“The Morn of Song”

RPC

After several challenging years, the last twelve months being especially challenging because we did not have a pastor, our church (and I use that “our” to denote belonging, not ownership) unanimously has voted to call a pastor. I am truly excited about the future as this man is a Confessional Presbyterian who understands the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Pending approval by our Presbytery, he should be on the field within the next couple of months. I believe he will fit in well with something that I used to write in a letter to those who visited Reformed Presbyterian Church during my almost decade as an Associate Pastor:

RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

As I think back over the last year I am especially grateful to those who kept things going at RPC. I appreciate our Interim Pastor, John Wagner, who has stepped in and preached God’s Word faithfully and showed pastoral care to a hurting flock. I, also, appreciate those who filled the pulpit on Sundays before Pastor John arrived.

I appreciate the work of our ruling elders who had a difficult situation thrust upon them and worked diligently to hold things together, reading and answering numerous emails, phone calls, and questions. These are men who have families and real jobs in the real world, who sacrificially give of themselves to minister to the people of God. They are not perfect men, but they did the best job that they could do as they attempted to lead us through uncharted territory.

I also appreciate the Pastor Search Committee who worked so diligently in finding the right man to lead this congregation to be a Gospel light in a very, very dark world. I pray that the Lord will bless them for the time that they spent away from their families during this past year, meeting, praying, sorting through MDFs, listening to sermons, etc.

And, maybe most of all, I appreciate those faithful members who continued to worship, pray, give, and work uncomplainingly that RPC might continue on during this challenging time. I am sorry that I could not do more during this time because of my demanding family responsibilities, but I can say that even through this difficult season, there is no other place that I would rather be than with my brothers and sisters in Christ at RPC. Over the past year my thoughts have returned again and again to a hymn by Samuel Stone that gave me hope during that troubled time:

Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

“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.

A Solemn Covenant with God and His Church

RPC

 

Before I became a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 2005, I had been a Southern Baptist pastor for right at twenty-five years. I had always been as diligent as possible to make sure that people understood what it meant to be a Christian before they became a member of the church of which I was the pastor. I did not want it to be as Grady Nutt once described, “I’m glad that you have come, sit here on the front row, and here is your box of offering envelopes.”

One thing that I have appreciated about the PCA is the time the session takes when people desire to become members of the church, at least at Reformed Presbyterian Church. Of course, there is no process that is foolproof, but eternity is a very long time, and we want to make sure that those desiring membership truly understand the Gospel and have a “credible profession of faith.” After ascertaining as much as humanly possible the sincere nature of the professions of the new members, they are asked to take their membership vows. Every time I hear them, I am reminded of the importance of being a living part of the visible church of Jesus Christ.

All of you being here present to make a public profession of faith, are to assent to the following declarations and promises, by which you enter into a solemn covenant with God and His Church.

  1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
  1. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  1. 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?
  1. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship andwork to the best of your ability?
  1. Do you submit yourselves to the government and disciplineof the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

Lord willing, over the next few days I will touch on the meaning of each of these vows.

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.

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!

The Spirituality of the Church

I came across an excellent article by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether entitled, The Spirituality of the Church,” which was extracted from the Ordained Servant, July 1998. I would encourage you to read the entire article, but two paragraphs jumped out at me during this political season (Doesn’t it seem to always be a “political season,” at least on the cable networks?):

Though he is rarely cited as an exponent of the teaching, in 1861 [Charles] Hodge articulated a view of the church’s spiritual purpose and means that, though shorter, rivaled anything James Henley Thornwell or Robert Lewis Dabney could have written. Hodge was writing in response to the Spring Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church that not only split the denomination along regional lines but also declared that the Presbyterian Church had an obligation to “promote and perpetuate” the integrity of the United States and the federal government. Hodge, however, denied that the church had any duty to take sides in the emerging struggle between the North and South. He wrote, “the state has no authority in matters purely spiritual and that the church [has] no authority in matters purely secular or civil.” To be sure, in some cases their spheres of responsibility overlapped. Still, “the two institutions are distinct, and their respective duties are different.” To substantiate this point Hodge went on to quote from the Confession of Faith, chapter thirty-one, which states that synods and councils must handle only ecclesiastical, as opposed to civil, matters. He then added an explanation that showed his understanding of the point germane to the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, namely, the extent and nature of church power. “The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids,” Hodge wrote. “A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.”

Hodge’s political sympathies were clearly with the Union. In 1865 he would weep at the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Still, he recognized that in the political questions surrounding the war between the North and the South — that is, whether the federal government or the states were ultimately sovereign — the church had no warrant from Scripture to take sides or to compel her members to do so. Christians must be obedient to the government and the church had a duty to teach and encourage such obedience. But the Bible did not settle the matter of the states versus the federal government. “The question,” Hodge wrote, “is, whether the allegiance of our citizens is primarily to the State or to the Union? However clear our own convictions of the correctness of this decision may be, or however deeply we may be impressed with its importance, yet it is not a question which this Assembly has a right to decide.” To take sides in this matter, Hodge concluded, was tantamount to singing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Lord’s Supper.

It is just another reminder to us that our hope is not to be found in the church’s dabbling in Political Action Committees, “Get Out the Vote Campaigns,” or fine arts symposiums, but in doing the work that God has called us to do through the ordinary means of grace: Word, Sacraments, and Prayer.

Thank you, again, Charles Hodge!

I came across a great description by Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology of spiritual mysticism which dove-tailed into a statement about the sufficiency of the Scripture in our lives as Christians:

“Evangelical Christians admit that the children of God are led by the Spirit of God, that their convictions as to truth and duty, their inward character and outward conduct, are moulded by His influence. They are children unable to guide themselves, who are led by an ever-present Father of infinite wisdom and love. This guidance is partly providential, ordering their external circumstances; partly through the Word, which is a lamp to their feet: and partly by the inward influence of the Spirit on the mind. This last, however, is also through the Word, making it intelligible and effectual, bringing it suitably to remembrance. God leads His people by the cords of a man, i.e., in accordance with the laws of his nature. This is very different from the doctrine that the soul, by yielding itself passively to God, is filled with all truth and goodness, or that in special emergencies it is controlled by blind, irrational impulses.” [italics mine]

Thank you, Charles Hodge, for reminding us that we need not seek for “holy” hunches, feelings, premonitions, or intuitions, but, as an alternative, rest in the sufficiency of Scripture for guidance in our daily lives.

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

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.

Glenn Beck and Civil Religion vs. The Gospel

This morning, one of our church members (Thanks, Brent) sent me a link to a blog post by Nancy Guthrie, a member of Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville, Tennessee. The post is an open letter to her pastors, thanking them for preaching Christ from the pulpit, and not getting caught up in all the “Glenn Beck hysteria” that has seduced so many pastors into preaching what is popular culturally (and politically), rather than the truth of the Gospel.

She says in part:

“Thank you for your faithfulness in preaching Christ from the pulpit, not “the principles of America.” Thank you for leaving that to others and reserving the sacred desk at our church for preaching, in the last few weeks, about the once-for-all sufficient sacrifice of Christ, about the privilege we have to approach God in prayer as Father, about Christ as the Wisdom of God, about Christ as the most valuable Treasure in the universe, worth trading everything to have.”

She concludes her open letter with the following statement that every pastor should hear and heed:

So thank you for continuing to preach the word of the Lord and present the beauty of Christ, and for not being so short-sighted to preach the “principles of America.” You keep calling me to love Christ more than my country, more than anything, and this is the word I need most to hear.

I would encourage you to take the time to read Mrs. Guthrie’s letter here.

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