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Sabbath School Teacher Appreciation

The following are inexact excerpts from an informal address delivered last week at a Sabbath School teacher appreciation banquet in the congregation of my youth, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Indiana. Names in selected personal stories have sometimes been altered to protect the guilty, the victims, and the bystanders:


Good evening and thank you for inviting me to be with you tonight. I do appreciate your labors in the Lord as you teach the children week by week. Having grown up in this congregation, I can appreciate the price you pay.

One of my earliest memories of Sabbath School class here came in the northwest classroom on the second floor of the old church house on Hays Street. I was probably four years old. Billy, John, and I were students in the preschool class – there might have been a fourth, I can’t remember. Two Purdue University graduate students, Mr. Ford and Mr. Bond, served our teachers. The ratio of two teachers to three or four students gives you a sense of how the Christian Education Committee had sized up the student body. Apparently, on this particular week, we were a bit rowdy at the table as the class […]

Listen Up!

Everyone is talking about Ferguson. I can add nothing new regarding the grand jury decision and the specifics on the ground. Most of us can do nothing about it either. However, many say that we need to take time to listen given the height of emotions and the various reasons for them in our current race-relations climate. For instance, Lecrae’s thoughts can be found here. Thabiti Anyabwile longs for the same here.  We need to listen, even if we think the speakers might be wrong. Very little is being said about how to listen. Listening on the internet or to the television is not sufficient. It does not count for much. This post is written to encourage us all to dialogue face to face with those of other ethnic heritages.

Biblical authors like Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:17) and John (1 John 1:14) longed to see those whom they addressed face to face. Paul did the hard thing and looked Peter in the face when he disagreed with him (Galatians 2:11). Jesus looked directly at those with whom he disagreed (Luke 20:17), and he was moved with compassion when he saw hurting people (John 11:33). Face to face contact changes the dynamic. […]

For Your Thanksgiving Day Table

If you are looking to read one of the old American Thanksgiving Day proclamations around your table this year, here is the 1781 proclamation by Thomas McKean, President of the Congress of the United States.

Remember that this proclamation was issued a week after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown. Notice the detailed list of specific reasons for thanks to God – if you had to make a similar list for our nation this year, what would you include?

President Obama usually issues his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation on Thursday; you will find it at


By the United States, in Congress


Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God, the Father of Mercies, remarkably to assist and support the United States of America in their important struggle for liberty against the long-continued efforts of a powerful nation, it is the duty of all ranks to observe and thankfully acknowledge the interpositions of his Providence in their behalf; – Through the whole of the contest from its first rise to this time the influence of Divine Providence may be clearly perceived in many signal instances, of which we mention but a few: –

In revealing the counsels of our enemies, when the discoveries were seasonable and […]

Why Joy Increases Through Evangelism

We all struggle with discouragement as Christians. We wonder, “Why I am I not more joyful?” One of the ways joy grows in our lives is through the practice of evangelism. Many people I know say that if they are discouraged, one helpful diagnostic question they ask themselves is “when was the last time I spoke to a person who does not yet believe in Christ about the kingdom of God?” The Lord delights to multiply our joy by calling us into the harvest fields with him. He just does.

The seventy-two that Jesus sent out in Luke 10 experienced this increase in joy first-hand. Their circumstances and calling were not identical to ours, but our gladness will grow similarly as we serve as Jesus’ witnesses in our own settings. Why does joy grow when we proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to those yet apart from Christ?

Joy increases through evangelism because we see the power of God at work. Luke 10:17 records “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Jesus said of what he had seen while they were on their mission “I saw Satan falling like lightning […]

Praying for Home-Grown Laborers

Instructive words for our own day from B. W. McDonnold’s History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church:

“There is a wonderful difference between the growth of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the two States to which this chapter is devoted. In Indiana there are now (1885) but three presbyteries; in Illinois there are ten. There is one thing indicated both by recent statistics and by this early history which may help to explain the difference. In Illinois from the beginning there was a vigorous struggle to raise up a home supply of preachers. Fast-days were appointed on which all the congregations joined in prayer that God would call and send forth men of his own choosing to preach the gospel. God answered these prayers, as he will do today in all our frontier presbyteries if, instead of clamoring for more preachers to come from the older States, they will ask God to call their own sons into the work.”

Historical note: The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was formed in 1810 by Presbyterians ejected from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in the Cumberland River valley of Kentucky who loosened the requirements of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. In particular, the denomination effectively rejected the reformed […]

There We Stood

My college roommate and I were torn. Purdue football was in a season of rebirth in 1997 under new head-coach Joe Tiller; the team had opened the season 6-2. We had just returned from a blast of a road trip with friends to Iowa City’s Kinnnick Stadium the prior week – a blast even if the Hawkeyes had snapped our six-game winning streak. Next, Nick Saban’s Michigan State Spartans were coming to West Lafayette, Indiana on November 8.

