Good morning from Johannesburg, South Africa. I am here for just one night as I await a flight to Zambia where I will be settling in for a few days. So far the travel has been good and very bearable, and the jet lag has been manageable.
(Yesterday on the blog: If Satan Wrote a Book on Parenting)
This is an outstanding resource on death, dying, and euthanasia.
“I recently heard somebody say that one of the ways to endure well in ministry is to realize that ministry is not about you. It’s all about Jesus. The same is true of marriage. When you embrace that marriage is about Jesus first and you and your wife second, one of the secrets of a joyful, enduring marriage comes to light: love Jesus better, and you will love your wife better.”
Nick says, “This commentary will help busy students of the Word of God focus on the best of what’s available alongside a helpful, straightforward, practical, exegetical approach to the text.” (Sponsored Link)
This article means to encourage church planters and revitalizers by explaining why visitors may not return to their church.
“Prayer should stupefy us. ‘You mean, this all-powerful God who keeps galaxies spinning is interested in you telling him about your day and might alter the course of the entire cosmos because you asked him if you could have a parking space?’ Yes.” If that’s true, why don’t we do it more and with greater confidence?
Bekka French has a caution for women based on Titus 2.
It’s amazing to think this is even possible, yet it is: We can read the Bible while missing the key character in the Bible (and the whole point and purpose of the Bible).
Here are some ways I’ve seen people ruin what could have been a beautiful thing.
Pastors offer both: care in public worship and cure in private pastoral care as needed. —Harold Senkbeil
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By Tim Challies — 9 months ago
Christians have a complex relationship to suffering. We do not wish to experience suffering. It is not our desire, preference, or longing to go through times of pain and persecution, times of sorrow and loss. Yet we also know that God uses such experiences to accomplish significant and meaningful things within us. We know there are certain graces that bloom best in the valleys, certain fruits that ripen best in the winter, certain virtues that come to fruition most often in the shadows.
We want to be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” yet James make it clear that the way to these graces does not pass around trials and tests, but through them. We want our faith to be tested and proven genuine, yet Peter tells us that we gain this confidence not when we avoid trials, but when we are grieved by them. We want to be able to offer comfort to Christians who are enduring times of sorrow, yet Paul tells us that it is precisely through receiving comfort in our pains that we become specially equipped to comfort others (James 1:4ff; 1 Peter 1:6ff; 2 Corinthians 1:4). A host of Christians will testify that they have come to know the Lord more intimately, they have come to put sin to death more earnestly, they have been equipped to serve more thoroughly, not apart from their suffering, but because of it.
And, indeed, as we look back at our own lives, we often see evidence of the ways God has worked in us through our hardest times. We see how it was when a loved one was taken from our side that we truly grew closer to the Lord, how it was when our wealth disappeared that we came to treasure God more fully, how it was when our bodies weakened that our reliance upon God grew. We see that God really does purify us through the fire, that he really does strengthen us in our weaknesses, that he really does sanctify us through our sorrows. Though we do not emerge from our trials unscathed, we still emerge from them better and holier and closer to him. Though we wish we did not experience such sorrows, we are thankful to have learned what we have learned and to have grown in the ways we have grown.
As I said, Christians have a complex relationship to suffering. And recently I have been pondering how I have a complex relationship to suffering. I have been pondering a kind of conflict that now exists in my heart and mind.
I want Nick back. But I don’t want my old self back. I so badly wish that my son could be part of my life again. But I would so badly hate to lose all the precious ways in which God has been real to me and true to me and present with me in my sorrows. There is so much I have learned, so many ways God has drawn close to me, so many blessings I’ve received from the Lord. And all of these came through sorrow, not apart from it. In some ways my greatest gains have flowed from my greatest loss, my greatest joys from my deepest sorrow.
But I suppose this should not come as a complete surprise, for God often works through paradox. After all, he is the God who says it is the poor rather than the rich who have the greatest wealth, that is those with the deepest hunger who are most satisfied, and that it is those who are persecuted who ought to rejoice and be glad. If in God’s kingdom the way to riches is through poverty and the way to exaltation is through humiliation, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the way to joy passes through sorrow and the way to growth passes through barrenness? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the way to green pastures passes through dark valleys?
