“25 or 6 to 4”

This morning I was awakened at 3:35 A. M. No, is wasn’t because our worthless dog was barking at the wind (she is not very bright), or because one of the kids was throwing up in the hallway (that has happened more than once in my lifetime), or because I had an emergency phone call in the middle of the night (a job hazard that goes along with being a shepherd to God’s sheep); I just woke up, and couldn’t go back to sleep.

After I rolled over in bed to see what time it was, the wheels began turning in my mind (and they can be rather loud and obnoxious). Dixie and I had to make an important decision this week concerning an issue with the boys, and my brain was ticking off all of the options that we had considered. I know that God is sovereign, I know that He causes “all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose,” and I know that He has promised to “never leave me nor forsake me,” yet sleep still eluded me. I suppose that I was thinking of a C. S. Lewis quote that has been a part of our “refrigerator door theology” for most of our married life: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Although the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy may be a little different (Paul was talking about the need for Timothy to live out the Christian life in his ministry), I believe his direction does fit my situation: I need to “fight the good fight of the faith” and “take hold of the eternal life to which [I have been] called” (1 Timothy 6:12). It may take some time for all the emotions to settle down, and it may take years to see the fruit of our decision-making, but it is necessary to trust Christ to work out His purpose in my life and in the life of my family.

Fortunately, the grace which proceeds from the finished work of Christ is sufficient for this need, and with the guidance of God’s inerrant Word, and His providential hand, life will go on, God will be glorified, and we will learn anew what it means to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.”

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Tuesday Hymns: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

(I first posted this on July 21, 2009. For some reason [No, God didn’t tell me to], I thought that I would repost it today.)

It’s Tuesday again, which means it is time for another version of “Tuesday Hymns.” Today’s hymn is a marvelous verse entitled God Moves in a Mysterious Way by William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper’s life was a difficult life of lost love, missed career opportunities, and battles with deep depression which led to several attempts at suicide, yet his hymns continue to bring comfort to the life of many Christians around the world two hundred years after his death. He also authored such classics as There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, and Jesus, Where’er Thy People Meet.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way was written in 1774, and some say it is the last hymn that he ever wrote (although that is up for debate). It is normally sung to the tune, Dundee, from the 1615 Scottish Psalter. It has been a great comfort to my personal life for many years, especially the line, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” Enjoy now Cowper’s poetic description of our Sovereign God’s providence in this beautiful hymn.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.

For those who would like to read a more detailed biography, John Piper has an excellent one on his website entitled, Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint.

There are Worse Things Than Being Single!

On July 27 of this year, John Stott became one of those “just men made perfect” when the Lord took his soul to be with Him, leaving only his physical body resting in the grave until that day in which he will be “raised up in glory,” “openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,” and “made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.” Shortly after his death, Christianity Today posted an article by Al Hsu discussing Stott’s choice to live his entire life on earth as a bachelor. I thought the article was significant because it reminded us that both marriage and singleness are good. The following two paragraphs summarize the article well:

We must never exalt singleness (as some early church fathers did, notably Tertullian) as if it were a higher and holier vocation than marriage. We must reject the ascetic tradition which disparages sex as legalized lust, and marriage as legalized fornication. No, no. Sex is the good gift of a good Creator, and marriage is his own institution.

If marriage is good, singleness is also good. It’s an example of the balance of Scripture that, although Genesis 2:18 indicates that it is good to marry, 1 Corinthians 7:1 (in answer to a question posed by the Corinthians) says that “it is good for a man not to marry.” So both the married and the single states are “good”; neither is in itself better or worse than the other.

There was a time in history when singleness was exalted as a “higher plane” of living the Christian life. If one was truly to be holy, it was thought that it could only be accomplished in a monastery, nunnery, or in a life of singleness as a parish priest. The Reformation, however, reminded us that the Bible teaches that marriage is good, sex is a marvelous gift to be shared between a husband and wife, and that the Christian home was an ideal place to pass on the truth of the Gospel to the next generation.

