The Winter of Life

dotage

Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian composer of the Baroque Period (1699-1750) who wrote over 500 concertos during his lifetime. Granted, some say he wrote one concerto 500 times but I digress (I also disagree). One morning this week as I was getting dressed I was listening to his most famous work, “The Four Seasons,” and I began to think about my life. The average male lifespan in the United States is 78.74 years as of 2015, and if that, in God’s providence, works out for me than I am officially in the “winter” of my life. I entered it when I turned fifty-nine.

The Bible speaks in general of the length of a man’s life in the old King James language as being “threescore and ten” years and “if by strength, fourscore” years. (Psalms 90) On my next birthday I will be sixty-four so the shadows are beginning to lengthen for me. So how should I face these wintry years?

First of all, I should be grateful to God for the years that I have already experienced. Every day is a gift from God that I didn’t earn and didn’t deserve; yet, He, in His grace, has chosen to bless me with almost sixty-four years of these “days of grace.” As I look back I see all the joy and love that I have experienced and I have much for which to be thankful.

Secondly, I need to live my life now to the fullest for the glory of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and that is true whether I am in my thirty-third year or my sixty-third. Yes, “my back is a little stiff and there are some lines around my eyes” as Randy Stonehill sang, but I can still love, pray, worship, grow, serve, etc., maybe not at the same level as I once was able, but I can do what I can in the Lord’s strength.

Last of all, I need to look with joy toward the future. It is true that my body cannot do what it once did, and I sometimes have to struggle to remember a name, or a word, or a…what was I talking about? Anyway, I need to remember that God is in control, and that I can trust Him to guide me through the possible difficult days of what President John Adams would call my “dotage” just as He did the difficult days of my youth; and that He is also the one in charge of bringing me from this “present evil age” into the “age to come.

 

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Tuesday Hymns: “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth”

Teach me o lord your way of truth

Ray Lanning, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, had this to say about The Psalter of 1912:

The year was 1912, and the place was Pittsburgh. In the heart of the city famous for steel and beer, a small group of Psalm-singing United Presbyterians held a last committee meeting. They sat to put the final touches on the labor of nearly twenty years, as they wrote a preface to a new metrical version of the Psalms with music. It was published that year, and has come to be known as The Psalter, 1912, or simply, The Psalter. This book of praise has been in use ever since in North America, and its influence has spread to many denominations and many other books of Psalms and hymns. It is likely no exaggeration to say that The Psalter, 1912 has been used longer and more widely than any other book like it in American church history.”

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth,” comes to us from that Psalter. It is a metrical paraphrase of Psa. 119:33-40 and reminds us that not only is our justification by grace, but so is our sanctification. The Psalmist asks for the Lord to “teach us” His way of truth, to “give us” an understanding heart, to “make us” walk in His commandments, to “give us” a heart that loves to obey, to “turn our eyes” from vanity, to “cause us” to walk in His ways, to “turn away” our reproach and fear, and to “revive us” in His righteousness.

As we sang this hymn last Sunday morning, I thought back on how my preaching has changed over the years. It went from “come on guys, we can do this,” to “look at what Christ has done for us.” Our obedient Christian life is a result of the “love of Christ that compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) This Psalm is sung to the Joseph Holbrook’s tune, Bishop.

Teach me, O Lord, Your way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In your commandments make me walk,
For in your law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves your will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn now my eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Your ways to tread;
O let Your servant prove Your Word
And thus to Godly fear be led.

Turn away my reproach and fear;
Your righteous judgments I confess;
To know Your precepts I desire;
Revive me in Your righteousness.

“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
.”

What about the Poor?

what about the poor
It was over a decade ago. After being a Southern Baptist pastor for approximately twenty-five years, I was becoming a Presbyterian; not a mainline, liberal Presbyterian, but a conservative, Bible-believing, Westminster Standards confessing Presbyterian. For my ordination to be accepted I had to pass written tests over the English Bible, Church history, the Sacraments, Theology, and the Book of Church Order. I then went before the Candidates and Credential Committee to be examined and was eventually questioned before the entire Presbytery.

There were several things that to me were interesting through that process. The first surprise came when I said that I had no exceptions to the Westminster Standards; the chairmen looked at me with some surprise and said, “None?” I responded by saying, “None.” He, with a funny look on his face said, “Oh.” The second surprise came when I answered the question, “What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of the Creation?” I responded by saying, “six, twenty-four hour days.” The chairman smiled and patiently explained that there were several views of Creation that were acceptable in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I smiled back and said, “But the question was, ‘What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of Creation?’” And, yes, I happened to agree with them.

There was a question that caught me off guard when I stood before the entire Presbytery, also. Someone called out, “What about the poor?” I said, “Pardon?” “What about the poor?” I think I responded with a rather long comment about how we should always be ready to care for the physical needs of the poor, etc. While I believe that there was some truth in what I said; looking back, I believe I would have answered differently.

What do the poor need from the church? They need the same thing that the rich, the middle class, and every other strata of society needs from the church: The Gospel. The church’s primary responsibility is, as Paul said, to proclaim that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) We are to call upon people to turn from trusting in themselves, and to put their trust in what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf; no matter the size of their bank account. Jesus told the messengers that John the Baptist had sent to him that one of the evidences that He was the Messiah was that the “poor have the good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5)

So, while it is important to remember Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10) the most important thing we can do, as Christ’s Church, is to point men to Christ through Word, prayer, and sacraments, that they might discover the abundant grace that God has poured out upon all who believe the Gospel.

