Monday, October 01, 2007


Destroy and root out the abominations, idolatry, and heresy of the Turk, the pope, and all false teachers and fanatics who wrongly use Thy name and in scandalous ways take it in vain and horribly blaspheme persecution they believe they render Thee a divine service.

This prayer is from Martin Luther's small book A Simple Way to Pray. Luther's book was written in request from his barber about how to pray. Luther took the Ten Commandments and Lord's Prayer and offered prayers based on them to serve as a pattern for how we might pray. The above quote is from the petition "Hallowed be Your name." The "heresy of the Turks" to which Luther refers is their religion of Islam, which teaches that the name of Jesus is decidedly not "the only name given under heaven by which men must be saved" (Acts 4:13). Heard or uttered any bold prayers like this in church lately?

Might want to start. For the Muslims are starting to pray to Allah in churches in the United States. This was brought close to home recently, as a Protestant church here in Kokomo has opened its doors to allow a gathering of Muslims to use its building. According to two trustworthy witnesses who were there, at a public meeting explaining this to the congregation a few weeks ago the pastor invited the Muslim leader to pray. At the end of his prayer offered in Arabic, the Muslim restated it in English and clearly called for Allah to bring victory over those who were not following him. Many of the duped churchgoers there bowed while he was praying, arguing later, "We all worship the same God any way."

Sorry, but that's not what the Apostle John said. "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22). To the Muslim, they may want to persuade you all day long they respect Jesus as a prophet, but to them He is definitely not the Christ.

The lazy, gluttonous, post-Christian West does not understand the mindset of the Muslim. The sincere Muslim wants and preaches a worldwide spread of Islam. As a book like Robert Spencer's The Truth about Muhammed shows, embedded in the very root of Muhammed's life and teaching in the Qur'an is the belief that there must be constant warfare and struggle - jihad - to establish Islamic rule over the nations.

You might want to go to this website, watch the trailer for the movie Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West, then consider purchasing a copy. A professional and expertly-done news documentary, it contains clip after clip of sheiks and Muslim clerics who have been videotaped or televised in various countries preaching about bringing Islam to the West. Watching such things as thousands chanting "Death to America!," children's shows seen on Arabic television with seven year-old girls citing passionately poems about being a martyr for Allah, and Muslims in public in London and New York burning American flags and encouraging the bombing of the USA has quite a sobering effect. And if that's sobering, then seeing the documented deception of Islamic leaders using the West's freedoms, media and naivety against us gives you the nauseousness of a hangover.

Does not the covenant God both promise and show us in His word that when His people no longer honor Him, He will bring a more wicked nation against them? Read Genesis 28:49-52 of how "a nation from afar...a nation whose language you do not understand...a nation of fierce countenance" will be brought against those who turned from the Lord. Read Habakkuk who foresaw the horror of the Babylonians coming against Israel for doing that very thing. Then, when you have sought to console yourself by saying that was Israel and God does not treat other nations that way, read Amos' warning to six other nations besides Israel, read Obadiah telling of Edom's destruction, read Nahum telling of the end of Assyria...

Yes, we have a great military and most of these nations appear too backward to be of consequence. But as Obsession shows, the Allies did not think Hitler was much to worry about either. And Hitler was a godless man in one nation with few sympathizers on our soil. This Islamic movement has the sanction of Allah himself and is multi-national. They are already here converting churches into mosques. Is it not time that we long to see it turned the other way around?

So let our trust be not in our military (Psalm 20:7), but in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as we pray as Luther:

Dear Lord God, convert and restrain them. Convert those who are still to be converted that they with us and we with them may hallow and praise Thy name, both with true and pure doctrine and with a good and holy life. Restrain those who are unwilling to be converted so that they may be forced from misusing, defiling, and dishonoring Thy holy name and from misleading the poor people. Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By an Autumn River

Green murky waters flow quietly,
Leaves from trees upriver carried twirling along.
Slowly they pass by the stranger on the bank,
Leaning against the trunk that's strong.

Lips closed as prayers move upward,
Silently...slowly...barely adrift.
With struggling faith, they fall back to earth,
"Lifeless, futile, a rejected gift?"

Across the stranger's gaze a sole leaf,
Tongue of fire from the sun-soaked season,
Floats down and joins with other pilgrims.
"Traveling assuredly, yet without reason?"

A far-off destination suddenly perceived,
Comforts the one resting 'gainst the tree.
For mysterious Water carries both to distant field,
Preparing soil for a harvest yet to be.

(Composed on the banks of the Wildcat during the Sycamore RPC Annual Camp-out)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


With the heat blazing away today (my Firefox Weather buttons show a severe weather alert because the heat index is to break 100 this week), did you know the the sun itself was used as a harmful illustration of God in church history? And do you know this same belief is commonly taught and accepted uncritically in evangelical circles today?

In the third century a man named Sabellius from Libya began to teach that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to three distinct persons in the Godhead. Rather, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were just different names for the one true God. Sabellius taught that God existed in different forms or modes (this teaching became known then as Sabellianism or Modalism). Sabellius' teaching explained that God existed as the Father in the Old Testament, then changed forms by becoming the Son in the period of the Gospels, and then, following His work on the cross and returning to heaven after the resurrection, He came back as the Spirit.

To illustrate, Sabellius used the sun. Sabellius said that the sun's essence or core is like the Father, the sun's light rays are like the Son of God, and the heat from the rays like the Holy Spirit. How confusingly close to the truth his teaching is, yet what a dangerous denial of the gospel. For note how this teaches that the Father becomes the Son, and the Son in turn becomes the Spirit. Just as we would use the word "sun" to refer to:
  1. the object in the sky during the day ("The sun rose this morning");
  2. the light that helps us see during the day ("The sun is bright today");
  3. the warmth we receive ("I got too much sun on the beach"),
so Sabellius used the name Jesus to refer to the Father or the Son or the Spirit.

Through the influence of the church father Tertullian, who developed the phrase Trinity (Trinitas in the Latin) to explain that God has existed eternally as three persons, Modalism was denounced by the church as a heresy (Since Modalists like to say the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, for fun let's call their teaching "Modinity" - One God in Three Modes - which is not even in the dictionary). The Scriptures teach that Jesus has existed eternally, as has the Father and the Spirit. It is Biblical to say " The Father is God" or "Jesus is God," but it is heretical to say that "Jesus is the Father" (you can see an example of this here). And it is not only heretical, but, like being out too long today in the sun, it is dangerous.

