Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

One of the other debated issues in the Lord's Supper, in addition to the question of presence, is that of fencing the table. Who may participate?  What does it mean to eat and drink unworthily? Who is worthy? Who is unworthy? Calvin takes up these questions in 4.17.40 - 42. He also deals with the question of how it is to be administered in terms of the liturgy of the communion service (4.17.43). Finally, he tackles the question of frequency (4.17.44). All of these questions are worthy of book-length treatments in and of themselves.

Calvin continues his discussion of the errant Roman Catholic view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by prattling on about one of his favorite subjects to rail upon:  superstition and idolatry. The two, for Calvin, go together like ham and eggs. These practices, in this particular instance the piled on traditions of the adoration of "consecrated host," are repugnant to Calvin because they are extra-biblical (actually, he makes the case that they are anti-biblical) and injurious to the Christian life. How quickly the church can lose its way; how quickly we can lose our way.

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

The Puritans show us how to live from a two-world point of view. Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Rest is a magnificent demonstration of the power that the hope of heaven should have for the directing, controlling, and energizing of your life here on earth. Despite being 800+ pages, this classic became household reading in Puritan homes, exceeded only by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which, by the way, is an allegorical proof of my point.

Samuel Sewall lived with his family in Puritan America between 1652 and 1730, and he suffered in ways unimaginable to us today.

This week’s conversation brings in a New Englander, and--mind you--a Grove City College alum! Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She’s a pastor’s daughter, a mom, an editor, and the author of A Place to Belong - Learning to Love the Local Church.

Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!

Three events this week have given me pause both for thought, nostalgia, and hope. The first was the arrival of an email on Thursday containing the memoir manuscript of a well-known Welsh Baptist pastor who served only one congregation in his ministry, and that for over fifty years. He asked me to read it with a view to offering a commendation, though he couched the request with comments about how busy I must be, and how many more important books I no doubt have to read. Read it with a view to commendation?

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jam. 1:27).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)

Genesis 1:28 records God’s first command to the first human couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  Since God first gave this command (sometimes called the “cultural mandate” by theologians) the earth’s population has blossomed from one couple to billions of people around the globe.   The vast majority of this growth has taken place in the last two centuries alone, a fact which has

In our last post, we discussed bread as a source of comfort; now we’ll consider its liquid counterpart.

Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in August of 2005.


Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004)

In case you've not already noticed the massive problem of internet pornography, consider one small statistic: In 2019, the internet’s largest porn site (Pornhub) received 42 billion visits. That’s billion with a “b,” and all the trends suggest that this number will only grow.

When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.

These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.

I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:

They came from California, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New York City, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Georgia. Why did they come? They came because they are all leaders of large churches and wanted to consider best practices for shepherding large numbers of people. The consultation had been in the planning for 4 years. After visiting First Presbyterian in Augusta, Georgia, First Pres. Executive Pastor John Barrett and I began to imagine a consultation of large church leaders to talk about shepherding their flocks.

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

Johannes Bugenhagen – Sharing the Gospel and Caring for the Poor

Known mostly as pastor and church planter during the Protestant Reformation (he has been called “the Apostle to the North”), Johannes Bugenhagen was also an important model in the tradition of Christian love and compassion.

A Wittenberg Man

The Familiar Case of Benjamin Dutton

Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

I get to talk with pastors all the time.  It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do.  I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
 
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work.  If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

We live in a time of loneliness.  It is not because we are isolated.  Most people live within a short drive of a city, and those who don’t can easily connect with others over the phone or the internet.  And yet there is a sense that our technological connection has made use less connected in other ways.  This is anecdotal, I know, but most of the people who approach me for counsel – whether in church or at the university where I teach – express some kind of longing for connection – someone to talk to, someone who understands, someone who cares.  All those who cry out for this have cell phon

Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’

We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?

About one year ago while lying in bed I whispered to God in desperation: I am so afraid.”  It was the most heightened sense of dread I had ever experienced (and I and my household had already made it through some pretty horrific times over the last half decade).

Then the voices of children from a Psalm CD we often listen to came to me: When I am afraid, I will trust in you God.”  Singing these words lifted me out of bed to do what had to be done. 

I Have Confidence In…

Because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we experience trouble. We are sinners, and so we sin. Others are sinners, and so we are sinned against. We live in a fallen world, and so we suffer. In such a world, where should we place our confidence? Where should we turn in troubled times?

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I vividly recall a time of extreme discouragement. I don’t remember the particulars, but I remember feeling downcast. The Lord brought to my attention Psalm 42 and 43 - not for the first time, but in a troubled time.

COVID Repentance

 Peter VanDoodewaard is the pastor of Covenant Community Church in Taylors, SC. He’s in-house today to chat about an article he’s written for Reformation21.org titled Covid-19 Repentance. Peter's piece combines a reflection on the Old Testament minor prophets with the unprecedented sequence of events that followed the first COVID-19 lockdown in March. At issue: the speed at which the Church Global ceased to meet for worship by government order.

We probably all have bank accounts with savings, and maybe investments and 401(k)s. Wisdom would suggest that while we trust God we also should be good stewards and save. You want to have in inheritance—at the end of the road of your work life, you want to have a nest egg. This doesn’t make you greedy, in most cases it means you were prudent. But all of this should make us ask, where is my real inheritance? What is the real price? Where, or better, in whom is my true retirement.

What season did we recently enter?  Spring. What comes next? Summer. Then what? Fall. Then what? Winter. And then?  Spring.  And so on until Christ’s Second Coming.  The year’s seasons are cyclical—and somewhat predictable.  So the seasons of our years should not surprise us but rather inspire our adaptability, acceptance, and appreciation.