By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
It’s 2020 and the world has drastically changed since I was a kid. Ponder some of the conveniences we have today which did not exist that long ago.
At the same time, pornography, sex trafficking, violent crimes, and depression are destroying lives everywhere. Our government is at war against itself, while putting us trillions of dollars in debt. We are more stressed than ever, but more pampered than ever. Our denomination can’t even figure out the divisive culture. How do we navigate this troubled world?
Well, the Apostle Paul had some exceptional help for the church in Ephesus and it still applies to us. Over the next few months we will dig into his letter and connect it with your life. Join me Sunday for “Change: What Happens When Jesus Shows Up.” If you have some time, read through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
This is the week when every business seeks to get some of your money. What once was one day of crazy sales has blossomed into a full month of “Black Friday” deals. Cyber Monday started in 2005 and Small Business Saturday started in 2010. No doubt most of us will be convinced this is the time to buy something we don’t really need.
Even non-profit organizations have tapped into this, effectively utilizing buyers remorse with “Giving Tuesday” which started in 2012. If you splurge over the weekend, you can ease your guilt by giving to a worthy cause on Tuesday.
As a pastor, it’s hard to watch. I wonder - How much expendable income is out there? How much will be spent on unnecessary purchases? How much will be given out of guilt?
And most troubling, how should the Church respond to this trend? Shall we start promoting Sacrificial Sunday? People who have not given all year can ease their guilt with a generous gift. Those that faithfully tithe would be challenged to do more.
However, I see some problems with this approach. First and foremost is the motivation for giving. Appeasing guilt is not what should motivate believers to be generous, but a thankful heart does lead to generosity. Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9)
I hope you did not skip over that passage. It is full of wisdom for us. Your giving to the church matters and the attitude in which you give matters, too. Know that our deacons work hard to steward our resources well that we do all we can to make disciples, providing teaching in many different ways, assisting those in need, and supporting missionaries around the world.
While I am not calling for a Sacrificial Sunday, I do want to urge you to consider what it might look like for you to give from a cheerful heart.
I’m kind of, sort of, committed to my Fidelity retirement planning. Once or twice a year, I check to see how things are going. Occasionally, I make a change to the investments. I must confess to Fidelity that Steph and I have been seeing someone else. Don’t worry, we aren’t pulling funds out, but Edward Jones is getting a bit more attention than you are. I’m kinda, sorta, committed.
There are a host of things I am kinda, sorta, committed to... Exercise is another. I did really well for two weeks. I used a stepper thing for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, but then I got sick and took a vacation. Work piled up quickly, and now I have no desire to exercise.
What about you? What are you kinda, sorta, committed to?
At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prays a looooong prayer (1 Kings 8:23-53). Then he stands and proclaims these words to the people...
8:56 "Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 8:57 May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 8:58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. 8:59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day's need, 8:60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. 8:61 But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time." (1 Kings 8:56-61)
What a great statement of praise... God has helped us (56). Then a statement of hope... May God keep us on track and continue to help us (57-59). Then a statement of purpose... May the result be that ALL PEOPLE KNOW GOD IS LORD. Finally, a clear challenge... God’s help and mission rests on our being fully committed to Him!
I hope you are saying, “I’m all in God! I am yours. I’ll do whatever you call me to do.”
If that is you, I want to flesh that out a bit... What does it mean to be committed to following Jesus?
#1. We commit to daily prayer and Bible reading. You have God’s Word readily available. Are you reading and studying his words with a humble, prayerful heart?
#2. We commit to obeying God’s instructions. This includes discipling others, witnessing to the lost, gathering in worship, giving to His mission, and serving with our God-given abilities.
#3. We commit to His body, the church. Our membership vows and our leadership covenant lay out this commitment well. We commit to following Jesus with other believers, to love them, to receive correction, and to correct our fellow believers.
Have you committed to partnering with us as a member (see The Discovering Membership Packet at the information desk)? Have you committed to leading well by signing our leadership covenant (available at the information desk)? Solomon makes it clear that it’s not perfection God is looking for, but a passionate commitment! So, are you kinda, sorta, committed, or fully committed?
I urge you take the step of commitment today! Partner as a member or sign our Leadership Covenant so all people may know the Lord is God!
What’s up with the Task Force, staffing, and the RCA? Join us for the congregational meeting on Nov. 10 for details.
It’s a common phrase we use… “Where does the time go?”
Most often, we say it with a sense of frustration, looking at all we hoped to accomplish. Now, the year is gone, and we still have a long list of “I-wish-I-hads.”
What’s on your “I-wish-I-hads” list?