How so? A modern proponent of Modinity is found in the movement referred to as Oneness Pentecostalism (this United Pentecostal website shows the beliefs outlined above). Even though Oneness advocates use the name Jesus abundantly, going so far as to only baptize in his name (their modalistic thinking forbids them to baptize in the Father and Spirit's name), in actuality they are denying the eternal existence of the Son. Men like T.D. Jakes and much of what appears on TBN then teach that Jesus does not now exist as the Son of God, but as the Spirit. The denial of Jesus as a truly eternal mediator between God the Father and man is a denial of the gospel, placing souls in eternal danger. The emphasis their theology drives them to place on the Spirit's work apart from the Father and the Son manifests this danger in their lifestyles.

For these teachers' focus on the Spirit invariably leads them to exhort their followers to pursue the gaining of wealth, the healing of illness, and the seeking of miraculous signs as indicators of the "blessing of Jesus." If one does not receive these things, then the diagnosis often is that they do not have faith. Imagine my horror at learning this week of a young girl in our community who has had her eardrums damaged because another family member, motivated by these teachings, had "popped her" with both hands on the side of the head trying to give her a dose of the Spirit. This type of teaching was also undoubtedly behind the strange case in Bloomington of an attempted exorcism that made the national news recently (At least their website smells modalistic. Ever notice how hard it is to find out in writing what these groups actually believe?).

The 72nd Psalms says that "Long as the sun His name shall last." Modinity would claim their "Jesus-only" teaching fulfills these words. Yet it is a lie, for in actuality they are really saying "Long as a light bulb His name lasted." The Son of God exists now, fully God and fully man, at the right hand of the eternal Father. Only by His exercising the word of His power does that blazing heat outside come from the sun He made (Hebrews 1:3). Though that sun will one day cease, the light from "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (that's the Father and Son in distinction) will give His people light forever (Revelation 22:3-5).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Christian Man, Christian Love

My wife is away for a few days, having taken the younger three with her to spend some special time with grandparents in Michigan. Funny how the older I get, the more I miss her companionship when it's not immediately present. Yesterday morning, when the hummingbird hovered by the hanging basket of petunias on our front porch that she's always tending, I noticed a pang when I was not able to show her. I feel a bit like I'm riding a tandem bike by myself. Yeah, I might be able to get around, but I'm pedaling hard and not nearly enjoying the ride as much.

This hit home when I pulled a book off my shelf and had a note card she had written many years ago, serving as a now forgotten bookmark, fall out. She had written the following quote to me when I was going through a struggle in the ministry. Though again I felt that pang of her absence, reading it again encouraged me and made me thankful for the little sermons she preaches in her quiet way that no one else but me gets to hear. Yet I will share this one with you. Yes, it is from the mouth of another, but you can understand how passing through her heart and lips into mine sweetens its message.
The Christian man ought to be of a courageous spirit, in order that he may glorify the Lord by enduring trials in an heroic manner. If he be fearful and fainthearted, it will dishonor his God. Besides, what a bad example it is...Moreover, unless your courage is kept up Satan will be too much for you. Let your spirit be joyful in God your Savior, for the joy of the Lord shall be your strength...Moreover, labor is light to a man of cheerful spirit; and success waits upon cheerfulness. The man who toils, rejoicing in his God, believing with all his heart, has success guaranteed. He who sows in hope will reap in joy; therefore, "beloved," be thou strong and very courageous. -Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, May 11th.
By the way, she also put the "beloved" in quotes just like that for me. Hard to be down for long with love and exhortation like that.

How I hope you have Christian love - be it a spouse, a parent, a mentor or a friend - exhorting you on like this in your life.

And please hurry home, Miriam.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Laughing at Limericks

Not much time to blog these past few weeks, so why not share a summer laugh or two?

One of our family's summer highlights was our church's family conference known as Covfamikoi (the name is a loose acronym from "Covenant Families" with the beginning letters of the states in our presbytery tacked on the end somehow). Along with the great teaching, hearty psalm singing, and rich fellowship, the 400-plus conference participants enjoyed such things as recreational activities, a concert by New Song from Geneva College, and a talent show by the conferees themselves. The conference also sponsored a limerick contest, with the submissions and winners read at the talent show.

The winner was Anna Roberts from Bloomington, with this clever turn-of-phrase poking fun at the RP family tree (she gave me permission to share it here):

The Reformed Presbyterian family tree
Is very close-knit in its ancestry.
Everyone is related,
Our cousins have dated;
So what's your connection to me?

Somewhat out of character (at least for those who do not know her dark side like I do), my wife also got into the act. Her inspiration came from some posters that suddenly appeared all over campus one day. You see, at last year's conference a close-up picture had been taken of Dave Long thoroughly enjoying an ice cream cone. Head cocked to the side, tongue extended, eyes dreamily half-closed - you "get the picture." Some of the college students enlarged this flattering picture of their mentor into posters and pasted them everywhere. So Miriam's following entry took third place:

There was once a pastor named Dave,
Chocolate ice cream cones he did crave.
Yet one day while a-lickin'
The camera was a-clickin,
So now in public, Dave tries to behave.

These laughs reminded me, as a math teacher turned pastor, of one of my all-time favorite limericks:

There was a young fellow from Trinity

Who found the cube root of infinity.
But it gave him such fidgets
To add up the digits,
He chucked math and took up divinity.

Have any limericks you would care to submit?

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Little Help Singing the Psalms

I must have been sleeping when they made the announcement. And it must be my lack of web-savvy that kept me from finding it on Crown & Covenant's website. So I'll ask you. Did you know that all the tunes for The Book of Psalms for Singing are in digital format on the internet? If you did, why didn't you tell me?

Thankfully my pal Ed Blackwood finally did. So in case you were in the dark like me, be sure you are awake now and are paying attention. Even if you have trouble finding things on the internet like me, you can do this. All you have to do is either click here or type in on your browser line and - voila! - all the tunes are at your disposal.

What a great service! Families can get help singing them in their home in worship. Presenters can become proficient in their skill. Pastors can readily hear whether their congregation can handle a tune come Sunday morning.

And just for a little further encouragement in not only properly pitched but balanced a capella psalm singing (distinguishing between public and private acts of worship, being charitable toward those who differ, etc.), how about this gracious quote from Spurgeon on Psalm 144:9-11?

"The Old Testament dispensation abounded in types, and figures, and outward ritual, and therefore music dropped naturally into its place in the “worldly sanctuary”; but, after all, it can do no more than represent praise, and assist our expression of it; the real praise is in the heart, the true music is that of the soul. When music drowns the voice, and artistic skill takes a higher place than hearty singing, it is time that instruments were banished from public worship; but when they are subordinate to the song, as here, it is not for us to prohibit them, or condemn those who use them, though we ourselves greatly prefer to do without them, since it seems to us that the utmost simplicity of praise is far more congruous with the spirit of the gospel than pomp of organs. The private worshipper, singing his solo unto the Lord, has often found it helpful to accompany himself on some familiar instrument, and of this David in the present Psalm is an instance, for he says, “I will sing praise unto thee,”—that is, not so much in the company of others as by himself alone. He saith not “we, but “I.

