Awaiting Jesus' Return

January 9, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

Acts 1:11 (ESV) “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Do you remember the last time you eagerly awaited the arrival of a specific day? When you were a kid, maybe it was Christmas, a birthday party, or that magical day when the school year ended and summer break finally began. Maybe more recently it was that special vacation you spent months saving and planning for. If you think back to the time right before that special day arrived, can you remember how everything felt a little different? Right before summer began, walking down the hallway at school didn’t feel quite as mundane and dreary as it normally did. Before Christmas, the icy winter air wasn’t so horrible to deal with. Before your vacation, your coworkers didn’t irritate you as much as they normally do. The excitement with which you waited for that special day changed the way you interacted with your everyday surroundings. You cherished the little things more, you treated people with more patience and kindness. You weren’t as quick to say that something was pointless, or a waste of time because you were looking forward to something exciting! Now that you’re thinking about a special day, think about this too: Would not knowing the specific date of the event have changed the way you waited for its arrival? If you didn’t know that Christmas fell on December 25th, but knew that it was coming; If you didn’t know when the school year was going to end, but knew that it would end one day; If you didn’t know when your last day at work was, but knew that you would be getting a marvelous break very soon: how would things have changed? Acts 1:11 tells us that Jesus will come again one day. While we know that He will return, we have no idea when that day will be. In light of this fact, believers are left to eagerly anticipate the arrival of that special day for an indefinite amount of time. When I was little, I remember being so excited for summer break to start that I couldn’t imagine having the school year extended by even another hour. If someone had come onto the school’s PA system and announced: “students, please remain in your seats until 4 pm instead of 3 pm today,” I think I would have seriously imploded. The difficult part about waiting for Jesus’ return is that we are constantly being asked to wait just a little longer. We can’t make a paper chain to count down the days until He comes again. We have to figure out how to eagerly anticipate Jesus arrival without the time constraints we are so used to relying on. And yet, while we wait, we are supposed to be on mission! We are to be actively working and at the same time waiting for his glorious return. In some ways we should be caught in the tension between our mission to reach the lost and looking forward to Jesus’ return. We are to be eagerly awaiting his return, but also living life with a purpose: sharing Christ with those who do not know Him, so that they are able to rejoice upon his return instead of dealing with the consequences of unbelief. Here are some questions to think about this week as we prepare for our next message in the Book of Acts: 1. Would you be okay if the Lord returned in an hour? Or, in the back of your mind, are there a few more life events you’d like to conquer before He does? Be honest with yourself; real growth won’t occur if you say “yes” just because you know that’s the Sunday school answer. 2. What items are on your bucket list? How many of them have any eternal significance? If you think about your bucket list and realize it’s nothing but a list of international destinations you want to see, take a few minutes and try to create a bucket list with sharing the gospel in mind. What or who would be on that list? 3. When Jesus returns, who is going to be ready for his arrival directly because of you? 4. Are you more concerned with Jesus returning so that the wrongs of the world will be corrected, or so that believers will finally be reunited with God? 5. If Jesus came today, would you be concerned that you didn’t take advantage of the opportunities you had to share the gospel with people around you?

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How do You Make your Decisions

July 12, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

How do you make your decisions? In Acts 15:1-35, some of the apostles find out that a group of Jewish believers are trying to tell Gentile believers that they must be circumcised in order to be saved. Scripture tells us how the apostles handled this matter, and in the second half of the passage, the phrase “and it has seemed good” is used several times to explain their decision-making process. “And it has seemed good,” highlights an interesting facet of Christian decision-making. As believers, we often look to Scripture for guidance when we are faced with a difficult decision. Searching Scripture is a wise practice, but sometimes we can fall into error while doing so. Have you ever heard someone refer to the Bible as an instruction manual? People who say this are always well-meaning, but this phrase is terribly misleading. While the Bible does contain many statements that tell us what to do and what not to do, it does not provide us with a complete list. Even more importantly, the purpose of the Bible is not to tell us how to live our lives, but rather to reveal our Heavenly Father to us. Scripture also does not contain an answer for every question that we have. We ask questions like: “Does God think it’s okay if I wear a two-piece swimsuit to the beach,” and “Is it a sin to go to that party, even if I don’t drink?” We do this same thing with even bigger life decisions too: What college does God want me to go to? Which job offer should I take? Which house should I buy? It’s a wonderful thing to want to follow God’s will, but Christians often frustrate themselves by thinking that God works in the same way that board games do. We expect him to send down a card from heaven that tells us exactly how many spaces to move forward. The truth is, however, that God rarely does that. So, how did the apostles make their decision in Acts 15? Acts 15:6 tells us that the apostles and elders gathered together to debate the matter. They met up with people who they knew shared their belief in and commitment to God. During this debate, they recounted the things God had told them and done. They recalled how God sent the Holy Spirit to confirm the Gentile’s faith, and how he revealed his desire for the Gentiles to come to faith in the words of the prophets. Really, this is how all Christians ought to make their decisions. Instead of searching for the mystical sign we always hope will appear in the clouds, we should consult wise believers who know us and who know God. We should remember the commands God has made, and think about the truth he has already revealed to us. And then, once we’ve done all this, we have the freedom to make the decision that seems good to us. This is an idea that many Christians don’t understand. While there are many actions that God is straight forward about (you definitely shouldn’t kill your brother, and you definitely shouldn’t steal, etc.) there are many that he leaves up to our free will. Sometimes, God gives us more than one good option to choose from. There very well might be more than one house you can buy, more than one school you can choose from, and more than one job offer to take. One decision might be better than the others, but then again, you might be faced with deciding between two perfectly good options. If you are genuinely and actively pursuing your relationship with God and seeking the wise council of mature believers, then you can rest easy knowing that God will lead you to make the right choice.

