Laudable Linkage

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Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads on the Web:

How to Shipwreck Your Theology. ““What is the most brilliant theology good for if it is to be shipwrecked in one’s own house?”

Maybe Women are Some of the Worst Offenders.

9 Things to Know About a Widow’s Grief.

Love Letter to a Lesbian, HT to True Woman, from a former lesbian.

“Let Me Know How I Can Help!” (This Will, Because They Won’t), HT to Linda. Practical ways to ask for or offer help in a time of need.

How Breastfeeding Changed My View of God, HT to True Woman. “God’s love for us is no Hallmark sentiment. This image is not primarily a celebration of our newborn cuteness…Rather, this verse reveals God’s hard-won, self-giving, dogged commitment to our good, a refusal to let us go—however frustrating we become, an insistence on seeing his image in us—and a painful provision for our most desperate need.”

C. S. Lewis’s Wonderful Letters to Children. I love his manner with them.

A Pathway to a Full Life.

This is cool and somewhat mesmerizing to watch: magnetism in slow motion, HT to The Story Warren:

Happy Saturday!

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Laudable Linkage

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I have just a short list this week, but decided to go ahead and share it lest I end up with an overly long list next time.

The Secret to Loving (Really) Difficult People. “As followers of Christ, we do not have the option of not loving them. Loving one another is not merely a biblical suggestion. Jesus tells us, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). The last five words are the challenge for me: ‘…as I have loved you.’

A Response to Andy Stanley on “Theological Correctness”, HT to Challies. “We should never put ‘theological correctness’ and unity at opposite ends of the spectrum…if we do not have the truth, we have no unity.”

Corporate Worship.

Motherhood Is Better Than the Media Claims, HT to Proclaim and Defend.

Be The Change You Want To See On The Internet, HT to Challies. Good stuff here.

And lastly, I found some things on Pinterest I could identify with. You? 🙂

(I couldn’t find the original sources for these pictures. Even though the last one has a web site listed on it, I couldn’t make it out.)

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd takes the title of No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God from 2 Timothy 3:6-7:

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Other translations use the descriptors “gullible,” “foolish,” “idle,” “silly” women. She says the literal translation is “little women” or “small women” and “was a term of contempt” (p. 23).

“Of course, Paul is not making a blanket statement about all women” (p. 21). “Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. His writing in Scripture shows a high view of women and much appreciation for their service. I wish we could all be the kind of woman who is praised in his writing. And Paul is not saying men are never gullible. He is saying that a particular type of immature woman was being targeted by false teachers looking to manipulate and infect households” (pp. 23-24).

In pondering why women would be such a target, she discusses the value of women, first of all from having been made in God’s image, but also in having been created as a helper. Sometimes we bristle at that word “helper,” but the word is also used of God “as a ‘helper’ to Israel throughout the Old Testament” and this word “communicates great strength” (pp 24-25). She quotes one author’s interpretation of the word for helper, ezer, as a “necessary ally”  which “brings into view the joint mission for which the male and female are created to rule God’s earthly kingdom” (p. 26). It emphasizes their relatedness to each other and dependence on each other.

To get to Adam, Satan went after a target of value to him. It is no surprise, then, that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers, ill-placed priorities, felt needs, fear tactics, and coping mechanisms, to divert them from resting in Christ and in God’s wisdom, provision, and sovereignty” (p. 26).

In these days, this often happens via women’s ministries and books targeted to women.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? Have we made any progress in equipping our women to distinguish truth from error in what they are reading? Do the women in your church actually have the skills to lead a Bible study? Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives?” (p. 22).

No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian. We all have an understanding about who God is and what he has done. The question is whether or not our views are based on what he has revealed in his Word about himself. And yet many women are either turned off or intimidated by doctrine” (p. 53) (emphasis mine).

Further complicating the problem is that sometimes pastors are unaware of what is being taught in women’s Bible studies, or, in some cases she cites, concerns women bring up to pastors about the books they’re reading are dismissed as if they don’t matter. I appreciate that she encourages pastors and leaders not just to give women’s ministry leaders lists of approved and disapproved authors, but to engage their questions and concerns and teach them how to be discerning in their reading.

