Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sweatin' in Church?

I am not very good at thinking on my feet. Someone will say something...and I'll give a response...and not long after I'll realize that I could have given a much better response. It's especially frustrating to me, when someone says something that is a clear Gospel opportunity...and yet I drop the ball. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been there. Something like this happened to me this past work week...

Lately, as the temperatures have finally been rising here where I'm living in West Michigan, it's been really hot in the place where I work. I think we do have AC...but I'm not sure it's been on or working very well. So, it's been pretty common for us to get pretty sweaty while working. Well, one of my coworkers comes over to another of my coworkers and says, "I'm sweatin' like a [prostitute] in church." Of course "prostitute" is not the word he used...but that's the nicer word that I am substituting. Anyway...the person he said this to, knows that I was a pastor for a year...and so she turns to me and asked me what I thought about what he said. To which I responded that it didn't offend me. This was a true statement...because, who am I to fault this likely unbeliever for his understanding of what it would be like for a prostitute to go to church? I think Christians can often spend too much time "being offended" by what unbelievers say and do. They're unbelievers...how can we expect them to behave like believers? They don't have the Holy Spirit...and if we expect them to act like believers, when they're not...we're communicating legalism, rather than the Gospel of grace that is found in Christ Jesus.

Anyway...there's a rabbit trail...but I realized soon after what I said that while what I said was true...I could have said something much better. I could have asked him about this prostitute in church...why is she sweating? Should she be sweating? I think the statement is communicating one of two reasons why she is sweating. 1: She's sweating because being with the church reminds her of God...and the fact that God knows what she's doing. And in her sin she knows deep down that she is deserving of God's wrath. And so she sweats because she becomes aware of this when she's in church. 2: She's sweating because she feels the judgement of those in the church around her. She can see their scowls, and she doesn't feel welcome...and so she sweats because she is acutely aware of this.

I'll address the first possibility first. Sweating because she is reminded of God's wrath because of her sin is good...it is this sweating that drives one to the cross. Because it is there that she can see God's grace in dying for the sins of the world...it is there that she finds forgiveness. Being with the church, and being reminded of this is good...because, hopefully...if the church is following the example of Christ...they will reach out to this woman in love...and share the Gospel with her. But before I say much more about this...this leads well into addressing the second possibility about why she's sweating...

Should she be sweating because of the judgment of those in the church around her? Anyone who is honest about what the Bible says should know what a correct response should be to this question. We in the church should respond with a resounding "NO!" Because if we're honest...we're no better than her. We were all equally needing of salvation before we were saved. None of us is better than anyone else. It's cliche, but it's true..."the ground is level at the foot of the cross." If we in the church are going to claim to be a disciple of Jesus...we should respond as He would to this woman...and over and over again we see Jesus in the Gospels loving sinners. All over the Gospels we see Jesus was a friend of sinners. He stayed away from the religious elite and spent his time with the needy sinners. He loved them...and was kind and gracious with them. This is the example we are to follow. Now, this doesn't mean we don't tell them they're sinners...Jesus calls the sinners out for their sin...but He doesn't turn them away...He offers them grace and forgiveness. Again...this is how we are to respond to unbelievers who come to our church gathering times.

If we look on them with judgment and disdain...again, this is evidence of a legalistic mind set that says they have to clean themselves up before they can come to Christ. But did we have to clean ourselves up before we came to Christ? No! We came in our brokenness...and our sin-filled state. We should communicate love and grace in our interactions with unbelievers...but also lovingly communicating to them their sin...and the grace of Jesus Christ which offers them salvation.

We could probably argue that the legalist who looks on this woman with disdain should actually be the one who's sweating more than the prostitute. Because over and over in the Gospels we see Jesus being much more harsh with judgmental legalists than He ever was with an open sinner.

