For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Resurrection Songs

I return again to my somewhat unusual hobby of collecting antique hymnals. I’m by far not an expert, and my collection of some 240 pieces is by no means large compared to many. Furthermore, with my oldest book being published in 1831, I’m not even among those with the real “heavy hitting” collections.

However, I enjoy the music of God’s church and the history of that music fascinates me. I’m continually amazed at the sheer volume of the music that has been written over the years. I’m further amazed at how some songs have remained popular, while others with magnificent messages, seem to have dropped off the radar.

Of course, I’m limited by my own experience within the Baptist churches I’ve served as to what songs are “well known.” Which is another reason I love these old hymnals so much. It helps me to branch out beyond those Baptist borders to see some of the amazing songs that have been written by lovers of Christ throughout history.

Here’s the point. As I stated last December in an almost identical post to this one, one of my favorite books in my collection is the 1833 Church Psalmody: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns, adapted to Public Worship. Selected from Dr. Watts and Other Authors. In that post I included a few selections celebrating our Lord’s birth. As we approach the celebration of His Death and Resurrection, I thought it only appropriate to add a few choice morsels on that subject as well.

Whether or not you’re a fan of these older songs, read them with your heart fixed on our great God of Grace; meditate on the truths they describe; and I guarantee you’ll be move to worship.

1. BLEST morning, whose first dawning rays
Beheld our rising God ;
That saw him triumph o'er the dust.
And leave his dark abode.

2. In the cold prison of a tomb
The great Redeemer lay —
— Till the revolving skies had brought
The third, th' appointed day.

3 Hell and the grave unite their force
To hold the Lord in vain;
Behold the mighty conqueror rise,
And burst their feeble chain.

4 To thy great name, almighty Lord,
These sacred hours we pay,
And loud hosannas shall proclaim,
The triumph of the day.
-Isaac Watts

THE Lord is risen indeed!" —
Then justice asks no more;
Mercy and truth are now agreed,
Who stood opposed before.

2 "The Lord is risen indeed!" —
Then is his work performed;
The mighty captive now is freed.
And death, our foe, disarmed.

3 "The Lord is risen indeed!" —
Then hell has lost his prey:
With him is risen the ransomed seed,
To reign in endless day.

4 "The Lord is risen indeed!" —
Attending angels hear;
Up to the courts of heaven, with speed.
The joyful tidings bear.

5 Then wake your golden lyres.
And strike each cheerful chord;
Join, all ye bright, celestial choirs,
To sing our risen Lord.
-Thomas Kelly, 1802

CHRIST, the Lord, is risen to-day.
Our triumphant holy day:
He endured the cross and grave,
Sinners to redeem and save.

2 Lo! he rises— mighty King!
Where, O death! is now thy sting?
Lo ! he claims his native sky!
Grave ! where is thy victory?

3 Sinners! see your ransom paid,
Peace with God forever made:
With your risen Saviour, rise;
Claim with him the purchased skies.

4 Christ, the Lord, is risen to-day.
Our triumphant holy day:
Loud the song of victory raise;
Shout the great Redeemer's praise.

MORNING breaks upon the tomb,
Jesus scatters all its gloom!
Day of triumph! through the skies.
See the glorious Saviour rise!

2 Ye who are of death afraid,
Triumph in the scattered shade;
Drive your anxious cares away;
See the place where Jesus lay.

3 Christians, dry your flowing tears;
Chase your unbelieving fears;
Look on his deserted grave;
Doubt no more his power to save.
- William Collyer, 1812

HARK, ten thousand harps and voices
Sound the note of praise above —
Jesus reigns, and heaven rejoices;
Jesus reigns the God of love:
See, he sits on yonder throne;
Jesus rules the world alone.

2 Jesus, hail! whose glory brightens
All above, and gives it worth;
Lord of life — thy smile enlightens,
Cheers, and charms thy saints on earth:
When we think of love like thine,
Lord, we own it love divine.

