Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective:

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 32 Num. 27
“Greetings from Peru: Short Term Missions”
First Published: August 5, 1999

Editorial Note: The Summer 2010 trip by FPC members to Peru is June 26 - July 4. For more information contact Dr. D. Story:

I am writing these words to you from Cajamarca, a beautiful city situated in the glorious Peruvian Andes. This is the place where our own Bill and Allen Bradford are ministering alongside Alonzo Ramirez.

Duncan Rankin and I arrived in Lima last Tuesday morning (July 27) well before dawn. After a little rest, we began our work that afternoon. We made our way to Los Olivos Church in the slums of Lima. I was staggered by the pervasive poverty. In comparison to Lima, we have no poverty in Mississippi. Yet these people are industrious and happy. Always working to improve their situation. Five years ago, this area was a shanty town. Now, through sheer grit and determination, the people have built row after row of brick dwellings. They are simple and unfinished, but represent the tremendous energy of this impoverished people to better the conditions for their families.

Unemployment is above 40% in Lima. Taxis are driven by doctors, lawyers, businessmen and other professionals who are out of work. But as difficult as are the economic circumstances of this people, its spiritual condition is worse.

The Roman Catholicism of Peru is syncretistic and nominal. The percentage of the population that is evangelical is relatively small. There is little sound theological literature available in Spanish. Tens of thousands have never heard the gospel. Our teams are thus here ministering for very good reason.

Our team in Lima led a VBS, taught evangelism, taught English, and improved the facilities at Los Olivos.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude to God for the work of the members of our team there. I felt a father's pride as I watched the sons and daughters of our congregation serve the Lord. What an encouragement they were to Pastor William Castro and his little flock and school.

Meanwhile, Alonzo made sure that we worked at least fourteen hours a day! Duncan Rankin, Terry Johnson (who is a good friend and the pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia) and I, delivered numerous messages. We addressed the subjects of covenant theology, biblical worship, the Lord’s Supper, the atonement, Christian ethics, and the Christian world view. We also preached in both Lima and Cajamarca.

We arrived here in Cajamarca on Friday. The Presbyterian church here was founded by Scottish missionary John Calvin Mackay. The building of First Presbyterian Church here reminds me of the small and simple rural churches of Scotland. The Second Presbyterian Church meets in Alonzo Ramirez’ home. It is also called “Los Rosales” - for the section of town in which it is located.

The journey has been life-changing and I cannot wait to share more with you upon my return. So, Lord willing I will see you this Sunday. May God build his church in Peru, and Jackson!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Learning from the Puritans"

The Pastor’s Perspective

Vol. 32 Num. 25

Learning from the Puritans

First Published: July 22, 1999

If you’ve been listening in on our church’s radio ministry “First Things” over the last few weeks, you’ve heard Duncan Rankin, Derek Thomas and yours truly discussing, of all things, books! Among the books that we have been discussing, with great enthusiasm I might add, are books by people now derisively labeled by the modern liberal academic community as “DWEM’s” (Dead white European males!). Indeed, many of these books that we’ve discussed were written by people tagged by their contemporaries as “Puritans.”

Now perhaps you are suspicious of people with that kind of a title or reputation, but I’d like to warmly commend them to your study. Perhaps never before as much as now, the evangelical church needs to learn from the Puritans. We live in a time of tremendous change and upheaval in Christendom. Things once taken for granted as true and right and good, are being questioned —in both theory and practice— and there are disturbing signs that the spiritual health of the Western church is in a serious state. In such a time as this we need “light from old times” to guide us into the future. The Puritans offer us that kind of light and we have, apparently, forgotten their wisdom. What are some of the practical benefits of studying the Puritans?

First, the Puritan were great pastors, renowned for their sensitive care for their congregations. If you have always pictured Puritan preachers as scowling scrooges, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you meet the tender-hearted shepherds that they really were. Furthermore, as they ministered to their people, their foremost concern was to do this in the way God has commanded us to do it in his Word. So, if you care about being Biblical and ministering more Biblically then the Puritans will be a help to you.

