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The Good Soil “Hears”

By: Robert J. Cara, Ph.D.


To become a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, the candidate must go through many “hoops.” One requirement is that Dr. Duncan (Chancellor) and I (Provost) interview the candidate for three hours covering a host of theological topics. Recently, we interviewed the well-known theologian, seminary professor, and former pastor of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Normally in these interviews, I sense that the candidate is slightly nervous. However, given my respect for Dr. Ferguson, I was nervous and wanted to make a good impression on him!

As one would imagine, Dr. Ferguson’s interview was very impressive. During the interview, I noticed that Dr. Ferguson wove into several different answers a quote from the Good Shepherd passage where Jesus says that the sheep “will hear my voice” (John 10:16). Among other things, Dr. Ferguson related this to his personal conversion, aspects of pastoral theology, and his doctrine of Scripture.

In many places in the Bible, including John 10, the Bible rhetorically uses two senses of the verb “hear.” There is the surface hearing of a biblical message and the deeper hearing of actually spiritually understanding, believing, and obeying the message. In John 10, Jesus is indicating that there are sheep that will truly hear his voice through the Scripture and follow him.

Instead of being overly disappointed that not all believe, we should be encouraged that some DO believe. Yes, Jesus’ voice is heard by his sheep. Similarly, in the Parable of the Sower, there are “good soils” who “hear” in a deep way. This is encouraging. Our preaching/teaching/talking-to-others-at-McDonalds is not in vain.

Overview of the Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23 breaks down into:

* 13:1-9           The parable per se

* 13:10-17       Why does Jesus speak in parables?

* 13:18-23       Jesus’ interpretation of the parable to his disciples

In the parable, Jesus himself is the sower (cf. Matthew 13:37) and the seed is the Word of God (cf. Luke 8:11). The soils/plants are different types of people with three (bad) soils not responding properly and the “good soil” being believers. Note, Jesus is telling a parable about himself. Those actually listening to Jesus’ parable are the soils he is speaking of! Of course, Jesus intends that the parable be extended beyond his ministry to all those who sow the seed of the Word of God in his name (e.g., Acts 6:7).

Why Does Jesus Speak in Parables? Matthew 13:10-17

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11).

Before getting to the parable and its interpretation, first a few comments about the disciples’ question concerning Jesus’ reason for speaking in parables (Matthew 13:10). The Bible presents several angles as to why Jesus spoke in parables. Here the emphasis is on parables not being a straightforward way of teaching. In context, this is related to not everyone believing as shown by the four different soils. Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 // Matthew 13:14-15 to show that in the sovereignty of God some will “hear but not understand.” Parables have a unique way of presenting the two levels of hearing.

Concerning the “soils” that do not believe, Jesus presents both personal-responsibility reasons (e.g., cares of the world, Matthew 13:22) and sovereignty-of-God predestination reasons (Matthew 13:11-15). For some, it is difficult to put these two together. The solution to this is simple: Be a Calvinist!

Immediately following the “be a Calvinist” section, Jesus gives comforting words to the believer. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). That is, Jesus’ true disciples hear him at the deep level. Ultimately, this is due to grace.

Do we believers feel individually blessed? In the special providence of God, the Holy Spirit opened our ears to hear the Good Shepherd speaking to us through Scripture. Jesus was speaking of us in John 10. The sheep “will hear my voice.”          The sheep place their full trust in the person and work of the Good Shepherd.

Good Soil. Matthew 13:8 and 13:23

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. . . . As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:8, 23).

Yes, there are bad soils, but there is also the good soil. The good-soil people hear Jesus’ voice at the deep level. He speaks to believers through the Word. Do we believe as strongly as we should that when we preach/teach/speak the Word that there is among the bad soils some “good soil” for the “seed” to fall upon?

I am often the guest preacher at both large and small churches. A few weeks ago as I was the guest preacher at a small ARP church. On the drive to the church, I was encouraged by this parable even though the sermon was on another text. There are all types of soils, but there will be some good soil there!

Ten Theses of Berne

In recognition of the 500th year of the Reformation, a quote from the Reformation is appropriate. In 1528 Berne, Switzerland was considering changing from a Roman Catholic city to a Protestant city. Before doing so, there was a “Disputation” in Berne where both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians and pastors/priests were invited to “dispute” ten statements or theses. There were over 350 in attendance and the Disputation lasted twenty-one days.

The ten theses were composed by two Berne Reformed pastors, Haller and Kolb. Zwingli had editorial input. Speakers for the Protestant side were Haller, Kolb, plus the “heavy hitters” Zwingli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, and Capito. As a result of the Disputation, the Berne city council voted to become Protestant and ended the mass in its churches.

