Monday, May 31, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Thanksgiving and Confession

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Thanksgiving and Confession”
First Published: April 26, 2001

It occurs to me that two elements often left out of our prayers are thanksgiving and confession. By highlighting these, it is not our intention to downplay other essential aspects to personal and corporate prayer. But it seems to me that these two are crucially important but often absent in our regular practice of prayer.

Without thanksgiving we will lack assurance (because when we fail to rehearse God’s answers and blessings we become forgetful of them and hence discouraged). Think of how the psalmists crammed their prayers with thanksgiving, not only so that their praise would be rooted in God’s goodness to them, but so that in their very praise of God they were being reminded of and reinforced in just how much he loves and gives and cares.

In Psalm 95:6-7, the psalmist is thankful because the Lord “is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” In Psalm 100:1-5 thanksgiving is evoked because “the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” and therefore we should “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” Why? “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 103:8-13 and Psalm 107:1-3 provide further examples of what I mean.

Now, on the other hand, without Confession in our prayers we will not attain a real sense of divine forgiveness and reconciliation (because we know in our hearts that, even as renewed Christians, we sin, and unless that ongoing sin is confessed we will be burdened by unresolved guilt – or else cope with that nagging guilt through denial, delusion, and self-deception).

At this point, I often encounter objections from Christians who say something like: “but all my sins are forgiven in Christ, past, present, and future. So there is no need for me to go on beating myself up for my sins. I’m already justified!”

Well, there are at least four Biblical reasons why Christians must continue to confess sin. First, believers, though united to Christ, still sin: hence to be realistic we must acknowledge it (Romans 6:12; 1 John 1:8).

Second, repentance is not a one-time past action in the Christian life, it is an ongoing project (1 John 1:9; Rev. 2:5). This is a hallmark of Reformation teaching. Martin Luther first thesis of his famous Ninety-Five Theses was that repentance was a lifelong activity of the growing believer.

Third, sin is essentially displeasing to God. He has dealt with the punishment we deserved for our sin, at the Cross, but this does not make sins committed by believers any less displeasing to God (indeed, all the more). The Lord does not take pleasure in evil. And sin is evil. This displeasure of sin will not be eradicated until he eradicates sin in all the saints in the last day (1 John 3:4).

Fourth, the end, the goal of our salvation is not merely rescue from hell, or even justification: it is holiness and the glory of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Until that goal is achieved, there will always be baggage in our lives which will have to be left behind (and which needs to be repented of) before we enter glory.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Founders Ministries

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Founders Ministries”
First Published: April 19, 2001

Let me catch you up on some of my goings and comings of recent days. The first weekend in April (April 6-7), I had the privilege of speaking at the Southern Baptist Founder’s Collegiate Conference held at RTS, here in Jackson. It was the first time they’ve done a collegiate conference.

Now you may be wondering, what in the world is the Founders Conference and what in the world is a presbyterian preacher doing at one! Both are good questions. Let me explain.

First, the conference is sponsored by Founders Ministries, the purpose of which is to promote both doctrine and devotion expressed in the “doctrines of grace” and their experimental [experiential] application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Their motive in doing so is to provide encouragement to Southern Baptists through historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies that will glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches.

As you may know, within the churches associated in the Southern Baptist Convention, there has been over the last 15-20 years an undeniable resurgence of interest the Reformed faith or what is commonly called the “doctrines of grace,” – the belief that salvation is sovereignly and graciously given by God to sinners. A conviction arose among many Southern Baptist ministers that the energy generated by this divine renewal should be conserved and guided. In light of that conviction, the first Southern Baptist Founders Conference was held in 1983. It has met annually since then. Interest in the doctrines of grace continues to grow among Southern Baptists.

