“There’s no business, like soul business.”

I have always been a fan of the Rev. Will B. Dunn and the comic strip “Kudzu.” Sadly the reason that the strip is so entertaining is because the writer has his finger on the pulse on what is called Christianity in the twenty-first century. This may be why the modern worship center looks alarmingly like a theater or a recording studio. Maybe there is “no business like soul business.” It is comfortable, it is entertaining, maybe it is even exciting; but I am not convinced that “comfortable, entertaining, and exciting” are necessarily prerequisites to Gospel worship.

In that context I think back to what I experienced yesterday when I gathered with God’s people. We sang hymns of praise that contained Biblical depth. We confessed our sins and heard the promise of forgiveness from God’s Word. The Bible was read publicly (more than just a snippet) because that is how God speaks to His people. A child was baptized and we were reminded of the grace of God that is ours through what Jesus Christ did for us through His obedient life and sacrificial death. We called out to God in prayer. We heard the Word of God proclaimed. We shared the Lord’s Supper together which again reminded us of God’s grace. Christ was pointed to as our hope again and again.

It wasn’t comfortable, but it brought comfort. It wasn’t entertaining, but it was focused on God, both who He is and what He has done. It wasn’t necessarily exciting, but it fed more than just the emotion; it fed the soul. I am grateful that God Sunday after Sunday reveals Himself to us through simple things like prayer, Word, and sacrament. Maybe it is “soul business” after all.

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“Old Truth in Old Forms”

Givens Brown Strickler lived quite a life. He was born on April 25, 1840 in northern Virginia. While a student at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South. Promptly, many in the student body formed themselves into “The Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and became a part of the Stonewall Brigade to protect their beloved Virginia against an invasion by their own countrymen. Strickler fought bravely until he was captured at the top of Cemetery Hill during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. While a prisoner of war he “prayed, conducted religious meetings, made religious addresses; and in every practicable way sought to exert the best moral and religious influence on his fellow sufferers in prison,” according to John Miller Wells.

After the war he returned to Washington College (where Robert E. Lee was president at the time) to finish his degree and then on to Union Seminary to prepare for the ministry. As a pastor and seminary professor he touched many lives for the Gospel of Christ. But, his friend and colleague, Thomas Cary Johnson, said something about him which spoke volumes to me about what a pastor should be:

Dr. Strickler was a pre-eminently great teacher of the Reformed Theology. He gave himself to inventing no new statement of any old truth; but accepting the old truth in its old forms he exhibited unrivalled skill in expounding, defending, and impressing this theology as set forth in the Westminster Standards—that rugged and massive system of Christian truth which so perfectly matched his own character, which had moulded his own character.”

Pastors don’t have to “cast visions,” be clever, entertain, come up with new and imaginative ideas, etc., they just need to “expound, defend, and impress” the truth of Scripture to their congregations. God’s flock needs to be fed with the green pastures of God’s Word, not the spirit of a shallow and callous culture. Thank you, Dr. Givens Strickler, for showing us a better way.

Tuesday Hymns: “Christ Shall Have Dominion”

christ shall have dominion

We sang a Hymn last Sunday morning that I had never sung before (I have seldom been able to write those words) and because of that it is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week. It was entitled, “Christ Shall Have Dominion” and it is sung to the same tune as, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Like so many of the hymns in our Trinity Hymnal, it comes from The Psalter of 1912. It is a metrical version of a segment of the 72nd Psalm which reminds us of the good news that Our God Reigns.

In this troubled world in which we live it is good for us to remember that Satan is bound (yes, the chain sometimes seems very long), and he cannot hinder the purposes of God being fulfilled. His (Christ’s) Gospel is going out to “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and [Christ] hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10) We need not fear that Christ and His Church will be defeated for not even the “gates of hell shall overpower” them.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

Christ shall have dominion, over land and sea,
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be;
They that wilds inhabit shall their worship bring,
Kings shall render tribute, nations serve our King.

Refrain

Christ shall have dominion, over land and sea,
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be.

When the needy seek Him, He will mercy show;
Yea, the weak and helpless shall His pity know;
He will surely save them from oppression’s might,
For their lives are precious in His holy sight.

Refrain

Ever and forever shall His Name endure;
Long as suns continue it shall stand secure;
And in Him forever all men shall be blest,
And all nations hail Him King of kings confessed.

Refrain

Unto God Almighty joyful Zion sings;
He alone is glorious, doing wondrous things.
Evermore, ye people, bless His glorious Name,
His eternal glory through the earth proclaim.

Refrain

“As was His [Jesus] custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.”

Sunday

Oh, that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!

Immediately before the Benediction during this morning’s worship we sang Edward Perronet’s 1779 hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” The last verse in the Red Trinity Hymnal was written nine years later by John Rippon and added to Perronet’s version, and it is printed above. As we sang that verse I was almost moved to tears. There was nothing “miraculous” about it. It was just God’s Hand of Providence at work.

We had sung praise to God. We had confessed our sin. We had heard God’s Word read. We had given God’s Tithe and our Offerings. We had heard a message from God’s Written Word, and now as we were about to leave, we were singing of the joys of eternity that will be ours all because of the manifold grace of our Jesus Christ.

I suppose the emotion came because the preceding week had been trying. We had faced challenges and struggles; many of which were those continuing kind of struggles that may not disappear until the new heavens and the new earth. Yet, in gathering with God’s people and focusing on and worshiping the One who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I found a hope that was at best feeble before I arrived at 4220 Crow Road this morning.

It reminded me of a verse from a hymn by Christopher Wordsworth that speaks of this weekly opportunity to grow in God’s grace:

New graces ever gaining
from this our day of rest,
we reach the rest remaining
to spirits of the blest.
We sing to You our praises,
O Father, Spirit, Son;
the church its voice upraises
to You, blest Three in One
.”

Ordinary Actions

new-and-improved

We live in a world where “new and improved” is the rage. We need excitement! We need thrills! We need bells! We need whistles! As one church advertised: “No more boring church!” However, all of that reminds me of something that R. C. Sproul once said, “There is one thing that I never find in the Bible when a person comes into the presence of the living God: ‘He is never bored.’” We don’t need a “new and improved” way to come into the presence of God, we have the “tried and true” way.

Way back in 1640s the men at the Westminster Assembly restated the Biblical proviso of how to draw near to God as His people that we might grow in grace:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. 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.

We recoil at the word, “ordinary,” yet Christ has ordained the simple actions of “reading and preaching the Word; administering water, bread, and wine; and calling out to God in praise and supplication” as the means to discover Him anew, when we as His people gather in His name week in and week out. It is sufficient whether you are in a cathedral in London, a storefront in New York, or a grass hut in the jungle of deepest Africa. Word. Sacraments. Prayer. It is sufficient, and never boring (at least it isn’t if you are one of His children).

 

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day

patriotic worship

The story is told (although I have never seen other than anecdotal evidence that this event actually happened) that during the Revolutionary War a group of British soldiers entered a Long Island church on a Sunday morning and ordered the congregation to sing, God Save Our Gracious King which was the British national anthem (sort of, not officially until the 19th century). The congregation responded by singing a hymn which (at that time) was sung to the same tune:

Come, thou Almighty King,
Help us thy name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father, all glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
Ancient of days.

Come, thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend:
Come and thy people bless,
And give thy Word success;
Spirit of holiness,
On us descend.

Come, Holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour:
Thou who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart,
Spirit of power.

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be,
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

I have never read what the supposed response of the British soldiers was to this declaration that there are higher allegiances in existence than just earthly political allegiances, but it does make for a good story. It also makes an important point: When we gather together as the church of God on His Day, we are there for the worship of the living God, not to espouse any political or national agenda.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love the country in which I live. I appreciate the sacrifice that has been made by those who have fought and died to protect her. I pray regularly for President Trump (although I didn’t vote for him), and for all those that God has placed in governmental authority over me. However, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, it is not to salute the flag, sing songs about our country, or recite the pledge of allegiance (although I have no problem doing that in other places); it is to worship the Triune God and to focus on Him. The first two paragraphs of Chapter Twenty-one of the Westminster Confession of Faith speak directly as to how God should be worshipped by His gathered church:

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.

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.

So, if a group of soldiers were to ever enter our worship service and demand that we sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (or any other anthem), I hope that we would respond as did that supposed Long Island Church, by singing of our primary allegiance to the Triune God.

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Alas, And Did My Saviour Bleed”

watts isaac

In Isaac Watt’s later years he once complained, “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” Even in complaining about church members’ attitudes, Watt’s words flowed like a mountain stream. He has been called the “Father of English Hymnody” for good reason and his published hymns would be exhibit numbers 1-800. Our Tuesday Hymn of the Week, “Alas, And Did My Saviour Bleed,” is a good example of his inborn talent and his excellent theology. His understanding of the depth of man’s sin and the abundance of God’s mercy and grace is found in every verse.

As one who grew up in a tradition that sang, “At the Cross,” (which took the words of Watts, added a refrain, and sang it to a tune that sounded like it originated in a circus calliope…sorry, I just feel that way) I was thrilled to discover his words connected to a more appropriate tune in The Trinity Hymnal.

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.

PS—And, just for the record, I have no issue at all with the phrase, “For such a worm as I.”
;^)

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

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