Aimee delves further into what it means to be a “necessary ally,” why women should be theologically robust, how church leaders can help, how to be more discerning in our reading. She goes into church and feminist history to a degree. She demonstrates that, though a woman is not to hold an authoritative office over men, that doesn’t mean men can never learn from women (e.g, Hannah and Mary’s prayers are theologically rich and recorded as inspired Scripture, Priscilla is named with her husband Aquila as having “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more accurately,” Abigail reasoned with and appealed to David, diverting him from killing her household). She discusses different levels of doctrines: there are core ones that not to believe is heresy, such as the inspiration of the Bible, who Jesus is, how one can be saved, etc. But there are secondary ones that we might disagree over yet acknowledge that the other person knows and loves God, and we might benefit from their teaching while not necessarily agreeing with every little point. She has one section where she takes excerpts from popular books for Christian women and shows how to ask questions of them to discern what they are saying and how it lines up with Scripture.

I very much appreciate that she summarizes well after a section of writing. Not many non-fiction authors do this any more: maybe they feel they’ll bore the reader. But it helps me for the author to step back every now and then and review in a more concise form what they’ve just been talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind the flow of the book and the connection between individual chapters and the overall point, so it helps when an author does that occasionally.

I have multitudes of places marked, much more than I can share in this already-long review, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

The reason why so many people have an aversion to theology may be that it takes fitness. Returning to Hebrews 10:23, holding fast to anything requires fitness. It requires exercise, conditioning, stamina. We are exhorted to hold fast to our confession of hope because there is always something working against our fight for spiritual health and growth. John Owen picks up on this, saying that these two words insinuate an opposing force–we could even say a “great danger.” “To ‘hold fast’ implies the putting forth our utmost strength and endeavors in so doing.” This is going to take awareness and a real fight. Faith is a gift of God, but it is a fighting grace. To be fit theologically, we must be conditioned by God’s Word, exercising this gift actively by living a life of faith and obedience (pp. 57-58).

Sometimes we get so invested in our favorite authors and teachers that we have trouble separating their personalities from the content of their teaching. How do you handle it when your favorite books or speakers are challenged by constructive criticism? Do you take it personally? Do you think you have any blind spots when it comes to reading with discernment? (p. 64).

Our evangelical culture is one that promotes tolerance and love. But it isn’t loving to tolerate bad teaching in the church. Love requires the work of guarding the Word of the One who is truly loving. He loves us enough to be direct about holiness, sin, and the way to everlasting life. We have a responsibility to discern the teaching of those who eagerly wish to disciple others (p. 87).

We need to be careful not to be led by our sentiments to the detriment of our competency in God’s Word (p. 166).

Discernment is necessary in our relationships and in all of our learning. We are to pursue truth, and that means we have to distinguish truth from error (p. 201).

Aren’t we striving for unity? Of course we are! But what is it that unites us? We have a beautiful prayer recorded in Scripture, offered by Jesus for the unity of his church (see John 17:11). In it, he prays for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). To sanctify means to set apart. So we see that Christ’s disciples were to be set apart by his word….We can be united only by the truth; anything else is superficial. God’s Word is the truth! And yet there is a setting apart, as truth needs to be separated from lies and errors (pp. 221-222).

But isn’t love the most important thing? [Quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:37-39, ties back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5.] So yes, love is of extreme importance–not only with our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well (p. 222, emphasis mine).

[After quoting Galatians 1:6-9 about letting those be accursed who bring a false doctrine] Those are very strong words. But they are loving words! It isn’t loving to accept any teaching in the church that is damning to our souls (p. 229).

What they believe to be true about God and themselves will shape their everyday decision making and behavior. But, more than that, it is an eternal matter. Impress the truth upon both the women and the men that they are theologians. We all have some sort of knowledge about God. The question is whether we are good theologians or poor ones. We are called to a life of faith and obedience. How does the knowledge of who the Lord is and what he has done on our behalf affect us? (p. 269).

If you’ve read here long, you know I take sound doctrine seriously, and I agree with what Aimee says about the need to read, understand, believe, obey, and teach what God says. I, too, have been saddened or dismayed by some of the problems in some of the most popular Christian books marketed to women. So I am very happy to see the emphases in this book on robust theology and discernment.

However, there are a few areas where I’d disagree with Aimee, though they all fall under secondary issues.

