Rightly Dividing

The Sola Fide Paragraph

This is it.

If you had to pick just one paragraph from the New Testament, it would be hard to do better than Romans 3:21-26. Here is the righteousness of God manifested, not by works but by faith (alone), as God justifies sinners through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus Christ.

And for the ones who prefer da English:

The End of Many Books

A Failure of Nerve

by Edwin Friedman

February 2022. I do sometimes wish I could explain this book better. I almost always wish I could embody the nerve Friedman describes better.

As you can see below, I’ve read this a bunch of times. This go-round is in discussion with the men who help to shepherd our church’s small-groups. Even though I last finished it in 2019, I had intended to start it again when fearfulness ramped up during the lockdowns of 2020. Since then the world has set up its tent in CHAZ Anxietyville.

While leaders today may not have it more difficult than those in the past, they are probably more scrutinized and the criticisms more amplified. So much is broken, and the hour needs more men who aren’t panicked or pressured into over-reactivity, who can keep their heart and their direction for the good of the people they’re connected to.

You don’t have to read this book; read 1 Timothy 4:15-16 instead. And it’s true that Friedman really should be ignored in some parts. But I keep giving this thing 5 of 5 stars, so what are you waiting for?

May 2019 – 5/5 stars. With all the qualifications from my previous reviews in mind, this book is just a great challenge.

“To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go. It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step.”

December 2013: Read again and discussed with the TEC elders through 2013. Fantastic material for a leadership team, as long as that team already has a strong theological basis.

September 2012 – 5/5 stars: One of the most compelling and clarifying books I’ve read in a long time. Though I wouldn’t use the Friedman’s vocabulary, agree with his evolutionary presumptions, or have anywhere near his positivity apart from the gospel, I’d still say the Rabbi asks great questions that every leader (husband, father, pastor, boss, president, etc.) should consider.

Lord's Day Liturgy

One Little Feast Shall Fell Him

When we hear God’s Word our mouths are shut (Romans 3:19). We recognize that we are answerable to God and that we have no good answer, we have no good works that can answer and satisfy His righteous requirements (Romans 3:20). We are silenced.

And yet thankfully, we are not finished. The next verse proclaims: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21). In our flesh we have no defense, but by faith in Christ Jesus we have peace with God (Romans 5:1), we have no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

We still fight against the accuser. The great dragon, the ancient serpent, called the devil and Satan (Revelation 12:9) is the “accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before God” (Revelation 12:10). Does he accuse you? Does he take the law and use it against you?

Thomas Watson wrote, “some Christians are so skillful at…accusing themselves for want of grace, [it is] as if they had received a fee from Satan, to plead for him, against themselves.” But you ought instead to “tell satan when he accuseth thee, it is true the debt is mine, but go to…Christ, He will discharge it.”

This is what we proclaim when we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper. We proclaim that as those under sin, our flesh and blood were required, but that as those in Christ, His flesh and His blood were spent on our behalf. So by faith, we cling to the death and resurrection of Christ and the accusers mouth is shut. By faith, one little feast shall fell him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Mad Awesome

The men at our church have been reading The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, and a week ago we talked about how a godly man is a patient man. Under that heading Watson warned against: “Discontent; which is a sullen dogged humour: when a man is not angry at his sins, but at his condition.”

You can be angry with what’s happening or you can be angry with your sinful response to what’s happening. It’s not two separate things, the situation over here and your sins somewhere else, but its the angle on the same event. When something doesn’t go how you hoped it would, when someone else gets something you thought you should, are you ruthless with any sin coming up in your heart?

Paul told the Colossians that they must “put off” or put away anger, wrath, malice, and slander (Colossians 3:8). Likewise, when discontented impatience comes at you, put it off. Either lay aside your anger and impatience or you will, by default, be laying aside additional opportunities. Put on instead, as God’s chosen ones, humility and meekness and patience (Colossians 3:12).

How can you grow in favor with God and men when you are angry with God and bitter against men? You want a reputation for being awesome, but get mad if your awesomeness isn’t recognized? That mad is not awesome.

How much our complaints reveal about us. How much God’s Word points instead to our confession. Let your confession reveal your humility, your faith, your submission, your glory.

The End of Many Books

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield

I read her previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and was very edified by her testimony of conversion. This book is about hospitality, which is a mix of testimony of her family’s practice/experience and rebuke to the readers/Christians/the church.

She seems to conflate hospitality as obedience for every believer, and hospitality as a spiritual gift for some (not all) believers. She also walks close to the border of “this is how we do it and SO this is the right way for everyone to do it.” While writing as if to get everyone to be hospitable, which again, is required in at least some sense, she doesn’t quite seem self-aware enough to see that if everyone actually was doing it like her, then she’d have to look for something else to do.

Little comments, like making sure we know she’s cooking organic chicken in her crock pot, and how spiral notebooks on the kitchen table can solve a number of problems, give her preferences the feel of principles, which distract from the larger point.

Of even greater concern is repeated use of the word “violence” to describe what could be sins of omission. For example:

Our lack of genuine hospitality to our neighbors—all of them, including neighbors in the LGBTQ community—explains why counterfeit hospitality seems attractive. Our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect for their souls. (Loc. 1037)

It is an act of violence and cruelty to people in your church who routinely have no place to belong, no place to need and be needed, after worship. (Loc. 1678)

And yet I’m glad I read it, especially since the ladies at our church read and talked about it together. But it’s not what I’d recommend for sake of learning hospitality. (Maybe something such as The Art of Neighboring would be a better start.)