And so we live with this tension: to become who we want we often have to endure what we hate. To receive what we long for we often have to release what we love. To attain the most advanced graces we often need to experience the most painful sorrows.
I need to offer a word of clarity. I do not mean to say that God’s reasoning goes something like this: That guy is not growing in generosity in the way I’d like, so I am going to burn his house down to hasten the process; or that woman is not sufficiently sold out to my purposes so I’m going to take her health to force the issue. No, we need to separate the why from the what, the reason God wills things from what he may be accomplishing through them. We are far too small, far too simple, far too limited to be able to draw firm conclusions about God’s reasons—about why he has willed the difficulties in our lives. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” But what we can do and must do is ask, “How might God mean to use this in my life? What is God calling me to through it? How can I become a better Christian because of it?”
Sorrow does not always lead to advances in holiness, but it always can and always should, for the Spirit is present in our sorrows, ready and eager to sanctify them to his precious purposes. Through our sorrows he draws our hearts away from the fleeting pleasures of this earth to set them on the enduring pleasures of heaven. Through our sorrows he shifts our longings from things we cannot possibly keep to things we cannot possibly lose. Through our sorrows he diminishes the traits that mark citizens of the kingdom of this world and he amplifies the character that marks citizens of the kingdom of God.
We don’t wish to suffer. We shouldn’t wish to suffer. Yet we know that none of us escape this life unscathed. And when the time comes that “the path that I feared is the way he has set,” we can be certain that God is eager to sanctify our sorrows in ways that are ultimately for our benefit and for his glory, that behind the mysteries of his providence are wondrous treasures of sanctification, that whatever his reasons, he truly is working all things for good for those of us who are loved by him and called according to his purpose.
By Tim Challies — 4 months ago
With this being Mother’s Day, and with Father’s Day fast approaching, it seemed fitting to share something that reflects on the gifts God provides through parents. Charles Spurgeon offered some words that seemed to be just right in the way they associate motherhood and fatherhood with the character of God.
A father’s compassion tenderly lifts up those who fall. When your child falls down, as children are very apt to do, especially when they first begin to walk, don’t you pity them? Is there a nasty cut across the knee, and tears? The mother takes the child up in her arms, and she has some sponge and water to take the grit out of the wound, and she gives a kiss and makes it well. I know mothers have wondrous healing lips! And sometimes, when God’s servants do really fall, it is very lamentable, it is very sad, and it is well that they should cry. It were a pity that they should be willing to lie in the mire, but when they are up again and begin crying, and the wound bleeds—well, let them not keep away from God, for as a father has compassion on his fallen child, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
Have you come in here tonight with that cut knee of yours? I am sorry you have fallen, but I am glad that our blessed Master is willing to receive you still. Come and trust in him who is mighty to save, just as you did at first, and begin again tonight. Come along! Some of us have had to begin again many times. You do the same. If you are not a saint you are a sinner, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Put your trust in him, and you will find restoration, and maybe through that very fall you will learn to be more careful, and from now on you will walk more uprightly, to his honor and glory.
By Tim Challies — 6 months ago
As you know, I like to do my best to sort through the new Christian books that are released each month to see what stands out as being not only new, but also particularly notable. I received quite a number of new titles in March and narrowed the list down to the ones below. I have included the editorial description for each. I hope there’s something here that catches your eye!
Resilient Faith: Learning to Rely on Jesus in the Struggles of Life by Lewis and Sarah Allen. “Authors Lewis and Sarah Allen propose that while the world may teach us one way to approach challenges, there is a better way—complete dependence on Christ and pursuit of wise living. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to live more joy-filled lives in the midst of adversity. In a conversational and personal tone, the Allens walk through key biblical passages as they relate to challenges and share stories, case studies, and illustrations to encourage us to rely on Christ and commit to his church in the battle of Christian life.” (Buy it at Amazon)
When God Seems Gone: Finding Hope When Nothing Makes Sense by Adam Mabry. “What do you do when it feels like God isn’t there—when the state of the world, our own suffering, or the struggles of those we know suggest that God is absent? When you’ve experienced soul-crushing silence from heaven, despite your fervent supplications. Using the book of Habakkuk, as well as his own personal experience of deep suffering, Adam Mabry examines the art of lament—how to cry out to God in desperation from a place of faith and hope. At the end, there are practical suggestions for what you can do to keep faith even in times of darkness and doubt. Readers will learn that God is big enough and good enough to handle hard questions and that his sovereign silence is filled with purpose for their lives. They will be encouraged to keep trusting God even when he seems silent, slow, unfair, different, or wrong.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Come and See: The Journey of Knowing God through Scripture by Jonathan Pennington. “In Come and See, Jonathan Pennington helps readers understand what it means to know God from the Bible and details 3 effective approaches to interpreting Scripture. Using the engaging analogy of a road trip, he introduces 3 friends who each have distinct, clear ways of navigating the Bible: informational (understanding genres in Scripture and avoiding exegetical mistakes); theological (reading canonically, traditionally, and creedally); and transformational (focusing on the goal of reading Scripture, our posture as readers, and the role of the Holy Spirit). Pennington gives detailed advice for employing all 3 reading modes, equipping readers to gain wisdom and know God better.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Mental Health and Your Church: A Handbook for Biblical Care by Helen Thorne & Steve Midgley. “Many people are struggling with mental-health conditions, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and life in our image-conscious culture. Statistics tell us that, worldwide, one in six of us will have experienced a mental-health struggle in the past week, and serious depression is the second-leading cause of disability (Mental Health Foundation). That means there are brothers and sisters in our church families battling with thoughts, feelings, impulses, and even voices that distract, drag down, and nudge them towards despair. But when it comes to helping, it can be tricky to know where to begin, especially if we have very little knowledge of mental illnesses and are afraid of making things worse by saying and doing the wrong things. This wise, compassionate, and practical book … will help readers understand and respond with biblical wisdom to people who are struggling with their mental health. While acknowledging the importance of liaising responsibly with medics and counsellors, this book focuses on equipping readers to play their part in making churches places where those who struggle with mental-health conditions are welcomed, understood, nurtured, and supported: a foretaste of the new creation.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Male and Female He Created Them: A Study on Gender, Sexuality, & Marriage by Denny Burk,Colin Smothers and David Closson. “Male & Female He Created Them is a study on gender, sexuality, and marriage. Authored by Denny Burk, David Closson, and Colin Smothers, it presents a biblical vision for contested issues such as homosexuality, transgenderism, and marriage. By the completion of this book, readers will have a better grasp on the Bible’s teaching about our identities as male and female, created in the image of God, and know how to apply Scripture to these issues in their ministries at church, home, and work.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self by Matthew P. W. Roberts. “Our culture is obsessed with identity and it has been the cause of tense interaction with (and within) the Church. Rather than being a new challenge to the Christian faith, however, the identity issue is a very old one; it is fundamentally one of idolatry. Who we are, who we think we are, and how God in Christ restores our knowledge of ourselves in covenant with him, are central Biblical themes. But these things will only appear with clarity if we have the courage to tackle the idolatries of our own age at the root, and stand true to our calling as Christians to worship God and him alone.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Biblical Theology: A Canonical, Thematic, and Ethical Approach by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Gregory Goswell. “In this clear, logical guide, Andreas J. Köstenberger and Gregory Goswell explain how to interpret Scripture from three effective viewpoints: canonical, thematic, and ethical. Biblical Theology is arranged book by book from the Old Testament (using the Hebrew order) through the New Testament. For each text, Kostenberger and Goswell analyze key biblical-theological themes, discussing the book’s place in the overall storyline of Scripture. Next, they focus on the ethical component, showing how God seeks to transform the lives of his people through the inspired text. Following this technique, readers will better understand the theology of each book and its author.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)
Darkest Night Brightest Day: A Family Devotional for the Easter Season by Marty Machowski. “Start a new Easter season tradition with your family by reading this beautifully illustrated “upside-down” book from Marty Machowski that includes fourteen Bible stories. The first side, Darkest Night, has seven stories that recount the events of Passion week ending with Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Flip the book over and continue by reading Brightest Day with seven more stories that progress from Christ’s resurrection through Pentecost. Children are sure to remember the contrast between the darkness at the death of our Lord and the light-filled events from Christ’s resurrection onward. Machowski weaves each Gospel account together into one harmonized story and provides questions for family discussion. Focusing on the main events the week of the crucifixion, Darkest Night is designed for families to read one story each day, beginning on Palm Sunday. Once the week ends, they will start with Brightest Day on Easter Sunday. The stories for the week following Easter recount appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, his ascension, and Pentecost. This beautiful hardback book, illustrated by Phil Shorr, is sure to become a treasured favorite of the family to be used every Easter as a reminder of how God turned the darkest night into the brightest day.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)
The Preeminent Christ: God’s Beautiful and Unchanging Gospel by Paul Washer. “In The Preeminent Christ, Paul Washer declares the unmatched significance of the good news of Jesus Christ. Compelled by a desire for men to know God’s love, Washer draws from the church’s greatest theologians to herald Christ’s centrality in revelation, salvation, sanctification, study, proclamation, and glory. The Preeminent Christ will stimulate readers to forsake their tendency to view worldly “needs” as central by zealously seeking this Christ in the gospel. Contents 1. A Prolegomenon 2. An Apology 3. The Essential Content of the Gospel 4. The Same Gospel through the Ages 5. The Preeminence of the Gospel 6. The Preeminent Revelation of God 7. The Preeminent Message of Salvation 8. The Preeminent Means of Sanctification 9. The Preeminent Subject of Study 10. The Preeminent Subject of Preaching 11. The Preeminent Subject of Glorying 12. A Warning against the Neglect of the Gospel 13. Final Exhortation.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Never Cast Out: How the Gospel Puts an End to the Story of Shame by Jasmine Holmes. “Body shaming. Marriage shaming. Single shaming. Mom shaming. Lifestyle shaming. Religious shaming. It seems no matter which direction we turn, women can’t shake the shame that is constantly piled on top of us. Author and podcaster Jasmine L. Holmes knows this struggle all too well. Though shame has been a constant companion (and even a snare) throughout her life, God has broken the chains of shame in Jasmine’s life through the power of the gospel. In this Christ-centered, empowering book, prepare to discover: The story of shame—where it comes from, what it is, what makes it different from guilt or conviction, and why it’s so pervasive; The problem with shame—why the typical methods of throwing off shame don’t actually work; The end of shame—how Jesus puts an end to shame by offering a better covering, a better image, and a better message than the world can; The way to fight shame—how to use practical and powerful ways to fight shame in daily life, breaking its chains in the power of the gospel and resting in the One who has taken all your shame away for good.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)
God Alone: His Unique Attributes and How Knowing Them Changes Us by Jonathan Griffiths. “We are living in a me-focused, treat-yourself world—a world that oppressively encourages us to focus on ourselves. But a life turned inward–rather than focused on God—brings peril and confusion. When we fail to know God properly, we become selfish and hopeless. But a renewed understanding of who God is changes that. Pastor Jonathan Griffiths shows us how God Alone can transform us at a root level. With pastoral warmth and heart, Griffiths shows us the character of God in all His beauty and goodness. Readers will gain knowledge of God’s attributes—that He is eternal, all-knowing, and all-wise. Readers discover what it means that God is omnipotent, unchanging, and omnipresent. And through this knowledge, trust, hope, and joy emerge. Confidence grows when we have a robust understanding of God’s love. This book is both a plea for the people of God to know Him intimately and, at the same time, an invitation to those who do not yet know Him—come and experience the wonderful, beautiful, powerful God revealed in Scripture.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)
2,000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol. 5: The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening by Nick Needham. “In many ways, I confess I do not feel especially at home in the Age of Reason. My personal roots are far more among those of the Early Church. Still, I gladly admit I cannot help feeling my heart kindled as I read about the mighty deeds wrought in and through the Evangelical preachers of that age. Thoroughly researched with beautifully linked arguments, biographies, context and discussions, Needham provides a riveting text: balancing fact and understanding in the wisdom of experience. The book offers a wealth of knowledge for pastors, missionaries, students and professors as they pursue their own education into the response of Christians during the 18th century towards these shifts in the tides of the affairs of men. Covering the period bracketing the Enlightenment Nick Needham’s new volume in the 2000 Years of Christ’s Power series, covers the social, economic, political and evangelical changes across two continents.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)
Daily Devotions with Herman Bavinck: Believing and Growing in Christian Faith by Donald K. McKim. “Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) was a significant Reformed theologian whose importance continues to this day. In eighty-four brief devotional readings accompanied by Scripture, Donald McKim explores Bavinck’s thought in order to deepen readers’ understanding and faith.” (Buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)