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The First Word of God to His Church

Have you ever noticed that almost every letter in the New Testament–James, Hebrews, and 3 John excepted–opens with the words “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or a close approximate? Its’ easy, isn’t it, to just pass by those words. After all, sometimes we view them as being a mere formality, equivalent to our own modern, “I hope you are well.” Who cares about mere pleasantries when the body of the letter is what contains the “good stuff.”

Well, it’s true that the Apostles borrowed from the common practice of their own day when they wrote letters. After all, letter writing isn’t a unique Christian endeavor. But it’s far from the truth to think of these greeting only as a matter of custom. Rather, as a part of God’s Word, they’re transformed and given significance. Here’s two ways to think about these greetings—“grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

First, we need to remember that this is an inspired greeting. Though the Apostles wrote the letters, they did so as those who were inspired. Their letters, to be sure, bear their trademarks—their personality and characteristics. The letters […]

Speaking to One Another in Song

If I’m honest, I think one of the downsides of being a pastor is that I don’t often get to sit in the pews. I know pews aren’t always the most comfortable and the sweat stains on the back of ours may cause some people to wonder why sitting in them would be such a blessing. But there’s something about standing side-by-side with the people of God as they worship. There’s a certain connection that can seem lacking when you’re standing alone at the pulpit.

I was thinking of this when I attended a funeral at our church a couple of weeks ago. I was able to sit in the pews; something I hadn’t done since becoming pastor. And it was a blessing. But what really left an indelible impression on me was the singing of the Psalms. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). The Puritan Thomas Manton observed that we sing Psalms primarily to glorify God, but also to mutually edify one another. He wrote, “It is not meant of teaching from the psalms, but teaching […]

The Rural Church Potential

“In short, I like living in a small town. The urbanites may say that this is sentimentality, but I refuse to let the word frighten me. I believe that small-town life has values that should be preserved if they possibly can be. After all, the human race has spent the greater part of its existence in small communities, and I doubt if we have outgrown the need for a comprehensible society.”

That was written by Granville Hicks, a twentieth century intellect who was allured to small-town living. In 1946 he could already see the coming decline of rural America. “Has any small town,” he wrote “a future in this age of industrialism, urbanism, and specialization?” That didn’t stop him, however, from celebrating the lasting values of community. He even survived small town living to write a penetrating and winsome sociological commentary on rural life titled, Small Town. This American classic isn’t a how-to for rural ministry, but, it may surprise some, his perceptive awareness of society is very beneficial for the country church.

Let me just come out and say it. Either explicitly or implicitly, the modern church seems to place little to no value on the rural church. I get it. […]

The Sound of Faith

What is faith? Sometimes we answer that question with closely associated words. “Faith is trust,” someone may say. Or, “Faith is belief,” says another. The older theologians—whom we would do well to follow—speak of it as a “firm and sure knowledge” and a “confidence.” Generally speaking, it’s agreed that faith is made up of knowledge, assent, and trust because it engages the mind and the will. To say it a little more poetically in the words of Martin Luther, “Faith is a living, daring confidence on God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times.”

Now all of that is very good as far as it goes. But, what if we let faith speak for itself? Speak for itself! Does faith have a mouth? Does it have a voice with which to speak? It does! And this living, daring confidence finds expression in a hundred–probably a thousand–different ways, on the pages of Scripture. Open your Bible and see if you can hear the sound of faith. It’s everywhere:

Faith is heard in the trust for provision, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:8). It’s heard […]

In the Face of Jesus Christ

Picture for a moment an inquisitive child. That shouldn’t be too hard since most children are experts at asking questions! What if the child came to you and said, “Excuse me, will you explain the brightness of the sun?” Now, perhaps some of you could give a better answer to that question than I can. But, I have to admit I’d be tempted to say in the most helpful way possible, “The brightness of the sun is that it’s really…bright.” And, I fear, that wouldn’t be helpful at all.

 

In some ways the brightness of the sun defies explanation. The closest I can come to an answer is to say that the brightness of the sun is that thing by which I see all other things. The reason I can see the tree outside of my window at this moment, is because the sun shines on it. And the brighter the sun shines, the more plainly I see. Not only the tree, but the blades of grass in my yard too.

 

I find myself grappling with the same difficulty when I think about the glory of God. The glory of God […]