Thursday, August 31, 2006

Youth Groupee

Telemarketers can be annoying, but they can also be a source of mild entertainment. Especially the ones who call the church hawking the latest Christian trinket. I particularly enjoy this type of conversation, which happens once a month or so:

"Hello, Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church."

"Yes, this is Christy from Teen Rage with an exciting offer that will help your youth love Jesus! May I speak to the director of your youth group, please?"

"We don't have a youth group."

"Oh," followed by the long pause of a telemarketer who doesn't have that response on her script. "Ok, well, thank you," spoken with the voice of one who has mistakenly dialed up a leper colony.

Our congregation really doesn't have a youth group, but this blog is not an anti-youth group rant. Rather, I wanted to tell you that I've just enjoyed a great summer hanging out with youth, be it my own youth group of six kids at my house, the young people in the congregation, or those at church camps and conferences. The highlights:

1) Monday through Wednesday of this week we had our second annual Youth Summer Service Project (YSSP) at the church. Fifteen teenagers attended. The three days started with devotions, ended with a fun time at Kokomo Raceway Park on Wednesday, and contained tons of hard work and laughs in the middle. What spectacular results were accomplished! They transformed from drab to classy two classrooms; either threw out or organized thousands of piles of stuff around the building, in the process finding many items lost for years; cleaned, waxed and polished everything in sight and even things that were not; weeded and trimmed hedges; changed a paint-peeling, uninviting nursery to a welcoming, bright environment (that wasn't even supposed to be on the list); and much, much more. And it was all done with nary a complaint or problem! I praise the Lord I was able to be with Hannah, Breanna, Emily, Megan, Luke, Rachel, Haley, Addie, Moriah, Chelsea, Kaitlyn, Melanie, Jamey, Lindsay and Trevor these days, and for all the others in the church who prepared for and supported their efforts. Thanks especially to Jason & Jenny!

2) I brought four messages to about 45 youth at our denomination's Youth Leadership Conference July 21-24 from Psalm 110 on the topic Bound to the Crown: Held Captive by Our Wills in Service to Christ. As this psalm speaks of the kingly power of Jesus Christ, verse 3 tells us one of the dramatic impacts that will occur: "Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; in holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew." That verse promises that Christ will bring forth the covenant young people to live holy lives and offer themselves in service to their King, bringing refreshment and life to the church. As we see serious-minded youth throughout the RPCNA giving themselves to such things as mission work home and abroad, spending three weeks at Theological Foundations for Youth learning at our seminary and serving in local churches, or being vital parts of their local congregations, we are witnessing Jesus fulfill this promise in our midst. Thanks especially to Will & Sarah!

3) We've been busy preparing and getting ready for our fifth year of Sycamore Covenant Academy (SCA), a supplemental educational and discipleship program for home educating families. We have more teachers (six) this year offering classes and more students (pushing 40) than ever, and beyond my regular classes of Beginning Greek and Algebra II I get to teach an Old Testament Survey Class. I'm looking forward to an exciting year.

4) With Jamey starting full-time at IUK, Lindsay entering her senior year and taking classes both in Marion and Indianapolis, Trevor being the first kid to get to play two sports in our family (on a soccer team in addition to basketball), Emory continuing to progress in violin and taking lessons on the north side of Indianapolis, Spencer incredibly entering the fourth grade (it does not seem possible), and Celia turning four with her latest trick being dragging a yo-yo behind her like a dog she calls "O-yo," Miriam and my cup runneth over with youth activities. (And no, Honey, Celia does not need a pet, despite what you said. See how busy we are? And she's got lizards, remember?)

5) Sitting on the window sill of my office is a card with a picture of three kids on a bike being followed by a dad on a small bike with training wheels. Inside it says, "Happy Father's Day to the Biggest Kid on the Block." With all this activity, our neighborhood "Cops & Robbers" games have been too few this summer. But the kids haven't forgotten - I just got asked this week by one of the little neighbors if I could come out and play. That's my plan this Friday night, Lord willing.

