Sunday, November 30, 2008

Market Day of the Soul

Give Yourself Away to God in Worship Today

Here is one of my very favorite passages in Calvin's Institutes. Take heed to it, and give yourself to the Lord in your public worship today -lock, stock and barrel- because you belong to him.

We are not our own:
let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds.

We are not our own:
let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh.

We are not our own:
in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God's:
let us therefore live for him and die for him.

We are God's:
let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions.

We are God's:
let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1


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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preparing to Hear the Word

A Reflection from Jeremiah Burroughs

Ligon’s post on preparation for worship coincided with my own thoughts today.

I’m presently reading (for the first time!) Peter Lewis’ fine work, The Genius of Puritanism. The first section of the book focuses on the puritan in the pulpit, while the second section of the book centers on the puritan in the pew.

What has struck me time and again in Lewis' work thus far is how central the Word is in all aspects of Puritan worship. This included, interestingly, not just the preaching of the Word but the hearing of the Word. The preacher, though certainly responsible to prepare a Word from God for the people, the people are, according to the Puritans, equally responsible to prepare their hearts to receive the Word.

The Word was the climax of the worship service for the Puritans. All that came before the reading and preaching of the Word led up to it, and all that came after the reading and preaching of the Word flowed from it. No other means could better establish men in the faith, and produce in men other saving graces than the expounding of the Word.

Now, the discipline of spiritual preparation for worship is much neglected in our day, and not a small reason why many hear sermon after sermon with little spiritual profit. Nature teaches us that seeds do not typically penetrate unprepared soil. Likewise, the gospel seed rarely penetrates the unprepared heart. All the more reason why we should take up the joyful task of asking, and diligently seeking, God’s grace for a heart prepared to meet Him.

Consider Jeremiah Burroughs prayerful example of spiritual preparation below. Then, before worship tomorrow, pray through Burroughs short lines of preparation, until his lines become your own. It may be beneficial to rewrite Burroughs reflection, putting his words into contemporary language. Whatever the case, be sure to express to God your need for him to possess your attention and affections, opening your soul to His power in worship.

“Pray beforehand that God would open thine eyes, and open thine heart, and accompany his Word; thus did David: ‘Open mine eyes O Lord, that I may understand the wonders of thy law.’ And you know what is said of Lydia: ‘The Lord opened her heart to attend the Word which was spoken.’ Now, seeing it is an ordinance thou dost expect more food from than what of its own nature is able to convey, thou has need to pray, ‘O Lord open mine eyes and open my heart: Lord, my heart is naturally locked up against Thy Word, there are wards in my heart that, except thou art pleased to put in the key that fit my heart, it will never open…Lord, I have often gone to thy Word and the key hath stuck in it [my heart], and it hath not opened; but Lord, if thou wouldst but fit it and turn it with thine own hand, my heart would open.”

May God grant you great benefit in the hearing and receiving of the Word this Sunday.


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Sunday's Coming

Preparing for Worship by Asking "What is Worship?"

One way we can ready ourselves for public worship on Sundays, for the gathering of the saints to give glory to God, is to ask ourselves: "what is worship?" "What is it that I am coming to this gathering for and what is it that I am coming to do?"

What is worship? Well, the Psalmist tells us succinctly. It is giving unto the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 29:1-2). Jerry Bridges, noted author of The Pursuit of Holiness and Transforming Grace, has asked this very question and answered as follows: "In Scripture the word worship is used to denote both an overall way of life and a specific activity. When the prophet Jonah said, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God heaven, who made the sea and the land "(Jonah 1:9), he was speaking about his whole manner of life. In contrast to Jonah's words, Psalm 100:2 says, "Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." The psalmist there speaks of a specific activity of praising God. This is the sense in which we normally use the word worship today. These two concepts of worship-a broad one and a more narrow, specific one-correspond to the two ways by which we glorify God. We glorify God by ascribing to Him the honor and adoration due to Him because of His excellence-the narrow concept of worship. We also glorify God by reflecting His glory to others-the broader, way-of-life manner of worship" (Jerry Bridges, I Exalt You, O God: Encountering His Greatness in Your Private Worship. Waterbrook Press, 2001, 3).

To say it a little differently, worship is declaring, with our lips and lives, that God is more important than anything else to us, that he is our deepest desire, that his inherent worth is beyond everything else we hold dear. Lou Giglio has recently, and provocatively, explained: "Think of it this way: Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That's why worship is that thing we all do. It's what we're all about on any given day. Worship is about saying, 'This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me . . . it's the thing of highest value in my life.' That 'thing' might be a relationship. A dream. A position. Status. Something you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this 'thing' is what you've concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is-you guessed it-what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions, becoming the driving force of all we do. And we're not just talking about the religious crowd. The Christian. The churchgoer among us. We're talking about everybody on planet earth. A multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. Proclaiming with every step what it is they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others, who rarely darken the church doors, would say worship isn't a part of their lives because they aren't 'religious.' But everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It's easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you'll find a throne, and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what's of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying; 'I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me!' But the trail never lies. We may say we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words" (Lou Giglio, The Air I Breath: Worship as a Way of Life. Multnomah, 2003).

So worship is rooted in our deepest desires, and reflects those deep desires outwardly. This is important to note because of misconceptions of what constitutes "worship." It is not uncommon to hear someone distinguish, for instance, between "worship" and the sermon. "We had a great time of worship this morning, and then the pastor gave a really practical message," someone might say, with utter innocency of spirit, not realizing that the statement reveals that he doesn't know what worship is. In that sentence, "worship" stands for "experience" and probably for music. The songs and singing leading up to the morning message were moving, made him "feel closer to God" and thus that portion of the service is associated in the heart and mind with "worship." But this is to confuse the meaning and action of worship with the effects or byproducts of worship. We do not come to a congregational service of worship in order to "experience worship" or to be deeply moved by the time of singing or to have some kind of an emotional catharsis. We come to meet with God and to give to him the glory due his name.

If one has any other goal in worship than engaging with God, coming into the presence of God, to glorify and enjoy him, any other aim than to ascribe his worth, commune with him and receive his favor, then one has yet to worship. For in biblical worship we focus upon God himself and acknowledge his inherent and unique worthiness.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Missionary Spotlight:

Coby and Pamela McGinty, Cape Town, South Africa





Coby and Pamela McGinty are serving through Mission to the World (MTW) at the University of Cape Town, in Cape Town, South Africa. The University of Cape Town hosts more than 20,000 students from 98 different nations and is ranked as the #1 university on the African continent. It is renown as the "Harvard of Africa."


The University of Cape Town hosts more than 20,000 students from 98 different nations and is ranked as the #1 university on the African continent. It is renown as the "Harvard of Africa." They serve with the Student Y Christian society, a reformed, interdenominational ministry located right in the center of campus. Their ministry focus is "Teaching students to follow Jesus for life." The Student Y has been serving God in this way for over 60 years.

They enjoy teaching Bible, discipline and mentoring these future leaders who have come here from all across the world. The campus is both extremely multicultural and multilingual, creating a very exciting environment in which to see leadership skills developing in these young Christian men and women. They have been so blessed to see them catch on fire for the Lord and greatly impact their families, villages and cities when returning home over school holidays and upon graduation. In a continent poised between promise and despair, it is their passion to see each and every one of these students continues to impact their nations for the Lord.

They praise God for the way He has led so many students to the Y, and for the relationships they have been blessed with. Together they have directly taught or otherwise impacted the lives of over 80 students during their first two years on the field. Their home and family are an important extension of their ministry, allowing them to become like temporary "parents, brothers and sisters" to many. Their children, Calla (13), Lake (12) and Liam (8) love interacting with the students and really enjoy taking part in their ministry.

As each New Year begins with a strong evangelistic campaign on campus, pray for them as they prepare. Please pray for UCT students; that those who do not know the Lord might be led to the Y and seek Him, and those Christian students would join in at the Y for solid teaching, discipleship, warm fellowship and the opportunity to serve. Pray for them as they need much boldness, wisdom and discernment in their relationships with students, to reach out to the unreached and to counsel and guide students in their faith.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Some Thanksgiving Sermons for your edification

Look here. For some past Thanksgiving Sermons at First Pres.

Look here, for some Thanksgiving sermons, blog post and resource from Desiring God, the ministry of John Piper.

