The Best Question Asked At My Ordination

— JARED SEGERSTROM —

Two weeks ago I participated in an ordination council at Soteria. Ordination is a time for area pastors and church people to examine a man’s doctrine and character and determine whether he is called to serve in pastoral ministry. Prior to my council, I spent hours reviewing my doctrinal statement. For two weeks every shower time turned into a mock ordination council where I rehearsed how I was going to answer a particular question about spiritual gifts or the imputed righteousness of Jesus. I wanted to be ready with an answer for every question.

The Tuesday morning came, and although I was sweating through my undershirt, I felt I was as ready as I could be. Several area pastors arrived, my family drove down from Waterloo and Webster City, and even a dozen church people showed up which was a welcome surprise. Pastor Mike, who moderated my council, made it clear to everyone that the floor was open for questions from church members as well as pastors. As the examining began, I was asked good, ministry-focused questions from the area pastors, many of which I had anticipated beforehand. There are a few questions I would have liked to re-answer with more clarity, but all in all it was going well.

Then we arrived to Angelology, which in my opinion is one of the areas of doctrine which is fairly “cut and dry” with little application to real life. I was surprised to see a hand go up from one of our church members, a dear friend with a son in our youth group. Her husband died unexpectedly a few years ago, and one of the statements her children heard most often was that their father is now an angel and he is looking down on them. She shared how frustrating it was for her kids to hear that statement repeatedly. She wanted to encourage her kids and provide them with an answer for people who offered this well-intentioned, but theologically inaccurate encouragement. 

God used that question to remind me of an important truth. Every area of Christian doctrine is important for life and ministry. Even the more obscure areas of doctrine, like angels, connects to real life. God reminded me that I’m not called as a pastor to know my Bible just so I can sound smart in front of my peers or pass examinations. I need to know my Bible so that I can give people what they desperately need: truth from God’s Word which helps them navigate life by faith. 

I looked at that dear friend and gave her the best answer I could come up with.  I reminder her that her husband and her kids’ father is living in perfect fellowship with his Savior Jesus Christ. Angels are incredible creatures with some extraordinary abilities, but they don’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus that Christians enjoy. Regarding the salvation experienced by humans who place their faith in Jesus, Peter says that angels “long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). This family can take hope that although their dad is not an angel, he is something better, a child of God who enjoys unrestricted access to his Savior as someone cleansed by the righteousness of Jesus.

I was asked many good questions that day, but the best question was the one I wasn’t expecting. I’m so thankful for a good and sovereign God working through a dear and precious saint to remind me of that important and eternal truth.

When Hope Fades

— MIKE AUGSBURGER —

OUR GOOD

All of us can relate to a parent dealing with a child because all of us have been either a parent or a child at some point. Having said that, here’s a key phrase from a parent to child: “I’m doing this for your own good.” In this scenario, the parent is always more sure of this truth than the child! As a child, you’re tempted to ask, “Really? Cause I’m just not seeing it like that!”

Romans 8:31 is one of many texts that makes the unqualified promise that God is ultimately and eternally FOR us. It reads,

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God is absolutely, and without question, FOR us. God does give us “all things,” meaning he will always give us what we need. However, as we’ve learned from our sermon series in John 11, the “all things” doesn’t necessarily equal “all things pleasant and nice.” Like a loving parent, he will always give us what we need — what is designed for our flourishing.

OUR LIFELINE

Most Christians don’t question these truths. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knew Jesus loved them. However, as we’ve seen in John 11, those unequivocal truths are inevitably tested in the furnace of life. Martha asks, “Jesus, why didn’t you come sooner?” Mary asserts, “Jesus, you could be sparing us this pain right now.” A senior saint in your church says, “I don’t understand the meaning of this painful arthritis!” A heartbroken young woman asks, “Why, Jesus, did my father have to die before he knew his grandkids?”

It is in the midst of this furnace that God says, “I am FOR you. I love you. Always. Period.” Yet, these circumstances fire-test our beliefs. How can we be assured of the truth? It’s a matter of how much you know, believe, and trust God’s Word. Memorize verses, read the stories of Scripture, galvanize your heart in the platinum-plated truth of God’s love for you. That is your lifeline when all hell breaks loose. Hold onto it with white-knuckled intensity!

OUR MEASUREMENT

If it is true that God is FOR us, that God loves us, that God always does what’s best for us, then it changes the way God’s love is measured. In John 11:5-6 Jesus stuns us with what sounds like sheer cruelty. John says, “Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Therefore, because he loved them, he let Lazarus die.”

