To keep us encouraged during these difficult times, our pastoral staff is communicating with you regularly.
1-15-2021 - Faith-filled Waiting
(Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate, Head of Staff)
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
- Psalm 40:1-2
King David was a man who had a deep and enduring relationship with the God he loved. And there were times in his life that he led the people of Israel with triumph and shouts of joy and victory. But there were also times were he was pursued by his enemies and also incidents of his own sin and rebellion. David was indeed a man who lived both on the mountain with God and also in the valley.
During times like we are experiencing now, how many of us can honestly say that we are "waiting patiently" for God to do something to change our circumstance? Are we "frustrated-filled" or "faith-filled"?
Did you know that the faith-filled person is not always the person who is living on the mountain of victory? The faith-filled person can often be the person who is just holding on, in the hope that God will move and rescue them. I believe that many of us might in this place now. And if you are finding yourself in a place like this during these very difficult times, I want to encourage you to engage in some "faith-filled waiting".
The passage above is the first two verses of our Call to Worship this Sunday morning, and as we come together as a church and this Call to Worship can serve as a reminder of who it is that we worship. Remember that He is the God who hears us and cares for us and calls us to His side, even in the most difficult times. As Christmas reminds us, He is near.
So let's wait patiently for the Lord and believe that He will deliver us. Let's engage in some Faith-Filled Waiting.
01-07-2021 - Guidance Obtained
Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate, Head of Staff
The world is a dangerous place. It always has been but
these days we see this very clearly every day. Between pandemics, unprecedented
political instability, and rumors of tensions throughout the world, we see very
clearly what has always been – that the world is a dangerous place.
But that does not mean it is a bad place. We need to
remember during times like this that the world was created by God, who afterward,
said that it was good. And it is good. The same things we loved about the world
and about our lives are still there. They haven’t gone away. What is bad now
will eventually pass.
So, what are Christians to do as we wait for these difficult times to pass? The answer is peace. We are called to be a people of peace. And we are called to be a people of peace because our Lord is the Prince of Peace. This is something that I will be speaking about on Sunday as I finish up my sermon series on the names of the divine Son who would be born, as prophesied in Isaiah, chapter 9.
When people speak of peace, they generally think of it as
something external like peace between nations or political factions. But for
the believer, peace is something that is internal before it is external. Peace
takes many forms and is seen in many ways, but it must start by being
personalized. It must start by being at the very center of who we are as
believers. We can only live to bring peace if we are people who are peace.
The good news of this idea is that it easily leads us back
to the place we need to be. While external circumstances will rage, we can look
to the one who was born the Prince of Peace. And looking to Him makes all the
differences. The peace that comes from Him is a peace of the person, not of the
circumstance, and it is the kind of peace that He gives us as His followers.
So, before we hope for peace in our country, before we desire it for the world, we must to seek to live it, to personalize it, to actually be it. It is my prayer that God will give me the words to speak about this on Sunday in a way that helps us all receive this great gift.
My prayer is for ears that hear what the Spirit has to say
to us all at this time because it is during times like this that it is only the
Spirit that can adequately speak to our circumstances. It is only the Spirit
who can speak the peace that we so desperately need.
12-30-2020 - Guidance Obtained
Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate, Head of Staff
“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” - Proverbs 1:5
Even in the midst of a crazy pandemic where nothing seems normal, I must admit that it seemed very strange and out of place to “cancel” or “suspend” church services at any point, but that is exactly what we did. I gave it a lot of thought before I approached Session about cancelling the service after Christmas and the one coming up, the Sunday after New Year’s. After much consideration, the decision was made to suspend services for these two Sundays.
The genesis of this
decision for me went back to the time shortly after Thanksgiving, where I saw
the spread of covid begin to spike. It soon became apparent that expanded
home gatherings with family and friends owned a great part of the
responsibility for this spike. It was then that I considered our Sunday after
Christmas “sing-along” service. It suddenly dawned on me that we were potentially
inviting a super-spreader event to occur. Imagine a group of people, many
coming off expanded holiday gatherings, being invited into a closed off space
and then handed songbooks and encouraged to sing out. When I thought about it
like that, it seemed a good idea to forego the sing-along service and the
service after New Years Day as well, as that holiday will potentially invite
expanded social events. I had already taken this step for some meetings that
occurred in the church building, so it seemed natural to look at the services.
It is good to live in boldness and not fear. Our church opened for services at the beginning of summer and is has been fully opened for both worship and a full slate of ministries that occur in the facility for many months. We have held worship, housed the homeless, provided food for the community, opened the thrift shop, invited AA/NA to meet and held a remarkable Christmas family event that drew over 200 people. And we did all this while the pandemic raged. No, we are not a fearful people.
