REblog: When you feel weak and weary… (Aaron Armstrong)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently—at least a lot for a guy who normally sits at a desk or a Starbucks to work. One of the great difficulties I have when being away from my wife and family for a long period of time (this morning I leave home and will be away for up to 12 consecutive days) comes in the form of mopiness.

Feeling sorry for myself and focusing on where I’m not rather than where I am.

Because it’s so easy to start feeling like a sad sack when I’m gone for a long period of time, it’s no surprise these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled are so encouraging to me:

Do you feel your will is weak? Do you feel your energy is low? He will come to you; he will strengthen and energize your feeble will; he will enable you to resist temptation. He will take you above the obstacles and difficulties, he will empower you—that is what he has promised to do. He is life, and he will awaken you to life and a knowledge of God and fill you with his power. He will lead you along the journey so that, whatever your circumstances, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11–13). A branch that is in the vine and experiencing the power of the living Christ is alive with life itself.

Where we are weak, Christ is strong for us. And where we are tempted to sin—whether by feeling sorry for ourselves or some more blatant sin—he will enable us to resist temptation. If that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is.

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A Piper Devotion For Today

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is a great lesson in why we should have faith in the sovereign future grace of God.

Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, which must have tested his patience tremendously. But he is given a good job in Potiphar’s household. Then, when he is acting uprightly in the unplanned place of obedience, Potiphar’s wife lies about his integrity and has him thrown into prison — another great trial to his patience.

But again things turn for the better, and the prison-keeper gives him responsibility and respect. But just when he thinks he is about to get a reprieve from the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose dream he interpreted, the cupbearer forgets him for two more years.

Finally, the meaning of all these detours and delays becomes clear. Joseph says to his long-estranged brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. . . . As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 45:7; 50:20).

What would have been the key to patience for Joseph during all those long years of exile and abuse? The answer is: faith in future grace — the sovereign grace of God to turn the unplanned place and the unplanned pace into the happiest ending imaginable.

FREE Ebooks from R.C. Sproul

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REblog: Hymn Story “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”

If Isaac Watts is known as the father of English hymnody, William Williams (1717-1791) is considered by many to be the father of Welsh hymnody.

In 1738 Williams heard a sermon by the revivalist preacher Howell Harris, a fiery Welsh layman who had been influenced by the Methodist movement in England. It was through this sermon that Williams discerned his calling to go into the ministry.

Williams first pursued becoming an Anglican priest (in the Church of Wales) and entered as a deacon in 1740. However, he soon came to discover that his heart was with Harris and his itinerant work, and before long he left his small curacy in the mountains to join with the traveling Methodist preachers.

The revivalists realized that the Welsh language was lacking in hymns–the church in Wales was still primarily singing metrical psalms in their worship services. In order to promote the creation of hymns, Harris put together a hymn-writing competition between the different preachers.

As Louis Benson relates, “the prize fell easily to Williams Williams, who had the poet’s passion and a gift of verse-writing. Therefore it was not very long before he was recognized as poet laureate of the Welsh revival.”

Williams would go on to write many hymns in both Welsh and English. “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” appeared in Welsh in 1745. Twenty six years later, in 1771, a Rev. Peter Williams translated the first verse into English, prompting William Williams to translate the rest of it into English as well.

It is fitting that Williams should be the author of a hymn about the Christian’s pilgrimage on earth since as a traveling Methodist preacher, he was a pilgrim in both the spiritual and physical sense.

Williams made an extraordinary record as an itinerant evangelist. He took the whole of Wales for his parish. His travels for forty-three years are said to make an average of 2230 miles a year, at a time when there were no railroads and few stage-coaches. In this way the greater part of Williams’ life was spent, not in a preacher’s study, but in the great world of out of doors. …

It was a picturesque life, but it was not an easy one; for nature is not always kind. It involved much exposure and constant fatigue. It incurred also that menace of the mob of which all these revival preachers were victims. …

Such self-sacrificing years of evangelism and those weary thousands of miles sum up the remainder of Williams’ life.

Here is the English text of the hymn (which is known also as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer”):

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer,
Be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee.

Two stanzas have since been added. One appears to have been added by Williams when he translated it to English (“Musing on my habitation…”). I am not sure about the other.

Lord, I trust Thy mighty power,
Wondrous are Thy works of old;
Thou deliver’st Thine from thralldom,
Who for naught themselves had sold:
Thou didst conquer, Thou didst conquer,
Sin, and Satan and the grave,
Sin, and Satan and the grave.

Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heav’nly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!

The hymn is especially powerful when sung by a choir and has been recorded many times. Here is a good example. You can see a lot of really bored-looking people singing it at the royal wedding of Prince William. Several people have rewritten the melody but, between you and me, I don’t think any of them touch the power and beauty of the original. Having said that, Whitney Houston’s way-too-short rendition sounds like it would have been special, though it also would have been about 20 minutes long.

A Piper Devotion “How To Hate Your Life”

How to Hate Your Life

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24–25)

“Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” What does that mean?

It means, at least, that you don’t take much thought for your life in this world. In other words, it just doesn’t matter much what happens to your life in this world.

If men speak well of you, it doesn’t matter much.
If they hate you, it doesn’t matter much.
If you have a lot of things, I doesn’t matter much.
If you have little, it doesn’t matter much.
If you are persecuted or lied about, it doesn’t matter much.
If you are famous or unheard of, it doesn’t matter much.
If you are dead, these things just don’t matter much.

But it’s even more radical. There are some choices to be made here, not just passive experiences. Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone serves me, let him follow me.” Where to? He is moving into Gethsemane and toward the cross.

Jesus is not just saying: If things go bad, don’t fret, since you are dead anyway. He is saying: choose to die with me. Choose to hate your life in this world the way I have chosen the cross.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He calls us to choose the cross. People only did one thing on a cross. They died on it. “Take up your cross,” means, “Like a grain of wheat, fall into the ground and die.” Choose it.

But why? For the sake of radical commitment to ministry: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). I think I hear Paul saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me — if I can just live to the glory of his grace.”

by John Piper

A Tozer Devotion For Today

Fri, May 17, 2013

FELLOW WORKERS WITH GOD
If this working, yet not working, doing God’s work, yet not doing it, should seem to be confusing, remember there is a parallel for it in the well-known testimony of Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” From all this I think we may draw the following conclusion: We can no more do the work of God than we can live the life of God. In the believing and surrendered soul, Christ lives His life again and continues to live it, and in the obedient, believing man, God will continue to work, reaching out and through the human instrument to accomplish His wonders among men.

It is critically important that we grasp this truth. Much religious work is being done these days that is not owned by our Lord and will not be accepted or rewarded in that great day. Superior human gifts are being mistaken for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and neither they who exercise these gifts nor the Christian public before whom they are exercised are aware of the deception. Never has there been more activity in religious circles and, I confidently believe, never has there been so little of God and so much of the flesh. Such work is a snare because it keeps us busy and at the same time prevents us from discovering that it is our work and not God’s.

“Nothing is wrought by creatures,” said Meister Eckhart; “the Father works alone. The soul shall never stop until she works as well as God. Then she and the Father shall do His work together: she shall work as one with Him, wisely and lovingly. That we may be in unity with Him. God help us. Amen.”

Today’s Devotional was originally found in the writings from A.W. Tozer from the following book:
The Size of the Soul
Chapter 11 – Who Does the Work of God?

Verse
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. First Corinthians 3:9

Thought
What a sacred privilege to be

Prayer
Lord, only as I fully surrender to You will You use me as You want to use me. May I so give myself to You!

Death & Worship, A REblog from Carl Trueman

Do you ever feel like you have to put on a happy face for worship? Does it ever seem insincere? This is a good article for you to read and think over.

Tragic Worship
Carl R. Trueman
The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.

Perhaps some might recoil at characterizing tragedy as entertainment, but tragedy has been a vital part of the artistic endeavors of the West since Homer told of Achilles, smarting from the death of his beloved Patroclus, reluctantly returning to the battlefields of Troy. Human beings have always been drawn to tales of the tragic, as to those of the comic, when they have sought to be lifted out of the predictable routines of their daily lives—in other words, to be entertained.

From Aeschylus to Tennessee Williams, tragedians have thus enriched the theater. Shakespeare’s greatest plays are his tragedies. Who would rank Charles Dickens over Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad? Tragedy has absorbed the attention of remarkable thinkers from Aristotle to Hegel to Terry Eagleton.

Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later. Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection.

