Appropriating the Means of Grace | June 2020 Tabletalk

Now that it is the end of June I remember that I never did a post on this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine. “The Ordinary Means of Grace” is the theme this month, and once again the issue is filled with edifying articles centered on that subject.

Burk Parsons says this in part in his introduction to the issue:

When it comes to our worship of God, too many Christians think that it doesn’t really matter what we do or how we do it because our sovereign God can use any means to accomplish His ultimate purposes. That, however, does not justify our using means that God has not given us. Nevertheless, many Christians and many churches believe that we may use whatever cleverly devised means we invent to bring about our desired ends.

If we actually believe God is sovereign, we must trust His sovereignly appointed means to bring about His desired ends. The means that God has appointed for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace are what we call the ordinary means of grace—namely, the Word, prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and, necessarily joined to these, the church’s discipline and care of souls. These means are appointed by God, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and point us to Christ, and they sustain us and nourish us in our union with Christ as we rest in the sovereign ends of our triune God.

One of the featured articles is by Dr. Ryan McGraw, professor of systematic theology at Greenville Seminary. In “Appropriating the Means of Grace” he treats the necessity of our using God’s appointed means for our preservation in faith and growth in grace. At the outset he ties this use of God’s means to the church:

The means of grace highlight the necessity of the church in the Christian life. The Lord has not designed us to live the Christian life alone. It has been remarked that believers are like hot coals. Alone they go out, but together they fan into a flame. Public worship is the place where we enter into the special presence of the omnipresent God (Pss. 113:4; 139:7). When the Father gathers His family together, Christ speaks to them through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:11–17; Eph. 2:17) as we offer our prayers by the Spirit and enjoy God’s presence in the sacraments. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves (Heb. 10:25) means more than simply being with other Christians. The public assemblies of the church under its officers are where we receive means to sustain us in salvation. We must appropriate and use the means of grace by faith, preparing ourselves to receive them and studying their nature and use from Scripture.

And at the end of the article he shows what great things God accomplishes in our lives when we regularly use His appointed means:

…Just as we perish without food and water, we perish without receiving Christ as our spiritual food and drink (John 6:53). Though the means of grace are simple and at times seemingly unremarkable, God does great things through them. In our sanctification, we should expect slow and steady progress (most of the time). There are rarely quick fixes for sin, and giant leaps in sanctification are unusual. God delivers some people instantly from sins that are deeply set in their lives, but most of the time we need to fight to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). The triune God uses the means of grace to kill sin in us and to lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:3). Skipping church is like skipping meals. Each meal may not be spectacular, but all of them together keep us alive. We often do not learn how much we grow by the means of grace until we neglect or lose them.

The Lord uses the means of grace to nourish spiritual life in Christ. We should expect the Spirit to bless the Father’s chosen means by faith. We should prepare to receive the means of grace by study and meditation. We should trust in God to use means to bring us to the Savior rather than trusting in the means instead of the Savior. Let us look for the Lord in the means of grace to foster the work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope (1 Thess. 1:3) as we confidently endure to the end of our race (Heb. 12:1). Jesus is the pioneer and end of our faith, and He will place our feet in wide places (Ps. 31:8) as we use the means that He has appointed to walk with Him.

Good thoughts for us as we ponder our way in these spiritually dangerous times. Now as never before we need to be diligent in using God’s means of grace. For only by grace will we stand and persevere and thus enter our everlasting reward.

Source: Appropriating the Means of Grace | Tabletalk

Practicing Theological Humility – G. Ortlund

Some Christians are eager to defend sound doctrine. Well and good. But is the unity of the body of Christ one of those doctrines we jealously guard? The unity of the church is one the objects of Christ’s death (Eph. 2:14). This, as much as anything, is what the New Testament calls us to cherish and uphold. Therefore, our zeal for theology must never exceed our zeal for our actual brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be marked by love. We must, as my dad always puts it, pursue both gospel doctrine and gospel culture.1

In the New Testament, humility is the pathway to unity. For instance, Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians about “being of the same mind” (Phil. 2:2) is followed by his appeal to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), in imitation of Christ’s action toward them in the gospel (Phil. 2:5–11).

Or consider Paul’s appeal to unity in Romans 14. The presenting issue in this chapter is a conflict over Jewish food laws, but the principles Paul invokes could apply to many other issues as well. His overriding concern in this chapter is that the different convictions held by Roman Christians not be a source of division among them. Thus, the “strong” and the “weak” are called to mutual acceptance. Specifically, amid their differences of conscience, Paul calls them to be welcoming (Rom. 14:1), not to quarrel (Rom. 14:1), not to despise each other (Rom. 14:3), and not to pass judgment one another (Rom. 14:3, 13). Paul even calls the Romans to let go of their rights and adjust their practice in order not to violate the conscience of a brother: “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).

Today, as well, there are plenty of issues over which Christians will be tempted to quarrel, despise each other, and pass judgment on each other. Instead, we must resolve “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 14:13). Like Paul, we must even be willing to make sacrificial adjustments for the sake of our unity with others in the body of Christ. If maintaining the unity of the body of Christ is not costing you anything—if it doesn’t hurt—then you probably are not adjusting enough.

Paul grounds his appeal in Romans 14 in the fact that each person will stand before the judgment seat of Christ: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10). This is healthy to remember: we will give an account of our theological speech and conduct, no less than any other area of our life. When we are standing before the throne on judgment day, what battles will we look back on and be proud we fought? I suspect most of our Twitter debates will not be among them.

Friends, the unity of the church was so valuable to Jesus that he died for it. If we care about sound theology, let us care about unity as well.

Profitable counsel to consider and apply as found in the article “4 Ways to Practice Theological Humility” by Galvin Ortlund, which in turn is adapted from his new book Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Crossway, 2020).

Source: 4 Ways to Practice Theological Humility | Crossway Articles

Published in: on June 27, 2020 at 10:34 PM  Comments (3)  

The Dutch and the Founding of New (Amsterdam) York

island-center-world-shorto-2004One of my spring/summer reads is Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (Doubleday, 2004). I’ve often wanted to read more about the history of the Dutch settlers in the New World, and when this book was brought to my attention, I knew it was one I wanted to delve into.

It is a well written narrative, filled with fascinating details and interesting twists. It is based on a remarkable (and abundant!) set of Dutch records that surfaced in the State Library in Albany, New York and that are still being translated by 17th-century Dutch scholar Charles Gehring. It seems the common Dutch characteristics – hard work, cleanliness, strong faith (especially Calvinism), and a penchant for stubbornness and strife (persistence, perseverance?) – marked the early adventurers who signed on to go with Henry Hudson (think of Hudson Bay and the Hudson River) to settle on the island of Manhattan.

In the third chapter (“The Island”) Shorto speaks, for example, of a newlywed couple – Catalina Trico and Joris Rapalje, who having married in the Walloon Church in Amsterdam in January of 1624 at the ages of 18 and 19 respectively, set sail with Hudson for the New World. Here’s how he describes their adventure – and their influence:

Considering the stupendous dangers awaiting them, first at sea and then on arrival, it wasn’t a union a betting man would likely lay money on. And yet, sixty years later, when the English colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland were embroiled in a border dispute and needed evidence of ‘Christian’ occupation of certain lands along the eastern seaboard, the representatives of William Penn found an old woman to testify who was known to have been among the first European settlers. Catalina Trico, now in her eighties, was a widow, but she and Joris had had a long and fruitful marriage. The records of New Netherland show them among the first buyers of land in the wilderness of southern Manhattan, building two houses on Pearl Street steps away from the fort, obtaining a milk cow, borrowing money from the provincial government, moving their homestead to a large tract of farmland across the river in the new village of Breukelen [Brooklyn], and giving birth to and baptizing eleven children. Their first, Sarah, was considered the first European born in what would become New York (in 1656, at the age of thirty, she proclaimed herself ‘first born christian daughter of New Netherland’). She was born in 1625, and the same records duly show her marriage in 1639, to the overseer of a tobacco plantation in what would become Greenwich Village, and in turn, the birth of her eight children. Over the course of the brief life of New Netherland and into the history of New York the Rapalje children and their offspring would spread across the region. …Their descendants have been estimated at upwards of one million, and in the Hudson Valley town of Fishkill, New York, a lane called Rapalje Road is a quiet suburban testament to the endurance of a long-ago slapdash wedding of two young nobodies on the Amsterdam waterfront, which, as much as any political event, marked the beginning of the immigrant, stake-your-claim civilization not only of Mahattan but of America (pp.41-42).


Voices of Victory Road Trip

20200618_135630This past Thursday the Voices of Victory quartet along with our wives left West Michigan bright and early (3:30 a.m.!) for a concert trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Sioux Center, Iowa.

We ran into a powerful thunderstorm about an hour from Sioux Falls – the sky was amazing – and so was the sheets of rain!









Thursday night we did a concert in Heritage PRC in Sioux Falls, SD and had a nice crowd of people from the Siouxland area.

20200618_172632It was great being able to sing for a live audience again after so many missed opportunities (cancelled programs) during the COVID-19 lockdown. Thanks to all who came out for our concert – it was a wonderful night!


From there we went back east to Orange City where we are staying. Orange City has a strong Dutch background and its influence in found throughout the town – from the large windmill on its main street to the storefronts that all display Dutch architecture (besides all the Dutch-named businesses – The Netherlander Restaurant, The Dutch Inn, etc.).



On the street where our rental place is located is a home with a cool little library. And there is another one (sponsored by Pella Window Company) in the park where our outdoor concerts are being held in Sioux Center, Iowa.


We are in Sioux Center (Central Park) for the annual Hope Haven fundraiser. This event brings together groups from all over the Midwest to support the wonderful cause of Christian care for the developmentally disabled through Hope Haven. We are thrilled to be part of this event after a four-year hiatus.


Yes, this is our quartet!


If you are in the area, please come out and join us and the others for good gospel music in support of a great cause!





Published in: on June 20, 2020 at 1:41 PM  Leave a Comment  

A Reformed Commentary on the Pandemic of 2020 – June “Standard Bearer”

sb-logo-rfpaThe June issue of the Standard Bearer (produced only once per month in June, July, and August) is now out (in print and digital forms) and the editorial by Prof. B. Gritters is a timely commentary on the pandemic that continues to sweep the world and affect our lives in every aspect. Not one of us has been exempt from the effects of COVID-19, and the consequences of the dreaded virus are vast, touching our lives in ways we never could have imagined.

As Christians we view all of life – our trials too – through the lens of God’s Word, and because the Reformed faith is the clearest expression of the truths of the Christian gospel revealed in the Word, it is Reformed theology that presents the best commentary on what we are seeing and experiencing. This Prof. Gritters demonstrates in his article titled “Reformed theology’s commentary on the pandemic of 2020.” He states this in his opening comments:

What is written about the pandemic in the secular press these days is a mix of helpful comment and some very noxious propaganda. What is written in the Christian press is sometimes more helpful and is what this editorial wishes to be. Here, I propose that Reformed believers can look at the present crisis in the light of Reformed theology and take lessons from all six ‘chapters’ of Reformed doctrine. Let the breadth of our Reformed faith form our thinking about, and govern our reaction to, the present distresses.

And so he looks at the “present distresses” caused by the coronavirus under the headings of Theology (the doctrine of God), Anthropology (the doctrine of man), Christology (the doctrine of Christ), Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), and Eschatology (the doctrine of the last things – saved for the next editorial).

In this post, let’s take excerpts from two section – theology and soteriology – and listen and learn from the glorious truths of our Reformed faith as they shed light on the pandemic.

It is grievous to hear Christians deny the sovereign control of God over the pandemic. As one young writer recently pointed out on our Young Calvinists blog (, world-renown theologian, N.T. Wright, mocks the confession that Reformed believers make of the sovereign God who does His pleasure (Isa. 46:10) in the pandemic. Wright belittles “some Christians” who “like to think of God as above all that… in charge of everything…. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.” Rev. Wright does not believe the Scriptures, for “our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Wright cannot subscribe to our Belgic Confession that “nothing happens in this world without his [God’s] appointment” (Art. 12). Guilty as he is of the “damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance,” Wright does not have the “unspeakable consolation” that we Reformed Christians have. We confess that this sovereign God watches over us “with a paternal care.” So are we patient in today’s adversity? If we, Reformed believers, confess that in adversity the doctrine of providence makes us patient (Lord’s Day 10), are we being patient these days? Are we praying for patience? Are we “letting patience having her perfect work” (James 1:4)?


So the Reformed faith confesses in Lord’s Day 9, that God “will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.” At every baptism, Reformed believers confess in the Form for Baptism that our Father “averts all evil or turns it to our profit.”

One great profit is God’s sanctification of us. More and more we loosen our grip on earthly things and cling to God and heavenly things, think less of this life and more of the life to come, hate the sins that plague church and world and love truth and right. Less and less we have aspirations for this side of the grave; more and more we hope for heaven. In the body we groan, waiting for our final adoption, the redemption of our bodies. “We believe… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting!”

Are you living in that hope? Have I expressed that hope to others, to help them?

Merciful God, quicken our Christian hope and purify through these troubles!”

If you want another peek inside this issue, visit this blog post of the RFPA.

Being Protestant, Protesting Injustice, and Learning from John Bunyan

Teacher and author Douglas Bond had a significant post this week, pulling together thoughts about the ongoing protests against injustices in America, being a committed Protestant Christian, and his latest book project on John Bunyan. He has some powerful thoughts that help us evaluate the present crisis and keep proper perspective as believers.

Here are his opening paragraphs before he goes into some detail about his book on Bunyan. To finish reading his thoughts, visit the link at the end.

We’ve seen sustained protests in the streets of cities all across American, protests that have erupted into mayhem and violence, more evil, more injustice, and more death, including the death of a Black retired police officer, and a Black female on-duty police officer, both shot and killed by participants in the protests, ironically, protesting police violence against Black people.

I am unapologetically a Protestant Christian, finding my spiritual and theological roots in the Protestant Reformation. Did you notice the word protest in the word Protestant? In a fallen world filled with sin, falsehood, and injustice, there will be times when we must stand and protest. But when and how do Christians go about taking their stand, protesting against falsehood, injustice, and evil? I’ve been thinking a great deal about this in the last two months as I have been writing about the life of John Bunyan, a man who protested, took his stand against unjust laws and corrupt magistrates. What did he get for his protest? Threatened with deportation to the colonies or being stretched by the neck until dead. Determined to stop his unlicensed gospel preaching, his enemies unjustly threw him in jail for twelve long years.

Immersed in Bunyan’s history and life, as a writer the last seven weeks have been an absolute delight. I thought I loved John Bunyan before writing The Hobgoblins of John Bunyan, but now I love him to an incalculable degree. His entire life is an enactment of God’s way in the gospel: God chooses the foolish to confound the wise (I Cor 1), the younger brother over the elder, the things that are of no account and are mocked and scorned by the world–these are precious in the sight of our God and Savior.

That was Bunyan, a poor, peasant tinker, with little formal education, surrounded by the Puritan age, an age of great piety, of great learning and erudition, and of great literary accomplishment. And along comes humble Bunyan, his life transformed by the power of the gospel, and, undaunted, he preaches, and suffers, and writes, including penning the best-selling book of all time (next to the English Bible), never out of print since 1678 (ignore JK Rowling’s claim to have exceeded Bunyan; it took her seven books to his one; that’s not how it works).

Source: Being Protestant and Protesting Injustice

Summer Book/Reading Challenges


Perhaps you are aware that there are always good summer reading challenges offered at the beginning of the season, whether by schools, libraries, or local bookstores. Redeemed Reader just started one (unfortunately, it’s too late to register now, but you can still browse their special summer reading list), and local Christian bookstore Baker Book House has one running too – both for adults and for children.

Here’s the notice of the adult book-lover challenge:

This summer we created a reading challenge designed to help us all dive into new books!

Are you a Book Lover? Sign up for our Adult Summer Reading Challenge and challenge yourself this summer to step out of your reading comfort zone. When you sign up, you’ll receive our guide book, bi-weekly emails with the latest news and book recommendations, and more! At the end of the summer, each book you read will count as one entry in our enter-to-win book bundle prize for one lucky winner!

The children’s reading challenge is titled“Book to the Future” and carries this notice:

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is all about time travel! Take a trip with us through your favorite books to the Old Testament, Medieval times, the American Revolution, Jesus’ life, and the future!

Want to join us?

Sign up for this year’s Children’s Summer Reading Challenge! Once you sign up, make sure to download our guide book and get started reading!

Signing up helps you track your hours spent reading over the summer, stay tuned for the latest news and book recommendations, and enter to win an awesome book bundle at the end of the summer!

Our weekly emails will include a Bible Memory Verse for the summer, featured book deals, interesting facts, weekly challenges, and more!

Follow the links to register, or check out your own local bookstore and library – they are open in most places now!

Wherever you go this summer, remember to pack some books along – for yourself and for the children!

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 10:50 PM  Leave a Comment  

Voices of Victory Online Concert TONIGHT!


Don’t forget – TONIGHT is the Voices of Victory Online concert! Live-streamed from Grace PRC at 8 PM (EST).

We have been calling this our “Corona Concert” and we have been planning it for months (and back practicing for weeks!) because we wanted to perform a special live concert as a means of comforting and strengthening your faith and hope in these difficult times.

We will be singing many of our “classic” numbers (and some news ones, including a brand new one for the first time – “So Be It”!), specially selected for this night and this purpose (“Don’t Be Afraid,” “Be Thou Near to Me,” “Four Days Late,” “Little Is Much,” “Then Sings My Soul,” to name a few).

We will be joined by the (younger 🙂 ) quartet, One Accord who will perform four numbers between our two sets.We are delighted they can join us, as they too have been unable to perform any concerts of late.

So we hope you will take the time to join us – wherever you are (inside or outside!)  – for this special concert of comfort, peace, and hope, founded on the work of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Again, this live concert begins at 8 PM, Eastern Standard Time, from the sanctuary of Grace PRC. The concert will be live-streamed at We will be blessed by your “presence.”

Published in: on June 6, 2020 at 9:26 AM  Leave a Comment  

Similes and Metaphors – Word Wednesday Grammar Lesson

PowerWordsGood evening, grammar lovers! It has been some time since we had a “Word Wednesday” feature that also tied in with English grammar, and I think this “Blue Book” lesson on similes and metaphors serves that purpose well.

And, while we are at it, we can have a little fun with this lesson too. After all, grammar does not have to boring! Press on ahead with the lesson – and enjoy a good laugh at some bad examples of similes and metaphors!

Similes and Metaphors

A form of expression using like or as, in which one thing is compared to another which it only resembles in one or a small number of ways.

Her hair was like silk.
She sings like an angel.
He runs like a gazelle.
This meat is as dry as a bone.

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison.

He’s a tiger when he’s angry.
His brother is an Einstein.
Your room is a pigpen.
She is a walking dictionary.

According to the internet, English teachers from across the country can submit amusing similes and metaphors found in high school essays for an annual competition. We don’t know that such a competition really exists, but these samples, even if awful, are still creative.

1. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

2. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

3. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

4. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

5. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

6. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

7. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

8. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

9. Shots rang out, as shots are known to do.

10. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

Source: Similes and Metaphors – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on June 3, 2020 at 10:31 PM  Comments (2)