Is It Really That Simple?

 

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By Tracy Griess

Lately I have been wondering if we take time to reflect as much as we should.  Is a time of reflection and then response something that we should be actively doing?  As I have been looking back at the last 18 months, both personally and professionally I have experienced a lot of change.  Change has been one of the most commonly used words in my vocabulary.  So I paused recently to think about what that actually has meant and how I responded to it.  I think, to learn from the journey, we have to evaluate and be willing to look back just long enough to stay on the path.

As many of you reading this know, it was just over a year ago that I went through a cancer diagnosis and treatment.  I am happy to report that I am still cancer free and things look good.  I can honestly say however, that is one of the least consequential changes in my life in the last year.  That was sort of the kick off to a period of time when life has seemed like a roller coaster.  Just when you think you are on the straight away, there’s another hill or another free fall.   I am sure almost everyone can relate to this on some level.

So is that it?  That’s all you got, so-to-speak?   If you are reading this and we attend the same church, you can definitely relate to the roller coaster of change.   As a church family we have experienced some ups and downs in the last year.   In my personal life I have experienced several health related diagnoses with my parents and Jason’s parents.  My middle son has graduated and will soon leave for college which changes the dynamics in my home.  Do I love this?  No, but this is simply part of the next phase of life.  Do I love that my parents are dealing with health issues?  No, but this is simply part of life.  I have to wonder, is it really that simple?

As my son graduated, this brought many opportunities to interact with family I don’t get to see very often.  Our graduations are sort of an opportunity for a family reunion.  This particular graduation season was no different and I had several very meaningful conversations and interactions.  I spent time with people who have been important to me my entire life.  While life has taken us to different states, different jobs, experiences and perhaps different ways of life, there were so many times I found myself interacting with people as if no time had passed at all.  The beauty of social media makes it clear that many of us don’t see eye to eye on issues of politics or religion and everything in between, yet none of that seemed to matter.  So I wondered, why not?  Why were these times great even though . . . and you could fill in the blank with so many things.  And at the heart of it was family.  At the heart of the interaction was love.

Is it really that simple?   Faith.  Family.  Love.   I think it is.  I think the reason change doesn’t seem to strand me at the top of the roller coaster is that I have faith that, no matter what I know,  I serve a God who is 100% always on time.  While I may not have been born into this particular church family at FFC, it is just that.  This is my church family.  Family sticks together and when things get tough we just stick it out together.  We must learn to grow together, change together and look back just long enough to stay on the path that God has.  And with our own individual families, it is very much the same.  As believers, God has called us to something different.  Much like with our children, God has different expectations for us.  And we simply must rise to the occasion.  There really isn’t a choice.  And while we will still go through trials, doubts, and even worry, it really is that simple.  Faith.  Family.  Love.  If Jesus is at the heart of every interaction, it really should be that simple.  Have I responded perfectly in the face of all of this change?  Of course not.  Have I looked in the rear view mirror just long enough to learn?  I hope so.  I would challenge you to glance back just long enough to stay on the path.  Ask God to show you where you might make a change.  Ask God to remind you that it really is that simple.   If Jesus is really at the center, you may free fall, there may be a hill, in fact, He says there will be.  But He will show up.  He is 100% always on time.  Sometimes it takes a moment of quiet reflection to remember that.  Take that time.  Reflect on God’s faithfulness.   

 

 

 

A Psalm for the Aged

CaptureBy David Bush

A  pastoral call took me to the oncology floor of a local hospital last week. I had the privilege of spending some time in conversation, scripture, and prayer with a dear saint whose battle with cancer was entering its final weeks.  The individual’s faithfulness to the Lord has had many expressions, but at sixty-two I’m sure there is a temporal belief that much remains unfinished.

We’ve all experienced at least the vicarious discomfort of learning of someone’s passing soon after retiring from a lifetime of full-time work. “Tough break” we think to ourselves. “They finally get to live life on their terms…enjoy their Golden Years relaxing after a lifetime of toil… and then this.”

This perspective is understandable but flawed. Not because it’s wrong to anticipate greater flexibility and a change of pace and responsibilities in our latter years, but because it assumes that retirement from a vocation entitles the follower of Christ entre into a prolonged season of autonomy and disengagement from the work of the church. Scripture knows nothing of the kind of “retirement” that is the expectation of many in the western world.

