By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Well, it’s true, I am making a full confession. I used to worship me. I went to church and I went to youth group, but when it came down to giving worth to someone, it was all about me.
Now, I didn’t bow down in front of a mirror and chant my name; I didn’t offer sacrifices on a fire; and I did not write songs of my amazing accomplishments. If you had asked me who I worshiped, I would have said God.
However, most everything I did was for my own benefit. I studied hard to someday make lots of money so I could have cool things. I worked various jobs to make money so I could have cool things now. I played trumpet for accolades and a sense of accomplishment. I ate what I wanted, and watched what I wanted.
Did you notice, there’s a lot of “I” in that paragraph. Of all the pronouns out there, this is the only one that gets capitalized all the time. Why? You can read a lot more online about this, but the bottom line is that uppercase letters symbolize importance. I guess, I really am more important than you, them, or us.
Obviously, I eventually realized there is another who rightly deserves upper case letters. Interestingly, we not only capitalize God, but He and Him when referring to our Lord. In fact, you will sometimes see LORD in all caps in the Old Testament. This is to reflect a specific Hebrew name for God, YHWH, which warrants the upmost respect, so much so that the Jews would not speak this name aloud.
While capital letters are important and point us to what is most important, there is much more to worship.
Worship can be defined in different ways. It can mean…
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matt. 22:37-38)
At some point I hope you realized, as I did, that you only deserve a small case letter. You hopefully surrendered your life to Jesus, acknowledging your sinful, self-centered ways; believing in God’s grace and mercy, and confessing Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that makes it easy to profess faith in Jesus yet live as though I am lord. Consider Paul’s words to the church in Rome.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)
In view of God’s mercy, His incredible love and grace, we are to act. This causes us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices! So, stop crawling off the altar and conform to the world. Your body, your life, is not your own! You were bought at a price. The death of Christ covers your sin and makes you acceptable to God. It’s a free gift, yet to receive it means we gratefully offer our lives back to our Savior.
REFLECT ON THESE TWO QUESTIONS
When you stand in church and sing, who are you worshipping? What are you thinking about? The music? The sound guy? Lunch plans? What the people behind will think if you lift your hands? Or what the people in front of you will think if you sing with all your heart? It’s all a form of self-worship. Instead, put your attention on the words of the songs and ponder the nature and presence of God.
When you get up in the morning and as you go about your day, who are you worshipping? What are you thinking about? Pleasing your own desires or pleasing your Savior? Are you willing to sacrifice your wants and comfort to show love and grace to others?
Lord, forgive me for having worshipped me and sometimes still worshipping me. Forgive me for crawling off the altar to please my sinful nature. I know your great love has covered my sin, making temptation all the more appealing. Yet, sin is not what I want. Transform me by the renewing of my mind that I might know Your will and worship with all my heart on Sunday and every other day of the week.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
While we were in Jamaica, we were up in the hills, far from the beautiful resorts and more importantly, cellular service. I could get one bar, as I recall, but really didn’t want to pay the fees to call, text, or use data. We stayed busy enough that I did not miss the news much, and I figured Steph would let me know if anything significant with the family happened.
So, while I was connected, I was not as well connected as I’d like. I’m sure you’ve been there. Suddenly the video stops and that spinny thing just goes round and round on the screen. Or after a few minutes of not hearing a response on the phone, you realize you’ve been talking to no one.
Better connections matter!
They matter with phones, and they matter at church!
Be honest a moment, beyond your family, how well are you connected in the church? One bar, two, three, or four?
Scripture is full of calls for believers to love one another. Jesus’ words after he washed the disciples’ feet are some of the most potent…
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV11)
These loving connections are not just for the sake of God’s witness to the world, or the benefit of others, though this should be sufficient motivation for us; close connections are a blessing to you. David proclaimed…
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Ps. 133:1 NLT)
This is why we made a big deal of relationships in our Covenant Partner Vows. Read these slowly!
