10 May 2014

When We're Down and Out...


Miserable Christians Revisited
by Carl Trueman
 
 
Of all the things I have written, my little essay, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” has provided me with so many delightful surprises over the years.[1] I wrote it in about 45 minutes one afternoon, infuriated by some superficial comment about worship I had heard but which I have long since forgotten. And yet this little piece which took minimal time and energy to author has garnered more positive responses and more touching correspondence than anything else I have ever written. It resonated with people across the Christian spectrum, people from all different church backgrounds who had one thing in common: the understanding that life has a sad, melancholy, painful dimension which is too often ignored and sometimes even denied in our churches.

The article was intended to highlight what I saw as a major deficiency in Christian worship, a deficiency that is evident in both traditional and contemporary approaches: the absence of the language of lament. The Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, contains many notes of lamentation, reflecting the nature of the believer’s life in a fallen world. And yet these cries of pain are on the whole absent from hymns and praise songs. The question that formed the article’s title was thus a genuine one: what is it in the hymnody of your church that can be sung honestly by the woman who has just lost her baby, the husband who has just lost his wife, the child who has just lost a parent, when they come to church on Sunday? The answer, I suggested, was the Psalms, for in them one finds divinely inspired words which allow the believer to express their deepest pains and sorrows to God.

Would I write it differently today? Not in terms of substance. If anything, I would broaden its application since I believe that its message is more important now than it was at the time of composition. As I survey the contemporary church landscape, I am struck at how even the great gospel of sovereign grace is now so often focused on the youth market and consequently packaged with the aesthetics of worldly power, of celebrity, of the kind of superficial approaches to life which mark the childish and the immature. Things that were once (and sadly no more) the exclusive preserve of the proponents of the prosperity gospel now feature in mainstream evangelical circles without comment or criticism. The world has truly been turned upside down when Calvinism has in some quarters become known for its pyrotechnics and its cocksure swagger.

I am also more aware now than I was when I wrote it of how real mortality is and of how short life can be. I wrote the piece with others in mind; now I am older and only too aware of how it applies to me and to those I love. The older one is, the more one is acquainted with the loss of friends and family, and the more one’s own mortality feels like a constant and unwelcome dinner guest. As a father I rejoiced the first time my son beat me in a running race; but my delight in his growing strength was short-lived when in the coming months and years I realized it was also indicative of my own decline.

The world tells us to defy this as long as we can, whether by fitness, fashion choices or even surgery. But the world is a malevolently plausible confidence trickster who tells us what we want to hear. Weakness and then death ultimately come to us all; and it is the pastor’s task to prepare both himself and his people for the inevitable. Thus, I now believe it is more important than ever that the church embrace weakness and tragedy in its worship. True, we look forward to the resurrection; but we often forget that the pathway to resurrection is necessarily and unavoidably through death. We need to remind our people in both what we preach, what we pray, and what we sing as a congregation that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness—and, where resurrection is concerned, in and through our total weakness at the hands of death.

Since writing the original piece, I have also become more aware of the power of liturgy to shape the mind of a Christian congregation. I am not talking here only of formal liturgies such as those in The Book of Common Prayer. I mean the form and content of any worship service claiming to be Christian. That which we say and sing as a congregation will over time subtly and imperceptibly inform our thinking about the Christian faith and thus about life in general in a powerful way. That is why an emphasis on the aesthetics of power and youth—perhaps we might say liturgies of power and youth—are problematic. They exclude the old or delude them into thinking that they are not old; and they deceive the young into thinking that they are the center of the universe and are destined to live forever. A liturgy which accurately reflects the expectations we can have for life in a fallen world, one that inculcates and reinforces that week by week, is important as a means of preparing our people for the suffering that must eventually come their way.

And that brings me once more to the psalms. True, there are Christian poets and even the occasional hymn writer who have captured the dark complexities of life; but there are none to compare with authors of the Psalter who set forth the riches and depths of human experience and existence with perfect poetic pitch. The church which makes the psalms part of her regular diet provides her people with the resources for truly living in this vale of tears, just as the church which does not do so has perversely denied her people a true treasure in pursuit of what?   Relevance? There is nothing more universally relevant than preparing people for suffering and death. I have people in my congregation who have very hard lives, lives that are not going to become easier over time. To them I can only say: suffering comes to us all, but there is a resurrection; listen to how the notes of real, present lament in the Psalms are suffused with tangible, future hope and be encouraged: weeping may tarry for the night, and indeed be truly painful while it does, but joy will come in the morning.
When I married a young couple in my congregation a few years ago, I commented in the sermon that all human marriages begin with joy but end in tragedy. Whether it is divorce or death, the human bond of love is eventually torn apart. The marriage of Christ and his church, however, begins with tragedy and ends with a joyful and loving union which will never be rent asunder. There is joy to which we point in our worship, the joy of the Lamb’s wedding feast. But our people need to know that in this world there will be mourning. Not worldly mourning with no hope. But real mourning nonetheless, and we must make them ready for that.

Still, as I look back to the original “Miserable Christians” piece, I never imagined I would still be commenting on it so many years later. I am grateful that it seems to have been a help and encouragement to so many.

Carl Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

[1] “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages Of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus, 2005), 157-63.

This article was originally published on the 9Marks website and is republished with their permission.

09 May 2014

On Wearing a Kilt

A great post on wearing a kilt can be found here from R.C. Sproul Jr. Read it and enjoy.

...When I wear the kilt I am not seeking to say that Christianity is Scottish, but that Scotland is Christian. When I put on my kilt I want to remember how God has worked through my people. But better still I want to remember how God has worked for my people. In short, I wear the kilt, a marker of my own peculiar heritage, to remember that my own peculiar heritage is but one example of the gospel as the power of God for salvation. R.C. Sproul Jr.

28 March 2014

What to think about the Old Calvinism vs. the New Calvinism debate

For  some excellent insight on the Old vs. the New Calvinism discussion (debate?) check out the Reformed Forum podcast on this issue. While you're there read Jim Cassidy's post, 5 Reasons Why I Am Not a New Calvinist. Folks, this is good stuff and we should spend some time thinking on these issues. The discussion was born out of John Piper's recent lecture at Westminster Seminary for the Seventh Annual Gaffin Lecture. For the record, I'm an Old Calvinist but have sympathy and even embrace some of the distinctives of the New Calvinists. Still, there are issues of great import that we should consider. Below is Dr. Piper's lecture.

26 March 2014

World Vision Indecision

I really question whether I can call someone “brother” or “sister” who is openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus’ words. - Denny Burk

If  you're on the fence trying to decide what to think about the World Vision fiasco, read Denny Burk's clarifying post in response to the silly remarks made by Jen Hatmaker. We must ask ourselves, Is Scripture our basis in life or not?

28 January 2014

The Legitimacy of Divorce

The Christian Pundit has published a valuable and necessary post on the legitimacy of divorce. Too often women (and sometimes men) are wrongfully and unbiblically encouraged to remain in a marriage because of a lack of understanding of Scripture.

The author writes...

In the well-known passage on marriage and divorce found in Matthew 19:1-9, with its corollary in Mark 10:1-12, Jesus clearly retains the abiding legitimacy of divorce for marital unfaithfulness–as he had already done in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:32). .....When the faithful spouse decides to divorce the unfaithful one because trust has been so shattered that he/she believes the marriage cannot continue, that is biblically legitimate. The primary criteria is not that the marriage can potentially be salvaged. The primary criteria is her God-given freedom to choose which route she thinks is wisest, taking counsel from believers who know and love her. ...God hates treacherous divorce, yes (Malachi 2:14-16). He hates adultery, abuse, and abandonment. He does not hate godly divorce. He has provided the opportunity for a way out of a violated covenant for the innocent party. He is just, holy and good. He is a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow.

Please read and try to understand the awful dilemma many women are placed in today by receiving unbibilcal advice cloaked as God's Word on divorce.

27 January 2014

18 January 2014

Carl Trueman Videos on Sin and the Christian Life

If you have not seen these yet, sit back and watch. You'll be glad you did.








Extravagant Grace Lecture by Barbara Duguid

Barbara Duguid
A wonderful time was had by all at our recent lecture by Barbara Duguid, author of Extravagant Grace.  Below is the audio of the seminar. Learn & enjoy!


