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New Horizons

Something on My Mind: Letters to Families and Others

Various Authors

Priest or Minister?

James A. Zozzaro

When James A. Zozzaro was ordained to the gospel ministry in a service at Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wildwood, New Jersey, on September 23, 1995, present with the congregation was Jim's family, including a number of Roman Catholics. Rather than have his loved ones wonder why he was being ordained as a Presbyterian minister rather than a Catholic priest, Jim tells them via this loving and clear piece in the worship bulletin.

To My Beloved Family,

Many of you may be wondering why I am being ordained today as a Presbyterian minister rather than as a Roman Catholic priest. This is a fair question—after all, I was baptized as a Catholic and received my first Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. In order to understand why I have not sought ordination as a priest, you must first know what a priest does.

The Catholic Church teaches that "The chief powers of the Priest are to be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sin" (Outlines of the Catholic Faith, p. 13).

The first problem with this is that the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus offered himself once as a sacrifice for sin. If this is true, then the sacrifice of the Mass is a false sacrifice.

The second problem is that the Bible clearly teaches that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). If this is true, then my forgiving the sins of people in a confessional will do them no good. I cannot grant forgiveness because I am not God.

Lastly, as a priest, I would have to teach people that the way to heaven is faith plus works. But the Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJV). In other words, in order to be a faithful priest, I would have to proclaim a message contrary to the apostle Paul, and thus would come under the curse of God (Gal. 1:6-9).

To summarize, then, if I were a Catholic priest, I would be duty-bound to offer a false sacrifice, declare a false forgiveness, and preach a false gospel—this I cannot do.

My desire is not to offend, but to explain. I hope you all can respect my decision, as I must please God rather than people, even family whom I love. It is my prayer that each of you may come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ so that you, with me, can spend eternity in heaven beholding the face of our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus.

Church or Sports?

Charles M. Wingard

Pastor Charles Wingard of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, divulged his mind to the community "family" in this letter to the editor of the Salem Evening News. His letter was interestingly entitled by the newspaper, "For Christians, decision on Sunday sports is simple."

To the Editor:

The Oct. 21 article "Pray or Play" describes the supposedly difficult choices that parents face because children's athletic events are scheduled on Sundays during times of Christian worship.

Actually the choice is not so tough at all. Participation in competitive, organized sports on the Lord's day violates the Christian responsibility to set apart the Lord's day for worship, rest, and acts of mercy. Christian parents simply need the moral backbone to tell their children, "There will be no sport leagues for our family on Sundays. Our family will worship the Lord together. If we can find time during the other six days of the week for sports, then we will. But our family will not dishonor the Lord by participating in league sports on his day."

Christian parents must remember that our children have immortal souls, and that they need to be brought into a right relationship to God through Jesus Christ. When Christian parents neglect worship and biblical instruction on Sundays to take their children to the playing field, they have sent a clear message to their children that their participation in sports is more important than their spiritual welfare.

From a very early age, children, under the guidance of their parents, should be making decisions consistent with biblical Christianity. Choosing to honor the Lord's day is one of the moral choices our children must make if they are to lead godly lives.

The credibility of the church's witness is being eroded as Christians compromise what should be to them a nonnegotiable principle. It is time for Christians to quit surrendering to the non-Christian value systems that surround us. For all God's church, let the Lord's day be the appointed time of assembling for worship and instruction!

Worldly Wisdom and the Gospel

Bob Robinson

Bob Robinson, who lives in Waretown, New Jersey, is an elder in a new OPC mission work recently planted (their first service was held on January 14) in Toms River. He makes the occasion and purpose of his letter to family and friends clear in his own words.

Dear Family and Friends,

No, this isn't an MCI "come-on." It's something that has been working in me for many moons. Please allow me the prerogative of age in expressing these thoughts.