“I will connect deeply with Jesus’ followers, gather with believers regularly, accept the spiritual guidance of the church leadership, and walk in a spirit of Christian love seeking unity, purity and peace within this congregation.”
These commitments challenge us on the one hand to a very basic element of connecting, to show up to worship services. At the very least we need to be present on Sunday mornings. Yes, you can be a Christian and not attend, but you are essentially rejecting Jesus command to love your brothers and sisters.
These commitments also hit on some huge challenges. “Connecting deeply” means authentic, caring, honest, truth-telling relationships where we seek unity, purity, and peace. And when others, especially leaders, confront us or call us to change, we must humbly receive their words and seek to change.
Again consider my question, beyond your family, how well are you connected in the church? One bar, two, three, or four?
For those of you with three or four bars, it’s time to get out of your awesome huddle a bit more and walk with someone with one bar. Pray for God to help you identify Ms. Or Mr. One Bar and then give ‘em a call.
If you have one or two bars, now’s the time to be intentional. Don’t wait for Mrs. Four Bars to call. Step up and connect.
Not sure how to do it?
A. Call Pastor Doug and ask about finding or starting a small group.
B. Pray for God to open the door for you to connect with one other person. Then be courageous and make it happen.
C. Login to RightNow Media (www.altoreformedchurch.org/resources.html) and search “connect” or “relate.” I like John Maxwell’s videos even though they are dated. Let me know what you find helpful.
PRAY: Lord, help us build healthy, loving relationships with other believers. Help us listen carefully to others and admit when we are wrong. Help us be intentional about connecting with those with one bar. AMEN.
By Kevin Van Wyk
My office has two plants in it. One I used a couple of years ago for a sermon illustration as someone had given it to the church, and it did not get any water for a few weeks. Its leaves were drying up, so I tried to revive it. Unfortunately, it was too late. The leaves are all gone and the sticks continue to dry out on my desk, reminding me of what happens when we are not nourished by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
The other plant was a Christmas gift from Jessa. It’s at least a couple of years old. I recently repotted it as it was in a tiny pot all this time. I’ve watered it a couple times a week all this time and it has thrived. Now, consider Psalm 1…
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither--
whatever they do prospers.
This is why we included this statement in our Covenant Partner Vows. “I will grow to be like Jesus by studying God’s Word.” The psalm calls this meditation, but this is not about some New Age practice or Eastern religion. You don’t just sit there and repeat words over and over in hopes that God will reveal something to you. This is about prayerful, theological reflection. You must learn to study God’s word.
But this is not for the church’s sake! This is for you! Notice verse three. If you do this, you are like a tree planted by a stream. You are being fed continuously. This is more than a once a week drink.
So let me give you some practical steps to drink…
Obviously, It’s a long drive, but we’ve had great discussions, and I feel like I’ve been laying in that stream in Psalm 1. Join me for a swim!
By Kevin Van Wyk
On June 18th, 25 of us returned from Jamaica after a week of cross-cultural experience. I’ve had numerous people stop me to ask how the trip was. I’ve given a variety of responses according to what memory happened to be in my brain.
But, each time I felt I was really answering a different question… “Was it worth the cost?” I am quite frugal. I don’t like spending money on vacations, clothes, or food. So spending hundreds of dollars for one week in Jamaica is hard for me to justify. I can’t help but think they would be better served with a check and prayer.
So, let me share some reasons to go, and then I’ll share some reasons I never want to go again. Keep reading and you’ll get some thoughts from Jessa and Doug on the trip, too.
Reasons to Go…
1. For me this was a matter of obedience. Mat. 28:19 assumes we will go and make disciples. Many years ago I was convicted by Bill Brights message which challenged believers to have a divine call to stay. The default should be for us to go. With that reminder and a nudge from Jessa and Zack, I figured I should pray about going. God’s voice was clear; “Go.” I asked multiple times for a different answer, but got the same response. So, for me this was a matter of obedience and the question of value to the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf (CCCD), myself, or others with me was not the issue.
