Friday, March 31, 2006

Paul Stephenson's Funeral Service is Now Posted

Derek, thanks for the wonderful Spurgeon quote. What a blessing.

Our friend and colleague Doug McCullough has created a place on our First Presbyterian website to host the audio recording of the funeral services for Paul H. Stephenson IV. You can get to it by clicking here. There is also an order of service appended. We hope a video is coming soon, and a transcript.

Spurgeon's breathtaking entry for March 22

I was glancing through C. H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening yesterday and just wondered what he might have had for March 22, the day our dear friend Paul was taken from us. It took my breath away:

"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am."

John 17:24

O death! why dost thou touch the tree beneath whose spreading branches weariness hath rest? Why dost thou snatch away the excellent of the earth, in whom is all our delight? If thou must use thine axe, use it upon the trees which yield no fruit; thou mightest be thanked then. But why wilt thou fell the goodly cedars of Lebanon? O stay thine axe, and spare the righteous. But no, it must not be; death smites the goodliest of our friends; the most generous, the most prayerful, the most holy, the most devoted must die. And why? It is through Jesus’ prevailing prayer—“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” It is that which bears them on eagle’s wings to heaven. Every time a believer mounts from this earth to paradise, it is an answer to Christ’s prayer. A good old divine remarks, “Many times Jesus and his people pull against one another in prayer. You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father, I will that thy saints be with me where I am’; Christ says, ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me whereI am.’” Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with his Lord. The soul cannot be in both places: the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you too. Now, which pleader shall win the day? If you had your choice; if the King should step from his throne, and say, “Here are two supplicants praying in opposition to one another, which shall be answered?” Oh! I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, “Jesus, not my will, but thine be done.” You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction—“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” Lord, thou shalt have them. By faith we let them go.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


The experience of grief can be overwhelming. It comes in waves, sometimes stunning and frightening in its proportions. We discover in ourselves feelings we did not know were there or that we were capable of. One of them is the feeling of crippling lethargy. "I loathe the slightest effort... Even shaving." Thus C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed testifying to the way grief can debilitate and sap the energy from us. A numbness can set in punctuated with periods of tears . The loss gets worse and not better. The reality of it all: the forlorn hope that it had all been a dream vanishes before the reality of the empty chair at the table, the constant reminder of friends who mean well, but their presence and words merely confirm what you want to be untrue.

Everyone, sooner or later, goes through this experience and the closer we are to the one we lose, the greater the pain will be. Paul anticipated the help Christians need when he wrote to the Thessalonians not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). It is not an admonition not to grieve. It is that we should not grieve without the Christian gospel informing and shaping it.

What lessons are Christians to learn in such times? Three especially:

1. Ask for a habit of a thankful spirit--thankfulness for a life that touched us in so many ways and from which we still draw comfort and encouragement. It is a mistake to blot out every memory of those we have loved, removing pictures and refusing to talk about them. That is a pathway to despair. Give God thanks for every sweet memory, every kind word.

2. Pray for resignation to do his will, the peace that passes all understanding as we bow to his sovereignty and yield to his purposes. Deep down, no matter how hard it is to do, we know this is the only way, the only sure way to relief and healing.

3. Pray for stickability (what the Bible variously calls patience or endurance or perseverance). Surviving the grief process is a long distance race requiring fresh (daily! hourly!) supplies of strength and stamina. Our Father knows what it is to lose a Son. He is able to help us in ways we cannot even imagine.

Christians Grieve Too by Donald Howard (Banner of Truth, 1980) is a small, twenty paged booklet packed full of helpful and practical advice for Christians experiencing grief. J. I. Packer's A Grief Sanctified: Passing through Grief to Peace and Joy is a semi-biographical description of Richard Baxter's memoirs in the loss of his wife. It is chock-full of pastoral wisdom and down-to-earth realism when it comes to the experience of losing a loved one.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Paul Stephenson's Funeral Service

So many of you have contacted First Presbyterian about the availability of the funeral service in some recorded format, I wanted to give you an update. The Stephenson's have graciously given us permissions to make it available widely. We will have an audio and video recording of the service up on the main church site by Friday, and will have a transcript of the message soon. Stayed tuned for updates here - and do pray for the Stephensons.

Below is an order of service.

In Memoriam — Paul H. Stephenson, IV

First Presbyterian Church March 27, 2006
Jackson, Mississippi 11:00 a.m.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, Senior Minister
The Reverend Richard Vise, Campus Minister,
Reformed University Ministries, Auburn University
The Rev. Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas, Minister of Teaching

The Organ Prelude Mrs. Joseph Wadsworth, Organist
The Processional "A Might Fortress Is Our God"
(Ministers and Family Enter)
The Call to Worship ....................................... Dr. Duncan
The Hymn of Praise No. 100 — “Holy, Holy Holy!”
The Prayer of Adoration, Invocation, and Comfort
The Old Testament Reading — Psalm 103..... Mr. Vise
The Remembrance
The RUF Song — “Isaiah 43”
The New Testament Reading — John 14; Romans 8; Philippians 4:6-7
The Pastoral Prayer ...................................... Dr. Thomas
The Confession of Faith
The Reading of Scripture
The Sermon ..................................................... Dr. Duncan
The Hymn No. 358 — “For All the Saints”
The Benediction
The Recessional (Family Exits)
The Postlude

Mr. Paul H. Stephenson IV
October 16, 1982 — March 23, 2006
Communing Member of this congregation since February 5, 1995

The Graveside Service will be at Parkway Memorial Cemetery
Ridgeland, Mississippi

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Hymn of Trust in Time of Grief


In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone!—who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied—
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious Day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

—By Stuart Townend and Keith Getty @2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music.