Sabbaticals and the Sabbath

June 27, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

A few weeks ago, you received an email notifying you about Pastor Mark’s upcoming sabbatical. As stated in the email, sabbaticals are put in place to protect the spiritual and physical health of the pastors at Park Hills. Many churches across America encourage their pastors to take sabbaticals; the practice isn’t exclusive to us here at Park Hills. Did you know that college professors are also given sabbaticals? The concept of sabbaticals comes from the idea of “Sabbath.” Basically, the Sabbath refers to observing the seventh day of the week as a holy day of rest. This idea is first introduced in Genesis 2, when God takes a day of rest after spending the previous six days creating the universe. Another noteworthy passage about the Sabbath is Exodus 16. In this chapter, the Lord provides manna from heaven for the people of Israel six days out of the week, and instructs them not to gather any on the seventh day. The Sabbath is also discussed in the New Testament! Jesus is described as “the Lord of the Sabbath” in several of the gospels, and Scripture also tells us that he challenged the Pharisees when they criticized his disciples for plucking grain to snack on during a Sabbath. Did you know that observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses in Exodus 20? Why are we so passionate about keeping the other commandments, but so lackadaisical about the Sabbath? These are just a few examples, but it’s clear that the idea of observing the Sabbath is woven throughout Scripture. Despite this, however, you’ll be hard pressed to find people outside of the Jewish faith who still observe the Sabbath. We know that we’re supposed to go to church on Sunday, but our conviction pretty much ends there. What happened to the Sabbath? I wonder if the practice of observing the Sabbath has disappeared in part because it does not make sense with modern American culture. We love to be busy. We pride ourselves on productivity, we find our value in it, and we judge those who dare take time off. When confronted with the idea of Sabbath, we ask: “What value could possibly be found in a day without work?” There is scientific data out there that you can find about the benefits of rest, but I’d like to argue that the most compelling piece of evidence for the goodness of observing a Sabbath is the fact that God commanded it. There are so many ideas and commands in Scripture that don’t make sense at first glance. They go against the grain of our natural desires and force us to wrestle with God. The idea of taking a Sabbath is no different. At first glance, it’s not something that makes sense, it’s not necessarily something easy, and it’s not what we want to do. However, could it be something that God intends for our good? What if we started small this week and simply began thinking and praying about what it would look like to observe the Sabbath. What day of the week would work for you and your family? What sorts of activities qualify as “work” for you? What would you have to do during the first six days of the week in order to prepare for the Sabbath? Observing the Sabbath isn’t something that’s just going to “happen” in your life, it’s going to take some initiative. If you’re looking for additional resources about the Sabbath, check out this sermon series by John Mark Comer, which he preached at Bridgetown Church in Portland: https://bridgetown.church/series/sabbath/

Why We Sing on Sundays

June 20, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

Sunday mornings can get pretty crazy. We wake up late, or the kids aren’t listening. We burn breakfast, the car won’t start, or there’s a million last-minute chores that need to be done before we can leave the house. On Sunday mornings, “I’ll be ready in five minutes” somehow always turns into “I’ll be ready in twenty,” and without intending to, we find ourselves once again waltzing into church halfway through the worship set. How do you feel when you arrive late to church? Do you feel guilty and wish you could figure out a better routine, or are you just happy that you got to church at all? We all have mornings where everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Don’t hear these questions as a harsh judgement or a demand for perfection. Rather, the question I want us to think about this week is this: are your frequent late arrivals to church partially fueled by a small view of corporate worship? Do you consider sermons the “main event?” Do you think we sing in church just because it’s something Christians have always done? Do you think the singing is the least important part of a Sunday service? I want us to take some time to remember why we sing in church on Sundays, and why it’s such an important aspect of our services. Rob Smith, in an article he wrote for The Gospel Coalition entitled “The Role of Singing in the Life of the Church,” lays out three reasons why singing is such a vital part of a church service. He argues that singing helps us praise, pray, and proclaim. Smith’s view of corporate worship is powerful and wise. Check out this article and consider how your views of singing in church might be different from his.