Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2007

It was a real pleasure for me to have Dale and Kathy Hollenbeck worship with us on the 9th of September. Dale and Kathy are missionaries to Uganda and old friends from seminary. Dale is an MTW missionary and an instructor at the Uganda Bible Institute (UBI). UBI is a school for pastors serving to prepare men to lead in the many churches that have no pastor. It is hard for us to fathom the situation where 66% of the churches in Uganda have no pastor.

The Hollenbecks are supposed to return to Uganda near the end of September, but they still have outstanding financial needs. Support must be raised to cover those needs in order for them to return to the field. I do not bring that up in order to ask the church to support them. Whether or not we support them is a matter for the Mission Committee to decide pending approval by the Session. What I did want to do with this is to bring your attention to the fact that Dale was asked to tell about his mission work in conjunction with the sermon he delivered. He chose not to do that because (although being almost $1,000 a month short of his needs) he took the preaching of God's word as too important to be mixed with telling about his ministry and needs. For that, and many other things, I deeply respect the man.

Now let me encourage you with this, the real reason I am writing. The Hollenbecks have been back in the United States since May. They have been on the road most of that time trying to raise support. That means every Sunday trying to get to at least one if not two churches to report back to old supporters or tell new potential supporters about what God is doing in their ministry. Home missionary assignment is not a vacation, it is a grueling experience that has taken Dale, Kathy and their three little boys from Iowa to California to Mississippi and now back to Virginia. So you ask, “What is so encouraging about that?” Well I've painted the picture so far in order to tell you what the Hollenbecks shared with me about Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. Remember, they have never visited our church before and there is no guarantee that we as a church will have any further relationship with them. In other words, they have no vested interest in saying anything positive or negative about FRPC.

Having been in more than 20 churches over the last few months, the Hollenbecks thought our church was refreshing. Here are some of the things they shared with me. They were encouraged by the warmness with which they were received by the congregation. Dale said he was very impressed with the way people were paying attention during the sermon, even when he went past noon. He said, “They were up in their seats, really connected.” Both Dale and Kathy really loved the congregational singing. Dale said he felt such joy in the singing at one point he just had to stop and listen. They both spoke of the sense of really being engaged in the worship of God. If you were one of the many paying attention during the sermon you probably heard Dale say he was impressed with the concern for reaching out that was expressed in the leader's prayer time before the service. That continued after the service as the Hollenbecks watched how the congregation dealt with visitors and with each other. They said this is the kind of church of which they would want to be a part.

That said, I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised by what they shared. I was pleasantly surprised, but surprised none-the-less. Sometimes when we get close to something it is hard to step back and get a fresh perspective. If what the Hollenbecks were saying is true, then praise the Lord, we are growing! We are growing in our ability to share the love of Jesus with those that come to visit. We are growing in our worship of the living God. We have a growing desire to hear and know God's word. Nothing could be more encouraging to me. I hope you are encouraged as well. That said; let me tell you that I am not so close to the issue that I don't see the areas where we still need to grow. We cannot rest on one good testimony. Take it as a gracious providence from God for our encouragement to be spurred on to love and good deeds. Brothers and sisters let us love our God supremely and let us love one another and let that love spill over to those the Lord would be pleased to bring into our sphere of influence. Pray for our church's growth in grace and godliness. Pray for our growth in number, that the Lord would be pleased for the gospel to advance powerfully at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. Pray these things for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.



Pastor’s Ponderings: February 2007

This is my second attempt at writing this article. I usually don't have trouble writing, but this time I'm struggling. I'm struggling because I have too much to say in the allotted space that I have in this newsletter. I want this to come across on two levels; first I am speaking to you as an individual and second I am speaking to the congregation as a whole. There are so many things I need to teach on, there are so many things we need to learn. Sometimes it is hard to know where to start. I will start with this statement: Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church needs to reform her worship.

No doubt some of you will quickly jump to conclusions and take offense. Let me assure you, you need not take offense, because there is not a church in existence this side of heaven that does not need to reform its worship. We should be always reforming, that is part of our reformed heritage. If ours were a perfect church then you would not be here and I can guarantee you that I would not be the pastor. So, that said, let us consider our worship of the living God.

Worship is about love. It is about a whole-hearted devotion to God. That is where we begin or is it? Maybe I should say that is where we should begin. The Session feels the weight of the responsibility of bringing the congregation before the Lord in worship and to offer up worship to the living God that is excellent. To that end the Session regularly takes time to discuss our worship practices. We ask questions of our worship:

1) Is it biblical?

2) Is it Christ-centered?

3) Is it God-honoring?

4) Do the excellencies of Christ shine forth?

5) Is the Spirit present?

6) Are sinners cut to the heart?

7) Is the Gospel presented clearly?

8) Do we exhibit attitudes that are worshipful?

9) Do we really worship or are we just trying to get a “x” in the block?

Those questions and many more inhabit my thoughts and subsequently I share them with the Session. They often share the same questions and they have others as well. That is a good thing. That shows that we don't take worship lightly. Coming before the living God is a joyous and wonderful thing and at the same time it is fearsome and terrifying. We are sinners seeking to worship a holy God. It is only by His sovereign grace that our worship is made acceptable because of the finished work of Christ in our behalf. Apart from Christ all that we have to offer is tainted with sin.

Two words that come to mind when I think of worship are “expectation” and “preparation.” Do you come to worship expecting to meet with the living God? Think about what would change in your life if you really expected to present yourself before God in worship. True expectation leads to preparation. Just the expectation alone is a means by which our hearts are better prepared to worship. What other preparations might be appropriate? Think of something small you could start with. Maybe a good night's sleep or a good cup of coffee so that you will be awake and alert, ready to participate fully in worship. How about going to the restroom before the worship service begins? How about reading the preparation psalm and quietly praying during the prelude? Those may seem like simple and insignificant things, but if you will discipline yourself to give your best in worship, even in the small things, it will bear fruit.

We are a covenant people serving a covenant God and He is serious about our training of our children to follow Him. Teach them good habits early and they will grow up knowing how to approach God in worship. Teach them the simple discipline of sitting for a short time through the sermon. You can teach them to sit through the sermon or you can let them teach you to get up and go to the bathroom every time the sermon begins. If you let them teach you, they will. The problem is they don't know how to worship so they need you to teach them. They will learn to value the things you value by your actions. Don't be discouraged if you are not 100% successful all the time. Be gracious with yourself and with your children, but do not give up at working to give your very best to God in worship. God will honor your commitment because it is a commitment to honor Him. He is zealous for His glory and He will give strength to the one who brings glory to Him.

We have many things to learn and there are a lot of ways in which we need to grow. I have so much I want to say. I will continue to address issues both large and small concerning our worship so that we might, by God's grace, be a church that worships God in spirit and in truth so that even unbelievers might come into our midst and be cut to the heart as they proclaim surely God is in this place.



Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2006

One of my favorite pieces of music is Vivaldi's “Four Seasons.” It is powerful to hear how the composer uses the strings to paint intense portraits of the different seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter. I would assume that most of you are aware that there are other seasons of the year apart from the regular ones that come to mind. For example there is football season, hunting season, planting season, allergy season, etc. In fact the Scriptures say “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…” That is a lot of seasons.

Some seasons are particular to a certain group of people. In the church world, you may or may not be aware, September and October are months when many churches have “stewardship season” or stewardship campaigns. It is the season for pledging money for next year so a budget can be formulated. So in the late summer our mailbox is full of all kinds of mail from businesses that are trying to help us as a church to have a “fruitful stewardship season.” There is nothing particularly wrong with this type of approach, but that is not the way we do things at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. As your Sr. Pastor, I am not interested in having a “stewardship season” because stewardship is not something we should focus on once a year. Stewardship is something we do day in and day out all year long. I hope that my teaching reflects that belief.

