Tuesday Hymns: “Christ Shall Have Dominion”

christ shall have dominion

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Dark Providence

dark__mysterious__mystical_moon_by_pixie_aztechia-d59kciy

Catechism on Catechism

James Fisher was an 18th century Scottish Presbyterian pastor who, with his father-in-law, Ebenezer Erskine, was involved in the founding of the Associate Presbytery. He came to mind this morning not because of his church founding or his marital relations, but because he wrote a book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism entitled, “A Catechism on the Catechism.”

Our pastor preached a message from Philippians 1 yesterday morning looking at the Apostle Paul’s view of God’s providence. Even though there were those who were preaching the Gospel in order to cause pain in Paul’s life while he languished in prison, all that mattered to him was that the Gospel was being preached. He was able to trust God and rejoice in the midst of what the Puritans used to call a “dark providence;”which brings me back to James Fisher.

In his “A Catechism on the Catechism,” he presented fifty-five questions and answers (we Scottish pastors have a tendency to go overboard from time to time) explaining question and answer #11 of the Shorter Catechism:

“QUESTION 11: What are God’s works of providence?

ANSWER: God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

As one who has experienced some challenging times lately, his forty-fifth question and answer caught my eye:

Q. 45. Are not some dispensations of providence very dark and mysterious?

Yes; his ways are many times in the sea, and his paths in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known.”

The providential ways of God in our lives are often “dark and mysterious” to us, but it is important to add that they are not “dark and mysterious” to God. He knows exactly what He is doing and he knows exactly what His purpose is, and it will not be thwarted. God does not have to show me why He has permitted trouble into my life; He is God, and I am not. As Pastor Nick said yesterday, I don’t have to ask, “Why, me? Why, now?” I just need to trust what He has told me in His Word 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) Is that easy to do? No. Does it make the pain go away? Absolutely not. What it does, however, is give me hope. It gives me hope that my life has a purpose that is bigger than me; bigger than my sufferings; bigger than my personal darkness. Somehow, in His “dark and mysterious” ways, He is using me in the building of His kingdom, and that always works out for my eternal good.

 

“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.

“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.

A Solemn Covenant with God and His Church—Part II

RPC

 

People in the United States join groups quite often. They join health clubs, book clubs, Parent/Teacher organizations, Classical Music Clubs, political parties, Neighborhood Watch groups, Educational Cooperatives, and the list could go on and on and on. In most of these groups there are some minimum requirements to join and at times there are some penalties when one walks away.

However, when one joins a local church, it is a sacred bond which should be a “cord that it not easily broken.” Much like the vows taken when a man and a woman become a husband and a wife, the vows taken when one joins a congregation are made with God and His Church. The first two vows that new members take when they become a part of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, are at the heart of what is “a credible profession of faith.” These two vows are all about the Gospel.

Vow #1 is a positive affirmation to the following question, “Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?” It is an admission that apart from the grace of God, we have no hope. Because of the fact that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” and “by nature, children of wrath,” we cannot earn a right standing before Him, and could never deserve eternal life. Our only recourse is to trust in His mercy alone as our only hope of salvation.

Vow #2 is a positive affirmation to the next question, “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?” This vow is saying that we are not trusting in anything that we can do to merit our salvation, and that we are trusting entirely in what Jesus has done for our salvation. He lived a perfect life that we could never live, He died a sacrificial death as our substitute, and we understand that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) All we can do is receive this precious gift of salvation with the empty hands of faith.

Maybe the Apostle Paul does the best job of summarizing the heart of these two vows in Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

“I Hear the Rolling Thunder”

how great thou art

I am sitting on my porch on this early Sunday morning once again in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. The thunder is rolling and the rain is falling (again), and the words of Stuart K. Hine’s, “How Great Thou Art,” dance through my brain:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
.”

Although the world is not God, it is His creation, and we see His order, power, and majesty every time the sun rises, the lightning flashes, the storm winds blow, the flowers bloom, the birds sing, the hummingbirds hover, and the list goes on and on. And, as my old friend, Dr. Bill High, once reminded me, “And this creation is fallen, can you imagine what the new heavens and new earth will be like?” (That quote is from my memory so the years may have wreaked some damage to it.)

