Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010 Mid-South Men's Rally

Dr. Michael A. Milton

January 29, 2010

Dr. Michael A. Milton serves as President and The James M. Baird Professor of Pastoral Theology of Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. He is also the Interim President of RTS, Orlando, FL. Previously Dr. Milton served as the 12th pastor in 170 years at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, TN. His ministerial record also includes planting and pastoring churches in Kansas and Georgia, and founding a Christian school in Overland Park, Kansas.

Dr. Milton's personal story of moving from orphan and prodigal son, to understanding God's grace and receiving his adoption through Jesus Christ, informs his frequent motif for offering Christ's healing to a broken generation.

In addition, Dr. Milton holds a commission in the U.S. Army Reserves and currently serves as a chaplain to the 108th Division. Prior to entering the ministry, Dr. Milton was a manager for two Fortune 500 organizations and was a top secret linguist in the U.S. Navy.

As president of RTS, Dr. Milton maintains a full schedule of preaching and teaching in churches, and at seminaries and conferences. An author of numerous books, his latest publication is
Small Things, Big Things: Inspiring Stories of God's Grace (P&R). He is also a singer-songwriter with two recordings, the latest being Follow Your Call (Music for Missions). Dr. Milton is heard in select markets in the U.S. and across internet radio on his multi-media ministry, The Call with Mike Milton. Dr. Milton and his wife, Mae, and their son reside in the Charlotte area.

5:15 - 6:30 p.m. Dinner served in Miller Hall, bookstore open
6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Session I
7:30 - 8:00 p.m. Break, refreshments in Miller Hall, bookstore open
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Session II


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 41
“As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams”
First Published: September 3, 1998

Our new hymn of the month is based upon Psalm 42. It is called by the name of its first phrase: “As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams.” The tune is very simple but is also very beautiful. It is an old Appalachian folk melody in long meter. The deliberate pace of the tune gives the singer the opportunity to reflect upon the profound longings of the psalmist. Psalm 42 is the first psalm of “book two” of the Psalms, and poignantly expresses the psalmist’s desire for the presence of God in a time of trouble and exile.

The first stanza of our hymn of the month is a mediation on Psalm 42:1-2. This passage reads this way in the New American Standard version: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” The last phrase “appear before God” reads as follows in some manuscripts: “see the face of God.” And so, Danna Harkin (the author and arranger of this scripture song) renders the text like this: “As the hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul does thirst for the living God; when shall I come to see thy face?” This stanza expresses, in vivid imagery, the Christian soul’s desire for the Lord. As we sing it, we ought to be praying that the Holy Spirit would fill us with such a desire for communion with the living God.

The song’s second stanza flows from the third through the fifth verses (and has allusions to the seventh verse) of Psalm 42. We sing: “My tears have fed me day and night, while men have said ‘Where is your God?’ But I recall as my soul pours dry, the days of praise within thy house.” In this sentence we are joining in the psalmist’s experience of being mocked for his seemingly fruitless trust in the Lord, and we are saying that even when we feel as if we have been emptied out that we hang on by the recollection of sweet days of praise in the Lord’s house. By the very singing of this stanza we acknowledge to ourselves several things, even as we lift God’s psalm back to him: (1) the Christian life is often beset with almost unbearable grief; (2) many times our human support is lacking in these hard seasons and we must rely on God alone; and (3) there are times when we are so depleted and dry that we have to recall days of grace in order to endure. Now, of course, the very singing of this psalm in corporate worship ought also to remind us that we are not alone in our difficult circumstances. God has not banished us to solitude in the vicissitudes of life, we walk our ways in both sunshine and shadow with a whole host of fellow believers (many of whom are directly acquainted with our kind of situation).

The final stanza ascends from depression to issue a bracing self-challenge: “Why do I mourn and toil within, when it is mine to hope in God? I shall again sing praise to him; he is my help, he is my God.” These words challenge the spiritually depressed saint to evaluate his despair in light of the real hope he has in the Lord. Then the believer takes heart from three great verities. First, he will again praise the Lord. This is an absolute fact, here and hereafter for everyone who trusts in God. Second, the Lord himself is his helper, his aid, his supporter. What more comforting thought can we have in time of trouble? Third, the Lord himself is his God! These important truths drawn from Psalm 42:11 conclude this lovely scriptural meditation.