The main problem with “stewardship” is that most people simply equate it with financial giving. That is a very stunted view of stewardship. Yes, stewardship has to do with our giving, but it is not limited to our financial resources. Stewardship rightly understood has to do with every breath we take. The scope of stewardship covers every aspect of our lives. So, is this important? You had better believe it is important because it is important to God! We read in Genesis 1 that man was created to be the steward of God's creation. That mandate for stewardship has not been lifted; it is still a vital part of who we are as God's creatures.

Let's step back here for a moment and think of why I might be writing about stewardship. Well I've been preaching through Acts and Acts covers a great number of aspects of the Christian life, not the least of which is stewardship. I am teaching a Sunday school class on how to read the Bible so that we might become better disciples and I have begun preaching a short series on discipleship. I am concerned for the church that we become a church full of disciples of the Lord Jesus. Why am I spending precious time and effort to do this? It boils down to this; discipleship can be used quite nicely as a synonym for stewardship.

When we start talking in terms of discipleship it becomes easier for us to think in terms beyond just giving of our financial resources. One of the main things I hope you take away from the series on discipleship is an understanding that Christianity is a whole life endeavor. It is about all that we are. God wants all of us, not just our money, that is too easy, that is too cheap. God wants our money (which He has given us), God wants our abilities (which He has given us), and God wants our time (which He has given us). God wants our lives which He has redeemed by the precious blood of Christ that they might be poured out for His glory. A life given wholly to God is what we were created for. That is stewardship! That is discipleship! That is a life worth living!

Let us go a step further. Let us come back to the thought of “seasons.” For FRPC this time of year is the season for the Mission Conference. Why do we have a mission conference? We have a mission conference in order to maintain our mission focus. That is who we are as a people. We are Christians and Christianity is a missionary religion. Taking the Gospel to those who don't know Jesus yet is something that never goes out of season. It is a vital part of the life of a disciple. We carry forth the Gospel to a dark world as we support our missionaries with prayer and finances. We carry forth the Gospel to a dying world as we live lives of discipleship, showing ourselves to be Christians in the way we think, speak and act. Let us walk together with Jesus and be His disciples for His glory and our good in every season of our lives. That is a life of stewardship for God, which is a life well spent.

John



Pastor’s Ponderings: May 2006

The Lord Jesus is serious about disciples. His last instruction to the Apostles was to make disciples. So, what is a disciple? Literally a disciple is one who follows and learns from another. When we think of disciples we typically think of the twelve that followed Jesus. There have been disciples throughout the Scriptures. The prophets, John the Baptist, the Pharisees all had disciples. The important point for everyone who calls themselves a Christian is this, the Lord Jesus commands us to follow Him, showing ourselves to be His disciples

Are you a disciple? By calling yourself a “Christian” you acknowledge that you are a follower of Jesus. That is what the term “Christian” means. A Christian who does not follow Jesus is an oxy-moron. Christianity and following Jesus are mutually inclusive; you cannot have one without the other. In other words if you are not seeking to live a life in obedience (following) Jesus, then you should not call yourself a Christian. It is interesting that in recent years some people have begun to refer to themselves as “followers of Jesus” rather than Christian because “Christianity” is no longer synonymous with being obedient to Christ. Christianity has gotten a bad reputation because of the hypocrisy of those calling themselves Christians.

That being said let me quickly throw in that true Christians are not sinless. We will not be in this life. True Christians are sinners saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. True Christians are those seeking by faith to live a life pleasing to God by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them. True Christians are deliberate in their desire to follow Jesus. That does not mean they are perfect. However, that does mean they should be setting a much different standard from the rest of the world. We have the power to do so because of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

One of the major reasons that Christianity is not having a significant impact in our country is that Christians by and large are not distinct from the people they live among. They don't lead holy lives in the midst of unholy people. Christians in our country have become indistinguishable from anyone else. In all the leading indicators of social decay in America, evangelical Christians are statistically no different from anyone else. The list includes: Adultery, divorce, premarital sex, co-habitation, unwed pregnancy, substance abuse, domestic violence, etcetera, and on and on. That should not be! What fellowship does light have with darkness? These things are not life, they are death.

I was talking with one of the elders the other day and we were discussing conviction. A major part of the problem defined above is that Christianity in America lacks conviction. Jerry Bridges in his book, The Discipline of Grace, says, “A conviction is a determined belief: something you believe so strongly that it affects the way you live.” Our problem is that we “believe,” but we don't allow that belief to drive our actions. That is the problem. What is the solution? The solution is discipleship. The solution is making a determined response to the grace of God that you will strive together with the Lord to see yourself be made more and more like Jesus.

Every one of us is a disciple of something. The question is, are you a disciple of Jesus? If you don't know the answer to that question, if you are not sure or if you are sure and you want to do more about it, then please call me or set up an appointment to meet. There is nothing that I want more than to see the saints at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church become true disciples of the Lord Jesus. Disciples of Jesus live lives of abundance and joy. They make a difference in the lives of others, in their families and in their community. Disciples are the key means by which the Lord will advance His kingdom. Come, Christian, follow Jesus.



Pastor’s Ponderings: January 2006

By God's grace we find ourselves once again on the brink of the New Year. The New Year is always an important time for me personally. It is a time of reflection on the year just past as well as a time of contemplation for the year to come. It is an intensely spiritual time as we have just finished celebrating Christmas and we face a time of new beginning. However, all that “spirituality” can get lost in the hustle and bustle of what the “holidays” have become.

Allow me at this point to introduce an “ugly” word, “examination.” It really is not ugly, but in our 21st century culture the word tends to stir up feelings of dread. That is really not necessary. Examination is a good thing because it helps us to know where we are weak and where we are strong. As individuals and as a church, it is time for us to examine ourselves. You may be surprised to find out that the theme of examination is plentiful in the Bible. The Lord calls us to lead “self-examined” lives. Now self-examination is a healthy venture if it is conducted in the crystal-clear light of Christ. Apart from Christ it can lead to depression and despair. We often do not want to do any self-examination because we are afraid we will find we are not as mature or healthy as we had hoped for. We may find out that we need “revitalization.” I can solve that dilemma for you easily by saying 99% of everyone in the church is not as mature or healthy as they think. If you think you are among the 1% then please give me a call.

In the Lord, our examinations are good and right and healthy. It is my desire to see Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church become a healthy and vital congregation. Making the church healthy is the work of the Holy Spirit. However, He gives us the ability and in fact the responsibility to grow healthy in the Lord. How do we do that? First we focus on the basics. You may remember the story of Vince Lombardi the celebrated coach of the Green Bay Packers. Every year at the beginning of training camp, he would face his team, all professional football players, and hold out a football. Then he would announce, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” From that point forward they would focus on the basics. If you do the basics well, there is every reason to expect to be healthy.

If we desire to fulfill our chief end of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, we need to be a spiritually healthy congregation. That in itself is a God-honoring desire and we can expect His blessing as we pursue it. So what are these basics that we need to do well? In his book entitled, From Embers To A Flame, PCA teaching elder Archie Parish presents what he calls, “a biblical paradigm for revitalization.” Drawing from the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2, Reeder says a church needs to “remember, repent, and recover.” We need to remember those things which God has blessed in the church. We need to repent of our sins as a church. We need to recover our first love. Over the next year I will continue to preach through the book of Acts. As we move forward together listen for these themes of remembering, repenting and recovering.

To that end, I would ask you to join with me in praying for revitalization here at FRPC. Each of us needs to be revitalized as an individual and as we come together as a corporate body. Let us ask God to do His kingdom work here in our midst and make ourselves available to that work. If the Lord is gracious to do His kingdom work in our midst then we will truly have a good year in 2006. May God bless us to that end, for His glory and our good.

For His glory,

John



Pastor’s Ponderings: October 2005

My family and I arrived here in August and here it is October already. It really does not seem possible. Much has happened in the past several months and I think it has been great so far. As I say that however, I must tell you I am far more excited about what is yet to come. The Men's Bible study which meets every other Wednesday has studied through Philippians and Colossians. I am reminded of our study in Philippians that Paul said in 3:14, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” It is my desire as the teaching elder of the church to encourage the congregation to do just that, to “press on” for the prize that is before us in Christ Jesus.

This month we will have our Mission Conference and celebrate our reformed heritage on Reformation Day. Next month we have Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas Season. These things call for us to remember our past and to know what is going on in God's kingdom right now. However, these also serve to prepare us for greater service in the future. It is to that end that I call you along with Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to “press on toward the goal to win the prize that is before us in Christ Jesus.” One thing I can tell you, “pressing on” is not an easy task. As one old Scottish preacher used to say, “'tis a sore fight all the way.” Pressing on is all about engaging in spiritual warfare, joining the battle that rages all around us for the souls of men.

That is where the Mission Conference and Reformation Day come more clearly into view. Martin Luther and other reformers risked their lives for the church to be reformed. They desired to see the church return to the preaching of the Gospel. They wanted every man to be able to read the Scriptures in his own language. They proclaimed the truth that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. The Lord has changed the world through them. The Reformation is acknowledged by both Christian and secular historians alike to be the most influential event of human history in the last 1,000 years. So I encourage you to avail yourselves of the opportunity to become more informed about our reformed heritage as we observe Reformation Day. Then you will be better equipped to step out in faith into the future of the church with the battle cry, “Semper Reformata” (always reforming). The reformation is not over, nor will it be over until we see our Lord face to face. Join with me in reforming the church here in Frederick.

The Mission Conference too is a great opportunity for us to be encouraged to “press on” for we have been commissioned to do just that, to spread the gospel message to all people, everywhere. Please come and learn what is going on with the missionaries that our church supports with prayer and financial gifts. It is a time to be encouraged and a time to be challenged. If you do not yet understand that you too are a missionary, you need to come and participate in the mission conference. Let us press on together for Jesus that He might be glorified in Faith Reformed Presbyterian church. I look forward to seeing you at church for the Mission Conference; it will be a growth time for us all.

May God's richest blessings rest on you and the whole church family,

John



Pastor’s Ponderings: July 2005

Pastor's Ponderings (Call it whatever you like.)

It is with great excitement and much trepidation that I write this my first installment for “the Beacon.” I write as one who is not worthy to be your pastor, but by the grace of God, that is what He has called me to be. Therefore, by His grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, that is what I will be for His glory.

I have spent today working in the yard and packing up my storage shed. Cyndy is busy filling boxes and the kids are busy helping. Over the next weeks we will be working hard to get everything ready to be packed on the moving van. I cannot tell you how encouraging it has been to hear from the several of you that have sent notes and cards. Your expressions of love have touched our hearts deeply and increase our longing to begin serving the flock there in Frederick.

I have been contemplating what I will preach on when I arrive. Please pray for me as I seek the Lord's will in this matter. There are many decisions to be made for the church and my family for which we covet your prayers. Not least of which is a place to live when we get there. I think the thing that is foremost in my mind is fruitfulness in ministry as we work together at FRPC. If there is to be any fruit from this ministry it will come not because of our ability, but as an answer to our prayers. Pray with me for much fruit from the ministry of our church. Remember what Jesus said, “This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The people of Frederick should see us and say, “Surely God is among them, they are disciples of Jesus.” What greater thing could anyone say about us? What greater testimony could we bear for the glory of God? For what higher calling could our lives be “poured out?”

Grace and peace to you disciples of the Lord Jesus in the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church of Frederick, Maryland, may God by His infinite mercy grant us fruitfulness in ministry. I look forward with great anticipation to serving the Lord with you in Frederick, and as the Lord allows, in places where the gospel is not yet known.