29 July, 2010

Sermons for Communion Preparation

During the past several communion seasons, I have been preaching through the Sufferings of Christ beginning with the his sufferings in the Upper Room. I have preached on "The Washing" from John 13, the "Korban Pesach" from Luke 22, and on Judas as a traitor in "Is it I?" in Mark 14. I commend this series to anyone who is preparing to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

Broken Pastors are Useful Pastors

What do you look for in a pastor? Do you look for well-polished speech? Do you look for a "professional" look? Do you look for an administrator? Do you look for someone who is nice?

Jesus wants his pastors to be many things, but above all of these things, he wants his pastors to be broken. Does that sound strange to you? Jesus wants pastors that have been broken, confronted with their sin, and brought to the foot of the cross of Christ. When a pastor (or one who desires to be a pastor) is humbled before Christ and knows that his entire ministry relies on the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is in a position to lead. Shepherds are sheep who have been broken, restored, and equipped as Gospel ministers.

"The first and essential quality of herald of the Gospel is ever a thoroughly broken and contrite heart. For it is only after having obtained mercy as guilty criminals, that we are in a position to strengthen the brethren. After having ourselves vitally experienced that without Christ we can do nothing, but everything with Him, we then become real evangelists, able also to bind up the broken-hearted, and to strengthen the feeble knees." FW Krummacher

28 July, 2010

How Do You Approach Christ in the Supper?

JC Ryle gives a short series of questions that serve as meditations for the communicant as he or she prepares for the Lord's Supper. In a fast paced McWorld, we need to take the time to ponder the seriousness of our relationship with Christ as we approach Him in the Sacrament. Let us meditate and then celebrate!

"Am I in the habit of coming to the Lord's Table? If so, in what frame of mind do I come? Do I draw near intelligently, humbly and with faith? Do I understand what I am about? Do I really feel my sinfulness and my need for Christ? Do I really desire to live a Christian life, as well as profess the Christian faith? Happy is the soul who can give a satisfactory answer to these questions. Go forward and persevere." (Expository Thoughts on Matthew, 360.)

Living Eaters and Dead Eaters

The Lord's Supper is a time of reflection on one's spiritual life. As we look to the Lord Jesus, the author and giver of life, we must ask ourselves, "Have we been given life; eternal life?" The one way to be given eternal life is through a saving faith in the Son of God, the only mediator between God and man.

As the Lord's Supper is before us, we must ask ourselves, "Am I a living eater or a dead eater?" To those who remain in trespasses and sin, the Sacrament has no lasting value. For those who eat and drink by faith, we have communion with the Son of God. We have communion that will be of eternal value. May we be the living, feasting on a living Christ, by faith.

JC Ryle says, "The Lord's Supper has no power to confer benefit on those who come to it, if they do not come to it with faith. The mere formal act of eating the bread and drinking the wine is utterly unprofitable, unless it is done with a right heart. It is eminently an ordinance for the living soul, not for the dead; for the converted, not for the unconverted."

Lord convert our hearts, and draw us into your presence.

25 July, 2010

Disciples of All Nations? Colonization or Indigenous Churches?

When the Lord Jesus Christ gave the Great Commission at the end of his ministry, he charged the Apostles with "making disciples of all nations". It is interesting that he chose the word nations, instead of world. The word nation is "ethnos" which means ethnicities, people groups, cultures, or nations. He could have chose the word "cosmos" which would be a generic, "Make disciples of all the world." But Jesus chose "ethnos". He wanted disciples to be made of the ethos; not just in the cosmos.

This is significant in my own ecclesiastical context because at our last Synod, our global missions agency reported that the mission work in Southern Sudan has been released from the oversight of the RPCNA and has been organized as the RPCSS (Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southern Sudan). They are part of the Reformed Presbyterian global community; but they are an indigenous church. They are not a church that is colonized; but one that was made out of discipling the ethnos of the Dinka. Praise God!

Of course, this creating an indigenous presbytery (RPCSS) was not without controversy. We have a precedence of keeping oversight for much longer. We have a presbytery of the RPCNA in Japan, which is the result of missionary endeavor. Why not follow that same model in Sudan? WIth much love and respect for my brothers in Japan, the model that Jesus gave us was disciples of all ethnos; not disciples in all cosmos.

As early as 1919 the RPCNA was wrestling with the questions of colonization versus indigenous churches. The Foreign Mission Board reported to Synod in 1919, "In recent years there has been a growing conviction that the Chinese have been, to their hurt, allowed to think that Christianity is the foreigner's religion and not their own; that the foreign religion should be supported from without, and that they, at most, are to favor it with the patronage of accepting it, and helping to spread it merely as paid employees of a foreign organization. The missionaries have been gravely and prayerfully studying this problem." (Report of Synod, 1919).

May the Lord continue to have His Church wrestle with the issues of culture and church planting. And may the Church truly understand how Jesus wants indigenous churches made up of all the ethnos of the cosmos.

Lord, build your Church!

21 July, 2010

Happy 5th Birthday Presbyterian Thoughts

This week marks the 5th birthday of Presbyterian Thoughts. Happy Birthday ol' blog.

13 July, 2010

The Hypocrisy of Our Humanity

Too often we fail in the Christian life. Too often we stumble and we fall. We use our tongue to sin. We use our facial expressions to murder. We use our posture to crush another's spirit. The Apostle James told us that this happens, even in our Christian life. "We stumble in many ways" says James. He then goes on to tell us that all kinds of animals are able to be domesticated- but we have not been able to domesticate our own tongues. We murder with our very tongues.

Thank God that he has provided His Son to free us from our own tongues, our own murdering, our own hypocrisy. Thank God that Jesus has been provided to save us from ourselves. It's not hypocrisy- it's the battle called the Christian life. Keep fighting.

07 July, 2010

Why Is Preaching Not Good Enough?

Preaching is being replaced in the churches of Christ with many other things. Preaching has been set aside for programs, entertainment, and a variety of other things.

Why is this? Well, at the heart of the matter is the fact that preaching no longer changes people. Have you thought about that? As Americans we are very pragmatic. We want to see results, and if there are no results- then why continue with a practice? Preaching is being replaced.

My question though is "Why is preaching not changing lives?" The Scriptures teach us that the preached Word is God's normal way for converting sinners and sanctifying them. Since it is God's normal means of conversion and change (See Romans 10)- then preaching should be good enough. Preaching should change lives. Preaching should be restored to the center of evangelical and reformed worship.

I believe that Sinclair Ferguson has answered the question well. He states that "One of the reasons that preaching doesn't do it anymore is that people have not heard preaching that humbles their hearts and fills them with the glory of Christ." Well said.

May the Lord Jesus Christ cause his ambassadors to fill their chapels and auditoriums with preaching that is powerful, bold, humbling, and richly filled with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. This will make preaching "good enough."

The Westminster Larger Catechism says it best. Here is the way in which preaching can again be "good enough":

Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?

A. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

03 July, 2010

So What Happened At Synod?

Having had time to process what happened at the 179th Synod of the RPCNA, here are some highlights that were prepared as a bulletin insert for the Los Angeles RP Church:

The 179th Synod of the RPCNA met in Beaver Falls, PA, from June 21-25, 2010. Elder Howard Huizing and Pastor Nathan Eshelman were the delegates from Los Angeles. Here are some of the highlights of the meeting:

RPTS President (and son-in-law of the LA RPC) Dr. Jerry O'Neill was elected moderator of the Synod. This was a thoughtful selection due to the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the seminary this year.

The Pacific Coast Presbytery lead the prayer times throughout the meeting. Pastors Mark England, Nathan Eshelman, and Ryan Hemphill took charge of the psalm selections and prayer coordination for the week.

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Bruce Stewart preached from 2 Timothy 2 and encouraged the leadership of the church to consider these questions about their ministries: 1. Is the Lord well pleased? 2. Is the work well done? 3. Is the Word well used? It was encouraging to hear such a powerful sermon preached in such a gentle, pastoral way from our former pastor (1962-1973).

Pastor Titus Martin gave the report on the study of the “contents of the cup.” It was decided from the study committee that the Scriptural terms of “cup” and “fruit of the vine” are generic terms and may include both non-alcoholic pressed grapes, non-alcoholic wine, and alcoholic wine. The use of a “split cup” was discouraged and congregations were encouraged to seek unity in this matter.

The reports of the presbyteries were generally positive. Each presbytery seems to be growing and encouraged. The work of evangelism was encouraged by Dr. Dean Smith. He noted that our main growth as a denomination is in: 1. covenant children 2. transfers from other Reformed denominations 3. transfers from evangelical denominations. The congregations are encouraged to evangelize and seek growth through this means. It was also noted that about 20% of the RPCNA's membership does not regularly attend worship in an RP Church. This is problematic.

The International Conference Committee reported that the conference will move from Calvin College :( to Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, IN. The dates are set as July 21-27, 2012. Synod 2011 is also scheduled to meet at this location as a way to familiarize the presbyters with the campus of IWU.

Pastor Eshelman gave the Home Mission Board report. He encouraged the congregations and presbyteries to think about church planting and to be strategic in praying for plants in important cities within the bounds of the presbyteries. We are currently 11 congregations short of meeting the 20/20 Vision of 100 congregations by 2020. Keep praying!

Faith Martin gave the report of the RP Women's Association. She announced her retirement at the end of this year. She was given a standing ovation for her lifetime of labor for the women of the Church.

The Sudan Commission of RP Global gave an encouraging report. There was some debate about procedure over church planting in a global context, but that did not suppress the great joy of the Synod surrounding the work of Cush4Chirst. It was announced that we have a new sister church: The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southern Sudan (RPCSS) is a court of Christ's Church! Members of the Sudan Commission will serve as counselors to this new presbytery. A special free-will offering was collected for the work of Cush4Chirst as well as those laborers who have left the field (thanks Heather!).

In other global RP news, Pastor John McFarland gave a report concerning the RP House Churches of Asia. This work continues to grow under the providence of God. A letter of thanks was read that discussed how the US's economic problems have caused a certain Asian country to focus on maintaining their own economy which gave the RP House Churches freedoms that they have not seen in a whole generation. Praise God for working all things out for the good of His Church!

One more global RP bit: The Trinity Christian Community Fellowship in Cyprus will have an open pulpit this year. In an attempt to sustain the mission and ministry of the RP global family in Cyprus, TCCF has been taken under the care of the Presbytery of the Alleghenies. This is a way to keep the work active without having to be reduced to a mission station. Keep an ear open for some familiar names who may be serving there in the future.

A number of Fraternal Delegates gave their greetings to the Synod Wednesday evening. Let's play a game. Can you name all of these denominations? Greetings were given by the: TCCF, ARP, HRC, OPC, PCA, RCUS, and the URC. Got 'em all? The delegate from the FCS(C) was unable to attend, but sent greetings via email. There was also a letter read from the American (and Canadian) Reformed Churches stating that they have decided not to enter into fraternal relationship with the RPCNA due to the practice of the ordination of women to the office of deacon.

A proposed $20 per communicant assessment that would go to the RP Home was voted down. The current assessment of $40 will be maintained (this goes to RPM&M to be distributed to the various ministries of the RP Church). The Synod expressed their desire to aid the RP Home, but did not think that taxation was an appropriate way to help. The need at the RP Home is great, and in this writer's opinion, each communicant member should send in $20 to aid in the deficit there. Pray for this historic work of the RP Church.

The proposed Directory for Public Worship was adopted. Each of the five chapters were approved. Dr. O'Neill declared that the new Directory is now the “law and order of the church.” Pray that as congregations make changes in their own worship practices, that it would be done organically and not through the courts of the church. Pray also for the “unity and uniformity” of the RP Church as she begins using her third Directory of Worship (1645 and 1945 were the previous ones).

There will be some changes in future printings of the Book of Psalms for Worship. Psalm selections 19C, 24B, 47C, 150C, and 150D will be revised as well as each of the three selections of Psalm 136. This will be completed under the authority of the Board of Publication. These revisions are consistant with our view of translation and interpretation, but do pose a logistical problem. Expect updates to follow on the progress of this work.

Thursday evening was a joyous time of celebration as 650 gathered at the Heinz History Center to commemorate the 200th anniversary of RPTS. Dr. Stewart was also awarded with a “Faithful Servant Award” that evening. Drs. Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas preached on themes related to seminary training. Hearing 650 people singing the psalms without musical accompaniment was a moving experience.

Pastor Eshelman and Elder Huizing were both nominated for positions of service in the Church. Elder Huizing was appointed to a special committee to study “sexual orientation” and homosexuality in the church. This committee will report to Synod in 2011. Pray for Elder Huizing as he participates in this very important work in 21st century Christianity. Pastor Eshelman was appointed to the Board of Education and Publication (which means he has some work to do on the “new” New Psalter).

The Pacific Coast Presbytery also met while in Beaver Falls. Here are two of the highlights from that meeting:

San Diego reports that they are exploring beginning Spanish language worship services as soon as possible. There are no Reformed Spanish speaking Churches in San Diego County.

The Presbytery has decided to move ahead with a December-January youth conference for the young people of the PC Presbytery. The LA Session was appointed to take charge in this matter. $1000 was set aside as seed money to begin. A Return to Basics will be the theme and all young people (9th grade thru college aged) will be encouraged to attend. Please be in prayer as our Session works with the leaders and young people in the presbytery toward this goal.

Besides all of these matters in both the Synod and the Presbytery, there was much prayer, psalm singing, fellowship, and encouragement amongst the presbyters of the Church. The meeting ended with the singing of Psalm 133A from the Book of Psalms for Worship. There was a couple who stumbled as the “old words” were sung in place of the new... but despite the setting, Psalm 133 was exemplified in the week of doing the work of building Christ's Church. Please continue to pray that the Synod of the RPCNA would remain faithful to Christ and that the work done at each Synod would be for the purpose of glorifying Christ and seeing His Kingdom come.

01 July, 2010

Why Do YOU Serve?

This week I received a little booklet in the mail. There is no publication date, but my guess is early 1920s. The tile of the booklet is "Why I Am Glad To Be A Covenanter Minister" by "Fourteen Successful Ministers". It was sent to me by a dear friend in the Sunflower State.

As I read through the accounts of the ministers, I reflected on my own purposes for being a "Covenanter Minister". I believe that Dr. Coleman has summed up my own thoughts:

I am glad to be a Covenanter Minister because I believe with all my heart in the principles of the Covenanter Church. I am glad to serve the Covenanter Church because I love it, and despite its faults and failings, believe it to be nearer to what the Lord wants than any other. I am glad to preach a Calvinistic creed which is thoroughly evangelistic, which believes in the Bible, in the atonement that satisfies divine justice and salvation by grace to everyone that believes. I am glad that Covenanter preaching insists on repentance, regeneration, and an exemplary life through the power of the indwelling Spirit. And I rejoice in preaching the universal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring justice, love and peace in all the earth, a message that gives me a forward look on every problem that rises in human life.

So that's Rev. Dr. WJ Coleman's story as to why he was a Covenanter minister. What's your story? Why do you believe God has you where you are? As I reflect on my call to pastor in the RPCNA I am glad to say that I have a goodly heritage. Thanks be to God.