Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Dealing with what we don’t want to talk about

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Dealing with what we don’t want to talk about”
First Published: April 30, 2010

I am so appreciate of the hosts of folks who have encouraged me in the wake of the last Sunday’s sermon on the seventh commandment. To be quite honest, I approached that text with fear and trembling. It speaks to such important and hard and uncomfortable issues in our lives, I knew that it would be disturbing. But we are committed to God’s word here and integrity demanded that the difficult issues (and passages) not be ducked. Many of you have said that the Lord’s word ministered to you deeply, and for that I’m profoundly grateful.

Now I mentioned to you that I wanted to address seven areas of application of the commandment, but in both services we only got to application 3. I will come back to this subject matter again as we work through Exodus (fairly soon, actually), but I think that I will also do some reflection with you on these things in the First Epistle as well.

For one thing, today, I’m going to reveal to you all seven of the areas! I first made the point that the seventh commandment teaches us that as believers are to show covenant loyalty to God only, they are also to show sexual loyalty to their spouse/future spouse. The inclusion of this command in the ten words makes perfect sense. Sexual infidelity is a perennial problem and it relates to covenant loyalty. Marriage is a covenant and therefore all sexual sin is a violation of that covenant. When we say “adultery” we mean especially “any sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his/her spouse.” “Fornication,” on the other hand, is “sexual relations between the unmarried.” Both are condemned by Christ in his interpretation of this command, and so it is clear that the Bible prohibits all extra-marital or pre-marital sexual relations. The point being made here is fundamental: sex is to be tied to a covenant commitment. There is to be no sex apart from commitment. God has so designed us that there should be no sexual intimacy apart from the attendant covenantal commitments. Furthermore, we emphasized that sexual purity is an expression of love for/loyalty to God, as well as for our spouse/future spouse, see Psalm 51:4 and 1 Cor 7:4). There is a reason adultery is chosen by God as an image of what it means to be disloyal to him (see the OT prophetic writings)!

Second, I commented that as believers seek to be outwardly pure in their sexual life, so also they must strive to be inwardly pure. This is clear from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-30. Jesus’ exposition of the true meaning of the law here shows that, because the Law is Spiritual, the keeping of the Law is a matter of the heart. The requirements of the Law extend to our hearts, eyes and hands. Jesus is speaking here of sexual immorality of any sort, for instance, lustful viewing is eye-adultery. Men know exactly what Jesus means! But Jesus also characterizes this eye-adultery as heart-adultery. This is not a superficial or trifling sin.

Jesus’ prescription is shocking. Take drastic action in getting rid of whatever may be the conduit of temptation, he says. The present is not our only life. An eternal destiny awaits us in heaven or hell. Nothing, however pleasurable or satisfying at the moment should be allowed to doom us eternally. Sin must not be pampered or toyed with, but put to death (flung aside immediately and decisively). “Dillydallying is deadly.” The book, the pictures, the film, the web-site, the social tie, the baneful habit – must go.

What areas of application does this teaching have? Many. Many more than I list here. But seven were/are on my mind. Several crucial issues for our time: (1) Pornography: involves idolatry (divided heart), secrecy (divided life), and isolation (non-intimacy). This is a rampant problem. (2) Immodesty: if our clothing is provocative then we are inviting trouble upon ourselves and causing difficulty for our brothers. (3) Pre-marital sex: shows disloyalty to God, disloyalty to our future partner, and is a spiritual danger, as well as a physical danger. [I could have added in the issue of extra-marital sex]. (4) Homosexuality: whatever our society may say it is clearly out of accord with the Bible. Paul’s language of censure is drawn right from the law of Moses! (5) Pedophilia: now that homosexuality has been normalized, pedophilia will be next. Christians must engage the culture on this. (6) Unbiblical divorce: rampant in our community, reveals lack of commitment in our day and time. (7) Intra-marital Sexual Deprivation: see Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 7:3-5.

