Columns

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.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind.  But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God.  This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.

No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind,  and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).

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.

I recently happened upon a few articles by Henry Jansma on Thomas Watson’s “farewell prayer,” delivered in July of 1662. Watson and other ministers would be expelled from their pulpits a month later for failing to comply with the Act of Uniformity. The looming date of this “Great Ejection” was surely a burden to many—which makes the tone and content of Watson’s prayer all the more remarkable.

You can read the text of his prayer below:

It is becoming a more common practice in some PCA churches for sessions to make the intentional decision not to ordain the deacons of the church. I could spell out in more detail my understanding of why that is, but instead I’d like to do something more focused. I’d like to explore the idea of ordination and ask the question: what does ordination do? Why would someone want to be ordained? Why not just serve the church without being ordained? What are we missing out on as a church if we have officers functionally serving without the church actually ordaining them?

With Todd hopelessly delayed by an extended hair styling appointment, Carl alone sits down to chat with our special guest. At the table is Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian Ethics and Apologetics, associate dean of the School of Theology, and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, all at Southern Baptist Seminary. Andrew’s also an editor and writer for several publications.

Life is full of tragedy, sadness, and suffering. Scripture is replete with such stories from Genesis to Revelation. Why is there suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is there any hope to be found in the midst of suffering?

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)

The medieval church struggled to approach the Lord with confidence through the sacraments. When teaching my seminary class about this, the professor asked, “How can we live the Christian life without getting ulcers?” This is a good question. Maybe you have wondered about this when coming to the Lord’s Supper.

One of the most acute and enduring struggles that I have experienced in my own life has been the struggle to be content with myself. The real problem, as I have discovered, is that deep down I don’t want to be the person God has made me to be. Deep down I want to be someone else instead.

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. 

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:

i. God hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.

 

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) and her Sovereign God

Anne Steele and Her Weighty Questions

Anne Steele is remembered as one of the first British women hymn-writers, and one of the best appreciated during her time and the following century. The introspective, searching notes of her hymns, uttered with uncommon honesty, made them particularly cherished by the majority of Christians, who found in them a way to express their own feelings.

Guns in Church

     When I was a pastor, ten years ago, I learned that a married couple, both FBI agents, joined my church. We already had two police officers in attendance, but I welcomed the news in a day when church shootings, like school shootings, were in the news. "It makes me feel safer," one person noted, even if she didn't know how rare church shootings really are (See: StatisticsImadeupbutmustbetrue.com):

     Chance of being wounded by a bullet, in a church: 1 in 100 million

As we pass Labor Day and settle into the fall, I want to label a few of the most influential ideas about work in Western thought and invite you, my reader, to see which thoughts might be informing you and supplanting more biblical ideas about work. Without further ado

     Most Greeks thought work was a curse. They especially despised manual labor. Leaders tried to foist it on servants or slaves, so they would have time for philosophy and friendship. To this day, many follow the Greeks in thinking of work as an evil to avoid, if possible.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians begins with an expression of confidence.  Paul’s confidence is ultimately in God.  It was God who had begun a good work in the Philippians (Phil 1:6); and it was God’s grace that they had been partakers of, along with Paul (Phil 1:7).  But when Paul looked at the spiritual fruit produced by God in the Philippian church, one thing stood out: the Philippians had been partners in the gospel, together with Paul.

We may not always realise it, but the Bible has a theology of conflict. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, we are literally no further than 57 verses into Genesis before we find ourselves in the conflict zone that changed the course of history. And the conflict that emerges there in the opening section of Genesis 3, culminating in the fall, very quickly proves itself to be the fountainhead of every other form of conflict this world has ever witnessed.

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?    

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

Perhaps you have noticed by now that Proverbs 6:16-19 is not simply a list of ills that God hates though it most certainly is that.  But it is more. On the surface of this list is an explanation. God is not only telling us the things He hates but why He hates them.  Have you noticed what is included in this list? We have eyes, a tongue, hands, a heart, feet and even breath! If we were Dr. Frankenstein we might create an entire person! And that is the point. God is telling us that the entire person is corrupt.

The fall of mankind began with a lie. “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” This was followed by a second lie. “You certainly will not die! For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”[i] Sadly, we know how the story ends. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and sin entered the world. They were expelled from the Garden, and the sin of lying spread in the hearts and out the mouths of their descendants.

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.