Feb 112014

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:37-38 (ESV)

You may or may not know that I am the son of a German immigrant. My father came to this country (legally!) in 1956. President Eisenhower opened the way for 100,000 European refugees to come to America and work. My father was one of them. In 1944, my father (at age 7), his two sisters, his aunt and his grandmother, escaped their village by night as it was surround by Russian soldiers. Others in the town escaped also, but very few survived. My father ended up in a refugee camp in Denmark, and was there until Christmas of 1946, already a year and a half after the war. The stories he tells about his life before and after the war are simply amazing. Right now, I have the privilege of editing his autobiography entitled A Home to Call My Own. It is getting closer to completion and, Lord willing, will be published by the end of this year.

In the book, my dad tells a story that reminded me of the verses above. We cannot “half-way” come to Christ, can we? He is either first in our lives or He is not. There is no middle ground for a disciple of Jesus. To illustrate this, my dad tells of the moment he received a letter from his aunt, who came to America after World War I and would open her home to take in my dad and his sister in Cincinnati, Ohio. Working with the American consulate in Frankfurt, the visas were approved and my dad had a choice to make: do I leave my father and mother, two brothers, and my entire homeland – do I leave it all and come to America? My dad talks about how difficult it was to make this decision. But he knew that this was his only opportunity to escape war-torn Germany and pursue a better life.

Well, on December 20, 1956, at 1:10 PM, my dad set foot on Pier 86 in New York City, welcomed by the Lady of Freedom (Statute of Liberty). It was not long after, when they arrived in Cincinnati, that my dad heard the Gospel at a German youth group meeting in Cincinnati. God saved him on that night and his life really changed forever! Jesus took first place, and I was blessed to watch this man live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The cost of discipleship is great, but there is no better life in the world. When we evangelize, one thing we don’t always make clear is that Christ is to be received by faith – not as a “pain in the neck” or to “cramp our style” – to be received, rather, as our greatest treasure! He is the Great Reward. My dad came to America because he knew there was no better nation on earth. We should call people to come to Christ because He is the greatest treasure! Being a disciple of Christ is not a “pain in the neck”, but is the greatest joy in the universe. It reminds me of the chorus, “Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you. There is no greater thing. You’re my all, you’re my rest, you’re my joy, my righteousness, and I love you, Lord!”

So let us remember to call the lost to forsake all and follow Jesus, knowing that He is greatest treasure of all! When you have the greatest treasure, you will have no regrets that you left the world behind!

Happy in Jesus,

Bill Schakat

Feb 112014

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (ESV)

Our God is sovereign, gracious and kind. He abounds in steadfast love. He tenderly forgives and graciously provides. He alone is worthy to be praised, and believers ought to live with a heart of thanksgiving to Him.

I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Sovereign God who led them to Plymouth. They began as Separatists in England, fled to Holland during persecution, were sent back to England, then found a ship available called the Mayflower that would carry 102 of them to the New World. This was half of the congregation, pastored by William Bradford, which got on board with the desire to build a God-centered community.

Let me share with you quickly a few of God’s gracious dealings and His abundant provisions for the Pilgrims. First of all, ten of the men got on board a sailing shallop to explore the coast of Cape Cod. They were greeted not so warmly by Nauset Indians that began to fill their camp with arrows. Two men fired their muskets and scared the Indians away. They went their way up the coast and landed in Plymouth. The Mayflower could land there and this was where they would build their community. They built a common house where they all would live until they could build houses for each family.

That first winter was very hard. It was very cold. Fifty-one of the 102 died that first winter, mostly women and children. The men were very weak and could barely provide for those living. One day an Algonquin Indian named Samoset came to the house. The Pilgrims were at first suspicious, but found him to be a gracious man. He knew English! He had gone on fishing expeditions with the British in Maine. Samoset told them that if they would have arrived 3 years earlier, they probably would have all been killed by a vicious tribe called the Patuxets. They had hated the white man. But in 1617, a strange disease killed every one of them that lived there. But God spared one Patuxet Indian who would later greatly help the Pilgrims. In 1605, a Patuxet by the name of Squanto was captured by a Captain Hunt and taken to England. Squanto was later sold to Spanish monks who told him about Jesus. In 1619, Squanto was able to return to London, and then a Captain Dermer took him back to Plymouth! Squanto went to Chief Massasoit of the Algonquin tribe. The chief and sixty painted warriors, along with Squanto, came to the Pilgrim settlement. The Pilgrims were warmly greeted and as you probably know, Squanto stayed with them and taught them how to grow crops. The Pilgrims and Squanto were united in Christ!