More on these things later.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Unconfessed

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Unconfessed Sin”
First Published: April 2, 2010

Derek Thomas’ last two Sunday evening sermons have been riveting and convicting. If you missed them, you’ll want the tapes. He probingly dealt with the issue of unconfessed, unrepented of, sin. A friend of mine recently sent me this quote from Jonathan Edwards which seems timely in light of Derek’s messages. “Sin is of a deceitful nature because, so far as it prevails, so far it gains the inclination and will, and that sways and biases the judgment. So far as any lust prevails, so far it biases the mind to approve of it. So far as any sin sways the inclination or will, so far that sin seems pleasing and prejudiced to think it is right. Hence when any lust has so gained upon a man as to get him into a sinful way or practice, having gained his will, it also prejudices his understanding. And the more irregular a man walks, the more will his mind probably be darkened and blinded because by so much the more does sin prevail.

“Hence many men who live in ways which are not agreeable to the rules of God’s Word, yet are not sensible of it. And it is a difficult thing to make them so because the same lust that leads them into that evil way blinds them in it. Thus, if a man goes on in a way of malice or envy, the more malice or envy prevails, the more will it blind his understanding to approve of it. The more a man hates his neighbor, the more he will be disposed to think that he has just cause to hate him, that his neighbor is hateful and deserves to be hated, and that it is not his duty to love him. So if a man lives in any way of lasciviousness, the more his impure lust prevails, the more sweet and pleasant will it make the sin appear, and so the more will he be disposed and prejudiced to think there is no evil in it.

“So the more a man lives in a way of covetousness, or the more inordinately he desires the profits of the world, the more will he think himself excusable in so doing, and the more will he think that he has a necessity of those things, and cannot do without them. And if they are necessary, then he is excusable for eagerly desiring them. The same might be shown of all the lusts which are in men’s hearts. By how much more they prevail, by so much more do they blind the mind and dispose the judgment to approve of them. All lusts are deceitful lusts. Ephesians 4:22: “That ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Even godly men may for a time be blinded and deluded by a lust, so far as to live in a way which is displeasing to God.

“The lusts of men’s hearts—prejudicing them in favor of sinful practices, to which those lusts tend, and in which they delight—stir up carnal reason, and put men, with all the subtlety of which they are capable, to invent pleas and arguments to justify such practices. When men are very strongly inclined and tempted to any wicked practice, and conscience troubles them about it, they will rack their brains to find out arguments to stop the mouth of conscience and make themselves believe that they may lawfully proceed in that practice.

“When men have entered upon an ill practice, and proceeded in it, then their self-love prejudices them to approve of it. Men do not love to condemn themselves. They are prejudiced in their own favor, and in favor of whatever is found in themselves. Hence they will find out good names, by which to call their evil dispositions and practices. They will make them virtuous, or at least will make them innocent. Their covetousness they will call prudence and diligence in business. If they rejoice at another’s calamity, they pretend it is because they hope it will do him good and will humble him. If they indulge in excessive drinking, it is because their constitutions require it. If they talk against and backbite their neighbor, they call it zeal against sin. It is because they would bear a testimony against such wickedness. If they set up their wills to oppose others in public affairs, then they call their willfulness conscience, or respect for the public good. Thus they find good names for all their evil ways.”

Convicting, eh?

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Questions a Daughter Wants to Ask Her Daddy

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Questions a Daughter Wants to Ask Her Daddy”
First Published: March 19, 2002

Moms, get you husbands to read this, especially if they have a teenage or college age daughter. Ken Canfield, who heads up the National Center for Fathering, recently met with a group of five collegian women to discuss their relationships with their fathers. He says “Though each of the five young women came from homes where their fathers were physically present during childhood, their comments revealed that they would like to take the relationships with their dads to a deeper level. At one point, I asked them what they would like to know from their fathers. They came up with a series of questions which, they admitted, they could never actually bring up with their dads, but which reveal that they are eager to connect with their dads in a deep and profound way.”

“Here are their top ten questions: (1) Dad, why don't you want to talk to me? (2) Why do you watch so much TV? (3) What do you want in your relationship with mom in the next twenty years? (4) How did you fall in love and how where you attracted to Mom? (5) Why didn't you teach me about your faith? (6) Are you hiding anything? (7) Why do you always have to be right? (8) What can you tell me about having a good relationship with a guy? (9) How deeply do men struggle with sexuality and pornography? (10) Why do guys have selective hearing?”

OK, Dad, have you ever had and are you now having discussions about these kinds of issues with your daughter? The greatest weapon for good you have in child-rearing is your relationship with your child. Use it!

