By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
You’ve probably noticed the rules in our nation are changing and changing fast. Boy’s restrooms are no longer just for boys. Girl’s sports teams are no longer just for girls. It seems the rules to enter the United States have nearly disappeared. The fundamental rule of marriage being between a man and a woman has been thrown out the window by our government and several denominations. The foundational right to life has been tossed out the window with the government supporting and funding the killing of the unborn. Even though the Covid vaccines are showing far less effectiveness than natural antibodies, the Biden administration wants rules to mandate it. These rules will certainly continue changing on a daily basis.
Some rules you probably like and some rules you probably hate. As Christians we are to uphold rules that promote godliness and justice. We want rules to deter evil and encourage good. (Rom. 13, 1 Peter 2:13-14)
Personally, I'm experiencing a bit of a conflict within as we set aside the RCA rulebook. You may have heard of the BCO, otherwise known as the Book of Church Order or the Orange Book. Years back we actually handed each consistory member a small orange binder with the BCO in it. I still have mine. In recent years, we simply sent people to the RCA website to find the digital version. This 180 page book is revised every year as the RCA seeks to maintain rules for the church and denomination. I've mostly hated this book over the past 20 years of ministry. It's tedious, boring, and difficult to navigate. However, it does give some direction on how we are to do church.
As of January 1, 2022, we will no longer be held to using the little orange book. [To some degree we are done with it now as our release was approved on Nov. 2.] I mostly rejoice in this, but as we've been navigating all kinds of little decisions, I wonder what we will do without its guidance. What categories of membership will we now use? How shall we define the roles of elders, deacons, and ministers? What will we do with regard to liturgy for installation services and communion? What’s our relationship with the other local churches?
The rule book is gone.
Now, we don't have to throw out the BCO altogether. We certainly can continue to use it. However, we are not required to use it as part of our new denomination, the Alliance of Reformed Churches.
ARC is working on some direction for how our churches can best work together, but in a recent zoom call, the ARC leadership communicated their desire to reduce complexity, control, and cost. They plan to give us best practices, but not to mandate and control how we do ministry in our local environment. This brings some excitement in being able to create something new, yet it also brings a great deal of uncertainty as we try to develop a new structure.
Personally, I'm excited to work with the area churches as we figure this out together. (Bethel Brandon, First Waupun, Emmanuel Waupun, and River Rock in Sheboygan will all be part of our local “Hub.” I am hopeful that Trinity will be joining us before long. Others may follow.) I believe all are ready to create a more unified network of churches that reaches this community together. That's exciting!
The best news is that we do still have a rulebook. All along those who are Reformed have said, "the Bible is our only rule for faith and life.” Too often it seemed that the BCO had become our only rule for faith and life. But, now, we must look to scripture alone for direction instead of continually fretting over what our denomination requires. This is an exciting place to be as we now carry the full responsibility of reading, understanding, and applying God’s Word in our church.
Join me in praying as we move forward together.
Lord, help us move forward with peace and patience. Guide us as we seek to make decisions that honor you and uphold your Word. Guide us by your mighty right hand and breathe new life into our hearts. Bring unity among our churches and enable us to have a greater impact on our communities than ever before. Amen.
By Adrea Daane
This past Wednesday the Bible classes were challenged to bring a friend along for the night. Every week, I go around to all the classes, saying "hi", collecting offering, and giving any necessary announcements. This week however, was more fun than usual. As I traveled from room to room I was met with extra excitement and along with that a lot of new faces! I loved hearing the kids introduce their friends and hear how much fun they were having together. I heard visitors reciting our weekly memory verse, kids participating in games, and others answering questions and joining discussions. What this one week challenge started, I hope continues for some of these kids or other friends they may decide to bring throughout the rest of this year.
As a church we strive to equip our kids to reach out to others around them in their faith and Wednesday night was such a great example of that. Seeing the kids enjoying themselves and bringing Jesus into the middle of it...what is better than that! But it doesn't end there.
The kids yet again, amazed me. Wednesday night reminded me just how much we are blessed with so many kids in this church who truly love God and aren't afraid to share it. Next week Thursday is Bring your Bible to School Day. I went around with posters and informational cards for the kids to put on their lockers and share with friends. I ran out before I got to all the rooms as so many of them were excited to hang a poster on their lockers and encourage their peers to join them in this event. Just another way our kids are excited to share and stand up for their faith.
Finally, a group of students from Rock River Intermediate have decided to keep on going with the Wednesday morning prayer time before school. What started as a See You At the Pole event on the 22nd of September has turned into a passion to continue to invite and encourage friends to pray on a weekly basis at our schools.
Where any of this goes...inviting friends to attend classes here, praying in our schools, or encouraging kids to read and share God's word... I'm so excited to see! God is working in the hearts of these kids and I couldn't be more proud of them!
Keep shining your light for Jesus!
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
The world is in chaos. The botched evacuation of Afghanistan continued to dishearten nearly everyone. Covid mandates continue to stir division and confusion. Gender identity issues continue to divide our communities. Critical Race Theory continues to cause frustration and concern. I could go on about immigration policies, national debt, unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, and more. Our nation and world are a mess!
