“A Time to Laugh”

It’s Friday and everyone could use a laugh, so I would encourage you to go to Dr. James Galyon’s blog , and watch this Tim Hawkins video. It is hilarious.

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The Light Comes On

Every once in a while the light comes on upstairs, and one realizes what a wonderful life one has. Early this morning, right after the sunrise, as I sat on the porch with my wife, I said to her, “I really like my life.” Why is that?

I have a wife who loves me, and has loved me for the last nineteen years. She is not perfect (neither is her husband), but she has been a faithful companion, circumspect confidant, mother to my children, benevolent friend, and constructive critic. I would rather spend time with her than with any one else on earth, and I know far too many husbands that can not confess that about their wives.

I have four children who mean the world to me. My oldest son is married with three children, living in north Texas, doing what he loves to do (coach high school football), and striving to lead his family to grow in the grace of His Lord. I truly look forward to our weekly phone conversations, to catch up on what is going on in his life, and more than anything else, just to hear his voice and share some time with him.

I have a daughter who has been in heaven for over twenty years now. She battled cystic fibrosis for her short eight years here on this earth, but as difficult as those days were, my memories of sharing that time with her are so precious to me. Her trust in God, even in the midst of that terrible illness, was a means that God used to keep me trusting in Him even after she and her mother were killed in that automobile accident so long ago.

My two youngest boys (12 and 14) live in “overdrive,” but they truly are “a heritage from the LORD” to me, as I watch them grow, discover, fall, get up, and learn, each in his own unique way, of the grace of God poured out upon us through Jesus Christ.

I have the privilege of preaching and teaching God’s Word to people who have been changed by God’s grace, and who desire for God to finish the work of sanctification that He has started in all of their lives. Plus, I am a part of a group of elders who desire that God will be glorified through everything done at and through Reformed Presbyterian Church. As the old beer commercial used to say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But it does. The Psalmist expresses my thoughts well of what my God has done on my behalf in the 103rd Psalm: 

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,  3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,  4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,  5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.  7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.  8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;  12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  14 For he knows our frame;1 he remembers that we are dust.  15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;  16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.  17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,  18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.  19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.  20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!  21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!  22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

I am a blessed man!

Tuesday Hymns: “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place”

Isaac Watts was born the eldest of nine children in Southampton, England to a family of Nonconformists in 1674. His father was familiar with jail cells because of his Dissenting views, and taught his son the truths of Scripture from an early age. Watts had a propensity for languages (he began learning Latin at the age of four) and purportedly was disciplined for laughing during family worship as a child, and explained that he was watching a mouse run up a rope and quipped, “A mouse for want of better stairs, ran up a rope to say his prayers.” From that humble beginning he went on to write over 700 hymns. Known as the “father of English hymnody,” one of his most acclaimed achievements was the rewriting of Psalms for singing in rhyming English verse. His desire, he said, was to give “an evangelical turn to the Hebrew sense” of the Psalms.

He wrote such beloved hymns as, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Not All the Blood of Beasts, Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed, Joy to the World, Come Ye that Love the Lord, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, and many, many more. The Trinity Hymnal, one of the hymnals from which we sing at Reformed Presbyterian Church, contains thirty-six of his compositions, one of which is a hymn about the sovereign grace of God entitled, How Sweet and Awesome is the Place, which is our Tuesday Hymn. 

How sweet and awesome is the place with Christ within the doors, while everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries, with thankful tongue, “Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast and sweetly drew us in; else we had still refused to taste, and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God, constrain the earth to come; send your victorious Word abroad, and bring the strangers home.

We long to see your churches full, that all the chosen race may, with one voice and heart and soul, sing your redeeming grace.

Relatively Speaking

Dennis Miller just made me laugh out loud. What did he say? “Robert Gibbs makes Scott McClellan look like J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

Exiles in Babylon

I was doing some reading and came across an interesting sentence in a blog post by Kevin DeYoung, the pastor of the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. His post consisted of a listing of the strengths and weaknesses of “two kingdom theology v. neo-Kuyperianism.” (For the context of Pastor DeYoung’s statement, look here.)The sentence that caught my eye simply said:

It seems to me we are more like the Israelites in exile in Babylon than we are the Israelites in the promised land.

I would agree wholeheartedly with the pastor’s assessment. Too often, Christians in America view our nation as a 21st century Israel, but we must understand that God has not had a theocracy on earth since Old Testament Israel. The United States is not now, and never has been, God’s Chosen People. God’s chosen people are the “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” that Christ has made “a kingdom and priests to our God.” (Revelation 5:9-10) Now, don’t misunderstand me, I agree with Abraham Kuyper that “in the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’” Christ is truly Lord over all, but we as the people of God (His church), are living between the “already” and the “not yet.” The day will come when we will be a part of the “new heavens and the new earth,” but that day has not yet arrived.

For now, we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who are looking for a better country whose “builder and maker is God.” Our hope is not to rest in “get out the vote campaigns,” or “tea parties,” or “town halls,” (although there is not anything necessarily wrong about any of those things, and much that is right about them), but our hope is to rest in God, and the grace that He has poured out upon us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So what should we do until that day of the Lord arrives? First of all, as Christians, we should pray for “kings and all who are in high positions [even Barack Obama], that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Secondly, we should follow the direction that Jeremiah gave to the captives in Babylon:

4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

In other words, we should live our lives to the glory of God, and do what we can do to improve the world in which we live by being involved in politics, culture, and our communities.

However, in the Church, we are to focus on the ministry to which God has called us which is “only ministerial and declarative.” (from the PCA Book of Church Order) Our responsibility has been described for us in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given 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. (XXV.iii)

The Church’s ministry is to call a people to Christ, to grow a people in Christ, and to do it all through the faithful preaching of the Law and Gospel, and through the right administration of God’s sacraments. It may not be “cutting edge,” or “culturally hip,” but it is an effective ministry whose fruit will last for an eternity.

Tuesday Hymns (on Thursday this week): “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”

(I have had a busy week so Tuesday Hymns is being posted on Thursday.) Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) grew up in England, but eventually relocated to Ireland, where he completed his academic training at Trinity College, in Dublin. His description of his own conversion is a beautiful portrait of God’s Sovereignty in salvation:

Strange that I who had so long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought right unto God in an obscure part of Ireland, midst a handful of people met in a barn, and by the ministry of one who could hardly spell his own name. Surely it was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous. The regenerating Spirit breathes not only on whom, but likewise when and where and as He listed.

Toplady’s most popular hymn is Rock of Ages, but my personal favorite is A Debtor to Mercy Alone. It speaks to us of the glorious truth that salvation is of the Lord from start to finish.

 A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring. The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do; My Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which His goodness began, the arm of His strength will complete; His promise is Yea and Amen, and never was forfeited yet. Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above, can make Him His purpose forgo, or sever my soul from His love.

 My name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase; Impressed on His heart it remains, in marks of indelible grace. Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given; More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits I heav’n.

“panic de jour”

I came across a hilarious t-shirt online the other day which tempted me to part with a portion of my hard-earned money (I said “tempted,” it did not succeed). It simply said:

 Santa Claus

Easter Bunny

Tooth Fairy

Global Warming

I seldom enter into “panic mode” any longer. One has to remember that I am fifty-four years old. When I registered at Lamar University in 1973 the panic de jour was over-population, nuclear winter, world-wide starvation, future shock, and Richard Nixon, which today, are nothing more than faded memories. Now, people are terrified of global warming, health-care reform, Kim Jong-il (talk about some bad hair), and according to one’s political perspective, either Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.

I, however, have nothing to fear, for my God has said to His Son, my Redeemer:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.  9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”  10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:8-12)

Burial vs. Cremation

I came across a very interesting article written by Dr. R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary, California, on his Heidelblog entitled, To Bury or Cremate? It is not unusual for people to ask me about this subject, and I thought that this article might provide some food for thought.

“Brothers, we are not professionals!”

I am not sure when the terminology change took place (apparently I didn’t receive the memo) although I would expect that it happened sometime during the last 60 years: People no longer speak of the Pastor’s Study, but they speak of the Pastor’s Office. I suppose it is not really an earth-shattering change; people are actually describing the same place. The geographical area is still filled with books, just as it always has been (well, at least since Guttenberg came along), although now the ever present computer has a prominent place (and I readily admit that BibleWorks is an exceptional tool).

Why do I concern myself with such trifles? I suppose it is the connotation attached to the two words. Office seems to be saying “business, occupation, and work” while Study communicates “people, life, and pastoral care.” Office shouts, “leadership” while Study whispers, “servanthood.” I am reminded of our Lord’s purpose during His incarnation and our calling after His ascension:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

While pastors are not Apostles, I believe it is significant that during a particular crisis in the church of the first century the Apostles declared (and we should heed), “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2, 4) While it is important for pastors to be involved in the lives of their people, the most important thing a pastor does every week, is to hole away in his Study, dig into the inerrant Word of God, and with God’s enablement, prepare a message from God to His covenant people.

May all pastors keep this phrase borrowed from John Piper in the forefront of our hearts and minds, “Brothers, we are not professionals!”

Tuesday Hymns: “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) was a Lutheran pastor at Mittenwalde, near Berlin. Like many of his time period, his life was filled with grief, having to bury a wife, and only having one of his children live to adulthood (three died in infancy). 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is fitting description of his life:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

His hymn, Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?, is a marvelous testimony of the grace of God that he had experienced during his own life filled with controversy and sorrow.

Why should cross and trial grieve me? Christ is near with his cheer; never will he leave me. Who can rob me of the heaven that God’s Son for my own to my faith hath given?

God oft gives me days of gladness; shall I grieve if he give seasons, too, of sadness? God is good and tempers ever all my ill, and he will wholly leave me never.

Death cannot destroy forever; from our fears, cares, and tears it will us deliver. It will close life’s mournful story, make a way that we may enter heav’nly glory.

Lord, my Shepherd, take me to thee. Thou art mine; I was thine, even ere I knew thee. I am thine, for thou hast bought me; lost I stood, but thy blood free salvation brought me.

Thou art mine; I love and own thee. Light of joy, ne’er shall I from my heart dethrone thee. Savior, let me soon behold thee face to face; may the grace evermore enfold me!

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