Pastor J. Bruce Martin has been pastoring our congregation since 1997. He is a graduate of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. He has been married to Joanne for 40 years and has three children and three grandchildren. The below article was written by Pastor Martin and republished by permission from RPWitness.org.
A Godly Heritage by Bruce Martin
Christ’s honor was held before us throughout our lives, and His Word was taught to us as the rule for living that…
When asked where I grew up, my typical answer is “in America.” I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and lived in Barnet, Vt., and Oakdale, Ill., before starting school in Truth or Consequences, N.M. Fourth grade was split between Las Cruces and Albuquerque, N.M. The rest of my education prior to attending Geneva College and the RP Seminary took place in three Christian school systems in the Los Angeles area. Since then I have served as a pastor in Superior, Neb., Clay Center, Kan., and Ridgefield Park, N.J.
While there isn’t a house that I can return to as the family home, the constant throughout these years has been the wonderful heritage I received. As a preschooler I recall gently blowing sawdust away from the line Dad had scribed to guide the handsaw he was using. As a fifth grader I sat next to Mother during family worship to learn to sing alto, which made learning the men’s parts easy when my voice changed. In sixth grade Mother coached me in memorizing and reciting a humorous poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar for a school contest, and my best biology lessons occurred when I helped Dad butcher the chickens and rabbits we raised. All these lessons were an outgrowth of the spiritual heritage I received through my parents.
In morning and evening family worship we sang a psalm, read a chapter of Scripture, and prayed. Dad would ask one of us to start a verse of a psalm for us to sing before prayer at each meal. We typically sang psalms on the way to and from church, and on the Lord’s Day we worked on the catechism while washing and drying dishes. Christ’s honor was held before us throughout our lives, and His Word was taught to us as the rule for living that must never be trumped. The blessing of this heritage is that I do not remember any time of my life in which I was outside of Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, there was a day in fifth grade that I remember kneeling at my bed with great concern over my need for Christ and calling on the Lord to forgive my sins and to be my God. I was recalling an incident three years earlier when I had been playing with a friend from school. His sister had come to our house to get him to help with chores, and I had practically knocked over my siblings to rush to the door and tell my friend’s sister that he was not in our house. Now, I knew that I was a sinner because that’s what the Bible had taught me. I had learned Romans 3:23. But when I turned around after shutting the door my siblings said in unison, “You lied.” Immediately, the knowledge that I was a sinner became much more than an intellectual assent to Scripture. I wasn’t the good little fifth grader I imagined myself to be. I needed the forgiveness of Christ.
That year, I began reading through the Bible in a year for the first time. A friend joined me in this reading and we encouraged each other.
When I started college, math was my interest, but I switched majors before my sophomore year because I liked the physics professors better. But I did not find employment in a related field the summer after graduation. I had moved in with my sister’s family in Albuquerque, N.M., where there was hope of starting a Reformed Presbyterian Church, and I began looking there for work. In the meantime, I accompanied my sister’s family to a Christian Reformed Church.
After the evening service on Aug. 2, 1970, my sister’s family was invited to the home of another family from their church, and I tagged along. While the children amused themselves in another part of the house, I joined the adults for conversation in the living room. I was a wallflower that evening, with various notions going through my mind. At one point, the lady of the house turned to me and asked about my search for employment. After noting that I did not yet have a good lead on a job, I said: “If I were a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, I wouldn’t have any trouble finding work.” The conversation quickly turned away from me for the rest of the evening, and all I could think was, “Why did I say that?”
Years earlier, when Pastor Glenn McFarland heeded the call of God to serve in another locale, his parting words to me were that I should consider becoming a pastor. I’m pretty sure I hung my head at the time. But during the remainder of that evening in Albuquerque, I could not let the matter go unanswered. I was compelled to wrestle with God in His Word and came to the conclusion that He was calling me to pastoral ministry. In the space of about three or four hours, God completely changed the direction in which I was headed.
However, the start of the academic year was a month away and I had not yet applied to the seminary. In the providence of God, a national conference was being held that August, which gave me the opportunity to meet with both the seminary president, Dr. S. Bruce Willson, and with the Pacific Coast Presbytery. I was taken under the care of the presbytery as a theological student and admitted to the RP Seminary.
“You will read through the Bible this quarter.” That is the first thing Dr. Clark Copeland said to us after his opening prayer in my first seminary class. The first term for the RP Seminary is from Labor Day to the week before Thanksgiving. That became a standard assignment for each term in those seminary years. Years later, I was in a class taught by Dr. Joel Nederhood, in which he told us pastors to read the Bible for half an hour daily. I have since made it my practice to read the entire Bible every four months. After all, God’s Word is “the only infallible rule for faith and life,” as we confess in becoming communicant members of the church.
During my seminary years, I began to do more research in the library—and only some of it involved books! Most of it involved the librarian, JoAnne Luther. JoAnne did not want to become both a wife and a pastor’s wife at the same time, so we had our Martin-Luther wedding in the North Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.) Church on the Saturday following the first term of my senior year. My father assisted Pastor James Carson in officiating at the wedding. Just over a year later, on Jan. 31, 1974, my father led the prayer ordaining me to the gospel ministry and installing me in my first pastorate at the Superior-Beulah Church in Superior, Neb.
In recent years, I have come to appreciate the heritage I received from childhood. I admit that sometimes I would see some of my boyhood friends with things I envied, and I would wish I were in a different family. But then the Lord would bring to mind the good heritage I had received, and I could go back to being satisfied that He had placed me in this family.
When Mother entered the presence of our heavenly Father, we held a memorial service to rejoice before the Lord for the wonderful blessing she had received. Seven months later, we gathered again when Dad entered God’s presence. We miss them, but we have received a wonderful heritage through them—far beyond the things I have mentioned here.
On a hot June day, we gathered at the cemetery for the internment service. Just as we started the brief service the heavens opened up with lightning, thunder, and a heavy downpour. We continued, though, with the forceful reminder that God was there—just the way Dad and Mother would have enjoyed it! The storm abruptly stopped after the “amen,” and we were reminded of Dad telling us about his trip to California for his mother’s funeral. Looking down from the plane’s window he had seen a rainbow completely encircling the plane’s shadow in the shape of a cross: two signs of God’s covenants had comforted him.
Some of the hobbies I had since childhood have stuck with me. I now enjoy writing, as well as memorizing and reciting poetry, especially humorous poetry. Woodworking is another joy I have in life, though I use power tools more than the old hand-powered ones I watched Dad use. But the psalms are a special passion I have inherited. My brother and I spend many hours sharing insights we have received from this book of praises. It instructs us as we praise our God, and by it we instruct one another.
I am humbled by the heritage my siblings and I have received from the Lord. We continue to seek to pass it on to our descendants. Not all recognize it for what it is or receive it with joy—but some do, and that is an incredible mercy from the Lord.