Weekend Quote: Predestination and Holiness

From The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Book 3, 23:12):

Another argument which they employ to overthrow predestination is that if it stand, all care and study of well doing must cease. For what man can hear (say they) that life and death are fixed by an eternal and immutable decree of God, without immediately concluding that it is of no consequence how he acts, since no work of his can either hinder or further the predestination of God?”

Calvin then responded to this charge of predestination leading to inactivity.  How?  He reminded those opposed to it what the predestinated are predestined to do!  He quoted from Ephesians 1:4, where Paul states believers are elected “that we should be holy, and without blame before him.”  Calvin then followed with this statement.

If the end of election is holiness of life, it ought to arouse and stimulate us strenuously to aspire to it, instead of serving as a pretext for sloth.


Speaking to One Another in Song

If I’m honest, I think one of the downsides of being a pastor is that I don’t often get to sit in the pews. I know pews aren’t always the most comfortable and the sweat stains on the back of ours may cause some people to wonder why sitting in them would be such a blessing. But there’s something about standing side-by-side with the people of God as they worship. There’s a certain connection that can seem lacking when you’re standing alone at the pulpit.

I was thinking of this when I attended a funeral at our church a couple of weeks ago. I was able to sit in the pews; something I hadn’t done since becoming pastor. And it was a blessing. But what really left an indelible impression on me was the singing of the Psalms. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). The Puritan Thomas Manton observed that we sing Psalms primarily to glorify God, but also to mutually edify one another. He wrote, “It is not meant of teaching from the psalms, but teaching [...]


Joy at Geneva, or: Oh, the Humanities!

Last night was one of the highlights of my 16 month tenure as chaplain of Geneva College.  I got to participate in the Geneva Reading Series, an initiative of the brilliantly creative Dr. Dan Williams.  GRS has become one of my favorite parts of being at Geneva.  It’s a time when the campus community can come together to enjoy and celebrate God’s good gifts among us.  Music, poetry, humorous stories, contemplative essays and other creative compositions by students and faculty remind us of the joy of being human.  GRS is a time to allow our souls a deep, cleansing breath, to revel in being image bearers of the God who has built spectacular beauty into his creation, and especially into humanity.

GRS represents so much of why I love being at Geneva, why I love Christian higher education rooted in the humanities, and why it breaks my heart that the academic disciplines which give rise to such joyful gatherings and which spark such brilliant fire in the hearts of students – music, literature, writing, history, philosophy and theology – are increasingly considered expendable in the brutal but necessary battle to keep college as inexpensive as possible.  Cutting deeply into such disciplines [...]


Speaking With One Another

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.” – Malachi 3:16

Pastor Kenneth G. Smith preached on these words ten years ago in the congregation I serve as pastor. On that Lord’s Day, we gave thanks that the Lord had allowed us to continue as a congregation for forty years. Looking at these words from Malachi, Ken Smith mused on the words that the godly people of Malachi’s day must have spoken to one another in the midst of trouble times. The comfort, of course, is that the Lord paid attention and heard them and wrote a book of remembrance. God will not forget his people!

But what did those who feared the Lord say to one another? We do not know exactly, but they were obviously words that pointed one another towards God in the midst of an increasingly crooked and perverse generation. God will not forget his people, and we must not forget him either!

Pastor Smith exhorted us to speak to one another as members of the local body in three ways. [...]


A Sermon P.S.

This past Lord’s Day I preached from Psalm 51 on the subject of confession. The message was based on Psalm 51:16, “The sacrifices of God are a broken heart, a broken and contrite spirit, O God, you will not despise.”  My emphasis was how the Lord wants us to offer our broken hearts and sin to him as we worship, not as a precondition to worship.

Toward the end of the message, I was calling the congregation to look afresh at Christ’s work on the cross.  I urged them to see his love and mercy for them, and seek the deep heart washing David yearns for in the psalm.  At that moment I mentioned doing this with “besetting sins.”

Afterward, in the customary handshaking after the service, a wise, older gentleman greeted me.  He then expressed respectfully to me a desire.  He said he wished that I would have gone on to address the question as to what those with ongoing struggles with besetting sins should do.  My message could have been interpreted that there is an easy fix to a deeply-rooted problem.

I have been meditating on that wish further, as it was a good question.  How would I encourage the believer with a besetting sin?  Since I [...]


