Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pay Attention!

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1–3a ESV)
When the lessons in the Sunday School curriculum used in my church were set in the Old Testament, some of the teachers were uncomfortable teaching a few of the stories. I sat through one session in which the story, as told by the teacher, made little sense because she left out the part where people were killed because of their disobedience. She was teaching very young children and she was afraid the uncut version of history would be too disturbing for them. When the curriculum finally moved on from the Old Testament to the New, from God-who-smites to “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” the teachers were relieved.

But according to the verses from Hebrews quoted above, the path from Old Testament to New doesn't lead away from the God of Judgment toward the Son of Love. As D. A. Carson says, “both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the Old Testament to the New.” We see the upward ratchet in this scripture.

There were sanctions for those who broke the Old Covenant law—“the message declared by angels” (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19), as our text calls it. Those who didn’t heed God’s law were punished for it. So yes, God is a God of judgment in the Old Testament.

But he’s also a God of judgment in the New. “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” the author of Hebrews asks. The answer he expects is, “We won’t! And we don't even want to think about the dreadful judgment this would deserve.”

He’s making an argument from the lesser to the greater: If the law, which came through angels, had sure and severe sanctions for transgressors, how much more sure and severe would be the sanctions for those who neglect the great salvation of the new covenant, which came through the son of God himself? The angels were, after all, only creatures. But the one who mediated the great salvation was the creator of everything, including angels (Hebrews 1:2). He was, at the time the author wrote these words, already ruling at God's right hand. (Hebrews 1:3).

The salvation worked by Jesus Christ—the purification for sins that he accomplished through his death (Hebrews 1:3)—is nothing to be trifled with. “To treat it lightly” writes F.F. Bruce, “. . . must expose one to sanctions even more awful than those which safeguarded the law.” [1] It’s because God’s love is ratcheted up in the New Testament—not, of course, that God becomes more loving, but that his love is revealed more fully in “such a great salvation”—that God’s wrath is also ratcheted up. The just retribution God metes out is harsher for someone who ignores or rejects the salvation declared in the New Testament gospel. Those who transgressed the law received earthly punishments, but those who reject the salvation brought by the Son can expect sure eternal punishment.

What’s more, note how easy it is to expose one’s self to God’s wrath as revealed in the New Testament. It doesn’t require outright renunciation of the gospel message, at least not at first. No, it starts by simply not paying close enough attention to it, which leads to drifting away from it, “until it [ceases] to have any influence upon [one’s life]” [2] The downward slide starts subtly; it requires only inaction on our part. But it ends up in full-blown apostacy.

The people for whom Hebrews was originally written probably faced cultural pressure to stop publicly professing their faith, and this put them in danger of drifting away from it. Our situation right now is not exactly the same as theirs, but there are certainly parallels, which means this passage should serve as a warning to us, too. We, like them, need to pay closer attention to the gospel, lest we drift away from it. This is one good reason to keep on preaching the gospel to ourselves and proclaiming it to others. It’s a good reason to continue clinging to the cross. It's a good reason to always be thanking God for “such a great salvation.”

[1] The Epistle to the Hebrews, F.F. Bruce, page 68.
[2] The Epistle to the Hebrews, F.F. Bruce, page 68.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Quotes of Note

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


In Sunday school this week, one of the elders taught the lesson on Chapter 6 in the Mortification of Sin. He quoted from Holiness by J.C. Ryle which inspired me to take a look at it again. This quote is from the introduction.
That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer --that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him--all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more then generalities about holy living, which often pierce no conscience and give no offence. The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject. True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace.


