Pastor’s Ponderings: February 2020

by John Armstrong
 

Growing pains, I know some people who have gone through them and it was not pleasant.  I don’t remember ever having growing pains while I was younger.  All the growing pains I’ve ever experienced have been from growing older and breaking down.  So, why would I be talking about growing pains?  Well, I’m sitting here waiting for a group to gather with an architect so we can get a bid on what it would cost to do a facilities review of our building and grounds.  We have come to a place as a church body, that we need to see how we might better use the space we have and find out if there is anything we can do beyond our current footprint in order to give us more space to grow. 

Growing is a good thing.  Healthy things grow.  If our kids don’t grow we become immediately concerned and do whatever we can to make sure they are experiencing healthy growth.  Why would that be any different when we are talking about the church?  The church needs to grow and by God’s grace, it is growing.  Again, healthy things grow.  So, growth is a sign of health (it is not the only sign, and certainly our growth must be measured in fruit being borne of faithful gospel ministry).  If we are rightly preaching the Gospel, then people should be growing individually as disciples of Christ and the church should be growing in number as people hear the gospel and are converted. 

Most of our growth has come from one of two ways.  First, we are certainly growing through childbirth which is a great praise and it is concerning our children where we are going to be feeling the growing pains most acutely.  Secondly, we have had a lot of what is typically called, “transfer” growth.  That is not a bad thing if people come to our church and find a place they can call home and get plugged in.  I’m not interested in “stealing sheep” from other churches so we don’t go around seeking to recruit people to transfer in, but if God brings them here, then praise the Lord!  The kind of growth the leadership would like to see and I think we can all agree is that of conversion growth.  We would love to see people coming and hearing the gospel and making professions of faith in Jesus Christ.  That means we need to pray for non-believers to come and then we need to be looking for non-believers to invite in.

Now, the fact is we are growing and we are faced with the challenges that presents.  In the short run, that means we are probably going to get a little more uncomfortable until we can change things to provide a more comfortable experience in our facilities.  What does that mean for you personally?  I think it means we are each going to need to be patient and understanding about our limitations within our facility.  It also means we need to be praying that God would work mightily in providing for the growth that we are experiencing and that He would continue to bless and grow us.  I praise God for this place He has brought us to, and am looking forward to where He is leading Faith Church.  



Pastor’s Ponderings: January 2020

by John Armstrong
 

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we were worried about Y2K.  Here we are on the cusp of 2020 and what do we have in store for the next twenty years?  The last twenty went by in a flash.  I’m guessing the next twenty will be gone before we know it.  Life is like that and that shouldn’t surprise us. 

Listen to what James has to say about it in 4:13-15, 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. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

None of us know what tomorrow will bring, that is true.  We make all kinds of elaborate plans and we all have dreams and desires, but none of us know if we’ll be given the days to fulfill those things.  We also need to realize that many of our dreams and desires are self-serving and not in line with the will of God. 

OK, you’re probably thinking, that pastor is one of those “glass half-empty” kind of guys.  Well, I have to admit, I can be that way.  But look what the Bible has to say about it.  Our life is like a vapor or a mist that is at once here and before you know it is gone.  So what are we supposed to do with that?  This is where you find the competing philosophies of life.  You have on one side the man-focused philosophies that are represented by the old Schlitz Beer Commercials whose slogan was, “You only go around once in life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can…”  Another way of putting this is often seen on bumper stickers that say, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” 

If all there is in life is serving yourself, then the whole purpose of life must be to do everything you can to make yourself happy.  That becomes a miserable existence, because serving the idol of self is never satisfying, because you are not God and you don’t have the capability of satisfying yourself. The only satisfaction in this life will be found in living this life as you were designed and created to live it.  God designed to find your deepest satisfaction and fulfillment in serving Him.  Any philosophy, any way of life that doesn’t take you in that direction is going to be ultimately dissatisfying. 

Come back to James and look at the text.  He isn’t saying don’t make plans, he is saying commit your plans to the Lord knowing that He is sovereign over all things.  Serve the Lord with the life that you have been given, serve Him in the place where you find yourself.  As He opens doors for you, go through them and pursue knowing and growing in Christ. This is where we come to another verse that sheds light on this life for us: Matthew 10: 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  There are folks out there making all kinds of money telling you how to have your best life now.  Your best life now is all about losing your life and taking up your cross in order to follow Jesus.  This life will be over all too soon, don’t waste it trying to find satisfaction in things that could never deliver.  If you want your best life now and forever, put off the old man and put on the new and follow Jesus.

My prayer is that 2020 will be a year full of life for you and for our church.  May the Lord guide and direct our steps for His glory as we face this year and in Him may we have life and that abundantly. 



Pastor’s Ponderings: December 2019

by John Armstrong
 
Thanksgiving is passed us and soon Christmas will be a memory and a New Year will begin, but
let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Time is relentless in its undeterred march ever onward.
The questions we must be asking ourselves is what are we doing with the time we have been
given. It is a question that needs to be asked often. You know as well as I do that at the end of
December there will be the dreaded New Year’s resolutions. I think it is a good thing to take
time out from time to time to take stock of our lives and how we are living them. I submit to
you, while you are dreading the New Year’s resolution thing, that we should be taking time
daily to do brief reviews of our lives. That should be part of our daily prayer life. We do well to
also have a weekly or bi-weekly time where we check in with a trusted friend or mentor with
whom we have a discipleship relationship. Then we also do well to take some time to have
more serious reflection on how things are going in our life. As we come into the Holiday Season
with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, we are faced with a time that is tailor made for
reflection. What are you thankful for? What difference does the birth of Jesus make in your
life? How are you going to serve Jesus this year? These are a couple of simple questions for
any Christian as we experience these holidays. There are a bunch of questions like that I could
ask. Then the question becomes, will I ask those of myself? Will I take an honestly searching
look at my life and invite the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the dark recesses of my life and
clean out the clutter that is there. That takes real courage. That takes Holy Spirit enabled
courage.
Now, hear me clearly, I’m not advocating a morbid introspection, where you spend long hours
determining all the ways you fail the Lord day to day. That is not healthy spiritually or
emotionally. You should already know that you are a hopeless sinner. Otherwise, why would
the Son of God have to die to save you? Don’t ever think this is about holy navel gazing so that
you can try harder to do better. That is not a godly pursuit. When the Holy Spirit convicts you
of sin, confess it and repent. Repentance means that you are going to take steps to put that sin
to death. In other words you are going to work at not doing that sin anymore. Confession is
agreeing with God that you sin is sin, and repentance is agreeing with God that sin doesn’t
belong in your life and you are seeking the Holy Spirit’s help to put that sin to death, by the
grace of God, for the glory of God, because He loves you and you want to show your love for
Him. If you come to Him in times of reflecting asking, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the
way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24)!” If that is the attitude in your reflection, then you will be
well prepared to receive God’s direction for how He would have you move forward in your life
in service to Him.


Pastor’s Ponderings: November 2019

by John Armstrong
 
The end of October is here and I’m 37,000 feet over the Amazon on a six hour flight from
Asuncion, Paraguay to Panama City. You may be wondering why I’m here, why I’m spending my
time and money to go down to Paraguay on Presbytery business? That is a valid question and
since we are nearing the end of October and the beginning of November when we as a church
typically focus on mission work, I think it is important to write about these things.
As most of you are probably aware, our church, the Presbyterian Church in America is a small
denomination that is composed of several thousand churches across the country. Each church
has its own elders, both teaching and ruling elders that make up the local court of the church
we call a “session.” The elders of a particular region make up a Presbytery, our Presbytery is
called “Potomac” and encompasses the Washington D.C. area. The elders from every church in
the nation then make up the “General Assembly.” We are a “grass roots” denomination
because the power and authority of the church is not something that flows from top-down, but
from bottom-up. The work of the church happens at the local level and is supported from the
local level. As the Teaching Elder of Faith Church, I’m a member of the Presbytery and subject
to the authority of the Presbytery. The Ruling Elders of Faith Church are members of the
church and they are also counted members of the Presbytery. Now, what does this have to do
with me being on a trip to Paraguay?
Martin Hudzinski and I are members of a “Provisional Presbytery” for a mission work down in a
Paraguay. This is a work that was established by the General Assembly as requested by
Potomac Presbytery, which we received as a request from the church in Paraguay. They
wanted oversight from a Presbyterian body and since we were connected to them through
relationships already formed here in the U.S., that was the logical course of action. There are
three churches that we are working with in Paraguay that are seeking to establish their own
national reformed Presbyterian denomination. They are not yet at a place where they are big
enough to establish their own Presbytery, so they need help. So, we have a “Provisional
Presbytery” that serves as a “commission” meaning we can act as a Presbytery, examining,
ordaining, and installing men to ministry as well as a number of other things. They benefit from
having others come to lend a hand in the work so they know that they are not alone in trying to
make godly and wise decisions. Mutual accountability and encouragement is one of the
beauties of our Presbyterian system. Our hopes are for the churches in Paraguay to be able to
stand up as a Presbytery in the next two years. They need to have a minimum of four churches
and they are getting close to that goal.
I would like to thank the congregation for giving me the time to go and do the work of the
Presbytery. It is a sacrifice on the part of the local church, but it also benefits the church in the
ways I grow through this work. As you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to thank
Martin Hudzinski for going down to Paraguay to participate. It is easier for a teaching elder to
go do this kind of work, but it is more difficult for a ruling elder to take time off from his job to
go and support this kind of thing. I want you to understand that it is critical to the work of the
Presbytery and to the health of our denomination for our ruling elders to participate actively
and fully in the life of the Presbytery and denomination. Martin serves as the Chairman of our
Presbytery’s Mission to the World Committee. I’ll close with this request, that you pray for
your elders as they go and do the work not only caring for the local church, but taking the work
out to the world. Please remember Rich Rochford, David Johnston, and myself as we go with
the Faith Church team down to Colombia beginning on November 11 th .


Pastor’s Ponderings: October 2019

by John Armstrong
 

As I write this, the leaves are falling and we are three months away from our Christmas Eve Service (and Bob!).  What does that have to do with anything?  Not much, it just helps us to orient where we are in the year.  I never cease to be amazed with the rapidity that I again find myself having to write these pieces for the Tapestry.  For the faithful few of you who read these things, I hope you find them helpful.    Every third Monday and Tuesday of September, the Potomac Presbytery has its annual retreat.  At these retreats, we have a speaker who comes in and usually does three large group sessions.  The speakers are usually noteworthy Christian leaders, and this year was no exception. Dr. Diane Langberg is a clinical Psychologist in practice in the Philadelphia area.  She has been in the PCA for 41 years.  She is a successful author and international speaker and authority on the subject of trauma and abuse.  So, why would a bunch of pastors go on a retreat and invite a woman to come speak on trauma and abuse?   On the face of it, that sounds neither relaxing nor edifying.    The church needs to talk about trauma and abuse because it isn’t just the problem of those people over there.  It is a problem in every church, no Christians are immune to it.  I have seen its effects many times in the lives of people that God has brought me into contact with in the congregations I have served.  If you have been around me for very long, you’ve probably heard me say, “we are all sinners who have been sinned against.”  That is true.  Many of us have suffered abuse and trauma.  Just look at the statistics, they are staggering.  If you say hello to four people at church on any given Sunday morning, you can be almost certain that you have spoken to someone who has suffered abuse and trauma.  Sadly, those are conservative numbers.   If you are the person who has suffered abuse and trauma, I’m sorry, that grieves my heart for you, and I want you to know that you are welcome at Faith Church and we will not shy away from what has happened to you.  If you want to talk about it, or if you want to find help to deal with it, we are committed to making that happen.  I’m being careful not to be too specific about what constitutes abuse and trauma.  These things take on many forms.  We tend to think in terms of sexual or physical abuse and we need to be mindful of these because they are very common, but we need to think in terms of emotional and psychological abuse as well.  Sometimes, that abuse can be as simple as unguarded words that can and do inflict great harm.    I’m purposefully not going to pursue any further categorization so we don’t obfuscate the issue.  My point in bringing this up is that I want us to recognize that we are not immune in our nice, small church in the suburbs of Frederick.  The threat is real and we must guard against it at every level, whatever type of abuse it may be.  The Session is working to address these issues, so that we provide a safe environment for our children and all the people of our congregation.  This is an on-going effort that will take hard work and diligence.  It will also require vulnerability and wisdom.  Please pray for the Session and for our church that God will give us the wisdom and strength that we need to deal with the damage that comes from trauma and abuse.  Also, pray that God will protect us from these things as He grows us in grace.  We will be working to continue to address issues of abuse and trauma wherever they may arise in our sphere of influence. 



Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2019

by John Armstrong
 
Let me say right up front, this will be a confrontational Pastor’s Pondering. I hope to confront your idols, even as I confront some of my own. What is idolatry? It is putting anything before our worship or service to God. So, I’m writing a short article on idolatry. That will be enough for some of you to quit reading this and look for something that is a bit more comfortable. I hope that you can recognize, that too is in some ways idolatry. When I’m confronted with something that makes me uncomfortable, I avoid it. When it’s something that is going to infringe upon my comforts and I’d rather avoid it than do what I know the Lord would have me do, is that not in and of itself idolatrous? Comfort has been a huge idol in my life and it is one that needs to be confronted daily and torn down. What comfort have I sought at the expense of the abundant life that is found in Christ? I want to challenge you with a couple of comforts that you may not think are idols. Let’s start with change or doing things differently. I’m comfortable with things that I know. I’ve put things in my life that I know and understand. Therefore, I keep surprises to a minimum and can muddle on in regular routine. I like doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. I’m comfortable with that. Where do you see that reflected in Scripture? Where do you see an encouragement or command to do what you always do without seeking to grow and mature in the Lord. Growing and maturing in the Lord are going to force you to do some things differently. It is unavoidable. You are going to have to get out of your comfort zone to grow and become more fruitful. Think of the pruning metaphor we find in John 15. The Holy Spirit is going to prune us to make us more fruitful and that is going to be anything but comfortable. But recognize that is God working in your life which may not be comfortable, but it is comforting to know the Almighty has set His love upon you and is working in you for His glory. One other comfort I would like to challenge is vital to the life of our church. The leadership of the church has been reading a little book entitled, Becoming A Welcoming Church, by Thom Rainer. If you would like to read it, you should be able to find a copy on the book table. If not, come ask me. Anyway, one of the big things that makes a church welcoming, is people that reach out to the stranger and invite them in to become a part of what is going on. Yes, I realize what I’m saying; we have to talk to people we don’t know. Some of you are beginning to break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of such an outrageous act of kindness and discomfort. It is a kindness, to welcome the stranger and to seek to make them feel at home. Put yourself in their place. You have been the new person before. You know the discomfort of not knowing anyone and wondering if any of these strangers might reach out with a friendly word and seek to make you apart of things. It is a kindness, it is an act of selfless love to welcome the stranger. It is a discomfort, it is inconvenient, it takes putting someone else’s needs before my own. It is a little dying to self. Are you willing to forego your comfort to welcome the stranger? I’ll close with this quote from my old friend Ed Hartman, “When it feels like death, you know it's the gospel.” Father, make us gospel people.


Pastor’s Ponderings: August 2019

by John Armstrong
 
As we head into “high Summer” I thought it appropriate that we talk about some issues that we are having around the church. Some issues are good to have and we have them. I thought I would address some of these because they will change how we regularly function as a church. We are growing and that means things are going to have to change. As much as we may resist change, we’ve been praying for growth in grace as disciples and growth in number as the Lord brings people to our fellowship. So, what are the issues? I’m going to address these in no particular order. First, let’s talk about children, they are a blessing from the Lord and an answer to prayer. So, first let me say, “Praise the Lord for our children!!” With the blessing of children comes the reality that they require a lot of attention and space. We are concerned to protect our children and thus we are making changes to our nursery procedures and the way we approach safety and security in the church. In today’s environment, that means we have to do background checks and a lot of other things to make sure we are providing a safe environment. Lots of kids means we need increased vigilance and enough adults (screened and trained) to take care of those covenant children. Another aspect of more kids is a mobility issue. Kids are highly mobile and have a tendency to run in the church, which in and of itself is not bad, until you add other people. Kids running through the hall or dodging and darting around more seasoned, less mobile folks can be dangerous. Currently, there are particular concerns when adults are crowding around in the narthex or in the aisles to get out of the sanctuary. When kids run through that maze of folks, it makes many uncomfortable, because they are fearful of falling, and rightfully so. We don’t want people uncomfortable in our church gatherings. We don’t want anyone getting hurt. So, we need to work on encouraging our kids to take their exuberant running and playing outside. This is a parental issue as well as any member of the church that has taken vows, to help with encouraging the children to walk carefully around others and to do their running and playing outside away from where adults are congregating. A third issue is storage space. As we grow, our space is at a premium and we are beginning to take steps to work on managing our space better. That means we are working on storage space. We are going to be organizing and cleaning out. That means some things are going away. Good organization and cleaning requires a bit of ruthlessness when it comes to getting rid of stuff. We have lots of stuff that needs to go away. That said, if you have stuff at the church that you want, take it home. Also, don’t bring more stuff here, unless it is something we have asked for. Our church facility often ends up being the dumping ground for well-meaning people who bring “good” stuff that never ends up being used. That stuff needs to go away and your bringing it here adds more work. The ReStore, Salvation Army, Rescue Mission, and Goodwill are very good options for your stuff. You don’t have to come to Faith Church for long before you realize meeting space is also at a premium. We thank God for our facility! As we grow, we are feeling the need to steward the space well and that requires more coordination. You are welcome to use our facility, we want it used, but we don’t have enough space to let that go unregulated. Therefore, we need the committees, small groups, etc. who want to meet to coordinate with Brittney for space and time.
One last thing in terms of space. The Sr. High room belongs to the Sr. High for Sunday school and Youth Group meetings. After Sunday school and during the Worship service that space is currently being used for nursing mothers. Please respect that space. We ask that no one enter that space but nursing mothers with their children during those times. We are growing and whether we like it or not, that means change has to take place and change is often painful. The Session and Diaconate are looking at ways for us to deal with the issues that are arising and we covet your prayers for wisdom for how best to deal with these. Please mark your calendars for Saturday, September 21st because we are going to celebrate the 40th  Anniversary of being in our building and at that time the Session in conjunction with our Strategic Committee will present the results of our Church Health Survey and some of the priorities that we believe the Lord would have us pursue as a congregation with regard to our facility, and our function as a church. Exciting times are ahead and I hope that you are as encouraged as I am to see the Lord at work in our midst. May the Lord richly bless Faith Church with wisdom and strength as He grows us for His glory.


Pastor’s Ponderings: June 2019

by John Armstrong
 
It is already June, the Church Retreat is over, kids are graduating, schools are letting out, and astronomically speaking, Summer will be here in a couple of weeks. It is an exciting time of year, everything seems to be growing. My garden is growing, the weeds are coming up at a furious pace and thankfully we’ve had lots of rain, so those same weeds are fairly easy to pull. There is something fascinating to me about growing things. I’m amazed at how fast my grass grows and how fast the weeds around my backyard go from cut back to veritable jungle. My wife goes out from time to time on her rounds spraying the weeds in the ongoing war that we wage with them. Someday I will reclaim the weed patch in the back and we’ll expand our garden to put that under cultivation. In a little way, it is fulfilling the creation mandate to bring the earth into submission, to tame the undisciplined wilderness into a cultivated and fruitful garden. Now, why am I talking about these things? Well, I want you to take the metaphor of cultivating a garden and particularly the idea of organic growth and I want you to then think in terms of the church. Bear with me here. If you have ever spoken to me about church programs/ministries at any length, you’ve probably heard me speak about, what I like to call “organic” growth. I use the term “organic” in juxtaposition with programs, by that I mean, we in the church can come up with programs and put them in place and advertise and do all kinds of things to try and get people to participate. This is not illegitimate, we do this sometimes and it is very good. For example, we hope the 40 th Anniversary celebration that we are having this year will go very well. That will fall into this kind of programmatic category. Now, when we are talking about ministry that leads to greater discipleship and service, I think it is very difficult to start and maintain that as a program. Yes, I can get a group together and make something happen, I can do that in some sense because I’m the pastor and some people will participate because this is something that I want to have happen. The problem with this is, people often will participate in order to support the pastor, that is hard to sustain because they are not participating because they see the need for this ministry and want to be a part. When someone sees a ministry need in the church and finds they have a heart desire to meet that need (eg. coming to the pastor and volunteering to lead a group to take care of the need), I call that organic. It is not a program that the pastor thought up and is trying to put into place. It is something the Holy Spirit has laid on someone’s heart and is subsequently equipping them to do that ministry. That is the kind of ministry growth we want to see at Faith Church. I call that organic growth, I didn’t generate it, God generated it, and that kind of growth will be both fruitful and edifying. That is the environment where people thrive in using their spiritual gifts. I would encourage you to join me in praying for more “organic” growth in our church. Let’s go work where God is working. Waiting around for the church to start up a ministry that will meet your needs and desires is a consumer mindset. We are not called to be consumers, we are called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, who faithfully take up our crosses day to day and follow in His footsteps. Drop the consumerism and embrace the servanthood of belonging to Christ. That is where abundant life waits for you.


Pastor’s Ponderings: May 2019

by John Armstrong
 
As many of you are aware, we have over the last couple of years done some focused Sunday school classes we’ve called, “Community of Rest.” I sincerely hope that you had the opportunity to participate in one or more of those classes. The focus of those classes was to get the women of the church together while the men covered children’s Sunday school, nursery, etc. and had a class of their own. We started out with the idea of having a special class for the women to encourage them, but as we planned and processed it became something more than that. We ended up with classes taught by Charlie Van Meter and myself that sought to get across what it means to be the church. The church is the people of God, the church is our brothers and sisters in Christ that we gather to worship with on Sundays and that we sometimes gather with during the week for Bible Study, prayer, and fellowship. The church is to be a community of rest, it is a place to come and rest, not a rest that is marked by inactivity, but a rest that is restorative, and encouraging. We are talking about a gospel rest that is built up and thrives in the company of other believers who encourage each other to be “resting” in Christ. By now, I’m hoping that all of you are aware of Faith Church’s Retreat that will be held May 31 st – June 2 nd at the Bongiorno Retreat Center in Carlisle, PA. This will be an excellent opportunity to come and participate in the “community of rest” as we get away as a church family and enjoy some focused time in fellowship and study. This is an important time in the life of our church and we have budgeted significantly for it in order that as many can attend as possible. We don’t want cost to be a hindrance to anyone. We have a special guest speaker, Randy Newman. Randy is an author of several books on evangelism. He has extensive ministry experience and he will be leading us to think more deeply about all it means to become a welcoming church. Worship, Discipleship, and Outreach will all be a part of what we have planned for the weekend. We’ll have times of study in these areas and we’ll also have time to worship and recreate together. (For those staying home, there will be no Sunday school, but we will worship on Sunday morning as usual here in Frederick.) So, you may be asking, ‘why am I taking my entire Pastor’s Pondering to address this?’ It is important to the life of our church that we foster healthy relationships and function between members. If any church is going to thrive, the church (the people) must love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, having a time to get away together and get to know each other better and have some teaching about our mutual purpose is of great value. That said, it is my sincere hope that you will make time to attend and to really participate in this retreat. If you have any questions about the retreat, please address them to David Johnston or John Armstrong. If you are going to need financial assistance, please see one of the deacons and they will be happy to help you. I look forward to seeing you at the retreat.


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.