To keep us encouraged during these difficult times, Pastor Robert is communicating regularly.
06-04-2020 - Weekly Epistle "A Response"
recent months, our nation has been reeling from COVID 19, the continuous
political divide over reopening, and now the death of George Floyd and the ensuing
protests. We have seen the unspeakable
horror of Floyd being murdered and the subsequent protests in which the
violence and looting have ravaged cities.
It is a time to listen, to pray, and to be God’s voice into this
all come from different places on this issue. I have a variety of experiences
that have influenced my opinion and perspective. I was born in New Haven, CT,
in a neighborhood that was 40% Black 40% Hispanic and 20% white. My dad had told me that when I was in preschool,
I came home and told him I wanted to be black. I moved around several times and
ended up going to High School in Minnesota, where there was not one black
person in my graduating class of 450 students.
When I was a staff member with InterVarsity at the Milwaukee School of Engineering,
the group elected a black student to be the president of the Christian
fellowship that was primarily made up of 50-60 white students. This president shared with me his black
experience in Milwaukee. At least 10-15 times, he was stopped by security
before entering his dorm building. He
wondered about dying young as some black young men had at that time. For the
first time, I began to consider how someone experiences the same surroundings
in such a different way because of their skin color. For a couple of years, I
was a minority in a neighborhood I lived in in Minneapolis, but it does not
compare to being black in America. I need more to draw from than just my life
do I respond as a Christian? I think of
the sermon text from last week. “But the
wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full
of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness
is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). We need the meekness of wisdom that brings
peace. We have seen scenes of this when
cops are kneeling or hugging protestors (social distancing
notwithstanding). As Christians, we need
to be ‘open to reason’ and ‘impartial.’ We
should not force a situation to form into a narrative that fits our political perspective
but have a genuine concern for people created in God's image. We need to be full of mercy; for the Floyd
family, for those mistreated and abused by the police, for the cops that have a
difficult job and for the shop owners (some who have lost everything).
are hurting, there is a divide, but we need to listen to and care for one another.
Politics can seduce the church on either side. An African American pastor Jason
Cook said, “Many people derive their
identity and their goodness based on how much they care about a particular
issue when, in fact, our identity is hidden in the person and work of Christ
and what he’s done
on our behalf. All our activism must flow from that. If our activism is
issue-driven, then we’ll fall into the same camp, where we will only chase
after the issues, but not after the hearts of people.” We
need to chase after people’s hearts.
That is what a person of peace does.
It will take a while, and it will not be easy.
Kevin DeYoung quotes at length a book by David Kennedy, "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America," that addresses this issue. Kennedy stated, “The racist history, the long trauma of black America, makes relations between cops and black neighborhoods, especially jagged, especially hurtful, especially explosive. It shapes them, gives them different meanings." The author goes on to describe the different narratives that are believed about each other and a refusal to listen. Some argue that racist incidents are a few isolated cases, but it doesn't seem to be the case. There has been a litany of viral cases from bird watching while black, napping while black, running while black, staying in an Airbnb while black, going to Starbucks while black, and many more. We cannot turn away from this. One fulfills that false narrative by not listening and showing compassion. The church can play a critical role in making the difference in this conflict today in our nation. Let’s be the kind of people that are willing to follow Christ and be His hands and feet.
05-29-2020 - Weekly Epistle "The Essential Church"
The Essential Church
Is the Church essential? The Church is the most important institution on earth because it was created by God for His eternal purpose – to advance the Kingdom of God by making disciples of all nations. The Church is also essential for society since it reminds humanity that it is not the center of the universe. Though all may not come to believe in God, the Church's saltiness preserves society. The recent question raised these days is the Sunday morning physical gathering of a church essential for the Church to be the Church. As important and cherished as it is to gather together with our brothers and sisters on Sundays, we still can pray, read the Bible, share the gospel and encourage one another while we are waiting to meet again.
Some congregations might open up sooner than others. Other congregations might feel the urgency but out of the care for others, and the interests of the health of the community decide not to meet. Either way, the Church should not make this decision as if it is at war with the culture but instead wanting to fulfill its mission as the Church. The real battle is spiritual, and with the principalities and powers influencing the culture away from God. The Church should not create any unnecessary barrier for people to know and follow Jesus Christ. It has been said that “The church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” The Church is not a social club or preserving a religious tradition but a worshipping community committed to loving one another, serving those in need in the community, and making disciples of all nations.
Many are commenting on what God might be doing during this time. It might be as some have said that God is raising up those who desire to know and serve Christ more than anything else in their life. Other interests in life have been on hold from all of us and for some reevaluated. Maybe some parts of our life will be forever changed, but for those who know Lord, it has been a time to consider how deep is our relationship with Christ. Many are sharing more intimate times in prayer and His Word. We need to be reminded that we are the Church throughout the week, including Sunday. Let us not miss what the Lord might be doing while we wait to meet again, preparing us to be the essential Church.
05-20-2020 - Weekly Epistle "My Heart Recoils Within Me"
My Heart Recoils Within Me
How does Jesus view our sin? It is difficult to grasp because we often minimize our wrongdoing but exaggerate others. We are on good terms with ourselves. Think of any argument you have had. Afterward, you always think of the things you did say or could have said that puts you in the right. We always win. The other person is in the wrong. Even those of the sensitive temperament who have an over-realized guilty conscience unnecessarily focus on self. The only way to see that we are sinners is to see God. And He is full of compassion.
In a recent article, a pastor comments on the five shifts churches need to make to transition to the post-COVID-19 world. These are essential changes to make, but it made me think of a more significant shift required in my understanding of God. One major shift is trusting a Holy God, who is drawn to us because of our sin. We often think God is repelled because of our sin. So, we move away from God, thinking we need to earn his love again. We might be tempted to falsely diminish his holiness, permitting us to indulge in what pleases us. The truth is He is Holy and moves toward us when we sin.
This shift in thinking came from reading an excellent book, “Gentle and Lowly the Heart of Christ for Sinner and Sufferers” by Dane Ortlund. He quotes from Hosea 11:7-9 in a chapter titled What our sins evoke:
7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. 8 “.. How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed (recoils) within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.
“My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” This is an anthropopathism (similar to anthropomorphism- using human terms to speak of God, speaking of God's hand, for instance). Ortlund states that this word is used when God’s emotions are described in human terms. “God is not like us in our emotional fickleness; rather, he is completely perfect and transcendent and not affectable by circumstance in the way we finite humans are. He is ‘impassible.' At the same time, we should not so write off the way the Bible speaks of God's inner life that we make God a basically platonic power divorced from the welfare of his people."
When I sin, Christ sees that I am in misery. He paid the price for our sins and will not give up on us. He truly loves us. Instead of seeing this as a license to sin, we know that it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. We also fear him because of his forgiveness. There is forgiveness; therefore, you are feared (Psalm 130:4). He is kind and loving in our waywardness. Yes, he will discipline us, as it says in Hebrews 12. He wants what is best for us and is willing to experience pain if that is what is needed for us to mature in faith. When we sin, the very heart of Jesus is drawn out to us. We can be thankful that "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).
This shifts my perception of others. If I see Christians’ flaws or patterns of sin, I might be prone to think how displeasing they are to God (which might be true) but not know of God’s love for them. I can judge them while the Lord’s heart is going out to them in their rebellion. God hates what is ruining them. It is their sin, keeping them from being loving, faithful, and joyful. He is for them, he died for them, and he is not giving up. Neither should I.
5-13-2020 - Weekly Epistle "Spontaneous Love"
“Love is spontaneous, but it has to be maintained through discipline.”
I read this recently and find this to be so true. Love takes time; it takes discipline. When the moment requires a loving response, is your heart ready? I have been thinking about this more recently, being with my family, 24/7. It seems like conflicts, fights, and complaints arise out of nowhere in a house with three young children. Some days they wake up happy as can be and helping each other, and the next morning they are at war as if possessed by someone else overnight. I have been praying for spontaneous love. But this can only happen if my heart is ready.
I always thought it a thought-provoking non-Biblical line from the movie “The Passion,” when Jesus says before he is flogged, “My heart is ready, Father, my heart is ready.” Ready to receive the beating? Ready to say forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do? Or is it ready to start what will be the most painful experience of all, being separated from the Father? It says in Hebrews that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). His heart was in the process of being trained. The perfect God-man knew his Father and never wavered to love perfectly.
We need to discipline our hearts. Charles Dickens once referred to a relationship he once had occurred from a poor decision. He described it as “A mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.” What are your impulses? What comes out of your mouth when you are under pressure, stressed? What prompts you to make the decisions that you do? The power of positive thinking might have some surface-level benefit, but it’s taking care of your heart every day so that by impulse, you do the loving thing.
I am working at being more loving. I am training my heart. It is a fulltime, all-consuming job. To be instructed by the Lord. The training is often riding yourself of idols that get in the way of your relationship with God. “Knowledge puffs up love builds up.” (I Corinthians 8:1) Spending more time with Jesus enables you to love and be like him. If you are not growing in love but are spending time in spiritual activity – it may not be the kind of activity that is bearing fruit for you. We can be deceived. Let’s go to great lengths not only to strengthen the mind but also to grow in love. “For the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
5-06-2020 - Weekly Eblast "Long Obedience"
During this pandemic, there have been many sermons/ articles/ tweets on God being our refuge and strength. Rightly so. God is merciful to those in need. It is fitting to look to HIM and cry out HIM during this stressful time. There has also been a call for renewal and revival in this time of social isolation. Many Christians desire to see God’s spirit come in power to revive us and see many come to faith in Christ. There is a lot of content out there. We can listen to many sermons from all over the country, and that is a good thing. I read a tweet that said, “So much content in the church, so little power…” You could also say ‘so much content in the church, so little obedience.’
Mark Twain once said, “It is not the parts of the Bible, I don't understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” It is not how much knowledge we have about the Bible or how often we discuss it (or write about it), but if we obey His Word. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 sums it up like this: "Obey, and you will be blessed. Disobey, and you will be cursed." In the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus Christ that believers are called to a life of obedience. The gospel of John states, "If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).
This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. As we reopen, the way we do life together will change. A vaccine may not come for another year or two or even longer. We go to Jesus for peace, guidance, and relief from anxiety. For us to be faithful in the long run, we must obey what the Lord is speaking to us to do today. Eugene Peterson's excellent book has a great title that is a message in itself: "Long Obedience in The Same Direction." Obedience leads to more revelation of His Word and spiritual growth. Though we need time to recreate, unwind, and chill, we should not justify our increased self-indulgence or laziness during this isolation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it quite succinctly, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
God is getting our attention, and let’s pray that we see “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Obeying his word. Let’s pray for renewal and revival and wean ourselves from being fans of Jesus to being unreservedly committed to him. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7). A prayer from the Valley of Vision:
“May I enter him as my refuge,
build on him as my foundation,
walk in him as my way,
follow him as my guide,
conform to him as my example,
receive his instructions as my prophet,
rely on his intercession as my high priest
obey him as my king.”
4-2-20 - "Meditating on Peace"
Text of Blog
As a young Christian college student, I was encouraged by my mentors to memorize scripture. The first verse I memorized was John 14:27. I have found that what I learned long ago has been very helpful, especially in times like this. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
In this verse, Jesus is explaining to the disciples that He is leaving them. In John 14:26, He gave the fullest expression of the Holy Spirit in this Gospel. Jesus said that the Counselor (Holy Spirit) was sent by the Father in His name to teach us all things, including everything Jesus said to them. What a gift. What is the nature of this gift when it has the first place in a person’s life? Peace. It is not the world's wishing others peace. This peace is also not the absence of conflict –it is so much more. It is God-given serenity that is not dependent on outward circumstances. We get the peace that God has by His Spirit. Peace is the absence of spiritual unrest and the assurance of God’s salvation and loving presence under all circumstances as we put our faith in Christ (14:1) and meditate on His gracious promises. When this peace from God is present, anxiety is driven out. The world may give external pleasures, restful vistas and enjoyment but never that inner assurance, which reflects God's smile in the heart of the child.
The verse also indicates that we have a role in maintaining this peace. “Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.” How do you do this? One way I have found is the practice of meditation. Apply yourself to rest in Christ quieting yourself by repeating this Bible verse. Think of what is causing anxiety and repeat this truth over it.
Scripture encourages this practice.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Psalm 119:15
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. Psalm 143:5
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law, He meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2
Do you delight in His word, His ways, and His works? Take pleasure that He has given you the counselor to speak words of strength and hope. Take time to repeat, meditate even memorize for the peace of your soul.