Saturday, December 31, 2016

Merry Christmas friends!

Merry Christmas friends! I hope you and yours had an amazing advent and Christmas Day. We are now living the Christmas season in anticipation of Epiphany.

I don't know about you but after Christmas, I always feel a renewed sense of passion and a drive to be better, serve more, be more of who God has called me to be. You know, New Years Resolutions and all.

I hope that you will join me as I try to live out Howard Thurman's words, below. Thurman was an author, theologian and leader/mentor of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Now the Work of Christmas Begins” by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years my friends. May God bless you all abundantly in 2017!

Rev. Michelle

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Above all - Give Thanks!

We just finished Thanksgiving - a time of gathering with loved ones and consuming (way too much) delicious food. It is also the time that we set aside to give thanks. This year at our family dinner my six (and 3/4 she will tell you) year old daughter wanted to go around and say what we are thankful for. Although some of the twenty-somethings groaned, everyone joined in. There were laughs when my three year old said "Santa" and when my cousin went on and on and on... but above all the answers reminded us of why the holiday is great. One cousin said he is thankful for our family who has been close for generations, and another for family that is there for you in the good and hard times.

I don't know about you, but I can get caught up in the here and now. I can run from one task to the next, consistently thinking of the on-going to do list. However, on Thanksgiving night, we all took a moment to stop. To look at each other. To be grateful. In those moments, when we take a deep breath and exhale, we revel in the blessings we have been given. It doesn't remove the hard stuff but we can look to God with gratefulness for just how abundantly He has showered us with His love. It is how we can live into God's command to give thanks always - even when times are tough. We know that no matter what, at the end of the day, this home is not our own. This place is not the end. This time will pass and one day we will feast together at the Heavenly banquet. And as Julian of Norwich tells us all shall be well, in all manner of things, all shall be well.

May God bless you abundantly as you seek His face!

Rev. Michelle

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Be Patient

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
James 5 (NRSV)

Today’s advent words are ‘patiently waiting’.  It’s hard for any of us at any age to be patient. It’s especially hard at Christmas. Remember how difficult it was when you were small to wait to see what wonderful gifts Santa would bring? Did you peek in closets trying to get an advanced view?

James used the Old Testament prophets as an example of patience. “Brothers and sisters,” he writes, “as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  One of the prophets he surely had in mind was the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah refused to give in to the despair of his time. Isaiah still managed to hope in God. And under the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit Isaiah was able to write, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth . . .”   He may not say it, but in there you can still hear “BE PATIENT.”

No matter what else you think Christmas is about, it is also about patiently waiting. It is not just  about a house so lit up you can see it from space, or about giving or receiving the biggest and best gift money can buy.  It isn’t about eating ham or turkey.  It’s not simply about spending time with family-- as precious as that may be.  It isn’t even about celebrating an infant’s birth in a manger.

Did you catch that? Christmas isn’t even ultimately about celebrating an infant’s birth in a manger. Christmas is about the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan of salvation. IOW;
            God has a plan for our world.
                        A plan that extends from creation
                                    Through the manger
                                                through the cross
                                                            and the empty tomb
                                                                        to eternity. 

God is at work bringing in a perfect world a world where all people will live in harmony and dignity together as children of God a world where that which is broken will be made whole a world of peace, joy and love. Sure, the babe in the manger is an important part of that plan, and it is right and good that we celebrate his birth. But Christmas is only a part of the entire Christ event. It is not only about the coming of Christ, but it is also about the coming of God’s Kingdom when Christ shall reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords forever and ever.

Pastor Jim

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Happy Reformation Day

PJ’s Blog

In honor of the 499th reformation Sunday (just past) and looking forward to the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017), I am turning over this space today to one of my colleagues and most respected reformed scholars, Pul Tambrino, Ed.D, Ph.D.  This is from a column he writes entitled “Ask Augustine”.

Pastor Jim

October 31, 2017 will mark it’s 500th. Anniversary.  Is that because today there is very little difference between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism?  But if not, what are the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism?

