Putting Boots on Our Predestination

Recently in a class I took on leadership by Terry Walling, we were encouraged to look at our lives and heritage more carefully using a Post-It Note Timeline to consider all the events, circumstances, and people the Lord has used to shape us.  Dr. Walling had us identify how God as the Potter uses many influences to form us into the people we are. He led us through exercises that helped us recognize people whom God has used to mold us thus far.

As we prayerfully reflected on our lives with Dr. Walling’s guidance, each of us began to see that the Lord uses a myriad of people in lesser and greater ways to prepare and direct us in our service to Him.  Indeed, as we become more aware of God’s shaping hand through others, we begin to see lessons and patterns the Lord uses uniquely in our own lives to guide us further into His ways.

For example, in my own life I saw God has often used “spanks” through the hands of others to shape me. One of my very first memories is crying as a toddler after my father had truly spanked me (with many repeats through my childhood!) which helped put […]


Rejoicing in Lament

Earlier this week I gave a public lecture on the subject of living with cancer. One of the observations I made was that God has used my experience with leukemia to help me appreciate His word more fully. In God’s providence, I had just started working through the book of Psalms in my regular Bible reading when I was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer about two years ago. The first book of the Psalter contains many psalms of lament in which the psalmist is crying out to God for help, often in a state of anguish. I had read those psalms many times before and, frankly, did not find them particularly meaningful.


What Your Pastor Sees In Worship

The following is an open letter to the saints I serve at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis:

Dear Saints,

The way you worship matters. You do not see everything I see in worship as your pastor, and so today, I’m writing to tell you some of what I see.

It starts in the hour before worship. I gather with ESL (English as a Second Language) students who come for worship along with one elder’s wife who brings her large heart and multilingual abilities. You know these students through your work with them in the Wednesday evening ESL classes. In the hour before worship, they read the Scripture passage through which I will preach and we work through the text. Though most have advanced degrees, they have very little experience with English. They usually have even lesser knowledge of the Bible. For instance, few begin with the understanding that the Bible is a single story, rather than a collection of wisdom literature is the case with most religious texts.

So, through language barriers and against the pressure of the ticking clock, we labor for the hour to understand the gist of the text and the central point of the coming sermon. We read together, explain […]


The Benefits and Joys of Christian Meditation

In a paper exploring The Puritan Practice of Meditation, Joel Beeke helpfully summarizes a number of biblical findings.  Let this be an encouragement and enticement to us all.

Meditation helps us focus on the Triune God, to love and to enjoy Him in all His persons (1 John 4:8)—intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically.
Meditation helps increase knowledge of sacred truth. It “takes the veil from the face of truth” (Prov. 4:2).
Meditation is the “nurse of wisdom,” for it promotes the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:8).
Meditation enlarges our faith by helping us to trust the God of promises in all our spiritual troubles and the God of providence in all our outward troubles.
Meditation augments one’s affections. Watson called meditation “the bellows of the affections.” He said, “Meditation hatcheth good affections, as the hen her young ones by sitting on them; we light affection at this fire of meditation” (Ps. 39:3).
Meditation fosters repentance and reformation of life (Ps. 119:59; Ez. 36:31).
Meditation is a great friend to memory.
Meditation helps us view worship as a discipline to be cultivated. It makes us prefer God’s house to our own.
Meditation transfuses Scripture through the texture of the soul.
Meditation is a great aid to prayer […]


Mercy and the Westminster Publick Directory of Worship

In teaching on mercy ministry in Reformed settings, I often use the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) to make a point. The RPW teaches that we are only to worship God as He commands us to do so in Scripture. In considering matters of worship, many Reformed Christians, rightly so, insist on regulating carefully by the Word of God what takes place in the church’s worship of God.

So as I address mercy and worship, I like to say there is another RPW.  Not only must we be careful to regulate our worship according to God’s Word, but we must also be diligent to insure that God’s Word is regulating us, especially in the area of mercy. Repeatedly, God’s Word emphasizes as we come into His presence that He is examining us to see if we are caring for the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan as we ought.  Just two samples among dozens that could be given:

God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.  Rescue the weak and needy; […]


Should I start a relationship with a non-Christian?