Second, Puritan theology (simply defined as Biblical, evangelical, and Reformed theology) has served for more than three centuries as the basic doctrinal framework for evangelicalism. It has been influential throughout the Protestant world in the English-speaking churches and especially in the Baptist, Congregational, Independent, Anglican (or Episcopal), and Presbyterian traditions. However, in the turmoil of post-modernity, the old doctrinal distinctives of evangelicalism are breaking down. In this light, knowledge and appreciation of the times and teachings of the Puritans can serve to inoculate us against the false teachings and faddish Christianity of our own age. And perhaps the glory and biblical fidelity of their teaching can reclaim a hold on our hearts, saving us from slavery to the spirit of the times or from an irrational reactionary search for spirituality in mysticism and ritualism.

Third, the modern church wants to experience God but doesn’t want to know him. And yet truth is essential for healthy Christian experience and service. The Puritans understood this better than any Christians in history. They learned from the Apostle Paul, who argued throughout his letters that the saving knowledge of God is essential to Christian living. This entails knowing God personally and learning about Him through His word. The Puritans provide us with a theology based on the truth of God’s word and beautifully applied to the practical issues of Christian living.

If your interest is piqued, I can recommend the following books for learning more about the Puritans: Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as they really were, J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, Peter Lewis’, The Genius of Puritanism, and Will Barker’s Puritan Profiles. Enjoy your reading!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, February 22, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: marriage for 'MY' fulfillment

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 32 Num. 5
“The Myths of Marriage (7)”
First Published: February 4, 1999

This is the seventh in a challenging and encouraging series of articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). Read on!

The Myths of Marriage (7): The Goal of Marriage is the individual’s fulfillment

We are seeking to expose myths that develop in the minds of people regarding what constitutes a successful marriage. These popular ideas that we live by, if implemented in married life, are detrimental to the overall well-being of the home.

Today, let us look at the mythical goal of marriage as the “fulfillment” of the individual. That word is a common desire in the hearts of modem men and women. Everyone seeks fulfillment, and many see marriage as a path to finding it.

It is not wrong to seek that fulfillment. It is the will of God for us. But it would be wrong to think of marriage as the vehicle. Where does that leave our single friends? Do they fall short of this goal because they are unmarried? Rather, fulfillment comes from doing the will of God.

This “fulfillment” conception about marriage can lead us to a kind of selfish approach. That is, I want the “freedom to be me.” I want to exert my own way and my own agenda and be fulfilled in my own person. This sort of attitude is deleterious to the functioning of a dynamic Christian home.

Instead of seeking our own fulfillment, what we need to seek is our own abandonment. That is, giving up ourselves so fully that we almost forget who we are. We surrender our own individuality so completely in the task and in the love before us that we can barely remember the outlines of our own individuality.

This is, after all, what the Lord Jesus did. He, who was in the form of God, took on the form of a servant, and He humbled himself and became obedient even unto death. He was unrecognizable after He was incarnated. He emptied Himself and became like us in human nature, though He remained divine.

Surely in this our Lord found His fulfillment. That is, He surrendered to the will of God for Himself and in that surrender, He was satisfied. We are all created to surrender ourselves, and in that sense, marriage can help us find fulfillment. In marriage, we must surrender ourselves to our particular mate, as well as to God’s agenda for the marriage.

Since, in His surrender, our Lord Jesus became like us, it must be our goal to become like each other. That doesn’t mean that we take on each other’s sins, but that we face them head-on, the very worst of them, and forgive from the heart. In this way, we are bearing the burden of our mates’ sins with them. That’s what our Lord Jesus did with us. He became sin for us but He did not sin in the process. He faced our sins and forgave us fully through His blood and by His grace.

Our tendency in a marriage is to want our mates to become like ourselves. We think, “if only she/he were like me,” but that is mythical thinking. How much better to follow Christ in freely seeking to become like the one you love, finding all possible ways to grow into the likeness of your spouse.

There is really only one question that we need to ask ourselves about our marriages. Can I love my mate enough so that I will consent to be made like her/him? That’s the question Mike Mason addresses to us in his book, The Mystery of Marriage, and it is a profound question to ponder. For after all, Christ was made like us. He loved us that much. Let us so love one another.
To choose to deny oneself is one of the great challenges of the Christian life, and there is no area where this is more difficult to do than in our marriages. May God give us the grace to forego our quest for fulfillment and to embark upon the mission of self-abandonment (in which, by God’s grace, we ultimately find more fulfillment than we ever dreamt existed!).

