Jun 082015

But 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

There are many myths and legends that have developed through the years as to the man St. Patrick. First of all, it is important to make clear that Patrick was not Irish, but he was a Romanized Englishman. I will give more details on that shortly. Secondly, there is a legend that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. The reason that there are no snakes in Ireland today is that Patrick cast them all out! (I might want to move there now!) A third legend is that Patrick was a bishop sent by Rome to Ireland and there he taught the Irish about the Trinity using a shamrock. Lastly, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” did not come from Patrick!

Now for the real St. Patrick: God raised up Patrick at a time when the church was in great decline as a result of Pope Leo. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, already speaks of merchants and soldiers bringing the teachings of Christianity to the British Isles. Patrick was born toward the end of the 4th century, about 389/390, a little before the fall of the Roman Empire. Rome had stretched its territory to the British Isles, into England, Wales and Scotland, but had not conquered Ireland. Most agree that Patrick, really Patricius, was born in southern England (some say northern England). His native language was Latin.

We learn these things from Patrick’s own autobiography which he called, like Augustine, Confession of St. Patrick. At the very beginning he declares that he is, “A sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.” At age 16, England was raided by Irish pirates and Patrick along with thousands of Englishmen, was taken captive to the west coast of Ireland into slavery, where he would be for seven years. The reason he gives for Irish captivity is that the English have rejected God and have fallen into sin. The captivity is God’s judgment upon them. It was here that Patrick first learned of the sense of his own depravity and need of grace. He would be converted when he escaped from captivity and returned to England at age 23.

Following his conversion, God gave this Englishman a love in his heart for the pagans of Ireland. The Druids were of great influence there and promoted not even a hint of peaceful religion. The Druids were involved in all kinds of wickedness, even the sacrificing of their own children. It would not be until 430/431 that Patrick would return to Ireland to bring the gospel to them, never to return to England.

This came about in three main instances: The first was a vision that God had given to Patrick, much like that of the apostle Paul in Acts 16, when he saw the Macedonians say to him, “Come over here and help us!” Patrick claims to have had a similar experience of the Irish pleading for him to return to bring the gospel. Secondly, he felt compelled of God to go. He says, “I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” Then lastly, Patrick understood that through the preaching of the gospel, God would call Abraham’s sons to himself according to his promise. So Patrick says, “We should fish well and diligently…It behooves us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God.”

God granted Patrick great success in the northern half of Ireland. He spent his final 30 years preaching the gospel there until his death in 461. St. Patrick should be kissed, not because he was Irish, for he was not, but because God led him to return the land of his captivity and brought the gospel to them.

So during the month when Patrick’s life is celebrated, let us remember the real St. Patrick, and let us have a heart for the perishing like he had.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12)

Kiss me I’m…a Christian!

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (ESV)

Our God is sovereign, gracious and kind. He abounds in steadfast love. He tenderly forgives and graciously provides. He alone is worthy to be praised, and believers ought to live with a heart of thanksgiving to Him.

I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Sovereign God who led them to Plymouth. They began as Separatists in England, fled to Holland during persecution, were sent back to England, then found a ship available called the Mayflower that would carry 102 of them to the New World. This was half of the congregation, pastored by William Bradford, which got on board with the desire to build a God-centered community.

Let me share with you quickly a few of God’s gracious dealings and His abundant provisions for the Pilgrims. First of all, ten of the men got on board a sailing shallop to explore the coast of Cape Cod. They were greeted not so warmly by Nauset Indians that began to fill their camp with arrows. Two men fired their muskets and scared the Indians away. They went their way up the coast and landed in Plymouth. The Mayflower could land there and this was where they would build their community. They built a common house where they all would live until they could build houses for each family.

That first winter was very hard. It was very cold. Fifty-one of the 102 died that first winter, mostly women and children. The men were very weak and could barely provide for those living. One day an Algonquin Indian named Samoset came to the house. The Pilgrims were at first suspicious, but found him to be a gracious man. He knew English! He had gone on fishing expeditions with the British in Maine. Samoset told them that if they would have arrived 3 years earlier, they probably would have all been killed by a vicious tribe called the Patuxets. They had hated the white man. But in 1617, a strange disease killed every one of them that lived there. But God spared one Patuxet Indian who would later greatly help the Pilgrims. In 1605, a Patuxet by the name of Squanto was captured by a Captain Hunt and taken to England. Squanto was later sold to Spanish monks who told him about Jesus. In 1619, Squanto was able to return to London, and then a Captain Dermer took him back to Plymouth! Squanto went to Chief Massasoit of the Algonquin tribe. The chief and sixty painted warriors, along with Squanto, came to the Pilgrim settlement. The Pilgrims were warmly greeted and as you probably know, Squanto stayed with them and taught them how to grow crops. The Pilgrims and Squanto were united in Christ!

