Rev. Christopher MacRae
Kilmallie Free Church Manse
Phone: 01397 704434
Registered Scottish Charity SC038140
This project is being part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Highland Leader 2007 - 2013 programme
As Cool As the Other Side of a Calvinist
If you know Calvinists, you probably know some bad ones. The stereotypes aren’t fair, but they don’t come out of nowhere. Calvinists are “cold,” “heady,” and “condescending.” They think they have it all figured out and everyone else is blind, slow, or stubborn. They’re so lost in their books, they’re not interested in the needs around them. And they’ve somehow misplaced Christ, but are quite content to follow John Calvin. Unfair, but not uncommon enough either.
But what if there’s another side to Calvinism — a real side, with flesh and love and humility and a living, breathing passion for Jesus? We’re not doubting you’ve had bad experiences with so-called Calvinists, but whether the experiences you’ve had are really examples of true Calvinism. If all your encounters have been bad, or others’ stories so off-putting they’ve kept you away entirely, we ask you to give us just four minutes with this video above. It’s the poet himself reading, with subtitles so you can follow the words carefully. (There is also a version with multiple readers which we released last week.)
The poem is an opportunity to hear from a man, who has lived these truths, and lived by them, for more than forty years. But more importantly it’s an invitation to meet his big, sovereign, gracious God — a God big enough for the hard things you face in this life, big enough to make sense of a long, old, complex book like the Bible, and big enough for everyday life in a broken world.
A God Big Enough for Our Bible
The Bible is a big, complicated, sometimes downright confusing book. Paul wrote, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). If we are to understand the divine and eternal words God has given us in Scripture, we need help — God’s help. That says a lot about the kind of book we’re holding. It’s not always easy reading.
But even while dealing with spiritual hurdles, the book itself is unusual and difficult. Sixty-six books, more than three dozen authors, spanning hundreds of years. Countless wars, incredible miracles, massive murders, unthinkable promises. And over it all, an all-knowing, all-powerful, always present One. And he’s made it clear that he has given us this big, complicated, sometimes downright confusing Book in order that we might know him (John 5:39; Psalm 119:2).
So he has to be big enough to create, sustain, reign, and hold together a crazy story and history like Christianity’s. We should ask ourselves, does our understanding of God — his love and wisdom and power — does it leave us embarrassed of God in certain passages of the Bible? Do we feel like we have to explain him out of evil and suffering? If so, maybe we haven’t seen the fullness of who God really is in Scripture.
A God Big Enough for Our Brokenness
A lot of people reject the God of Calvinism because they can’t imagine a good God being sovereign over the awful things in their lives. Chronic disease. Loss of a child. Rape. Natural disaster. Abuse. How could a loving Father allow such tragic things to happen to me, my family, or seemingly innocent people around the world?
But what if we have not truly known the sweetness of surviving suffering until we’ve met a God big enough to cause, stop, or deliver you through it all? Too many people want to trade away God’s power to keep him from being culpable for our pain. But he never asks for that in the Bible. He simply asks us to trust that he is carrying it all out for the best, lasting good of those who love him (Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 16:33; Romans 8:28).
With the God of the Bible, none of our suffering is outside of his control, and therefore none of it is meaningless, but it is working real, full, lasting good for us forever. Instead of pretending God’s not available or able to do anything in the tragedy, he wants our weaknesses and pain and questions to lead us to radical dependence on him — on his sovereign power and faithfulness to his promises. He’s not just an EMT that’s first to the scene of the tragedy, but for everyone who believes in him, he’s the life and breath and strength and heartbeat that’s with us and working for us before, during, after, and in the hardship.
A God Big Enough for Our Everyday
If Calvinism isn’t relevant for our life today — even the mundane details of our life — we should reject and ignore it. Sadly, I think most people make that judgment without ever really asking the question. What the Bible and the video above show so beautifully is that the sovereignty of God and his love for sinners relates to absolutely everything we do. Calvinism causes a hopeful, hard-working complete dependence on God and an undivided devotion to his glory in every area of life — marriage, parenting, school, vocation, failure, recreation, even death.
So our prayer with this poem and our ministry is that you would meet a big God, a God who can rule your life and world and leave you with your very last breath saying, “Gain!”
