Blind Bartimaeus

I’m reading through Charles Martin’s excellent book What If It’s True and today I read the chapter on when Jesus heals Bartimaeus of blindness at the gates of Jericho.  Mr. Martin has a couple of piercing insights into this event.  He writes:

Jesus “is walking straight toward His own execution, and yet for some illogical and inexplicable reason He stops to talk with the blind, smelly beggar living under a curse.

This picture shakes some stuff loose in me.  It rattles my foundation.  Why?  Because there is a piece of my heart that needs to know that I—with all of my filth and all that should disqualify me—matter to the God of the universe.  The God who made me.  That I’m worth His time when He has better things to do.”

Mr. Martin continues:

“I do know that Jesus fashioned Bartimaeus together before the foundation of the world.  He made his very eyes.  His lens. His optic nerve.  Science tells us the human eye has over two million working parts.  The Carpenter standing in the street fashioned those very eyes from the dust of the earth before the foundations of the earth were laid.  That should mess with your brain.”

It does!

And finally Mr. Martin summarizes what took place when Bartimaeus got healed of his blindness: “Belief was the decision.  Faith the action.  Praise the effect.  Glory the echo through eternity—which has rippled onto this page, and oddly enough, through your eyes.”

Good reading.


6 Ways the Od Testament Speaks: Full Review

If you ask me, the best authors are those who can take a subject and write about it in such a way that the reader nods his head and says: “of course!  That is exactly how I’ve always understood that subject, but I couldn’t quite put it into words,” or, “how is it that I missed that particular point all this time.  It seems so obvious.”  This is the way I felt reading Alec Motyer’s excellent book Six Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today.

In his introductory chapter, Mr. Motyer points out that the Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible, and asks the question: “Should we not prize—and go all out to understand—what was so precious to our Savior?” The answer to that question for anyone who loves Jesus is, “absolutely!” So we immediately have all of the motivation we need to wrestle with the Old Testament in order to understand it.

The thing that sucked me in about Mr. Motyer—who passed away in 2016—is his faithfulness to the Scriptures.  In his introductory chapter he writes:

“It is fair to say that the major tendency of outside evidence is to confirm what we read in the Bible. But we have a much               surer foundation to rest on than this piece of evidence or that. Our great privilege is to look beyond specialist opinion to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he referred to stories in the Old Testament, it is plain that he accepted them as the wholly reliable Word of God, and we who follow him need have no hesitation in accepting as true whatever the Old Testament is found to affirm about events and their sequence.”

Having sat through a New Testament Introduction class at the University of Southern California and had a professor whose main desire appeared to be to tear away any belief his students had that the New Testament was accurate and truthful, I greatly appreciate Mr. Motyer’s emphasis.

Mr. Motyer points out what seems obvious after one reads it, the Old Testament doesn’t approve everything it records.  The writers of the Old Testament are often perfectly happy to present events the way they unfolded and allow the reader to figure out whether or not the event or action was right.  We discover then, that since the Old Testament is about people, that they make a lot of mistakes, sin a lot, and fail a lot.  Mr. Motyer writes: 

“In other words, the history books of the Old Testament not only reveal God but also reveal people. Even the best of them were sinful—lustful, ambitious, cruel, mistaken. Like us, they failed, and their failures are faithfully recorded in this most honest of books. Indeed, isn’t it one of the greatest of the “mighty works of God” that he continues to bother with such people?”

In one of those “of course!” moments, Alec explains: 

“One major lesson of all the history books, and one reason why so much of the Old Testament is occupied with history, is that we may see that behind all events and behind their whole sequence is a great and wonderful God engineering and controlling everything and working his purposes out in the flow of history.”

Now why didn’t I think of putting it that way?

The most important point in the whole book for me was this:  “In its apparently simple way, this beautiful description of how and where it all began contains a truth that is going to prove central to all the history writing in the Bible: obedience to God’s Word is the key to blessing and fullness of life; disobedience brings disaster and loss of blessedness.” (p.27)

Mr. Motyer writes that the Old Testament Speaks to us today in these ways: 

  1. The Voice of History
  2. The Voice of Religion
  3. The Voice of Worship
  4. The Voice of Prophecy
  5. The Voice of Wisdom
  6. The Voice of God

For each of the chapters and subjects, Mr. Motyer gives the reader daily readings in the Old Testament to emphasize the point he is making and he comments on the readings, and the bits of knowledge and wisdom that he drops, seemingly in an off-handed way, are the best parts of the book.  He manages to summarize a lot of truth in a sentence or two. Here is one example.  In his discussion in the chapter on The Voice of Wisdom we get to read an excerpt from Ecclesiastes.  Mr. Motyer comments: 

“Here is one way to approach Ecclesiastes with its unpredictable mixture of negatives and positives, its viewpoint now of pessimistic bewilderment, now of positive faith. Think of it like this: becoming a Christian believer does indeed make “all things new” (see 2 Cor. 5:17), yet we are still in the same baffling set of events as before we knew Jesus, and life’s experiences confuse our logic. We still lack explanations. The world around us still does not add up.”