Well, God provided in amazing ways. In the autumn of 1621, Bradford called for a day of Thanksgiving. It ended up being a three-day celebration. The Indians brought deer, turkey and fish. The Pilgrim women cooked vegetables and pies.

But during the Winter of 1621, more settlers came into Plymouth and supplies ran short quickly. In order to survive they each received a ration of five kernels of corn every day. They would trust in God to provide for them and He did. The captain of a ship headed back for England traded corn for their beaver skins! They then had food until the Spring!

In the summer of 1623, there was a drought. Their corn was wilting. The pilgrims called for prayer and fasting and God gave fourteen consecutive days of gentle rain! God had given them a bountiful harvest. But at Thanksgiving, at each plate there were five kernels of corn, so that each one would remember God’s gracious provisions!

RBC, look back at this year. God has once again crowned your year with bounty and His wagon tracks have overflowed with abundance. God is sovereign and good. See how He has fed you and clothed you and met your every need. Be thankful church! Let us all be thankful!

With a heart of thanksgiving to God for each of you,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Sovereign Grace Music produced a project called, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. It is in our church library and I would encourage you to listen to it as we enter the season in which we celebrate the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that is, God the eternal Son taking upon Himself a nature like ours. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Notice that it is only a child that is born, namely Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but the Son is given (not born). God the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. The Son has never been born. He is fully God. But the eternal Son entered the world He made and was born as a man. He is fully God and fully man. This is a great mystery and something to treasure up and ponder in our hearts. We will never fully comprehend it, but it should cause us to bow before the Divine Majesty.

Luke 2 tells us the account of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them the good news that in Bethlehem, a Savior had been born, Christ the Lord. The angel told them that they would find the father, mother and the child, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Then suddenly, with the angel, a multitude of angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds went quickly to Bethlehem, saw and worshiped the newborn king and told Mary and Joseph all that happened. More details for Mary to treasure and ponder. The word “treasure” literally means “to keep together.” I think from the very start of all this Mary was trying to keep all the details of the events together, trying to make them fit in her mind. So many details, from the salutation to the Spirit coming upon her, meeting Elizabeth and little John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, Mary’s song of praise, Joseph’s commitment to take her as a wife and keep her pure until after the baby was born, the taxation of the Romans sending them to Bethlehem, and now the report of the shepherds.

And… she delivered the One who would deliver her. That brings me back to the Sovereign Grace project on the incarnation. They wrote a song called “Sleep Jesus Sleep.” It is written from Mary’s perspective of the events. I will let you ponder the words and all that the incarnation means for God’s people.

Sleep, Jesus, sleep
We’ve come to see
You who never closed Your eyes
Watching over earth and skies
Now in frail humanity
Must sleep

Sleep, newborn King
We’ll gently sing
You who reigns forevermore
Ruling as the Lord of lords
You who never had a need
Must sleep

Sovereign One
Born as Mary’s son
Prince of Peace
One day You’ll deliver me
Deliver me

But now sleep, Son of God
We’ll watch in awe
You’ll fulfill the Father’s plan
Reconciling God and man
Now Your promises to keep
Must sleep

Let us all take some time this Christmas to treasure and ponder God’s great love for His people. “O what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship, for this is your God” (Graham Kendrick, from “Meekness and Majesty”).

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Bill

Dec 172012

Johann Nikolaus Forkel had a desire to bring Germany’s native son, J.S. Bach, into focus in the early 1800’s. His research of Bach’s life and works were sketchy at times, but he put together the first authoritative work on the life of J.S. Bach. Forkel so desperately wanted his native land to know about the genius of Bach. “One of the best and most effective means of popularizing musical masterpieces is to perform them in public,” he wrote. “In that way works of merit secure a widening audience.”

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a work of merit and it desires a very wide audience. It is, in my humble opinion, and with my limited knowledge of music, one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard. It so captivates me! Our minister of music, Michael Roderick, played it yesterday (12/16) for the prelude of our service. When I hear the music, I close my eyes and focus on the One who should be the chief Joy of my heart. His name is Jesus! Yes, you heard me right – I close my eyes and focus on Jesus (with the eyes of my heart). Don’t think I’m crazy if I feel a sense of rapture when I listen to the song. Forkel said in 1802, “No one who is familiar with the work of other centuries will contradict or hold my statement exaggerated, that Bach cannot be named except in tones of rapture, and even of devout awe, by those who have learned to know him.” God gifted this man to compose music for the church. That’s right. He was a music director, first in Weimar, then in Leipzig. He composed a new cantata virtually every week! He began composing on Monday, finished it on Thursday, practiced it with the orchestra Friday and Saturday, then it was played at 8 AM at Sunday morning mass. He composed around 550 cantatas, and that is only the beginning!

Forkel, with great regret, said, “Bach’s works unfortunately are rarely heard nowadays; for the number of persons capable of playing them adequately is at best inconsiderable.” I am thankful that God sent RBC a music leader that can more-than-adequately handle Bach! Forkel said, “To awaken a wide appreciation of musical masterpieces depends upon the existence of good teachers.” Michael, not only can you handle Bach, but you play Bach for us and teach him to us! Thank you, indeed!

Generations of Musicians

It is said of Bach’s family that ”in six successive generations scarcely two or three of its members are found whom nature had not endowed with remarkable musical talent, and who did not make music their profession.” They were a close knit family. It is said that they, “exhibited a clannish attachment to each other.” The Bachs often lived in small towns and were not prone to migrate to larger cities. The Bach name was still big in Germany, but not as big as it could have been. Then came Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach. At the age of 10 he became an orphan and was dependent on his oldest brother for care. This brother, Christoph, was amazed by his little brother’s talent. He fed him with as much music as possible to help him grow as a musician.

The Song

Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring comes from cantata number 147. The cantata was named Herz (heart) und Mund (mouth) und Tat (deed) und Leben (life). There are ten songs in the cantata, with Jesu being the final song. Jesu was the second of two choral sing-a-longs in the cantata. The choral arrangement was designed to allow the people to stand and stretch while they sang with the chorus. I have read that the song was first played on July 2, 1723, but I also read that it was performed in Weimar on the 4th Sunday of Advent. I can’t seem to find out which is true, or if a combination of both are true: First played on July 2, then played regularly at Advent.

The text of the song was written by Martin Janus in 1661. The music was actually written by Johann Schop, but was arranged by Bach for his Cantata 147. The song has actually been arranged several times since. The English that we see today does not correspond to the original German. I want to give the translation of the original to right of the German. I do this because many of you I believe will be encouraged from the message of the original hymn. Perhaps you are suffering and you need encouragement to hold on. Well, here it is in the words of this hymn.

Jesus bleibet meine Freude
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum lass’ ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt’ ich ihn,
dass er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab’ ich, der mich liebet
und sich mir zu eigen giebet,
ach drum lass’ ich Jesum nicht,
wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.
Jesus remains my joy
My hearts’s comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life’s strength.
My eye’s desire and sun,
My soul’s love and joy.
So will I not leave Jesus,
Out of heart and face.Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to Him.
That He might refresh my heart,
When sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me,
And gives to me his own.
Ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
When I feel my heart is breaking.

I pray that Jesus would remain your joy this Christmas and forever. That He would be your strength and comfort and that He would refresh your heart. He remains faithful and He holds on to you with His omnipotent hand! He loves you, friend, so don’t lose sight of that. Let Him be the Joy of your desires!

Merry Christmas!

Dec 122012

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV)

There is no question that Christmas has become a selfish desire for material things. We love our “things”. We love them so much we will even fight for them at a department store. Once again, there were many “Black Friday Brawls” all over the country. When I watch the video clips I am in horror. It is almost like we have become like wild, untamed animals. The corruption of the human heart is so evident. One only needs to watch one Black Friday Brawl video (or brave the crowds in person) to see that humanity has a desperate problem.

The only remedy for sin however, comes from the real meaning of Christmas. I’m not against the purchasing and the giving of gifts. Obviously we have gone way over-board in our culture. But, we have salvation because God gave the greatest gift of all – His Son. The Scriptures reveal to us that it is God who is the great Giver. “Every good gift and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Romans 3:24 tells us that we are justified, by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word for “gift” in that passage means “present” or “without cost or cause”. We did not cause our own salvation, neither did we buy (that is, work for it). “Of His own will he brought us forth (gave us new birth) by the Word of Truth” (James 1:18). Salvation is not your doing. Just as no one chooses to be born, no one chooses on his own to be born again. This is God’s sovereign work. Ephesians 2 says that by grace God made us alive in Christ. Then in verse 8 Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God, by grace, has also given gifts to His Church. Ephesians 4:7 says that “Grace was given to each one us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And the apostle Peter says that, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

God has been giving to you, even this very second. He gave you life, breath, and other material blessing. He has been gracious to you. Most of all, He gave us His Son! Only through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on behalf of sinners can our hearts be made new. Will you trust Him today? Don’t gain the whole world (“things”) and forfeit your soul. How foolish to put our hope and trust in “things”. Will you make Jesus Christ your great treasure?

If you are a Christian, your greatest joy came as a gift. Embrace Him with joy and share the gift with others. Remember, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” No, you don’t have to go over-board, and you shouldn’t, but that does not mean you cannot be thoughtful and generous. There are many ways to give inexpensive gifts that will not take away from the real meaning of Christmas. In all of your purchasing and giving, just don’t forget the greatest Gift of all. To quote Linus, the great theologian from Peanuts, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Giving thanks for God’s inexpressible gift,

Pastor Bill