Well, God provided in amazing ways. In the autumn of 1621, Bradford called for a day of Thanksgiving. It ended up being a three-day celebration. The Indians brought deer, turkey and fish. The Pilgrim women cooked vegetables and pies.

But during the Winter of 1621, more settlers came into Plymouth and supplies ran short quickly. In order to survive they each received a ration of five kernels of corn every day. They would trust in God to provide for them and He did. The captain of a ship headed back for England traded corn for their beaver skins! They then had food until the Spring!

In the summer of 1623, there was a drought. Their corn was wilting. The pilgrims called for prayer and fasting and God gave fourteen consecutive days of gentle rain! God had given them a bountiful harvest. But at Thanksgiving, at each plate there were five kernels of corn, so that each one would remember God’s gracious provisions!

RBC, look back at this year. God has once again crowned your year with bounty and His wagon tracks have overflowed with abundance. God is sovereign and good. See how He has fed you and clothed you and met your every need. Be thankful church! Let us all be thankful!

With a heart of thanksgiving to God for each of you,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.

Genesis 3:18 (ESV)

When Adam listened to his wife and ate of the tree of which God commanded him not eat, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19) As I was working at the tree farm last week, these verses came to my mind. Why? Because there are several fields that have not been tended over the last two years, hence large thorns and brier bushes have grown in between the trees. I have had the pleasure (NOT!) of working in these fields to remove the thorns and briers so that these trees can be ready to be trimmed in March. Let me tell you, fighting thorns and briers is hard work. This task has reminded me again of the curse of Adam’s sin and my union with him by nature.

By grace, I am now united to Christ, and He is my new Lord and Master. Yet, I still fight sin in my heart, and let me tell you, it is a hard fight, especially if I do not tend or give care to my spiritual condition. To leave the trees unattended means thorns and thistles. By leaving my heart unattended means the same.

This quote from John Owen that I mentioned a few months ago, “Kill a sin or part of a sin every day… Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” has been going through my mind as I chop through these fierce opponents to lovely Christmas trees. Justification, or the declaration of my right standing with the Father, occurs in a moment of time. Sanctification, however, is a process, beginning at regeneration and continuing on until I return “to the ground”. I am not passive in my sanctification, but I am actively called to mortify the flesh, to work out my salvation, to make my calling and election sure. Of course I know that God the Spirit is working, but true faith is evidenced by works, by a growing in holiness and Christ-likeness. For my heart to flourish, like the trees, I must be pulling weeds, or rooting out those things that hinder growth and productivity. Like the thorns in the fields, they are not hard to spot. Sometimes the sin in our hearts might be hard to spot, but I think we all know many of the things that cause us to struggle.

As I have been chopping down these thorns and briers, very often those long twigs stick to my clothes and I just can’t seem to shake them off. It takes great effort. But I have noticed, in the five hours I have dedicated so far to this task at the farm, I actually have made great progress. I have already finished two fields! This gives me hope in my fight against indwelling sin.

It causes me to look to Christ. When you read through the Scriptures, thorns and briers and thistles are always associated with God’s judgment. Nowhere is a thorn and thistle a good thing. What is the Christ connection? When our Savior was crucified, the soldiers weaved together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head and mocked His kingship. It was a symbol of God’s judgment upon sin and the great humiliation which our Savior endured for the sake of His people. On the ground of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, and by virtue of His intercessory ministry to His people, the power of sin is crushed and the grace to fight and remove the thorns is granted.

One last thought: I have learned that January is a great month to be removing the brier bushes. The weather is cool and the branches are brittle. They can get chopped up much quicker this time of year. You know, right now, as we are still in the first part of the year, it’s a great time to give careful attention to our hearts. Let us pray for each other and encourage one another as we press on in this fight. Our fight with sin will soon be over, but let us fight until we return to the dust or Jesus returns.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Sovereign Grace Music produced a project called, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. It is in our church library and I would encourage you to listen to it as we enter the season in which we celebrate the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that is, God the eternal Son taking upon Himself a nature like ours. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Notice that it is only a child that is born, namely Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but the Son is given (not born). God the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. The Son has never been born. He is fully God. But the eternal Son entered the world He made and was born as a man. He is fully God and fully man. This is a great mystery and something to treasure up and ponder in our hearts. We will never fully comprehend it, but it should cause us to bow before the Divine Majesty.

