The Corporate Confession of Sin

 

A regular part of our worship each Lord’s Day is the Corporate Confession of Sin. We join together as God’s people, confess that we are sinners, and that we would have no hope apart from God’s pardoning grace. It is always a meaningful part of our worship, but today’s confession of sin really hit home for me. Our family has been going through some challenging times lately, and it has been particularly difficult for us to rest in God’s sovereignty. Thus, when we began to confess these words today my heart was laid open before God:

Most merciful God, we admit that we have transgressed Your law in many ways. Particularly, we have been people of little faith; worrying about what we shall eat, what we shall wear, what we shall do with tomorrow’s problems. We have not sought Your kingdom and righteousness as You have commanded. O Lord, forgive Your people! O Lord, deliver us from evil worry! O Lord, lead us to see You as our portion and our inheritance. O Lord, increase our faith, that we may rest in Your care and providence and thereby show to the world that You are our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.”

It was so good to know that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) And, furthermore, the beautiful words of God’s assurance of pardon from Psalm 103 that we heard read, gave me great hope to face whatever the future holds:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

I am so grateful for the ordinary means of grace that God has given us for our spiritual health Sunday in and Sunday out.

 

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Look Away!

 

In our 21st century world, Christians seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking inward. Now, granted, there are times when we should look inward. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (1 Cor. 13:5) Who am I to argue with the Apostle Paul? And, then, Paul gives a command to those who are preparing to take the Lord’s Supper, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28) So, yes, we should from time to time look inward, and take stock as we strive to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) However, if we are not careful, we will be tempted to make the Christian life all about us. We will find ourselves constantly asking if we have done enough studying, praying, giving, caring, sacrificing, etc., and, of course, the answer will always be, “No!” It could very well lead us to despair.

That is why it is also important to look away from ourselves, and see Christ. Look at who He is and what He has done. Look to the one who left the glories of heaven to take upon Himself human flesh. Look to the one who as our representative succeeded in every area that our first representative (Adam) failed. Look to the one who willingly became the sacrifice for our sin as He gave Himself for us on the cross. Look to the one who was raised, and has ascended on high to “ever make intercession for [us].” (Heb.7:25) Look to the One of whom it can never be said, “He didn’t do enough.” It is only in looking to Christ that we can ever really find peace and rest, even as we “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Remember His invitation that is a light in our very dark world, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Be Thou My Vision”

Around the turn of the 20th century an old medieval hymn (probably as early as the 6-8th centuries) was found in the bowels of the Royal Irish Academy. This was during the time of the militant Irish Home Rule Movement and the Irish took great interest in all things that were distinctly Irish; so Irish scholar, Mary Byrne, translated the manuscript into prose in the Irish Journal, Eriú. A few years later one of the founders of the Irish Text Society, Eleanor Hull, versified that translation and published it in The Poem Book of the Gael (1912). When it was paired with the Irish folk tune, SLANE, it began to pop up in English hymn books, and before long, Be Thou My Vision, was being sung in churches around the world.

No one knows who the author was, although some claim 6th century Irish poet, Dallán Forgaill, was responsible for the words. However, there is no real historical evidence to back up such a claim. What we do know is that it was written in Old Irish which could very well place it as early as the time of Forgaill. It, therefore, is another reminder to us that we have a connection to the people of God of all the ages when we sing these great old hymns.

When we sang Be Thou My Vision this morning at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, we were singing to the same Lord of my heart as that 6th century Irish Christian. We are a part of that one body and one Spirit and share in that one hope of [our] calling in Christ Jesus. And, we can have the same confidence as the author of that hymn did that our prayer will be heard by that one Mediator between God and man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

 Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

 Be thou my battle shield, sword for my fight;
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r:
raise thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

 Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Tuesday Hymns: “O Sing a New Song to the Lord” (Psalm 98)

Thomas Jarman was born on December 21, 1776, in the village of Clipston in Northampton County, England. His father was a Baptist lay minister and tailor, but Jarman’s love was music and over his life he wrote approximately 600 tunes including LYNGHAM C.M. This tune has been connected to Wesley’s “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and to “O Sing a New Song to the Lord” (Psalm 98) which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week (yeah, I know that I haven’t done this in a loooonnnngggg time).

I first heard this tune on a compact disc of Psalms two decades ago and have always enjoyed listening to it; and I must admit, it is a bit challenging to sing. But it is one of those tunes that stays in your head, and once you get the hang of it, it is nice. And, furthermore, since you are singing a metrical version of the Psalms, which is God’s Word; how can you go wrong.