Second, why would I be involved? Well, for one thing because we share in common with these dear friends in Christ: a high view of the Scriptures, a high view of the church, and a wholehearted commitment to God’s sovereignty in salvation. We should, as presbyterians, wish to give them every encouragement possible as the herald the doctrines of grace to a new generation of Southern Baptists. For another, it is in the best interests of the whole of evangelical Christianity that the Southern Baptist churches (collectively the largest of America’s Protestant “denominations”) be spiritually and theologically vital. Anything that fosters that end is good for all of us. I am glad to play a small role of encouragement.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: I cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer

The Pastor’s Perspective
“I cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer”
First Published: April 5, 2001

Back in the January edition of the BAIC News (the ministry newsletter of Beginning Again in Christ [BAIC], a prison and aftercare ministry supported by our church), our friend Dr. Sal Pellicano, Executive Director of BAIC quoted this powerful meditation on the Lord’s Prayer that had been passed along to him by a prisoner that he had recently visited. I wanted you to see it too.

"A Few Thoughts on The Lord’s Prayer"

∙ I cannot pray Our, if my faith has no room for others and their need

∙ I cannot pray Who art in heaven, if all my interests and pursuits are in earthly things.

∙ I cannot pray hallowed be thy name, if I am not striving, with God’ s help, to be holy.

∙ I cannot pray Thy kingdom come, if I am unwilling to accept God’s rule in my life.

∙ I cannot pray on earth as it is in heaven unless I am truly ready to give myself to God’s service here and now.

∙ I cannot pray give us this day our daily bread, without expecting honest effort for it, or I would withhold from my neighbor the bread that I receive.

∙ I cannot pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.

∙ I cannot pray lead us not into temptation, if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.

∙ I cannot pray deliver me from evil, if I am not prepared to fight evil, with my life and my prayer.

∙ I cannot pray Thine is the kingdom, if I am unwilling to obey the King.

∙ I cannot pray Thine is the power and the glory, if I am seeking power for myself and my own glory first.

∙ I cannot pray forever and ever, if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.

∙ I cannot pray Amen, unless I honestly say, “Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

Needless to say, after seeing this I was knocked to my knees, thankful for what God is doing in men’s lives, even in prison, humbled at the spiritual progress of this brother, especially when I contemplate the advantages given me by the Lord, and desirous that our congregation would catch such a spiritual vision of discipleship.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Lord Have Mercy, Especially Now

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Lord Have Mercy, especially now”
First Published: March 29, 2001

My short visit to Colorado Springs for the PCRT (Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology) was most enjoyable, but I missed Anne and the children and you, so I’m glad to be back home! We were hosted by the Village Seven Presbyterian Church, PCA, (where Joseph Wheat is now the minister) and enjoyed a good attendance at the conference.

The conference is held in three cities/regions of the United States each year and is sponsored by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The Alliance is a broad coalition of evangelical Christian leaders from a number of different denominations, including Baptist, Independent, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Reformed. Its purpose is to call the church, amidst our dying culture, to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the truth of God's Word as did the Reformers, and to see that truth embodied in doctrine, worship, and life.

The theme this year is “Lord, Have Mercy!” This is the cry of every sinner ever saved. A God of mercy! That is what the gospel proclaims, and God's mercy is central to every aspect of Christian salvation. If one thing is needed in our shallow, man-centered age it is a fresh view of our great God. Knowing his mercy invites us to a closer, deeper relationship with him. It encourages us to study God and to make him the center of our lives. Furthermore, God's mercy is what makes Christianity good news at every stage: in God's sovereign election, in the forgiveness of our sin, in the call to practical godliness, and in the future entrance of God's people into glory. These were our topics during this the twenty-eighth year of the PCRT.

Most of you will know that the founder of the PCRT, Dr. James M. Boice, went home to his eternal reward this past June. Many people wondered whether the work would continue. This is one reason the Pastor’s Advisory Committee felt it a wise thing for me to commit to attending. Dr. Boice founded the conference because of the great need for faithful Reformation teaching on theology and the Bible, and surely that need is no less today.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

editorial note: Joseph Wheat is now the pastor of Highlands PCA, outside of Jackson, Miss.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: A Human Clone in the next 12 Months?

The Pastor’s Perspective
“A Human Clone in the next 12 Months?”
First Published: March 22, 2001

As Derek Thomas and I were recently meeting to plan out our sermon series for the next several years, it struck me how much ground we have covered over the last five years during our Sunday services and Wednesday Bible studies. It may seem to you as if we crawl through some of these book studies, but upon reflection we have made way at a fairly good clip.

