December Newsletter Article

The sanctuary is decorated.  Christmas carols are on the stereo.  The Packers have their first win in a month.  God is on His throne!  And yet, in spite of all that, a sense of melancholy invades.  It has been a year of change.  Much good – some bad.  Many people endure this same sense of conflicting emotions around the holidays as they try to celebrate but never fully enter into the celebration.  What can help?

Well, we can recognize that life goes on.  If bad comes, so does good.  If sorrow comes, so does joy.  If pain comes, so does relief.  If it can get worse, it can also get better!  We need to heed the words of Solomon: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

We can also realize that we have hope.  Peter reminds us of all that we gain through our belief in Jesus Christ: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”

And finally, we can rejoice that we are not alone. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I truly hope that you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

November Newsletter Article

The day is almost here.  Tuesday, November 8th is the day we are called upon to go out and vote for our leaders.  The best (but not perfect) Bible verse concerning the importance of voting and the importance of who to vote for may be Deuteronomy 16:18:

You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.  You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.  Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

I say that it’s not perfect since there are some interpretive difficulties in taking a verse giving instructions for Israel when they are entering the promised land and applying it to our representative democracy today!  However, there are some other Bible verses that give us clear instruction regarding how we are to live as Christians regardless of the government we have.

  • We pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
  • We obey our leaders (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
  • But we always recognize that our greatest allegiance is to God, and He comes first (Acts 5:27-29).

In the midst of it all we believe that God is ultimately in control (Daniel 2:20-21), and that He can do as He wishes (Proverbs 2:11).  The issue becomes the difference between what God decrees and what God allows.  God says that certain things will happen and they do!  But other times He works in the midst of our decisions and our choices, because He can still accomplish His will.  Our responsibility then may go back to Deuteronomy 16:18, remembering that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34).”  Please make your decision on November 8th based on prayer, the Word, and a continual reliance upon God’s Spirit.

October Newsletter Article

Proverbs 16:9 “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (NASB).

A few weeks ago I gave a testimony at the 8am service instead of a sermon (August 14, 2016).  Although it wasn’t as eloquent as I’d normally like, it came out of the honest and forthright emotion of the moment.  It was the culmination of a long journey that I want to recount for you a little bit here.  Not the full story, since you can go and listen to that if you’d like, but a bit of the story that I think may be helpful and informative.

What do you do when you feel that God wants you to do something?  That was the dilemma that Valerie and I found ourselves in.  We both felt that it was God’s will to sell our house, and had been working toward that end for over a year.  Conversations with friends, real estate people, and even an appraiser confirmed what we felt: get it ready, put it on the market, and it probably wouldn’t last long.  So we did this past spring.  And we showed it a lot at the beginning.  And we waited.  And we waited.  And we waited.  Every other house that we’d sold had sold more quickly than this one!  We began to wonder whether or not we had misinterpreted what we’d felt, or put our desires and feelings in the place of God’s will.  And then we had another couple of showings, so we started looking for options again.  To make a long story short (too late!), Valerie ended up with a part-time job as a live in property manager of an apartment complex.  We felt that it was too good an opportunity to turn down, a God given opportunity at that, and we moved in on September 1st.  But that’s not the end of the story.  On the day that we signed our lease we received on offer on our house that we accepted.  We are currently waiting for the closing of our house on October 7th, but everything looks good so far.

So, what is the moral of this story?  Could you interpret it as God showing graciousness toward two stupid people?  Of course! But allow me to tell you my interpretation.  God was moving us in a direction, but we not only misinterpreted the timing, we often wondered if we had misunderstood the message.  However, if God had allowed our house to sell early, we wouldn’t be where we are now, and we may have jumped into a situation we weren’t ready for in our desperation for a place to live.  So that brings me to our Scripture passage.  We plan, we think, and we pray, but we recognize that it is God who is ultimately in control.  And if we are trying to please Him, He will lead us to where He wants us to be, even though that may not be where we thought we were going to end up!

August Newsletter Article

You may have read through the Gospel of John in the past and noticed that his story of Jesus is a little different. In contrast to the other Gospels, John takes Jesus all the way back—to the beginning of Creation! This startling introduction presents Jesus as part of the Godhead. In words reminiscent of the Creation story, John begins his book: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1). Word is from the Greek term logos, which means different things to different people. The Jews think of it as the power of God, for all God has to do is speak the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and there is light. The Greeks think of it as cosmic reason, the well-designed frame on which the universe is built. Jesus is both of these—the power of God, and the one whose signature is stamped on the universe. But John takes the term still further. Just as a word reveals a thought, Jesus is the expression of God, physically revealing the invisible, spiritual presence of God. Jesus is God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).

John also leaves out some things. Where are the parables?  What about Jesus’ birth, His baptism, temptation, the Last Supper? What about His agonizing prayer on the night of his arrest, or His ascension into the sky? John, probably written last of the four Gospels, does not repeat most of stories that may have been circulating for decades. Instead, he focuses on Jesus’ deity, using carefully selected miracles and teachings that propel this theme.

John focuses on seven “signs” whose purpose is to reveal “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).  John selected the signs he used with the apologetic purpose of creating intellectual (“that you may believe”) and spiritual (“that believing you may have life”) conviction about the Son of God.  But there is also great depth for believers in this Gospel as well. John reveals that Jesus used seven “I am” statements to describe His ministry, each revealing something else about His ministry and each rich with symbolism and meaning. If the action-packed Gospel of Mark was written for shorter attention spans, John has the opposite end of the spectrum in mind: people who enjoy peeling off layer upon layer of dramatic, insightful symbolism, and people who want nothing more than extensive, detailed teaching sessions led by the Master Teacher.

I hope that you will continue with us on this exciting journey as we look at the Gospel of John over these next few months!

July Newsletter Article

My hope is that my article this month will serve as a call to prayer — prayer for our nation, prayer for our leaders, and even prayer for our world.

As we gather to celebrate the birth of our nation, we would do well to remember what we have lost.  I, unlike some, do not believe that America was founded as a Christian nation.  I do, however, believe that America was founded on Christian principles and by men that had political ideals that were deeply informed by their Christian worldview.  How else can you explain Benjamin Franklin’s call to prayer on June 28, 1787 (as recorded by James Madison) which helped reinvigorate a stalled Constitutional Convention?

And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

The men at the Convention couldn’t help but be influenced by a Christian worldview.  Among the delegates were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists–Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin–this at a time when church membership entailed a sworn public confession of biblical faith.  They may not have had faith leading to salvation, but almost all thought biblically, which resulted in them forming a particular type of government.

  • The Founders understood that fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for their great experiment to succeed.
  • With a sober understanding of the fallenness of man, they devised a system of limited authority and checks and balances.
  • They did not establish Christianity–or any other faith–as the religion of our nation, but they structured a political climate that was encouraging to Christianity and accommodating to religion, rather than hostile to it.

Remembering all this, this is what I mourn: the loss of a Biblical literacy.  This is why I weep: the loss of religious liberty.  This is why I fear: there is no common underpinning or understanding of the human condition that brings us together so that we believe in “one God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

(I am deeply indebted to Greg Koukl and his article on the Founding Fathers.)

October’s Newsletter Article

Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.  You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.  You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams.  Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.  You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. (Psalm 74:12-17)

Psalm 74 is a lament where Asaph mourns the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. However, even in the midst of despair, he remembers certain aspects of God and His character, and trusts that God will prevail.

1) He remembers God as Creator.  He made the universe and everything in it.  He made this world, the creatures that inhabit it, the land, the sea, and the seasons.

2) He recognizes that God is Sovereign.  He is in charge of His creation.

3) He recognizes that God is Provider.  He takes care of His creation.

4) He recognizes that God is Savior.  He provides a way for His creation to be redeemed.

So, let me ask you some questions. How are you doing?  Has something significant happened in your life?  Are you struggling right now?  Do you sometimes wonder why God has let certain things happen to you?  Perhaps these reminders will help:

1) God made you.  You are a masterpiece (Psalm 139:13-16).

2) God can make good out of bad and show a purpose in all things (Romans 8:28).

3) God will take care of you (Matthew 6:25-34).

4) God loves you and has provided a way for you to be with Him for eternity (John 3:16).

My prayer is that God will use these words and His Scripture to help you to trust Him more, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in. May God bless you!

Discernment — March newsletter article

Discernment: the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently (Websters).

I found myself in a quandary the other day.  I have rediscovered vinyl (yes, it really does sound different!), so I am always on the lookout for cheap records.  Occasionally I find something that I used to listen to back in the 80’s, and it’s always fun to take a trip back in time, so I pick it up.  What I sometimes discover is that I’m a more discerning person now than I was back then (thanks to the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, and a little age), and that there are lots of messages in the songs that I just didn’t get or didn’t care about back then.  That’s actually good news though!  My problem is something different.  What do I do about it?

It may surprise you to know that I’m not even really thinking about the rampant sexuality that is often explicit in so much music out there.  I love harmony.  I like a lot of folk music.  But the messages often espouse philosophies that I don’t agree with.  Here’s an example from The Indigo Girls, who have beautiful harmonies, but their lyrics can be problematic:  “We go to the Bible, we go through the workout. We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout. There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.”  Of course, they are looking at life from a particular viewpoint based on their own lifestyle choices, so this doesn’t surprise me.  But the greater question is, once I recognize what the song is espousing, what should I do? Is it enough to know that the message is wrong when listening, or should I not listen to it anymore?

I have to admit that I have waffled back and forth on this issue in my life, particularly with music.  I may buy a record thinking “It’s not a big deal,” listen to it, and then get rid of it again!  That’s when I’m glad that I only paid $1 for it!  I end up disposing of the record because of an acronym that I learned when I was a computer science major: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).  The principle should be self-explanatory.  What goes in, comes out.  If it’s bad on the way in, it comes out bad.  If it’s good, you’re golden!  There are numerous Biblical passages that seem to say the same thing, but the best may be Philippians 4:8, and I’ll leave you with that…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

God’s Sovereignty — February newsletter article

Why did God allow the Packers to lose???

I’ll admit, it seems a little trite.  Perhaps it is a strange question, but maybe not so strange considering the reaction of so many Packer fans!  But it leads us to a larger question: why does God allow some things and not allow others?  I mean, if God is really sovereign, why doesn’t he…have the Packers win the Superbowl? (Or insert your favorite theological dilemma.  Many would say “end suffering.”)

There are various terms that people use to describe the will of God.  Some may say sovereign will, while others say ultimate will.  Some may say revealed rather than intentional.  Almost everyone uses permissive, even though we have to define what it means.  Some have more categories, some may have less.  Here is my understanding of the will of God:

1) God has a sovereign will.  There are some things that are going to happen.  God has decreed it.

2) God has a revealed will.  This is what we find in the Bible.  This is how he wants us to live.

3) God has a permissive will.  Now, don’t misunderstand this.  This doesn’t mean He gives tacit approval to everything that happens.  But He does allow things to happen – some good and some bad.  He allows us to make choices, and some of our choices break His heart.

What is amazing about God and His sovereignty is that somehow, in the midst of all of this mess, and our decisions to go against His revealed will, He works it all out to accomplish His ultimate purpose.  Oh sure, He gives a nudge here and there when He needs to (Exodus 4:21), but when you think of all the infinite possibilities that come from human beings making decisions on this earth, God is pretty incredible!

So, what about the Packers?  I suspect that God let the game play out.  It’s nice that Russell Wilson gave God the glory, but I’m not sure that God chose his team to win!  Win or lose, our testimony should be the same.  We serve an amazing and awesome God, and that God gives us guidance but He also lets us make both good and bad choices in this life.  In the midst of all that, He still accomplishes His will and His purpose on the earth, and that is truly breathtaking!

January Newsletter Article

Another new year….wow. Happy 2015!

I don’t know what is going on with you personally as we start a new year, but I do know what is going on in the world today.  We can very easily feel stressed out and like things are out of control.  I would like to suggest two things that should help.

First of all, commit to prayer.  Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  A part of prayer is simply casting our cares upon Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and it really does help!

Secondly, read God’s Word.  2 Peter 1:19 says, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  Scripture helps us to understand God, to follow God, and to be comforted by God.

I know that some of you have been following the reading plan in “Search the Scriptures” by Alan Stibbs.  This is the same reading plan that is in the bulletin every week.  The advantage of having the full book is that there are thought provoking questions for each day.  By following this plan you go through the Bible in three years.  Valerie and I are currently using this plan for our daily devotions, and I would encourage you to join us!  However, if you would like to try something a little more challenging, I would suggest the “Daily Walk Bible.”  It is one of my personal favorites because it includes an explanation of the passage for every day, as well as a devotional thought based on the reading.

We have a number of events coming up in the New Year.  The women’s ministry team is sponsoring a ladies movie night, we’re planning a special fellowship lunch, we will have our annual Superbowl party (Go Pack!), and we have a change in our Sunday morning Adult Bible Study.  Rather than having our Sunday evening Bible study through the dark and stormy winter month, I’ll be teaching on the Minor Prophets at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. I hope to see you there!