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An up-front discussion; the best seats in worship

Fans pay big money for courtside seats at an NBA Finals game. But when it comes to God’s courts of worship, the prized seats seem to be on the back row. It’s not just true of Back-Row Baptists. It’s also true of Posterior Presbyterians, Latter-Seat Lutherans, and the Rearward Reformed. The trend seems to contradict the profound eagerness the psalmist articulated as he entered the gates of God’s courts with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4), the joy untold he found when beckoned by fellow saints to go to the Lord’s house (Psalm 122:1), and sorrow of heart he experienced when he could not lead the throng in procession into God’s house as he had previously done (Psalm 42:4).

Certainly, some people have legitimate reasons to sit near the back. These include:

Parents and caretakers with very young children
Elderly saints and physically afflicted individuals
Visitors, especially those who are nervous about being in a church in the first place
On-call servants such as ushers, nursery workers, and security personnel

For the rest, you should consider sitting nearer the front. It is a form of ministry, or service, in the truest sense. You will serve God with more vigor, and you will serve people with deeper love.

What happens as […]

Identifying with Christ

“Identify with Christ as you meet new people.” My parents gave that instruction to their eight children as we grew up. A Christian’s personal connection to Christ can be expressed in many ways, and it’s usually good to articulate it at the first natural opportunity.

As my college years wound to an end, I interviewed for my first “real” job as a supervisor in a small factory. In the interview, the boss offered a soft-toss questions like “Why should we hire you?” I offered up various reasons and included something like, “My work ethic is driven by my Christian faith. I’m ultimately accountable to Christ for my actions.” It was just a couple of sentences that I didn’t think much about. I might have also asked if the factory worked Sundays, but it didn’t.

A few days later, they offered me the job. I started shortly thereafter eager to begin my career.

The first week, my boss assigned me to spend a day in each of the four main departments to become familiar with the operation. I shadowed the hourly team leader, met the employees, and observed the work.

In the first department, the team leader completed her set-up tasks by about 10:00 a.m. and we […]

Whatever God Wants; The life of Samuel E. Boyle

Samuel E. Boyle (1905-2002) served as a leading Reformed Presbyterian pastor and missionary for much of the twentieth century. Robert S. Taylor has written a booklet-sized biography of Sam titled Whatever God Wants: The Life of Samuel E. Boyle. It is helpful but brief and is now out of print. Guests at our table recently inquired about the details of Sam’s life, but it was not possible to point them to an easily accessible biographical sketch. What follows is a revised version of remarks I made at his memorial service in 2002. A similar edition was also published in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness shortly thereafter. May we not forget those richly used by the Lord.

Reformed Presbyterian missions work in China had just begun a little over a century ago, and a dear woman in America with a missionary heart began to pray fervently, like Hannah of old, for a son for the Chinese field. In 1905, God gave her that son, whom she named Samuel following in Hannah’s footsteps. Sam Boyle’s mother gave birth to him in the women’s dormitory of Geneva College where his parents worked. Thus began a full life of 97 years that was richly blessed by God.

Sam […]

Our children need to see the power of God

If our children do not see the power of God, they will not believe him. So we pray daily that they will see the power of our Lord.

Moses prayed in Psalm 90, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”

How will we and they see his power?

By seeing God’s mighty acts of redemption accomplished in history. The generation following those who had walked through the Red Sea had not seen the Exodus. Yet, Moses told that generation to tell their children in the first person plural, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:21-22). In 2016, we have not seen God’s historical saving acts with our own physical eyes. We did not see the Red Sea part. We did not see the crucifixion. We did not see Jesus come forth from the grave. But we have seen God’s redemption accomplished before our eyes through the testimony of his witnesses. Our children will see the glorious power of God as […]

Deuteronomy: The Great Commission of the Old Testament

Christians often think of Deuteronomy as boring legal code – a second-giving or re-run of the law. Why then did New Testament authors find it their third favorite book of the Old Testament to quote?

Deuteronomy warmed the hearts of God’s people of old because the book is Moses’ powerful life-end sermon that served as the Great Commission of the Old Testament. It was crafted to set hearts aflame with love for God and a vision for his kingdom among those who awaited the Messiah by faith. Jesus spoke the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples at the end of his time on earth, and those words enlarged hearts for God and set the course for his disciples through time until he comes again.

Consider the similarities in the life-circumstances of the preachers:

Moses preached Deuteronomy at the end of his life on earth as his people were sent into a new and daunting mission.
Jesus preached the Great Commission at the end of his life on earth as he sent his people into a new and daunting mission.

