Friday, August 31, 2018

Five Star Links

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



Kim:

Todd Scacewater provides readers with Three Reasons to Catechize.
Having grown up in “low churches,” I never knew what a catechism was until I learned about them in seminary. At first, I thought it was odd that people would spend time memorizing what I took to be commentaries on the Bible, while I was spending time memorizing the Bible itself. It wasn’t until I became a father that I realized the benefits of catechisms.

Persis:

When you know someone who struggles with mental illness, how can you help? Amy Simpson offers some good suggestions in this article: How to Help a Friend with Mental Illness.
The truth is, as with other complex troubles, there are many ways to help. But when it comes to mental illness, many of us respond with fear or avoidance, and this compromises our creative abilities. Once we start thinking beyond the solutions most of us are not qualified to provide, we begin to realize we can do far more than we guessed.
Rebecca:

The story of Ratramnus of Corbie and His Book on the Lord’s Supper (Simonetta Carr).
Nearly forgotten for the first 200 years, misattributed for the next 600 and condemned until the 20th century, Ratramnus’s book is today still obscure. In some ways, Ratramnus is like Augustine: both Roman Catholics and Protestants claim him as their own. In reality, his book stands in church history more as a question mark than a period. It has contributed to raise important inquiries, and has proven that the history of Christian thought is not as black and white as we often depict it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Making the Best of It


Imagine what it’s like to be the leader of a democratic country. You are elected to power, and you make progress implementing what you believe to be the best policies for your country. But unless you’re a fool, you know that most likely, sooner or later, someone with a different political philosophy will replace you, and much of the headway you have made will be undone. Your legacy may well be destroyed by the one who comes after you. It’s simply the way it is in our fallen world—a world with in which there are deep disagreements about the best way forward and no perfect governmental solutions.

The writer of Ecclesiastes (most likely King Solomon, but possibly some other “king in Jerusalem”) understood this. He held more power than an elected leader of a present-day country, and he probably stayed in power for longer, but still, eventually, his accomplishments, he writes, would be left
to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:18–19 ESV).
In a fallen world, even the work of a king may be an exercise in futility.

It's not much different for us. We may start out hoping to right some of this world's wrongs, but over the years, we begin to see that the problems we're trying to solve are more complicated than we thought, and real long-term solutions may be beyond our capabilities. Progress is slow—if there is any progress—and there are unforeseen difficulties with every step we take. And in the end, our accomplishments, if there are any, may be left in the hands of a fool. All our work may only be “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 ESV).

We live in a broken world, or more precisely, we live in a world that is cursed by the God who made it. The word “futile” is written across everything in this world, and there’s not much we can do about it. It's foolish for us to place too much hope in what we or our leaders can accomplish.

But the God who cursed this world is gracious, and he has given us a way to find joy in the midst of life’s inevitable futility. He has given us a way to make the best of things as they are. The writer of Ecclesiastes, who foresaw that his hard work might come to nothing, has this bit of wisdom to share:
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 2:24–25 ESV)?
And this too:
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun . . .  (Ecclesiastes 9:9 ESV).
For the one who pleases God, for the person who recognizes his gracious hand in tasty food and refreshing drink, in opportunities to work hard for the good of others, and in a loving spouse and/or  family, these simple pleasures bring true joy. All these things are good gifts from our good God, gifts that remain with us even when our circumstances are difficult. When our life seems senseless, God sustains us with his small mercies, and by enjoying them, we please him and make the best of things as they are in our troubled world.

Of course, our ultimate hope is in a future world, in the new heavens and new earth, when this cursed world is set free from its bondage to futility (Romans 8:20-21), and when our own personal re-creation is completed. On the basis of his Son’s work—work that will bring permanently perfect results—God will redeem our world, and us, too. But in the meantime, when we grow frustrated with events in our world, and when life seems like a struggle for nothing, we still have the little gifts.

When I’m asked, one piece of advice I give to someone who is suffering is to take time to savor the everyday blessings—a fresh loaf of bread, a bowl of homemade soup, a cup of tea, or loving family—and to keep busy with service to others. And to remember to thank God for these little reminders of his loving care.

