The other day one of the guys in our church told me of a conversation he had with a missionary not supported by Grove but well aware of Grove's missions program. This missionary was expressing some concern with the use of the word "hero" to refer to Grove's missionaries. His concern is that we are making you missionaries out to be something greater than you actually are and that in so doing, we are unnecessarily elevating you to an artificial level of greatness.
The Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary gives the following as a definition of the word "hero":
1 a : a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
▪ He returned from the war a national hero. ▪ the hero of a rescue ▪ She was a hero for standing up to the government.
b : a person who is greatly admired
▪ a football hero ▪ His father has always been his hero. ▪ He has always been a hero to his son. ◊Hero can refer to either a man or a woman, but it is often used to refer specifically to a man. The specific word for a woman who is brave and admired is heroine.
Let's take the first definition, "a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities." In my opinion, investing one's life in missionary service is both a great and a brave act. Missionary service requires one to trust and obey God in extreme circumstances time and time again. There is not much time to "coast" in missionary service, not if you're going to be effective. And when one responds rightly to the extreme circumstances that come into one's life, refinement happens which produces fine qualities in one's life.
As for the second definition, "a person who is greatly admired," this is the exact reason why I chose to adopt the word hero to use in reference to you guys, our missionaries.
I confess that this label is not original with me. When my family was down in southern Michigan looking for a church, the pastor of Cambria Baptist Church, Don Harkey, took me under his wing. I learned so much from him during the three-and-a-half months that we were there. One of the things that I learned was his respect for missionaries whom he called his heroes. So one of the first things that I did when I came to Grove was to begin to honor our missionaries as heroes.
But another reason why I have chosen to honor you guys as heroes is because I want to point the eyes of the youth of our church towards what really matters in life. Too many kids make movie stars, athletes, musicians, and other worldly people their heroes. But the kind of "qualities" that elevate these kind of people in the minds of the world are not the kind of qualities we as believers should be emulating. In addition, there is less than a 1% chance that any of our kids will ever be able to achieve these kind of "qualities" anyhow. But the kind of lives that you guys live are ones that they can and should strive to emulate (Merriam-Webster: "to strive to equal or excel").
Your hero status is the same kind of hero status that the author of Hebrews attributes to the people he describes in chapter 11. The "quality" he chooses to highlight in their lives is their faith. And their faith is not at a level that is impossible for his readers to emulate. On the contrary, it is something that he is encouraging his readers to emulate! It is something that we all should strive to equal or excel! They weren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination -- no one is. But they were commended for their great faith as demonstrated by their obedience to God.
This Sunday, my sermon is from Hebrews 11:32-35a. In a sentence, my sermon is this: "Through faith, regular people can be supernaturally empowered for extraordinary victory!" I was emailing this sentence to myself from my phone so that I wouldn't forget it and my wife read that email. Her response? "WOW! POWERful and HOPEful!" Reading that, I felt like I had just dropped a line at one of the Political Conventions. I wonder if I'll get the same type of response this Sunday when I say these words as the speakers at last night's political convention got when they dropped their one liners? :-)
But getting back to you as heroes, you are regular people who have been supernaturally empowered for extraordinary victories. I have seen these qualities and results in many of your lives and ministries. I count it a privilege to not only be the pastor of the church that supports you, but for many of you, to be able to call you both my friend and my hero. Keep up the good work. We are praying for you!
Greetings from a greener St. Johns! We've been in sore need of rain for the last several weeks and in the last couple of days God has sent us two very nice rains. Even as I speak, a gentle rain is falling outside of my window. Thank You Jesus!
The last several weeks have been a crazy whirlwind. I'm sure you all know what that's all about. Whatever happened to the lazy days of summer? But whenever I get tired or discouraged I sit down and think about all the blessings from God in my life. In reality, I'm living my dream life. Ever since I was a little boy, even through my teenage years of rebellion, I've wanted to be a pastor. And as difficult as this "job" can be sometimes, I can't think of any other realistic ministry I'd rather be doing right now.
