An Open Letter to the Suffering Christian

A short while ago, I came across this post by David Powlison:

Dear friend,

What words can I say to you when your life is hard and you are hurting? If we were face to face, I probably wouldn’t start with words at all. I would want you to talk when you are able. I want to know you, what you are going through, what it is like for you, and how you are doing. Simply being present and conveying that tears, heartache, and confusion are valid would probably be more helpful. Many wise Christians have commented that Job’s counselors did well until they opened their mouths (Job 2:11-13), and I certainly don’t think there is some magic word that will make everything better.

But when it comes time to say something, I might say this: Jesus is a most sympathetic friend, fellow sufferer, and Savior. He has walked a hard road. He has felt his own anguish and crushing pain (Isaiah 53). He understands. He is compassionate toward you. By the comfort of his presence and sympathy, he intends to draw you out and draw you to Himself.

I encourage you to go to him and speak to him. There is something about our ability to find words to express what we’re experiencing that makes a genuine difference. A wise Christian of many centuries ago said, “To open one’s heart to one’s friend—it doubles our joys and cuts our griefs in half.” I have found this to be true. Sharing a joy really does double the joy. And of course, sharing heartache never takes it all away — but there’s something about speaking to someone who truly cares about you that soothes your wounds. You are not alone.

The psalms, which are so full of heartache and so full of faith, often start with simply giving voice to the experience of suffering. As they do, it’s significant to notice that they don’t simply cry out in a scream of pain. They cry out to God who hears, who cares, who draws near, who helps. We can speak to our God. May you cry out to our God. He calls you his friend. He deeply cares for you. He is your Savior. Trust Him. He has walked down this road before you. He promises to walk with you in this.

And I might say one more thing. Suffering must be walked through one step at a time. Be honest. Don’t take any shortcuts. Let each day’s trouble be sufficient for that day. Seek your Father. If you seek him, you will find him.



Book Review

As the forward to this book admits, leadership books abound. Christian leadership books abound. So what makes this book unique? What does it add to the already crowded field of leadership literature?

Several things caught my attention. First, it is a theology of biblical leadership. The essays in this book focus upon what various portions of scripture have to say about leadership. Each essay focuses on a book or section of the Bible. Some chapters are very specific (e.g. Ch. 18 – A Model Leader: Leadership in Nehemiah); others are more broad (e.g. Ch. 20 – A Concept Study: Leadership in New Testament Greek). In the forward, Ronald Hawkins says, “More dangerous and disconcerting is the realization that all too frequently books on leadership that become very popular advance views on leadership that are totally antithetical to the clear teachings of scripture.” The books seeks to steer clear of that error.

Second, I appreciate the sound theologians who were recruited to contribute to this work. Names like Tremper Longman, Stanley Porter, Bill Mounce, Andreas Kostenberger, Benjamin Merkle and others jump off the page.

Finally, this book is geared toward pastors and ministry leaders but is not inaccessible to the layman as the chapters are relatively brief and the Greek and Hebrew are transliterated.

If you are looking for a popular-level book to breeze through as you’re dozing off at night, this is not that book. But if you’d like to dig deeper into what the scriptures say about leadership, this is a solid volume to turn to.

Note: This book was provided free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review

Theology is crucial for the church to rightly understand and worship God. As regularly as I can, I encourage believers to study the deep truths of God’s Word and be willing to expend the mental and spiritual energy necessary to understand Bible doctrine. Topics such as God’s sovereignty, justification or the authority of Scripture do not belong to academia along but are pertinent to a Christian’s walk with Jesus Christ.

If knowing theology is important, teaching it is as well. And that’s where Gregg Allison’s book comes it. This book, like none other that I’ve come across, succinctly summarizes 50 Christian doctrines and helps the teacher understand how to clearly communicate these truths. For a summary of Bible doctrines, I often turn to J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. While Allison’s work certainly won’t nudge Packer’s out of my library, I do really enjoy the layout (something Baker Books does not always do well), the teaching outline and resource recommendations provided in Allison’s volume.

Each of the 50 chapters begin with a helpful summary of the doctrine followed by bullet points of the main themes and a list of scriptures supporting that topic. Each chapter is composed of three sections:

  1. Understanding the doctrine. This includes an explanation of the area of theology under examination, scriptural support and defense as well as a list of errors which have commonly been associated with this topic. He doesn’t waste words in explaining the doctrine. He is clear and to the point.
  2. Enacting the doctrine – ideas on how to apply it to one’s life.
  3. Teaching the doctrine – tips for teaching the truth as well as a helpful outline for teachers.