2. We did bless CCCD. We made huge improvements to the Knockpatrick campus, befriended deaf students, and encouraged the staff and missionaries. With 25 of us we got a lot of projects done that would have taken weeks for others to do. We power washed and painted 3/4 of the missionary dorm, painted the cement support walls along the driveway, painted a welcome sign on the wall, made repairs to cement walls in pig pens, cleaned and organized a storage shed, and built new backboards for basketball. Maybe even more significantly, we befriended the students. Some were far better at communicating than others, but the friendly competition with older kids and fun activities with littler ones was love in action. I also believe the conversation with Eva, the missionary host, and the two college interns was helpful. They were weary, yet our discussions and support for them made a difference.
3. We learned something… well, a lot of things. We learned about signing, poverty, self-sustaining efforts in missions, God’s working in the hearts of deaf students, patience, strange foods, international travel, that lizards do bite, and much more. There are stories and lessons in each of these. For me, two stand out. First, was the creation of Deaf Can Coffee as a coffee shop staffed by deaf students who are trained and now sought after by other coffee shops. This was inspiring to see and taste. Second, was the development of patience in me. I like my task list and being able to check things off. The message we heard from Eva was to enjoy the relationships. Church will start late, meals will start late (lunch was often after 2pm), so enjoy time with people.
Hopefully, this gives some helpful answers as to why we should continue to send groups on short-term mission trips. Now, let me share the underbelly of missions that makes me want to stay home.
1. I hate the stress of flying. There were confusing signs and chaotic crowds from the start, long winding lines, TSA questioning our Bibles in suitcases, an angry Jamaican customs officer who hated everything I did, and a complete search of everything in my suitcase just before getting on the plane. Seriously, they removed everything from my luggage, which was meticulously packed to fit, only to say, “Hurry up, you're going to miss your flight.” They helped throw everything in and smashed it shut. I was a bit annoyed. I suppose I learned some patience and kindness in all that.
2. Lizards, cockroaches, wasps, and ants… I comforted myself, thinking the lizards are at least eating the spiders and mosquitoes! You should ask Doug about the wasps, Isaac about the biting lizard, and Jack about the ants. I am more grateful now for a clean, pest-free home.
3. One more to share for now… food. Now in all fairness, it was excellent. Several times I thought I could be paying $30 for this meal. (That is US dollars, not Jamaican.) I never went hungry and they always had peanut butter and jelly. (Guavah jam, actually, and it was really good!) The only reason this made my list was because of the surprise Orange Scotch Bonnet Pepper (known as the Jamaican Hot Pepper) which I ate. That baby was 40 times hotter than a jalapeño and similar to a Habanero according to the Scoville Heat Units measurements. No one else seemed to get one, so it must have been a special treat God decided to bless me with. I learned to rejoice in suffering.
So, was it worth going?
Absolutely. It was not a vacation or something I would choose of my own desire, but it was good. I learned a ton and can support and pray for CCCD with far greater understanding and compassion. I hope you consider going.
Also, a big thank you goes to all who supported us in prayer and financially! Your gifts made a difference in the world and in the heart of many!
A Prayer: Lord, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
O’er mountain, or plain, or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what you want me to be.
It may not be on the mountain’s height, Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls
To paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
I’ll go where You want me to go.” By Mary Brown
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
The past couple months were packed with some great moments. We had 12 youth become Covenant Partners and two of these individuals were baptized as believers. It was a joy to see these youth profess Christ as their Lord and Savior and then commit to following him. The baptisms were unforgettable. Let me tell you, there is no reason I would ever go into a frozen lake, except for a moment like this. It made for a truly memorable profession of faith and I am grateful to have participated.
Our Covenant Partner Vows include confessions (core beliefs we affirm) and commitments (things we promise to do). Specifically, they are…
I believe in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; confess Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord; and accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the supreme authority for faith and life. I accept the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as ecumenical expressions of the Christian faith.
