Columns

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:

Theodulf of Orleans – Poet and Theologian in the Carolingian Court

            Theodulf belonged to the group of bright minds Charlemagne gathered at his court in order to boost education in his empire. Born in a Visigothic family, probably in Spain, around the year 750, he is named after the French city where he became bishop, Orleans.

Mikael Agricola and the Reformation in Finland

            Like Primoz Trubar in Slovenia, Mikael Agricola was a Protestant reformer who had to develop a language before he could spread the gospel.

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.

     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.

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.

Christians have always been persecuted.  Peter reminded his readers of this in the earliest days of the church: “…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by the brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9b).  But it does seem as if the suffering of Christians – whether at the hands of Muslims, Hindus, or totalitarians of another stripe – has been in the news more lately.  The testimonies of our brothers and sisters in these places are sobering; but often they are also encouraging examples of grace-fueled perseverance.

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.

The third of the Ten Commandments seems simple at first read: we are not to take God’s name in vain. But the more we think about it, the deeper our reflections will become on what it means to honor God and cherish His name above all else. The commandment reads:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

There’s something of a progression when one moves from the first commandment  – “You shall have no other gods before me” – to the second commandment forbidding the making and worship of idols. It’s a move delineating how the one true God is to be worshipped. And it tells us something about God. Namely, that the Creator God is a spirit, invisible, infinite, and holy. In other words, there’s an unholy absurdity in making a finite representation of an infinite and immense God.

The full commandment, promises and all, reads thus:

How Then Shall We Feel?

In the house today is Dr. Keith Plummer. He’s a professor of a variety of topics related to pastoral ministry, apologetics, and spiritual formation at Cairn University. The topic of our conversation is the place that feelings or emotions have in the life of a Christian. How are our feelings to be shaped? Can emotional responses be right or wrong? If so, can they be directed? Keep listening for the answers.

 

Grace Worth Fighting For

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Canons of Dort, Daniel Hyde has written Grace Worth Fighting For: Recapturing the Vision of God’s Grace in the Canons of Dort. Hyde’s work is a reminder for us to protect and proclaim the Gospel of grace.

Read Matthew 1:18-25

No dad would believe it. Sure, dads are gullible at times, but if your teenage daughter came to you and said, “I’m carrying a child, and I have not had sexual relations,” you’d be furious. That, however, was the exact predicament of Mary’s father. She was a virgin.

The virgin birth is a concept that is beyond and contrary to all nature we know. The reason that God chose this miracle was to emphasize the supernatural origin of Jesus Christ.

This article is the final enstallment of an on-going series. Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.