Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Scariest Day of My Life

On Tuesday morning as I laid my head back on the table and was carried backward into the CAT scan machine I began thinking things I never had before. What if this was the moment that doctors found out something was terribly wrong with me. How would I handle it? What would happen to my family?

Four hours prior to my head scan I had passed out in the shower. My eyes rolled back in my head, and all of my weight fell from standing to my head hitting the shower knobs, the faucet, and the tub— this is what my wife tells me. She saw the whole thing. I had called her into the bathroom after shutting off the water because I had started feeling the worst head rush that wouldn’t go away. I told her I felt light headed and she told me I was really pale. The next thing I remember I was being called awake by a frantic wife and a screaming child.

My wife thinks in total I was out for 30 seconds or so. To my wife it felt like an eternity. As she rushed me to the ER, with tears in her eyes, she told me that she thought she had lost me. Those are the words that I cannot believe were uttered to me. I’m 27 years old, relatively healthy, and no signs to anything wrong—and in those few moments I could have been gone. Forever.

After two hours sitting in the waiting room with the most uncomfortable neck brace on, I was brought back to have an EKG, blood work, vital sign testing, and eventually the CAT scan. As the machine spun around my head I was trying to comfort myself. The words that popped in my head seem cliché, but I believe this to be the right time for them—“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For your rod and your staff comfort me.” (That’s a bit paraphrased… but it’s the words I knew in the moment)

Fortunately I came away from this weirdest day of my life almost completely unscathed. No broken bones, no head wound, no neck brace. The most I have is a spot under my jaw that looks like I cut myself shaving. However, I feel I have gained quite the perspective. I want the words I used to comfort me to be the way I live my life. I think it would be completely wrong to come away feeling like I needed to take control of my life—seize the day, live every moment to the fullest, have no regrets, YOLO, etc. If I learned anything from the experience it’s that I was in complete control going into the shower and in an instant that was taken from me. It would be wrong then for me to think I could ever have that control over my life.

I want to walk away from this knowing that God is in control always. Conversations I’ve had with my wife since, morbid as they may be—but appropriate, is that if anything had or does happen to me I want my family to know—God is Good. Always. He is always in control and He is good. In life or in death, whether He gives or takes away, He is good, sovereign, and in control. Not that I was good enough, not that I deserved anything, but that I trusted in the one who made me to bring me to whatever end He saw fit. My family is in my care as I live, but I know that if or when I am taken from this life, the only comfort is that we belong to Christ. We are in His care. As sheep from His fold, His rod and His staff comfort us. And I will follow His leading as long as I live.

Austin Hilmer

About the Author:
Austin serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Corporate Worship

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Pursuit of Quietness

I enjoy walking.  Probably that’s because I never acquired a taste for running.  I do not understand those who enjoy running, and probably never will.  But a good walk, a lengthy stroll, an untimed wander—I’m all in.  Walks with Linda, my wife, are the best.  But next best are walks by myself.  Yes there’s exercise in walking, but I enjoy the solitude, the time with my thoughts, the minutes alone to contemplate. 

At Westchester we have been going through a sermon series on “Dealing with the MESS of STRESS.”  We have been trying to be honest with the everyday stress of life that everyone feels but also hopeful with the life and grace that God has for us in Jesus.  As I have been preparing and preaching some of the sermons of this series God has been challenging me with the pursuit of quietness and more time alone with Him.   

In Lamentations 3 we often turn to verses 22-24, and they encourage us.
   The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."

But God has been working on me with the next two verses, 25-26:
  The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good  that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

There’s an old Latin phrase which goes, ambulando solvitur.  This phrase translates: it will be solved by walking.  I’m sure there’s an array of ways this phrase has been used and applied over the years.  For me, in response to His prompting during this sermon series, I have been asking God to help me be more quiet.  To seek Him and His ways with more heart and determination.  So, more than ever before, I have intentionally combined my walking with my communion with God.  And certainly, the walking itself doesn’t solve anything and I still get distracted by the happenings around me— the inconsiderate biker, the occasional deer, the pressing issue in my mind— but there have been times when meeting with God, alone, on a walking path, have been precious and spiritually encouraging.

So I extend this challenge to you as well.  Whether while walking or sitting or I suppose even while running, let’s seek more quietness and time in God’s presence.  Then together let’s face the stresses of everyday life.

