The Last Word

The Last Word

As a pastor, few things are harder than preparing for a funeral. Not only are you sharing personally in the grief of beloved friends, but you are bearing the grief of precious sheep. The gravity of speaking the “last words” of a person’s life and the urgency the house of mourning presses upon us to declare the gospel — these are heavy weights upon the mind and heart of a pastor. Last words must declare the faithfulness and goodness of God and prepare those left behind to embark upon the voyage of grief. What we say at the funeral frames life and loss in the context of God’s promises, which are all “yes and amen, in Christ Jesus.”

Especially poignant is time at the graveside. In the quiet intimacy of the grave, we feel the tension between a palpable sense of finality and a nagging certainty that there is more. Andrew Peterson says it well.

This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still–
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more.
Andrew Peterson, “More”

For the believer, death is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. There is more. The last episode of the first book of the Bible recounts two funerals. Genesis begins with “in the beginning” and ends with “in a coffin in Egypt.” God began by speaking life and beauty into the world, but man’s sinful rebellion has brought death and decay. We see the great distance man has fallen and the fruition of the curse, ‘in the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of [moral autonomy] you will surely die.” We might be tempted to find discouragement in these last words, but nothing should be further from the truth.

The famous statement of God’s sovereignty in Gen 50:20, “what you intended for evil, God meant for good” is one of grace and promise. Sin is not the last word. Grace is the last word. What man has experienced and intended for evil in his fallen, sinful rebellion, God has worked for good by sending a redeemer in the person of His Son, Jesus.

We see this explicitly in Acts 2 as Peter declares,

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

This is the great exchange in the gospel; Jesus who bore our sins, Jesus who through our evil intentions and actions, brings us good and salvation. This is the last word. Don’t let sin and death be the last word in your life, for Jesus came to give life and life to the full.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, October 7, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we conclude our conversations from the Book of Beginnings and consider how the God always speaks the last word, and it is a word of redeeming grace to ruined sinners. For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Black Package

We all have those friends or family members who pride themselves on “speaking their mind.”  While they think it a great virtue, we find it a grievous vice.  What they really mean by “speaking their mind” is that they feel free to give unsolicited and harsh criticism.  We try to ignore their callous rudeness, but the problem is that they are often right in what they say.   I call it truth in a black package.  I once worked with a senior engineer who was our official team curmudgeon.  His unsolicited invective toward younger coworkers was always pointed but spot on.   Whenever coworkers ignored his opinions because of the black packaging, they met with disaster.  In the same way, many ignore the gospel, because it comes wrapped in the black packaging of sin and repentance, only to meet with disaster that lasts forever.

As Jacob comes to the end of his life, he gathers his sons to speak a word of blessing.  When we look at his words, however, some look more like a curse than a blessing.  They are future blessing wrapped in the black package of their past sins.  He has hard words for his sons as he reminds them of their past failures, but also points them to a gracious future through the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises by a Savior.   At emotional times like these in our own lives, we are often tempted to define ourselves by our past unfaithfulness, but here Jacob reminds his sons that they are defined by God’s future faithfulness.   Like Jacob’s hard blessings, the gospel first speaks words of conviction to us and then comforts us with words of grace.  One ancient preacher said that it is the needle of the law which draws the thread of the gospel.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, September 30, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine Jacob’s blessing of his sons from Genesis 49 and consider how the gospel speaks hard words of conviction and gentle words of comfort as God calls us to be his sons and daughters.   For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

What in the World is Happening?

The Great Commission calls us to make disciples of all nations.  Within the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church one of the ways we are doing this is through the mission and ministry of World Witness.

World Witness is the foreign missions agency of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Since 1875, we have sent missionaries to Mexico and Pakistan.  Our fields have broadened to now include Chile, Germany, Latin America, Lithuania, Persian Ministry, Scotland, Spain, Turkey, theological training worldwide (MT3) and Eastern Europe.