Last Friday as I was getting ready for the evening's closing rally for Sports Week I was going through emails and I read an article that came from Christianity Today's daily email of articles. The article is entitled, "Should We Stop Asking Jesus Into Our Hearts." http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/julyweb-only/greear-ask-jesus-into-your-heart.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=9798327&utm_content=130495730&utm_campaign=2012
If you don't have access to the Internet and would like to read this article, please let me know and I'll send you the text. It's one of the best articles on the subject that I have read as it gives a very balance approach to, well, the subtitle says it all, "Doubting our salvation and fall assurance are both exacerbated but he cliched ways in which we speak about the gospel."
Hope this finds you all doing well. I continue to pray for you on a regular basis.
Good morning from sunny Michigan! It's been a bitter sweet time around here the last several months as we've been preparing to say good-bye to several of our commissioned missionaries who have been living around here. The Clapp family was the first to go as they left last week. Now I find myself thinking more and more about that particular time-zone and our other missionaries who are also living in that same time zone. It seems like whenever I look at the time I'm always adding an hour and thinking about what time it is over there.
I have just finished my third year as pastor here at Grove. Where has the time gone? We (Naomi, Lily, Isaac, Sam, Eva, Grandma Frantz and myself) are all so happy here. I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure that I really get to be the pastor of such a great body of believers. Lord willing, we hope to stay here for another 23 years and I can't wait to see what God has in store for us during that time!!!
I know I haven't written for a few months and I apologize for that. So let me update you on some exciting things God has been doing and is continuing to do around here:
Back in March, we took on the project of remodeling our nursery and "Big Room." Six weeks and lots of donated man/woman hours later, both of these rooms look spectacular. We also took the time to spill over into the main entry way of our church. One of our own missionaries, Brad Jones, spent hours and hours breaking out the old tiles from the floor and installing a beautiful new tile floor.
Nate Cropsey grew up here at Grove and then left for a five year stint in the Marines. A couple of years ago, God brought him and his wife Bethany (who also grew up here) and their son Isaac (who is now growing up here) back to Grove. Upon their return, they began to get involved in our youth group as volunteer leaders. As they spent more and more time with our teens and we recognized their giftedness and desire to dive into youth ministry full-time after Nate finishes his schooling at Cornerstone University in the spring of 2013, we have begun to plug them into GYG more and more. In March, the Hyzers passed on the leadership to Nate and now we are moving forward with our goal of hiring Nate in the summer of 2013. The Cropseys are doing an amazing job of laying a solid foundation for a successful youth ministry program here at Grove and I am so thankful that God brought them back to us!
Casey Layer's wife, Heidi (Miller), grew up here at Grove. A year ago God brought the Layers to Grove from the Chicago area where he had been serving as an assistant pastor. Casey has been looking for a new assistant pastor position for the last six months or so but in the meantime he has been joining our Thursday morning pastor and deacons' Bible study. Back in March I had a brainstorm that I thought could help both him and us at Grove. And so I asked him if he ever would be interested in being a lay (unpaid) assistant pastor here at Grove until God brought a full-time position his way. That got the ball rolling and now this Sunday Casey will be candidating for that position and we'll be voting on him at our annual meeting on Wednesday the 20th of June! I love Casey and his family and am looking forward to working together with him in an "official" capacity!
Also at the annual meeting we will be saying goodbye to Wes Erickson as he steps down from the deacon board for the last time. Wes and Pat aren't leaving Grove and they will continue to serve in their other roles (including on the missions committee) but he feels like it's time for him to retire from being a deacon. It's been exciting to see God raise up two guys to try to fill Wes' shoes: Garett Findlay and Steve Hill. Lord willing, we'll be welcoming them to the leadership team of pastors and deacons in July!
Finally, we'll be voting on one further matter. For the past two years the deacons and me have been working on revising our church constitution. The last revision was over ten years ago and when I came the deacons proposed "tweaking" it in a few different ways. We delayed the start of the process for a year and then we began the tedious ordeal of meticulously going through it word by word. I believe we have produced a great document and I think the church agrees. We had an "in-the-loop" where we allowed people to ask questions and there were none to be asked. A few had asked some clarifying questions in private but those have all been answered satisfactorily also. If you would like a copy, just let me know and I will send an electronic version to you if and when it passes.
