Old and New Testaments: One Great Story

Shrouded in mystery, the ways of God are stitched into stories, carried on the smoke of a burning sacrifice, and sung from the heart with both joy and tears. Through promises and prophecies, God hints at a plan that will reel in rebellion and undo death and loss — until the silence of four hundred years falls like a veil between heaven and earth.  Open to the page that falls between the Testaments and ponder long, for the Old prefigures the New, and the New reveals the Old in a way that could only be true if their message and their Object were one.

Nancy Guthrie traces the point and counterpoint between the Old and New Testaments with sixty devotional readings, each one demonstrating the Old Testament origin of a single concept and then following the dotted line of Truth directly to Christ.  In Seeing Jesus:  Seeking and Finding Him in the Scriptures, the reader lifts off in Genesis with its plural pronouns attached to a Creator God; touches down in John’s Gospel for the unmasking of the Living Word; and then arrives at the stunning conclusion (aided by the Apostle Paul) that Origin and Object are one, for everything that the Living Word spoke into being is shot through with the ultimate purpose of glorifying God. (1-4)

Filling All Things Everywhere

It should be no surprise, then, to find the psalmist’s certainty that God would fill the hungry is echoing anew in the Gospel writers’ assurance that God the Son would fill the wine casks and the fish nets, and then, again, in the Apostle’s confidence that He would “fill all things everywhere,”  and that, one day, Jesus will fill and complete His Body, the church, filling the entire universe with Himself. (153-156)

Each reading traces the actions of God  — at work to show Himself powerful through his protection of and provision for a tiny nation state — and then follows the narrative arc into a larger story that becomes massively redemptive and globally significant. Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ only to ricochet off the hard-packed streets of first-century Jerusalem and land in the Revelation with a majestic white horse ridden by a Messiah-King in an unshakable Kingdom where He is both Temple and Lamb.

Until we have seen Jesus in both the Old and the New Testaments . . . I wonder.

Have we really seen Him at all?

//

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, in exchange for my review.  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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Theology 101 (In the Nursery)

When school started in the fall, I introduced a series in our Sunday School on God’s incommunicable attributes — for the kids.  The timing was perfect:  everyone was going back to school.  We all have lots to learn.  God has never needed to learn anything.   He is omniscient . . .  and on we went from there, week by week, pondering God’s sovereignty, His immutability, the other omni’s, and more besides.

Childhood is the perfect time to introduce little people to the important truths of the faith.  With that in mind, Danielle Hitchen has produced a tool to make the learning process fun for the kids, the parents and the teachers.  Bible Basics – A Baby Believer Counting Primer has all the best indestructible features of a board book, the interesting and colorful pictures that go with a cute counting book, but with the important difference that the counting acts as a simple catechism that takes tiny disciples beyond the Bible stories and introduces them to the language and meaning of some of Christianity’s core tenets.

And why not?  The Bible is full of numbers!
We have one God in three persons.
God the Son exists in two natures, and He appears in all four Gospels.
The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch, and I didn’t even hear that word until I was in college!

Each two-page spread features eye-catching drawings, but my favorite is number nine:  the fruit of the Spirit.

capture

Bible Basics, the first of a series, is a book for my grandson to grow into.  We’ll start out by reading the concept headings and counting together.   With a tiny brain like velcro, the little wiggler will soon be ready to listen to the Scripture verses, hymn lyrics and other supporting texts that will help him to fill up those concepts with meaning.

I’ll also be sure to put a copy of this book in my church’s nursery, because there is no better time to introduce the idea that, while no one fully understands God, and while He transcends all our outlines and file folders, theology is a helpful tool that functions like a ladder, leaned up against the great truths of Scripture to give us a place to stand and wonder.

Stand and wonder with me now with the help of these words from Augustine (on page 3) about the trinity:

“Glory to the Father who created us.
Glory to the Son who redeemed us.
Glory to the Holy Spirit who sanctified us.
Glory to the most high and undivided trinity,
whose works are inseparable,
whose kingdom without end abides,
from age to age, forever. Amen.”

//

This book was provided by the publisher through the Blog About Network book review program in exchange for my review.  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.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Power of a Single Word

Receive . . . Enjoy . . . Let go

Freighted with meanings and memories, associations and reflections far beyond their official definitions, words can be an invitation to pay attention.

Watch . . . Accept . . . Resist

Marilyn McEntyre has chosen fifteen words as the basis for fifteen weeks of daily meditations, as Word by Word, she challenges readers to let the word of the week become a focus for prayer and for biblical meditation.

Allow . . . Be still . . .Follow

There is a delight to discovering that “words may become little fountains of grace,” and Marilyn’s brief daily musings amplify the voice of the Spirit, sending me back to the Source.