Now to yet another topic. A number of our women have been involved in a book study, edited by our friend Phil Ryken, called The Communion of the Saints. I have been told by many of the participants that this study has been challenging and encouraging for them. A vigorous discussion on the nature of baptism was sparked by one of the books chapters, and I must say I was so proud of the careful discernment of our women on this issue that I could have popped.

Just the other day, a friend who has been part of this study wrote me an encouraging note about how this study had helped her in her appreciation of corporate worship. She said: “One of the things I have gotten from the book is the importance of worship. The book has forced us to deal with the elements of worship, now that we have been given a basis for understanding for what you do and why you do it week after week. Several of us in my group saw each other after the morning worship service on Sunday. We talked about how the worship service had been much more significant to us than before. The reading and preaching of the word, praying, the singing of psalms and hymns seemed to all take on new meaning and refreshment to our souls. How it works in us to create a people that loves Christ and loves His people as He loves them, sin and all is truly a mystery, but we know that God's means of grace does just that. I have been praying as Paul prayed with the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make our love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”

I can’t think of a better way to end this column this week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Highland Theological College

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Highland Theological College”
First Published: March 5, 2002

Many of you have become interested in the work of the Highland Theological College (HTC) in Scotland, a ministry supported by our congregation. Well, HTC has just celebrated another milestone in its development, with the opening of ‘The Alexander Murray Building’ on Friday 22nd February. The building was opened by Colin Mackay CBE, chairman of the UHI Millennium Institute (UHI) and an elder in St Vincent Street Free Church in Glasgow. In the evening, there was a Thanksgiving Service at which the preacher was a longstanding friend of the college, Sinclair Ferguson, minister of St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow. Apart from the blizzard outside, I am told, it was a tremendous day!

Having begun life in a hut in the grounds of a large college in Elgin in 1994, HTC moved to Dingwall, in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, in 1999. HTC purchased a large property consisting of two buildings linked together, a purpose-built office block dating from the 1960s and the most impressive former National Bank building, dating from 1837. The office block was refurbished immediately and has been in full use since HTC moved to Dingwall. Now the old bank building has been restored to its former glory.

HTC is reformed, evangelical and non-denominational. Among its governors and trustees are Eric Alexander, John Blanchard, Doug Kelly and myself. It is in the almost unique position of being an independent theological college with its own Board and yet, at the same time, one of the thirteen constituent academic partners of the UHI Millennium Institute. UHI is a federal, collegiate institution, which is en route to becoming ‘The University of the Highlands and Islands’, following its ‘designation’ by the Scottish Parliament in April 2001. Because of this unique status, most students pay no tuition fees, since UHI receives support from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

A great deal has been accomplished in the eight years of HTC’s existence. Students have come from Japan, Korea, the USA, Canada, Poland, Switzerland, Romania, Ukraine, Portugal, Australia and the Republic of Ireland as well as from all over the United Kingdom. Already a number of BA graduates are serving Christ in various parts of the world. One recent graduate has gone with his wife and young family as a missionary to the Comores Islands with Africa Inland Mission. Another has moved to Derbyshire to a post as a youth worker with a church there. Yet another has accepted a position with a Christian counseling service for alcoholics, while another has moved on to further training for the pastoral ministry of his denomination. Several have gone on to postgraduate studies.

The first PhD student to have been supervised to completion by HTC staff was our own Derek Thomas.

One of the most exciting aspects of belonging to UHI is the opportunity to deliver courses at a distance. Since UHI has academic partners literally all over Scotland, it has invested heavily in modern technology, not least in a wide-area network. This provides state of the art telephony, e-mail and video-conferencing facilities and access to web delivery for courses. HTC is at the forefront of these developments. Already, the first year of the BA degree in Theological Studies is available by web access and years two and three by distance learning. All full-time academic staff have completed a Learning to Teach On-Line course with Sheffield College in order to support this new mode of delivery.