The first thesis was: “The holy catholic church, whose sole head is Christ, has been begotten from the Word of God, in which [Word of God] also it continues, nor does it listen to the voice of any stranger.” (See John 10:4-5, 16.) No, the true church does not listen the voice of a stranger. The true church listens to the voice of the Good Shepherd through his Scripture, and listens to him alone.


The good soil is the Church, it has only one head. The Church “hears” the voice of her shepherd, and the Church “does not listen to the voice of any stranger.” Oh Christian reader, may you (1) Be grateful that you were and are the good soil and hear the voice of the Shepherd and (2) Be encouraged in your ministry that there is some good soil for you to sow the Word of God in.


Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things

By: Rev. Lee Shelnutt, Moderator

What major anniversary do we as Protestants, as Associate Reformed Presbyterians, celebrate this year? The 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, right?

Imagine with me this scene. The year was 1521. Huge crowds greet Martin Luther as he entered into the city of Worms, for the Diet (a major meeting of both political and ecclesiastical officials). The very Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire himself, Charles V., was there in great part to hear the testimony of Luther. While Luther thought he would have an opportunity to make a case for his views, the Roman Catholic Church and the Emperor had other things in mind. He had been summoned there either to recant or be condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake. After a painful delay, a moment of weakness, a dark night of the soul, when pressed and forced to give his answer — would he recant his writings? — he famously responded in Latin:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

Then it is said by some that Luther added in German these famous lines:

“Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.” Spanish soldiers of Charles cried, “El Fuego” – the fire!

As officials conferred, Luther was swept out of the room through the crowded streets and shouting crowds, where he was abducted by “bandits,” a.k.a., servants of Luther’s friend and German ruler, Frederick the Elector. They covered his head and face and raced in horse and wagon on a circuitous route through forests to finally pull into Wartburg Castle where Luther would go into disguise and hiding, protected from being burned at the stake as a heretic and there given the time and opportunity to translate the New Testament into German, putting God’s Word into the language of Martin’s people!

It’s the stuff of epic Hollywood movies. It is a grand story! It was a big deal! The Reformation was on!

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “but you said that was in the year 1521. If that’s the case, why are we celebrating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in 2017 and not in 2021?”

Ahh, you’ve been paying attention! Good! Because we mark the beginning of the Reformation not by this momentous, big, powerful, sweeping moment upon which there was no turning back, but rather by another moment, an earlier one, a seemingly insignificant, small moment, when an inquisitive scholar-monk with a troubled conscience wanted to have an intellectual debate on problems he was having with the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences. He walked to the door of the University of Wittenberg’s Cathedral door with parchment, nail, and mallet in hand and did something akin to tacking up a “Yard Sale” notice on the local community notice board, or making a post on your Church’s Facebook page. He simply tacked his 95 theses to that door and walked off. But you see, it was that small, quiet, un-extraordinary, seemingly insignificant act that truly marked the beginning of the Reformation, the Reformation that in God’s providence in great part gives birth to who we are today!

Over the past few months that historical example and so many more present examples have illustrated for me a pervasive and persistent truth of Holy Scripture. Once you begin noticing it, you can see it everywhere. You soon find it to be like a surprising and beautiful thread woven all throughout a grand tapestry. And that truth is this:

Our glorious, majestic, sovereign God so often exercises His omnipotence in a counter-intuitive way. He uses what Luther himself would describe as left-handed power. Our God so often exercises His omnipotence through the small, the weak, the seemingly insignificant, the foolish, the poor… Or as my main text puts it – He exercises it through the Day of Small Things.

Zechariah 4 is a classic text. Here’s the setting. The Jewish exiles who had been in Babylonian captivity, in God’s providence, working through the actions of Cyrus, the Persian ruler, had returned home to the Promised Land, to Mt. Zion, to Jerusalem, where the walls of the city and the Temple needed to be rebuilt. As that work began and as they faced opposition from the inhabitants of the land, and as the older Israelites remembered the glory and splendor and impressiveness of the old Temple, their hearts sank at what they saw. It hurt emotionally. It was a bleak time economically and spiritually. What hope was there to have a magnificent Temple like in the day of Solomon?

It is at this point that our gracious LORD sent to His people of old, gracious words, words of assurance and encouragement.

