Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ministering the Ordinary Means of Grace in a Booming International Community

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a planned series of articles written by Greenville Seminary alumni describing their current ministries and the role their GPTS education plays in it. Lou Veiga is Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. He is currently the Stated Clerk of Houston Metro Presbytery and also serves on the Review of Presbytery Records Committee of the General Assembly. Lou (Luis) was born in Havana, Cuba, and became exiled with his family to America in 1960 after Castro’s communist revolution. He and his wife, Suzi, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and they are the parents of two beloved boys, Daniel (14) and Michael (12).

* * * * *
By Pastor Lou Veiga

If I could summarize my ministry to the saints at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Houston, I would say that mine is a regular ministry in an unusually opportune time and place.

By a regular ministry I mean that the Biblical mandates for pastoral leadership and service have been in place since I was installed as the senior pastor (and practically the sole pastor) at Covenant in 2009: the church meets to worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day, the ordinances of consecutive Bible preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are regularly administered, the discipleship of youth and adults is accomplished in the Sunday School and at various Bible studies by gifted elders and teachers, and nouthetic counseling is offered to any in need. Regular visitation of the elderly, the sick, and our members and church visitors is now in place. The church has, through God’s blessing, grown significantly in number and in spiritual maturity since my arrival. But a regular ministry of this sort may be found at most any Reformed church, and that is hardly anything exceptional to write about. 

At the same time, this regular ministry is situated in place that is drawing the whole world to itself. As you may have read in World Magazine, or perhaps witnessed first-hand at our recent PCA General Assembly, Greater Houston is a 6-million strong port city that handles more freight by tonnage than any city in North America. At a time when the rest of the country is supposedly inching out of recession, Houston is experiencing a booming economy, with the gas and oil sector flourishing because of innovations in mining and liquefied natural gas. This has induced over 90 language groups from over 120 countries to live here at this time. What has made matters so interesting is that Covenant is smack-dab in the middle of the “energy corridor” – the home offices of petroleum giants such as British Petroleum (BP), and the epicenter of all of this commotion.

Covenant PCA in Houston, Tex. with Pastor Veiga (center, red necktie)
So as I looked forward in 2009 to my move to Houston to assume the pastorate, I knew that my Spanish and bi-cultural experience would come in handy, Texas historically being a land of gringos and Latinos together. But my ears would soon hear many more languages and dialects than my own native tongues: French, Dutch, Farsi, Afrikaans, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Eritrean languages can all be heard in our congregation. Together with this mix is added the further contrasts of wealthy and poor, highly educated and hardly educated, white and blue collars, young and old, healthy and sick, single, married, widowed, divorced, Reformed and not-so-Reformed, all packed into a congregation of about 180 people.  Our time here at Covenant represents an unusual opportunity to reach a great diversity of people. The Lord has simply led them right to our doorstep.

There are no special programs in place with which to draw such people. We do not advertise (maybe we should). Our neighborhood outreach is small and still developing. Our minimalist web site deserves much more attention than it gets, but there is really no time or resource for that. We are not on the radio, or the television, although people seem to find us easily through SermonAudio.com. I have published nothing, and I am not a gospel celebrity. I do not blog. And yet the people find our church.  They come because Jesus Christ is preached here simply and in a manner that, hopefully, is faithful to the Bible. God sends out His Spirit, and He leads them to his sanctuary to be shepherded, fed, dressed, and loved.  That’s what is happening at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Houston.

There are two basic things that are in place which are working very well here, and I attribute these to my years of study at GPTS, and especially to the godly examples of my professors.

The first is the stress on the devotional, study and prayer life of the pastor. At seminary, it was hammered into me that piety comes first, then study and ministry. Ministry, but especially sermon preparation and delivery, is birthed in the prayer closet, in private devotion, in Bible reading, and in contemplation. If this discipline had not been in place, the sheer span of pastoral duties would have overwhelmed me; subsequently, the quality and quantity of the work would have suffered. All ministry is to be done from the overflow of the heart, with gratitude to God and in joyful surrender. That’s the first thing and of prime importance.

The second thing that I learned at GPTS which is bearing fruit in Houston is an interest in a truly Biblical catholicity. It may seem a paradox to many that subscription to the Westminster Confession and its standards, that narrow English Puritan production from the 16th Century, would lead a church into catholicity. Yet Westminster is arguably the best Bible-based consensus, the broadest and deepest agreement among any people anywhere concerning the faith and practice of the church. Westminster’s Biblical catholicity commends itself marvelously well to the multi-nationalism of this time and place. You see, many well-meaning American Christians are so ensconced in their monolingual, mono-cultural, 21st century, individualistic castles that they are challenged to correctly see themselves as they relate to extra-nationals – especially in the worship, the preaching, and in the life of the church. Visiting foreigners have a clever nose and can discern between a godly spirituality and niche marketing, between a church that is safe because there are few differences among the people versus a truly Christ-centered sanctuary that embraces the nations. The more Biblical the worship and life of the church, the more it will satisfy the universal saint of all time. So we sincerely and unabashedly subscribe to the deepest and broadest consensus available in history; yet to the visitor it just feels like the Bible. This is an important lesson for any pastor, or any Christian, to learn.

One of the goals of the pastoral search committee that originally interviewed me was to have the Covenant membership reflect the neighborhood in which we live. By God’s grace that goal is being more and more realized. The neighborhood has changed, and so have we. Please pray that Covenant Presbyterian Church will be faithful in serving the needs of all of God’s people in this unique time and place, to the praise of His glory.

GPTS Welcomes New Trustees

Greenville Seminary has been blessed with the addition of two new members on its Board of Trustees in recent months. They are Georgia attorney Joseph H. Fowler and Florida accountant James Higgins.

 
Joseph H. Fowler

 
James Higgins

Mr. Fowler is a founding member and ruling elder at Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, Ga.,  board member of Frontline Missions, and board member of ISSA International mission agency. For many years, he has served as general counsel to several local county governmental bodies responsible for industrial development, utility services, and public and senior housing. Mr. Fowler has significant experience in the preparation of wills, trusts, and related estate plans. For more than thirty years, he has had a general trial practice in state and federal courts with an emphasis in business, personal injury and estate litigation. He and his wife Carole live in Douglasville.

"I am excited about Joe Fowler's addition to the Board," said GPTS President Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr. "I have only known Joe and his wife Carole about a year and a half, but we have become close friends. Joe is a very good ruling elder and has a great passion for evangelism."

Mr. Higgins is a long-time major supporter of Greenville Seminary. He is a ruling elder and secretary at Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America in Stuart, Fla., where Dr. Michael Morales, a GPTS adjunct professor, serves as associate pastor. He and his wife Terri live in Jupiter, Fla. He is manager of J. Higgins Consulting, LLC, an accounting firm in Jupiter, and treasurer of the Trailwood Homeowners Association. He formerly served as a director of Covenant Reformed Church, Inc. in Jupiter.

"It is a great pleasure to have Jim Higgins to serve on the board," Dr. Pipa said. "I have known Jim and Terri Higgins for about ten years and value their friendship. When I think about them, the first thing that comes to mind is discipleship. Over the years they have mentored a number of young adults, many of whom are serving the Lord with great profit today."


Financial Report for September 2014

The tables below indicate our financial situation as of the end of September 2014. Thus far this fiscal year, we have accumulated a general fund deficit of $58,154. This is likely the result of several factors, including the absence thus far of donations from several traditionally large benefactors and a downturn in tuition receipts due to a growing number of students studying under our tuition waiver program (see last month's story for further explanation).

Unrestricted general fund donations during September of $31,838 from churches and individuals were $32,021 below the $63,859 September budget for these types of contributions. Expenses of $70,554 were $19,361 below the $89,915 budgeted for expenses.

GENERAL OPERATING FUND - SEPTEMBER 2014
fundraising ideas for schools, churches, and youth sports teams
Graph shows donation income vs. budget for September 2014

Donation Income (unrestricted)
$31,838
Other Income
$33,618
Total Income
$65,456
Expenses
$70,554
Net Income
–$5,098
GENERAL OPERATING FUND - FISCAL 2014-15
Donation Income
$121,490
Other Income
$67,682
Total Income
$189,172
Expenses
$247,326
Net Income
–$58,154

CAPITAL FUND
Capital Campaign Goal
$3,500,000
Received
$3,362,348
Long-term Pledges Outstanding
487,277
Total Received and Pledged
$3,849,626
Outstanding Obligations
$35,000
Monthly Interest Payment
$3,025
Remaining Mortgage
$610,817


 

Special offer: 

For your special donation of $200 or more before the end of this year, GPTS would be pleased to send you a complimentary copy of Dr. Ryan M. McGraw’s new book, The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. (Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.)

Dr. McGraw, an adjunct professor at GPTS who will be joining the faculty full-time in 2015 teaching systematic theology, is a recognized expert on the Puritan theologian John Owen.





If you would like to make a convenient online donation to Greenville Seminary, click the "Donate" button above. Gifts may also be mailed to: Greenville Seminary, PO Box 690, Taylors SC 29687.

Remember, gifts to GPTS are tax-deductible and may include cash, securities, property or a variety of planned giving instruments. (The tax deduction is reduced by the fair market value of any premium received in return for a donation.) See here for information about planning your last will and testament with the Kingdom of God in mind.

Whether or not you can contribute financially, here is another way you can help the seminary: Spread the Word! Do you know someone that would be interested in learning more about our organization or supporting us? If so, share a link to this newsletter. (Click the tiny "M" e-mail icon at the bottom of this post.) Thank you for your continued support for Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Standing at a Crossroads: the GPTS Advancement Initiative

The next two academic and fiscal years are presenting our seminary with major new opportunities — and new challenges to go with them. With the upcoming addition/replacement of new full-time and adjunct faculty, an unprecedented growth in the number of students on our unique sponsored tuition-waiver program, the increasing use of technology, and other growth-related factors, the seminary must build a stronger financial base. Although we are keeping expenses well under budget most months, our reserve coffers are empty, and we have been forced some months to supplement our regular income with use of our credit line. Many other seminaries are reporting similar austerity.

To address this situation, we are launching the GPTS Advancement Initiative. We are challenging our amazingly faithful donors, who already carry 70 per cent of the cost of operating this unique institution, to increase their giving by 7 per cent this year, and supporting churches are being asked to increase their commitment by 10 per cent. Our staff, faculty and trustees have been asked to set an example by increasing their giving, and, from our custodian to board members, they have responded.

But we also need to increase the size of our donor base if we are to achieve the leadership's ambitious goal of raising $200,000 over and above budget from new sources this year. The Trustees and Administration are asking our friends to reach out to their peers to share the vision they have for supporting GPTS and ask them to join in. 

Peer-to-Peer Networking

The best strategy, of course, is for you to approach your friends personally. Have a GPTS-oriented conversation and make some calls. As someone they know and trust, you are the best ambassador for the seminary you trust and support. You can become a FRIEND-RAISER by starting a personal campaign of your own and inviting your contacts to help create a network of new fund-raisers along with you using the online Crowdrise system. Start your campaign here

Here's how it works: 


Click on this link and then either click on the orange DONATE TO YOUR CHARITY box to make a donation or, better yet, click on the FUNDRAISE FOR YOUR CHARITY box to start your own peer-to-peer fund-raising campaign on behalf of GPTS. Once you have created your campaign, click on the "Manage Team" tab on your fund-raiser campaign page, then on the "Invite Team Members" box to create an e-mail message notifying your contacts about your fund-raising efforts on behalf of Greenville Seminary. In turn, they will have the opportunity to give or start a campaign of their own.


As you reach out, or even if you do not participate in this Crowdrise effort, we would appreciate knowing about your contacts. We are asking you to provide the names of five prospective donors from among your friends and acquaintances. To make your pledge and referrals, please fill out and submit the form here.
  

Most of all, be fervent in prayer that God would provide all that is needed for us to do what He has called us to do in this ministry which the church so badly needs in these uncommon times.

Why We Do Not Seek Government Accreditation

Recent developments in higher education accreditation are demonstrating anew why Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, by design, has not sought accreditation by agencies recognized by the federal government. We are aware that our position hampers the ability of some students to obtain certain forms of financial aid which might otherwise be available. Some other possible sources of direct funding for our school are also off the table because of this.

But we know full well that strings are always attached when an institution turns to the government for approval of its programs or offers opportunities to students for government aid. A new case in point (not atypical) involves Gordon College, a Massachusetts Christian college founded in 1889 and currently accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). This regional group is recognized by both the U.S. Department of Education and the private Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as an accrediting agency.

Gordon College was recently notified by NEASC that it must review its code of conduct to ensure that does not discriminate in violation of NEASC diversity standards. At issue is the college's long-standing "life and conduct statement" which prohibits students from engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage or in homosexual practices.

The agency has said it does not intend to immediately withdraw its accreditation, but it has noted that NEASC accreditation controls the flow of federal dollars to the college.

"Scrutiny of campus worldviews and attitudes toward the LGBTQ community escalated fairly recently after Gordon College president D. Michael Lindsay signed a letter along with other academic and religious leaders asking for a religious exemption from President Barack Obama’s executive order that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation," according to one report. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.)

"According to a joint NEASC-Gordon College statement, the association’s higher education commission met last week and 'considered whether Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of "homosexual practice" as a forbidden activity' is in violation of the commission’s accreditation standards. It states that the review will be conducted 'to ensure that the College’s policies and procedures are non-discriminatory,'" the report said.

Greenville Seminary is accredited by the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries, an agency it helped form several years ago. ARTS is not recognized by the federal government as an accrediting agency, although it is seeking recognition by CHEA, the private coalition of accrediting agencies.

To assure students and the public of the quality of its educational programs, GPTS is reviewed periodically by ARTS and by representatives of church bodies which have entered into formal accountability agreements with the seminary. For more information on this subject, see here.

"In order to guarantee complete freedom for Greenville Seminary to operate under the Lord of the church, without subjection to outside influences, the Seminary does not plan to apply for accreditation with any of the regional or national agencies. The Seminary is committed to maintaining academic standards equal to or higher than those set by accrediting agencies," according to the GPTS web site and catalog.

A Ministry of Life

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article was written for GPTSOnline by one of our faithful supporters Randall Kirkland and his son Dr. Geoff Kirkland. Dr. Kirkland is pastor of Christ Fellowship Bible Church in St. Louis, Mo. and Randall is an elder there.

Why do men and women from our church regularly minister at the two abortion mills in our community? Why do we pray and preach the Gospel at these dark and evil places...so misleadingly named Planned Parenthood and the Hope Clinic for Women. These places don't plan parenthood. They don't foster hope. What they do is encourage desperate women and their partners to pursue death and to violate the very right to life of innocents who have no "choice" in the matter. Do we go to "protest"? Are we angry dissenters? No, we are simply being faithful to take the Gospel to a dark and perverse generation and offer the only real hope that matters...the hope of eternal life and freedom from the shackles of sin. We pray because we know that the battle is not really waged in the theater of flesh and blood. And we know that any good outcome in the midst of this true spiritual warfare will come only because we have pleaded with our Triune God to do a miracle...to sovereignly intervene and give life to dead hearts of men and women who are pursuing the ways of the god of this world — a world which lies in the power of the evil one. We pray because it is the God-ordained means to pursue true ministry. We know it is not by might or power but by His Spirit. 

Randall and Geoff Kirkland
We open-air preach because men and women who are outside of Christ need the Gospel. And we take the Gospel to them when and where they most need to hear it. As we often say, we are no better than they are. The only real difference is our sins are forgiven and theirs are not. How do we make such bold statements? Because the one who callously disregards the Gospel and pursues the idolatry of convenience and self gratification at the expense of human lives betrays a heart that has yet to be regenerated. We preach because we have several mission fields at these tragic places — the staff workers, the men and women who come seeking to end their pregnancies, and the ever-present Roman Catholic community and its self-deceived idolatry and works righteousness. We preach to each and all of these constituencies. 

Does it "work"? It always does. As a church, we resolve to faithfully represent Christ, to powerfully preach the gospel, and to urgently plead with sinners to repent, turn to Christ, count the cost and follow Him. We are those who understand the power of the Gospel. The power is not in the messenger, but in the message. The power is not in the cleverness of preaching but in the fidelity to the Scriptures. 

The badly named Hope Clinic for Women,
the Midwest's largest late-term 
abortion provider
Every person standing outside the abortion mill takes immeasurable comfort in recognizing the unrivaled sovereignty of God over all things — including His power over the rebellious, human heart. No Christian can gauge his results based upon visible responses. That mindset reflects the man-centered form of evangelism that bases its methodology on human programs seeking to achieve a certain numerical response of sorts. Instead, our open-air preachers proclaim the true Gospel, seeking God to bring true conversions. To be sure, each person who calls out to the mothers begs them to not murder their babies. But the faithful believer knows that no amount of wooing and faithful pleading on his part will convert a soul until the sovereign Spirit of God opens the heart of the sinner, raises that dead soul to life, and allows the sinner to see His sin, the beauty of Christ, the sufficiency of Christ's wrath-bearing atonement, and his desperate need to trust in Christ alone and follow Him. Thus, the preaching and calling at these places is as effective as the Word of God itself is. 

An unspeakable hardness manifests itself in the words and actions of those going to murder their children. Many call these women “victims,” and they call this act of murder “a choice.” But the Bible calls this act murder, and those who commit this act of sin are thus guilty before a holy and just God. That's why we go. It's not just an abortion ministry issue. It's not just about saving a baby's life. It's about pleading with and proclaiming Christ to people who stand condemned before God, blinded by their sins, dead in their trespasses, and hostile to God and to His Gospel. We regularly minister at these abortion mills out of our love for these souls, and we plead with them to repent of their sin, turn to Christ, and save the life of their baby.

How do people respond? What have we experienced? The responses range from cold indifference to the occasional personal conversation with a mother who wants to know more about why we are there and possible alternatives to abortion. Usually there is a vehicle nearby with an ultrasound machine and a trained practitioner, and we have literature describing adoption as a course of action. Occasionally we see people simply turn their cars around and drive off. We pray for them even though we don’t know their name. We pray God will bring them into the path of Christians who will care for them and guide them biblically. And yes, we sometimes are subjected to opposition by the staff at these places, whose job is to “escort” the mothers quickly inside so they will not have the occasion to reconsider their course of action. Sometimes the police are called, and that simply provides us an occasion to explain to the authorities why we are there. Typically, they will only enforce statutes dealing with noise levels (we use amplification so the message can be heard even within the waiting rooms of the abortion mills). If we are not able to use amplification, we continue to open-air preach and have yet to experience any serious opposition from the authorities. We know the staff and mothers hear the Gospel. We know that God works through His word to achieve His perfect ends.

Pray With Us

"Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them." — John Calvin 


  • Pray that God will abundantly supply the seminary's financial needs and bless and prosper all those who may be led to give in support of this work in God's Kingdom.
  • Ask God to inspire the hearts of prospective students He is calling to the ministry to seek their theological education at GPTS.
  • Ask God for the presence of His Spirit in all the instruction and learning at GPTS, that professors and students alike would be faithful and steadfast in their commitment to the truth of God's Word.
  • Pray that new Office Manager Doug Watson and his wife will be able to sell their house in Pennsylvania quickly and complete their move to South Carolina.
  • Ask God to bless, enrich and refresh Dr. Pipa during his teaching sabbatical.
  • Continue to pray for completion of the final steps for the wife and children of one of our foreign students, who escaped persecution in their native land, to embark on their journey to the United States.
  • Please persist in prayer for Betty McGoldrick, wife of Professor James McGoldrick, as she continues to deal with her pain and disabilities.
  • Pray for GPTS student and resident information technology specialist Bill Hill, who is experiencing debilitating back pain and meeting resistance from his insurance provider to receive necessary diagnostic tests.



This news comes to us about the failing health of a senior minister in the OPC and an adjunct professor at GPTS, Dr. George Knight: 

His pastor, Cliff Blair writes: “Dr. Knight is in the hospital here in Charlotte. Last week he had surgery to remove a polyp from his colon. The surgery went well and the polyp proved non-cancerous. But since then he has developed an internal leak where the surgery was, which is being monitored in hopes that it will self-heal. He has not had any solid food (or much food at all) in over 10 days, though he is being given nutrients. He is weak and weary of the ordeal. His greatest desire is to be discharged from the hospital. His great confidence remains in the Lord who does all things right. Would you please pray for his recovery and rest; and pray also for his wife Virginia who has not left his side for more than an hour since he entered the hospital more than 10 days ago.”
Ross W. Graham
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Mobile Web Site

As we announced last month, Greenville Seminary has an all-new web site. Of course, a growing number of people regularly use their smart phones, tablets and other mobile devises to access the web. There's good news for those users!

Our new web site includes an easy-to-read version for mobile devices. Check it out on your phone or devise by using the same web address as for desktop computers: gpts.edu. The navigation menu can be accessed by touching the three-line box to the right of the WELCOME greeting (see illustration below). The mobile version works well on most phones and mobile devices, although it may not display perfectly on certain Android devices.


Of course, you may also use the existing GPTS Mobile "app" to access certain web content and to listen easily to our recorded resources (chapel, conference lectures, etc.) and our popular webcast "Confessing Our Hope." Get the app here.


Buy and Sell on eBay for GPTS


Greenville Seminary is part of the eBay Giving Works program. So, you can support our mission when you buy and sell on eBay. Here’s how:

  • Buy
  • You can find whatever you're looking for on eBay – from baseball cards to new cars and more. When you do, shop for items that benefit us. You can get a great deal and support GPTS at the same time!
  • Shop now to support Greenville Seminary

  • Sell 
  • You can also support GPTS when you sell on eBay. Just designate our organization to receive 10-100% of your final sale price the next time you list something great.
  • Did you know that charity listings often get more bids and higher prices than regular eBay listings? Boost your sales and support our critical work while you’re at it! Plus eBay gives back to you too, with a fee credit on your basic selling fees.
  • Sell now to support Greenville Seminary

  • * * * * *

    Don't forget the other commerce-related opportunities to raise funds for GPTS by shopping or searching on the web. Start all your Amazon shopping at smile.amazon.com and designate Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as your preferred charity to receive donations from Amazon. Click on the graphic at the bottom of this e-newsletter to get started. Also see the bottom of this page for links to information about using Goodsearch as your web search engine for the benefit of GPTS.