So...looking back I wish I had communicated something about this. But God's grace came through...in that later in the week I was able to share the Gospel with this guy in a series of conversations we ended up having. I'm so thankful God uses broken people to communicate His glorious Gospel...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Distorting the Gospel

Back when I was in High School, I was known for being the weird Christian kid (I was in public school). I was pretty outspoken about my faith. I even carried my bible throughout my day for a period of time. Most of my friends where unbelievers, but they respected my difference of belief. One thing I got into the habit of doing back then, as well, was getting mad at my unbelieving friends when they swore/cussed. My thought was, "swearing is bad, so no one should do it." So, if a friend of mine swore, I would give them "the look" of disapproval, or I would angrily say their name. For a while, my friends put up with it, but one day, one of them had enough of me...and she got really upset with me. I can't remember exactly what she said, but it was something like, "Just because you don't swear, doesn't mean none of us are allowed to swear. It's our choice to do what we want." At the time, I didn't understand...I was upset, and hurt...and so I ended up sitting with another group of friends who didn't swear as much. In my mind I was "doing the right thing."

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I'm in the Navy. Sailors really do swear as much as people say they do. But by this point, I had come to realize that it wasn't right for me as a believer, to try to get unbelievers to not swear...but I didn't really have a good, well thought out reason for having this belief. It just seemed to make sense to me...well, today, I had an epiphany...I realized that when we as Christians try to get unbelievers to behave like believers, we are inadvertently distorting the Gospel. Allow me to explain...

When I, as a Christian, tell my unbelieving friend that they have to clean up their life...the message I am inadvertently giving them is that they have to clean up their life in order to become a Christian. I as a professing Christian am trying to get them to legalistically clean up their life...but they can't! They will fail over and over again. The truth of the Gospel states that we can come as we are...with all our failures, and our fears...our sins...and we can find grace at the cross of Jesus Christ. We come to Christ, repent of our sins, and trust in the finished work of Christ...no cleaning up of our life required. The truth of the Gospel says, "Come to Christ and find salvation."

Now, I want to clarify something...this does not mean in our Gospel proclamation that we can't talk about sin. We have to talk about sin...and the fact that we're all sinners. If we are without sin then we don't need the Gospel...so we have to see we're all sinners...because this leads us to repentance and faith. But if all we ever give our unbelieving friends is our list of dos and don'ts...we're not giving them the Gospel...we're giving them legalism...we're distorting the Gospel.

So, talk about sin...but don't end there...we have to get to the grace of Jesus Christ that is found in the Gospel...the truth that though our sin is great, Jesus Christ is a great savior.

See...the Gospel says that you don't have to clean up your life to come to Christ...you come acknowledging your sin...repenting of it, and placing your faith in the finished work of Christ...and then the sanctification process begins...and God, through the power of the Holy Spirit begins His work of "cleaning up our lives." We so often get it backwards, though...

So Christians...let's be careful about how we interact with our unbelieving friends...let's be careful that we are not inadvertently distorting the Gospel.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What is Maturity?

My Niece Emily, and I.
"So, Pastor Jason, do you like playing in puddles?" An older lady asked me this past Sunday when she saw me before Sunday School. I looked at her quizzically, and then I remember what I was doing before and after visiting her at her apartment last week. Then I asked, "Did you see me out of your window?" She responded with, "No, my friend who lives down stairs saw you, and told me." After saying this she bursted out laughing. I was slightly embarrassed...but then I began to explain what I was doing. You see, along the road outside of her apartment, big piles of snow had built up during the winter...but they were melting, and water was flowing through them, creating these really cool canyon looking type things. To me it almost looks like a little mini, cold, Grand Canyon. It's beautiful...and I'm fascinated by it...but also the little kid in me loves to destroy it too...so I enjoy stepping on the edges of these little mini canyons and making the sides collapse. I do similar things with ice on cold mornings in the Spring...I get a strange satisfaction out of breaking the ice...am I the only one who does this?

This interaction got me thinking...what is maturity? And, is it okay for me, as an adult man, and a pastor, to be doing things like this? I think it is...and it's actually healthy...allow me to explain.

We might get the mistaken notion that maturity means always being serious, and not having fun...or at least not having fun with simple things like puddles, and ice, and snow. But, I think this is a pretty shallow and superficial definition of maturity. I think a better way to define maturity is knowing how to act appropriately in the situations you are presented with.

Maturity, is knowing not to burp loudly during a board meeting at your workplace...that may be a fun thing to do with your kids at home...but not at work. Maturity is knowing when to be serious if your kids are misbehaving and their disobedience needs to be addressed.

But, I do not think it is immature of me in the future, when I have kids, to run outside in a rain shower and splash in the puddles with my kids...in fact, I would argue that it's good and healthy to do things like this. The minute I'm unable to do things like this, is the minute I have become too serious and unable to enjoy the simple pleasures God has given us.

God has given us so many beautiful things in creation to enjoy...to go for a walk in the rain and enjoy the feel of rain running down our faces...to go outside and enjoy throwing snow at your girlfriend/wife...to join your kids in swimming in the creek....to get excited while watching ants building their ant hill...to look in fascination at all the blades of grass that are in your yard and how they would look if you were the size of an ant...I could go on. So many things in creation that God has given us...and when we loose the wonder of enjoying them, this is not maturity...it is an unhealthy seriousness.

So, I know that was a lot of rambling...and it wasn't very coherently written...but these are my thoughts on maturity. All that to say...I can play in the ice and snow outside, and this is not necessarily a sign of immaturity.

Making a fort with my nieces, Katie, and Joanna.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Balanced View of the Election...

Depending on what Christians you talk to about the election, you might get one of two responses:

  1. I'm doing all kinds of research on who I should vote for in the election. I'm just really afraid that the person I don't like will get into office. He's just so bad, and I really fear for our country if he gets elected. I might even move to Canada if he gets elected.
  2. God is sovereign over it all. So, frankly, I'm not worried. Whoever God wants to get in office will get into office, so I'm trusting Him. I try to stay away from looking at politics too much, because it only makes me trust God less and fear the situation more.
Which of these responses is correct? Or is it neither? I would argue that a good response lies somewhere in between. We should absolutely trust God that He is sovereign over it all, and we will get the president that He purposes for us to have. But some people can take this view of the situation too far by saying that they won't even vote, or that they won't take the time to be well educated about the candidates before they go to the polls. The truth is, we live in a country where we've been given a voice...we can cast a vote to give our opinion about who should be in office...and we should use that voice! Is God ultimately sovereign over all those votes and who he purposes to get into office will get into office? Absolutely...but God is sovereign over who votes, and how those votes of each individual person will add up. So, we should pray, and we should vote.

In this situation we see the intersection of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. God is sovereign over who will get into office...but we have a responsibility to cast a vote, and to be well educated about the candidates so that we can make an informed decision.

But we also should not let fear drive us. Are their people who are running who are scary? Yes. Can these scary people potentially get into office? Yes. But God is in control. We can trust Him that whoever gets into office, got into office because it was God's sovereign will that he/she get into office. We can and should rest in His sovereignty in this.

So, to summarize...let's trust in God's sovereignty in this election and not fear the outcome, but let's still vote and be informed voters by really doing research to discern which person we think would be the best person to run our country.

That is all...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Desperately Wicked

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
Do you ever have those moments in your life where God shows you once again just how wicked your heart is? I had one of those moments today. I don't want to go into detail...but I was stewing in anger about something that happened to me...and I was stewing on it all morning. Do you know what I mean by "stewing" in this context? I mean, I was really thinking about the thing that made me angry...and thinking about it so much, that I was letting myself get angrier and angrier. Have you ever noticed how we as sinful people seem to relish getting angry? We love the feeling it gives us...but at the same time, I also find myself hating it. Am I the only person who finds himself feeling this way? I hate it because I know it's wrong...I know I shouldn't be letting myself dwell on my anger...but my flesh wants it so badly, that it clings so strongly to it.

This was the war that was going on in my mind this morning. I kept praying, asking God to help me move on...I tried to redirect my thoughts toward other things...but my flesh kept going right back to it. Eventually, after a few hours of this war going on in my mind...God just broke me. And though no audible voice spoke to me...God showed me in that moment that He was using this struggle to remind me just how desperately wicked my heart is. And while this realization hurt like crazy...and I wanted to cry...I was so happy that God reminded me of this.

I am so thankful that God is in the business of growing believers. I'm reminded of this verse:
...we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 
My whole life as a believer in Jesus is a life of growing in sanctification. Each day God is working in me to grow me. It's a cooperative effort, though. He works in me, but I also seek growth through the Word, prayer, church, etc.

But, today I was reminded once again of just how thankful I am that God works in me to grow me. He doesn't leave me on my own...but He's constantly pursuing me...and His pursuit of me reminds me that I am His child. And I'm going to end this post with a text that points to this truth...of God pursuing His children...and of the fact that this process if painful...but it is so good:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:3-11

Sunday, February 7, 2016

LBC Resignation

This morning I read this letter to my church after the sermon I preached:

Dear Lakeview Bible Church Family and Deacon Board,

Four years ago I first began coming to Lakeview when I was Freshman at Northland. After attending services at several other churches, it became clear that God was directing me to come back to Lakeview. On my first Sunday coming back, Brenda Womer came right up to me, remembered my name, and gave me a big hug. I felt immediately welcome. Over the next few months God made it clear that Lakeview was where He wanted me, and so I chose to make it the church I would go to during my time as a student at Northland.

During my 3rd year of attending church here, Pastor Dick asked me if I would take up the position of “Student Pastor.” After seeking godly counsel, and praying a lot, I decided I would take the position. The church voted, and I took up the position in February of 2014. In November of that same year, Pastor Dick decided he would resign from the pastorate at Lakeview on January 1st of 2015, and so I was the natural consideration to take up the position of pastor at Lakeview. That summer I had already prayed a lot about this potential position, and had decided I would take it if the opportunity presented itself, and the church voted me in.  In December of 2014, the church voted me in as Pastor of Lakeview, and in January 2015 I officially took on the duties associated with that office.

It has been a challenging year for me in this position. Challenges that I often had no idea how I would handle. I have felt very ill-equipped to be the pastor of this small church. When I first took up the position of pastor here, it was with the understanding that Northland would be close by, so I could go and continue to be discipled and trained by the staff and faculty there. But as you all know, Northland closed, and so that support has not been available to me.

As situations have come up at Lakeview, I have so often had no idea how I would deal with them. Even with technology that has enabled me to call or email mentors, I have felt the need to have closer mentorship and training with an experienced pastoral staff.

So, it is for this reason, that I have decided to resign from being pastor of Lakeview Bible Church effective March 27, 2016. God has opened doors for me to be able to go down to Grand Haven, MI, where Rachel is from and be discipled by the pastoral staff at her church. My plan right now is to work full time in a secular job, while serving in the local church, and working on an M.Div. on the side online.

In the mean time, between now and March 27th, I will be continuing to preach most Sundays, while preparing to move. I will also be helping the church in whatever way I can to find a new pastor. I do not want to, nor do I plan to slack off in any way my responsibilities at this church in the time I have left. I will seek to love and minister to this church in whatever ways I can before I leave.

The plan right now, should the deacons & this body affirm, would be for Clayton to stay on as Interim Pastor at least until June. At that time, depending on whether the church has found a new pastor, Clayton will decide what is best for him and LBC.

I did not make this decision lightly, and it is with a heavy heart that I made the final decision. It was an extremely hard decision to make, especially because I have grown to love this church so much. I sought out counsel from many godly men, and prayed a lot, and genuinely believe that God has led me to the decision I have made.

Between now, and when I leave, I would like every Wednesday Night Bible Study to be dedicated mostly to praying fervently for the church to find a new pastor. So, if you would like to come out to that, I know it is very important for this church to be seeking the Lord in that matter.

And now, I want to close this with the words of Paul in Romans 11:33-36:
            "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! 
             How unsearchable are
his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. 
Amen."

All Glory Be to God Alone,
Pastor Jason Hunsicker