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

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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.

Naked, Beardless, and Full of Shame

  • Now after this Nahash the king of the Ammonites died, and his son reigned in his place. 2 And David said, “I will deal kindly with Hanun the son of Nahash, for his father dealt kindly with me.” So David sent messengers to console him concerning his father. And David’s servants came to the land of the Ammonites to Hanun to console him. 3 But the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun, “Do you think, because David has sent comforters to you, that he is honoring your father? Have not his servants come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?” 4 So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away; 5 and they departed. When David was told concerning the men, he sent messengers to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return” (1 Chron. 19:1-5)

King Hanun of the Ammonites sent a humiliating shot at King David by disgracing his men. He cut their tunics in half and shaved their beards. They were sent home naked and beardless. The idea illustrated for us so vividly here is that of nakedness and shame.

What do you know of shame? What do you know of humiliation? What do you know of disgrace? What do you know of being exposed? How do you deal with such shame and humiliation and nakedness? These men waited it out in Jericho. Maybe you wait it out in your house.

We deal with our shame in all sorts of ways. We try to remove it by catharsis. My psychology of abnormal behavior textbook says that the majority of men who become child molesters and domestic abusers were once abused themselves. They remove their shame by inflicting shame on others. If they can shame others, then theirs doesn’t seem quite as profound. If everyone has shame, then no one has shame. That’s the idea.

Different folks, who aren’t quite so heinous, go watch a nice romping horror movie. The blood flows, the bodies hit the floor, and they walk out of the movie theater without a scratch. Catharsis accomplished.

Others pile shame on shame so that the first shame doesn’t look so big. Call it the Miley complex. If you can take control of shameful acts and call them publicity, then what is there really to be ashamed of. Just make it a point that your next move will be your worst. People will forget about the past and just wonder what’s coming next.

Others just put lipstick on the pig that is their life. If you can make a nice living, live in a nice home, wear nice clothes, send your kids to nice schools. If you can perhaps do a few things right, then those bad things won’t seem so bad in comparison. But it actually just makes them stand out all the more. We all end up naked at the end of the day. Even if we hide in the dark.

That old saint Job said we’re born naked and we leave the world naked. Speaking of being born naked…

Hundreds of years after the incident of David’s messengers and the King of the Ammonites, a child was born in Bethlehem. God Almighty decided to reveal himself that day – as a naked baby. He was born, like all babies, naked and beardless. But he grew, and so did his beard. Until one day someone decided to pluck it out:

  • I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting (Isaiah 50:6).

He had no shame. He was sinless. He had nothing to hide. But shame was heaped up on him from the outside, and he chose not to hide from it. He exposed himself to the scoffing, to the spitting, to the beard-plucking.

  • Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.

When Jesus Christ went to the cross, two soldiers played a card game to decide who would get his garment. They weren’t going to cut in half like the Ammonites of old. They were going to take the whole thing. And so, he hung on that cross naked.

  • Sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior.

What do you do with shame? Take it down that road from Bethlehem to Calvary. And ultimately to the empty tomb. Only there will you ever find real catharsis – by atonement. He died that shameful death that our shame might be dealt with.

Shame is real. I feel it. You feel it. God felt it on Calvary. He took, he takes, our shame so seriously that the cross happened. And you think he doesn’t care? Take it to him, lay it on him, it’s already been laid on him. He takes shamed and exposed men and women and he covers them up in his righteousness and love.Find in him one who bears it for you, that you might find forgiveness, relief, and release.

Reconstruction or Destruction? Working for Good and Ready to Run

Pray for your city and seek its welfare, but remember that the God who inspired Jeremiah 29 also inspired chapters 50 and 51. Be wise in how you relate to culture:

  • Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
  • Jeremiah 51:6 “Flee from the midst of Babylon; let every one save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance, the repayment he is rendering her.”

Work for gospel good, but don’t get too comfortable. Christ, the true Passover, is not only a Lamb, but a Judge. And so be prepared like the children of Israel:

  • Exodus 12:11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.

And when it’s time to ‘flee from the midst,’ ‘remember Lot’s wife’ (Luke 17:32). Jesus said that, remember?

I sometimes wonder if those who bandy Jeremiah 29:7 about have read the rest of the book. But, then again, there are those ‘hellfire and brimstone’ sorts who have perhaps never noticed that verse at all. The Bible is balanced, always balanced. Let us live accordingly. Working for good and ready to run.

A Few Resources I Recommend

It dawned on me today that, since I devote most of my posts on the blog to particular things I’m reading, I don’t actually share links and resources that often. I thought I would post links to a few resources that you may find helpful (or at least that I’ve found helpful).

AUDIO BIBLES

First, I’ve meant to share this before, but my absolute favorite audio recording of the Bible is available HERE. The translation is actually the World English Bible, which isn’t too bad and is available for free because it’s in the public domain. The only downside with this site is that you have to listen to each chapter of the Bible individually and click a link for each new chapter. But I actually like that feature until you get to Psalms. I use this audio Bible literally every day.

If you don’t care for that one, you can use my number two choice HERE. You can pick the translation and from various readers. I like to listen to Max McLean personally. The reason I prefer the David Field audio to this one is the speed. Field reads a bit faster. I generally use this version for the psalms and if I want to hear how McLean pronounces a word.t

PRAYER

Next, I want to recommend (again) a recording of some of the pastoral prayers of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. While we have many of the great sermons of the great preachers left in print, we do not have many of their prayers. Here we have the blessing of hearing the Doctor pray in his own voice. You can listen to them HERE.

You can also read a good number of Charles Spurgeon’s prayers HERE. I also have a little book of prayers by John Calvin that I read fairly regularly, and have for years. The closest thing to it I’ve found online is HERE. A great overall site for prayer, based on Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer, can be found HERE.

COMMENTARIES

As far as commentaries, I have Calvin’s commentaries in my library, but I often use the easily accessible online version found HERE. I also frequent the online version of Matthew Henry’s commentary HERE (you can choose from a number of classic commentaries on the page).

SERMONS

As far as reading sermons, for printed sermons I usually go HERE for Spurgeon and HERE for others. The second site linked here is Monergism, which I highly recommend. Another great resource is Yale’s Jonathan Edwards page HERE.

For audio sermons I frequent the MLJ Trust (Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ audio sermon archive) HERE, Redeemer’s free audio page HERE (sermons by Tim Keller), and Desiring God (John Piper) HERE. I also occasionally visit HERE to search for audio readings of the sermons of Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others.

BOOKS

Finally, for free audio books I frequent Books Should Be Free, which can be found HERE. I’ve listened to several G.K. Chesterton books via this site, as well as some John Owen and John Calvin. In addition to that, I have listened to several fairy story books with my children.

AUDIO JOURNALS

I highly recommend Mars Hill Audio. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I never been introduced to their audio reports and conversations. There is some free content on the site, but most of it isn’t free. Everything I have ever purchased from them has been well worth the price. Ken Myers is about as thoughtful a Christian as we have these days, and he speaks with people who have thought deeply about the various topics they discuss. There are many great resources available on C.S. Lewis, reading, philosophy, culture, and all sorts of other things. You can create an account to get a free sample of their audio journal HERE.

POETRY

I usually read poetry from a few massive volumes I have bought at library book sales. There is, however, a great online source HERE.

A WORD ON BOOK SALES

Speaking of library book sales, let me encourage avid readers to find out if their libraries have such sales. Our local library has one the first weekend of every month, and other libraries in our area have similar sales from time to time. You can usually get paperbacks for a quarter. If you live in a metropolitan area, thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army are a great resource for cheap books. I have found some of the greatest books that I’ve every read at so-called junk stores.

As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago I was at one such store and discovered that, apparently, a large chunk of a minister’s library had been donated. There were books on Hebrew and Greek and all sorts of other books on sale for a quarter each. I bought a whole collection (8 volumes) of G. Campell Morgan sermons, two Francis Schaeffer books, some C.S. Lewis, and several other books as well, for less than 5 dollars.

That’s all for now, happy reading.