekiel 44:12 Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their punishment.

Do we minister to the people before their idols? This means that we share their idols. It means that we are either in willful rebellion or that we are oblivious to our shared idolatry.

Matthew Henry comments,

Those who have been treacherous are degraded and put lower those Levites—or priests who were carried down the stream of the apostasy of Israel formerly, who went astray from God after their idols (v. 10), who had complied with the idolatrous kings of Israel or Judah, who ministered to them before their idols (v. 12), bowed with them in the house of Rimmon, or set up altars for them, as Urijah did for Ahaz, and so caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, led them to sin and hardened them in sin; for, if the priests go astray, many will follow their pernicious ways.

In my mind, I saw three things as I read this verse today: 1) A mega-church preacher standing in front of a plasma screen, 2) a health and wealth preacher standing in front of a million dollar stage setup, an 3) I’ll leave you to guess at the other one…

The good news is that Christ too ministers before our idols; but, rather than endorsing them, he tears them down and replaces them. He is our true Icon (Col. 1:15).

Image from stuffchristianculturelikes.com

Top Ten Posts in 2014

This will likely be my last post of the year (with the holidays and all), so I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

In the meantime, I give you the mandatory ‘top posts’ post. If there’s anything on the list you haven’t read before, why not give it a look? Here are the most read posts from the blog for the year:

1. Myths About the Bible: Noah Was Mocked? The Fight Against Apathy
This marks the second year in a row that this post is number one. It had about 1,800 views for the year.

2. A List of Benedictions
In the top 3 for the third straight year. Everybody needs a good list of benedictions.

3. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton: Reading, Fairy Tales, and Mental Health
The same top 3 as last year. I still think that reading fairy tales is a balm for the soul.

4. God Is Love, But Love Is Not God
This one’s the first newcomer to the list. Here I take on not only modern culture, but no less a giant than St. Augustine.

5. Recent Reading: The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers: Part 1 – Summary of the Argument for a Trinity in Creative Art
This marks the second year in the top 5. I go back to this post fairly regularly to brush up on Sayers’ points.

6. The Misused Passages: 1 Corinthians 2:9, Eye Hath Not Seen, Nor Ear Heard
This is my take on how people misuse the famous words, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the mind of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him.’

7. Charlotte’s Web: Dr. Dorian, Miraculous Webs, Animals Talking
I share a favorite quote from Charlotte’s Web.

8. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Method of Pastoral Counseling and Diagnosis
I am glad this one cracked the top 10. I worked very hard on this post in an attempt to distill the basics of the pastoral counseling method of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I work harder to actually try to put his wisdom into practice. I still highly recommend the book on which this post is based: Healing and the Scriptures.

9. Recent Reading: Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Here’s a taste: “Christian lawyers work for justice, and the world remains unjust. Christian doctors, nurses, and pharmacists (and others of course) work for the health and well-being of people – all of whom eventually die…”

10. Him that is Unjust, Let Him be Unjust Still: What does it mean? (Revelation 22:11)
It’s a line from the Book of Revelation that has entered into the modern consciousness via Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around. I remember early in the season there was an SEC football commercial that used this song. I thought there was an ironically fitting display of southern culture as I saw images of Les Miles and Nick Saban as this song played in the background.

Make Your Soul a Library of Christ

Someone told me an interesting story the other day that goes like this: Someone came into my place of work distressed (I was not present at the time). The man was noticeably crying. He asked a clerk if she had a Bible. He said he was in desperate need of one at the moment. She happened to have a Gideon New Testament, with Psalms and Proverbs (I don’t call them Bibles) tucked away in her desk, and so she gave it to him.

Fast forward a few hours to that evening as I am reading Thomas Watson’s book, The Bible and the Closet. Watson observes that some people only want to read the Bible when they are sad and in need of encouragement. He writes,

…When they are sad, they bring forth the Scripture as their harp to drive away the evil spirit…

The lesson is simple: the music needs to be playing all the time. He mentions the phrase of Jerome concerning Cecilia, that she “had by much reading of the Word, made her heart the Library of Christ…” He continues,

Were the Scriptures confined to the original tongues, many would plead excuse for not reading; but when the sword of the Spirit is unsheathed, and the Word is made plain to us by being translated, what should hinder us from a diligent search into these holy mysteries?

Feast on the Scriptures now before the famine comes. Let your mind be formed through much reading of the Scripture that it may be the Library of Christ. Be determined, as Spurgeon says, to ‘bleed Bibline’:

I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.