May God use this little song to encourage us in times of trouble and may he give us the grace to sing this psalm together, with grace in the heart.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, January 25, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Through All the Changing Scenes of Life

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 30
“Through All the Changing Scenes of Life”
First Published: July 30, 1998

Our Hymn of the Month for September is “Through All the Changing Scenes of Life” (Trinity Hymnal, 624)— a beautiful version of Psalm 34:1-4, 7-9 from Tate and Brady’s New Version (which was produced at the end of the seventeenth century). The composer of its tune (“Downs”) is the famous Lowell Mason, who contributed over two dozen of the songs in our hymnal including the tunes to: “There is a fountain filled with blood” and “My faith looks up to Thee,” as well as arrangements for “O for a thousand tongues,” “Joy to the world!” and “When I survey the wondrous cross.”

Mason was a bank clerk in Savannah, Georgia, where he conducted the choir at the famous Independent Presbyterian Church (where our own Bill Wymond served for a time). So popular was the collection of church tunes he compiled there, that Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society published it. While in Boston, Mason was the organist at Lyman Beecher’s church and he also founded the Boston Academy of Music. He was an important reformer of American church music, and was influential on both sides of the Atlantic.

We have sung this hymn a few times in the past year, and its words are outstanding. They clearly and accurately convey the meaning of Psalm 34, and do so with outstanding poetic quality. The first stanza is a bracing (but radiant) declaration by the believer that: “Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.” We have here a positive counterpart to last month’s hymn “Whate’er my God ordains is right.” In the that hymn, the believer resigns himself to trust God in difficult circumstances. But in “Through all the changing scenes of life” the singer goes a step further, jubilantly declaring his determination to praise God in joy and in sorrow, sunlight and shade.

The second stanza is a balm for faint hearts. The psalmist says that he will continue to boast in the Lord’s deliverance until all those who are also under duress take comfort from his example: “Of his deliv’rance I will boast, till all that are distressed, from my example comfort take, and charm their griefs to rest.” The fourth stanza also sets forth a powerfully strengthening thought foe faith: “The hosts of God encamp around the dwellings of the just; deliv’rance he affords to all who on his succor trust.”

The final two stanzas contain, in my opinion, the most powerful verse of the hymn. Stanza five dares us to trust in the Lord and to see how good he is to those who trust in him: “O make but trial of his love; experience will decide how blest they are, and only they, who in his truth confide.” Then, in the sixth and last stanza, we are exhorted to the fear of the Lord and to delight in his service, in these glorious words: “Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear: make you his service your delight; he’ll make your wants his care.”

I hope this hymn will become a new favorite of yours, and that it will prove to be a comfort to all in our congregation who desire to bravely and hopefully live a “kingdom life in a fallen world.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Fellowship seasoned with Grace

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 29
“Fellowship seasoned with Grace”
First Published: July 23, 1998

In Luke 1, we learn that after Mary had been informed by the angel that she was carrying the Christ-child, she immediately sought the fellowship and company of her older cousin Elizabeth. The story that Luke recounts in 1:39-45 is a beautiful picture of two believers sharing spiritual fellowship with one another and encouraging one another in the faith: “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.’”

There are at least four lessons for us in these glorious verses. First, we learn here that communion with other believers is an important means of strengthening our faith. Observe here the benefit of fellowship (“shared life” is a good way to define this over-used but frequently misunderstood term) between believers. Both women had been called to extraordinary tasks, and they strengthened one another for those tasks in fellowship. Thus, we should always regard communion with other believers as a means of grace. As J.C. Ryle once said: “First let us seek the face of God. Then let us seek the face of God’s friends.”

Second, this account also reminds us that Christian fellowship always entails spiritually-minded conversation. Note the clear spiritual language of Elizabeth: (43) “my Lord” and (45) “blessed is she . . . .” These dear and godly women did not content themselves with discussion of common and daily matters, but spoke spiritually about spiritual things. Do we find it easy to speak of spiritual things in a natural way (without seeming pretentious or flippant)? This doesn’t mean that spiritual things are the only things we talk about with our friends, but a noticeable lack of spiritual conversation in our normal practice ought to be a warning sign for us.

Third, that Christians should both be heartened by and encourage one another’s faith is another good lesson we learn through Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Did you notice the high praise Elizabeth bestows upon the grace of faith as she encourages Mary (45)? Well, do we notice, appreciate, and encourage one another’s faith? Do we tell one another? And do we exercise faith like Mary’s?

