Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Becoming a Missionary Church

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 9
“Becoming a Missionary Church”
First Published: March 5, 1998

We have just finished a week of spiritual feasting! What a blessing it was to hear from our missionaries: to listen to Jeff Marlowe tell of the exciting work of God’s superintending providence in Senegal; to hear of the wonderful opportunities for discipleship that the Lord is providing Nancy Adams in Charlottesville, Virginia; to reflect on God’s faithfulness as we hear Jed Johnston --a covenant son of this congregation-- tell of the strategic campus work in which he and Marney are engaged in Chattanooga; to praise God as we consider John Kinser’s account of how the Lord is building a church in Lake Oconee, Georgia; and to thank God when we ponder the tremendous ministry to medical students at UMC that the Lord is doing through Jimmy Turner.

We also feasted during the preaching of the Word. Fergus Macdonald challenged us to consider our debt of grace and to engage in paying it back in world missions. He taught us the significance of the parable of the dinner (Luke 14:16-24) for missions, and then (at our Thursday luncheon) provided a breath-taking panorama of what the Lord is doing around the World. Dr. David Sinclair showed us the King --our great God and Savior-- and challenged us with the truth that “once you’ve seen the King, you can’t help but have a heart for the kingdom.” May God bring the reality of his grace home to us in such a way that we become grateful witnesses for him.

There is much more to do. We are encouraged by the growing interest in missions in our congregation, but there is more to do. Our generation at First Presbyterian has been bequeathed a tremendous heritage in this field, but there is more to do. First Church has, for many years, been known as a congregation keen in its support of missions, but there is more to do. If we are to become a truly missionary church, then our hearts and lives must be gripped by the Gospel of grace: enrapt with the awesomeness of God, convicted by the sinfulness of sin, captivated by the grandeur of redemption, amazed by the extravagance of God’s love. Hearts taken captive by such realities cannot help but become missionary hearts.

Join us in praying for widespread involvement in missions giving here at First Presbyterian: wider than ever before. Join us in renewed commitment to pray for missions and missionaries. Join us in praying for people in our congregation to be called to the work of missions. Join us in praying that this conference would be used of the Holy Spirit as an instrument of revival in our midst. May we all long for the nations to tremble in the Lord’s presence.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "The Bible's First Promise"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 1
“The Bible’s First Promise”
First Published: January 8, 1998

As we begin a new year, it is wise for us deliberately to focus our hearts on the first things: the things that matter most. Among our resolutions, we should not fail to think of matters of eternal significance. Indeed, these things ought to be foremost in our thoughts. And as we contemplate the issues of prime importance in our lives we do well to remember the first promise of the Bible:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

The first thing that we learn from this proto-evangelium is that sin is our greatest problem and our greatest enemy. This promise comes to fallen Adam and Eve (though its words are addressed to the serpent), immediately after their rebellion against their loving Lord. Sin had destroyed their fellowship with Him, thrust them forth from the garden, and brought woe and death into God’s pristine world. We truly ought to ponder this. So often we think our problems are not having enough money or possessions, or not being liked by certain people, or not being accepted by a particular crowd, or not having the kind of relationship we’ve always dreamed of (you can fill in the blank for you own particular temptation in this regard). And we throw ourselves into trying to find solutions for these problems, all the while neglecting the biggest problem of our life: sin, and the estrangement it brings from God and others. Let us strive to hate our sin, and to grow in grace in the new year.

Secondly, we must expect trials, temptations and tribulations — accepting them as providential opportunities to grow in faith and trust in the Lord. In this verse the Lord establishes enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman (that is, the Lord’s people). Did you notice that? It is the Lord who establishes enmity between the world and His people. Hence, the conflicts that we face here in the fallen world are not all to be avoided. Some of them actually result from the Lord’s redemptive blessings. This teaches us to expect strife in this life. Sometimes the very strife we face is the result of God’s master plan to protect you from the Evil one and to wean you from carnal affections. May the Lord enable us to contemplate the tribulations of 1998 in this light.

