Where did I put that “stop worrying button?”

Years ago when we would drive back to Orange on vacation we knew my Mom would worry the entire time that we were on the road (it was a bit over 6 hours), so we would tell her we planned to leave Monday morning to start home. Then, we would bed the kids down in the back of the Chevette (you could do stuff like that back then), and leave Sunday night after church, and drive through the night. Then when we got to Orange early the next morning, we would call and say, “We’re already here in town. We’ll see you in a few hours,” and we would have cheated her out of some worry.

The last few days I have discovered that I am more like my Mom than I care to admit. My youngest son, being a child of the internet generation, had been looking for a car to replace his Ford (Found. On. Road. Dead.) which croaked on his way to work a few weeks ago. He called; he bargained; he negotiated; he searched high and low and finally found the car he wanted in…Ohio. After working to get it financed locally (the Ohio title was apparently a problem with local institutions) he got the Dodge people to finance the auto. So this week was his big week.

He found a cheap flight to Columbus (by way of a long layover in Orlando), got an Uber to pick him up at the airport to take him to the dealership, and left the car lot with his Challenger. He spent the first night with a friend in Ohio (I said he was a child of the internet) and then started the long drive home. Now the boy is 25 years old, but the Dad in me has been concerned ever since he decided to do this. So I have had to work to not show that I had managed to put together in my mind every worst case scenario that could possibly happen on a drive through six states. I’ve have found myself quoting Scripture to myself, “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication let your request be known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7-7) But, it has been a challenge for me to find my “stop worrying button.”

Even a pagan should know it’s stupid to worry about things that you have no control over, and as a Christian, I should be able to rest in the fact that I have a God that I know is in control of all things. Yet, I did not breathe easy until I saw that new car pull into our drive late yesterday evening. What was the bottom line of my learning experience through all this? God’s promise that “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He can somehow take my doubting heart and use it for His glory, and for my good (even when I can’t find my “stop worrying button”).

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I Am the Man in the Mirror

Dixie and I have been watching the first couple of seasons of “The Crown” and I found myself understanding John Lithgow’s portrayal of Winston Churchill better now than I did a few years ago when I first watched it. Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Prime Minister for his 80th birthday, and Churchill despised it. He complained that the painting “makes me look as if I were straining at a stool.” But, later on he opines about the real reason he hated the portrait: he was the old man in that frame. He despaired that he was not the young leader who was doing all that he could to keep Great Britain in its “rightful place in the world.”

When I look in the mirror to shave every morning I notice that my 67, almost 68 years, have taken a toll on me. The lines in my face are more prominent, as are the bags under my eyes. Of course, the dark hair is no longer dark, and I find myself grateful that there is hair there at all. Last night I drove to Lufkin for a football game and by the time I got home, I felt like I had been “ridden hard and put up wet.” I ached from sitting in the stands, and then from the long drive. I also realized on the drive home that the glare of headlights made it difficult to see, and I remember how my Dad hated driving at night when he was older. Yes, I have become the grumpy old man that Neil Young sang about.

All that being said, I am grateful to be alive. I can still love and be loved. I can still preach from time to time, although the font is bigger in my notes, and my mind is not as sharp as it once was. I still enjoy worshipping with God’s people, although I may miss what is being said when prayer requests are made, and sing “through” when the word in the hymnal reads “though” (those ‘r’s can be tough to see sometimes). I have many wonderful memories, and, Lord willing, maybe not many, but a realistic number of “good” years ahead.

So, although I may be in the winter of my life (I’m still hoping it is late autumn) I plan, by God’s grace, to keep living life to the fullest to the glory of God. As the Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever,” and may the Lord give me the strength to do just that!

The Body of Christ

It has been right at two years since I posted on this blog. Now I realize that blogs are so “early 21st century,” but I thought that I would use this venue to share some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head. Last Sunday morning we had some of our new church members share their membership vows in front of the congregation. Yes, Presbyterians make vows much as those who are testifying at a trial do, or as a man and a woman do when they marry.

We answer five questions. The first two have to do with what we believe, and the last three with what, by God’s grace, we will attempt to do. The questions aren’t complicated; they are straight-forward and get to the heart of what a Christian should be.

Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?

Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?

Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to study its purity and peace?  

These questions sum up quite well the direction that Paul gave to the church at Ephesus in his letter to the Ephesians:

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

I am so grateful that these are things that we don’t have to do alone, but together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday Hymns: “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne”

Language is a funny thing (As Paula Moye would say, “Funny, strange; not, funny, ha-ha”) Today we use the word, “awful,” to describe things that are horribly bad. That haggis was awful. I put my fingers in my ears, and I could still hear her awful singing. The movie was so awful that we left half-way through. However, just a few hundred years ago, the word “awful” was used to describe really great things that were “awe-inspiring.” Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne,” uses that latter definition to cause us to look upward to God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His creational, redemptive, and sustaining power in our lives.

Our God is not a fretful, anxious, helpless being; but the Sovereign Lord over the universe and everything in it. We owe Him our all. Apart from Him, none of us would exist. Apart from Him, all of us would still be lost in our sins. Apart from Him, we would not have a Shepherd to watch over us and care for us. Apart from Him, we could not look forward to joining with the redeemed of all the ages to “crowd [His] gates with thankful songs, high as the heavens our voices raise.”

As Watts reminds us, it is not just the fact, “Wide as the world is [His] command,” but also, “Vast as eternity [is His] love.” It is in His love and grace that we find our rest. We rest in what Jesus Christ did for us through His life, and through His death. Yes, we will gladly “bow with sacred joy” before Him and His “awful throne.”

Psalm 100 was the foundation of his hymn, and it is usually sung to Frédéric Venua’s tune, PARK STREET.

Before Jehovah’s awful throne,
Ye nations, bow with sacred joy:
Know that the Lord is God alone,
He can create, and he destroy.

His sovereign pow’r, without our aid,
Made us of dust, and formed us men;
And when like wandering sheep we strayed,
He brought us to his fold again.

We are his people, we his care,
Our souls, and all our mortal frame;
What lasting honors shall we rear,
Almighty Maker, to thy name?

We’ll crowd thy gates with thankful songs,
High as the heavens our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
Shall fill thy courts with sounding praise.

Wide as the world is thy command,
Vast as eternity thy love;
Firm as a rock thy truth must stand,
When rolling years shall cease to move.

Hope in God

john flavel

I am about two thirds of the way through John Flavel’s, “The Mystery of Providence,” and my mind has been in a bit of a kerfluffle. It has been a challenge to remember that God really is in control of all that is going on around me lately. Is God really “wisely and powerfully preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions” through “His most holy, wise, and powerful works of providence?” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 11) My mind and heart know the answer is yes because “the Bible tells me so,” but my emotions are nearer to putting into action Walter Bradford Cannon’s “fight-or-flight response.”

Flavel’s book was published in 1678 which means that it was written after he had spent the last sixteen years of his life being persecuted by the officers of Charles II’s administration. He had been cast out of his pulpit with 1800 other pastors in 1662 and had lived somewhat of a transient life out of necessity ever since. Yet, he repeatedly reminded his readers that God was in control, and that God was doing and allowing all that He was doing and allowing for our good and His glory. (As a side note, that persecution would continue for another eleven years before the Glorious Revolution brought some relief.)

As Charles Spurgeon said about his own sufferings, “It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”

Maybe God is just “preserving and governing” me through “His most holy, wise, and powerful works,” and telling me to “Stop whining!” People (such as John Flavel, Charles Spurgeon, and countless others) have gone through so much more than I have, and recognized that God was still at work in their lives. Maybe it is time that, like David, I said to myself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God!” (Psalm 42)

 

 

 

Sunday Evening Musings: Of Voltaire, Luby’s Cafeteria, and Oral Roberts

 

voltairelubysoral

Rumor has it that Voltaire once said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Now, I would never to look to Voltaire for theological advice, but in this case he at least has his finger on the pulse of how man thinks. I’m not sure that my six hours of Psychology classes at Lamar University qualify me as an expert, but my sixty-five years of life and ministry should count for something.

Our (mankind’s in general) views of God are typically what we want Him to be. We see that “God is love” in the Scriptures, and we like that, but then we read, “For the Lord God, He is most Terrible, He is the great king over all the earth…” and we say, “No, thank you.” We tend to put our God together in our minds like a trip through the cafeteria line at Luby’s, “No salad for me today, but I would like that chicken fried steak with lots of gravy, and no vegetables; I’ll have macaroni and cheese instead. Oh, and a piece of that chocolate cake, too.” Our view of God may make us comfortable, but it is not reality.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says it well in question number three:

Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

It is in God’s Word where we see “what we are to believe about God.” It may not make us comfortable, but I have learned that reality is a much better road to travel down. What do the Scriptures teach us about God? The Larger Catechism gives us a pretty good summary from the Scriptures, “God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Probing the depths of that description should keep us busy until the ushering in of “the new heavens and the new earth.

Oral Roberts once claimed that he had had a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus, but one pastor allegedly responded, and I think, correctly, “Not big enough, brother. Not nearly big enough.

I said all of that, to say this: Just make sure that your idea of God is the same as the God of the Scriptures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord’s Day Interposed

william_wilberforce_signature

Willliam Wilberforce once said, “O what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through the sea! There is nothing in which I would advise you to be more strictly conscientious than in keeping the Sabbath day holy. I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable.” I believe that he had discovered one of the reasons why Sunday is so important to the Christian. As he put it, it is “interposed between the waves of worldly business.”

On the one hand it is a good time to gather with God’s people to look back on the last week. It is a time to confess your sins, be thankful for your successes in Christ, and to be grateful to God for all of the blessings that He has brought into your life: spiritual, physical, and emotional. It is a time for resting in the fact that Christ is your Mediator, and that He is a merciful and gracious Savior.

On the other hand it is a good time to gather with God’s people and look forward. It is a time to believe that whatever you face in the next week: blessing, trial, or temptation; you will face it in the arms of the one who promised that He would “cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” There is peace in knowing that nothing that can come into your life that has not first passed through the loving and omnipotent hand of God.

It is a day to remember. It is a day to keep holy. It is a day to rest in Christ.

 

 

Tuesday (at least, late Monday) Hymns: “When All Your Mercies, O My God”

addison

 

We all know that the true knowledge of who God is is beyond our grasp. As theologians and philosophers have said, “the finite cannot comprehend the infinite.” We know that the Biblical God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite, holy, immutable, etc., but it is important to remember that He is also a caring, compassionate “Father of mercies” and a “God of all comfort.” Years ago I posted this as a Tuesday Hymn but I thought as we stumble through these fragile times it would be good to take another look at this wonderful hymn.

The Rankin File

(Yesterday morning this was our offertory, and we sang it last night at evening worship. It is a hymn of praise for the mercy and grace of God that we experience from the womb forward to eternity. This was our Tuesday hymn back in 2010 and I just wanted to share it again.)

Joseph Addison was an early 18th century English playwright, political statesman, essayist, and writer of hymns. His play, Cato: A Tragedy, was popular among British Whigs such as John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, and Edmund Burke, along with early Americans, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Furthermore, his hymn, When All Your Mercies, O My God, is our Tuesday Hymn for this week.

The hymn speaks of God’s shepherding care for all of His sheep during the sunshine and shadow of their lives on earth, and throughout eternity; and is a wonderful testimony to the…

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Things May Change, But the Gospel Stays the Same

Jordan tombstone

There is an old saying that to the British 500 miles is a long way, and to the Americans 500 years is a long time. I can’t vouch for that statement from the British perspective, but it sure seems to be true on “this side of the pond.” To us, the nineteenth century seems like it took place light years ago. Yet, yesterday as I was on my walk, I glanced at my grandfather’s tombstone, and I noticed that he was born in 1881. This was someone that I personally knew (granted he died when I was six, but I have personal memories of him) and he was an adult when Teddy Roosevelt became President. Wow!

When I returned to the house I glanced at my Ancestry program and saw that his Dad, George Boardman Jordan, was born in 1848 (that’s before the Civil War for those of you who slept during history class). There have been many changes between the time of my great grandfather and the 65th year of my life. In the year before George Boardman Jordan was born, information could only travel as fast as the fastest horse, train, or ship. Then, in 1844 the telegraph came along, and, what Tom Standage called the “Victorian Internet” was born. Now, with the computer, we know information about current events happening on the other side of the world as they happen.

Travel has progressed from a horse and wagon, to a train, to an automobile, to a jet airliner, and who knows, “The Jetsons’” flying cars may arrive before our Lord ushers in the “new heavens and the new earth.” Medicine has been revolutionized by the discovery of antibiotics, the heart-lung machine, gene therapy, high tech surgeries, and the list goes on and on. The world has changed immeasurably in those four generations of Jordans, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed; and that is the Gospel.

We are still sinners (and, honestly, with the tools at our disposal we are even more efficient in our sinning); we are still incapable of changing ourselves (“can a leopard change his spots?”); and, because of this, we need a Savior. That is why, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, we don’t need to hear a pep talk, therapeutic advice, or have our ears tickled with clever words; we need to hear how Jesus came to earth, took on human flesh, kept God’s Law, died for sinners, and how if we rest in His grace, and not in our own selves, we can have eternal life; totally by His grace. That is truly Gospel (Good News). As Jesus said, “I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (and his Gospel is, too).

P.S.—I am grateful that I have a pastor that keeps the Gospel front and center.

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus Shall Reign”

watts

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was an English non-conformist pastor who wrote a gazillion hymns in his lifetime (over 750 hymns anyway) and came to be known as “the Father of English Hymnody.” Our Tuesday Hymn of the Week is his paraphrase of the second half of the 72nd Psalm. It is interesting to me that he begins his paraphrase of this Old Testament passage with the phrase, “Jesus shall reign…” To Watts, this was more than just a prayer of David for his son, Solomon; but a text that pointed to Christ as the “Eternal Son of David.” It speaks of His eternality, His worthiness to be worshiped, His love, His blessings, His power over death, and His sovereignty. It was published in Watt’s “The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament,” in the year 1719.

It is a hymn that can put one’s feet on solid ground when all that he knows is being shaken. It is a reminder to us that “in Him the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost.” In our world presidents come and go, nations rise and fall, but Christ will reign “til moons shall wax and wane no more.” It is normally sung to the tune, “DUKE STREET”.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His Kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made.
And princes throng to crown His head,
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.
Blessings abound where’er He reigns:
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains,
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
Where He displays His healing power
Death and the curse are known no more;
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud Amen.

 

 

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