Dark Providence

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Catechism on Catechism

James Fisher was an 18th century Scottish Presbyterian pastor who, with his father-in-law, Ebenezer Erskine, was involved in the founding of the Associate Presbytery. He came to mind this morning not because of his church founding or his marital relations, but because he wrote a book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism entitled, “A Catechism on the Catechism.”

Our pastor preached a message from Philippians 1 yesterday morning looking at the Apostle Paul’s view of God’s providence. Even though there were those who were preaching the Gospel in order to cause pain in Paul’s life while he languished in prison, all that mattered to him was that the Gospel was being preached. He was able to trust God and rejoice in the midst of what the Puritans used to call a “dark providence;”which brings me back to James Fisher.

In his “A Catechism on the Catechism,” he presented fifty-five questions and answers (we Scottish pastors have a tendency to go overboard from time to time) explaining question and answer #11 of the Shorter Catechism:

“QUESTION 11: What are God’s works of providence?

ANSWER: God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

As one who has experienced some challenging times lately, his forty-fifth question and answer caught my eye:

Q. 45. Are not some dispensations of providence very dark and mysterious?

Yes; his ways are many times in the sea, and his paths in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known.”

The providential ways of God in our lives are often “dark and mysterious” to us, but it is important to add that they are not “dark and mysterious” to God. He knows exactly what He is doing and he knows exactly what His purpose is, and it will not be thwarted. God does not have to show me why He has permitted trouble into my life; He is God, and I am not. As Pastor Nick said yesterday, I don’t have to ask, “Why, me? Why, now?” I just need to trust what He has told me in His Word that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Is that easy to do? No. Does it make the pain go away? Absolutely not. What it does, however, is give me hope. It gives me hope that my life has a purpose that is bigger than me; bigger than my sufferings; bigger than my personal darkness. Somehow, in His “dark and mysterious” ways, He is using me in the building of His kingdom, and that always works out for my eternal good.

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom, Dad, and I (1990) 001

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, but since it is also the Lord’s Day, my mind will be focused on other things: the Father’s grace, the Son’s sacrifice, the Holy Spirit’s work, and the gathering of God’s people to worship the Triune God. Today, however, I will take some time to wax nostalgically about the woman that I called, “Momma.”

Ruby Mae Jordan was born May 30, 1919 (making her one of the four million Social Security “notch babies”), not more than a couple of hundred yards from where I live now in Pine Ridge. She and her six siblings were raised right across the road from the Pine Ridge Baptist Church during the throes of the Great Depression, thus, experiencing hardships that most of my generation will never be able to appreciate.

She married my Dad on May 22, 1939, in Portsmouth, Virginia, putting on her marriage license that she was twenty-one, even though she was only nineteen (the things you do for love); the only time I ever knew of her not telling the truth.

mom an dad marriage license

(As an aside, when I was a Senior in high school my boss, Mr. Arthur Black [of Orange Black’s Floral], asked me to work on Valentine’s Day delivering flowers, meaning I would have to “skip school” to do it. I asked Momma to write me a note saying that I was sick and she refused. Even if it meant an unexcused absence and all that accompanied it, she surmised that if I “do the crime, I should have to do that time.” The Assistant Principal, Mr. Dauphine, did have mercy on me, if anyone cares).

She was more the “Ordinary” Christian of Michael Horton, than the “Radical” Christian of David Platt. She did the “ordinary” things that Christian women do: loved her husband, loved her kids, cooked scratch biscuits during the week and yeast rolls on the weekend (okay, maybe that isn’t ordinary), faithfully worshiped her God every Lord’s Day, read the Bible with the family every night, supported her children when they failed and succeeded, and the list goes on and on. I’m not sure why the Lord allowed the dementia to make the last years of her life so painful other than the fact that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we live in a fallen world (I will save that question for heaven because the “Judge of all the earth will do right”); but I am so grateful for the Christian Mom that shaped my life.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her.”

P.S.–Mom, I am sorry about skipping school and going to Cow Creek that time. You never would have known if George Hayden wouldn’t have spilled the beans when we were thirty-five years old. Thanks for not grounding me then, because I had many pastoral duties to attend to.

Tuesday Hymns: “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea”

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was an Anglican pastor who is probably best known for his beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He has been accused of being an “extreme Calvinist” (probably because of his strong-worded criticism of the Wesley brothers), yet, his hymns often present the twin doctrines of the unfathomable glory of God, and His inexhaustible mercy to sinners. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea,” is a description of God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness meet[ing],” and His “righteousness and peace kiss[ing] each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

The first and second verses speak of God’s sovereign authority over all of creation, and His wrath upon all who oppose Him, yet, the third and fourth verses speak of God as the “Prince of Peace” and of His universal “reign of love.” If an “extreme Calvinist” is one who calls upon all people to look to Christ alone, and to rest totally on His mercy and grace for the hope of their salvation, I wouldn’t mind being placed in that category. The hymn is sung to the tune, Mendon.

Great God, whom Heaven, and earth, and sea,
With all their countless hosts, obey;
Upheld by whom the nations stand,
And empires fall at Thy command.
 

Beneath Thy long suspended ire,
Let every antichrist expire;
Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea,
And distant nations bow to Thee.
 

Then show Thyself the Prince of Peace,
Command the din of war to cease;
With sacred love the world inspire,
And burn its chariots in the fire.
 

Let earth beneath Thy reign of love
A universal Sabbath prove:
Jesus her peaceful king adore,
And learn the act of war no more.

 

“Hope does not disappoint”

hopelessness

While scrolling through Twitter this morning I came upon this quote which had been posted without attribution: “The poorest people in the world aren’t the ones without money…It’s the ones without hope.” When hope is absent, life is almost unbearable; and there are many navigating through life whose hope has been crushed by the cruel circumstances of a fallen world. They see no end to their suffering.

The darkness that accompanies mental illness, debilitating sickness, broken relationships, and destructive addictions seems deep and never ending. Like Sisyphus repeatedly rolling his rock up the hill only to see it crashing down to the bottom, people often do live what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation.” While admitting that God can and still works miracles, we also know that there are times when we will not see relief from our circumstances in this present evil age. So where is our hope to be found? Paul gave us the answer when he wrote to Timothy almost 2000 years ago:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)

Our hope is not to be found in a new product, a new lifestyle, a new leaf, a new way of thinking, a new job, or new friends; our hope can only be found in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can give us hope both now in this “present evil age,” and in “the age to come.” That is why I love the Reformed faith: the doctrinal truths found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Smaller and Larger Catechisms point me to Jesus Christ and the mercy and grace He pours out upon me even in the darkest of nights.

If there is never a “healing,” or a “reconciliation,” or a “deliverance,” in my life, the Christ of the Scriptures is still an “ever present help in time of trouble.” Through our pain and through our darkness our “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The pain is real. The darkness is real. Yet, the hope that is found in Jesus Christ is even more real.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art”

I greet thee, Lord

This past Sunday at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, we sang, “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” directly after our Corporate Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon. It is a wonderful hymn speaking again and again of God’s marvelous mercy and grace that has been poured out upon us by what Jesus Christ accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. The words have often been attributed to John Calvin, but most historians doubt that he was actually the author. The text first appears in the The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545. It is most often sung to Loys “Louis” Bourgeois’ tune from The Genevan Psalter, “Toulon.”

I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Saviour of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place:
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
O comfort us in death’s approaching hour,
Strong-hearted then to face it by thy pow’r.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast thou and no bitterness:
Make us to taste the sweet grace found in thee
And ever stay in thy sweet unity.

Our hope is in no other save in thee;
Our faith is built upon thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure
That we can boldly conquer and endure.

 

Life is Precious!

Thirty-six years ago today, a 1970 Chevrolet Nova (with no AC, by the way) came screeching into the emergency room of Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas at 5:05 A. M. driven by a young seminary student with his wife in the back seat just about to give birth to a daughter. Those were the days when birthing rooms were brand new at hospitals, and we were excited to be able to do labor, delivery, and recovery all in the same room. Of course, that would have happened if we hadn’t been cutting it quite so close in getting to the hospital. Since her birth certificate stated, “Time of birth: 5:10 A. M.” one can see why we didn’t get to be a part of this new concept in labor and delivery care. (They actually got a doctor out of the next delivery room to oversee the birth. Our doctor came strolling in later saying, “After hearing all the excitement over the phone, I didn’t think I would get here on time.”)

In this less than serene way, Leah Michelle Rankin was born into a fallen world. She discovered rather quickly that life on this terrestrial ball was not always easy and pleasant. From the very beginning she experienced digestion problems, and soon developed pulmonary problems, and after 18 months of numerous visits to doctors and hospitals was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). We had heard of cystic fibrosis but had no clue as to what that diagnosis would mean to Leah or to us.

CF is a disease in which the mucous glands produce excessive amounts of mucous which complicates digestion and makes it difficult for the body to thrive, and, more importantly, makes pneumonia a constant danger because the mucous build-up in the lungs provides a perfect place for bacteria to grow. We found out that the average life span of a CF child was about twenty years (that was in 1981; much progress has been made in treatment options since then).

Leah’s life was filled with four breathing treatments a day, followed by percussion (to loosen the mucous in order that it could be coughed up), taking enzymes with food for digestion, IV antibiotics administered through a port-a-cath at home when pneumonia developed and in the hospital when the pneumonia was more acute, large doses of steroids to keep the air passages open (which brought about steroid induced diabetes which meant the need for insulin) and numerous hospitalizations.

I will be forever grateful for the support that we received from our families, the churches to which we belonged during those years, the doctors (especially Dr. Dan Seilheimer), the child-life therapists (Mandy Calderon was one of Leah’s favorites), the respiratory and physical therapists, the school teachers both in Mauriceville and at Texas Children’s Hospital, and countless others who made Leah’s life and our lives easier during those difficult years. However, the message that I would like to stress most in these few paragraphs is that LEAH’S LIFE WAS WORTH LIVING.

Leah’s life was difficult, but she was able to love, and be loved; she was able to enjoy the beauty of music and art; she was able to enjoy time with her friends and her family; she was able to enjoy numerous books (especially the ones about Ramona Quimby), and to enjoy her seemingly endless number of stuffed animals (which she would always pick out just one to sleep with every night); and most importantly of all, she was able to rest in Christ alone as her “only hope in life and death.” Although we only had Leah for eight short years here on this earth, those years were special to us, and, I believe, to her, and I would never trade those years for anything.

Leah will always be a reminder to me that all of human life is precious, and that life in Christ, is even more precious, for Jesus promised in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  And, I must say, I look forward to joining with her one day around the throne of God to sing with the church triumphant, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!

When the Days are Dark


Most of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. In 1967 she was injured in a diving accident at the age of seventeen which resulted in her becoming a paraplegic. By God’s grace and through agonizing rehabilitation she has lived a very full life over the last fifty years, being an example to all of us that “God’s grace is sufficient” for whatever comes our way. She has written over fifty books and is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. In 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. If anyone knows what the phrase, “a dark providence” means, it would be Ms. Tada.

When asked how she had been able to deal with all of the challenges that went along with her paraplegia she responded, “I suppose what helped me get through this more than any other thing was reading Loraine Boettner’s, ‘Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.’” It was the truth that God was in control and that He had a plan and purpose for her life kept her going. I am sure that there were times when she felt alone, afraid, despondent, and forgotten, but that truth kept her going forward even through the darkest night.

Yes, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) As dark as life gets, as lonely as we feel, and as painful as our personal life experience gets; God, in His love, brings light, His comforting presence, and His all sufficient grace. As our new pastor, Nick Napier, said this morning (quoting Thomas Wilcox), “Judge not Christ’s love by His providence, but by His promises.”

(And it wouldn’t hurt to read Dr. Boettner’s book, either.)

Old Geezer Report

ITV ARCHIVE

I am officially an old geezer now. I woke up at 3:00 A.M. and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I finally got out of bed, got a cup of coffee (that didn’t seem counter-productive at the time), and decided to see what happened while I was asleep for four and a half hours. On the bright side, the Texas Rangers didn’t blow another ninth inning lead (Thank you, Jose LeClerc). The United States didn’t go to war with anyone, but technically, we haven’t gone to war with anyone since the last time Congress declared war in December of 1941, so that was not so unusual. They tell me the NBA playoffs are about to begin and the Lakers will not be a part of it again (at least that made me smile, and yawn), and I am not sure if that giraffe has been born yet.

Everyone else is asleep at my house so I have enjoyed “the peaceful, easy feeling” of being alone for a bit. All in all, waking up so early wasn’t a disaster for me, and Dixie and I are planning on going to a movie this afternoon, so if I fall asleep watching “Going in Style” it won’t be the end of the world (as long as I don’t start snoring in Tinseltown). Full disclosure: The last time I fell asleep at the movie theater was watching “Out of Africa” many, many years ago. And, I wasn’t an old geezer then; it was just a horrible movie. Now it is 5:45 and it is time for me to get on the “stupidbicycle” for thirty minutes. That’s not so bad for a geezer.

Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”

timothy-dwight

It has been some time since I posted a Tuesday Hymn, but Timothy Dwight’s, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” caught my eye and ear yesterday morning when we sang it during worship. Dwight was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards (Edwards’ third daughter, Mary, was his mother), was a Congregational minister, and eventually served as the President of Yale University from 1795-1817. (Plus, he had great side burns.)

This hymn speaks of the author’s love for the church of God. Christ died for His church, and God has chosen to give “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.3) It is “is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF, XXV.2)

This hymn is a great reminder to us that the Body of Christ is the “apple of [His] eye and [is] graven on [His] hand.” It is often sung to the tune, ST. THOMAS S.M.

I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The house of thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With his own precious blood.

I love thy church, O God:
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, thou Friend Divine,
Our Saviour and our King,
Thy hand from ev’ry snare and foe
Shall great deliv’rance bring.

Sure as thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be giv’n
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of heav’n.

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