Consider the similarities in redemptive history:

Moses preached Deuteronomy after the Old Testament picture of salvation, deliverance from Egypt, had been accomplished.
Jesus preached the Great Commission […]

Curiosity: A Leadership Essential

Recently, I talked with a lean manufacturing consultant. He works to find and remove inefficiencies across all of the systems and operations of a Fortune 500 company. What key quality that makes someone in his role successful I wondered. “Curiosity” he stated without hesitation. For leadership in an organization to locate and remove waste in its operations, it must want to know, be diligent to uncover, and be committed enough to remove it.

It should come as no surprise that Scripture also identifies this key characteristic for wise leaders. Proverbs 25:2 says “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” God calls his people, across all professions, to rule over and subdue the earth. God has revealed to us what is needed for salvation, but in creation, he has left much for us to discover.

Kings or leaders in manufacturing, government, academia, science, homes, and beyond will only fulfill their callings if their minds are curious to the glory of God. We must learn to uncover things that have not yet been seen. The consultant also said that one of the hardest things for leaders to identify in manufacturing is atrophy. A […]

Honoring Employers and Employees

What is your attitude like at work today? In our workplaces we struggle with right attitudes and actions as we relate to our coworkers, employers, and employees.

The fifth of the Ten Commandments calls us to honor our father and mother. The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that the fifth commandment is a shorthand requirement that we be faithful in all our relationships of authority – as superiors, inferiors, or equals.

Thomas Watson, in his Body of Divinity, a commentary on the Catechism, outlined a few ways that we should fulfill these duties in the workplace (the language has been slightly updated at a few points).

How does and employee or servant serve his employer or master?

In obeying his master in things that are lawful and honest (1 Peter 2:18; Romans 13:12).
The servant’s honoring his master is seen in being diligent in his service (Matthew 25:26).
The servant is to honor his master by being faithful. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant?” (Matt 24:45).
The servant is to honor his master by serving him, as with love, without complaining (Titus 2:9).

And how should masters or employers honor their servants or employees? Remembering that they have a master in heaven (Ephesians 6:9):

Masters must take care to provide for […]

Victims of a Drive-by Catechizing

A number of years ago, a fellow student and I mumbled and griped to one another as we raked leaves on a chilly fall day on the front lawn of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We participated in a work-in-lieu of tuition program that covered part of our educational costs. Each student in the program was assigned tasks and was required to work a set number of hours. However, the program was not well-organized that year as it has since become, and the work never filled the hours required. My brother and I had conscientiously tried to fulfill our obligations week-by-week and go above and beyond the assigned tasks, but we never came close to filling our “required” hours. We were also pretty sure that most other students in the program didn’t begin to bother trying to fill their required hours with extra work.

One day, the seminary administration announced that the student assigned to rake leaves at the beginning of the term had dropped out. Thanksgiving break was nigh; the leaves were untouched. The emergency announcement dictated that any student in the work program who had not completed his work hours for the term […]

What Does “Foreknew” Mean In Romans 8:29?

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29 (ESV)

What does “foreknew” mean in Romans 8:29? Does it mean God looked ahead through time and knew in advance who would believe in Christ and thus predestined them to be conformed to the image of Jesus? Perhaps it reveals some kind of “middle knowledge” of God as he weighed various contingencies and possible decisions of his creatures? These options, which stand opposed to the historic reformed understanding of foreknowledge, seek to preserve unrestricted freedom of man’s will.

It’s helpful to ask two questions of the text at this point. First, to get the context, what is the object of God’s foreknowledge? Second, what is the meaning of the word?

The object of God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 is people. God does not say here that he foreknew inclinations, choices, or actions. It is not faith God foreknew; he foreknew people. God did not choose to save based on foreseen human works or decisions; Scripture is clear that we are sovereignly saved by grace through faith (e.g. Romans 9:11-13, Ephesians 2:8-9). Commenting on […]

Burning John Calvin in Indiana

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial of statehood this year. Amid all the various commemorations, it’s good to look at our theological roots; we’re still partly shaped by them. Indiana became the nineteenth state while the influence of the Second Great Awakening rippled northward from the Cane Ridge Revival (1801) in Kentucky. Arminianism took hold amid the fervor to take the gospel to the frontier; the reformed doctrine of John Calvin found little foothold by comparison.

Some Presbyterians abandoned their reformed theology and became Cumberland Presbyterians as they migrated to the Hoosier state. Thousands more left Presbyterianism altogether and began the Stone-Campbell Movement or the Restoration Movement of the Disciples of Christ. Stronger still were Arminian Baptists who tended to minimize the importance of education and relied especially on emotion in their pleas to the unconverted. But the Methodists converted the state more than any other with their methodical emphasis and missionary zeal. They sent missionaries to the Indiana frontier in droves and quickly structured life for communities, emphasized methods of the Christian life, and established rudimentary educational systems among wilderness people. All of these groups shaped the theology of the state with their commitment to Arminianism, and their influence is still widely evident. […]