Wow. What does that mean? How do we interact with truth like this? Quite simply it means you, and I cannot measure God’s love by the amount of ease and comfort in my life — it is impossible. Unfortunately, western Christianity has equated ease and comfort with God’s blessing and favor. Western Christianity has drawn up a math problem that says church attendance plus good works equals God’s blessing in my life. In reality, that arithmetic is NOT love — it’s hatred. Only unloving, inattentive parents would provide this for their children, but we know God is not unloving or inattentive. He’s good. He’s loving, and he always does what’s best for us.

If this is the wrong measuring tool, then what is the right measurement? This coming Sunday, October 21, 2018, we will answer this question from John 11:38-44. However, here it is in a nutshell: the most loving thing God could ever do for us is to let us see and experience his glory. That’s how we measure his love for us. The times we see God’s glory on display the most is not when life is a bed of cotton balls. Instead, it’s when we’re cold, naked, and sleeping on concrete. That’s when God becomes real. That’s when his glory shines through the brightest. That’s when we can go back to the truth that God is FOR us, and we hang on for dear life!

Making Plans in Pencil

— JaRED SEGERSTROM —

Few things in life bring me more enjoyment than making plans. I love putting the next few months down on my calendar, organizing it under the categories of “Family,” “Church,” and “Work.” In the last few weeks, I added graduation open houses, youth camp, and a wedding to our summer calendar. Short-term planning keeps me from overbooking and allows me to schedule fun for our family. 

I also love long-term planning. About once a month my wife and I find ourselves relaxing in the living room after our daughter has gone to bed, talking about our future. We love to dream out loud about ministry aspirations, more children, paying off those dreaded student loans, and even future trips we’d like to take (Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand, anyone?). Discussing these long-term plans infuses excitement into our mundane weekly activities.

Making plans is by no means an evil activity. In fact, planning the future often evidences wise stewardship. But taken too far, our planning can actually demonstrate foolishness and a selfish heart.

In his letter to dispersed Christians, James offers a caution to those who make their plans without consulting God. James 4:13-17 says,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

To summarize, James tells his readers to make plans in pencil. Planning your life without seeking God’s guidance will leave you bitterly disappointed. However, humble planning marked by flexibility demonstrates wisdom and trust in God. James gives four reasons why godly people make plans in pencil.

1. We can’t predict tomorrow, but God already has.

James was speaking to thrifty business people who were determined to get rich quickly. What was wrong with their plans? They forgot that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We are all one job loss, one illness, or one tragedy away from derailed plans and uncertainty. Is the solution to make no plans whatsoever? Of course not. Instead, we make plans but commit them to our loving Father who has already written the script for our life. When we do encounter unexpected changes, we ask God for the faith to trust him and to respond in a righteous way.

2. Our lives are short, but God is eternal.

James reminds his readers that the length of our lives more closely resembles the steam coming off our morning coffee than a centuries-old river or a mile-deep ocean. Our days are limited. Our God, on the other hand, has never been bound by time. He is sovereignly moving all of history towards a finish line, which is the eternal restoration of the relationship between God and his creation. We are wise to order our lives around the only things which will enter that eternity: the souls of people and the Word of God. 

3. Our knowledge is tainted, but God’s will is trustworthy.

Have you ever made a decision based on faulty logic or incomplete information? It’s an exceptionally frustrating feeling. The fact of the matter is we don’t know as much as we think we do. Sin has affected every part of us including our intellect. Our all-knowing God, however, has a mind free from sin’s effects. We can trust him when our knowledge falls short. When we tell someone we are going to do something “Lord-willing,” we are not throwing in a superstitious Christian cliché. Instead, we are reminding ourselves and those around us that God knows better than we do. At the end of the day, I want my life to mirror the plans of my all-knowing Father, not my own tainted knowledge.

4. Our desires are evil, but God’s desires are perfect.

When we brag about our pre-determined plans to others, we simply reveal the evil desires of our heart. James 4:1 tells us that it’s those same evil desires which cause us to fight with other people. Wanting our own way, following our own dreams, and planning independently of God and his will, all reflect a heart which places self above God. We need to discard our self-exalting agenda, and instead walk in the new life we’ve been given through the shed blood of Jesus. Each morning we get up, rejoice in the new mercies waiting for us, and ask God to align our desires with His holy character.

As you write out your plans for the upcoming week, month, or even lifetime, listen to the wisdom James 4 provides. Put away your ink pen with its unpredictably short-term agenda, tainted knowledge, and selfish ambition. In its place, pick up the humble pencil and write out your plans, all the while trusting an eternally-minded God to change those plans to line up with His perfect character.

