Reflection

Without Vision the People Perish

Milestones have always been a big deal to me.

What a stud, look at the hair!

What a stud, look at that hair!

From early on, it was ingrained in me to think ahead and dream about what could be possible. I always wanted to know what might be next, and what did I need to do now to prepare for then.  I still do. In those early years the dream consisted of playing left tackle for the Houston Oilers, then in high school I figured out my mind was sharper than my athletic prowess so I started dreaming back and forth from being a psychologist to a coach.

In college, my life was transformed as I finally understood the beauty of the gospel and my call to being a pastor soon followed after that. Through it all, I knew there was something more and in order to obtain it, I needed to dream and have a vision for what that “something more” could be.

This girl is something else

This girl is something else

In my young adult years I dreamed about where I wanted to be in life when I was 30. I remember distinctly praying that I would be at the foothills of whatever great work God would call me to. I was frustrated that this dream wasn’t coming to life as I was only halfway through seminary when I hit the 3o milestone. 35 was the next milestone and I longed to be a father and serve in an amazing church. I am grateful to say that I have gotten to check those boxes off big time. And now I dream about what 40 will be like for my family and I am praying that I will be able to live into that dream.

I don’t think I am unique in this, at least I hope I am not. We have dreams – both big and small – that we hope/long to see manifested in our lives.The scriptures speak to the need for people to have a vision consistently set before them that beckons them forward. Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV tells us “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Other translations help articulate this truth further:

  • NIV – “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”
  • NLT – “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.”
  • The Message – “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves”

All four of those word pictures seem to illustrate that we need to have a vision of something that is bigger than ourselves. We get lost when we aren’t looking at the horizon, hoping for something more. As believers, we need to keep a picture of Jesus and His good Kingdom work ever before us. Asking Him, how might He use me? What blessing could I be to another person? I know when I have a clear direction of what is possible, I am more invigorated to do the work to see that dream actualized.

As a church we are still dreaming.

Dreaming about what could happen if we all locked arms together to Connect Every Life to Jesus. This weekend we are going to be talking about the dream God has given us as a church. And my hope is that you dream with us! My prayer is that you will come into this weekends services with attentive hearts, seeking to see just how God might be calling you to participate in the dream He has given our church.

So let’s dream big and give our God our very best!

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Gospel, Not Gimmicks

The other day, I used the term “sharing the gospel” in a conversation, and my acquaintance stopped me. “I always hear that,“ he said, “but what does the term “gospel” actually mean”?

What, indeed, does the gospel mean? Literally “the good news”, you would think the essence of it would be part and parcel of the experience for anyone who attends church. Yet, in today’s churches, including many in our own backyard, it is possible to attend church for months without hearing the actual, full gospel, just as it is for an unbeliever to be friends with a Christian for years without the gospel ever being shared.

The gospel, as we know from Scripture, is this: Mankind is inherently sinful, and falls short of God’s perfect, holy standard (Romans 3:23). The cost of this rebellion and sinfulness is eternal punishment and death for all (Romans 6:23, Revelation 20:14-15). Yet while we were still sinners, God in his unsurpassed love sent his son Jesus, fully human and fully God, to pay the price demanded for our sins. Christ took the full wrath of God on himself for our sins, died, and rose, so that we may be dead to sin and raised to eternal life by repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Romans 5:6-11). In Christ alone may those who so repent and turn to Him be saved and given eternal life (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).

What is often shared instead, be it from the popular books of the day, in pulpits nationwide, or from our mouths, is a watered-down idea of the gospel. Often, the gospel is buried under a confused flurry of topics more to do with reassuring people how well we still fit in, vague references to living better lives, or insisting we aren’t here to pressure people into anything.

The gospel has never been about fitting in or being relevant. Still, today’s church has tried every gimmick in the book to do so, and still is perplexed why the outside world dismisses it and its message. It has tried embracing “marketing” the gospel to a target demographic. It has tried “keeping it positive”, to avoid being a “downer”. Some even try to fuse it with other religions and practices to “expand the appeal”. If it’s a man-made philosophy, there are Christians who will believe it’s a magic bullet that is going to powerfully convert people while gaining them acceptance and relevance at the same time. There are two particular issues with this. The first is that Colossians 2:8 states “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”. The second we seem to have forgotten is nothing reaches people as does the immense power of the direct gospel.