A primary focus is the Muslim world which includes a Christian hospital in Sahiwal, Pakistan, reaching 40,000 Muslims annually, and Christian schools in Pakistan, educating 500 students annually. In addition, an Iranian satellite TV ministry is planting dozens of house churches, and in Turkey, we are planting churches.

AlexPettettOn Sunday, September 23, the director of World Witness, Alex Pettett will join us for worship to share God’s Word and the mission and vision of World Witness.  He will also be available before and after worship to answer any questions you might have about how you can be involved in this Great Commission work.

Join us for worship September 23, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church  and see what God is doing through the work of World Witness.   For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Bike Man

A common fixture in many small communities is the “bike-man.”   The bike-man is not a mechanic who fixes your mountain bike or performance racer, though he is certainly an able mechanic.  The bike-man is the man who trawls the neighborhoods and garage sales in town, looking for junked or nearly junked bicycles, to restore and sell for next-to-nothing to children who need a good bike, but can’t really afford one.  His mantra is “every child needs a bike and every bike needs a child.”  He is motivated not by profit or by challenge, but simply out of the desire to see things that are thrown away, restored to useful and joyful purposefulness.

The bike-man is an apt metaphor for the God of the Bible, in whose image he is made.  For the persistent theme of Scripture is God’s redemptive purpose to take men, women, boys and girls “thrown away” by sin, and to renew and restore them to useful and joyful purposefulness.  And more than that, to make them His own, to love and value and cherish.

One of the Bible’s great themes is that of adoption.  We are familiar with the power of an adoption story.  When a child is victim of tragic circumstance or is unloved or uncared for, orphaned and thrown away, how beautiful it is when a parent comes and adopts that child into their family to cherish and nourish.   When we adopt we become like the bike-man, taking those others have set out on the curb, restoring them to useful and joyful purposefulness, and giving them a loving family.    More importantly we become like our Heavenly Father who adopts us who were set out on the curb by our sinful rebellion, yet reconciled and adopted because of the finished work of the God’s only-born Son.  The scripture says that our God, is a “father to the fatherless, [who] sets the lonely in families” and that through faith we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

As the story of Jacob draws to a close in the final chapters of Genesis, we see the first account of an adoption in the Bible.  Jacob adopts his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh.   These boys were not homeless or uncared for, but Jacob adopts them to include them in the promises of God and to give them a stake with God’s people.   Likewise, God graciously adopts us through faith in Christ that we might know and trust in His good promises of salvation and eternal life and so that we might throw in our lot with His family, the Church, and not with those who are alienated and estranged and orphaned from God’s grace and from real community.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, September 16, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine Genesis 48 and consider beauty and power of our adoption as sons and daughters of God.   For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Resident Aliens

In our family, the Forth of July ushers in the year’s second half with watermelon, a far-flung fireworks pilgrimage and, of course, home-made ice cream.  We usually gather with family and friends on the Fourth to share our best home-made ice cream and patriotic recitations, capped of by a reading of the Declaration of Independence.   While we are all familiar with the famous Jeffersonian platitudes on human equality and self-evident truths, the real meat of the Declaration is found in the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” which required our forefathers to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The Declaration’s rationale and sense of compulsion is remarkable for its clarity.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The modern reader would do well to pay close attention to the “history of repeated abuses and usurpations” of the late King of England by which he abolished the free System of English Laws.  For the litany of his tyranny reads like it was ripped from today’s headlines.  The governmental overreach that drove our forefathers to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to resist are met in our day with sighs of resignation.     One particular “abuse” caught my eye this year.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Our forefathers were committed to the value of immigration as a way of strengthening, not weakening, society.   To be sure immigration has its dangers and needs effective policies, but, properly understood, its diversity strengthens the fabric of society and brings glory to God (Rev 21:24).    Resident aliens have great power to influence and effect society.   They bring their particular cultural strengths to the table, but also foster the distinctives of their homeland.  They are a part of society, without losing their identity. The Church is to be like this – resident aliens, “an island of one culture in the middle of another.” (Phil 3:20)   But it must never be merely an enclave.  For while the Church fosters the culture of its heavenly homeland, its calling is to transform its sphere of influence, not just “coexist.”  The Church is a colony of resident aliens gathered to “name the name, to tell the Story, to sing Zion’s songs in a land that does not know Zion’s God.”