So we may not have a youth group, but I hope I am never too old to be a youth groupee.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Obedience: A Learned Behavior

Recently a friend going through a tough time asked me for a copy of the following that I wrote quite a number of years ago. The title makes it self-explanatory. Perhaps a thought or two may be helpful to you.

Learning Obedience through Suffering
What the Lord Taught a Pastor as the Congregation He Served Struggled through Division that Threatened Its Existence

  • If my perfect Lord learned obedience through suffering, so must all who follow Him.
  • Nothing helps like dry and thirsty times to bring out the sweet taste of the Psalms.
  • The best prayers are often offered with a libation of tears.
  • God provides an oasis in our deserts. They are called friends.
  • If God destroyed a whole generation for grumbling and complaining before they entered the land of promise, what will He do to those who grumble who are in Christ and His church?
  • In backyard basketball, we say, “No blood – no foul.” In other words, quit complaining about every infraction and just keep playing. That makes for a loose but good paraphrase of Hebrews 12:4-5, “If you have not started bleeding yet, then your trial isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Accept the discipline of the Lord and press on.”
  • Often silence is the answer.
  • As Spurgeon said, those who slander your name would really have something to talk about if only they knew the truth about you. When others speak ill of you, be glad they do not see you as God does. Then take refuge in Christ your Advocate.
  • Your foe is probably not as wicked as you make him out to be. Neither are you as righteous as you think you are.
  • Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” is not only pithy, it is Biblical. The Lord’s bondservant must learn to avoid entangling arguments while he trusts in Biblical discipline to run its course.
  • As a shepherd, be tenacious in protecting the flock from those who sow stumbling blocks and dissension. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing you’re supposed to be watching out for.
  • Keep written records and have witnesses to all interactions with parties under church discipline.
  • The Proverbs state, “Drive out a mocker and out goes strife; quarrels and insults have ended.” The peace in our congregation following our struggles demonstrates the truthfulness of this statement.
  • While struggling, find joy in serving others. There is always someone more miserable than you are.
  • Often the fastest way to church growth is through subtraction, not addition.
  • “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Take your frustrations out on pursuing the offenders, not your kids.
  • “An excellent wife, who can find?” By God’s grace, I have.
  • It is pride - not godliness - that refuses to ask for help.
  • Finally, thanks be to the good Lord that I am a Presbyterian. I have a place to go when I need help.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Do What You Cannot Do

He came banging in through the church door last Saturday, calling out with his thick tongue, "Hel-wo! Pas-ta!" As this "pas-ta" came out of his study and walked down the hall toward him, I recognized the form swaying unsteadily inside the door. He is a local fixture in this neighborhood, a middle-aged man whose body is twisted with cerebral palsy that makes his words and steps jerky and disjointed. The only time he moves about fairly freely is when he is seated upon his three-wheeled bike with the basket as he tools along the streets. One looking upon him instantly feels sorry for him.

He asked for five bucks because he said he was hungry. Jason, who was with me, asked if he had gone to the Mission, which offers two free meals a day, every day. He said people there made fun of him and asked for five bucks again. We flat-out said no. He said he would come to church if we gave it to him. We told him to come to church the next day then we would start talking about it. Without another word he turned and stumbled out the door in disgust.

Were we cruel?

Well, before I tell you a bit more about this situation, meditate with me upon a truth about the gospel. Did you ever consider that when the gospel is preached, it is a call to the impossible? That you are asking the hearer to do something he is completely incapable of doing? In essence you are saying to him, "Do what you cannot do."

For recall how often the Lord made incredible demands on His hearers:
  • "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." -Command to a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years (John 5:8).
  • "Go and sin no more." -Words spoken to woman caught in adultery (John 8:11).
  • "Lazarus, come forth!" -Shouted to a man lying dead in a tomb for four days (John 11:43).
In other words, He was telling them to do what they could not do.

Calling people to faith and repentance is the same. We tell them to repent of their evil ways and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Yet God is the one who ultimately grants repentance (see Acts 5:31) and ultimately gives faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). When the gospel is preached, the hearer is powerless to obey just as the preacher is powerless to create obedience. Because the hearer is dead, blind and lame, we must rely on the Spirit of God to enable him to do what naturally he can neither understand nor accomplish (I Corinthians 2:14), which is entrust his life and soul to Christ. Seeing the impossible occur is how God receives all the glory in our evangelism.

So often, because we are overeager to get a response or to feel good about helping someone, we preach the gospel "lite." No sacrifice is called for and the truth about Christian discipleship is minimized. Yet Jesus preached the gospel "heavy." He demanded of people such things as "Go get your husband" when a woman at a well was not even married but shacking up; "I cannot give the children's bread to the dogs" when a foreign woman was begging Him for the life of her child; and "Go sell all you have and follow me" to a rich, young ruler to tell him what he needed to let go of in order to receive the eternal life he claimed he wanted.

Now back to our refusal to help the palsied man. I also know this man because several years ago he was in my study. On that night, as several of us tried to minister to him, we realized by the testimony of a neighbor and the smell that his speech was slurred and his pants were soaked in urine not because of his palsy but due to his drinking. He also spoke openly, even proudly, of his immorality. We called him then to quench his thirst in Christ alone, and he left us that evening in disgust as well. You see, he uses his palsy to play upon peoples' sympathies in order to subsidize his wicked lifestyle. Last week we reminded him he had been here before, and repeated the message that his hunger was due to his disregard for God's ways. We invited him to come to church to learn of Jesus. He left, for it is clear that was asking him to do something he could not do.


Far worse than physical palsy is the spiritual inability to walk with God. We must preach the gospel so that people realize they need to cry out to God to bring about what they cannot. Then how we must pray that God would attend the sowing of His word with His Spirit and power.

In the words of a Puritan, "Repentance with man is the changing of a will; repentance with God is the willing of a change."


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

VBS for Pastors

Usually Vacation Bible Schools are held during the summer so squirmy little kids can learn what they did not know about the Bible.

Last month, this preacher felt like he went to VBS for Pastors, though my squirming was due to paying attention to the lesson rather than trying to escape it.

My family had the privilege of attending our presbytery's family conference called Covfamikoi (a name derived by combining the words "covenant" and "family" with the first letters of the states represented at the conference). I had the opportunity to sit under the mature, masterful preaching of Pastor Ted Donnelly from Ireland as he brought messages to us from the book of Jeremiah. As I listened to the warm, probing sermons, one lesson I learned is how much I am still learning about the Bible. To be honest, having never done an in-depth study of this book myself, I learned such things as:
  • The theme God gave to Jeremiah's ministry is contained in the six verbs of Jer. 1:10, "to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." This theme is repeated throughout the book (for instance, see Jeremiah 18:7-10 and 31:38).
  • The phrase "a new covenant" is found in the Old Testament and used only in Jeremiah (31:31).
  • Just as God promised to write the law of God on hearts in the new covenant, He also threatened to the people of Jeremiah's day to inscribe their sins on their hearts by an iron stylus with a diamond point (17:1).
  • Jeremiah's life mirrored Christ's to the point many in Jesus' day wondered if He was Jeremiah reincarnated (Matthew 16:13-14). Both Jesus and Jeremiah were rejected in their hometown, hated by the religious establishment, charged with treason, wept over Jerusalem and killed by their own people.

I share some of the fascinating things I learned as an encouragement that even pastors need to go to VBS, i.e., being a disciple of Christ means being a learner of the Scriptures your whole lifetime. Every week I prepare messages I am amazed at the things I see new or for the first time in Scripture. Maybe you are tentative to jump into Bible study or reading because you do not think you know very much about the Bible. I say plunge in and join the crowd!

Perhaps most encouraging and challenging to me - and the source of my squirming - was to hear that Jeremiah spent over 40 years of ministry being rejected by the people of God even as he persistently told them to turn back to the Lord. VBS 2006 for this pastor means persistently telling hardhearted people of the need to repent of their sins and seek the Lord. Even this very day He gave me the hour and a half opportunity to do that with someone who has been excommunicated. Even as I hung up disappointed for his failure to listen, Jeremiah 7:27 has become my strange comfort, "You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they shall not answer you."