The Weekly Epistle 8/23/23

Hi Church Family,
A little boy was in church for the first time. He watched as the ushers passed around the offering plates. As the plates came to his aisle, the boy said loudly, “Don’t pay for me daddy. I’m under five.” 

We all know that Sunday worship is not about admission to some show. But why do we give? We might answer, “Because the church needs money”- sure that’s true, but the reason is bigger than that. Because of some expansion project? Hopefully our vision is greater than that. Because we are commanded to do so. Hard to argue with that one. More than that. We often struggle with the why behind the giving. 

In First Chronicles chapter 29, David praises the Lord for the generosity of the people for materials towards the building of the temple. The people did the giving. It was their choice! Several times in this praise to God we see the word, “Willingly” tied to their giving. Why did they give and give so willingly? 

What David does here is to pull back the curtain to what was really going on. Don’t miss the main thing. The best explanation to account for the generosity of the people here in First Chronicles is that God was in and behind their giving. It’s all about God. God was in it and behind it. 

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (29:14). The end of verse 16 says, “It comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” 

Why give generously? It is the logic of stewardship. He owns it all. We receive it from His hand as a loan. We lay it aside for Him. We give back to Him. 

God was in it and behind it all. As your pastor, this is what I want for you in giving to this church or any project in this church- that it is a work of God in your heart so that it is all about Him. The God who owns it all, loans it all, for the purpose of revealing to all who He is. 

Church, time and time again I have witnessed your generosity. Just recently nearly $11,000 ($10, 945) was given to purchase audio Bibles for the people of Dominican Republic who are unable to read. Praise God for your willingness. 
As a church, we are coming to the end of our fiscal year. We can praise God for the monies we have received this past year. God’s hand is in it. 

As we begin a new fiscal year (September 1), we must keep in mind that the God who owns it all, loans it all, for the purpose of revealing to all who He is. The hope is that through our giving more people come to faith in Jesus Christ, are baptized, and discipled to become followers of Jesus who disciple others. 

For that, we can give not reluctantly or under compulsion, but rather cheerfully. May many lives be impacted through our giving this coming year, all for His glory and praise! Pastor Brian 

The Weekly Epistle 8/9/23

Hi Living Hope Family,
Back many years ago while I served in upstate NY, I had the privilege of meeting up with a young guy, who had such a servant’s heart, and a ton of love for people, but especially the people of Japan. God provided me the opportunity to speak into this guy’s life on various occasions. But I was the one encouraged and refreshed by him. 
Since that first encounter with Paul Mackey, he met his wife Kiki, added three sons and then finally moved to Japan where he could learn the Japanese culture, make friends, and share the love of Jesus. The Mackeys will be giving us an update this coming Sunday at the end of each worship service. Here is a snapshot of what God has been doing in their lives and their church. 
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Japan for 2 1/2 years already. We’ve grown and learned so much in our time here. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy focused on learning Japanese and adjusting to Japanese culture. Our boys chatter away in Japanese with local kids at the park or at church, and Kiki and I often spend time with Japanese friends over a meal or coffee speaking almost entirely in Japanese. We still have a long ways to go, but we’re so blessed by how much God has grown our ability to live with and love Japanese people in their own language. 
In our first year here the local church we work with, Dendoukan, lost their pastor and has been going through a very difficult time since then. However, in answer to your prayers, and as the fruit of us and others laboring within the church, God is growing the church and blessing our fellowship there. Kiki has been part of newly started children’s ministries in the church, and Paul has been added to the preaching schedule, as well as meeting with leadership about writing a constitution for the church, cultivating Christian community, and helping the church grow in its grounding in God’s Word. We’re so thankful for the incredible work that God is doing at Dendoukan and are excited about what He has in store for the future. 
We’ve also continued partnering with several other Japanese churches and a seminary in producing music videos for kids that teach the New City Catechism in Japanese (the Catechism teaches basic Bible teachings in a question and answer format). We love this opportunity to use our video skills to help create valuable resources for churches all over Japan. We’re actually using these same videos as part of the children’s ministry at Dedoukan as well.
Overall, we feel so blessed and thankful for what God has been doing in our lives. There’s so much more to share, and we’re so excited for what God has in store for the future. We’re looking forward to coming home from June until October this summer, and hope that we will be able to see many of you in person. The Mackeys 
I look forward to seeing them at the picnic and to hear more of what God has been doing! 
Blessings, Brian

The Weekly Epistle 8/2/23

Hi Church Family,

You have seen the bumper sticker that says, “Life is uncertain: eat dessert first.” How about “Life is uncertain: embrace it.” 

It is no secret that one of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. You can draw your own conclusions as to what that says about me, but I want to share some thoughts from Ecclesiastes chapter 11. In chapter 11, we see the phrase, “You do not know,” 3 times in the first 6 verses. 

End of verse 2 says, “You do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Verse 5, “You do not know the path of the wind.” And then in the middle of verse 6, “You do not know which will succeed.” 

In other words, so much about life is uncertain. The writer of Ecclesiastes takes some ordinary examples from everyday life of merchants and farmers to make his point that if you wait for all the information to come in before doing anything, you will never do anything. If we wait for ideal conditions or for all our questions to be answered or for everything to fall into place before we do anything we will do nothing. As one person put it, “Life is a mystery to be lived out rather than a problem to be solved.” 

Are you paralyzed by uncertainty? Are you stuck in over analysis? Are you overwhelmed by things you don’t understand? Do you sense that God would have you launch out in a new direction, but you are perplexed by the details? Listen, you do not know how it will all come together. You do not know the twists and turns of life. Face it; embrace it, you do not know. Don’t let it intimidate you, but rather embrace the uncertainties of life and keep moving. 

Some people spend their days observing the obvious and noting the inevitable. There are some things we cannot change. We can’t change the weather, taxes, the final scores of games, people’s responses, passing of time, and so on. 

Earlier in the same chapter, Solomon says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” 

Life with God is an adventure. If we wait until we have absolutely perfect conditions, we are like the one waiting on the wind. What are we doing sitting around watching the wind? Do something. Get on with life. Why be preoccupied with whether the clouds bring rain, or it is sunny? Pursue this thing they call life. Life is passing by. We don’t get a second chance at this. 

In what way are you waiting on the wind? Have you put your life on hold until things improve? Is it true that if you leave things alone, you leave them as they are? No! As G.K. Chesterton put it, “A white fence post left to itself will soon be a black fence post.” Each day we are faced with a decision to stay the same or to change. 

There are many things we do not know- those are the uncertainties of life we must embrace.
But we do know the One who harnesses the wind, who dispenses the rain, who hand-forms the baby in the womb- He is the One who is in control. So go about our business leaving the results with God. 

Blessings, Pastor Brian 

The Weekly Epistle 7/26/23

Dismay lays hold of the Christian’s heart when she looks for Heaven on Earth. Her heart aches with despair when the washing machine breaks (again), and she is left to wash the dirty underwear of her four little boys in the kitchen sink (again). Her heart floods with grief when her dream of owning a humble little home with a yard for her boys to play sinks under a sea of rising inflation. Her heart burns with anger as she wonders why God denied her the joy of having a little girl—then her heart utterly fails under the crushing guilt that comes with wondering why her four little boys are not enough. 

Dismay lays hold of the Christian’s heart when he looks for Heaven on Earth. His mind spins when the washing machine breaks (again) right after he fixed the dryer (again). His heart sinks as he watches his poor wife wash clothing where dishes ought to be washed, and he wrenches on the machine that should be doing the washing for her. His self-worth topples over as he considers that they cannot afford both a new washer and to pay the rent (let alone buy a house). 

In the 1980s, Belinda Carlisle sang, “Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth.” Carlisle might have been a good singer, but she was a terrible theologian. Heaven is certainly not a place on Earth, and when we look for Heaven on Earth, we are bound to be dismayed. 

The psalmist sings, 
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
Whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 
They go from strength to strength,
                                      Till each appears before God in Zion.”                                                                                                             
(Psalms 84:5-7)

Hope overwhelms the Christian when she sets her heart on pilgrimage. Joy occupies the mind of the Christian when he sets his heart on pilgrimage. Their very presence turns places of despair into places of blessing. As they journey ever closer to the true Heaven—the Presence of God—they throw off the shackles of temporal despair and find strength and renewal. 

Maybe life is all peaches and cream right now. Or maybe you can relate to broken washers and sinks full of dirty underwear. Regardless, we’re all on pilgrimage. When we fight it, we are bound to encounter despair. When we embrace it, we are bound to encounter Jesus. 

Journeying alongside you,

Pastor Dan

P.S. Sorry to have gotten that song stuck in your heard!

The Weekly Epistle 7/12/23

Hi Living Hope,
Want to hear a quick joke about Jehovah Witnesses? I knew you would, so here it is. It is a short joke, so pay attention. Here goes the joke, “Knock, knock.” 

That’s it. If I have to explain it, then it doesn’t work. 

One time many years ago there was a “knock, knock” on the door of my apartment and there stood two Jehovah Witnesses. I was going to Bible college at that time and preparing for the ministry, so I was up for the challenge. They began immediately with their opening hook, “We are making just brief call to share an important message with you.” They mentioned a passage of Scripture in the book of Revelation and asked my opinion on it. 

My response to them was simple, “We disagree on one fundamental issue- I believe that Jesus is God and you do not believe that Jesus is God. We both can’t be right.” 

I then invited them to a further discussion in my home at a future date. If they could agree to a couple of ground rules for this discussion, then I would be willing to sit down to talk with them. Remember, I was attending Bible college, so I felt prepared to “take them on.” 

It didn’t go as well as I anticipated. At one point, one of them called me arrogant. But not for the reason you might think. I was arrogant because I had certainty of my place in heaven. “No one can be sure of their salvation,” he said with disgust. This is what keeps them motivated to walk through neighborhoods and preach their message to strangers. It is a work done for Jehovah God that might earn them favor with God. 

One problem with a works system for salvation is, “What is good enough?” Is it 51% good or 90% good? Or will God grade me on a curve? Is it doing my best “most of the time.” And what does “most of the time” even mean? Is good enough, good enough? There is no assurance at all. What a way to go through life. 

God wants us to know we are saved. The beauty of the gospel is that it is all about God’s grace and His faithfulness in keeping His adopted children to the end. “Nothing can pluck us out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). And “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:35-39). 

Scripture speaks of those who receive God’s gift of grace as “under no condemnation,” and “sealed,” “adopted,” “fully redeemed,” and that we “have eternal life.” We have it. We cannot lose it. That isn’t arrogant! That is a humble recognition of God’s grace and His faithfulness to keep us to the end. 

Is eternal security a loophole in God’s plan? Will some live recklessly? Does this teaching invite and almost excuse living anyway we want, once saved? That is a topic for another time, but scripture is clear that we should not presume on God’s grace. Check out Romans 6. 

A true believer wants to please God. A true believer wants to get right with God when sin interrupts that relationship. A true believer can walk in the assurance that our eternal salvation is based on God’s ability, not ours. Now about those who seemed to have fallen away. Remember this, we may draw a conclusion that they are not saved, but we are in no position to make a final determination about the security of others. We do not have all the information. 

Blessings, Pastor Brian