Archive for September, 2009

Home, heaven

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Last week was rough. Several incidents made it a difficult week, but here let me just mention a couple. On Thursday, I did the grave-side committal for my friend, Norman Pierce, whose death I wrote about in an earlier post. On Friday, I learned of the death of my cousin, Robert G. Dodson. R.G. was our family historian who sought to keep us connected to our roots. He will be sorely missed.

On Sunday morning, however, we enjoyed the light and glory of the gospel. Our pastor, Dr. Michael Rogers, preached a message entitled “The Immediate Heaven.” It was an exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. During the message, Michael stressed that heaven is the Christian’s true home. His sermon stirred my heart and mind, and I penned the following verses based on the Scripture text:

Home, heaven, with Christ my God,
When my body is laid beneath the sod
With a committal, a prayer, and the pastor’s nod,
Home, heaven, with Christ my God.

To leave this body should cause no fear,
To leave this body brings me near,
Absent from the body, I’ll see Christ’s face,
Home, heaven, the soul’s best place.

We walk by faith, our eyes can’t see,
Yet reserved in glory for you and me
Is a house that human hands did not build,
Home, heaven, with God’s presence filled.

A tent no longer pitched here below,
No more groaning, no longing to know,
No more burden, no nakedness, no shame,
Home, heaven, praise His name!

New Website

Friday, September 25th, 2009

The Free Church of Scotland has a new website. Take a few minutes to check it out.

Providence and Maturity

Friday, September 25th, 2009

A friend sent me the following quotation, and what an encouragement it has been! Spiritual maturity depends a great deal on appreciating and applying the truth of God’s providence. Packer sums it up so well.

“A moment of conscious triumph makes one feel that after this nothing will really matter; a moment of realized disaster makes some feel that this is the end of everything.  But neither feeling is realistic, for neither event is really what it is felt to be.  The circumstances of triumph will last, and the moment of triumph will sooner or later give way to moments of disappointment, strain, frustration and grief, while the circumstances of disaster will prove to have in them seeds of recovery and new hope.  Life in this world under God’s providence is like that; it always has been, and always will be; it is so in the Bible, and it remains so as the twentieth century gives way to the twenty-first. The mature person, who is mentally and emotionally an adult as distinct from a child, knows this and does not forget it.”

J.I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000)

More on Charles Simeon

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

To learn more about Charles Simeon, check out today’s post by David Helm over at Justin Taylor’s blog.

Happy Birthday, Charles Simeon!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Today marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Charles Simeon. Simeon pastored Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for a remarkable 54 years! In his early days at Cambridge, he faced severe opposition. But he persevered as an expositor of God’s Word and eventually saw the gospel change many hearts, and indeed the entire city’s attitude toward him.

Simeon was first and foremost a preacher of the Bible. He was an expository preacher who opened the meaning of a passage and saw the Holy Spirit do his amazing work. Simeon’s vision for biblical preaching lives on today in the Charles Simeon Trust. This is a ministry worthy of your support.

If you haven’t read Handley Moule’s biography of Simeon, I highly recommend you do so. It’s not just for pastors.

Why not start reading about Simeon with this brief article in the recent edition of Evangelicals Now. I’m sure it will whet your appetite for more.

Heroes or Idols?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Several weeks ago I wrote a brief post about cool preachers. Today I like to think along a similar vein. How should we regard preachers who see extraordinary success in the ministry? Should we put them on a higher pedestal than other pastors? Should we emulate their style of ministry? Should we look down upon others who have less success, publish fewer or no books at all, and labor tucked away in small neighborhoods and little, out-of-the-way towns? I hope the answer to these questions is obvious. According to Paul, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). Ministers are servants and stewards, nothing more and nothing less.

There have always been men who have stood out in evangelical ministry, and there always will be. I have my heroes just like anyone else. In fact, one of my favorite books is Warren Wiersbe’s Walking with the Giants. This biographical and bibliographical anthology inspired me as a teenager and was used by God to create a deep desire in my heart to enter the Christian ministry. It’s okay to have heroes as long as they do not become our idols, and as long as we do not participate in the Corinthianesque chants of “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas…” (cf. 1 Cor. 3:4).

What we must realize is that even our holiest heroes were and are ordinary men. Every preacher is an ordinary man, and if any ministry stands out at all, it’s due to the blessing of an extraordinary God.

Carl Trueman has recently written an excellent article with similar thoughts. I highly recommend it.

God and the Calendar

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Planning is a significant part of our lives. You don’t have to walk around with a calendar to be making plans. You make plans all the time, whether you write them down or not. The question is do you include God in your planning process? If I asked you So, what’s on for you this week? Any plans? You’d say things like Well, there’s a soccer game Wednesday evening and we’re going out with friends for pizza on Friday. Saturday I’m going to wash the car and do some yard work. All of that’s great. You recognize you have responsibilities, and you’ve planned some time to be with others. But did you ever make your plans with reference to God?

