Encouraging Reads

The month of December is, for me, a respite from the weekly routine of leading bible studies. Don’t get me wrong—I love leading these studies! Digging deep into a book of the Bible, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, with the help of solid commentaries, is one of the most rewarding pursuits I can imagine. And then spending time each week with the precious women of our church family brings all the hours of study to life as we discuss what we have learned from the Holy Scriptures.

But while I am neck-deep in the study of one book of the Bible, I don’t have time to read much else. There are so many good and worthy books being published now that I long to read. So I took the month of December to read a stack of books.

My reading list to finish out the year 2020 included Love Came Down at Christmas, by Sinclair Ferguson (The Good Book Company, 2018); None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, by Matthew Barrett (Baker Books 2019Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, by Mark Vroegop (Crossway 2019); Gentle and Lowly; The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund (Crossway, 2020); ); Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles, by David Powlison (New Growth Press, 2019); A Holy Fear: Trading Lesser Fears for the Fear of the Lord, by Christina Fox (Reformation Heritage Books, 2020); and A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church, by Megan Hill (Crossway 2020). [To be quite honest, I was already halfway through None Greater when my break began.]

I heartily and without reservation recommend each and every one of these books. I’ll even go so far as to say that I recommend reading None Greater, Dark Clouds, and Gentle and Lowly in that order. Safe & Sound and A Holy Fear sweep away the mystery and confusion that often attend the doctrines of spiritual warfare and the fear of the Lord (respectively) and (I think) they ought to be read by every Christian. And A Place to Belong has come along, providentially, exactly when most of us are longing to return to (and some of us need to be reminded of) the fullness and richness and blessing of fellowship with our local body of believers.

The final book on my list to read, and which I expect to finish this week, is Revelation, by Richard D. Phillips (P&R, 2017), from the Reformed Expository Commentary series. Why am I reading a commentary for a book of the Bible that I’m not currently teaching? For one thing, I love a well-written commentary and the REC series are all extremely well-written, based on the sermons each author preached through the book. Besides this, my interest in the book of Revelation was piqued by a Sunday school class taught by our pastors in the Fall. And, frankly, the upheavals of 2020 sharpened my longing for the truth, beauty, and stability of Heaven and the fulfilled promises of God in Christ.

I sought reassurance in Revelation that the turmoil of this present world is temporary, the fears are fleeting, and the madness is momentary. Sure enough, in the final book of the Bible I found comfort. Simply put, Jesus wins. Jesus was and is and will be victorious over all the mess we find ourselves in here and now. My security lies not in political parties or vaccines; my security is found in Christ. I will conquer not by protesting or demanding to be heard on social media platforms, but by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony (Rev. 12:11).

There is deep encouragement on every page of Revelation, which Phillips draws out and displays in every chapter of this book. In closing, I’d like to share just one morsel from his chapter on Revelation 21:22–27, commenting on “the surpassing glory of the light of God revealed by the lamp of Christ” in the New Jerusalem, which highlights God’s “love that gave his Son so that believers might be forgiven of our sins”[1]:

“In the final book of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the heroes Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee make slow progress through the foul and shadowed land of Mordor. Tolkien’s Mordor provides a vivid depiction of life in a world ruled by sin and evil, so that Frodo and Sam are choked by its despair. Many of us feel this way about the present life: the future seems shadowed and threatening, and darkness presses on our hearts. In one scene, however, Sam peers up and sees the light of stars shining briefly through a hole in the shadow canopy. Seeking to encourage his downcast friend, Sam exclaims, “Look! There is light and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.”[2] Christians can be similarly encouraged, despite our earthly woes and mortal failures, to see in John’s vision the light of God shining beyond all darkness in the city to which we journey by faith in Christ.”[3]

Is our world ruled by sin and evil? Yes, it surely is. Is there still, above all this present darkness, a light and a beauty that no shadow can touch? Oh, yes, there most certainly is.

[1] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 657.

[2] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1955), 898. Phillips quoted Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Return of the King, extended ed. (2004).

[3] Phillips, Revelation, 657.

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