Pastor’s Ponderings: April 2019

by John Armstrong
 
Spring is officially here, we are past the Equinox and even though the mornings are still cold, the temperatures are slowly beginning to creep up. This is the time of year when I begin to realize that once again I’m behind on getting my garden beds prepared. This year, I need to do some extensive soil enrichment work to get them ready. I’m late getting started, but, I’m not discouraged because no matter what I do, the final-results are as always in the hands of the Lord. I do need to be faithful to provide good soil (which He created) and water, etc., but He is the one who makes things grow. One of the things I love about gardening, which I’ve mentioned before, is the spiritual aspects of it. When I’m down on my knees pulling weeds, I never fail to see how that relates so readily to my own life. My life has weeds that need to be pulled and thrown away. No matter how diligently I work at clearing them all out, sure enough tomorrow there will be new ones springing up. Not only do you have to contend with the weeds, which I see as representative of sin in our lives, you also have bugs to deal with which I see as temptations and attacks from outside that threaten to ruin and destroy. Primarily, there is the soil, which we often tend to take for granted and I liken that to the spiritual condition of our heart. Spiritual growth is a lot like gardening, there are always challenges, but the benefits of participating in the process of bringing forth fresh fruits and vegetables is worth it to me. Spiritually speaking, we are participating in bringing forth spiritual fruit. So, why am I writing this to you now? I’m wanting to encourage you in your Christian walk and using the metaphor of gardening is a way of doing that which will connect with some of you. I’m currently preaching through Matthew 5 which contains the first parts of the Sermon on the Mount and one of the main themes you find there is all about religion being a matter of the heart. External religion is of no value if it does not originate in and flow from a heart that is right before the Lord. How is your heart? Is it ready for seed? Will it nourish the plant that brings forth the fruit? Is your heart hard? Is it crusted over and drained of nutrients that have been leeched out over the years? Is it hungering and thirsting for Jesus? Does it need to be tilled and fertilized? The answers to these questions are mostly left up to you, but I can say to a couple of them that the answer is yes! We all need our hearts continually tilled and fertilized by the Holy Spirit, we need the great Gardener of our souls to do His mighty work in us day by day. Our hearts need the softening and filling of the Holy Spirit and they need on-going protection of the Lord against sin and temptations. Our growth in grace is the work of the Lord and we are called to be intentional about availing ourselves of His work and living in light of that work. He has redeemed us from our sins, once for all. He has saved us from judgment, condemnation, death, hell, and the grave. Let us pray that the Lord would bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as a testimony to His grace and glory and may we be quick to bear testimony with our words as well as our lives that we have a great Savior, Jesus Christ.


Pastor’s Ponderings: March 2019

by John Armstrong
 
The phone rang early this morning; it was before the hour that proper etiquette would allow for regular phone calls, so I sprang from my bed to see who was calling. As a pastor, I’m not unused to getting calls at odd hours and usually those calls are to alert me to some problem or situation that requires my immediate attention. That is not a problem for me, it comes with the work, I don’t mind it at all. That is the nature of being a shepherd, the sheep don’t have tragedies and needs that always line up with regular working hours. It is my sincere privilege and honor to be there to help in those times. There are times however, when people do cross the line by reaching out for help for problems that are not there, or for problems that are not emergencies. In those cases, I often ask myself, why is this person reaching out to me first and not to God? Maybe they have prayed about it, but they are looking for support from someone they can trust. I’m glad they think they can trust me, that is no small thing. Then I have to ask myself, if I do the same kind of thing. The answer is usually yes, if I’m honest and look deeply enough I do the very same kinds of things. Why is that? Why am I looking for someone to help me and comfort me, before I’ve taken my problem to the One who really can do something about it? We are tangible creatures looking for tangible answers to our problems whatever they may be. We tend to forget that we are spiritual creatures that need spiritual answers too. If we find our spiritual answers first, they often put our tangible problems in a new light. When we are trusting our sovereign God, who loves us more than we can fully grasp, then we can know rest in the midst of trials and troubles of any kind. Now, understand, we need to be taking our concerns to our heavenly Father that is the first best place to go, right to the throne of grace. After that, share your concerns, problems, needs, etc. with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is why we have the church, that is why we are the church. We are to be as Paul so aptly put it, “bearing one another’s burdens…” (Gal. 6:2). Jesus tells us we are supposed to be salt and light in this world. That begins in the household of faith, with Christians loving one another and having enough relationship with each other that we do know and trust each other with our burdens. We encourage each other to growing discipleship, to growing in grace by seeking to walk with Jesus ever more deeply. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a community of people loving and trusting God and in turn able to love and support one another. The world will see us doing that and will know we are different and God will get the glory. One of the things I learned in my studies for my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, was that professional counseling is really only needed in about 15% of cases. Most of the time, about 85% of the time, the people presenting for counseling really only need someone to really listen to them. Most people have the resources to solve their problems if they know there is someone who cares. As a Christian you have that and more. You have a heavenly Father who wants you to pour out your heart to Him, and you have a community of brothers and sisters who will care for you. That is how it is supposed to be, unfortunately, that is not how it always is. At Faith Church, we want to be a community of rest, where these things are true of us. We are growing, pray that the Lord would continue to grow us into a loving and caring church body.


Pastor’s Ponderings: February 2019

by John Armstrong
 
I’ve been sick this week and I hate being sick. It too readily exposes my idolatries. I get irritated because I don’t have time to be sick. There is too much that I have to accomplish. What I’m saying is, I think I’m more important than the work of God’s providence in my life. That my friends constitutes idolatry of self and is in fact, a manifestation of unbelief. There are things God is teaching me that I will not learn if I don’t have to stop and be still for my body to rest and recover. That is not what I want, but it is what I need, whether I like it or not. My illness is a passing bout of cold or flu. I know some of you, deal with illness that is far more extreme and life changing, if not also life threatening. Please understand that I’m not trying to equate a cold with cancer by any means. I do want us to think however in terms of God’s providence and our suffering. We do well to understand what the Westminster “Divines” meant when they wrote the Shorter Catechism, Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence? A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, [Psalm 145:17] wise, [Psalm 104:24] and powerful [Hebrews 1:3] preserving [Nehemiah 9:6] and governing [Ephesians 1:19-22] all his creatures, and all their actions. [Psalm 36:6; Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:30] God is not the author of evil, but the suffering we experience is under His providential control. Why one individual suffers and another does not is a mystery that you and I will not be able to unravel. There are as many reasons as there are people who suffer. So, what are we supposed to do with this? I think it is important to look at Scripture for a moment. 2Cor. 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…  God the Holy Spirit is busy, He is at work in the lives of believers, molding and shaping them. He breaks us where we need to be broken; He binds up our wounds and brings healing. He is focused on bearing good fruit for the kingdom through us. We must remember that we don’t always know what good fruit looks like, I like to think that fruit looks easy, but how can that be? The Spirit knows the fruit that He is bringing forth in us for His glory. In the moment, it may all seem miserable, put the promise of God is that in view of eternity, the suffering we do will see light and momentary. In fact, when we stand before the Lord without spot, wrinkle, or blemish we shall know the beauty of God’s providence in bringing us whole and happy into His eternal presence. Lord, help me to grasp more deeply Your providential work in my life, that I may not grumble and complain about light and momentary afflictions, but that I would see Your hand at work making me fit for heaven.


Pastor’s Ponderings: January 2019

by John Armstrong
 
Have you ever stared at a blank page wondering what in the world you are going to write? Some of you probably remember the stark terror of the blank page from your days in school and are glad you no longer have to write like that anymore. There are those in our midst that relish the thrill of the myriad opportunities that a blank page represents. For the next few minutes, I would like you to join me in thinking about the fact that we are entering upon a brand-new year and in many ways, it is like a 365-page blank journal for you to write in. Now, if you hate writing, you are certainly not going to be comfortable with my illustration, but for the sake of my writing, please bear with me. I promise, I will not make you write anything this year. However, when you think about your life and compare it to a journal, what is that journal going to contain? What will fill the pages? If in 10 years you were to come back and read this journal of 2019 what would you want to find in it? I’m guessing that you are like me and you don’t want to come back and find a journal full of blank pages. Blank pages are those days and times that have been wasted. Some of those pages are not going to be blank because life is going to happen in spite of us. Things are going to come your way that you were not expecting. There will be those things that you plan to do and will carry out. No one has a completely empty journal, but that brings us back to the question: “what do you want in your journal?” I want my journal to be filled with good things, fruitful things, things that count for eternity and not those things that are just filler. Too much of my life is filler. Even when I’m busy doing seemingly good things I can be missing out on doing the best things. My prayer is that God would guard me from filling my time with “good” and enable me to do that which is “best” (not from my perspective, but from God’s perspective). I want a journal that is filled with that which pleases the Lord. Holding the same metaphor, as we come to the end of another year we are closing out one journal to start another. What is in your journal from this year? What is in there that causes you to rejoice in the Lord? What is in there that fills your heart with praise? What is in there that drives you to your knees in prayer? What is in there that fills you with repentance? As you think about those things, I hope you will find it helpful to consider for next year. My prayer for this next year will be that those things I need to repent of this year will be killed in me. Lord, help me to grow in grace and make me an instrument of your grace even as I am a trophy of your grace. Praise the Lord for His great grace to us in Jesus and praise Him that He is giving us empty pages to fill for His glory. May He indeed be glorified in our lives.


Pastor’s Ponderings: December 2018

by John Armstrong
 
I usually like to start things at the beginning. When it comes to preaching a new major series, I usually either begin in September with the start of the new school year, or I begin in January. That has been my custom, however, this time as we come to the beginning of a series through the Gospel of Matthew, I’m beginning in December so the text matches the time frame that we traditionally celebrate these events. We are of course talking about the birth of Jesus. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is of course such a wonderful time for us because the atonement that earns our salvation begins with the promised incarnation. Therefore, I’m excited to begin a new series in Matthew. This will probably take us a couple of years to get through, but I’m praying that we will be edified in the process. I’m praying God will grow us in grace as we follow the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Much of Matthew is the record of our Lord’s discourses and that in itself is something to get excited about. It is time for us to sit at our Master’s feet and learn from Him as He teaches us in the Scriptures. That is of course what we should do any week, with any text, because the Word preached is God’s Word. Every single Word is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. When we get a good perspective on the whole concept of preaching God’s Word, it should change the way we approach it as those who preach and as those who listen to preaching. It is not my intent here to preach about preaching. I do want to think about the context in which the preaching will occur, particularly in this Advent Season. In many ways, this is my favorite time of year. It is a time for devotion and family. People seem to be in a happier mood than usual. Sometimes they are simply putting on a good front, living behind their façade. How do you know? How do you know if they are truly happy or if they are struggling with the pressures of the season? Maybe, they are incredibly lonely and are embarrassed to let anyone else know how they feel. That is more common than you think. Maybe you know that is true, because it is true of you. Maybe you haven’t even noticed, because you are surrounded by family and friends and are caught up in the busyness of the season. I would challenge you to spend some time this Advent as we begin in Matthew to talk to others about the Gospel that we are studying. Talk to them about their lives and how this Word of God applies to them and also, after you have listened to them, then share about yourself. One of the greatest, if not the greatest gift you can give this year is to spend time listening to people, getting to know them and understand them. That is an act of love. The One of whom the Gospel of Matthew speaks, Jesus the Christ, would certainly approve.


Pastor’s Ponderings: November 2018

by John Armstrong
 

I’ve heard it several times recently, I’ve heard it numerous times over the years, and anytime I hear it, it hurts my heart.  I’ve had people confide to me that they love the church and they have a sense that this is where they are supposed to be, yet they don’t feel liked, much less loved or accepted.  They feel out of place.  Maybe that is your experience, if it is, I’m truly sorry.  We know of course, that is not what the Body of Christ is to be like.  However, that is certainly what it is like many times.  You would probably be hard pressed to find a church where no one ever felt out of place to some degree.  There is also the painful truth that some people are difficult to get along with, that is simply part of the human condition.  You’ll find those people in every gathering of human beings you encounter.  Also, there is the possibility that you are such a person.  I am, I know that I’m not always easy to get along with.  Some people find me intimidating, some think I’m too serious, others think I’m too frivolous, some find me hard and cold, others find me warm and caring.  Sometimes I seem engaged, other times I seem aloof.  Now, as I say that, I want you to realize that I’m aware of the different perceptions that I sometimes give people.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m aloof, or cold, or frivolous, but that is a matter of perception.  You would be amazed at how different I perceive people and how they are sometime perceived by others.  There will always be some level of personality clash which is often exacerbated by miscommunication.  The question becomes what do we as Christian people do with this?  Do we go on doing our own thing, liking those people we like and being irritated with those not fitting our idea of what we would like them to be?   Well, you know where I’m going, we’re going to talk about discipleship and being a member of the church.  What did Jesus say to His disciples about their relations with one another?  John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  When Jesus commands you to love each other in the church even as He loves, you can’t get away from that one.  As we have been studying Titus, one of the things that Paul has been teaching is how we love each other in the church has an impact in the watching world.  People see the gospel having its effect and say those people are different.  How we love each other in the church is evangelistic.  That is what Jesus is saying here in v.35.  Part of our growth in grace is getting beyond ourselves and reaching out to others.  These people in the church, whether you “like” them or not, are people created in God’s image and are loved by the Lord.  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Loving them is not an option.  I invite you to join me in praying, “Holy Spirit, please change my heart and make me a willing and capable lover of others.  Help me to love people with the love of Jesus.”  That is a worthy prayer, one that is certainly pleasing to God.  I pray for our church that, as far as it lies within our ability, there will be none here who feel alienated and unloved.



Pastor’s Pondering: October 2018

by John Armstrong
 
The Great Frederick Fair of 2018 is now just a memory. For some that is a sad thing, I’m sure there are others that are ambivalent or just don’t care at all (I’m sure of this because I’m one of them). I’ve been to the Fair about 6 or 7 times, I don’t keep count. There was the one year when my wife discovered a small funnel cake vendor at a gas station just a block from the fairgrounds. That year she was able to get her annual funnel cake fix and we didn’t have to go into the Fair proper. Sadly, that vendor has not returned. When we do go to the Fair we try to go when they have the Horse Pull scheduled. That is free and wholesome entertainment which I recommend. It’s kind of like a Monster Truck Competition but with enormous draft horses. Well, not really like monster trucks, but anyway it is fun to watch these massive animals doing what they have been bred to do. I also like to go see the livestock, there are some crazy chickens and all kinds of other fun animals to see. You can even go to the birthing center and see animals being born. How fun is that? Now, why am I talking about this? Every year that I go to the Fair, I never stay long, because I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t like the overall environment. I don’t like the crowds, I do like the food, I do like the animals, I don’t like the carnival, maybe you can relate. Every time I find myself at the Fair or at any carnival type event, I’m reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, I highly recommend it. It is arguably the second most read book in the English language following the Bible. If you are familiar with the book, then you probably know where I’m going with this talk of the Fair. In the book, there is a place called Vanity Fair. It is an evil place where all kinds of vanity are sold all year around. The two main characters in the book up to this point are Christian and Faithful who are on their way to the Celestial City. The road they are taking passes through the town of Vanity. At Vanity Fair, they are called fools and troublemakers, they are referred to as foreigners because they did not speak the language of Vanity, but they spoke the language of God’s people. They refused to buy any of the vanities that were for sale at the fair. A riot broke out at the fair when Christian and Faithful said they would only buy the truth. They were abused and persecuted and thrown into a cage. Ultimately, Faithful is martyred by the local officials and later Christian is able to escape the town and continue his journey. The point is that Christian and Faithful were aliens and strangers in that place. Just like we are to be aliens and strangers in this world. Our citizenship is not of this world, but it is in heaven. Therefore, we will seem strange and out of place at the carnival this world has to offer. We are not talking now about a fair that is held once a year, we are talking about a system of vanity that we live in day in and day out. We are tempted on all sides by worthless and false things that would distract us from our love and loyalty to the Lord. As disciples of the Lord Jesus the way we speak, the way we act, the things we prioritize are going to make us stick out as different in this world and the world will hate us for calling on the name of Jesus. The world hates Jesus and they will hate us for loving Him. Why am I saying all of this? I want you to know it is a good thing to be uncomfortable at the “fair.”


Pastor’s Pondering: September 2018

by John Armstrong
 
It is the start of a new school year; summer vacations are over and people are shifting back into
the regular routines of life. Unless you are a teacher or a young person of school age, Summer
doesn’t mean much in terms of a different routine. Things just continue on as they do all year-
round. I do hope you’ve had some time to relax and recreate during the summer months, but I
understand if you find yourself at this part of the year just keeping on keeping on.
If you find yourself in that place of trying hard to keep on keeping on, I hope you paid attention
to the sermon series on the Psalms this summer. We covered the first twelve psalms and as
Ralph Davis so aptly puts it, these first twelve are all about “the way of the righteous in the
muck of life.” As we begin our new school year and gear back up with Bible studies, new
Sunday school topics, and small groups we want to keep the focus on faithfully continuing in
the way of the gospel. We call that discipleship. It is following Jesus in the everyday rhythms of
life.
That is where we live day in day out, from season to season, and year to year. As we move
through our lives we need to remain intentional about our discipleship or we will have the
tendency to coast. Coasting is never good in the Christian life. Apathy and sin grows well in an
environment of coasting along. Therefore, we pray that God will guard us from an attitude of
coasting. Shift the metaphor to running a race. Paul speaks of this in 1Corinthians 9:24 Do you
not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you
may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a
perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one
beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to
others I myself should be disqualified.
An athlete must be intentional about training and preparation so when they run, they can do so
to their best ability. Paul is telling us to live our lives in Christ in the same way that an athlete in
training lives their life. We must live with intentionality and drive to excel, we must be
disciplined in our discipleship. Discipleship is all about discipline, it is taking up our cross and
following Jesus. As we begin another school year, how are you taking up your cross and
following Jesus? How are you dying to yourself so that Christ may be formed in you? What is
your desire on this matter? Do you want to be left alone or do you want to grow in grace?
How you answer that question will give you a good idea of where you are in your race. If you
want to talk more about these things, please give me a call.


Pastor’s Pondering: August 2018

by John Armstrong
 

Colombia, is a long way from here. Why go there?  Let’s look at the realities.  We are a small congregation in a relatively small and insignificant town in America. We don’t have lots of money; in fact, our church is behind in its giving for the year.  That is not unusual for churches this time of year.  However, it is significant enough for us to take notice and to watch our finances carefully.  Why spend money to send people on mission trips to places we may never see to minister to people we may never meet?  The answer is because we are commanded to take the Gospel out and share this Good News in Frederick, in Maryland, in the Mid-Atlantic, and even to the uttermost parts of the world.  It is our desire to participate in fulfilling Christ’s command to do just that.

 

In the years, we have been working in South America, the Lord has seen fit to open doors for us to minister through encouraging greater discipleship and equipping leaders.   As a congregation that is where we have seen our greatest impact and fruitfulness.  I hope you are all aware that we hosted a women’s conference in Cali, Colombia.  We are not aware of any other such Reformed and Presbyterian conference in South America.  What you might not know is that this event rivals just about anything our denomination does here in the United States.  I think it is very important for you as a member of Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church to understand what is happening here.  Yes, we are a small church, but we are a small church that is seeking to serve the Lord and we are trusting Him to bring forth the increase.  By God’s grace we are hosting this second “Transformada” women’s conference that will serve some 230 women from across Colombia and several other countries as well.  They are being trained and challenged to grow in their own relationships and discipleship. They are going back to their churches where they will be better equipped to encourage their church leaders and to take leadership roles within the ministries of those churches. 

 

The Gospel is going forth for the changing of lives as we help to equip women in Colombia, that in turn will have ripple effects not only in their churches and families but to their friends and co-workers.  The Gospel will advance through what the Lord is doing in and through the efforts of this little church in Frederick, MD.

 

So, what?  I want you to see that we serve a great God who delights to do great things with the small and insignificant.  In Christ, we are not insignificant and our size does not matter. This is all about what God is doing. The question is, will we be faithful to continue to go where God is leading us?  Will we pray expectantly for God to do great things in and through us? The work in Colombia and the work in Paraguay are significant parts of what we do as a church.  There are lots of other opportunities we have to share the Gospel and to follow the Lord in what He is doing.  I challenge you to find that place where He would have you join the church in its work and go be fruitful there.


Pastor’s Pondering: July 2018

by John Armstrong
 
I’m a hater. Is being someone who hates a bad thing? It depends on what you hate. If you
hate sin, then we would say that is a godly trait, because God is often spoken of in Scriptures as
hating sin and evil. The commanded of Amos 5:15 is, “Hate sin and love good…” So, yes, it is a
good thing if you hate evil things. That said, people created in the image of God are not evil,
they may act in evil ways, but they also bear God’s image, therefore they are not appropriate
objects of our hatred. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and so we have
no right to pass judgment on others who are sinners like us.
So, I have to confess that I am a hater. There have been times in my life and places where I
have hated people. I still struggle to love people with the love of Christ. I still have to stamp
out the little flames of hate that tend to pop up more often than I would like to admit. Now, let
me make something very plain for all the world. If I teach something from God’s Word that is
contrary to your belief, your actions, how you feel, or how you think, that does not make me a
hater. If I disagree with you, that does not mean that I hate you. In fact, the opposite is often
the case. If I’m willing to risk you being upset because I’ve spoken the truth to you, then that in
fact is an act of love. I know that doesn’t feel loving, but our feelings can often be misleading.
Our feelings serve us best when they are clearly informed by right thinking. So, speaking the
truth to someone (the really hard part is doing it in love) is a loving thing to do. It seems
counter-intuitive especially if someone is speaking to you in order to bring correction or rebuke.
If that correction or rebuke leads me to right relationship with the Lord, then that act of
correction is wonderfully loving.
In our day and age, it has become very popular to label anyone who disagrees with the cultural
zeitgeist (popular beliefs) as a hater. You hear the immediate retorts of racist, bigot,
homophobe, extremist, and on and on it goes. Going against culturally accepted ideas will get
you labeled in a heartbeat these days. That is all designed to embarrass and shame you into
submission. It is a cheap and cowardly tactic that is used by the weak and lazy. I am not
denying that there are those out there who are haters and that their hating is sinful. My hating
certainly is and I am willing to face it and deal with it when it is brought to my attention. I do
not think you hate me if you can sincerely and lovingly point to sin in my life. I do not like it, but
I appreciate someone loving me enough to engage me in such a way as to be a tool in the hands
of the Holy Spirit for my sanctification. As God gives you opportunity, be that ready tool in the
hands of the Lord for the good of your brothers and sisters in Christ. When it comes to those
outside the faith, do not be surprised that unbelievers act like unbelievers. They need your love
and understanding, and by God’s grace a door maybe opened to share the love of Christ with
them so that they too come to know the Good News of Christ.