Providence, Job and sudden trials

As we continue to feel the effects of these past few days, and as our hearts go out to grieving folk in our church, I thought I'd share with you some of my own thoughts over these past few days as I have been shaken to the core and found myself hanging on to God's Word for encouragement in dark places. These are some of the things that I have found healing and hopeful and honoring to God:

  • As the the story of Job reminds us, sudden, devastating trials can befall the godliest of folk
  • The words of William Cowper's hymn: "God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform..." Couldn't help but think that the sight of all those young people around a grave yesterday brought growth and determination to serve God better. And that God allowed this for that purpose. Mystery! Yes, but good came out of it.
  • That the story of Joseph reminds us that God isn't doing things in isolation from other things. One event has a million ramifications and it will be like watching dominos fall as this event ripples on through the lives of God's people.
  • That it is so often true that what occurs in one can be for the sake of helping someone else. Joseph's trouble was for the good of others--his brothers especially. Naomi's pain brought gospel grace into the heart of Ruth. Death is at work in us so that life may be at work in you, Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:12).
  • That things of this kind cause us to see how much we are dependent upon him. "We are not our own but belong body and soul unto him..." Calvin said in a very famous sentence in his Institutes. Sudden providences teach us that we are creatures and that God is God. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9).
  • The fellowship of God's people is the most precious gift he has given to us. The church is the family of God and at no time was that more tangible than the sight of the elderly waiting in line for three hours to pay respects and give assurance of their love and care. It was a beautiful thing.
  • That what brings relief is God's inerrant Word. Rock certainty is what we need now and that is what the Bible gives us. Theological liberals have nothing to say in times like this.
  • The blood of Christ covers every sin, every sin, yes every sin.
  • That, as Ligon said so marvelously yesterday, if we try to seek peace first, we'll fail to find it; it is as we seek Jesus Christ that peace follows in its wake. So very true. Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast...


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Funeral Service of Paul Stephenson IV

The funeral service of Paul Stephenson IV will be held in the temporary sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church (in the Study Center on Belhaven Street) at 11 o'clock in the morning on Monday, March 27.

There will be a visitation from 2 until 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, March 26, in Miller Hall (entrance off Pinehurst Street). At 5 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, in Patterson Hall (in the Study Center), Dr. Ligon Duncan and Dr. David Elkin will meet with students and others with spiritual questions.

On Monday morning, there will be visitation prior to the funeral from 9 until about 10:45 in the morning in Miller Hall. Immediately thereafter the funeral service will be held in the temporary sanctuary at 11 am. Dr. Ligon Duncan, Mr. Richard Vise, and Dr. Derek Thomas will be officiating.

What happens to Christian when they die?

One of the ways the Bible refers to death is “sleep” (1 Thess. 4:13). This is not meant to suggest a loss of consciousness in any way because elsewhere, the Bible employs some very graphic illustrations of what happens at the moment a Christian dies. We think immediately of the words of Jesus to the dying thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). By “sleep” Paul is trying to convey to us how gentle and restful a thing it is, no matter how violent the departure may have been. When a believer dies, the soul passes into a state of perfect peace and calm and rest. As the Shorter Catechism puts it: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory…” (SC 37). To be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6).

This condition is sometimes referred to as the “intermediate state” because this is not the final condition of our future existence. At the end of the age, there will be a glorious reunion of body and soul. The body will be raised from death (unless they happen to be alive when Jesus returns and in which case their bodies will pass into another mode of existence—“caught up,” Paul says, “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). Our ultimate existence in glory—in the new heavens and new earth—is a bodily one, a physical one. But even in the intermediate state there is consciousness and awareness of one’s surroundings. It is a condition far more wonderful than anything we experience here.

It is worth thinking about: that believers at death go into the presence of Jesus Christ. Everything the Bible teaches on this suggests that we will be able to see and know and hear and feel. It is difficult to know how this can be without a physical body but this is what the Bible teaches and we must believe it! We will be conscious of being in the presence of others, too: loved ones who have died and gone to heaven before us; Christians that we have read about in church history (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo and so on). And the great saints of the Bible—Paul, Peter, John the Baptist. Mary the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, Isaiah, Elijah, Abraham)—all these are there to greet us.

And angels—who carry the soul into the presence of Jesus. Jesus spoke about this in the story of Lazarus: “the poor man [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side” (Luke 16:22). Lazarus died and the angels came. They were already fluttering about him when he died. They were gathered around waiting. What a wonderful thought!

And there will be immediate perfection. All the sin that has marred and hobbled our existence here (even as forgiven, redeemed Christians) will be gone. For the very first time we will experience what it is to be totally free from sinful thoughts and ambitions. Even the sin that may have resulted in our death will be forgiven. The blood of Jesus will prevail and we will be with the Lord. For ever! Our faith here below may give way. We may lose sight of Jesus but Jesus never loses sight of us. We may say: “But why doesn’t Jesus step in and prevent us from falling?” And I have no answer to that except to say that heaven is better for us and that God knows exactly what he is doing and is under no obligation to explain to all to us.