Well, that should be enough of an update for now. I want you to know that even though I haven't written this general "Heroes" letter for a few months, I have continue to pray for you all pretty much every day. May God continue to bless you and your ministries as we uphold you in prayer and financial support here at Grove.
It happens to all of us from time to time, we get what we commonly call, a "Blast from the Past." Someone from our past that we haven't had contact with for a while suddenly pops back into our life unexpectedly.
That happened to me this week. I received an invitation to sit on an ordination council for a former Pillsbury student. Now as the Dean of Men, you can understand that I had a variety of kinds of relationships with the students. Many students would walk on campus, meet me as the D.O.M. and immediately think "Cop -- gotta stay clear of that guy!" Some would eventually get past this image of me and become my friend. There were a select few, however, who I was able to have a great relationship with from the very beginning.
Josh Oliver was one of these guys. He came from the South Bend area of Indiana and he was a big fan of Notre Dame which was a huge strike against him, character wise, in my opinion! :-) But other than that one glaring flaw, he proved to be a great guy. That first year he asked if he could be mentored by me as he was beginning his training for the pastoral ministry. So we began meeting on a weekly basis.
Josh became a Floor Leader (Dorm Supervisor) for me and so our weekly mentoring continued in a more official capacity. He lived up to the responsibility and surpassed it. Josh was one of those guys you could always count on. I was grateful to him for that.
Josh was a soccer player and he played hard. I remember one time he got called for a rough play and received a yellow card. I can't remember now, but I think I was at that game. From what I recall, it was an aggressive slide tackle, but nothing dirty. The referee, I think, had it out for him for some reason. But Josh responded well and continued to play hard. I respected him for that.
Josh also wanted to play basketball, but Pillsbury had a great basketball team. He was a pretty good player himself, but he sensed that he wouldn't be able to get much playing time. So, instead, he volunteered to serve as a student manager. I admired him for that.
Josh began dating Jordan Weaver within weeks of arriving at Pillsbury. At first I thought it wouldn't last. But a few years later, before he graduated from college and after he started serving as youth pastor in a church, they got married. That's the exact same path that I took as I started dating Naomi within a few weeks of arriving at Pillsbury, and we too were married before I graduated while I was serving as youth pastor. I resembled him for that! :-) (Sorry, couldn't resist).
Now an ordination council has been called for Josh for Saturday, April 14th in Winston-Salem, NC. Since Pillsbury's closure in December of 2008, I have received wedding invitations but this is the first ordination council invitation. I didn't attend any of the weddings, but I would love to attend this ordination. But alas, I don't think it will work out.
I Facebooked Josh today, thanked him for the invitation, and told him that although I would love to be there, I won't be able to make it but I will be there in spirit with him.
I'm proud of Josh and am thankful for the opportunity to have had a part in his ministry preparation. I know that he will do well in whatever ministry God has in store for him and I am praying to that end. I think I'll share this email with him.
I'm sure that as you read this, names of people you've had an impact on pop into your heads. That's one of the earthly joys of ministry -- having a part in someone else's ministry development. Take a moment and reflect on some of those lives and thank God for being able to be used by Him!
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to invest our lives in the lives of others. And I pray for those who are in our lives right now that we have the opportunity to invest in. Please guide us as we seek to mentor those you have entrusted to us. In Jesus' Name, Amen!
A couple of Sundays ago we had a bitter-sweet time. It was Cody Gradwell's last Sunday before leaving for college. Most of you don't know who Cody is and so I thought I'd share what he shared before he was supposed to play an offertory. I say "he was supposed to" because ultimately he wasn't able to because of a problem with our sound system. He was ready to play a song he composed himself on his electric guitar. Unfortunately (we discovered later) that there was a cord failure and so it didn't work. But his testimony was so moving that it was still probably one of the best offertories we ever had! Here is what Cody shared that day:
If I remember correctly I was saved as a very young boy at only about 5 or 6 years old. My parents explained to me that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart so I could go to Heaven. My father took our whole family to church every Sunday. He, along with my mother, had built in me, a strong allegiance to Christianity. My dad got cancer and died September 25 2002. I was 9 years old. It has been one of the biggest influences on my life. He died at a time in my life where I lived long enough to know him. But our time was short enough that he was gone before I went through what could have been rebellious teenage years that could have damaged our relationship. He is still, in my eyes, my superhero dad that could do anything and could fix anything and be the most gentlemanly person doing it. I believe that God took him at the time he did so that I could live my life trying to be like my dad was.
