Here you will find a monthly message from Pastor Bill Wade.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalms 103:2–5)
I read these verses from Psalm 103 the other morning during my morning prayer time. I decided to pray through each of the “benefits” that God has given - and continues to give - to us. Something hung me up at “who redeems your life from the pit.” My mind turned to Joseph in Genesis 37: cast off by his brothers and sold into slavery - but only after they were barely convinced not to leave him there to rot. Then I thought of Daniel: thrown into a pit with merciless lions - unfairly judged and sentenced to very cruel and unusual execution just for praying privately. Then I thought of so many people in this world who are stuck in desperate situations… refugees on the run with no place to go and no one to give them a welcome… a wife and young children who have a husband/father who has been given only days left to live due to inoperable cancer… an orphan who has been bounced from family to family and realizes that no one loves him - he is ultimately alone. By comparison, my pit is rather shallow.
But a shallow pit still feels helpless.
I read in my study Bible notes that the pit in Jewish thinking was usually another way of saying death. So really, David is saying that the Lord redeems our lives from death. And we know that Jesus, God the Son, came into our world as a baby to do just that - to redeem our lives from the deathly hole that we cannot escape on our own. So, maybe I shouldn’t complain to God about my shallow pit. But then I remembered the little parable that Jesus told in Matthew 12:11–12: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” “You do know,” I said to myself, “that you are the fallen sheep more than you are the shepherd trying to lift up others, right?” Yes, Jesus rescued me from the pit of death, but He also is a Shepherd who never hesitates to answer the call of one of His sheep who feel stuck in a pit - no matter how shallow or deep.
So, here’s the point: when you feel stuck and helpless call out to God. It’s okay - you’re not being petty or lacking in faith. It is His nature to listen to your call and to come rescue you and redeem you. This Christmas season, remind yourself that this is exactly why the baby came for you. And this is why we bless Him.
Half-a-Thou and Two
Hmmm. What should I write about this month? I’m a pastor in a denomination that subscribes to reformed theology, and October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day that a German monk posted a piece of paper on the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. I think I’ll write about the same thing every other reformed pastor is writing about! I’m not going to rehash all the details of the Reformation - how it started and all the people who were involved - I just want to remind us of what the Reformation still means for us today.
When I think about the Reformation of the Church in the 16th century, there are two men who always spring to the front of our minds: Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both men have amazing stories. Both men were pretty doggone smart. And courageous. And bold! But I think that you can summarize their contributions to the church with two simple concepts. Martin Luther taught us that the Bible really is the Word of God, and if there is ever a disagreement between what the Church teaches and what the Bible teaches… the Bible always wins. And John Calvin taught us that the main theme of what the Bible teaches is the absolute majesty of God.
The Bible is true, and God gets all the glory. That’s it! That’s the Reformation in the two simplest statements I can come up with. There are a lot of doctrines and principles that come out of those two concepts, but every truth that we believe in stands on the foundation of those particular truths. [For example, think of the “Five Points of Calvinism” or the Five Solas: “by Scripture alone… by faith alone…by grace alone… through Christ alone… glory to God alone.”] Our problem is that the church keeps creeping away from both of those simple concepts. We need to remember that the Reformation was not a new and novel teaching for the church; it was a return to God’s original, clear message of the gospel. So, now that we are worshiping in a church 500 hundred years after Luther nailed his 95 Theses on that door (half-a-thou!), let’s make sure that we keep reforming the church - not to something new, but to something much older than 500 years: - the Bible is true, and God gets all the glory.
You remember those old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials? “Hey! You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” “Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” … “Mmmmm, delicious!” The commercial is supposed to make you think that chocolate and peanut butter are an unlikely pairing, but it turns out that they taste great together. [They’re right, of course - Reese’s cups rock!] I had my own aha! moment about an unexpected pairing this week.
We’ve started working our way through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes on Sunday mornings. The theme of the book is expressed over and over in verses like Ecclesiastes 1:14 - I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. It doesn’t take long to relate to a statement like this. Life can seem difficult, fleeting, and even meaningless, and it’s easy for us to feel discouraged. But do you realize what a statement like this is? It is a worldview. A worldview is more than just a way of looking at our world; it is a way of understanding our place in the world and of prioritizing our interactions with the world. On the surface, it appears that the Ecclesiastes 1:14 worldview is completely negative and pessimistic, but it is oddly comforting to me because it feels so doggone realistic.
Then you have Romans 8:28 - And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Now, that’s a worldview that I can sink my teeth into! No matter what happens in my life, I can know that God is both sovereign and kind. I can trust that my present sufferings are not permanent, and I can believe that nothing in my life is meaningless. The Romans 8:28 worldview is positive and optimistic, and it fills me with hope.