She wonders if there is any need for separate women’s ministries at all, and if there is, she feels they should be called initiatives rather than ministries. She feels that calling every other endeavor in church a “ministry” takes away from the ministry of the preaching of the Word of God, from which everything else we do in church should flow. I agree that the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry, but I have no problem with a women’s ministry or children’s ministry or prison ministry. The Bible does teach that we are all supposed to minister to others, and I have never had the example or even the thought that these other ministries of the church are competing with or downplaying preaching.

Somewhat connected with that, she quotes Hannah Anderson’s Made for More as saying, “When we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being ‘women,’ we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.” I have not read Hannah’s book, but I don’t have a problem with a women’s ministry’s focus primarily concerned with Christian womanhood. A lot of what older women are instructed to teach younger women in Titus 2 has specifically to do with their womanhood, yet it is all within the context of sound doctrine (verse 1). I’ve been involved with women’s ministries for most of my adult life, and they’ve mostly been set up with monthly or quarterly meetings built around fellowship and outreach with occasional Bible studies at other times. The preached Word that we receive in other services during the week (4 or more for many of us) forms the basis and context for what we do in the women’s ministries. Having a women’s ministry built around Christian womanhood does not necessarily mean that we’re elevating that above knowing Christ: we’re seeking how to be the kind of women He wants us to be under the leadership of Titus 2 older women.

In a section about Adam and Eve, she states that “They were to expand the garden-temple, and therefore God’s presence, to the outermost parts of the world” (p. 68). I have a question mark under “God’s presence.” He is already everywhere. I’ve never heard this as a part of their instruction to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Later in this section she faults Eve for being “hospitable to the enemy, allowing the Serpent to converse with her in the garden-temple” (p. 69). Is talking to him being hospitable? And did she even know he was an enemy at that point? I’ve often wondered about this scene. She shows no surprise that a serpent speaks to her. Did all animals speak then? I don’t know. It seems to be a real serpent as opposed to a figurative one (like the dragon or beast in Revelation. We take them as figurative representations of real people with dragonish and beastly characters) because the curse in Genesis 3:14-15 has him crawling on his belly like a snake. Granted, when he started questioning and twisting God’s Word, that should have raised a red flag for Eve, and maybe that’s all that Aimee means, that Eve should not have kept listening to the snake at that point. But she seems to find a lot of fault with both Adam and Eve long before the Bible charges them with sin.

In a discussion of our unity with Christ, with His being the head and we His body, she makes the statement, “Christ has united himself in such a way to his church that we can be called the total Christ, or the one Christ!” (p. 171). While I agree with everything else she said about our union with Him, this statement bothers me, but I would need to ponder it more than I have.

Aimee writes from a Reformed perspective, and I am not Reformed, so we would have some differences there. Some day I really should write out why, but it would take too long to get into all of it here.

There are a couple of areas I wish she had gone into more, such as why we believe the canon of Scripture is closed and there is no new revelation at this time and hermeneutics (principles for Bible interpretation), as those are two areas of error in a lot of popular books.

But overall, I found much food for thought and much I agreed with thoroughly. I thought this was a very helpful book and I highly recommend it for every woman who wants to be strong in the faith rather than a spiritually immature or “little” woman.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman, Carole‘s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Knowing God

Knowing GodEven though I’ve been posting weekly summaries of my reading from Knowing God by J. I. Packer, I still wanted to do a general review, partly for those who did not want to keep up with the weekly readings, and partly for me to have a general review to link back to.

Even though this book has been considered a classic and has been in print for over 40 years, somehow I had never gotten around to reading it before, though I had heard of it and wanted to.

Packer says the most basic definition of a Christian is that he or she is a person who has God as Father. We are not all God’s children: we become His when we believe on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Packer begins with the virtues of studying about God as well as the warning not to stop with just the academics, but to use what we learn to get to know God personally.

To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it (p. 22).

The psalmist [of Psalm 119] was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand (pp. 22-23).

He talks about what it means to know God, how knowing Him differs from knowing others, the different analogies the Scriptures use to illustrate our relationship to Him.

John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you. Knowing about him is a necessary precondition of trusting in him (‘how could they have faith in one they had never heard of?’ [Romans 10:4 NEB]), but the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him (pp. 39-40).

He discusses the need to know God as He truly is, not as our mental picture of Him is nor as He has been falsely portrayed by others.

All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here [emphasis mine here]. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper, the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination (p. 48).

