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For Beauty and Glory

Why do I love the way that Vermeer painted yellow? Can I describe the joy produced by concentric circles on an Art Deco water pitcher? What attracts people to spend thousands of dollars on an Eames designed Herman Miller chair? Why does the Chrysler Building’s crown make me smile? What accounts for the sensation produced by the visual elegance and dramatic displays in a Bierstadt painting of Yellowstone or a photograph of Yosemite by Ansel Adams? Why do lines on a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air produce happiness?

There are so many beautiful things in this world.

You may believe the answer to these experiences of joy and satisfaction are the product of an un-sanctified worldly-mindedness. You may call for the repentance of one who places value on such earthly things. But what if enjoyment of beautiful things is part of our sanctification as believers? What if the appreciation of beauty, design, and craftsmanship is a reflection of something heavenly, and in itself is a reflection of God’s character?

A Plea for Poets, Plumbers, Philosophers, and Physicians

Over a lunch of Lebanese shish and tabbouleh, I had a conversation with a young man training at a well-known and respected university to be a medical doctor. During that discussion he mentioned that he hoped he could train at a school that viewed patients as more than research subjects. He longed for his university to understand the biblical view of man. His desire is to serve in his chosen field as a servant of God working from a biblical worldview. The Image of God and a biblical anthropology were important to this future physician. This young man is right.

The 1967 Geneva College paper called Foundational Concepts of Christian Education says, “Man’s fall into sin affected not only his moral nature, but also his intellect, thus making him prone to error, and requiring divine revelation to determine ultimate standards and values in all fields.”

Divine revelation.

In all fields. 

Psalm 77 to Auld Lang Syne

Many people sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve. For some years I have been singing a portion of Psalm 77 as a way to bring in the new year.

The following translation is based on the metrical translation found in the Book of Psalms for Singing (1973). May this very useful custom be brought into your home as you reflect on God’s never failing grace in the midst of life’s struggles.

And Happy New Year!

Psalm 77:7-15
Tune: Auld Lang Syne

Forever will the Lord cast off, show favor never more?
His steadfast love forever cease? His promise come no more?
Has God forgotten all His grace? Has his compassion gone?
Or can it be His mercies all, He has in wrath withdrawn?

Then I replied, Such questions show my own infirmity.
The firm right hand of Him Most High through years must changeless be.
The LORD’s deeds I remember will, your works of old recall.
I’ll ponder all which you have done and weigh your wonders all.

O God most holy is your way; what god is like our God?
O God of miracles, your strength, you have made known abroad.
You have redeemed your people all, the power of your arm shown.
Your people sons of […]

Of Scotch Whisky and Christmas Trees

Scotch whisky and Christmas trees.

Few topics can separate brethren as quickly as alcohol and Christmas. This is especially true in the Reformed and Presbyterian community. This time of year, those with the minority conviction of not celebrating Christmas often find themselves to be the object of snickers and well-meaning banter. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul calls us to exercise charity toward one another, to not flaunt our freedom. How do we do that when convictions and opinions are so strong?

How would the gospel have us respond to those with different convictions about Christmas? To understand that we need to step back and ask ourselves what we believe concerning the observance of the day and why. And we need to use charity as we discuss an issue that quickly stirs emotional responses from all sides in the discussion.

Essentially there are only three views on the observance of Christmas.

Commanded Christmas Observance

Can we turn to the New Testament and prove that the church of Jesus Christ must celebrate the birth of our savior? I honestly have never met a serious Christian who believes that we are commanded to celebrate the birth of […]

Look at the Fish!

We live in a hurried society. We live in a society that tells the microwave to hurry up. We live in a time when we can get anything we want as soon as we want it. Think of the entertainment that streams from our internet service. I live in a city where Amazon offers one-hour deliveries! We are a hurried and impatient people.

This hurried society has caused the Church to know less of the Scriptures, even while 20 centuries of commentaries and sermons are available with the click of a trackpad. We must regain a depth of understanding and a depth of humility as we approach the Word of God.

The Scriptures tell us that we are to meditate on the Word of God. Meditation takes time. It take effort to look at the Word of God and to dive deeply into the teachings, mysteries, and truths of the Word. The first Psalm tells us that the godly makes the Word of God his meditation day and night.

