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Why do you read about heaven to people dying with cancer?

Not presumably because you were taught to do that in your pastoral theology class! Nor because that’s what you saw an elder doing when one of your relatives was sick! Nor because you just like saying comforting things to other Christian people!

The far better reason to do it is because it is the means of grace that God has appointed for Christian people to be strengthened in their trials, particularly in deeply distressing times of suffering and sickness. When we minister in this way, with careful thought and prayer, from a heart full of gentleness, kindness and love, great blessing often flows to both reader and receiver.

Of course there are many other things people do to make things a little easier for a loved one or friend in their dark hours of need. You can show them kindness by purchasing a thoughtful card or writing a letter or buying them a present. You can try to cheer them up by saying perhaps you will be cured (which experience and medicine indicate may be a little falsely optimistic at best). You can share some humorous comments which may engender a wry smile or elevate their mood temporarily – but inappropriate humor […]

Frustrated with a Friend

Introduction

Having an interest in Hebrew and Old Testament studies in particular there are few people to whom I am more indebted than the scholar Mark Futato. His language courses are brilliant and his contribution to Hebrew studies massive. Whether thinking of ‘BibleWorks’ or ‘Daily Dose of Hebrew’, though I have never met him personally, I regard him as a friend.

I Just Happened To Be Reading

I was, however, a little troubled recently, when I picked up a new book entitled ‘A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Promised’, edited by Ligon Duncan III: this text contains many brilliant contributions from numerous outstanding authors. It was with a sense of excitement, therefore, that I eventually turned to the chapter on the Psalms.

Why I was frustrated

I really was not anticipating what I encountered next, as I lit upon a surprising comment he makes, on page 353 of this tome. It comes at the end of a lucid, succinct, informative, in many ways excellent entry: the section is headed ‘Approaching the New Testament’; he is dealing with the question of how many or which of the Psalms should be considered Messianic? Let me quote what our brother says:

“The answer can either be […]

An Old Christian Model For New Church Growth

Chat in Corinth

‘Have you heard about the latest Church Growth Model in Corinth? The latest preachers in Acro Creek think they’ve nailed success! O.K., it’s a little alternative, and it’s the opposite to what Paul said (but then again, for some strange reason, he seems to have cancelled his announced visit – some lame excuse about an unforeseen turn of events)! Yet, we cannot help but notice, it does seem very popular: it appears to be working! They’ve definitely had results! The crowds of pagans are flocking! They’re going to extend their buildings! Even better, there’s no suffering, so perhaps we should give it a go.’

Model for Ministry

If that was the chat in Corinth, it would explain Paul’s loving determination to put the record straight, and turn Corinthians back to the Cross. Having explained the nature and glory and hope of the Ministry of the New Covenant, he commends his urgent appeal, by the model minister he is. Effectively, he says, ‘this is how to do the work, this is the Christ’s model for church growth’, as we make our appeal, 2 Corinthians 5.20, ‘Be reconciled to God.’

“We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed, […]

The Importance of Practical Religion

‘The Gospel is at stake! You must not budge an inch! Peter, brothers, Barnabas, you’ve got to change your practice!’

Is that how it happened in Antioch, with Paul’s face-to-face rebuke of Peter, where he refused the spare the blushes? The truth of the Gospel was endangered by behavior that was disconnected from principle (Galatians 2.11 & 14):

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned …But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of Gospel, I said to Cephas: ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews.”

In my initial naivety, I thought that there was only one simple single principle being taught: that we should lovingly, prayerfully, firmly, yet bravely, highlight hypocrisy publicly, if the Gospel is in jeopardy – of course we should do that, no matter who it embarrasses, for the love of Christ, with the hope of restoring brothers – but to bow to peer pressure, and create confusion about the Gospel, puts souls at eternal risk, so we cannot pass the buck!

However, on reflection, principial disconnection from practice […]

Is The Lid About To Come Off?

The last week has seen a progressively deepening crisis in Hollywood on both sides of the Atlantic. Celebrities, stars and Oscar Nominations Committees have disowned Harvey Weinstein with an air of disbelief and disgust. Prosecutions may follow for this most successful producer.

Now, today, on the BBC’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ program, new allegations, concerning the UK music industry have emerged. Sarah Bowden, a music manager, has spoken about a scale of endemic sexual harassment, abuse and rape which is “as bad if not worse” as anything Hollywood has to offer.

