Well, big shocker… the Van Wyk’s have more kittens. On top of the five from Slick, we came home from family camp at Silver Birch to four more kittens. Bubbles, their mother, seemed far more interested in us than her kittens when we returned, but since then has been diligently caring for her kittens.
Elyssa has already named two of them based on behavior. The lightest colored one is Oppugno, Latin for attack. The gray one is Pugno, Latin for fight back. What we have observed is Oppugno will vigilantly scratch with one paw while try to take Pugno’s position. Pugno is no pushover and claws back. It is a surprisingly vicious encounter for kittens that are only a couple days old.
These kittens illustrate much of what I see happening in our culture, on the news, over social media, and most painfully, in the Church. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been no brawls at church, but too many Christians have been using what I call “thought bombs.”
If you open Facebook, you will be inundated with these thought bombs. Trumpers blast Biden and vice versa. BLM supporters bomb the blue and vice versa. Non-maskers nuke maskers and vice versa. Many on both sides seem to believe they hold all the truth and must profess it at every turn.
I am reminded that Jesus, when caught in a very contentious moment with accusers and a woman caught in adultery (John 8), did not add fuel to the fire. He, much like Bubbles who simply ignores her fighting kittens, wrote in the sand. Maybe he was listing the sins of the accusers as some have hypothesized, or maybe he just drew a picture. Whatever he did, it de-escalated the tension. Eventually, he called each person to acknowledge their sin and do what is right. He calmed the tension and made the accusers hold their stones, i.e. thought bombs, and ponder whether stoning the women was the right thing to do.
In all fairness, Jesus was very blunt and confrontational on a some occasions when religious leaders were not changing their ways (See Matt. 21:12 & 23:13-39). So there is a time and place for calling people out, but we must beware that we will be judged more strictly (James 3:1) and we must be gentle, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:2, 15).
Initially with COVID, Facebook was inundated with positive gospel messages of hope. However, our culture has become divisive and mean. Christians, too often, have engaged in this war, launching thought bombs in the name of Jesus. I think God has been writing in the sand. To a degree, I’ve been writing in the sand, hoping the conflict simply goes away.
It’s not going away, but I have no desire to feed these fires. I’m going to write in the sand a bit longer, resist throwing thought bombs, reflect on my heart, and listen for God to speak truth.
If you wish to join me, I urge you to humbly reflect on Paul’s advice to the believers in Rome…
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)
Oh Lord, forgive me for escalating tension, for thought bombing other believers, and for thinking I have all the truth. Help me to listen to those I disagree with, to hear their heart’s intention through the words, and to bring harmony and peace.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
I had an eye appointment the other day, and, yep things are a bit blurry. They did all the regular tests and even high tech pictures of my eye. In the end, I’ll have some new glasses with slightly changed lenses.
My physical vision will be clearer. That was an easy fix.
We live in a very blurry world. Politically, socially, racially, and spiritually our world is divided and distracted. Our news media and social media are filled with conflicting arguments over everything. Should kids play sports? Should they wear masks? Should the government close businesses? Should the federal government send troops into cities?
I can see some of you boiling over in frustration. These issues and others have become very contentious as we want people to see our side is right. So often I want to play devil’s advocate to push back on strong opinions, but isn’t that really being an advocate for the devil?
Paul challenges Timothy…
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:23-24 NIV)
I do believe it matters more how we interact on these issues than whether we “win” the debate. In most of these quarrels, our eyes become blurred, anger and hurt filter what we hear, and we respond by fighting or fleeing. Now, more than ever, we must be the Lord’s servant and be kind to everyone.
The only way we can do that is through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Again, Paul gives great direction to Timothy…
“Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” (1 Timothy 4:13 NLT)
What might happen if we truly focused on, i.e. devoted ourselves to, these three things? Read. Encourage. Teach.
We are nudging you to read the minor prophets this summer, watch the Bible Project videos on each one, and then dig into the book with us.
In the Fall, we will give you another great opportunity to Read, Encourage, & Teach. We plan to use “Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ.” We hope many of you will use the workbook in your private devotions, discuss it in discipleship groups, and be inspired by the correlating sermons in worship services. This is a significant step in our discipleship path, Journey to 412, toward intentionally growing to be like Christ.
It’s tempting to think more COVID, political, or cultural information will clear up our vision, but don’t count on it. Let’s keep our eyes focused on the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) as we read Scripture, encourage believers, and teach each other.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Wow! That’s harsh. My mom! She was not that bad.
I hope you are reading the Minor prophets with us this summer. If not you might miss some gems like this one. “So I will destroy your mother”.
Why my mom? Check out Hosea’s reason...
“You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother— my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” (Hosea 4:5-6 NIV)
Four reasons are given for destroying your mom (as well as rejecting the priests and ignoring your children).
Well, that is not the intent of this passage. The straying of the Israelites (priests and children) will result in their rejection and being ignored. This results in the destruction of the nation of Israel, the mother. So, this is not about my mom or yours. What a relief, for me and my mom.
Yet, this does not exclude us as God’s children. Yes, we live under grace. Jesus died and forgave our sins. We live in a new reality! But that does not give us a license to sin.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?... What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2, 15 NIV)
There was and is a lack of knowledge. I’m sure you have learned a lot about viruses and politics over the the past few months. How many articles have you read? How many hours have you spent reading headlines? How does that compare to your efforts to learn about God?
There was and is an ignoring and rejecting of God’s word too. Not only do we fail to read and listen to God, but we tend to respond with apathy. What’s the last biblical command you intentionally sought to obey? Sacrificially loving your spouse? Instantly obeying your parents? Blessing your kids (spiritually, not materially)? See our Connecting Well series.
The challenge is clear: don’t be found ignorant or ignoring. You have a Heavenly Father who longs to walk with you, to give you hope, peace, and direction. Will you dig into God’s word this summer? Will you walk in his grace and truth?
Summer Minor Prophets reading plan, along with video overviews and our sermons can be found here... https://www.altoreformedchurch.org/minor-prophets.html
Heavenly Father, help us learn. Teach us of your love. Help us walk in your path and never stray from your truth.
By Kevin Van Wyk
In April, I wrote of the good that could and should come from the church being scattered. I explained how the early Church responded to being scattered by sharing their faith with the world. (Act 8:4, 11:21) This was a transforming moment in church history. The focus was taken off comfort and security. The church or churches were forced to step beyond their walls and circle of friends to share their faith in new places with new people and in new ways.
It’s happened again!
And now the church is being invited back to Jerusalem. The doors are open to return. But before you run back to “normal,” consider the blessing and opportunities before us.
We stand as a people of hope in a culture of fear.
We stand as a people of love in a culture of hate.
We stand as a people of truth in a culture of deception.
Let’s be honest, we are easily sucked into the fear, hate, and deception. We are deceived by media. We share the link, only to find the information was half-true. We are confronted with angry posts using deception to bash our ideology, and our hate for the other side boils over. We see the suffering of the innocent and fear we, too, may suffer. We see the abuse of power and fear the loss of control and freedom.
But, we are people of hope, love, and truth!
As you return to the building or stay home to worship, go into the (social media) world, shining some light on the fear, hate, and deception. Bring the hope, love, and truth of Jesus into the lives of everyone you meet, always watching that you avoid fear, hate, and deception.
Specifically, I encourage you to pray our core values (summarized in three words). Grace. Truth. Mission.
Grace. Lord, soften my heart. Break my prideful heart and fill it with grace, love, mercy, and thankfulness.
Truth. Lord, open my eyes. Help me see truth in your Word and your world; understanding both the Bible and the reality of others.
Mission. Lord, move my feet. Give me courage to act when I have the opportunity to bless others.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Some of the staff received emails claiming to be from me and asking for gift cards to give to the staff. They made it appear I had written it and attempted to deceive the staff into doing what seemed like a good thing.
A member’s computer was hacked and locked until they paid the hacker.
Yet another member has been deceived into sending money to a relative, who was apparently arrested. They involved two different people in the phone call: someone to impersonate the relative and then another to impersonate an attorney.
I’ve been deceived by a mechanic, well probably more than one, but I wasn’t bright enough to notice. The one I speak of convinced me the best route to go would be to give him the car to cover towing fees. He turned around and sold it for $1200. Ouch!
There is virus, other than Covid-19, in our world, and it’s just as destructive and troubling. Evil is present. The “Ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2) is spreading lies and deception everywhere we look.
So be aware, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) However, we are to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) When you get that call, see that email, read that Facebook post, or hear the “truth” on the news, please ask if could this be deception.
Step back from any decision and pray. Ask God for wisdom and direction.
It’s sad that these scams are increasing during difficult times.* Who preys on the hurting and vulnerable? Who crushes the one on their knees? Who slaps those who weep?
Lord, may your Spirit convict those who prey on the innocent. Humble them that they may repent and reconcile their wrongs. Help us see our own evil ways, to repent, and chose the better path. Reveal deception and enable us to speak truth in love.
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Some are arguing that separation of church and state, and that the instruction to "not forsake meeting together" in Hebrews 10 calls the church to continue meeting on Sunday mornings. This response to COVID-19 rejects…
Continuing to meet physically together also rejects our understanding of suffering. As Christians we believe God permits Satan to cause suffering (Job 1), but that God promises to bring good out of these difficulties for those who love God (Romans 8:28). This may be the difficult teaching (John 6:60) which caused many to turn away from Jesus. (At least in part, the idea of eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood implies sharing in his sufferings, yet continuing to obey by faith.) Living in physical isolation is a form of suffering. The earlier church experienced this and has a valuable lesson to teach us.
In Acts 8 we read about the persecution of the believers following the martyrdom of Stephen. Thousands of believers were driven from their homes, businesses, and home-churches into other communities. They did not go into hiding, but boldly stepped into a new reality: dispersion into the world. Check out what Luke says…
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4
We are in much the same situation. (Well, very different too.) Our new reality does not permit carrying on as usual. There is no more crying out, “but we’ve never done it that way before.” This is a new day and God is calling us to go and preach the good news of Jesus. I urge everyone to step up intentional efforts to love our neighbors.
Call a neighbor; someone next door, a shut-in, a mom with kids at home, a friend you’ve not heard from lately, a healthcare worker, a college student, a kid… Every one appreciates a call! I recommend you ask them how they are doing, share a fitting bible verse, and/or pray for them.
Don’t wait for people to call you! Take the initiative!
Check out what Luke says happened when the churches dispersed…
“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:21
Lord, may your hand be upon us too. May you instill in us a faith that crushes fear and a love for others that casts fear from others. Use us in this time of need to bring people from fear to faith! Amen!
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
All three of my kids are playing on basketball teams. The moments I love the most are when I see players diving, scrambling, and wrestling over a loose ball. For those without knee pads, floor burns are a painful badge of honor. I love the hustle, the dedication, and the passion! It’s inspiring to see great effort on the court.
So what ball are you chasing? What consumes your time, money and energy? This might be something completely out of hand and destroying your soul, family, and finances. Something like an addiction to gambling, porn, alcohol, or drugs might come to mind. You might be chasing down something that has the potential for great good like academics, sports, music, or carpentry.
Paul tells us “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people…” (Col. 3:23 NET) We are told to work wholeheartedly, with passion and drive. If you know what ball you are chasing, go after it in a way that glorifies God. Your intense work ethic honors God and reveals Jesus to others whether you are on the court, in the shop, on the stage, or in the home. We should be people who go enthusiastically after the ball!
Whether you are chasing hard after some ball or uncertain what ball you are to go after, I have a challenge for you.
It’s time to chase a new ball: God! Check out what the Bible says about Jehoshaphat: “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” (2 Chronicles 17:6) Notice, he got rid of the worldly balls that were leading he and others away from God. Before you begin a full pursuit of God, you should consider pushing the pause button on somethings that are consuming hours of your day.
However, I want us to focus on devoting ourselves to a new ball… the ways of the Lord. Practically speaking the New Testament gives lots of instructions on how to do this chase after God. Consider two verses…
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
"When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching…” Acts 18:5-6
Let me make these things memorable with the current theme
We must devote ourselves to the BALL.
Bibling - apostles’ teaching (1 Tim. 4:13)
Asking - prayer (Col. 4:2)
Loving - fellowship (Rom. 12:10)
Leading lost to Jesus - preach (Romans 15:20)
How are you doing on those four things? Will you join me in wholeheartedly pursuing the BALL?
By Pastor Kevin Van Wyk
Do you remember climbing up a huge pile of snow and shoving your friends and siblings off? It was great fun! Even getting pushed off was fun as you landed in the snow and slid down. There are some great hills right now just off the church parking lot… maybe I should challenge the deacons tonight at their meeting :-)
Speaking of hills, I was recently reminded I’m on top of the hill and turning 50. I was so grateful to receive an early birthday card from Agnesian Healthcare! What a wonderful healthcare system to send a card. Then I read the inside and thought, “the gift of a colonoscopy was not what I was looking for.”
Thanks for the hard truth. I’ve peaked. I’m over the hill. I’m halfway to 100, as my daughter likes to put it.
God reminds me…”Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4) What a great promise from God. He will carry me when I can’t go on. He will sustain me when I lack nourishment. He will rescue me from my sin and this world of sin.
Not only do we have these promises, but we have this challenge… “Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me.” (Psalm 71:18 NLT) The psalmist Asaph is not done, retired, and useless. He has a purpose, a calling he cannot ignore.
I have no desire to be a king of some man-made hill. I want to serve the King of kings and see the next generation stop pushing each other off the hill and start putting Jesus on the hill. May the last half of my life not be about what I like, what I want, or what I think I deserve. May it be about giving my all for the sake of the next generation, that they might know the grace and truth of God.
If you have some gray hairs, or maybe no hairs like me, will you join me in giving all you have to the mission of Jesus, in letting go of the pursuit of comfort and happiness; crushing the “me first” mentality of our culture, and living like Jesus really is your Lord?
Here’s my hope…
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.
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.
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