Glenn Beck and Civil Religion vs. The Gospel

This morning, one of our church members (Thanks, Brent) sent me a link to a blog post by Nancy Guthrie, a member of Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville, Tennessee. The post is an open letter to her pastors, thanking them for preaching Christ from the pulpit, and not getting caught up in all the “Glenn Beck hysteria” that has seduced so many pastors into preaching what is popular culturally (and politically), rather than the truth of the Gospel.

She says in part:

“Thank you for your faithfulness in preaching Christ from the pulpit, not “the principles of America.” Thank you for leaving that to others and reserving the sacred desk at our church for preaching, in the last few weeks, about the once-for-all sufficient sacrifice of Christ, about the privilege we have to approach God in prayer as Father, about Christ as the Wisdom of God, about Christ as the most valuable Treasure in the universe, worth trading everything to have.”

She concludes her open letter with the following statement that every pastor should hear and heed:

So thank you for continuing to preach the word of the Lord and present the beauty of Christ, and for not being so short-sighted to preach the “principles of America.” You keep calling me to love Christ more than my country, more than anything, and this is the word I need most to hear.

I would encourage you to take the time to read Mrs. Guthrie’s letter here.

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Tuesday Hymns: Psalm 56

“Why the Psalms? Rather than asking that question, the real question should be, ‘Why not the Psalms?’ Most Christian traditions hold to a high view of biblical authority. Conservative Christians proclaim the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Scripture study and memorization are eagerly encouraged. How can it be that the Psalms, which God gave to His people specifically to be sung and for generations were sung among all the major Protestant groups, are almost universally neglected? How has it happened that the Psalms, which undeniably are the very word of God, have been completely supplanted by hymns in our day?

“Let’s look at the question from another angle. Sould one’s reading priority be good Christian literature or the Bible? ‘Oh, that’s easy to answer,’ you say. While the reading of good Christian literature is profitable and good and should be encouraged, it should never be allowed to replace the greater good of Bible reading, the ultimate source material upon which good Christian books are based, Case is closed. Yet this is precisely what has happened in the area of the church’s songs.”

The preceding two paragraphs are taken from the introduction in The Trinity Psalter. I appreciate the great hymns of faith that have helped us dry our tears, strengthen our backs, and challenge us to put our faith in God, but they should not be sung to the neglect of the Psalms. I appreciate the joint venture between Crown & Covenant Publications and the Presbyterian Church in America in providing us with The Trinity Psalter by which we can praise our Lord with songs that have been sung for thousands of years.

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is the 56th Psalm. It speaks of God’s care for his people as they live out their lives in a fallen world. Sunday night we sang it to the tune of Winchester New.

Be gracious unto me, O God;
The man of earth would me devour.
He fights against me all day long,
Oppressing me with all his power.

My foes are watching day and night;
They many fight from places high.
The day I fear I’ll trust in You.
The word of God I’ll magnify.

In God I trust; I will not fear,
For what can mere flesh do to me?
All day they twist my words; their thoughts
Are all of schemes to injure me.

They meet, they lurk, they mark my steps’
They’re waiting for my soul to fall.
For their iniquity, O God,
In wrath bring down the nations all.

You count my wan-der-ings; my tears
You keep in precious mem-o-ry.
My foes shall, when I call, turn back;
Long I have known God is for me.

In God, Whose word I’ll always praise.
The Lord, Whose word my praise shall be
In God I trust; I will not fear,
For what can mere man do to me?

I’ll pay my vows with thanks to You;
From death, O God, You set me free,
Kept me from falling, that with God
My walk in light of life may be.

The Valley of Vision: “Lord’s Day Morning”

In preparation for the Lord’s Day tomorrow, I wanted to share another prayer from The Valley of Vision. May we be “encouraged by [His] all-sufficient grace” and “go to [His] house with a lively hope of meeting [Him], knowing that there [He] will come to [us] and give [us] peace.”

O maker and Upholder of all things,

Day and night are thine;
they are also mine from thee-
the night to rid me of the cares of the day,
to refresh my weary body,
to renew my natural strength;
the day to summon me to new activities,
to give me opportunity to glorify thee,
to serve my generation,
to acquire knowledge, holiness, eternal life.

But one day above all days is made especially
for thy honour and my improvement;
The Sabbath reminds me
of thy rest from creation,
of the resurrection of my Saviour,
of his entering into repose.

Thy house is mine,
but I am unworthy to meet thee there,
and am unfit for spiritual service.
When I enter it I come before thee as a sinner,
condemned by conscience and thy Word,
For I am still in the body and in the wilderness,
ignorant, weak, in danger,
and in need of thine aid.
But encouraged by thy all-sufficient grace
let me go to thy house with a lively hope
of meeting thee,
knowing that there thou wilt come to me
and give me peace.