As First Presbyterian Church grieves today, our hope and confidence lies in God’s Word, God’s covenant, God’s redeeming mercy in Jesus Christ. These are the certainties, the tried and trusted truths that sustain when our hearts are breaking.

Grieving hearts and hopeful souls

The souls of believers are “made perfect in holiness” and enter into the worship that redeemed souls experience in heaven (Heb. 12:22-24).

In times of sudden grief and the loss of a loved one “in Christ” nothing can compare to this beautiful thought. Whatever the tragic circumstances that may have occurred here “below,” in heaven, all is at peace and rest. The transition from here to there is immediate, a bit like falling asleep here and waking up there the Bible seems to say. That’s why death is called “gain” (Phil. 1:21), because after death, the believer is closer to Jesus than ever before. True, the body must wait awhile—until the morning of the resurrection. That’s why we as Christians show the body such respect. Then, as Paul says, the soul will be “clothed” again (2 Cor.5:1-4).

Jesus wanted his closest disciples to know this before he died. “Let not your hearts be troubled…” he said to them in the Upper Rom (John 14:1). Jesus is concerned to minister to troubled hearts. He knows how easily we fall into despair. And thus he talked about “many mansions” in heaven. It was meant to be a word of solace to grieving hearts who were about to lose a loved one. He went to prepare a place for his won that where he is, there they will be also one day.

Thou art gone up before us, Lord,
To make for us a place,
That we may be where now
Thou art,And look upon God’s face.

Lift up our hearts, lift up our minds:

Let Thy dear grace be giv’n;
That, while we wander here below,
Our treasure be in Heav’n.

That where Thou art, at God’s right hand,

Our hope, our love, may be:
Dwell Thou in us, that we may dwell
Forevermore in Thee.

Cecil F. Alexander

Friday, March 24, 2006

PCRT Jackson is Here!

The Jackson edition of the PCRT—the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology—is here! This weekend, starting tonight and continuing all day Saturday (and with a Sunday morning message by Bob Godfrey at Trinity PCA), the PCRT will be hosted at the site of our sister-congregation, the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Old Canton Road (they are in the old Christ United Methodist Church facility).

So, if you haven't already signed up, and you’ve no plans, pick up and go, and register at the door! The cost is less than $100.

This year’s speakers include: Sinclair Ferguson (Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, and professor at Westminster Seminary), Robert Godfrey (President of Westminster Seminary in California), Philip Ryken (Senior Minister of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, successor to Jim Boice, and preacher for the national radio program “Every Last Word”), Richard Phillips (Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs in Margate, Florida), our own Derek Thomas, and yours truly.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The building of God

The apostle Peter seems to have had a fascination with the idea that the church was made up of living stones in a temple in which Jesus Christ was the "chief corner stone" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4-8). Little wonder! Jesus had called him "Rocky!" (Matt. 16:18). This passage has occasioned not a little controversy as Protestants tried to undo Roman Catholic claims that Jesus' words at Caesarea Philippi implied that Peter was the first Roman Pontiff! This, of course, is palpable nonsense. But Jesus did intend this remark to imply something about Peter--the Peter who had just confessed Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" and folk who similarly profess such a creed." The church is built out of individuals who confess Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior.

As I watched yesterday First Presbyterian Church "meeting house" [I deliberately employ the old puritan term for the building where God's people (the church!) gather for public worship] come together, I was reminded of just how central this corporate idea of "gathering" is to the New Testament. In our age when individualism and para-church movements {not to mention the Emergent Church phenomenon] is rampant, we need to remind ourselves of the fundamental importance of the doctrine of the church. This is what the Bible teaches, I believe. It is what the magisterial Reformers taught--to a man. And to the degree we lose sight of it, we stunt the power and effectiveness of the witness of Christ's redemptive work in the world today.

Corporately we (the people of God at First Presbyterian) should match the beauty of this building that is visibly growing before our very eyes. It is all so very exciting, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Welsh Valleys at First Pres

Seen on the walls of the third floor of the Day School. It reads, "All Welsh are savages" and then corrected to "Some Welsh are savages." Headmaster Gary: the Welsh (the sons of Glyndwr) are coming over in droves to speak to you. Earl and Derek (Earl claims Welsh genes and Derek is definately Welsh) have contacted the President of the Welsh Nationalist Party!
This is serious business.


Al Mohler on Focus on the Family Radio

Focus on the Family to feature Mohler radio program

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson, one of America’s most widely heard and influential Christian radio shows, will air portions of a recent broadcast of the Albert Mohler Program, “Mommy Wars.” The Mohler radio program examined recent feminist attacks on stay-at-home moms and featured listener phone calls from women defending their decision to pursue full-time motherhood.