Devoured for Christ- Ignatius to the Romans

There is nearly unanimous agreement that Ignatius was martyred sometime during the reign of Trajan (AD. 98-117). Writing to various churches before his death, his letters emphasize unity and truth. Ignatius is also keen on finishing the race well. He is about to be thrown to the lions, and he wants to reassure the churches that this is all very well.

In his letter to the Romans, he says in one place, “The Work is not a matter of persuasive rhetoric; rather, Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.” Soon after penning those words, he speaks of his impending death in this way:

“May I have the pleasure of the wild beasts that have been prepared for me; and I pray that they prove prompt with me. I will even coax them to devour me promptly, not as they have done with some, whom they were too timid to touch. And if when I am willing and ready they are not, I will force them. Bear with me- I know what is best for me. Now at last I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing visible or invisible envy me, so that I may reach [...]


The Shepherding Seminary

A year ago this month I was inaugurated into my position at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  In reflecting on my time teaching here, I looked over recently what I said that evening and thought it might be an encouragement to some of you, especially in light of the podcast we did the other day on distance education and the seminary.  The address follows below.

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“I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God. 

“I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick;

but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.”

-Ezekiel 34:15-16

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President O’Neill, Esteemed Board, Distinguished Colleagues, Faithful Predecessor, Wonderful Administrative Staff, Supportive Students, and my Loving Family & Friends:

With a grateful and humbled heart I thank each of you for this evening and for blessing it with your presence.  I would not be here without God using your counsel, guidance, and support as confirmation.  The honor I feel in my heart is only outweighed by the sense of my unworthiness of it all.  Let this evening stand as a testimony that our [...]


Weekend Quote: Subduing Sin

From Through Baca’s Vale by J.C. Philpot:

How many poor souls are struggling against the power of sin, and yet never get any victory over it!  How many are daily led captive by the lusts of the flesh, the love of the world, and the pride of life, and never get any victory over them!  How many fight and grapple with tears, vows, and strong resolutions against besetting sins of temper, levity, or covetousness, who are still entangled and overcome by them again and again!  Now, why is this?  Because they know not the secret of spiritual strength against, and spiritual victory over them.  It is only by virtue of a living union with the Lord Jesus Christ, drinking into his sufferings and death, and receiving out of his fulness, that we can gain any victory over the world, sin, death, or hell.  Let me bring this down a little to your own experience.  Say your soul has been, on one particular occasion, very sweetly favoured; a melting sense of the Savior’s precious love and blood has come into your heart, and you could then believe, with a faith of God’s own giving, that he was eternally yours; and through this [...]


The “Go En” and the Land of the Rising Son

What if there was a nation in the 10/40 Window that could be easily reached with the gospel? What if that nation had less than 1% of the population profess Christianity? What if that nation was completely open to missionaries and other gospel workers? Would you want to see missionaries and gospel workers enter that land?

There is such a nation.

My wife and I had the opportunity to labor in Kobe, Japan, last month. I was asked to come and lecture at Kobe Theological Hall and to speak at the family conference of the Japan Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a great honor to be among men and women who make so many cultural sacrifices to confess Jesus Christ.

At customs I was asked my reason for being in Japan. I told the custom’s officer that I was there to teach at a seminary and that I am a Christian pastor by profession.

“Welcome to Japan.”

My passport was stamped without question.

Japan is nation of great honor and pride. It is a nation of great wealth and resourceful people. Yet at the same time, it is a nation that [...]


Hologram Faith

Doors Open Days are great for the above average sized family like ours. It’s an initiative which gives you free access into a number of fascinating buildings. Last weekend it was Edinburgh’s turn to host the event, so we made a visit to the Royal Observatory. The fact that one of our children has been granted the opportunity to take a ‘placement week’ at the Observatory was another reason for visiting.

One of the first exhibits we encountered was a hologram of the EELT (European Extremely Large Telescope). Whilst this was impressive given the sheer scale of the project, it was nonetheless a bit surreal because construction has just started in Chile and the telescope will not become operational until the mid 2020’s.

Last weekend, Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, appeared before an ‘open-mouthed’ audience at the 2014 Nantucket Project in Massachusetts.  It was quite the spectacle as he sat on a stool beside filmmaker Eugene Jarecki sharing his thoughts on the importance of public access to free information, research, and the impact of censorship on history.   But why an ‘open-mouthed’ audience? Because Assange, having sought asylum in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden, has been confined to [...]