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Myths of Marriage: 'work makes a good marriage'

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 32 Num. 4
“The Myths of Marriage (6)”
First Published: January 28, 1999

We have been challenged and encouraged by the series of very helpful articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). This is the sixth of ten.

The Myths of Marriage (6): It takes work to make a good marriage
One by one we have been exposing fallacies in our thinking and conversation about marriage. These errors can occur in the thinking of single people, as they think about marriage for themselves or observe the marriages of others. The sixth myth that I would bring before you is that “it takes work to make a good marriage.”

On the face of it, that sounds most plausible and one hears it often. Sometimes you will see couples who roll up their sleeves and grit their teeth and determine to “work at their marriages.” The motive is an excellent one. It means that they are committed to give attention to what perhaps has been neglected, and to resurrect some things that may have died in their relationship. One has to commend this attitude and rejoice in the aspirations that are behind it.

But “work” is not what a marriage needs. The crucial ingredient for regenerating a marriage or making a good marriage even better is time, not work. I mean by that, lavish, huge, extravagant, wasteful amounts of time given to each other. What a precious commodity time is, and we dole it out parsimoniously. But when it comes to the most important connection with any human being, all these measures of conservation are thrown to the winds. We splurge time on one another, investing it, as it were, with reckless abandon because we know it is the way to spell “love.”

Sometimes we make a distinction between “quality” and “quantity” time. For our purposes here, these two must be rolled together. We must think of large amounts of time filled with happy and interesting moments. It is not a choice between which kind of time, both quality and quantity should be merged for the sake of our beloved.

When you think about your courtship, it was a very time consuming activity in your life. You thought nothing of giving long stretches to each other for walks and activities or for just talking together, just looking at each other’s faces. You didn’t keep glancing at your watches to see whether you could afford the time or not. You delighted in it and gladly gave it, because you were being drawn into the tender confines of human love and ultimately into marriage.

What is needed to rejuvenate marriage is to go back to the courtship model, to once more be together with or without program, to be in close proximity as genuine companions to one another. How needful that is. Nothing on earth is more important than the way you love your spouse. Nothing is worth cutting short or crimping this precious time given to each other, because marriage is doing whatever it takes to love one person.

This is the cost of loving that one person: great amounts of time given without regret or resentment; opening up in one’s life areas, vast areas, where the other person can find a home, a friendly space, an unhurried peace, and a serenity within the heart of the beloved.

May God give us the grace to love one another at the expense of out time.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Small Changes and a Good Marriage?"

The Pastor’s Perspective

Vol. 32 Num. 3

The Myths of Marriage (5)

First Published: January 21, 1999

This is the fifth in a series of very helpful articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). This one is both challenging and encouraging. It’s a challenge for those unprepared for the hard work of marriage, but it’s an encouragement for those who have discovered that marriage is hard work, faced subsequent despair, and who are looking for hope.

The Myths of Marriage (5): If each of us make a few small changes we will have a good marriage

I’ve been seeking to illuminate some of the misunderstandings that are generally found in the hearts and minds of people with regard to marriage; even their own marriages. One‑by‑one to try to show the other side and perhaps bring reality where there has been fantasy.

A fifth misconception is that each partner needs to make some minor changes in order to adjust to the marriage and to the other person. We think just some little fine‑tuning will bring everything into good shape but that is a grave mistake. What is required is a major change — a whole reconstruction of the person for this venture called marriage.

Marriage was created for an innocent state. It was created for Adam and Eve in the Garden when there was no sin in their hearts but everyone now who enters marriage enters as a sinner. We are a fallen race and we live in a fallen world so that there are no compatible marriages. Every marriage needs major reconstruction for both persons in order to become truly one.

For example, the ego must be crushed. How proud we are! How selfish and self‑centered we can be! How much we gauge events and experiences in terms of their effect upon us and whether or not we were pleased by them. It is necessary for that pride within us to be destroyed so that we can become true lovers of the other person and not those who love themselves.

In addition, marriage means death to the single point of view which may have occupied one for many years before marriage, and which many within the bonds of matrimony still embrace. They still think of themselves as independent operators and they have joined their life to another person to a degree but they haven't given up their individuality, their independence, their singleness, really. That means that the two lives in such a home are “marinated” together but they are not married. That is, they haven't really lost their individual properties in a new entity. It takes major upheaval and reordering of life to marry another person rather than simply becoming roommates with them. One's whole inner life has to be restructured in order to please another person and to love them as we promised to do in our vows.

