Until about one month before we got married, my bride-to-be and I were separated by a long distance. Even our engagement began while we were in different states about a 5 hour drive apart. We often took an hour or more just saying good-bye at the end of a visit or a phone call (remember dialing 10-10-220 and it was just 10 cents a minute?). I remember looking forward to the day that we wouldn't have to say good-bye after our time together. We were giddy with anticipation about what married life would be like. Of course, we both had our expectations about what it would look like.
There are few worse things in life than unmet expectations. In our first year, we discovered a number of expectations that each of us held and perhaps didn’t communicate. We often discovered them through very gentle, even toned, wise, thoughtful arguments (sarcasm should be noted in this sentence). Many of our disagreements developed out of assumptions that led to expectations that led to unmet needs which finally led to hurt feelings. Thankfully, God was gracious and carried us through.
In the book of Romans 12, we see that God’s design for the church (both universal and local) is unity of one body that is made up of many parts. The author points out at the beginning of this section that each one of us should begin from a mindset of surrender to God. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship (Romans 12:1 CSB).” Our relationship to the body of Christ (the church) begins in a place a true surrender to the Lord. A living sacrifice is different than a dead one (sacrifices were usually dead). A living sacrifice can get up off the altar so it takes consistent resolve to remain in a place of obedience to Christ.
The second focus deals with our attitude about ourselves and toward one another. In Romans 12:3, the writer commands, “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.” One of the quickest ways to harm relationship is to come from the perspective that we are better than another. It is helpful to realize that God created each one of us and designed us to fit into the body in the way He deemed best.
We shouldn’t think that our own gifting makes us better than someone else with a different gifting. We might perceive our own gifting to be the superior gifting, but in God’s universe, it’s simply different. By definition, if what we have came from Him in the first place, then it truly is a gift. If what we have is a gift, we have no room for boasting or viewing ourselves as better than someone else because what we have was given to us.
Finally, we are instructed to show preference to one another. “ Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10 NASB95).” One of the best ways to practice a loving relationship is to learn about the other person and learn how to show them honor based on who they are. It’s paying attention to them and not demanding our own way. We might have to let go of our own preferences of traditions, styles, or practices, but we unite on the essentials of faith that draw us and hold us together.
These guidelines can be helpful in either a marriage or in a church. These principles are going to be critical as we come together as churches (Faith Baptist Church and Valley Community Church). Let each one of us be committed to being fully surrendered to Christ our Lord as living sacrifices. Let us have a godly, healthy attitude about ourselves and about those with whom we share congregational life. Let us unite on the essentials of the faith, but give much grace when it comes to matters of preference.
As one of my old pastor’s used to say, “we need to determine if this (matter) is a difference between a right and a wrong, or just a right and a left.” If it’s a right or wrong, then it is an essential and we want to be on the side of being morally and theologically correct. If it’s a right or a left, then it’s probably a non-essential and let’s show honor to one another whether a decision goes our way or not.
I am truly excited about the possibility of this merger. May God be honored and may He cause His church to flourish!
Have you ever read the account of Isaac and Rebekah from the Old Testament book of Genesis (chapter 24)? It’s a fascinating story for our 21st Century American minds to digest. In it, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac, because he doesn’t want Isaac to fall in love with and marry a Canaanite woman. The servant goes, prays for help, and the Lord provides Rebekah who ends up being willing to go with a stranger to a foreign land to marry a man she’s never met! Isaac meets her and loves her from the beginning. God beautifully orchestrated the whole thing. God continued to fulfill His promise to Abraham to make him the father of a great nation. We find the promise carried through Isaac and Rebekah.
I can’t help but think that our merger is a little like this story. We’ve done a fair amount of due diligence in getting to know one another and attempting to spend time with each other as well as asking God to lead us. We are following God into a relationship in which we don’t know exactly how it will look. At the end of the day, it’s a risk to get married or merged into one. It’s a risk worth taking because we have a chance to develop an off-the-charts kind of love for one another that will tangibly point to the glory and goodness of God. If we were to play it safe and never get married, we would avoid the risk, but we’d also miss out on the potential of a greater family that can grow into an even larger family. I pray that God blesses our efforts to honor Him!
Our church expressed a belief that God is leading us to merge with Valley Community Church through an 85% favorable vote on November 3rd. This is an exciting time in the lives of both churches. Our transitional leadership team has already begun its work to prepare for a unification of our two churches. Our hope is to begin worshipping together at the beginning of the new year, 2020.