He discusses what it means to believe that Jesus is God Incarnate and yet also fully man, the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the truth of the Bible, the need for and nature of propitiation, what the Bible means by adoption, how God guides us, why we still have trials if we know Him and He loves us, and His full adequacy to handle whatever He allows in our lives. He covers in great detail several of God’s attributes: His immutability (His unchanging nature), His majesty, wisdom, love, grace, judgment, wrath, goodness, severity, and jealousy. Each of those topics is the subject of a whole chapter, and it’s impossible to give an overview of them here, but they were quite beneficial and helpful.

As I said in one week’s summaries, sometimes in the middle of a given chapter, it was easy to get occupied with the individual topics or chapters and forget that they are there in connection with how we know God, so it helped me to stop periodically and remember to tie the individual chapters back to the main point of the book. They do all have that connection even though it might not seem like it from the titles.

Though I didn’t agree with every single little point, especially those emphasizing a Calvinistic viewpoint, I did benefit from and can highly recommend the book. I appreciate that it is not full of theologicalese – terminology that only an academic could understand. I wouldn’t call it simple reading: there were a few places that were a little hard to follow. But for the most part I think an average reader could handle it fairly easily.

I am glad I finally made time for this book and thoroughly understand why it is considered a Christian classic. There were multitudes of places I marked and many memorable and helpful quotes in the book, many more than I can possibly recount here. But I’ll close with this one:

In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven (p. 249).

For more information, my thoughts on a couple of chapters a week are as follows:

Chapters 1 and 2, “The Study of God” and “The People Who Know Their God”
Chapters 3 and 4, “Knowing and Being Known” and “The Only True God”
Chapters 5 and 6: “God Incarnate” and “He Shall Testify”
Chapters 7 and 8: “God Unchanging” and “The Majesty of God”
Chapters 9 and 10: “God Only Wise” and “God’s Wisdom and Ours”
Chapters 11 and 12: “Thy Word Is Truth” and “The Love of God”
Chapters 13 and 14: “The Grace of God” and “God the Judge”
Chapters 15 and 16: “The Wrath of God” and “Goodness and Severity”
Chapters 17 and 18: “The Jealous God” and “The Heart of the Gospel” (Propitiation)
Chapters 19 and 20: “Sons of God” and “Thou Our Guide”
Chapters 21 and 22: “These Inward Trials” and “The Adequacy of God”

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Knowing God, Chapters 5 and 6: The Incarnation and the Holy Spirit

Knowing GodWe’re continuing to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer along with Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together Series. This week we are in chapters 5 and 6.

Chapter 5, “God Incarnate,” is probably the most…I hate to say difficult or technical, because that immediately turns people off. It is a little more difficult and technical than the previous chapters, but not at all insurmountable. I love that Packer says, “This is the deep end of theology, no doubt, but John [in John 1] throws us straight into it” (p. 66). Some people prefer to avoid theological discussions and feel that, “We’re just supposed to love God and people. Why waste time on that stuff?” Because it matters. If people talk about loving Jesus but don’t know Him for Who He really is, they can be totally lost even while thinking all is right with the world. False steps either on the side of Jesus’ humanity or His deity lead to grave errors.

That said, I couldn’t possibly reproduce what Packer said in this chapter in distilled form. It would be long and involved and I just don’t have time this particular week. But it’s good reading to cement the truth that Jesus is totally God and totally man into our thinking, drawing primarily from John 1:1-14,  Philippians 2:5-11, and II Corinthians 8:9.

A section particularly interesting to me involved what it meant for Christ to “empty Himself” in Philippians 2:6-7: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” We know this doesn’t mean He set aside His deity, for He displayed omnipotence (still the storm, feeding 5,000+, raising the dead, etc.), omniscience (knowing others’ thoughts), and omnipresence (talking about being in heaven at the same time He was talking to people on earth – John 3:13)) while in human form. So what did He empty Himself of? “Does  it not imply that a certain reduction of the Son’s deity was involved in His becoming man?” (p. 59). No, answers Packer. Such a theory is called kenosis, and it has been around in various forms for years. Packer discusses it and its manifestations and implications more fully and then says:

When Paul talks of the Son as having emptied himself and become poor, what he has in mind, as the context in each case shows, is the laying aside not of divine powers and attributes but of divine glory and dignity, “the glory I had with you before the world began, as Christ puts it in His great high priestly prayer (p. 60).

