Monthly Archives: March 2011

A book you should read

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

Piper does a wonderful job unpacking the importance of the mind in loving God, while keeping it firmly in its place as a servant of the heart in its pursuit of loving God (and man). He approaches the topic by means of bible exposition. This lends it an air of authority that other valid approaches lack in the anti-intellectualistic atmosphere that pervades many churches today.

I was particularly helped by the last few chapters. Here, Piper demonstrates that “pride is no respecter of persons”, and that both the thinker and the “non-thinker” can be proud in their own way. Being a natural thinker, that is, being the sort who finds delight in the work of thinking, the warning that thinking is dangerous and that a profound work of grace is required in my naturally proud heart is timely and necessary. I’ve learnt that I need to saturate my thinking in much more prayer.

Incidentally, for all those living in KL, it appears that a local publisher has worked out a publishing agreement with Crossway, allowing them to locally print the book. With no import costs, the book’s price was only RM22. So there really isn’t any excuse not to buy it. Discover what thinking really involves and why it is necessary. Learn the crucial lesson that “humble knowledge is the fuel of the fire of love for God and man”. And heed the warning that “if we turn away from serious thinking in our pursuit of God, that fire will eventually go out”.

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Not the tree of death

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17)

Many take this to mean that God didn’t want Adam and Eve to have knowledge of good and evil. Isn’t possessing moral knowledge a good thing? Is God keeping them ignorant for selfish motives? What can be wrong with desiring such a noble thing?

Firstly, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not evil. God does not create anything evil. He is not the originator of evil. In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that everything God created was good. That includes this tree. Moral knowledge is not inherently evil. As the story of the Bible unfolds, we learn that the law is good.

Secondly, God did not leave Adam in the dark. He explicitly warned Adam that eating the fruit would result in death. I believe that constitutes a basic form of the knowledge of good and evil. That is, it is good to not eat the fruit, and it is bad to eat the fruit. But as we established earlier, the fruit is not poisonous, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not the tree of death. This brings us to our third point.

It is the act of eating the fruit that is evil, not the fruit being eaten. Adam disobeyed God’s explicit command to not eat the fruit and suffered the known consequence. This constitutes the true knowledge of good and evil. Any word, thought or deed that is in line with the word of God is good. Anything else is the path of evil – and foolishness. For God does warn us of the consequences of disobeying his word. If the sign says that the bridge ahead is out, only a foolish man will continue driving to his grave.

So the wise man pays very careful attention to every single word of God. He is not the kind of man to pause in mid-bite trying to remember whether God had told him to eat or not to eat the fruit, a little worried about the bitterness in his mouth and wrecking pain in his stomach.

Fighting a losing battle

Being a Christian is difficult. It’s a struggle to live in accordance with the law of Christ. Though I am a new creation in Christ, redeemed for good works and holiness, the old part of me will not admit defeat. Sin will fight for every square inch of my mind and heart. It is the sore loser that will not graciously exit the competition. It is the enemy within me, giving me no peace as long as it lives.

As the apostle Paul puts it, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” A law! A certainty! Even my best efforts at pleasing God are tainted with sinful motives. I find it easier to sin than to be holy.

I wish it were not so. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.

But Jesus must always have the last word on a matter like this.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Christ [at the cross]. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Through death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

His words are like a bracing gust of fresh air on the stench-ridden battlefield of my heart. He is telling us that we are not fighting a losing battle. Sin is. Though the world, the flesh and the devil fight with all their might, he has decisively defeated them at the cross. He has disarmed them, destroyed every work of theirs, and delivered us from their power.

With Christ as our captain, the Spirit as our support, and the Word as our weapon, our victory over sin is assured. Let us confidently fight the good fight of faith and let the enemy within know it’s fighting a losing battle.

Don’t Fool Yourself: The Danger of Contemporary Worship Music

“For people will be… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” 2 Timothy 3:4-5

This is a terrifyingly accurate depiction of the key danger of the contemporary worship service.

Necessary Clarifications
To be clear, I am referring to the rise in importance of music in church life, oftentimes to the neglect of the other ordinary means of grace, such as preaching, bible study and prayer. A younger generation has fallen in love with contemporary Christian music, to the extent that their worship is defined almost exclusively in terms of said music. These are the people who tune in during the music section of the Sunday service, tune out during the preaching portions and are mostly absent from the rest of church life outside of Sunday. These are the people who equate worship with music while turning a blind eye to their character and works.

Now, I’m not a music-phobe. I love music. I agree with Luther who expressed the sentiment that music is God’s second greatest gift after theology. The Bible is replete with examples of music being employed in the praise of God. Yet with every gift of God, our sinful hearts are certain to twist them for our own idolatrous ends. Music is no exception.

The Key Danger
The contemporary worship scene makes it possible to fool ourselves that our love of pleasure (the emotional high we can get from worship music) is love of God. The reason we can be fooled is because the lover of God can praise with the same fervency as the lover of pleasure. This is dangerous because it is idolatry of the worst kind and we remain totally unaware of it! Not only are our hearts still self-centered, but we are deceived into thinking that our self-centeredness is God-centeredness.

How can you tell whether you love pleasure or love God if, as far as appearances go, both can express love for God with the same fervency in a worship service? The only way we can differentiate between the two is that the one who loves God will not deny his power in their lives.

The Power of Godliness
That power isn’t primarily the creation of feelings of closeness to and love for God in a person’s life. While we easily associate these feelings with a measure of godliness, the godly person is not often marked by feelings of godliness. He is marked by acts of godliness, namely holy living. Holiness is God’s power at work within us, because left to our own devices, our inclination is to sin. We can only begin to progress in holiness if God is at work in us to will and to act according to his good pleasure.

There Is Hope!
It is easy for us to be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. However, let us not be deceived by appearances of godliness to think otherwise. If this is the inclination of your heart, we have a Saviour we can confess this to. He is faithful and just to forgive us for loving pleasure more than loving him. And let’s not just settle for forgiveness of sin, but ask that he work in us an inclination to love him more than we love ourselves, living holy lives that are pleasing to God.

Questions to Think Over
1. Do you love worship music because it gives you an emotional high and a sense of spiritual fulfillment, or do you love music because it helps you to express your love for God?

2. Are you growing in godliness – that is, growing in holiness? Or have you been deceived into equating godliness with spiritual highs and ‘mountaintop’ experiences?

3. What are the means God uses to grow us in holiness?

Watch this space

So someone suggested to me a month back that I should start writing again. The real reason I haven’t written anything for a while is that I’ve had very little to write about. I figured that the problem boiled down to bad reading habits, namely the Too Much Information(TMI) syndrome. I decided to limit my current intake of ‘information’, and instead write a bit more about what I read. In addition, there are several issues close to my heart that have been bubbling for the past few months, and they are now rather close to seeing the light of day on this blog. Given all this, I think I can manage to produce one or two items a week. Also, in the spirit of combating the adverse effects of TMI syndrome on our lives, I think I’ll impose 500-word limits on my posts. If a thought is too long, then it’ll be broken down into several parts.

This is all to say: I’m resurrecting this blog. Watch this space for something later this week.