Spent time with the grandkids,
weeded the garden,
met with an old friend,
remodeled the bathroom,
taken your spouse on a date,
got a bachelor’s degree,
bought a car, or
read your Bible…
I have an ever changing to-do list. It contains sermons to write, meeting agendas to prepare, tasks to complete… Then I have a list of people I want to connect with. I count about 28 people on that list right now. In spite of averaging nearly 60 hours a week of ministry over this past month, many of the to-dos and people end up on my “I-wish-I-hads” list.
While Solomon tells us “There is a time for everything…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), there is not enough time for everything. Solomon also said, “the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.…” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 NIV). The NCV Bible says it this way, “A wise person does the right thing at the right time.” So where do we get wisdom? Solomon’s wisdom came from God, and James tells us we simply need to ask for it.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
I hope you will join me in asking God for his wisdom each day that we might only do what He wants us to do for that day. With that, OUR to-do’s and OUR “I-wish-I-hads” will simply take a back seat to God’s “I-want-you-to’s”.
If you think you’re busy, you need to check out “Balancing Life's Demands” with Chip Ingram on RighNow Media. It’s a bit dated, but helpful. Signup at www.altoreformedchurch.org/resources.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Did you read that? Really? Let it soak into your brain a moment. Read it again.
My heart aches as I read this; I long to be one who chooses life. God speaks this rebuke, challenge, and promise through Moses. He warns the Israelites of a most certain destruction if their hearts turn away from God (vs. 18). He also promises blessings if they keep loving and obeying God.
In Christ, we have life. Because of his death, we are forgiven and indwell with his Spirit. Life is planted in us.
Then why does it seem we experience death and curses? Could it be that we are very much like the Israelites, circumcised and part of God’s people, yet ever prone to wander from the God who made us and the family who loves us?
Too often Christianity is presented as a single choice. I made that choice to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior almost 29 years ago as a sophomore at Drake University. That was not the end of my choosing Christ.
I chose Christ when I went on my first mission trip in 1992.
I chose Christ when I took a position leading worship in 1993.
I chose Christ when I moved to California for seminary in 1995.
I chose Christ with each major life transition…
but I’ve also had to choose Christ every day.
There certainly have been days of choosing my agenda. Looking at my to-do-list, diving in, and getting things done. Prayer and Bible study take a back seat to work and family. And according to our passage above, I chose death and curses. I didn’t die physically, but my soul suffered. It’s only in God’s grace through Jesus I am not destroyed.
Oh Lord, forgive me for choosing death and curses. Have mercy on me for choosing work and family over you.
Help me put you in your rightful place as Lord of my life.
Help me make time for prayer and Bible study every day.
Help me build a solid foundation of biblical understanding.
Help me nurture Godly character in every area of my life.
Help me develop healthy connections with my family, friends, fellow believers, and neighbors.
Help me pursue Your purposeful calling on my life.
Help me choose life!
If you want to be more intentional about your choosing life, I urge you to join us this Fall for “Acts of God” as we address the challenge of pain. You can go much deeper this Fall by stepping onto our leadership path. It’s still under development, but talk with Pastor Kevin if you would like more information.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
With all the baseball lately and using cash at concessions, I’ve undoubtedly ended up with some change. Personally, carrying a pocket full of change around is rather annoying, but that’s not the change I’m talking about.
Doug left this morning. Our Equipping Adults Pastor is gone. His office is empty. A good confidant and friend will no longer help me process life and ministry every Tuesday morning. No more shared preaching. No more sharing the load of visiting and counseling others. Change stinks.
I can see how this change will be good for Doug and his family. It makes sense to get an MDiv. Yet, I struggle to see how this is good for us, particularly me. I’ll miss the help and friendship. Change stinks. At least that’s how it feels.
What I know from Paul is “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God had similar words for Jeremiah… “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Yet, for the Christians in Rome and the Israelites with Jeremiah, life was not so good. Persecution and suffering were the new norm. Change had been bitter and difficult.
Somehow in the midst of difficult situations and unwanted changes God is still at work doing something good. Consider Marla’s perspective in her Facebook post below. She’s been battling cancer for just over a month, life is completely upside down, yet she sees God at work!
Is it possible our resistance to change, struggles, and suffering is more about our eyes and heart than it is about our situation? Could it be that the comfort and security that comes from consistency also blinds us to the possibility of a better way, a better future?
While change is hard, as followers of Jesus, we have the assurance that God is always working for our ultimate good. Thus, we must look to the future, resting in God’s goodness and running into change with faith like Doug. He left family behind to come to us. He now leaves behind a new family and a secure income, trusting that God is working a good plan. Welcome change. Risk failure. Follow Jesus.
Maybe Doug will return. Maybe we’ll find someone better (this seems really impossible). Maybe we’ll just mobilize more believers to fill the gaps? Regardless, we must trust that God is working for our good… growing our faith and molding us into Christ-like leaders who are developing and deploying more Christ-like leaders.
So, here’s my challenges to you in living this faith out…
1. Consider what changes stink for you now.
2. Call on God to help you see what he is doing.
3. Commit yourself to trusting and following Jesus.
4. Change something you hold too tightly to. (For instance, I know God wants me to exercise, but I refuse. Maybe it’s apologizing to someone, volunteering somewhere, or beginning daily devotions. Whatever it is, change it. It might smell better than you ever imagined.)
By Pastor Doug Shotsky
Romans 12:13(The Living Bible) - When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.
1 Peter 4:9–10 NIV - Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Practicing hospitality, like any other gift, is a gift from our Lord. Many of us know that person who has the house that everyone wants to go to. They’re always inviting people over and they seem to have never met a stranger. When you’re at their house you feel at home, you enjoy the food, the company, and time goes quickly because you’re caught up in the enjoyment of the present instead of mulling over what’s next. Their house is usually pristine, but if you spill something they’re the first to come and assure you that it’s no big deal. I’ve had several friends like this over the years, and I usually can’t wait to have another invitation to their home, because I usually feel so full of joy and life when I leave that it’s something I feel like I could always use more of.
But if I’ve learned one thing in Alto it’s that hospitality goes so much further beyond the boundaries of someone who has the “gift” of hospitality. Hospitality is so much broader than most of us think, and the beauty of this is that we can all do it! The key, just like with so many other things in life, is intentionality.
As the scripture talks about above, we should, “get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.” So first of all, if any of you are traveling down Interstate 75 to go south over the next couple of years, the Shotskys will live 10-15 minutes off of that route outside of Lexington, Kentucky, so I’m taking this opportunity to invite you to stay with us, or at the very least to stop and share a meal! We’ll have an extra bedroom, and the Shotsky Hotel will be open for business at a reasonable rate of FREE! (We may ask that you speak to us when we’re together, or that could be a little weird!)
These are things that so many of us have gotten out of the habit of doing. Not knowing anyone when we came here last August, I knew that it would be my responsibility to connect with people, because as a pastor I believe that my responsibility is to shepherd the flock, and in order to do this effectively I had to get to know the flock, and in order to get to know the flock I had to take the initiative to be with the sheep. This certainly is a challenge, but I’m usually up for a good challenge, and here’s what I’ve learned about hospitality, that I hope can be helpful for you!
I’m sure this is not an exhaustive discourse on hospitality, but a simple list of things that I hope many of you will find helpful, so you can develop a deeper relationship with others in the Body of Christ. My challenge for you this week is to reach out beyond your normal comfort zone and practice hospitality!
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
It’s been clear over the past few years, ok decades, that youth sports are replacing church involvement. Young families are facing difficult decisions about church attendance, and many church members are viewing sports as a threat, an assault on our faith and to the future of the local church.
Certainly, the vast majority of North American churches are in decline. Many, like Alto, are stable and see just enough growth to offset the decrease in attendance of those who once were consistent weekly attenders. At the same time, we all see the ever increasing influence of youth sports and the increased demands placed on players and their families.
Sure, if you play baseball you can simply attend games or practice twice a week, but if you want to get in the game more, you’ll tack on the Wednesday night practice. And then the traveling team coach calls... “it’s just a few extra practices and some weekend tournaments for the best of the best.” How can you pass up such a great opportunity? College is only 10 years away and this could be the key to a chance at a full-ride scholarship.
Ruth Moon explains, “Whether or not organized sports are Public Enemy No. 1 for churches, they still represent a symbolic challenge: how to engage members in a changing culture.” (Game Changer: Pastors Blame Kids' Sports for Attendance Dips: Would embracing organized youth sports help?, RUTH MOON, AUGUST 27, 2013)
When Rod Tucker spoke with our Equipping Teams and other church discipleship leaders back in March, we did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. One of the greatest threats articulated was youth sports. Rod challenged us to consider how we could move this from a threat to an opportunity.
That’s a profound shift in thinking. If sports are a threat, we must fight the trend and seek to restore what was. If sports are an opportunity, we must find new ways to engage our members and reach the community through this trend. Efforts to return to the past have pitted the church against the non-church attenders and young families trying to do what they see is best. This certainly does not help us reach the world with the love of Christ.
Back to my starting questions… “Are sports sabotaging the faith in America?” If we honestly consider this question, we must acknowledge blaming cultural trends is not particularly helpful. We can’t even blame the coaches, organizations, or parents. It’s a trend that reveals our cultures deep longing for joy… to see kids succeed, to escape stress, and to hope in a better future. If faith can thrive under a culture of persecution, then faith can thrive under a culture of sports.
In the coming weeks, we will be teaching on ways we can make sports an opportunity for discipleship and outreach. I do hope you will join us for the series, and if you’re gone to a game, you can always catch us on Facebook Live or consider watching some of these videos on RightNow Media (Signup for a free account at https://www.altoreformedchurch.org/resources.html.)
For the moment, I simply want you to evaluate your view of youth sports. Consider these questions…
By Adrea Daane
I spent part of my week doing research on parenting resources in RightNow Media. With so many options I began to get overwhelmed. After watching several hours of materials, I came up with two different resources that I found to be the most helpful and engaging. Now, these might not be for you, and if not, I encourage you to do a little research yourself and see what interests you. As parents we are given the most important opportunity…to shape these little people into adults who love Jesus and grow into people who lead lives that are pleasing to Him. This is a daily struggle for myself and I’m guessing others feel like they’re stuck or failing miserably. These resources, although they didn’t change my parenting overnight, gave me some confidence in who I should try to be as a parent in the eyes of God.
The first resource I dove into was “Have a New Kid By Friday”. This was a great 5-day resource that gave great insights into “why your kids do what they do and what you can do about it”. This program looked into how to change your child’s attitude, behavior, and character in 5 days and focused on how as parents we need to change our parenting and in doing so, can impact our children.
“Intentional Parenting” by Doug Fields was the second resource I found to be helpful. This video series was shorter in length and focused on how as parents we tend to fall back onto quick fix parenting when we should be more intentional. Doug took me through a five-session course where he discussed his 10 ways in which we as parents can and should become more intentional. During each episode my heart was invigorated, and my spirit was lifted into taking on this new challenge. Now comes the hard part…putting those lessons into action and not just putting them in my mental shelves of knowledge.
I challenge each of you as parents, if you’re looking for some encouragement or guidance in your parenting, to go to RightNow and do some digging. Keeping Jesus at the center of how you parent and the focus of your home is crucial to building up little people in Christ. I know this is something I want to continue to push myself to be better at, because it’s not just affecting me…it’s affecting my kiddos too.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Have you ever been desperate to hear from God? Have you longed to know what his specific will is for you?
I certainly have. Sometimes it’s been huge decisions, like whether to marry Stephanie, to go to seminary, or to move to Alto. Others are much simpler, like what sermon series to tackle next, who should I contact today, or when to have a difficult conversation.
Some would say God is not concerned with our day-to-day decisions, just his ultimate will… the big picture. While I wrestle with God having a specific plan for the Bucks to win and the Brewers to lose, God does clearly guide believers in the New Testament. The book of Acts is filled with examples of God directing decisions, changing travel plans, restructuring the church, and giving words to speak.
We can’t know these plans unless we listen. But, this is dangerous…
"It’s hard to overemphasize the dangers inherent in believing that one is receiving “inspired” messages from the Spirit. Scripture is inspired and therefore authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16). But the “nudges,” “feelings,” intuitions, and random thoughts a person has while meditating cannot be put on the same level as Scripture. To assume that the voice a person hears in his mind is the voice of God is to leave the door wide open for self-delusion and even demonic deception.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/listening-prayer.html)
Yet, we clearly see that the Holy Spirit does speak to his people and give direction when they pray…
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)
So, should we listen for God? To say “no” rejects all forms of communication beyond reading the Bible… prophecy, teaching, preaching, visions, and dreams. However, the Bible affirms that God does use these methods to communicate. Believers are urged to “wait” and be “watchful.” When Jesus retreated to quiet places, he certainly did not just speak to the Father. He heard the Father and then spoke what the Father told him. So, “yes,” we must listen to God, and finding a quiet place with no TV, radio, or phone will certainly help.
At the same time, remember that God speaks on his terms. He mostly interrupts people and speaks when they are not really listening. Often he speaks through other people and even more so through the Bible. The act of listening is not about emptying your mind, but about…
There are dangers in elevating our thoughts above the Bible, but also in rejecting, quenching, and grieving the Holy Spirit. His Word and Spirit speak together! You don’t need to chant mantra’s, follow a labyrinth, or practice deep breathing.
If you want guidance from God, start here…
May God give you great wisdom and humility as you seek to follow him.