Whether for personal spiritual growth or for teaching theology, I highly commend this volume!

Please note: This book was provided free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

A Very Present Help

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (Psalm 46:1–3, ESV)

God’s Word teaches that Jesus is a “very present help in trouble.” It does not say that God is a “kind-of” help or a “far-off” help

He is very present. He is here. His presence is genuine. His help is beyond powerful.

How does he do this for his people?

  1. He listens. Our cries never weary him. Our prayers never bore him. Our pleadings for deliverance never agitate him. He takes delight in his children coming to him.
  2. He comforts. Not some patronizing pat on the head but Holy Spirit-generated deep heart-peace which is generated in heaven and rises up in your soul.
  3. He acts. When we come to God, we have come to the right Person. We have not asked a mid-level manager a question that should be directed to the CEO. We have not come to the mayor with a problem that should land on the President’s desk. We cry out to the almighty and sovereign God who orders this world.

Whether or not the answer he gives is what we are looking for, we can be assured that the prayer of faith will be answered and that his presence, his peace, and his very real help will be there when we need it.

Review of The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs

When I see the names of scholars such as D.A. Carson, Doug Moo, Bill Mounce and Daniel Wallace attached to a scholarly work, I sit up and take notice. These and other fine scholars commend this little book, as would I. This is not a popular level book that will appeal to the masses. Rather this is a book specifically for those wishing to jump from basic Greek to becoming a more proficient reader of the Greek New Testament.

9780825444791The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs is exactly as the title claims. It provides vocabulary aids for those transitioning out of beginning Greek but stumble over the irregular and not-so-common verb forms. As I mentioned, this little book is a great reference for those beginning to read the Greek New Testament.

Part one helpfully makes a list of all the irregular verbs occurring 10 or more times and organizes them by frequency. Part two provides and alphabetical list of verbs and includes their compounds. The appendices give further help in handling the irregularities of Greek language.

I appreciated the books brevity and easy to read layout. Many reference tools are clunky and so poorly laid out to be much good. Furthermore, many “handy guide” style books are so filled such basic Wikipedia-esque information that they are practically worthless. What I appreciated about The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs was it’s perfect combination of brevity and genuine practicality.

For those working to get proficient in Greek, this tool would pair well with A Reader’s Greek New Testament.

Please Note: I received the book for free from Kregal in exchange for an unbiased review.

In Praise of “Cheater” Bibles

In our Sunday night Bible Study at church, we jokingly call Study Bibles (SB) “cheater” Bibles for their ability to provide on-the-spot answers to tricky questions. But the truth is, Study Bibles are a gift to the church and they are welcome blessing to any Christian’s library.

But there are many to choose from and it can be a little challenging to navigate many selections floating around there on Amazon. I did a quick survey of these reference works on my shelf (both physical books and electronic) and made a list. It is by no means exhaustive but here’s a short summary of their strengths and weaknesses.

ESV Study Bible

This is my go-to SB. If I was trapped on a desert island with only one book, the answer, of course, is the Bible. But if the rules allow me to modify my choice, I would take this beauty. The combination of notes, articles, commentary, background info, theology, maps and charts with my favorite Bible translation makes this one unbeatable. The notes are doctrinally solid. Very solid and as deep as a SB is going to go. And the graphics are second to none. Throw in the online version free and you had me at, well, free.

CSB Study Bible

This recently-published Bible is a solid addition to the Study Bible lineup. Its detailed notes, maps, beautiful photos, and word studies along with a very readable translation make this one of my new favorites.

The Reformation Study Bible

This Bible is strong on theology and packed with notes, though quite weak in background information and graphics. The variety of free electronic resources that are unlocked with the print version make this SB even more appealing.

The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible

I recently received this Bible as a gift and have been greatly enjoying it. This SB is packed with fantastic articles and clear explanations of important Bible doctrines, while showing where those doctrines turn up in various texts.

Archeological Study Bible

This reference work includes cultural and archeological background that most of the other SB’s only mention in passing. What it lacks in commentary, the Archeological Study Bible makes up for in visually transporting you to the Holy Land.