Jeremiah 29:11 says “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the lord, plans prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I learned at an early age that in our darkest times of suffering we must know and declare that God is really taking care of us.
We stopped going to church after my father died. He was the main driving force that woke us up in the morning and got us going. I never complained because now I got to stay up late and sleep in long. God never left my side even though I wasn’t walking close with him. One of my best friends Cale invited me to Awana and when we got older he invited me to youth group for 5 night frenzies and fright nights and all sorts of highlight events of GYG. I owe so much more than I think I could give to the Hyzer family. They really have been like a second family to me. I am truly thankful from the deepest part of my heart for their guidance and friendship.
Though I attended youth group every now and then, in the early parts of middle school I had stopped going. I hadn’t been to church since my father had passed and something inside me started shaking me. Like an incredible guilt weighing down on my heart that there was something I was supposed to be doing. I prayed every night but something kept telling me that that wasn’t enough. I believe it was around the end of 7th grade that I decided I would go back to church. I woke up early the next Sunday morning, left a note on the table saying:
“Mom, Don’t be mad but I went to church.”
I set off down the road and walked to the Eureka Christian Church, my old church. It felt good to be back and see all of the people I had not seen in years. But even then it didn’t hold. Me and my family attended church for a couple weeks and we all stopped going again.
I received my first guitar in 6th grade and I don’t think I touched it until around January of 8th grade. I started teaching myself and learned a couple chords from my mother. My interest in music just kept increasing and each day was a new discovery with every hour I played. Then after a couple years God brought Cale to me again and I started to attend youth group. I was introduced to Naomi who asked me if I wanted to play in the GYG music team that Tim Shontere was helping to set up. I accepted but warned that I could not read music, which to this day I still can’t.
Tim drove to my house and taught me 3 songs that we would be playing. But instead of leaving afterwards he sat and talked and prayed with me. I owe a lot to him also for where I am today. He explained so many things to me and answered so many questions that I don’t think I would have as strong of faith as I do today without him.
As I started to learn and grow with the youth group and the music team, my interest and desire for God had skyrocketed. Pastor Tim asked me to play a song I had made as an offertory in church, which would mark the first time I think I ever attended a service here at Grove. After that Pastor Tim asked me to play other songs in church and from there I grew as I was playing and listening. The more involved with the church I got the more I loved it.
I owe many thanks to all of you and Especially Pastor Tim and Naomi. They have counseled and guided me through a lot in my life. And even though I have only been attending church at grove for a short amount of time, it is my home and you are all my family.
Isn't that beautiful!
I have updated our church website's missionary page and would like you to take a look at it. If there is something about it that you would like me to change, please let me know and I can do that. Or maybe you would like a generic posting like "F.S." in "Southeast Asia." I would be happy to do that for you also. And if there is a link to another website that you have about yourself that you would like to include, please let me know that as well. I have linked missionaries alphabetically through the D's.
Can you believe that summer is almost over? We had some brutally hot and humid days this summer, but I blame Jon Clapp for that! Seriously, I have nothing to complain about especially since I have air conditioning almost every I go.
One place I didn't have air conditioning was at the St. Johns Mint City 5k I ran in back on August 6th. Last spring I set a goal for myself to try and run a 5k in less than 20 minutes. My personal best is 20:08 and I did that back in high school. So my son, Isaac, and I began training together.
At first he wasn't going to run but then he decided to give the "Born 2 Run 5k" (fundraiser for Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing) a shot if I ran with him. Before the race I asked him how fast he thought he could run. He suggested 45 minutes. I said, "Isaac, you can walk it in less than 45 minutes!" So we both kind of landed on 35 minutes as a good goal for his 12 year old legs' first 5k.
Imagine my surprise (and yes, I am bragging here) when he did the first mile in nine minutes and thirty seconds! But I was talking with him and monitoring his breathing and he didn't look like he was using too much energy too early. So I decided to keep him going at the same pace. At least I thought I was keeping him at the same pace. But I was wrong. He did the next mile in just over eight minutes! "Unbelievable," I thought. But we kept going.