17 January 2014

Having trouble reading academic books?

Great article on reading academic books from Jared Oliphint. Click over and have a read here.

If you can clear the fog of fear and hesitation hovering over academic books, you might find an unexpected depth and richness between the pages. Heavy theological reading will never take the place of a heart-gripping novel or a devotional full of soaring words of worship. But a rich read can often add color, dimension, and vibrancy to your Christian walk and give those devotionals a few more volts. - Jared Oliphint

02 January 2014

Extravagant Grace Author coming to Hudson, Ohio

Barbara Duguid
Barbara Duguid, author of Extravagant Grace, will be speaking at Redeemer Church in Hudson, Ohio on 16 January 2014. She is a counselor and member of Christ Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Pennsylvania. She holds an advanced certificate in biblical counseling from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She will be speaking about her book which is based on the writings of John Newton. The session starts at 7pm and there will be a book signing afterward. For more on Barbara Duguid, check out her interview on Reformed Forum and for directions and more about Redeemer Church head over to their website.

"In this fine book, Barbara Duguid combines her love of church history, her enthusiasm for John Newton, her insights honed as a pastor's wife and, above all, her love for Christ and his church. Here the reader will find sharp insights into the psychology of sin and sound practical advice on how the Bible speaks to the mundane rebellions of everyday human existence. The heart is indeed restless above all things; Barbara Duguid ably directs us to where we can find rest: in Christ alone."
—Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, WTS PA; Pastor, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) Ambler, Pa. ---

"If only there were some secret—a strategy, an answer, a truth, a fix—to end all the awkward struggle in life! But nothing this side of the return of the King can make life easy. Even the saints in heaven cry, 'How long?' There is a way to live, however, that learns to struggle well through the wrongs inside us and around us. Barb Duguid struggles well. She has learned well from another lifelong struggler, John Newton. Both of them learned well from the the Man of sorrows and grace. He knows our weaknesses first hand. He loved us to the uttermost. He is loving us now. He will love us forever. Take this book to heart. It will sustain you for the long haul, long after the hyped up panaceas and utopias fail."
—David Powlison, Faculty Member, C.C.E.F.

01 January 2014

I don't like New Years Resolutions

I've never liked New Years resolutions. If it is something I need to do then I must resolve to do it at that moment. And there is much I should resolve to do. Here's another good take on New Years resolutions at A Jacket for all Seasons.


 

09 July 2013

The Digital Age is Upon Us

The Digital Age is upon us. In the span of less than three decades, we have redefined the way humans communicate, entertain, inform, research, create, and connect – and what we know now is only a hint of what is to come. But the greatest concern of the church is not a technological imperative, but a Gospel imperative.

By now, just about every church, corporation, business, school or organization has a presence on the Internet. If not, realize that you just do not exist, so far as untold millions of people are concerned.

Make certain that visitors can find you and your organization. If search engines do not know you exist, only those who already know your Internet address can find you. That is not a growth strategy.

[We] should be taking advantage of blogs, social media, and every available platform for communicating our message. We should be exercising stewardship in new opportunities to learn, teach, and study online, recognizing that no generation before us had such rich opportunities.

But our imperative to fulfill Christian leadership in the digital world is not technological. We should not use this technology simply because it is there. Our driving motivation must be a Gospel imperative – to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the full wealth of Christian conviction, and the comprehensive reach of the Christian worldview set before a sinful world. In other words, the Christian imperative in the digital domain comes down to this – sharing the light in a world of darkness. –Al Mohler

As Al Mohler points out above, our presence on the internet is critical. So what can each of us at our respective churches do? Here are some suggestions:

1. Start a Facebook page and Google+ page.
2. Go to your Facebook page and “like” it if you have not already. Then scroll down and click to invite your friends.
3. Add the page on Google+ as a friend and share.
4. Go to your Pastor’s blog (he should have one), “like” it and share it on FB and Google+. 
5. Share the link to your web page with your internet contacts and/or have your webmaster add a Facebook "like" button.