But the happy result is that the new personality that emerges out of this process is a far better one than the one that entered ‑ more tender, sensitive and gracious and loving. And the love that is exerted is purer and truer than that which had the admixture of self‑love with it.

So within your marriages be ready for “major reconstruction.” In fact, invite it. Ask God to help you with it so that you can be all that God wants you to be as a marriage partner and as a new person in Christ.


May God give us the strength to see and face ourselves as we really are, and then to change – by the grace of the Spirit.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, February 15, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Myths of Marriage (4): Personal Space

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 32 Num. 2
“The Myths of Marriage (4)”
First Published: January 14, 1999

In December, we started a series of very helpful articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). This may be the most provocative one yet. So often, we come into a marriage relationship, with a vision for continuing our separate personal agendas on parallel tracks. Soon, however, we discover the impossibility of such an approach.

The Myths of Marriage (4): In good marriages each spouse deserves his or her own space
In this little corner of your favorite publication, we are examining some of the muddled thinking about marriage that keeps us from taking advantage of this most exciting and wonderful gift which God has given us. I have called them “The myths of marriage.”

The fourth fallacy about our married lives might be put this way: “Each of the mates deserves her/his own space.” And we may be thinking that we need “room” in our marriages to be apart a little and to have a breather from this one who is so close to us.

But that is to miss the agenda of marriage which is to draw us out of our aloneness our separateness into community with another person. Our desire for “space” is a retreat from that process back into separateness and solitude. That is the great temptation in married life: to renege on our decision and commitment to be one flesh with another person back toward being an individual again.

Mike Mason has likened the presence of our mate in the home to a great tree around which a house has been built. It is there in the center of the living room now. It is a beautiful thing and adds charm and beauty to the living room and a loveliness to the whole house. But it is also a problem to us. When we want to walk through the room, we must go around it. It affects the way we can arrange things in that room and how we must clean that area. It requires adjustments and it will not go away.

In something of the same way, our husband/wife is always there. Sometimes it seems they are right where we want to be — and in the way, as it were. And they do not go away. This is their place: their home with us, and they are always there. We must learn how to live with the reality of their presence always present. We gave up our right to “space” when we married. Now we are in a new condition and we must build our lives around the “tree” that is always there.

The constant and ubiquitous presence of our mate in the home is a reminder of God to us and of His purpose in our lives. He too is always there. And we must live our lives in the light of that fact. This is what the Bible calls living in “the fear of the Lord.”

And we cannot forget what He is doing in us through our mates. He is coaxing us out of the shadows of our selfish and private lives into the light and joy of fellowship and community. He is relentless in this and arranges it so that our mate is “always there.”

When you begin to think this way, you realize how deleterious to a marriage is the idea of “personal space.”

We shouldn’t miss the central point of this challenging piece. The point is not that we must be perpetually joined at the hip, but rather that we cannot grow in a marriage, if we continue to try conduct some aspects of our lives as if we were single! May God help us all here.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Myths of Marriage: "love holds a marriage together"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 32 Num. 1
“The Myths of Marriage (3)”
First Published: January 7, 1999

In December, we started a series of very helpful articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). We continue them this first week of the new year. Eventually, we will pull them all together and produce a little pamphlet on marriage.

The Myths of Marriage (3): Love holds a marriage together

In these articles I have been trying to reveal and remove some of the more common misconceptions that exist in our society about the married life. The more we free ourselves from fantasy and myth, the more we can embrace the truth and live in touch with die reality which the Bible commends to us.

The third myth I would drag into the light is the idea that it is love that holds a marriage together. Granted, without love a man and a woman ought not to enter into marriage. That is the terrific pull that draws them together and enables them to leave the familiar arms of their families and cast their lots in with a relative stranger.

Yet once that step is taken and the commitments made to one another, it is those commitments that hold the marriage together, not love. Love may actually wax and wane and there may be moments when it is quite absent altogether, but that does not mean the marriage is over. If marriage depended on love as its basis then it would signal the end but we look further for the bedrock on which a marriage rests.

Its foundation is not love but loyalty. That loyalty remains steady even when feelings toward the other are strained and stressed. Love may come and go but the loyalty continues.

Loyalty is embodied in the vows taken on the wedding day. They are sacred promises, which God takes very seriously (Ecclesiastes 5: 4-5). They are a couple bringing their own marriage under the standards that the Church has set over the years and repeating similar words as thousands of Christian people before them have done. They are saying, “We bind ourselves to these standards, until one of us dies.”

All the days of your marriage are spent learning what is the meaning of these vows. That meaning is only discovered as they are worked out in daily living. And as the meaning is found the couple is held in the grip of the vows. They are kept faithful and working and loving and cherishing by the vows. The vows keep the couple in the embrace of marriage. They are precious and essential.

In the vows each person removes himself from circulation effectively. They are no longer available to anyone else. The vows declare that I will continue to love you whatever happens. Even if you begin to show signs of aging, or are disabled in a terrible accident, I will be by your side. I will not leave you nor forsake you.

In a way, the vows are a formal way of giving up one's rights: to the single life, to a mate that is healthy and attractive and able to work and enjoy life, to a flirtatious life style. All these are over when one utters those sacred words. That's why it is loyalty as expressed in the vows, not love, that is the foundation of the marriage God has designed and gives to His children.
These are powerful words, especially for a generation seemingly allergic to words like “commitment,” “loyalty,” “duty,” “faithfulness,” and the like. May God grant us a zeal for loyalty, them we might fulfill our vows to one another, in his sight.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

David F. Wells on Worldliness and the Evangelical Church

. . . Where Christian faith is offered as a means of finding personal wholeness rather than holiness, the church has become worldly.

There are many other forms of worldliness that are comfortably at home in the evangelical church today. Where it substitutes intuition and feelings for biblical truth, it is being worldly. Where its appetite for the Word has been lost in favor of light discourses and entertainment, it is being worldly. Where it has restructured what it is and what it offers around the rhythms of consumption, it is being worldly, for customers are actually sinners whose place in the church is not to be explained by a quest for self-satisfaction but by a need for repentance. Where it cares more about success than about faithfulness, more about size than spiritual health, it is being worldly. Where the centrality of God to worship is lost amidst the need to be distracted and to have fun, the church is being worldly because it is simply accommodating itself to the preeminent entertainment culture in the world. Is it not odd that in so many church services each Sunday, services that are ostensibly about worshiping God, those in attendance may not be obliged to think even once about his greatness, grace, and commands? Worship in such contexts often has little or nothing to do with God.

Professor Wells, recently retired, but actively writing, is now a Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He originally trained to be an architect but perceived a call to ministry which took him to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the University of Manchester, where he earned his doctorate. Wells has written or contributed to many books but is probably most well known for his series written between 1993 and 2008, No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (1993), God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (1995), Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (1999), Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (2004), and The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World (2008).


Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Myths of Marriage: 'Just do it my way'

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 49
“The Myths of Marriage (2)”
First Published: December 17, 1998

Last week, we started a series of very helpful articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht (of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC). We continue them this week.

The Myths of Marriage (2): Our marriage will be happy if my mate will do things my way

We are considering together some of the common misconceptions about marriage that have found their way into our thinking. They influence our expectations and our behavior and may even threaten the health of our homes. They must be revealed and dispelled.

This second myth might be stated this way: The goal in married life is to get one's mate to submit to one's own way of thinking. We recognize that we are to be one flesh, that these two are to become one, but we want our mate to be “just like me.” We would like to make our mate over into our own image. If only I could change her into my way of thinking and deciding and acting and then things would be just fine.

It is natural to think this way, but our minds must be changed if our marriages are to be successful. We have to give up the mentality of winning, for married happiness does not come from winning, but from losing! We have to get rid of our own expectations and insistences and gripes and decide that in so far as possible we are going to become like the other person instead of making her into a replica of myself.

Marriage is an exercise in learning how to submit to another person when we don't feel like it. It is practicing that great sentence, “Let's do it your way.” If you think of marriage as a kind of tug-of-war, then drop your end of the rope and push it hard toward your spouse. Determine that she will win. That whatever happens, you will not emerge as victorious in this tussle.

Mike Mason calls marriage an exercise in “one downsmanship.” The goal is to see how often and how completely you can give in to the likes and desires and longing and dreams of the other in such a way that you lose your own selfish agenda, and begin to meld into true oneness with this one whom God has given you.

This submitting ourselves to one another, in the spirit of Ephesians 5: 21, is the most demanding, most difficult, and most important assignment in the school called “Marriage.” It is to be done not with gritted teeth, but with a heart of love and meekness and joy, in the belief that one is fulfilling the very will of God for one's life.

Another way to put it is to say that marriage is all about the giving up of rights. Instead of standing up for them and insisting on them, we gladly give them to our mate and thus draw very close together. As Christians we are called to give up rights anyway and in marriage we have a grand opportunity to practice!

That is not to give up our responsibilities. Those can never be forsaken. Those too, are clearly outlined in the Word of God. Rights are dispensable and should be dispensed with. Responsibilities are God-given and we shall be held accountable to God for them.

May the Lord Jesus, who surrendered his rights and glory for our sakes, enable us by the grace of the Holy Spirit to surrender our rights for the sake of our mates and marriages.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


Monday, February 08, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Myths of Marriage (1)

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 48
“The Myths of Marriage (1)”
First Published: December 10, 1998

Recently, I came across a very helpful set of articles on marriage by Dr. Glen Knecht. My wife, Anne, served on his staff at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC for a number of years. He is a much loved and respected minister of the Gospel. Currently, he is serving at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC (where Rob Norris is the pastor), especially focusing on pastoral care and marriage preparation. His words are so useful and wise, that I thought to share them with you (we have received his permission!). His series is entitled: “The Myths of Marriage.” For those interested, we will also post these on our church website ( should you desire to download them and share them with friends.

The Myths of Marriage (1): The goal of marriage is happiness

There are myths of marriage that keep us from entering into the real joys of this good gift. Our misconceptions bind us, but the truth will set us free to enjoy marriage even more than we have already.

One such common mistake is to think of the purpose of marriage as being our happiness. When we think in this way we can be readily disappointed when there are crosses to bear and struggles to endure and painful disappointments to undergo. It seems that our marriage then is not fulfilling its promise to us and something must be wrong with our mate or with us.

But the goal of marriage is not our happiness but our oneness. Jesus taught us this when He said, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:62)

The happiness that comes from marriage is a wonderful by-product, but it is just that. The end in view is our oneness and when we fulfill the purpose of God in this way, He rewards us with happiness and blessing.

To seek after oneness is costly to us. It means being drawn out of our isolation into close fellowship. It involves the sacrifice of the ego, so that human pride is crushed until it has no life of its own anymore. It means being stretched so that one is hardly recognizable to one's own self. But the end is being achieved. God is creating pure lovers with no agenda of their own, whose goal is to love this one other person as “they love themselves.”

The very times when marriage is the most stressful are the times when God is putting pressure on us through our mates to give up our independence and our willfulness and submit wholeheartedly to Him in the thing which our mate is asking. That is often the time we most feel like reneging on our commitment. We want to back away from such a demanding intimacy. But God won't let us. He is at work and the work is only half done. We are not yet the lovers God wants us to be. In these times our best solution is to yield our rights and complaints and let God shape us as a couple into the oneness which will reflect His image most closely.


The biblical and spiritual wisdom of Dr. Knecht’s words are self-evident. Let’s all commit ourselves to praying for the couples and marriages of our congregation. And, specifically, let us pray that we will (each of us) strive for a self-giving, self-denying oneness first.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 47
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
First Published: December 3, 1998

This month our Hymn of the Month is the beautiful Christmas song: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” It is one of the oldest in our hymnal. The melody is plainsong chant from the 12th century and the text is a John Mason Neale translation of the Latin of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (AD 348-413), a Spanish poet. The final stanza is a doxology added by Sir Henry Baker. The tune will be familiar to almost everyone, even if you’ve never sung the hymn, because the melody is almost ubiquitous at Christmastime.

A.S. Walpole, in his book Early Latin Hymns, says that Prudentius’ idea is that “at every hour of the day should a believer be mindful of Christ who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Prudentius therefore praises Him as the creator of all things, as the everlasting Son of the Father’s love begotten.” The first three stanzas of the hymn, thus, revel in the glory of who Christ is and what he has done. In the third and fourth stanzas a call is issued successively to the whole of creation, the angels, and every person on earth to praise the Lord forevermore. In the fifth stanza, we ourselves, the singers of the hymn, lift up our voices in doxology.

The first stanza proclaims that Christ is “Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the Source, the Ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!” This is a bold theological assertion designed to directly contradict the Arian claims that “there was a time when the Word was not.” The Arian heresy asserted that Christ was merely the first creature, and the Arians boldly propagated their false teaching through song (Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine had heard them singing their theological deviations in Asia Minor, Africa, and the East: so they wrote orthodox poetry and hymns to combat their influence!). Prudentius is here poetically expressing the creedal statements of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) regarding the deity of Christ. The stanza also reflects the language of John 1:14, Colossians 1:15-20, and Revelation 22:13. As we sing it, we should not only take comfort and revel in its truth, we should also send it up as our personal credo: an expression of our belief about the Lord Jesus Christ as over against the relativistic, pluralistic, liberal views of the age.

The second stanza acknowledges Christ as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth and affirms the truth of the Apostles’ Creed “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Surely as we contemplate that miracle (so ably defended against the minds of modern skeptics, by J. Gresham Machen in his masterpiece, The Virgin Birth), we too ought to be moved to willing praise.

The third stanza continues the theme of Christ as the fulfiller of divinely given prophecy and calls out for the whole of creation to adore him because “now he shines, the long-expected.” This call to worship provides a natural segue into the fourth stanza, which is an expansion of the exhortation to worship Christ: “O ye heights of heaven, adore him; angel hosts, his praises sing; all dominions, bow before him and extol our God and King; let no tongue on earth be silent, ev’ry voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!”

The fifth and final stanza in our hymnal was appended by Henry Baker and supplies suitable words of response for our hearts to the glory of our Savior. And what Christian can fail to be moved by great thoughts of his Lord. May God bless your hearts as you sing to him.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Men of the Covenant
February 4, 2010
Rev. Richie Sessions

Please join us for our Men of the Covenant Luncheon Thursday, Feb. 4, from 11:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., in Miller Hall. Our speaker this month is Richie Sessions, Senior Minister at Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis, TN. Richie is originally from Little Rock, AR. He attended Baylor University. After spending some time in Nashville trying to make it as a singer/song-writer and completing college at Belmont University, Richie sensed a call to ministry. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary in 2004, with a M.Div. and ministered as Associate Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, MS. Three years later, he became an assistant pastor at Independent Presbyterian Church, and in 2009, Richie was called to be the Senior Minister. Richie and his wife, Laura, have three children, Mamie, Griffin, and Margaret.

Reservations are not required and the cost of lunch is $6.00. Please contact Shannon Craft in Discipleship if you have any questions. 601-326-9243 or


Monday, February 01, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Qualities of a Great Hymn

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 38
“Qualities of a Great Hymn”
First Published: September 24, 1998

We are all looking forward to the Hymn Festival on Sunday evening. I do hope that you will bring friends as well. The devotional treasures of the ages are stored up in the church’s hymnody, and it is a special privilege to gather as a congregation to sing praises to the Lord. The hymns that we will be singing Sunday night are familiar and beloved. One of the things that I treasure most about First Presbyterian Church is the hearty singing and the congregation-wide love of the psalms and great hymns of the faith. We live in a time when may young Christians do not know the hymns of the past. Indeed, hymnals themselves have become scarce in some churches! One speaker who recently preached in our church (and who regularly worships in a church which sings choruses but not hymns) said to me after our morning worship: “I feel like I am back in Christendom again!”

Perhaps we should pause to reflect for a moment on the qualities of a great hymn. The late Robert G. Rayburn, who taught Worship at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, identified three qualities of a great hymn. First, he said, a great hymn is Scriptural. That is, in both sentiment and expression it sets forth biblical truth. It borrows from the language and imagery of Scripture, and its theology is heartily biblical. Second, he noted, a great hymn must have a motion Godward. That is, it must be devotional in the highest sense of the word. It is characterized by a focus upon the Lord and his works. It is reverent and appropriate for us in corporate worship. Rather than being wholly subjective (like many modern Christian songs), it focuses on the great objective truths of the faith concerning God and his Word. In our sentimental and introspective age, such hymnody provides a wonderful spiritual corrective. Third, he argued, a great hymn is lyrical. That is, its poetry is not only capable of being set to music but especially suited for corporate singing. The lyrics should lend themselves to music, and indeed ought to be better sung than read. The great hymns all have great poetry in them, but they are not at their full potential unless they are sung. Furthermore, the music ought to be designed for corporate praise (not solo singing). You will note that the hymns we sing on Sunday evening will reflect these characteristics.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan