FILTER BY:

Hughes’ key verse is 1 Timothy 4:7–8, “Exercise (discipline or train) thyself rather unto godliness.” Rev. Hughes is convinced that godliness and discipline are intrinsically linked. His opening chapter is entitled “Discipline for godliness.” Thereafter the book chapters include the topics of discipline in relationships, discipline of self (soul and character) and discipline in church life (ministry). “You will get nowhere in life without discipline, whether in the arts, business, athletics or any academic subject.” For the believer discipline is God-centered and for his glory. This means hard work! Godly habits (spiritual disciplines) are often hard on the flesh because our old man is naturally lazy, sinful and selfish, but godly habits are basic in reaching our heavenly goal and living daily with that perspective in mind.

He covers sexual purity (1 Thess. 4:3–8) as basic, with self-control of the eyes, commitment to spouse, a supreme love for God, prizing of fellowship with him, as together important in the battle against lust. Chapters on being a committed father, choosing friends wisely, being involved in same-sex Bible studies with accountability, he says are other important disciplines in our relationships.

A Christian must discipline his mind and exclude the intake of many things (Phil.4:8) including the various types of screens and must include regular Bible reading and good (Reformed-JK) Christian books. He must pray and have a prayer list, and work at prayer.  When he gets to worship, he mistakes worship in spirit to mean our spirit rather than the Holy Spirit, which is lamentable as without the Comforter and his power we cannot worship aright. When it comes to personal godliness, he emphasises integrity, control of the tongue (even listing out good guidelines for speech), and hard work. He has a chapter on persevering to the end of our Christian race and another on being a committed member of a true church which then becomes central in our lives. He devotes a chapter to disciplined leadership, one to witnessing, one to giving, and another to serving others. Discipline in the means of grace and grace granted as a result issue in hard work (I Corinthians 15:10).

In his appendices, he includes daily Bible readings for the year which are something I would hope most of us already follow. We should ignore his chapters on Christian books as many are not Reformed and may be very misleading. We have a wealth of excellent Reformed books available at the RFPA, along with the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights. We should also ignore his unregulated and unreformed views about choirs and church singing which include a chapter of hymns and choruses many of which might be termed “spiritual nursery rhymes”, a far cry from our all-encompassing, Spirit-breathed, and edifying Psalms of David.

So notwithstanding the few weaknesses—a good read especially if you need more discipline in your Christian life!

Originally published January 2020, Vol 79 No. 1

Knowing God in the Last Days by Mark H. Hoeksema

Reformed Free Publishing Association 86 pages hardback ISBN 978-1-944555-22-1

 

This little commentary on 2 Peter is a gem: concise, clear, very readable and packed with spiritual truth. The central theme is clear: the knowledge of God forms the basis upon which Christian graces are built and false teachers are recognised and exposed. The key verse is 2 Peter 1:3, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” This knowledge must be precise, and Hoeksema’s seminary training and knowledge of Greek means that what we read is a precise exposition that simultaneously clearly shows how each section is related to the previous and following sections. He emphasises that this knowledge must not just be intellectual but also experiential.

Here are some nuggets: “The promise is always and essentially Christ” (Heb. 11:39) and “so many promises that God gives to his church through the Spirit of Christ”. These promises form the ground of God’s command to be diligent in our Christian lives. He states, “Faith is strengthened through knowledge and knowledge is increased by faith”. My favourite is, “Hope concerns, first, the future (Rom. 8:24–25). Second, hope implies a longing for a future good (essentially full salvation, but never for anything unfavourable or undesirable). Third, unlike our use of the term, which implies uncertainty, hope is the absolute certainty that the object of hope will come to pass.”

The book is divided into the sections of each chapter—the first dealing with exhortations to advance in grace, the second covering the recognition and subsequent doom of heretical teachers, and the third covering eschatological truth, namely, that the history of the world is not one of uniformity (as evolution posits) but actually cataclysmic pointing to its ultimate apocalypse.

This little book ought to be read slowly because there is so much to unpack. I highly recommend it and would encourage its author to produce a study guide, which would encourage readers to dig into it for themselves.

 

*Dr. Julian Kennedy is a member of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.in

I was reading Beacon Lights of February 2017 with interest and wanted to comment or argue about two statements in “Ask Schuyler” regarding fellowship with unbelievers. First, “Therefore we cannot enjoy true friendship, which is a sharing of life,” and second, “In fact (our children) may not and cannot” (fellowship with the ungodly) in public schools.

Taking the second quotation first, I am sure Schuyler is well aware that many believing parents have no option but to send their children to public schools because they don’t have access to a Christian school and home schooling is impossible. God can and does sustain his believing children through this phase.

Real, heartfelt friendship cannot be enjoyed between an unbeliever and a believer, but I am convinced that true friendships where life impacts life can and ought to be pursued. If an unbeliever sees our lives and hears our words up close, it is akin to the unbelieving spouse being won in 1 Peter 3:1 and the light in Matthew 5. Only such a person is likely to accompany us to our church when invited. “Cold-turkey” evangelism is frequently fruitless. My wife and I find that friendships where a common interest is shared, like sport, is one of the best places to get to know people and seek to be a witness.

Sincerely,

John Julian Kennedy

 

I thank Julian for his response. Indeed, I do acknowledge that for some (a minority) of believing parents in our Protestant Reformed circles, public school education is forced upon them because of the lack of suitable alternatives (good Christian schools and homeschooling). In my original article, I mentioned that “Public schools might be an option for some parents in the absence of a good Christian school and where homeschooling is impossible. (However, few Protestant Reformed parents are in that position, and we do not make rules out of exceptions).”

Julian’s second point begs the question: what is friendship/fellowship? What he and his wife do in seeking a common interest through sport with unbelievers is permissible, and in certain cases even commendable, but it is not friendship/fellowship, at least not how the Bible defines it and how I defined it in the article in Beacon Lights.

“Sharing of life” is more than sharing the volleyball court. Sharing of life is a “spiritual closeness and oneness that we enjoy with our fellow saints in the church.” Julian and his wife might, according to his testimony, share the former with their unbelieving acquaintances in sport, but they do not, cannot, and may not share the latter with unbelievers.

I want to encourage Julian, his wife, and all readers to endeavor to invite unbelievers to church. If that begins with a shared volleyball game, that is fine, as long as the antithesis is maintained.

—Schuyler

 

*Julian Kennedy is a retired physician and a member of Ballymena Protestant Reformed church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

Boy Meets Girl  (Say Hello to Courtship), 2nd ed. by Joshua Harris.  Multnomah Books, 2005.  Paperback,  247 pp.  ISBN 1-57673-709-8. £9  (15$ US).

 

When Josh Harris got his first book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye published at the amazingly young age of twenty-one , it became clear from the response he received ( it was a Christian best-seller) that he would have to write a sequel. His first book had trashed the idea of Christian dating as the best way to get to know and marry someone because as he showed, it was fraught with unnecessary temptation and betrayed a worldly attitude toward relationships that was for the most part selfish and sinful. Too often these “romances” were fleeting, heart-breaking, and destructive. So what is the alternative? Thus he penned Boy Meets Girl as a guide to young people who are moving beyond friendship into the realm of courtship, which he adamantly defines as a relationship that tests whether marriage is appropriate for a couple. He clearly states that courtship should only be embarked upon when two people desire and are ready for marriage. The aim is marriage. Harris emphasizes that the correct focus of courtship is to be God himself, and our aim is to love the other, unselfishly desiring their best.

This contrasts markedly with the self-centeredness and impatience and frequently wrong physical expressions of lust in dating. The aim of courtship is to get to know the other’s character, convictions, aims, and spirituality, and careful listening is vital. He sensibly explains the need for frankness concerning past relationships. He is very practical, listing standards of physical contact that should not be exceeded, and gives ideas for “courtship conversations” (dates).The man is to lead. Courtship should occur in the sphere of accountability in the church and to both sets of parents, with advice  being  sought from close family and church leaders before it is embarked upon. It is best for couples to pursue courtship in the sphere of the Christian community and friendship with others, and not cut themselves off and become exclusive.

Theologically, Harris is head pastor of Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland , a Reformed Charismatic church! Hence you would expect some differences from Protestant Reformed teaching.

His quotation from a book entitled When God Weeps makes us wary, though the description of what happened on the cross is very vivid and biblical. The errors here, one major and one minor, concern the mistaken idea that “God is on display in his underwear” when we know Christ was shamefully naked, but more importantly, “Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.” If he had added, “by his flock” or “by his people,” we would heartily concur.

Throughout the book Harris uses real life examples of couples who courted well and others badly, and many of the stories teach serious lessons. Mistakes in this area can be forgiven and rectified, but there is also long-term fallout. He lists good questions to ask that assess whether the relationship is heading toward marriage, but he mistakenly quotes from other writers who give apparent support to the erroneous idea that marriages can be broken and that remarriage is permissible apart from the death of a spouse, quoting Matthew 5:31–32 and 1 Corinthians 7:12–16, which actually teach the opposite.

Nevertheless, this book is highly recommended for Reformed young people who want to honor God in their courtships. It gives not only a sound basis or ethos to courtship, but also good practical guidelines to follow. It is also a worthwhile read for parents of young people of marriageable age and church leaders who may be called upon to advise their single young people in this vitally important area of life.

Our fingers are amazing tools that make man capable of performing skills such as intricate eye surgery or playing music, constructing everything from the tiny parts of a watch to massive ocean-going liners, airplanes and skyscrapers. It took not only man’s intellect to enable these achievements, but also his hands and fingers. Man’s hand has the almost unique ability (I say “almost” because chimpanzees have it to some extent) to grasp objects because his thumb can be brought to oppose all the other fingers. How could we do basic things such as eat or wash without our fingers? How could we work? How could we use our phones? How could we wield a hammer, use a paintbrush or pen, and do even more intricate things? How could we greet friends and acquaintances with a handshake or a hug?

The anatomy of the fingers fits them for their use. The bones, of which there are three in each digit apart from the thumb, each articulate with the other at hinge joints. This means they flex and extend in one plane, and because of tight collateral ligaments, they are stable from side to side and very hard to dislocate. Flexion—to grip—is the main movement of all the fingers, and extension past the horizontal is prevented by tight thickenings of the joint capsule on the volar (palm) side of each joint. The tendons that move the fingers run in smooth shiny synovial (oily) sheaths—two on the palm side and one on the dorsal (back) side. The thumb has these three plus two abductors (to move it away from the palm), an adductor (to move it towards the palm) and an opposer (to move it across the palm to each finger). These make the thumb the most mobile and versatile finger. The main muscle bellies for the fingers and thumb are in the forearm, but two of the thumb muscles are in the hand, and each finger also has intrinsic (built in) muscles e.g., the interossei, which allow you to spread and close your fingers. All these muscles would be of no use unless controlled exquisitely by the brain via two major nerves that branch into fine filaments supplying them and the joints they move, and the overlying skin with its unique fingerprint pattern. So the brain receives sensory signals from the fingers and sends motor signals back.

Why do we have nails? The simple answer is that the soft (but not squishy) pulp needs something firm to press against, without deforming, when holding things. Vertical strands of tissue reaching from skin to bone keep the shape of the pulp when gripping objects, and are especially tight in the palmar surface of the hand. Compare how loose the skin is on the back of your hand!

Our fingers are well-nigh essential body parts for us to live independently.

Let us look first at what God does with His fingers.

The first time we encounter the word finger in scripture is in Exodus 8:19 where the magicians of Egypt failed to counterfeit God’s plague of lice: “Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” The significance here is that the finger of God brought judgment, one of the ten plagues he employed in judging the Egyptians and forcing them to let his people go. This is the finger of power.

The second mention in scripture, though it is not an instance of God using his fingers, is when a bullock was offered for the cleansing of the priests in Exodus 29:12 and the blood was to be put on the four horns of the altar by Moses’ finger. Here a blood-spattered finger is used in atoning for sin.

The third mention is at Sinai in Exodus 31:18 when the ten commandments were engraved by God’s finger on the two tablets of stone. We read: “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” This is significant because here we have the giving of God’s law encapsulated in the ten commandments, which stand as an eternal, holy standard of behavior that judges mankind and finds all men all guilty: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin”( Rom. 3:20). This is the finger of instruction.

How, you may ask, could God do that engraving? When the scripture says God has fingers or a hand, we know the writer, inspired by the Spirit, is using an anthropomorphism. He is giving to God a human feature that in fact he does not possess, to help us understand what he does and what he is like. Mankind can now etch with a laser on stone or metal, and I suspect God used some power akin to this, like the lightning he makes daily, to engrave these tablets.

In Psalm 8:3 we read, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained…” The work of creation is attributed to God’s fingers—another anthropomorphism. This includes each human being, who is curiously “wrought” or “knitted together,” as the Hebrew suggests (Psalm 139) in the darkness of his mother’s womb.

The next time we read of God’s finger, although it may have been that of an angel, is when Belshazzar at his impious feast saw the fingers of a man’s hand writing on the wall of his palace, according to Daniel 5:5: “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” We later hear Daniel’s interpretation of the writing, namely, “Mene, Mene,Tekel, Upharsin,” which means your kingdom is finished, you are weighed in the balance and found wanting, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

These three incidents display God’s power, attributed to his finger to create, to lay down law, and to judge and redeem. We can say much of God’s work is accomplished by his fingers. It is worth noting that God’s work of redemption through judgement is often attributed to his stretched out arm, but at the end of this powerful arm are his fingers.

These are jobs our fingers will never do!

In Luke 11:20 we read, “ But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Here Christ is plainly teaching that the power by which he powerfully exorcised evil spirits was that of the triune God.

In another, similar instance he told his disciples that the demons can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting. In John 8:5–9 we see God incarnate, Jesus Christ, writing on the ground in the presence of the Pharisees who had brought in a woman accused of adultery: “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

We cannot be sure what Jesus wrote, but I would hazard a guess that it was the Hebrew for the seventh commandment ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ In the Hebrew this is just two words: “Adultery not.” What Jesus had said had already convicted them of their sin, but if he had written the words “Adultery not” on the ground, as God had done so centuries before on stone, that act may have added weight to the condemnation they felt within their consciences because in their presence Jehovah Salvation wrote down the sin-exposing law that included not just the act, but the thought. Remember that Christ had clearly taught the thought is as culpable as the deed.

Christ healed using his fingers (Mark 7:33) when he put them in a deaf man’s ears, almost duplicating the means by which man’s ears are made in the embryo when God forms the external ear canal from outside in, as in Psalm 40:6.

Christ ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of others continually.

The last time we read of fingers in scripture is also highly significant. It is in John 20:25, 27, according to which Thomas uses his to put them into the prints of the nails in Jesus’ hands. The sceptical disciple used his fingers to ascertain that his Lord has truly risen. But blessed are we who have not seen him or felt his wounds.

We have examined briefly how God made our fingers with such skill that he enables us to exhibit just a little of his creativity, work, and ministry. We looked at what we read in scripture of God’s fingers making the universe, bringing judgment upon Egypt, inscribing the law, casting out demons, and healing. We have a common expression, “He just needs to lift his finger” when we want to emphasise the power someone wields. In this short study we have seen that the omnipotent God only has to lift his finger to create all things, to express his holiness, to judge men and nations, and to expel his enemies. What a God we have!

How does man use his fingers? Sadly, because our bodies are used to express our soul’s desires, over the centuries totally depraved man has made idols with his fingers (Isa. 2:8; 17:8) and even a tower reaching heaven under Nimrod in an attempt to establish the antichristian kingdom. We use our hands and fingers to express ourselves and make gestures which are not always good—finger pointing and finger wagging. One of the conditions that Israel needed to fulfil for God’s blessing in (Isa. 58:9) was to cut out evil speaking and pointing with the accusing finger. The shedding of blood by our fingers in murder will make us guilty (Isa. 59:3).What we omit to do with our fingers may also make us guilty, as was the case with the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46, who bound numerous man-made laws on the people instead of being ministers to ease them. Thus unregenerate man uses his fingers and all his body to transgress God’s holy law. In the church this has been and is most obviously manifest in the formulation, writing, and dissemination of false teaching over twenty centuries. I suspect today many more waste far too many hours in front of the TV or playing computer games and Play Station The devil finds work for idle hands, and he is pleased when we waste our precious time on inordinate entertainment.

Let us look at a few instances in scripture where human fingers were put to good use.

The book of Leviticus has the most references to fingers of any book in the Bible (see especially chapter 4—you can guess why).

It was because the high priest had to dip his finger in the blood of the sacrificed animal, sprinkle it before the Lord, and smear it on the four horns of the altar of incense, signifying atonement and access to the Most High. The priests’ fingers ministered to the people. Today the equivalent would be our intercession for others at the throne of grace.

We use touch as a sign of affection and to introduce ourselves to new people in a handshake. This is right and proper. Paul was given the right hand of fellowship by the leading apostles after he had explained his ministry. We use fingers and hands in the intimacy of marriage to show love. We also protect little children by holding their hands. Jesus defied Pharisaic law by touching at least one leper.

So what do we learn from all this, and what can we apply? Clearly we cannot create from nothing, nor exorcise demons, but we may be the means whereby God brings down judgement as he acts in answer to our prayers (Rev. 8:3–5). However, as priests we are meant to intercede for others, and there can be no more important work than this ministry that our Lord himself exercises in heaven.

How else should we use our fingers to God’s glory, as expressed in Romans 6:13?  The answer is: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”

Practical work.

Ephesians 4:28: “ Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Our daily work has this as its one purpose. Then in the church there is heavy work. There are always physical tasks to be accomplished in the church and for our fellow saints—the upkeep of the building and grounds, the maintenance of members’ homes and gardens, especially those who may be unwell or infirm. Transportation of schoolchildren and adults is essential to school and church. Think of all the women who ministered to Christ and Paul in their work by making meals, washing clothes, etc.

Spiritual work.

Feeding ourselves with good spiritual food from reading and studying scripture and good Reformed books is a vital job for our fingers.

Grasping an object tightly by using your fingers so it can be wielded to build or destroy, to push or pull, is basic. In ages past our fingers would have grasped a sword, as in David’s day, as we read in Psalm 144:1:Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:” Today the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Today it is the mighty computer mouse So if you are blogging, or commenting, or sharing, take note of Kevin DeYong’s  recent blog: Assume that everyone, everywhere will read what you write and see what you post. You represent Christ in a real way, even if it is in the virtual world. Most people will know that you go to church, what church you go to, and that you claim to be a Christian. So let’s all think before we post. Second, if you need to be critical, write in such a way that you would not be embarrassed to have the object of your criticism read it with his mother nearby.”

We write (and speak) to edify the saints and oppose false teaching. Ordained men preach and use their fingers to express themselves in expounding God’s word from the pulpit.

We all ought to pray (Luke 18:1): “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” This is perhaps the most important use of our hands, whether we clasp them together or not. We read in 1 Timothy 2:8: “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” You must have seen the artist Durer’s “Praying Hands.” This is the most well-known depiction of this ministry in all of history. Is it time you took an inventory of what you are doing daily with your fingers?

We are all necessary parts of the body of Christ in our local churches, which means we all have a part to play. As we are united to him as body parts to the head, God will show us what our jobs are. It will take time and the advice of others to help us discover our gifts and places. Be faithful in using your gifts. Remember that God honors the less comely parts. Much unsung work, done in secret, will be rewarded. Your fingers, I have no doubt, will be essential tools in that service of the Lord.

There is one major reason for the writing of this article. The return of Christ and the end of this age depend on the fulfilment of the great commission. Christ stated in Matthew 24:14 that before his public return on the clouds, the gospel must be preached to all nations. We know from Matthew 28:18–20 that the church is commanded to make disciples of all nations, and that means well-taught followers of Christ from every ethnic group. All the elect for whom he died MUST be gathered. The great commission must be central in the work of every Reformed denomination, church, and individual believer. It is the central purpose of earth’s history. The Reformed world view must include God’s purposes in the world to call out a glorious catholic church from every people. Paul’s ambition, as recorded in Romans 15:20, was to preach the gospel where Christ had not been named. That should be the collective aim of Reformed churches.

The Biblical basis for missions would take at least one full article, so it will suffice to say that even Abraham was told that through him and his seed all nations would be blessed. For his own reasons God limited his old covenant church almost exclusively the Jews, but that changed at Pentecost. To the detractors who say the Reformation and Reformed churches  have no missionary zeal, we quote this:

Despite the claims of some, Calvin insisted that the church has an abiding call to bring the gospel to the nations. In his extant congregational prayers, one can hear Calvin praying for the gospel to go out to those who are lost. One of the key things to recognize about Calvin’s theology of mission is that he sees the objects of mission in broader terms than many would today.  This was true of all sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformed believers.  For Calvin, Europe under the sway of Roman Catholicism was essentially pagan, or at least sub-Christian.  From his standpoint, the lost were certainly in far-off lands overseas.  However, they were also close to home, wherever people still consistently held to Roman Catholic beliefs and practices.  This led Fred Klooster to comment some years ago that the Reformation “deserves to be called one of the greatest home missionary projects in all history.” The comment is anachronistic insofar as the Reformers themselves made no distinction between local evangelism and foreign mission. Calvin and other Reformers saw all gospel outreach as mission, whether local or otherwise, whether within a culture or cross-cultural.

It is true to say that orthodox Reformed convictions are not merely compatible with missionary zeal; in fact, such convictions inevitably must result in such zeal.  In fact, the evidence demonstrates that William Carey and others caught the age-old biblical vision from their Reformed forebears and heard the call to mission and the rest, as they say, is history.  Those gripped by the doctrines of grace and the beauty of the gospel as best expressed in Reformed theology, cannot but be passionate about bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to those yet in darkness.[1]

The Reformed faith should emphasise knowledge of the Word and knowledge of the world! By ‘world’ I mean the world of mankind in all its diversity of ethnic groups, lost and totally depraved.

 

All men are descended from Adam and Noah, of every color and language since Babel spread them over the earth. It is reckoned by ethnologists that there are about 10,000 people groups in the world today, who like the Kurds may cross political boundaries, but are a homogenous group.  It is important to emphasize that nation in Greek is ta ethne, from which we get the word ethnic; it does not mean a political nation but a people group. These groups would be people of the same tribe, having similar customs, language, and dress. The actual people may live in one political nation or be spread over several, and with today’s global transportation may have moved many thousands of miles away from their homeland. For example, one of the largest peoples without political nationhood are the Kurds who live in Eastern Turkey, Northern Iran and Iraq; they are actually descended from the ancient Medes, of whom one was Darius, who overran Babylon in the days of Belteshazzar. There are Kurds now in Western Europe and the USA.

How many of these peoples have few if any believers among them?  Approximately 4,000. They all have less than 2% professing Christians, but many as few as .01%, i.e., 1 in 10,000, and some even none at all.

One basic essential to effective church planting is an accurate translation of the Scriptures in the language of the people being reached, but with many of these groups there may not even be a written language, or if there is, few can read it. Pioneers are needed to produce the Scriptures first in audio and then in written form. Of the world’s more than 6,000 languages only 700 have a Bible, 1,400 a New Testament, and 2,000 portions. It is estimated that another 2,000 languages may need Bible translation.

We believe that missionaries are trained, ordained men who are called and sent. We also believe there is a place for lay people to move to the field to support these pastor-teachers. We must also agree that there is a place for “tentmakers”—called, trained men like Paul who must work to support themselves until a church or churches can support them. In many countries having a job or practical missionary skill is a prerequisite for entry to the country. There are many “missionaries” and  laymen  today who are wrongly doing the work of teaching and who often are teaching a false gospel. There are many women doing the work that is biblically only for men. The numbers of western missionaries is static at about 40,000 today, but many more are being sent out by third world countries where the church is also now established and appears to be growing fastest, e.g., South Korea, China, Brazil, and the Philippines. Most of these minister in places where there are already established churches; very few are church planting in totally heathen lands. This was actually Paul’s ambition in Romans 15:20. Our Lord clearly stated that the harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few.

Missions depend on financial support of the missionary and his family. Of the finances given for mission work, less than 1% is spent on reaching totally unreached people groups.

Where are these groups? In the “10-40 window,” an elongated rectangle that encompasses lands between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator stretching from West Africa to Indonesia. It includes India with 1.2 billion folk, which has the most—perhaps 1400 unreached peoples. Many live in remote areas, are nomadic, illiterate, and poor; huge barriers will have to be surmounted to reach them. I know of a friend in Southwest China who is seeking, along with local Chinese believers, to reach various totally heathen, Buddhist Tibetan groups who have never seen a white man, far less a missionary in their whole history.

There are other barriers to reach these peoples. Some live in lands where the people are almost 100% Muslim, e.g., Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, or are under political powers such as communist North Korea, where Christianity is outlawed on pain of death.

What should be the response of Reformed churches worldwide to these statistics?  First, we must pray. All can do this. Pray for ordained laborers and supporting lay people to be trained to go to the unreached in their own countries and overseas across cultures. Pray for the peoples themselves using tools like the “Joshua Project” online or the book Operation World that God will prepare hearts and open them to the saving message. We need to pray for increased literacy among many groups and for the translation of the Scriptures into many more languages (see Wycliffe Bible Translators).   Mission concern should be an integral part of every church’s life and its prayers, and notice boards should reflect this. Someone stated that he could not understand why the gospel should be heard repeatedly in certain places while others had never heard it once. This make sense: we live in post-Christian nations where anyone can access the gospel online or find a true church somewhere, whereas folk in Afghanistan or Tibet cannot. It is a sad but startling fact that over 80% of the people in the Indian subcontinent will not know a true believer.

It falls to the church in the nations involved to reach their peoples; it is the responsibility of the Indian church to reach the unreached of India, but the church worldwide can play its part. Georgetown PRC has input into the life and ministry of Rev. Paulraj in Vellore and support for his church and orphanage. Hope PRC supports work in Myanmar with Rev.Titus.

Some time ago in a review of John Piper’s book Let the Nations Be Glad, I wrote that to play our part in fulfilling the great commission there were several practical applications:

  1. Study theology. The better we know God, the more likely we are to fulfil his purposes.

    2. As individuals and churches, support in prayer and financially the missionaries we have sent out from our established churches and denomination, and others God has bonded us with.

    3. As individuals, in house groups and churches, assemble information and pray for unreached peoples of the world.

    4. Be prepared to go, if qualified and called.

    5. Pastors and elders should teach the centrality of world mission from the pulpit and in visitation.

    6. Teach world missions, missiology, culture, and linguistics in our seminary.

Churches like ours can “adopt a people” and spread information about them to the congregations, who can in turn pray for and perhaps even visit them and if the Lord will, send missionaries.

Sometimes God brings the unreached to us. They come as students from Saudi Arabia or Somalia or emigrate and may be glad of the freedoms we have; and when exposed, they may be responsive to the gospel.

What part would God have you play in bringing to pass that prayer,”Thy kingdom come?”

[1] From Reformed Mission History,a series of books on mission history by Dr. Wesley Bredenhof, Dr. Stephen Westcott, & Rev. Geoffrey Donnan.

 

Out of the Saltshaker, by Rebecca Manley Pippert.

Leicester, England: Inter- Varsity Press, 2004. Paperback, 291 pp.  ISBN 0-85111-646-9

 I thought I would read this as background to the British Reformed Fellowship conference to be held at Bangor, Northern Ireland in late July of 2012, which was on the theme “Ye shall be my witnesses,” because I knew this to be an influential book on personal evangelism.

The title is based on the Biblical fact that believers are salt, and the author sees the local church as the saltshaker: we need to be out in the world witnessing, to reach outside of our comfortable ghetto in  the church to others.

The book is a real mixture. There are a lot of worthwhile points of which believers need to take note, but the underlying theology is also a mix of truth (God is sovereign) and error (he loves all men; Christ died for all men; God’s deepest desire is that no one perish; and you can become regenerated by asking Christ into your heart).

In chapter one Pippert rightly makes clear that our manner should not be offensive, and that we should not be hesitant for fear of offending.  But she fails to mention that the message always is an offence, because it basically states that all human beings are sinners and are living wrongly. She says we need to show sincere interest for  those we hope to influence, use questions to get to know them and what they believe, and establish a caring relationship. We need to be authentic. God can and should be a natural part of any discussion, and we should not be afraid to be transparent and even share our failings. Sharing the gospel entails sharing our lives (1 Thess.2:8). In support of this Pippert shows how our Lord Jesus related to others, exposing his vulnerability, e.g., when thirsty and when in the garden. She shows that she understands a bit of Christology by saying that the Lord was both radical in his identification with the world and radically different from it.

She is absolutely mistaken in alleging that Jesus loved the Pharisees, but she is correct in saying he was absolutely intolerant of false religion and in saying that he is the only one in the universe who can control us without destroying us. She rightly says that the only ultimately important things are God and people, but mistakenly thinks there is some of God’s image left in fallen mankind, and goes as far as saying something of Christ is in all men. She also correctly exposes the Pharisees for their hypocritical separateness from the people as opposed to Christ’s being a friend of sinners.

One of the rallying calls that evangelicals use in this sphere is the call to “share Christ’s love” with unbelievers There is no doubt we are called to love our brethren (Matthew 25:40), to do good to all (Gal.6:10) and to love even our enemies (Matt.5:44). But our love cannot accurately reflect Christ’s love, which ultimately is only toward his elect and is rejected and trampled on by the reprobate. In a later chapter she speaks of the primary means of pleasing God being through proper relationships, and in this she speaks truth (Jer.22:16. 1 John 4:21), although there is much more to it, such as our personal devotion to God and  public worship.

In another chapter she acknowledges the antithesis and speaks of Christ’s clear denunciation of sin, but writes that it is the work of the Spirit to convict, and that he resides in us. She speaks graphically of his ministry of the towel and the whip! Fear God alone.

Having said this, she states rightly the need for diligent and persistent prayer for those God brings across our path and goes as far as saying learning to care for others requires sound theology But then to her shame she quotes from Mother Theresa talking about the Roman Catholic mass and seeing Christ in every poor beggar!

In a chapter entitled “Practicing the presence of Christ” she states that “to let people inside our lives is a frightening, but essential ingredient in evangelism,” which I believe concurs with Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and 2 Timothy 3:10. She also rightly says we will be judged by our faithfulness and obedience rather than by our success. The reason for the book’s title comes to the fore where she asks how we can be the salt of the earth if we never get out of the saltshaker—the fellowship of Christians. In commenting about conversation she rightly says that the truth of faith may be above reason but it is not contrary to it. She also says witnessing is telling others what God has done for us (as Paul did in Acts 26:9–23). She also mentions that evangelism is a process; it generally takes time and various circumstances to bring a person to conversion. She rightly mentions the warning of not casting pearls before swine (Matt.10:14), and that we need to tailor our ecclesiastical vocabulary!

I think she is right in saying God has uniquely placed and gifted us to reach certain people. Can we arouse their curiosity so they will want to hear, as Christ did with the woman at the well? Generally we need to show love and care to “earn a hearing” for the gospel. She is dead right when she says that our workplace and personal interests should be our target zone for the gospel. She is also dead right saying sin is choosing self-rule rather than being ruled by God. But she is dead wrong when she encourages new converts to find a church where they feel comfortable! In presenting the gospel she calls God’s love of mankind the central truth, rather than the glory or holiness of God, but correctly lists preaching, prayer, worship, and living witness as the means by which the Spirit works.

Pippert contradicts herself on the subject of regeneration and conversion She states that transformation is the work of the sovereign Spirit and that conversion is beyond our ability to control, but she sees conversion as being the human ability of repenting and believing that precedes it. She does not believe any of the five points of Calvinism and takes Revelation 3:20, as so many do, out of context, implying our ability to influence regeneration, whereas we know we are wholly passive in what is exclusively God’s work. Even more dangerous and misleading is her encouraging converts to thank God for entering their lives after “praying the prayer.”

Here is a quotation: “One of the primary ways we block God’s Spirit is through being judgmental and critical of others.” Try telling that to Stephen (Acts 7) or to Christ in his denunciation of the Pharisees. However, she is right in saying we must ask God to find a way to break through the spiritual deception and self-deception of people, and that as God’s people we are called to be a close family that welcomes others into our midst. Hospitality is one means. Churches and Bible study groups should think of activities to which they could invite their friends.

Pippert disobeys the clear prohibition of Scripture every time she “preaches,” but she captures the essence of true worship when she says our worship life should direct people to experience the transcendent God and should be God-centered. She challenges churches to have an evangelism strategy in which every member sees evangelism as a way of life and ministers taking the lead by example. Finally, near the very end of the book she misinterprets Christ’s nickname of Simon Peter when he called him a rock rather than a stone! Her use of the Bridge Illustration is commendable, but it needs to be adapted to purge out its Arminianism. Overall the book is a worthwhile read for the tidbits of truth relating to our evangelism, but it is such a shame that the underlying theology is faulty.

 

The first time we come across a word in Scripture is important and seminal. In this case it is in Psalm 19:5 where the sun coming up to move across the sky is likened to a bridegroom coming out of his changing room in anticipation of his imminent  marriage and  a runner who has trained and is joyfully ready and strong and glad to run his race (be it 100m or a marathon).

In Ecclesiastes 9:11 “a spanner is thrown in the works,” as we read that the race “is not to the swift,” but “time and chance happen to them all.” The fastest runner may fall or get tripped just before the finishing line. He may get “spiked” or his shoe may come off.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul has his eyes on the race in the stadium and the fact there is only one winner. He exhorts us to be those who strive to win.

The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 12:1 exhorts us to lay aside excess baggage, which might  be cumbersome clothes like the flowing robes of a man in a middle eastern costume, or baggage we are carrying, so that we can run. Have you ever seen a runner in a heavy coat carrying a briefcase? What he is referring to are weights or hindrances to our Christian lives, which may be inordinate relationships, inordinate worldly cares, wrong priorities, time-wasting,  or  besetting sins that slow us down and hinder us from running the race that is set for us individually  and is lifelong, i.e., requires endurance. Why is the Christian life likened to a long distance race?  Because unlike short distances, which are over in seconds or minutes, the temptation is to stop or give up. Running a long distance is a prolonged effort, and pain has to be endured for perhaps hours. What should encourage us? First, our election in Christ. Our forerunner, Jesus Christ, has already finished (Hebrews 6:20). Second, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—the heroes of faith, a cheering crowd, who have finished their race (Hebrews 12:1). Finally, we have in us the guarantee we will finish—the Almighty Spirit of Christ (Ephesians 1:14). So let us lay aside every impediment and run!

Note that Jesus has finished his race, and Paul could say the same in 2 Timothy 4:7: We must finish; we cannot step off the track or stop and get a cab or buggy, and by God’s grace we will. Those of us who jog or run will particularly appreciate these metaphorical allusions to running the race in the Bible. Running, and indeed any physical sporting endeavour requiring discipline has important lessons to carry over into the life of the Christian disciple! How’s your training? See table below.

 

 

 

 

 

A comparison between running a race and the Christian race of life.
Running a race The Christian Race of life
Recruitment Decision to run Effectual call
Rest Rest/easy recovery days Sabbaths
Training

 

 

Trials

 

 

Fuel

 

 

Clothing

Daily training alone and also periodically in a group.

 

Inclement weather. Injury. Illness.

 

Good balanced diet.

 

The lightest possible/club or country colours

Daily devotion, Church attendance (praise and preaching), Bible studies.

Tribulation. Battle versus world, sin and Satan. Times of trial.

 

The Word.

 

Righteousness of Christ.

Coach Club coach Christ’s Spirit/church office bearers
Objective Race day-to win. Last  day (of judgement)
Start Gun fires Conversion
Running

 

Hindrances

Correct pace. Speed, plus or minus stamina.

(a fall, obstacles, adverse incidents)

Dependence on God (Prayer)

Wisdom. Patience.

Cast off every weight (hindrances/sin)

 

Finish Crossing the line. Death
Fellow runners Competitors Brethren
Reward Perishable wreath/medal Imperishable wreath/crown,reasure in heaven, ‘Christ’s well done’, crowns.

The whale and dolphin families have always fascinated me. Why? Because some are so large, most are very intelligent, and they are so graceful in their aquatic environment. But many are very shy and live out in the vast ocean, so that we may never see one in our lifetime. Television, DVDs and the internet mean we can see and appreciate these creatures in our homes .The other quite extraordinary  features that they have in common with us humans, are that they breathe air (through blow holes on the top of their head), are warm-blooded, and being mammals suckle their young with milk for up to a year.

The largest (and also the loudest) animal ever to have lived on earth is the Blue Whale. They measure up to 100 feet in legnth and weigh up to 200 tons (400,000 pounds). Their hearts are the size of a small car. They can live up to 80 years. I mentioned the blue whale also being the loudest: apparently they can hear each other 1000 miles away.

They belong to the animal order Cetacea (from the Latin Cetus, meaning a large sea animal) that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. They are further divided into two types: toothed (72 species), and non-toothed  or baleen (14 species). The baleen species, which are all whales and include the blue whale, sift seawater in massive gulps and force it out through the fine sieve of their baleen (compressed hair) plates and bristles, made of keratin, like our nails and hair. They must catch 4 tons a day of microscopic shrimp called krill, which are then licked off the inside of their plates by their enormous tongues. They can submerge for 2 hours at a time. The blue whale travels thousands of miles from its Arctic or Antarctic feeding grounds to the warmer winter breeding and birthing grounds in the tropics. The cooler waters are rich in plankton because more oxygen and carbon dioxide are dissolved. During the migration they will have to fast, living off their blubber. The migration is vital, as the newborn have little blubber like their parents to insulate them. Baby blue whales consume over 600 litres of milk a day up to 7 months. Imagine that grocery bill!

For decades whales were hunted in vast numbers for their blubber to make oil and their baleen for “whalebone” corsets; 30,000 blue whales were slaughtered in 1930 alone. This period in human history, which continued until recently, exhibited the greed of fallen man and his misuse of his kingship and stewardship over God’s creatures of the sea. The “Greens” and conservationists have a point in their opposition to whaling. These magnificent animals are now protected.

Orcas or killer whales are spectacular creatures with their black and white colouring, size up to 8 metres and 6 tons, large peg-like teeth, and predatory ways, in which often in teams (pods) they will hunt seals, penguins, dolphins, other whales, and fish. They are the fastest sea mammal, reaching  55Km/hr (25mph).

The dolphins are probably the best known and loved of all. They are friendly and gregarious creatures, often belonging to huge schools of up to 500.  They are very intelligent, social animals who hunt often in groups and are amazing to watch speeding though water and leaping high in the air.   They are beautifully streamlined for gliding through water.

All whales and dolphins propel themselves by the up and down movement of their tail flukes (unlike fish).They give birth to a single calf after 10 months, tail first. The newborn has to get to the surface quickly for its first breath, and “aunties” help protect it from sharks who might detect blood in the water. Dolphins can stay submerged from 3 to 15 minutes, depending on their species, and like the bigger whales have very efficient lungs that extract up to 90% of the oxygen in the air compared with us humans at 15%. The dolphin was the emblem of the city of Corinth; incidentally, it is also the emblem of the Scottish clan Kennedy. They communicate with each other by clicks and whistles and can be taught to do extraordinary clever tricks. They use echo-location (sonar) in which high-pitched clicks or ultrasonic waves bounce back from an object to detect prey and predators. They live up to 25 years. They feed on squid, shrimp, eels, and other fish, and can be seen on U Tube with amazing pictures of them herding and eating a bait ball of myriads of fish, herding them with either bubbles or sand. They also help each other with midwifery and when injured. You may wonder how they sleep. The females float on the surface, blowhole uppermost, and the males stay just below the surface and come up to breathe by a reflex every so often.

The Belgic confession includes these wonderful animals in its statement regarding the creation (Article 12):

 We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by his Son, hath created of nothing, the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator. That he doth also still uphold and govern them by his eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.

Most Bible scholars believe the creature named in Psalm 104 as leviathan is one of the whale family; this is the only reference to one in Scripture. We read in verses 24–30:

O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.

Have you ever contemplated that God rejoices in the works of his hands? We should also rejoice when we observe or read about these amazing creatures! Solomon was a keen naturalist, and many of his wise proverbs come from lessons animals teach us. The diversity, beauty and various abilities of these creatures as well as God’s provision for them should make us marvel. Well has the Psalmist said in Psalm 111:2 “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” That is a good reason for every Christian to have an interest in the natural world!

If you have ever been fishing with a rod and line you will know the thrill of getting a fish on the hook and feeling its pull to escape from you. Eventually , God willing, you will have the satisfaction of landing it and even eating it for supper. This feeling is mentioned in Habakkuk 1:14–15 concerning the plundering nation of Babylon that catches men to make them slaves: “And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.” These verses use words to describe the two main methods of fishing name—the net and the angle (or rod and line).

Fish are amazing creatures ranging in size from the microscopic in plankton to the giant whale shark that dwarfs man. The fastest fish such as the marlin can reach speeds of 70mph. Indeed, the Hebrew word for fish—dag or dagah—means swift.

We first read of water creatures in Genesis 1:20, according to which God made everything in the waters from plankton and shrimp to blue whales, the biggest animal ever to live on earth. In Leviticus 11:9 we are told that all fish with fins and scales are to be eaten, and we all know that they are a tasty alternative to poultry, beef, and mutton (see 1 Corinthians 15:39). Fish oils are a valuable source of healthy fatty acids.

Jonah was miraculously swallowed and preserved from certain drowning by a great fish that later vomited him onto dry land after he had repented—a true story picturing our salvation.

Fish are wonderfully adapted to aquatic life. Their bodies are perfectly streamlined and slippery, covered in scales and slime to allow them to propel themselves with their muscular bodies and tails through their dense water environment. Unlike us, they have gills that have a massive surface area of membrane filled with blood, which absorbs dissolved oxygen from the water. My son just found this out by experience when he put a lot of small stickleback in a bottle and put on the lid. When he went to pour them out into his pond, they were all dead, suffocated for lack of the oxygen they had all used up. Many fish also have a swim bladder that can be filled or emptied of oxygen, which through changing the fish’s buoyancy makes it sink or float higher in the water. Their fins are strategically placed to aid change of depth and direction. Their sensitive lateral line picks up movement and vibration in the water and converts this into electrical impulses used in shoaling, avoiding predators and orientating their bodies. Their large eyes set on the sides of their heads are necessary to see predators. Amazingly, some live in fresh and some in salt water, and others such as salmon can live in both. Fresh water fish differ physiologically from salt water fish in several respects. Their gills must be able to diffuse dissolved gasses while keeping the salts in the body fluids inside. Their scales reduce water diffusion through the skin: freshwater fish that have lost too many scales will die. They also have well-developed kidneys to reclaim salts from body fluids before excretion. Many species of fish do reproduce in freshwater, but spend most of their adult lives in the sea. These include salmon and sea trout. On the contrary,  other kinds of fish are born in salt water, but live most of or parts of their adult lives in fresh water, as do the eels.

Species migrating between marine and fresh waters need adaptations for both environments; when in salt water they need to keep their bodily salt concentration lower than that of their surroundings, and vice versa. Many species solve this problem by associating different habitats with different stages of life. Both eels and salmon have different tolerances for salinity in different stages of their lives.

Fishing in the Old Testament is a picture of judgment on nations and individuals, according to the verses from Habakkuk quoted above, as well as from such passages as Jeremiah 16:16–18: “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable and abominable things.”

Contrariwise, in the New Testament fishing is a picture of the gathering of the elect into the church.

The Greek word for fish is ICTHYS, which the early Christians used as a mnemonic because its letters are the initial letters of Iesous Christos Theou Hyios Soter (Jesus Christ, of God the Son, Saviour) The fish was an early Christian symbol and remains one today.

Fish are an important topic in the New Testament because as many as seven of the disciples were fishermen, namely, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, Nathaniel, and possibly Philip who was from Peter’s home town of Bethsaida (John 21:2). These men fished the Sea of Galilee with their boats and nets.

Our Lord twice fed large crowds using bread and a few small fish, according to Matthew 14 and 15. He also told Peter to go angling in the sea to land a specific fish with a coin in its mouth to pay his taxes. The first meal the risen Lord ate consisted boiled fish and honeycomb (Luke 23:42), and later he cooked a meal of fish and bread by the sea (John 21:9–13) just after the miraculous draught of 153 fish, which pictured the gathering of the exact number of the elect from all nations.

Christ’s disciples and we are called to become fishers of men by net and rod. The net spread wide is like Pentecost, the mass crowd listening to preaching. The widespread distribution of literature and of the gospel by hard copy and the internet is like the rod, the work of believers as individuals seeking to “hook” others among our unbelieving friends and family. Fish are attracted to a lure, and our lives ought to attract them to Christ so they can be drawn in and brought to land safely in the church of Christ.

Christ assures us that by following him (and practically that means obeying the Scriptures) he will make us fishers of men. Just as the disciples worked as a team on the lake so do we in our churches in local outreach evangelism and praying with and for our brothers’ and sisters’ witness. According to Philippians 1:27 (striving together for the faith of the gospel) and Romans 15:30 (strive together with me in your prayers to God for me), we pray especially for our church ministers and the needed fishermen for the worldwide catch, because even today the nets and angling lines need to be cast out to many people—groups in the world where presently there are no fishermen. Are you praying for the nets and lines to be cast where never before? Are you supporting the fishermen in prayer and are you personally involved with fishing for men?

We all need to be!

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

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