With the new year being 2020, it causes me to think of 20/20 vision. With 20/20 vision, one can see a set of letters 20 feet away with clarity. Having recently entered the world of those who use glasses, I better understand and appreciate being able to see things with sharpness and clarity. Our vision for the new year as a new, yet historic work is to be better together. With the strengths of both small congregations combined, we hope to have a greater capability for serving church needs and reaching out to our community.
To accomplish being better together, we are going to have to work toward the same goals for the same purpose. Most importantly, we must grow in love for God and each other as Ephesians 4:15 describes, “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head -- Christ.” Without a love for God and His people, this won’t work. To combine two groups, we will need to be committed to loving one another. As we seek to put others’ needs ahead of our own, we’ll act in ways that please God. Our motivation for this type of sacrificial love is from gratitude for God’s love for us. Personally, I’m excited to show our community how two groups of people can come together in unity for the sake of glorifying God by displaying His love among us.
34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:34-35
I want to leave you with the words of William Carey, the man known as the father of modern missions:
“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”
Change is a part of life. I’m not sure that any of us really like change, but no one can escape from the idea that life is defined by change. Our church has changed over the years. Most recently with Pastor Cam resigning from his role as Youth Pastor and Worship Team leader, we are faced with some more changes. I believe these changes can and will be for the good of the church. I wanted to communicate with you a little about our direction.
Regarding our worship music, we have had a remarkable response of volunteers from our vocalists and instrumentalists in committing to taking our church forward with worship music. Katie Butters, in particular has volunteered to coordinate music ministry. This is a huge responsibility and we are so appreciative of her willingness to step into a very demanding role. Several others have volunteered to choose songs for a given Sunday. Others have offered to be the vocal leaders in our worship services. All in all, we have a good plan in place.
We are operating on two basic principles as we go: blended and sing-able. By blended, I mean that we want to worship God through songs from the past and the present and anywhere in-between. By sing-able, I mean our aim is to worship God together with songs as a body of believers. It is not our desire to have a team up front who performs for us so that we can see others worship God, instead we have a team up front who leads us into a place of authentic worship together.
Regarding student ministry, we are looking to put a strong emphasis into our Sunday morning Sunday school. Jake Torres has volunteered to take on teaching the middle and high school students. For the next year, he will be teaching an important course on gaining an overall insight into the big picture of the Bible (52 Major Stories of the Bible). For now, we are cutting back and will not hold a mid-week program for middle or high school students. We will however still plan special events periodically to encourage strong relationships.
One of the key ways we as a church can contribute to a vibrant youth ministry where youth are growing in their faith is to invest in their parents to be growing in their faith. Kids follow and do what they see their parents do. By encouraging more people to participate in Life Groups, we are encouraging parents to be growing in their faith. This, in turn, will contribute to a more complete youth ministry. In addition, we will provide times of training and togetherness directly for students. Beyond that, we will also look for ways to treat students as full participants in the body by inviting them to serve and participate just as anyone else would.
I anticipate that we will experience some bumps in the road, but I also believe we will absorb those together as a family of followers of Jesus. I also expect that this season ahead of us is one of incredible sweetness as we serve Jesus together.
Father in heaven, there is much grief this morning for families who still haven't reconnected with loved ones, 5 of whom will not return. Please Father, hear us cry out to you and comfort these people. Help them to grieve as shock wears off. Place people in their lives who will be compassionate and supportive.
I also ask for your peace in our community. Many are shocked, horrified, and even grieving over the fact that something like this happened in our own community. Turn our hearts toward You. We know that this act was evil and unjust, but we only know that because You are righteous, just, and kind. Without You being the Light, we wouldn't even realize we were living in darkness.
Father, You see all and know all. I ask by Your mighty power that the man who did this would be caught and prevented from causing further harm to any other lives. So, please guide law enforcement officials in the right direction. I also ask that you would be a shield for them from harm.
I pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who died for us while we were His enemies, yet rose from the dead, and is alive today offering salvation to all who believe.
We will spend some time in prayer for the victim's families, the community, and law enforcement tomorrow at our regularly scheduled worship service time of 11am at Faith Baptist Church of Skagit Valley -www.faithbaptistsv.org
Howe about: Celebrating Christmas
I love Christmas time! From sleigh bells ringing to chestnuts roasting over an open fire to hearing reindeer on the rooftops, I just love the celebration of Christmas. Actually, I’ve never seen chestnuts roasting over an open fire nor have I heard reindeer prancing on a rooftop, but I still l love Christmas. I have, however, heard sleigh bells ring. One time in December on a mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Dorothy and I rode in a two-horse-drawn-open sleigh. What a memorable experience that was!
As a child, my family developed a few traditions for Christmas that I really enjoyed. From trudging through waist-deep snow to find the perfect tree to listening to the Oakridge Boys’ Christmas record (yes an actual record on a record player) while decorating the tree to helping my mom make and frost cookies, Christmas time brought great times and even better memories.
When I got to be a little older, theology grew more important to me. I was presented with some ideas that made me wonder whether I, as a follower of Christ, ought to celebrate Christmas or not. I became aware that Jesus was likely not born in the winter/December time frame; I learned that the Christmas winter holiday basically developed out of a different pagan holiday. I had a pastor point out a passage of Scripture about not cutting down a tree, bringing it into your house, and decorating it with silver and gold. These things, among others began to cause me to question whether I ought to celebrate and enjoy Christmas and its traditions or not.
For a period of time, I found myself in a deep moral quagmire. I wanted to enjoy Christmas and have a great time with a family of my own, but as a Christ-follower, I did not want to disobey or dishonor God. For a while, it meant that we did not celebrate Christmas much at all. I ended up acting more like Mr. Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol.” Just ask Dorothy. On second thought, you probably don’t want to open that can of worms.
Do you enjoy Christmas and the Christmas season? Are you like me at all, do you like Christmas, but feel inwardly guilty that you enjoy this “pagan” or commercialized holiday? If yes, please tell me so I don’t feel alone. In all seriousness, if you have wondered about this, then I want to encourage you to consider this:
Can a true Christ-follower enjoy Christmas and remain pleasing to God? I believe so. Here’s why: I am drawn to my LORD through celebrating Christmas. Not celebrating Christmas was more of trying to prove to others that I was “extra” righteous in the eyes of God, but all the while I was missing out on enjoying God. What I see in Scripture encourages us to enjoy this life and its joys while giving thanks to the God who gives life. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).”
Have you ever considered the great number of festivals that the Jews were commanded to observe. Imagine that! Being commanded to party! The purpose of so many of those festivals was for the people to remember and enjoy their God, the God above all gods who chose to make them His special possession. Now, the apostles in the New Testament made it clear that God was not requiring Gentile believers to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. Likewise, we are not required to follow the festivals as though they are laws for us. We can however learn from their example.
Christmas is a holiday of our cultural context. We have the opportunity to enjoy this holiday as one who trusts in the Savior of the World. Do you invite the LORD with you in what you do? It would be a shame for us to secretly celebrate all or some of Christmas, but try to hide our enjoyment from God because we fear He doesn’t approve. It would be a greater shame if we were to not celebrate Christmas all the while longing inwardly to as we grow resentful towards God for taking all the fun out of life. If the pleasure of a feast, time with family and friends, giving gifts to others and similar things can bring us a little taste of the glory of the relationship with our Father in heaven, then let’s celebrate to the fullest … while giving glory and thanks to God!
I do not intend to give license to do anything we desire. In all things, including celebrations, we ought to act with Christ-like character. I would certainly caution against the trap of consumerism especially since it can steal one’s contentment. I don’t think we ought to be celebrating Christmas by going to a Christmas party and being the first to get drunk (not the second or third either). A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t do it with Jesus present, you probably shouldn’t do it. If you can enjoy it with a clear conscience, then enjoy and give thanks and glory to God. I pray that we all will draw closer to our Almighty, Amazing Creator this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas from the Howe’s!
PS. I’d be happy to discuss any specific concerns you might have about celebrating Christmas. Since I already went one paragraph too long, I had to stop writing. It was not the purpose of this article to address potential concerns. Rather, I hoped to encourage people to enjoy what is good about Christmas in order to give glory and thanks to God.
Howe about: A Christ-centered; gospel focused thought from pastor and author, David Platt in his book, Radical.
“...We see the same thing in Matthew 13. There Jesus tells his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.’
I love this picture. Imagine walking in a field and stumbling upon a treasure that is more valuable than anything else you could work for or find in this life. It is more valuable than all you have now or will ever have in the future.
You look around and notice that no one else realizes the treasure is here, so you cover it up quickly and walk away, pretending you haven’t seen anything. You go into town and begin to sell off all your possessions to have enough money to buy that field. The world thinks you’re crazy. ‘What are you thinking?’ your friends and family ask you.
You tell them, ‘I’m buying that field over there.’
They look at you in disbelief. “That’s a ridiculous investment,’ they say. ‘Why are you giving away everything you have?’
You respond, ‘I have a hunch,’ and you smile to yourself as you walk away.
You smile because you know. You know that in the end you are not really giving away anything at all. Instead you are gaining. Yes, you are abandoning everything you have, but you are also gaining more than you could have in any other way. So with joy— with joy! you sell it all, you abandon it all. Why? Because you have found something worth losing everything else for.
This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something— someone— worth losing everything for. And if we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of nondiscipleship is profoundly greater for us than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him.”1
Friends, do you realize that the gift of salvation offered by Jesus is this great treasure? What trinkets mesmerize you and capture your attention away from the greatest treasure? I believe that the more we understand how great a treasure we have in Christ, the more gladly we will seek Him, obey Him, and tell others about Him.
What do you do if you simply aren’t, “feeling it?” Please allow me to encourage you to stop what you are doing to seek Him through the Scriptures and prayer. If you can’t, then find a time in which you can get before God and plead with Him to reveal to you the greatness of knowing Him. Don’t give up. Don’t give up if He doesn’t arrive in a vision of a flaming chariot. Keep on digging and pleading with God. I believe God is pleased to have someone be diligent and persistent in seeking to find Him.
“… When you depended on Yahweh, He handed them over to you. 9 For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His…”
- 2 Chronicles 16:8b-9a
1Platt, David. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Multnomah Books, 2010, pages 17-18.
When Jesus invites us to follow Him, He invites us to take part of one of the wildest adventures you can imagine. He offers life at no cost to us, but at the ultimate price to Him which He already paid. In accepting the gift of life that He offers freely to us, we are granted complete freedom from the previous chains and oppression of darkness. By accepting His gift of life (which is for both now and forever), we are trading masters.
Our freedom is not independence so that we, ourselves, are the end. Rather, our freedom is from an oppressive master who wants nothing but our destruction. Our freedom is to being a servant to a master more concerned about our well-being (in every possible way) than even we ourselves are. Now, the God of the Bible rules over us (those who have received the gift of life by believing in His name). We may express what God is doing in our lives by saying that we are to be “Christ-centered and gospel focused.”
Since Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are our new master, it would serve our mindsets and attitudes well to remember this truth. Our entire person belongs entirely to God. This includes our physical bodies, minds, emotions, our wills, and our spirits. Everything about us belongs to God.
When the New Testament tells one to repent in order to follow Jesus, it is not saying that one can turn from one’s sins and be made clean on his own. In contrast, it is saying denounce the former master and all the works that you once did which were insufficient, unholy, and unrighteous. In denouncing the former, one turns to the new master.
Confession enters the scene after believing and turning to Christ as our new master. Confession enters because even though we’ve been purchased from the old master, we have not yet received the fullness of the promises of the new. We have brought baggage, habits, patterns of thinking and behaving from our old life into the new. So it is that when we fail, sin, break God’s law, and live the old way even as a servant to God, we must confess our sins. We must acknowledge that such an action, thought, or word was from our old self living in the old way, and we are reminded that we belong to God who would have us act according to His way (for our good).
Ultimately, being a follower of Christ Jesus means we live in the reality that He is King over all, specifically King over every aspect of our lives. As we grow in the fullness of this new certainty, we will realize that we cannot contain what God has done and is doing inside of us. It will come out. It ought to come out; it must come out.
God’s transformation of our lives will come out. It will be displayed in the new ways we think, in the new way we talk, and in the new way we act. So, stop thinking discipleship is separate from evangelism. In other words, do not think of growing in our faith as something separate from sharing our faith. We will share our faith in Jesus as we grow in our faith in Jesus. We will not have one without the other.
Therefore, I ask you to consider this: “Is Jesus truly the King of your life?” Do you consider your thoughts, words, and actions by comparing them to the truth of Scripture? Are you talking about what God has done and is doing with others? May we continue in our respective journeys of faith wherever we find ourselves. Let’s live out this life with no higher goal than to know, love, and faithfully serve our new Master, Jesus Christ.
A fellow servant,
Details that do not matter: we improved or cleaned up 10 yards and washed likely more than 100 cars in the course of 3 nights. After meeting on Monday night, several families hit the streets in order to hand out coupons for the free car wash. God directed our steps even in this effort. It was good to see people knocking on the doors of the houses in our own backyard. Some people did present their coupon for a car wash later in the week.
Tuesday through Thursday started off with a bang, literally, as a lady in our congregation was rear ended at the intersection of Rio Vista and Anacortes Streets. She seems to be okay, but it was a difficult start to our exciting event. Apparently, the enemy of God was not in favor of our efforts. Nonetheless, the car wash and service projects were a large success. We received favor in the eyes of the people in our neighborhood, and it was such a blessing to share a true gift.
I loved hearing the stories at the car wash of how people continually offered money for our efforts. One lady even offered to donate to a charity in our name. One gentleman in particular attempted quite persistently to give some money after we had started to wash his car. After repeatedly telling him, "no, it's a gift," he asked me to take the money and give it to one of the children. Finally, after telling him that it was a gift just like the gift of salvation that we could not earn or pay for, he relented. He expressed his agreement with this truth.
Ron Van Pelt made a contact on Monday night that opened the door for one team to spread beauty bark for an older couple who struggled physically. That contact led to another. Further the first shared the leftover beauty bark with another neighbor that who needed some beauty bark. It was a beautiful picture of sharing a gift because of receiving a gift.
Scott Solver led the charge in cleaning up the green house across the street from the church while Travis gave a good haircut to the line of bushes between the green house and the next house. Later, Scott chopped down the dead cherry tree. Well, actually he, Larry, and Travis each had a hand in bringing it down piece by piece. That particular neighbor attends Emmanuel Baptist in Mount Vernon, and she was simply overwhelmed by the blessing that it was to have that assistance.
There are several other stories to tell about how God arranged meetings with just the right people. From trying to pay for our work, to offering donations, and even promising church attendance people attempted to try to earn or pay for that which was a true gift. I believe we communicated the love of God if even in a small way with our community. It was awesome!
Friday, when we shared hamburgers and hotdogs at Maiben Park, we encountered some hurting people. Several folks took us up on our offer of a free burger or hotdog. One lady sat with us and began sharing some of her story. We discovered that she was homeless and unsure of where she'd sleep that night. We attempted to help, and I’m not sure how much we helped that night. But from her own lips, she was amazed and profoundly grateful for a simple gesture of God’s love instead of judgment or exploitation.
All in all, this outreach effort was a smashing success. I am so thankful for all the participation and support that everyone pitched in. There were some long hours following long days of work for some, but what a blessing. But at the end, we as a church shared the love of Christ with our neighbors, and that is something to be excited about!
We have an outreach week planned for the week of July 7th through the 11th. The word, outreach, is one that comes with many different perceptions. Since this is the first event labeled “outreach” that we are going to do since becoming your pastor, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my thoughts about it.
Defining outreach can be a bit tricky. A google search revealed a basic definition: 1) the extent or length of reaching out; 2) an organization’s involvement with or activity in the community, especially in the context of social welfare; 3) and the extending of services or assistance beyond current or usual limits (google & Merriam Webster online). According to google, it’s also a word that has gained significant usage since about the 1960’s and 70’s. So what does it mean for a church to have an outreach event?
Well, let me share what I think it means for us to do outreach. I believe outreach is when we look past ourselves, our needs, our schedule, and our rhythm of life, and we intentionally reach out to others in our community placing their needs above our own. Specifically, as a follower of Christ, I believe that the greatest need people have is to know the Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, outreach must be done with a mindset of seeking to share the good news of life in Jesus with those who may not have received it or even heard it yet.
There are countless ways to do outreach even as I’ve defined it above. I like to keep it simple. This year’s outreach week will have the theme “it’s a gift.” The things we are going to do (scheduled in evenings for each night of the week) will be focused on demonstrating what a free gift is. I will publish a schedule in June for the exact times and plans. We are planning some service projects, car washes, and a barbeque in the park … as a free gift to anyone who wants what we are offering.
To give an idea of how we will communicate the good news using these gifts, here’s an example. The car wash will be entirely free to anyone who chooses to take advantage of the offer. Even if someone offers a donation for our efforts, we will all turn them down saying something like, “no thank you, you can’t pay for a gift. It’s kind of like what Jesus did for us by dying on a cross, rising from the dead, and offering us eternal life. We can’t pay for it, nor are asked to. We wanted you to know what that gift is like.” Perhaps the LORD will open doors to further conversation with people about their spiritual state.
For some the gesture will be about the only message they hear, others will get the gesture and a conversation, and for some it might be all the above and an invitation to church, and still others might even come to the point of faith as we share with them. How awesome would that be? So, if you haven’t already, make plans to participate with us during our outreach week of July 7th – 11th. And, please plan to attend one of the preparatory meetings (dates and times tba).
Justin began serving as the pastor at Faith in February of 2013. He is passionate about people having the opportunity to hear the good news about eternal life through Jesus Christ.