“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)



“La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon”


In A. N. Wilson’s, “Victoria: A Life,” he describes the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait: “He looked like a man who had been battered by life—a huge, fleshy face, pitted with line and scarred with grief.” Why might he look this way? During one year, five of his seven children (all daughters), ranging from the age of two to ten years, contracted scarlet fever and died. We think today, “How horrible!” (and it was), but such an ordeal was not that uncommon during the nineteenth century. It was just another reminder that we indeed live in a fallen world.

In our present day, although we may not usually see such loss in one family (at least in the United States), we still “know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Our world is filled with heartache, trouble, trial, sickness, sin, and death; and, as I sit here on this rainy Saturday night pondering my own problems, I am so grateful that tomorrow (Deo Volente) I can go and gather with God’s people and be reminded of God and His grace for me.

As the old French saying goes, “La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon” (Life is hard, but God is good). And, because of that truth, I need to be with God’s people; I need to confess my sins; I need to join my brothers and sisters in prayer; I need to sing songs of praise to God; and I need to hear God’s Law, and the Gospel of His grace preached in my hearing. And, even if my face is “pitted with line and scarred with grief,” God’s grace is sufficient for me.


Tuesday Hymns: “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word”


Last Sunday we sang one of Martin Luther’s hymns which has an interesting history. In 1541 the Turks were laying siege to the city of Vienna and the German rulers called on the churches to pray for the safety of the Viennese. Luther responded by writing a hymn for a prayer service in Wittenberg asking for deliverance from the Turks and from another enemy which threatened the German Christians:

Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son

Once the crisis had passed, the first verse was altered to be a prayer for any enemy Christ’s church might have to face. It is sung to the tune, ERHALT UNS, HERR . The hymn we sang Sunday is our Tuesday Hymn for this week and was similar to this version (with a few minor differences):

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing your praise eternally.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

The Winter of Life


Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian composer of the Baroque Period (1699-1750) who wrote over 500 concertos during his lifetime. Granted, some say he wrote one concerto 500 times but I digress (I also disagree). One morning this week as I was getting dressed I was listening to his most famous work, “The Four Seasons,” and I began to think about my life. The average male lifespan in the United States is 78.74 years as of 2015, and if that, in God’s providence, works out for me than I am officially in the “winter” of my life. I entered it when I turned fifty-nine.

The Bible speaks in general of the length of a man’s life in the old King James language as being “threescore and ten” years and “if by strength, fourscore” years. (Psalms 90) On my next birthday I will be sixty-four so the shadows are beginning to lengthen for me. So how should I face these wintry years?

First of all, I should be grateful to God for the years that I have already experienced. Every day is a gift from God that I didn’t earn and didn’t deserve; yet, He, in His grace, has chosen to bless me with almost sixty-four years of these “days of grace.” As I look back I see all the joy and love that I have experienced and I have much for which to be thankful.

Secondly, I need to live my life now to the fullest for the glory of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and that is true whether I am in my thirty-third year or my sixty-third. Yes, “my back is a little stiff and there are some lines around my eyes” as Randy Stonehill sang, but I can still love, pray, worship, grow, serve, etc., maybe not at the same level as I once was able, but I can do what I can in the Lord’s strength.

Last of all, I need to look with joy toward the future. It is true that my body cannot do what it once did, and I sometimes have to struggle to remember a name, or a word, or a…what was I talking about? Anyway, I need to remember that God is in control, and that I can trust Him to guide me through the possible difficult days of what President John Adams would call my “dotage” just as He did the difficult days of my youth; and that He is also the one in charge of bringing me from this “present evil age” into the “age to come.


Tuesday Hymns: “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord”


In the “Trinity Hymnal” one will find hymns written by Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Francis of Assisi, the Bonar brothers, Isaac Watts, Jack Hayford, Margaret Clarkson, and others representing the Body of Christ around the world and through the centuries. Today our Tuesday Hymn comes from the Moravian Collection of 1724, “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord!” These spiritual descendants of John Hus have passed on to us a hymn of praise that begins with Christians singing praise to Lord who are then joined by angels, apostles, prophets, and martyrs who make up a congregation that will sing the Triune God’s praises throughout all eternity.

It is sung to Frederick M. A. Venua’s familiar tune, PARK STREET. I used to snicker when one of the prisoners at the Federal Prison would come up to me after one of our worship services and say, “I really like that NEW song that we sang today.”

Thee we adore, eternal Lord!
We praise thy name with one accord.
Thy saints, who here thy goodness see,
Through all the world do worship thee.

To thee aloud all angels cry,
The heavens and all the pow’rs on high:
Thee, holy, holy, holy king,
Lord God of hosts, they ever sing.

Apostles join the glorious throng,
And prophets swell th’immortal song;
Thy martyrs’ noble army raise
Eternal anthems to thy praise.

From day to day, O Lord, do we
Exalt and highly honor thee!
Thy name we worship and adore,
World without end, for evermore.

