Life is Precious!

Thirty-six years ago today, a 1970 Chevrolet Nova (with no AC, by the way) came screeching into the emergency room of Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas at 5:05 A. M. driven by a young seminary student with his wife in the back seat just about to give birth to a daughter. Those were the days when birthing rooms were brand new at hospitals, and we were excited to be able to do labor, delivery, and recovery all in the same room. Of course, that would have happened if we hadn’t been cutting it quite so close in getting to the hospital. Since her birth certificate stated, “Time of birth: 5:10 A. M.” one can see why we didn’t get to be a part of this new concept in labor and delivery care. (They actually got a doctor out of the next delivery room to oversee the birth. Our doctor came strolling in later saying, “After hearing all the excitement over the phone, I didn’t think I would get here on time.”)

In this less than serene way, Leah Michelle Rankin was born into a fallen world. She discovered rather quickly that life on this terrestrial ball was not always easy and pleasant. From the very beginning she experienced digestion problems, and soon developed pulmonary problems, and after 18 months of numerous visits to doctors and hospitals was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). We had heard of cystic fibrosis but had no clue as to what that diagnosis would mean to Leah or to us.

CF is a disease in which the mucous glands produce excessive amounts of mucous which complicates digestion and makes it difficult for the body to thrive, and, more importantly, makes pneumonia a constant danger because the mucous build-up in the lungs provides a perfect place for bacteria to grow. We found out that the average life span of a CF child was about twenty years (that was in 1981; much progress has been made in treatment options since then).

Leah’s life was filled with four breathing treatments a day, followed by percussion (to loosen the mucous in order that it could be coughed up), taking enzymes with food for digestion, IV antibiotics administered through a port-a-cath at home when pneumonia developed and in the hospital when the pneumonia was more acute, large doses of steroids to keep the air passages open (which brought about steroid induced diabetes which meant the need for insulin) and numerous hospitalizations.

I will be forever grateful for the support that we received from our families, the churches to which we belonged during those years, the doctors (especially Dr. Dan Seilheimer), the child-life therapists (Mandy Calderon was one of Leah’s favorites), the respiratory and physical therapists, the school teachers both in Mauriceville and at Texas Children’s Hospital, and countless others who made Leah’s life and our lives easier during those difficult years. However, the message that I would like to stress most in these few paragraphs is that LEAH’S LIFE WAS WORTH LIVING.

Leah’s life was difficult, but she was able to love, and be loved; she was able to enjoy the beauty of music and art; she was able to enjoy time with her friends and her family; she was able to enjoy numerous books (especially the ones about Ramona Quimby), and to enjoy her seemingly endless number of stuffed animals (which she would always pick out just one to sleep with every night); and most importantly of all, she was able to rest in Christ alone as her “only hope in life and death.” Although we only had Leah for eight short years here on this earth, those years were special to us, and, I believe, to her, and I would never trade those years for anything.

Leah will always be a reminder to me that all of human life is precious, and that life in Christ, is even more precious, for Jesus promised in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  And, I must say, I look forward to joining with her one day around the throne of God to sing with the church triumphant, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!

When the Days are Dark


Most of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. In 1967 she was injured in a diving accident at the age of seventeen which resulted in her becoming a paraplegic. By God’s grace and through agonizing rehabilitation she has lived a very full life over the last fifty years, being an example to all of us that “God’s grace is sufficient” for whatever comes our way. She has written over fifty books and is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. In 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. If anyone knows what the phrase, “a dark providence” means, it would be Ms. Tada.

When asked how she had been able to deal with all of the challenges that went along with her paraplegia she responded, “I suppose what helped me get through this more than any other thing was reading Loraine Boettner’s, ‘Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.’” It was the truth that God was in control and that He had a plan and purpose for her life kept her going. I am sure that there were times when she felt alone, afraid, despondent, and forgotten, but that truth kept her going forward even through the darkest night.

Yes, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) As dark as life gets, as lonely as we feel, and as painful as our personal life experience gets; God, in His love, brings light, His comforting presence, and His all sufficient grace. As our new pastor, Nick Napier, said this morning (quoting Thomas Wilcox), “Judge not Christ’s love by His providence, but by His promises.”

(And it wouldn’t hurt to read Dr. Boettner’s book, either.)

Old Geezer Report

ITV ARCHIVE

I am officially an old geezer now. I woke up at 3:00 A.M. and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I finally got out of bed, got a cup of coffee (that didn’t seem counter-productive at the time), and decided to see what happened while I was asleep for four and a half hours. On the bright side, the Texas Rangers didn’t blow another ninth inning lead (Thank you, Jose LeClerc). The United States didn’t go to war with anyone, but technically, we haven’t gone to war with anyone since the last time Congress declared war in December of 1941, so that was not so unusual. They tell me the NBA playoffs are about to begin and the Lakers will not be a part of it again (at least that made me smile, and yawn), and I am not sure if that giraffe has been born yet.

Everyone else is asleep at my house so I have enjoyed “the peaceful, easy feeling” of being alone for a bit. All in all, waking up so early wasn’t a disaster for me, and Dixie and I are planning on going to a movie this afternoon, so if I fall asleep watching “Going in Style” it won’t be the end of the world (as long as I don’t start snoring in Tinseltown). Full disclosure: The last time I fell asleep at the movie theater was watching “Out of Africa” many, many years ago. And, I wasn’t an old geezer then; it was just a horrible movie. Now it is 5:45 and it is time for me to get on the “stupidbicycle” for thirty minutes. That’s not so bad for a geezer.

Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”

timothy-dwight

It has been some time since I posted a Tuesday Hymn, but Timothy Dwight’s, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” caught my eye and ear yesterday morning when we sang it during worship. Dwight was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards (Edwards’ third daughter, Mary, was his mother), was a Congregational minister, and eventually served as the President of Yale University from 1795-1817. (Plus, he had great side burns.)

This hymn speaks of the author’s love for the church of God. Christ died for His church, and God has chosen to give “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.3) It is “is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF, XXV.2)

This hymn is a great reminder to us that the Body of Christ is the “apple of [His] eye and [is] graven on [His] hand.” It is often sung to the tune, ST. THOMAS S.M.

I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The house of thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With his own precious blood.

I love thy church, O God:
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, thou Friend Divine,
Our Saviour and our King,
Thy hand from ev’ry snare and foe
Shall great deliv’rance bring.

Sure as thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be giv’n
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of heav’n.

“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 Day in the Life of the Rev. Will B. Dunn (Honorably Retired)

bill-the-cat

It is said that “confession is good for the soul;” both positively and negatively. Perhaps that is why Bruce McIver’s book, “Stories That I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor,” was so funny. Last Sunday I experienced one of those stories, and since it happened to me, I assume that I can tell it without offending anyone (which would be somewhat of a feat in these sensitive days).

Dixie was not feeling well, so Reed and I went to church without her; and since she wasn’t there, we sat closer to the back of the worship center than she normally likes to sit. I think it has something to do with sitting on podiums for 35 years. We stood for the Call to Worship and then sang as robustly as one can with a cough drop in his mouth, “The Mighty God, the Lord” (a great hymn from The Scottish Psalter of 1650). It is here that my story takes on a more ominous nature. When Pastor John began the Invocation I swallowed my cough drop. Well, maybe “swallowed” was a misnomer, because it didn’t find its way all the way down. So this 62 year old man starts choking on his cough drop. Fortunately, Pastor John prays pretty loudly during the Invocation (it must have something to do with his days of ministry in Scotland) so I started out the back door of the building without disturbing anyone, through the foyer and out on the front porch.

It was here that it dawned on me, that I was still choking, and that obstinate cough drop would not go up from whence it came, or down to where I could have some relief. People say that one’s life passes before his eyes when he is about to die, but for me it wasn’t so (the fact that I am typing this gives you a clue that I didn’t choke to death although I did not know that for sure at the time). What went through my mind? “Great! Now I am on the front porch (where on one knows I’m here) and I am going to die because there is no one here to do the Heimlich maneuver on me!”