Rejoice . . . Ask . . . Dare

For those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, meditation begins, not with an empty brain or a blank slate, but with revealed Truth.  Our use of language is a mark of the image of God, and the words we use are the basis of our communion with ourselves, with one another, and with God in prayer.

Leave . . . Welcome . . . and my favorite:  Listen

Word by Word reminded me again (I’m a slow learner) of the need to listen with humility and openness, to “notice what I notice,” which is sound advice indeed, especially in the pursuit of Spirit-breathed wisdom.

Throughout Scripture, the faithful found that the voice of God often emerged from the silence.  In this season of Advent, I find myself listening in to the four- hundred-year silence between the testaments, the pause that was broken by startling birth announcements and accompanied by angels.  John’s first epistle identifies this “manifestation” as The Word of life, a reminder that God’s ultimate self-expression and His message are so inextricably linked that they have been identified by a single term:  The Word.

Of course, it should be clearly understood that listening is a risky business, because the listener may be required to act upon what she hears.

Those who dare to engage in the counter-cultural practices of listening, pondering, and praying will find that it turns down the volume on this kingdom of noise and clears the deck for a habit of stillness and a continuing practice of listening — really listening — as we read Scripture in the manner in which it was given:  word by word.

//

This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  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.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”

Till We Have Faces is a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

A Very Tozer Christmas

My growing-up Christmases were heavy on Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.  Linus’s hushed tones filled me in on the true meaning of Christmas via our first colored t.v., but I wanted that story to take center stage for my own children.  The celebration of Advent has been key for our family in spreading out the teaching, the excitement, the special family activities, and the wonder of the incarnation over the entire month of December.

This year, for our daily Advent devotional, we are gathering around From Heaven, a 28-Day Advent collection compiled from the sermons, books, and editorials of beloved 20th century pastor and writer, A.W. Tozer.  As we light the candles and sing the carols, we will be savoring the familiar story against the backdrop of Tozer’s unique insights:

On the Incarnation

“Nobody has ever seen God, but when Jesus Christ came He showed us what God is like.”

“The Word became flesh . . .What we have here is one of the darkest mysteries of human thought:  How the Deity could cross the wide yawning gulf that separates what is God from what is not God.”

On the Meaning of Christmas

“It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning, but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import.”

On the Gospel

“If the tender yearning is gone from the advent hope today there must be a reason for it:  [we] emphasize the utility of the cross rather than the beauty of the One who died on it. . . What He did for me seems to be more important than what He is to me.”

On Jesus’ Mission

“It could have been very easy for God to have loved us and never told us.  God could have been merciful toward us and never revealed it. . . . The eternal Son came to tell us what the silence never told us. He came to tell us that God cares and God loves and God has a plan and God’s carrying out that plan.”

On Christ’s Second Advent

“We live between two mighty events — that of His incarnation, death, and resurrection, and that of His ultimate appearing and the glorification of those He died to save.  This is the interim time for the saints — but it is not a vacuum.  He has given us much to do, and He asks for our faithfulness.”

Blessings to you at the beginning of this season of advent as we celebrate Jesus’ coming to Earth From Heaven — and as we anticipate “the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (I Peter 1:7,8).

//

This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Sometimes, Instead of Bread, I Ask God for Stones

 

I have a battered notebook that has been with me for so long that four of its pages date back to the birth of each of my sons.  It is in this notebook that I write down the requests – big and small — that I bring to God.

Should our family take the adventure of a cross-country trip in a mini-van? 

Who gets my vote this time?

Lord, help our church family to find a shepherd.

Certainly, my notebook is a record of God’s faithfulness, but even after all these years, I don’t pretend to understand the pattern of scattered checkmarks – or the replies from God that they denote – for the notebook also chronicles my uneasy relationship with prayer.

At some point, it’s bound to happen to everyone who believingly follows the One who said “when you pray”:  the bubble of predictability is pricked and horror comes rushing in regardless of prayers to the contrary.  My notebook speaks into this tension.

  • Fervent prayer for a missionary friend with cancer – dead six weeks from diagnosis.
  • Focused supplication for a marriage to survive . . . and another . . . and another. All have dissolved, and are barely a memory now.

Even the Apostle Paul with his inside track to the third heaven never claimed to understand the ways of God.

Instead, he said, “I know whom I have believed,” (II Tim. 1:12).

Therefore, he took grace —  and the power of Christ —  as glorious consolation prizes that came instead of the healing for which he prayed three times, (II Cor. 12:8,9).

What has been your experience with prayer — especially when God says no?  This tiny confession of mine is part of a month-long theme over at SheLoves Magazine, so I’m hoping that you will join me over there to read the remainder of the story — and, hopefully, to be encouraged to persevere in your prayer life.

And while you’re there, do take a moment to visit the thoughts and shared wisdom of so many others!