So sing with joy unto the Lord!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mourning atop a Blue-Green Hill

The late morning breeze carried the scent of the bright bouquets to those assembled under the canopy sitting atop one of the many blue-green hills of western North Carolina. The coolness and smell of the flowers were welcomed by the group seeking refuge from the sun in the shade of the awning. Men stood quietly while they pulled on tight collars. Women shifted their weight from one high heel to the other. And a sister, seated with her son and other close family beside her, stared blankly ahead at the casket before them.

The preacher began speaking, and told of a life that began in the days of the Great Depression. Though she had witnessed the rise of what many consider modern advances in this new "Age of Convenience," he testified to how she had never forgotten her roots and the simple pleasures found in a life lived for others. Keeping her house tidy and welcome. Sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday afternoon visiting with friends and family. Giving bottles of Avon products to her brothers' and sister's children at Christmastime (the perfume well-used by the nieces, the bottles of cologne untouched by the nephews). Attending church and then, when the arthritis crippling her body made it impossible for her to go, giving warm welcomes to those visiting from her church family. At points a sob could be heard; at others a chuckle of remembrance.

As the pastor continued, the son turned in his chair and glanced sideways at his mother, whose dulled expression seemed unaffected by the words or the event. "He could add to the list that despite her own pain, Aunt Mary called Mom every day all these months to try to encourage her out of her depression," the son contemplated. "What will Mom do now without her?" As his thoughts returned to the Psalms being read, the words both encouraged and troubled his heart. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me...Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise." The joy of an aunt being in God's immediate presence contrasted sharply with the pain his mother's condition brought to him. As he closed his eyes for the final prayer of committal, his own unspoken words ascended heavenward with those of the preacher's. "Oh, Lord, surely I mourn the living who are dead far more than the dead who are living. Hear my cry, O my God."

As he opened his eyes and sat in the post-service silence, the pile of red, Carolina clay to the side of the casket brought to mind the words read earlier in the service, "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return." In the quiet moment, he considered that the only dirt more red, a testimony that this all-encompassing epitaph can be erased, was the blood-splattered earth of Calvary. With a heavy sigh that died within like the fading cool of the breeze, he rose from his seat to help his mother.

You can read the obituary here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Days, Unread Books, & Butterfly Wings

When I am on vacation, I have one idea of how I like to spend my time. Celia, my four year-old daughter, has another.

Often when we are at Miriam's parents' home at summertime, I find myself alone for a few hours in the morning while the rest of the entourage goes into town to shop. Lounging about sipping coffee and reading one of the several books I'm in the midst of before an afternoon down on the beach of Lake Michigan is my ideal. Yesterday morning looked promising, as once again everyone went off to do their thing at an antique store (or was it Meijers? They told me but I was engrossed in my reading and did not hear clearly). Anyway, one thing they surely told me, but I did not factor into my "It's going to be a perfect morning" equation, was that they were leaving Celia behind.

Now I love my kids, and playing Monopoly, riding bikes, jumping in waves, playing kickball in the sand and the like are testimony that I cannot exactly be accused of ignoring them on vacation. But I do like to read, and it's tough trying to do so when a drill sergeant with gold curls is demanding your attention. Before I knew it, I was awakened from my reading-induced, semi-comatose state to find myself being accosted by the repeated demand, "Daddy, let's go for a walk on the beach."

In the first two dozen requests I'm sure this sentence must have been spoken with some respect and hope, and I, having mistaken it for something like the annoying buzz of a fly, must have kept on reading. But by the time my consciousness had returned to me this sentence was being blasted into my right ear with the force of a battlefield command. "Daddy, let's go for a walk on the beach!" At first I looked up from my book ready to pull rank and explain to the assuming Sergeant York of the family that beach time is in the afternoon, while morning was for reading time. Yet upon seeing that earnest face and pudgy body in her bathing suit, I wilted. Sighing at yet another unread chapter, I laid the book down and hand-in-hand out we went, down the steps to the beach below.

As we walked along by the water's edge, the rolling curves of debris left on the sand from the waves from the night before caught Celia's eye. Smooth stones were collected. Driftwood was thrown back into the surf for another ride amidst the waves. Every bug was marveled at. A small, dead, silvery fish was examined. And an unread chapter was slowly forgotten as I looked at the real world again through the eyes of my child, every bit as fascinating and imagination-filling as my book had been. Then we came to the butterfly.

Having apparently been tossed for a while in the surf, the small, brown butterfly flapped helplessly at our feet. Closer inspection revealed that parts of its wings, created to float on air but unable to withstand the water, were torn. Celia kept oohing over it as I picked it up and placed it in her hands. With all the tenderness of a mother she turned from the wind to shelter it and held it close to her body to keep the stiff breeze from blowing it away. We turned and walked back to the house, the butterfly drying out and resting contentedly on her hand as she carefully carried it. An empty juice jug, with stones and sticks collected from our walk lining the bottom, served as its new home. A pink flower plucked from Papa's garden was dropped inside in the hope of providing nourishment. The rest of the day it was carried around and shown to all.

Yet the hope of yesterday turned into the reality of today. This morning she asked to hold the butterfly, but I had to inform her it had died. There were no tears, just an "Oh, well, you can take care of it, Daddy," and off she bounded to take wonder in something else. I was the one left holding the dead butterfly.

As I scattered the contents of the juice jar in the woods behind the house, and watched the fading color of the fragile creature blow away, I was reminded again of our own fleeting existence. Was it not just yesterday that Lindsay (now graduated), then Emory (now a teenager), took delight in showing me bugs and butterflies? Summer days and butterfly wings - bursts of God's creative glory - will be gone with all the suddenness of the fireworks we will be oohing over in just a few days. And so will we, says the Scriptures that compare our days to flowers and moths. Though we moderns often believe thinking upon death is morbid, somewhere I recently read in one of those books that we are never more alive than when we are aware of how close to death and eternity we really are.

So as I head down to the beach now, I will sneak a book down in the hopes of finishing that chapter in between the children beckoning me for attention. Yet as I turn its pages and near the conclusion, I will remember what my daughter has taught me, a lesson learned today with a butterfly, a lesson that will be remembered again tomorrow when I discover she has grown. We are like books ourselves in the hands of the Lord, the days like pages, the end drawing near. Yet, in Christ, this is not a morbid thought at all, for we are headed to a never-ending glory. For these fragile body and souls we are were not meant for the churning, heavy surf of this sinful world in which we flounder, but rather created and now redeemed for the sweet atmosphere of heaven.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Real Christianity

This subject is just the last two words of the typically long, 18th century title of the book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christianity in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. Written by William Wilberforce, this book helped persuade minds and hearts about the powerlessness of the "cultural Christianity" being practiced at that time in England and the need for a living faith in Jesus Christ. Having seen the movie Amazing Grace in recent months, I was motivated to read Wilberforce's seminal work. The source of his passion to end slavery in his nation was his dynamic walk with the Lord that this book reveals.