I will trust Jesus as the only Savior and Lord, connect deeply with Jesus’ followers, grow to be like Jesus, serve sacrificially as Jesus did, reach out to the world with the love and truth of Jesus, and worship Jesus as the ruler of all.
I will maintain a life of prayer, study God’s Word, participate in the Lord’s supper, gather with believers regularly, use my spiritual gifts and financial resources to further the mission of Jesus through the local church, live a life pleasing to God and accept the spiritual guidance of the church leadership.
I will walk in a spirit of Christian love seeking unity, purity and peace within this congregation.
Last month, I shared a bit about what true believers should believe. In that post, I largely focused on what our Covenant Partners/member should believe, noting that understanding all the doctrines in the creeds aren’t necessarily essential to be saved.
The Bible uses the Greek word pisteuo and we translate that into English as believe, have faith, or trust. So, this is why we have included in the first commitment of our Covenant Partner Vows a promise to “trust Jesus as the only Savior and Lord…” We wanted to emphasize that Christianity is not just giving mental assent to the love and power of God, but that it is an ongoing reliance on Jesus who gave his life for us on the cross and now sits with the Father as our Lord. He pleaded with the disciple “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1 NLT)
This trust is lived out primarily in praying. Our vows go on to say “I will maintain a life of prayer…” This is a profound vow that should be taken as a privilege and blessing, not a burden. If we truly trust Jesus, we will go to him with every need and praise him for every blessing.
So, if you say you believe in Jesus, does your prayer life reflect that trust?
My guess is that nearly everyone reading this feels rather inadequate in this area. So, let me offer some very practical ways you solidify your trust in God through prayer…
Does cooking dinner matter more than prayer? Does showering? Pulling weeds? Mowing the lawn? Brushing your teeth? The good news is you can pray as you do them. But the habit above will help truly maintain a life of prayer.
Lord, Help us be a people of true faith, who trust you at every turn. Inspire us to pray. Nudge us by your spirit to make time to humbly come before your throne of grace. Amen.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
In 7th grade I went through a confirmation class at my church. For a year, I attended this class, was then confirmed, and became a member of the church. I don’t remember much of this. I’m not sure if it just went over my head or if my bike accident in 9th grade erased my memory of whatever they confirmed. A few years later, I ended up in college believing I was a Christian, yet rejecting that God created the world, that the Bible was true, and that I was sinful. Yet, I confessed to be a Christian. So…
What must a true believer believe? It’s tempting to think all that matters is to believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior. After all, it’s right from Romans 10:9. But what does “believe” mean? Is it merely mental assent to a statement or is it more? Who is Jesus? What is a Lord? What is a Savior? What are we saved from and for?
Now, I don’t want to diminish a child saying, “I love Jesus.” In fact, if we properly understand the fullness of “believe,” that child may be more on track than a Doctor of Theology. The heart and soul are as fundamental as the mind. This "believing" is only by the work of the Spirit in one’s heart, soul, and mind. We can’t just rattle off a few simple truths and qualify as a true believer. The heart matters!
Assuming there is genuine faith, what should a believer understand and accept as true? That’s tougher than we tend to think. Fortunately, others have worked hard at answering this question. In light of their work, our elders have concluded that our Covenant Partners (members) need to affirm the following…
I believe in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and confess Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. I accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the supreme authority for faith and life. I accept the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as essential truths of the Christian faith.
While we have explicitly called for understanding the trinity, salvation in Christ, and the authority of the Bible; we’ve also included three historic creeds for Covenant Partners to affirm.
But, can you get into heaven and not understand some of these truths? Certainly, children do not understand many of these things and it is this child-like faith that Jesus commends. We just can’t remain infants in our understanding of the gospel, but must move on to maturity, understanding the fullness of God’s work and character.
So, do you truly believe? Has your heart been powerfully and irrevocably stirred? Has your mind been fully convinced of the gospel? If so, then you are well on your way to being ready to be a Covenant Partner. In the coming months, I’ll share more about the commitments of Covenant Partners. For now I encourage you to reflect on these core beliefs and creeds.
Prayer… Holy Spirit, move in me to stir up faith that transforms my heart and mind. Bring forth spiritual fruit that will bear witness to the world and to me that you have chosen me and called me as your child. Amen.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
It’s true. The consistory affirmed the recommendation of the elders to shift from “Confessing Members” to “Covenant Partners.” So, the action was not to end all membership, but to clarify what membership is with some new (yet) old language.
On the one hand this was a pretty quick decision, on the other hand we’ve discussed the issues and possible changes for years. I have had many discussions with the elders over the years about communicating what membership means to the congregation and trying to understand why some take the membership vows, but then do not make any real effort to live them out. We moved forward in March, largely because we have individuals wanting to join us now.
With leaving the RCA, we are no longer restricted to their terminology and needed to update our bylaws to fill in what we left to the RCA’s Book of Church Order. So we discussed the following terms…
In the end, the elders preferred “Covenant Partners” for several reasons. They are addressed more fully in the new “Covenant Partnership” packet.
The Covenant Partnership Packet Update
Elders have just received a copy along with our youth who are interested in joining at the youth service in May. We do plan to distribute this to all in the near future and are planning on a “Covenant Partnership Class” for guests and attendees on May 15 from 11am-1pm.
The primary reason for the change was to bring greater weight to the vows which we make in joining a church, as we believe the Bible clearly calls us to be devoted to one another (Acts 2:42-47), to love one another (John 13), and partner with one another (Phil. 1:4-5). There really is to be a linking of arms as we serve each other and witness to the world.
We covenant with one another to build trust in one another and faith in God. As we make commitments to believe and act in God-honoring ways and then urge each other along in living out those commitments, we build our faith, maturity, and unity. As well, the practice of covenanting is all throughout the Bible. So, we encourage you to join us in covenanting and partnering in ministry.
I join Paul in his prayer for Philemon that you may be greatly blessed in partnering with other believers.
“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 1:6)
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I hate evaluations; taking them and giving them!
Ignorance really is bliss. At least to a degree, it’s more comfortable to believe “all is well” than to face the reality of our weaknesses.
I grew up having to take the Iowa Basic Skills Tests every year. I dreaded those tests because they took so long, and I knew the results would not be good. I was a slow reader, and the added pressure of limited time caused inner panic, which lead me to try to read faster. But that meant comprehension plummeted.
The teachers hopefully found some value in the results and weren’t too discouraged by my slow progress. I don’t recall much of the results and didn’t make any concerted effort to improve in weak areas. I assume the teachers took full responsibility for working on the areas where I was weak. In time some things started to click a bit better. I studied harder and eventually pulled off a 21 for my ACT. (I understand, if you simply mark “A” for all the answers you’ll get a 17.) That score was good enough to get me into college.
There, the tests only got harder. I eked through an English literature class, sailed through a computer science class, and was totally humbled by an ear training music class.
Seminary brought more tests and jobs brought more evaluations. Assessments are part of life. Even in retirement, you count the fish you catch, track your golf score, check your blood pressure, and track your allocation of investments.
DISCUSS: How do you respond to evaluations?
So, what about your spiritual life?
Did you do the Spiritual Growth Assessment which I gave out on Sunday? Do you have a plan to grow in any particular areas which the assessment addressed?
The questions address the following six areas.
These directly line up with the six areas we discuss in our membership class… I will trust Jesus as the only Savior and Lord, connect deeply with Jesus’ followers, grow to be like Jesus, serve sacrificially as Jesus did, reach out to the world with the love and truth of Jesus, and worship Jesus as the ruler of all.
Honestly, how are you doing in each area? You probably know where you are falling short, it’s just hard to acknowledge and even harder to do something about.
Now it’s possible that you are currently implementing all the right habits to maximize your spiritual growth. If so, please let me know your secret.
For the rest of us, this is an opportunity to take one step in the right direction. There are several great ideas listed in the Spiritual Growth Assessment, but let me make a couple suggestions…
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your grace revealed on the cross. Help us respond to your grace, draw closer to you, and to take our spiritual health more seriously. Move our hearts to action that we may be more like you. Amen.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
We are a month into the new year and I am sure you have had high hopes of more joy and more peace for this year just as I did.
But, the world has not made it easy. As a nation, we stand on the brink of war in Ukraine, Taiwan, North Korea, and the ever unstable Middle East. We stand on the brink of economic catastrophe and complete moral failure. We have deep political divisions over “following the science” and living with Covid. We can see the struggles with the lack of employees and emptying shelves. So…
How is your life going?
How is your heart?
Stressed? Weary? Frazzled? Frustrated?
Maybe you can say, “stable” or even “good.”
As Christians, the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that Jesus promised seems to be a very distant fantasy. But hear what Jesus had to say…
“These things [abide in me, my Word, & my love] I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 ESV)
Read it again! The joy of God is to be in us! I can’t help but picture the very cheesy smile of Jesus in the movie “The Gospel According by Matthew.” The movie does a fabulous job (for 1993) of dramatizing the gospel word for word from the NIV. If you’re hooked on “The Chosen,” consider this movie or the follow-ups based on Luke, John, and Acts. Jesus, as I recall, appeared excessively joyful in the Matthew movie, so much so that it really made me uncomfortable. Was He really that happy? I think we too often put a somber, serious face on Jesus rather than a giant grin.
In any case, in John 15, Jesus tells us that he spoke and gave us his Word, so that His joy might be in us!!! Our primary source of joy must be God’s Word!
That’s why, back in December, I wrote about the best study Bibles on the market. I urge you to get one, especially if you struggle to make sense of the plain text.
The reality is, I and many of you are also utilizing the digital resources available today. The internet has given us a plethora of incredible resources to help us learn about the Bible. Here are my top recommendations.
Great Bible Apps:
YouVersion Bible App: This is an amazing free app with all the major translations and tons of devotionals. This is the hallmark of Bible apps for anyone looking for devotionals and reading plans to give some intentional structure to their Bible reading. It lets you add notes, highlight passages, and share what you're reading with others. It will even read the Bible to you. Every phone should have this app! Parents (and grandparents): You should also download the “Bible App for Kids.” This is an incredible free app that interactively tells the stories of the Bible. Your kids will love it and you’ll love that its quality screen time!
Blue Letter Bible App: This is a great free option for deeper Bible study as you have access to commentaries and original language word definitions. It is accessible, versatile and potentially more technical/academic. For a more user friendly step into original languages, I’d suggest the NET Bible app which I mentioned back in December. Others have recommended Olive Tree and Accordance, but they charge you for Bible translations and other resources. If Blue Letter Bible doesn’t meet your needs, I’d recommend Logos.
Logos: This is my new favorite app. It has everything a pastor could ever want for biblical research. I’ve moved to this for purchasing all my religious books as it links with Faith Life Ebooks. I’ve loved being able to highlight, add notes, search all my books, and have the book read to me. I only wish all my print books were now on this app. You do pay for each resource (though they are often cheaper than print versions). It’s a must for pastors and serious Bible teachers.
There is so much more available, but these three (+ the kids app) are the best options on my phone, iPad, and computer. Let me know if you have a great recommendation.
Remember, it’s the Word that gives joy not the app or the printed book. It’s the Word of God infiltrating your heart and mind that transforms our sinful nature into a Christ-like disciple who’s filled with joy.
I am sure your kids (young and old) have a long list of “wants.” I am sure your spouse and parents have some things they would like too. No doubt you’ll give away some toys, clothes, and other useless stuff, but let me nudge you to invest in their soul. Helping them dig into Scripture may be the best thing you could ever give.
Of course, maybe this is just a gift you should give for yourself. Or maybe just print this article, circle your preference, and leave it conveniently for others to find.
No matter how, I hope you find a transformative gift under your tree. A great study Bible is my top pick.