I learned these lessons from life experience as I grasped for peace in the midst of turmoil, but I know now that they are also taught in the Bible. There is “nothing better” for us “than to be joyful and to do good as long as [we] live.” There is nothing better than to “eat and drink and take pleasure in all our toil” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 ESV). There is nothing better than to enjoy life with our families and good friends. These simple pleasures are God’s gifts to give us joy when we are surrounded by reminders that something is very wrong with our world as it is.

[I am indebted to James M. Hamilton Jr.’s little book Work and Our Labour in the Lord for many (maybe most) of the points in this post.]

Monday, August 27, 2018

Quotes of Note


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

Persis:

This is a quote from Gregory of Naziazen on the full humanity of Jesus, which I've been pondering after my pastor's recent sermons on the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15.
Do not let the men deceive themselves and others with the assertion that the Man of the Lord, as they call Him, Who is rather our Lord and God, is without human mind. For we do not sever the Man from the Godhead, but we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person, Who of old was not Man but God, and the Only Son before all ages, unmingled with body or anything corporeal; but Who in these last days has assumed Manhood also for our salvation; passible in His Flesh, impassible in His Godhead; circumscript in the body, uncircumscript in the Spirit; at once earthly and heavenly, tangible and intangible, comprehensible and incomprehensible; that by One and the Same Person, Who was perfect Man and also God, the entire humanity fallen through sin might be created anew...
For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.

Kim:

My Greek professor, Dr. Wayne Baxter has written a great little volume about church unity, based on Philippians. It is entitled Growing Up to Get Along: Conflict and Unity in Philippians. The subtitle gives an apt description about what the book is about. The first line of this excerpt really struck me:
Dissension and discord often follow spiritually immature Christians around because they have no deep, genuine commitment to or regard for other Christians, but only for themselves. Paul, however is clear: living the Christian life is not about independence but interdependence. Growing up to get along means that believers must practice their faith for the benefit of others and sisters. This is one of the distinguishing marks of spiritual maturity. And it is one of the factors that will enable Christians and churches to move through conflict redemptively and deal with it more effectively.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Five Star Links

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

Kim:

It has been almost ten years since Terry and Juanita Stauffer lost their daughter, Emily. Terry reflects on forgiveness in this post.


Rebecca:

Are you a senior saint? Here are four reasons your church needs you.


Persis:

This is a video from Wycliffe Bible Translators on the work of Bible translation in Eastern Ghana. God is faithful to preserve His Word.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Quotes of Note


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

Persis:

This is a pray by W.E.B. DuBois for humility that seemed very fitting in today's climate of increasing tribalism.
May the Lord grant us both the honesty and strength to look our own faults squarely in the face and not ever continue to excuse or minimize them, while they grow. Grant us that wide view of ourselves which our neighbors possess, or better the highest view infinite justice and goodness and efficiency. In that great white light let us see the littleness and narrowness of our souls and the deeds of our days, and then forthwith begin their betterment. Only thus shall we broaden out of the vicious circle of our own admiration into the greater commendation of God. Amen.
Rebecca:

There are some little gems to be found in Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology. Here's one on God's rest on the seventh day of creation that makes me smile every time I read it:
The rest of God on the seventh day contains first of all a negative element. God ceased from his creative work. But to this must be added a positive element, namely, that He took delight in His completed work. His rest was as the rest of the artist, after He has completed his masterpiece, and now gazes upon it with profound admiration and delight, and finds perfect satisfaction in the contemplation of His production. "And God saw everything he had made, and, behold, it was very good." It answered the purpose of God and corresponded to the divine ideal. Hence God rejoices in his creation, for in it He recognizes the reflection of His glorious perfection. His radiant countenance shines upon it and is productive of showers of blessings.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Five Star Links

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

Persis:

Tim Bertolet writes about several heresies that arose in the early church. Why learn about them? "Sometimes, when we look at ancient heresies it helps us see with clarity errors in our own day. As we said, these specific heresies have long since faded into the dust of history. However, sometimes in our modern age you can find similar points of overlap."

Kim:

I really appreciate Mike Leake's writing. He is especially thoughtful regarding matters of mental health, He asks a very good question: "Where Does My Disability Come From?"
Here is my question. Is God the source of my mental disorder? (And frankly, I’m still not quite comfortable with that designation, but I’ll pick it up here for the sake of argument). And what if I extend my question out a bit further and ask if God is the source of physical and emotional disabilities as well?

Rebecca:

This is the story of the life of one Singer treadle sewing machine.
Therese Pierrot runs her hand across the splintered wood of her Singer sewing machine. 
She’s had it since she was 14 years old, working at a hospital in Aklavik, N.W.T.

For almost 70 years, Pierrot has used the machine to make clothes for her children and community, but with failing eyesight, she decided this year that it was time to let it go.
This piece isn't specifically Christian, but I do think it's the best thing I read online this week.

Deb:

This blog post from Jasmine Holmes hit home this week in many ways. Though I won't completely understand the details and unique parts of this story, so much of it is relatable for me - and I trust for most Christian women today. Excerpt:
"These few verses outline three immediate benefits of community: humility, right judgment, and fellowship.

Community enables us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. In fact, it calls us to be others-focused, thinking outside of ourselves more than in (Philippians 2:1-11). Without community, I become incredibly self-centered and self-deprecating. I fail to seek out ways to love others.

Community also helps us to have right judgment of ourselves. I tend to be a navel-gazer, and while self-examination is good (and biblical — 2 Corinthians 13:5), doing it alone is a good way not to be able to see ourselves clearly. Life on an island reinforces skewed self-perception.

And community enables us to take part in the fellowship that we were made for."
Read the entire article.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

History, literature, and theology

I am taking a course in the Synoptic Gospels this semester. I'm really looking forward to this course. A whole semester looking at the gospel is something to be excited about. I already bought my textbooks, and have begun the readings. As well as the gospels themselves, our main text is Four Portraits, One Jesus, by Mark Strauss.

The gospels have a three-fold focus: they are literature, history, and theology. They don't claim to be just narratives, just theology, or just history. Woven within the historical events is theology, delivered in a literary form. Our faith rests on the truth of those events: the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The beauty of having four gospels is that we are given differing presentations of the same truth, and each gospel has its particular emphasis. Taken together, we have a rich picture of what Jesus did and taught.

In Strauss's book, he provides a very helpful exercise: he shows the opening verses of each gospel. I have highlighted these verses, using the NASB. The emphasis is mine.
Matthew 1:1: The record of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 
Mark 1:1: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
Luke 1:3: it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus. 
John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.
All four gospels are giving an account of something which actually happened. Notice that Mark, Luke, and John, talk about something from "the beginning." The idea of a "record" implies a beginning. Also notice that each writer talks about the gospel in a unique way. Matthew refers to Jesus' Jewishnes; Mark talks about him as the Son of God; and John dives right into the theological by using a metphor: Jesus is the Word. Luke doesn't identify right away his theological emphasis. His opening presents to Theophilus (and us!) that he is about to reveal events in "consecutive order." He has "investigated" everything. We don't often think of the gospel writers as investigators. I remember as a new Christian assuming that they wrote as if they were in a trance, having God dictate to them. That isn't the picture we get if we really read the gospels. They have a divine and a human element.

This semester, my class focuses on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, specifically, but it is a worthwhile exercises to read all four of the gospels together. We can read them independently, from beginning to end, seeing the unique emphasis of each, and then we can compare them to see the similarities and differences. It is most beneficial to read them in both ways.

If you are interested in time of study in the gospels, Bible Study Tools has a 45 day plan for reading the gospels. Click here to view.

What a treat! To focus on the gospel. I'm looking forward to it. The gospel is something we should think upon daily.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Five Star Links

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

Kim:

Theology isn't just for men. For those who read here regularly, you already know that is how we feel here. This article "Why Women Should Be Readers of Good Books" explains that our knowledge of theology is important for others in our own lives, including husbands and children.

Be sure to click on the "open" icon to open the article.


Persis:

Simonetta Carr writes about Bathsua Makin (1600-1675) a champion for the education of women during a time when women were discouraged from reading studying and thinking independently.


Rebecca:

"The triune gospel is . . . God giving himself to you in creation and redemption. The same Son who was begotten by the Father before all worlds was sent by the Father into this world, to live and die for us and our salvation. And the same Spirit who proceeded from the Father and the Son from all eternity was sent by the Father and the Son into this world, to live inside us and bring us to Christ—and through Christ to the Father—so that we might be taken into his family, surrounded by his life and love, to glorify and enjoy him forever.

"This is the Holy Trinity. This isn’t just a doctrine; this is our life."

Monday, August 6, 2018

Quotes of Note


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

Kim:

More good reading in Grant Osborne's commentary, Revelation, Verse by Verse. I really encourage you to try reading a commentary as you read any other book. Choose a book of the Bible, and find a devotional or pastoral commentary, and have your daily Bible readings and prayer in conjunction with a commentary. If you're ever looking for a place to find commentaries, try Best Commentaries. This site has many good suggestions, and indicate whether the commentary is devotional, pastoral, or technical.

In a passage discussing the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:19-20), we learn about the redemptive aspect of God's wrath:
We are used to thinking of the wrath of God as the basis of judgment, yet God's love is shown to the spiritually defeated as well as to the victorious. All passages on judgment against God's people from the 40 years in the wilderness to the exile to discipline in the New Testament, are redemptive in purpose and meant to wake God's people up spiritually and bring them to repentance. For the righteous, God's discipline is a purifying process; for the weak it is a wake up call. Rebuke and discipline build on each other. The first connotes a reproof that points out a problem and convinces the person to act on it. The second refers to a punishment that corrects the error and trains the person in the right way to live for God.

Persis:

My pastor, Ryan Davidson, who is also a counselor, taught the adult Sunday school class yesterday on the Christian and Anxiety. He wrote a short booklet on the subject, which I am quoting here:
The Christian, including the Christian struggling with anxiety, is united to Christ (Rom. 6). Christ is our redemption and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30) and the Lord will complete the work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). Therefore, in our continual wrestling with fear, worry, and anxiety, we need to constantly remember, that we are assured resurrection and ultimate freedom from every sin and infirmity on the last day. Our struggle must be framed with the reality of who we are in Christ. This One, who will not bruise a tender reed (Jer. 42:13), is the One to whom we are indivisibly united. 

Rebecca:

James M. Hamilton on God's design for work in his creation as it was before the fall:
In the very good world as God created it (Genesis 1:31), prior to the entrance of sin (cf. 3:1-8), God gave man marriage to enable the completion of God-given and God-sized responsibilities. This is true in merely logistical terms—without the woman the man cannot be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. What the narrator draws our attention to, however, is the more significant relational blessing that God's gift of the woman was designed to be. God said that it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), and he created a very good companion in the woman (2:22). This means that the fellowship and companionship and soul-deep oneness in the marriage of the man and the woman (2:23-25) were given to make the filling, subduing, and ruling over the world a delightful adventure undertaken together. [Work and Our Labor in the Lord, page 20.]
Of course, we live after the fall, so this picture of work and marriage is not our reality. But this is how it should be: shared responsibility and shared joy in work that fulfills God's purpose for us as image bearers.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Five Star Links

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

Persis:

Are women inherently less wise than men? Is this just an issue of gender or is the root deeper than that?  Rachel Darnall takes the issue back to our understanding of "the nature, source, and purpose of wisdom."
If women are barred from understanding the things of God based on our sex, then we are indeed to be pitied, but not because our folly disqualifies us from standing behind a pulpit. A pulpit is a nothing more than piece of wood, and it is of little eternal consequence whether one stands behind it or sits in front of it. What matters is eternal fellowship with Christ; and if we do not have the mind of Christ – which is the only way to be wise – then we do not have Christ.
Kim:

I remember being very unprepared to answer this question from my own children: "How do we know the Bible is authoritative?" I'm pretty sure many people ask that question. Here is a helpful article which discusses 7 Things You Should Know About the Formation of the New Testament:
We have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The second closest ancient text is Homer’s Iliad. We possess less than 2,000 copies of this work. The works of Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, Tacitus, and many others are even more poorly preserved; and yet, no one doubts their authenticity. 
Rebecca: 

Do you have a family member who is apostate? Many of us do.

Here's some good advice on how to respond when a family member—or friend, for that matter—leaves the faith.