HTC recognises that none of the above would have been possible but for the providential action of a gracious God, to whom they give all the glory and to whom they look for continued favour and blessing. If you’ve been a prayer supporter of this ministry, join me in praising God with them.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

[editorial note: you may visit their website here: http://www.htc.uhi.ac.uk/]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Let the Nations be Glad

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Let the Nations be Glad”
First Published: Feb 5, 2002

“Let the Nations Be Glad” is our Missions Conference theme this year, and last Sunday we paused to consider that theme in Psalm 67. That the nations would be blessed has been a central hope of the church ever since the covenant of grace was confirmed with Abraham. All the way back in Genesis the purpose of the believer is to glorify God by being a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2-3). The Prophets constantly long for the day when the Gentiles, the peoples, the nations of the earth, would come to Mt. Zion and worship the true and living God (e.g., Isaiah 11:9-10, 49:6, 60:1-3).

The Psalmists constantly sing of this hope and teach us to do so as well (e.g., Psalm 67:3-4). Jesus’ commission to his church, that we make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19) is, thus, rooted in this Old Testament hope. And so, having been saved by his love and grace, our heart’s desire becomes to see a day when the nations, all the nations, will revel in that same love and grace. In short, we want the nations to be glad, in and through a saving knowledge of him!

As we noted Sunday morning, Psalm 67 contains a thanksgiving, two petitions and an acknowledgment that would change your life if you would embrace them. Verses 1-3 show us that the Believer longs for God’s glory to be served through the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. “God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us – That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.” This is both a prayer of thanksgiving and petition that God’s blessing to his people would be for the sake of the peoples. Derek Kidner says: “If a psalm was ever written round the promises to Abraham that he would be both blessed and made a blessing, it could well have been such as this. The song begins at home, and returns to pause there a moment before the end; but its thought always flies to the distant peoples and to what awaits them when the blessing that has reached ‘us’ reaches all.” The initial prayer of the psalmist is one of adoration and thanksgiving, an expression of gratitude and dependence, but it overflows to petition, a prayer that God’s favor to his people would lead to his knowledge and salvation being experienced among and by the nations. This becomes a missionary petition and psalm. This is a great and daring prayer and petition that all the peoples would come to a saving knowledge of God and praise him! But all along the ultimate goal is God’s glory! God bless us, so that they will be blessed, so that you will be praised! My friends, until we are devoted to the cause of God’s glory, we’ll never have a zeal for missions.

Verses 4-5 remind us that the Believer longs for God’s glory to be served through the rejoicing of the nations over Him. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness And guide the nations on the earth. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.” This is a prayer that the nations would rejoice at God’s just judgment and sovereign providence. It asks the Lord to grant that the nations would rejoice at two doctrines that pagans usually hate: judgment and providence! Now the only way the nations will ever rejoice at those things is if they have bowed the knee to God and trusted Christ! But again, all of this is ultimately for God’s glory. We want his judgment and providence acknowledged. The ultimate reason for desiring the salvation of the nations is that God’s will, salvation, judgment and providence may get glory from the nations. The believer has a burning desire that God would be known and honored as he is!

Finally, in verses 6-7 we saw that the Believer longs for God’s glory to be served through the temporal blessings given to us. “The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us. God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” This is an acknowledgment that God’s temporal blessing of his people is unto the goal of his spiritual blessing of the peoples. We find ourselves here at the harvest. The farmer looks at his yield and thanks God and acknowledges that God gave it to him. But he does not stop there. He goes on to acknowledge that God gave it to him in order that all the peoples might know and fear and love God! Not simply does all you have come from him, but all you have is meant to serve his glory and spread it to earth’s end. This means viewing your resources as God’s for missions, because your chief goal and joy in life is to glorify him and see him glorified.

Join me in praying that these realities would become characteristic of us, here at First Presbyterian.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Being Circumspect in Dress

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Being Circumspect in Dress”
First Published: October 16, 2001

The spiritual welfare of our families is always on the minds of our staff and elders, and I pass along these two items for your edification in that area. The first piece has to do with an entrenched cultural myth (a myth that needs to be exploded for all of our good). The second treats a touchy issue that has hit home hard right in our own backyard. Read on.

First, regarding, self-esteem, many of you have heard of Ken Canfield of the National Center for Fathering. He recently sent out a newsletter in which he asked : “Can an enlarged self-esteem have negative effects on a child's behavior?” Then he commented: “That’s what Laura L. Smith and Charles H. Elliott assert in their recent book, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. They believe that ‘by bending over backwards to make kids feel good about themselves, educators, the media, and well-meaning parents have created a generation of hollow kids who lack the fundamental understanding of who they are and what they can accomplish.’ To support their claims, they point to these characteristics in ‘hollow kids’: (1) narcissistic behavior–which contributes to aggression, violence and delinquency; (2) a distorted self image–which leads to body piercing, tattoos, and anorexia; and (3) an insatiable quest to feel good–rooted in materialism, substance abuse and promiscuous sex. It’s time to challenge youth to take responsibility by ‘joining a cause, volunteering for service, and working hard during tough times.’”

