Friday, July 21, 2017

Live in Illinois (or Wherever) for the Gospel

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with some church leaders who are ministering in a difficult environment. I won’t go into all the details of what they shared with me, but essentially these are brothers and sisters whose lives are in danger because of their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the dangers they face are partly due to policies enacted or at least tacitly encouraged by their government.

I asked them how they planned on responding to these dangers. “We are going to stay here and do what we always do. This is normal. We are here to share the gospel.”

What a great understanding of purpose...and a perspective that those of us in Central Illinois would do well to adopt. The temptation to want to leave Illinois due to frustration with leadership in Springfield or a poor economy is understandable. The failures of our state leadership are overwhelming. No other state in the union has mangled their budget this badly.

But our brothers and sisters in hard environments are not the only ones who have been called to a certain place to share the gospel. God didn’t call us to live in Illinois for the glory of our pocketbook. Our placement here is not ultimately about sound fiscal policy.

Yes, we should seek and pray for wise decision making on the part of our leaders. Yes, you need to be able to financially provide for your family and yourself. No, it is not inherently sinful to move out of the state.

But here are three encouragements:

First, understand why you are in Illinois in the first place. You have not been placed in Illinois so that you can become financially wealthy. God’s greatest desire for you is not that you would build really big barns (figuratively or literally, my farming friends). God has placed you here to be an ambassador proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a community that desperately needs Him.

Second, stay in Illinois for the sake of the gospel. Don’t trade temporary trinkets for eternal treasure. Yes, your taxes may (will) be higher here than other places.

So what?

If you can’t stay focused on your gospel mission because of higher taxes, what are you going to do when true suffering comes? As long as the door for gospel ministry is open…exploit it!

Finally, leave Illinois for the sake of the gospel.
My prayer is that God would call some in our church to leave our community. But I don’t want this to be about fleeing a community with which you are disgusted. I want you to run to places God is calling you because you are passionate about sharing Jesus Christ with others who need to hear about His work on the cross and worship Him!

Pastor Daniel

Friday, July 14, 2017

Our Freedom in Christ Jesus (adapted from Colossians 1-2)

Grace and peace to you our brothers, you saints of God, we give thanks for you.
Your hope laid up in heaven waiting, the gospel message bearing fruit.

By God’s grace continue walking in a manner worthy of Him.
Praise Him for His kind deliverance from death and darkness, the power of sin.

Extol the One who grants salvation, the image of the invisible God.
He’s the firstborn of creation, He’s reconciled us by His blood.

We must continue in the faith, shifting not, but stable in,
The gospel hope, which we have heard, proclaiming Christ, He’s coming again!

Abounding in thanksgiving, yes, we who’ve received the Lord,
Walking in Him, built up in Him, but my brothers be forewarned,

There are those who’d take you captive by the cunning craft of man,
Those who hold onto tradition, the grace of God don’t understand.

For in the body of our Lord dwells all Deity,
And in Him we find our fullness, He’s o’er all authority.

Though at one time we were dead in trespasses and sin,
We’ve been forgiven, been made alive, yes, we’ve been raised with Him!

Christ, the One who set aside, the debt we could not pay,
This He took and to the tree did nail it on that day.

A public spectacle He made of all His enemies,
Tri’mphing over all of them, by grace we’ve been set free!

So, don’t be bound by regulations your freedom is in Christ.
The Head who holds His church together, our liberty, our life.

Blake Gerber, Discipleship Minister 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Some Thoughts from 1 Peter

I have been slowly making my way through the book of 1 Peter in my recent time with the Lord and have found a number of verses that have challenged me in my thinking so I thought I share them and my thoughts with you.

1:13 - Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter has just finished discussing our future salvation and calls us as believers to 3 actions…
1) prepare your mind – mental preparedness at least for me can take the hardest work. It is not enough just to do some good things, my mind is to be set toward thinking & acting like Christ.
2) keep sober in spirit – not getting distracted with a focus on the inner man. What does my heart and mind dwell upon?
3) fix your hope – even now in this present life, even in sufferings like Peter is discussing, my eyes are to look ahead to my future hope and take heart. I live for eternity
2:9 - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
God has chosen me to be His child, but for what? To be like Israel was called to be, His representative. I'm to rejoice in what He has done for me and shout it from the rooftops that all may know my great Savior and King!
2:11 - Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
"This world is not my home, I'm just passing through." I have an eternal home and as such live and work for its betterment and currency. I'm not to get distracted by the allurements of this life. As a matter of fact, those allurements may actually seek to kill and attack my very soul. The things that seem to satisfy me the most in this life may actually be what take my life. My hope & joy must be found in Christ and my eternal home. All other hopes will distract and rob me of my true joy.
2:14 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Wow! What love! All my sin is paid for and gone! I am free! … but at a great cost. My freedom was purchased with the purpose that I now pursue righteousness. I'm not here for me or freed for my desires. I'm His and here for His purposes and glory. The Suffer Servant has taken my place of punishment to give me His place of peace. Hallelujah!
3:15 – but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
John 3:16 for apologetics =) … 2 major takeaways… 1) I'm called to set apart (sanctify) Christ as Lord in my heart. There is a choice I make on a moment-by-moment basis. Will He rule and reign or will I seek to take back my crumbling kingdom? 2) There should be a hope in me and people around me should see it. Do I ask and interact with God in such a way that His goodness and thinking about Him and eternity shine through in my daily life, actions, and conversations?
3:18 - For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
A beautiful picture of our Savior… "the just for the unjust." The one who was perfect and deserved nothing but sheer bliss in the eternal presence of the Godhead, take the place of guilt and damned sinner, me, bearing my sin and my punishment and my death. Why? To restore me to God. For some reason, God chose to have and make possible a relationship with worthless me! Amazing!
4:11 - Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Peter is stressing that each individual in the church has been gifted and is called to serve in the church. How encouraging that their very actions of service come from God Himself. What hope we have to persevere in giving of ourselves to the love and care of the body when God is the one supplying all we need to do it! Notice the end result of this too God the Father and Jesus are glorified, not just by our work, but in our recognition that outside of God's powerful help we would be unable to care for His church as He desires… it's all Him!
5:2-3 – shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
"shepherd," "voluntarily," "with eagerness," "proving to be examples." I am so thankful for the elders God has placed in our church! Men who love and care for God's flock with gentleness seeking to meet all our needs. Guys who do so of their own volition and do it excitedly because they love the Lord and us, His people. Men who lead us well and point us to what Godliness, husbanding, fatherhood, and manhood look like in a very confused and confusing world and culture in which we live. May the Lord guard and keep each of them to the end!
5:6-7 - Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
Humbling myself = casting my anxiety on God. It is pride that causes me to keep my worries and hold on to them, self reliance that keeps me from bringing my burdens to the King. My hope is in me to fix my issues… no wonder I am worried. Exaltation only comes after humbling and humbling is not something done to me, but something I am to do and seek. … It comes from looking rightly at God. "mighty hand," "He cares for you." As I remember these truths I should come boldly and gladly and… humbly to throne. That the all powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe loves me and cares for my small problems … How could I not bring them to Him and how foolish I must be to keep things from Him.
These have been some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head over these last few weeks. Hope some of them were helpful or connected with you!
Keep looking to Him!
Phil Smith, 
Youth Minister