Dave MacKinnon

About the Author:
Dave serves on staff at Westchester as Senior Pastor

Monday, April 27, 2015

Worship Round-Up (April 26, 2015)

a weekly review of Sunday worship to provide resource and further reflection from our Sunday service.

Pastor Dave MacKinnon
Genesis 37-50
(The Life of Joseph)
Listen here

Our intention in planning our weekly service is to interconnect the elements of the service with the sermon series and the sermon of that week. After two weeks in our Stress series we thought it appropriate to confess our sin to God that we have taken two weeks to process. We read a prayer together to acknowledge that sin is something we all deal with and all need God's grace for. We also personalize it with a time of silent confession. The songs we sang were initially to bring our sacrifice of praise by offering to God songs about His glory, His great worth, and His kingship. We framed our prayer of confession with the song "Shine into our Night" which draws on our need for God to continue to shine into the darkness in our life. We then sang a new song "I Shall Not Want" which extends the confession we prayed by confessing to God how we chase after other things, but the more we taste of His goodness, the less we desire things that he would not want for us. We ended by singing a more pensive version of "Blessed Be Your Name" in order to highlight our need to sing phrases like "You give and take away". I pray that this will become and anthem for us to remember God's sovereignty, provision, and how He is trustworthy.

Prayer of Confession
Reading from Hebrews 4:14-16

Almighty and most merciful Father,
We are thankful that your grace is higher than the heavens,
wider than our wanderings,
greater than all our sin.

Lord, sometimes our lives have such little focus:
We have so much to do;
We possess so much stuff;
We're driven by the need for still more--
and it easily seems to control us.

Forgive our careless attitudes toward your purposes,
our refusal to relieve the suffering of others,
our envy of those who have more than we have,
our obsession with creating a life of constant pleasure,
our indifference to the treasures of heaven,
our neglect of your wise and gracious law.

(Silent prayer of confession)

Help us to change our way of life
so that we may desire what is good,
love what you love,
and do what you command,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Praise to the Lord the Almighty
by Catherine Winkworth | Joachim Neander

O Lord to You
by Gary Sadler
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Shine Into Our Night

by Joel Sczebel
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I Shall Not Want
by Audrey Assad | Bryan Brown
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Blessed Be Your Name
by Beth Redman | Matt Redman
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Austin Hilmer

About the Author:
Austin serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Corporate Worship

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Testimonies Worth Telling (Part 1)

I have been doing a Bible study through the book of Romans with a friend of mine. We recently came across verse 3:8, "And why not do evil that good may come?" In this passage Paul is addressing objections to the righteous judgment of God against sin. Some are saying to Paul, "If my act of sin reveals God to be more glorious, then why am I being judged? Isn't it better that God be shown to be good by forgiving our sins?" I told my friend that I never found this verse to relate much to me. I don't know if I've felt in my own life that it would be better to continue in sin so I could experience God's grace more fully. Then my friend added some great nuance on the passage.

He told me this reminds him of hearing testimonies in the church. Have you ever heard one of those really good testimonies? I'll give an example- man is a drug addict, at his lowest point he would have to do shameful acts in order to pay for his drug addiction, he then hears the gospel, turns his life to Christ, and then he cleans up and never touches drugs again. That's a good testimony right? It is absolutely an account that reveals God's power, grace, and mercy towards sinners. However, because of our fallen nature and propensity towards sin, we may actually be tempted by hearing this story of good news. How does someone who grew up in church, accepted Christ at a young age, and never committed major crimes relate to that story? It can go to the extent that one would say their story of redemption isn't worth telling because they haven't been saved from much. At the very worst of this is a desire that your life had been lived in a more wild fashion so as to see God's mercy in a more "powerful" way. Either that, or there is this temptation to excuse sins in your life that you deem "not as bad" as the sins committed by the person in the testimony.

When we only highlight these "powerful" testimonies we could actually be guilty of desiring to do "evil that good may come". Sometimes churches bring up these stories because the "power" in them actually translates more easily to "entertainment". If we are looking to be entertained by a testimony, what we are hoping is that someone had done something so evil that we can see how good God is! Or, we actually resent our own salvation because God didn't save us from something more entertaining! Even though I may have never uttered the words found in Romans, my friend helped me realize that I have been guilty of desiring more evil in order to see God's goodness.

This passage comes at a point in Romans where Paul is saying how sin has entered the world and all are guilty. Furthermore, sin has polluted everything to the point that we indulge our depravity. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and "the wages of sin is death". (Romans 3:23; 6:23) We are all guilty of sin and deserve death. God looked upon our helplessness and in his great mercy made us alive when we were dead.

There is no sin too small to condemn you; there is no sin too big that God's grace cannot cover. If you trust in Christ for salvation, that is a testimony worth telling.

Austin Hilmer

About the Author:
Austin serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Corporate Worship

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sabbath Reflections

I remember being about eleven-years-old and having a stuck dresser drawer.  I needed to pry it loose, so I went to my dad’s toolbox in search of any tool that would work.  I found a long skinny file that was just the right size.  The problem was, that it was the wrong tool.  The file, of course, broke, and I had to explain to my dad what had happened.  My dad gave me a lesson on using tools only for their designed purpose, and then helped me with my dresser.  That day, I learned a valuable lesson regarding the relationship between design and use.  God designed us to live and function in a certain way, and going outside of that design can be a major inlet for stress.  Last week I preached on slowing down, our need to choose the good portion (Luke 10:38-42), and to reclaim the Sabbath. (Listen here)

God created you; he made your limits, abilities, and full potential, all with the need for Sabbath rest.  While I was preparing to preach about slowing down I ran across a story from the Oregon Trail.  There was a caravan of wagons on the trail that had decided to honor the Sabbath by not traveling at all on Sundays.  A faction of people within the caravan grew restless about the time of year.  They worried that if they continued to only travel six days a week that they would not arrive before it snowed again.  The Caravan decided to split into two groups; one that would travel six days a week with a day of rest, and one that would travel seven days a week.  The group that travelled six days a week actually reached the end of the trail first.  With the weekly day of rest, both the travelers and the animals were able to do more each of the six days than the other group could do all seven.

Your Heavenly Father knows you need rest.  He is our loving creator who designed us.  Part of living within God’s design is having that weekly day of rest.  The Saturday before I preached on slowing down I worked long and hard on a landscaping project at home.  I told my wife that I had to finish it that day because I was about to preach on honoring the Sabbath.  I did finish that wall on Saturday.  On Sunday I enjoyed sitting on the wall while my kids played in the yard, we went to the park as a family, I had a nice long phone call with my parents, and we had some friends over for take and bake pizza (about the most restful meal you can make).  At the end of the day I was ready to reenter the office on Monday, and ready to work. 

Thank you, Lord, for giving us rest. You are a great God and Father who knows what his children need!

Chuck Mullikin

About the Author:
Chuck serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Adult Discipleship

Monday, April 20, 2015

Worship Round-Up (April 19, 2015)

a weekly review of Sunday worship to provide resource and further reflection from our Sunday service.


The Mess of Stress
From Luke 10-- The Good Samaritan
Pastor Dave MacKinnon
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In our services week by week we strive for interconnectivity between the songs we sing, words we speak, and the sermon that is preached. There has been much joy that in this series on Stress we have been able to affirm many great truths about who God is without scrambling to mention stress in our songs. Many times, the things that stress us out are a striving after things that God would not desires for us. This week we affirm our trust in God and His trustworthiness and shift our gaze to our need of Him and away from material things. We affirm through "The Solid Rock" that God is faithful in Christ--- His blood, His righteousness, His oath and covenant. We affirm that God is "Enough". We affirm that we "Need" God, and that He hears our cries and prayers. Once again we sing that our "Worth" is not to be found in what we can purchase, what we can gain in acceptance, not in what we can create or do by skill, but only in Christ our Redeemer. We ended the service by affirming again God's faithfulness and sovereignty, and our peace in knowing this great truth.

The Solid Rock
 by Edward Mote | William B. Bradbury
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by Chris Tomlin | Louie Giglio
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Lord I need You
by Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher
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My Worth is Not in What I Own
by  Graham Kendrick | Keith Getty | Kristyn Getty
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All Must Be Well
by Mary Bowly Peters, Matthew S. Smith
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Austin Hilmer

About the Author:
Austin serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Corporate Worship