Edward Dering's Gospel Prayer

Edward Dering, an English Puritan who lived from 1540-1576, offered this prayer as a summary of the truth of the catechism he had written for the people of God during the days of Queen Elizabeth. It is rich in gospel experience, and keeps before our eyes those three most important realities: guilt, grace, and gratitude (or if you prefer your theology to start with the letter "R," ruin, redemption, and restoration). Use it as you prepare for worship on the Lord's Day!

O merciful and heavenly Father, since at every light occasion, I am withdrawn from your holy laws, to the vanities of this life, unto all sin and wickedness; I beseech you in mercy set before my eyes always the remembrance of your judgment seat, and my last end: whereby I may be daily stirred up to consider in what great danger I stand, through the horrible punishment due to my sins: that daily groaning under the burden of them, I may fly for succor to your beloved son Jesus Christ, who has fully paid, suffered & overcome the punishment due to them: and through the working of your holy Spirit in me, I may be fully assured in my soul and conscience, that the curse, condemnation, and death which these my sins deserve, is fully paid, suffered, and overcome in Christ, that his righteousness, obedience, and holiness is mine, and whatsoever he has wrought for man’s salvation is wholly mine.

Strengthen this faith in me daily more and more, that I may inwardly feel comfort and consolation in this, that I feel your holy Spirit bear record unto my spirit, that I am your child, grafted into the body of your Son, and made with him fellow heir of your everlasting kingdom. So work in me by your holy Spirit, that daily more and more I may feel sin die in me, that I do not delight therein, but daily may groan under the burden thereof, utterly hate, detest, and loath sin, set myself and all the powers of my soul and body against sin, and have my full delight, joy, comfort, and pleasure in those things which be agreeable to your will, that I may walk as becomes the Children of light, looking still for that good time, which it shall please you to call me to your everlasting kingdom, and joy eternal. This in mercy grant unto me for Jesus Christ’s sake, my only Lord and Savior, Amen.

The Rest of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

In Matthew 11:28-30 we read these amazing words of Jesus: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." What a glorious invitation! Invitations to great events or from remarkable people are treasured - and in these words God's Son bids us to come to Him. It is an invitation to be with Him, to be loved as His treasured possession. Do we slow down long enough to hear and accept the invitation, and to go to Him?

Notice first to whom this invitation is given: to the weary, the burdened, the anxious, the troubled - "all who labor and are heavy laden." Which of us does not qualify? All who feel upon our hearts the load, the weight of our own selfishness, our own pride, our own grieving of God, are invited to come. All who feel the load of the world's suffering and grief, the anxiousness of unknown days to come, the weight of a long standing unabating sorrow, the weight of our longings for the not-yet of God's providences, are invited to come. We who know these things in the depths of our heart are bid by the Son of God to fall upon His breast.

See secondly the promise to obtain: rest. Jesus declares, "I will give you rest...you will find rest for your souls." What a priceless promise and gift laid out for us! It is an ark of refuge for the weary, like Noah's ark for the dove. The Lord Jesus is our ark, our refuge, our rest. He promises us the rest of a real, personal, intimate, divine friendship of redeeming affection. He promises to love us utterly and unalterably!

Observe thirdly the means of the promised rest: we must take Jesus' yoke upon ourselves and learn of Him. Every other yoke about your heart - the lesser loves we foolishly crave - will make you even more weary. But Christ's yoke of free grace restores, enlivens, and lifts up. He calls us to yield our souls to His character and righteousness. His yoke is always in our favor and for our good.

Finally, note the way in which Jesus woos us to Himself: "For I am gentle and lowly in heart." How slow we are to believe this about our Savior! He who is the Sovereign King, is also gentle and humble of heart. This is the only place in Scripture where the "heart" of Christ is actually mentioned - and it is a gentle and a lowly heart.

So the question is before you: are you coming to Jesus for rest? Take heart, weary believer! Whoever comes to Jesus, He will in no way cast you out (John 6:37)! Come to Him this day and find rest for your souls!

Dear POPC, May I Encourage You?

It has been two full years since my wife and I arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, after spending the previous academic year in the greater Boston area during my first year of seminary at Gordon-Conwell. We came to Pear Orchard not just because of a job but because of the reputation of the church community. We went through a little bit of a tough season in Boston and what we desired most was to find spiritual refreshment in the means of grace among a loving and welcoming congregation. After two years, we have realized that we have found that in Pear Orchard.

One of the aspects that tend to stand out in Christians who believe in a robust and Reformed, biblical doctrine of sin is that of conviction. We are skilled in the art of finding out what is wrong about us. Yes, there are many ways in which we do not realize the extent in which our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9), but there is certainly a solid belief in the need to feel conviction. This often leads us to reflect critically and thoughtfully on how we do as a church. Are we welcoming to our visitors or are we stand-off-ish? Do we go out of our way to have deeper conversations with fringe attendees or do we stick to the typical, "How are you doing? I'm doing just fine; how about you?" type conversations?

I have heard many comments that sound like the following:

"We need to make sure we do _______ better."

"What we're really missing at POPC is _____."

"I think we are really slacking off in [insert this aspect of the church]."

While these are very helpful and needful reflections that we need to have as a congregation, we also need to remember to bring up that which we are doing well. It might be easier for me to do because of the fact that my wife and I are still relatively new to the Jackson-Ridgeland area. Although I surely consider this church "home", I also think I can still give helpful feedback as a newer member. There are plenty of times that Paul encourages his congregations as he writes to them. In his fantastic book, "The Heart is the Target," Murray Capill writes about the importance of encouraging people in our sermons and not merely exhorting, teaching, and convicting them. After commenting that "the greatest aid to progress is genuine encouragement," Capill says:

"If we take our lead from Paul, then, we will at times tell our congregation how much we love them and how we miss them when we are away; we will tell them of how encouraged we are by their gospel work and how thankful we are for their ministry; we will tell them about what we pray for them; we will tell them of ways in which we see them as wonderful examples to others; we will publicly praise God for them and for his work of grace among them."

So please, let me encourage you.

The moment that we stepped into the doors of POPC, the pastoral staff and congregation have bestowed upon us the type of hospitality that only grace-filled believers could exhibit. You did not know us or our families. We did not go to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Mississippi College, or [insert you college here] with any of you but you took us in as if we were closer than friends, as if we were family in Christ. We are not from Jackson or Mississippi but you welcomed us as citizens of a greater land. We came in as total strangers seeking refuge in Christ with a like-minded community.

We have been blown away at the frequent invitations from you for meals, Bible studies, and community. There have been gifts to help us move into Jackson and get settled in. There have been texts, calls, and emails that have encouraged us. There have been jokes, hugs, and prayers for us when we needed them. One would think that maybe this was merely a temporary welcome to us POPC and to the Jackson area, but we would find out over time that this was not the case. 

It seems to be that there is real fruit of the Spirit here at POPC. Genuine fruit is tested whenever visitors become members and regulars. Ever since we have become members and regulars, there has been no shortage in the amount of outreach that you have extended to us. There has been no "They have had enough of our love" attitude among you. Rather than your love having a big, bright, but short flame, your love to us has only steadily grown towards us. We do not feel like we have been kept at arms length but rather have been brought in as a father brings us his newborn child. 

Dear Pear Orchard, we have seen your love, your grace, your fervor, and your desire to grow. We have witnessed your zeal to welcome visitors. We have noticed your urgency to reflect the kingdom of heaven in its diversity. We hope you see them as well.

As an athlete who has been through two surgeries to repair bones and ligaments, it is often very difficult to see your own progression. Often times, it is the physical therapists and the surgeons who notice it in more detail as they examine you. I hope this is a helpful and encouraging perspective for you.

Do not lose your zeal. Do not fail to extend bread to the hungry. Do not give up on the wayward. Do not desert your prayer closets. Do not close your Bibles. Keep going. You are bearing fruit whether you realize it or not. Grace and I are not the only ones who notice your fruit. Often times when I am at the seminary, on youth retreats, or at conferences, we are not the only ones who brag about you but rather your reputation has extended further than we go and the people we meet praise God because of you. So please, keep standing out as Christians - people who love others in the name of Jesus. 

Coming to Jackson has been fresh balm to our souls. It has been cold water after a hot season. We have both been strengthened in the call to ministry and certainly the call to minister at POPC. Love begets love and that has certainly been the case here. Today is an age where we shy away from others when things get messy. We live as if others' mess is red paint and we only wear white shirts. You have witnessed our mess and have embraced us in response. We have been counseled, fed, taught, mentored, helped, supported, prayed for, and taken in. 

We are blessed to minister the gospel to you and be ministered to by you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Let us keep this as our motto. Let it be a banner for us in the days to come. 

Dear Pear Orchard, please be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.

The Christian and the Tithe

This past Sunday evening we studied Malachi 3:7-12, the passage in which God through His prophet rebukes His people for their failure to give to Him tithes and offerings. It is perhaps hard to see what these words from the mid-400s B.C. have to do with how we spend our money today, so I want to reflect on and apply this passage to Christians living in the 21st century. First, the text:

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi calls God's people to repent in regard to their breaking the 8th commandment - but notice that he accuses them of stealing, not from man, but from God Himself, by bringing less than the full tithe into the temple storehouse. There is much in these verses, but several things stand out:

1. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and withholding it from Him is robbing Him. A tithe is a tenth part of our income. For the Israelites, an agricultural people, this meant that they tithed seed, fruit, wine, oil, vegetables, oxen, cows, sheep (they would just line them up and count them, and every tenth one would be the Lord’s, no matter if it was the best or the worst – Lev. 27:30ff.; see Jer. 33:13). Today, as our economy has changed, we tithe money, not goods or produce. But why did God command the tithe? He did it to remind His people that all of our wealth comes from Him and is given to us as a stewardship – just as He sets one day in seven apart to remind us that all our time is His. The tithe and the Sabbath day are His in a special way, they are set apart/holy to Him. Israel was called to repent of robbing God and keeping for themselves what was rightfully His.

2. The tithe was for the provision of the work and worship of God, “so that there might be food in God’s house.” In Numbers 18, God commands that the tithe is to go to the Levites, and they in turn would tithe the tithe to the priests. The Levites had no inheritance in the Promised Land, so the rest of the people were to provide for them. God had the people of God provide for those who led the people in worship and taught them, so that the priests and Levites could devote themselves to God’s work without distraction (see Nehemiah 13:10ff.!). Israel was called to repent of keeping from the work and worship of God what was necessary for its maintenance – and the existence of a “storehouse” (a savings account) was not to stop them from making their tithes and contributions.

3. Even in the Old Covenant, the tithe was just the beginning. Israel was expected to bring tithes and contributions. A "contribution" or "offering" was a general term ranging in meaning from the tithe itself (Num. 18:24) to the part of the tithe set apart for the priest (Num. 18:26) to the offering for the priest's consecration (Exo. 25:2), to offerings for the building of the tabernacle (Exo. 25:2). It was sometimes a commanded offering, and sometimes a voluntary contribution to the Lord. So even in the days of Moses, the tithe was only a starting point for giving to the Lord. And if that was the case in the Old Covenant, how much more under the New Covenant!

It’s sometimes said that the tithe was merely a part of the Mosaic ceremonial law, no longer binding on believers after the coming of Jesus, in the New Covenant. But the first instance we see of tithing in the Bible is Abraham, who gave to Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High (Gen. 14:18-20). The OT also records Jacob as saying that he would give a tenth to God (Gen. 28:22). From the beginning of God’s people, giving a tenth to God has been a part of worship.

So often, people go to the NT and say, “See, it doesn’t say anything about tithing there.” I disagree: There are two passages that I believe clearly carry the tithe commandment into the new covenant: Matt. 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” And I Cor. 9:13-14, in which Paul argues for paying pastors on the basis of the OT principle that the tithe should provide for the needs of those teach and labor for the Lord as a vocation. Now, someone may raise the objection, "But doesn’t Paul say in II Cor. 8:8, 'I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.'? And doesn’t he say in II Corinthains 9:7, 'Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'?" Yes, but II Corinthians 8-9 refer to a voluntary collection that he was making for the poor saints in Jerusalem; it’s an offering over and above the tithe given for the sustenance of the ministry in Corinth, as opposed to the obligatory tithe.

The reason you don’t see a lot about the tithe in the NT is because in large part the NT presupposed the tithe. And it urges Christians to be even more generous than the tithe, and even more generous than the saints in the Old Covenant. When I hear people ask, “Is the standard of giving in the NT still the tithe?” (isn’t it interesting that those who ask this are almost never looking for an excuse to give more than the tithe), my answer is, “Of course! And even in the OT they gave more than the tithe!” But my answer is also, “Of course not! Our standard is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!” II Cor. 9:8 tells us that the Xn’s motivation and model for giving is the sacrifice of Jesus – “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Does it make any sense to think that the standard of giving after Jesus’ death would decrease from what it was before His death?

What we see in the New Testament is that the better we understand the gospel, the more generous we shall be – like Jesus, we will become poor that others may become rich. God doesn’t merely want your tithe – that’s the minimum for us like it was for OT saints – He wants your heart, your generosity and sacrifice. If you aren’t tithing, you are robbing God. God’s word to you is clear: repent! Return, humbly confessing your sin and asking God to change your heart and your financial habits. And see that repentance must start with at least a tithe.

R.C. Sproul tells of a denominational stewardship program that prompted "the crisis that awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers." The program was based on the theme, "Take a Step Toward Tithing." The idea was simple: if a person was currently giving 1% of their income they were urged to increase it to 2%, and so on down the line. Sproul said to my ministerial comrades, "I can't implement this program." Some said, "Why not? It sounds like a practical way to get people to move in the right direction in a less than severely painful way." He objected on the grounds that the program contained two serious errors: 1) it made tithing an ideal that only super-committed Christians ever reach, a zenith point of sacrificial giving; 2) it gave the tacit blessing of the church to people robbing God. It was like saying "Last year you robbed God of 9% of what you owe Him. This year please rob the Deity of merely 8%."

God expects His people to continue to tithe in the New Covenant. But we must never forget that it is possible to tithe and still be robbing God. Consider: the Pharisees tithed too – but they were unconverted, and didn’t care about the poor and needy. Their giving was all external formalism and hypocrisy; they didn’t give God their heart. You can tithe and not be converted. In addition, for some of His people, 10% isn’t much of a sacrifice. You don’t really start to feel the pinch. The question to ask is, What percentage of my income is a sacrifice? Give that. Saying to God, “Okay, here’s my 10 percent, and not a penny more” is not an acceptable offering. So repentance will be costly. Some Christians will have to sacrifice just to get to the minimum that God requires of His people. There will have to be a change in our standard of living. For increasing our giving may well mean decreasing spending somewhere else. Yet God is faithful and will work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure; as Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:8, 11, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having a sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…[Y]ou will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”

I haven't answered every question about tithing, or even about Malachi 3:7-12. Yet I pray that what I have written will spur you on to love and good deeds. May the Lord enable us to give generously, sacrificially, and obediently!


Some reasons why Christians struggle to talk about Jesus

In a recent Barna survey, adults in the US were asked why they don't more often about their faith. Here's a summary of what they found:

People who don’t talk very often about faith offer different reasons, but most of these fall into two broad categories: avoidance and ambivalence. For instance, the two avoidant responses (among the top four) given for not engaging in conversations are: “Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments” (28%) and “I’m put off by how religion has been politicized” (17%). The other two responses indicate ambivalence: “I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics” (23%) and “I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics” (17%). Here’s the full list of options:

  • Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments: 28%
  • I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics: 23%
  • I’m put off by how religion has been politicized: 17%
  • I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics: 17%
  • I don’t want to be known as a religious person: 7%
  • I don’t know how to talk about religious or spiritual topics without sounding weird: 6%
  • I’m afraid people will see me as a fanatic or extremist: 5%
  • I’m embarrassed by the way religious language has been used in popular culture: 5%
  • I’ve been hurt by religious conversations in the past: 4%
  • Religious language and jargon feels cheesy or outdated: 4%

This survey interviewed people of both religious (and irreligious) backgrounds, so the answers are reflective even of the opinions of Christians. What about you? Are you ambivalent about sharing the gospel of Jesus and talking about your faith in Him? Are do you seek to avoid it because of what it has led to in the past or might lead to in the future? In I Peter 3:15, Christ calls us to set Him apart as Lord in our hearts (this eradicates ambivalence reasons), and to be ready at all times to give an answer for the hope that is in us, with gentleness and respect (this knocks the legs out from under avoidance reasons). We must be bold and tender, direct and wise, initiating and responsive. Pray the Lord would give you open doors and an open mouth to speak about your love for the one who loved you and gave Himself up for you on the cross!

Should Kids Have a Smartphone?

The following video is a re-post from The Gospel Coalition website that features Russell Moore, Scott Sauls (PCA), and Trevin Wax in a discussion about whether Christian parents should give their children a smartphone. These discussions can help us think about things that we normally do not think about and help us come to our own wise conclusions about what is most fitting for our children. 

The Significance of the Burial of Jesus

This past Sunday I preached from John 19:38-20:18, on the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want to comment on something I didn't speak to in my sermon: why is the burial of Jesus important to the Christian faith? Indeed, Paul declared that "He was buried" is one of the matters "of first importance" that he received and delivered to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

First, the burial of Jesus ensures that the resurrection of Jesus was just that: a resurrection from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus' body for burial, and buried Him in a new tomb, in which no other body had yet been laid (John 19:38-42). These men could testify that there was no life in the body they buried. He had not "swooned," lost consciousness, or fainted. He had truly died. Therefore, if in three days He were alive, the burial proved that He had risen from death to new life.

Second, the burial of Jesus was itself an aspect of His humiliation. The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 reminds us, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell." Jesus did not die and then immediately come back to life. His suffering and humiliation descended to the point of remaining under the power of death from Friday through Sunday. As the Westminster divines point out, one aspect of the meaning of the statement "He descended into hell" is clearly the separation of His body and soul in death. As Herman Bavinck puts it, "The state of death in which Christ entered when he died was as essentially a part of his humiliation as his spiritual suffering on the cross. In both together he completed his perfect obedience" (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, p. 417). Though Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:24-27, 31 assure us that Jesus did not see corruption, and His soul was not abandoned to Hades/Sheol (the state of death), yet it is great comfort to know that Jesus has experienced the whole measure of human suffering, even tasting the grave for a season - He fully bore the wages of sin.

Third, the burial of Jesus fulfilled Scripture, and the words of Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:9 declares that the grave of the Suffering Servant would be "with a rich man in his death" - fulfilled in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus taught that His death, burial and resurrection was foreshadowed by the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Had Jesus not been buried, He would have been proved wrong, or worse, a liar. But He was indeed in the heart of the earth; Scriptural typology, and Jesus' prophecy, were fulfilled.

To deny or ignore the burial of Jesus is certainly to deny or ignore a truth "of first importance" for Christians.

Tim Keller's Recent Witness Before the British Authorities

Tim Keller recently spoke at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in the Houses of Parliament in London, and in the words of one reviewer, he "provided a masterclass in gracious apologetics." If you want to see how to speak of Christ to a secular culture, watch this 25-minute video. Keller discusses the beneficial role of Christianity as salt in a non-Christian culture, challenging secularism to consider the contradictions within its worldview, and challenging Christians to be the saints God has called us to be so that we might serve the world around us and woo them to our Lord and Savior. Very much worth your time.

J. C. Ryle on the Solemnity of Funerals and the Goodness of the Body

"It is not for nothing that we are told so particularly about the burial of Christ. The true Christian need never be ashamed of regarding a funeral with peculiar reverence and solemnity. It is the body, which may be the instrument of committing the greatest sins, or of bringing the greatest glory to God. It is the body, which the eternal Son of God honored by dwelling in it for thirty and three years, and finally dying in our stead. It is the body, with which He rose again and ascended up into heaven. It is the body, in which He sits at the right hand of God, and represents us before the Father, as our Advocate and Priest. It is the body, which is now the temple of the Holy Ghost, while the believer lives. It is the body, which will rise again, when the last trumpet sounds, and, reunited to the soul, will live in heaven to all eternity. Surely, in the face of such facts as these, we never need suppose that reverence bestowed on the burial of the body is reverence thrown away."

-- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, p. 337


By Dr. Thomas Smyth, at the Installation of James Henley Thornwell & Francis P. Mullally in 1860

The very first thing I would impress upon you is, that in this eventful scene you are not spectators merely, but participants — not merely eye-witnesses to an interesting pageant, but partners to a solemn compact. The relations and responsibilities now constituted are mutual, and cannot be separated. Have these Brethren now become your pastors? — you have become their people. Are they under obligation to preach, to reprove, to rebuke, to make known God's will and your duty? — you are bound to hear, to obey, and to perform. Are they, in conscious impotence, to undertake a work

Which well might fill an angel’s heart,
And filled a Saviour's hands? —

they are to be strengthened with all might, obtained through your prayers on their behalf. Are they to give themselves wholly to the things which pertain to your spiritual welfare? — you are to provide all things needful for their temporal comforts; to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake; to count them worthy of an adequate and honorable maintenance; and to consider it a small thing to impart freely of your carnal things in return for their spiritual gifts.

You perceive, therefore, Brethren, that the solemnities of this occasion involve you not less than those who are set over you in the Lord. For weal or for woe you are now joined together. The relations and the responsibilities are mutual. You must be helpers or hinderers of each other’s prosperity and progress. Like priest like people, is not more true than like people like priest. It is in the power of any people to paralyze or to put life and energy into their pastor, and to make him not only a lovely song and as one that playeth well on an instrument, but the power of God and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of souls. And for all that they might do and ought to do, they must give account when they shall stand confronted at the bar of Him who judgeth righteous judgment.

May you so live and labour together as that this account shall be given with joy, and not with grief. Yours, I have said, is a model pulpit. May you be a model people. Model preaching will demand model practice, model piety, liberality and zealous devotion to every good cause. I congratulate you. Brethren, upon the present occasion and your future prospects. I rejoice with you in your joy. I remember your kindness to my youth, and your appreciation of my early ministrations, when you so cordially invited me to live and labour among you. Allow me, with all my heart, to pray that peace may be within your walls, and prosperity within your borders. May you go forward prospering and to prosper — a city set on a hill, a burning and a shining light, provoking all around you to love and liberality. May strength go out of this Zion, and may you arise and shine the glory of the Lord having arisen upon you.

This occasion must now close, but we who are now assembled must meet in review all the issues of this rehearsal. Oh, my friends, realize and lay to heart that hastening hour. Pray, oh, pray earnestly, that when pastors and people shall meet face to face, at that awful tribunal, instead of mutual upbraidings and reproaches — you accusing them of unfaithfulness or negligence, and they accusing you of coldness, formality, and refusal to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty — you may be able to congratulate each other; you blessing God for them as helpers of your faith, and they presenting you to God as their joy and crown of rejoicing.




Alex Wright

Have you ever had a friend come up to you, and begin telling you about a movie you are excited to see soon? What do we usually say? “Don’t spoil it for me!” Usually, we don’t want movie “spoilers.” A “spoiler” occurs when a friend tells us how a certain movie will end, much to our chagrin. However, there is one “spoiler” we should all be thankful for.

If you don’t want to know how the Christian life ends, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s too late, for “He is risen!” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate spoiler, because it tells us the end of the story, the story of all existence. More than that, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is, in many ways, the end of the story itself. Acts 2 tells us that these are the “latter days.” There is no more revelation from God, because all that God desired to do to redeem the universe has been completed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.

“But wait!” you may say. “We are still dying, wars are still fought, the environment is still deteriorating, sadness and fear are still present. How has the universe been redeemed?” This brings us to what theologians call the “already and not-yet” model for understanding the “latter days.”

Already Christ has been raised from the dead, the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep – but our own bodily resurrection is not yet.

Already the forces of Satan have been dealt the death blow – but his influence has not yet been overthrown.

Already our redemption has been accomplished – but we do not yet see its application thoroughly “worked through” the “dough” of creation. Geerhardus Vos was indeed right, when he says that we live in a world of “semi-futurities” (Vos, 43).

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, the end is already here, the Spirit has been poured out, and life everlasting is ours. The end is here, even if it isn’t here all the way. Because the end has arrived, this changes everything about our present lives. All of your life, every battle against sin, every deed of mercy, every relationship is meant by God to prepare you for life in his New Creation. This is why Paul will often pray that God would sanctify believers completely, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We are not sanctified ultimately for this present existence; we are being “fitted” for life in the New World! This is also why Paul will say that if there is no resurrection, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? Because if there is no resurrection, then life lived in this body is in vain, for God has always intended us to live on this earth, in this body, to give him glory. Without a physical resurrection, we are not able to glorify God as he intends!

How does the resurrection change the way we live our lives now? Let me briefly give you two ways:

1) The resurrection teaches us to value life in this material world.

This world is indeed fallen, but it will not always be fallen. Remember what Paul says in Romans 8, how creation longs to be free of its bondage. Derek Thomas in his recently-published book, Heaven on Earth, reminds us that in its final form, heaven will be like this earth, only “renewed and more glorious!” (70). The New Creation will be like this earth, only freed from sin, and more glorious than we can imagine. Every good endeavor mankind pursues, the “glory of the nations” as Revelation calls it (Rev. 21:26) will be carried over into the New Creation, once Christ returns. When the earth is burned up, it will be a fire of purification, not of annihilation (2 Peter 3:10).

This changes how we view our work. If work is basically good, and God is glorified in it, then work is continued in the New Creation. Your current job is training you to work perfectly to God’s glory in the New World. This changes how we treat our bodies, and the bodies of others. If we are meant to live in bodies, even when Christ returns, how much more are we to treat our bodies well! Paul tells us that our bodies are united to Christ, even now (1 Corinthians 6). If our bodies will continue in the New Creation, this means that our neighbors’ bodies will as well. We therefore seek to preserve physical life as much as we can, because men and women are not just souls.

The implications could continue, but I encourage you to think of your own position.

2) The resurrection teaches us to hope

Second, the resurrection teaches us to persevere in hope while we suffer. This world will be redeemed, but the not yet of the latter days has not arrived. Sin is still present, our bodies still decay, and this “veil of tears” remains before our eyes. We groan, as cancer eats away at us, as our minds grow weak and memories fade. In the midst of all our suffering and sadness, we remember to hope. We hope because we know that we don’t suffer anything that a good resurrection can’t fix! One day, disease will be a memory. Loss of friends and family will be to us a shadow of the past, that fades instantly under the brightness of God’s glory.

In light of this, be encouraged, your labor in this life is not in vain! We are not “polishing brass on the Titanic.” This world is not going anywhere, even if the evil in it will be burned away like dross. The end has been “spoiled” for us, and we are all the more thankful for it.

I leave you with a quote from Martin Luther, that teaches us to keep near the finality of Jesus’ work: “Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back tomorrow.”


Caleb Cangelosi

In the next few weeks we will welcome Mr. Dean Williams to our pastoral staff at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. We have been praying for this day to come for years, and it is finally upon us! But how do we welcome him and his family well? Certainly there are physical, tangible acts of kindness and hospitality toward them in which we can participate, and I encourage you to see the bulletin announcement for more details. But I want to point out a less visible way that you can welcome Dean as your pastor and as a preacher of God’s word: by receiving the word of truth from his mouth in a proper manner.

Our Westminster Larger Catechism speaks beautifully to this point. Having asked and answered the question of how the Word of God is to be preached by those who are called thereunto (WLC #159), our fathers in the faith ask the logical next question: What is required of those that hear the Word preached? They answer: “It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” As you do these things each  time Pastor Dean walks into the pulpit or behind a podium, you will be giving him the very best welcome he could ask for.

Receive Pastor Dean’s teaching and preaching with diligence. In Proverbs 8:34 personified Wisdom declares, “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.” Preaching is the wisdom of God, and it conveys the wisdom of God – thus we are called to listen with eager anticipation to the words Pastor Dean proclaims, watching and waiting for the life-giving rain that will drop from his lips (cf. Deuteronomy 32:2). Attend diligently upon the corporate worship services of the church on the Lord’s Day, morning and evening. That is, make every effort to make it your unbreakable habit to sit under the preaching of the word each Sunday. Likewise, when present, strive to listen diligently. It is not easy to sustain prolonged attention to a 30-35 minute monologue, especially in our short-attention span culture. Your mind wanders to some difficult circumstance at home or work, children interrupt and distract, and Satan labors to keep the word from penetrating our minds and affections. We must therefore be diligent to focus, to engage, to interact internally with what we hear. For many, taking notes serves this purpose. For others, doodling does the trick. Whatever works for you, figure it out, and do it! Attend upon the preaching of the word with careful and persistent effort.

Accompany your diligence with preparation and prayer. Jesus calls us to “take care how [we] hear” (Luke 18:8), and one application of that command is forethought before listening to a sermon. This does not merely mean seeking to put aside temporal concerns so that you can pay attention without distraction; there is also a moral component to our preparation. Before Peter tells us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it [we] may grow up into salvation,” he commands us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (I Peter 2:1-2). We are to sit under Pastor Dean’s teaching, having repented of the sin we find in our hearts, and ready to respond to the word we hear with further repentance, embrace of hard truths, and new zealous obedience. Our preparation must also include prayer: prayer for yourself as a hearer, and prayer for Pastor Dean as a preacher. As those who are recovering from spiritual blindness, we constantly need to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Pray for Pastor Dean, “that words may be given to [him] in opening [his] mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). As you read the Scriptures, be on the lookout for verses to pray as you prepare to hear God’s word preached.

As you listen to the preaching of the word, you must “examine what [you] hear by the Scriptures.” There is certainly an unbiblical way to be critical of a sermon – nitpicking style, mannerisms, turns of phrases, length, lack of illustrations you like, etc. – but there is also a biblical way to be critical. The Westminster divines were, of course, alluding to the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if the things they heard the apostle Paul preach were true. All God’s people are to be Bereans. Just because pastors have been to seminary and have been called by God to preach does not mean that everything we say is infallible. The people of God have a responsibility to compare Scripture with Scripture, to take everything Pastor Dean says back to the Scriptures, to ensure it is faithful and true. If so, then it must be accepted as God’s truth; if not, then it must be rejected.

To welcome Pastor Dean well, I also encourage you to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God.” If the word is not received with faith, it will not profit you to hear it preached (Hebrews 4:2). If you do not love the truth, you cannot be saved (II Thessalonians 2:10). James calls on us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The eagerness and readiness of mind that marked the Bereans must mark our hearing of the word as well – ready to receive the truth, ready to study the truth by the Scriptures, and ready to believe and live in light of what we have found to be in line with God’s word. For when the word of God is proclaimed, it is to be received as the very word of God, not merely the word of some particular man (I Thessalonians 2:13).

Finally, to welcome Pastor Dean well, you must hear his preaching and teaching, and “meditate, and confer of it; hide it in [your] hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in [our] lives.” These words remind us that there is both an individual and corporate duty that we have after we have heard the word preached. Individually, we are to meditate upon what we have heard, hiding it in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). We are to let God’s word “sink into our ears” (Luke 9:44), giving earnest heed and paying close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Hebrews 2:1). One way to do this is to repeat to yourself the sermon outline during the day on Sunday and aim to remember at least one key application from each point. It helps, however, if you don’t only try to do this alone, but with other people. We must confer of it – that is, discuss it with other people. We see the disciples doing this on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus doing it with them (Luke 24:14), and God commands parents to do this with their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). In both of these duties, the individual and the corporate, our goal is to bear much by the Spirit’s power. This is the mark of the good soil (Luke 8:15), that we “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

I know that Pastor Dean and his family are excited about getting here, and we likewise are eager for him to arrive. I trust you will welcome him with true Mississippi hospitality, in love and generosity. But more importantly, will you receive the words from his lips in the manner our fathers in the faith have described, according to the Scriptures?



Contrary to popular opinion, fun has a price tag attached to it. Sometimes it’s fun to go get a milkshake for under $5. Maybe there’s a movie you’ve been wanting to watch; when it’s finally released, you get a group of friends to go watch it for just $10. Money buys happiness in these scenarios, and it’s pretty cheap.

Perhaps you’ve saved up some money, and you take a road trip with some friends to go see an awesome concert. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime and the tickets, gasoline, and hotel end up costing each individual just $500. This fun is a little pricier, but you still purchased it with money.

For my tenth anniversary, my wife and I traveled Northern California. We saved up for years, and we were able to get some airline miles and deals on hotels, but the price tag at the end of the trip didn’t matter. To this day, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It created countless memories that drew me closer to my wife. It was an adventure, to say the least, and money made it a possibility.

Is travel your idea of fun? Whether it’s Hawaii or Scotland, money will get you there. Are you into entertainment? Whether it’s a movie night at home or traveling to a Hollywood premier, it’s going to take some cash. Maybe you follow an NFL team and want to go cheer them on; you better have something in the bank account.

What’s the Deal?

Why have so many people perpetuated the saying, Money can’t buy happiness, when I have clearly demonstrated otherwise? Money can buy happiness…lots and lots of happiness. Whether it’s an experience with friends and family or viewing beautiful sights around the world, money is the common denominator required.

It’s easy to see that ultimately other humans make these events what they are. While it certainly would be unique to have a private concert in your living room, sharing a concert with others makes it beautiful (not to mention the fact that a private concert still includes members of the band so you’d be sharing it with them). It would be amazing to travel the world, but I think it would be a little less amazing to do that alone.

As I said, I absolutely loved traveling Northern California, but it would have been a sad trip to be there without my wife. In fact, having her there made the trip as special as it was. Being moved to tears by a family of deer crossing in front of the backdrop of Yosemite was a taste of heaven. But viewing all of that while holding my wife’s hand makes it a memory etched on my heart forever.

Money can buy happiness to an extent, but sharing it with others puts the exclamation points on those experiences.

God Has Expensive Taste

Here’s what Christians know to be true – God made all things. And since God made all things, his fingerprints are on every square inch of creation. Often theologians refer to this as common grace in creation. That is, what is true, beautiful, and good can be enjoyed by the atheist and the Christian. Believers are moved by breathtaking landscapes just as unbelievers are.

What’s interesting about price-tags is that humans determine those. Delta Airlines sets the price of a ticket to Australia. U2’s agent establishes a price for their concerts. The NFL, NBA, & MLB set the price for fans to attend the games.

Buying a milkshake is definitely cheaper than flying across the globe, but they’re both fun. The price we attach to each one is ultimately pointing to the Creator. God has placed value upon creation with his fingerprints, and the monetary value we attach to it affirms that reality.

Maybe a different example will help. Running a stop sign and murder are both illegal. Murder, however, has a greater punishment attached to it. The reason for this is because humans are created in the image of God. Humanity realizes this truth, and the greater punishment affirms the value God places on humans as his image bearers.

Similarly, more expensive experiences typically affirm the greater beauty. Regardless of the price-tag, attaching monetary value to anything is one way of affirming what is true, beautiful, and good.

Maybe we could say that money does indeed buy happiness, but God created all that exists, even the emotion of happiness. Therefore, we shouldn’t worship money – just like we shouldn’t worship any of the created experiences we mentioned – we should worship the One who created all that has been, all that is, and all that will be.



We are deeply impressed with a sense of the obligation laid upon the church by her great Head to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” and the consequent claims which the various Pagan, Mohommedan [Muslim], Jewish and Papal nations of the earth have upon the church for the blessings of a pure gospel; feeling too that one of the great ends of the institution of the church was that she might in her collective organized strength, impart the knowledge of salvation to all the kindreds and peoples and tongues among men, and that so far as it has been revealed to men that there can be no salvation for the heathen without such knowledge; remembering also the many tokens of divine favor bestowed upon the efforts of Southern Christians while laboring in connection with the Presbyterian Church of the United States, and that an important portion of that work in the Providence of God had been laid upon their shoulders even before they had a distinct ecclesiastical organization of their own; and in view of the further fact that God by his providence has for some years been removing the obstacles that have heretofore prevented the introduction of the gospel among the great heathen nations of the earth, and has at the same time bestowed upon the Southern Church all the means and agents necessary for taking a large and distinguished share in the great work of evangelizing the nations…

The General Assembly desires distinctly and deliberately to inscribe on our church’s banner as she now first unfurls it to the world, in immediate connection with the Headship of her Lord, His last command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature;” regarding this as the great end of her organization, and obedience to it as the indispensable condition of her Lord’s promised presence, and as one great comprehensive object a proper conception of whose vast magnitude and grandeur is the only thing which in connection with the love of Christ can ever sufficiently arouse her energies and develop her resources, so as to cause her to carry on with the vigor and efficiency which true fealty to her Lord demands, whose other agencies necessary to her internal growth and home prosperity. The claims of this cause ought therefore to be kept constantly before the minds of our people and pressed upon their consciences – and every minister owes it to his people and to a perishing world to give such instruction on this subject as he is able; and to this end the monthly concert [of prayer] ought to be devoutly observed by every church on the first Sabbath of each month for the purpose of missionary instruction as well as prayer, and it would be well to accompany their prayers with their offerings. To the same end the Assembly earnest enjoins upon all our ministers and ruling elders and deacons and Sabbath school teachers, and especially upon parents, particular attention to our precious youth in training them to feel a deep interest in this work, and not only to form habits of systematic benevolence, but to feel and respond to the claims of Jesus upon them for personal service in the field. 


1. Pray for Open Doors – “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word…” (Colossians 4:2-3)

  • Pray that God will open doors of ministry, blessing partnerships and friendship
  • Pray that those who serve will be led by the Holy Spirit and recognize open-door opportunities
  • Pray that God will lead His people past barriers to hearts ready to receive His word

2. Pray for Boldness in Witness – “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19)

  • Pray that missionaries will have boldness to overcome the fear of embarrassment or failure
  • Pray that the Spirit will provide them with words that communicate effectively in other cultures and languages
  • Pray against evil forces that would seek to hinder the spread of the gospel

3. Pray that God’s Word Will Spread – “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified…” (II Thessalonians 3:1)

  • Pray for strength and stamina as missionaries encounter antagonistic spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:10-18)
  • Pray that people will resist Satan’s plans to obstruct the spread of the gospel (James 4:7)
  • Pray that God’s word will indeed spread rapidly and be honored where it goes

4. Pray for Protection – “…and pray that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.” (II Thessalonians 3:2)

  • Pray that God will keep Christian workers safe from those who seek to hurt them
  • Pray that God will change the hearts of those who are resistant to His Word

5. Pray for Their Ministry – “Pray…that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints…” (Romans 15:31)

  • Pray that the missionary’s ministry and attitude will be worthy of acceptance
  • Pray that colleagues and fellow believers will be supportive

6. Pray for God’s Guidance – “Pray…so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God…” (Romans 15:32)

  • Pray for clear guidance from God regarding travel decisions
  • Pray for necessary permissions to travel
  • Pray for protection and provision during their travels

7. Pray for Refreshment – “Pray that I may… find refreshing rest in your company.” (Romans 15:32)

  • Pray that God will provide opportunities for missionaries in lonely areas to spend time with other believers
  • Pray that God will provide times of peace and relaxation to refresh His workers
  • Pray that God will encourage missionaries with the knowledge that people back home care about their emotional well-being


A pastor’s confession: it is easier for me to preach the gospel publicly to hundreds of people than it is to talk about Jesus to one uninterested unbeliever. Perhaps you think, “I don’t feel comfortable doing either one!” And yet, while not everyone is called to preach to large groups of believers or unbelievers, all of us are responsible to speak a word for Jesus to the lost around us. Peter tells the church that every Christian must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). It’s not just commanded, but commended, as we see Christians (who were not apostles) being scattered by persecution, bringing the good news of the gospel to the lost (Acts 8:1, 4). Each one of us is to let our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) – and if words do not accompany our deeds, then how will the unbeliever ever know our Father in heaven to glorify Him?

I fear that many Christians assume that it’s only the preacher’s responsibility in the pulpit to talk to unbelievers about the gospel. To be sure, preachers are called to preach the gospel publicly in corporate worship, to the lost and to the found, since the word of God (particularly the preached word of God) is the means of regeneration and sanctification (I Peter 1:23-2:3). Paul assumes that unbelievers will be in the midst of corporate worship, and that the clear preaching of the word will in God’s providence convict them, call them to account, disclose the secrets of their hearts, and lead them to fall on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among us (I Corinthians 14:24-25). Yet how will unbelievers come into the corporate gatherings of the church? They may well walk in off the street, but it’s far more likely that they will come because of a relationship they already have with a believer, and because of conversations that believer has had with them about Jesus and about His church and/or His word.

So even with regard to the pastor’s task to be an evangelist and to proclaim publicly the truth of the gospel to the lost, we’re back to the individual Christian’s responsibility to be speaking a word for Jesus, to be wooing and attracting unbelievers, to be stirring up an interest in spiritual things, eternal things, raising the issues of holiness, sin, brokenness, redemption, hope, love and forgiveness found through faith in Jesus. Unless Christians are inviting unbelievers to hear the gospel preached in corporate worship, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that they will be there. Yes, there are unbelievers among the membership of the church, tares in the midst of the wheat, hypocrites who look like believers yet are not truly converted. But unchurched unbelievers have no reason to be at church unless they are invited – over and over and over again, in some situations.

Do you see the vital importance of individual Christian men and women and boys and girls speaking a word for Jesus, both directly (talking about the gospel with them) and indirectly (inviting them to a place where they will hear the gospel)? But this reality then raises the question of whether you intentionally spend time with unbelievers. In particular, do you pursue time with unchurched unbelievers? So often, Christians – especially those in the buckle of the Bible Belt – surround themselves only with other Christians, and distance themselves from unbelievers. Yet Jesus calls us to go into the world to bear witness about Him (John 17:18). We are not to cordon ourselves off from the world in a little holy huddle, but we are to mix and mingle and share life with those who do not know our Savior, so that we might be ambassadors for Jesus to them. I have felt that myself of late – my calling is to pastor the flock, yet if I don’t intentionally put myself around unbelievers, when will I have the opportunities to share the gospel to the lost outside the church?

As we conclude our Missions Festival this weekend, being challenged to go across the street and around the world, examine your life to see what changes you need to make in order to be around unbelievers so that you might have opportunities to speak a word for Jesus to them. Pray for boldness to take advantage of the open doors that the Lord gives you. Invite your friends to join you at our worship services. Pray for your preachers, that we might preach with an eye to the lost as well as the found, and proclaim a Savior who alone can save sinners from the penalty and power and presence of sin. And pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of the lost, so that we might see conversions.

The Gospel and the Incarnation, by William Swan Plumer

 “Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.

He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.

He suffered that they might reign.

He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.

He died that they might live.

He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.

He loved them that they might love God.


He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places.

He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.

He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.

He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.

He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.

He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savor to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.

He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God.

He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.

He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house.

He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.

He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.

He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.

He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.

He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.

He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.

Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.

He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.

He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.

He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.

He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.

He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord

He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.

He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.

Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.

He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.

His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.

For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.

He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.

He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.

Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.

Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things

Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”

-- From The Grace of Christ, by William Swan Plumer, chapter 21. Plumer was a 19th century American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, seminary professor, and prolific writer.


Teach Your Children the Twelve Truths of Christmas, by Dr. John Kwasny

Our children learn a whole lot about life during the Christmas season. They learn how to indulge themselves.  They learn how to be demanding and self-centered.  They learn works-righteousness from Santa (Good = presents; Bad = lump of coal). They learn that getting new stuff equals happiness. They learn the secret of discontentment.  They learn that our American economy is totally dependent on holiday consumer retail sales (okay, maybe only a few sharp ones...).  They are learning these lessons every year thanks to their own sinful hearts, Satan, and the world.

So that means Christian parents must be aggressive, winsome, and purposeful in the education of their children during the holidays.  By words and example, it is our duty as parents to train children to think rightly about God, the world, and ourselves.  So here’s my list of the “Twelve Truths of Christmas” for children (you may put them to music if you like... “On the first day of Christmas, my dear Savior gave to me, a heart of...”):

  1. Contentment.  We’ll start with possibly the hardest of all lessons: How do we fight against rampant discontentment in our children?  It’s taught primarily by what parents REFUSE to do--indulge their child’s every whim throughout the year.  If your children are getting whatever they want whenever they want it, then the sinful virus of discontentment will be at fever level at Christmas.
  2. Compassion.  Not just for all the poor children who don’t get presents at Christmas.  More importantly, teach your children to have true pity on all who make Christmas meaningless by removing Christ.  Our children should grieve for and pray for all their friends and family members who have rejected the Christ of Christmas.
  3. Joy. Presents bring happiness--usually very temporary happiness for our children.  Teach them that their joy can only be found in the Lord!
  4. Identity.  Even though Christmas is a fairly universal holiday, it is one that should only be enjoyed by Christians.  After all, what meaning has Jesus taking on human flesh unless you identify yourself with Christ?  Your children will either identify with the world or identify with their Savior every Christmas and all through the year.
  5. Sin.  Talking about sin on Christmas is borderline heresy!  But your children really need to have their sinful hearts poked during this time of year.  Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show them how they are thinking more about themselves than about Jesus or others.
  6. Grace. Santa Claus teaches what our sinful hearts want to hear--that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff.  It’s not good enough to teach your children that Santa isn’t real; you must debunk the lie that we can be good and that we deserve good things.  Show them Jesus, and teach them undeserved grace!
  7. Giving.  Yes, teach your children to give to others this Christmas.  And, yes, teach them how much better it is to give than receive.  Yet you must teach them how God so loved the world that HE GAVE His Son...or your children will become self-righteous in their giving.  We don’t want our children to think highly of their own benevolence when it is God who is the true Giver.
  8. Receiving. Christianity is first about receiving (on our side of things)--we receive grace, forgiveness, and salvation because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Children love to receive--it’s adults who are often too proud to receive well.  When your children receive a gift, train them to have hearts of gratitude towards all who give to them--because it is a reflection of how they receive Christ.
  9. Peace. The angels announced that the birth of Christ brings peace on earth.  The world defines peace as lack of war, conflict, or trouble.  True peace is a lack of hostility between God and man.  This is only possible in Christ, and it gives rest in even the most difficult of holidays.
  10. Love. This one’s obvious, right?  But does Christmas just naturally bring love out of our hearts?  While our children may not have to be taught affection for their family and friends, they need to learn how to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves.  This is only learned when the love of God dwells in their hearts.
  11. Faith.  We pray that God gives our children the grace of saving faith so they can put their trust in Christ.  Christmas can be a missed opportunity to talk with them about the nature of faith.  It’s not about being “good for goodness sake,” but rather resting in Christ alone for salvation.
  12. Life.  The world offers life in all the wrong places and through all the wrong things.  Christ is the giver or life.  Jesus was born in order to die for our eternal life.  Teach it over and over again to your children!

So even though your youngsters are out of school for Christmas break, remember that the School of Jesus never takes a holiday!


The Already and Not Yet of Christmas, by Mrs. Margaret Sprow

This Christmas, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those who were expectantly waiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. Simeon was one of those longing for the Messiah. In Luke 2:29-32 he exclaims as he holds Jesus in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). As Simeon longed to see the Messiah come, so we long for Christ’s second advent, when He returns in glory to usher in His kingdom. This tension between the already and the not yet is seen in the music we sing. 

The already:

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare him room

And heav’n and nature sing!


Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings

Ris’n with healing in his wings


And the not yet:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.


Come, thou long-expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee.

The centerpiece of our Lessons and Carols service this year is the first movement of John Rutter’s “Gloria” and is a majestic statement of the “already.” Rutter is a contemporary English composer who wrote this musical setting of the Latin Gloria in 1974. It features a brilliant brass accompaniment to this song of the angels. Indeed, as you listen, you can imagine the pageantry and the wonder of the angels’ praise as the shepherds stood transfixed in awe.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece is bookended by the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” set in a grand, contemporary style with lots of syncopation (stress on the weak beat) in the brass parts and much use of the big timpani drums.

Et in terra pax                                         And on earth peace

Hominibus bonae voluntatis                          To men of good will

The style abruptly changes with the text, “Et in terra pax” as we literally hear the peace in the gentle harmonies of the choir.

Laudamus te                                            We praise thee

Benedicimus te                                          We bless thee

Adoramus te                                            We worship thee

Glorificamus te                                          We glorify thee

The running continual eighth note accompaniment in this section is a musical allusion to our unending praise to God for the gift of His Son.

Gratias agimus tibi                        Thanks we give to thee

Propter magnam gloriam                  Because of Thy great glory

Big, thick, six and seven-part chords express thanks for the lavish abundance of God in the giving of His Son by whom we are filled with all the fullness of God.  The syncopated, accented brass accompaniment that reappears reminds me of the unexpected gifts and grace of God in the lives of His children.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece ends as it began, with a grand statement of praise to God, this time building in intensity as each voice part enters into the song of the ages, fitting for the angels to sing at Christ’s birth and fitting for us to sing as we celebrate His coming and look forward to His coming again. 

Teaching Children the Gospel Through Song, by Mrs. Liz Taylor

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I recently attended the Getty Sing! Conference in Nashville. One of my favorite sessions was on children and music, which inspired me to write about it. Both parents and the congregation take a vow to help raise covenant children in our church. Teaching our children about the Gospel through song is a viable way to saturate their minds with rich theology at a young age. If we do not teach our children what terms like grace, mercy, and righteousness mean beginning at a young age, they will view theological terms as abstract and devoid of meaning.

Instructing and passing on our knowledge to the next generation with a rich vocabulary about Christian faith is vital. Rehearsing and verbalizing the gospel with children strengthens a child’s foundation of faith. When we give children answers before the world does, this gives them a wonderful foundation of faith to build upon before the world begins to intervene and shape them. Teaching our children hymns through singing and playing recordings of different hymns are wonderful ways to incorporate hymns into daily life.

Why should we use singing to disciple little ones?

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Music is a way to call attention to the word of God. Singing hymns is a wonderful memory tool. Music helps children retain information in an easier way than memorizing text. When I was a little girl, I had the privilege of being taught many hymns by my parents and grandmothers. Many of the hymns are still in my memory from my childhood. Christian songs and hymns are a portable, practical, and enjoyable way to naturally dialogue about spiritual truths. This education of theologically-rich hymns gave me a wonderful foundation for my faith, and will help our future generation when they are met with the world on a daily basis.

When should we use singing with our children or family?

We should sing with our children as much as possible. Another way to instill a love for hymns is through playing recordings at home and in the car. You do not have to have musical ability to sing with your children. Have fun and make a joyful noise! Sing along to a recording if you need some assistance to get started. When children see and hear your love for something, they will imitate you. Making a short list of hymns you would like to sing with your children is a tangible way to learn a few at a time. For older children, it is a great idea to discuss lyrics and offer them to help lead in singing. There are a few different books that introduce the stories behind hymns: Hosanna Loud Hosannas, by David and Barbara Leeman, and Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, are two books that I have used.

Focusing on songs that our church sings is also a wonderful idea. Bulletins are usually posted on our website on Thursdays. That gives families several days to sing the hymns and songs for Sunday. Last year, we taught Cherub Choir “Nothing But the Blood”. When this hymn was used in a church service, I could see many little faces light up because they could participate in singing a hymn they knew. This allows the children to engage in worship and share in the joy of worshipping God in this way! Singing with our children is a way to connect with them. In circumstances like car rides, it is a valuable time to engage in conversation and singing with our children, being intentional about how we use those fleeting moments with them.

“May the Almighty God make you faithful in this important work of education: may he succeed your cares with his abundant graces, that the rising generation . . . may be a glory amongst the nations, a pattern to the Christian world, and a blessing to the earth.” – Isaac Watts on the importance of teaching children hymns