3 King of glory, reign forever-
Thine an everlasting crown:
Nothing from thy love shall sever
Those whom thou hast made thine own;
Happy objects of thy grace.
Destined to behold thy face.

4 Saviour, hasten thine appearing;
Bring — oh bring the glorious day,
When, the awful summons hearing,
Heaven and earth shall pass away:
Then with golden harps, we'll sing —
"Glory, glory to our King."
-Thomas Kelly

Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome to the U.S.S.A.?

Seems I’ve spent a lot more time on theological issues than political ones lately. And by and large, I've always encouraged folks to be respectful of our elected leaders (in fact, we ought to still respect the office they hold and pray for them). However this latest move by the US House just can’t be ignored. We have now moved one step closer to becoming the United Socialist States of America.

The arrogance of these men and women repeatedly ignoring the overwhelming voice of the American people and instead giving in to the strong arm tactics of House and Senate leaders, not to mention the President, is something one would expect from a military dictatorship in a third world country; not this supposed land of the free and home of the brave.

The height of the arrogance came from Rep. Alcee Hastings (D) Florida, a member of the House Rules Committee, who made this now infamous statement about the Democrats approach to the health care debate: “There ain't no rules here, we're trying to accomplish something. . . .All this talk about rules. . . .When the deal goes down . . . we make 'em up as we go along.”

Forget the rules, forget the Constitution, forget the will of the people they represent, just do it. It’s Nike gone toxic. The latest Rasmussen Poll shows that 64% of the people think Congress is doing a poor job. Hmm, I wonder why. Could it be because they broke all the rules in their rush the most unpopular piece of legislation in history? Surely that’s not it.

So now what? We’ve taken one giant step toward the socialism that so many claimed our President didn’t want to lead us into; so what can we do about it. Well here’s one thing. The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution states explicitly that powers of the Federal Government are limited to those granted by the Constitution (a document repeatedly ignored lately). This means that the states still have sovereignty in all other matters and can act to “protect” themselves from an overreaching federal government.

Many states, like here in Missouri, have begun taking steps to try and protect us from this latest debacle. Here in Missouri, here are just a couple:

SCS SJR 25 Introduced by Senator Cunningham, prohibits laws interfering with freedom of choice in health care. Reported out of the Senate Oversight Committee to the Senate floor on Tuesday.

HCS HJR 48, 50 & 57 Sponsored by Representatives Jones, Erving & Davis prohibits laws interfering with freedom of choice in health care. First read in the Senate on Tuesday.

SCR 34 Introduced by Senator Lembke, reaffirms Missouri's sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment. Adopted in the Senate, reported to the House on Wednesday.

(Thanks to Kerry Messer of Missouri Family Network for keeping us posted on these things)

If you live in Missouri I urge you to contact your local senator and representative to urge them to support these efforts and others like them. If you live elsewhere, check out the legislation in our state to see what might be introduced there and again, contact local legislators to urge their support.

Just because some spineless federal legislators listen more to their party leadership than to their own constituents doesn’t mean that we have to roll over and play dead, allowing this farce to continue. At least for now, this is still the free USA, so make your voice heard.

PS – One reason this issue bothers me so much is that we have for more than a dozen years been part of Christian health sharing programs rather than typical insurance. According to those who have manufactured much of this debate, this puts us among those “millions who are uninsured.” We currently are with Samaritan Ministries. As of now, this kind of program is exempt from the “mandate” for insurance this new legislation has created. However, there are many who would like to see that exemption end, forcing us to find government health care policies against our wishes. This is a continued matter for prayer, and I would urge you to check out Samaritan Ministries for this option.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Practice What You Preach; or Preach What You Practice

I love to read magazines. The actual, sent to our home, hold in your hands, glossy page kind. All the electronic stuff is nice (I've fallen into the blog/facebook/email zone, though I've yet to tweet or flick anything). But like I said some time about about books, there's still something differnent about holding it in your hands and reading.

Anyway. One of the subscriptions that gets read cover to cover as soon as it arrives at our house is World Magazine. In fact, I usually have to fight our oldest for it. It's a wonderful sampling of world news and events from a solidly conservative, mostly Christian viewpoint. I'm getting to a point here, really.
The most recent edition of World included a piece by Andrée Seu called "The best sermon is the sermon as testimony." Being a preacher and all, it caught my attention. And I'm glad it did. This is a great little piece.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've heard the phrase "practice what you preach." Didn't have anything to do with preachers as far as I knew. It just meant that if you say it, you'd better do it. Still a good point. But Seu offers some excellent insight into the idea of "preaching what you practice."

In short, she says that the most powerful sermons, the most meaningful, the most life changing kinds of sermons, are those preached by men who have lived what they're talking about. I've said before that you have to experience grace to be able to really talk about it. That's the essence here. To preach about victory over temptation should come from a man who's been there and lived it, etc.

She writes: Let us have sermons that are testimonies rather than lectures. I want to hear about 2 Corinthians 3:17 from someone who walks in "freedom." I want to hear about Romans 5:17 from someone who is "reigning in life" and who can coach me to do the same. I'll gladly sit an hour for examples of how the preacher's faith enabled him to extinguish the flaming arrows of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).

Of course, she is not the first to point this out. In Richard Baxter's wonderul classic The Reformed Pastor, he also addresses the issue of preaching and life matching up. He wrote:

"It is a palpable error of some ministers, who make such a disproportion between their preaching and their living; who study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough, to study how to speak two hours; and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any notable infirmity, (and I blame them not, for the matter is holy and weighty,) but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions, in the course of their lives. Oh how curiously have I heard some men preach; and how carelessly have I seen them live!"

Anyway, I was moved and challenged by this short little essay. It would be good if you had your own World subscription, but at the least I would urge you to go and read the article HERE. Even if you aren't a pastor. All of us need to be reminded that we should practice what we preach and preach what we practice.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Remembering What's Really Important

For the want of a cough drop the musher's throat went hoarse
For the want of direction the huskies went off course
Then the sled got snowbound it took some time to free'em
Now they're on display inside the British Museum

It’s All Who You Know from the Newsboys release Take Me To Your Leader

I know I shouldn’t be getting a lot of my theology from Newsboys songs (as good as they may be). And I’m not sure this is even the main point of the song. But it reminds me that when we neglect the seemingly little things, much larger harm can result.

I’ve been thinking of that as we approach Easter, because it seems that in the overall holiday scheme, Easter has lost out in emphasis to Christmas. Christmas by far gets the most attention, doesn’t it? Stores start selling decorations and having their Christmas sales two months in advance. Even in the church, we put a lot of effort into decorations and Christmas gatherings and Christmas caroling and so on. We spend a great deal of time and effort in preparing for and celebrating the birth of our Lord.

Compare that with our efforts and planning and so on for the celebration of Easter. And the reality is, that were it not for the events we celebrate at Easter, Christmas would have little meaning. The reason for Christ’s coming in the first place was to eventually offer His life as an atoning sacrifice in our place. This is what it’s all about.

And sadly, because of our near neglect of an emphasis on Easter in favor of the more popular celebration of Christmas, we’ve all but lost a true understanding of that atonement. Our faith has become all about the warm fuzzies of Christmas, and we’ve overlooked the stark reality of the sacrifice and resurrection of Easter which is truly the center of our salvation.

Once cannot overemphasize the importance of this Easter event. Here are just a few quotes from men far smarter than me about the centrality of the resurrection to our faith.

The resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity. It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions. Through the resurrection, Christ demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Abraham, Buddha, or Confucius. He is utterly unique. He has the power not only to lay down His life, but to take it up again.
Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection

The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.
John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians

This is the truth which is still to be taught, refine it who may, spiritualize it who dare. This is the historical fact which the apostles witnessed; this is the truth for which the confessors bled and died. This is the doctrine which is the key-stone of the arch of Christianity, and they that hold it not have cast aside the essential truth of God.
Charles H. Spurgeon The Resurrection Of Our Lord Jesus, Delivered April 9th, 1882

For regeneration is owing to the resurrection of Christ from the dead…but if Christ is not risen, there never was, is, or will be any such thing as regeneration and sanctification; …Moreover, if Christ is not risen, his people are under the guilt of their sins; there is no expiation nor remission of them, nor justification from them; for though he was delivered as a sacrifice to atone for their offences, and his blood was shed to obtain the forgiveness of their sins, yet he must be raised again for their justification, and be exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, as to give repentance, so remission of sins, or they will never enjoy these blessings; for notwithstanding his sufferings and death, if he lies under the power of the grave, they must remain under the power and guilt of sin, and be liable to everlasting punishment for it.
John Gill’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 15

And of course, the most important “quote” of all, from the Apostle Paul’s pen in the letter Gill was referring to:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, ESV

Here’s hoping that you and your family are putting at least as much emphasis into the preparation and celebration of the Easter event as you did at Christmas. After all, this is what’s really important. And if we neglect this…

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Meet the Puritans" Book Giveaway

I love a good quote. As a pastor, I appreciate the great men of faith who have gone before us; and I appreciate their contributions to Biblical study, both hermeneutics and homiletics. That’s why I love those who have labored to put together quotes and studies by some of those past greats, like Grace Quotes and Spurgeon Gems and J C Ryle Quotes. It’s the last site that is the subject of this post.

The kind folks at Ryle Quotes have worked out a deal to give away a copy of Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. You can read more about it below. I’ve pasted the content of their original post for information, but you can go to the page HERE and follow the links. (in fact, you'll have to go there to enter in the comments section, etc.)

It’s a generous offer, a great resource to have, and pretty easy to get “in on.” Now, here’s the thing. Anyone who ends up winning based on an entry from this post must agree to buy me a copy as well! (Just kidding; sort of) Here’s the info:

“Meet the Puritans” Book Giveaway
March 6, 2010 ·

Win a free copy of Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson.

In his book Light From Old Times, J.C. Ryle made no secret of being “a thorough lover of Puritan theology.”

With that said, see what some contemporary ministers like John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, J.I. Packer, and R.C. Sproul have said about this fantastic, 900+ page book on the Puritans at Monergism Books.

Choose any (or all) of the following avenues to win. The more you choose, the better chance you have to win Meet the Puritans.

1. Subscribe via Email.

2: Subscribe via RSS.

3. Follow on Facebook.

4. Follow on Twitter.

5. Re-tweet this giveaway.

6. Re-post this giveaway on your blog.

> > I will draw a winner from all of the above avenues next Sat, March 13th.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why Pray?

Not too long ago a dear friend contacted me with a bit of a dilemma. A relative of theirs had been diagnosed with cancer, and some of the rest of the family was struggling with how to respond. In particular, the issue came up regarding prayer. Why pray? Does it really do any good? What’s the point?

I must admit that this has always been one of the harder questions posed to me. Not so much because I don’t know an answer. I can give lots of answers, and most of them are actually even right! However, usually this question comes in the midst of some suffering. It often comes from those who are not true believers. And so all the answers I offer usually come off sounding fairly trite.

At this point let me say that I welcome any comments that would be helpful in this situation. How do we share with those who are hurting how a Sovereign God works through the prayers of His people, especially when in their eyes, if it doesn’t accomplish their goals, it’s ineffective?

Again, as a believer in God’s Sovereignty, I am quite comfortable with my theology of prayer. God doesn’t have to do what I want. Prayer is a matter of my conforming to His will, which leads me to see that prayer is about changing me, not changing God. And the truth is that prayer is effective because it the means through which God has ordained the accomplishing of His will.

Along those lines, Charles Spurgeon (as usual) put it perhaps best in a sermon entitled “Prayer Certified Of Success.” Preached in January of 1873, he points out the simple truth that “To seek aid in time of distress from a supernatural being is an instinct of human nature.” He then goes on to show how God has repeatedly given us assurance that our seeking His aid in prayer is not only instinct, but is effectual.

You can read the entire sermon here, but I wanted to copy just a piece of it that addresses one of the most common issues when dealing with these questions of why we pray; specifically the issue of the effectiveness of prayer if indeed it’s true that God is Sovereign and ordains all things. Again, the whole sermon is very helpful, but I hope some can find usefulness in this brief excerpt as well.

An objection has been raised which is very ancient indeed, and has a great appearance of force. It is raised not so much by skeptics, as by those who hold a part of the truth; it is this—that prayer can certainly produce no result, because of the decrees of God have settled everything, and those decrees are immutable. Now we have no desire to deny the assertion that the decrees of God have settled all events. It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happened in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is fixed as the station of a king, and "the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses."

Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked, wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained his people's prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray—I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.

Moreover, in other matters we never regulate our actions by the unknown decrees of God; as for instance, a man never questions whether he shall eat or drink, because it may or may not be decreed that he shall eat or drink; a man never enquires whether he shall work or not on the ground that it is decreed how much he shall do or how little; as it is inconsistent with common sense to make the secret decrees of God a guide to us in our general conduct, so we feel it would be in reference to prayer, and therefore still we pray. But we have a better answer than all this. Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forward, and he says to us this morning, "My dear children, the decrees of God need not trouble you, there is nothing in them inconsistent with your prayers being heard. 'I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you.' " Now, who is he that says this? Why it is he that has been with the Father from the beginning—"the same was in the beginning with God" and he knows what the purposes of the Father are and what the heart of God is, for he has told us in another place, "the Father himself loveth you."

Now since he knows the decrees of the Father, and the heart of the Father, he can tell us with the absolute certainty of an eye-witness that there is nothing in the eternal purposes in conflict with this truth, that he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth. He has read the decrees from the beginning to end: hath he not taken the book, and loosed the seven seals thereof, and declared the ordinances of heaven? He tells you there is nothing there inconsistent with your bended knee and streaming eye, and with the Father's opening the windows of heaven to shower upon you the blessings which you seek. Moreover, he is himself God: the purposes of heaven are his own purposes, and he who ordained the purpose here gives the assurance that there is nothing in it to prevent the efficacy of prayer. "I say unto you." O ye that believe in him, your doubts are scattered to the winds, ye know that he heareth your prayer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Horror of the Human Heart

Jeremiah tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV). I’ve been given cause to reflect on that issue in the last few weeks in dealing with some surprising "sin in the camp." I say surprising because, like most everyone else, I always want to believe the best about folks, and sometimes it takes a shocking wake up call to remind me that sin is always lurking (1 Peter 5:8).

Really, we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by sin. God has clearly shown us the depths of our own depravity. We’re foolish to think that our hearts are by nature any better than the Osama Bin Laden’s of the world (or insert the name of your own idea of the “worst kind of sinner”).

Erik Raymond, the Irish Calvinist, put together a wonderful article on this issue over the weekend. In looking at Romans chapter 3, he puts the issue of our depraved hearts so bluntly and with such perfect imagery. He says: “There is nothing that Hollywood can manufacture to equal the gruesome reality of the human heart. So in our true seeing of ourselves, based upon God’s clear presentation, we are, like the person freaked out by a horror movie, quick to avert our eyes, turning and looking away from ourselves.”

What a great image: a sight so disturbing that we can’t help but look away. That’s my heart. That’s your heart. That’s all of our hearts, which is why we so desperately need the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Raymond reminds us: “We turn our eyes, our dependence, our value, our hopes from the horror show of our unrighteousness to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness.”

Apart from that grace gift, we are hopeless and helpless; weak and worthless. I’m praying that God will grant mercy and grace to those invovled in the surprising sin which sent my thoughts this direction. But I’m also praying that God would give me continued gratitude for the mercy He has shown to me, and that I would daily humble myself before Him, knowing that only in His grace can I hope to stand (or even take another breath, for that matter!).

I would encourage you to read the rest of Raymond’s post here. It’s a wonderful reminder of the horror of the human heart and the grace of our Great God and Savior. May it incite us to humility and worship each and every day.