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?


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


Jesus Loves You

By Sarah Shuey

“Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so!” We have all sung this children’s song countless times I am sure and believe the message behind the song. But how do we share Jesus’ love for others when we can’t actually tell them those words? How do we share the love of Jesus with someone who doesn’t speak the same language? Or, on a more personal level, how do we share the love of Jesus to students in a public school?

As Christians, or more specifically followers of Jesus, our calling, our mission, our purpose, is to love God and to love others. Matthew 22:36-40 captures a conversation with Jesus and a religious leader:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We, as God’s children, were created for the purpose of loving Him and worshiping Him. God created us in His image. We are His people. His children. We are to love Him. In doing so, He alsoLove Note on Staff Paper tells us to love others, our neighbors. Jesus does not care who they are, where they are from, or what they look like, He tells us to love all of them. All of our neighbors. All of His people.

As a public school teacher and a follower of Jesus, I walk a very tricky line of sharing Jesus with my students and leaving God completely out of my teaching. I want my students to know and feel the love of God but cannot openly share my faith with those students. One of my favorite verses for this time in my life is John 13:34. Jesus is preparing His disciples, His followers,for their life without Him as He fulfills His purpose on earth. He tells them this: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” The best way that I can show the love of Jesus to my students is to love them. I cannot go up to them when they are having a rough day and say, “Jesus loves you” but I can show them I care, show them compassion, provide a listening ear, and encourage them when they need it.

As the school year winds down, I have to wonder, as I do at the end of every year, do my students know that I love them? Do they know that I care a great deal about them? I know that I get bogged down in the stress and chaos that is concert season and sometimes seem distracted and frustrated due to situations beyond my control. Despite all that, do they know they are loved? I did not get in to education because I wanted to write lesson plans or to worry about fundraisers. I care about kids and want them to have someone in their corner. Am I a perfect example of God’s love? Absolutely not. Do I get frustrated? Of course. But do I try to make sure my students know they are loved? Always.

As another popular children’s song says “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world!” He loves them all and so should we. Always.


Lessons I learned from my Grandmother (… and am still learning)

By Sarah Shuey

This week, my wonderful grandmother Betty Cooper is turning 80. This fabulous woman, the matriarch of my mother’s family, is known and loved by many and is a natural teacher just by the way she lives her life. Her daughters, sons-in-law, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and every other member of her immediate, extended, and “adopted” family can share countless stories and lessons they gathered, and continue to gather, from their time with Betty. These are just a few stories and lessons I have stowed away and continue to grow upon.

Games (board, card, or others) play an important role in building a healthy dose of competition (or unhealthy… depending on how you look at it). I’ll never forget walking into a store that sold card games with her and seeing her walk up up to the pack of Uno cards, stating “I win by default.” That is an accurate depiction of how much my grandmother loves being competitive. Always a game to win to be the grand champion (specifically Uno)! Don’t let that quiet woman fool you! She’s the most competitive of us all. When watching a sporting event, specifically football (Navy and Redskins), it is okay, and encouraged to yell at the TV. Don’t worry, they can hear you and will adjust accordingly!

Driving — or riding in — a new car is a refreshing experience. When any of us are considering a new car, the first person we check with is my grandmother. She is up to date on current styles and brands and is happy to offer her opinion as long as she is able to go for a ride in that new car. So, if someone in our family could just buy a new Subaru that would be great!

Being a Christian isn’t just about talking the talk. You have to live your faith by your actions every day. My grandmother is a strong woman of faith who reads her Bible every day, prays regularly, volunteers her time, and is involved in the daily life of the church (and not just the building). Jesus is the center of her life and I don’t think there is anyone who can say otherwise. Her faith guides every decision she and my grandfather make. They both offer sound, faith-based advice and guidance freely and willingly to anyone who asks.

Family is everything. For my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary, they paid for all of us (twelve in total) to go on a cruise for a week because all they wanted was for all of their family to be together to celebrate. We are a military family (Coast Guard and Navy) so a week where everyone was together and didn’t have to leave mid-week was a rarity. I have such fond memories of that trip! Family, and supporting that family through all situations, is of the highest importance. When you are together, laugh often and love freely!
Above all else, when given the choice, always choose chocolate. Always.

Happy Birthday Ooma!


Isn’t This What Heaven Will Be Like? Thinking Missionally

By Pam Bush

Recently I received a letter from a friend who ministers to Christian workers in closed Muslim countries. The work is very dangerous for the staff living in these countries. The organization they are associated with recently brought 650 workers to a western location for a conference for Biblical input, vision, training and refreshment.

MosqueMy friend (I’ll call him David) asked one of these missionaries what he thought of the conference and he responded, “Isn’t this what heaven will be like?” He went on to explain, “Didn’t Jesus say that he left to prepare a mansion for us where there would be no tears but joy, great feasting, constant praise and fellowship day after day? This week we are in heaven. Next week we return to hell!”

David writes: “It brought tears to my eyes. This may sound overly positive but you must understand the context for many of our local staff who live and minister in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Some are regularly in danger. Five were killed last year. If their community or the government finds out they are Christ followers who share their faith and plant churches, they would be executed. Yes, they are in “heaven” for a week but are willing to return to their home countries to continue serving as witnesses for the Gospel of Jesus. One country represented saw 86 local villagers trust Christ this year including two imams (mosque elders). They are being discipled and house churches are being organized. ”

One of the church movements is led by a group of young local men who openly and proudly call themselves “Infidels for Christ”. What might the Lord call us his Church in Reading to do?
May we all be inspired by our brothers and sisters in dangerous settings who continue faithfully in serving the Risen Lord. He lives!


Life is hard… but God is good

By Sarah Shuey

I am mildly OCD when it comes to my schedule, planning, and organizing my life in to nice, neat categories (key word being mild…). When Doug’s dad had a stroke a few weeks ago, we were left with uncertainty, unanswered questions, and the inability to plan for the near future. Not only was I struggling with emotions of grief and sadness over his health and suffering, I was thrust into this land of limbo and waiting, which is not something I handled very gracefully. Needless to say, we as a family, were all in this place of longing for answers. These weeks were brutal and just downright hard. There is no better way to put it. It was hard. One of the hardest things I have ever been through. One of the hardest things we have ever been through.

I struggled. I struggled living one day at a time. I had students ask me what we were doing the next day, people asking if I could come to a rehearsal, and meetings I needed to schedule. To each request I had to leave a giant question mark since I had no idea if I would be here or if I would need to be in Ohio that day. I struggled with what to pray. What do I say? What do we need? What is best for Carl? How do I help my husband through this? What is God’s plan? As I was sitting in the Columbus airport waiting for a flight home leaving Doug behind with his family, I was reminded of this song by Casting Crowns from several years ago. The chorus proclaims:

I’ll praise You in this stormBeautiful sunset
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

Despite our grief, our questions, our uncertainties, our unknowns, here is what I came to realize: Life is hard but God is good. He is still worthy of all our praise. He still loves us and cares for us. He hears all our prayers. Even those prayers that we cannot put into words. There were so many times in the past few weeks that all I said was “God…” and just sat in silence knowing that he was holding me. Holding us and guiding us through all the trials and tears. Despite Carl’s prognosis, we rested in the comfort that soon he would be healed, restored, and perfect again. His faith was strong as evidenced by the faith of his children. He would be with Jesus and in a much better place than we could ever hope to provide for him here on this earth. A friend reminded me of that fact this past week, which brought me such comfort and strength. Through this, I learned just how many people are in our corner, how many people care, and just how powerful prayer can be even when the outcome is not quite what we originally hoped.

On the morning of March 20th, 15 days after Carl’s stroke, our prayers of healing were answered. While his family was in church for the first time since this journey started, worshiping and being encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ, Carl was received in to the open arms of Jesus. As Dr. Carriker said in his sermon that morning, God does not make all new things. He makes all things new. Carl is healed, restored, and brand new in his body, praising Jesus. And while we grieve and mourn his loss here, we know that he is in a much better place and we know, without a doubt, that God is good. He will give us His peace, love, and strength as we go through this time. Praise God we have the promise of forever!


Toxic Christianity

By Dr. Mel Sensenig

I started watching a TV series this month that featured a rather stock Hollywood character, the crazy preacher threatening judgment on everyone in his small Midwestern town. This particular preacher sometimes even received messages from God through his defective hearing aid. It made me laugh – and it also made me think about how our spirituality is perceived by outsiders.

AdobeStock_41558737 [Converted]The caricatures that we see on TV of crazy religious people doing crazy things in the name of God is not just part of Hollywood’s so called war on religion. One can only make a caricature of something that actually exists. Toxic Christianity is a problem that has existed all throughout the church. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther, said, “…how are we to flee the world? Not by donning caps and creeping into a corner or going into the wilderness. You cannot so escape the devil and sin. Satan will as easily find you in the wilderness in a gray cap as he will in the market in a red coat. It is the heart which must flee, and that by keeping itself “unspotted from the world,” as James 1:27 says.” James was responding to a problem in the first century church. In fact, the Greek word for “religious” in James 1:26 refers to any kind of religious activity such as attendance at services, fasting, etc., in any religion. James also says in 1:26 that religion can be empty, or worthless. It’s a strong word, and is the same word used it to describe Israel’s idolatry for which the Lord eventually sent them into exile.

This reminded me again powerfully that there is such a thing as bad religion, and it can even be worse than no religion because it feeds our innate self-righteousness and leads us away from our total dependence upon Christ. In fact, Jonathan Edwards, the well-known Puritan preacher, said, “… the Scripture never uses such emphatical expressions concerning any other signs of hypocrisy, and unsoundness of heart, as concerning an unholy practice [of religion].” It’s astounding to think that there could be such a thing as an “unholy” expression of Christianity! But that is the testimony of Scripture and some of the church’s best teachers throughout the ages.

It makes me long for the pure, spotless religion that James describes and that the world respects: an accurate knowledge of my own spirituality, both its strengths and weaknesses, sincerity, peaceableness, care for the poor and the oppressed, all of which come, James says, from the new creation work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other source is just bad religion!

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