“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.”

 

 

“Ordinary Lives”

I suppose as one gets older he begins to look back on events in his life that God has used to mold him into the man that he has come to be. One of those times in my life was the summer after my senior year in high school when I worked for the Hilliards, who operated the Dr. Pepper Bottling Company in Orange, Texas. It was the first “real” job that I had other than mowing grass as a boy, working in my brother-in-law’s rice field in high school, and delivering flowers for Arthur Black’s flower shop.

My first few days on the job were spent keeping the conveyer belt of the bottle washer full of empty glass bottles so that we could bottle thousands of bottles of Dr. Pepper, Triple XXX Root Beer, and Diet Dr. Pepper. When I didn’t quit after experiencing that torture, I was chosen to be a “helper” on the delivery trucks. It was there where I learned many lessons of life that I have carried with me to this day (not to mention many new vocabulary words that I have chosen not to make a part of my everyday life). One of the drivers seemed to make it his mission to make my life as miserable as possible. He was as vile as one could imagine and rather lazy which meant that I had to do most of the work while he spent time “shooting the bull” with the store owners as we made our deliveries.

However, one of the other drivers will always have a special place in my heart. His name was Lewis Norris. He was a humble man who loved the Lord very much. Although our theology didn’t agree completely (He went to the Church of the Nazarene) we had many discussions about what it meant to live the Christian life in a fallen world. He lived what he believed, “worked hard for his money,” trusted in the Holy Scriptures, and, witnessed, without being obnoxious, to “the hope that [was] in [him]” through Christ. I am grateful to have known him, and am sorry that I did not let him know how much his faithful life meant to me as a young Christian.

I am sure that there are many Lewis Norrises out there in the world doing the “ordinary things” that are quietly used by God to sanctify the lives of those with whom they come in contact; even the pimply faced 18 year olds who ride the Dr. Pepper trucks with them.

Thank you, Lewis, for your “ordinary” life. I look forward to thanking you in person in the “new heavens and the new earth” some day.

Dr. Pepper Bottling Company in Orange, Texas

Dr. Pepper Bottling Company in Orange, Texas

“Farewell, 2013”

As I come to the end of another year I am reminded of what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

Now this verse does not mean we should never look back for John wrote to the Ephesian church to “remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first,” (Rev. 2:5) and Paul told that same church to remember how it was when they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” But, Paul’s statement does tell us to let neither the victories nor failures of our past keep us from “pressing on to know the Lord.” We cannot change the past, but by God’s grace, we can trust Him today to finish the work that He has started in each of us.

So, on this last day of 2013, I would encourage you to stop looking over your shoulder at what “might have been” and instead “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12)

May the Lord bless each and every one of you with a fruitful and Christ-centered New Year!

“The Other Man’s Grass is Always Greener”

In the early 1960s, Petula Clark sang a popular song entitled, “The Other Man’s Grass is Always Greener.” The chorus contained the following message:

The other man’s grass is always greener
The sun shines brighter on the other side
The other man’s grass is always greener
Some are lucky, some are not
Just be thankful for what you’ve got.

Now as a good Presbyterian who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, I have no use for the fourth line (“some are lucky, some are not”) since I know that there is no such thing as luck or fate. As the Shorter Catechism states, “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.” However, it is far too common for each of us to want more than what we have.

We spend our time thinking that if only we had _____________ (you fill in the blank), then all would be right with the world. Sadly, that isn’t true. If we were to get __________, then there would be something else that we would desire. When John D. Rockefeller was asked how much was enough money, he replied, “Just a little more.”

Stop looking over the fence at the other man’s grass and focus on what God has blessed you with in Christ: “justification, adoption and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.” (WSC 32) The believer in Christ has been declared righteous with the righteousness of Christ, has been adopted into the family of God, and God is working by His Word and Spirit to sanctify him, and grow him up in His grace. So remember what the Tenth Commandment directs: “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” and bear in mind what Paul wrote to Timothy:

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Our Personal Paradise

Ryan McGraw over at Meet the Puritans posted a quote from Thomas Boston’s exposition of the tenth commandment that caught my eye: “Every one is to look on his own condition, as the paradise that God has set him down in; and though it be planted with thorns and briers, he must not look over the hedge; for thou shalt not covet” (Works, II, 336).

At first glance, we might think, “Paradise! He is not experiencing the same life that I am experiencing!” But we must understand, if we believe the Bible, that God has placed us exactly where He wants us, with exactly the gifts He wants us to have, with exactly the friends and enemies that He want us to experience, with exactly the resources with which He chose to bless us, and that He has done all of this to “cause all things to work together for good to those who love [Him], to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) As Calvinists we often preach God’s Sovereignty, while at the same time chafing at the providence that we are experiencing.