Luke 2 tells us the account of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them the good news that in Bethlehem, a Savior had been born, Christ the Lord. The angel told them that they would find the father, mother and the child, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Then suddenly, with the angel, a multitude of angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds went quickly to Bethlehem, saw and worshiped the newborn king and told Mary and Joseph all that happened. More details for Mary to treasure and ponder. The word “treasure” literally means “to keep together.” I think from the very start of all this Mary was trying to keep all the details of the events together, trying to make them fit in her mind. So many details, from the salutation to the Spirit coming upon her, meeting Elizabeth and little John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, Mary’s song of praise, Joseph’s commitment to take her as a wife and keep her pure until after the baby was born, the taxation of the Romans sending them to Bethlehem, and now the report of the shepherds.

And… she delivered the One who would deliver her. That brings me back to the Sovereign Grace project on the incarnation. They wrote a song called “Sleep Jesus Sleep.” It is written from Mary’s perspective of the events. I will let you ponder the words and all that the incarnation means for God’s people.

Sleep, Jesus, sleep
We’ve come to see
You who never closed Your eyes
Watching over earth and skies
Now in frail humanity
Must sleep

Sleep, newborn King
We’ll gently sing
You who reigns forevermore
Ruling as the Lord of lords
You who never had a need
Must sleep

Sovereign One
Born as Mary’s son
Prince of Peace
One day You’ll deliver me
Deliver me

But now sleep, Son of God
We’ll watch in awe
You’ll fulfill the Father’s plan
Reconciling God and man
Now Your promises to keep
Must sleep

Let us all take some time this Christmas to treasure and ponder God’s great love for His people. “O what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship, for this is your God” (Graham Kendrick, from “Meekness and Majesty”).

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

God has once again shown Himself faithful to us. He has graciously given us another year and we look forward with hope for what lies ahead. The New Year often brings thoughts of personal change in the coming year. Have certain resolutions entered your mind, whether you intend to try them or not?

As we begin the New Year, I would ask that we consider the verse above: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Notice first that Paul is writing this admonition to Christians. Yes, Christians can grieve God’s Holy Spirit. We do this in many ways. In the immediate context, when believers speak in ungodly ways, it grieves the Spirit. When we speak insults and slander, and use our tongues to tear down rather than build up, we grieve the Spirit. When we harbor bitterness and anger and resentment, we grieve the Spirit. The closeness and intimacy of the Spirit begins to wane when our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This is why Paul tells us in verse 32 to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Another way we grieve the Spirit is a lack of love and dependence upon Him. The things of this world grip our heart and we seek so little of the Spirit’s influence. We care not that we do not call upon Him or desire His power. Things of a heavenly nature do not consume our thoughts and longings. We are too comfortable and self-reliant. The Spirit is grieved by our lack-luster love.

God’s Spirit is also grieved by our unbelief. Unbelief shows itself in hearts that are not thankful. Complaining is another fruit of unbelief. Unbelief manifests itself in a lack of contentment. We grieve the Spirit when we do not grab a hold of God’s promises and when we do not fight the good fight of faith. Unbelief drives us to seek our joy in things that can never satisfy, and this grieves the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. He thinks, feels, loves, and in this text, grieves. God has made man His dwelling place by the Holy Spirit. Grief and love go together. You grieve over things you love or things that hurt. When a loved one passes away, we grieve. Why do we sorrow? We loved that person. When someone close to us is hurting, we hurt. Why? Because we love them and it grieves us that someone so close to us is hurting.

The sin of believers grieves the Spirit. You see, He loves God’s children. It is by Him that His children were sealed for the day of redemption. It’s no wonder that He grieves when our hearts are not right with him. He has sealed us forever, yet so often we want so little of his influence.

Individuals can grieve the Spirit, and churches can grieve the Spirit. I do not want this to be true of RBC. My prayer for 2014 is that RBC will seek the Spirit and desire His influence and power. We need the Spirit’s power and anointing. We need the Spirit’s blessing. I do not want our hearts to be hardened to his voice as God speaks through the Spirit-inspired Word. Let us pray for a great working of the Spirit in the coming year.

Praying for the Spirit’s peace and power,

Pastor Bill