Second, regarding modesty, I have been approached recently by a number of godly women in our congregation who have, independently of one another, expressed their concerns to me about the lack of modesty in the clothing of many of the girls and young women in our own church. Now, I realize that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but allow me to venture a few comments.

Current styles of dress are not exactly helping our young people in the direction of modesty. The headmaster of our Day School spoke to our Session Monday night and spoke in passing of the “Britney-ization” of our girls (referring to the famous pop icon, singer/dancer, and pin-up girl – Britney Spears). Of course, this is nothing new. Fashion has always posed certain challenges for Christians. However, we seem to be in a phase of particular, acute and widespread compromise.

I saw a column by Terry Johnson (Senior Minister of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia) a few weeks ago addressing this issue in his own congregation. He said: “I remember long ago reading Eric Segal’s description of the heroine in Love Story (through the thought of her ‘preppie’ suitor) that there had never seen so much as an additional button left unbuttoned on her blouse. This was Segal’s way of describing her modesty. She exposed nothing! Somehow I can’t imagine a novel today having such a line. Our culture is so far gone in the direction of immodesty that Jennifer (no puritan herself) seems quaint, almost Jane Austenish. The spandex revolution has taken its toll. In addition to shorts and skirts that are way too short (what’s wrong with the top of the knee?), and necklines that plunge way too low, we must now contend with tops and bottoms that are ridiculously too tight.”

Elisabeth Elliott has raised a timely point abut modesty in her newsletter. She quotes a letter from a listener: “Where are the men? Why are they so passive on this issue? I’m speaking particularly of husbands and fathers who allow their wives and daughters to appear publicly in an inappropriate and immodest fashion. This issue is close to my heart because we have been blessed with three sons and three daughters. My heart’s desire is to teach them the responsibility that goes with purity and abstinence, to appear and behave in such a way that God is honored. But what do we say to our children when many of the Christian girls they meet and with whom they interact do not practice modesty? Though they profess the name of Christ, their appearance certainly causes godly young men to strive valiantly with their thoughts. I thank God for a godly husband, who guards and gives guidance to our daughters and to me. May our children have the strength to respond in a godly way in spite of the tremendous pressures to compromise. I realize this is not a popular issue to talk about, but it is a concern that is close to my heart and I believe close to the heart of our Heavenly Father.” (From Gateway to Joy, May 24, 2001).

Brothers and sisters, let us strive to glorify God even in the way we dress.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Far from the Sermon on the Mount

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Far from the Sermon on the Mount”
First Published: September 25, 2001

Our hearts are still very much preoccupied with the situation that our nation is in. Many are calling this “America’s New War” and it may be just that. Whatever the case, this is a time for prayer and I want to urge you all not only to be faithful in your private and family prayer for our nation and its leaders, but also to gather with God’s people on Wednesday evenings at First Church for corporate prayer in the sanctuary.

If you haven’t been to prayer meeting in a while you may not know that attendance is at an historic high, and that the season of prayer of late has been rich. Many are talking aloud right now of our land experiencing something of a spiritual renewal. Whether that is the case or not, we certainly ought to be praying together for it. The role of prayer in the Christian life and the life of the Church cannot be over-stressed. We ought and need to be praying with one another. Now’s the time to renew your commitment to it. Perhaps God will use this general concern for our nation to draw us back to himself in prayer.

Derek Thomas’s Wednesday evening messages are incredibly timely. He’s teaching us through 1 Peter, a book that aims to help Christians under enormous burdens and trials. Come yourself and invite a friend. It will prove to be time well-spent.

Now during the last few days we have heard a lot of gibberish from the politically correct crowd about how all religions are the same, about how we all worship the same God but call him by different names (Jesus, Allah, etc.), and the like. The bottom line is that this is utter rubbish. A couple of comments are in order.

