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Surely God is in this place

Parked automobiles lined the road in all directions! Around five hundred people packed into the Meeting House and adjoining buildings! They had assembled with love and kindness to express their sympathy and care. A grieving godly family was there to welcome and receive comfort and prayers from sorrowing friends – the pervading sense was one of calm hope, trusting peace and confident joy – at what was for all, I think, an unexpected funeral service.

After a number of tributes from close family and their young minister, a call to worship was given and the precentor stood to lead. As his arms undulated gently, and his sweet voice rebounded from rafters, a grave and glad sweet melody united loving hearts. Ministers and members stood in earnest to seek, and call on, God. A close friend, and minister, then read the Holy Scriptures, his cadences marked by affection, reverence, gravity and warmth. Again a Psalm was sung that summed up God’s servant’s life! Fruitful, full, well-planted, full of sap: all the self-evident outcome in God’s oaks rooted in His House by grace.

The ministers stood in the midst! Surrounding the man of God was a sea of solemn worshipers – here hearts were […]

Is Your Church Pro-Life?

Is your church pro-life? Almost everyone reading this blog would say “Yes. Of course.” If, by “pro-life”, we mean that a church has a stand against abortion tucked away in its confession somewhere and that they pray against abortion on the Sanctity of Life Sunday, then yes, many protestant churches could be called pro-life.

But what if we saw the calling to be pro-life as something more foundational to our identity as gospel-preaching churches? What would it look like to be–in the biggest possible sense–pro-life? 

What Will Amazon Think?

Amazon.com, Inc. created one of the most recognizable and meaningful logos ever. The  curved arrow points from the “a” to the “z” under the word “amazon.” The smirk it creates reminds you that Amazon can make you happy by delivering everything from “a” to “z.” The cardboard box smiles at you when the delivery man hands you whatever you ordered, and you usually smile back with excitement.

Amazon deserves credit for a brilliantly simple mark. It works to make good on its promise. Indeed, I benefit regularly from its services.

We should receive the good things of this life with joy. As Christians, we should remember with every Amazon package that lands at our doorstep that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega (the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet). He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He alone can make all things new. He alone can make us smile for eternity.

Our trouble begins when we look to any earthly provider for our ultimate happiness. That can become a temptation for us as Amazon consumers. And, the problem can be magnified as such suppliers grow. When we are beholden to someone to supply our happiness, we […]

From Geneva to Amsterdam in Five Minutes!

Alpine Climes!

I’ve just arrived back from 3 days on the slopes with Andy Jr skiing. We stayed in a beautiful little village in the Chablais region of the Northern French Alps called Les Gets – really ‘chocolate box’ scenery. It was kind of some friends to let us have the use of his chalet for a few days.

Fabled Fun

Dad & Junior

Anyway, now, aged 51, the ‘thigh-burn’ is starting to get ridiculous – I was chasing a trail of ‘snow-dust’ for almost all of the time. I’m glad to say, however, that there is still a little life in the old legs of the old dog yet. I was happy to quote Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare to Andy Jr as I left him for dead on the big bumps on the final run of the final day. His only reply was that his shin was beginning to hurt – a classical case of Invisible-alpine-shin-microblister-dad-just-beat-you Syndrome, no doubt!

A dear French brother flanked by two Irishmen!

En Route!

After a few hours shut-eye, we rose at 5.30 am, did a quick final clean of the chalet, and headed down the road to Geneva Airport, only to have to pull […]

Your Daily To-Do List

The Christian life is not a formula. You cannot simply maintain a daily to-do list with the assumption that, if you have crossed each item off the list by day’s end, you will experience the desired results and feelings. A regimented devotional life, a perfect parenting strategy executed to perfection, and a list of rules for members of the church will always leave people deeply disappointed when life does not go as expected.

At the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives a long list of instructions for the Christian life that is a to-do list of sorts. Yet, it achieves something far richer than an earthly formula. He tells us to:

Respect those who labor among you
Esteem them very highly in love
Be at peace among yourselves
Admonish the idle
Encourage the fainthearted
Help the weak
Be patient with them all
See to it that no one repays evil for evil
Seek to do good to one another and to everyone
Rejoice always
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in all circumstances
Do not quench the Spirit
Do not despise prophecies
Test everything
Hold fast to what is good
Abstain from every form of evil

This list teaches us how to relate to those in authority and to those in the body of Christ […]

Gospel Thoughts on a Dark Anniversary

Below is a bulletin insert that I wrote for Lord’s Day, January 21, 2018, in remembrance of the 45th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized human abortion in all 50 of the United States. Monday, January 22nd is that anniversary: 

Thoughts on A Dark Anniversary

On Monday, January 22, 2018, Americans in the US will wake up and go to work and about the day as usual. Looming as the backdrop of that day sits an anniversary that some celebrate as a victory of women’s reproductive rights and others lament as one of the darkest stains on our national conscience.

On this day, in 1973, 45 years ago, under the so-called right of privacy, the Supreme Court declared abortion legal in all 50 States. As the national median age is 37; more than half of Americans, including myself, have always lived with this so-called right to privacy—human abortion.

The psalmist reminds us that there is no privacy before God when it comes to human life; for he is the one who forms and weaves. Psalm 139:15-16 says:

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,  intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw […]

Defiant Prayer and the Image of God

Several people from my congregation spent the part of the day cooking and preparing a meal for fifty people experiencing homelessness here in Los Angeles. This is the second year that we have participated in this winter shelter which prepares meals and provides overnight housing in our area of the city. It’s a much needed resource for a small number of people compared to the 60,000 people who are living on my city’s streets and in cars and in tents.

As the food was all set out and the perfectly chiffonaded basil was placed as garnish, the new director called the people to line up. One of our members said, “We are going to pray now” and the director told us that we were not allowed to pray.

Not allowed to pray? What should we do?

One said to her, “We always pray before we eat.” She responded, “You are not allowed to pray since we receive government funding.”

I interjected, “We are allowed to pray, we are just not allowed to force people to pray.” I then added, “Even congress opens with prayer.”

We are going to give thanks.

I said to the people, “I am going to pray before our meal.” I went on to […]

Speaking Faithful and True Words

What does it mean to speak truth? What does it mean to be a faithful friend? Is there any tension between the two?

Because Jesus himself is called “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11) we know that to be faithful and to be true are not contradictory in the least. Actually, they are virtually synonymous. Yet, too often, we separate them in our lives.

In the West, we historically value truth, especially in terms of accuracy. We tend to be blunt, and when relationships suffer because we have spoken accurately (even if insensitively) we say, “Sometimes the truth hurts!” In these cases, we fail to be true friends.

Those in other cultures historically place a higher value on faithfulness in relationships. Speakers are indirect and may even lie because they do not want to be seen as unfaithful friend by speaking hurtfully.

Nik Ripken helpfully details the mindset of those from such cultures:

In sub-Saharan Africa, relationship is such a highly regarded value that for many tribal Africans that value often takes precedence over truth—which most westerners usually consider the higher of the two values. That difference in perspective can create serious misunderstandings, unnecessary conflict and sometimes even tragic consequences. An African might choose to […]

Wanting to Silence those who Show us up?

Introduction

I’m planning to preach tomorrow on the murder by Cain of Abel. Time is pressing on so I’ll try to be fairly brief.

Text

John brings out Cain’s main motive for his murderous act, in 1 John 3.12:

“We should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous!”

The word ‘RIGHTEOUS’ shows us that the deeds of Abel conformed to the standard God set, whereas, in comparison, in the case of Cain, they fell woefully far short.

The problem with Cain’s offering?

The problem with the gift was neither that it was cereal, nor just a token expression (this common popular interpretation is probably a part but not the heart of the matter), nor even because there was no blood (blood, of course, was required for without death of a sacrificial victim there is no pardon or acceptance – Moses is teaching Israel, in Genesis, during their wilderness wanderings, so mention of gifts, lambs and fat parts assumes some kind of knowledge of the Old Testament sacrificial system): have there not been many false religions in history that offered blood of sacrificial victims […]

Will you pray for laborers in 2018?

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ Matthew 9:36-38 (ESV)

Would you resolve  to pray afresh in 2018 that the Lord of the harvest would raise up laborers to go out into the harvest?

I sense that in the denomination in which I serve, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, we have ceased to take Jesus’ call to prayer for laborers as seriously as we ought in recent years. Brothers and sisters in other churches may be flagging as well.

Today, there is a shortage of good men to serve as pastors in Jesus’ church. Regularly, I field phone calls and emails from members of search committees asking for suggested candidates. Some congregations are discouraged because of the apparent lack of men who would fit their particular need and situation.

The crisis is now. But a greater crisis is also looming, at least in the RPCNA.

Our denomination reached a similar crisis point nearly 30 years ago. […]