How should we approach the fall and winter of our lives in light of life’s uncertainty and unpredictability? Scripture does not leave us without instruction in this area. Psalm 71 is a resource that provides encouragement regarding the stewardship of the entirety of the days God gives us. Seemingly written by someone mature in years, it shares wisdom for the past, the present, and the future – all of which are to be leveraged for God’s praise and glory.

 

The Past

“For You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of You. I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day… O God, from my youth You  have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds…Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like You?” –Psalm 71:5-8, 17, 19

The elderly have a valuable commodity we all need: history and perspective.  Are you telling others the history of God’s faithfulness in your life? Do you have stories like this to tell? Or are others quick to hear of hardships that infer God “did you wrong” in some aspect of your life? Like Job, do you have many questions and complaints you’d like God to answer for you?

 

The Present

“In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!.. Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come…Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent…So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come.” – Psalm 71:1, 3, 9, 17-18

Our praise of the Lord never stops. Our service to the Lord never ends. Our reliance upon the Lord never diminishes. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit continues until we die; there is no point at which we “arrive” and coast to the finish line. Are you still growing in your walk? Have you resigned yourself to attitudes and character issues the Holy Spirit desires to transform under the excuse “what’s the use of changing at this point?” Also found here is a strong vision for generational faithfulness. What can you do to assist those coming behind in running the race of faith well?

 

The Future

“But I will hope in You continually and will praise You yet more and more. My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, of Your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge…You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again… You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. I will also praise You with the harp for Your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to You with the lyre…my lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to You; my soul also, which You have redeemed. – Psalm 71: 14-15, 20-23

We see an optimistic anticipation here. God, Who has been faithful in the past and is faithful in the present will continue to be faithful in the future. Some relevant questions for those entering their winter years:

 

  • Am I setting myself up for prolonged ministry in the future? The way you are stewarding your physical body will play an oversized role in how this question is answered.
  • Are the retirement decisions I’m making, making me less available to God? Financial decisions, relocation decisions, the pursuit of hobbies, etc. all have a direct impact on our availability.

 

The reality of ministry at First Federated is this: most of the routine work each week is accomplished by retired or semi-retired people who have decided to remain available for ministry work.  They have stewarded their time, finances, and health in such a way that they are available. Their availability is a blessing to all of us, and their servant attitudes bring glory to God.

The timing and manner of our passing remain in God’s sovereign hands. My visit to the hospital was both a reminder that my plans for the future will ultimately give way to God’s plans and that it’s possible to bring God glory right up ‘til our final breath. May Psalm 71 inform the steps of those who are in or approaching a season of life that can be the most fruitful and satisfying of all.

One For the Books

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By Mike Rose
pastor-cymbala-bio
I would like to use this week’s blog to make a book recommendation. The title is STORM: Hearing Jesus for The Times We Live In. The author is Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, New York. Pastor Cymbala tells of the night when Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York and the always lit, always bustling Lower Manhattan District suddenly disappeared from sight. Cymbala writes: “It was unfathomable to think that parts of New York could just suddenly dissolve into darkness. It struck me that this could be the perfect metaphor for what is happening in the church in America today.”

Although Pastor Cymbala begins the book with his account of the devastation brought by a powerful hurricane, that is not the storm he is really concerned about. The storm Cymbala is concerned with is a storm that is dwindling the gospel light of the church in America. Reporting that nearly 247,000,000 people in America claim to be Christian, (79.5% of our population) he asks why the effects of such a high percentage is not being felt in our culture. Author John S. Dickerson in his work The Great Evangelical Recession gives a likely answer: “…the numbers don’t add up. …the vast majority of those claiming to be ‘Christian’ rarely attend any church, nor do they trust in Christ alone for their salvation, nor do they value God’s Word as the only rule for faith and practice.” In 2012, the Barna Research Group reported that: “46% of churchgoers said their life had not changed at all as a result of church going.” Additionally, “three out of five church attenders said they could not remember a significant new insight gained by attending church services.” Furthermore, “one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting.” Cymbala concludes: “This is a critical warning sign that something is terribly wrong.” I agree!

So how does the church respond to such ominous warning signs? Here is where we get down to the real issue Cymbala is addressing. Instead of falling on our knees to seek God’s face, instead of confessing our sins of apathy and “what’s in it for me mentality”, instead of doubling down on the gospel and power of Scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the church is turning to other means to seek its renewal. Pray tell where has the church been looking? With increasing numbers the church seems to be turning to fads and cultural trends to regain her perceived former glory. If you should read the book, you will find many examples of how this “storm” has been wreaking havoc on ministry after ministry, always promising great results, but seldom delivering. I’ll not take up your time in this blog covering those examples. Instead, I’ll cut to the chase.

The ultimate point that Cymbala makes, one that I whole heartily agree with, is that fads and cultural trends will not win the day in the church. What the church needs, what FFC needs, is an old fashioned, Holy Spirit-authored revival of love for Jesus, each other and a passion to share the good news of Christ with the spiritually lost. The church needs to return to The Word as our final authority of faith and practice. We need to return to prayer as the engine that drives every ministry and every decision. Prayer is our declaration that we are dependent on God and our prayerlessness is a statement that we think we are sufficient in ourselves. We don’t need newer or better techniques, better music, slicker presentations, or fancier facilities. But what is needed is the LOVE of God coursing through our spiritual veins. Love that drives us to forgive one another, encourage one another, help one another, and moves us to share the powerful, life-changing message of the gospel with friends, neighbors, relatives and associates.

Ok… enough of my ramblings. I encourage you to contact Twila Shreves at Hidden Treasures Gifts & Book-Tea-Que, and ask her to get you a copy of the book, STORM. After you’ve read it, I’d love to hear how it impacted you.

Have a great weekend!

The Ultimate Journey

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By Jon Kalvig

As a parent of three kids (8, 5, and 2) I realize the importance of my parenting, my marriage and my behavior. There will be times when I witness my son acting in a way contrary to what Kelly and I teach, yet realizing I have in ways contributed to his wrongdoing. That’s a scary place to be but one that led me to seek my past. Deep in the annals of my life are hurts, disappointments, failed expectations, fears and voids that while experienced in my childhood, are still impacting me today. And guess what – the same is true for you too. While I’ve been proactive in “not going there” with my past, I realized for my own growth and edification – not to mention parenting – it would require me to revisit my adolescent years in a structured format.

Thankfully in our own backyard is a proven ministry designed to do just that. I’ve heard about The Ultimate Journey from several who have gone through the three phases. Each of them, in some way, would describe the experience as “life changing”. Of course that means different things to different people, however it was apparent that this journey would be hard…yet liberating.

Two weeks ago I jumped in and decided I had nothing to lose. Rather than pursuing the thirteen week course, I signed up for the three day (12-14 hours each day) turbo. Going into it, I figured my preference is to have the flu for three days rather than a cold for three months, so maybe that logic would apply here. [insert chuckle]

To help contextualize briefly, I was joined by two others, neither of whom were from this area. Both were Christians, as was our facilitator. The Ultimate Journey makes it clear that while participants needn’t be believers, every aspect of this ministry is birthed in Scripture and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Throughout our three days we often would pray together and share Bible passages. However the emphasis for this first phase is to begin at infancy and start fast forwarding to adulthood, taking plenty of time to engage in those memories (many which I had intentionally lost) and relationships. Having never been part of anything like this before, there were uncomfortable moments at first. And yet, the Lord was beginning to shine light into dark places of my past, which for the most part I had stuffed away. I may or may not have shed some tears in the process. 🙂

Though my struggles are different than yours, what I can tell you is that I walked away with a profoundly different view of our Father. And in many ways I experienced a “coming home” to Him as I came face to face with childhood pains and sensed God come and rescue me. Part of coming home is saying good-bye. And in one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as an adult, I said good-bye to a number of falsities. In doing so, my group hovered around me with acts of compassion and affirmation. Despite having only shared 72 hours of my life with those three members, they have become part of my life symphony.

Now, as I approach my own participation in phases two and three – which will wrap up my Ultimate Journey – I’m here to testify to you. Going back to your childhood may seem like a crazy notion, particularly if you are decades removed from that timeframe in your life. As a Christian, you may believe that you are fully free from all past hurts, disappointments, and struggles; however, I would question whether that is the case.

The day after my phase one turbo, I was reading Galatians 5 (my assigned devotion for the day) and lo and behold the first verse I read was, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The Israelites were tempted to go back to slavery. And like a dog returns to its vomit, we too find ourselves returning to a form of slavery – even when we can’t describe why. In the coming weeks don’t be surprised if you hear more about The Ultimate Journey. It is my hope that many of you will seek to explore your past in order to be more free and fully alive in Christ. Not only can you look into participating through the ministry headquarters (theultimatejourney.org), but I’m looking into how we can host our own ultimate experience to help you find the exodus your soul needs.

Standing firm,
Jon Kalvig

National Day of Prayer

NDP_2017_Home_Slider_F1National Day of Prayer
May 4, 2017

FOR YOUR GREAT NAME’S SAKE

Hear us…Forgive us…Heal Us!

O Lord, Listen! O Lord, Forgive! O Lord, Hear and Act! For Your Sake, O My God…Daniel 9:19

Join others as they join together on Thursday, May 4 in prayer for our nation. Meet at the Iowa State Capitol Rotunda at 12PM for worship and prayer!

 

WHY PRAY FOR AMERICA?

God is sovereign and nothing comes as a surprise to Him. Whether we face fluctuating economics, threats from abroad, unrest at home, or other troubling circumstances, our Heavenly Father is not caught unaware. Through prayer, we are able to tap into His wisdom, strength, protection, and peace. He stands ready to respond to our needs when we humbly ask for divine intervention in the affairs of men.

As we pray for America whose pledge of allegiance recounts that we are “one nation under God,” and whose currency states that it is “in God we trust,” we want Americans to encounter the God who rules over their country. “He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man, He who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth—the Lord God Almighty is His name.”—Amos 4:13

EQUIPPED TO P.R.A.Y.

  • PRAISE – Thank God for what He has already accomplished through Jesus
  • REPENT – Confess your sins and shortcomings. Repent personally and on behalf of our nation. The Lord is quick to forgive when we come humbly to Him.
  • ASK – Ask God to reveal truth, turn our hearts back toward Him, and bring healing.
  • YIELD – Yield to the Lord and recognize that He has heard our prayers and will answer according to His will. He is ready to provide guidance and direction.
  • Pick up a prayer guide on the table in the foyer on Sunday, April 30.
  • Pray for our Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family!
  • Go to: NationalDayofPrayer.org for more information

The Fruit Bearer

 

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By Ruth Susan Bullard

My great-grandmother transplanted a few vines on her property as a young woman and allowed them to flourish in her lifetime. Those beautiful bunches of red-concord grapes produced some wine and much canned preservatives throughout the generations.   Yet, for me, it was an early visual aide to help understand the Fruit of the Spirit; Galatians Ch. 5 in relation to John Ch. 15; The True Vine.  

I was familiar enough with this type of setting to have John Ch. 15 resonate in a metaphorical display as I got to see firsthand the expected growth pattern for a new babe in Christ and their progression to healthy adulthood as a comparison to a thriving vineyard.  Even in my youth, during times of classroom teaching on this Scripture passage, I often reflected back to my grandmother’s vines. I know the effort and care it takes to prune, graft and tie down a row to help yield its worth come harvest time.  

In the initial verses of this chapter there is a distinction between the Father and the Son.  “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman.  It’s clear that the Father is in charge.  Without the nurture and care of its caretaker/gardener, a vineyard will not bear much nor adequate fruit.  In addition, there’s a difference between the Vine and the branches too.  John 15:4 “…the branch cannot bear fruit of itself; except it abide in the vine;…”. I’d like to remind myself that the vine is similar to the root system of a plant as referenced in other passages such as found in Romans 11:16-18.  Verse 16 shares that the (healthy) plant with its root, branch will yield its own kind (fruit) and the branch cannot brag of itself since it gets a life source from the root.  There’s a disciplined training underway here that will eventually result in the evidence of abiding in the True Vine by expressing the Fruit of the Spirit of Gal. Ch. 5:22-23; “…love, joy, peace, forbearance, gentleness and self-control…”.  

In early spring, a newly grafted vine looks like it must be suffering.  The entire plant appears to be in a very uncomfortable state.  That’s why being grafted in and tied down needs the skill of the caretaker.  It takes some delicate pruning with those shears to snip just enough to get rid of the dead twigs and foliage and a gentle touch to bend the branches without snapping off a vital part.  Wire and a bit of tape may be used, as well, to transplant a new shoot to another area of the vine to get better sustenance to aide in its early growth.  It’s a little wet around those wounds as they’re checked regularly for that callous knob to form at the incision sight to ensure its heath.  Aww, but no matter how it looks, it’s clean now with no obstacles and room to stretch out in a new way and possibly a different direction too.  Actually, it’s an exciting time filled with much hope for the future harvest.  

As the months pass, and with a few steps back to view the entire miniature vineyard, it’s obvious to see the branch and the vine are now all intertwined. It’s unified as ONE.  The source of the vitality and its strength is hard to find because it’s difficult to tell where the branch or the vine begins and/or ends, and only then can it truly bear much fruit.  John Ch. 15:16 “…that ye should go and bring forth fruit…”.  Some days we’re better at siphoning from the Vine the needed supply to keep us well fed while pushing the nutrients further for our growth to the tips of our very extremities.  Then suddenly, a blossom or two appears or three shoots grow from OUR branch that may stay or need to be snipped and placed elsewhere for its maximum growth.  It’s just a matter of time, because fruit doesn’t lie.  Matt. 7:16-20 “Wherefore  by their fruits ye shall know them.”  It’s a confident security in the Caretaker and His plan.   Now that’s exciting!  

Some of the fondest seasons of my life were during the times that I could spend early mornings with my Lord among the few vines that we had left.  Sadly, that generation is long gone now, and with it, the vines too.  I’ve learned some hard things there.  Nevertheless, I love to reminisce of our former walks there and to ponder with great anticipation for His next steps. As a grafted branch, the training seems too intense at times, the pruning somewhat painful but all of it is very necessary to produce what the Creator designed the Plant for,… fruit!  Psalm 1:1-3.  

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The Fruit Bearer

Early in the morning before the first light, I peek through my window and view such a moonlit sight.  The field just beyond my pane displays rows of young and mighty soldiers naïve of their soon journey through pain. They’re neat and tidy now – proud as trimmed vines should be.  Although, not really knowing of the trials that await them as a disciplined vineyard they shall be!  This army cast out as far as the eye can see reminds me of these,…

Springtime, when it’s filled with youthful energy!  Then the roars of summer’s heartache suffering sore.  Nor any sooner shall come harvest time, “my favorite zest-time,” filled with days of hot cups of tea while enjoying the vineyard’s nice cool breeze.  Winter is time for rest.  Yes, much deserved rest indeed.

Yet, here I gaze out beyond my windowpane.  I consider the days to be.  If one weary troubled vine, I see, should struggle with such uncertainty, would grieve me enough to dress and head-out to care for the vines every morning before the first light.

Ruth Susan Bullard

 

THE MYTH OF A COMPARTMENTALIZED LIFE

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By David Bush

I’ve developed an online fitness challenge that typically runs in the spring and fall. People from across the country looking for a biblical perspective on health and fitness join together for 28 days to learn nutritious eating habits, healthy movement, and most importantly, how the gospel informs our body stewardship.

I don’t know most of the people wblog textho take part in these challenges as they are often friends or relatives of those who have encountered INSPIRE or Fit For The King events or resources. One such participant asked to be dropped from our faith-based challenge after a few days and moved to another challenge with a different fitness emphasis. She explained her reason for leaving:

“I didn’t realize this was a Bible and religious teaching weight loss challenge. Even though I’m very religious I like to keep my Bible study separate from my exercise/diet study. Can I switch to a challenge that is more fine-tuned to me?”

Without realizing it, this lady just articulated with great clarity both the current malaise experienced in our churches as well as the predominant thinking of our culture as it relates to matters of faith. Even for “religious” people, matters of faith and spirituality have little bearing and influence in the practical aspects of our multifaceted lives. Our faith is simply one more compartment in which we can file away inspirational or moral “truths” that fit our lifestyles and worldviews. We can summon them from the moth balls when needed.

We should be honest and admit that while we might not write the words referenced above, we all too often live compartmentalized lives as well. We speak often of compartmentalizing grief,  anger, vocations, finances, and more as if the gospel holds no sway in these matters. Perhaps we see no gospel relevance, or, more likely, we desire no gospel intervention in areas of our lives we wish to remain unredeemed.

For the follower of Christ, this is not an option. According to Scripture, it’s not even possible:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”   – 1 Thessalonians 5: 6 – 24 (ESV)

Resisting the sanctifying work of the gospel is tantamount to “quenching the Spirit” – the indwelling agent of redemptive transformation. Our spirits, our souls, and our bodies are involved in this overhaul that is both God’s right and responsibility.

In the absence of transformed lives, much has been made in recent years of evangelistic processes and activities that can “reach the lost” and “make the church relevant again.” But into this transformative void author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth rightly asserts in her book Adorned: Living out the Beauty of the Gospel Together:

“There is simply NO more powerful tool of evangelism than for Christians to believe and demonstrate the doctrine and gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Our penchant for compartmentalization not only fosters spiritual turmoil as we wrestle with the Holy Spirit for control of our lives, it also presents a hypocritical front to a world hungry to see a gospel that works. In this regard German philosopher Heinrich Heine said:

“Show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

For the glory of God and the sake of the lost, may we allow the redemptive power of the gospel to infiltrate, influence, and inform every area of our lives.