Resources on Calvinism:
The Allure of Middle-Earth
More than seventy-five years after J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, the glory and majesty of Middle-earth continues to draw millions of readers, and more recently, moviegoers. This week, theaters prepare for Friday’s opening of the acclaimed new movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Partly, Tolkien’s enduring popularity can be explained by the way he artfully touches the greatest themes of our collective experience of this world. Tolkien draws on themes of glory and majesty and kingship — intangible and abstract realities not easy to tap in art — and deeply embeds those themes into Middle-earth.
On a massive scale in The Lord of the Rings, and on a smaller, but no less significant, scale in The Hobbit, we encounter the longing for the right king to emerge from the shadows and to recapture his rightful empire, an ancient yearning older than mythical kings like King Arthur.
Today, kings are mostly marginalized to meaningless pageantry. But there remains in kingship an enduring significance that is inescapable, something deeply burned into our souls, something telling us the world will only prosper when it’s ruled by the true king.
Where no kings reign, evil reigns. Tolkien knows this. This is what makes the Misty Mountains so treacherous for the company of Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gandalf, the travelers in The Hobbit. From the outset of their journey together, the wise wizard knows full well that to travel “over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled,” meant danger and “fearful adventure.”
No foot treads casually through realms unruled.
The kings must return, and the returning king in The Hobbit is Thorin, the true king of the Lonely Mountain and its vast caverns of golden wealth. When we enter the story, Thorin has been displaced by a wicked usurper, a liar and a stealer, the dragon named Smaug who is “the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.” Smaug’s mutiny is driven by his wrongful claim to be, in his own words, “the real King under the Mountain.”
He wasn’t, but his false claim sets up a climactic declaration later in The Hobbit: “I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain! I return!”
The Hobbit should be read (or viewed) as a clash of competing kings, and when the rightful king returns, evil is imperiled. The great dragon Smaug must be struck down, and he will be, and rumors of his death will unleash waves of lesser evils, all vying for the wealth of the Lonely Mountain.
All these evil, greedy marauders must be driven from the Lonely Mountain, and such victory is tied to kingship.
The king is come unto his hall,
Under the Mountain dark and tall.
The Worm of Dread is slain and dead,
And ever so our foes shall fall.
If the great dragon falls and the true king returns, all other foes are doomed. The return of the king and the death of Smaug bring revolution to Middle-earth. As The Hobbit ends, we read of the Misty Mountains, the range of mountains once unruled, now governed by Beorn, the shape-shifing man/bear. Under Beorn, the Misty Mountains will be expelled of goblins and Wargs, evil will retreat, and men will travel through the Misty Mountains in peace.
Kings in Middle-Earth
This is how Middle-earth works. Unashamedly, Middle-earth is a world of kings. In his book The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft perceptively picks up on this point.
Though we do not have kings in America, or want them, our unconscious mind both has them and wants them. We all know what a true king is, a real king, an ideal king, an archetypal king. He is not a mere politician or soldier. Something in us longs to give him our loyalty and fealty and service and obedience. He is lost but longed for and will some day return, like Arthur.
In The Lord of the Rings, Arthur’s name is “Aragorn.” When we read The Lord of the Rings, he returns to his throne in our minds. He was always there; The Lord of the Rings only brings him back into our consciousness from the tomb of the unconscious, where he was sleeping. (44–45)
Tim Keller builds on this point in a sermon on Psalm 2:
We have to have democracy because human beings are so sinful that none of us really are fit to rule. But we need a king. We were built for a king.
The reason for the old myths, the reason for the new myths (all the superhero myths are new myths about kings), the reason we adore kings and create them is because there is a memory trace in the human race, in you and me, of a great King, an ancient King, one who did rule with such power and wisdom and compassion and justice and glory so his power and wisdom and compassion and glory were like the sun shining in full strength. We know we were built to submit to that King, to stand before and adore and serve and know that King.
That’s what the Bible says. The Bible says there is a King above the kings. There is a King behind the kings. There is a King beneath all of those legends. Even the greatest kings are just dim reflections of the memory trace in us.
