Here am I. Send me.

By Gary Jennings (Lead Pastor)                                                               

RAP – It’s simple to do. Read a passage; Apply the passage, and Pray the passage. Everyone can rap.

It was just a typical Sunday morning in my world. I have a regimented routine on Sunday mornings as I work my way forward to our first service of two for the morning. After I finished the final study and preparation of my sermon, I gazed at my bulletin board in my office to see what the planned daily reading passage was for our church family. The passage was Isaiah 6:1-13. Awe yes, I said to myself, a familiar passage indeed; and one I love. I read the first 8 verses, then stopped and reflected. Now, sometimes I will read the passage for that Sunday in our services. This was missions Sunday and I was feeling that it would be a good passage to read to our church family.

So, this is exactly what I did. As I publicly read I felt greatly impacted by the words, Who will go for us, then Isaiah’s quick response, Here am I. send me. These words are loaded with power and commitment. I had no idea what God was doing in the pews before me, but I did know he was doing something. Many of us were being affected in a fresh way. After the services I saw people lingering behind in the pews in quiet meditation. It was after the services that heard from three people who told me specifically where God was sending them to. I marveled at the workings of God. They will be sharing a testimony this Sunday in church. God is sending them because they said, here I am.

For me personally, my fresh surrender to be sent led me from the walls of our church to a house number in our city. It was there that I felt the gentle nudge of God to share. As I did a connection was made with someone who has a need. Who knows what will come out of this in the days ahead.

I heard someone say one time that the reality today is that some have changed the wording of Isaiah 6:8 from Here am I. Send me, to Here am I. Send somebody else. Why do people say that today? Is it because sometimes ministry is messy and inconvenient? Is it because sometimes ministry takes us out of our comfort zones? Is it because sometimes ministry has a price tag attached to it? Yes, yes, yes, all of the above and much more certainly apply to ministry and being sent. Here’s what I know: ministry is seldom clean, tidy, neat, and cheap. There is always a cost.

Here’s what else I know: Oh, how much we miss when God has to pass over us in search of a willing person. Years ago we used to call a willing person, a willing vessel. A vessel is a container which is made to be filled and used. When we refuse to be used, ministry to people in need still happens, but through someone else. And then, someone else gets the blessing that God designated to us.

Jesus went looking for disciples and followers as he walked this earth. When He found them, he sent them out to do needed ministry among people.

God is still looking for people who will say, Here I am. Send me. Amen!

Amazing Grace

By Pastor Ruth Denboer

It’s amazing to me as I try to understand the grace of God.   The scriptures this week started out in Leviticus.  Here we see just a glimpse of the very specific detail God went to in order to purify His people from their sins.  As wonderful as it was for them to have the opportunity to have their sins forgiven … it was a terrifying process.   Literally, a matter of life and death if they did not completely follow God’s very specific directions.   Although the whole process was rigorous and frightening, the Israelites took the instructions from God very seriously.   They realized that this process was allowing them to be in right standing with God once again.   Even though it was difficult and distant, they recognized it was indeed God’s grace being bestowed upon them.   What a contrast to how we understand forgiveness and our relationship with God today!    We read in Hebrews that we can come into the presence of God boldly and with the confidence that are His children.

How is all this possible you ask?

Glad you asked!  JESUS!  The difference for us is simply Jesus.  I am overwhelmed with the amazing grace we are offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is incredible that as we confess our sins directly to God, we are instantly forgiven.  Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price for every one of the sins I’ve ever committed and ever will commit.  Your sins are completely paid for as well.

Why then do we sometimes live with guilt or shame?

I think the answer was revealed in Psalm 32.

3When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  4Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.  My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

5Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the lord.”  And you forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.

It really is this easy for us!  Jesus paid the full price of our sin.  When we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us completely.  So as I read the passages for this week, I was so humbled by the amazing grace of God in sending Jesus to be the final sacrifice for all sin.   We really can live forgiven and guilt free!

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for allowing me to come into your presence so personally and intimately.  Thank you for paying the price for my sins, past present and future.  I could never deserve this, but I choose to confess my sins to You, and accept Your generous offer of forgiveness.   Help me to never forget the price You paid for my sins, and how much You desire me to live guilt free!

~ With a grateful heart.  Amen

The Love of God

By Pastor Nikki Ragush

Love is one of the deepest desires of every human. For some people they seek to find love through a marriage, others have dreamt about being a parent their entire lives, some find acceptance and love through deeply knit friendship groups, and some dedicate their entire lives to singleness as to focus solely on God. A variety of these things can be melded together, and at points people may feel very loved yet also at points they may feel loneliness and emptiness. People always seem to try and explain love, never finding a solution that completely satisfies the meaning of the word. Scripture says “God is love”, but that still seems vague for those who want to completely grasp, understand, and then dissect this concept. God is one of the greatest ways we can understand love, but it sometimes seems to be complicated what it looks like.

Hosea is probably one of the prophets that sticks out the most in my mind because the story is odd. Most people think that as a prophet God would want you to have a solid base around you… but God goes against our expectations. We find out God’s first command to Hosea “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2) The first thing God calls Hosea to do is to commit himself in marriage to someone who was unlikely to commit themselves back. I myself am not married however I know that when I commit to support someone there is an expectation they also will support me; whether in a friendship, a relationship, as a teammate, or as a co-worker. I remember many times in grade school being rather frustrated after a group assignment where I ended up doing more work than others, feeling like they didn’t care about me or my grades.

If we simply look at the situation we see Hosea in, we probably would see it being unfair and possibly a little ridiculous for God to ask this of Hosea. However, this imagery should mean something to us, because God’s reasoning for this is to prove a point… Hosea’s life became an object lesson to each one of us.  We say “God loves us” but do we truly understand how deeply He feels this love and how unconditional it is. God knows these people don’t care about Him, He sees them worshipping other god’s even when He’s proved himself in the Bible time and time again.

In Chapter 3 we see God call Hosea to reconciliation with His wife, ““Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”  (Hosea 3:1) God knows that He himself begs and pleads for His children to follow Him still knowing that some still are temptation and find something that may in the moment satisfy them.

God wants all of us. He doesn’t desire for us to have a couple hours on a Sunday, maybe ten minutes a day studying His word, or the quick prayer at meals when He is thanked for our food. I encourage you to read through this book and think that the God who made the entire universe desires to have all of your attention. We may not have the same idols, however sometimes it is obvious in our lives what we value most by the way we act, the way we speak, and where our time goes. God wants a full commitment to him, and He is ready to be fully committed to us but God allows us to make this crucial decision. The love of God is so beautiful in Hosea; it is unconditional, forgiving, understanding, and passionate.

Called by God

By: Pastor Heidi Kratz

Jonah 1:1,2

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against  it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

In Kids’ Church we have just finished studying the books of the Prophets in the Old Testament.  The prophets are divided into 2 parts:  Major Prophets and Minor Prophets.  The book of Jonah is one of the Minor Prophets.  A prophet is one who is called by God and speaks for him.  In the Old Testament prophets were sent in times of crisis when the children of Israel were in trouble.  In the “What’s in the Bible” series they talk about prophets being like an alarm clock  for God’s people.  What is the purpose of an alarm clock?  To wake us up so we don’t miss something important.  Prophets had a difficult job to do.  They had to give a message to God’s people when they were wandering and going their own way.

Jonah’s call was to “go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it”.  Jonah knew that God’s call was going to be difficult so what did he do?   He ran away and ended up inside a fish praying desperately for God to help him.  I would also be in “distress” (Jonah 2:2) if I was inside a fish for 3 days and nights.

In Chapter 3 the Lord called Jonah again.  “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it”.  This time Jonah obeyed.

What are you called to do?  If you are a disciple of Jesus we are called to live a life of sacrifice.  It is not an easy path at times, but we can put our trust in God to help us in our calling.

“But I, with a song of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.”  Jonah 2:9

 

One Who Serves

By: Pastor Vern Kratz

As I read through today’s passage, found in Luke 22:1-38, I note several phrases and verses that just jump off the page, some of them I have never really spent a lot time thinking about before. Let me encourage you to take the time to read it and see what words or phrases the Holy Spirit highlights for you. It’s a great passage to read this week as we head towards Good Friday and Easter morning.

But right in the middle of today’s passage there is a verse I want to dwell on for just a moment, because it is a good reminder for all of us.

Verse 24 tells us, “…a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”

Can you imagine? Jesus is about to be crucified, sacrificed for the sins of the entire world. So he gets together with his closest followers, his closest friends, for a final meal together, and all they can do is talk about themselves and argue as to who was the greatest.

But Jesus, was the Master Teacher, and was graciously patient with his sometimes immature disciples. Even in this moment, when all thoughts and efforts should have been turned towards Jesus to encourage and lift him up and strengthen him for what he was about to endure, Jesus instead takes it as an opportunity to remind his followers of how they ought to act towards one another.

Jesus reminds them (and us), “…the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Verse 26)

This was among some of Jesus’ final words before going to the cross. I would consider them of great importance. Something we should take heed of and put into practice.

How can you choose to be a servant today? How can you place someone else’s needs ahead of yours? How can you bless someone else today? By doing so you are becoming more like Jesus.

Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves.” (Verse 27)

There are a few verses in today’s passage that I don’t quite understand, but verse 26 is pretty clear, Jesus wants us to serve. As we continue with our week leading up to Easter let us continue to remind ourselves that Jesus came as a servant and he expects us to follow his example.

Be a blessing this Easter!

Afflicted by God

By Gary Jennings (Lead Pastor)                                                               

RAP – It’s simple to do. Read a passage; Apply the passage, and Pray the passage. Everyone can rap.

I sat down in my chair on Tuesday morning, March 16, opened up my Bible and got ready to be blessed by God’s word. Our scripture for this day was Lamentations 3:1-33. I must admit, this reading was far from blessing me as I read the first twenty-one verses. My first reaction was that this is not great sermon material at all. In fact, has any preacher used this as his text to exhort the people of God? There is no exhortation here. I wanted to sink in my chair. There are no Godly fuzzies. There are no spiritual butterflies. There are no incredible one liners to stick up on my fridge door to help me begin my day with. I wanted to forget what I just read. If you have not read this, you must do so. But do so at your own risk.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations and here is what he says about God in the first 21 verses of Lamentations 3: He has driven me away, He has made my skin and my flesh grow old, He has walled me in, He dragged me from the path and mangled me, He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows, He has broken my teeth with gravel. He has trampled me in the dust. Wait a minute, is this my God? Are you being blessed and exhorted as I quote? What am I to do with this? Shall I skip this and go on to something more pleasant? Ah, yes I could, but no, I can’t. I must try to understand this. This could be great, if I stop to ponder.

I do remember my sister Karen experiencing discomfort from my mother. It’s called discipline; and she needed it. She was bad. I recall the usual procedure. Mom would send her to her room and she would go on and on through sobs and tears about how bad mom was. I got used to the routine and the descriptive downer one liners about my mother. Mom was still in the house, and probably in the kitchen preparing for our next meal. But today, I must say Karen turned out very well. She is a great sister, mother, and wife, and I love her dearly.

I remember my own discomfort I experienced from my parents. The suffering I am referring to is also being sent to my room and being alienated from the family; losing my family privileges, not getting my allowance; not allowed to watch The Beverly Hillbillies for a couple of evenings. My parents even took my car keys from me one time. How could they? They were such meanies. Oh, but look at me now. I am almost 60 and my wife says I turned out pretty good. I agree. Ha.

So let’s get back to that Lamentations scripture passage and try to figure this one out. The writer says in chapter 33:22, Because of the Lords great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Another scripture verse that comes to my mind is Hebrews 12:6, where it says, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. God is our heavenly Father, and He loves us too much to allow us to go our own fleshly way. So He corrects, so that we may turn out to be more like Him.

Pastor Ruth Denboer said this in one of our staff meetings; God is interested in our holiness, not our happiness. This is so true.

So, we are told that the writer in Lamentations 3 is identifying with God’s chosen people, the Israelites. They were like a wayward child. They were rebellious in so many ways. Because God had restoration on his mind, corrective measures were being taken.

Jeremiah was feeling what the people were feeling as he penned these descriptive words. My outlined Bible tells me that there are two themes for Lamentations. First, the misery that sin brings, and secondly, the love and compassion of Jehovah for the subjects of his wrath

Ah, now I get it. Sin never pays great dividends.

By the way, if you are reading Lamentations 3, please do not stop at verse 21 in discouragement, keep reading. It does get better.

Don’t Give Up

Pastor Ruth Denboer

What an interesting combination of scripture this week.  We start with Jeremiah reminding the Israelite people to obey God and stay where God had put them … even though it meant they were in exile and it was not pleasant.  He reminds them it was their own sin that put them there.  Then we jump into Lamentations … which is exactly that … a book of Jeremiah’s laments (cries) as he witnesses the spiritual death and physical destruction of the Holy city of Jerusalem.

It has been said that no person pleaded with a people more, calling for a national conversion than Jeremiah did.  And that no one besides Jesus was treated with as much contempt as he was.   Yet he continued to believe.

It is very difficult watching people we love suffer for any reason.  But of course we know that suffering touches all of us at some point.  It is particularly difficult watching children suffer.  It is easy to wonder, “Where is God?” But we must remember this, in a world that is plagued with evil, sometimes even the innocent suffer.

I found these verses smack in the middle of the book of Lamentations to be so inspiring.

Lamentations 3:

20I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. 

21Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

22The faithful love of the lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.

23Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

24I say to myself, “The lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

We must not forget where our help comes from.  It is easy to push away from God when trouble comes, but the end of the readings this week remind us that this is exactly the time we need to run to God with persistence.  This is when we need to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness.  The faithful love of the LORD never ends!  His mercies never cease.  I will place my hope in Him!

No doubt there are times we need to talk ourselves back to believing this, but as we read in Luke 11: 9“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

DON’T GIVE UP when the going gets tough!  Instead … go to God!

 

 

Solomon’s Wisdom

Solomon’s Wisdom

Pastor Nikki Ragush

Our High School Youth (Focus) are currently going through the book of James together. In the 3rd chapter it begins to talk about wisdom, which I thought was fitting for this week’s reading. There are many gifts that we can pray that God blesses us with, and wisdom is one I’ve continued to seek for much of my life.

Solomon has the opportunity to ask God for anything in the world; initially people may imagine a trip, a new house, a nice car, all their debt to be paid off, a large family, and many other possibilities. Solomon knew immediately what he needed though to pursue the journey God was going to take Him on, he needed wisdom. It’s kind of funny to think that Solomon had enough wisdom already to ask for wisdom, but he knew that was only a small portion of what he’d need to continue to rule as king. God’s Word version of the Bible explains it that Solomon asked “Give me a heart that listens so that I can judge your people and tell the difference between good and evil. After all, who can judge this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9) Wisdom isn’t as complicated as we sometimes can make it out to be, however Solomon knew the difference it makes in everyday life.

Right away God gives Solomon an opportunity to put these newly given wisdom to a test with two women fighting over who a baby belonged to (1 Kings 3:16-28). God didn’t given Solomon the wisdom to know immediately who was the mother to this child, but instead helped Solomon to figure out a test that would quickly reveal who was truly the mother of the child. Wisdom wasn’t something super glamorous or even obvious, but it was a constant help to Solomon.

I think of situations I run into daily in my life, sometimes I’d like God to give me the answer on what to do, but having wisdom is as if God has already equipped us with the ability to know what to do. If I was to characterize wisdom as a person they’d be the dependable friend who always stands beside you, maybe you don’t have some crazy fun story to tell every time you hang out but you know they’ll be there for you in a pinch. James says wisdom can be seen in this way “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10)

Open the eyes of my heart Lord!

Open the eyes of my heart Lord!
By: Pastor Heidi Kratz
Luke 18: 41-42

“What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

I have been wearing glasses since my early elementary school days. The style of glasses have changed a lot since I was a kid! You didn’t have many options in style or color with your frames back then. Today, you have an entire store of frames to choose from.

When I began having trouble reading the board at school I needed a weak prescription. Every year my eyes would get worse. Now I couldn’t find my way out of a room if I didn’t have my glasses or contacts on.

To have my vision back would be amazing. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be blind and then instantly be able to see again.

Through his faith, the blind man was healed physically and spiritually. Jesus is the one who has the power to bring physical sight to the blind and he has the power to open the eyes that are blind because of sin.

We sing a song in Kids’ Church that goes like this:
Open the eyes of my heart Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you. I want to see you.

As the blind man desperately cried out to God, we need to cry out that the Lord would open the eyes of our hearts. In our busy lives we need to see those who are hurting around us and those that have been blinded spiritually by sin in their lives.

Love Each Other

By: Pastor Vern Kratz

Today’s reading comes from John 15:1-17.

As I read the passage I am reminded about a lot of things. The first thing I am hit with is a reminder that sometimes I need to take a step back and take a good look at myself and make sure I am doing the things I am supposed to be doing – the things that are important to God.

Jesus uses the illustration of a gardener that needs to prune his plants so that they can be more fruitful. Sometimes we need to change or quit something so we can be better at something else. For example, if I quit complaining about situations, then the by-product of that would be a healthier attitude towards life – that’s a good thing. What do you need to cut off or change from the pattern you are presently following with your life, so that you can experience a more fruitful, abundant, and blessed life?

Continuing with the gardening illustration, another thing that I am reminded about is that I need to stay connected – both to God and to other people that will have a good influence on me or who I can be a good influence on. Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself” and then he said “apart from me you can do nothing.”

God is our source of everything! And if we try and live a life disconnected from him then we are no longer attached to the One who is to be our source. When that happens just like a branch that is cut off from the vine withers, so we will wither and our spiritual vitality will become shallow or non-existent. To experience God’s blessing we need to be in regular communication with him. We need to be connected to him. We also need each other and we need to love each other.

Which brings me to my last reminder for today: the fruit that a plant produces is the proof of whether the plant is healthy or not. The same way our lives need to bear fruit that proves whether we are spiritually healthy or not. And one of the fruit or evidences of our lives should be the love and concern we have for other people. Today’s passage concludes with a simple command from Jesus: Love each other.

It’s February and this month contains: Valentine’s Day, Marriage Week, and Random Acts of Kindness Week. February is a good month for us to make sure we loving and caring for each other. I want to take stock of what fruit my life is producing. The fruit in my life is seen through my love and concern for others.

Our love for one another is important to God. Happy belated Valentine’s Day!