What about the poor? The poor need the Gospel.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “As When The Hebrew Prophet Raised”

as when the hebrew prophet

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote a gazillion hymns in his lifetime (over 750 hymns anyway) and our Tuesday Hymn of the Week concerns Watts’ look at an Old Testament passage that points forward to Christ. If I may jog your memory the Old Testament consists of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible that so often has been ignored by my much of twenty-first century evangelicalism. “As When the Hebrew Prophet Raised” mentions the bronze serpent that God told Moses to raise up in the wilderness to provide healing for the Hebrew people who had been bitten by the snakes as a judgment for their complaints against Moses and the God he represented. The passage reads:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.”  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:8-9)

Watts’ first verse succinctly tells the story:

As when the Hebrew prophet raised
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded looked, and straight were cured,
The people ceased to die
;”

The rest of the hymn speaks of the truth that just as those who looked on the serpent were healed of their snake bites; those who look to Christ may be delivered from the wrath of God. Just as John tells us in his Gospel:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

It is normally sung to Lowell Mason’s tune, DOWNS.

As when the Hebrew prophet raised
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded looked, and straight were cured,
The people ceased to die;

So from the Saviour on the cross
A healing virtue flows;
Who looks to him with lively faith
Is saved from endless woes.

For God gave up his Son to death,
So gen’rous was his love,
That all the faithful might enjoy
Eternal life above.

Not to condemn the sons of men
The Son of God appeared;
No weapons in his hand are seen,
Nor voice of terror heard:

He came to raise our fallen state,
And our lost hopes restore;
Faith leads us to the mercy seat,
And bids us fear no more.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea”

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was an Anglican pastor who is probably best known for his beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He has been accused of being an “extreme Calvinist” (probably because of his strong-worded criticism of the Wesley brothers), yet, his hymns often present the twin doctrines of the unfathomable glory of God, and His inexhaustible mercy to sinners. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea,” is a description of God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness meet[ing],” and His “righteousness and peace kiss[ing] each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

The first and second verses speak of God’s sovereign authority over all of creation, and His wrath upon all who oppose Him, yet, the third and fourth verses speak of God as the “Prince of Peace” and of His universal “reign of love.” If an “extreme Calvinist” is one who calls upon all people to look to Christ alone, and to rest totally on His mercy and grace for the hope of their salvation, I wouldn’t mind being placed in that category. The hymn is sung to the tune, Mendon.

Great God, whom Heaven, and earth, and sea,
With all their countless hosts, obey;
Upheld by whom the nations stand,
And empires fall at Thy command.
 

Beneath Thy long suspended ire,
Let every antichrist expire;
Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea,
And distant nations bow to Thee.
 

Then show Thyself the Prince of Peace,
Command the din of war to cease;
With sacred love the world inspire,
And burn its chariots in the fire.
 

Let earth beneath Thy reign of love
A universal Sabbath prove:
Jesus her peaceful king adore,
And learn the act of war no more.

 

“Hope does not disappoint”

hopelessness

While scrolling through Twitter this morning I came upon this quote which had been posted without attribution: “The poorest people in the world aren’t the ones without money…It’s the ones without hope.” When hope is absent, life is almost unbearable; and there are many navigating through life whose hope has been crushed by the cruel circumstances of a fallen world. They see no end to their suffering.

The darkness that accompanies mental illness, debilitating sickness, broken relationships, and destructive addictions seems deep and never ending. Like Sisyphus repeatedly rolling his rock up the hill only to see it crashing down to the bottom, people often do live what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation.” While admitting that God can and still works miracles, we also know that there are times when we will not see relief from our circumstances in this present evil age. So where is our hope to be found? Paul gave us the answer when he wrote to Timothy almost 2000 years ago:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)

Our hope is not to be found in a new product, a new lifestyle, a new leaf, a new way of thinking, a new job, or new friends; our hope can only be found in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can give us hope both now in this “present evil age,” and in “the age to come.” That is why I love the Reformed faith: the doctrinal truths found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Smaller and Larger Catechisms point me to Jesus Christ and the mercy and grace He pours out upon me even in the darkest of nights.

If there is never a “healing,” or a “reconciliation,” or a “deliverance,” in my life, the Christ of the Scriptures is still an “ever present help in time of trouble.” Through our pain and through our darkness our “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The pain is real. The darkness is real. Yet, the hope that is found in Jesus Christ is even more real.

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.

 

When the Days are Dark


Most of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. In 1967 she was injured in a diving accident at the age of seventeen which resulted in her becoming a paraplegic. By God’s grace and through agonizing rehabilitation she has lived a very full life over the last fifty years, being an example to all of us that “God’s grace is sufficient” for whatever comes our way. She has written over fifty books and is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. In 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. If anyone knows what the phrase, “a dark providence” means, it would be Ms. Tada.

When asked how she had been able to deal with all of the challenges that went along with her paraplegia she responded, “I suppose what helped me get through this more than any other thing was reading Loraine Boettner’s, ‘Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.’” It was the truth that God was in control and that He had a plan and purpose for her life kept her going. I am sure that there were times when she felt alone, afraid, despondent, and forgotten, but that truth kept her going forward even through the darkest night.

Yes, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) As dark as life gets, as lonely as we feel, and as painful as our personal life experience gets; God, in His love, brings light, His comforting presence, and His all sufficient grace. As our new pastor, Nick Napier, said this morning (quoting Thomas Wilcox), “Judge not Christ’s love by His providence, but by His promises.”

(And it wouldn’t hurt to read Dr. Boettner’s book, either.)

Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

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