While it is true in recent years we have rightly seen evangelicals and Catholics come together on an unprecedented scale in common opposition to abortion and issues of moral relativism and theological pluralism as well as, in defense of our love and worship of the same Lord.  In this regard evangelicals and Catholics are bound together contending against all that opposes Christ and His cause.  Still, theologically what divided Protestants from Rome on October 31, 1517 still divides us today.

As to what it is that still divides us, most people would point to the different views Roman Catholics and Protestants have concerning the papacy, Mary, the saints, purgatory or the sacraments.  However, these distinctive differences all stem from the doctrinal dispute over justification.  At the time of the Reformation, Luther maintained that the Reformed doctrine of justification was the article upon which the church stands or falls and Calvin held that it was the hinge of salvation.  This was countered by Rome's Tridentine conclusion that the Reformation doctrine of justification was worthy of the anathema of the church.

Admittedly the debate over justification suffers from a crass caricature by which the Protestant position is incompletely characterized only as “justification by faith” and the Roman Catholic position is incompletely characterized as only “justification by works.”  Popular sentiment falsely concludes that Protestants are not concerned about works and that Rome is not concerned with faith.

Roman Catholicism has always given an important and necessary place to faith in so far as justification is concerned.  Moreover, Protestantism has always held that saving faith necessarily, inevitably and immediately yields the fruit of works.  The difference in the two views is that in Roman Catholicism, “Faith plus Works yields Justification” while in Protestantism, “Faith yields Justification plus Works.”   That is, in Roman Catholicism “Works” is a necessary precondition for justification.  In Protestantism, “Works” is a necessary fruit or result of justification.

Protestantism holds to the vicarious atonement of Christ.  It is vicarious because it is accomplished by imputation (transfer), actually a double imputation (transfer).  Christ willingly bore for His people their sins that are imputed or transferred to Him.  Christ is the sin-bearer for His people (the Lamb of God) who takes away (expiates) their sin and satisfies (propitiates) the demands of God’s justice.

The cross alone, however, does not justify.  There is also a need for positive righteousness. Protestantism maintains that one is not justified only by the death of Christ but also by the life of Christ. His perfect righteousness is also imputed to those whom He redeems.  Hence there is a double imputation.   The sins of the redeemed are imputed to Christ on the cross, and Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to the redeemed.  Evidence of such imputed justification is then seen in the works performed by those justified.

Roman Catholicism rejects this concept of imputation and maintains that God does not consider someone righteous on the basis of some alien (Christ’s) righteousness (a righteousness outside of oneself).  Rome’s view presupposes that the only true justness or righteousness is inherent righteousness.  Hence, there is a need for a person to become righteous in him or herself first before God declares one righteous.  Although Rome teaches that a person cannot become righteous without infused grace, a person is deemed righteous only when he or she has become (through works and the sacraments) righteous.

Given the Protestant doctrine of justification, it would be impossible to ascribe to the Roman Catholic doctrines the papacy, Mary, the saints, purgatory or the sacraments.  Only under a system of justification whereby righteousness was something that was initially infused by God into the believer and then increased when the believer cooperated by specific works could such doctrines exist.

Clearly a vast theological gulf separates Roman Catholic and Protestant theology on the doctrine of justification.  Unless Protestant theology rejects the principles of the Reformation, or Roman Catholic theology abandons much of the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent (especially canons 9, 10, and 11), the doctrine of justification will remain a fundamental source of division between Roman Catholicism and the Evangelical Protestant faith.

Monday, October 31, 2016

No Matter who is President, Jesus is King

As this is the last post before the election, I thought it would be a good time to get down to basics. At this point we are 12 days away from seeing who are new president will be. This has been a brutal race, that has poured over from the political into the personal. Friendships have been impacted and even ended by who one supports. At the end of the day though, November 9th will come. The rhetoric will change and this election will move into the background. So as we ride through this last two weeks, let us turn our eyes to the future. Let us remember what we love about those who think differently than us, and when we can't understand their point of view let us cling to grace. Because in the times that matter, the times of great joy or great sorrow, we won't see one's political affiliation we will just want our friend.

