SEPTEMBER – 18.0917

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8.28 (ESV)

All Things

“All things” – Eighty times this phrase occurs in the Bible, with most of them in the New Testament. More often than not in those times it is connected with the life and reign of Jesus. However, in the case of the familiar verse above, it is referring to what we experience in life.

There are times it can be difficult to understand what is going on around us. Believers as a whole look at the circumstances of life and wonder why things are the way they are. We go to God and ask, “Why are these things happening?” and “How can these things be?”

But the truth of the matter is that God is not surprised. He is not pacing around the throne room of heaven, wringing His hands, and agonizing over what was unexpected. He has all things well in hand and completely under control. This is what is known as His sovereignty. He has declared all things that are to be exactly as they are. The pleasant things and the difficult things – all things – are part of the way He is perfectly working out His plan for us and for creation.

The truth revealed in this verse from Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome is the reason why he could write to the Thessalonian church, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 ESV). We can always rejoice, because God is working all things together for our good. We can always pray, because we have confidence that God has our good as part of His plan for us. We can give thanks come what may, because our sovereign Lord is working everything toward His glory and our blessing.

When things happen that take us by surprise, especially the unexpected challenges and changes that come as part of living, we can still confidently profess and proclaim that God is good, and that we continue to have hope for this life and the life to come. God is working all things together for our good.

When we experience difficulties and hardships, whether it is persecution for our faith, loss of a job, a difficult medical diagnosis, a crushing disappointment, or any other thing that deals a devastating blow, we still know that God is in control, and is giving us the opportunity to strengthen our faith in Him, and our resolve to receive His goodness and blessing in the midst of the hard things.

God is working all things – not just what we perceive to be good things, nice things, comfortable things, pleasant things – for our good. He is working out a blessing that we will be able to point to when others wonder why we face such things. He is preserving and keeping us through the darkest of times by being our light and our guide. His love never fails.

So, no matter what might come your way in life, hold fast to the revealed truth that God is working it toward your good and His glory. Nothing can separate you from His love. Nothing will nullify His promises to you. And all things – all things – will be reasons for you to say with the prophet Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3.17-19 ESV).

Be blessed in all things,

Pastor Dave

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JULY – 18.0709

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  Galatians 5:13

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  1 Peter 2:16

Freedom

During the month of July here in America we celebrate freedom. We remember our many freedoms granted to us in our country – freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom to live where we please, freedom to choose our job or profession, etc.

Freedom is a wonderful thing. What must be remembered about this, however, is that without the foundation of self-control, responsibility, and personal integrity, and genuine concern for our fellow human beings, freedom is a dangerous thing.

The Bible reminds us of this as is seen in the verses above. Both Paul and Peter write of this responsibility to exercise self-control in expressing our freedom.

The freedom we are granted as followers of Jesus is not freedom to do whatever we want, not freedom to pursue the mantra of “if it feels good, do it.” Rather, we are called to use our freedom as a means of serving others and preferring them above ourselves.

This is the only way we can be truly free. If we do not exercise our freedom in this way, we are, in reality, still bound to the desires and pursuits of our sinful nature – our fleshly tendencies. We desire comfort, wealth, pleasures of all kinds, power, status, and the ability to act on our whims when and where we have them. This is just a short list of the things that can bind us. These are the things that so easily entangle us.

Without exercising self-control by mortifying the flesh and offering ourselves in loving service toward one another, we have no liberty. If we were free to pursue all the things mentioned above, there would be no liberty, but only chaos and anarchy.

Jesus set us free from bondage to the law, fulfilling it in His flesh through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The outcome of that, however, is that though we are no longer bound by the law, we have been given the freedom to be guided by it – to live out Jesus’ fulfillment of the law.

This goes contrary to the flesh and its desires, but the only way we can be free from the tyranny of those desires is by using our freedom to submit to Christ. True freedom requires responsibility on the part of those who have it. True freedom requires a preferential attitude toward others ahead of ourselves. True freedom requires that we offer ourselves to Jesus to do whatever He calls us to do. True freedom is expressed through our obedience to God in all that we do and say and think.

When we exercise our freedom in this way, we’ll have greater joy, peace, rest, and genuine enjoyment of life. For it is in this spirit of freedom that we have the liberty to be all that God intended us to be. We have the joy of living our lives with integrity as followers of Jesus. We have the absolute pleasure of living under the smile of God and all the accompanying blessings. Doing whatever our flesh wants to do will never bring us that kind of freedom.

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JUNE – 18.0621

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4.8 (ESV)

 

What Are You Thinking?

 

While we were on vacation last month, we had the convenience of cable-tv hookup at the RV parks where we stayed. I know that hardly sounds like camping, but that is another discussion for another time.

With the ability to watch television, we watched the news each evening while we got ready for dinner. What was sorely missed about watching the news, however, was the ability to fast-forward through the commercials as we can do at home.

What this meant was that we had to endure watching all the political ads that were being aired in preparation for this month’s primary elections, and the negative speech they contained. It reminded me of when I used to listen to talk radio in my car and watch the 24-hour news cycle on tv. All it did was make me angry, depressed, miserable, and fueled pride in my political position.

This was hardly a godly pursuit, nor did it glorify Christ in my life. As a matter of fact, it most likely did the exact opposite.

You see, it filled my heart and my mind with negativity and stoked the passions of my flesh. It played into what the Apostle John calls “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2.16) – the stuff of this world. These things conform us to this world rather than transform our minds (Romans 12.1).

The Apostle Paul writes to us through the Church at Philippi about how to combat such things. He reminds us that whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise are the things that we should have occupying our minds.

The things that we fill our minds with eventually begin to fill our hearts. And as Jesus taught us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.45). We could paraphrase these words with a common phrase that has been used in computer programming for decades – “Garbage in. Garbage out.

What is it that you are thinking about? If you’re unsure, listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth. Are they about things that are true, honorable, just, etc., or are they negative, disparaging of those who disagree with you, complaining about politics, worried about life, and so forth? In paying attention to your speech, you will have your answer.

The way to correct the problem of negativity and worldly thinking is to listen to Paul’s instruction to direct your thoughts to that which is positive, praise-worthy, edifying, and God-honoring. Like any discipline, it will take time, it will mean eliminating the things that steer you back toward negativity, but it will take you to places in your heart and your mind that will bring you a different disposition, a positive outlook, and a lightness of your heart that you may not have known for some time.

There are better things for our hearts than what the world offers. Let’s strive to focus on the things that make us better rather than bitter. Let’s ask God to help us to conquer negativity in our hearts. Let’s take the positive step that fills our hearts with good things so the overflow will be words of grace, truth, love, and praise to God.

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AUGUST – 17.0728 GUARDING THE GOOD

Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.  Song of Solomon 2.15 (ESV)

Here we are in August, with the kids going back to school, launching into another busy academic calendar with great anticipation of what lies ahead. Teachers and students alike are planning, wondering, and looking forward to all the things that a new school year brings.

Likewise, here at church we are anticipating the launching of our fall season with some new and exciting things going on. At our normal time that we have been having Connections on Wednesday nights, we’re going to be doing something a little different in that we’re going to have two tracks – one for men and one for women.

The men will be beginning a basic discipleship track that is broken into four units – Discipleship, Basics, Markers, and Disciplines. Each unit will have a break of two to four weeks in between to regroup and prepare to re-launch.

The women will be looking at several different studies, the first of which is called Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table by Tim Keller. This video series with discussion will open up our understanding of God’s grace, mercy, blessing, and love for His people.

H.Y.P.E. has been meeting all summer, and has been helping to serve at the Central Coast Rescue Mission’s Friday night food truck ministry. As school starts back up, they are planning to launch into some serious discipleship training. Our youth are really moving forward in their walk with Jesus.

All of these are such good things, and we hope to increase these ministries as we move through the year. What we must be careful of is that when good things begin to happen, when we get busy with the business of training up our people for the work of the kingdom, when genuine, life-changing ministry begins to happen, the enemy of our souls goes to work to try to thwart what goes on.

He never comes with a frontal attack, using more guerrilla tactics instead. He works through busyness, distractions, offenses and taking offense, discouragement, and the like. We must guard against these little foxes that spoil the vineyards.

We must guard our tongues from frivolous and thoughtless speech that sets one against another. We must guard our hearts that we do not allow the enemy to seduce us into a state of being offended. Miscommunications and lack of care in our speech and actions are some of the most devastating “foxes” that destroy the work of the kingdom.

Busyness, distractions, and discouragement are also foxes that destroy what is in bloom. And when the blossoms are destroyed, there can be no fruit.

As we launch into this new season, let’s be in prayer for our church and the upcoming new classes, studies, and other ministries that come throughout the year. And let’s guard what is good from the destructive forces of the little foxes that come to spoil the vines.

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JULY – 17.0721  DEPENDENT INDEPENDENCE

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  John 8.36 (ESV)

This month in our country we celebrate our independence as a nation. Much is made about our living in a free country, with our freedom guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. We are free to worship, free to protest, free to engage in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, etc. But this independence is only realized when we place ourselves into submission to God, by acknowledging our dependence upon Him.

We are reminded in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are one nation under God. Granted, that language wasn’t added until the 1950’s, but only then because before that time it was an unspoken assumption. Even at that time of assumed national piety, the erosion was beginning and the need to speak it out was established. Pray that this reminder is never removed from out national consciousness.

This brings us to our own independence as followers of Jesus. Jesus’ words quoted above are very familiar to us. But, like those who heard these words, we often don’t perceive the fact that we are bound in our freedom unless we become dependent upon God in every aspect of our lives. Whatever we hold back from Him is still held captive as a slave to whatever that might be.

The Apostle Paul’s exposition of this truth is found in Romans 6.16-23. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You see, our freedom from sin consists of submission to God through Jesus Christ. This is freedom. This is liberty. This is independence. This is not an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation. It’s just that because of the presence of sin in the world we are constrained from absolute independence, from complete autonomy. We are always bound, but being subject to God through repentance and faith in Christ is true freedom. Jesus tells us His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Even as we are yoked to Him, He pulls the load. We are simply tasked with joining ourselves to Him.

This month as we celebrate Independence Day, I pray that you have found your dependence on Jesus to be the most freeing thing you have ever experienced. If not, I pray that you submit yourself to Him in repentant faith, and you learn what Jesus meant when He said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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EASTER – 17.0329

From here at Heritage we wish you a happy Easter. Though we are always mindful of this great truth, Easter is the Sunday we especially celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are reminded of the words of the angel who spoke to Jesus’ followers on the morning of His resurrection who said to His disciples, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here for He has risen” (Luke 24.5-6)

These words are the clear call of God to us to inform us that salvation can be ours through Jesus Christ. He suffered, died, was buried, rose again on the third day, walked with His disciples for another 40 days, and ascended bodily into heaven where He is preparing to return to redeem all those who repent and trust in Him as their Savior and take them to be with Him in heaven forever.

Pay careful attention to the qualifiers in that last sentence. The phrase “all those who repent and trust in Him as their Savior” is extremely important. There is a popular belief that everyone who has lived a “good life” will enter into eternal bliss when they die. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘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’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). It also says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

These tell us that no one lives a good enough life to earn eternal life. But that is why God sent Jesus to die on behalf of all those who would believe. Jesus paid the price for our sins, and, the Bible tells us, He did it joyfully. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Jesus … for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

Do you know what the joy that was set before Him was? That joy was you, if you trust in Him. His joy was knowing that all who turned to Him would be His forever – the focus of His joy. But for those who don’t trust in Him for their salvation, there is no joy for Jesus, only the knowledge that those who are not the focus of His joy will be the focus of His judgment.

This is a sobering thing to think about – one I thought long and hard about.  But I couldn’t escape the fact that I would not have to face the eternal judgment of Jesus if I would simply trust in Him. The day I came to fully realize that was a happy day for sure!

I didn’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. The Bible tells us “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).

Won’t you trust in Jesus today? Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Have faith that He will make you His own and set you free from guilt and shame. If you will, you can know eternal life in heaven and abundant life on earth. Then get involved in a church where the Bible is taught and where there are other followers of Jesus who will be there to help you to grow.

We’d love to have you come and join us at Heritage Easter Sunday, and every Sunday at 10:00 am, but if we’re too far for you, find a church that is close by and get plugged in. Let the pastor know you’ve asked Jesus to be you Savior. He can help you with how to move forward in your life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

God bless you this Easter Season.

Rev. David Brogren, Pastor, Heritage Evangelical Presbyterian Church

4799 S. Bradley Rd., Santa Maria, CA  93455

    Come Home to Heritage!

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17.0301 – SURRENDER (Rev. David Brogren)

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.  James 4.6-7 (ESV)

March 1 just happens to be Ash Wednesday this year, the official beginning of Lent in the Western Church. (How the date is determined is complicated, and even further complicated when you take into account that the Eastern Church still uses the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar, so it is rare that the two branches of the church celebrate things at the same time.)

The thing that is most often brought to mind about the season of Lent is giving something up. We give up something as a form of fasting to remind us of the sufferings of Jesus. Of course there are some who choose to give up something they really didn’t care for anyway, such as exercise or vegetables – this is hardly fasting! The danger of this Lenten practice is that the attitude of our hearts can be easily swayed to think that our fasting, or giving something up, will curry us favor with God. This is why, if we are going to practice this spiritual discipline, we need to keep our hearts inclined toward God and not become proud of our spirituality.

We must come to God in true humility, and, as I’ve entitle this piece, surrender to Him. Surrender is something we often think about as shameful or as a sign of defeat. However, when we surrender to God it yields us great victory.

The victory comes in being included in Christ and His victory over Satan on the cross. This is why we seek to identify with Jesus, having the same mind with Him as we are told in Philippians 2.5-8. Jesus emptied Himself, humbly and willingly letting go of the glory of His majesty and became the servant of all, even unto death on a cross. This is what Lent reminds us about. This is what surrender means. It is not a grudging act of defeat, but a humble act of letting go of ourselves that we might be included in Christ.

If you plan on giving something up for Lent this year, check your heart to make sure you’re seeking identification with Christ. The last thing we want a season of personal humility to be is a reason for us to take pride in ourselves.

I encourage you to keep your fasting to yourself or within your family (it is a good thing for children to see their parents engage in spiritual discipline). Remember Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6.16 ESV). He concludes this charge by reminding us that when we do this in secret, we are rewarded by God who sees all things we do in secret.

As you ponder this Lenten season I encourage you to seek God, asking Him to reveal to you if you are to give anything up – to fast from anything, whether food or an activity – and then take it on in secret, just between you and God. Surrender it to Him as an act of worship in order that you might be better able to remember and identify with Jesus and His suffering for you. Paul writes about counting everything that he could boast about himself as loss in order that he “may know [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3.10 ESV).

Let us take time this Lenten season to surrender our lives to Jesus in order that we might share his suffering, so that when Easter comes on April 16 we might know Him in the power of His resurrection.

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17.0201 – BEGINNINGS (Rev. David Brogren)

It is a bit of a daunting thing to begin to blog. I’m accustomed to preaching and teaching, preparing messages and lessons to be delivered orally. But writing something of substance (hopefully) that will mean something to those who might read it is a bit of a different animal.
I suppose it must be something akin to the difference between screen acting and live theater with an audience present. Without someone there in front of you there is no immediate feedback to see if you are actually engaging your audience. Are they responding to what you are saying? Is it connecting with something they actually have experienced or can imagine? Does it touch their hearts in a way that makes a difference, whether brief or lasting?
But yet, I understand that a blog can evoke all kinds of responses. I am amazed at some I have read, the comments on which always seem to devolve into some sort of political bashing and put-downs, even when they weren’t about politics to begin with. My hope is that those who see and respond to my thoughts on whatever issue I might address would do so thoughtfully and respectfully toward me as the author and others who might respond.
I would expect that those who disagree with what I present would do so – and where I’m all wet in my thinking, please point it out. That is how one learns to grow and receive new ideas and ways of thinking. So, I guess all I can say at this point is, “Here goes…”
Welcome to Pastor Dave’s blog at HeritageEPC.org. I’m glad to have you visit our site and for you to be reading these thoughts. I’ll be sharing this page every other week with my oldest daughter, Sarah, who has some pretty amazing thoughts to share. She will most likely outshine Dear old Dad, but that’s okay. I love to see people excel at what they do.
I guess the thing that is really on my heart today is the fact that so many used to be a part of the church and have somehow walked away, feeling it is either irrelevant, old fashioned, or out of touch. Others have left through an abundance of other activities that have grabbed their attention – the church will always be there, but this thing only happens once or for a short period of time – and they are simply out of the habit. Still others have been hurt or offended by the church.
No matter what their reason for no longer being connected to the church, I’d like them to know that they are always welcome to come back. The doors are always open and God’s arms are open wide.
This is not to say that I think anything goes – that everything is acceptable and that there should be no accountability. Truth is still truth, and no matter what society or current philosophy might say, it is not relativistic. It can’t be and still be truth. But Truth tells us that God is gracious and merciful, ready to forgive as we turn to Him in repentance. When we do turn to Him, He gladly accepts us wherever we may be. We don’t need to get ourselves cleaned up and straightened out. We don’t have to be rehabilitated in out behavior before we can come to Him. He loves us and accepts us in spite of our condition. Then he begins the transformation process.
If you’ve been a part of a church in the past and have left for some reason, today I challenge you to reconnect. Whether it is with the church you were part of in the past, or you’re looking for someplace new to worship, take a chance and see if you won’t find that you have really missed that connection. (Of course, if you’re here in the Santa Maria area, we’d love to have you come check us out at Heritage.) And when you do, move that connection up the priority list. I think you’ll see that it is the most worthwhile thing you’ve done in a long time.
Talk to you in a couple of weeks,
Pastor Dave at Heritage Church