I'm going to quote some of Tom Schreiner's comments in his book Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter, but first, here are the verses from Romans he's commenting on:
[6] Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8 ESV)
One of the points Schreiner takes from this text is that we should focus our time and energy on the particular gifts we have been given.
In verse 7-8 Paul lists three gifts and says that believers should concentrate on the gift one has. For instance, those who have a gift of service should concentrate on serving. Those with a gift of teaching should center their ministry on their teaching, while those who have a gift of exhortation and encouragement should devote themselves to encouraging others.
What Paul says here applies to all the gifts and is immensely practical. We should pour our energy into the gifts we have. Of course, we must be careful and avoid an overreaction. We must not say, "I won't serve because I have the gift of teaching," or, "I don't do evangelism because I don't have the gift of sharing the gospel with others." On the other hand, life is short, and God has designed the body so that it functions best when we concentrate on the gifts we have. We are to spend our time maximizing the particular gift God has given us. To do such is not unspiritual or selfish but wise. [1]
I will admit to being frustrated sometimes when other Christians don't share the particular passions I have. But I think our passions tend to follow our gifts, so it's exactly right for us, because we are gifted differently, to be passionate about different aspects of service to the church. It's not necessarily unspiritual for another believer to not share my specific interests or to not be passionate about the same causes I am.

"Life is short," as Schreiner says. Maximize the particular gift God has given you. Or, to put it another way, "Give yourself completely and joyfully to the work God has given you to do."[2]

[1] pages 66-67.
[2] page 68.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Quotes of Note

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


The foundations on which sanctification is built from 1 Peter 1 in Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson. (pg. 29)
  1. God the Holy Trinity, is devoted to it;
  2. God the Holy Father has commanded us to pursue it;
  3. Christ the Holy Son has died to effect it;
  4. The Holy Spirit works in us to bring forth the fruit of it;
  5. God sends trials into our experience in order to produce it;
  6. Heaven itself is a world that is full of it.

I have been reading Simonetta Carr's book Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them. I'm swamped with school work at the moment, but I've been sneaking moments before bed to read it. It's gripping. Simonetta's experience is extreme, but not uncommon. Despite her situation with her son being more difficult than most, her words about motherhood in this passage are true. We never stop learning to mother:
I pat him on the leg to show that I'm happy he is coming with us. The mellowing effect of the medications causes his muscles to relax, and he doesn't react. He once told me he doesn't like to be hugged or touched, so I try not to do it, but once in while I sneak a light pat on his leg or shoulder, or a soft kiss over his head on the tip of his dreadlocks. It feels so good, and I want it so much, but I have to remember that I don't need it -- not if he doesn't want it. The only way to accept it is to keep my eyes on the Lord and to get my satisfaction from him. I thought I was done learning most of my lessons about motherhood, but no . . . 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Five Star Links

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


The Houston Chronicle published several articles this week on the cover up of child sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Churches. I am not a Southern Baptist, but I try to advocate for abuse victims whenever I have the opportunity. Thus as painful as these stories are, we can't turn away. There have been many posts in response to the investigation, but I appreciate this one written by Keith Whitfield at First Things. 
The SBC faces a moral crisis as big (if not bigger) than the theological crisis we faced over the “battle for the Bible” in the 1970s–1980s. The theological crisis called us to protect the faith; this challenge calls us to live it.


I appreciated Christina Fox's reflection on confession, as seen in Psalm 51: "Psalm 51 and a Prayer of Confession." 
Such confession of sin requires humility. We have to humble ourselves before the Lord. We have to recognize that God is God and we are not. We have to rest and rely on his mercy and grace for us in Christ. God poured out his wrath on Christ, the wrath we deserved for sin. In Christ, we are forgiven, justified, and made righteous. In Christ, we know David’s cry has ultimately been fulfilled: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).


I couldn't make up my mind, so here are two links I liked.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels?

by Peter J. Williams

The four Gospels found in the New Testament tell the life story of the central figure of Christianity—Jesus of Nazareth. If the history recorded in Gospels isn’t reliable history, then it’s game over for Christians, because outside of the Gospel accounts we know only the barest facts about Jesus’s life.So are the Gospel’s trustworthy? Is the information they contain actual history? Or are they fiction? Are they accurate reports of Jesus’s life or collections of fanciful stories made up by Jesus’s followers after he died?

These are some of the questions Peter J. Williams answers in his little book, Can We Trust the Gospels? He “seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time.” As we might expect, then, this book is short and easy to understand, but still, there is an incredible amount of information and argumentation supporting the basic trustworthiness of the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And the information and arguments Williams chooses to include give the careful reader a blueprint for how to approach other specific objections to the reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus.