On top of these issues you have your own household chaos… school starting, sports commitments, illnesses, family conflict, child rebellion, job tension, increased expenses…
So, how will you keep your head screwed on through all of this? What will keep you grounded? What will calm your heart when more chaos strikes? How will you not lose your mind?
And the Church gave the “Sunday school answer:” JESUS!
Yep, you’re all right, but what does that simple answer mean for tomorrow and the next day and the rest of this fall? Is periodic church attendance sufficient? Will dropping kids off at Bible Class be sufficient
Jesus must permeate your entire life.
Did you really hear that? Jesus must permeate your entire life.
Let’s consider three major areas of life… your personal devotions, your family devotions, and your church involvement.
Now, remember permeating our life is very much a work of God. He gives the Spirit to believers (Eph. 1:13). He empowers believers for ministry (Acts 13:52). He fills believers with wisdom and understanding (Deut. 34:9). God does this work!
We can either welcome this work of God or quench it (1 Thess. 5:19). Welcoming the Spirit’s work in us is often referred to as being “in Christ,” “abiding in Christ,” and “obeying Christ.” This leads to a long list of “shoulds” which quickly overwhelms us and can lead to apathy and hopelessness. Remember, the whole point here is not to lose your mind. This is how you stay clear-minded and healthy. So give these habits shot this fall! Yes, I’m suggesting all of them. Implement them all this fall:-)
1. Personal devotions: Your personal time with God is absolutely essential. Dietrich Bonhoeffer mandated this of his students. For them it was meditating on the same passage of scripture for a week, seeking to understand what God was telling them personally. No other books were to be used in this study. You can read a devotional, write in a journal, study a commentary, or simply read the Bible. No matter when or how you do it, spend time alone with God!
2. Family devotions: This may be new for your family, but it’s essential, and if you baptized your child, you promised to disciple your child. You made a vow in front of the church to teach your kids about Jesus, to pray for them, and to teach them to pray. It won’t get any easier to start tomorrow, so start today. Yes, you will get some tough questions like a recent one at our table… Is time eternal? You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can give them Jesus. Here are some ideas for time with your kids…
a. Read an age appropriate Bible. Adrea has several options in her office and they are awesome, or just use an app like the Youversion or the Kids Bible App.
b. Read a fun, practical devotional like “Don’t Forget to Flush.” (Our teenagers even found this humorous, although it was not always relevant for them. :-)
c. Read a deeply challenging book like “The Insanity of God” or "Jesus Freaks.”
d. Dad… not sure about doing this? Then read “Family Shepherd” and you will have a clear picture of God’s call for you and your family.
3. Church involvement: The relationships in the church should give you support and purpose. This goes beyond regular Sunday morning worship. That is only part of the food put before you. It’s like having a 5-course meal and only eating the salad. Each course (spiritual habit) is part of the Christian life and will keep you healthy, so eat up…
a. Worship every week: First, make Sunday morning a priority and come with a heart ready to worship, hear God’s Word and give generously to God’s work.
b. Serve: This is a great way to find real purpose and meaning in life. Teach some kids, serve some coffee, greet some visitors, lead some singing, paint a room… you’ll be surprised at the joy you receive in serving.
c. Grow: Join a Sunday school class, a small group, Golden Lifers, the women’s ministry, or teach a class yourself.
d. Reach out: Outreach to the community is often hard, but we have some great connection with One Waupun, food banks and REACH which give great opportunities.
e. Connect: Yes, fellowship is important and life giving. May be come early, plan to stay late after church, invite someone over for dinner, or visit a shut-in.
The possibilities are endless, but you don’t have to do everything. However, you should be eating from each of the 5 plates. Call the office for opportunities.
So, now, as I stated you are probably overwhelmed with the list of “shoulds.” Take a moment and consider what you have done this past month. Have you spent any time personally in prayer or reading the Bible? Have you sought to teach your kids about some good or bad choices? Have you met with other believers? Don’t beat yourself up, but let’s raise the bar and be more intentional about welcoming the work of God in our lives so we can face the chaos with joy and peace.
May you be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9), with all joy and peace (Acts 13:52), and with great boldness (Acts 4:31). AMEN.
By Kevin Van Wyk
At hole 6 of the men’s ministry golf outing, the men had to decide which club they would use for the entire hole. Some wrestled and debated for quite awhile before coming to a decision. While they fretted over that, I gave them a little Bible challenge before moving on.
One team, unknowingly, picked the two hardest questions first and missed them both, so I suggested a mandatory 2-hour Bible study after dinner if they missed the third question. Unfortunately, ;-) they got it right and made do with Doug’s devotional after dinner, which was some great stuff.
The Good News is that I did not have to remove any elders from the consistory due to a lack of Bible knowledge during the Bible Trivia portion of the men’s golf outing! The elders, actually, did very well and helped several teams easily pass the challenge by answering two of the three questions correctly to earn a 1 stroke advantage.
What does this have to do with tough decisions? It’s the why question… Why throw Bible trivia into a golf outing? It’s not to make them feel dumb or inadequate. It’s not to give them a break under a cool oak tree. No, we simply want you to know that the Bible matters. It matters far more than how well you hit a golf ball (which is a relief for many of us). It matters far more than how much you know about your profession. And it matters far more than how much you have in the bank.
Knowing and understanding the Bible is the foundation of faith, and it’s the foundation from which you can make good, godly decisions.
In Deuteronomy 1:13, Moses instructs the people to “Choose some wise, understanding, and respected men” to help lead. Take a look at these three key words…
“Wise” means that one is able to take knowledge and then make good ethical or godly decisions.
“Understanding” has a similar meaning with an emphasis on having knowledge and intelligence, but it, too, includes the idea of being discerning.
“Respected” may be translated as “known men” or “knowledgable men.” The NASB has “informed” while most others go more towards “known” or “respected.”
My point, and Moses’s point I believe, is that knowledge matters for decision-makers in the church. The knowledge Moses is concerned with is certainly the contents of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. While they did not all have copies to carry around, they did memorize the stories and the laws. “Wise, understanding, and respected leaders” knew these stories inside and out. They could tell these stories for hours and then explain the significance. That’s the kind of leaders Moses was looking for.
Let me give you some practical application:
May the Lord guide you and lead you to do what is good and right. May His hand nudge you and hold you tight. May He soften your heart to hear His voice and obey His call. Amen
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Transitions are everywhere…
The consistory voted this month to send our formal request to transfer from the RCA to ARC (www.arc21.org). The Classis Servant Team (Executive Committee) has received it and is in process of creating a team to make a recommendation to the classis, which will likely vote on it on Nov. 2, 2021. This team will first meet with the consistory and then the congregation.
Annice moved to Prairie Ridge.
Sharon moved to the Christian Home.
Jerry and Dorothy moved to Wisconsin Rapids.
Al has transitioned to a large cast on his ankle.
Jason transitioned to a new job.
Others have finished school and are starting full-time work.
Others are adjusting to a baby in the house.
Others are adjusting to chemo or physical therapy.
We’re all transitioning to a post-mask world.
Some of these transitions are exciting and positive. We welcome the change.
However, some of these transitions are hard and frustrating. It’s these transitions, I want to speak to.
As Jesus prepared the disciples for life without his physical presence, he specifically called Peter to “feed my sheep” and even as he navigates a life where “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18 ESV), he is simply instructed to “follow me.” (John 21:19) While this passage speaks to Peter’s future death on the cross, the certain implication of “stretching out one’s hands”, there is a message for all of us.
As we navigate difficult transitions, Jesus calls us to follow him. In practical terms that means two things to me, if I can steal from the infamous hymn… trust and obey.
Following Jesus starts with the foundation of trusting him regardless of the situation. With our denominational change, I have several questions about how they will handle retirement, health insurance, and church-pastor conflicts. I, along with others, am asking the questions and giving some input, but ultimately we trust that God will take care of the details and lead us forward.
Following Jesus also means obeying his commands; to do what he would do and ultimately be like him. Doug and I will be hitting some of those key commands in the coming weeks. Consider two now…
So, I urge you in the midst of difficult transitions to trust and obey. He will carry you through.
Lord, Help us trust you when we are uncertain about the future. When fears and worries creep into our lives, speak peace and hope into our hearts that we might lean on you and know your love. Help us then to walk in humility and love, so that others may see the power of your love in us. Amen.
By Kevin Van Wyk
Welcome back competitive sports season! We’ve been restricted for a long time, and clearly many are thrilled to get out and watch or play ball, and soccer, and tennis, and golf… Overwhelmingly, there seems to be a joyful spirit at the baseball fields. We’re just grateful to be among friends and family. While I’ve not made it out a lot, it seems there is a bit less competitive anxiety right now, but I don’t see that lasting.
As the season moves forward, the stress rises. Expectations begin to swell and hopes of a trophy begin to gleam in our eyes. Our ability to overlook the bad call at home or the blunder at first base gets harder and harder.
I remember the parents of Ian’s 10U travel team being so frustrated with kids crying during the game. Tears from striking out. Tears from bobbling a ball in the field. These kids really wanted to win... or maybe they just felt the parent’s desire to win. Either way, they could not handle it and emotions too often undermined their efforts.
I remember losing it myself and shouting some obscenity during a tennis match. I was so frustrated with my own play; it was burning me up inside and eventually erupted over the court and spewed on to my opponents. The sad thing was it's not like I was playing a varsity match for the high school. It was doubles with my parents and brother. We were out there purely to have fun, but it became way too important for me to win.
Paul challenged Titus to teach the people of Crete to be self-controlled. Five times, Paul calls believers to control themselves, to not let their emotions lead them to sin. This is so much more difficult than we tend to realize, but it is also essential to our witness.
Paul urged the church in Colosse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” (Col. 3:23). So, our heart and emotions should be involved in leading us to do good and that means rejoicing even in suffering.
I’ve seen this particularly in one coach from our church who keeps smiling and encouraging his players. He broke the tension and stress with joy and peace. We need more of this in baseball and all of life.
When it comes to big league baseball, Ian recently introduced me to one guy who knows how to have fun with the game. Adrian Beltre is known for making the game fun. Whether it’s putting his helmet on backwards, going into other’s territory and pretending to catch the ball, or some goofy base running, he makes it fun. You might enjoy watching some highlights. www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nai3gTvVUI
I don’t know where Adrian stands regarding Jesus, but he certainly challenges me to take a more light-hearted view on sports and to enjoy the moment more. I’m sure some are critical of his behavior and a high school ball player would probably get benched for messing around if he acted this way, but there is a lesson for all of us in this.
So, here’s my prayer as we head to the ball diamond, may “grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (1 Peter 1:2) May we be filled with the Spirit of God that grace, peace and joy flow from our hearts into our words and actions.
PRACTICAL ACTION: I urge you to saturate your mind with God’s Word this summer. Re-read Titus. Dig into 1 Peter and 2 Peter as Doug teaches on those letters and read through the letter from John as I will hit those this summer. Let God’s word renew your spirit.
By Pastor Doug Shotsky
Ephesians 4:14-19 - 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
There’s no doubt that it’s perfect timing that God has led pastor Kevin to preach a sermon on Thriving in Babylon, and to lead a study on a similar topic on Sunday nights with the book We Will Not be Silenced. Certainly we are still afforded many freedoms in our country that those living in Babylon were not, but we are seeing a secular culture that is being more and more antagonistic towards biblical truth.
It’s tough to know when to stand up for truth, what to say when we do stand up, and how to say what we say. As the scripture above mentions, “speaking the truth in love”, so many of us struggle to know how to do this. We must speak the truth. We must do it in love. But, even when we do so we must also recognize that God’s truth often isn’t received well, and in fact will be considered offensive. Certainly we’re not out to be antagonistic or offensive, but I’m learning that God’s word is offensive to those who choose to reject it.
I want to share something about my recent experience at the local school board meeting that was a little mind-boggling to me. The board was allowing the public to speak on the subject of allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as, not their biological sex. As I spoke I mentioned that I believe God created individuals male and female and that it is He who determines our gender, not us.
The response to me simply stating this, was that I was “weaponizing the bible”, am “homophobic”, and was “spewing hatred”. Unbelievable! It was interesting to me how hateful the response comments were that were calling me hateful. I’m not surprised by this, and I don’t take it personally, and I am challenged more and more to pray for and love those who are in opposition to God’s Word. The scriptures we read above mention the hardness of people’s hearts that leads them to being given over to sensuality and impurity, so I pray that God will open their eyes to the deception they are living in and consider the eternal consequences of rejecting God through their behavior.
Please join me in praying that we will remain strong in the face of opposition, that God will help us to love those opposed to us, and that God will reveal the truth to those who are deceived.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
We have two cats that live mostly outside, but lately they’ve not wanted to go out much. So, if we are leaving or going to bed, we occasionally have a good chase through the living room. Once they are caught, you must be prepared for the claws to come out. Maybe they are afraid, but mostly I think they want what they want.
Dogs, on the other hand, tend to bite while they are playing or threatened. Growing up, my family’s mixed mutt, Euler, did just that. He was pretty harmless, as he was not much bigger than our cats, but he loved to play tug-a-war and nip at you in play. I remember a few times when he would bare his teeth and growl. He was threatened and not happy.
We are not much different. When I feel threatened, afraid, denied, questioned, or disrespected, my fight or flight responses flare up. I either want to retaliate and hurt the one who hurt me, or I want to walk away. I am learning to be “slow to anger” (Jame 1:19) and to take time to pray before responding.
Part of the challenge we all face is the heightened animosity in our culture. If you can step back from your political positions for a moment and really listen to what is being said on the news and social media, you’ll see the hostility boiling up from all sides. Some are able to disengage from all this and surround themselves with like-minded folks, but even then the conversation seems to slide into a disheartened attack of others.
Our nation is polarized. Our state is antagonistic. Our community is divided. And James says to us…
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:1-2 ESV)
Ouch! James not only bluntly confronts us on our self-seeking motives, but our lack of prayer. Oh Lord, forgive me for seeking what I want and not seeking Your will in prayer.
After this scathing rebuke, James confronts another issue…
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
James does not want us to abandon Godly convictions and simply acquiesce to the cultures immoral views. We need a backbone and heart. The challenge is how to be in the world, but not of the world.
• When should believers stand their ground?
• Are there issues we need to let go of?
• Are there issues we need to confront more aggressively?
This is the tension I plan to address in a series after Easter. Join me for…
• “Living in Babylon: How to thrive in an anti-christian culture” Sunday mornings, April 11-May 2.
• “We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding with Courage to Our Culture's Assault on Christianity” A book discussion on Sundays @ 6:30PM. April 18 (Chap. 1-4), 25 (Chap. 5-7) & May 2 (Chap. 8-10) See below on getting a book.
Lord, help us navigate the tension in our culture. Give us wisdom to know what is right and the grace to walk with others who disagree. Helps us to be slow to anger and willing to listen carefully. As well, help us to be courageous in standing for truth.
OPTIONS TO READ THE BOOK
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
There is so much uncertainty swirling about our world it’s very hard to not get anxious, frustrated, and angry. Whether I look at our nation, our denomination, our church, or my own life, I really wish I had more answers.
There were several questions regarding ARC, our classis, and our church in the voting results from Sunday. I can answer some…
Other questions are more difficult. A handful of questions were about the other RCA churches in our area.
I don’t really know with any certainty what they may do. I recently found out that one church is much closer to leaving than I thought, and another is much further from leaving than I thought. My guess is that all the churches wish they knew better what they are going to do or should do.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible addresses these uncertain times… In Matthew 14:22-36, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side.” They make it a ”considerable distance from land,” so it’s not worth going back. However the wind is against them and the waves are slamming into the boat. Maybe they were rowing, maybe they gave up. Uncertainty about their future must have been circling around their heads.
