Columns

Psalm 77

In the day of my trouble, I seek the Lord…

 

In these days, I find myself drawn more than usual to those passages of Scripture which help me to lament. I gravitate particularly to the Psalms which give language for lament and grief and even complaint. The Psalms are not embarrassed by our moans of sorrow and protest. Indeed, John Calvin wrote that when we enter a time a crisis, “we are all too apt at such times to shut up our affliction in our breast – a circumstance which can only aggravate the trouble and embitter the mind against God.”

 

As Carl Trueman observes:

Calvin borrows the idea of a just war from Augustine. Everything is to be tried in order to preserve the peace before war is declared, though waging war obviously means that reparations must be made, if necessary. A consideration of such reparations naturally leads Calvin to the question of taxation. Rulers are not to be extravagant. The people have not to be tax dodgers. Nothing much has changed, has it?

Calvin here shows two things - his concern about the dangers of tyrannical government, and also his apparently relaxed attitude regarding forms of political government. You may say that he derives the possible forms from the ancient world, but in fact as a matter of logic there are only thee - rule by a king, by a few, or by all. Calvin rules out rule by everyone.

When I was a boy, my parents often took my sister and me on trips to various parts of the country. I well remember my mom having a roadmap opened on her lap, meticulously tracing the intersection of the nearby highways and neighborhood roads. Whether or not we would make it to our destination was dependent on how carefully my mom read the intricate details of the map. On one occasion, we were making our way through the winding roads of the Pocono Mountains. We had missed our turn somewhere along the way.

With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Dear Timothy,

In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. I'd like to add that they stressed the practice of piety (praxis pietatis), or practical godliness, flowing out of sound doctrine—just as much as Augustine and Calvin before them.

The Westminster Directory for Worship summarizes the Puritans’ commitment to sanctified application: 

Dear Timothy,

In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to shape our entire lives and preaching by the Holy Scriptures. But they also show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. They accomplished this by addressing the mind with clarity, confronting the conscience pointedly, and wooing the heart passionately. Let’s look at each of these.

Puritan preaching addressed the mind with clarity.

This is a special pandemic edition of The Spin, as Carl, Todd, and Aimee record—not just 6 feet away, but—100 miles distant from one another, just to be on the safe side. COVID-19 times can be challenging, and they’ve afforded Todd a new opportunity to complement his pastoral calling. The megachurch minister is now a gifted “Mental Toughness Expert,” and he’s making his services available when churches are unable to meet, due to mandatory isolation.

The Spin Team gathers once again to answer some of the great questions they’ve received from listeners. The first query concerns must-read classic books from authors long gone. Next, the intrepid trio considers just how many doctrinal differences a congregant should bear in a church before he or she knows that it’s time to move on.

The recent New York Times interview with Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, is one for the ages.   Indeed, critique is almost pointless as the interview itself begs not so much questions as gasps of amazement at the breathtaking combination of leaps of logic, misrepresentations of the Christian tradition, and the deployment of emotive buzzwords with

"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)

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

— Psalm 6:2, 3

I would not describe myself as someone prone to anxiety or worry. I’ve never had a panic attack, and I prefer to insulate myself from trending news and media. However, in the past couple of weeks I have found myself (to use a phrase which is waxing tiresome) in unprecedented territory. There are moments when I have felt waves of near-paralyzing anxiety. What is going on?

I want to offer two practical suggestions for Christians, which I offer only because these are the things I most need to hear and practice.

1. Stop idolizing nonchalance.

The rather measured and restrained work by John Livingston Nevius (1829-1893), Demon Possession and Allied Themes; Being an Inductive Study of Phenomena of Our Own Times, delivers exactly what the title promises, though what it promises is rather unusual by the author's own admission.

Lois Lowry tells a story about how a utopian state required that all of the community's memories going back through the generations be committed to a single person, a receiver. The elders engineered a society where no one but the receiver had to feel or remember. Life was safe and comfortable. The citizens were spared the pain of knowing, of emoting. And they could always call on the receiver when faced with a decision that exceeded their self-imposed limited experience.

I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
 
That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

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.

Paul Gerhardt and His Songs of Confident Hope

            In 1943, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his lonely prison cell, “I’ve lately learnt for the first time to appreciate the hymn, ‘Beside thy cradle here I stand.’ Up to now I hadn't made much of it; I suppose one has to be alone for a long time, and meditate on it, to be able to take it in properly.”[1]

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

     A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.

To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs.  Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).

Christians are frequently reminded to “remember the reason for Christmas,” meaning, of course, that we should turn our attention away from the cultural trappings and to the fact that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem.  But this Christmas, perhaps we should fix our attention a little more closely, not just on the details of Jesus’ birth, but on the miracle of the incarnation.  In so doing, we join a great cloud of Christian witnesses, who have reflected deeply on this glorious mystery.

This week on Theology on the Go, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Dr. Liam Goligher, pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia, PA. As pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, Dr. Goligher has done much thinking and teaching on the topic of missions, and how Christians are to reach the lost. This installment of Theology on the Go gives a glimpse of some of that teaching as Dr. Goligher chats with Jonathan about the doctrine of missions.

Perhaps the greatest risk surrounding the doctrine of grace in the Bible is that we allow it to become a cliché. We talk about it, sing about it, take great care to define it, but through it all fail to feel its weight. So, as we continue our reflections on the many-sided beauty of God’s grace revealed in Scripture, I want to focus in this article on its immensity in salvation.

There is much more to grace than meets the eye. Indeed, to borrow and slightly tweak the title of a song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1955, ‘Grace is a many splendored thing’. Although we instinctively link it to the idea of God’s demerited favour towards sinners in salvation, when we begin to trace its contours throughout the Scriptures, we see facets that only make us appreciate its beauty and blessing more deeply. This kaleidoscope of beauty is worth exploring in its major component parts and my hope is to do this through a series of articles designed to unpack it.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints means if a person is truly saved he cannot lose his salvation.  Roman Catholicism and some strands of Protestant theology, such as traditional Arminianism, Methodism, and Pentecostalism reject this final point of Calvinism.  They instead hold that a truly saved person can fall away from the faith and actually lose his salvation.  But it gets more complicated than that.  Often the rejection of perseverance runs hand in hand with a legitimate concern over an antinomian gospel of salvation apart from any good works.

Every year a late night talk show host encourages parents to prank their kids with a faux profession that they devoured all their little pumpkins’ Halloween candy.[1]  The show features videos sent in of children throwing monstrous fits of rage and heartache until the parents reveal they are “just joking!”  Pathetic, baffled little faces look back at their caretakers sometimes possessed with ghoulish expressions of hatred for the hoax. 

The Newton Guy

 Keith Plummer is professor at Cairn University teaching a variety of classes related to pastoral ministry, apologetics, and biblical courses. He also happens to work next door to Jonathan and James, lending a comfortable familiarity to their conversation.

The First Five 

Jonathan and James welcome their friend Stephen Unthank. He’s pastor of Greenbelt Baptist Church in Maryland, and a contributing writer for PlaceForTruth.org. Stephen shares his experiences as a relatively new pastor…the joys and challenges of the calling…and, how it all lined up with his expectations.

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.