Fourth and finally, this passage points us to this principle: Christian ought frequently to meditate on the person of their Lord. Note Elizabeth’s preoccupation with the person of Christ (43) “my Lord” she calls him. And even her baby, who would be known as John the Baptist, in the womb recognizes his presence (41, 44)! These are beautiful examples of how Christians ought to be moved by contemplation of the Lord Jesus. So again we ask ourselves: Are we moved by thoughts of our Lord? Do we frequently meditate on him?

May the Lord truly make First Presbyterian Church into a “community of spiritual encouragement” and may your fellowship be seasoned with grace this week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Whate’re My God Ordains Is Right

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 28
“Whate’re My God Ordains Is Right”
First Published: July 16, 1998

This month we have been singing and learning the wonderful hymn: “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right” (Trinity Hymnal, 108). This hymn was written in 1675 by Samuel Rodigast for a friend of his named Severus Gastorius (who was the “precentor” —the person who leads the congregational singing— of the church in Jena). When Rodigast wrote the hymn, his friend was very ill, but when he recovered Gastorius wrote the hauntingly beautiful tune to which we sing this song. This hymn became the favorite hymn of King Frederick William III of Prussia, and it is easy to see why.

Each stanza of the hymn opens with a declaration of trust in the goodness of God’s sovereignty: “Whate’er my God ordains is right.” In the first stanza, we declare our trust in the Lord no matter what he does because “He is my God; though dark my road, he holds me that I shall not fall: wherefore to him I leave it all.”

In the second stanza we remind ourselves that the Lord never deceives us and that he always leads us on the proper road in life. Furthermore, we recount that he will not leave us and that he is strong enough to deflect our grief.

In stanza three, we join in the experience of our Lord who himself had to say in dark Gethsemane “nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.” Here we sing: “though now this cup, in drinking, may bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking.” How can we sing such words? What enables us to bear them up to God? The next phrase gives the answer: “My God is true.” It is the believer’s trust in the covenant faithfulness of God which enables him to endure his sorrows, in hope awaiting the day that they will all depart.

The final stanza concludes with a strengthening declaration of trust in the face of the severest calamity: “My Father’s care is round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all.” As we open our singing of this stanza we are announcing that it is on the ground of God’s good sovereignty that we will take our stand in “sorrow, need, or death.”

This hearty and realistic hymn is one well worth memorizing. Its theology is biblical, Reformed, and heartfelt. Even as I write these words, I can picture in my mind many saints in our own congregation who have “hung on when there was nothing left in them but the will to hang on” because of the great truth celebrated in this hymn.

May the Lord help us to sing it and believe it and live it.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, January 18, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Prayer for the Nation of our Earthly Sojourn

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 26
“Prayer for the Nation of our Earthly Sojourn”
First Published: July 2, 1998

As we approach Independence Day, July 4, I want to extend a special and heartfelt expression of gratitude to those in our own congregation have risked life and limb in the armed services of this nation to secure the precious liberties that we now enjoy. May your spirit live on in a new generation of Americans.

The very thought of your service reminds us that we ought all to be thankful to our Lord for the national mercies he has showered upon us and to plead earnestly for his reviving Spirit to visit us and turn us from our sins. Long ago, Matthew Henry (the great Bible commentator) compiled a useful list of important concerns for the believer to take before the Lord regarding the land of his earthly citizenship. I share some of them (with slight modifications) with you as a motivation to prayer.

Henry says that we ought to pray for: “our own land and nation which we ought in a special manner to seek the welfare of, that in the peace thereof we may have peace. 1. We must be thankful to God for his mercies to our land. 2. We must be humble before God for our national sins and provocations. 3. We must pray earnestly for the favor of God to us, and the tokens of his presence among us, as that is in which the happiness of our nation is bound up. 4. For the continuance of the gospel among us, and the means of grace, and a national profession of Christ's holy religion. 5. For the continuance of our outward peace and tranquility, our liberty and plenty, for the prosperity of our trade, and a blessing upon the fruits of the earth. 6. For the success of our endeavors for the reformation of manners, the suppression of vice and profaneness, and the support of religion and virtue, and the bringing of them into reputation. 7. For the healing of our unhappy divisions, and the making up of our breaches. 8. For victory and success against our enemies abroad, that seek our ruin. 9. For our President, that God will protect his person, preserve his health, and continue his life and government as a public blessing. 10. For the President’s cabinet, the Senators and Congressmen, the ambassadors and envoys abroad, and all that are employed in the conduct of public affairs. 11. For the judicial system, especially the judges, public prosecutors and defenders, and all those is the profession of law. 12. For all the ministers of God's holy word and sacraments. 13. For the universities, colleges, and schools of learning. 14. For the all people of the land, and especially the downcast.”

