Ephesians 2:8

“We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, are freely granted unto us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God freely to give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?”

-Martin Luther, from Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Image from Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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An Orderly Account

Luke the beloved physician greets you…” – Colossians 4:14 (ESV)

The four Gospels in the New Testament each provide us with a unique account of our Lord’s time here on Earth. If I had to pick one as a favorite (and thankfully I don’t!), I would have to choose the Gospel of Luke. Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, yet he wrote not only the longest Gospel, but also the longest book in the New Testament. His sequel to Luke, the book of Acts, advances the storyline further in his trademark manner. His prologue in chapter 1 of his Gospel gives a clue as to the type of historian he was.

  • He notes in verse 1 that “Many have undertaken…”, meaning that he was familiar with the literature of his day
  • He says in verse 3 that he “carefully investigated everything”, showing the detail and care he put into his work
  • And he tells Theophilus, his recipient, that he is providing him with an “orderly account”

In his Reformed Expository Commentary on Luke, Philip Ryken (2009) explains that, “Luke did his work with all the rigor of a prize-winning journalist…” (p. 10).

I want to be clear and state that I am in no way overlooking the work of the Holy Spirit in what Luke has written in his two books. Peter explains that, “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21, WEB). There is a divine tension there that we will never be able to fully grasp. However, Luke, known and loved as a physician, was a historian as well, which even some secular historians have acknowledged.

I will be co-teaching a course at my institution this week that focuses on research, and have found Luke’s example to be a great model. It’s critical to be familiar with the literature and research of our day, as Luke was with his. It’s simply not enough to know our own positions thoroughly on a specific research topic or question – we must be able to accurately represent and state the opposing side, in terms that those representing the opposition would agree with as fair. This comes about by “investigating everything”, as Luke did, and following what can often be a very time-consuming research trail. Bibliographies in books, trade publications, and scholarly journal articles are often a goldmine of material for a researcher. I remind students not to skip these! Reviewing these bibliographies should cause us to ask,  who are the experts on this topic and who cites these experts? This allows us to enter the scholarly conversation responsibly, as Luke did in his day. I try to emphasize this approach in any research interaction I have with a student for several reasons.

When I first started my own graduate degree in library science, I searched for the known experts in the library field and researched them, tracking down what they had written and who had influenced them. Sometimes I took the extra step of contacting them directly and asking them to share their stories. This type of research was invaluable to me in getting to know the scope of the issues in librarianship and where the trends were heading. I also try to get students to get ask the “5W” questions of any source they find – who, what, when, where and why. In his Gospel, Luke exemplified this approach. As Ryken (2009) notes, “With a doctor’s gift for observation, Luke noticed things that other people overlooked” (p. 9). There is so much surface analysis in our day, with cable TV arguments and parroting of studies that no one has actually read. I want to emphasize to students, that as Christians, we should be known as people who find what is often “overlooked”. Herbert Simon, a 20th century economist, was credited with coining the phrase “satisficing”, which suggested that people will often seek a satisfactory solution to a question or problem, rather than the best. The concept of satisficing should not be something we should ever gravitate to. We should instead be known as the Bereans were, who Luke himself wrote about in Acts (17:11), and investigate the claims that we are confronted with in our academic endeavors with eagerness and diligence.

As librarians, it is beyond our scope to provide our patrons with every known resource on every known topic. It can be difficult to even keep up with the substantial amount of literature produced each year just relating to librarianship. Knowing this should cause us to be humble! As J.C. Ryle said in his commentary on Matthew, “Humility is the very first letter in the alphabet of Christianity. We must begin low, if we would build high”. This spirit of humility is an approach I strive for whenever I am working with a student; Scripture commands us to do so (James 4:6; Isaiah 66:2). In my mind, having a humble spirit means that each of us has to “redeem the time”, as the Apostle Paul said (Ephesians 5:16), and know that the time is indeed limited. We have to be purposeful in how we locate, retrieve, and evaluate information, being aware that we simply cannot know all there is to know about a given subject. God has not wired us for that.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the work that Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, has left for us. I also think he has provided us a great blueprint on how to approach the task of research. I look forward to learning with our students this semester by God’s grace and with the help of the “beloved physician”.

