Columns

The term “mental illness” causes most people to squirm. We think of people medicated into a stupor or committed to a hard-to-access floor of the hospital. But mental illness covers a broad variety of problems from anxiety to schizophrenia; from bi-polar disorder to various phobias.

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

A few years ago, at the start of a new school year, I announced to the kids that we would be memorizing the book of James.

“The whole book?” one son asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“That’s the goal,” I responded.

“Impossible!” he declared.

Up to that point, my children had memorized single verses and short passages of Scripture. I thought it was time to take on something bigger.

Memorizing God’s Word

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB, 1977)

These are the words of Matthew immediately after he wrote, “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying” (Matt. 1:22). The “prophet” here refers to Isaiah. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew references aspects of Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, and 9:6. Those texts read as follows:

I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.

John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.  

John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace

John 10:30 was a critical verse for the early church. As believers wrestled with the documents of the New Testament in terms of their teaching about our Lord’s identity, and in relation to the Old Testament, various views began to be propagated. Some taught that our Lord was not eternal God by nature, but rather a mere creature (though the first and greatest of creatures). In other words, there was a time when he was not. Others taught that God is one in nature and one in person, revealing himself in three distinct modes at different times.

The dynamic duo today becomes a trio, as a third pessimist—that is, a third realist—joins in.

Rod Dreher is an American writer and editor, culture critic, and the author of several books, including The Benedict Option and the freshly released Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Rod’s book is a wakeup call for Christians about ideas that have become prevalent in American society…notions already adopted in other countries that have proven to be a threat to civil liberties. 

After revealing some details of their personal lives, Carl and Todd get down to business. Seems a disturbing phenomenon is plaguing churches all over the country. Since the lockdown, many Christians have become too comfortable with worshipping from home over a screen…dressed in their jammies, eating donuts, and—quite possibly—not really worshipping at all. 

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.

While the end of Hebrews 4 points us to our great high priest Jesus, we learn in the first ten verses of Hebrews 5 that the greatness of Jesus is that he was a priest who cried out. And he cried out not simply because of the pain of his suffering; he cried out because of the problem of his people: our sin. That is the fundamental problem we all face, the source of our entire struggle, all the brokenness of our world, all the breaking down of our bodies.
Most Protestants are not used to thinking about priests and especially about what makes a good or superior priest. And yet, the language of priesthood is all through this letter to the Hebrews to this point (1:3; 2:17-18; 3:1) and will dominate chapters 7-9. The reason we need a priest before God is found in 4:12-13: God's Word and God's eye will search us, will hold us accountable, will test the intention of our hearts. Our professions will not fool God; in the last day, he will look at our hearts.

What is gospel ministry?

It’s a deceptively simple question. So much of modern church life is described as a ministry of some sort, but biblically speaking there is rather narrow meaning to the idea.

Early in my pastoral ministry, a thoughtful young man came with an interesting question while our congregation was in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The question arose from a hymn sung during a Lord's Day worship service: the Isaac Watts classic, "Joy to the World." The question was, "Pastor, why are we singing a hymn during Christmas containing lyrics that refer to the 2nd coming of Christ?" My response was twofold.

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

Michael T. Jahosky, The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth (Wipf & Stock, 2020), 238 pp. 

I stumbled upon something Gregory the Great wrote warning how vices often masquerade as virtues.* It made me pause and reflect. Here are some of his words:
 
Often, for instance, a niggard passes himself off as frugal, while one who is prodigal conceals his character when he calls himself openhanded. Often, inordinate laxity is believed to be kindness, and unbridled anger passes as the virtue of spiritual zeal. Precipitancy is frequently taken as efficient promptitude, and dilatoriness as grave deliberation.  
I kind of stumbled into becoming an author. I began as a reader and a thinker in the church, connecting a lot of dots in my reading that led to more convictions and questions. And I couldn’t find the next book I wanted to read. So, I wrote it.
 
Now at ReformedResources.org: a companion packet to The Shepherd Leader!
 
In this packet, you will find three sample tools to consider as you implement your shepherding plan. Click here to download your free resources.

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:

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.

Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo and the Early Missions to the Oromo

 

When we think of Ethiopia, we often think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its impressive buildings and its ancient, unique, and colorful traditions. The religious complex of Lalibela, for example, with its monolithic churches, has been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

Liang Fa – The First Chinese Ordained Pastor

            In 1804, fifteen-year-old Liang Fa moved to the big city of Guangzhou (then known as “Canton”) to find work, first as a brush-maker, then as an apprentice printer. His parents had provided a good classical Chinese education as long as their means had allowed, but poverty had forced them to stop.  

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

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?

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

Constancy is something every human being craves. Knowing that, in the midst of all the upheaval and change that marks the course of life, there are anchor-points that provide stability along the way. But where can we find such certainty?    

John Calvin, the great French Reformer who devoted most of his ministry to the church in Geneva, ranks amongst the most influential theologians of all time. His legacy to the church – and, indeed to the world – goes far beyond what many realise. But out of the many aspects of his legacy there is one that stands out more than others that has probably been given less attention than it deserves and that is his emphasis on piety.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

Studies on nonverbal communication have shown that the feet reveal our intentions often more than our faces or words do. If you are in a conversation with a friend and they are smiling at you but their feet are pointed towards the door, chances are that they are subconsciously planning their exit. A coworker may appear cool as a cucumber before giving a presentation, but their tapping foot might betray their nerves. Rarely are we surprised by where we find our feet planted, for the orientation of our feet demonstrates the position of our hearts.

I doubt that many readers will have any difficulty accepting the premise that we live in tumultuous times.  Consider the contradictory claims surrounding the recent election:

“There was no Fraud!” 

“Stop the Steal!”

How about claims related to COVID 19?

“Masks do not do any good.” 

“Mask demonstrably reduce the spread of the virus.”

“Wearing a mask is a sign that you are “living in fear”. 

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.