Perhaps, we might wonder, if guilty complicity of promotion-seeking stars, has led to a backlash – those who are ashamed are now seeking their revenge [though not in the case of Sarah Bowden, who repelled all approaches to her cost]. That still does not excuse the advances of these males. All godly, right-thinking, Christians, if not entirely surprised, should nevertheless be sickened by these criminal events.

These revelation, of course, may only be the first – we may well be about to witness the lifting the lid on a proverbial ‘can of worms!’ Can we really have expected anything else from the industry that was born and lauded by Al Freed and Ian Dury […]

Christian Competence

Time is pressing on in sermon preparation, so on this Saturday afternoon I thought I’d share my morning thoughts.

Introduction

Perhaps your feeling tired or jaded in the work. Maybe you feel the burden of the responsibility to preach. “Who” you may wonder “is sufficient for these things?”

Context

In 2 Corinthians 1-2 Paul has been wrestling with this question. He clearly had detractors who were running down his credentials. After laying out his defense, in 1.12-2.11, he asserts that his change of plans was neither whimsical or selfish. Instead he delayed his visit to spare pain to God’s flock.

In 2.14-17 he deals with Christian conquest, for Christ has called them, as ministers, to diffuse fragrance around the globe in Christ’s Gospel victory march.

Next in 3.1-3 he shows that in exercising his powerful, successful mission, through God’s means of grace, he needs no other, human, Christian commendation, for results speak for themselves: Corinthian conversion and church planting is proof enough of divine power at work in Paul’s apostolic efforts. The fruit of New Covenant ministry is seen in the regeneration of the ‘living letters’ that Christ, through Gospel ministry, has written on living ‘fleshy’ human hearts

Then, in 3.4-6, he insists that such apostolic boasting […]

Ten Brief Lessons on the Ten Commandments

Many Christians tend to have an uneasy relationship with God’s law. Often, wrong perceptions interfere with a clear understanding about the Ten Commandments. To help, here are ten brief lessons regarding the Decalogue.

Lesson 1: The Ten Commandments were given to the redeemed. The Remember that the Ten Commandments were given to Israel after they had been delivered out of Egypt, not before. They were not a code given for Israel to earn there way out of slavery; these commandments were given to them as the redeemed people of God. The Lord reminds them of this in the very preface to the Ten commandments, found in Exodus 20:1 which states, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Lesson 2: The Lord made a covenant with Israel based on the Ten Commandments. When Moses came down off Mt. Sinai with the stone tables of God’s law as recorded in Exodus 24, he built an altar before the people. He then took the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled half of it on the altar. After reading the “book of the covenant”, i.e. the Ten Commandments and other laws, the people responded they would […]

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 […]

Theology on the Go

A pleasant and informative podcast I enjoy is called “Theology on the Go.” Found on the Place for Truth website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Theology on the Go is hosted by Dr. Jonathan Master who conducts a brief interview on a topic that should be of interest to those in the church. A natural conversationalist with an encouraging spirit, Jonathan does a wonderful job of keeping his guests on topic and asking questions that guide the conversation from belief to beneficial practice for believers.

Recently, Jonathan interviewed yours truly regarding the marks of the church. If you would like to take a listen, you can go here.

(Also, as usual when doing things like this, I snap my fingers afterward wishing I had said something else. In this case, it is two other resources regarding the marks of the church I would recommend. You can do no better than going to Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology , especially the Eighteenth Topic in Volume 2 on the church where he develops teaching on the marks in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church. Another shorter volume that introduces the marks in a helpful way is Daniel Hyde’s Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims.)

Browse Worthy: Tim Challies’ Visual Theology

Little by little over the past few years, Tim Challies, with the assistance of a graphic artist, has been building an impressive array of visually sharp diagrams, charts, and displays of Biblical truth. Called Visual Theology, these products range from quotes by famous Christians to lists of the Kings of Israel to a blueprint for the Old Testament tabernacle. These graphics are great for teaching or placing on a wall to remind others of God’s truth. They are available for downloads and he also has a book he published last year with many of them in it.

Tim caught my attention recently with a new one called The Order and Causes of Salvation and Damnation: An Infographic. As you can see below, It is a beautiful reproduction (the chart is offered in much higher resolution in different formats at the website) of John Bunyan’s original “ocular catechism” that traces the decrees of election and reprobation out in believers and unbelievers’ lives with Bunyan’s typical rich use of Scripture. I first learned of Bunyan’s drawing a few years ago while sitting under Derek Thomas, who led us through this work in an approach similar to the one found here. (I also learned that William Perkins had […]