Pastor’s Al Blog

September 25, 2021                              My Government Mandated Vacation

I usually write my blog of Wednesday, but I awakened this Wednesday with cold symptoms. So, I canceled appointments in case it was COVID, arranged to be tested at the hospital, and slept a lot. Wednesday afternoon I was tested, waited for the results, and slept a lot. Finally, about 5:00 PM, I got the report that I had tested positive for COVID and was instructed not to leave the house. I informed Melissa, ate supper, and went to bed early. Writing a blog had not crossed my mind.

I want to thank you for your prayers and concerns as reported to me by Melissa. I have worked with colds when I felt worse than I do. But, because I am isolated, I get lots of sleep … until yesterday when a pain like a muscle cramp developed deep behind my knee. I could walk it off, but when I would sit or lay down, it would recur.

By late evening, I was getting weary; I was tired of walking the same path through the house; the gnawing ache in my legs was causing anxiety. It was then that I said to God, “I have got to get some sleep if I am going to fight off this virus. Father, PLEASE enable me to get some sleep.”

I asked Cheryl how she went to sleep while her knee was hurting, and she suggested trying an ice pack. The relief was almost immediate, and sleep was instant. I awakened two hours later and wondered how I would get back to sleep. But … a quick trip to the bathroom, removing the towels and ice pack from the bed, and maneuvering a bit to find the right position … and I slept the rest of the night. And THAT is an answer to prayer. “Thank you, Jesus.”

I awoke this morning thinking about the excellent tribute to Ben Thiessen yesterday. (Yes, I joined you virtually.) My experiences on this government mandated vacation are not as dramatic as watching your cash crop threshed a day early by hail. But I am reveling in the legacy which Ben left to his family (and to us) recorded so indelibly in the mind of his son that day in the machine shed: “God will take care of us.”

I feel that God is taking care of me. (Well … why didn’t you just say that?!!)

September 15, 2021                                                   Are You Ready?

On Sunday, Ben Thiessen did not come to church. When Lois checked on him, she found him lying restfully on the bedroom floor. Ben was taken to the hospital where it was determined that he had a massive stroke. He is currently in the Hospice House in Hutchinson. On Monday, we received word that our next-door neighbor in York, NE passed away and his funeral was this morning (Wednesday). Yesterday, our neighbor in Hillsboro did not show up for dinner at the senior center. When someone checked, it was discovered that he had died alone in his duplex during the night.

None of these men were young. They all had some health issues. But none of them expected to be gone this week. (Ben is still with us but that was much in doubt when I wrote this blog) I have been thinking throughout the day about the words of Jesus, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:13

Of course, Jesus was speaking of the coming of the Kingdom. However, it applies with equal appropriateness to Jesus calling us individually to our eternal home.

Paul told the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Philippians 1:21–24

What joy and peace to live with that confidence and freedom – nothing between Jesus and “me” AND nothing between “you” and “me”. Therefore ”I” am ready to die, the passageway to live forever with Jesus; but “I” am also ready to pour out “my” life for “you” if God deems that most beneficial to “you”. May we be ready as well; we know not the day nor the hour.
 

September 8, 2021                                       Can We Program Revival?

I have been deeply troubled by the Assessment Report since sharing it. Not the responses to it. Not the tone in which it was delivered. I have been deeply troubled by the truth it sets forth. Different people pick up on various points; the one that is troubling me is our lukewarmness toward God.

I have told you that God sends me to a church where He can most effectively work on the area of my life that He wants to address at the time. So, here I am at Zoar and I hear God saying as He did to the Church of Laodicea “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16) That does not mean God is about to disown us. It literally means “I am getting nauseous” or “I am about to vomit”.

Being the “fixer” that I am, I can readily see that we need a good, old-time revival – a great awakening. What do we need to do to initiate such a revival at Zoar? I have read of the prayer movements that preceded great revivals of the past; are we to call the people of Zoar to pray, to entreat God to revive us? I am reading through the Bible on a plan that currently has me in Nehemiah — it was the public reading of God’s Word that brought revival to the children of Israel; are we to alter our worship services so we read more Scripture and say less by way of explanation and application? I have read, even experienced, how God changes lives through the practice of spiritual disciplines (I set the spiritual discipline of solitude before you last Sunday); will God revive Zoar if we focus our energies on learning to practice certain spiritual disciplines?

I don’t know the answer to those questions this morning. But this I do know: I am not pleased to think that my lack of spiritual fervor makes God sick. Since Jesus snatched me from a path of destruction and made me a child of God, I have been serious about my relationship with God. When I was twenty, the Holy Spirit convicted me about loving the beautiful, Christian, young woman I planned to marry more than I loved God; so, I broke off our relationship – I wanted nothing to stand between God and me.

But I was young then; now I am old. And God is saying, “You are lukewarm … you have wandered from your first love … you have become content with the comforts of this world.” My spirit cries out, “No, God, NO! I want to finish strong. I want to RUN across the finish line not crawl or (spare me the thought) be carried.”

The Holy Spirit whispers so gently to my raging soul, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19) How am I going to respond? How are we going to respond?
 
 

September 1,2021                                      Where do we go from here?

I want to talk with you briefly about the Assessment Report you received on Sunday. Some saw it as criticisms leveled at Zoar Church. I have been pondering that perception because it doesn’t adequately describe my intent as I understand the term.

So, let’s check out our definitions. The synonyms for “assessment” that I would apply to the process of the last four months are: evaluation, rating, appraisal, or judgment. My understanding of “criticism”, is seen in these synonyms: fault-finding, expression of disapproval, bad press, or character assassination. As I look at those two sets of synonyms, they seem to be separated by a very fine line which I would label “motive”. And, of course, I cannot discern the motives of another person regardless how intuitively skilled I may be.

When I asked those with whom I was visiting, “What are some areas in which Zoar needs to improve?”, that thin line may have been crossed at times. However, I interpreted the responses as “evaluating rather than fault-finding”, as “rating rather than disapproving”, as “appraising rather than giving bad press”, and as their “judgment rather than character assassination”.

I have also learned that a person’s perception is, for them, reality though someone else’s perception may be exactly the opposite. That is why I utilize objective tools in addition to the subjective tools to gain a perception of where we are, as a church, now.

So, where do we go from here? You have elected spiritual leaders, Elders, to determine the answer to that question. Four women were asked to join them to gain feminine perspective in their deliberations. We call that expanded team the Transition Team. The Transition Team will endeavor to discern the action steps necessary for Zoar to move from what we are to the biblical picture of what God wants Zoar to be.

The action steps identified will be prioritized by the Transition Team. Just as the congregation was involved in the assessment process (home visits, Journey Wall, NCD survey), you will continue to be involved (likely in small group meetings and in congregational gatherings) as we move forward.

The most important involvement for each of us is to PRAY. Pray that we will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit convicting us of our lack of passion for Him, our neglect of reading and memorizing His Word, and our indifference to the needs of others. Pray that we will repent and allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives individually. And pray that “the joy of the Lord will be our strength.”
 

August 18, 2021                                    Lift Up Your Eyes and Look on the Fields

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” John 4:35 (ESV)

Many were surprised when Melissa discovered that one of every four children registering for VBS claimed no church affiliation. In Inman, Kansas?!! A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable, but today that is a reality.

I am studying a demographic study for Zoar’s primary ministry area (roughly mirroring the school district) which affirms Melissa’s discovery – 25.6% of those residing in our primary ministry area are uninvolved in any faith. These are your neighbors … they attend the same sporting events you attend … they go to the same political rallies you go to … they shop in the same stores you shop in … they drive vehicles just like you drive … but Jesus has no place in their life.

Many of these people are not antagonistic. Some have never been introduced to Jesus while others have simply gotten busy and drifted away. According to this demographic study, if they did decide to attend a church, they would be looking for a church that offers Bible Study and Prayer Groups (47.5%), Personal or Family Counseling (23.5%), Marriage Enrichment Opportunities (17.5%), and Recreational Opportunities for Youth and Adults. Do you find that to be as encouraging as I do?

So, how do we get the word to them that we are that kind of church? How about using media? 49.9% indicate that television is their preferred media, but only 24.7% think that is a good way for a church to disseminate information. The highest percentage (36.6%) think radio is the best media to use though only 16.0% consider radio their personal media of choice. The preferred media of 31.9% is the local newspaper and 34.3% suggest this is the preferred media by which to spread the word.

It may surprise you that 52.0% say, “Don’t rely on media; print your information and mail it to us.” I was more surprised, however, to learn that 26.4% think a good approach for the church to get word out is to call people and offer to visit them when it is convenient for them; if you disagree, so do 39.0% of your neighbors. And one of every five (20.0%) thinks it is good for a church to go door to door with information.

The most effective approach, however, seems to be that set forth by Jesus in a story recorded in Luke 15, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” I visited with 121 of you during my first two months at Zoar and not one of you mentioned that you came to Zoar because of a media spot. But there were at least three of you who stated that you came to Zoar because someone from the church invited you.

God loves every person in Zoar’s primary ministry area enough to pursue each of them. Get to know them. Pray for them. Invite them to church. Tell them how you have seen and experienced God. Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; they are ready for harvest.
 
 

August 11, 2021                                                           A Planning Model

Today I want to share a few basic truths about a church planning process. This may help you to understand what we are doing in this transition season and why.

Planning begins with knowing where we are going — our destination or mission (purpose). The mission of the church has been given to us clearly by Jesus – make mature followers of Jesus. That is life-long process and it is why we exist.

Next, we need to know where we are. Therefore, we study our church (spiritual gifts, skills, and passions of the people; history, associations, and ministries; and how well we are fulfilling our purpose). We also study our community (ministry opportunities, openness, and interests).

Then, in light of Jesus’ mission for the church and our understanding of our church and community, we prayerfully seek to discover God’s “vision” for our church. What sets us apart from the other churches in the area? What needs and opportunities in our community are uniquely matched to the strengths, gifts, and passions of the people making up our church? It is important that this vision be clearly written and agreed upon by the congregation – not as those who give assent or even support, but as owners … “This is our vision for Zoar.” This is where Zoar is going.

With agreement about Jesus’ mission for the church, His vision for our church (where we are going), and an understanding of where we are now, we can begin to plan how to get there. This plan will then be presented to potential pastoral prospects to see if God has given them a call and a passion for such a ministry as this.

I trust that you are praying for Zoar’s Transition Team for God said in Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” It is not sufficient to plan, our ministry (our work) must be entrusted (committed) to the Lord – without Him we can do nothing.

 

 

August 4, 2021                                                   The Sweet Aroma of Unity

Title: A song of ascents. Of David.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133, NIV84)

Psalms 120–134 are identified as ‘Songs of Ascents’ because they were sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem which was located in a mountainous area. These pilgrims had to ‘ascend’ to get there.

These psalms may also have been so named because of the pilgrims experience as they journeyed. As they ascended to Jerusalem to attend its annual festivals, their hearts ascended within them. If this was indeed the case, these hymns speak very pointedly to us about how we regard public worship. Can we say that our hearts ascend, are lifted up, within us as we anticipate worship in the house of God? Is worship in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people the highlight of the week for us? Do we look forward to it more and more with each passing day?

Psalm 133 is one of these Songs of Ascents. It beautifully strikes the note of unity among the people of God. First, David affirms the beauty of unity (v. 1). He declares it to be both good and pleasant. It is good in that it is pleasing to God, and it is pleasant in that it brings delight and happiness to those who experience it.

Second, David illustrates the beauty of unity (v. 2) by referring to the anointing of Aaron and the dew of Mount Hermon (vv. 2–3).

Aaron’s high priestly work was a unifying factor for the nation. Once each year, he went into the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle with the blood of a sacrifice to offer an atonement for the sins of the people. Israel was not just a political entity – a nation; it was a spiritual entity – a covenant people unified by this blood atonement.

Christians today have the same basis for unity. Like the people of faith in Israel of old, we have been called into a covenant relationship with God and one another on the basis of the blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The oil Moses used to anoint Aaron was made especially for that purpose and in accordance with God’s specifications. This oil was to be poured profusely upon Aaron, even to the point that it dripped from his beard and fell on the border or collar of his robe. So much oil was used that all those who were witnessing the event could easily smell its sweet fragrance.

Unity among the people of God is always fragrant and makes them appealing to unbelievers. But the odor of disunity will drive them away!

David also compared unity with the dew Mount Hermon. The highest mountain in Syria, Mt. Hermon was a reference point. With sixty inches of precipitation annually, it was the main source of water for the Jordan River. And the morning and evening dew in this mountain environment was refreshing to all living things.

So it is with a church that is united in Christ; it has a sense of well-being – a reference point, an overflow of joy and production, and refreshing invigoration. Why? “For there the Lord commands His blessing – life forever” [eternal, abundant]. Unity is the fertile seedbed into which our Sovereign God plants His favor for all the world to see.