The strongest chapter is the one that looks at the Gospel authors’ familiarity with the details of life in Palestine during the time of Jesus. The Gospel writers, Williams shows, “knew their stuff.” The place names are right, both the well-known and not-so-well-known. Altogether, twenty-six towns are mentioned—Jerusalem, of course, but also many small villages. The bodies of water and other geographical features mentioned in the Gospels are described exactly as we would expect.

And when the names used for the characters in the Gospels are compared to those we now know were used most frequently in first century Palestine, we find that they are right, too. What’s more, the cultural and religious details are accurate.

How did the writers of the Gospels know all these details of life in Palestine during Jesus’s lifetime? They couldn’t google them. There weren’t reference books for an author who lived far away or later in time to use to find out these sorts of things. No, the authors of the Gospels had to know these things from their own experience living in Palestine during the time of Jesus, or by hearing the details from someone who lived there.[1]This doesn’t, as Williams writes, “on its own demonstrate that all of what they wrote is true.” But it does show that they were not “too distant from events to be trusted.”

The weakest chapter, in my opinion, is the one dealing with contradictions in the gospels. Williams chose to focus on the kind of supposed contradictions that I would suggest most people find least troubling—the paradoxical language John uses in his Gospel (or in his other New Testament writings). For instance, in John 8, John records Jesus as saying,
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.
I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” (John 8:15-16, 26 ESV)
So which is it? Does Jesus judge or not? Any fair reader—one who assumes Jesus (or John) isn’t crazy—ought to be able to see that Jesus speaks this way as a teaching tool to make his hearers think: In what way doesn’t Jesus judge anyone? In what way does he judge them? Jesus wants those listening to him to puzzle over his words and come to a better understanding of who he is and what he came to accomplish.

These aren’t the kinds of seeming contradictions I hear mentioned as objections to the truthfulness of the Gospels. Rather, I think most people are more troubled by apparent discrepancies in the differing Gospel narratives of a singular event, like when, for instance, Luke says there were two angels at the tomb and Mark says there was one (Luke 24:4 and Mark 16:5).

But then Williams is arguing for the basic historical reliability of the Gospels, and not necessarily their inerrancy. A few minor conflicts in eyewitness accounts don’t affect the general historical trustworthiness of the gospels much as long as the basic information about Jesus’s life they contain is similar. But if one of the Gospels has Jesus spouting nonsense, then there’s a real problem with that Gospel’s trustworthiness—or with Jesus’s. Perhaps this is the reason for William’s choice of material in this chapter.

One of the most important points Williams makes is that main reason people don’t accept the Gospels as trustworthy historical records is that there are miracles in the Gospel accounts. This is a problem that can’t be overcome by simply accumulating more evidence.
If you are overwhelmingly convinced of materialist atheism, then it is hard to imagine what amounts of evidence would persuade you to believe in a random and meaningless miracle, a mere anomaly to your worldview.
Every argument in this book can be explained away if one is determined to do so, although it would require many different and complicated arguments. “A far easier position,” Williams writes,
is to make a single supposition, that all of history hangs on Jesus. It is a single and simple supposition, but I am not claiming that it is a small one. It does have huge explanatory power as it accounts for the signs in the Gospels that would normally be taken as signs of reliability, for the genius of Jesus’s character and teaching, for the evidence for the resurrection, and for the correspondence of Jesus’s life with the Old Testament.
This book would be good to give an unbeliever who doubts the credibility of the gospels. It will probably be most useful, however, to a believer who wants to know how to respond to specific questions from a skeptic. It made me cherish the Gospels more as the amazing documents they are. They bear the marks of God-breathed (and thus absolutely true) historical accounts.

[1]The apocryphal Gospels, which were written much later than the biblical Gospels, don’t contain many of these sorts of details, and when they do, they tend to get them wrong.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Quotes of Note

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


For my Pentateuch class, we're reading a book called Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? by Michael Morales. It is a biblical theology on Leviticus. I have read other books from this series, and they were excellent.

In the second chapter of the book, Morales, in the context of discussing the seventh day of creation,  emphasizes that humans were created in the image of God for the purpose of being in the presence of God:
The human being is regarded as God's counterpart on earth, the "You" who is addressed by God, and the "I" who is responsible to God. Until this wonder sets in deeply, that the Potter has crafted a vessel with whom he can interact and engage relationally, understanding the image of God will be limited to the goings on of the first six days. Humanity, nevertheless, is not the culmination of creation, but rather humanity in the Sabbath day communion with God. This engagement with the divine is what -- and what alone -- can fulfill the purpose and potential for the image of God, not merely as a keeper of the lower creation, but as a lover of the fathomless Uncreated; in this way and for this purpose the image of God itself becomes the wonder of creation. In short, humanity was created for the heavenward gaze, the human soul for a life of prayer.


This quote is from Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson. When we think about the term "holiness" or "holy," it is often described as "to be separate from" or "to be cut off from." But Ferguson asks whether we are beginning at the wrong place. These definitions are from the point of view of the creature and sinner, which may not give the entire picture.
Any description we give of what God is like in himself - in technical terms, describing his 'attributes' - must meet a simple test. For anything to be true of God as he is in himself it must be true quite apart from his work in creation, quite apart from our experience or even the existence of angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim. It must be true of God simply as he always existed in the eternal Trinity. But in that case, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had no 'attribute' that involved separation...
What then is God's holiness? What do we mean when we say 'Holy Father' and 'Holy Son' and 'Holy Spirit' and 'Holy Trinity'?
We mean the perfectly pure devotion of each of these three persons to the other two. We mean the attribute in the Trinity that corresponds to the ancient words that describe marriage: 'forsaking all others, and cleaving only unto thee'  - absolute, permanent, exclusive, pure, irreversible, and fully expressed devotion. (pages 1-2)


Here's how Graeme Goldsworthy summarizes his study tracing the theme of "Son of God" (which is not the same as "God the Son") through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation:
As Son of God, [Jesus] is the new Adam, the new Israel, the new humanity. All the promises of God made to his people are fulfilled in Jesus: he is the new creation, the new Promised land, the new Jerusalem, the new temple, and the new people of God. Thus, his resurrection signals the fact that he is the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4) by demonstrating that he fulfills the promises of the Old Testament (Acts 13:32-33). Jesus as the Son of God defines our salvation as part and parcel of the renewal of all things: the new heaven and earth. Jesus as the Son of God, declared to be so by his resurrection, shows that our salvation is not merely the saving of our soul but the redemption of our whole being—body, mind, and soul—through our own resurrection. Jesus as the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, was putting the whole universe back together from the futility to which is has been subjected because of the human rebellion against the Creator (Romans 8:19-23). The consummation of this total regeneration is described in the book of Revelation as resurrection and the new heaven and earth. The dwelling place of God with his people is envisaged as a new Jerusalem let down from heaven to the new earth. The coming again of Jesus, our resurrection, and the renewal of all things is our certain expectation based on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.
From The Son of God and the New Creation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother's Eyes, Simonetta Carr, P&R Publishing, 2019, 368 pages.

You might be familiar with author, Simonetta Carr. She has written many Christian biographies for children and has a church history blog, Clouds of Witnesses. But this book is different. Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them is deeply personal because she writes of her son's battle with schizophrenia.

The first part of this book is Jonathan's story. After one semester away at college, his parents became very concerned over the sudden change in his personality and behavior. This led to the diagnosis of schizophrenia and the difficult road of finding the right care for a condition that is not fully understood, all while navigating a system that can make this task even harder. As an adult, Jonathan could also choose to comply with medication and therapy or not and grant his parents access to his medical information or not. Their local church stood with them during this time, and there were signs of hope after he began seeing a new doctor. But tragically, there wasn't a happy ending. Forgive me for not sharing more details, but I refrain out of respect for Jonathan and his family. This isn't my story to tell, and you need to read it in his mother's words.

In the second part, Simonetta shares what she gleaned in her search for answers. This section begins with a chapter on understanding schizophrenia and some of the possible misconceptions surrounding it, which is followed by a chapter on different medical approaches. In addition, she writes about the importance of familial support, care for the caregiver, application of the gospel, advocacy, and recovery in the already-but-not-yet. Given the complexity of humanity and the illness itself, this information is very helpful because it takes into account the physical, psychological, and spiritual components of care.