First, for instance, to tell an orthodox Muslim that he worships the Trinitarian God of Christianity but simply under a different name or in a different way would be, from his perspective, blasphemy against Allah. The Muslim believes Allah to be one, absolutely one, an undifferentiated monad. The Muslim also believes, because the infallible Mohammed told him to believe it, that the Christian is a polytheist (because of the doctrine of the Trinity). Thus, he is perfectly clear that he does not believe in the same God in whom you and I trust.

Second, this means that the way to engender peace and tolerance and mutual understanding amongst peoples of different religious backgrounds is NOT to claim that all the differences are superficial and that deep down we all agree. They are not and we do not. Rather, the way to peace and cooperation is to acknowledge the real and substantial differences between us at the outset, and then to identify common concerns and go from there.

By the way, this is a good time for Christians to start learning more about Islam, the second most popular religion in the world. Many pundits have devoted themselves to vindicating Islam from the aspersions of the terrorist activity of September 11, 2001. But there are didactic portions of the Qur’an that are hard to explain away: “Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors. Kill them wherever you find them...if they attack you put them to the sword...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme...If any one attacks you, attack him as he attacked you” (Sura 2:190-4). “Fight for the cause of Allah” (Sura 2: 244). “The true believers fight for the cause of Allah, but the infidels fight for idols. Fight then against the friends of Satan” (Sura 4: 76). “Allah has given those that fight with their goods and their persons a higher rank than those who stay at home. He has promised all a good reward; but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him...” (Sura 4: 96). “Unbelievers are those who declare: ‘Allah is the Messiah, the Son of Mary’” (Sura 5:17). “When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them...” (Sura 9: 5). “...[M]ake war on the leaders of unbelief...' (Sura 9: 12). “...the Christians say the Messiah is the son of Allah. Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. Allah confound them! How perverse they are! They worship...the Messiah the son of Mary, as gods besides Allah; though they were ordered to serve one God only. There is no god but Him. Exalted be He above those whom they deify beside Him!...It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true faith to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters may dislike it” (Sura 9: 30-3). “If you do not fight He will punish you sternly and replace you by other men...” (Sura 9:39). “Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah, with your wealth and your persons” (Sura 9: 41).

Needless to say, this is a far, far cry from the Sermon on the Mount!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Our God is Sovereign Still"

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Our God is Sovereign Still”
First Published: September 13, 2001

The phrase comes to mind: “a day that will live infamy.” The events of Tuesday morning have left us all befuddled, fearful, angry, longing for justice, but blindly flailing at faceless, nameless adversaries.

What shall we say to such things? Needless to say, our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones. Nothing can quench the pangs of their pain. And we marvel at the bravery of rescue workers. We seethe at the wickedness of such inhuman acts of violence. We contemplate what ought to be the strategic response of our nation and its allies. We speculate as to what will happen next and whether we will see justice done. And we ask hard questions like, how did our nation’s intelligence system fail to see this coming? Yes, I know we think all those things. But I meant something a little different. What do we, as Christians, say to all this? How do we process this biblically?

Well, the first thing is this – what a kind providence that here at First Presbyterian Church, God has had are hearts meditating, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, in Romans 8 and 9 over these past few months. No passage in all of the Bible could be more important for us to grasp at such a time as this. The truth of his sovereignty rings clearly in moments of crisis like these, and when it is heard, even “when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,” our “hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.” Thank God that he is Lord. He sits in heaven and laughs his enemies to scorn. He is the God of Hosts and mighty in battle. Don’t every let anyone tell you that Scripture is irrelevant. We know, now better than ever, from experience even, just how timely it is. Praise God for his sovereignty and Word.

Second, we remember the words of Moses “Lord, teach us to number our days.” Thousands of people went to work in New York and Washington on Tuesday who will never go home to their families again. Perhaps they thought of it as a day like any other day. But it wasn’t. Are we ready to meet our Maker? Or do we presume that life will just go on?

