Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Crown through the Cross

"Happy is he who thoroughly understands that though Christianity holds out a crown in the end, it brings also a cross on the way."
                                 - J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 79

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

God's Anti-Virus Software: Christian Meditation

When many people think of meditation, they think of the common eastern practice of emptying one's mind of everything, or of emptying one's mind of all but one word or concept, and then repeating that word as a mantra until that is the only thing in your head.  God's people have had a long practice of meditation as well, which can be traced back to very early times in the Old Testament, but it is very different from the form of meditation in which the one meditating seeks to empty his or her mind. 

When YHWH was preparing Joshua to lead Israel into conquest of the promised land, he said this to him: 
"Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.  Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."    - Joshua 1:7-9
God commands Joshua, and through him all Israel, to be strong and courageous, to not be frightened or dismayed by their enemies or the gods of their enemies, to do all the law that God gave to them through Moses, and not to turn from it to the right hand or left.  God promises he will be with the people wherever they go and that they will have good success in their battles against the idolatrous inhabitants of the land and in taking possession of the land. 

Joshua and the people are told to not let the law of God depart from them or them depart from the law of God.  How do they keep themselves from departing from God's law?  By meditating upon it day and night.  They are to meditate upon the law of God always so that it sticks in their hearts and minds, so that they know it through and through, so that God's law is thoroughly implanted in them. 

David says in Psalm 1 that a man who delights in the law or the LORD and meditates on it day and night "is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers"  (see Psalm 1:1-3).

Psalm 119:9-16 is a wonderful description of the method and benefits of meditation according to God's Word:
"How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!  With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.  In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.  I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." 
So rather than the common notion of meditation, to focus on emptying one's mind, Scripture teaches that Godly meditation, Christian meditation, is to fill one's mind.  And the thing we are to fill our minds with is the law of God, the Word of God, the holy scriptures.  We do this so that we will not fall into sin, so that we will not depart from God's will and God's way for us, so that we will be careful to do all God would have us do.  When temptations and messages come at us from our own sinful hearts or from an unbelieving world around us, if God's word is hidden in our hearts, we will have God's own words stored away in our inner hard-drive, a bit like an anti-virus software.  God's word hidden away in our hearts will help us filter out lies and temptations and it will point us to God's truth.

Paul tells the church to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16). 

Far from the pagan practice of meditation, which is to empty one's mind of all things, Christians are called to a different type of meditation, one which fills the mind and heart with God's Word.  Instead of a meditation that erases the hard-drive of our mind, we are taught to download and store God's word in our hard-drives, to completely fill our mental and spiritual hard-drives with God's Word.  And we are to do this so that we might not sin against him. 

Justin Taylor quotes Joel Beeke at length on the Puritan practice of Meditation on the Scirptures.  It is well worth checking out these 22 benefits of Scriptural meditation.  It is also worth reading Beeke's whole essay, linked at the bottom of Justin Taylor's post.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The danger of neglecting the offers of the Gospel

Below is some commentary from J.C. Ryle on Matthew 10:15: 
...we are taught that it is a most dangerous thing to neglect the offers of the Gospel.  It will prove "more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment" than for those who have heard Christ's truth, and not received it (verse 15).
This is a doctrine fearfully overlooked, and one that deserves serious consideration.  Men are apt to forget that it does not require great open sins to be sinned in order to ruin a soul forever.  They have only to go on hearing without believing, listening without repenting, going to church without going to Christ, and by and by they will find themselves in hell!  We will all be judged according to our light; we will have to give an account of our use of religious privileges: to hear of the "great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3) and yet neglect it, is one of the worst sins a man can commit (John 16:9).
What are we doing ourselves with the Gospel?  This is the question which everyone who reads this passage should put to his conscience.  Let us assume that we are decent and respectable in our lives, correct and moral in all the relations of life, regular in our formal attendance on the means of grace.  That is all very well so far as it goes, but is this all that can be said of us?  Are we really receiving the love of the truth?  Is Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith?  If not, we are in fearful danger; we are far more guilty than the people of Sodom, who never heard the Gospel at all; we may awake to find that in spite of our regularity and morality and correctness, we have lost our souls to all eternity.  It will not save us to have lived in the full sunshine of Christian privileges, and to have heard the Gospel faithfully preached every week.  We must experience acquaintance with Christ; we must receive his truth personally; we must be united with him in life; we must become his servants and disciples.  Without this, the preaching of the Gospel only adds to our responsibility, increases our guilt, and will at length sink us more deeply into hell.  These are hard sayings!  But the words of Scripture, which we have read, are plain and unmistakable.  They are all true.
 - J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Matthew, p. 72-73.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Al Mohler on 50 Shades

