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.

 
Use this link to register
 
 


Nigeria’s Forgotten Christians

In Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country, Christians don’t have time to worry about culture wars. They’re too busy facing a
real
one instigated by their Muslim neighbors and by a government that has studiously decided to look the other way. The scope of the violence is so vast as to be almost beyond belief, so let me first give you a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground.
 
To see the rest of the article use the link below


Pastor’s Pondering: December 2016

When it comes to the end of the year, I’m always apt to write something about Christmas. This year I thought I would write about something a little less cheery. It is at this point that many of you will want to bail out of reading any further, but allow me to challenge you to hang in there and I will do my best to make it worth your while to read on. As many of you are probably aware we have in the last year had a growing number of folks in the church that are dealing with parents who are in various transitions due to the process of aging. Right now I can count all the folks in the church dealing with these issues on two hands, but if we have any more I may have to take my socks off (just a little joke from a graduate of Texas A&M). I usually don’t put a title on my Pastor’s Pondering, but if I were, I would entitle this one, “Winter Comes.” Let me tell you now, the winter of your life is coming inexorably.
 
Everyone has to deal with their aging parents and after aging parents die, then it comes your time to be in their place and your family will be faced with helping you through the process. As Christians, I think we should be, of all people, the best at handling aging and the transitions that come with it. Now having said that, we need to take an honest look at how we are doing and ask hard questions. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance. So, what are your plans in regards to this issue? Many people don’t think about these things until something happens that forces them to have to think about it. Usually that comes long after we should have put plans in place to make provision for our loved ones. Why are we talking about this now? Well a member of the congregation put a book in my hands that really challenged me to start thinking more seriously about these issues. With my own parents I was fortunate to have sisters living nearby that did an excellent job of caring for my parents and my parents did a pretty good job of planning ahead. However, I’m aware of other situations and some of them are very difficult.
 

As the Teaching Elder of the church, I think we need to take some time to study this issue. We are going to go about it a little differently than we might otherwise do a book study. I want us as a congregation (any who are interested) to read and discuss the book, Being Mortal, by a man named Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is not a Christian, but he has written a very compelling book that I think would act as a great catalyst for our discussion and further study of this important topic. Around the first of the year look for opportunities to sign up for the book and when we get them we’ll start a reading period (probably 2 months). At the end of the reading period, we’ll set up a time to come together for discussion. Also be aware that the women will also be doing a study of this book. This is such an important topic it will be good to study it in several different venues. I hope you will avail yourself of this important opportunity.



Pastor’s Pondering: November 2016

The men had a Saturday morning seminar back in September led by Dr. Gary Yagel called “Strengthening Your Family’s Foundation.”  Gary was the pastor at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church before leaving that calling to pursue working in men’s ministry full time.  Gary is one of the top men’s ministry leaders in the PCA and it is wonderful for us to have him in our Presbytery where he serves as a ready resource.  As an outgrowth of the seminar we are doing a men’s small group meeting at the church for a short six-week study of a booklet entitled “Loving Our Wives Well.”  This booklet study has been outstanding for those who are choosing to participate with us Tuesday nights.  We have men in the group ranging from “hoping to be married” to those who have been married for over 50 years.  So I’m excited to say it is a good mix of younger men along with the more mature.  When we think about the needs of the church, we try to be balanced in the discipling opportunities that we provide.  I hope the ladies who are giving up having their husbands at home on Tuesday night are finding the sacrifice is bearing good fruit.

Just by way of information, so far we have studied the “Noble Calling” of being a husband, a  woman’s need for “Emotional Intimacy,” and a woman’s need for her husband to a be a “full partner” at home.  We began our study of our calling as husbands with Ephesians 5:25,Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…  The hard truth that Paul tells us is that marriage is not about me, nor meeting my sinful desires.  Marriage is about sacrifice, it is a sacrifice worth making as we give up our independence in order to love and serve our spouse.  That is a great concept, but what man can do that on his own?  It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the Spirit of Christ in our lives that we are able to overcome our passivity and complacency to really nurture and cherish our wives.  It is great to see men praying for the ability to truly love their wives in a sacrificial way.

Building on the idea of sacrificial love, we studied the need for men to be emotionally intimate with their wives.  Becoming “one flesh” emotionally means a joining of their lives through the sharing of their minds, wills, and emotions.  For some men, this is the most daunting aspect of marriage because they not only have to listen to and engage their wife’s thoughts and feelings, which is no small thing, they also have to open up and share themselves.  Another area of study has been complimenting our wife’s strengths and weaknesses in helping around the house.  God said it is not good for the man to be alone, so He created the woman.  Women work, they work in the home and sometimes they work outside the home, but by and large, they work.  They need a husband’s full partnership in that work in order for the family to grow and thrive and for her to feel his love and care.  Find out where she needs your help and help her.  Think about those things where she is better suited than yourself and free her to do those things.  Those are a couple of way you can build intimacy and strength in your marriage.  So there you have a quick run down of what the men have been studying on Tuesday nights.  Let’s pray together that the Lord would bear much good fruit from our study.



Pastor’s Pondering: October 2016

We did something new and different in Sunday school on three Sundays in September and I hope you found it worthwhile.  We invited all the ladies of the church to come to a “Women’s only” Sunday school class and made sure all the other responsibilities in the church were covered by the men.  The men also had their own class taught by Charlie Van Meter.  I wanted to thank the men who made this possible from those working in the nursery to all the primary Sunday school grades.  Yours was a service to the church well rendered.  For the ladies who made the effort to attend, I know it was a very big effort for some of you, I am very grateful to you for taking the time to come and be a part.

The Session decided the teaching elder of the church should be the one to teach the women’s class, so it was my great privilege to be the only man in a room full of women.   I was excited to get the opportunity and enjoyed every minute of teaching the ladies of the church.  The title of the class, for those who were either not able to attend or are of the masculine gender, was “Community of Rest.”  We took a look at the biblical doctrine of rest and spent some time looking at what that means in the context of the church.  The people of God have been given a pattern of one day in seven to rest because we are created in God’s image and God created rest when He “rested” from His work of creation.  That is not to say that He ceased being active is sustaining His creation.  Biblical rest is not a lack of activity there are things to be done.  Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

 We see that rest is found in Jesus.  Rest is not freedom from the yoke, but taking up Jesus’ yoke. 

In the church, rest has to do with coming together for worship and fellowship, it has to do with relationships that are centered on Christ, relationships that are in and of themselves spiritually refreshing.  We are talking about relationships that encourage us to walk in the Spirit, to grow in grace, and to follow hard after Christ.  These are transformative relationships and we want to foster these kinds of relationships here at Faith Church.  That is what church is to be about, serving God together and looking forward to those little tastes of heaven that we get here together that point us to our true and full heavenly rest that is to come.

These are some challenging concepts and the ladies were given several opportunities to break out into small groups to discuss what we learned.  I was very encouraged by the amount of energy and enthusiasm that was apparent in the groups.  In fact, I felt bad when I had to cut them short because class was about over.

So where do we go from here?  Well, the Session and the Christian Education Committee will be discussing what we found and seeing how we might grow from this experience.  We will keep you informed as we progress in our pursuit of being a community of rest.