“The Morn of Song”

RPC

After several challenging years, the last twelve months being especially challenging because we did not have a pastor, our church (and I use that “our” to denote belonging, not ownership) unanimously has voted to call a pastor. I am truly excited about the future as this man is a Confessional Presbyterian who understands the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Pending approval by our Presbytery, he should be on the field within the next couple of months. I believe he will fit in well with something that I used to write in a letter to those who visited Reformed Presbyterian Church during my almost decade as an Associate Pastor:

RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

As I think back over the last year I am especially grateful to those who kept things going at RPC. I appreciate our Interim Pastor, John Wagner, who has stepped in and preached God’s Word faithfully and showed pastoral care to a hurting flock. I, also, appreciate those who filled the pulpit on Sundays before Pastor John arrived.

I appreciate the work of our ruling elders who had a difficult situation thrust upon them and worked diligently to hold things together, reading and answering numerous emails, phone calls, and questions. These are men who have families and real jobs in the real world, who sacrificially give of themselves to minister to the people of God. They are not perfect men, but they did the best job that they could do as they attempted to lead us through uncharted territory.

I also appreciate the Pastor Search Committee who worked so diligently in finding the right man to lead this congregation to be a Gospel light in a very, very dark world. I pray that the Lord will bless them for the time that they spent away from their families during this past year, meeting, praying, sorting through MDFs, listening to sermons, etc.

And, maybe most of all, I appreciate those faithful members who continued to worship, pray, give, and work uncomplainingly that RPC might continue on during this challenging time. I am sorry that I could not do more during this time because of my demanding family responsibilities, but I can say that even through this difficult season, there is no other place that I would rather be than with my brothers and sisters in Christ at RPC. Over the past year my thoughts have returned again and again to a hymn by Samuel Stone that gave me hope during that troubled time:

Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

“For bodily exercise profiteth little”–1 Timothy 4:8

[On February 18, 2011, I posted this for the first time, and after going from the exercise bike, to running, then back to the exercise bike, my weight still is hovering around the 180 pound mark. I am grateful to the Lord for that, but I am also grateful that the Lord has given us the ordinary means of grace to grow spiritually healthy: Word, prayer, and sacraments.]

 

Many of you know that since August I have been trying to take off a few pounds (okay, maybe more than a few). I had gotten up to 223 pounds and was having to buy bigger clothes, my feet hurt, etc… Since then, I have managed to get as low as 186, and now I have plateaued between 186 and 188. My plans are, Deo Volente (Lord willing), to lose down to 180 and try to keep my weight between 180 and 185 for the rest of my life. (I know that you are thinking, “Dream on, dream on, teenage queen…” but that’s okay, because it is in the back of my mind, too.)

Along with cutting back on how much I eat (I really didn’t change what I ate, just how much…no broccoli for me!), I thought it might be wise to do a little cardio exercise. My thinking was: what good would it do to lose all of that weight if I die from cardiac arrest? I would just be a dead, skinny guy. My thoughts about exercise had always been similar to what the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, had mused, “I believe the Lord has only given my heart so many beats, and I am not going to waste any of them exercising.” However, now, five or six days a week, I get on my wife’s exercise bike and get my heart beat up to 130 beats a minute for thirty minutes. Could I still die tomorrow of a heart attack? Sure; my life is in the Lord’s hands and He can call me to heaven when He chooses, but the Lord may use this exercise bike as a means to keep me around long enough to watch my grandkids grow to adulthood. It is good to remember that the Lord does use means to accomplish His purposes on earth (granted, He is also “free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter V, paragraph iii)

I had often quipped that my lifetime Scripture verse was, “For bodily exercise profiteth little” (I’ve never understood that “lifetime Scripture verse” thing, but I digress), but if one looks at that verse in its entirety, it says something very important to the people of God, “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (New American Standard) As God’s people who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; it is “profitable” to live godly lives. But how could that ever be possible? As God said to a very aged and childless Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Just as the Lord can use means to do His work in my physical life, He can also use means to grow me in His grace. The answer to Question 88 of the Shorter Catechism mentions three of those means, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” It is through the hearing of the Word of God read and proclaimed, seeing and taking part in the right use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and through calling out to God in prayer, that the Lord, week in and week out, works out His sanctifying grace in our lives. It may not always give one “goose pimples” (although, there is nothing wrong with “goose pimples”) but the simple gathering together with Christ’s church on His Day to worship and praise our Triune God is a wonderful way to cooperate with our God as He builds His holiness into our lives.

It is true that one can go to corporate worship services every week and not grow in God’s grace, but I find it inconceivable that one could refuse the ordinary means of grace (unless providentially hindered) on a regular basis and still see his life full of the fruit of God’s Spirit. Having said all of that, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of those who are reading these words to take advantage of the means that God has chosen to “communicate to us the benefits of redemption” and worship with God’s people this Lord’s Day.

A Day in the Life of the Rev. Will B. Dunn (Honorably Retired)

bill-the-cat

It is said that “confession is good for the soul;” both positively and negatively. Perhaps that is why Bruce McIver’s book, “Stories That I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor,” was so funny. Last Sunday I experienced one of those stories, and since it happened to me, I assume that I can tell it without offending anyone (which would be somewhat of a feat in these sensitive days).

Dixie was not feeling well, so Reed and I went to church without her; and since she wasn’t there, we sat closer to the back of the worship center than she normally likes to sit. I think it has something to do with sitting on podiums for 35 years. We stood for the Call to Worship and then sang as robustly as one can with a cough drop in his mouth, “The Mighty God, the Lord” (a great hymn from The Scottish Psalter of 1650). It is here that my story takes on a more ominous nature. When Pastor John began the Invocation I swallowed my cough drop. Well, maybe “swallowed” was a misnomer, because it didn’t find its way all the way down. So this 62 year old man starts choking on his cough drop. Fortunately, Pastor John prays pretty loudly during the Invocation (it must have something to do with his days of ministry in Scotland) so I started out the back door of the building without disturbing anyone, through the foyer and out on the front porch.

It was here that it dawned on me, that I was still choking, and that obstinate cough drop would not go up from whence it came, or down to where I could have some relief. People say that one’s life passes before his eyes when he is about to die, but for me it wasn’t so (the fact that I am typing this gives you a clue that I didn’t choke to death although I did not know that for sure at the time). What went through my mind? “Great! Now I am on the front porch (where on one knows I’m here) and I am going to die because there is no one here to do the Heimlich maneuver on me!”

In God’s providence, after much gagging (I know, TMI) the cough drop defied gravity and clawed its way back up my throat into my mouth. After spending a few more minutes of coughing (apparently choking to death is much like an earth quake with the accompanying aftershocks), I was finally able to enter the building and finishing worshiping the Lord. Just so you know, if I would have collapsed, a late entering family (who will remain nameless) would have found the body and performed whatever emergency medical procedures were necessary (they always “kind-of-liked” me, so I hope they would have), so all would not have been lost.

Next time I will tell about throwing up in the choir…no, I probably won’t.

A Personal “This Day in History”

clifton-coffee

On February 6, 2005, I entered the doors of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas for the first time. There were not as many chairs, nor as many people as we have now. At the time I wasn’t sure what was in store for my future, but on that Sunday we experienced reverent, God-centered worship, and heard the Gospel preached simply and directly from God’s Word. I never left.

In God’s providence early the next year I was called as the Associate Pastor and began a ministry that would last for over nine years. During that time I was able to observe people at their best and at their worst, but I have never regretted the decision to become a part of that congregation. I have always considered it a great privilege to preach and teach God’s Word, and to come alongside people to weep with them and rejoice with them as they lived out their lives as a part of the Body of Christ in a fallen world. When issues at home made it needful for me to retire earlier than I desired, RPC was (and still is) the place where I could go to worship, to hear God’s Word, and to be encouraged “to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

I still don’t know what my future holds (no one really does) but I pray that this place will be my home until either Jesus returns or I become “a just man made perfect” as the writer of Hebrews says. RPC is not a perfect church, but I can think of no other place where I would rather be.

Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas-2016So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
…”—John Lennon

I don’t often quote John Lennon in a positive way, but as I prepare this “Christmas Letter” it seemed appropriate. This is the second year in a row in which we didn’t send Christmas cards out, but as the Facebook relationship status sometimes says, “It’s complicated.” We do the best we can, and learn to appreciate God’s grace at work during the complicated times.

It is Clifton’s first full calendar of retirement. The year has been a challenging one, but Dixie and I have both said again and again throughout 2016 that the decision for me to retire was the right one. I miss preaching and teaching, but I am needed here with my family, at least for the immediate future. Sunday in and Sunday out we are reminded by people that they are praying for us, and that is what the Body of Christ is all about. You may think that saying, “I am praying for you” is trite, but it means the world to us and helps keep us on our feet. I am probably experiencing the best physical health that I have experienced since high school, so I count my blessings and keep riding the “stupidbicycle.”

Dixie’s year has had its physical challenges with her battles against cholesterol, TMJ, all the other ailments that often test a woman who is entering her fifties, but I think that she has liked having me around after years of sharing me with the rest of the congregation. We manage to get out together most Thursdays to spend some time alone, and that has been a wonderful blessing for us.

In August Reed began his second year of working at Dairy Queen. While it probably is not necessarily good for someone with Type 2 Diabetes to work at a fast food establishment (temptation everywhere), he works for good bosses, with good co-workers, and is learning how to deal with a public that is not always at the apogee of good behavior. He has also enjoyed his weekly time at Tyrrell Park Stables learning from Deanne about the care of horses, and spending some time on horseback.

Caleb has spent the year working at Sonic (we Rankins have the fast food establishments in Sour Lake covered), and going to the Lamar Institute of Technology. He is sorting through what he wants to do with his life, and hopes to come up with some answers in the coming year.

Josh and Kristi are still in Texarkana, Texas, where he coaches football and track at Texas High and she works at the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Northeast Texas. Yesterday (Dec. 21) their youngest, Delani, celebrated her first birthday. Kesh is now fifteen, Koen is thirteen, and Kya eleven. The “times, they are a changin’.”

Life in a fallen world is not easy, but it is precious. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for this next year, but we pray that He will be glorified in all that we do, say, and think.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas and all through the New Year.

Tuesday Hymns: “Father, I Know That All My Life”

anna-waring

Anna Letitia Waring was born on April 19, 1823 in Wales to a Quaker family. She was later converted and baptized as an Anglican in 1842. She never married and spent her life visiting the prisoners of Bridewell and Horfield prisons. She described her ministry as “watching by a filthy gutter to pick out a jewel here and there, as the foul stream flows by.” She published a collection of her hymns in 1850, and another collection in 1858. Her most well-known hymn is our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Father, I Know That All My Life.” (Thank you, John Carroll, for suggesting this hymn)

It is often sung to Charles Steggalls’ tune, Morwellham. Her hymn is a prayer to God, asking Him to equip her to live a life of sacrifice for His glory in all that she does. She died in 1910.

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come,
I do not fear to see;
But I ask Thee for a present mind
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And to wipe the weeping eyes;
And a heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoe’er estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate;
And a work of lowly love to do
For the Lord on whom I wait.

So I ask Thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
And a mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at Thy side;
Content to fill a little space,
If Thou be glorified.

And if some things I do not ask,
In my cup of blessing be,
I would have my spirit filled the more
With grateful love to Thee —
More careful — not to serve Thee much,
But to please Thee perfectly.

There are briers besetting every path,
That call for patient care;
There is a cross in every lot,
And an earnest need for prayer;
But a lowly heart that leans on Thee
Is happy anywhere.

In a service which Thy will appoints,
There are no bonds for me;
For my inmost heart is taught “the truth”
That makes Thy children “free;”
And a life of self–renouncing love,
Is a life of liberty.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”–Joni Mitchell

clouds

I remember the years when I was a young buck in the pastorate. There were several of us in our local Baptist association who would eat together, laugh together, and would usually end up on the losing end of votes together (because we were the crotchety theological conservatives). One day, one of my young pastor friends commented, “I sure would make a great church member. I would support my pastor wholeheartedly.” None of us actually believed him (because he could be pretty head strong and cranky) but now I have realized that I get the opportunity to do just that.

I have been “honorably retired” (Don’t you love Presbyterian Church in America lingo?) for a year and a half, and I am now on the other side of Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As I submit to the elders that the Lord has placed over me several things come to mind (this is coming from a Presbyterian polity point of view):

(1) I don’t have all the information (and I don’t need to have it). I remember those years when I, being on the session, was aware of words and actions that had taken place, and I had to keep information to myself to protect “innocent” individuals and even to protect the “guilty” who had repented of their sins. When church members would come to me “fishing” for information from time to time, I would simply have to say that I could not comment.

(2) I need to remember that the elders spend long hours meeting, discussing, and praying about decisions (many of which consist of not what is “right or wrong” but of “what is best for now and for the future”) that could affect the congregation for years to come. I need to appreciate their sacrifice and trust their judgement.

(3) I don’t have to agree with everything they do. There were times when I was on the session when I didn’t agree with every decision that was made, so I don’t see why it should be any different now. I don’t have to get my way all the time (or so my wife says).

(4) When I hear the Word of God preached, it is not for me to say, “Well, I would have handled that text differently.” I need to simply receive the Word of God with joy and humility for I am not always right (my wife tells me that, also).

(5) I need to be faithful to worship with God’s people. We have family challenges at home, so that is not always easy; but even when Dixie and I have to split up, and one go on Sunday morning, and the other go on Sunday evening, it is important for us (and the congregation) that we attend each Lord’s Day for we need to experience the ordinary means of grace. I don’t go in order to “feel good,” I go because I need to (and it is a command of God to not forsake the assembling with our brothers and sisters for worship).

(6) I need to give God’s tithe and my offerings each week for the work of God’s kingdom. If I disagree so strongly with the direction of the church that I am tempted to withhold God’s money, it is time for me to find a congregation where I can give that full financial support.

(7) And, most of all, I need to pray for the elders that God has placed in authority over me. Their task is time consuming and difficult, and they need to know that I am approaching the throne of grace daily on their behalf.

There are many other things that I should do as a member of the Body of Christ, and I should do them all in a way that the elders can watch over me “with joy and not with groaning.” 

“Try a Little Tenderness”

try-a-little-tenderness

Otis Redding sang it:

Oh she may be weary
Them young girls they do get wearied…”

Yes, they do. Old girls, too. Oh, yeah, and old men. Life in a fallen world can wear you out. Most of us have no clue what those around us are going through, so it is always a good rule of thumb to “try a little tenderness.”

Henry David Thoreau was a goofball (in more ways than one), but when he said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I think he may have stumbled upon truth. Ever since Adam and Eve thought that they had a better idea, mankind has lived with sickness, want, hatred, depression, mental illness, broken relationships, grief, pain, anxiety, and eventually, death. This is one of the reasons why worshiping with God’s people on His day is so important.

In God’s house you are reminded of the grace of God Sunday in and Sunday out. And not just the grace that brought you to repentance and life, and not just the grace that will one day grant you entrance into the new heavens and the new earth, but the grace that keeps you upright when you “get wearied.” On Sunday you gather with people who, just like you, are in need of hearing about God’s grace, and in need of coming to the realization that they are not alone as they struggle. As we are tender with one another, God uses us to make that journey a little easier both for the giver and the receiver of that tenderness.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said it well in Romans 12:15-21:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Or as Otis sang, “try a little tenderness.”

 

 

“It’s time to grow up!”

grow-up

 

 

 

As I peruse Facebook and the network news I am mystified by the idiocy that I see played out before me: People breaking windows (not their own, mind you), attacking others, burning cars, and various and sundry other acts of stupidity, and I might add, evil; all because of the results of a Presidential election. This just doesn’t make sense to me.

I have two sisters, and I don’t know for sure (my Dad was really big on that whole “secret ballot” principle), but my guess is that the three of us all voted for a different candidate in this election. And, guess what: We haven’t unfriended each other on Facebook, we still love each other (and even like each other), we haven’t called each other names, they haven’t thrown a brick threw my window, I didn’t yank one of their grand-kids out of a car and beat him senseless, etc. We just went on with our lives. Just the way we did four years ago, and eight years ago, and 12 years ago,…well, you get my drift.

America, it is time to grow up.

Happy Reformation Day

499 years ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, unknowingly becoming the catalyst for the Reformation. Robert Gebel has written this song to commemorate that pivotal event in history.

The Reformation Polka
by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand,
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting “George” as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

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