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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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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.