Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Understanding gives way to compassion

I have been close to my aunt and uncle my whole life. Their daughter is probably the closest thing I've had to a sister. As we grew into adulthood, I could sense resentment directed toward me. I didn't understand, and I felt angry toward her. I attributed it to her being a difficult person. While visiting her this summer, she shared some things with me that gave me insight and clarity. It's something that I wish I'd known all along. As I began to appreciate her experience, my frustration with her gave way to compassion and mercy. It is like a wall has been removed.

It is not always easy to understand the perspective of others. We cannot get inside the body or mind of another to understand her perspective. But we can acknowledge the reality that our situation is not the prototype. As a Christian woman, I have a particular background and life situation, but that is not true for all Christian women. I don't set the standard.

Last year, I had an opportunity to spend time with someone who had a very difficult past. She had issues that were beyond anything I could speak into. She referred to other girls with happy childhoods as those who had lived "charmed lives." She described the typical Christian fare directed to women as being only suitable for those women, not her. That was an eye-opening conversation, and it made me wonder how often I have been judgmental or critical of someone because I assumed her experience had to mirror my own.

I Corinthians 12:12-13 talks about the body of Christ:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews and Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
In the Church, we are tempted to think that our unity is from shared life experiences: we all feel the same way about how short a woman's skirt should be, which political figure to support, or whether homeschooling is bad or not. But those experiences are not what truly give us unity in the body. The most significant experience which we have in common is being baptized into the body of Christ; in being made to drink of one Spirit. That unity may foster shared opinions, but then again, it may not.

It is crucial that we understand what faith is; what the body of Christ is; what unity is. And that means studying and thinking deeply about God's word. And when we do apply Scripture, we must be careful to avoid a "one size fits all" approach. I've often wondered how single mothers react when they read that their children's spiritual health depends on a strong male presence in the home. What if that isn't a possibility? How do we encourage a woman in that situation? It can begin with something as simple as putting ourselves in the shoes of others and really ponder what that different situation is like on a practical, day to day basis.

It is easy to find unity in common preferences for incidentals. But it is a shallow unity. Real unity comes from a shared life in Christ, and it is practiced in an environment of different life experiences. The church is not a gathering of clones. Unity in Christ is not a process by which everyone finally comes around to my point of view. It's about loving someone in spite of the ways in which we differ. One of the ways we can foster compassion and mercy is to be willing to recognize and understand how we differ.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Quotes of Note

Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking,  or all of the above.


My early instruction as a Christian took place in church circles which were highly dispensational. Study and preaching from Revelation had more to do with talking about the rapture and wondering who the anti-Christ was than it did with actually studying the words themselves. I've long wanted to read Revelation with open eyes. I have a copy of the book Revelation Verse By Verse, by Grant Osborne, and I'm hoping to study more closely what Revelation teaches. Revelation has a lot to say about worship:
Worship takes place in virtually every chapter and becomes the unifying center of the action. It is the natural response to God's absolute sovereignty and Christ's atoning sacrifice. The worship scenes elevate readers into the very presence of God and lift them above elements to the Almighty Lord. In fact, there is an antithetical element, for readers are asked to choose between worship of the Triune Godhead and the false trinity . . . The well known challenge says it well -- who is on the throne of your life? There is serious idolatry in the Western world today; there is a god-shelf in our homes, and it can contain anything we choose to put above God in our lives -- even good things like our checkbook, our possessions, our family and our comfort, or our security. God and the Lamb are alone worthy of worship (4:11; 5:9). In fact, the best way to persevere and be a victor is to live a life of worship.