My soul is drawn out to thee in longing desires
for thy presence in the sancturary, at the table,
where all are entertained on a feast of
good things;
Let me before the broken elements,
emblems of thy dying love,
cry to thee with broken heart for grace
and forgiveness.

I long for that blissful communion of thy people
in thy eternal house in the perfect kingdom;
These are they that follow the Lamb;
May I be of their company!

“He is Lord of the mountains, AND Lord of the valleys”

This morning I made two pastoral visits that were necessitated by very different circumstances. At one hospital, I visited a man who was in his eighties and had just discovered that he had colon/rectal cancer. The doctors have not been positive at all in his prognosis and calls have already been made to hospice as he, as a believer, prepares to face the last enemy he will ever face: death itself. Then, a little over a mile away, I entered another hospital room and was able to rejoice with a Christian young lady and her husband who had, on the day before, given birth to their firstborn son. They looked with excitement at the future experience of raising this young son “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

Although in the midst of very different circumstances, both visits had one constant: those visited had an undying trust in their Lord. One couple, preparing to take on the exciting responsibility of parenting a living gift of God, were trusting in God and His Word to guide them through the mine fields of a fallen world to raise their precious son to trust in Christ in every area of his life. The other man, reflecting back on God’s care for him throughout his long life on earth, was ready to continue trusting in the one who had said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-6)

In 1 Kings 20 the Arameans said the reason the Israelites had been successful against them in battle was because Yahweh was a “god of the mountains, but He [was] not a god of the valleys.” When they went to war on the plains they made the painful discovery that Yahweh was also a “god of the valleys.” Granted, they were talking about physical geography, but I can say with confidence that our God is Lord of all; both of the good times and bad times, along with the happy times and sad times. The same God that was present when Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) at the birth of our Savior, was also present when his people were “faithful unto death,” where He, in His grace, had promised to give to them “the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

So, wherever you are in life, look to the One who is able to “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)

“Christ died not simply to make salvation possible, but to make it certain.” (A. W. Pink)

While studying to teach a Bible study on the Gospel of John, I came across the section where Caiaphas, the high priest, although evil in every way, was used by God to prophesy of Christ dying for His people. The text reads:

“49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all.  50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’  51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,  52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:49-52)

This text speaks of both the breadth and the narrowness of the Atonement. We see its breadth in the fact that it was not just for Jews, but for all of the “children of God who are scattered around the world.” As one of the songs of heaven proclaims, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”(Revelation 5:9-10)

Yet, it also speaks of the narrowness of the Atonement. Jesus died for the “children of God.” He died not make salvation possible, but to purchase the salvation of those chosen before the foundation of the world. As A. W. Pink said so well:

“The great sacrifice was not offered to God at random. The redemption-price which was paid at the Cross was not offered without definite design. Christ died not simply to make salvation possible, but to make it certain. Nowhere in Scripture is there a more emphatic and explicit statement concerning the objects for which the Atonement was made. No excuse whatever is there for the vague (we should say, unscriptural) views, now so sadly prevalent in Christendom, concerning the ones for whom Christ died. To say that He died for the human race is not only to fly in the face of this plain scripture, but it is grossly dishonoring to the sacrifice of Christ. A large portion of the human race die unsaved, and if Christ died for them, then was his death largely in vain. That means that the greatest of all the works of God is comparatively a failure. How horrible! What a reflection upon the Divine character! Surely men do not stop to examine whither their premises lead them. But how blessed to turn away from man’s perversions to the Truth itself. Scripture tells us that Christ ‘shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.’ No sophistry can evade the fact that these words give positive assurance that every one for whom Christ died will, most certainly, be saved.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Psalm 54”

As I have mentioned before, I am not an exclusive psalmodist (one who believes only the Psalms should be sung in corporate worship), but I do love singing from the Psalter. A few Sunday nights ago we sang this version of Psalm 54 during our evening worship and I thought how different the theme is from the many songs sung in our “modern” worship services. In this Psalm, David is crying out to God for deliverance from his enemies. Now in David’s case, Saul was breathing down his neck trying to make David’s wife a widow, but as I thought of our enemies, “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” I took comfort in the fact that I, too, may call out to God for Him to “destroy them all!” This version of the Psalm is sung to Thomas J. Williams’ tune, EBENEZER (O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus).

By Your name, O God, now save me;
Grant me justice by Your strength.
To these words of mine give answer;
O my God, now hear my prayer.
Strangers have come up against me,
Even men of violence.
And they seek my life’s destruction;
God is not within their thoughts.

See how God has been my Helper,
How my Lord sustains my soul:
To my foes He pays back evil
In Your truth destroy them all!
I will sacrifice with gladness;
I will praise Your name, O Lord.
He has saved me from all trouble;
I have looked on all my foes.

“Don’t tell other people our business.” C. E. Rankin

Carl Trueman has written an excellent article on suffering entitled, Minority Report: Not in the Public Interest, which can be read in its entirety here. In it, he mentions the personal sufferings of John Owen:

“Owen had eleven children. Ten of them died before adulthood. The daughter who did survive was then involved in an unhappy marriage, returning to the parental home and then dying before her father. In other words, Owen lived to see the funeral of every single one of his eleven children.”

It beggars belief to think that such trauma did not have a huge impact on his life and thought: indeed, man-made persecution, horrible as it is, is arguably somewhat easier to accommodate than terminal illness within the context of faith since God is at least not the obvious, proximate cause; but death from illness has that random quality to it where God sometimes seems to be the only available culprit. Yet traumatic as these eleven deaths must have been, Owen makes no substantial reference to them in any of his major writings, and the reader can only speculate as to how exactly they may have caused him to rethink or revise his theology.”

Why did Owen say so little about his own personal sufferings in his writings and sermons? Trueman poses his own theory why he and others of that time period were silent about their own personal anguish:

“My inclination is to read their silence in another way: they simply did not regard their personal and private struggles, hurts, and tragedies as fulfilling any useful role in their public ministries. The death of Owen’s children must have been devastating to him, but life went on, he had a job to do, and whatever tears he and his wife shared and whatever cries of anger and confusion he sent God’s way in prayer, these were private matters and of no significant use in the public domain. Sure, they shaped him as a person and thus did have an impact on his public ministry, but not in terms of their immediate, personal particularity. They probably made him more sensitive when preaching on death or counseling a bereaved couple, but he saw no need to use himself as an illustration at every opportunity. Private grief and suffering was just that—private—and constantly talking about it from the pulpit was not in the public interest.”

As a self-absorbed baby boomer, living in a world of self-absorbed baby boomers (and busters and gen-xers are just as self-absorbed), I could learn much from John Owen. For that matter, I could also learn much from my Dad, who often said to us (his three kids), “Don’t tell other people our business.” As I read the last few lines of Trueman’s article, I finally began to understand why my Dad said that to us:

“This is not to say that personal suffering is insignificant, painless, or trivial; but it is to argue that talking about it should not be a major factor in our public lives as Christians. That can lead quickly to self-pity or even, in an age where victimhood is close to being the greatest virtue, to self-importance. My suffering matters to me; but frankly, it is of no interest or significance to anyone else but my immediate loved ones. Suffering and grief are generally private matters; so let’s keep them that way in order that we can use our public ministries for talking about God and the gospel.”

“Get to Know your People”

The Gospel Coalition website always has some interesting things to say about ministry in the 21st century. Some of those guys I just love to read because of the wisdom they impart, and others there drive me right up the proverbial wall (It is not so important for you to know who is who). All that being said, there is an excellent article by Kevin DeYoung entitled, Advice for Theological Students and Young Pastors, which should be read by every pastor, not just the young ones. My favorite piece of advice warns against chasing one of the ecclesiological fads of our day: “Spend more time getting to know your people and less time trying to figure out the culture of your city.

HT: James Hakim (Facebook)

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!”

J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918) was a Presbyterian pastor and evangelist during the latter days of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. He had a world-wide preaching ministry and was infamous (at least in my eyes) for hiring Billy Sunday as his advance man, which gave him his start in evangelism. He was a man who had faced sorrow (buried two wives and an infant son) and those experiences provided the evidence needed for him to write:

Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul.

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is Chapman’s most well known hymn, Jesus! What a Fried for Sinners! which was published in 1910. It is sung to the familiar tune, HYFRYDOL.

Jesus! what a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Saviour, makes me whole.

Refrain

Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Jesus! what a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my strength, my vict’ry wins.

Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul.

Jesus! what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’ertakes me,
He, my pilot, hears my cry.

Jesus! I do now receive him,
More than all in him I find,
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am his, and he is mine.

The Valley of Vision: “Evening Praise”

The following is a Puritan prayer found in The Valley of Vision, entitled (if prayers can have a title), Evening Praise:

Giver of all,

Another day is ended
and I take my place beneath my great Redeemer’s cross,
where healing streams continually descend,
where balm is poured into every wound,
where I wash anew in the all-cleansing blood,
assured that Thou seest in me no spots of sin.

Yet a little while and I shall go to Thy home
and be no more seen;

Help me to gird up the loins of my mind,
to quicken my step,
to speed as if each moment were my last,
that my life be joy, my death glory.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world—
the freshing air,
the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength,
the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters,
the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night,
the summer breeze,
the flowers’ sweetness,
the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.

Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort.
My cup runs over.

Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings: Thy power averts evil.
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith,
the cheering presence of Thy Spirit,
the strength of Thy restraining will,
Thy spiking of hell’s artillery.

Blessed be my sovereign Lord!

I love the Puritans!

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