To Think About & Discuss

20
Jul

Attracting Others to the Gospel

By Chris DiVietro

On Monday we recalled the God of Jacob is our fortress not so we can retreat from the battle, but so we can be equipped for the battle. To fully see how that bears true for us as the New Testament church today, we need to back up a little bit.

In the Old Testament, when Israel worshipped the Lord faithfully other nations took notice. God intended for foreign nations to see Israel’s devotion to the Lord and His greatness, and subsequently be drawn to Him. That is the main thrust of Deuteronomy 4:5-8:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statues and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today.

In the context of Deuteronomy 4, Israel is told the ethical quality of their lives – obedience to the law—would attract the nations to the living God. If Israel would live as God intended them to, the nations would notice—the content and quality of the Israelites’ lives would attract the nations to Israel because of its nearness to the living God. Lives lived in worship of and devotion to God—by their very nature—attract others to observe, learn, and even understand. An attractive community is one that obeys faithfully, lives faithfully, worship unceasingly, and relies on “missional magnetism” to attract others to the Gospel.

The church is in some sense an attractive community, it seeks to attract nonbelievers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christopher Wright says, “God’s people are to live in such a way that they become attractors—not attractors to themselves, but to the God they worship.” Elmer Towns and Ed Stetzer define attractional churches today as those that have established buildings and staffs, gather at prescheduled times, promote programs, and function as institutionalized organizations. The attractional church—a redemptive community that exists as an established institution to which others are attracted—has its origins in the Old Testament and in God’s purposes for Israel, seen in Isaiah 49:6, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.”

However, churches must not be attractional alone. Attracting others to worship God is only one half of the equation. Next week we’ll unpack more theology behind the attractional emphasis in ministry before seeing how it has shifted now that Jesus has come to earth and sent the church out.

18
Jul

Sent out in the Puposes of God

By Chris DiVietro

Sunday’s sermon saw us spend time in Psalm 46. Specifically, we saw that God is good to us, that He may be good through us. God delivers His people in victory, that His glory and renown might then be made known to the nations. The Lord of hosts is not with us so that we can run to Him and hide, but so that we can run with Him and see victory.

The God of Jacob is our fortress not so we can retreat from the battle, but so we can be equipped for the battle. We’re not told to be still and know God is God to alleviate our concerns of a financial, relational, physical, or emotional nature. We’re told to be still and know God is God to alleviate our anxiety over the supremacy of God in a world that increasingly runs from Him.

Major themes presented themselves in our study of Psalm 46, and a Sunday morning sermon did not leave nearly enough time to unpack them with the degree of seriousness they deserve. In the coming blog posts we’ll trace themes related to the temple, the presence of God, and Jesus Christ and their connectedness, with more intentionality and attention given to their implication for the church and our mission to make disciples.

Until then, my prayer for our church family is the same: This week may we have anxiety over the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves; may our prayers concern the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves, and may we be sent out into the world to pursue the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves. Then, let us each be still and know the Lord is our God. The Lord of hosts with us; the god of Jacob is our fortress. Know He will be exalted among the nations; know He will be exalted in the earth.

02
Dec

A Gift of Value

By Allen Moyer, Stewardship Chair

In Mark 14:3-9 we find an event described in the last week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus: His anointing at Bethany.

Mark tells of an expensive gift of pure nard used by Mary to anoint the head of Jesus at a gathering in a local home.  With his disciples and others in attendance some start to grumble at the waste of this valuable gift on the head of their rabbi. Anointing with Nard

However noble their reasons for objecting (it could’ve been sold for money to help the poor), they missed the importance of worship and giving our best back to God in that particular moment.

Certainly this perfume was very valuable – 300 denarii, a year’s wages in those days.  We might view this as contradictory, love for neighbor versus love for God, but the lesson here is that God receives gladly the gifts we value.

As you pray about your pledge to First Presbyterian church, meditate on the fact that God owns all of creation.  He gives us abundant resources to steward and one way we show our gratitude is to give back to Him those things that we highly value.

