Links for the Weekend (2022-07-29)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Take Time to Be Unproductive

This is a great article, especially for people who have a nagging sense that they should always be accomplishing something. Many of us need to hear the advice to slow down.

What we think of as boredom or unproductive time can be a great gift. In the spaces opened by moments of slowness, if we don’t immediately fill them with more tasks or distractions, surprising things often happen: our bodies breathe and relax a bit, our imaginations open up, and our hearts can consider all manner of ideas. We have space to evaluate how we spoke to a colleague that morning or notice a young parent struggling with a child. Only by slowing down, and not immediately filling the space, do we start to sense God’s presence and the complexities of the world — including both its beauties and problems, our wonder and fears.

How to Handle the “Why” Questions

There are so many things God does that leave us baffled and, at times, frustrated. Katie Faris provides some encouragement from the book of Job about our desire to know why bad things happen.

At the end of the book, Job is comforted. And his story offers comfort in our trials too—but perhaps not in the way we might expect. Job’s comfort and ours doesn’t come from having all our questions answered or problems solved. Job finds—and teaches us to find—comfort in God’s sovereignty.

How Is the Sexual Revolution Affecting Women and Girls Today?

Jen Oshman answers this question in video form for Crossway. (There’s a transcript too.) Her answer focuses on the error of thinking the body and the soul are separate.

So many women and girls in our age are walking around with this trauma and these deep, deep wounds because they’ve sought to separate their bodies from their souls. But the truth is we are unified. We are embodied souls, and our bodies were created good by our good God. And so we must cherish and honor and protect and steward our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls well and in a unified way.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called When Conviction Comes to the People of God. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

When Conviction Comes to the People of God

“Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads” — Ezra 9:6

It’s unlikely that Ezra 9 tops anyone’s list of favorite chapters in the Bible. But with regard to grief over sin, few sections of Scripture are more instructive.

By way of background, Ezra is sent from Babylon to Jerusalem roughly 70 years after the first exiles made the journey. Ezra is both a priest and a scribe, and he will teach the law to the people in the rebuilt temple of God. Ezra 8 describes the travel to the holy city, then Ezra 9 opens with a bombshell.

The Faithlessness of the People

Ezra is told that many Israelites “have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” (Ezra 9:1). They have married women from the surrounding nations who do not worship God. And it gets worse: “And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost” (Ezra 9:2).

Ezra’s response is dramatic.

As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:3–4)

This is no run-of-the-mill sin. The identity and integrity of this new Jerusalem settlement is being compromised by these marriages. The issue is not mainly cultural or ethnic—it is about worship. Every spouse has enormous religious influence on their partner, and Israel’s history is peppered with unfaithfulness to God beginning with a marriage outside the faith.

Ezra grasps the severity of the situation, and he is undone. He is as torn up as his garment and facial hair.

While his ministry seems to have born fruit—witness those gathered with him who revere God’s word—the unearthing of sin this pervasive is devastating.

Communal Sin

Ezra sat appalled in his grief for a while. Then at the evening sacrifice (a public event), he fell on his knees to pray (Ezra 9:5).

O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. (Ezra 9:6–7)

Ezra quickly turns from “I” and “my” to “we” and “our” in this prayer. In Ezra 10, there is a full accounting of those who violated the law against marrying foreign women. Ezra’s name doesn’t appear there, and we have no reason to think he was individually guilty of this sin. So, why does he identify with this transgression? Why is it our guilt?

In most of the Old and New Testaments, the people of any community belong to each other. This is especially true when God himself establishes and gathers that community. There are laws and expectations governing individual behavior, but the individualism of the modern West is completely absent.

So while Ezra might not be personally implicated in this scandal, these are his people and this is his community. Regarding this specific sin, we can imagine how friends and neighbors did not keep each other in the way of righteousness. The bulwark of day-to-day encouragement to pursue good and to flee evil had cracked and broken.

Sin in the Face of God’s Kindness

Ezra has a deep knowledge of history, related both to the sins of the people and the kindness of God. He thanks God for his favor to leave a remnant of Israel, to give them favor with the kings of Persia, and to help them reestablish the house of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 9:8–9). God has not forsaken them!

And yet, in the midst of God’s goodness, they have violated his specific commandments (Ezra 9:10–12). Though God has punished them less than they deserved, they have repeated their ancestors’ sins (Ezra 9:13–14).

Ezra knows the holiness of God in ways we might not. He knows that God could be so angry—justly angry—that he might wipe out this remnant of his people (Ezra 9:14). He concludes this way.

Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this. (Ezra 9:15)

Pointing Forward

You might have noticed, this is not a cheery chapter of the Bible! No inspirational slogans to be found. And yet, as with all of Scripture, this chapter makes us look to Jesus.

God is grieved when we turn to worship anything but him. Ezra’s visceral sorrow reflects the size of the offense against the Lord. In this text, we see the people’s need for a savior—we are “before [God] in our guilt,” as no one “can stand before [God] because of this” (Ezra 9:15). The need for forgiveness and transformation is gigantic. And God has provided! Jesus is the one who was consumed in anger, he was the remnant that was eliminated in our place (Ezra 9:14).

