January 23, 2018

Reckoning with Death

A singer whose inimitable voice was very much a part of the soundtrack of my youth; two babies and a grandfather, loved by folks in our congregation; a long-serving deacon in a sister church; a gospel minister whose story of perseverance, hope, and love for his daughter has been greatly moving to me – each one of them departed from this life in recent days.

Monday was the ten year anniversary of the death of a dear friend; a death which – both for the pain that it brought, and for the backdrop for God's kindness that it proved to be – left a deep imprint on my life. And then it was one year ago this coming Sunday that a man died whom I, from a distance, had come to consider as, in some ways, my pastor.

Some of them died tragically; others more ‘naturally’. Some are gone, as we say, ‘too soon’; others had lived full lives. But they are all gone, leaving gaps that cannot be humanly filled in the lives of those who loved them.

It’s a strange thing, death. So unnatural (when seen in the light of Genesis 1), and yet so inevitable in this now-fallen world. So certain, and yet still always so painful. So wrong, and yet so filled with significance:

Death should make us hate sin for having called down such a curse upon the world. Death should urge us to love others more deeply, who are with us only for a short while, in this life. Death should motivate us to be all the more urgent about making ready (and helping others make ready) for the life that is to come. And death should move us to love Christ who, out of love for His own, entered into death on their behalf, and defeated it for all who will call upon His name.

Let Him be our hope in the face of death – the hope we share with those around us who are facing death; our hope when we grieve the loss of our loved ones; our hope when we wade, with Bunyan’s pilgrim, through the river of death ourselves (knowing, in the words of Samuel Rutherford, that Jesus “knoweth all the fords”); and our hope for life beyond death, since He has died and risen on behalf of His people!

Let us reckon rightly with the reality of death, which is ever present all around us. Let us understand and accept its inevitability. Let us learn and apply its lessons. And let us look to Jesus in its face.

January 15, 2018

A Vapor

Step outside on one of these cold winter days, and watch your breath as you exhale. In all seriousness. Don’t just read this article. Go outside, literally, someday soon, and observe the vapor of your breath as it eases from your lips … and then disappears, so very quickly, from before your gaze! Why? Why go out into the cold to take in such a sight? Because this is a portrait, says James, of your life in this world! “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). And it will do you good to go outside, and to envision what James has written, and to consider the brevity of your life. And, as you consider that brevity; as you meditate on the fleeting nature of the vapor, I hope three demeanors of heart and mind will come over you:

First, humility. This is the demeanor that James is promoting when he likens our earthly lives to vapors: ‘“You do not what your life will be like tomorrow.” Your life is so fleeting! And therefore you ought not to go making boastful plans about where you are going to go, and what you are going to do. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’”’ (see James 4:13-16). The fragile, fleeting, vapor-like nature of our lives ought to humble us into a constant awareness that our plans, and even our awaking tomorrow morning, are always ‘Lord willing.’

And then also, the vapor-like brevity of our lives in this world ought also to promote a sense of urgency. If life is a vapor, shouldn’t I want to capture the few brief ticks of the clock that I have been given, and use them well for the One who gave them? Life is too short for spiritual dilly-dallying! It’s too short for just whiling away the months and years, not really doing anything that will make an impact for eternity! You only have a few years (if the Lord even wills for you to have that long) in which to serve the gospel in this world! Don’t dawdle that time away! And let me remind you, also, that since life is so short; and since we don’t know how short (since we don’t know if we will even wake up tomorrow), it is great folly to put off being ready for your own eternity! You don’t know if you will have tomorrow, or next week, or next year to repent of your sins and trust in Christ! So do it before your vapor disappears!

And then also, as you consider the vapor of your life, may such a consideration, if you are in Christ, bring you serenity. For, if this life is a vapor that will soon fade away, then those who are in Christ don’t have very much longer to endure their trials, do they? The non-Christian will perhaps take some of his difficulties with him, even into the next life (and will then face even greater difficulties, to boot). But for the believer, “the sufferings of this present time” will evaporate along with the vapor of earthly life in which they arose! And since vapors are but brief, relief is not too far in the future! It won’t be long and we will be with Jesus! And all will be well! And that should make us just a little more calm in the face of our trials! Someday soon we will suffer, and struggle, and sin no more!

