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