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December 06, 2014

I was able to find just one new Kindle deal today: Paul Well’s Taking the Bible at its Work ($3.99); Beyond that, it was a great week for Kindle deals, so feel free to browse through this week’s A La Carte archives if you’re looking for some new reading.

This article from TIME outlines 10 Tricks Companies Use to Get You to Buy More. Don’t fall for them!

You may well have encountered the “You’re Not Really Pro-Life Unless…” argument. Here’s why it doesn’t stand up.

Reuters offers their Best Photos of the Year 2014. Warning: Some of them (especially the very first) are brutal. They aptly highlight the horror of life in this world.

This article offers several helpful points as it focuses on Missionary Life: No Shortcuts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, here is why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong.

We Don’t Need a Mrs. Jesus - This article makes many valid points about how people are prone to make Jesus less than human, and Mary more than human.

If a man be not saved on this side of the grave, he will never be saved on the other. —William Jay


Thanks to P&R Publishing for sponsoring the blog this week with their article Grace Abounding.

December 05, 2014

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books. It has been a little while since I’ve sorted through the piles and to tell you which of them have risen to the top. Here are some of the new and notable books I’ve received in the past month or so.

SeifridThe Second Letter to the Corinthians by Mark Selfrid is a new volume in the excellent Pillar New Testament Commentary series which is edited by D.A. Carson. Carson commends this volume. He says that over the past few decades modern scholarship has suggested all kinds of novel interpretations of 2 Corinthians. “Through all of these Dr. Seifrid proves to be a patient and sure-footed guide. The result is a commentary that makes 2 Corinthians come alive against as a letter that provides its own unique contribution to the Pauline corpus, to the New Testament, and to the entire Bible — and thus to the church of God in the twenty-first century.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

FeeThe First Epistle to the Corinthians by Gordon Fee is a revised edition of his commentary from the New International Commentary on the New Testament, which was first published in 1987. Fee’s commentary was already considered one of the top-two or -three commentaries on 1 Corinthians, and I trust that this new edition will only cement its place. In his commentary on the commentaries D.A. Carson says Carson says that this (or Garland’s) is the best commentary on 1 Corinthians, and most experts appear to agree and have some difficulty with selecting one over the other. Both Carson and Derek Thomas regard this as a helpful volume while pointing out some weaknesses, and especially Fee’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. His argument for the continuation of all gifts is said to be helpful and well-formed, whether or not that is your position. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

ScriptureScripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, edited by Bob Kellemen. Here is what the publisher says about this one: “Part of the Biblical Counseling Coalition series, Scripture and Counseling brings you the wisdom of twenty ministry leaders who write so you can have confidence that God’s Word is sufficient, necessary, and relevant to equip God’s people to address the complex issues of life in a broken world. It blends theological wisdom with practical expertise and is accessible to pastors, church leaders, counseling practitioners, and students, equipping them to minister the truth and power of God’s word in the context of biblical counseling, soul care, spiritual direction, pastoral care, and small group facilitation.” The foreword is written by Albert Mohler who says it “is representative of the type of theologically sophisticated and pastorally sensitive counseling literature needed in evangelical churches.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

AllisonRoman Catholic Theology & Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by Gregg Allison. I read enough of this one to see that it is quite an interesting book that attempts to provide a very fair treatment of Roman Catholic theology in comparison to Evangelical theology. Here is the editorial description: “In this balanced volume, Gregg Allison—an evangelical theologian and church historian—helps readers understand the nuances of Roman Catholic teaching. Walking through the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, Allison summarizes and assesses Catholic doctrine from the perspective of both Scripture and evangelical theology. Noting prominent similarities without glossing over key differences, this book will equip Christians on both sides of the ecclesiastical divide to fruitfully engage in honest dialogue with one another.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Matt PapaLook and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. I haven’t gotten far into this one yet, but have enjoyed what I’ve read. “Matt Papa was a “professional Christian” in full-time ministry, ready and determined to change the world. All the while he was depressed, addicted to the approval of others, and enslaved to sin. But then everything changed. He encountered the glory of God. All of us live in the tension between where we are and where we ought to be. We try our best to bully our desires into submission. And we all know, this is exhausting. Are you tired? Stuck? Still fighting the same sin you’ve been fighting for years? The call in these pages is not to work or to strive, but to lift your eyes. You don’t need more willpower. You need a vision of greatness that sweeps you off your feet. You need to see glory.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Truth in a Culture of DoubtTruth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible by Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw. “Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes a closer look at the key arguments skeptical scholars such as [Bart] Ehrman keep repeating in radio interviews, debates, and in his their popular writings. If you are looking for insightful responses to critical arguments from a biblical perspective, easily accessible and thoughtfully presented, this book is for you. This is the first book to provide a comprehensive response to Ehrman’s popular works. It is presented in such a way that readers can either read straight through the book or use it as a reference when particular questions arise. Responding to skeptical scholars such as Ehrman, Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes readers on a journey to explain topics such as the Bible’s origins, the copying of the Bible, alleged contradictions in Scripture, and the relationship between God and evil. Written for all serious students of Scripture, this book will enable you to know how to respond to a wide variety of critical arguments raised against the reliability of Scripture and the truthfulness of Christianity.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

December 05, 2014

There are a handful of new Kindle deals to tell you about: What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul ($2.99); Why Believe the Bible? by John MacArthur ($1.99); The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias ($1.99); The HCSB Study Bible ($2.99). New from GLH Publishing is the classic The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie ($0.99). Amazon has begun another of their “Big Deals” which marks down a lot of Kindle books (Click here for the complete list.)

7 Reasons Why BioLogos Is A Threat - Douglas Wilson outlines 7 ways that BioLogos is a threat to classical education … and to a whole lot else.

Stop Wasting Time - Here are some ways to stop wasting your colleages’ time.

How Salvation Brings Freedom - This is good stuff from Jen Wilkin. “I grew up in the Bible Belt where, by mid-elementary, most of the kids in my peer group could point proudly to a note written in the front of their Bibles announcing the exact date they Got Saved.”

$5 Friday - Ligonier has some good items in this week’s $5 Friday: Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile, The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul, plus various ebooks and teaching series.

When You Are In Between Jobs - Luke Murry offers wisdom on those times you are between jobs.

Themelios - A new issue of Themelios is available to read or download. You can download it in PDF and/or Logos formats.

Why It’s Hard to Catch Typos - If you ever write, you know how tough it is to catch your own typos. Here’s an explanation.

Most people are brought to faith in Christ, not by argument for it, but by exposure to it. —Samuel Shoemaker


December 04, 2014

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Put Your Faith in Christ

Owen’s first instruction is simple: Set your faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. “His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conquerer; you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your [sin] dead at your feet.”

Owen is not speaking about saving faith here, since at this point he already assumes that. Rather, he is talking about exercising your existing faith to believe that Christ has died not only for your salvation, but also for your sanctification. To practice this kind of faith you need to:

  • Raise up your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. “Though it may seem somewhat long to you, while you are under your trouble and perplexity, yet it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best season.”
  • Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great High Priest at the right hand of God. “Assuredly he pities you in your distress. … He is able, having suffered and been tempted, to break through all dissuasions to the contrary, to relieve poor and tempted souls.”
  • Consider the faithfulness of him who has made the promise. “He has promised to relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his word to the utmost.”
  • Act faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ. “Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ. … Whatever came upon our natures by [Satan’s] first temptation, whatever receives strength in our persons by his daily suggestions, Christ died to destroy it all.”
  • Act faith upon the death of Christ in expectation of power and in endeavors for conformity. “Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into your heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to your corruptions. Do this daily.”

Rely on the Power of the Holy Spirit

As the section draws to a close, Owen wants the reader to remember all he has already said about the Holy Spirit and how true mortification is only ever carried out by the power of the Spirit.

  • The Spirit alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the sin to be put to death. “Without this conviction, or while it is so faint that the heart can wrestle with it or digest it, there will be no thorough work made.”
  • The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief. “[This] is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing despondency.”
  • The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.
  • The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
  • The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
  • In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from the Spirit.

This makes a fitting conclusion to Owen’s instructions on putting sin to death. With all the instructions made, we have now only to look to Christ, to trust in Christ, and to rely on his Holy Spirit. So simple. Yet it is the Christian’s lifetime work.

Reading Classics Together

Thanks to all who read this book with me. It was a joy to read it with you and to read your many, excellent comments and summaries. Do consider reading the other parts of the book, as there is so much more to learn from John Owen. And stay tuned; at some point I’ll suggest another classic we can read together.

December 04, 2014

There are not a lot of new Kindle deals today. However, you’ll want to grab Ed Welch’s book Depression which is free for the day. Also, The World of Jesus by William Marty looks interesting at $0.99, while Reckless Abandon by David Sitton is $0.99 as well.

Children’s Book Sale - Reformation Trust (i.e. Ligonier Ministries) has all of its children’s books on sale today only, just on time for Christmas shopping. They are great stories and are beautifully illustrated.

Evil Spirits and Electricity Problems - Here’s another fascinating article from Amy in Tanzania.

Read the Bible - I quite like the idea of this one-year Bible-reading plan. Bonus: You get to read a good book while reading the Good Book.

Persecution Update: Somalia - Frontline Ministries has an important persecution update from Somalia.

An Urgent Ministry Opportunity - Crossway is looking for your help in distributing 250,000 study Bibles.

Reflections on Christian Publishing - Dane Ortlund offers some interesting reflections on Christian publishing.

Ebola Is Still Ravaging Sierra Leone - “America has stopped paying attention, but Ebola is still ravaging Sierra Leone.”

God has so closely twisted his own glory and our happiness together, that as we advance the one we promote the other. —C.H. Spurgeon


December 03, 2014

It’s the easiest thing in the world to say: “Yes, I’ll pray about that.” And it’s the easiest thing to neglect. The list of all the things I’ve said I’d pray for but then forgotten about would stretch from here to next year. So I’ve started to say, “No, I won’t pray for you.” I am still not entirely comfortable with it, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

We recently had someone—a stranger—call the church to ask for prayer. She called out of the blue one morning, from a phone number far away. She said she was feeling sick and needed people to pray for her. Every day for the next six months. “Can I count on you to pray for me?”

For one of the first times in my life I felt total freedom. I said, “I am going to pray for you once, but I will not pray for you every day. I will not pray for you for six months.” I explained that I have my own church to care for, and that I need to pray for those people. I asked about her church and she told me where she attends. I recognized it as a good church, full of people who pray, and pastors who care. I explained that God expects her church to care for her, and her church to pray for her, and that calling all the churches in Toronto and asking them to heap up prayers for someone they don’t know may be little more than superstition.

I thought I got through to her. But a week later the phone rang again and it was the same woman. She had obviously forgotten to scratch the name of our church off her list. I reminded her of what I said last time and told her that I was not praying for her anymore. She hung up on me.

I once spent a couple of hours with a small group of people and a well-known pastor whose voice goes out on the radio and who has listeners around the world. He is a man of prayer, and one who battles against the easy “Pray for me!” He understands that some people think his prayers are especially powerful because he is a celebrity; he understands that some people have disobediently distanced themselves from the local church and are now looking for someone, anyone, to pray for them; he understands that some people are superstitious toward prayer. So he told how he learned to say “No.” Even better, he learned to say, “I will pray for you right now but then I expect you to go to your local church and ask them to pray for you.” He prays immediately and prays once, but no more.

I learned from him, and feel the freedom not to pray. I feel the freedom not to pray because I cannot pray for everyone and everything. God has given me spheres of responsibility and a finite amount of time. I have to use the best and the bulk of my time to care for those people who are closest to me—my family, my friends, my neighbors, my church. One of the ways I care for them is by praying for them. But since there is much more to my life than prayer, I have to use that prayer time well, giving it to those matters and those people I am most responsible for. And that is what I attempt to do—to pray earnestly and repeatedly for the people I am responsible for, and to allow others to pray for the people they are responsible for.

I am quite sure it is better this way. It gives me an opportunity to teach people about prayer, it gives me an opportunity to model prayer, and it keeps me from saying I will do what I will not and cannot do.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 03, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Forgotten Songs by Ray Van Neste & Richard Wells ($2.99); The Children of Divorce by Andrew Root ($1.99); Lost and Found by Ed Stetzer ($2.99); When Missions Shapes the Mission by David Horner ($2.99); Theology and Practice of Mission by Bruce Ashford ($2.99).

