A dangerous book

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Choosing the Good Portion is available from the OPC online store

Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; edited by Patricia E. Clawson & Diane L. Olinger; published by The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; cloth, 470 pages; © 2016

 

This is a dangerous book. Like Proverbs 31, it can make women feel inferior if they begin to think they somehow don’t measure up. But we know that Proverbs 31, like all Scripture, is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16) and Choosing the Good Portion is not only profitable, but also enjoyable and encouraging.

Yes, some of the women described in these stories seem almost superhuman, traveling to far countries and difficult situations, giving birth or raising children while husbands are distant or busy with other kingdom work. But if you read this book and come away feeling like a sub-par Christian, you’ve missed the point. The point isn’t how great these women were, but how great their God was in their lives and is in yours.

The title, Choosing the Good Portion, comes from the biblical account of Martha and Mary, which like Proverbs 31 can be dangerous. Am I a Martha or a Mary? I’ve personally struggled with the question for years. More than a decade ago, I wrote a poem confessing my affinity with Martha and my longing to be like Mary. This book is based on the premise that the featured women chose to first receive Christ’s teaching and then serve His church.

Editors Patricia E. Clawson and Diane L. Olinger deserve high praise for their excellent work in compiling and constructing these stories, as well as each writing one of them. Pat’s introduction explains the rationale and process that led to the book, while Diane’s afterword encourages readers to ask themselves: Am I Choosing the Good Portion?

Fifty-five women wrote these stories about ninety-three women who invested themselves in Christ’s kingdom, specifically as it has been expressed through the eighty-year history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

What a job it must have been to determine who to write about and the women to write the stories! But what wisdom (if not pure practicality) to tackle the project with broad delegation. In the hands of different editors, the book could well have fallen into a boring litany of what began to sound like similar stories with only the names changed. As it is, the different styles and author voices add richness and variety that capture and keep reader interest.

While OPC readers will find the stories fascinating and recognize many familiar names, Christians from any federation will appreciate the accounts of sacrificial service for the Lord.

How wonderfully the Lord sustained women like Debbie Dortzbach, four months pregnant when kidnapped with Anna Strikwerda from a medical clinic by armed Eritrean guerillas in 1974. Debbie survived the ordeal, which included witnessing Anna die from a gunshot to the head.

Eritrea had long been an inhospitable mission field. Bandits, armed with AR-15s, nearly attacked the Francis and Arlena Mahaffy family, who arrived in 1944 and stayed 22 years. Arlena’s seven children were born in primitive and unsterile conditions. Feeding them involved boiling sour and dirty milk as well as soaking vegetables in chlorinated water before cooking them with the stalks.

Other stories describe women who served the church on the home front by giving time, money, or sound advice. Women like Betty Wallace, who helped found Franklin Square OPC in New York and taught Sunday school for many years. She hosted missionaries in her home and viewed life as a wonderful adventure: “Any better, I couldn’t stand it!”

Not all the profiles focus on positive productivity. The women are portrayed as real people with human frailties. Donna McIlhenny bravely pens a transparent narrative about how alcohol helped her cope with stresses few of us will ever experience—until it stopped being her helper and became her tyrant. She eventually overcame her addiction, but this story shows that being a Christian doesn’t automatically deliver a person from deep and long-lasting struggles.

Choosing the Good Portion could be a dangerous book, but only if you read it with a focus on the human instead of the divine.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 43 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

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The path to ministry from Michigan to New Zealand

benedictionOn December 10, 2016, Aaron Warner was ordained in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) and installed as the minister of the Reformed Church of Palmerston North. Rev. Warner was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a 2015 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

About 100 people attended the ordination and installation, which took place at 1:30 on a warm Saturday afternoon during New Zealand’s summer. Rev. Albert Couperus, a recently-ordained Mid-America graduate, led the service.

“Albert was a classmate with me at the Seminary and spent all three years convincing me to come to New Zealand,” said Rev. Warner.

Another Mid-America graduate, Rev. Andre Holtslag (who supervised Aaron’s vicariate at the Reformed Church of Dovedale in Christchurch), preached from 2 Timothy 1:1-14. He focused on the essence of ministry revealed in five remembrances: prayer, fellowship, discipleship, preaching, and Jesus Christ.

Just as verse 3 notes Paul’s constant prayer for Timothy, the minister and congregation are called to pray continually for each other. Paul’s longing to see Timothy, expressed in verse 4, reflects the joy of fellowship believers can experience. Verse 5 relates Timothy’s godly upbringing and indicates the necessity to disciple others. In verse 6, Paul reminds Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (NASB). That gift was the calling to preach the Word. Rev. Holtslag encouraged Aaron to spend time in the Word so that he would be ready to preach it. He drew the final point from 2 Timothy 2:8, when Paul urged Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” A minister must always remember Christ in his personal life and in his preaching.

Rev. Michael Flinn, a retired minister and elder at Palmerston North, led the ordination section of the service. His son, Daniel Flinn, led a concluding portion of the service. He welcomed to the podium elders from several visiting churches, who brought greetings from their congregations and expressed wishes for God’s blessings. He also read letters from many other congregations without representatives present.

The Flinns have a Mid-America connection as Daniel planned to begin studies there in the fall of 2017, and his brother, Josh, graduated in 2016. Josh also persuaded Aaron to consider ministry in New Zealand, particularly at Palmerston North (which in on the North Island), and is now serving his vicariate at the Reformed Church of Nelson (on the South Island).

Aaron’s journey to ministry in New Zealand, which encompassed far more than moving his family to another country, began many years ago. He explains that God used Rev. Arthur Besteman, his former pastor in Michigan, “in a substantial way” in his life, and he made his public profession at a young age.

Having little desire for further education after high school, Aaron entered an electrician apprenticeship. Two years later, he shadowed a missionary in Toronto for a weekend and began to feel called to the mission field. But the prospect of completing both undergraduate and graduate degrees was daunting.

“I decided instead to invest myself in the church and other programs. I went on several short-term mission trips, led junior high youth group, and did a mentorship program for men dealing with substance abuse,” he said. “I had hoped these things would satisfy the hunger I had for working in ministry without all the schooling.”

Still, he continued to feel the tug toward more formal ministry and its prerequisite education. During a mission trip to Trinidad, a minister heard one of Aaron’s lectures to young people and suggested he consider ministry.

“He did not know that this had been already heavy on my heart,” Aaron said. After his return, he spoke to his own minister, who encouraged him to pursue the internal call he was feeling. He began university classes with a view toward attending seminary.

On that same trip to Trinidad, Aaron had become acquainted with Audra, a fellow team member who shared his passion for missions and interest in other cultures. The two were married in 2008 and blessed with their first child a year later.

Being a non-traditional student and caring for a family was not easy, but Aaron graduated from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and a minor in philosophy. His plan to attend seminary, however, was put on hold.

charge to ministerWhen the Warners approached their church council for assistance, the elders expressed concern about their college debt and their anticipated second child. The council asked them to take off a year or more to try to pay down their debt.

“At first, it was difficult for us,” Aaron said, “but we soon realized the wisdom of our elders.”

Over the next two years, Aaron worked at an automatic car wash, drying cars. He took an online class from Mid-America to determine his ability to handle seminary level course work. It went well. He began full-time studies in 2012 and graduated in 2015.

The couple’s third child was born while Aaron was in seminary, and their fourth child was born in New Zealand, while Aaron served his vicariate at Dovedale. (The RCNZ requires its ministers to serve a year-long internship as a vicar in an established congregation under the supervision of an ordained minister and elders.)

When Aaron entered seminary, he and Audra had a goal of doing mission work. “New Zealand was not even a thought in our minds until I met Albert,” he said. “He helped us understand the need for pastors in New Zealand.”

By the time the Warner family arrived in Christchurch, seven out of the 20 churches had no full-time pastor. Some had been without a minister for several years. If ministers preparing to retire were not replaced, the federation could face empty pulpits in half its churches. Two of the three existing church plants had no minister.

Although Aaron and Audra realized they would miss family and friends in the United States and regretted living so far from their children’s grandparents, they came to believe that their struggles were well worth enduring to help God’s people in New Zealand.

After completing his vicariate, Aaron sustained his preliminary examination on July 8, 2016, making him eligible for call within the RCNZ. Two churches extended calls to him prior to the ten-week deadline. He accepted the call to Palmerston North on September 22, and passed a final examination on November 4 & 5.

laying on handsHis ordination on December 10 concluded his eleven-year seminary odyssey and marked the beginning of the formal ministry toward which the Spirit had nudged him so many years ago.

As the Warners adjust to cultural, geographical, and federational differences, they find Kiwis friendly and God faithful.

Aaron shared his personal goals. “In these first years, I hope to increase in my prayer life,” he said. “I hope to be shaped more by God’s word, so as to be a better shepherd to my family (both immediate and church). I hope and pray that God would strengthen me to the immense task that He and the church have called me to.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-12 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal

Annual gathering provides fellowship and teaching for pastors and wives

2016 group-croppedFor the past several years, pastors and wives from Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches in western North America have gathered for the Western Ministerial Conference (WMC), which many participants describe as more of a retreat.

Part of the relaxed feeling may arise from the conference’s scenic location at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, WA. But the atmosphere also differs from ecclesiastical meetings because wives attend with their pastor husbands and the fellowship crosses federational boundaries.

Rev. Brain Cochran (Redeemer Reformation URC; Regina, SK) and his wife, Julie, have attended the WMC for the last five years.  He says, “It is a wonderful opportunity for strengthening our ecumenical ties as sister denominations. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the CanRC and in trust and thankfulness for my brothers who are serving in our sister denomination.”

Conference organizer Rev. Ben Schoof (Maranatha CanRC; Surrey, BC) explains who is invited to attend: “All pastors and missionaries and their wives of Regional Synod West of the Canadian Reformed church (Manitoba, British Columbia, Denver, and Washington state) plus any URCNA pastors in the same area.”

According to Rev. Schoof, the retreat aspect is the first intended goal of organizers. “It is a time for pastors and their wives to get away, to recharge their minds and strength and souls.” The WMC “allows ministerial colleagues to get to know each other, reconnect with each other,” and experience fellowship on many levels.

A secondary goal is for learning. “Each time we have a knowledgeable keynote speaker on a topic applicable for life and work in the ministry,” he says. “Often there will be workshops specifically for the wives.”

This year the Langley, Cloverdale, and Surrey CanRCs (Classis Pacific West) organized the Ministerial with the assistance of New Westminster and Cloverdale URCs. The approximately 50 pastors and wives, some who brought along infants, about evenly represented the two federations. The time frame of October 25-27 allowed attendees to enjoy fall weather as well as good food and creation’s beauty.

“The venue and the hospitality are amazing,” Cecilia Vandevelde says. “It’s lovely to be fed with the finest of food, and take advantage of our free time to do some hiking on the trails that are on the property, or rest on the trestle bridges and watch the creek flow past.”

Cecilia and her husband, Rev. Steve Vandevelde (Carman East CanRC; Carman, MB) have attended the conference for four years. While they love the hospitality, they also enjoy the interaction with colleagues during free times and meals. “It’s a safe environment for us to discuss and talk about the hard things that can come along in ministry (either in our homes or in our congregations) and support each other in these things,” she says. “We are both so glad that retired ministers and their wives come too, as they are a wealth of information and encouragement for us.”

As a young couple, the Schoofs are also grateful for the opportunity to learn from more experienced pastors and their wives. Rev. Schoof most enjoys “relaxing and recharging, spending time away from my work, and with my wife, and getting reacquainted with or getting to know my ministerial colleagues.” He adds, “My wife from her side very much enjoys getting to know the other pastors’ wives and learning from them how to manage some of the issues and difficulties that come from being a pastor’s wife.”

Attendees always experience such retreat aspects, but speakers and topics vary greatly from year to year. Rev. Dick Moes, pastor of Surrey Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Surrey, BC, says, “Every year the speeches make each WMC special and unique.”

This year’s speaker, Kevin Hoogstad, from Christian Counselling in Burlington, ON, enlightened attendees on the science of the teenage brain. He also administered a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and applied it to aspects of life such as ministry and marriage.

“His speeches on the teenage brain were very insightful,” Rev. Moes says. “I wish I had heard this material much earlier in my life.”

Rev. Cochran says, “He helped everyone better understand teen culture and how we can engage our teens and disciple them.” He found the Myers-Briggs tests “fascinating” and adds, “It turns out my wife and I are almost opposites on the MBTI but complement each other well. He used it to help us understand how we can better interact with our church members and fellow office bearers.”

“I think everyone enjoyed the Myers-Briggs personality test,” Rev. Moes says. “It gave us a little more insight into what kind of personality we have with its strengths and weaknesses.”

Another unique feature of this year’s ministerial was a presentation from a pastor and wife, who shared their personal story of his struggle with clinical depression. “It was a very moving talk,” says Rev. Cochran, “and I felt very privileged and blessed to hear it.”

In some ways, the WMC functions as a retreat for couples. “The ministerial is definitely a highlight of the year for us,” Cecilia says. “Along with everything else, it’s also a time for us to focus on each other and our marriage. The ministerial is busy, to be sure, but there are moments in between where we can have a chance to talk together and touch base with each other and pray with and for each other.”

Rev. Moes, who served for a second year on the conference’s organizing committee, says, “Since the goals and purpose of the conference are first, warm fellowship and relaxation, and second, inspiring speeches, I think this year’s event was once again a success.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

Rev. Jeff DeBoer examined at Classis Central US

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Revs. Oord and DeBoer

When Classis Central US met on September 12 & 13, 2016, a significant item on the agenda was the colloquium doctum for Rev. Jeff De Boer. But before that conversation began, a question was raised regarding its necessity. A little background helps explain Rev. De Boer’s path to that moment.

A 2000 graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Rev. De Boer was ordained in the RCUS and served the congregation in Garner, IA, for seven years before attending law school.

“I realized I lacked the ability to effectively connect with and minister the gospel to people who were not part of the congregation I pastored,” he said. “I’d never been outside the bubble of the Reformed world. So I went to law school to experience a bigger world.”

Although he thoroughly enjoyed his legal education, he began to question his future only a year later, when he received a call to a URCNA congregation. “I did not take the call, but it was the beginning of a great deal of soul searching that resulted in leaving law school.”

While Rev. De Boer was in law school, he and his family attended a PCA in North Liberty, IA, where he occasionally preached. After the church’s pastor resigned and some families left, the congregation expressed an interest in him as its new pastor. The PCA presbytery examined him, he accepted a call to North Liberty, and was ordained in the PCA.

Now employed as Director of Enrollment Management at Mid-America, he and his family attend Community URC in Schererville, IN. His wife, Karen, and their children became members soon after the family moved to the area, and Rev. De Boer assists with preaching and other aspects of pastoral ministry. He also volunteers as a chaplain for the St. John Police Department. The consistory of Community URC brought the request for his colloquium doctum to Classis Central US.

The question regarding the need for an examination was raised because Rev. De Boer’s work at the Seminary seems more administrative than ministerial in nature. Following a discussion that included employment requirements and URCNA emeritation policies, Classis proceeded with the colloquium.

Rev. Nick Alons (Lynwood URC) examined Rev. De Boer in the area of practica. This highly personal section focused on the pastor’s relationship with God and others. Questions additionally sought insight into his qualifications for ministry and his perception of the office. His views on liturgics, homiletics, pastoral care, and evangelism were also addressed.

“After the exam, it was clear to me that he has a real heart for equipping pastors for the rigors of ministry,” Rev. Alons said. “It was also clear that he understands the urgency for mission work to be carried out by the local congregation.”

Other examiners included Rev. Bradd Nymeyer (Sioux Center URC) on church polity, Rev. Tom Wetselaar (Immanuel URC; DeMotte, IN) on confessional knowledge, Rev. Harold Miller (Covenant Reformed; Kansas City, MO) on ethics, and Rev. Doug Barnes (Covenant Reformed; Pella, IA) on reformed doctrine. Rev. De Boer successfully sustained his colloquium doctum and was declared eligible for call within the URCNA.

Community URC has called Rev. De Boer as Associate Pastor, viewing him as on loan to Mid-America and the St. John Police Department. The consistory oversees his work and encourages his continued participation in church life.

“He is very active in our church,” said Rev. James Oord, pastor of Community URC. “Rev. De Boer has already been working with our church to develop a program where each seminarian who attends Community is paired with an older, experienced man for one-on-one mentoring. He serves as a member of our Discipleship Committee and is currently teaching a Sunday School class on ‘The Art of Neighboring.’ ”

Rev. De Boer recently became the St. John Police Department’s first chaplain under its newly-instituted program. Having found it rewarding to serve as a police chaplain in North Liberty, Rev. De Boer volunteered for similar work in St. John.

The Department sees the new chaplain program as a link in its efforts to unite the community and police, through participation in some events and provision of necessary assistance. Chaplains also provide counseling and comfort to officers and families experiencing crisis.

“Most of my work will be with the officers,” Rev. De Boer said, “although there will also be occasional, public functions.”

Rev. De Boer’s responsibilities at Community URC may continue to develop.

We are exploring ways to grow this role, always respecting his time commitment and calling to Mid-America,” Rev. Oord said. “We see Rev. De Boer as being very gifted in the areas of discipleship and evangelism and we hope that he can be an encouragement and blessing to our church culture in those areas.”

In addition to conducting the colloquium doctum for Rev. De Boer, Classis Central approved three overtures. Two from Sioux Center URC dealt with synodical procedure and will go to Synod 2018. The first recommended the addition of an Appendix 7 to the Church Order, which would provide guidelines for appeals. The second overture suggested adopting a classical rotation for hosting synods, which takes into account two recently-added classes.

The third approved overture, from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, established a classical church assistance fund. Similar to funds in other classes within the federation, the Classis Church Assistance Fund (CCAF) will provide assistance at the discretion of Classis to churches requesting financial support. Requests for assistance must be made in writing, but will not be published publicly. Individual churches determine their level and frequency of contributions, designating them for the CCAF.

Delegates advised several churches on discipline matters. One case not discussed in executive session sought advice to “exclude” a member, a newly-formed category in Pastoral Advice subsequent to the 2016 Synod. Because the new categories are not yet part of the Church Order, Classis eventually suggested the church move toward the second step of discipline instead.

One advice request questioned whether a member, not licensed to exhort in the URCNA, may exhort in a non-NAPARC church. This led to a discussion regarding the way licensure relates to exhorting in churches that do not belong to NAPARC.

Rev. Sam Perez informed delegates about the Grace Reformed church plant in Jersey City. Rev. Ruben Sernas introduced himself and spoke about his work with El Pacto de Gracia, the church plant in Chicago Heights, IL.

Delegates heard fraternal greetings from Rev. G.I. Williamson (Presbytery of the Dakotas of the OPC), Rev. Brian Janssen (Iowa Presbytery of the PCA), Rev. Jonathan Haney (Midwest Presbytery of the RPCNA), Rev. Herman Van Stedum (South Central Classis of the RCUS), and Mr. Jacob Kuik (Classis Manitoba of the CanRC).

This was the first time Sioux Center URC hosted Classis in its building. Rev. Spencer Aalsburg (Christ Reformed Church; Sioux Falls, SD) chaired the meeting, and Rev. Todd Joling (Faith URC; Beecher, IL) served as vice-chairman. Rev. Talman Wagenmaker functions as Classis Clerk.

Christ Reformed Church in Sioux Falls was slated to convene the next meeting of Classis Central US on April 3, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the November 20, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Classis Michigan declares URCNA candidate

Arjen Vreugdenil
Arjen Vreugdenhil

When Classis Michigan of the URCNA met on October 11, 2016, the primary item on the agenda was the candidacy examination of Arjen Vreugdenhil. According to Classis Clerk Greg Lubbers, delegates took most of the day to conduct a through exam before determining “without dissent” that Mr. Vreugdenhil had sustained all sections of the examination.

“I questioned Arjen in Bible Knowledge, and he was exceptional,” said Rev. Matthew Nuiver, pastor of Faith URC in West Olive, MI, “and he was just that through the rest of the exam as well.”

Because Vreugdenhil graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Mike Deckinga (representing the Seminary at Classis as its Vice-President of Advancement) was an interested observer. “Arjen readily provided answers to the many questions that were asked of him, making evident his love for Christ and his desire to serve him as a minister of the Word,” he said. “I was thankful to witness this event and I join, with many others, in prayer that God will make clear His will for Arjen and his family.”

While the Vreugdenhil family awaits God’s will regarding a pastoral call, they remain living in Lansing, IL, where Arjen is teaching at Lansing Christian School.

“This period of waiting is exciting, as we look forward to what the Lord has in store,” he said. “It is also a bit unsatisfactory to just sit tight and wait. I am glad I have work for the next few months; but even though I enjoy teaching, I am looking forward to fulfill my calling in the ministry, for which I have been preparing in the past several years.”

Arjen taught at the middle and high school levels in the Netherlands prior to arriving in the US to marry Jodi in 2001. He taught physics at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, for nine years before attending Mid-America.

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Rev. Tuinstra questions Arjen

During his seminary years, the family grew to include three young sons and the Vreugdenhils’ membership remained at Bethel URC in Jenison, MI (the church that requested his candidacy exam). Pastor Wm. Jason Tuinstra explained that the distance between church and seminary was not that great and didn’t preclude continuing supervision and support.

“Early on in Arjen’s seminary education, the consistory stayed in contact with the professors at Mid-America to give their input about his progress,” he said. Elders visited with Arjen at the Seminary and in his home as well as when he returned to the Grand Rapids area. “He also provided pulpit supply for us on numerous occasions, which has given the consistory a chance to observe his progress. Besides this encouragement and oversight, our council was very faithful to make sure that his physical needs were met.”

At its October meeting, Classis Michigan also conducted routine matters and offered advice on discipline cases. Delegates heard reports from Trinity, Dutton, and Eastmanville URCs, evidencing what Clerk Lubbers called “the on-going work of the Lord” in those churches.

“The reports emphasized the continual building of the Kingdom of God through the faithful preaching of the gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments,” he wrote. “In addition, the healthy organic life of these respective congregations was noted as displayed in the various societies, studies, and activities.”

Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, hosted the 48th meeting of Classis, with Rev. Casey Freswick serving as chairman and Rev. Mike Schout as vice-chairman. Grace URC was scheduled to convene the next meeting on March 14, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the November 30, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal

Caffeinated Thoughts Briefing percolates Christian worldview

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Brian Myers with Dr. E. Calvin Beisner

The Caffeinated Thoughts Briefing, a Christian worldview conference for students and adults on October 15, 2016, in Johnston, IA, featured an impressive line-up of speakers and panelists.

“The conference speakers sounded a clarion call to the church not to retreat, but to stand firm in their public witness as Western culture grows increasingly hostile to God’s truth and Christ’s lordship over every area of life,” said Mark Van Der Molen, an attorney and URCNA elder from DeMotte, IN, who attended the event.

The Briefing format allowed a half-hour for each speech, followed by a 30-minute panel discussion on that subject. Shane Vander Hart, founder and editor of the Caffeinated Thoughts website/blog and co-host of the Caffeinated Thoughts radio program, explained how panel dialogue augmented the lectures. “We were able to drill down a little more on the topics covered, and it allowed attendees to interact with the speakers.”

The conference began with Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesperson for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, describing “A Christian Worldview.” The subsequent Worldview panel consisted of Dr. Beisner and Rev. Mike Ericson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church, which meets for worship at the Johnston Lions Club building where the conference was held.

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Mike Ahmad

Mike Ahmed spoke about “Responding to Islam” and participated in the follow-up discussion. Ahmad, who was an acquaintance of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, narrowly escaped death when he declined an invitation to the military parade at which Islamic fundamentalist officers assassinated the president. Among those in close proximity to Sadat during the assassination, 38 were wounded and 11 killed. That experience led Ahmed to question his Muslim faith. After moving to the United States, he converted to Christianity and has helped pastor churches in North Dakota and Iowa. He often visits Cairo, where he assists with planting churches in Egyptian homes.

Sue Thayer
Sue Thayer

Sue Thayer addressed “A Culture of Life” from her unique perspective as someone who managed a Planned Parenthood clinic for nearly 18 years. She is founder of Cornerstone for Life Pregnancy Resource Center and a lead strategist for Iowa Right to Life. For the past 26 years, she has parented over 130 foster children. Others who participated in the related panel included Jennifer Bowen and Tim Overlin. Bowen is CEO of Iowa Right to Life and serves on the board of directors for And Then There Were None, a national ministry that assists anyone desiring to leave the abortion industry. Overlin is the Executive Director for Personhood IOWA and speaks about bringing the church back to life.

Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, discussed “Responding to the LGBTQ Agenda.” He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and co-author of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Gagnon’s articles have appeared in various scholarly journals and theological dictionaries. He also has been quoted in or written for many popular magazines and news outlets.

“Dr. Robert Gagnon powerfully demonstrated that the LGBTQ movement’s inversion of moral authority is not simply some culture war issue ‘out there,’” Mark Van Der Molen said, “but the Truth of the Word and the church’s very confession of the lordship of Christ are at stake.”

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Dr. Robert Gagnon

Joining Dr. Gagnon as panel participants were Dr. Nathan Oppman and Kelvey Vander Hart. Dr. Oppman serves on staff of The FAMiLY Leader, a public policy organization located in Urbandale, IA, which seeks to strengthen families by inspiring Christ-like leadership in home, church, and government. He previously worked for the Family Research Council and the South Carolinians for Responsible Government Foundation. Kelvey Vander Hart is a social work major at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, MO, and a contributor to Caffeinated Thoughts and Hypeline.org. She has served as a student ministries intern and ministry leader at Grace Church in Des Moines, IA.

The final Briefing lecture featured Shane Vander Hart, speaking on “Our Religious Liberty.” He has served as dean of students for a Christian school and spent 20 years in youth ministry. He frequently speaks and writes about politics and policies and owns 4:15 Communications, a social media and communications consulting firm. The Religious Liberty panel also included Rev. Michael Demastus, pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, who has been active in the culture war and is often quoted on current and political issues in local and national publications.

Brian Myers, senior contributor at Caffeinated Thoughts and co-host of its radio program, organized this year’s event and served as emcee.

“I was pleased with the conference in terms of the incredible amount of information that was presented on some crucial subjects,” he said. “We always have a ‘content rich’ event, and our goal is that the attendees leave having learned a lot. This year’s event was exceptional in that regard.”

About 70 people attended the Caffeinated Briefing. Early registration was $20, while students paid only $15. Late registrants and walk-ins paid $30. Primary funding of the conference comes through a sponsorship program. Donors at different levels receive a variety of perks, including conference tickets, booth space, as well as website, brochure and/or radio advertising.

Caffeinated Thoughts was founded in 2006, and the first Briefing was held in 2014. Last year’s event focused on politics and featured three presidential candidates. While topics vary from year to year, the goal remains the same.

“Our goal has always been to provide those who attend with relevant information about issues that concern our readers and listeners,” Vander Hart said. “I think each year we’ve accomplished that.”

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Brian Myers and Shane Vander Hart

Caffeinated Thoughts addresses culture, current events, faith and politics with news articles, news analysis and opinion pieces written from a Christian and conservative point of view.

Caffeinated Thoughts Radio airs on The Truth Network, KTIA 99.3 FM in Des Moines, on Saturdays at 8 AM and 6 PM (Central). Broadcasts can be live streamed from thetruthnetwork.com or accessed from iTunes.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the November 30, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.

PRTS Conference on the Christian Worldview

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L-R: Brian Cosby, Gerald (Jerry) Bilkes, Charles Barrett, Michael Barrett, Joel Beeke, Sherif Atef Fahim, and Mark Kelderman

What do we mean when we speak of a worldview? At a conference in August of 2016, Dr. Joel Beeke defined it as how “we see and evaluate everything” with “assumptions that control how we think and feel and act.” A worldview, he said, is “not just a pair of glasses or contact lenses that we can take off or remove at will, but more like our eyes themselves, which are an organic part of who we are.”

Dr. Beeke was one of several speakers at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary’s eighth annual conference, The Beauty and Glory of the Christian Worldview. About 400 people attended the event, held at the Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, MI, from August 25-27, 2016.

Dr. Charles Barrett began the conference by addressing A Worldview for Pilgrims. In separate lectures, Dr. Derek Thomas spoke on two aspects of the Christian worldview: The Trinity and Daily Life. He summarized the latter by saying, “It’s realizing who Jesus Christ is and who you are in Jesus Christ that is the key and the secret to powerful, victorious Christian living.”

Other aspects of the Christian worldview included Dr. David Murray on Human Identity and Rev. Brian Cosby regarding Suffering. Attendees could choose from two breakout sessions: Rev. Mark Kelderman on A Christian Worldview of Sexuality or Dr. Charles Barrett’s Viewing This World by Following Jesus into the Next.

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The Jubilee Women’s Ensemble

The blended voices of the Jubilee Women’s Ensemble provided special music to open the Friday evening session. In his speech on The Puritan Worldview, Dr. Joel Beeke spoke of how the Puritans took Calvinistic doctrines and applied them to every area of life, bringing “vital, Reformed, experiential, confessional piety” to the average person in the pew. He identified “one great truth that illuminated” the Puritan worldview as “God’s sovereignty, and more importantly, God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ.” Friday’s session concluded as Rev. Kelderman moderated a Question and Answer session with a panel of speakers and one PRTS student, Sherif Atef Fahim.

Attendees were welcome to attend a Saturday morning prayer meeting, which was followed by lectures about two additional aspects of the Christian Worldview: Dr. Michael Barrett on The Old Testament and Dr. Jerry Bilkes on The Great Commission.

In a video overview of the event, Rev. Cosby spoke about how helpful these conferences are in encouraging Reformed believers that they are not alone.

The conference is an annual highlight for Mr. Randall Kirkland, who travels each year from St. Louis, MO, and is an elder at Christ Fellowship Bible Church. “The conference has been consistently rewarding in several respects,” he says, “solid Reformed experiential preaching, accessibility to the speakers, and wonderful hospitality.” He says, “All of the speakers very capably addressed the pivotal importance and implications of a Christian mindset or grid through which to process these challenging times, but with varying points of emphasis.” He found Dr. Thomas’s speech on daily life “a powerful overarching perspective that helped to frame the other messages.”

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Dr. Derek Thomas

According to Chris Hanna, Director of Development, organizers were “very happy with the attendance, messages, book sales, and general response from those who attended.”

Speakers included several members of the PRTS faculty. Dr. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics as well as pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids. Dr. Michael Barrett is Vice President for Academic Affairs/Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament as well as a minister in the Heritage Reformed Congregations who serves as the denomination’s Professor of Theology. Dr. Bilkes is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and is ordained in the Free Reformed Churches. Rev. Kelderman serves as Dean of Students and Spiritual Formation as well as instructor in Pastoral Theology. Dr. Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology and pastors the Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.

Two speakers serve as ministers at Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, TN. Rev. Brian Cosby is Senior Pastor as well as Visiting Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Charles Barrett (the son of Dr. Michael Barrett) is Assistant Minister. Both men additionally teach as adjunct professors at Belhaven University in Chattanooga.

Dr. Derek Thomas is the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC, and the Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He is a Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries and Dean of its DMin. program.

Plans are being made for the ninth annual conference, The Beauty and Glory of the Reformation, to be held from August 24-27, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 16 & 17 of the November 9, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. thomas-crowd.jpg

OPC church plant in Wisconsin: unique outreach efforts

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The McShaffrey family

Next time you vacation in the Wisconsin Dells, plan to drive less than 20 miles southwest to Reedsburg and worship with the saints at Grace Reformed Church. You’ll find sound preaching and warm fellowship in a congregation that reaches out in unusual ways.

The church began as a mission work of the Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was organized (particularized) as a church in 2007, with the ordination of three elders. Two deacons were installed in July of 2013.

Rev. Christian M. McShaffrey has been involved with the work since he graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 2003. He was ordained as an evangelist in 2004 and installed as pastor of the church in 2007.

“Though we are organized as a church, my work is not done,” he says. “While at Mid-America, I learned the ‘three-self’ formula of missions: 1) Self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-propagating. The first two are done, but the third is yet future.”

The congregation consists of 48 communicant and 14 non-communicant members. They meet for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM in a PCUSA, whose space they rent at 148 North Park St. in Reedsburg. A luncheon at 12:30 PM follows the morning service. Members meet again for singing and prayer at 1:30, with a Bible study beginning at 1:45.

Rev. McShaffrey explains that the group originally met for morning and evening services, but because many members travel as much as an hour, evening attendance was lacking. When the congregation began renting its current facility, the worship schedule had to be adjusted around that church’s 9:30 AM service.

“The current schedule was based on necessity, but I have come to love it,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Attendance in ‘second service’ has increased, and the bonds of our fellowship have deepened by breaking bread together each Sabbath. During the summer months, some linger about at the church in fellowship until evening.”

A home meeting is held each Wednesday at 6:00 PM for prayer, study, and fellowship. Members also take the initiative to sponsor Friday evening hymn sings, summer sporting events, hikes at a nearby state park, or community service projects.

The church’s website (reedsburgchurch.org) highlights several ministry and outreach efforts. One link leads to the unique Serious Christianity website (seriouschristianity.org), which answers multiple questions about different aspects of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to challenge the many “mere professors” of Christianity out of their complacency into true conversion.

“As a church planter, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Almost everyone claimed to be ‘Christian’ and their claim was based on either 1) growing up in a church or 2) decisional regeneration. Antinomianism is rampant today.”

Visitors to the website can click on questions, which are answered with short, biblically-based articles. Other pages include comments from the Puritans and modern theologians. An “outreach” tab provides access to files for printing cards that invite people to explore the website by asking, “Do you take your Christianity seriously?”

A “diaconate” page on the church website introduces a couple of deacons, extensively explains their work and church guidelines, and offers links to other local resources.

We have a fairly active diaconate,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “We meet a lot of people by offering help. Of course, the majority of our work in done within the church. But I get about one phone call per week from strangers asking for help. Somehow, our church got the reputation of being generous, and I know that other pastors direct people to us. Having a public policy posted is helpful when it comes time to say, ‘No.’”

The website also includes links to Bible audio files and a way to request a free copy of a Bible.

“I believe that the Word of God is powerful. Reading it can change lives,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “One of our deacons is a Gideon and his love for distributing Scripture encouraged me to do the same. I get about one call per month. I order and ship directly from Amazon.com (because most people are not interested in meeting). I include my name and phone number in the front cover.”

Grace Reformed also offers Bibles through its radio ministry. It broadcasts sermons and prayer times as well as sponsoring daily Bible reading. When Pastor McShaffrey introduces himself to people, they often ask, “Are you the Christian who gives away free Bibles on the radio?”

The website includes an invitation page in Spanish, although it acknowledges that a specific Spanish-language ministry does not yet exist. The website even includes directions for taking a cab to the church service and having the deacons pay the fare.

Most church members participate in the annual Life Chain, in which pro-life advocates stand together to pray for God to forgive our nation and put an end to abortion. The Reedsburg group stands on Main Street for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Rev. McShaffrey says, “It is a visual statement of solidarity by the local Christian community that abortion kills children, hurts women, and angers God.”

In addition to his ministerial duties, Rev. McShaffrey serves as Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest. He appreciates his education at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, saying, “I received sound theological instruction and was also encouraged by the good example of my professors in seeking the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Rosaria Butterfield offers a Gospel perspective

rosaria-croppedHow should Christians participate in today’s culture wars? Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Braunfels, TX, addressed that question by hosting a conference at which Dr. Rosaria Butterfield spoke about “A Welcoming Gospel.”

Rosaria Butterfield is the well-known author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which chronicles her journey from a tenured professor, who self-identified as lesbian and atheist, to a minister’s wife, whose identify is in Christ.

Christ Presbyterian Church advertised the conference as “an effort to change from a field of battle to a place of hearing, understanding, and healing” and “lay down our arms, not to surrender our beliefs, but to embrace our LGBT neighbors with the compassion of Christ and to bind their wounds—and ours—with the gospel of peace.”

Over 250 people from all over southern Texas attended the conference on August 11 & 12, 2016. Rosaria began the conference on Thursday evening by describing her conversion experience as something that felt like “a train wreck” or “an alien abduction” or perhaps “a bit of both.”

She said, “I was actually not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief.” She defined homosexuality as “a fruit, not a root,” saying, “Homosexuality, at least biblically speaking, is consequential, not causal.” From God’s point of view, it is an “identity-rooted ethical outworking of original sin.”

Identity

Under the topic of “Identity” on Friday afternoon, Rosaria spoke about sexual orientation as a definition of personhood. She explained how sexual orientation went from a category invention in the 19th century to an idol in the 20th century to a civil right in the 21st century. She said, “In 2015, when five unelected Supreme Court judges appended (or attached) sexual orientation to the 14th amendment, sexual orientation metastasized from a description of one’s felt sexual desires to a national idol with civil right weight.”

She said, “Gay marriage did much more than change the definition of marriage, it changed the definition of personhood. When a culture embraces a category of personhood that rejects God as author of our person and purpose, we lose our grip on any truthful understanding of who we are, and we no longer then have access to categories like sin, grace, heaven, hell, repentance, faith, forgiveness, restoration.”

Rosaria urged Christians to embrace biblical truth and not to bow to the idol of sexual orientation. If Christians accept it as a definition of personhood, believing there is such a thing as a gay person, “then on what grounds do you oppose it as a civil right? You’re either a bigot or a theonomist. But if you don’t believe that this is a category of personhood that God assigned to His people, that’s the bridge of gospel hope.”

with pastor Dick Jones
Rosaria with COC Senior Pastor Dick Jones

Community

Speaking Friday evening on “Loving Community,” Rosaria discussed the need for Christians to go beyond fellowship with like-minded believers to open their homes and hearts to needy neighbors. She said, “I believe that Christian hospitality and the community that develops from it is the ground zero of our life in Christ.” Having experienced the closely knit companionship of her gay network, Rosaria initially felt that “Christians were living on a starvation diet of community.” She urged listeners to “create places of compassion,” saying, “Home is where isolation is broken…where suffering meets accompaniment. Home is the best place to incorporate people who need you into the rhythms of life together.”

Audio recordings of the three conference sessions are available online at sermonaudio.com under speaker Rosaria Butterfield. After each conference speech, Rosaria also answered questions from the audience.

According to conference coordinator Jana Henry, “It was apparent in the unrecorded Q&A sessions, that many in our community have loved ones and family living the gay lifestyle. They are hurting, unsure how to handle it, and Rosaria gave them some very wise advice. From Christians who have same sex attraction, to parents of children who are marrying their same sex partners, all came together to hear a message of God’s love and how we can best express it to a fallen world.”

Rosaria also spoke to ministers and their wives at a special luncheon on Friday. She addressed the unique position in which they find themselves as they attempt to relate to others and how their ministries differ from those of lay persons.

Andrew Moody, pastor of San Antonio Reformed Church, said, “Listening to how God used a Reformed pastor and his wife to befriend Rosaria and point her to Jesus in the Scriptures is an encouragement that God works powerfully even through humble servants such as we are. May He give us more opportunities to forge such friendships with people in desperate need of His grace.”

The conference met organizers’ expectations with regard to the content of Rosaria’s messages, while Rosaria herself and listener response surpassed expectations. “Rosaria was winsome and approachable. She was very giving of herself to others,” Jana said. “We received overwhelmingly positive responses from attendees. Some admitted reluctance to attend and did not plan to come for all the sessions. After hearing Rosaria speak, her openness, her honesty and humility, they expressed enthusiasm for the conference and its blessings.”

One person wrote, “I was challenged to examine what I may be taking for granted when I respond to others. Am I holding myself at a safe distance and leaving a needy soul to twist in the wind? Rosaria’s admonishment, ‘To put the hand of the suffering into the hand of the Savior, you have to stand close enough to get hurt’ has returned to mind over and over again. Am I protecting myself instead of fulfilling the call to minister to others who need Christ?”

Jana concluded, “Rosaria emphasized that her problem was not that she identified as a lesbian, her problem was that she denied Christ. Looking through that prism, one could plug in any number of other sins in place of homosexuality and see that the message is about Christ overcoming sin. Changing one’s lifestyle will not bring salvation, but salvation through Christ will change our lives.”

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Rosaria speaking to pastors and their wives

Christ Presbyterian Church frequently hosts conferences that challenge Christians to think with a biblical world and life view, securing speakers able to communicate truth in particular spheres of influence. “A Welcoming Gospel” was a one-time event to address a current need in our culture. The church also hosts two annual conferences. Each spring, a women’s conference is held with speakers such as Nancy Guthrie, Melissa Kruger, and Aimee Byrd. In July, the church organizes an annual Patriotic Celebration with speakers that have included Tony Perkins (president of Family Research Council), Kelly Shackelford (president and CEO of First Liberty Institute), and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin.

In 2015, Crown and Covenant Publications (the publishing arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) released Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identify and Union with Christ. Rosaria is currently at work on The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the September 21, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC in DC now ‘organized’ church

 

2015 groupChrist Reformed Church in Washington, DC, celebrated its status as an organized church in a special service scheduled for 7:00 pm on January 21, 2016.

Dr. Brian Lee explains, “We did decide to schedule the service on a Thursday night to allow folks who wanted to attend the time to travel. It turns out that Friday is the March for Life in Washington, DC, an annual rally on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I’ve known a few of our pastors in Classis to travel to that event from time to time, and I wanted to make it as convenient as possible for them to join us.”

The congregation first met for worship on November 4, 2007, and has been under the supervision of Zeltenreich URC (New Holland, PA). Classis Eastern U.S. concurred with the request for organization at its October 14, 2015, meeting.

“As a Classis, we have stood in awe as God has answered our prayers by providing many opportunities for growth and development in church planting,” says Rev. Andrew Eenigenburg, classical Clerk. “The Lord has clearly blessed Rev. Lee and his congregation with increased stability and growth year by year. We look forward to their joyful reception as the twelfth established church in our classis.”

Dr. Lee expresses appreciation for financial and prayer support over the years. He requests continued prayer as the church seeks to mature in a transitional environment, to find suitable worship space in an expensive real estate market, and to plant additional churches in the metro DC area.

The above article by Glenda Mathes is a slightly edited version of one that appeared on page 10 of the January 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.