May we be willing to give up what is valuable to us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Some material taken from Tabletalk Magazine, October 2016

03
Nov

Stewardship Update

By Barbara Macczak
The end of the year is quickly approaching. To date, we have been blessed with more than $155,000 in Pledges. As Allen Moyer has presented, we must examine our hearts to determine what soil we are most like. We should ask: What is my heart like? Where will my heart lead me as I consider how best to use my money and my talents, essentially my gifts from God?

Please read these thoughts from Kim-Marie Coon. When I read this, I was reminded of Matthew 13:16-17. “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

-Barbara

When I Said I Wanted to Start Tithing

by Kim-Marie Coon

When I said that I wanted to start tithing, someone asked me if I was tithing on my gross or on my net income. Well, net… I don’t actually get the other part; the government gets it. Then they asked me if I wanted to be blessed on the gross or on the net. Dang.

That is a surprisingly hard question. Of course I want to be blessed on the gross, but I don’t want to have to give up any more than I have to. It’s mine. I need it. Then just as I was fretting that answer, a check came in the mail. It was a refund from the IRS six months after tax day. It seems my accountant dropped a zero on my withholding. The difference in what I owed and what I paid was substantial.

Now the question became more pressing. Do I want to take money from a God who blesses me, or do I want to send it out and bless others with it? Do I want to take the grace God has shown me and show it to others, or do I want to hoard it for myself?

To me, this is what the parable of the sower is saying when it talks about the seed thrown on the bad soil not sprouting into grain. We’re the soil, God’s grace is the seed.

Some people don’t even notice God’s grace when it’s been given – those people are the hard path, the grace gets carried away without ever making an impact.

Some people notice, but don’t acknowledge that it’s from God: “Well, that was a lucky break!” Those people are the rocky ground. Something sprouts, but not enough to take root in their lives.

Some people receive God’s grace, but don’t reflect it out into the world. “I deserved it, you don’t.” Those are the sprouts that get choked out by the weeds of the world. God says I should know better, but the world says I earned it, it was for me and me alone.

Then there are those who receive the grace of God and feel every tiny seed of that blessing. God has given me a good life. I love my life and I love my God. God would want me to share some of my blessings with others as he shared those blessings with me. Those are the people who bless the world “one hundred, sixty or thirty times as much.”

God looks out for me. I feel every tiny seed and I want to be the fertile soil in which it grows. Pledging isn’t as hard as it seems. I have mine set up automatically so I don’t even notice that it’s gone. I don’t have to write a check. I don’t have to think. I don’t have be tempted to take it back because it’s mine. It’s not mine. Everything I have been blessed with was a gift from God. All I have to do is give a little of it back.

20
Oct

What Are You Learning from the Parable of the Sower?

By Barbara Macczak

Do you bear good fruit for Christ? Or, do you spend your time, talent and treasure constantly acquiring more toys, clutter and junk. Our time, our talent and our treasure are gifts that God has given us. What we do with them is our gift back to God.
sower

We are all called to graciously give back to the Lord in proportion to the blessings we have been given. This means everyone isn’t called to give the same amount, but is called to give equal sacrifice. No amount is too small or insignificant! Open your heart, how is God calling you?

A person’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart. Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. May our faith and our lives exemplify the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower.

10
Oct

Thoughts on the Parable of the Sower and Stewardship

By Allen Moyer, Stewardship Chair

The Parable of the Sower is found in the three synoptic gospels: Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8.

Let’s review where the seed falls. Some fell on the path and the birds came and ate it. Some fell on the rocky soil and while it grew quickly it withered away because it couldn’t grow roots. Some fell among weeds and the good plants were choked by them. Some fell on fertile soil and produced a hundred-fold yield.

Allen Moyer, Stewardship Chair
Let’s now add some context to this story. Most Galileans, like most people in the Roman Empire, were rural farmers. Many ancient sources speak of plowing fields before sowing, but others clearly speak of sowing before plowing and Jesus chooses the latter in presenting this parable. Much of the soil in the Holy Land is rocky. There is thistle (thorns) that is common around roads and can reach more than three feet, typically in the month of April. The average yield of seed in ancient Israel was probably between seven and a half to tenfold. Finally, ancient legal sources show that feuding, rival farmers occasionally did sow poisonous plants (called darnel) in one another’s fields.

Jesus explains this parable to his disciples. This parable pertains to the individual’s response to the Word of God. One hears and doesn’t understand, and the word is snatched away. One hears and initially responds with joy but only for a little while. One hears but clings to the things of this world. One hears and understands and a harvest is produced.
So what does stewardship have to do with this parable?

Sowing seeds starts the process of growth and we all should be good stewards of God’s Word as we sow this seed in the kingdom here on earth.
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” A biblical understanding of stewardship rests on the foundation that God is the creator and owner of all things. We really don’t own anything. What we have comes from the Lord. All that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. We belong to him.
1 Chronicles 29:14 says, (David prays) “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” We can however, return to God a portion of that which is God’s and we offer this portion not out of duty, but as a response to God’s gracious love for us.
Stewardship is not a particular once-a-year church activity. It is a way of life that puts God first in all things. Jesus is the very model of stewardship. He used the gifts God entrusted him with to teach, preach, and heal.

When we listen to appeals for better stewardship of our money, our hearts may be like one of the soils. Some hearts may be likened to the hard path where the seed of the stewardship message can easily be devoured. Some hearts may be like a rock that at first allows the appeal for stewardship to gain a brief but rootless hold on our hearts, but which later results in shriveled support for faithful stewardship because of the temptation of other uses of our money. Some hearts may be the thorny “plants”, i.e. concerns, riches, and pleasures that choke out the good fruit of faithful, committed stewardship. Some hearts may be like good soil that provides fertile ground for spiritual growth through faithful stewardship of our money.
We should ask: What is my heart like? Where will my heart lead me as I consider how best to use my money and my talents, essentially my gifts from God?

23
Aug

Races, Hurdles, and Mountain Climbing

By Sarah Shuey

If your household is anything like ours, you’ve spent the past few weeks completely exhausted due to late nights, feeling a mix of elation, pride, and at times, disappointment. Thank goodness the Olympics only come around every few years! I greatly enjoy cheering on the underdog, watching record breakers defy the odds, and even crying along with those crying on screen. I’ve learned more about synchronized diving than I ever knew before. During those 16 days, we watch events we would never watch otherwise. For example, the other day, my TV screen was showing four different events: golf, tennis, badminton (which they take incredibly seriously, by the way), and trampoline gymnastics. Who knew that trampoline gymnastics was a thing? I sure didn’t and apparently it’s been around since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Michael-Phelps

One of the greatest parts of the Olympics is hearing the stories. There are so many GOOD stories about athletes and their families – abandonment, fleeing countries, incredible comebacks of all kinds, surgeries, and the list goes on. Sometimes the best stories come after the medal. David Boudia and Steele Johnson took home a silver medal for the men’s synchronized diving. Not only are they amazing at an event that I can’t comprehend, but when interviewed about their success, the first thing they both said was amazing to witness. Both men stated that their identity is in Christ, not in silver medals and awards. How awesome is that!?! We are not defined by the things we do or the things that happen to us but by the One that created us. These men spoke boldly for Christ on one of the biggest platforms around. They were interviewed live on national television about their success and they made it clear that Christ was the most important thing to them. That just amazes and excites me to see people living for Him so publicly.

