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For this first week of Advent, my poem of the week is this wonderful 7th century hymn that I have only recently come across. I hope you enjoy it as I have.

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless victim all divine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

-          Unknown author, 7th Century (Conditor alme siderum); translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in the Hymnal Noted, 1852

Pastoral Care at the Hospital and in Times of Loss

Recently I was asked to speak to a class in our Worship Leadership program on pastoral care issues, specifically hospital visitation and bereavement.  The professor rightly wanted these students to be prepared to participate in this work of pastoral care.

Below are my notes in bullet form for some key, basic thoughts on this realm of ministry. I also encouraged them to see several books by Brian Croft and others which are listed at the end.

Hospital Visits

  1. Go! Too many people just avoid this area of care because it makes them uncomfortable or they are unsure of what to do. This is inexcusable. We must be there to help care for people in their difficult times
  2. Be brief. They want to see you but you do not need to stay long. This is especially true the more pain or discomfort they are in or the less lucid they are. There will be times when you need to stay longer, but in general a 5 minute visit is great.
  3. Ask how they are doing and listen. Updates on their status will help you know how to pray and how to inform others or to set up support in ways needed. Primarily though the gift of your listening is the key here. In general people tend to have a deficit in the area of being listened to. This is particularly a need when you are unwell.
  4. Share scripture. Again, not long, but bring the Word of God. It may be a verse or two. Begin collecting suitable passages. Biblical benedictions are a good source since they are prayers for gospel grace. The Psalms are also a great source.
  5. Pray. It should be rare indeed for you to visit someone in the hospital without praying with them. You need not be complex in your prayer but lift them to the Lord asking for healing, comfort, and grace.
  6. Take a card. Always be prepared to leave a note if they are out or are asleep. You want to let them know you were there. Just state you came by, sorry to have missed them, praying for you. You might include a verse.


  1. Your presence is the main thing. Be there.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to say something. This is not the time to provide theological analysis. That day will likely come, but not now.
  3. Pray.
  4. Look for ways to meet (or mobilize the church to meet) physical needs. Do they have a funeral home? Do they have a funeral plan? You should familiarize yourself with area funeral homes, phone numbers, what services they provide, etc. Who’s bringing meals? What can the church do?
  5. This will often be the place for a longer visit, as you just remain around as others come and go. You may need to be on hand for a while.

Brian Croft, Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness

Brian Croft & Phil Newton, Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death

Brian Croft & Austin Walker, Caring for Widows

“The Church’s One Foundation”

My poem of the week this week is this great hymn. Even those who know it (a shrinking number among my students) often have seen all the verses. The hymn provides a helpful meditation on the church, her struggles and her solid Hope.

“The Church’s One Foundation”

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

Words: Sam­uel J. Stone, Lyra Fi­del­i­um; Twelve Hymns of the Twelve Ar­ti­cles of the Apos­tle’s Creed (Lon­don: Messrs. Park­er and Co., 1866).

O, How We Need the Public Reading of Scripture

I am deeply enjoying Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton now that I am finally reading it. Or, rather, I am listening to it. I can’t help but think that listening to Michael York read this book is the best way to savor it.

One scene is particularly riveting and gives a moving picture of how the public reading of Scripture should be done. The main character, Kumalo, who is a priest, is deeply distressed and downcast, but is attending a worship service. Then, another priest rises and reads Scripture to the gathered congregation. Paton describes the reading in this way:

“the voice was of gold, and the voice had love for the words it was reading. The voice shook and beat and trembled, not as the voice of an old man shakes and beats and trembles, not as a leaf shakes and beats and trembles, but as a deep bell when it is struck. For it was not only a voice of gold, but it was the voice of a man whose heart was golden, reading from a book of golden words. And the people were silent, and Kumalo was silent, for when are three such things found in one place together? …

“And the voice rose, and the Zulu tongue was lifted and transfigured, and the man too was lifted, as is one who comes to something that is greater than any of us.”

Too often, in various Christian groups including Baptists, the public reading of Scripture is overlooked, not practiced, or done perfunctorily. Paul told Timothy to “give attention to” or “devote himself to” the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). We seem to have forgotten this and, as a result, neglect a powerful means of grace.

O, how we need public reading of Scripture in our gathered worship like that described in Paton’s novel! Where golden words are read by one who loves those words and has been impacted by those words- careful, deliberate, passionate reading of words which have entered deep into the soul of the reader and therefore come from his mouth with care, with reverence for them and with longing for others to hear and receive them. May we, thus, read the Scriptures to our people and train others to do so.

For All the Saints

My poem of the week this week is William How’s magnificent hymn, “For All the Saints.” Sung to Ralph Vaughan Williams majestic tune, “Sine Nomine”- particularly with a good pipe organ- this is one of my favorites- a grand tune reminding us of the great cloud of witnesses about us. I rarely can get through the last verse without choking up. Following the preceding verses it is a powerful reminder to me that I am a part of a great host from across time who have found God faithful.

I have never heard all the verses sung, but they are all worth reading.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Words: William W. How, in Hymns for Saint’s Days, and Other Hymns, by Earl Nel­son, 1864.


You Should Celebrate the Reformation

There are so many reasons for people to celebrate the Reformation, and every year at this time I try to point out some facet of the impact of this great event.

This year I am pleased to announce that the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University is planning REF500, a festival celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to be held March 9-11, 2017. The event is still about 16 months away but we’ve already been working on it for a couple of years, and today we officially launch the event website. We will examine the impact of the Reformation on life as we know it across the wide spectrum of life with lectures from Union faculty from various disciplines and plenary lectures from Timothy George, Carl Trueman, Peter Leithart and David Lyle Jeffrey. In addition we will have a musical performance, theater, and a film showing all related to the Reformation.

Here is my brief attempt to highlight why we should celebrate the Reformation.

Justin Wainscott on the Importance of the Reformation

This past Sunday many church celebrated Reformation Sunday as we near Reformation Day, Oct 31, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Justin Wainscott, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, passionately explained the importance of the Reformation in terms of our access to the Bible today. May we be good stewards of such a privilege.

Posted by Ref500 on Monday, October 26, 2015

That Your Faith May Not Fail

Selah's bookI am pleased to see that Selah Helms’ book, That Your Faith May Not Fail is now available. I was blessed to have an opportunity to read a pre-publication copy.

Selah tells the story of her son’s tragic accident and how her family has walked through this trial. Having known, loved and respected the Helms for years, having watched them walk through this difficult time- and knowing that Selah is a good writer!- I knew this book would be good. But, it even exceeded my expectations. I was deeply moved, challenged and encouraged. I wept and longed for God more. So I commend this book to you heartily. It will be well worth your time.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:

It has been a rich blessing for me and my family to know and love the Helms family. Since we first met their older two sons when they came to Union, the Helms became dear friends and helpful examples to us. This moving account of how they have and are walking through the ordeal of Peter’s suffering is truly powerful. I was challenged and encouraged by reading it. I found myself yearning to know God more richly, to trust Him more fully, to love my family more deeply, and to immerse myself more completely into God’s Word. I urge you to read this book and pass it on to others because it will be useful in building up believers and calling people to faith in Jesus, as it recounts how this family has found God faithful as they have been held fast by the great gospel truths.

What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?

The Gospel, Sexuality, and Culture

A few weeks ago I spoke on this topic as part of a series titled “The Gospel, Sexuality, and Culture” at First Baptist Church in Jackson, TN. The audio from this session can be found here, as well as links to the other messages in the series by Justin Barnard, Ben Mitchell and Hunter Baker.

“Thank you, God, for putting in Momma’s mind the idea for this great food.”


I am currently reading Tim Keller’s new book on prayer and benefiting from discussing it with a group of my faculty colleagues. Also, last week I was blessed to hear a great message on prayer from Steve Gaines in a chapel service. Prayer is an area where I always need growth and these things are stirring up my thoughts. Among many other points, one thing that has come up in the reading and sermon, has been the importance of gratitude, of recognizing afresh the reality that every good and perfect gift comes from God. We know this, but it is easy for me to let my mind and heart slip into neutral and fail to be particularly aware of or alive to this reality. When this happens, gratitude for me becomes an intellectual reality but not a daily cause of wonder and awe, as it ought to be.

With this on my mind, Facebook reminded me of a comment by my youngest child a year ago. When we give thanks at meals I call on different family members to voice our prayer. The younger children, particularly, tend to have common phrases for their prayers. A year ago Timothy began commonly including a new sentence:

“Thank you, God, for putting in Momma’s mind the idea for this great food.”

Unlike many of his other prayer phrases, this one was not picked up from anyone else! He recognized the truth that Mom is indeed a wonderful cook- a point commonly noted at our table. But, he also recognized that even the idea for wonderful recipes and meals should be attributed to God. His words made me smile and were fun to reflect on. They also challenged me to be more aware of the reality of how many ways God is at work around me for my God and to recognize afresh that every good gift does indeed come from God.