James wrote,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Our lives are a vapor. We here for now, but soon we will be gone. Because we are temporal, the only way we can really plan is to orient ourselves to the eternal.

Goodbye, dear friend

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Earlier this evening I learned of the death of my dear friend, Mr. Norman Pierce. I saw him just yesterday at the Neighborhood Hospice and wondered if I would see him again this side of heaven. Now I know the answer. We’ll meet again at the feet of Jesus.

Mr. Pierce was a godly Presbyterian elder who served the Lord with faithfulness and joy. He was one of the most thankful men I ever met. I don’t think I ever visited his home without him saying, “How thankful I am for a godly father and mother who took us to church and taught us the Bible.” Mr. Pierce loved the Bible and studied it diligently. I knew that the first time I saw his books. About three or four years ago, he and his wife invited Theresa and me over for dinner. After dinner he took me into the den and said, “I want to keep these few book but take any of the others you’d like. I know you’ll use them.” They are now treasured members of my library.

Mrs. Pierce is going to miss her best friend. Nancy and Barbara will miss a wonderful father. The rest of the family will keely feel the loss of father-in-law, grandfather, great grandfather. Many, especially Harry King, will miss a true friend.

What else can I say? My heart breaks for what we have lost. At the same time, it sings for what Mr. Pierce has gained! He, like the apostle Paul, could say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Gain! Gain! Gain! Christ! Glory! Heaven! Joy!

Ungodly? Who, me?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Over the next three months, I have the privilege of helping to lead an adult Sunday school class at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA. Along with Dr. John Light and the Rev. Tucker York, two of the pastors at the church, we’re teaching the class Respectable Sins based on the book by that title by Jerry Bridges. This coming Lord’s Day I’m teaching chapter 7 of the book on the topic of ungodliness.

None of us likes to think of himself or herself as ungodly. We reserve that designation for people like Hitler, Sadam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden. They are three very wicked men, and they’re ungodly too, but you don’t have to commit outlandish acts of depravity to be ungodly. Bridges notes that “ungodliness describes an attitude toward God” (p. 53). You don’t have to do anything to be ungodly. No physical action is required. All that’s required is that you think a certain way.

Essentially, ungodliness is pushing God to the periphery of life. It’s okay for God to be around as long as he stays on the edges, as long as he doesn’t interfere or start making demands. Bridges defines ungodliness as “living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God” (p. 54). By that definition, how many areas of our lives could we label as ungodly? Is there some part of your life where you’ve pushed the Lord to the side?

Back from Gathering Stones

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Theresa and I are back from a week’s holiday and, as in the breaks I’ve taken over the past couple of years, I found myself reading Eugene Peterson. This time I started his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Peterson is an excellent writer and, even when I disagree with him, I find myself thinking, “He’s wrong about that, but his error was really well written!”

Here’s some of his advice on pastoral work that we all need to heed.

“Pastoral work, in large part, deals with the difficulty everyone has in staying alert to the magnificence of salvation. When we first encounter God’s saving love, it may well overwhelm us. But over a period of years it becomes a familiar part of the landscape, one religious item among many others. The vocabulary of salvation becomes hackneyed, reduced to the level of valentine-card verse. The mannerisms of the saved become predictable. Whenever we are associated with greatness over a long period of time, there is a tendency in us to become stale. What we first experienced (in our faith, in our marriage, in our children, in our career, in the landscape) as earthshaking and soul-changing vision and adventure, we now take for granted. We lose, in the language of the Apocalypse, our ‘first love.’ We preserve its importance by assigning the event a date on the calendar or by describing it under a doctrinal head. Orthodoxy is preserved even while intimacy is lost. The pastor, working in the midst of the symbols and artifacts of transcendence, is faced…with this dangerous drift towards the shoals of nonchalance. Praying, the most personal aspect of life, becomes riddled with cliches, a sure indication that it has ceased being personal. Devotional life diminishes while a step-up in public and external activities (church work, defending the faith, witnessing and preaching, moral formalisms) covers up the loss. So-called ‘ordinary Christians’ assume that the great spiritual experiences are for the great Christians; that the tremendous gospel events are for crisis times; that Easter comes only once a year. It is not difficult to fill a church sanctuary on Easter; it is not difficult to demonstrate the overwhelming reality of the resurrection. But the pastor’s task is to gather people together every Sunday, center each week in a response to the risen Lord, and nurture a participation in the resurrection life in Christ that works as well on any Wednesday afternoon at 5 o’clock as on Easter at sunrise.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 31-32.