Recently I tuned into a secular talk show, while motoring through Pennsylvania. The host, a psychologist whose name I can't remember, proffered the following, which I dub "worldly wisdom":

It was so profoundly simple that I dismissed it temporarily as not only worldly, but entirely too simple. However, I did commit it to memory, and it's been bouncing around in my brain and heart for a while now. Finally, I realized that it has universal application, because everyone has something from the past still bugging (haunting?) him. It certainly brought me to a dead stop for an in-depth self-examination.

Anyway, I was reminded by a 3 x 5 card stuck in my Bible that I had tried to come up with a concise definition of the gospel as part of an exercise I did in a group Bible study. In its simplicity, the gospel is such profound truth that it sheds light on any part of this dark world we happen to be in at any time. That includes the thoughts provoked by that haunting past, even for believers. Let's not kid ourselves; we all put forth a different face for the world to see, and often try to repress the past. Don't you agree, in your heart of hearts?

I believe the gospel speaks with authority to that simple provocation I heard on my car radio that proved so soul-searching for me. It goes like this:

The gospel is the good news that, in the fullness of time, God came into this world, in the person of Jesus Christ:

I hope this helps you, wherever you happen to be on this road we are traveling together. May God bless us all by keeping us focused on the basics.

It's OK to Be Single

Marjory Vanderpyl

Marjory Vanderpyl is a doctor working in Waikato Hospital in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Editor Tyson remembers her as a young girl during the time of his ministry in that country way back in the sixties!) Now she's all grown up—and remains single. She discussed that status in "An Open Letter to My Friends and Family," which originally appeared in the April 1993 issue of Faith in Focus, the denominational publication of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.

To My Friends and Family:

It can be tough in this world, being single, assailed on all sides by media portrayals of what constitutes happiness, "marital-type" relationships, and safe sex—the preoccupation with which sells magazines, videos and movies, and dating games and services, along with fast cars and high living.

Being single can seem doubly bad when, in church circles, there is an undercurrent, occasionally an overt pressure, on single persons to conform and get married, based on an assumption that single people are desperately trying to get married.

How much of this is an echo of the world around us, and how much is biblical? Is being single to be not quite fulfilled or "mature"? Do we bring this discontentment on ourselves, or is it a combination of prevailing attitudes?

There is a large and increasing number of single persons within our churches for a variety of reasons. Are their needs met in sermons and the like, or are they tacked on as an afterthought at the end of marital discussion by a prayer for them to find partners and join the club?

Way back in time, in the Middle Ages, single persons were encouraged to go into convents and monasteries. While, as Reformed people, we feel this to be an incorrect interpretation of Scripture, do we perhaps hold to a form of "separatism" within the church—an idea that if one can't get married, one should take oneself off to a mission field?

Are we not one body, one church, composed of many parts—no one more or less important than the other? This is as true of one's marital status as it is of our gifts and talents. We are fellow heirs with Christ, the Head of the church. Our fulfillment comes in God, not our marital state, and in Jesus Christ our Savior. Jesus is the Head of the church, his body, and he includes all of us, married and single, as full members of that body.

So, as singles, we must remember that we are not "associate members" awaiting full membership on application for a marriage license. We are as important and as needed as anyone else—that means involvement, too, in all aspects of church life.

I cannot say either, then: Well, us eyes and belly buttons are heading off to do our own things because you guys (arms and legs) don't understand us, and only we understand each other, and we don't want to hear about dirty diapers, crying babies, and so on. No, we must build on the unity of the church. To become strong, we need each other; we are coheirs, equals.

Friendship

Can true friendship not exist between single and married people? On the face of it, of course we say, how stupid a comment—but wait, all relationships require effort, some give-and-take, listening, and communicating, so how much do we practice what we preach? Inasmuch as a relationship between a husband and a wife requires effort, so too between friends, married or single. Being married does not exclude you from having single friends, but it requires effort on both sides to maintain it.

A little understanding, a sympathetic, listening ear, goes a long way to maintaining friendship. I want to enjoy the richness of friendship with all my married and single friends. Each friendship is different, yet they enrich me in their diversity. Sometimes I need a kindly ear after a grueling day, particularly when I am emotionally and mentally drained after, say, dealing with maimed or dying patients. I don't need answers, just cool shade from the heat of the sun, to refresh myself. In the same way, I must be a sympathetic ear to those of my friends who have had a trying day with an irritable child or crying baby, as, no doubt, that can be equally as draining. Let's not make our differences stumbling blocks to communication. We must, instead, build each other up.

Contentment

So what does it mean to be single in the world today from a biblical standpoint? It means that we are to be content and satisfied, not envious of others' marital status, not chasing after rainbows.

We all want to know and do God's will in our lives. Why, then, do we fall into the trap of setting prerequisites for our happiness before God—assuming first that God's will is for us to be happy. (Is it? Happy by whose definition—God's or ours?). In our requests before God, do we muddle up our wants with our needs, our earthly gain with our spiritual needs, when we are told not to concern ourselves with our physical needs such as food, clothing, and marital state, but first to seek his kingdom? Does not preoccupation with what we don't have on earth lead to discontentment with what God has given us? Does this not include our marital state? Can the clay tell the potter what to make? Can I say to God, "I don't want to be a teapot; I want to be a cup and saucer"? Doesn't God know me, my innermost being, better than I know myself?

To Glorify God

We must therefore go back to the beginning—why was I created in the first place? This calls to mind the very first question I ever learned in catechism, at the end of a long stick wielded by Rev. G. I. Williamson: What is man's chief end? "Man's chief end is to glorify God." We say it so glibly, but do we truly believe it, that all else is secondary? This is our first priority and our yardstick by which we measure any achievement we have attained.

Perhaps you find being single is a trial and tribulation and think that being married will fix it. My friend, you need to sort out your relationship with God first; marriage is no cure for problems—you'll just bring them right with you. Marriage is not God's only blessing. He has many more. Sometimes, in tough times, being single is twice as hard as being married.

God doesn't give us any more than we can handle, and sometimes these troubles come to remind us to walk a little closer to him, and rely on him, not earthly things.

Whenever I find myself struggling, I am reminded of the time I worked at various gold mines in South Africa, and I recall vividly the process whereby tons of rock were crushed and subjected to all sorts of pressures and chemicals in order to refine it. I have a clear memory of a large vat, the size of a swimming pool, full of what appeared to be clear water, but it was gold dissolved in cyanide (imagine a compound, a few drops of which would kill you in seconds, being used to purify gold), and lastly the fiery hot furnace full of molten gold—99.98% pure. Our life can be a bit like that—some crushing, some heat, a little cyanide, each step refining us a little more.

So where does all this lead? I must be content and satisfied with my lot in life and value my relationship to God above all else. I cannot know what the future holds for me, but I must learn to accept all things from God, not with a resigned air, nor with despair or grumbling, but with a cheerful spirit. I must learn to glorify God first and foremost and, being the sinner I am, it's no easy road. Occasionally, sometimes more frequently, God reminds me of this when I wander off—sometimes gently, but at other times he uses the spiritual equivalent of a sledgehammer.

I Need You!

So I need you, my friends and family, to uphold me and help me. Don't place more burdens on me by way of expectation, etc. (I make enough trouble for myself without any help.) Don't offer me false hope and promises. (They are not yours to make—can you know God's will for my life?) Don't accuse me of being too choosy. (After all, it is I who has to live with that person, not you—would you settle for second best just to be married?) Don't analyze my character (I'm better at it than you!), finding faults as an excuse, offering hints and advice. (I am not a racehorse being decked up ready for sale! Neither is this a meat market, where my wares are paraded to all and sundry.)

Let me be content with who and what I am, save only to encourage me in my spiritual walk. Let my single status not stand between us or attain too prominent a significance. Let it be consigned to the level on which I put my house, my job, the make and model of my car, and my cats.

I need you to love me as a friend and sister; listen to my gripes and successes; with gentleness and understanding remind me you care for me and are concerned for me; share with me my dreams and aspirations; bring me into your home, not just your house.

I know life can be hectic in a home: husband and kids are time consuming—but take a little time, once in a while, to remember that I too exist and am valued. A little can mean so much, even if it is an odd number at a dinner party. In return, you have my friendship, my loyalty, a listening, sympathetic ear, and my support.

I may never have been up all night with an aching child—well, not at home anyway—but I can empathize with you. I may not have the same job as you, my brother, but I can feel the pain of job insecurity and financial restraints, and I can listen.

My Single Friends

And you, my single friends, count it a blessing! A loving family, good friends, your own abilities. Use your talents wisely and to the best of your abilities. Being single has many advantages, including a wider range of options. I doubt I would have volunteered so freely of my services to my medical unit in the New Zealand Army during the Gulf War, should more doctors be urgently required at the front, if I had been married with children.

So seize the opportunities God provides and be satisfied with whatever he gives.

As I write all this, I am painfully aware of how pitifully short I fall from reaching any of this, but this is my goal, that I can learn to say with all sincerity of heart with the psalmist:

"As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake" (Ps. 17:15 NASB).

The Untouchables

Chandler Fozard

In this next piece, sent to us as an unsolicited article, Chandler Fozard of Taft, Oklahoma, unburdens his heart with regard to a segment of the population—and, even, of the evangelical and Reformed population—that we so often forget about.

To the Reformed Community:

I am new to the Reformed faith. Since my conversion, I have noticed a great need that I believe is not being adequately met by the Reformed circle of believers (at least here in Oklahoma). Being a new believer, I asked a friend who is not, "Why are the prisoners left untouched?" (That is, why is there minimal, if any, involvement in the lives of incarcerated or released persons by Reformed churches?) This guy has been a Reformed Christian for twenty-five years. I thought he would know. His answers, though plausible, left me asking myself the same question. At length, I came up with some answers.

To start with, the prisons are full of people who have committed heinous crimes. Murderers, rapists, child molesters, and even bogus check writers fill the state prisons. You know what they are like. You watch the news. It's best they are left alone.

Prisoners also have a reputation for "mistaking kindness for weakness." They are habitual users of people. Their sins are so shameful, they would probably rather not discuss them. We know that prison is God's righteous and holy judgment for their sins. They have no one to blame but themselves.

If all that is not enough to convince you that we shouldn't become involved in prison ministry, the prisons are full of those who have accepted mere "jailhouse religion." This is, no doubt, the result of so many pulpits being filled by unlearned, misguided preachers spouting "easy believism." For those few to whom God has seen fit to grant his effectual grace, understanding of the mystery, and repentance, this is their time of penance. They need time to be alone with God.

Wait a minute!

One reason prisoners are left untouched, might be found on the home front. Are we depending on the sovereignty of God, while ignoring our responsibility? If you say, "God is sovereign," I agree. He has declared the end, but many are neglecting the means (Rom. 10:14-17; 1 Cor. 1:18, 22-25). What do those who are Reformed, incarcerated, and unashamed of the gospel, answer to those who ask, "If your church is so good, why don't they teach here?"

Where, in the prisons, are the Reformed churches?

J. I. Packer wrote in his Knowing God that, with complete foreknowledge of our most grievous sins, God set his love on us. So reads the Scripture (Rom. 5:8)! Believing prisoners may be guilty, but they are no longer condemned (Rom. 8:1). The apostle Paul wrote of some pretty awful sinners, when he wrote, "And such were some of you" (1 Cor. 6:11 NKJV)! That must be infinitely reassuring to the prisoner! Paul wrote further of ministers and why they are here, too (Eph. 4:11-13). Jesus, in fact, spoke of people who will visit those in prison (Matt. 25:31-46). (I don't recall him limiting visitation only to the innocent.) So ...

Why are the prisoners left untouched?

There is a need, not being met, for Presbyterian and Reformed churches to become active in prison ministry. "In what ways," you ask, "may we become involved?" Basically, by ensuring that inmates receive the same ministry that church members who are not incarcerated expect.

  1. There is a need for pastors and teaching elders to become involved. Services can be sponsored in the chapel (or other designated location) which every institution provides.
  2. Laypeople can help with individual visitation to those who would otherwise have no visitors, for the purpose of fellowship and instruction. This is a major need currently not being met by any denomination.
  3. Institutions can help by offering introductory and college-level educational material to replace heretical teachings. These studies should take the form of correspondence courses and, later, on-campus studies, from established institutions, providing training in hermeneutics and biblical doctrine—thereby meeting the spiritual and educational needs of inmates during and after incarceration.
  4. Finally, a combined effort of aftercare is greatly needed. This should include extending the arm of fellowship through the local church, offering relationships, providing spiritual, physical, mental, and, yes, even financial assistance to those who are in need and will diligently work toward self-sufficiency (2 Thess. 3:10). The national recidivism rate is fast approaching 90%. Without some type of intervention, inmates will continue to return to prison.

This, then, is a call to all Reformed church leaders, future leaders, and members! If your church is not currently involved in prison ministry, please begin this effort, of which Jesus spoke, today! Did I hear someone ask, "How?" Call the nearest prison (if you don't know of one, call and ask your state's Department of Corrections) and ask to speak to the chaplain (or, if they don't have one, to the religious volunteers coordinator). You will have to be cleared through the National Crime Information Center (states vary as to whether or not, or for how long, felony convictions will bar one from visiting their institutions). Then attend an orientation meeting at the facility, and you are in! It's incredibly simple, though tedious.

A Personal Note

By the way, I am a Reformed Christian, serving a ten-year sentence. The ideas for this article came from my own life. Like you, I am a sinner saved by grace. Possibly not like you, however, I have committed sins so shameful that I would rather not speak about them (Eph. 5:12-13).

My incarceration is God's righteous and holy judgment for my sins (Rom. 13:4). I do realize that God has a different system of justice described in Scripture for one such as myself. Prison is the means he chose to bring me to repentance; however, so for it, and to him, I am eternally grateful (Ps. 107:10-20). There is no one to blame but myself. I am, however, tired of being alone and unwelcome because of my past sin from which the Lord has delivered me.

First Corinthians 6:11 is a tremendous source of assurance to me! Based on that assurance, I am unashamed of the gospel. So, what do I answer, when someone asks, "If your church is so good, why don't they teach here?"

Prison staff and their inmates need you! I need you! Please, write me, if you desire, at the address furnished below. Do become involved, won't you? Then, I, others like me, and those who are searching for the truth, can stop calling themselves "the Untouchables." May God bless you!

My address is: Chandler Fozard, #211218-163, Jess Dunn Correctional Center, Unit D-West, P.O. Box 316, Taft, OK 74463.

Losing Jared

Jerry Thacker

Jerry and Sue Thacker are members of Covenant OPC in Reading, Pennsylvania. They are both HIV-positive, Sue having initially contracted the virus in 1984 through a blood transfusion she received after giving birth to their third child, Sarah, who was similarly infected, prior to detection of the virus, through her mother's milk. Their older two children, Jared and Shalin, were not infected. However, last November sixteen-year-old Jared died suddenly of an unrelated illness. Jerry recently sent the following E-mail messages to their friend, Pastor William Shishko of Franklin Square, New York, who said of them: "I've never read such beautiful devotional prose from a contemporary writer—it breathes the spirit of R. M. McCheyne."

November 29, 1995

Dear Bill:

It's the morning after my son's burial, which was followed by a tremendous memorial service. The church was filled with more than seven hundred people who sang praises to God and gave testimony of his grace at work in the life of the boy. People from many denominations and traditions gathered together to recognize God's faithfulness to the Thacker family and to our son Jared.

The service was uplifting because of the hope that is given to us in the Scripture and the warmth of God's love that was expressed by the people of God. The saved, the unsaved, the young, the old, the rich and the poor, lifted their voices in praise to the God who will, on that great day, judge all things and all men.

As a seemingly proper final act, by midnight, God chose to cover our boy's grave with a mantle of new snow as if to say, "I'm tucking you in, Jared. Sleep for now, my beloved."

Condolences are coming in from as far away as China and Israel as people hear of the works of God in our family. The grief process continues here with us as we see parts of Jared's life and melt into tears of pleasant remembrance.

I'm concerned that Sue has totally overdone it. For the next few days she will require rest to preserve her fragile immune system. I, too, will require rest of body and mind. And we will all have to adjust to having one less person sitting at the supper table or watching TV or driving down the driveway or coming through the door.

Why did God not take Sue, the weakest, first? We may never know. But his ways are perfect. It was extremely difficult for Jared to deal with the prospect of his parents and sister going first. God was merciful to him. I believe these verses put it in perspective for us: "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death" (Isa. 57:1).

November 30, 1995

Dear Bill:

The flurry of activity is over. The people are gone, except for Sam, Jared's best friend—a Romanian boy from a family of thirteen kids, who is still grieving his little heart out. He stayed here again last night, just as he had done hundreds of times before, when Jared was alive.

It's quiet and peaceful now. Life continues on for everyone else, but I'm not quite ready to jump back into the rat race. I've canceled my weekend meetings for the rest of the year. I need some time to rest and reflect on what should happen next.

Jared's home-going is glorious in that he is no longer in pain. He won't have to see his mom or sister or dad die. He'll be part of that heavenly welcoming committee along with Norm Cadarette, his grandad, great-gran-dad, and all those others who have died in Christ that we have loved.

We get so tired of this world and sin. Jared was such a sensitive boy—he couldn't stand the thought of sin having its impact in the death of those whom he loved. I believe he wanted to go home to heaven and God heard his cry.

On Monday of last week, Jared was troubled because his grandmother down in West Virginia was in intensive care and in bad shape. When things like that would bother him, he wouldn't sleep for days. That day, his girlfriend, Krista, asked him if he wanted to go somewhere to pray. He said that he wanted to go pray in heaven.

On Tuesday, he went to school, but in thirty minutes he was back. When I met him at the door, he was crying. When I asked him why he was so torn up, he said that he didn't want his grandmother to die and go to hell. Recognizing that he needed a "mental health" day, I let him stay home. He slept for three or four hours. And in the afternoon we did "guy stuff"—change the oil, rotate the tires, etc.

On Wednesday, Jared went to school, and we anticipated lots of company from Michigan afterward. They all came, and we had a great time.

On Thursday, Jared was feeling poorly after our 4 p.m. Thanksgiving dinner. By 8 p.m. he was showing what we thought were flu symptoms—vomiting, fever, chills. I sat with him until late in the evening—we didn't want his mom to get it. When I checked on him at 6 a.m., his temperature was 105.3. I put him in a lukewarm bath to get it down. I noticed a petechial rash starting to form on his face. No big deal, I thought, people who vomit get that. Within two hours, however, his skin turned colors and he was listless. We called the doctor and got him in at 11:30.

By that time his blood pressure was extremely low, and we rushed him by ambulance to the hospital. By 1:20 he was diagnosed as having septic shock. By 3:30 they moved him to intensive care. By 5:00 they were holding out no hope. Around 7:00, his heart stopped and they got him going again. He received more than fifteen units of fluids and blood as well as antibiotics so that he swelled to twice his normal size. But his kidneys had shut down due to a buildup of toxins and sediment. His whole body was falling apart as cell linings could not retain their contents. By 9:50, he "coded" (had a cardiac arrest) once again. I will never forget the sight of the doctors doing chest massage, trying to revive my boy when it was apparent he was not coming back.

Now, Jared is with the Lord. He got what he wanted. He got to go home early. I'm sure we will not be far behind him. We loved him. We will miss him. We will remember him.

I believe AIDS killed him. No, he wasn't infected, but he was affected. He was a tender plant that the cold, icy wind of sin destroyed. Yes, he lived and died in God's time, but sin left its mark on another one of God's chosen. I'm so glad that his victory was assured through Christ.

"The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him" (Nahum 1:7).

Reprinted from New Horizons, March 1996.

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