Columns

Here are some of the most enjoyable and/or important books that I am currently reading. This does not mean I stand by everything the authors write (do I even have to state that?). Some of these I purchased, others were provided by the kindness of the publisher:

By now many of you have heard of the Genevan Commons Facebook group. The Genevan Commons (GC) group was apparently formed several years ago to provide a forum for discussion of Reformed theology. All well and good. But more recently some of the group members began attacking Aimee Byrd, Rachel Miller, and us (Carl and Todd). At times the banter degenerated into sinful mocking and slander. Unbecoming to say the least. 

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.

On September 16, 1620, the crew of the Mayflower weighed anchor to leave Plymouth, England. The Pilgrims gathered on board were anticipating a new homeland, better economic opportunities, and freedom to follow God’s commands without interference. The ship held thirty-seven Pilgrims, sixty-five other colonists, thirty crew members, some small-breed livestock, and a few dogs.

In his classic book, The Doctrine of Repentance, Thomas Watson outlined six ingredients for true repentance:

Carl and Todd are virtually visiting the beautiful state of Georgia, sipping some peach sweet tea with Rev. David Hall. David is the senior pastor at Midway Presbyterian Church in the Atlanta area, the hot spot for a yearly conference on reformed worship emphasizing the simplicity of worship and the centrality of preaching. Due to changes in state guidelines, this year’s event was canceled, so David chats instead with our heroes about the newest social phenomenon: Puritanical perfectionism.

The emperor of California has granted Joel Kim a temporary release to join Carl and Todd for a short conversation. The gathering happens at the usual spot—in front of an Ann Taylor boutique—so that the wives may have a good time as the men whine and opine! 

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)

Author’s Note: For some, this article will not be an easy read. Some readers may take offense, perhaps because of decisions that have already been made. But whatever your view on cremation, know that the Lord is gracious, and he is able to raise the dead. There is not one believer in Jesus Christ (lost at sea, burned at the stake, cremated, or buried) who will not receive the full reward of the resurrection. Jesus will save all His own, and take them home, body and soul, forever.

I have a confession to make, and it may not be very surprising: It’s hard to pastor people when the government has declared a pandemic. There are a few reasons for this. To begin, there really is a virus going around. A very small percentage of people really are having complications and dying. It’s hard to pastor someone who is undergoing cancer treatment and genuinely should not be exposed to the possibility of a disease like COVID-19 while they have no immune system.

If you could give a new mom the perfect gift, what would it be? Would it be full night's sleep? Maybe you'd give her a hot meal without interruption or maybe the confidence that she'll be a good mom. Those would be precious gifts to any mom. But what do moms need most?

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.

Johann Heermann and the Comfort of the Cross

            In the spring of 1630, while the Thirty-Year War raged around Europe, pastor and poet Johann Heermann wrote a hymn to inspire his congregation to meditate on Christ’s suffering.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,

that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?

By foes derided, by thine own rejected,

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.

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

The season of the Reformation ‘Solas’ has just ended and we have been reminded of the ‘aloneness’ of Scripture, grace, faith, Christ and the glory of God. But, hopefully, we will have also been reminded too that none of these are ‘alone’ in an absolute sense.

For those familiar with Thomas Chalmers, his name immediately conjures up a plethora of thoughts regarding his stature as a Christian leader and also his gifts and achievements in the work of the church. He was a man of exceptional ability, but he was also profoundly concerned for the needs of ordinary people.

A favorite hymn we sing at church is Walter Smith’s “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” where the congregation beautifully confesses that “We blossom and flourish as leaves on a tree, and wither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.” My heart soars in adoration as we sing that last clause, “but not changeth Thee.” What is being expressed here is the glorious doctrine of God’s immutability, the belief that God cannot and does not change.[1] To be sure, this doctrine, along with its close sister impassibility, has grown entirely out of f

The world is, at its very core, divided. There are divisions between races, between nations, between political parties, and on and on it goes.

Even within our own selves we are divided. We desire to do good, but our flesh drives us to do evil.

God is not like this. God is not divided.

The doctrine of divine simplicity is an often misunderstood and overlooked doctrine. For those who have heard of the doctrine it may seem arcane and speculative. Driven by our own composite nature, we find it more comfortable to create a God who is composite like we are.

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

What do evangelicals need to retrieve, and why? Gavin Ortlund is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California.  He joins James and Jonathan to talk about his book--Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals--and to answer these questions, and others.

Ministering With a Clear Conscience

 Why does Paul emphasize clearness of conscience in regard to one’s ministry? James defines “conscience”, expands on its dual function, and talks about how it often speaks against our will.

You may think this quasi strange, but I have an affinity for certain Latin words.  The fact is, you actually know and use many of them too. Have you ever felt like a persona non grata? Do you cheer for your alma mater or depend on a per diem for business travels? How great is it when lawyers agree to work pro bono? Do you invest in stocks sold by a man in his garage or do you prefer a bona fide company? Et cetera, et cetera