Finally, there’s the matter of the human heart. We live in a society and culture where the sense of sin has been lost. The educational elite of our land work hard to assure their students that “people are basically good.” But such a philosophy is as foolish as it looks in light of the unspeakable tragedy of September 11, 2001. People are (apart from grace) deep down, evil. We are, all of us, capable of cosmic treason. We need the Lord. Pray that some will learn that lesson even in this crisis – that God would use the wrath of men as a stratagem of grace.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Marital Devaluation

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Marital Devaluation”
First Published: August 16, 2001

A Couple of weeks ago, I shared with you some sobering statistics from William Bennett’s Index of Leading Cultural Indicators. On the heels of that comes more solemn news. George Barna’s email last week led with this headline “Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce.” The Barna report synopsis reads: “Two years ago we released a study showing that born again Christians actually had a slightly higher incidence of divorce than did non-Christians. This week's report, which focuses on cohabitation, marriage and divorce, shows that the numbers have evened out. Based on more than 7000 interviews conducted among adults in the past eighteen months, our latest report shows that:

  • The percentage of born again adults who have been married and divorced is now statistically equivalent to that among non-born again adults.
  • One-third of adults have co-habited – and those who have done so have a higher incidence of divorce.
  • Catholics are more likely than Protestants both to co-habit and to experience a divorce.

The complete report of Barna’s current analysis of cohabitation, marriage and divorce is now on his web site at .

I mentioned a few tapes to you last time, but didn’t get to tell you about an excellent set of tapes that I recently surveyed. This set, called “The Open View of God - A Critique,” tackles one of the major “new” heresies impacting evangelical churches. It was presented by Dr. Donald A. Carson (Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity International University) and Dr. Grant R. Osborne (Professor of New Testament, Trinity International University) at the Mid-Winter Evangelical Free Church of America Ministerial, in January 2001 at Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas. There are six messages in the series: 1. Preliminary Response: Bible (Don Carson); 2. Preliminary Response: Philosophical and Theological (Don Carson); 3. A Preliminary Response: Church Fathers and other Figures (Don Carson); 4. The Open God Versus the Bread of God (Don Carson); 5. An Arminian Confronts the Openness Debate (Grant Osborne); and 6. Portrait of a Limited God (Don Carson). Certainly our college and seminary students, and interns will be interested in this subject, but so will many others. Even Christianity Today has been promoting this new aberration, so we all need to be forewarned and forearmed. I’ve put this set in the library for circulation. Take advantage of the wonderful resource we have in this tape ministry.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, June 07, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Looking Back on Romans 8

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Looking Back on Romans 8”
First Published: August 9, 2001

I’ve been most encouraged by your comments on our studies of Romans 8. Many of you have been helped by God’s mighty message delivered through the pen of Paul. This Lord’s Day we will come to the final verses of that great chapter (35-39): “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The wonderful Scottish Paraphrase (which we learned last Sunday evening) renders this portion as follows: “Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love, Or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heav’n above? Let troubles rise, and terrors frown and days of darkness fall; Through him all dangers we’ll defy, and more than conquer all. Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway, Can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay. Each future period that will bless, as it has bless’d the past; He lov’d us from the first of time, he loves us to the last.” The words are beautiful, memorable and singable. We’ll sing them again on Sunday evening as a reinforcement of the truths we learn in the morning message.

Now, on August 19th, Lord willing, we will begin our series on Romans 9. This great chapter sets forth the Biblical doctrine of election in clear terms. This will be a challenging but interesting study for many of you. The next three chapters of the book deal with the Place of Israel in God’s Redemptive Purposes (9-11) and chapter 9 especially tackles the question – “But what about the Old Covenant Promises to Israel?” In other words, if God made saving promises to Abraham and his descendants, why weren’t more Jews in Paul’s day (and in ours) becoming Christians?

Paul tackles part of that question in Romans 9 by explaining to us the Bible’s teaching on election. Now, many people hate this doctrine and many are confused by it and many think that it’s impractical to even discuss (so many angels on a pin’s head). But Paul emphasizes it constantly and shows why it’s so important for healthy day-to-day Christian living. We’ll look at the following subjects in our study.
1. Paul’s heart for Israel (Is there a problem with God’s promises?) 9:1-5;
2. No, God’s promises have not failed (Because not all Israel is Israel!) 9:6-13;
3. But isn’t it unfair for God to choose some and not others? (No, because salvation isn’t about fairness, it’s about mercy!) 9:14-18;
4. But how can God condemn if we can’t resist his will? (Because he’s God and he has a plan to display his mercy) 9:19-23;
5. The Bible [Old Testament] taught both about the remnant of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles (Both of which demonstrate God’s electing love) 9:24-29;
6. Why, then, did Israel fail to obtain the promise? (Because Israel, by and large, rejected her own Messiah) 9:30-33.
I trust you will be helped in your faith as we study this important passage.