Do we take time to mediate on the Word? Would the church today increase in her love for Christ, understanding of Systematic Theology, application of New Testament ethics, and knowledge of the Bible if […]

The Timid Sheep

It does not take much reading in the newspaper or media sites to realize that our culture is rapidly changing. I am not saying that our culture is going from Christian to secular (that’s another discussion);  but I do believe that we are seeing less toleration of Christianity, especially among the self-proclaimed tolerant.

Fear sets in, doesn’t it? Timidity replaces trust at times. Will the church press on courageously, trusting in Christ’s purposes or will we retreat due to the fear that overwhelms us?

This is going to prove to be a pastoral problem in the church. As the church faces this new age of forced-toleration, how ought we respond to those who who suffer under the fear and timidity that may plague our souls?

Martin Bucer (1491-1551), gives us wisdom here. He writes:

Those who become timid, so that the cross and tribulation become too heavy for them, must be addressed kindly and comfortingly, faithfully impressing on them the goodness of God and the salvation of Christ, so that they may recognize and believe that our dear God’s intentions towards them are entirely fatherly and faithful in all the sufferings he sends them. They are always to be dissuaded from thinking about their sins and […]

A Disciple of Mary?

I have often said that July is the best time to work through Jesus’s birth narratives. July is far enough away from December 25 that the emotional trappings of the day are not winning your heart. July is also far enough away from late September, when Costco starts to put out the manger scenes and yard Santas. July is perfect for studying the birth of Jesus! If I were a holy day keeping man (other than the Sabbath), I would propose July 12 as the Presbyterian and Reformed Birth Narrative Day of Remembrance and Cerebral Celebration through Pious Thoughts. But I am not a holy day keeper (other than the Sabbath), and this article is not a presbyteri-rant against the C-word.

In my family worship we have been begun studying the Gospel of Luke. What has impressed me as we have begun in the first two chapters is the faith and piety of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Luke 1:34-38 says,

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth […]

Vanity Fair: Just Passing Through

Vanity Fair “broke the internet” with a story of shock and shame. As the church reflects on the way in which the world has responded with glee, we must be mindful that we live in Vanity Fair. As Christians, we ought not to be surprised; we need to realize that we live in the midst of a world that is hostile to God and his glory.

The pretentious and wonderful Oxford English Dictionary defines Vanity Fair as “a place or scene where all is frivolity and empty show; the world or a section of it as a scene of idle amusement and unsubstantial display.”

As the world screams “wonderful” and the church groans in disgust, we must remember where Vanity Fair got its name.

Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity, and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is […]

Ordinary Elders

When we think of the work of the elders of the church what are the primary duties that we consider? In the Book of Acts, chapter 6, the elders of the church are to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. These are the two basic callings of those who minister in the eldership of the church.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to participate in the memorial service of a Christian woman from another congregation. There were a number of ministers who participated, all reformed in conviction. The son of the woman, who had gone to her eternal rest, gave me a gift for participating in the service. It was clear that he knew me very well. As he was going through his mother’s belongings he found Session Minutes from a church where one of his relatives had served as a ruling elder in the early 1900s. The Session Minutes were from Roseburg, Oregon Presbyterian Church and they were dated January 7, 1917. Accompanying the Minutes was an old photo of the church building.

J.G. Vos’s Temperate Views on Temperance

It is without doubt that JG Vos changed the RPCNA. Many will tell you of their experiences in his classroom at Geneva College and how they came to love the Word of God under his ministry. As the son of one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, he brought attention to the RPCNA at a time when it was often isolated from the greater reformed community. JG Vos popularized amillennialism in the RPCNA. He, along with Philip Martin, are credited by some for keeping the RPCNA from ordaining women elders. He renewed interest in the Scottish Covenanters through his writing. He renewed interest in confessionalism through the Blue Banner Faith and Life magazine. Many cite Vos’s preaching as the means of grace God used for their own conversions.

Today’s RPCNA would be quite different without JG Vos and his work. One area of change in the RPCNA that began with Vos is the RPCNA’s current view on abstinence from alcoholic beverages. Beginning in the late 1930s our Synod began a debate regarding the relationship between the Christian and alcohol, a debate that eventually led to a decision 60 years later to reverse its stand […]