Understanding the gospel is not treating it as a mere way to “bring happiness” or “make this life better”. It is, at the very core, about understanding that the unregenerate life is an affront to God; that our sin is hateful to Him; that we weren’t “good” or “pretty good”, just looking to get a warm pat and a nudge up the ladder. The world wants a message that conforms to a positive self-image, instead of facing what’s really in their heart. People do not like to be told they’re not OK; they want affirmation, not rejection.

Yet rejection is what it means to be outside of Christ. It means that the unsaved will be judged fully for their sin and their rebellion against God. It means the full, righteous wrath of God upon their heads, just as Christ stated (Matthew 25:41). The gospel at its core isn’t about filling our life; it is about saving it. The gospel is about recognizing our own inability, our own helplessness, our own insufficiency, and crying out to Jesus to draw us to Him. It is about repenting before God—not just a momentary acknowledgment or as a contingency plan, but in true recognition of just how desperately we need salvation. We are not good people needing a supernatural life coach, or just a little extra encouragement. Christ did not come for good people looking for reassurance. He came for the utterly depraved and fallen, who needed every bit of the substitutionary atonement he suffered on the Cross.

Somewhere along the way, it seems we as Christians have lost confidence in the power of God’s Word. The New Testament reminds us the Word of God not only cuts, but cuts as “two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Nothing compares to God’s unfiltered Word in reaching sinful hearts. Yet, it is almost as if we have become ashamed of the full gospel, and concepts such as “sin”, “wrath”, and “atonement”. We want to somehow tell people how they’re basically good, while at the same time trying to explain to them they need salvation. So we moderate the gospel, perhaps leaving out original sin, or the need for Christ’s Lordship, or the exclusivity of Christ, or the need to turn from what God hates. Sometimes, we even try to make a Christ in our own image, instead of the true one we find in Scripture, putting words in His mouth that placate and validate our sin. We hope in doing this to create a sort of “gospel lite”, something more palatable, less confrontational, less demanding. This is not to say we should teach the law without grace, or salvation without compassion. But a man or a woman who has not heard how deeply sinful we are will not see the need for repentance or a savior.

The gift of salvation is not a nice add-on from our sovereign Lord; it is the most vital matter in the world. I am convinced if we understood, truly understood, just how utterly and fully we need Christ, our lives would be radically different. Our Christian walk wouldn’t be an afterthought, or molded to the culture, or made comfortable or expedient. We wouldn’t be content with living passively in the world, watching people blithely stagger towards eternal Hell. We wouldn’t distill the gospel to niceties, or embrace simply whatever is popular or pragmatic without considering if it is centered on God’s Word. We wouldn’t accept popular teachers who preach only a partial gospel, if any. Charles Spurgeon once preached, “Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies”. Do we have that attitude today, or do we harbor in the back of our mind an idea that somehow, things can still work out for someone eternally without Christ?

The gospel may not be what people want to hear, but it is what they need. It is going to offend, no matter how personally pleasant we strive to be. 1 Peter 2:4-8 states this in no uncertain terms, as does Galatians 5:11, and as Christ did in Matthew 24:10. To the unregenerate heart, the gospel is offensive, because that heart is at war with God. Yet we often reject messages of urgency as “fire and brimstone”, “irrelevant to today’s seeker”, or “insensitive”. We want a message of convenience, prosperity, comfort, and happiness. We are promised none of those things in this world in scripture. Yes, eternal victory has already been accomplished through Christ, but until He returns or calls us from this life, as slaves to Christ, we will have hardship (James 1:2-3). We will have struggles (Acts 14:22). We will have sorrows and pain (1 Peter 4:12-14). The Christian hope does not lie in this life, but in the glorious eternity beyond it.

In Peter’s first sermon after Pentecost, when he preached to the Jerusalem crowds how Christ had been crucified, it is said they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:36-37). That is what the gospel does. It pierces us, past the facade we’ve built up, past the mask we show to others. Recognizing our own sin, our own fallen nature, hurts. It is not fun, or convenient. It should break our hearts to consider the ramifications of the gospel, and it should torture us to think of sitting idly by while family, friends, and neighbors are dying in their sin. If it does not, and it does not have an impact on our lives, then we have to question how much we really trust what God’s Word promises.

There is no salvation without repentance. We cannot understand the heights and joys of grace until we understand the depth of our need for it. If we treat Christ as simply a pleasant moral addition to the American Dream, we aren’t just sharing a false gospel, but an impotent one. If we think the gospel is focused on feeling good and having a prosperous life, then we are ignorant of the truth. If we think the Crucifixion was just (and only just) an example of love, we have dismissed our need for a savior. If the gospel has not begun a change in us, or we do not know what the gospel means, we are still dead in sin.