Now, for something completely different. Recently our friend Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote the following reflections in his column “Thoughts and Adventures” on the subject of cloning. They are worth pondering and perhaps will motivate some to write their congressmen and senators to express their concerns. “Will We Clone Humans?” is the title of Al’s musings and it goes like this: “We can’t say we weren’t warned. Proponents of human cloning have for some time claimed to be on the threshold of breaking the technological barrier that has thus far prevented the birth of a cloned human being. Now, it looks as if they might be right.

“Wired magazine predicts that a successful human clone will emerge in the next twelve months. The New York Times Magazine has identified a group with the funds, the expertise, and the determination to produce a human clone. An American scientist and his Italian colleague have announced plans to produce the world’s first cloned infant in just one or two years. In reality, this may already have happened, unknown as yet to the larger world.

“Clearly, the ethical and moral barriers are falling—at least as far as many advocates of cloning are concerned. The legal barriers are falling as well. The British House of Lords has approved the cloning of human embryos. American scientists may already be doing the same.

“Cloning crosses a line we dare not cross. Once this technology is out of the box, we face nothing less than a “brave new world” that could bring unspeakable horror. Cloning technologies will bring a nightmare scenario of ethical quandaries, and may effectively redefine what it means to be human. We have no right to take this power into our own hands, and a quick review of the last century’s ethical horrors should be sufficient evidence. We cannot say we were not warned.”

This, along with a whole range of technologically induced ethical questions, calls for a rigorous, thoughtful, gracious but resolute response from the Christian community. And, of course, it ought to drive us to our knees in prayer.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Multiculturalism

The Pastor’s Perspective
First Published: March 15, 2001

I want to bring to your attention a few matters concerning our Missions giving commitments for the year to come. First, let me thank all of you who have committed to give to the work of missions here at First Presbyterian. We are grateful for your generous initial response to our Faith Promise budget.

Second, let me mention that we still have a considerable distance to make up before we reach our goal of $1,000,000 in commitments. Something around $725,000 has already been committed, so we are still $275,000 short of our goals.

Now, on to another matter. A friend recently passed along to me an outstanding quote from Ramesh Ponnuru that appeared in the National Review not too long ago. He said, while commenting on the importance of opposing “multiculturalism,” (if you are not familiar with the term or the movement, you could read Dinesh D’Souza’s excellent book Illiberal Education to get up to speed) that “multiculturalism presents itself as a democratic movement -- a way of including multiple races in a democratic order. In reality, it denies the possibility of a multiracial democracy. For democracy to work, its members must feel that they belong to the same community, must believe that there is a common good embracing them, and must be able to communicate with one another so as to identify that common good. Multiculturalism insists that different groups cannot understand one another, regards the idea of ‘common interests’ as an ideological fiction that disguises the reality of oppression by the dominant group, and promotes linguistic apartheid. It encourages Americans to think of themselves as a collection of peoples rather than as a people.”

This is a subject about which we, as Christians and citizens, need to think long and hard. Indeed, it directly relates to some of the issues we are trying to work through in our beloved State of Mississippi right now. D’Souza’s books Illiberal Education and The End of Racism would be a great place to start, as would (on a more popular and explicitly Christian level) Jim Sire’s books The Universe Next Door and Chris Chrisman goes to College (both published by IVP) and Peter Jones’ Gospel Truth – Pagan Lies.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Marriage Benefits?

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Marriage Benefits?”
First Published: February 22, 2001

I missed being with you this last Lord’s Day, but thoroughly enjoyed being with my friend Phil Ryken and his congregation at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We hope to have Phil here soon as a Mid-South Men’s Rally speaker and we wish him the Lord’s richest blessings on his new and important ministry at Tenth.

I try to pass along helpful studies from time to time, for your edification and interest. The following piece, called “Marriage — The Best Alternative for Couples” (minus a little editing I did in order to spare Southern sensibilities some rather direct language!) was distributed not too long ago by the Family Research Council. Their website is listed below.

“In 1998, Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot founded an organization called the Alternatives to Marriage Project. They consider marriage to be merely one of many acceptable family forms and want laws and policies to be changed to grant recognition to a range of possibilities for couples, including cohabitation without marriage. However, consider the following facts:

“In a study comparing married and cohabiting couples, married people reported higher levels of commitment and happiness in their relationship and better relationships with their parents than cohabiting couples.

“Compared to all sexually active people, faithfully married couples report the highest level of satisfaction in connection with the physical aspect of their relationship.

“Cohabitors report higher levels of alcohol problems than married people do.

“Aggression is twice as common among cohabitors as it is among married couples.

“Premarital cohabitation is associated with greater marital instability, lower marital satisfaction, and poorer communication in marriage.

“Depression rates among cohabiting couples are more than three times the depression rates among married couples.

“Cohabitors report more frequent disagreements, more fights and violence, lower levels of fairness in and happiness with their relationships compared to married people.

“One study found that children living with cohabiting biological parents who are unmarried are 20 times more likely to be abused and children whose mother lives with a boyfriend who is not the biological father are 33 times more likely to be abused than children with married biological parents.

“The poverty rate for children living in cohabiting households is about five times greater than for I children living in married couple households.

“Compared to children in intact families, children in cohabiting households had more behavioral problems and poorer academic scores.

“Marriage remains the best choice for couples desiring lasting intimacy with each other and a stable home for children.” (For more information, visit

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: some books to think about

The Pastor’s Perspective
“some books to think about”
First Published: January 11, 2001

Well, the New Year has come, and it’s hard to believe that we are actually in 2001. Just as it was difficult for some of us old-timers to get used to 1984 being something we referred to in the past tense (we associated that year with Orwellian apocalyptic predictions for the future!), so also all this year long we’ll feel as if we ought to be on a space odyssey to Mars. So much for twentieth century man’s prophetic powers.

Along with my wish to you for the Happiest of New Years, I have a number of things that I’d like to briefly share. First, I want to pause and rejoice with you about God’s rich provision in the area of church finances. For much of the second half of 2000, we ran a significant cash flow deficit in the operational budget of the church. With the markets in their state, I wasn’t sure what kind of a December we would have in giving. Well, you surpassed all expectations. The long and the short of it is that around $1.5 million was given to the church last month alone and our contributions have well exceeded our budget. Thank you and praise God.

I thought you’d be interested to know that our Minister of Teaching, Dr. Derek Thomas, will have a number of books coming out in the new year. His dissertation on Calvin’s exposition of Job is due to be published by Christian Focus Publications, as is a book on the Lord’s Prayer. Evangelical Press is producing a book by Derek on the Ascent Psalms (120-134). He also has a book coming out on Revelation. May the Lord bless Derek’s ministry of writing and use his labors for the church’s good.

Our church bookstore will be opening soon and you’ll be able to access Derek’s books right here, as well as many other fine Christian publications. I would also remind you that our church, through the Communications Committee of the Session, has published a number of helpful books and pamphlets that you may want to know about. Wilson Benton’s booklet “Everything you always wanted to know about Predestination but were afraid to ask” was produced jointly last year by FPC Publications and Reformed Academic Press. It has already sold 1500 copies. It’s a good, short, solid, easy-to-read introduction to the subject. We also published Terry Johnson’s book on Reformed Worship. It is an outstanding introduction to what the Bible teaches about corporate worship.

We’ve put three other title in print as well, Howard Kelly’s, A Scientific Man and the Bible, with an introduction by former FPC member, RTS student and teaching physician Paul Hoehner. This book is written by one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was also a conservative evangelical Christian. We’ve also produced a booklet version of Richard Baxter’s The Duty of Physicians (edited by Michael Lundy, MD). We will use them in our outreach to medical students at UMC, but they will be interesting to all who serve in the health professions, and indeed to any intelligent layperson. Terry Johnson’s lectures The Pastor’s Public Ministry will be of interest to seminarians and Christian workers, but also to Christian laity who want to understand the goals and responsibilities of Christian ministers.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

editorial note: many of these books are available at

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Be a Man"

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Be a Man”
First Published: February 1, 2001

Jim Baird’s messages were outstanding at last Friday evening’s Mid-South Men’s Rally, and it was so good to have him back to preach in the pulpit of First Presbyterian on Sunday morning. Do take time to listen to the radio interview I did with him for “First Things.” It is slated to air this Sunday morning at 9:00 on WJNT 1180 AM.