Focus on the Family is scheduled to air the program on Wednesday, March 22. Check local listings for time and station. Focus on the Family is broadcast on 3,000 radio outlets and heard by more than two million listeners per day. The program is also streamed at Topics and guests are subject to change. Mohler serves on the Focus on the Family board of directors.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest

I have on my desk this morning a copy of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press, 1996). I have read it once before but feel this week an obligation to read it again—all 700 pages of it! Tomorrow (as I write, at least) is March 21 and 450 years ago (March 21, 1556), in the streets of Oxford, Thomas Cranmer was burnt alive, six months after a similar fate had befallen the two bishops, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

In the resurgence of Catholicism under the increasingly bitter Queen Mary, 286 men and women (some of whom were pregnant) were burnt at the stake for their avowal of Protestant and evangelical beliefs. Her tragic reign gained for her the title, “Bloody Mary.”

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), English reformer and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1556 had guided the Church of England through its difficult and (for some at least) compromising steps towards reformation. Cranmer, assisted by his friend Martin Bucer, had produced two editions of the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552, the former still contained much that the continental reformers found objectionable).

Cranmer’s embrace of the Protestant cause eventually resulted in his imprisonment. Cranmer’s death warrant had already been signed on February 24, 1556 (a month before his execution) and attempts were now made to cajole him into signing a recantation, which he eventually did on March 19. The following day, when it had been made clear to Cranmer that his death was to take place despite his recantation, Cranmer spent the day in apparent preparation for his death. The authorities believed they had won a major coup against the reformation and planned that Cranmer be allowed to preach a prepared sermon denouncing the reformation (which was meant to have taken place beside the funeral pyre but due to rain was held at a nearby University church instead).

For his last meal, Cranmer was given, in addition to wine and ale, spice cakes, bread, fruit and nuts and a dish of stewed prunes,” which as MacCulloch explains, “ensured that the prisoner would not suffer on a trying occasion with a bout of indigestion” (p.599).

In the morning of his execution Cranmer gave some suitable words to the prison staff, recited the litany and signed fourteen copies of his recantation (the authorities trying to ensure that no grounds of a charge of forgery would ensue). All seemed to indicate that Cranmer was playing the part the authorities had asked for. At the University church, following an address by a Dr. Cole explaining why his death was necessary despite his recantation, Cranmer began his sermon. It touched on many things, but soon made mention of “the one thing that, which so much troubleth my conscience.” The text of the sermon had already been written out and the authorities followed along as he spoke. The written text had referred to something which Cranmer had signed (meant to be a reference to Cranmer’s former denunciation of the Mass and belief in transubstantiation) but suddenly Cranmer deviated from the written text and identified the “one thing” with which his conscience was troubled—the recantation document he had signed two days previously!

The church was in an uproar. Suddenly, Cranmer was shouting his disavowal of the authority of the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation. At this point the authorities stopped him and removed him from the church. A graphic cartoon-like drawing appeared later of Cranmer being hauled over the pulpit by enraged authorities who marched him through the packed streets to the place of execution.

On arriving at the pyre, Cranmer was fastened to the stake by a circular metal band around his waist. The wood having been set on fire, Cranmer deliberately placed his right hand in the flames, repeatedly saying, “this hand that offendeth” and also while he could the dying words of the first martyr, Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” As A. M. Renwick describes the scene, Cranmer continued “pleading for God’s pardon and the forgiveness of the people, and urging them to maintain the doctrines he had taught. He then held the offending hand and arm in the flames until they burnt to a cinder” (A. M. Renwick The Story of the Church, 134).

Thus died one “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hebrew Archaeology at Millsaps This Week

Jesse Yancy over at Millsaps has just kindly written to inform me of an interesting lecture that is scheduled for this Wednesday PM. If I weren't going to be preaching on Psalm 89 at that very moment, I'd be there! I've let our friends at RTS know. Here's the scoop.

Millsaps College to Spotlight Ancient Hebraic Discovery
Dr. Ron Tappy, an archaeologist with the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, will lecture on the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered on Wednesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. in Room 200 of Murrah Hall on the Millsaps College campus.

Tappy discovered a 40-pound stone inscribed with the Hebrew alphabet written out in its traditional sequence last year at Tel Zayit in the lowlands of Judah, in the wall of a building dated from the 10th century BCE. The building itself was part of a network of structures at the site, indicating an important border town connected to a centralized kingdom.

Tappy is the G. Albert Shoemaker Professor of Bible and Archaeology and the Director of the James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Specializing in the life and literature of the Old Testament period, biblical archaeology and the history of Israel, he focuses his teaching on how these areas can enliven our reading of the Bible today. He began excavating at various sites throughout Israel more than 20 years ago and currently directs the field project at Tel Zayit.

For more information, contact Dr. James Bowley at 01-974-1328 or

Friday, March 17, 2006

A little St. Patrick for St. Paddy's Day

Cecil Frances Alexander translated this Gaelic poem, called "St. Patrick's Lorica" and it has become a well-known hymn (most usually sung to Charles Stanford's tune). By the way, for those who don't know, Patrick was a Scot, born in a settlement on the River Clyde.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Power games

My colleagues at the church today are losing power. I'm safely tucked away in my "other" office at RTS and it occurs to me that as a flurry of e-mails arrive in my inbox warning that "power will be cut off at 3 this afternoon" etc., the whole thing is too scary to contemplate.

Power, do you see, is what every Christian needs. And power is something God promises. Follow me, as we track this thought:

Power is a New Testament word (the Greek is either dunamis, kratos or ischus) with great significance. Jesus told his disciples before his ascension to "wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). True enough, "great power" came enabling the disciples to witness boldly (Acts 4:33).

Paul prays for the Roman Christians that "... By the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13). He reminds the Corinthians that at Corinth he preached Christ crucified "...In demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith... Rest... In the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

When beaten down by a "thorn in the flesh" Paul reassured his readers that "my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

And writing to his beloved Philippians, imprisoned as he was and facing possible execution, he could say "I can do all things [all that God wanted him to do] in him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

One way or another, power is crucial. Keeping power lines open (dependence on the Holy Spirit that is) ensures vibrant Christianity.

What then of our beloved church this weekend as the power goes down?

What power source will there be when the lights go out?


The Holy Spirit!

The covenant promises of our great God!

Bring it on!

Missions in a global village

I have just returned from Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church where I was invited to be the guest speaker at their annual Missions Conference. At what proved to be a fascinating and informal event, all the missionaries were invited to speak to various questions put to them by the senior minister, Joe Novenson. All the missionaries were Americans (PCA/MTW).

Here are some of the observations they made to the question: "What do you wish that the American church understood?":

  • time is short and we should live with a view to eternity rather than for the accumulation of things here on earth

  • the church is not about being American

  • we are far too isolationistic and individualist

  • we need the community of the world-wide church as much as they need us; we have a great deal to learn from the church in the rest of the world

  • in a generation from now, the church in Asia and Africa will be far bigger and more influential than the church in the United States

  • stop putting missionaries on pedestals and start seeing them as ordinary Christians with temptations and struggles like the rest of the church

  • we need to be held accountable and it be wonderful if you would call us on the telephone once in a while and hold our feet to the fire

  • we want to know what's going in back home as much you want to know what's going on in the field of mission

    •

      Wednesday, March 15, 2006

      "Let us be able to lose gracefully"

      I admit it. I don't normally pay too much attention to college basketball. Give me gridirons and diamonds over parquet any day. I’m not a bracketologist; I’ve never been quite sure what “he schooled you” means; and I’ll never understand why the possession arrow replaced a real live “jump ball.” I do, however, dutifully show some interest in our annual "March Madness," which begins tomorrow. Prepare for the craziness by reading Al Mohler’s insightful commentary, “March Madness, The Big Dance, and the Meaning of Sport.”

      Tuesday, March 14, 2006

      "Beware the Ides of March" and dodging bullets

      Tomorrow (March 15, 44 BC) is the ominous day when Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Senate by conspiratorial Senators which included his (supposed) friend, Brutus. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, an unidentified soothsayer tells Caesar, who is on his way to the Senate (and his death), “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar replies, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him.”

      This all brings back to me now (as I write) memories of Shakespeare classes in High School and a none too professional production of Julius Caesar! “Fatalism, boys!” my master yelled at us in class one day, his black academic robe flowing in the wind as he quickly paced up and down, “Fatalism! It will be the ruination of us all!”

      Given the numbers that regularly read horoscopes (astrology) in daily newspapers (especially in Britain), belief that the events of tomorrow are “inevitably ordered” is the default position of the vast majority. Certain Christian writers (Augustine and Boethius among them) did not hesitate to employ the language of ‘fate’ in connection with providence (the view of that God orders all events). But this sounds far too impersonal for our modern ears. The Christian doctrine of providence is the view that a loving heavenly Father, who knows what’s best for us, orders the events of our lives in such a way that he makes us think that our choices are real choices. Fate, on the other hand, renders us powerless. It drains us of choice and resolve. We are mere automatons, at the mercy of some blind and impersonal force.

      Two war-time examples will help us: First, Oliver Cromwell’s advice during the English civil war: “Trust in God and keep your (gun-)powder dry!” Second, in 1862, one of Stonewall Jackson's aides, Robert L. Dabney, preached a sermon on God's “special providence,” noting that in a recent battle “Every shot and shell and bullet was directed by the God of battles.” Some time later, Dabney found himself under fire and took cover behind a large gatepost. A nearby officer teased him: “If the God of battles directs every shot, why do you want to put a gatepost between you and a special providence?” Dabney replied, “Just here the gatepost is the special providence.”

      All of which reminds me that I have a sermon to prepare for the men’s meeting at First Baptist today, and “it ain’t going to prepare itself.”

      Monday, March 13, 2006

      Remembering Dr. Ronald Nash

      "Ronald Nash, a great evangelical philosopher and apologist, died early this morning [Friday] in Florida. Nash was a longtime professor at Western Kentucky University, Reformed Theological Seminary, and, until a stroke last year, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was an heir of the theological tradition of Carl F.H. Henry, and was an lifelong admirer and student of Augustine of Hippo, his favorite philosopher."

      See Ronald Nash.

      Guy Waters, Sunday PM and San Antonio

      Our own Guy Waters brought a solid message at the evening service last night. We are so privileged to have him in our midst. Do pray for him as he speaks in San Antonio on the New Perspective on Paul (a revisionist approach to understanding Paul's teaching on salvation, the church and eschatology, which in some forms calls into question the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) and the Federal Vision (a loosely connected "movement" in one corner of the conservative reformed community that believes that the classic covenant theology of our denomination's doctrinal standards is deficient and in need of biblical improvement). Those sympathetic with the Federal Vision are typically interested in promoting a particular view of sacramental efficacy (often using the language or categories of baptismal regeneration, and proponing paedo-communion), challenging the invisible-visible church distinction and advocating for liturgical reform).

      Thursday, March 09, 2006

      Dignity in Jesus

      It is one the great moments in Calvin’s Institutes: in Book 3 of this monumentally significant work he outlines the very nature of the Christian life in terms of cross-bearing and self-denial (cf. Matt. 16:24).

      Cross-bearing is the mark of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Not feeling good about ourselves, not finding the inner strength within, not maximizing joy and pleasure (the eudemonistic obsession of our times); but, following in the footsteps of our Lord in denying ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God. It is a lesson set before us every day of our lives. It involves the business of how strain and pain is transmuted into gain and glory. It is like turning mud into a beautiful sculpture. In the studio of Christlikeness there are chisels, kilns, hammers, scissors, needles and other instruments, each one designed to shape and mould and extract so that what results is beauty.

      So much of today’s Christianity is about finding our comfort-zone. Christians are discontent because they have told too often that when they come to Jesus, all their troubles will vanish away. But being in the kingdom of God has to do with self-denial and cross-bearing and living a life in which instability and problems and relational headaches of one sort or another are par for the course. This is what I see in the New Testament everywhere. When Paul is asked to account for himself or John talks about the need to love each other, it is self-denial and cross-bearing that comes to surface.

      Martin Luther wrote and preached a great deal along these lines, in what today we call his Theology of the Cross. For Luther (in contrast to, say, Harold Kushner), when bad things happen, it is because (for Christians at least) God is actually blessing them. We need to have good eyesight to see this, of course. We need to be able to see beyond the here and now and the visible, to the world to come. We need to have that perspective that so marked former Christians, that we look for that city…whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 13:14).

      When we live with our sights firmly set on the world to come, we will better understand how to live in this world with all of its troubles.

      Wednesday, March 08, 2006

      Veritas Pro Christo et Ecclesia

      The original motto of Harvard College was Veritas Pro Christo et Ecclesia, "Truth for Christ and the Church." Its present motto is Veritas.

      Don't miss Thomas Sowell's discussion of the firing of Harvard President Lawrence Summers and the repercussions far beyond Cambridge:

      "Today Harvard University is renowned but it has lost the sense of dedication that built it back in 1636. The faculty run the university, as Lawrence Summers has painfully discovered, and they run it in their own narrow self-interest."

      See the rest of Sowell's article here.

      God Speaks in the Thunder

      Photo Courtesy of Cindy Mercer

      I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder storm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunder storm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God's thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God.”

      “I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the Holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words.”

      For Jonathan Edwards, God’s end in creation is the communication of Himself and His glory to the understanding and will of His creatures. Edwards argues that all processes, inhabitants, and histories in the natural world directly correspond to unseen spiritual realities. Unlike the Romantics of the nineteenth-century, he does not embrace anything like Coleridge’s “intuition” or Emerson’s “Over Soul.” He does not appeal to mankind's natural ability to tap into spiritual forces as means for self-realization (as is blatantly popularized by Dr. Wayne Dyer in his new book, Inspiration,

      Edwards argues that God is transcendent and immanent. General revelation is not equivalent to special revelation. It does not communicate the gospel or the way of salvation. But it does leave unbelievers without excuse, and it deeply enriches and moves the affections of those who are converted to Christ. Edwards’ view of general revelation, or what he called “images and shadows of divine things,” is distinctly unsentimental. For Edwards, created reality is full of bittersweet contrasts.

      In my opinion, Edwards does at times allow his creative imagination to get the best of him. But his God-centered, biblical view of creation offers a welcome corrective to the currently stylish versions of panentheism (all is in God) and pantheism (all is God).
      Here are some examples from Edwards' "Images of the Divine Things" in Typological Writings (New Haven: Yale, 1993):
      28. "As thunder, and thunder clouds, as they are vulgarly called, have a shadow of the majesty of God, so the blue sky, the green fields and trees, and pleasant flowers have a shadow of the mild attributes of the goodness, grace, and love of God, as well as the beauteous rainbow."
      33. "The extreme fierceness and extraordinary power of the heat of lightening is an intimation of the exceeding power and terribleness of the wrath of God."
      42. "The gradual progress we make from childhood to manhood is a type of the gradual progress of the saints in grace."
      58. "Tis a sign that the beautiful variety of the colors of light was designed as a type of the various beauties and graces of the Spirit of God."
      61. "Ravens that with delight feed on the carrion seem to be remarkable types of devils who with delight prey upon the souls of the dead."
      64. "Hills and mountains are types of heaven, and often made use of as such in Scripture. These are difficultly ascended. To ascend them, one must go against the natural tendency of the flesh."


      Tuesday, March 07, 2006

      Update from Al and Wini Baker

      We enjoyed the fellowship with Al Baker and his wife, Wini, during our recent Missions Conference. Al is a graduate of the University of Alabama and Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS. He was recently called to Christ Community Church in Harford, CT. This part of the country, once so steeped in the Reformed Faith, presents significant challenges to those called to minister there.

      Brad Smith, the minister of music, wrote today with the following update:

      Please give thanks to the Lord for:

      Several new people who attended our morning and evening worship services yesterday.

      Continued development of our worship orchestra and handchime choir.

      We are blessed with a core group of musicians who faithfully support our congregational singing most Sundays.

      Please pray that the Lord will:

      Bless the men and women who will participate in this new semester of Evangelism Explosion.

      Bless our youth group event this coming weekend. Pray that God would deepen relationships between our young people and continue to bless Josh Strecker as he leads this ministry.

      Guide our continuing search for a new facility.

      With thanks,
      Brad Smith
      Christ Community Presbyterian Church

      If you would like to add your, or someone else's, name to the list to receive this weekly update (or be removed from it), please contact us at

      The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church

      On this day in the year 203 AD, Perpetua, a Christian about 22 years old, her slave, Felicitas, and several others were martyred at the arena in Carthage. They were flogged, attacked by hungry leopards, and finally beheaded. Perpetua remains one of early Christianity's most famous martyrs. The following account records the story. Before you read it, ask yourself: “And what am I complaining about today?” And feel shame!

      "The next day, the 7th of March AD 203, Perpetua, Felicitas, and the three young men, Saturus, Saturninus and Revocatus were led out into the arena—the public amphitheatre where the games and chariot races were held. They felt relief that their ordeal would soon be over, and gladness at the thought of the welcome they would soon receive in their heavenly home. They were beaten as they passed between the lines of the soldiers, and then the soldiers attempted to robe them in the ceremonial pagan garb—the men in scarlet and yellow gowns like priests of the god Saturn, and the women like those consecrated to the goddess Ceres. They protested, saying they were not idol worshippers but Christians, and eventually were allowed to go out in their own clothes. The vast crowd roared around them from the benches as they walked bravely into the open space in the middle of the amphitheatre. At last, the beasts, enraged by hunger and the goadings of their captors, were turned loose. The three men were savagely torn by leopards and bears. Perpetua and Felicitas were wrapped and tangled in nets and, as they sang psalms of joy and faith in God, they were thrown before a maddened cow which gored them and tossed them cruelly,
      Perpetua fell awkwardly, and seeing her tunic torn from her side, she drew it around her, we are told, ‘more mindful of her modesty than her suffering.’ Then the attendants called her out again. She tied up her loose hair, and looked around for Felicitas. Her friend was lying on the ground. Helping her to her feet, Perpetua called out to her companions who were still struggling with the beasts in the arena, and tried to comfort and encourage them.
      Already severely injured, they were taken to a small room leading off the arena. Perpetua seemed in a trance, despite her wounds, as though she had felt nothing, asking when the beasts were to come. In this moment of respite, as she regained her breath, P:erpetua’s brother and a friend called Rusticus came to see her. ‘Stay firm in the faith,’ she urged them, ‘and love one another, and may our martyrdom not be for you all a cause of shame!’ The she rose and went back into the arena. In another part of the stadium Saturna was talking to the soldier Pudens. ‘Now believe with your heart,’ he urged them. ‘Farewell, and be mindful of my faith, and let not these things disturb you but rather strengthen you.’
      When the watching crowds had seen enough of the wild beasts, realizing that some of the mutilated victims were still alive, they called out for them to be dispatched. Perpetua and her friends embraced one another for the last time and limped with dignity and quiet joy to the centre of the stadium where men with swords fell upon them. The gladiator who had been appointed to kill Perpetua was little more than a youth. He fumbled nervously and stabbed her ineffectually. She took hold of his sword and steadied it against her breast with her own hand. Finally she too was set free."
      This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa
      by Robin Daniel (Tamarisk, 1992), 34-35.


      Monday, March 06, 2006


      The Heavens are Telling!

      Photo Courtesy of Cindy Mercer

      "The spiritual restoration of the world is compared to the renewing of the face of the earth in the spring." Jonathan Edwards

      I drove through Belhaven this morning and couldn't miss the sights, sounds, and smells of spring. When I arrived in the office my Ministry Assistant, Ashley Hall, declared, "This is the weather of heaven!" Psalm 19 came to mind.

      Psalm 19:1-6

      The Heavens are telling the glory of God;
      And their expanse in declaring the work of His hands
      Day to day pours forth speech,
      And night to night reveals knowledge.
      There is no speech, nor are there words;
      Their voice is not heard.
      Their line has gone out through all the earth,
      And their utterances to the end of the world.
      In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
      Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
      It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
      Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
      And its circuit to the other end of them;
      And there is nothing hidden from its heat (NASV).

      Jonathan Edwards is a notable exception to the theologians who give the wonder and beauty of nature short shrift. Edwards held beauty together with truth and goodness. Edwards was a student of nature who took delight in the habits of spiders and the beauty of wildflowers. He certainly denied that general revelation is sufficient for salvation, but he affirmed with unique insight how the heavens do indeed tell of the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.

      (More on Edwards' views of beauty and nature on Wednesday.)


      Sunday, March 05, 2006

      Mike Campbell's Evening Message

      We were all blessed by Mike Campbell's powerful exposition of God's word in our Lord's Day evening service at First. Mike is the gifted pastor of Redeemer Church here in Jackson. It was also a delight to have so many members of his congregation worshiping with us tonight. Mike urged us to hunger and thirst for righteousness by longing for happiness (in the full, biblical sense), longing for holiness, and longing for heaven. It was a masterpiece of exegesis and homiletic - delivered with power and passion. Thanks dear brother.

      Friday, March 03, 2006

      Resurrecting Ralph

      In a sermon preached in the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California on November 11, 2001, the Reverend Judith E. Meyer argued that “Religious pluralism in America may well have begun in Mary Moody Emerson's parlor in Concord, Massachusetts. . . . She was the one who first introduced Ralph Waldo Emerson to the sacred scriptures of the East. And she remained throughout her life her acclaimed nephew’s spiritual director and support.”

      Dr. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and energetic proselytizer for neo-Gnosticism, commends Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” of 1838 as the supreme “American vision of Christ.” Bloom describes what he calls the “American Religion” as “solitude, individuality and pragmatism of feelings, acts, and experiences rather than thoughts, desires, and memories.”

      Emerson writes,

      “That is always best which gives me to myself. . . . The Puritans in England and America . . . . Their creed is passing away, and none arises in its room. I think no man can go with his thoughts about him, into one of our churches, without feeling, that what hold the public worship had on men is gone, or going. It has lost its grasp on the affection of the good, and the fear of the bad. In the country, neighborhoods, half parishes are signing off. . . . It is already beginning to indicate character and religion to withdraw from the religious meetings. . . . Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone. . . . Dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

      “Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, 'I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks.' . . . But what a distortion [of] his doctrine and memory . . . [in] the following ages!”

      Emerson’s vision clearly anticipates the resurgent paganism of the 21st century, what David Wells calls the convergence of resurgent paganism and primal spirituality.

      Thursday, March 02, 2006

      "Take the sea! Take the sea!"

      On this day in 1791, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, died at the age of 87. During the course of his lifetime, it is said that he preached some 40,000 sermons, traveled the length and breadth of the British Isles, at first on foot, estimated at over 1,000 miles a year through the villages of Oxfordshire. He still walked five miles a day at the age of 85.

      One memorable story of Wesley is told of a preaching appointment in a chapel at St. Ives, Cornwall. The story is told by our good friend, Geoff Thomas (of Aberystwyth, Wales) whom I heard deliver the finest paper on Wesley I ever heard several years ago:

      When John Wesley was almost seventy years of age he was preaching in Cornwall and had an evening engagement in a chapel in St. Ives. He had lunch in the London Inn at Redruth and then got into his carriage and proceeded to the Hayle estuary to cross the ford which would take them to the evening service. The carriage was driven by a local man called Peter Martin, the hostler of the London Inn. He had put the two horses that pulled Wesley's carriage into their shafts, and then had mounted the right-hand animal to drive the carriage the twelve miles to Hayle. Wesley was inside reading and writing.

      The wind blew more strongly as they reached the coast, and as the road dipped and petered out into beach and pebbles the prospect had a threatening appearance. The tide was on the turn and the shore line was growing narrower and the expanse of water steadily widening. St Ives could be seen in the northwest on its low cliff opposite them, with their road emerging from the sea. The estuary that lay between the carriage and that town was now quickly filling with a surge of rough water and powerful currents. Peter Martin stopped the carriage at the water's edge and weighed up the situation. He called back to John Wesley and advised him that this was going to be a dangerous crossing. While he was speaking to Wesley a sea captain walked up to the carriage (the man was waiting for the tide to come in for his boat to set sail) and this sailor counseled them, "Don't even consider it." Wesley listened politely to the hostler and the captain, smiled and then said loudly, "Take the sea! Take the sea!"

      So the hostler cracked his whip, spurred on the lead horse on which he was seated, and the carriage splashed into the estuary. Peter Martin never forgot that crossing, describing it thus some years afterwards, "The horses were now swimming, and the carriage became nearly overwhelmed with the tide, as its hinder wheels not infrequently merged into the deep pits and hollows in the sands. I struggled hard to maintain my seat in the saddle, while the poor affrighted animals were snorting and rearing in the most terrific manner and furiously plunging through the opposing waves. I expected every moment to be swept into eternity, and the only hope of escape I then cherished was on account of my driving so holy a man."

      John Wesley put his head out of the window and shouted to him above the noise, and the hostler turned with some difficulty. He saw Wesley's face, wet with the spray and waves; his hair was soaking. But the preacher was looking calmly out of the windows interested in everything that was happening, quite unperturbed by the tumult and storm. What did Wesley want?" "Driver, what is your name?" he called out. "Peter," said the hostler. "Peter, fear not," said Wesley, "thou shalt not sink," and he pulled his head in again. Peter Martin urged the horses on and indeed they crossed to the other side. "I'll always say it was a miracle," said the driver. Then he added, "Mr. Wesley's first care was to see me comfortably lodged at the tavern. He procured me warm clothes, a good fire, and excellent refreshments. Nor were the horses forgotten by him. Totally unmindful of himself, he proceeded, wet as he was, to the chapel, and preached according to the appointment."

      Wednesday, March 01, 2006

      Thank Heaven for Brilliant Girls

      In preparation for a lecture on "American Heroines" to women in the church recently, I came across this article in Christian History by Heidi Nichols. Heidi's husband, Stephen, is a first rate Jonathan Edwards scholar and author of the excellent introduction, Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. The faithful women in Heidi's article changed the course of American history.