And there you have the shortest, most concise and simple explanation of the book of Ecclesiastes that I have ever read.


6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks: Prophecy

In his fourth chapter on the ways that the Old Testament speaks, Mr. Motyer takes up the voice of prophecy, or perhaps we could put it more accurately by saying that the Old Testament speaks through the prophets. Mr. Motyer says that the prophets had a comprehensive view of life in regards to God’s words.  In other words, God’s words were meant to be applied to all of life, not just to the “religious” part.  Mr. Motyer sees the prophets speaking in three areas:

  1. To the way the people lived.
  2. To the way the people worshipped.
  3. To the way they carried on their business.

In regards to how the prophets received what God wanted them to speak, Mr. Motyer has a very good insight that helps us grasp (if not fully comprehend) what was going on when a prophet said “thus saith the Lord.”  He writes:

“The prophets were indeed very special people: forgiven, chosen, filled/regenerated, and, as we learn throughout the Bible, empowered (in a way that is never explained) to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” or better, “This is what the Lord has said,” which means, “If the Lord were to come and speak in his own person instead of through me, this is, word for word, what he would say.” It is a claim of what is called verbal inspiration (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13).” (pp. 92-93)

When we read about the voice of the prophets and realize that there were false prophets in Israel, it raises the question of how one was supposed to tell the difference between a false prophet and a true one.  Mr. Motyer lists four characteristics of false prophets:

  1. “Their personal lives are marked by “evil” (v. 10), and their energies (“might”) are misdirected, characterized by godlessness (v. 11, profanity / lack of due reverence and proper respect for the Lord) and immorality (v. 14).” (p. 96)
  2. “Their influence leads the people into error (v. 13) and sin, and their words are devoid of moral seriousness and direction (v. 14b).” (p. 96)
  3. “Their “theology” is false, deriving from Baal, not from Yahweh (v. 13)—that is to say, it is materialistic. (p. 97).”
  4. “All this exposed the false prophets as preaching human thoughts, not divine revelation (v. 21), their own best thoughts dressed up as God’s truth (vv. 25–26).” (p. 97)

Mr. Motyer does an excellent job of explaining how the voice of the prophets spoke in their own world, but also how they still speak in our world today.  It is incumbent upon us to listen to them, because they were (and are) speaking the words of God.

The Voice of Religion: Obedience

We are reading through Alec Motyer’s book: 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today.  One of the ways it speaks is through religion. Mr. Motyer already pointed out that the system of sacrifices and offerings was not a means of working in order to get God’s favor, but a means of grace. What then, is the point of obedience?

Mr. Motyer directs us to the truth contained in Isaiah 1.13b for the answer to that question.  It reads: I cannot stand iniquity  with a festival. (HCSB) He paraphrases the passage this way: “I cannot be doing with religious exactitude alongside moral deviancy.” In other words, it does no good to disobey God’s commands in my personal life, but to have an outward show of religion. Obedience to God’s commands then, is not done in order to gain God’s favor, obedience is done because when we come to faith, our hearts have been changed because we are now children of God.  We obey because of who we are, not because obedience will make God accept us.

What does obedience in our lives look like?  How does it work itself out?  Mr. Motyer explains: “True religion needs the heart engaged; true religion demands a conformed, matching life; true religion is more than marking an attendance card. It is commitment, concern, moral and spiritual involvement; it looks for the purity of holiness.”(p. 52).  Obedience is a marker or a proof that I’m not deceiving myself into thinking that I’m a follower of Jesus, when I’m actually not.  Jesus will put it this way in the New Testament: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)

Obedience is an outward demonstration of our love for God, and both the Old and New Testaments speak with one voice to confirm this.


