March 27, 2017

Why a New Hymnal?

If the Lord is willing, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church will be transitioning to a new hymnal in the next few days. I am excited to begin using Hymns of Grace! And I thought it might be profitable, in this space, to offer some reasons why.

First I should note that we aren’t changing hymnals just for the sake of change. In other words, we didn’t first decide that we needed a new hymnal, and then go shopping, as it were, to find one we liked. What happened, rather, was the opposite. Scott (our deacon for musical worship) and I came across three new hymnal projects that really caught our attention, and which (by their quality) posed to us the possibility of a change. Hymns of Grace was one of the three, and the one we felt was the best fit for us. So it was not a desire for change that brought us to a new hymnal, but the quality of these new hymnals that brought us to a desire to change!

And here are three reasons why I am excited to begin using Hymns of Grace.

1. Selection. The hymnal has an excellent selection of theologically sound hymns, old and new. And the theology is important! God’s people often learn a good deal of their theology from the songs they sing! So we are thrilled that Hymns of Grace is chocked full with solid, singable theology! It also helps that the hymnal has a good balance of the great classics, alongside many newer selections as well! We are living in a kind of hymn-writing renaissance right now, with many wonderfully solid new hymns being written which, like Watts and Wesley, will (I believe) stand the test of time. We’ve been blessed to learn many of them already, and will be blessed to learn even more by means of the new hymnal! And it is a great boon to have these modern classics, along with so many older ones as well, all under one cover!

2. Music. Speaking of those excellent newer hymns, while we have been singing many of them from a projection screen already, it will be good to now have the music to go along with them, for those who are able to make use of it.

3. Take-Home Format. It is a great blessing (maybe the greatest of all, in my book) that all of this solid, singable theology is now available in a format that our people can take home with them, for use in personal and family devotions. We can’t do that with the songs on the screen, but we can with a hymnal! And so we are making a copy available to each PRBC household. And, as our folks make at-home use of them, this will surely add richness to our Sunday singing, introduce families to wonderful theology, and enrich private and family devotional times all with one resource!

So then, those are a few reasons I’m excited for the days ahead, and for this new opportunity in the life of our church. Pray for us in this transition, and check out Hymns of Grace for yourself.

March 20, 2017

The Verbs of Our Salvation

Often times, in our Christian vernacular, we use the word ‘saved’ in the past tense – ‘I was saved on such and such a date.’ Or we might say, ‘I date my salvation to such and such a time.’ This is how we often speak of the concept of salvation – in the past tense – such that that the words ‘save’ or ‘salvation’ refer to the point in time, in the past, at which we were brought to repentance and faith in Christ, and were forgiven and declared righteous in God’s sight. We were ‘saved’ (past tense) at that point in time. And that is a right use of the term.

It’s also right to speak of salvation in the present perfect tense. We have been saved – meaning that we were forgiven and justified at some point in the past, and that those statuses (forgiven and justified) are ongoing. If we were ever forgiven, well then we are still forgiven, right? And, in the same way, God’s declaration that we are righteous in Christ happened once, at a moment in time … and such that our standing in this blessings continues! We remain forgiven and justified. And so it’s right to speak of having been saved.

But, though we often use the words ‘saved’ and ‘salvation’ as shorthand for forgiveness and justification (which happened at a past moment in time, with continuing effect) … these words (‘saved’ and ‘salvation’) can be used to describe even more than that. Our complete salvation from sin, in other words, includes more than just our initial coming to faith, and being once-and-for-all-time delivered from sin’s penalty, at some wonderful point in our past. We can also use the word ‘salvation’ to refer to the process of progressive sanctification, whereby God is presently, gradually molding us into the image of His Son. In sanctification, we are being saved (in the present) from sin’s power! And, further, the words ‘salvation’ or ‘saved’ can also be used in reference to our glorification – that future moment in time when, at death or at Christ’s return, we will be completely made like Him; when will be saved, finally, from sin’s presence in our lives!

To distill all that down, here is how theologians and Bible teachers have put into words this multi-tense unfolding of our salvation:

• In justification, we have been saved from sin’s penalty.
• In progressive sanctification, we are being saved from sin’s power.
• In glorification, we will be saved from sin’s presence.

And so, yes, it is right to say ‘I have been saved,’ or to refer back to the date of your ‘salvation.’ But it is also right to realize that, while we were forever saved, at a point and time, from sin’s penalty … God is not finished with us. He is still saving us, no longer from the penalty of sin (which has been forever done away, if we are in Christ), but He is still saving us from sin’s power! And, when our lives in this world are complete, He will finally save us, even from sin’s very presence in our lives!

We have been saved in justification. We are being saved in sanctification. And some day, marvelously, we will be saved, finally, in glorification!

And, if you like grammar, you’ll notice that those are all passive verbs! It’s not that we have saved, are saving, and will save … but that we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved! These passive verbs refer to things done for us … not by us! “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). And therefore “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)!

March 7, 2017

Reputations as Well as Bodies

“There will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies”
C.H. Spurgeon

Isn’t that good to hear? Yes, it is true that, as followers of Christ – who was hated, plotted against, falsely accused, and crucified – so we, too, must “through may tribulations … enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And it is also true that, among these “many tribulations,” it may be that we (both as individuals, and as the larger body of Christ) are sometimes unjustly thought ill of, looked down upon, maligned, belittled, misrepresented, and even falsely accused and scandalized. There is a real devil. And he delights to tear down the reputations of God's people – whether for their faith, or by attempting to discredit their faith. But in the judgment day; in “the great assize” as Spurgeon called it (preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:10), “there will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies.” “A resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies!”

In that day, we who have been called prudish, or even bigoted, because of our stand for biblical morality, will be maligned no more (at least not outside of the gates of hell!). We who have been criticized for ‘sticking our noses in other people’s business’ because of our attempts to protect the unborn, will hear God’s “well done, good and faithful slave.” We who have been called narrow for simply taking Jesus at His word when He claims to be the only way to the Father, will be found to have been attempting to love our neighbors, not exclude them! And any of God’s people, against whom the devil has used human voices and false accusations to run a smear campaign, will be smeared no more. For as Spurgeon reminds us (quoting Jesus in Matthew 13:43): “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” It won’t be seen, in that day, that we were perfect (for we aren’t [yet!]). But it will be seen that Christ made a difference in our lives, and that we were not what the world said of us, but what God made of us! “There will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies.”

And what that means is that, though we don’t want our reputations to be unjustly torn down (any more than we want our bodies to deteriorate), it’s not the end of the world if and when it happens – whether to the individual Christian, or to the church at large. That’s not a permit, of course, for us to throw our reputations away ourselves, by ill behavior (any more than we are licensed to abuse our bodies!). But it is to say that, if people unfairly malign, misrepresent, and falsely accuse you, you are not ruined forever! Even if you go to the grave with undue discredit and criticism looming over your life; or even if the church should dwell under an unjust cloud of criticism and misrepresentation from now until kingdom come, this disrepute will not last forever. For Jesus is coming again to consummate His work of redemption! And in that day, “there will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies.”

February 27, 2017

Keep it Simple

A Bible. A church family. Maybe a songbook and a catechism. And plenty of time. Can you think of anything else you absolutely need in order to walk with and grow in the Lord? Other things can be beneficial, of course (like good Christian books, which would be a big bonus item on the list!). But we really don’t need all that many resources, events, activities, and plans in order to bask in the gospel and move forward in the faith, do we? Indeed, there is a tipping point at which addition eventually becomes subtraction! A kitchen, or a tool shed, can only be so full of equipment before the clutter begins to be unwieldy and inefficient. Now, with more gear, you’re actually getting less done!

The same is true with our Christian endeavors. Too many resources, activities, and irons in the fire is a recipe either for burnout, or for hop-skipping from thing to thing without ever drinking all that deeply at any of them. Either way, you end up with diminishing returns – more activity, but less fruit. Which is better – to dip your toe, week-to-week, into a dozen different books, reading plans, devotionals, studies, small groups, podcasts, and blogs? Or to drink steadily, deeply, and (sometimes) even slowly at the same life-giving streams at which the saints have found their thirst quenched for century upon century?

Many of us, of course, are hustling and bustling over things far less valuable, even, than the spiritual game of hopscotch I’ve just decried. And when we realize that we are chasing our tails, the tendency is to think that, instead of all this secular busyness, we need to get spiritually busy instead! But the solution is not to just baptize your frenzy. The solution is not to just leap onto a different and more spiritual sort of hamster wheel! Delightfully, the solution to the delirious pace of modern life is to take a deep breath and slow down; and to clear out the tool shed, so to speak – to streamline; to get back to basics!

So what are the basics? What do you really need to be doing, on a regular basis, to bask in the gospel and to grow in grace? Space forbids me elaborating, but (fitting for an article about simplicity!) how about a bullet-point list?

  • Corporate worship and teaching, weekly (Heb. 10:24-25)
  • Corporate prayer, weekly (Acts 2:42)
  • Meaningful Christian fellowship, weekly (Acts 2:46)
  • Meaningful Christian service, periodically (Eph. 4:11-12)
  • The Lord’s Supper, periodically (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
  • Family worship, daily (Deut. 6:6-9)
  • Personal worship, daily (Mark 1:25)

I hope the simplicity here is refreshing! Very few resources are required for such a regimen, right? A Bible. A church home. Maybe a songbook and a catechism. And then a few other incidentals, like maybe paper, pen, etc. Other things may be helpful. But they are not usually needful!

But what definitely is needful is time! You cannot follow through on these basic biblical commitments if your life is so frantic that you only have 5 and 10 minute windows in which to try and wedge your spiritual disciplines. You must have blocks of time – uninterrupted and unhurried! Time! This is the resource that we moderns need to stock up on most of all! All the other resources are easy enough to get our hands on. But will we carve out time for using them? Will we stop running the American rat-race, or sitting down all night in front of our American TV’s … and streamline our schedules so as to drink deeply at Christ’s well? We’d find such simplicity refreshing if we did!

And, while we’re talking about the refreshing streamlining of our lives, can I say that so much of our time and busyness problems would be solved if we would only “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” If we’d set Sunday aside – free from work, shopping, laundry, chores, ballgames, TV, and so on – we’d have all the time in the world for the first five bullet points above! Even if we hadn’t time to get together with other believers, or visit the sick, or serve the church during the week … we’d have a whole day for doing so every Sunday! We’d often have time for the ‘bonus’ resource of good Christian books, too!  And so, if the seven bullet points above seem like a lot ... the reality is that, if we just kept the sabbath, most of these blessings we would be able to provide for ourselves in a single, unhurried, restful day!  That's why the Puritans called Sunday 'the market day of the soul'!  Because, if we use it as it was intended, we will be able to garner, in one trip to market (so to speak), so much of what we need to live on for the rest of the week!  Talk about simplifying our lives!  And if we trained ourselves to say ‘no’ to the hamster wheel on Sunday, then we’d find it even all the easier to jump off of it, at the appropriate times, during the rest of the week as well … making family and personal worship not so difficult-to-find-time-for as we might currently think!

There is a rhythm to the Christian life – both daily and weekly. And it’s generally far less like the frenetic beat of techno music, and far more like the gentle, steady lapping of waves upon the seashore. I hope that’s a relief to you! Jesus’ yoke is easy, not hard-driving; and His pace is usually steady, not hurried! And so get into His steady, slow, and simple rhythm, and you will find that the Christian life is not all that complex. Difficult sometimes, yes! But not complicated! Just keep it simple.

February 20, 2017

Sing Lustily

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist, once wrote down seven “Directions for Singing.” Considering how his Methodists were known for their singing, and how great an era of hymnody the 18th century proved to be, Wesley’s directions are worth noting.  Let me mention just one of the seven:

Fourth on his list, Wesley instructed his people as follows:
Sing lustily [heartily, we would say] and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
This is good advice! Some songs are laments, of course … and will be sung differently. But when it comes to the songs of God’s praise, they ought to be sung heartily, in such a way that it is clear that the noise we are making is a joyful one!

It may very occasionally even be that the pastor or song leader may need to stop the singing mid-song and remind folks of these things, when the congregation slips into singing as though ‘half-asleep'! Not how you’d want someone to sing Happy Birthday to you, right? And not the way, surely, that we want to sing to our Maker, Redeemer, and King! Or think of when you’re trying to teach your child how to say ‘thank you.’ You don’t let him get away with mumbling it under his breath, all while looking down at Mrs. so-and-so’s shoes, right?  Indeed, sometimes you even make him start over ,because you want him to look her in the eyes, to speak clearly, and even to actually seem glad!  Let’s be sure we show at least as much honor, attention, and enthusiasm when giving thanks to our God!

I write these things, not to scold you, but to stir you up – so that you don’t sleep-walk through the first half of Sunday worship! Let it be that visitors to your church remember the earnestness of the singing (not just the musicians, but the singing!) almost as well as they remember anything else!

To get yourself ready, give close attention to the Scripture readings that precede the singing, letting them rouse your heart to praise. And, even if your heart is not always roused, train yourself to rouse your voice, at least … and perhaps the trumpet of your voice will help awaken the rest of you as well! ‘Lift up your voice with strength,’ my friends! ‘Sing lustily and with a good courage.’ “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalm 100:1)!