Tolkien taps into this deep ache within us. We were made by a King, and we were made to be ruled by him. And when the right king reigns, prosperity will again reign over the land. The biblical prophets understood this (Isaiah 60), and it is this prophetic longing Tolkien puts into the mouths of the Dwarves, who solemnly, longingly sing,
The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!
His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.
The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.
The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
And sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king’s return!
Thorin, the returning king in The Hobbit, is no Aragorn (the returning king in The Lord of the Rings). Thorin is a flawed king, egotistical and cranky, and yet he carries the hopes of the ancient prophecy.
Hope and letdown are intertwined in our kings. All of our kings will go wrong somehow (1 Samuel 8). Too often, our kings grow selfish. And even the most selfless of our kings will die. They are slayed in battle (like Thorin), or they are slayed by the ticking clock (according to Gollum’s riddle).
And therein is the problem: in the end, none of our kings will do.
The Return of the King
And so we find ourselves caught. We don’t want kings, but our modern disdain to be ruled by them cannot snuff out this “memory trace in the human race.” As much as we modern, king-rejecting, independents may reject the thought, we really do know we were made to be ruled, made to be governed by a perfectly righteous King, a king worthy of all our obedience and service, who will finally usher in perfect peace and unleash rivers of joyful abundance so great that piles of gold coins will fade to metaphor.
This is the allure of Middle-earth.
We are drawn to Middle-earth by this swelling, ungratified longing for the Day when the true King will return to evict the vile dragon and reclaim the land he has, in reality, always possessed (2 Timothy 4:8).
The prophetic songs are in place.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
More from Desiring God on Tolkien and The Hobbit:
For All Who Ever Lost a Child
Suffering. Evil. Death. All of us experience them. They consume the lives of our precious loved ones — sometimes in unspeakably horrible ways. They bend us to the ground and produce tearful groanings too deep for words.
Jesus was not immune from these realities. Nor were those who found themselves caught in the cosmic crossfire surrounding the Incarnation. In Bethlehem, babies were killed because Jesus was born.
Reading what is perhaps his most loved story, The Innkeeper, Pastor John has us look into the face of tragedy, as experienced by Herod’s brutal slaughter of little boys. Then he turns us toward the shining face of hope. If we have the eyes of faith to see it, the sting of futility will be forever removed from death.
A year since it debuted, we post this video once again as a Christmas gift from all of us at Desiring God, especially for all who ever lost a child.
Living with the Loss of a Loved One
For Lyle Dorsett, it was the sudden loss of his ten-year-old daughter Erica. She came down sick one night, and she died the next morning.
Years later, Dorsett and his wife Mary still are healing. Losing a child is a long, painful journey. There have been times, Dorsett says, when he’s thought, God, if I were in charge, I wouldn’t have done it this way. But his ways are higher than ours — and he doesn’t leave his children without a wealth of resources for comfort, even and especially when the path of pain is long and dark.
The Different Ways We Suffer
The Dorsetts found no silver bullets for lessening the loss, but they did find a God with broad enough shoulders, and tender enough hands, to show himself both sovereign and good. They learned to live in faith, just day by day, relying on divine promises, like Jesus’s word in John 14:16–17,
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
They took Jesus at his word and leaned on the Comforter who dwelt with them.
The Dorsetts also found they suffered differently. Over time, it seemed to be tougher on Mary, who went into a dark night of the soul. Spouses often find that they process grief and loss in varying ways when a loved one has been taken from them.
Rallying the Body
They did discover what a tremendous source of help and comfort the local church can be for those learning to live with the loss of a loved one. Especially helpful to the Dorsetts was talking to others who had lost a child and connect in this special way with their loss. Also they saw the body of Christ rally around them to just be present, and weep with them as they wept, and then to assist with basics like food and even cleaning.
There are remarkable resources for blessing the bereaved in the Christian community if we’ll only take the risk to reach out with help, and not assume it would only be a bother, or that someone else will do it.
This 12-minute episode of Theology Refresh is just one man’s story. Dorsett doesn’t attempt to answer every question; it may not be for every sufferer. But we think many will get help from hearing Dorsett’s honest and hope-filled account of how he and his wife learned to walk by faith in the wake of such a tragic loss.