On Stewarding Technology Well - There is lots of wise counsel in this article. 

Whatever Happened to Rob Bell? - Exactly what people predicted, I guess.

Noel - I really enjoyed this new and free rendition of “The First Noel.” (Alternate link)

Christian Celebrity Mascots - “The evangelical Christian community has a history of glamorizing conversion stories not only when that conversion falls from the lips of a celebrity, but perhaps particularly so in those instances…”

A Still, Small Voice - Here’s a helpful explanation of the still small voice of 1 Kings 19:11-12.

The Divorce Surge Is Over - “Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.”

If you have only been born once you will die twice, but if you are born twice you will only die once. —Steven Lawson


December 02, 2014

Here’s a new book that combines two things I love: Books that come from off the beaten path, and ones that deal with interesting but ordinary people. As it happens, John Stott’s Right Hand was privately published after being turned down by trade publishers, and it tells the life of a fascinating but relatively unknown individual.

John Stott’s name is known around the world. For decades he was one of Evangelicalism’s most prominent voices. His ministry impacted millions and his legacy will endure for generations. What most people do not know is that for 55 years Frances Whitehead served alongside him as his secretary. But she was more than that. She was his gatekeeper, stenographer, typist, encourager, and enabler. Fittingly, before he died he also made her executor of his estate. This book tells her story.

Whitehead first encountered Stott when she, as an unbeliever, began attending his church. She was a young woman working for the BBC and would sometimes walk across the road to visit his church on her lunch break. Going into that church she would hear Stott preach, and over time the words he preached began to take root, and she came to faith. It was not too long after her conversion that Stott asked her to serve as his secretary. She accepted the position, little knowing that she would hold it for more than five decades.

For all those years Stott and Whitehead labored side-by-side, both of them remaining single and both of them remaining singularly focused. She typed his books, she kept people from interfering with his rigid schedule, she organized his life, she drove him to and from the airport, and she even traveled with him on many occasions. She sat beside him in the nursing home when he went to glory, and eulogized him at his funeral. She was his helper and right hand through almost his entire ministry. 

Of course people will naturally wonder about the nature of the relationship. Was it romantic? Did they ever struggle with feelings for one another? Is it even possible that they could work together so closely and for so long while maintaining a platonic relationship? Indeed, it is.

John’s and Frances’s ability to work together so closely for so long was a mark of grace. Two single people of similar age working long hours, under pressure, in pursuit of the same goal, would, for most mission agencies or churches now be avoided. It is a tribute to both of them that for twenty years, before the study assistants arrived, they succeeding in working so closely as a team of two. They both had a high level of inner discipline, partly innately and perhaps partly the product of their upbringing and education. While unspoken to one another, they resolutely did not allow for romantic hopes to take root; embarrassment and awkwardness would have undermined a remarkable working friendship.

It was a unique partnership, and one for which the English language perhaps has no word.In an age which underplays the dignity of serving, it is hard to understand that aspect alone of Frances’s make-up, a woman so able in her own right. Her role was texture, layered, diverse. It has been described as a kind of “marriage without the marriage.”

What kept them from transgression, or even true and godly romance, was their shared sense of calling. Stott believed God had called him to a life of singleness so he could give himself to writing, teaching, and raising up leaders. Whitehead believed God had called her to a life of singleness so she could serve Stott. Mark Labberton says, “It was a relationship of mutual honor and love, respect and affection, playfulness and partnership, independence and interdependence. John was able to do what he did because Frances was able to do what she did.”

Whitehead’s life is interesting because she is an interesting person, but it is interesting as well because it intersected the life of such an important figure. She allowed him to be who he was, and she allowed him to do what he did. Those of us who have benefitted from Stott’s books and commentaries and other efforts have unknowingly benefitted from Whitehead’s long service. She is one of those unsung and unknown Christians who faithfully served her Savior by serving one of his servants. I am thankful that we can now know her story as well as Stott’s, because it is, really, just one story in two parts.