We now see what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory (the real kenosis); a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and understanding; finally, a death that involved such agony – spiritual even more than physical – that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they through his poverty might become rich (p. 63).

I like the way he applies this truth to Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation, the fact that God came to us in the form of a baby, to grow up as a human, yet still fully God, for the purpose of dying on the cross for our sins:

We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians–I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians–go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians–alas, they are many–whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor — spending and being spent — to enrich their fellow men, giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others — and not just their own friends — in whatever way there seems need (pp 63-64).

Chapter 4, “He Shall Testify,” is about the Holy Spirit. He asserts that preaching and teaching about the Holy Spirit has been sadly neglected but is vital, for He is fully God as well and testifies of Christ. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26).

Again, I am not going to list point by point his instruction about the Holy Spirit – you’ll just have to read the book. 🙂 But one section that stood out to me was this:

In the Old Testament, God’s word and God’s Spirit are parallel figures. God’s word is his almighty speech; God’s Spirit is his almighty breath. Both phrases convey the thought of his power in action (p. 67).

He then discusses the parallels are mentioned in the creation account and in reference to Christ. This caught my eye because I had noticed a long time ago that in the passages telling us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16-25) and to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-33), the aftermath is remarkably similar: speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, letting the Spirit and the word affect all our relationships, etc.

After showing that one of the Holy Spirit’s ministries is to illuminate and convict people of God’s truth:, Packer says:

It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart. It is the sovereign prerogative of Christ’s Spirit to convince men’s consciences of the truth of Christ’s gospel; and Christ’s human witnesses must learn to ground their hopes of success not on clever presentation of the truth by man, but on powerful demonstration of the truth by the Spirit (p. 71).

That’s not to say we shouldn’t share the truth of Christ since opening people’s eyes is His job and not ours: no, we must. We’re commanded to, and the Spirit used the Word to open eyes. But we trust in His working, not our “clever presentation.”

These chapters were beneficial to study, even though they tossed us for awhile into the “deep end of theology.” It’s good to “gird up the loins of our minds” sometimes and exercise them beyond what we’re used to.

Laudable Linkage

Here are some reads that piqued my interest this week: you might find some of them beneficial as well.

We Must Believe. A good explanation of what exactly it means to believe on Christ for salvation.

6 Reasons Women Should Study Theology.

Mentoring 101, HT to Challies.

Emotional Control.

What a Pastor Wants From the Music Ministry.

The Books Boomers Will Never Read.

Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress.

And this from a Facebook friend brought a smile:

The E

Hope you have a great day!

Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads from the last couple of weeks:

Two pieces on the historicity of the first Adam, a current hot topic: Our Make-Believe Parents: When Adam Becomes More Fiction Than Fact and 19 Resources on the Historicity of Adam.

Grace Incognito. “I may like the idea of portraying the strong Christian woman weathering adversity with a brave face, but I don’t get to choose the scene of my martyrdom that will show off my good side. But what if the point isn’t sprinting across the finish line in record time, but knowing God in every halting, baby step along the way?”

One Step. “One step — one cross-shaped, trusting step of faith in a loving, good, and sovereign God — gives purpose to pain, turns mourning into dancing, and transforms everything (yes, everything) into a gift…And I have a visual of grace that I will never, ever forget.”

Savor “Every” Moment? This humorous piece reminds us that young moms in the trenches need more from us than the admonition to savor every moment because it all passes so quickly. They need to know we remember the trenches and survived them.

How to Criticize a Preacher.

Distinguishing Between Truth and the Bearer of Truth. This kind of goes along with the one above. I’ve had a possible blog post percolating in the back of my mind along these lines, but no time to write it out.

A Concerned Mother’s Letter to Teen-age Girls.

Thinking Evangelically About Tim Tebow. “I fear that the Tebow-mania is just another manifestation of the way evangelicals think cultural cache and celebrity influence is vital to the cause of Christ. When I read the Bible, I see the opposite, actually, how God uses the low, the weak, the despised, the cultural cast-offs to further his kingdom. I am not against Christians in the entertainment or athletic spotlights, of course, but I am against the idolization of these people, which I think much of our fandom becomes. To be clear: The cause of Christ is not dependent on Tim Tebow’s success in the NFL. And, by the way, neither is his witness!”

Can Oyster, the “Netflix For Books,” Be Successful?

