2019, Uncategorized

MARCH FROM OUR PASTORS

Journeying With Jesus Into the Wilderness

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

The Gospel accounts according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain some form of the verse above that describes a period of Jesus life just before He began His public ministry when He   spent a time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus went through this time alone, and so unlike other parts of the Gospels which could have been recorded via first hand observation by the disciples, the only way for the Gospel writers to have known about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness was for Jesus to have told them about it. The fact that three of the four Gospels all include this story means it must have made an impact on the writers of these Gospels, and I imagine the experience also left an impact on Jesus, the one telling the story. 

“The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.” Not many of us walk willingly into a difficult situation in life. We don’t willingly ask God to make us struggle financially, or to take away our comforts, or to take away our friends. For some reason, however, the Spirit propelled Jesus into this experience of being alone, of not having all those things. We might wonder why.

As Jesus spent at least 40 days in this barren place, the devil assaulted Him with temptations. Realizing Jesus was hungry, the devil tempted Jesus to give up His reliance on God and provide food for Himself. But Jesus countered:  “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). Even if Jesus were to make food for Himself, that wouldn’t be enough. Jesus knew He needed God.

Then the devil tempts Jesus with the rewards of this world, perhaps as a way to shortcut the path of suffering the Lord was planning for Him. But again, Jesus counters by leaning on God’s command that says we are to serve God only. The devil says in a sense, “Why suffer?” But Jesus’ determination is to hold true to God by believing, “Because God said so, and so I’m going to obey Him.”

Last, the devil tempts Jesus to doubt the care of God. “If you are really the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). By asking the question, the devil is really begging another question:  “If you do this, do you really think that God will catch you?” But Jesus didn’t give in to doubting God. He didn’t feel a need to test God in order to see if God’s promises to provide would come true. Jesus instead trusted God at His word. 

Why did the Spirit propel Jesus into the wilderness? We can’t be sure; only God truly knows. But we can observe that this experience provided a means for Jesus to grow closer to His Father in the way He might not have otherwise if Jesus were left to His own. Taking everything away gave the devil the tools he needed — hunger, desire, longing — but it also gave God the opportunity to satisfy each of those needs as well. Each time the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus was given a choice:  to choose God or to choose the devil. And each time Jesus chose God, God was given the chance to build on His relationship with His Son and to show Himself faithful. In the end of it all, we read that Jesus wasn’t left alone to continue hungering and thirsting, but that he was tended to by angels (Matthew 4:11). God didn’t leave Jesus alone, but gave Him everything He needed. 

Sometimes it is through the hard times that we learn to develop a real relationship with the Lord, that we learn how to trust Him, that we learn to talk to Him, and we learn to love and lean on Him as we would a real person in our lives.

If you are in the wilderness right now, we encourage you to press in closer to the Lord and not give up. God may not be the reason you are going through your experience, but He sure won’t waste the experience. As we seek Him, the Lord will see to it that we lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).

Join us Wednesday nights this Lent season as we further explore the theme of the “Wilderness Experience” during our midweek Lenten worship series at Schoeneck (dinner at 6:00 p.m., worship at 7:00 p.m.)

God bless you,

Pastors Garritt and Sanette   

2019, Uncategorized

FEBRUARY FROM OUR PASTORS

A Month of Love

“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. 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.’ 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

The aim of our renewed lives in Jesus should be to live as Jesus lived. When people see us and observe us, they should see God in us. We should resemble our Father:  “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15). 

Just what does living like God look like? Well, being that it is February, it is appropriate to talk about the way that God lives out what we call “love.” To understand God’s particular expression of love, it is important to distinguish it from the different forms of love we see evidenced in our world today. Just like the Yupik and Inuit people have multiple words for “snow,” the Greek language has multiple words to describe the different dimension of “love.” God doesn’t look down on any of these forms of love, but He certainly holds one above the rest, and that one is “agape” love. Let’s explore love in all it’s forms:

First, there is “eros,” which describes how we feel when we “fall in love.” It’s romantic, ambitious, and passionate. It’s the sitting by the phone for hours waiting on eros love to call. We don’t have to summon it into action. It summons us!

Then there is “storge.” This word usually connotes family love that occurs between parents, children, and among siblings. It’s what wakes up parents at 3:00 in the morning after lying down for only an hour to care for their precious baby. 

Next there is “philia,” which means “brotherly love.” It’s where we get the name “Philadelphia” from, the city of “brotherly love.” Philia is a love between people who are unrelated but have come to treat one another like family. It must be taught and learned. 

And last there is “agape.” This is the kind of love is the favor given to someone who has no reason or position to deserve or merit it. This is the love that God shows us and commands all of us to show each other. As one Christian writer puts it, “it is the kind of love that goes on when the road is rough and the going gets tough. It goes on when the edges are frayed and the heart is dismayed.” Agape love shows kindness and favor when it is most unnatural for us to do so — when we’ve been hurt by another. It’s the kind of love Jesus is talking about when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” He says, “Do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back” (Luke 6:35).

Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus modeled in His ministry when He called Judas “friend” even though He knew Judas was about to betray Him (Matthew 26:50). He still desired good for Judas even though Judas meant evil to Jesus. 

Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed to the ten men He healed from leprosy, knowing that only one would come back and say thank you to Him (Luke 17:11-19). He showed kindness to others without expecting those He helped to repay Him. 

Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed when He went to the cross to pay for the sins of humanity. We had no merit to earn forgiveness. Our sins grieved God, but “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He suffered so that we as sinners could be free. 

To live like Jesus means that we too give agape love to those in our lives who have hurt us. It means we treat our enemies with compassion. This, as you probably have experienced, can be a difficult task.

There are a couple of strategies that can help us. Jesus refers to a woman early in his ministry who comes to Him to pour perfume on Him saying, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). This woman was able to love — with agape love — because of how greatly she recognized the forgiving love Jesus had shown her in her life. “How has God forgiven me?” is a question we can ask when we find ourselves struggling to be kind to our enemies. Surely, God has been merciful to us when we didn’t deserve it; in response, can’t we show mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it? Jesus says again:  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Another strategy for showing agape love is to understand that we don’t have to bury the hurt in order to love. We just have to be able to let go of what we feel to be our right to hurt the person back. David, before he became Israel’s acting king, found his life in danger at the hands of King Saul who, in his jealousy and fear over David’s fame and success, desired him dead. Yet no matter how many times David was pursued by Saul and almost killed, David refused to fight back. He said, “Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (1 Samuel 26:9) He knew that if he fought back, he’d be in danger of punishment from the Lord. David was able to refrain from retaliation by resting in the knowledge that if he did what was right, the Lord would defend him. David said of Saul, “As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord Himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:10-11). It wasn’t David’s job to fight back, but he could also rest knowing that the Lord doesn’t overlook evil.

And yet, while agape love may find comfort in the justice of God, it doesn’t rest there forever. David, while hurt by Saul, still mourned when he learned of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:17). Jesus didn’t just show kindness to those He encountered, but He longed for them to come to repentance, as He desires the same for each of us:  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing (Matthew 23:37). Agape love prays for those who persecute us. We pray that people wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for their sins, but that they would come to repentance. 

As we embark into this month known for “love,” let us all endeavor through the strength of the Holy Spirit to love as Jesus loved, not just loving those people we like, but also those who have hurt us. And let us also remember how much we have been loved and forgiven by God. Amen. 

2019, Uncategorized

JANUARY FROM OUR PASTORS

Resolved to Have God in Control

New Year’s Resolutions are good and well intentioned. Eat better, go to the gym, reach out to family and friends we’ve lost touch with, spend more time with the kids, watch less TV, spend less time on the smartphone. We all have ideas of how to improve our lives from where they ended the year before. 

But what if, as we start this year, we resolve to offer ourselves up to God to be molded and shaped by Him? Yes, we may have already identified the problems in our lives and prescribed the solutions, but this is different. This is us lifting up our hands in surrender to God and saying, “Show me the way.” This is us saying, “Mold me and make me, God, for thou art the potter and I am the clay.” This is us saying to God. “Wherever you tell me to go, I’ll go; whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do.” This is us declaring that we no longer belong to ourselves; we belong to God (Ephesians 4:22-23). Again, we are not the ones in control anymore; God is: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus becomes the one directing our ship, as we say to Him, just as He said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

We say with a deep breath, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

We wake up each day and say, “Jesus, take control of my life today.” 

Jesus promises that when we open our will to His, the Holy Spirit “will guide us into all the truth” (John 16:13). He will show us the way. Jesus will “guide us into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79). But we need to make sure Jesus remains in control. The flesh may strike. Anger may come; jealousy or envy may rise. But we need to resolve to keep listening to God, to keep in step with His Spirit (Galatians 6:25). We have to keep on giving ourselves up to God again and again. 

In anger and frustration, we resolve to pray, “Show me thy way.”

In fear and worry, “Show me thy way.”

In moments of stress and busyness, “Show me thy way.”

When we want to strike back, “Show me thy way.”

When we realize that we haven’t given back out of all that God’s given us, “Show me thy way.”

When we hear Jesus say, “Feed my sheep,” and we realize that we haven’t really been serving Him, “Show me thy way.” 

We can be sure that as we find Christ, we will find our lives:  “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). Our New Year’s resolutions may have the intent of improving our lives, but only through Jesus can we truly find life.

This new year, resolve to give Jesus control. Surrender to Him, truly lay your life into His hands and allow Him to direct your path. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Love and Blessings,

Pastors Garritt and Sanette

2018, Uncategorized

DECEMBER FROM OUR PASTORS

GOD COMES TO GIVE LIFE ONCE MORE

“In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan.” (Isaiah 9:1)    

The prophet Isaiah spoke to a people guilty of sin about the coming Messiah Instead of turning to God, the people had gone to consult “mediums and spiritists” (Isa. 8:19). They had given their affection and devotion to other gods, to other “lovers” as God describes them (Jer. 3:1). Despite God having brought the people of Israel to a “fertile land to eat its produce” (Jer. 2:7), Israel had given their hearts to the world instead of God. 

To humble His people, God allowed foreign enemies to rule over them. The prophet Isaiah refers to two regions in Israel called Naphtali and Zebulun that God had allowed the foreign enemies of Syria and Assyria to claim as their first possessions. 

Because the people abandoned God, God allowed the people of these lands, and eventually the rest of Israel, to feel what life would be like without Him. They lived in distress, darkness, and hunger (Isa. 8:20-21). 

But this humbling would not last forever. While Naphtail and Zebulun were the first to experience foreign occupation, the would be the first to experience the occupation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Isaiah says, “In the future He will honor Galilee of the nations (Isa. 9:1). Naphtali and Zebulun are in the region that are more commonly known as Galilee, and it was in Galilee that Jesus would start His ministry. Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 3.28.16 PM

It may seem ordinary or insignificant, but think about it — the place that God first allowed enemies to take over would be the first place He would come to reclaim! Galilee, having lived in darkness, would be the first to experience the miracles of Jesus. They would be the first to experience the healings of Jesus, they would be the first to experience God’s favor, the first to experience the message of God:  come to me and have life (John 5:40). 

God had allowed the people to live in darkness, but His desire was not that they would stay distressed and become overcome by darkness. His desire was and still is for none to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus came to pay to price for our sins on the cross, to clear all our debts with God, and then restore us to life through the power of His Holy Spirit living in us. 

The only “price” we pay is that of a repentant heart that is willing to come to Jesus and confess our sins. It’s as we place our hearts in God’s hands that He can begin to take over and grant us the peace and life we long for.

During this season, take time to bring your hearts back to God so that you may receive His forgiveness and peace. As John the Baptist says, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.” (Luke 2:4) Don’t just give God lip- service, but be real with Him. Spend time with God that you wouldn’t ordinarily spend. Perhaps before you go to bed at night, read a passage of Scripture and let God’s word be the last word on your mind. Give Him your heart, and let the Prince of Peace complete you and give you true life and true peace. 

Love and Blessings Always, 

Pastors Garritt and Sanette 

 

2018, Uncategorized

NOVEMBER FROM OUR PASTORS

HARVEST TIME

There is a song we love to listen to, one of the lines says, “Im reaping the harvest God promised me, taking back what the devil stole from me.” What better time to be reminded of the power that we have, to reclaim the harvest stolen from us, than now. We are in the harvest season. 

Throughout the Bible, harvest has always carried great spiritual significance. It is used in parables such as fund in Luke 8:4-8 and as a way of describing spiritual growth and health as found in 2 Corinthians 9:10 and James 3:18. While harvest has also been used to explain the natural cycles of farming crops, Jesus also spoke of the spiritual harvest. 

In the John 4:35-38, Jesus spoke of the spiritual harvest to the woman at the well, His disciples, and the Samaritans. Jesus said, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). In the days following this statement, many of the Samaritans became believers in Christ (verse 41). Jesus saw the spiritual harvest of souls waiting in that village. In fact, by their own testimony, the Samaritans said we believe, “for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:44) 

We find in the Gospel of Matthew, particularly in chapter nine verses thirty-six through thirty-eight, Jesus yet again spoke of the spiritual harvest, “He saw the crowds, and he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” Here, Jesus referred to the many souls needing to be brought to repentance and faith as a harvest waiting to be realized.

A spiritual harvest is the result of God’s work in the heart of man. It is clear from the parable of the sower that some people’s hearts are good soil; when the Word of God is sown there, the person accepts it and continues to mature in Christ (Luke 8:9-15). We as laborers in Christ harvest cannot change the soil—that is God’s job (Ezekiel 36:26). However, we can be faithful to sow the seed which is the word of God, or help the plants (the people) to grow, or reap the harvest.  God will positions each and every one of us where he needs us the most.

The process of spiritual growth and maturity, from the heart’s regeneration to the recognition of faith, is often a long journey. In fact, the Bible indicates that the sower, the tender, and the reaper are likely to be different people at different times. Read John 4:35-38 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.

It is important to note that, God never desires for us to be in harms way or to suffer. The will of the Lord concerning us has always been for good and for life. Sin, has robbed us of that good which the Lord reserved for us in this life. Sin has also robbed many of Christ’s provisions of eternal life to come. For these reasons, harvest time should be especially important. First, we need to take back for ourselves what the sin has taken from us. We do this by acknowledging Jesus Christ as our soul authority every day and in all things. 

Next, the harvest is important because, as the laborers of Christ in His fields, we plant the seed of His word, we nourish the seed of His word, and pray to Jesus on behalf of others so that they may claim their inheritance of eternal life, through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus told us in Matthew 9:38 to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more laborers. We should pray about all aspects of the spiritual harvest process, including the preparation of the soil, which is the heart. We can ask God to change our hearts and the hearts of others. But remember, we can plant, we can water, we can till the soil, and we can harvest the fruit, but we cannot make the plant grow. Essentially, the heart transformation is between each person and Christ. We are simply obedient laborers whose primary tool is prayer. 

Love and Blessings Always,

Pastors Sanette and Garritt