2 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

Something Is Odd

The concept of the multiverse has gained traction recently, made popular in some movies, but invented by some academics. Really it was conceived as a way to deal with the increasing impossibility of maintaining the credibility of evolution. Evolution is a random set of improvements and progress, but the problem is that we can’t test and repeat the process. Left to themselves, things don’t come together, they fall apart.

Evolution itself was an attempt to explain how we got here without God. Evolution is a belief system built by and for atheism. But these atheists want to claim reason as their own, and the more they try to prove evolution, the more irrational the speculations.

Enter the multiverse. This unprovable theory suggests that there are perhaps an infinite number of alternate universes where all is random, and ours just happens to have had its particular history. Of course it’s virtually impossible to think that all this could happen randomly, but increase the options, maybe the odds will be better than zero, and here we are. Well, something is odd.

The idea attempts to save evolution’s face, and buy some time for refusing to give God thanks. It also provokes the imagination, and allows us to have reasons to not give God thanks.

But what a failure to see.

For real, how amazing is our actual universe? We can’t even count our own stars, or the hairs on our heads. We were given bombardier beetles, microbiology, and coffee beans. And what other story of love and grace and sacrifice and gospel could be better than the one announced to us (1 Peter 1:25)? What a powerful and faithful God, a loved and loving Son, a powerful cross, an empty tomb. These are things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20–21 ESV)

Every Thumb's Width

Local News

A friend of mine shared this video with me a while ago, and it only makes me more excited about the idea of getting a local newspaper going in Marysville. As Glen Morgan says near the end, “The future belongs to those who show up.”

Bring Them Up

On Wanting More

I appreciate this video, not just for how much thankfulness it communicates in two minutes, but for two more reasons. First, the reason to start things like schools/colleges and to do work for our kids is not mostly because we’re fearful but instead because we know that there is more. Jesus is Lord of the cosmos. He created it all, and He cares about it all. Those who are growing up in His image should also grow in their capacity to care about what Jesus cares about, and that means our non-government education efforts have more to do with what we’re running toward rather than what we’re running from. We’re not necessarily wanting to be safe, we want much more than a gun and drug free campus.

The second part I really appreciated was the testimony of starting with what you have and going from there. Call it iteration, call it persistent revision, call it growth. Don’t wait for perfect, don’t expect there won’t be problems, and also don’t panic while addressing the problems. Need to figure something out? Well, you know, try to figure it out. Isn’t that what we want our students loving to learn to do themselves? We are not handing down the final answers from on high, we are “straining forward to what lies ahead” by faith and showing the way by example of learning more ourselves.

Wilson says near the end:

“Twenty-seven years ago we took the plunge. We didn’t know then what we know now, but what we did know we decided to act on. And as you act on what you know, one of the usual results is that God in His grace gives more light. Faithfulness requires no less….” [The work is] “because we wanted something more for our children.”

Lord's Day Liturgy

The School of Fish Strategy

I recently heard about the School of Fish strategy, where there’s a sort of safety in repeating whatever is the current school of thought. Recite the consensus, and if the group is proven wrong at some point, then you’re covered because everyone was wrong together. If you always swim in the same direction as the majority, once enough time passes the previous (and now obvious) error may even be forgotten. Danger (of being called out as wrong) averted.

We are starting to see some talking-point changes about COVID reactions. Now the Establishment is asking about the efficacy of vaccines and the usefulness of masks. What happened? Did the “science” start proving something different, or the political polling, or what?

I bring this up for a couple reasons. First, don’t confess your sin like any of these spin doctors. To some degree, the reason we have these people in such positions is because they do represent what we, the people, want. We aren’t going to get better representatives until we’re better at repentance. Honesty begets honesty, even when humility is required to admit that we were wrong.

Second, sin doesn’t just go away on its own, nor can it be covered by a group lie, nor does the passing of time cause it to be forgotten. Sin causes wounds, and wounds may be healed over time, but if sin itself could be dealt with, there would be no need for Jesus’ death. The gospel of time-passing would be enough.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

By His wounds we are healed, so we confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9-10).

The End of Many Books

The Deep Places

by Ross Douthat

In the movie Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis has a student whose father used to tell him, “We read to know we’re not alone.” The line comes up a couple times in the movie, and even if the actual history is apocryphal (it seems that the quote should be attributed to William Nicholson who wrote the movie), the truth of it is applicable.

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

Douthat includes this quote from Alphonse Daudet:

“Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.”

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Douthat’s columns at the NYT. He is regularly interesting whatever his subject, and in The Deep Places he tells his story of Lyme disease in a (too) relatable way. He doesn’t label the stages, but he describes the frustrations, the exasperations, the questions, the doubts, the anger, the rises and falls of hopes, the hours of research and appointments, and frenzied trials and dispiriting errors.

I wasn’t as benefited by his comments on COVID connections near the end of the book, but the pandemic was part of the “pile” of providences that added onto his physical problems, so not irrelevant. Watch out for some vulgar language, but you can appreciate the tormenting pains and get a sense of what it’s like to carry them. Or, if you’re someone who has similar problems, you can read and appreciate that you’re not alone.

4 of 5 stars