Clearly, there is much to pray for concerning our nation. “Lord, bless our country” falls far short of the specific intercessions that we ought to be lifting up in her behalf. So perhaps these petitions suggested by Matthew Henry along time ago, will aid you in your prayers for the United States (or, for those readers of the First Epistle living in other lands, for the nation of your sojourn). Indeed, they may bring to mind other things that we need to pray for as we lift up our land before the Lord’s throne of grace. Lord, revive our land and protect her!
Happy Independence Day to you all.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Let us Love and Sing and Wonder"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 22
“Let us Love and Sing and Wonder”
First Published: June 4, 1998

This Sunday, as we enter our summer months, we will begin to sing a new Hymn of the Month: “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” (Trinity Hymnal, 172) by John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”). This hymn is set to a vigorous and joyful tune called “All Saints Old.” Many of you will immediately recognize the melody, and even if you don’t you’ll find it easy to pick up.

The first four stanzas are an exhortation from one believer to others to consider the gracious work of God and to respond accordingly. The first stanza calls on us to “love and sing and wonder” at the work of the Lord Jesus who has “hushed the law’s loud thunder.” That is, he has quenched the penalty of the Law, which we deserved, by his death on the cross. The final thought of this opening line is that Jesus “has brought us nigh to God” — a theme that will be repeated throughout the hymn in different language.

The second stanza now takes up the first of stanza one’s three imperatives: “Let us love.” Here we are focused on the blessed task of displaying our love for Christ. Five things are then mentioned to supply clear motivation for our appreciation of him: (1) he pitied us when we were still his enemies [Romans 5:8]; (2) he graciously called us to salvation; (3) he taught us the truth, giving us the ability to understand; (4) he cleansed us by his blood; and (5) he “presents our souls to God.” No doubt, each of these thoughts are suitable for kindling our love for him.

Stanza three picks up on the second imperative of the song: “Let us sing.” This line asks us to sing to the Lord even in the midst of severe trials: “though fierce temptation threaten hard to bear us down.” How can one sing at such a time? Newton has an answer! “For the Lord, our strong salvation, holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown.” Indeed, we must sing because Jesus “soon will bring us home to God.” We, thus, persevere our trials with joy and song because of the future grace of victory and nearness to the Lord.

The fourth stanza then chimes in, calling on us to obey the third imperative: “Let us wonder.” That is, “let your minds reflect upon God, his truth, and his plan of salvation and be in utter awe of what he has done.” What thought provokes this awe? The thought that in God’s way of redemption grace and justice work together to secure our salvation. God, in his grace, freely saves us by his mercy as we trust in Christ. Simultaneously, he saves us by his justice, in meting out upon his own beloved Son the precise punishment due to us. Hence, “when through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more.” What a phrase! This leads us to wonder at the awesome goodness and wisdom and love of the one who “has secured our way to God.”

Finally, in the fifth stanza, we begin with a new exhortation Let us praise,” but this stanza ends with a direct address to the Lord Jesus “You have washed us with your blood; you are worthy, Lamb of God.” Here Newton calls us to “join the chorus of the saints enthroned on high.” Why? Because they trusted in Jesus here, before we ever arrived on the scene and now they are praising him in heaven. Thus, they move us to hope for the day when we will join them, and to praise the Lord now in anticipation of that future blessing.

I suspect that this hymn will become one of our congregation’s favorites. The combination of an excellent tune and its exalted themes is hard to match. May we sing it heartily unto the Lord.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Arise, My Soul, Arise"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 18
“Arise, My Soul, Arise”
First Published: May 7, 1998

Our Hymn of the Month for May is “Arise, My Soul, Arise” (Trinity Hymnal, 508) This is one of Charles Wesley’s many fine hymns. He was, of course, younger brother of the famous John Wesley and the author of numerous familiar and beloved songs in our hymnal (such as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” “Rejoice, the Lord Is King,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Soldiers of Christ Arise,” and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”).