Simultaneously, Dr. Roy Blackwood arranged for Dr. James Montgomery Boice to speak in Indianapolis on November 7-8. Dr. Blackwood had long prayed and labored to bring reformed theology to Indiana – a state that was most influenced by the Restoration Movement, frontier Methodism, Cumberland Presbyterianism, and dispensationalism. Very little that could be considered reformed existed by the mid-twentieth century in Indianapolis. Dr. Blackwood had successfully recruited others in the 1980s like Dr. John Gerstner to come and speak, but interest was not widespread in the city. As in many places in the late twentieth century, interest reformed theology began to gain attention in the area through church planting and the influence of ministries like Ligonier. Blackwood taught some seminary-level classes himself over the […]

Not Just a Soup Kitchen

Does your local church faithfully minister in the area of mercy? Many of us likely cringe a bit at that question. Perhaps the reason we do not like our own answer to that question is due to ignorance, confusion, fear, lack of leadership, or simply hard-heartedness. So, what is the way forward? When Jesus taught on the ministry of compassion, he often did so through stories – the parable of the Good Samaritan is foremost among them. Those stories then give way to instruction in the ministry of mercy.

Dr. David Apple’s new book Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry in the Local Church Transforms Us All follows the same pattern. Apple has been director of Active Compassion Through Service at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for over twenty-five years.

The book opens with Apple’s own biography of having twice been the wounded man on the side of the road like the man on the Jericho Road. He also experienced a hundred other hurts. He writes “This book is partially the story of how God transformed my life after surviving a near-death skull-fracture, childhood sexual abuse, teenage hopelessness, marital betrayal, spiritual bankruptcy and thoughts of suicide as an adult.” The […]

Speaking With One Another

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.” – Malachi 3:16

Pastor Kenneth G. Smith preached on these words ten years ago in the congregation I serve as pastor. On that Lord’s Day, we gave thanks that the Lord had allowed us to continue as a congregation for forty years. Looking at these words from Malachi, Ken Smith mused on the words that the godly people of Malachi’s day must have spoken to one another in the midst of trouble times. The comfort, of course, is that the Lord paid attention and heard them and wrote a book of remembrance. God will not forget his people!

But what did those who feared the Lord say to one another? We do not know exactly, but they were obviously words that pointed one another towards God in the midst of an increasingly crooked and perverse generation. God will not forget his people, and we must not forget him either!

Pastor Smith exhorted us to speak to one another as members of the local body in three ways. […]

Singing With Thankfulness In Our Hearts

Do you ever wonder what some of the best a Capella Psalm singing sounds like? Then join us in Indianapolis, Indiana on the Lord’s Day, October 19, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. The acoustically favorable venue of North United Methodist Church will not make it best, nor will the expected 500-plus voices raised in harmony – much as those things will help. No, it will be some of the best because it will come from Spirit-filled hearts full of gratitude for God’s saving grace.

You see, we are thankful that fifty years ago, on October 16, 1964, Jesus established Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was “Second” because there had been a first in Indianapolis in the nineteenth century. In 1964, the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church was the only RP church in Indiana. God would save many more souls over the years at Second RP, in Bloomington, and beyond. And we are grateful that in 1994 Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, Indiana would also be planted by the Lord’s hand.

Now twenty years later, these two congregations are joining to celebrate God’s grace with other congregations around the state that the Lord has also planted over these last fifty years. […]

Integrity Matters

Last week, musician John Mellencamp welcomed Dr. Robert Heimburger, 97 (pictured, right), at the Indianapolis Riley Hospital for Children to record an interview together for a fundraiser next year. Mellencamp describes this neurosurgeon as “the man who gave me life.” He is responsible for the life-altering surgery performed on the month-old Mellencamp in the fall of 1951. Dr. Heimburger’s two sons brought him from his retirement home in Alabama for this special day.

Dr. Heimburger’s presence in Indianapolis last week excited me, too. He pioneered many surgical procedures in the field of neuroscience throughout his career in Indianapolis and was known internationally. In 1963, he operated on my then 63 year-old great-grandfather Evan Sanderson who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. His daughter Lois Long (my grandmother) had read about a similar surgery performed on the East Coast and suggested it to her father. Sixty-five miles from home, Dr. Heimburger evaluated him in Indianapolis and agreed to attempt a similar procedure. The experimental surgery apparently sought to freeze one part of the brain. After opening Evan’s skull, Dr. Heimburger injected him with a dye as part of the operation. As the dye was injected, Evan began to convulse on the table. He survived, but […]