Jim’s first sermon on Friday night nailed me right between the eyes in two areas: my responsibility to be a “deliverer” for my wife and children (check out the tapes to see what he means by that, they’re available from the church library) and concern for the youth of the church. I’m so thankful for his faithful preaching.

In connection with the theme of husbands taking spiritual leadership in their homes, Reid Cotten recently shared a John Piper quote with me that his brother-in-law, Rob Pendley, passed along. It is serching and I share it with you here: “I address the men directly for a moment: Do not let the rhetoric of unbiblical feminism cow you into thinking that Christlike leadership from husbands is bad. It is what our homes need more than anything. For all your meekness and all your servanthood and all your submission to your wife's deep desires and needs, you are still the head, the leader.

“What I mean is this: You should feel the greater responsibility to take the lead in the things of the Spirit; you should lead the family in a life of prayer, in the study of God's Word, and in worship; you should lead out in giving the family a vision of its meaning and mission; you should take the lead in shaping the moral fabric of the home and in governing its happy peace.

“I have never met a woman who chafes under such Christlike leadership. But I know of too many wives who are unhappy because their husbands have abdicated their God-ordained leadership and have no moral vision, no spiritual conception of what a family is for, and therefore no desire to lead anyone anywhere.

“A famous cigarette billboard pictures a curly-headed, bronze-faced, muscular macho with a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. The sign says, "Where a man belongs." That is a lie. Where a man belongs is at the bedside of his children, leading in devotion and prayer. Where a man belongs is leading his family to the house of God. Where a man belongs is up early and alone with God seeking vision and direction for the family.”

Men, this is the vision for godly manhood that Jim Baird shared with us at the Men’s Rally. Let’s pray for God’s grace to realize it.

Let me remind you all again to continue in prayer for and make plans to attend all the various events of our annual Missions Conference. The conference runs Sunday to Sunday, from February 11-18 and Dr. Jim Bland, the PCA’s Mission to North America Coordinator, will preach for us on Wednesday and Sunday.

Some of you will have met our friends from the Highland Theological College (HTC) in Scotland while they were here worshiping with us over the last few weeks (whilst taking doctoral courses at RTS). You can get the latest news on the development of HTC by reading the January 2001 newsletter on the HTC web site:

Finally, remember that the Furman Singers will be here on Tuesday night, February 27th (just a little over three weeks away). I’m a Furman grad and sang in the Singers, so the Session was gracious and extended an invitation to them! If you are a music lover, you will thoroughly enjoy their delightful presentation of sacred and secular music. The concert will begin at 7pm. Invite your friends, bring your spouse for a “date,” hey, even bring the kids. A good time will be had by all. I have put more information about them and the concert on the website. Take a look at and look at recent updates.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Television as a Family Member?

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Television as a Family Member?”
First Published: December 21, 2000

This is our last First Epistle for the year A.D. 2000. Our faithful editor will take a brief break and we’ll have the new year’s first edition out for you in the second week of January. In the meantime, allow me to leave you with a few things to ponder over of the holidays.

Read more in 2001!
Have you starting thinking through things you want to do differently in the year to come? Have you been considering making resolutions for spiritual growth in 2001? Here’s one to consider: are you reading enough? I don’t mean glossy magazines or professional rags or sports pages. I mean substantial Christian literature. Maybe TV is one barrier to this. I ran across an article in the Capitol Hill Messenger the other day called “You Have One Life: Is TV Too Big a Part of It? by John Piper.

Here’s what he said: “If all other variables are equal, your capacity to know God deeply will probably diminish in direct proportion to how much television you watch. There are several reasons for this. One is that television reflects American culture at its most trivial level. And a steady diet of triviality shrinks the soul. You get used to it. It starts to seem normal. Silly becomes funny. And funny becomes pleasing. And pleasing becomes soul-satisfaction. And in the end the soul that is made for God has shrunk to fit snugly around emptiness.”

