Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ.

slow reading clubAn alert (slow?!) reader in Illinois sent me this link yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, and it is a fine piece promoting quiet, slow reading. I thank Ted for pointing this out. By all means take the time today to read through this article and benefit from its wisdom. I have provided a few paragraphs below to get you started.

And may you find such peace and quiet for some slow reading today. And if not, make some time this week to do so. The benefits are tremendous!

And to my own reading club I say, “What if we tried this? Would it defeat our purpose?” Think about it. Maybe we need this to allow ourselves time to finish the books we assign ourselves! :)

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

…Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years.

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th grade academic achievements.

An Able and Faithful Ministry (4) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1In the past few weeks since the PRC Seminary opened its doors for another year of instruction, we have been examining the thoughts of Presbyterian pastor and Seminary professor (Princeton) Samuel Miller as contained in his address, “The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry”. This sermon was delivered on August 12, 1812 on the occasion of the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the new Princeton Seminary.

Last time we noted that in his last point on what the church can and ought to do to ensure “an able and faithful ministry” (namely, start its own Seminary school specifically for training pastors) Miller included some additional ideas which relate to why the church ought to have its own minister school. We quoted from that first paragraph last week, and this week we quote from the next.

I find this part striking also because Miller points to the importance of a library accessible to all the Seminary students, as a significant element in their development and preparation for the ministry. Here’s what he has to say:

Again, when the church herself takes the instruction of her candidates into her own hands, she can furnish a more extensive, accurate, and complete course of instruction than can be supposed to be, ordinarily, within the reach of detached individuals. In erecting and endowing a seminary, she can select the best instructors out of her whole body. She can give her pupils the benefit of the whole time, and the undivided exertions, of these instructors. Instead of having all the branches of knowledge, to which the theological student applies himself, taught by a single master, she can divide the task of instruction among several competent teachers, in such a manner as to admit of each doing full justice both to his pupils and himself.

She can form one ample library, by which a given number of students may be much better accommodated, when collected together, and having access to it in common, than if the same amount of books were divided into a corresponding number of smaller libraries. And she can digest, and gradually improve a system of instruction, which shall be the result of combined wisdom, learning, and experience. Whereas those candidates for the sacred office who commit themselves to the care of individual ministers, selected according to the convenience of the caprice of each pupil, must, in many cases, at least, be under the guidance of instructors who have neither the talents, the learning, nor the leisure to do them justice – and who have not even a tolerable collection of books to supply the lack of their own furniture as teachers.

The Congregational Prayer: Our Responsibility

StandardBearerFrom the September 15, 2014 issue of The Standard Bearer:

The congregation has great responsibility as well with regard to congregational prayer (After treating the duty of the pastor who leads the congregation in prayer. ~cjt). First of all, our responsibility is to pay attention and not let the mind wander in the prayer. Truly to be led in prayer is hard sometimes. The congregation is called to take the words that are being said and make them their own in the prayer – to enter into the prayer. The congregational prayer is not a time to sleep, or to daydream. It’s not break time where we check out. This service is meeting God face to face after all. Prayer must be offered from an attentive and pious heart as we make the prayer our own. Strange it must be to God that people are here to meet Him and then in prayer this one is thinking about football, and that one about what she has to get done tomorrow. It is a struggle, and all of us know is. It will help if we focus on what we are doing, communing with God Himself.

Besides this, the congregation must help the minister to know her struggles and difficulties and joys and praises. Especially the elders should speak to the minister of things he should pray for on behalf of the congregation. But there is a place, too, for the whole congregation to express needs and joys that the minister should bring before God in congregational prayer.

Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC), “The People of God Humbled and Healed: The Element of Prayer (8b)” in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”

Parachurches and Podcast Pastors – September “Tabletalk”

Historical and Theological Foundations by Keith Mathison | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Sept2014As we noted here last week, the September issue of Tabletalk is devoted to the theme of “The Church and the Parachurch”, a significant subject, to be sure. Above I have linked you to the second main article on this theme, written by Dr.Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You may not agree with Mathison’s historical and theological (Biblical) explanation for the rise of parachurch organizations, but it will make you think better about the relationship between the two and the purpose of them.

The article from which I wish to quote today, however, is John Piper’s, titled “The Podcast Pastor”. I will let you read his piece so that you may have an idea of what he refers to by this term, but pay attention to these words in defense of the traditional way to hear your pastor’s preaching – and appreciate him and the Word he brings each week!

