Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Life Well Lived: Charity and Its Fruits (1)

"If your heart is full of love, it will find vent."

"When a fountain abounds in water, it will send forth streams."

Jonathan Edwards

Commenting on Jonathan Edwards' sermons on 1 Corinthians 13:1-10, Hughes Oliphant Old, a preeminent scholar in the history of preachers and preaching, once remarked that "having read through the whole history of Christian preaching . . . I realize that it is one of the classics." These sermons are still in print under the title, "Charity and Its Fruits" (Banner of Truth). Edwards preached this series of expository sermons to his congregation in Northampton in the late 1730s.

Love is our most mature act as human beings
. For the next few weeks we will follow in Edwards footsteps as he leads us through 1 Corinthians 13:1-10. In keeping with our summer theme, "A Life Well Lived," we will focus on his specific applications of this passage. These sermons are refreshingly "un-sentimental" but theologically astute and highly practical.

From Lecture One: "Charity, or Love, the Sum of all Virtue"

"And doubtless the apostle means the same thing by charity in this thirteenth chapter, that he does in the eighth, for he is here comparing the same two things together that he was there, viz. knowledge and charity. 'Though I have all knowledge, and have not charity, I am nothing;' and again, 'charity never faileth, but knowledge, it shall vanish away.' So that by charity here, we are doubtless to understand Christian love in its full extent, whether it be exercised towards God or our fellow creatures."

"If love is so great a thing in Christianity, so essential and distinguishing, yea, the very sum of all Christian virtue, then surely those that profess themselves Christians should live in love, and abound in the works of love, for no works are so becoming as those of love. "

"If you call yourself a Christian, where are your works of love? Have you abounded, and do you abound in them? If this divine and holy principle is in you, and reigns in you, will it not appear in your life in works of love? Consider, what deeds of love have you done? Do you love God? What have you done for him, for his glory, for the advancement of his kingdom in the world? And how much have you denied yourself to promote the Redeemer’s interest among men? Do you love your fellowmen? What have you done for them? Consider your former defects in these respects, and how becoming it is in you, as a Christian, hereafter to abound more in deeds of love. Do not make excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors."

"If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water, it will send forth streams. Consider that as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labor of love is the main business of the Christian life. Let every Christian consider these things; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things, and make you sensible what spirit it becomes you to be of, and dispose you to such an excellent, amiable, and benevolent life, as is answerable to such a spirit, that you may not love only 'in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth.'"

So, how do you "vent"?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Postcard from 'The Windy City'

Yes, this is the view from the hotel bedroom in Chicago!

I'm here on a "study leave"!



I spent seven hours locked away in the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids (I'm an adjunct faculty member) in their Puritan Library this morning. We got delayed getting in (thunder in Chicago) and the three hour drive to Grand Rapids meant that we didn't get there until 2 am. I was due at the library at six!

But it was like being a little kid at Christmas: so many rare volumes, and I gathered some materials for my paper I am to give next month. I also met a kind PhD student eager to beaver away for me and a CD of rare things is heading my way tomorrow!

But now its relaxation time. I see Daniel Barenboim is conducting Mahler's fifth tonight! And Rosemary has Cubs on the brain and tickets in hand. Guess I'll have to bring a volume of Owen and Goodwin along to the game to keep me from falling asleep!



Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

As we remember those men and women who have made such significant sacrifices, I offer some sobering words on Memorial Day from one of our greatest generals and leaders.

General Omar Nelson Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed an Armistice Day Luncheon of the Boston Chamber of Commerce on November 10, 1948. His words were profound and prophetic. Here is an excerpt:

"We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living."

Today is a good day to visit the Arlington National Cemetery website.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ephesians 4:31-5:2 Outline

Proposition: We are to put away attitudes words and actions that show resentment of God’s providence, and instead are to live lives of kindness and forgiveness, because of God’s kindness to and forgiveness of us. Indeed, we are to aim to be like God in our behavior, love like Christ loved us.

I. Put away sinful dispositions, attitudes, words and actions (31)
[Sinful inclinations]
4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

II. Instead, be kind and forgiving to one another, in light of God’s forgiveness of you (32) [Godly predispositions]
4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

III. Be like God, and live in love in light of Christ’s love for you (1-2)
[Responding to God's grace/Imitating God the Father and God the Son]

5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 5:2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

First Pres Construction News

In the next couple of weeks the passage-way from the Study Center and Day School Office area, through Lowe Hall and into the "old building" where the Library and Nursery are, will be closed due to construction. Stay tuned for news.

The only way to access the nursery will be the entrance off North State Street, or the entrance via the Church Office. We hope this part of the construction will be completed by late August. Thanks for your kindness and patience in the midst of the ongoing renovations and improvements.

Friday, May 26, 2006

RTS: No City Left Behind

I jest with the title, a little!

I'm just back from our bi-annual RTS retreat in Simpsonwood, Atlanta.