Broken Pieces is a beautifully written, powerful, and yet heart-wrenching book. Although I have never walked in Simonetta's shoes, I can relate to her maternal love and the desire to do all she could for her child. I had a hard time putting the book down, but I had to pause at times to weep for Jonathan and his family. Don't get me wrong. This wasn't written to manipulate the reader's emotions but an honest account of a very real aspect of the fall. But this book is also one of hope because the Carr family found comfort in life and in death in the gospel. I can't imagine how challenging it was to write this, but I am thankful for Simonetta and her labor of love. I highly recommend Broken Pieces for pastors, church leaders, caregivers and family, and the rest of us. May the Lord use this to remove the stigma of mental illness from the church. And may we grow in compassion and love because Christians can have serious mental illness, too.

I will end my review with Jonathan's poem, which inspired the title of this book. Simonetta found this on his birthday after his death - a gift from God that confirmed Jonathan's faith.
Oh, how I love blessed Jesus
the one who died to save us
He makes me laugh like I was Beavis.
He is my strongest reason,
the only one who stays through the seasons.
He picks up my broken pieces.
He's there in every stroke of genius.
He forgives me for my constant treason.
Been watching since I was a fetus. (pg. 193)

I received an e-copy of this book from P&R Publishing. 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."

Broken Pieces is available at Amazon | P&R Publishing | Reformation Heritage Books | WTS bookstore

Monday, February 4, 2019

Quotes of Note

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


This is quote from The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson on assurance and a "frowning providence." This is my second rereading of the book, and it gets better each time.
We are not the best interpreters of divine providence. Nor is our conviction of the Father's love for us grounded in his providential ways with us. The fatal mistake here is to base our assurance of grace and salvation on the fact that "God is blessing my life." When we do so, we have no anchor if life turns sour. No, God anchors us to himself in Christ. He has demonstrated his love to us specifically on the cross - "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." From the crucified Christ, now risen, ascended, and reigning, we must never allow our eyes to be diverted nor view providence except through cross-shaped lenses. (pgs. 215-216)

My term paper on Apologetics deals with the problem of evil. One of the books I have been using for my research is The Many Faces of Evil, by John Feinberg. Feinberg's wife was diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea, and that experience has shaped his understanding of evil and suffering. In this passage, he reminds us that living the Christian life is a battle, and battles bring injury:
Yes, we are engaged in a spiritual war. But did you think you could go to war, even be in the front lines of the battle, and never get wounded? 
I did. At least, I never expected a wound like the one we got. But I have come to see that this was unrealistic. The enemy is very real, and has many ways of attacking those who would follow God. Knowing that there will be attack and battle wounds doesn't mean the wounds don't hurt. But it does help us assess more accurately what has happened. One may wish exemption from the battle, but that isn't possible. One may even contemplate changing sides as many do when confronted with tragedy, but that option isn't the answer to our problems for either time or eternity. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Five Star Links

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


"Brothers, We Are Not Talking Heads."

I say a hearty "Amen!" to this. I am not a fan of talking heads of most sorts, and I'm especially averse to pastors (or female leaders, for that matter) taking on the role. I am most concerned by Raymond's point number 5. How many pastors and leaders take time away from their own people to engage in the talking head game?


God's love is immutable, and understanding this makes a big difference in the life of a believer. Knowing that God's love is unchanging enables us
  1. To know the true God.
  2. To rest confidently in the Lord.
  3. To find comfort in life's changes.
  4. To imitate God in our love.
  5. To persevere in our troubles.


I am still stunned about the proposed abortion bill in Virginia's House of Delegates and my governor's defense of legalized infanticide. This article by Anne Carlson Kennedy expresses the grief I am feeling right now - When They Required a Song.
When you kill a human person without biblical cause, you are trying to be God yourself. You are usurping his authority and power in a most primal way. And that violence carries you on to many other kinds of violence—stealing and kidnapping people, enslaving people, lying about people, impoverishing people, swindling people, and ultimately, enacting your will on another person who is not yours to say anything about.