Increasing your “likes” and sharing the pages will bring you higher in the search engines such as Google and therefore you’ll be easier to find for those looking for a church in your area. Moreover, this will allow you to share what’s happening at your church and share the gospel with a larger audience.

Having stated the above I'm going on an extended hiatus to work on my church's website and our Pastor's blog. I don't know when I'll be back if ever. Traffic here has not always been the greatest but I do thank those of you who have stopped by to have a read. I hope it has been helpful and encouraging.

05 July 2013

Are We Ready?

Peter Leithart
Peter Leithart posts his thoughts on DOMA...

Many churches have already capitulated to the Zeitgeist, and many others will. Some Christians and some churches won’t be up to the challenge. For those who heed Paul’s admonition not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, things are going to get sticky. But we are servants of God. He opens our ears to hear, and he gives us tongues to speak truth. If that means we are insulted and marginalized, if it means we yield our back to the smiters and our face to those who spit on us, so be it.

Every day we are losing our rights not just as Americans but as Christians.  Widespread acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and....and....and.... We must ask ourselves, are we ready? The trials, difficulties and persecution is coming and coming on rapidly. Think on it, friends. We capitulate or we are persecuted. Time to decide where you stand. As Leithart notes in his post,

God has his winnowing fork in his hand, and he’s ready to use it. There’s likely to be a lot of chaff, blown away like mist. But there will be a harvest. We’re being sent into an oven, but Jesus will crush the grain of the harvest so that, baked in the fire of the Spirit, it will become bread for the life of the world.

04 July 2013

Spritual Disciplines Week 5

    And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
(Luke 4:16 ESV)



03 July 2013

Love That WIll Not Let Me Go

    “At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, 
and they shall be my people.”
    Thus says the LORD:
    “The people who survived the sword
        found grace in the wilderness;
    when Israel sought for rest,
        the LORD appeared to him from far away.
    I have loved you with an everlasting love;
        therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
    Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
        O virgin Israel!
    Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines
        and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
    Again you shall plant vineyards
        on the mountains of Samaria;
    the planters shall plant
        and shall enjoy the fruit.
    For there shall be a day when watchmen will call
        in the hill country of Ephraim:
    ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
        to the LORD our God.’”
(Jeremiah 31:1-6 ESV)


George Matheson Author of "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go"
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

The Church Saw My Discretions

A valuable post form the Gospel Coalition on women and broken people...

Marcy Deck writes

The church saw my discretions, and neither did they ignore them or punish me for them. Instead, they loved me well until I saw the error of my ways. They invited me in. They gave me resources. They spoke truth when I needed to hear it. They were there to help pick up the pieces when I had to deal with the consequences of my actions.

and further

I was also granted the privilege of being pursued to serve other women in the church. I saw in action what Jen Wilkin commended in her recent article "The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued." She writes, "The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve. Because a culture of permission will not ensure complementarity functions as it should."

What struck me about this article is how the church took her in in her brokenness. Aren't we all broken? Don't we all need the love and affection of our church family? I know I do. The question I ask of myself and of you is are we doing this for others in our churches in their brokenness?

Moreover, she filled the the glaring gaps of ministry. Is your church and my church doing this? Are we creating a culture that goes beyond entry level Bible studies and knitting circles.

Read the entire post here and consider: what is the depth of women's ministries at your church and are people being met where they are - in their brokenness?

02 July 2013

This Generation - Mark 13:24-31

    “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, 
from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
    “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
(Mark 13:24-31 ESV)



28 June 2013

What is Prayer? - Ephesians 6:16-18a

        In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit...
(Ephesians 6:16-18a ESV)


Westminster Shorter Catechism #98

Q.  What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.


27 June 2013

Spiritual Disciplines Week 4

We look at the discipline of worship this week.


    But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:23-24 ESV)



26 June 2013

On Discipling Women in the Workplace

Such an important issue...

It's imperative to help women "get past that grass-is-greener tendency and recognize God's sovereign hand in their calling at this particular time," Brownback explains. "And what a privilege it is to be called by God to a specific sphere for a season of life. It's an opportunity—wherever you might be."



Thanks to Matt Smethurst and the Gospel Coalition for posting this video.