Capture

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Standing and Waiting with Those Who Suffer

The words of 17th century poet John Milton from On His Blindness, come to mind with every visit to my mother’s long-term care facility:

 “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

I hope it’s true, and I’d love to report that in the midst of my waiting we have warm and meaningful conversations or that I push her wheelchair outside for sunshine and fresh air, but the truth is that she refuses to leave her room, and that for the duration of my visits, the t.v. is blaring infomercials and game shows.  With every visit, I wonder if her life is enhanced at all by my presence.  Of course, “standing and waiting” on behalf of my mother also includes advocating for her when her crankiness gets in the way of administrators hearing her real needs, calling health care providers, and bringing her treats, but, most of the time, I realize that I don’t know what to do in the face of her great need.

It is this awkward and frustrating sense of helplessness that often prevents people of faith from taking risks in serving those who are disabled or grieving or suffering in other ways.  Being There by Dave Furman offers inspiration and advice from the perspective of the one being served.  Readers who are familiar with his wife Gloria’s writing will remember that Dave is afflicted with a neurological condition which, over the past decade, has disabled his arms, caused chronic pain, and resulted in four major surgeries and a variety of tests, therapies, and prescriptions — none of which have been helpful.

With candor and realism, Dave shares his discouragement, his depression, and the impact his disability has had on his young family and on his ministry as a church planter on the Arabian peninsula.  He warns readers of the danger inherent in playing the “if only” game, which goes like this:

Fill in the blank — If only ___________, then I’d be happy.
If only my arms were healthy.
If only I had more money.
If only my spouse were healed.
This is not a game that is exclusive to the disabled, and Dave quotes John Calvin, referencing our “idol-factory” hearts, for somewhere along the way he realized that pain-free living had become an idol to him.

Suffering is a group project, and those who care for the suffering have a unique need to come clean before God about their own grieving process.  They need a marathon-level strength that is not their own in order to act, day after day, with selflessness toward one who is continually in need.  The messy process of grieving over a loved one’s pain is hard work and is best done in community. Over and over, the Furmans urged:  “Don’t walk this journey alone.”

The Psalms of Lament (particularly Psalm 88) give words for the hopelessness and for the sense that God is distant and uncaring.  Three lessons emerge from the text:

  1.  It is possible that a believer may experience unrelieved suffering.
  2. Our pain and suffering are not the final word, but remind us of the redemption to come.
  3. The psalmist does not give up.  Even in the midst of darkness, he prays.

Being There thrums with Gospel-based reassurance that not only does God not look away in our suffering, but the truth is that “the only person who sought God and truly did lose God’s face and did experience total darkness was Jesus” — and this was on our behalf.  “Because Jesus was truly abandoned by God the Father, we will never be abandoned by God.”  This is solid truth to encourage the heart of the suffering as well as the compassionate caregiver.

A highlight of Dave’s writing is the wide range of great authors and thinkers he quotes.  For example, citing Thomas Chalmers on “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” Dave reminds readers that our love for the hurting comes out of new hearts based on resurrection-hope and because of what Jesus has already done for us — not because we are stellar servants or possess super stores of personal endurance.

Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls applies to caregivers as thoroughly as to soul winners.  “You must be much with Christ before you are anything for anybody else.”

Seventeenth century English Puritan John Flavel’s writing drives home the truth that only those with a healthy heart can really help the hurting.  With this emphasis on a growing relationship with God in place, Being There moves on to some very practical components for helping the hurting and their caregivers:

  1.  Faithful friendship that offers silent presence, the fellowship of mutual burden bearing, loyalty over the long haul, the grace of lavish and ready forgiveness, and a willingness to use humor and lightheartedness to lift spirits.
  2. Continual clinging to the hope offered in the gospel over all other possible sources of hope.
  3. Selfless service that washes feet, honors the dignity of any image-bearer, humbly offers healing words, and shows up with specific and practical hands-on help.
  4. Heartfelt prayer in the manner suggested by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  “True spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother even more than to a brother about Christ.”  This includes urging the hurting to draw strength from their own prayer life.
  5. Loving rebuke when it’s clear that hopes need realignment and fear is in the driver’s seat.  Paul refers to it as “restoration” in the sense of putting a bone back in joint.
  6. Avoidance of unhelpful patterns such as becoming the “fixer;” delivering a message of false hope; unsympathetic questioning, pushing, condemning, or comparing; and allowing the disability to become anyone’s main identity.

We are called to a life of what Paul Tripp describes as “intentionally intrusive relationships.”  When we, as the Body of Christ, bear one another’s burdens in a culture of caring, we put the love of God on display and demonstrate our belief that He can provide strength to help us overcome obstacles and minister with love to those who are hurting. We can “stand and wait,” as we watch the grace of God prevail.

//

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.