Oh, sing a new song to the Lord,
for wonders he has done:
with his right hand and holy arm
the vict’ry he has won.
 

The Lord has made this triumph known,
displayed his saving might;
he has revealed his righteousness
in every nation’s sight.
 

He mindful of his grace and truth
to Israel’s house has been;
the saving power of God our Lord
earth’s farther ends have seen.
 

Earth, shout aloud to God the Lord
and make a joyful noise;
break into song and celebrate,
sing praises and rejoice.
 

Sing to the Lord with sound of harp,
let harp and voices ring:
with blare of trumpets, blast of horn,
acclaim the Lord, the King.
 

Let seas, and all within them, roar,
the world, and dwellers there;
let streams clap hands, and mountains sing–
as one their joy declare.
 

Let these all sing before the Lord
who comes earth’s judge to be;
he’ll judge the world with righteousness,
its folk with equity.

Here is an unaccompanied version (one of the few I could find online):

The Affair of the Sausages

Christoph Froschauer was a printer living in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1522. It was during the Lenten season (March 9) when he finished printing a new edition of The Epistles of St. Paul. His employees were exhausted; so to thank them and to celebrate the finishing of the project, he served them a meal which included some smoked sausages. He invited some other townspeople to attend and because these events took place during Lent (when the eating of meat was prohibited) it cause a great outcry which led to the arrest of Froschauer.

Although the parish priest, Ulrich Zwingli, didn’t eat any of the sausages, he was present and supported the printer by preaching a message two weeks later entitled, Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods. In the message he proclaimed the Biblical truth that fasting is a voluntary choice, and that those present did not sin in eating the meat. By the next year, fasting had been abolished in Zurich, and the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone had a foothold in the Swiss cantons.

The Reformation in Germany began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church; the Reformation in Zurich began with a few smoked sausages. (And I am glad it did.)

 

“We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!”

mlkjr

I was sitting in a tenth grade history class at West Orange High School in 1970 when I noticed that an African-American friend of mine had a medallion hanging around his neck with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s picture on it. Sib and I had been friends since eighth grade so I felt it was safe to ask, “Why are you wearing that medallion with his picture? It doesn’t make sense to me.” He responded very simply, “That is because you are not black.” (Side note: Forty years later his nephew became a member of our church for a while before he moved to New York for his job. That in itself is a picture of how far we have come since the 1960s.)

He was right. I didn’t understand because I wasn’t black. I think I know better now, although I still don’t pretend to understand all the emotions that African-Americans feel today. Nevertheless, I understand the importance of Dr. King. I don’t agree with the political views that he held since I seem to find myself becoming more and more Libertarian every day. I absolutely don’t agree with his theology since he was a follower of Walter Rauschenbusch who believed that the substitutionary atonement was to use his words, “repugnant to human sensitivity.” But I realize that apart from Dr. King’s sacrifice, Blacks would still be using different restrooms, drinking from different water fountains, and would still be waiting to see Dr. Pearce on his back porch instead of in the front waiting room with the white people. The world is different now. Oh, it’s not perfect, but it has come a long way. I hope that we are getting to closer to what Dr. King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recognize very clearly his importance to African-Americans, and to be perfectly honest, his importance to all of us. As challenging as racial relations can sometimes be today, as the old Virginia Slims cigarette commercial once said, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Yes, we have. And, I think Sib would be glad that I understand him a little bit better.

 

“Wiser than God?”–Heidelberg Catechism

goldfish

We live in a culture that has been called a “visual culture.” People my age and younger grew up watching television and it is said that everyone’s attention span is shorter than it used to be. And, now with IPhones and such, one study has shown that a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human (yeah, I know; can such a study really be trusted?). Modern churchmen have latched on to that thought and have postulated that if we are going to teach people about God, we are going to need pictures. The problem with that kind of thinking is that the second of the Ten Commandments states very clearly that “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Any image that we would make to portray God could never capture His worth and glory, and thus pictures of the Godhead must be placed in the category of idolatry.

The idea of using pictures of God to teach is not exactly a new thing. The writer of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, felt that it was needful to discuss it several hundred years ago. I love the way he handled the subject:

Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.

Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as ‘books for the laity’?
A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word.

Yesterday, as we were about to share the Lord’s Supper, our pastor said something that bears repeating. He mentioned that although we do not have “pictures” in the place where we worship God to be an aid to worship, God has declared that we, as the church, may use two images to our benefit: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each of them is a “sensible sign” that points us to the truth of the Gospel. They are reminders that Christ took on human flesh, kept God’s Law (something that we could never do) on our behalf, died as a sacrifice for our sins, and if we rest in Him, our sins will be cleansed through His sacrifice.

I think that I will meditate upon what Ursinus said and not try to be “wiser than God.” No matter how short my attention span  is.

 

“He is risen!”

empty tomb

Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer) is not the earth shattering holiday for Old School Presbyterians that it is for so many others. Why, you may ask? It is simply because we celebrate His resurrection fifty-two Sundays a year. Every Sunday we gather to worship Him, confess our sins, be reminded of His sacrifice, and hear His glorious Gospel preached directly from His inerrant Word. For us, contemplating the phrase, “He is risen,” is not a yearly occurrence, it is a weekly occurrence. Three hundred years ago Isaac Watts captured with pen and ink the hallowed good news of the cross/resurrection event when he wrote:

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain:

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing his bleeding love.

So for the thirteenth time this year we will gather, worship, and praise our Risen Lord this coming Lord’s Day, and look forward to next Sunday when we can do it all over again!

Tuesday Hymns: “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve”

philip doddridge

The “Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings” website posted this description of the rather inauspicious birth of non-conformist pastor, Philip Doddridge:

It was June 26, 1702. After thirty-six hours labor, Monica Doddridge gave birth to her twentieth child. It was obviously stillborn and Monica’s hopes were dashed. Eighteen of her children had already died in infancy and she had so wished to have a brother for her only surviving child Elizabeth. The midwife picked up the pale corpse to put it out of sight of the sorrowing mother. Suddenly her heart fluttered. Had she not seen a slight movement in the breast of the tiny boy? She began to slap the infant in an effort to wake him to life, and, sure enough, soon the tiny baby gave out a large cry as if he had the lungs of a robust healthy child.”

Doddridge was a prolific hymn writer and his “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve,” is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week. It is the call of the author to his own soul to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I would quibble a bit with his second verse as I would suggest the “witnesses” of the Book of Hebrews are witnesses to us, not of us, but it is still a great hymn made even greater by singing it to the tune of “Christmas” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=66)  (As Shepherds Watched Their Flock) by George Frederick Handel.

Awake, my soul, stretch ev’ry nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heav’nly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.

‘Tis God’s all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high;
‘Tis his own hand presents the prize
To thine aspiring eye.

That prize with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new lustre boast,
When victors’ wreaths and monarch’s gems
Shall blend in common dust.

Blest Saviour, introduced by thee,
Have I my race begun;
And, crowned with vict’ry, at thy feet
I’ll lay my honors down.

“There is nothing new under the sun…” or Where Has the Time Gone?

I have been retired now for almost three years. I was one of those guys who retired because he needed to, not because he wanted to, but there has been a silver lining to this cloud called retirement: I have more time to read. Granted, I read all the time when I was a pastor, but it was mostly a part of the process of preparing a Bible study, or a sermon, or studying to be able to protect the sheep from predators. Now, I read to learn, grow, and simply enjoy.

I am presently about three-quarters of the way through Theodore H. White’s, “The Making of a President: 1968,” which means that I was in the 7th and 8th grades when all of these events took place, and it has caused “my little gray cells” (Hercule Poirot reference) to come alive. Several thoughts have been bouncing around inside my head.

First of all, I am reminded of what the “Preacher” said in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” As I listen to the political vitriol of the left and the right, read about the protests (I don’t watch the news much anymore because my trust level is at a low ebb at the present moment), look at our precarious financial situation ($20 trillion in debt and counting), and hear the cries of “it has never been like this before,” I must snicker. 1968 was no different. The choice for President was between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. That’s a choice? In Viet Nam we had grabbed the ears of an angry dog and could neither keep holding on nor let go. That year we witnessed the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Lyndon Johnson could not leave the White House because the Secret Service was afraid that they could not protect him, plus, who wants to hear the chants of “_____ Johnson, _____ Johnson,” when one is trying to give a speech. Watts (the black neighborhood in Los Angeles) was burning as were other black neighborhoods in Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Miami, etc. and the Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by what Abraham Ribicoff called “Gestapo police tactics ” in the streets which were provoked by Tom Hayden’s SDS using college students as cannon fodder. Yeah, it was a mess then, also; but, by God’s grace we somehow survived, and if the Lord wills, we will survive the bitterness of the present day.

The thought which really put my mind into overdrive, however, was “that was fifty years ago? It can’t be.” But it was. Where has my life gone? It has gone the way of every man. As Isaac Watts’ hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” says:

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

I need to live. I do not know how many days that I will remain on this earth, but I need to live every day as full as I can for the glory of God. I must run with endurance the race that is set before [me], fixing [my] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

 

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