The closing chapters of the book of Genesis chronicles the sojournings of Jacob’s family into Egypt where they become resident aliens.  We see in their immigration the paradigm and paradox of the Christian life as they are placed by God’s providence in the midst of pagan Egypt yet called to remain distinct as God’s covenant children.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, September 9, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine Genesis 47 and consider our calling to live as resident aliens.  For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Laundry Work

My wife loves making lists, because she loves checking things off her list.  Striking through task after task brings a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Nothing beats the feeling of checking off that last item and heading for a well-earned rest.   But wait, there is one more item – that stubborn one that is always there, yet never removed, never finished.  You know the one I mean.  Laundry work.

Laundry is never done.  You may wash the last load and fold the last dishrag and smugly congratulate yourself in your victory over dirty clothes, then in a flash your family appears bearing those loads they have been holding back for “such a time as this.”   And, thus it starts all over again.  Laundry is never done.  By definition, as long as we live in this fallen world where we are no longer naked and not ashamed, laundry is ever-awaiting.

In our household, “laundry work” is a ready metaphor for any job or experience in life that is always being done but never getting done.  Life is filled with these, not the least of which is wrestling with God.  Wrestling with what He has done, wrestling with what He has not done, wrestling with what he has called us to do and where He has called us to go.   The trite slogan of evangelicalism is “Jesus is the Answer.”  But for those who have heeded the call to follow Him, you have probably learned by now that “Jesus is the Question.” Following Him is a task unfinished, a pilgrim life which finds no permanent resting place in this world, except in Him.   The life of the Christian is the life of wrestling with God, wrestling to cling to Him rather than to this world.

This is why modern-day Christians share the label “Israel,” with our forefathers in the faith.  Because we, like Jacob of old wrestle, with God’s promises and His power and His calling.   That wrestling is not a match, but a life.  It does not go a few rounds until someone gets pinned.   Jacob wrestled all night.   But our wrestling is for a lifetime.  Not a match, but a life.  The Christian life, this wrestling with God, is laundry work.  It is always being done, but never getting done.

After wrestling with God, Jacob returned to Canaan to take up residence in the land of promise.  But life there was anything but promising.  Joseph had been sold into slavery as a teenager and Jacob believed him to be dead.  He resolved never to stop grieving and refused to be comforted.  Meanwhile, Jacob’s others sons all lived wickedly and, like their uncle Esau, cared nothing for God or His promises.  Their birthright meant nothing and they despised it.  Jacob must have wondered if all the promises of God had failed.  Had it all come to nothing?  All the struggle, all the deception, all the conflict; what had it all been for?  Then comes the shocking, heart-stopping word that Joseph is still alive and is in Egypt.  All is arranged and Jacob is bidden to leave Canaan and go down to Egypt.  Leave Canaan?  Go to Egypt?  All of Jacob’s life and the lives of his father and grandfather have been bound up in a commitment to remain in Canaan and never, ever go down to Egypt.  Now Jacob is wrestling with two desires, two callings, and God’s will.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, September 2, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine Genesis 46 and consider from the life of Jacob, how we wrestle with God when his call seems at odds with our desires.  For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Bonfire and Hymn Sing – Rescheduled!

The Pottsville Associate Reformed Church is hosting a Bonfire and Psalm/Hymn Sing, Saturday, May 19, 2018.  We will get started at 6:00pm at The Manse.  The Church will provide drinks and each family will bring a favorite Middle-Eastern themed appetizer, entree or dessert. Bring your friends and family and join us for a night of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs!  Click here for directions or email us at pottsvillearp@gmail.com for more info.