Pastor’s Ponderings: December 2017

by John Armstrong
 
What do you want for Christmas? Some of you are longing for someone to ask that question of
you. As a boy, I always had a ready answer. In fact, I used to make elaborate lists from my
diligent studies of that ancient marvel that came in the mail called the Sears and Roebuck
Christmas Catalog. J.C. Penny put one out too. I consumed them both and had an easy
familiarity with these most treasured publications. As a man, I don’t miss those three-inch-
thick marketing magazines that filled so many hours of my childhood. Today, I dread people
asking me what I want for Christmas. When people ask that question, they are of course
seeking to find out your material desires so they can get you something, either that or they are
making idle small talk because they can’t think of anything else to say.
When I think back to all the Christmases I can remember, there are a couple of gifts that I
remember receiving, but, by and large, the memories are of happy time spent with family.
Now, as a maturing adult, when I think of what I want for Christmas, it is time with family and
friends that I want for myself. My desires have shifted. No longer am I concerned so much
with what I want for me, but what I want for others. I like to think I can call this maturity, not
being focused on me, but rather being focused on others. There are things I want and those
things are usually what I want for others. Those are usually reflected in my prayers. My desires
for others are things like, growth in grace, a deepening knowledge and hunger for Christ, the
satisfaction of using and growing in the use of spiritual gifts. Those are things that last for
eternity. Those are things worth praying for.
So, let’s do a little thought experiment. What is Christmas? If an alien from outer space were
to land in your backyard and ask you what this Christmas thing is all about, what would you
say? I think an outsider would be hard pressed to get any kind of real understanding of what
Christmas is all about by just observing our society. We celebrate Christmas to commemorate
the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation. He came to save us from our sins and
give us life. How would an outsider come to that understanding by just observing? [You might
take a little tangent here to Romans 10:14-17.] When I stop and think of what Christmas is
really all about, I find myself wanting more of Jesus. I want to be more like Him. I want less of
the trappings and trinkets this world has to offer. What can you give me that will not perish,
spoil, or fade? The things of this world can be really nice and I’m not saying you should
appreciate them and enjoy them appropriately. However, the things of this world can also
become idols and let’s face facts, there is a whole lot of idolatry that goes on this time of year.
Understand this, God will not share His glory with another, He will not tolerate our idolatry. So,
let’s bring this home. Santa Claus ain’t coming to town, and truth be told, if he were, there is
nothing he could give me that I can’t live without. All he has to offer are the things of the world
which perish, spoil, and fade. Therefore, my prayer this year and every year is going to be,
Heavenly Father, give me more of Jesus! At Christmas, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus.
Christ has come! Give me more of Christ, it is the one thing I truly need. You need Him too, so
join me in prayer for yourself and for your loved ones and friends that indeed, this year we will
celebrate the coming of Jesus with more of Jesus. Lord make it so for your glory’s sake, we pray
in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.


Pastor’s Ponderings: November 2017

by John Armstrong
 
It is almost time for Thanksgiving! I’m not sure I’ve really gotten started with the new school
year. Time flies by quickly for each of us. People say it seems to go faster and faster the older
you get. I know it goes by plenty fast enough when you are busy. I hope you remember that I
spoke about the Reformation in the October Tapestry. I plan to do so again. Of course, the
difference is that last month we were coming up to the 500 th Anniversary of the Reformation. In
this November issue of the Tapestry we are now moving forward from 500 years to a place only
known to the Lord. As with every endeavor, whether it be getting out of bed in the morning or
going to school, or work, or church, or wherever, we are heading into an unknown future. None
of us knows what the next moment will bring.
For some, the thought of not knowing what is coming, and not being able to control it, is
terrifying. For others, an unknown future is exciting and full of potential. It all depends upon
how you approach it. Will you approach with fear or will you approach with faith?
Approaching the future with faith is what the Scriptures call us to do. Scripture cautions us not
to be presumptive about what the future holds.
Prov. 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
James 4:13   Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a
town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what
tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and
then vanishes.
We are not to take the future for granted, but we are not to fear either. Here is good news.
Matt. 6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is
thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?…34 “Therefore
do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the
day is its own trouble.
Why are we to not be anxious? What is that based on? It is based on the character of God that
does not change. There are challenges today in this fallen world, and there will be challenges
tomorrow. Face them as they come, not in fear, because we have a God who loves us and will
guide, provide, and sustain us. Also, you need not borrow tomorrow’s trouble, it will come in
due course. One of my favorite hymns has this stanza: “Be still, my soul; your God will
undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His
voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
We’ve seen what the first 500 years of the Reformation has brought, what will the next 500 years
bring for us? Does that question leave you a little unsettled? I hope so. Look at it, it assumes
passivity. God has not called us to be a passive people, we are called to action. The
Reformation came about because people took action. They went back to the original sources and
rediscovered the Scriptures and translated them into our common languages so everyone could
have access to the Word of God. That is our heritage as reformed people. Now, we are called to
continue in that reformation heritage taking the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world
beginning here in Frederick. As we think about that we are to remember that we are but a mist
that today is here and then vanishes. Let us step out in faith and not fear. Our time is short, so let
us be faithful with that time, as the Lord allows. Semper Reformata!