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Sunday Order of Worship

Sunday Morning and Evening Services, 11-30-08

Here is a pdf of the Sunday Bulletin, for November 30, 2008. We plan to provide this here weekly, on Thursdays, with a view to assisting you in preparation for the public worship of God.

This week, the link takes you to the First Presbyterian Website and to a pdf, rather than to the Scribd site. Let us know if you miss the features of Scribd, or if you would prefer that we use Google Documents.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hymns of the Faith

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty


Today's "Hymn of the Faith" is "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." It is one of the very best hymns (thinking of the combination of text and tune) written in the last three hundred fifty years, and it is no surprise that it is a favorite of our congregation.

The text or lyric of the song is loosely based on Psalms 103 (esp. 1-6, 19-22) and 150:6, and alludes to a number of other biblical passages. In the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary of 1929, it finds itself aptly located in the section delineated "God: His Being, Works, Word."

The song’s author was Joachim Neander, the grandson of a musician and the son of a teacher. He studied theology at Bremen, Heidelberg and then Frankfurt, where (at the age of 23) he met the great German Pietist scholars Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) and Johann Jakob Sch├╝tz (1640-1690). Neander died at the young age of 30, perhaps of the plague or tuberculosis, having served in his short life as a school principal and as a minister. We think he wrote this hymn when he was 20.

Julian, the great hymnologist says "A magnificent hymn of praise to God, perhaps the finest production of its author (the German hymn-writer, Neander), and of the first rank in its class.

It was translated by the remarkable Catherine Winkworth who "lived most of her life in Manchester, England. The notable exception was the year she spent in Dresden, Germany. Around 1854, she published Lyra Germanica, containing numerous German hymns translated into English. She went on to publish another series of German hymns in 1858. In 1863, she came out with The Chorale Book for England, and in 1869, Christian Singers of Germany. More than any other single person, she helped bring the German chorale tradition to the English speaking world." (Cyberhymnal.org)

The hymn is exceedingly rich in biblical allusions and in piety and worship rooted in sound doctrine. The song anchors our life and worship in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, his creation, his providence, his goodness, mercy and lovingkindness. In other words, in a beautiful, lyrical and poetic way, it brings to bear a rock-solid theology proper, or doctrine of God (who he is, what he is like and what he does for us) on our personal Christian experience and public worship.

The psalm(s) on which it is based [Psalm 103 and Psalm 150:6] are also rich. But I want to point out three things in particular: (1) self-exhortation; (2) mutual exhortation; and (3) praise for providence. READ Psalm 103:1-22 and Psalm 150:6. The Psalmist is teaching us something about what we do when we come to worship God together congregationally. We not only come to praise God: (1) we exhort ourselves to praise God; (2) we exhort one another to praise God; and (3) we praise God for his providence. To elaborate, you will find the Psalmist in 103 doing at least three things: (1) the psalmist is talking to himself; (2) the psalmist is exhorting his fellow believers; and (3) the psalmist anchors his praise of God in the comprehensive sovereignty and providence of God.

Now, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! beautifully and biblically picks up on all these themes, and more.

Stanza One
Praise to* the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! *in some renderings "Praise ye"
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Join me in glad adoration.

Line 1-2, Psalm 103:1 - "Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name."
Line 2, allusion to the content of Psalm 103:2 ["forget none of his benefits" and "health and salvation"], and 103:3-6 [specified benefits], and Line 1 (again) to 103:19 ["rules over all" and "King of creation"])
Line 3, "draw near" is standard biblical language for public worship, see, e.g, Lev. 9:7; 21:18; Num. 16:40; 1 Sam. 14:36; Ps. 69:18; 119:150; Eccl. 5:1; Isa. 29:13; 34:1; 41:1; 45:20; 48:16; 57:3; 58:2; Jer. 30:21; Ezek. 43:19; Joel 3:9; Zeph. 3:2; Mal. 3:5; Heb. 4:16; 7:19, 25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; Jas. 4:8
Line 3, "His temple" refers to the old covenant sanctuary, as a way of describing new covenant worship, see Ps 11:4, Hab 2:20 and esp. Eph. 2:21. In the new covenant, God is making his people into his temple.
Line 4, "join me" the congregation exhorting one another to come worship God willingly and gladly


Stanza one praises the almighty Lord who is the Creator God for his blessings of both health and salvation (this is stated emphatically, "he is your health and salvation") and then calls our own soul and fellow believers to join in praising and blessing the Lord. In its self-exhortation, we speak to our own souls ("O my soul, praise him"), echoing Psalm 103:1-2, exhorting our own selves to praise the Lord. The stanza concludes with an exhortation to all who have heard the Lord’s gracious call to worship ("All ye who hear") to draw near to God with joyful adoration.


Stanza Two
Praise to the Lord, who o’er* all things so wondrously reigneth, *"o’er" means "over"
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er* have been *"e’er" means "ever/always"
Granted in what He ordaineth?


Line 1, Psalm 103:19 - "The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." "The Lord reigns" is a major biblical affirmation. See, e.g., 1 Chr 16:31; Ps 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1; Isa 24:23; Rev 19:6. The Lord’s works, deeds and love are repeatedly called "wondrous" in Scripture. See, e.g., Ps 40:5; 72:18; 107:8, 15, 21, 24, 31; 111:4. Aside: The Open Theist can’t sing this hymn as is. He’d have to sing. "Praise to the Lord, who over some things so wondrously reigneth,"
Line 2, Possible allusion to Psalm 17:8 "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings," or even better Psalm 61:4 "Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!"
Lines 3-4, Ps 44:4 and Isa 26:12 speak of God ordaining salvation and peace (total well-being) for his people; Rom 8:28ff tells us that God works all things for the good of his people.


Stanza two openly, gladly and unapologetically acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all things, especially as it is seen in his protective care of us ("Shelters thee under His wings," "gently sustains us"). By the way, notice how we are still talking to ourselves – "Shelters thee," thee being you talking to your own soul! It reminds you of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ suggestion that Christians ought to argue with and preach to themselves, instead of listening to themselves ! The second stanza concludes with a self-reminder that God has often granted our heart’s desires in his providential unfolding of his plan in our lives - and he does this even in our pain.


Illustration: Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617
(John Piper) . . . Thank you, heavenly Father, for the inspiration of this man’s life.No one did more than Solzhenitsyn to expose the horrors of the failed communist experiment in Russia. Hitler’s purge would pale, if such things could pale, when compared to ten times the carnage in Stalin’s gulags.Solzhenitsyn inspired me because of the suffering he endured and the effect it had on him. Here is the quote that I have not forgotten. It moves me deeply to this day. After his imprisonment in the Russian gulag of Joseph Stalin’s "corrective labor camps" Solzhenitsyn wrote:
It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. . . . That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: "Bless you, prison!" I . . . have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: "Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!" (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)
O that I would be done with murmuring against my tiny prisons. Lord, grant me greater faith to live in the coming day when I will say, "Bless you, all hardship and pain! You have cut me off from the death of prosperous idolatry again and again."


Stanza Three

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty will do,
If with His love He befriend thee.


Line 1, possible allusion to Ps. 90:17 "Prosper thou the work of our hands, O prosper thou our handy-work" (Coverdale?, Book of Common Prayer)
Line 2, allusion to Psalm 23:6 "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ...."
Line 3, pondering God, what God does and the way of life is constantly commended in the Bible. See, e.g, Psalm 64:9, 77:12, 143:5 and Prov 4:26. Not pondering is a sign of spiritual death (see Prov 5:6).
Line 4, is not raising a doubt with its "if" but enjoining us to consider the inseparable blessings that accompany God’s saving love for us. Think Romans 8:32.


Stanza three again recognizes that it is the Lord who "prospers the work of our hands" (see Psalm 90:17) and who protects us from our enemies. Once again, this stanza has us exhorting our souls to give praise to God because of his blessings to us ("Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee"). Here we acknowledge to ourselves that "Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee" (reminding one of Lamentations 3:22-23, as well as Psalm 23:6), and then we go on to exhort our heart to "Ponder anew what the Almighty will do, If with His love He befriend thee." That is, just think of what God most certainly will do, as he pours out his saving love on you? Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?


Stanza Four
Praise to the Lord, who with marvelous wisdom hath made thee,
decked* thee with health, and with loving hand guided and stayed** thee. *to clothe, adorn
How often in grief hath not he brought thee relief, **to cause to stand/stand firm
spreading his wings to o'er shade thee!