Third, we must often dwell on the perfect fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, when all sin and misery is finally vanquished in the ultimate triumph of the Lord. C. H. Spurgeon says: “This is the first promise to fallen man. It contains the whole gospel, and the essence of the covenant of grace. It has been in great measure fulfilled. The seed of the woman, even our Lord Jesus, was bruised in His heel, and a terrible bruising it was. How terrible will be the final bruising of the serpent’s head! This was virtually done when Jesus took away sin, vanquished death, and broke the power of Satan; but it awaits a still fuller accomplishment at our Lord’s Second Advent, and in the day of Judgment.” Even as we face trouble and hardship in this fallen world, we must keep before us the hope. The blessed hope of the second coming, the glorious appearance of our Lord. May this new year be a year filled with eternal hope in the hearts of the good folk of First Presbyterian. And may that hope give us joy even in the midst of sorrow in the days to come. Happy New Year.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Who is the Child of Mary?"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 50
“Who is the Child of Mary?”
First Published: December 18, 1997

Isaiah’s words are not far from us in this season of the year: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). We all do well to make our way to Bethlehem, and “in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see Him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in Him, and can sing, ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.’” We ought to ponder some of the lofty truths wrapped in the nativity.

First, we remember that Jesus is God Incarnate (“Immanuel” means “God-with-us”). He is the eternal Son of the heavenly Father, in the flesh. He is the embodied Second Person of the Holy Trinity (as John 1 reminds us of this). He does not divest himself of his divinity as he comes into the world (that would be metamorphosis not incarnation!), but rather intersects space and time as true God and man, at once. He is the divine man. “Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to His human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that He may be formed in us, the hope of glory.”

Second, we take comfort that though he walks the earth as our Lord and our God, he is yet our brother and friend. Surely this is a mystery. The eternal Son, my brother by incarnation and by saving grace. Think of it, though “very God, begotten not created,” our Lord is really and truly and fully human (yet without sin). And further, through the uniting work of the Spirit he becomes our brother and we God’s children, by faith. If this does not lead us to adoration and admiration, nothing will.

Third, we should notice our Lord’s miraculous conception (“the virgin birth” we call it). Though skeptics mock at it, we revel in its reality and significance. Spurgeon reminds us: “It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, ‘The seed of the woman,’ not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise.” God’s grace is glorious, is it not?

Fourth, we should allow our hearts to break and then worship as we contemplate his humiliation. Notice his humble parentage, his humble estate, the meagerness of the provision around his nativity (“how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!”), and the humble life to which he was called. What a comfort to think of it: “Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.”

Merry Christmas to you all.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

[Quotes are from C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening]


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Don't forget to read the words you sing!"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 49
“Don’t forget to read the words you sing!”
First Published: December 11, 1997

Our worship will be chock full of familiar and beloved carols this month. I hope that you will all use the occasion not merely to enjoy the sentiment but to reflect upon the profound theology contained in these hymns. Our singing ought to be lifted up to God, from hearts filled with gratitude for grace and from hearts praising Him for the glorious gift of the Incarnation.

So as you sing well-known songs and tunes this month, make a double effort to concentrate on the words. Aim to understand them and to “make them your own” as you sing to the Lord. You may even want to discuss the words around the dinner table at home or during family worship. The reflection will not only prove to be of personal encouragement: it will also help you in your intelligent and fervent participation in corporate worship.

Our “Hymn of the Month” will be the ancient song “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” It comes from the Liturgy of St. James and dates from the 5th century. The beautiful (indeed, haunting) melody to which we sing this carol is French in origin and probably was composed in the seventeenth century. No doubt most of us have heard this song sung frequently at Christmas time, but in the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary it is also recommended as a communion hymn.

The first stanza bids us stand in awe and silent reverence as we contemplate the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation, and calls on us to give our full homage to Christ. The second stanza reflects on the paradox of Christ’s eternity and birth, and the reality and necessity of his true humanity. The third stanza pictures a myriad of heavenly beings preparing the way for his descent from heaven’s halls to earth, and reminds us that came in the flesh to vanquish the forces of hell. The final stanza asks us to remember that Isaiah has told us that the seraphim continually cry holiness and praise to him. Should we not join them in wonder and bafflement in exclaiming “Alleluia” to our Incarnate Lord?

May we be good “carolers” for our gracious and sovereign Lord this Christmas.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, December 21, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "In God's Strength"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 46
“In God’s Strength”
First Published: November 20, 1997

As we face the challenges of life that God puts before us all, individually and corporately, we are deeply in need of a sense of our own weakness and utter dependence upon the Lord. Now this may seem strange advice, for it is completely contrary to the spirit of the age in which we live. Self-help gurus and confidence men constantly tell us: “you can do it,” “awaken the giant from within,” “you can achieve anything you want to, be anything you want to, do anything you want to,” “you have the power.” But nothing could be further from the thought-world of the Bible.

It is precisely the New Testament teaching which points us to approaching all our responsibilities in a posture of dependence upon the grace of the Lord. For Paul (himself a paragon of self-discipline and self-mastery) has told us: “[The Lord] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
C. H. Spurgeon beautifully captured the proper Biblical attitude when he wrote: “A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts, ‘I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my conquering sword shall get unto me the victory,’ defeat is not far distant. God will not go forth with that man who marches in his own strength, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” God will have no strength used in His battles but the strength which He Himself imparts.”
The good news is that this Biblical view is both realistic and encouraging. It is realistic, because the fact is we all face challenges and circumstances that are beyond our control (“our battle is not against flesh and blood . . .”). No amount of effort on our own part can change that, so the sooner we learn to rely on the Lord and serve in His strength the better off we will be. It is encouraging, because we may be acutely aware of our weakness and frailty: to the point that we wonder “what’s the use of doing anything at all?” But reliance upon God’s grace, far from reducing us to passivity, is the great dynamic of consecrated Christian activity! Again Spurgeon tells us: “Are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give you victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up.”
A Spiritual awareness of our weakness, then, is not designed to prompt us to inactivity or passivity in the fight of faith, but rather to make us conscious of our need of a divine supply of strength for the living of the Christian life. Our third question for church membership beautifully captures this Biblical balance when it asks: “Do you resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Such an endeavor can only be successful if we are aware of our inherent weakness and thus avail ourselves of His Almighty power and resources. May God help us to do so.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: God-Centered People

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 45
“God-Centered People”
First Published: November 13, 1997

We live in a time of spiritual and theological tumult in the various evangelical churches. Even though many of us recently enjoyed a study luncheon celebrating the impact of the great sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, we look around ourselves to witness, on virtually every side, a loss of the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation. Why is it that in evangelical and Protestant churches where the Reformed faith has been heralded for generations we see this loss of faithful teaching of and belief in the faith once delivered?

Sadly, it seems, we have lost the doctrines of the Reformation because we have lost the God of the Reformers. That is, behind this theological crisis we see in the church today, there is a spiritual crisis. For just as it is true that false doctrine cannot lead to the living God, so also it is true that without fellowship with the living God, true doctrine cannot be maintained. Without true godliness to anchor us in the truth, we will follow after the imaginations of our heart in our theology. I believe that we are seeing the dreaded consequences of this spiritual axiom in our own day and time.

What is the remedy to this situation? I would propose to you that the theology of the Bible provides the remedy. We must be reacquainted with the God of the Scriptures. We must refuse to define him by the standards and expectations of our age, but must listen to Him define Himself as he speaks to us through the inspired Scriptures. Then God Himself must become our greatest desire; this is my first suggestion. God Himself must become our priority. No longer can God be seen as someone who is simply a means to an end, a means to accomplishing our own purposes, a means to our achieving whatever goals we have, but God Himself must become our greatest desire and if He is to become our greatest desire, we must recover a view of His greatness. This was a key to the spirituality of the Reformers, that was the spirituality of the Psalmist, and of all the writers of Scripture.

If we are to become lost in the glory of who God is, and if we are to become lost in the pursuit of all the glory that it is to fellowship with Him, we must be convinced of His greatness to the bottom of our being. Christians must re-focus their lives on God Himself, reorder their thinking according to His Word, and let God be God just as He has revealed Himself in the Word. We must be God-centered in our thinking, God-fearing in our consciences, and God-honoring in our living. We must recover the same view of the greatness of God. We must recover those spiritual priorities that our catechism sets out so beautifully when it says "the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Our greatest goal must be to glorify Him. Our greatest fruition must be to enjoy our fellowship with Him both here and hereafter. Until we do that, we'll never recover the great faith of the Reformers because we will never have recovered the God that they knew and loved and worshiped.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, December 14, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Prayer as Praise to God

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 18
“Prayer as Praise to God”
First Published: May 22, 1997

Over the past several weeks, we have been surveying Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14. Today, we bring our study to a close. When we first began to consider this great prayer, we suggested that there are two marks of God-centered prayer: the presence of much adoration of God, and the presence of much thanksgiving.

These marks are reflected perfectly in Paul’s prayer. We have, so far, seen that it is trinitarian (that is, it highlights the work of the blessed Trinity in our salvation), decretal (that is, it accents the sovereignty of God in the whole work of redemption), redemptive (that is, God’s redeeming, saving blessings are systematically rehearsed in it), Father-focused (that is, the Father’s goodness, love, and initiative are celebrated repeatedly), Christ-centered (that is, the integral role of the Son’s redemptive work is accentuated), and Spirit-dependent (that is, the Holy Spirit is viewed as both the substance and conduit of blessing).

The final attribute of this prayer to which I would draw your attention is that it is doxological (that is, the prayer’s ultimate direction is toward the praise of God). Our English word “doxology” is borrowed directly from a Greek (and then Latin) word which means “uttering praise” or “giving glory.” Hence, the “Doxology” which we sing so frequently (a beautiful composition of Thomas Ken) is literally “an utterance of praise and thanksgiving to God.”

There is a real sense in which the whole of Paul’s prayer is a doxology. He is focused on the adoration of God (giving Him glory) and on thanksgiving (acknowledging his gratitude to God for Who He is and for His specific blessings). But, additionally, there are three little doxologies included in Paul’s prayer. He concludes his section focusing of the work of the Father (in verses 3-6) by indicating that His plan of redemption is “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (6). He closes the section that emphasizes the role of the Son (in verses 7-12) by indicating that Christ’s saving work and ultimate exaltation is all “to the praise of his glory” (12). And he finishes the prayer, and specifically the section that concentrates on the blessing of the Holy Spirit (verses 13-14) by indicating that the Spirit’s assuring work is also “to the praise of his glory” (14).

What a pattern we have here for prayer: fulsome adoration and thanksgiving. May God make us all mighty in this kind of prayer.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective:Prayer Dependent on the Spirit

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 17
“Prayer Dependent on the Spirit”
First Published: May 15, 2009

So far we have reviewed five aspects of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14. It is trinitarian (that is, it highlights the work of the blessed Trinity in our salvation), decretal (that is, it accents the sovereignty of God in the whole work of redemption), redemptive (that is, God’s redeeming, saving blessings are systematically rehearsed in it), Father-focused (that is, the Father’s goodness, love, and initiative are celebrated repeatedly), and Christ-centered (that is, the integral role of the Son’s redemptive work is accentuated). Two more emphases remain to be surveyed.

Today, I want to draw your attention to the fact that this prayer of praise is also Spirit-dependent (that is, the Holy Spirit is viewed as both the substance and conduit of blessing). Throughout the prayer, Paul acknowledges that the Spirit Himself is gifted to us by the Father, and the Spirit Himself is the means of the Father’s conveying the various blessings to us.

Notice, for instance, at the very beginning of the prayer that it is stressed that all the blessings are SPIRITUAL: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (3). That is, these blessings are OF the Holy Spirit. They are Spiritual in nature, and they come from the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, all the blessings are received and pledged in the Spirit: you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory” (13-14). In other words, God’s blessings are experienced by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling us (they are “sealed” to us by the baptism of the Spirit), and the Spirit Himself is God’s pledge (or down payment or deposit) guarantying that we will one day receive the fullness of all His promises. To put it plainly, the Spirit Himself is the seal - a living, sovereign seal (assurance) of God’s promises. That is why He is called here: “the Holy Spirit of promise.” When we are brought to Christ and Spiritually regenerated, we experience a foretaste of divine fellowship, in fulfillment of Abrahamic promise and which is at the heart of our salvation: God with us.

Are not these things matters for praise which ought to populate our prayers of adoration. May God grant to you a greater appreciation and apprehension of the Spiritual riches which are yours in Christ. And then may that realization overflow in praise and devotion.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Christ-Centered Prayer"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 16
“Christ-Centered Prayer”
First Published: May 8, 1997

So far we have seen that Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14, is trinitarian (that is, it highlights the work of the blessed Trinity in our salvation), decretal (that is, it accents the sovereignty of God in the whole work of redemption), redemptive (that is, God’s redeeming, saving blessings are systematically rehearsed in it), and Father-focused (that is, the Father’s goodness, love, and initiative are celebrated repeatedly).

But there is yet more gold to be mined in this glorious prayer. For instance, we may note that the prayer is Christ-centered (that is, the integral role of the Son’s redemptive work is accentuated). Over and over Paul brings us back to thoughts of the centrality of Christ in every aspect of God’s saving work.

Paul emphasizes that every Spiritual blessing is enjoyed IN CHRIST. This means, among other things, that all God’s benefits are experienced only in a vital faith relation to Christ. Many today (even in the evangelical world) are toying with the idea that salvation can be experienced apart from a saving faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul utterly rejects such an idea, insisting that all those and only those who are “in Christ” are the beneficiaries of His redemption.

But Paul’s emphasis on every Spiritual blessing being enjoyed “in Christ” also reminds us that all the benefits of God are obtained when one has been united to Christ in faith. Thus Paul , as He catalogs his list of God’s lavish blessings stresses that they are experienced “in Christ” (that is, in covenantal relationship to Him). According to Paul, God blessed us IN CHRIST (3); chose us IN HIM (4); predestined us THROUGH JESUS CHRIST (5); bestowed grace on us IN THE BELOVED (6); lavished grace on us (8), made known his plan to us (9), and purposed his whole divine plan IN HIM (9, 7a & 10b) and sealed us IN HIM (13).

Furthermore, our every blessing is based on Christ’s work. For we have REDEMPTION through his blood (7); and our INHERITANCE is solely in Him (10b-11).

As William Guthrie said so long ago: “Less would not satisfy. More is not to be desired.” Have your prayers been characterized by such a Christ-centered focus in adoration? May God refresh us with such a thirst for Christ, that our focus of praise falls directly upon Him.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, December 07, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Father-Focused Prayer

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 15
“Father-Focused Prayer”
First Published: May 1, 1997

Paul’s prayer, in Ephesians 1:3-14, is trinitarian (that is, it highlights the work of the blessed Trinity in our salvation), decretal (that is, it accents the sovereignty of God in the whole work of redemption), and redemptive (that is, God’s redeeming, saving blessings are systematically rehearsed in it). Have you taken the opportunity to incorporate these aspects into your own prayers of adoration this week?

As glorious as these three themes are, there is even more to be discovered in these rich paean of praise to the One True God. Indeed, a close look at Paul’s prayer will reveal that it is also Father-focused (that is, the Father’s goodness, love, and initiative are celebrated repeatedly).

For instance, notice how our attention is drawn to the Divine fatherhood in Paul’s ascription of blessing to the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (3). Such a phrase reminds us that He is the Father of Grace. When we remember (or realize) who the Almighty One is to whom we pray, our prayer life is revolutionized. We marvel at the perfection of our dear Savior, and at His love for us - and then we remember that He is the very image of His Father. Who wouldn’t long to pray to such a Father?
Let me mention, in passing, that this truth is so important for those who have never experienced holy love from (and for) their earthly fathers (for whatever reason). He is not merely a father. He is the Father: the great and glorious and good Father. And He is not merely the Father. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: the very Father of Love and Mercy and Compassion. Run and embrace Him freely in prayer, for He loves His children with an incomprehensible and undying love.

Second, we observe that God’s activity as Father is stressed in verse after verse of this prayer: HE blessed (3); HE chose (4); HE predestined (5) HE bestowed grace (6); HE lavished (8); HE made known (9); HE purposed (9); HE sealed (13). In all these blessings, general and specific, the Father is in view as the source and instigator and supplier. Do we regularly remember that it is our Father who has done these things for us? Does it show in our prayers?

Third, our God’s “redemptive fatherhood” (that is, God’s redeeming purpose to make us His very own children) is emphasized in the beautiful phrase “He predestined us to adoption as sons ... to Himself” (5). Can you take that in? From before the foundations of the world, the God of the universe planned to embrace you as His child, to make you His own, to enfold you into His family, to give you His name and His inheritance. If this is not a matter for praise, I don’t know one!

Fourth, do you see the emphasis on the Father’s love in that precious phrase “In love he predestined” (4b-5a)? So often, people only want to argue about the doctrine of predestination. Here in Ephesians 1:5, however, Paul shows that predestination flows from the fountain of the love of God, and leads to our adoption as God’s children. In other words, predestination is the most loving plan imaginable (since it originates in God’s love and has as its goal our adoption). So, the next time someone wants to argue with you about predestination: take them to Ephesians 1!

Finally, the words “with a view to God’s own possession” remind us that we are HIS inheritance (14). We are the Father’s inheritance? We are the treasure He has been saving for from eternity? We are the reward that He longs for? Yes, that is precisely what Paul is saying. We often praise God that He has stored up a rich inheritance for us (fellowship with Him and mansions in glory), but do we pause to wonder in awe that we ourselves are His heritage, His estate, His legacy? In the covenant of grace, we gain Him and He gains us. O blessed, mysterious transaction. Let us praise the Father for His choice of an inheritance.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

The Blind Side
The Story of Michael Oher

The world was introduced to the life story of Michael Oher in 2006 following the publishing of Michael Lewis' bestselling book, The Blind Side. Now left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, then a junior at the University of Mississippi, Michael Oher became a living example of the enduring power of true love to completely change a person's life.

Oher's life story has recently been adapted for the big screen and will be released to theaters everywhere on November 20th. John Lee Hancock, the film's writer and director, was compelled by the message the story communicated: a young couple (Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy) are filled with compassion for a troubled young man and open their lives to him, providing all he needed to succeed, especially love. Most importantly, however, is the fact that this couple's love for Michael Oher was rooted in, motivated by, and an expression of their still deeper love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Working with the Touhy's during the film's production, Hancock was more than a little impressed by their genuineness of their faith. But Hancock wasn't the only one who witnessed this. Apparently leading actress Sandra Bullock, who plays the role of the wife (Leigh Ann Touhy) in the film, was equally encouraged by the authenticity of the Touhy's faith. After working with Leigh Ann and Sean for months, Bullock says, "I now have faith in those who say they represent a faith. I finally met people who walk the walk."

An encouraging review of the film was recently released by World Magazine. You can find the review here.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Praying Specifically in Thanks for our Redemption

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 15
“Praying Specifically in Thanks for our Redemption”
First Published: April 24, 1997

So far, in our study of Ephesians 1:3-14, we have pointed out that Paul’s prayer is trinitarian (that is, it highlights the work of the blessed Trinity in our salvation) and decretal (that is, it accents the sovereignty of God in the whole work of redemption). Today we will consider a third quality in that great prayer. Paul’s prayer may be characterized as redemptive (that is, in it, God’s redeeming, saving blessings are systematically rehearsed.

Very often we praise God for His redemption of us in generic terms. But even as specific sins ought to be repented of specifically (as the good old Puritans remind us), so also ought the Lord to be thanked and adored specifically for His bestowal of specific blessings on us. Notice eight aspects of God’s redemptive work that Paul makes matters for praise here in Ephesians 1.

Paul, first, reminds us that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (3). This blessing indicates, among other things, that the Lord has brought us great and true happiness by virtue of his Spiritual gifts to us. This, for Paul, is a matter worthy of praise.

, Paul highlights the truth that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (4). Paul sees our election in Christ as a biblical truth that will stoke the fires of our devotion to God, and so he reminds himself of it even as he adores God.

, Paul exults in the glorious truth that “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons” (5). It is not simply the realization that God chose us that floods Paul’s heart with wonder, love, and praise. It is the apprehension that God chose us with a view to our being His own children. His purpose in choosing us was that we should become the very sons of God.

, Paul also speaks of God’s “grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (6). Here Paul emphasizes that the whole of our salvation is the gift of God. We do not merit it. We do not deserve it. But God freely bestows His grace on us, because of His electing love and our covenantal union with His Son.

, Paul speaks of God’s forgiveness of sin as a revelation of the riches of His grace
which He lavished on us”(8). In other words, Paul knows that God’s gift of His only Son as the sacrifice for our sin is a truly extravagant provision. It is beyond reason. Beyond explanation. Beyond comprehension. “Christ for us” is a divine logic that we cannot (and will not) ever be able to penetrate even in eternity. But as we contemplate it, we may praise Him forever for it.

, Paul also rejoices that God “made known to us the mystery of His will” (9). He is deeply moved at the thought that the Lord has graciously revealed Christ to us. The Lord did not have to. He could have left us in blindness, like so many others in the day of our Lord’s earthly ministry, who heard His voice and saw His miracles and yet remained stone-hearted. The thought leaves Paul choking back tears of praise.

, Paul glories in the “kind intention [of God’s will] which He purposed in Him [that is, Christ]” (9). In other words, Paul is awed by God’s divine plan of redemption as it is revealed in Christ. How sovereign and how kind are God’s purposes. And so they ought to be matters for adoration.

, we note in Paul’s prayer praise to God that “having also believed, you were sealed in Him” (13). Paul rejoices that God will never let us out of His saving grasp. We have been sealed in the blessings of God, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit!
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, indeed.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Praying in Celebration of God’s Decree

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 30 Num. 14
“Praying in Celebration of God’s Decree”
First Published: April 17, 1997

Three weeks ago we began a study of seven special qualities of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14. We proposed there that if we are to become mighty in prayer, then God must be at the center of our prayers. And that, God will not be at the center of our prayers if they lack adoration and thanksgiving. Rehearsing these seven characteristics found in Ephesians 1 supplies us with rich biblical content and thankful thought with which we may supplement and improve our own praise of God in prayer.

Today, I want to draw your attention to the second of those seven qualities: Paul’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty. We might put it this way - Paul’s prayer is decretal (that is, it celebrates the eternal, sovereign decree of Almighty God). Sometimes we are reticent to stress this aspect of our doctrine of God in public prayer, for fear we might offend those who do not embrace a Reformed view of God’s heavenly rule. More often, however, we simply overlook the enormous potential of this truth as a matter for Christian comfort and adoration. Not so for Paul.
We see that in Ephesians 1, God’s Sovereignty is unashamedly and emphatically asserted and rejoiced in by the Apostle Paul. This aspect of the prayer is seen in three ways. First, Paul openly praises God for His work of predestination. Notice verses 4, 5, and 9, where it is stressed that God “chose” (4), “predestined” (5), and “purposed” (9) our salvation. For Paul, predestination is not a matter simply to be argued about, but one which moves us to adore God.
Second, the accent on God’s sovereignty is seen in Paul’s stress on the central role of the will of God in our redemption. Whereas some only want to think of “our choice” in salvation, Paul wholly concentrates on God’s choice - speaking of God’s “will” in verses 5, 9, and 11, and mentioning God’s “kind intention” (9) and “purpose” (11) elsewhere.
Third and finally, God’s sovereignty is stressed in Paul’s description of the comprehensiveness of God’s will. It is not that God is sovereign over some things or even most things, but rather (says Paul) God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (11). Such a view of the sovereign and gracious God stirs Paul to praise, and so it should us.
Do our prayers reflect much adoration of God’s eternal predestination? Do we strive to be consciously aware of God’s sovereignty in the plan of salvation? Do we ever concentrate on that work as a subject for adoration in our prayers? If not, let us use Paul’s prayer as a model to enrich our expression of thankfulness to the sovereign God who loves and saves us.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Men of the Covenant
Mr. Bill Moore

Men, our final Men of the Covenant Lunch for the fall is this Thursday (December 3rd) in Miller Hall from 11:45-1:oo. We have the privilege of hearing Mr. Bill Moore address us on the topic of "Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself."

Reservations are not required and the cost of the lunch is $5. If you have any questions, please contact Shannon Craft in the Discipleship office at 601-326-9243 or