It seems certain that these two worldviews are in no way compatible with each other. Except for one thing… they’re both Biblical! The Bible is both realistic and hopeful. For some reason, we tend to prefer to gravitate toward one extreme or the other. The problem with being only realistic is that we tend to stop reaching out for God’s grace. The problem with camping out only on the hope side is that we start to take God’s grace for granted. Either way, we’re missing a huge part of the Gospel! I hope you can see that we need both chocolate and peanut butter in order to grasp the Good News of grace. The gift of Ecclesiastes is to show us that there is nothing in this world that can save us or give us life - we desperately need God’s grace. The gift of Romans is to show us that nothing in this world can defeat the work of God’s grace in saving us and giving us life. So, don’t be afraid to take a big bit out of the book of Ecclesiastes… just make sure that Romans 8:28 is hanging around too!
Sometimes you just need to hear a different voice. (Kinda like that time Venus Flytrap explained the structure of an atom to a ghetto kid on WKRP in Cincinnati - I know, I know, I’m dating myself. Look it up on YouTube.) I watched recently two interviews involving my favorite bands that brought fresh voices to me about Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
First, I watched a wide-ranging interview with U2 about the 30th anniversary of arguably their greatest album, The Joshua Tree. I’ve always admired Bono’s heart and his passion, but I don’t always agree with him politically. For example, I’ve had a hard time understanding why he - and so many others - don’t acknowledge that out-of-control illegal immigration can be problematic. When the interviewer asked the band why they thought this album was so embraced by Americans, Bono replied [http://www.u2.com/media/player/1275/1, starting at 18:11]:
The Irish more than most see America as a kind of promised land… We’re open to this idea that [America] is more than just a country; it’s an idea… Ireland is a great country, New Zealand is a great country, but they’re not ideas… I felt I personally became like an annoying fan of this mythic America, where the liner notes of the country - like the “Declaration of Independence” - I would follow America into the bathroom and quote the liner notes, saying, “What’s happened to you? This is who you are; you’re not living up to who you are…”
Bono talks about a song called “American Soul” on their upcoming album that has a lyric: “It's not a place, this country is to me a thought/ It offers grace for every welcome that is sought.”
He quotes Ronald Reagan from his famous City Shining on a Hill speech: “If there has to be walls, those walls will have doors and those doors will be open…” Finally, Bono concludes, “The principles are best expressed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ That’s what America is, and that’s why we love them.”
Hearing Bono gush over America - the ideas of freedom and welcome - finally helped me to understand a different perspective on immigration. When he hears the wall-builders, all he hears is anti-welcome. Listening to him, I felt like I finally understood his viewpoint better. My response is: where are the people on the right who say, “We’re pro-immigration; we’re just pro wise-immigration”? And where are the people on the left who say, “We welcome all who want to immigrate into our country and to embrace our foundational, constitutional ideals of freedom”?
A second interview was a panel discussion on race, religion and reconciliation moderated by Jon Foreman, the lead singer for the band Switchfoot. During the interview a Christian hip hop artist named Propaganda suggested that God-and-country has replaced God-and-neighbor. In the parable about the Good Samaritan when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus went to a person from another nation, a person that they had racist feelings towards. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKn-AG2SbiU, starting about 17min]. He’s right! In our culture - our evangelical, Christian, American culture - we sometimes act like God wants us to protect our country and our culture more than we want to love our neighbor.
I know this is too short of a forum to discuss these topics satisfactorily, but they are important topics. And the surprising part is this: these are Gospel-related topics! We’ve stopped listening to the perspectives of people we disagree with politically, and as a result the Church is losing it’s voice in our culture. I wonder what would happen if we, as representatives of Jesus in this broken, messed-up, and volatile world, proved ourselves to be neighbors by listening to some fresh voices and by loving our neighbors - even the ones we don’t understand?
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one… (Ephesians 6:16)
I just watched the movie Star Trek Beyond for the second time. The bad guys attack the good guys with thousands - perhaps millions - of tiny, pointy, drone spaceships. Their effectiveness is not in their power or weapons, but in their number. There are simply too many of the swarming “bees” to defend against - especially when each craft is willing to crash into it’s target for massive cumulative damage.
I’ve always assumed that the flaming darts of the evil one are the times when my faith is challenged by enormous questions: an atheist asserts that a “God” who allows suffering could not possibly be good or powerful, or an evolutionist mocks my belief in human beings being designed with dignity by a loving Creator. I’d better be ready to give an answer to the big faith-challenging questions like these! But I’m starting to think that the flaming darts are more like those nasty little “bee” drones. It’s not the big, powerful challenges that tend to harm our faith so much as the relentless little stings. Someone recently pointed out to me that in Ephesians 4:17 - 6:9 no less than 32 flaming darts can be identified:
sensuality, greed, every kind of impurity, falsehood, sinful anger, holding onto anger, stealing by being lazy, corrupting talk, not speaking to build others up, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, malice, unkindness, not tenderhearted, unforgiveness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, sexually immoral, impure, covetous, unfruitful works of darkness, drunk with wine, self-centered, wives not submitting to husbands, husbands not loving wives, disobedience toward parents, harsh discipline on children, dishonoring masters, disrespecting servants…
So many of those flaming darts crash into us with relentless consistency that they wear us down. How can we fight off the relentless small attacks from Satan, the world, and our flesh?
This is where we need to rethink what it means to wield the shield of faith. Let’s look at just one verse for now: (Romans 13:12) The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We focus on the “cast off” and the “put on” parts - and we should. But how often do we think about - and believe! - that “the night is far gone” - already? We are no longer walking through the darkness of a sin-controlled life! If we belong to Jesus, things are different. We are different! Captain Kirk defeated the drones with a little help from the Beastie Boys (I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to see how). We defeat all the flaming darts because we now have the Holy Spirit of Christ living in our hearts. The fight is relentless, but the battle is won by faith in Christ - consistent, attentive, relentless faith in Christ. Are those flaming darts getting to you, or are you holding up the shield that Jesus gave you?
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
I have this little saying that I tell my children, especially in the summer, when I hear one of them whine about being bored. In typical Dad-fashion, I respond with the sage wisdom of: “You’re not bored; you’re boring!” I hope that they hear the intended humor in my eye-roll-worthy proverb, as I suggest they explore the endless opportunities of books, games, or playing outside. But what if escaping boredom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if it’s closer to the truth that we just aren’t bored enough?
I read an article recently by Dr. Derek Halvorson, president of Covenant College titled “In Praise of Boredom” [The View, Spring 2017]. He quoted a University of Virginia and Harvard joint research project that found that “participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think… and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.” Wow, those people really do not like being bored! But we’re not really all that different. How often do we check Instagram or play a quick round of Candy Crush or Mahjong on our smart phone when the store checkout line is taking too long? We could spend that time actually having a polite conversation with the salesperson. The fact is, we have trained ourselves to respond to the slightest hint of boredom with… distraction.
One of my favorite songs by the group Twenty One Pilots is called “Car Radio”. The song that tells the melancholy story of a time when the singer had his car broken into and someone stole his radio. So, now he finds himself forced to drive around in… uncomfortable quietness. He sings:
There's no hiding for me / I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real / I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts, so often I ought / To replace that slot with what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole my car radio / And now I just sit in silence…
(If you’ve never heard the song, look it up - it’s got a creative, weird edge to it, but it’s brilliant.) If you personally do not feel a high sense of discomfort with being left alone with nothing but your own thoughts, then realize that many in our culture do. We are a people of distraction. Perhaps the problem is that we have lost the ability to wait. In Psalm 27:14 it’s not enough to tell us once to wait for the Lord, we have to be told twice! And then, in Psalm 37:7 we’re instructed: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…
How often do you work be still and wait patiently into your daily routine? Maybe we need to train ourselves to be okay with a little boredom. Maybe our children would benefit from a little boredom now and then too. How much would our children love it if mom or dad just sat with them for a while and did nothing… together! Maybe we’d regain a little bit of the art of conversation again, or maybe - just maybe - we’d find that God shows up when we stop crowding Him out with all the things that distract us. It’s summertime - enjoy a little boredom!
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… For we are God’s fellow workers.
You are God’s field… (1 Corinthians 3:6–9)
Our 3rd - 5th graders just finished planting the garden next to the church building to raise produce for our local food pantry. The process of growing plants seems to be one of God’s favorite illustrations in the Bible. One of the lessons we learn from gardening is the glory of monotony (which is probably why I’m not a better gardener). We don’t like waiting. Or doing the same things over-and-over again. Or… waiting. (How grumpy do we get when we try to load a web page and it doesn’t appear fully on our screen in 0.2 seconds flat?)
One way we can learn to glory in monotony is to realize that in some ways we are the planted, and in some ways we are the planters. God loves to plant things and to watch them grow - it’s one of His core character traits. G. K. Chesterton once wrote:
Because children have abounding vitality… they always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. [quoted in Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 85]
God says to us every morning, “Do it again: Go to work. Finish that homework assignment. Balance the checkbook. Forgive your neighbor (for the umpteenth time). Pull the weeds. Do the dishes. Forgive your neighbor (for the umpteenth time plus one)…” One of our tasks as a human being is to endure through the monotony of life and keep on producing for God’s glory. Doesn’t it feel good to hear God say to us: I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary (Revelation 2:3)? Keep planting; the work is worth the monotony.
But the Gospel is not complete if it’s all about planting and trying to keep up with God. Before we ever pick up a garden spade, we remember that we ourselves have been planted. God gave us life, Christ replanted us in His own vineyard with new life, and the Holy Spirit causes us to grow to maturity. But even being a plant takes patience. Samuel Rutherford wrote when he was practically imprisoned for his faith: “The Great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.” [Eswine, 86] That’s the attitude we long for: contentment over restlessness. We are planted by a loving Gardener who knows what He is doing; surely we can trust in His plan to plant us where we belong and to grow us into what we are meant to become.
As members of the church we are both God’s field and planters in God’s field. So let’s work and wait, proclaim the Gospel and pray for Gospel fruit - and trust that God has a plan to use us to grow His church for His glory.
April 2, 2017