6 Ways: The Voice of Religion

We are making our way through Alec Motyer’s excellent little book: 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. First, it speaks in history, and second it speaks in religion.  Mr. Motyer says that there is one key verse in the Old Testament that explains why the whole system of sacrifices and offerings works and that is Leviticus 17.11: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Mr. Motyer writes incisively: “Look carefully at this verse. It teaches that one life is laid down as the equivalent of another, that this is the gift of God, and that the heart of the matter is the payment of the covering price. When the covering price is paid, the debt is discharged and gone forever.”  (p. 44).

A sacrifice allowed one’s sin to be paid for and after it was paid for, it was effectively discharged and no longer accounted against the individual.  The key issue here is that God made the way for sin to be forgiven: I have given you.  Mr. Motyer goes on:

“The sacrifices are not a human device to put pressure on the holy God—that is the way every other religion operates, the principle of meritorious “works,” of human acts to win/compel divine favor. Here it is the Lord providing a solution to the dilemma of human sin and unworthiness, the religion of divine action, of grace.” (p. 49)

We too often think that the Old Testament sacrifices were the Hebrews doing the right thing so that God could forgive their sins, but that is not how they worked.  God gave them the system of sacrifices so that their sin and unholiness wouldn’t completely separate them from a holy God.  The sacrifices, in other words, were grace in action!

6 Ways: The Beginning and the Purpose of History

We are in blog post two of our (slow) trip through the excellent book 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today, by Alec Motyer. We are still in chapter one.

At the end of each chapter, Mr. Motyer has some Bible passages to read and he comments on these passages.  If the first chapter is any indication, these sections will be the best part of the book.

Alec begins with Genesis 2 and from this chapter draws a lesson which is central to every historical narrative in the Scriptures: obedience to God’s word.  He writes: ”

“In its apparently simple way, this beautiful description of how and where it all began contains a truth that is going to prove central to all the history writing in the Bible: obedience to God’s Word is the key to blessing and fullness of life; disobedience brings disaster and loss of blessedness.” (Motyer, Alec. 6 Ways, p. 27,Kindle Edition.)

We see this story play out again and again as we go through Genesis and Exodus, Numbers and Judges, and the rest of the historical books.  “Put it all together then. Human history is planned and given by the Lord God; the clue to life in God’s story is to obey his Word.” (Motyer, Alec. 6 Ways, (p. 28).  Kindle Edition.)

Especially fascinating is Day 4 which Mr. Motyer entitles: The Way “History” Works. He uses Judges 2.11-22 as his passage.  He notes that there is a rhythm to history and it seems to be displayed well in these verses.  There is faithfulness to God, then there is a falling away from God, then there is oppression by other nations, then the people call out to God, and then God delivers them.  We see this cycle again and again in the book of Judges, but we also see that rather than a cycle, it is a spiral, and the spiral is ever downward.  The people become more and more wicked and are less and less inclined to obey God.

In the process of working out this theme, Mr. Motyer draws a general rule which is devastating and to which we need to pay careful attention: “The cardinal sin of the people of the Lord was always (and still is) to sit loose to the Word of God—in our terms, to possess the Scriptures but neglect them, to fail to prize, read, absorb, register, love, and obey.” (Motyer, p.32, Kindle, emphasis added)

Do not think that we are any different from the people of Israel at the time of the Judges.  We are exactly like them and just as likely “to possess the Scriptures but neglect them.” We know from history that neglecting the Scriptures and being disobedient to God is the prime way to make our lives miserable.  Let’s heed Mr. Motyer’s warning and go back to the Scriptures and “prize, read, absorb, register, love and obey” them.  This is for our own good!

6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks

“Should we not prize—and go all out to understand—what was so precious to our Savior?” Thus writes Alec Motyer in the introduction to his book on the Old Testament.  I love this comment so much that I decided to blog my way through the book.

It’s a sad fact of our day that we, as followers of Jesus, do not really have a deep understanding of the Old Testament. Mr. Motyer comments:

“And when we turn to the highest authority of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, what do we find? Well, if we had asked him, “Why do you keep quoting the Old Testament?” he would have replied, “The Old what?” And when we explained, he would have corrected us: “You mean ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7:13), ‘the Scriptures’ (John 5:39)”—nothing “old” about that as far as Jesus was concerned, for it is actually the applicable truth of God by which he was content to plan his life and accept his cross (Matt. 26:53–54).” [6 Ways, pp. 13-14, Kindle Edition]

The Old Testament is the Scriptures that Jesus knew, loved, quoted, and applied, so if we are followers of Jesus and love him, then we ought to love the Old Testament like he did.

