The Ministry of Bringing

As part of our simple serve meals, we’ve been discussing simple ways that we can practically serve those around us. Prayer has been a strategy that has come up multiple times. Through the work of Jesus, God has graciously opened the door for us to have direct communication with Him. He has made the way, invites us, and even promises to hear us when we pray. Although this act is simple, it is the most significant way that we can serve someone. In and through prayer, we bring someone directly to the throne of the One who is able and must intervene on their behalf. We can point to Jesus by performing loving acts of sacrifice and giving but, ultimately, we cannot change a heart or provide as needed. Only the Lord can deliver and prayer calls on Him to do just that.

Recently, we were at one of our favorite pizza spots in Ebensburg. Although I have been encouraged and convicted to do so, I don’t always remember to reach out to serve our waiters or waitresses by praying. This particular night though, it was on my heart and mind so, when asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I simply responded, “Well, we’re about to pray. Is there anything that we can pray for you?” To my surprise, the young lady replied, “No, but can I stay with you while you pray?” I definitely wasn’t expecting that but the Lord used her request as a way to remind me of the ministry that He has invited us to as followers of Christ. In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter instructs us that Christ died so that He might bring us to God. Our greatest good and greatest gain is only found in the Lord. There is no way that we could earn, work, or make our way to God. All of our attempts fall short of Him and His standard for us. Jesus said Himself, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Our forgiveness, our eternal life, our joy in God is all found through this greatest act of service: Jesus’ saving work of bringing us to God. In turning from our sin and trusting in Him, we enjoy the fullness of this gift. The presence of the Spirit indwells us today and we have a home with the Father that awaits us.

As we wait that day, we are given a ministry of bringing people too. Our acts can’t save people. We can’t serve someone into the Kingdom but we can bring them to see the One who can. We can bring them to Jesus who has already done the work necessary to bring them to God. As I said, He can save or provide as needed. At the restaurant table that night we got a picture of what this ministry looks like. In praying together, we invited her to see what it means to be rescued and have a relationship with Him. In a way, we brought her to Jesus and for that moment at least, she wanted to be brought. I pray that this work has been finished in her heart and I also pray that the Lord would lead and direct us in the days ahead of even more ways that we can pray, point, and bring people to Jesus, who is more than able to bring them the rest of the way to God.

 

Praying To Bring People To Jesus, Pastor Rudy

 

A Preacher For All Men

 

This month is set apart to celebrate the lives and achievements of African-Americans in our country. As believers, we’re called to recognize the image of God in all people (Gen. 1:27) and acknowledge those who are faithful in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 16:16 and 18). In honor of this month, I’d like to acknowledge and spotlight a pastor God rescued, brought up, and used early on in American History to expose the ridiculous and sinful nature of barriers based on the color of skin and to be an example of what the care and concern of every believer should be.

His name was Lemuel Haynes. This was his adopted name taken from the King mentioned in Proverbs 31 and given by the Deacon who took him in after his father and mother had abandoned him. Although, his parents wouldn’t have known everything about Lemuel in passing on this name, God did and as a pastor he would grow to carry out the instruction of this passage to, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (vs. 9). Lemuel was faithful to the truth of God’s Word and boldly proclaimed it wherever he was positioned. From a very young age he longed to learn more about the Lord, His truth, and will. As a boy, he wrote, “I make it my rule to know something more every night than I knew in the morning.” He craved the knowledge found in Christ which then led to his conversion. He said of his salvation, “It was reliance on the merits of the Savior that supported me. Had I a thousand souls, I would venture them on him.” As with all men, he knew there was nothing in himself that could save him. He needed to be rescued and that was found in trusting in Christ’s work, not his own.

It was through reading sermons to his family on Saturday evenings and writing his own that God eventually led him to the pastorate. In 1785, he was officially ordained as a minister. He spent his first 2 years in ministry as pastor to an all-white church in Connecticut before moving on to a mostly white church in Vermont to pastor for 30 years. The color of his skin didn’t determine his ability to preach or qualify who he could preach to. People needed to hear the Gospel and truth of God’s Word and Lemuel had a passion to make it known. His concern was for the souls of men. In his final sermon to his church in Vermont, who removed him because of growing prejudices, he proclaimed, “All gospel ministers know experimentally, in some degree, ‘the terror of the Lord’ and are led to ‘persuade men’ [as Paul speaks to in 2 Cor. 5:11]. The man who does not appreciate the worth of souls and is not greatly affected with their dangerous situation is not qualified for the sacred office. It was the saying of a pious minister who would arise at midnight for prayer, ‘How can I rest, how can I sleep, when so many of my congregation are exposed every moment to drop in hell!’” Lemuel carried the weight of concern for every man under sin and sought to preach the gospel for their deliverance. As men and women of God, we have been freed through Jesus from the barrier sin has made between us and God. We cannot create or perpetuate barriers between us and others. All men need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All believers are called to “appreciate the worth of souls,” have concern for their “dangerous situation,” and care with the good news of Jesus.

 

        Let Us Be Encouraged And Challenged By This Great Example We’ve Been Given, Pastor Rudy

What Have I Done To You?

On the verge of a New Year, it can be easy to look back at the previous year and point out everything that went wrong or only think of things that didn’t go as planned. We can even become cynical in looking ahead, wondering, “Could things get any worse?” I know it feels like “it’s always something” but when we take this whiny perspective or ready-to-complain approach to life we make ourselves out to be judges over God. Our complaints attempt to raise us in a position where we look down on Him and wag a finger for how He directs our steps and cares for us. The reason we whine is because we don’t want what He wants and the reason we complain is because we think we could do things better. However, God is always sure to show that His ways are best, and His works are worthy of our thankfulness, joy, and praise.

God’s people had this attitude in the Old Testament. When it came to things they didn’t want, wished were different, or didn’t agree with they had lists upon lists against God. They often questioned what He was doing and why He was doing it. They showed very little trust or joy in the ways that He faithfully led them. In Micah 6, God finally calls for the people to plead their case before the mountains (vs. 1) which is a lesson in it-self. God tells the people to complain against a creation that has no complaints. The mountains aren’t bothered by their height. They’re not perturbed by their position. They rose when God told them to and continue to stand firm in what they were given to do. In fact, in vs. 2, the Lord points out that they simply “endure.” After the Lord tells His people to plead their case before the mountains, He then presents His side. He begins in vs. 3 with a convicting line of questioning, “My people, what have I done to you? And how have I wearied you?” He then invites them, “Answer Me.” God wants to know what His crimes and how He has been so wrong against His people. The Lord then answers for them by listing His works in verses 4-5. He delivered them from Egypt, ransomed them from slavery, given them leaders, turned wickedness away from them, and did all of these works (and more) in such a way as for them to see His righteousness. Which of these acts deserves complaint? Which of them was a burden?

As you step into the New Year, when you look back (or look ahead) and feel the urge to complain or become weary by what’s wrong hear these questions from the Lord, “What have I done to you? And how have I wearied you?” List the ways that you have witnessed God work over the past year. See His goodness and His enduring faithfulness and find reason to change your outlook into one of joy and thankfulness. Instead of complaining or pessimism commit to praise and look forward to the many ways God will act righteously in the days ahead!

 

                                       Looking Forward To What He Will Do, Pastor Rudy

 

Just Keep Singing

What would Christmas be without music? Can you imagine going through the holiday with no songs of celebration over Christ’s birth? No carolers. No cantatas. No child renditions of familiar classics. Music is a crucial part of our rejoicing and remembering at this time of year. At one point in history, the French Catholic church did their best to bury, not all music but one particularly beloved Christmas tune, O Holy Night. They denounced the song for its lack of musical taste and deemed it totally “absent of the spirit of religion.” I couldn’t help but scratch my head when I read that! I thought, “Are you sure that we’re talking about the same song!?” I went to the literal translation of the French poem to English just to see if I was missing something and sure enough, the same truth was all there if not even more so in some places. Sadly, the issue had more to do with the hearts of the officials in charge than anything else. Their decision was fueled by pride and Anti-Semitism. They were displeased with the writer and hated the fact that the music was composed by a Jewish man. Their conclusion was to shut it out completely but thankfully, they couldn’t. The French continued to sing even when the religious officials wouldn’t. Why? Because Christ’s coming is reason to sing! We celebrate through song!

When you consider the lyrics, it is no wonder why the song O Holy Night has prevailed. It comes out of conviction and celebration of what Christ’s birth means for the world. When the French poet, Placide Cappeau, was asked to write the original (“Cantique de Noel”) he took the book of Luke and did his best to put himself at the magnificent event of Christ’s birth. The result moved him to pen the words, “Who will tell Him of our gratitude, for all of us He is born, He suffers, and dies.” He could see that this Savior was born “to erase the stain of original sin and to end the wrath of His Father” and he concluded with the invitation and necessity to humbly bow before Him. Adolphe Adam, the composer, believed this poem had to be put to song which he did for the masses. Later, John S. Dwight took the song, kept the melody, and reworked the lyrics for American audiences.

Singing songs of truth is what focuses us at this time of year. It stirs our hearts to feel the weight of who Christ is and what His birth means for us. How could you not be moved by a line like, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”? As I said, singing is how we celebrate. It is how we are commanded to celebrate in Scripture (see Ps. 147:1, 148:1-5, Ps. 149:1). We’re even instructed in this classic to “…let all within us praise His holy name” by raising up “sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus.” I praise God for a song of truth like this to sing along to. I also pray that your season would be full of song as you keep singing and rejoicing in what this Holy Night has brought to us!

                                             

                                                                                   Merry Christmas! Pastor Rudy

 

When Heroes Fall

Recently, one of my heroes walked away from the faith. This was someone that I looked up to and admired. They shared their faith with boldness in a context that can be hard to. They encouraged me in my understanding of God’s Word and in learning how to communicate that truth in a way that is faithful to what is written. They didn’t seem to waver…that is, until recently. Where there was once a steadfast view of who God is and what He has said, there are now only questions and a complete denial. Such a fall has been very painful to watch. It makes you wonder things like, “How could this happen?” and “Is there any hope for them to return?” In the midst of great discouragement over this individual, the Lord was gracious in giving me some much-needed reminders. One major one being that our hope cannot be in people. As great or as godly as they appear to be, they are just people. They are sinners desperately in need of grace just like us. When we put people on a pedestal – we put them in a place that only Christ should hold. There is only One mediator between God and man and it is not our heroes.

These men and women are not the ones to ultimately show us who God is or bring us closer to Him. They will only disappoint. Paul informs Timothy that the only mediator is Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). We cannot make people out to be anything more than what they are. No, it is not wrong to have examples to look to (Heb 13:7) but our hope should not rest on them, nor should everything we have in God be dependent on them. If this is the case then when they fall, we will fall. With those we look up to we should always remember a truth that comes up again and again throughout the Bible, that Jesus is better. Think of the heroes that are set up in the OT. Now think of their sins. Those flaws are not secret and there’s reason for that. There’s a great kid’s song entitled, “Only Jesus” by Shai Linne that lays this out perfectly for us, “Adam ate forbidden fruit and lost his life/ Abraham got scared and lied about his wife/ Sarah laughed to herself when she heard God’s promise/ Rebekah encouraged her son to be dishonest/ Aaron used crafts to make a golden calf/ Moses got mad, struck the rock with his staff/ David sinned greatly – even lost his baby/ And Jacob? He was just all around shady/ The point is not to make light of our flaws/ But to show that every one of us needs the cross.”

