“La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon”

archibald-campbell-tait-1811-1882-archbishop-of-canterbury-CP3R26

In A. N. Wilson’s, “Victoria: A Life,” he describes the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait: “He looked like a man who had been battered by life—a huge, fleshy face, pitted with line and scarred with grief.” Why might he look this way? During one year, five of his seven children (all daughters), ranging from the age of two to ten years, contracted scarlet fever and died. We think today, “How horrible!” (and it was), but such an ordeal was not that uncommon during the nineteenth century. It was just another reminder that we indeed live in a fallen world.

In our present day, although we may not usually see such loss in one family (at least in the United States), we still “know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Our world is filled with heartache, trouble, trial, sickness, sin, and death; and, as I sit here on this rainy Saturday night pondering my own problems, I am so grateful that tomorrow (Deo Volente) I can go and gather with God’s people and be reminded of God and His grace for me.

As the old French saying goes, “La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon” (Life is hard, but God is good). And, because of that truth, I need to be with God’s people; I need to confess my sins; I need to join my brothers and sisters in prayer; I need to sing songs of praise to God; and I need to hear God’s Law, and the Gospel of His grace preached in my hearing. And, even if my face is “pitted with line and scarred with grief,” God’s grace is sufficient for me.

 

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

Teach me o lord your way of truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let the little children come to me…”

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Today at worship I sat in the next to the last row of our worship center, which meant that I was surrounded by young families on three sides. As a sixty-three year old my days of corralling a small child during a worship service are in my rear view mirror. Actually, they are in my wife’s rear view mirror, because as a pastor, I was always on the podium or in the pulpit during this time of struggle. She carries the battle scars of those difficult days, but I digress.

These young couples did a masterful job of working with their children. Yes, there was some noise. Yes, they had to go out with a child once (okay, maybe twice). But, they were doing something very important. They were teaching their children how very important worship is. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad don’t go to soccer games (or other places) on the Lord’s Day, but to church. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad pick up hymnals and sing songs of praise to God. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad confess their sins. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad pick up their Bibles and read along as God’s Word is read. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad put their tithe and offerings into the offering plate when it is passed. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad close their eyes and pray at the proper time (okay, maybe they peak to make sure no one escapes, but they work at it). Worship is so important that Mom and Dad are quiet and listen to the pastor open up God’s Word. Worship is so important that Mom and Dad do this Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, and that lesson is not lost on a child no matter how small. It is a lesson that can never be learned in a children’s church or youth service. It can only be learned up close and personal by observing Mom and Dad on God’s day in God’s house.

Is it easy? No, but it is important. It is called parenting, and it is one of the most important things that we will ever do. So to all of those young families who are afraid that they are bothering the old guy with a gray beard and thinning, gray hair I say, “Thank you. Thank you for loving your children enough to accept the responsibility to teach them about the importance of gathering with God’s people and worshiping Him. And, by the way, I heard the sermon from 1 Peter about loving those around us with the overflow of God’s love, because of the foundation of God’s love, and the nature of God’s love. You didn’t bother me a bit. I heard every word.”

May the Lord bless the faithfulness of young parents!

Bernice Larner (1918-2017)

bernice larner

During the last week two people who have had a significant place in my life as a Christian pastor experienced what has been described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the following way:

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

One of these people, Dr. R. C. Sproul, through his teaching, preaching, and writing, is known in Christian circles around the world. His gift at making the complex simple has helped many come to grips with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has preached in front of tens of thousands during his life, and his radio broadcasts have touched hundreds of thousands down through the years. (He has even played golf with Alice Cooper, but, I digress) His ministry has been an enormous blessing to me as I have struggled to teach God’s people the truth of His written Word over my three decades of being a pastor.

The other, Bernice Holder Larner, is known primarily by the people who live in Erath County, Texas. You have never heard of Erath County? The Erath County website declares:

Erath County is located in central Texas, and includes the communities of Stephenville, Dublin, Three Way, Morgan Mill, Bluff Dale, Lingleville, Huckabay, Selden, Alexander, Duffau, and Clairette. Estimated Population 2010 – 36,184.

It is the home of Tarleton State University, “The Better Part of the Texas A&M System,” and the place where Ruth Buzzi now lives in retirement (If you don’t know who Ruth Buzzi is, use Google).

The first time I saw Bernice she was pushing a wheelchair containing her 95 year old mother into the Morgan Mill Baptist Church where I was about to preach “in view of a call.” (Southern Baptist Lingo Warning) At the time I didn’t know how important she would be to this twenty-six year old pastor in his first pastorate. On that day she was approximately the age that I am now, sixty-three.

A few weeks later, on the Monday morning after I had preached my first sermon as the “official pastor” of that congregation, as I sat in my study with my Seaport coffee steaming in my cup, I received a phone call from Bernice. She said, “I just wanted to let you know that Russell Laughlin is in the hospital in Stephenville.” As one who had been trying to memorize the church directory over the last few weeks, I was surprised not to recognize the name. I responded, “Should I know him?” She said, “No, he doesn’t go to our church,” but then proceeded to tell me all the different connections that made it important for me to know this information. She didn’t say I should go and visit him, but I figured that I probably should. At that moment, she became my official “go to person.” She knew everybody; their parents, their kids, their grand-kids, their third cousins once-removed, etc., and any other history that might be helpful to me. She wasn’t demanding. She didn’t tell me what to do. But, she made my life so much easier as a pastor. If anyone was ever sick, in the hospital, in some kind of trouble, or even mad at me (yes, that could happen), that phone would ring, and she would let me know so that I could shepherd Christ’s flock more effectively.

She immediately adopted my three year old son and three month old daughter, and became “Memaw Bernice” to them (their grandparents lived 400 miles away). Josh and Leah loved to walk down the farm to market road with their Mom and visit with her, and see what candy the glass hen on her living room table had laid that day. She was also a wonderful listening ear to my wife when the doctors diagnosed my daughter with Cystic Fibrosis.

She was one who loved her Lord, loved her church, loved her family, and loved her pastor and his family (And this doesn’t even begin to mention the meals she cooked, the cards she sent, the visits she made, the piano she played, etc.). I may have met some people who were as influential in his/her community for Christ, but I have never met any one who was more influential in his/her community for Christ than she was. She will be missed greatly by all those who knew her and loved her, which includes me.

Jesus Christ did a mighty work in her life, and then used her to minister to those around her in a humble, gracious, God honoring way. May her tribe increase!

“Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat”

john newton

We sang two John Newton hymns during our morning worship today and neither one of them was “Amazing Grace.” The first hymn was “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” which has that marvelous line, “when through grace in Christ our trust us, justice smiles and asks no more.” And, because Pastor Nick was preaching on prayer from Philippians 4:4-9 we also sang the less familiar, “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat.” It is a marvelous hymn that describes Christ’s invitation to us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat
where Jesus answers prayer;
there humbly fall before his feet,
for none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea;
with this I venture nigh:
thou callest burdened souls to thee,
and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
by Satan sorely pressed,
by war without, and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

Be thou my shield and hiding place,
that, sheltered near thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
and tell him thou hast died.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
to bear the cross and shame,
that guilty sinners, such as I,
might plead thy gracious name!

 

Consistency

Consistency-In-Marketing-1

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and, maybe that is true, but the need to be consistent is something that my Dad drilled into my head as I was growing up. “Go to work. Do your job. Be responsible. People are depending on you. Be trustworthy.” I will choose my Dad over Emerson anytime, so every morning, whether I feel like it or not, I trudge over to my study, put on some music, climb on my Nordictrac Exercise Bicycle, and put in thirty minutes of painful aerobic exercise. Then, like the most ardent CrossFit aficionado, I post on Facebook that I have exercised. Why do I do that? It keeps me accountable. I know that there are a few Facebook friends who notice when I don’t exercise and make snide remarks. Plus, it brings a little joy to my life insurance agent that maybe, just maybe, he won’t have to pay off the life insurance policy to my family anytime soon. I hate exercising, but I love my family, so I do it five times a week.

Getting up and getting on an exercise bike every morning is not a big deal; it just has to be done. Much of life is like that. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray. Vote. Care for your family. Be a friend. Put in an honest day’s work. Tell the truth. Be faithful to your spouse. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is eighty percent of life.” (Now I’ve quoted two goofballs.) It doesn’t take a hero to do any of that. It just takes an ordinary person who is willing to act.

 

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.

 

Ordinary Actions

new-and-improved

We live in a world where “new and improved” is the rage. We need excitement! We need thrills! We need bells! We need whistles! As one church advertised: “No more boring church!” However, all of that reminds me of something that R. C. Sproul once said, “There is one thing that I never find in the Bible when a person comes into the presence of the living God: ‘He is never bored.’” We don’t need a “new and improved” way to come into the presence of God, we have the “tried and true” way.

Way back in 1640s the men at the Westminster Assembly restated the Biblical proviso of how to draw near to God as His people that we might grow in grace:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. 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.

We recoil at the word, “ordinary,” yet Christ has ordained the simple actions of “reading and preaching the Word; administering water, bread, and wine; and calling out to God in praise and supplication” as the means to discover Him anew, when we as His people gather in His name week in and week out. It is sufficient whether you are in a cathedral in London, a storefront in New York, or a grass hut in the jungle of deepest Africa. Word. Sacraments. Prayer. It is sufficient, and never boring (at least it isn’t if you are one of His children).

 

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day

patriotic worship

The story is told (although I have never seen other than anecdotal evidence that this event actually happened) that during the Revolutionary War a group of British soldiers entered a Long Island church on a Sunday morning and ordered the congregation to sing, God Save Our Gracious King which was the British national anthem (sort of, not officially until the 19th century). The congregation responded by singing a hymn which (at that time) was sung to the same tune:

Come, thou Almighty King,
Help us thy name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father, all glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
Ancient of days.

Come, thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend:
Come and thy people bless,
And give thy Word success;
Spirit of holiness,
On us descend.

Come, Holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour:
Thou who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart,
Spirit of power.

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be,
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

I have never read what the supposed response of the British soldiers was to this declaration that there are higher allegiances in existence than just earthly political allegiances, but it does make for a good story. It also makes an important point: When we gather together as the church of God on His Day, we are there for the worship of the living God, not to espouse any political or national agenda.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love the country in which I live. I appreciate the sacrifice that has been made by those who have fought and died to protect her. I pray regularly for President Trump (although I didn’t vote for him), and for all those that God has placed in governmental authority over me. However, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, it is not to salute the flag, sing songs about our country, or recite the pledge of allegiance (although I have no problem doing that in other places); it is to worship the Triune God and to focus on Him. The first two paragraphs of Chapter Twenty-one of the Westminster Confession of Faith speak directly as to how God should be worshipped by His gathered church:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

So, if a group of soldiers were to ever enter our worship service and demand that we sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (or any other anthem), I hope that we would respond as did that supposed Long Island Church, by singing of our primary allegiance to the Triune God.

 

 

Dealing with Challenging People

explosive child

In Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child,” he writes about using three baskets when communicating with kids who have special needs to lessen the possibility of an explosive situation occurring:

 Basket A:  The essential safety behaviors. Non-negotiables.

 Basket B:  The high-priority behaviors which are very important, but not worth a power struggle that will result in an explosive melt-down. Use as opportunity to teach compromise and negotiating skills.

 Basket C:  The behaviors which once seemed important, but are not really a top priority and certainly not worth a melt-down. Things that in the big picture don’t really matter.

Of course, it can be challenging to determine which basket applies to a given situation, but I have found that this approach has been very helpful to me in the world in which I live. I have found that it can be useful in dealing with “The Explosive Adult,” also.

 

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