Line 1, The Bible constantly celebrates the marvelous things the Lord does (e.g., Psalm 118:23 "This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.") and in Psalm 104:24 we acknowledge "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Here, we acknowledge the Lord’s marvelous wisdom in making us (think of Ps 139:13-14).
Line 2, The Lord has given us our health, guided us lovingly and preserved us. Aside: The hymn’s author died of tuberculosis at the age of 30.
Line 3, We are given reason here to praise God, even in our deepest griefs, he shades us.
Line 4, the language here reminds us of Ps 121:5, "The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand." Shade is a pervasive biblical metaphor (see Ps 121:5; Isa 4:6; 16:3; 25:4f; 32:2; Jonah 4:5f) for God’s protecting, sparing providence – refuge.


Stanza four acknowledges God is our own wise maker, the giver of our health, the loving providential guide and support of our life. Its powerful language crescendos with the bold and believing declaration: "How oft in grief hath not he brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’er shade thee!" I have often sung this phrase in tears of trust, in the bonds of suffering, in confident peace, in our congregation.


Stanza Five
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly fore'er* we adore Him. *"forever," in some renderings "for aye"


Line 1, picks up Psalm 103:1 again - "all that is within me, bless His holy name."
Line 2, alludes to Psalm 150:6 "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! "- which sums up Psalm 103:20-22.
Line 3, echoes the call of Psalm 106:48 ("Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, "Amen!" Praise the LORD!") as it beckons all God’s people to add their own "so be it" to this grand paean of praise and blessing to God.
Line 4, because God is forever blessed (1 Chron 29:10) we are to bless him forever (Ps 145:1,2, and 21).


Stanza five, once more, asks our self to give God our all in praise ("O let all that is in me adore Him!"), and then transitions to the words and exhortation of Psalm 150:6 "All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him," concluding with a call to God’s people to add their "so be it," their "Amen," to the praise, and to continue this happy praise forever.


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Welcome to the Blog

Donna Dobbs and Ashley Hall join the team

You may have noticed the names of my friends and colleagues, Donna Dobbs and Ashley Hall, added to the contributors list on the left-hand column of the blog. Many of you know Donna and Ashley, or know of them. Both of them give leadership in women's ministry, not only locally but denominationally, and are consistent, eloquent, intelligent, informed, feminine voices for complementarianism. They are also champions of the importance of doctrine in the life of the believer and in the educational ministry of the church.

Donna is our Christian Education Director at First Pres. She is a long-time staff member, and native Mississippian, with an outstanding record of service and ministry. She is a sheer delight to work with, but don’t let her fun-loving spirit fool you – she is serious about Christian Ed and incredibly good at promoting and facilitating it (she is also a “secret weapon” when it comes to congregational care, because she knows and looks out for so many people).

Along with her works Ashley Hall, our Women’s Ministry Associate Director. Ashley came to us from Erskine College and is working on her Master's degree at Reformed Theological Seminary while facilitating the women's ministry of the church. If you know Ashley, you know she has a passion for her work and a deep love for the church. She pours her life out for and into our women. Ashley and Donna serve a remarkable group of highly-educated, energetic, hard-working and devoted women.

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Best of the Blogosphere

What is means to "Love One Another" in the Context of the Local Church

My good friend Rick Phillips offers 13 ways we can "Love One Another" in the local congregation. Here.

May I suggest some evidences of Christ’s love among us?

1. No one is on the “outside”– we are an “inclusive” not a exclusive body – we purposefully look around for those who are not fully engrafted into our body life.

2. New members are enfolded – when our Lord brings new members, we go out of our way to welcome them and include them. This often is initiated by inviting the new members to your house for a meal or a get-together or including them in a ministry.

3. The old visited and included – we spend time with the “shut-ins” and write them notes or call them on the phone. We offer to pick them up for church or special events and have them over to our homes for meals.

4. The young are discipled and trained – the “older” members (20 years old and up!!) make opportunities for our young adults and pre-teens to be included in activities, ministries, and fellowship times.

5. Old friendships are deepened – we deepen our trust in one another through faithfulness, longsuffering, and consistent prayer.

6. New friendships are established – we reach outside our comfort zone to make new friends.

7. Extreme needs are met – we rise, by God’s grace, to meet the needs.

8. There are no “cliques” – though we have our friendships within the church, we constantly broaden our relationships.

9. Friendships are made that span the generations and social boundaries.

10. Bearing one another’s burdens– when one is weak or needy, others rally to help in physical, financial, spiritual, and emotional ways.

11. Self-sacrificing love for one another is evident.

12. Enjoying and celebrating one another’s victories, accomplishments, and accolades.

13. We pray for each other’s opportunities and trials, and joys and sorrows.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Understanding the Times

"Are you doing 'The Job Thing?'"

I’ve been away speaking at a wonderful church in Medford, Oregon on the book of Job. I promised my wife some time ago that I’d stop speaking on Job for a while. I must have read this book more times than any other book in the Bible. And spoken on it more times than any other.

But, I reneged on my promise! Partly because I find myself drawn to the themes of providence and suffering. Partly because it never seems to grow old.

As I sat uncomfortably in the coach-section of the long over-night flight from Seattle to Atlanta (my wife tucked away in my upgraded seat in business class!), I wondered what it is about the book of Job that fascinates me. Two reasons came to mind among others:

First, I am reminded of John Calvin’s words about Job: “it is a blessed thing to be subject to the majesty of God.” Job’s iridescent response to the first wave of blows that beat him to the ground as all ten of his children are slain always knocks me sideways: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Surely no finer statement of submissive faith is found anywhere in the Bible than there. This is a response we all want to make if we ever find ourselves the object of such an excruciating trial. In the end, the book of Job is not about Job or his trial so much as it is about the sovereignty of God. When we read of the Lord, in the opening chapter of Job, saying to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8; 2:3), the tension is ratcheted to breaking point. Bad things happen because they are part of God’s decree.

That is the cause of our trial of faith: how can God be good and decree evil things to happen to us? It is not simply that he permits them to happen because of some doctrine of free-will or human (or angelic) autonomy; nor is it because God is incapable of preventing certain things because we live in a dualistic universe where good and evil are more or less equal and opposing forces. The trial of Job's faith comes because God instigates his suffering. Philosophy may suggests a differentiation between primary and secondary causality, so that we may confidently assert that God is not the author of sin or evil, the reality is that even Satan is answerable to God and must (as the opening chapters of Job state with shocking clarity) give an account of himself (Job 1:7; 2:2). How can God be good and be the instigator behind Satan’s treatment of Job?

The only recourse we have other than cynicism is faith. We must trust that even though we may not understand why God does certain things, it is not important that we understand; it is only important that he understands. We will need faith for that.

Second, I am reminded of just how pastoral and relevant the book of Job is. I never fail to discover after such a conference that among the Lord’s people in any congregation (and Oregon was no different) are those who suffer unimaginable trials. They are all heart-breaking stories and I often hear about them after giving one of my “lectures” on Job. They involve the loss of loved ones, or the imprisonment of a son, or the ravages of cancer, or the “long-goodnight” of Alzheimer’s and those who care for them.

Some have come to terms with pain and bow in child-like trust before an incomprehensible majesty whom they trust without question. Some are angry and verge on the bitterness that unresolved resentment brings. Some are just weary and wish the trial would end. And some have given up on waiting for the trial to end and contemplate bringing it to an end themselves.

I listen to these tales of woe, offering the comfort that we do not have a Savior who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He too was tempted in every point just like us and it should encourage us to draw near the throne where he now sits and draw strength to face the difficulties that surround us (Heb.4:15). He knows the frailty of the human frame.

But mostly, I just listen. Having pointed out that the book of Job doesn’t really answer the questions we ask of suffering, questions that begin with Why? or Why me?, it would be hypocritical of me to then suggest why this might be so in their case. So I just listen, recalling that the best thing Job’s friends did was to say nothing for seven days. And in listening, there is often the silent agreement that peace can only come as we give ourselves to trusting that the Lord “does not willingly afflict” (Lam. 3:33), and that when he does, it always for a reason. Even when that reason is known only to him and not to us.

Next time my wife says, “Are you doing ‘The Job Thing?’” I will answer, “Perhaps!”