In his opening chapter, Mr. Motyer writes that there are five things we can say about Old Testament history:

  1. Old Testament history is reliable.
  2. Old Testament history is selective. Here we get treated to Mr. Motyer’s sense of humor.  He writes that even the most exhaustive history does not contain everything.  For instance:

    “H. A. L. Fisher wrote his History of Europe without making any reference to my grandmother. The same is true of R. F. Foster in his book Modern Ireland 1600–1972, even though the old lady lived in Ireland well within this period.” (6 Ways, p. 19.  Kindle edition)

  3.  Old Testament History is God-centered. Mr. Motyer writes: “One major lesson of all the history books, and one reason why so much of the Old Testament is occupied with history, is that we may see that behind all events and behind their whole sequence is a great and wonderful God engineering and controlling everything and working his purposes out in the flow of history. “(6 Ways, p. 23, Kindle edition)
  4. Old Testament history is moral.
  5. Old Testament history is a record of failure.  Mr. Motyer: “Old Testament history is one long cry for something better, for a true king who would satisfy his people’s aspirations for peace and safety, reigning in perfection and ruling in righteousness. Like every other “voice” in the Old Testament, the voice of history is a prayer for the coming of the Messiah.” (6 Ways, p. 26, Kindle, emphasis added).


Book Review: Stillhouse Lake

41leYSjxbyLGina Royal is surely the stupidest woman who has ever been invented in literature, Her husband, a psycho serial killer who in between torturing and murdering women is a very good husband and father, is arrested and prosecuted at the beginning of this book for being a psycho serial killer. Now, Mel–psycho husband–does all of his torturing and killing, guess where? IN THE ATTACHED GARAGE! Apparently he walled up the entrance to the garage and closed in the garage door and made an attached carport so brilliant Gina NEVER has to go in the always locked and padlocked garage, and she never does go in there. So Gina is SHOCKED, SHOCKED! when an SUV accidentally drives through the garage and the whole, sordid serial killing plot is exposed. This all happens in the first chapter.

Now, I am thinking, surely poor Gina is not that stupid. Perhaps this book is like “Gone Girl” and we will meet psycho Gina halfway through the book and find out that she is in cahoots with her husband. Nope. Gina really is that stupid and never suspects a thing even though nasty smells come out of the garage (“a raccoon died in there,” is her psycho husband’s explanation, which Gina believes without checking, naturally).

Gina’s stupidity doesn’t end with her acquittal as an accessory to murder. She goes on the run with her kids to hide from her psycho serial killer husband (who is in prison) and the various weirdos on the internet who want to track her down and kill her because they all think, “surely Gina couldn’t be that stupid. She is obviously guilty.”

[Note to various weirdos on the internet: You are mistaken. Gina really is that stupid and innocent.]

Gina piles on the stupidity when she goes to see her psycho serial killer husband in prison. I still don’t understand why she felt the need to do this, but it becomes the way that her psycho serial killer husband invades her life even though he is in prison.

The book eventually manages to become a murder mystery, but the beginning was so implausible and unbelievable that it just ticked me off for the entire book and made everything that followed not believable.

Emily Sutton-Smith does a fantastic job reading this book [I listened to the audible version], which is the one bright spot. She has a voice that is very easy to listen to, and does the characters quite well.

Movie Review: Home Again

I hated the movie Home Again with a deep and abiding hatred.  It’s a caricature of everything bad about Hollywood.  For starters it’s labeled a “romantic comedy,” even though it isn’t very funny at all, and the romance consists of a 40 year-old, not yet single, mom, jumping into the rack with a 27 year-old aspiring movie producer, even though she is still married–but it’s okay because she’s been separated from her husband for five months.  What is she teaching her two young daughters in the process?  The movie doesn’t really care and certainly doesn’t bother to stop to even ask the question.

Three young aspiring movie producers meet Alice Kinney, daughter of the famous movie director, John Kinney, at a bar where she is celebrating her 40th birthday.  They begin to party together and next thing you know she invites them home for the night because they (conveniently) need a place to stay [Now THERE is an excellent mom, right?].  The three discover the next morning that she is the daughter of John Kinney.  Alice [Resse Witherspoon] eventually invites them to use the guest house, presumably so she can sleep with one of them?  Yeah, like I said, great mother here.

The trio begin to connect with Alice’s daughters and pretty soon they are somewhat of a “family,” or at least Hollywood’s definition of a family, which appears to be: “anyone who happens to be living in or around one’s house.”