As the Lord so often does when I'm reading one thing seemingly unrelated to other studies, I have found His Spirit using Wilberforce's words to seal things He has recently been teaching me and that I have been emphasizing in the preaching and ministry here. In particular, recent concerns I have had regarding worldliness in my own life and in the church find truer expression in Wilberforce's words:
The advancement of the kingdom of God and His glory are scarcely embraced as the objects of our greatest passions. The pursuit of these treasures is no longer what we strive for...Personal pleasure and personal peace become the regulators of where we live, where we work, how we spend our time, what we think, what we say and how we amuse ourselves. The great issue of our life becomes (overcoming) boredom. What tragedy!
...Life goes on with too many living in a kind of shapeless idleness. Recreation becomes the goal of life. Pubs abound, sports are perpetually proliferating, gambling consumes many, and almost any form of entertainment is pursued to fill the void created by a meaningless life...We are not criminals or murderers or thieves. Our sin is not so obvious. We live according to the standards of society, drifting along on this world's ideas of living, oblivious to the consequences.

...The Bible instructs us to put to death the deeds of the sin nature, but through habitual indulgence, the way of the old nature has become the norm for the majority of modern Christians. The idea of exercising vigilant restraint and self-denial is viewed as something belonging to the residents of monasteries.
(boldness mine).
Reading this, one almost feels as if Wilberforce is addressing our day and culture. But then again, nothing is new under the sun - especially the sins of our old man.

Wilberforce then urges his generation toward authentic Christianity. As he points out, the same Jesus who said "Believe in Me" also said "Follow Me!" For Wilberforce, this means living by faith. To live by faith is "an exhortation to continually allow our faith - our relationship with Christ - to be the habitual dynamic by which we live out our days. We must walk (live) by faith as the motivating and ruling dynamic of our life. When we live this way, it creates a new kind of vision for our life" (again boldness mine).

Note from the bold wording above that Wilberforce saw both a worldly, cultural Christianity and an authentic, dynamic Christianity to be the result of our habits. What are we giving our minds and hearts and times and passions to? If to Christ and His kingdom, the results will be that the church will be world-changing. If to pleasure and idleness, the results will be that the church will be world-conforming.

How do we evaluate properly our habits? As I am in the midst of preaching a series on the Lord's Day entitled Calling the Sabbath a Delight, I was excited to see that Wilberforce stresses Sundays as the day to address our habits. Nothing like setting a day God gave us aside to be sure that the habits of our lives are centered on Christ. Let me conclude then with this quote, for it lays the matter clearly before you. Again, the boldness is mine.
Another example of the differences between the these two kinds of faith is what we see in reference to Sundays. This is a day that God Himself set aside to be a special day. It was designed to be a day when spiritual issues could be especially focused on...The intention was that this would be a joyful day of fellowship. But is it? How do cultural Christians spend this day? Do they enter God's house with gladness? After church, if they go, how do they spend the rest of the day? Do they spend the day cultivating their relationship with God? Do they reach out to others to help them with their growth in Christ? Do they use their time seeking to serve the kingdom of God?

You would think that setting aside one day for these purposes would not seem problematic. Properly understood, it should be viewed as a great blessing. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead of experiencing the day as a day of spiritual opportunity, a day of reflection and adjustment, a day to correct the errors that might have accumulated during the week, or a day of joy, love and harmony, many abuse the day through the sense of obligation they attach to it or by totally disregarding it. It seems to them a chore to devote a whole day to God. If they attend church at all, they deem it a merit entitling them to spend the rest of the day as they please...For many, business itself is viewed as more recreational than enduring what they feel to be the drudgery of Sunday!

There are those who find themselves having the right attitude to the devotional life and especially the role Sunday plays in it...They desire a heart that is more hungry for spiritual things and less consumed by the enjoyments of the temporal world. If you are one of those people, do not be discouraged.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Little Joys

The Lord turns even our little sorrows into joy...

Last weekend I had to spend yet another beautiful, sunny Saturday going to various open houses for graduation. Now don't get me wrong. With my own daughter crossing the graduation stage Friday night, I rejoice in seeing her and her friends reach this milestone in their lives. It was just that the prospect of having another Saturday so filled that I would not be able to do any yard work, ride bikes with the kids, or read leisurely made me, well, a bit grumpy. So as I climbed into the car with my wife and three of my teenagers to head to Lafayette, I had that same low energy, frustrated, angst feeling I get when I have to go clothes shopping (which thankfully because of a wife whose patience is vast and whose care for me is heroic I have not had to do for several years). Yes, I had nothing less than a sinful, selfish attitude.

However, throughout the day the Lord used means to pour grace upon grace on me. Listening to the excitement of my children on seeing their friends and to Trevor joke in good spirits with his sisters on the car ride made my smile return. Watching eight young people receive their diplomas from their parents and hearing Jared Olivetti speak on the value of God's Word in their lives made my eyes tear up. Recruiting another dad to help coach the home school basketball team made my growing concern for the program relieved. Fellowshipping with other friends through the day made my heart thankful.

Yet it was Lindsay sitting on a container of yogurt that made my day. Somehow the yogurt, packed as a snack for the drive, ended up on the seat and Lindsay sat on it. She was not aware of this fact until she got out of the car and found a wet spot on the back of her skirt. Watching her sister and mother help her wipe it off was funny enough. But finding out the name on the squished yogurt container caused the outburst of laughter.

The name? Yoplait's "Fruit on the Bottom."

All I can say is that when I returned home that evening, I was a happy, singing man once again, which I had not believed possible when I was looking ahead to the day. The Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease and are new each day. So who knows? If this keeps up, I may even ask Miriam to go shopping for clothes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jonathan Edwards & the Youth List

More people commented on my last blog entitled "A Grieving Heart" than I have ever had before. I want to follow it up by testifying regarding the youth here at Sycamore RPC, then answer a question that arose.

In the past week, in response to this challenge that I reiterated from the pulpit a few days ago, many of our youth have written, spoken to me or related to others the conviction the Holy Spirit has brought upon them regarding worldliness in their lives and the desire to change. Tears have been shed, parents have been engaged in conversation, and youth are making commitments to holiness. This is encouraging, and we pray it will be lasting.

In my past article reference was made to a situation involving Jonathan Edwards, the pastor during colonial America in Northampton, Massachusetts, whose preaching in the mid-1700’s was one of the means God used to create The Great Awakening. In light of a question, I thought more information and clarity might be of interest.

