Hometown Boy

It’s hard to be the “hometown boy.” It’s tough to be the person that everyone assumes they know really well because what people think they know about you can, at times, put some severe limitations on what they believe they can know about you.

 

Jesus knew this pretty well.

 

In Luke 4, Jesus makes his return to his hometown of Nazareth, fresh off having caused no small miracle-driven uproar in Capernaum. This should be a glorious homecoming, and indeed it does begin with some fanfare as those whom Jesus grew up among have no doubt heard chatter about the things their hometown hero has done in neighboring communities.

 

But, at a certain point things go south pretty quick. Jesus senses the proverbial “familiarity” that breeds “contempt,” and begins calling it out by offering his oft-quoted pronouncement about how prophets don’t typically do well on their home turf; people like to think they’ve got others, especially those close to them, ‘figured out,’ so when the crowd who’d come to see a “hometown boy makes good” story get something other, something much harder to swallow from Jesus, things quickly run right off the cliff (pun intended).

 

It’s not uncommon for those of us today, those of us who have believed Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be, to read such stories and puzzle as to how people missed the signs. It is easy to be utterly baffled by the actions of Jesus’ community or to even look at them with contempt.

 

Yeah, that’s easy. What’s hard is realizing that we often live out the same script. Especially for those of us who’ve grown up in church culture or walked with Jesus for some time, it’s hard sometimes to see in ourselves that we assume ourselves so familiar with Christ that we no longer have space in our hearts for him to speak a prophetic word, to call us out, to shock us, to expose the fact that we aren’t as tuned into his mission (outlined via his remix of the prophet Isaiah early in Luke 4) as we might have always believed we were.

 

What does it look like for us to recover that space? What might it look like if we didn’t hem Jesus in under the strictures of our own limiting expectations, treating him as the “hometown boy” with whom we’re so familiar that anything shocking or challenging he might offer us is met with (at best) quick dismissal, dubious indifference, or (at worst) violent rejection akin to the first annual Nazarite Prophet-Tossing competition we nearly see in Luke 4?

 

For the record, it does no good to try and reject the challenging words of Jesus. If Luke 4 is any indication, he’ll simply go on about his mission, leaving us cliffside to work out our indignation.

 

Praying we’d let the prophet be prophet, that we’d have space in our hearts to accept Jesus’ words even when, as in John 6, they are “hard teachings.” For surely Peter was right that it is only Jesus who has the “words of life.”

 

Andy

Christmas Day

I’m almost 37, and though some would laugh if I called myself old, I’ve started to notice some patterns in my behavior suggesting my departure from youth has kicked into a higher gear. What patterns, you ask? Well, for starters, my bedtime ain’t what it used to be. Whereas in my mid-20’s, midnight was the average, now staying up past 9:00 at night feels like a wild, carefree evening. Seriously, managing to stay awake long enough to catch the 10 o’clock news fits my definition of “living dangerously” these days.  

 

But here’s another interesting change in my behavior; I’ve suddenly gotten into staring at birds. A few weeks back, and I still don’t know what possessed me to do this, I detoured into Menard’s feeling some inexplicable  urge to buy a bird feeder. The younger version of myself would never have cared enough about bird watching to plunk down cash on a feeder or seed just so I could stare at them out my window; that’s something older people do, right?

 

Well, I guess that’s me now because last Sunday morning, I sat for roughly an hour by my window, captivated as I watched sparrows, finches, and other winged friends feast just a few feet away. It was awesome, probably one of the most relaxing and engaging hours I’ve had in a long, long time.

 

And here’s another change that’s come with age: I now love when Christmas falls on Sunday. This was definitely not the case when I was young. As a kid, I felt pretty convicted that Christmas morning was to be spent at home ripping open presents and enjoying the spoils of my gift-loving family’s generosity. I remember being a bit perturbed when Christmas had the audacity to fall on a Sunday, thus allowing church services to interrupt my merriment (how inconvenient of the good Lord to schedule on top of my plans, right?)

 

But that’s the mindset of a kid, I suppose, and I’m not a kid anymore (I have the male pattern baldness to prove it). These days, I get excited when Christmas morning involves a chance to gather with others to celebrate the birth of Christ the Savior. Where else would I want to be on that morning than with my brothers and sisters who share the belief that God took on flesh and dwelt among us, those who rejoice that the infinite Creator chose to enter into creation as a newborn laid in a manger, no crib for a bed? What else would I want to be doing on Christmas morning other than singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” alongside others who know that song isn’t just a catchy seasonal tune, but a charge given to all those who accept the angelic message given to common shepherds of a Messiah born in Bethlehem?

 

There’s nowhere else I’d rather be on Christmas morning than in the house of God, standing shoulder to shoulder with my spiritual family, celebrating that the Word of God put on flesh and dwelt among us, that the Christ came…and he’s coming back again someday.

 

Blessings to you this Christmas; may peace and joy well up in your heart as you as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Weekly Prayer:

Father, just as Jesus’ arrival into the world shined the radiant light of your kingdom into a weary and darkened world, may we who are indwelt by your Holy Spirit carry that same light of hope into every place darkened by confusion, pain, injustice, desperation, and evil. May the faithful presence of your people proclaim tidings of great joy, peace on earth, and goodwill to men.

 

Weekly Readings:

 

Luke 2:1-21

Matthew 1:18-2:12

John 1:1-18

Christmas Air

Serious question: how do you feel about air?

If you’re reading this, then I think I can safely put money on the fact that you’re a fan. You’ve certainly breathed your share of it, right?

If I’m being honest, I don’t think much about air. I know it’s there, and since I am an expert in all things medical (not true), I understand that it’s fairly vital to my survival. However, I don’t recall any points in life where I’ve just stopped and thought to myself, “Oh my goodness, isn’t it astounding that floating around me at all times is the very gas my body needs to survive? And isn’t it a bit crazy that the muscles in my lungs contract to pull that in through my nose and put that gas in proximity to organs that somehow know exactly how to swap that gas out for waste gas, sending the good stuff throughout my body and returning the waste using blood cells?”

No, I don’t think about that much…or ever. I’ve spent almost 37 years repeating this process over and over, my survival dependent upon the abundance of air all around me, but it doesn’t typically leave me in any particular awe or wonder. Why? Because I’m so familiar with it. It’s just so routine that I suppose I’m a bit “cold” to the fact that the whole thing is utterly and infinitely fascinating (to which the biology enthusiasts in the crowd gave a hearty “Amen!”).

I’ve also spent nearly 37 years in church. I’ve been around the Bible as long as I’ve been around. I’ve read the Christmas story more times than I can recall, and after more than three decades of proximity and familiarity, I think I know it pretty well.

So here’s a bit of hard confession. Some days I find myself reading the Christmas story without wonder. There are times when I read about the infinite God of creation entering the world in humility as a child with the same excitement I have when reading a social studies textbook (to which all the social studies enthusiasts gave a derisive glare).

And I wonder if that doesn’t come from some warped sense of familiarity that sets me to thinking, “Oh, I know all this; I’ve read it all before” as soon as I begin reading. Perhaps it’s the worst effect of thinking, “Dutiful Christians read this story around Christmas, and I’m not about to leave that box unchecked.” Familiarity and routine. A lot like breathing, right?

Perhaps there is a connection between the fact that James warned believers to keep themselves unstained by the world around them and Jesus advised his hearers to become like little children, those who have not yet let the world dampen their ability to wonder and be amazed at the things we “serious-minded” adults have become anesthetized to.

So here’s what I’m doing very intentionally this year. I’m repenting of forgetting the beauty, the mystery, and the joy of the Christmas story. I’m praying that God would rid me of the delusion that I’ve somehow seen all there is to see in the Christmas story. I’m praying that I’d have “eyes to see and ears to hear” the limitless hidden treasures of the Christmas narrative that are still there to be found by those who would seek them. I’m asking God, in this Advent season, to awaken in my heart a  childlike imagination that is filled with wonder and amazement, one that is near to the heart of God himself.

Quite simply, this Christmas, I refuse to let familiarity be an impediment to fascination.

May we, followers of Christ, be filled with awe this Christmas season. Truly, there is no story like our story. It is simply too good to be true…and yet it is.

Andy

 

Weekly Prayer:

God, grant me the strength to be like a child. Never let my heart grow cold to the glorious, scandalous, beautiful truth that at just the right moment, you who are infinite became small, entering the world as a child laid in a manger. When I am tempted to hear that story with indifference, make young what has grown old in my heart, fill me with the fascination and wonder and allow me to hear anew in my heart the song the angels sang on the night of Christ’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

Weekly Readings:

Luke 1:5-25

When God Seems Hidden

The book of Job starts out with this sentence, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” It tells us all we need to know in introducing us to the main character of the book. The story which follows has always been one of my favorites since I first read it as a college sophomore. To this day, I still remember sitting at Penn Valley Junior College reading it in my free time between classes.

It’s an amazing story about a godly man, a blessed man. We know for a fact he was godly, because God gives him a character reference. It’s found in Job1:8 and is absolutely glowing. It is only made weightier by the fact that it comes from one who knows the heart of man as well as his actions. But Satan, the great accuser, brings an accusation against Job, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”.  In other words, Job is only good and God- fearing because God blessed him. Take that away and then Job’s real character would show forth.

God chooses to allow Satan to touch Job’s life and calamity comes to Job. He loses his children, his possessions and finally his health. Yet in all this loss we’re told in Job 1:21-22, Job said, “…The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

Much of the rest of the book is taken up with Job’s friends offering him “comfort”, and with Job’s response to them. In the midst of being kicked while he is down, Job’s main desire is to talk with God, to find where He is in all of this trouble. In Job 13:24, he cries out to God saying, “Why do You hide Your face And consider me Your enemy?”. Later in Job 23, we read this. Then Job replied, “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find Him, That I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.” Yet for much of the book God remains hidden, leaving Job seemingly alone. Only at the end of the book does God finally reveal Himself, which leaves us with more than a few questions.

Why did God do that?  Is there anything that this tells us about God?  What should our response be when we find ourselves in hard times and God seems to be far away?

These are some things to think about as we prepare for Sunday.

 

In Love,

Paul

 

Prayer

Father in heaven, train my heart according to your word to seek after you above anything else; help me to seek you with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I pray that in your time and in your way that you would reveal yourself to me; open the eyes of my heart that I might see you, and give me the spirit of wisdom and revelation that I might know you better. I praise you that you have shown me yourself in the Son, Jesus Christ, who is the exact imprint of your nature and the radiance of your glory. Amen.

Scripture

  • Job 1, 2, 23, 24, 26
  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Hebrews 1

Praying Together – An Invitation for Election Night

On Election Night we would like to take some time together as a church family, and as a broader community to pray. Specifically, we’d like to take some time to pray together before election results start rolling in; before what will be for many a long night filled with highs that are too high and lows that are too low. We need the steadying peace that comes through prayer as the Spirit assures us of Jesus’ reign and rule.

Prayer is an acknowledgment that our need of God’s help is not partial but total.

– Alistair Begg

We believe that Jesus Christ is the King Eternal, and that we are his people placed in the world to carry on his redemptive mission. As such, we also believe that folding our hands in prayer is far more effective in the world for God’s Kingdom than wringing our hands in anxiety or strife over election outcomes. Jesus Christ is King of all creation and we want to pray that his K ingdom would come, and that his will would be done on the earth as it is in heaven.

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

– Karl Barth

We are asking you to join us at Freshwater Church on Election Night, Tuesday the 8th, from 6:00-7:00 PM to pray with us. This hour of prayer will be a come and go event, so you can feel free to stay for however long you would like to pray. We will be furnishing prayer guides (an advance copy is available below) as an aide to walk you through some key ideas to help posture our hearts in line with King Jesus. We pray that this time will be a time of Christian unity, charity, and brotherly love as worshippers from the entire political spectrum are invited to seek first the Kingdom together.

In love,

Dave

 

Election Night Prayer Guide

During our time of prayer together this evening we want to focus on Jesus Christ, the hope of the world. David prays in Psalm 27:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” This guide will walk you through some key ideas toward fixing our hope on the LORD.

Enter In:

  • Take time here at the outset to adore and praise God with your prayer
  • Praise God for his character and attributes (God is eternal, sovereign, merciful, loving, etc.)
  • Praise God for sending the incarnate Word, his beloved Son, Jesus Christ to rescue the world from sin and death
  • Praise God for his steadfast faithfulness; God is good, he does all things well, and he watches over and cares for us
  • Scripture: Psalm 145; 146; Rom. 11:33-36; Rev. 5:9-14

Humility:

  • In light of the greatness of God we want to continually humble ourselves by confessing our deep need for God and our total dependence on him
  • Sin clouds our judgement and hinders our relationship with God, and with each other; confess and repent from your sin for healing, restored relationship, and joy
  • Pray that as brothers and sisters in Christ we would not speak to one another with the voice of the accuser, but rather with generosity and love
  • We are temporal and limited, but God you are eternal and infinite in wisdom, knowledge, and all of your perfections; help us to accept that we don’t see the whole picture, nor do we understand everything you are doing in the whole of history; help us to trust you by faith, beyond what we can see
  • Scripture: 2 Chron. 7:13-15; Psalm 121; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Rev. 12:10

Kingdom:

  • The Kingdom of God cannot be thwarted in any ultimate sense; let’s pray that the Kingdom of God would come and that God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven
  • Jesus rules his Kingdom with holiness, love, justice, mercy, and grace; let’s pray that as citizens of the Kingdom that we embody and display these characteristics in the world
  • Jesus is the Prince of Peace; pray that the peace of Jesus would rest on his followers as we are steadfast in our hope in the LORD; pray that the followers of the Prince of Peace would bring his peace to the world in the way that we live and treat others
  • We have a King and Savior, Jesus Christ; pray that as Jesus people we would invite others to the King’s table and into loving fellowship with him
  • Scripture: Psalm 84; Mt. 5:2-12; 2 Ptr. 1:3-11

Future:

  • In Christ we have an unshakeable Kingdom and a sure promise of hope because of the resurrection; pray that the Church will live in the reality of this hope
  • Because our King is sovereign, loving, good, and just we have nothing to fear in the world; pray that we will act in the world according to our identity in Christ and not as reactionary or out of fear
  • Pray that the government over us will carry out its God-given responsibility to do God’s justice in the world by punishing evil, promoting peace, protecting life, relieving poverty, caring for the most vulnerable members of society, and governing/legislating wisely
  • Jesus is coming again, and when he comes he will right every wrong and make everything new; pray for Christ’s return – Maranatha!
  • Scripture: Deut. 10:18-19; Psalm 85-86; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Ptr. 2:13-17; Rev. 22:17-20

 

Model:

“Our Father in heaven – where you reign in total sovereignty, beautiful holiness, and absolute confidence; hallowed be your name – be completely glorified in how we remember and revere your name, may your glory be our chief aim and concern in all that we do. Your kingdom come – let your reign and rule be evident in your world, you have everything under control in all of the universe; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – let all heavenly realities of peace, justice, mercy, and grace be brought to earth as we yield and say ‘Yes’ to everything you want for our lives, help us to be trusting, faithful, and obedient. Give us this day our daily bread – we look to you our good Father to provide every single need we have through any and every means that you call good; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors – we praise you for your mercy and grace in forgiving all of our sins in your beloved Son, Jesus Christ; make us to be charitable, merciful, and forgiving like you. And lead us not into temptation – keep us by your love especially from the temptation to fear and despair, and protect us from the tempter and accuser; but deliver us from evil – may you keep us and preserve us from every form of evil and malice in the world that would undermine our witness to your beautiful name, and may we live powerfully from a posture of deliverance to see others delivered from the power of sin and death by the preaching of the gospel.”

(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV – annotated by Pastor Dave Becker)

Election Week & An Unshakable Kingdom

Got any plans this Tuesday? It’s a pretty big day, you know. I bet I know what’s on your calendar.

That’s, right. Just like every other dutiful American, you’ll be . . . (wait on it) . . . celebrating the birth of American Christian activist Dorothy Day!

Or voting. Maybe voting.

Yes, it’s election season, and if you are anything like me, you’re probably more than ready for this season to wrap up. I know years past can often seem rosier in our minds than they really were, but I honestly don’t think I’ve lived through an election cycle more hostile and unsettling than this one. The attacks have been more vicious, the revelations more disturbing, and the division more palpable. To be quite honest, it’s felt very difficult as a follower of Christ, the Prince of Peace, to watch it all play out (other than Larry David’s impersonation of Bernie Sanders; I’ll admit that was a humorous highlight).

And in all of the fighting, mudslinging, and chaos of what has been a very sad display of our waning respect for one another as persons created in the image of God, it may be easy for us to despair. It is easy to get cynical, to bemoan the political circus CNN and FOX News serve up for mass consumption. Some days, it’s hard to have much hope.

But can I be so bold, even in the fever pitch of election season, as to give you a reason to hope?

Jesus is King. Right here, right now, Jesus Christ is enthroned, ruling and reigning.

You might say, “Well, how can this be? Have you seen the world? Andy, it’s a mess!” To this I’d reply, “Yes, and Jesus is King.”

Think of it this way; what is Jesus doing right now? Is he sitting in heaven watching this election the same way a rabid football fan watches a kicker attempt a 40-yard potentially game-winning field goal? Is he looking around heaven with consuming anxiety, wondering what’s going to happen on Tuesday?

No. The scriptures paint a very different picture. The scriptures attest that Jesus is ascended, enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, seated above all powers and principalities, endowed with all authority on heaven and earth, ruling and reigning, ordering all things to his glorious purposes until the day of is coming; oh, and by the way, on that day, he’ll set all things right, the dwelling place of God will be with man forever, and the kingdom of God will be established on earth as it has been in heaven.

And here’s the best part. Jesus is not waiting to be voted in. His rule and reign isn’t dependent on a voting bloc. Jesus needs no legislation to establish his authority. 270 electoral votes can make you president, but they can’t make you King of all creation; that title is already permanently taken.

So take heart, Christian. In the coming days and beyond, be the person who refuses to give up hope. In times like this, others may lose hope, but we, of all people on the face of the earth, should be the last ones to despair.

And why is that? It’s because we are citizens of an unshakable kingdom and we serve a King whose throne is established eternally.

Hope in that, Christian.

Andy

Prayer:

Father, never let us forget that we are citizens of an unshakable kingdom, subjects of King Jesus whose rule stands over and above that of any earthly ruler or authority. Raise up a church who seeks to bless our community, nation, and world by walking in the humble way of our Savior and King whose triumph over the powers and authorities of this present age came by laying down his life on a cross for the sake of the world he loved.

Scripture:

  • Isaiah 9:2-7
  • Matthew 28:16-20
  • Colossians 2:1-15
  • Revelation 22:1-5

Andy & Paul

October is widely recognized as Pastor Appreciation Month, and as such I would like to conclude the month by taking this opportunity to recognize Freshwater’s two lay-elders: Paul Casey and Andy Love. Over the last several years I have grown to love, trust, and appreciate these men to an incalculable degree. They are stalwart men of incredible character and integrity, they are unfailingly kind and loving to the uttermost, they are men of the Word steeped in the truth, and they are Godly men who are an example to me in Christ-likeness.

We have been blessed in immeasurable ways by the leadership and shepherding of Andy and Paul; their ministry is deserving of honor. Andy and Paul lead Freshwater by prayerful and wise submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I can personally attest to Andy’s and Paul’s sensitivity to the Spirit, desire for the church to be faithful and blessed, humble disposition, and desire for God to be glorified and the gospel to be advanced in and through their leadership.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Freshwater Church is blessed to have not one, but two lay-elders who are uncommonly gifted to teach and preach the truths of Scripture. As lay-elders Andy and Paul give their vocational energy and passion to teaching high school and carrying the mail, respectively, and that means that the wealth that we receive from them in the pulpit comes from a dedication of time and energy above and beyond their work day. We are a blessed people to have elders so committed to the proclamation of the Scriptures and to our flourishing in Christ as the people of God.

I love these men and pray that you will join me in showing them the honor that is due to them for their gentle, wise, and Godly leadership among us.

In Love,

Dave

Prayer

Father in heaven thank you for your extraordinary goodness in giving us Andy and Paul as shepherds among us. I pray that you would bless them in their ministry to the church body and to their co-workers and peers; that they would be effective in making much of you in all they say and do, and that the Gospel might advance in and through their lives. I pray that you would strengthen them for the task of shepherding the flock that is Freshwater. I pray Father that you would give special care and protection to their wives and children. Bless their families richly in Christ. Help us as a church to hold these men up in prayer and to spur them on to love and good deeds. Amen.

Scripture Reading

  • 2 Peter 5:1-5
  • 1 Timothy 3:1-7
  • Titus 1:5-16
  • John 10:1-21