“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.

“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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