In the midst of the great fruitfulness that came through this God-ordained revival, a difficulty arose prompted by a practice in the church at that time called "The Halfway Covenant." In New England baptized children had grown up in the church and had not clearly professed Christ. As they began to have children, the church, rather than reforming its membership requirements which were in some cases too stringent or disciplining those clearly not in Christ, developed a compromise position. These children of baptized, non-professing members were allowed to be baptized, meaning unbelief was welcomed into the church.

Edward’s own grandfather, who had been the pastor in the Northampton church before him, even let these baptized, non-professing church members take communion in the hopes they would be converted. When Edwards insisted communion was for the believer and that a credible profession of faith was required, the people began to turn against his ministry and a flash point arose.

Many of these youth, not truly in Christ, were quite worldly. Several of the young men, who had gotten a hold of a book on female sexuality, began to use its terms to taunt the girls in the church with vulgar comments that would be regarded as sexual harassment today. Professor Alan Strange of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, in an article “Jonathan Edwards on Visible Sainthood: The Communion Controversy in Northampton” (Mid-America Journal of Theology, Vol. 14, 2003, p. 119), said that Edwards “took the whole situation quite seriously, (and) in seeking to enact church discipline he read a list of names from the pulpit” (of young people to come to his office to discuss this matter), but failed to “distinguish between accused and witnesses.” (You can also reference this story on Wikipedia at this link under the section "Later Years.")

Whether Edwards was wise to handle the situation in this manner is a matter of debate. Professor Strange regards is as a "pastoral blunder;" others see Edwards was just trying to get all the parties together without openly accusing anyone. Regardless, the uproar in the church over this matter led to his dismissal in 1750.

The point I was attempting to make with reference to this story is that Jonathan Edwards’ struggle with the Halfway Covenant shows us the need for youth to embrace Christ personally and heartily. Youthful indiscretion, which many associate with "just being a teenager," actually creates great havoc and heartache in the church. But holiness among covenant children brings forth life.

Twice I have preached to the youth of our denomination at their leadership conference from Psalm 110. I remind them once again that this psalm speaks of the ministry of the Christ bringing people by His Spirit's power willingly to serve Him, and particularly addresses the youth. "Thy youth arrayed in holiness like morning dew shall be."

May this heaven-sent dew descend upon us, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Grieving Heart

To the youth of the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church and their Christian friends:

My pastoral heart is grieving over you.


Every so often I survey your blogs and scan your Facebook pages. Why? You are in the flock I am charged by Christ to keep, one who has to "watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). I am not snooping in your private letters or peeking in your journals. I am looking at the witness you have chosen to advertise about yourself to the world through the internet. It is your testimony to a watching world. And to be honest, after spending some time doing so this morning, I feel sick to my stomach.


Certainly I saw bright spots of youthful enthusiasm for the church, encouraging interaction with others, and devotion to the Lord expressed. Yet I also see that our culture is awash in the sewage of a God-hating media, and many of you are at least giving the appearance of floating along and enjoying the ride.

Why would I say that? It was Jesus who said that what comes out of your mouth comes out of your heart (Matthew 15:18). I'm just taking Facebook at face value. Blogging stands for "web logging," so is it wrong of me to assume what you are writing there is accurately chronicling what you think and what you have done? According to Jesus, then, this is what is on your heart:
  • Look at how many R-rated movies you or your friends have listed as favorites. Do you really mean to use your internet space to promote publicly these films with their shameful scenes and blasphemous expletives? If even the world blushes a bit in rating a movie as sexual or violent, how can you not be ashamed to say to all your friends, "This is one of my favorites"? You appear to be engrossed with promoting what comes out of Hollywood. That's the witness you want to have?
  • Consider the lyrics and lifestyles of the music groups. What if I used my blog to record the antics and lyrics of these groups, then typed your name next to them as one who gives public endorsement? Do not try to excuse yourself by saying, "Just because I list a rock group does not mean I endorse all they do." You and I both know that when we see the guy walk by wearing a T-shirt with Linkin Park or Smashing Pumpkins on it, he is not just promoting the one or two half-decent songs ("decent" here not describing the quality of the music but its lyrical content) on their latest CD. He is advertising the group. And so are you when you list a group under "Favorite Music" on Facebook.
  • You show little regard for Jesus' promise, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they will give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Before you say you really believe our Lord's word here, go back and read some of your "Wall-to-Wall" exchanges the way your parents, teachers or elders would. I saw comments belittling people you think no one else can figure out, complaining about school, quoting movies and songs regularly but rarely the Bible, making suggestive comments, showing times when you were supposed to be in school or at work, etc. "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise," yet your mouths runneth over for all to see. If this seems a bit harsh, you recorded it! And it is written in His book also.
Don't get me wrong. You youth at Sycamore RPC are wonderful young people. I love you and want you to grow in wisdom and righteousness. I want you to shine forth with Christ, not the culture!

Now I can hear the protests to the above, only because I have heard them before:

"Mr. York, you are taking this, like, way too serious. This is just for fun. I have quiet times each day and I do love the Lord."
I do not doubt your love for Christ. I'm just calling you to a truer experience of it. And since when is the Christian life, in all its realms, not to be taken seriously (see Matthew 10:38-39)? Fun that denies Christ and His ways is not lawful fun.

"Mr. York, you are saying then that we should not watch any movie that has any immodesty, cursing, or violence? Only G-rated movies will do, huh? Is that not being legalistic?
That, my friend, is called the "straw man argument." Building my position back on a false foundation in order to ridicule it so as to make my points above appear invalid. First, note that my main point is that by posting these things on the internet you are witnessing in their favor. It is one thing to have heard a group; it is another to call it one of your favorites. Next, my concerns are aimed at the time, energy, and heart of your generation being devoted to the media culture. Also, the acceptable amount of "immodesty, cursing, or violence" any given movie may have depends on so many variables (age of viewer, purpose for viewing, way the director presents it, personal sensitivities, etc) that wisdom is needed in deciding on whether to watch a film or not. Finally, the previous sentence is still no excuse for the pervasive nudity, crudity and lewd-ity in many of the movies I saw listed. To outlaw all would indeed be legalistic; but to allow all is licentiousness.

"Mr. York, I have heard that your family - even you! - has watched some of the movies you seem to be so upset about. With all due respect, you being a pastor and all, does that not make you a bit hypocritical?"
I'll be the first to admit I have watched movies I later regretted viewing. When convicted of this, I told the others with me, sought forgiveness, and will not allow that movie to be watched again in my home. I do not agree with all the listings of my family members on the internet, and where I have the ability to change it I do. And I'll gladly make you a deal. Whatever movie you are concerned about that I have watched, please tell me. I'll remove it from my list but anticipate that you will also remove it from yours (Matthew 7:4-5).

