Evangelism 101

Every college has one – that lethal combination of professor and course which inspires dread and is the bane of degree-seeking students.  At Erskine College, it was Mr. Bittinger’s Finance class. He alone taught this course required for Business majors.  Many attempted to evade this threat to their GPA by taking it elsewhere during the summer and transferring their credit. 

Mr. Bittinger was not an academic.  He was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense former corporate comptroller who had little time or patience for ill-prepared future business leaders.  Class days alternated between lecture and exercises.  On exercise day, Mr. Bittinger would randomly select students to demonstrate the solutions to assigned homework in front of the class.   And his selection was remarkably random. 

If you looked at him, he would choose you.  If you looked at your shoes he would choose you.  If you sat in the front of the class and looked keen, he would choose you.  If you sat in the middle behind the class brain, he would choose you.  He had an uncanny knack for choosing you for that problem that had given you fits.   Cutting class was not an option at Erskine.  There was nothing to do but gird up the loins of your mind and face the music. 

Christians often view evangelism with the same dread and evasiveness.   What should be one of our greatest joys becomes our greatest fear.   Unfortunately, evangelism has become a technique to be mastered or a ministry to be exercised rather than a lifestyle of telling others the remarkable story of deliverance.  The story of the power of God to deliver us from our own broken selves and make us whole and new both now and forever.  

Perhaps the reticence of some professing Christians for evangelism is because they know about God but do not know Him savingly.   For others a lack of time spent with Him through diligent use of the means of grace – the Word, prayer, worship, and fellowship – means that they know too little of Him to introduce Him to others.  And in evangelicalism, the influence of Arminianism and classical apologetics makes evangelism fundamentally confrontational.  The pressure for success is placed in the evangelist’s power of persuasion and not in the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit.  All of these make evangelism intimidating. 

But what if evangelism is as simple as telling others what God promised and then accomplished in real time? And leaving the rest to the Holy Spirit?   This is the model of evangelism we see in the Bible.  And in Exodus 18 in the middle of the journey from deliverance at the Red Sea to the receiving of the law at Mount Sinai, we find the curious story of Jethro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law. 

Through hospitality and conversation, Moses gives Jethro a detailed account of all that God has done to deliver Israel.  Jethro has already heard some of the epic tale through word of mouth. But as Moses recounts the whole story of redemption, Jethro is converted.  And he immediately worships and exercises his spiritual gifts to the great edification of the people of God.  The story of Jethro’s conversion is an important encouragement to us.  It reminds us that the power of salvation is in God’s Word and work, not in our presentation or persuasion.  We are called to faithfulness, not success in evangelism.   Evangelism is to be a way of life and conversation, not a program or a niche ministry. 

Are you intimidated by evangelism? Join the club!  But it need not be that way.  Evangelism is as simple as having a story to tell and telling it.   Do you have a story of deliverance and redemption to tell?   Are you telling it? Join us as we examine Exodus 18:1-12 and consider the conversion of Jethro and learn “Evangelism 101” from Moses.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

First Steps

A baby’s first step is a big deal.  That one small step for baby-kind is a giant leap for growth, maturity, and independence.  That first step begins with learning to roll over.  Then comes the ‘army crawl.’   Then pulling up and letting go.  Finally, that first tentative step is taken.   Every eye is riveted on baby as she lets go and wobbles forward in a tenuous rapture.   And in that instant of confidence, she takes her first step.

Parents hold their breath, fumbling for phones to capture the moment.  And as they cheer exuberantly from the sidelines the moment quickly passes.   Overwhelmed by attention, baby becomes self-aware of the uncertainties of walking upright.   Like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, her faith wavers and she sinks down to the floor. 

Her parents revel in the accomplishment.  They text videos to grandparents and friends.  Put stickers in the baby book.  And tearfully journal that their baby is growing up.   Then in a flash of prescience, the full weight of what just happened dawns on them.   That first step has been taken.  It is the step that leads to climbing, to running ahead, and to learning the power of ‘no.’   Much more has changed than mere mobility.

First steps mark more than the end of infancy.  They mark the beginning of freedom.  Children learn to trust and obey parents, not because they must, but because they should.  First steps lead to experience and peril beyond a child’s maturity to assess or navigate.  Those first steps are physically significant, but even more significant relationally and spiritually.

