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.

 

“For bodily exercise profiteth little”–1 Timothy 4:8

[On February 18, 2011, I posted this for the first time, and after going from the exercise bike, to running, then back to the exercise bike, my weight still is hovering around the 180 pound mark. I am grateful to the Lord for that, but I am also grateful that the Lord has given us the ordinary means of grace to grow spiritually healthy: Word, prayer, and sacraments.]

 

Many of you know that since August I have been trying to take off a few pounds (okay, maybe more than a few). I had gotten up to 223 pounds and was having to buy bigger clothes, my feet hurt, etc… Since then, I have managed to get as low as 186, and now I have plateaued between 186 and 188. My plans are, Deo Volente (Lord willing), to lose down to 180 and try to keep my weight between 180 and 185 for the rest of my life. (I know that you are thinking, “Dream on, dream on, teenage queen…” but that’s okay, because it is in the back of my mind, too.)

Along with cutting back on how much I eat (I really didn’t change what I ate, just how much…no broccoli for me!), I thought it might be wise to do a little cardio exercise. My thinking was: what good would it do to lose all of that weight if I die from cardiac arrest? I would just be a dead, skinny guy. My thoughts about exercise had always been similar to what the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, had mused, “I believe the Lord has only given my heart so many beats, and I am not going to waste any of them exercising.” However, now, five or six days a week, I get on my wife’s exercise bike and get my heart beat up to 130 beats a minute for thirty minutes. Could I still die tomorrow of a heart attack? Sure; my life is in the Lord’s hands and He can call me to heaven when He chooses, but the Lord may use this exercise bike as a means to keep me around long enough to watch my grandkids grow to adulthood. It is good to remember that the Lord does use means to accomplish His purposes on earth (granted, He is also “free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter V, paragraph iii)

I had often quipped that my lifetime Scripture verse was, “For bodily exercise profiteth little” (I’ve never understood that “lifetime Scripture verse” thing, but I digress), but if one looks at that verse in its entirety, it says something very important to the people of God, “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (New American Standard) As God’s people who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; it is “profitable” to live godly lives. But how could that ever be possible? As God said to a very aged and childless Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Just as the Lord can use means to do His work in my physical life, He can also use means to grow me in His grace. The answer to Question 88 of the Shorter Catechism mentions three of those means, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” It is through the hearing of the Word of God read and proclaimed, seeing and taking part in the right use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and through calling out to God in prayer, that the Lord, week in and week out, works out His sanctifying grace in our lives. It may not always give one “goose pimples” (although, there is nothing wrong with “goose pimples”) but the simple gathering together with Christ’s church on His Day to worship and praise our Triune God is a wonderful way to cooperate with our God as He builds His holiness into our lives.

It is true that one can go to corporate worship services every week and not grow in God’s grace, but I find it inconceivable that one could refuse the ordinary means of grace (unless providentially hindered) on a regular basis and still see his life full of the fruit of God’s Spirit. Having said all of that, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of those who are reading these words to take advantage of the means that God has chosen to “communicate to us the benefits of redemption” and worship with God’s people this Lord’s Day.

“Try a Little Tenderness”

try-a-little-tenderness

Otis Redding sang it:

Oh she may be weary
Them young girls they do get wearied…”

Yes, they do. Old girls, too. Oh, yeah, and old men. Life in a fallen world can wear you out. Most of us have no clue what those around us are going through, so it is always a good rule of thumb to “try a little tenderness.”

Henry David Thoreau was a goofball (in more ways than one), but when he said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I think he may have stumbled upon truth. Ever since Adam and Eve thought that they had a better idea, mankind has lived with sickness, want, hatred, depression, mental illness, broken relationships, grief, pain, anxiety, and eventually, death. This is one of the reasons why worshiping with God’s people on His day is so important.

In God’s house you are reminded of the grace of God Sunday in and Sunday out. And not just the grace that brought you to repentance and life, and not just the grace that will one day grant you entrance into the new heavens and the new earth, but the grace that keeps you upright when you “get wearied.” On Sunday you gather with people who, just like you, are in need of hearing about God’s grace, and in need of coming to the realization that they are not alone as they struggle. As we are tender with one another, God uses us to make that journey a little easier both for the giver and the receiver of that tenderness.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said it well in Romans 12:15-21:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Or as Otis sang, “try a little tenderness.”

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart”

rejoice-ye-pure-in-heart
Last night at our evening worship service we sang as an opening hymn, Edward Plumptre’s hymn, “Rejoice, Ye Pure In Heart,” which is this weeks, “Tuesday Hymn.” Plumptre was educated at King’s College in London, and then at University College at Oxford. He was ordained in 1847 and spent his life in academia and in preaching. This particular hymn is a wonderful reminder that all of us are called to sing praise and thanksgiving to our king whether we are young or old, in “gladness and in woe,” and that it will continue even when we “enter [our] heavenly home.” It is sung to the tune of Arthur Henry Messiter’s tune, “Marion.”

Rejoice, ye pure in heart!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing!
Your glorious banner wave on high,
the cross of Christ your King.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing.

With voices full and strong
as ocean’s surging praise,
send forth the hymns our fathers loved,
the psalms of ancient days.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing.

Yes, on through life’s long path,
Still singing as you go;
From youth to age, by night and day,
In gladness and in woe.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing.

At last the march shall end;
the wearied ones shall rest;
the pilgrims find their heavenly home,
Jerusalem the blessed.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing.

Then on, ye pure in heart!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing!
Your glorious banner raise on high,
the cross of Christ your King.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing!

Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation

every-tribe

We had three young people visit our church this morning from the Netherlands (when I say “young,” I’m guessing mid-twenties). They were visiting Texas and in the next day or two would be flying back to their native land. As we attempted to communicate through their thick Dutch accents and my deep southeast Texas twang, I discovered that they belonged to a free Dutch Reformed denomination, and although I am a “Westminster guy,” we discovered that we all shared a love for the Heidelberg Catechism. Although separated by miles, cultures, countries, years (no one would guess that I am in my mid-twenties and I no longer have to ask for the senior discount, they know), and Confession of Faiths we joined together and sang of Christ’s Gospel, heard His Word preached, and shared the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It gave the four of us a glimpse of that future day when around God’s throne we will sing to our Lord and Savior, “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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

But today, in time and space we sang Isaac Watt’s beautiful hymn about the love and sacrifice of a holy God for sinners:

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While his dear cross appears;
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes in tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.

A Solemn Covenant with God and His Church—Part IV

RPC

Over the last few days we have been looking at the membership vows that church members take when we become a part of a local Presbyterian Church in America congregation. The first two vows speak of the justification that we have in Christ through no merit of our own, but established completely through the finished work of Christ. The third vow was a general promise that said, “I do,” to the following question, “Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ? In other words, depending upon the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we promise to seek to live as a Christian should live.

The fourth vow consists of a promise to live like a follower of Christ by seeking “to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability.” I once knew a man who was serving as a school board member and was confronted by a parent who had just heard that the School Superintendent was going to retire and in great concern asked, “What are we going to do if Dr. _______ retires?” My friends response was: “How are we going to know?”

Just as we should know that a School Superintendent is doing his job by seeing the results of his work, we also should be able to tell that someone is a follower of Christ because he supports the worship of the Church. Gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s Day is not something that he does if he finds the time, but it is at the top of his priority list. My Dad was not a perfect man in any way, but I appreciate the fact that I was raised knowing that on the Lord’s Day we would be in church to worship the living God with His people. I never once asked, “Are we going to church this Sunday?” because that would be a stupid question. Of course, we were.

We can also tell that someone is a follower of Christ because he supports the work of the Church. We support the work of the church by being involved as much as possible in ministering and loving people with our lives, but it also means that we are involved in supporting the work of the church through God’s tithes and our offerings. A police detective once said that he could tell if someone was a faithful Christian by simply looking at their checkbook (yes, there was a time when people wrote checks for everything). He said it was not the extravagance of the giving to the church that was the key, but the consistency of the giving that gave it away (Remember the widow’s mite).

The Christian’s relationship to God and His Church is not a discretionary relationship, but it is at the heart of all that he is and all that he does. There is one last way of “living as becomes a follower of Christ” mentioned in the last of the membership vows, which I will cover in my next post.

I’m Not Nearly as Smart as I Used to Be

means of grace

I miss my younger days when I knew it all. Back then, at the ripe old age of thirty-nine, I had the answers for all of my fellow pastors. Because of the fact that the two churches that I had pastored had grown, and, more or less, had acted “Christian,” I would often sit back and think (I wouldn’t dare say it out loud) when I saw pastors struggling in their churches, “If they would only be patient, keep loving the people, and preach God’s Word consistently, things would turn around.” Why? Number one, because I knew that is what we were called to do, and, number two, I had been “successful” by doing that. Of course, successful meant that the budgets, buildings, and baptisms measured up to everyone else.

However, when I arrived at my third church, my bubble burst. I did what I had always done: I preached “the whole counsel of God” by preaching expositionally through books of the Bible; I loved the people by being there when they were sick, troubled, dying, struggling, and, to be totally honest, fighting; and I was patient, knowing that in time everything would turn around…but it never did. And, that is when I discovered something: not that I was doing it all wrong and that I needed to have “Pack a Pew Sundays,” do the Sunday School Action plan (see, I’m older than you thought), or to bring it up to date, wear raggedy, skinny jeans, and a tee shirt to preach in, or put a bed on the roof of the church for 40 days (not going there), or have a “fire truck baptistery” for the kids to be baptized in (I’m really not going there). No, I was doing the right things, but my problem was my definition of success. It is not bigger buildings, growing budgets, and numerous baptisms, but it is being faithful to God and His Word.

When we look at Scripture we see times when there is great growth in the kingdom of God. We see Jonah at Nineveh, we see Peter on the Day of Pentecost, we see Paul at Corinth; but if we are honest, we also see Jeremiah preaching for decades with no outward result, we see John banished to the Isle of Patmos, we see Jesus being rejected by His own people, and we see many “lean years” down through history when it was almost as if God’s church went underground to survive.

So, keep in my mind, whether you are in a time of great reaping and rejoicing in your present situation, or in a time of great struggle; that we plant, we water, but it is God “who gives the increase.” Focus on providing God’s Word (Law and Gospel), prayer, and sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) to your people every Lord’s Day, and loving them all during the week, and then trust God in His time to accomplish His work in His people, whether you see it visibly in your time there or not.

By the way, I’m not nearly as “smart” as I used to be.

“Baby, the Rain Must Fall”

rain must fall

On this rainy Saturday morning my thoughts have wandered down memory lane. I think back on the many difficult times that I have experienced and also witnessed in the lives of those for whom I have cared. I have seen the tragic loss of spouses, children, parents, and friends to death; the narcissistic chasing of some dream (or “soulmate”) that has wreaked havoc and destruction in the lives of children, families, and churches; our culture “slouching toward Gomorrah” socially, sexually, verbally and in every other way imaginable; the pain and sorrow that accompanies mental illness, both in those who suffer with it and those who love and care for them; and the list of the woes that are our companions as we travel through this fallen world could go on and on.

In the midst of all of these things, what makes life worth living? What keeps us “keeping on keeping on” in the midst of pain, heartache, disease, and death? I believe two things primarily. First of all, people. I often quote my old seminary professor, Dr. Oscar Thompson, who said, “The most important word in the English language, other than proper nouns, is the word, ‘relationship.’” Life is all about “loving and being loved.” Being cared for by another human being makes all of life’s burdens bearable. It’s as Hank Thompson once sang (I know because I had the 45 rpm record), “It’s better to have loved a little, than never to have loved at all.”

Yet, there is something more. It is our God who is the “Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort.” There is something calming about gathering with God’s people every Lord’s Day, hearing God’s Word read, confessing our sin, calling out to God in prayer, singing the hymns that God’s people of all the ages have sung, hearing the Law and Gospel truthfully preached, observing a Baptism or partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and in all of these simple ways being reminded that our God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

It is true that “Baby, the rain must fall; baby, the wind must blow,” but it is good to know that our God is Lord over the rain and the wind, and that He has an eternal purpose for our daily, seemingly, mundane and ordinary lives. So, in the midst of my woes and uncertainties, tomorrow morning, I will gather with His people, and look again and again to the simple, ordinary means that God has provided to grow me in His grace.

Tuesday Hymns: “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear”

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Baptist pastor who spent most of his days ministering in Manchester, England, and was, also, a prolific hymn writer (The CyberHymnal website lists 284 hymns attributed to Gadsby). He has once again gained popularity because of our Tuesday Hymn of the week, “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear.” Indelible Grace has taken a theologically solid old hymn, and released it to a new tune. Not all of Indelible Grace’s tunes are conducive for congregational singing but this one is simple and very singable. I have searched for other tunes connected to this hymn and have been unable to find any.

The hymn paints a picture of the grace that has been poured out upon sinners through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ who “knows and is known by His sheep; They’re His, and He will hold them fast.”

Poor sinner, dejected with fear,
Unbosom thy mind to the Lamb;
No wrath on His brow He does wear,
Nor will He poor mourners condemn;
His arm of omnipotent grace
Is able and willing to save;
A sweet and a permanent peace
He’ll free- ly- and faith- fully give.

Come just as thou art, with thy woe,
Fall down at the feet of the Lamb;
He will not, He cannot say, “Go”,
But surely will take out thy stain
A fountain is opened for sin,
And thousands its virtues have proved
He’ll take thee, and plunge thee therein,
And wash- thee- from filth- in His blood.

The soul that on Jesus relies,
He’ll never, no never deceive;
He freely and faithfully gives
More blessings than we can conceive;
Yea, down to old age He will keep,
Nor will He forsake us at last;
He knows and is known by His sheep;
They’re His- , and He will hold- them fast.

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

(I have not posted on this blog since April, but since tomorrow is the Lord’s Day I thought that I would repost this prayer from the “Valley of Vision.”)

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!

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