In the midst of their questioning, Jesus comes to them walking on the water and says, “take courage!” After the individual encounter with Peter, Jesus gets in the boat and calms the wind.
We must remember that in the storm, Jesus commands us to take courage, that is, to trust Him with a cheerful heart ready to live by faith. Jesus says the same thing to the disciples shortly before he is arrested and crucified. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So, whether you're stressing over the political drama in D.C., the division in the RCA, or the turmoil in your life, Jesus gives you the simple command to take courage. Stop worrying. Don’t be afraid. Trust that Jesus put you in this boat and in this storm. He is not far off, and he will calm the wind.
I would also note that it seems from verse 34 that they took some time to row or sail to shore. There was much more to their journey than this one challenge, but together with Jesus, they brought light into the darkness. They brought hope and life to the world.
Will you jump in the boat with other believers and do your part to encourage one another to “take courage!”
Lord, help us take our eyes off the waves and focus on you, the master of the universe and King of our hearts. Reassure us of our destiny and your power to guide us through the storms. Amen.
An extra note on other churches…
Alto has been in an intentional process to address concerns with the RCA for over 2 years. There was a lot of conversation and work well before that. Other churches have been consumed with finding a pastor, resolving conflict, navigating COVID, creating stability, maintaining facilities, shepherding the aging, and/or reaching their community. Dealing with discipline and governance issues in the denomination are not all that relevant to their daily ministry, so it’s no wonder they table it for another day. From the stand point of the 5 churches in our classis that have already left, we’ve been slow to move, too. The churches I know in our classis, stand on the truth, but need time to process and figure out how to apply it in their church. We must put their faces on the RCA, not some unknown villain we believe is out to destroy Christian faith. Let’s keep showing grace and truth.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Do you remember the infamous Bon Jovi song? I never paid much attention to the words, but I took a closer look. Poor Tommy and Gina, life was hard and all they had was each other. Well, and a prayer. For some reason, I don’t think the authors had thought much about the meaning of livin’ on a prayer either. Who’s prayer was this? What was it asking for? How did this prayer help them survive and continue to live?
After reading Revelation 8 and seeing an angel bring a bowl with incense and “the prayers of all God’s people” to the altar before the throne of God, I wondered, is that happening now? The position in Revelation leads me to think these events have not yet happened, but we also certainly believe our prayers do come before God the Father. Can you imagine the glorious scene in heaven as your prayers are mingled with the incense and millions of other prayers before the Father?
Then add the prayers of the Holy Spirit. Consider when you just don’t know what to pray. He is there stirring wordless prayers and interceding for us!
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-27)
Oh! There is more. Now add to the scene the prayers of Jesus our high priest.
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need… (Heb. 7:23-26)
Did Desmond Child, John Bon Jovi, and Sambora Richard consider the prayers of God’s people, the prayers of the Holy Spirit, or the prayers of Jesus? Certainly, the song implies living in a hopeless state. “Livin’ on a Prayer” is not a statement of faith, as we might hope. It was a sad reflection of being down and out, but determined to survive. “Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear.”
You are living on more than a prayer. No doubt, some believers around you are praying for you. The Spirit and the Son are praying for you. Don’t give up on life and don’t think it all depends on you or your prayers. Set aside some time to offer your heart and prayers to the Lord.
Join me in praying…
By Kevin Van Wyk
I don't know about you, but I am very weary of questions about Covid and the election. Was there fraud? Will the vaccine work? Should I get the vaccine? Will Biden make us all wear masks? Ugh. I'm sick of all of it.
During my professional development week, back in November, I spent some time reading a number of different books. One of them asked a really good question that helped take me out of the Covid and the election debate pit. I used this question with the staff a couple weeks ago and then asked the consistory the same question at our December meeting.
So what is the question worth $25 million? Well, it's simple "What do you believe God would want us to do with $25 million?”
No, we don't have $25 million, but it's a great question to consider. Too often I believe when we think about the future, we fret over the amount of money we might need and don't have. This stunts our ability to dream, to consider what God wants to do with and through us. One deacon figured it would be pretty easy for us to spend $1 million just on our building.
So, we worry about not having enough to pay for what must be done, when we should be trusting God to do far more.
However, as with everyone, it’s hard to imagine doing more.
Here’s the truth: God has $25 million. God has much more than $25 million.
After seeing God provide abundantly through His people for the building of the temple, David prayed, celebrating that “Everything comes from you…” (1 Chron. 29:14) He owns it all and can do as he chooses with it.
Everything is God’s. He supplies our needs and enables us to give to His work. So, would you join me in praying…
1. Lord, guide our leaders to discern how to best make disciples. Make it clear what projects and ministries (here and around the world) we should invest in.
2. Lord, prepare my heart to be a giver. I too easily worry about having enough for tomorrow and withhold giving today. Help me be generous.
What project, ministry, or mission do you believe God wants us to do? Nothing is too big or too crazy. (Seriously, it’s been suggested we buy a farm to train farmers and give profits to missions. Now that’s thinking outside the box!) Email me at email@example.com your thoughts so the consistory can chart a path forward.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
December is a season of joy… or at least it is supposed to be. Unfortunately, circumstances often hijack our hearts and minds. One of our youth recently found the family’s deceased cat after it had been missing for weeks. Others are battling cancer. Many are weary of online schooling. More are sick of COVID conversations and political posturing. Our circumstances are ripe for a joyless Christmas.
You’ve probably noticed the lack of joy in others lately. Have you heard someone say, “Wow! Does she have an attitude!” Have you ever said that about your child or maybe someone else’s child? Or maybe you thought it of your spouse. It’s not hard to spot a bad attitude in others even when they come in many shapes and sizes.
The Screamer will cry profusely, yelling “life’s not fair.”
The Pouter will force a frown and fold their arms.
The Critic will repeatedly point out your shortcomings.
The Pessimist will ooze skepticism and suspicion.
The Attacker will release a barrage of past hurts.
The Retreater will stuff all emotion and disengage.
We can see the bad attitude come out with harsh words or not-so-subtle silence. We can see it in crossed arms, rolling eyes, and the wagging of a finger. Their bad attitude quickly crushes any joy in the room, and it’s easy for us to blame them for our own bad attitude.
However, you have a choice. Your attitude is a choice. Paul repeatedly tells us to rejoice as in 1 Thessalonians 6:16 where he says, “Rejoice always”. In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter commends the church for rejoicing in the midst of suffering.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, made this choice amidst the difficulties of rejection and shame. Her infamous song is recorded in Luke 1:46-48…
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
We have a choice to focus our attention on Jesus Christ or to let our circumstances hijack the joy of Christmas. So, I urge you to make time each day for Jesus. Here are some great options…
Read short sections of Luke 1 and 2 with your family each day,
Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
Crank up some Christmas music,
Keep studying the Discipleship Essentials workbook, and as you sense God’s joy in your heart, share it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Rejoice! And soon people will be saying, “Wow! Does he/she have a GREAT attitude!”
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV)
It’s November, a time to be grateful. This month, in particular, I’ve been thankful for all the doers at Alto. You “don’t just listen and do nothing” (James 1:22 ERV) at Alto. You are proving “yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22 AMP)
I hesitate to list people here, for fear I will miss someone, but I hope you can rejoice over these gifts of time and talent being offered.
I’m sure I missed some of you serving in the church and serving beyond our walls.
THANK YOU to all of you for being the church.
THANK YOU for not just listening to a sermon each week, but for doing the ministry.
THANK YOU for loving your neighbor and being a light in the world.
If you’re wanting to be a doer, you can find a list of opportunities and discover your strengths on our website.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Paul was blunt with his instruction, “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Eph. 4:32)
Last month I wrote regarding the divisions in America… “To a degree, I’ve been writing in the sand, hoping the conflict simply goes away. It’s not going away, but I have no desire to feed these fires. I’m going to write in the sand a bit longer, resist throwing thought bombs, reflect on my heart, and listen for God to speak truth.”
Honestly, I’m still writing in the sand, but I do want to share what I hear God saying to us. It’s not complicated. It’s not a theological debate or a controversial concept. It’s as simple as they come… be kind.
Such a simple idea… be kind. You taught it to your kids from day one. No biting, no spitting, no hitting… Yet this simple command seems to be lost in a flood of retaliation.
I watched two things tonight. The second was the Presidential Debate. It felt more like a boxing match or a food fight than debate. Both candidates had their punches…
“You are the worst president we’ve ever had.”
“You graduated last in your class.”
“Just shut up already.”
“China ate your lunch.”
“It’s hard to get anything in with this clown.”
“[You’re hosting smaller campaign events because] nobody would show up.”
The cutting attacks made the debate colorful, but distracted from the actual issues. It was far from kind. It was vicious and, sadly, both candidates claim to be Christian. As millions of Americans watched, they certainly saw the total depravity of man over the life-changing power of Jesus.
Let’s consider the other show I watched: an episode of “Little Men.” In it the kids living in the orphanage are challenged to learn about philanthropy by doing something kind, and afterwards, are instructed to write a paper about it. They proceed to serve others in all kinds of ways. One made breakfast for everyone, another helped an elderly lady with her groceries, another helped care for the horses, and another used her allowance to buy a gift. It was a great example of being kind.
Here’s the key: we can to a degree pull ourselves up by the boot straps and be kind, but when tension is high, our true colors come through. We are all a work in progress, and it is God who changes our character if we let him.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)
As we face a society of tremendous contention, will the Church shine in the darkness by being kind or will we let the darkness hide the light? Let's work extra hard this season to show kindness to one another. Whether Trump or Biden get the office, Jesus is the King! We cannot control politicians, but we can let God control us. So…
• Let’s pray for God to stir in the presidential candidates to mold their character into kind, humble, wise leaders.
• Let’s pray for God to do the same in us that we might be changed and show the love and power of God to the world.
Help me Lord, to be a disciple, denying myself; quietly meeting with you; studying your word; praying always; worshiping you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; and in so doing, letting You transform my heart and life so that I truly am like Christ. Amen.
Well, big shocker… the Van Wyk’s have more kittens. On top of the five from Slick, we came home from family camp at Silver Birch to four more kittens. Bubbles, their mother, seemed far more interested in us than her kittens when we returned, but since then has been diligently caring for her kittens.
Elyssa has already named two of them based on behavior. The lightest colored one is Oppugno, Latin for attack. The gray one is Pugno, Latin for fight back. What we have observed is Oppugno will vigilantly scratch with one paw while try to take Pugno’s position. Pugno is no pushover and claws back. It is a surprisingly vicious encounter for kittens that are only a couple days old.
These kittens illustrate much of what I see happening in our culture, on the news, over social media, and most painfully, in the Church. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been no brawls at church, but too many Christians have been using what I call “thought bombs.”
If you open Facebook, you will be inundated with these thought bombs. Trumpers blast Biden and vice versa. BLM supporters bomb the blue and vice versa. Non-maskers nuke maskers and vice versa. Many on both sides seem to believe they hold all the truth and must profess it at every turn.
I am reminded that Jesus, when caught in a very contentious moment with accusers and a woman caught in adultery (John 8), did not add fuel to the fire. He, much like Bubbles who simply ignores her fighting kittens, wrote in the sand. Maybe he was listing the sins of the accusers as some have hypothesized, or maybe he just drew a picture. Whatever he did, it de-escalated the tension. Eventually, he called each person to acknowledge their sin and do what is right. He calmed the tension and made the accusers hold their stones, i.e. thought bombs, and ponder whether stoning the women was the right thing to do.
In all fairness, Jesus was very blunt and confrontational on a some occasions when religious leaders were not changing their ways (See Matt. 21:12 & 23:13-39). So there is a time and place for calling people out, but we must beware that we will be judged more strictly (James 3:1) and we must be gentle, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:2, 15).
Initially with COVID, Facebook was inundated with positive gospel messages of hope. However, our culture has become divisive and mean. Christians, too often, have engaged in this war, launching thought bombs in the name of Jesus. I think God has been writing in the sand. To a degree, I’ve been writing in the sand, hoping the conflict simply goes away.
It’s not going away, but I have no desire to feed these fires. I’m going to write in the sand a bit longer, resist throwing thought bombs, reflect on my heart, and listen for God to speak truth.
If you wish to join me, I urge you to humbly reflect on Paul’s advice to the believers in Rome…
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)
Oh Lord, forgive me for escalating tension, for thought bombing other believers, and for thinking I have all the truth. Help me to listen to those I disagree with, to hear their heart’s intention through the words, and to bring harmony and peace.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I had an eye appointment the other day, and, yep things are a bit blurry. They did all the regular tests and even high tech pictures of my eye. In the end, I’ll have some new glasses with slightly changed lenses.
My physical vision will be clearer. That was an easy fix.
We live in a very blurry world. Politically, socially, racially, and spiritually our world is divided and distracted. Our news media and social media are filled with conflicting arguments over everything. Should kids play sports? Should they wear masks? Should the government close businesses? Should the federal government send troops into cities?
I can see some of you boiling over in frustration. These issues and others have become very contentious as we want people to see our side is right. So often I want to play devil’s advocate to push back on strong opinions, but isn’t that really being an advocate for the devil?
Paul challenges Timothy…
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:23-24 NIV)
I do believe it matters more how we interact on these issues than whether we “win” the debate. In most of these quarrels, our eyes become blurred, anger and hurt filter what we hear, and we respond by fighting or fleeing. Now, more than ever, we must be the Lord’s servant and be kind to everyone.
The only way we can do that is through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Again, Paul gives great direction to Timothy…
“Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” (1 Timothy 4:13 NLT)
What might happen if we truly focused on, i.e. devoted ourselves to, these three things? Read. Encourage. Teach.
We are nudging you to read the minor prophets this summer, watch the Bible Project videos on each one, and then dig into the book with us.
In the Fall, we will give you another great opportunity to Read, Encourage, & Teach. We plan to use “Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ.” We hope many of you will use the workbook in your private devotions, discuss it in discipleship groups, and be inspired by the correlating sermons in worship services. This is a significant step in our discipleship path, Journey to 412, toward intentionally growing to be like Christ.
It’s tempting to think more COVID, political, or cultural information will clear up our vision, but don’t count on it. Let’s keep our eyes focused on the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) as we read Scripture, encourage believers, and teach each other.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Wow! That’s harsh. My mom! She was not that bad.
I hope you are reading the Minor prophets with us this summer. If not you might miss some gems like this one. “So I will destroy your mother”.
Why my mom? Check out Hosea’s reason...
“You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother— my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” (Hosea 4:5-6 NIV)
Four reasons are given for destroying your mom (as well as rejecting the priests and ignoring your children).
Well, that is not the intent of this passage. The straying of the Israelites (priests and children) will result in their rejection and being ignored. This results in the destruction of the nation of Israel, the mother. So, this is not about my mom or yours. What a relief, for me and my mom.
Yet, this does not exclude us as God’s children. Yes, we live under grace. Jesus died and forgave our sins. We live in a new reality! But that does not give us a license to sin.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?... What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2, 15 NIV)
There was and is a lack of knowledge. I’m sure you have learned a lot about viruses and politics over the the past few months. How many articles have you read? How many hours have you spent reading headlines? How does that compare to your efforts to learn about God?
There was and is an ignoring and rejecting of God’s word too. Not only do we fail to read and listen to God, but we tend to respond with apathy. What’s the last biblical command you intentionally sought to obey? Sacrificially loving your spouse? Instantly obeying your parents? Blessing your kids (spiritually, not materially)? See our Connecting Well series.
The challenge is clear: don’t be found ignorant or ignoring. You have a Heavenly Father who longs to walk with you, to give you hope, peace, and direction. Will you dig into God’s word this summer? Will you walk in his grace and truth?
Summer Minor Prophets reading plan, along with video overviews and our sermons can be found here... https://www.altoreformedchurch.org/minor-prophets.html
Heavenly Father, help us learn. Teach us of your love. Help us walk in your path and never stray from your truth.
By Kevin Van Wyk
In April, I wrote of the good that could and should come from the church being scattered. I explained how the early Church responded to being scattered by sharing their faith with the world. (Act 8:4, 11:21) This was a transforming moment in church history. The focus was taken off comfort and security. The church or churches were forced to step beyond their walls and circle of friends to share their faith in new places with new people and in new ways.
It’s happened again!
And now the church is being invited back to Jerusalem. The doors are open to return. But before you run back to “normal,” consider the blessing and opportunities before us.
We stand as a people of hope in a culture of fear.
We stand as a people of love in a culture of hate.
We stand as a people of truth in a culture of deception.
Let’s be honest, we are easily sucked into the fear, hate, and deception. We are deceived by media. We share the link, only to find the information was half-true. We are confronted with angry posts using deception to bash our ideology, and our hate for the other side boils over. We see the suffering of the innocent and fear we, too, may suffer. We see the abuse of power and fear the loss of control and freedom.
But, we are people of hope, love, and truth!
As you return to the building or stay home to worship, go into the (social media) world, shining some light on the fear, hate, and deception. Bring the hope, love, and truth of Jesus into the lives of everyone you meet, always watching that you avoid fear, hate, and deception.
Specifically, I encourage you to pray our core values (summarized in three words). Grace. Truth. Mission.
Grace. Lord, soften my heart. Break my prideful heart and fill it with grace, love, mercy, and thankfulness.
Truth. Lord, open my eyes. Help me see truth in your Word and your world; understanding both the Bible and the reality of others.
Mission. Lord, move my feet. Give me courage to act when I have the opportunity to bless others.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Some of the staff received emails claiming to be from me and asking for gift cards to give to the staff. They made it appear I had written it and attempted to deceive the staff into doing what seemed like a good thing.
A member’s computer was hacked and locked until they paid the hacker.
Yet another member has been deceived into sending money to a relative, who was apparently arrested. They involved two different people in the phone call: someone to impersonate the relative and then another to impersonate an attorney.
I’ve been deceived by a mechanic, well probably more than one, but I wasn’t bright enough to notice. The one I speak of convinced me the best route to go would be to give him the car to cover towing fees. He turned around and sold it for $1200. Ouch!
There is virus, other than Covid-19, in our world, and it’s just as destructive and troubling. Evil is present. The “Ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2) is spreading lies and deception everywhere we look.
So be aware, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) However, we are to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) When you get that call, see that email, read that Facebook post, or hear the “truth” on the news, please ask if could this be deception.
Step back from any decision and pray. Ask God for wisdom and direction.
It’s sad that these scams are increasing during difficult times.* Who preys on the hurting and vulnerable? Who crushes the one on their knees? Who slaps those who weep?
Lord, may your Spirit convict those who prey on the innocent. Humble them that they may repent and reconcile their wrongs. Help us see our own evil ways, to repent, and chose the better path. Reveal deception and enable us to speak truth in love.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Some are arguing that separation of church and state, and that the instruction to "not forsake meeting together" in Hebrews 10 calls the church to continue meeting on Sunday mornings. This response to COVID-19 rejects…
Continuing to meet physically together also rejects our understanding of suffering. As Christians we believe God permits Satan to cause suffering (Job 1), but that God promises to bring good out of these difficulties for those who love God (Romans 8:28). This may be the difficult teaching (John 6:60) which caused many to turn away from Jesus. (At least in part, the idea of eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood implies sharing in his sufferings, yet continuing to obey by faith.) Living in physical isolation is a form of suffering. The earlier church experienced this and has a valuable lesson to teach us.
In Acts 8 we read about the persecution of the believers following the martyrdom of Stephen. Thousands of believers were driven from their homes, businesses, and home-churches into other communities. They did not go into hiding, but boldly stepped into a new reality: dispersion into the world. Check out what Luke says…
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4
We are in much the same situation. (Well, very different too.) Our new reality does not permit carrying on as usual. There is no more crying out, “but we’ve never done it that way before.” This is a new day and God is calling us to go and preach the good news of Jesus. I urge everyone to step up intentional efforts to love our neighbors.
Call a neighbor; someone next door, a shut-in, a mom with kids at home, a friend you’ve not heard from lately, a healthcare worker, a college student, a kid… Every one appreciates a call! I recommend you ask them how they are doing, share a fitting bible verse, and/or pray for them.
Don’t wait for people to call you! Take the initiative!
Check out what Luke says happened when the churches dispersed…
“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:21
Lord, may your hand be upon us too. May you instill in us a faith that crushes fear and a love for others that casts fear from others. Use us in this time of need to bring people from fear to faith! Amen!
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