7-Day Challenge (to be continued)

Two weeks ago Pastor Mike issued a 7-Day Challenge. The goal was to spend time reading the Bible for seven days straight. We want to help you continue to make God's Word a part of your life, so Pastor Josh designed a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart.  You may notice there are no checkboxes. That is intentional because Bible reading was never meant to be a task we check off our to-do lists. Instead, meditating on God’s word is the primary means by which we grow in our relationship with Jesus. I can imagine your spouse wouldn’t be very pleased if half-way through your next date together you took out a notebook, checked a box indicating that you “went on a date,” and then headed to the car. But, it's easy for us to have a similar mentality when it comes to spending time in God’s Word — too often we miss the point entirely. 

However, just like every other relationship, our relationship with Jesus takes work and intentionality. No relationship ever coasts towards greater depth. The point of this chart is to help you develop the habit of reading your Bible while avoiding the checkbox mentality. The goal is to connect your heart to the Word as often as possible — to inculcate the Word of God into your life. Draw a line (on the chart) to connect the Bible and heart each day you spend reading. If you miss a day, no worries. Dates are not included so you won’t need to play “catch-up.” We hope you enjoy! 

Stop by the Connect Desk and grab a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart. We will have different sizes including a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart (full-sheet), a 3-week Reading Chart (half-sheet), and a 63-Day Bible Reading Chart (poster size). Or if you prefer, you can simply download the PDF for yourself using the links below. 

Dear Soteria Avondale

— NICK HARSH —

 

Dear Soteria Avondale, 

There are moments when God allows us to get a small glimpse of his power and sovereignty. He pulls back the curtain and we are able to see that the very ordinary occurrences in life are opportunities to impact eternity. No doubt there are days when we wake up and feel as if our work is pointless; when we question whether or not the sacrifices we have made are worth it. Often it is in those moments when we are most frustrated and discouraged that God gives us a small glimpse of what he is doing. He reminds us that He is working behind the scenes in ways we could never have imagined. A few weeks ago, someone told me of a very specific way that God has used our church body. Soteria Avondale, you are the answer to a mother’s prayer! 

Not long ago I ran into an old friend — figuratively of course not literally. We began talking about life and she asked how things are going at Soteria. As we talked about some of the ways God is working, I made the comment that we are planting a new church in Arizona and how excited I am about the team God has brought together. When I said this she smiled and responded, “That is so wonderful! I am praying that more churches would be planted in Arizona. My son and his family live there  and don’t really have a good church to attend.” She mentioned that her son isn’t currently living for the Lord but was excited to hear that our church had considered Arizona for a church plant. I asked her, “So where in Arizona does your son live?” She began explaining that he lives in the Phoenix area; not in Phoenix but in a suburb to the Southwest. She said, “It is a city called Avondale.” It was my turn to smile! I looked at her and said, “That is where our church will be located.” She began to cry and told me that she has prayed for years that a solid gospel-preaching church would come to her son’s city. It was such a joy to tell her that God had answered her prayer. 

Dear Soteria Avondale, you are the answer to this mother’s prayer. We never know the impact that the little moments (and big moments) can have in people’s lives but one thing is certain: God is at work in ways we cannot see and is doing things that we could never imagine. There are still more prayers to be answered and more sons who need to hear the Gospel and be made alive in Jesus (in both Avondale and Des Moines). We have the amazing privilege of intersecting with these stories every day. Clearly, God is at work and I am confident that He has big plans for Soteria Avondale. It is exciting to think of all the other prayers God wants to answer through Soteria Avondale. 

We love you, we are praying for you, and we’re so grateful for the ways God is going to transform lives using the “ordinary moments” in your life. 

 

Sincerely, 

Nick Harsh 

Identity Determines Mission

 NICK HARSH 

 

"Sound theological understanding underlies distinctively Christian ministry. Servants who understand their masters purposes have a clearer sense of mission. Theological perception of God’s program in the world helps formulate long-range goals in life for those who do his will on earth. Servants who know who they are can function more freely with a sense of identity."

— Integrative Theology, pp. 47-48.

 

Most of us have experienced it before, the uncomfortable feeling of the first day on the job. Each situation is different but often the first day (or even the first few months) at a job is uncomfortable because we aren’t completely sure what we are supposed to be doing. Early on we rely heavily on our job description because it records our responsibilities in propositional form. Our job description clearly defines our identity with the company or business we are a part of. The job description tells us who we are, what we are responsible to do, and the authority that we have to carry out those tasks. In other words, our identity determines our responsibility.

