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Tim Challies

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April 23, 2015

Many times over the years I have invited readers of this blog to join me in a reading project, mostly as part of a program I’ve called Reading Classics Together. We’ve read some incredible books together—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Christianity & Liberalism by Gresham Machen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, and a whole lot more. Most recently we read through John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (for the second time!). I think it is time to read another classic.

This time around I would like to look back to the Puritan era and to read a work by John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence. While I have never read this one before, it comes highly recommended by many people I know and trust. When considering Puritan works there is no better source to turn to than Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, and here is what they say about it:

The [Banner of Truth] edition divides this book into three sections. In the first, Flavel explains the evidence of providence in the birth and upbringing of believers, in their conversion and employment, in their family affairs, and in their sanctification and preservation from evil. In the second, he instructs believers on the art of meditating on the providence of God, explaining the duty of such meditation, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. … Finally, Flavel applies the doctrine of providence by showing its practical implications for believers and the problems of wrestling with it. The book concludes with a chapter titled “The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence.”

Flavel’s book is rich with illustrations. For example, when dealing with the difference between what Flavel calls “our time” and “God’s time,” Flavel concludes that our time is not the proper season for us to receive our mercies, since God’s delay “is nothing else but the time of His preparation of mercies for you, and your heart for mercy, so that you may have it with the greatest advantage of comfort. The foolish child would pluck the apple while it is green; but when it is ripe it drops of its own accord and is more pleasant and wholesome” (p. 139).

This excellent book on providence opens avenues of spiritual knowledge and experience that few believers have probed. It is invaluable for understanding God’s purposes for our lives. Flavel teaches us how to find delight in discerning how God works all things in the world for His glory and our good.

That sounds like a book that will benefit me tremendously. My guess is that it will do the same for you. So why don’t you plan to read it with me?

How It Works

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays, visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

The Mystery of Providence is widely available. However, I have worked out a couple of good deals for you:

  • If you would like to read the paperback version from Banner of Truth, you can order it from Banner’s site and use the coupon code CHALLIES30OFF to get a 30% discount. That will take the price down to $5.60. If you shop at Westminster Books, they have it in stock as well ($6.50).
  • If you prefer electronic books, GLH Publishing was kind enough to hurry their version of the book, and to price it at just $0.99. It is available at Amazon.
  • If you prefer to read it online, Google will find you some free versions.

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on May 7, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 13 chapters, meaning the program will last for 13 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to May 7.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

April 23, 2015

The Rare Jewel of Christian Commitment - It is a rare jewel, indeed. “Scripture and experience teach us that commitment to the Lord and to His people in the church is one of the rarest and yet most precious graces.”

So Much Stuff, So Little Time - “I need things. What gets confusing is knowing the difference between the things we need and the things we don’t need.”

Ask often, “What does the Bible say?” - It is simple but sound counsel.

Does God Heal Today? - Josh Buice takes on a question that is always controversial.

How to Be Productive - Here is how to be productive according to the Bible.

DayMap - DayMap is an app that may appeal to pastors or anyone else who could benefit from “organizing your projects and tasks by visually mapping out your life.”

The opposite of love is not correction but indifference. —Anthony Thiselton

Thiselton

 

April 22, 2015

A few weeks ago I announced that I will be hosting a summer internship program for several high school students. For 8 weeks we will focus on theology and worldview while also working on improving writing and communication skills. All of this can and will be done via the Internet, which means that students from around the world were welcome to apply. In the end, nearly 100 people applied for those 3 internships, with the applications coming in from all across the globe. And let me tell you: The future of the church is looking pretty good.

I deliberately made the application process just a little bit difficult in order to force the students to think carefully before applying. After answering a series of questions ranging from “What is your favorite subject at school” to “What are some ways you serve in your church?”, each of the applicants had to record a short video testimonial—an explanation of how the Lord saved them. I have watched each one of these videos now, and I don’t know when I have been more encouraged.

100 videos at a few minutes each: Do the math and you’ll see that I spent somewhere around 8 hours watching teenagers tell how they became Christians, and then I spent a few more hours reading their answers to the application questions. Now, I promised them confidentiality, so will not speak about any person in particular, but I do think it is interesting to reflect on the applicants as a group. Here are some things I observed.

Of the 100 videos I watched, nearly all of the students were able to articulate the gospel, and were able to express the difference between their life before conversion and their life after. Very few of the students used generic language or easy Christianese; instead, they were able to express how they had personally placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and they were able to explain how the gospel has turned away God’s well-deserved wrath while giving them Christ’s perfect righteousness. Time and time again I heard students express the best truths in deeply personal and soundly biblical ways.

Of the people who applied, roughly half are homeschooled and the other half are divided between public and Christian school. There was no discernible difference between the groups when it came to their understanding of the gospel and their ability to express it. The same was true when it came to church background—whether they were Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace, Evangelical Free or Reformed Presbyterian, whether they were from The Summit Church, Covenant Life Church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Harvest Bible Chapel, or the little church down the road, almost all of them expressed a similarly deep understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I am not sure why this is noteworthy, but I feel it is: The vast majority of the applicants, over 90%, were Caucasian. There were a few exceptions, though even when there were exceptions the applicants would often tell that they had been adopted into Caucasian families. Whatever else this means, I suppose it means this: If we take the readers of my web site as a kind of “core sample” of the New Calvinism, it remains largely a movement of and by middle-class white people. (I will grant, of course, that many non-Caucasian folk may be thoroughly Reformed but not able to participate in an English-based internship program.)

Another observation I made is how many young people make a profession of faith when they are very young—5 or 6 years old—but then later doubt the reality or significance of that profession. Most can articulate a time when they were a little bit older, often around 10, 12, or 14, when they either had what they now consider a true conversion experience, or when they suddenly realized that they needed to have a faith independent of their parents. Time and again I heard of the good Christian kid who said the right things when he or she was very young, but then actually began to live as a Christian in those early teenage years.

Parents and pastors ought to be encouraged. What you are teaching your children is making a difference. What you are preaching from the pulpit is making a difference. Almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at home, and almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at church. And, not surprisingly, over time the gospel did its work in them. If there was anything that concerns me, it is how few of these teens spoke of older friends or mentors (who are neither parents nor pastors) who had helped them in their journey to faith. Get involved in the lives of teens!

My final observation is this: It is going to be excruciating to trim down the list of applicants to only 3. Even after going through the applications again and again, I’ve got at least 10 times more people remaining then I can actually accept. Yet time and finances (this is, after all, a paid internship) dictate that I cannot offer the internship to all of them. In the end I am still looking for 3 normal, godly teens who are eager to learn more about theology and worldview. But I’m also trying to figure out if there is some way that I can at least double that to 6. It grieves me to have to say no to any of them.

(A final note: If you applied for the internship program, you can expect to hear from me over the next couple of days.)

April 22, 2015

These Go To 11 - Earlier this week I recorded a podcast with Greg Dutcher and we talked about all kinds of things—pornography, Reformed theology and even baseball. If you’re into podcasts you can listen in at the link. 

In Praise of Hymns - CBS News recently highlighted Keith Getty. And I don’t think they got his Irish sense of humor at all.

Dispatches From the Front - My favorite DVD series is on sale at Westminster Books. Speaking of which, check out the blog post Who Can Be Against Us?.

JBMW - The Journal for Bibilical Manhood and Womanhood has released a new issue that is free for the taking.

10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know - Just like the title says.

Present Heaven and Future Heaven - What’s the difference between present heaven and future heaven? Randy Alcorn answers.

Don’t Be Theologically Dumb - “When you love God with your heart but not your mind, you end up loving the god of your imagination, not the God of the universe.”

True joy comes only from God and He shares this joy with those who walk in fellowship with Him. —Jerry Bridges

Bridges

April 21, 2015

There is little doubt that abortion is one of the greatest horrors of our time. I am very confident that a day will come when future generations will express shock and amazement that we ever allowed such a genocide to take place. They will be amazed that so many stood idly by, and that so many others denied what is very obvious: That a pre-born child is still a child with the rights of any other human being.

I recently stumbled upon a new documentary series from PBS titled Twice Born. This series looks at the new and groundbreaking medical frontier that is fetal surgery. It gives access to the doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and who specialize in surgeries that are done on babies while they are still inside their mother’s wombs. This series is one of the greatest arguments against abortion you will ever see.

Through the three episodes of Twice Born we are introduced to four parents or sets of parents, though the vast majority of the attention goes to two of them: Lesly, a mother whose child was delivered via an EXIT procedure (where the baby is partially delivered so the doctors can perform her surgery) and Bobby and Shelly, whose daughter needed fetal surgery for Spina Bifida. I found myself especially intrigued by Bobby and Shelly since they make it clear that they are Christians and that they are filtering all they experience through a biblical lens.

As I watched the episodes unfold, there were several things that stood out to me.

The series testifies to God’s common grace. God is good and he freely and widely dispenses grace to the people he has made. In Twice Born we see that “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). We see doctors and nurses who are not Christians and who may even deny the existence of God, but we see them using the gifts and talents God has given them to do astounding things. They perform the most difficult and intricate medical procedures, accomplishing things that just a few years ago we could not even have imagined. They do their jobs with love, compassion, and amazing skill.

The series proclaims the value of life. The parents who walk into The Children’s Hospital do not talk about their blob of tissue or their little fetus. They have absolutely no doubt that they are carrying a child and they have no doubt that they want to do what is best for that child. While the subject of “termination” does come up at one point, the parents obviously cannot even tolerate the thought of ending the life of their child. Twice Born makes it plain: life in the womb is real life.

The series testifies that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). The doctors describe the intricacy of the human body and the amazing reality that they are operating on children who are just a few inches in size and still months away from being born. The cameras catch the incredible beauty and function of the human form. The parents marvel at the children given to them. God reveals himself as the ultimate artist.

Twice Born is a powerful documentary and one I commend to you. Though it makes no attempt to further the pro-life position, it cannot help but do so. It is a joy to watch as it powerfully proclaims the goodness and the greatness of the Creator.

If you are in America you should be able to watch the series for free online at PBS.org. If you are overseas you may be able to purchase the DVD, or wait and hope that it comes to Netflix.

Note: If you are squeamish you may want to be aware that the series can be a little bit graphic when it comes to the medical procedures. Also, some viewers may object to a scene in the first episode where a very pregnant mother sits through a photo shoot wearing just a bra or bikini top.

April 21, 2015

Zondervan has lots of good books on sale today, including Brian Croft’s excellent Practical Shepherding series: The Pastor’s Family; Prepare Them to Shepherd; Visit the Sick; Comfort the Grieving; Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals; Gather God’s People ($2.99 each). Also consider For the City by Darrin Patrick ($3.99).

Messy Community - It’s so true: “When life gets hard and there is no laughter to share, that’s when friendship is seen for what it truly is. When life gets messy, that’s where the rubber meets the road.”

I Pray This for my Children - Gregory Harris offers help on how to pray for your children.

Pray for Dr. Sproul - “Last Saturday, Dr. Sproul checked himself into the hospital. The doctors suspect he had a mild stroke. He remains in the hospital for further testing and observation. The Sproul family requests your prayers.”

It Will Fail - Peter Leithart says that gay marriage will fail and offers a very compelling argument to support his claim.

Religious Liberty Is Not Freedom from Ridicule - Here’s an important distinction.

Will We See God? - Now that is a deep question: Will we one day gaze directly at the full glory of God?

Church Plant Media and I are pleased to announce the winner of last week’s Free Stuff Fridays website giveaway contest. Doug Short from New River Valley Christian Fellowship was selected as the winner, and his church will receive a free responsive website, free monthly fees for the life of the site, and a free graphics package to get the site up and running. Congratulations Doug!

Anger may be handled wrongly in either one of two ways: blowing up and clamming up. —Jay Adams

Adams

April 20, 2015

I find one of the trickiest matters of Christian living to be the matter of motives. I often find myself wondering why I do the things I do. Just as often, I find myself wondering why I do not do those things I refuse to do. Sometimes, even with a lot of focused thought, I can make little headway.

I think the Apostle Paul would identify with me. In Romans 7, he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (vv. 15–16). He was not looking to his motives per se, but he was still considering his life and finding that he was unable to discern why he did sinful things even when he wanted to do holy things. He saw his lack of holiness and his pursuit of sin and marveled at his own inability to do even the good things he wanted to do.

Like Paul, I am a Christian. I have been granted salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Day by day, my mind is being transformed by God’s Word, and I am being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

As the Lord does this work within me, I find a growing ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation. When I am sinned against, I have a greater knowledge of Scripture to draw upon as I attempt to respond with grace. When I am asked to give money to a cause or a mission, I have deeper wells to draw from as I consider whether this is a worthy cause. When I am faced with a decision and am uncertain whether I should stay or go, whether I should say yes or no, I increasingly have the mind of Christ and with it the ability to make a wise and God-honoring decision.

And yet sometimes I still do not know why I do the things I do. Am I giving to that mission because I believe the Lord is using those people to do His work in his world, or am I giving to that mission because it makes me feel good or because I want the missionary to respect me? Am I speaking grace-filled words to the person who offended me because I really love him despite the offense, or am I doing it to show off and to convince myself of my own holiness?

Too often I simply do not know. I pray and think and ponder and in the end I simply cannot untwist it all. We are complex people with complex motives. We are being made holy, but in the meantime we still have sin clinging to every part of ourselves.

I have found freedom in two ways. The first is repenting of poor motives. Even if I cannot pinpoint where my motives are sinful, I know there must be some sin in them, and so I ask that they be forgiven through the work of Jesus Christ. And then I determine to concern myself less with discerning motives and more with doing the right thing. I look to the cross, I look to the Bible, and I attempt to discern the next right thing to do for God’s glory.

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