“This may be unnoticed, because if all you’ve known is American culture, you can’t tell there is anything wrong. If you have only read comic books, it won’t be strange that there are no novels in your house. If you live where there are no seasons, you won’t miss the colors of fall. If you watch fifty TV ads each night, you may forget there is such a thing as wisdom. TV is mostly trivial. It seldom inspires great thoughts or great feelings with glimpses of great Truth. God is the great, absolute, all-shaping Reality. If he gets any air time, He is treated as an opinion. There is no reverence. No trembling. God and all that He thinks about the world is missing. Cut loose from God, everything goes down.

“Just think how new TV is. In the 2000 years since Christ, TV has shaped only the last 2.5 percent of that history. For 97.5 percent of the time since Jesus, there was no TV. And for 95 percent of this time there was no radio. It arrived on the scene in the early 1900’s. So for 1900 years of Christian history people spent their leisure time doing other things. We wonder, what could they possibly have done? They may have read more. Or discussed things more. For certain they were not bombarded with soul-shrinking, round-the-clock trivialities.

“Do you ever ask, ‘What could I accomplish that is truly worthwhile if I did not watch TV?’ You see, it isn’t just what TV does to us with its rivers of emptiness; it is also what TV keeps us from doing. Why not try something? Make a list of what you might accomplish if you took the time you spend watching TV and devoted it to something else.” Pretty hard-hitting, huh?

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Seeing through to the Spiritual Reality

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Seeing through to the Spiritual Reality”
First Published: December 7, 2000

Well, here we are in the month of December. The year 2000 is almost over. Suddenly, we look up and we’re on the verge of 2001. Hard to believe. Hard to take in. The years are spinning by faster and faster for me. How about you?

Thanks to the many of you who came and brought friends to our special midweek service with John Blanchard. If you missed it, do pick up a copy of the tape in the church tape library. We will continue to make the books Does God Believe in Atheists? and Man of the Millennium available at special discounted prices. Call the Church Office or Library if you are interested.

We are already into the swing of the holiday season. Let’s all remember the importance of being in a constant mindset to minister. On the one hand, this time of year is incredibly busy and can be full of delight for friends and family, on the other, it is a time of loneliness and depression. This presents us with Gospel opportunities. Let’s be mindful to look for them and take advantage of them.

For instance, you may have a friend or acquaintance who has experienced a loss (a spouse, a child, a marriage) and who is feeling isolation and regret in what could be a happy time. You may want to invite this person into your family circle some this year, or give him/her special attention. View this as an opportunity granted you by God to show the love of Christ to someone. And talk about spiritual things! Do it sensitively, but times of loss are often times in which God enters into important dealings with our hearts.

Again, this time of year provides many opportunities to reach out to those whom we know and love who do not have an active saving faith in Christ. Perhaps you have a friend, family member or colleague who does not go to church and who shows little signs of real spiritual interest. Well, the holiday season provides some unique, low-key occasions for you to reach out. Sunday School class parties, our church’s Christmas music, family celebrations and the like are all things to which we can invite non-Christian friends. These occasions are non-threatening but are suffused with Spiritual reality. Such events provide the opportunity for you to talk about spiritual things, and develop relationships with Gospel purposes in view. Let’s aim, then, to bear witness to Christ this Christmas.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Amid the Fears that Oppress Our Day...Our God is Sovereign Still

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Amid the Fears that Oppress Our Day...Our God is Sovereign Still”
First Published: November 30, 2000

Well, we are creeping closer to the end of the year, and here we are at the last of November – and still no finality as to the presidential election. Little did I know what a cliffhanger we’d be in when I penned my thoughts just a few hours before the election – “there is not a little anticipation (dare I say anxiety) on my part regarding the outcome,” I mused. The same is true today, and one of my besetting sins is to think that if I just worry about something enough, everything will be okay.