Yet today tragedy has, with few exceptions, dropped from popular entertainment. Whether it is the sentimentalism of the Hallmark Channel, the pyrotechnics of action movies, or the banal idiocy of reality TV, the tragic sensibility is all but lost. This is further compounded by the trivial way in which the language of tragedy is now used in popular parlance. As with defining moment and crisis, the words tragedy and tragic are now expected to perform Stakhanovite levels of linguistic labor. In a world where even sporting defeats can be described as tragedies, rarely do the terms speak of the catastrophic moral crises and heroic falls that lie at the heart of great tragic literature.

Yet human life is still truly tragic. Death remains a stubborn, omnipresent, and inevitable reality. For all of postmodern anti-essentialism, for all the repudiation of human nature, for all the rhetoric of self-creation, death eventually comes to all, frustrates all, levels all. It is not simply a linguistic construct or a social convention. Yet despite this, Western culture has slowly but surely pushed death, the one impressive inevitability of human life, to the very periphery of existence.

Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room,” he said. And: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Today the problem is even greater: Entertainment has apparently become many people’s primary purpose of existence. I doubt that it would surprise Pascal that the world has increased the size, scope, and comprehensiveness of distraction. It would not puzzle him that death has been reduced to little more than a comic-book cartoon in countless action movies or into a mere momentary setback in soap operas and sitcoms. Indeed, he would not find it perplexing that the bleak spiritual violence of mortality leaves no lasting mark on the bereaved in the surreal yet seductive world of popular entertainment.

But he might well be taken aback that the churches have so enthusiastically endorsed this project of distraction and diversion. This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.

Even funerals, the one religious context where one might have assumed the reality of death would be unavoidable, have become the context for that most ghastly and incoherent of acts: the celebration of a life now ended. The Twenty-Third Psalm and “Abide with Me” were funeral staples for many years but not so much today. References to the valley of the shadow of death and the ebbing out of life’s little day, reminders both of our mortality and of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times, have been replaced as funeral favorites by “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “My Way.” The trickledown economics of worship as entertainment has reached even the last rites for the departed.

Yet tragedy is a vital part of entertainment. Aristotle in his Poetics famously argued for the personal and social benefits of tragic drama. The audience, swept up into the vertiginous moral crises, the magnificent flaws, and the catastrophic falls of the heroes, enjoyed the experience of catharsis—running the gamut of relevant emotions—without being agents in the events depicted on the stage. They left the theater cleansed by the experience and knowing more deeply what it means to be human. They were wiser, more thoughtful, and better prepared to face the reality of their own lives.

Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.

It is therefore an irony of the most perverse kind that churches have become places where Pascalian distraction and a notion of entertainment that eschews the tragic seem to dominate just as comprehensively as they do in the wider world. I am sure that the separation of church buildings from graveyards was not the intentional start of this process, but it certainly helped to lessen the presence of death. The present generation does not have the inconvenience of passing by the graves of loved ones as it gathers for worship. Nowadays, death has all but vanished from the inside of churches as well.

In my own tradition, the historic Scottish Presbyterian tradition, the somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice helped to connect Sunday worship to the realities of life. There are indeed psalms of joy and triumph. The parents rejoicing in the birth of a child could find words of gratitude to sing to the Lord, but there are also psalms which allow bereaved parents to express their grief and their sorrow in words of praise to their God.

The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities—as the many great hymns of the past did so well—but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due. The tomb is certainly empty; but we are not sure why it would ever have been occupied in the first place.

Only the dead can be resurrected. As the second thief on the cross saw so clearly, Christ’s kingdom is entered through death, not by escape from it. Traditional Protestantism saw this, connecting baptism not to washing so much as to death and resurrection. Protestant liturgies made sure that the law was read each service in order to remind the people that death was the penalty for their sin. Only then, after the law had pronounced the death sentence, would the gospel be read, calling them from their graves to faith and to resurrection life in Christ. The congregants thereby became vicarious participants in the great drama of salvation.

There was surely catharsis in such worship: The congregants left each week having faced the deepest reality of their own destinies. Perhaps it is ironic, but the church that confronts people with the reality of the shortness of life lived under the shadow of death prepares them for resurrection better than the church that goes straight to resurrection triumphalism without that awkward mortality bit.

Bonhoeffer once asked, “Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church?” Why, indeed. Maybe the situation is even worse than I have described; perhaps the churches are even more trivial than the entertainment industry. After all, in popular entertainment one does occasionally find the tragic clearly articulated, as in the movies of a Coppola or a Scorsese.

A church with a less realistic view of life than one can find in a movie theater? For some, that might be an amusing, even entertaining, thought; for me, it is a tragedy.

Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.