Hope you have a great Saturday!

Book Review: Comforts From Romans

ComfortsComforts From Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time by Elyse Fitzpatrick wasn’t originally on my radar, but I saw that the True Woman site would be going through Romans 1-8 in the four weeks preceding Easter, using this book as a supplement. I had been wanting to do something a little different in my pre-Easter reading, and I had been wanting to read something by Elyse Fitzpatrick, so I ordered the book. In the meantime, I decided to do a different reading plan for Easter, so I saved this book for afterward and caught up with the weekly discussion about it at True Woman (under Romans Reboot).

The book is not a thorough exegesis or commentary of all of Romans 1-8, but rather a “devotional taste” of its truths. Elyse mainly just pulls out those parts of it dealing with “the absolutely shocking message of grace” (p. 13). The gospel isn’t just for the obtaining salvation at the beginning of our Christian lives: we need to hear it and think about it daily. Why? To stir up praise and gratitude to God for it, but also to remind ourselves, because we’re too prone to forgetting that our relationship with God is based on Jesus’ righteousness and not our own even after salvation.

If you’re familiar with Romans at all, you know that the first three chapters start with very bad news: the fact that we are all sinful, that our sin deserves judgment from God, and there is nothing we can do in ourselves to deliver ourselves. Even if we could perfectly obey every command of God from here on out (and we can’t), that won’t erase the sin we’ve committed up to now. It’s hopeless — which is why the gospel is very good news: Jesus kept every law of God in our place, and because He was perfectly righteous and the eternal Son of God, He was the only One who could take our sin and punishment in our place so that we could be saved when we believe in Him. Elyse discusses all of these factors in more detail: our “ruined righteousness,” our inability to keep God’s law, the great grace of God in Jesus Christ, what He accomplished in our salvation, and the implications of grace in our everyday lives. It is very refreshing and encouraging: even having known these truths for decades, it has been good to meditate on them again, to be reminded of the freedom we have in Christ.

One aspect of that freedom that particularly resonated with me was when she discussed receiving an email from a friend about something she had done wrong. Elyse writes that she was able to receive the criticism, acknowledge its truth, confess and apologize for it without negative feelings for the messenger: “Because the gospel tells me that I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, I am no longer entrapped in trying to prop up my former flawed identity…I can freely admit my failure without needing to cover up, be defensive, or beat myself up…Rather than raking myself over the coals, wondering, How could I be such an idiot and sin like this? I am now free to say, Of course I sinned like this! It’s just God’s grace that I don’t get e-mails like this every day! I am, after all, a very great sinner…but I’ve got a very great Savior” (pp 79-80).

There are a few places I have some quibbles with. One is in an otherwise very good series of chapters about “One Man’s Obedience,” Jesus’s having fulfilled all of God’s law perfectly every single day of His life. How He interacted with His siblings is conjecture, of course, since the Bible doesn’t say much about His childhood, but we can imagine what He must have encountered showing love to His siblings, yet being laughed at, misunderstood, sinned against, and so on. When she gets to His baptism, however, she says, “At that moment He knew without question who He was and why He’d come” (p. 86). I don’t think He doubted it or didn’t know until then: I don’t think His Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” was meant to reassure Him, but rather to be a testimony to those witnessing it. She goes on to say that “The Spirit, His Spirit, was finally released and flew to Him like a dove, granting Him the power to live and die and rise again.” I don’t think that’s what the Spirit was doing, but what exactly was going on and signified at Christ’s baptism is a discussion for another time, and I do understand good people can differ in their opinions about it.

In another place, she’s discussing the righteousness we have in Christ and the joy we should feel because of it: “Be done now with all your stupid efforts to approve of yourself and to look good…Be revolted by your own goodness and your love of reputation!…Dance a lot. Brag a ton about how righteous He’s made you. Show off your new clothes! Be as free as a drunk to look stupid and hop about for joy. Weep over your sin. Rejoice over His obedience…All those lessons about how to keep your religion dignified and presentable will be completely blasted away in the raucous party that will be known as ‘heaven'” (p. 100). I get that when we really grasp that we have the righteousness of Christ, when we really comprehend that as much as we’re able, we’ll be exceedingly joyful, but I don’t see anything in the glimpses of heaven the Bible shows us that compare it to a raucous party. Yes, the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7), but I don’t see that rejoicing as “raucous.” Not a big deal or a big quibble — we’ll see when we get there what it’s like. 🙂 I also cringe a little bit at “hopping around like a drunk.” I grew up in the home of an alcoholic: I have seen happy drunks (and other kinds as well), and to me it’s incongruous to think of rejoicing in Christ’s righteousness looking like that. Yes, I do know the Bible says “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) as a comparison of being under the control of something else, and that may be the kind of allusion Elyse means here, or she probably was just getting at the idea of rejoicing with abandon. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way because of my background, but again, it’s a small quibble, taking more time to explain that it is probably worth.

