Sunday, March 13, 2011

Recognize Discouragement

Do you ever feel discouraged when you serve others or do the work that you feel God has called you to do? I sure do! It may not sound right but it’s not easy to serve others when there’s very few perks for those that serve. Maybe that’s the point. Do we serve for our benefit or for the benefit of others? Now I know the right answer but what is the truth? If we are really honest there is a lot of “us” in our serving.

I’m not trying to have a negative vibe here but it’s true isn’t it? Look, I like to serve at the Food Bank for the Backpack program. It helps provide food for children that are on the free or reduced meal plan at school so they can eat health on the weekend. For some kids it’s the only food they have until breakfast on Monday. I go there with 30-40 other people and for 3 hours we pack 3500 backpacks with about 10 pounds of good food. What would I do if I was the only one that showed up? What would I do if the great people at the Food Bank were not so good and yelled at me? There are a number of situations that could be discouraging and I would probably keep coming for a while but over time I’d drop out…and do you know why? I’m ashamed to say it. I’d quit because my needs were not being met.

What are my needs? I want to be wanted. I like others to think I’m a good sever. I like to think that without me and my hard work, these children would be worse off. I like to be patted on the back. I like having limited responsibility so I don’t have to see it through. I like the pleasant side of service so I don’t have to be aware or feel guilty about the challenges I’m not addressing. I’m sure there are many more reasons I serve that have nothing to do with the reason I should serve.

Let’s face it; we get discouraged when we serve ourselves. Discouragement just might be the warning sign that there is a problem with our hearts. We are to serve out of a response of our faith. We are to serve like Christ serves and he served by going to the cross. It should not matter how hard or how little the praise is, we should serve because of Christ. Stephen served by getting stoned. Paul served by getting arrested. John served in prison. I serve when I want to and only if I get the perks I think I deserve. Ouch!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Consider Your Ways

Here in America, we are about things and comfort. It is our cultural belief that things will bring us comfort and in the moment they sure do. We will spare no expense to avoid suffering and we want more than mom or dad ever had and we want it in our teens. We forget how long it took our parents to amass all that they enjoyed in their later years. As Americans we feel very strongly that we should have the car we want, a TV that is bigger than our waist line (which is getting harder to do), hours of TV time, vacations to the best of places, the same clothing the stars wear and houses with a room for every activity. But why? Does it make life better? Can money make us happy?

So what do you think God thinks about this American Dream? Is this what he had in mind when he created us? I know the answer to this question but I don’t like answering it because it then forces me to take inventory and in doing so I just might get convicted. Conviction is the pits because it forces you to change or rationalize and justify wrong behavior. We all know we should give more to God, but we don’t. We all know that we should do more for others, but we don’t.

Or do we? There is a cool thing that happens to a person who learns about Christ and allows that knowledge to change them. All of the sudden you start to think differently and act strangely. Before I became a Christ follower, I never gave to God, but now I do and I do it because I know it is all his already and I’m being obedient to his request. Before I became a Christ follower, I did serve others but I was actually serving myself, patting myself on the back and making sure others noticed. Today I serve because I know God loves all people and he has asked me to be his hands and feet in this world and to continue the ministry he was doing here.

Can I do better? Yes, only about 99% better, but I do see that Christ has changed me in some ways and I look forward to seeing more changes as I work hard to be changed.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

From the Desk of Pastor Doug

Click on the image to read it if full screen

The image on the letterhead is an old Bartel family crest from the date of my ancestors around 1860 when they came into to America through Prussia and Canada to start the Mennonite Brethren Church. It's a bit strange but I like it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

God's Perspective

Last week there was a problem with those of you who were trying to send comments to the post. I'm sorry about that and I think we have that fixed. If you post and it does not show up, send me an email at and I'll look into it right away. Here's today's post:

So, I’ll ask the real question here. Is salvation a once saved always saved reality? In saying that, I mean in the traditional context that once you do your conversion element (altar call, sinner’s prayer, etc) you are saved even if you willingly and defiantly reject God later? There seem to be verses that support this notion and it has been one of the pillars of evangelical conservative Christianity for many years. This philosophy is comfortable but turns salvation into an act and only requires you to be sincere at that moment of conversion. After that you’re off the hook.

The alternative might worse because it says you can lose your salvation and in saying that, one must wonder when or how, which opens up another long list of divisions and theories. Do you lose it when you sin? If so, how do you get it back? This leads a person to the belief that salvation is earned or based on good deeds or good works. Is it a series of sins or an amount of time that you sin? This seems to lead the Christian into just as much of a dilemma as the once saved always saved mentality.

Is Judas going to heaven or hell? How about Adam and Eve? What about David? He ended his life in the bed with a young virgin, getting warmed up. What about the child who grew up in a home, country and culture that believed in a false religion the distorted Jesus or didn’t even speak of him? What about the person that grew up in a Christian church where the pastor molested children and did it in the name of God. I would suspect that they would run from organized religion and denounce anything that resembles Christianity. What about them? I could go on and on.

What about you? Did you do something to earn your place in eternity? Did you do something to force God to let you in? Or are you still trying to get your golden ticket?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who's Right?

Are we saved because we chose Christ or because God has chosen us?

In a debate like this, someone is right and someone is wrong. There is a lot at stake when we are talking about our faith and the way God works in that faith. To be wrong is not an option, no matter what side you’re on. If you are wrong, you are a fool. If you are wrong, you’re the problem and the cause of all the disunity that results. If you’re wrong on this, you could just as easily be wrong on anything and you will prove that your thinking is not “anointed” or even truthful. No, wrong is not an option.

Some will try to resolve this tension with arguments that both are right. They will point to the passages in scripture that seem to be in conflict and support both positions and say that the middle ground is somewhere in-between the arguments. Really? Could it be that simple?

  • Should we baptize infants or wait until they chose Christ? Right or wrong
  • Should we worship on Sunday or Saturday? Right or wrong
  • Should we baptize with immersion or some other mode? Right or wrong
  • Should we speak in tongues at conversion or not? Right or wrong
  • Should social justice be our work or proselytizing? Right or wrong

Is Jesus the way of salvation or something else?

We need to remember the main unifying truth about being the church and realize that though we will all feel differently on these important but peripheral secondary issues, they should not break our unity. We have allowed the response to the corruption of the Catholic Church (the reformation) develop into denominationalism. This denominationalism was created and is about division. A healthier model would be diversity and though some champion that thought in defense of the denominationalism we have today, it’s a pile of rubbish (to use Paul’s profanity).

Yes, someone is right and someone is wrong, but so what. I must allow my brothers and sisters to have the same freedom I request, to study the Scriptures and do my best to understand them and adjust my life to their teaching. Let’s us be united in Christ and his redemptive work.

Here's the diagram from Sunday morning that I tried to recreate on the computer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


How far do you go with predestination? Do you believe God creates people for hell? Do you think you have a choice in the matter? This is a significant issue in the evangelical community right now and has been since the Reformation and beginning of the Protestant movement. John Calvin taught that God had already determined who would be saved and who would not. The death of Christ was to save only some from sin but not all. There was a concern among protestants to know if they were saved or not. People lived lives as disciplined as they could in hopes that they were the chosen few.

In a predestined world, Christ did not die for all and the preaching of the Gospel is only intended for those God predestined. There is no need to preach to the whole world, only those in the world that were called by God and predestined.

It seems to me that it would be easier to have some kind of birthmark or identifying feature to know who is and who is not going to be saved. It would make the whole process much more efficient. We could be better stewards of our money by kicking the pagans out of church to make room for those that are saved. We could create communities of elect people and build walls to keep the evil condemned at bay, a sort of Mad Max society. We could do a lot better with missionaries. They could have some kind of scanner that could tell them if this person is elect or not and if so, they would have 100% success rate.

I know, I know, none of this is practical. In reality, I guess we don’t have to do anything. If my destiny is set and there is nothing I can do about it, then why do anything. If I ever do get off my backside, I guess it too was predestined, but that still requires no effort because I can’t control if I am or am not going to do something. I also have no need to worry about others because they are in the same boat.

Unless there is a reward system…

Friday, February 04, 2011

Free Will

Free Will (get it)
Do you believe there is free will, I mean real free will where you get to choose what you will do and there is no outside influence that forces you to do one thing or another? Do you like the idea that you are free? I find it interesting that I want freedom when I want to do my own thing. I don’t want God to force me to always do what he wants me to do, otherwise I might miss out on some great sin opportunities along the way (note sarcastic tone). Of course then there are those times when I find myself getting mad at God because he didn’t step in and rescue me from some horrible situation. In fact, though I like my freedom I find that every time I ask God the “why” questions, I’m really wondering why God does not interrupt my freedom and freedom of others when the end result is pain.

So…I want it both ways but only when it suits me. I guess I have forgotten my place as a part of God’s creation and I have elevated myself to divine consultant or super important opinion giver. I forget that Jesus warned me before embarking on this journey of faith. He told us that the life of faith would bring suffering and gave us dozens of examples in the Scriptures. I have also forgotten that none of us do very well with free will; I mean our super-great grandparents, Adam and Eve, did a terrible job with their free will!

I need God’s intervention and I want to be trusted to make good choices. The news paper is filled with reports of so many who do poorly with their free will. But I also see how others have brought the Kingdom near as they have used their free will to be the hands and feet of Christ to the place God put them. I also see how God intervenes and his desire to save all of us from out poor choices will not be thwarted by those choices. Christ died on a cross while those he died for called for his crucifixion. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Today I have free will and today I need God’s intervention. What do you think? Are you truly free?