Thursday, May 28, 2015

Church Doesn't Save Anyone

Sometimes I struggle to set aside the time to let God speak to me through the Bible.  I am reading the Bible often and I love to study it, but this doesn’t always translate into a good devotional time.  I find myself devoted to knowledge, or helping a student with a specific issue, instead of letting my life be devoted to God for that time.  One thing that Pastor Dave has encouraged me with is to read until something sticks out to you.  This way I don’t need to read an entire chapter or book, I can sit down and read until something strikes at my heart.  This has helped me with my devotions and it’s something that might help those of you who struggle as well.

Today I opened up the Bible to one of my favorite books to study, 1 Corinthians.  There are many challenging ideas in this book, and it is one that I have spent much time with.  However the Bible is living and active and as I was reading through chapter 10 I was able to focus on something that seemed new to me.  There are many comparisons that can be made between the Church and Israel.  Both have been chosen by God and we both represent him on Earth.  There are also some ways that we are similar that are a little less appealing. 

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul uses Israel as an example of people knowing the truth, and even seeing God’s miracles and still setting their hearts on evil things.  As I read that it was a reminder that Church doesn’t save anyone.  As a parent I can bring my children to Church every week, read the Bible to them every night, and take them on trips where they see the power of God.  Yet without faith and new nature they will set their hearts on evil things just like many of the Israelites. 

This is in no way a condemnation of the Church.  I work here, you can be sure that I love and appreciate the Church. I believe God's plan with the church is for us to be involved with the local body so that we all grow together.  In fact 1 Corinthians is often viewed as a guide from Paul on how to do Church.  And even though Paul loves the church, he wants it to be clear that the believers in Corinth should not to get caught up in “Church” instead get caught up in Jesus.  He tells them, and us, to learn from the example of the Israelites.  We are not saved by being a part of a religion, or a nation, we are saved because Christ died and rose again.  

We need to stand firm on that.  Verse 12 says “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 

Dear God, please help me learn from Israel’s history and follow you only without allowing my heart to settle on evil things.

Josh Earhart

About the Author:
Josh serves on staff at Westchester as Associate Pastor of Student Ministries

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Self-Acceptance that is God-Glorifying

          I am working my way through Jerry Bridge’s book, 31 Days Toward Trusting God.  In the chapter entitled, Trusting God for Who I Am, Bridges refers to Psalm 139:14 where King David writes “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Now David was handsome, athletic, a warrior, a musician, etc.  We might think - it was easy for David to write those words in Psalm 139, he had it all.  But what about me?  I am far less than all that David was, I struggle with even measuring up to just ordinary.
         It is hard to trust God with the way we have been created.  To not compare, to be content, to move toward self-acceptance.

May God encourage you with these two paragraphs from Jerry Bridges.

        “David praised God not because he was handsome but because God made him.  Dwell on that thought.  The eternal God, infinite in His wisdom and perfect in His love, personally made you and me.  He gave you your body, your mental abilities, and your basic personality because that’s the way He wanted you to be, and He loves you and wants to glorify Himself through you.”

       “This is our foundation for self-acceptance.  God sovereignly and directly created us to be who we are, disabilities and physical flaws and all.  We need to learn the perspective of George McDonald: ‘I would rather be what God chose to make me that the most glorious creature that I could think of.  For to have been thought about – born in God’s thoughts – and then made by God is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking.’”

        These are good and encouraging words to us.  God thought of you, made you and loves you, just as you are.  Accepting yourself as God made you is a part of glorifying Him with your whole life.

Dave MacKinnon

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

Worship Round-Up (May 17, 2015)

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

"Abundant Living"
Pastor Dave MacKinnon
Matthew 11:28-30
Listen here

As we wrap up our series on The Mess of Stress, Pastor Dave presented us with the call of Jesus-- to take his yoke and thereby find rest. The music supported this pattern by giving us the opportunity to reflect upon the series as well as this application. We began the service by reading the Heidelberg Catechism Question 1 (see below) and then singing a song based on that question. The service began with this affirmation so that we may be reminded that come life or death we have comfort in knowing that we have been bought with the blood of Christ and preserved by our Father. We sang our theme song for this series "My Worth is Not in What I Own". After the sermon we had extended time of music to affirm that in trial, pain, and tribulation that God "gives more grace", desires for us to "lay down our burdens" and "come as we are". We then ended by affirming that because of the love, preservation, and sovereignty of our father "all must be well".

Heidelberg Q&A 1
Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. 


