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Sweetness of Prayer in the Bitterness of Life

The Christian life is filled with many sorrows–many trials and disappointments. In the midst of those problems, persecutions, disappointments, and discouragements–do not lose hope. Persevere in prayer. Seek sweetness in prayer. When prayers seem to go unanswered, continue to pray by faith that Christ would see you through the trial at hand, because he will! The bitterness is for a season for the believer; and the sweetness is for an eternity.

Calvin, speaking of “unanswered” prayers said:

God, even when he does not comply with our wishes, is still attentive and kindly to our prayers, so that hope relying upon his word will never disappoint us. But believers need to be sustained by this patience, since they would not long stand unless they relied upon it. For the Lord proves his people by no light trials…but often drives them to extremity, and allows them, so driven, to lie a long time in the mire before he gives them any taste of his sweetness… What could they do here but be discouraged and rush into despair if they were not, when afflicted, desolate, and already half-dead, revived by the thought that God has regard for them and will bring an end to their […]

Men’s Breakfast and the Affair of the Sausages

This morning the men of my congregation will join for breakfast as we often do. There will be bacon and sausage consumed. The choice of bacon and sausage is not a protest, but part of the regular menu.

Most won’t think about it at all but will joyfully consume the sausages.

In 1522, in Zurich, Switzerland, a young preacher named Ulrich preached a sermon called “Von Erkiesen und Freiheit der Speisen.” My wife would have to help me with the German, but its something to the effect of “On the choice and freedom of foods.”

The argument that young Ulrich Zwingli made was that Christians are free to eat meat or free to not eat meat and the church does not have the right to force God’s people to fast or to abstain from that which God does not command. It was a sermon against Lent.

This sermon went 16th-century-viral and a strangely titled piece of church history was born:

The Affair of the Sausages.

The affair of the sausages was an incident wherein a printer fed his workers, along with some local dignitaries, choice sausages during a March 1522 Lenten fast. This led to the arrest of the merchant-printer for violating the Zurich laws. His […]

To the Nines! Nine Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

This past month I entered my ninth year as an ordained minister of the gospel. The time has gone by quickly and I am thankful for all that the Lord has done through his appointed means of grace. One of the joys of pastoral ministry has been to frequently speak to young men who are considering or preparing for pastoral ministry. “What should I read?” “Where should I go?” “How should I prepare?” Often I will give three pieces of advice for men as they seek preparation for ministry: 1. Don’t be a free agent, be under care of elders at a presbytery level. 2. Be a humanist, read literature widely, don’t get “just” a Bible degree in college; study the original languages. 3. Be a churchman and attend a seminary that is accountable to the church. There are many fine seminary institutions which are accountable to boards, but we need a generation of churchmen—men who love the church and support her institutions.

I am sure that some of the students that God has brought through my congregation can hear me say it now! But for those who are currently in seminary or in their first couple of years of ministry, […]

Pastor, Are You Okay?

As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings… labors, sleepless nights, hunger…with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through…dishonor, through slander… We are treated as impostors…as unknown…as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful…as poor…as having nothing. (Selections from 2 Corinthians 6: 4-10)

The Apostle Paul understood what it meant to fill up the sufferings of Christ. As a servant or minister of the gospel, Paul carried the sufferings of the people of God and described them in terms such as hardship and sorrow.

All ministers of the gospel know something of this suffering. I will be the first to confess that I have had a very joyful and fruitful ministry, harvesting that which others before me planted and watered. Even in the midst of great joy and happiness, however, there is a burden I carry for the church of God that came with my ordination. I carry on my heart and mind the sufferings and trials and hardships and disappointments of the men and women to whom I minister. No amount of seminary preparation could adequately prepare a man for bearing the weight of a […]

What’s Your Moniker?

How we describe ourselves helps others to understand what we value–what and who we are. This is true in multiple spheres of life. In American culture, our “last name” is our family name. In Asian culture, the “first name” is the family name. That says something about what we value. The same can be said for our spiritual life. What is your name? How are you known?

Surprisingly, the New Testament answer may not be the same as the 21st century church’s answer. Sinclair Ferguson, in The Whole Christ, writes:

What is my default way of describing a believer? Perhaps it is exactly that: “believer.” Or perhaps “disciple,” “born-again person,” or “saint” (more biblical but less common in Protestantism!). Most likely it is the term “Christian.”

Yet these descriptors, while true enough, occur relatively rarely in the pages of the New Testament, and the contexts in which it occurs might suggest that it was a pejorative term used of (rather than by) the early church.

New Testament Christians did not think of themselves as “Christians”! But if not, how did they think of themselves?

Contrast these descriptors with the overwhelmingly dominant way the New Testament describes believers. It is that we are “in Christ.” The […]

Gospel Beauty Beyond Syllogisms

The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner. Read it again. The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner.

There is something refreshing about the simplicity of a statement such as this. Christianity is a religion for sinners. Should we not give him praise for this reality? The Lord Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

I wonder how often we lose focus on this glorious truth? In our discussions with unbelievers and those who would describe themselves as “seekers” (yes, I know Romans 3:11), we ought to help direct their thinking along these lines as they ask us questions about what it means to be a Christian.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to UCLA to speak at class filled with medievalists and early modern English historians. These post-graduate students were studying the religious writings of England during the Reformation and early Puritan era. I was invited to give a pastoral perspective on the theology of the era and […]

The Trumpet Blasts that Were Never Heard

We live in times where the church is needing to think through her relationship with the state and the rulers over us. This is not the first time in the history of Christianity where we have had to meditate on our doctrine of the magistrate or our relationship to those in authority. This is not the first time that we have had to choose between losing our right hand and losing our left. Where would you turn to read about the relationship between the church and an oppressive government?

Looking for a book on the relationship between the church and a tyrannical government may be useful for the church in the next few decades. Consider the following statements:

* It is not by birth that one can rule over a people; those under him must approve of that rule.
* Those who practice idolatry or are living publicly scandalous lives are not to be placed in public office.
* If a ruler proves to be a tyrant or is willfully disobedient to God’s Word, then not even an oath can keep him in office.
* If people too quickly or without due consideration put someone in office and it is later found that he is […]

Reformed Pentecostals

 

The accusation is often made that people in the reformed and presbyterian tradition do not focus enough on the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve all heard the accusation. Pentecostals and charismatics focus on the Spirit’s work, and let’s face it, we’re not them. Reformed people, defending our high view of the Spirit, will comment on how the Spirit’s work is focused on Christ and the Spirit’s ministry is to bring to remembrance the things that Jesus Christ taught (John 14). This is true; but do we give the due reverence that the Spirit deserves in our lives and in our ministries?

The ancient creed of Nicea confesses, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…”  We worship the Spirit, along with the Father and the Son. This is confessed as reformed people. Although it is confessed, because of the errors in pentecostal and charismatic traditions, it seems that the work of the Spirit is not talked about much in the reformed church. Sure, we talk about the Holy Spirit’s central role in salvation. Salvation is […]

To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity.

“Protestant missionaries… had forced surfing deep into the shadows… To Calvinists, surfing was a sinful exercise, leading only to unbridled licentiousness and godless impiety. Go surfing they pronounced from their pulpits, and eternal flames awaited.” Pacific, 131.

Simon Winchester (one of my favorite authors) makes this passing statement  about surfing and 1820’s Hawaiian Calvinism. Calvinism is condemned in less than forty words in the midst of a 492 page book which concerns the ecological, international, and economic importance of the Pacific Ocean. Why did Calvinism get discredited in the midst of a discussion on the ocean? With no footnote or historical anecdote, the assertion was made that Calvinists believe that surfing leads to hell’s flame.

I am not arguing that such condemnations have never been made. Somewhere someone at some time has most-likely condemned wave riding, yet Winchester’s statement demonstrates that outside of the church people have presuppositions about what defines the Christian. People assume they know what is Christianity. That assumption is based on how we reflect Christianity; how we define it. To an unbelieving world, we define Christianity, not in our words only — but also in our actions.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity?

Is it defined by a condemnation of surfing or some other lawful activity? Is […]

The Glory of God Revealed in the Church

Last week I left the beauty and glory of Southern California. I left behind a peaceful ocean. I left behind the mountain ranges that speak of his glory. I left behind palm trees and cool breezy evenings. I left behind the city and the people that I love. Where did I go you might ask? I went to Central Indiana, of course! Marion to be precise.

Every four years Reformed Presbyterians from around the globe gather for an international conference.

As Reformed Presbyterians gathered from 10 nations we enjoyed the singing of psalms with 2000 like-minded believers. We enjoyed the preaching of Gentle Reformation’s faithful leader, Professor Barry York. We enjoyed sessions on missions, biblical counseling, and various other sessions to encourage, admonish, challenge, and convict.

Why leave Southern California for Central Indiana? Why leave mountains and ocean and glorious natural revelation for the sleepy flatness of  Central Indiana? The answer is quite simple. God’s glory is revealed most beautifully in his people. The church is the fullest expression of his glory on earth. I left my home so that I could be with my people; his people.
Abraham Kuyper said,

It is evident that while every flower and star enhance his glory, the lives of angels […]