Pastor’s Ponderings: October 2017

by John Armstrong
 
It’s here, the 500 th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door
in Wittenburg, Germany. That simple act of inviting an academic debate ended up being the
opening salvo of the Protestant Reformation, arguably the most influential event in Western
history in the last 500 years. So, what? How does that make any difference in my life today? I
could list out all kinds of ways the Reformation has changed the world you live in. We will be
talking about a number of these as I begin preaching a short series on the Reformation in mid-
October and November.
Recently, I had a chance to visit an aviary where a staff member was trying to get a waddling
(real term) of four ducks to stop following him and to get back in their little pond. He tried
herding them into the pond, but they would not go. Instead they would fly a short way away and
then regroup in order to follow the man. Sensing his opportunity, the man said, “You can lead
ducks to water, but you cannot make them swim.” I, of course, could appreciate the sentiment
and would have said the same thing, but I didn’t want to steal his opportunity. He took the
opportunity to modify the old idiom, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it
drink.” I really can’t think of a more poignant idiom than “you can lead a horse to water, but you
cannot make him drink.” Now, some of you may be wondering why I think that is sad and I’ll
tell you. Ask any pastor about their work and how that relates to the idiom of leading a horse to
water… or we would be more biblical to shift metaphors and talk about leading sheep to pasture.
You can lead the sheep to green pastures, but you cannot make them eat. The job of the pastor is
to care for and feed the sheep. As a pastor, I cannot make you feed upon the life-giving Word of
God. That is something you must want to do for yourself. It is my responsibility to present it to
you clearly and faithfully. It is my responsibility to appeal to your sensibilities in order for you
to desire the Word and to have it change your life. Now, you know, or you should know, I have
no power to make that happen. We are entering the realm of the Holy Spirit’s work. He is the
one who changes hearts. It is my calling to teach you stand upon the Word of God alone,
trusting by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone. If those
things are true of you, you can say you are a Christian and more than that, you are reformed.
Understand, you need not be reformed in your theology to be a Christian. However, we believe
and we teach, without apology, the reformed faith which we believe is most faithful to the
Scriptures. We believe this is the faith once delivered to the Saints. Therefore, here we stand.
Are you reformed? Being a member of a Reformed church doesn’t make your reformed. The
Christian Education committee which is now the Committee on Discipleship Ministry has, since
its inception, been concerned about how we provide opportunities to ensure that our children
have the best preparation and that our adults are constantly steeped in Bible-centered, Christ-
centered, Gospel-centered teaching that is solidly reformed. Now, we come back to the idiom,
you can lead sheep to pasture, but you cannot make them eat. Let me say this one thing in
closing. Do not starve at the banquet. Feed and drink deeply, avail yourself of the marvelous
advantages that are yours because of the Reformation.


Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2017

by John Armstrong
 
“Where are we going?” “When are we going to get there?” “Are we there yet?” If you have
ever taken a long car trip with children, you may have heard these questions, over and over
again. They are questions you would expect people to ask. Of course, “are we there yet,” is a
little irritating because the answer is obvious. However, there is a time and a place to ask the question “are
we there yet”. Every organization whether it be a family on vacation or at home, a
company in the market place, or a church serving its community, every organization needs to be
asking some basic questions. Who are we? What is our purpose? Where are we as an
organization headed? When are we going to reach our goals? How are we going to get there and
how will we know we’ve arrived? This is not only true for organizations it is true for individuals
as well. We in the church do well to keep this in mind, because the church is the body of Christ.
People who trust by faith in Jesus Christ, come together as individuals to make up the church.
I’m talking about you and me and I’m talking about our need as a church to grow in discipleship.
I have just finished the preaching series on the “one another” passages. The point of the series
was to get us focusing on the areas where we need to grow as a congregation. Growth in love,
humility, unity, and encouragement. I could say the series was about the places where you need
to grow as a disciple of the Lord Jesus and I would be completely accurate, but the truth is we all
need that growth so I’ll speak in terms of “we,” just keep in mind, you are included.
Over the Summer months the Session has been praying and preparing for strategic planning that
we plan to do this Fall. It is our intention, the Lord willing, that we will have an updated
Strategic Plan in place for implementation at the start of 2018. We are asking you to join us in
prayer for Faith Church. Pray for a clear vision and a strong desire to see the kingdom of God
advancing in our hearts and in the hearts of those to whom we have the opportunity to share the
gospel. There are a lot of great things we are involved in as a church. I’ve said many times and
will continue to say it, this is a generous church. My prayer is that God will grow us in our
generosity not only with our financial resources, but also with our resources of time and talents.
The more we know Jesus, the more we will want to know Him and follow Him. Growth in
Christlikeness, Lord make it so here that we would be a church marked by love, humility, unity,
and encouragement. I’m sharing my desires as your pastor. These are things the Lord is laying
on my heart. It is my prayer that you too will be moved by the Lord to desire these things as
well. May He lead and guide us to that place He would have us to be for His glory. May He
show us the evidence of His work in our lives that we would be encouraged to walk as disciple-
making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Pastor’s Ponderings: August 2017

by John Armstrong
 
I do not set out to offend people, it just happens sometimes. Sometimes it is because I’m
offensive and that is on me (it is my sin). Other times I’m offensive because of the gospel. So, if
people are offended by my speaking the gospel, then it is not me that is offensive, but the gospel.
If we are rightly proclaiming the gospel in whatever venue, it is offensive. Why is that? The
Scriptures tell us the gospel is offensive because it is received by faith and not by works. That is
the basic message of Romans 9:30-33, What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not
pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel
who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32
Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have
stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
 
When you let that soak in a little bit, you have to ask yourself, “Am I offended by the gospel?”
All of us struggle some with the gospel and accepting our salvation by grace alone through faith
alone. Our natural bent is to try and earn it. We want to be good enough and there is no way we
can be. Therefore, the offense. If you are going to get over that offense in yourself, you need to
grow in grace as a disciple, trusting the Lord more and more, resting in the truth of His Word.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit maturing you in Christ. As that happens, you will find that
you are more offensive to others because of the gospel. This is not to say that you will be
offending everyone all the time. On the contrary as you become more and more like Jesus you
will, in many ways, be more attractive. Remember many found Jesus worth dropping all and
following and yet when He taught them the gospel many of those same people went away
offended. If you are going to be offensive this is the way to do it. When we are offensive
because of the gospel, ours is an offense of love and truth that is shared in word and deed for the
sake of the kingdom of God. We don’t set out to offend people, we set out to speak the truth in
love to them so that by God’s grace they may be saved and grow in grace too. So, why am I
mentioning this? Really, I want you to focus on this whole growth in grace thing and how the
Holy Spirit works that in us. The Spirit will do this through the means of grace. One of the
means of grace is studying God’s Word and seeking to apply it to your life along with other
brothers and sisters in Christ, something often referred to as discipleship. You need it and I need
it. I need to be discipled. I need others to hold me accountable and to encourage me in the Lord.
I need people who know me well enough to speak to specific things in my life. That takes an
investment of time and intimacy. If you want that kind of thing in your life, come talk to me and
let’s see if we can’t make that happen.


Pastor’s Ponderings: July 2017

by John Armstrong

“Everyone is a theologian, some are good theologians, and some are bad.”  A theologian is someone who engages in theology (the study of God).   Are you a good theologian or a bad theologian?  Obviously, different people are going to answer that question differently depending on their perspective.  Let me propose to you that the Bible is God’s special revelation of Himself to man.  If that is true (it is), to be a good theologian, requires a knowledge and study of the Bible.  That is part of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Good disciples are good theologians eagerly putting themselves in the way of the Word so that they are fed and nurtured.  Now, if I were to form that idea as a test question, I’m pretty confident that you, dear reader, would have no problem answering it correctly.  However, that is not a question on a test, it is a question for your life.  It is a question for the lives of your children.  

I was speaking with a parent recently and we discussed the fact that our children are being discipled, even as we are being discipled.  This raises a number of questions: who is discipling our children and who is discipling us and what are we being discipled in?  You are either being discipled so that you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus or you are being discipled into something else?  The bottom line is, we are all being discipled one way or the other.  You cannot turn on media devices and not recognize, to some degree, that the media industry is working to “disciple” you in some way.  There are many organizations, corporations, and others who have an agenda they are trying to push.  You are being exposed to this kind of thing all of the time.  If you don’t counter the negative “discipling” of the world, you will tend to start thinking and acting like the world.  If you are being discipled in the Word of God, you will by God’s grace, start to think and act more like Jesus.  

Each generation must exercise its faith in Christ, God has no grandchildren.  So, your children are not saved on the basis of your faith.  That is why it is so vitally important to put them in the way of the Word from an early age.  Don’t think a couple of hours on Sunday mornings is sufficient to guard against the schemes of your enemy.  If you are going to stand firm against the devil’s schemes and against the effects of worldliness in this life, you need to pursue a robust discipleship.  It should come not as a burden or a duty, but as a delight for those in Christ Jesus.  To that end the Christian Education Committee of the church has changed its name to the Committee on Discipleship Ministries.  That change reflects a desire to engage the congregation more deliberately in the area of discipleship beyond what we are already doing on Sunday mornings.  It is my sincere hope that you will see the benefit of being discipled, and seek to be discipled yourself, as well as serving to encourage others by offering to be a discipler as the Lord leads you.  Our commission from the Lord is to make disciples.  We are called to be the disciples of Christ, actively seeking to grow in our own discipleship and giving it away to everyone that will listen.  Lord, make us faithful and fruitful disciples for the advancement of your kingdom and the glory of Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.



Pastor’s Ponderings: June 2017

 

by John Armstrong, Jr.
You are dying. I hope you are living, while you are dying, but you can’t escape the fact that your days upon this earth are numbered. Praise the Lord, that to be in Christ, means real living now and life eternal in the new heaven and the new earth. That is our hope as we live out this life that will end in death in this fallen world. Some of you took the opportunity to read together with us the book, Being Mortal, by Dr. Atul Gawande. This was an excellent book in many
ways and it would have been truly outstanding if Dr. Gawande were a Christian and have written from a Christian worldview. However, as Christians we need to be able to read the secular and bring our Christian worldview to bear in order to be able to rightly interpret common grace truths that are presented by non-believers. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are a Christian, all people know in their heart of hearts that we live in a world where, if we make it through all the potential disease or disasters that are possible and make it to old age that aging will eventually kill us. That is not a cheery thought, but that is where we live.
Now, I’m not interested in talking about dying and preparation for dying as the book Being Mortal addresses the subject. In this Pastor’s Pondering, I want us to think about, what the truth that we are mortal, that we are dying, means for us as a church. What does being mortal mean for you as a Christian? What does being mortal mean for you as a member of the church? The Lord willing, I will retire from ministry at Faith Church somewhere between 11 and 16 years
from now. That makes me wonder where will we be as a church at that time? Obviously, I hope we will be thriving and growing as a church. You have, no doubt, heard me pray for our church that God would grow us in depth as disciples of Jesus Christ and that He would grow us in number as new disciples come and join the church. That is a prayer I pray almost daily. What is your prayer for the church? What is your prayer for yourself as a disciple of the Lord Jesus? What is your prayer for yourself as an integral member of the body of Christ here at Faith Church? These are not rhetorical questions? These questions need to be answered thoughtfully and prayerfully. Yes, we need to be praying about what to pray.
The Session at Faith Church is beginning a process of strategic planning that we hope to complete and fully implement by the end of this year. The first thing we are doing is taking the next three months to lay some foundation. We are beginning to pray together and unison for growth on several fronts. First, we are praying for growth in grace as individuals. Then we are praying for growth in love and connection as a church. Third, we are praying for growth from outside the church, particularly from people being brought in to hear the gospel and being converted. Jesus has called us to go and make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey all He has commanded. Our prayer is that God would work in and through us so that we would indeed be a faithful and fruitful church for the sake of the kingdom.
If Jesus tarries, we will all die. This is my hope and prayer, that when we die and see our Savior face to face, may we all hear well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the rest of your Master. My challenge to you is to seek the Lord’s face and ask for growth in your life so that you will be faithful and fruitful all for God’s glory. So may He work in us what is pleasing to
Him.


Pastor’s Ponderings: May 2017

 

by John Armstrong Jr
Last week, I had the unique opportunity to serve in the nursery during the worship service. Most of you do that on a fairly regular basis, I on the other hand usually have other responsibilities, but I don’t take lightly the privilege of being able to care for the children in the nursery. By the way, I had a great time. With that, I would like to address child protection. Have you ever thought about what happens to those churches that go through some sort of incident involving children and abuse? It is not pretty, and for the sake of the kingdom, it is certainly something we want to avoid, if at all possible. We want all of our children to be safe and protected; which means we will need to take steps to ensure that is the case. A Child Protection Policy is something we as a church need to put in place in order to safeguard our children and child care ministry. This is something that has been a big topic of discussion within church circles and our own denomination for several years. At Faith Church, we have been talking about and developing a policy and have been wrestling with the best way to provide training for our care givers. There are all kinds of questions and issues that arise from this kind of thing. First you hear the “push back statements” like “We’ve never had to worry about that kind of thing before” or “That is something big churches need to worry about.” My question to those raising these kinds of objections is this, “Do you want to be the one to tell a parent whose child has been abused by someone at church that we didn’t have the proper safeguards in place because we’ve never had to worry about that kind of stuff before”? The Lord has equipped us with a love for and desire to protect our children so we need to do those things that make sense so we can ensure a safe environment. Nothing we do will be perfect, but if we do nothing we will be guilty of negligence.
So, I’m asking everyone in the congregation to approach this issue with a positive attitude that this is something that will be good for our church. If you have been in the nursery lately, you know that God has richly blessed us with an abundance of beautiful children. They are worth of our best efforts to provide a safe and nurturing environment when we gather as the people of God. I can’t tell you right now what changes we are going to make that will affect you directly if you participate in the blessing of caring for the children from time to time. I will say for sure we are going to be doing some training and establishing policies that will protect our children and our childcare providers. I do not need to tell you how important this is, it is pretty clear.


Pastor’s Ponderings: April 2017

by John Armstrong, Jr.

I like asking questions because it gives me insight into what people are thinking and about their experience. There is much to be learned by asking good questions. Now, I understand that there is a big difference between liking to ask questions and ability to ask good questions (which implies, allowing the space for them to do their work). I can get impatient wanting to receive the answers that I want and then I want to move on because life is continuing to happen regardless of my questions. Sometimes, I get so busy and am so inundated with information that I don’t take the time to stop and process that information. I can go for a long time without really thinking; I’m just functioning. Maybe you can relate to that. I find that I need to ask myself questions in order to force myself to think. Processing the answers leads to change and growth. Just getting a quick answer and moving on doesn’t bear lasting fruit. I find myself asking questions most often when I make mistakes. What do you do when you make a mistake? If you want to get to know who someone really is, watch them closely when they make a mistake. This is where the questions come in. A bit, fat mistake is sitting there in front of you and you cannot escape it, you have to own it. Now, what do you do? Where did that mistake come from? Was it purposeful? Was it sinful? Was it caused by ignorance or inattention on my part? What is the damage? Were people hurt? All these questions and more go through my mind when I have to face up to a mistake. The answers to the questions dictate my action. If you have stayed with me this far, you deserve an answer to the “where are we going” question.
Well I want to give you something that is practical theology, something that will bring the gospel to bear in your life on a daily basis. So, what mistakes have you made lately? I have made many… So, every mistake is an opportunity to grow in grace or to stay stuck in a rut. When I make a mistake, there are always things that need to be done to deal with the problem. First of all, I have the challenge of dealing with the mistake in a way that does not leave me stranded in the quagmire of my own doubt and self-loathing. Beating myself up over mistakes come easy for me and this is where I need the gospel, otherwise I tend to focus on myself and that can be paralyzing. This is where I need to be reminded, that I am far more loved and cherished than I can possibly imagine and that my failings cannot remove me from the love of my heavenly Father. In Christ, I am safe to acknowledge my mistakes and step out in the freedom of the gospel to keep following Jesus by faith. It is in that freedom that I am then able to humble myself and apologize to someone for doing damage to them in some way. That too is an exercise of the gospel in my life and theirs. God will grow you through the exercise of that discipline of repenting and seeking forgiveness. These are powerful tools that the Holy Spirit can use every day in each of our lifes. I hope you will remember that the next time you are staring at that mistake you do not want to have to own. Look to Jesus, ask the hard questions, and know that your growth in grace is His great delight. The Holy Spirit is working even through our failings to make us more like Jesus. Praise the Lord!


The Voice of the Martyrs Advance Conference

Many Christians around the world today are persecuted because of their faith in Christ, yet they continue to advance the gospel through their lives and words. At the VOM Advance Conference you will meet persecuted Christians and hear their inspirational testimonies.

There is no charge to attend the VOM Advance Conference. Register online today and bring a friend!

Please join us Saturday, March 18, for the VOM Advance Conference.

 
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