“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” Deut. 7:9-11
Deuteronomy 7 is a remarkable chapter. It reveals the wonder of redemption and salvation. While addressing the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land, it describes the unilateral nature of God’s love and His determination to save a people for Himself. In the verses just before these He says that they were not a special nation¼ in fact, they were not a nation at all. He then affirms His sovereignty and the fact, as C.S. Lewis occasionally alludes, He is not a “tame Lion.” We cannot make Him to do our will. He is the Almighty and in Him we live and move and have our being.
You see, God is not the god of our imagination. He is not as we might like or want Him to be. While He is loving and compassionate and merciful, He is also a consuming fire. He is not slack toward those who hate him. In fact we’re told He will repay him to his face. Our God is faithful and true; He is the covenant-keeping God. One of my favorite phrases in these verses (in vs. 9) affirms that He “keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations.” Just think on this, “for a thousand generations¼” almost time immemorial. God will be true and every man found a liar. To what affect are all these words? Well, they are supposed to get our attention. They are supposed to form our faith and conviction about God and the nature of our relationship to Him. In short, remember, believe, and do what He says.
As I read and reviewed the parochial reports of the pastors serving the churches of Covenant East Classis, it is clear that the work of the ministry is being done. We can and should rejoice that each of our pulpits is filled and that our pastors are enjoying sufficient health to continue their labors.
This is not to say that our ministers have not had burdens to bear or perfect health, but rather that through each of their trials their needs have been supplied. Perhaps the best example of this is Pastor Steve Altman of the Peace Reformed Church in Napoleon, OH. He has gone through two hip replacement surgeries. These surgeries were done a month or two apart and he now reports being nearly pain free. We rejoice with Steve, his family and the Peace Reformed Church in Napoleon. It also been reported that one of the effects of these operations is that he is now over an inch taller than before the surgeries. Pastor Altman also shared something of the joys and sorrows of the Gospel ministry. While they had three infant baptisms and five professions of faith, they also had several members removed from the role. He shares the burden of pastoring:
“We have witnessed God’s restoring grace, and we have also seen the tragic consequences stemming from the grip that sin seeks so desperately to place around the necks of God’s people. I am sad to say that though we have rejoiced at the additions to our congregation this year, through both new members, and visitors who have been returning regularly, six of our members were administratively erased. It grieves my heart as a pastor to see that, yet I trust and know in my heart, from the Word of God, that God is faithfully building His Church for His glory. I pray for those who have left, that God will bring them to the place of peace and joy in Jesus Christ, where they can, once again, faithfully enjoy worshiping among the people of God wherever they are!”
Another notable event was the culmination of the mother-daughter church plant between the Minneapolis/Eden Prairie congregations. Pastor Ryan Kron reports:
“By the grace of God, our first elders and deacons were ordained and installed at Emmaus Road Reformed Church on March 24, 2013. We praise God from whom all blessings flow for calling these men to shepherd and care for the flock of God. Currently we have two elders and two deacons serving.”
Of this same event Pastor Jim Sawtelle adds “I was privileged to preside at the organizational meeting for Emmaus Road Reformed Church and participated in the installation service of Rev. Ryan Kron as pastor of Emmaus.” We rejoice with them in this work and the Lord’s blessing upon their labors. Perhaps this will be a continuing model that can be often repeated.
Rev. Wesley Brice, on behalf of the Grace Reformed Church of Northwest Arkansas, joyfully shares the story of how they have found and were able to purchase a church building.
“¼.at about the middle of last [year] we heard about a church building that had just come on the market at 3320 North Second Street in Rogers, Arkansas, and this time offers were made, received, conditional use permit sought and granted, and with thankful hearts we are now in our own building, rejoicing and giving God thanks for answered prayer¼.I remember that at the close of our first worship service our new building, a member of our church, Sally Green, said to me, “I know that the building is not the church, but worshiping here this morning sure felt a lot more like being in church.” We all understand what she meant; for it is true the church is not the building, for the church is the body of Christ, and it is the worshipers in the building that is the church. But there is something about pews and pulpits and an organ that does make it “feel” more like a church.”
Several pastors and consistories identified ways that they were intentionally trying to involve the membership into the life and ministry of the Church. Some spoke of having their youth accompany the singing in worship and actively participate by serving refreshments. Other congregations have tried to organize a plan for hospitality for visitors. Several consistories are trying to become more involved in the lives of the families and individuals of the church. Some are being more active in prayer, others are endeavoring to make monthly contact by phone calls and emails with the members assigned to them. One congregation shared a practical idea that has been a blessing to them:
“One practice we’ve started, which has been well received, is identifying one family or member per week as our Focus Family (or Member) of the Week. Prior to the Lord’s Day the pastor contacts them for an update on how things are going and asks if they have any prayer requests. Then before the congregational prayer, he shares these items and prays for them specifically.”
Several of our churches have made use of Focus on the Families’ The Truth Project. This is a 13 lesson DVD Series that covers many aspects of the Christian Worldview. While it is not perfect, it conveys a great deal of information in a systematic and understandable way. It gives full weight to the Bible’s authority and “brings in experts” like RC Sproul, Ravi Zacharias, and Os Guinness to explain doctrines that can be hard to understand. In short, our congregations are providing a fruitful setting for spiritual growth and study. Most congregations have Bible studies, men’s and women’s groups meeting for fellowship and mutual learning.
The reports also indicate that our ministers are laboring toward the instruction of the youth. Not only does each charge instruct their youth in catechism and prepare them for confirmation, but most of the ministers have participated in our Summer Covenant Youth Camp. As a Classis we remain grateful for the faithful labors of the Manitowoc congregation and Rev. Sorensen for the organizing and hosting of each year’s camp. THANK-YOU! We are grateful for all that you do. It is a wonderful blessing to us all.
Several congregations continue to work with men who are under care or are being mentored while studying for the Gospel ministry. To this end two congregations have taken on summer interns and have been able to encourage and provide the students with opportunities to gain experience in the work of ministry. One of these mentoring relationships might even be the catalyst for a new outreach ministry to the Chinese college community in the greater Minneapolis area. Pastor Sawtelle reports:
“We want to explore some specific ways we can utilize the unique gifts and opportunities we have locally to further our efforts in evangelism. We are looking into developing an outreach to Chinese students at the U of M. We have two Chinese families [attending]; one of the men is taking distance classes at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.”
As we pray for Christ’s Church, we ought also pray for those who will, the Lord willing, become her future pastors, elders, and deacons.
The statistical reports show that overall our congregations are doing quite well. Most changes reflect the normal flow of congregational life. Most (if not all) have been able to pay their classical and synodical guidelines and a couple have made substantial progress in paying down their building debt. While our communicant membership numbers haven’t changed much, there have been some significant shifts. With the completion of the mother-daughter church relationship of the Minneapolis congregations, 50 members were dismissed to the newly formed Eden Prairie congregation. With their new officers, they have added to the number of active elders and deacons actively serving the Classis.
In addition to the work of pastoring on a local congregational level, it was interesting to note the additional ministry activities that our pastors are doing. In addition to leadership positions with the denomination, we have men who volunteer with police departments and emergency response units, engage in prison ministry, participate in NAPARC assemblies (and serve as Secretary). Some serve on boards of seminaries and international ministries, attended the International Council of Reformed Churches and Inter Church Relations meeting. Others have extended fraternal greetings at various church assemblies and challenged others to continued faithfulness to the authority of God’s Holy Word. Still others have been involved in the life of their communities through sports and educational activities.
Overall, we can rejoice in all that the Lord has done and is continuing to do through the churches of Covenant East Classis. Our covenant God is faithful and true. His Word will not change. As Christ boldly proclaimed, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will never pass away.” The question for us as a church is not whether God’s Word is true or whether it is understandable. We stand on the heads and shoulders of generations of believers who have known, believed and proclaimed the Truth. These teachings are summarized in our creeds and confessions. They ARE “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The question for us (and all of every age) is do we truly believe it and have we been transformed by it?
This is where we stand and this is what we believe. And here, by God’s sustaining grace, we shall remain.
Sincerely, your co-laborer in the Gospel,
Rev. Randall Klynsma, Kansas City, MO