Every two years, the entire faculty from Jackson, Charlotte, and Orlando together staff and administrators from Boca Raton, Washington and Atlanta meet up for a few days. It's a laid back affair, with fellowship uppermost on the agenda. We all belong to the same institution, sharing the same vision for theological education and training of pastors and teachers and counselors but rarely meet up with each other. (I have never been, for example, on the campus of Orlando!). These times are therefore precious. This year saw the official announcement of two new RTS campuses (Atlanta and Washington) with the intention of hiring faculty at both locations as soon as possible. Atlanta now boasts over 5 million people!

These are exciting days and the Lord's hand is evident in the many answers to prayer. Please keep praying for our faithfulness as we continue to seek ways to serve Him and spread the Reformed faith to the end of the earth.

Congratulations to byFaith

The PCA denominational magazine, byFaith has won an Evangelical Press Association award. Congratulations to Dick Doster and company! Here's the press release.

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga., May 19, 2006— The Evangelical Press Association (EPA) announced its annual awards last week at its national convention in Orlando, Fla., and named byFaith magazine as the best denominational magazine of 2005.

“The magazine features extremely well-written information and strong editorial content,” said judge David Sanford, of the Portland-based Sanford Communications. “And the design drew me into every article.”

Nearly 30 entries were submitted for the denominational magazine category. “This publication sets the standard for EPA’s denominational magazines,” said Sanford. “Almost any serious Christian, regardless of denominational affiliation, would find this magazine compelling.”

The magazine, which debuted in January of 2005, is a bi-monthly publication of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

“We’re honored to have received this award in our inaugural year,” said Dick Doster, editor of byFaith. “The PCA has so many great writers, thinkers, and theologians, and we’re thrilled to be good stewards of these gifts and share them with a broad audience.”

The EPA Award of Excellence is based on a variety of categories, including the quality and variety of editorial content, writing, editing, graphic design, and overall impact.

“This was my first time reading byFaith,” said Sanford. “And even though I subscribe to more than 50 magazines, this would be the kind of publication I would read every issue.”

Dick Doster
(678) 825-1025 office
(770) 846-2590 cellular

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Pressures of Ministry

My new friend Mark Driscoll has recently posted an important article on the pressures of ministry. Here's a little taste what he passed along:
The following statistics were presented by Pastor Darrin Patrick from research he has gathered from such organizations as Barna and Focus on the Family.

*Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
*Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
*Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
*Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
*Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
*Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
*Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
*Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Pastors' Wives
*Eighty percent of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
*Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
*The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

Now, these statistics give you an idea about how to pray for pastors, but they also give me cause to thank God for a wonderfully supportive congregation that keeps me encouraged, is so kind to me and my family, and is a delight to serve.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Life Well Lived: "Puritanical" Marriage

Oh, that we had more "puritanical" marriages. No, not the cold social and civic alliances attributed to the Puritans by nineteenth century novelists, but the real, passionate, earthy marriages of the real, passionate, earthy Puritans. They were not perfect, far from it. They did not live in a golden age, but we can learn much from them--and we should.

Hear historian Edmund Morgan:

"When God presented Eve to Adam, he 'Solemnized the First Marriage that ever was' and in so doing gave his sanction to marriage itself. Therefore, the Puritans said, with an eye on the Catholics, those who 'speak reproachfully of it do both impeach God’s Wisdom and Truth.' The Puritans refused to regard marriage as a sacrament, but they also abjured the ideal of celibacy as a condition purer and holier than marriage. God was of another mind than those who believe in 'the Excellency of Virginity.'"

"The Puritan wife of New England occupied a relatively enviable position by comparison, say, with the wife of early Rome or of the Middle Ages or even of contemporary England; for her husband's authority was strictly limited. He could not lawfully strike her, nor could he command her to do anything contrary to the laws of God, laws which were explicitly defined in the civil codes. In one respect she was almost his equal, for she had 'joint interest in governing the rest of the family.'"

"As a matter of fact the Puritans were a much earthier lot than their modern critics have imagined. It is well to remember that they belonged to the age in which they lived and not to the more squeamish decades of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Seaborn Cotton, son of New England’s leading divine, while a student at Harvard College, started a notebook in which he copied some of the more explicit passages from Elizabethan and Cavalier love poems. When he later became minister of the church in Hampton, New Hampshire, he saw no incongruity in using the same copybook to take notes of church meetings."

Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England.

Hear seventeenth century Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet:

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife were happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so perservere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

A Letter to Her Husband

My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my magazine, of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?
So many steps, head from the heart to sever,
If but a neck, soon should we be together.
I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black,
My Sun is gone so far in's zodiac,
Whom whilst I 'joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,
His warmth such fridged colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn;
Return; return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heart I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father's face.
O strange effect! now thou art southward gone,
I weary grow the tedious day so long;
But when thou northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.

Your Marriage?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Come Holy Spirit!