However, today there are some who have fallen into the opposite error. Although it may not be directly stated, there are those who strongly imply that to fulfill God’s plan on the earth one must be married, and have a house full of children (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with a house full of children since they are a blessing from the Lord, and I freely admit that I appreciate the four children that have been entrusted to my care). I still remember visiting a particular church (which will remain nameless) and after introducing my wife and my two youngest children to one of the elders at the door, he asked somewhat condescendingly, “Is that all?” (I must admit that at that moment I was very aware of the remaining sin in my life as I related to this man who seemed to have the inside knowledge on how many children should reside in my home.)

After being a shepherd of God’s people for 30 years, and spending many hours counseling hurting people, I sometimes want to shout from the housetops, “There are worse things than being single!” I have seen far too many people who are so desirous of being married that they “settle,” instead of “choosing” their marriage partner.

God gives great freedom to His people when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. The Bible makes no mention of race concerns, age concerns, social status concerns, or citizenship concerns. He speaks of only a few things that are mandatory when a Christian considers marriage:

(1) Christian marriage is to be between a man and a woman. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) I am not here to argue…I can only state what God said.

(2) Christian marriage is to be between people who are Biblically single. “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:11-1) “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)

(3) Christian marriage is to be between two Christians. “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39)

If you are a Christian single, and God has not providentially brought someone into your life that fits into these three categories, I would encourage you to continue to wait on the Lord. God is truly Sovereign and is working for His glory and your good, and can be trusted to supply your need according to the parameters that He has set down in His Word. (One of my theological heroes, John Murray of Westminster Seminary, did not marry until he was 69 years old, so it is never too late. By the way, the Lord also blessed that marriage with two children.) And, remember, there are worse things than being single.

HT: The Aquila Report

The Spirituality of the Church

I came across an excellent article by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether entitled, The Spirituality of the Church,” which was extracted from the Ordained Servant, July 1998. I would encourage you to read the entire article, but two paragraphs jumped out at me during this political season (Doesn’t it seem to always be a “political season,” at least on the cable networks?):

Though he is rarely cited as an exponent of the teaching, in 1861 [Charles] Hodge articulated a view of the church’s spiritual purpose and means that, though shorter, rivaled anything James Henley Thornwell or Robert Lewis Dabney could have written. Hodge was writing in response to the Spring Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church that not only split the denomination along regional lines but also declared that the Presbyterian Church had an obligation to “promote and perpetuate” the integrity of the United States and the federal government. Hodge, however, denied that the church had any duty to take sides in the emerging struggle between the North and South. He wrote, “the state has no authority in matters purely spiritual and that the church [has] no authority in matters purely secular or civil.” To be sure, in some cases their spheres of responsibility overlapped. Still, “the two institutions are distinct, and their respective duties are different.” To substantiate this point Hodge went on to quote from the Confession of Faith, chapter thirty-one, which states that synods and councils must handle only ecclesiastical, as opposed to civil, matters. He then added an explanation that showed his understanding of the point germane to the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, namely, the extent and nature of church power. “The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids,” Hodge wrote. “A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.”

Hodge’s political sympathies were clearly with the Union. In 1865 he would weep at the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Still, he recognized that in the political questions surrounding the war between the North and the South — that is, whether the federal government or the states were ultimately sovereign — the church had no warrant from Scripture to take sides or to compel her members to do so. Christians must be obedient to the government and the church had a duty to teach and encourage such obedience. But the Bible did not settle the matter of the states versus the federal government. “The question,” Hodge wrote, “is, whether the allegiance of our citizens is primarily to the State or to the Union? However clear our own convictions of the correctness of this decision may be, or however deeply we may be impressed with its importance, yet it is not a question which this Assembly has a right to decide.” To take sides in this matter, Hodge concluded, was tantamount to singing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Lord’s Supper.

It is just another reminder to us that our hope is not to be found in the church’s dabbling in Political Action Committees, “Get Out the Vote Campaigns,” or fine arts symposiums, but in doing the work that God has called us to do through the ordinary means of grace: Word, Sacraments, and Prayer.

Going “Up to Jerusalem”

I came across an interesting story in D. G. Hart’s and John R. Muether’s Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism which reminded me of what the focus of our gathering as the people of God on His Day should be:

In 1730 one of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in North America, this one in Freehold, New Jersey, gathered to consider the best location for the construction of its meetinghouse. According to legend, while the men debated the advantages of one site over another, a feisty woman of Scottish descent rose from her seat, picked up the cornerstone, carried it up a small hill to the church’s eventual foundation, and complained, “Wha ever heard o’ gangin doon to the House o’ the Lord, an no o’ gangin oop to the House o’ the Lord?” (page 33)

Janet Rhea (the supposed woman’s name) understood something very important about worship; It is about God, not us. In Scripture, people always went “up to Jerusalem” to worship the Lord, and that climb was always about more than just topographical elevation; it was (and is) primarily a spiritual ascent. Psalms 120-134 are called Songs of Ascents because the pilgrims would chant those Psalms as they went “up to Jerusalem” to worship the Lord at His feasts, and that is where our hearts should be focused when we gather in Christ’s name.

The Westminster Confession of Faith does an excellent job of spelling out what acceptable worship to God is and what elements should be a part of that weekly gathering in Chapter 21 which I will simply post without comment:

1. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

2. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

3. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

6. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The Hand of Perfect Wisdom

As I was preparing for our Wednesday night Bible Study, I came across this passage in J. C. Ryles’ Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. He was discussing Zachariah and Elizabeth’s childlessness when he wrote:

The grace of God exempts no one from trouble. “Righteous” as this holy priest and his wife were, they had a “crook in their lot.” Let us remember this, if we serve Christ, and let us count trial no strange thing. Let us rather believe that a hand of perfect wisdom is measuring out all our portion, and that when God chastises us, it is to make us “partakers of his holiness.” (Heb. 12:10) If afflictions drive us nearer to Christ, the Bible, and prayer, they are positive blessings. We may not think so now. But we shall think so when we wake up in another world.

As long as we Christians live on this side of “the new heavens and the new earth,” we will experience many of the troubles that come with living in a fallen world. Some will face a lifetime of illness, others will struggle with learning disabilities, some will see people they love betray them, others will battle depression, some will spend their lives “feeling” alone, others will wish there was a place where they could simply “get away,” and, in the end, if Christ does not return in our lifetime, we will all face the ultimate trial, death.

Yet, for the Christian, all of these struggles are, as Ryles says, measured out by “a hand of perfect wisdom” for God’s glory, and our eternal good. Of course, suffering is not pleasant, but it is a part of this world marred by sin, and our Sovereign God is in total control. He really does “cause all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose,” and we can take comfort in the fact that the sufferings we experience are not meaningless, but have an eternal purpose.

So, I would encourage you, as you face your trials, to remember something I read in the Scriptures this afternoon, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

Tuesday Hymns: “Great God of Wonders”

Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was the first dissenting minister (he was a Presbyterian) to be licensed to preach the Gospel in the colony of Virginia. He preached to several congregations in Hanover County despite suffering from tuberculosis, and did much to lay the foundation for religious toleration in Virginia. He eventually was elected as the fourth President of the College of New Jersey (he succeeded Jonathan Edwards) in 1759, although, like Edwards, his time there was shortened by his death in 1761 at the age of thirty-seven (The doctors decision to “bleed him” probably was one factor in his early death).

Davies wrote over 100 hymns and his “Great God of Wonders” is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week. Although the tune makes it somewhat difficult to sing, the recurring question of “Who is a pard’ning God like thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?” is in the heart of every Christian who has experienced the pardoning grace of our holy God. On a side note, Patrick Henry claimed that he learned his oratorical skills listening to Davies preach as a boy.

Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace
More Godlike and unrivaled shine,
More Godlike and unrivaled shine.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

In wonder lost, with trembling joy,
We take the pardon of our God:
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood,
A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This Godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
And all th’angelic choirs above,
And all th’angelic choirs above.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?