We are also a people who are set apart. We have a higher calling than civic duty or American patriotism, we belong to the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. Our duty is do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Our calling is to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So let us join together and pray for each other, pray for our country, pray for our president and pray for peace.

Rev. Michelle

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What about my non-believer friends?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (NRSV)

One of the great problems people have with reformed doctrine is our adherence to particular (or limited) Atonement.  This is the doctrine of the faith which says that Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all in that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect.

Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 (where Jesus died for ‘many'); John 10:11, 15 (which says that Jesus died for the sheep -- not the goats, cf Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 (where Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world); Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27  (which state that the Church was purchased by Christ, not all people); and Isaiah 53:12 (which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many- not all).

The problem that many people have is their deep and honest concern about sincere adherents of non-Christian faiths.  At a time when Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, as well as other non-Christian friends work and live beside us each day, something would be very wrong with us if we did not feel such concern.

However, the Word, exegeted rationally (without reading into it) tells us that the Christian faith is true for everybody, and that all need God’s forgiveness and rescue from the power of sin and Satan.  In the New Testament all are called to turn to Jesus Christ and become God’s adopted children.  Eternal life comes only to those who do this.

A common argument is: “what if?” What if God, in His infinite mercy, does allow for other ways to come to salvation?  The answer to that is simply, He certainly does not reveal that to us in Scripture.  This matters because we hold Scripture to be the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God.  If that “what if” was operant, we would read it in His Word.

Despite that truth, some insist on pursuing unbiblical lines of speculation.  Two primary lines come to mind.

First is “universalism.”  This is a not uncommon belief that -- regardless of the New Testament witness to the contrary -- God will somehow bring all, even those who die as nonbelievers -- to share the inheritance of those who die living in Christ.  Adherents of Universalism  cannot explain how this will happen and there is no scriptural support for such a contention.  Therefore, universalism raises at least two questions.

Q1: When Jesus and the apostles warned people of eternal loss if they did not repent (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 26:16-20), were they bluffing?

Q2:  Do we know more about God’s purpose of grace than He and they knew?

The second speculation is called “inclusivism.” This position argues the possibility of salvation for sincere devotees of other faiths in which Jesus Christ is either unknown or is rejected as divine Savior simply on the basis of their sincerity.  I would remind you that it is quite common to be “sincerely mistaken.”   Again, on what biblical basis might this possibility stand?  Definitely not on sincerity, or devotion or personal merit. Nor can it be based on any intrinsic effectiveness of unchristian rituals.  On what then would such an “inclusive” belief be based?  

Some say that if non-Christians come to know their guilt and sinfulness and then confess, renounce their sins and ask for mercy from whatever gods there may be, they will receive the forgiveness they seek from the Jesus and then they will know Him.  Again there is no scriptural support for this false hope.

The Gospel speaks only of penitents being saved through the grace of God by knowing and coming to trust, the crucified and risen Lord.  Scripture nowhere offers hope that sincere worshippers of other religions will be saved by faith in false gods.

So, if you struggle with this, what is YOUR role?  That is simple.  You and I aree not in the salvation business.  That is God in Christ’s role.  Your job and my job is the proclamation of Gospel truth by word and deed.  We sow the seeds, God brings them to harvest – as He has already determined.

Pastor Jim

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How You Can Help Haiti


Friends, as you know Haiti was once again hit with a devastating act of nature with Hurricane Matthew. Over 800 people were killed by the storm and countless citizens impacted severely. If you are able and willing to help, please consider one of these charities below:

Compassion International

World Vision

Upstream International

Paulos Group

Thank you and God bless,
Rev. Michelle

"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Coming Storm

Fall is so not here yet. Most times as I lament about the never-ending Florida heat when I leave my air conditioned house, I never think about anywhere else. I move along my day. Today is different. While it is still hot, the weather is gorgeous. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and work proceeds as normal. Things are not like this everywhere in the world. Today in Haiti, people are bracing for the worst. Hurricane Matthew, a category 5 storm, will be barreling through their towns and homes by the time this blog posts. They have been decimated by storms and an earthquake over the past few years and here comes one more. As I sit looking outside at the beautiful Florida day, I can’t help but think, and pray, and lament for those who look out their window and fear fills their soul. And as a Christian, I know I must do more. We are called to go, and serve, to pray, to provide financial, physical and spiritual help to those who are consumed within the raging storm. And for those who stand broken afterwards. So please join with me in prayer, and come back to this blog for ways that you can help. Our Haitian and Jamaican brothers and sisters need us. May we go where He has called us.