Gospel Transformation Study Bible

The focus of this SB is the Gospel. It endeavors to show “Christ in all of Scripture and God’s transforming Grace for all of Life.” Therefore the study notes center around those very topics. While short on other SB features such as maps, charts and background, it is strong on application and points us faithfully to Christ.

The Scofield Reference Bible

The original SB courtesy of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. This one’s a bit outdated and appeals to a very specific theological persuasion – the classic dispensationalist. It really doesn’t hold up to modern SB’s (even the updated version); however, it was groundbreaking in its day and pairs very well with the Ryrie Study Bible and Clarence Larkin’s charts.

The NKJV Study Bible

This is not a bad SB with some useful word studies and notes, however not as graphically pleasing as others and does not possess a great deal of theological depth. Plus I just don’t use the NKJV all that much.

Faithlife Study Bible

Some very good graphics in both the electronic (Logos Bible Software) and print format. A little more theologically general than I like, but includes some very helpful notes. The electronic version is free with most Logos Bible Software packages.

The Life Application Study Bible

This was one of the first SB’s our family owned and is a very accessible and well-laid-out volume. The notes and book introductions are very readable and I appreciate the character studies. However, difficult passages are watered down some as attempts to appeal to a broad evangelical audience and lacks the doctrinal oomph I would like.

The Apologetics Study Bible

As the title suggests, this Bible has a very specific focus. This will serve you if you are looking to know how to better defend the faith but is not strong on commentary or graphics.

The NIV Proclamation Bible

The focus of this Bible is unique – to help Bible teachers and preachers understand, apply and communicate the text. It lacks commentary notes, but contains some very good articles.

The NIV Lifehacks Bible

This SB contains articles/devotions designed to strengthen spiritual habits and disciplines. Not a typical SB in that it does not contain commentary or background information.

Two other SB’s that I do not own but have heard are solid are the NIV Study Bible and the Macarthur Study Bible. The former has many good notes but they are designed to appeal to a broad Christian audience. The latter is doctrinally robust, contains a number of charts, and appeals to a reformed dispensational audience. Additionally, both David Jeremiah and Chuck Swindoll have released SB’s in recent years. I have not personally perused either of these works but respect these men and their ministries.

Check out this link for a helpful chart summarizing some of these Bibles.


The Dangers of Spiritual Pride

“The first and the worst cause of errors, that prevail in such a state of things, is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. This is the main handle by which the devil has hold of religious persons, and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.—This cause of error is the main spring, or at least the main support, of all the rest. Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. It is by this that the mind defends itself in other errors, and guards itself against light, by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already, he does not need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it. But, if this disease be healed, other things are easily rectified. The humble person is like a little child, he easily receives instruction . . .

Pride is much more difficult to be discerned than any other corruption, because its nature very much consists in a person’s having too high a thought of himself. No wonder that he who has too high a thought of himself, does not know it; for he necessarily thinks that the opinion he has of himself has just grounds, and therefore is not too high . . .

The heart is deceitful and unsearchable in nothing so much as in this matter; and there is no sin in the world, that men are so confident in. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence, and drive away [humility].”

Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 398–399.

We Really Can Just Go on in

John Phillips writes:

Imagine a Moabite of old gazing down upon the tents and tabernacle of Israel from some lofty mountain height. Attracted by what he sees, he descends to the plain and makes his way toward the sacred enclosure surrounding the tabernacle. It is a high wall of dazzling linen, which reaches over his head. He walks around it until he comes to the gate, where he sees a man.

“May I go in there?” he asks, pointing through the gate to where the bustle of activity in the tabernacle’s outer court can be seen.

“Who are you?” demands the man suspiciously. Any Israelite would know he could go in there.

“I am a man from Moab,” the stranger replies.

“Well,” says the man at the gate, “I’m very sorry, but you cannot go in there. It’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred the Moabite from any part in the worship of Israel until his tenth generation.”

The Moabite looks sad. “What would I have to do to go in there?” he insists.

“You would have to be born again,” replies the gatekeeper. “You would have to be born an Israelite. You would need to be born of the tribe of Judah, perhaps, or of the tribe of Benjamin or Dan.”

Says the Moabite, “I wish I had been born an Israelite, of one of the tribes of Israel.” As he looks more closely, he sees one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the brazen altar and cleansed himself at the brazen laver, go on into the tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” asks the Moabite.

