Monday, December 28, 2020

An Outreach Testimony by Shari Pittenger

This year I've been walking and with a non-traditional ICC student, Evelyn. She is from the Philippines, and I met her through a student ministry at ICC. She and I have been walking and covering different topics such as her grown daughter who's living in Japan, her job, growing flowers, her marriage, and reading the Bible. During one walk I told her that being a Christian is not about a religion, but a relationship with Jesus. She seems very interested in learning more, so I'm hoping we can have more great conversations--if I can just get over how cold it is outside so I can continue the walks. We’re planning our next walk soon.

Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel..." In light of that, I am compelled to ask myself this: "But what about when they come to you? Are you willing to do the same? Are you willing to go into their world and share Christ?"

Shari Pittenger

Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Hope

I scan the headlines. Word begins to filter in. A virus in China. It is spreading. People are dying. It is far away. But … then it is not. Pandemic, coronavirus, quarantine… who would have thought those words would be in my 6-year-old grandson’s vocabulary. People around the world die. We are in lockdown. We have been exposed. We quarantine. People we know are getting sick. People we know die. Governments plan and pass mandates. A tiny little virus. Not even the most powerful governments on earth can stop it. People lose jobs. Businesses are destroyed. Conflict erupts. “Our rights are being stripped from us!” “You don’t care about people!” One day I wear a mask into a store. No one else is wearing one. I think people are looking at me. I hear their unvoiced accusations, “You are a political liberal. You don’t care about freedom. You live your life controlled by fear.” A little piece of cloth that says so much and draws such lines. Disease that disrupts and destroys. Sorrow and loss. Human hearts exposed. Such darkness.

I scan the headlines. Senseless killing. Mob violence spreads across the nation. I read of riots in Toledo and Columbus. My children live there. I fight the urge to call them and say, “Don’t go out! Stay home. It’s not safe.” My friend calls. She is a home health nurse in Peoria. She works in the evenings. She has been sent home early. It’s too dangerous to be out. I run to the grocery store. On the door hangs a handwritten sign, “Closing early due to civil unrest.” Civil unrest? In Washington, Illinois? I look around. Everything looks ok, but inside I feel uneasy. My safe world suddenly seems not quite so safe. Death and destruction and lawlessness to fight death and destruction and lawlessness. Such darkness.

I sit in the counseling room. I listen. Stories of loss and heartache tumble out. Broken relationships that seem beyond hope. Questions about God? Who is He? Where was He? How can I find Him? I listen. Struggles common to us all pour out. “I am anxious. I am fearful. I struggle with anger. I don’t know how to change.” I listen. Faltering words whisper accounts of betrayal and brokenness. A lump grows in my throat. I hold back tears. Unspeakable evil. Those called to love harm. The strong crush the weak. The powerful exploit those they are called to serve. Such darkness.

I stand looking in the mirror. My heart is exposed. Self-deception gives way to clarity (James 1:23-24). I cringe at what I see. Pride and self-reliance thread their insidious tentacles everywhere. Self-righteous judgment. Why can’t other people just do things like I do? Anger at those who get in the way of my kingdom. Anxiety. Lord, prove that You are worthy of my trust – again! Prove that You really love me. You gave your Beloved Son for me but that is not enough! Give me what I want right now! Anger, bitterness, hatred, unforgiveness, jealousy, self-indulgence, pride – all the things that have brought heartache and suffering to millions, all the things that have destroyed families and nations down through the ages – they are all inside of me. Such darkness. 

But amid the darkness, came that first Christmas. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has shone the light.” (Isa. 9: 2). Yes, we live surrounded by darkness around us and within us, but the light of the world has come into the world. God himself came to dwell with His people. The God who is near (Ps. 119:151) has come nearer. Jesus, the light of the world, walked among his people. He suffered the pains and temptations of life in this fallen world. He triumphed over them. He walked through them all trusting his Father perfectly. Then He died and rose again conquering sin, Satan, and death. The kingdom of light prevailed over the kingdom of darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Yes, sometimes the darkness does seem overwhelming. We can feel hopeless to overcome our own spiritual darkness, but when that happens ponder again what Christ has done. “For God, who said. “Let the light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Think of it! We are no longer blind men walking in darkness, clueless about what is most valuable in life. God has opened our eyes to see the beauty and value of Jesus. Yes, we still sin, but we can see Jesus, and He has begun the process of bring many sons to glory. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day (Prov.4:18).” The light in us may seem to be only a tiny spark at times, but we will shine brighter and brighter as the Father makes us more like Christ. He will complete His work in us.

Yes, sometimes the darkness does seem overwhelming. From our vantage point, it looks like Satan’s kingdom and the world are prevailing. When it looks this way, ponder again who Christ is. He is the triumphant, conquering King. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13). He has won the war with darkness. He cannot fail. With every soul that turns to Him for mercy, his kingdom is advancing. With every act of kindness or forgiveness or grace of mercy, we push back against the darkness around us, and His light spreads. Every time we hold back our feet from evil, every time we resist temptation, and every time we put on righteousness, we fight back against the darkness. His unstoppable light penetrates the darkness, and our king will not stop until His light fills every nook and cranny of His universe.  

So today, amidst of the darkness, we fight on. We pick up the weapons of righteousness, and we follow confidently in the footsteps of our conquering King. We trust in our God. “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on His God. (Isa. 50:10). Our situations may seem dark, and our hearts may struggle with darkness, but our God has clearly revealed Himself to us through His Word and through His Son. He has clearly revealed to us in his written word the path forward through the darkness (Ps. 119:105, 130). We fight on with hope, for our Savior has promised a coming day when there will be no more tears or sorrow or sin or pain or suffering. We will dwell with our Savior and “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:5). Darkness will be no more - forever.

So, this Christmas, rejoice for the Light of the World has come!

Kim Anderson

Fear, Faith and Full Surrender: Three Essentials in Coming to Christ and Following in his Footsteps

Tim Challies’ post regarding his grieving from the loss of his son’s recent death pointed me to this theme. He quoted Pr. 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. As I thought of “the fear of the Lord” as being a non-negotiable, foundational element of our heart’s respond to the person and work of our God, I began to think about the ramifications of the lack of or diminished fear of God. The fallout is staggering

Sodom’s culture was a result of refusing to fear God (Gen. 20:11). Amalek’s lack of the fear of God (Deut.25:18) resulted in his ultimate destruction (Ex. 17:13-14). Israel and Jerusalem were devastated because they did not fear God (Jer. 5:24), instead they chose to trust in “lying words” (Jer. 7:4,8) and suffered great loss.

Foundational Element #1 is “THE FEAR OF THE LORD”.

Then consider the absolute necessity of faith in the LORD. Hebrews makes a statement that I believe is so familiar to the average person in the pew, that the profound importance of which is often unknown or lost…”Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith, simply put, is believing God, that is, taking what God’s Word says and truly believing that He means what He says.

Faith is Believing God’s Word (Heb. 11:1; Rom. 10:17), and acting on it (Ja. 1:22-25; Psalm 19:11), out of a heart of worship (Matt. 4:10), for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31-33), no matter how I feel (Heb. 11), or what I think (Is. 55:8-9), knowing that God promises a good result (Rom. 8:28-29), in His own time (Rom. 5:6; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Peter 5:6).

Consider the ramifications of the lack of faith…

The lack of faith deteriorates into idolatry. Idol-worshippers become like their idols. Idolaters invited God’s wrath, judgement and ultimate rejection (2 Ki. 17:7-23).

Israel “did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power” (Ps. 78:22; see also vs. 32) and received the wrath and punishment for lack of refusing to believe God, in spite of truly awesome demonstrations of His delivering power and :almighty hand”. Ultimately, failing to believe God has eternal consequences. “He who does not believe is condemned already – because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).

Foundational Element #2 is “FAITH in GOD, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.

Fearing God is essential, but incomplete and isn’t enough. Demons fear Jesus, but are not saved and do not walk in harmony with Christ. When faced with the prospect of their pending doom, “…they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:28; Mk. 5:1-13).

Believing God is essential, but incomplete and not enough; the demons believe but tremble (Ja.2:19). So fear of God and Faith in God requires a third, essential element… the response of a full surrender to God. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34).

Full surrender means to become meek before God’s sovereign call on your life, that is for you to represent Him as an ambassador (2 Cor. 5:14-21). Full surrender also means to meekly surrender your rights in humble submission to His rule and reign over your heart. Vine’s definition of meekness offers a sobering challenge to the theme of meekness or full surrender: “Meekness is “an inwrought grace of the soul that is first and chiefly before God, in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” Full surrender to God is made complete with repentance in response to godly fear and faith in the God who saves.

Foundational Element #3 is “FULL SURRENDER” to GOD, motivated out of reverent, godly fear and faith and trust in Him and His grace as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.

Fear, faith and full surrender are three essentials in coming to Christ and following in His footsteps.

Kent Kloter

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Worshipping God through Santa

So that title might have been a little intentionally worded to grab your questioning mind… =) 

I don’t know where your family stands on the “Fat Man”… love and encourage your kids to love him, tell people the other person with those same letters in his name is “Satan”… wherever you land, his presence has inundated our culture as a part of our Christmas reality. In thinking about him some, it has led to me thinking a lot more about our God and His work we celebrate at Christmas time so I thought I’d share some of my ponderings with you.

Ways Santa is similar to God

The words of the now famous Bruce Springsteen song come to mind… (feel free to hum along like I’m doing while I write this =) )

“He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake”

1) Santa is ascribed an almost omniscient (all knowing) character like our God. “But I know your sitting down And your going out and your coming in…” (Isaiah 37:28).

“He knows if you've been bad or good
You better be good for goodness sake”

2) Santa is shown as someone who upholds a moral standard like our God. “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” (Deut 32:4).

3) Santa is thought to be almost omnipresent (present everywhere) at least 1 night of the year like our God who is always everywhere year-round.

Psalm 139:7-12,

7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
12 Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

4) Santa is seen as loving and caring for those less fortunate like our God. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18). “…God is love” (1 Jn 4:8b).

5) Santa is one man making his gifts available to all people. Through Christ, God makes His gift available to all. “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Rom 5:15)

Ways Santa is very different from God

1) Santa seems to believe all people are inherently good and minor mistakes and small foibles or sins are ok to overlook. On the other hand is God Who states, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:10-12 & 23). “…All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). God’s moral standard is unattainable for anyone on their own.

Back to the song…

“… You better be good for goodness sake

You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town…”

2) Santa seems to require recipients of his gifts to first attain and maintain a certain standard of goodness before they can receive his gifts. God, however, gave us His perfect gift when we were in no state to receive it. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6 & 8). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7).

3) Santa’s gifts are based on what people want (or think they want) more than anything else. God’s gift is based on what people need more than anything else. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23).

As Christian’s we have the greatest Gift and gift Giver of all, the all-knowing, all-present, morally righteous God. As such, He has seen and knows every horrible thing we’ve done and, seeing us at our inescapable worst has, because of His great love, given us the one gift we need to remove our unrighteousness and bring us to Himself where we alone can find “life,” “fullness of joy,” and “pleasures evermore” (Prov 16:11).

“For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Love him or hate him, Santa Claus has probably in someway still become a part of your Christmas. Maybe these thoughts will give you a seedbed for some conversations about not only him, but how we can be pointed to the ultimate Gift and Giver this season.

Merry Christmas

Phil Smith

Monday, December 14, 2020

Getting Your Child A Bible for Christmas

I recently had a parent email me about getting a good full text Bible for their child and thought our correspondence might benefit other parents as well in search of  a Bible for their child this Christmas. 

Here are my suggestions of a few options that should be applicable for kids from younger early readers all the way through middle school and all of which will hopefully encourage your child to grow in their love for and reading of God’s Word. A lot of your decision will be around desired translation first, then looking at the cool added stuff inside to see what you think will most connect with your child.

#1 - ESV Seek & Find Bible - ideal for reading while at church since BCC uses the ESV which will be more and more beneficial in the older grade levels

Christian Books - (Here)

Amazon - (Here)

#2 - CSB Big Picture Interactive Bible - company is very focused on parents’ interaction with their children & has tried to also bring cool spin on technology to their graphics

Christian Books - (Here)

Amazon - (Here)

#3 - NIV Kid's Visual Study Bible - easy to read translation with more of a study Bible focus with lots of added info & pics to keep kids thinking & will easily transfer with him to older grade levels

Christian Books - (Here)

Amazon - (Here)

#4 - NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers - easy to read & understand translation geared toward the youngest reading audience still wanting the full text of the Bible

Christian Books - (Here)

Amazon - (Here)

#5 - NIV Adventure Bible - again an easy to read translation geared toward slightly older kids

Christian Books - (Here)

Amazon - (Here)

Hopefully that gives you some tracks to run on and some great options that will connect well with your child! Know too that many of these have varying covers that might appeal more to your child’s gender and interests. =)

May your child greatly benefit from and enjoy their time in the Word!

Phil Smith