Above image, Gospel of St. Luke, 12th century, Macedonia, via State Archive of the Republic of Macedonia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Psalm 107:1

“Whatever may drop out of our vainly-clasping hands, it matters not, if only our hearts are stayed on His love, which neither things present nor things to come can alter or remove. Looking on all the flow of ceaseless change, the waste and fading, the alienation and cooling, the decrepitude and decay of earthly affection, we can lift up with gladness, heightened by the contrast, the triumphant song of the ancient Church: ‘Give thanks unto the Lord: for He is good: because His mercy endureth for ever!’”

-Alexander Maclaren, from Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans, p. 217

The Nativity Story

“There is no ‘moral of the story’ to the nativity. The shepherds, the parents of Jesus, the wise men—are not being held up primarily as examples for us. These Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done. The birth of the Son of God into the world is a gospel, good news, an announcement. You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you.”

-Tim Keller, from Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

Proverbs 18:24

“For we may promise ourselves a great deal of comfort in a true friend.” – Matthew Henry

A couple of months ago, I finished a book by Erick Erickson titled “Before You Wake”. Erickson is a talk show host out of Atlanta and conservative commentator. The book essentially consists of ten letters that include a mix of advice, both practical and spiritual, and other words of wisdom designed for Erickson’s children. One of the “letters” is actually a chapter full of his favorite recipes (!). The beauty of these letters is that they apply not just to children but everyone. I especially liked his final chapter, which included odds and ends of things that he wanted his children to know, but wouldn’t necessarily stand alone as a full chapter. Here are some examples from that chapter that resonated with me:

“People are sinners. They are bound to disappoint. Forgive them when they do, but never expect to be forgiven.”

“Take long walks alone, turn off the music, and talk to God. He’s ready to listen.”

“Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Do not expect fairness in this world and do not expect unfairness in the next.

“It is vastly easier to be dismissive of someone than it is to understand them. That does not make it right to dismiss them.”

These types of quick hits from Erickson that made up the final chapter was probably my favorite section of the book. It also caused me open up Proverbs and I found myself at the familiar words in chapter 18:

A man of many companions may be ruined,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
– Proverbs 18:24 (WEB)

Erickson’s book was sent to me by my dear friend Buffy. When I was first thinking about transitioning into librarianship from IT support about twelve years ago, Buffy was one of the main people who inspired me to do so. Her blog was where I really first benefited from her wisdom and learned what it might be like to work as a librarian, and this was long before we became friends. Since then she has continued to inspire me with what she does on a daily basis as an educator and I’ve tried (however faintly) to incorporate how she thinks and what she does into my own practices. More than all that, though, Buffy is a like-minded soul. We were raised in the same time period with similar values and it has been great for me to know someone like her who can sympathize that there is a way to do things in this world, and certain things are right and certain things are wrong. There is simply too much gray now where there wasn’t before, regardless of what this world tries to tell us each day (which was a main theme of Erickson’s as well). We’ve also talked often about what it’s like to be a person of faith and to follow Christ in these days. I have gone through some ups and downs and major life events over the last few years (with another one on-deck!) and Buffy’s encouragement and prayers through these have been invaluable to me.

So while I really enjoyed Erickson’s book and learned a great deal through it, I am even more thankful for the friend who sent it to me. In commenting on Proverbs 18:24, Matthew Henry remarked that “we may promise ourselves a great deal of comfort in a true friend”. I have found this to be the case with my dear friend Buffy, and thank God for her.  I can think of few people who I treasure more as a friend!

1 Timothy 1:15

“Ah! I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven. My own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief. I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

-J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Ephesians 1:5

“The fact that we can call ourselves sons of God is a miracle of God’s great love to us. Love that goes upward, from the heart of man to God, is adoration. Love that goes outward, from one heart to another, is affection. But love that stoops is grace, and God stooped to us. This is the most stupendous fact of the universe. It reveals to us that our God is love.”

-Donald Grey Barnhouse, from The Love Life