“Inside the main building, I mean.” “Oh,” says the gatekeeper, “That’s the tabernacle itself. Inside there is a room containing a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw is a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table, and burn incense to the living God upon the golden altar.”

“Ah,” sighs the man of Moab, “I wish I were an Israelite so that I could do that. I would love to worship God in that holy place and help to trim the lamp, to offer Him some incense, and to eat at that table.”

“Oh, no,” says the man at the gate, “even I could not do that. To worship in the holy place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron.”

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish,” he says, “I wish I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron.” Gazing wistfully at the closed tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?”

“There’s a veil,” replies his informant. “It is a beautiful veil, I’m told, which divides the tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the most holy place,’ ‘the Holy of Holies.’ ”

The Moabite is more interested than ever. “What’s in the Holy of Holies?” he asks.

“There’s a sacred chest in there called the Ark of the Covenant,” answers the gatekeeper. “It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is made of gold and we call that the Mercy Seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. You see that pillar of cloud hovering over the tabernacle? That’s the Shekina glory cloud. It comes to rest on the Mercy Seat.”

Again a look of longing shadows the face of the man from Moab. “Oh,” he says, “if only I were a priest! I should love to go into the Holy of Holies and there gaze upon God and worship Him there in the beauty of holiness.”

“Oh no!” says the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! To enter into the most holy place you would have to be the high priest of Israel. Only he can go in there, nobody else, only he.”

The Moabite’s heart yearns once more. “Oh,” he cries, “if only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born the high priest! I would go in there, into the Holy of Holies. I would go in there every day. I would go in three times a day. I would worship continually in the Holy of Holies.”

The gatekeeper looks at him again and once more shakes his head. “Oh no!” he says, “You couldn’t do that. Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate of preparations, and even then only for a very little while.”

Sadly the Moabite turns away. He has no hope in all the world of ever entering there. (Quoted in Wilson, Jared C. (2013-07-31). The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry (pp. 171-173). Crossway. Kindle Edition.)

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22, ESV)

That’s right. We really can just go on in. Thanks be to Christ!


A Presidential Prayer

An excellent post from Kevin DeYoung on what believers should be praying for in Washington.

This will be short, I promise. There are only two parts to this post: a prayer and plea.

First, the prayer. It’s what I put on my blog the day after election day in 2012.

Our good, gracious, and sovereign God, we pray for the the President of the United States.

Grant him wisdom, courage, and integrity as a man and as a leader.

Keep him faithful, kind, and loving as a husband and father.

Give him a heart for the poor, concern for the powerless, and compassion for the weak.

Put before him the best information and the most intelligent counselors so he can make good decisions about economic policy and judicial appointments.

May he be guided by both courage and restraint as he commands our armed forces.

Make him a defender of the unborn, a protector of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty.

Make him a man of prayer and a daily student of the Scriptures.

Give him humility to admit his faults, forgive his enemies, and change his mind.

Lead him to a firm understanding of the truth of the gospel, a resolute commitment to obey the Word of God, and a passion to promote what accords with your truth.

By your grace, heavenly Father, may our President be a better man than so many expect and a better man than we deserve.

In the name of Jesus our Lord, let it be.

Nothing terribly controversial in that prayer, at least not for evangelical Christians. (Yes, this prayer assumes the president is a man, because that’s what the options were on election day in 2012. But let’s take the gender issue off the table for the moment.) If I’m not mistaken, everything in the prayer above is pretty standard. If you are a serious, Bible-believing, church-going, Jesus-is-coming-back, you-need-to-be-born-again, orthodox Christian, don’t you agree it’s a good idea to pray that our president be faithful, kind, humble, wise, and compassionate? I hope every evangelical Christian reading this blog can say, “Yes, I pray for those things too.”

So here’s my plea: then vote for those things. If at all possible, the candidates we endorse should not be light years away from the prayers we pray. Is there more to being an effective President of the United States than what I’ve captured in these ten petitions? Of course. But if the Lord answered our prayers and gave us a president who checked all these boxes, we’d have a president we can trust, a president we can respect, a president for whom we can give abundant thanks. If you agree with a prayer like this, look for a candidate who most readily and genuinely, as best as we can fallibly discern, embodies the things we are praying for. If evangelical Christians pray for one thing and vote for another, we’ve either lost our sense for what really matters or we’ve become too cynical to care.

Pray first. Then vote. And make sure the two are related.

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