Book Review: “Asking the Right Questions”

I’m on vacation this week and trying to catch up on reading. It took me just two days to finish Matthew Harmon’s new book, Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. I found Harmon’s book a helpful guide​ to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Harmon begins with a flyover guide to the Bible based on six pieces – creation, crisis, covenants, Christ, church, and consummation. He then spends the majority of the book on developing the right questions to ask in our Bible reading. I found his discussion of the “fallen condition” vs. the “gospel solution” especially good. He provides an outline at the end of the book that summarizes his main discussion on understanding and applying the Bible, which would be good to print out and keep in your Bible.

Overall, this is a good resource for getting a grasp of the Bible’s big picture and tools for understanding and application. You can watch Harmon discuss his book below:

 

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Were It Not For Grace

By His grace, God saved me on this date in 2007.  How kind God has been to me during these last ten years (and before them!). I lived in darkness the first 36+ years of my life, and was truly unaware of it. When I did think deeply about God during those years, I sadly took the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18. I considered myself an essentially good person, and certainly not as bad as others. I figured that when I died and finally met God, the good side of my ledger would outweigh the bad. It was only when I really read through the Bible for the first time that I awoke to my real standing before God.

Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil.

Genesis 6:5 WEB

I remember being struck by this verse…does this include me? According to the Word of God, it certainly does. The ledger that I planned to present before God was useless. God showed me, by His Holy Spirit, that my only standing would be through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. I think of the patience of God, how long He watched me try to live on my own terms. How close did I come to spending eternity without Him!

That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’

John 3:6‭-‬7 WEB

I used to think those born again folks were strange! Jesus however makes it quite clear that unless you are in fact born again, you will face death twice…physically and then spiritually.

Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment,

Hebrews 9:27 WEB

I am thanking God for His grace today – “grace abounding to the chief of sinners”, as John Bunyan once said. Grace to me, a worm of a man, called by the King of Kings to live for Him and for His glory.

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Romans 7:24‭-‬25a WEB

A song I heard right after my conversion has become a favorite of mine, and outside of Scripture, gives probably the clearest summary of my own experience. I will reflect on these words today. Thank you Jesus!

Time measured out my days

Life carried me along

In my soul I yearned to follow God

But knew I’d never be so strong

I looked hard at this world

To learn how heaven could be gained

Just to end where I began

Where human effort is all in vain
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where I’d be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
So here is all my praise

Expressed with all my heart

Offered to the Friend who took my place

And ran a course I could not start

And when He saw in full

Just how much His would cost

He still went the final mile between me and heaven

So I would not be lost
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where Id be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace

John 17:17

bench-1868070_640“But permit me to ask you in love, if it is indeed the Word of God, why have you not paid that attention to it which it deserves? The same reasons which would deter you from willfully throwing it into the fire, should induce you to study it carefully, to make it the foundation of your hope, and the rule of your life; for, if it is indeed the Word of God, it is the rule by which your characters will be decided, and your everlasting state fixed, according to the tenor of the gospel, which proclaims salvation to all who have repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to those alone.”

-John Newton, March 30, 1800

The Fountain of Life, Part 1

fountain2015This week I returned to reading one of the Puritans – John Flavel (1628?-1691). I had first read Flavel a little over six years ago and his work called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners. I read this a few weeks after my dad passed away in 2010 and don’t think I was ready for the counsel at the time. But I’ve heard enough good things about Flavel since and decided it was time to return to his writings. Sinclair Ferguson counts Flavel and Thomas Watson as perhaps the two easiest Puritans to read. He may be right.

The Fountain of Life is described as a series of 42 of Flavel’s sermons that “…display Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory”. I’m only three sermons in but am grateful for the things that Flavel has opened my eyes to already. The first sermon, titled “The Excellency of the Subject”, uses 1 Corinthians 2:2 as its basic text. I would summarize Flavel’s message in this sermon as understanding that there is no knowledge so great as that of Christ and knowing Him. Flavel asks us to compare the excellency of knowing Christ to the mere natural things of this world: “O how much time is spent in other studies, in vain discourses, frivolous pamphlets, worldly employments. How little is the search and study of Jesus Christ.” I have to say this is a daily struggle for me – it is always tempting to latch on to the “low hanging fruit” that comes through my phone notifications, breaking news, sports updates, and other areas. These pass through my mind as easily as they come in, but they can still consume a great deal of time. Flavel warns of this danger: “O beware, lest the dust of the earth, getting into your eyes, so blind you, that you never see the beauty or necessity of Christ.”

Something else I found helpful from Flavel – his belief that we should always strive to see how the essential truths of Christianity fit together, like a fine watch, rather than just seeing the individual wheels and pieces and struggling to make sense of the greater themes. Meditating on 1 Corinthians 2:2 is important here: “Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.” I tend to get bogged down in bits and pieces, especially when reading the Old Testament. Flavel’s encouragement here is something that may fit well in the flyleaf of our Bibles.

I’m glad to have returned to the writings of John Flavel. I hope to write more as I progress through this work.

 

Beware of Sinking Sand

You sometimes reflect upon the state of your soul, and enquire, is Christ mine? May I depend upon it, that my condition is safe? Your heart returns you an answer of peace, it speaks as you would have it. But remember, friend, and mark this line, your final sentence is not yet come from the mouth of your Judge; and what if, after all your self-flattering hopes and groundless confidence, a sentence should come from him quite cross to that of your own heart? Where are you then? What a confounded person will you be? Christless, speechless, and hopeless, all at once!”

– John Flavel, from The Fountain of Life

To Those Who Reside As Aliens…

“What makes the children of God so strange?

The grace of God which calls them out of this wretched world. Every man who carries the grace of God in his bosom is necessarily, as regards the world, a stranger in heart, as well as in profession, and life.

As Abraham was a stranger in the land of Canaan;
as Joseph was a stranger in the palace of Pharaoh;
as Moses was a stranger in the land of Egypt;
as Daniel was a stranger in the court of Babylon;

so every child of God is separated by grace, to be a stranger in this ungodly world.

And if indeed we are to come out from it and to be separate, the world must be as much a strange place to us; for we are strangers to …

its views,
its thoughts,
its desires,
its prospects,
its anticipations,
in our daily walk,
in our speech,
in our mind,
in our spirit,
in our judgment,
in our affections.

We will be strangers from …
the world’s company,
the world’s maxims,
the world’s fashions,
the world’s spirit.

“They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” -Hebrews 11:13

“I am a stranger with you and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” -Psalm 39:12

“I am but a stranger here on earth.” -Psalm 119:19 

The main character of a child of God is that he is a stranger upon earth. One of the first effects of the grace of God upon our soul was to separate us from the world, and make us feel ourselves strangers in it.

The world was once our home—the active, busy center of all our thoughts, desires, and affections. But when grace planted imperishable principles of life in our bosom, it at once separated us from the world in heart and spirit,

if not in actual life and walk. We are strangers inwardly and experimentally, by the power of divine grace making this world a wilderness to us.”

-J.C. Philpot (1802-1869)

Affections and Knowledge

“The grace of God influences both the understanding and the affections. Warm affections, without knowledge, can rise no higher than superstition; and that knowledge which does not influence the heart and affections, will only make a hypocrite.”

— from The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 136.