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“Holy Week” – Pastor Matt Ragain

Posted by on Apr 13, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

     In 2001, I was preparing to go to college.  After spending the summer waiting tables, I drove to Missouri with my parents.  The week leading up to my first class was a whirlwind of activity and preparation.  I needed to sign up for classes, meet my roommate, move into the dorm room, buy books and say goodbye to my parents.  That is usually how life goes.  When a momentous event is coming, preparation and activity come before the event.  This is true for weddings, having children and starting new jobs.

In the gospel of Matthew, the week before Jesus’ crucifixion is no different.  Roughly 1/3 of the entire book of Matthew takes place during this time.  Something big was happening and Jesus was preparing for it.  Jesus did so many things in such a short period of time.  He cleansed the temple, cursed a fig tree, ate the Last Supper, prayed at the garden of Gethsemane, and he taught.  Jesus gave many parables, including the parable of the Ten Virgins.  He confronted the religious establishment over their hypocrisy.  Jesus also gave warnings to those in Jerusalem over the imminent judgment of God.

As we read through Matthew we come to realize that Jesus was not just preparing himself for his death, he was preparing his disciples and followers.  As we let the words of Matthew guide us, we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ death.  Holy Week is such an important time of the year.  It’s the deep breath before the plunge.  How do you prepare your heart for Good Friday?  What are some practical things you can do to get ready?

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“Stuck” – Cassi Piper

Posted by on Apr 13, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

 

“Be still and know that I am God.”                 Psalm 46:10

Last week my son missed our Wednesday night children’s program at church. No, he didn’t have a fever or cough or some other ailment. Nor did he have somewhere else to be. He wanted to go, he simply couldn’t. He was stuck.

The theme for last week’s program was to dress up like the person you wanted to be when you grew up. My son announced he wants to be a deep-sea diver. So, I rifled through our bin of dress up clothes and found a makeshift oxygen tank we had made for a fireman costume. I then searched through the garage and found a snorkel and mask. Convinced these would make a great deep-sea diver outfit, I proudly presented them to my son. What ensued was a tantrum, the likes of which I have not seen in recent history.

“I want a tube that connects my snorkel to my oxygen mask!” My son demanded. “I want a wet suit!” I gently explained to him that I didn’t have those items. “How can I be a deep-sea diver without proper equipment?” He fumed. Trying to be accommodating I thought up several possible quick alterations to his outfit that might fit the bill. All were refused.

An hour later it was time to go to church and my son was still in a tailspin. Storming all over the house with hands being thrown around without care for anything in their path, my son simply could not let go of the expectation he had convinced himself he was entitled to. Exasperated, I left him behind with my husband and toddler.

As frustrated as I was, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I too have been stuck. I remembered the day our home of eleven years was sold in a sheriff’s sale. What I had feared for months was finally official, we were in foreclosure. “We tried so hard!” My spirit yelled. “How do I explain this to our kids?” I questioned. “Where are we going to go?” God tried to calm my spirit, to remind me that He was there, that He had it figured out, but I didn’t want to hear it. “I will never feel like any other house is home!” I cried.

Fast forward three years, two moves and too many Godly interventions than I can count. Today we found out that we can purchase the dream house we never before knew we wanted. No, it’s not huge, or fancy or anything we would have coveted prior to losing our previous home. But God used our loss to change our desires and priorities and led us to a place of peace and rest. For the first time, we truly feel we are home. Had I remained stuck in my mindset of anger and fear, we might not ever have realized God’s awesome plan for this next chapter of our lives.

It’s never too late to get unstuck. Just take a deep breath, be still and listen. God is bigger than our circumstances and wants to use them to shape us into His likeness. It can be messy and painful and hard, but what an amazing blessing and encouragement it is when we can look back and recognize His faithfulness and provision all along!

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“The Perception that Matters” – Pastor Mark Coughlin

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Last week one of the readings from Our Daily Bread made me laugh – and also made me think.  Here’s the gist of the article by Sheridan Voysey:

To celebrate Sir Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday, the British parliament commissioned artist Graham Sutherland to paint a portrait of the celebrated statesman.  Churchill reportedly asked the artist, “How are you going to paint me?  As a cherub or as the Bulldog?”  These were Churchill’s two favorite perceptions of himself by the British people.  Sutherland replied, “I will paint what I see.”

Churchill was not happy with the results!  Sutherland’s portrait had Churchill slumped in a chair wearing his trademark scowl – true to reality but hardly flattering.  After its official unveiling, Churchill hid the painting in his basement.  Later it was secretly destroyed.

Like Churchill, most of us have an image of ourselves that we want others to have of us too.  We might want them to see us as successful or godly, friendly, beautiful or courageous.  And we will go to great lengths to conceal what we feel is our “bad side.”  Maybe deep down we fear we won’t be loved if the real us is known.

But listen to what God said to the people of Israel, when they were at what they felt was their worst.  “You are precious and honored in my sight and…I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)  Even though God had allowed them to be captured by their enemies, He said he knew them by name and he was with them through every humiliating trial.  They were secure in his hands and precious to Him.  They were loved.

God says the same thing to us.  He knows the real you.  When we believe that and let it really sink in, we will find ourselves more secure in God’s approval and less motivated to need the approval of others!

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“A Tale as Old as Time” – Pastor Matt Ragain

Posted by on Mar 15, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 12.05.52 PM

I’m sure many of you have heard about the controversial remake of The Beauty and the Beast.  The controversy concerns a character who is apparently homosexual.  The extent to which this is shown is unclear.

I am usually not one to jump in to the pop-culture foray.  It’s too dangerous.  Very often, you can look foolish.  I remember reading about how Disney’s Frozen was promoting lesbianism.  Frozen did no such thing.  So it’s important to not react when movie marketers do their movie marketing (or when bloggers do their blogging).

Yet in the case of this new Beauty and the Beast, I hesitate.   It seems that Disney is celebrating this character LeFou’s sexual confusion.  The director has even lauded the fact that this is the first openly gay Disney character.  I think “openly gay” means the character does something that is undeniably gay.

How do Christians respond?  I’m not sure about you, but my first response wasn’t shock.  It shouldn’t surprise Christians that non-believers have different worldviews.  But this doesn’t mean I’ll go see the movie.  Just because I’m not shocked, doesn’t mean I will put my children or myself in an environment to witness/celebrate something sinful.

The closer I get to my Father in Heaven the more I’m challenged about how I spend my time.  There is a little mountain somewhere at the garbage dump filled with my old CDs and DVDs.   There are many things that are simply incompatible with my life in Jesus.  So my biggest concern isn’t The Beauty and the Beast, it’s my family and my heart.

In John 17:15 Jesus prays that his disciples would not be taken out of the world but protected from the evil one.  Jesus never advocates an us-versus-them worldview.  We are to desire good for everyone, including the makers of The Beauty and the Beast.  To desire the good for everyone requires that we participate in the culture.  But Jesus isn’t praying for protection because he can’t think of anything else to pray.  He’s praying for protection because there are real dangers to his disciples.  So Christians are left to interpret what is valuable and what is potentially dangerous.  Could this movie controversy be something that is completely made up and designed to make people look foolish? Sure.  But as a husband, father and pastor, I error on the side of caution.

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“God’s Word” – Pastor Matt Ragain

Posted by on Mar 8, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

thI recently read an article about the Bible.  The author was arguing that the Bible is simply a book that teaches us about God.  He said the Bible is not God, and it should not be worshipped as though it was.  His logic went like this, “the Bible is just a book made up of pages and ink—and while it might describe parts of God—it is not God himself.  Therefore we shouldn’t put the Bible on a pedestal to be worshipped like an idol.”

I admit I found this author to be silly, and could not take him seriously.  I have never seen or heard of someone pray or sing to a Bible.

And yet, how does one separate what a person says from the person?  For example, if my wife texts me to pick up some milk on my way home, I cannot easily separate the text from my wife.  If I decide to ignore her text, she will ask why.  I could say, “Yes sweetie, I got the text but the text isn’t you.  A text is simply a function of technology that I can comprehend.  How can I possibly know what you want from something that isn’t you?”

So if the Bible is what God wants to communicate to us, then we tether ourselves to it.  We become inseparable from the Bible, not just because it’s the best way to understand God, but also because it comes from God.

Imagine any situation where a loved one passes away.  The letters and communications become invaluable to those left behind.  Yes the letters are not the physical person, but they communicate who the person was better than anything else left behind…say like a sock or a photo.  How much more important is God’s Word when Jesus says, “heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear (Mark 13:31).”

To separate the Bible from God would be like getting married to a ghost.  Sure you said your vows, but you heard no vows in return.  The only proof of matrimony is the occasional flying object through the air.

We remember that it was God’s Word that put the planets into motion and made everything that has been made—John 1:1.  If God’s Word did all that then to love God is to love his Word.   If the Bible comes from God through individual authors to you and me, then we bask in its glory because the glory comes from God.

This author seems to think that people take the Bible too seriously.  My conclusion is that we don’t take it seriously enough, and that’s our biggest problem.

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“Reason to Smile” – Cassi Piper

Posted by on Feb 22, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 11.36.24 AMI have fought the good fight,I have finished the race,I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for methe crown of righteousness,which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.                                      2 Timothy 4:7-8

My eight-year-old daughter skied a black diamond her first day on the slopes. I was shocked. My husband, a competitive skier in his youth, couldn’t stop grinning. My daughter couldn’t get back on the chair lift fast enough so she could try it again. Sure enough, she skied it again, and again, and again. Four times she conquered that steep hill, each time improving her form and control.

 

It started with over a year of begging. Her big brother got to go skiing so when did she get to go? After finally arriving at the slopes in near perfect weather, we quickly got her fitted for boots, helmet and skis and away she went to a one hour beginner lesson. Soon bored with the bunny hill, we spent the day taking our time as the three of us wound down gently sloping green circles and slightly taller blue squares.

 

Then she announced that she was going down a black diamond. I was a bit nervous. My husband was all for it. I could tell my daughter was scared, but her determination won out. So, down we went. My husband stayed out in front, coaching her slowly down the hill, while I followed behind in case she lost her balance. Slowly, steadily, shakily, she made it to the bottom.

The second time she had a bit more confidence and by the fourth attempt my husband had stopped coaching altogether and let her go her own pace as he stayed back. My daughter’s ski instructor spotted one of her attempts while riding overhead on the chair lift and her happy shouts of surprise and encouragement put a big smile on my daughter’s face. Once my own shock wore off, I couldn’t stop smiling either.

And so it is with our heavenly father. When we slowly, steadily, shakily take a step of faith He is ever so near, encouraging us to move ahead, ready to catch us if we stumble. And as our faith grows He calls us deeper, to follow Him into that which is uncomfortable or unknown, all for our own good. And when we have finally finished our earthly race, there He stands. Smiling.

It is my prayer that this week, whether God has you meandering down beautiful green circles or fighting your way through enormous moguls, that you will realize what a good father He truly is. He created us, He knows us best, and He gives us all that we need for the journey He has laid before us. Knowing that should make us smile.

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