I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a number of tapes recently that I’d like to commend to you. The Council on Biblical Man/Womanhood sponsored a conference in Dallas, Texas last year and Bob Lepine spoke in one of the sessions on “The Husband as a Prophet, Priest and King.” Now, that may sound like the male chauvinist pig title of the year, but ladies – I guarantee you that you want your husbands to listen to this one! It’s in the Tape Library available for check-out.

I also heard two Center for Church Reform taped interviews, one with Jim Elliff and Don Whitney, conducted by Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker, and one with your truly and Michael Lawrence, also conducted by Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker. Modesty precludes me from extolling the virtues of the latter! You can get them both in the Church Library. More next time.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

[editorial note, the sermons may be found here, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/sermons/romans/romansvol3to4/]

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: A Tombstone Inscription

The Pastor’s Perspective
“A Tombstone Inscription”
First Published: July 24, 2001

I am very much looking forward to this coming Lord’s Day worship. Not only is it a “Baptism Sunday” – when we have the privilege of applying the covenant sign to the very youngest members of the covenant community, but also we have finally arrived at Romans 8:31-32 – one of my favorite passages in all of the Scriptures. I have been itching to proclaim it. Pray that God would open hearts to his Word and reveal the magnificence of his love.

While preparing for my new Wednesday evening series on “God and Things,” I came upon this quote in some old notes of mine. It comes from a tombstone in the Holyrood Abbey Church ruins, Edinburgh, Scotland. The inscription reads: “Here lies the body of THOMAS LOWES Esq., Late of Ridley Hall In the County of Northumberland.” It is followed by this poem:

One instance among thousands
Of the uncertainty of human life
And the instability of earthly possessions
And enjoyments.
Born to ample property
He for several years experienced
A distressing reverse of fortune
And no sooner was he restored to
His former affluence
Then it pleased Divine Providence
to withdraw this together with his life.
Be thou taught by this
To seek those riches which never can fail
And those pleasures
Which are at God's right hand
For evermore
The gracious gift of God
And to be enjoyed through faith
In JESUS CHRIST our Saviour.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: What happened to the Declaration of Independence?

The Pastor’s Perspective
“What happened to the Declaration of Independence?”
First Published: May 3, 2001

I just picked up a copy of Bob Cannada’s new book entitled America's Rule of Law. It is the distillation of literally years of reflection on the foundational problems relating to morality, law and government that we face as a nation. But more than that, it is a program for reform and renewal. I would encourage you to pick one up from the church bookstore and read it.

Why should you read it? Well, consider this. Mr. Cannada’s research has yielded the following: “Up until the latter part of the 19th Century, our nation and our government recognized and honored the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. This is demonstrated by the fact that during the 1860s it is clear that the principles of the Declaration were referred to and relied upon specifically the language ‘all men are created equal.’ Our government recognized and honored the fact that (1) all men are created, and (2) all men are created equal. There are no classes of people in America and all people are endowed with the same inalienable rights by their Creator .

But, “during the latter part of that century (1870 -1900), several different [incompatible] ‘theories’ entered into American society, including (1) the theory of evolution (there is no Creator), and (2) the concept of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that the ‘law’ is what the Supreme Court states it to be and that morals, ethics, and principles are not to be considered and have no part in determining the ‘law.’

So, “for the last 100 years, our government has been proceeding down the road of recognizing and honoring those ‘theories’ and other similar theories and ignoring the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Our government has now reached the point where it no longer recognizes or honors any moral truths or principles.” In other words, we are ipso facto committed to relativism in government.

Now, “the point has been reached where our ‘freedoms,’ including our ‘freedom of religion,’ are in serious jeopardy. We cannot expect a government that denies the existence of moral truths and principles to protect or secure our ‘freedoms,’ including our ‘freedom of religion,’ since our freedoms are [in fact] based upon the existence of transcendent moral truths and principles.”

The situation, in other words, is dire. What can we do? Cannada says this: “It is my hope and prayer that this book will alert you and others to the present situation and point the way to return the government to its foundation consisting of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Take up and read!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan