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Answering Questions with Jesus

 

Joel Hart wrote the following guest-post. Joel is preparing for pastoral ministry as a student of theology in the Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery of the RPCNA. He is a rising senior at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Lord has given Orlena as Joel’s wife and has blessed them with three children.

                “I left the church because no one would answer my questions.”

This refrain, or similar rhetoric, scatters the blogs or social media posts of those who have distanced themselves from Christ’s church. One question emerges when we observe the phenomenon of despairing and leaving question-askers: Does the church — ­can the church — ­answer the questions of those in the church asking questions amidst an increasingly skeptical world?

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed the privilege of teaching 30 junior high youth at a church family camp. Our studies in the gospel of John led us to the response of the crowds to the teachings of Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:60-71). For Jesus’ audience, this teaching left many with a searching, skeptical question: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (6:60). Here, our Savior answers the doubtful question with a decisive answer built on the […]

Corporate Prayer: An Example

How might we improve corporate prayer? Last month, I suggested that we replicate a practice of the early church in which worshipers are given time to take petitions to the Lord in silent prayer simultaneously.

Some readers have inquired as to what this might look like in practice. Below, I’ve published Second Reformed Presbyterian Church’s whole order of service from last Lord’s Day morning. You can see our developing practice of corporate prayer. We’re not saying we’re praying the best way, or the only way, or the way that we will always pray; we’re just trying to grow in our love for the Lord and in our prayer life.

Members have provided enthusiastic feedback as we have experimented with different forms of the same basic method over the last few weeks and months. They note that this method calls them to be more engaged in prayer in worship (and less drowsy), leads them to greater communion with God and others, and teaches them to pray by example and by practice. The net result is that we lift up far more requests to the Lord than if the voice of one leader vocalizes prayer during the entire time of corporate prayer. Saints have time to […]

The Holy Spirit: Completing the Work of Christ in Us

[The Holy Spirit] comes because of the completed work of Christ for us and He comes to complete the work of Christ in us. [1] – Joseph Pipa

What is God doing in my life today, you may ask yourself? Take heart, because even today he is completing the work of Jesus Christ in the lives of God’s people.

Jesus has earned our redemption in history. Because he has completed that glorious work for us, the Holy Spirit is now acting and he will not be stopped. Our lives are not spiritually static. Something dynamic is happening within the hearts of his people today.

Today, the Holy Spirit is regenerating people and giving new them new hearts. He is working in us the gifts of faith and repentance. He is assuring us that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He is crying out “Abba! Father” in our hearts so that we will know that we are sons of God and not slaves. He is sanctifying us from sin. He is changing our minds, wills, and emotions. He is spawning new love in us for Jesus and his people. He is lifting our eyes to a new vision […]

Corporate Worship: The Lord’s House of Prayer

When you go to corporate worship, do you have the sense that you are talking to God in a more personal and vibrant way than in your individual devotions each day?

When you think of corporate worship, do you think of it more as “calling on the name of the Lord” or going to “hear from God”?

Strikingly, the most common nomenclature for worship in Scripture is that of prayer and calling on God. The first corporate worship is mentioned in Genesis 4:26 with Seth and Enosh: “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.”

We rightly celebrate the recovery of preaching in the Reformation. But, if we have erred in recent centuries in reformed circles, it is probably in over-emphasizing God’s house as a place of preaching (which it is, e.g. Isaiah 2:3) while under-emphasizing God’s declaration that his house is a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7 and Mark 11:17).

Sometimes, looking at examples of worship practices in past ages can give us ideas of ways to pray that would better engage worshipers.

A fourth century text from Egypt provides such an example. It is recorded for us by S. Sarapion (c. A.D. 340).  In the […]

Looking Like Jesus

It’s very encouraging for young Christians to see older saints who look like Jesus in thought, word, and deed.  Their example motivates us to honor the Father and to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). How do we grow into such a resemblance over time?

For many years, researchers have questioned why married couples look like one another more and more over the years. Studies like this one conducted three decades ago at the University of Michigan consistently show that couples do grow to look more like one another as they age. Researchers believe that couples begin to mimic each other’s facial expressions and in time develop muscle memories that are similar. Over the years, these habits cause their facial features to be conformed more closely to one another in a permanent way. It is also believed that the shared emotions that accompany these facial expressions may also increase visible similarities over time.

The Christian’s experience with Christ is similar. In his treatise on the Holy Spirit, John Owen wrote: “[Love] begets a likeness between the mind loving and the object beloved…A mind filled with the love of Christ as crucified…will be changed into his image and likeness, by […]

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary: How God works in summer camps and conferences

It’s the season for summer church camps and conferences. Our presbytery will host its conference soon. God’s word will be proclaimed in a setting unique from the rest of life. Christians will retreat from their regular callings to spend a block of time worshiping together, hearing and discussing God’s work, and enjoying fellowship together over meals and between the lines on fields or courts of play. Young people’s hearts will be drawn-out in counseling group discussions. They will be challenged to commit themselves to the Lord in response to his word, especially at the end of the week.

We must not abuse the setting to evoke emotionally derived responses, but we should also recognize that the Lord does work though these extended meetings to settle our hearts and minds for a few days, to immerse us in his word, and to change us.

The Lord stirred my heart afresh at one particular conference when I was in high school. I vividly remember how the Lord met me there through his word and by his Spirit. The change that came in me was evident in the months that followed and still is to this day.

So, recently, I was fascinated to stumble across my […]

Every Testimony is Different and Every One is the Same

Every testimony of God’s saving grace in the life of a person is the same, and every one is different. That is what we tell young people who are preparing to make their public profession of faith in the church and become communicant members.

This week, I plan to give my students the testimony of my grandfather, Paul Faris, written below as an example. It’s good for them to see that a man who was born over 100 years ago and who is now with the Lord also has a story that is just like theirs. None of them have served as farm hands. They have not had horses and chickens as witnesses to their prayers. But, they will recognize the story as their own. He was convicted of his sin and turned to Jesus through the ministry of God’s word and specific people. He dealt with the same guilt and other internal struggles which with they wrestle. He found life in Jesus just as they have.

They live in a different generation, but they have the same covenant Lord. His promise stands across all generations: “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation […]

A Wave of Worship

Each Saturday at about noon here in the Western Hemisphere, a great drama begins to unfold. At that time, the sun begins to rise in the Pacific islands on a new day of worship for the Christian church.

As we labor and play here in America on Saturday, saints rise from their beds in the Pacific islands, in New Zealand, and then Australia, and Japan to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as they respond to God’s call to worship on the first day of the week.

While the globe spins, this great wave of worship gathers strength as God’s people gather to confess their sins corporately and be assured of God’s forgiveness in Korea, in the Philippines, and Indonesia.

As the sun’s rays stretch into Southeast Asia, China, Mongolia and Siberia, some cry out from prisons, while others sing quietly in apartments so as to be heard by one another and God only.

Across India and all of the “stans” some gather in fear of persecution, others form groups of two or three, and others gather in great assemblies to declare that death has been conquered and that Jesus reigns today and forever.

About this time, we in the Western Hemisphere must […]

The Eschatological Insufficiency of the Archaic

In the church, as in life, it’s often hard to give up things that have become old friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to know when they have outlived their usefulness, and we must exercise wisdom in removing archaic fixtures.

You might have seen that Basking Ridge Presbyterian’s 600-year old white oak tree has died. Under that tree in Bernards, New Jersey, George Whitefield preached to over 3,000 people in 1740. Legend has it that George Washington picnicked beneath its outstretched limbs. My own ancestors worshiped at that church; indirectly, the shade of that tree has helped shape my own soul. That which served so well has died and must be removed.

Remove archaic fixtures we must, because devotion to the archaic reveals in us an insufficient eschatology. Loving what met needs in the past over what meets the need of the moment fails to anticipate the glory that is to be revealed. It trades a vision for the glory of Christ for earthly forms that are passing away. With the Apostle Paul, we must always seek fidelity to Christ as we count everything as loss for the sake of Christ that we may ultimately attain the resurrection from the dead. With Paul, we forget […]

Young People Also Need an Abundance of Counselors

“How should we have other people involved in discipling our children in their adolescent years?” In a recent panel discussion on discipleship in the church I pastor, that question was asked. The Scriptures teach us that “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). This truth holds for groups and individuals. The Apostle John and Timothy both benefited at a very young age from the mentoring of men beyond their own family, and we should not be afraid to emulate examples like these in the Scriptures as we seek godly mentors for our teenagers.

There are risks involved. We must take the necessary precautions as we encourage our young people to seek wisdom and help from others who can disciple them in ways we cannot as their parents. But the far greater risk is in leaving our teenagers isolated and disconnected.

Since every situation is different, there is no fixed way to bring the right influences into the lives of our adolescent children. Proverbs 27:10 instructs us “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,” and so we understand that it is important for our children to know and be […]