Al Mohler weighs in on 50 Shades here, in his article called 50 Shades of Shame. 

Mohler reminds us that truth, beauty and goodness are inseparably joined together because they flow from and originate in God himself.  He points out that pornography warps beauty by seeking to separate it from truth and goodness.  That means that producing or partaking in pornography is an act of rebellion against God - willfully trying to separate what God has joined together.  And make no mistake, Mohler clearly considers the 50 Shades books and movie pornography and recognizes in them an attempt to normalize and popularize graphic and abusive porn to a far wider audience. 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

50 Shades of Sexual Immorality

Below is a round-up of Godly exhortations about the movie (and book) 50 Shades of Grey, set to be released this Friday, just in time for Valentine's Day.  In short, don't go see it, not even so you can talk to others about its dangers.  Its defenders preach the message that all the immorality in this story is consensual and therefore morally OK, but that is not a defence a Christian should consider valid on its own.  Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit out of mutual consent, but they didn't have God's consent and therefore it didn't matter what decision they made together.  Take another biblical example, that of orgies.  Orgies are also consensual, but they are strictly forbidden in Scripture (Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3) because they are sexually immoral whether or not all parties consent.  50 Shades is a story that glamourizes and normalizes abusive, selfish and self-centred, lust-based, personal sexual gratification in the context of causing another pain.  It stands in stark and obvious antithesis to God's definition of love, which seeks the others best and serves one another.  

This book originated as a work of fan fiction, inspired by Twilight.  As a father of 3 girls, I believe Twilight also ought to be avoided for the same reasons as it too glamourizes a warped, controlling, abusive relationship that, if it weren't for the device of vampires, everyone would recognize as sick and twisted (for more, see Douglas Wilson's article from The Huffington Post below). 

Desiring God on 50 Shades and how sin is dangerous, not playful.
Douglas Wilson calls 50 Shades by its biblical name
Douglas Wilson's piece on 50 Shades at Huffington Post
Another post by Wilson with further discussion and some additional links, including the one to his multi-part review of Twilight, which goes into the self-destructive psychology of the main character and the emotionally abusive relationship at the heart of the books.
Emily Whitten at World Magazine on 5 Myths about 50 Shades
Tim Challies reminds us that 50 Shades is porn for women
Tim Challies shares 7 lessons from the 50 Shades phenomena and reminds us that this is what the Bible means when it speaks about the sexual impurity of pagan cultures and that it has no place in the Church of God.
Dave Boehi points out there's been more than a little peer pressure from Christian women to read or see 50 Shades
Kevin DeYoung minces no words: 50 Shades is sinful straight up

The final word goes to the God the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul: 
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  - Philippians 4:8
I have not read 50 Shades, nor will I.  I have not watched 50 Shades, nor will I.  And I don't want to prime my girls to one day be vulnerable to a selfish, abusive man who only values them for what he can get from them, so I will not allow them to read Twilight.  Enough can be known about Grey in the above articles to know that it is neither pure, nor lovely, nor commendable, nor excellent, nor worthy of praise, and so it is not worth putting in your mind.  Nothing about this is grey, this is a black and white issue.




Saturday, 7 February 2015

Canada's Supreme Court Unanimously Supports Doctor Assisted Suicide

You can read reports about the Supreme Court decision at the Globe and Mail, and the National Post.  In their ruling the judges have said that the decision is limited to “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”  They have also pointed out that the condition need not be terminal, and that the suffering may be either physical or psychological.  Those are the conditions they have imposed...for now.

I believe this is a slippery slope decision.  I believe it is only a matter of time before physicians, family members, and others will begin "assisting" people in making the decision toward "assisted suicide" who may not have made it on their own.  I believe that all too soon we will hear of parents deciding for their disabled or unhealthy children, grown children deciding for or coercing their aged or infirm parents, or some physicians leading patients who would not have gone this direction otherwise to choose this as the right option rather than remaining a burden on a society with limited resources.  I believe that we will see people who are otherwise healthy but who are in the midst of a time of depression or in difficult life circumstances demanding these same rights in the near future.  In fact, I believe that before my kids are my age, we will see people who have no discernible physical or psychological ailments demanding "the same rights" to manage their existence as do sick people.  Why do I think this decision will lead to that?  Because people are involved and people are sinful.  The nature of sin is to continue in a downward rebellious march away from God until all authority has been wrested from God and we have raised ourselves up to the place of ultimate and total authority in his place.  A sinful heart is never satisfied with limited rebellion.  But it is not just the slippery slope and where this could, or rather will, lead that makes this decision wrong.  This decision is already wrong as it stands.

Anytime people take for themselves prerogatives that are God's, like deciding what constitutes a life worth living, or when life ought to end, or what lives ought not to make it past a few days, weeks, or months in the womb, it is a form of rebellion against the God who gives life to all.  It is God who breathes into people the breath of life (Gen. 2:7).  "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand."  (Deut. 32:39)

We are not autonomous.  We are not an authority unto ourselves.  We are not the gods and lords of our own lives.  We are not vested with the authority to choose who ought to be born, nor are we given the authority to pick when we die.  God made every person and because he created all people, each person owes allegiance to him and must submit to his rule.  But of course this ruling by the courts to allow people to choose when they die is simply the logical outworking of a people and culture and society which has long ago rejected the authority of God in exchange for the lie that "you will become like God."  As a society, we have rejected the truth that God is the creator of all life, and so it logically follows that his Word should have no authority to define how life ought to be lived. 

Every human being is made in God's image.  As Francis Schaeffer said, "Any person, no matter who he or she is - a stranger or a friend, a fellow believer or someone who is still in rebellion against God, anyone of any age, before or after birth - any and every person is made after the likeness of God."  (Whatever Happened to the Human Race, p. 158). Every human life has value simply because every human bears God's image.  Some will argue, and the courts have agreed, that suffering life is not really life, that at some point life becomes less than life and is no longer worth living, at least if the sufferer deems it so.  It is easy to see why people in a culture of pleasure, of self-fulfillment, of personal gratification and the pursuit of all things ME, a society of human-centredness, would believe that life is not worth living if it is not measuring up to an individual's expectations for it.  That is simply not true.

Suffering, even severe suffering, does not relegate life to some state that is sub-human or unworthy of continuing.  I want to be sensitive to people who do suffer severely, having known close family and friends who have lived in the depths of great suffering, some for very extended periods.  But even life with severe pain is still real life.  This is demonstrated in the life of Christ.  When God became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he suffered much and yet, even in the depths of his worst suffering, excruciating anguish which was both physical and psychological, he still was fully God in human flesh.  While not identical, this is analogous to created human life.  Suffering does not make human life meaningless any more than it made Christ's life meaningless.  In fact, in some sense, it takes on an extra level of meaning, often for the sufferer and those closest to them.  Perhaps when a sufferer finds their life no longer worth living, it is because the suffering has highlighted the purposelessness of their life prior to suffering, but the suffering brings that purposelessness into stark relief rather than allowing it to be hidden in the distractions we often surround ourselves with in the course of everyday life. 

For those who know God and understand their highest purpose and life calling to be to glorify him, suffering becomes simply a new context, albeit a very difficult one, in which to continue to live out that purpose. 
"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."  (Rev. 4:11)
But if God sends suffering to us, he also sends the strength and grace to live in it.  If we don't find we have that strength to endure, it is likely God's way of telling us that we need to turn to him.