October Newsletter Article

Over the last several weeks we’ve seen the angel Gabriel at work delivering God’s message to His chosen servants, which is fitting because the term angel in the Greek actually means “messenger.”  Although we find Gabriel speaking to Zachariah, Mary, and Daniel it would be a mistake to simply think of angels as God’s messenger service!  They are also used to:

  • Carry out some of God’s judgments. They bring a plague upon Israel (2 Samuel 24:16–17), smite the leaders of the Assyrian army (2 Chronicles 32:21), strike King Herod dead because he did not give God glory (Acts 12:23), and pour out bowls of God’s wrath on the earth (Revelation 16:1).  John also records that an angel “seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit . . .” (Revelation 20:1–3).
  • Accompany Christ when He returns (Matthew 16:27, Luke 9:26, 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
  • Patrol the earth (Zechariah 1:10–11).
  • Carry out war against demonic forces (Daniel 10:13; Revelation 12:7–8).
  • Proclaim the return of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16, see also Revelation 18:1–2, 21, 19:17–18, and other passages).
  • Give glory to God. The seraphim continually praise God for his holiness (Isaiah 6:2–3), and so do the four living creatures (Revelation 4:8).

The author of Hebrews also reminds us that we should “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).  He is alluding to the fact that Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:1–3), Lot (Gen. 19:1, 2), Gideon (Judg. 6:11–24), and Manoah (Judg. 13:6–20) all entertained angels in the Old Testament.  I don’t believe that the main point of this passage is that angels are always running around and that we need to be on the lookout for them!  We really only see that happening a few times in the Old Testament.  The passage is emphasizing the hospitality and compassion that we should show to all people, and that we should treat everyone as though they are representatives of God.

We have a wonderful opportunity to do just that this fall.  Our church will be reviving a Northern Door tradition: the Community Thanksgiving Dinner!  You will be hearing more and more about this as we get closer to the event, and I assume that there will be opportunities for many to volunteer.  But even if you can’t volunteer for one reason or another, I would ask that you pray for the event, the volunteers, and the participants.  We don’t just want to have a meal together, but we want this to be a wonderful time of worship and thanksgiving as we show hospitality to those around us, and perhaps even “entertain angels unaware!”

July Newsletter Article

Summer is always a busy time at First Baptist, and this year is no exception!  We just had a marvelous Vacation Bible School, with an uptick in attendance from last year.  A very special thank you to everyone who participated.  Our special showing of “I Can Only Imagine” went well, and we have restarted our Sunday night Bible study time.  God is good!

I hope that everyone has enjoyed and appreciated the new padding and covering on the pews!  The trustees will be very busy this summer completing the following projects:

  • The nursery remodel will commence shortly. It will consist of enlarging the nursery, rewiring the electrical, installing new lights, replacing the ceiling, fixing the plumbing, laying new flooring, and building new cabinets and cupboards.
  • The ceiling in the food pantry will be fixed.
  • New carpeting will be installed in one of the children’s classrooms.
  • The floor in the main entrance will be leveled and the carpeting replaced.
  • The red accent carpeting on the platform in the sanctuary will be replaced.
  • The new shed for outdoor storage is in process and should be complete by September.

The first three Bridges events are in the books, and the season is going well.  However, I would also like to take this opportunity to make a plea for additional volunteers.  We need people who are willing to provide transportation to the events, and we still need additional help with the American connection program.  If you can help in any capacity please let the office know and we will connect you with the right person.

Finally, as we get ready to celebrate our cherished freedom as a country, we should not forget the freedom that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have been set free from sin, hell and death.  However, we shouldn’t take our salvation for granted, thinking that we can now do whatever we want.  Instead, we are to “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).  Happy 4th of July!

Newsletter Article for June

June is going to be a fun month! We welcome back old friends and meet new ones.  Bridges has already started.  Vacation Bible School will take place in a few weeks.  Our semi-annual business is June 3rd, we have two special missionary speakers coming, and at 6pm on June 17th we’ll have a special showing of “I Can Only Imagine.”  Are you excited yet?

In addition to all that, on June 24th we are going to restart our Sunday evening Bible study, but with a twist.  The study will be a continuation of the morning sermon, further exploring the themes and ideas that were presented, and looking at additional passages that have a bearing on the topic.  I’ll be making my notes and questions available for anyone who would like them, and the elders are hoping that this will encourage some sermon-based small groups to develop in the congregation.  If you are interested in having the materials, either for your own personal study or for the formation of a study group, just let me know.

Joshua 1:8 “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Newsletter Article for March/April

Pastors are often called for help when people are at their lowest.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life.  I suppose it’s why you develop armor.  You begin to feel that nothing will surprise you.  However, although the armor does protect, sometimes there are so many things battering against it that you end up dented and bruised, amazed at the circumstances around you.  That’s where I find myself now.

One of the constants in ministry is that people are sinful and will do selfish things.  Unfortunately, there are some events that are so sinful and selfish that you wonder how they could happen, especially when believers are involved.  How can someone apparently give no thought to the utter chaos they leave around them, only to do exactly what they want to do?

Where would we be if Jesus had been that way?  Instead…

“Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.  Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance.  He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

It is because of this sacrifice that we receive eternal and abundant life!  And, as a reward for His selflessness, He receives a particular kind of glory:

“This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names—so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

This glory is what we should give every day of our lives, every time we gather together for worship, and especially on Easter!  But there is another way we give God glory.  The reminder comes at the beginning of the passage.  Philippians 2:5 says: “Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”  We give God glory by being like Jesus Christ, and we are like Jesus Christ when we are willing to sacrifice for others.  So, this Easter, I would ask that you look at your life to determine where you are being selfish and sinful, and instead seek to be like the one who gave Himself for you.

January Newsletter Article

Happy New Year!

As we start 2018, I want to share two thoughts with you.

First, God’s standards are different than our standards, and we should live our lives according to His standards. Monday, January 22nd has been chosen as Sanctity of Human Life Day. I have taken the opportunity in the past to preach on topics such as abortion and euthanasia as a part of this national emphasis. Although I am not going to do that this year, I have two passages for you to consider:

Genesis 9:8 “…for God made man in his own image…”

Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Second, even while we praise God for the work we can do in our own communities and the freedoms we have, we should be praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who do not have those same freedoms. Valerie and I regularly donate to a ministry that helps Christians escape from difficult circumstances, and we were a small part of getting severely persecuted believers to the United States this past year. In particular, a man was reunited with his wife and children after years apart! I also received an email this past week regarding the persecution of Christians in India. As I understand it, India is composed of states, and several states have enacted laws concerning religious liberty over the years. This is the response of a pastor that is discussing a recent law change in his state:

“We can’t baptize anyone, if baptize, the provision of the bill 5 years jail and 500000 Indian Rupees ($7,825) fine…If a Hindu boy marry a Christian girl they force her to practice Hinduism…We can’t evangelize openly, yes it effects our work.”

It can be a difficult and dangerous world for God’s people – misunderstanding, persecution, danger, even death – but we are not left without hope. I leave you with the same passage that I finished with on Sunday – an important reminder that God continues to work in and through us as we wait for the return of our beloved Savior:

Philippians 1:6 “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

December Newsletter Article

Wow. December is here. Colder weather is on the way. Snow. Christmas! It’s hard to believe, but true. Time marches on, and we are one day closer to the return of our Lord and Savior.

This Christmas season we will once again be using the advent wreath to facilitate our celebration. I’m hopefully going to be able to tailor the book of Ruth to the major themes of advent: hope, love, joy, and peace. The working sermon titles are:

“Hope for the Hopeless” (Ruth 1:1-2:1)
“Sacrificial Love in Action” (Ruth 2:2-3:13)
“The Joy that Comes from Knowing our Redeemer” (Ruth 3:13-4:17)
“God’s Plan for our Peace” (Ruth 4:17-4:22)

Speaking of Christmas, have you thought about your devotional plan for the New Year? I’m sorry to say that my plan broke down last year and Valerie and I ended up doing something different. This year, however, I’m trying to engineer a plan that is simple and straightforward, and I’m going to ask you if you’d like to join me in it. Are you familiar with the “Youversion” Bible app? It’s available for free, and they not only have Bible reading plans, but they also allow you to group together for those plans. That means each day after the reading I can include my thoughts on the meaning of the passage, and others can comment as well. I thought that going through the New Testament in a year would be a good place to start.

If you’d like to join me, please download the app, and then let me know that you want to participate and make sure that I have your mobile phone number. In late December you’ll get an invite from me. Click on the link and then choose to open it with the “plan” portion of the app. You should then be a part of the plan! Each day you open the app, go to the plan, read for that day, and then have the opportunity to go to the comments section. I also believe that your phone will notify you whenever someone has posted a comment (assuming that you haven’t turned off the notifications!). I’m hoping that this will work similarly on tablets and will post a generic invite to the church Facebook page (make sure you like the page ahead of time). I guess that I’d better send the invites out before the final Sunday, so that we can work on the tech together if you have a problem!

Looking forward to a great season and a Merry Christmas. Hope to see you in church!

October Newsletter Article

Hopefully by now, if you live in Northern Door, you’ve received an invitation to our sermon series for October and November. I’m using Timothy Keller’s “The Reason for God” as my inspiration and we’re going to try to answer various questions that people have about Christianity. In addition to the sermon series some smaller group opportunities will be available on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings. These opportunities will give us the chance to talk about various topics by using a short video as a guide:

“Christians will be challenged to wrestle with their friends and neighbors’ hardest questions, and to engage those questions in ways that will spark an honest, enriching, and humbling dialogue. Capture a live and unscripted conversation between Timothy Keller and the six panelists discussing their objections to Christianity. This study will help small groups and individuals dig deeper into the objections of the Christian faith and to learn about both sides of the issues.”

The Sunday evening sessions will be held at church. Dave and Gretta Shepherd have graciously opened up their home on Monday nights, and Keith and Vivian Nienow have done the same for Tuesday. There is a sign-up sheet at the welcome desk for the studies. Even though you don’t necessarily have to sign up for Sunday nights, I would appreciate having a general idea of how many to expect!

Tuesday afternoons this fall ladies have a special opportunity for “Tea and Conversation” at Tea Thyme in Country Walk Shops. Stop in at 2 p.m. for fellowship and a time of guided conversation that is focused on a scripture verse. Valerie Billington, Karen Sundstrom, Pam Olsen, and Monica Koepsell will be leading the table discussions.

In September I had the opportunity to lead Sunday worship at Scandia Village. It was wonderful getting a chance to see several members of our congregation on a weekly basis again! Thank you Winnie Jackson for playing the piano, and a special thank you to those on the Compassion Team and others who do regular visits at the facility. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated!

Valerie and I will be away October 8th, and Rev. Ken Muck will be filling the pulpit that morning. Please give him a wonderful welcome!

September Newsletter Article

We live in an age of skepticism.  The society around us not only doesn’t understand Christianity, but is often antagonistic toward it.  Many believe that the Bible is filled with errors.  Some are offended because of the exclusive nature of Christianity.  Others are angry and confused by what they see as the moral requirements of Christianity.  Most wonder why the church and Christians seem to be such hypocrites.  A significant number are convinced that all paths lead to God, and wonder how anyone could believe in a God that wouldn’t let everyone into heaven.

For six weeks this fall we’ll try to engage our community with a series called “The Reason for God.”  We hope to have some promotional materials available soon!  In addition to the sermon series we’ll also have some additional weekly sessions that you can attend.  During these studies we’ll have an opportunity to watch a DVD with Timothy Keller engaging non-believers on a given topic, and then we’ll discuss it as a group.  These discussions are geared toward helping believers to better engage the culture around them.  The weekly sermons and sessions will be:

October 15      “Why should I believe the Bible?”

October 22      “Can’t all religions be right?”

October 29      “Why are there so many rules?”

November 5    “If God is good, why is there evil?”

November 12  “Why Are Christians hypocrites?”

November 19  “Shouldn’t everyone go to heaven?”

I hope that you are excited about the series!  Also, if anyone out there would like to host one of the small groups, please let me know.

August Newsletter Article

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Psalm 133

I have been in difficult situations in various churches, so I know the importance of this passage of Scripture. It‘s amazing how a few people can cause serious problems for a congregation! And, although I’ve experienced a variety of issues in pastoral ministry, I’ve discovered that it’s just as painful when a family member is going through a rough time.

My son Andrew is the youth pastor in an Evangelical Free church. By all accounts he’s doing very well, and is well liked by most of the congregation. However, that’s not the case with the senior pastor. Even though my son feels that that the senior pastor is being unjustly persecuted, the situation has become drastic enough that the elders are calling for a vote of confidence on July 30th to determine the future of his ministry at the church. To show their support, the entire staff has made this a vote of confidence on them as well. The vote may be over by the time you read this, and it looks like the staff has the support they need to weather the storm, but I would appreciate your continued prayers for them as I’m sure that there will continue to be problems for a while.

Now, having said all that, I am especially grateful to God for the season of ministry we are experiencing at First Baptist. Thank you for your support, and thank you for your continued work and outreach for the church. As we get ready for our August Fund Raiser, let’s make it a time of celebration and thanksgiving. Come out, enjoy some fellowship, eat some good food, and maybe even have a chance to dunk the pastor again this year!

March Newsletter Article

2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the Billington household.  Not only did Valerie chip her ankle and tear some ligaments, I’ve been dealing with the crud that’s going around and actually had to call in reinforcements this past Sunday (thank you Delmar and Gene!).  The crud has now officially taken root in my sinuses, so I’m on an antibiotic once again and hoping for the best.

Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with sinus issues for a long time.  For the past 25 years I’ve had trouble breathing, sinus pain, migraine headaches, and various assorted maladies associated with my problem.  I’ve seen specialists, had surgery, tried allergy shots, and I currently use a neti pot, aromatherapy, vitamins, and was about to try something entirely new until I saw some pictures of people who have developed argyria!  Up next is probably another CT scan and a visit with a new specialist.

Why the litany?  Just to whine?  No, it’s because of a passage like 2 Cor 12:9.  Most of the time I realize that there are people out there that are much worse off than I am, but I still wish my issues would go away.  And I don’t have the attitude that Paul expresses here.  It’s true that he does ask the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh” – that I can understand.  But essentially being thankful for the thing that is causing him pain?  That’s not so easy.  In fact, when you’re in pain (emotional or physical), it can be especially difficult to feel spiritual, or to engage in prayer, study, reflection and praise.  Is Paul simply talking about the “God help me” cry that comes to our lips in distress, or is there more to it than that?

I think the key is in understanding what the power of Christ is in this verse.  And it’s even more interesting that Christ’s power isn’t felt through healing.  It’s felt through acceptance.  It’s felt through faith.  It’s felt through grace.  Grace?  Grace in pain?  Yes.  Grace to accept.  Grace to believe.  Grace to persevere.  Grace to trust.  Grace to hope.  In a loving God.  In a brighter future.  In a better world.  Something that we would not desire, we would not long for, we would not need, if it weren’t for pain in this world.  So, it turns out I can be thankful for my pain, because it causes me not only to lean on God, but also to look forward to a different world and a brighter future.