Quite a few of you have asked some important and searching questions about the Holy Spirit following Sunday evening's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2).
Here's a part of what I said.
Well, maybe not exactly what I said since I didn't have these notes with me at the time!
But this is what I meant to say!.

On the Day of Pentecost, “all” the disciples present were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4). This is particularly significant given recent claims as to the significance of being filled with the Spirit. It is important to note the interchangeability of terms employed for this phenomenon in the first two chapters of Acts. The Holy Spirit “baptizes” (Acts 1:5), “comes upon” (1:8), is “received” (Acts 2:38), and “fills” (Acts 2:4). To seek to distinguish different experiences by these various expressions, hinting that some may only be achieved after a particular ritual, is a fundamental mistake. To suggest that all who receive the Holy Spirit are not necessarily “baptized in (or with) the Holy Spirit” or even “filled with” the Holy Spirit as has been suggested by some branches of the church in the latter part of the twentieth century especially. To insist that “Holy Spirit baptism” or “filling” is a post-conversion experience in the sense that it is possible to be born-again and not be filled with the Spirit is to overlook the very nature of what true conversion is. Holy Spirit filling or baptism is one of several designations in Scripture to describe the initiatory experience by which the Spirit takes up residence in the believer as Christ’s representative agent. It is, in some ways, another way of expressing what Paul often gives voice to—union with Christ.

Every believer was filled with the Spirit, not just those who had engaged in some special act of consecration. Indeed, the entire emphasis given by Luke suggests that the only thing that can be said the disciples themselves is that they were there! The stress lies on the sovereign God’s initiative rather than on some effort of holiness on the part of the disciples. It was, as Peter’s sermon will make clear, what the prophet Joel had promised: that male and female, young and old, bond and free will experience this together (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-18). What Moses had longed for—that all the Lord’s people would be prophets has come true at last (Numb. 11:29). “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and all…made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

It could be any other way, of course. The Father and the Son and the Spirit are united together in one plan of redemption and one method of accomplishing it. It is not possible to be in union with Christ and not be in possession of all that is Christ’s. We are rooted in Christ and those roots tap into the fullness of the Spirit that is his. So close is this relationship that Paul can say in one place, “the Lord (Jesus) is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17).

We'll return to this theme again as we traverse Acts.


Monday, May 22, 2006

A Life Well Lived: Holiness With Our Feet On The Ground

These days, dematerialized, elitist self-spiritualities abound. Neo-Gnostic connoisseurs of the sublime are happy to let the unenlightened in on the secret: Spirituality without the inconvenience of creation, sin, morality, people we don’t like, and (most attractive of all) God. What a deal! A spiritual inside track without the messiness of matter. Americans were shown the way (unfortunately) by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Standing on the bare ground—my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.” I can feel my feet leaving the ground! Lies, all lies.

"A primary task of the community of Jesus is to maintain this lifelong cultivation of love in all the messiness of its families, neighborhoods, congregations, and missions. Life is intricate, demanding, glorious, deeply human, and God-honoring, but--and here's the thing--never a finished product, never an accomplishment, always flawed in some degree or other. So why define our identity in terms that can never be satisfied? There are so many easier ways to give meaning and significance to our human condition: giving assent to a creed or keeping a prescribed moral code are the most common in congregations. . . . Belief and behavior are essential, but as the defining mark of the Christian they lack one thing--relationship. They are both prone to abstractions or programs. Abstractions (learning right belief) are good; programs (learning right behavior) are good; but it is also possible to master the abstractions and carry out the programs impersonally. In fact, it is far easier if done impersonally."

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Our goal: Holiness and Fear-of-the-Lord, cultivated by personal prayer and corporate worship, practiced in the context of the messiness that comes with particular places and particular people.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ephesians 4:29-30 Outline

Ephesians 4:29-30
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

In this passage, Paul challenges corrupt communication by Christians, commands us to be edifying in our speech, and bids us to take care not to grieve the Holy Spirit with our talk (as well as our stealing, anger or untruthfulness).

I. Christian must, in reliance on God’s grace, refuse to speak harmfully (29)
[The Prohibition]
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, . . .

II. Christians must aim in our talk to edify and bless our hearers (29b)
[The Exhortation]
29 . . . but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

III. Christians must aim to speak so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit (30)
[The Motivation]
30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friends Who Suffer

When I heard the "cancer" updates yesterday from several members of our congregation and then read Ed Bowman's update on his chemo and radiation treatments this morning, I happened to have been reading through the following sermon. This sermon was preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1739. The passage is Luke 22:44; the context is Gethsemane; the title "Christ's Agony." It moves me to tears every time a read it. (This is just an excerpt.)

"Christ's Agony"
Luke 22:44

"And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground."

From what has been said, we may see the wonderful strength of the love of Christ to sinners. What has been said shows the strength of Christ’s love two ways.

First, the love of any mere man or angel would doubtless have sunk under such a weight, and never would have endured such a conflict in such a bloody sweat as that of Jesus Christ. The anguish of Christ’s soul at that time was so strong as to cause that wonderful effect on his body. But his love to his enemies, poor and unworthy as they were, was stronger still. The heart of Christ at that time was full of distress, but it was fuller of love. His sorrows abounded, but his love did much more abound. Christ’s soul was overwhelmed with a deluge of grief, but this was from a deluge of love to sinners in his heart sufficient to overflow the world, and overwhelm the highest mountains of its sins. Those great drops of blood that fell down to the ground were a manifestation of an ocean of love in Christ’s heart.

Second, the strength of Christ’s love more especially appears in this, that when he had such a full view of the dreadfulness of the cup that he was to drink, that so amazed him, he would notwithstanding even then take it up, and drink it. Then seems to have been the greatest and most peculiar trial of the strength of the love of Christ, when God set down the bitter portion before him, and let him see what he had to drink, if he persisted in his love to sinners; and brought him to the mouth of the furnace that he might see its fierceness, and have a full view of it, and have time then to consider whether he would go in and suffer the flames of this furnace for such unworthy creatures, or not. This was as it were proposing it to Christ’s last consideration what he would do; as much as if it had then been said to him, "Here is the cup that you are to drink, unless you will give up your undertaking for sinners, and even leave them to perish as they deserve. Will you take this cup, and drink it for them, or not? There is the furnace into which you are to be cast, if they are to be saved. Either they must perish, or you must endure this for them. There you see how terrible the heat of the furnace is. You see what pain and anguish you must endure on the morrow, unless you give up the cause of sinners. What will you do? Is your love such that you will go on? Will you cast yourself into this dreadful furnace of wrath?"

Christ’s soul was overwhelmed with the thought. His feeble human nature shrunk at the dismal sight. It put him into this dreadful agony which you have heard described. But his love to sinners held out. Christ would not undergo these sufferings needlessly, if sinners could be saved without. If there was not an absolute necessity of his suffering them in order to their salvation, he desired that the cup might pass from him. But if sinners, on whom he had set his love, could not, agreeably to the will of God, be saved without his drinking it, he chose that the will of God should be done. He chose to go on and endure the suffering, awful as it appeared to him. And this was his final conclusion, after the dismal conflict of his poor feeble human nature, after he had had the cup in view, and for at least the space of one hour, had seen how amazing it was. Still he finally resolved that he would bear it, rather than those poor sinners whom he had loved from all eternity should perish.

When the dreadful cup was before him, he did not say within himself, "why should I, who am so great and glorious a person, infinitely more honorable than all the angels of heaven, Why should I go to plunge myself into such dreadful, amazing torments for worthless wretched worms that cannot be profitable to God, or me, and that deserve to be hated by me, and not to be loved? Why should I, who have been living from all eternity in the enjoyment of the Father’s love, go to cast myself into such a furnace for them that never can requite me for it? Why should I yield myself to be thus crushed by the weight of diving wrath, for them who have no love to me, and are my enemies? They do not deserve any union with me, and never did, and never will do, anything to recommend themselves to me. What shall I be the richer for having saved a number of miserable haters of God and me, who deserve to have divine justice glorified in their destruction?" Such, however, was not the language of Christ’s heart in these circumstances. But on the contrary, his love held out.

The special trial of his love above all others in his whole life seems to have been in the time of his agony. For though his sufferings were greater afterwards, when he was on the cross, yet he saw clearly what those sufferings were to be, in the time of his agony. And that seems to have been the first time that ever Christ Jesus had a clear view what these sufferings were. And after this the trial was not so great, because the conflict was over. His human nature had been in a struggle with his love to sinners, but his love had got the victory.

Amen! Friends who are suffering, we love you and you are in our prayers.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Could Moses Pass the Spelling Bee?

I beg forgiveness for no blogs this week. Exams, papers, grading--all the things I live for (well, not quite). But light is dawning on a distant horizon And I thought I'd better contribute something. And it occurred to me to add something by way of a comment to Wednesday evening's Prayer Meeting address on whether Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch). I had the temerity to address (because big boss Ligon asked me to) the so-called documentary hypothesis of Jean Astruc and Julius Wellhausen, and others, suggesting that at least four different authors are involved (called J, E, D and P) stretching from around 1200 to 450 B.C.

Who cares? Quite! That's what a little voice is saying in my head, too. Would the world come to a halt if we discovered some sixth-century B.C. priest named Rabbi Schmo benHilkiah (I made that up!) pieced it together from various documents and oral traditions that were around, adding some comments more geared to address issues of his time and ensure political favor for his cause than anything to do with historical accuracy?

Before you answer that question, consider this: that Jesus believed in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (yes, he said so in Matthew 19:7 citing Moses on divorce of all things). Now, imagine if Jesus was, well, wrong? Ignorant of the how the first five books had come together over a period of 800 years, ignorant of the spiritual evolution of Isreal's faith from polytheism to monotheism, ignorant of the fact that the patriarchs worshipped tribal deities and so on. Would you want to put your trust in such a person for life and death matters? True, believing someone about life and death matters is one thing; about who wrote Exodus another. But if he could be wrong about the one, how do you know that he wasn't wrong about the other, too?

You see, for me at least, it's all about what Jesus said. That's good enough for me.

In any case, JEDP doesn't even spell anything!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

From Chicago

Thanks for the Da Vinci post, Brad. It will be interesting to see what the general public thinks. The critics are often poor judges of us hoi polloi.

I'm in Chicago for a Pastor's Colloquium and miss you guys. Be back tomorrow, Lord willing.

Phil Ryken's put up an excellent post on the "Presbyterian and Presbyterians Together" statement, over at reformation21. Check it out. There are also some very interesting remarks by Tim Keller on Gospel ministry, the Christian life and the "New Perspective(s) on Paul" which are passed along by Phil at ref21, based on comments Tim made at the meeting here.

Looking forward to seeing you at ministers' meeting on Friday morning. More soon.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Flop?

So far, "The Da Vinci Code" is making quite an impression on the critics. See here and here.

A Life Well Lived: Concrete Love

1 Cor. 13:1-13

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [3] And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. [4] Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, [5] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, [6] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; [7] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [8] Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. [9] For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. [11] When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. [13] But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

A simple reminder from poet and novelist Wendell Berry:

"Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, 'the least of these my brethren.' Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded."

Whom do you love? How (specifically) do you show it?


Monday, May 15, 2006

A Life Well Lived: Out, Up, or In?

1 John 4:19
We love, because He first loved us.

In 1993, Sting released what has become something of a postmodern anthem:

"If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but

If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do.

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me

If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do.

I could be lost inside their lies without a trace
But every time I close my eyes I see your face

I never saw no miracle of science
That didn't go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn't always end up as something worse but
Let me say this first

If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do.

These lines seethe with cynicism, hopelessness, and fleeting, misdirected hope. Compare them with the hope-filled lines of pastor-poet George Herbert. (Take your time. Read this slowly and thoughtfully.)


Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
"Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

There is no hope in reaching
out for naturalistic, inductive, empirical verification of the Word and works of a sovereign God; or up to tap into some impersonal force or power when needed; or in to fan into flame a mysterious divine spark. Our only daily, hourly, and eternal hope is found in the sovereign God who reaches down--in love.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ephesians 4:28 Outline

Paul gives six specific examples in Ephesians 4:25-32. The first was truth-telling. The second is managed or governed anger. The third regards stealing, precisely stopping stealing, which is sinful and selfish, and starting working in order to be self-giving and generous. Paul’s third life example of how we are to live distinctively as Christians appears in Ephesians 4:28. "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need."

I. Stop getting for yourself by taking what is not yours (28a) [The Prohibition]
"He who steals must steal no longer; . . ."

*This command is broader than you think, it applies to you

*"‘Do not steal’ was the eighth commandment of Moses’ law. It had and still has a wide application, not only to the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasions and customs dodges which rob the government of their dues, to employers who oppress their workers, and to employees who give poor service or work short time." (John R.W. Stott)

*Augustine discovered the sin of his heart by this sin.

II. Start doing good honest work (28b) [The Exhortation]
". . . but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good,"

*"None but Christ can turn a burglar into a benefactor." (John R.W. Stott)

*Paul’s approach to sin is never merely "stop it" but to replace it with a corresponding godly pattern of living

III. Become a philanthropist, by giving of what you’ve earned to help those who are in need (28c) [The Transformation]
". . . so that he will have something to share with one who has need."

*The logic underneath Paul’s command here is to stop viewing ourselves as the center of the world, and to start viewing our work as a means for us to bless others

*The root of this sin is selfishness and a sense of entitlement

*The Gospel rejoinder to this sin is cultivation of selflessness and a sense of responsibility

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Calvin on our tendency to stealing

"Then we see that there are to be found thieves of all degrees. There is not a man who is not striving to grab for himself; I refer to those who have not been reformed by the Spirit of God. Although a merchant may be accounted a man of good skill, yet he will still have a store of tricks and wiles, and they will be like nets laid for the simple and such as are without experience, who do not perceive them. The case is the same for those who follow the mechanical arts, for they have the skill to counterfeit their works in such a way that men shall be deceived by them. Again, with regard to prices, there is no trusting the sellers. It is all the same to them, as long as they sell their wares, for they think that anything is lawful for them. Of workers on the land the same holds good. In short, there is no class of men in which there are not infinite faults and extortions to be seen, for every man wishes to get the upper hand and make himself stronger than the rest." (John Calvin)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Calvin on God's judgment, in contrast to man's

"The prophets and apostles did not speak the ordinary kind of language that is used in courts of Justice on earth, but had an eye to the judgment seat of God. For what may be excused and even perhaps fully justified before men, shall not fail to be condemned there. For God sees much clearer than mortal creatures. Again partiality may often hold sway in law matters, so that there will be cloaking, dissembling, and covering up, and the judges will be very glad to have a bandage over their eyes, that a man may have some subterfuge to allow of his escape. They may often be very glad of such things, but it is not so with God." (John Calvin)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When life gets tough...

Life can get pretty tough at times.

What the puritans called "losses and crosses" can get the better of us.

We can fail to respond to them as we should and find ourselves in one of those "dark night of the soul" episodes.

"When life gets tough, the tough get going," they say. But that often sounds too man-centered, too self-driven.

Truth is, our strength lies outside of ourselves. And before we truly learn this, God makes us feel our weakness.

And why is it His custom to give us a hard passage through this world?

The biblical answer is: for His own glory! But more than that: so that when hard pressed and at the limit of our own resources, we may learn to utterly depend on His grace and the limitless resources of his saving power.

"We have this treasure (yes, treasure!) in earthen vessels," Paul wrote, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

Living like that, we may find ourselves saying, with George Whitefield, "Let the name of Whitefield perish, so long as God is glorified."


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Life Well Lived: Fear of the Lord

Psalm 34:9
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him, there is no want.

Psalm 111:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
His praise endures forever.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 10:27
The fear of the Lord prolongs life,
But the years of the wicked will be shortened.

Proverbs 15:16
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord,
Than great treasure and turmoil with it.

Proverbs 19:23
The fear of the Lord leads to life,
So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.

Proverbs 23:17
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But live in the fear of the Lord always.

So what do we do? I don't always agree with Eugene Peterson, but he is right on the mark here:

"So what do we do, given our launch into this life following Jesus? 'Fear the LORD, you his saints' (Ps. 34:9). Fear-of-the-Lord is not studying about God but living in reverence before God."

"Fear-of-the-Lord is the best term we have to point to this way of life we cultivate as Christians."

"The primary way in which we cultivate fear-of-the-Lord is in prayer and worship--personal prayer and corporate worship. We deliberately interupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to God. . . . We become silent and still in order to listen and respond to what is Other than us. . . . Prayer and worship provide the base."

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Our goal: Holiness and Fear-of-the-Lord, cultivated by personal prayer and corporate worship.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Zinzendorf: A Life Lived for Christ

Count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Brethren, died on this day (May 9) in 1760. We remember him especially for the hymn we often sing:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Born in 1700, Zinzendorf founded a community of earnest Christians called Herrnhut ("The Lord's Watch") .The community became part of the Moravian church and was best known for its unparalleled missionary zeal.

In 1727 the community started a 'round the clock "prayer watch" that lasted unbroken for 100 years. There were about 300 persons in the community at the beginning, and various ones covenanted to pray for one of the 24 hours in the day. In 1792, 65 years later, with the lamp of prayer still burning, the little community had sent out 300 missionaries to the unreached peoples of the West Indies, Greenland, Lapland, Turkey, and North America.

With all our talk about our love for Christ and belief in missions, we have never come close to anything like this. These were men and women who were utterly dedicated to making Jesus known to the ends of the earth.

After Zinzendorf had finished the University he took a trip throughout Europe looking at some of the cultural highspots. And something very unexpected happened. In the art museum at Dusseldorf, he saw a painting by Domenico Feti entitled Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man"), currently at the Galleria degli Uffizi, in Florence. It was a portrait of Christ with the crown of thorns pressed down on His head and blood running down His face.

When Zinzendorf stood before the painting in Dusseldorf as a believing, faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, he could say on the authority of this text: "These wounds were meant to purchase me. These drops of blood were shed to obtain me." Beneath the portrait were the words, "I have done this for you; what have you done for me?"

All of his life Zinzendorf looked back to that encounter as utterly life-changing. As he stood there, as it were, watching his Savior suffer and bleed, he said to himself,

"I have loved Him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for Him. From now on I will do whatever He leads me to do."


Monday, May 08, 2006

A Life Well Lived: Melody and Harmony

"Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:13-16).

We'll take our cue from Calvin. No one puts our goal more beautifully:

"The goal of the Christian life is that God's children exhibit melody and harmony in their conduct. What melody? What harmony? The harmony between God's righteousness and our obedience."

"The plan of Scripture for a Christian walk is two-fold: first, that we be well instructed in the law to love righteousness, because by nature we are not inclined to do so; second, that we be shown a simple rule that we may not waver in our race. Of the many recommendations, is there any better than the key principle: Be thou holy, for I am holy? When we were dispersed like scattered sheep, and lost in the labyrinth of the world, Christ gathered us together again, the he might bring us to himself."

John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

So far so good, but, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, righteousness and holiness must not remain in some far off, safely abstract realm:

"It is terrible to find how little progress one's philosophy and charity have made when they are brought to the test of domestic life."

Our Goal: This "melody and harmony" tested by "domestic life." In other words, to "live" holiness in the marketplace, kitchen, living room, and bedroom.


Matt Baugh Funeral Information

Matt Baugh, who was the Pastor at the PCA Church in Tchula, Mississippi, and who with his family has been serving as an OPC missionary in Haiti, died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident this past Thursday, while he was on his way to meet another missionary.

A memorial service will be conducted on Thursday, May 11, 2:00 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church (PCA), 231 N. Washington St., Yazoo City, MS 39194-4226 (Tel: 662-746–1226).

Sympathy cards and notes for the family may be addressed to:
Mrs. Shannon Baughc/o Mrs. Barbara Freeman P.O. Box 836 Tchula, MS 39169-0836

Gifts to assist Shannon and their five children, ages two to ten, in getting established back in the States and to help provide for their needs may be sent to:
The Orthodox Presbyterian ChurchThe Committee on Foreign Missions
ATTN: Baugh Family Diaconal Fund
P.O. Box P
Willow Grove, PA 19090-0920

For now, Shannon and the children plan to stay with Matt’s folks in the Tchula, Mississippi, area. Please continue to keep the Baugh family in your prayers in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

New Series for Sunday Evenings


"To The End of The Earth"

An examination of the history of the early church addresses more than one issue. In the first place, it anchors the church in its roots. In an age where history and tradition are given fleeting attention, or dispensed with altogether, knowing our history seems important. The church did not simply spring into being from thin air! Then again, if postmodernity disparages history, its advocacy of pluralism also finds the insistence of the early church on one way and only one way offensive.
Luke begins ACTS with what looks like a boring historian's pedantry to detail, but unless our faith is grounded in history, we are merely fooling ourselves.

Tonight we begin a journey.

Think of it as a road trip: from Jerusalem to the great city of Rome.

Fasten your seat-belts; ensure that your tray tables are firmly secured in their locked position; and bring your seat backs to the forward position.
We're in for a bumpy ride.

1. Gazing Into Heaven
Acts 1:1-11

2. Then They Were Twelve Again
Acts 1:12-26

3. Pentecostal Fire!
Acts 2:1-13

4. The "This is That" Sermon!
Acts 2:14-41

5. See, How They Love One Another!
Acts 2:42-47

6. Jumping for Joy
Acts 3:1-10

7. A New Testament Sermon on an Old Testament Text
Acts 3:11-26


Ephesians 4:26-27 Outline

Ephesians 4:26-27
26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.

For the sake of God’s glory in the church, for the sake of the unity of the body, for our own holiness and good, Paul here commands that we watch our anger.

I. In your anger do not sin (26a) [A prohibition against sinful anger]
A. This is not a command to be angry (don’t separate first and second part of the sentence).
B. This is not a blanket condemnation of and prohibition against all anger.
1. There are times when anger is right and appropriate
2. Jesus displayed anger: Mark 3:5; John 2:15-17; Revelation 6:16
3. God displays anger. 1 Kings 11:9; 2 Kings 17:18; Psalm 2:5; 7:11; Hebrews 12:29
C. It is, however, a strong command against sinful anger, which undermines the unity of the body and robs God of glory.

Application: (Don’t allow your anger to be an occasion of sin, and thus divide the body)

II. Put a terminus on your anger (26b) [A command to contain and limit anger]
26 . . . do not let the sun go down on your anger,
A. Don’t nurse anger, don’t allow it to go on, – righteous or not. Don’t let the embers smoulder.
B. "Never go to bed angry"–"is a good rule, and is seldom more applicable than to a married couple." (Phillips and Stott)

Application: (Don’t cherish anger, and thus divide the body, or your family or your marriage)

III. Don’t give the Devil, the accuser, an occasion to entrap you in sinful anger (27) [A command and warning about anger and spiritual warfare]
27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.
A. Anger is hard to handle responsibly, so the Evil One lurks, ready to exploit us and provoke us.
B. The Devil wants to use our sinful, prideful, selfish anger to breach the fellowship of the body.
C. He also wants to use it to destroy our own souls and rob God of glory in the church.
Quotation: "Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you" (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, p. 117).

Application: (Don’t give the Devil an advantage or opportunity by your anger)
Application: (The need of God’s saving and sanctifying grace)

Quotation: "We feel every day how incurable is the disease of long-continued hatred, or at least, how difficult it is to cure it." (John Calvin)

The battle against anger shows us how much we need grace!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Anger and the Glory of God

Tomorrow, we are continuing our Sunday morning series in Ephesians. We come to yet another specific Pauline imperative: "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity" (Ephesians 4:26-27, NASB-95). In this whole section (4:25-32), Paul is calling us to live like Christians, to live out grace, to enhance the unity of the body and to promote the glory of God, in six specific areas of the Christian life. Last week, in v. 25, he emphasized that we were to promote the unity of the body of Christ and bear witness to the glory of God in the church through our truth-telling. This week, the issue is anger. Talk about stepping on toes!

Well, at any rate, while preparing for the message, I came across this excellent quote and thought from John Stott (who has got to be one of the kindest human beings I've ever met - which makes the content of this quote all the more striking!):

"There is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also. 'Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who foraske the law' (Psalm 119:53). What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?" (John Stott, God's New Society, Ephesians, BST, 186)

That's not really where I'm going with the message in morning, but it was too good to pass up passing it along to you.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Resources for The Da Vinci Code

Westminster Seminary has put up a very helpful website ( addressing the movie. The site contains articles for laypeople and pastors alike.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Losing someone we love

Today, Mississippi Valley Presbytery lost a dear friend and brother, Rev. Matt Baugh.

The news is sketchy but the gist of it is that he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Haiti. He leaves a wife, Shannon and five children (aged 2-10). Matt had been the minister in Tchulla PCA (where the Hutton family--of "Hutton Chapel") live. He had decided to move to Haiti as a missionary (he was born there) just a few years ago.

I loved him greatly as a friend and colleague. I have been thinking today of times I sat on his porch in Tchulla while he talked of the joys of growing water-mellons! He loved the reformed faith. And he loved his family. He reminded me of Winnie the Pooh for some reason (he was of similar build!).

Tears have filled my eyes most of the day as I have talked with our dear friends in Tchulla. I have felt anger and fear. I have prayed for Shannon as she informed her children, all alone and without the support of her family who are on their way there as I write. I have asked the Lord to forgive me for my anger when it has suggested that his providence has been unfair and unkind. And I have heard Matt in my head saying, "Derek! I loved the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, so don't let me down at the moment when my family will most need it."

Matt is with the angels and we are still in the war!

"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).

Dr. Bill Harper's Challenge

Dr. Bill Harper offered a bracing challenge today to our men during the lunch hour. He focused on the lives and examples of John Newton and Charles Simeon from a book he just finished reading for the third time: John Piper's, The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce.

Thanks again to Bill for helping us finish the Spring MOC series on a very high note!


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To Da Vinci or not to Da Vinci?

Gene Veith over at World Magazine is asking for your opinion: "Boycott or Buy Tickets"? What do you think?

A Life Well Lived

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom."

James gets specific: "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18)."

What does it mean to live faithfully for Christ in unsettling times? What does it mean to live joyfully for Christ amidst the daily messiness of family, friends, neighborhood, and congregation? What does genuine Christianity look like?

Beginning next week and continuing throughout the summer, you will find a blog posted at this site every Monday and Wednesday morning under the title, “A Life Well Lived.” Together, we’ll look at Scripture passages, historical and contemporary examples, provocative quotations, poetry, music, and more.

"Who among you is wise and understanding?” Let’s see if we can find out.

Look for it! I look forward to your feedback and interaction.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

MOC Luncheon This Thursday


This Thursday, May 4th, 11:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., is our last MOC Luncheon until September. Mark your calendar, tap your palm pilot, set the alarm on your phone. Don't miss this one!

Dr. Bill Harper will address the issue of endurance. Dr. Harper offers this introduction to his message:

"John Piper writes, 'And one of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. It hangs in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We blame easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness brakes easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition. A typical emotional response to trouble in the church is to think, If that's the way they feel about me, then I'll just find another church.' We all need help here!"

Join us for lunch Thursday, May 4th as we explore how some of the greatest Christian men in the 18th century church dealt with the need for Endurance--another desirable quality in our discussions of the characteristics of Christian maturity.

This is an excellent opportunity to invite Christian and non-Christian friends. We will finish by 12:50 p.m., so that all can return to their day's schedule. Reservations are not required and the cost of lunch is $5.00. The luncheon will be held in Miller Hall.

If you have any questions, please contact Ashley Hall, Discipleship Ministry Assistant, at 601-973-9118 or

Luther and the priesthood of all believers

Today in history: Martin Luther was ordained as a priest on April 3, 1507 and celebrated his first Mass on May 2. Thirteen years later, following Luther's conversion, he wrote The Freedom of a Christian (1520), one of the classics of the Reformation. In it he gave voice to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers:

"Nor are we only kings and the freest of all men, but also priests for ever, a dignity far higher than kingship, because by that priesthood we are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, and to teach one another mutually the things which are of God. For these are the duties of priests, and they cannot possibly be permitted to any unbeliever. Christ has obtained for us this favour, if we believe in Him: that just as we are His brethren and co-heirs and fellow-kings with Him, so we should be also fellow-priests with Him, and venture with confidence, through the spirit of faith, to come into the presence of God, and cry, “Abba, Father!” and to pray for one another, and to do all things which we see done and figured in the visible and corporeal office of priesthood."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lauren Wade on her recent NY Trip

Our own Lauren Wade went to NYC with RUF this past spring break, and blogged on her experience at Common Grounds Online . Check it out.