Let me add two further considerations:

First, what we should desire from our pastor in his preaching is not mainly rhetorical or oratorical skill, but faithful explanation of God’s Word and application to our lives, especially the life we are living together right here in this church and city, making an impact on our specific community. So I say to every church member, value your pastor as the one who opens the Scriptures for you in your situation, in your community, in your web of relationships week in and week out. Support him in this.

Second, we need to acknowledge the huge importance of corporate worship, as a whole, in the life of a believer. Gathering with God’s people every week—gathering, not just putting on your headphones and listening to a worship song—to exalt Jesus together, and hear each other say great things about the One whom we love and cherish, is the way God means for us to thrive in relation to him. I have found this weekly rhythm of corporate communion with God essential to my faith over the last fifty years.

Preaching is essential to that corporate experience. Preaching is not after worship. It is worship. It is the pastor exulting over the truth of God’s Word. It is expository exultation. In other words, preaching is not an isolated moment of instruction, as if the service just switched from music to class. No, the service is worship from start to finish. We are going vertical from beginning to end, and we are connecting with God through prayers and communion and singing and giving and in the sermon. We are leaning on the pastor to draw us into his explanation and exultation over the Word of God as part of corporate worship. Podcasters cannot do this. If people only hear preaching outside the context of corporate worship, they are neglecting part of its life and its power.

J.Calvin on Psalm 148: “Nor are we to seek the cause… elsewhere than in the mere love of God.”

JCalvinPicAlso for our meditation on Psalm 148 today, we include these thoughts of John Calvin on the last verse, v.14. Here  he reflects on God’s particular blessing on His church in the midst of all His goodness on display in creation, a blessing that calls for our special praise. May his words also inspire us to bless the God Who has so richly blessed us by His grace in Christ Jesus.

14. And hath exalted the horn, etc. As we saw in the former Psalm, that the perfections of God are to be seen more conspicuously in the Church than in the constitution of the world at large, the Psalmist has added this sentence, as to the Church being protected by the divine hand, and armed with a power against all enemies which secures its safety in every danger.

By the horn, as is well known, is meant strength or dignity. Accordingly the Psalmist means that God’s blessing is apparent in his Church and among his chosen people, inasmuch as it only flourishes and is powerful through his strength. There is a tacit comparison implied between the Church of God and other hostile powers, for it needs divine guardianship as being exposed on all sides to attack. Hence the Psalmist infers that praise is to all the merciful ones of God, for they have ground given them in the singular goodness of his condescension both for self-congratulation and praise.

In calling the children of Israel a people near unto God, he reminds them of the gracious covenant which God made with Abraham. For how came the nearness, except in the way of God’s preferring an unknown despised stranger to all nations? Nor are we to seek the cause of the distinction elsewhere than in the mere love of God. Though all the world equally belongs to God, he graciously discovered himself to the children of Israel, and brought them near to him, strangers as they were from God, even as are the whole race of Adam.

Hence the words of Moses —

“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, and distributed the peoples, he stretched forth his line to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 32:8.)

He is to be considered, therefore, as pointing out the cause why God hath extended such signal blessings to a single people, and a people poor and despised — his adoption of them to himself.

The Death of His Saints

Psalm116-15With the sudden death of two, precious saints – one young (25), one middle aged (55) – in our PR Christian community in the past week, I find this “Grace Gems” devotional from yesterday very fitting – and very comforting to every child of God. May it speak peace to our hearts in the face of that fearful, yet defeated last enemy, death.

The death of His saints!

(Alexander Smellie, “The Secret Place” 1907)

“Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints!” Psalm 116:15

To me death has its unlovely aspects. I may be ready by God’s grace to meet it–and yet I recoil instinctively from the act of dying.
It seems unnatural.
It is usually attended by pain and suffering.
It is a farewell to dear and beloved associations.
It is a going out into an untrodden land.
I cannot coax myself to love the dreadful experience. And therefore I am glad to think that there is another side to the matter, and that to my Lord, my death is precious. And why should it be so?

Let me consider the name by which He calls me, and I shall begin to understand. “His saints!” That is His title for His sons and daughters, among whom I have been enrolled.
The people of His own purchased possession.
The redeemed people whom He has set apart for Himself.
He owns them in virtue of the stupendous price which He paid for them.
He has been at infinite pains to redeem and save and cleanse them.
Nothing which concerns them appears indifferent to Him.
The death of the humblest of them, is of stupendous moment in His sight.

Let me reflect, too, that death is one of the means His grace and power employ to uplift and crown me. It looks as though I scarcely could know God thoroughly, or confide in Him completely–until I learn to lean upon Him . . .
when heart and flesh faint and fail,
when the long and close fellowship of body and soul is sundered,
and when I pass forth alone into the mystery of unseen eternity.
Then He becomes more indispensable than ever. Then my trust must be simple and absolute. Then, when lover and friend are put far away, I cling to Him and refuse to let Him go. Death teaches us this perfection of dependence.

And let me predict to myself the future to which death is the doorway. I can scarcely imagine it . . .
its spotless holiness,
its unfathomable bliss,
its endless pleasures,
its divine love.

But He sees it clearly, and comprehends it in its breadth and length and depth and height. He is familiar . . .
with the flowers and fruits of His upper garden,
with the refreshment of the fourfold river,
with the music of the better country,
with the city’s foundations of gems, and its gates of pearl, and its streets of gold.

Is it a marvel that He should pronounce desirable and precious, that loosening and wrench from earth which liberates me for a Heaven like this?

When I think my Lord’s thoughts, I shall cease to be so afraid of death!

An Able and Faithful Ministry (3) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1For the last two weeks we have been taking a special look at the church’s calling to prepare men for the gospel ministry. We have been doing so in connecti0n with a sermon Presbyterian  pastor and theologian Samuel Miller delivered on the occasion of the the founding of Princeton Seminary, when its first professor was installed – Archibald Alexander, on August 12, 1812.

In the second half of that sermon Miller addressed the church specifically, asking “What are the means which the church is bound to employ, for providing such a ministry (i.e., an able and faithful ministry, the description of which makes up of the first part of this sermon)? We have given the first two parts to Miller’s answer to this question, and now today we provide the third.

There will be more to come, because, as I kept reading in this third part to his answer, I noted that Miller had some great things to communicate to the church – things which are just as relevant now as they were 202 years ago.

So, bear with me – and benefit from these wise words from a godly church father in the Reformed camp:

3. A further means which the Church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry is furnishing a seminary in which the candidates for this office may receive the most appropriate and complete instruction which she has it in her power to give. In vain are young men of fervent piety, and the best talents, sought after and discovered; and in vain are funds provided for their support, while preparing for the ministry, unless pure and ample fountains of knowledge are opened to them, and unless competent guides are assigned to direct them in drinking at those fountains. This, however, is so plain, so self-evident, that I need not enlarge upon its proof.

But then Miller brings up the criticism that perhaps the church doesn’t need her own school for training pastors (theological school or Seminary) but can make use of private instructors. Miller’s answer is varied and to the point. We will begin quoting his answer to this objection today and continue it, D.V., in the weeks ahead.

First, when the Church herself provides a seminary for the instruction of her own candidates for the ministry, she can at all times inspect and regulate the course of their education; can see that it is sound, thorough, and faithful; can direct and control the instructors; can correct such errors, and make such improvements in her plans of instruction, as the counsels of the whole body may discover. Whereas, if all is left to individual discretion, the preparation for the service of the Church may be in the highest degree defective, or ill judged, not to say unsound, without the Church being able effectually to interpose her correcting hand.

 

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | First Things

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | Articles | First Things.

FirstThings-Sept-Oct2014In the most recent issue of First Things (August-Sept., 2014; published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life and dominated by Roman Catholic thinkers and writers – a rather striking periodical for this article) Dr.Carl Trueman (professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia) has a powerful piece on “why Reformed Christianity provides the best basis for faith today”.

The article is titled “A Church for Exiles”, and as Trueman explains, the Reformed faith has all the history, doctrines, liturgy, fortitude and stamina to endure the present circumstances faced now by the church in America, namely, exile from the public square.

You may not agree with all that Trueman states here, but I find his thinking highly significant and relevant to our situation and much in line with our own “world and life view”. There is no idle talk of “cultural transformation” here, based on a “common” grace and common ground with the world. Rather, it is a call for the Reformed church to be solidly and plainly Reformed, as God has called her to be according to His Word.

I give you but a small part of Trueman’s article here; and I strongly urge you to read all of it at the “FT” link above.

 

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

…But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

…We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

The Blessing of Great Teachers – R.C. Sproul, September “Tabletalk”

The Blessing of Great Teachers by R.C. Sproul | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Sept2014Last week, with the outset of a new month, I began to use my September Tabletalk, reading the daily devotionals first (continuing with Romans 12). But yesterday I began to go over the featured articles in this issue, all on the intriguing theme of “The Church and the Parachurch”.

For those who may not be familiar with that term “parachurch”, it simply refers to ministries that function “alongside of” (para – from the Greek) the church. Ligonier Ministries is such an organization, as is the RFPA. But these two types of organizations have not always had a happy relationship nor a happy ending. The proper purposes of both and the tensions that can exist between them are openly treated in this issue.

If you wish to read the editor’s article introducing this subject – Burk Parson’s “Biblically Faithful” - visit the link provided. Same with the first feature article on the theme, “Defining Our Terms” by Jared C. Wilson. I read both of these yesterday and found them quite beneficial in the debate about the place and function of parachurch ministries.

But the article I wish to highlight this Monday is the one by Dr.R.C. Sproul (Sr.) under his rubric “Right Now Counts Forever” and carrying the above title – “The Blessing of Great Teachers”. I found this to be a significant article on the importance role that good (and great!) teachers play in our lives. With deep gratitude to God I can name the ones in my own education, including my dear parents.

I leave you with a portion of Sproul’s article, encouraging you to read the rest. And then, go and thank those great teachers in your own life, through whom you were deeply blessed.

It’s ultimately no surprise that great teachers produce other great teachers. That seems to be the way God has designed us. In Scripture, we are called again and again to be disciples, or more precisely, learners. We need teachers if we are to learn, and great teachers raise up great learners who can then go on to produce other great learners. Christ is our preeminent example of this. Because He was a great teacher, He knew what to do in order to take a ragtag bunch of fishermen, Zealots, and tax collectors, and make them into the most influential bunch of learners the world has ever known. From their ranks we have been blessed with great teachers—Matthew, John, Peter, and others whose work continues to impact the world to this day. Of course, these men were inspired by the Holy Spirit in a manner that other teachers aren’t. However, Christ’s use of them to make disciples of all nations remains a model of how great teachers produce other great teachers.

No matter how great our earthly teachers may be, they will err. We will have to weigh their words against the Spirit-inspired teachings of the Apostles and prophets. But we dare not think we can ever reach a point where we cannot benefit from the teaching of others. Great teachers who are faithful to God’s Word are a blessing to God’s church. He will use them to build us up so that we can build up others.

J.Calvin on Psalm 147: “…God will not suffer his work to fail.”

calvin-preaching-genevaFor our spiritual profit as we meditate on Psalm 147 today, we may also find edification and encouragement from these thoughts of John Calvin on v.2. This is a lengthy quote, but worth keeping together, since the entire section is of great instruction and comfort to us as church in this 21st century.

May this Reformer’s comments also serve to lead us to praise our God for His work in and with His church throughout her history, including in our day. May we too remember that “God will not suffer his work to fail.”

2. Jehovah building up, etc.

He begins with the special mercy of God towards his Church and people, in choosing to adopt one nation out of all others, and selecting a fixed place where his name might be called upon. When he is here called the builder of Jerusalem, the allusion is not so much to the outward form and structure, as to the spiritual worship of God. It is a common figure in treating of the Church to speak of it as a building or temple.

The meaning is, that the Church was not of human erection, but formed by the supernatural power of God; for it was from no dignity of the place itself that Jerusalem became the only habitation of God in our world, nor did it come to this honor by counsel, industry, effort or power of man, but because God was pleased to consecrate it to himself. He employed the labor and instrumentality of men indeed in erecting his sanctuary there, but this ought never to take from his grace, which alone distinguished the holy city from all others.

In calling God the former and architect of the Church, his object is to make us aware that by his power it remains in a firm condition, or is restored when in ruins. Hence he infers that it is in his power and arbitrament to gather those who have been dispersed.

Here the Psalmist would comfort those miserable exiles who had been scattered in various quarters, with the hope of being recovered from their dispersion, as God had not adopted them without a definite purpose into one body. As he had ordered his temple and altar to be erected at Jerusalem, and had fixed his seat there, the Psalmist would encourage the Jews who were exiles from their native country, to entertain good hope of a return, intimating that it was no less properly God’s work to raise up his Church when ruined and fallen down, than to found it at first.

It was not, therefore, the Psalmist’s object directly to celebrate the free mercy of God in the first institution of the Church, but to argue from its original, that God would not suffer his Church altogether to fall, having once founded it with the design of preserving it for ever; for he forsakes not the work of his own hands.

This comfort ought to be improved by ourselves at the present period, when we see the Church on every side so miserably rent asunder, leading us to hope that all the elect who have been adjoined to Christ’s body, will be gathered unto the unity of the faith, although now scattered like members torn from one another, and that the mutilated body of the Church, which is daily distracted, will be restored to its entireness; for God will not suffer his work to fail.

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