Weekly Recap, September 14

Book Summary:

FAITH COMES BY HEARING: A RESPONSE TO INCLUSIVISM, by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds.

A “Bonus” Book Summary from Books At a Glance By Benjamin J. Montoya   Chapter 1:  INTRODUCTION by Robert A. Peterson What is the eternal destiny of the person who, through no fault of their own, never hears the gospel…

SAVING LEONARDO: A CALL TO RESIST THE SECULAR ASSAULT ON MIND, MORALS, AND MEANING, by Nancy Pearcey

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance By Steve West   About the Author Nancy Pearcey is a Christian intellectual who has lectured widely and has published several influential books in the areas of Christian worldview and society.…

Book Review:

Casey G. McCall’s Review of THEOLOGY, CHURCH, AND MINISTRY: A HANDBOOK FOR THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION, by David S. Dockery, ed.

A Book Review from Books At a Glance Reviewed by Casey G. McCall     In Theology, Church, and Ministry: A Handbook for Theological Education, David S. Dockery brings together a gifted group of scholars from a diversity of theological…

Our Blog:

NO, WARFIELD DID NOT ENDORSE THEISTIC EVOLUTION, by Fred G. Zaspel

No, Warfield Did Not Endorse Theistic Evolution By Fred G. Zaspel   Note: This below is my chapter in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (J. P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne…

Book Notice: Introducing Hugh Martin

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance       About the Author: Hugh Martin (1822-85) combined a brilliant analytical and mathematical mind with a child-like heart which rested in Christ and his atoning work, as revealed…

Book Notice: SPURGEON’S OWN HYMNBOOK, by Charles H. Spurgeon

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance   Charles Haddon Spurgeon was passionate about congregational worship. Arising from devout affection, the frustration he found while using the compilations of hymns available in his day, spurred him to compile…

~ The Books At a Glance Team

Visit Books at a Glance

How Do I Choose a Spouse? Seven Principles for Marrying Well

Besides our children’s decision to follow Jesus, the most important decision they will make is whom to marry.

The multigenerational implications are huge. Despite the importance of this decision, however, some parents are more concerned about their children’s grades or athletic performance. They spend more time talking about how to get into the right college than about how to pick a future spouse. But whom your children marry may affect eternal destinies: their own, their spouses, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

Around the Table

As a parent of five grown children, I want to encourage you to discuss this subject with your children. As many mistakes as we made, my wife and I found that the best place to have these discussions was at the dinner table, where we gathered at least four times a week — and preferably six. Effective fathers and mothers (especially fathers) continually teach their children. They don’t teach just by example; they teach with their lips. It is hard to do that if the family does not regularly gather for a meal.

“It is better to remain single than to enter unwisely into marriage.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

We also found that the best time to teach our children was earlier rather than later. Parents will want to start discussing these matters by the time their children enter puberty, and continue the discussion regularly.

My wife and I regularly discussed about seven marriage principles with our children. There are more, but these are a good starting place.

Prefer singleness to an unwise marriage.

Most couples today (if their marriages survive) live together for fifty to seventy years. That is a long time. When a couple builds their union around Christ, that union has the potential to be sweet and wonderful. When one or both build it around something else, however, the prognosis is not so positive.

Therefore, parents can teach their children to do two key precepts. First, unless God gives you the desire to remain single for kingdom-related reasons, pursue marriage. Marriage is the normal, biblical pattern for adults. But second, pursue marriage carefully and with wisdom. It is better to remain single than to enter unwisely into marriage.

Marry to go deeper with Christ.

Second, teach them to marry to go deeper with Christ. God instructs his children to marry fellow believers only (Deuteronomy 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14). This rule is an absolute — no exceptions. For a Christian to deliberately and knowingly marry an unbeliever is sin. For me, this principle includes Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants, who are not clear on the gospel or biblical authority.

This principle raises a bigger question: “What is a believer? When asked, many people will profess to be Christians because they “asked Jesus into their heart,” even if they are currently unfruitful or uninterested in spiritual things. This makes discernment difficult.

Here are some helpful questions to ask: Can your prospective spouse articulate the gospel? Does he believe it, and delight in it? Does his life revolve around Christ, or does it revolve around something else? Is Christ enthroned in the center of his life? Would marriage to this person manifestly draw me closer to Christ or subtly away from him?

Marry to go deeper with Christ. We want the effect of our union, whether after fifty years together or five, to be more faith, more obedience, more Christlikeness, and more need for and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Don’t marry anyone who will not help you go there.

Marry a potential best friend.

Third, don’t marry a beautiful face or a young man’s future career success. I am not saying these things don’t matter, but they are very secondary. Marriage means decades together. It is more important to marry someone with whom you enjoy and share common interests, hobbies, and passions. The beautiful body will quickly fade. Career success will mean nothing if at age fifty you don’t share the deepest intimacy around a common commitment to Christ.

Focus on the vows.

Fourth, remind your children, especially your daughters, that the wedding is not about the flowers, the music, the wedding dress, the guest list, and the honeymoon. It is about the vows. Weddings are the recitation of vows in the presence of witnesses. Everything else accompanies the vows. And the most important witness is the holy, omniscient, and almighty Judge — a Judge who hates when people break vows because they have become costly.

Before I perform any marriage, I remind the couple of this truth. I encourage them to read their vows together and count the cost. Weddings are not a time for flippancy but for the joy of Psalm 2:11: “Rejoice with trembling.” Weddings are a time to fear God, to share in a sense of sobriety as the couple takes their vows.

Prepare to burn your bridges.

Fifth, wedding vows mean marriage is for life — “till death do us part.” When Christians marry, they burn their bridges so that there is no going back. Why?

“Besides our children’s decision to follow Jesus, the most important decision they will make is whom to marry.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

Christ’s love is covenantal. He has promised to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). Christians marry to live out God’s covenant love in front of their children and the world.

Therefore, there is no getting out of the relationship because “we don’t love each other anymore,” or “we’ve grown apart,” or “he just doesn’t get me.” I am thankful that both my parents and my wife’s parents impressed this upon us in our youth. We approached our wedding deeply sobered.

I often think of my uncle who married his high school sweetheart. Ten years into marriage, she developed a brain tumor. My only memory was of her in a wheelchair, drooling compulsively, unable to communicate with her husband. My father would remind me that his brother took a vow to be faithful to her “in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times, till death do us part.” My uncle kept that vow faithfully. On my wedding day, I knew there was no guarantee this would not happen to me.

Don’t marry someone to change him.

Sixth, my wife’s father raised her with this excellent advice: don’t marry someone to change him. For example, “He doesn’t pick up after himself, but I know he’ll change.” “She talks too much, but I know she will change.” “She wants to devote her life to a career and not have children, but I know I can change her mind.” “He’s not attentive to me, but I know he’ll change after a few years together.”

Why is marrying others to change them a mistake? Because it is very unlikely that they will change, and if they don’t, you are still married for life. Instead, marry with the full knowledge of your future spouse’s weaknesses and failings but determined to love and forgive even if he never changes. If you can’t do that, don’t marry the person.

Expect to be sanctified.

Last, remind your children regularly that marriage is about more than love. It is about sanctification. I would estimate that, since marriage, about eighty percent of my sanctification has come through my relationship with my wife. To paraphrase author Gary Thomas, God is more interested in our holiness than our merely earthly happiness, and he will use our marriage to provoke us to that (happy) holiness.

The two people who say “I do” are always sinners, and that means inevitable conflict. There will be seasons of suffering and painful growth. Learning to serve another sinner will put a spotlight on your own faults and sins. I thank God for the struggles we have experienced.

Our Children’s Earthly Journey

Whom to marry is the second most important life decision your children will make. The ramifications will go on for decades. Therefore, wise parents regularly talk to their children about how to pick a spouse. They understand that this crucial decision could make or break their children’s earthly journey, and they treat it with a gravity that equals that reality.

After all, who is more qualified to teach them about marriage? You will have lived it for at least a decade. Nourish them through your experience.

Visit Desiring God

The LORD Regretted That He Had Made Man?

The Bible plainly says that God is sovereign over all things. But if this is so, then how are we to understand the Bible verses that say that God was grieved or sorry that He did something?

Genesis 6:6 – And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Margin notes: Simple Faith

Luke 5:4–6 (ESV) — 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.

There are some principles in Scripture which need to be revisited over and over. They are like the foundation stones of a skyscraper. If they give way, everything gives way. If they are compromised, instability is the inevitable result. And, as in this text, they can appear quite inconspicuously, unless you really stop to consider them. And they greatly inform key strands in Scripture and the Christian life in such a way that they prevent the Believer from very destructive and debilitating thought patterns.

Of these, developing right thoughts about faith, Biblical faith, is truly one of the utmost importance. I’ve beat this drum before, but rehearse it with me again today.

In vs. 5, the words and actions of Peter in response to Jesus’ “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” hold the clearest and most succinct exposition of faith. It reasons in the face of everything else “but at your word.”

So note carefully, faith does not groundlessly hope. It does not pluck its expectation from the air. It is not the product of imagination, or a contrived desire. We cannot have faith regarding that which God has not said. No. It roots itself firmly in one place: What God HAS said. And then acts accordingly.

So many, sadly, do almost irreparable harm to their own faith. They do so when they hold God to promises He never made, or to impressions they thought came from Him. Then, when He appears not to have come through, they inwardly undermine their own ability to believe Him in the things He HAS said.

Though stated in another context, Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 4:6 have broad application and especially in this issue: “learn by us not to beyond what is written.” What God has said, what He has inspired by His Spirit to have written down for us in His Word – these are the things (rightly interpreted) in which we can have absolute faith. And when we go beyond that into thoughts, desires, impressions or hopes of our own creation – we open ourselves to faith-destroying disappointments.

Let Peter’s example be your guide – “But at your word.” And you will find a safe haven for your soul. A truly firm foundation for your faith.

Advertisements

Visit ResponsiveReiding

A Biblical and Pastoral Vision for the Office of Deacon (Part Three)

Whereas the NT is quite clear that the office of Elder is restricted to qualified men, there is considerable and on-going dispute among evangelicals on the question of whether women can serve in the office of Deacon. Here are my reasons for saying Yes to this question.

(1) Although the word for “deacon” can describe a non-technical ministry of serving to which all Christians are called, I believe Romans 16:1 is speaking of the office of deacon to which one may be appointed. Phoebe is not merely said to be a servant or minister but is “a servant of the church at Cenchreae.” She is also said to be “a patron of many” and of Paul himself, an indication that she likely supported the apostle financially.

(2) Benjamin L. Merkle (40 Questions about Elders and Deacons) confirms this and points out that “When the generic meaning of diakonos (i.e., “servant”) is intended, the text usually reads, “servant of the Lord” or something similar. This is the only place Paul speaks of someone being a diakonos of a local church. Tychicus is called a “minister [or servant] in the Lord” (Eph. 6:21), Epaphras is named a “minister [servant] of Christ” (Col. 1:7), and Timothy is labeled a “servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). Because only Phoebe is specifically said to be a servant of a local congregation (the church at Cenchreae), it is likely that she was a “deacon” of her church” (251).

(3) Robert Strimple, long-time professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, points out that when Paul refers to Phoebe as (literally), “being (ousan-feminine accusative present participle) . . . diakonon” he is using a participial phrase that is consistently used to identify a person’s performance of office in the New Testament. Examples of this usage are found in John 11:49 (‘Caiaphas, being high priest that year’), Acts 18:12 (‘Gallio, being the proconsul of Achaia’), and Acts 24:10 (‘Felix, being a judge to this nation’). The case for reading Phoebe’s description as one of office is a strong one. Indeed, Calvin says that Paul is commending Phoebe ‘first on account of her office’ to aid her as she discharges her ministry in Rome.”

(4) In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 the question is whether Paul is referring to the “wives” of deacons or to “women” as those who, much like men, can be appointed to this office. The evidence seems to be evenly weighted in this debate, but I find the arguments for women as deacons to be persuasive. Among the several considerations are these.

First, contrary to the ESV translation, the possessive pronoun “their” at the start of v. 11 does not appear in the Greek text. The insertion of this word reflects the view of the translators that the females in view here are the “wives” of the male deacons. In fact, if Paul had wanted to speak unmistakably of the wives of deacons it seems reasonable to think he would have included the possessive pronoun. It speaks loudly to me that he didn’t.

Second, Paul introduces the office of Elder and their qualifications in vv. 1-7. He then introduces the office of deacon in v. 8 with the phrase, “Deacons likewise . . .” He begins v. 11 in much the same way, suggesting that he is introducing yet another office, namely, deaconess. He writes in v. 11, “Women likewise . . .”

Third, although there is evidence for both sides, the word translated “women” in v. 11 (or “wives” in the ESV) can refer either to females generally or to wives in particular. The word itself does not provide decisive proof of either position. However, it must be admitted that the use of gunaikas in vv. 2 and 12 to refer to “wives” suggests that it might also means the same thing in v. 11. But this alone is not sufficient to convince me that Paul is talking about the “wives” of deacons rather than “female” deacons.

Fourth, an argument that carries much weight with me is the fact that Paul says nothing about the qualifications of Elders’ wives. Why would he list qualifications for the wives of deacons but say nothing at all about the wives of Elders, especially given the fact that being an Elder carried far more spiritual authority and responsibility than being a Deacon? Why would Paul hold the wives of deacons to a higher standard than the wives of Elders?

Therefore I conclude that there are two offices in the NT: that of Elder and that of Deacon, and that whereas the former office is restricted to men, the latter may be filled by both qualified men and women.

One final question is whether we should refer to a female deacon as a deaconess. Although it is surely permissible, I don’t think it is helpful. In fact, in the one text where a woman is specifically said to be a deacon (Rom. 16:1), the masculine form of the noun is used, not the feminine form. So, there are not three offices in the local church: Elder, Deacon, and Deaconess, but only two.

Visit Sam Storm’s Enjoying God

The Best Biographies of William Wilberforce

Today’s post is by Michael Morgan (D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). Michael is researching a PhD on Wilberforce and the clergy at the University of Leicester, under the supervision of Professor John Coffey. He works for William Tennent School of Theology (williamtennent.org) and is the author of Catalyst for Compassion: John Newton, Justice, and the Power of Friendship to Change the World (forthcoming, Fall 2019, Acoma Press). He and his wife, Catherine, have three children.

Few people have leveraged their lives for the goodwill of humanity or the cause of the gospel to the extent that the British abolitionist William Wilberforce did for almost fifty years. Through his long tenure in Parliament, his support of various missions and ministries, and his lifelong campaign for abolition and eventually emancipation, Wilberforce, to an admirable degree, did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his God. Studying his life forces us to consider issues of our own day, including race, empire, missions, and how Christians intersect with the public sphere.

The place to begin any list of Wilberforce biographies is with the five-volume tome compiled by two of his own sons, shortly after their father’s death. Every biography since has relied heavily on this massive work, filled with copious extracts from Wilberforce’s diaries and correspondence. For the general reader, however, The Life of William Wilberforce (1838) is exceedingly tedious to slog through (not to mention expensive). It has little to no narrative arc, and only gluttons for punishment would read it for fun when there are other options on the table. Fortunately, for all of our sakes, there are.

Two older biographies needing mention include John Campbell Colquhoun’s William Wilberforce: His Friends and His Times (1866) and Reginald Coupland’s Wilberforce: A Narrative (1923). Both are out of print, though scanned reproductions can be found on Amazon (or downloaded for free at archive.org). Colquhoun’s work, though not scholarly, is helpful as it gives a reader a short sketch of a handful of those who ran in Wilberforce’s far-ranging circle. Coupland’s, while extremely well written and engaging, doesn’t delve deeply into the primary source material.

After Coupland, it would be some fifty years before any biography of note would appear on the scene. Robin Furneaux’s William Wilberforce arrived in 1974, and three years later, John Pollock would follow up that impressive act with one of his own, entitled simply, Wilberforce (1977). Both are remarkable in their own ways. While Furneaux has a great sense of historical and political context, Pollock did extensive new archival research, and wrote from the vantage point of an Evangelical Anglican clergyman. Furneaux is fantastic, but less sympathetic to Wilberforce’s Christian convictions—just read their chapters about Wilberforce’s conversion side by side. Pollock’s analysis is insightful, nuanced, and familiar, while Furneaux’s leaves a Christian reader looking for something more.

Kevin Belmonte’s William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (2002), while shorter and less researched, follows in Pollock’s sympathetic vein, and builds on it, rightfully giving John Newton, the former slave ship captain and author of “Amazing Grace,” a larger role in the narrative. (This lack, my primary complaint with Pollock, isn’t really his fault. He was not allowed access to the John Newton-William Wilberforce Correspondence, which at the time of writing, was in possession of the family.) To be sure, Belmonte’s is a great entry point for those interested in Wilberforce.

The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce (2002), from John Piper’s “The Swans are Not Silent” series, is a compilation of three of his biographical messages, creatively packaged together in one slim volume, as Newton, Simeon, and Wilberforce were all collaborators and friends. Piper characteristically concedes, “If academic historians say, ‘Farewell,’ I don’t blame them. I only hope that what I write is true and helps people endure to the end” (11, footnote). To this purpose, his book is a valuable read.

Finally, several good biographies came out around 2007 as bicentenary commemorations of the passing of Britain’s Abolition Bill. Eric Metaxas’ Amazing Grace, is, as my Ph.D. advisor describes it, “a rattling good read,” but rather simplistic (and, thankfully, not nearly as controversial as his Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy). In the same year, the former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague (who already had written a biography of Wilberforce’s good friend, Prime Minister William Pitt), brought his expertise to the politician in the massive William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner. Perhaps the best of 2007 is Stephen Tomkins’ William Wilberforce: A Biography, who followed it up with The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce’s Circle Transformed Britain (2010). Tompkins’ writing is well-researched, admiring, and yet honest.

Wilberforce biographies tend to divide in rather neat categories, written either with academic heft, or for popular appeal, written by those who share his Christian convictions, or those who admire his abolition work, regardless of faith. For those who want one book “to rule them all”—a biography that combines engaging storytelling with historical finesse, theological sensitivity with social and political acumen—for the Christian who has read George Marsden’s masterful Jonathan Edwards: A Life, and is looking for the Wilberforce equivalent, the closest comparison at present would be John Pollock’s Wilberforce.

Sign up here for the Thomas S. Kidd newsletter. It delivers unique content only to subscribers.

[The book links provided here are part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.]

Visit TGC Evangelical History

The Way to Have a Good Fight

“We should not approach conflict as a nuisance, but as an opportunity to join Christ in his sanctifying work in our lives. God is not busy making us comfortable, making us wealthy, making us happy, He is busy conforming us to Jesus. So we can accept conflict as a tool through which he’s showing us our weaknesses, exposing our sinful tendencies, and training us in love and patience.” — Danielle Sallade

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast. Find more audio and video from the 2018 Women’s Conference on the conference media page.

Bibliography for this talk:

Related:

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

Book Notice: SPURGEON’S OWN HYMNBOOK, by Charles H. Spurgeon

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was passionate about congregational worship. Arising from devout affection, the frustration he found while using the compilations of hymns available in his day, spurred him to compile this selection of hymns for use in his congregation. Over 1,000 psalms, hymns and spiritual songs include not only direct praise, but doctrine, experience and exhortation, enabling the saints to edify one another in their singing.

About the Author:

Charles H. Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher, was one of the most influential people of the second half of the 19th Century. At the heart of his desire to preach was a fierce love of people, a desire that meant he did not neglect his pastoral ministry.

Endorsements:

Persons frequently ask me how to get started reading poetry. Reading the rich texts found in this hymnal is a pretty good way to learn how to read and enjoy poetry, but it is an even better way to feed your soul with these beautiful Psalms and hymns.

Jim Scott Orrick
Professor of Literature and Culture,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Louisville, Kentucky

Buy the books

SPURGEON’S OWN HYMNBOOK, Charles H. Spurgeon

Christian Heritage, 2019 | 469 pages

Visit Books at a Glance

What Makes Any Story Great? The Secret Hidden in Our Hearts

“I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?” So wondered Samwise Gamgee to his dear friend and master, Frodo Baggins, in Tolkien’s beloved epic, The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers, 362). And what a tale it is. It is beloved by so many because it has all the elements we love so much in a great story.

Now, in some sense, it’s true that what makes for a great story has as many descriptions as there are people. That’s one of the almost incomprehensibly glorious things about humanity: billions and billions of unique facets of expression and preference. But many of the greatest stories have similar elements in common, even as they span different cultures and generations. And there’s a reason for this.

What Makes a Story Great?

At the core of nearly all the great stories is a desperate struggle between good and evil. This struggle provides the context and foundation for understanding everything else in the story. It defines who are the heroes and heroines and who are villains.

And though these stories can vary significantly in time and plot, there is a remarkable consistency among them when it comes to the nature of good and the nature of evil. Heroes, while typically flawed, are admirable and courageous, and pursue the good of others — often at great cost to themselves. Villains are despicable and view others as a means to their self-exalting, others-dominating ends.

And there are common, transcendent moral themes present, in greater or lesser degrees, in these stories that resonate deeply inside us: truth, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, faith, integrity, and always various expressions of love. Romantic love (eros), yes, especially in the stories of the past few centuries. But there’s also deep love of friends (philio) and often familial love (storge). “But the greatest of these” expressions of love in the greatest stories is when someone puts the good of others before themselves (agape) (1 Corinthians 13:13). We are especially moved and inspired by sacrificial love, when “someone [lays] down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

A Tale as Old as Time

And these stories frequently follow a similar narrative arc. Think of recent epic stories, besides The Lord of the Rings, that have captured the imaginations of collective billions around the world: The Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia. What’s the essential story?

An evil force, seeking to subject people under its domination, gains power and resources, and look invincible, while good finds itself in a weak position, outmanned, outgunned, and nearly out of time. And just when evil is about to deliver the final blow, and achieve its desire, against all apparent odds, the good finds an unexpected way through unexpected events to overcome and overthrow the powerful evil threat and deliver those who were imperiled.

This is a story told over and over and over again. And it has been told for ages. This narrative arc is in the biblical story of Esther, which is some 2,500 years old.

How to Gut Good Stories

But there’s one additional element I haven’t mentioned yet. And this element is ever-present, an indispensable component that holds the whole weave of these stories together: providence.

Toward the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf was explaining to the troubled hobbit, Frodo, why first his uncle Bilbo and now he suddenly found themselves in possession of the Ring of Power. Dark forces surrounded them as Sauron, the Ring’s maker, desperately tried to obtain it. But Gandalf reminded:

There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. . . . Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire! Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought. (The Fellowship of the Ring)

What we really love about these great stories is that the seemingly improbable turn of events and the apparently unlikely deliverances occur because, whether or not it’s explicitly mentioned, there’s a providence at work aiding the good and guiding the outcome. However it’s represented, providence is the iridescent moral backlight to the scenes in these stories that provides the good its beauty and makes its triumph meaningful.

In Western culture, the dominant narrative about human origins and destinations is Darwinian: that we and all that occurs in our experience are products of mindless, meaningless, moral-less forces. But deep down we know better. Our most beloved stories betray us. Remove providence and replace it with random chance, unguided coincidence, and all the beauty we love, all the meaning we need, is gutted out of the stories. Remove providence, and a story ceases to be a story.

Something deep inside us knows that good is supposed to ultimately defeat evil. We know this in our heart of hearts.

Echoes of the Real Story

Why do we know this? Why do we love these kinds of stories so much? I believe it’s because in them we hear echoes of the Great Story, the story of God’s redemption of fallen humanity. The narrative arc that our hearts recognize as glorious is the narrative arc of the Bible.

The Bible tells an epic story, but not in the way most of our epics are told. It is wholly unique — an odd, counterintuitive mixture of genres and authors and perspectives. We come away from it with sufficient understanding of the story’s origin and goal, but not anything we’d consider comprehensive. And the story is incomplete. It’s incomplete because the story is still being told — right now. It’s the Real Story being told in real time; the story we’re all a part of.

And the reason we love a story like The Lord of the Rings so much is because it taps into the deep places of our heart, where we long for real hope — the real “blessed hope” of the real return of the real King (Titus 2:13) and the final real overthrow of the dreadful evil in real life whose dark shadow we really live and languish under (1 John 3:8; 5:19).

What Chapter Are You In?

Perhaps, where we find ourselves right now in the Real Story, we feel like Frodo did in that conversation with Samwise Gamgee about the tale they found themselves in:

“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’” (The Two Towers, 363)

Some are experiencing this in more excruciating ways than others, though, in truth, we are all living here, on the outskirts of Mordor. The great fictional epics have horrible parts to them because the Real Epic has horrible parts to it, sometimes unspeakably so.

But Sauron’s days are numbered, the White Witch’s wintry spell is melting, light is breaking into the Dark Side, Voldemort’s control is weakening, Thanos’s snap is being undone, and Haman will swing from his own gallows. Jesus has come “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

No matter what we face, there is real hope because The Story is real: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Therefore, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Visit Desiring God

Book Sale at WTS Books: Up to 55% Off New and Noteworthy Titles

Book Sale at WTS Books: Up to 55% Off New and Noteworthy Titles

Old age often gets a bad press. Associated with grumpiness, aches and pains, loneliness, and isolation it’s not something we particularly look forward to or relish when we’re there.

Pastor and Bible teacher, Derek Prime, himself in his 80s, shows us that there is another way to view old age. He guides us through 26 Christian priorities that we should hold to in later life. With biblical wisdom and practical advice, he helps us to navigate the unique challenges and joys that old age can bring. This is a book to dip into, meditate on and read prayerfully as you let the truths it contains gently transform the way you live your old age.

About the Author:

After serving churches in the UK as a pastor for thirty years–first at Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church, West Norwood, in London, then at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh–Derek Prime has devoted himself since 1987 to an itinerant ministry and to writing. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife, Betty.

Endorsements:

“Like vintage wine, A Good Old Age is the exquisite fruit of a lifetime of Christian ministry and leadership that aims to particularly help elderly Christians navigate the final years of the journey of faith. It charts the ‘A to Z’ of Christian discipleship in an immensely practical, warm, and honest way in short, insightful reflections on each letter of the Alphabet of Christian Living. It’s so good it shouldn t be kept to the ‘Oldies’ – it will be a great aid to discipleship to a Christian of any age. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” —Trevor Archer, FIEC London Director

“Here is practical and pastoral wisdom from a man who has soaked his life in the Scriptures. Younger pastors will be helped to understand the challenges that face our older brothers and sisters as well as getting some advanced preparation for what is ahead. In truth, the lessons here are good for every generation and I warmly commend this book.” —Paul Rees, Lead Pastor, Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh

Drawing on a lifetime immersed in God’s Word, Derek Prime gives us a roadmap for pursuing godliness in our later years. The value of this book lies in its specific application of the Scriptures to the challenges and opportunities of old age. Honest, insightful and full of grace, this book is a goldmine of wisdom for older believers. –Colin S. Smith, Senior Pastor, The Orchard and President, Unlocking the Bible

Buy the books

A GOOD OLD AGE: AN A TO Z OF LOVING AND FOLLOWING THE LORD JESUS IN LATER YEARS, by Derek Prime

10 Publishing, 2017 | 182 pages

Visit Books at a Glance

Stephen Um on Teaching Micah

Many believers are familiar with only two verses in Micah—the prophecy that a ruler will come from Bethlehem (5:2), and the answer to the question, “What does the LORD require?” (6:8). In this conversation, Stephen Um—senior minister at CityLife Church in Boston and author of Micah for Youhelps teachers understand the legal setting of the book of Micah with its charges, witnesses, evidence, verdict, sentence, and mercy. Um explains the difference between biblical justice and modern understandings of social justice, as well as key themes and images in Micah such as shepherds, kings, and mountains.

Recommended books

Recommended audio

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

My Prayer for the Furnace: How I Ask God to Heal

All of us are only a phone call away from our life changing forever. We will get sick. We will lose loved ones. Trials will come. And we don’t know when suffering will hit us.

For me, it was Thanksgiving morning in 2009. I walked into our living room at home to give my youngest, Norah, her bottle. I burped her. I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up. I turned. And then I woke up in the hospital. I’d had a brain seizure, and I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, facing immediate surgery, chemo, and radiation — and an estimate of a few years to live.

In that season, I found that my Christian friends tended to fall into one of two camps. The first camp was all about the will of God, and praying for the will of God. The second camp believed that if I had faith and believed that the Lord would heal me, then I would be healed.

Those two camps often do not play too well together, but I actually believe they can help one another more than they realize. One tells us how to pray for healing, and the other tells us how to respond when God doesn’t heal. We need both. We see that need played out in at least one familiar Old Testament story.

A Prayer for the Furnace

You may well remember the characters Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from felt boards in Sunday school, but this story has direct implications for how we think about healing and how we pray for healing.

To recap, king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and demanded that the people of God, who had been exiled to Babylon, worship it. Three of God’s servants, who had been put in a place of authority in Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refused. When the king threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace because of their disobedience, they responded by saying,

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17–18)

In other words, our God can save us, we believe that the Lord will save us, and even if he doesn’t, we will still praise the name of the Lord. This should be our default position, regardless of what we’re walking through, but especially when we’re walking through the valley of suffering.

The Lord Can Heal

God is sovereign. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). He is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things, and he has the power to do whatever he wills. Colossians 1:16–17 says of Christ, “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Whatever suffering we are facing, we know that God has the power to intervene, and we know he has the power to redeem and heal whatever pain and brokenness we experience.

The Lord Will Heal

God is not only all-powerful; he is also personal, and he will heal all our diseases. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1–3). The question for his children is not if he will heal, but only when and how. One way or another, he will deliver us — from suffering, from sin, from death. God loves us and cares about us (1 Peter 5:6–7). He bends his ear to the cries of his people. Psalm 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” God invites us to pray to him, and tells us that he will answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7–8).

If He Doesn’t Heal Now

God is good. We can see throughout the Scriptures, as he reveals who he is and what he is about, that God is a loving Father who knows what’s best and wants what’s best for his children. As Jesus pointed out, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). We can trust that if God chooses not to heal us for now, he knows something we don’t know — and that one day he will end suffering and death once and for all.

How to Go About Praying

The Bible frees us up to pray boldly and courageously for healing — not to simply pray for God’s will — because we know that he can heal, that he will heal, and that ultimately his will will be done in every circumstance (Ephesians 1:11). We’re not setting low bars for God to step over. We cannot set a bar too high for him. We come to him believing that he will heal, and believing that if he does not, it will be because he has a better plan and a higher aim in mind.

The Bible calls us to pray and plead with the Lord, asking him to bring healing. I’m going to ask, believing that Jesus Christ is going to heal me and heal the people I’m praying for, but then I’m going to open my hands, entrusting myself and others to the will of my God. That’s the example Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give to us, and that’s how we pray in our trials:

Lord, I know you can heal. Lord, I believe you will heal. And Lord, if you don’t heal now, bring glory to your name and keep my faith in you.

Visit Desiring God

Two Obstacles: Angry Men and Immodest Women

Two great obstacles to the completion of the mission of the church are angry men and immodest women. In this sermon, Ryan Fullerton deals with 1 Timothy 2:8-10 to show how angry men who do not pray and women who dress immodestly can affect our effectiveness in advancing the Gospel.


This sermon was preached at Boyce College and is embedded from their YouTube Channel.

Learning Christ

Being a Christian is not just learning facts about Christ, but rather it is actually learning Christ personally. This is what causes us to live radically different from how we lived formerly. A person can hear about Christ without actually learning Him. Have you learned Christ?