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I love reading the Puritans. Often misunderstood in our own day, the Puritans have in recent years been rediscovered by historians who have found that their grim caricature bears little resemblance to the real men and women who made up this 17th century movement within Protestantism. In their day, the Puritans faced alternating periods of tolerance and persecution depending on whomever was ruling in England at the time.
The late Donald Grey Barnhouse once pondered what it would look like if Satan were to take over an entire city. His observation, made some fifty years ago, bears repeating in our own day. Dr. Barnhouse believed that a city where Satan truly ran the show would quite possibly be very moralistic. People would be nice to each other, stop using profanity, and the porn shops would be shut down. All of this would, or course, lead to a feeling of moral sufficiency.

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.

What if you told your wife you only planned to take her on a dinner date once a year during your anniversary so as to make the expression of your marriage relationship extra special? And for that matter, you would also plan to have all other meals separately until that time, so as to enhance the enjoyment of your annual reunion across the dining establishment table of her choice? She would probably ask for marriage counseling to protect against the unnecessary straining of your relationship by an unreasonably forced lack of regular, deliberate, and intimate fellowship.

The first meeting between Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo Buonarroti was the start of a long and deep friendship. It was also, in some ways, uncommon.

As a famed noblewoman, Vittoria was used to the company of artists, poets, and writers, but Michelangelo was one of a kind. His words were few and often blunt, far from the affectation and adulation that was prevalent in artists. At 62 years of age, he was already the equivalent of a millionaire in today’s terms and didn’t need to fake admiration in order to win a sponsor—not that he ever did anyhow.

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. 

The cancel culture mob never sleeps, and this time they’re after one of the most well-known evangelical pastors and writers of our day. Max Lucado recently came under fire for a message he preached and an article he wrote in 2004 holding the view that marriage is between one man and one woman. 

Some years ago, I took a Nazirite vow never to write on race in America.  Yet, persuaded by the editorial team at First Things, I broke that vow.  Now it is time to offer a brief reflection on some of the responses.

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?

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine."- Titus 2:1
   
Sound doctrine is that which is healthy, whole, balanced. It does not only inform the mind but enflames the heart. It leads to right living (orthopraxy),  as well as right thinking (orthodoxy). It is displayed in the following instructions given by Paul to Titus in his leadership of the church in Crete. 
  
Specific counsel for older men, older women, young women, young men, and even slaves shows the gospel in practical living.
"For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."- Hosea 8:7
   
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel during its closing decades. He witnessed the decline and fall of a once strong nation. Assyria became the rod of God's wrath against his people in its destruction in 722 BC. Yet the book of Hosea reveals the loving heart of God for his unfaithful people.

For the most part, Christians know that Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are a cult and have some strange beliefs. But when they begin to talk about God and his Son, Jesus; when they ask about faith and salvation; when they use what appears to be a normal Bible; when they speak the “Christian language,” many believers don’t know how to respond. How do you share the gospel with them? Do you even need to? How can you keep from being distracted by all their secondary beliefs and caught up in ‘dead-end’ arguments?

We are rounding the curve into the reckoning phase.

When disaster strikes, people (or communities, or nations) often move through three stages: crisis triage, reckoning/ regrouping, and finally redirecting. Crisis triage looks like keeping the ship afloat and surviving till tomorrow. Shell-shocked faces try to cope in the immediate. Once people catch their breath, and the fight or flight adrenaline subsides, the mind can turn toward reckoning with the crisis and its aftermath:

Gale, Stanley D. Re: velation: Seeing Jesus, Seeing Self, Standing Firm. Reformation Heritage Books, 2021. 152 pp.

Cory Griess, Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A 31-Day Family Devotional (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2020), 112 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.

Alexander McLeod and His Speech Against Slavery

In the fall of 1800, Alexander McLeod (1774-1833) received a call to become pastor of the Congregation in Coldenham, New York. It was the culmination of a training he had received since he was a child, back in the wild and scenic Isle of Mull, Scotland. It had also been the high aspiration of both his father, Rev. Niel McLeod, and his mother, Margaret McLean.

     In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.

      Pastors, elders, and godly parents rightly take interest in the education and nurture of their children, and as a result action-minded Christians start schools. Christian schools represent a natural or spontaneous result of faith, and the Lord is pleased with such loving motives and acts. Nevertheless, when a church attempts to govern the school it has created the results are often mixed. Theology can explain why.

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.

The triplet of sin-related requests embedded in the Lord’s Prayer ends with the shortest, but in many ways the most potent of them all: ‘Deliver us from evil’. As many commentators point out, there is a measure of ambiguity over whether it should be rendered ‘…from evil’ or ‘…from the evil one’. However, the distinction is somewhat immaterial as evil is inseparably bound up with the one who is its source. The one who in the words of the C.S. Lewis title is none other than, ‘That Hideous Strength’.

It is all too easy to be so focused on the individual components of the Lord’s Prayer – the ‘petitions’ of which it is comprised – that we lose sight of its overall topography, or landscape. Even though the details bound up with each request are vitally important, we only appreciate their full weight and significance when we survey them as part of a whole.

Registration is now open for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids. Find out more about the PCRT, The Bible Study Hour, and more as Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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

In the summer of 1536, promising young author John Calvin was traveling to Strasbourg to pursue a quiet life in academics. He spent one night in Geneva on his journey, where he was approached with an offer from a local minister, William Farel. Farel persuaded Calvin—under threat of God’s cursing—to join him in the reformational efforts at the Genevan church.

I remember the first time I saw John Calvin’s personal seal—an outstretched hand holding a heart—in a hallway on the campus of Calvin College, now University, in Grand Rapids.

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