The pundits are having a field day, and I wouldn’t mind expressing a few thoughts of my own! But let’s remind ourselves again that God is sovereign. It has been an especial comfort to me to be studying through the first chapters of Exodus with you during these uncertain times. This section of God’s word repeatedly reminds us that God is in control of kings and nations, for the good of His people. And again, let’s remind ourselves of our Christian duty to pray for all those who rule and are in authority (whether we like them or not, and whether they are personally deserving of respect or not). And, finally, let’s remind ourselves to commit to a robust involvement in our country’s civic process as Christians.

If we have learned anything this week, surely we have learned that: (1) citizens (and especially Christian ones) ought to be thoroughly familiar with the first principles of our Republic. (2) Christian citizens ought to be very concerned to see civic officials elected and judges appointed who are knowledgeable of and committed to the principles set forth in our Declaration of Independence. It is not enough to call for “Strict Constitutionalism” or for “a strict constructionist interpretation of our Constitution” by our executives, legislators and judges. Unless the principles of the Declaration are honored, the Constitution is an amendable wax nose. (3) We have a crying need for men of principle to seek for and serve in political office. The reign of self-serving men will bring down this Republic.

Now, on to something else. November has afforded a rich feast for my soul. It began with an extraordinary season of prayer at our annual Officer’s Retreat. Then I was blessed by two powerful messages by our friend Geoffrey Thomas of Aberystwyth, Wales. Especially on Sunday evening, he was ablaze with love for Christ and almost mesmeric as he described Christ’s appearing.

Many of you, too, have commented on how you were moved by Geoff’s ministry. We thank God for his faithful preaching. He left me with so many memorable phrases, such as: “There is no such thing as secret holiness, secret discipleship, secret grace. Either the grace will kill the secrecy or the secrecy will kill the grace.”

More blessing followed on the next Wednesday evening, Friday evening and Sunday, as Iain D. Campbell of Scotland preached our annual Prayer Conference. He surpassed all expectations. What stood out to me was the consuming focus upon Christ himself in all his messages. At every point of instruction, Christ’s person and work were our point of departure. At every point of application, Christ’s person and work were our exemplar. Iain, too, left me with so many memorable sentences, like: “The cross is a place of prayer for Jesus. If ever there was a moment when prayer was least likely and most necessary, it was at this moment.”

As I write these words, I am anticipating the blessings of John Blanchard’s ministry during our special midweek service, and silently thanking God in my heart for the rich feast he has provided us this November. And in this season of thanks, I am thanking him for this congregation. You are an inestimable blessing to me.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

Monday, May 03, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Cultural Recovery

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Cultural Recovery”
First Published: November 9, 2000

I am writing these thoughts only a few hours before Election Day begins, though you will read them afterwards. As such, there is not a little anticipation (dare I say anxiety) on my part regarding the outcome. The votes of the day will say much about the near future of our country. The general prosperity of the last 20 years has masked a range of serious problems that threaten the very foundations of our Republic. The correction or continuation of these trends does not ultimately depend upon which party is in power and who won on Tuesday, but the victors of this election will certainly be catalysts, for good or ill.

One thing is for sure. The continuation of our culture as we know it will depend, at least in part, on the recovery of historic evangelical Christianity in the church. Yes, I meant what I wrote: in the church. Only when the church again becomes the church, do I expect to see the incremental steps towards reformation that will be necessary to recover the huge losses of the last four decades. And one more thing. That battle will make Tuesday’s look like child’s play.

On to happier things. My heart is still full from the prayer time of our Officer’s Retreat. Once a year, our elders, deacons and ministers gather for reflection, fellowship, singing, thinking, evaluating, and prayer. We did so this past Monday evening. And the prayer time at the conclusion of the evening was as sweet and powerful as I’ve experienced since being a First Presbyterian.

You don’t get to see our officers in action as a group once-a-month like I do twelve times a year. Consequently, many of you don’t have the vantage point to appreciate their carefulness and prayerfulness with which they take their work. I especially look forward to hearing them pray for one another and for the congregation at the end of their meetings every month. You’d be humbled and thankful if you heard them intercede.

Well, on Monday night, after talking about significant things like “what can we do as officers to sharpen each other to be more effective?” and “how can we as officers better know and serve our sheep?,” the brethren got down to the business of prayer, and all our hearts were warmed. May God hear his servants and answer with his reviving Spirit.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan