By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I dread going in to talk with our financial planner. Oh, he’s a nice guy and even makes a good ump, but having to look closely at how well we are investing for the future . . . I can’t help but feel we’re not doing enough now.
Will we have enough to care for ourselves when we’re 80? Will we be able to bless are kids or will we need their support? More importantly, will God be pleased with our stewardship? These are tough questions to face, so no wonder I avoid asking and answering them.
While being a good financial steward is important, it is in many ways just a result of your good stewardship of time. There are even more important questions for us to ask: Will God be pleased with how I used my time today? Am I investing my time in a way that best honors God? Is there something I should remove from my schedule? What should I add to my calendar? These tough questions, we must ask.
This fall, as you launch into a new routine, I urge you to ask these questions and consider investing more time in your spiritual health. The New Testament church met daily in homes (Acts 2:42). Daily! This was “church” done very differently than we tend to think church should be done. To me it sounds much more like what we call small groups. Over the past 2000 years, “church” has become formal, structured, and mass-marketed. What used to be personal, transformative, and individualized was slowly hijacked into a safe, weekly ritual. Now, I know I’m being a bit hard on formal church services, they do have a place in growing God’s kingdom. However, they are not the only or probably the best way to truly let God mature you.
You will have an opportunity to join a 6-week small group starting in September. You’ll connect with friends, watch an engaging video, and discuss the Bible and life. It’s good for you and you’ll love it... even the introverts :-).
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
That is the question this congregation has been wrestling with for years. Each year we hope for a breakthrough at General Synod that will give us reason to stay.
The basic issue…
Fundamentally, our governing structure does not allow for discipline beyond the classis level. Thus, we have entire classes and regional synods rejecting stated beliefs and practices of the denomination. For example, the denomination has failed to discipline congregations affirming and practicing same-sex marriage. Additionally, we’ve not disciplined complementarian churches though the denomination is solidly equalitarian. Attempts to change the structure have failed, yet we continue to affirm our stated positions on sexuality and women in leadership.
The real challenge behind the lack of discipline is that we believe firmly in grace. We believe we are called to show it to fellow believers and to the world. We also believe God showers it on sinners like us. We believe the power of the Gospel to change lives and bring forgiveness, repentance, and sanctification. Thus, we are slow to carry out discipline. That is not a bad thing. However, at this time, discipline cannot take place when it should, and that is not good.
What Gives Me Hope for the RCA…
This year at General Synod several very good overtures were approved…
First, we affirmed traditional, orthodox views of marriage by commending the “Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality” for reflection, study, and response by the Commission on Theology and RCA churches and classes. With regard to Biblical teaching on marriage, family, and LGBTQ+ issues, this is an excellent document. You can get a copy at our information table or here (http://images.rca.org/docs/synod/GLCatechism.pdf). You can read more from the RCA on this here (https://www.rca.org/news/catechism-marriage-and-sexuality-be-sent-churches-and-classes).
Second, we elected three solidly conservative leaders (from my understanding) into office: Eddy Aleman as General Secretary, James Nakakihara as President, and EJ de Waard as Vice-president. These individuals are well aware of the current divide and accepted their positions in spite of the turmoil. May God give them wisdom and courage to lead us forward.
Third, we approved Overture 18-16 which urges each classis, at a stated meeting, to engage in discussions regarding a definitive path forward for the Reformed Church in America using the questions from the Classis of Rocky Mountains. Results of these discussions are to be summarized and shared with the 2020 Vision Team (explained below) by March 31, 2019. This is some great material for discussion on discerning whether an issue is disputable or indisputable and how the church should respond. The results will be helpful to the 2020 Vision Team, but I believe a similar discussion in individual churches will be helpful for congregations to discern what they believe should happen and whether they can remain in the RCA.
Fourth, but probably most significantly, we approved Don Poest’s proposal:
“To appoint a 2020 Vision Group to work,… to identify possible scenarios, strategies, and consequences for these future options for the Reformed Church in America:
“within two to five years, so many churches, classes, and even regions will have left the RCA that … we will have a potential implosion impacting everyone from retirees to church planters, missionaries to church camp directors, insurance programs to the Church Growth Fund. This is urgent!”
He understands the frustration and anxiety around the RCA, so he urged us to do four things. (I’ll put them in my own words…)
Pray: to seek God and beg him to work in powerful ways
Trust: to rest in God’s power and wisdom
Focus: to be about our mission to reach the lost
Love: to graciously deal with others
For some this will feel like kicking the can down the road (as I do at times), but I believe the urgency has been made very clear to our leaders.
You can read more here (https://www.rca.org/news/delegates-approve-formation-vision-group-discern-rcas-future). A ten minute clip of his presentation is available here (https://youtu.be/uxNFmufN-Ak).
Fifth, two Elders, Randy Bruins and Scott Van De List, joined me at Faith Church in Dyer, IN for the first Gospel Alliance Regional Meeting.
On our way home from the Gospel Alliance on June 26, I asked the others, “So what are our next steps?” They began rattling off things we need to do, and I took notes. Here is the gist of some next steps I believe we should be taking and the Consistory will address soon…
I hope this is helpful in calming any anxiety and bringing greater unity to the church. I am sure we will continue to have discussions as a church and invite you to talk with me or any consistory members about your concerns. My desire certainly is to help us move forward in our vision to develop and deploy Christ-like leaders. I hope you can joyfully join us in that endeavor in the coming months and years.
I’ll be giving an update and answering questions after the service on Sunday, July 1st for anyone who’d like to attend.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
How do you deal with conflict? Fight or flight? Nearly all churches and denominations have been dealing with conflict for a long time. Some “discussions” have gotten heated and out of hand. While Jesus certainly called us to love, he also turned the tables over in the temple and called the leaders thieves. So, how do we move forward in a conflicted denomination? Fight for change, wait for a split, or leave?
As one who would love to take flight and ignore the issues altogether, I’ll be part of the General Synod discussions this week.
My request is simple… pray for me as I attend the RCA General Synod (GS).
Many of you know the organizational structure of the RCA. For those that are unfamiliar… A classis is made up of pastors and elders from each church within its bounds. GS is the highest governing body for the RCA. It includes representatives from each of the 46 Classes. (See http://images.rca.org/docs/synod/2018OrgChart.pdf for an org chart.) The Classis of Wisconsin will send three elders and three pastors to GS.
The GS makes changes to our by-laws, otherwise known as the Book of Church Order, the BCO, or the Orange book. While the Bible has supreme authority, the BCO is our attempt to articulate how we will live and work together. The GS can also make changes to our Liturgy and can adopt, interpret or remove Confessions and Creeds (like the Apostles Creed).
These changes happen through Overtures. Any church can send an Overture to their Classis, which can send it to the GS. At this point there are 25. Some are in the GS Workbook (p.85), others are in the Supplemental overtures. All can be found at https://www.rca.org/rca-basics/general-synod/general-synod-2018-workbook.
Most of these overtures address the conflict within the RCA over the definition of marriage. There is potential for productive, God-honoring decisions to be made that could lead the RCA toward a fruitful and missional future. There is also potential for divisive, destructive behavior. So, I ask you to pray.
Please pray for…
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Sometimes we make statements with little thought. Particularly when we are hurt or angry, we say things we don’t really mean. Quite often there is just enough truth in the statement to be far more destructive than we realize. Other statements help us work together by clarifying what is important and what we do. ARC’s mission statement explains our overriding purpose. Our core values articulate what is most important to us. Our vision statement gives us direction for the future. These statements should help unify the church in being who God wants us to be and doing what he wants us to do. I hope these inspire you to do what God designed you to do for the benefit of His kingdom.
Because there were many questions about our beliefs from candidates who applied for the senior pastor position, the Search Team requested that the elders clarify our beliefs, particularly our stances on homosexuality and women in leadership. While our denomination has several creeds (short statements of basic beliefs) and confessions (longer statements designed to teach fundamentals of our faith), our creeds and confessions do not provide the clarity we need today regarding some controversial issues. You can read these statements at www.altoreformedchurch.org/our-beliefs.html.
I did some research to see what other Reformed churches are using for statements of faith. Corinth Reformed Church, in Byron Center MI, has done a great deal of work on their statement, so with their permission, we began to create a statement of faith from theirs and address the key concerns of the search team. This turned into a rather extensive statement, which will hopefully stir conversation, reflection, and growth.
After much discussion the elders chose to “agree to disagree” regarding a stance on women in leadership. While Alto allows women to teach, we have not elected women to the consistory. Alto has members and leaders who disagree on this topic, thus we landed in favor of unity in spite of our differences. As there are many Scriptures used in this debate, it is a matter for further study and discussion for our church.
The elders also felt our current statement on sexuality singles out homosexuality above other sins. While this was and is in response to the pressure from our culture and government to affirm alternate lifestyles, we felt the new statement better affirms the sanctity of marriage and clarifies our understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding sexual sin. It is not our intent to condemn others, but to welcome sinners to the cross where there is forgiveness and transformation for all. If you struggle with habitual sin, we want to walk with you, help you escape the bonds of sin, and equip you as a Christ-like leader. If you or a family member struggles with homosexuality, we do have resources that can be helpful in understanding how to live in grace and truth. You are encouraged to speak with Pastor Kevin, an elder, or a staff member.
Statements matter, and I hope you will take some time to reflect on our Statement of Faith. May God continue to teach and guide us into all wisdom and truth as we make his love visible to the world.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Recently, someone left a historic collage of pictures on a wood plank in the church work room. On the back was the name L. Blonien with “R3 Watertown Wisc” for a location.
One picture is damaged by water and appears to be the attic of the church. Another shows 13 workers. The attached paper lists several names of men from NE Fond du Lac County.
I love this stuff. Pictures and stories revealing old dreams the church had as they sought to live out their faith in Alto. The picture of the church reveals a dream to rebuild, to put up a bigger and grander place to worship. This is a far cry from the one room house they met in first and a big step from the white church, which you can see still standing to the left. Since the sanctuary was built, the church added the bell tower, offices to the East, the “new sanctuary addition” to the North, then lobby and offices, and finally the nursery. Each of these building projects reveals a need, a vision, and hard work.
How inspiring it is to see Godly people identify a need, dream of how God wants them to respond, and then do it!
My current teaching series has been revealing to me, uncovering the immensity of the need we face. We wish to make disciples, but the world is bombarding young people to be great athletes, to look to their phone for friendship, to medicate their emotions, and to believe they evolved from monkeys. And I’m not done with this series.
Many of you grew up in an entirely different world… little pressure to win the big game and get a scholarship, friends were real people, alcohol and drugs were not as easily accessible, and creation was still taught in schools.
How do you develop and deploy Christlike leaders in such an anti-Jesus culture? It’s no longer just Sunday worship nor just Sunday school or small groups or women’s ministry or men’s ministry. Nor is it sending everyone to seminary.
There are churches exploring new and old strategies for disciple making. I like the idea of “transformation groups”, where groups of three read scripture, confess sin, and pray for lost friends. Other churches are creating comprehensive online curriculum. Still others are focusing on in-house leadership development classes.
We see the need and have the vision. Now we must find some new ways to develop and deploy Christ-like leaders. Please pray for God to...
Floods are terrifying things. Stacy, in Port Arthur, Texas, told our mission trip team that she was asleep in her house during Hurricane Harvey and was woken up by flood waters rushing past her hand. She had no time to save any of her possessions - just to get out of her house and save her life.
Stacy now lives in the bare bones of her house with no insulation and none of her former possessions. She lives with a space heater borrowed from her friend Ester, an army cot and comforter, a microwave, and a mini refrigerator - and she has been living this way since August when the floods ravaged Port Arthur.
But the flood did more than just damage because God can create good even in the worst tragedies. It flooded Stacy’s soul with a passion for Jesus - one that she says was not possible when she had all those possessions to distract her. “It's just me and Jesus now, just me and
Jesus”, she would repeat as she told us about her situation.
Stacy’s story brought a flood of emotions to our group too. How could a woman with so little be so joyful? It makes me wonder - what do I flood my soul with? What consumes me? Is it just “me and Jesus” or is there something else in the way? What about you? Does Jesus flood your soul? Do we get swept away into the flood that is the Holy Spirit?
I want what Stacy has, I just don't want to go through the same tragedy to get there. But maybe that's the problem. Maybe the flood will never come into my comfortable Alto home - where I am content and happy and things are easy. Maybe it's time to start praying bold prayers - ones not concerned about my safety or my comfort, but ones that are a little scary - ones that welcome the Holy Spirit to flood my life. Maybe you want that too. Let's pray those prayers for this congregation. Let's ask God to make us uncomfortable and to flood Alto with so much Jesus that we can say it's “just us and Jesus now.”
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
What would make 2018 a better year than any before it? What would you really like to see change in 2018?
We’d all like to lose 20 lbs., but would that really make life that much better? What if your income doubled, would that be enough? What about seeing a broken relationship restored? Many of you long for that too.
These are all secondary for me. I’m more concerned with the health of my soul. In December we celebrated Jesus bringing peace, love, joy, and hope. I want these things to define my soul, not the worry, anger, grief, and disillusionment that so quickly sneaks in. This is my desire for me and for our church.
So, what is my part in this? We know it is God’s grace working in us that gives any glimmer of experiencing peace, love, joy, and hope. However, we certainly can welcome God into our lives or close the door. Many have slammed the door; others repeatedly crack the door and close it. Unfortunately, few open the door wide to God.
I want to be one who opens the door wide to God, who passionately follows Christ and walks closely with God. It is written that Noah “walked in close fellowship with God.” (Gen. 6:9 NLT) Wouldn’t that make 2018 the best of all our years?
One of my goals for our church this year is that we…
Become passionate Christ followers who walk closely with Jesus; healing emotionally, listening to the Spirit, and obeying God.
In 2018 my preaching will focus on this goal, and I hope to provide groups, retreats, and resources to help us walk with Jesus. At the same time, I need to be careful not to over complicate this goal. It really only takes personal quiet time with Jesus. So, dust off your Bible, open it to Joshua, Judges, or John, and read it slowly. Listen for God to speak and your year will be better.
There will still be illness, conflict, and financial difficulties, but with Jesus we can overcome and still experience his peace, love, joy, and hope.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I am pretty sure Slick, our remaining cat from the 14 we’ve had over the past year and half, speaks. Now before you think we are running some neglectful cat-mill out of the parsonage, the first 2 were hit by cars, 6 from the first litter were given to good homes, and 5 from the second litter died at birth. Slick remains the lone survivor, so please drive careful as you come to church.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure she communicates. I ask, “Do you want water?” It can sound a lot like “yeows”. If that’s not convincing, Elyssa and I recently learned that when a cat rolls on to its back, it is not saying “rub my belly” like dogs, but “play with me.” They want a fellow cat or person to attack and play rough, so that’s why she always digs her claws into my feet and then bites my toes.
One distinct message Slick sends is don’t mess with me. If there is any sudden movement from creatures larger than her, she jumps into a defensive mode, with her back arched, tail up, and eye on the action. Message: “Don’t hurt me, I’ll fight back.”
Every so often, I see this response in humans. Well, they don’t arch their back, but they are anxious about something. Their feathers have been ruffled, and their body language says, “Don’t mess with me.” Folded arms, a waving finger, hands on hips, feet facing directly at you, and direct eye contact all say, “You’ve got me upset.”
I imagine this happens at a few Christmas dinners too. Most of us have learned to be very even keeled, but when it comes to family that becomes quite difficult. Generally, we can’t help it. Something happened, and we respond. The challenge is then whether the anxiety will be defused or escalated.
Paul tells us “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18NLT) Easy to say, not so easy to do.
I encourage you this Christmas to take a lesson from Slick and Paul: work toward peace and defuse tension. Before you jump into defense mode (arched back), take a long, deep breath. Then respond with kindness and compassion. If the other party really wants to be combative, calmly offer to talk about things later because you would like to reserve today for compassion and peace. Maybe you can ask for forgiveness right then, but true peace and reconciliation will take a bit more discussion.
My prayer is that you have a joyful and peace-filled Christmas season.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
As I go through my week, I tend to let the busyness, and particularly the difficult, negative stuff, consume my thoughts. It’s easy to do. The uncertainty and fear of what may be can get the best of us all. But God is working in some really good ways. Check out the following ways God is working all around us. . .
There really are so many good God things happening around us. Let's celebrate them today.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Have you noticed that lady in church who gossips all the time? Did you see that church member swerving as he pulled out of the bar’s parking lot? What about the guy cheating on his wife? The high schooler sleeping with his girlfriend? The guy who always grumbles? Or the young lady who just told her family she is gay?
How did you respond? What was going on in your heart?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people quote Jesus…
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Mat. 7:1-4 NIV)
There is a clear message that I am wrongfully judging another, and they are rightly correcting my judgmental attitude. Who’s guilty? Everybody, I imagine.
So, what does Jesus want from us? We must finish the passage we started…
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (Mat. 7:5 NIV)
Have you looked in your eye lately? How about your heart? If you’ve had the courage to do that, then God probably pointed out an issue or two. If not, I would guess you weren’t really listening or looking very hard. Take a moment. Listen. Look. What is the Spirit revealing to you about your actions and attitudes? That little issue is a plank, a 2x8, sticking in your eye! Jesus says FIRST take it out. Not just confess it, remove it. You may think you see clearly, but if you have not de-planked your eye lately, your sin-cataract is leaving a blind spot.
That was not the end of Jesus’ message however…
“…and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:5 NIV)
Read it again. If you are de-planking (as you will always need to do), then you must help your brother. Notice it’s not just pointing out your brother’s speck, but helping them remove it. But how do we do that? Here are some thoughts…
Now remember, this is our approach for brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace and truth coming on the hands of friends. We cannot overlook our plank or our brother’s speck. Please, don’t misuse this text and forbid judging altogether. Let’s find ways to heal our vision together.