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RPM: Henry

One day several years back, I was making my way door-to-door on a short dead end street in my South Providence district. It could very well have been an unremarkable day – no one answering the door, or just short interchanges. Thanks, but no thanks.

Then I knocked on the door at the end of the block, a typical three level, three household rental home in urban New England. A short, dark fellow answered. When he spoke, it was clear he ‘weren’t from these parts.’ Of course, then again, neither was I! Henry (not real name) was originally from Liberia. After we spoke some, I invited him to church. He was very interested. Now, I’ve heard that before. But sure enough, he was there at church the following Lord’s day – only, we had to make arrangements to get him there since he didn’t have his own vehicle.

His family soon began coming as well. A sweet, quiet wife, and two special children. Eventually, he got his own car and came without our help. They worshipped very consistently with us for about six months and were a joy to have. It did my h800px-Africa_(satellite_image)eart good to see our congregation reflect something of the multi-colored army of the Church Triumphant. And I admired their willingness to be different in a very different kind of church.

Sadly, they fell off for whatever reason. I eventually lost track of him, when at one point his number went out of service. And when I went to his apartment, I realized they had moved.

But after perhaps a couple of years, I thought I’d try to find Henry again. It was probably futile, like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But I had a contact with connections with many different African communities, so I called her up and told her my story. She said she’d see what she could do. Later that evening (!), she called back. “I have found him, and I have his number.” “What? That fast?” I exclaimed. She explained that she knew a leader of the Liberian community – and refugee communities are tighter-knit than others. Of course he knew Henry and had his new number. So I called. When he answered and realized who it was, I could hear the big smile on his face. “Ohhh! Hey, Revreh!” (=Revrend)

Since then I have invited him back to church, and he has come a couple of times. I’ve also gone to visit him in his home, sometimes with my family and sometimes on my own. We’ll visit, then read the Scriptures and pray. For a while, he was getting mixed up with the Mormons. Now I’m not sure he’s attending anywhere. He professes Christianity, but as I see it, his profession is shaky at best. But we’ve forged a connection. And I still have his phone number.

Liberians are beautiful people. Ever since I went there some years back, it has had a special place in my heart. I’m glad I’ve got a little Liberia to visit back here.

Please pray for Henry, that he will develop a deep hunger for the Word of God and its faithful preaching. Pray for his wife, who has dealt with difficult health issues, and for his children, that they may become children of the Most High.

More about RPM.

Lesmahagow_Old_Parish_Church“The commands of the law, in the hand of Christ, have lost their old covenant-form, and are full of love. The command of the law of works is, Do, and Live; but in the hand of Christ, it is, Live, and Do: the command of the law of works, is, Do, or else be damned: but the law in the hand of Christ, is, I have delivered thee from hell, therefore do: the command of the law of works is, Do in thy own strength; but the law in the hand of Christ is, “I am thy strength; My strength shall be perfected in thy weakness,” therefore Do. The command is materially the same, but the form is different: the command of the law of works is, Do perfectly, that you may have eternal life; but now, in the hand of Christ, the form is, I have given thee eternal life in me, and by my doing; and therefore do as perfectly as you can, through my grace, till you come to a state of perfection. The command, I say, is the same materially …. And sure I am, that the authority of the commanding God is not lessened, or lost, that the command is now in the hand of Christ: Christ is God, co-equal and co-essential with the Father; and as God’s authority to judge is not lost, or lessened, in that all judgment is committed to the Son; so his authority to command, is not lost or lessened, in that the law is in the hand of Christ: nay, it is not lessened, but it is sweetened, and made amiable, lovely, and desirable to the believer, constraining him to obedience, in that the law is in the hand of his Head, his Lord, and his God.”

-Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

I’m beginning a new series of occasional posts on my ‘parish’ outreach efforts in R.I., mostly vignettes from door-to-door district visitation. If you would, please pray for these efforts. New England truly has ‘rocky soil’ spiritually – but we know that stones stand no chance before Jesus. More at ‘Reformed Parish Mission‘ page.

* * *

Last Friday I was doing outreach in my neighborhood in Warwick, R.I. A number of doors remained closed, one after the other. Some days are busy, some are slow. Nearing the end of my time, I approached a house with a car in the driveway – plastered with secular, left-leaning bumper stickers. You know the type. Would this be a clash of two very different fundamentalists?

Not surprisingly, the fellow who came to the door fit the bill. He sported an armful of tats, his head shaved on the sides with a shock of purple hair flowing down, and a black shirt with pro-science imagery. We talked for a good while, his two children occasionally interrupting. He told me he was a science teacher in a middle school and was an atheist. A former Roman Catholic, he had given up on religion, though he didn’t tell me why.

John (not his real name) was rather polite. Kind of nice, for a strident atheist! After some discussion, I engaged him about whether there is any transcendent value or worth to human beings. Something that justifies our shared belief that we should treatCharles_Darwin_aged_51 them with dignity. We cut down trees for our benefit and harvest wheat for our consumption. Why wouldn’t we do that with humans? What makes some matter more valuable than other forms?

We eventually wrapped things up after I shared a verse with him summarizing the Gospel, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). May the Fisher of men save one of Darwin’s footed fish!

‘We remember of having the seventh successive door slapped in our face ere we had time to tell our message, and of then going to another tenement and entering house by house only to find men and women rolling on the floor of a desolate dwelling in indiscriminate drunkenness; whilst mingling with their curses and their blasphemies, the heart-piercing looks and cries of their infant children assailed us with irresistible appeals for bread to allay the cutting pangs of hunger.’

-Rev. William Tasker, 1845

This link gives an introduction to Thomas Chalmers’ West Port experiment. The above quote is drawn from it.

 

In the following passage (A.D. 324), Constantine shows his support for patronizing Christian mission. I notice nothing of compulsion, and the historical record appears to bear this out. So is state endorsement of the true religion really such a tough pill to swallow after all?

  • * * *

“When such grievous impiety controls human affairs and the commonwealth is in danger of utter destruction as by some plague and has need of much health-giving care, what alleviation does the Divinity devise, what rescue from our danger? And we must regard as altogether divine that which alone and really exists and whose power endures through all time. It is not vainglorious to acknowledge and boast of the beneficence of the Supreme Power. He sought out and judged fitting for His own purpose my service, starting from the sea which laps distant Britain and from those quarters where the sun is commanded by an ordinance of fate to set, thrusting aside by some mightier power all the dangers that beset me, that the human race might be recalled to the worship of the august law, schooled by my agency, and that the blessed faith might be increased under the guidance of the Supreme Power. Never can I ungratefully forget the gratitude that I owe; believing this to be the noblest service, this the gift granted to me, I advanced to the regions of the East, which, consumed by more grievous ills, called aloud for the greater healing care at my hands.”

 

“.  . . a single human being called out of darkness, though he lives in some putrid lane or unheard of obscurity in your great city, is a brighter testimony than all the applauses of all the fashionables.”

-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

I consider myself rather conservative in my convictions about Lord’s day observance. As the biblical title suggests, it is the Lord’s day, not yours or mine. It should be dedicated to a holy rest, to “public and private exercises of God’s worship,” except for “works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 60). But the following 18th century anecdote strikes me as (way!) over the top.

…our small beer shall be fetched in on Saturday nights, nor will we even dress a potato on the Sabbath. We will attend the preaching at five o’clock in the morning, at eight go to prayer meeting, at ten to public worship; hear Mr. Perry at Cripplegate at two, be at the Foundry (Wesley’s old preaching house) at five; meet with the general society at six, assemble at the United Bands at seven, and again prayer meeting at eight, and then come home and read and pray by ourselves.

If this is rest, I wonder what work is!