In God’s providence, after much gagging (I know, TMI) the cough drop defied gravity and clawed its way back up my throat into my mouth. After spending a few more minutes of coughing (apparently choking to death is much like an earth quake with the accompanying aftershocks), I was finally able to enter the building and finishing worshiping the Lord. Just so you know, if I would have collapsed, a late entering family (who will remain nameless) would have found the body and performed whatever emergency medical procedures were necessary (they always “kind-of-liked” me, so I hope they would have), so all would not have been lost.

Next time I will tell about throwing up in the choir…no, I probably won’t.

A Personal “This Day in History”

clifton-coffee

On February 6, 2005, I entered the doors of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas for the first time. There were not as many chairs, nor as many people as we have now. At the time I wasn’t sure what was in store for my future, but on that Sunday we experienced reverent, God-centered worship, and heard the Gospel preached simply and directly from God’s Word. I never left.

In God’s providence early the next year I was called as the Associate Pastor and began a ministry that would last for over nine years. During that time I was able to observe people at their best and at their worst, but I have never regretted the decision to become a part of that congregation. I have always considered it a great privilege to preach and teach God’s Word, and to come alongside people to weep with them and rejoice with them as they lived out their lives as a part of the Body of Christ in a fallen world. When issues at home made it needful for me to retire earlier than I desired, RPC was (and still is) the place where I could go to worship, to hear God’s Word, and to be encouraged “to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

I still don’t know what my future holds (no one really does) but I pray that this place will be my home until either Jesus returns or I become “a just man made perfect” as the writer of Hebrews says. RPC is not a perfect church, but I can think of no other place where I would rather be.

Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas-2016So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
…”—John Lennon

I don’t often quote John Lennon in a positive way, but as I prepare this “Christmas Letter” it seemed appropriate. This is the second year in a row in which we didn’t send Christmas cards out, but as the Facebook relationship status sometimes says, “It’s complicated.” We do the best we can, and learn to appreciate God’s grace at work during the complicated times.

It is Clifton’s first full calendar of retirement. The year has been a challenging one, but Dixie and I have both said again and again throughout 2016 that the decision for me to retire was the right one. I miss preaching and teaching, but I am needed here with my family, at least for the immediate future. Sunday in and Sunday out we are reminded by people that they are praying for us, and that is what the Body of Christ is all about. You may think that saying, “I am praying for you” is trite, but it means the world to us and helps keep us on our feet. I am probably experiencing the best physical health that I have experienced since high school, so I count my blessings and keep riding the “stupidbicycle.”

Dixie’s year has had its physical challenges with her battles against cholesterol, TMJ, all the other ailments that often test a woman who is entering her fifties, but I think that she has liked having me around after years of sharing me with the rest of the congregation. We manage to get out together most Thursdays to spend some time alone, and that has been a wonderful blessing for us.

In August Reed began his second year of working at Dairy Queen. While it probably is not necessarily good for someone with Type 2 Diabetes to work at a fast food establishment (temptation everywhere), he works for good bosses, with good co-workers, and is learning how to deal with a public that is not always at the apogee of good behavior. He has also enjoyed his weekly time at Tyrrell Park Stables learning from Deanne about the care of horses, and spending some time on horseback.

Caleb has spent the year working at Sonic (we Rankins have the fast food establishments in Sour Lake covered), and going to the Lamar Institute of Technology. He is sorting through what he wants to do with his life, and hopes to come up with some answers in the coming year.

Josh and Kristi are still in Texarkana, Texas, where he coaches football and track at Texas High and she works at the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Northeast Texas. Yesterday (Dec. 21) their youngest, Delani, celebrated her first birthday. Kesh is now fifteen, Koen is thirteen, and Kya eleven. The “times, they are a changin’.”

Life in a fallen world is not easy, but it is precious. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for this next year, but we pray that He will be glorified in all that we do, say, and think.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas and all through the New Year.

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