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Presbyterian Partiality?

I’m hoping to preach on the sin of partiality tomorrow evening from James 2.1-7.

In preparing, yesterday morning, I was really surprised to discover that one of the chief reasons or motivations for the prohibition of prejudice is the doctrine of election!

“Listen my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the Kingdom, which God has promised to those who love him?”

It actually makes me wonder why we, in particular, as died-in-the-wool Calvinists, fall into the trap of ‘Presbyterian Partiality’ (apologies in advance to other readers)? There are strong reasons why ‘The Reformed’ (for want of a better term), of all people, should be less vulnerable or prone to this sin.

We ought to have a strong doctrine of scripture. Yet exegesis of the text forbids partiality in church, James 2.1, which in comparison to Saviour is an inglorious sin:

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory.”

The definition of Thayer helps us get a better handle on the problem of partiality which is:

“…the fault of one who when called on to requite or to give judgment has respect to the outward […]

Above the Clouds

Earlier this week, while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my family, I was reminded of the fact that no matter how dark things are in the valleys, the sun is always shining above the clouds.  Anyone who has ever flown in an airplane knows this, of course, but we don’t often have the opportunity to experience it in a car.  With the temperature hovering around 30oF and a thick fog settling over the park, it was not a great day for scenic views.  In the morning we drove over 75 miles through dense forest on a road that ran along a swiftly flowing stream.  We could see the stream, the trees, and the landscape around us but, looking up, we could not see the hilltops or the sky or the sun.  In fact, the cloud-cover was so dense at higher elevations that everything was covered with a heavy layer of hoarfrost.  Although eerily beautiful, it was as if all the colors were muted and the world was dominated by grays, browns, and whites.

The Dodecahedron of Deception

In about 12 hours times I’ll be back in the pulpit! Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll preach two Lord’s Day sermons, to the hearers in the congregation over which I have charge as a pastor.

How healthy, once again, to reflect on the timely warning James gives to would-be hearers lest they become ‘sermon-tasters’. It is also a forceful reminder to pray for the sort of Word-doing that is part & parcel of proper Word-hearing.

James puts this matter of sermon application so unforgettably in 1.22 of his epistle:

“Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Having taken a few moments to identify some traps that ensnare sermon hearers each week, I have begun to realise how multifaceted this sermon-tasting deception can be. This explains in part the slightly weird title ‘Dodecahedron of Deception.’ Here, then, are twelve traps & pitfalls, that hearers may fall into & must prayerfully seek help to avoid or escape, when they attend their meeting-house tomorrow!

We deceive ourselves when….

1. We apply the message to others for whom we feel the sermon is most fitting, whilst failing to apply it to our own case & heart, for which God intended it.

2. We take great delight in the subject, style, sound or structure […]

In This Election Cycle, Remember the Sabbath (and the rest of God’s moral law)

Need a break from election-season stress?  How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning?  The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God.  Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week.  This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate.  We need a break.

A Brief Reflection on Ephesians 2:7

“4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

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One of the astonishing things to be observed in Ephesians 2:7 is its future scope. Our being raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places is designed to show forth the immeasurable riches of God’s grace. But note when this will be manifested. Paul declares that this will occur “in the coming ages.”

What is it about the riches, nay, the immeasurable riches of God’s grace that will be more clearly manifested in the future? Hasn’t such grace already been made plain?

It no doubt has. So in what way will it be made to shine more brightly?

Perhaps this is simply a matter of our more adequately apprehending its depths. Maybe once we are transformed in the twinkling of an eye, and once we behold […]

Why We Sing

Of all the things we do in worship, singing is the most mysterious to me. That’s probably not a great statement about my theology, but it’s accurate. I understand the why of our singing less than the other elements of worship. Why do we sing? Why not just recite Scripture out loud? Or why do we sing together? Why not just let one person sing (this tempts me sometimes…)? 

Children in Worship

An article yesterday over at Reformation 21 on family-integrated worship caught my eye. I enjoyed the historical peek at a time period in Scotland when the church was wrestling over having children in worship. Though Dr. Denlinger is not speaking against family-integrated worship per se, he is sounding a note of caution to advocates who assume that the church has always welcomed children in the sanctuary until modern times. As an added humorous bonus, he also linked to this Lutheran Satire video on the subject which I had not seen.

Just as the questions of whether children should be baptized or should come to the Lord’s Table are often matters of discussion in pastoral theology, so too is the subject of children in worship. As I worked through a position paper a number of years ago on this issue, I thought I would republish it here for any help it might give to others. Please note that I write this as a Presbyterian pastor, so my views of the covenant sign of baptism greatly impact my understanding of this subject.

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Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

An increasingly common practice found in […]

Preparing for Our Heavenly Union with God

In his beautiful tribute yesterday, James shared the news that a dear friend to a number of us at Gentle Reformation, Pastor David Long, passed into glory on Saturday evening. When I received the news, I had just said “Amen” following a quiet, tearful time of singing and praying with my family for Dave and Jenny and their family. Dave, my spiritual father, is now with the God he knew so well, served so faithfully, and told others of so sincerely.

At a conference last fall at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on “Experiencing the Fullness of Our Union with Christ,” providentially I gave the final talk on preparing for heaven. At the start of my message and in the journal being published this week, I dedicated this talk to Dave as follows.

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At the time of my study and writing of this article, I have been emotionally walking with a lifetime friend and mentor as he fights a battle against a serious form of cancer. Observing someone close to you preparing to meet God moves a discussion such as this one out of the realm of the merely academic and speculative to that of pastoral and personal. So this article is dedicated to Pastor […]