My One Comfort
by Dustin Kensrue
Listen on YouTube

My Worth is Not in What I Own
by  Graham Kendrick | Keith Getty | Kristyn Getty
Listen on YouTube

He Giveth More Grace
by Annie Johnson Flint | Austin Hilmer

Come As You Are
by Ben Glover | David Crowder | Matt Maher
Listen on YouTube

All Must Be Well
by Mary Bowly Peters, Matthew S. Smith

Listen on YouTube

Austin Hilmer

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Testimonies Worth Telling (Part 3)

This is part 2 of an ongoing series on Testimonies. For part 1 of this series click here. For part 2 click here.

What if I really do have a boring testimony?

Short answer: You don't. The problem that many of us actually have is arranging the parts of or stories in a way that is 1) honoring to God, 2) honest, and 3) relevant to our audience. All testimonies are worth telling, but not all testimonies need to be told in the same way. It is better that we follow a few principles rather than a formula by which these stories need to be told.

1) Honor God
        -Let us not forget that a testimony is to testify about something God has done. For many of us the story we want to tell is how we came to know Christ. This is a great place to start. There is, however, a way to tell the story of coming to know Christ that does not actually honor Him. A major testimony failure is to make you the hero of your own story rather than Jesus. Was it when you had enough of the partying lifestyle and found it unfulfilling, or was it when Christ convicted you of your sin and convinced you of your need for a savior? Could those things coincide? Absolutely, but the way you tell it is important. The hearers of your story need to hear that Jesus saves us from our sins-- not, once you are good enough, strong enough, and tired of doing the "big" sins, then you can go to Jesus.

2) Be Honest
         -Every testimony requires some level of vulnerability. If you've ever heard a testimony that you would consider "bad" it was probably because the teller of the story seemed to be dishonest or phony in their struggles. You have probably heard, "I grew up in a Christian home, accepted Christ at the age of 10, and my life has been great since." First of all, that's not a testimony. Secondly, that is not honest. And third, that is dishonoring to God. The point of a testimony is not to prove how much better your life is because you're a Christian. The point is to prove how much better Christ is than the sin you want to live in. You first need to be honest with yourself. Is the Gospel that you are proclaiming good enough to save you from your deepest and darkest sins? I'm reminded of a passage- 1 Timothy 1:15 where Paul says, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Your testimony must reflect Jesus as the savior and your deep need of this salvation.

3) Be Relevant to Your Audience
       -Not with a pop-culture reference, not by talking about tweeting, not even with skinny jeans! This is more on the practical level.  Relevance can be as simple as-- what does my audience need to hear, how can I say this in a way that engages that audience, and how can I be a good steward of the time allotted to me. There are hundreds of books you can read on public speaking, so I will not give advice on posture, time management, and vocal variation. For most of us, the applicable place for our testimony is going to be with a friend, co-worker, or random person you sit by on a plane. Do you have a testimony that is suited for casual, informal, and ordinary occurrences? Most of the time you are not prompted for your whole story. Can you put into words how God has delivered you from particular sins? What is it like to trust God daily? Do you still struggle with sin? The more you know scripture, and the better you understand the Gospel, the better vocabulary you will have to engage with someone on these topics when the situation arises. 

God gave us all stories to tell. He gave us hundreds, even thousands of stories that reveal our need for a savior and Let us honor him by sharing with others how He is always faithful, always loving, and always willing to give us the grace we need.

Austin Hilmer

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Reflections on Contentment

            On Sunday, Pastor Dave preached about simplifying our lives..  He emphasized simplifying especially in the area of finances and our felt need to accrue comforts.  The first verse in the passage he used is “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6).  God has graced me with opportunities to spend a lot of time in Haiti over the past several years.  It never fails, every team I have had in the poorest country in the western hemisphere has had people make a remark that goes something like; “These people have so much joy, even though they are poor and have nothing, they are so joyful”.  This statement and others like it reveal darkness in our hearts. These statements reveal how much of our joy is connected to our stuff.  Instead our joy needs to be dependent on who God is, not on what we have.

       Scripture points to God as being our portion (Ps 16:5, 73:26, Lam. 3:24).  Materialism complicates, stresses, and brings harm to our lives because it says that God himself is not enough.  Our hearts need to recognize the truth of Psalm 73:26

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

When God is our portion we are free from ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and free to worship and serve God.

           I am so thankful for our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as an amazing example of having their joy in the Lord.  Pastor Dave bracketed his sermon with Hebrews 13:5,  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  With out a speck of material possession or wealth, God has answered our greatest need with Christ.  God is faithful and will keep his promises to us.
While speaking about worry in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”(Matthew 6:31-33)  Thank you Dave, for bringing the word.  And thank you, Haitian believers for giving such a powerful example of joy and on making the Lord our Portion.  

Chuck Mullikin

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