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.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I hate not knowing where I am going. On some occasions Steph knows where we are headed and, though I trust she will tell me when to turn, I question her at every turn. (So, I could go into a whole thing about trusting your spouse here, but that was not the plan.) More often than not, I just tell my phone to give me directions and listen carefully as all kinds of other discussion goes on in the car. (At this point I could take another route and talk about listening to Jesus over the directions of the world, but that was not really my intent either.) My point is that we need direction in life, otherwise we end up in the wrong place.
As Christians, our goal or destination is to become like Jesus. We must pursue his character, his wisdom, his kindness, his courage, and his calling. You won’t arrive and become fully like Him, but we must keep heading in that direction. It is so easy for us to be taken off course. We pull over for gas and then linger at Buffalo Wild Wings for hours (like watching tv because we feel emotionally exhausted from our day and choose to “take a break” from processing the emotions). Or maybe we choose to take an easier road, enjoying the scenery and comforts of 4-star hotels (like ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit and continuing on the easier path of keeping an old friendship that isn’t healthy). Are we really abiding in Christ? (John 15)
I want to help you live like Jesus! I am excited that we are taking steps to be more effective in how we develop and deploy Christ-like leaders.
So, are you headed in the same direction? What are you doing to grow your faith? What would be beneficial? Are you getting practical experience in leading?
You will not arrive at the destination by accident. You must make intentional choices that will take you in the right direction. The choice is yours.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
What trends do you see in our culture that are affecting the church? Really ponder this for a moment. Our staff has had some great discussions around this question, and I’ve enjoyed reading some blogs on trends in the US.
The staff listed things like social media influence, busyness, apathy, minimalism, division, privatization, and many more. I am sure you could add others.
The one trend I’d like to address today is what I will call “everything on demand.” We rarely watch what is on TV, we stream what we want from Netflix, Pureflix, or Amazon. We want food available always, and restaurants are accommodating. We want news on our time schedule, not just at 10pm - that’s out of date. Newspapers are outdated before they print. If I have a question or something I want to learn about, going to the library later in the week will not cut it. Google will give me a plethora of articles and videos to peruse immediately. We want “everything on demand.”
What does that have to do with church? Well, the Sunday morning service has for many years been our primary, if not exclusive, discipleship vehicle. And what we provide has been on our schedule. If you miss the one hour window, you can request a DVD, but that will take a while to get.
The reality we face is that more and more people are having to work on Sundays, have family events, or simply choose to be gone. We can blame employers, sports, and affordable vacations, but that does us no good. Like it or not, people want spiritual growth tools available immediately.
This might actually be a really good thing. If the church can provide engaging, trustworthy teaching 24/7, disciples may consume biblical truth faster than ever. They may be the brightest, most informed believers ever. Now, we can make information available, but information does not make a mature disciple. That information must be processed in relationships.
So, as our Equipping Ministry Teams look at the future, we must find ways to provide answers and tools for discipleship 24/7, but also create more opportunities for that information to be processed and applied in relationships. We need new wineskins.
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22
For those of you who are younger and excited about this trend, we’d love to hear more from you about what you need. What issues are most pressing for you to understand? Marriage, parenting, politics, leadership…? A second question is more difficult: What vehicle would be most helpful to process what you learn online? Small groups, mentoring, Sunday school, online chat coaching, workshops, retreats, or something else. Let us know.
For those of you who are older or dread using technology, don’t give up on the next generation. They need you more than ever. They need to process and apply the information they are learning, and you have the experience and love they desperately need! This will often be informal. It may simply be asking questions at Sunday dinner or after their sporting event. Please accept this as a challenge… ask younger folks personal questions.
How are you really doing?
What decision are you struggling with?
What is God saying to you lately?
How can I pray for you this week?
We are in for an adventure as we sort through the best way “to develop and deploy Christ-like leaders.” I hope you will be all in and see God do an amazing work in you and in many others.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Soon our president will give a State of the Union address. I am sure he will celebrate the good things he has accomplished and boldly speak of what he intends to do in the coming years. Many other presidents will do the same thing for their organization or school. In fact, I’ve done this for the church some years.
As we move into 2019, I’d like to reflect on the state of the soul, particularly your soul. It’s tempting to make some bold statements about the condition of American Christians, the decline of the church, and the political tension we live in. I could blame the democrats or Trump or the Superior Court for all the problems in our country, but that is a fruitless and destructive direction to go.
Instead let’s take John Wesley’s question to open up all his small groups: “How is it with your soul?” John knew how to go deep. He did not ask our common question: “How are you?” to which we expect and often get: “Fine.” I’d like you to reflect quietly for a moment.
How is your soul?
What word comes to mind to describe your heart?
Do any of these resonate with you? Stressed,
Bitter, Anxious, Conflicted, Numb, Weary,
Disturbed, Irritable, Downcast or Depressed.
My guess is that it is not quite where you want it. Maybe it’s severe and you are venturing into escapist behaviors like binge watching TV, drinking during the day, spending beyond your means, viewing pornography, or hiding behaviors. Maybe your soul is not quite so troubled, but you know it’s not at peace. Regardless, we could all use some more peace and joy in our soul.
Jesus speaks this to us… “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29 NLT).
Sounds like a great invitation.
“Jesus, I’ll take 2lbs of rest… make that 30lbs. What it’s not for sale? I need to come, take your yoke, and learn???”
When Jesus says, “come,” he infers a humble, repentant following. When he says, “take my yoke,” he refers to God’s mission to the world. And when he says, “let me teach you,” he invites us to be an apprentice. Bottom line: rest comes from a daily walk with Jesus. A relationship where we listen, learn, and love.
If you are looking for a bit more connection with Jesus, I strongly encourage you to join us in “Experiencing God.”
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Our family recently watched the movie “I Can Only Imagine” which was based on the back story of the song by the same name. It was just as inspiring as the song.
The song, while nearly 20 years old, is the best-selling Christian song of all time. Why? Well, it beautifully radiates the experience of being in heaven with Jesus. In a previous church, we had an older couple come to Christ after a member introduced them to me because the husband found out he was dying of cancer. He lived for a few months before going to be with Jesus in heaven. This song became the rally cry of hope for the entire family.
For me, hearing the backstory of this song made it even more powerful, but I won’t spoil the movie for you. My only hope today is that you pause a bit more this Christmas season and consider the backstory of those you encounter.
Did you know Esther was a “young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail.“ (Esther 2:15) What happened to Abihail and his wife? What kind of pain and loss had Esther experienced? What was the relationship really like with her cousin/adoptive dad? What would have happened to Esther and the Jews if Mordecai had not adopted her?
Esther’s story could have been a tragedy filled with pain, rejection, and abuse, but it is one of hope and restoration.
As we delve into the Christmas story this year, I hope to see God open your heart and mind and use you to change the backstory of children. While suffering can lead to great stories of redemption, there is always a Mordecai behind the scene. This Christmas, you’ll hear from some “Mordecais” and be inspired to listen for God’s call on your life to lift others up.
Prayer: Lord, soften my heart to hear from you. Open my eyes to see the needs in this world and to respond with faith and courage.
31-Day Devotional: Fostering Hope
Be prepared to put pure religion into action as you experience this devotional plan that shares real stories from the world of a doctor working in the trenches of the foster care system. (https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/138-fostering-hope)