While this is certainly true in the workplace, it is also true in every other aspect of life. If you are a mother, that identity carries with it a certain set of responsibilities. If you are a father the same is true. If you are a student, then your responsibilities are often accompanied by a deadline. This is equally true when it comes to our walk with God. Identity determines mission. If I don’t know my job, I am not going to be able to do it well. So as believers, what is our job? What should we accomplish? We find the answer in Matthew 28:18-20.

Matthew 28:18-20  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

MISSION:

While it might seem like there are four commands in these verses, it’s important to realize that there is really only one command — make disciples. The other phrases, which look like commands (e.g. Go therefore, baptizing, and teaching) are called adverbial participles. That’s just a fancy name we give to words formed from verbs that function like adjectives. In other words they describe the action of the main verb, which is “make disciples.”

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Whoa…that’s a lot of grammar! But it’s this vital information that helps us better understand our job description as believers.

THE STRATEGY: 

One would think that a mission which extends to all nations would require a complex strategy. Yet this is not what we find in Matthew. Instead, we find three simple, yet life-consuming methods for making disciples. Specifically, we are to “Go, Baptize, and Teach.” That’s our job description. We are to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. This is a very sobering, but freeing reality. It is sobering because of the scope of our mission. We are not trying to make mere church-goers; the goal is to make disciples of all nations. That is a massive task! Yet this singular mission enables us to be faithful and to grow where God has planted us, which then frees us from the desire of always having to chase the next big thing. We don’t have to perpetually grasp for the next big ministry opportunity. If you want to do God’s work, find a local church and start serving. Build friendships with unbelievers that can support gospel conversations.

THE PROMISE:

But, what gives us the confidence to complete such a lifelong task? The answer is really quite amazing. We have been given the stewardship of Jesus’ authority and the promise of God’s presence. Notice how the command in these verses is sandwiched between two promises.

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The clarity of a job description and the backing of an employer enables and empowers us to work with focus and diligence. In the same way, the clarity of a singular mission – to make disciples – and the promise of God’s authority and presence should motivate us to work toward the mission with diligence.


1 Integrative Theology, pp. 47-48.

"Something to Read"

 Jared Segerstrom

 Awhile back I heard someone recite a little poem which helps family members know what items to buy for kids. It goes, “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” I have found this little poem helpful in thinking through what to give our own family for Christmas. I think teens could also benefit from receiving items in that list, especially “something to read.” But if you have walked through Barnes & Noble lately or scoured the list of books on Amazon, the mission of buying books for teenagers can appear impossible. I want to offer a few suggestions for books which would suit every teenager this Christmas.

 

BIBLE

No, I am not trying to pull a fast one on you. If we truly believe that our sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews should be reading the Bible regularly, then we ought to give them a quality Bible of their own. I remember receiving my first study Bible for Christmas my freshman year of high school and it helped me tremendously in my walk with God. There are many good Bibles available for teens:

Study Bibles:     The ESV Student Study Bible, which reads at a 10th-grade level, offers thousands of notes along with 80 maps, illustrations, and dozens of character profiles. At about $30, the ESV Student Study Bible offers quality without breaking the bank. If you think your student would benefit from a slightly more readable version, I would recommend the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, which reads at a 7/8th-grade level. As a word of advice, when given the choice, go with a bonded leather instead of a hardback edition of a study Bible. Though they cost a little bit more, bonded leather Bibles handles the wear and tear much better than hardback Bibles.

Journaling Bibles:    Another great option for teens is a journaling Bible. My wife received a journaling Bible for Christmas a few years ago and has enjoyed recording notes and observations as she studies the Word both at church and at home. This Bible is especially helpful for artistically-inclined students. The ESV Journaling Bible comes in a variety of attractive styles and patterns and costs around $45. You can also buy an NIV Journaling Bible for a comparable price.

 

Devotional Book

While we never should give a devotion book as a substitute for Bible reading, a quality devotional book can be a big encouragement in the spiritual life of a teen. The best devotional books are those which point the students’ attention toward the Bible says, not away from it. One excellent resource for young teens is the book God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation, which walks teens through the book of Galatians. Each of the forty lessons offers the Bible passage, a connection to the gospel, and discussion questions which build on Paul’s teachings. God’s Mighty Acts is a great resource for a middle school student.

Though not strictly considered a devotional book, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? by Ed Welch is an excellent resource for teens. The author designed the book so that students answer pointed, heart-examining questions as they read. By the end of the book, teens will have been challenged to develop a biblical view of God, self, and other people. I went through What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? with one of our teens this past summer and both of us found it to be encouraging and transformative. I recommend this book for all students, but especially those in high school.

 

Book to “Get the Ball Rolling”

Perhaps the teen on your shopping list shows little-to-no interest in reading. You want them to read, but they don’t want to read. What are you supposed to do? No one wants to be that person at Christmas who gives a gift for which the recipient has no interest, but still gives the obligatory “thanks” and hides the gift away to collect dust (I have less-than-fond memories of a cassette tape of harmonica music I received in the late ‘90s). 

Giving books to non-readers requires two things. First, it requires discernment.  As you shop, you will inevitably need to delve into a topic or subject you might not be acquainted with. Skim through books before you give them. Look online to see if Christian book reviews are available for a particular title.

Second, giving books to a non-reader requires knowing the teen. You need to take time to learn their interests and passions. There is a book out there for everyone if you look hard enough. For the Star Wars fan, find one of the many novels based on the story and give it to your young Padawan. For the budding entrepreneur, give him or her a book on business or finances. For the gaming wiz-kid, find a book on the history or development of video games. For the sports fan, find a biography of a famous athlete (I recommend a biography of a Christian athlete like Tim Tebow or David Robinson). The possibilities are truly endless!

• • •

One final thing to remember in giving books as gifts is that reading begets reading. By that, I mean once students get into the routine of reading things they enjoy or find fascinating, they will then be more willing to embrace more difficult, but enriching books.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to suggested reading for teens. The task of buying books for teens is a tall one, but I hope you can use this list as a starting point. Happy Shopping! 

 

Finger-Pointing at the Mirror

Each morning I wake to an unwritten, yet very regimented routine. 

I shut off my alarm, check my phone for notifications, tiptoe past my toddler-aged daughter’s bedroom to the bathroom, shower, get dressed, and make my way to the living room. 

When seated in the living room, I unlock my iPad, read my Bible, and check social media. It seems every time I scan Facebook or Twitter, I’m either disappointed, discouraged, or disheartened by what I read. Disappointment comes by reading a post from a family member or classmate who grew up hearing the gospel, but has now abandoned the faith. Other times my stomach is turned at a headline announcing an unthinkable act of evil or a devastating natural disaster. I find myself frustrated at the division and unrest in our country.

After closing my iPad and getting up from my chair, I make my way to the kitchen to brew coffee. As I wait for the water to heat up, I contemplate what I just read. I think, “I can’t believe how evil some people can be” or “What is our society coming to?” Sometimes these questions are valid reflections on evil in the world. But way too often, my thoughts reveal a self-righteous heart. I want to blame society for the evils in the world without ever considering that I am a part of society. In fact, our evil, sinful culture is simply an accumulation of many evil, sinful persons, including myself. 

James addresses my self-righteous attitude in his letter to dispersed Christians. He asks them this rhetorical question: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (James 4:1). I know how I answer that question. Most of the time I find myself in a disagreement because of another person’s unreasonableness or ignorance. Other reasons include a long day at work, a poor night’s sleep, or an empty stomach. 

But that’s not what James says is the reason we sin and engage in conflict. He answers his question: “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” James says that the reason I fight and quarrel is because my desires are out of control. I want to have things my way more than I want to love and serve other people. I can’t blame the society around me for my sinful thoughts, words, and actions. I can’t blame my upbringing, my genetics, or my environment for my sinful responses. Instead I have to point the finger at myself.

While it might seem depressing to place the blame for sin on myself, ironically that’s where hope is found. You see, I can’t change how other people treat me. I can’t change my genetics, upbringing, environment, or society at large. But God CAN change me. He uses His Spirit, His Word, and His people to change my sinful heart to better reflect His heart. This change is slow and painful at times, but it is a joy to know that God is working for my good to change me into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29).

Based on this renewed understanding of who I am and how God works, I’ve decided to add one short step to my morning routine. After I tiptoe past my daughter’s room and before I brew my morning coffee, I’m going to look into the bathroom mirror and point my finger at the drowsy face I see. I’m going to tell that face, “You’re the most sinful person I know. The reason you sin is because of your out-of-control sinful desires, not society or your environment. But Jesus died for you. He took your sin, so you don’t have to be slave to it anymore. God can change you. Trust Him, and stop blaming others.” 

With that short, but valuable addition made to my morning routine, I can humbly, joyfully (and quietly) proceed to the kitchen and brew a delicious cup of coffee.

 

By Jared Segerstrom