Wednesday, June 18, 2008

92 Years and Psalm 92

Paul Faris, a founding member of the Sycamore congregation, will celebrate his ninety-second birthday next week. As I reflected on Paul's influence on my own life, I wanted to share it with members of the congregation who might not know Paul but are benefiting from the ministry he continues to have here. I thought perhaps this would encourage others as well.


Paul was raised as a Covenanter, coming from generations of Farises who have been in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. As his grandson James Faris, pastor of the Southfield RPC, tells it, for at least ten generations in his family line the men have alternated in their vocations between farmers and pastors. James and his grandfather fell in the "pastor" generations, so despite growing up on a farm in Dennison, Kansas, Paul went into pastoral ministry. He graduated from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1944. His "official records" indicate that he served three congregations (Quinter RPC and Sterling RPC in Kansas, and the Lisbon RPC in New York) over the more than forty years he was in pastoral ministry. The recognition by the church of his godly testimony and gentle shepherding over the years was seen in him being given an honor unique in the RPCNA - he was chosen as Moderator of Synod not just once but twice.

Yet truly Paul helped pastor a fourth congregation, namely Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1984 Paul retired with his wife Ruth in Flora, Indiana, in order to be near the West Lafayette RPC, his family, and help with a church planting work in Kokomo. In January of 1985 Paul preached and led bi-weekly worship services in the homes of the core families. Providentially, it was in 1985 that Miriam and I moved as newlyweds to West Lafayette so I could do graduate work at Purdue University. One of my memories of those first months worshipping with the West Lafayette church was of this group of people who were there one week and gone the next. I soon learned what they were doing!

However, tragedy struck this work the following year in the Spring of 1986, all in the course of one month. The husband of the family who originally started the work in Kokomo was found to be in adultery (his eventual excommunication took place at my first session meeting as a new intern!). An experienced and gifted church planter, Pastor Bob McCracken, declined a call to come to Kokomo. And Paul's beloved wife Ruth, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer only a few months prior, died. Clearly the Lord had closed the door for the time, and the worship services and work in Kokomo were suspended.

However, Paul, the few other families involved in the Kokomo work (The Dinkledine, Faris, and Parman Families), and the session and congregation of West Lafayette persevered in their vision. Having sent me to seminary, they eventually called me to come back in 1991 and lead the effort here in Kokomo. What I want to testify to in this rememberance is Paul's support of me. He constantly encouraged me with his prayers and comments, occasionally corrected me with a spirit of gentleness, and was always sharing insights through stories, reflections or articles. With the ever present twinkle in his eye and boyish grin on his dignified face, he continued to use his blend of earthy, Spirit-filled wisdom as he preached for us when needed and led Bible studies and classes when called upon. In 1994, when it came time to organize the congregation, despite his status as "retired" he agreed to serve as a ruling elder when the congregation elected him. For over five years he served faithfully, providing a comfort to new members with his maturity and fatherly concern, and especially enriching the three "rookie" elders (Greg, Tom and I) in our knowledge of ministry and the RP Church.

Though he has now lived for several years with his daughter and her family back in Lisbon, New York, who care for him, Paul has kept his membership in our congregation and continues to remain interested and pray faithfully for the Sycamore congregation. The heritage he was given has been passed on, as he has children and grandchildren serving as pastors, elders, deacons, pastor's wives and missionaries. If there is one word that comes to my mind as I think about this beloved saint, it is covenant. The Lord has kept covenant with Paul, and Paul has shown through a long lifetime of service covenant faithfulness to his God. As Psalm 103:17-18 says, "The lovingkindess of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them" (Psalm 103:17-18).

It is great to know God's promises like these and believe them. Yet for me it has also been such a wonderful blessing and confirmation to see them in the life of Paul Faris.


Paul also taught me a great deal about the psalms. Cannot help but think of how on his 92nd birthday he fulfills what the 92nd Psalm says of the righteous man, "When old they still bear fruit and flourish fresh and green."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Compassionate Conservatism

In April I had the privilege of sitting in a meeting where Marvin Olasky, editor of WORLD magazine and author of The Tragedy of American Compassion, met with a dozen or so leaders of inner-city ministries in Indianapolis. He had featured several of these organizations in another of his books, Compassionate Conservatism (see Chapter 3 "Indianapolis: How Government Should Work," especially pages 65-80), which was published in 2000 and has a foreword by our current president when he was still governor of Texas. In essence he was revisiting these ministries, as the presidency of Mr. Bush draws to a close, to evaluate the impact of the compassionate conservative movement on them.

Mr. Olasky told us that the conservative movement has in large part been a failure. He believes it has failed because the approach by the current administration in Washington has been contrary to the core principles they claimed to represent. Rather than using poverty-fighting tax credits or vouchers to decentralize such things as care for the needy and education, more and more government control has been enacted. The lack of the use of the veto by the president has bloated the budget. The war in Iraq has led to an increase in government power. These factors and others have caused compassionate conservatism to be sneered at as empty rhetoric rather than embraced as a good governing philosophy. Mr. Olasky even painfully joked that he may write another book entitled The Tragedy of Compassionate Conservatism.

One of the fascinating facts Mr. Olasky offered to show the impact of government programs on the work of private charities in caring for the poor was a study by Jonathan Gruber on church charity from 1929-1939. He noted that following the great Stock Market Crash of 1929, despite the huge economic hardships the nation faced, there was no decrease in charitable giving. However, later during the New Deal, as federal programs arose to provide relief, the church's charitable giving decreased 30%. Gruber's research substantiates what many would expect. If the government takes over care of the needy, the church will do less and less.

The impact of this is spiritually devastating. As Americans continue to turn from God to men who act as gods, and trust in princes for their piece of the pie rather than the Prince of Peace, the church will find it more and more difficult to capture hearts for the gospel. Especially among the poor with whom we work, we find their dependency on government programs and their immediate looking to a public agency to meet yet another crisis they have encountered make them hardened to Christ. So what are we to do?

Since Jesus Himself has commissioned the church to care for the needy and will judge us accordingly (Matthew 25:31-46), we must by example show true compassion for the poor. The church must never forsake that role. Yet we cannot stop in simply ministering to the poor. The church must not only be found muscling its way to the front lines in the war on poverty, but as we do so we must also, through preaching, praying, persuading and proving to elected officials our resolve, win the war for poverty. The church must become so effective in doing what Christ created it to do, and so able to demolish arguments raised against it, that the government learns it is best to step aside and get out of our way.

For could another reason that compassionate conservatism has failed be that the church has been too conservative with its compassion?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Notable Quotables

Along with around 300 others including our interns Bill and Jason, I attended the Banner of Truth Conference at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, last week. The Banner has been publishing Puritan literature for over fifty years now, and offers this conference to minsters, elders and theological students to refresh them, which it did for me. I thought I would offer several of the quote-worthy insights I heard last week that stimulated my heart and mind. Some are from saints of long ago that perhaps I had heard before and rejoiced in their remembrance; others were fresh words from the ministers who spoke at the conference. They are in no particular order.


I long for love (for Christ) without any coldness.
Like a calvary officer keeps his blade clean, so God uses a holy minister as a sword.
It is not great talents God blesses, but likeness to Jesus.
A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of the Lord.
Robert Murray McCheyne


Be killing sin or it will be killing you.
John Owen


A spark starts an entire combustion engine and puts it into motion.
Cannot the Spirit of God, sought in prayer, spark great life in us?
Craig Troxel


If you need a sign hanging on your forehead saying "Holy to the Lord,"
then there is reason to doubt that he possesses his own sufficient holiness.
Richard Phillips (speaking of the high priest's sinfulness in comparison to Christ's perfection)


Remember the children.
David Campbell (on preaching to the entire congregation)


For eight-six years I have served Him and He has never done me wrong as my King.
Shall I now blaspheme Him?

Polycarp (speaking of Christ before his martyrdom)


Yes, Jesus did say to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan."
But it could have been worse.
He could have said, "Get behind Me, Peter."
Ian Hamilton


We are all unbelieving believers.
Thomas Hooker


Without the anointing of the Spirit, the ministry of the word is as dry as a bone.
Do not see what you cannot change (in the church).
Iain Murray


Calvinism is simply Christianity on it knees.
B.B. Warfield