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The Call of God

Several young men have approached me as of late who are wrestling with the call of God on their lives regarding ministry. They have asked questions, common to many who begin considering pastoral calling, such as:

“How do I know whether this is the Lord calling me or just my own ambition?”

“Should I not feel more confidence rather than doubts about my gifts?”

“What if I go through preparing for ministry then realize I am not called?”

As I interacted with them personally about these questions and others, memories were stirred of my own struggles many years ago with this same matter. A graduate student in mathematics at Purdue University in the 1980’s, I had not gone to West Lafayette to become a pastor. Yet my growing desire to share God’s truths with others, enhanced by my friendship with Pastor Dave Long, could not be shaken. In one of the many times discussing this with Dave, he handed me a study on the call of God. I recently dug this study out of my files and gave copies to these young men.

I thought I would share this study in case it may be of help to others. I […]

So Andy Stanley Thinks I’m Selfish

I am a pastor of a relatively small church. Well, if statistics are correct it would be more accurate to say our congregation is just under the median size of churches in the United States. Nevertheless, we aren’t big. We have no marketing budget. We’re not on the cutting edge of anything. We don’t have an endless list of programs. We’re not into flashy or snazzy youth groups. We’ll never  have a large administrative staff. Also to be quite honest, we’ll probably never see our membership skyrocket. But we do concentrate on those things that matter most–preaching, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship.

I love my church! My wife and I have frequently commented to each other how grateful we are that this is the church our children will always call home. They know everyone and are known by everyone. They have adults of all ages who love them fiercely, invest in them deeply, pray for them often, guard them carefully, and encourage them sincerely. I can honestly say I wouldn’t want it any other way.

That’s why I was, at least in part, so shocked (even offended) when I heard mega-church pastor Andy Stanley denounce those who prefer or choose smaller churches without […]

To Listen or Not To Listen: Audio Sermons

We live in a day of instant access. Digital media has made most things available to us with a single click. This, of course, has brought untold benefits. We have more opportunities and resources at the tips of our fingers than any other generation in the history of humanity. But it also comes with its cost. I suspect one area where this is true is the modern phenomena of audio sermons.

Now, to be fair, the mass production and distribution of sermons isn’t new. For instance, when Joseph Passmore and James Alabaster began printing and distributing Charles Spurgeon’s sermons in The Penny Pulpit they could hardly keep up with the worldwide demand—though, I should note Spurgeon’s own hesitancy in this endeavor. But the instant access has become even more instant and we have available to us—literally, millions of sermons from tens of thousands of preachers. This has many of its own benefits. I, for one, am grateful for every contact the people in my church can have throughout the week with the Word of God. I’m also glad for the chance they have to benefit from particularly gifted preachers in a way that perhaps they cannot benefit from me. As Richard […]

Harvest Eyes

I grew up surrounded by the cornfields of Minnesota and now I live encompassed by the ones in Kansas. Truth be told, they’re my favorite landscape. I know some people prefer the mountains of Colorado or the seacoast beaches. I’ve even met some people whose preference lies in cityscapes—I still can’t figure that out. As for me, I love the rolling green hills blanketed by a sea of golden tassels trembling on stalks of corn. And as summer slowly yields to autumn the silks, shucks, and stalks begin to turn varying degrees of brown as the dry out. To the unknowing eye it may seem the corn is simply dying. But to those who have harvest eyes it’s a good indication that the corn is ripe for the picking.

It’s remarkable to me that this is the way the greatest evangelist who ever lived saw people. I’m not writing about Wesley or Whitefield, Moody or Graham, but of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went he saw a field that was ripe for the harvest. It didn’t matter where he was. Jesus evangelized in the high-population urban centers of government, commerce, education, and religion. He also spent time in those tiny out-of-the-way villages—a great […]

Seeking His Spirit

Lately I have been reflecting on the prophets’ visions of revival. Many of the wondrous things they see in the days of Christ and promises they extend have to do with fuller manifestations of the Spirit of God. For three familiar examples:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army…And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:9-10, 13-14)

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the […]

Preparing for Our Heavenly Union with God

In his beautiful tribute yesterday, James shared the news that a dear friend to a number of us at Gentle Reformation, Pastor David Long, passed into glory on Saturday evening. When I received the news, I had just said “Amen” following a quiet, tearful time of singing and praying with my family for Dave and Jenny and their family. Dave, my spiritual father, is now with the God he knew so well, served so faithfully, and told others of so sincerely.

At a conference last fall at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on “Experiencing the Fullness of Our Union with Christ,” providentially I gave the final talk on preparing for heaven. At the start of my message and in the journal being published this week, I dedicated this talk to Dave as follows.

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At the time of my study and writing of this article, I have been emotionally walking with a lifetime friend and mentor as he fights a battle against a serious form of cancer. Observing someone close to you preparing to meet God moves a discussion such as this one out of the realm of the merely academic and speculative to that of pastoral and personal. So this article is dedicated to Pastor […]

Browse Worthy: Heaven and Hell

In April of 2008, the congregation where I served as pastor in Indiana had Pastor Edward “Ted” Donnelly of the Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church of Belfast preach five times for outreach services. He addressed the topics of heaven and hell.

Though you can read his book on this subject, there is such power in hearing them preached.  Though the videos below are not the best quality, the messages certainly are. Why not encourage someone you care about to listen?

Seminary. Be Here!

One of the most exciting developments in seminary education is distance learning (DL). Taking courses online is becoming an increasingly popular means for students to pursue theological education. In seminaries accredited by ATS, more than a quarter of the students have taken at least one course online and this number is only expected to grow. At the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary where I serve, the number of credits for online classes nearly tripled from the fall of last year to this year.

DL can be a blessing to the church for many reasons. Students can remain longer in their local ministry context without uprooting their families from their homes and congregations.  DL allows for flexibility to family and work schedules that the traditional classroom does not. Seminaries can reach students in foreign lands who otherwise would not be able to attend due to such things as visa restrictions or moving costs. People who may not want to be pastors but desire to deepen their theological knowledge can take or audit classes more easily. DL encourages the further connection and cooperation between the seminary and the local church, as pastors can work with students enrolled in online courses and see what they are learning.

However, […]

Growth in the Rural Church

It was once quipped that trying to turn a rural church around is harder than reaching a group of practicing Muslims. Gloomy as it may sound, rural churches are facing some unique challenges, especially as it concerns membership. The allurement of the city and the agricultural mechanization of the last fifty years has left rural America in a steady decline. The church has felt the effects. I don’t think too highly of statistical research, but both Barna and Pew have suggested that the overwhelming majority of rural churches have, at best, no increased growth and, at worst, decline.

Despite such gloomy sentiments it seems the rural church can grow. A couple of years ago W. Scott Moore assessed growth patterns in rural churches that had experienced a significant increase in membership by those who were previously unchurched. And guess what? He lived to write a book about it!

So how does one “grow” a rural church? Of course, growth is ultimately dependent on the Spirit alone. Paul reminds us: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). So perhaps it should be asked: what are unchurched people looking for in a rural church? Surprising as it may seem, […]

Even Though It’s Not A Game

Let’s try out a phrase: “spectator Christians.”

The trend toward spectatorship is a culture-wide phenomenon seeping into the church. Sports used to be something we did; now it’s something we watch. Music used to be a reason to get together with neighbors and have fun; now it’s something our headphones use to keep us separate from others. Christianity is, to my eyes, similarly and increasingly becoming a spectator event.