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide”

Because of family issues, Dixie and I have been alternating going to church for a while, but Sunday we were able to attend together. When we got into the car to head for home, I turned to her and said, “Did you notice the words to the offertory hymn?” and she responded with, “Yes, I was about to mention that. They were really good.” It was a hymn that I was not very familiar with; thus “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide” becomes our Tuesday Hymn for this week. Thomas Benson Pollock (1839-1896) was an Anglican pastor from Ireland who spent much of his life ministering to the poor at St. Alban’s Mis­sion in Birm­ing­ham (plus, he had a great beard). This hymn is a prayer to the Lord to use His church to minister in a fallen world.

John H. Gower’s tune may be a bit pedestrian, but frankly, so is the Indelible Grace tune. The lyrics, however, make it a hymn worth singing, which we did at our evening service.

Jesus, with thy church abide,
Be her Saviour, Lord and Guide,
While on earth her faith is tried:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Keep her life and doctrine pure;
Grant her patience to endure,
Trusting in thy promise sure:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she one in doctrine be,
One in truth and charity,
Winning all to faith in thee:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she guide the poor and blind,
Seek the lost until she find,
And the brokenhearted bind:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Save her love from growing cold,
Make her watchmen strong and bold,
Fence her round, thy peaceful fold:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May her lamp of truth be bright,
Bid her bear aloft its light
Through the realms of heathen night:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Arm her soldiers with the cross,
Brave to suffer toil or loss,
Counting earthly gain but dross:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she holy triumphs win,
Overthrow the hosts of sin,
Gather all the nations in:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Happy birthday, Dixie!



Can you keep a secret? When I was a child I hated it when people would sing “Happy Birthday” to me; it always seemed so…awkward. I never grew out of it. But, there is enough of a libertarian side to me that if it makes people feel good, I just let them sing. It doesn’t hurt anything for me to feel…awkward. Dixie and I are different in many ways, but that is one trait that we share, so I have to be careful in writing this blog post. I don’t want her to feel…awkward, but I went to enough of those marriage conferences down through the years where the speakers said that it is a good thing to publicly praise your wife; so, here goes.

Tomorrow Dixie will be fifty-three years old (like me, Dixie doesn’t mind people knowing her age because she worked hard for all of those years). She entered my life when I was still going through the grieving process of losing a wife and daughter, so she learned very early about all “the fine print in the contract” as she adjusted to life around Clifton Rankin. The Russians only wished they had the intelligence network of a small southeast Texas town when the local pastor begins seeing someone (thankfully, this was during the time when there was no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., but the telephone lines were a-humming). One dear lady even said, “Oh, I wished Dixie would have talked to me first.” (I’m not sure what warnings she had mind to pass along)

I was used to life in the fish bowl, but Dixie had to figure it out as she went along. She, however, was a trooper, and stayed the course. We had no choice but to be perfectly honest with one another to survive, and it paid off in great dividends down the road. Our twenty-seven years together have not always been easy, but she has always been there for me through “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” and I am grateful that she took the risk of taking on the mantle of “pastor’s wife.” So, at the risk of making her feel…awkward; I’ll simply say, “Happy birthday, Dixie! You are still the one who can make me laugh.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth”

Teach me o lord your way of truth

Ray Lanning, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, had this to say about The Psalter of 1912:

The year was 1912, and the place was Pittsburgh. In the heart of the city famous for steel and beer, a small group of Psalm-singing United Presbyterians held a last committee meeting. They sat to put the final touches on the labor of nearly twenty years, as they wrote a preface to a new metrical version of the Psalms with music. It was published that year, and has come to be known as The Psalter, 1912, or simply, The Psalter. This book of praise has been in use ever since in North America, and its influence has spread to many denominations and many other books of Psalms and hymns. It is likely no exaggeration to say that The Psalter, 1912 has been used longer and more widely than any other book like it in American church history.”

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth,” comes to us from that Psalter. It is a metrical paraphrase of Psa. 119:33-40 and reminds us that not only is our justification by grace, but so is our sanctification. The Psalmist asks for the Lord to “teach us” His way of truth, to “give us” an understanding heart, to “make us” walk in His commandments, to “give us” a heart that loves to obey, to “turn our eyes” from vanity, to “cause us” to walk in His ways, to “turn away” our reproach and fear, and to “revive us” in His righteousness.

As we sang this hymn last Sunday morning, I thought back on how my preaching has changed over the years. It went from “come on guys, we can do this,” to “look at what Christ has done for us.” Our obedient Christian life is a result of the “love of Christ that compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) This Psalm is sung to the Joseph Holbrook’s tune, Bishop.

Teach me, O Lord, Your way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In your commandments make me walk,
For in your law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves your will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn now my eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Your ways to tread;
O let Your servant prove Your Word
And thus to Godly fear be led.

Turn away my reproach and fear;
Your righteous judgments I confess;
To know Your precepts I desire;
Revive me in Your righteousness.

“Let the little children come to me…”


Today at worship I sat in the next to the last row of our worship center, which meant that I was surrounded by young families on three sides. As a sixty-three year old my days of corralling a small child during a worship service are in my rear view mirror. Actually, they are in my wife’s rear view mirror, because as a pastor, I was always on the podium or in the pulpit during this time of struggle. She carries the battle scars of those difficult days, but I digress.

These young couples did a masterful job of working with their children. Yes, there was some noise. Yes, they had to go out with a child once (okay, maybe twice). But, they were doing something very important. They were teaching their children how very important worship is. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad don’t go to soccer games (or other places) on the Lord’s Day, but to church. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad pick up hymnals and sing songs of praise to God. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad confess their sins. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad pick up their Bibles and read along as God’s Word is read. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad put their tithe and offerings into the offering plate when it is passed. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad close their eyes and pray at the proper time (okay, maybe they peak to make sure no one escapes, but they work at it). Worship is so important that Mom and Dad are quiet and listen to the pastor open up God’s Word. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad do this Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, and that lesson is not lost on a child no matter how small. It is a lesson that can never be learned in a children’s church or youth service. It can only be learned up close and personal by observing Mom and Dad on God’s day in God’s house.

Is it easy? No, but it is important. It is called parenting, and it is one of the most important things that we will ever do. So to all of those young families who are afraid that they are bothering the old guy with a gray beard and thinning, gray hair I say, “Thank you. Thank you for loving your children enough to accept the responsibility to teach them about the importance of gathering with God’s people and worshiping Him. And, by the way, I heard the sermon from 1 Peter about loving those around us with the overflow of God’s love, because of the foundation of God’s love, and the nature of God’s love. You didn’t bother me a bit. I heard every word.”

May the Lord bless the faithfulness of young parents!

Bernice Larner (1918-2017)

bernice larner

During the last week two people who have had a significant place in my life as a Christian pastor experienced what has been described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the following way:

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

One of these people, Dr. R. C. Sproul, through his teaching, preaching, and writing, is known in Christian circles around the world. His gift at making the complex simple has helped many come to grips with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has preached in front of tens of thousands during his life, and his radio broadcasts have touched hundreds of thousands down through the years. (He has even played golf with Alice Cooper, but, I digress) His ministry has been an enormous blessing to me as I have struggled to teach God’s people the truth of His written Word over my three decades of being a pastor.

The other, Bernice Holder Larner, is known primarily by the people who live in Erath County, Texas. You have never heard of Erath County? The Erath County website declares:

Erath County is located in central Texas, and includes the communities of Stephenville, Dublin, Three Way, Morgan Mill, Bluff Dale, Lingleville, Huckabay, Selden, Alexander, Duffau, and Clairette. Estimated Population 2010 – 36,184.

It is the home of Tarleton State University, “The Better Part of the Texas A&M System,” and the place where Ruth Buzzi now lives in retirement (If you don’t know who Ruth Buzzi is, use Google).

The first time I saw Bernice she was pushing a wheelchair containing her 95 year old mother into the Morgan Mill Baptist Church where I was about to preach “in view of a call.” (Southern Baptist Lingo Warning) At the time I didn’t know how important she would be to this twenty-six year old pastor in his first pastorate. On that day she was approximately the age that I am now, sixty-three.

A few weeks later, on the Monday morning after I had preached my first sermon as the “official pastor” of that congregation, as I sat in my study with my Seaport coffee steaming in my cup, I received a phone call from Bernice. She said, “I just wanted to let you know that Russell Laughlin is in the hospital in Stephenville.” As one who had been trying to memorize the church directory over the last few weeks, I was surprised not to recognize the name. I responded, “Should I know him?” She said, “No, he doesn’t go to our church,” but then proceeded to tell me all the different connections that made it important for me to know this information. She didn’t say I should go and visit him, but I figured that I probably should. At that moment, she became my official “go to person.” She knew everybody; their parents, their kids, their grand-kids, their third cousins once-removed, etc., and any other history that might be helpful to me. She wasn’t demanding. She didn’t tell me what to do. But, she made my life so much easier as a pastor. If anyone was ever sick, in the hospital, in some kind of trouble, or even mad at me (yes, that could happen), that phone would ring, and she would let me know so that I could shepherd Christ’s flock more effectively.

She immediately adopted my three year old son and three month old daughter, and became “Memaw Bernice” to them (their grandparents lived 400 miles away). Josh and Leah loved to walk down the farm to market road with their Mom and visit with her, and see what candy the glass hen on her living room table had laid that day. She was also a wonderful listening ear to my wife when the doctors diagnosed my daughter with Cystic Fibrosis.

She was one who loved her Lord, loved her church, loved her family, and loved her pastor and his family (And this doesn’t even begin to mention the meals she cooked, the cards she sent, the visits she made, the piano she played, etc.). I may have met some people who were as influential in his/her community for Christ, but I have never met any one who was more influential in his/her community for Christ than she was. She will be missed greatly by all those who knew her and loved her, which includes me.

Jesus Christ did a mighty work in her life, and then used her to minister to those around her in a humble, gracious, God honoring way. May her tribe increase!

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