As a plot complication, Alice’s husband decides to show up and this creates various awkward moments since the trio of film makers now consider themselves part of the family after approximately two weeks living there.  But don’t worry, that pesky husband will eventually demonstrate his true colors and go away, so Alice can continue sleeping with her 27 year-old boy toy.

Poor Alice has to kick the trio out after one of them gets into a donny-brook with her pseudo-husband.  Of course the kicking out doesn’t last long and she goes over to where the boys are staying to assure them that her loser husband is now really out of her life and the trio can all move back end, so they can be one great, big, happy, Hollywood family.

What we have here is further undermining of what a family is by a Hollywood that is all too happy to be the one who undermines.  “Family” is simply anything you want it to be, even if it consists of the world’s worst mother and three man-boys who may (but probably will not) be around for the long term, but hey, that’s okay, when they all leave, Alice can just find someone else to sleep with and voila!  A brand, new family.  Yippee!  Yay for Hollywood!!

Movie Review: Ingrid Goes West

Trapped in my window seat on the way home from Phoenix, and having flown enough that I exhausted all of the interesting movies, I decided to watch the movie Ingrid Goes West.

The movie opens with Ingrid Thorburn crashing a wedding in Pennsylvania and pepper spraying the bride in the face because Ingrid had discovered that she was getting married on Instagram and Ingrid hadn’t been invited.  Next stop: Mental asylum.  So opens this movie which lightly explores how the fake world of Instagram affects the actual world that we live in.

Ingrid, once she gets released from the asylum, spends her days scrolling through Instagram and tapping twice (thus “liking”) pretty much every photograph she scrolls through.  She does this almost by rote, as if it is a required school assignment and obviously doesn’t get any joy from what she is doing.  She is trapped and enslaved to Instagram.

Ingrid comes across a random woman in Southern California and gets infatuated with following her life, at the same time she receives an inheritance from her recently deceased mother, she turns the 60k inheritance into a bag of cash and off she goes to California, with renewed purpose in life: to meet and get involved in the life of Taylor Sloane, her new Instagram obsession.

She manages to succeed by discovering where Taylor lives and then stealing her dog, only to return it the next day as if she found it, to the great delight of Taylor and her husband.  They invite Ingrid to stay for dinner and the creepiness begins.

The one genuine person in the entire movie is Ingrid’s landlord, Dan Pinto.  Ingrid borrows Dan’s truck to do a favor for Taylor and in the process does 8k worth of damage to the truck while driving high on the cocaine she found in it.  Yeah, she isn’t very reliable.  Dan is not happy with her to say the least, although the relationship isn’t broken completely.

Ingrid and Taylor go through various adventures before Taylor discovers that Ingrid is a psycho stalker.   Ingrid concocts a plan to kidnap Taylor’s brother and talks Dan into helping her.  Needless to say, the plan goes awry and Dan ends up in the hospital having been severely beaten by Taylor’s brother, whom Ingrid knocks out with a tire iron.

At the end of the movie, Ingrid, at the lowest point of her life, films herself as she takes pills to commit suicide and admits that she is trapped by her penchant for following other people’s (made up) lives on Instagram, but doesn’t think she can change.  Of course, she posts the video on social media!  The video goes viral and she gets messages from all over the world about how beautiful she is and how they are standing in support of her.  Ingrid discovers all this when she wakes up in the hospital, having been saved from her pill overdose.

The movie ends with Ingrid smiling as she discovers that she is suddenly what she always wanted to be, an Instagram celebrity.

I think that the ending to Ingrid Goes West is purposefully ambiguous.  Has Ingrid been healed from her Instagram enslavement, now that she has broadcast her “real” self to the world, or is she instantly sucked back into the world of fake, made up lives on Instagram, now that she is an Instagram celebrity?  The viewer can take it either way.  For myself, I took it as the latter choice.  Her attempted suicide only fuels her rise as an Instagram celebrity and she hasn’t really changed.

The movie doesn’t analyze very deeply or very well the fake, made-up lives that occupy much of Instagram today, nor the affects of Instagram celebrity on individual lives.  It seems to be content with observation rather than attempting to delve into the subject well.  Perhaps the screenwriter was content to allow the observation to be the analysis.  At any rate, Ingrid Goes West does manage to be a cautionary tale of the dangers of addiction to Instagram (not to mention other social media) and how social media shapes our lives, in this case in a very negative way.