The rebuilding wouldn’t be by the power of a mighty man. It would not be by brute right-handed power. No, it would be by the power of the Spirit and it would happen. Zerubbabel’s hands would complete it. They could bank on it and know that they would be joyful when it came to pass before their eyes. Yes, they were financially strained. Yes, they faced opposition. Yes, they were weak. They were a small people in a world of the likes of the Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and a parade of human empires. Yet, they were to trust God and be patient, for one day they would rejoice. They were the sort of people in the very kind of situation in which Yahweh relished to work, in His counter-intuitive, left-handed power sort of way.

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

In other words, don’t despise the day of small things! There is no need. The LORD is at work, by His Spirit, and one day you will rejoice when you see what He has in store!

Think about this biblical truth and theme. You see it throughout the Bible. Just consider a few instances in the Old Testament. Wasn’t it one man and his sons who built the ark? One man who would become the Father of nations? One young slave and prisoner in Egypt would save that nation and his family in the years of famine? Wasn’t Gideon commanded to reduce his force to 300 men and then and only then would he gain the victory? Wasn’t it the young shepherd son David chosen over his more impressive brothers? Again and again, we see God’s left-handed power at work. And that’s the message we need to hear, for we are so prone to be like the Israelites in the day of Zechariah. We pine for the good old days. We are discouraged by our smallness, our weakness, our seeming insignificance.

I have been an ARP for 30 years and I dearly love our denomination, but there is something it’s hard not to pick up on if you’ve been an ARP for long, and it’s that we get the fact that we are a small denomination. Right? Sure, I suspect there have been some who sometimes, take pride — an unhealthy pride — in being small, as if that’s a de facto proof of being more faithful. We know that attitude don’t we? And if we find that sort of sentiment in our hearts there’s nothing to do but to repent of such sinful foolishness.

But that’s really not the dominate sentiment I’ve noted through the years when we are self-conscious of our size and strength as a denomination. No, the sentiment I have encountered is more like embarrassment with a tint of hopelessness. It is a “poor, poor pitiful us mentality.” Yet, through my time as a minister, and my service in Presbytery and Synod, my travels and blessed involvement with World Witness, and through my work this past year as Moderator-Elect, I have witnessed many amazing ways in which God has and is exercising His left-handed power in building and revealing his kingdom! Think about these:

  • A father leading his family in prayer and family devotionals;
  • A faithful pastor preparing his messages week after week with love in his heart for God, God’s people, and God’s Word – steadily committed to the means of grace;
  • A youth minister listening, loving, counseling and putting resources into the hands of a young person struggling with doubts in this antagonistic world;
  • A mother tenderly caring for children in the church’s nursery;
  • A senior citizen at a nursing home praying regularly for her church family;
  • An older congregation reaching out to refugees despite the difficulties and this not being the vision and ministry of the church of their youth;
  • A camp counselor at work revealing the love of Christ to those she works with at Camp Joy, a camp that works so well because of the untold small acts of a whole cadre of disciples of Christ;
  • A young family parachuting into a new community with the hopes of beginning a new church plant;
  • Accounting minds pouring over budgets at all levels of our denomination, seeking to be good stewards of our resources and our laborers;
  • A college professor with a high view of Special Revelation faithfully loving students as he teaches them of General Revelation;
  • A seminary professor faithfully encouraging seminarians to consider service in the ARP;
  • An Army chaplain willing to jump out of airplanes and go to the battlefield to proclaim the Gospel as he lives it to fellow servicemen and women;
  • Missionary families serving far from home in dangerous situations with the love of Christ and doing so for His glory;

Dear ones, I could go on and on. I am here to tell you that what are seen through natural eyes and a worldly hearts as nothing, as small, as insignificant, or even as foolish, I’m convinced are nothing less than examples of the left-handed power of God at work in and through the ARP Church, building and revealing his kingdom. Just as God was with our forefathers of ancient Israel, as they worked at building the kingdom of God, He is with us today.

Let us dare not despise the day of small things! We don’t glory in small for the sake of being small but we also don’t despise humble, small, weak, beginnings for we know that our God loves to display His power through our weakness and smallness. You see, He calls on us not to trust in our own strength and give glory to our own names but rather to depend upon Him and give Him the glory.

Don’t despise the day of small things. After all, wasn’t the Lord of the Universe and our Savior veiled in human flesh and laid in a manger? Wasn’t the King of kings, nailed to the cross, and seen as a broken, humiliated, criminal with no power at all? Didn’t this same Jesus turn the world upside down through a small, rag-tag, band of Galilean fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and a former terrorist?

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

Let’s pick up our parchment, nail, and mallet and see what God does! One day we will rejoice!


Spring Orientation of New Ministers & ARP Staff

Spring orientation of new ministers and ARP staff. Pictured front row (left to right): Kat Kuciemba, Elly Keuthan, Rebekah Thomas, Nancy Campbell. Second row: Jonathan Kuciemba, Zack Keuthan, Jeremiah Thomas, Alex Campbell. Back row: Watson Gunderson, Justin Westmoreland, Brooks Pipher, Amanda Pipher, Jeff Townsley.


Why Kids Don’t Need a Megachurch

It was a typical Sunday morning. We got to church early for Bible study, and our kids—Penny, 10, William, 7, and Marilee, 5—scampered downstairs to play. They emerged 45 minutes later to serve as the week’s greeters. Despite some conflict over who got to shake hands and who got to hand out the programs, they managed to greet each visitor with a hug or handshake—Penny’s 70-year-old “prayer buddy,” a former babysitter, a classmate, the head of the volunteer fire department.

During the service, William, wearing a blazer and tie, read Scripture with his dad. When it came time, he moved a small red chair behind the pulpit and stood up tall to read aloud about Jesus’ transfiguration. In the car after church, William said, “I had to say thank you about a bazillion times!” because so many people had praised his reading.

Our church has one Sunday school for children from kindergarten to fifth grade. Most mornings we have 6–8 children and about 60 adults in the pews upstairs. I used to think that the smallness of our church would hinder our kids’ spiritual development. Our former, nondenominational church counted over 400 members, two services, and Sunday school classrooms bursting at the seams. When we moved to a small town, I thought this little church couldn’t possibly offer everything we hoped for. Maybe it could teach our children about Jesus or connect them to community or keep them excited about worship, but I doubted it could provide all of the above without the usual array of programs and events. I wasn’t even convinced that such a small place could help me grow.

We hear a lot today about megachurches—defined as congregations that have 500 or more attendees on average every Sunday. These churches serve the majority of U.S. churchgoers. Still, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 177,000 churches—about 60 percent of U.S. Protestant congregations—have fewer than 100 attendees each week. The median number of worshipers on a Sunday morning is 75. So our church is the norm. It is easy to bemoan the lack of programs and professionalism, the tight budget and sputtering sound system, but I find myself increasingly grateful for its blessings.

Perhaps the things I thought were our church’s deficiencies are really gifts.

Last year, a friend of ours died suddenly after a car accident. Only 59, he had sat in the pew behind us every week and had volunteered to be William’s prayer buddy. Penny and William cared about him so much they insisted on sitting with me during his two-hour memorial service. In a small church, friendships span generations by necessity. There aren’t enough people to have specialized ministries for singles, families, and the elderly. This means that children, senior citizens, and everyone in between are in it together—in life and in death, in celebration and in sorrow.

Last year, a friend who attends a small church in another town started second-guessing her family’s decision to be there. “The youth group across town has foosball tables and a rock band. We don’t even have a building,” she said. While I too want church to attract our kids, her comment helped me recognize how well small churches prepare our children for the future. For our kids, church involves worship, prayer, Bible reading, and people who love them. That’s it. No bells and whistles. No performance or productions. Just the frail and broken body engaging in the healing work of Christ.

Our kids have been able not only to learn about God’s love for them but also how to love in return. They rolled up their sleeves on “grubby Sunday” to scrub the fingerprints off the walls and clean out the craft closet. They’ve handed out programs and read Scripture and helped with the call to worship. They’ve written notes of condolence. They’ve prayed through the church calendar. They have become an integral part of the work of the whole.

I can’t predict what will happen when our children reach high school. Perhaps they will want to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Perhaps they will wish for more peers—and more anonymity—than they can find at our church. Perhaps they will find the sermon boring, the music tired, the coffee stale. Or perhaps the things I thought were our church’s deficiencies are really gifts. Perhaps they will return week after week to a place where they experience a taste of the kingdom of God, a home that sends them out to be salt and light in the world.

Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most (Zondervan, 2014), and A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany House). Amy Julia lives with her husband Peter and three children, Penny, William, and Marilee in western CT. This article was originally published in Christianity Today.


Get Out of the Boat

Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy fishing. A general practice of mine is that I drive my old Chevy pickup anywhere I go – a meeting, an appointment, or an event. If I’m in my truck, I have access to my fishing gear, which means you may see me pull over beside a lake, a river or an interesting mountain stream. If I’m traveling, I like to get up early in the morning, find a lake or a stream and grab my fly rod, reel and vest just to do a little fishing. For me, there is joy in casting a fly line across the water, searching out a likely spot to hook a bream, sunfish, bass or trout with a fly lure. It’s no small wonder that I am drawn to Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John. After His crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus stood on the shore of the Tiberias Sea and challenged his disciples, “Haven’t you any fish?”

Let me set the stage for you. It is early in the morning, and the disciples have gotten up early, grabbed the nets, loaded the boat and are off shore trying to catch some fish to sell.

John 21: 4-17

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Givers and Takers

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). As the old hymn reminds us, “Jesus gave it all” that we will be saved. We are His, royal priesthood called to proclaim!

Where was John, Peter and the other disciples that morning at sunrise?

Peter got back in his fishing boat and took the other disciples with him after Jesus was crucified. Business as usual, they were up early and had gone out to earn a living. So when Jesus called from the shore, “Are you catching anything?” wasn’t he really asking the disciples, “What in the world are you doing back in the boat? You have a ministry I called you to.” Peter led all of the Disciples back into the “kingdom of me.” “Let’s get back in the boat.” They had became takers again.

What do I mean about becoming takers again? We are all sinful, selfish, possessive and absorbed in ourselves. Like Peter, we want to look after the kingdom of me; like Peter we trust in me; like Peter our whole life is looking after and caring for me. Jesus’ ministry to Peter and the call to the disciples was for them to present Jesus to the world that they too may be set free. Free from the bondage of sin, to have victory over pride and self and have a true relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid the price for Peter’s sin, my sin, your sin and their sin. He set us free from self and pride by conquering sin and Mark 12:29-31 – Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength giving all so that we too can be free to be givers not takers.

A taker simply put is described in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Kingdom of Me lives by the works of the flesh: self, pride and no relationship with Jesus Christ. It is all about me, how I feel, what I want, what I get and what I think.

Let’s go back to Peter and Jesus by the lake.

There is no condemnation from Jesus, not a word in front of the brothers. As the two walked away from the rest. I imagine the conversation started out with a simple question like, “Why did you get back in the boat? I came and saved you from all this. I gave you a calling. The bonds of sin (self and pride) are broken, and you have me. I called you and sent you out to tell my children that they are set free. It’s not for you to go back to your old ways. I called you to give of what I gave you. Be a giver; it’s time to give of what I gave you.“ Jesus makes his point to us all as he asks Peter if he loves Him. He makes it clear what He wants each of us to have as our priority.

“Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs. Peter do you really love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my Sheep.” You are called; the fields are ripe; the harvest is waiting.

I imagine a long pause as Jesus repeated it for the third time. “Peter, do you love me more than anything? Do you ‘love me with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). “Lord, you know everything,” Peter responded. “You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.“

Like Peter, each of us should be grieved if we have gotten back into our boat and rowed away from the shore and from the children of God to whom we are called to proclaim Christ. Give of what has been given you. Be a giver, not a taker. Be Christlike, a chosen race, a royal priesthood. Get out of your comfort zone (the boat). Leave the kingdom of me and tend His sheep; seek them out; invite them to meet your Savior. This isn’t a pastor-only command; it is a command to you and me, all who are followers of the one true living God. People won’t care how much you know until they see how much you care. Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.


God’s Law Psalm 119

By: Rev. James McManus

Some time ago I saw a video filmed by a missionary to China. It showed a group of native Christians receiving a copy of the Bible in their own language. These men and women were so excited because, for many of them, it was the first time they had the Bible in their own language, and it was their first time having their own personal copy of the Bible. The video shows them tearing into the box like children at Christmas, and they are laughing, weeping, and holding their copy of God’s word like it was the most valuable treasure in all the world. It’s one of those videos that makes you both smile at their joy, and groan at your own lack of passion for God’s word.

Psalm 119 contains that same passion for God’s word. It reads like a love poem about the Bible. “I hate the double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119.113-114). The author is clearly infatuated with God and His word, and he wants everyone who reads this Psalm to know exactly how he feels about God and His word. Psalm 119 is also a call to our convictions, to get us to consider our love for God’s word, if there be any love at all for it. It gets us to examine our desire to read and study and meditate on the Bible, so that we may be sanctified. Psalm 119 is a poem that is directed both to our mind and heart. It is a poem that is meant to make us more like its human and divine Author.

Psalm 119 is a long love poem! It contains 176 verses and 315 lines. All of it is built around that one theme of love for God and His word; a long love poem about God and His word.

Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic poem. It is divided into twenty-two stanzas, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; within each stanza, each of the eight verses begins (in Hebrew) with that letter. Some speculate that it was written as an acrostic to aid in memorization. Twenty-two stanzas, each made up of eight verses, and all telling of a love for God and His word – that is something worth memorizing!

At nearly the center of this Psalm is v.97, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all the day.” I would say that this is the theme verse of this Psalm. Herein lies the passion and the conviction of the Psalmist for his God and His word. Notice where his love is placed: in God’s law. The law of God can refer to different things; it can refer to the 1st five books of the Bible, it can refer to the Ten Commandments, it can refer to other laws found in Scripture. It can also refer to all of Scripture, and that is what the psalmist is doing here. He is expressing his love for all of God’s word! When he wrote this, only the Old Testament was in place. His was a love of what all the Old Testament taught. It was a love that encompassed the Genesis account of the creation of all things, Noah and the flood, God using Moses to lead His people out of captivity, David killing Goliath, and Job and his suffering and restoration – the psalmist loves all of it! If it was in the Bible, the psalmist loved it. We understand that this law of God now includes the New Testament as well. For us, it is a love of Genesis to Revelation, and all that lies in between. If it is in the Bible, we love it!

It is a love that is meant to be from the heart. This isn’t a cold, distant feeling. This is a love of the heart, a love that cherishes and values. It is a love that is worthy of poem! This love isn’t meant to just be internal. The psalmist also says “it is my meditation all the day long.” This love is in both heart and mind. The idea of meditation here is of thinking it through, trying to mine all the gold that you can from it. I liken it to a cow with its cud – a cow will chew its cud until it gets all the nutrients that it can from it. The psalmist is the same with God’s word. He reads it, he studies it, he thinks about it, he prays about it … and then he repeats it all over again! He is going to take all that he can from Scripture. The psalmist’s reading of the Bible wasn’t cursory and quick … rather, we can imagine him at a desk, bent over his copy of God’s word, and he has this look of intent concentration of his face, and he is nodding his head as he reads, and re-reads, the Bible. His act of reading the Bible was to take all that he could from it.

What a wonderful conviction of heart and mind! The example of this psalmist is there for us to emulate, for it is the same example that Christ set. To Him, God’s word is what we live by (Matthew 4.4). It is what He prayed would sanctify us (John 17.17) It is what He said is the measurement of our love (John 14.15). It is what was on His lips as He died on the cross (Matthew 27.46).

As you and I continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can only properly grow when our hearts and minds are set upon God’s word, and we can, like the Psalmist, confess with heart and mind, “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

Rev. James McManus is the pastor of Bethel ARP Church in Winnsboro, SC. He went to seminary at RTS-Charlotte. He and his wife, Beth, have three children – Maggie (8), Hannah (4), and Patrick (3 months old). He enjoys music, sports, reading, and convincing Rev. Clint Davis to grow a beard.


A New Song

By: Phil Williams

Recently, as I was getting ready to leave Columbia, S.C. for Winston Salem, N.C., I texted my wife to let her know I was leaving for home. I also asked her to text me the scripture memorization verse we were working through from a devotional study plan that most of our church, Covenant of Grace, was using. The text was quickly returned with Psalm 28:7 (I later discovered that Janie had transposed the chapter and verse, and instead of memorizing Psalm 27:8, I memorized Psalm 28:7). In Gods providence, Psalm 28:7 is what He intended for me to have on my heart as I sit down to write this magazine article.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him” (Psalm 28:7).

The definition of “exult” is to show or feel elation or jubilation. Not to be confused with “exalt “ which means to hold someone or something in very high regard.

I spent the next hour repeating Psalm 28:7, thinking about all the possible applications and wondering how I could have done things differently in my life. The thought that struck home was that my quest to know God better could have started earlier and with a stronger focus to exult Christ with a song of joyful thanks.   Nevertheless, I am thankful for His providence throughout all my life. Even during the times I have wandered, been preoccupied, or too busy with the “tyranny of the urgency of the moment” to acknowledge Him in my life.

When we stop, think and reflect about where He has taken us, what He has taught us and how He has changed us, we do indeed realize that He is our strength and He is our shield. All of our lives are filled with change, joy, happiness, frustrations, turmoil, hurt and pain. Each of us begins each new year full of hopes, dreams, plans, and a vision for a better future. Our efforts are generally dependent on how our worldview fits with whatever circumstances we face. Yes, we offer our prayers, hopes and dreams up to God, ask his blessing and begin the journey in front of us. As we get into the journey and face the day-to-day toil, struggles, strife, sickness and disappointments, we generally fall back on the premise that just maybe this isn’t what God intended me to do. Diligence gives way to doubt; doubt is joined by weariness; and weariness leads to frustration and self-pity. Soon we may begin to think about quitting. Surely God would not place so many obstacles in our paths if this were what we are called to do – Would He?

The answer is absolutely! His word teaches us that He will mold us “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

 Some of the encouragements I get from Psalm 28:7 are:

First, no matter what we may face, we must face the task, obstacle or struggle in the “strength of the Lord”. Never give up; never quit. When that part of your journey is over He will close the door and open a new one. Few of us will see the door close or recognize the new journey beginning, but we all should know our Sovereign God and trust His Providence that he has His elect right where He intends them to be, with a calling that will nurture them and glorify Jesus Christ.   If you look to Him, seek His face, ask for His wisdom and help with the journey He has called you to; then you will better understand it is not about the accomplishment, but the journey that shapes you. I urge you to read His word, memorize His Word, speak His Word, know His Word and love His Word with all your heart.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).

Second, with His Word in your life you will have a shield about you. 2 Samuel 22:31 reminds us – “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” In our weariness “ you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Despite the struggles, sicknesses and disappointments we encounter along the way “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Even more important than knowing God’s Word let us strive to know Him better, deeper, more intimately. Knowing God is the recognition that He is in every part of our lives, which he is regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. When we recognize that he is in every part of our lives, we are submitting to His providence and will want His will and seek His face. You have said, “Seek my face”. My heart says to you “Your face, LORD”, do I seek Psalm 27:8. (Note to Janie: I did memorize both verses. )

Finally, knowing that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). This reminds us that we trust Jesus with faith, joy, confidence, and hope.

When this article is printed in the ARP Magazine, we will be much closer to Easter. Spring will have begun its renewal, and we will be reminded by the culture around us how they see Easter and Spring. It’s a fitting time for us, His church, to let “our heart exult with song and give Him thanks” as we continue forward. Let us all face the remaining months of 2017 with a new song, praising the Lord, singing to the Lord a new song as we diligently serve Jesus with gladness.

In closing, I encourage you to look for a time to step aside from today’s fast pace. Go into your prayer closet, where ever that may be and reflect about the journey on which God has for you. Ask Him to help and organize your steps so that your heart exults Him with a new song.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).


The Business Side of Ministry

By: Roger Wiles, Executive Director of Central Services

There is a business side to ministry in our day that did not exist a few generations ago. A couple of generations back churches did not have to worry about complying with such laws as the Affordable Care Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and various anti-discrimination statutes. I can remember when churches would not have given a thought to obtaining religious non-profit 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Service.

Even though the ARPC has significant protection under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we are obligated to follow and obey, what the late Justice Antonin Scalia called, “generally applicable laws.” The Office of Central Services is here to help carry the increasing burden of what it takes for the agencies, presbyteries, churches, boards and committees of the ARPC to “Render to Caesar.”

“Central Services, the agency of the Executive Board of General Synod, exists to support and encourage churches, pastors, agencies, and boards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, as together weshare the Gospel with the world. The ministries of Central Services include: Administrative Support, Finances, Human Resources, Employee Benefits, Publications and Promotion.” Mission Statement

Central Services is charged to serve, support, and encourage the agencies, presbyteries, churches, boards and committees of the ARPC. Central Services does not set the direction, priorities, or budget of the agencies, presbyteries, churches, and boards and committees of the ARPC. But Central Services cannot do our work well for the benefit of the greater Church without communication from all the leadership and governing bodies of the ARPC.

The Office of Central Services is here to encourage, support, and serve every congregation, presbytery, agency, board, and committee. To do our work we need every church Treasurer, Clerk of Session, Clerk of Presbytery, Agency Director, Board and Committee Chairmen to give us the information we need to serve the ministries of the ARPC.

Please Consider the Following as Particularly Important:

  • Change in the status, position, benefits, salary, address etc. of any minister or employee is critical to the work of Central Services.
  • Change in finances and/or budgets effects the role of Central Services in maintaining the financial integrity of the Church.
  • Creating or revising official church documents at any level may conflict with the Manual of Authorities and Duties, Form of Government, and Retirement and Insurance benefit plans. Submit new or revised documents to Central Services for review before use or publication to avoid unintended consequences.
  • Information regarding local congregations, presbyteries, and agencies allows Central Services and the ARP Magazine to inform and encourage the greater church regarding God’s good work in the ARPC.

You are Here for a Reason


Created by God, Cared for by God

By: Eric Lockamy

‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ Gen.1:27

All things on earth were created by God. However, when God was finished creating everything else, He wanted a creation of His to rule over and care for the rest of the created world. So on the sixth day of creation He created man and woman to perform this task. I was thinking about this as I was pondering on how I would write about the sanctity of life, this month’s focus. What is special about a human being that sets us apart from the rest of God’s creation? How can we be any different if we are all sinners? Why does my life, my family’s life, and every other human life matter so much? I believe the answer lies in the three words . . . His Own Image.

I work outside so I have the opportunity to see God’s creation every day. Just the other day I was walking along the project I am currently working on, and took some time to look around at His creation, something I do quite frequently. However, on that day, I looked at creation from a different perspective, or at least tried to. I looked at it from the perspective of the creator. God created all of it. He spoke and it was created, and therefore He cares for it. Every speck of it. He cares for it just like the carpenter cares for his creations he builds with his hands. Even if everyone else doesn’t care for the piece of handiwork, the carpenter still cares for it.

Then God created man and woman in His own image. I believe He cares for us more than the rest of his creation because we were created in His own image. The care He has for us is different than the care a carpenter has for his creation. I can liken it to the care that a father has for his child. The relationship between a father and his child will have times of struggle, frustration, happiness, joy, strife, encouragement, and discouragement. However, the loving care will never change. The difference between God and any father is that He is holy and His loving care is perfect and never changing.

God cares for us enough to give us rules to follow in his scripture starting with the Ten Commandments. One that I have constantly returned to for a guide for decision making over the past few years is the first one along with the verse before it.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

These rules are guidelines for following in our daily lives. However, since we are broken and live in a fallen world, it is impossible to keep them perfectly. God has brought me out of the house of slavery to a new life in Christ. I have had my valleys and mountain tops, but I am out of the house of slavery. Below is a short story of a part of my life that explains how I believe God cares for me.

I was walking along the small field early one May morning where the green beans would be in a couple of months to make sure the field was prepared for the growing season. After about 20 minutes of me strolling along heading towards the future corn field, Pete and his dog Champ, pulled up beside me in Pete’s white truck and started to discuss the day to come and some other items that were happening. I mentioned to him that I was struggling with staying at the place I was and not going home. Pete looked me that very moment and said, ‘Eric, I can tell you are struggling, but you are here for a reason. God has a purpose for you and your life, and it is not where you were before coming here. You are cared for by a lot of people, but more than that, you are cared for by God.’

That evening, after a fairly normal day, I went back to my room and started to ponder on the conversation Pete and I had that morning. I had heard Pete say that exact statement to others and to the whole group of men I was living with over the past few months, but this time it meant something. God had placed Pete in my life when I needed him to be there. Why did God have me at the place I was at that very moment? I believe now it was to show me and others his faithfulness and righteousness.

God had created space for me at Alpha Acres, a Christian recovery center for men, approximately 2-months before that encounter with Pete, who serves as the Work Therapy Counselor. My family, some friends, and others had decided that it would be best for me to go there after choosing alcohol to become the center of my life and not God. I had been struggling for years since Ginger, Grace, Lydia and I had left Mexico with just trying to find a purpose for my existence. I had searched for years to determine what God wanted me to do and where He wanted me to serve Him. However, after a couple of years I was only serving myself and not Him. I had allowed alcohol to be my crutch, had lost employment due to it, had lost some friends, was losing my family, and most of all had severed my relationship with the one who loves me most . . . God.

Later that week, I recommitted my life to Christ and told Him that I would serve Him no matter where He planted me. Thankfully, even though I had spent the three previous years faithfully serving other worldly desires and not God, He still loved me. He still cared for me like the father cares for his child. He was there with arms open wide, not waiting, but running toward me because I had given my whole heart to him again. I spent the rest of my time at Alpha Acres slowly putting the pieces of my life back together. We are not completely out of the valley, but we are consistently looking up as we go over the hills and valleys of life.

God cares for all of his creation, even the sinful humans beings who constantly fall short of his glory. He cares for us so much that he sent his only son into this fallen world to be the propitiation for our sins and transgressions. Jesus has shed his blood so we can spend eternity with him praising God. If God cares for his creation as much as he does, I believe we should do the same. We should care for the animals, the plants, the beauty of creation, the mountains and valleys, and so on.

However, we should care more for the lives we are in contact with every day and the ones we may never meet. The unborn child, our family, our friends, our coworkers, people of different races, religions and nations, and ourselves. We should care enough to help them in times of need, and in times when things are going well. We all have a purpose in life given to us by God and as Pete would say, “we are here for a reason.” We might not know what that reason is at any given moment, but God has a reason we are all created. He loves and cares for us just the way He created us.

Eric Lockamy is a Deacon at Ebenezer ARP Church in Rock Hill, SC. He is married to Ginger and has 3 children. He has served with World Witness and now works in construction management. 


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