For the Israelites, the deliverance through the Red Sea is just the beginning.   As God’s people, their infancy is over.  Now it is time to take the first steps of new life in Christ.   Steps that call on them to endure trial.   Steps that require the continual exercise of faith.   And steps that teach them to enjoy the Lord.  God’s saving act in their lives, as in ours, is never the telos, but the ontos.   Deliverance is just the beginning.   By faith we must take our first steps and follow Christ, step by step, wide-eyed, and full of tenuous rapture.

But these first steps are not without peril.  We are told to count the cost.  God’s Word is filled with examples that embolden and warn.   No sooner had God delivered the people from certain death on the shores of the Red Sea, littering the beach with the bodies of their enemies, than the people failed at the very first test of faith.   The people were finally free of Pharaoh’s death grip.  But three days in the desert without water is serious. 

For a single lost traveler, three days without water is dire.  But for over two million refugees and their livestock, it is a humanitarian crisis.   They had followed the pillar of cloud and fire, but it led them only to bitter water.  And their lack of faith makes their hearts, minds, and speech bitter as well.   Their memory is short.   And their faith even shorter.   Yet, despite their faithlessness, God is faithful.  He graciously slakes their thirst.  And gives them something more important – his promise.

There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”

Exodus 15:25-26

On the far shore of the Red Sea faith and worship come easily.  But at the edge of Marah’s bitter waters, faith is tested.  But faith also grows.  When you are in the bitter place will you “diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes?”  Or is that when you grumble and turn away?  Obedience is not the path that leads to grace, it is the road that leads out from it.   Obedience teaches us how to enjoy God, which is why we exist.

Do you enjoy the Lord even when the water is bitter?  When the children and the livestock are crying for thirst will you cry out to him or against him?  When the Lord, himself, leads you to a dead end, will you trust him even then?   The Christian life begins with deliverance.  But that is only the beginning.  Like the disciples in the gospels, we too are called to follow — to endure trials, to exercise faith, and to learn to enjoy God in any and every circumstance.   

Have you taken those first steps of faith to follow Christ?  Join us as we examine Exodus 15:22-27 and consider God’s gracious work of sanctification in the life of the believer as he teaches us to endure trial, exercise faith, and enjoy him, no matter what.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Ordinary

Who has time for anything less than extraordinary?  Only the most extreme, the newest, the hottest and the freshest will do.   Anything less is unacceptable.   All adjectives must be superlatives. ‘Fine’ used to mean exceptional, now it translates to barely acceptable.   To merely ‘meet expectations’ at work is an insult.  Any restaurant that hopes to survive must have an experimental kitchen and a menu forever in flux.  And advertising that promises anything less than the moon falls on deaf ears.   We have no room for the ordinary.   It does not matter what anyone claims so long as they claim to be extraordinary.

But most of life is lived in the ordinary.   To despise the ordinary and pine for the extraordinary is to despise most of our days, hours, moments, relationships, experiences, and blessings.   Jesus taught powerfully, but most of his illustrations were drawn from the ordinary things of life — plants, seeds, livestock, coins, and neighbors.  In both creation and providence God delights in the ordinary.

The Bible tells us that the Lord does not ‘despise the day of small things.’  But we usually do.   We want bigger, better, faster, sooner.  And this leads us to prize novelty.   We long for a life different from the one God placed us in.  The old, the tried and true, is passe. What is needed is a newer, better, shinier thing.   Surely the ‘new things’ has power to captivate and capture the heart.

Unfortunately, the church has bought into this love of novelty.   But this love of the new thing is not a new thing.   The ancient prophet Jeremiah warned the people of his day to “ask for the ancient paths.”   And the church today tries to attract the world by offering the extraordinary – the newest, most powerful, most dynamic experience possible.  And yet, She is declining and losing influence in our culture.   Perhaps in our pursuit of the extraordinary, we have lost sight of the power and joy of the ordinary.

Following Pentecost the church experienced extraordinary works of the Holy Spirit, but its most explosive growth resulted from the ordinary means of grace God had appointed. 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47

Wonders and signs followed the Word, fellowship, worship, prayer and the sacraments.   Ordinary means produced extraordinary results.   The same is true today.   But do we believe it?  Can we trust the means that God has given?  Do we believe what our catechism teaches us to believe?

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, His ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

– Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 88

Or is something more needed?   Can we improve on God’s appointed means?   Are they enough?   We often struggle with these questions.   But so did Moses.   He did not believe that the elders of Israel would believe God’s Word.  To accommodate weak faith, God gave signs to confirm His Words.   And against his objections, Moses returned to Egypt, doubtful anyone would believe the Lord.  Yet at the end of Exodus 4, we have a remarkable picture of the power of God’s Word to bring faith.

Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

Exodus 4:29-31

Quickly and completely, God’s Word produced faith in an unbelievable promise.   God’s means are always enough.  The Word never returns void.   The gospel is the power of salvation.  And ‘faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of Christ.’   Not gimmicks, not slick ad campaigns, not moralism – but it is through the outward and ordinary means of grace that Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, delivers sinners, and grows His church.   Do you believe this?

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 4:27-31 and consider the power of the ordinary means of grace to save sinners and grow the Church.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Learning to Cry

Crying? There’s no crying in math! Or so I thought.  Echoing Tom Hanks’ iconic line from A League of Their Own, my children often hear me declare ‘there’s no crying in math – it’s simply facts and figures, not emotion.’  And yet, for all my feeling that there should not be any crying in math, it does indeed exist.   It is not the crying of pain, or pleading, or even sadness – it is the crying of overwhelming disorientation as operators and operands leap from the page and swirl in a tornadic vortex, mixed and disordered beyond repair.  There is crying in mathematics.  Its angst is not merely the angst of computational failure.   And many tears have been shed over math in our home.

Crying is peculiar if you think about it.   While the production of tears, or lacrimation, has a cleansing effect removing debris from the eye, the physiological and psychological dimensions of crying go much further.   We cry when we are afraid, sad, happy, angry, relieved, or surprised.  And these emotional tears differ in their chemical composition from other tears.   They have higher concentrations of protein-based hormones, including prolactin, and also the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin – a painkiller produced when one experiences stress. Emotional tears are also more viscous, remaining on a person’s face longer thus more visible to others.

Crying communicates what words cannot.  Before children speak, they cry to communicate.  And even after we speak, crying communicates what words cannot.   Humans are the only creatures that cry.  Our tears transmit a depth and nuance of human emotion that even the infinite subtleties of our mother tongue cannot express.   We feel this in Paul’s discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

Groanings too deep for words.   That is where prayer often takes us.   John Owen, in his treatise on prayer, emphasized written prayer.  He rightly observed that vocabulary governs thoughtful expression in prayer.  But there are depths of joy, sorrow, and uncertainty that outpace our conscious expression – groanings too deep for words. 

“Deep calls to deep” the Psalmist laments.   And deep answers deep!  This is the truth of crying out to God.   His ear is tuned to his children’s cry.   He hears, he sees, he remembers, and he knows.   No sorrow, trial, joy, crisis, or struggle slips past his loving gaze.  The Hebrew people had been slaves of countless Pharaohs through centuries of Egyptian history.   They cried out.  And God heard.   They learned not only to cry over their condition, but to ‘cry out’ and to ‘cry out to God.’   Exodus 2:23-25 shows this dynamic in a remarkable way.  Four different expressions of crying are answered by four specific responses from God.

The Hebrews learned to cry.   Perhaps this seems absurd.   After all crying is not learned.  We have known how to cry from day one.   Most of us were born crying.   No one taught us to cry at weddings or funerals, to cry when pain grips us, or to cry when a loved one returns home.  Some cultures cry more, some less.  Women cry more than men.  Yet we all cry.   What we must learn is ‘to whom to cry.’   Until we cry out to the Lord, our crying, though cathartic, is like shouting into the darkness.   But when we cry to the Lord, he sees, he hears, he remembers, and he draws near.   Only he will answer our cry.  Only he can make the difference. Join us this week as we examine Exodus 2:23-25 and consider what it teaches us about learning to cry out to God.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

01/30/2022 | “A Sad Conclusion” | Jonah 4

Conclusions resolve tensions, answer questions. Yet Jonah ends on a question.  Asked to Jonah but also to you. Do you care about the lost? Do you know the spiritual state of neighbors? Are you indifferent to those under judgement? Are you a ‘Jonah?’  Listen as we examine Jonah 4 and consider these hard and revealing questions.

A Godward Turn

In the Bible, we see amazing testimonies of God’s grace. One remarkable example is found in Jonah 3. Jonah ran from God, but God pursued him. In the belly of a great fish he called out to God. And Jonah is restored to his office as a prophet. And while that is a remarkable testimony of God’s grace, it is only a foretaste of what comes next.

This time Jonah follows God’s call to warn the people of Nineveh of God’s judgment. Nineveh was a city known for its wickedness and rebellion against God. Amazingly, however, God uses this message to bring about one of the Bible’s greatest revivals. From the least to the greatest, the Ninevites turn from sin and unto God.
What accounts for such a radical change? God worked through the preaching of His Word to change the hearts of the people. God was pleased to save many through the foolishness of the preached word. One of the Bible’s shortest sermons stirs even to the king of Nineveh to repent.

What is your attitude to the preaching of God’s Word? Are you receptive? Have you recognized it as the Word of God which is authoritative and powerful? Are you grateful for the grace of God in giving us His Word? This is the Word that presents to us the message of the Gospel. God has not left His people without hope or without a Word from Him.

Perhaps you wonder if God could ever receive you. The example of God’s grace to Jonah and to the people of Nineveh should give you hope. Christ has died for sinners, and the Christ that saved them is offered to you as well. Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jonah 3 and consider the power of God’s Word and the kindness of God which leads us to repentance.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

So Much More

My father was an avid story-teller who knew how to create suspense.   He masterfully drew listeners to the precipice of a story’s climax.  He was often called upon to speak publicly, especially at celebratory or ceremonial occasions.  With carefully chosen words, he lent gravity and significance to every proceeding, no matter how small or common. The natural drama that surrounds the holiday season especially primed my father’s pump. 

Christmas Eve brought convergence to my father’s love of suspense.  Before bed, we set out chocolate pie for Santa.   Then Daddy would pull out his giant reel-to-reel recorder and conduct interviews with my sisters and me. With a news reporter’s demeanor, he would conduct his man-on-the-street interview, probing our expectations for the day ahead.  As we prepared for bed, he scanned across oceans of static on his transistor radio for reports from NORAD about an unidentified inbound object over the Bering Sea.  We were never sure which was imminent – Santa Claus or nuclear holocaust?   Every detail of the evening was calculated to create suspense by asking the same question.  “When we wake in the morning, if we wake, will we encounter wonder or disappointment?”

My father knew this was never a settled question for me.  He knew that sometime in the night, I would wake and slip, as noiselessly as an eight-year-old can, into the living room where all things Christmas were contained. He knew I would investigate the pie plate then the wing-back chair which was the designated landing spot for the evidence of my goodness in the preceding year.  The pie plate looked like a crime scene and in the chair were many good things, but not every good thing.  Something was always missing.   The big item on my list – that something more — was never there.   Even as he slept, my father created suspense. 

In the morning, after Santa’s gifts were examined and family gifts were exchanged, just as my mother was getting up to begin lunch preparations, my father would notice something out of place, stuck in an unused corner or fallen behind some furniture.  With great fanfare and musings of “what is this” and “where did that come from,” he produced ‘something more.’

Christmas is often a season which leaves us looking for something more. Expectations are high, but our celebrations rarely deliver. And even when we take to heart Linus’ words to Charlie Brown that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior, we are left wondering what type of Savior He is. Is He a mere teacher, who increased the demands of the law from mere outward conformity, to the perfect obedience of heart, mind, soul and strength? Is He a mere example, come to demonstrate to us how to love and sacrifice for one another? Is He a revolutionary who incites us to throw off convention and tradition? Or should we look for something more? Our catechism asks, “What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?”

In Matthew 1, Joseph wrestled with the revelation of Mary’s pregnancy.   How should he respond?   What was to become of her?  And what about the child?  The Bible narrates Joseph’s deliberation and the Lord’s intervention.

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us)

Matthew 1:20-23

That path laid out for Joseph was, no doubt, not one of his alternatives.   But the angel’s words which vindicate Mary’s honor are given for much more than that.  They reveal to Joseph and to us that this child is much more than a mere human.  Or as our catechism says, he is “one who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God.”   This is the only type of savior who can save.  And this is the only type of savior we should seek.  

The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not about Mary, but about Jesus.   The grace that is ours in the gospel is much more than we imagine or expected.  Join us this week as we examine God’s promise of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:1-17 and consider how God’s gracious promise points to something much more than we dared to hope or imagine.  

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Coal and Switches

My enthusiasm for the Christmas season rivals that of ‘Buddy the Elf.’  Growing up, Christmas-time was filled with daily wonder.   Each Sunday we would light a bulb on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering wreath for each $100 given for world missions.   A few Saturdays before Christmas, Daddy and I would load up our ax, travel to our garden spot, and cut a sparsely foliated (but free) pine for the living room.  What it lacked in branches was easily compensated with icicles.  The color-wheel was set up and blue electric candles lighted every window.  My mother made fudge and divinity on an industrial scale.  And on Saturday mornings, my father would patiently take me on the annual Christmas shopping pilgrimage – which always included chocolate-covered cherries and a calendar refill for Mama.

On Christmas Eve we would make all the final preparations.  Mesh stockings were hung on each door knob, in hopes that they would be filled with an apple, an orange, a giant candy cane and spice drops.  After supper, we would open our gift from Nana.  She always gave us the same thing — a new pair of pajamas.  Predictable though it was, it never got old.  Donning those flannel PJs signaled the beginning of Christmas.   Before bed, we would set out chocolate pie for Santa because my father said he would be tired of cookies by the time he made it to Georgia.   Then Daddy would pull out his giant reel-to-reel audio recorder and conduct interviews with my sisters and me.

My father had a flair for the dramatic.  With a news reporter’s demeanor, he would conduct his man-on-the-street interview with us, always wrapping up with the devastating question, “Have you been good this year?”  Of course, I always tried to answer a confident, “Yes.”   But in the quiet of my mind and the long night, conscience began to do its work.  Had I been good?  Had my merits exceeded my demerits?  Had my kindness overshadowed my unkindness?  Had I helped others more than I had hurt them?  How good did I need to be?  Had I obeyed my parents?  Had I obeyed them joyfully?

These days the darker side of Santa is rarely discussed – the vindictive, cold, works-based side of Santa Claus that delivers the punitive gifts of a lump of coal and a bundle of switches to bad children.  But in my childhood Santa’s Covenant of Works was well publicized.   Many hours of reflection would follow bedtime.  While Nana passed the hours in sonorous oblivion, under the weight of three quilts on my bed, I pondered the question, “Had I been good?”  How good did I need to be?  I had never heard of any of my friends actually getting a lump of coal or a bundle of switches, but would that be my lot?  Between considering other questions such as “how will Santa get in our house since we don’t have a chimney,” and “how can he get to every home in just one night,” the central quandary would return.  Had I been good?  In the final assessment, I could only hope that Santa’s intelligence network was not very good, otherwise I was sunk.   If he really knew who was naughty and who was nice, it would be coal and switches for me.

A man once came to Jesus and posed the same question, but concerning for a more serious outcome.  “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus reply was devastating.  “Why do you call me good, no one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments!”  Then Jesus proceeded to remind him of those commandments which related to people.  The young man’s superficial claim of perfect obedience was then met with a final command which utterly crushed him.  “One more thing, go sell everything and follow me.”    At these words he was saddened and went away grieving.   How good do you have to be ‘good with God?’   Well if it is up to you, you have to be perfect.  Unless you can love God perfectly with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength and your neighbor just as much as you love yourself, you will receive, not just the temporal punishment of a lump of coal and a bundle of switches, but the eternal wrath and curse of a just and holy God.

Who can make a claim to this kind of goodness?  The Bible tells us that “no one is good, no not one.”  But it is in that same context that we are told the good news that the judgment of God is not the last word.   God loved us and sent his son, the eternal Son of God, to become man, to live a perfect life and to die a sinner’s death on our behalf so that we might receive the gift of life through faith in Him, not by our works.   There is no hope for bad children with Santa, but with the eternal God, sinners have hope.  For Jesus said, “the one who comes to me, I will never turn away.”

Join us this Sunday as we examine Genesis 3 consider what the Bible teaches about the justice and the mercy of God for men who recognize that they are not good. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Playlists

Life is better with a soundtrack.  In movies even the most mundane actions are rendered dramatic by a soundtrack.  We fill our lives with music to give emphasis to our daily life.   Our soundtrack takes shape in the playlists we curate.  In my youth this was limited to FM radio, but with the advent of Napster in the 90s and then its legal offspring, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and a host of others, we can add just the right musical context to every aspect of our lives.

One aspect that gets the most carefully crafted playlist is our funeral.   As a pastor and hospice chaplain, I officiate many funerals.   Sometimes the playlists are quite imaginative.  They reveal a lot about the person being eulogized.   And sometimes they are quite long.   One included, Tuesday’s Gone and Stairway to Heaven.   I have also seen Chubby Checker’s The Twist included.  And to the horror of the funeral directors, The Twist was accompanied by the family dancing around the casket.    

And while less, unconventional, there are many country songs which, though sweet in their sentiment, have significant theological problems.   Now I like Vince Gill and Steve Wariner as well as anyone, but Go Rest High is a tribute to Keith Whitley’s troubled life and Holes in the Floor of Heaven teaches in idea of heaven at odds with the Bible.   So let me encourage you as you are thinking of your funeral playlist.  Take some time to look at what the scripture says about life after death – both for the believer and the unbeliever – so that every part of our funeral service can bear witness to the goodness of our God and the truth of the gospel.

