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Recently Pastor Ken Smith addressed the Reformation Society of Pittsburgh on the topic of justification by faith alone.  As an application of this doctrine, he addressed the subject of the gospel call.  Ken graciously agreed to let us share that important portion of his address below.  


I want to pose a question which has troubled me for a long time.  Why do there seem to be so few conversions among reformed churches?  There could be, I suppose, a number of answers.  But having puzzled over this for many decades, I want to pose one very strong possibility.  Have we in our zeal for proclaiming the sovereignty of God in salvation with the Bible’s doctrine of predestination, election, and irresistible grace slipped into thinking that saving faith is passive?  After all, say many, doesn’t Ephesians 2:9 say “…it (thinking faith) is the gift of God….”?  So, if that’s the case, is it not after all a passive matter?

It is significant to recognize that when the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry, He called on men to repent.  In talking with Nicodemus, he made it clear that unless one was born again (from above), he had no part in the kingdom of God.  Later in that same passage Jesus spoke of the serpent in the wilderness, raised up in God’s mercy, so that by looking at it persons with fatal snakebite could be healed.  When Jesus called men to Himself, He called on them to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Him.  His gospel call came in a variety of ways, but he always called for a response.  And the point of this consideration is that unlike regeneration (the inner call) which is indeed passive, faith in the Scripture is always active.  The sinner MUST respond.  So while we hold to sola fide, faith alone, we must never confuse it with a passive attitude. Read more

Meditations for Saints Full Of Thanksgiving

So, we’ve all given thanks in a variety of ways. And, we’re all stuffed. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, baked sweet potatoes and onions, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, cranberry bread, cranberry salad, corn cake, apple pie, cherry pie, blueberry pie, French silk pie, mincemeat pie, coconut cream pie, pumpkin pie, and cans of whipped cream were all passed around our table. Some of almost all of it ended up on my plate, somehow. What does it mean? Of course, it means the Lord has blessed us abundantly this last year. But does it mean anything more?

Perhaps too-often overlooked is what a full belly means looking forward. One Psalm of thanks, Psalm 136, guides saints who have feasted on Thanksgiving Day to think about tomorrow. Read more

Wintry Thanksgiving

Most artists use a white canvas,

then add color.  


You did just the opposite.


Upon every leafless tree and forested hill,

you sent from heaven above

a flurry of white

to paint your landscape.


Clearly each flake was carefully directed.


Thousands upon thousands,

blasted by cold wind,

speckle trunks of oak and maple,

defining sharply each tree in the forest.


Yet most gently floated down,

dabbed upon every limb, bough, and twig,

covering them with clean brightness. 


Across the valley,

the morning sun strikes hilltops,

every glistening branch sparkling

with little diamonds of frozen cold.


As I sit on window seat,

beholding your wintry glory,

with sounds of a feast

being prepared in the kitchen behind me,

I give silent thanks

to an artist

who uses white so beautifully

to cover not only trees.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Today I was reading my copy of the Book of Common Prayer from 1662… it’s not actually a copy from 1662, but a Cambridge “1662 edition” in burgundy calf-skin leather with gilt edges that was published in 1968. It’s a beautiful copy, might I add.

Anyhow,  I was preparing for my congregation’s Thanksgiving Day Service and  I wanted to read some prayers from our reformed forefathers. The prayers of those who have gone before us ought to serve as  models for public prayer as much of today’s public prayer tends to lack the reverence and awe of those who have gone before us. I was not disappointed as I turned to the section entitled “THANKSGIVINGS.”

As you prepare your hearts for giving thanks unto The One who gave up His only Son so that we may have all things, I hope this prayer may aid in your prayers as well. Enjoy!  Read more

With All the Bad News…

…Why not a piece of good news for a change?  Seeing how these young men rallied around (and especially explained why they did so) a little schoolmate who was being bullied will touch your heart.

Bold or Brazen?

When does bold faith cross the line to become brazen presumption? It is easy as Christians to lose sight of that line, especially when we or those whom we love are hurting. Humble-hearted Christians will sometimes “claim” that a disease is healed, that a relationship is restored, that a job is secure because they have firm faith that these things will be so. They trust in the God who rewards those who “diligently seek Him” by faith (Hebrews 11:6); they trust that God’s plans for His people are for good, and not for harm (Jeremiah 29:11); therefore, they trust that strong, Christ-centered conviction will win from this generous God the particular good which they desire. While well-intentioned, this understanding of faith and therefore of faith’s object is deeply injurious to people who promote it and to the sometimes desperate hearts who receive it as good news concerning their hardships. Read more

He Assumes You Know

One key to understanding perplexing Bible stories is to recognize that the Lord assumes his people will treasure his word greatly.  He relates to his people as though they will remember and apply the Scriptures that came in history before them.

Sometimes the Bible just goes ahead and refers us immediately to the preceding Scriptures to help us in its interpretation.  When we read that “in his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub” in I Kings 16:34, we are not left to guess at the reason for this tragedy.  We read at the end of the verse that this happened “according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.”  This takes us back to Joshua’s prophetic oath hundreds of years previously, where he promised this would happen to the one who dared rebuild this city.  “Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, ‘Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates’” (Joshua 6:26).  There is an underlying assumption that this word, recorded in Holy Scripture for the people, will be remembered. Read more

A Long Line of Godly Men

Sometimes it’s striking how our own lives parallel church history. The subtitle of Ligonier’s biography series, “A Long Line of Godly Men” has been ringing in my head this past week. Not only is it an appropriate phrase to celebrate how God has blessed his church through many godly men, it’s also an appropriate title for his grace in my life.

As God often chooses to use secondary means to accomplish his wonderful purposes, he has chosen to use a long line of godly men in my life to bring his saving and sanctifying grace to me. As we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to give God my public thanks for this long line of godly men he’s used in my life. Read more

Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Selfie

photoI have been a fan of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for many years. I love the art of language and the skill it takes to document the ever changing and living tongue of the anglophonic people.

This week all nerdly eyes were on Oxford as they announced the word of the year. This is an annual event at which a new and influential word is chosen based on how it has come into the language. Sure, it’s not the Superbowl, but some of us get pretty excited about these things.

Did you hear what this year’s word is? Selfie.

Yep. Selfie.

What is a selfie you might ask? The OED defines selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Why is this so interesting? The selfie is not just a way of putting yourself out there for the tweeters of the world to see. The selfie is a reflection of the corporate fallen heart of mankind. Read more

Seven Themes in Thanksgiving in the New Testament

The smell of turkey roasting is wafting through the church building even as I write. Preparations are being made in the kitchen so students learning English as a second language can experience a traditional Thanksgiving meal in place of regular classes this evening. Many of us will gather with families next week to give thanks to God for the bounty of another harvest season.

How do we grow in gratitude? Last week, we considered Eight Themes in Thanksgiving in the Psalms. This week, we consider Seven Themes in Thanksgiving in the New Testament: Read more

Tornadic Meditations

After having our hearts warmed with fellowship and our bellies filled with the ladies’ cooking on our first visit back to our congregation in Kokomo, Indiana, my son Spencer and I started off east on Sunday to return home to Pennsylvania.  We left trying to beat some severe weather we knew was coming from the west. However, we had no sooner gone down the street than I had to circle around the block and return to the church, as my son had forgotten some things.  

Just then my daughter Emory exited the building.  She had also come to worship with us and was heading back west to Lafayette, hoping also to get there before the weather hit.  As I talked further with her through the window as I sat in the driver’s seat, the western sky growing darker behind her deepened my sense of fatherly concern. Unlike the plans we had made just moments earlier for her to leave, I asked her to stay in Kokomo until the storm passed, said goodbye again, then drove away. Read more

Highlights of Sanctification: Overcoming Modern Challenges

On Friday and Saturday I spent a wonderful time in Indianapolis with over 300 other believers being fed by Tim Challies and David Murray as they addressed the topic of growing as believers in the midst of the unique challenges of the modern world.  The Second Reformed Presbyterian Church hosted the time well by providing a warm welcome to all, making available room for the huge layout of books by Reformation Heritage Books with tasty refreshments nearby, and offering special times of question and answer sessions with David and Tim, be it for youth around pizza or pastors around a tasty lunch. Certainly the time was a taste of the eternal fellowship we will fully enjoy one day.

As I believe it would be well worth the investment of time to listen to their messages, here are four paragraphs highlighting each one.  To listen to the particular talk, just click the title’s hyperlink.  Read more

Eight Themes in Thanksgiving

As our nation reflects more on the nature of gratitude at this November, here are eight themes in thankfulness from the Psalms that guide us to a more God-glorifying gratitude:

  1. We give thanks for who the Lord is. We give thanks “due to his righteousness” (7:17), “to his holy name” (30:4), “for your name is near” (75:1), “for he is good” (118:1), and “to the God of gods” (136:2). Do we know God’s name and his attributes? Grateful hearts do. Read more

The Trinity’s Hymnbook (Part I)

Certain congregational songbooks use the word “Trinity” in their titles.  For instance, there is the Trinity Hymnal and the Trinity Psalter.  Yet how aware are we that the songbook found in the middle of the Bible, the Psalms, is filled with references and allusions to the Trinity?  In one sense this should not surprise us, as they were authored by the Triune God (II Timothy 3:16; I Peter 1:20-21).  However, if my own growing awareness and recent experiments pointing this out to students are any indication, many believers are missing out on this particular vein of richness in the Psalter.

My eyes were opened to this while sitting under the teacher of Robert Letham, author of The Holy Trinity.  During this wonderful week of learning, Dr. Letham showed how the knowledge of the Trinity is present in the Old Testament but is veiled and only progressively revealed. For instance, do you know where in the Bible is the first place the Trinity is referenced?  The first three verses of the Bible!  God (the Father) is mentioned in verse 1, the Spirit of God in verse 2, and the Word of God (whom we know is Jesus) in verse 3.  He then lead us through an exercise where we saw how the Trinity is abundantly present in the Old Testament, but then rightly showed how it is not until the New Testament that there is a virtual explosion of Trinitarian passages.  From Jesus’ baptism to his discourse at the Lord’s Supper to the Great Commission to the apostolic epistles, seeing the fullness of Trinitarian doctrine growing and expanding through the Scriptures was a blessed experience. Read more

GenRef Interview: Rich Holdeman

“The design of God in our cancer is not to train us in the

rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets

comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count

their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count

their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in

the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design

is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9: “We felt that we had

received the sentence of death. But that was to make us

rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

The aim of God in our cancer (among a thousand other

good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts

so that we rely utterly on him.”

-John Piper-

Don’t Waste Your Cancer

In this podcast it was our pleasure to speak with Dr. Rich Holdeman, pastor of Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Having been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Dr. Holdeman explores the challenges that come with battling cancer, as well as the grace and comfort the Lord gives His own during such trials.

Interview length: 43:27


It is sometimes the case that significant details are shared after the end of an interview.  Instead of trying to splice those comments into the main body of the conversation, it seemed best to simply add another five minute file here.  Let’s call it bonus material.