Now, don’t misunderstand me; I am not saying for you to pretend your circumstances are not sometimes painful, but I am encouraging you to take comfort in the fact that God is at work in your pain for your eternal good. He makes no mistakes in His dealings with His children. As Charles Spurgeon said so well:

It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”

I would encourage you to click on Meet the Puritans and read what Pastor McGraw has to say about Boston’s comment.

Godly Contentment is Great Gain

Please don’t tell anyone that I read a “Mom’s Blog” because they (whoever “they” are) will take my “man card” away, but Amy Scott always has something significant to say (plus, she is really, really funny). This morning I came across this paragraph which every Christian should read:

We’re all reaching, trying to tweak that thing that if we could “just get right” will magically make our lives perfect, or at least….happy. When it’s late and quiet and dark, sometimes we are just thinking about how to hold our marriage together. I think about the perfect formula for happiness all the time, though I’m too theologically snooty to call it that. If I could just lose weight, if I could just control my temper, if I could just remember what I wore yesterday but forget about that thing someone said last month, if I could just be open and vulnerable to the people I love — then everything would be okay. Wouldn’t it?

We must all learn by God’s grace to live joyfully in the fallen world in which we live. Things will never be “perfect” this side of the new heavens and the new earth and we need to accept that. Our wives will never be perfect “Sarahs,” we husbands will never actually “love our wives as Christ loved the church,” our friends will sometimes misunderstand us, our fourteen year-olds will sometimes act like fourteen year-olds, and our churches will always be full of sinners in the process of being sanctified (which includes you and me). Live with it!

Oh yes, and also remember that God is at work. If my wife snaps at me (not that Dixie would ever do that) I need to remember that Jesus is Lord over that also, and is working to mold me into the image of His Son. Granted, it is not fun to be snapped at, and my feelings may not be wearing a Robert Schuller smile, but it is always good to remember that “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions,” (WSC #11) and that He has promised “to bring it [His good work in you] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

While we are waiting for the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth, we need to be sure to enjoy this time between the “already” and the “not yet.” To read all of the article that I have quoted (and I would encourage you to do so if you would like to smile) go to Amy’s Humble Musings.

Remember, please don’t tell anyone that I read a “girl blog.”

Some thoughts on being a “Christ Follower”

I realize that it is the latest trend in evangelicalism for Christians to call themselves, “Christ Followers.” If that is your nom de jour I mean no disrespect. It is a valid description of one who has been justified through the work of Christ. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” In other words, all who have been justified by Christ, will “follow Christ.”

However, I fear that the name, “Christ follower,” may (I said, “may”) put the emphasis on the wrong person. Granted, I am the one who attends worship, prays, reads the Bible, sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and “presses toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, I must ask the question, “Why do I follow Christ?” It certainly isn’t because there is anything inherently good in me. I am, as the song says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” If He doesn’t “seal my heart” for “His courts above” I would unquestionably fall.

My hope must never be placed in my ability to “follow Christ” for my remaining sin will always be a millstone around my neck in deep water, but if my hope is in Christ’s finished work, His enabling Spirit, and the promises of His Word, I can have the confidence that God will finish the work that He has started in me. I turn to the Westminster Confession once more before I close, “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.”

Therefore, although I am willing, albeit reluctantly, to embrace the moniker, “Christ follower” as a description of what I do, I must always put the focus where it belongs: on what Christ has done for me through His obedient life and sacrificial death (along with His present intercession for me at the right hand of the Father).

Tuesday Hymns: “O for a Closer Walk with God”

This past Sunday our offertory hymn was William Cowper’s (pronounced, “Cooper”), “O for a Closer Walk with God.” This hymn speaks of the Lord’s sanctifying work in the lives of His people, primarily through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of the Christian’s responsibilities, “walking,” “hating,” “dying to sin,” and “living unto righteousness,” but also reminds us that we are able to do those things only through God’s grace and the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” In The Trinity Hymnal, this hymn is sung to the tune, BEATITUDO C.M. by John B. Dykes.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

“Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” by Thomas Brooks III

The Puritan pastor, Thomas Brooks, in his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, lists several of the “devices” or strategies that Satan uses to destroy the souls of men. He describes the third device in the following paragraph:

DEVICE 3. By extenuating and lessening of sin. Ah! saith Satan, it is but a little pride, a little worldliness, a little uncleanness, a little drunkenness, etc. As Lot said of Zoar, “It is but a little one, and my soul shall live” (Gen. 19.20). Alas! saith Satan, it is but a very little sin that you stick so at. You may commit it without any danger to your soul. It is but a little one; you may commit it, and yet your soul shall live.

Am I the only one who considers the sins of others as “serious” sins, but look upon my own as merely peccadilloes? I need to remember what I taught my boys when they were young and memorizing the Children’s Catechism:

Question: What does every sin deserve?
Answer: The wrath and curse of God.

May we flee to Christ, readily confessing our sins, and, seeking His sanctifying grace to enable us to “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

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