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Atticus Finch Cross Examined Me

Jun 03, 2015 | Erik Raymond

atticus finchLast month I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I was vaguely familiar with the story but definitely unfamiliar with the characters. As I read I was intrigued by Atticus Finch. At every turn he seemed to give people the benefit of the doubt and even (perhaps to a fault) willing to cover character defects with loving understanding.

It is the interaction with characters like these that showcase some of the pleasures of reading. When we read we find ourselves reacting. These reactions serve to reveal what is in our hearts.

In my case, Atticus kept on surprising me, even after I thought I had him figured out. Over the course of the book these reactions betrayed my heart. For example, he surprised me with his comments about and perspective on Mrs. Dubose. She was a mean, rude, racist woman. She stood against a lot of what Atticus gave himself for. She was also a morphine addict who had vowed to get clean before she died. And she did. After her death Atticus talks to Jem and Scout and says,

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

The lady was on my nerves but Atticus was eulogizing her, with sincerity. He seemed to do this with everyone he intersected with in the book, from the vile Mr. Ewell to Judge Taylor to Tom Robinson to Walter Cunningham Sr to even the town and time they lived in. Everything, it seemed, was an occasion to find an explanation for the evil or an evidence of something noble or praiseworthy. Atticus was slow to anger, balanced, and just.

I can sometimes find myself to be comfortably self-righteous in my judgments. Can you relate? We close the door to mercy and wipe away opportunities to find something noble or upright or praiseworthy. We are instructed by the Apostle to actively fix our minds on things that are good and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).

At times this work is more difficult than others. However, it is always easier when we remember that we ourselves are not the good guys but the bad guys. We have sinned and fallen short. We are the questionable characters in God’s story. But God, being rich in mercy and full of love, walks onto the stage in and through Christ to rescue us from our sinful rebellion by paying our eternal debt.

Early in the book Atticus gives Scout some advice:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things form his point of view-“

“Sir?”

“Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

When we are talking about patience and understanding, Christians above all, have to remember we are walking around in the skin of another. We ourselves were lost and in bondage to sin; without God and without hope in the world. We have a category for people acting foolishly and selfishly. Compassion and sympathy come from hearts of understanding.

The character in Harper Lee’s story helped me to become uncomfortable enough to ask questions about myself. You might say he cross examined me when I didn’t know I was even on the stand. This is a pleasure of reading, sometimes the book you are reading begins to read you. As a Christian everything is a tool that can aid in the heart work of sanctification.

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Book Review- Early Christian Martyr Stories

Jun 02, 2015 | Erik Raymond

early christianI don’t think I have ever met anyone who was not somewhat curious about their family history. We know that we are now living something of an extension of their lives; their stories are part of our stories.

If this is true in the natural realm it is most certainly true in the spiritual. In the church, the body of Christ, believers are united together even as they are united to Christ. Those who have come before us have a unique and special relationship to us as believers. Their stories serve to encourage, instruct and bless us when we consider them.

In his recent book, Early Christian Martyr Stories, (Baker, 2014), Bryan Litfin takes his readers on a historical tour through the first five centuries of the church. His emphasis, as the title implies, is upon the stories of those martyred for their faith.

I came to this book seeking more information but came away with inspiration. My heart was melted by reading these stories in succession.

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Contentment Sees Through the Shiny Wrappers

Jun 01, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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Preachers have to be careful, thoughtful, and clear when they denounce things. I was reminded of this recently when I was reading Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow. Berry talks about Jayber, the town barber, going to Sunday service because he liked the company of the women at church while lamenting the preaching. He repined over the weekly prattling about how we should hate the world. Then, after service, the preacher would go and eat several helpings from the potluck. Surely, Jayber thought, his hatred for the world is a bit inconsistent, as it does not extend to “all things” as he seems to quite love this product of the world called biscuits and chicken!

What in the World?

When we speak negatively about the world we are talking about the world system. This is the undercurrent of rebellion against God. It is the religious system of opposition to God that exists to belittle God’s glory by promoting sin and demoting him. It is clear that the fulcrum of this hatred of the world is not in food or any other created thing primarily but in the elevation of created things at the expense of God. It is to love the gift rather than the giver. Or, as Paul would say, to worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator.

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How Do I Apply This Passage in Leviticus?

May 29, 2015 | Erik Raymond

A couple of weeks ago I came to one of those times in sermon prep where I was just staring at the Bible and wondering what I was going to do with the passage.  Specifically it was in Leviticus 24.  This chapter deals with the regulations for the lamp stand and the bread.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we have a case of blasphemy.  The offender is the son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman.

(Lev 24.10-11) Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp,11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.

The commentators debate about the specifics of the offense, but suffice it to say, this man spoke in an insulting, irreverent, and unholy manner concerning the Lord God of Israel.  He was not impressed by him and felt no obligation to fear him.  So like Goliath, he mocked him.

The penalty for this divine hate crime was quick and efficient community execution by way of stoning.

(Lev 24.15-16) 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.

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Book Review- Willing to Believe

May 28, 2015 | Erik Raymond

One question that seems to come up regularly in conversations about Biblical doctrine is the subject of “free-will”. Does man have free-will? Is he a robot? Is he incapable of choosing God? These questions and more abound. We should note that these are not new questions. People have been debating the topic throughout church history. And, church history is a valuable resource for us in understanding not only our topic but how we got where we are today.