Another quibble is the interchangeable use of “law” and “rules.” The verses in the Bible about “the law” are referring to the commandments given to Israel in the first five books of the Bible. Much of Romans deals with the fact that we’re no longer under that law, but that doesn’t mean we’re no longer under any “rules,” that rules are evil, etc. The New Testament is full of commandments. I delved into that more here. We don’t keep rules, or even commandments, in order to be saved, because salvation is by grace through faith. We don’t keep them to be “made” or “kept” righteous even after salvation: our walk, our growth, is by faith, not by our own works. But we don’t ditch the NT commands to love our neighbors as ourselves, etc., either: we seek His grace, His power, is strength, His love, to enable us. Commandments and laws can’t produce righteousness, but they show us what it looks like so we can see where we fall short and how much we need help.

The one area I had a big problem with, though, is when discussing Romans 6:12-14, she says, ” My guess is that you’re feeling a little nervous right now and that you’re tempted to ask the same question that Paul does in the next verse: ‘Yes. yes, but, but…are we to sin because we are not under law, but under grace?’ to which I respond, ‘You can if you want to. But God forbid that you would want to in light of all He has done'” (p. 112). She then says very much the same thing at the beginning of the next chapter. I do see the “God forbid” in Scripture, but I don’t see the “you can sin if you want to.” That totally threw me.

I wish she had talked a little bit more about sanctification in the book. She does somewhat. She discusses that we “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6), that we’re motivated to live for Christ not by heaping on more rules, but out of gratitude for what He has done, that we’re dead to sin, etc. I really would loved to have seen a discussion of Romans 8:13 about mortifying the deeds of the body through the Spirit. I’ve mentioned before that there are action verbs in the New Testament that indicate effort on our part, though it is not an effort to earn righteousness but rather effort springing from His righteousness in us. But I still wrestle with all of that, with what’s my part and what’s His part.

Probably one of the most helpful statements in the book, which ties together much that I’ve mused on here, is this, in a discussion of what it means to have died to sin: “This happened through our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection as is demonstrated at our baptism. Paul doesn’t give us new, more stringent rules to live by. No, he tells us who we are. It is the realization of our new identity that will ultimately and at heart level transform us” (p. 102).

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Thoughts about God’s wrath

I’ve come across various reactions to God’s wrath in the Bible from various quarters and wanted to set down some of my own thoughts about it.

Sometimes people seem to see a dichotomy in the Bible between a seemingly angry God in the Old Testament and the loving, patient, and merciful Jesus of the New. But they are not two different Gods: they are part of the same Trinity. The Bible has much to say about God’s longsuffering, mercy, and lovingkindness even in the Old Testament, and Jesus rebuked the disciples for unbelief, had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees, overthrew moneychangers in the temple, and Revelation says in the future judgement people will cry out for rocks to fall on them to try to protect themselves from the wrath of the Lamb of God.

God’s wrath shows first of all His justice. Just looking at a few verses about God’s wrath shows that He unleashes it against those who knowingly commit sin or worship false gods. People seem to see only His wrath when He punished the Israelites in the wilderness but forget the longsuffering He showed: He miraculously delivered them out of Egypt in a way only He could have that showed Israelites and Egyptians alike that that He was the one true God and all of their gods were false and helpless (many of the ten plagues had to do with a specific god Egypt worshiped), He miraculously delivered them again when they were caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, He miraculously provided food and water for them. They complained at the outset and He did not do anything but deliver them and provide for them. But instead of getting to know Him, to trust that He cared for them and would provide for them, they continued to complain and even wanted to go back to what He had delivered them from. He was patient with their complaining until they got to a place they should have known better.

His wrath also shows His righteousness, holiness, and love. God’s jealousy against false gods is not the same as that of an insecure boyfriend: other gods will lead people to hell. Sin will cause great harm to those who indulge in it and those whom they influence.

His wrath shows the magnitude of sin. The fact that we don’t see people being demonstrably punished in the same way these days does not mean God feels any differently about sin.

But the good news is that though “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” (Romans 1:18), “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:8-9).

In a chapter of Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter titled “The Most Important Word in the Universe,” Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., says:

The first thing to say is that the wrath of God is a part of the gospel. It’s the part we tend to ignore. Yet we don’t mind our own anger. There is a lot of anger in us, a lot of righteous indignation. Listen to talk radio. In our culture it’s acceptable to vent our moral fervor at one another…. But the thought of God being angry-well, who does he think he is?

Great question. Who is God? He’s the most balanced personality imaginable. He is normal. His wrath is not an irrational outburst. God’s wrath is worthy of God. It is his morally appropriate, carefully considered, justly intense reaction to our evil demeaning his worth and destroying our own capacity to enjoy him. God cares about that. He is not a passive observer. He’s involved emotionally.

The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It never says, “God is anger.” But it couldn’t say that God is love without his anger, because God’s anger shows how serious his love is.

His wrath is the solemn determination of a doctor cutting away the cancer that’s killing his patient.

In human religions, it’s the worshipper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it is God Himself who provides the offering.

He detests our evil with all the intensity of the divine  personality. If you want to know what your sin deserves from God, …Look at the man on the cross — tormented, gasping, bleeding. Take a long, thoughtful look…God was saying something about his perfect emotions toward your sin. He was displaying his wrath.

The God you have offended doesn’t demand your blood; he gives his own in Jesus Christ.

 A longer excerpt, though unfortunately not the whole chapter is here.

There is much more that could be said about this subject, and I’m debating with myself  about whether I should go ahead and post this or wait for more reading and study. But I think I’ll go ahead.

(See also How Tim Keller Made Peace With the Wrath of God).

Learning from the Savior’s learned obedience

One of the verses in my Daily Light reading for this morning was Hebrews 5:8: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” The context for all the rest of the verses in today’s reading had to do with affliction, but that phrase about Jesus learning obedience arrested me, not for the first time. He had always obeyed the Father perfectly, but in Gethsemane  was the first time, as far as we know, that He prayed “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). So perhaps learning obedience had to do with obeying the Father’s will despite His own will? (There is more helpful commentary on this verse at the bottom of this page.)

One way in which this encourages me is to observe how the sinless Son of God obeyed and endured. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Our will and His will. It’s not necessarily wrong to struggle with God’s will. For us, more often that not, it usually is a problem of faith or obedience. People throughout Scripture have been called to do things that at first they didn’t want to do: Moses, Ananias, others.There are many times when God’s call to someone included encouragement that He would be with them and help them: Joshua, Jeremiah, Paul to name a few. These days people say you’ll know something is God’s will when you “have a peace” about it, but sometimes God’s will causes fear, trepidation, reluctance. Jesus asked, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me,” and then submitted His will to the Father’s: “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” We can follow His example when we shrink from something He has called us to do. He was sinless, but we can pray and seek His Word to deal with any sinful issues we might have in regard to submitting to Him.

2. Remember our purpose. In John 12: 27, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” The plan of redemption had been decided upon from the foundation of the world. I’m sure many of the people mentioned above had to go back to their calling and remind themselves of God’s purposes and promises when they were later in the thick of things.

3. Seek His glory. After saying, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour, Jesus said, “Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:28). When we look at ourselves, our safety, our pain, our fears, our comfort, we shrink back: when we seek His glory we can find the purpose and strength we need.

4. Resist temptation with God’s Word. Satan tried to derail Jesus from His purpose, but Jesus resisted with God’s Word. We need to read and know His Word that we might do the same. Though He never sinned, we do fail, and thankfully God promises grace to forgive and help us. But he also wants us to be filled with His Word and grace and enabled to resist temptation thereby for His glory.

5. Remember the coming joy. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrew 12:2). I wonder what all was encompassed in that joy: perhaps having finished His course, pleasing His Father, being reunited with His Father and back home in heaven where all is right and no sin or sorrow dwells, providing the way for us to go there, too. And that leads us to…

6. Look beyond the momentary to the eternal. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Are there any other ways in which Jesus’ obedience encourages your own?

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16