I compared several study Bibles, including those on our resource table. My recommendations are listed in order below, but depending on the needs, any of these are great gifts.
Before hitting those specifics let me nudge you to spend more on a quality cover. Paperback and hardcover Bibles don’t last. The bonded leather and imitation leather covers are much better, but genuine leather is worth the cost (not that you need the $215 Blue Goatskin ESV Bible). You should consider spending between $60-$100 for a Bible that will last.
You should also consider the font size. Most Bibles are now 8 or 9-point, but some are smaller. You can get large (11-point) and sometimes giant (13-point+). It matters, so check the product details before you buy. Now, to the actual reviews…
ESV Reformation Study Bible: The 2015/3rd edition is the most preferable option to me as it clearly helps explain things from a reformed perspective. It is not as colorful as the other options, but incorporates reformed creeds and beliefs in such a way that I can’t resist recommending it. (The Condensed edition is more convenient to carry, but 1/2 the notes. The Student edition is coming in 2022 and may be the church’s new gift to our freshman.)
ESV Study Bible: This one is the most thorough of all the options. It’s loaded with colorful maps and charts. It is widely endorsed by Bible scholars and seems to be the new standard.
NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (previously the Zondervan Study Bible): Is very similar to the ESV Study Bible. Sometimes notes are better and sometimes not. If you really want the NIV 2011 translation, this or the one below are great options.
NIV Study Bible: The 2020 update is loaded with notes and colorful maps and charts. Generally the notes are shorter than the above options. So on the one hand it’s more concise, but on the other lacking depth.
NIV/NLT Life Application Bible: This is significantly different from the other options as it gives less explanation and more application. Personally, I’ve found it sufficient at answering basic questions about the text and very helpful in actually applying it to life. That said, the Holy Spirit always applies the text to my life with or without any study notes. Prayerful reading will always lead to practical direction.
NET Full-Notes Edition: This is a great resource for insight into the Hebrew and Greek. The footnotes fill 75% of each page and explain the rich meaning behind the text. This is a fabulous study tool. The translation and notes are free online at https://netbible.org/, so the print addition is not really essential.
There are many more study bibles. They target many different audiences and issues or come from a popular pastor. I’d recommend getting a book (for your audience, issue or by the popular pastor) with one of the study Bibles I’ve listed. Get one of the best study Bibles and then look for books that address specific issues.
This is the big question that will greatly impact your study Bible options. I’ve been doing side by side comparisons on my sermon text for a while with my Bible software, Logos (It’s amazing and quickly replacing my use of printed books). My comments below are based on that research.
I like NIV 84 as it’s what I’ve always read and it’s in our pews. However, it’s been replaced with the NIV 2011 which moved more toward a thought-for-thought translation. The ESV is preferable for its readable word for word translation of the original language texts. However, it is sometimes awkward and difficult to understand. The NET is an excellent word for word translation with notes explaining the translation choices. I am conflicted over choosing between these three option and I do think you will love whichever you have.
I no longer recommend the NLT as it simply strays too far into interpreting the text. It is easy to read, so if you’re looking for something to understand at first glance, this is your best option. Just know you may miss the depth of the original text in favor of a particular interpretation of the translators. The NASB 1995 is a good choice as it is similar to the ESV. I’ve not looked much at the newer NASB 2020 or MacArthur’s Legacy translation. Maybe, next year.
Sidebar: The consistory briefly discussed replacing the pew Bibles, which led to discussion around translations. The elders, earlier this year, concluded the ESV is preferable, but that we value the use of each of these translations. My hope is that more and more people bring their own Bible on Sundays to take notes.
Stocking Stuffers/Bible Accessories:
Colored Pencils: Gel Pens work, but I find them no better than a crayon. Highlighters too often bleed through pages. So I recommend any colored pencils for underlining and writing notes.
Bible Book Tabs: This will make your life much easier as you try to find different passages. Some Bibles already have “thumb indexes” or tabs, but if not, it's a great stocking stuffer.
Merry Christmas and Happy shopping!
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…
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