Though the Wesleys were not particularly fond of Calvinistic doctrine (Charles, for instance, actually wrote hymns against the Calvinistic teaching on predestination!), many of their hymns are filled with what we would immediately identify as Presbyterian views of God’s sovereign and free grace (for instance, who can imagine a more beautiful poetic expression of a Reformed view of God’s sovereign effectual calling than is contained in the fourth stanza of “And Can It Be”?). And so we Presbyterians can heartily join in with the Wesleys in so many of their beautiful expressions of praise to our loving and triune God. “Arise, My Soul, Arise” is such a song.

This hymn celebrates Christ’s priestly work and heavenly intercession, and especially the assurance that flows from it to the believer. The first stanza bids the believer to “shake off your guilty fears” because “before the throne my Surety stands” and “my name is written on his hands.” This language powerfully reminds the Christian of the basis of our acceptance before God and the certainty of our pardon—it is the Lord Christ who is our Surety, our guarantor!

The second stanza prompts us to reflect upon the fact that he is interceding for us now at the Right Hand of the Almighty and that he has finally atoned for people from every tribe and tongue and nation. Indeed, the third stanza picks up with this thought and declares to us that the wounds he received on the Cross make Christ’s intercession effectual, powerful, efficacious, even binding! He says: “Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary; they pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me. ‘Forgive him, O forgive,’ they cry, ‘nor let that ransomed sinner die.’” What a tremendous testimony to the basis of Christian assurance.

The last stanza of the hymn joyously meditates on the reality that God, in Christ, has been reconciled to us, and thus “he owns me for his child, I can no longer fear.” It is this reality (our adoption) and our realization of it (the recognition that ‘I am his child’) that grounds our confidence to boldly approach the throne of grace.

May you sing this great hymn with exuberance and understanding this month. I am looking forward to singing it with you this Lord’s Day!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, January 11, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: In the Beginning: Issues in Genesis

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 15
“In the Beginning: Issues in Genesis”
First Published: April 16, 1998

This Sunday evening we will begin a study of the book of Genesis. It goes without saying that this book provides us with the foundational doctrines of the faith: without an understanding of Genesis you can’t adequately understand the New Testament. But it also provides us with precisely the truth we need both to combat the various non-Christian worldviews which now surround us, and to hold on to faith, morality, and sanity in a sea of relativism.

The teachings of the book of Genesis have been the occasion of much controversy in the last one hundred fifty years or so. The apparent conflict between Genesis and modern science has been a standard feature of the study of the book ever since the time of Charles Darwin. Does Genesis teach “special creation” ex nihilo (“out of nothing”)? Does it allow for some form of theistic evolution? How long were the days of Genesis 1? Was Adam a real person or a symbol? Were there human-like creatures prior to Adam and Eve? Can Genesis 1-2 be squared with modern physics’ and biology’s account of the earth’s origins? Can Genesis 1-2 be harmonized with current scientific anthropology’s account of human origins? Did death exist in the natural world before the fall? Did the human race descend from one stock and can the race be considered as a unity?

But scientific controversy is not the only sort which has accompanied the study of Genesis. Ever since the early liberal scholars began to discount Moses’s authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), a variety of assertions have been maintained. It is alleged that the “author” of the book (whoever he or she was!) was actually a rather bad editor, who had ineffectively performed a cut and paste operation on the numerous sources at hand. Thus Genesis, it is declared, is a patchwork of contradictory stories. Perhaps you remember hearing your college religion professor say that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two conflicting accounts of creation (you mean the editor somehow missed that?), or that Genesis comprises material from four major sources commonly known is J, E, D, and P (this view first developed when some bright spark noticed that there were different “names” for God used in different portions of the book, and thus deduced that this indicated different authors and theological traditions — don’t let these guys read than name on your social security card and compare it with the nicknames from your wife’s love notes to you or they’ll decide that you’re either two distinct people or a split personality!).

Then there are the theological battles that rage: what is the nature of the image of God in man taught in Genesis 1. What does Genesis have to say about male-female equality and role relations (is it, for instance, hopelessly patriarchal and chauvinistic?)? What about the origins of racial differences? Can they be traced to the mark of Cain, or the sin of Ham, or the incident at Babel? What about Noah’s flood? Was it world-wide?

These and many other issues connected with the early chapters of Genesis have occupied Christian reflection for many years now. We will not dodge these matters, but rather face them squarely, and at the same time set forth the groundwork of a Christian worldview. Indeed, we’re not going to sit back on our heels and merely defend the faith from all comers (After all, Spurgeon once said: “Defend the Bible? Why I rather defend a lion! Defend it? No. Let it loose!”), rather, we are are going to “let the truth loose.” I think you’ll find that truth exhilarating. Please join us (and bring a friend) as we begin this vital study in the substructure of the Gospel.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

[editorial note: these sermons are available to read or download HERE:]


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Looking Back: Breathtaking Decisions Conference

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 14
“Looking Back: Breathtaking Decisions Conference”
First Published: April 9, 1998

I have not yet had the opportunity to give you a report on our “Breathtaking Decisions” Conference (dealing with end-of-life issues and medical ethics) which was held on March 27, 28 and 29, so allow me to touch on some of the high-points here. First, the conference attendance was strong and varied. We had a large gathering of health professionals on Friday night and heard two outstanding lectures (one by Mark Ross, on Christ the Master Healer, and the other by Chris Hook, over-viewing the history of medical ethics and arguing for the significance of biblical truth for ethical medical practice).

Throughout the conference I noted that we had many non-First Presbyterian members present. Some were physicians and educators from Baptist, Methodist, St. Dominic’s, River Oaks, the VA and UMC. We also had educators from Mississippi College (School of Nursing and School of Law), Belhaven, Reformed Seminary in attendance. In addition, there were hospital administrators, nurses, and medical students there, along with many church members and lay people.

It would be impossible to do justice to the quality of the presentations by merely sharing a few words here, but I’ll share a few personal highlights. On Saturday morning at nine o’clock, Dr. Mark Ross gave a devastating critique of relativism. When he was done, it was very apparent that contemporary assertions that “all is relative” and that “there are no absolutes” are intellectually indefensible. This talk has far-reaching implications, and even if you are not interested in medical ethics it is especially relevant as we live in a time when many claim that they do not believe in “absolute truth.” Every parent and student in the congregation needs to here this lecture.

Dr. Chris Hook gave a moving and convincing presentation on physician-assisted suicide in the next plenary session. Many were stirred to tears by his powerful and pastoral message. I haven’t yet heard the tapes from all the “breakout sessions” but I attended Emily Thomas’ excellent talks on “talking to children who are dying” and “helping those who are grieving.” She masterfully handled these difficult subjects with poise and sensitivity. I know that many of us could benefit from further exposure to this important material. Nigel Cameron’s afternoon plenary on the Christian stake in medical ethics was superb. By this time, if anyone had come to the conference doubtful of the intellectual quality of the Christian contribution to the medical ethics debate — they were doubting no more. The theoretical issues addressed at the conference were done so by people with first order minds, while the practical presentations were consistently of high quality and usefulness.

Most of you were able to hear the Sunday morning classes, so I won’t review them here. I do want to encourage you, though, to purchase the set of tapes of the conference. You may do so by writing the First Presbyterian Church Tape Library (over eighty sets have already been ordered!). [editor's note: these may be ordered by emailing]

One last thing. Remember to come to the early service on Easter Sunday, if you are able. This will help us to more comfortably seat the many visitors who will attend the 11 o’clock service

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 13
“Come, Ye Faithful”
First Published: April 2, 1998

Our “Hymn of the Month” for April is familiar to many of you: “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” (Trinity Hymnal, 266). This Easter Hymn appeared in our old hymnal and was often sung by our congregation. The tune to which we will sing it was composed by Arthur Sullivan (who wrote the music to “Onward, Christian Soldiers”) and is called “St. Kevin.” The hymn’s author is the great John of Damascus — an important eighth-century Greek theologian. The hymn was translated last century by John Mason Neale and views the resurrection via the imagery of Israel’s Exodus and the Song of Moses (Exodus 15).