R.C. Sproul has been evangelicalism’s smart uncle for over a generation now. We are blessed to have his biblical clarity and faithfulness at arm’s length. A number of years ago he wrote a book entitled, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. The book aims to provide a historical and theological survey of the doctrine.

I found the book to be accessible and fair. It is tempting when writing on a polemical subject to throw haymakers in the periphery or to suffocate people with rhetorical skills. Sproul doubtlessly could do both well. He is a brilliant man. Instead, he helps to introduce us to the key players and their teaching throughout church history.

He introduces us to the following figures with the subtitle of the chapter summarizing the teaching:

  • Pelagius: We are capable of obedience
  • Augustine: We are incapable of obedience
  • Cassian (Semi-Pelagian): We are capable of cooperating
  • Luther: We are in Bondage to Sin
  • Calvin: We are voluntary slaves
  • Arminius: We are free to believe
  • Edwards: We are inclined to sin
  • Finney: We are not depraved by nature
  • Chafer: We are able to believe

Obviously these figures and their views are not mutually exclusive. Luther, Calvin and Edwards articulate views that reflect the Augustinian position (man does not have free will, he is bound in sin). Whereas, Arminius, Finney and Chafer reflect views that reflect either the Semi-Pelagian or full on Pelagian theology (man does have free will).

Not only does Sproul teach the doctrine of the Augustinian position but he helps readers to understand the doctrinal implications by showing the consequences and development of Pelagian doctrine. I suppose it goes without saying that I agree with Sproul and the position that he sets forward in the book.

This is a book that was recommended to me as a newer Christian but for some reason I never read it. I picked it up recently and was richly blessed by it. I remain thankful for Dr Sproul’s biblical precision and passion.

Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will is available at Amazon in print and kindle versions.

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Contentment is a Work of Grace

May 27, 2015 | Erik Raymond

hand sand losing

I am taking up the topic of contentment in a few articles here on the blog. In a previous post I began writing about what contentment is. This second article continues to focus on the nature of contentment and how we go about learning it.

Contentment is Spiritual

We are staying on track if we stick with our definition of contentment: Contentment is the inward, quiet spirit that joyfully submits to God’s providence.

It is the key for us to understand that contentment is spiritual. Through the gospel, God is working a change in his people. Part of this change that he is working is a change in how we value things.

In Romans 1 we see the ugly pattern of sin. Tragically, we appraise created things as more valuable than God himself. We believe the hollow and hissing promises of the tempter, and like our first parents, exchange God’s truth for a lie, and worship and serve creation instead of God.

What does the gospel do? It unfastens us from finding our meaning, purpose, and identity in created things and enables us to find it in God himself. Remember, this is the way creation was designed to work prior to sin entering the world.

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Is Contentment a Lost Art?

May 26, 2015 | Erik Raymond

StoneWallIf you drive through rural New England towns you will notice an abundance of stone walls. These walls served as property markers hundreds of years ago; and, because they were well built, many remain to this day. However, while the walls remain, the art of building a stone wall has nearly faded away. The craftsmen, who, in a previous age were plentiful are now dwindling to a small number.

A few years ago my dad (who lives in New England) wanted to have a wall built on his property that reflected some of the old world craftsmanship. As he inquired as to who could do it, he found that the list was remarkably small. He got his guy, but, he was booked for months. When he finally came he was like a guy from another age. His tools, work ethic, and even the way he spoke about the wall seemed to be from another time. He represented some of the lost art of mason work.

I wonder if you have experienced something like this when you read Christian biographies or theological works from previous generations. I know I have found myself convicted and a bit taken back by my own shallowness when considering their devotion and depth. One such area is the topic of contentment. When I read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, or The Art of Divine Contentment, by Thomas Watson, I feel like I am hearing from men from another world. (more…)

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Memorial Day Meditation

May 25, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Today is Memorial Day here in the US and it serves a great day to remember those who have served both their generation and the generations to come through their heroic defense of freedom.

I think it is fitting and good to honor those who have sacrificed for others. As a veteran myself,  I am especially inclined to be passionately patriotic. However, as a Christian I see this day as a gigantic arrow pointing to a more Memorial Day.

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Never Offer the Benefits of the Gospel Without the Benefactor Himself

May 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I have been quite refreshed by the book Feed My Sheep. It is a compilation with contributions from Mohler, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur (among others). As you might expect, it is a very helpful reminder and instruction into the priority of preaching.

This particular quote is from Sinclair Ferguson in his chapter preaching to the heart. The whole chapter is very helpful, but this was particularly appropriate:

There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need.

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Called Out of and Into Something

May 22, 2015 | Erik Raymond

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When we read the New Testament we are reminded that a remarkable transformation has happened. When we become a Christian we are transferred from one kingdom to another. Notice how the Apostle Paul puts it in Colossians 1:13.

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13)

Notice the two words, delivered and transferred.

The first word has to do with a rescue from a dangerous captivity. Believers are rescued from the tyrannical oppression of sin and Satan. Formerly opposed to God and his kingdom rule, we have been rescued, or delivered from it.

Secondly, we have been transferred. This is a change of status. The emphasis is upon the change that comes. The word is used for the sun being changed to darkness (Acts 2:20) or laughter being changed to crying (James 4:9). The transfer is a dramatic change of status from the dominion of darkness to the loving rule of Christ Jesus.

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