Take Every Word as Spoken to Yourselves

Learn to apply the Scripture; take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: God means my sins; when it presseth any duty, God intends me in this. Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves.

-Thomas Watson, The Bible and the Closet (get it as an ebook or for Kindle for free HERE).

This little book by Watson is a gem (as is everything I’ve read by him). Watson also calls the Bible “the library of the Holy Ghost” and “the field in which Christ, the pearl of price, is hid.”

As for the present quote, the point is simple – everything about sin in the Scriptures should lead us to a ‘You are that man’ moment. But everything about Christ’s gospel and the grace of God should be applied down deep into the heart as well. Always bring it home.

Questions Cannot Be Neutral (Technopoly)

A question, even of the simplest kind, is not and can never be unbiased…My purpose is to say that the structure of any question is as devoid of neutrality as its content. The form of a question may ease our way or pose obstacles. Or, when even slightly altered, it may generate antithetical answers, as in the case of the two priests who, being unsure if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question ‘Is it permissible to smoke while praying?’ and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention; the other priest asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking and was told that it is, since it is always appropriate to pray.

-Neil Postman, Technopoly, pp. 125-126

Aside from the fact that the priest story is just funny, I think that the overall wisdom of this quote is simply helpful.

First, in my thinking, I applied this quote to the study of the Scriptures. As a student of the Bible, and as a preacher, I think this is sound wisdom for dealing with the Scriptures. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes the point in Preaching and Preachers that a student of the Scriptures must constantly be asking questions of the text if he is to find answers; and the kind of questions we ask will largely determine the answers that we receive. John Frame makes much the same point in  The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (and in his general points about Perspectivalism; if you don’t know what it is then by all means click the link). He argues, and he is absolutely right, that we cannot come to the Scriptures, or any book for that matter, as blank slates. We come with all sorts of baggage, which leads us to ask certain kinds of questions and seek certain kinds of answers. What this means practically is that we have to train ourselves to ask the right sorts of questions.

Second, in the context of Technopoly, Postman’s point is that we are not asking the right questions of technology; or we are asking the questions in such a way that we only get the answers we want. He says that we are primarily, if not only, asking, ‘What can this do for me?’ But he urges us to ask other questions, or at least to ask that initial question in a more nuanced way. Instead of only asking what something can do for us, we should be asking about trade-offs: ‘What will this thing take away from me? What will I lose in the process? What will it take away from our culture; what will the culture lose in the process? Are the gains significant enough to make the losses worth it?’

Modern education wants to teach, and put a premium on, critical thinking; but as it does so, it asks us to think critically about everything except the instruments by which we are learning: ‘Think critically about the lesson you are reading on your iPad, but don’t worry about actually thinking critically about the iPad itself.’ The only questions the modern technology industry wants us to be asking are the kinds of questions we type into a Google search bar; by no means should we ask questions about the search bar, and the effects the search bar is having on us as we use it.

If questions cannot be neutral, this does not mean that we should not ask questions, or that we should try to make our questions objective (that is futile). It means that we must learn to ask the right questions, which generally means that we should ask a lot of questions, and that those questions should come from every conceivable angle so as to cover various possible nuances. It means that we must remember that our questions are biased, which means that we will often frame questions in such a way as to get the answer we want. We must fight against this tendency.

Reading for the New Year

At the beginning of each new year I read the same three things:

1. Psalm 90

2. Ephesians 5

3. The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

I also remind myself of the words of Charles Spurgeon: ‘He who marries today’s fashion is tomorrow’s widow.’

I would also encourage readers (if you aren’t already working through the Bible systematically) to start a plan to read the Bible at least once this year. There are multiple resources available to help you. For those who really want to get after it, I recommend the three month plan HERE. I followed this plan through a few years ago and managed to read the Bible four times that year. I eventually figured out that I could do this without the exact plan so long as I read about 25 minutes a day. I have settled in on three times a year for the past couple of years, that seems to work best for me. I am to the point where I do this by feel, and don’t need to follow a concrete layout, but there  is a structured four month plan available HERE. I will also provide a link to Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s one year plan HERE.

Whatever you do, be persistent. Expect setbacks, and do not let them deter you. This is not something that you do in order to be accepted by God, so there is no external pressure. This is something for the good of your own soul. If you miss a meal, you just eat a little more at the next one. That’s the way it works.