Earlier this year, I purchased and read with great enjoyment Sarah Ivill's wonderful book written to help laypersons to better think Biblically and live covenantally. I appreciated the richness of the theological teaching and the practical application throughout the book. Here is one sampling from the second chapter to chew on:
The Westminster Larger Catechism explains in answer 4 that “the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.” Let’s unpack this answer a little bit to better understand how the Scriptures reveal themselves to be God’s Word. 
First, the Bible reveals itself to be God’s word by its “majesty and purity.” Since God Himself is majestic, greater than all other names, His word is also majestic, greater than all other words. The psalmist says, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps. 119:18). God’s word is also pure. The psalmist tells us, The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. (Ps. 12:6) And, “the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:8). Second, the Bible reveals itself to “be the Word of God…by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.” Jesus told the Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). It is Christ who is the climax of the covenant story and who is testified about on every page of the Bible. As the Covenant King who comes extending grace and mercy, as well as the Covenant Servant to perfectly obey what God’s people failed to obey and die a cursed death in their place, He holds the covenant story together as the hero of it all.

Ivill, Sarah. (2018) The Covenantal Life: Appreciating the Beauty of Theology and Community (Kindle Locations 378-392). Reformation Heritage Books.


There were more quotes that I wanted to share in my review of Why Can't We Be Friends? last week than space would allow. Therefore, here is one that I omitted on how our identity is found in our Elder Brother, Jesus.
The best-intentioned biological brothers could not possibly fulfill the vocation of keeping one another to this degree. But Jesus claims that position—the keeper of Israel, the keeper of his church; he has kept us in the Father’s name and hasn’t lost even one whom the Father has given him (see John 17:12). Psalm 121 shows us that Jesus can do this because he is the keeper of our souls. Charles Spurgeon remarks, “Soul-keeping is the soul of keeping. If the soul can be kept, all is kept.” While Cain resented his brotherly responsibility to care for Abel, Jesus graciously assumes this office, “fulfilling it in person.” He does this through suffering. To be our Elder Brother, Jesus assumed flesh and blood so that he could truly guard and preserve us from eternal death by living the life that we could not live and dying the death that we all deserved. Cain took Abel’s life because he was jealous of the Father’s affection for him. Jesus gave his own life so that we could share in the Father’s name and in eternal communion with him. This is the beautiful story of brotherhood.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Five Star Links

Each Friday, we share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 


Helpful thoughts from the article "I'd Like to Have an Argument, Please."
Many pundits have rued the widespread lack of courtesy on social media. Here, then, is a fundamental mode of courtesy that could revolutionize our participation in, and experience of, social media: Resist the impulse to just sound off and make an argument or offer an alternative. 
Take the time to give your readers a gift: some novel information, another interpretation of the facts, or a new framework in which to see the issue


This is a moving post about the aftermath of abuse - But He Promised 
Sometimes when I’m trying to pray, I ask the same question.
What if you stop loving me?
It feels childish and ridiculous. But I have to know. Everything hinges on the hope, the truth of Christ’s love now. It’s all I have. Having it, I need it, desperately.

"The doctrine of God’s sovereign love—and the fact that nothing is outside his control—will help keep me going through whatever lies ahead"—Christopher Catherwood in How Reformed Theology Helps Deal With Death.

And one more—a time-lapse video of a glacier in Greenland calving an iceberg half the size of Manhattan. (This happened last week.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Why Can't We Be Friends?

Why Can't We Be Friends? - Avoidance is Not Purity by Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2018, 243 pages.

Four year ago, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals invited Aimee Byrd to join Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt as a cohost for their podcast, The Mortification of Spin. To her surprise, not all the listeners were pleased. There were concerns about where this interaction would lead and even warnings that Aimee was an affair waiting to happen and a potential cause of moral downfall for two pastors.1 When I read this account in the beginning of Why Can't We Be Friends?, it reminded me of a another story.

In Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield was preparing a Lord's Day meal with another sister. It was just the two of them in the kitchen quietly working together, and then the question came up,
"Is this safe? Being alone together in the kitchen?"... "Does being alone with a woman bring back those feelings for you? Those kind of feelings."
Suddenly, the danger was exposed: I. It was I. I was the potential source of unsafety. I felt that chill of isolation creep in. She couldn't even name those feelings, they were so dirty, or foreign, or dangerous.... I was perplexed that even though I was a new creature in Christ, that was not good enough. I pondered why my identity in Christ did not seem to be good enough for her, and it made me wonder again, if it was good enough for God... Why did she not see that my identity in Christ was bigger than my past? Because there is another category of personhood that takes preeminence: sexual orientation."2
These responses from Christians aren't that different from the dictum of Harry Burns in the movie, When Harry Met Sally - "men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way."3 If Harry and the naysayers are right, then Aimee should be booted off the Mortification of Spin, and we should be wary of all cross-gender friendships in the church. For Rosaria, even same-gender friendships are potentially dangerous, so perhaps it would be safer to segregate her with just her family.

But is this how God wants his family to function? Are we called to commune around the Lord's table as fellow blood-bought believers and then view each other with suspicion? In our desire to obey the 7th commandment, do we inadvertently break the 9th by imputing sinful motives to one another? Is Christ's work in making us new creatures not good enough? Or have we lost something along the way? I think we have, which is why I am so glad Aimee wrote this book. The solution to the friendship problem is not just behavioral. It is, at its heart, theological.

Aimee identifies four theological categories that form the foundation of friendship, and these categories anchor the discourse in the subsequent chapters:4

Anthropology - What are we here for? We are created for communion with God and with one another.
Christology - Who are we as Christians? Christ, our elder brother, has not only given us new life but brought us into a new relationship as brothers and sisters.
Ecclesiology - We are God's family. How does he expect us to treat one another?
Eschatology - What is our ultimate hope?

Then in the first half of the book, Aimee examines the reasons why we think we can't be friends:5
- Our concept of identity is shaped by the culture and seen through the lens of stereotypes.
- We've forgotten the goal of communion with God and the outflow of that communion in the church.
- We've narrowed purity down to sex.
- Immaturity and fear weaken relationships.
- We've forgotten that we are family.

In the second half of the book, she gives ways where sanctified siblingship can flourish in the local church:6
- Our identity comes from our Elder Brother.
- Consider the "one anothers" in scripture.
- Cultivate holiness in one another through encouragement and exhortation.
- Practice community through table fellowship.
- Celebrate and suffer together.
- Model affectionate and appropriate relationships to the world.

There has been a lot of discussion about Why Can't We Be Friends? even before its release. There have been concerns that Aimee is advocating antinomianism (disregarding the moral law) in the area of friendship. I don't think this is the case at all. I believe she steers a theologically straight course between license and legalism, which is why I strongly recommend this book. She is not advocating permissiveness in our friendships. Neither does she give a list of cast iron dos and donts. Rather she raises the bar by encouraging her readers to look to Christ and what he has done on our behalf. It is through our union with him that the family of God can be family in holiness and purity. He sets the standard for friendship, not the culture. After all who gave us a new heart? Who gives us new desires? Are we perfect? No. Are we still tempted? Yes. But who convicts us of sin? Who delivers us from temptation and gives wisdom from situation to situation? Who is building his church and able to present her blameless at the last day?
Can men and women be friends? It's the wrong question. How could we even ask such a question if we understood the meaning of friendship?
Are we opposed to friendship? No - we are opposed to sin, and we are for holiness. And for this reason, men and women are called to be more than friends. We are called to Christ, in whom we become brothers and sisters As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water.7

For more on the book:
Mortification of Spin Podcast on Why Can't We Be Friends?
Theology Gals interview with Aimee Byrd 

1. Why Can't We Be Friends? - Avoidance is Not Purity, Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2018, pg. 7.
2. Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, 2015, pp. 35-36. (bolding mine)
3. Byrd. pg. 25.
4. Ibid. pp. 15-16.
5. Ibid. Chapters 1-7.
6. Ibid. Chapters 8-13.
7. Ibid. pg. 229.

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, July 9, 2018

Quotes of Note

Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking,  or all of the above.


Another great one from Concise Theology:
Christ's death was God's act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his own hostility to us that our sins provoked (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:20-22). The Cross propitiated (i.e., quenched his wrath against us by expiating our sins and so removing them from his sight). Key texts here are Romans 3:25; hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2 and 4:10, in each of which the Greek expresses propitiation explicitly. The Cross had this propitiatory effect because in his suffering Christ assumed our identity as it were, and endured the retributive judgment due to us ("the curse of the law," Gal. 3:13) as our substitute, in our place, with the damning record of our transgressions nailed by God to his cross as the tally of crimes for which he was now dying. 
Take note of the sentence beginning, "The Cross propitiated . . . " This is exceptional writing. Packer makes the cross the subject of the sentence, and gives it a transitive verb, "propitiated." This adds a powerful emphasis on the significance of the cross. Forgiveness is because of the cross. The cross has won our redemption for us. Packer has beautifully drawn our attention to the essential nature of the cross.


These related quotes are from The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson. If you are looking for a book that addresses antinomianism and its "nonidentical twin," legalism, this is the book for you.
There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ himself. This leads to a new love for and obedience to the law of God, which he now mediates to us in the gospel. This alone breaks the bonds of both legalism (the law is no longer divorced from the person of Christ) and antinomianism (we are not divorced from the law, which now comes to us from the hand of Christ and in the empowerment of the Spirit, who writes it on our hearts.) (pg. 157)
Commandments are the railroad tracks on which the life empowered by the love of God poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit runs. Love empowers the engine; the law guides the direction. They are mutually interdependent. (pp. 168-169)


I'm still reading The Essential Trinity, a collection of essays on the "New Testament foundations and practical relevance" of the Trinity. I'm three-quarters of the way through the last chapter, the one on the Trinity and preaching, which is written by Michael Reeves. You might think a chapter on preaching would have nothing to say to an ordinary woman who will never preach, but much of what Reeves has written is also applicable in some way to every Christian.

It "will not do," writes Reeves, "for Christian preachers to mouth a vague or general theism. How, then, will the glory of the living God be distingished from the glory of all others?"

The same thing goes for the lay Christian. It will not do for us to think and speak about God as if he were a generally theistic god. Our God—the one we hold in our minds when we worship, and the one we speak of in our daily lives—should be the one true God who exists as Trinity.

Reeves continues, speaking to the preacher, but much of what he says also applies to every believer:
A faithful servant of this God will be eager to speak in trinitarian language as often and as clearly as possible, knowing our natural propensity to squash God into our own fallen perception.
'Preaching the Trinity' really (unfortunately) requires a little explanation. All too easily that could be taken to mean that, every now and again, the preacher departs from his usual expository ministry and puzzles his congregation with the question of how three can be one. Out with the verse-by-verse that week; in with talk about triangles and 3-in-one shampoo. But the Trinity is not an addendum to the gospel of Jesus, a side room for those ready to move on: the triune God is the God of the gospel. To preach the Trinity is simply to preach the Father who is made known by his son Jesus Christ in the  power of the Spirit. It is, in fact, no more than to preach Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God anointed with the Holy Spirit. Note the trinitarianism of the simple summons to faith in Jesus found in John's Gospel: 'these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Sond of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name' (John 20:31).
So when you read your Bible, especially the New Testament, look for the Trinity. Where is the Father in the passage you are reading? The Son? The Spirit? The Spirit sometimes hides, but behind any words about new life, new creatures, being made new, becoming like Christ, and more, is the Spirit, who is working withing every believer to recreate them in the image of Christ. When you think about the gospel, think about each person's role in the work of salvation. And when you speak of God to others, speak frequently of Father, Son, and Spirit.

When you worship, are you worshipping the Christian God—Father, Son, and Spirit—or a vague or general theistic god?