At one time in his ministry Jonathan Edwards, pastor in Northampton, MA, during the Great Awakening, printed a public list of youth in the church who were reading inappropriate books. Though it made him highly unpopular and was one of the factors leading to his dismissal, these youth were disciplined for their wrongful behavior. Instead of protesting or making things difficult for the congregation, my dear young friends, listen. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:8-9). For if this lowly undershepherd is grieving, is not the True Shepherd of your soul? And if He is grieving, should you not be?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Surefire Attendance Booster

One church in Kokomo experienced barking, meowing, and chirping in its service yesterday, and it was not because the Toronto Blessing finally hit our town. No, this was a "blessing" of a different variety.

St. Andrews Episcopal church held its annual Blessing of the Pets service yesterday. Yes, indeed, you can go to this link and see a turtle waiting in line for his priestly blessing, participate in animal liturgy, and hear Fido add his barks to the praise (or was that a howl at the off-key organ?). Though I know Father Tim Kavanaugh, the fictitious Episcopal priest in the Mitford Series by Jan Karon, has a dog who occasionally wanders into the service and even obeys better when Scripture is quoted, I never remember him being invited to worship. But then, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

When churches resort to these cutesy things, the media obligingly follows along, takes cute pictures, and everyone has a good laugh. Yet sadly that's exactly what the world is doing. Laughing at the church, that is.

Alas, however, I assume too much. Perhaps some of my readers in cyberspace legitimately want to ask, "Why should animals not go to church? Is there anything in the Bible against it?" Maybe I am missing something, but my simple reading of the Bible reveals Jesus and the apostles preaching to people and people gathering for worship. Yes, Jesus does mention sheep, but to me at least it appears to read that He is comparing us to them, not telling us to invite them to church. Yes, hogs do get filled with spirits in Jesus' presence, but they rush away from Jesus and (yikes!) jump off a cliff and drown. And, okay, you got me when it says that fish were brought to Jesus by a little boy and blessed, but (correct me if I'm wrong) it sure sounds like He does this so they can be multiplied and eaten.

When we blur these God-given distinctions and start treating animals like people, something worse always follows. We begin to treat people like animals and animals like God, to the point God Himself says that we are starting to act like animals ourselves (Philippians 3:2; II Peter 2:12-16) or even worse (Isaiah 1:3). Certainly the Episcopal Church in our land is living proof of this, as they face being excommunicated by their own worldwide Anglican fellowship if they do not mend their ways. They have shown this lack of discernment in ordaining the very behavior God describes as beast-like (Romans 1:22-27).

Do not get me wrong. I am not a hater of animals; I just want them in their proper place. I like the steak on my plate medium rare, and thank the Lord for it whenever I eat it. I am a firm believer that Fido should be in a nice doghouse, just not in the house of God. I confess that the squirrels trying to attend our services in the ducts above the sanctuary were exterminated as the rodents they were. I believe all these beliefs and practices are in accordance with Scripture.

And neither am I a hater of folks in the Episcopal Church. It's just that I want them to know that the only animals I see in the Bible that were in worship were lambs, goats and bulls being sacrificed. You see, they were a picture of the perfect Lamb of God whose shed blood is meant to be your substitute, your only means of salvation. Your dog, cat and parakeet cannot believe that, but you must. Nothing in church should be brought in that would distract you from that, for fail to trust in Christ in this manner and you will eternally face the flames pictured in the altar.

And if you still are not convinced, could I at least then end by asking some practical questions:
  • Do your pets participate in communion? If not, why not?
  • Can your dogs join the choir?
  • If your parakeet repeatedly says, "I got saved," does it count?
  • What if someone wants to bring their horse? Besides certain "restroom" issues, could a denial not be seen as discrimination?

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Can Only Imagine

It's been one of those days where friends and my brother have sent me amusing video clips to watch. Dozens of fish just jumping out of the water at night toward a light and landing into a rowboat (somewhere in South America I believe). "Evangelism Linebacker," a spoof commercial on an effective witnessing program where wimps, who will not tell others the good news, get body slammed by an NFL-type who appears out of nowhere. So when my brother sent another one, I expected at my lunch break to have another laugh. Instead, I sobbed.

Why? Click here, read an incredible story, and be sure to watch the video.

Earlier this morning I had read the story of Mephibosheth. He was the grandson of King Saul who had been crippled as a child in an accident. When David took the throne of Israel, instead of having this family member of his enemy put to death, he returned Mephibosheth's inheritance to him and had this lame man dine at his table. I had thought that morning of how gracious my heavenly Father has been to me, a fallen sinner who has been invited to the King of heaven's table, but to be honest it only landed upon my heart as a familiar truth rather than hit me as a special one.

But the combination of being opened up by laughter then being "assaulted" by this powerful father/son story broke me down. The story is extremely touching. Yet what about the greater truth it illustrates?

Do you remember that Jesus said if earthly fathers, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).

As the song stated, I can only imagine, yes. But in Christ I already taste, and this story helps picture, what love the true Father has for us (John 17:23-26)! How He strives in me to urge and carry this struggling, disabled son of His onward to the goal of this life's race.

Friday, April 06, 2007

My Irish Eyes are Smiling

Or at least my eyes are smiling upon Ireland.

Following our arrival on Wednesday, Miriam and I spent a day with the Donnellys. On Thursday they brought us to the northern coast where we saw the spectacular Giant's Causeway. This area of the coast contains thousands of natural four and six-sided stone columns that form stepping stones you can climb upon, with rising cliffs behind them and grassy pastures on the top. They then dropped us off for a two-day stay at Portrush, which you can see at the center top of the map to the left.

The weather here has been extremely unusual the locals say, as the several straight days of sunniness and temperatures in the mid-sixties are even making headlines. Today we walked along the coast to Portstewart, which a sign said was six miles from Portrush. The path wound along the top and sides of cliffs of black rock. Laying upon grassy hillocks in the warm sun watching the foamy waves break and run over the rocks below was most relaxing. When we reached Portstewart we spent the afternoon going in and out of the seaside shops.

The surprise of the day was when Miriam glanced into a small restaurant and exclaimed, "Is that not Matt Kingswood?" Indeed it was! Matt and his wife Tara and their five children are here from Canada for three months, as Matt is filling the Trinity RPC pulpit for Ted Donnelly. His family was there for the day enjoying the sites as well. We had some great fellowship with them for a while as they ate their lunch, and look forward to worshiping with them and hearing Matt preach this weekend.

This evening we walked back and stopped occasionally as Miriam took more pictures. We again saw the sun setting over Donegal, a mountainous peninsula across from these towns that is in the gray area in the map above. If you would like to see a few more pictures, go here to the Kodak Gallery and hit "View Slideshow."

