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. […]


Of Kryptonite, Kool-Aid and Windex: Concluding a Series on the Practical Pursuit of Holiness

As much as our hearts crave the completion of God’s sanctifying work within us, the prospect of stepping forward in newness of life can be daunting. We might fear that we will be stepping away from sacred pieces of identity, attitudes and affections which distinguish us from others and which keep us objective in our outlook on life. The reality is, however, that progress in sanctification is the progressive revealing of our truest selves; it is the unleashing, not the strangulation, of our hearts.  We considered this at length in a prior entry:   The New You.  We’ll begin this final entry in a series on sanctification –  one, two and  three – by exposing this fear as a strong impediment to that progress, especially as we hide it beneath the guise of a realism regarding our potential progress in holiness.

Sometimes, the limits we place on the possibilities of realized holiness in this life only reveal the limits of our willingness to pursue them.  Sanctification is hard work, though it is indeed the work of God in and through us which accomplishes it (Philippians 2:12-13).  It is far easier to be content to enjoy freedom from the law’s condemnation, than to […]


Some Curious Admissions From Sam Harris

While hanging out with the guys over at Very Bad Wizards, an atheistic podcast that discusses morality, philosophy and culture, Sam Harris made some fascinating comments…shall I say concessions?

As one of the leading atheists of our day, Sam Harris isn’t shy about sharing his feelings about God. Not surprisingly, he spends a fair bit of time attacking the judgments of God, calling God a moral monster and the like. One need only listen to his debate with William Lane Craig on morality. Just go the 54 minute mark to get a taste.

Now what is fascinating to me is how, on the one hand, Sam Harris can decry the judgments of God with resolute certainty, but then turn around and express caveats and nuances that directly undermine those same condemnations.

What do I mean?

Let me provide a number of quotes from episode 63 of Very Bad Wizards to illustrate the matter. Each will serve as a kind of tent peg grounding an overall point.(1)

Tent Peg #1, It all Comes Down to Consequences

• 1:21:00ish, Tamler: “This is what makes me so suspicious. There is always some reason why the thing that is your intuition ends up working for the best consequences. […]


Real-Life Narnia

“The stories of Narnia seem childish to some. But to others, they are utterly transformative. For the latter group, these evocative stories affirm that it is possible for the weak and foolish to have a noble calling in a dark world; that our deepest intuition will point us to the true meaning of things; that there is indeed something beautiful and wonderful at the heart of the universe, and that this must be found, embraced, and adored….(Lewis) borrowed and scripted (a story) that he already knew well, and had found to be true and trustworthy – the Christian narrative of Creation, Fall, redemption, and final consummation… the Narnia stories allow us to step inside and experience the Christian story” (Alister McGrath 2013)

Have you ever wished you could be transported to Narnia? Or at least be transformed by it as you step inside and experience the Christian story – and then see that worked out in real life? Well, it is happening in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Greg Enas and Don Palmer are calling Christian brothers at a common stage in life to do the same through an invigorating group named Narnia Indiana. Narnia gathers men from around the city who are mostly in […]


Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ

Of all the doctrines expounded on the Lord’s Day, our sharing in the sufferings of Christ is perhaps one of the most neglected topics. This isn’t to say that the subject of suffering isn’t discussed or preached. Quite the contrary. Suffering, generally considered, is given ample attention. Where there is sickness, there one will hear the subject of suffering discussed at great length. But how often does someone ask: What are the sufferings of Christ, and how do I share in them? Or when was the last time the following was overheard, “I’m sharing in the sufferings of Christ”? Someone might describe themselves as a child of Abraham, or a true Jew, or an ambassador of Christ, or talk about being Spirit filled, or even crucified with Christ, but how often does the biblical concept of “sharing in the sufferings of Christ” directly flavor the everyday speech of saints? It is rarely heard.

But for the apostle Paul, our union with Christ, and by extension, our sharing in His sufferings, greatly informed his outlook and expectations. He could scarcely write a letter without touching upon the subject of suffering, and at several key junctures, he spoke freely and pointedly about sharing […]