Rev. Michelle

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Got Heaven?

One of the frequent questions that pastors get asked is this:  “Pastor, Can I know if I’ll go to heaven?”

Allow me to be clear; Yes.  You can know if you are going to live eternally with God in heaven.  I would add, that the only person you can definitively answer this question for – is yourself.

The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg was interviewed not long ago.  At the time he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at age 72 because he noticed how many of his former classmates had shown up on the “in memoriam” pages of the school newsletter rather than with an RSVP.

It became clear, however, that  he has little doubt about his salvation prospects. Pointing to his crusading work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Perhaps the saddest conversation I have ever had with a congregant is this one I have had at the bedside of a terminal patient: “John, are you at peace?”   “Well Reverend, I just hope that I have done enough good in my life to get in the gate.”  This made me sad because I, and every other pastor in his life, had failed to equip him with the assurance of salvation in faith alone.
Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Justification (salvation) is an act of God’s free grace. He pardons all of the believer’s sins and counts them righteous not for anything they have done but by the perfect obedience and full atonement of Christ. That atonement is imputed to you and I as a result of faith alone.

“…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3: 5).

Please realize that the “world” agrees with Mr. Bloomberg who thinks that if you do more good than bad in this life, you can “earn” your place in Heaven.  Please understand that this is NOT what the Bible teaches.

So, what do you believe? That Jesus is the only way or that your good deeds can earn you a place in Heaven?

Salvation begins and ends with Jesus. Nothing more is necessary.  Whoever has faith in Christ needs nothing more.

I am the way - Because Christ is the way, no one has any excuse at all.  Those who confess faith in God, but not in Christ, are wrong.  We do not get to define God as we would like Him to be; Christ is the way.  There is no other.  No other paths lead to God.

the truth - “You Christians think no one else has access to truth.”   Yep, that’s right.  Any other religious discipline that seeks to enable people to draw near to God is false.  God has provided one means for our salvation:  Christ.  If you believe in Him and confess Him as Lord, you know the truth and your salvation is assured.

and the life - Jesus is saying: ‘you will never know what life is until you see it in My eyes.’

No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

--Pastor Jim

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Serving and Being Served

We are on day 3 post Mission Sunday. Three days ago we had speakers share about different missions they are involved with in the community, and we had a variety of organizations come and host tables to share how God is working through them. It was a time to get involved! It didn't matter how, or where, or for how long. At VPC we have missions that are local, national, and international. We host, and partner with, missions that help the hungry, the homeless, those shut in their homes, the elderly, the children, the children in foster care, the urban community, the migrant, children in multiple parts of Africa, and so much more. If you are interested in getting involved with missions, VPC knows one with whom you can connect. We are a church that believes Church isn't confined to the walls of our sanctuary but that we are here for a larger purpose - to continue Christ's work in the world.

And if you do mission work, you will probably agree that, most of the time, you get more out of it than the person you are serving. I know I do. I remember once I was in college and in Philadelphia on a mission trip. We were in a particularly rough area, and it was eye-opening for this suburbia girl! We hosted a VBS, cleaned up trash (mainly empty heroin bags) at the local park, and much more. One day we were doing a street cleanup in a neighborhood and the leader of the group called me over to meet a guy. He was homeless and a friend of the neighborhood and of the mission. He also had one leg. Literally, and his other leg was a wooden peg. We had been talking for about five minutes when I heard loud pops. All at once this man pushed me on the ground and laid over me. The pops were bullets. We were in a drive by shooting. Suddenly the noise stopped, the car sped away and the man helped me up. My friend Melissa was next to me and she burst into tears. Not really knowing what I should do, I joined in. Then I sobbed and sobbed. And actually it wasn't for myself. I just couldn't believe that this neighborhood, these children, these elderly friends experienced these shootings on a regular basis.  There was no hesitation, no panic; everyone just hit the ground until it was over. This was normal life. I in no way felt normal. And candidly, I don't think I ever did again.

On that hot day in Philadelphia, I experienced holiness. An outcast to the world shielded me, a stranger, from danger. He laid down his life for a friend. Sound familiar? I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus meant when he said "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" John 15:13... and that man taught me, we are all friends.

I went to Philly to serve those in need, and I was blessed with an experience that changed the course of my life. No longer could I ignore the terrors of the world, the cities, and the neighborhoods right around me. Life became bigger and my relationship with God became so much better.

Friends, when we engage in mission, our problems don't go away. In fact we may have more. However, the perspective with which we see the world changes. We spend our time more meaningfully and we enjoy the things of life that really matter. It's not always easy, but it's always rewarding. I encourage you to join us in this journey.

May God bless you and all whom you love,

Rev. Michelle

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dead Church Walking

"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double edged sword. I know where you live-where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city-where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.  Rev. 2: 12-17

The Christians in the church in Pergamum were permitting, no doubt in the name of toleration and inclusiveness, the teaching of Balaam. Balaam advised the Midianite women how to lead the Israelites away from God (Num. 25:1-2; 31:16).  He serves as a prototype of all corrupt teachers who seek to deceive believers into compromise and accommodation with worldliness.

This past month in Portland Oregon, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met for its biennial exercise in cultural accommodation.  Little of good note was accomplished.  On the other hand there was the usual laundry list of behaviors reminiscent of the 7 churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  Most offensive and in my opinion apostate was the inclusion of prayer by a Muslim Iman praying to a false god.  This, in the course of what was promoted as worship – not interfaith dialogue, not mutual support, but worship.  In that light, it was both apostate and heretical.  Here is a brief description of what occurred:

The OGA (Office of the General Assembly) leadership deliberately designed this service not simply as an ecumenical affair (inviting leaders from other Christian denominations to help lead) but also as an interfaith event (inviting one leader from an anti-Christian religion — Islam). Not surprisingly, the Muslim iman, Wajdi Said, led the assembly  in a prayer in Arabic from the Qur’an,  and then proceeded to speak a prayer to Allah in English seeking the conversion of all there to Islam, and demoting Jesus to a status equal to other prophets, including non-biblical ones (Ishmael and Muhammad). The final part of the liturgy he read was something he, together with the denominational designers, must have created — it was a prayer based on four passages from the Qur’an (there was nothing recognizable from the Bible), and was in printed form as well as projected on screen for the assembly.

This but one more piece of evidence speaking to the death of a once faithful denomination.  It is not (by any means) the first instance of such heresy and I suspect it will not be the last.

It is not enough to call yourself a church. Those who shun Biblical doctrine and choose cultural accommodation over Christian doctrine simply pander to the world.  Christ's Church exists for a reason.  It has a purpose.  We are called to it to perform a service.  People who attend merely for the "community and social causes" will never bear fruit for the kingdom.

The Nicolaitans condemned in The Revelation of John were a heretical sect within the church. They taught and promoted a theology of accommodation with the cultural norms of their world. They did so to save themselves from the trouble of actually helping those who were caught up in sinful behavior.  This is still true of the formerly mainline and now simply sideline churches.

  • Rather than help the sexually confused and hurting, the modern Nicolaitans condone the behavior.  
  • Rather than stand up for the life of the unborn child, they condone unrestricted abortion on demand. 
  • Rather than learn how to be responsible parents, they neglect discipline. There is a lot of talk about "love." But what about "guidance" and discipline?  
  • Rather than stand up for what the Bible teaches, they appease the world. 

Far from being more compassionate, modern Nicolaitans are just avoiding the price of obeying the word of God.

Every Christian should be prepared to be different from the world around him.  The most common word for believers in the New Testament is hagios, which means different, separate, holy.

On Jun 22 in the 2016 General Assembly (PCUSA) “Allah bless us and bless our families and bless our Lord. Lead us on the straight path – the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad,” and so went the prayer offered up by Wajidi Said, from the Portland Muslim Community, as part of the “first order of business” during the opening plenary session of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The PCUSA was trying to be inclusive. They did not mean to offend anyone. But when anyone or any group ignores the Word of God and tries to accommodate the world, they will offend God and repulse the faithful.

  • When anyone or any group tries to accommodate the world, they offend Christ.  
  • When anyone or any group offers prayer in any other name than Jesus’, they offend God and their prayer is not honored.

--Pastor Jim

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fighting the Good Fight

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7

If you are anything like me, you have been watching the Olympics way too late into the evening (really, gymnastics at midnight, come on). I am mesmerized by the twists and turns, the elation of winning the gold, and most of all the stories of the young people who have arrived at the greatest of the world’s competitions.

My favorite story this year is of Yusra Mardini. She and her sister fled Syria in August 2015. They left Lebanon and headed to Turkey. In Turkey, they boarded a boat to Greece. Thirty minutes into their journey, the boat started to sink as it took on water. She jumped out and swam the boat (and all its occupants) to safety. This took over three hours. Mardini said, “I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I am a swimmer” (CNN).

Yusra Mardini (BBC)
This kind of perseverance, and that of all the athletes who make it to the Rio competition, inspires us to be the best in our own personal arena. It reminds us that we, too, can achieve greatness. It may not be the kind worthy of a gold medal (really, my six year old can swim faster than me in the pool), however, it can be worth more than gold in the Kingdom of God. Christ promised His disciples that they would be able to do even more than He did, through Him! (John 15:12-14). Where is God calling you to serve Him in the Kingdom? If we are faithful and prayerful, God will show us the way.

Best of all, we are not alone. Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit is inside of us and will never leave us (John 14:15-17). As we move through the challenges and hurdles that we face, may we fight against a spirit of timidity (2. Timothy 1:7), and hold tight to the promises that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). So that one day, when we meet our Savior face to face, we can approach with humble confidence saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

-Rev. Michelle

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Melodic View of Calvinism

While we do not spend a great deal of time debating theology here at Village, there is no question about my particular theological stance. I am an unflinching Calvinist.

I am often amused by people who do not really know what that means somehow relate Calvinist thinking to some kind of dour and grumpy "churchiness." The truth is that nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, Calvinistic theology places a strong emphasis on biblical and doctrinal knowledge. Here is why: we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation is necessary for heartfelt worship so that we may gain understanding of God and His ways.

However, Calvinism is not and for that matter has never been, merely cerebral. The roots of the authentic Reformed Christian experience are found in the highest order of spiritual experience.  Calvinistic doctrine is always expressed soaring words and 'songs' of praise. This melody is heard in the worship, the lifestyle and the experience of Reformed Christians everywhere.

Are we serious about our world view? Certainly, but serious does not equal 'dour' or joyless.  Calvin himself spoke of this as a glorious symphony blending several motifs. The motifs he spoke of may well be related to the five points of the later Calvinist mnemonic TULIP. Calvin's motifs were:

  • Trust in the sovereignty of God.
  • The experience of the power of God's grace to save hopeless and helpless sinners.
  • An overwhelming sense of being loved by a Savior who has died specifically and successfully for one's sins.
  • The discovery of a grace that has set one free to trust, serve, and love Christ while yet not destroying one's will.
  • The quiet confidence and poise engendered by knowing that God has pledged Himself to persevere with His people "till all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more."

--Pastor Jim

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A House Undivided

"So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world." James 4:7-8a

Humble yourself, resist the devil, come close to God, wash your hands, purify your hearts – all of these statements are actions. They are things we must do. The Apostle James tells us that we must act. We must choose to act, strive forward, and move toward Christ. Our loyalty is divided James says, do we choose the world or ourselves. Can we claim like Joshua, that as for me and my house we will serve the Lord?

I guess the follow up question is, what does that choice look like for you and me? Where in your life are you choosing yourself, your own needs, desires, pride, over that of Christ's will? I think it's different for each of us.  And I mean in the big things – the character issues. I bet we all would say we should read our Bibles more, pray more, but where do we need to choose Jesus in how we talk, or what we do with our time, or how we treat those closest to us or those that sometimes drive us crazy? Are we choosing to be the city on the hill to the world, or are we choosing what makes us comfortable or feel better about ourselves? Are we being true disciples? Are we standing up when Jesus says go, and allowing God to stretch us for our full potential?

There is a young woman named Katie Davis who is a modern day example of one who chose to no longer be divided, but whole-heartedly follow Jesus. She is about 27 years old. When she was 18 she went on a short-term mission trip to Uganda from Tennessee. "She was immediately captivated with the people and the culture". The next year she went back to teach kindergarten at an orphanage. She was a single teenager who chose Jesus.  "As she walked the children home, she was shocked to see the sheer number of school-aged children walking along the road, playing with their friends, washing their families' dishes or digging in the fields. She learned that most schools in Uganda require school fees for attendance." She started a sponsorship program that now helps 700 children. She saw the poverty and the deaths of children to malnutrition and starvation and started the Masese Feeding Outreach which provides meals to 1200 children Monday through Friday. She started the self-sustaining vocational program to empower women to generate an income, and throughout this time became a mother to thirteen orphan girls who now have a family.

Katie once said, "People tell me I am brave. People tell me I am strong. People tell me good job. Well here is the truth of it. I am really not that brave, I am not really that strong, and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am just doing what God called me to do as a follower of Him. Feed His sheep, do unto the least of His people."  

(Information and image provided by

Maybe she isn't that brave, or strong or spectacular, but she chose on that day at 18, and every day since then, to serve the Lord and to view her life as clay molded by the Master Potter - a living instrument for the will of God. And thousands are changed because of it.

Let us live lives of action, undivided, and focused on the One who holds us close.

--Rev. Michelle

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Loose Leaf Bible

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 
II Peter 1: 16-21

In spite of our foolish attempts to decrease God's standing to something resembling our own, the fact is that God is so completely different (holy) from us that the only possible way we can truly know Him is as He has chosen to reveal Himself to us.  That comes down to two specifics.  First He reveals himself to us in the manifest glory of creation. Then he reveals Himself through the prophets and apostles.

To be sure, the Bible is neither  culturally driven, nor is it politically correct.  It is important that our beliefs are firmly grounded in God's inerrant Word -- and not on human speculation about God. This is why we must trust the Bible as the only infallible rule of life, faith and all beliefs about God. Church councils and confessions, as well as scholarly writings, are useful and helpful understanding and communicating our Christian faith but they are the works of man and are not infallible. The 66 canonical books of the Bible are the only writings which are God breathed an infallible.  As Paul explained to Timothy: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 
II Tim. 3: 16-17

This written revelation traces back to the time when God Himself inscribed the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and then instructed Moses to write Israel's Law and history in the first five books of our Bible. Living according to this written revelation has always been the central tenet of God's Covenant people. Both leaders and laity should know God's written Word, obey that Word, and pass it to the next generation un blemished and unchanged.  Our best confession (IMHO), The Westminster, has stated it this way:

"The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." 

Allow me to be very clear:  Jesus and the apostles believed the Scriptures to be divine revelation, to be studied and obeyed.  When Satan tempted Him, Jesus responded with the written Word (Matt. 4).  When two disciples were on the road to Emmaus, Jesus revealed Himself to them with the words of Scripture.

Paul believed that all Scripture was inspired by God and Peter placed Paul's writing on an equal footing with the books of the Old Testament.  Accordingly, the orthodox and faithful Church correctly regards the apostles' written teaching about Christ to be the completion of the testimony of God begun by Moses. In other words, what the Bible says, God said.  All that the Biblical writers wrote should be received as the infallible revelation of God and God's direct, immutable instructions to His people.  None of us should ever treat scripture as if it were a loose leaf Gospel from which we may remove pages we don't like – or conversely into which we may add things we wish God would permit.

--Pastor Jim