However, while the glory of God’s creation is an amazing thing, the glory of His redemption is even more so:

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin
.”

“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.

“And it came to pass…”

I’m tired. There. I said it.

Living in a fallen world can sometimes wear you out. I confess that life is not as stressful as when I was a pastor. Then, I not only had the ongoing stresses of challenges at home, but, also, as Paul called it, “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:28) So, from that standpoint, retirement has made my life bearable, but there are times when the phrase, “and while they were yet speaking” from the book of Job seems like one of those “lifetime Scripture verses” that some people talk about.

However, having said all of that, it is also important for me to say, in the midst of my “tiredness” (is that a word?) I fully confess that God is in control. He knows what He is doing, and He has purpose in every pressure that He has wisely and graciously allowed into my life. While I should never be satisfied with where I am (I should be “pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”), I should be content that God has me right where He wants me (Thanks, Jason Pickard, for starting that Sunday night study on contentment).

Thirty-five years ago, in my first pastorate, I remember Dr. A. J. Quinn saying that his favorite Scripture verse was “And it came to pass,” because he was so glad that it didn’t “come to stay.” So, if you are like me, (tired) I would encourage you to take heed to Paul’s direction to the Galatian church, “ And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow wearytired1.” (Galatians 6:9)

Uncertainty

uncertainty

Uncertainty: noun, the condition of being unsure about someone or something.

My level of uncertainty went up a notch today when I walked out to the mail box and found two letters. The first was from my insurance company which will remain unnamed (although its initials are BCBS). They were letting me know that for the second time in the last three years they were doing away with our health insurance policy. This policy will cease to exist on December 31, 2015 and we will not be able to begin doing anything about it until November 1, 2015. Two years ago the aggravation of having to change doctors, hospitals, billing procedures, Primary Care Physicians, etc. will now have to be repeated. I know that we were promised that all the health insurance issues would get better and better with the new regime, but, instead, costs keep going up, quality of care keeps going down, and more and more doctors are leaving their practices or cutting way back on how much they do. It is not all the government’s fault, but a merging of cost conscious insurance companies and inept government bureaucracy is a marriage made in…well, you get the idea.

The second letter that I opened was from my son’s Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, who he began seeing the last time our insurance policy was cancelled because we couldn’t keep our doctor that we had used for years. He was letting us know that he was retiring. Granted, he is getting on up there in years, but he stated that the reason he had chosen to do so was because “increasingly intrusive health care policies and inhibiting health care regulations, combined with decreasing reimbursements have made it difficult to provide [us] with the health care [we] deserve.”

Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for us (thus, my uncertainty). I just know that my trust is not in the Federal, State, or local government (whichever party is in power), but in the One who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills.” Whatever comes I am going to keep loving my family, worshiping our Lord at our church, and living day by day by His grace and for His glory. Things have been much worse in the past, and may get much worse in the future, but God’s “grace is always sufficient for [us], for power is perfected in weakness.” My happiness, joy, and contentment must not be determined by my outward circumstances, but by God’s grace strengthening me in my soul.

We must rest in what God’s Word says in Romans 8:35-39:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday Hymns: “Almighty God, Thy Lofty Throne”

The Trinity Hymnal is full of hymns that come to us from The Psalter which was published by The United Presbyterian Board of Publication in 1912. One of those hymns is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week, Almighty God, Thy Lofty Throne. It is a metrical version of Psalm 89:14-18 and speaks to us of God’s reign over all things from His heavenly throne. An old pastor friend of mine, who is in heaven now, Lester White, used to say, “God sits high, and sees low.” It is comforting to know that the God who rules over all things, also knows all things. He makes no mistakes, and is always working for His own eternal glory and our eternal good. As Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It is often sung to the tune, Winchester New.

Almighty God, thy lofty throne
Has justice for its cornerstone,
And shining bright before thy face
Are truth and love and boundless grace.

With blessing is the nation crowned
Whose people know the joyful sound;
They in the light, O Lord, shall live,
The light thy face and favor give.

Thy name with gladness they confess,
Exalted in thy righteousness;
Their fame and might to thee belong,
For in thy favor they are strong.

All glory unto God we yield,
Jehovah is our Help and Shield;
All praise and honor we will bring
To Israel’s Holy One, our King.

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