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Gospel Thoughts on a Dark Anniversary

Below is a bulletin insert that I wrote for Lord’s Day, January 21, 2018, in remembrance of the 45th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized human abortion in all 50 of the United States. Monday, January 22nd is that anniversary: 

Thoughts on A Dark Anniversary

On Monday, January 22, 2018, Americans in the US will wake up and go to work and about the day as usual. Looming as the backdrop of that day sits an anniversary that some celebrate as a victory of women’s reproductive rights and others lament as one of the darkest stains on our national conscience.

On this day, in 1973, 45 years ago, under the so-called right of privacy, the Supreme Court declared abortion legal in all 50 States. As the national median age is 37; more than half of Americans, including myself, have always lived with this so-called right to privacy—human abortion.

The psalmist reminds us that there is no privacy before God when it comes to human life; for he is the one who forms and weaves. Psalm 139:15-16 says:

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,  intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw […]

Defiant Prayer and the Image of God

Several people from my congregation spent the part of the day cooking and preparing a meal for fifty people experiencing homelessness here in Los Angeles. This is the second year that we have participated in this winter shelter which prepares meals and provides overnight housing in our area of the city. It’s a much needed resource for a small number of people compared to the 60,000 people who are living on my city’s streets and in cars and in tents.

As the food was all set out and the perfectly chiffonaded basil was placed as garnish, the new director called the people to line up. One of our members said, “We are going to pray now” and the director told us that we were not allowed to pray.

Not allowed to pray? What should we do?

One said to her, “We always pray before we eat.” She responded, “You are not allowed to pray since we receive government funding.”

I interjected, “We are allowed to pray, we are just not allowed to force people to pray.” I then added, “Even congress opens with prayer.”

We are going to give thanks.

I said to the people, “I am going to pray before our meal.” I went on to […]

Very Able Servants in the Church?

There are hundreds of names in the Books of Chronicles, hundreds of those who served the Lord and were a part of the godly heritage making up what we call the church. In the midst of those hundreds of names, there is a short comment from the chronicler making note of one family’s abilities in the service of God.

First Chronicles 9:13 records that this family included “…very able men for the work of the service of the house of God.” That’s an interesting phrase: “very able men.” Hopefully all of us would desire to be found “very able” under the blessing of God. But clearly this was not very common in the service of God. Not all are very able.

This is the only list in both books of the Chronicles that are designated with this description. Out of hundreds of church-working families—only this one was seen as very able. What does that tell us about the work that each of us have to do in the life of the church? The fact that the Word of God reminds us that this one was able leads us to conclude that there are those who are NOT very able in the service […]

Jesus, Teach Us to Pray (Specific Presbyterian Prayers)

Last week, I had the distinct honor of participating in the organizing of another congregation here in the greater Los Angeles area. Rev. Hsing Tang was ordained to pastor a Mandarin speaking congregation in Irvine, California, about 50 minutes south of LA.

As the organizing duties were being divided out among the presbyters, I was asked to pray what is called “the prayer of constitution.”

Sounds fancy.

Our Directory for Church Government says: “An elder shall offer prayer constituting the congregation in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church. The moderator shall then declare the congregation officially organized.” (page, D-5)

But what’s that look like? Can I have an example of that prayer? I wondered to myself what that prayer sounded like. What words would a prayer of constitution include? Jesus, teach us to pray–that seems to be the perpetual prayer of our Lord’s disciples. Teach us to pray specific prayers–specific presbyterian prayers!

“Jesus, teach me to pray!”

I had participated in the organizing of a church in Las Vegas earlier in the year, but I guess since I was not asked to pray this particular prayer at that organization service, maybe I didn’t pay too much […]

And so-and-so Begat so-and-so

We all know the difficulties of “so-and-so begat so-and-so.” Many evangelical believers read through a Bible in a year reading program. Several of the daily readings will include lists of genealogies that secretly–or maybe not so secretly–prompt the reader to ask questions as to the practicality of such lists upon lists upon lists.

Bible readers using the M’Cheyne reading plan or the reading guide  of the Trinitarian Bible Society’s Westminster Reference Bible are currently working through the beginning of I Chronicles. If you are familiar with the book, it begins with ten chapters of difficult genealogy that include several of the most arduous names found within the pages of the holy Scriptures. If your family is like my family, you may be asking yourself how to work through the so-and-so begat so-and-sos.

Here are two family worship helps from my table to yours as you work through the so-and-sos:

First off, as we are working through the genealogy lists during family worship, we have someone else read the passages to us. This may seem like a strange suggestion–especially from someone who publicly reads the Scriptures for a living–but it is helpful to hear another voice; and a trained one at that.

Yesterday and today we […]

Further Encouragement for Personal Evangelism: The Why Not?

Last week I encouraged you all in your practice of personal evangelism through the words of seventeenth century pastor-theologian, Wilhelmus a’Brakel. That article can be found here.