But what does the Bible say?   While we have considerable data in Isaiah and Revelation about life in the New Heavens and the New Earth, very little is given about the time between death and the resurrection and return of Christ.   Theologians refer to this time as the Intermediate State.   Some hold this is a time of unconscious soul sleep, others that it is a dreary dream world of souls in limbo.  Still others view this as a time of probation with a second chance for those that either did not hear the gospel or rejected it in this life.   But the Bible soundly refutes all these ideas and gives us a much better picture of a life absent from the body, but present with the Lord.

Sara Groves’ song, What Do I Know? articulates well the truth that despite what we don’t know about the ‘intermediate state’, it is what we do know that matters most.

I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight
and she just shared with me that she’s afraid of dying.
I sit here years from her experience
and try to bring her comfort.
I try to bring her comfort
But what do I know?
What do I know?

She grew up singing about the glory land,
and she would testify how Jesus changed her life.
It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four,
but now her friends are dying, and death is at her door.
Oh, and what do I know?
Really, what do I know?
I don’t know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
I don’t know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of those things.

She lost her husband after sixty years,
and as he slipped away she still had things to say.
Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love.
It comes and interrupts.

And what do I know? What do I know?
I don’t know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
I don’t know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of those things.

But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good.
Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be very good.

What Do I Know? Sara Groves

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 and consider what this beautiful passage tells us about what we can know for certain about life in Paradise, while we wait for the Resurrection and the New Heavens and the New Earth.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Fingertips and Noses

Eyeglasses are gamechangers. They are so common we cannot imagine growing older without them. Demographers report that three fourths of all Americans wear corrective lenses. Without them reading would be impossible for me. And my driving would be more hazardous than it already is. But for all their benefits, wearing glasses has challenges.

First, they are remarkably hard to find, especially when they are on my head. And of all the things I drop, they seem more drawn to the effects of gravity. No matter what bridge-rest I install, my glasses inevitably come to rest at the end of my nose, librarian style. And, most notably, they are impossible to keep clean.

My beloved wife plants glass cleaner and lens cloths in every nook and cranny of my life. Yet my glasses always look like I’ve been cooking French fries then banging out erasers. If you doubt the air is heavily polluted, you are in the one fourth of Americans that don’t wear glasses. Of course, all glass is a dirt magnet. Its transparency tells all, readily revealing every streak, speck, and smudge.

But if there are small children in your home the transparency of glass reveals something else – expectation. While the phrase, “wait till your father gets home” can inspire fear, it more often inspires delight. Any family with a glass door or large picture window will find it covered in smudges from fingertips and noses. Children, expectantly waiting for the return of fathers and mothers, press against the glass with hands and faces. Filling the space with the telltale signs of longing for the return of a loved one.

No doubt, I am not the first to notice this. Or make the analogy, that our lives as believers should, in the same way, transparently offer telltale signs of the longing for the return of our Beloved One, the Lord Jesus. Years ago, NewSong pictured this poignantly in their song, Fingertips and Noses.

Up in the hills somewhere in Kentucky
In a little old school way back in the nothing
Where special kids born with special needs
Are sent to learn life’s ABCs

Their teacher, Mrs. Jones, tells them all about Jesus
How in the twinkling of an eye He’s coming back to get us
About streets of gold and pearly gates
How they want to go, they just can’t wait
And she can’t keep them in their seats
They’re all at the windows straining to see

And it’s fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again
All they know is that they love Him so
And if He said He’d come, He’s coming
And they can’t keep their windows clean
For fingertips and noses

She tried to explain to the kids about His coming
She tried to calm them down, but they just wouldn’t listen
They just giggled and they clapped their hands
They’re so excited that He’s coming for them
And the first thing you know they’re out of their seats
Back at the windows straining to see

Where will Jesus find us when He comes again?
Will we be like little children waiting just for Him?
With our fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again.

Where will Jesus find us when He comes again? With longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again? The final instruction of the Bible to believers is to live expectantly, longing for Christ’s return. Our mantra is to be maranatha or ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Is that your mantra? Can you say with the Spirit and the Bride, ‘Come!’ Or is your cry, “not yet!”

How eager are you for the return of Christ? How convinced are you that the day of His return will be the very best day, not a day of disaster? Will the climax of your life be the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us?” Join us this Lord’s Day, as we examine Revelation 22:6-21 and consider a how to live expectantly and cultivate a longing for the return of Christ, training our hearts to cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube