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The Ordinary and the Extraordinary: How God works in summer camps and conferences

It’s the season for summer church camps and conferences. Our presbytery will host its conference soon. God’s word will be proclaimed in a setting unique from the rest of life. Christians will retreat from their regular callings to spend a block of time worshiping together, hearing and discussing God’s work, and enjoying fellowship together over meals and between the lines on fields or courts of play. Young people’s hearts will be drawn-out in counseling group discussions. They will be challenged to commit themselves to the Lord in response to his word, especially at the end of the week.

We must not abuse the setting to evoke emotionally derived responses, but we should also recognize that the Lord does work though these extended meetings to settle our hearts and minds for a few days, to immerse us in his word, and to change us.

The Lord stirred my heart afresh at one particular conference when I was in high school. I vividly remember how the Lord met me there through his word and by his Spirit. The change that came in me was evident in the months that followed and still is to this day.

So, recently, I was fascinated to stumble across my […]

Every Testimony is Different and Every One is the Same

Every testimony of God’s saving grace in the life of a person is the same, and every one is different. That is what we tell young people who are preparing to make their public profession of faith in the church and become communicant members.

This week, I plan to give my students the testimony of my grandfather, Paul Faris, written below as an example. It’s good for them to see that a man who was born over 100 years ago and who is now with the Lord also has a story that is just like theirs. None of them have served as farm hands. They have not had horses and chickens as witnesses to their prayers. But, they will recognize the story as their own. He was convicted of his sin and turned to Jesus through the ministry of God’s word and specific people. He dealt with the same guilt and other internal struggles which with they wrestle. He found life in Jesus just as they have.

They live in a different generation, but they have the same covenant Lord. His promise stands across all generations: “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation […]

A Wave of Worship

Each Saturday at about noon here in the Western Hemisphere, a great drama begins to unfold. At that time, the sun begins to rise in the Pacific islands on a new day of worship for the Christian church.

As we labor and play here in America on Saturday, saints rise from their beds in the Pacific islands, in New Zealand, and then Australia, and Japan to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as they respond to God’s call to worship on the first day of the week.

While the globe spins, this great wave of worship gathers strength as God’s people gather to confess their sins corporately and be assured of God’s forgiveness in Korea, in the Philippines, and Indonesia.

As the sun’s rays stretch into Southeast Asia, China, Mongolia and Siberia, some cry out from prisons, while others sing quietly in apartments so as to be heard by one another and God only.

Across India and all of the “stans” some gather in fear of persecution, others form groups of two or three, and others gather in great assemblies to declare that death has been conquered and that Jesus reigns today and forever.

About this time, we in the Western Hemisphere must […]

The Eschatological Insufficiency of the Archaic

In the church, as in life, it’s often hard to give up things that have become old friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to know when they have outlived their usefulness, and we must exercise wisdom in removing archaic fixtures.

You might have seen that Basking Ridge Presbyterian’s 600-year old white oak tree has died. Under that tree in Bernards, New Jersey, George Whitefield preached to over 3,000 people in 1740. Legend has it that George Washington picnicked beneath its outstretched limbs. My own ancestors worshiped at that church; indirectly, the shade of that tree has helped shape my own soul. That which served so well has died and must be removed.

Remove archaic fixtures we must, because devotion to the archaic reveals in us an insufficient eschatology. Loving what met needs in the past over what meets the need of the moment fails to anticipate the glory that is to be revealed. It trades a vision for the glory of Christ for earthly forms that are passing away. With the Apostle Paul, we must always seek fidelity to Christ as we count everything as loss for the sake of Christ that we may ultimately attain the resurrection from the dead. With Paul, we forget […]

Young People Also Need an Abundance of Counselors

“How should we have other people involved in discipling our children in their adolescent years?” In a recent panel discussion on discipleship in the church I pastor, that question was asked. The Scriptures teach us that “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). This truth holds for groups and individuals. The Apostle John and Timothy both benefited at a very young age from the mentoring of men beyond their own family, and we should not be afraid to emulate examples like these in the Scriptures as we seek godly mentors for our teenagers.

There are risks involved. We must take the necessary precautions as we encourage our young people to seek wisdom and help from others who can disciple them in ways we cannot as their parents. But the far greater risk is in leaving our teenagers isolated and disconnected.

Since every situation is different, there is no fixed way to bring the right influences into the lives of our adolescent children. Proverbs 27:10 instructs us “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,” and so we understand that it is important for our children to know and be […]

Spring Storms: Are You Ready?

Spring sprang on Monday in Indianapolis with powerful thunderstorms. Booming thunder rattled both windows and the souls of young and old, not to mention all of the dogs that ran for cover under their masters’ beds. More storms will surely come this spring;  are you ready? Emergency preparedness experts ready us physically, but is your soul ready for them too? The Lord gave Psalm 29 to meet us at times like these; it’s a good one to memorize for the next storm that rumbles.

“The voice of the Lord” is repeated seven times in a Psalm that describes the thunder of a violent storm that moves across the land of Israel from northwest to southeast. The Psalm opens as a call to worship in light of the storm that is bearing through the region. In the Psalm, we hear the voice of God in natural revelation as it rumbles over waters, as it shakes mountains, splinters great cedars, flashes forth flames of fire, echoes across the desert, and terrifies wild beasts. Storms today do all of the same things; and they still freak people out with their raw power.

But the Psalm says that inside God’s temple, all cry “Glory!” Why? Because the […]

Seeking the Approval of Men

By guest contributor Venkatesh Gopalakrishnan. Venkatesh is a church planting pastor in Bangalore, India with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

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“Do not wait for any man to approve your ministry!” thundered a young preacher from the pulpit of a church in Bangalore. He went on to declare, alluding to Galatians 1:10, “If you seek the approval of any man, you cannot please God!” The young preacher wanted his hearers to stop giving excuses and enter the ministries to which God was calling them. Sitting in the pew, I could not but help thinking that what I just heard was so contrary to what I had been taught. Concluding that the preacher’s view was rather idiosyncratic, I ignored the his advice and tried to meditate on the more edifying aspects of the sermon.

However, just a few days after this incident I heard another friend make a very similar remark, albeit in a slightly different context. This friend was arguing with me that a pastor ought not to receive salary from any church since this practice leads him to seek the approval of men. Once again, the principle was that in ministry, a pastor must preserve his independence at all […]

Presbytery Exam Fun with J. Gresham Machen

For those in the Presbyterian tradition, oral exams for students of theology pursuing licensure to receive a call as a pastor can be terrifying. Students sit on a platform before dozens of elders and answer questions on Scripture, theology, history, ministry, and more. However, after many hours of exams in one day at a presbytery meeting, the exams can also become quite tiring for elders who must listen, ask follow-up questions, and vote to sustain or not to sustain the students.

As my fellow students of theology and I went through our exams more than a decade ago, we noticed these trends over the several years during which we sat before presbytery. We decided to try to spice things up just a bit as we sat before these men whom we deeply loved and respected. So, we occasionally worked rather obscure bits of history or theology into our answers for the fun of watching the faces of our examiners. And it was fun, even as we took our exams very seriously.

Later, one of my comrades read Ned B. Stonehouse’s biography of J. Gresham Machen, a father of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. There, we learned to our surprise and joy that we had […]

Song of Moses: Song of Life

A few weeks ago, I attended an event at my alma mater, Purdue University. Emerging from our parked car that evening, I took in familiar sights and sounds of campus; impulsively, I began to sing the second stanza and chorus of our fight song, Hail Purdue, as my children smirked:

When in after years we’re turning
Alma mater, back to you,
May our hearts with love be yearning
For the scenes of old Purdue.
Back among you pathways winding
Let us seek what lies before,
Fondest hopes and aims e’re finding,
While we sing of days of yore.

Hail, hail to old Purdue!
All hail to our old gold and black.
Hail, hail to old Purdue!
Our friendship may she never lack.
Ever grateful, ever true,
Thus we raise our song anew
Of the days we’ve spent with you,
All hail our own Purdue!

Though I forget most of the details that were taught in the classes I took as an undergraduate, that song still evokes in me a sense of loyal friendship, of identity, of connection with the Purdue family, of warm memories with teachers and students, of respect for (most of) what I learned, and of aspirations the university instilled in us. Remarkably, even particular classes and teachings from those days come to life in my […]

The Sluggard Within: Defined and Defeated

The Bible says that the person who is guilty of sloth, belongs to the same family as the most destructive beings on earth. Proverbs 18:9 says, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Yes, the one who is lazy and indifferent to his call to serve the Lord with zeal has more in common with the likes of Adolf Hitler and even Satan than he might first recognize.

We think of sloth as merely having to do with our work, but it runs deeper in our souls than merely that one outward expression. It is an expression of spiritual boredom and a passive “resistance to the demands of love” as defined by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. The English word “diligent” connects our work with our motives. It comes from the Latin “diligere” meaning to respect, esteem, or love.

How do we fall prey to and express this sin? Here are seven characteristics of the sluggard as presented in Proverbs:

The sluggard has great desire and ambition. Proverbs 21:25-26: “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.  26 All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.” […]