Before any of us seek to abide more fully in Christ, we should make sure beyond a doubt that we do indeed abide in him. If you’re chalking up your salvation to a one-off moment you had when you were nine, and you’ve never really repented, surrender to Christ. If you think you’re a Christian simply because you go to church every Sunday, recognize that is not a path to salvation, and pray for repentance. Ask for forgiveness, and put your trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. He is not a Lord to be cast aside, used as a cosmic genie, or relegated to a secondary place in your life. Each of us has an eternity that hinges on our true trust and salvation in Christ. We don’t need gimmicks or to search for a novel way to spin God’s Word. We just need to understand, embrace, and share the one, true, timeless gospel.

-Zachary Houghton

A Father For All Time

With Father’s Day coming up Sunday, there’s no shortage of written and recorded material out there both celebrating fathers and encouraging better fatherhood across the board. Of course, this is fitting and proper; after all, the Bible has plenty to say about the importance of fathers!  Ephesians 6:1-2 speaks on the importance of honoring and obeying one’s parents, and verse 4 tasks fathers with bringing up their children in “discipline and instruction of the Lord”. That’s a big charge, and it’s fitting to have a day set aside to say thank you for all the fathers who are diligent in that great calling.

At the same time, we know that for many, Father’s Day doesn’t seem like a time for thankfulness or celebration. We live in a fallen world, one wracked with pain, sorrow, and fear. As a consequence of the Fall, we struggle with strife, selfishness, anger, and rebellion. That’s true in our daily lives, and it’s one of the reasons why God’s design for togetherness is so often defied or rejected.

As a result of this, there are many families that are fragmented. Some people have had to deal with fathers that were distant, abusive, or completely missing from their lives. Some are still dealing with hurts and betrayals of trust that we may only begin to imagine.

Psalm 68:5 tells us “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (ESV). No matter what struggles or letdowns we may have suffered from earthly fathers, we have a Father in heaven who has made it clear that he loves and cares for those who He calls His own. Even in our struggles, pain, and loneliness, we have a God who makes “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). As hard as that can be to see sometimes, we know that God “heals the brokenhearted” in perfect love (Psalm 147:3).

If you feel like you’re on the sidelines this Father’s Day, know you’re not alone. You have a heavenly Father who has seen all of your hurt, all of your sorrows, and one day will “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). Christ, in atoning for our sin on the Cross, has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house! (John 14:2). What a homecoming awaits those of us who have repented and have been drawn to Christ as our Lord and Savior! There, we have a Father who will  never disappoint, never leave, never forsake, never injure. We can look to Him always, in perfect joy and peace, knowing the hurts of this world are temporary, and that God is with his children always (Hebrews 13:5).

This Father’s Day, may you experience that same perfect joy and peace. People can hurt, families can disappoint, but God’s love for you as His child will never, ever end.

-Zachary Houghton

Who Has Ears To Hear…

I don’t know where you find yourself this week, but our study in James has been landing some spiritual haymakers on me as we work through this first chapter. The half-brother of Jesus is never more direct than when he is discussing the way the Christian’s life should look. As we continue in James chapter 1, we find inspired words on a topic that is of vital importance in the church.

James 1:19-20 states, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (ESV). It’s easy at first glance to simply conclude this is simply a verse about a certain basic morality, and of course, it is good advice. After all, don’t most people want individuals to listen to them, to be patient, to not lose their temper at the first provocation?

However, let’s go on to James 1:21, and see the deeper principle at work here: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (ESV).

Verse 21, along with the bracketing verses of 18 and 22, are important because they link these practices, particularly listening, to receiving the “implanted word”—that is, the Gospel. Thinking about this in my life, I have to own to many times sitting in the pew at church, catching myself thinking about something else entirely or assuming because they’re reading out of a certain book of the Bible that I know what’s going to be said. Even in church, it is immensely easy to let worldly distractions leak in and take away our focus on hearing the Word of God. When we’re talking about the divine Word of God, James tell us it should be received with “meekness”. This word implies a respectful humility and focus in the hearing of God’s Word, and affording it the full weightiness and consideration it deserves. In a world where every year seems to offer more distractions, this type of focus doubtless seems harder than ever before.

I remember as a teenager (in the days where cell phones still were essentially a two-man lift) sitting in church, doodling what were in all likelihood rather unsuitable doodles for that particular time and place. My Mom would elbow me and tell me to put it away, the same as she would if I brought something not church-related to read or mess with during the service. In the same way, we need to put away outside distractions and thoughts aside when we’re hearing the Word of God. Thinking back to my early 20s, when I seemed so far from following the Lord, this was one of the ways I shut out anything outside the self as much as possible. Not content with limiting God’s Word in my life to the occasional Sunday I did go to church, I further limited it to the odd syllable that might slip in between my daydreaming, messing with electronics, or whatever way in which I was determined to show my complete indifference to what was being preached.

Of course, that’s a (hopefully) extreme example. For many of us, focusing in on the hearing of God’s Word is something we intend to do, but our lives just have so much else, don’t they? Much of it can even be church-related. After all, besides finding a babysitter for Tuesday, there’s the Discipleship Group meeting after the service, then we have to drop off the neighbor kids before picking them up for their Sunday night small group, then make lasagna for Mom’s Group, find someone to help with our youth sports team, and then, of course, someone is going to have to share that picture on Facebook that urges everyone to pass it on to 10 “Angels” in their lives. And before long, distraction has taken out that important core of knowing God through His Scripture, and changed it into a social melee that is missing something vital.

The rest of the Bible does not mince words on the importance of listening to God’s Word any more than James does. In fact, it’s a veritable broadside of verses, each citing the absolute necessity of this hearing. Romans 10:17 states “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. The old favorite, Psalm 119:105, proclaims “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”. Matthew 4:4 speaks of living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Hebrews 2:1 warns “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it”. The references continue. It is clear regularly hearing and receiving God’s Word is a necessity in the church.

Perhaps the most urgent verse again on listening to the Word of God preached comes from Romans 10:14, which states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The Scripture simply does not leave any room for a vision of a church where the hearing of the Word is not of central importance.

We are indeed called to do life together, which includes a full dose of service and community, but not at the cost of focusing on God’s Word. What a sad thing it would be, to attend church and yet somehow miss out on the very thing we are to hide in each of our hearts! (Psalm 119:11). As busy as we are, we need that respite, that renewing of our minds and hearts by taking time to listen to God’s wonderful plans and promises. As brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s also something we need to ensure others in our church family have the opportunity to do, too. This isn’t just about ensuring we personally have the opportunity to listen and engage God’s Word, but in acting as a church family to ensure everyone among us has that opportunity. Galatians 5:13 reminds us that we are to “through love serve one another” (ESV). 1 Peter 4:10 speaks of using our gifts for the same reason. The Bible’s picture of the church is one in which the Word is heard and our brothers and sisters are served. Maybe it means staying for the later service and serving with the youth ministry, or volunteering to help with the actual service itself. The more helping hands that apply themselves to service, the more likely it is that someone will get to sit down, open themselves fully to God’s Word, and have that important, peaceful, convicting time hearing that message.

Whether it’s examining our own listening habits, or helping another have the time to hear expository preaching, James’ principle has a particular application for listening to the preaching from Scripture in our churches. In a humble, receptive, and thankful spirit, we are to receive God’s Word. The Bible is also clear we should be doing what we can do to serve and lift up others in our church, and one of the best ways to do that is to volunteer to give them that respite, that precious time to hear of God’s incredible promises. As a church family, each of us has an awesome responsibility and opportunity to hear and let be heard the word of God, and to let it “cut” (Hebrews 4:12) so very beautifully through all the distractions life throws in in our path.

-Zachary Houghton

Leaving A True Family Legacy

Everyone knows that family that seems to have it all. You’ve probably received their Christmas letter–the one that cites their 14 year-old’s early acceptance to Harvard, the casual mentioning of the husband’s work commissions really helping with that casual trip to Hawaii in February, and oh, did they mention the entire family is up for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Now, we shouldn’t be covetous of the success of others. Let’s be honest, though–it’s very easy to judge our families by these idealized images we see from others. At the same time, God has a higher definition of what blesses a family. The Bible constantly reminds us that while God can give us material blessings (expecting to use those for His kingdom), there are other signs of what makes a truly blessed home.

In Proverbs, we are given many glimpses into what makes a good home. Here’s a hint: It isn’t necessarily wealth! In fact, let’s make a quick list of some of the things Proverbs cites as more valuable than types of wealth:

-Wisdom (Proverbs 3:14, 8:11, 16:16)
-Knowledge (8:10)
-A Wife of Noble Character (31:10)
-Fear of the Lord (15:16)
-Honesty (19:22)
-Godly Integrity (19:1)
-A Good Reputation (22:1)
-Righteousness (16:8)
-Quietness (17:1, and the parents of preschoolers are nodding sagely)
-Wise Words (20:15)
-An Understanding Wife (19:14, and all the husbands are nodding sagely)
-Love (15:17)

How many families out there seem to have the entire world at their fingertips, but are an absolute mess when it comes to showing love to one another, dealing with crisis, or being good examples of Christlike lives for their children? It’s entirely possible that a family provide everything in terms of material goods for their children, but wholly miss nurturing their spiritual side. In other words, filet mignon might be on the table, but their soul is absolutely starved. Proverbs 19:13 gives us a picture of this dysfunctional family; a foolish son is “destruction to his father”, and a quarrelsome wife is “a continual dripping of rain”.

As we see, a solid family life doesn’t start with material wealth, it starts by ordering our houses after what God desires in our lives. Proverbs 24:27 describes this as doing our work to properly order our lives, so that then we may in turn “order our house”. If we do not build on a firm foundation, anything we build for our family simply cannot last. Yet if we build with a godly integrity, we are told that our children will be blessed after us (Prov. 20:7).

Many of us have either had relatives leave us possessions in their will, or have had to consider making out a will and testament of our own. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t always give us the newest cars or a trust fund, but he definitely gave us one immeasurable gift–the way to salvation, through the sacrifice and Resurrection of his only begotten Son. Our treasures in Christ are “stored up in heaven”, not on Earth (Matthew 6:20). We might end our lives here on Earth in modest means or in humble circumstances, but if we’ve had loved ones who have encouraged us in our walk with the Lord, if we’ve had strong role models who helped us grow into accepting the lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ, we are part of a far greater inheritance than any earthly wealth can grant.

It’s natural to want to leave a legacy for our loved ones. Not every family will be able to help their kids with college, or start them out in their marriage by helping with a new house, but regardless of income, they can give them time spent in God’s Word as a family. They can ensure that the Christian walk doesn’t end at noon on a Sunday, but that the family seeks after God all week and every day. They can make sure they are shown what Christian love and selflessness look like. They can be shown what a powerful, overarching faith in God can do, and how God can transform and heal even those families that seem broken or dysfunctional beyond repair. The biggest material fortune on earth given to our loved ones will last–at most–only a lifetime (Prov. 27:24). Yet as Christians, we have a Father who gives all of us a heavenly treasure that endures forever.

-Zachary Houghton

Questions

1) How are we investing in our family’s spiritual lives daily?

2) What sort of qualities does God want us to “hand down” to our families?

#714 Prayer | WEEK 6 | Obedience

We are now in the middle of week 6 of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on obedience. Obedience is a concept that most of our world wholeheartedly rejects. Somehow we have gotten to the place where the idea of someone telling you what to do has moved from being “good advice worth listening to,” to a grave injustice. How did we get here?

To thine own self be true (Shakespeare) has served as a motto that has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it allows us to get to a place of authenticity, when we tap into who we really are in Christ. It is a beautiful thing when we are awakened to see that God made us in a particular way and has called us to a particular mission.

On the other hand, it is a curse when we use this as a self-centered perspective to be our only compass to navigate the world. Instead of simply choosing to be obedient and love others, we rely on our feelings and emotions to dictate the terms for how we engage others. We get lost in a whirlwind of our own ego, and we rarely grow because our only teacher is ourselves. We get lost in this self-centered vortex where all of our conversations are laced with lines like: I think that… My feeling about the subject is…The impression I had was ….

We all need to take a refresher course on what it means to be obedient to God’s leadership over our lives. Obedience is a matter of character, pure and simple. We are obedient when our character has been forged by God’s gracious hand to see that his ways are better than our ways. We need to remember WHO it is we are putting our trust in: What is the nature of God’s character? Has he proven himself to be trustworthy? Is he good? When those simple questions are affirmed in our hearts, it increases our ability to be obedient to his will and his way.

A Story of Calling

One of the most essential things we learn on our discipleship journey is cultivating an ability to say “Yes” to God’s will for our lives. I remember when I received the call into my first ministry. I had just graduated from Texas A&M and I was considering my options for the future: seminary, youth ministry, things like that. Over this last summer at Texas A&M, I got connected with a college ministry that was doing some pretty amazing things. Relationships formed quickly there and I was asked to join their staff to be a college pastor. “Staff” usually means salary + benefits in most church contexts, but here it was a call to raise financial support from outside donors.

When I was asked to come on staff, I remember distinctly my heart singing “Yes,” while all the time my flesh was crying out even louder, “NOOOOOOOO.” My mind was flooded with a whole host of excuses for why this didn’t make any sense. Outside of having to raise support, I was sitting with a pretty substantial amount of credit card debt and this beautiful girl named Rebecca came into my life – I would surely run her off if she knew I was going to take a risk like this.

So I prayed, and prayed and prayed some more. One Sunday I sat in my room for 6 hours listening to Jason Upton (awesome worship leader) and wept before the Lord. Through this time, God kept telling me that this was the plan he had for me if I would submit and be obedient. He reminded me how he had led me to this point in my journey and reaffirmed that he would be with me every step of the way forward. I came to a place where I said, “Yes” to him and submitted to his will.

In the end, I served four years in that ministry and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. The process of being obedient and raising support was a refining furnace that solidified my calling and character. For four years, I lived on the kingly sum of roughly $11,000 a yearBALLER STATUS. Yet, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world, as it caused the fruit of the Spirit to flourish in my character. I learned to be patient, resilient and ever hopeful through this process. I got to see the world via missions trips and married the love of my life, Rebecca and even got out of debt!

I am reminded of our text that we are focusing on for obedience this week, it comes from Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-10. I personally appreciate how the NRSV renders this as it states,

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long…. Good and upright is the Lordtherefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”

God is the subject of the author’s prayer here. He doesn’t say “Bless my decisions, God” but rather teach me your truth, teach me your way. We need a fresh reminder that God’s heart and character are good. We need to be reminded or learn that his will is the best thing for our lives. Through the posture of submission, we can finally learn the blessings of obedience.

May God grant you the courage to say “Yes” to him in your life as well.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

Chapter 8: A Few Good Men…and Women

The Story doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing the behavior of God’s chosen people. While it’s sad to read how the Hebrews got off track so easily and so often, the truth is that I’m not much different from them. Chapter 8 recounts a 300-plus-year history of ancient Israel’s oscillation between obedience and disobedience. But the first sentence in the third paragraph of the chapter really struck me:

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”

After Joshua and his generation had all passed away, the next generation came along not knowing who God was nor what he had done for Israel. How could that be?

God’s instructions were clear: As long as Israel followed the laws and instructions they had received from God, they would experience God’s blessing. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t. It could not have been more simple.

But an important part of that responsibility was that the older generation was obligated to pass along to the next generation the history of what God had done for Israel. Parents and grandparents were commanded to recount the myriad stories of God’s faithfulness, along with instructing the children about the Law and how to obey it. Moses had stressed this in Deuteronomy 6:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

It’s difficult for 21st century Western Christians to appreciate what life must have been like for ancient Israel. The people had been led by two very strong leaders: Moses and Joshua. But with no one appointed to take Joshua’s place, the people were on their own. Ideally, the leaders in each tribe and each clan would have taken the responsibility of reminding their families about the Law and instructions. The priests also had an important role to play.

Obviously, “ideally” never happened for an entire generation. This wasn’t just a one-time failure to obey; this was epic, long-term, in-your-face disobedience. In simple terms, the older generation failed to guide the younger generation in the ways of the LORD God – failed to instruct them, failed to discipline them, failed to correct their errors.

The result? The kids didn’t know who God was, nor did they know the story into which they had been born. They were rootless and unconnected with their past and their culture. And when they looked around at their foreign neighbors with their foreign gods, they saw some pretty enticing things that seemed OK with them.

Each of us has had our periods of disobedience – some more than others. Most of us discover that things go better, on the whole, when we choose to obey. While each succeeding generation needs space to make its own mistakes, it also needs the wisdom from its elders, those who have traveled the path and who know the story and their part in it.

For the sake of your children and grandchildren, tell them your story and God’s story. Tell them about your mistakes, how you learned from them, and how you’ve grown as a result. Above all, demonstrate daily how God’s great grace helps us to forgive each other, makes allowance for our faults, and encourages us to strive toward obedience.

 

A fellow traveler along the Way,

Lew Middleton

The Oppressed in our Midst

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I spent the last week with Dan Crosley in Mexico, teaching at a Christian University on the subject of World Missions. We went there with the hope of imparting God’s heart for the world, that they would see just how capable they are to serve in this great gospel mission. We taught on various themes such as:  ‘The Bible and Mission’, ‘History of Missions’, ‘Contextualization of the Gospel’ and ‘Our Call to Embrace the “Other” in Society’. I am happy to report that the trip was a homerun! They left the week with a deeper understanding of how God can use them to bless the nations of the earth and a sense of responsibility toward His mission.

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I came to know many exceptional people on this trip. Men and women who would be successful at whatever they put their hands to, yet they have chosen to follow God’s calling on their life to serve in the local church. They laugh together, pray together, help one another and encourage one another. They also seem to possess a character of service and unity that is rare today. Where we might drag our feet to meet the needs of someone else, these folks consistently sought to include others and serve. I am excited about what God can do through this school and through these young pastors.

My eyes were also opened in a way that I had not anticipated.

God has a funny way of teaching you something about your home when you are out of the country. It is as if we have to literally get out of our cultural context to be able to see our home clearly. In the midst of these exceptional Mexican believers, my heart turned towards home, and I thought about the Hispanics that live throughout Hamilton County, in our very backyard.

I have lived most of my life in Texas, with a three year stint in California, so when I first flew into Indianapolis and visited our church, I was taken back by the number of white people around me. We had Just moved from a block in which Rebecca and I were the racial minority, so the lack of diversity in our neighborhood and churches seemed odd. But I shrugged it off and thought there just wasn’t that much ethnic diversity in Hamilton County. That was until the 4th of July when we decided to take our two dogs on a walk through Forest Park. Here I was awakened to the fact that there were in fact a number of Hispanics in our county, as the park was filled with Hispanic family after family enjoying their holiday with one another. I thought to myself, wow, we really are missing out on embracing this segment of our culture at WRCC.photo 3

But it wasn’t until I went to Mexico this past week that I saw just how desperate the need is to minister to this section of our culture. There is a great disparity between the freedom and joy these students exhibited and the way our local Hispanics suffer today. A large number of Hispanics within Hamilton County are forced to live in fear on the margins of society. They live week to week on next to nothing, all the while sending the majority of their income back home to places like Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. They live in fear of deportation, are isolated from their families (many of them go years at a time without seeing their family), and have little to no rights. It is a gross injustice that our society uses these people to build our homes, cook our food, and pick our fields and yet oppresses them into the margins of our society.

Some will say that because they are here illegally they shouldn’t have rights. But I ask you to save your political angst for another day. We are a nation made of immigrants and, unless we are Native American, would probably do well to keep our mouths shut.

Do we need to follow a rule of law? Sure. But there has to be a way to extend care to all people at all times, regardless of their nationality. As we see in Deuteronomy 24, God’s ways are to always exhibit care for those on the margins of society, regardless of where they are from.

Deut 24:17   You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.  18 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

Deut 24:19   When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

Deut 24:21   When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Israel was reminded in this passage that their freedom was not of their own doing; it was the greatness of God that set them apart from all other nations. When God rescued Israel from the Eqyptians, they were slaves – they were the outcasts, a forgotten people. And they were commanded to extend toward others the same generous grace that God had shown them.

We have a whole community of Hispanics in our backyard that deserve to be treated with dignity, love and goodness, not ostracized because of their differences. We can not sit in a place of privilege and think that we are better then anyone else. We too were once lost in the darkness of sin, and we were rescued from it by the goodness of our God. The ways of the Kingdom are radically different then the ways of the world. When we live our lives in submission to God, we say to others, “I am no better then you, You are no better than me” – we are all creations of God united by his blood and bonded through his peace.

In a community of Mexicans, I was able to see how much we grow when we live without fear and are surrounded by people who love us. These students were able to flourish in this environment and are free to live out their God-given calling.  I believe it is our turn to look at our Hispanic brothers and sisters not as strangers but as family.

Every Sunday, Dan Crosley leads a Hispanic service in the Chapel (back by the offices). I encourage you to head back there someday soon and hear their stories. I think you will come to see that the things that make us different dwindles in light of what draws us together.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Thursday Reflection: Chapter4: Deliverance

As I was reading Chapter 4 and reflecting on the Egyptians and Israelites many thoughts came to mind.  Thoughts of how incredibly stubborn and ruthless Pharaoh was when it came to the Israelites.  Pharaoh was a powerful man that could make final decisions.  Being rude and arrogant and just right down hateful to the Israelites because he didn’t know or respect their God was just evil.  The Egyptians forced the Israelites to do their work, not listening to their needs, and basically keeping them in daily oppression was harsh and unjustified.

Moses and Aaron took their message to Pharaoh, as directed by the Lord, to state the Israelites’ case.  What was the result?  More hard work and more oppression.  There are times when I feel hardships too.  At times things appear worse and I feel as if my nose is just above the water in a raging storm and I’m treading as fast as I can to get to the other side.  I think these “tough” times are the times I feel very close to the Lord.  He wants us to come to Him and depend on Him, trusting and obeying.   He has delivered me in so many areas and I have to trust and remember that He will continue to deliver me from difficult situations.

I am a good whiner.  I believe the Israelites were good at whining too.  Afterall, they whined to get bread, meat and water.  Duh, did they really think that the God who delivered them from the Egyptians was going to take them out to the dessert and not provide for them?   We thank Him for our meals each time we sit down to eat.  We lift up prayers for the things we need.  In the Lord’s prayer, we pray “Give us today the food we need”, and we know that God is going to provide our daily needs.  Why do we sometimes doubt?  Why do we second guess Him sometimes?  We can’t provide certain things, but, He can.   And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 2 Corinthians 8

I have to come clean, there are days when I am just like the Israelites, feeling sorry for myself because of something I think I need and God doesn’t provide it in my timing or at all.  I’m reminded in His Word, that he will generously provide all I need.

So today, let’s all thank Him.

Thank you Lord for all you do for us and for all our provisions.  Thank you for your good Word, for allowing it to be alive in our lives and how you walk with us throughout our days.  Help us to be reminded of how you are the mighty one and only “I AM” and our deliverer!

And all God’s children said: Amen!

Sherri Stetnish
Connection Director

Going Out Of My Way

A Way of Life is the second part of our discipleship process at WRCC, following The Journey. While The Journey opens your eyes to a fresher, more accurate way of looking at yourself and God, A Way of Life is a “deepening” experience. The course helps embed the character and heart of the Christian walk into our heart and mind. I am in the process of walking through the Way of Life material with a group of outstanding men, and it has challenged me in new ways.

One of these challenges is confronting the ways Jesus is not like me. For example, as I read about Jesus’ life, I am amazed at how comfortable he was in his identity. Even in situations when he was questioned, he responded with confidence rather than insecurity. In fact, John the Baptist (his cousin) – the one who proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) questioned Jesus’ entire identity (Matthew 11:2-3). But to this and to others, Jesus is undeterred and presses forward with the message and mission he has received from his Father.

The Way of Life material has a fascinating quote from sociologist James Davison Hunter’s book To Change The World that captures Jesus’ counterculture ways well:

Everything about his life, his teaching, and his death was a demonstration of a different kind of power – not just in relation to the spiritual realm and not just in relation to the ruling political authorities, but in the ordinary social dynamics of everyday life. It operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifested compassion concretely out of a calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith. In short, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom manifest the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend, restore and liberate. What follows is clear: as ones who accept his invitation into his kingdom, Christians must follow him.

  Hunter summarizes Jesus’ use of social power with four characteristics:

  • Jesus power is derivative rooted in intimacy and submission to the Father.
  • Jesus power is humble – rejecting the privileges of status and reputation.
  • Jesus power is compassionate – serving the good of all, not just the good of faith communities.
  • Jesus power is non-coercive – blessing rather than cursing the other.

At times, in life and ministry, I keep an improper perspective on how I meet the needs of those around me. I often see myself as blessing their life, as though my service is simply a gift that I can give or take away depending on my mood. At times, I will sigh and reluctantly serve someone else, not because I necessarily want to but because I don’t want to feel guilty if I don’t. It often feels like I am going out of my way to serve the needs of others. On my worst days I operate like my service is so incredible, and their need so unworthy, that they should see what an incredible gift I am to them. What a terrible way to live! I still have much to learn.

There is a way to the Kingdom that is completely different then my selfish perspective. I need to be more willing to simply come alongside someone with attentive care that acknowledges their infinite worth and demonstrates a love for them. Making space for others means that I am putting the needs of others first and looking for ways that I can specifically meet their needs. Going out of my way is actually the type of care that is foundational to the Kingdom. 

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 18:14

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor