Did you ever look at the gospels and notice the kind of people who came to Jesus? I’m not talking about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others who came to trip him and trap him. I’m thinking of the ones who came just to hear him and to be with him, who came to be healed or blessed.
There was Zacchaeus, the “wee little” tax collector. Shunned because of his professions, hated for his relationship with the Romans, made fun of because of his height, Zacchaeus probably had few friends. Wealthy he may have been. Well liked? Not on your life. But he found in Jesus one who was a friend to “sinners” like himself. (Wasn’t one of his own disciples a former tax collector?) And so he climbed a tree …
There was a woman who was subject to bleeding. For twelve years she had not only been in misery physically, but had been ceremonially unclean, unable to live a normal life religiously or socially. Unable to have children. Unable to hope for a better future. The doctors tried their medicines, took her money, and pronounced her incurable. But she had heard that Jesus was different. His touch had opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead. Unnamed and unnoticed, she slipped through the pressing crowd toward Jesus. If only she could touch his cloak …
There was John the Baptist. Before Jesus came preaching in Galilee, John had prepared the multitudes for him. Calling the people to repent in the greatest spiritual revival the people had ever seen, preaching the coming kingdom of the Messiah, and finally pointing his disciples to Jesus himself. Not long after, though, he was arrested by Herod, and John knew he was not long for this world. Doubts began to seep into his mind, questions for which he needed answers. Was the price that he was about to pay spent in vain, or was Jesus really the coming King. And so he sent messengers …
A Roman centurion with a sick servant. A military mob wanting a king. A synagogue ruler with a dying daughter. A young ruler wanting to know if he had done enough. All of them had one thing in common: desperation. They all came thinking that maybe, just maybe, this preacher from Galilee held their answers.
And still they come. Those whose needs go so much deeper than surface level. Those who have tried solution after solution, only to see failure after failure. The desperate. And still he mends souls and puts lives back together. He is still the Prince of Peace. What a wonderful Savior we serve!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Yes, it’s been a year. One year ago this past week the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. York College decided all classes should be held online instead of in the classroom. It was a year ago that the entire East Hill congregation met together for the last time. We went online for a while, then went to two services.
Few people could have foreseen the devastation and disruption the coronavirus would cause. Few people would have imagined that we’d still be dealing with its effects a year later. But I have to wonder—what have we learned? Are we hoping to “return to normal” as if nothing had happened, or are there some lessons we can take away from this past year? Let me share two truths that have been reinforced for me over the past year.
1) Technology can be a blessing—and a curse.
Most of us have spent countless hours online this past year. Zoom meetings, Google Meet, Facebook Live have become newly acquired skills for many of us. Many participate in worship services and Bible classes online. Many more have regular conversations with family and friends whom we cannot see in person.
While that cannot take the place of face-to-face conversations, imagine what life would have been like without this technology available. Technology has allowed us to stay in contact with others while still maintaining physical distance. It has allowed us to maintain some sense of community, even when we are not meeting together as an entire congregation.
However, technology has also allowed lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories to spread at an unprecedented rate. It has helped to create an environment that is toxic, and has led to greater polarization between friends, family, and between brothers and sisters in Christ.
Every technology has both positive and negative uses. The internet and social media can be used for good or ill. It takes honesty, integrity, and good will for technology in general, and social media in particular, to have positive benefits.
2) Church is not about activities—it’s about people.
The church calendar has been pretty sparse over the past year. No mission trips, no youth rally, no potlucks. For a while we had no in-person worship services or Bible classes.
And yet the church did not stop existing. People still studied the Bible with each other, prayed for each other, cared for each other. Encouragement cards were sent. Phone calls were made.
Do I miss all the activities? Of course I do. But church is about so much more than what happens in this building for an hour or two each week. Church is about the daily conversations about Jesus, the little acts of service done in his name. This is where the real work of ministry is done.
So as we move forward, let’s learn from our experience this past year, and allow this experience to make us a better, healthier congregation.
~ Terry Seufferlein
Who isn’t inspired by Gideon?? There’s something we love about a reluctant leader. A small town boy, “the least of the weakest”, who followed God’s calling and, one fleece at a time, grew into the confident fighter who liberated Israel with 300 men. Fear and doubt turned into faith and rout.
Gideon’s calling came in desperate times at around 1100 B.C. A Bible reader first meets Gideon when an angel of the Lord shows up and addresses him as “Mighty warrior”. Irony is, at the moment, this not-so-mighty warrior is threshing wheat down in a winepress out of fear of the Midianites. (Judges 6:11-13) Raiding Bedouin tribes from the east had for seven years oppressed Israel—at God’s hand—destroying their crops and laying the land to waste. Israelites were fleeing to the mountains and cowering in caves.
The Lord chooses and finally convinces Gideon that he’s His chosen instrument to free Israel (Judges 6). God’s warm-up act for Gideon was to topple the altar to Baal and an Asherah pole back in his hometown, the Ephraimite village of Ophrah. In fear, Gideon does it under the cover of darkness (6:27).
Gideon amasses an army—which the Lord culls by a factor of 100—with which he proceeds to vanquish Midianites and Amalekites as numerous as locusts. (7:12) Those same 300 men, exhausted and outnumbered 50-to-1 (8:1-21), cross the Jordan to slay another army, then chasing down and kill two Midianite kings. #whew
Israel wants to make Gideon king, which he humbly declines (Judges 8:22-23), only to hatch a different plan: Make an Ephod. An Ephod was an apron-like garment worn by priests. Among ephods, there was the Ephod. A highly ornate vestment festooned with precious stones and embroidered in blue, purple, and gold. Only one person could wear it, the high priest, who resided with the Tabernacle in Shiloh. This ephod, the ephod, was a mouthpiece for inquiring of God. That’s what Gideon makes, and he puts it in his hometown of Ophrah.
“Gideon made an ephod … and all Israel whored after it. And it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” — Judges 8:27
Gideon, the man who began his ministry in his hometown as a one-man wrecking ball against Baal, is the very one who brings idolatry back to Ophrah. Unlike the altars to Baal and shrines to the Canaanite mother-goddess Asherah, this idol was something worn by the priests of the one true God, Yahweh.
The people loved it, “whored after it”. Gideon’s was but the first of three ephods worn by wannabe priests in the book of Judges (17:15; 18:14-20,30). Such men and teachings are clouds without rain, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). In making his ephod, Gideon sought to establish in Ophrah the worship and glory to God that rightfully belonged in Shiloh. But this idol was different. It looked “holy”, new, flashy, and culturally acceptable. The kind of idol that, throughout history, God’s people are prone to welcoming into their minds, lives, and assemblies.
Today’s cultural idols not grounded in God’s Word are making their way into the worldview and teachings of Christians in areas such as sexuality, race, worship, the mission of the church, and the authority of Scripture. The blood of Christ redeemed us from the “empty way of life handed down to us” and we have spent enough time living as the world does according to its darkened understanding and futile thinking. (1 Peter 1:18; Ephesians 4:17-18)
Pagans acquiesce to culture. We’ve been cleansed, forgiven of our worldliness. What good is it if we, like Gideon and Ophrah, run full circle only to finish as better-dressed, appeasing idolaters, praying and singing in church pews? Let’s renounce living in fear, quit sowing our message in wine presses, and boldly live for God’s truth in this lost world.
— Mark Miller
STARTING NEXT SUNDAY, March 7, Middle School and High School will start having Bible classes again. This is a great opportunity to grow in one's knowledge of the Bible and their faith. Bible classes will start at 9:30. The starting time for the First Service will change to 8:15 AM starting March 7. Adult and Youth Bible classes will start at 9:30 AM. (We hope to restart children's Bible classes in June.) Second Service starting time will remain the same at 10:30 AM.
It starts with food laws… Daniel, one of a group of Jewish captives who’ve been carried off to Babylon to serve its king, resolves not to eat the food the king has assigned. This might seem strange, but Daniel is required by God’s word to abstain from certain types of meat. He decides the best way to avoid “defiling himself” is to just eat vegetables. Most of the other Jews apparently decide they need not concern themselves with an 800-year-old law, especially since asking to be excused from the king’s menu might draw some unwelcome attention. As it turns out, Daniel and the three friends in his group, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), receive God’s blessing for Daniel’s faithfulness and receive from Him gifts of knowledge and understanding. Daniel is even given the ability to understand visions and dreams. This quickly becomes important because Daniel is the one to whom God gives the ability to interpret a dream for Nebuchadnezzar. The dream and its interpretation teaches Nebuchadnezzar that Daniel’s God is a revealer of mysteries.
Later, Daniel’s three friends risk their lives to obey God’s command not to bow before the image that Nebuchadnezzar has set up. When Nebuchadnezzar hears that they will not bow, he retorts that he will throw them into a furnace, and then “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” They refuse to comply and consequently are thrown into the furnace. However, God miraculously saves them from death by keeping them from being burned or even from smelling like smoke. By their faithfulness Nebuchadnezzar learns that their God has power to save.
Nebuchadnezzar has another dream. This time it’s one about himself and, as Daniel explains, means he’s going to lose his mind and live like a wild beast for seven “times” until he humbles himself. Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar to repent of his sins so that the terrible thing the dream proclaims might be avoided. Over time, Nebuchadnezzar seems to forget about the dream, and in his pride congratulates himself for the great Babylon that he’s created by the power of his might and for the glory of his majesty. He is immediately changed and becomes like an animal eating grass and living in the wilderness. After the seven “times” are over, Nebuchadnezzar humbles himself. He learns that the Most High is sovereign and issues a proclamation to all people honoring the Most High for his eternal dominion over heaven and earth.
The lesson in this that if Daniel had not resolved to obey those archaic food rules, Nebuchadnezzar would have learned nothing about the Most High God. Those Jews who apparently decided it was best just to go along with the culture aren’t even mentioned in the story. They are ineffective and irrelevant. Daniel and his friends are the ones to emulate if you care about the lost. Obey God and keep His commandments. Amazing things will happen and the greatness of the Most High will be proclaimed by those who formerly didn’t know God. If you conform to the culture, you’ll become irrelevant and no one will learn anything about your God.
I’m glad I didn’t live in the Middle Ages. (Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.) One of the reasons is that, in an age before surnames, you could wind up being identified by such things as your occupation—Robert the Carpenter, Bonnie the Cook, Justin the Carver—which goes south if you switch jobs, or by some observable characteristic, some of which you might prefer folks not mention every time you turn around—Charles the Bald, Louis the Stammerer, Pepin the Short, Berthe au grand pied (translation: Big-Foot Bertha).
Now it might be okay if you were identified by a trait people respected or that wasn’t a negative. If you were Louis the Pious (Charles the Bald’s father) or Charles the Straightforward (son of Louis the Stammerer) or Charles the Great (Charlemagne), you had it made. You had something to live up to rather than live down.
What would your medieval name be if we still did named folks that way? Hopefully, it would be something you would feel comfortable with and not something serving as a constant disappointment or embarrassment.
Of course, in the Bible, most people did not have surnames, so we’re left with single name references, which works most of the time—Noah, Moses, Samson, David, Isaiah, Peter, Paul. Occasionally, though, we get some tack-on descriptors that give us some insight into the type of person some of our Biblical figures were. Jesus’ Twelve included James and John who are identified at least once as “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17) So that makes them James the Thunderer and John the Thunderer. Maybe that’s a compliment, maybe not. It certainly isn’t a compliment when we use the name today of “Doubting Thomas.” (A bum rap, I think.)
If I was to be known by my most obvious trait as a servant of Jesus, one of the best would be as an encourager. (I should only hope.) We have one of those in the book of Acts—Barnabas. He’s known as the Son of Encouragement. (In fact, his actual name was Joseph (Acts 4), but he was called “Barnabas,” which translates as “son of encouragement.” Not only was he known for encouraging his fellow Christians, that trait became his name, his spiritual nickname.
Last Sunday, I did the table talk for the communion service. You either remember that or you don’t. But I hit a note with at least one person, and he sent me an email this week saying so: “I wanted you to know how much I appreciated the thoughts you shared yesterday at the Lord's table. It was the encouragement and reminder and reassurance I needed and I was
grateful for it. Thanks for letting God use your words for His people.”
Now that’s the kind of email that will propel one a little further down the road. I was touched. Someone went out of his way to engage in a “barnabas” moment. He gave me an encouragement that I was not expecting, but one that meant so much.
Some ministries are hard and complicated and demanding. Being an encourager isn’t one of them. You say a few words to someone after Sunday morning services—thanks for that sermon; I appreciated your prayer; thanks for preparing communion; I’m so glad you’re here. You drop an email or a text. Maybe you put a little more into it, like the East Hill Encouragers, whose ministry is recycling greeting cards with fresh sentiments from the heart; paper hugs, if you will.
We’re all experiencing a difficult time right now and have been for months. We’re separated from one another which makes it more difficult to touch base and keep tabs. Still, each of us can be known as our own version of Barnabas—Joseph the Encourager—and express simple sentiments of love and support to our brothers and sisters.
I saw that brother who sent me the word of encouragement later this past week and told him how much I appreciated his words of kindness. He encouraged me, and I encouraged him back. That’s how we should look at it. Encouraging can be something we pay forward, backward, downward, and, most importantly, upward.
When I saw the date for this article I knew immediately what I would write about. What else could it be, since baseball’s Spring Training opens this week? Just kidding.
There is, however, a remote baseball connection to my subject. A year or two ago I was organizing some thoughts on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), those qualities God wants to see growing in his children. It occurred to me that there are nine. And love leads off.
Love is an important theme in the Bible. Maybe the most important theme. What is the best known verse in the Bible? John 3:16 -- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son ....”. Which is the best known chapter in the Bible? Quite probably it’s the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. And the greatest commandment? Of course that is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
February 14 is a day we are encouraged to think about those special people in our lives, and do something to show how much we care. It’s a day you may remember a first date or a first kiss. Men, you might be thinking back on the day you proposed, and she said, ‘Yes’. Ladies, you might be picturing the two of you when he said ‘I do’. Parents, do you remember holding your newborn daughter or son (or grandchild) for the first time? Focus on those powerful feelings. I believe that’s how deeply God loves us.
The first mention of love in the Bible (in most translations) is Genesis 22:2. God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, … and sacrifice him …”. This son of his beloved wife, Sarah. This child of the promise. This boy whom he too had held as a newborn. We know the story. Abraham passed the test of faith and God did not require that Isaac be sacrificed. But it was a fitting introduction to the love theme of the Bible.
Because we also know the rest of the story. A day would come when God would sacrifice his own son, his only son, Jesus, whom he loved. For the world, which he loves. For you and me, whom he loves.
On a day to remember special relationships, remember your relationship with God, and remember his gift that shows how much he cares.
My native language is obviously English. The first words I heard as an infant and the sounds that shaped my mind were all in English. I’d like to say that I read, write, and comprehend English with a high degree of proficiency, though, there’s always room for improvement. Since my formative years, I’ve also studied other languages: Spanish, Greek, and Portuguese. In fact, at one time I was fluent enough in Portuguese that I lived and worked on my own in Brazil. But after 20 years of non-use, I’ve lost most of my ability to speak Portuguese. Regardless of what tongue we speak, language shapes us, and it shapes our relationships.
Love is like a language. It is something that is communicated and received. It has numerous dialects and forms of expression. How we communicate love even forms and strengthens our relationships. Every couple remembers how easy it was to communicate their love for their mate in the beginning. With little effort you expressed your love and affection in just the right way to make the other feel loved. You contemplated the many ways you could show your love. You anticipated every moment you could spend together to experience your love for each other. And your mate reflected the same love back to you in their own multi-faceted ways. One could say you were fluent in the language of love.
But then with time you began to take loving for granted. You might have thought, “She already knows how much I love her” or, “I could never not love him.” You become preoccupied and burdened with life, and little by little you stop speaking the language of love to each other. You stop seeking ways to daily make your spouse feel loved. You allow distance and silence to grow between you. You become preoccupied with work, with children, with anything else to replace the longing for love that is within you. Selfishness, pride, and ultimately bitterness take hold, until the language of love is finally forgotten.
If you want your marriage to last and to thrive, you need to express your love daily no matter what and you must become fluent in the languages of love. Gary Chapman says, “I am convinced that keeping the emotional love tank full is as important to a marriage as maintaining the proper oil level is to an automobile.” Loving another person is not a one and done checklist; it’s a daily practice as vital as breathing is to your own body. You’ll notice I said, “language(s) of love.” There are several modes, or languages, of loving. Chapman defines five languages. They are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. You see, love is not mono-chromatic.
We are each familiar with these languages of love. To some degree they are intuitive. But just one or two of these languages are your “native” language. One person’s primary love language might be Acts of Service, so he thinks to himself, “I’m going to show my wife how much I love her and I’m going to wash the dishes every night without being asked.” Meanwhile, her primary love language might be Quality Time, and she’s thinking, “I wish he would stop cleaning the kitchen and just cuddle up with me on the couch and talk. In this relationship, she could care less that the dishes were being washed; that’s not her primary love language. And he might not prefer just “sitting” and “talking.” What is this couple to do?
The secret to having a love that lasts is two-fold. You need to intentionally practice loving in all the love languages, and you need to give special priority to communicating in your spouse’s primary love language. In this way you also learn to speak the ultimate love language, the love of Christ. The Apostle Paul says, “Each of you should look not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of (the) other. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ.” (Philippians 2:4-5) Christ lived, died, and now reigns by the power of love. Consider what Christ has done in the name of love, and then consider what you can do in your own marriage by the same love.
We want to give East Hill couples the opportunity to practice speaking the different languages of love now during the month of February. Please see the Love Language Fluency Challenge on the inside page of today’s bulletin.
Your brother in the Faith,
As Glenn H. has been preaching through Nehemiah and we are visualizing the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt we are also asking ourselves, “What needs rebuilt in our lives?”
My thoughts go to the spiritual battle that we are in. We need spiritual walls of protection around us and we need armored guards constantly keeping watch on our wall.
I think back to King David, a man after God’s own heart. He had won all kinds of military battles, but he lost a major spiritual battle because at one point in his life his spiritual walls needed rebuilt and he needed watchmen patrolling his wall. In this episode of David’s life he committed adultery and murder. If that can happen to a person after God’s own heart, it can happen to any of us. Each of us must be vigilant!
A big part of my spiritual walls of protection are you, God’s people here at East Hill church. We are praying for each other, encouraging each other in song, learning from God’s Word together, sharing how God is at work in our lives, being real with each other about our struggles and celebrating our victories. I count on you to help protect me. You count on me to help protect you.
Stationed on top of that wall I have a few men in my life that are being extra watchful for me and I am being extra watchful for them. I meet with them weekly so that we can sharpen each other and hold each other up in prayer. These men have become very close to me. These are the guys I call on about anything anytime and know they will fight alongside me spiritually. We protect and fight for each other.
This year’s theme verse chosen at the Elder’s retreat emphasizes this “we” that is being built by God.
And in him [Christ Jesus] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22).
The “you” in this verse is plural...you, God’s people, are being built together.
We need each other. This is God’s plan. We are being built together.
So, I ask: How are your spiritual walls? Do they need some rebuilding? Now is the time.
Is East Hill church a big part of your spiritual walls of protection? If not, then it is time for you to link arm in arm with us. Make the most of your opportunities with God’s people here. Even with masks, we can look into each other’s eyes, ask how we are really doing, listen and care intently. Then we follow up with prayer for each other and a phone call or text. As we interconnect in these ways and others God builds us together.
Last, I ask who do you have stationed on top of your wall that you are calling on to fight alongside you? I urge you to do as I did and ask a few people to get together with you regularly to share in each other’s spiritual journey, to be honest with each other about areas of your life that are susceptible to the enemy’s attack. And pray with each other.
As we are being built together in these ways, God’s Spirit will be among us.
These are trying times. The past year may go down in history as one of the most difficult, and the challenges are not over. We all surely wonder what is going to happen as this year unfolds. How many more will die in this pandemic? What will societal changes mean for Christian witness and ministry? … What concerns do you have? -- Let me share one more. I am concerned about the spiritual health of those who are trying to follow Jesus. In reality, Christians are the ones who are on trial now. Echoing in our minds should be the assurance of Jesus, “I have overcome the world.” In such times we are asked to believe that, and to allow that faith to translate into action. Allow me to focus on one powerful action that we can all do, prayer. How is your prayer life? Before reading further review what the following verses say about the importance of prayer: Matt. 7.7-11; Lk. 11.1-13; 18.1-8; 1 Thess. 5.16-19; Col. 4.2-4; Jms. 5.16-18; Rev. 8.3-5. … Are you concerned about the problems? Do something! The prayers of faithful people are the most powerful force in our world!
The idea of praying to an infinite being is really awe-inspiring. Stop and think about it. The God who simply commands and the whole material realm comes into existence now invites us to approach Him in prayer. Such a being is beyond comprehension. Just the thought of such a being raises questions that mere mortals cannot answer. Does He dwell outside of time? Does He really know the answers even before we ask?
The real wonder is that this being of enormous size and power is concerned about me, a mere speck on a speck. In the expanse of eternity our lives are so short. How could an infinite, eternal God even notice us? And yet, He does! It is obvious that a being like God does not need us as we need other people. As Jesus says, when we pray we cannot tell Him anything that He does not already know.
So, the next question is, What is the real purpose of prayer? It sounds like a complicated question. Why the eternal God would want to hear from His children might well be beyond our comprehension. Yet, since Jesus in His teaching consistently calls God our “Father,” we have an important insight that may help us to understand. On a much smaller scale parents love to look into the faces of their children and communicate with them. Parents will almost always know more about their children’s needs than they will. When a parent reaches down and smiles or coos or makes noises near the face of an infant it is not information she is seeking. What parents are seeking with their tiny children is a relationship. In a much greater sense God is reaching down to us in His Son. He loves it when we reach up to Him with our words, groans, joys and cries. He wants to know us and for us to know Him. He wants a relationship with us. Why? This one is not that complicated. He loves us! He also loves the troubled world in which we live.
Now, turn off the news, and find a quiet place. Let your Father know what is on your mind.