Here's one more. Miriam and I are sitting in what is known as "The Wishing Chair" at the Giant's Causeway. Certainly on this trip our wish has come true! We thank the Lord for the beauty of His earth and the love of His people that has made this time possible.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Likeable Hero

On Tuesday night of this week, I was privileged to attend the Indiana Family Institute's (IFI) Annual Banquet. Tony Dungy, head coach of the Superbowl Champion Colts, was there as he was awarded IFI's Friend of the Family Award. As you can see, my daughter and a few of her friends were able to get their picture with Mr. Dungy.

Being a practicing "Sabbatarian" (see my previous blog An Unlikely Hero), I had to give up watching pro football years ago except for the occasional Monday Night game. So I have not watched much of the Colts, though I do know who Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison are. However, I did not know the punter for the Colts was named Hunter Smith, who was at the banquet. He played music and gave a warm testimony of Mr. Dungy's Christian influence on his life.

Watching people's reaction in the presence of fame and football was interesting. A Colt's helmet signed by the coach sold for $9000 in an auction. The program was arranged like a football game, complete with a two-minute warning. Autographs were sought eagerly. A minister in his opening prayer started by praising the Lord, but then turned to addressing Mr. Dungy right in the middle of his prayer: "Tony Dungy, you are a great man. Thank you for blessing us with your presence tonight..." Yikes! I had to lift and shake my head at that. I trust it was nervous enthusiasm rather than an attempt at deification.

Yet far and away the evening was a delight. We enjoyed wonderful food, attentive service, and fascinating conversations. Hearing of progress IFI has made on issues impacting the family and of the attention Mr. Dungy gives to community service were encouraging. Clearly the chief highlight was when Mr. Dungy received his reward and responded. His humility and desire to honor God rather than be honored were seen in his easy manner and gracious speech.

After sharing anecdotes from football and explaining his concern for the family, toward the end of his speech Mr. Dungy spoke to the controversy that arose in the days prior to his accepting this award. As this article from the Indianapolis Star explains, pro-homosexual groups protested his appearance at this "homophobic, right-wing" organization. Many were pressuring him not to come to the banquet or to accept the reward. Yet not only did he come, he spoke right to the issue in a powerful way when he could have easily sidestepped it.

Mr. Dungy explained the pressure he had been receiving from these organizations and the media, and then told of how this reminded him of the Biblical account of Joshua meeting the armed figure outside Jericho. When Joshua asked this man whose side was he on, Joshua's or their enemy's, the man responded, "I am the captain of the Lord of hosts." At this Joshua fell down in worship and submission. Mr. Dungy said that the question is not whose side are you on, but whether or not you are on the Lord's side. He claimed, "I am on the Lord's side," and embraced IFI's position on marriage as representing the Lord's views expressed in the Bible.

Though our trust cannot be in man and certainly we cannot pray to him, I thank the Lord that a man of Mr. Dungy's stature is taking this bold stance for Christ.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Unlikely Hero

While enjoying a two-day get-away with my wife last week, I was fascinated to read this article about Elliot Huck. Elliot is a fourteen year old boy from Bloomington, IN, who in the past two years has won the regional Scripps Spelling Bee. Last year he finished 45th out of 250 plus contestants in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Yet despite training for about two hours a day over the summer to prepare for this year's bee, Elliot will not be there. Why? Because this year they moved the bee from Saturday to Sunday, and Elliot's convictions regarding the Sabbath Day means he does not believe he should compete on this day.

It was refreshing to read Elliot's views and attitude. He stated that he had sought to glorify God in previous years by spelling, and this year he will glorify God by not spelling. This story further piqued my interest (Or should that be "peaked my interest"? Help, Elliot, or any readers!) because Elliot attends Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, where Rachel Roberts, wife of Reformed Presbyterian pastor Bill Roberts, is the principal. How encouraging to see the Biblical training Elliot is receiving in his home, church and school giving him the strength to stand for his Biblical convictions.

And his convictions are Biblical. Isaiah 58:13-14, looking ahead to the days of the ministry of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, promises this:

"If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

This Sabbath and Lord's Day promised was the day of Christ's resurrection, the first day of the week (see Questions 57-62 here). Those who know Christ and the joy of keeping this day holy through worshiping God and resting from ordinary work and pleasures understand why Elliot would give up a goal he has worked extremely hard for all his life. He has done much like Eric Liddell did as dramatized in the movie Chariots of Fire.

With all the attention being given to sports heroes these days, many of whom claim to know Christ yet regularly showing no true regard for the fourth commandment, might we not point instead to Elliot as the true role model? Sure, he is bespectacled and lacks the chiseled physique of the athelete. Yet who does God Himself delight in - those possessing strength and speed or those who fear Him? Look at Psalm 147:10-11 if you need help with the answer!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Perhaps a blog with this name should not have a post with this title, but nevertheless...

Several weeks ago, when the temperatures were more like those of springtime than the ones we are experiencing now, I had the joy of helping fell a tree. In the woods atop the shore of Lake Michigan, Miriam's dad had a dead beech tree standing sixty feet tall that was leaning to the west. As the wind made it sway the beech creaked and moaned with the plea to be brought down to its final resting. Delighted to comply with this request, we watched as Dad notched its front side, brought in the bite of the chainsaw from the back, then stepped back as the trunk separated from the stump and came crashing down with a final groaning protest to the forest bed.

I will never forget the face of my son Spencer who was running down the driveway at the time. He was oblivious that the tree was about to fall. When he heard the sound of the the limbs of the falling tree thrashing madly at those of its neighbors, he looked up wide-mouthed at it. In in his nine year-old boy's mind it must have looked like a giant beast falling to its death. Then, a few seconds after the silence, his face broke into a smile of delight at the realization of the victory he had just witnessed.

The next few hours were filled with the joyful task of splitting firewood, throwing the logs into a large-wheeled cart, then rolling it to the wood stack and unloading it. Each piece was carefully placed on the growing pile, where it would await its turn to serve us by providing warmth to the wood stove within the house. As my wife and children along with their grandparents worked around me, stomping about in the crisp leaves that were ankle-deep, their flushed cheeks, grunts of effort, and vapored breath all served as testimony to the goodness of what we were doing. What a pleasure it is to accomplish a family project with diligent work and unity of labor! Like a Google search, this time brought to the main screen of my mind other memories, such as:
  • Cutting wood alongside Dad and "Granddaddy" as a boy in the woods surrounding my grandfather's North Carolina home. Thirty-five years later I could still smell the damp wood and exhaust from the time spent behind Granddaddy as I rode atop the pile in the trailer being pulled by his old lawn tractor, the chains on its wheels providing extra traction and bounce.
  • Gathering wood and then placing it upon the campfire on the only Boy Scout camp-out I went on as a kid in North Carolina. It helped me to earn my Tenderfoot pin, which was as far as I advanced in the scouts.
  • Laying on the floor with my "tender feet" on the mantle warming before the fireplace in our den in my home in Coldwater on many a snowy Michigan night.
As we chopped and hauled away, not only memories but Biblical images arose as well. How often the Bible compares men to trees! Evil rulers who have risen and fallen - like Nebuchadnezzar of old (see Daniel 4) or Sadaam who has fallen in the days since then - once stood like mighty trees boasting of their power only to be brought to ruin (Psalm 37:35-36). Yet they are considered only as stubble before the truly mighty Lord (Isaiah 40:23-24). On the other hand, righteous men who nourish themselves on the word of God (rather than their own reputations) are like trees that continually live and are fruitful (Psalm 1:1-3; Isaiah 61:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8). As they eat from the Tree of Life, they become like one themselves.

Psalm 96:12 says, "All the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord." Indeed, even now each tree proclaims the gospel, does it not? And so does each man's life. Whether we are looking at woods or crowds, do we not see that either you stand and grow eternally in Christ, or you face the awful prospect of serving as just so much timber in a fire that will never stop burning?

If that sounds like too harsh an ending to this blog, then remember with me one more woodcutting reflection. It was also a tree to which Christ was nailed (Galatians 3:13).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vowing, but Not to Get Even

During the Covenanter Young Adult Winter Conference, each year on Sabbath afternoons we have traditionally had a time called "Stump the Pastors" (affectionately dubbed "Stump the Chumps" by some) where a panel of pastors responds to questions from the young people. Usually these questions cover a wide range of topics, from creation to culture to calling. I wanted to follow up on some comments that arose regarding the subject of vows that I thought at the time were confusing and have heard since others have felt the same way.

In a discussion about the necessity of requiring vows for church membership, at least one of the pastors stated that the Reformed Presbyterian Church does not ask vows but rather queries. In other words, what I take this pastor to have meant is that when the new member is being asked the Covenant of Church Membership required to join the church, he is assenting to the truths and stating his beliefs found in the seven questions but he is not taking vows that solemnly swear himself to this behavior. This pastor also stated that Synod had declared this as its understanding.

Not wanting to start a debate at the time, knowing through my experience of serving on several different committees studying vows that confusion exists even among pastors, and wanting to be careful not to add to that confusion, I did not say anything at the time. Even now I am writing this not to embarrass anyone (hence my blog title), but to help us understand what we are doing when we or others respond to the Church Membership Covenant.

Simply put, there are both queries and vows in the seven questions contained in the Covenant of Church Membership. In a report by a synod committee regarding ordination vows I served on in 1998 that was approved by Synod, we defined these terms because of the confusion about them (Committee on Communication 98-10). A query is a "question or inquiry to ascertain information designed to give a public, official statement of one's beliefs," whereas a vow is a "solemn promise or assertion by which a person binds himself to an act, service or condition before God." With these definitions in mind, the report went on to differentiate that some of the questions asked at ordination were queries and others were vows.

The same is true of the seven church membership questions. The first three are queries, eliciting a statement of faith from the respondent:

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and life?
2. Do you believe in the one living and true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the Scriptures?
3. Do you repent of your sin; confess your guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God; profess Jesus Christ, Son of God, as your Saviour and Lord; and dedicate yourself to His service: Do you promise that you will endeavor to forsake all sin, and to conform your life to His teaching and example?

The last four are clearly vows, as the person taking them is binding himself before God to certain acts and conditions:

4. Do you promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this church as being based upon the Scriptures and described in substance in the Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America? Do you recognize your responsibility to work with others in the church and do you promise to support and encourage them in their service to the Lord? In case you should need correction in doctrine or life, do you promise to respect the authority and discipline of the church?
5. To the end that you may grow in the Christian life, do you promise that you will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord's Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord's work as He shall prosper you?
6. Do you purpose to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life, faithfully to perform your whole duty as a true servant of Jesus Christ, and seek to win others to Him?
7. Do you make this profession of faith and purpose in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day?

In the RPCNA Constitution, the Covenant of Church Membership is found in the section called "Vows" and has "Official Vows" printed on the page above where it is found. You can even see in the web link I gave above from our denomination's website that the understanding is that vows are contained in this covenant (

With this in mind, let all who belong to the church or who are considering joining it know they are binding themselves in solemn covenant with Christ and His church. Yet let us not fear that, but rather rejoice, draw near to God, and fulfill our vows to Him. For as we sing in Psalm 65, "Praise waits for Thee in Zion! To Thee vows paid shall be."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Creative Squirrel Uses 101

After a battle with them in our church building a while back, squirrels became a source of humor around Sycamore. In my office someone could get the mistaken idea that I am actually fond of the little rodents, as I have squirrel cards, lawn ornaments, pictures, a CD with a song about them, etc., on my bookshelves. I even have a squirrel sweatshirt. But as this picture shows, these fluffy rats can be dangerous. After all, even my squirrel sweatshirt has pictures of them on a "Ten Most Wanted" list like those in the Post Office.

If that does not convince you of their danger, maybe this link of them my brother sent me will. Though I do not recommend these uses of squirrels, at least we see some of them getting their due.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Covenanter Young Adults

Many blogging thoughts, but little blogging time these past few weeks.

Our congregation had the privilege of hosting over 100 college students and young working adults for worship and lunch this past weekend who were attending a Covenanter Young Adult (C'YA) conference nearby. Seeing the sanctuary filled with all those eager faces, hearing the praise of God harmonized in joyful song, and celebrating new members and a baptism were truly delightful. Our ladies made feeding 200 plus look easy with all their careful planning and hard work behind the scenes, and the fellowship that occurred over the tables was that taste of heaven you always pray that the Lord's Day will be. The Lord was in our midst.

Pastor Harry Metzger spoke on Developing a Heart for the Lost, and from what I heard and continue to hear the young people were greatly warmed by the messages. Harry's recent heart attack made his tender heart even more so, as the obvious concern God has given him to bring the gospel to unbelievers was poured out through the teachings, stories and tears he shared. His final challenge for the young people to pray and then work toward seeing God use them to win another to Christ this year was met with enthusiasm. May the Lord pour out fully His spirit on these gifted and serious-minded young people, and may the earth be shaken and souls be harvested as a result.

On a tangential note, with the Lord's bringing to our own congregation more college students, and two of my own children among them, I continue to think through education and the spiritual training and support of our covenant young adults. This article by Charles Murray is noteworthy, as it reminds us that there are worthy callings that do not require college degrees. The church and its families need to remember each young adult is unique in his or her gifts and calling. The "one-size-fits-all" stress in our culture for everyone to have a college education could be damaging to those who believe God is leading them in a different direction.

With this in mind, I noticed quite a number there this weekend who were not in college. So let's keep remembering that the C in C'YA is for Covenanter, not college, and rejoice in the variety of ways, be it in a vocation or at a university, that these young people will be sharing Christ this year.