But we do endeavor to be wise, and that is a learned thing. Watching how the pandemic spreads and taking sensible action where needed is a good thing and something I believe God led us to do. As the passage above says, we heard, we learned, and we obtained guidance, and this is why we decided to suspend services. There was not pressure from anything or anyone outside, there was only a desire to be wise.
Our church building will
open up again because we want to be bold and do as God would want. Services in
the building are slated to start again on January 10th and the plan is to open
the facility up to various groups that want to meet on January 17th. This
could potentially change based on a covid surge, so watch your email and the
As we continue through this very strange time, please pray for the leaders of your church that they would operate out of boldness and a lack of fear but please also pray that we have the courage to make wise decisions when needed.
12-23-2020 - The Simple Story
Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate, Head of Staff
The Word became flesh! God became human! The invisible became visible! The untouchable became touchable! Eternal life experienced temporal death! The transcendent one descended and drew near! The unlimited became limited! The infinite became finite! The immutable became mutable! The unbreakable became fragile! Spirit became matter! Eternity entered time! The independent became dependent! The almighty became weak! The loved became hated! The exalted was humbled! Glory was subjected to shame! Fame turned into obscurity! From inexpressible joy to tears of unimaginable grief! From a throne to a cross! From ruler to being ruled! From power to weakness! - Sam Storms
There is no
more radical idea in the world of ideas than the Incarnation. Mankind has
always had people who espouse the idea that man can become a god (and many even
believed it about themselves), but nowhere else does this incredible concept
that God became human exist. Some religions have espoused the idea that their
founder or leader has divine attributes but nothing where the fullness of God
is said to dwell as human. And not an elevated human like someone from the
Marvel Universe, but a flesh and blood, born as a baby, hungry and thirsty,
tempted and conspired against, able to be injured, capable of dying, human.
and thinkers have always thought Christians to be absurd by holding to such an
idea. The Incarnation has been dismissed, ridiculed, doubted and maligned by
the best that thinking humanity has to offer and yet it remains. It remains to
speak to us all about a God who seems to take risks, one who is willing to
experience all that we experience, even the base and lowly things. And to top
this off, this radical idea comes down to us as a simple story. A story of a
baby, born to paupers, lying in a farm animal feeding trough, hungry and cold.
If we had
never heard this idea before, if we had not gone to church as children, if we
had not been told the story in annual celebrations, if we had not sung about it
or heard it recounted by Linus in the Peanuts Christmas Special, we too might
believe it to be absurd. And, to top it off and make it more difficult, the
idea is handed to us as a simple story. Nothing grandiose – just a simple story
that can be told by a cartoon character little boy who still carries his
So, what should we, in 2020, do with this simple story?
The answer is
– we tell it.
This is the
story that must be told. No matter how many times it has been told before, it
must be told again. It deserves to be told every year because it is this absurd
story that changed the world. It is this absurd story that has given hope to
millions for the last 2000 years. It is this story that speaks to the human
heart at a level of intimacy that nothing else does. It is the absurd story
that is true.
And tell it we
will – this Christmas Eve, on the church front lawn, from 2-4pm, with live
animals, people in costumes and a plastic doll in a manger. You see, the thing
is, the telling of the story is meant to be told by simple people in simple
ways. The One who was born that day wouldn’t have it any other way.
12-16-2020 - Snow Is Coming
Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate
I don’t know about you, but I have an Amazon Alexa in my house. It is a very interesting little device but, to be technically correct, Alexa is not actually the device that you see sitting on the table. That device is called an “Echo”. Alexa, to be precise, is a ”virtual assistant AI (artificial intelligence) technology”. Alexa is the engine of artificial intelligence that can listen and answer your questions. It is dependent on many diverse technologies back in the Amazon home office that instantly listen to your commands, break them down into sophisticated searching queries to search a vast data storehouse using sophisticated logic algorithms to find the best answer, convert it to language using a language synthesizer, and speak it back to you with human sounding voice. And this is done as quickly as a real person answering a question.
So, this morning I see a flashing light on the top of my
Amazon Echo and I said, “Alexa, notifications”. If you have one of these
devices, you know that Alexa is the “wake word” for Alexa to start listening
(although Liz firmly believes Jeff Bezos is listing to everything going on in
our house – and honestly if he is, he must be both bored and slightly amused)
and “notifications” would be the question. When I said “notifications”, Alexa
promptly let me know that there was a severe winter warning in effect and that
snow was coming.
I heard a few people talking yesterday about the snow coming and it was all very negative. One person said “Boy, 2020 just won’t give up with the pain it inflicts”. We all know that snow can be very inconvenient, even a hassle. But did you know that snow in scripture is almost always speaking of something very good, even glorious? Snow often is used as a metaphor of either God’s appearance or our salvation. Consider the following passages:
Matthew 28:3 – “His appearance (Jesus) was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Daniel 7:9 - “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.”
Isaiah 1:18 - “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Psalm 51:7 – “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
So, let’s accept the fact that the snow is coming and when
it does, try to use it as a moment to look at its wonder and beauty and
contemplate the amazing love of God who, dressed in white like snow, cleanses
us from our sin, so we also might be clothed in brilliance.
And if you have an Alexa device, resist the temptation to ask it if Jeff Bezos is listening. She will deny it.
12-09-2020 - Are You Retrospective?
Today's post is written by Pat Hanly, Pastoral Associate.
In my morning
devotional time, I often enjoy reading from the great Puritan prayer devotional
book entitled “Valley of Vision, a Collection of Puritan Prayers”. I highly recommend it to anyone looking
for a daily devotions book. Honestly, the Puritans have been given a bad rap.
They are often thought of as kill-joys who spend their days looking for someone
having fun so they can put a stop to it. In reality, the Puritans were men and
women driven by a simple but fervent and intense devotion to Christ. And it was
this devotion that helped them to understand more about themselves.
Consider today’s entry for an example. Entitled “Retrospect and Prospect”, the writer is reflecting on how he came to know Christ as his Savior, and it is these thoughts that caused him to think on his own state before he knew Christ. He writes the following:
“My soul melts when I think of thy days of old
when a poor worthless creature
without wisdom to direct or strength
to help myself
was laid under the happy necessity
of living upon thee and finding thy
This is what I love about the Puritan writers. They constantly reflect on after state prior to knowing Christ and how that compares to their state now. In the case of today’s writer, his heart “melts” when he considers this state as poor, without wisdom and strength to help himself, but he was “laid” under the happiness of living for Christ. And it is in this state that he finds that his Savior provides “consolations large” (he was encouraged).
What do you find yourself thinking about every day? Are you consumed with thoughts about yourself? Or maybe about those you love? Maybe your financial status and how Covid has affected that? Or maybe about our church that we all love? Honestly, it is understandable that you might dwell on these things because that is what people do. But perhaps you would consider another way?
If you don’t
have a daily devotional practice already, start one today. I recommend praying
at least twice a day, using the Psalms as a guide, as well as incorporating
other prayers that you know or have memorized. In your daily prayer, don’t
spend all of our time asking God to do something, but spend most of the time
praising and thanking Him for all He does for you. And then try to do something
you might not have tried to do before; get retrospective. Think on where
you were before you knew the graciousness of the One you have come to love.
Consider how he has touched your life and changed you. Spend a few minutes
thinking about some of your favorite passages of scripture – look them up if
you have to. Or alternatively, read from one of the gospels and sit and just
think about the passage you have read.
If you don’t think you have the time, I am here to tell you that you do. Take 5 or 10 minutes at each prayer time and you soon find that you want to expand it. Maybe get up a few minutes early to accommodate the time.
Or maybe just
stop thinking so much about yourself and everything in your life. This is hard
to do at first, but you can get the hang of it and you’ll be surprised at how
much time you’ll get back if you do just that. And enjoy your time pondering
the One who came as a baby and now reigns as a King.
For He knows
your name. If that
doesn’t excite you, then nothing will.
11-04-2020 - The Waiting Is The Hardest Part
I am composing this the day after the election with no clear winner in sight. It might take another couple of days or a couple of weeks. This is an important election, but we need not buy into ‘it’s the end of the world’ if so and so gets elected. We seem to forget that we have an election every four years. Yes, there are real-world implications, but we have our trust in a much higher power. Since we live in submission to another King, who is not bound by geography, time, and party platforms and is the creator and sustainer of the universe, we can be at peace. I have learned even in times like this to be ambivalent about the political process and presidential elections.
Churches are not here to serve nationalism or socialism but the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be hesitant in our allegiance to any human group and be critical even as we follow and join a particular group. All actions related to moral causes does not equate to obedience to Christ. Action can be a substitute for dependence on Christ. In “The Political Meaning of Christianity,” Glenn Tinder states that “Where the action is carried on under an illusion of innocence sin is apt to be particularly pretentious and unrestrained.” Tinder adds, “Action can be an element of spirituality when it is divested of pride.” It is helpful to learn to wait.