With about three-quarters of a mile to go he started to look like he was going to peter out. But I told him that it wasn't the time to quit now that he was so close. So he kept up the pace and we finished in 25 minutes and 58 seconds!
Now the pressure was on me. How could I slack off after Isaac had given it his all? So I was just a little nervous the morning of the Mint City race. I became even more nervous when the coordinator of the race and a friend of mine from the Michigan Athletic Club (the M.A.C.), Dr. Greg Holzhei, told me that the race would probably be slower given the high humidity and the fact that a major portion of the race would be going through the park on a dirt path. So I started off and at first I felt great. But when I finished the first mile in six minutes and 18 seconds, I knew I was in trouble.
Halfway to the second mile I was surprised to see Dave Wilcox (chairmen of the deacons) and his son Timothy standing there on the corner at the top of a hill cheering me on. I couldn't quit now although I certainly felt like quitting. Coming out of the park they were there again. Then I see Alan Cropsey coming down the road to cheer me on also. I turn a corner and there was Alan's daughter, Evamarie walking towards me cheering me on. Finally, at the finish line I found Terry and Julie Quimby and Erika Cropsey. But I felt terrible because not only did I miss my goal, but I also let all of these people down. But they didn't make me feel that way at all. Instead, it was fun to just share the morning with them -- even though I was exhausted!
Now I'm back to training and hoping to run in another 5k to achieve my goal when the weather is a little cooler and a lot less humid. It really has been fun training with my son. We usually go to the M.A.C. three or four times a week. First we play racquetball -- and Isaac has really improved since we started on his birthday last November. I can still handily beat him (after all, he's only 12!) but I've been ratcheting up my game against him and, as I told Naomi the other day, pretty soon I'm going to be at my limit and he's going to pass me by! Then after warming up with racquetball, we head for the treadmills for some running. Isaac likes the treadmills better than the running track that the M.A.C. has because there is no T.V. levitating in front of him as he runs around the track! :-)
One of the things that I have been trying to do by preaching through Hebrews since last spring is to get people to focus on eternity. I've encouraged them to set a goal to do something stretching and then think about how they feel as they pursue that goal. Paul said that bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things. Both bodily exercise and godliness requires a certain amount of commitment and self-control. The whole book of Hebrews is about persevering, not quitting, running strong until the end. It's about finishing well.
I find that my physical exercise and goals helps me to understand the spiritual race that I am running so much better. I don't always achieve all of my spiritual goals and I'm often disappointed in myself. But the answer isn't to just quit. The answer is to recognize my failures, identify why I failed, confess my sin to God, and, by the grace of God, strive to do better in the future.
Maybe some of you are going through or have just gone through a disappointing experience in your life and or ministry. Whatever you wanted to do didn't work out like you had hoped. Someone else might have achieved what they were going for or even far surpassed what they were going for but you fell short. Maybe this even happened in full view of others who were there to support you and instead you feel like you disappointed them. Please let me remind you that the grace of God covers all of our failures. And God's grace can empower us to leave the past behind and move confidently into the future, not in our own strength but in God's strength. We may lose some battles along the way, but the war has already been won!
Dear Heavenly Father, some reading this today may be discouraged. They have tried and failed. Please remind them of Your grace and how it is sufficient to meet all of our needs. May they experience Your grace and determine to go on trusting in You! In Jesus' Name, Amen!
First of all, welcome back to Brad and Amber as they have just landed in California. I can't wait to meet you guys in person, Lord willing in just a few days! We've tried to get it good and hot for your return to make you feel right at home. Hopefully the heat and humidity will have died down, though, by the time you get up here to Michigan.
Praise God that the heat is hitting us this week and not next when we'll be hosting Sports Week (Grove's version of VBS). Once again, Rick and Sandy have been putting in long hours getting everything ready ahead of time so it all runs smoothly during the week. One new exciting aspect for this year is the fact that we're going to be doing the music ourselves. Over the past few years we've been blessed to have the Cyrus "kids" lead music for us. But they indicated last year that they probably wouldn't be able to do it this year. Since that time, God has brought together a good group of kids in GYG who are skilled instrumentally and vocally. Naomi has been working with a group of seven of them this week getting ready for leading the kids in singing. We have three guitars, one violin, one djembe, and an assorted rhythm section along with Naomi on the piano. It's been fun helping them practice and seeing how God has brought them all together!
Nate Cropsey has been doing a great job in his youth internship this summer. The kids love him and he is having a great ministry to them along with his wife, Bethany. Last night he addressed several difficult issues that our kids and their families have begun to experience this summer: a family beginning to break up, another family beginning to prepare for a move (possibly out of the area) somewhere down the road, and one of the GYG members recently being diagnosed with cancer. Where is God in all of these things? What is He doing? Although I wasn't able to be there to here his talk, I heard great reports on his clear handling of Scripture coupled with real compassion. I am so thankful that God has brought Nate and Bethany to us!
Speaking of God bringing people to us, we were happy to welcome back Frank Gazda and two of his grandkids, Marissa & Travis Fahey from their short-term mission trip with Dan & Kathy Stokes to PNG. Lord willing, a week from Sunday we'll not only hear a report from them but also see pictures and video from many of our missionaries serving in PNG. I can't wait to see you guys, Shonteres, Busers (Brooks, Nina & Beau), Lauver's & F.S.!
Please pray for us as we gear up for Sports Week. Jon Clapp will be doing the teaching, Lord willing. He did a great job with our teens last week during Five Night Frenzy and I'm sure he'll do equally well next week -- if he's not too exhausted. After teaching last Friday night he drove all night to northern Wisconsin where they are doing a VBS this week. Needless to say, three straight weeks of daily speaking has the potential to wipe anyone out. But Jon is pretty energetic so I'm sure one way or another God will pull him through! Thanks Jon & Heather for being willing to be used and stretched.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for each one of these heroes and what they mean to us here at Grove and, more importantly, to the people to whom they are ministering in their respective locations. Please continue to guide and protect them. Please keep them close to You, Your Word, their families and their co-workers. In Jesus' Name, Amen!
Sunday's announcement by President Obama was an earthquake of mammoth proportions that started a tidal wave of emotions and rhetoric sweeping across America and around the world. After putting up with this for the last several days, a few thoughts have coalesced in my mind.
First, I am reminded of two passages in the book of Proverbs. The first passage adequately describes what I have regretfully observed. Proverbs 11:10 (ESV) says, "When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness."
Unlike most of the Proverbs, this one is not prescriptive but rather descriptive. I can say this because of the second passage, Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV) which states, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, 18 lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him."
I have to admit that I have been disappointed by how some of my Christian brothers and sisters have followed the world in celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. As I posted on Facebook on Tuesday, I am thankful for the servicemen who risked their lives and I am thankful that justice finally came to Bin Laden, but I do not wish his eternal fate in the Lake of Fire on my worst enemy therefore I do not celebrate his death. I wish instead that He could have been saved from His sins.
The Apostle Paul called himself the chief of all sinners. I guess many of the Christians of his day (before he was saved) would have agreed and looked at him much the same way that we today looked at Osama Bin Laden: He was as evil as they come! But one day God literally stopped Paul in his tracks, opened his spiritual eyes by temporarily blinding his physical eyes, and transformed him into the first and one of the greatest (if not the greatest) missionaries of all time!
I have to confess that over the last ten years I have not vigilantly prayed for the salvation of Bin Laden. I am sorry for that. Imagine what could have happened had Bin Laden accepted Christ? I'm sure his ultimate fate would have been the same: death (either assassination by his former cronies or through the justice system). But the time in-between would have been fascinating to observe.
So, who is left to pray for? Who are today's "evil men"? Some world leaders readily come to mind. Men like Kim Jon-il of North Korea, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and the Castro brothers of Cuba. What would be our response if one of those was "taken out"? Would we mourn for his soul or celebrate his demise and our own sense of victory, justice, or whatever it is that people celebrated when Bin Laden went down?
Personally, I try to pray for one of the persecuted countries and the people in that country on a daily basis. The Voice of the Martyrs
makes this very easy because they publish a prayer guide every year that highlights the countries where Christians are persecuted. At the very least, let's remember our Christian brothers and sisters who suffer every day because of their faith, And let's pray for their leaders as we pray for our own as Paul instructs us to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
By the way, while I'm on this subject of praying for our leaders, let me stick my neck out a little bit more and express another pet peeve of mine: trying to take down the leaders we don't like by petty attacks. There are many areas that I have a serious disagreement with our current administration. But I don't think that it's helpful to disrespectfully attack him or others that happen to be of a different political persuasion over every little thing! 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17 (NLT) says, “For the Lord's sake, accept all authority -- the king as head of state, 14 and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honor those who do right. 17 Show respect for everyone. Love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God. Show respect for the king.”
Amazingly enough, Peter wrote this (most likely from Rome) where Nero (one of the most wicked and immoral rulers who ever lived) was firmly entrenched in power. His readers might have thought, “accept Nero? Respect Nero? Peter, are you insane?” No, Peter wasn’t insane, he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit! Unfortunately, we American Christians are so blinded by our culture that we ignore these verses and jump on Fox News’ bandwagon!
Well, I probably got my self in big trouble with that last one so I’d better quit while I’m ahead.
Dear Heavenly Father, please forgive us for not being more concerned for Osama’s soul while he was still alive. Please forgive those in our country who unwittingly have been celebrating his demise. As our Lord said, “they know not what they do.” Please enlighten our fellow believers who should “know what they do.” We want to be transformed by your Holy Spirit rather than conformed to the world around us. Please protect our missionaries abroad, especially those in countries that may experience some repercussions because of Bin Laden’s death. We thank You that justice was accomplished and we thank you for protecting our servicemen who You used to accomplish this justice. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Have you ever thought what your life would be like without something, or if something you knew to be true were suddenly proved to be false? Being that this is the Easter season, I think you know where I'm going with this. But don't go there yet! Take a moment to think about some other realities that we cherish.
One of the big realities that we all cherish is our freedom. This last week Dave Houghton and I went across the border into Canada to meet with a prospective missionary couple, Peter & Carly Nichols. We did this last year also and had trouble going both ways across the border. So it was with some apprehension that we pulled up to the border to go across into Canada. But after a few questions we were waved right through. So coming back I wasn't as concerned as I had been earlier.
But this time it was different. Like last year, we got the third degree interrogation but this time, in addition to that, the border guard said our car had been flagged for a random check. So we had to pull over, get out of the vehicle and go inside for a more thorough investigation. It was all quite painless but as we were sitting there waiting for them to finish inspecting the vehicle I couldn't help but think what I would have been feeling had I been guilty of something. I would have been hoping that they wouldn't find whatever it was that I was hiding in the car knowing that if they did I would immediately lose my freedom.
Easter is actually a celebration of freedom! Hebrews 2:14-15 (ESV) says, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery."
Now imagine for a moment what life would be like if there were no resurrection to celebrate? Paul takes us down that road in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 (NLT) when he writes, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world."
If there is no resurrection to celebrate then a series of dominoes begins to cascade down one upon another: 1) No Easter; 2) No Faith; 3) No Justification; 4) No Future; 5) Total Misery. No resurrection means that Christ hasn't been raised from the dead and thus there is no Easter. No Easter rips the foundation out from under our faith rendering it completely useless. Without faith and it's foundation it is impossible to please God leaving us condemned for our sins. This means that our loved ones who have already passed away are toast. And finally it means that we are facing their same fate with no hope of escape. In that case, what good is the Christian life that is filled with adversity? All of a sudden, all of that adversity is rendered meaningless leaving us with complete and utter misery.
Many believers have sat where Dave and I sat in the border crossing office, but without hope in their government to do the right thing. Actually, when arrested they expected at the very least a loss of freedom not to mention a loss of all forms of personal comfort. But because of the resurrection, they could rest assured that the very worst thing that anyone in this world could do to them personally would ultimately be their deliverance from this life into eternity with their Savior!This Easter, let's be thankful for the freedom that we have in Christ! Take a few moments and imagine what life would be like if the resurrection were not true. And then let's thank God that it is true!Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the power of the cross and the resurrection. Thank You for the facts given to us in Your Word that we can believe in with complete confidence. Thank You for the faith that You have given to us whereby we have the ability to have this belief in the first place. All of our hope is in You! In Jesus' Name, Amen.
I'm a multi-tasker. I am in the habit of doing two or three things at one time which makes it hard for me when I am trying to do only one thing at a time (i.e. sermon preparation, listening to someone talk to me, etc.)! But since I like accomplishing several things at once, I was really happy a week ago Tuesday when I was able to kill several birds with one stone on a trip I took to Grand Rapids.
Lord Willing, Nate Cropsey, one of our youth leaders pursuing a degree in youth ministries at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, will be doing a youth ministry internship at Grove this summer. I needed to meet with Nate and his advisor, so we could come up with a good plan for his internship. Arlene Roland (who lives with her husband Ron half way between here and Grand Rapids) had been asking Naomi and Lily to come over to her house to do some painting, so I was trying to schedule the two events for the same day. Then I was informed that Dr. Stowell was going to be hosting a pastors' lunch with Focus on the Family in Grand Rapids. I really got excited thinking that if I could line up the other two with this date, I could kill three birds with one stone!
As it worked out, everything did line up perfectly! But then I got a bonus! When I was done with my meetings in Grand Rapids I called Naomi to see if she was ready to be picked up. Arlene answered and said that they were only half-way done and that they needed at least two more hours. That gave me time to visit Baker Books for the first time in my life. I was hoping to check out their famed used book section, but I never made it past the front display table. There spread all over the table was Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins."
I don't know if you've heard of this book or not, but it debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list back in March less than two weeks after it was published. You can go online and find a lot of helpful information about the book. The best review I have read so far is a 20 page tome by Kevin DeYoung who is the pastor of University Reformed Church just down the road from us in East Lansing,. You can read it yourself at:http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/
If you simply want to know what's wrong with the book, I would suggest that you at least read DeYoung’s critique so you can be conversant with those you come in contact with who may be taken up with it. However, if you really want to be able to interact with them, I suggest that you read all of, then read the critique. You will be able to speak more intelligently that way. When I saw the book sitting there on the table and I realized I had some time to use, I sat down and read it cover to cover. It's quite an easy read and one that can be done in a short block of time if you're a fast reader.
Because Kevin did such an excellent job critiquing the book, I don't want to reproduce or even attempt to condense his thoughts into a summary here, though I did want to share some of my own thoughts as it relates to the book.
First of all, as with most books, I don't disagree with everything that Bell has to say. He makes some very good points. Unfortunately, the stuff he gets wrong is really wrong, thus relegating it into the category of books that I would not suggest be read by an immature believer.
Second, this book demonstrates the end result of elevating personal experience and subjectivity above Scripture. Bell's motivation for writing this book is to make God more appealing to those who have been turned off by Him due to some sort of tragedy in their lives.
Third, this leads him to some convincing (unfortunately) eisegesis (reading one's own ideas into the text) rather than exegesis wherein you (correctly) get your idea(s) out of the text.
Fourth, the biggest danger that may come out of this may not be the turning of minds towards his heterodoxical position(s), but rather a reinforcement of the idea that God can speak to me through His Word regardless of the context (both in that particular passage and the Bible as a whole), historical interpretation (both what it meant to its original hearers and how it has been understood within orthodoxy over the past 2,000 years), and even a correct understanding of the grammar and meaning of the vocabulary that the author of the Scripture chose. A correct understanding of God's Word and a correct application of it to one's own life requires both intense personal study and the willingness to interact with others who differ from your "unique" understanding of Scripture.
These are just my simple thoughts about Bell's book. I trust that they will be helpful to you.
Dear Heavenly Father, please keep us in your truth. And I pray that you will help us to be gracious with those who differ from us even when we express our disagreements. I pray for those who will be reading Rob's book. Please help them to be able to sort out the truth from the error. Thank you for the good thoughts that Rob has brought out in his book and please help us to be able to respond to the concerns that he raises in a Biblically thoughtful and compassionate way. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
P.S. In light of my fourth point above, Kevin DeYoung and Gary Friessen gave an excellent seminar this last January at Riverview Church in Holt on "The Will of God." You can find resources from this seminar including the MP3 recordings of the sessions at http://godswillconference.com/