Our Christian faith can sometimes feel like a race. Maybe not quite as fast as record breaker Usain Bolt, but a race nonetheless. Often times it may feel like hurdles with the ups and downs we face. Or other times it may be more like extreme mountain climbing (if that were an Olympic sport). In the beginning of Hebrews chapter 12 we read “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfect or of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Don’t lose heart in this race. Jesus overcame it all for us. Then in 1 Corinthians, Paul says in his letter “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

This race we are running has a glorious finish line. Eternity with Christ. It doesn’t get much better than that! These athletes compete with the end goal in mind: the gold medal. We run with the end in mind as well: Jesus.

Finish strong, my friends. The end is worth it. I promise.

26
Jul

Spoiler Alert: Jesus Wins!

By Sarah Shuey

I am an avid reader. I love books. In fact, I am pretty sure that “love” is not strong enough. I most often carry a book with me and if it is not with me, it is probably in my car waiting for me. There is nothing quite like getting caught up in a good (clean) love story, a gripping thriller, or the adventure of a mystery novel. For my birthday, Doug gave me a shirt that says, “Skip the Movie, Read the Book,” which I wear proudly and frequently. I have also been known to skim the end of the book when I just desperately need to know if they end up together, who committed the crime, or if the main character is still alive. It is a horrible habit, I know, but I will admit that I have gotten better at not doing that as it takes away from the story as a whole. Or so I’ve been told. Apparently people do not always appreciate spoilers.

When I talk to people who love books as I do or listen to podcasts on books, there seems to be a common theme. BookHeart Choosing a favorite book is like choosing a favorite child (or pet, or student, etc.). I, however, appear to differ in that aspect. My favorite book of all time (not counting the Bible), is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. This historical novel is a fictional retelling of the story of Hosea. God tells Hosea to go marry the adulterous woman and despite her leaving, God asks Hosea to love her like He loves the Israelites. Redeeming Love captures the essence of that story and tells the tale of Michael Hosea and Sarah. Without providing any spoilers, I think what draws me to this book is the constant overriding imagery of God’s unconditional and unending love for us, His children. I must have read this book a dozen times and still cry each time I read it. In fact, it has been a few years – maybe it is time for me to read it again!

A book can take you on a journey. It can make you cry from sorrow or happiness.It can make you think, analyze, and evaluate on a general level and a personal level. To find a book that incorporates all of those aspects is extremely rare. In fact, I can only think of one book that evokes all kinds of emotions, tells tales of adventure and battles, and concludes with the greatest victory of all time. The Bible is a book that is meant to be read, and reread, and reread again. The overriding theme is God’s love for us. Every story and every tale leads to that connection. Also, it is okay to skip to the ending! In our society, there is an extreme amount of unrest and conflict. Relationships are being torn apart due to politics. People are being hurt or worse due to terror attacks. So much pain and suffering all around us. It is times like these that remembering the ending is the best part.

In church this morning, we sang a well-known and well-loved hymn: A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It is easy, at times, to go through the motions and just sing the words on the screen without actually making sense of what those words mean. Today, however, that third verse stuck out to me.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

“For lo his doom is sure.” Satan loses! Satan is defeated and Jesus reigns as King! This grief, this stress, this sorrow, this pain, it does not last. I almost felt as though Martin Luther knew what times we were going to be facing when he wrote this hymn. It applied then when he wrote it. It applies to all of us now. Our hope, our lasting promise, is this: Jesus Wins. No spoilers, just an everlasting promise. Jesus is stronger than all of this and in the end, He will reign forever!

19
Jul

Identify & Empathize

By Pastor Rick Hampton

(Continued from last month’s post)

Because of the fears we have we arm ourselves with life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and fire insurance. Because of the atmosphere of fear we lock our doors at night and we take our keys out of the car and lock the car doors when we come to church.

In the eighth chapter of Romans Paul makes a statement about the environment of fear in which we live. He tells us that, as Christians, We have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear. (Romans 8:15a) AdobeStock_83925211

Paul told Timothy God has not given to us a spirit of fear (I Timothy 1:7). John says, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18).

I like to share the ten things Paul tells us in Romans 8 that will free us from our fears. Read these ten things from time to time to reassure yourself that the issue of fears can be overcome. Paul gives us the way. There is no fear in judgment because we are in Christ. The weakness of the flesh has no fear for us because we are in Christ.

No knowing the way to go, not knowing what to do presents no fear because we are led by the Spirit of God The accusations of Satan hold no fear for us because the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God.

There is no fear in that which hurts the flesh because we are sharing the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no fear in the troubles of now because they will not be worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. There is no fear in prayer because the Spirit helps our infirmities. There is no fear produced by changes that we don’t understand because we know that all things work together for good for them who loves God, who are called according to His purpose. There is no fear of the past, present or future because we have been set aside as the Lord’s from all eternity. There is no fear of anything or anyone because the Lord because the Lord is for us.

There is no fear of lack because with Christ we have the gift of all things necessary. There is no fear of defeat because we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Keep in mind God was not content to visit His people periodically. He went several steps further and sent His Son to live with us: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14. In Jesus Christ the transcendent God became man and one with us. The purpose of the incarnation was not so that God could condemn or censure the human family, but that He could save it unto Himself. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17.

Perhaps nothing more characterizes the life and ministry of Jesus than His identification and empathy with people, including and especially those whom society condemned as sinners. Jesus often visited people in their homes where he listened to them, ate with them and generally met their needs.

The benefits of pastoral visitation as well as visitation of the laity can hardly be overemphasized or belabored. To be effective, pastors cannot afford to remain apart from their members. We must meet people where they are. Sometimes it requires a layman who has walked the same walk to bring insight and guidance. It cannot be accomplished by the pastor alone. When visiting is done by a pastor or laymen it helps to build warm and caring relationships.

I encourage you to make our staff or me personally aware of those who are suffering, have a long term illness, preparing to undergo surgery and shut-ins. I am thankful for members of the congregation who are doing visiting on their own. When I talk to those you’ve visited, I hear expressions of joy and encouragement from them.

Reach out from your own spiritual experiences and uplift others who suffer.

22
Jun

Live Unafraid

By Pastor Rick Hampton

The words “fear,” “anxious,” “afraid” and “troubled” often formed an important part of the conversation of Christ. Why did our Lord say so much on the subject of fear? It must have been because he found so much of it everywhere he went.

It’s not any different today. The world in which we live is heavily overcast with fear. We are afraid of our friends and we are afraid of our enemies. We are afraid of others and we are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of youth and we are afraid of old age. We are afraid of sickness and we are afraid of health.

We are afraid of sorrow and we are afraid of joy. We are afraid to cry and we are afraid to laugh. We are afraid of mistakes and we are afraid of perfection. We are afraid of loss and we are afraid of gain. We are afraid of things as they are and we are afraid of change. We are afraid to be silent and we are afraid to speak up.

We are afraid of poverty and we are afraid of wealth. Hope Loading We are afraid to buy and we are afraid to sell. We are afraid to borrow and we are afraid to lend. We are afraid of evil and we are afraid of good. We are afraid of slavery and we are afraid of freedom. We are afraid of war and we are afraid of peace. We are afraid of hate and we are afraid of love. We are afraid of what we don’t know and we are afraid of what we do know.
We are afraid of our weakness and we are afraid of our strength. We are afraid of the old and we are afraid of the new. We are afraid of the present and we afraid of the future. We are afraid of life and we are afraid of death. We are afraid of hell and we are afraid of heaven. We are afraid of everything and everybody.

Because of this fear we arm ourselves with life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and fire insurance. Because of this atmosphere of fear we lock our doors at night and we take our keys out of the car when we come to church.

In the eighth chapter of Romans Paul addressed himself to this environment of fear in which we live. He tells us that, as Christians, we have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear (Romans 8:15a). Paul told young Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear (I Timothy 1:7). John says, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear hath torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18). Next issue I will give you some more insight into what Paul says in Romans 8. Paul tells us ten things that will free us from our fears. God bless you as you live unafraid in Christ.
Pastor Rick

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