“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works”
– Hebrews 10:24, ESV
The world is a messed up place. I think if we weren’t aware of it before, the year 2020 hasn’t allowed any room for ignorance regarding the matter. But I can’t help but think about the people in the world who have never been ignorant of this truth because they’ve grown up in places where Ebola and other illness outbreaks are normal, or because their children know what it’s like to hear artillery and automatic weapon fire that destroys their neighborhoods and possibly kills their friends and family members, or because they live in a place where sometimes people suddenly go missing, they know the government is probably the cause of it, and they always wonder if they might be next. It’s an immense privilege for those of us living in the United States to face the current COVID pandemic, the current social and political unrest, murder hornets and the like and wonder, “What is going on?”
Romans 8 tells us exactly what’s going on: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (vv. 20-22). The Fall is what’s going on, and we can praise God for any source of discomfort or even suffering in this world if it helps us to remember that and helps us to fix our eyes on what we’re really meant to be waiting for and working toward: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:23-25).
We just celebrated the 4th of July, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We can be thankful for our country and for the many blessings God has given us through it. But it is not perfect, and we were not saved into being Americans. We were saved into being sons and daughters of God, saved into His kingdom which includes people from every nation who speak every language and who have every shade of skin color imaginable. The freedom we have received through the precious blood of our Savior Christ Jesus is far greater than any freedom that could be won through revolution or through constitutional amendments. And it’s for this great Kingdom and this great freedom that we are called to place our King above our politicians, our kingdom above our nation, and our King’s commandments above our rights as American citizens.
I might be preaching to the choir, but I know my own heart needs to be made aware of the idols to which I cling and the false hopes I find in this life so that I might be spurred on to love God more deeply and to share what He has done for me in Christ with others. This is what we are called to as God’s children, but I am so quick to forget and my heart is so quick to grow cold for, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The prophet Jeremiah doesn’t leave us to wonder the answer to this question, and with the very next verse, the Lord declares, “‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds'” (v. 10). My hope and prayer for my own life and for the people at Westwood is that the Lord would search our hearts and test our minds to reveal where we are truly placing our hopes and affections. I pray we would grow deeper in love with Christ and more committed to His ways above all others. I pray we would spur one another on in love and good works so those hurting and groaning under the weight of sin might know the healing and freedom found in the spotless Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world and free it from its bondage. We’re called to proclaim these truths out of love for God and others no matter their political views, the color of their skin, their socioeconomic status, their immigration status, and the sins of their past and even present.
Do our posts on social media show this kind of love, or do they show our scorn for those who think differently than we do? Do we actively look for opportunities to serve the church and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, or are we more consumed with our plans for our own families and with our own to-do lists? Are we seeking out the lost, the suffering, and the oppressed so we might tell them of how they too can experience great mercy and the bountiful riches that come with knowing Jesus as Savior, or do we hold back in fear or out of a desire for the comfort of our own homes and social circles? “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Lord, may Westwood be known as a refuge for the weak and tired, a place of healing for the suffering, a place of peace for those whose lives have been chaos, and a place of growth for the hungry and thirsty because we eagerly await the hope for which we were saved. Amen.
Bible Study Tip
If you’ve been following these tips from the beginning, we’ve been working through a specific Bible study process for which there are three stages: Comprehension, Interpretation, and Application. The Application stage contains a series of questions that cause us to think about the implications of a passage of Scripture on our lives. The final two questions are, Where is our culture or our own thinking and beliefs at odds with the passage? And, How can this passage inform our prayers? As with other questions, sometimes the answers to these are easy and sometimes they are not as obvious. For the times the answers are not as obvious, we can always pray and ask that God would reveal the blindspots in our hearts and minds, that He would help us grow in our understanding of His word, and that He would help us love Him and others better every day. And we can always praise Him for His goodness, righteousness, and sovereign care over all creation!
Westwood is hosting an outdoor VBS from July 27-31, and we are in need of volunteers. If you would like to help out with this great ministry opportunity for the children of our church and community, get in touch with Erin Abbott or Allen Dill on Sunday morning or contact Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community One Volunteer Opportunity
Caroline Knight is organizing a group to volunteer with Community One sometime in mid-July. More than likely we will be doing yard work and landscaping in a local neighborhood. We will finalize the date this week and send that information out as soon as it’s available. To show your interest, sign up using this form. If you can’t help out this month, be on the lookout for other opportunities like this in the future!
Dream Center Volunteer Opportunity
The Dream Center in Evansville has been operating a Pop-Up Grocery since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They have been ordering staple food and essential home items directly from their food distributor, and their staff packages items up into bags. Each bag contains one week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. They have successfully provided over 140,000 meals to under-served families. They provide this as a delivery service, as many of these families lack transportation. For this process they seek volunteers to come to the Dream Center facility to have their car loaded with food bags to then deliver to families via porch delivery. The process is completely safe. They load your car, give you a list of addresses, and then you set the bag on the porch step of each house. No contact is made for everyone’s safety. Here is a short video of the service. If you would be interested in helping with this, the Dream Center seek drivers each Saturday at 11am and 12pm. To sign up, visit this link. The link also includes all the volunteer opportunities across the city in the event that you have interest in helping out in other ways.
Links in this section are Amazon Affiliate links to books we find helpful
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield
Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department’s curriculum.
Then, in her late 30’s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down–the idea that Christianity, a religion she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was. That idea seemed to fly in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a train wreck at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could.
This book is a beautiful story of redemption and serves as a helpful example of how we can faithfully and lovingly share the truth of the gospel with those whose views seem diametrically opposed to ours. We highlighted Butterfield’s book The Gospel Comes with a House Key in a previous issue, and her second book, Openness Unhindered, is also worth reading.
While leading a team on a week-long trek of the Himalayas, bestselling author and pastor David Platt was stunned by the human needs he encountered, an experience so dramatic that it “changed the trajectory of my life.” Meeting a man who’d lost his eye from a simple infection and seeing the faces of girls stolen from their families and trafficked in the cities, along with other unforgettable encounters, opened his eyes to the people behind the statistics and compelled him to wrestle with his assumptions about faith. In Something Needs to Change, Platt invites readers to come along on both the adventure of the trek, as well as the adventure of seeking answers to tough questions like, “Where is God in the middle of suffering?” “What makes my religion any better than someone else’s religion?” and “What do I believe about eternal suffering?” Platt has crafted an irresistible message about what it means to give your life for the gospel–to finally stop talking about faith and truly start living it.
McClean Bible Church, where David Platt preaches, produced a series titled Unity in Diversity. While this series is primarily about race, it can help us learn to be empathetic and compassionate listeners regarding a variety of issues. Here is a description of the series from their website:
“Race is a difficult and complex topic, especially in light of American history. Rather than avoiding it, we believe God wants us as followers of Christ to engage issues of race and justice with humility, empathy, historical awareness, and biblical wisdom. As a church family, we are committed to expressing our rich diversity and experiencing authentic, gospel-centered unity.
How can we as followers of Christ actively become a passionate, unwavering voice for Christ in our culture? We encourage you to read ‘Unity in Diversity: The Gospel and Ethnicity,’ a chapter in David Platt’s book, Counter Culture.
We’ve also released several episodes of a recorded conversation with leaders from our church from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. This was an honest and eye-opening dialogue in which they shared their personal experiences and thoughts about how we can most glorify God by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).”
For the Kids
God’s Very Good Idea (Tales that Tell the Truth) by Trillia Newbell
Teach young children how to enjoy being delightfully different yet all part of God’s family.
God’s very good idea is to have lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. This stunningly illustrated journey from the garden of Eden to God’s heavenly throne room shows how despite our sinfulness, everyone can be a part of God’s very good idea through the saving work of Christ.
This book will help children see how people from all ethnic and social backgrounds are valuable to God and how Jesus came to rescue all kinds of people. It will also excite them about being part of church.
(This is an Amazon Affiliate link to a book we find helpful!)