Waiting is an unpopular posture, but one scripture refers to often. "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Tinder states, “The men and women of Israel and indirectly human beings everywhere, were called upon to turn their lives into a concentrated act of waiting for a community that would be created not by political leaders but by God.” We cannot put our ultimate trust in our worldly leaders. Tinder also adds that “There is perhaps not a single example in our time of a determined effort to produce immediate and sweeping change that has not ended in tyranny.” People cannot build and live in a good order here on earth, not even an inward and spiritual order. Tinder is correct in stating that if a Christian ideology is drawn up, God would have tacitly to be denied since faith is reduced to inalterable dogma.
Our posture is to be independent and engaged, free from fanaticism and cynicism. The media and often leaders press us for our allegiance at the sacrifice of truth. They prefer that we not ask hard questions. Godly leadership challenges us to think and to be held accountable. The kind of leadership moves us to consider Christ and not press us to be loyal to their leadership.
We need patience as we wait for an election result, but we need much more patience to wait for the coming of the Lord, who will ultimately bring us to the abiding community. We have no lasting city in this world. Today, let's focus on waiting for God to fill us with his presence so that many others can see Christ and enter His kingdom. We can then perform the role of peacemaker in this divided culture by considering the needs and concerns of those with whom we might disagree.
This week's post is written by Patrick Hanly, Pastoral Associate.
10-28-2020 - What Can We Do?
Well, I think I have about had it; I’m not sure that I can
make it to November 3rd and what will follow. It seems that every
time I check my Youtube feed, all I can see is disastrous situations, from
somewhere in this country, being fed to me. Like you, I feel that I have not
seen anything as bad as this in my entire life. And do we have any reason to
believe that things will get better after November 3rd? We don’t. I
think we can safely assume that things will get worse and that is a gloomy
So what, as believers, are we to do? We can certainly pray,
and I know that a great many of us are doing that every day. So, for all of you
who are praying, let’s commit together to pray this upcoming Monday night,
between the hours of 8pm to 9pm, for our country and this upcoming election.
Let’s go to God in repentance and ask him for His will and His guidance. Let’s
pour out our hearts and ask for mercy and an end to the violence and division
in our country. If it were not for a recent uptick in Covid cases and the
multiple shutdowns of the school, I would have organized a prayer meeting at
the church for this Monday evening. But since we cannot do that, a commitment
to pray together is the next best thing. Please join me in that this Monday
But what else can we do? Vote? Sure, we can do that but,
without God’s divine intervention, I am not sure things are going to get
better, no matter who wins. But it is still important to vote since there are
major things in play in this election. So please, educate yourself and vote.
Can we try to convince others of our political position?
Can we post on Facebook and rant in anger about our politics? I am not sure
about you, but I am thoroughly exhausted from reading political posts. As a
matter of fact, I would like to call for a moratorium on political Facebook
posts. Perhaps you will all join me in a Facebook cease-fire? And, if you read a
biased political post in your feed, not matter if you agree or not, write
something back that is up-lifting. Phrases like “I’m praying for our country”
or “Jesus is Lord no matter who is in charge” or “Change has to start
with me – create in me a clean heart, O God” can go a long way to lift
someone’s spirit out of the Facebook fracus.
And there is one more thing we can do. Laugh.
What? What do you mean by that? How can you find anything about the current situation in our country as being in any way funny?
Well, I don’t. Nothing about this situation is funny and I
am not saying we should laugh about the current state of politics in our
country. I am saying that we can find other things to laugh about. In my case,
it was John Candy. When I saw my Youtube feed filled this morning with more
posts about riots, violence, and political corruption, I decided to search for movie
clips from my favorite comedian. Now, certainly John Candy could be bawdy, and
I am not recommending his bawdy scenes, but he could also be so very funny. So,
I found a few clips and laughed out loud and I felt better.
The Bible clearly recommends laughter and a glad heart.
Proverbs 17:22 says that “a merry heart (or laughter) is good medicine but a
broken spirit saps a person’s strength” and Proverbs 15:13 says that “a
glad heart makes a happy face, a broken heart crushes the spirit”. It is
vitally important that we, as God’s church, provide a different face to
politics of the day. We should be diligent in our prayer, patient with our
tongue (or posts) and exuberant in our joy.
Please ask the Lord to make you a prayer warrior and pray
daily for God’s presence in the purity of the Gospel and the Spirit’s power to
be poured out on us. Pray for an end to the violence and for revival in our
country. Go to the Lord in repentance and ask for the change to start with you.
Ask for patience and a loving heart in these difficult days to share with all
you meet. And find a reason to have joy. Find something to dwell on that makes
you merry. And look for a reason to laugh.
Man, I miss John Candy.
10-15-2020 - Your Life as a Prayer
I am a big fan of Keith Green’s music. While he died tragically in a
plane crash in 1982, his music continues to have an impact on my life. I
especially love the four albums that he released while he was alive,
and out of those four albums, I believe my favorite is the album
entitled “No Compromise”.
The front cover of this album is pictured with a cartoon drawing of a man standing while all the others around him are prostrate on the ground. The people around him are on their faces because the local magistrate is being carried past them on a gold throne (the setting is an ancient city). One of the soldiers following the magistrate is pointing at the man standing with angry and malice filled intentions on his face. The standing man did not bend the knee to the magistrate and now will pay a price.
Keith Green was anything but subtle. The idea in this picture and the many songs on the album is that we will be called to stand in the darkness around us. This is something that as Christians who hold to the true gospel will not be able to escape. While everything around us is demanding that we compromise to “get along”, we will potentially be brought to a place where compromise can no longer be done as it would result in sin and a possible betrayal of our Lord. A casual look at our current society leads me to believe this confrontation may not be far away. This is a difficult thing to consider, but it is important that we prepare our lives for what may happen in the future. By God’s mercy, we may escape this, but that is not for sure. Christians in other lands are certainly facing this very thing today.
The second song on the album provides a hint on how we can begin to prepare. The song is called “Make My Life a Prayer to You” and the lyrics begin this way,
Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to.
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise.
I want to ask you to take a minute and think about your daily prayers. Are they mostly filled with requests for God to heal someone or help someone or change a situation in our life or the life of someone you love? While requests of this kind are certainly legitimate, and we are called to pray in this manner, these prayers are not to be our entire prayer time. They should not even to constitute the majority of our time in prayer. A review of the first few lines of the Lord’s prayer gives us an indication of how we should pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name – First our prayers must include (and even begin) with a time of praise and adoration to God.
Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – this next part of the prayer is critical and constitutes our desire to see God’s will be done in our lives. Here we are asking that our lives conform to God’s will and our desires are motivated by the expansion of His kingdom.
After these lines come time to pray for our needs, forgiveness, and guidance. While these are important, we must not forget the first lines in the Lord’s prayer to rush to the latter part. Our daily prayer must have, as a main focus, expressions of our praise to God for who He is followed by our desire to conform to His will in obedience here on earth. In fact, I believe we should center on this to the point where these things become who we are, not just what we pray. We must be a people whose very lives exist to praise God and live in obedience to him.
So, make our lives a prayer to you, O God.
With no empty words, no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise.
10-08-2020 - Grain of Truth
Criticism. You have received it, and you have probably given it. In a divided, abrasive culture, everybody is a critic. Criticism can play an essential role in the development of a person or society. Unfortunately, when there is a lack of substantive conversation, criticism is either blindly embraced, or wholly ignored. What should be the Believer’s response?
When we turn to the Bible, we find that history's most potent criticism was not toward another human being, but God. This seed, planted by the evil one, has led to all other destructive complaints. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan to believe two things:
lied to them. You will not die if you eat
of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 3:4)
2. God is holding out on them – keeping them from being like him. (Genesis 3:5)
Looking at the scriptures to figure out how to deal with criticism, I discover the real problem is my criticism of God.
can often question how God runs the world.
Jim Carry, in “Bruce Almighty,” plays a character who questions God. He
then gets to be God since God (Morgan Freeman) needed a break. Though some could rightly argue the film's
anthropomorphic view (God seen as more human than divine) of God, there is a practical
application. We do not realize who we
are talking to when we complain to God.
We can blame God for not healing, allowing evil to exist, and not giving me a better life. Even a godly person, who endures inexplicable suffering like Job, could be tempted to demand God to give him an answer. Doubting God is at the core of all sin. You indulge because you suspect God is not enough. You lie because you doubt that it will not go well for you if you tell the truth. You get angry because God is not at the core of your identity – He is not your peace.
Much of the book of Job is stating Job’s (supposed) friends’ terrible advice and complaints. God has the final word in the very end. In summary, God is saying you don’t understand who you are talking to: I am God, you are not. This is God not merely asserting his authority, but a merciful and sobering admonishment of Job. Why cry out why is this happening and become a critic of God? Or if God knew all of this, why did He allow it? The truth is, if you knew what God knew, you would understand. But we don't. We are left with trusting Him. There are many reasons to trust Him.
are many practical Biblical ways to deal with criticism that have not been
mentioned. It is sobering to consider
that my main problem is my criticism of the Perfect One. He deserves praise, not a critique.