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Blog of the Week



Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds

Our first ever Blog of the Week is the outstanding work of Justin Taylor. Between Two Worlds is, frankly, a daily must-read. Bookmark it now! It's been called "the Drudge Report of Evangelical Christianity" (and, believe it or not, that was meant as a compliment). But it's better than that!

Justin may be known to some you as the fellow who has edited many of John Piper's books, or as one the key editors for the magnificent ESV Study Bible, or as an editor with Crossway Books. But for many of us, he is the ultimate networker. He consistently pulls together a mass of useful information from diverse and credible sources, pertaining to theology, philosophy, politics, and culture. Further, he displays real discernment: sound and restrained judgment. And reliable discernment is hard to come by in the blogosphere.


Time reading Between Two Worlds will not be wasted time.


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Pastor's Perspective

Thanksgiving in Mississippi, 1847

Today, since Thanksgiving Day is just three days hence, I want to share again one of my favorite, local history, Thanksgiving stories. Do let me remind you, though, to be on the lookout for our new "Blog of the Week" feature that will be posted at 10 AM today.

A number of years ago, the late Otho Johnson (who was one of our Ruling Elders) pointed me to this interesting historical note, relating to The Rev. L. J. Halsey, who was the minister of our congregation, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson from 1842-1848.

THANKSGIVING AS VIEWED BY A CITIZEN

John Munn, who was born in Connecticut, was a merchant and banker living in Canton, Mississippi, when Governor Brown issued his Thanksgiving proclamation. Mr. Munn recorded in his journal on November 25, 1847:

"An unusual scene has been witnessed in our village and state this day. By appointment of Governor Brown it was selected as a day of Thanksgiving and for the first time in this state has such a date been set apart for such purpose. This good old New England custom was a long time confined to those states in time was adopted by the Western and middle states and for the last few years had gradually come to be observed in many of the Southern states, and on this day and this year about two thirds of the states unite in rendering thanks for the mercies and benefits received during the year now drawing to a close.

"There is something grateful and pleasant to the feeling of any man of right thought and mind in contemplating such a scene, but how much more so to one who was born on the soil of New England as he sees state after state adopting so advisable a custom. Far away from that birthplace, the observance of the day here brings a flood of recollections.

"In our village the day has been observed in a manner that would have given ample satisfaction to the most rigid observer of such days in the times of its earliest appointment. All business was suspended and quiet prevailed in our streets. There was a general attendance at church to listen to the Rev. Mr. Halsey of Jackson and seldom have I listened to a more interesting and appropriate sermon. It was well adapted for a people who were assembled for the first time for such a purpose, and those listening attentively could not but have been instructed in the objects of those who first established the custom and the reasons that demand its observance

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Market Day of the Soul

A Lord's Day Evening Prayer (from Matthew Henry)

Here is a model prayer to guide you in your final family (or personal) prayer of the Lord's Day.

A family prayer for the Lord’s Day evening.
O eternal and forever blessed and glorious Lord God! Thou art God over all, and rich in mercy to all that call upon thee, most wise and powerful, holy, just, and good; the King of kings, and Lord of lords; our Lord and our God.

Thou art happy without us and hast no need of our services, neither can our goodness extend unto thee, but we are miserable without thee; we have need of thy favours and are undone, forever undone, if thy goodness extend not unto us, and therefore, Lord, we entreat thy favour with our whole hearts; O let thy favour be towards us in Jesus Christ, for our happiness is bound up in it, and it is to us better than life. We confess we have forfeited thy favour, we have rendered ourselves utterly unworthy of it; yet we are humbly bold to pray for it in the name of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.

We bewail it before thee, that by the corruption of our natures we are become odious to thine holiness and utterly unfit to inherit the kingdom of God, and that by our many actual transgressions we are become obnoxious to thy justice and liable to thy wrath and curse. Being by nature children of disobedience, we are children of wrath and have reason both to blush and tremble in all our approaches to the holy and righteous God. Even the iniquity of our holy things would be our ruin, if God should deal with us according to the desert of them.

But with thee, O God, there is mercy and plenteous redemption: Thou hast graciously provided for all those that repent and believe the gospel, that the guilt of their sin shall be removed through the merit of Christ’s death, and the power of their sins broken by his Spirit and grace; and he is both ways able to save to the uttermost all those that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives making intercession for us.

Lord, we come to thee as a Father, by Jesus Christ the Mediator, and earnestly desire by repentance and faith to turn from the world and the flesh to God in Jesus Christ, as our ruler and portion. We are sorry that we have offended thee, we are ashamed to think of our treacherous and ungrateful carriage towards thee. We desire that we may have no more to do with sin, and pray as earnestly that the power of sin may be broken in us, as that the guilt of sin may be removed from us: And we rely only upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ and upon the merit of his death for the procuring of thy favour. O look upon us in him, and for his sake receive us graciously; heal our backslidings and love us freely and let not our iniquity be our ruin.
We beg, that being justified by faith, we may have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for sin, that he may be just and the justifier of them which believe in Jesus. Through him who was made sin for us, though he knew no sin, let us who know no righteousness of our own, be accepted as righteous.

And the God of peace sanctify us wholly, begin and carry on that good work in our souls, renew us in the spirit of our minds, and make us in every thing such as thou wouldest have us to be. Set up thy throne in our hearts, write thy law there, plant thy fear there, and fill us with all the graces of thy Spirit that we may be fruitful in the fruits of righteousness, to the glory and the praise of God, mortify our pride and clothe us with humility; mortify our passions and put upon us the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God a great price. Save us from the power of a vain mind, and let thy grace be mighty in us to make us serious and sober-minded. Let the flesh be crucified in us, with all its affections and lusts; and give us grace to keep under our body, and to bring it into subjection to the laws of religion and right reason, and always to possess our vessel in sanctification and honour.

Let the love of the world be rooted out of us, and that covetousness which is idolatry; and let the love of God in Christ be rooted in us. Shed abroad that love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and give us to love thee the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and might; and to do all we do in religion from a principle of love to thee.

Mortify in us all envy, hatred, malice, and uncharitableness; pluck up these roots of bitterness out of our minds and give us grace to love one another with a pure heart, fervently, as becomes the followers of the Lord Jesus, who has given us this as his new commandment. O that brotherly love may continue among us, love without dissimulation!

We pray thee, rectify all our mistakes; if in any thing we be in an error, discover it to us, and let the Spirit of truth lead us into all truth, the truth as it is in Jesus, the truth which is according to godliness; and give us that good understanding which they have that do thy commandments; and let our love and all good affections abound in us yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment.

Convince us, we pray thee, of the vanity of this world and its utter insufficiency to make us happy, that we may never set our hearts upon it, nor raise our expectations from it; and convince us of the vileness of sin, and its certain tendency to make us miserable, that we may hate it and dread it and every thing that looks like it or leads to it.

Convince us, we pray thee, of the worth of our own souls and the weight of eternity, and the awfulness of that everlasting state which we are standing upon the brink of; and make us diligent and serious in our preparation for it, labouring less for the meat that perisheth and more for that which endures to eternal life, as those who have set their affections on things above and not on things that are on earth, which are trifling and transitory.

O that time and the things of time may be as nothing to us in comparison with eternity and the things of eternity; that eternity may be much upon our heart and ever in our eye; that we may be governed by that faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen; looking continually at the things that are not seen, that are eternal.

Give us grace, we pray thee, to look up to the other world with such a holy concern, as that we may look down upon this world with a holy contempt and indifferency, as those that must be here but a very little while, and must be somewhere forever; that we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and weep as though we wept not, and buy as though we possessed not, and may use this world as not abusing it; because the fashion of this world passeth away, and we are passing away with it.

O let thy grace be mighty in us and sufficient for us, to prepare us for the great change which will come certainly and shortly, and may come very suddenly; which will remove us from a world of sense to a world of spirits, from our state of trial and probation to that of recompense and retribution; and to make us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; that when we fail, we may be received into everlasting habitations.

Prepare us, we beseech thee, for whatever we may meet with betwixt us and the grave: We know not what is before us, and therefore know not what particular provision to make; but thou dost, and therefore we beg of thee to fit us by thy grace for all the services and all the sufferings which thou shalt at any time call us out to; and arm us against every temptation which we may at any time be assaulted with, that we may at all times and in all conditions glorify God, keep a good conscience, and be found in the way of our duty, and may keep up our hope and joy in Christ, and a believing prospect of eternal life; and then welcome the holy will of God.

Give us grace, we pray thee, to live a life of communion with thee both in ordinances and providences, to set thee always before us, and to have our eyes ever upon thee, and to live a life of dependence upon thee, upon thy power, providence, and promise, trusting in thee at all times and pouring out our hearts before thee; and to live a life of devotedness to thee and to thine honour and glory, as our highest end. And that we may make our religion not only our business, but our pleasure, we beseech thee, enable us to live a life of complacency in thee, to rejoice in thee always; that making God our heart’s delight, so may we have our heart’s desire: And this is our heart’s desire, to know and love and live to God, to please him and to be pleased in him.
We beseech thee, preserve us in our integrity to our dying day and grant that we may never forsake thee or turn from following after thee, but that with purpose of heart we may cleave unto the Lord and may not count life itself so dear to us, so we may but finish our course with joy and true honour.

Let thy good providence order all the circumstances of our dying, so as may best befriend our comfortable removal to a better world; and let thy grace be sufficient for us then to enable us to finish well; and let us then have an abundant entrance ministered to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

And while we are here, make us wiser and better every day than others; more weaned from the world, and more willing to leave it: More holy, heavenly, and spiritual; that the longer we live in this world, the fitter we may be for another, and our last days may be our best days, our last works our best works, and our last comforts our sweetest comforts.

We humbly pray thee, accomplish all that which thou hast promised concerning thy church in the latter days; let the earth be filled with thy glory. Let the fulness of the Gentiles be brought in, and let all Israel be saved.

Let the mountain of the Lord’s house be established upon the top of the mountains and exalted above the hills, and let all nations flow unto it.

Propagate the gospel in the plantations, and let the enlargement of trade and commerce contribute to the enlargement of thy church. Let the kingdom of Christ be set up in all places upon the ruins of the devil’s kingdom.

Hasten the downfall of the man of sin, and let primitive Christianity, even pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, be revived and be made to flourish in all places; and let the power of godliness prevail and get ground among all that have the form of it.

Let the wars of the nations end in the peace of the church, the shakings of the nations end in the establishment of the church, and the convulsions and revolutions of states and kingdoms in the settlement and advancement of the kingdom of God among men, that kingdom which cannot be moved.

Let Great Britain and Ireland flourish in all their public interests. Let thine everlasting gospel be always the glory in the midst of us, and let thy providence be a wall of fire round about us. Destroy us not, but let a blessing be among us, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering to the Lord our God.

Be very gracious to our sovereign lord the king, protect his person, preserve his health, prolong his days, guide his councils, let his reign be prosperous, and crown all his undertakings for the public good.

Bless the privy counsellors, the nobility, the judges, and magistrates in our several counties and corporations, and make them in all their places faithful and serviceable to the interest of the nation, and every way public blessings.

Bless all the ministers of thy holy word and sacraments; make them burning and shining lights, and faithful to Christ and to the souls of men. Unite all thy ministers and people together in the truth and in true love one to another; pour out a healing spirit upon them, a spirit of love and charity, mutual forbearance and condescension, that with one shoulder and with one consent all may study to promote the common interests of our great Master and the common salvation of precious souls.

We pray thee, prosper the trade of the nation and our coasts, disappoint the devices of our enemies against us, preserve the public peace, and keep all the people of these lands in quietness among themselves and due subjection to the authority God hath set over us; and let the Lord delight to dwell among us and to do us good.

Bless the fruits of the earth, continue our plenty, abundantly bless our provision, and satisfy even our poor with bread.

We bless thee for all the mercies of this thine own holy day; we have reason to say that a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! Bless the word we have heard this day to us and to all that heard it; hear our prayers, accept our praises, and forgive what thy pure eye hath seen amiss in us and our performances.

Take us under thy protection this night, and enable us to close the day with thee, that we may lie down, and our sleep may be sweet. Be with us the week following in all our ways; forgive us that we brought so much of the week with us into the sabbath, and enable us to bring a great deal of the sabbath with us into the week, that we may be the fitter for the next sabbath, if we should live to see it.

Make us meet for the everlasting sabbath, which we hope to keep within the veil, when time and days shall be no more; and let this day bring us a sabbath-day’s journey nearer heaven, and make us a sabbath-day’s work fitter for it.

As we began this Lord’s Day with the joyful memorials of Christ’s resurrection, so we desire to conclude it with the joyful expectations of Christ’s second coming and of our own resurrection, then to a blessed immortality, triumphing in hopes of the glory of God.

Bless the Lord, love the Lord, O our souls, and let all that is within us love and bless his holy name, for he is good and his mercy endures for ever. In praising God, we desire to spend as much of our time as may be, that we may begin our heaven now, for in this good work we hope to be spending a happy eternity.

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, and our God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, dominion and praise, henceforth and for ever. Amen.

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Market Day of the Soul

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder

This often omitted, but rich stanza of John Newton's great hymn would be a great prayer for preparing our souls for communion with God in the means of grace in the company of the saints. I especially love the line "Wash our souls and songs with blood."

Hark! the Name of Jesus, sounded
Loud, from golden harps above!
Lord, we blush, and are confounded,
Faint our praises, cold our love!
Wash our souls and songs with blood,
For by Thee we come to God.

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Market Day of the Soul

A Lord's Day Morning Prayer (from Matthew Henry)

I am always on the lookout for aids to prayer. Matthew Henry is one of my favorites. Here is a prayer he composed for the morning of the Lord's Day, to be used with one's family as a preparation for coming to public worship.

A family prayer for the Lord’s Day morning.
Most gracious God and our Father in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is good for us to draw near to thee, the nearer the better, and it will be best of all when we come to be nearest of all in the kingdom of glory.

Thou hast thy being of thyself and thy happiness in thyself; we therefore adore thee as the great Jehovah: We have our being from thee, and our happiness is in thee, and therefore it is both our duty and our interest to seek thee, to implore thy favour, and to give unto thee the glory due unto thy name.

We bless thee for the return of the morning light, and that thou causest the day-spring to know its place and time. O let the Day-spring from on high visit our dark souls, and the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing under his wings.

We bless thee that the light we see is the Lord’s: That this is the day which the Lord hath made, hath made for man, hath made for himself, we will rejoice and be glad in it. That thou hast revealed unto us thy holy sabbaths, and that we were betimes taught to put a difference between this day and other days, and that we live in a land in all parts of which God is publicly and solemnly worshipped on this day.

We bless thee that sabbath liberties and opportunities are continued to us; and that we are not wishing in vain for these days of the Son of man; that our candlestick is not removed out of its place, as justly it might have been, because we have left our first love.

Now we bid this sabbath welcome: Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. O that we may be in the Spirit on this Lord’s Day; that this may be the sabbath of the Lord in our dwelling; in our hearts, a sabbath of rest from sin, and a sabbath of rest in God. Enable us, we pray thee, so to sanctify this sabbath, as that it may be sanctified to us and be a means of our sanctification; that by resting today from our worldly employments, our hearts may be more and more taken off from present things and prepared to leave them; and that by our employing our time today in the worship of God, we may be led into a more experimental acquaintance with the work of heaven, and be made more meet for that blessed world.

We confess we are utterly unworthy of the honour and unable for the work of communion with thee, but we come to thee in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is worthy, and depend upon the assistance of thy blessed Spirit to work all our works in us, and so ordain peace for us.

We keep this day holy, to the honour of God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, in remembrance of the work of creation, that work of wonder, in which thou madest all things out of nothing by the word of thy power and all very good: and they continue to this day according to thine ordinance, for all are thy servants. Thou art worthy to receive blessing and honour and glory and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. O thou who at first didst command the light to shine out of darkness, who saidst on the first day of the first week, Let there be light, and there was light; we pray thee, shine this day into our hearts, and give us more and more of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and let us be thy workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, a kind of first-fruits of thy creatures.

We likewise sanctify this day to the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and our exalted Redeemer, in remembrance of his resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power. We bless thee, that having laid down his life to make atonement for sin, he rose again for our justification, that he might bring in an everlasting righteousness. That the stone which the builders refused, the same is become the head stone of the corner: This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. We bless thee, that he is risen from the dead, as the first-fruits of them that slept, that he might be the resurrection and the life to us. Now we pray, that while we are celebrating the memorial of his resurrection with joy and triumph, we may experience in our souls the power and virtue of his resurrection, that we may rise with him, may rise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, from the dust of this world to a holy, heavenly, spiritual, and divine life. O that we may be planted together in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection, that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.

We sanctify this day also to the honour of the eternal Spirit, that blessed Spirit of grace, the Comforter, rejoicing at the remembrance of the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, the first day of the week likewise. We bless thee, that when Jesus was glorified, the Holy Ghost was given to make up the want of his bodily presence, to carry on his undertakings, and to ripen things for his second coming; and that we have a promise that he shall abide with us for ever. And now we pray that the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, may dwell and rule in every one of us to make us partakers of a new and divine nature. Come, O blessed Spirit of grace, and breathe upon these dry bones, these dead hearts of ours, that they may live and be in us a spirit of faith and love and holiness, a spirit of power and of a sound mind.

O Lord, we bless thee for thy holy word, which is a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths, and which was written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope; that the scriptures are preserved pure and entire to us, and that we have them in a language that we understand. We beg that we may not receive the grace of God herein in vain. We bless thee that our eyes see the joyful light, and our ears hear the joyful sound of a Redeemer and a Saviour, and of redemption and salvation by him; that life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel. Glory be to God in the highest, for in and through Jesus Christ there is on earth peace and good-will towards men.

We bless thee for the great gospel-record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Lord, we receive it as a faithful saying and well worthy of all acceptation; we will venture our immortal souls upon it; and we are encouraged by it to come to thee, to beg for an interest in the mediation of thy Son. O let him be made of God to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, let us be effectually called into fellowship with him, and by faith be united to him, so that Christ may live in us, and we may grow up into him in all things, who is the head; that we may bring forth fruit in him, and whatever we do in word or deed, we may do all in his name. O let us have the Spirit of Christ, that thereby we may make it appear we are his. And through him we pray that we may have eternal life, that we may none of us come short of it, but may all of us have the first-fruits and earnests of it abiding in us.

We bless thee for the new covenant made with us in Jesus Christ; that when the covenant of innocency was irreparably broken, so that it was become impossible for us to get to heaven by that covenant, thou wast then pleased to deal with us upon new terms; that we are under grace and not under the law; that this covenant is established upon better promises in the hand of a mediator. Lord, we fly for refuge to it, we take hold of it as the hope set before us. O receive us graciously into the bond of this covenant, and make us accepted in the beloved, according to the tenor of the covenant. Thou hast declared concerning the Lord Jesus that he is thy beloved Son, in whom thou art well pleased, and we humbly profess that he is our beloved Saviour in whom we are well pleased; Lord, be well pleased with us in him.

O that our hearts may be filled this day with pleasing thoughts of Christ and his love to us, that great love wherewith he loved us. O the admirable dimensions of that love; the height, the depth, and length, and breadth of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge! Let this love constrain us to love him and to live to him, who died for us and rose again. O that it may be a pleasure and mighty satisfaction to us to think that while we are here praying at the footstool of the throne of grace, our blessed Saviour is sitting at the right hand of the throne of glory, interceding for us. We earnestly beg that through him we may find favour with thee our God, and may be taken into covenant and communion with thee.

We humbly pray thee, for his sake, forgive all our sins, known and unknown, in thought, word, and deed: Through him let us be acquitted of guilt and accepted as righteous in thy sight; let us not come into condemnation, as we have deserved; let our iniquity be taken away and our sin covered; and let us be clothed with the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness, that the shame of our nakedness may not appear. O let there be no cloud of guilt to interpose between us and our God this day, and to intercept our comfortable communion with him; and let our lusts be mortified and subdued, that our corruptions may not be as a clog to us, to hinder the ascent of our souls heavenwards.

We pray thee, assist us in all the religious services of this thine own holy day. Go along with us to the solemn assembly, for if thy presence go not up with us, wherefore should we go up? Give us to draw nigh to thee with a true heart, with a free heart, with a fixed heart, and in full assurance of faith. Meet us with a blessing: Grace thine own ordinances with thy presence, that special presence of thine which thou hast promised where two or three are gathered together in thy name. Help us against our manifold infirmities, and the sins that do most easily beset us in our attendance upon thee; let thy word come with life and power to our souls, and be as good seed sown in good soil, taking root, and bringing forth fruit to thy praise; and let our prayers and praises be spiritual sacrifices, acceptable in thy sight, through Christ Jesus; and let those that tarry at home divide the spoil.

Let thy presence be in all assemblies of good Christians this day. Grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity; let grace be upon them all. In the chariot of the everlasting gospel, let the great Redeemer ride forth triumphantly, conquering and to conquer, and let every thought be brought into obedience to him. Let many be brought to believe the report of the gospel, and to many let the arm of the Lord be revealed. Let sinners be converted unto thee, and thy saints edified and built up in faith, holiness, and comfort, unto salvation. Complete the number of thine elect, and hasten thy kingdom.

Now the Lord of peace himself give us peace always by all means. The God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing, for Christ Jesus’ sake, our blessed Saviour and Redeemer, who hath taught us to pray, Our Father which art in heaven, etc.


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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sunday's Coming!

Preparing for the Lord's Day

Some of you are familiar with John Blanchard's wonderful book, Gathered Gold. I have collected some quotations from that tome on the subject of the Lord's Day, for your edification and preparation.

"Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week." Joseph Addison

"Sunday is the summer of the week." Anon.

"See that the Lord’s day be spent in holy preparation for eternity." Richard Baxter

"I never knew one man or woman who steadily avoided the house of prayer and public worship on the Lord’s day, who did not come to grief, and bring other people to grief." Henry Whitney Bellows

"The sabbath is God’s special present to the working man, and one of its chief objects is to prolong his life, and preserve efficient his working tone. The savings bank of human existence is the weekly sabbath." William G. Blaikie

"Profaning of the Lord’s Sabbath is as great an argument of a profane heart as any that can be found in the whole book of God." Thomas Brooks

"Make the Lord’s day the market for thy soul." John Bunyan

"Sunday should strike the keynote for the week." J. Wilbur Chapman

"The sabbath is not only a blessing and privilege for those who keep it. In an increasingly despairing and restless world, its observance is a sign and witness of the hope God‘s people have." Richard B. Gaffin

It would be as difficult to take an inventory of the benefits the world receives from the sunshine as to enumerate the blessings we derive from the Christian sabbath." Hervey Doddridge Ganse

"A well-spent sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth ... we love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God." Robert Murray M’Cheyne

"I never knew a man escape failures in either mind or body who worked seven days a week." Robert Peel

"Common sense, reason, conscience, will combine, I think, to say that if we cannot spare God one day in a week we cannot be living as those ought to live who must die one day." J. C. Ryle

"If you want to kill Christianity you must abolish Sunday." Voltaire

"Oh, what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through Jordan! There is nothing in which I would advise you to be more strictly conscientious than in keeping the sabbath day holy." William Wilberforce

"He that would prepare for heaven must honour the sabbath upon earth." Daniel Wilson

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Friday, November 21, 2008

For Parents

Al Mohler on USA Today on Recent High School Graduates' Self-evaluation

Have you seen the article ("Today's youth think quite highly of themselves") in USA Today? Well, Al Mohler offers his take on it, here.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunday Order of Worship

Sunday Morning and Evening Service, 11-23-08

Here is a pdf of the Sunday Bulletin, for November 23, 2008. We hope it assists you in preparation for the public worship of God.

The link will take you to a site called Scribd. From there, you will be able to download the pdf to your computer, or by clicking on the + sign on the top toolbar, you will be able to enlarge the pdf and read the bulletin online, all eight panes of it.

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Window on the Word

The Other Nebo

Derek has already reflected this week on providence and the will of God from a phrase found in Nehemiah 7. That passage has been on my mind since he preached from it on Sunday. Most of the chapter is given to a list of names, the kind you find in Numbers or Chronicles, or even the beginning of Matthew and Luke. The fact that a nearly identical list is found in Ezra 2 makes Nehemiah 7 a double whammy! Didn’t I just read this? Not again!

Nehemiah 7 is one of those chapters that test the resolve to read through the Bible in a year. Those chapters which are much more likely to be skipped over or “skimmed” than read. Put those names in a pile over there with the book of Leviticus, and the last third of Exodus. And while we are at it, why not throw in Ezekiel and Jeremiah (we’ll keep Isaiah for Christmas time), and if the Zechariah and Revelation aren’t careful, they might find their way on our list. Keep the good stuff, the exciting stuff, the encouraging stuff. Keep some of the hard stuff, but out with redundancy! Out with the unapproachable! Out with lists! I can see it now – The Executive Summary Bible, available in luxurious calf-skin leather in time for the Christmas buying season.

Well, that might be a little farther than most of us are ready to go. But these lists -what to think of them? What am I supposed to do with “the men of the other Nebo”? I didn’t even know there was more than one Nebo to choose from.

No, not that one . . . the tall one . . . no, not that tall, the other tall one . . .the heavy set tall fellow with the beard . . yes, yes, that Nebo. Now, about the sons of the other Elam...

Those lists may have been important in Nehemiah’s time, but for us, what would be the harm in passing them by? Surely it crossed Derek’s mind to just skip this passage as he has made his way through Ezra and Nehemiah, if not the first time, surely we could miss out on the list a second time.

The first harm, or at least potential harm, is the desire to pick and choose from among the things of God. Where is the natural stopping point between passing over longs lists and “just hitting the high points” of a book? And from the high points of a narrative to treating the Bible like a buffet line (load up on Gospels, some Romans, and yes, yes, make room for Genesis, but I think I’ll pass on James, and it doesn’t look as if I’ve left any room for Esther. I really wasn’t that hungry, anyway.). When we become God’s editors, when we decide this piece or that piece is out, there is no logical stopping point. I may not like lists, but maybe she does not like all the indecencies in Judges, and he is not that sure about all this bloody cross talk. Either Paul’s words about inspiration and usefulness and equipping the saints applies to the whole or to none at all. That is not to say that each passage is equally useful in training for godliness, but that all are at some level God-breathed and useful.

But second (and related), there is the issue of trust. Who do I trust more? Into whose care shall I place my soul? Does God know best what my soul needs? And if so, did He know what He was doing when He set out to provide His word? When I come to passages like Nehemiah 7 and I begin to think that my soul can do without these names or that ancient legal code or the geographical boundaries established under Joshua, am I not placing more trust in my own judgments than in God’s? Am I not saying to God, “If I were writing the Bible, I wouldn’t have included this or that”? By reading and preaching on a list of names, did we not to some degree say, “We trust God when He put this in His word that He knew what He was doing.”


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hymns of the Faith

Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

This is one of my very favorite hymns. You can read the transcript of the Hymns of the Faith radio program here. You can listen to the program here.

Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, is a paraphrase of Psalm 90 by Isaac Watts, published in 1719, and is one of the best-known and most widely sung hymns in our Hymnal. This hymn, which almost has the status of a national anthem in Britain, reminds us of God’s eternity and providence. Despite our finitude and the seemingly ephemeral nature of human existence, believers face the future with a godly and certain confidence because our God reigns and rules and protects his people. Watts titled it “Man Frail, and God Eternal.”

Bailey (the Methodist Hymnologist) had a high estimation of the quality of this text: “By universal consent this hymn is one of the grandest in the whole realm of English Hymnody. It is found in practically every hymnal. No other embraces in such moving language the whole scope of history, faith in a God who realizes His purposes through history, and the solidarity of a nation which in times of crisis places its hope in the Eternal.” William Croft’s majestic tune for this hymn text “St. Anne” is named after the church (St. Anne, Soho, London) he served as organist.

The Calvin Hymnary Project (a site you really need to bookmark!) says: "Considered one of the finest paraphrases written by Isaac Watts, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" expresses a strong note of assurance, promise, and hope in the LORD as recorded in the first part of Psalm 90, even though the entire psalm has a recurring theme of lament. Watts wrote the paraphrase in nine stanzas around 1714 and first published the text in his Psalms of David (1719)." The Dutch Reformed Psalter Hymnal indicates that the original first line, "Our God, our help … ," was changed to "O God, our help… “by John Wesley in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns. (1738)." Which is why many of us will remember having sung this song that way before.

Here's the hymn text as it is found in the Trinity Hymnal:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.


This is a straightforward, but beatiful, poetic paraphrase of Psalm 90:1 "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." God is our help, hope, shelter and home. This is Watts' way of bringing home to our hearts the truth that God is our "dwelling place."

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

This stanza does not correspond directly to any particular verse in Psalm 90, but it does express vividly the idea of the believer's security under the providence of God, conveyed throughout the Psalm.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

This stanza is a sturdy rendering of Psalm 90:2 "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God."

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Watts captures the sense of Psalm 90:4 "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night" in this stanza.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

This stanza is often unjustly skipped in even the best of hymnals. The Trinity keeps it, and lets you see how Watts conveyed the meaning of Psalm 90:10 "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away."

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

This stanza picks up on Psalm 90:10, again, and also sets the stage for the believer to pay heed to the truth of Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Watts ends where he began, paraphrasing Psalm 90:1 "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." There is only one change from the first stanza. The final two lines are turned into a petition. So, instead of affirming that God is "our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home" we pray for him to "be our guard while troubles last and our eternal home."


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Understanding the Times

Nudges and Urges: distinguishing guidance from indigestion

Ligon has asked me to blog here on Tuesdays. So here we are. And my first thought is to warn the administration at First Presbyterian that the tower in the photo above is leaning to the left and could come down at any moment! (Does Elder Dale know this?)

My thoughts this week have returned to something that arose on Sunday evening in the course of our study of Nehemiah.

It is that curious and beautiful expression, “my God put it into my heart…” (Neh. 7:5). And the questions that arise are: how exactly does God put things into our hearts? And, how are we discern it if he does?

Guidance is a tricky business and anyone who thinks it isn’t is seriously delusional. But the promise of guidance is a real one as Psalm 32 makes clear: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Psa. 32:8-9).

Guidance, as Nehemiah would tell you, is more than waiting on God to tell you things (even when God did that in a more literal way in the age of Old Testament prophets); it is a matter of reading God’s Word, rightly understanding what it says and applying it to given situations with wisdom and discernment. It is about asking friends for their counsel and input according to the principle that in “an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). It is about asking for the best course of action in any given situation where there may be more than one good one. It is watching closely the example of godly folk in similar circumstances, both within the Bible and outside of it.

But guidance, too, comes through “nudges” from God, sometimes making us restless with our present circumstances and creating in us a desire or concern for something that at present lies outside of our sphere of influence. Personal guidance that we believe we have received from the Lord nudging us to do (or not to do) a certain action needs to be thoroughly tested with other believers – those who don’t just provide us with constant affirmation of our rightness, but those truer friends who will say, “Derek, you’re crazy if you think God wants you to do that because…” We need to make sure that “nudges” are not simply the effects of the previous evening’s Chicken Korma!

That the Holy Spirit works on our feelings is obvious; but knowing that such feelings and inclinations are from God is difficult to prove. People are prone to wishful thinking, obsessional neurosis, schizophrenia, medication and even satanic delusion to be clear in their discernment. All such feelings need to be thoroughly tested therefore before a conclusion of divine guidance is drawn. Too many Christians transgress basic laws of Christian ethics in matters of sex and money thinking the Lord has led them to it.

Nehemiah, on more than one occasion, testified to feeling the Lord’s inner guidance in his life (Neh. 2:12; 7:5). Paul and Silas on arrival at Mysia “attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7). And Paul could not rest in Troas because Titus hadn’t come to him. So he left the city in search for him rather than continue the work there thinking the restless was God saying to him that he should go in search of his companion (1 Cor. 2:12).

Towards the end of his book on guidance, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions, J. I. Packer makes the following comment: “while it is important to check our conclusion as to what God wants us to do by consulting wise folk in the church, it is supremely important to do this when we believe we have received guidance by unusual means. Sin and Satan operate by deceit and the corrupting of good judgment, which makes lone rangers in this matter of direct guidance more than ordinarily vulnerable. If the wise folk agree in giving us reasons to doubt whether our experience really was God revealing his will to us, we should doubt it too.” (p.229).

Seems good advice to me. But I’m still getting a feeling about the leaning tower above!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Pastor's Perspective

Thinking about the Prime Thing
Welcome to the inauagural Pastor's Perspective column on the First Presbyterian Jackson Blog. I want to start with a question (though I'll ask it with a series of questions). What are your aims in life? What are your real goals? When no one is listening, what do you say to yourself that your true desires are? What do you think of most, want most, long for most? Perhaps you are striving for financial security or professional achievement. Or yearning for a husband or wife or children. Or longing to be loved by your mate. Or wishing for a relationship with good communication. Or hoping to escape the shadows of past tragedies or present trials. Or aching for relief from pain. Or looking to become a better father or mother. Or to become a more successful student. Or for acceptance and friendship. Or seeking some elusive peace and happiness. I may not have touched on your particular objective or preoccupation, but you get the point -- you can fill in the blank.