One of the blessings of being a Gentle Reformation author is the behind-the-scenes interactions with retired pastor, Rev. Ken G. Smith, who frequently sends us feedback, encouragement, and challenges concerning our writings. If I can speak on behalf of all of the GenRef team, we do love his private interactions with the blog!

Last week, Rev. Smith sent me a personal response to a’Brakel’s encouragement towards evangelism, and with his permission, I am passing those comments on to you, the readers, for your encouragement as well. Ken G. Smith wants us to understand the “why” of why Christians do not evangelize. He writes:

I really appreciated reading your piece on evangelism and the reference to a’Brakel, who at one point in my life was very helpful.  I like what he has to say about evangelizing, but have to say I’ve not found his advice effective.

There’s a reason(s) why people don’t bear witness.

Let me share a bit of a different approach.

First, if one is not a fluent “talker” about the gospel, then one needs to assess why […]

Encouragement for Personal Evangelism

Let’s face it, we all struggle with personal evangelism. It is hard for many reformed people–why do so many struggle to share their faith? We all have our litany of excuses:

Too scared…

Not my job…

I don’t like…

What if…

Let me tell you. I struggle too.

Wilhelmus a’Brakel, a seventeenth century Dutch pastor-theologian, understood that his students and congregation also struggled with personal evangelism. In the midst of his four volume systematic theology (1.535-537), a’Brakel encouraged his flock to do the work of an evangelist–and to grow in this discipline.

May you find some encouragement to talk to a friend or neighbor or stranger about Christ and the benefits that he brings, which are of eternal importance.

One will argue: (1) ‘I have no qualifications for it, and if I wish to begin with this task, the words freeze upon my tongue and I do not know what say if I say something, it has no effect.’ To this I respond, ‘You learn by doing.’ If you are not capable of speaking to certain individuals, and about such matters, speak to others. Begin with [those] by whom you are not intimidated, and discuss general and rudimentary principles. You will subsequently acquire more skill.

(2) You may say, ‘I […]

The Road to Hollywood

The “open secret of Hollywood” is the talk of the town where I live. In the aftermath of a Hollywood empire beginning to crumble under weight of sexual scandal, it seems that everyone has always known that this is how Hollywood is run. It’s our open secret.

The church and the culture at large need to reconsider whether Hollywood ought to be telling us how to think and feel about sexual ethics. Have they earned the right to speak into our lives about what is right and wrong in the bedroom? Maybe there’s a better source for determining human sexuality than those who walk the red carpet.

“Hidden Los Angeles” reported today the above sculpture was quietly removed from one of the most famous tourist centers in Los Angeles (adjacent to the famous Chinese and Dolby Theaters on the walk of fame). “The Famous Casting Couch” was a sculpture at the end of a mosaic of quotations called “The Road to Hollywood.” The road to Hollywood leads to “the famous casting couch.” The casting couch is synonymous with rape and sexual favors in exchange for an acting role. More open than secret, it seems. 

Hollywood determines the sexual ethics of our nation as […]

Melting the Hardening Heart

The life of the Christian is a life that ebbs and flows in our love for God. We may not always want to admit that–but in our heart of hearts, we know it to be true. Sometimes our love for God grows cold. Oftentimes that coldness comes from what I would call “hardening providences.” Difficulties, frustrations, sicknesses, and other such providences in our lives can cause us to slowly harden in our heart of hearts. Our love for Christ can grow cold under the many pressures and difficulties of life in a fallen world.

What should the Christian do when he or she finds him or herself in such a position? Maybe you’ve found yourself in such a position?

John Flavel, the English Puritan, upon realizing that several in his congregation were struggling under heavy weights and hardening providences, preached a series of sermons on Psalm 57:2, “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” These sermons are filled with pastoral warmth as he pointed his people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the applications were some designed to “melt” the believer as he or she looks to Christ. Flavel asked, “How can a sanctified heart […]

Sinners at the Sacrament?

Let a man examine himself. These words of the Apostle Paul weigh heavily upon the hearts and minds of so many believers as we prepare to the come to the Lord’s Supper. These are weighty and heavy words that can nag at us at times as we consider the struggles with sin and the enemy within. Let a man examine himself.

But what if I am unworthy? What if I continue to sin against God’s mercy? What if I am weak in my convictions? Surely then I ought not to go to the Supper!

Thomas Watson, a 17th century English Puritan, pastors the questioning saint as to why he or she ought to go to the Table in each of these instances. May reflection on these questions and answers lead you to Christ–and lead to you to his Table to receive the grace and mercy that you seek.

OBJECTION 1. But I am sinful and unworthy, and why should I meddle with such holy things?

ANSWER. Who did Christ die for but such? “He came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Timothy 1:15. He took our sins upon Him as well as our nature. “He bare our grief’s,” Isaiah 53:4. In the Hebrew […]