The opening stanza of the hymn presents us with a Christian interpretation of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. The line “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness” is simply a call for believers to lift up their voices in song, in a joyful outburst of praise for God’s grace in delivering us from bondage (a “strain” is “music” or “a tune” or “a lyric outpouring of eloquence”). In this stanza, Israel represents the Church, and the deliverance from Egypt stands for the Church’s deliverance from sin and death by the power of Christ’s resurrection. Just as God liberated Israel, so also has he freed his Church.

The second stanza directly applies this Old Testament picture to the resurrection of Christ. First, Christ’s resurrection is compared to sunrise: “Christ hath burst his prison, and from three days’ sleep in death, as sun hath risen” Then, Christ’s resurrection day, which we Presbyterians celebrate every Sunday (not just on Easter!), is called “the spring of souls.” That is, Christ’s resurrection is like the returning of Spring for our spirits, fast bound in the long, dark winter of sin.

Of the third stanza Albert Edward Bailey says: “This stanza tries to convey a sense of joy in the brightness of spring, the pageantry of the Easter ceremonial [of the Eastern Church] and the rejoicing throngs of Jerusalem, which city stands for the Church Universal. This kind of joy ought to characterize our hearts when we come in to worship — if we truly realize that we have been liberated by God’s grace from slavery to sin and that the Lord’s Day is the day the Lord has appointed for us corporately to express and experience that rejoicing.

The final stanza highlights the power of Christ’s resurrection by reminding us of the various factors arrayed against his rising: the gates of death, the tomb’s dark passage, the guards, the sealed stone, none of them could prevent his mighty resurrection! Indeed, he now spiritually stands among us every time we gather for worship in Spirit and in truth, even as he physically stood in the presence of his disciples in Luke 24:36. Thus the resurrected Savior dispenses his “own peace, which evermore passeth human knowing.”

May the Lord fill our hearts with such Easter joy, even as we sing this hymn Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, January 04, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 10
“Christ is Made the Sure Foundation”
First Published: March 12, 1998

This month’s “Hymn of the Month” is the majestic “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (Trinity Hymnal, 343). It is set to Henry Purcell’s glorious and joyful tune “Westminster Abbey” (and even if you don’t know that tune by name, you’ll feel like you’ve known it all your life when you hear it!). The hymn text itself comes from a very ancient Latin hymn translated by the famous John Mason Neale, and is focused on praise to God for his divine creation: the Church.

In the wake of our Missions Conference, this is an altogether suitable hymn of praise to lift up to our loving Heavenly Father. For as the task of missions is carried out, the family of God is being gathered in, and a gigantic celebration in glory is getting bigger. Imagine the joys and security and blessing of being a part of the body of Christ: the Church universal. That’s just what this song does. It is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Father for making us into His Church by the Son and through the Spirit.

The first stanza rivets our attention on the foundation of our salvation, of our inclusion in the Church: “Christ is made the sure foundation” -- the Lord Jesus himself! The rest of the stanza piles up accolades for the Captain of our salvation: he is the head of the Church, he is the cornerstone, he is chosen of the Lord, he is precious to the Father, he binds the Church together, he is our eternal helper and our only confidence. Now that’s something to sing about!

In the second stanza, our focus of praise shifts to consideration of the glorious task of the church: the eternal worship of our triune God. “All that dedicated city” (what a beautiful phrase), the hymnist says, is dearly loved of God on high and pours our perpetual songs to God the Trinity. The praise is still to God here, but the praise is thanking God for loving us as he does and for giving us the privilege of participating in eternally worshiping him.

The third stanza of the hymn is a petition. It pleads with God to come “to this temple” (the Church) and to bring with him his needed lovingkindness -- in order to graciously hear and answer our prayers, and to pour out his undeserved blessings on us. The phrase, the plea “thy fullest benediction shed within its walls alway” grips the heart even as we think of it.

The fourth stanza continues this petition, asking the Lord to “vouchsafe” (that is, to be gracious enough to grant) the prayers of his people as well as the blessed eternal promises which he has made to us for here and the hereafter. The final stanza breaks into an unrestrained doxology to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (which manages, impressively, in about sixteen words to stress in an orthodox manner the massive theological concepts of: the simultaneous threeness and oneness of God, the equal power of the persons of the Trinity, the identical glory of the persons of the Trinity, and their shared eternality.

As we sing together this month, perhaps the Lord will remind us of the glorious destiny to which he is calling us and all those who by grace respond to the free offer of the Gospel. May this stir us to greater involvement in missions and to greater love for the Lord.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan