When I reflect on my past year, some of the things I prayed for and planned for did come about. Yet many things were unexpected. One of my co-pastors became very unwell. Many people joined the church and some people left. Many things, both large and small, happened that I could never have known in advance. It makes me humble knowing that I have far less control over my life than I often think I do.
As you reflect on 2023, how did your year turn out? How do you judge if it is a good year or a bad year? One measure is financial: did you meet your budget or your goals? Another is by achievement: did you get everything done that you hoped to? These are the kinds of things that are easily measured. We know when we have met these goals.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, many of the things that happened in the past year we didn’t plan or expect. We probably were unwell at some stage. We might have lost a job or had an unexpected job offer. Any number of things might have happened that we could never have known in advance.
It is like James reminded his readers of when it came to planning:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(Jas. 4:13-16 ESV)
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By Matt Boga — 2 years ago
Your deep insights and revelations come from spending minutes, that turn into hours, that turn into days, that turn into weeks. It’s once the truth of Scripture has been so branded on your heart that you finally begin to draw out the deep meanings of the text. This is why, very practically speaking, I encourage folks to memorize chunks of Scripture. Because the hours, days, and maybe even weeks and years it takes to commit passages to memory will have an eternal impact on your life with God.
Meditation is an often-neglected aspect of Christianity but in the introduction to the longest book in the Bible, the Psalmist tells us that this practice is a vital part of what true “blessedness” looks like. Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (vv. 1-2).
Now, there may be many reasons why we pull back at this word but let me state two. First, often folks associate mediation with eastern, non-Christian religions. So, in an effort not to accidentally do what is un-Christian, we end up intentionally failing to do what is a good Christian practice.
A second hesitation I often come across is far more practical. Many simply tell me, “Matt, I just don’t know how to meditate on God’s word. I don’t even know what that means. I wouldn’t know how to begin.” However, I’m confident—whether you know it or not—you do know how to meditate on God’s word. And I can say that with certainty because I’m sure you know how to hold a grudge.
Holding Holy Grudges
Think about it. What are you doing when you’re holding a grudge? You’re constantly throwing yourself back into whatever the instance was that offended you. All your spare, quiet moments are consumed with bitterness that eventually turns to rage and hatred because you’re constantly thinking about the offense.
Whether you’re mowing the lawn or doing the dishes, you’re imagining the person that upset you and what you’d say to them now if you had the chance. You probably win every argument you have about it in the shower. You spend so much time thinking about the instance you’re able to pull out every little detail of the offense, or the offender, that you can remember the whole interaction with vivid clarity.
This is what we ought to be doing with God’s word.
Biblical meditation is filling your mind and heart with God’s word. It’s swishing it around and around again in your head until the wakes of His word splash down into the depths of your heart. It’s like thoroughly chewing a piece of meat before you swallow it so that you know you’ve got all the rich flavor out of it.
And when you do this, one of the most interesting things you’ll find is that your deepest and most meaningful insights about Scripture don’t come from reading it once or spending a passing moment with the verse of the day. No, your deep insights and revelations come from spending minutes, that turn into hours, that turn into days, that turn into weeks. It’s once the truth of Scripture has been so branded on your heart that you finally begin to draw out the deep meanings of the text.
By Andrew Sibley — 5 months ago
God has designed the world to be a place where human beings can enhance the ecosystem through intervention. As Titchmarsh’s testimony shows, the “dominion mandate,” utilised in managing gardens and parks, actually increases biodiversity, not lessens it. On the other hand, naïve environmental campaigns that seek to rewild nature may reduce biodiversity instead—abandoning the well-ordered garden in favour of something less managed is counter-productive.
Alan Titchmarsh is a well-known gardener and TV personality in the UK. He has recently defended the traditional well managed garden that exists in Britain. This defence was in response to environmental campaigns that seek to rewild many of our gardens, parks, and countryside. Titchmarsh stated in a written representation to the British Parliament’s House of Lords that a carefully kept garden actually attracts more insects, birds, and small mammals than those areas of land that have been set aside for rewilding purposes. In other words, human activity, far from harming the environment, actually increases bio-diversity, and provides food and shelter for many more months of the year.
“Domestic gardens and well-planted parks offer an opportunity to all forms of wildlife—be they birds seeking nesting sites in hedges, berried plants that provide winter food, or shrubs that offer shelter to mammals.”1
This is borne out of his own gardening experience; he had set-aside two acres of land to grow according its own devices.
“Domestic gardens, with their greater plant diversity, offer sustenance and shelter to wildlife from March through November. Nine months of nourishment. A rewilded garden will offer nothing but straw and hay from August to March. A four-month flowering season is the norm.…This is at odds with my experience as the custodian of a two-acre wildflower meadow and garden.…The garden is patently richer—and for longer—in the variety of insect and bird species it sustains.”1
He also drew attention to prejudice that exists against imported plants; florae which have actually helped to increase diversity of species in the UK.
“I find it worrying that misleading propaganda suggests only native plants are of any value to wildlife and the environment.…Domestic gardeners have a duty to ensure the survival of this unparalleled resource.…Should a current fashionable and ill-considered trend deplete our gardens of their botanical riches then we have presided over a diminution in biodiversity of catastrophic proportions.”1
By Ben Stahl — 10 months ago
God attaches to the second commandment is His sovereignty over us. This is affirmed in Exodus 20:5, “For I, the LORD….” He is the Mighty King, the Creator of all things both visible and invisible. All things were created through Him and for Him. He holds all things together by the word of His power. Because He is sovereign, He is free to speak, govern, and ordain as He pleases. He has commanded that we should not make any graven images or bow down to them.
The history of the visible church is fraught with temptation to know God through images made by human hands. During the Reformation and for most of the 500 years following, the use of images would be an obvious differentiator between Reformed Protestants and Roman Catholics. In recent decades, images “of all or of any of the three persons” have been introduced to Reformed churches. This two part series of articles first lays out the positive Biblical view of the second commandment in the Old and New Testament. Relying heavily on the 1981 Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) report “On Images of Christ” the second article proceeds to lay out three arguments commonly used in favor of images. Responding to the modern arguments, these articles find that the Bible rejects images “of all or of any of the three persons,” and calls all people to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
The Return of Images
The history of the visible church is filled with examples of image making and idolatry. The Israelites had not left Sinai before they made a golden calf and called it their God who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32). From the time of the judges through the exile, idol worship was a regular sin among the people of the God. The New Testament church was susceptible to idolatry through the superstitions of the Jews and the idolatry of the nations surrounding them.
God did not leave men to wonder concerning images, idolatry, and worship but rather revealed His will by speaking in His Word. God gave the second commandment at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20 to direct the pure worship of God and forbid all idolatry. God asked questions concerning images to which no one could respond. As John concluded his first epistle he did so with this positive command, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
Nevertheless, 500 years after the Reformation, images of the second person of the Trinity have found resurgence in Reformed churches and homes. For example, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Florida displays a stone statue of Jesus in front of the church building with the words, “Come Unto Me.” Sunday School materials are filled with images of Christ and Christians now widely accept their use. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) position report “On Images of Christ” gave encouragement to the use of images of Christ in certain contexts. Many professing Christians give little thought to movies and popular tv shows with actors pretending to be Jesus.
Should images of Christ be used in any context? Prior to addressing some contemporary arguments for images of Christ from the Reformed tradition, it is helpful to consider the second commandment from Scripture.
Biblical Overview of the Second Commandment
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
What Is Required?
The second commandment builds on the first by addressing the manner of God’s worship. In the first commandment God gives instruction concerning the object of men’s worship. In the second commandment, God gives instruction concerning the practice of men’s worship.
Whereas God gives the second commandment in a negative form, “thou shalt not make… thou shalt not bow,” a positive duty is required. The Psalmist cries out, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker (Psalm 95:6). Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
God requires all His worship and ordinances to be pure and complete as instituted in His Word alone.