Of course, conviction of sin happens again and again as we follow Jesus. And we need not fear conviction. Our sins are completely covered, and we are thoroughly forgiven as children of God. We will not be thrown out or disowned when our sin comes to light. This takes some getting used to, but our loving, holy Father leads the way.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2022-07-22)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why You Should Study Theology

Theology often gets a bad reputation as dry and confusing. (That’s just poorly communicated theology!) Scott Slayton gives us three reasons why we should commit ourselves to studying theology.

When we read and study theology, we come to a better grasp of God’s personal attributes and how he interacts with the world. We see how God revealed himself in the past through encounters with men and women in Scripture. For example, when he passed by Moses in Exodus 34, he proclaimed about himself, “The Lord, gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” You cannot learn that about God by looking at a sunset. Also, think about his interactions with Job in the closing chapters of the book that bears his name. There, we learn that God is all powerful, has no competitors, yet is gracious and restores those who have been broken.

Why Christian Teens Have an Identity Crisis

Sara Barratt looks at the constant questioning of identity in today’s young people and traces that back to a lack of the knowledge of God.

Lists of “who you are” statements are filled with deep truth but often little substance. You are loved . . . but those words hardly make a dent in love-hungry hearts if they don’t understand who loves them. You are chosen . . . but chosen by whom? Why were we chosen? You are redeemed . . . but those words mean nothing if we don’t deeply comprehend what we’re redeemed from and the greatness of our Redeemer’s heart. Far too often, we open with the “you are,” “we are,” “I am,” story instead of the “he is” story. 

What Is Promised to the Two or Three Who Are Gathered in Jesus’ Name?

We’ve all heard (and quoted) the promise about Jesus being present when two or three people are gathered in his name. Amy K. Hall takes a close look at the context of that promise, as well as the Old Testament background, and explains that we’ve likely been using this incorrectly!

Jesus goes on to explain that church discipline, if done in this manner, will have the weight of God behind it (i.e., whatever they bind or loose on earth shall have been bound or loosed in heaven). Then he says, “Again”—note that the “again” indicates he’s not changing the subject here but referring back to the two or three witnesses previously mentioned—“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask [in context, regarding church discipline], it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.”

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-07-15)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Community: A Struggle to Fit

I enjoyed this article about the church and what we can learn by living in community with people different than us.

I might have to grow in patience as I listen to others who take longer to formulate their thoughts. At the same time, others will have to grow in gentleness in how they respond. God does not want my rough edges rubbing against you, though they will, and will continue to do so until glory. But my rough edges will make you smoother, and your edges will help shape me. When I embrace people who are different from me, it stands to reason that my heart will need to be reshaped so we can fit together. This is not always a pleasant prospect, but it is a beautiful one.

How to Keep Yourself from Loving Money

The biblical antidote to the danger of loving money is contentment. How can we pursue contentment?

How do we resist the pull? By pursuing the ordinary ways God has given to grow our faith. When we worship together each Sunday or pray and meditate on his Word, he reorients our perspective. The routine rhythms of the Christian life, almost imperceptibly, steel our spine against the allure of “more.”

Nipping Gossip in the Bud

This article lays out three steps to take in order to battle gossip.

One reason gossip can be so difficult to define is that it so often masquerades as something more mundane, perhaps even beneficent. I’m sure you have witnessed plenty of prayer requests shared on someone’s behalf that seemed to include unnecessary details or salacious information. You’ve probably heard your share of “words of concern” that bordered on insinuation or improper speculation. Maybe you’ve offered such words yourself. I know I have.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called How Do We Obey the Gospel? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

How Do We Obey the Gospel?

“Obey” is not one of the verbs we typically connect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We talk about preaching the gospel, sharing the gospel, and believing the gospel. But we don’t hear much about obeying the gospel.

And yet, this must have been a phrase used in the early church, because it appears in at least two places in the Bible. In the context of talking about eternal punishment, Paul writes of “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess 1:8). In a similar manner, Peter refers to “those who do not obey the gospel of God” as being outside the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

What did these apostles mean when they used this phrase?

News That Demands Action

The word “gospel” means “good news,” so on the surface this phrase doesn’t make much sense. After all, how can we obey news?

The gospel is not just any news. It is good news announced by God. Such news requires action.

The ministry of Jesus answers our question directly.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14–15)

Because the kingdom is at hand—meaning that the king (Jesus) is here—repent and believe in the gospel. This is confirmed in other places in the New Testament.

Paul ended his sermon in Athens this way, including the command for all people to repent.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31)

Paul also wrote this to the Romans, where he equates obeying and believing.

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (Romans 10:16)

Using these passages, we can take a swing at what it means to obey the gospel. Obeying the gospel means repenting of sin and believing the gospel.

This definition still demands an explanation “the gospel.” But, in an effort to keep the length of this post reasonable, I’ll leave that to another source.

We still have one question to answer. If the Bible speaks this way, why don’t we?

An Invitation or a Declaration (or Both)?

One reason we don’t talk about obeying the gospel is because we don’t view the message as authoritative. The good news about Jesus becomes one option among many. It might be our favorite option, but this mindset turns Christianity into one choice on a religious buffet. When we talk to our friends about the gospel, we’re hoping they’ll pick the potato salad like we did and sit at our table.

We have (rightly) understood the gospel to be an invitation, but we have not seen it as anything more.

To be clear, the gospel is an invitation! Jesus did not (and does not) coerce anyone into faith, and we won’t force or argue anyone into the church. Jesus was (and is) gentle and hospitable, welcoming all who call on his name.

But as we have seen, the gospel demands action. Turning away from Jesus is not just making a different, individual choice—it is disobeying and rejecting God. Our evangelistic efforts should emphasize both the call to obey and the invitation.

Ongoing Obedience to the Gospel

We need the gospel every hour of every day, not just at the beginning of our Christian lives. Therefore, the obligation to “obey the gospel” is not just for unbelievers—it’s for Christians too.

We get a hint of this in a letter from the apostle John, who was writing to Christians.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

And in this same letter, we are not only urged to believe in the name of Jesus, but also to confess our sins and repent (1 John 1:8–10).

We enter into faith by the grace of God, and we are sustained in faith by this same grace (Gal 3:1–6). This glorious grace of God helps us to repent and believe in the gospel and to invite others into this same obedience.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2022-07-08)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

A Declaration of Dependence

This was published on July 4, just so you get the reference in the title. But this is a wonderful reminder of just how dependent we are. Here is just one of Aimee Joseph’s declarations.

I am more entrepreneurial and creative in devising ways to glorify myself and expand my own kingdom than I am in seeking to worship and glorify the only One who is worthy (Hosea 8:11-12). I am more resolute at running after lifeless idols than I am at following the One living God (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7).

Bootstrapping is Folly

Glenna Marshall wrote about sanctification, obedience, and individualism.

But what about sanctification? Our salvation is a work of the Spirit, but isn’t the Christian life up to us? I used to think so. Saved by grace through faith, sanctified by my own strength. I wouldn’t have used the term “bootstrapping” back in my young years of the faith, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was trying to be really good, to read my Bible often, to pray, to be obedient—all in order to keep my right standing with God. If I missed some Bible reading or fell asleep praying, I figured the Lord must be disappointed in me. So, I tried harder. And harder still. And I began to hold other people to a standard I could never hope to meet. I may have been saved by grace, but I was determined to be sanctified by grit. It was a terrible way to live. 

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Cindy Matson writes about “numbering our days” (as in Psalm 90). She helps us think through several bad methods of counting and offers some thoughts about how to number our days properly.

Whatever the number of our days here on earth may be, that number represents a specific quantity. A quantity that will come to an end sooner or later. Eternity represents a quantity that never diminishes no matter how many days go by. Numbering our days God’s way means that we live with eternity in view, using each day here on earth in light of the life that will never end.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-07-01)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why Female Eyewitnesses Authenticate the Resurrection

Here’s an article discussing the role of the women who followed Jesus and their witness to his resurrection. This is good evidence for the authenticity of the Gospels!

From Celsus’s perspective, Mary Magdalene and the other weeping women who witnessed Jesus’s so-called resurrection were a joke. If the Gospel authors had been making up their stories, they could have made Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the first resurrection witnesses: two well-respected men involved in Jesus’s burial. The only possible reason to emphasize the testimony of women—and weeping women at that—is if they really were the witnesses.

Hospitality: God’s Workroom for the Weak

Zach Barnhart writes about hospitality in this article. He acknowledges that not everyone feels they have the “gift of hospitality,” but he argues that when we feel we don’t have much to offer, that might be an occasion in which the love of Christ shines brightly.

When it comes to biblical hospitality, most of us recognize its importance and will certainly value it when it is offered to us. But when it comes to the prospect of inviting others into our homes (and lives), we tend to defer to our weaknesses to get us off the hook. I’m familiar with the arguments because I’ve made them myself over the years: “That just isn’t my spiritual gift.” “We don’t have a home conducive to hosting.” “I’m not a good cook.” “My house is never clean.” “No one wants to be around all of my crazy kids.” Our protests rattle off like Moses taking exception with God’s commission (Ex. 4:1–17). Hospitality is viewed as a Christian ideal that’s simply out of reach.

4 Thoughts on Spiritual Fatherhood

Though “fatherhood” is in the title of this article, it’s really about mentoring (and being mentored) in the faith. Jared Wilson has some good thoughts on discipleship for your consideration.

Similar to my thoughts from point 1, I just want to make the case that real spiritual growth — of all kinds — comes from the Holy Spirit normatively through the discipleship of the local church. Undoubtedly the people we read, go to hear at conferences, follow online, etc. can edify us and positively shape and influence us. But there’s no substitute for a dad. I think about this in terms of my own father quite a bit these days. I’ve had numerous Christian men speak into my life, including one or two who I would say have fathered me spiritually, and I’ve benefited from countless theologians and other ministry leaders, but the single greatest impact on my commitment to Christ’s church, I’m convinced, was having a dad and mom who were undeterred churchfolk.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called God’s Immutability Secures Ten Thousand Promises. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.