Saturday, October 29, 2005

C.S. Lewis, Narnia, et al

Our Minister of Discipleship, Brad Mercer, has planned a great seminar series on C.S. Lewis. Check it out. The brochure is prettier, but this is the raw schedule info.

To Narnia and Beyond… C.S. Lewis Fireside Seminar Series
Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.—For Young Career-Age (Singles and Couples)

The Schedule

Nov. 8- Dr. Andrew Hoffecker
C.S. Lewis: Imaginative Apologist
At the Home of Bob and Libba Frey

Nov. 29- Dr. Knox Chamblin
Exploring Aslan’s Country: Biblical Truth in
the Chronicles of Narnia
At the home of Steve and Kathryn Edwards

Dec. 9- Movie and Discussion
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Discussion and Refreshments at the home of Stewart and Amanda Quarles

Jan. 10- Rev. Brad Mercer
The Sweet Poison of the False Infinite:
Perspectives from Lewis on Work and Leisure
At the home of Jerry and Beth Shivers

Sponsored by First Presbyterian Church, Jackson
R.S.V.P. is required. Pizza will be provided for dinner.
Please contact the Discipleship Office for
reservations and directions: 601-973-9118 or

“I believe in Christianity as I
believe the Sun has risen,
not only because I see it, but
because by it, I see
everything else.”
“Is Theology Poetry?” -C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Important Title on Divorce and Children

Christianity Today has just published a review of an important new book looking at the impact of divorce on children. Click here to read it and related materials. Here's a taste.

Dissecting Divorce
A new book by Elizabeth Marquardt offers a child's-eye-view of divorce.
Reviewed by Jenny Schroedel

A generation of children of divorce has grown up. They have a story to tell. It's not the story you might find in books like E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly's For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, suggesting that divorce is not so bad for kids. It is also quite unlike cheery children's books like To & Fro, Fast & Slow, describing a child who goes back and forth from her dad's hip city apartment to her mother's idyllic country home.

According to Elizabeth Marquardt, being a child of divorce is more like being a football, kicked back and forth between two estranged parents and the worlds they inhabit with their conflicting rules, standards, and secrets. This is a heavy burden to bear, even in the "best" of divorces—a burden that shapes lives in subtle and pronounced ways. As the "little adults" in their families, these children understood that their role was to protect their parents by keeping silent, whether it was about long, lonely hours spent in empty apartments, dad's new girlfriend, or the sexual abuse that occasionally occurs in blended families.

In Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, these adult children finally speak. Marquardt, herself a child of divorce and an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, draws from her own experiences and a study that she conducted with sociologist Norval Glenn, in which they surveyed 1,500 adult children from divorced and intact families and then interviewed 70 of them at length. They focused on college graduates because they wanted to understand how these reasonably successful adults—often cited as proof that divorce could be innocuous—had been affected.

Between Two Worlds is illuminating for what it conveys about divorce, but it is equally striking for what it says about marriage: that the couple's essential task is to make one home from their two conflicting selves, creating an ideal context for a child's spiritual and emotional growth. In intact families, this struggle goes largely unnoticed by the children. After divorce the conflict no longer rests on the parents' shoulders but takes root in the heart of the child.

Many of these children carried their conflicted hearts to church, sat alone in the back pew, and tried to make sense of it all. An overwhelming majority of interviewees said that religious leaders did not reach out to them. This was perhaps indicative of the larger societal trend to focus on parents instead of children.

"If our parents could not stay together, we needed and deserved to grow up in a society that faced up squarely to our loss," Marquardt writes, "that refused to engage in happy talk, that resisted the temptation to call children resilient in order to defend adult decisions."

The greatest strength of this book is also a liability: the multitude of quotes create texture and depth but occasionally clog the flow of Marquardt's lucid prose. Still, Between Two Worlds is an excellent resource for pastors, parents, therapists, adult children of divorce, and divorced adults. If nothing else, it can help our society better understand and protect our weakest members: those children who appear so deceptively mature that we decide, quite tragically, to look the other way.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Teenagers: Ask the Savior to help you...

Is it all right for Christians (teenage Christians in this case) to engage in sexual activity so long as "no one gets hurt"?

Is it all right for Christians (teenage Christians in this case) to drink alcohol so long as "no one gets hurt"?

Is it all right for Christians (teenage Christians in this case) watch R-rated movies as long as "no one gets hurt"?

Think about it. Think about it you should if you are serious about calling yourself a follower of Jesus. What would Jesus have you do in these situations? What would he say to you if you were to ask him? But ask him you should if you are in doubt. It is a principle that must guard everything that we do: that we share everything (yes, everything) with him. Before you allow yourself to watch an R-rated movie, ask him what he thinks about this?

Is it wrong? Then there are no circumstances in which it is right for you. Don't get sucked up into the modern way of thinking that things may be right for some and wrong for others.

Is it doubtful? Then again, the principle that guides us is--never engage in what your conscience isn't sure about. It is the principle of James 4:17 "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

Develop a regular habit of asking, "Lord, what should I do if this happens, or I find myself in this situation?" It is habit that will reap rich rewards as you grow in your relationship with Jesus.

Important Issue for Parents of Teenagers

Today's Family Research Council "Culture Facts" email includes the following article. It raises some very important issues for Christian parents in our Northeast Jackson culture. Read and reflect. Here's the link.

Prom: What's the Responsible Choice?
Issue No.: 22
by: James Sunday

The recent decision by Principal Kenneth M. Hoagland of Kellenberg Memorial High School on Long Island to cancel the spring prom has created a whirlwind of controversy. In a letter to parents this fall, Principal Hoagland stated his primary reason for canceling the prom: "It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake - in a word, financial decadence."

With the issues of financial decadence, drinking, drugs, and sex on prom night, perhaps the time has come to rethink and retake prom night. So what are some of the risks that teenages face on prom night?

A new survey entitled Teens Report Pressure to Engage in High-Risk Behaviors on Prom and Graduation Nights found:

45 percent report pressure to drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of all fatal traffic crashes on typical prom and graduation weekends involve alcohol.

"The 21 drinking age is based on scientific research: We know that the earlier teens drink, the more likely they are to become alcohol dependent, and to drive drunk," said Wendy Hamilton, MADD National President. "More than ever, during prom and graduation season, parents need to be vigilant and insist that their teens never drink alcohol before 21, and that they not ride in a car with friends who have been drinking." 48 percent of teens expect less than half of their peers will buckle up on prom and graduation night.

What about the risk of teenage sex on prom night?

"Prom and sex are too often linked in the minds of young people seeking independence and maturity in adult behavior," said Stephen Wallace, chairman and chief executive officer of SADD. "Along with this rite of passage can come significant pressure for both boys and girls to engage in activities they may not really want and may not be ready for."

More than one-third of sexually active 15- to 17-year-olds say having sex often leads to depression (30.7 percent) and loss of self-respect (38.8 percent). Almost one-third of sexually active 15- to 17-year-olds say the decisions they make about sex cause them to feel stressed (29.7 percent), the study stated. The study also found that the relationship between teens and their parents is typically the largest factor contributing to their overall mood and resistance to destructive decision-making. More than half of teens (53.6 percent) think that losing their parents' trust is a likely outcome of being caught having sex, and almost one third (27.6 percent) cite "pleasing parents" as a reason not to have sex. So with all the dangers and risks involved in prom night activites, what are parents and teens to do?

Perhaps Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America in her 2003 article entitled Prom Promiscuities says it best: "It is time for adults to speak truth to teens. It is time to take back the prom, time to protect our teens, and restore their dreams of romantic "promise."

For parents and educators that may mean cancelling prom, just like Principal Hoagland has done. Isn't cancelling prom a small price to pay for the safety of America's teenagers?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Not Emerging

The so-called "Emerging (or Emergent) Church" is all the rage in some circles of evangelicalism today. Another fad, like bell-bottoms, this too shall pass. Don Carson has written an excellent book on the subject, if you are interested (it's called Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church).

Christianity Today recently interviewed James MacDonald of the Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, who had this to say

- very interesting.

Cyprian on Stewardship

But how can they follow Christ, who are held back by the chain of their wealth? Or how can they seek heaven, and climb to sublime and lofty heights, who are weighed down by earthly desires? They think that they possess, when they are rather possessed; as slaves of their profit, and not lords with respect to their own money, but rather the bond-slaves of their money. These times and these men are indicated by the apostle, when he says, "But they that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and in perdition. For the root of all evil is the love of money, which, while some have coveted, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." But with what rewards does the Lord invite us to contempt of worldly wealth? With what compensations does He atone for the small and trifling losses of this present time? "There is no man," saith He, "that leaves house, or land, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, but he shall receive seven fold even in this time, but in the world to come life everlasting." If we know these things, and have found them out from the truth of the Lord who promises, not only is not loss of this kind to be feared, but even to be desired; as the Lord Himself again announces and warns us, "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall cast you out, and shall speak of your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake! Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for, behold, your reward is great in heaven."

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Lapsed Treatise III:12 (Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 5).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on the Church's Financial Condition

Last week, I commented that here in mid-October, with our Stewardship commitment from 2006 coming up (Sunday, November 6, 2005), we find ourselves about $767,000 in the red in terms of cash flow for this year. In other words, a lot less money has come into the church’s ministry budget than has gone out, or to put it the other way around, we have spent over three quarters of a million dollars more than we have received at this point of the year for the support of ministry. Now we have had negative cash flows of around a half million dollars before and still finished the year in the black. But we have never been this deep in the red before. Our current cash flow deficit is about $250,000 deeper than we have ever experienced. If historical patterns continue, then it could reach a total of around $850,000 by November 1, 2005 (or about $350,000 more than we have experienced before). If that happens, we will probably have exhausted our reserves, and serious budget cuts and constraints will have to be taken for the remainder of the year, and the 2006 budget might have to be cut as well.

Nevertheless, last week I also said that I am actually excited about this challenge. I think it is so good for our congregation. I gave you a little taste of why on Sunday morning, but let me elaborate here.

First, our current cash flow deficit is not the result of a failure of generosity. We are not in our present financial situations because you are not giving. In fact, your giving is comparable to (or even a little better than) last year at this time. Giving to the ministry budget (which includes operating and benevolent expenses) is only a few thousand dollars behind your pace of giving last year. Faith Promise giving is also strong at this point of the year, and looks to be on track to meet what was committed to missions and evangelism for 2005-2006. Additionally, the congregation has not only pledged, but also already generously given to the church’s sanctuary expansion costs. So when you take into account your giving to missions and sanctuary expansion, we have probably had more given to the church by the congregation this year than at this time last year.

The key here is for us all to remember the importance of our regular, undesignated giving/tithing to the basic church budget. For us to meet our expenses this year, the congregation will need to give about 6% more to the ministry budget of the church than we did last year. With 100 new families added to the church this year, and all of us doing our part, this is not the impossible dream – but a very doable challenge.

Second, our cash flow deficit is significantly related to our aggressive debt retirement. While it is nearly impossible to know all the factors involved in church giving, we do know several things for certain. The major thing is this: the church is paying off the Twin Lakes Conference Center capital expansion to the tune of about $50,000 a month. That is an expense that we were not having to carry last year, and accounts for much of the difference between this year’s and last year’s cash flow status at this time of the year. The good news in this is that the conference center expansion, only just completed in the Spring, is already half-paid for, and at this rate will be paid off completely in about three years.

Again, however, this puts a squeeze on the church’s ministry budget (which is already pretty lean when in comes to the church program). So unless we make up for the extra demands by generous giving, our ministry here in the local church will be hampered.

Third, our cash flow deficit gives us a unique opportunity to trust in God and walk by faith. First Presbyterian is blest with so many generous members that we are rarely stretched in our sense of utter dependence upon God and moved to give in a truly sacrificial way in support of the ministry of the church. And those are two exceedingly good things. It is good for us to be in a spot in which we must completely depend on the Lord to provide. It is good for us not to presume or expect the budget to be met routinely, year after year. It is good to have to look hard at our budget and ask if certain things need to be cut. It is good for members to have to give beyond their comfort zone because they are committed to the work of God through the ministry of the local church, and they count it a privilege to be able to sacrifice their own comforts for kingdom gains. These things are exceedingly good, and so this situation is –to me– exciting. It’s an opportunity for us to take stock, make healthy changes, sacrifice in order to support ministry, and to be utterly dependent on God. What a blessing!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Our Church's Present Financial Situation

Well, here we are in mid-October, with our Stewardship commitment time coming up (Sunday, November 6, 2005) for 2006 – when we indicate what we will give toward the support of the church’s ministry for the year to come. And we find ourselves about $767,000 in the red in terms of cash flow for this year, already. This year’s church ministry budget is set at $6,401,409 (this does not include our missions giving, which is almost $1,000,000, or gifts to the Twin Lakes expansion or to the $11,000,000 sanctuary expansion). So that means our current cash flow deficit is equal to about 12% of the total ministry budget. Let me try to put that into perspective.

For many, many years now (twenty or more?), First Presbyterian Church has run a negative cash flow for much of the calendar year, the negative cash flow becomes sizeable by say June-November, and then member-giving catches that cash flow up in December, so that, when all is said and done, the church budget is met and giving is greater than spending. Over the last ten years, as our church budget has gotten larger, so also has the cash flow deficit. All during this time, First Presbyterian has always finished the year in the black, and has usually met or exceeded the budget. But the increase in the size and duration of our negative cash flows has, understandably, made our officers nervous over time – especially this year. They plan as best as they can. They trust God to provide. And they know he always has in the past. But they do not ever want to presume upon your giving or God’s blessing, nor do they want to be unwise stewards of the Lord’s resources. This year this concern is particularly acute, for several reasons.

We basically lost two Sundays worth of giving in August/September because of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. We have, individually and corporately, devoted significant funds and energy to Katrina-relief that were not factored into our current budget. We are in the middle of a major building program, to which many of you are giving generously and even sacrificially. We are also in the home stretch of paying off the most recent Twin Lakes Conference Center capital expansion (to the tune of about $50,000 a month). All of these things compounded make a big chunk to bite off for any church – no matter its resources.

Not all the news is bad, by any stretch. The dollar amount you have collectively given to the church’s ministry budget is about the same this year as last year (despite all the extraordinary things we’ve gone through in the last month and a half), and that should greatly encourage us. Missions giving is also strong at this point of the year, and looks to be on track to meet what was committed to missions and evangelism for 2005-2006.

That having been said, our current cash flow deficit is about $250,000 deeper than we have ever experienced. If historical patterns continue, then it could reach a total of around $850,000 by November 1, 2005. If that happens, we will probably have exhausted our reserves, and draconian measures will have to be taken for the remainder of the year. Furthermore, even with generous December giving, it is hard to imagine us overcoming a deficit that deep.

So let me make the following appeal. 1. Please join the officers in praying that the Lord would once again provide, through his people, the support necessary to fund fully the ministry budget of the church. 2. Indeed, let’s pray that we will be able to once again to surpass the church budget again this year in our giving – knowing that that will require an extraordinary outpouring of gifts by the congregation to the church budget. 3. Despite the hurricane recovery, the world disasters (like in Pakistan, India and Sumatra), the economy and markets, and the many other hands held out to you, let us all determine to give sacrificially and even over and above previous commitments to the church in order to insure the full support of the church’s work and witness this year. 4. If you are behind in you giving to the general budget or Faith Promise, let me appeal to you to catch up now. 5. If you are a member but not giving to the support of the church’s ministry budget, begin giving now. Don’t think that your ten dollar gift, or fifty dollar gift, or hundred dollar gift doesn’t matter. Our budget is largely underwritten by smaller, faithful giving. 6. If you are already faithfully giving to FPC, please consider giving more. Exceed your pledge. Give over and above and ahead. 7. For those in our congregation with substantial financial resources at your disposal, now would be a good time to devote some of those resources, over and above your regular giving, to the church.

If we could go into the year 2006 with positive cash flow in our ministry budget, it would be a huge encouragement to the whole congregation. But it is going to take very generous, and even sacrificial giving to accomplish this in the final two and half months of the year.

But as I said, I am actually excited about this challenge. I think it is so good for our congregation. To hear why, you’ll have to be here on Sunday morning and I’ll tell you!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Friday, October 07, 2005

Another Gulfport Report -- from the good folks at First Pres Coral Springs/Margate

Jay Fontanini of First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs-Margate, Florida (where Rick Phillips is the Pastor) has written the following, encouraging report on last Sunday Evening's ordination/installation service in Biloxi.

Last Sunday, Pastor Phillips and I were blessed to have the opportunity to go and visit our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Gulfcoast Region.
To get there, we left immediately after morning worship for a 2:00 flight to Altanta. We were scheduled to have a 35-minute layover before departing for Gulfport, where we were supposed to arrive at 4:41 - plenty of time to make the 6:00 worship service for the installation of Guy Richard as the shepherd of FPC Gulfport.

"Mr. Fantastic" at the AirTran counter alerted us to the fact that we would likely miss our connection, as our 2:00 flight was delayed until 2:29. 35-minutes is a tough window for connection, 6-minutes is a closed window. He found us an alternative on Delta, which would arrive in Gulfport about an hour later, meaning we would miss a good deal of the worship service, assuming of course that we were able to get someone from Airtran in Atlanta to authorize the transfer, someone from Delta to accept it, and then made a successful train trip within the Atlanta airport. In human terms - not possible, not worth it, and not likely. We decided to go, knowing that we might end up just turning around and coming home from Atlanta. We took advantage of the delay to eat a lovely pork sloppy joe after a brief prayer seeking our Lord's intervention in travel.

Upon arrival in Altanta, some 5-minutes later than our connection was scheduled to leave, I asked the gate attendant, "where is the flight to Gulfport," expecting to hear, "I'm sorry sir, it has already departed." Instead, I heard, "Gate C6, hurry, they are waiting for YOU!" Thank you Lord for answered prayers.

We were greeted in Gulfport by a relief worker from Virginia and shuttled to FPC Biloxi, where the installation service was graciously being hosted, pulling into the parking lot at 5:58 - enough time to enter the sanctuary, get a bottle of water and quickly greet folks. I admit that I always get a little choked up at ordinations, but this one took the cake. I'll not go into detail, but you can read Dr. Ligon Duncan's post for more information.

I spent the night with a lovely couple who had sustained only roof and landscaping damage. It was great just to sit and chat with a couple who had gotten married at FPC Gulfport year'a ago - it gave me a great perspective into the life of the church. The next morning we toured the area with Pastor Richard and also met with a few folks on the ground to discuss relief trips.

The take away for me from the whirlwind trip was two-fold. First, there is nothing so beautiful as the body of Christ. It is a joy to minister in Christ's name, loving people without even knowing them. At one point the elder we met with said, "I don't understand it, I don't know Rick Phillips or Jay Fontanini or First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs-Margate, Florida, I don't understand why you care so much." I explained to him, "this is our church, too." The second is this, when the Lord uses us, he does so in a meaningful way. Our response made an impact far beyond the fiscal and physical. Several people from the Gulfport congregation mentioned that their first source of information about what had happened in Gulfport was from our church's website. They were stunned to read the reports, more stunned that the news was coming from Florida, but most stunned by our response. The thing that we gave them was hope. They realized that even while they were knocked down and likely out, there were other parts of the Body of Christ standing, and therefore they were standing.

Pray for the church in Gulfport, MS. Pray that they will show the joy that surpasses all understanding, so that the glorious Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be proclaimed amidst the devastation. Pray that the rest of us won't forget about them 6-months from now as they fear.

Visit for more info.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

News from African Bible College-Uganda

Dear Prayer and Support Partners of our Outreach to Africa:

So the COUNTDOWN HAS BEGUN! Can you believe we will begin our first classes at the College in only two months?? We have been in Uganda for seven months now, and how time has flown. So what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen, by the grace of Christ alone.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED. We have gotten reasonably settled in our new home on the new campus of the new African Bible College in Uganda. All Palmer's books are on the shelves, his study is operative, and he's functioning as Director/Principal of the College. Joanna's happy as can be with her home-schooling classroom, Murray is finishing kindergarten, learning to read and write, Elliot is listening in on the lessons, and Daniel is happily occupied with his parallel play. The National Council for Higher Education has sent a Visitation Team for two days, and the preliminary response has been very encouraging. PRAISE THE LORD WITH US FOR ALL THESE BLESSINGS.

WHAT IS HAPPENING. The construction of the campus is moving right along. Two faculty houses and a faculty duplex have been completed, as well as the first dormitories for men and women. The communications building that will house our radio station is all ready and waiting for the tower and the broadcasting equipment to arrive. The administration building that will house the office of the registrar, the business manager, the deans and the director only needs a little trim. The dining hall is well on the way, but the kitchen needs to be built. The two "biggies" yet to be completed are the library and the second faculty duplex. It will take quite a push to get them done by mid-August. PRAISE THE LORD WITH US FOR ALL THESE BLESSINGS.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN. By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, many things will happen before the beginning of school.
1. Qualified applicants will be tested in the areas of English language and Bible knowledge on Saturday, July 9. Pray that the right students will show up and do well.
2. Faculty will arrive in July and August. Paul Austin, our librarian from England, has already come. Pray for John & Ali Wiltbank and Bill & Marilyn Kooienga, that they will have safe travel and good adjustment to big-city African lifestyle before they take up their teaching responsibilities. Pray also for Scott & Laura Sheffer, that their remaining support will come in, and they may arrive as soon as possible.
3. Our first students will arrive for the first semester on September 1. Pray that everything will be ready in time for the College to begin smoothly.
4. We should be hearing a report from the National Council for Higher Education sometime in August. Pray that their report will be as encouraging as the initial responses of the Visitation Team.
5. Many helpers will be coming for two-week periods to finish up the carpentry/computer/broadcasting work. Pray that they will be able to book their flights and complete their work in good order.
6. We will be hiring cooks for the kitchen and farmers for our farm. Pray that the Lord will bring us just the right people for these critical works.
7. Our classes will begin on September 4, but our official opening convocation will be held on Friday, September 30. At that time, the College, the campus, and the radio station will all be dedicated to the Lord's service and glory. We have extended an invitation to Mrs. Janet Museveni, the First Lady of the Republic of Uganda, to address us at that time. We also will be inviting the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda to participate, as well as other dignitaries. Pray that just the right people will accept our invitations, so that Christ will be greatly magnified as the King of the Nations.

One further matter for your prayerful consideration. We have so much in terms of material goods in the West, and the people over here have so little. Many of our workers come to the campus with unmatched shoes, and shoe-soles flapping. They live in unhealthy circumstances where their children are constantly exposed to malaria from mosquitoes and tuberculosis from dampness. One of our workers named Umaru was converted from his Muslim faith, and was kicked out by his family. His wife had a new baby boy just a couple of months ago, and he asked me to name the child. I named him Luke, after Dr. Luke of the New Testament. But just a couple of weeks ago, his wife was bitten by a snake while in the fields, and she died. So now his little Luke has no mother. These kinds of things happen constantly over here.

Many of our first students will come from similar circumstances. Some will come from the war-torn districts of Northern Uganda, where masses of people live in refugee camps. They have nothing. We do our best at keeping our fees as low as possible. We charge $1,000 a year for room, board and tuition, but it costs us another $1,800 for every student.

Could you or your church help us by underwriting the costs to the College for one, two, or more of our students? We anticipate between 30 and 40 students for the first year, and a gift of $1,000 per student for the year would be extremely helpful. A slip is enclosed, and an envelope for your convenience.

May the Lord bless you richly as you continue to join with us in this ministry for Christ's sake.

Yours in the name of the King of the Nations

Palmer, Joanna, Murray, Elliot and Daniel Robertson

Today's Youth and their view of God

Brad Mercer has just reminded me of an important resource for all those interested in ministering to our students. You can view the information on this widely-reported new research at

One part of telling the truth to this generation is understanding its mindset and assumptions about God and the world. This interesting study uncovers some fascinating aspects of the beliefs of American teenagers. Christian Smith calls them "Moralistic, therapeutic, deists." Wow.

We've mentioned this work to you before, but it's worth highlighting again.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Report from Sunday Evening in Gulfport, MS

On this past Sunday evening, I had the privilege of participating in the ordination and installation service of Guy Richard, in Biloxi, Mississippi. Guy is now the duly installed minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Gulfport, but the service was held in the First Presbyterian Church of Biloxi’s church building because the destruction wrought upon the Gulfport congregation’s church facility by Hurricane Katrina. The Rev. Richard is a former member and intern here at First Presbyterian Church and a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary. After serving in the areas of Singles and Discipleship here at First Pres, he and his wife Jennifer took their family to Edinburgh, Scotland where Guy pursued doctoral studies at New College, University of Edinburgh, and where he also served as a PCA MTW missionary, assisting in the work of the church. He was called by First Pres., Gulfport this summer, and October 2 was chosen for the date of his ordination/installation long before Katrina ever formed. Who could have imagined the havoc that storm would wreak upon the coast and our PCA congregations there, or that the ordination service would move ahead anyway?

Anne and I dropped the kids off with Marie Phillips on Sunday afternoon, right after church, picked up Ruling Elder Bebo Elkin (who had been asked by Grace Presbytery to give the pastoral charge –an exhortation to faithfulness in the Gospel ministry– to Guy in the service) and Dan Chase (RUF intern at Belhaven) and we headed to the coast. The further we went down Highway 49, the more damage we saw (but we were amazed that the progress clean up crews have made in just a month).

We arrived around 4:15 in the afternoon at the home of Ruling Elder Tim Murr, where Guy is currently living (Jennifer and the children have been living in Atlanta, and will join Guy in a small rental home in Gulfport they’ve just secured soon), and where the “church office” of First Gulfport, such as it is, is now located. We loaded up four cars full of family, members and friends and headed to the Gulfport church building – to view firsthand the damage of the storm.

So many of you who have been there and have showed me your pictures have said “these do not capture the devastation” and now I know what you mean. The massive First Baptist Church of Gulfport, had its mighty seaward wall crushed and swept away by the surge. Nothing is left of the ground floor of that great building and the bare steel I-beams now alone support the listing remainder of the upper story of the sanctuary.

It was disheartening to see in person the harm done to the First Presbyterian, Gulfport buildings. The pews are gone – ripped from the floor-bolts and swept away. The beautiful pulpit has perished too – the scraps of its remains scattered along what once was the chancel wall. The church fellowship hall was wave-washed all the way to the ceiling – removing the letters from the banners suspended therefrom. First, Gulfport and First, Biloxi are two of the handsomest presbyterian houses of worship in the State, and to behold them in their distress was troubling. But the buildings of First Biloxi have weathered the storm in much better shape than Gulfport’s. First Gulfport’s elders and congregation will have some hard decisions to make about what to do. Raze and rebuild? Relocate? Pray for wisdom and resources.

The long, slow drive along 90, down the coast to Biloxi, dodging sink holes and other obstacles, revealed the widespread impact of Katrina’s surge. Beauvoir (Jefferson Davis’ home), which had survived even the wrath of Camille, is in shambles, along with so many other stately homes. But no scene of desolation could dampen the joy given us by the Lord in the gathering and worship that night.

We arrived at First, Biloxi around 5:30 and Bebo and I met with the Grace Presbyterian Commission, in Pastor David Skinner’s office, for preparation and prayer. By this time, several encouragements had already come our way. (1) We’d heard of the crowd at First, Gulfport’s morning service – so many were present that they ran out of their meager supply of elements for communion. (2) We’d heard of the presence of Pastor Rick Phillips of the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs in Margate, Florida. He’d preached in the morning in Florida and then flown to Gulfport for the evening service! His congregation has heaped financial support, material supplies and tangible aid on the beleaguered folks at First, Gulfport from the very first days of the crisis. (3) We heard of the presence of several relief crews from PCA churches from Delaware (including folks from Jay Harvey’s church – Evangelical Pres. in Newark), North Carolina, South Carolina (including members of Carl Robbins’ congregation, Woodruff Road PCA in Simpsonville, SC and Mount Calvary in Spartanburg County, where Richard Thomas serves), Florida and points beyond – aiding the PCA churches and congregants from Moss Point to Biloxi to Gulfport and more. (4) We’d encountered a good contingent of folks from First, Jackson who’d made the journey down (thank you, dear friends!).

The service began a little after six. Ruling Elder Tim Murr made a number of announcements and introductions, and expressed thanks to those present who had provided help and support to the Gulfport congregation. Pastor David Skinner of Biloxi led the service. He is an impressive young man (a graduate of RTS Jackson) and set a worshipful tone of solemn joy, enthusiasm and energy from the very start.

We had lights, fans, an organ (with a very capable organist) a sound system and a packed house in the stately sanctuary of First, Biloxi, but no air conditioning – so we sweated profusely in the late afternoon coastal heat. But our delight in and gratitude to God was undiminished. A camera crew was there from the local network, and the ladies of First Presbyterian, Hattiesburg provided a delicious reception outdoors on the front lawn after the service.

Several things struck me. First, here was a glorious demonstration that the church is not a building but a people. Or to put it even more biblically – the Lord’s people is his building. The congregation in Gulfport does not have a habitable building, and had to see their new minister ordained in another congregation’s meeting house, but they are themselves the Lord’s building. The bricks of First, Gulfport are wave-battered and strewn but God is still building his church living stone by living stone.

Second, here was a minister of the Gospel who could have pulled out from his commitment and walked away to a more comfortable place of service, but didn’t. Guy is a highly educated and capable young man. He had many opportunities to serve elsewhere. He had made a commitment to come to a church and then that church had been scattered by a great storm. He arrived to find a third of his congregation without homes and jobs, many of the people were dispersed afar, he no longer had usable church buildings, no assurance of a salary, no place for his family, no place to live, no certainty that the congregation would survive the ordeal – he could have just said “Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out, I’ll find some other place to serve,” but didn’t. He went toward the uncertainty and disruption and loss of the situation, and ministered to God’s wounded people. Guy, and the other PCA ministers on the coast, bone-tired, with no end in sight to the recovery, have soldiered on in the face of the devastation. Who knows what Gospel fruit this will bear?

Third, and following on that, it struck me that Katrina may well turn out, unexpectedly, to be God’s strategic design to bring about everlasting spiritual good to those who have suffered so much temporally and physically from her battering waves. Will Christian love shine brighter in the wake of Katrina? Will hearts be open to the Gospel that were not so before? Will God use Gospel love to all in need, in the midst of this widespread human misery, through local Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, Gospel-preaching and -living churches, to bring spiritual renewal to the coast? Let’s pray so.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Stewardship Season and Sunday Evening's sermon (October 2)

It’s that time of year again! And by the looks of things we need it more than ever. Ligon asked if I’d speak on stewardship this evening, which I’m happy enough to do not least because stewardship reflects what is basic to Christian discipleship. Closeness to Jesus is measured by our spirit of generosity when it comes to the kingdom of God. I’m going to address it tonight from a hard-hitting passage in Acts (4:32 – 5:11) where we see both a negative and a positive example of what following Jesus means when it comes to generosity. Barnabas comes first. Everyone should long for his spirit. This is followed by the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a story that hits us hard in the stomach and sends us reeling with shock. God’s holiness is a serious matter.

J. I. Packer, in his book Hot Tub Religion (that’s the British title, and the one I have, which in America is called something else which for the moment I can’t recall) has this to say:

“Only a new quest for heavenly-mindedness, a new depth of self-denying love for our Lord and of hope directed toward heaven, can keep us from being swept off our feet by the quest for pleasure that the world prosecutes so zealously all around us… (p.99).

“For most of [the 20th] century the church, liberal and conservative, in all denominations has been so occupied with this world that minds turned to eternity have been the exception rather than the rule. Sociopolitical, cultural, sporting and money-making interests have dominated Christian minds rather than the laying up of treasures in heaven. A work of reformation [revival] would change that: not by withdrawing Christians from those fields of action, but by radically altering their perspective on what they are doing, so that God’s glory and eternal values would become their chief concerns.” (pp.224-225)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sinclair Ferguson to FPC, Columbia, SC

We are rejoicing at the news of our sister congregation, First Presbyterian Church (ARP), Columbia, SC. A dear friend and frequent preacher at First, Jackson, Sinclair B. Ferguson is, DV, headed to pastor historic First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC, pending the votes of congregation and presbytery. For more information, see the reformation21 blog.