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.

On Being a Pastor (Part 1)

pastor

 

 

 

 

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word translated “bishop” in this verse is a word in the Book of Acts that describes the church office of “pastor.” There have been many articles written lately on the Internet describing how tough it is to be a pastor in the 21st century, and there is some truth to be found in that contention. As one who was ordained in August of 1981 and just recently retired, I can speak with some expertise on the subject.

The pastoral life has its challenges. To begin, there are always people (probably in any church one belongs to) that seem to have the “spiritual gift of criticism.” They criticize every decision that the pastor makes and make life truly miserable for him at times. I still remember a story that Dr. A. J. Quinn once told me about his days as an associational missionary when a young pastor pleaded with him to find him another church because of this lady who hounded him constantly as he tried to do his work in that small west Texas town. The good doctor responded by asking him how many in his church were like this woman. The young pastor said, “Only one. Just that Jezebel.” Dr. Quinn told him that he had better stay put because the next place that he serves may “have a church full of them.”

There is also the pressure of the calling. There are often eternal consequences to the things you do (Of course, I realize only God can change a heart, but the pastor “feels” the importance of the tasks he is called to do). He is called upon to open God’s Word week after week to feed Christ’s sheep with spiritual food (That amounts to approximately 150 sermons, Bible studies, etc. every year). Thankfully, God has given 66 books of the Bible full of heavenly truth. However, a diligent pastor will strive (and that is a good word to describe it) to make sure that he “rightly divides the Word of truth” as he explains, illustrates, and applies that Word to God’s people.

A pastor also feels emotional challenges as he ministers. He is there when the doctor comes out of surgery with bad news from the biopsy, he is there when church members and even people in the community die, he is there when husbands and wives are acting like the Hatfields and McCoys, he is there when the teenager is pushing every boundary that he can push, he is there when a child has been abused and seeks to help that child put the pieces of his life back together, and he is there when…well, I think you get the picture. No pastor feels comfortable when these events happen, but you are there to pray, and to be the Lord’s representative, because that is what you are called to do, and that is what those people need at that time. There are those who say you need to put some space between you and the people, but that is impossible when you are “weeping with those who weep.”

A pastor feels the pressure of time. When he is at home, he feels guilty because he is not out ministering to people, and when he is out ministering to people, he feels guilty because he is not home with his family. And, honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As one older pastor once told me when I was a young whippersnapper, “If you can do anything else other than pastor, do it.”

But, wait,” you may say, “you said that the one who desires to be a pastor desires a good thing.” Yes, being a pastor is not just a great responsibility, it is a great blessing. In my next blog post, [Deo Volente] I will speak of the many positive sides of being a pastor.

“The Good Outweighs the Bad”

I, Clifton, take you, Dixie, To be my wedded wife—to have and to hold—from this day forward—for better, for worse—for richer, for poorer—in sickness and in health—to love and to cherish—till death do us part—and therefore, I promise my love.”

Over the last twenty-six years I think we have covered just about all of that, well, except for the death angle. We’ve seen the “better and worse,” the “richer and poorer,” and especially the “in sickness and in health,” but it was the “to have and to hold,” and the “to love and to cherish” which kept us going through all of the other.

It was challenging from day one. To begin with, I was a widower with an eleven year old son and a pastor of the largest church in the community. I was living in the county where I grew up so everybody, and I mean, everybody knew who I was. Dixie and I would go out to eat and everyone in the church and half of Orange County knew about it before the sun came up the next morning. It was life in a fishbowl (it makes me feel sorry for Reed’s Tetras every time I look in the aquarium to this day). Dixie stepped into a world where I was still grieving the loss of my wife and daughter, preparing sermons, visiting the sick, preaching funerals, performing weddings, counseling angry husbands and wives, and at the same time trying to get to know her with the personal characteristics and intricacies that made up her own life. I get weary just thinking back on those days.

Yet, as Danny once said in the children’s book, “Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine,” (O the joys of the Scholastic Book Service and my education), she “jumped in head first with both feet.” And, I am glad that she did. The years of challenges have been real, but the loving and cherishing have made them worthwhile. As Dixie and I have said to each other often down through the years, “the good outweighs the bad.”

Marriage always reminds me of the words of Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes, while not speaking about marriage, are a good description of what marriage should be:

9 Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor.  10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.  11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone?  12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9-12)

When marriage is made up of a Christian man, a Christian Woman, and Jesus Christ; it can last for a lifetime.

 

“What God has joined together, let no man separate”

As if we needed another reason to ignore people who claim to have received visions and special revelations from God, this article adds yet another: Pat Robertson Says Alzheimer’s Makes Divorce OK. When a viewer asked Pat Robertson what advice he should give a friend who had started seeing another woman because his wife has Alzheimer’s, he responded: “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

When I married Dixie, I made vows to her and to God that I would take her as my lawfully wedded wife, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.” Did that mean that our time together would always be trouble free? Of course not. The very vows taken are a reminder that along with the better is the worse, along with the richer is the poorer, along with the health is the sickness, etc. Christian marriage is an “until death do us part” commitment that a man and a woman make depending upon the grace of God to leave family, cleave to one another, and become one flesh.

As a son who watched his father care for his mother as her mind began to slip away, I realize that such care is draining and difficult, but I also realize that such care is one of the reasons why two people marry in the first place: to be there when they are needed most. I often read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 at a wedding. It is not specifically about marriage, but the principle is very true for a husband and a wife: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

One should always turn to God’s Word when asking such questions about divorce. God is very specific when it comes to divorce, and the Westminster Confession of Faith lays out clearly the Biblical position in Chapter XXIV: “Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.” As Jesus commanded: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate,” (Matthew 19:6) no matter what Pat Robertson says.

“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.”

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

Tuesday Hymns: Psalm 78:1-8

At our Sunday night service (yes, some churches still have those) we sang Psalm 78 (at least we sang the first eight verses) as praise to God, and to remind each other of the responsibility that God has given to each of us to raise our children in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Psalmist speaks of “not hiding God’s sayings from our sons,” of “telling the race to come of Yahweh’s praises and strength,” of encouraging those “yet unborn…to trust in God, recall God’s works, and His commandments heed,” and to not be faithless as so many of their fathers were.

We sang this wonderful Psalm to the tune, ELLENCOMBE.

O ye my people, to my law
Attentively give ear;
The words that from my mouth proceed
Incline yourselves to hear.
My mouth shall speak a parable,
The sayings dark of old,
Which we have listened to and known
As by our fathers told.

We will not hide them from their sons
But tell the race to come
Jehovah’s praises and His strength,
The wonders He has done.
His word He unto Jacob gave,
His law to Is-ra-el,
And bade our fathers teach their sons
The coming race to tell,

That children yet unborn might know
And their descendants lead
To trust in God, recall God’s works,
And His commandments heed,
And not be like their fathers were,
A race of stubborn mood,
Which never would prepare its heart
Nor keep its faith with God.

Grace By Which I Stand

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:30-31)

I would never say that Dixie (my wife, if you are not aware) is not charming. She can be witty, clever, and is able to make up silly rhymes on cue. I also can honestly say (and not just because she reads this blog from time to time) that I believe that she is very attractive. Whatever color her hair may be on a particular day or whatever style may have been chosen (well, except for the really bad perm that she once had perpetrated on herself), I am always proud to be seen with her in public.

However, the character trait which Dixie possesses that I love the most is her undying fear of the Lord. She is never one to hide her sin, or pretend it does not exist, but is always quick to confess and look to the grace of God as her only hope in life and death. She is one who understands and appreciates the grace of God more than most, and, that is why one of Keith Green’s songs was always so precious to her (Yes, I know that his theology could be really goofy…is goofy a theological category?):

Lord, the feelings are not the same,
I guess I’m older, I guess I’ve changed.
And how I wish it had been explained,
that as you’re growing you must remember,
That nothing lasts, except the grace of God,
by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away,
except for grace, by which I’m saved.

Lord, I remember that special way,
I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.
But like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray, one hour with you,
And I bet, I could deny you too.
But nothing lasts, except the grace of God,
by which I stand, in Jesus.
I’m sure that my whole life would waste away,
except for grace, by which I’m saved.

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God,
by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away,
except for grace, by which I’m saved.
—“Grace By Which I Stand,” Keith Green

How did that grace become ours? Through Christ’s work as our priest. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us:

Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.

I am so grateful that God chose to touch my wife with His grace, as He did me, and so many others from “every tribe and language and people and nation,” for “I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.”

Parenting Children in a Fallen World

John MacArthur has written an excellent article about how to raise your children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” entitled, “How to Provoke Your Children” on his Grace to You website. He says in part:

Paul’s command to parents includes two parts. The first is negative. He said, “Do not provoke your children to wrath.” Don’t thoughtlessly aggravate them. Don’t unnecessarily goad them. Don’t deliberately exasperate them. Don’t foolishly discourage them. But express your love to them by treating them with gentleness, kindness, consideration, and respect. After all, that’s an essential part of being a good example to them.”

If you are a parent I would encourage you to read the entire article at Grace to You.

HT: Tim Challies

Life is Good

There are times in a man’s life when his eyes are opened to how good life is. I realize we live in a fallen world (thanks to the sin of Adam, Eve and their “posterity descending from them by ordinary generation”), which carries with it hurricanes, floods, economic distress, selfishness (did I mention selfishness?), sickness, rebellion, strife, bitterness, and myriads of other evils rampant in this time between the “already, and the not yet.”

However, I am reminded daily of the preciousness of life. Although one of my boys suffers with Autism, and the other with Tourette’s Syndrome, I am able to love them and they are able to love me (I also have a grown son who suffers with being a high school football coach but that is a different story for a different time). My wife has been battling protruding discs in C5 and C6, but again, I have never doubted her love for me, nor (I think) has she ever doubted my love for her. Of course, there is my own “remaining sin” which I must battle constantly. As Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) However, even there, I know that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)  

So, in reality, life is really good. I have forgiveness in Christ, so I have a glorious eternity to look forward to, and, also, God has placed me in a fallen world with the opportunity to serve those around me. I suppose I could complain about how others treat me (and sadly, sometimes I do), but my focus should be to follow the instructions given me in Romans 12:9-21:

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,1 serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.1 Never be conceited.  17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it1 to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And through, and only through, the glorious grace of Christ, can this be a description of my life. May I never lose sight of the fact that God has given me the great privilege of serving others as a “good steward of God’s grace.”

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