There are those who leave the faith to show that they were never really of us (1 John 2:19) and give warning to those whose trust isn’t in Christ and whose hearts aren’t resolved on God’s Truth. And there are those who stumble, repent, and return. Either way, each of us needs the grace that comes alone through the cross and the faithfulness that’s dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work within us. Leaders will let us down, examples won’t meet every expectation, and sometimes even the faithful fail but thanks be to God that we have a greater Leader, Example, and Savior in Jesus whose grace is greater than all of our sin. He is the One we can always look to and hold to for truth and life. I’m also thankful that because of the cross and because of Christ’s work, there are faithful examples we can still look up to surrounding us – to show us what it means to follow Christ through doubts, different circumstances, and sin.

Thankful to God that Jesus is Greater,  Pastor Rudy

How Were Old Testament Folks Saved?

How were people in the Old Testament saved? Was God’s plan different for them? Did they have to work for their salvation? Did Moses, Abraham, David, Noah and those that we look back to have to somehow earn their way to heaven? When we read through all of the laws, rituals, festivals, and sacrifices upon sacrifices it can get confusing as to what exactly those people were to do before Christ died, was buried, and rose again. As hard as it can be to understand sometimes, we can’t let our minds get off-track from the message of the whole Bible that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. Peter said in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Faith in Christ is what saves. It has always been what saves. Although, the men and women of the Old Testament did not know Jesus or experience the gospel carried out they did have pictures and promises of Messiah to hold to and trust in. It wasn’t their dedication and determination that made them saints but it was the wonderful combination of God’s grace and their faith. This is as it was for those in the New Testament and as it continues to be for us today.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” In salvation the grace of God draws us, wakes us up, and brings us to faith. We are saved through trusting Jesus for who He is and what He has done. Paul shows that God gives this grace not as a result of works. Therefore, we can’t say that the reason men and women were listed in Hebrews 11 was because of the laws they kept, the sacrifices they made, and the festivals they celebrated. As the chapter clearly proclaims, it was their faith. Paul explains how this worked in Abraham’s life in Rom. 4:2-3, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believe God’, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” The reason any of these “greats” of the Old Testament were considered righteous is because of their belief in God. They trusted in a righteousness beyond their own which would later be displayed through Jesus.

God never had another way. It was always Jesus. His words pointed to that. Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” God’s law also pointed to Jesus. Paul says in Gal. 2:24, “…the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith.” The ones who were saved had the grace to see their need and they trusted God to provide through the Messiah, Jesus. The gospel has always been the gospel. Let us rejoice in what God has provided through His Son for all people in all times and look to see that this is the message that is shared!

 

Saved By Grace, Pastor Rudy

 

What Are We To Be?

 

On Monday nights this summer, Bill Helsel has been working through “The Beatitudes” at Men’s Group. These are found in Matthew 5. Jesus saw the crowds, went up on the mountain, and began to preach before His disciples. In these words, Jesus presents to us the way to happiness and blessing. This is what “beatitude” means. This is something that most people should connect with. There is a desire for happiness that drives us to pursue the things that we do in life. We all want to be blessed and Jesus makes it clear for us, how that is found. The mistake that many make however, is taking these words of Christ to be a plan to what we need to accomplish or “be” in order to attain that happiness and blessing. The approach is taken, “Ok, I just need to be more merciful, make some peace, strive for purity and then I will get my happiness. I’ll do what I need to do and be who I need to be and Jesus will give me my blessing in return.” Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Yes, the beatitudes point to who we must be but the hard reality that Jesus is pointing to in these words is that these are things that we can never be apart from God. The blessing and happiness are found only when He is at work within us.

When heard, correctly, the beatitudes are incredibly hard to swallow. Jesus said things like, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” to confront our mindset and perspective that we already have all of the righteousness that we could ever need. We are bent to point out our own goodness and list the righteous deeds that we’ve completed yet Jesus speaks right to the heart of the “accomplished” and says, “There will be no blessing or happiness until you put those things aside and realize your need.” God proclaims, “There is none righteous, not even one…there is none who does good” in the Scriptures to bring us face to face with the truth that our own righteousness, our own thoughts of “good”, are not the standard. They don’t come close to what God requires and they are not what He is asking for. So, Jesus points to the Gospel in His word. Happiness comes when you go after the righteousness that God gives. Blessing comes when you crave His work and His goodness within you much more than anything you could muster up. The sign of being blessed is clinging to the Lord with all that you have rather than exerting yourself to be who you never could.

In the end, the beatitudes show us what we cannot be unless Christ is our hope, our strength, and our trust. I cannot be merciful or have the blessing that comes with it, unless I have Christ showing me and working that mercy within me through my relationship with Him. No amount of the purity within the heart that Christ speaks of in Matt. 5:8 will come through my own determination or discipline. These are not bad things but unless I have Jesus’ work of forgiveness, washing, and continually making my heart new as I confess my sin to Him (1 John 1:9), then I have nothing. So, as we look forward to fall and the work that is to come, let us remember, that we will never be who Christ desires or demands, on our own. The attitude, the heart, the work to be happy and blessed is not going to come from us. It must come from Him.

Praying For Him To Make Us Who HE Wants Us To Be, Pastor Rudy

 

Love As You Love Yourself

Recently, I took some time to reflect on the 2nd Greatest Commandment. This was with some help from a book entitled, “What Jesus Demands From The World” by John Piper. The 2nd Greatest Commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s interesting, there is something that Jesus assumes of everyone in this command. We all love ourselves. Contrary to popular psychology and self-help theories, we don’t have to spend time, effort, or money learning to love and embrace ourselves. We already do that. It is built within us to care for ourselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t command for us not to love ourselves but in His command, He teaches us to learn something from how we love ourselves. This self-love should teach us how we are to love those around us. This is the standard that we have from God. The degree to which you love yourself, is the degree to which you should love your neighbor.

Now, self-love is sinful when we put ourselves and our own happiness above the Lord. It is also sinful when we try to seek those things apart from Him. We cannot truly love ourselves apart from loving God. To put ourselves before the Lord is the most hateful and destructive thing that we could do to ourselves. This is why Jesus’ 1st Greatest Commandment is to “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The love we have for ourselves (or others) should flow out of our love for the Lord. This is only when it will not be selfish or sinful. As we have looked at in 1 Corinthians 13 at Pike, God’s love is the only way to love. When we know His love, we truly know what love is and how best to display it. Jesus’ insight here, is to display it in the way that you show it to yourself.

How do you love yourself? Count the ways. You work for safety and comfort. You pursue what will sustain and satisfy. You provide what brings rest and refreshment. You desire joy and fulfillment. Every day, every hour, every minute we do so much to love ourselves. We are unwavering in this love. The question Jesus forces us to examine ourselves with is, “Do I love others with this same kind of passion, energy, drive, endurance, or hard work?” This is the gauge that Jesus has given us to love. The love that we would show ourselves is the love that others deserve.

                                                       Learning To Love, Pastor Rudy

 

Adoption

“It’s everywhere I look.” This was the conclusion I came to after my wife and I agreed to spend time reading Scripture and praying specifically through the decision of adoption. God’s heart for the orphaned, lost, and abandoned child is written all over Scripture. He provides promises for those children, gives instruction to His people, and even uses the picture of adoption to display our new relationship with Him through the work of Christ at the cross. God makes it clear that He cares for these children and He also calls His people to imitate Him in that love. This was a truth that I saw everywhere and a calling that I could not ignore as a follower of Christ.

From a young age I witnessed those who looked out for the forsaken in my grandparents. Their story is unique. They looked specifically for those who no-one wanted. In that, they were able to adopt 30 kids (while having 7 biologically) from very different backgrounds with very special needs. In this example I was able to see that as difficult and challenging as it can be to bring in kids who have been neglected and who need extra care, there is also great reward. There are many stories my grandparents have passed on of the Lord providing in incredible ways, which only solidifies for me today this truth that God cares and looks after children who have nowhere to turn. In Ps. 27:10, there is a confidence in the Lord’s provision for these, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.” Those who take in foster children and those who adopt are a fulfillment of these words. They are the instrument that God uses to “take up” those who have been forsaken. The reason I wanted to pursue foster-to-adoption is to be that instrument. I want kids to know that they can hold to what Ps. 27:10 says. I want them to see the reality of it.

I also want to worship the Lord in the way that matters to Him. As James says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). To “visit” the orphan is not just to acknowledge them but to find ways to look after and care for them. For Lindsey and I, this means opening up our home. How could we not, especially in seeing how God has reached out to us in our sin? Paul says in Eph. 1:5-6, “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” When we were unlovable, on our own, and at our worst (Rom. 5:8) the Lord took us in through Christ. The work of Jesus has made it possible for us to have a Father and home in heaven. What tremendous love He has shown us in our own adoption! Any care for the orphan, whether through fostering, adopting, or supporting those families, ministries, and organizations that do the work is in some way pointing to this love of God. We hope that you will pray with and for us as we continue in this journey. We also pray that the Lord would lead you in caring for the forsaken in some way.

 Praying For Spiritual And Physical Children To Find Their Way Home, Pastor Rudy

 

Apathy Is Not For Me!

What’s something that you feel apathetic about? I asked a group of teenagers this question and heard responses like “Homework”, “School”, “Chores”, and “Work.” Although we may be quick to associate apathy with our younger generation, if we’re honest, we can admit that this is something that impacts all of us. There are times in life that we just seem to lose interest, concern, or even enthusiasm. Sometimes those who have been around Christianity a long time will even become apathetic about the Lord. Why do you think this happens? What would cause us to become bored or tired with God or His ways? One reason Scripture points to is not being able to see the Lord clearly. This happen when we take our eyes off of Him. At Church we sing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim…”. What we find in life is that the opposite is true as well. When we turn our eyes away from Jesus onto the things of this earth, He is the One who grows strangely dim and our hearts grow increasingly cold. The way out of the apathy funk then is turning back to the Lord.

In Matthew 5:8, Jesus says this, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The connection between seeing God as we should, not just in the future but in the day to day, is in our purity. Impurity causes us to turn our gaze off of the Lord and onto ourselves. It’s not easy to care about church when it infringes on “my time.” The Bible becomes boring when we can’t see how it applies to “to me.” The stories, the studies, the sermons all become “things that I’ve heard before” when we no longer look to see what these things show us about God, but instead only want to know, “What will this do for me?”. The purpose of all of these things is not us but the Lord. Their purpose is to point us to who God is, what He is like, what He has done, and what He wants. Those are the things that matter and shape who we are and what we do. Jesus shows us that purity will set us free from being “me-centered” to being God-centered and seeing Him as we should. This is what Jesus set to do in His death on the cross. In 2 Cor. 5:15, Paul shows us that Jesus died to set us free from life that is all about us. So, apathy doesn’t occur because God has run out of ways to keep our attention. It happens because we put our attention on other things, namely ourselves, which isn’t enough to keep us engaged.

In Ps. 51:10, David prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David knows that his purity is dependent on the Lord doing the work in his heart. He also has found that the result of his impurity is a spirit that is disengaged and apathetic. So, he prays for the Lord to renew him. So, when we find ourselves lost in apathy, we must consider where our focus is. Is it on ourselves or the Lord? We must also follow the example of David and turn to the Lord seeking His work in our hearts and eyes to wake us up again to who He is and what He has done (see Ps. 13:3).

 

                                                                            Seeking To See Him, Pastor Rudy