Last night I was speaking to a Christian Union meeting at our local university about dating and marriage. One of the perennial problems that many young people fall into is getting into relationships with non-Christians. I was exhorting these students to realise that going out with a non-Christian is not an option for the believer. Because dating is a stepping stone to marriage, what the Bible says about whom we may marry applies to whom we may date as well. 1 Corinthians 7.39: A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But even if someone refuses to accept that this command applies to pre-marriage relationships, at best it is incredibly foolish and unloving for a Christian to date a non-Christian. Here are a few points to reinforce this…

1. Dating a non-Christian is incredibly short-sighted. What happens if he doesn’t become a Christian? Even if you can persuade yourself that it is somehow OK to date an unbeliever, you can’t kid yourself that’s it’s OK to marry him/her unless you rip 1 Corinthians 7.39 out of the Bible. So at […]


Mum’s Dead

3pm, Monday 16th March, I was teaching a Pastoral Theology class when my mobile phone went.  It was from Heather, my wife.  I thought, ‘this is it’.   Then I heard it, “Mum’s dead”.

Heather’s mum, a sprightly 86 year old, had fallen a few weeks ago and broken her collar bone.  We had received the news as we had done so on previous occasions when she’d fallen.  It will take her a month or so to get over this, and it will be back to life as normal.  That wasn’t to be.  A bit of confusion in her thinking when she was in the hospital led to a series of MRI and CAT scans.  The outcome was simple and conclusive.  Two brain tumours.  Life expectancy – a few months.  In just over a month she had died.

Tillie, that was her name, had lived almost 87 years.  She had raised a family of four in her 30’s and 40’s, and then ran the small family business when her husband Sam had taken a heart attack in his early 50’s.  She had learned to drive in her 60’s, in her 70’s cared for her husband in declining health to his death, then moved […]


Christian Joy – A Letter to Leaders

Dear fellow elders, parents and mentors,

Isn’t it amazing that God has allowed us to put our feeble hands into His eternal work? The fact that we’ve been called to lead others is itself an incredible sign of the grace and goodness of God. What a privilege it is to serve God by leading His people!

As the Bible makes clear about elders – and, I assume, about other leaders – we are to lead not just with the right words or great wisdom, but with spiritual maturity. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to put away sin regularly and strive for godliness. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a great way to evaluate true spirituality and a helpful way to evaluate our own leadership.

So let me ask you a question which originally grows from my own spiritual immaturity: are you leading with joy? Are you leading in joy? 


A Question to Ponder

Acts 23:1-5 reads,

“And looking intently at the council, Paul said, ‘Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?’ Those who stood by said, ‘Would you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’””

Paul certainly deemed it inappropriate to speak to the high priest the way he did. But what if the exact same thing happened and it wasn’t the high priest who ordered Paul to be struck? Would Paul’s sharp words have been appropriate? In other words, did Paul speak sinfully here? Or could it be that there is a place for such imprecations today (or is the word imprecation too strong in this instance)? And if so, then how does this […]


Drinking and Christian Liberty

For over a century, the denomination in which I serve was heavily involved in the temperance movement.  Indeed, up until our recent history, ministers had to promise not to use alcoholic beverages as part of their ordination vows.  Having witnessed the removal of what was known as “the abstinence vow” in ecclesiastical committees and courts, the character and conduct of the church’s leaders following this change can use ongoing encouragements toward holiness.  From my observations in this particular situation, I thought I would offer three key Scriptural cautions regarding how we practice a Christian liberty.

Enjoy your liberty yet do not glory in it.  Psalm 104 tells us that as God provides sustenance for all His creatures, He has also given “wine which makes man’s heart glad” (Ps. 104:15).  Just as Jesus’ first miracle provided wine at a wedding so the joy of the day could continue, so drink, as other pleasures, has been given to man to use for enjoyment.

Yet it is one thing to use these gifts from the Lord in a moderated enjoyment of them, and another thing entirely to glory in them.  By this I mean that one can become so enthralled with a Christian liberty that it becomes his glory rather than Christ. […]