Now none of these things is illegitimate in itself, but can any of them count among the “first things,” -- should any of them be our prime ambition? Is there something greater, something higher under which all these dreams are subsumed? You know the right answer because you’ve heard the Shorter Catechism tell you that “Man’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy God.” But is that your answer? Is that what you really think? And, more importantly, is that how you live? Is knowing God truly what you want? Do you want him more than anything else? Does this aim reflect itself in your priorities?

God made us to know him. This saving knowledge is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed to God with and for his disciples in the Upper Room, and this is one of the things that he said in that prayer to his Father: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).

This then ought to be our prime aim in life: to know the triune God through Jesus Christ. Such an aim and such a knowledge will not mean that all your struggles disappear and that all your wishes are immediately realized, but as J. I. Packer has said: “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” It is my prayer that we will be, together, characterized by our mutual pursuit of the first thing.

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Thanks for Tuning In

Watch this space!

More to come today. By noon, the weekly Pastor's Perspective will be posted (in the future, I hope to have it up shortly after midnight on Monday mornings, U.S. Central Time). Meanwhile, check out this information on the ESV Study Bible from Justin Taylor.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Grace under Fire

Pray for Ron Gleason and Grace PCA,
Yorba Linda, California
Continue to pray for all Californians in harm's way, but especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even more so, our sister PCA congregations, in the face of the raging wildfires. Here is a good report from Ron Gleason at Grace PCA in Orange County, California.

Sunday Morning, 10:15 Pacific
It is with great praise that I have heard from a number of sources that Grace Presbyterian Church was not damaged during the fires! He watched over us and some from outside our congregation and within it were able to check it out for us. This morning, Bill Selvig managed to get to the church and there is no damage at all even though there is damage all around. Jim Cossin was able to check it out during the fire and Erin Reeves’ brother is a firefighter, who was stationed in front of Grace during the fires. Praise be to our sovereign Lord that everything is fine.

Saturday Night, 11:15 Pacific
We have been forced to cancel our worship service for tomorrow due to the fires. They have been surrounding the church building most of the day and the entire area has been evacuated. I was informed by Brea police department and the Orange County Fire Authority that no one will be able to get near our area until tomorrow afternoon. This is the closest the fires have ever come to us and there has been extensive damage. Over 60 homes in Yorba Linda burned and the fires are 0% contained in the area of the church right now. Tens of thousands have had to evacuate. This will be an opportunity for the Deacons to do some real “hands on” work in the congregation and in the community. The congregation has been wonderful in offering homes, shelter, and food to those in need. Please keep us in prayer as I hope to return to the church tomorrow to see if there is any damage.

Saturday Afternoon, 3:15 Pacific
For the last 2 days we have had strong winds and high heat (92-95). Last night a fire started or was started in Corona. Right now it appears that one young family has lost their home and the winds are still high and driving the fires in our direction. There is very little the firefighters can do except attempt to contain as much as their can, but the winds the way they are, the fire easily jumps fire breaks and interstates. Please pray for the safety of the homes near us and that we’ll be able to hold worship services tomorrow because the fires are getting closer to Grace.



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Saturday, November 15, 2008

News from David Robertson

Prayer/Newsletter

So many of you expressed enthusiastic appreciation for the ministry of David Robertson when he was here in October preaching our Evangelism Conference, I thought you might like to read his prayer letter.
November 2008

Dear Brother/Sister in Christ,

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to send another prayer/newsletter but I am conscious that you probably get swamped with e-mails etc. Anyway, as we move towards the end of 2008, I would like to bring you up to date with what is happening and to thank you for, and urge you to continue, your prayers. I had thought that things would quieten down this year but if anything, they have got busier and it looks like continuing well into 2009. I do two outreach events per month and I am already fully booked until September. The main highlights of the past months are as follows:

- I enjoyed meetings in Cambridge, Galway, Belfast, Bedford, London, the US, Spain and the Netherlands.


- I have been involved at training events and conferences for the Church of Scotland, the United Free Church, Mission to the World, UCCF, London City Mission, and Calvary Chapel. The latter was at their summer school in Austria and was a fascinating and encouraging experience.

- I taught at the Christian Heritage summer school at Cambridge University. This was a stimulating and helpful experience and we hope to follow their lead in constructive and culturally appropriate biblical evangelism and apologetics.

- I have spoken at several evangelistic events throughout Scotland - in pubs, restaurants, village halls, bookshops and coffee shops. Most memorable for me was the small meeting at the West Port Book Festival during the Edinburgh Festival and also two events at Waterstones in Aberdeen.

- I have spoken at several Universities. The most interesting meetings have been in the art colleges in Scotland. It is becoming more evident to me that art is an important area in our society and also one that is wide open to the Gospel. Reading Hans Rookmaaker's Modern Art the the Death of a Culture has been most helpful.

- We had a very interesting debate in Milsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi. This is a secular college with a very small Christian group and I debated the Professor of Philosophy. The lecture theatre was packed and over 200 people were turned away. The 'buzz' afterwards continued for some time. What came across to many people was the bankruptcy (intellectually, spiritually and morally) of the atheist position. Two other debates were at the University of Edinburgh and a tremendously encouraging one organised by the Christian Medical Fellowship on Physician Assisted Suicide at the University of Dundee.

- I spoke at the Creationfest Christian music festival in Devon in August.

- There have been several opportunites for media involvement, most notably with radio Scotland and a fascinating in depth interview on Kerrang radio (the heavy metal rock station).

- In addition to this I still receive correspondence every week from people who have read the book - many of them non-Christians.

- The Dawkins Letters has now been published in Dutch, German, Spanish, Finnish, Korean and I think Portuguese. It continues to sell well in the UK and is CFP's biggest seller in the US.

- It has been good to connect with people such as John Lennox (the Lord has opened many doors for him and he really has been a great example to me), Ranald Macaulay and Terry Virgo (leader of New Frontiers).

It has been an incredible year so far. I have three more events before December (which I have kept free). It has been a real privilege to be able to speak to thousands of people in 'secular' settings, many of them non-Christians and even more exciting to see people turn to Christ and others express great interest. Of course it is exhausting - especially as my own congregation continues to grow and develop - but it is a nice kind of exhausting. I enjoy the sense of Gods presence and blessing and feel that I am doing what I was made for.

Who knows what the New Year will bring but let me at least share with you some of the possibilities.

1) I am currently writing a new book called Magnificent Obcession which is an introduction to Jesus Christ for those who know nothing about him. This started off as a response to Hitchen's God is not Great but has morphed into something else. People keep asking why I believe - I keep responding 'because of Jesus'. And then they want to know who he is and why he makes the difference. Please pray that I would be able to finish this for January.

2) St Peters is about to start a major redevelopment which will cost about £750,000. There are some other major changes occuring in the congregation. For example we began a new form of evening service last week and saw our congregation triple! Many of them non-Christians. We are also looking to get an assistant to help with all the work that we are involved in.

3) Part of what we want to do is set up a Centre for Public Christianity which will seek to engage with the media and proclaim the Gospel through apologetic evangelism, music, science, history and the arts. We also hope to run training courses for Christians.

4) I hope to continue the policy of speaking as far as possible in secular venues with churches providing the backup and followup. Most of these take place midweek rather than Sundays so I am still free to preach most Sundays in St Peters. I have not advertised and do not seek engagements but wait for invites etc. Already in 2009 there are events planned in Greece, Orkney, England, the US, and again several Universities.

What can you do to help?
a) Pray
b) Become a Friend of St Peters (This is a group we are planning to launch in the New Year - I will send you details when it happens)
c) Continue to use The Dawkins Letters as a means of outreach and sharing the Gospel.
d) Subscribe to the Free Church magazine The Monthly Record which I edit. We are trying to develop it as a magazine suitable for all Christians, which has a level of cultural engagement whilst being biblically faithful. Let me know if you are interested.
e) Let me know of any suggestions you have….

Yours in Christ,

David

David Robertson 14 Shamrock St, Dundee, DD4 7AQ - tel: 07825 748752 darobertson@blueyonder.co.uk


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