Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

January 16, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

This Sunday, Park Hills and hundreds of other churches across America will celebrate the sanctity of human life. National Sanctity of Human Life Day began in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan instituted the national observance. January 22, 1984 was the eleventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Roe vs Wade case. Not all presidents since Reagan have continued to observe this day, but many have. Roe vs Wade was a landmark court case in which the Supreme Court essentially legalized abortions in America. More specifically, prosecutors in the case targeted a Texas state law that banned abortions and the Supreme Court ruled that banning abortions violated a woman’s right to privacy, as established in the 14th Amendment. According to Life Matters Worldwide, National Sanctity of Human Life Day is meant to “celebrate God's gift of life, commemorate the many lives lost to abortion, and commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage.” It may not be an easy stance to hold publicly, but Scripture is absolutely clear about life in the womb: Psalm 139:13-16 says: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Although babies in the womb are somewhat of a mystery, God knows each one of them personally. In His infinite power and wisdom, He knows who each unborn child is and already has plans established for them. Unborn babies are quite possibly the most vulnerable group of people on the planet. They cannot speak for themselves and are completely at the mercy of the communities around them. While it is important for believers to stand up for the rights of unborn children, it is vital that believers understand that they are called to do much more than simply vote for a pro-life candidate during the election season. Throughout history, countless women sought abortions even when they were dangerous and illegal. What makes us think that women in the 21st century would be any different, should abortions become illegal again? Voting for pro-life candidates is just the start of really being pro-life. Being pro-life means caring about both the mother and the child. It’s about befriending the mother, supporting her, guiding her in making the right choices and providing material needs when required. Being pro-life also means supporting adoption when it is best for the mother and baby. Just because a mother can’t care for a baby on her own doesn’t mean that no one can. Adoption honors life, and honors Jesus as the author of life. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission believes that “the greatest strategy the local church has is to create a culture where this cause matters and real action is taking place. If a church is seeking to be pro-life, there are proactive ways to accomplish this.” Here are five actions that the ERLC believes will have real and lasting impact: 1. Talk About It: Pastors and those in leadership roles have an obligation to educate and equip their congregation to be clear-minded, confident, and on mission. 2. Speak with Justice and Justification: Believers must not only condemn the practice of killing unborn children, but also whole-heartedly proclaim the gospel’s message of redemption and forgiveness. Both truths must be proclaimed together. 3. Create a Church Culture that Respects and Reveres Women: Many pro-choice women believe that pro-life rhetoric is aimed at oppressing women. By creating a culture where women are valued and respected, believers can push back against this belief. 4. Get Involved at a Local Pregnancy Center: These organizations need so much help carrying out their powerful work. They are the people helping women practically understand that abortion isn’t the only option. Give them your time and resources. 5. Be Pro-Life in All of Life: Don’t confine your pro-life believes to election season.

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Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

You’ve heard of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but did you know that the Thursday before Easter also has a special title of its own? Today is known as “Maundy Thursday.” Yes, the word “maundy” sounds an awful lot like “Monday,” which was definitely confusing when I was a little girl, but that’s not what this word means. The word “maundy” is derived from the latin word “mandatum,” which means mandate, or commandment. So, another way to title today would be “Commandment Thursday.” In chapters 13 through 17 of the book of John, we are told all about what happens on Maundy Thursday. The major event that takes place is the Last Supper. This supper is the time when Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Feast of the Passover together, and it’s the events that take place during this supper that give Maundy Thursday its name. During the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and does a whole lot of talking. Take some time to read through these chapters and think about the wealth of information that Jesus pours out on us here. In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, and this is where “Maundy Thursday” gets its title: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Of all the things that Jesus said during the Last Supper, it is this statement that marks the day. What is so special about it, you might ask? By creating a new commandment, Jesus is very much revealing his divine nature. God was the one who gave us the first ten commandments, and now Jesus is giving us one as well. The formation of a new commandment is a really big deal. This new commandment is also all about love. John 13:1 (the beginning of the Last Supper passage) says: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” In John 17:26 (the ending of the Last Supper passage) Jesus prays this: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus’ time on earth was all about love. He loved us so much that he, empowered by the Spirit and according to the will of God the Father, shed his blood to atone for our sins. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all about love, and as his disciples, this very love ought to be our most vibrant characteristic. As we head into Good Friday, which is rightfully a somber day, I encourage you to not only think about the weightiness of Jesus’ sacrificial death, but also about the tremendous love that motivated him. Good Friday is a day to seriously think about the gravity of our personal sin and the great grace that Jesus showed to us by atoning for it, which was something we never could have done. But, in light of Jesus’ new commandment, Good Friday is also a day to seriously think about love. Here are some questions to prayerfully consider on this Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: Do people know that you are a Christ-follower? Do they know this only because you verbally say it, or because your actions show it? How would you explain the love that Jesus has for us? What would it look like to love someone like Jesus loved you? Who are you loving well in your life, and who have you been neglecting?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

April 11, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

This Sunday we will explore Acts 8:26-40. This passage tells us the story of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch. It would be wise if, in preparation for Sunday, you took some time and read through this passage on your own. As you read, make some mental notes about who the characters are, how they are described, and what is going on. Read the passage a few times too! Scripture is so rich, and it’s easy to miss details when we read too quickly. The beginning of this passage explains to us that one of the Lord’s angels tells Philip to travel to a specific road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip obeys and travels to this road, where he first sees the Ethiopian eunuch. This man is riding in his chariot and reading from the book of Isaiah. The Spirit then tells Philip to go and join the man, and Scripture tells us that Philip obeys this command as well. The first thing that Philip says to this man is not a greeting or a statement, but rather a question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian man replies, “how can I, unless someone guides me?” He then invites Philip into his chariot and they begin a deep discussion which we are told results in the Ethiopian man being baptized! This passage poses a few questions for us to wrestle with this week. 1. Are you actively listening for God’s voice? As far as we know, Philip quickly recognizes the angel’s voice and the Spirit’s voice in this passage. Verse 26 tells us what the angel says to Philip, and verse 27 follows with: “And he rose and went.” That’s about as straightforward as Scripture gets, isn’t it? The angel spoke to Philip, and Philip obeyed. Whenever the topic of listening to God’s voice is discussed, I find that this question comes up: “how do we know that it’s God who is directing us?” It would be really easy to know that God was directing us if He always sent an angel down from Heaven to speak with us face to face. It’s rarely that simple, but don’t worry! There are a few ways to help us differentiate between God’s voice and the voice of Satan, ourselves, and the world. One thing we can do is get to know God’s character! If we know God’s character, we can have a pretty good idea of things he would direct his children to do and things that he would not direct his children to do. We will never fully comprehend the nature of God, but He does reveal an awful lot about himself to us in Scripture. Another thing we can do is cultivate a strong prayer life. When we pray we are communicating with God. Prayer is a time to speak with Him and also to listen to Him. The more we pray the easier it will be for us to recognize His voice. A third thing that we can do is seek counsel from wise Christian mentors who have strong relationships with God and who know us well. People who know God’s character and have strong relationships with Him can help us see how God has been working in our lives and figure out where He might be leading us. This is the beauty of living in community and being truly known. 2. When you speak with people, where is your focus? Notice that Philip doesn’t jump into the Ethiopian man’s chariot and start talking all about himself. When Philip interacts with the man, he first observes what he is already doing, and then asks a question about it. Philip is focused on who he is talking to, not on himself. An essential part of effective evangelism is having a sincere relationship. People can tell right away if we’re only talking with them because we have an agenda. Jesus called us to share truth with people, but we have to remember that he also called us to love people. Pay attention to people, treat them with respect, invest in their lives, and care about them! You’ll find that people are often much more interested in what you have to say when they are convinced that you care about them. 3. How well do you understand Scripture? When Philip finds the Ethiopian man reading from the book of Isaiah, he doesn’t redirect him to a different passage of Scripture before explaining the good news to him. Instead, Acts 8:35 tells us that Philip begins with the same passage that the man was reading and from there tells him about the good news of Jesus. Philip’s knowledge of Scripture allowed him to open this man’s mind to the gospel message, and this is the point of knowing the Bible! If you’re studying Scripture for some sort of personal gain (to bolster your reputation with others, to be seen as smarter or wiser) then your knowledge is futile. The purpose of knowing Scripture is knowing God and equipping yourself to help others know him. Similarly, if we don’t know Scripture well, then we’re going to have a hard time using it to help others grow closer to God. We’ll never understand everything that’s in the Bible; the important thing is to always be learning.

The Laying on of Hands: Acts 8:14-17

April 4, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:14-17 In this week’s section of Acts, we see Peter and John travel to Samaria to help the new believers there receive the Holy Spirit. One big question that this passage poses is why the Spirit was given to these believers through physical touch? Why does verse 17 say that Peter and John “laid their hands on them” before they received the Holy Spirit? The “laying on of hands” is a spiritual concept that many believers hold different views on. If you talk with enough Christians, you will find that some who think that this practice is always necessary, even today, in order for an individual to receive the Holy Spirit. You will also find others who believe that physical touch was only necessary for a specific time. We believe that the laying on of hands is an act that was necessary for a specific time, and is not a normative part of receiving the Holy Spirit. We also believe that this view is crucial in order to understand the true importance of the events in Acts 8:14-17. It’s true that Acts 8:14-17 is a story about believers receiving the Holy Spirit, but these verses are also about racial reconciliation and the gospel. Understanding the temporary necessity of physical touch for receiving the Holy Spirit helps us see that. In this passage we are told that Peter and John were sent to minister to new believers in Samaria. This tells us that the group of new believers whom Peter and John were going to see were not Jewish, but actually Gentiles. If you’re familiar with the gospels, you’ll know that Jesus spent a lot of time spreading the message of unification between the Jewish and Gentile communities. Serious racism and prejudice existed between these two groups, but Jesus’ gift of salvation was offered to everyone. As redeemed children of God, Jews and Gentiles ought to become loving brothers and sisters. By laying their hands on the new believers in Samaria and praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit, Peter and John helped authenticate their faith in the eyes of other believers. Because of the hostility that existed between the Jews and Samaritans, these new believers probably wouldn’t have been readily or warmly welcomed by Jewish believers without the authoritative help of Peter and John. Peter and John’s actions make it undeniable that the faith of the believers in Samaria is legitimate and furthers Christ’s mission of uniting all believers.