So step out, in the days ahead, into the cold winter’s air, and learn the lessons of the vapor.

January 8, 2018


Farewell. It’s a word we don’t use terribly often in modern English. But it’s an activity in which we must all engage … farewelling those who pass from the scenes of our lives, or at least from the everyday scenes. And we’ve become quiet experienced at it here at PRBC. For, in the decade-and-a-half that this has been my church home, the Lord has seen fit, both to gather a handful of our number into His heavenly presence, and also to send a great many handfuls of PRBCers to live, work, and worship in other earthly locales. And so we’ve had to wish a great many people God’s blessings as they have gone on from our fellowship. And we do so again this coming Sunday.

Now, in this day of phones, email, automobiles, and airplanes, farewelling a moving friend is not nearly so stark a goodbye as it once would have been. I am able to stay in quite easy touch with former PRBCers in Washington, and in Florida, and in many places in between. And so maybe we don’t feel these sorts of farewells as keenly as we might have if we’d lived in the days of the covered wagon. But it’s still hard to see people go. And it’s hard to be the one who goes (probably harder, in many cases).

And yet I am reminded today, as our brother and sister and their children depart from us, that even if they were heading out on the Oregon Trail, never to see our faces again in this life; or even if they were departing this life altogether … the farewelling would only be for this life. Because, for the believer in Jesus Christ – in addition to being “always … with the Lord”, and being finally rid of our sin forever – the eternal world that lies before us will also be a grand reunion of the saints, will it not? As my friend Eileen once told me, on her way into surgery, ‘I will see you soon … either here, or there!’ And she was right! If we are in Christ, we will see our Christian friends again! Perhaps face-to-face, thanks to automobiles or airplanes. Maybe on FaceTime or Skype. But assuredly in glory!

Now, I doubt there will be a Pleasant Ridge seating area in eternity. But we will all be in the same congregation together once again! And I feel confident we will track one another down, and fellowship together, once again, just as we did here at the crest of this hill in Cincinnati (only, in that day, we will do it without time constraints or sin!). And so, in this day of farewells, we look to that day of reunions. And thus we can be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

January 3, 2018

"Who can stand before His cold?"

It’s been chilly, has it not? Six below zero when I checked the weather app on Tuesday morning! And, though it’s been warmer since, it’s still been pretty frigid for the most part! And it got me thinking of the psalmist’s question, quoted above. Here’s a little more of the context, from Psalm 147:

12Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
16 He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?

In short, snow, frost, ice, and cold are listed, here, as reasons to “praise the LORD.” In them we should see cause for magnifying our God, rather than for murmuring in our grumpiness; inducements to song, rather than to sourness! And so praise the LORD for these phenomena of winter! Praise Him, for instance, for what the snow has to teach us about His forgiveness (Isaiah 1:18) and His word (Isaiah 55:10-11). Praise Him for His creativity, seen in the beauty of the frost, and in the glory of a tree branch glazed with ice. And praise Him for the mighty power by which He brings these weather events to pass!

Indeed, I think it’s that mighty power that is in view when the psalmist asks, at the end of verse 17, “who can stand before His cold?” How mighty is our God? Well, one example of His power is that He can so drop the temperature (v.17) that the human body cannot long stand before it without substantial help! Yes, with coats, and gloves, and hats, and thick socks we can stand (for a while) before the coldest days of winter. But not on our own. And not even in our normal attire. And all sorts of bad things can happen to us if we try!

And so “who can stand before His cold?” No one!

And when we realize this fact; when we realize that it’s so cold outside that we cannot long stand before it without significant protection, our response should be to recognize the amazing power of the God who sends the cold … and to praise Him for it (v.12)!

When God hems us in with the cold, He is demonstrating that He is God, and that we are not! And we should be thankful that we have a God like that – a God who is actually God; a God who is powerful enough to hem us in; a God before whose power we actually cannot stand! Because the God whose might is potent enough to produce unbearable cold is the same God who also wields that invincible power to protect, provide for, and redeem His people! And we need a God like that, don’t we? Indeed, we wouldn’t have Him any other way!

So praise the LORD that He is so much mightier than we! And remember (and praise Him for!) that glorious reality the next time you find yourself unable to stand before His cold!