To access this episode, subscribe to Theology Refresh in iTunes, listen or watch at the resource page, download the audio, or watch below.
Recent episodes of Theology Refresh:
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The Hopes and Fears of All the Years
Bethlehem was, is, and likely always will be, just a small town — a small town steeped in ancient history.
In the first century, the historical marker at the center of town — if they posted such historical markers — would have commemorated it as the birthplace of the mighty giant killer, King David. The cherished son of Bethlehem put the town on the map 1,000 years earlier, and perhaps, perhaps, one day the village on top of the quiet hill will pull off the feat again. Dusty scrolls left by ancient prophets told of such a thing (Micah 5:2).
But tonight, silence.
The prophecies are distant memories. All is now hushed and quiet, the hope of a king only a memory muffled by the pressing priorities of life: raising grain, raising sheep, raising children, and paying taxes.
But this night the town finally sleeps, though crowded. The hustle and bustle of census travelers, returned home to be counted, now has dissipated.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
So quiet and still and peaceful is the town, it’s hard to capture on a blog, a place where most of us read so quickly. So imagine for a moment a slower pace and quieter place. No iPods, no headphones, no surround sound. No jets, no traffic, no trains, no ambulances racing down streets. In perfect stillness, we witness a silent invasion, like a storm of chicken-feather snowflakes twisting silently to the ground, carpeting the dirty world in brilliant holiness.
And so during Advent, we slow our pace to his pace, and we read the holy story more slowly. We don’t skim. We watch the new King of Bethlehem enter into a barn-like cave to rest softly in a rough feeding furrow. In the quietness of night, the new King enters into the hay and manure of a broken world in desperate need of fixing.
This is the Christ child, who will one day die in daylight that becomes darkness. But right now he rests in Mary’s arms in a dark night that becomes starlit day. Stars and angels pierce the night’s silence.
This same Christ enters lives like he entered this barn. He enters the mess of sin, and it catches us off guard. You’re surprised? You’re not ready for him? It all seems so sudden. This is the best place to be — taken by surprise, like the little town of Bethlehem.
Advent means Christ invades where the preparations are incomplete. You’ll be tempted to first warm up the barn with space heaters. Don’t. You’ll want to sweep out the soiled hay and mouse droppings. Don’t. Don’t roll out a comfort controlled mattress or fluff a pair of feather pillows. Don’t disinfect the walls and floor with an aerosol fog of Lysol or Febreze. Don’t set out a crib with fluffy dolls and cotton onesies and baby powder. Don’t fill the bathtub with warm water and soft suds.
When the Savior draws close, there’s no time to clean up the mess of sin. He comes, not to place crisply wrapped boxes around a cleanly decorated tree. No. The Holy One lands unexpected in the middle of the stench of our lives.
It is with this thought that we are prepared to sing the final verse of the famous hymn. We cringe a bit. Maybe the lines are too individualized or too cheesy.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel.
But this is the message of Christmas. Here on the second Sunday of Advent, we praise Christ who broke into the stillness of a little town to descend to sinful humanity. We implore Christ to break into our lives and cast out the sin that cannot be bleached white by self-cleaning.
Advent posts from Desiring God:
When We Send a Person to His Death
Ronnie Smith was shot and killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday. He was 33. He was a husband and father. The leaders of his home church have given me permission to respond to his death publicly and carefully. You can read the fuller story at World or in the mainstream media.
One of the reasons I want to respond is because Ronnie wrote to us at Desiring God last year and told us that one of my messages was significant in leading him and his family to Libya.
Now Anita is a widow, and his son Hosea has lost his father.
Weep with Those Who Weep
How do I feel about sharing in the cause of his going to his death?
I came to tears this morning praying for Anita and Hosea. Weep with those who weep was not a command in that moment; it was a sorrow rolling over me. I remember being 33. That’s how old I was when God called me to the pastorate. I was starting my ministry at the age Ronnie’s ministry ended. And Jesus’s.
After sorrow and sympathy, my response was (and is) prayer. “Lord, give Anita great faith. Help her to weep — but not as those who have not hope. Make that little fellow proud of his daddy. May he grow up thrilled to be in the bloodline of such a man. May they live on the glories of Romans 8 — the groanings of this fallen world of waiting (Romans 8:23), and the rock-solid assurance that, though we are being killed all day long, nevertheless, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:36–37).”
Something Worse Than Death
Then I am sobered. Ronnie is not the first person who has died doing what I have encouraged them to do. He won’t be the last. If I thought death were the worst thing that can happen to a person, I would be overwhelmed with regret.
But the whole point of Ronnie’s life is that there is something worse than death. So he was willing to risk his own life to rescue others from something far worse. And he could risk his own life because he knew his own risking and dying would work for him “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And he knew God was able to meet every need of his wife and son (Philippians 4:19).
We are not playing games. When I preach that risk is right, I know what I am doing. When I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — especially in suffering,” I know what suffering may mean. When I say, “Fear not, you can only be killed” (Matthew 10:28), I take seriously the words of Jesus: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18).
Flood the World with Replacements
Finally, I call thousands of you to take Ronnie’s place. They will not kill us fast enough. Let the replacements flood the world. We do not seek death. We seek the everlasting joy of the world — including our enemies. If they kill us while we love them, we are in good company. Jesus did not call us to ease or safety. He called us to love for the sake of his name. Everywhere. Among all peoples.
Anita and Hosea, I love you. I am sorry, so sorry, for your loss. I admire you and Ronnie profoundly. Hold fast to this: “God has not destined you (or Ronnie) for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).
Lay Aside the Weight of Christmas Expectations
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
At Christmastime, it’s good for us to remember just how dangerous fantasies are.
I’m not talking about Narnia-type fantasies. I’m talking about how out of our self-centered desires we construct ideas and expectations of the way we want things to be and project them on to people and events. If those people or events don’t meet our expectations we grumble and sulk and lose our tempers.
Fantasy-fueled expectations can easily become tyrants. At Christmas they are often the Scrooges and Grinches of our celebrations. Less flatteringly, they are the devils in the garden of God’s gracious love.
Christmas for Christians is a celebration of the Incarnation, that wonderful, impenetrable, mysterious moment when the Word who spoke all things into being (John 1:3) and held them all together by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). When YHWH “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9). When he who knew no sin entered the world as a bloody infant to become sin for us on a bloody cross that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not Like They Expected
If there ever was a holiday to celebrate and worship God in his sovereign control over things not going the way we planned, it’s Christmas. Very little went as Joseph and Mary expected. Joseph hadn’t expected the painful decision to divorce Mary. He hadn’t expected all the difficult unplanned detours that took them to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, then eventually back to Nazareth. Neither of them had expected this holy Child to be born in a stable of desperation.
No one expected the Messiah to come from Galilee (John 7:52), no one expected him to be (formally) uneducated (John 7:15), and no one expected him to literally be the Son of God (John 10:30–33).
Christmas is the celebration of the coming of the unexpected Jesus.
Beware the Hollow Echoes
That’s why we need to be aware of how much we are influenced by the American cultural holiday we call Christmas, because it is almost entirely a fantasy-fueled expectation factory. It’s a hodgepodge collage of images and tales from Dickensian England, Rockwellian America, our own childhoods, and consumer marketing. It’s trimmed with vague notions of joy and peace (hollow echoes of their Luke 2:10–14 origins), and sometimes includes sentimental scenes of a wise, glowing Child in a manger surrounded by serene livestock and European-looking Semites and Persians. And all of this is set to a trans-generational pop superstar soundtrack.
The false myth of this Christmas is that if we can get it to look like the whimsical hazy collage in our minds, we will experience the “Christmas spirit” and be happy.
The problem is, of course, that everyone’s collage is different. The result is that Christmas fantasy expectations are disappointed. And all too often selfishness suffocates love, lashes out in some form of aggressive or passive anger and destroys whatever joy and peace there may have been.
That’s what makes fantasies so dangerous. They are almost always self-centered attempts to seek happiness by forcing reality to conform to our imagination, which we have no power to do. They make unattainable demands and leave us and others disillusioned.
The True Christmas Spirit
So as our celebrations approach, let’s resolve to lay aside the weight and entangling sin (Hebrews 12:1) of selfish Christmas fantasies and look to Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
This is the true Christmas spirit. Christ did not grasp; he served. And oh, how he served.
Advent season is the celebration of the unexpected Jesus coming at an unexpected time in an unexpected place to pay the unexpected, unfathomable price to give us unexpecting sinners the undeserved gift of complete forgiveness of sin and unimaginable gift of eternal life.
Christmas is not about fulfilling our holiday expectations. It’s about celebrating Jesus’s overwhelming accomplishment for us and following in his humble servant footsteps.
So when things don’t go the way we expect them this season, let us rejoice in the God who rules the unexpected and,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]. (Philippians 2:3)
Recent post from Jon Bloom:
The Gospel Shadow of Adoption: Amos’s Story
I was once an orphan with no hope, no purpose, no aim, but God in his kindness . . .
These words are true for all of us who are now in Jesus by faith. Oh how easy it is to forget it, and shy away from coming to a deep understanding of what it means to be an orphan, and what it means to be adopted, to be rescued, from hopelessness.
Aaron and Jamie Ivey were given a unique perspective on what it means to be adopted by God through their two-and-a-half-year journey to bring home their son. This is Amos’s story.
But God in his kindness brought Amos home and gave him a new name. May this story be a reminder of what a beautiful gospel shadow adoption is and that no matter what your past is, if you are in Jesus by faith, there is a “but God in his kindness” in your story.
But God in his kindness saw me and adopted me into his family, changed my past, changed my future, changed everything about me. We’ve been adopted. –Aaron Ivey
Video produced and directed by Jeremy Rodgers in collaboration with Deidox and Austin Stone. Also Jamie Ivey’s perspective of the story is told in an 8-minute video from Austin Stone.
More Video Produced, or Recommended, by Desiring God:
When You Start to Outlive Your Heroes
How does an old man obey Hebrews 13:7?
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
At 67, who are my leaders? Who has spoken to me the word of God? Whose faith should I imitate? Whose outcome of life should I consider?
The older I get, the fewer leaders are left who spoke to me the word of God. The fewer faithful men in front of me leading the way. They are dying. The older I get, the more people there are behind me looking to me as a finisher. It’s a trembling place to be. Fewer to look to. More looking on.
What caught my attention in my devotional reading of this verse was the word “outcome.” “Consider the outcome of their way of life.” The Greek word is ekbasin. It is used in one other place in the New Testament:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape (ekbasin), that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“Escape.” The idea is both “a way out” and the “result of a way.” So I think the idea of Hebrews 13:7 is: the finishing of a way of life that leads out of this life into the next. “Consider the outcome of his way of life,” that is, consider how a leader’s life leads to the completion of his journey.
It’s one thing to live a “way of life.” It is another to live a way of life that proves itself in carrying you over all the final obstacles through death and into heaven. Dying is a hard part of life, and it takes a deep “way of life” to do it well.
So I am commanded to remember my leaders who spoke to me the word of God, and to watch them finish, and then imitate the faith that bore them safely and fruitfully to the “outcome.”
Who are they? For me a good many have died. Some have been dead all my life, and spoke to me from the grave, like the apostle Paul and Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. But I don’t think this is what Hebrews 13:7 meant. That’s what Hebrews 11 was about. Hebrews 13:7 adds the living examples to the dead ones.
So who are they? Here are some of my older leaders who spoke to me the word of God. I have been watching several of them for a long time. Daniel Fuller, George Verwer, Greg Livingstone, Iain Murray, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, Larry Agnew.
For all I know, I am closer to heaven than any of them. So if you think of it, pray for me in two respects. Ask the Father to help me keep my eyes on the wise men whose faith carries them home. And ask him to make me worthy of being watched. It is no small thing to be a spokesman of the word of God.
And, lest it go unsaid, thank God with me that when we fail, and when all of our earthly examples fail, we can — we must — look to the flawless author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2).
Recent posts from John Piper:
Prepare Now for Your Pain
Suffering has a way of pressing us to go deeper with God.
It’s sadly not the case for all, but many have testified that their embrace of God’s sovereignty and goodness was catalyzed during a season of profound suffering.
Sometimes it’s fresh truths about God intersecting with our lives in the hardest of times. But often suffering becomes a testing ground for what truths we’ve already built into our lives in the easiest of days. Such was my experience.
Wrestling with Hard Truths
It took me several years of “normal life” to believe that such truths — like God’s sovereignty, predestination, and election — should be called “truths” at all. I wasn’t sure they were biblical. I wondered, if God desires all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), then how can he be in control of who is saved and who isn’t? And if God can change his mind (Exodus 32:14; Jeremiah 26:19), then how can he truly be in control of all things?
These are tough questions to wrestle with. But over time, with help from the writings of men like James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper, I came to gladly embrace, as faithful to the Scriptures, the doctrines of grace and the absolute and exhaustive sovereignty of God. These men and others were willing to ask the hard questions I was asking, and they gave compelling answers from the Bible.
As I began embracing such truths, God became bigger and greater in my eyes. We Christians worship a God
who purposes everything throughout all creation, or “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11);
who decides what happens anytime something as small as dice are rolled: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Proverbs 16:33);
who not only knows, but makes known, the future: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9–10);
who “is in the heavens [and] does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3), so that “whatever the Lᴏʀᴅ pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).
And as I began discovering more about the power and the glory of God, and realized that it was inevitable that I would someday, sooner than later, suffer some kind of affliction in this fallen world (1 Thessalonians 3:3–4; Acts 14:22), I knew I needed to prepare for suffering — so that God’s bigness would not merely be some doctrine that I believed with my mind, but one that would sustain me through life’s pain.
Getting Ready for Hardship
With such preparation in mind, I set myself in 2006 to read the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. In it, I read life-changing truths like these:
“Scripture is clear that nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will” (page 41);
“God not merely carries all of the universe’s objects and events to their appointed ends, but he actually brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Exodus 9:13–16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Hebrews 12:3–11; James 1:2–4)” (42);
“From events as small as the fall of the tiniest sparrow (see Matthew 10:29) to the death, at the hands of lawless men, of his own dear Son (see Acts 2:23 and 4:28), God speaks and then brings his word to pass; he purposes and then does what he has planned (see Isaiah 46:11). Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside God’s ordaining will” (43);
“And so it is not inappropriate to take God to be the creator, the sender, the permitter, and sometimes even the instigator of evil” (44);
“Scripture repudiates the claim that God does evil while at the same time everywhere implying that God ordains any evil there is. To say that God ‘ordains’ something is to say that he has planned and purposed and willed it from before the creation of the world — that is, from before time began” (47).
The authors quoted Bible text after Bible text. I couldn’t escape God’s complete sovereignty — and I didn’t want to!
When Tragedy Strikes
The following year, in December of 2007, tragedy struck when my Dad died suddenly at the young age of 44. To this day, the single most terrible memory I have is of my Mom calling me at two in the morning, crying, “They’re losing him, Bryan! They’re losing him!” Not long after, my uncle called to let me know that he died.
What then do you make of God’s sovereignty? Was it tempting to become bitter and angry at God? Perhaps, but only slightly. No, the main comfort for me since Dad’s death has been that God works all things — including that death — according to the counsel of his will, that he does all that he pleases, that he knows all things, including that death, before it happened.
Both Sovereign and Good
But the book also taught me about God’s goodness, not just his sovereignty. Picture heaven with me, in the words of Joni Eareckson Tada:
I think at first the shock of the joy that will come from reveling in the waterfall of love and pleasure that is the Trinity may burn with a brilliant newness of being glorified, but in the next instant we will be at peace. We will be drenched with delight. We will feel at home as though it were always this way, as though we were born for such a place — because we were! (202–203)
And so, I commend to you, if these are your easy times before some coming trial, prepare now for the pain. This book — available free of charge in PDF — is one way to start. Learn now that your suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory that will one day be yours (Romans 8:18), and that the suffering indeed produces or works or prepares the weight of glory that you will experience in God’s presence (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Begin preparing now, in the “normal days,” knowing that some portion of suffering is coming, and God has made available the resources to get you ready.
Books from John Piper on the sovereignty and goodness of God: